Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Slow and Low

As someone who seeks out the cheapest cuts of meat, dumps them into my trusty Le Cruset with a handful of herbs and a slosh of something liquid, then leaves on a low heat until morphed into melting submission most weekends - Farringdon’s newest hot spot Lazybones sounded right up my slow-cooked street. Particularly when promised that the selection of gourmet hot dogs, afore-mentioned meat and selection of spicy wings would come with a side of ‘hard’ liquor.

Despite obvious effort to tap into the hearts of Farringdon’s hip mix of media types, first impressions of Lazybones’ are not brilliant. Sat next to a large and rather incongruous for the area Sports Bar, its exterior is a bit of a let down and the interior (90s-looking graphics, loud bursts of loud yellow, fly-posted pop culture images, fairy lights and cinema-style movie screens listing the food and drinks offerings) feels unnecessarily hectic. Perhaps I’ve been ruined by an influx of effortlessly nonchalant London interiors but, for all its design quirks, it leaves me a little cold.
The same cannot be said for the staff however, who greet us like old friends and immediately set about mixing us a Maple Old Fashioned each (a interesting take on the classic which we enjoyed so much we had three).
The short menu is an enticing read of junk food classics, so we quickly order more than we can possibly eat. Ironically as they probably started cooking at the same time I ordered my first morning coffee, the dishes come thick and fast and, it has to be said, are mostly excellent.
One should never be asked to choose between marinades, so we try both the BBQ and Hot Wings – which come slathered in a sweet, sticky tangle of perfect meat and tiny bone. They are sweet/smoky/fierce/tangy respectively – and so addictive we’ve emptied both baskets without breaking a (meat) sweat. Even better is the Chilli Dog, topped with tender beef brisket laced in cumin and gentle heat. If you ever wondered why you’d slow-cook a hot dog this (a frankfurter on pork steroids) is your answer.
The Pulled Pork & Slaw Sandwich suffered in comparison to the other dishes, not to mention its own description (eight hour-cooked pork shoulder in pale ale and served with cabbage, carrot, fennel, beetroot, celeriac, radish and yoghurt slaw) The coleslaw had none of sharpness needed to cut through pork and there was a distinct lack of sauce, leaving the bun and meat to merge in a tasteless mush. Despite being loaded with cheese, skinny fries were unexciting.
Lazybones is one of those restaurants that have it almost right and, if you lived in a town other than London, you’d probably go back without giving it much though. The food was pretty good (and in some cases great), the cocktails are delicious, the bar staff are helpful without being annoying and, having said the interior was hectic, at least two thirds of that hecticness was with actual people. Alas this is London, and I fear for the lovely people behind Lazybones that it will suffer in comparison to the other (slightly) finer examples of this kind of Americanised junk food we are lucky enough to have in our capital. But, if I am totally wrong and the place becomes a hotspot of hot sauce, then I’m perfectly willing to eat my hat. As long as my hat is full of those rather sexy slow-cooked hot dogs.
Unit 5
Cowcross Street

Sunday, 17 February 2013

No Medlin’

Like anyone with an inch of knowledge of the London restaurant scene and a dose of self respect, I’ve been wanting to go to Medlar since it opened. Unfortunately I’ve also wanted to go to a lot of other places which is why it took me almost two years to get there. But go I finally did, full of the kind of expectations only reserved for restaurants that have received five-stars across the key critics (even old grumpy face Gill couldn’t fault it).

I liked the simple room with the odd wisp of green, particularly the back area with curved booth fit for 8 (I’ve never hidden my fondness for a banquette). Having tried and failed to book in for lunch, I’d settled for a 6.30pm reservation which meant we arrived to an empty restaurant. This, coupled with the fact that there is no music, meant the first 30 minutes were spent trying to have a normal conversation in stage whisper voices. But once the rest of Chelsea arrived for their Sunday night supper the evening picked up nicely.

Service was great from the off, the waiters and sommelier treading the fine line perfectly between nice and oppressive; and clearly knowing their stuff without being up their own arses. All helped along enormously by the freshly-baked bread and perfect pale butter the waitress kept offering us (my personal form of kryptonite).

Reading Medlar’s menu was tough on my nerves, each dish made up of such brilliant sounding parts that choosing between them became a kind of sweet torture. Eventually in fear of giving myself a headache, I went totally against my instincts and chose the Calf’s brain with smoked duck breast, aioli, confit pink fir potatoes and tardivo followed by the Cornish gurnard with palourde clams, baby squid, fennel, salted almonds, gremolata and tapenade. 

Much to my irritation, my companion ordered exactly what I would have, had I not panicked and tried to be ‘wacky’. Thinly sliced confit lamb with salsa verde, artichokes, green beans and frisée followed by Fillet and cheek of middle white pork with boudin noir, chestnuts, sprouts, sage and squash.    

Its not that I didn’t enjoy my starter or that I couldn’t see that it had been painstakingly constructed so that deep fried nuggets of brain bounced off the tangy aiolo and peppery tardivo. I just didn’t love it. Same with the main which needed more seasoning and though it read like a dish of well-conceived elements all of which should have amassed to huge amounts of texture and flavour on the plate, they blurred rather than blended. 

If we had stopped there, I’m almost certain I would never have been bothered to go back to Medlar despite it being my own stupid fault for ordering wrong. Thank god then that they not only serve the only dessert I’d save in a fire, but a version better than shagging off your tits on ecstasy. Coupled with pudding wine (is there any better way to add decadence to an already decadent meal btw?) Medlar’s Tarte tatin with crème fraîche ice cream is so good it has the magic to erase bad menu choices.

As the former Governor of California once said, I’ll be back.

Medlar Restaurant
438 Kings Road
SW10 0LJ

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Double or Nothing

Another week, another crap record of blogging which is why I am combining two visits which may have very little in common, for reasons of speed.

Come to think of it they have quite a lot in common. They’re both new, both much-hyped prior to opening and both second ventures of highly successful first-time-round restaurants. They also had the unfortunate luck of having a visit from me without a decent camera – hence the grainy inedible shots you see before you.

Up first is Burger and Lobster on Dean Street, recently landed on the mean streets of Soho and already doing a storming trade of burgers, lobsters (plus a lobster roll for good measure). I didn’t actually manage to visit the Mayfair predecessor but others inform me that this place is bigger and better. With absolutely no authority on the opinion, I agree heartily. The lovely space with red banquettes, hanging exposed bulbs and buzz of fabulous folk, is immediately somewhere you feel you want to be (preferably necking wine and great lumps of meat/shellfish alternately).

I opted for the lobster, which came chopped in two with a jug of molten butter on the side - as well as brilliant, salty chips and a well-dressed bowl of leaves. It was delicious, bundles of fun to batter apart and cheap too (as everyone has pointed about a million times since the first one opened in Mayfair to general praise and applause).

Another restaurant that has received its fair share of fanfare is Caravan in Exmouth Market, much of it from me. Their fry up, which goes that extra mile with slow-cooked tomatoes and creamy soy mushrooms, is a million times less mundane than its name suggests.

Apart from the bigger, more consciously design-led space, it’s business as usual at the new Kings Cross branch. Cheerful, good-looking imps charm and serve in equal measures and the menu remains as pleasing as ever. We went for a late Saturday brunch, the area in which I personally feel that Caravan shines. The team effortlessly turning standard breakfast offers on their head and coming up with genuinely interesting things to eat first thing. The salt beef fritter with poached eggs and hollandaise I ate perfectly illustrating this point.

Admittedly these two restaurants are totally different – one serving a grand total of three dishes, with the other wracking up double that in just the ‘large plates’ section of their all-day menu. Yet both are wonderful and both sit at the popular table of the canteen that is London’s restaurant scene. And that, my friends, is enough of a reason to link them as any… 

Burger and Lobster
36 Dean Street  
W1D 4PS 

Granary Building
1 Granary Square

Friday, 24 August 2012

No Place Like Home

One of the lovely people that reads my blog commented recently that he only enjoys my posts when I talk about a restaurant that he would go to i.e somewhere cool and in central/East London. Heeding this observation, I dined at the uber trendy and oh-so-applauded Dalston pop-up Rita's a couple of Fridays ago and hated it.

In its defense the food - beans with meaty chunks of beef heart, mac n cheese with hints of green chilli, sticky chicken wings - was fine; and I can see why the critics vomited praise at its well-dressed feet. But the dishes were also over-priced, under-sized and served by a sullen gaggle of American-Apparel-ad-wannabes so interested in conversing with fellow pouting people they left us sitting without drinks and food for most of the evening. Call me out of touch, but you just don't get this kind of abandonment in your local curry house. Particularly if your local curry house happens to be Ganipati. 

For those of you who don't know, Ganipati is a Southern Indian restaurant on the East Dulwich/Peckham boarder much lauded by those in the spicy know. The Evening Standard have featured it, bloggers go weak at the naans at the mere whisper of one of their curries, and East Dulwich yummy mummy's fight hammer and spotlessly-manicured nails for weekend reservations. 

We went on a Saturday night whim (having stumbled across a last minute cancellation) and from the moment our cheerfully efficient waitress sat us down and rushed to fill our glasses with wine, leaving us to inhale the alarmingly good smells coming out of the kitchen, I knew that we had a neighbourhood gem on our hands. 

Everything we tried from the reassuringly short menu was excellent, kicked off with a pile of golden pappadoms and colourful array of home-made chutneys. These were followed quickly by vegetarian street snacks (fried orbs of spicy potato and ginger and chilli flecked chana dal) and a fragrant mutton chop dressed with a cheerful crunch of finely-shredded carrot and greens.

So far so good but the mains really illustrated why this tucked-away, suburban curry house has fans all over our fine capital. I wasn't familiar with Kerala Kozhi (chicken cooked in a masala of coconut, red chilli, coriander seed, garlic and black pepper) and its description in no way did justice to the pitch perfect layers of subtle spice that permeated every mouthful. Even better was the Tuna kodampuli, a mind blowing blend of fiery chilli heat, smoky tamarind and onions slow-cooked until they morphed into treacle. Best was the Kerala Paratha, which can only be described as what would happen if a fluffy flatbread and flaky croissant got it on over a griddle pan. Seriously sexy.

So, dear blog reader, I promise to venture forth into eating places both unknown and semi-permanent in the far-stretching reaches of East, North and West. But only if I can go back to Ganipati every time I want to be reminded that great restaurants need not be hip, they just need to treat you well and feed you better. 

38 Holly Grove
SE15 5DF
020 7277 2928

Friday, 3 August 2012

Full of Whit

Like most Londoners with a penchant for eating, Whitstable came into my consciousness via The Sportsman (michelin-starred pub in case you're still not conscious). I’m sure I’m not the only one who dreamt of a weekend in a quaint hotel, doing quaint seaside type things, topped off with a trip to this most gastro of gastro pubs.

Sadly, despite what the folk at Disney like to tell us, not all dreams come true. Particularly when you cant afford them.So here is my short and image-led guide to having a spankingly good weekend in Whitstable without the fancy bits.

One. Use The Guardian website to find a reasonably priced but beautifully decked out boutique hotel.

Two. Order as much as you can from the continental breakfast menu, even if you cant finish it.

Three. When it invariably starts pissing it down, spend an afternoon drinking cider at The Lobster Shack. Don't leave until everything takes on a psychedelic hue. 

Four. Explore Whitstable's ye olde shops, taking in all that is gaudy and good about seaside towns. Don’t miss the cheese shop.

Five. Cycle along the coast from Whitstable to Margate – stopping off to take ‘arty’ pictures of beach huts and the like.

Six. Eat fish and chips from tacky boxes because, no matter how much you wish it, they just don’t wrap them in newspaper any more.

Seven. Despite the fact fish and chips always come in a giant-sized portion, order scampi on the side.

Eight. Run round the new Turner Gallery at Margate in 10 minutes, then take another ‘arty’ picture of it.

Nine. Go to Whitstable. It’s brilliant.

We stayed at:
The Front Rooms
9 Tower Parade

I would highly recommend. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Give a Toffee

Despite being tucked away somewhere between Clerkenwell and Islington, The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker - on the nether end of St John Street - has made quite the impression on pub-loving folk. Much has been said about its natty décor (70s winking wallpaper, distressed modern light fittings, shiny tiles), down to earth grub and plentiful supplies of gin including Sipsmith (obvs), Hayman’s and Martin  Miller’s.

I cycled my way from Great Portland Street during the great rains of early July, thus arriving sodden to the core and relentlessly miserable. If it'd been any other night, in any other pub, with any other manager, I would probably have remained this way. But mulishness is futile when someone cheerfully deposits a whiskey sour 'to warm you up' in manner of a grown-up Mary Poppins;  and casually admits to serving more than one variety of scotch egg.

Those beautiful scotches came from the deli counter which sits of the end of a rather lovely bar. The first an amply-sized golden orb surrounded by peppery pink mince - revealing an oozing sunshine centre. The second a dainty quail's egg cousin adorned with a luxurious black pudding coat. Along with the eggs came a classic pork pie thick with meat and crust, plus a densely rich potted duck. The deli items even came with their own perfectly-matched pal - the eggs a cheerfully crunchy piccalilli, the pie a punchy mustard and the potted duck with salty chunks of pickled gherkin.  

Having so enthusiastically attacked the starters, it was impossible to give the amply-sized main courses the same attention. (already so full we'd been forced to stop drinking to save what little room we had). The mouthfuls of rabbit pie (again from the hot section of the deli counter) that I managed were abundant in tender morsels of pink meat and buttery puffs of pastry; and the side of celeriac remoulade as pleasing an accompaniment I've encountered in a while. 

Desserts and further endeavors behind the bar were utterly impossible after such an extensive pastry/meat binge (I could barely stay upright on my cycle home). But I fully intend to go back soon, sans bike, for a responsible dinner of gin and cake...  

The Blacksmith & The Toffeemaker
292-294 St John Street,

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Better than a Bistro

I was going to start this post by talking about Chiswick and it's well known foodie credentials (Franco Manca, Hedone) which would have been boring. Thank god then for a rather obnoxious conversation I had about Charlotte's Bistro with a much-more-important-than-me food writer. When I mentioned that I’d been and loved it, he/she (I wouldn't want to be a tell tale) pursed their cynical lips and said rather acidly "it was just alright," As if being 'alright' was the most repugnant thing in the culinary cosmos.

Because I respect this person's writing and because I am generally willing to consider another's opinion no matter how it's wielded, I've revisited the meal in my mind a few times over the past couple of weeks.

The decor was pleasant in a neighbourhood restaurant kind of way, with a blond and glass-panelled front that opens onto the street (perfect for those, like me, who want to sneak out for a well-timed cigarette when sitting at the bar). As ever, I was more interested in the cocktails than the light fixtures, which were excellent – particularly a classic summer cooler of cucumber, gin and elderflower.

Despite the fact we were about to embark on four courses, our attention was diverted by the lovingly described bar snacks. Explaining why we were stuffing thin-sliced crisps of Jerusalem artichoke with curried salt in our gobs faster than you could say ‘your table is ready’.

On arrival to the lofty dining room, we were met by a three parts cheerful, charming and camp waiter (my favourite kind), bread-still-hot-from-the-oven and creamy yellow butter - an excellent start.

Though perkily arranged, my barbequed ox tongue starter did not win the prettiest starter award (that went to an alarmingly beautiful plate of violet artichokes, semi dry tomatoes and deep fried burrata), but it was generally agreed that it won on sex appeal. The soft, charred flesh sat on a bed of peppery fennel, punctuated by glistening blobs of yazu and soy.

Other members of our dining quartet sang the praises of a warm potato fondant with goats cheese and Kent asparagus; and the Cornish crab bon bon with mango gazpacho and avocado. I managed to wangle a forkful of both and duly concur their lack of being ‘alright’. 

I went against my instincts on the main (never a good idea) and spent the next 30 minutes starting resentfully at a stunning piece of Iberico pork tenderloin. Not that there was anything wrong with my rump of lamb with toasted quinoa and dry feta (one shouldn’t quibble over a genuinely pleasing arrangement of classic flavours), it just didn’t have a crumb of dehydrated pig surrounding it. Thank god my dining companion was willing to swap plates half way so I can tell you just how porky that pork tasted (and how I would go back for that dish alone).  

Another non-‘average’ dish was the cod with pigs cheek - a timeless but nonetheless clever quirk of the kitchen; as was the poached silver mullet with fennel, kohlrabi and samphire. 

Expectations on my pudding were high, having caused much pain in choosing (the sweet end of the menu read like a sugar-laden lullaby). Almalfi lemon curd, lavender meringue, shortbread and raspberry sorbet sprinted ahead in the style stakes. It really was pretty as a picture, though my picture hardly does it justice (the sun had gone down and I was two cocktails and half a bottle of wine down by this point). 

The buttermilk panna cotta arched proudly from a carpet of sun-dried strawberries and wibbled effortlessly into everyone’s good book.

The praline and caramel chocolate pot with tonka bean milk sorbet fooled us all into thinking it was simple when it was anything but.   

Full marks go to me though, for ordering the most-wicked and smile-inducing pudding of the evening (why thank you). I only picked the warm almond and cherry tartlet because it had salt caramel on the top. One bite and I realised that being an idiot simpleton had done me proud. The case of feathercrisp pastry baked blind then filled with a base of almond ‘cake’ (the chef used a word other than cake but I forget), then topped with a cherry ‘jam’ (ditto jam), vanilla parfait and finally the salt caramel.

It reminded me of the first time I ever tasted a home-baked jam tart – and the feeling of pure amazement that some ingredients, a crafty pair of hands and an oven could produce something of such wonder.

Taking my mind back over the meal via the medium of putting-words-to-page has only served to reiterate what a bloody good meal we had at Charlotte’s Bistro. Better than good in some cases, with some dishes up there with favourite things I’ve ever put in my mouth. The clincher… three courses cost a mere £29.95, which, for the quality of cooking, is asylum cheap.

Dear Mr Much-more-important-than-me-food-writer, I couldn’t agree with you more. Charlotte’s Bistro is a bit of alright.

Charlotte’s Bistro
6 Turnham Green Terrace
W4 1QP