Review: Shoe Shop, Tufnell Park

A casual wander up Fortess road in Tufnell Park on a lazy Sunday, it was quite striking how many food and drinks place were opening up. Our intended destination was Bear + Wolf for a coffee, but we saw more delights such as the butcher Meat NW5, the new wet fishmongers (and not neglecting a cheeky stop at ice cream shop Ruby Violet). In amongst them all was Shoe Shop, not the odd one out of the list, this former shop has a casual cafe look and “aims to serve food and drink appropriate to the time of day”. All very good, and even better it is headed by Paul Merrony, formerly of my TCR favourite Giaconda Dining Room. I was sold, so we headed there for a late lunch.

A simple inviting decor, specials on the wall

The big front windows let plenty of light into the simple, elegant dining room. A short menu and specials board had a nice array of interesting sounding dishes, belying the slightly cafe feel. The service was also noticeably excellent. It struck similarities with Giaconda straight away in the food and decor department, no bad thing.

Soft tongue and parsley salad

Smothered steakCrisp chips

My dish of tongue, lentil and parsley salad may not immediately sound appetising to all, but I’m always interested to see what a kitchen can do with the trickier cuts of meat. I was not disappointed. The tongue was beautifully soft, flavoursome and tender. A sharp dressing cut through this fatty cut, with earthiness and body from the lentils. The copious parsley added freshness and some crisp croutons were there for crunch. Everything I could want from the dish. Although it looked slightly small there was a generous amount of meat and plenty for lunch. The wife opted for her guilty pleasure staple, steak and chips. Classically French in style, a thin seared rib-eye steak came literally smothered in a tangy onion and peppercorn sauce. Simple, tasty and every morsel finished. Chips were glassy crunchy, fluffy and salty. Perfect.

I drank two glasses of (125ml) rose, obscenely good value at £3.50. This was explained by the generously tiny £8 mark-up on bottles between drink-in and take-out prices, an inviting prospect for evening meals. The total bill was about £40, great value for the high level of cooking. Simple dishes maybe, but nothing wrong with that for a satisfying meal.

Review: Mayfields, Hackney

This one has been on my list for a little while. Mayfields is a smart little restaurant located in a quiet mainly residential street in Hackney. I nearly lost faith we were walking the right way from Hackney Central station until I saw the glimmer of the “M” logo on their sign. It’s a small, neat space containing a selection of 2 and 4 person tables, with an openish kitchen behind a big wall. Imagine a smart cafe with some simple elegant design tweaks.

Daily menu

Menus were brought over, neatly laid out and printed with today’s date. From looking at the website, it does look like they change the dishes quite significantly from day to day working with the available produce and seasons. Good to see someone with the confidence to do it properly, rather than just changing the odd dish now and again. The savoury courses are mixed together, although priced according to size, which encourages sharing / mixing it up. I had a glass of Lambrusco since I had been craving one all summer, the Italian sparkling red proving refreshing and dry with a slight bretty funk.

Bread and oil

Beetroot, horseradish and cream

After ordering, some delicious chewy sourdough was brought over, together with oil to dip it in. We started with some smoked eel, beetroot and horseradish. Very attractive plating, the rich salty smoked eel paired beautifully with soft beetroot and a slightly sweet light cream. All good, and then the horseradish added punch and fire, they obviously have a good source of this nose-clearing root. A great dish, simple ingredients but all perfect.

John Dory, carrot, cucumber and lavender

 

Chicken, anchovy, borlotti and sugar snapMains were more of a mixed bag. My John Dory arrived next, served with carrots, cucumber and lavender. I was more curious than anything to see how white fish and lavender matched up. Unfortunately not brilliantly, the lavender was quite pungent, reminiscent of soap and overpowering. The carrots were well cooked, unfortunately they were very salty and paired with the heavily salted fish made for an over seasoned dish. Which is a shame, since the fish was also well cooked, and pairing it with the cucumber, carrot, fish and a tiny bit of the lavender I could see the potential in it. Tweaks in execution would have made it much better. I still finished it. The chicken, borlotti, anchovy and sugar snap dish had better seasoning for sure. A juicy poached chicken breast was served with perfectly textured beans and an anchovy sauce, a bit like a bagna cauda. The grapefruit, sugar snap peas and coriander added freshness, making it a light dish. Possibly one ingredient too far, I’m not sure if it was the grapefruit or if the coriander was sitting a bit oddly as herb of choice in my mind. Still a good dish. We paired the mains with a glass of French Viognier, at around £4 a glass it was simple but well chosen and a bargain at that price in London.

Goat's cheeseInstead of dessert, I opted for some cheese and was glad for it. A hunk of rich, creamy soft goat’s cheese arrived, paired with some giant flat crackers akin to a homemade digestive. Very rich though, this was probably enough for 2. The total bill was £60 including service for 4 courses and a glass of wine each. The plating and standard of food belies that price, it was very enjoyable and despite a flawed main course, I can see the aims and skill of the kitchen. I’ll definitely come back shortly for a longer boozier meal and sample some more of the dishes.

 

 

Review: Michael Nadra Primrose Hill

It was a balmy night in London and we fancied some local food. Primrose Hill is just a hop, skip and a jump away and I’d heard murmurings about Michael Nadra, a restaurant almost completely hidden from view next to the canal. Sure enough, just past Melrose and Morgan, was a little path that led down to the smart looking restaurant. This is Michael Nadra’s second eponymous restaurant, the other being in Chiswick. And the man himself (I think?) greeted us and checked we were being looked after, so he presumably does split his attentions between both restaurants admirably.

It was a Friday night and the restaurant was quietly buzzy, not full but with enough people to give some atmosphere. It has a large heated garden (cocktail garden) that you can eat in during good weather, although we were inside. Large windows let plenty of light in, and the decor in general is smart bistro style. Leather banquettes with smart crockery / cutlery and linen but nothing overly fancy. It’s £30 for 2 courses and £36 for 3 courses. Not outrageous for the area I suppose, but not cheap either for a “local” restaurant so I was expecting good things. There are quite a few supplements as well (e.g. the fillet steak, in fact 5 dishes in total have supplements). The wine list is extensive, with just about enough by the glass / carafe although a few more (especially on the shorter red section) would have helped.

Tasty chewy rolls Soup Artful fish

Bread was brought over, four slightly small looking rolls that defied their looks and were delicious. Softer than expected with a good chew and the most fantastic salted French butter. I started with an interesting combination of seared tuna, squid, green beans and gnocchi. The tuna was properly seared with a bright red interior, and the mix of squid tubes and tentacles was admirably soft with a bit of char from a hot grilling. The gnocchi was OK if a bit heavy and lacking the herb flavour promised. Green beans were al-dente and the tapenade on the side was salty and moreish. All good components, it wasn’t a cohesive dish for me though but tasty individual morsels. And it was topped with a lot of basil. A tiny bit odd. I think some chile would have added kick and brought it together. Good execution at least but maybe a few changes needed to the concept. I had a very nice glass of Chablis (£8) with it, soft and drinkable. The wife went for the asparagus, broccoli and spinach veloute. A large bowl of soup topped with microgreens was brought over. Unfortunately very under-seasoned, she requested salt (none was at the table) and that lifted it significantly. A good bowl of soup after that, very light with good greens flavour and the addition of toasted almonds added depth and body. But quite expensive as part of a £30 two course menu.

Pink lamb Plenty of chicken

Mains. I had lamb rump, sautéed sweetbreads and braised neck with ratatouille. The rump was delicious, very soft for a tricky cut to cook. And the neck was braised beautifully, soft and unctuous. Similarly the sweetbread was excellent with a nice crust and soft middle, I wish there had been another one. It was combined with a decent ratatouille and green beans. Paired with a wonderful Italian Pinot Nero, light and delicious with the lamb. The wife had chicken with borlotti & edamame beans, baby artichokes and tomatoes. A big plate of food came, with a variety of confit chicken cuts (breast, thigh and wings I believe). It was sitting atop a base of beans, with artichokes and tomatoes. The chicken was beautifully soft and flavoursome (after some more seasoning from us), and the other components matched well and were well cooked. But as a dish, too unrefined at this price point I’d say. And big.

Oozing fondant

We shared a dessert to finish. The classic chocolate fondant paired with the slightly trendier salted caramel ice cream. The fondant was absolutely excellent, very soft and flowing in the middle with deep flavour. The ice cream was good, flecked with salty caramel bits. Although somewhat melted. Paired with a sweet riesling which was delicious (if not the best combination with the chocolate, to be fair as mentioned by the waiter).

So, all-in, £105 for 5 courses and 3 glasses of wine. I was very pleased with the meal actually, the friendly knowledgable service (our waiter was excellent) and “locals” atmosphere helped perhaps, since the food wasn’t perfect. But, having said all that, it was an enjoyable meal with good cooking and ingredients. But, perhaps a touch more bite and refinement in the dishes would elevate it to the next level.

Kensington Wine Rooms

Notting Hill Gate has always seemed a bit dreary to me, somewhere to travel through rather than to. But having been to a show and ravenous for some sustenance, we searched out something quick and delicious. Having rejected a few dodgier looking restaurants, we wandered towards Kensington and found the wine rooms. Very smart looking, it was full of plenty of suited “businessman” and dressed up women seeking some high glass vino. They also had a decent looking food menu so we popped in to give it a go.

Iberico pork

I had the Iberico pork, served with greens, carrots and romesco. It came with a tinge of pink (the waiter had said medium rare) although actually I would have even had it a bit less. But it did have a fantastic smokey flavour, they must have some sort of grill. Carrots and greens were solid, but the standout part was the Romesco sauce. Smokey, nutty and rich, it was really delicious with the pork and brought it all together. Rather than browsing the very extensive menus, we went for the recommended pairings. Mine was a Le Soula Blanc, it was too sharp at first but rounded off nicely into a good match for the dish.

Rare tunaAnna opted for tuna, which came perfectly rare alongside potatoes, beans and salsa verde. Simple and classic, but nothing to fault about it. It was matched with a very interesting natural wine, cloudy orange in colour and initially tasting more of cider than wine. But again it opened up nicely and also proved a good match.

The food is simple but effective here, and along with the amazing wine selection makes a good choice for dinner. It was around £60 all in for two mains and two large glasses of wine, not particularly cheap I suppose but worth it for the wine experience.

 

The Beagle, Hoxton

A mere matter of metres from the shiny Hoxton overground station (that strange Orange squiggle on the TFL maps), you’ll find the Beagle standing proudly. Housed in a couple of grand railway arches, they have been buffed and polished until they gleam. Certainly the smartest arch conversion I’ve seen, the brickwork in particular is immaculate. In the right hand arch, a drinking area with a long bar stocking reasonable cocktails (mine was somewhat tart) and a very good selection of bottled and draught London beers. I’ve been in for drinks a few times to soak up the convivial atmosphere.

Octopus

Tonight I was more concerned with the left-hand arch though, the restaurant area. The menu was tantalising, particularly having failed to secure a last minute table in the past. The restaurant area is smartly turned out, but not stuffy and very inviting for a long boozy dinner. I can never resist octopus so that was my starter choice, it was served with pesto and a tomato salad. The octopus was well cooked, very tender as you would hope. Tomatoes were soft and juicy, and plenty of herbs in the pesto. My only quibble was there was a touch too much acidity, some vinegar in the dressing I think. But otherwise a good start. I opted for a glass of a Rousanne which paired well.

Sweetbreads, bacon and peas

Another menu favourite of mine, sweetbreads. And even better, served as a main course with peas, bacon and shoots. Nothing not to like about this, with crisp and moist sweetbreads, salty bacon and rich jus. The peas and shoots cut through adding freshness. A perfect Spring / Summer meaty dish.

Some of the remaining steak!Glassy fluffy chips

My dining compatriots saved themselves for one of the sharing rib-eye cuts, served with chips, watercress and a horseradish sauce. What came was a glorious piece of meat, sliced on a board. Cooked perfectly medium-rare as requested and well seasoned and rested, we could have been in any of London’s best steak restaurants (i.e. Goodman’s). The meat had the unmistakeable grass-fed funk of quality meat, simple but top notch. And the chips deserve special mention, glass-like exterior and a fluffy interior. To go with that we ordered the acclaimed Lebanese Chateau Musar, for £32 it really is amazing value and once opened up it got better and better.

Lemon pudding and biscuit Panna cotta with rhubarbWe couldn’t resist dessert after enjoying all that so much. The other 2 both ordered a lemon dessert (posset perhaps) served with a shortbread biscuit. Sharp, lemony and creamy, all good. Somehow the very chatty waitress thought it was my birthday (it wasn’t!) and despite protestations, I got a lovely candle and rendition of Happy Birthday from half the restaurant. Quite surreal but hilarious still. It was planted in my rhubarb alongside a well made panna cotta. Plenty of vanilla and a smooth wobbly texture. I had to try the rhubarb eau de vie alongside it of course, very much along the lines of grappa (aka rocket fuel).

All in, about £55 a head including a pre-dinner drink each. Good value. The menu is enticing with nothing too glamorous / outrageous but lots of comforting tasty dishes, and the execution was rock solid. I’ll definitely be back.

 

Experience: Sake Tasting at Hake No Sana (plus lunch)

James on the first of the morning at 10.30am

Sake, a drink I love and have ordered on numerous occasions. But one that is quite impenetrable to learn about. I would never order a bottle of “wine”, yet when picking from a Sake menu, I do exactly that, maybe using price as a guide and nothing else. Sake No Hana recognised this as a common problem and have created a short tasting course for consumers, based roughly on a shorter version of the training they give their staff. I went with the able-palated James since our wives had colluded and bought us each a voucher for Xmas.

It all started bright and early at 10.15am, we wandered into the posh Sake No Hana restaurant and were greeted with green tea whilst waiting for everyone. Christine Parkinson (wine buyer at the Hakkasan restaurant group) and Anthony Rose (wine journalist) introduced themselves and explained they were going to give the course together.

Glasses at the ready Anthony admiring the sake

Some very nicely designed printed guides were handed out and Anthony started with a technical guide to the brewing process and overview of the different grades of Sake. At the same time we had 3 different tastes of increasing “quality” (mainly based on the level of polishing the rice has undergone, i.e. how much of the outside has been ground away). They were all excellent, it was surprising how much more “rustic” (pungent perhaps) the earlier Sakes seemed again after trying the more elegant bottles. Side-by-side comparison is absolutely the best tool for judging, especially with a drink you’re not that familiar with. The more highly polished rice Sake was notably more elegant with a crisp clean finish and purer flavour.

A short break later and Christine talked about the history and tradition of Sake, and some surprising facts about early brewing processes that make you thankful for the industrial age. We sampled several more Sakes during this, particularly more modern styles like the milky white very coarsely filtered bottle and a low-alcohol sparkling version (more like a sweet cider / wine to me than a traditional Sake).

Lunch next, upstairs at the restaurant. A nice bonus since I haven’t eaten at Sake No Hana before and we got to try Sake in its natural environment. To add to the learning, we tried 2 different Sakes, both of which where served hot and cold. One was a high end Daiginjo, the most refined grade of sake. The other was a Kimoto sake, where the yeast is produced using a laborious physical process. Personally I preferred them both cold (maybe I’m more used to cold sake) but could see the benefits of warming, particularly to bring out more complexity (but found the alcohol much more pronounced and overpowering in that case).

Red miso with yam croquettes Careful prep Chicken, mushroom and tofu Sushi rolls

Lunch, I’ll give a brief review. We were seated at the sushi bar, watching the intricate knife work of the preparation is always a treat. I started with the red miso and yam croquette. A good flavoursome large bowl of miso with yam croquettes, I found the croquettes a touch bland and dense to be honest but it was an interesting change from the usual tofu, some spring onion would have boosted the soup. Next was a chicken pot with tender juicy thigh meat, a great variety of mushrooms and a sweet rich sauce. Excellent use of the mushrooms. A sushi course followed with various salmon rolls. No complaints there with fresh fish and fillings, plus some had a crunchy exterior I really liked. They were quite large though, a tad more than a mouthful. The ginger was really excellent, a surprising thing to note but beautifully balanced salty sweet pickle.

Matcha dessert with kumquat A surprise last drink, plum sakeA final treat, a beautifully plated dessert was brought over, matcha cake with kumquat and kumquat sorbet. Very delicious, but even better it was paired with an Umeshu (plum flavoured sake). This was sharper than expected, a refreshing end to a great meal. Overall the course was pitched perfectly, with a generous selection of tastings, good amount of learning and some delicious food. Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Truscott Arms, Maida Vale

I knew the Truscott arms in its previous guise, Idlewild. A fairly decent bar with some good food, it has been revamped and reverted to its previous name, The Truscott Arms. The long weekend was a perfect excuse to catch up with friends in the area and sample the place again.

Scallop and chicken win The most glamorous beetroot dish

We all ordered from the excellent value set lunch menu, £18 for 2 courses and £22 for 3. It was a short menu, 3 options for each course, but everything sounded appetising. Starters for me didn’t require too much thinking, scallops and chicken wings, what’s not to like. The scallop came in thick slices, cooked with a bit of colour and very tender. Alongside those were two meaty bits of chicken wing and some roasted pearl barley. A well measured portion for a lunch starter, and some super meaty umami-rich jus brought it all together into a brilliant starter. The wife opted for candied beetroot and ricotta. Elegantly presented, with a variety of beetroots (including some beetroot jelly) and a quenelle of homemade ricotta. Anna enjoyed it, I found it well cooked but overly sweet and pushing somewhere towards a dessert for my palate.

Special mention to the drinks at this point, the beer selection was very good with London Fields and Camden Town on tap (I opted for the always superlative Shoreditch Triangle IPA). They also have an extensive wine list with plenty of interesting choices by the glass. My glass of Lebanese red (chateau Ksara rather than the more usually seen Mussar) to go with my main was absolutely excellent and a bargain at £9 for 250ml.

Delicious short rib A cracking plate of fish

Short rib of beef was the natural option for me next. A very hearty plate of unctuous soft meat accompanied by a slice of pomme Anna and spinach. The meat was flavoursome and perfectly cooked. The pomme Anna had a crisp edge and was soft in the middle, with a side of morels and morel sauce adding the final touch for a great dish. Very hard to fault, it was rich, comforting and decadent making full use of this cheap flavoursome cut. Anna and Sam shared a big plate of lemon sole with potatoes, asparagus and a mussel veloute. It was presented on a sharing platter, very generously portioned again with soft well-cooked fish.

Sticky banana dessert

Desserts, I was going to resist but given it was only £4 and seeing the quality of the good, I couldn’t resist. Sticky toffee pudding with banana was a great twist on a classic. A light sweet sponge and sauce was paired with fresh banana, banana ice cream and topped with a quenelle of cream. The fresh banana stopped it being too cloying and the banana ice-cream had great depth of flavour. For £22, this was an absolutely cracking meal, and paired with the great drinks was a very enjoyable lunch. I will definitely be back.

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Ich Bin Ein Berliner, Fischers Fritz at the Regent

Set lunch Wine by the glass

No doughnuts on display here, maybe a beignet if you’re lucky. This is one of Berlin’s finest restaurants, headed by Christian Lohse at the posh Regent hotel and with a lofty two Michelin stars. It also has an eye-wateringly expensive dinner menu, I’ve started to realise how great value fine dining in London can be compared to Europe in general. However I wanted to try it and the lunch menu was better at €47 for 3 courses. Still not bargainous but more palatable for a flying visit to Berlin. The welcome was excellent, very refined and formal but with friendliness from the staff. The dining room was grand and generously spaced, lots of soft furnishings and elegant art. It had a touch of hotel dining room about it, but only in the grandest sense (maybe too much beige for my liking). And the wife was concerned about the creases in the thick linen tablecloth, they looked neat to me though.

That contraversial halibut cheese combo Croquette

We were offered a pre-dinner drink, without a price list which always annoys me slightly. Anyway, we opted for a rose champagne and a Manzanilla sherry. Both very nice although quite short measures (100ml and 50ml) for the price (€22 and €16!). An amuse of German anise crackers was brought over, they were light and a good start. My starter was a carpaccio of halibut with fennel and burrata. Fish and cheese are extremely hard to pull off together, they are not natural bedfellows (just ask an Italian). But … the creaminess of the burrata did work, adding some richness to the succulent wafer thin slices of fish. Impressive. The wife opted for pepper and ginger veloute with a prawn croquette. Tons of depth of flavour from the crisp prawn ball and the rich thick veloute poured at the table. Both were beautifully presented, and a light start which was well measured for lunch.

Breads galore

Special mention to the bread that was brought with the starter and remained throughout the meal, an excellent selection of heavier German nutty rye breads and sourdoughs with creamy soft salted butter.

Paprika pork

Skate

The mains selection in the set menu was quite light on meat options (just pork in fact) and interestingly had more fish. I fancied some meat after my delicate fish main, so pork it was. The wife opted for skate wing. My pork came Szgedin style, a new term to me that the waitress explained was a Hungarian stew. Given it was a stew, it was the most elegantly presented I’ve seen. The soft unctuous pork cheek was draped with a soft whole pepper and topped with a light fresh sauerkraut. Flavoured with smoky paprika, it was a good stew. But maybe a bit of a safe dish, certainly a crowd pleaser but there’s only so much you could do with it. The wife’s skate wing was perfectly cooked and topped with a herby parsley root and butter with capers. Again, a solid dish and nothing to fault, buy maybe a bit safe.

Tropical pre-dessert Ice cream substitute

Next, a nice surprise of a pre-dessert, a tropical dragonfruit sauce and ice-cream. The dragonfruit looked a tad like kiwi fruit (which the wife is allergic to), so after some tropical fruit language issues, they very kindly swapped it for a safer variety (which meant two fruity versions for me).

Namelaka creme, campari jelly and fennel pine juiceThe sublime pineapple, dark chocolate, hop caramel and toast

 

Onto desserts proper, both flawlessly presented and both with sauces poured ceremoniously at the table. The wife opted for Namelaka creme (a creamy white chocolate mousse), Campari jelly and a fennel pine juice. Super smooth sweet white chocolate paired with a bitter-sweet soft jelly and the fresh anise / piney notes of the juice, very clever. My only thought was texturally it was too soft. Next was mine, pineapple, dark chocolate, hop syrup and toast. This was a complete triumph, I was concerned about bitter chocolate and pineapple but paired with the bitter-sweet hop syrup and crunch of the toast, it was a revelation. Very smart, very complex and impossible to fault.

It was a very enjoyable meal from start to finish, the whole experience full of grandeur and luxury. The cooking was precise and elevated classic techniques and dishes with modern touches. My only slight niggle being that the mains felt quite safe compared to the more innovative starters and desserts. And price-wise, it isn’t cheap, two set lunches, a bottle of wine and coffee was nudging £200. But even bearing those in mind, an excellent meal and throughly recommended for a sumptuous meal in an opulent dining room.

Review: Flatiron burger, Soho

Liking the branded cleavers

Flatiron is a small restaurant in Soho (Beak Street) known mainly for its namesake steaks, at £10 a pop. I’ve been meaning to pop in for a while and walked past at just the right time on a solo wander around the capital, it seemed perfect for lunch. I was seated quickly at a shared table (this is a no booking kind of place) in the narrow dining room. No nonsense decor was still stylish and suited the atmosphere. I liked the branded meat-cleaver style knives as well. Complimentary popcorn was brought quickly as I sat down. The waitress sold me on the burger this time round, not the steak, as the special and apparently voted the best in London, quite a claim.

Quite a bun

Excellent saladSo the burger special came with Bearnaise sauce / shallots, and apparently the patty is deep-fried (I requested pink). The buns are from St. John bakery, a good sign. And I went off-menu for my sides, no chips and instead a green salad. What actually came was a pear, blue cheese and walnut salad, luckily I like those ingredients. The pear was soft and sweet, a nice tang from the cheese, crunch from the walnuts and a great mixture of leaves. A very good side salad. As to the main event, the burger had a crisp crust to its exterior as you might expect from the cooking. The patty was beefy with that slight grass-fed funk. However it was a tiny bit dry, I think they need more fat in the mix to get it juicier. And it didn’t have any sharp ingredients (pickles) to cut through the meat. Bearnaise was good, but I’m not sure it’s a great ingredient on a burger personally. The bun had a good flavour and bite, but was a tad big for the patty size.

Overall, a good burger, although not the cheapest at £10 without sides. The beer list is good with some local London brews so all-in the bill was £20. I’ll be back to try the steak for sure, and quite possibly for another go at the burger.

 

Review: One Sixty, West End Lane, NW6

You'll need the kitchen roll

NW6 was my stomping ground for quite a few years until recently. And having explored the area thoroughly for 5 years or so, it had got … stale. A few decent pubs, a few good Indian restaurants and the very notable Wet Fish cafe aside, I always found the mix of cafes and restaurants a bit odd, lots of distinctly average places in an area with a glut of young, well-heeled professionals.

Excellent bottled beer selection

So it was exciting to see a new opening (that wasn’t another Italian cafe or short-lived sushi restaurant). It was a smokehouse and bar, very on-trend and hopefully going to kick some life into the main high street, West End Lane. I was even more intrigued to see David Moore involved, the Michelin starred Marylebone restauranteur. We arrived at 9.15pm on a Thursday two weeks after opening and it was buzzing, people filling the 80 cover restaurant and a few standing at the long bar. Waiting at the bar, they clearly took their beer seriously with a decent draft selection and extremely good bottled selection, including some smaller London and USA brews. Supping my limited edition German style smoked Flue Faker from Camden, I thought this is looking promising.

Short and inviting

Wings, celery and blue cheese dipNice selection of fresh pickles

We were seated at our booked table shortly after. The decor feels trendy with a slight “stripped back” look but clearly carefully crafted. I particularly liked the photography of high end London butchers on the walls, a nice dedication to the provenance of their key ingredient, meat. The menu is short, focused and full of treats for meat lovers. We opted for some pickles and hot wings to start. The pickles were an interesting mix of salted cucumber, carrot, gherkins and of all things, semi-dried tomatoes. Very fresh with good crunch, I liked the texture of them. I think they needed a touch more vinegary bite, although the carrot had plenty of garlic and the cucumbers a bit too much salt. But, a different variety and fresh. The wings were pretty generous (10 or so), and very moist and meaty for their size. It came with a heavy blue cheese dip and a nice touch of celery sticks. All good, BUT, they were not hot in any definition of the word. I’m all for subtlety in spicing, however the chilli kick was only just discernable. We had ordered some rye bread and marrow (a rather bargainous £1) which didn’t arrive unfortunately.

Look at the smoking on that cheek

Mains, smoked ox cheek arrived for me. Nestled in the classic enamel tins was a decent hunk of cheek, with a very impressive blackened smoke crust. A selection of pickles were in there as well (I wish I had been told since I ordered coleslaw as a side). Beautiful fork-tender meat, it was unfortunately let down with a chronic lack of seasoning. Such a shame since it was perfectly cooked and the pickles cut through the fatty meat. Salt helped alleviate it but a good dry rub 14hrs earlier when the smoking starting would have been a lot better. Phil had the burger, a dangerous move given Phil’s notoriously high burger standards. He was pleased overall with a good medium-rare patty, although the soft bun and large wet tomato caused “structural issues”. A side of chips was fine, a crisp exterior although slightly light interior.

So, £50 for a couple of good beers, some sharing starters and mains was perfectly acceptable (good value even). But, they really have to get a bit more flavour in there, underseasoned smoked meat and underspiced “hot” wings are still hanging offences in some of the lower States of America. Let’s hope they are still settling into the dishes and will perfect them over the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be back.