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 Berliener, 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.

Review: Rogan & Co, Cartmel

After a broadly successful but not outstanding trip to the Pig & Whistle, I was intrigued to see how the other “casual” Simon Rogan restaurant in Cartmel would compare. We had booked for dinner but swapped last minute to lunch which they were very accommodating about. The restaurant is housed in a clean rustic building with simple and elegant place settings. Lots of space between tables adds to the relaxed feel. The staff are very well turned out and there are plenty of them.

Amuse Bouche: Cheese powder with pickled onion on a cheese crackerBrown ale and white rolls

The menu is short and focused, 3 choices for each course. It was all very reasonable: £28.50 for 3 courses / £19.50 for 2 courses at lunch. Even better when we’re brought an amuse bouche and fresh bread. The amuse was a cheese cracker topped with pickled onion and cheese “snow” with some micro-leaves (beetroot maybe?). It evoked a ploughman’s in a single bite with strong sweet onion, I was hoping for more depth in the cheese powder though (and personally I’m never sure of the texture of these snows). Rolls next, the brown with ale and a simple white. They came hot and were very moorish, nothing fancy but just excellent fresh rolls and soft butter.

Coal oil mackerel with oyster and pickled kohlrabiThe wife skipped starters but I couldn’t resist the mackerel in coal oil, especially after loving the ox in coal oil at Roganic. This dish came beautifully presented, the mackerel underneath topped by a stained-red pickled kohlrabi, radish, oyster emulsion and a dash of oil. Raw mackerel and smokey oil gave a contrast of flavour and texture, just like the coal dish. The vivid green oyster emulsion added depth and fishiness without being overpowering. A cracking dish.

Beef Middle white pork and cabbage

The mains were works of art with fresh skilfully cooked elements plated prettily. My generous beef main came with two good pieces of rump cap that had been cooked sous-vide and a slow cooked beef “floss”. Served with jerusalem artichokes, mustard jus and greens. The meat was incredibly tender (especially considering the cut), barely needing the Laguiole steak knife they brought over. It paired perfectly with the rich, crisp floss and soft artichoke. I couldn’t fault this dish. The wife’s main was middle white pork and cabbage. A tall square pork belly piece cooked again perfectly to be meltingly tender with an unctuous layer of fat and crisp skin. The charred cabbage still had bite but with added flavour from the crisped, almost burnt, edges. We felt the portion could have been slightly more generous though, especially given my beef.

Pear cake Frozen yogurt and blackberryI was torn between the cheese and dessert but opted for something sweet and we visited the superb Cartmel cheese shop afterwards instead, the perfect compromise. My dessert was a sweet spiced pear cake with pear slices, malt mousse and tea. Not sure if the tea was the iced bit, I found the crunchy texture odd with cake though. Ignoring that part, the cake was moist and well spiced which combined with the velvety malt mousse and was very satisfying. Soft poached pears added some fresh fruit and it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. Not overly sweet and somehow very comforting. The wife had frozen yogurt with blackberry and caramelised cobnuts. The blackberries came as a sharp gel which cut through the sweet yogurt whilst the cobnuts added crunch and sweetness. Another excellent dessert.

A very satisfying lunch, every course was delicious and well balanced. All of this with 3 cracking glasses of wine for £75 (excluding service) is incredible value in my book. Whilst we admittedly drank a bit more at the Pig & Whistle (and went for dinner), the fact this lunch was cheaper was surprising. My only niggling thought was that perhaps everything was a little safe. The menu read as slightly more adventurous then the dishes came out. Maybe that’s an indication of the skilful combinations, but I wanted my palate to be slightly more challenged (although not to the same extent as Roganic). However I can’t really complain about flawless cooking and ingredients presented as pieces of art, thoroughly recommended!

 

Review: Simon Rogan’s Pig & Whistle Pub, Cartmel

An enticing menu

My first and only experience of Simon Rogan’s food thus far has been a lucky trip to his London restaurant Roganic. A 2 year “popup”, it was a revelatory night of fiercely English sourced ingredients. On the whole delicious and never dull, it did veer towards a challenging bitter palate. Home proper for Rogan is Cartmel, the small Cumbrian village making a big culinary impact and being spearheaded by a trio of Rogan restaurants. The flagship 2 Michelin starred L’Enclume is flanked by the more casual Rogan&Co, and then just down the road is the “fine little boozer” we were heading to. The village also has a fantastic cheese shop, coffee shop, brewery and several other pubs. Special mention must go to the excellent fine wine and spirits shop Red Pepper where I had a quick pre-dinner gin tasting.

The most casual of the lot, this pub has been deliberately kept as a pub should be at the front. The main bar area is a tight squeeze and we had a couple of drinks whilst waiting for our table, it was lively and has maintained a “locals” atmosphere. A decent couple of local ales were on tap. We were then ushered round the back to the dining room, past the men’s toilets in fact. The dining room is small and low-key, with a few couples at different tables and one group of 4. This made the room a bit quiet at first, people warmed up as the night (and wine) progressed though.

Some sinfully delicious marmite and cheese swirl bread plus a sourdough were brought round shortly, along with butter on a small slab. Excellent bread although the butter was too cold (and seemed at odds with the prestige given to the dramatic swoosh of butter on a Rogan “foraged” stone we had at Roganic). I started with the pressed ham terrine and piccalilli, which arrived as a generous slab of pork meat wrapped in bacon. The meat was nicely seasoned and had a good firm close texture, but only had a couple of slivers of pistachio for interest. Whilst understandably not layered or as interesting as a game terrine for example, I was hoping for a bit more. The piccalilli was chunky and cut through the meat well, a solid dish. The wife had the onion tart which was a sweet layer of onions in an admirably delicate piece of pastry sitting on a beetroot puree. Simple, earthy and well balanced.

I’ll mention the wine list at this point, it’s pretty short with around 6-7 bottles per colour and around 3 by the glass. Since only I was drinking (driving duties for the wife) it did slightly sway my food choices, all the wine by the glass was under £15 a bottle (most at the £12 mark) which either means the markup is non-existent, the wines are impeccably sourced for the budget, or more likely they are a bit cheap. Nothing wrong with that and I understand this is appealing to a different market but something slightly nicer by the glass might be good (or perhaps I’m just a snob). Anyway I solved the problem with a crisp bottle of Saint Veran and chose my food roughly around that.

Tender hakeYou don’t tend to see hake that often in restaurants, perhaps it has an image problem being associated with frozen blocks of fish and parsley sauce (that’s my memory of it anyway). But this sounded very appealing, served with parsley potatoes, brown shrimps, spinach and topped with granola. The fish was moist and firm with a good flake, excellently cooked. The shrimps added some more sweet seafood depth and the parsley potatoes were smooth and rich. The granola was puffed grains (rice perhaps) and added some crunch and savoury notes. The leaves at the very top were maybe a step far, but I finished it all happily.

Beef, celeriac and rostiThe wife opted for slow cooked beef with salt baked celeriac, beetroot and potato rosti. We were told the beef had been cooked sous-vide which isn’t quite what I imagined by slow-cooked, we were both expecting a shin of beef or something meltingly tender. It looked like a blade steak to me actually, and was understandably a but chewy, especially around the connective tissue in the middle. Barring that, the meat was beefy and full flavoured with a rich ale gravy. The wife really liked the giant rosti (I thought it was a tad dry) and the salt baked celeriac was tender but still too salty.

Apple and pear crumbleWe managed to resist temptation (just about) and shared a dessert. Pear and almond crumble with marigold sorbet. It came very attractively presented in its own little pot, with a scoop of sorbet. The sorbet was very interesting, reminding me of a sherbet-y elderflower flavour. It was also very sweet though and didn’t help cut through the sweetness of the pear and almond. The crumble topping was thick and had a crunchy top, it also had a cakey texture though. The pears were sweet and juicy although quite wet and un-skinned.

All-in for a total of five courses and a nice bottle of wine plus service was £95. Service was very good, friendly and knowledgable. I liked the place and the meal and think for the money they are charging they are doing well. But I wish a couple of dishes were slightly elevated and a few little mistakes corrected, then it would be a strong recommendation. As it is I enjoyed it but wouldn’t make it a must-visit.

 

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Review: 64 Degrees, Brighton

Take note, any restaurant which my wife is happy to endure a 2hr journey with rail replacement service for must be worth heading to. I’ll spoil the surprise, 64 Degrees more than lived up to the challenge, delivering excellent cooking with interesting dishes and innovation on every plate. All this for a restaurant that only opened a few short months ago. We know one of the chefs Chopper and headed down with a couple of mutual friends to see how the restaurant was doing. Integrity is key to this blog for me, we paid full price for everything and I can easily say it was one of my top meals of the year.

All too tempting

Situated in the scenic lanes in the centre of Brighton, it’s a small restaurant with under 30 covers. We sat at the long bar in front of the kitchen, giving a birds-eye view of everything that was happening. The format is small dishes; being a group of 4 and greedy we literally ordered everything (4 fish, 4 meat, 4 veg and 4 dessert) which came out as Chopper presented them. Everything sounded too tempting to choose from anyway, so why not.

Salmon "pastrami"

Kimchi cabbage "wings"

Purple!

The intriguing salmon pastrami came first, a cured salmon with traditional pastrami spices. It had a firm texture which gave it bite and presence. Served with small pieces of rye bread, pickles and a mustard dressing it invoked a fish memory of pastrami sandwiches that worked very well. The dish I was most excited by next. Kimchi chicken dramatically presented with dehydrated cabbage kimchi “wings” and a side of the lightest blue cheese foam. The chicken wings were meaty and tender with a light spice, but the punch of the cabbage really picked them up and the sauce brought it together. The stand-out memory of the meal for me. Potato, artichoke, almond and mushroom topped with freshly shaved almond at the same time. A great side dish with interesting textures and ingredients, probably not enough depth to stand on its own though.

Scallop and appleCauliflower and shallot bhaji

Fissssh and chips.

Mackerel

Onto seafood, in the form of seared scallops and apple. Served with a granny smith puree, the sour bite surprised me by combining so deliciously well with the sweet flesh of the scallop. A smidgen of bacon added some saltiness and depth although more is always good. Cauliflower with shallot bhaji brought a nice crisp deep fried bhaji with roasted cauliflower. I particularly liked the neat shaved squares of raw cauliflower stem, the pomegranate was a bit sharp for the warm rich batter though. Fish and chips, the classic English seaside dish, we are in Brighton after all. Deconstructed somewhat but still true to itself, with succulent fish, a pea puree and a punchy tartare. The chips could have been crisper, but the separate batter kept that light and crunchy. For balance I wanted a bit more sharp flavour from although the pickled quail’s egg helped in that direction. A very pretty dish next, mackerel with yuzu, cucumber and coconut. Deliciously cooked fish with some citrus sharpness from the yuzu and the slightly odd-sounding but actually well balanced addition of coconut.

Pig cheek, pineapple and tortilla

House egg cooked at "64 degrees"

Onion, mustard, malt

Pig cheek, pineapple and tortilla. An intriguing combo again, but hinting at a more traditional salsa side. Tender, meaty soft pig cheek went well with the pineapple although I found the tortilla a bit heavy. Very elegantly dressed, as was every dish so far I noted. Now it became more clear why the restaurant was called 64 degrees, particularly with the sous-vide circulator working away in front of us. Their signature “64 degrees” egg reflecting the temperature it is cooked precisely to, served with girolles and ham hock. It makes for a very soft egg as you might expect, served with the classic mushroom and bacon effectively, a solid dish although not as interesting to me as some of the others. A great dish next, onions with a “Longman” cheese sauce, a punchy English mustard sauce and malt crumbs. Earthy, sweet and pickly combined into a taste of a Ploughman’s in a single bite, clever.

Brisket, potato, carrot

 

Knodel, cabbage

We were getting full by now but pressed onwards. Soft unctuous salty brisket served with potato and carrot. Classic cooking done well, the carrot hat was whimsical presentation but the flavours were spot on. The final savoury course came, potato knodel with cabbage and smoked butter. A comforting dish of “gnocchi” like potato dumplings and cabbage, it lacked the punch of earlier dishes and might have been better to have earlier. I can’t fault the dish in itself though with soft dumplings and the added dimension of smoked butter.

Sticky toffee puddingRhubarb with cinnamon cream

Rum bear jelly

Hot chocolate "smore"A fantastical selection of desserts to finish. A classic sweet sticky toffee pudding with an added kick of bourbon in the sauce. Next my favourite, soft poached rhubarb with a cinnamon cream, perfect balance between sharp and sweet. A nice nod the the Fat Duck jellies came on a tile in the guise of somewhat larger “rum bears” dashed with sharp citric acid sugar (Haribo-esque in a good way). Finally a hot chocolate in a pot, with a pumpkin smore and the added bonus of a more cake like base and popping candy in the bottom. Every bit demolished.

"Movember Clark Gable" Chopper charring some orange for our cocktail

Short drinks list

Drinks wise, a short wine list gets straight to the point with good value and everything by the glass (including a cheeky English sparkling number from Ambriel, lots of sharp apple flavour in there). We also went for one of the chef’s cocktails, a great twist on an old fashioned by charring the orange to add smokiness to a base of Highland Park.

Wow, what a meal. The friendly, relaxed atmosphere and simple menu descriptions lull you in, then they hit you with a massive punch of flavour and clever twists in every dish. The total bill came in at around £55 a head with plenty of booze, ridiculously good value by my standards and I can’t wait to be back soon. Easily worth a trip from further afield, I’m looking forward to seeing how the restaurant and dishes develop.

 

The Fat Butcher at The Grafton, NW5

The human rights act should, of course, be amended to include the provision of a solid local pub to every citizen of this nation. Somewhere between the right to assembly and the bit about free elections there must be some space in a margin to cram it in. And fortunately when I moved to Kentish Town last year I found the recently refurbished Grafton pub. Beer in jugs, piano sessions on a Sunday, and at the time fantastic burgers supplied by residents Lucky Chip, what more could you want? I was sad to see Lucky Chip depart for fresh pastures but as they say man can not live by burgers alone.

Murmurings of a “fat butcher” piqued my interest and I first met the new resident chef / FOH team during the summer. Will, the chef, was manning a BBQ outside with succulent joints of pork to soak up a beer-fuelled afternoon. Mentions of experience at St. John and the Canton Arms, along with butchering whole animals on-site, added to the anticipation. So we ventured out on a very hung over Saturday afternoon to see how they’ve settled in.

Fried artichokes and anchovy sauce

The menu is to-the-point with short sharp descriptions focusing on quality ingredients. Naturally, given the name, there are always interesting cuts and varieties of meat along with some innovative sides.  We couldn’t resist some artichokes to get going, served with anchovy sauce. A plate of neatly prepared artichokes arrived, with a side of anchovy sauce and wedge of lemon. The artichokes had just the right bite and were lifted with the punchy salty sauce and sharp lemon. Simple, confident and delicious.

Rabbit Casear salad Brown crab and toast

I opted for a starter sized rabbit caesar salad. Again classic and simple but with a twist by using rabbit, a much underused meat in this country. It came as a generous portion of romaine lettuce with a light sauce and plenty of meat. The meat was beautifully tender (leg meat?), no mean feat with what can be a dry animal. Possibly a touch heavy on the salty parmesan but otherwise excellent. Then I followed with crab on toast, a mix of brown meat in a sauce with 2 slices of good toasted bread. Plenty of crab flavour and the simple addition of lemon and chives to lift it. I would have prepared a slightly firmer texture personally, more pate like, but it still had good depth.

Juicy chicken and coleslaw Onglet and chips

The other dishes at the table were the generous 1/2 chicken with spicy coleslaw. Tender juicy chicken, crisp skin and a heavy kick of chilli in the coleslaw gave what could have been a boring dish an interesting almost Southern States twist. And the meat stood out and was allowed to shine. Onglet steak and chips came as a good hunk of meat and carbs. Excellent crisp classic chips. The steak was rare although perhaps a tiny bit tough initially since it was thick. Nothing a good steak knife couldn’t handle, and being onglet there was bags of beefy flavour.

So, on perspective, a very enjoyable meal. Undeniably simple combinations but with some interesting twists and most importantly superb execution. The prices are very keen, I’d go so far as to say cheap for the portions and quality. It fits the atmosphere and ethos of the pub perfectly and I’ll look forward to trying more of what they have to offer.

Review: The Dock Kitchen, Kensal Green

Dock Kitchen is a restaurant living the dream. Stevie Parle initially started it as a popup with the vaunted designer-furniture magnate Tom Dixon, eventually creating a permanent restaurant with a constantly rotating menu. It’s a very impressive space within the dock development overlooking the canal, and is unsurprisingly decked out in a cornucopia of Dixon lamps and trinkets. In the now much trendy Kensal Green area, it was buzzy and full on a Friday evening at 9pm with media types, tables are apparently hard to come by.

As well as an a la carte menu, they offer a themed tasting menu which this month has been inspired by Turkey (although strangely the menu says it was only a “short” trip by Stevie and Eliot). We opted for that, a Turkish feast as it was billed by our waitress, for £65 including 3 glasses of wine. It was served meze style with lots of sharing plates. First up was a plate of 3 huge flatbreads topped with spices and oil. They looked very thin with a crunchy exterior but were still soft in the middle, very nice. When we started the food proper, we were brought another 3 of them but I wasn’t complaining. 3 “dips” next, on the left was civezli biber. A new one to me, it was a walnut and pepper based sauce with a slight mild pistou like flavour, great with the bread. Smoked wheat and yogurt topped with pomegranate was very garlicky. Tahini, by itself, was thick but went well enough. The overall effect was a bit drying and acidic on the tongue with the 3 dips though.

Giant flatbreads Biber, smoked wheat / yogurt and tahini

Served at the same time were some small vine leaves stuffed with wheat and chicken livers. I love chicken livers, but the combination with a bitter vine leaf didn’t convince me, they were very thinly filled as well and mainly vine. Aubergine, labne and tomato was my favourite of the selection with soft aubergine, sharp labne and rich tomato. Very tasty. The last to be served in this round was the clear loser at the table, a radish, walnut and herb salad. Looking very red (from beetroot perhaps) it was unpleasantly bitter and the combination of hard radish chunks and walnut dried the mouth. We barely finished a third of it.

Chicken smeared (not filled!) vine leaves My favourite, aubergine and labneh The bitter radish and walnut saladBefore the mains we were brought another dish, a wild mushroom manti with yogurt and chilli butter. Interestingly reminiscent of the delicious Mantu at the Afghan restaurant Araiana II, unfortunately nowhere near as good. Somewhat a cross between dumplings and filled pasta, they were small and a touch hard. The filling wasn’t particularly mushroom tasting, my wife hates mushroom and managed a few even. And the chilli yogurt sauce had no spice and was extremely (almost inedibly) salty.

Wheat and greens Stuffed quince

 

The mains came shortly after as sharing platters. One large plate was filled with some roasted quinces, each filled with a topping of nuts and lamb. Another bowl had a generous portion of heap of greens and wheat. No getting away from the fact it was inelegant, in fact I wouldn’t be that happy serving it at a dinner party. Perhaps a large supper club with a limited set of chefs, which this was starting to feel somewhat like. I was interested to see the quince, I had no idea they were that colour or size! They were quite tart (like an under ripe peach in fact) which I found a bit odd with the warming spices of the lamb. The meat was dry and lacked punch, the greens were fine. Mid-week supper territory?

Dessert for 2

 

And finally dessert. The above was served per 2 people. A reasonable selection of fruit with some nice fresh ripe torn figs (the best thing on the plate), some green grapes and orange segments. Bizarrely the orange was topped with thick savoury tahini, a very unpleasant combination for dessert in mine (and the rest of the table’s) opinion. The bowl had a sort of fragrant rice pudding (the exact combination escapes me). Topped with pistachios (and more of that bloody tahini) along with a sweet syrup, it was sweet and decent enough if a bit sloppy.

So, all in all, a very disappointing meal. Certainly an interesting menu that held lots of promise and provided an interesting cultural perspective on Turkish food. But crucially, failed to deliver good taste or even a basic level of refinement. As we discussed on the table, it’s quite arrogant to base a whole menu on a “brief” holiday and this came through in the balance of the dishes. If this was still a supper club I might have been more forgiving, but it was close to £90 a head in a hectic trendy restaurant. I’m intrigued to see if this menu is a blip in their repertoire but don’t fancy a trip back soon.
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Review: The Hampshire Hog, W6

We were off to see the venerable Nick Cave on a stormy Sunday night (pathetic fallacy I’m sure), an excellent gig by the way, and needed somewhere to eat around Hammersmith. Bar a few solid gastropubs around there, I haven’t been to (or heard of) many inspiring restaurants in this part of town. But I was excited to see the harshly evicted team behind the Engineer in Primrose Hill had opened the Hampshire Hog just down the road opposite Ravenscourt Park. The Engineer was a cracking local food pub which the pubco Mitchells and Butlers forcibly took over from the landlords, presumably because they saw how well it was doing.

After a 10 minute walk from Hammersmith we walked in to a capacious and strangely quiet pub. It was a stormy night so the whole street seemed quite quiet which may explain it. The large drinking area revealed another large dining area at the back with a few people eating at least. Service was friendly but seemed a bit confused with several people offering us drinks and menus. Ah, and the menus were laminated. A terribly small point I know but given the persona the pub was aiming for and the heritage it was supported by, I was surprised. All the ales were off (another bad sign for a pub) so I sought out some wine. The wine list seemed well balanced with a mix of prices and old / new world, although dominated by Sauvignon at the pricier end. We picked the nicest non-Sauvignon they had, a Chardonnay, but were told eventually it was sold out. A bit disappointing on a quiet night with a fairly short wine list but it happens. We went for a riesling described as dry although it was sweet which was doubly worse as it was barely cold. Once chilled in the ice bucket it was nice for me at least, the wife was less keen.

3 fish terrine

Onto the food. The menu is a bit confused, both in terms of lacking a location or focus and also adding in some quite odd combinations. Dashing between Asia, Greece, the Netherlands and England just for the starters is fine but you need an overriding theme to a place. We chose a 3 fish terrine to share as a starter combining smoked salmon, mackerel and cod. With pickled vegetables and toast. The plating was pretty sparse and unappealing, the vegetables’ appearance made me laugh with half a carrot and half a cherry tomato face down. And the terrine looked neat in a Neapolitan ice cream sort of way. Speaking of which, it was fridge cold and hence still quite firm. Very mildly fishy with not much to distinguish the layers, it was more like a cream cheese spread with a hint of fish. The pickled vegetables were also very lightly pickled but nice enough, more were needed. Oh, and the price, in a pub way of town, was £7.50. It felt lazy for that price, a reasonable size but bland.

Cod, barley and sauce gribiche Chicken with redcurrant sauce and skinny chipsMains were slightly better at least, despite the hour wait between a very quick starter and very slow main. I’m glad they weren’t busy! I had cod with barley and sauce gribiche. The fish was served as a nicely cooked chunk, bar the skin which was flabby and soft still. The interior was soft and moist. I love barley and that was also well cooked to a firm bite, mixed with the very garlicky, tangy gribiche it made for a good side. Possibly too much garlic, it did repeat for a bit but I appreciated the punchiness at the time. The wife went for chicken served with redcurrant sauce(!), skinny chips and asparagus. Two slightly lonely out of season asparagus spears supported a large bit of chicken and redcurrant sauce. A bit like a guilty Ikea meatball visit, it was sweet, meaty and OK. The chicken was dry though, and the chips needed a harder fry. Oh, and the repeated chive garnish on both was amateurish when you see both together.

In a word, disappointing. Not desperately bad, my main was moderate in fact. But given the heritage of the place, and the pricing, I would have hoped for more. More focus, more interesting dishes and more attention to detail. I would probably head back for a boozy afternoon and casual lunch with mates if they were going there, but won’t be heading back for dinner.
Hampshire Hog on Urbanspoon