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.
Dock Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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

Recipe: 15minute Petit Fours, mini plum financiers

Heavenly one bite morsels

I suspect I may have approached this recipe backwards, I couldn’t resist the teeny-tiny bright red silicone moulds in an online sale and snapped them up. Quite surprised just how small they actually were on arrival, I’ve come up with a 1 egg recipe that can be completed in 15 minutes and is adaptable to various additions. So, petit-fours every day then. The nutty butter and almond flour make these deliciously moreish. Based on a financier recipe although the moulds are the wrong shape. I’ve used plum and tinned cherries before, just make sure they are as dry as possible by dabbing with kitchen paper.

Recipe (makes 18-25 tiny cakes)

  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 65g almond flour
  • 65g golden caster sugar
  • 10g flour
  • A handful of very finely cut fruit (plums / raspberries / cherries etc).

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter in a small pan, then simmer gently for a couple of minutes until lightly browned and nutty. Mix the almond flour and sugar in a bowl along with the egg and mix. Once the butter has cooled a bit mix in and add the flour. Stir through the fruit and place in your moulds (since these are so small silicone is best or they might well stick) filling to the top and careful not to spill any. Bake for 10minutes (for tiny moulds) to 15 minutes (slightly bigger). Leave for a couple of minutes to cool, then turn out onto a rack to cool. Try and eat only one, I never can!