Review: Picture, Great Portland Street

A sign, yesterday.

Value can be very subjective, particularly when people and passionate pursuits like food are involved. Central London prices only exemplify the divide, amazing restaurants tend to come with prices to match. Even if they are at the top of their game with stunning produce and execution, the bill can still be a painful experience for what is at the end of the day, one meal. So how refreshing to find a 6 course tasting menu in Fitzrovia for the very appealing price of £35. Certainly intriguing, a group of us took a trip there for a birthday celebration to find out, as recommended and accompanied by the fine-palated and always entertaining Niamh from Eat Like a Girl .

An appetising menu

I was the first to arrive and the front of house gave a friendly reception. The space feels airy with generously spaced tables and lots of natural light. On-trend with a stripped back look, some of the unfinished wall surfaces were a touch far for me personally but otherwise all good. A long bar dominates the front of the room, a pleasant place to sit with a glass of fino (I was torn between that and the interesting gin and tonic selection). As the group arrived, we were sat at the nicely dressed table and presented with the menu for the night. All sounding very good to me, quite classic flavour combinations but overall a very balanced and exciting menu.

Teeny tiny velvety soup Perfectly cooked broccoliThe first course was more of an amuse bouche. A shot glass of red pepper soup. Velvety smooth and refreshing (served chilled). It had a hint of spicing, particularly cumin and perhaps some other Middle Eastern flavours. It was served alongside some small rolls with a pleasant chew and butter. Broccoli, often overlooked as a central ingredient but when cooked right it can be very satisfying. And this certainly was, roasted to add flavour with just enough bite but no crunch to it. Served with a rich deep aubergine, a yogurt dressing and chickpeas. Clever spicing and ingredients combined into a great course, everyone around the table loved it.

Flaking soft cod Beautiful beefI somehow neglected to photograph the lamb, a melting piece of slow cooked shoulder with firm fresh artichokes and a salty tomato and olive side. Classic and delicious. Next was cod, an interesting place to serve the fish between the two meat courses but it broke up the meal well and stopped meat overload. A hefty chunk of cod, just cooked to flaking point but still very soft and juicy. Beans, potatoes and olives added substance and flavour to accompany the fish without overwhelming. Having seen the expertise with proteins so far, I was looking forward to the final savoury course, the beef. And it didn’t disappoint, unctuous fully flavoured beef cooked medium rare and a light jus. It was a light dish, maybe a small portion of carb and extra carrot would have completed it. Or maybe I was just being greedy.

Panna cotta

 

A final dessert of vanilla panna cotta with strawberries and gingerbread. Classic flavours although the gingerbread is on the more unusual side. The panna cotta had a very good texture, it was light with the right amount of set. It wasn’t overly sweet and almost had a yogurty sour taste, not unpleasant but I would have preferred more sugar and vanilla. The gingerbread was very thin and crisp but could have had a bit more punch. A nice light end to the meal still.

Quite a feast for the £35, every dish was thoroughly enjoyed. The wine list was well chosen and priced too, an Alsace Riesling and Rioja Crianza delivered lots for their price (£35 and £28 respectively). All-in with service was £65 a head, that included a decent glug of wine and drinks too. I’m already planning my next visit, it’s the perfect place for groups with a fun atmosphere and everyone was very happy with their food.

 

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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.

 

 
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