Review: Odette’s, Primrose Hill

What does £12 get you for lunch in a proper-to-goodness restaurant these days? Not a lot, particularly in London and even more-so in the heart of leafy Primrose Hill. A scallop starter perhaps (in fact the exact price of a starter I had the same night at The Engineer around the corner)? At Pizza Express, my benchmark of mediocre cheap food, you can just about get a single pizza, as long as you pick some of the cheaper ones. Skip that and come to Odette’s, this smart restaurant will serve you a stunning 2 course lunch for that princely sum! It must be the best value lunch in London.

Opened by Bryn Williams in 2008, over the past few years I’ve visited several times for both lunch and dinner and have every time been served impeccable food. On the one hand it operates as an excellent neighbourhood restaurant with its keen pricing, warm professional service and somewhat low profile. I would imagine it has a lot of regulars. Which is all great, but what really shines is the food, I’m frankly amazed they don’t have any stars yet, it absolutely deserves one. The set lunch menu is short (2 dishes per course) but still provides interesting options and decent size dishes. 3 courses is even better value at £15.

Sweet rye bread

We started with their regular sweet rye(?) bread topped with oat flakes brought  to the table with soft butter, adding even more to the value given their set menu prices. Very moreish, it is quite sweet to start but quickly becomes addictive with its firm but not too dense texture. The butter was either unsalted or very lightly salted and I think it was much improved when we requested some salt at the table and added it on top. And the salt was traditional table salt, a small matter perhaps but I would prefer flaked salt.

Brandade with bacon jamTo start I went for the cod brandade with bacon jam and sweetcorn. Certainly an intriguing combination and quite unusual to have a brandade with a sweet meat-based accompaniment. It came beautifully presented with the brandade in a deep fried shell and a puffed up piece of fish skin atop for texture. The sweetcorn was perfectly cooked to be firm, sweet and juicy. The bacon jam was a masterstroke. Sweet, sticky and meaty it added depth to the whole dish. The fish brandade was light and the crunchy fish skin brought everything together. Nitpicking, slightly more cod flavour would have been good in the brandade, a higher ratio of fish is always good.

Pork and apple, elevated.

My black pudding in hiding

 

My main was a classic pork, apple and potato combination, but elevated to something more special with some great touches. Firstly the menu specified black pudding, which I couldn’t find until turning over my apple and seeing it stuffed with more porky goodness. The meat was soft and unctuous but had then been fried in to crisp up the edges for a great texture contrast. And the potato (dauphinoise) was neat and perfectly cooked. All of this was topped with a rich jus with a glossy sheen and deep flavour.

Lamb and artichoke

Rich rich mashGreens

The wife went off the standard menu (not being a great fan of black pudding or the other option of mushrooms). What arrived was a glorious hunk of pink lamb, broad beans and “burnt” tomatoes. Accompanied by neatly prepared artichoke and an artichoke puree, it all combined very well and brought together again by a top quality sauce. Classic but with the slight twist of artichoke which I hadn’t thought of before. The side of mash probably wasn’t needed (I did ask if my pork came with potato and thought they said no) but it was smooth and very rich, plenty of butter for sure. The side of cabbage was fine, although perhaps it needed an extra dimension and / or a bigger portion for the price.

We skipped dessert since we were both so full by this point. Thinking about it, that would have only cost us an extra £2 with my set menu, so probably a bad decision. Particularly as the wife saw them on the way out and suddenly had more of an appetite. So, as I’m sure you can tell, I more than quite like this place and think it deserves the highest praise. Come for lunch for amazing value, and then come to dinner for a perfect relaxed indulgent meal. Stunning.

Review: Giaconda Dining Room, Tottenham Court Road

Giaconda Dining Room has always been one of my favourite places to frequent around the West End (well the back end of Tottenham Court Road), completely unpretentious with fantastic interesting food (and wine in particular) at sensible prices. I hadn’t been for a couple of years but my overriding memory is of a small packed buzzy bistro vibe and always welcoming staff.

So whilst racking my brains for somewhere to eat later on a Wednesday night I excitedly recalled GDR and off we went. It had changed somewhat in that the main dining room had been extended, certainly a blessing given it used to be a tight squeeze although late on a mid-week night it unfortunately wasn’t very busy and hence looked even emptier than it would have. The decor has been brightened up a fair bit with jazzy tablecloths, personally I preferred the previous starker interior but fair enough.

Radishes and delicious anchovy paste

 

Raw salmon

 

Cheesy risotto

 

A small cover charge includes bread, radishes, anchovy paste and unlimited filtered sparkling water which I think is a good deal. The anchovy paste was amazing and extremely moreish (recalling my South African roots and the breakfast staple Pecks Anchovette paste). I like the idea of radishes as a snack as well, crisp and refreshing. My starter was raw salmon with fennel and cucumber. The presentation was supremely elegant, looking effortless but clearly a lot of skill in the arrangement. The cucumber was very refreshing with a generous portion of salmon beneath. Unfortunately the dish was overpowered by a sharp, salty lemon dressing. I can appreciate the combination but a bit less would have elevated the dish instead of dominating it, certainly not bad and only a small change would make this a fantastic starter. Phil had the special risotto, described as cheesy. It certainly smelt strong and looked properly creamy and comforting, he enjoyed it although said the portion was perhaps too generous.

Lemon sole

 

Saffron risotto

 

I opted for the lemon sole wrapped in parma ham and served with saffron risotto. The main piece of fish was a great size and came plated just with a wedge of lemon. The combination of soft white fish and crisped salty parma ham worked perfectly, the fish was very marginally over but I’d happily allow that for the crisp parma ham. A side of saffron risotto was a bowl of unctuous bright yellow starchy goodness.

 

Lamb leg steak

 

Coco beans

 

Phil had the special lamb, which was a grilled leg steak with coco beans and potatoes. I was concerned about the choice of cut and hence didn’t go for it myself. It was cooked on the rarer side of medium rare and the meat looked good, however I do think that is a slightly tough cut to serve so thick and rare. The coco beans with potatoes were great as an interesting accompaniment, juicy and packed full of flavour.

Berry tart

Délice JocondeFor dessert I opted for a strawberry and raspberry tart with creme patisserie. A classic combination, it worked very well and came as a whole mini tart. If I was being fussy I wish the pastry was a bit more delicate and there was more sauce, but those are small complaints. Phil opted for Délice Joconde, a chocolate and praline mousse with hazlenut sponge. He said it was fantastic with plenty of chocolate flavour and a light texture.

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So overall a cracking meal, and with their expanded dining room you haven’t got any reason not to get down there asap. I realise I’ve sounded a bit fussy about some of the dishes but everything was enjoyed thoroughly and could be elevated to ultimate excellence with some tiny tweaks. The food is comforting and elegant at the same time, a difficult combination to pull off, and the prices are very reasonable for the quality and location. And a note on the wine list, we had this very delicious Puligny Montrachet for a bargain £45, given I’ve seen it over £30 retail. A fixed markup makes it the best value list I’ve seen in London and worth splashing a bit more on.

Review: Cottons, Camden

Cocktails and food menus

Camden Lock. Busy, noisy, full of goths and even punks still (I didn’t realise they still existed). Food-wise it’s pretty easy to find places to avoid, mainly by the smell of greasy noodles and stale meat under heat lamps. So where to go when you actually do want something to eat. Porky’s serves fantastic American true BBQ and you could follow up with nitrogen-frozen ice cream at Chin-Chin labs. Yum-cha serves excellent cheap dim-sum from the most unassuming of restaurants. So can I add Cottons to that list for Caribbean food and rhum?

The dark and stormy

Bad beer made better by holiday memories

Situated halfway towards Chalk Farm and with a fairly non-descript exterior I must have walked past a hundred times or so. But this time I decided to venture in and give it a go. First impressions weren’t brilliant, admittedly it was quite late on Sunday afternoon but it looked quite deserted. Walking through the bar we saw a few people dining and carried on through. It is separated into smaller rooms which are a bit dark and claustrophobic, I suppose at night they could appear cosier. Menus were brought quickly and we were offered drinks from the long list of rum cocktails and short list of beers. I opted for a classic Dark and Stormy and the wife went for a bottle of Carib (ostensibly to recall our honeymoon in Grenada). It was a decent enough cocktail, slightly sharp perhaps but plenty of lime and booze. We were brought some thick slices of white brioche and butter which went down well, despite not being the most refined bread option.

Spring onion skewers

 

Jerk ribs

We opted to share a couple of meat starters and then split the mixed jerk fish grill since we weren’t overly hungry. Our first starter was spring onion skewers which was presented very well. The thigh meat was cooked beautifully, making them tender and juicy. Served with a quite spicy sauce and lots of onion to punch it up, it was full of flavour and an excellent start. The ribs were good if not quite as punchy. The ribs had plenty of meat and were drizzled with a quite piquant sharp sauce, I just wish the meat was a bit more tender (maybe a slightly slower cook was needed). Served with crispy onions this was still a great starter though and I loved the unusual sauce, perhaps it was tamarind based?

Mixed fish jerk grill

The mixed jerk fish grill came next, with plantain and rice ‘n peas. A decent portion arrived (especially for one!) with 3 types of fish and a solitary prawn. The same sauce as the ribs starter was in a pot (fair enough since they’re both jerk options) and helped moisten the rice and the whole dish. The rice ‘n peas were fine, with proper “peas” although maybe a few more would have been nice. The plantain was excellent and unusually served in the skin. Firm and sweet it cut through the jerk sauce deliciously. The fish was OK given the context, but 2 of the pieces in particular were overcooked and needed lots of sauce. The single prawn was cooked to death and quite unappealing. Trying to serve 3 pieces of fish and prawns with sides is tricky for £15, but I’d rather either have a more expensive or smaller portion with fresher fish. One of the fish was still juicy although quite a few bones were present in all of them.

So, a mixed bag overall. Excellent starters but a disappointing main which while OK lacked quality produce and needed some more refined cooking. The prices aren’t hugely cheap, but aren’t expensive either so I feel I will give it another go at some point in the future. Perhaps their meat platter shows the better side of their cooking. The rum list is very impressive (see the photo below) so I’ll definitely be back to run through that in more detail.

The impressive wine list! £3,500 a shot anyone!?

Final bill, pretty reasonable

Review: Patty & Bun Burgers

Logo, reverso

All the essential steps

Burgers, burgers, burgers. I’ve got nothing against a good burger and it’s great that London has some cracking joints to get them from. There’s been lots of excitement about the previously humble meat sandwich in the last couple of years elevating forming a piece of mince into an art-form. I wonder if perhaps it has gone a bit too far though, they are first and foremost supposed to be a quick feel-good hunk of greasy meat in a bun. And I’ve had my fair share of great burgers, everything from my local Dirty Burger for a quick cheap fix to Bar Boulud for an indulgent luxurious twist.

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So forgive me if I’m a bit over the craze. That might explain why it’s taken me so long to actually visit P&B, the revered little eaterie just north of Bond Street. As heroic as the cooking might be (from Burgerman himself), I couldn’t bring myself to queue for a burger any more (not after the heady days of Meat Liquor anyway). But I found myself needing an early dinner at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, surely a lull if ever there was one, and went for it. Still a bloody queue of course, probably 30 minutes or so. S’awright, we popped to the local offy (since they couldn’t serve us anything from P&B outside) and sat drinking cans of lager whilst trying to stare people inside into eating up and leaving.

Cracking beer

Then, all of a sudden, we were in! We ordered two burgers and an order of chips between two of us. The beer selection detailed on the website was poor (I was very concerned at being forced to consume Red Stripe) but they also had a list of specials. Which included my new favourite Five Points Pale , outstanding, along with a very good selection of British and American craft beers. The order arrived quickly, to the house recommended medium-rare.

Beautifully wrapped

Shiny happy bunsSkin on chips

 

And, in case you had any doubts, holy shit these are good burgers. Super beefy, rich, fatty but not too greasy and very juicy. The bun is amazing, a sweet firm brioche to hold up to the juice. And the topping are all good twists on the classic. I had the Smokey Robinson with bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce, caramelised onions, ketchup and smokey mayo. First off I very rarely have bacon on a burger since I don’t want any detractions, but this added good seasoning and texture with a single thick slice of quality pig. It sounded like too many condiments but was very balanced and the sweetness of the onions cut through the richness. The other was the “Jose Jose”, swapping chorizo for the bacon and pickled onions for the caramelised onions. Similarly superlative, with big chunks of chorizo and the same balance.

Big bites required.

The money shot

The money shot, in all its goodness. I’ll admit it was a touch overdone for my tastes, and will ask for rarer next time, but it’s certainly acceptable. The chips are skin-on, certainly my preference since it adds texture and flavour. Super salty with a hit of rosemary, they packed flavour and crunch into every bite, I wish we’d got another side of them in fact which is unusual. So, in and out for £30 with 2 beers, this is possibly my top burger in London and certainly the best in the sub £12 mark. I can recommend it highly, just make sure you have time to queue!

Patty & Bun on Urbanspoon

Review: Casamia, Bristol from the Iglesias brothers

The subtle High Street signage in Westbury-on-Trym

Having previously celebrated the start of my fourth decade with a full-on twenty person weekend bash, I wanted something a bit more understated to mark the progress of another year. A more refined, dare I say elegant, affair. So what better than a posh meal with a small group of good friends. But where to go? The Critical Couple’s review of Casamia was all the persuasion I needed to give this restaurant just North of Bristol the honour. I booked several months ago and began the long anticipatory wait, making the eventual arrival of the day even more exciting.

A welcoming entrance

We were staying an hour or so North, or at least thought we were until the coach fire on the M5 made a mockery of our sat-nav timings. But fortunately we navigated the back route and were barely half an hour late, with the restaurant being very accommodating. Given we were in for a 4hr+ lunch it wasn’t much of a worry. Casamia is located on the high street of Westbury-on-Trym, and has a classy understated grey gate hiding the unusual astro-turfed corridor entrance. The restaurant is family run, the nice twist being the Iglesias parents handed the kitchen over to their very talented sons who have elevated the food to a spectacular standard.

The menu in full

We were greeted very warmly and shown through to our table for six, complete with a birthday card which was a nice touch. It’s quite a small restaurant, maybe 40 covers, and has a relaxed feel. The design aesthetic is clean but with some interesting large photographs on the wall and stone crockery, fortunately not naff and apparently designed by the brothers and sourced locally. I particularly liked the cutlery stacks (held in place by a stoneware rack) as an interesting touch, and it gives much more room than layers of knives and forks for tasting menus. Smart casual in a good way. There is the option of a small 5 course or larger 10 course menu at lunch, priced at £38 and £68 respectively. Given the travelling to get there and very reasonable prices we opted for the 10 course menu, along with matching wines at £60. We were asked if we wanted the apple pie (at a rather steep additional £12!), apparently their signature dish from the Great British menu, and opted to decide later how many we wanted.

A quick note about the dining room and pass setup, cleverly the food is plated in the corner of the main dining room and then brought straight over, often by the brothers themselves who can explain the dish and answer any questions. This provided lots of interaction and made the meal seem even more special, particularly given the brothers and rest of the staff are so enthusiastic and passionate. It was also exceptionally calm, probably helped by the fact the menu is cleverly designed and doesn’t require a lot of frantic last minute cooking. They also aim to follow the seasons closely and hence have 4 main menu changes a year to reflect that.

Rosemary foccacia, olive oilPre-dinner drinks were offered (without menu or prices) but I wanted to see the options. The wine menu started at £15 a glass for champagne (admittedly from 2004), pretty steep so we made other choices. They did make a very well balanced Negroni for me at a more reasonable £8.50 and a Hendricks and tonic was served with cucumber for the wife. The order of the “cheap option” of an Estrella beer by Ollie was surprising, when a champagne size bottle designed by Ferran Adria arrived, along with a slightly odd tasting to check it wasn’t “corked”. Apparently designed for food and flavoured with coriander, orange peel and liquorice, I found it pretty bland. Not a big deal but perhaps a warning before ordering on the size and price would have been good, it was ironically £15. A generous helping of focaccia was presented along with bowls of a tangy, fruity olive oil. The bread was very very good, it had a springy, fluffy and light interior surrounded by a thin crisp salty crust and strong rosemary flavour throughout.

Quiche Lorraine

Chilled broad bean soupA first course, or amuse-bouche given the size, was a one bite quiche lorraine. A crisp thin-pastry shell contained a ridiculously light savoury egg custard filling flavoured with ham and chives. Almost ethereal at first, the addition of strong Keens cheddar grounded it and added some needed body and a touch of earthiness. Just as we were getting thirsty the first of the wine course arrived, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner very much to my taste and paired with the chilled broad bean soup. This recalled the chilled pea soup at Dabbous which was a revelatory course for me. The Casamia version is instead made with broad beans and a mint snow. Perhaps an unfair comparison since Dabbous has less courses, but I wish there had been more of this soup, particularly to balance the copious amount of mint snow. However the soup was very well balanced, completely smooth and paired perfectly with the mint and garnish. And I can certainly appreciate the work in preparing broad beans, being a favourite of mine but a pain to prepare in volume.

Tomatoes, countless waysTomatoes. Lots of them. Preened, pinched and prepared in many ways. Paired with mozzarella. I LOVE a good tomato so this course sounded great and was clearly a nod to the classic Insalata Caprese. Beautiful “heirloom” tomatoes of several varieties were sat on a tomato jam and dressed with black olive and a dehydrated(?) tomato crisp. The mozzarella had very interestingly been blended and re-set for a softer texture. It was also very salty, presumably from the brine that was mixed in with the blending. Salty soft cheese with ripe tomatoes went beautifully. And it was paired with a tomato liqueur, new to me, almost Marsala like and with notes of salty black olives and of course tomatoes. Some of the others felt it was overkill with this dish but I can’t get enough tomato-ey goodness and loved it. Clever stuff.

Summer saladBaby courgette and flower

The next course was a summer salad. Perfectly inoffensive sounding, dull even. But things got more interesting when we were presented with a pair of tweezers each. We were given a pretty assortment of carefully placed flowers, vegetables and herbs, and a hot very punchy cider vinaigrette was carefully pipetted (literally) on. Encouraged to try each element separately, this cleverly brought out the flavour of each morsel including a tiny courgette with flower, nasturtium leaves and flowers amongst others.

Wild salmon, cucumber and dillFish next. A delicate piece of wild salmon, poached in olive oil with cucumber, dill and sea herbs. The fish was very light pink for wild salmon which surprised me a bit, I’ll take their word for it though. It had been poached precisely in oil to just cooked and had an amazing soft texture somewhere between sashimi and cooked. The cucumber and dill sauce was well done, along with the sea herbs. Given this was the second to last savoury course I would have liked a significantly larger piece, but it was a solid if slightly ordinary dish.

Duck, carrot puree

Meat next, and I was ready for it. The protein was duck, cooked deliciously pink as you would hope (sous-vide?) and served with carrot puree, rainbow carrots (orange and purple at least) and a carrot puree. The meat was very tender although maybe a slighter crisper skin would have provided more texture. The carrot puree was perfectly smooth, but sweet and I think felt unbalanced with the sweet glazed duck. The carrots were cooked very well and the fennel was a solid addition. But again, I would have preferred a slice more of the duck since we were about to enter dessert territory. Excellent execution but one more element of texture or flavour wouldn’t be overkill here.

Next was possibly the favourite overall between our group, and I forgot to get a bloody picture. Nevertheless it was a pea, lemon and ricotta transition course, or as I hilariously called it, “The Intercourse”. Designed to take us between savoury and sweet with elements of both, it achieved this amazingly well. A small bowl topped with savoury pea shoots then went through layers of ricotta and lemon to take you from thoughts of salad through to cheesecake. Amazing, innovative and clever paired with downright delicious.

Peaches and cream

Now we were fully into dessert, peaches and cream. Peach granita topped light whipped cream which was atop stewed white Italian peaches. Or their nod tinned peaches as one of the brothers called it when he served us. The contrast of cold ice, soft light cream and beautiful peaches was delightful. Maybe an extra element would have elevated it though, I recall the marigold served with peaches at Dabbous worked fantastically for example.

Apple pie, custard and ice-cream Liquid nitrogen extinguished our candle Clove and cinnamon filled the air

Apple Pie. The signature dish of the restaurant although a steep addition at £12. We ordered 3 for the table. A crisp perfect thin pastry shell with an Apple-reminiscent logo stencilled in cinnamon. This was placed over apple puree, apple pieces and ice cream contained within, and a thin custard surrounded. As the brothers said, you always need custard AND ice-cream. Then bowls of clove and cinnamon were combined with liquid nitrogen to produce a heady homely aroma and great theatre. The pie was great and very reminiscent of the flavours of home-cooking but with skilful execution. Again very light though.

Chocolate, toast and lavenderTurkish delight White chocolate lollipop Mint teaChocolate, toast and lavender. 75% dark chocolate whipped into a light airy mousse. A surprise salted caramel centre was a welcome find, and the toast added crunch and texture. Strangely though it didn’t have the richness I was expecting, I think the process of whipping it left it somewhat lacking in depth. Our final course of strawberries and tarragon was beautifully presented in a large glass, combining strawberry jelly, fresh strawberries and cream. This was elevated with tiny crunchy tarragon meringues which were amazing. Over a nice mint tea and decent espresso we enjoyed some petit-fours of white chocolate lollipop (and popping candy, natch) and punchy bitter sweet grapefruit Turkish Delight, particularly good as I love grapefruit.

Wow, what a lunch. The execution of every dish was completely amazing, even more-so when you consider both brothers are around 30 years old. I loved it and would heartily recommend it as a destination restaurant, some of the dishes were mind blowing. It came in at £150 a head all-in, not cheap but for this standard well worth it and we didn’t scrimp on anything (bar the champagne). I didn’t make enough note of the wine but there were plenty of glasses throughout the meal, all paired well and were of a good standard. My few potential improvements? I realise it’s a summer menu but still think more bitter, earthy notes are needed to provide balance, and surprisingly given the number of courses I think there needs to be a bit more portion wise. Swapping a dessert for another meat course would help, and quite a few of the party agreed with this point.

But, despite any of that, this is an absolute top quality establishment and I certainly aim to go back and try some of the other seasons. The combination of incredible execution, clever dishes and a welcoming atmosphere makes this a superlative restaurant.

Review: The Gilbert Scott, King’s Cross (plus cocktails at Plum and Split Milk)

Funky wall stickers

King’s Cross. No longer just a destination for lonely gentlemen seeking late night company or youths seeking transcendent narcotics , you can now find a decent coffee, meal and cocktails to go with them. Before the main event we sauntered over to nearby Plum and Split Milk for a quick pre-meal cocktail. P&SM is situated in the recently refurbished Great Northern Hotel originally opened in 1854 by the same company who built King’s Cross, and now brought back to its grand origins as a boutique hotel.

The innovative cocktail menu

An excellent aperitif

We chose the quieter upstairs bar which has a timeless, grand feel to it along with a more contemporary mix of furnishings and artwork. Certainly a distinctive room, I settled in immediately and felt very comfortable. The name Plum and Spilt Milk comes from the old British Rail livery colours which is a nice touch, and the vintage rail theme extends to the cocktail list. I went for the 1854, a whiskey and vermouth concoction with smoked pineapple syrup and cardamon. The pineapple syrup was an excellent twist with the whiskey, adding sweet smokey notes. I didn’t detect the cardamon and an over zealous shaking left it slightly over-diluted, but for pre-dinner it worked very well.

Onwards to the Glibert Scott, a 5 minute stroll over to St Pancras and into the vast high ceilings of the main dining room. It is a spectacular room, marble and soft furnishing abound on a truly grand scale, which all adds to the atmosphere. It was buzzing and busy on a Tuesday night with a mix of smart clientele so it’s obviously a popular choice. The staff were well turned out with a mix of friendliness and professionalism, and we immediately ordered a bottle of Nyetimber, an English sparkling wine from West Sussex (thanks to Rob, our dining guest, who had a free bottle voucher).

Quail with snails and onion

The menu feels quite brasserie but with English twists and a few more unusual options. I opted for quail to start, with snails and onion. The quail itself was a decent portion, very succulent although also disturbingly pink in the middle. The snails were excellent, cut into small pieces with a big garlic hit. The onions were more like a strange bhajee, deep fried in a batter with seeds, I found them bland and soggy and didn’t understand the combination. But the meat, sauce and snails were a good starter. My two companions opted for a smoked duck dish and the crab salad. The smoked duck was tender and bright red, it came very thinly sliced with some earthy heritage beetroot. The crab salad was generous and well presented with a good amount of white meat.

Smoked duck Crab salad

For our main course I opted for Cornish plaice (only served on the bone) with mussels and tomatoes. It had a good size piece of plaice but unfortunately was overcooked and ended up mushy, not quite enough to send back though. The tomatoes and mussels helped save it, a rich sauce and juicy mussels. A side of brown butter mash was rich and decadent, but over-mashed so it had a bit too much stickiness. Peas with bacon and buttered greens were both cooked well, and had enough greenery to compensate for the doubtless copious butter in each.

Overcooked plaice made up for with a rich sauce Brown butter mash and greens

 

The other two mains at the table were the large rabbit, prawn and mushroom pie plus Cornish seabass with almonds. The pie looked good with a golden-hued crust and chunky succulent filling. The seabass was nicely cooked with an interesting accompaniment of crunchy blanched almonds and capers, texture wise it was odd having whole almonds though. Sliced would have worked better.

Rabbit and prawn (!) pie Seabass and almondsI was feeling fairly full by now with the large portions and sides, but we still opted to share a cheese platter between the 3 of us. The very nice waitress / sommelier took me round the selection, which unusually was only 3 cheeses. They were grandly kept in individual domes at the front of the restaurant, comprising a Cashel Blue, a Clonmore goat’s cheese and a washed-rind Irish Ardrahan. A plate arrived with 3 meagre slices for the price (north of £10, maybe £12? I recall), however they did each come with their own type of chutney and bread / cracker variety so that made the price slightly easier to swallow. Still, more cheese was needed.

Cheese-a-trois

The Cashel Blue came with a malt loaf (it could have been Soreen’s as my dining parter Rob said) but it cut through the rich blue well. The Clonmore was a mild hard goat’s cheese which was fine if a little dull, and went nicely with the fruit bread crisps / apple chutney. But the star was the Ardrahan, a pungent Irish washed rind which was combined with London honey / oat biscuits and worked brilliantly.

A trifle prettyChoc ice anyone?

Green chartreuse, the ultimate digestif after a heavy mealHaving indulged in the cheese I skipped dessert (well, sampled the others) and went straight to a delicious green Chartreuse served in this very pretty cut glass. The others went for a Lord Mayor’s trifle and kendal mint cake / peanut butter choc-ice. Yes, you did just read that right. I imagined a cloying sticky ugly lump on a plate but what actually came was light with the intriguing combination of mint, peanut butter and chocolate. Clever stuff. Similarly the Lord Mayor’s trifle was in fact cherries and a coconut sponge, another combination I wouldn’t have thought of and that was very well balanced.

Overall, it was an enjoyable night and the combination of great staff, a spectacular dining room and some interesting dishes (particularly the desserts) went down well. Still, my savoury choices in particular had some faults which given the price (this was close to £100 a head with 1 bottle of sparkling, 1 bottle of white and a glass of red between 3) shouldn’t really have happened. Still, the food was a mix of reasonable and interesting and I can recommend it for a special night out if you like the grand style dining room, but watch your savoury dish choices and the bill!

The Gilbert Scott on Urbanspoon

Review: Oliver’s Fish and Chips – Belsize Park

A nice traditional logoFish and chips, staple of the nation invoking dreams of trips to the seaside and pesky seagulls. Or more likely Friday nights avoiding confrontations with hooded youths. It doesn’t have the kudos of more modish cuisines; the trendy burgers and in-vogue pulled pork, but sometimes it’s the traditional you want. Which brings us handily to Oliver’s in Belsize Park, a “proper chippy” that doesn’t sell kebabs on the side, nor does it sell oysters and crab (Upper Street I’m looking at you). It sells, on the whole, fried fish and chips.

What remained by the time I remembered to take a photoShowing the (disputed) Jewish origins of the dish we went for the matzo breaded haddock and chips, a large was just under a tenner which is fairly steep but you get a lot for your money. So large in fact it came in 2 boxes, one for the fish and the other for the chips! The picture in fact shows the last third after we had already split out 2 portions! Plenty for dinner for 2 people in my opinion, unless you enjoy the food induced coma of overly large takeaway meals. It was certainly a big piece of haddock that flaked nicely, it was a tiny bit dry (should have got that tartare sauce and mushy peas) but the batter was crisp and thick enough to add bite but thin enough not to overwhelm. And the chips, oh the chips. They were great, no poncey fries or triple cooked chips. These were chippy chips, a super soft interior; angular shapes and a light crisp outer shell. With plenty of vinegar and salt. Job done, highly recommended.

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Kami – Takeaway sushi in Kentish Town

There is something irresistible about good sushi. Maybe it’s the purity of the ingredients with very little space to hide when you are placing fresh fish on a rectangular piece of rice, plus a dab of wasabi and soy sauce. Given the relative newness of the cuisine to England (I still remember being blown away by the conveyor belt Yo Sushi in London Bridge in ’99) we have embraced it wholeheartedly in everything from fine dining to all-you-can-eat buffets. I’m by no means a serious aficionado but I know what I like and the ingredients are what shines forth for me.

During a quiet birthday night in I decided it had to be sushi for dinner, and handily a new restaurant had just opened in the area, Kami. It has taken over from a previous Japanese restaurant at the same premises, Satuma, which I had eaten at once and thought was decent enough. The menu of Kami looked good and the KentishTowner seemed pretty impressed so I was ready to order. It arrived promptly in 30 minutes and was a (just about) reasonable £33 for plenty for 2 people.

Gyoza

First up, some gyoza since I can never resist. They had a plump, juicy filling of chicken and vegetables. The dough had a good bite with just enough chew, and one side grilled for colour and texture. Very good so far.

The essential edamameSome warm edamame provided a nice bite of fresh soy beans, with a dash of salt and fortunately not covered in it like some restaurants seem to insist on.

 

Tuna / salmon / sweet tofu nigiri and salmon sashimi California rolls Spicy tuna roll

 

Next was the “Sushi Set B”. The nigiri and sashimi were very nicely presented, and the nigiri in particular were generous with their rounded fish slice completely engulfing the rice. I tried the Inari nigiri first, sweet tofu wrapped around rice. Wow, certainly very sweet but I really liked it as something slightly different, my best description is it was the sushi version of French toast with maple syrup if that helps. The tuna and salmon nigiri were both excellent, the rice had a nice sticky texture to complement the well cut fish, along with a dab of wasabi underneath. And the sashimi was even better, the fatty soft texture of the marbled salmon being one of my top sushi bites ever (barring perhaps Yashin).

California maki came rolled in tiny flying fish roe which I always like, with its salty fish pop when you manage to bite into one of the slippery little things. They had a decent amount of avocado and crabstick and were well put together. The spicy tuna maki similarly were good although I would have preferred more spice and they had been a bit damaged in transit (or the making of them missed the mark). Good solid favourites though.

Dragon rollThe final piece was the dragon roll, which looked spectacular with its dragon scales exterior (eel flesh and avocado) plus a crunchy filling of prawn tempura and Tobiko (more flying fish roe I discovered). Texturally this was a triumph, the crunchy tempura and roe with sticky rice and soft meaty eel and avocado. And the taste was even better, sweet prawn and unctuous sweet eel were delicious together. A great dish for sure, and lots of skill involved for the £5 it cost, I wish I’d ordered two.

It was a very enjoyable meal with some spectacular sashimi, good solid staples and stunning special rolls to elevate it further. I’ll definitely be visiting at some point and trying the Omakase to see how eating in compares.

 

Review: Jason Atherton’s Little Social

Since launching Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton is slowly forming a mini-empire around Soho. A prodige of Ramsay (he headed up Maze), he’s certainly a very talented chef and launched his flagship restaurant in 2011. I was very impressed with PSS, it showed lots of potential with an interesting menu format (“medium” size plates) and plenty of delicate touches and skilful execution. Plus interesting flavours and ingredients.

Skip to 2013 and we have 2 new Atherton venues in London. Little Social was launched first, directly across from the original, and we also have Social Eating House on Poland Street in the heart of Soho. Both, I suppose, are aiming to emulate some of PSS but in a more casual environment. Little Social is a very French brasserie in atmosphere, drinks and menu.

The well turned out bar staff

Firstly, the staff were excellent, walking the line between formality, efficiency and friendliness perfectly. Smartly dressed and moving quickly, yet still happy to chat and knowledgable about the menu. Through a slightly complicated mixup I ended up having a pre-dinner drink and starter at the bar, followed by my main and dessert at a table, which was a nice way of seeing both sides. The PSS dessert bar in reverse if you will. Pre-dinner I had the “French Negroni”, which I thought sounded like a bastardisation too far but was actually delicious. I think it had citrus Ketel vodka, Suze (French bitters), Lillet blanc and a splash of absinthe plus a twist of grapefruit. Looking much lighter than a Negroni, it was actually reminiscent of its inspiration and worked very well as an even more refreshing alternative.

Bread and butter

Bread was warm with a soft interior and nice crusty outside. The butter was salty, soft and served on a cute paddle. So all good there. I started with the cod brandade which came simply as a lot of things on toast. I know it’s brasserie food but it’s not the cheapest (£8 I think for this) and I found the presentation a touch odd, especially the lettuce horns as I named them. The brandade was nice with a good texture and salty fishy richness. But the rest felt a bit plonked on. Nothing offensive, and the flavours worked well enough, but I wasn’t very excited by a few bits of tomato, lettuce and ham. If I’d made it for myself for lunch I’d be very happy, here I found it pretty indifferent.

Cod brandade starter

 

Next up was roasted cod with cockles, pesto, cabbage and butter beans. I was clearly in a fishy mood (apologies for the absolutely dreadful image, difficult lighting and lack of photography skills are both evident!). It looked great, a whacking great piece of snowy white cod with a touch of crust from the roasting. Cutting into the cod it had a slight chewy feel and to my palate was slightly underdone which rendered the middle a bit unpleasant. Hmmm, not a good start. The cockles all (bar one) still had grit in them which made for an even less pleasant mouthfeel combined with chewy cod. The sauce was a bit watery from the cabbage, although the pesto did help bring it together (even if it was a touch bitter). And some butterbeans, which did what they said on the tin. I can see the aim and with a few fixes would have been a great summery dish, unfortunately this fell way short because of several problems.

Cod main

 

Dessert was a hot chocolate moelleux (read fondant in case like me you had no idea what a moelleux was) with almond and sea salt ice cream. It was certainly gooey, bordering on runny. It definitely delivered a big dark chocolate hit which is all you can ask. The ice cream was a tad melted and didn’t have as much punch from the almonds and salt as I would have liked, I don’t think it stood up enough to the chocolate black hole next to it.

Moelleux

 

Having read lots about Little Social, I seem to have a slightly contrary opinion to most reviewers. I can see potential in this restaurant and think it was a combination of me being unlucky together with too high an expectation from someone like Atherton. Then again the prices are not cheap and we have every right to expect excellent execution for simple brasserie dishes like these. I’ll probably be giving them another go, but then again won’t be rushing back.

 
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Morito Restaurant Review – Exmouth Market

Signage

It’s a hot sunny Sunday afternoon (do you see a theme in my recent posts) and we had an hour to kill for lunch before seeing some people dance around in a silly manner at the Sadler’s Wells theatre (the less said about that the better). Morito, the little tapas bar offspring of the fantastic Moro, seemed a good choice both time, budget and location wise. We hopped over there and they even had some tables set up outside so we could frazzle our skin a bit more whilst smelling the pork on the plancha inside.

Ice-water was quickly brought together with some menus and a Manzanilla sherry in a chilled glass. The menu has a great selection of tapas with seasonable specials as well as the more usual classics. We opted for 5 dishes between 2 of us. Lamb chops are a must for the holiday effect as Anna calls it. Prawns with green Mojo sauce since neither of us can resist it after a trip to Lanzarote. Fried baby squid for me since I love squid (this proved a controversial choice for Anna). Then samphire / a beetroot, feta, dill and walnut salad to accompany them, plus a bread basket to soak up any errant prawn juice / mojo sauce / lamb marinade.

Prawns with green mojo, samphire and beetroot salads.The prawns came first. Shell on, they were a little small and fiddly and maybe a tad expensive at £7. However they were fresh from the plancha and superbly juicy, the mojo was spot on and every bit of it devoured. I love samphire, a particularly trendy coastal vegetable a bit like a cross between seaweed and asparagus. It was nice and firm, but dressed with much too much lemon and salt for me, too sharp and overpowering. The beetroot salad came slightly “pureed” and mixed in with some sort of yogurt I think. Then topped with walnuts, dill and feta. Nice and refreshing although it could have been a bit earthier perhaps.

Baby squid glinting in the sun

 

The baby squid came as a massive pile, lots of tiny squid with tentacles et al inside the body deep fried in a light coating. No other adornments required. I was a fan of these, they had a delicate texture with a slightly crunchy coating and weren’t chewy at all. Anna on the other hand was less of a fan, I think the slight chew on the tentacles proved too much texture wise. They were a tad greasy but that’s probably because I had to eat the whole plate.

Holiday lamb!

Last up was the lamb, I think it was probably in their Spanish marinade with a heady smokey mix of paprika, garlic and lemon. It had a nice char on the outside from the plancha, and was medium pink in the middle which is my preference for lamb chops. Smokey-sweet and deliciously tender, they were big chops and hence a good portion as a tapas dish.

Sherry negroniAll in all a good meal, although I felt a slightly lighter hand on the seasoning / lemon might have let the ingredients sing a bit more. Sitting in the sun with an Amontillado Negroni it was easy enough to forgive though. In total it was under £70 with service, 2 sherries, 2 beers and a cocktail. Always reliable and a worthy lighter alternative to Moro.

 
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