Monthly archive

November 2016

Where else I’ve been eating this Summer & Autumn

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Anzu, St. James

Tonkotsu is a pretty good ramen restaurant named after the Japanese word for the pork broth you often have with your noodles (as opposed to tonkatsu, which is deep-fried pork, such as that you might have in a “pork katsu curry”). It’s not my favourite (KOI Ramen, Ramen Sasuke, and best of all Kanada-Ya) but it’s up solidly decent. Anzu is a sister restaurant with an upmarket, smart, look, a more expensive menu, aimed squarely at business lunches, and next door to another new opening, Veneta. They do pretty good tempura-ed vegetables, fish, seafood, pork, although nothing special. Their eponymous rice is a bit of a mess but tastes satisfyingly malty. Their yuzu mayonnaise is just the right balance of creamy and zingy-fresh. (No medals.)

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Manitoba Tigella, Fitzrovia

I’d not heard of tigella before, which apparently is a somewhat-pancake-like, round, patterned, bread from Northern Italy, around four inches in diametre. You fill it with ham, cheese, and so on. Those opening this place, on New Oxford Street a stone’s throw from Tottenham Court Road tube, clearly didn’t think they could centre a whole restaurant on tigella, so they offer a bunch of other stuff too, generic Italian stuff you’ve eaten before. I was there for a launch and while the canapes were mediocre at best, the tigella were pretty interesting: a satisfying chewy give with nice Italian cured meats. I’m not sure I’d go back. (No medals.)

Tang, Fitzrovia

I went to Tang to try some VR goggles (actually one of those things where you slot your phone in) for St Giles hotel chain’s 360 degrees project. That was quite cool. The food they served was from a small restaurant in their London branch, next door to the YMCA seconds away from Tottenham Court Road tube. It’s all solidly decent sort-of-Chinese-sort-of-Asian food: dense deep-fried tofu cubes with a salty limey sauce, rice and slow-cooked beef, noodle soup with chicken. Prices aren’t high, and you could do a lot worse, but also a lot better. (No medals.)

Fuller’s Kitchen, Greenwich

So Fuller’s Kitchen is basically when Fuller’s pubs are a bit more ambitious and have a more kitted out kitchen and sophisticated menu. I tried lots of the dishes and they were mostly a cut above what you’d expect from a pub in both quality and price. Nothing savoury blew me away, but it’s always nice when the steak or duck breast you get is clearly from a decent animal and cooked to the degree you ask for. However, their lemon tart was surprisingly excellent: wobbly, but coherent and resistant to light tugs; sweet and cloying but in a good way. I think I ate a whole (massive) portion. It’s basically decent modern European food but it’s the same price as some excellent examples of the same thing. (No medals.)

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Shake Shack, Fitzrovia

Who knew there’s a Shake Shack right by Tottenham Court Road, where I apparently have been hanging out a lot recently. Shake Shack is one of my top three London burger joints, along with Bleecker St. Burger (the best), and Dip & Flip (the most interesting). Honest Burger, Patty & Bun, Burger Shack, and all the others (please recommend places you think I mightn’t have been to, I’m always curious) are just not quite on the same level. They cannot match the loose, smashed, fatty, juicy patty; they cannot match the American cheese in its gloopy glory; they cannot match the soft, chewy bun that take any level of grease you can throw at it. Yes, their burgers cost £10, yes they are glorified McDonald’s burgers. But McDos is already good. It was the first meat I ate after two years vegetarian, and I’ll be back dozens more times. (Two medals.)

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Newman Arms, Fitzrovia

The Newman Arms has 50% new ownership, but the cook and supplier are still the same, so don’t fret. I went back because the room is beautiful, they offered 300g of Cornish sirloin (Dexter advertised, ended up being Ruby Red which is just fine wiht me), and it happened to be half off wine the day I went. With that discount included, a bottle between two, mains, small starters, a dessert to share, and service, we spent £38 each, make of that what you will. The service, atmosphere, and food is all still excellent: a deeply beefy, tender slab of meat cooked to perfection. Interesting pickles, excellent caramelised treacly roasted veg of all sorts. Only problem is the “chips” which were wedges and soft and floury rather than crispy on the outside. I lodged my concerns and I am told this is to be fixed: after all it was their first night with the new team. (One medal.)

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The 10 Cases, Covent Garden

You can’t book Barrafina for two, and the queue was unpleasantly long, so I trundled along the road to The 10 Cases, where I had a lovely dinner. Its name comes from the fact they only ever but ten cases of any of the wine they serve, so the menu is constantly chopping and changing. We ate simple but well executed food: tempura broccoli with a hoi sin-esque sauce; deep fried bits of squid far fresher, bouncier, and more lightly but crispily battered than usual; medium-cooked rack of lamb for two (£46, four bones worth). We had an especially amazing Chenin blanc dessert wine which was much butterier than most and less sweet—didn’t even know it was a thing that existed. Also amazing service and dark, candlelit, buzzy atmosphere. Recommend. (One medal.)

Restaurant round-up, November 2016 edition

in Features/Restaurants by

In the footsteps of Ben’s last post, here are some restaurants I’ve visited lately but didn’t get round to reviewing properly. I second his condemnation of Gaucho’s rubbish ‘divine bovine’ event, but differ on Chick’n Sours in Covent Garden, whose sides are mostly very good and whose chicken seemed pretty good, albeit not as good as the Dalston branch.

Mamalan, Shoreditch

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Mamalan does “Beijing-style street food” at London-style prices. There are quite a few of these dotted around so I went to the new Shoreditch branch’s soft launch for 50% off. It was a bit of a let down: the food was mostly cooked well, in terms of texture, but far too bland in terms of flavour. For example, chicken wings were fried to a crisp, but had no seasoning worth talking about. Beef noodle soup had some well-stewed beef, but lacked the sort of rich flavour you need from a broth (oh, and the noodles were overcooked). (No medals.)

Salvation in Noodles, Dalston

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I rushed through my dinner here to get to a gig I was going to, so I don’t want to judge it too harshly. For a place as hyped-up as Salvation I didn’t think it did anything special. Phu Quoc wings were very crispy and the fish sauce they were tossed in gave them a deep and unusual savoury flavour. My pho was pretty average – worse and less generous than the pho I can get at Mien Tay in Clapham. My companion enjoyed her noodle salad quite a lot, though. But are summer rolls supposed to have a big load of rice in them? What a crappy dish, if so. These were £5 for two and were at least 50% cold rice. Maybe that flies in Hanoi but this is Dalston, man. (No medals.)

Hakkasan, Mayfair

I had heard good things about Hakkasan and was excited to go with someone who’d also heard good things. It was so disappointing. The food was barely above the standard of a typical Chinatown Cantonese place – and bear in mind that this is an extremely expensive restaurant. We had fried salt and pepper squid, which was fried in a light batter but came with a sweet chilli dip that may well have come out of a bottle; pork ribs that I’d describe as “good for a takeaway”; two beef in sauce dishes that came with cuts of beef that were to my mind completely inappropriate for the heavy, thick sauces they were served with; and some (admittedly very big and juicy) prawns in a straightforward Thai coconut curry sauce. I have no idea why this place exists or has a reputation for good food. (Avoid. Strongly avoid.)

Dosa N’ Chutny, Tooting

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I’m working my way through all of Tooting’s well-known Indian restaurants and, although nothing beats Apollo Banana Leaf (Sri Lankan, strictly speaking), Dosa N’ Chutny is a very likely little place. It’s a reasonably straightforward affair: you order a dosa (a big, thin, crispy pancake) with a filling of curried potatoes and, in my case, mutton that comes on a tray with various different chutneys to dip it in. The coconut chutney in particular was very garlicky and fresh, a lovely addition to the dosa’s filling. The order above cost £4.50 and with a few sides was more than enough for a very greedy man like me. You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than £15/head here including drinks. It’s not the most ambient dining room but it’s a very sweet, likeable place. (One medal.)

The Ivy, Covent Garden

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I’ve been to The Ivy a few times now and, although it’s very expensive, it really is very good. Last time I went I had grouse for only the second time in my life, and it was really quite amazing. Grouse done right is moist and packed with a powerful, almost beefy flavour, and comes as standard with a piece of toast with a thick spread of pate on top, bread sauce, gravy and ‘game chips’ (which are crisps, I guess?). If, like me, you assumed that liking grouse was a way for people to show off about their class, I urge you to go to the Ivy at the right time of year to be proved wrong. Everything else I have ever had at the Ivy has been very well put together in the classical style. (Two medals.)

Where I’ve been eating this summer

in Features/Restaurants by

I have been out quite a lot in the last few months, but I haven’t written about any of the stuff I’ve eaten. I’ll never get time to review everywhere I’ve eaten in full, but here are some short thoughts and recommendations about all of the spots I’ve visited. I haven’t written anything about it, but of course I’ve been to Good Friend chicken around five times in the last few months, and it remains the best friend chicken you can get.

Macellaio, Southwark

Sam has reviewed Macellaio for SUL (we both went separately during their soft launch), and I mostly agree with what he said. It’s an interesting idea, and the “pissa”—Ligurian pizza but with thicker, fluffier bread, and a tangy yoghurty cheese instead of mozzarella—were pretty good. But they clearly lack a hot enough grill to get a proper char on the outside of otherwise fairly good meat. I got half off because it was a soft launch, and I can’t imagine myself going back at full price. (No Medals)

Olympic Cafe, Waterloo

By contrast, I expect to go back to Olympic Cafe fairly regularly. It’s a barebones, utilitarian, spartan-as-can-be little room with bland decor and tables, and an extremely aggressive waiter/maitre-d lady. It offers only a list of the most generic Chinese foods. And yet, for the price, its quality is extremely impressive: I had a sizeable plate of roast crackling pork with amazingly crispy skin and juicy meat, for just £5! I don’t know whether everything they sell is so impressive, but I want to find out. (One Medal)

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Shackfuyu, Soho

Shackfuyu is a side-project of hipster-ish ramen restaurant Bone Daddies, and it’s been open about two years, seemingly always busy and successful. Their menu is short and to the point, and many dishes had run out by the time we ate, which I always take as a positive. Only about half of the dishes worked, but when they came off they really came off—and the failures were still worthwhile tries. (Verging on One Medal)

The Diner, Covent Garden

I was invited to try “hard tea” cocktails at The Diner. They were okay, but they were too sweet, and didn’t taste sufficiently of tea. Their regular schtick is American-style junk food and it was competent if unexceptional: bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers, crispy-fluffy sweet potato fries, etc. There are too many places that do this exceptionally to actually go, but nothing I ate made me hate it, as I might have predicted. (No Medals)

Shotgun, Soho

So Shotgun was one of my favourite London restaurants, and maybe still is, but, as Sam sums up very accurately here, their Chicken Dinner menu is absolutely diabolical. If they keep focusing on the BBQ—which they do as well as anywhere, if not better—then they remain a two medal restaurant. When it comes to anything else, they risk being an avoid.

Legs, Hackney

Of all the restaurants I went to, this is the one I wanted to review individually the most. Legs fulfils all of my arbitrary restaurant preferences: short menu, focuses on what it’s good at, few seats, strong flavours, interesting ideas, knows how to cook pork belly properly. I’d wanted to go since I heard about them, but when am I ever in Hackney Central? Don’t miss the pork belly, which they slowly poach, cool, store, then pan fry until the outside is crisp, and serve with sunflower seeds and plum ketchup. Also don’t miss the grilled watermelon with sumac—what a combination! It’s also the right price: there’s no need to spend more than £30 or so a head if you don’t want to. (One Medal)

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Chick n Sours, Covent Garden

The first Chick n Sours, in Haggerston, won plaudits from basically everyone, and many of my friends are hardcore aficionados, regularly making the trip across to eat its fried chicken. So I was pretty excited. But I didn’t really “get it” when I went, perhaps due to dish choice, perhaps due to having bad taste, perhaps just because I chose the wrong dips. I’m going to go back before making a final judgement (it’s not expensive, and I did love the zingy pickled watermelon), but on what I had first time I’d call it no medals. The staff were great though.

The Canonbury Tavern, Highbury

The Canonbury is now one of the two closest pubs to where I live, so I went in to check it out on the very day I moved in. It’s a treasure. I feel so lucky to live in a London where there are 20-30 pubs serving food this great: perfect sticky reduced stock jus; attractively presented king oyster mushrooms; beautiful old England pub glamour surroundings; steaks cooked just how you ask for them; expert use of different bits of game in the way they should be. And good bread. Mains are £15-20, starters and desserts about £6—just what you want. (One Medal)

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The Palomar, Soho

So The Palomar served me probably the best bread dish I’ve eaten this year: Yemeni layered croissant-like bread that was simultaneously fluffy and light but also extremely dense and heavy. I can’t say how that even works, but it does, and I equally did not expect that tahini and a gazpacho-like tomato sauce would be so good to dip in. But they also served me by far the worst pork belly dish I’ve ever eaten, a horrifying mistake of a dish: rubbery, impossible to cut, chewy, and with a bewildering selection of sides whose purposes were completely unclear. God it was terrible. And the rest of the dishes were on a range between those: some totally underwhelming, some satisfying and strongly flavoured (like the deconstructed kebab). I was shocked at the unreliability, given the wide swathe of 10/10 reviews. (No Medals)

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MeatLiquor N1, Islington

Of course, I’ve been to every other Meat-X restaurant, although the MeatWagon that started it all was before my time. They continue to be among the best adverts for London’s burger “scene”, although this time I had a lovely Philly cheesesteak, totally different from the more authentic-seeming one at Liberty Cheesesteaks in Spitalfields Market and good in a totally different way. Dense, moist, juicy, fatty, cheesy meat—if it’s on the specials menu don’t miss out. (One Medal, like their other spots.)

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Kingston

I’ve been to GBK in Kingston quite a few times, and it’s definitely not great when you compare it to the options you have in London nowadays (Shake Shack, Bleecker St Burger, Dip & Flip). Most people probably like it less than Byron and Five Guys—both of which have a branch in Kingston. But you know, I think it’s totally tolerable, and I don’t mind going whenever my younger brother (who loves the place) wants to. If he’s paying… But I won’t give it a rating because I know Sam & Philip would give it an avoid.

Gaucho Grill, Piccadilly

When I was younger, Gaucho was a Thing. More than Hawksmoor or Goodman, it was the steak restaurant I’d heard of as a child. We went to the Richmond one for my 16th birthday and it was the first time I’d ever eaten food that expensive. Something like £40 for the large fillet. I loved it then, but each time I’ve been back since, I’ve found it less impressive. The last time, before this recent visit, was the last day before two years of vegetarianism, which is sort of like it being my last straight partner before I realised I was gay.

This time, we went for a special £75 menu (but were invited) that was being sold to people around the world to celebrate their birthday. It was called “Divine Bovine” and, honestly, it was garbage, especially for the price. There was one good dish, a slow cooked, tender in the middle, crispy on the outside, bit of beef rib accompanied by hoi sin. The rest was a waste of time, especially the diabolical, undrinkable beef martini, which tasted of beef stock with white spirit. Don’t put on a big meal if your kitchen can’t handle it. The normal restaurant is okay, but I’d honestly rather go to Flat Iron and have two or three of their specials. Gaucho is a big waste of money. (Avoid)

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