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Anglo, Perilla & much much more

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The SUL site has been quiet, but that doesn’t mean we’ve not been eating out and updating the map with our favourite spots. Sometimes you just don’t find yourself with a whole review’s worth of things to say about places, or the time to say them. So I’m just going to round up the dozen or so new places I’ve tried in the quiet winter months.

Anglo, Farringdon

I wanted to go to Anglo since it opened. It’s obvious, but there’s something luxurious and special about an endless progression of courses. However, most of the restaurants that are designed around trying lots of different dishes in succession, rather than simultaneously, are prohibitively expensive. I’m very happy for the people who can afford £100 tasting menus, but they do not include me.

Anglo’s £45 price point, on the other hand, is occasionally affordable. And for that price, at Anglo, you are served three little tasters—which seem much more generous and course-like than the snacks served elsewhere—four savouries, three sweets, and bread that’s easily as good as any of the other courses, so let’s count it: eleven different things to eat. That’s a bargain.

Compared to my favourite restaurants at this price point (i.e. The Dairy) I didn’t love everything I was served. A lot of it was interesting rather than comforting. An example is the burnt leek tartlet below, which was a play of textures: a dazzlingly light and airy set of shavings (?) on top and an impressively thin and crisp-yet-soft many-layered pastry base. It was fun to eat, but not delicious, and most of the vegetable dishes followed the same pattern: intriguing, but perhaps not always a success.

By contrast, the meat dishes were universally satisfying, in a savoury umami way. Beef with smoked emulsion and turnip was exactly the sort of steadying dish I needed in the middle of the meal, with its chunk of… beefy native breed steak. I can imagine going back. (One medal.)

Perilla, Stoke Newington

By contrast, all of the combinations at Perilla came off perfectly, and two could probably eat dinner for £100 including drinks and service. It was a succession of ideas you’d never consider yourself, but that seemed to just… work.

Pictured is the red mullet with lardo, a zingy vinegary emulsion, and chopped bits of dressed radicchio. Radicchio is extremely bitter, even to someone who can’t taste PTC like me, but in the dish the whole outweighed the sum of its parts. When combined with the intensely salty and savoury cured fat, the sweet and sharp vinaigrette, and the warming fish flesh, it was a noticeable, but blunted high and clean flavour.

Waiting staff are friendly and helpful, the ambiance is dim and buzzy in the right way, and it’s also in walking distance of my house. Wins all round. (One medal.)

Aster, Victoria

Victoria was pretty much a dead zone for restaurants until the last three months, but in 2017 it’s probably had more good openings than anywhere else. There’s a Bleecker Burger, a Shake Shack, a Franco Manca, and a Bone Daddies is coming, to begin with, but it’s not just chains. There’s Hai Cenato, a new Jason Atherton, there’s The Other Naughty Piglet, there’s Lorne, there are a few giant but fairly unexciting-looking all-day brasserie type places. And there’s Aster, a Nordic-influenced place, which has opened to little aplomb.

Aster is pretty ambitious, doing all the sorts of stuff that, in general, make a place good. And it does it fairly competently—perhaps unsurprisingly given that it’s yet another outpost of the imperialistic D&D group. This dish below was an excellent combination of flavours: milk-fed lamb with lingonberry jam and a cabbage leaf surprisingly filled with moist and savoury lamb mince.

But it fell down on some of the details: I was warned that the lamb would be pink, but it was white; the fat was slightly rubbery and insufficiently rendered; and there was none of the browning, caramelisation, and crisping-up I’d want on the outside. But it was still a very nice dish.

The desserts were even busier: I ate blood orange jam & curd, almond cake, rhubarb sorbet, and so many individual nice inputs really does make the dessert more fun. For the price, I wouldn’t go regularly, but it’s by no means or in any way a bad place to go. (No medals.)

Comptoir Gascon, Clerkenwell

Comptoir Gascon has been going a while, compared to most restaurants I go to: its (positive) Jay Rayner review comes from about 2005. To keep afloat all that time, I wagered it must have been decent, and based on what we had I’d say it was just that: decent. Generically competent steaks, an indulgent foie gras burger as a starter, and acceptable puddings. A caveat is that it’s supposedly a duck restaurant, and none of us ate duck—we booked to have steak—so perhaps the duck is really where it stands out. But on the back of the beef, no medals. (No medals.)

Mangal 2, Dalston

Some people will tell you that basically all the Turkish grill restaurants on and around Kingsland Road, in Haggerston, Dalston and Stoke Newington, are good. Others say there are especially good, and less good ones. Mangal 2 is famous because of its bolshy and amusing Twitter account. I’d say the food here was solid, but for me (a neophyte in this cuisine in any case) Umut 2000 just down the road sets the standard.

Everything we had did the job, and there were even some novel dishes, like the below—not a fish, despite the mouth-like slit at the end; in fact chunks of lamb inside a charred aubergine—but it just wasn’t anything special. Yes, pieces of deep fried chicken and grilled lamb are enjoyable, but all I could think about was the juicy, full flavoured, and extremely good value offering at its competitor. (No medals.)

Tandoor Chop House, Covent Garden

Based only on my meal at Tandoor Chop House I’d be a zealous convert. It’s a simple offering: pieces of meat, cooked pink, in Indian spices, with smoky and sweet dips. What more do you want, except tender tandoored cuts of beef and lamb (and chicken, though we didn’t have any)? Well, maybe butter naan, but they do that too. You can even see into the kitchen and into the gigantic pots with skewers poking out of them. However, the experience Chris Pople had when the head chef was on holiday makes me extremely wary of going back. (No medals.)

Umut 2000, Dalston

My favourite ocakbasi as of this point. £30 for the special which is infinite bread, a huge amount of meze, and a pile of meat that is absolutely unfinishable for two people. That’s £30 between you, not £30 each. You get grilled chicken pieces, minced chicken kebab, minced lamb kebab, chicken on the bone, lamb on the bone, and grilled lamb pieces. It’s juicy, meaty, and has that coal barbecued exterior that you’re looking for. Highly recommended. (One medal.)

Lucky Chip, Dalston

I went into Lucky Chip optimistic: no, I hadn’t seen a review from one of the more reliable reviewers, like Burgaffair; no, I don’t think that burger places should offer hot dogs—there’s absolutely no reason to believe they can do both well; and no, I don’t understand why you’d want a ‘burgers and wine’ restaurant (although the beer selection is very good too). In fact, although I did go in optimistic, maybe it was just because I escaped off the horrific Ridley Road market where Lucky Chip is located. In any case, it’s mediocre all round. I could do all of the elements better myself. (Avoid.)

Yamagoya, Soho

Yamagoya is taking up the top floor of Shuang Shuang, the conveyor belt Chinese hotpot place that opened to fairly significant aplomb, but that barely anyone talks about now. They want their own spot, but for the time being they’re a pop-up, serving slightly overpriced but solid ramen. Something I’d never had before was the chicken chashu, which is like pork chashu, except drier and blander (without actually reaching dryness and blandness). (One medal.)

Tacos El Pastor, London Bridge

I’m going to go back to Tacos El Pastor before I make any rating “official” but on the strength of the quick lunch I had there I do actually want to go back. Everything has that pickled onion and lime balance between sweetness and sour acidity, but somehow coming in a hundred different ways from different fruits and salsas and meat rubs. And of course theres a lot of juicy, tender, and smoky slow-cooked meat. It’s hard not to like.

You know how Jay Rayner does those little bullet points at the bottom of his pieces? Well I’m going to copy him here with some (even) shorter comments on other places I’ve eaten recently.

  • Casse-Croûte, Bermondsey I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t love Casse-Croûte. It’s basically like teleporting to France. It’s buzzing, full of kids staying up well past a British bed time, and it sells only rustic regional French food like whole cheeses baked in pastry and cassoulet with confit duck and bits of slow cooked pork belly with the bone still in. It even has champagne and cremant on tap! I went back recently and had an even better meal than my first visit.
  • Florentine, South Lambeth Florentine is a new opening that I was tempted to for brunch (I don’t see the point of brunch & this was my first ever in London) by a 50% off offer. It seems decently ambitious and competent, with space for near-infinite covers, hundreds of staff and different kitchen items, and a location (right by South Lambeth tube) that presents little in the way of restaurant competition. But all I did was eat a gigantic four person breakfast including an entire ostrich egg (24 hen eggs worth of egg), but between two.
  • Som Saa, Spitalfields I first went to Som Saa when it was a pop-up at Climpson’s Arch nearly three years ago, but never managed to make it to the real restaurant in Spitalfields. But Sam kept bugging me and bugging me and bugging me, going back again and again and telling me it was the best restaurant in town, and eventually I made it. They really do produce food as good as the best places I visited in Bangkok recently.
  • Picture, Fitzrovia I’ve now been to the Fitzrovia branch of Picture three times! This time was me seeking after another deal: it was half off due to the tube strike; some diners had had to cancel. Picture is less experimental than say, Anglo, but I think this works to its credit: every or nearly every dish is something to enjoy on a simple, happy level. I’d go back a fourth time, but perhaps I’ll try their Marylebone branch out first.
  • A Wong, Pimlico I have something of an obsession with A Wong, and I do think it will earn three medals soon, when I finally go and get its Peking Duck special menu. Indeed, it may well be my favourite restaurant, and is certainly in my top ten. I’ve been for the regular food, I’ve been for the cheap lunch/early dinner menu with work, and now I’ve been for the dim sum, only available at lunch. They really are amazingly special and expertly prepared, especially the duck egg yolk custard dessert dumpling, which is the best pudding I’ve had in a year.
  • Ramen Sasuke, St. James Sasuke’s other joint in Soho is on our map because I’ve been there three or four times and had lovely tonkotsu without even bothering to try their soy or fish-based ramens. Their meat is always a bit fatty, but it’s a nice contrast to the other options out there. But the dish I had at the newer Panton Street one, next to the mighty Kanada-Ya, would push me to a strong avoid. Oily thin broth, packet-seeming noodles; just rubbish stuff. I didn’t finish it.
  • Bleecker Street, Victoria Bleecker is my favourite burger spot, and since they’ve opened a location right by Victoria station, near my work, I have eaten there at least five times. £10 may seem a lot of money for a burger (their signature Bleecker Black—you can get a cheaper burger for £6 if you like) because it is a lot of money for a burger. But it’s worth every penny: medium rare patties, unbelievably juicy and tender because they are 50% fat; soft crumbly Irish black pudding; American cheese; consistent sesame bun that can take the Grease punishment without falling apart. It’s all there. Among the best food in the world.
  • Flat Iron, Shoreditch I’d been to the Soho and Covent Garden Flat Irons many times, and the Shoreditch one does not depart from the basic formula: £10 for a flat iron steak, cooked a limited number of ways, £3.50 for (glorious) beef dripping chips, free side salad, cheap cocktails. If you want it to be, then Flat Iron is a cheap—nay, excellent value—steak house. But if you want it to be, it’s also a city-beating high end steakhouse: we ordered from the specials menu and boy oh boy the wagyu bavette we eat was surely the nicest steak I’ve ever had. Indeed, even though we’d over-ordered to begin with, we immediately ordered a second one when we finished.

Restaurant round-up, November 2016 edition

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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

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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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