Murray Blake

London food blogger


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The Dairy

15 The Pavement, Clapham SW4 0HY
Nearest tube: Clapham Common
020 7622 4165
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The Dairy  is in the culinary and cultural blackspot of Clapham Common, lending a much needed fine dining option to hungry Claphamites.  It opened unfussily in the summer of 2013 under chef Robin Gill, who has an impressive CV which includes stints under Raymond Blanc and René Redzepi.  They serve great value high-end modern British food in a very relaxed and informal setting.  The restaurant has a rooftop garden, the fruits of which are used in many of the dishes, and they even have their own beehives.

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The Dairy came to many people’s attention after a fantastic review from Marina O’Loughlin, and has been packed out ever since.  They do a fantastic value four course set lunch on Wednesdays to Fridays for £25; the dinner menu has starters at £6-8.5, with the most expensive main at £10.  They also offer a 7 course tasting menu for a bargain £45.  We opted for the tasting menu which started with a range of snacks, the highlight being raw courgette with Sariette de Banon cheese, basil and honey from the restaurant’s beehives which was served straight from the honeycomb at our table.  The balance of the dish was perfect with the sharp, almost sour courgette interacting with the rich, sweet honey.  We followed this with hay smoked cheese curd with artichokes and chanterelles which we chose to add white truffle to (£3.5 supp.).  This was a dense, earthy dish and could possibly have done without the truffle, but I like the way that the bold flavours were not watered down – this is very confident cooking.

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The snacks continued with a whole sourdough served in a jute bag with wonderful smoked bone marrow butter, chicken liver mousse and salumi.  The quality of the bread was fantastic – the crust had a nice crunch and was the perfect thickness; the inner was soft and light with subtle toffee notes.  After a little crispy chicken skin and kimchi dish, we moved on to the first fish course – monkfish with Sussex sweetcorn, shallots and maize chips.  The fish was expertly cooked so that it was silky smooth and still moist, the salty chips added texture and the corn sweetness.  A subtle and perfectly balanced dish.

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The second fish dish was cod with charred leeks and sorrel – again handsomely presented, the cod was melt in mouth but a bit underseasoned (I imagine the cod skins were supposed to lend salt to the dish but they were not plentiful/powerful enough).  The charred leeks brought rich earthiness to the clean fish flavours and the sorrel a hint of bitterness.

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For main course we had Yorkshire grouse with fermented grains, muscat grapes and chicory.  The gravy was served at the table by squeezing the birds carcass over our plates  – quite a show, but not for those squeamish about blood and bones!

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The meat was cooked perfectly pink and had been hung for a long time meaning it was very gamey and smokey.  It was a bit too strong and rich for me, this was not helped by the bitter grapes, sorrel and grains.  I think the balance found in the previous dishes was missing in this course – it needed some simple carbs to offset the intensity of the meat, however I cannot fault the quality of the ingredients.

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The desserts – an interesting carrot and tarragon dish with cheesecake cream, and roasted pears with panna cotta were simple and well executed.

Verdict: amazing value, well constructed food using simple but great quality ingredients 8/10

 


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Coffee reviews – No. 3

Prufrock
23-25 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TE
Nearest tube: Chancery Lane
020 7242 0467
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website; map

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Prufrock coffee is on the bustling Leather Lane a few minutes’ walk from Chancery Lane tube.   The interior is light, high ceilinged and has the feel of a converted workshop or factory.  They use mostly Square Mile Coffee with Red Brick as their everyday espresso blend and a  range of guest espressos: on my visit they had two guest Ethiopian blends – Reko and Sweetshop which is made of 50% Reko and 50% naturally produced Wonago (ie with the beans being dried in the sun rather than being washed).

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My flat white was adorned with well crafted latte art and the milk treatment very good, with soft and silky microfoam.  The sweetshop espresso spoke clearly through the milk with dark berries and hints of prune, lifted by citrusy overtones.  I agree with the Picky Glutton’s 5 star review of Prufrock’s flat white, this is one of London’s best.

Coffee score: 9.5/10

Speakeasy Espresso & Brew Bar
3 Lowndes Ct, W1F 7HD
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus
020 7434 3340
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website; map

Speakeasy is from the Dept. of Coffee and Social Affairs stable and is an oasis of calm away from the crowds of Carnaby Street.  Their house espresso comes from the Coffesmiths collective, the brainchild of a couple of London based Kiwi coffee geeks – they sample hundreds of single estate coffees to create their own blends.  Speakeasy also have a range of guest espressos and on my visit I couldn’t resist trying the wonderful The Earl’s Mistress again.  I opted for a macchiato – the coating of milk softened the deep grapefruit and grenadine notes of the powerful espresso, a wonderful coffee.

Coffee score: 8/10

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LongShot
127 Leman St, London E1 8EY
Nearest tube: Aldgate East
020 7481 1100
Longshot on Urbanspoon
map; website

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LongShot is a third wave coffee shop situated on a quiet street about 5 minutes’ walk from Aldgate East station.  They use Climpson for their Espresso – the house blend is The Baron arabica made up of 44% Bolivian, 40% Brazilian, 13% Mexican and 3% Ethiopian beans.  They also offer Monmouth coffee via aeropress and are planning to introduce a guest espresso.

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The milk treatment on my flat white was decent and the espresso was subtle and chocolatey, with only a subtle caffeine hit.  Definitely worth a visit.

Coffee score: 7/10


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A Medley of Reviews

Dotori
3A Stroud Green Rd, N4 2DQ
Nearest tube: Finsbury Park
020 7263 3562
Dotori on Urbanspoon
map

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Dotori serve both Korean and Japanese food.  For me, the two cuisines do not mix – bold, rambunctious and hearty Korean food bullies its delicate, healthy and subtle Japanese counterpart.  Therefore we went entirely Korean on our visit.  Their starters are mainly Japanese, with the stand-out Korean offering being the intriguing sounding kimchi pancake (£5.5); it is probably best to start your meal with kimchi – they have the option of traditional or cucumber (both £2).  We opted for the cucumber which was full of flavour – very tart and with a rich spicy body, the fermentation was perfectly measured so that the cucumber retained its crunch.  This was on par with the kimchi that I have eaten in the popular Korean restaurants near Tottenham Court Road in “K-Town”.

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Dotori have eleven Korean barbecue options (£6.5-9 with a seafood platter at £16) – we went for the safe option of beef and pear which was tasty but unremarkable: the quality of the meat was good – it had been cut very thinly, marinated in a rich soy/pear sauce and then cooked quickly.  The seafood options looked more interesting and if you like spicy food you can opt to make any of the dishes extra hot.  They also offer a range of meat, fish and tofu-based stews (£7-8) many of which involve beans, be they red, black or soy.  We had a half bottle Korean rice wine (£9.5) which was eye-wateringly strong and should not be drank by anyone with a weak constitution.  The restaurant is small, noisy, bustling and cramped but still manages to be oddly cosy, possibly because the staff are extremely friendly and the clientele unpretentious.

Verdict: definitely worth the trip to Finsbury Park but I would recommend sticking to the Korean menu 7.5/10

Roast
The Floral Hall, Borough Market, SE1 1TL
Nearest tube: London Bridge
0845 034 7300
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website; map

Roast sits in the mezzanine above the bustling Borough Market and has been a successful exponent of simple British food for the past ten years.  It was founded by the man who kick started the modern “refined” curry movement in Britain, Iqbal Wahhab, owner of the Cinnamon Club.  The menu at Roast is unfussy and seasonal, boasting classics like slow roast pork belly (£22.5), hake fillet (£25) and fish and chips (£16).  This being game season, they have a whole roast grouse at £30 and redleg partridge at £24.

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They open through the week at 7am so we went along early one morning to try their supposedly famous fry-up.  The breakfast menu is curt, focusing on Sassenachian (£15) and Scottish fry-ups (£16.5)- the Scottish version boasts tattie scones and a flat sausage whilst the Anglo option centers on bubble and squeak.  I opted for the full English – the star of the show was the black pudding which is sourced from Ramsay’s of Carluke in west-central Scotland – the texture was moist but it retained a nice crunch, the spicing was subtle and the body rich and earthy.  Next best was the bubble and squeak which was composed of light and fluffy potato and slightly sweet but crunchy cabbage, along with the odd slice of carrot, I think it had been fried in butter so it was incredibly unhealthy but mightily tasty.  The fried tomatoes and mushrooms were unremarkable – they were rather tasteless and not dissimilar to standard supermarket offerings.  Both the bacon and the eggs were of decent quality and cooked well.  The major disappointment though was the sausages which are apparently a “Roast recipe” but seemed to be composed of cheap meat and were severely underseasoned.  I also had a filter coffee which was truly terrible – unfortunately the London coffee revolution has not yet reached Roast and I hope some hipster baristas invade and string up the oaf that produced such repugnant coffee.

Verdict: a breakfast that was less than the sum of its parts – it is not in the same league as Caravan and I would strongly recommend going there instead 4/10

Rasa
55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 OAR
Nearest tube: Stoke Newington
0207  249  0344
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Rasa is a family-run Indian mini-chain – the first (entirely vegetarian) restaurant appeared in 1994 and there are now six restaurants in the stable, including one in Newcastle.  We went to the Stoke Newington branch which is painted a gaudy bright pink and about a five minute walk from Stoke Newington train station.  The food is Keralan vegetarian (there is a meat/fish serving Rasa Travancore opposite).  We started with a great little mix of pickles and chutneys, which are all apparently home made – stand outs were the rich, smooth garlic pickle, the punchy lemon pickle and a fruity coriander chutney.  We followed with banana boli (£3.25) deep fried slices of plantain (the batter is made from chickpea flour) served with a salty/sweet peanut dipping sauce – an unhealthy but very tasty starter.

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Better still was the Bhel Mix (£3.25) which consisted of crispy chickpeas, puffed rice, crunchy noodles, peanuts and onions, all topped with chopped coriander.  We then moved onto a selection of curries (all £4.5) which were reasonable but unremarkable: the best was a beetroot and yoghurt dish with a smidgen of mustard seeds which added a slight kick, the day’s special mixed veggie curry was well spiced but its components were overcooked; our aubergine with tomato, curry leaves and coriander was simple but well executed – the aubergine was slightly sweet and not at all greasy.  We mopped these up with a fantastic paratha (£2.25) and some light, melt in the mouth poories (£2).

Verdict: an extremely tasty and great value carb overload 7/10

Busaba Eathai
319 Old St, EC1V 9LE
Nearest tube: Old Street
020 7729 0808
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Stuck for somewhere open at 11pm on a Friday night, we stumbled across Busaba Eathai, a Thai chain restaurant which now boasts eleven sites across London (they close at 11.30pm at the weekend).  Busaba serve generic, cheap and cheerful Thai food, with a range of soup and wok noodle dishes, grilled meats, curries and stir-frys.  I think they must rely on customer volume to make money (possibly coupled with cheap ingredients) because their outlets are based in prime locations and the most expensive item on the menu is £12.50.

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We started with fishcakes and peanut relish (£5.9) which on the face of it was very tasty, but a couple of hours later when we tried to get to sleep we realised that the dipping sauce must have been laced with MSG – I was hot and restless, with a thumping headache.  I wouldn’t recommend going to Busaba, but if you do end up going there (probably because everywhere else is closed) then ask for your food to be prepared without MSG.  We then moved on to a green chicken curry (£9.5) that was served in a big coconut milk broth, again there may have been MSG involved in this because the sauce was very tasty but not seemingly fresh, the chicken was plasticy and tasteless, but certainly palatable with a big spoonful of said sauce.  We also had the chilli prawn rice with mushrooms (£8.5) which was similar to the sort of meal served by high street Chinese restaurants – the rice was cooked well but the prawns were devoid of character.

Verdict: please avoid this place like the plague….but if nothing else is open apart from kebab shops then eat here but ask for no MSG in your food 1/10

Ichiban
58A Atlantic Rd, SW9 8PY
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7738 7006
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website; map

Opening in 1999, Ichiban was the first sushi bar in Brixton – it has survived waves of gentrification and commercialisation and still sits in its original location in Atlantic Road.  Ichiban’s history is interesting – I came across some discussion about Brixton people boycotting the restaurant due to staff mistreatment, finding a facebook protest page from 2011 stating that a Latin American couple employed in the kitchen had been dismissed and the owner had refused to pay maternity leave wages and unused holidays (also see photos here).  I was oblivious to all of this on my visit to Ichiban and will focus my review on the food, which was decent, although given this mistreatment case I am now not sure I will return.

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The menu is vanilla Japanese with a mix of sushi, sashimi, soups, curries and fried rice dishes.  The pricing is very keen with curry and teriyaki dishes all at £6.5-8, sushi pairs £2.7-4.5 and sashimi sets around £10.  After starting with a decent miso soup we opted for a range of tuna and salmon sushi and sashimi.  The fish was very well prepared and fairly fresh – the rice was rolled quite loosely and retained a bit of crunch and texture.  The dining area is very much no frills but the waiting staff were friendly and attentive.

Verdict: decent sushi 6.5/10


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Hedone

301-303 Chiswick High Road, W4 4HH
Nearest tube: Chiswick Park
020 87470377
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website; map

Hedone is the brainchild of Mikael Johnsson, a Swedish former lawyer and food blogger.  It opened in sleepy Chiswick in 2011, winning numerous plaudits and a Michelin star after only 14 months.  Mikael was also an ingredients consultant in a past life, and apparently before opening Hedone he spent a year travelling up and down the UK to source the ingredients to use in his new restaurant.  The food is classical and highly refined French cuisine, but manages to seem unfussy and let the quality of the ingredients speak through.  We went along on a quiet Wednesday night and sat at the kitchen countertop, which gave us a great view of the chefs at work.  The man himself is a large and wiry presence in the kitchen, bustling around and firmly passing on instructions to his underlings.

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We opted for the carte blanche tasting menu which offers eleven courses for £85.  The highlight of the meal was roast grouse which had been shot the previous day on the “glorious twelfth”, the first day of grouse hunting in the UK.  The meat was light and tender, but with rich almost smoky undertones. The other standout courses were a sweet, melt in the mouth Dorset squid paired with flavoursome white Paimpol beans, and pork belly with eel and various raw, pickled and roasted radishes.  Both of these dishes were composed with subtle genius – the freshness and quality of the ingredients came to the fore and were not obscured by cheffy techniques.  Because it was a quiet night and we were at the countertop the great man himself presented the majority of our plates, proffering a few hushed words of description and pointing the odd robust finger at notable components of our plates.  His passion is evident but he seems to be a man who does not suffer fools gladly, so I recommend shutting up and listening if he ever approaches.  Everything else at Hedone is very relaxed, the bread is possibly the best available in London and the food is exemplary, I can see why this is one of Andy Hayler’s favourite restaurants (according to our waiter he has eaten at Hedone over 50 times).

Verdict: it trumps Gymkhana as my dining highlight of 2014 9.5/10

Dorset crab, pistachio mayonnaise, Charentais (provencal) melon

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Mediterranean tomato variation, with gazpacho, tomato and dill sorbet, basil and almonds

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Suckling pig belly, smoked eel, picked and raw radishes

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Red Grouse (from Yorkshire), sourdough consume, foie gras and sorrel

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Millefeuille with raspberry

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Lima Floral

31 Rathbone Pl, W1T 1JH
020 3002 2640
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website; map

Following the great success and Michelin adornment of his London mothership, Lima, Virgilio Martinez has opened a second restaurant in the capital, Lima Floral in Covent Garden.  The new restaurant is more informal than Lima, boasting a piqueos bar serving tapas style dishes in the space downstairs and a keenly priced range of Peruvian fayre in the main dining area.  The restaurant is encased in a former monastery and latterly, stained glass factory, replete with Victorian brickwork and colonnades. The interior has been gutted and restyled by B3 designers, who have also been responsible for the styling of Gymkhana and Bubbledogs.

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The restaurant menu reads like a curt version of Lima’s, with starters at £7-10 focusing on ceviches and tiraditos; mains of £18-24 are mostly meat and potato based, with the addition of an interesting sounding warm sea bream ceviche.  The one difference from the menu at Lima is the introduction of some more unusual Andean ingredients – pachamanca, camote, anticucho and annatto all feature……..probably best to ask your waiter what these are.  We dined in the piqueos bar downstairs – the headline on the menu states that it is ideal for pre-theatre dining and the eighteen dishes on offer are all small and designed for sharing. In addition to the now familiar ceviches and tiraditos, they offer some more filling meat and fish dishes (anticuchos) as well as “tostadas” which are an Andean slant on spanish tostadas – each dish sits on top of a crunchy cornflour tortilla which can then be used to shovel the food into your mouth.

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We started with a tuna tiradito which utilised fantastically meaty tuna which had been sliced thinly and placed on dollops of tomato and chilli infused tiger’s milk – simple, clean and effortlessly tasty food.

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We followed with another tuna dish, a tuna causa – a tuna tartare served with Andean blue potato, avocado and amazonian cashew.  Strangely, the tuna played second fiddle to the wonderful potato, which was a deep purple colour and had a deep earthy flavour with a slightly sweet, treacle-like finish.

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The quality of their ceviche is a true test of the quality of a Peruvian restaurant – both of our ceviche dishes at Lima Floral were exemplary: salmon with limo chilli pepper achieved the perfect combination of fatty fish and citrusy tiger’s milk; scallops with tree tomatoes allowed the almost sweet, succulent scallops to speak clearly.

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We finished with each of the four tostadas – two were successful, two less so; the less successful dishes were the sea scallops and octopus in which the seafood had been chopped finely and enveloped in (I think) cream cheese which severely dulled their flavour.  However, the asparagus, avocado and onion ashes was wonderful – fresh, light ingredients treated without fuss.  Finally, lightly cooked veal heart was served with quinoa – the meat melted in the mouth, crunch and texture was provided by the quinoa. A well conceived, filling dish, and at £5.50 just about the best value on the menu.

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We attended the soft launch so our bill was very reasonable –  the Pisco Sours were on the house, and there was 50% off our food bill; at full price I think that Lima Floral would be expensive, although it offers better quality food than most of its neighbours in Covent Garden.

Verdict: well-cooked and beautifully presented food, just a tad over priced 7.5/10


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Po Cha

56 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LH
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
020 73797381
Po Cha on Urbanspoon
map
Stuck for decent lunch options in Soho, my friend suggested we head to “K-Town” – a row of down at heel looking Korean restaurants behind Centre Point and a short walk from Oxford Street.  I had never eaten Korean food before, and, conscious of quite a few new Korean restaurants springing up around London, I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.  We chose Pho Cha because it appeared the busiest and most inviting of the restaurants in K-Town, it also seemed to have a predominately Asian clientele.  The restaurant is split over two floors, with the downstairs dining area being a bit more dingy than the main area on the ground floor – we arrived pretty early and were able to get a seat at the bar in the main room.  The space is dark and low ceilinged, and takes turns at becoming very dark as large buses stop directly outside.  The tinny Korean pop being played on loop and non-English speaking waiters add to the authentic atmosphere.

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They do a great value set lunch menu for £5.50 which involves a main dish and rice along with kimchi or miso soup.  The main menu is quite long and I think some items are lost in translation; starters seem to be mostly pickled vegetables, supplemented by dumplings and “pan cake”; there is a small section of rice cake dishes followed by stews and then cold and hot noodle dishes.  I was keen to try kimchi (fermented Napa cabbage) and so ordered the kimchi stew from the set lunch menu which was served in a hot stone dish and based on pork and tofu with a spicy stock and rice.

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The food arrived very quickly, blocks of tofu and nuggets of pork sizzling menacingly in a stone throne – the rice was spooned straight from a rice cooker behind the bar and was wonderfully sticky yet still firm.  Once the dish had cooled to a suitable eating temperature (which was about five minutes after serving) we tucked in – starting with the creamy, light tofu which was enhanced by the rich pork stock.  The pork chunks were not plentiful, but they were soft and slightly fatty, so they melted in the mouth.  And the kimchi was amazing – tart, slightly bitter and with a lovely crunch, it warmed the cockles of my heart.  The non-smiling staff were efficient but generally aloof, although they did seem amused by my taking pictures of the menu.  I will definitely be going back to try their a la carte offerings and discover what “pan cake” is.

Verdict: great value, healthy and seemingly authentic food 7.5/10


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Artusi

161 Bellenden Rd, SE15 4DH
Nearest tube: Peckham Rye
020 3302 8200
Artusi on Urbanspoon
website; map
Artusi received a glowing write-up from Peckham resident Jay Rayner a few months ago, but seems to have been off the radar of most London bloggers ever since (North London bias perhaps?).  I decided to head along to offer an impartial opinion and to sniff out any potential home-bias from Jay.

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Artusi is nestled in the recently gentrified Bellenden village, a place where hip new restaurants and artisan butchers sit shoulder to shoulder with greasy kebab shops and Caribbean fruit and veg shops.  It’s interior is stripped back using a coolly understated palette of white, grey, slate and charcoal.  Plain wood tables are crammed into the relatively small dining area which is topped by an open kitchen.  The menu is short, seasonal and keenly priced, with three starters (£5), two pasta dishes (£6 or £10.5 for a larger portion) and three mains (£13) on offer.

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We opened with mortadella – a pork cold-cut from Bologna, laced with garlic and pistachio nuts.  The portion was very generous: the fatty, flavoursome, meat had a slight garlic aftertaste – for me, it was very enjoyable but I imagine that some would find it’s richness a bit heavy going.  Our other starter was seared ox heart with salsa verde – the meat was served rare but had been properly rested so it almost melted in the mouth.  The salsa verde was zingy, lifting the strong flavour of the ox heart and lending clean citrus undertones.

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For our pasta main we chose pappardelle with artichoke.  The pasta had certainly been made in-house using good quality eggs, giving it a fantastic yellow colour; it was rolled very thinly and cooked so it retained a bit of bite.  The artichokes were (I think) steamed and then soused in a butter sauce.  This dish was a reminder of the amazing pasta dishes that I have eaten on holiday in Italy – it was by far the best pasta dish I have eaten in the UK.

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We followed the pasta with old spot pork, beans and artichoke. The pork had been slow cooked and was so soft it could have been eaten with a spoon.  It had been finished in a little olive oil, with cream and a hint of parsley.  Texture was added by the earthy, nutty beans and freshness by the artichoke.  An incredibly simple, but beautifully executed dish.

Verdict: humble, great value food in a relaxed, yet stylish setting 9/10

 

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