Murray Blake

London food blogger


Leave a comment

A Medley of Reviews

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

IMG_0066

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”.

IMG_0072

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
Roast on Urbanspoon
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.

IMG_0153

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
Rasa on Urbanspoon
website; map

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.

IMG_0165

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
Busaba Eathai on Urbanspoon
website; map

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.

IMG_0488

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
Ichiban on Urbanspoon
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.

IMG_0554

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


Leave a comment

Hedone

301-303 Chiswick High Road, W4 4HH
Nearest tube: Chiswick Park
020 87470377
Hedone on Urbanspoon
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.

IMG_0055[1]

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

IMG_1240

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

IMG_1242

Suckling pig belly, smoked eel, picked and raw radishes

IMG_1260

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

IMG_1277

Millefeuille with raspberry

IMG_1291

 

 


Leave a comment

Lima Floral

31 Rathbone Pl, W1T 1JH
020 3002 2640
Lima Floral on Urbanspoon
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.

IMG

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.

IMG_1088
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.

IMG_1069

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.

IMG_1086
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.

IMG_1076
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.

IMG_1078
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


Leave a comment

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.

IMG

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.

IMG_1116

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


Leave a comment

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.

IMG_0002

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.

IMG_0843

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.

IMG_0847

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.

IMG_0849

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

 


2 Comments

José

104 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UB
Nearest tube: London Bridge
José on Urbanspoon
website; map

Following a tenure as head chef at Tapas Brindisa, José Pizzaro opened José in 2011 – it was the first of London’s new wave of stripped-back, authentic tapas restaurants (also see Bar Tozino).  Pizzaro is from Extremadura, a distinctive region of Spain which borders Portugal – the area is famous for its agriculture and in particular, the black Iberico pigs which munch mounds of acorns in oak groves.

IMG_0001

José does not accept bookings and has very few seats, so expect to stand for a chunk (or possibly all) of your visit.  The staff will take drinks orders when you are in the queue and are great at keeping track of your place in the pecking order, meaning you can wait, relax and enjoy your drink.  The chalkboard menu is short and simple, featuring some old classics like tortilla but also including some more unusual Spanish regional dishes, like Catalan butifarra (described below).

IMG_0987

We started with a safe bet, patatas bravas (£5), the potatoes (which I think were maris piper) had good colour and were perfectly crispy.  They came smothered in a rich tomato and garlic sauce, which was finished with a hint of paprika.  There was also a generous helping of very garlicky aioli which had been freshly prepared with good quality eggs.  Our next dish was a russian roulette of padron peppers (£5) – whilst the majority were mild and refreshing, a couple of them were so spicy that they made my eyes water.  Supposedly around a fifth of the peppers turn out hot, depending on the amount of water and sunlight they are exposed to.

IMG_0992

When I spotted butifarra (£7) on the menu I couldn’t resist it, I have fond memories of munching butifarra in Catalonia: raw and thinly sliced, grilled with white beans or fried atop sliced bread.  José’s offering was served in pisto, which is a Spanish slant on ratatouille, featuring courgettes and peppers.  It was tasty enough, but a bit underseasoned.  The butifarra was disappointing: the quality of the meat was not great, it seemed more like offal rather than (as it should have been) leg, shoulder and loin. It must be very hard to source good quality butifarra in Britain; this was possibly an English butcher’s failed attempt to recreate it.

IMG_0995

We finished with fried calamares and octopus (£9) which were wonderfully fresh, encased in a light and thin batter – the squid was melt in the mouth and had a mild, sweet flavour; the baby octopus was firm and meaty.  And a final note on the (entirely Spanish) wine and sherry lists: these are generally served by the glass and are listed on the blackboard by vineyard (not grape) – so unless you know a lot about Spanish wine I would advise you to ask the staff for some guidance.

Verdict: simple, great value Spanish food in a fun, bustling atmosphere 7.5/10


3 Comments

Gymkhana

42 Albemarle St, W1S 4JH
Nearest tube: Green Park
020 3011 5900
Gymkhana on Urbanspoon
website; map

IMG

Gymkhana opened in September 2013 and is the sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Trishna in Marylebone.  It has received rave reviews from all the major critics (scoring 10 out of 10 from Giles Coren in the Times) and was recently voted as the best restaurant in the UK in the national restaurant awards.  Gymkhana is a British colonial term for a sports club and the decor (leather, dark wood and marble) emulates an ex-pat Gentleman’s club.  Chef patron Karem Sethi is a North London boy who started his working life as a caterer, and following a stint in the kitchen at Zuma, opened Trishna at the tender age of 23.  He has since set up the Sethi group which provides financial backing for a number of restaurants in London and abroad, including Bubbledogs.

The menu at Gymkhana is relatively short and relies on British ingredients, including an interesting range of game (roe deer, guinea fowl, pigeon, quail, muntjac). In addition to a selection of fairly typical Indian starters, they offer “nashta” which are tapas style sharing dishes, and a range of meat, seafood and vegetable tikkas.

IMG_0809

We started with the now infamous kid goat methi keema, with bheja (brain) on the side (£14) – this was the highlight of the meal for me, the minced goat meat was full of flavour, almost gamey but with just the right fat content so that it was not dry.  The pao buns served alongside were slightly sweet and similar to brioche, they were a perfect way to mop up the fenugreek stock of the curry.  And finally, the brain (top right in the picture above) was glorious – rich, gelatinous, melt in the mouth……certainly my culinary highlight of 2014.

IMG_0810

The rather diminutive duck dosa (£8.50) was served in a pancake tipi, the sheltering meat was dense, fibrous and only lightly spiced.  Our final starter, a quail kebab with green chilli chutney was rather underwhelming – the meat was characterless and the chutney, whilst light and refreshing, needed stronger spicing to tart up the lackluster meat.

IMG_0817

Tandoori Guinea Fowl (£20) utilised both leg and breast – the meat was superbly tender and had the perfect level of tandoori smokiness; the charred skin added texture and depth of flavour.  The menu advertised a “green mango chat” and I was hoping for a light mango salad, rather than some splinters of mango atop a whole chopped red onion (see above).  The quality of the meat in the Nalli Lamb Kebab (£25) was again very good and the light spicing allowed the deep flavour of lamb to come through.  We finished with suckling pig vindhaloo (£18) – the waitress had warned us that this was very spicy but the resulting dish was, by modern British standards, at most medium spiced.  The curry was delicate enough, the sweet subtleness of the suckling pig was lost in the spicing.  And a final note on the pricing – I think that the main courses are a tad overpriced, especially given portion sizes are small, but I am happy to pay a premium for cooking of this quality.

Verdict: a certainty to get a Michelin star this September – book as soon as you can 9/10

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers