Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer

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Honest Burgers & Smokehouse Chiswick

Honest Burgers
Unit 12, Brixton Village, SW9 8PR
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7733796
Honest Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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“…..these burgers are outstanding. Served rare and round, mine was a shocking pink; yielding, slightly salty and full of gloriously savoury juices.” The Evening Standard


The first Honest opened in Brixton in 2011 – founders Tom Barton and Phil Eeles had set up a successful catering business in Brighton, then Tom moved to Brixton and the idea of Honest Burgers began to form.  The pair teamed up with Dorian Waite, an experienced restaurateur who previously worked for Bills and Strada and the three of them set up a company, jumping at the chance to take a unit at the then rapidly gentrifying Brixton Village.  They pooled together a total of £7,500 to get the restaurant off the ground and set up the kitchen in the little retail unit.  Honest was an instant hit, opening at the beginning of London’s burger craze and receiving rave reviews from the burgeoning London blog scene.  They opened a branch in Soho the following year, before securing a tidy £1m from Santander which financed outlets in Camden and Potobello.    The Honest stable now boasts 10 restaurants and they have just raised £7m from a private equity firm, Active Private Investment, so expect further expansion very soon.


They serve burgers and nothing else: you can choose from beef, chicken and veggie options (£7-11.75).  The beef burgers are made from 35-day, dry-aged British steak from Yorkshire-based farm the Ginger Pig, which supplies seven butchers across London (there is one in nearby Clapham). I chose the Honest – a beef patty with bacon, red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce – all for £10 including chips.  Their patties are served medium rare as standard and mine arrived nicely pink. The steak mince was well seasoned though not overly salty and the burger had been rested before serving so it was succulent, but not bloody.


The glazed brioche bun held up well to the juicy meat and the toppings all did their job, the slight sweetness of the red onion relish rounded things off nicely.  Their chips are handmade in the restaurants, with hints of potato skin and seasoned with rosemary salt, served perfectly crisp they are probably the best chips I have eaten in any burger place in London.

Verdict: A close second to Patty & Bun in the race for my favourite burger place, I hope they can maintain these standards as they continue their rapid expansion 8.5/10

Smokehouse Chiswick
12 Sutton Lane North, W4 4LD
Nearest tube: Gunnersbury
020 38196066
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“The kitchen shows a real affinity for meat cooking in particular, and I found that the Korean spices and pickles are just what is needed to elevate the food out of Fred Flintstone territory.” Andy Hayler


This is the sister restaurant of the wonderful Smokehouse Islington – it opened this April on the site of the former Hole In The Wall pub.  It is another creation from precocious executive chef Neil Rankin (who I have already written up a little biography of here in my review of the original Smokehouse) and is part of the Noble Inns group which includes the Pig & Butcher and The Princess of Shoreditch.  Their menu is similar to Smokehouse Islington but the beer selection is less interesting – possibly because of the more sleepy location they serve soapy country bitters rather than contemporary Bermondsey brews.  This is definitely a place for barbecue geeks – they have a ‘Ole Hickory Pit Smoker’ and Robata grill process; the shortrib bourguignon has received some great write-ups.


After a passable starter of potted shrimp with sourdough toast and a sub-par hake ceviche (both £7),  we moved on to the main event – the Sunday roast.  They offer pork (£16), lamb (£17) and beef (£18) all served with roasted carrots, parsnips & potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pudding & gravy.  We chose pork and lamb roasts – both were served in hulking portions, crowned with an impressive Yorkshire pudding.  As expected, the quality of the meat was excellent and the cooking spot on – the pork had a bit more character than the lamb but I enjoyed both.  The impending meat sweats were tempered by the good amount of veggies on the plate – the highlight being the slightly caramalised carrots.  I was disappointing by the potatoes, which could have been crispier – I think they had been cooked earlier in the day and then reheated in the oven.  The gravy was unremarkable but decent enough – it should have been thickened for a bit longer, but the cauliflower cheese was a real success: it was rich, sticky and decadently creamy.

Verdict: a decent roast in homely surroundings – perfect for a winter’s Sunday afternoon 7.5/10




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49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
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Hoppers is the latest venture from the Sethi family, London’s most successful restaurant siblings.  Their restaurant empire includes the wonderful Gymkhana and Trishna, and they have provided backing for Lyle’s, Bao and Bubbledogs. Karam Sethi is the culinary brain of the family,  opening Trishna at the age of 24 and going on to win a Michelin star there four years later. He is a largely self-taught chef, having been heavily influenced by his mother’s cooking and childhood summers spent in India (he also spend a year in the kitchen at The Sheraton in New Delhi).  The Sethis’ have a conventional middle-class background: their father is a chartered accountant from Delhi who came to Britain in the Seventies, his wife joined him a few years later and the family settled in Finchley, North London.  Jyotin, the eldest, left a high-flying career in investment banking to become a managing director of the business – he has arranged funding from a range of private investors to supplement the family’s funds.  The youngest sibling, Sunaina also had a brief spell in banking before training in wine whilst working at Trishna, she is now operations director of the group and focuses on devising drinks menus as well as overseeing front of house matters.  She served me on my second visit to Hoppers and was an effervescent presence in the busy restaurant.


Hoppers opened on 28th October on the site that used to house the wonderful Koya – it has a street food slant, inspired by the road shacks of Tamil Nadu in the southeast of India and Sri Lanka.  A hopper is a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk; the menu focuses on hoppers and dosas, along with some small dishes and a couple of curries (“karis”).  I went along on its opening weekend and was really surprised at the lack of queue (this won’t last long – apparently AA Gill and Giles Coren had already visited in the first few days after opening, I expect a positive review from one of them would tip things over the edge…).  The cocktail list is heavily inspired by Sri Lankan drinks which is a brave move and it didn’t quite pay off for me.  My pineapple and black pepper punch was made with Arrack, a Sri Lankan spirit derived from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, and was then finished with cream soda and pineapple sorbet.  This all sounds pretty nice and would probably work well on a Sri Lankan beach, but the arrack’s harsh, burny flavour dominated and the other ingredients melted away to leave a pretty unpleasant taste in the mouth.  With a little tweaking, I think this cocktail list could be a real treat and I suspect they will act quickly to improve their recipes.  On my second visit I steered clear of the cocktails and had a decent Sri Lankan Lion stout which was laced with black liquorice and hints of coffee (I think they should add a couple of curry-friendly London craft beers to their drinks list though).


Our first dish, chicken heart chukka (£4.5), was truly sublime – the hearts were meaty but melted in the mouth and the chilli/garam masala spicing was strong but hit the right spot.  Another highlight was bone marrow varuval with roti (£4.5) – three smallish half bones smothered in thick masala sauce.  The marrow wasn’t plentiful but it was rich and decadent, the masala sauce married with the fatty marrow and was great for smothering the buttery roti in.  The duck roti (£5) was also a hit – the shredded duck had been smothered in dry spices and encased in a crunchy wholewheat bread.


And then to the Hopper – a street food dish that was first popularised in London by Emily Dobbs at Druid Steet Market, it is a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and coconut batter cooked in a special wok called an appachatti.  It is common to serve it with a cooked egg in the centre of the hopper and then to pile curry over the top.  On my first visit we had the egg hopper with lamb curry – the hopper was light and crispy, with a hint of sweetness initially, followed by a little punch of sourness (I assume coming from the fermentation) – unusual but really tasty and the perfect accompaniment to a spicy curry.


On my second visit we opted for the dosa, along with lamb and black pork curries.  The dosa was just about the best I have ever eaten – crisp, light and golden but still served piping hot. And at £5.5 each, the curries are amazing value – the lamb curry was my favourite, the meat was juicy and the sauce thick and dense, with fairly punchy spicing.  The meat in the black pork curry was a bit drier than the lamb, but the sauce was more complex, with layers of lemongrass and roasted curry powder.


The Ceylonese spit chicken (£17.5) wasn’t executed perfectly – the meat had been marinated in fennel, cumin, coriander seed, ginger, garlic and chilli, then cooked on a rotisserie, but the breast flesh was a bit dry and the skin wasn’t crispy.  The leg meat was the star of the show, it had absorbed the spices and remained juicy so it could be pulled off the bone with a hunk of roti.  Inevitably, they don’t take bookings so expect to queue, but the no bookings policy is an essential part of the business model here – the pricing is so keen that they can’t afford to have tables empty for any time at all and Frith street is a prime, central location.  Suffice to say, Hoppers is well worth the wait.

Food arrives when it is ready and we started being served minutes after ordering; the seating is pretty tight and you’ll be close to your neighbouring diners, which adds to the fast, buzzy atmosphere.

Verdict: Sure to be London’s next big thing 9/10


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Clove Club & The Square

Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, EC1V 9LT
Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street
020 7729 6496
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“Then a hotshot foodie pal dragged me along for lunch at the homemade charcuterie-draped bar and I was silenced. Silenced by the gorgeousness of a dish that’s a McHale signature, buttermilk fried chicken: nuggets fit for a deity on a nest of pine twigs, the outsides crisp, the insides supple, with a fleeting fragrance from pine salt – not in an Airwick way, more a whiff of astringent woodiness. Speechless at rosy lamb with rösti on top, less proletarian potato cake and more dadaist doodle. ” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian


The impressively named Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, is a Scottish chef who learned his trade in the restaurants of Glasgow and during a six year spell at the Ledbury.  He was heavily influenced by a stint at Noma, rising to prominence as part of the Young Turks collective (along with James Lowe, now of Lyle’s), operating various pop-ups in East London as well as a famous residency at the Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields.  McHale is supported on front of house matters by Stockport lads Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith who both stepped up from being waiters, at St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields and Great Queen Street in Covent Garden respectively.  They opened in March 2013 amid much critical interest, with favourable reviews in most of the newspapers including from AA Gill (although he was less keen on the decor, setting or ambiance declaring it “hipster hell”) and gained a Michelin star last year.  I went along for the good value set lunch menu which offers three courses for £35.


After three rounds of well executed amuse-bouche (the highlight being the buttermilk fried chicken nugget mentioned in Marina’s quote above) I started with a simple dish of mackerel tartare and cucumber with edible flowers and a hint of mayonnaise.  The mackerel skin had been lightly charred to lend texture and the flesh was packed with flavour.  The sharp, juicy cucumber and slightly bitter flowers cut through the rich, oily fish.  We followed with beef shin with little morsels of confit potato and a nugget of bone marrow.  The beef was melt in the mouth and nicely gelatinous around its edges – it was enhanced by a punchy beef stock gravy which was poured at the table and a chunk of slightly smoky, fatty bone marrow.  A pair of crunchy confit potatoes added texture and were fairly light and not at all oily.  It was a very rich but immensely enjoyable lunchtime main course.


Verdict: the young turk is still serving innovative and tasty food 8/10

The Square
6-10 Bruton St, W1J 6PU
Nearest tube: Bond Street
020 74957100
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“The Square was always good, but it’s got better. It has had two Michelin stars for some time; the lunch we ate deserved three.” AA Gill, The Sunday Times

Many of London’s high-end restaurants offer great value weekday lunch menus (for example three courses at Pollen Street Social would set you back £34.50 or at Wild Honey they are a bargain at £29.50) and The Square is arguably one of the best lunch options in the capital with a set menu at £35.  Head chef Phil Howard opened The Square in 1991, gaining a Michelin star three years later, and two stars in 1998 which they have held ever since.  Howard studied microbiology at university and then discovered a love for food, travelling to work in the Dordogne before undertaking apprenticeships under the Roux brothers and Marco Pierre White.  He was given his big break (he hadn’t even held a sous chef position at the time and had no formal training) by an early backer of Pierre White, Nigel Platts-Martin who still co-owns The Square.  Howard has gone on to open other successful London restaurants, including The Ledbury and Kitchen W8.  Despite coming across as mild-mannered and focused in his frequent television appearances, he has a chequered past, having fought and overcome drug and alcohol addiction in the early 1990s.


We went along for a quiet Monday lunch and began by battling with the bible-like wine list – unfortunately they didn’t have the reasonably priced bottle I picked out and the sommelier was only able to offer an equivalent for £30 more, so we soldiered on with a couple of wines by the glass.  A cold starter of crab and langoustine jelly with salad leaves was light and fresh – the sweetness of the langoustine came to the fore but was nicely contrasted with the slightly bitter leaves, including some baby nasturtiums.  Our main of kid goat with celeriac mash was perfectly executed – the meat was very moist and soft, it tasted more like veal than goat and had been well rested so that its flesh could have been cut with a spoon.  Roasted shallots and a hint of crème fraîche added some contrasting flavours, whilst the rich mash and dense gravy provided decadence.  Service was careful, confident and efficient – small talk was kept at a minimum; dishes arrived and were removed with smoothness and the minimum of fuss.


Verdict: precise, restrained cooking with the odd hint of flair 8/10

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On the bab & The Marksman

On the bab
305 Old St, EC1V 9LA
Nearest tube: Old Street
020 7683 0361
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“…..we had the classic seafood and spring onion pancake and it was one of the nicest versions I’ve encountered in London with sweet octopus and pan fried to the perfect level. Korean fried chicken with soy garlic was indeed very special and perhaps some of the nicest chicken I’ve had when value is considered, not overly crispy with lovely sweetness and spiciness.” Food & Drinks Noob

Even after the destruction of K-town to make way for crossrail, London isn’t short of Korean restaurants and On the bab was one of first wave to open in the capital in December 2013.  It is owned by Linda Lee, who also founded highly-rated South-east Asian restaurants Koba and Nizuni.  On the bab simply means a dish served with rice and their short menu consists of some traditional Korean dishes, including tofu stew and kimchi paella, as well as fried chicken and a choice of beef, pork, chicken or veggies on top of rice, Korean noodles or steamed buns.  It has been dubbed a Korean Anju restaurant, which signifies somewhere that serves dishes with alcohol – they have a nice looking list of cocktails using soju (which translates as “burn alcohol” and is composed of a mix of ethanol and water).  We went to the original branch in Old Street (they also have outlets in Covent Garden and Marylebone) – the space is small, seating only 30 with minimalist furnishings, lots of light wood, tiles and (of course) filament bulbs.


We went along at prime time on a Tuesday night but were seated after a short wait and served very quickly.  I chose bulgogi beef (grilled marinated beef) on the bab (fantastic value at £8.5) which was served in a massive helping, with mounds of shredded beef on the rice.   The quality of the beef was pretty good – it had a nice texture and wasn’t chewy and my rice was perfectly cooked.  The shredded cabbage was fresh and the sweetness of the electric orange sauce that it was smothered in worked well with the rest of the dish.  The atmosphere was loud and bustling; service was mechanical but efficient enough.

Verdict: inexpensive, tasty Korean street food 7.5/10

The Marksman
254 Hackney Rd, E2 7SJ
Nearest tube: Hoxton
020 7739 7393
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“If there’s a better lunch to be had in Britain right now than the beef and barley buns with horseradish, the kid goat curry with the fried potatoes and the brown butter and honey tart served at the Marksman pub on the Hackney Road, I want to know about it” Jay Rayner, The Guardian

The Marksman is a gastropub in Hackney which opened this summer amid a flurry of excellent reviews, most notably a gushing write-up from Jay Rayner.  Co-owners Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram made the brave move of buying the pub outright using a combination of their own savings, support from the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme, crowdfunding and a range of individual investors.  They had previously worked together at the Michelin-starred St John hotel restaurant (Harris was Head Chef) which unfortunately ran into financial troubles and closed a few years ago.  Rotheram was formerly head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Oliver has also lended some business support to help start up The Marksman. The renovation of the old pub is excellent – they have cleaned and polished the place, but it still looks like an East End boozer, this was enhanced by the smattering of flat-capped cockney regulars propping up the bar during our visit.


The menu is curt and reasonably priced (especially given the supreme pedigree of the chef/owners) with starters at up to £8 and mains £12-21.  I started with a simple but sublime dish of cured sea trout with kohlrabi and crème fraîche (£8) – the trout was a beautiful deep orange colour and had retained its moisture and freshness even after the curing process.  It had a nice amount of fat which lended richness and worked well with the pickled kohlrabi.  For me, this was a wonderful example of a confident chef letting his ingredients speak through rather than showing off wizzy technical abilities for the sake of it.


We then ordered some mains to share, including a massive hunk of saddleback loin with coco beans and kale (£16) – the meat was juicy, had a fair amount of character and was great value.  I was disappointed with the coco beans which were a tad dry and not very creamy, they should have been cooked in a rich, stocky sauce rather than simply being boiled in water.  Plaice with cockles, cucumber and samphire was also served in a generous helping and on the bone which meant it was a lot of work to eat but the flesh was really packed with flavours of the sea.


The star of the show was a braised shoulder of lamb with sea beet and mint (£39) – this was served whole along with a puddle of stock and the meat simply fell off the bone.  The rustic greens served alongside rounded off the dish nicely.  As a true Scotsman, I really enjoyed our artery-clogging fried potato on the side which was concertina-shaped to maximise its fat content.  They have a few decent beers and ales on tap, focusing on reasonable but unchallenging beer from the nearby Redchurch brewery.

Verdict: one of the best gastropubs in town 8.5/10

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The Begging Bowl & Mohsen

The Begging Bowl
168 Bellenden Rd, Peckham, SE15 4BW
Nearest tube: Peckham Rye
020 7635 2627
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“Its signature dish was a great big mulch centred on a banana leaf. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say it looked about as appetising as a stewed triffid. It was hair-raisingly good.” Zoe Williams, The Telegraph


The Begging Bowl opened in 2012 and was one of the first new wave restaurants to arrive in Peckham’s Bellenden road.  Head chef and co-owner Jane Alty hails from New Zealand and learnt her trade in some of London’s best kitchens, including Galvin at Windows and Bibendum.  A stint travelling through Asia led her to fall in love with Thai food and when she returned to London she joined the team at David Thompson’s Thai trailblazer, Nahm, spending over three years there including a spell working in Bangkok.  Alty’s food isn’t traditionally Thai and has more of a street food slant to it.  The Begging Bowl has an odd menu set-up: four circular symbols in different colours at the top suggest portion size and prices (ranging from small at £6.25 to large at £14.50), which I think is a bit naff.


Our first dish was disappointing – grilled aubergine salad with minced prawns and a duck egg (£8.25).  The egg was served cold and hard-boiled, the aubergine was also cold and under-seasoned; the prawns were unremarkable. Much better was the grilled baby squid with homemade chilli oil (£6.25) – the squid was cooked perfectly, it was light, soft and not at all chewy; the spicing was spot on.


Having read some good write-ups of the Rabbit green curry (£12) I was keen to try this (Alty makes her own curry paste) – it contained both apple and pea aubergines and some sharply flavoured Thai basil.  The sauce was thin and the homemade paste was lost in a sea of coconut milk.  There was a scanty amount of meat: it was overcooked and slightly rubbery.  On a positive note, the vegetables were cooked perfectly and the medium-hot spicing had just the right amount of chilli kick.  More pleasing was the stone bass and cockles in coconut curry (£12) – the large chunks of bass were meaty and cooked so that the flesh was still firm.  The light but slightly spicy sauce brought some interest to the fish which isn’t especially packed with flavour.

Verdict: a disappointment 5/10

152 Warwick Rd, W14 8PS
Nearest tube: Earl’s Court
020 7603 9888
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“…..prices are low for this part of west London, the service is extremely friendly and the café-like decor offers a laid-back alternative to some of the capital’s more showy Persian restaurants.” Time Out


Mohsen is a decade old Persian restaurant on Warwick Road, a short walk from Earl’s Court tube.  The interior has been recently made over and is rustic, with rural Iranian artwork on the walls and simple furnishings.  I have read about brusque and inattentive service in many reviews (eg see Andy Hayler) but I won’t be able to comment as I visited with my Persian friend who spoke to the staff in Farsi and we received excellent service.  The highlight of the meal was the wonderful Persian naan which is made to order using a traditional oven sitting in the window of the restaurant – this is a thin and slightly crispy naan, laden with sesame seeds and was wonderful straight from the oven.  We opted for a simple yoghurt and shallot dip which was light and fresh, working well with the bread.


We shared ox tongue (£5) as a starter which was served in a white sauce enhanced with some turmeric and a hint of saffron – the tongue melted in the mouth and had a mild, beef-like flavour.  The sauce was pleasant enough but there was too much of it.  For main course I had Koresh Badjeman (braised lamb and aubergine £10) with rice – the aubergine was sweet, not at all bitter or greasy.  The morsels of lamb could have been cut with a spoon and the tomato based sauce was nicely seasoned and (of course) had a hint of saffron.


We finished with some saffron ice cream which was certainly homemade (and contained the odd ice crystal) but that I still really enjoyed.  They don’t have an alcohol licence but you can bring your own bottle (there is no corkage charge); they also don’t accept debit or credit cards.

Verdict: authentic Persian food at bargain prices 6.5/10



Naughty Piglets

28 Brixton Water Ln, SW2 1PE
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7274 7796
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“…..white asparagus given a final toasting on the grill is served with fluffy micro-planed Parmesan, an egg yolk barely able to contain its molten richness, melted butter and crisped roughly torn crumbs — almost a moral tale.” Fay Maschler, The Evening Standard


Naughty Piglets opened 3 months ago in an unheralded area south of Brixton tube, it is on the site of a former Caribbean chicken shop (though this isn’t a case of gentrification driving up rents – apparently its owner was tired of the business and has since gone on to open a nightclub).  Founders Margaux Aubry & Joe Sharratt are a husband and wife team – they met at Trinity in Clapham where Sharratt was head chef  and Aubry was doing a wine apprenticeship.  Sharratt is a South London boy who grew up in Clapham and the couple still live in the area.  Aubry hails from France’s culinary capital, Lyon, and studied for an MBA before moving to London to improve her knowledge of wine, learning the ropes at Eric Narioo’s Terroirs.  She is a beautiful and ebullient presence in the restaurant, effortlessly managing and charming at least ten tables at once.  Getting the Piglets off the ground was a stressful process, including securing a large loan and needing to sign up to a 10 year lease, but they have been rewarded with some great reviews, including 9/10 in The Independent and 4 stars from Time Out.


The restaurant is small, with around 30 covers, including some seats at the bar; it has been converted in a tasteful but rustic style with lots of pine, simple furnishings and the requisite filament light bulbs.  They have a curt and daily changing menu (heavily inspired by Sharratt’s stint at Primeur) and many of the dishes are cooked using a charcoal grill.  The food has European and Mediterranean roots, coupled with some far eastern and particularly Japanese influence.  Unsurprisingly, given Aubry’s background, the wine list is carefully chosen and focuses on low-intervention wines, with many natural and organic options.  We enjoyed our Gamay Noir although the mark-up was rather heavy – we paid £28 for a bottle that retails at close to £5 so I would recommend a bit of research before you choose.


We started with some wonderful prawns, served whole and cooked on the grill with garlic and chilli (£7), they were really fresh, sweet and juicy, but are a dangerous option for messy eaters – in my enthusiasm to devour and peel them I managed to spray oil and prawn juice all over my shirt…….. Our next dish was a very generous portion of monkfish (at £9 I wonder how they can be making money from this?) served with deep fried courgette flowers and a saffron aioli.  The monkfish had again been cooked on the charcoal grill which lended a nice, smoky flavour to its meaty flesh.  The fish was still moist and was complemented by the crispy, slightly tart courgette flowers.  My only gripe is that there was possibly a bit too much aioli on the plate, but it was so tasty that I ate it all anyway.


Spatchcock quail with romesco sauce and almonds (£9) was a simple but well-executed main course, the bird had been very neatly butchered and was packed with deep, gamey flavours.  The romesco sauce was properly seasoned and utilised good quality red peppers.


And the highlight of the meal was a barbecued pork belly with Korean spices (a bargain at £9) –  the quality of the belly was outstanding and it had been cooked to perfection so that the meat was soft and moist; the fat was wonderfully crispy.  It paired beautifully with the umami/spicy Gochujang sauce which was laced with sesame seeds and baby lettuce leaves added freshness to the dish.  We finished with the best crème caramel I have ever eaten – it was the perfect texture, rich and smooth with a hint of sweetness.

Verdict: Aubry & Sharratt have got just about everything right – Naughty Piglets rivals Portland for my favourite restaurant of 2015 9/10

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Duck & Rice

90 Berwick St, W1F 0QB
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
020 3327 7888
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“Across two meals I try some very good things, many of them taking banal Chinese takeaway standards and turning them into serious conversation pieces. The prawn sesame toast is the best I have ever tried, the butch minced prawn heaped so pillowlike on to the toast you don’t know whether to eat it or have a nap on it. ” Jay Rayner, The Guardian


Duck & Rice, the latest venture from Alan Yau (founder of Wagamma) is, ostensibly, a pub with a chop suey restaurant upstairs.  The menu takes traditional Chinese takeaway dishes and generally improves upon them, all washed down with some decent beers.  Yau came to Britain at 11 from Hong Kong when his parents set up a Chinese takeaway, then in 1986, with his father’s help, he raised £50,000 to open a Chinese takeaway in Peterborough, and reportedly made the investment back in only six months.  He set up the first Wagamma in 1992, the chain grew rapidly before Yau was the victim of a hostile takeover by some nasty venture capitalists.  Yau’s creativity also extends to fine dining restaurants, and he sold a majority stake in the Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for a cool £30.5 million in 2008.

Photo: Mark Hillary

Duck & Rice is on the site of the former Endurance pub, an unimpressive 1960s building – architects Archer Humphryes have done an amazing renovation job, taking the structure right back to its concrete frame, then rebuilding and re-cladding it.  The impressive new facade (which I have attempted to sketch above) is apparently based on an abstraction of a pub window.  The interior is equally striking – it was designed by Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Caglar of the Istanbul-based design studio Autoban, with nods to Chinese ceramics and massive copper beer tanks dispensing Czech Pilsner. The extensive menu is pricier than a typical high street Chinese restaurant, but it is not extortionate, with chow mein dishes at £8-13.5, dim sum £4.2-8.2 and reinventions of classic takeaway dishes averaging at around £15.  Despite its claims to be a craft beer pub the beer list is fairly commercial with the aforementioned unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from Czech Republic front and centre (apparently delivered weekly – I’m not sure the beer is good enough to merit all that effort) and the soapy, ubiquitous London Pride on tap; Alloa’s Harvieston lager is as independent as the draft choice gets (I couldn’t spot any London craft beers on the menu).


To start, we couldn’t miss the sesame prawn toast (£6.5) which Jay Rayner described as “the best I have ever tried” – the prawns were meaty, slightly sweet and perfectly cooked, the toast was nicely crispy and not too greasy……the competition isn’t fierce in my case but I agree with Mr Rayner.  We followed with a decent salt and pepper squid (£10.5) utilising good quality squid which melted in the mouth, the batter was a bit thick for me but I still really enjoyed the dish which was enhanced with a decent chilli kick.  Another Rayner recommendation was the crispy shredded beef (£9) – the beef was extremely crispy and almost shattered in the mouth, but I would have liked a bit of chew and moisture in the meat; the dish had been garnished with too much orange peel and the orange segments were incongruous.


We also sampled another takeaway favourite, Kung Po chicken (£12) – this was probably a bit too authentic for my tastes: the chicken was laden with chilli skins and a hatful of Sichuan peppercorns which overpowered any other flavours and made my mouth numb.  The chicken used was mainly scraps of unidentifiable dark meat – a very disappointing dish.  To add a bit of greenery to our meal we chose stir fried gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with salted fish (£12.8) which I really enjoyed – the crisp greens worked nicely with the dusting of salty fish and hints of garlic.


A dish of shredded pork crispy noodles (£10.5) was unremarkable – the pork scratchings were lacking in character and the dish had been padded out with beansprouts – it needed more noodles; the sauce reminded me of a Chinese style pot noodle powder.  Service was unimpressive – the besuited front of house were stand-offish and the waiting staff were relaxed to the point of not really caring, but the decor and setting pretty much made up for this.

Verdict: decent grub in a chic setting, expect to see a duck & rice outlet near you soon 7/10


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