Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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Sweetings & Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte

Sweetings
39 Queen Victoria Street, EC4N 4SF
Nearest tube: Mansion House
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“Extra-traditional, this is an extraordinary place. Superbly cooked fish in unusual surroundings.” The Evening Standard

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Sweetings is an institution in the City of London – it was opened the same year as the Eiffel Tower (1889) and has been serving fresh seafood to pinstriped men ever since.  In an era of pop-ups and short-lived fads (think kimchi, burgers, barbecue) it is very impressive that Sweetings have kept the same formula for over a century – the menu, building and decor are pretty much unchanged from its original incarnation, they don’t take bookings, are only open during the week and only serve lunch.  Sweetings has its own fishmonger, Richard Barfoot, and freshly filleted produce is displayed in the restaurant’s window.  The menu is very simple: there are a handful of traditional starters like prawn cocktail and scallops and bacon; fresh fish is the focus of the main courses – there are no fancy sauces or modern techniques here, you simply request your fish grilled, fried or poached.  I was slightly surprised to read that the head chef is Galician (Carlos Vasquez) – his latin roots are not obvious in the food at Sweetings, I think any minute change to the menu would cause consternation amongst the regulars.

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Seating is exclusively on high stools at communal wooden counters and bars – the service is very attentive, each area has a dedicated waiter/waitress who either stand behind the bar or are in charge of the table of 6 or 8.  After slurping down our black velvets which were served in pewter tankards (when in Rome….), I started with smoked eel and horseradish cream (£10.75), unsurprisingly this was very simple: the fish had been lightly smoked and had a lovely texture, it was firm but still moist with strong hints of the sea.  The accompanying horseradish cream was hot and punchy, yet still allowed the flavour of the eel to come through.  My friend gave top marks to his scallops and bacon (pictured above) – the scallops were cooked perfectly and married well with the crispy bacon.

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I opted for grilled dover sole for my main course (£31) – this was served whole and looked very impressive, the cooking was good (though it was possibly a smidgen over), simply seasoned with black pepper, the quality of the fish was clear and it did not need any salt.  The flesh was firm and meaty, and it had been skinned and de-boned expertly so there were no stray bones.  We had chips on the side which I think had been cooked from frozen but were nice enough, served straight from the frier and prepared using fresh oil.  Service was very friendly and chatty (without being overbearing) and extremely efficient – all the more impressive considering the small and crowded space they are working in.  It was probably the best service I have experienced in London.

Verdict: a highly recommended step back in time 7/10

Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte
5 Throgmorton Street, EC2N 2AD
Nearest tube: Bank
Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte on Urbanspoon
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“At Le Relais de Venise l’entrecote, you can have anything you like as long as it’s salad, steak and chips. If you don’t fancy a walnut salad you’re screwed, because that’s the only salad they serve. If you prefer rump to entrecote, don’t go. They don’t do it. Not that this is a place without options. Heaven forfend!” Jay Rayner, The Guardian

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Entrecôte is a global chain of steak frites restaurants that was born in Paris in the late 1950s and now has outposts in London and New York.  As Mr Rayner’s quote above illustrates, it is a no-choice restaurant that serves walnut salad followed by steak and chips (for £24) – I should also say that they do have a veggie option………a plate of cheese (also with frites), although on my two visits I have still yet to see anyone eating cheese.  They have a no bookings policy but it is a large space and from reading quite a few reviews and blogs I have not heard of anyone waiting more than half an hour for a table.  Decor aims at a classical Parisian bistrot with lots of mirrors and shiny lamps, I feel sorry for the waitresses whose outfits come straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo.

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The salad arrived very quickly – it was nicely dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette and a good number of toasted walnuts.  The leaves (mostly lettuce) were fresh and crisp although, for me, it could have been jazzed up with some rocket or watercress.  There are no half measures on the steak – it only comes bleu, rare, medium or well done (I was sniffed at when I asked for my steak to be cooked medium rare).  I’m not entirely sure of the cut of steak used – our waitress said it was sirloin but it was a bit chewy and may have come from further down the cow (from the short loin maybe).  The steak is served on a little side plate because you are topped up with a second serving once your party has finished their first helping – and it pays to be nice to your waitress as I had a more meager second helping on my latest visit.  I really enjoyed the “secret” sauce – my best guess from reading online is that this uses chicken livers, thyme, mustard and cream – it is incredibly rich and certainly dominates the flavour of the steak but binds the dish together very well.  The frites were freshly cooked and nicely crispy – they did the trick, although they had been prepared using fairly bland potatoes.

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Service was brusque and unremarkable – although fairly swift our waitress did not break out into a smile during our entire meal.

Verdict: a good option for a quick, simple and decent value meal 6/10


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The Quality Chop House & St John Bakery Room

The Quality Chop House
88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Nearest tube: Farringdon
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website; map
“Unfancy, ungarnished, school of St John bruisers arranged on vintage, mismatched crockery………I could go into food-porny recollections of what we eat on repeat visits, or I could just type some recent menu items while drooling over my keyboard.” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian

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The Quality Chop House opened as a “Progressive Working Class Caterer” in 1869 and has been serving humble grub (chops and pies etc) ever since.  It has had some hard times over the past decade, including an unsuccessful  stint as a meatball emporium, but in 2012 it was taken over by Will Lander and Josie Stead and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Lander (son of the FT’s food critic) has something of a midas touch – see my review of Portland – and Stead’s impressive CV includes a stint as GM of Dinner by Heston.  The restaurant is adjoined by a Quality Chop butcher’s shop and grocery, they also run butchery classes teaching the rudiments of meat hacking before treating you to a three course meal.  Lander’s mother is wine critic Jancis Robinson, so unsurprisingly they have a stonking wine list with a good range of reasonably priced options, they also have no corkage charge on Mondays.  Head chef Shaun Searley’s menu is unfussy and reasonably priced – the dinner menu offers a neat choice of 5 starters (£7-9.5) and 4 mains (£14-20).

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I started with a pork and pistachio terrine with pickled walnuts (£7) – this was a simple, rustic dish and the meat was moist though a bit underseasoned.  We also had a charcuterie plate of meats from the Quality Chop butchery – the highlight of this was the coppa (a salami made using pork neck and shoulder) which was packed with salty, garlicky flavour and had a soft, light texture.  As a (greedy) intermediate course we also sampled one of their signature dishes, Longhorn mince on dripping toast – this was a cardiologists’ nightmare, amazingly rich – the meat was melt in the mouth and had possibly been spiked with anchovy to add extra decadence; the toast had been lightly fried and soaked up the rich, fatty gravy of the mince.

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For main course I had veal rump (£18) which was fantastic – the meat had been well rested so that it was succulent and the fat crispy and moist.  The dish was served without  any sauce and with simple greens on the side – no accompaniments were required because the meat had lots of character and was really juicy.

Verdict: unfussy and good value food in a cool setting 7/10

St. John Bakery Room
41 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
Nearest tube: London Bridge
St. John Bakery at Maltby Street Market on Urbanspoon
website; map
“For foodies making pilgrimages to Britain, the shrine of St John is the equivalent of Santiago de Compostela for those hungry for soul food.” Jasper Gerard, The Telegraph

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Fergus Henderson, he of violently striped suit (apparently made from a butcher’s apron) and little round glasses, trained as an architect before turning to cooking, eschewing formal training and instead learning his trade in the kitchens of west London brasseries.  After a successful spell cooking at the French House pub in Soho he opened St. John in Clerkenwell in 1994, receiving widespread acclaim and eventually a Michelin star in 2009.  Henderson has lived with Parkinson’s Disease since the mid-nineties which has limited his ability to cook, but recent treatment using deep brain simulation has improved his mobility and allowed him to spend more time in the kitchen.  He popularised the idea of “nose to tail” cooking, including the use of offal, and has been one of the principal exponents of British cookery across the globe.  His no frills philosophy extends to the design of his restaurants which are always simply whitewashed and sparsely furnished with “no music, no art, no garnishes, no flowers, no service charge”. The St John empire has been expanding in recent years, with a bread and wine outlet in Spitalfields and a hotel and restaurant in Chinatown.  The most recent outpost is on super-hip Maltby Street and is ostensibly called a bakery but is essentially a little bistro with a short but sweet menu (11 items long including desserts, keenly priced £5-15).

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We started with St John’s famous mince, served decadently on dripping toast (£10.8) – I think this had been prepared using the Henderson method which involves browning the meat then braising in beef stock with carrot and thyme.  The mince was of great quality, fairly lean and perfectly seasoned – the flavour of the beef certainly came to the fore but in the battle of the mince I think The Quality Chop House wins because of the extra interest lended by their secret ingredients (anchovy? special mushroom paste?).  Crab meat on toast (£8.5) was simple and well executed – the chef had used brown meat which was really fresh and slightly sweet.

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Arbroath smokie with roasted parsnips (£9.7) was a homely delight – the fish was served whole with a simple butter sauce which toned down its bursts of smoke and sea.  The combination of haddock and parsnips worked really well, with the sweet, light parsnips neutralising the smoky broodiness of the fish.

Verdict: measured, simple cooking 7/10


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More Burgers

Patty & Bun Liverpool Street
22/23 Liverpool Street, EC2M 7PD
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
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“Good lord, this was a wet and sloppy delight – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” Samphire & Salsify

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Patty & Bun, purveyors of the best burgers in London, opened a second site near Liverpool Street in the spring of last year.  The small restaurant is just round the corner from the station entrance and is more geared towards takeaway customers than their original perma-rammed James St. site.  Their menu offers 3 beefburgers (£7.5-8.5) along with chicken and veggie options, as well as a daily burger special. And in effort to cater to hungover city boys they have also branched out into breakfast burgers – with P&B bacon, sausage and veggie rolls (£4).

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I couldn’t resist the “smoke cheese everyday” (£11.5) special of a beef patty, packed with bacon, green chilli relish, chipotle ketchup, smoked cheese mayo and smoked cheddar.  The bun was the usual (and now much copied) P&B glazed brioche effort – it was slightly sweet, nicely sticky and did a great job of holding all the components together.  The highlight of the condiments was the smoked cheese mayo (they make the mayo in-house and keep their recipes a closely guarded secret) – it was decadently rich and a perfect texture, being thick but still runny enough to integrate with the juicy burger.  Chips were cut medium-thick and served skin-on with rosemary salt – they were definitely freshly prepared and nicely crispy, the hints of potato skin adding good texture.

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For me, the burger was exemplary – the meat was moist, well-seasoned and full of character.  The general consensus still seems to be that P&B serve up the best burgers in London, although there has been some debate about the Liverpool St branch doing some sneaky pre-cooking (explained by the management as holding burgers in a thermodyne).  You should also note that whilst you can sit in at P&B Liverpool St it is not a place to linger – the few high seats and tables are not very comfortable and we were politely but swiftly told to sling our hook as soon as our final morsel of food was dispatched……this is proper fast food.

Verdict: bring a bib 9/10

Five Guys Burgers & Fries
1-3 Long Acre, WC2E 9LH
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
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“Five Guys fails at EVERYTHING it attempts to be. Like many of my compatriots, my overwhelming feeling after leaving Five Guys was that I had just been on the receiving end of a lot of broken promises.” fatmanclaphand

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Five Guys is an American burger franchise (think of a slightly posher McDonald’s) that first came to London a couple of years ago and now has 8 outlets across the capital and 16 in the rest of the country.  The Five Guys moniker comes from the founders Janie and Jerry Murrell who had four sons when the company was formed in 1986; another son arrived two years later and all five are currently involved in the business.  I went along to the flagship Covent Garden branch which opened on the 4th of July (when else?) 2013 when London was going burger crazy – initially the queues were long and the reviews lukewarm, but the hype has now died down and I only needed to wait about 10 minutes for my meal on a Saturday lunchtime.

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The burger was a very flat, fairly dry affair – it was cooked through and a bit underseasoned, especially compared to the highly salted chips.  They offer a good range of toppings and I opted for grilled onions (which were undercooked and not quite caramelised enough), green peppers (decent) and relish (slightly sweet but with a nice gooey texture).  The roll was heavily seeded and quite dense/bready, but looked rather sad and collapsed after it’s imprisonment in silver foil.

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I opted for “small” fries which were jammed into a small cup and then placed into a paper bag into which another shovelful of fries was liberally sprinkled – this would have been enough for two and despite my best attempts I couldn’t finish them.  The origin of the potatoes used for the fries is displayed on a whiteboard which is a nice little touch and the Dutch potatoes used for my fries had a bit of character – they were moist and well coloured.  Novelties for London customers will be the unlimited soft drinks refills (a dentists nightmare which is common in the US) and the wide range of extra toppings which can be added in any quantity for no extra cost.

Verdict: an unremarkable and overpriced burger 5/10

 


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The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse Islington
63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington
020 7354 1144
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website; map

“This is the place to show us why man discovered fire” Fay Maschler, The Evening Standard

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Neil Rankin, replete with tattoos and baseball cap, was one of the poster boys for London’s barbecue revolution, working at the helm of Pitt Cue, John Salt and, more recently, Bad Egg.  I was surprised to learn that he has only been cooking professionally for 7 years: he studied acoustic engineering at university and worked as a sound engineer for a few years before running a highly successful sandwich shop franchise in Scotland.  He then took an intensive cookery course and cut his teeth at a number of fine dining restaurants, including Chez Bruce and Rhodes 24, before having a barbecue epiphany as one of the founder chefs at Barbecoa.  This led to his appointment as head chef at Pitt Cue.  Rankin teamed up with Noble Inns to open the Smokehouse last year and has received widespread critical acclaim, including a score of 8/10 from Lisa Markwell in The Independent and 4 stars from Time Out.  A second Smokehouse opened in Chiswick this weekend.

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There is an a la carte menu at lunch and dinner throughout the week and on Saturday evenings, as well as a shorter brunch menu on Saturday mornings and Sundays (offering French toast for £10, a burger at £15, black pudding and pork hash (£10) as well as a few other dishes).  They have an impressive craft (mostly keg) beer collection, with a wide range of options focusing on London brewers, including Beavertown, Fourpure and Kernel (along with some stronger beers from the excellent Scottish brewers Harviestoun).  Having heard that portion sizes are very generous we skipped starters and moved straight to mains, beginning with smoked pork belly, tattie scone, black pudding & apple, beurre blanc  (£18).  The large round of belly was served on top of the tattie scone and black pudding, it came decorated with a slice of chicory which added a hint of much needed acidity and bitterness, counteracting all of the rich, fatty flavours in the dish.  The pork was only lightly smoked which allowed the nutty complexity of the belly flavours to come through, and the gelatinous fat was wonderfully sticky.  The black pudding was peppery and its crunchy texture combined well with the pork.  I thought the beurre blanc brought the dish together well – I was worried that it might make the dish overly rich, but whilst of course being very buttery, it had been made with a good slug of wine which added sharpness.  The only disappointment was the tattie scone which had been made with too much flour and then fried for too long so that it was chewy and doughy.

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Keen to try one of Rankin’s recent experimentations with Korean food, we followed with smoked duck, kimchi, hash cake & fried egg (£18).  Again, the smoking of the duck was spot on, it added interest and depth to the meat but didn’t mask it’s natural flavour; the kimchi had a nice chilli kick and brought much needed tartness to all of the bold flavours.  The hash cake was crispy and well seasoned, it brought the dish together very well.  Service was friendly, hip and efficient.

Verdict: Neil Rankin is a master of the barbecue 8.5/10

 


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More reviews – no. 3

Smoking Goat
7 Denmark Street, WC2H 8LZ
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
map
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The food at Smoking Goat isn’t finger-licking good, it’s fist-and-wrist-and-possibly-elbow-and-knee-licking good.” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian

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The smoking goat opened last autumn and its rough and tumble, messy Northern Thai street food has received a lot of attention since then, with favourable reviews from Marina, Fay and even a minor royal.  Head chef Seb Holmes was poached from another Thai kitchen, the Begging Bowl in Peckham, and is joined by Gino Tighe who previously worked at The Quality Chophouse.  It is situated in a former Soho dive bar – space is tight with around 40 covers, most of which are seated around the bar  and the smell of the smoky wood ember barbecue permeates the whole room.  They employ the requisite no bookings policy and score extra hipster points for having no phone or website.  A lot of reviews have focused on the queuing, darkness and noise, but I didn’t encounter problems with any of these: I arrived early (just before 7pm) and was seated straight away; for me, the atmosphere was fun and buzzy.  The menu is short and sweet with a handful of choices for each course – starters are up to £6 and mains £15-20.

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We started with the popular fish sauce wings (£6) – these were the biggest wings I have ever eaten (monster chickens?) and came deep fried, smothered in sesame seeds and sticky, crispy batter.  The meat was dark and packed with flavour, with only a subtle hint of fishiness: it was very juicy and simply fell off the bone.  Our next dish was a special of roasted whole scallops (great value at £3.50 each) – these were served in the shell complete with their coral.  The scallop had been carefully prepared and cleaned so there wasn’t any grit and the cooking was bang on: the flesh was soft and silky, with a slightly smoky finish.

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For mains we had slow roasted duck legs (£15) and pork saddle chops (£20).  The duck legs were firm and juicy, encased in a rich, sticky glaze and paired well with a lemongrass and kaffir lime dip.  The pork saddle chops were the day’s special, the meat having arrived freshly in the morning – the chops had been chargrilled and were firm, glutinous and lightly smoked. Som tam (green papaya salad) offered some light relief from all the sticky proteins – it was loaded with chilli and laced with zesty lime and sweet palm sugar.  We washed all this down with pints of Gamma Ray American Pale Ale by Beavertown which were full of vigorous hops with a nice tropical fruit finish (all for an eye-watering £6.75 a pint).

Verdict: great value Thai food in a hip setting 8/10

Luc’s Brasserie
17-22 Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LR
Nearest tube: Bank
020 7621 0666
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website (it plays an annoying tune); map

Luc’s Brasserie has been fattening up pinstriped Lloyd’s underwriters for many years, situated at the heart of Leadhall Market they serve traditional French bistro food in a relaxed setting. They offer a set price lunch menu of 3 courses for £19.95 (which is fairly reasonable given its central location)  and an a la carte with starters up to £9.50 and mains for £12.75 to £17.50.  Dishes include many French staples, including baked Camembert, steak tartare, duck confit and toulouse sausage.

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I went along for a mid-week lunch, starting with smoked haddock gratin with mussels.  This arrived very promptly and must have been pre-assembled and then finished under the grill, but the fish was fresh, firm and full of flavour; the breadcrumbs were crispy and nicely laced with cheese.  I really enjoyed the sauce which was creamy and rich (I think it might have been enhanced by a drop of fish stock).  A simple but very pleasing dish.

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Feeling unadventurous, I opted for the half of roasted chicken with frites for my main course.  Again, this arrived suspiciously quickly: the leg and breast had been separated from the body and were clumsily presented along with an old-school sauce boat of gravy.  The meat was a tiny bit dry but still fairly juicy and the skin was perfectly crispy.  The gravy was reasonable and the frites were thinly cut and freshly made. Service was fast, efficient and generally friendly.

Verdict: reasonably priced French bistro food 6.5/10

Bleecker burger
Spitalfields Market, Unit B, SP 4 Pavilion Building, E1 6EA
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
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website; map

Zan Kaufman’s route to London foodie fame is an unusual one.  She started out as a New York corporate lawyer, but her love of food led her to take a second job in a Manhattan burger restaurant.  Then she decamped to the UK (her husband in British) and, inspired by KERB founder Petra Barran, bought a truck and converted it into a food van.  Her Yankee style burgers (made with rare breed meat from The Butchery in Bermondsey) quickly received rave reviews, including a 10/10 from the Burger Addict blog.  She opened a permanent space in Spitalfields market in February (although the burger van is still out and about) and I went along there for a mid-week lunch. They have a small unit near the main entrance of the market and a few picnic tables of seating around – beware, the market is covered but still outdoors, so it can get pretty chilly there.  The menu is short and sweet with the only offerings being a cheese or veggie burgers (£6), a bacon cheeseburger (£7), a double cheeseburger (£9), and the mighty Bleecker Black (£10).

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I couldn’t resist trying the Bleecker Black – a double cheeseburger with black pudding, American cheese, onion and hot sauce.  The burgers were smaller than I imagined and were cooked wonderfully medium rare though well coloured on the outside, the meat was properly seasoned   The bun was of the more traditional seeded variety (rather than brioche as is the trend these days) – it was lightly toasted, had a nice light consistency and stood up very well to the burger juices and sauce.   I enjoyed the black pudding which was moist and peppery, with a hint of crunch although it’s flavour did dwarf the burger meat somewhat.  Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the “American” cheese which was sharp and slightly sweet, it melted nicely into the burger meat and bun.

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On the side I had “angry fries” (£4) which come smothered in blue cheese and hot sauce – they are made from Maris Piper potatoes and are cut freshly (skin-on) every day.  The fries were nicely crispy, liberally salted and the little hints of skin added texture; the hot sauce wasn’t too hot but worked well with the punchy blue cheese.

Verdict: great quality burger and fries, probably my second favourite in London behind Patty & Bun 8/10

 

 


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Portland

113 Great Portland Street, W1W 6QQ
Nearest tube: Great Portland Street
0207 436 3261
Portland on Urbanspoon
website; map

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Portland opened in January and is now one of London’s hottest restaurants, getting a 10/10 from Giles Coren in The Times and 5 stars from Time Out; Marina O’Loughin of the Guardian is “smitten” with the place and on my visit AA Gill was eating at an adjacent table.  It has been set up by Daniel Morgenthau (previously of 10 Greek Street) and Will Lander.  Lander has good pedigree – he founded the Quality Chop House and is the son of the FT’s restaurant critic Nicolas Lander.  The head chef is the impressively named Merlin Labron-Johnson who moved to Portland after two years as sous chef at a funky Belgian Michelin starred restaurant called In de Wulf.  The restaurant is in a long, thin room topped by an open kitchen and adorned with minimal artwork and furnishings – it has lots of hard surfaces so is a bit noisy (but not in an intrusive way).  They offer the same a la carte menu (4 choices for each course) at both lunch and dinner, and pricing is very reasonable given the quality of Labron-Johnson’s cooking, with starters at £6-11 and mains up to £20.

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I started with roasted scallops and artichoke velouté (£12) which was truly wonderful – the scallops had been cooked perfectly so they were soft, silky yet still firm and the rich, light velouté was packed with deep earthy notes.  The velouté was sprinkled with little artichoke crisps which lended texture and body to the dish.  We also had a simple mackerel and oyster tartare with beetroot and a hint of wasabi (£11), this was well composed so that the mackerel and oyster stood out clearly, although I would have preferred the wasabi to be slightly stronger.

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For main course we had wood pigeon with enoki mushrooms, parsley and smoked onion tea (£19).  The cooking of the pigeon was faultless – the breast was tender and full of gamey flavour, the leg was served whole and looked great on the plate: the leg meat was delicious although there wasn’t a great amount of it.   The enoki mushrooms (normally used in Japanese cooking) were doused in meat stock and their delicate flavour countered the pigeon very well.  I was disappointed with the parsnips which were slightly underdone – I would have liked them to be finished in the oven and nicely caramelised.  I was slightly confused by the onion tea which tasted a bit like lukewarm bovril and seemed superfluous to the rest of the dish.

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Our second main was fallow deer with Martin Sec pear and kale (£20) which was handsomely presented in a nouveau-rustic style.  The deer loin was cooked wonderfully pink and it had a understated game hue, it combined nicely with the slightly sweet, almost floral flavours of the roasted pear.  Kale added texture, crunch and a hint of bitterness to the mix.  A well balanced and perfectly prepared dish.

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We finished with a simple but truly memorable hazelnut eclair (£5) – a beautifully presented and executed pastry that was sweet but not sickly.  The pastry was light and crispy – I totally agree with Lisa Markwell of the Independent who called it “the equal of the finest Parisienne pâtisserie”.  And a final note on our service which was fantastic – friendly and attentive yet unobtrusive, we also had a nice chat with chef Merlin who let us sample some of his uncle’s homemade blackberry wine.

Verdict: Portland is deserving of all the attention and hype 9/10

 

 


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More reviews – no. 2

Corrigan’s Mayfair
28 Upper Grosvenor Street, W1K 7EH
Nearest tube: Marble Arch
020 7499 9943
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website; map

Richard Corrigan was born in Dublin and raised in County Meath, just outside the city.  He left Ireland at 18, working in various Michelin-starred restaurants in Amsterdam before moving to London and rising to Head Chef at Mulligan’s in Mayfair. He won his first Michelin star as head chef of Stephen Bull’s Fulham Road restaurant in 1994 and his second three years later at Lindsay House in Soho. Corrigan’s Mayfair is his flagship fine dining restaurant – it opened in October 2009 to widespread critical acclaim, and was quickly named London Restaurant of the Year by the Evening Standard.  The menu focuses on meat and game – Corrigan’s ethos is all about sourcing good ingredients and preparing them with the minimum of fuss. The decor is very Mayfair – it is smart and extravagant with lots of wood and leather……I pity the poor waitress tasked with ironing all of the white tablecloths.

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I went along for Sunday lunch where they offer a very keenly priced set menu of three courses for £29 (possibly one of best value Sunday lunches in London?).   For starter I opted for braised rose veal breast with caesar dressing, salad leaves and pickles.  I was expecting a warm chunk of veal amidst a hearty salad, but what arrived was quite different.  The veal was served cold – it had been pressed, rolled, seasoned and then thinly sliced, it was served along with dollops of creamy caesar dressing and sharp, zesty pickles.  The texture of the meat was light and soft, with just the right fat content – a very pleasing dish.

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I followed this with roast brill (a flat fish similar to turbot but a tad less refined/pricey), cockles and salsify.  The brill was generously sized and came with beautifully crispy roast potatoes and decadently creamy cauliflower cheese on the side.  As expected, the fish was very fresh – it was chunky and meaty, yet subtly flavoured and slightly sweet.  The outside of the fillet was nicely browned which brought flavour and texture, but for me the fish had been slightly overcooked.  The cockles were wonderful – light and not at all chewy, they had been carefully prepared so they didn’t contain a hint of grit or sand.  I couldn’t resist the chocolate fondant with Guinness ice cream for dessert – this was executed well with a lovely runny centre and a strong cocoa kick.  The ice cream only had a subtle hint of Guinness flavour but worked well with the rich fondant.

Verdict: a decadent, fantastic value Sunday lunch 8/10

Rooftop Cafe
Fielden House, 28 London Bridge Street, SE1 9SG
Nearest tube: London Bridge
020 31023770
The Rooftop Cafe on Urbanspoon
website; map

‘It’s in the wrong sort of building, in the wrong part of town, with the wrong menu. And yet it’s brilliant’ Giles Coren, The Times

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The rooftop cafe is pretty hard to find.  It is round near the back entrance of London Bridge station at the top of an innocuous looking office building: you need to buzz to get in, head into a lift, then up a couple of floors of narrow steps and through a few unmarked doors before you eventually arrive at the dining room.  The space used to be a janitor’s store and it is a pretty small, with an open kitchen and (oddly) orange-painted roof beams.  They have a roof terrace where they grow their herbs and you can dine out there in the summer. It opened in early 2012, and has received a slowly increasing number of favourable reviews ever since, with Giles Coren giving it a great little write up in The Times before Christmas.  Head chef Peter Le Faucheur’s menu is short and to the point, it apparently changes daily and it is strictly seasonal (as everyone claims these days, but I believe it here).  Pricing is reasonable with starters at £6-9 and mains for £12-19.   I started with salt and pepper squid with gremolata (a Mediterranean mix of chopped herbs with lemon and garlic).  The squid was served whole, encased in a light, peppery batter and sitting on the bright, zesty gremolata.  The cooking of the squid was spot on – it was soft and succulent yet retained a slight crunch; the gremolata added depth and interest. A simple, but extremely well executed dish.

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I followed with lamb shank, cabbage and spring onions (£19).  This was a massive dish and would have been big enough for two to share – the shank had been cooked really slowly and was so soft that it could have been eaten with a spoon.  It had been roasted in Chinese five-spice powder which added a slight Asian slant, the cabbage was smothered in roasting stock and was wonderfully sticky and rich – a heartwarming main course.  I had no room for dessert but their bread and butter pudding looks fantastic.

Verdict: An unlikely hidden gem 7.5/10

Bistro Union
40 Abbeville Road, Clapham, SW4 9NG
Nearest tube: Clapham South
020 7042 6400
Bistro Union on Urbanspoon
website; map

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Adam Byatt has been the boss of Clapham’s culinary scene for over a decade, firstly with Thyme (which opened in 2001, followed by an unsuccessful move to the West End) and then Trinity (2006) – he now has competition though, with young pretenders, The Dairy and The Manor aiming to steal his crown with their scando-hipster ingenuity.  He opened Bistro Union a couple of years ago on the gentrified Abbeville Road, a short walk from Clapham South tube station, and quickly won a Michelin bib gourmand as well as a place in Time Out’s 50 top London restaurants.  His head chef, Karl Goward previously worked at St. John Bread and Wine and this experience comes through in his menu – the dishes are simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.  We started with brown shrimp, monk’s beard and boiled potatoes (£7) – the shrimps were meaty, and were complemented by the fresh, crunchy monk’s beard.  The cooking of the potatoes was good and they added bulk to the dish.

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Our second starter was pheasant, blood orange and watercress (£7) – this was light and summery, the bittersweet blood orange paired well with the soft, beautifully pink pheasant.  Feeling both hungry and brave, for main course we chose the whole beef rib (£44 for two to share) which came with Bearnaise sauce and thick cut chips.  As you can see from the photograph below this was an impressive piece of meat (easily over a kilo).  The rib had been cooked on the bone so the meat was very moist, the fat was crispy and melt in the mouth; the cooking was consistently medium-rare across the whole rib.  The quality of the beef was very good and I think on par with my recent steak at Hawksmoor – the chips were double or triple cooked, so nicely crispy, and the Bearnaise had a good consistency.  My only gripe was that we would have liked a few more chips to complement our hunk of meat.

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Verdict: well-prepared, homely classics made with well-sourced ingredients 7.5/10

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