Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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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

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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.

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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.

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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

Mohsen
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

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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.

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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.

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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 license 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

 


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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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10 Greek Street

10 Greek Street, W1D 4DH
020 7734 4677
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
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There is nothing showy about how ingredients are brought together. You will not swoon at the originality of anything. There are oceans of technique but it is worn very lightly; so lightly, in fact, that it may only be as you come to the end of the meal that you will recognise how well you have been fed.” Jay Rayner, The Guardian

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It’s good to see restaurants that were once “hot” (as 10 Greek Street was when it opened in early 2012) sticking to their original formula and still being successful some years on.  Founder Luke Wilson (not the film star) is the son of Scottish media mogul Charlie Wilson and has a background in wine supplying, meaning the restaurant boats an interesting and great value wine list with Andy Hayler noting that “Mark-ups were distinctly kind by London standards, averaging just twice retail price”.  Wilson’s co-founder and head chef is the Kiwi Cameron Emirali who had previously worked at the Wapping Project.  When it opened 10 Greek Street was a trend setter in many ways  – a small, bustling space with no reservations, the understated decor, open kitchen and chalk board menu concentrating on seasonal ingredients as well as the good-looking staff who look like they  are destined for more creative things but are happy to serve you in the meantime.  The restaurant received rave reviews when it first opened including a 4 star review from Fay Maschler in the Standard and being described as a “bit of a diamond” by Jay Rayner.

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The succinct chalkboard menu doesn’t really distinguish between starters and mains, and the pricing is reasonable with dishes at £7-25.  We started with octopus carpaccio with capers and artichoke (£9) – this was disappointing, the octopus bland and slightly stringy; the combination of the capers and artichoke was overly bitter.  Thankfully, I was able to quickly forget the octopus as the rest of the meal was fantastic – razor clam escabèche with saffron and fennel was a joy to eat: the clams had been quickly boiled and then cured in vinegar so that they retained their natural flavour, whilst a hint of saffron added refinement.  The fennel cut through the meaty, slightly salty clams to round off a wonderful dish.

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Our first larger course was hake with peperonta (stewed peppers, onions and tomatoes) and a courgette flower stuffed with Cornish crab meat (£22) – the fish had been cooked perfectly so that the skin was crispy and the flesh still firm, the hake and the peperonta worked well together with the peperonta adding a bit of interest to the fresh but slightly bland hake.  The crab stuffed courgette flower was really tasty – the batter was crisp, light and not at all greasy and the creamy crab combined well with the slightly sweet flower.

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We followed with Old Spot pork with a Vignarola (an Italian spring stew made up of broad beans, artichokes, mint and parsley) £19 – the dish was finished with some fantastic crackling and the pork was cooked impeccably so that it was still nice and moist.  The Vignarola combined very well with the pork, adding tartness and wholesomeness to round off the dish.  Service was friendly but not especially attentive given the fairly low ratio of staff to diners.

Verdict: 10 Greek Street may no longer be on trend but their food is generally wonderful 7.5/10


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José Pizzaro Broadgate & Tommi Burger

José Pizzaro Broadgate
36 Broadgate Circle, EC2M 1QS
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
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“It isn’t cheap but the atmosphere and tasty, moreish tapas provide a welcome injection of Latin passion into one of the city’s more soulless corners” City A.M.

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(Grants of Shoreditch Ltd)

Margaret Thatcher conceived and Prince Charles opened Broadgate Arena (now known as Broadgate Circle) in 1987 – it was designed by Arup Associates in a post-modern concrete-laden style.  The development won numerous plaudits, including the Royal Institute of British Architects’ National Award in 1991, but an application for listing was rejected by Tory culture secretary Jeremy Hunt a few years ago.  This left the door open for further development and although the circle is used as an ice rink during the winter there had been demand to make better use of the space during the rest of the year, leading to Arup being brought back in to create an arena for shopping and eating.  They were able to attract an impressive list of restaurants to the new venture, including Brixton’s Franco Manco, Yauatcha (from the Hakkasan Group), the Botanist and the wonderful José Pizzaro.  As José on Bermondsey street is one of my favourite tapas places I was keen to see what José Broadgate has to offer.

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The restaurant has 65 covers and so is a lot bigger than the tiny, intimate José; a lot of money has been invested in the fit-out, designed by CADA – there are some nice features, including concrete panels with patterns inspired by Pizzaro’s Extremadura hometown, but on the whole it feels a bit corporate (I much prefer the rustically decorated José).  The menu is mainly composed of tapas dishes and charcuterie, they also serve a range of Spanish breakfast dishes which I think will be a hit with local desk monkeys.   We started with some decent padron peppers (£5) and some beautifully rich and nutty Jamón ibérico de bellota (ie acorn-fed ibérico ham) sourced from Cinco Jotas (albeit for a whopping £23).  Next, we had some grilled octopus with Catalan olive oil (£10) – the octopus was cooked perfectly so it was soft and melt in the mouth; its salty, sea flavour was enhanced by the rich olive oil and a hint of paprika.

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There are five larger dishes on the menu (£12-25, as well as the presa ibérico which has been getting good reviews) – we chose the whole grilled baby turbot (£24) with pan con tomate and a green salad.  The fish was very fresh and exquisitely cooked so that it was still moist and full of flavour.  The dearth of sauce or seasoning let the true flavour of the fish stand out.  Aubergine stuffed with a traditional Extremadura dish called migas (stale bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika, and olive oil – £12) was interesting and I guess authentic, but a tad boring, especially given the quality of the rest of the dishes we sampled.  We finished with an amazing dessert of chocolate with olive oil and salt (£6) – this was effectively a chocolate mousse with the cream replaced with olive oil, the resultant dessert was rich, decadent and as it used dark chocolate, fairly healthy – a great end to our meal.

Verdict: José Broadgate has fantastic food, but I prefer the humbler pricing and bustle of it’s (diminutive) big brother José 7.5/10

Tommi Burger
30 Thayer Street, W1U 2QP
0207 224 3828
Nearest tube: Bond Street
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“In some ways it’s like something your dad would produce at a barbecue, if he spent endless summers out there in the rain honing it to perfection.” The Independent

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Tomas Tómasson opened his first burger joint in Reykjavik in 1981, quickly building a mini-empire over the next three years with six restaurants that flipped over a million burgers.  He sold up in 1984 and pursued other restaurant interests, including opening Iceland’s first Hard Rock Cafe and rejuvenating Reykjavik’s plush Hotel Borg.  Tómasson took a break from the business in the early 2000s, travelling the world and eating loads of hamburgers (research, apparently) before opening the second wave of Tommi’s burger joints in 2004.  Four more restaurants followed, with expansion into London in 2012, then Copenhagen and Berlin in 2014.  Apparently Tommi, whose portrait hangs in all the restaurants (he looks a lot like Hemingway), has eaten a burger every day since the first of the new joints over a decade ago (burgers for Christmas?) and is often found working behind the grill in his restaurants.  The menu is pretty simple – a beef or veggie burger (both £6.9) and a steak burger for £8.9, the only side on offer is fries (£2.75) and you can add bacon and extra cheese for £1.

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Their beef comes from traditional butcher HG Walter in Baron’s Court and the mince used in my burger was of good quality, lean and tasty.   The patty had been cooked medium using coarsely chopped mince and was fairly juicy, but underseasoned.  All burgers come with standard toppings of lettuce, american cheese, tomato and onion- in the age of wacky toppings many find this simplicity refreshing, but I found it a bit dull and wasn’t keen on the raw, bitter red onion.  The bun (supplied by monolith bakery Millers which is owned by Alex Polizzi, that annoying TV hotel makeover woman) was quite doughy and starchy – I much prefer a brioche style bun.

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The fries had been bought and cooked from frozen and were unremarkable.  Apart from the quality of the meat used in the burger I was underwhelmed by Tommi’s offering.

Verdict: a reasonable burger, but not a patch on Patty & Bun 6/10

 


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La Taberna do Mercado

La Taberna do Mercado
Old Spitalfields Market, 107b Commercial Street, E1 6BG
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
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“Nuno Mendes has come home. The chef most recently lauded for his launch of the Chiltern Firehouse restaurant……..has embraced his Portuguese heritage in Spitalfields Market. He looks wonderfully content. Wreathed in soft whiskers and smiles.” Fay Maschler

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Lisbon born chef Nuno Mendes trained at the California Culinary Academy before cooking his way around the world, visiting Central America and Asia as well as working in the kitchens of Ferran Adrià and Wolfgang Puck.  In 2006 he took over innovative gastropub Bacchus, receiving some great write-ups and leading to him opening Viajante in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel where he quickly earned a Michelin star.  The restaurant drew on Mendes’ travelling experiences, with Latino and pan-Asian influences brought together with thoroughly modern techniques.  Not everyone was convinced though, with Jay Rayner proclaiming that “at Viajante deliciousness is too often forced to give way to cleverness.”  Mendes was tempted away from Bethnal Green by the big wallet of oligrach André Balazs who took over the Chiltern hotel in 2014 and wanted a fine dining centerpiece – the restaurant was an instant success, gaining favourable reviews, celebrity diners and a Michelin star within months of opening.  The latest restaurant from Nuno is a more humble affair – it focuses on the cuisine of his homeland, and in particular the food of the south-central region of Alentejo.  I went along for lunch in their opening week.

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La Taberna occupies a prime slot in Old Spitalfields Market – it has around 40 covers, including some outdoor seating, and they are due to install an outdoor grill in the coming weeks.  The decor is simple, with pine furnishings and whitewashed walls – it is a nice, neutral set up, though I think they have skimped a bit on the chairs which are flimsy and uncomfortable.  It was surprisingly quiet on my visit, but I think given the recent stellar reviews it has received, it will become increasingly hard to snag a table.  Mendes has delegated the running of the kitchen to his fellow countryman, Anthony Galapito (who worked under Mendes in Bethnal Green) although Mendes’ gentle yet hirsute presence was hard to miss on my visit – he was moving between the kitchen, bar and guests, giving the odd instruction to a waitress and warmly greeting various friends who had come to sample his new menu.

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The menu is fairly short and simple, with the focus being on small sharing plates (£6-13) – there are also selection of portuguese cheeses (£6-13) and cold meats (£7-14), as well as some house prepared tinned fish (£5-7) and Portuguese sandwiches.  We started with runner bean fritters (£5) which were wonderfully light and crispy – they came sitting in a clam juice broth which was packed with aromas of the sea and paired really well with the crunchy beans.  A dish that was more than the sum of its parts.  We moved on to prawn rissois which Ed Smith described as being like “mini Findus crispy pancakes” – I think that is a bit harsh, but not too far from the truth: the prawns had been mashed up and their flavour wasn’t obvious, they tasted of deep frying rather than anything else.  We also sampled a few of the tinned fish dishes – the fish is cured, tinned and cooked in-house, then served in the tin along with some crusty bread.  This is a nice little gimmick but the resulting dishes were underwhelming – turbot (which should probably never be served in a tin) was overcooked, mushy and tasteless; baby scallops were better as the flesh remained firm and the coral was light and sweet.

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Cuttlefish with pig’s trotters (£10) sounds like a Portuguese peasant’s dream but the resultant dish was a let-down – the cuttlefish had been cooked sous-vide but it hadn’t been browned so it was lacking texture, the flavour of the pig’s trotters was dominated by garlic and the decorative coriander flowers.  Far more pleasing was the beef prego (£9) – the meat melted in the mouth and was perfectly seasoned, the stone baked bread was crunchy and held the sandwich together well.  I suspect that these portuguese sandwiches will be a hit with office workers nearby.

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And finally, to the highlight of the meal, a pig fat and egg yolk pudding (£5) served with a port caramel – this is a traditional portuguese dessert apparently invented by nuns, who were replete with discarded egg yolks after using the whites to starch their habits.  The pudding was dense and slightly chewy with a hint of salt and bags of richness, the slightly tart port sauce cut through the fatty notes to complete an unusual, exceptional dish.

Verdict: Portuguese food is far tastier than I thought; you must try the egg yolk pudding 7/10


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Fera at Claridge’s

49 Brook St, W1K 4HR
020 7107 8888
Nearest tube: Bond Street
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“I think the price is a barrier – I simply cannot imagine what the plates would have to look like for the money to feel warranted. Sprinkled with gold, carried in by trained ferrets? The price has more to do with Claridge’s ego than the restaurant itself, it seems to me. This, inevitably, fills the atmosphere with the desire to be Seen in Claridge’s. But the food isn’t at fault: most of it, indeed, is faultless.” Zoe Williams, The Telegraph

Simon Rogan, broad, bestubbled and Stone Island-clad, looks more like a football hooligan than a top chef, but his palette is world renowned.  His Cumbrian restaurant, L’Enclume currently holds two Michelin stars and was voted the Best Restaurant in the UK by the Good Food Guide 2014.  Rogan utilises local ingredients (L’Enclume has its own farm) in a  delicate, modern and often highly complex way – one of his signature dishes is venison loin with coal oil and micro fennel shoots from the farm.  After turning his adopted town, Cartmel, into “Roganville” (adding a bistrot and gastropub to his stable) he recently expanded into Manchester, opening two restaurants in the grand Midland hotel, as well as a London pop-up called Roganic.

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When it was announced that, after a twelve year stay, Gordon Ramsay was leaving Claridge’s there were initially rumours of Noma’s Rene Redzepi or the great American Thomas Keller taking over the hotel’s flagship restaurant, but apparently they wanted a Brit and Mr Rogan was top of their list.  Fera opened in May last year and you couldn’t get a table there for love nor money (even Jay Rayner had to blag to get a table).  Initial reviews were keen on the food but less so on the service, and there was a general consensus that pricing was heavy, however it still went on to win a Michelin star that autumn.

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I went along for the set lunch menu which is reasonably priced at 3 courses for £35 (down from £45 when it first opened): other menus are pricier – the six course tasting menu is £105 and the main courses on the a la carte are £22-38.  Fera’s setting is impressive – the art deco dining room has 16 foot high ceilings with stained glass insets, and the semi-open kitchen is a nice touch.  I had a great view of the action in the kitchen, including a brooding Mr Rogan manning the pass.  British designer Guy Oliver has done a brilliant job of revamping the decor – his muted grey palette allows the room’s art deco features to speak through and the centerpiece of a sandblasted manzanita tree adds a dramatic touch.  Rogan’s food is equally beautiful – I started with flame grilled mackerel with pickled mushrooms, dandelion and apple marigold.  The mackerel had a hint of smokiness from the flame grilling and it was cooked through perfectly so that it was still firm and flaky.  The apple marigold leaves were slightly tart, had a hint of apple flavour and worked well with the strong flavours of the fish.

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I made the potentially boring choice of chicken for main course, but thankfully, none of the dishes are dull at Fera – the breast and skin were served separately, along with a rich, velvety celeriac cream and barbecued leeks.  The breast had been cooked sous vide so that it was still nicely moist, but the flesh was gamey and packed with flavour.  The skin was crispy and gelatinous, with an umami punch; the skin vied with the wonderfully earthy barbecued leeks for the star of the plate.  A range of micro-herbs added hints of bitterness to cut through all of the rich components of the dish, with burnt demerara (surprisingly) added balance to the salty flavour of the skin.

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For dessert I had smoked chocolate with peanut ice cream and verjus caramel – I tried the chocolate on its own and its deep smokiness was a bit too much (it reminded me of islay whisky), but on second taste, along with the light and nutty ice cream and sharp, acidic apple, the dish was a triumph.  As expected, the service was rather stuffy and our waiting staff were not very attentive, preferring to concentrate their efforts on the surrounding tables of ladies who lunch and mahogany-faced international businessmen, but don’t be put off by this – even poor service can’t dampen the glory of Rogan’s food.

Verdict: challenging, innovative food that is worth the premium price tag 8.5/10

 

 

 

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