“Pond isn’t ideal for anyone who doesn’t like raw fish, but it does Japanese-Hawaiian with flair and bags of charm.” John Walsh, The Independent
Pond is a “New Hawaiian” restaurant which opened amid lots of hype last autumn. It was created by Byron Knight, the brains behind Duke’s Brew & Que in Haggerston and the Off Broadway cocktail bar. Knight is a Californian boy with an eclectic background (he has a mix of Japanese, Polish and Mexican heritage) who has spent over 30 years in front of house positions in American restaurants, having started cooking at the Shiro Japanese restaurant in Pasadena, before moving on to be head waiter at the Michelin-starred Japanese fusion restaurant Nobu in New York. When Pond opened the head chef was the improbably named Frog Wong, but he has since moved on and Knight is now also in charge of the menu. The restaurant is housed in a massive Victorian warehouse which was once used for all night raves; the space is really too large for a restaurant, we when visited there were vast swathes of unoccupied space around the bar.
The menu has a mix of small plates, mainly sushi and pokes (raw fish salads which are a bit like a crude ceviche) and larger dishes, including a whole sea bass and smoked pork with pineapple. There is a pervading spam theme throughout the menu……Hawaiians love spam, a legacy from the Yankee soldiers based there after the war.
We started with a tasty snacking dish of miso-glazed aubergine with pomegranates (£4) – the aubergine had been smothered in miso and then chargilled so it had a lovely smoky finish. Our other starter was some reasonable, but slightly clumsy, salmon maki rolls (£7) – the fish was pretty fresh and the rice well prepared but the sushi had been rolled sloppily.
Pulled beef salad (£5) added more smoky flavours to proceedings, the meat was a sticky and packed with flavour, but the tinned sweetcorn and sliced apple on the side didn’t do much for me.
We shared a main of kalua pork (£14.5) – kalua is a traditional Hawaiian word for cooking meat in an underground oven. The pork was really moist and smoky, it was served alongside a zesty coriander and lime dressing, it was a really nice little dish.
Verdict: fun, unusual food but it is going to be a challenge for the great Byron Knight to fill his vast dining room 7.5/10
“Social Wine & Tapas is the best tapas joint I’ve ever encountered outside Spain, because it gets the emphases right: this is, basically, a very fancy wine bar with a long menu of small dishes to share while trying umpteen wines in small 125ml servings.” The Independent
Social Wine & Tapas is Jason Atherton’s sixth London restaurant, it is the brainchild of his chief sommelier and long time servant Laure Patry (she will also be the restaurant’s maitre’d). Whilst Atherton is backing the venture he has stated that he will give her free rein on the restaurant’s future direction. Patry has solid pedigree, hailing from the Loire Valley, she moved to the UK to work for Gordon Ramsay and Claridge’s, before moving to work for Atherton. In addition to being a well respected wine expert she also has a good business brain, having set up the Wine Club – a website that sells sommelier recommended bottles from small wineries.
Unsurprisingly, the focus here is on wine: their list is 500 bottles strong with a backbone of low intervention and organic wines, along with some traditional classics thrown in for good measure. They also have a decent choice of lower value options, with the cheapest bottle at £20, and they have a wide range of wines by the glass (they use the Coravin system, which removes wine through a needle inserted in the cork and replaces it with argon gas, keeping the cork intact and the wine fresh). The restaurant has 70 covers and also houses a little bottle shop. The slick interior design is by Russell Sage, who also fitted out Atherton’s City Social and Dishoom.
Head chef Frankie van Loo is from Yorkshire and worked for Atherton at the Social Eating House. His menu is predominately tapas, with a few larger (mostly meat) plates and, unusually for a Spanish menu, it also has a good range of veggie dishes. We started with some decent padron peppers (£4.5) – they were slightly charred and properly seasoned, but they didn’t have as much character (or fire) as the equivalent dish at Jose. The ham croquettes, however, were exemplary (£4), coated in a light and crispy layer of breadcrumbs, they contained wonderful little morsels of ham and mild, gooey Spanish cheese.
The stand-out dish of the evening was curried hake, confit baby leek and mayonnaise (£9.5). The hake was extremely fresh – its flesh was soft and flaky, but nicely caramelised on the outside and finished with a hint of curry powder. The mayonnaise was the perfect creamy texture and combined nicely with the confit leeks. The salchichon (£6) was disappointing – it had been inexpertly cut (too think) and was quite chewy; the meat needed some more seasoning and a lot more garlic.
A fresh sardine on toast (£5) was served with a zingy tomato paste and a caper/pepper/onion medley. The fish was (again) really fresh and the its meaty flavour stood up well to the punchy toppings.
Verdict: fantastic wine and some great dishes, but they need to improve their tapas staples 7/10
426 Coldharbour Ln, SW9 8LF
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7346 0098
“Forget exquisitely rendered raw fish and nose-clearing wasabi on rice – this is Japanese comfort food, fresh from the deep-fat-fryer.” The Telegraph
Four years ago, at the tender age of 26, Tim Anderson was the youngest winner of Masterchef; he served daring food throughout the contest, including a dish of monkfish liver with umeboshi ketchup in the final. Since then he has been busy running various pop-ups and supperclubs under the Nanban name, including a pop up at Brixton’s Market House last year. He has also written a cookbook and subsidised his income by performing cooking demos around the world. Anderson is from Racine, Wisconsin, and moved to California for college where he took a course in Japanese food. He then spent some time teaching English in Japan, where he met and fell in love with an English woman. They moved to London in 2008, and Anderson become the manager of a craft beer bar, Euston Tap, before he entered Masterchef and embarked on a career as a cook. His first restaurant, Nanban, opened last month in a former pie and mash pub near Brixton tube, I went along in its opening week.
They have done a nice job of the interior refit and tried their best to restore some of the original shop’s features (the space was most recently an unremarkable Japanese/Chinese restaurant). Anderson has dubbed Nanban as a Japanese Soul Food restaurant and the menu focuses on ramen and noodles, although there are some side steps, including a wacky burger topped with tea egg mayo and gochujang sauce. The menu nods to its location close to Brixton’s bustling food market by adopting some West Indian and Caribbean influences, including a curry goat ramen and a salad using the best ingredients found at the market that day. The restaurant’s subtitle is “izakaya” – which essentially means a Japanese pub with food. This has allowed Anderson to show off his craft beer heritage: he will be producing a range of collaboration beers with a Japanese bent. Currently the menu boasts a matcha flavoured saison from Bermondsey heavyweights, Brewing By Numbers and the restaurant’s staple beer is a wheat IPA with yuzu from Hackney’s Pressure Drop.
The highlight of our meal was the curry goat tsukemen (£9.5). In lieu of the traditional ramen broth was a curried meat stew: succulent nuggets of goat came swimming in a thick, fiery soup supplemented by a tea-pickled egg. Again, the noodles were exemplary – a rich yellow in colour, they were firm and springy, pepped up by some spiced bamboo shoots. Nanban’s atmosphere was fun and bustling, but our service was hurried and unfriendly – hopefully this can be put down to teething problems and the staff will be more relaxed now.
Verdict: fun, challenging and (generally) tasty food paired with top-class beer 7.5/10
“…..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
“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
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
“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 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