Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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Honest Burgers & Smokehouse Chiswick

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

Smokehouse Chiswick
12 Sutton Lane North, W4 4LD
Nearest tube: Gunnersbury
020 38196066
Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
website; map

“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

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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.

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

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

 

 

 

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Clove Club & The Square

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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


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On the bab & The Marksman

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

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

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

Verdict: inexpensive, tasty Korean street food 7.5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Quality Chop House & St John Bakery Room

The Quality Chop House
88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Nearest tube: Farringdon
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“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
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“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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Portland

113 Great Portland Street, W1W 6QQ
Nearest tube: Great Portland Street
0207 436 3261
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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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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
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‘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
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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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City Social

City Social
Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, EC2N 1HQ
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
020 7877 7703
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“City Social, the latest in a line of London restaurants with the S word in the title, really isn’t very. It is all the very worst of the 1980s revisited. It’s full of clumping tumours of men, jangling change in their pockets and barking at each other about the latest position taken by Millennium Capital.” Jay Rayner, The Guardian

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City Social is owned by luxury caterers Restaurant Associates (who also boast Roux at Parliament Square in their stable), with Paul Walsh acting as head chef under the guidance of Jason Atherton.  Walsh previously worked under Gordon Ramsay for five years, eventually ending up as senior sous chef at Royal Hospital Road.  The restaurant opened in May 2014 amid much PR buzz and quickly won a Michelin star in the September edition of the guide.  It is housed on the top floor of Tower 42 and boasts panoramic views of the London skyline (although you are not quite as high up as those dining in Sushi Samba and Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower).  The dining room has been decked out in lots of dark wood tones and boasts a large bar with a number of leather booths which all face outwards and have great views.  We went along for lunch – they don’t have a set lunch menu, instead they offer an a la carte menu with starters at £9-15 and mains at £18 to 38.

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I started with a ham hock and pig’s trotter in crispy breadcrumbs, with black pudding, apple and Madeira (£13).   The hock and trotter had been shredded and were wonderfully rich and gelatinous with just the right level of seasoning so they didn’t taste salty.  The black pudding added further depth to the dish – it was smoky and peppery, and the lattice brought crunch without being greasy.  With all of this richness the dish needed some acidity which was introduced by raw apple and a light apple jelly.  This was all rounded off with a perfectly executed Madeira sauce – a safe but well balanced dish.

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For main course I had venison loin with red cabbage, smoked chestnuts and carrots (for a whopping £34).  The venison had been properly rested so the meat was soft and succulent, it combined well with the punchy, smoky chestnuts and slightly sweet carrots.  The portion size was generous and the cooking immaculate, but at £34 this was a very expensive dish.  And I totally agree with Mr Rayner – the service was stiff and unfriendly yet also sloppy.  The sommelier knocked the bottom of a wine bottle off of one of the glasses on our table and he was remiss in his topping up duties, extra bread was offered and didn’t appear…….I expect far better from a Michelin starred restaurant.

Verdict: Paul Walsh’s food is pricey but very good,  unfortunately his front of house staff let him down 6.5/10