Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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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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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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10 Greek Street

10 Greek Street, W1D 4DH
020 7734 4677
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
10 Greek Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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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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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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Sweetings & Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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More reviews – no. 3

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

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

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

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

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

Luc’s Brasserie
17-22 Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LR
Nearest tube: Bank
020 7621 0666
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Luc’s Brasserie has been fattening up pinstriped Lloyd’s underwriters for many years, situated at the heart of Leadhall Market they serve traditional French bistro food in a relaxed setting. They offer a set price lunch menu of 3 courses for £19.95 (which is fairly reasonable given its central location)  and an a la carte with starters up to £9.50 and mains for £12.75 to £17.50.  Dishes include many French staples, including baked Camembert, steak tartare, duck confit and toulouse sausage.

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

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

Verdict: reasonably priced French bistro food 6.5/10

Bleecker burger
Spitalfields Market, Unit B, SP 4 Pavilion Building, E1 6EA
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
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Zan Kaufman’s route to London foodie fame is an unusual one.  She started out as a New York corporate lawyer, but her love of food led her to take a second job in a Manhattan burger restaurant.  Then she decamped to the UK (her husband in British) and, inspired by KERB founder Petra Barran, bought a truck and converted it into a food van.  Her Yankee style burgers (made with rare breed meat from The Butchery in Bermondsey) quickly received rave reviews, including a 10/10 from the Burger Addict blog.  She opened a permanent space in Spitalfields market in February (although the burger van is still out and about) and I went along there for a mid-week lunch. They have a small unit near the main entrance of the market and a few picnic tables of seating around – beware, the market is covered but still outdoors, so it can get pretty chilly there.  The menu is short and sweet with the only offerings being a cheese or veggie burgers (£6), a bacon cheeseburger (£7), a double cheeseburger (£9), and the mighty Bleecker Black (£10).

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

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

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

 

 


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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
The Rooftop Cafe on Urbanspoon
website; map

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

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

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

Verdict: An unlikely hidden gem 7.5/10

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

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

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

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