White House is a Kosher Israeli grill restaurant in the London-Jewish heartland of Hendon. Bizarrely, the menu strays into Thai dishes, but I would stick to the traditional middle eastern grills, which include Shishlik (Israeli lamb Shish kebab), Sharwarma and Shnitzel. You can choose from a wide range of salads and sides with all the meat dishes – I opted for a bit of everything and was rewarded with creamy coleslaw, tart red cabbage, sour refreshing gherkin, and the star of the show, sweet roasted onions. My beef kebab (£15) was served with a tasty char on the outside; the inside was slightly pink and completely melt in the mouth. The meat had just the right fat content to make the kebab juicy, but not fatty. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hummus was fantastic – it had a deep, earthy flavour with bitter tahini undercurrents. The photo below does not do the meal justice – this was a truly refined and perfectly executed dish. I washed my food down with a quaffable kosher red from Argentina which was very reasonably priced at £4 for a large glass.
Verdict: Geshmak! 9/10
Elk is a Scando-British restaurant/bar a few steps from Upper Street. The decor owes inspiration to Swedish summer houses, hipster East London bars and Victorian public toilets…..it is a real mismash, but manages to achieve both individuality and comfort. They serve an extremely popular and diverse breakfast menu including elk sausage baked eggs and smoked cod kedgeree (they also use Monmouth beans for their coffee). Unfortunately, it is a bit far for me to drag myself on a weekend morning, so we went for dinner on a busy Friday night. The menu is long, rich and rather spendy: we started with elk kebab (£6.5) with apple and bacon, the meat was smoky but rather chewy – a rather disappointing signature dish. More pleasing was the special of smoked cauliflower (£5) which had a nice balance of creaminess and smokiness. For main course I had home smoked duck, braised chicory, dumplings and pickled cherries (£15.5) which was also a bit disappointing, the dish was too sweet and the duck overly smoked. The accompanying dumplings were under-seasoned and their texture was stringy. For dessert I couldn’t resist the homemade popcorn ice cream sandwich with salted caramel (£5.1) but in reality the dish was highly calorific, the sandwich was made of pan loaf and the popcorn stone cold. I pride myself on having a tummy of steel, but after all of the rich dishes, lots of meat and very few greens I felt rather ill. I think the menu needs to be slimmed down, the smoking tamed and portion sizes (and prices) trimmed. The concept is good but the execution needs some more work.
Verdict: less is more 5/10
There was great hype and long queues when Koya opened a few years ago, but now things have calmed down and you should only expect to wait on weekends and even then for a short time only. They specialise in udon (thick wheatflour) noodles which are served in four different ways: hot noodles in hot broth, cold noodles in hot broth, cold noodles with cold dipping sauce, or cold noodles with a cold pouring sauce (do you follow?!). There is a lot of labour in the production of the noodles – they are made fresh every day and painstakingly rolled out by foot (thankfully covered in plastic sheeting). I opted for the day’s special of hot noodles in hot pork and miso broth, topped with a tempura langoustine (£7.9). The broth was complex and salty, with bags of umami; the noodles were firm and slightly sticky – simple but very tasty food. Udon is essentially fast food in Japan and I suppose the service/atmosphere at Koya reflects this – it is rather clinical and does not encourage you to linger for long.
Verdict: simple, good value Japanese fast food 7/10
Brindisa have a London mini-chain of tapas restaurants and Spanish produce shops – their home base is at Borough market and they have restaurants in Shoreditch, South Kensington and Soho. They have recently opened up in Brixton, a few minutes’ walk from the tube station. The shop has a tiny kitchen and mainly serves “Llescas” – a Catalan invention of stale bread slices rubbed with tomato and garlic then topped with cured ham or vegetables. We started with a wonderful white asparagus, chive and soft cheese dish (£5.25) – the asparagus was earthy and fresh (we should really grow more white asparagus in the UK) nicely complemented by the mild soft cheese. We followed with some decent Salchichon (£3.95) and Chorizo (£5.25) which was of better quality than you can buy in the supermarket – the portions were generous and the dish was served with side salad. The menu is small and not very diverse, which lead us to order a Manchego Llesca (£5.45) even though I think that Manchego cheese is rather boring, again the cheese was of decent quality but it did not have enough character to be exciting. We finished with a grilled anchovy dish (£5.75)- the anchovies were large and meaty with a nice level of saltiness. Their wine list is very reasonably priced – the cheapest glass is £3.75.
Verdict: a limited choice of good quality produce treated well 7/10