Friday, 30 November 2012

Burger & Shake [Launch Review]

I was honoured to be asked along to the Burger & Shake launch last night for a feast of milkshakes, burgers (unsurprisingly), lobster rolls and wings. They have set up shop opposite the Brunswick Centre just down from Russel Square tube in a little unit just down from The Marquis Cornwallis pub at 47 Marchmont Street.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Pitt Cue Co: Still a BBQ Champion

This post is almost redundant as Pitt Cue is not new, has a million and one reviews and is widely accepted as one of the best BBQ places in town (not a huge amount of quality competition to be fair). So why the post? Well, I've been a fan of Pitt Cue since the days under Hungerford Bridge and visited it numerous times the first few months after it opened. Due to work finishing times and busy weekends, I hadn't been back for quite a while and so thought a view as to how it is settling down may be in order.

Pitt Cue has navigated all the major issues of a new-opener. Waiting list system is locked-down, bar service upstairs is slick and the turnaround of punters is kept fairly quick as to facilitate maximum face stuffing by the number of London's carnivores. The buzz has died but the loyal and curious still flock to the doors. It has become a favourite, a staple, a solid choice; rather than 'that place you have to try near Carnaby street that has that huge queue'. The menu is becoming more adventurous and the guys behind the scenes are having a ball rearing their own piggies just for the joint. The quality of the food remains incredibly high.
Pitt Cue - Sunday 11:55am: The queuing begins

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Wenlock and Essex: 30 Very Good Reasons

Burger season is upon us it seems and in a bid to out-do each other some of the Big Names have stepped up their game.

The latest to throw their hat into the ring is James Morgan of the Wenlock and Essex. Some lucky people may remember him as the kitchen behind the Two Nights Only events that created the infamous 40 Burger early this year. That burger supposedly involved 100 people in its conception and even the pickles were hand collected from Boston itself. Excessive food-miles if there ever was, but so worth it for a few extra inches to sea-levels. Recently he has unleashed the 30 burger. Thirty day dry-aged beefyness with a 30% fat content and only available for a month. Although its nearing the end of its run, the point of this review is to publicise the quality of James' cooking and his knowledge of how to deliver a great end product. There's even rumours of another special burger in the works so keep an eye on this one.
30 Burger - Oh the joy

CASK Pub and Kitchen: Missing Oomph

CASK pub had recently come onto my radar and a friend dragged me there despite setting my eyes on having ramen on one of the few free weekdays I have had recently. I'm always game for a good burger (as this blog does and will continue to attest to), and so we made the trek to a slightly baron part of Pimlico to see what these guys could do.

The outside of the pub is a rather grotty 1960's-style monstrosity, its interior having had an overhaul along the way. CASK, as the name betrays, is just as focused on its impressive selection of beers as it is on their burgers, served up by a group calling themselves 'Forty Burgers'. The bar-front is full of a myriad of pumps, with more on offer in the way of bottles. There is something for every taste and I would readily go back just for a tasting. Commercially cross selling of selected beers with certain dishes/burgers could be leveraged to a greater extent. Now this post should have a disclaimer that they haven't been serving burgers all that long and readily admitted on twitter that they are listening to comments and tweaking the specifics. Which is all rather refreshing considering what can happen to a blogger these days.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Burger Breakout: Close to perfection

I'd been looking forward to coming to Burger Breakout for a month due to missing their opening due to work commitments. I'd heard frankly outstanding things from some serious burger fans and my expectations were set pretty high the night I managed to get over to Holborn.

Dave Ahern is the head chef at the Old Crown Public House and has made a culinary journey that mirrors my own imagined path through life. A respected food writer turned chef in early middle-age, he put down his pen and snide remarks about smears and foams and put on a apron. I've read his blog all the way through and felt a certain kinship with someone who finally had to balls to get behind a grill and see if he could do it better. 

Old Crown Public House

Chisou: Exceptional sushi, for London

Despite the recent burger revolution in london, sushi is something that people immediately conjure in their heads when you say you are a food-lover. Japanese food has been, and continues to be, something that is fawned and obsessed over by food-porn addicts across the world. The superlatively clean flavours, the expert use of salt, sour and umami that transcends anything traditional Western cooking Larousse or Bocuse could ever concoct. The gap has been narrowed in the recent years with the Spanish and pioneering British chefs transforming the food landscape and challenging long-held beliefs. The Japanese however have been plating up food like this for hundreds of years and modern day sushi is the embodiment of their search for perfection through simplicity. 

With nigiri there is no where to hide. It is just the delicately seasoned rice and the fish put in front of a customer and it is this unapologetically transparent 'cooking' that has always spoken to me.

Chisou is a favourite of my mother's, who lived in Tokyo for several years before me and my siblings were born. Truly authentic sushi is almost impossible to come by in London and although Chisou does not fulfill that brief in the strictest sense; what is does deliver is exceptional quality and so far, incredibly reliable. It is owned by a husband and wife team, one half of which is Japanese. They used to found front of house but have been absent in recent years. Their replacement is an Indian gentlemen that has the staff on a such a tight lease that the atmosphere has suffered. Japanese places always have exceptional service but I always like when there are glimpses of personality that shine through. Chisou unfortunately lacks this individual touch and is too mechanic.

Fried baby octopuses

Sunday, 4 November 2012

London Markets Tour: Kerb, Berwick, Real Food Festival

Working as I do over in Canary Wharf, I am in a street-food wasteland. There is one Wahaca van and a market once a month that is so full, crowd surfing above a sea of suits ad ties is the only way to get across it. In general, the only time I get tasty lunchtime treats are on weekends. Enough was enough and I took Friday off work in order to partake in a bit of a London tour and visit some of the major markets in London.

Kerb was the first on the hit list with some great traders due to be serving that day. The better half and I neglected breakfast in order to make the most room for the feast that awaited. Unfortunately a freak issue with power meant that when we arrived at 11:30am, we were told that it wouldn't be until 12 that we could eat. Safe to say I wasn't the most popular boyfriend right then.

Everything we ate was between £3-7. Overall it was a pricey day but then again most people don't eat like I do. For the experience, extra engagement with traders and friendliness of everyone we met, the value is superb.

We started off with  fiodena from the fabulous Gurmetti boys. A toasted and crispy foccacia with wafer thin wild ham and onion jam. Such a great sandwich on a cold day like this. The ham had bags of flavour and the fatty slivers that hung out the sides were gobbled without mercy. The onion jam was sweet and so moreish. Sharing was difficult. A photographer for the Evening Standard was taking pictures of London markets and yours truly may be in the paper next week receiving the below beauty from the boys from Parma and Turin (UPDATE: I wasn't :/).
Gurmetti boys

Franco Manca: Definitely Not Sour

I've been to Franco Manca's several times without blogging, both in Brixton and also in its recently opened Clapham Junction venue. Its has been widely praised in both the mainstream media and food bloggerati. It is famous for its soft chewy sourdough bases and simple, high quality toppings.

The owners Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo opened in the enclosed Brixton market in 2008 at a time when London could really do with a smile and the joy a great pizza brings. They have brought sourdough to the masses and have turned those used to crispy but flavourless crusts, back into the light. Today, with four venues and a growing fan base, the dough is still made with the military precision that it was in 2008 and the ingredients still sourced with care. Prices may have risen over the years but at between £6-8, its still amazing value.

The pizzas are cooked in a brick oven at 500 degrees and take a mind-numbing 40 seconds to cook. This is basically as close to Naples as you are likely to get while sipping your organic lemonade and sitting next to a couple that fell through a Jack Wills catalogue.

Chorizo and mozzarella pizza

Alyn Williams at The Westbury

The Westbury is one of the fairly grand hotels of London tucked away in side streets just off Regent Street. I am not usually a fan of hotel joints as they seem a little stifled in their creativity and act merely as bolt-on of the hotel itself like an attraction. As high quality hotel restaurants go, The Westbury is fairly standard. Dark shiny wooden panelling, beige cushioned couches, soft lighting, black hole-like atmosphere and old men dining with impossibly beautiful young women. These places serve a specific clientele and something that I enjoy in strict moderation. The venues lack individuality and become a blur of floor to ceiling wine racks and oak cheese trolleys.

That being said, Alyn Williams is another Marcus Wearing protege (see James Knappet at Bubbledogs), which immediately excites as Mr Wearing is known for his impossibly high standards. The cooking is an array of techniques, colour, and clean precise flavours. However, it lacks the joy and passion that Knappet clearly displays over at KT. The tasting menu we had started great but faltered as the evening wore on. Still, it was a great display of Alyn's skills.

While enjoying a £12 gin and tonic we were brought blue cheese pastry puffs that were rather heavenly and if I'm honest, I may have had about 6. The house bread was hit and miss, the soda bread was great but the aniseed bread with caraway butter was far too overpowering and unsuited with its flavours and felt a little odd to begin a meal with.

Cheese puffs.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Cube by Electrolux: Lisa Allen

What do you do when your boyfriend AllThingsMeaty wins tickets to an exclusive lunch cooked by Lisa Allen but can't go? Answer: Go yourself and take a friend.

The Cube by Electrolux has been around for a couple of months now and is a pretty special sort of pop-up. It is an example of 'experience-dining' formed both through the location and briefness of the invited star chefs. It is something that has created a 'I have to try this before it finishes' buzz, similar to when the French Laundry opened at Harrods. These projects often fail to ignite the sought-after spark, but after seeing what it is all about, I was really pleased to read they are extending the project until December.

The location, above the Royal Festival Hall, overlooking the South Bank and Houses of Parliament, is arguably the best dining spot in London. The views far surpass that of the National Portrait Gallery restaurant. To get to the Cube itself, one must “take the singing lift to the 6th floor" accompanied by an ascending C major when a host leads you up the stairs to the roof (at which point I imagine myself in some sort of spy movie). Left on the rooftop to mingle with the views, we were served champagne and canap├ęs of Morecambe shrimps on toast and pork scratchings. Simple and delicious and gets the taste buds moving. Inside, we were welcomed by chef Lisa Allen, told to relax and even inviting us to help out in the kitchen.
The Cube.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Donostia: A close rival for Jose

Ever since the BH lived in Salamanca, we have loved good tapas and, although there are a few good options in London, they are few and far between with a lot of chaff in between. I feel even with the Brindisas out there, we need London's burger-style revolution towards tapas.

Donostia has only been open since end-July and reviews are pretty scare on the ground (Clerkenwell_Boy being one of the better ones). After seeing the heights of Jose in Bermondsey, I thought we'd stumble across to Marble Arch to see what West London can offer. The cooking is focused on the basque ideals of tapas, or pincho, as they call it. The differences are fairly subtle to a non-spaniard but it can be seen in the accompaniments rather than the main ingredients.

Boquerones with sweet peppers. I love anchovies in vinegar and these were pretty high quality. Not the freshest I've ever had but enjoyable alongside sweet char grilled peppers. A good start.

The croquettas with jamon were circular rather than the traditional oblong. The outside was one of the crispiest I've had and the inside light and creamy with good chunks of jamon. Personally I preferred Jose's with their slightly larger cubes of jamon and better consistency; the BH preferred these. And always in a split decision, she wins.
Croquettas with jamon
The leek, egg and apple salad was least enjoyable. The leeks were too overpowering and the crisp apple taste was lost.
Leek, egg and apple salad.
The day was saved, of course, by more fried things. The baby fried squid were excellent. Crispy, tender and well seasoned. We also dipped them into the spicy dip that came with the patatas bravas. Cheeky, but a damn good idea. Try it.
The patatas bravas were also not in their usual presentation, The cubes had transmogrified into significantly crispier wedges with sea salt and fried rosemary. They were served with only spicy tomato based sauce which is the norm in the basque regions. I am torn between these and Jose's. Despite Jose' frankly phenomenal aoili, I'd vote Donostia as the potatoes are crispier, and the tomato sauce has a deeper flavour.
The octopus was a nervy order. The spanish have the custom to sometimes soak their celaphods for too long and they end up a little mushy. These retained their chew nicely and the tomato and paprika garnish were a nice flavour combination.
Chorizo on toast was delicious as cured meats generally are. This was top notch, similar to the brindisa chorizo sandwich in Borough market.
Chorizo with watercress.
Blistered padron peppers transported BH back to ones her grandmother used to make. High praise for a simple dish if ever I heard it. Would have preferred a little more blackening but their mild peppery heat was addictive.
Padron peppers.
The quail was a mixed bag. The meat itself was as tasty as quail always is, possibly lacking from a more searing heat during cooking. The baby courgettes looked more like aubergines but either way the marinade was a very strong vinegar that stand alone made them eye-watering. Eaten with the quail however it actually worked fairly well. Definitely the oddest dish and one that requires a little finer balancing.
Quail with courgettes.
The black figs were a good quality, simply poached with a sticky orange liquor and candied orange peel and macadamia nuts. Tasty and moreish but would have liked a slightly sour or salty element, Bubbledogs used creme fraiche to balance and it worked well.
The lemon tart was, of course, ordered by the BH. Unfortunately she wasnt a fan (I was) as she thought it retained its 'eggy' flavour too much. The pastry could have been a little crisper and was a little bland. I did enjoy the texture of the filling and flavour though.
Lemon tart.
Slosh: A friday evening demanded beers rather than grapes and we tried both the Alhambras, the premium and reserva. The reserva was a heavier fruitier number similar to Leffe blonde. The premium was a more standard lager affair and one we both ended up ordering another of.

Where: 10 Seymour Place, London, W1. Nearest tube: Marble Arch

How much: Meal for two plus drinks - £78

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Slosh: 7/10
Value: 8/10

Kitchen Table: Bubbledogs&

An unplanned solo visit to KT @ Bubbledogs& last week gave me one of the most enjoyable meals in many years. A 6.30 start time and I walked through the already heavy queue waiting for their meaty oblongs-delights to the dismayed cry of "Why do people keep walking straight in?!"

KT has had some great press recently and the concept and the owner husband and wife team are well documented. What they are trying to achieve isn't a gimmick or even food theatre to some degree: it is a sense of collective enjoyment that both the chef and the customer receive through serving some of the highest quality food in London while feeling inherently connected with the whole process. Service was sharp and fluid, and high levels of engagement with James and genuine warmth of the staff were striking. Let me be clear, KT is not a Wolfgang Puck or Marcus Wareing meal; its a place to watch someone do what they love, and despite some initial (misplaced) nerves after opening, the venue has grown hugely in all areas.

James' expertise is in powerfully flavoured dishes and allowing the simplicity of ingredients to do the work. He also has a dizzying array of natural herbs. The only option at KT is a 12 course tasting menu, each dish focusing on one major ingredient which changes almost weekly, reflecting both the chef's wide imagination and obsession with near-perfect quality ingredients. James would come over and explain each dish and was more than happy to discuss provenance and his thoughts behind each dish.
The Kitchen.
The menu

Friday, 19 October 2012

Goodman Canary Wharf: Okay burger, better lobster

Today was the second time visiting the newest Goodman in Canary Wharf for a lunchtime burger. Ive been for dinner and had one of the best steaks Ive ever had (Belt Galloway 650g bone-in wingrib if you must know), but this was more of a courtesy call.

The location is a bit emotionless and clearly trying to wave a meaty hook at all the bankers across the river. It seems to be working as although not heaving, it was certainly keeping staff on their toes. One must have ones Lafite for a Friday lunch. Hear hear.

Split a lobster roll and a classic Goodman burger with my dining partner. He ordered the burger and said medium before I could object. Oh well.

Lobster roll:
Many people have commended this roll (Londonfoodfreak persuading me more than most), even more when you realise that Goodman own Burger&Lobster and the roll is fairly similar. The brioche roll was warm and buttery. The filling cold and creamy. A whole lobster worth of meat was cooked perfectly, fresh as they come and stuffed into its warm airy sleeping bag. The comment on the more liberal use of japanese mayo than its cousin restaurant is indeed true, but not enough to become cloying in the mouth and is better for it as a stand alone roll. Frankly it is simply delicious, one of the best 'sandwiches' Ive ever had, and I severely wish I hadn't chosen to share. Then again, so did my companion.
Lobster roll.

I have to come right out and say it: I am actually fairly disappointed in Goodman's burgers. The meat is obviously of a high quality but both times the meat has been underseasoned and come out a little bland. Its a good burger, but not a great burger, and less enjoyable than both the Byron and newly vamped GBK just a few minutes walk away. However, one great addition is that the choice of extras: cheese and bacon, usually a rather large hidden extra is free at Goodman. Personally that gets a big classy thumbs up from me.

Im ready and willing to be proved wrong on the burger front, but if I go back i'll be ordering the lobster. And you know what? That makes me pretty damn happy.

3 South Quay, Discovery Dock East, Canary Wharf, E14 9RU
0207 531 0300

Price: Burger £14, Lobster roll £21.

Food: Lobster 9/10, Burger 7/10.
Service: 8/10 (professional and offer tap water without prompting)
Slosh: N/A
Overall: 8/10

MEATmarket: Not original but who cares?

Its been around for quite a while now and I went pre-blog days a week or so after opening for a mid-week treat, and fearing a Liquor-like line and was surprised to see it empty. Hidden away in a gritty hideaway above one of the less chic areas of Covent Garden, back then the cogs were still being polished and the delivery was a little off: burgers under seasoned, and lacking some of the menu favourites of the original (where were the wings and deep friend pickles?). Nonetheless these things take time and the better-half was craving a MEAT hotdog, so we duly swung by on a wet Wednesday evening.

Worried that by now the cat would be out the bag, and that infamous MEAT queue would be snaking down the spiral stairs, I was anxious as I rounded Waggamamas. My worrying was all in vain, as although full, the nature of fast-food became apparent as two gentlemen left just as we arrived. I duly hurried to the service point.

One Dead Hippie, Ripper, wings, fries and beers.

The wings had the important crisp blistering on the skin that gave the hot sauce something to cling to and were still moist inside. The wings were well coated and were as tasty as at its parent. The BH is not a fan of spice, so that left me with double the fun.
Hot Wings

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Garrison: Solid gastro cooking

Bermondsey Street may be slowly being taken over by a certain Spanish conquistador, but it still has a distinctly London vibe with suited bankers nestled in among the bespeckled creatives. There is still an element of the old-school with some rather red-cheeked Old Boys looking rather confused the latest trendy new restaurant to pop-up where their favourite watering-hole used to be. Which leads me nicely to...

The Garrison Public House, just down from 'The Bridge', is a local gastropub in the heart of the Suits and Specs. While outside it retains the old fashioned green-tiled pub exterior, inside you'll find all the trappings of a trendy gastropub: lots of wood, antique furniture, low hung mood-lighting and distractingly attractive waitresses. To give some credit, apart from the mounted game on the wall, the furnishings were a little more tastefully done than in some other places, and I certainly wouldn't call it annoying.

Beef tartar with rocket. Pork rillettes with pickled samphire

The tartar was delicious, the beef wasnt chopped too finely and was so tender, chewing was optional. The seasoning was good (if a tiny bit under done) and the sharpness from the capers followed through nicely. I would have liked a little more tabasco and the raw egg yolk was missing.
Beef tartar. Hey dude, where's my egg?

Friday, 12 October 2012

Brasserie Zedel: Elegance but at a price

Punchline: Old school elegance while prices match the Depression. However best to stick to the desserts.

Brasserie elegance
The venue is a rather enormous downstairs dance-hall type place in Picadilly, sandwiched in between Whole Foods and hidden below a rather innocuous looking bar upstairs. Zedel's OM is the triple threat of drink, food and entertainment (evening cabaret), however the main focus and investment has been on restoring the dining hall. Think of the art-deco dining room on the Normandie, or typical Parisian brasseries back in 30's. Marble pillars, buffed railings and art-deco lighting. Although you can see the joins in the marble panelling if you squint hard enough, they have done a pretty good job here and it did deliver a memorable setting; I just wish we'd had cabaret tickets for after.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bibendum: A Kensington Institution

Punchline: Classy French food in beautiful setting, all without breaking the bank.

A lot has been said about Bibendum recently with visits from several notable bloggers. I thought I'd swing by an area I dont usually frequent for a look. 

Everyone knows of the beautiful former Michelin building, the 25 year history and the Hopkinson legacy. New management has kept up appearances really rather well, and although it may no longer be the jewel in Kensington's crown; it has carved itself a niche as serving top-quality French cuisine at seemingly the same prices that Hopkinson charged in the 1990's. The wine list (or should that read tome) is impressive and makes this reviewer long for a pay-rise. After all, nunc est bibendum.

Saturday lunchtime with the better half involved their weekend set menu. 3 courses for £30 (12.5% tip added on) with an impressive selection of dishes available. Dinner menus look as ever more extravagant but a weekend lunchtime treat is a good a yardstick as any.

Trullo: A Highbury Gem

Trullo is a wonderful little gem, one of those truly great locals: its just a pity it isn't mine.

As is often the way with the food-bloggerati is that a year after a place opens there is little interest (unless its really special like Dinner). So this Monday I was heading to Trullo and looked for some reviews. I couldnt find a single blog post dated after 2010 and even the latest timeout post was back in October 2011. So, I feel it is my duty to give this little diamond a little loving.

From the outside it could be mistaken for one of the infinite coffee houses in north London; but stepping inside you are greeted by a simplistic design style, the tiled kitchen spilling out across the floor. This is one of those places that knows what it wants to be: good solid Italian fare without the pomp and circumstance. Its pedigree is clear with Tim Siadatan of Fifteen fame manning the kitchen. This is seasonal food, cooked simply. It is what great Italian cooking outside of Italy should be. And at these prices, that's a real bargain on a rainy October Monday.

The food overall was excellent with only a slight hiccup in the middle. The three of us ordered antipasti, primi, carne and dessert. Typically for me I ended up ordering three meat courses and the protein was fantastic.The real pleasure though are the basics. Pasta was butter-yellow and cooked right to the edge of too soft, the sauces deeply flavoursome.