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.