Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Unit 24 Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf, E14 5NY; Tel. 0207 719 6408; Tube: Canary Wharf; www.gbkinfo.com
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I like the brunch food menu for its variety - you can have anything from a fry up (in various permutations) to a BLT to a proper main course like sausage and mash. (Sensibly though, unlike the near-by 24-hour caff Tinseltown, they don't offer Thai green curry - hang offer food that ain't, as my husband once discovered the hard way.) On the last two visits I've had the eggs benedict with smoked salmon (£8.50), served on a halved muffin and smeared in creamy hollandaise. Their macaroni cheese with haddock (£6.50) isn't bad, but not cheesy enough. The club sandwich is huge, and the BLTs (£6.50) are also pretty good. Just don't try to economise with something like egg on toast (£2.50) - you will feel very jealous when everyone else gets their food.
Other than always being very busy, the other (no doubt related) drawback is the service, which can be a bit slow and a bit inattentive, especially if you order extra drinks). But for me the food and the buzzing atmosphere tip the balance firmly in SOS's favour. Plus Santa(s) and his(their) reindeer brunch there. (Oh, ok, it was probably just real people we saw lining their stomachs ahead of Santacon, but it was still cool.)
Smiths of Smithfield, 67-77 Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6HJ; Tel. 0207 251 7950; Tube: Barbican or Farringdon; www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk
Monday, December 24, 2007
As the food on offer at the Lion didn't seem to stretch beyond mini cheddars and bacon flavoured fries, we were reluctantly forced to leave in search of sustenance. With unusual foresight, I had looked the area up in my Harden's guide and had discovered that there was a well-reputed gastro joint just round the corner called St. John. Here too the drinks de jour were whiskey and Guinness, although there were also a couple of real ales on tap and the crowd was much younger. From the chalkboard menu, the leg of lamb came with all the trimmings you would expect in a generous roast, as well as a highly-rated onion sauce. The roast half of chicken with a peppercorn jus was also amply sized and beautifully juicy. I opted for the mussels with chorizo and onions, the salty sausage contrasting well with the tender crustaceans. The highlight of the meal though was the aioli. It was proffered when I asked for some mayo to go with the delightfully crispy home-made chips. It packed a serious punch of garlic and tasted freshly made. We got through two pots. It was heaven, and worth the trek to Archway in its own right.
St John, 91 Junction Rd, N19 5QU; Tel. 020 7272 1587. The Lion public house (also known as Sweeneys), 1 Junction Road N19 5QT. Tube (for both): Archway
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The menu includes raclette as a starter, and other Swiss specialities such as rosti. For me though, it had to be fondue. The selection includes a meat one, and a Chinese one (I guess a version of the fiery Sizchuanese hotpot), but we went for the "forestiere" - a heaven-made combination of mushrooms and cheese. I was very pleasantly surprised by the mushrooms - there lots of them, and of the proper wild, non-dried variety. The dish smelled of autumn. It came with a basket of bread, and we order a side of new potatoes for dipping as well (£3.50). If you want to pretend that you are being healthy you can also dip in seasonal vegetables. The fondue was huge and we struggled to finish it (we did of course, what kind of a cheese fiend would I be otherwise!). The wine menu is interesting. They have a large selection of whites, reds, roses and bubbles -- but they are all Swiss, as is the only beer on offer. We opted for Merlot rose from the Ticino canton (£20.95), which proves refreshingly crisp and dry for a rose, and nicely cuts through the richness of the cheese. Licking the last bits of cheese off my fork, I wished I could eat fondue every day. But luckily for Britain's obesity statistics I don't -- yet.
St Moritz, 161 Wardour Street, Soho, W1V 3TA; Tel: 020 7734 3324; Tube: Tottenham Court Road; www.stmoritz-restaurant.co.uk
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Forced to look for sustenance elsewhere and too cold to wonder around aimlessly gazing in restaurant windows, we tumbled into the nearest eaterie. This turned out to be the Most Cafe Bar underneath the bridge. It was a tiny place, occupied by a large beer bar and a few tables poked around the sides. I say beer bar as that's clearly the speciality – the menu offers around 30 different varieties, spanning from an English stout to a chili beer from Arizona. Understandably, we had to try the latter. It was a normal enough looking bottle of lager, with an assuming little green chili floating inside. Taste-wise, the chili had clearly won the battle over the lager hands down – the drink tasted like some kind of accompaniment to nachos or fajitas. It wasn't overly spicy, but it definitely tasted like it should be “green”. (Does anyone else ever think foods taste of a particular colour?). Incidentally, it also didn't taste very nice and we left most of the bottle. We also sampled a cherry beer from the ever-wonderful Sam Smiths brewery, which reminded me of boiled cherry-flavoured sweets (in a good way). In comparison, my glass of house red seemed pretty dull in comparison – a fact I was secretly glad of.
The menu features some snacks (eg mezze platter, nachos), as well as robust-sounding mains from mussles to steaks. Tempted by the blue-cheese mash, I asked for a rare rib eye (11.95). The mash was indeed pretty good, as were the glazed carrots. But the steak was well done and fatty. My friend went for the scallops with the cauliflower pure (12.95) from the short specials list. She said it was nice but rather stingy portion-wise. The biggest let-down though were the olives we'd ordered to munch on before the food arrived. Despite two reminders they were served after the main courses. A small square bowl of green and black olives (nice, but looking and tasting like they'd come from a jar), an identical bowl of indifferent olive oil with a squirt of balsamic vinegar, and a third with some slices of a baguette. Nothing short of extortion at 4.50. I was tempted to send it back, but my friend needed the bread to supplement her main course.
It was a nice evening, and I might be tempted to come back and try more beers, but next time I'll eat elsewhere.
Most Cafe Bar; Horrace Jones Vault, 206-208 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP; Tel. 020 74036030; Tube: Tower Hill or London Bridge; www.mostcafebar.co.uk
PS After some googling, I discover that in fact the cafe is owned by a Russian lady, with the cafe's name intended as a pun since "most" is also the Russian word for "bridge". If that's the case, then it's a great shame that the only Russian beer on offer is the now readily available Baltika lager.
Monday, December 17, 2007
We ordered at the bar-cum-shop-counter, opting for a large "mixed plank" of cheese and charcuterie. It arrived on a wooden board, featuring about 4 choices from each food group and accompanied by a large basket of fresh-tasting bread from the aforementioned St John. The hard, French-style salami was the most popular, while the proscuitto went very well with the goat's cheese. About the only miss to my mind was the chorizo of the large, thin slices variety -- I far prefer it served in small, thick, warmed up chunks in a red wine sauce. There were also olives and a pot of rich -- almost too rich -- tapenade. With tip, we were stuffed for under £30 for two, and left feeling rejuvenated enough to resume the shopping. We might well return in the evening (they are open until 9-9.30 pm in the week), with some wine-knowledgeable friends, to while away a couple of hours and a couple of bottles in a convivial atmosphere.
Bedales, 12 Market Street (off of Brushfield Street), Spitalfields, E1 6DT; Tel: 020 7375 1926; Tube: Liverpool Street; www.bedalestreet.com
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Porterhouse, 21-22 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2 E7NA; Tel. 0207 379 7917; Tube: Covent Garden or Charing Cross; www.porterhousebrewco.com
Thursday, December 06, 2007
The Angelic, 57 Liverpool Road , Islington, N1 0RJ; Tel: 020 7278 8433; Tube: Angel; www.theangelic.co.uk.
PS I now have a shiny new mobile phone with apparently a decent camera, so will endeavour to sneakily capture my food in the future in a bid to make this blog a bit more colourful.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
We planned the trip for months in advance, the booking line on speed dial for The Day Three Months before THE Day (they take bookings up to three months in advance), credit cards at the ready.
A rather unglamorous train trip from Paddington to Maidenhead, followed by a £5 taxi ride and we were standing on a narrow pavement outside an unassuming white washed, centuries old house. Inside, it was all white walls and tablecloths, sparkling glasses and dark wooden beams. The clientele was a mix of those for whom this was clearly a special occasion and those who looked they could afford to become regulars. There was a slight awe in the air, but it wasn't a stuffy, must-wear-jacket-and-tie kind of place.
We decided to go the whole hog -- aperitifs of champagne (we didn't like to ask how much, but the bill shows up about £17 a glass), the tasting menu (£115) and the accompanying wine selection (£90). I wanted to ask for tap water, but was over-ruled, so we had the £3.50 bottled stuff instead. All in all, it added up to about £250 a head. But was it worth it?...
At the end of the meal you each get an envelope of posh, strokeable paper with a Fat Duck seal, a copy of the menu concealed inside. So even though I've put off writing the review for months -- overwhelmed by the task -- I can tell you exactly what we had.
It started with nitro-green tea and lime mousse . The waitress produced a little blob, not dissimilar in appearance to hair mousse, out of an old-fashioned looking metal dispenser. She then zapped it with liquid nitrogen and told us to put the whole thing in the mouth in one go. On the tongue, it had a crunchy, frozen shell and then melted into lemony, liquidy refreshness.
A single oyster was served in its shell with passion fruit jelly and lavender , the textures matching nicely to create a slightly sweet, slithery, but not unpleasant sensation.
The pommery grain mustard ice cream was served a small, creamy coloured blob in a large white bowl, with the red cabbage gazpazcho added a little later in keeping with the theatricality of the place.
The parade of appetisers also featured jelly of quail, langoustine cream and parfait of foie gras before culminating in a three-way experience of the forest. A wooden tray of oak moss was placed on the table and "watered" with dry ice to produce clouds of foresty, mossy mist. We inhaled this while treating our taste buds to a tiny, earthy square of truffle toast and a sliver of moss jelly served in a little plastic box and eaten by letting it dissolve on your tongue. All that was accompanied by a German white, 2005 Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner Spatlese Trocken (though I don't remember it tasting of celeriac!)
But even though the portions are tiny, this is certainly not a place you leave huyngry. Firstly, the dishes are numerous (including the appetisers, we counted 18!) and secondly throughout the meal, you can choose from a tasty bread basket selection.
Next came one of the Fat Duck's signature dishes, snail porridge. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but of all the dishes, this was the one that disappointed me most. It actually consisted of some normal-tasting porridge (though, to be fair it an unnatural shade of green), topped with normal, de-shelled snails and decorated with Joselito ham and shaved fennel and washed down with a glass of red, the 2004 Vin de Pays des Cote Catalanes, Le Soula, G. Gauby, Roussilon.
Then, to show that even molecular gastronomes aren't averse to using top-end ingredients, came the luxuriously creamy roast foie gras, served on plate decorated with streaks of cherry and chamomile sauces and tiny cubes of almond fluid gel. I was unconvinced by the jelly, though the Husband (generally a bigger fan of nursery food!) complemented it for the strong flavour. The 2003 Vinoptima Gewurtzraminder Reserve from Gisborne in New Zealand was a surprisingly nice accompaniment, considering that I don't like sweet wines.
Next another much-written-about dish. The "Sound of the sea" came accompanied by a tiny little ipod, hidden in a conch shell and programmed with swooshy sea sounds. The dish itself looked like a pebbly beach, topped with some foam and some things that may have been sea weed or sea creatures, and matched with a pungent, maritime smell. While I was not convinced by the flavours, you certainly couldn't fault it as a recreation of the sea for all the senses. It was served with Rashiku Junmai sake, which apparently has similar flavour characteristics to a Sauvignon blanc.
Salmon poached with liquorice featured a delicately flavoured (cooked sous vide?) piece of salmon, encased in sticky, sickly brown coating of (admittedly relatively mild flavoured) liquorice. It was served with two rather gorgeous spears of asparagus on streaks of vanilla mayonnaise and Manni olive oil , the latter fittingly created as part of a science project! Whether you enjoyed the dish or not I think boiled down to which side of the fence you are with regards to liquorish. The glass was topped up with 2001 Quinta da Falorca Reserva from Dao in Portugal.
Next was the Ballotine of Anjou pigeon with a very bloody black pudding, Chinese pigeon cracker, picking brine and spiced juices and a glass of gutsy 1999 Barolo from Piedmont.
The hot and iced tea was a truly amazing feat of science. The left half the cup of lemony, black, slightly sweet, slightly solidified liquid was hot. And the right half was ice-cold. You could feel the divide on your lips as it slipped down. Another one to file under "how the heck did he do that?!".
Then it was time for some rosy-coloured British nostalgia, a concept which in my mind is always illustrated by idyllic images of the British seaside and those mildly smutty seaside postcards circa 1950s. Mrs Marshall's Margeret cornet was a dinky little ice cream cone accompanied by a little leaflet. From there, we learnt that the rather pretty looking Agnes Bertha Marshall may have invented the edible ice cream cone back in 1886 and who suggested making ice cream using liquid gas more than a century ago.
The Pine-sherbet fountain was just a cute hark back to childhood, not dissimilar to those sugar fixes from the local corner shop of old.
The Mango and Douglas fir puree, Bavarois of lyche and mango, blackcurrant sorbet looked very pretty was ultimately a bit forgettable, but luckily its accompanying beverage was not. The 2003 Icewine from Pelee Island Winery, Ontario was for me the most bizarre thing on the drinks list -- they make wine in Canada?? Icewine, I discover is actually made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine, so perhaps it's ideally suited for cold climes. It was sweet, but clean and refreshing tasting, though that could have just been a psychological reaction to the word "ice" in the name.
The Carrot and orange tuile came as an odd-looking crispy lollypop, contrasted with a cube of beetroot jelly.
The Parsnip cereal came in a cute little pale green cereal box with the Fat Duck logo, and looked a bit like cornflakes. It came with parsnip milk.
The Nitro scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, pain perdu and tea jelly was truly amazing. The waitress came up with one of those shaped cardboard egg boxes, full of whole-looking egg shells into which they had cunningly put the egg and bacon ice cream mix. She then cracked the eggs into a shiny copper saucepan and zapped them with the nitrogen into ice cream. It tasted nice too - a luxurious take on breakfast in the middle of a very extravagant lunch. The accompaniment was a sweet, fruity glass of 2004 Jurancon, Uroulat, C. Hours, France.
We just about had room for the Whisky wine gums, violet tartlet before stumbling out into the daylight, about four hours after we first went in! And the verdict? Well worth the money (though probably as a once-in-a-lifetime treat).