Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I recently spent a blissfully chilled weekend in Bristol, and figured it merits a brief diversion from the London focus of this blog.

As Bristol is my all-time favourite city so The Hope & Anchor is my all-time favourite pub. It looks very humble from the outside, almost unwelcoming. But inside it's a pub that does good food -- and has probably done so for many years before gastro pubs were invented. The bar is always decorated with interesting floral arrangements and the room is surprisingly light and sunny given the relatively small windows. The simple wooden tables, chairs and benches have witnessed many sploshed rounds and are all the friendlier for it. Round the back there is a lovely garden, just in the right stages of overgrowth. On dark summer nights they use little lanterns. The bar is always well stocked with a good (and frequently changing) selection of real ales, and there are enough wines, ciders and more unusual bottled beers on offer to suit most tastes. There are two boards -- one for daily specials and one for old favourites, like falafael, greek salad or cheesy vegetable pancakes. But the BEST thing are their cheesy chips. Go and see (and taste) for yourselves.

38 Jacobs Wells Road Clifton Bristol BS8 1DR Tel: (0117) 929 2987

The Zetter

The Zetter is an elegant "restaurant with rooms", with big windows and a youngish, not overly pretentious crowd.
The menu is European with a hint of Italy in dishes like risotto and pizza. On our most recent visit, we sampled salmon on pumpkin bliny, juicy scallops with king prawns and a bowl of creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup. All seemed to strike the right note between delicious gastronomy and that familiar comfort factor you want on a cold Sunday night in the middle of winter. For mains, there was steak with melt-in-the-mouth cheesy potato gratin for two of us, and rare tuna on roast vegetables for the third. I have to admit that this place is a favourtite of mine, especially in the summer when they put tables outside on to the quiet square behind the restaurant. They also run events, from comedy nights to evenings with chefs -- and one of these days we shall get organised and attend.

The Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ; Tel. 0207 580 2663; Tube: Farringdon; www.thezetter.com

PS The photo is of sea bream with chorizo and beans, from another visit.

Hat & Feathers

After years of anticipation, rumours and delays, the beautiful building on the corner of Clerkenwell and Goswell Roads finally got spruced up with a lick of lemony yellow paint and demurely opaque windows and has rediscovered itself as a trendy pub with gastro tendencies. The room downstairs has been beautifully restored, with the wood panelling, the chandeliers and the windows giving a nod to a bygone era. But the place manages to give a thoroughly modern, slightly aloof air, with its modern furniture and a wide selection of expensive continental largers on tap. We filled up on London Pride (£2.80 and the only ale on offer - perhaps a miscalculation by the management as they frequently seem to sell out), and perused the bar menu. The dishes range from the simple ( soup, wild mushrooms on toast) to the bizarre (confit of duck risotto with orange and parmesan) and most mains are under the £15 mark. Two of us couldn't resist the fillet steak, served in a fairly modest portion but presented like a work of art with a slick tower of potato and a dollop of melting horse radish cream (£16). It was delicious, but to me felt somehow too pretentious for a pub. The steak sandwich was simpler though again on the small side (about £8), whilst fish and chips was another work of art - the fish in thin tempura batter stacked on a jenga of thick chips. For me the chips (we ordered two extra bowls, at £3.50 each, which was just as well given the portion size) were arguably the best bit -- truly chunky, yet crisp and served (unbidden) with dishes of ketchup and good quality mayonnaise. Upstairs, there is a "proper" restaurant with a ( even) less casual menu at around £22 for 2 courses, but on an earlier visit it lacked diners and atmosphere. The food in the bar is nice, and the bar itself is not without charm, but a cosy "local" this ain't and at these prices I don't think we'll be back too often.

Hat & Feathers, 2 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5PA; Tel. 020 7490 2244; Tube: Barbican

Edited to add that this place now has a rather nice outdoor terrace with heaters, where you can also snack from the bar menu.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A round up

The Ambassador 55 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL, Tel 0207 837 0009 Some complain that the décor is plain, but the service is lovely, the food luscious (modern English, think nettle soup and poached halibut), and there is an interesting wine list, many of which are served by the glass or carafe. One glitch though – the service is slow, so make sure you order starters or you’ll be tipsy before the mains arrive!

Arbutus 63-4 Frith Street, W1D 3JW A stylish, modern newcomer and the star of many dazzling reviews. Lots of interesting wines by the glass and tasty mains in the 15 bracket. Good for a special occasion.

Bar Music Hall
134 Curtain Road, EC2A 3AR, Tel 0207 729 7216 Mainly DJs but nice jazz on Monday nights and a varied selection of continental beers. Foodwise though stick to platters of antipasti (8) as the rest (burgers, steaks) are mediocre.

Le Café du Marche
Tel 0207 608 1609 An old-fashioned, romantic favourite of ours, with frequent live music and hearty French food. The food is on a 30 pound 3-course set menu basis though, so not a budget option. Beer is limited to Stella though.

Fig & Olive
151 Upper Street, N1 1RA, Tel 0207 2605 A nice café/bistro type place with a long and varied menu and a tempting display of cakes by the door. Would be nice for casual lunch, and gets a bit more atmospheric (dimly lit) for dinner.

Fifteen 15 Westland Place, N1 7LP, 0871 330 1515, http://www.fifteenrestaurant.com/ The illustrious Jamie wasn’t there, of course, but the staff all sounded as pukka as him, and so did the menu. The food was nice enough, but the bill added up to too much.

3 Crispin Place, E1 6DW A nice mini-chain of Mediterranean cafes, with menus pasted in to old cartoon annuals. Order a bunch of meze and chuckle away!

1 Lombard Street Brasserie
EC3V 9AA, Tel 0207 929 6611 A city brasserie for city business lunches. A nice building and a menu which treads an all-pleasing line between more interesting (salad of quail) to the comforting (bangers and mash).

18-21 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AH, Tel 0207 012 3700 A hotel restaurant that manages to be cosy and trendy, serves good food (incl good value set menus at 16 for 2 courses) and is a good bet when other places are shut.

The Morgan Arms
43 Morgan St, E3 A very lucky chance discovery deep in residential Bow. The nibble selection (13) was a bit average, especially the bread, but the mains were good – juicy scallops, hearty fish stew. The atmosphere is a nice mix of elegant and casual and there’s a decent selection of beers and ales.

Canary Wharf A business lunch venue, with set meals around 20 mark.

White Swan Pub & Dining Room
108 Fetter Lane, EC4, Tel 0207 242 9696. http://www.thewhiteswanlondon.com/ Owned by the same people as The Well in Clerkenwell and the Gun in Docklands. A city boys’ bar downstairs and a posh, white-table clothed, mirrored restaurant upstairs. Food is good, but not cheap (16 for mains)

Wolfe’s Bar & Grill,
30 Great Queen St, WC2B 5BB, Tel 0207 831 4442, http://www.wolfes-grill.net/ A surprisingly good place in touristy Covent Garden, with good set price menus for 15.50.

The Bountiful Cow

Ignore the garish neon lights, and duck in to a small, cosy dark bar. The highlight, according to other reviews, is the landlady, a one-time doyenne of Ronnie Scotts and sadly absent during our visit. The young waitresses were perfectly helpful though, escorting us to the more spacious restaurant down some hard to find steps. The dinner came courtesy of toptable.co.uk, paid for with loyalty points accumulated from far too many expensive lunches and dinners over the past 12 months, and consisted of two courses from a very limited menu. My salad came in a huge bowl, piled high with tomatoes, onions and chunks of feta cheese. My companion braved the liver in a bid to overcome an aversion that dates back to horrific school dinner experiences. It turned out all creamy and pate-like, with some rather nice toasted bread. For mains, we both opted for juicy burgers, topped with cheese and served in huge buns with chips and salad on the side. The meat was juicy-pink in the middle, and yummy on the tongue. The generous side orders defeated us, leaving no room for deserts. For a free meal, it certainly got my seal of approval, and was nicely washed down by some drinkable house white (£11.50).

The Bountiful Cow, 51 Eagle St, WC1R 4AP. Tube: Holborn

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Smithfield Bar & Grill

Located in the shadows of the market, Smithfield Bar & Grill has no excuse for providing anything but top-notch meat. And it does. From a variety of cuts and weigths -- includind a distinctly unlocal filet of Japanese Kobe beef for an eye-popping £50 -- we opted for an 8oz fillet (£14.50) and a 10oz sirloin (£13.50). Both came in juicy red, accompanied by tangy horseradish mash (£2.50 and almost as good as my home-made version!), classic rocket and parmesan salad (£3.50) and two dinky jugs of peppercorn sauce (£1.50 each). A taste comparison proved that the sirloin has a stronger, meatier flavour whilst the fillet had a nicer, melt-in-the-mouth texture. We washed the steaks down with a passable bottle of French red (£11.50) and tap water, in defiance of the waitress who tried to get us to order the mineral stuff before we'd even had a chance to sit down at the table! The service was friendly, though they did ask if everyhing was OK far too many times. The venue itself is dark and stylish, with cute black leather booths and a bigger, whiter restaurant section round the corner. The point of the place is clearly meat, but there is a good selection of fishy dishes and salads as well. The cocktail menu looked impressive but we sadly got their too late for the until-7pm happy hour. We will definitely be back, but only with one of the 2-for-1 offers which crop up regularly on www.toptable.co.uk and are also available with the www.tastelondon.co.uk card (first visit only). Otherwise all the side orders and sauces do add up, making it a bit overpriced.

Smithfield Bar & Grill, 2-3 West Smithfield, EC1A 9JX, Tel 0870 442 2541; Tube: Barbican