Friday, March 30, 2007

Le Rendezvous

Le Rendezvous is a more informal offshoot of the Cafe du Marche and is equally, delightfully French. We chose from a short menu chalked up on board behind the bar while sipping on a lovely bottle of crozes hermitage (£26). The cote de boeuf for 2 (£26ish) was served on a wooden platter, cut into juicy, beautifully rare thick slices. The veal chops were on a bed of creamy leeks, snugly tucked in under a blanket of morel sauce (£17ish). The accompaniments were very French - a large bowl of crispy lettuce in French dressing (the kind you get in France as opposed to the kind that's sold here as 'French dressing') and a large bowl of thin cut crispy chips. The bĂ©arnaise sauce that came with the beef was the best I've ever tasted. I am drooling now just thinking about it.....! It's not cheap and the only beer on offer is Stella, but otherwise this place is pretty close to perfect.

Le Rendezvous, 121 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AA; Tel. 020 7336 8836, Tube: Barbican


Flaneur has all the hallmarks of a good foodie venue.
The shaker-style wooden tables and high-backed chairs are squeezed into a well-stocked deli, so you can lust over the inhabitants of the shelves while perusing your menu. The menus are dated, suggesting frequent changes and seasonal produce. The tea selection features Marco Polo, a delightful fruity blend from Mariage Freres, which to us smells of Paris.
But unfortunately, at least on our visit, the hallmarks proved deceptive.
The tea arrived European-style, with the teabag on a plate next to a pot of hot water. It tasted lovely though, and we settled in with the weekend papers to wait for the food... And we waited...
About half an hour after we ordered, a waiter appeared to say they had no rocket salad, and would I like ieberg lettuce with parmesan instead. I said I would not, and resisted the temptation to point out that they'd had more than enough time to nip out to Sainsbury's round the corner and buy the rocket.
So we cancelled the side salad and waited some more....
After another quarter of an hour, starving, and we were considering leaving and heading to the aforementioned supermarket for a sandwich.
The food arrived, unapologetic, just as we were about to leave.
The small artichoke, goats cheese and courgette risotto (£7ish) was actually quite generously portioned. But that was its only good point - the rice was watery and gloupy, lacking flavour. It went unfinished.
The steak baguette (£10ish) was lined with flavoursome mature cheddar, topped with caramelised onions (these would have been easier to eat if they'd chopped them up) and a decent cut of steak. It was actually pretty good -- despite needing some salt -- but it was too late to redeem the meal.
No one asked if everything was alright. So we deducted the optional service charge from the bill and left.

Flaneur, 41 Farringdon Rd, EC1M 3JB; Tel. 020 7404 4422; Tube: Farringdon

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sutton Arms

About 5 years ago, Sutton Arms on Carthusian Street - just round the corner from Barbican tube - used to serve lovely food, posh-gastro-pub-style in its tiny upstairs dining room. Then they changed the chef and we had one of our all-time worst meals, in an empty room with just a scowling waiter who insisted on listening to a loud talk programme on the radio. Now it's time for a third re-incarnation. The gastro bit has gone, and the menu offers a short list of traditional pub staples like burgers, sausage and mash and fish cakes -- as well as the proudly-advertised stone-baked pizzas, all for around £8ish. We ordered at the downstairs bar, where a popular pub quiz was in full swing, and carried our pints up to the quieter dining room. The pub offers a good selection of cask ales, though at over £3 a pint I think it's competing for London's most expensive ale award. The burger was very pink -- suits me fine, but the friend who'd ordered it was less happy (he's not keen to be reminded that meat=flesh, apparently). The chips were unremarkable and there was no vinegar to liven them up. The pizzas weren't bad, topped with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes and (optionally) mozzarella. But equally they were nothing special - a pub up the road does much bigger ones, with more interesting toppings and for about £3 cheaper. Add in some pretty surly service, and I was left with little desire to go back -- until the next reincarnation. Except may be for the quiz.

Sutton Arms, 6 Carthusian Street, EC1M 6EB; Tube: Barbican

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Waterside Cafe, Barbican

The Barbican is a magnificent, if somewhat incomprehensible structure where you can wonder for hours in growing confusion and frustration. But this giant labyrinth has some beautiful oasises (sp?) hidden within and the Waterside Cafe faces out on to a peaceful, beautiful pond with fountains and a beautiful old building across the water. Alas, it is still too cold to sit outside in the evening. Inside, the design is very functionally 70s, but not necessarily in a bad way. Canteen style, the cafe offers three choices of hot main courses -- this time juicy Lancashire sausages with mash, puff-pastry salmon pie, or jacket potatoes in mushroom and cream sauce. I had a large salad (£5.99) from the salad bar, picking new potatoes with salami, couscous with cream cheese, green beans with bacon, salady items, grated carrots and pickled red cabbage. The cabbage was a bit vinegary for my taste, but the rest was lovely, varied and filling. There are also sandwiches, wraps, pre-packed salads, meat and cheese plates and a sweets counter. The bottled drinks include a selection of alcoholic beverages. It's not an atmospheric place, but a very useful pit-stop pre-performance (they serve until 7.30) and the food quality is much better than I would expect from a canteen. I've yet to try the other two options at the Barbican - Searcys is said to be good, but is pricey and seems to only offer multiple course set menus (no good if you have 30 minutes to wolf down food and get to a show). The Balcony Bistro is less formal and currently offers 80s themed menu to celebrate Barbican's 25th birthday, which leaves me horrified and intrigued -- watch this space to see which sentiment wins.

The Waterside Cafe, Barbican Centre; Tube: Barbican

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A plaster cast lion greeted us at the entrance. Two ceramic vases propped up the ceiling in the hall and a hippo's head started at us, open mouthed, from an inside wall. We were entering Loungelover, the bar owned by eccentric decorators behind Three Garcons (fully booked, alas, but we will try again) around the corner and Annex near Oxford Street. This is the kind of place where you don't need to worry about making conversation as any pauses can be spent staring awestruck at the decor. Immaculately made up waitresses handed us hefty leather-bound tomes filled with a bewildering array of cocktail descriptions (£8-10).

Famished we ordered everything from the short tapas-style bar menu (skipping only the £55 sevruga caviar - may be next time!). It turned out to be a variably, beautifully presented feast. A jar of juicy red fish roe, served on a bed of ice, with a jug of sour cream and encircled by cute little blinis was well worth the £18 price tag. The tender smoked salmon came with yet more blini. The cheese and meet platters were generous and varied (I particularly loved the salami with a hint of truffle), served with warm mini-baguettes. There were also two large chunks of pate, a nicely flavoured croque monsieur (though admittedly done more in the Belgian cheese toastie style than the French way), dinky crostinis with various toppings and lashings of salad, olives and sun-dried tomatoes to garnish it all. In my first cocktail, the mix of basil, lemon juice, limoncello and prosecco was sharp and unusual, but delicious. My second choice though accidentally contained whisky (which I don't like). For the feast, and two rounds of drinks for four people, the bill came to under £140. Not cheap, sure, but given the opulence of the decor and the menu it's a pretty good deal. I'd choose for a glamorous treat or somewhere to take to show off in for visitors.

Loungelove, 1 Whitby Street, E2 7DP,; Tube: Shoreditch (when it reopens, otherwise bus, walk or taxi)

Friday, March 02, 2007

St John

Every time I go to St John, I am disappointed that squirrel is not on the menu. But it gives me a good excuse to keep coming back. This time the restaurant was fully booked, so we grabbed a wooden table in the cosy, informal bar. I've always been more impressed with starters than main courses here, so was happy to see that most of my favourites were chalked up on the blackboard bar menu. We embraced Fergus Henderson's concept of nose-to-tail eating with some bone marrow, parsley, onions and capers on toast. This is the sort of dish I'd normally squeem away from, but having once tried a mouthful of someone else's I was immediately won over by its silky, fatty richness. Then there was the mustrady Welsh rarebit, the gloriously fishy hunk of anchovy toast and finally a salad of bitter dandelion leaves and sweet shallots. I will admit the last dish left me convinced that dandelions are best used for blowing off the pollen when their heads go all big and white -- rather than for eating. But my companion happily wolfed it down, saying the bitterness was remeniscent of chicory. We washed the feast down with a couple of big bottles grand cru wheat beer from a wide selection of Meantime brews on offer. The service was charming, the tables around us were as taken with the food as we were and the bill came to a very reasonable £40.

St John, 26 St John Street, London, EC1M 4AY; Tel. 020 7251 0848, tube: Barbican, Farringdon