Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fox & Anchor

I am prone to bouts of serious unobservedness. So by the time I heard that the old Smithfield market pub, the Fox and Anchor, had been revamped by the guys from the near-by Malmaison the place had already been open for a couple of months. Still, in this case it was defintiely a case of better late than never. The spruce up helps show off the original decor to great effect -- the domineering old dark wood counter, the decorative glass pannels, the little nooks and crannies. They now offer rooms above the pub, but have kept up the tradition of breakfasts from 7 am. There's a changing selection of real ales on tap (around £3), which are served in pewter tankards (though in reality this is slightly less cool, as there's a gentle taste of metal and you can't easily see how much head there is on your pint). The menu is short, starring a tempting array of British classics, and there are specials on the blackboard.

Food-wise the standout was the beef and oyster pie (£10.95) - melt-in-the-mouth chunks of slow cooked meat in a rich, plentiful gravy, topped with a crisp duvet of puff pastry and served (I am guessing this is some kind of bizarre English tradition) with a couple of oysters. The meat, apparently comes from Ginger Pig (lauded by everyone from mutton-loving Prince Charles to Jay Rayner), and the thick chips are fried in goose fat and come in funky little cones. The steak tartare looked really cool, served on wooden boards and topped with an orange yolk. I thought the seasoning was perfect, but the husband deemed it not hot enough (luckily they provided Tabasco as a remedy). The juices from the real, non-dried wild mushrooms had beautifully soaked through into the accompanying toast (£4.95).
There are a few quibbles, of course. The bread is a bit of a disappointment, the steak with a duck egg from the specials board was very lacklustre, the TV screens are an unnecessary distraction (though bonus points for showing a black and white, silent farce!) and being within spitting distance of the city the place is to full of suits to feel like a real local...
But we went back for a second visit within a week of our first one, so I think it's fair to say we are smitten!
The Fox and Anchor, 115 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AA; Tel. 020 72501300; Tube: Farringdon or Barbican;

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kwan Thai

Looks-wise, Kwan-Thai screams "1980s Chinese restaurant" to me. There's green table cloths, waitresses in traditional costumes, an overwhelmingly long (though admitedly not leather-bound) menu and a general air of OTT-ness. But don't let that put you off -- you can always ignore the decor and enjoy the great views acrsoss the river towards the city of London and the Gherkin. Despite the lengthy menu, the starters selection was a bit limited and a bit bland -- three people of our four-strong party ended up ordering the crisp spring rolls (£4.50). They were nice if unspectacular, and I am tempted to deck some brownie points for the fact that the waitress refused to let me have a starter-sized portion of the som tum instead (a salad of young papaya falvoured with garlic, chilli and lemon juice and highly recommended by a Thai-connoseeur friend). Still, things picked up decidedly with the mains, where a huge selection tempted me away from my usual and much-loved choice of pad thai (here priced at a stepped-than-usual £8.95). Instead, I had the plah goong (£14.95), a pile of juicy prawns, noodles and salad, packed with fresh flavours and lethal chilies. The portion sizes were huge, and no one managed to finish their main course. This being a work lunch, we stuck to mineral water, though the wine list does feature a selection of Thai bottles (£13.95).
To be honest, I prefer the more casual vibe (not to meniton prices) of the Southeast Asian cafes scattered all over London. But for a work lunch, Kwan Thai isn't a bad option.
Kwan Thai, The Riverfront, Hays Galleria, London Bridge, SE1 2HD; Tel. 0207 403 7373; Tube: London Bridge;

Friday, January 18, 2008


We'd meant to go for a pre-theatre dinner to Loch Fyne, but to my amazement it was fully booked on a Wednesday. So we crossed the road, rejected a touristy-looking Italian (as I've given up cheese for the month) and ended up here. Much has already been said of the name, so as my punning skills are hardly Olympic standard I think I'll just concentrate on the food. There are tapas, cold meat cuts, a large selection of Spanish cheese (d'oh), a few salads and paellas for those who are not keen on the whole sharing thing. The wine list rather alarmingly lists the numbers of a couple of dishes next to the wine they think goes with them. I say alarmingly because I couldn't possibly justify ordering a different bottle of wine for each couple of tapas plates. Luckily our bottle of Artesano (£17.40) semed to go with the whole lot, so we forgave them for not offering a white rioja.
Tapas-wise, I'll start with the good stuff. Chorizo (£4.95) packed a good punch of flavour, even if the portion seemed a bit stingy. The pimentos del padron (£4.75) heralded a large plate piled high with hot, cute little green peppers ("I could eat a whole plate of these," said the husband, and tried his best to.) The salad of tomatoes, onions and black olives had clean, fresh flavours to slice through the heavy food. In the pulpo a la gallega (£9.75), the octopus was tender and juicy, served in a generous (OK may be not so generous considering the price tag) pile on top of some potatoes. Sausages
Sitting firmly in the "average" league were the patatas bravas (£4.25) and tortilla (£4.50), though the former could have been more crispy. The croq de queso (£4.75) -- deep fried blue cheese balls cheese balls -- were not great and a bit synthetic tasting. (Hey come one, I can still taste other people cheese dishes in the name of accurate reviewing, right?). The two razor clams (navajas fritas £6.25) were quite unnecessarily deep-fried, and thus greasy and a bit rubbery.
They weren't nearly as bad as the stuffed muscles(tigres, £4.50). The mussel shells had been emptied, filled up with what claimed to be mussel mousse but tasted of creamy horribleness with a vague sea aura, covered with bread crumbs and then grilled. The result was quite revolting, and the overwhelming question was "why?".
Serves us right for ordering them though I suppose. The same couldn't be said for the pan con tomate (£2.50), which for me was the biggest disappointment. In Catalona we had lived off large slices of slightly toasted bread, which you then scratch with a raw garlic clove, then rub on raw tomato and finally sprinkle with olive oil. Oops' take though had transferred the dish into a tomato toastie with very little trace of garlic.
Of course the trouble with ending your review on the bad things is that it leaves a rather negative impression. Personally, I would not go out of my way to return, but the meal wasn't bad overall and with careful ordering this place makes a decent stand by for pre-theatre nosh.
Oops... Restaurante & Vinateria, 31 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5JS; Tel. 0207 836 3609; Tube: Covent Garden

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dover Street - not really up my street

I am actually feeling quite benevolent towards Dover Street because despite all the pitfalls (or perhaps because of - it can be fun to slag things off sometimes!) we had a brilliant evening. And although much of the wine list is eye-watering, there is some quite nice vin de pays for £14.95 on page 11, and they did refill our jug of tap water without asking.
But this is a restaurant review, so I can't really overlook the extortionate prices or the worse-than-mediocre food. Occupying a basement on the eponymous swish Mayfair street, this place has been catering to the moneyed dinner jazz crowd for nigh on 30 years, and you wonder whether much has changed in the period. The decor features white walls, white table cloths, discreet candle light and black and white signed photos of jazz stars. Bizarrely it's designed in such a way that most tables have no view at all of the small stage -- perhaps in a bid to entice everyone onto the tiny dance floor. It emerged after we'd ordered that there was only one band on that evening, which meant the music -- the venue's chief attraction -- would only start in another two hours, at 10.30 pm. When it did start, it was pleasant enough jazz standards but sadly lacking in any wow factor.

The menu starts with £5.95 for the "potage du jour" and goes up to £28.95 for the dover sole. With prices like these I feel you might as well order something with more expensive ingredients as it represents comparatively better value-for-money. My carpaccio of beef comes in six thin, red petals. I love the pepperiness of the pile of rocket on top, but alas it rather overpowers the fairly bland meat. It's OK, but it costs £9.50 and it's not a patch on the carpaccio feast that can be had in Cafe de l'industrie in Paris (the link is to an old food site I did back when we used to live in Paris...ah the good old days!).

The husband opts for the "scallops with the embeurree of leek and celery" (£10.95). What he gets is an elongated white dish with three scallops swimming in a white sauce which tasted quite strongly of... vanilla. It sure as hell didn't go with the scallops, and I thought it was pretty vile, but he claimed it went OK with the bread as a weird kind of mid-dinner sweet course. Following on in the expensive ingredients vein, I had the £21.95 foie-gras-topped fillet steak Rossini, served with "pomme fondante" which turned out to be a rounder, posher version of potato croquettes. It smelt temptingly of truffle, though I couldn't spot any of the advertised truffle shavings. I've only sampled this dish once before, in an Italian restaurant in Carlisle, and I have to say it was much nicer there. The husband's "roast best end of lamb" (£17.95) looked a lot better than it tasted.
The last kick in the teeth came with the bill which added a £2.50 a head cover charge (for a couple of bread rolls) to the 12.5 percent service charge. I queried the cover charge, saying I had not seen it mentioned on the menu. The waitress came back and showed me where it was - in small black print, on the bit of the menu which was shaded black by the musical leitmotif. Oh, how did I manage not to spot it?! Still, sometimes they do deals which makes the food cheaper and sometimes they do have truly amazing acts. And as I said at the start we still had
a good night. So while I am not awaiting a return visit with anticipation, I haven't entirely ruled it out as a possibility. Not that they probably care too much - the place was full on our week-night visit, suggesting there's no shortage of moneyed punters who like their grub expensive and aren't too bothered about the taste factor.
Dover Street Restaurant and Jazz Bar, 8-10 Dover Street, Mayfair, W1S 4LQ; Tel: 020 7491 7509; Tube: Green Park;

Friday, January 11, 2008

Electricity Showrooms

You have to love any pub entered through a rotating wooden door topped with an old fair ground horse. The Regency ceiling is painted red and some of the flowers have had their centres replaced by twinkling light bulbs. There's a billiards table at the back (more Brownie points) and ahip in a bottle behind the bar.
Throw in big windows, an ad-hoc collection of wooden tables, a bewildering selection of spirits behind the centre-piece bar, and chairs and a selection of old prints on the wall (including a depiction of the Faringdon fight from the National Police Gazette, in which all the audience looks back at you rather than at the fight to show all the celebrities present).
The overall look is a cross between a fair ground and a gin palace. So lets face it I would have loved the place regardless.

But luckily I didn't have to.
They served well-kept ale in glass tankards and offered a short menu of modern comfort foods. Sorry, but I wasn't feeling brave enough to try the one odd ball dish -- the lamb and quince soup. Instead I had the steak and chorizo pie (8.50), a nice flavoursome pile of meat with lots of juicy gravy to soak through the pasty and penetrate the accompanying mound of creamy but uninspired mash.
The husband's fish fingers (7.50) were Jamie Oliver style - slightly odd shaped, home-made looking and good enough to cure my age-old hatred of the things based on the bright orange stuff that sells for 99p in the frozen food section. The accompanying chips were even better - home-made, with skins on, crunchy and treading the perfect middle ground between skinny and jenga-sized. Give me some aioli and I would have been happy to make a meal of the chips alone. Instead we were served a pot of tartare sauce, which I thought was too heavy on the capers, but the husband absolutely loved.
There's a lot of good places clustered around Hoxton Square, but this one is well worth adding to the visiting list. Oh and according to their website they have music etc on at the basement where they have a 1980's 'Pans People' light-up dance-floor. I have no idea what that is but it sounds very cool!
Electricity Showrooms, 39a Hoxton Square, N1 6NN; Tel: 020 7739 3939;

Monday, January 07, 2008

A taster...

I seem to be getting hopelessly behind on my reviews, so will try and motivate myself with a public list of places I've yet to write about.

Dion - Skyscraper-high prices but great steak sandwiches in a Canary Wharf wine bar;
Dover Street - Dinner jazz at Mayfair prices;
Electricity Showrooms - Fairground glamour and comfort food in trendy Hoxton;
Fox & Anchor - My new favourite pub in Clerkenwell;
Gaucho Grill - Steaks;
Kolossi Grill - Cypriotic charm on Exmouth market (shame about the food though);
Kwan Thai - Great views for expense account city folks;
Oops - Decent tapas in theatre land (must try to resist the temptation of making silly puns based on the name);
Rooburoo - Indian goes trendy in Islington;
Searcy's - 1980's decor and fabulous view in the Barbican;
Tate Britain Restaurant - Good food, interesting wine list and an amazing mural...

Phew! No wonder those jeans are starting to feel a bit tight....

Friday, January 04, 2008


Happy new year - may 2008 bring you (and me!) lots of delectable eating experiences.
I haven't started badly so far, checking out 1802 after reading a rave review on another blog. It's concealed among the much-of-a-muchness chain bars on the waterfront at West India Quay - an area with ample outdoor seating which comes on to its own on balmy summer's evening but can seem a bit drab in cold January. It's also the restaurant of the Museum of Docklands which I have yet to get round to visiting. But it's actually much more promising than those descriptions imply – which is perhaps less surprising when you realise it’s run by Searcy’s who generally do a pretty good job.
The interior makes more of the old docks building than any of its neighbours (judged the husband), with exposed indoor brickwork, metal piping, gentle candle light and lots of light streaming in from the floor to ceiling windows. There are some comfy-looking brown leather sofas for more casual drinks or snacks to one side. Otherwise there are black leather chairs and wooden tables. The menu is quite short, in the traditional gastro pub vein. At lunchtime there are also three options of mains and a drink for £10 for those in a hurry/on a budget. On our visit these included a steak and ale pie and a lamb burger, but in our typical fashion we fancied something else and ended up spending more money.

I had the cesar salad for £9.50, choosing hot smoked salmon as my protein over the also-on-offer chicken and crayfish. The combination actually worked really well, and the salmon wasn't overpowered by the dressing or the anchovies. (Apologies - I was hungry so dug in before I remembered to take a photo. The plate looked much prettier when it was first served.) If I could change one thing, I might have gone with more lettuce and a bit less of the flavoursome stuff for a better balance, but then you can't really complain when you get more of the expensive ingredients and less of the cheap ones. The husband's sausage and mash was good, with two stumpy bangers for £11.00. There's also a good beer list, including both dark and white Erdinger wheat beer (£4.20). It’s not cheap -- but then this is the land of moneyed suit-wearing bankers – and they do get minus points for adding on a 12.5 percent service charge to the bill and then getting the credit card machine to solicit a second tip.
But overall I'm chuffed to have discovered this place, and am just hoping that they change the menu often enough for lots of return visits.
1802, Museum in Docklands No. 1 Warehouse, West India Quay, Canary Wharf, E14 4AL; Tube: Canary Wharf