Friday, July 25, 2008

Cork and Bottle

A hidden gem just off Leicester Square. Yes, really. Such secrets don't come along often, and I'm only letting you in as I won't be in London for much longer to savour its delights myself.

Hidden under red awning between the endless kebab shops and ticket touts, the small door deposits you atop a spiral metal staircase. Below, there's a buzzy, cosy vibe of a not quite authentic French or Italian wine bar.

The wine list is amazing in scope, decent in value and wittily, informatively written. The food menu focuses on classic comfort food with a nod to the owner's Antipodean origins.

The husband's burger is large and decent-tasting, but I am smitten with the cheese and ham pie, the house speciality. Beneath a pastry lid is a savoury heaven, a layered tower of cheese and ham... Mmm, writing about it, I want one now.
We were far too stuffed for the cheese course, so finished off with a couple of glasses of a young Beaujolais Village.

This lovely precursor to the theatre set us back just over £50 for two huge mains, some olives, a bottle of a zesty Spanish white and the glasses of the Beaujolais. Like I said, a gem.

Cork and Bottle, 44-46 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, WC2H 7AN; Tel. 0207734 7807; Tube: Leicester Square

Monday, July 21, 2008

Moshi Moshi

The location: Potentially convenient, but otherwise not ideal - inside Liverpool Street train station. The windows actually look into the station and you can watch the Essex trains leave and arrive down below.

The spec: A Japanese restaurant with a conveyor belt and also cool wooden booth-like seats. Part of a mini chain which prides itself on sustainable fish.

The good: The starters.

There's an interesting selection on the set menu platter, from fresh sushi to Cornish crab.

The tempura is also good.

The not so good: The mains. The beef is overcooked and overly sickly. The chef's special selection is far from special - octopus (which I think is too rubbery to be eaten raw), tuna, salmon, seabass. Nor is there much of it - hardly the "sumptious feast" advertised. The 'seasonal' sardine and ginger miso soup is fairly grim.

The service is slow, inattentive and sometimes just downright bizarre. The wine arrives and we taste it, nodding approval. The bottle is then whisked away and replaced by a new, unopened one, from which we are also given a taster before finally being allowed to keep it.

The verdict: A mixed experience, and certainly not worth it for the money for dinner (ours came to around 80 pounds), but would be OK for lunch or if you have a special offer and happen to be in the area.

Moshi Moshi, Unit 24, Liverpool Street Station, EC2M 7QH (above platform 1, behind M&S); Tel 020 7247 3227; Tube: Liverpool Street;

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


The location: A hop, a skip and a jump away from Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, above a modern but pleasant bar called The International. Looks posher than it is from the outside.

The spec: A Thai restaurant, owned by the same people who own various places in and around Covent Garden, including Tuttons.

The good: The happy hour in the bar, including bellinis for £3.95. The light vegetable tempura starter from the good value £13.50 set menu which came with a free glass of Pimms. The teriyaki salmon from the main course, especially when moistened with some of the sauce from the Thai chicken curry.

The disappointing: The bland chickpea patties in the second starter (admittedly helped by a yoghurt dip), and the overcooked chicken in the curry.

The bad: The service, though my dining companion, who'd been before, said it wasn't usually like that. In a largely empty restaurant, the waitress insisted we had to order deserts at the same time as everything else because "the kitchen will be busy later". (Luckily, when it did arrive, the ice cream didn't look like it had been pre-plated at the start of the meal.) The drinks, for each round, took ages coming, and we were drinkless through most of the main course. Although others had brought happy hour drinks up from the sister bar downstairs, a very abrupt manager told us this was not allowed and we had to pay full price. The kitchen with its dirty plates was far too exposed from where we were sat. These are all minor quibles but they added up, especially as the tone of the stuff was generally far from friendly and occasionally border line rude.

The verdict: I will definitely add the bar to my list of good venues in the area (where it joins The Chandos and The Porterhouse), but am not sure I'll be back to the restaurant.

Katana, The International, 116 St Martins Lane, WC2N 4BF; Tel. 020 7257 8625; Tube: Charing Cross or Leicester Square

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


What better antidote to a rainy summer and tightening money belts than a posh lunch with unlimited champagne? Step forward the Langtry and its £35 meal deal.

I like the elegant room, with old-fashionedly ornate walls, bow-legged padded chairs and slate place mats. Plus they have phallic flowers on the tables :)

The waiters are very reverential to everyone, from a special occasion birthday party quartet to a youngish girl with Harrods bags and a large hole in her black tights.

The bread basket is freely and frequently offered, and -- rewarding our efforts to make the most of the free bubbles -- the champagne glasses are never allowed to go empty. (Bizarrely though they only refill the tap water tumblers when asked.)

We both start with the tuna loin. Rare and tender, it is offset by a delicate pale green mousse. I am sure I detect hints of avocado, but a re-examination of the menu reveals that actually it starred coriander and Cromer crab. Hmm, so much for my palate, best not give up the day job.

The main course of olive crusted lamb fillet is very tasty though the lamb is a bit on the gristly side.

The sea trout actually makes fennel and anise in the accompanying cream taste quite nice to my hostile-minded taste buds.

We finish with a Madagascan vanilla créme brûlée served in a nifty spoon/plate and a palate-cleansing champagne sorbet with summer fruits. The bill comes with another round of champagne and, with service, is still under £80 for 2.

For the delicious food and well over a bottle of champers (each), I think that's a veritable bargain, especially as here you are made to feel as special as if you'd spent more than double that.

Langtry, 21 Pont Street, SW1X 9SG; Tel. 0207 201 6619; Tube: Sloane Square or Knightsbridge;

Friday, July 11, 2008


The "modern French" food is masterminded by TV-regular Jun Tanaka, and the name harks back to Pearl Assurance who once occupied the grand building in the heart of London's law district. Real pearls, though, are everywhere, hanging off the ceiling in jawdropping chandeliers.

Considering a single main course will normally set you back a whopping £31.50, the toptable three-courses-for-£30 seemed like a vertiable steal. But be careful, supplements and drinks will quickly inflate the bill.

I am surprised by my strarter of osso buco -- a Milanese dish of braised veal shanks -- which essentially came deep-fried. Still, the meat was tender and as a cheese-loved I quite enjoyed the addition of mozarella. The accompanying artichokes had an unpleasant pickled flavour though and the cold roasted peppers, though nice, tasted like they could have come from a posh jar.

My main course is also not really a winner, the tortellini are tiny, with little sign of the advertised parmesan, and the Swiss Chard turns out to be just an accompaniment rather than a filling. It's a bit bland and confirms my theory that you should steer clear of vegetarian food in expensive restaurants.

Others fare betters, sampling the sea Bream with clams, grapefruit vinaigrette wild leeks and samphire,

and a beautifully pink rump of salt marsh lamb with wild garlic and beans.

In the only desert we sample the dark chocolate contrasts beautifully with the slight tartness of raspberries. And, as all the food, it looks stunning on the plate.

The artisan cheeses come with a £6.50 supplement - a bit much when you only get six slivers from what is, admitedly, a very impressively burdened cheese trolley. We ask the sommelier to recommend a red wine for the cheese. His choice is quite dry and we are not that impressed - something fruitier, more full bodied might have gone better. We are even less impressed when the glasses appear on the bill at around 13 quid each, costing more than the champagne. They are not very gracious when we complain, but do remove one of the glasses from the (already quite hefty) bill.

It leaves a bit of a sour impression. Overall I would say the setting is stunning but taste-wise the food is merely good -- which at these prices isn't enough.

Pearl Restaurant & Bar, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN; Tel. 020 7829 7000; Tube: Holborn;

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mucho Mas

Months after everyone else, I finally get around to trying Mucho Mas, a modern-looking (no longer very) new cafe in the centre of Upper Street's hustle and bustle.

On a sunny weekend lunchtime the outside tables provide a top people-watching spot -especially as they serve Negra Modello, one of my favourite dark beers.
It's a casual kind of place, so you have to order at the bar and they only take cash (cue mad dash to the cash point).

The menu is short, featuring burritos (the small portion is called 'Mexican', the large is 'American', which makes me smile), tacos and a few salads. They make the stuff up in a production line in front of you which reminds me of Subway, though the contents of the metal pots look more appetising here. Unless you want a salad, the choice is essentially very limited: whether you want one big piece of tortilla wrap or several small ones, and whether you prefer your chosen meat (or veg) accompanied by rice and beans or cheese and salsa. Either way, you have to pay extra for guacamole.

We tried a chicken burrito (for the record a 'Mexican' is plenty big enough) and some beef tacos. The flavours were fresh, and the medium sauce gave them plenty of spice.

They get bonus points for the jug of tap water and cups on the counter, but minus marks for making diners use plastic cutlery and eat out of cardboard boxes. For the two dishes and the two beers we got about a quid change out of a twenty, which I reckon is a bit steep for eating out of cardboard, but then I seem to spend most of my time these days gasping in horror at restaurant and bar bills.

(It must be a sign of the times that the spit-and-sawdust dump on Old Street that was called Bar £1.50 when we first moved to London has, after progressing to Bar £1.70 and then being renamed as something non-numeric, now shut altogether. These days, unless I am in a Sam Smith's or Wetherspoons, I am lucky to get a pint for under £3.)

So, Mucho Mas is a great spot for a shopping break/casual lunch on a sunny day, but I am not sure I would go as far as backing the unrelentingly rave write ups it seems to be getting on public review sites.

Mucho Mas, 27 Upper Street, N1 9LQ; Tel. 020 7704 2123; Tube: Angel; (site under construction)