Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Viet Grill

I love the little strip of Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsland Road in Shoreditch and came to the realisation that I hadn't visited any of them for yonks when an email regarding the relaunch of Viet Grill popped up in my inbox.

Along I went with Thomas on a dull Thursday evening, there's nothing quite like a Vietnamese feast to inject some zing into your day. It being a healthier and fresher version of Chinese cuisine. Perfect for trying to beat the January bulge.

I asked for the recommended chef special dishes, eliminating the difficulty of choosing from the extensive new menu. The wine list too has had a revamp with the help of wine aficionado and 'champion of the ordinary wine-drinker' (I guess that would be me?) Malcolm Gluck. We went for the Hunawihr Gewurztraminer Reserve d’Alsace 2007 which I cannot get enough of since first sampling some before Christmas.

First up came the mango salad, which is far more interesting than it sounds and comes from the recommended chef's special section of the menu.

The flavours were vibrant and fresh, a nice chili kick, julienned vegetables and fried crispy bits of squid made for a lovely amalgamation of flavours and textures. Very enjoyable and a great start to the meal.

The second starter was the beef vinh. A charcoal grilled skewer of rolled beef served with a fermented soy dressing and a side salad. The meat was perfectly cooked and wonderfully charred with a fabulous flavour. I would not have ordered either of these dishes had I chosen for myself but both were great.

Main courses again whilst perhaps not what I might have selected myself wowed us and I am now a catfish convert. Slow cooked catfish with a caramelised fish sauce served prettily in a clay pot which was set ablaze once it was placed down on the table, you can just about make out the blue flame to the bottom left of the bowl.

The fish itself was very meaty in texture, I've never had catfish before and am now a firm fan. The sauce was sticky and rich, perfect poured liberally over the sticky rice side dishes.

The second main course was the quail curry with aubergine and okra. The curry sauce was rather fruity and sweet, something well suited to my palate but I think perhaps a bit too sweet for some. I loved it though and again the sauce was excellent with the rice.

We also sampled the wokked bo xoi greens with garlic and rice wine which were quite excellent. Crunchy and packed full of flavour with so much garlic.

We were pretty full but decided to sample a dessert between us, the banana fritters which were better than the usual, this place is not about pudding though. We both also had Vietnamese coffee which again is very sweet due to the condensed milk. Thomas reminisced about his days in Australia where he often ate Vietnamese and I dreamed about when I will visit far afield places and experience the real deal for myself.

The menu is varied and remarkable value for money, they serve excellent Ph ò and Bò cu n bánh tráng, beef which is cooked at the table before you. Service throughout was very attentive and food was delivered swiftly. The same guys also run Cafe Tre and I will definitely return when that oh so familiar craving for Vietnamese hits, Viet Grill is head and shoulders above it's competitors on the same strip and I highly recommend it.

I dined as a guest of Viet Grill and received a complimentary meal with a bottle of wine

Viet Grill
58 Kingsland Road, E2

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010


I really am not in the position to talk about pizza restaurants in London owing to the fact that I have not visited either the inimitable Franco Manca, long reigning champ of the best pizza in London competition, or the new pretender Pizza East. This is something I hope to rectify following payday, damn you January.

Take out or home delivery pizza on the other hand, is something I feel more confident about, I once had to order an emergency Dominos following a couple of no carb days at the height of the Atkins phenomenon, nothing else would do.

Thankfully I follow no such silly fad diets these days and shall be eternally grateful to Firezza for opening a branch in Crouch End which delivers to N19, my hood! Cue 2 pizza orders in as many days, Ive sampled several of their offerings, a couple of sides and found all to be excellent. Sadly Tufnell Park seems to be lacking good takeaways, with the exception of the great Tiffin Tin 2 doors down the road (hurrah!).

The best so far has to be the chorizo and sweet pepper pizza, they serve them by the half metre and the boxes are quite enormous. It's clear that the standard of ingredients is high and the choice is extensive. The one gripe I would have is that the first order was on the wrong side of warm when it arrived but I forgave them as it was one of the coldest snow days of the year.

In short, I will without doubt be ordering these on a perhaps slightly too regular basis and with locations all over London they trounce the competition hands down provide the best home delivery pizzas I have ever sampled.

Apologies for the crap picture but it was a mere afterthought so enraptured was I when eating the thing.

10 Ferme Park Road
Crouch End
N4 4ED
020 83 41 00 99


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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Boo in Germany - Schuhbeck's

I spent New Year and the run up to it in Germany and Austria this year and one of the highlights of the visit was experiencing fine dining Bavarian style at Schuhbecks in den Südtiroler Stuben.

This was a Christmas meal courtesy of Ewald and I was delighted to get the chance to compare and contrast Alfons Schuhbeck's one Michelin starred food to that I've sampled in the UK. I found it to be quite different.

This was a fairly lengthy meal, we left almost 4 full hours later, following the 5 course Klassikmenü, not even counting the amuse and pre starter. It being the season for celebration we began with a kir royale and were served some bread, a sliced oblong rye loaf which was far more special than it looked. It was accompanied by butter and 2 dishes of creamed potato with herbs which made an interesting and welcome, if somewhat heavy, alternative to the standard bread and butter offered in most establishments.

The amuse was served on a silver spoon and I was unable to discern exactly what it was. The menu was helpfully in both German and English but, of course, the amuse was not listed. It was some kind of tartare of fish surrounded by a jelly topped with cream and a liberal sprinkling of dill. I recall it being very cold and the spoon upon which it sat was a tad too large for my mouth. It looked very pretty though, the table was immaculate and the room itself (next door to the main building, a smaller and more private wood lined room) was very comfortable.

The pre starter is Schuhbeck's take on a German classic, saure zipfel. This was served in small coffee cups, a dish designed to actually resemble a cappuccino with a layer of foam on the top. It's a sweet and sour soup containing onions and slices of sausage poached in the broth. This was a little too acidic for my palate.

Next up came the starter of beets with horseradish jelly. A very seasonal dish, the earthy winter root seems to lend itself perfectly to starter dishes, I've seen similar offerings on many menus at this time of year. It looked charming and was a delicate start to the feast, fresh flavours and vibrant colours beautifully assembled on the plate. You'll see there was yet more cappuccino like froth on the plate, Schuhbeck well and truly is a convert to the foam fad - case in point see the pasta course later.

Next up, the fail safe combination of seared scallops with pumpkin. This dish really did impress me with the crunchy addition of toasted sunflower seeds and an exhibition of multiple ways with pumpkin, including diced cubes and a creamy sauce (verging on but not quite a foam). These are possibly the best cooked scallops I've ever sampled, the perfect crisp char had been achieved on the top, a considerably accomplished plate of food.

We had been urged to try the Parmesan pasta dish and in selecting the klassikmenü we had to ask for this course to substitute the advertised dish. They were incredibly obliging about this. The truffle linguine is served with Parmesan foam (eek) and Italian vegetables. So, yes, it's another foam, but slightly more substantial than the average and extravagantly infused and scattered with truffle, more like a sauce really. This was a comforting dish with strong umami flavours, lightened by the tomato and courgette.

One of the best dishes of the night (favoured by everyone) was the beef main course. This, again was very elegantly plated up, was a fine amalgamation of colours and ingredients, root vegetables, a rich gravy and perfectly cooked beef, 2 ways. The fillet was buttery soft and underneath it lay a piece of braised beef which was deliciously tender. This was served alongside some potato croquettas and a creamed spinach, great variations of texture.

The next course was the cheese, interestingly served prior to dessert not following it as it is in England mostly. It was a miniature raclette, melted cheese served over boiled sliced potatoes, sprinkled with chives and crispy onions, a dish common in regions of Germany, France and Switzerland come winter time. There was a piece of goats cheese and some wisps of bitter lettuce to cut through the creaminess. More of the warm rye bread was generously served and this dish is a typical example of Schuhbeck's traditional and comforting style of cooking. I adore raclette.

I was beginning to feel more than a little full by this stage and for once was very pleased for the delay between courses. During other pauses the waiting times were a tad too lengthy in truth and we all felt the whole process was a shade too prolonged. When the dessert did eventually show up I was surprised to see it was a somewhat souped up version of an arctic roll! Named Kaiserschmarrn it was served alongside a spun sugar basket filled with quince sauce and chunks of the fruit. Testament to the home cooked nature of this style of cooking it was topped with squirty cream and a kumquat. I love trying this type of dish, it's one with which all Bavarians are seemingly familiar and they think fondly of it. I wanted to love it but it felt much less sophisticated and skillfully put together than the courses which had proceeded it.

I think it's the attention to detail that impresses most diners here, for example, the creamed potato served with the bread, and, as reported here one dish sees potatoes delicately fashioned into the shape of cous cous. The service was impeccable and the sommelier was a fountain of knowledge giving helpful recommendations and demonstrating a rather spectacular way of decanting and pouring the wine which had us all riveted. We chose a quite stunning Gewürztraminer to accompany the fish and pasta and were well guided as to which red would best complement the beef, the name of which I forget.

Perhaps the one thing which disappointed me was the petit fours. Given the extra lengths Schuhbeck's staff and chefs often go to in order to satisfy diners I had high hopes. They were all fairly solid and dry, I was too full by this stage anyhow.

What made up for this was the presentation of a bag containing some spice mix samples to each lady in the group as we left the restaurant. Schuhbeck also runs a spice emporium and a cookery school, Munich's answer to Rick Stein if you will.

This is perhaps not a destination of choice for those seeking cutting edge dining but it is a fine example of proving that German food is not only about sausages and beer, there is a lot more to Bavarian cuisine than you might think, though I am partial to the beer and sausages too of course!

Schuhbecks in den Südtiroler Stuben
Platzl 6
80331 München, Germany


Thanks again to Ewald for such a great Christmas meal and to Benj for the images!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Byron Burgers

Finally finally finally I managed to venture to Byron Hamburger's new (at least it was in November) branch in Soho on the site of the former Intrepid Fox, a venue which has long been asking for a new owner.

I did fear that it might not live up to my expectations as it had been so long coming but I was impressed with both the quality of the patty and the general dining experience at Byron.

When the Soho branch first opened I tweeted @byronhamburger enquiring about the launch week but I was unable to make it due to work commitments. I was even more dismayed by Thomas' multiple visits without me due to the close proximity to Byron of his Sheraton Street office. Outrageous.

At last, a quiet work day when I managed to nip out for lunch. The cheeseburger with Gruyere and courgette fries proved well worth the wait.

The fries were piping hot and delivered later than the burgers and Thomas' regular fries. They were great though, a welcome alternative to the potato chip, I'm not a huge fan of skinny fries preferring the fatter kind so this was ideal for me, light batter and chunky vegetable, a side capable of making me feel virtuous even whilst eating a burger!

The burger itself was moist and cooked perfectly medium, with a nice char to the exterior, the lettuce, tomato and cheese all hit the spot providing crunch, juice and oozing melted dairyness. The toasted bun too did not offend me as it does others, it was good, though whilst I agree the use of brioche with seeds might be preferable, I do admire the fact that Byron stick to their guns where the bap is concerned.

Thomas had the Byron burger, with the addition of bacon, as he does each time he visits, we ate in virtual silence, always a sign of enjoyment. The service was competent and pleasant and despite the fact that the place was heaving, I was back at my desk within the hour, even with the 10 minute walking time to and from Covent Garden. As fine a burger as you're likely to sample anywhere in Central London. I'll definitely be back.

Byron Hamburger @ The Intrepid Fox
97 Wardour St

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