Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cinquecento (500), Archway

I've been literally yearning to visit 500, or Cinquecento, if you're feeling the Italian vibe and last week I finally managed to snag a table by booking weeks in advance for a Tuesday evening.

I'll say right away that my expectations were verging on unreasonable owing to multiple failed attempts to book a table, it's always fully booked it seems, surely a good sign? That coupled with the addition of 500 to this year's Michelin Bib Gourmand list, recognising good food at moderate prices, and the fact that it's a mere 5 minute stroll from my front door meant I was filled with anticipation and on the night was slightly over excited.

We arrived on a blustery night, were warmly welcomed and shown to our table. The room is small yet manages to feel spacious, the kitchen is tucked away at the back with the entrance protected by a double door so that the grim Holloway Road location is not noticeable.

We began with a few snacks, these are presented on a menu with the wine list. Some wonderful green olives and a small mozzarella caprese salad were delivered swiftly alongside a basket of bread, the highlight of which was the moist and salty black olive bread. Everyone gets the bread, there's plenty of it and the variety is impressive.

I wanted a pasta to start followed by a meaty main so I plumped for the ragu filled ravioli to be followed by rabbit. The ravioli is one of the finest and most accomplished pasta dishes I have tasted, perfectly cooked, a generous amount and a rich and sweet tomato sauce. I was over the moon with my starter. Thomas went for the parma ham and asparagus and was unimpressed with the quality of the ham, perhaps the wrong time of year to order an asparagus dish, it came topped with a generous scattering of shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic.

All courses were very thoughtfully spaced, and despite the fact that they are cooking to order there were no lengthy waits and our drinks were regularly topped up. As our mains arrived the smell of my rabbit dish was incredible. It also looked very pretty, the legs prettily scattered with the olive and tomato accompaniment sitting atop the perfectly crisp potatoes with just the right amount of the rich sauce. I must say I find eating off the bone a fairly unhappy experience sometimes but the rabbit was very good, if a little tricky to get at. Rustically presented and again a very generous amount of everything.

Thomas was less impressed with his dish of gnocci dumplings in tomato sauce, I think it needed something else, there was a topping of parmesan and arguably this might be a better starter choice but there was little about it to elevate it above good home cooking. We also ordered a bottle of Traos Nieddu which was one of the cheaper of the wines listed which range in price from £13-£30.

I was tempted by the tiramisu from the fairly concise and classic Italian dessert menu. It was a fine example, a thick dusting of cocoa and a light booze soaked sponge with marscapone. It's hard to go far wrong with tiramisu really. Thomas was once again disappointed with his choice, the tart of the day which was lemon doused in strawberry sauce. I found the combination strange and lacking in citrus flavour.

In all my experience was drastically different to my companions but I would highly recommend you try Cinquecento, a gem in the otherwise culinary wasteland that is Archway. The pasta is to die for and for all this we paid only £64, I can't remember the last time I was so pleasantly surprised at bill time. Remarkable value, I can see myself returning often to sample more of chef Mario Magli's offerings.

783 Holloway Rd
N19 3JH

500 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Bar Pepito

It is with sadness that I admit to being a sherry novice, my experiences so far limited to drinking Tio Pepe at this wonderful event at Camino and a fantastic XO recommended by Brian at Rules. Many declare sherry to be the best accompaniment to food because the fino variety can be matched to any food, unlike some wines.

Fortunately I will now be able to so something about my ignorance with the arrival of London's first sherry bar. I was delighted to hear about the opening of Bar Pepito, it's admittedly an interesting USP. An authentically Andalucian drinking experience to be had right here in rainy London? Sign me up! The bar opened on Friday evening to the public and I was fortunate enough to attend a preview evening.

On the night my expectations were far exceeded and I am certain that this place will be a roaring success. Whatever your sherry preference you will find something to suit (they also serve other booze but, trust me, you won't even think of it).

I was fortunate enough to spend much of the evening chatting to Andrew Sinclair of Gonzalez Byass (with whom Camino are embarking upon this new venture) learning a little about sherry production processes whilst eating some fantastically delicious canapes including this carpaccio of venison.

Other never ending nibbles circling the room included some excellent crab and cod canapes, a tomato tartare, generous boards of chorizo, cheeses, and plate after plate of the amazing Jamón ibérico pata negra, expertly hand carved before us. The nuttiness and creaminess of these tiny cuts of meat simply have to be tried.

I loved the combination of the Valdeón Asturias blue cheese with the Noe González Byass, a 30 year old Pedro Ximenez. There are few greater pleasures in life than experiencing such perfectly matched flavours. A strong blue cheese paired with a sweet fortified wine, grapes dried in the sun to provide a sweeter and stickier flavour and a darkly golden colour. It was a heady evening, the beautiful quaint little room was full to the brim and both the heat and atmosphere were authentically stifling.

In the summer this will be an amazing venue at which to wile away the evening spilling out onto the courtyard between Bar Pepito and Camino for some much needed air. The room itself is lovingly decorated with photos and posters making it every inch like the sherry bars in Spain to which it is paying homage. Exposed brick work and tiled mosaic flooring adding to the vibe.

I had the most amazing evening on Thursday and will definitely be back, very soon. Finally a reason to visit King's Cross on a regular basis. I'm drinking a fino whilst I write this, looking out on the rain and it's just not the same somehow.

Click here to see their fine list of sherries available for between £3 and £8 a glass.

And if sherry is not your thing, something on the food menu perhaps? If you've not already tried it, you need this Jamón ibérico in your life. They are initially open Wednesday to Saturday from 5pm until midnight.

Bar Pepito
Varnisher's Yard
The Regent Quarter
King's Cross
N1 9DF

I attended the press evening as a guest of Bar Pepito

Bar Pepito on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Boo in Kent - The Carpenter's Arms

Mother's Day lunch, the Kid was charged with finding the venue and selected The Carpenter's Arms a recently renovated hotel/gastropub in the very town from which I hail. I have eaten here on a number of occasions when visiting the family but have never felt the need to post about it owing to being disappointed by the food. I recall a particularly lousy Thai green curry with prawns.

This time however I was pleased to see that the quality of the food is much improved and everyone seemed pleased with their dishes. I ordered the garlic prawns which came rustically presented on a wooden board with salad and roasted vine tomatoes.

I liked how it looked and the prawns were meaty in texture and sweet in taste. There was none of the advertised garlic though. They tasted unmarinated and unseasoned. Could have done with a chilli kick. I was actually grateful for the blandness of it all really owing to a stonking hangover. I wasn't given a finger bowl so made an ungodly mess of things. The bread was a bit stale.

Various roast dinners were ordered around the table, beef and chicken, all of which seemed to go down well. I will note that I have now decided not to order roast dinners in pubs due to the constant disappointment I encounter when I do succumb. One day I will find a place that satisfies, I was rather taken with Lizzie's account of The Anchor and Hope which is a firm favourite of my best friend Nibs. Must go there. Also I really like the idea of this blog documenting Sunday roasts tried and tested in (mostly) north London, my neck of the woods. Must try the roast on offer at the Bull and Last (website still in progress....)

Anyhow, I thought the potatoes needed to be browner, I think it's unforgivable to serve anaemic roasties, they do this every Sunday and should know how long they need to be in the oven by now, no? No excuses.

Perhaps don't bother to look at their website which is littered with grammatical and spelling errors and annoyingly doesn't have the menu on it. Despite all this I think there is potential here, the service was fine, there are a lot of waiters and they all seem very attentive and eager to serve you well. It was very busy, usually a good sign and the place ticks all the boxes aesthetically, wooden floors and quirky furniture of varying shapes and sizes. There's a nice bar where there is also food served. I think with a few finishing touches the place can be a success. Tonbridge is otherwise a bit of a culinary wasteland.

The Carpenter's Arms
3 Elm Lane
Tonbridge, Kent

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Bizarrely, I felt the need for ice cream on a particularly cold Saturday in March. As luck would have it I was in Covent Garden so took myself and the girls along to Scoop for gelato.

I've been wanting to visit for sometime but due to the ridiculously long queues in the summer have never been. I did struggle to actually hold and eat the ice cream on such a cold day but it was well worth the brain freeze. The flavours I tried were pistachio puro di Bronte (made using nuts from Bronte, a town near Sicily) and caramel. Both were similar in colour which caused me a little confusion but both were delightfully creamy and strong in flavour. I got a tub with 2 scoops for £2.50.

Very nice, slightly more satisfying on a scorcher of a day I imagine if you can be arsed to brave those lenghty queues. Good news is that a second venue in Soho is imminent.

Scoop Fine Italian Gelato on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 March 2010

Italian Graffiti

One Saturday I found myself roaming the streets of Soho in want of some eats with mother dearest. We'd just been to see Gorgeous George in Up in the Air. I'd expected to hate it. I didn't hate it but I found myself thinking about what we might eat for dinner for approximately 80 of the 90 minutes. I'm outraged it's nominated for 6 Oscars.

Anyhow, it's always quite tricky when eating with my Mum, she's not the most patient of people, neither am I when I'm hungry, like mother like daughter! No queues then. We mooched up Wardour Street, it was cold, pretty late and we wandered into Italian Graffiti. (Do check out the website, it's funny, what is that music!?)

So we were seated immediately, service is pretty good, the place is overwhelmingly loud, awful acoustics, we could barely hear each other. I ordered the salad tricolore and Mum had the special salad.

Basic, simple, no frills food is what to expect here. The salad was pretty bog standard, the sort of thing you could rustle up with your eyes closed at home. Better was the pizza bread which comes with each salad. It had a good umami rich tomato sauce and a nice charred crust. A fairly generous amount too, we got 1 basket each.

We went for a carafe of pinto grigio and couldn't resist desserts, I had the interestingly spelled bonoffi pie and Mama went for the creme caramel, her ultimate favourite. I was impressed with the quality of the puds actually. Again though lacking a wow factor. Cheap at least, totalling less than £30.

An evening of low expectations and underwhelming performances.

Italian Graffiti
163 Wardour Steet

Italian Graffiti on Urbanspoon