Sunday, 31 July 2011

Trattoria Nuraghe, Tufnell Park

Another little local gem discovered. Due to location, the Tufnell Park Spaghetti House grabs any passing custom and is always packed, wander a little further up Dartmouth Park Road though and you'll find Trattoria Nuraghe, a tiny and incongruous venue, serving hearty Sardinian dishes to a loyal bunch of diners.

One Saturday evening we remembered a while back somebody recommending the place to us, at 9pm we turned up without reservation on a rainy night and we had to wait a mere 10 minutes or so before the charming and wonderfully welcoming owner, Cristiana Curreli, seated us and poured us some wine.

To start we went for a parma ham and melted fontina plate with thin crisp breads. This was fantastic and I had major envy when my bruschetta with mozzarella turned up. It was a great dish but was completely outshone by the simplicity of a plate of ham and oozing cheese. Wonderful and a superb start. We shared some olives too.

The menu is split into pizza and other mains, those dishes are mostly fishy and I couldn't resist the seafood spaghetti with squid, mussels and prawns. The portions at Nuraghe are so generous I begin to notice most tables are taking their leftovers home with them in little plastic containers. An excellent sign that 1) I can expect a huge pile of steaming pasta and, 2) it will be so good that I will not be able to leave thinking any of it might go to waste. I wasn't disappointed, the seafood was excellent, the pasta cooked al dente and I was indeed beaten and took the rest home for lunch the next day.

Thomas' main was crab meat encased in cuttlefish ravioli with tomato sauce. He's been raving about this dish and about Nuraghe ever since and with such spectacular pasta dishes we will definitely be returning to explore more of the savoury menu.

For me the desserts were a let down given the standard of the previous courses. I had the zabaglioni which had the consistency of ice cream, I felt sure this had been frozen but the berry pannacotta was a better choice, wibbly and creamy, I think perhaps I was too full up to have enjoyed another morsel at this point.

One thing's for sure, Nuraghe is a wonderful find and we will be dining here for many years to come. Loved the hospitality, the hatch through to the kitchen where the chefs can be seen , the food and the location. With one final act of generousity, a free limoncello each, I almost felt like I had been whisked off to Sardinia, then I walked out to the street into the rain and fell dramatically back down to earth.

Trattoria Nuraghe
12 Dartmouth Park Hill
Tufnell Park

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Friday, 29 July 2011

Bistro du Vin, Soho

Newcomer Bistro du Vin, Soho, is the second so far to arrive in London this year (the flagship being the Clerkenwell restaurant). The venue instantly piqued my interest being part of the 'du Vin' umbrella, the chain of elegant hotels having impressed whenever I've visited.

I am unable to attend many evening events these days due to work commitments so was sad to have missed the grand opening but I did make it along a couple of weeks ago for lunch with some colleagues.

Upon learning they have installed a josper grill here, it had to be steak all round. A fine selection of bread kicked things off as we selected a wine. I forget which, a red, a fine choice from Axel and great match for the steaks.

We were pleasantly surprised to be served an amuse, a cute little cup of gazpacho. I found it very tart, would have liked it to be a tad sweeter but it was a pleasant start.

I ordered the fillet, galloway and shorthorn cross, 250g, with peppercorn sauce (choose from this, béarnaise, sauce gascon,`cafe de Paris or garlic butter). Having ordered a medium well steak I was disappointed to find it blue in the centre. Naturally, I didn't send it back and ate it without fuss, I may yet learn to communicate dissatisfaction when eating out, though I doubt it. The accompanying frites and haricot vert were great, the sauce too, rich with that peppery kick.

My fellow diners all enjoyed theirs, other cuts tried were cumbrian rib-eye and the Donald Russell côte de boeuf.

I had to scoot back to the office for a 2pm meeting but the others all enjoyed dessert and accompanying wine. I'd definitely love to head back to explore the legendary cheese room and also for a cocktail at the bar. The sprawling room is lovely and a vast improvement on the previous occupier. Service was very attentive though at over £70 a head (for me without pud), it's not going to become a regular lunch haunt. Still a nice new addition to the ever impressive Soho dining scene.

Bistro du Vin
36 Dean Street

Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Rocksalt, Folkestone

Mark Sargeant's new venture, Rocksalt, in Kent, sees him championing local produce with a nod in particular to fish, after all, it's located right on Folkestone harbour. There have been few positive reports since the opening in June but I found much of the food I tried to be well worth the trip out of London.

The setting is picturesque, if a little industrial, Folkestone is hardly the prettiest of backdrops but the glass walled room is flooded with light and there's a sprawling deck from which to observe the creeping tide. I very much enjoyed a pre lunch Rocksalt mary with samphire vodka.

Black olive bread served with olive oil was presented shortly after the menu, which is fish heavy but offers plenty of meaty dishes too. I started with the crab dressed with harissa, sprinkled with baby coriander with toasted bread. I order crab at any given opportunity and this was a fine dish. Other starters of goatscheese with heritage tomato salad and pork pate were perhaps less successful but my Mum's order of whelks were outstanding.

Onto mains, I couldn't resist the special of lobster with aioli and beef dripping chips. The finest example of the crustacean I have ever had, beautifully tender served simply with a wedge of lemon and tomato salad. Portions are generous here, always a bonus!

Other mains enjoyed included breaded plaice and chips with mushy peas, salt marsh lamb, mackerel with green sauce and another fishy special, monkfish with peas and smoked ham. The sides are fantastic, minted peas and potato gratin deserving special mention.

Desserts were the highlight of the meal for me. My mum's favourite, Kentish gyspy tart, was a no brainer of an order and was the finest pud I've tried all year, up there with the rice pudding at Pollen Street Social. I find I so rarely rave about a sweet dish but this really is special.

Also good were rhubarb fool and elderflower jelly with creme fraiche ice cream.

Whilst the food was really very enjoyable I was slightly irritated by the service on a couple of occasions. We were asked to order desserts and later coffees with half the table in the toilet, surely they didn't think we would readily order for our fellow diners? Twice. Also, plates were cleared as my Mum was still eating, very absentminded waiting staff. They were polite however, even when a member of our party lit a cigarette on the terrace, which is non smoking.

It's early days still so some tweaks need to be made but in all the experience was an enjoyable one. 3 courses each and a few glasses of wine came to around £50 a head. Were Rocksalt closer, I would happily return. Though South Eastern high speed trains from St Pancras can have you there in under an hour.

4-5 Fishmarket
CT19 6AA

Rocksalt on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Kentish Canteen

A few years back I had an unhappy brunch experience at the shockingly named R.E.D (really excellent dining). Really excellent it was not and I was delighted to see the place has had a recent revamp, it's now called Kentish Canteen, there's new signage, new and improved staff and the menu's had a complete overhaul.

Upon entering diners are greeted with an inviting display of cakes and salads, reminding me visually and in spirit of the counter at Lantana, and the decor is bright and airy. It couldn't be more different to how it was in it's former guise. Having wandered by on numerous occasions, I live a mere 5 minutes away, I was already interested in trying the place out when I was kindly invited to do so.

To start with I sampled the crushed broad bean and feta bruschetta which is so up my street it's as if this was plonked on the menu just for me. I loved it.

Equally impressive was the tomato and mozzarella salad, up there with the finest example of the cheese I've ever tasted, this was simple perfection and portions were generous to boot.

Onto mains, there's a huge selection, the sort of menu that usually sees me kept busy for at least 15 minutes, I found it tricky to choose as many dishes appealed. In the end I settled for a salad selection, the menu recommends trying a combination of 2 as a main course. I plumped for aubergine with a tahini sauce and long stem broccoli with chilli and ginger. Both were excellent.

The best dish of the evening though was the ravioli. Cooked al dente with a creamy but light sauce and lovely cheesy ricotta and spinach filling. I was very impressed. Other dishes I saw on surrounding tables which looked good included the burger and the fried chicken, think escalope, not KFC!

We had a passion fruit cheesecake and a creme brûlée for dessert, these were ok, though the least successful of the 3 courses, then I often find that to be the case.

With a nice concise wine list and a daily changing specials board, there's something for everyone to be had here. The house red anfora rossa was good and service was lovely. In stark contrast to the laughable efforts on my last visit to the same building, fortunately that's all that Kentish Canteen shares in common with R.E.D.

New owners, Owen Crinnigan and Wendy Sinclair also own PJ’s Bar and Grill and Guanabara, in Covent Garden and I believe they have a hit on their hands here. I'll be back for more very soon.

Kentish Canteen
300 Kentish Town Road
Kentish Town

I was invited to dine at Kentish Canteen and received complimentary food and drink.

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