Tuesday, 31 December 2013

December Round Up

December being party month, as is only right, I ate my fair share of celebratory meals.  Things started off nicely with a long boozy lunch with Sarah and Hannah.

Berner's Tavern

We knew we were there for the long run and arrived for lunch at 1:15, leaving at around 10pm having propped up the bar long after we ought to have called it a night.  But it was Christmas, sort of.  The meal was excellent, my starter of potato and parsley soup with snails and black pudding (£7.50) was befitting of the setting, stunning.  Best of all was the breville toastie accompaniment.  Cheese and more black pudding lurked within.  The girls both went for the popular egg, ham and peas which looked incredible.

Fish mains all round, I had the pan roasted halibut with squid ink risotto, crispy garlic squid and rainbow chard (£24).  Each of the many components was brilliant.  I was very happy, the delicate fish was the star but was the squid ink risotto was a wonderful match.  Even better than the Fino version.

Winning dessert was Sarah's chocolate filled doughnut with cinnamon sugar and milk ice cream (£7) but special mention to the chocolate and orange rice pudding.  We were all less keen on the eclair but couldn't resist the lure of salted caramel ice cream.

We drank a lot of wine, and then a lot of cocktails.  The meal was obviously pricey, but the room is so elegant and grand that it only seems right to be paying a lot for it.  We had a ball and I love everything about the place.  Long may the Atherton empire reign.

Aqua Shard
Christmas meal number 2, this one with my Mum and Sister, we head to Aqua at the Shard for lunch with a view. 

First off I have to say that I found the service a little baffling, we were kept waiting for half an hour as they were over booked, when I asked how much longer we would be waiting, we were whisked off to a quiet area of the restaurant (where there were several other free tables for the duration of our stay) and given a bottle of champagne which was subsequently taken away.  They were all over the place.

Anyway, on to the food, we were given 3 servings of bread, which was very good, 2 kinds of butter, salted and smoked.  My starter of green pea custard with foie gras (£14) was nice but not wow.  The kid's salmon and crab (£12) and my Mum's beet and curd salad (£7.50) looked better.

My scallop main was very pretty but for £28 I thought it lacked something.  There was a liberal use of pea shoots on most dishes, I felt for the prices they're charging, the food was not quite up to scratch.  Other mains of lamb saddle (£29) and pearl barley risotto (£16) were better, I think I ordered badly.  We skipped dessert as we had well and truly filled up on bread, but all had coffees. 

I had expected an all day brunch type menu, I find it odd ordering from an a la carte menu at 2pm on a Saturday, but again, maybe it's just me.  Most people rave about this place, but for me, the jury's out.  I would like to revisit before writing it off but I found the meal instantly forgettable.  Shame given that it was such a special meal with my fam. 

A completely different experience followed, a really excellent meal which perhaps shouldn't have, but did take me by surprise.  Sarah, Hannah and I were invited to dine at the all day brasserie venue in King's Cross.  None of us had eaten there before and didn't have much of an idea what to expect.

My quail starter was excellent, served on pumpkin (mashed and roasted) with pancetta and sage.  Breast and leg were both cooked to perfection, it was an exciting start to the meal.

I was even happier with my venison main course, served with red cabbage, cauliflower and peppercorn sauce, again the meat was cooked perfectly and each ingredient combined to make a well thought out dish which really delivered on flavour.  I was happy.

Things ended on an even higher note with the Vacherin cheesecake.  I'm not typically a cheesecake kind of girl, but we were all digging into this and largely ignoring the hot chocolate pot.  It was incredible.

It's refreshing to have such a good dinner at a place that had previously not been on my radar.  I'd be interested to try breakfast here too, the menu reads very well.

We dined as guests of Karpo

I managed to bag a table for 2 on opening night for a try of the schnitzel and spritz on offer at Boopshi's.  So it's a little niche, I went thinking if they're offering such a limited menu, it had better be good, and authentic.  And it was.

We went wiener with the schnitzel for £14.50, I wanted to add an egg, as I always would if the option is there, but this is not authentic, I'm told.  The meat was thin, the breadcrumb crisp and I love a netted lemon.  The bratwurst (£6) tasted just as I remember them in Bavaria, though it was luke warm and would have benefitted from a little longer on the grill.  Bonus points for serving sweet mustard with it though.

Sides of kasespaetzle (£3.50) sauerkraut mit speck (£4.50) and potato salad (£3.50) were all good, and the spritz' are excellent, and huge priced between £7.50 and £9.50.  They also have prosecco on tap, excellent.  Desserts are few, kaiserschmarrn (£6) was almost there but not quite how I recall it, it needed caster sugar and a lot more icing sugar and I've had it a splodge of cream alongside the fruit which I think it benefits from.  Love what they're doing.  I hope they do well and will be interested to see where they take the menu in future.

One Leicester Street
Having taken over the venue from the St Johns Hotel, I've seen lots of snaps on Instagram recently of amazing looking dishes in the restaurant here, and even better looking drinks in the upstairs bar.  Art and I headed there for our last meal together in 2013 on a shockingly rainy night.  Sheltering from the weather upstairs we ordered gin martinis which were eventually served down at our table.  They're sort of self assemble though, which threw us off a bit.  We know how to drink them, but when it comes to mixology, we're happy to leave it to the pros. 

Onto the food, my starter of crab, fennel and rye cracker (£9.50) was great.  Lots of dark meat and a smattering of dill.  Couple of bits of shell in my first few mouthfuls.  Art's ham was also good and a generous portion.

I was very pleased with my choice of main, venison, white bean and kale (£20).  It was perfect for a dismally dark evening, the beans beat me though.  Art's chicken and leek pie (£17.50) was equally good, really tasty.  So far, so hearty.

I knew I needed the brown butter tart (£7) for dessert, there was never any doubt, and Art preferred the chocolate, honeycomb and violet (£8.50) which worked out very well for us both.  

The menu is very short and a tad confusing, separated into fish, offal/meat and veg with small and large plates categorised by main ingredient.  I guess I ought to loosen up but I prefer a more traditional structure.  You know where you are with starters and mains.

Service was a little brisk and the restaurant was not full, unlike the bar upstairs which was packed.  I'm glad I've ticked it off the list, but wouldn't rush back.

Berner's Tavern
The London Edition
Berner's St

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Aqua Shard
The Shard, St Thomas St
London Bridge

Aqua Shard on Urbanspoon

23 Euston Road
King's Cross
We dined as guests of Karpo 

Karpo on Urbanspoon

31 Windmill Street

Boopshis on Urbanspoon

One Leicester Street
1 Leicester St
Leicester Square

One Leicester Street on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Ember Yard

New openings in Soho remain so regular that it's tough to keep up.  I hope Montreal is even half as exciting.  In December alone, Bistro Blanchette, Jackson and Rye, House of Ho and Ember Yard opened their doors.  That's one a week. 

Nice to see the Salt Yard Group expanding, Emily and I visited Ember Yard on a Tuesday night, snagging a last minute booking, we were seated at the bar close to the kitchen.

Perusing the cocktail menu (£10 a pop), they all appealed but I opted for the Il Profumo di Maria as recommended by our particularly friendly waitress.  It looked beautiful and whilst a little sweeter than I'd expected, it tasted the part too.  Vodka with elderflower, violets, prosecco and cherry smoke, it's served in a lidded glass, the smoke escaping as you take a first sip, it's gimmicky but I totally fell for it.  Tasted like parma violets. 

It's a tapas style menu, 2-3 small plates per person are recommended, the focus of the menu are dishes cooked in the charcoal oven, and as the name suggests, smoke is a running theme.  Here's what we ate:-

Crispy chiperones with capers and sage (£3.25) a real bargain.

Smoked chorizo skewers with saffron aioli (£2.50 each) this was amazing.

Whipped lardo crostini with guindilla (4 of these for £4), very crispy.

Octopus with pepperonata and mojo verde aioli (£8.25).  This was expensive for
the portion size, good octopus but my least favourite dish on the night.

Courgette flowers with goats cheese and honey (£7.95).  
Best I've ever had, excellent cheese and a good amount of it.

Quince glazed Iberico pork ribs with celeriac puree (£6.50).
The other most memorable dish.  Meat falling off the bone with
a sweet and smoky glaze.  Loved them.

Salt Marsh lamb with roasted aubergine and salsa verde (£8.25).  
Nice, but no match for the pork rib.

Valrhona chocolate ganacha with salted caramel cream (£6.25).
Cleverly recommended with a glass of pedro ximenex at £6.50 a glass 
which I challenge anyone to resist.  This was a wonderful end to the meal.

I hugely enjoyed the evening at Ember Yard, stand out dishes were mostly meaty, but dessert is the thing that has stuck with me.  I rarely rave about sweet dishes but this was really special.  Emily's pairing of brown butter panna cotta with a glass of frangelico looked equally impressive. 

It wasn't a cheap meal, but the cooking was worth the spend, the atmosphere of the place was warm and inviting (save a couple of smashed crockery moments) and it's much bigger than I expected with a large bar downstairs.  Having Ember Yard on Berwick, makes Soho even more exciting.  I shall miss it. 

Ember Yard
60 Berwick St

Ember Yard on Urbanspoon

Friday, 27 December 2013

Le Coq

I have to confess, I didn't even pause to read anything about the opening of this place in the summer, mentally placing it in the 'another forgettable rotisserie chicken restaurant' category.  But having read this report of a meal at Le Coq, it shot to the top of my restaurant list and I hastily made arrangements to visit in December.

Le Coq is a small neighbourhood type restaurant in Highbury and Islington.  It's no reservations, is a tiny dining room and is closed on Monday's so I feared we might be in for a long wait on the Tuesday evening we visited, but actually we only waited for around 20 minutes with a nice bottle of Reisling to keep us company.

The menu changes regularly, mostly on a weekly basis, you can check what's on via the website.   There are 2 starters to choose from and the accompaniments to the main event, rotisserie Sutton Hoo chicken are always interesting, these change weekly too.  Sides remain the same and there's always a choice of ice cream or a tart for pud.  I love the simplicity of it.  Here's what we ate:

 Starter 1 - raw smoked haddock with bergamot, really fishy but refreshing 
and fragrant with the citrusy hit of the fruit

 Starter 2 - we both preferred this, the roasted cauliflower, grumulo 
and pomegranate salad.  The creamy dressing was tangy and earthy 
with a subtle curry flavour, so so good.

Main course - the chicken came with brussel sprouts, pancetta and polenta.
Gravy is served on the side in a little jug, and it's excellent.  A nice sprinkling
of parsley on top, succulent meat and amazing veggies.  LOVED IT.

Sides - we couldn't resist the rotisserie potatoes for an extra £3.75.  We were beaten
 though because we also got the bread (£2.50) to mop up 
the gravy but both sides were brilliant, a lovely peppery
 green olive oil also came with the bread.

We shared the amalfi lemon and ginger tart for dessert, 
lovely and tart with a splodge of creme fraiche on the side.

The service was lovely and for such great quality food the price of £17 for 2 courses, or £22 for 3 is an absolute bargain.  Wines are mostly between £20 and £30, also great value.  I can't recommend the place enough, it's one of the nicest meals I've had this year.

Since this meal, I have done nothing but rave about the place, asking all my friends if they've been, or if they want to go, I cannot wait for a return visit.

294 St Paul's Road
Highbury & Islington

Le Coq on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 December 2013

Cafe Murano

Angela Hartnett's Murano has been serving fine if rather fancy Italian food since 2008 and just last month saw the opening of little sister restaurant, Cafe Murano, round the corner on St James' St.

I visited on a Thursday night and when booking was pleased to see you can choose either table or bar eating at online reservation stage.  Love that.  We propped up the bar and got stuck in to a hearty 4 courser.

Dinner began with some incredible focaccia, we had 3 servings throughout the evening, with some dark green peppery olive oil to dunk the bread into.  It's pillowy centred, flavored with rosemary and sea salt and it has the most amazing crispy crust.  Some of the nicest bread I've ever eaten and I love my bread.

We couldn't resist the truffle arancini (£3) from the cicheti section of the menu, which was served swiftly alongside our aperitifs, gin martini for Art and a lemony champagne cocktail for me, forget the name of it, but it was brilliant.  Then we ordered pasta dishes for primi, which frankly, is what we were there for.

For me, rabbit pappardelle (£11) which was everything I'd hoped it would be.  Rich meaty sauce and the freshest pasta, perfectly cooked, of course.  Art was marginally less pleased with her wild boar fettuccini as the meat was almost diced, or minced, it's a small gripe, I tried it and it certainly tasted the part.

Onto secondi and I ordered the ox cheek on polenta (£19.50), I was torn between this and the risotto milanese with osso buco but was ultimately pleased with my choice.  The tender meat on a bed of creamy runny polenta, was like a plate of comfort, perfect for a grim wintery night, and just what I needed after a shitty day at work.

The pork chop was similarly well received and greedos that we are, we also had roasted root vegetables and potatoes, which we barely made a dent in, but they were excellent.  I could just about manage a scoop pf fig sorbet for pud (£4) which wasn't sweet enough for my liking and a spoonful of Art's tiramisu, which was fantastically boozy.

After a couple more drinks, we left feeling content and full up.  We spent a little more than usual, about £80 each but the food is worth every penny and here I find myself making that old familiar impossible statement, I'd like to think I'll be able to revisit before I ship off to Canada, but it's now looking less and less likely as the days go by and my list of places to squeeze in before March grows longer and longer.  I might have to start having 2 dinners.....

Cafe Murano
33 St James' Street

Cafe Murano on Urbanspoon