Thursday, 30 January 2014

January Round Up

January should be a quiet month really, but everything has kicked off for me.  Work is crazy, I need to find a new place to live in an exciting new city and I have so much still to see of London and my friends and family before I go.  I've been trying to eat myself out of the clutches of the January blues.

Starting with Rita's.  Art and I were meant to go here in December and I had to cancel because of work.  Before that, I'd intended to go to their former restaurant in Stoke Newington, but never did.  Highlights of the meal were the chilli mac & cheese (£4.50), really excellent, and the mega stinky fried cheese (munster, £4.50) served with celeriac and chutney.  Special mention to the bacon brittle, so addictive. 

Not so good things about it were that we had to wait about 20 mins for a pre booked table drinking frozen 'ritas that weren't properly frozen.  Oh and when we were seated, we were downstairs in the corner next to the loos.  More good than bad though and best thing of all is that absolutely everything, except the mac & cheese was laden with coriander. Cheap, fun and great for large groups of people, I imagine.

The Ape & Bird
I'm trying to get my fill of Sunday roasts before I leave the UK in March.  I booked last minute for Russell Norman's latest venture, The Ape & Bird, and we turned up just after noon and literally had the run of the place.  It was a really rainy day (will there ever be any others?) and it was Chinese New Year but literally, it was empty the whole time we were there.  This makes me sad because the roast was great.  Duck with kale, roast potatoes, amazing roasted onions, gravy and more gravy in a little jug.  It was dreamy.  So was the cauliflower cheese side.  Not cheap, at around £17 but absolutely worth the spend.

Check On Roast @ Dead Doll's House
My friend Molly invited me along to a chicken Sunday, one of the Check On Roast events.  I'd never been to the Hoxton Square venue before but it's a lovely place, the sun even came out for some roof terrace japes at one point.  Very decent roast chicken too.  There are plenty more events coming up, beef and pork Sunday's are also running and tickets are still available, it's really good value at £25 for 4 courses and it was a brilliant atmosphere.

Kimchinary @ Catch
Kerb regular Hanna, of Kimchinary fame, was kind enough to invite me along to the launch night of her pop up at Catch Bar in Shoreditch.  I've loved Hanna's work since the rice pudding days and am so pleased that the rest of London are now fans of her Korean tacos.  She's brilliant, you should go, you won't even have to queue!  My shock favourites on the night were the veggie tacos and you absolutely must try to Dukbokki, it comes with nduja now, even better.  I'm planning a revisit next week.  Tacos are around £6.50 for 2.

I'm genuinely not one for blowing my own trumpet, but I am proud to say that I appear in the February issue of Olive magazine which hit shelves earlier this month, with my recommendations for best value London restaurants in which to spend £10, £20 and £30.  Franco Manca, Koya Bar and Brasserie Zedel.

I've had a few of my old favourites this month too, beginning with one of my Olive recommendations, the Ile Flottante shared with Bel at Brasserie Zedel.

MeatMarket's chicken wings, a London classic, reminds me I must have monkey fingers before I go!

Not a favourite but I tried Honest's Comte, bacon ketchup and smoked onion ring special burger (£12), better than it looks here but I struggled to detect the comte, big shame.

January '14 also marked my inaugural poutine experience at Little Social, where it happened to be on the specials menu.  Hopefully plenty more where that came from in Montreal.  For those who don't know, it's Quebec's answer to the kebab.  I'm not yet convinced as this one featured not only the usual chips, gravy and curds but also jalapenos and sausage.  I promise to stick with it. 

175 mare St

Rita's on Urbanspoon

The Ape & Bird
142 Shaftesbiry Avenue
Covent Garden

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon
Check On @ Dead Dolls House
35 Hoxton Square

Kimchinary @ Catch
22 Kingsland Road

I dined as a guest of Kimchinary.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Les Deux Salons

Mini post about a casual lunch I had with my Mum. On a blustery Saturday afternoon we spontaneously sought solace at Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden.

First off, the service was amazing.  Our wonderful waitress seemed to know exactly what we wanted, be that a pot of tea to warm us up, more bread (always) or a top up of prosecco.  We settled in to a comfy booth and I wondered why I hadn't visited sooner.

There's a 2 course prix fixe menu for £12.95 available from 12-6pm.  Goats opted for that and it's amazing value, there was even a dauphinoise side thrown in.  I ordered a la carte because I couldn't resist the fish soup.

This little old thing was amazing!  It's such a simple dish but they have it bang on.  So, so good. Perfect aioli in a little side dish and a crispy crouton accompanied. I've thought about this soup a lot since. A bargain at £7.50.

My main was a little fish pie.  Plenty of smoked haddock and salmon lurking beneath what might be considered slightly burnt piped mash.  I kinda like burnt stuff so I was ridiculously happy with this course too.   Not the cheapest option on the menu (£16.95), I'll grant you, but I liked it. 

We lingered for about an hour after we'd finished eating and weren't at all rushed. This place has been open for a long time in London restaurant years, in normal years only 2 and a half.  I was surprised to like it so much as friends who have visited before never raved about it, but I was seriously impressed.  Can't help but notice a swerve towards French food in my recent dining pattern, Montreal's a calling....

I've never eaten at Demetre and Smith's other venues either, might try to squeeze one in before I leave.

Les Deux Salons
42-44 William IV Street
Covent Garden

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Peckham Bazaar

Having read this review and having eaten at a lot of restaurants with my Greek friend Art, I knew we had to try Peckham Bazaar, the alleged 'best Greek food in town', together.  So we head South one Saturday lunchtime for a belated Christmas meal with high hopes.

I'd never been to Peckham before, we wandered off of Rye Lane towards Consort Road, wondering if we'd taken a wrong turn, when we were confronted with the smell of BBQ wafting down the street.  We followed the smell and arrived at the small casual dining room.  The smell was so welcoming and the room abuzz.

Everything on the menu sounded amazing, we ordered a bottle of Greek white for around the £20 mark which was nice, crisp and fruity.  Food arrived pretty swiftly and was every bit as good as expected.

My starter was harissa marinated chicken wings with kohlrabi and pomegranate (£6.50). The grilled meat was smokey and succulent and the accompanying sauce was great.  The salad gave crunch and coolness, with a smattering of herbs, really lovely.

Art's marinated beetroot with baked feta and skordalia (£5.50) was incredible.  Whatever they'd done to this feta, I want to know how to do it. It was a relatively small portion but the quality of the ingredients and the cleverness of flavour and texture pairing made this the dish of the day, excellent starters.

My main of lamb neck fillets, with artichokes, broad beans and avgolemono (£16.50) was a mixed bag.  The meat was beautifully cooked, but it's a tough cut, my cutlery struggled to get through it in places.  The avgolemono sauce was a revelation.  Unfortunately for Sven, who I met later for dinner at MeatMarket, it was packed with garlic and stayed with me for the rest of the day, ha.  It's a lemony eggy sauce.  I was sad to have 1 solitary broad bean in the dish, substituted for new potatoes which were a fine swap.  The artichoke was good.  I was happy.

We both oohed and aahed over the beauty of Art's main course, the globe courgette stuffed with rice, pine nuts, herbs and sheeps yoghurt (£11.50).  Look how pretty is it!  It tasted as good as it looked and we were both content after finishing our mains.

Would have been nice to have been offered dessert, we weren't.  The service was charming and as we were full up we were happy to leave it at the 2 courses, but we were left to it after our dishes were cleared away.  We probably outstayed our welcome actually, being the last of the lunch diners to leave at gone 4pm.

If I find myself in the area, I will certainly pop in again.  And I hope they do exceptionally well, not that they need any help there, as the place is already a roaring success.  We paid around £30 a head for some really brilliant food.  They also got the seal of approval from Art.

Peckham Bazaar
119 Consort Rd

Peckham Bazaar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Nibs and I couldn’t believe our luck walking into Blanchette at 8pm on a Friday night and getting seats at the bar.  When does that ever happen in Soho?  I suspect it was due to lack of publicity at the time, Blanchette was a mere 2 weeks into existence and you’re not likely to be as lucky as we were, because on the quality of the food, and loveliness of the service, this place will no doubt be rammed for the foreseeable future.

They’re not taking reservations and the room is fairly small.  It’s on the site that was previously occupied by Nara on D’Arblay Street.  I realized this once inside when I saw the lazy susan.  Nara was pretty average and Blanchette is far from it.  Things started off nicely with a saucer of champagne, and many followed throughout the night.  Bread, baguette, comes in a paper bag with lovely salted butter (£2), we weren't going to get bread but the lovely lady behind the bar suggested we'd need it and I'm not the person who says no to bread.  It was excellent.

First to arrive were the goujonettes with gribiche sauce (£4).  Like little fish fingers with an eggy mayonnaise, love a hard boiled egg, love mayo.  A squeeze of lemon and a little crunch of watercress and we were away.  Next to come was the gurnard with brown butter, capers, lemon and braised baby gem (£6.50).  Nicely cooked fish in a tart but rich sauce, so far so good.

One of the most memorable things were the cheese beignets, served with an onion confit (£3.50), the confit made this but the beignets were special, cheesy and buttery and really moresish.  Great value.  These arrived with the frites with bearnaise (£3.75), perfect french fries with a classic eggy butter sauce.

Next up was the dish of the night, and the one Nibs had picked out from the start, the chargrilled chicken with white beans, savoy cabbage and smoked aioli (£6.50).  Again topped with watercress, the thigh meat was so tender and the beans provided a thick sauce for mopping up with the bread.  This was the one. 

The final savoury dish to arrive was the ox cheek bourguignon with ventrenche, a French bacon (£8).  There were little toasted soldiers too.  The meat was as cheeks should be, falling apart and the sauce was another candidate for the baguette.  Which seemed never ending. 

We ended with the chocolate pudding, with ice cream and hazelnuts, it was layers of crunchy pastry on top of a warm chocolate sauce, a little sweet for my liking but we were too full for cheese.

I absolutely adored everything I ate that night, and the whole thing would have been a steal had it not been for the £100 we spent on champagne, but we had an amazing time and I can't wait to return and try everything I didn't get chance to eat on the first occasion.  Especially the charcuterie and cheese selections. 

One thing that niggled me was the bar seating, I found the chairs really uncomfortable and I usually favour sitting at the bar.  You can see in this pic that there's something not right with them, they really dig into your back.  Anyways, it's a small gripe.  We had a brilliant evening.  I think it would be a great place for a date.  Or a large group, there's a large communal table to the rear.  Love the place.

9 D'Arblay St

Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 January 2014


This burger round up post has been a long time coming.  We've all eaten a lot of burgers in London, some great, some not so great.  Here are a few I've eaten over the last few months.

I met Art for an impromptu late Saturday lunch at Grillshack.  This was a while ago, probably November.  I confess I was surprised to read a mostly positive review from Jay Rayner in December.  I thought he'd hate the place.  Anyway, the burger itself was sound.  Ticked all the boxes, nothing remarkable, but a solid enjoyable offering.  The online app ordering thing is a bit silly, but we ordered at the counter and had no problems.  Liked the corn with lime and parmesan too, interesting amid the other more regular side dishes.  

Lucky Chip @ The Sebright Arms
I finally went to the Sebright Arms at the end of last year with Nibs and Charlie, fortunately making it in time for the speacial Breaking Bad menu.  It was awesome.  I had the Mike Ehrmantraut (£7), poor Mike, the cheese and bacon burger.  We got fries, tater tots and onion rings too.  It was a feast, it was excellent.  These burgers are up there with the best for me.  Sorry about the shit photo.

Ate this one with AV (with whom I've spent a lot of time talking about burgers) and what I recall most about this lunch is that the bun was great and the truffle parmesan fries were amazing.  The menu is slightly confusing, in that you pick a blend from the menu, such as ‘THE ORIGINAL BLEND’, ‘THE TENDER BLEND’, ‘THE BUTCHER’S CUT’.  I remember thinking "I don't know what this means and it makes me angry".  Anyway, decent burger, they're between £5 and £10, the Wardour St branch is always busy, service was a little slow, we didn't make it back by 2. 

Little Social
Hello my friend.  What January detox?!  I ate this beauty this week and it was excellent.  Perhaps I shouldn't have kicked things off with truffle risotto because I felt so full after this.  Great crispy bacon, nicely cooked meat (pink, obvs) and cracking pickles combining perfectly.  For £15 it comes with fries and a dressed side salad, slightly odd but the burger is a winner.

Five Guys
This is the Kid's favourite burger ever, so we have to agree to disagree about Five Guys because I did not love it.  I was totally confused by the ordering, who makes their diners have to specifically request lettuce and tomato in their burger?  It's like they're catering for 5 year olds who won't eat anything green.  So I neglected to add some.  I was delighted to receive somebody else's order though, because there they are, along with double patties, I obviously forgot to ask for that too.  What most upset me was the grey slices of beef.  I don't think they're patties, they're too thin.   I loved the cheese, and the ton of fries you get slung in a paper bag.  I like the monkey nuts, I love that we didn't have to queue, but I found the whole thing a bit annoying. It is cheap though, less than £10.  Sorry Kid.

I've also revisited Meatmarket, Meatliquor and Burger & Lobster, up there as my 1 and 2.  Or 1, 2 and 3, I suppose.  But then I need to include Meatmission.  Urgh.

61-63 Beak St

Grillshack on Urbanspoon

Lucky Chip @ The Sebright arms
The Sebright Arms
31-35 Coate St

Lucky Chip on Urbanspoon

187 Wardour St
Soho W1F

BRGR Co. on Urbanspoon

Little Social
5 Pollen St

Little Social on Urbanspoon

Five Guys
1-3 Long Acre
Covent Garden

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon