Thursday, 29 January 2009

Joy Food

Yesterday I lunched at Joy Food in Soho. I used to work within a 10-minute walk of Soho and would regularly head that way come lunchtime however, now working further south it has become an unfortunately all too rare occurrence. My job will, for the next few weeks, take me there more frequently and I am looking forward to once again sampling some of Soho’s culinary pleasures. I’m particularly looking forward to trying Fernandez and Wells where they feel ‘it’s important to make the customers feel at home’. Ah, how nice.

Anyway, Joy Food. Situated on the midst of the Berwick St Market I resisted the urge to nip into Flat White for one of their superb coffees (Thomas was given a magnificent coffee maker for Christmas btw so we are fast becoming coffee aficionados and have found Flat White to be virtually unbeatable in London).

Joy Food was surprisingly quiet when 6 colleagues and I showed up at 1ish having trekked there in the rain. The food they offer is the homely comfort kind, in large portions, wraps, burgers, meatballs, lasagna, fishcakes etc. The generous portioning a result of the fact that they are also open for dinner.

I had the chicken and vegetable salad which was very nicely presented with the ubiquitous rocket, parmesan and balsamic syrup drizzle. Curiously there was dressing on the chicken and not the salad leaves and the vegetables constituted aubergine, courgette and sun dried tomatoes. These were very nice, a little on the oily side (probably because they were jarred or pre packed in olive oil) but still tasty.

The chicken wrap comes served with fries and a side salad and looked to be a winner but is for those with a larger appetite. I shall return but not in a hurry, £6 to eat in, without a drink and the wait was fairly long for lunchtime. The bench style seating seems to be taking London by storm and, as seen here, it creates a relaxed and friendly atmosphere where communication with strangers is positively encouraged. Joyous indeed.

Joy Food
11 Berwick Street

Joyfood on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


When it comes to food, there are few things I crave. And, by this, I mean actually yearn for and dream about. My list of these things would always have to include feta cheese and crisps.

Even as a child I always coveted savoury snacks above sweets. My favourites as a youngster included Quavers and salt and vinegar Squares. Now, with a rather more refined taste, my most desired of all crisps has to be the Jonathan Crisp brand.

I chanced upon these by sheer luck in the Muswell Hill branch of Planet Organic when finding myself in need of a snack. I, since that first experience, would literally count down the days until my next trip to the area.

They offer a vast array of interesting and unusual flavour combinations, my favourite being (a twist on the classic) Mature cheddar and Red Onion. The actual crisps have the potato skin remaining around the outside and a deep crispness, making the texture very substantial when taking a bite. They never melt like the delicate Skip, or become a sticky gooey mess like the humble Wotsit. These are grown up crisps, one might even use that word, gourmet!

They are marketed as ‘crisps for snobs’ and the packaging alone sets them apart from the more old school offerings from the likes of Walkers and Smiths (famed for their salt ‘n’ shake and ultimately brought out by Walkers). Other varieties like Burts or Kettle Chips use the same foil packet with a matte exterior in often pastel hues which somehow achieve a kind of organic aesthetic. I like this. I also like how the better brands on the market sometimes achieve a little clumped together cluster of crisps or an individual one folded over to provide several layers or crunch in one hit!

To my horror, on my last trip to Planet Organic, I found they no longer stock Jonathan Crisp. I sought them out online and, to my delight, they will ship within the UK if you’re happy to buy in bulk. I do savour the taste of these in the true sense of the word and with Valentines Day coming up……..

What are you favourite crisps?

Tufnell Park Kebab (sorry)

On Saturday night we had hoped to have dinner at the re-opened Hawley Arms, fair enough, last ditch attempts to book a table were a little on the wishful side so we arrived, nonetheless, and found a table. We grabbed a menu and were told that the kitchen was closed, half an hour before the advertised time. Even this was fine, we were peckish but could cope with focussing on drinking for the evening and address the food issue later (then, the table was literally whisked out from under our feet).

This was never going to be a cosy, feet up leisurely affair, that’s why we went there! It was fairly easy to snag a table at which to continue drinking because we arrived before the queue formed and a jolly good time was had by all. Copious amounts of gin later and we were out on our ear. It occurred to the group (Thomas and I and the visiting Kid and Crann) that we had been hungry several hours ago and the cashews, hula hoops and wotsits had barely touched the sides!

Now, I am slightly loath to review the Tufnell Park Kebab and, as I’ve mentioned before, it was once an all too regular haunt on route home. We had to wean ourselves off. They even gave us a Christmas present, a mug and a card, bless them.

Reluctant as I am to tell all, it seemed like the best idea ever in the early hours of Sunday morning! After an evening drinking the only thing for it is a carb fest and I had exactly that with hummus, chips and salad in a pitta bread, I usually opt for the grilled halloumi but felt his time that chips with ketchup were an absolute must.

The chips here are proper chip shop chips, I’m not claiming freshness, I have no doubt at all that they are frozen but they are gloriously thick and soggy, not everyone’s cup of tea but exactly what I require in a chip.

The fact that they also serve regular fish and chip shop food is the reason, cod, saveloy, pies, chicken pieces, as well as traditional kebabs are all to be found here.

Thomas went for the usual, chicken shish with chips. We’ve, thankfully, not yet reached the stage where we can order ‘the usual’ but the guys do always ask me if I would like hummus, as they know I like it! Ha.

Chicken shish too for Crann and chips and salad in pitta for the Kid, who, as usual, ate very little and, at the time was accused of making it look absolutely vile, in a way that only the Kid knows how! With retrospect, how great can chips in pitta bread covered in mayo with a sprinkling of red cabbage and cucumber ever look?

The sauce options for the kebab are limited to chilli or garlic, both of which are acceptable. The whole thing is infinitely satisfying at the time but guilt inducing in the sense not only that it provides pretty much zilch in terms of nutrients but also that I feel I’ve let myself down by eating this kind of food.

Am I a snob? I can admit that I loved it at the time even if I was a little bloated, so at least i'm not in denial. The memories of watching an episode of Rogue Traders once upon a time which focused on these kinds of outlets was not even enough to deter me it seems. Perhaps the alcohol is the answer. Ho hum, it was done.

2/10 (ouch)
Tufnell Park Kebab
Unsurprisingly not one of London's Urbanspoon outlets

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Last night, like drunken fools we once again darkened the doorway of Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

After debating the culinary woes of London we head for the place that we know will always deliver, over the last year or so, GBK has become our trusty (if somewhat messy) friend.

I have been known to complain about GBK in the past, my previous post about the burgers at Haché outlined some of my issues, but I have to agree with Thomas and concede that GBK does deliver something that no other burger place in London can seem to equal.

Last night I went for the Garlic Mayo burger. A 100% Aberdeen-Angus Scotch beef burger with fresh garlic mayo, salad, mayonnaise & relish. The garlic mayo is green which alarmed me slightly when first encountered but it’s delicious and very potent, not one for a first date perhaps but, luckily for me, Thomas and I are equally fond of the stuff.

The burger, the bun, the salad, the relish, all of the basic constituents of a humble beef burger here work together to provide the diners with an exceptional eating experience.

I was earlier reading this blog post from Intoxicating Prose about the dismal encounter Douglas had with a supposedly ‘Gourmet’ burger at the Wincanton Races. I’ve never had a good burger from a trailer it must be said however, the fact that such a pitiful standard of food is being marketed as gourmet here in the UK (never mind at a high brow event) is a travesty. I agree with Thomas that food here is a mere afterthought for most people who silently accept such offerings because they know no better.

I heartily recommend everyone try GBK which never fails to disappoint, Thomas had the Avocado Bacon burger and, as usual, there were no qualms to be had.

We shared an over flowing bowl of fries which were perfectly crisp and fluffy in the centre. They didn’t bat an eyelid when we requested tap water either, this is always pleasing and notably far more common and accepted in New York than it is here in London.

They are pretty messy eats but I find cutting the burger in half helps greatly and burgers are kind of supposed to be messy. The minimal décor is nothing more than clean but this is all it needs to be. This is still fast food but at it’s very best. Ooh, they have a 2-4-1 offer on at the moment, download a voucher from their website. I challenge anyone to eat 2 but failing that, take a friend and half the cost, the best burgers in town and cheap, unbeatable!

3-14 Maiden Lane

Gourmet Burger Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Boo in New York – Gyu Kaku

This is the last of my New York posts....

New Year’s Eve in New York is not the most enjoyable occasion when experiencing sub zero temperatures because most of the fun is to be had outdoors. We joined the runners in Central Park (as spectators only of course) and could barely feel our feet standing in the snow watching the fireworks.

Beforehand we had dinner at Gyu Kaku as it was close in proximity to our hotel, it was literally so cold that this was the major factor in selecting the venue. Turning once again to the trusty Zagat guide we booked a table for 10pm. After drinks in the lobby at The Waldorf we braved the cold and ordered champagne cocktails upon arrival.

We were seated opposite the kitchen and the ambiance of the place was very lively with staff and diners all in high spirits. The deal with Gyu Kaku is that you grill your own food at the table and, not really knowing what to choose, we went for the Takumi Course for 2 to share.

To our delight, there was an abundance of food; first up Miso soup and edamame beans (2 of my favourite things!) and a ‘Gyu Kaku’ signature salad (featuring eggs with a miso, soy and mustard dressing). All of these were very good.

Then some ahi-poke (like tuna sashimi but in small cubes), possibly the most tender, melt-in-the-mouth tuna I have ever tasted. Ahi-poke originates from Hawaii and the name refers to the accompaniments, which can vary enormously, we got some very potent wasabi, strips of carrot and some ginger.

Next up came the dishes for the grill, we had prawns (butterflied for even cooking), 3 varieties of beef with different sauces and a delicious mushroom medley which, we were informed, would puff up (the foil wrap) when cooked to perfection. The sauce on the mushrooms was particularly notable, it was very salty and complimented the mushrooms perfectly.

All this was accompanied by a rather huge bowl of spicy sticky rice with chicken. I was very excited when this arrived as I adore this kind of dish but being served in a sizzling hot bowl meant that it went very dry because it continued to cook as it sat at the table, ending up like a crispy fried rice. Still, it was good, we asked for it to be spicy and it was sufficiently so.

We also had green tea and dessert in the form of a pancake – also intended for the grill – some creamy ice cream and a marshmallow for toasting, i'm a sucker for toasted marshmallows!

I don’t know whether it was the pre-dinner gin, the champagne cocktails, the holiday atmosphere or the food but I absolutely loved this meal. The concept is fairly simple and has been tried and tested elsewhere but this was, by my standards, exceptional. Everything was exceedingly fresh, and cooked exactly to your liking because you’re doing it yourself! Service was very efficient and helpful but not intrusive and I felt none of the post meal bloat that I had become somewhat accustomed to in New York! Something like this would be a resounding success in London.

Gyu Kaku
803 3rd Ave, NY

Gyu-Kaku on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Da Mario

Thomas and I made meatballs earlier this week and agreed they were the best we’ve ever made, I’d go as far as to say the best I’ve ever eaten in fact.

Italian food is definitely my favourite cuisine and last summer on holiday in Italy I had some of the finest food I’ve ever eaten. I see that London Eater is running a poll to gauge favourite cusines. Italian gets my vote. I’m not certain that I have the eloquence to explain in words exactly why I love Italian food so much. At its core there are the fine ingredients, pastas, fish (I had a fantastic lobster spaghetti in Venice that was a particularly memorable example of both these things working perfectly together), olives and oils, cheeses, vegetables and meats. Then on top of that there are the typical Italian dishes such as pizza, ragu, gelato, tiramisu, popular among the diets of most people on the planet! We took these pictures at a food market in Venice.

Chefs and Food Writers flock to the shores of Italy in search of the finest delicacies and my most desired cookbook at the moment is Tessa Kiros’ ‘Venicia: Food of Dreams’. I love Kiros’ books, I have both ‘Falling Cloudberries’ and ’Apples for Jam.’ They are beautiful and inspiring works and they really capture on the page the sense that memories of food really can cast you back to treasured times past. Kiros’ cooking is incredibly diverse with parents and grandparents from various countries who all liked to cook and were true to their origins in the recipes they passed onto her.

My food roots are stuck much more firmly in Britain and experimenting with flavours and trying new things has come to me quite late in life by comparison. I think that’s why I love food so much, because at a certain point I became aware that there was so much I had never tried.

Da Mario, a quaint little restaurant on Endell Street in Covent Garden serve the finest Italian food I’ve tasted in the city. On my last visit I had Bruscetta to start followed by Penne Arrabiatta.

The starter was quite exquisite. Great quality, fresh ingredients are of the essence with Bruschetta and Da Mario did not disappoint. The tomatoes were juicy and vibrant in both colour and flavour. A killer combination with the fragrance of the basil and crunch of the bread. The penne was cooked to perfection and the spicy tomatoey sauce was faultless, prompting food envy from Thomas when his sausage pasta arrived (though this too was very good).

To master these dishes may seem fairly simple but having sampled many bad versions it’s reassuring to see them being done so well in an authentic Italian restaurant right here in London. At the risk of sounding gushing; it is also very reasonably priced.

I first ate at Da Mario with some Italian colleagues and have returned on many occasions since knowing that despite the cosy size of the place, the owners will always manage to accommodate you, the service here is exceptional. A trusted and reliable Italian just around the corner from work, what more does one need? Another holiday there perhaps!

Da Mario
63 Endell St

Da Mario on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Boo in New York – Rub BBQ

Wondering aimlessly around Times Sq in search of New York cheesecake we felt a sudden urge for something savoury instead, so changed tack, got a cab to Chelsea and lunched at Rub BBQ.

Having visited Bodeans in London’s Soho I was keen to try a more authentic American BBQ experience and on the recommendation of NYC Food Guy thought that RUB BBQ would no doubt be the people to help.

RUB standing for ‘Righteous Urban Barbeque’ implying that to eat here is morally correct and therefore a must. Perusing the menu was a bit of a minefield with dishes like ‘The King of King’s,’ ‘Puttin’-on-the-Dog,’ ‘B.L.F.G.T.’ and ‘The Elvis Crusher’ appearing with little explanation as to the actual content. I considered going for a sandwich but in the end we selected ‘The Baron’ a meat platter to share. We did ask the waitress if this was wise, she said we had made a good choice as you get a bit of everything and 2 large sides, we chose fries and onion strings.

The onion strings were a marvel, crunchy and oniony without being too fatty and the chips too, which were thicker than the average fries with some potato skin left on them. Each table is provided with 2 bottles of sauce when the food arrives, a barbeque sauce and a spicy barbeque sauce, which was not particularly spicy but both sweet and smoky so it did the job.

'The Baron’ itself was an awe-inspiring sight. The table was barely big enough.

Some onlookers bid us good luck when they saw what we had ordered. I began with the ribs (top middle of the picture) and worked my way around clockwise, sampling each of the offerings, turkey, beef, ham, pulled pork (centre), sausage (which was surprisingly very spicy), pastrami (far left) and lastly the chicken. I was pleased to see the addition of some crinkle cut gherkins having delighted in the pastrami with pickles combo at Katz’s earlier in the trip. The base of white bread was a bit odd though I thought.

I had unsweetened ice tea to wash it down and Thomas had Dr Pepper, the drinks are regularly re-filled which is a nice touch. After a couple of rounds of the plate and a good couple of handfuls of each of the sides I began to feel full. But (like the dreaded all you can eat buffet scenario) with such an array before you, it’s hard to know when to stop. So we continued, for around 10 minutes longer than certainly I should have and as a result, for the rest of the day there was no escaping the taste of the meat and the bbq sauce.

When we were finally defeated, ‘The Baron’ remaining reasonably intact – we barely made a dent, the waitress asked if we would like boxes in which to take the rest home. We declined and as a result of this meat feast I vowed to not eat meat for at least a week upon returning to London! My favourite of the meats was the ham, Thomas’ was the pulled pork but we definitely overestimated ourselves and were a feeble match for ‘The Baron.’

NB. My pledge of vegetarianism lasted all of 24 hours. Oops.

208 West 23rd St, NY

Rub on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Boo in New York - Grimaldi's Pizza

It was New Year's Eve, it was snowing and the plan was to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and go to Grimaldi's Pizzeria, where, it is claimed by many, that they serve the finest pizza in New York.

Being a little early for lunch we head to the UN building to do a spot of sightseeing and despite best efforts our spirits (and bodies, literally) were somewhat dampened by the snow. It was just too cold to be walking across the bridge so we copped out and got the subway. It was, however, not too cold to queue outside in said snow for a table at the pizza place, determined as we were to see what Grimaldi's have that others don't!

It was VERY cold. But it didn't actually take that long, around 20 minutes and we were seated inside, thanks to the super efficiency of the guy on the door who yells out numbers of groups he can accommodate.

I feel special mention is deserved for the group of 7 guys who were at the front of the queue when we arrived (so who knows how long they had already been waiting) and were seated only a minute or so before us because they were a larger group. We ended up sitting next to them. The room is larger than you'd think upon viewing the building from the outside and the kitchen is open so everyone can see the masters at work. Anyway, the group of guys shared one pizza between them, I guess they were students but what a great indication as to the quality of the food that they would wait so long in the snow for a slice each!

Laminated menus usually put me off but here it is somehow in keeping with the place and didn't bother me at all. Once seated we immediatley ordered 2 brooklyn beers, (when!)

Grimaldi's is, after all, a no frills experience, no deliveries, no credit cards, slightly stern waiters all on top of the long queue. When it comes to ordering you select the size of the base (large or larger, I think it was 13" or 17") then you can choose any toppings from an extensive list. We went for the larger size pizza with roasted peppers, anchovies, pepperoni, extra mozzarella and fresh basil.

The absolute best thing for me was the tomato sauce. Most rave about the base though, special because of the coal brick oven they use to cook the pizzas. I polished off almost half, more than I could usually eat and savoured every mouthful. If only we could have walked back across the bridge to work off the full stomachs, alas, still snowing, we hailed a cab.

Grimaldi's Pizzeria
19 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY

Grimaldi's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Boo in New York – My Perfect New York Tuesday

Inspired by the recent ‘My Perfect Saturday in London’ feature on blogs of note in the city I am reporting on the favourite day of our trip to NYC.

Setting off from the hotel at around 10am we strolled through Gramercy Park and the East village in search of Porchetta, a place brought to our attention by Noy (thanks Noy!). The East Village is my favourite of the Manhattan districts and we would have spent more time wandering around had it not been so cold!

Porchetta’s speciality is pork, as the name suggests, taken from the Italian ‘[Por’ketta] n. roasted pork with a crispy skin.

We ordered 2 sandwiches to go as the seating area is very compact. The pork was succulent and satisfying but for $9 a pop the sandwiches are a bit on the small side. The bread, technically making this more of a roll than a sandwich, was crispy on the outside and lusciously soft in the middle, it was more than a decent match for the meat and, were this my neighbourhood, I would no doubt be a frequent visitor.

However, we were glad to be left with plenty of room to try out some of New York’s other culinary offerings. 1 block down we stumbled across Crif Dogs. Their speciality is deep fried hotdogs wrapped in bacon with all manner of extras ranging from usual onions and mustard, to the less common teriyaki and pineapple. I plumped for the ‘Chihuahua’ an interesting combination of guacamole and sour cream recommended by our server Jess as one for the ladies. Thomas opting for the more manly ‘Spicy Redneck’ with chilli, coleslaw and jalapeños. We shared a vanilla shake.

Upon arrival the food was pleasing to the eye and at first bite we fell prey to that initial junk food high and declared them to be fine examples of the classic American hotdog. The actual dog (beef, not pork) was crispy, thanks to the process of deep-frying, the bun squidgy and the toppings suitably oozy and indulgent. The vibe of the place was kind of hip and fun with games machines for tables and this is it’s main appeal. Thinking back to the food now the initial satisfaction is short lived and before the last bite I was bored.

The main attraction of the place is the oh-so-secret (and gimmicky) bar next door, PDT – Please Don’t Tell – is a cocktail bar to which entry can only be gained through a telephone box situated in Crif Dogs. Feeling fuller we left, walked about 10 steps down the street and were charmed by the quaint appearance of Sympathy for the Kettle. We shared a pot of earl grey and enjoyed a game of scrabble (it was a draw!), I loved this place and could quite happily have stayed all afternoon.

We then ambled trough Little Italy, perused some thrift stores and stopped for cappuccinos at Falai on Lafayette St as recommended by Nibs. The food here looked amazing but we were still full from lunch. I wish we had eaten here as being seated at the bar, we could see the kitchen clearly and the bread (freshly made) and baked eggs smelled wonderful. We walked along Bleeker St on route back to the hotel and for dinner we once again turned to the trusty Zagat guide.

We opted for a Mexican seafood restaurant in Midtown, a short stroll from our hotel, Pampano. Guacamole (made spicy as requested) to share, Lobster Tacos and Pechuga con Mole (chicken with mole sauce, a dark, beany sauce) for Thomas and Red Snapper Quesadillas followed by Mariscada, a coconut flavoured, all fish paella type dish. The stand out dishes here were Thomas’ starter and my main. In all this was an interesting meal, we were curious about the concept and it really works. Zagat gives Pampano 24 for food and I agree it was very good and I was also most impressed by the service.

The perfect end to a perfect day in New York!

101 East 7th St, NY

Crif Dogs
113 St. Mark’s Place, NY

Sympathy for the Kettle
109 St Mark’s Place, NY

265 Lafayette St, NY

209 East 49th St, NY

Pampano Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Friday, 9 January 2009

Boo in New York – The Bull and Bear

Dinner one evening at The Bull and Bear was an extortionate affair partly due to Thomas ordering the Porterhouse steak

Which was buttery in texture and perfectly cooked, it’s remarkable how they achieve this. (grainy images courtesy of Thomas' iphone)

I had red snapper which was good but sadly nothing special though I rather liked the way they wrapped half a lemon in a little yellow net, it looked like wedding favours!

We had some brocolli, potato and mushrooms on the side and a bottle of white and the whole thing came in at over $250. Nice, but not that nice.

What’s nicer is that we stayed at The Waldorf=Astoria, such extravagance necessary due to a landmark birthday. Our upgraded suite in the Waldorf Towers was incredible.

It’s a beautiful and luxurious hotel and our room was extravagantly large with a hallway, dressing room, kitchen area and a very spectacular marble bathroom.

The views from the 36th Floor were unsurprisingly dizzying!

The Waldorf=Astoria typifies Old New York and it felt very grand to be staying there. The public areas are impressive and the highlight for me was having a pre-dinner gin and tonic at The Terrace Bar on New Year’s Eve surrounded by a group of merry ladies dancing and singing (accompanied by a piano) a rousing version of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘S Wonderful, and it really was!

The Bull and Bear @ The Waldorf=Astoria
301 Park Avenue, NY

Bull & Bear on Urbanspoon

Boo in New York – Oscar’s

Lunch at Oscar’s turned out to be an unexpected 3-course treat (they close at 2pm so dinner there was not an option). The meal was very good; one would expect nothing less at The Waldorf of course. We both had soup to start

I had corn chowder with chicken. The chowder was poured over the meat in front of me at the table by the waiter – a nice touch I thought.

French onion for Thomas, delicious, and very aesthetically pleasing. It was very rich and filling though, portion control does not exist in New York!

Salad for me next, the beef was incredibly good and I particularly liked the black tortillas.

Turkey club for Thomas was unremarkable

I’m not really a dessert person but because Thomas wanted to have some cheesecake (preferably New York but pumpkin pecan was on the menu). I decided to hell with it, and went for the PB&J.

This was a bizarre medley of a vaguely nutty mousse on a soggy cookie with a fruity sorbet on the top. Peanut butter and jam, hmmm, I was unconvinced.

The service was hurried (we arrived at about 1:30 and we were offered the bill after the main course rather than the dessert menu as it was near closing time) but courteous however the maître d was a bit nuts and quite frantic, declaring at one point that his wife suggested he join the gym but he needn’t as his job provides enough exercise. Now we know.

Oscar’s @ The Waldorf=Astoria
301 Park Avenue, NY

Oscar's Restaurant on Urbanspoon