Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Boo in Cambridge - St John's Chophouse

We've been so fortunate weather wise over the bank holiday weekend and on Easter Sunday a group of us head to King's Cross, hopped on a train and 45 minutes later arrived in sunny Cambridge.

The highlight was definitely a punt on the river sipping on ginger beer but the day was full of slow ambles soaking up the sights, though the colleges themselves were closed, the university buildings provided ample entertainment.

Having researched potential lunch spots it's clear that Cambridge is primarily a chain restaurant town, there are few local independent eateries and even fewer cuisines are represented. A subway is a pretty grim backdrop to the picturesque Magdalene Bridge for example.

A few Cambridge based food blogs I found spoke highly of The Cambridge Chophouse and we opted for sister restaurant The St John's Chophouse come lunchtime.

Their remit is classic British cuisine and that they do well. Nibs' roast beef was a fine example, much better than any I've tried in London.

My fisherman's pie was great too, all white fish in a cheesy sauce topped with creamy mash. I loved the side of greens, peas and broccoli all retaining a nice crunch.

The others in our party of 5 each tried the braised beef cheeks with mash and the same selection of vegetables. All plates were cleared.

We all had a drink, cider and spritzers all round, bread was served very swiftly without request and with tip (not included on the bill - such a refreshing change) we paid £20 a head. I must say the service was exemplary, really very sweet and we'd not booked in advance, rather turned up at lunchtime on what must have been a very busy day for them. Very impressed. I only wish they were closer so I could return and try their suet pudding of the day, or perhaps I'll return soon, I may well have fallen for the place.

The St John's Chophouse
21-24 Northampton Street,


The Cambridge Chop House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 April 2011

L'Eto Caffe - Soho

L'eto Caffe are Wardour Street newcomers and the most recent addition to the Soho coffee scene.

I'm in 2 minds about it to be honest. The counter type displays, akin to those at Princi just down the road are inviting. At first the salads and mains were in the window, this has recently changed and now passersby are lured by a mouthwatering array of sweet treats.

I've been twice for lunch and for £5.50 you can get a small plate of salads, there are usually a selection of around 5 or 6 to pick and mix from. A main course like chicken breast in tomato sauce, baked salmon or lasagna, plus a side is a hefty £12. It is good food but at these prices it's unlikely to secure many return visitors for lunch but the quality is above average and ingredients are thoughtfully sourced. I particularly liked the pesto mozzarella.

I'm yet to try their breakfasts but the large chalkboard menu reads very well with the usual eggy suspects as well as pancakes and healthy options.

After my initial visit in their first week when I encountered some bizarre service, things seem to have improved and servers are sweet and helpful.

L'Eto Caffe
55 Wardour St

L'eto Caffe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Another offering from the team behind Polpo and Polpetto, Spuntino has become London's most talked about dining destination in recent weeks since it's March opening. The concept is simple, bar style seating, American comfort food, cool atmosphere. What's not to like? The no reservations policy and the queue perhaps? Not a problem for me when our party of 2 arrived at around 9pm on a Tuesday evening a couple of weeks ago. About a 15 minute wait and we were seated.

We started things off with a prosecco and some fried olives. These are stuffed with anchovies before being crumbed and fried, delicious and a definite way to make the queue more bearable to those adverse to a wait.

Lighting is dim - as are my snaps as a result! - provided by tea lights in tumblers. The vibe here of an evening is fresher and more upbeat than those at Norman's other restaurants, music is louder and the focus less on food, more on drinking and eating to soak up the booze. Having said that, this is a restaurant and the food is, in my view, incredible and my favourite kind of fare.

We ordered 5 dishes between 2 and for a total of less than £50 we were both stuffed and happy. My winning dish was the mac and cheese. I'm a sucker for this, though I usually find it not up to standard I make at home. Not true of Spuntino's version. It's exactly what I want it to be.

The mac and cheese is the far dish above. More visible are the shoestring fries and the legendary truffled egg toast. Aromatic and oozing this is a guilt inducing masterpiece, try to resist and fail.

Another favourite were the delicious aubergine chips, again deep fried (eep!) and served with a quite brilliant fennel seed yoghurt which I must attempt ro recreate as it was a revelation.

The sliders were something I was super keen to try, we had the beef and marrow and the salt beef ones. The latter was slightly on the dry side, I dunked it in some frenchies and all was well. The beef on the other hand was moist and clearly benefits from the inclusion of the marrow into the mix. I was wishing we'd ordered something green at this point, feeling this had become a bit of a carb fest but we were done.

I loved everything about the place with one exception, also mentioned in posts from Gourmet Chick and Greedy Diva. They would benefit from installing some coat hooks, my bag and coat were sprawled over the floor at one point whilst I was queuing and it's very tight back there, not much room for the waiters to serve out the food. I did however, have a hook where I was seated at the bar and they really are a must for such a teeny space. For security, convenience and in the interests of keeping the place tidy.

I really liked the service, friendly and fun and the free spiced popcorn is a very nice touch whilst you wait for the food to arrive. I can't wait to come back and sample the rest, especially the boiled egg and soldiers. I might bring the girls along for brunch some time.

61 Rupert Street

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Much has been said of Heston's new venture, mostly good, none shockingly awful. This is because he clearly knows how to run a kitchen and to make ordinary ingredients taste exceptional. He is a genius. It's been an amazing rise to fame, the ordinary kid from High Wycombe who ate the same rubbish at school as we all did is now one of the top chefs on the planet. Good luck to him, I say, it was only a matter of time until he launched a London money spinner.

Dinner is more accessible, affordable and every day than the Fat Duck and whilst I didn't love it as much, it is predictably now one of my favourite places to eat in the city. I can't wait to go back and try more of the menu, here's what I had on my first visit back in March.

Bread, sourdough and wholemeal, brilliant crusts and lovely creamy butter. Excellent, seconds were offered and declined, I've learned, at long last, not to fill up on the bread course.

My starter - roast scallops with cucumber ketchup and borage (or starflower). A very pretty and delicate dish, perfectly cooked molluscs.

The meat fruit for Thomas, smaller than I expected it to be, I thought it could do with more toast but Thomas disagreed. I preferred this to the scallops as it had more of a wow factor visually and on the palate.

My favourite part of the meal was my black foot pork chop served with cabbage and robert sauce (brown mustard). I also had some pureed potato on the side and I savoured every mouthful. By miles the best pork chop I have ever had I could quite happily eat this every day for the rest of my life. Perfect. Thomas' main course of black angus sirloin with mushroom ketchup and triple cooked chips was also memorable for it's flavour and execution, with a couple of dots of marrow and those much lauded chips.

For dessert I had the tafferty tart, mainly because I'd seen pictures of it in multiple blog posts and think it's by far the prettiest presentation of a sweet that I've ever seen. The taste is very powerful, think turkish delight and sour unripe berries. It didn't quite live up to my expectation but the textures are masterful, crunch from the sheets of sugar, the smooth sorbet, jelly and candied rose petals combine in one heady spoonful. There is so much going on here it's an impressive end to the meal. Thomas had the baked lemon suet pudding, that's what it's all about, classic British dishes with a Heston twist.

An indulgent end to the meal is delivered in the form of a white chocolate and earl grey ganache. Cutely presented in a small gold edged cup and saucer with a caraway biscuit. The biscuit was brilliant, Thomas didn't get one which we noticed too late for him to get a look in at mine!

Drinks wise, we opted for a couple of glasses of champagne whilst we waited at the bar for our table (only 5 minutes or so) and wines by the glass recommended by the sommelier to complement our main courses. The price, £180 for 2, one I am more than willing to pay to sample food of this standard and I can't wait to try more, though that will be easier said than done with each month booking up on the day of opening the reservations. Others continuing to love it as much as I did it seems.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Anchor and Hope

My best friend Jemma has lived just around the corner from the Anchor and Hope for a few years now and I only managed to make it for lunch the week before Jemma moved house. Still, judging by the food we ate for her birthday meal last Saturday, it's well work coming back, even if it is a bit of a schlep (though fortunately she will still be in the area).

We arrived at around 1:30 on a busy Saturday lunch shift and were lucky to secure a large table for 6. The kitchen closes at 2:30 and reopens again at 6 for dinner service and they operate a no reservations policy.

We had a couple of drinks (me the special, a rhubarb and prosecco cocktail which was amazing) and had some bread whilst waiting for a friend to arrive. As it approached 2:15 we were rushed into ordering and informed the kitchen would soon close. Whilst one of our party was late, we still had some time but felt pressured to order for her.

As luck would have it, she arrived and all was well. I started with the potted shrimp, served sans pot on a plate with melted butter. Not what I'd expected but good and a generous portion. The lemon cutting through the richness of all the butter. Jemma and Charlie shared their favourite snail salad and Cranny liked his terrine.

Main coursed swept the floor though, the hare lasagna for 2 was impressive and delicious and, again, a very big portion.

I selected the veal Milanese with spinach. I loved the crispy coating and the moist meat and the spinach was tasty. Why have I never had it topped with a grating of parmesan before? Genius. Again, a large chunk of lemon helped by adding an element of freshness to what is essentially deep fried meat.

Other mains tried at our table were braised lamb neck with cous cous, olives and tzatsiki and the winning wild rabbit with bacon, prunes and sherry for the birthday girl. The side order of lentils was an unexpected hit, the deep smokiness and creamy texture elevating the simple pulse making it one of the most memorable dishes of the meal.

I'm so glad to have finally made it here, I wasn't disappointed and will definitely be back. We each had 2 courses and several drinks and it came to £25pp. I like the unfussy approach and the adventurous menu, so many gasropubs have become tired and samey but the menu here is genuinely exciting.

Anchor and Hope
36 The Cut

Anchor & Hope on Urbanspoon