Monday, 31 December 2012

Duck & Waffle

My last post of 2012 is reserved for a meal at one of the years most hyped restaurants, Duck & Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. 

It was Thomas' birthday meal and I tried (and failed) to coincide our seating with the sunset, not remotely visible either from where we were sitting, or at all through the heavy covering of grey clouds over the city.  It did mean that we sat down at 3:30 and were given the brunch menu to choose from. 

As we arrived, about 2 minutes late, we were asked to wait at the bar.  They were super busy so it was a while until we were handed drinks menus but everyone was friendly and apologetic about the wait, around 15 mins in all.  The views kept us occupied.

We started with some champagne, half a dozen Carlingford rock oysters (£2.50 each) and the bacon wrapped dates (£7.50).  The dates were wonderful, smokey and sweet served with a small salad of dandelion with a glob of linguiça sausage in the centre of each parcel.

Next we ordered the signature dish of duck and waffle (£15) which was definitely our favourite come the end of the night.  I had wanted to have the steak and eggs benedict with ox cheek but they were out.  The confit duck leg with waffle, fried duck egg and maple syrup with mustard seeds is quite brilliant.  Richer and more satisfying than the example of the dish served with bacon.

The duck egg en cocotte (£10) reaffirmed my hatred of serving egg dishes in scorching hot pans, might look pretty but unless you down the yolk immediately, it invariably overcooks and disappoints.  Otherwise the combination of truffle, gruyére, mushrooms and soldiers was lovely.

We shared all the dishes and our final non sweet selection was the tomato and goat cheese bread which we pimped up with N'duja spicy sausage (£8).  It was a slight let down as it followed such strong dishes but the sausage packed a decent punch and the cheese and the cherry tomatoes were fine quality ingredients, there just wasn't quite enough of them.

To finish we had the spicy ox cheek doughnut with apricot jam (£8) and the selection of macaroons (£8) best of which was the salted caramel.  Other flavours included pina colada, green tea and chocolate and passionfruit.  The doughnut wasn't what I'd hoped it would be, I felt the smoked paprika was a bit overpowering but the doughnut texture itself was spot on, and I'm not usually a fan.

We had a lot of drinks, champagne and red wine by the glass, priced at £12.50 and £12 a glass respectively.  It's pretty pricy, the cheesebread in particular seemed way steep, a £3 mark up for a meagre sprinkling of N'duja but it does feel like a special occasion venue and those views are spectacular.  It was all the more sweet as it marked my return to the city after a week in Kent for Christmas, and it feels so good to be back.  I wish I was there tonight to see the NYE fireworks from up high, maybe next year. 

Duck & Waffle
Heron Tower

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 30 December 2012


Newcomer to the MEAT empire, MEATmission is (for the next week or so, or until word properly gets out) your best way procuring a beloved MEATliquor/ MEATmarket burger without the hassle of queueing.  When I visited a couple of weeks ago there was no sign of a queue all evening.  

They offer many of the same food stuffs and way more beyond what we're used to.  The menu is split into inna bun, onna plate and bits and pieces and we had to try the monkey fingers (£7) from latter section.  Marinated and battered chicken fillets served with blue cheese sauce which was sadly absent from our tray but delivered upon request.  These were magnificent, tangy and not greasy in the slightest.  Wickedly moreish and a brilliant addition bolstering an already strong repertoire of trashy delights.   

The onna plate section of the menu sees an introduction of such delights as red in bread, chilli con carne served in an edible bread bowl then covered with cheese, onions, mustard and jalapenos, and the garbage plates, available in either chilli, beef or roast beef incarnations.  They are a lot of food, so on this occasion we skipped them and moved swiftly onto burgers.

This beauty is the bacon cheeseburger (£7), also new to me.  I've always gone for the dead hippie before, but this is definitely worth a look in.  A round almost caramelised bacon slice perches on top of the patty, which, for me, still has the tastiest char around.  Red onions, oozing cheese, lettuce, mustard and ketchup rounding it all off nicely.  We had plenty of cocktails throughout the evening, starting with the pinot grinchio a refreshing white wine and apple combo served with a minty candy cane.  We both also had fries and paid only £27.50 each, it's still a right bargain. 

The usual MEAT rules apply for the time being, turn up and queue, but this will change at MEATmission in 2013.  You'll actually be able to book.  You'll be able to take out during off peak hours but they'll be closed Sunday and Monday.  I love everything about all of them,  I've said it before and I say it again now, these are my favourite burgers in London.  Go before it gets mental.

14-16 Hoxton Market
Shoredicth, N1

MEATmission on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bone Daddies

I popped into Bone Daddies last Tuesday to see what all the fuss was about.  London is in the midst of a ramen takeover, Tonkotsu, Ittenbari to name the first wave, there will be plenty more popping up, no doubt.

I really liked Bone Daddies and will definitely be back to try more.  I went for the classic tonkotsu variety, 20 hour pork bone broth with chashu pork slices and spring onion.  I also got an extra egg garnish because I have a thing about boiled eggs, £11 altogether.

The first sip of the broth was fragrant and smoky, it was just the thing to brighten one up on a cold dreary London day in December.  The wait wasn't even too bad, arriving at 7:30 we were seated by 8.  We were by the door though and with newcomers joining the queue and leaving the door open we repeatedly fell prey to a vicious draught. 

We snacked on some brilliant cabbage and miso (£2.50) and the fried chicken with lemon wedge (£5) whilst we waited for the ramen to arrive.  To drink, we opted for tap water and hot sweet sake, Ozeki Ginkan (Honjozo), £6 for 150ml. 

We had to ask for some napkins several times before they materialized, and it was too late for my cream silk top which ended the meal with several splatters, this says more about my appalling handling of chopsticks than anything though.  Otherwise, service was friendly and relaxed.

I preferred this bowl to the equivalent at Tonkotsu and can't wait to try the tantanmen ramen, a spicier broth with minced meat.  Australian chef Ross Shonhan has clearly done a lot of research into the items on the menu here and it's paid off.  The food feels very authentic and the atmosphere of the place is in keeping with current London trends, loud music, bright and garish decor etc.  If the unanimously positive early reviews are a sign of successes to come, we might even see expansion of the brand, and I for one will definitely be seeing a lot more of the place. 

Bone Daddies
31 Peter Street

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

Monday, 26 November 2012

John Salt

I managed to secure an early reservation for the restaurant at John Salt, which I've heard is already booking up for the duration of it's 6 month residency.  Heading up the kitchen is Ben Spalding, previously of Roganic, which was my favourite restaurant meal of 2011 and many, it seems, are as keen as I was to see what he's up to now.

Having recently moved to Angel, I am also very happy to see an interesting new opening on the otherwise dire Upper Street (save for Pho Express, maybe Byron).  We went for the 8 course tasting menu for £56, they also offer 4 courses for a very reasonable £28, plus there are added extra pre and post meal nibbles.  On Friday night there's a 12 course menu and a roast on Sundays.  Menus are designed in the style of a tube line, blue or red depending on the number of courses you opt for.

I arrived early so sat at the surprisingly empty bar area for a drink, there's a separate bar menu on offer downstairs which is available for walk ins.  Cocktails were good and reasonably priced, albion highball (£7.50) for me and the John Salt martini (£4.50) for Art.

The tasting menu unfolded as follows:-

Nibbles - miso soup was the star, shortrib shin beignets with aioli were also great and in the 
middle, potato crisps with orange marmalade

The bread was magnificent.  Fruit loaf, rosemary bread, a little beer muffin and a cheese thin 
came with 3 different butters served on Himalayan pink salt.  Decadent.

The first of the 8 courses, 35 ingredient salad.  Beautiful, simple and fresh, served on top 
of some sour cream, apparently left out to 'mature' at 25 degrees for 3 days.  
Ingredients are listed on an accompanying bit of paper.

Next up, hen of the woods.  I expected egg but it's a mushroom, of course.  Poached, then roasted, served on ketchup with douglas fir (xmas tree) crumbs, persimmon juice and lettuce.

Then a scallop sandwich with kiwi and culatello (parma ham).  To be eaten with 
your hands, winter truffle shaved at the table, lovely cider butter.  I really liked this,
couldn't taste the truffle though.

Next up, the now famed chicken on a brick.  Liver parfait with lingonberries,
sweetcorn, chicken skin and caramel.  To be licked off the brick.  We got involved.

Then came the maple syrup poached wild salmon with rotten mango juice, kaffir lime
creme fraiche, toasted almonds and dill.  The texture of the salmon provided the
wow factor of this dish, it literally disintegrated when forked.

The vacherin risotto was delicious.  I was most looking forward to this as I read the menu
at the start of the meal, canaroli rice with vacherin cream, grilled cucumber vinegarette
with duck skin and chive oil.  It was hearty and rich, loved the crispy skin.

Next up was my favourite dish.  The heel of beef cooked in wine, served with
kimchi, carrot puree, bok choi and a jug of cooking juice which was powerfully intense.
Loved this, again the texture of the meat was mind blowing, so so good.

Onto dessert and for both of us, this was a little disappointing.  We wanted sweetness, and
sugar but instead we got fennel!  Marinated in absinthe, with chewy rapeseed cake,
blackberries, lemon thyme and tonka bean ice cream.  Nice, but not enough sugar for us.
And, I know it's a thing, savoury ingredients are used in desserts, but I'm not happy about it.

What was brilliant was the little jar of spiced apple and pomegranate fizz, served as a
palate cleanser, then with gin which was a lovely end to the meal and I'd thoroughly
recommend you treat yourself to that as a digestiv.

Salted chocolate with milk sorbet and hazelnuts.  This was more like it, sweet and
sticky, a dessert proper.  And there's the gin in the background.

We drank a bottle of La Casada for a very reasonable £20 and a couple more glasses when we ran out.  The whole meal came to £90 a head, and with so many extras thrown in, and a fair bit of booze, it felt like pretty good value.

I'd read that the acoustics in the building make for very noisy dining, but this wasn't a problem on this occasion, the bar did fill up later in the evening and the upstairs dining area was full (there are only 8 tables).  I did find it a little odd that there was nobody greeting new arrivals at the front, it's definitely a relaxed and casual affair downstairs, find a seat and sit at it but I suppose this is good, it's really unstuffy and service was brilliant once we moved upstairs at 8.  We were the last people to leave and never felt at all rushed.

I enjoyed John Salt and would certainly return, the bar area with a chef's table at the front where a really interesting sounding selection of bar food is assembled entices me.  The greasy chicken skin sandwich particularly appeals.  Upstairs the chefs bring out and explain some of the dishes to you, which I think is a lovely thing.   They even use my favourite skincare brand, Aesop, in the loos.  Get down there, 5 and half months to go.

John Salt
131 Upper Street
N1 1QP

John Salt on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Dabbous is possibly the most hyped restaurant ever to have opened in London.  At the time of writing, they are fully booked for dinner until September 2013 and you won't even be able to get a table for lunch before next April.

With this in mind, and considering that I made my reservation back in May of this year, I was pretty excited about finally getting to sample the food at Dabbous on Saturday.

We opted for the tasting menu, and started things off with a couple of cocktails, 'dillusion' cucumber martini and a bloody mary, both £8.50, and the first edible offering, some brilliant green olives and 4 slices of sourdough bread served in a bag stamped with the date.  Nice smokey churned butter.  I didn't rate the bread, thought it was a bit dry.  The tasting menu then consisted of the following:-
 Hispi cabbage with mayonnaise and sunflower seeds and petals.  This was a tad sickly and quite difficult to eat.  No cutlery.

 Celeriac with muscat grapes, hazelnuts & lovage.  Nice flavours, very delicate, loved the nuts.

 Coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter.

Braised halibut with coastal herbs and pickled garlic.  My favourite dish, but quite difficult to eat with a fork and a spoon. Loved the garlic and the fish was beautifully cooked.

Barbequed Iberico pork, savory acorn praline, turnip tops, apple vinegar.  Pork was a little chewy and difficult to cut, really nice sweet and sour flavour contrasts with the accompaniments.

Artisanal British cheeses with toasted sourdough and baked apple.  Cheese!  A supplement of £9 is charged.  We shared this.

Milk curd with orange, chesnut and azuki beans.  This was really fresh and interesting.  I'm not usually down with orange desserts but the chesnuts won me over.

Chocolate soaked brioche, barley malt ice cream and candied pecans.  This was brilliant.  The brioche was lurking under the chocolate crumbly stuff.

After the cocktails, we had a carafe of Pegasus Bay Riesling from New Zealand, £18.  Nice to see a good selection of wines available in glass and carafe measures.

The highlights for me were the halibut and the chocolate brioche.  But, there's no way to avoid saying that I was disappointed with the meal at Dabbous.  Even the lauded signature dishes of coddled egg and Iberico pork, just didn't knock my socks off, and I so wanted them to.

I found the service almost rudely aloof, nobody attempted to engage us in any remote attempt at conversation.  The dining room is strangely sterile, very dark with exposed brick and wood, and little else of note.

At £54 for the tasting menu, there is certainly better value food to be had in London, and I couldn't help but compare the experience to my recent meal at The Kitchen Table, which couldn't be more different.  There the atmosphere is intimate and involving.  Things ended on a high though, with the arrival of two teeny cannelles topped with cherries, when the bill was delivered.  Prettiest plate of the day. We weren't offered coffees, didn't want it, but nice to be asked.

The cocktails and the desserts were the highlight which leads me to conclude that I would not return to eat upstairs at Dabbous, I would, however, visit Oskar's Bar downstairs for some more of those excellent cocktails. 

39 Whitfield St

Dabbous on Urbanspoon

Friday, 16 November 2012


More tapas.  Whilst endlessly singing the praises of Barrafina, I had, until recently, never tried any of Sam and Eddie Hart's other restaurants.  Over the last few weeks, I have rectified this with a couple of visits to Fino

I'll start by saying, and it'll likely come as no surprise to hear, that I absolutely loved it.  There are many dishes that were familiar to me from the menu at Barrafina, but they offer a significantly extended menu here, owing to the fact that they have a much larger space and therefore kitchen. 

Here's some of what I've tried:-

Croquetas - piquillo (£3) and jamon (£3.50).  I LOVE these so much, always order loads.

Chorizo tortilla with aliolo (£7.40).  Amazing, oozing centre and garlicky mayo topping.

Pan con tomate (£1.90 each) - needed more salt to match the Barrafina greatness

Scallop with parsnip puree, almonds and chilli oil (£8) - this was brilliant, perfectly cooked, lovely flavour and texture combination.

Arroz negro (£8.90) - nicely presented, love a mini copper pot, with great inky squid flavour.

Pig cheek with parsnip puree and crispy parsnip (£9.80) - this was Art's but I had a taste and it was as tender as you'd expect with that same smooth parsnip puree, also served with the scallop.

Pork belly (£12.80) - I had this on both visits, it's incredible.  Must pre order the suckling pig for next visit.  Pictured with patatas brava (£4.50)

Crab empanadilla from the daily specials (£12.40) - this was hot!  Tomatoey crab filled the flaky pastry, it didn't blow me away.  Highlight was the lemon dressed celery salad that came with it.

Also from the specials Acorn fed duck breast with celeriac puree (£11.40).  This was nice but could have done with more puree.

I've also tried the Santiago tart, which, to my disappointment, was very orangey (I'm not a fan of orange flavoured puds) and the donuts with vanilla ice cream.  I'm also not a doughnut fan, though I confess I haven't tried the St John versions yet!

We did a decent job with the red wine and sherry and despite not being able to remember which I tried, I can say with certainty that they were excellent.

There's little else to say really, I've arrived early evening, and also rather late and had no trouble getting a table, or a place at the bar.  On one occasion, they happily accommodated 5 of us, without reservation.  The service is lovely, the food, quite brilliant and I shall definitely return regularly and you don't even have to queue.

It's really not cheap, I've spent around £50 a head on each meal I've had here, but both times, ordered liberally and drank a lot.  My one negative point would be that the room is a little soulless.  It's below ground and therefore pretty dark, oen of my companions likened it acoustically to a canteen, ouch.  Still, this won't put me off, the standard of the cooking makes it more than tolerable. 

33 Charlotte Street

Fino on Urbanspoon