Friday, 30 August 2013

August Round Up

The Ledbury

A return visit to The Ledbury happened this month.  Excellent it was too.  Highlight being this jowl of pork dish with celeriac baked in juniper (they do wonderful things involving baked vegetables) truffle and hazelnuts.

Special mention once again for the incredible bread, onion brioche and tomato bread as well as several granary loaves.  I learned on my last visit that one must not fill up on the bread, as tempting as it is.  The banana and chocolate malt tart was also epic.  Still got it, Brett.

Herman Ze German

These guys have recently expanded and can now be found on Old Compton as well as Villiers St.  Handy for those missing The Bratwurst, which I never tried actually, but shame they're gone.  Midway point through a night out at Bar Soho and Trisha's this bratwurst was just what the doctor ordered.

Was about £6 if my memory serves me correctly.  I enjoyed it.  Open late into the night for Soho revellers to refuel on crispy onions.  Not as good as the wursts on Whitecross St Market though.

Oblix at The Shard

Bel and I went for a jazz brunch at Oblix on the 32nd floor of The Shard.  The first opening on the site, it's not been met with much acclaim, and I'll echo that sentiment, it was too hit and miss.

The set brunch is quite pricey at £58 per person.  It's a buffet affair, which I have to say fills me with a child like excitement, in this case lots of vibrant looking salads and veggies, think Ottolenghi.  I really filled up my plate.  Yes, I was hungover and this plateful absolutely revived me.  This and that glass of champagne, 1 per person.

You choose between 3 mains, my clam pasta was good, Bel's pork was bad.  The dessert buffet was also underwhelming.  We both concluded we should have gone to Aqua.  Next time.

Whyte & Brown

I was lucky enough to be invited along to try Whyte & Brown with a group of fellow bloggers.  We dined with creative director Fiona Gale who explained she hand picked most of the recipes and shared many of them with us.

The bangkok scotch egg was an interesting mix flavours, chicken thigh meat flecked with chilli, coriander and ginger.  The deal is this is a menu designed around the chicken and the egg.  A tad gimmicky but there is a genuine excitement about the venture from those involved and they've snagged a great spot on Kingly Court.

The real hit of the night was probably the hot wings, they were incredibly fiery, served with caramelized orange wedges to cool you down.  My chicken and langoustine pie was great too.  Thankfully no chicken in the desserts, this isn't garlic & shots!

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

Herman Ze German
33 Old Compton Street

Herman ze German on Urbanspoon

Oblix at the Shard
London Bridge

 Oblix on Urbanspoon

Whyte & Brown
Kingly Court, Carnaby St

I dined as a guest of Whyte & Brown

Whyte & Brown on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Wishbone and Franco Manca, Brixton

I've spent a couple of Saturdays in Brixton this summer and managed to try both Wishbone and Franco Manca, at last. 

Brixton Village is a cute little place, there are so many tempting eateries and the atmosphere is lovely, covered seating with an outdoor feel to it, long communal tables seating lots of happy looking people.  I really wish I lived closer.

First on my list to try was Wishbone.  There was really only 1 reason I was there and that is this.

Yes, my friends, that there is deep fried Mac 'N' Cheese with tomato sauce.  So so so good.  You get 3 mega slabs of the stuff (for want of a better word, they're rectangular, not balled) for £4.50.  And that tomato sauce is key to the whole thing because it's sharp and tangy and absolutely perfect with the creamy richness of the mac 'n' cheese.  I needed an actual lie down after eating these.  I managed to make it home first, but it was touch and go.  Hang over cured.

Of course, what Wishbone are best known for is fried chicken so I tried some of that too.  You choose wings or thighs and a style, Korean, Thai, buffalo, etc. and you're off.

I had the buffalo thighs with carrot, celery and blue cheese sauce.  They were brilliant.  I wasn't drinking so my meal came to just over £10 and service was really friendly and relaxed.  I can't wait to return and try the other varieties, but these were so great I'll find it hard not to order the same again.  Would like to get involved with the sours too, but found myself hanging too badly on this occasion.  Next time.  Love the place.  Well done Brixton.

Onto pizza.  I have to admit I rarely crave pizza.  I think it's because I, and everybody else no doubt, have had way too many average pizzas before.  This was until I had Franco Manca, of course, now I want it all the time and I must get to the new Pizza Pilgrims place. 

I met Nibs at Market Row one afternoon and we were seated without having to queue for long.  Orders are taken while you wait and tables turned pretty quickly and efficiently.  We shared a burrata salad to start, served on a board with tomatoes, rocket and olive oil (£6.50).  It doesn't look much but once opened up, the cheese is everything you want in a ball of mozzarella. 

I went for the tomato, chorizo and mozzarella pizza, with a liberal dousing of chilli oil (£6.80) while Nibs had the ricotta, ham and mushroom.  It's wonderful, of course, I knew it would be.  The wood fired oven adding char and crunch to the slow rising sourdough base and the quality of the toppings is evident, you can add pretty much anything you like for a small extra charge, ingredients are listed on a chalk board. 

Service was very charming and now Franco Manca have expanded, too, so there's really no excuse to eat the rubbish stuff anymore.  It's a nicely filling cheap eat and I'll definitely be back to try more, maybe they'll even venture North one day.

Had this for afters from Lab G, lovely gelato and sorbet place just around the corner.  Lemon sorbet for me and peanut butter ice cream for Nibs, £1.90 for a little tub, absolute bargain.

12 Market Row

Wishbone on Urbanspoon

Franco Manca
4 Market Row

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Flesh & Buns

I lucked out last week and bagged a table for 2 on the opening night of Flesh & Buns, the latest offering from Ross Shonhan (of Bone Daddies).

We settled in at 7pm, the place was already packed and it didn't smell of paint or anything, all was well.  It's much larger than it's Soho sister, and you can actually reserve a table so hopefully this won't become a queuefest.  Though people probably still will.  There's plenty of room for it on the staircase leading down to the dining room, doorway just off of Seven Dials.

We started with the chicken yakitori, nice char, strong plate and a fine start to the meal, £4.50.

Next up came the whimsically named 'chips and dip', chips being rice crackers with shiso avo and tomato jalapeno salsa.  The latter was excellent, really zesty and fresh.  I liked it a lot, but it reminded me of an appalling experience in LA the week before in a Japanese/Mexican fusion restaurant.  Must we?  Anyway, I needn't have been concerned, this is really very well done, not cheap at £6 though*. 

We thought we'd better order some greens and our waitress recommended the broccoli.  Very good shout.  Really quite a kick to it which came from yuzu kosho, something I'd not heard of before, it's a hot and zesty Japanese condiment and I'm going to have to track some down because mixed with mayo this really elevated the humble broc to something a bit special, £5.

And on to the main event, we went for the pork belly buns, there are lots to choose from, steak, fish, chicken, duck, but we were swayed by the pork belly with mustard miso and pickled apple, £14.  It's forked apart and wedged into the steamed buns, then topped with the veggies in the foreground and some extra sauce.  These are soooooo good.  Reminded me of the duck buns I tried at Golden Fields in Melbourne.  Happy to see these appearing on more and more menus. 

One meat selection is enough for 2 but we did find that we needed more buns, these 4 were provided for all that pork, you can order extra for £2.50, but we only got 2 more, so there was still loads of meat left.  Small gripe really.  We drank tap water and then made off for the Odeon to get a Gosling fix. 

I'll definitely be back to try more and I'm very glad to see Shonhan branching out.  Reminds me, now the weather seems to have turned a little, I'll have to get back to Bone Daddies....

Flesh & Buns
41 Earlham Street
Covent Garden

*I dined during the soft opening launch period, so all food was 50% off. 

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Grain Store

To stave off the jetlag after an 11 hour flight, I thought it would be a good idea to go out to dinner.  Turns out it was a brilliant idea, Art suggested Grain Store and we showed up at about 8:30 on a Saturday night and were tucked in nicely at the bar 5 minutes later.

I can't remember the last time that so many things have appealed to me on a menu and on top of that all of the specials sounded amazing, I was relieved to see the offer of a £35 5 course 'surprise' menu which alleviated any worries I had about whittling down what I actually wanted.  It would have been impossible. 

We were both intrigued by the idea of a menu chef Bruno Loubet devises daily based on whatever he has available to him.  We started off with martinis, green for Art, above, and truffle for me (£7 each).  We knew we were in good hands when it comes to drinks as Tony Conigliaro, the brains behind the bar at The Zetter Townhouse, is in charge of things.  Look at that nasturtium leave, so pretty.

We started off with olives (£3.50) and bread (£4), not included in the surprise menu but we were pretty hungry.  The focaccia was good, with olive oil to dunk in, and dukkah, a mix of spices and nuts adding a nice little extra something.

Then came the first proper course, padron peppers on a pea and mint puree scattered with pinenuts, and radishes on a fennel puree.  Everything looked so pretty.  Also served at this point were 2 mushroom croquettes.  You should know that one of my peppers was a super hot one, which never seems to happen anymore, happy days!

From this point on, the dished arrived in pairs, this was my favourite on the night, artichokes served with cucumber, anchovy dip, mint and Parmesan crisps.  The combination of flavours was incredible, the textures so varied and everything really worked amazingly well together.

With it came this, the confit salmon with peach and salted watermelon.  I didn't expect to like this but again everything really worked together, the salmon was cooked to perfection and the fruit provided sweet and saltiness and crunch and tartness.  It was really lovely.

Next up was the peas and morels with braised lettuce and mint.  There was a lot of mint going on throughout the meal, here forming a classic pair with the peas.  The furthest dish was again braised lettuce here topped with slow cooked chorizo ragu, it was so rich, flavoured with red wine and another stand out plate for me.

Then on to mains, this is the josper grilled pigeon served with corn tamales, the corn was excellent, wasn't too sure about the pigeon but you can't deny that the josper gives anything it touched a really impressive char.  There's a daily 'from the josper' special.

This was the final savoury dish of the day, the slow cooked lamb shoulder with courgette and samphire.  It was another highlight for me but by this point I was painfully full so this defeated us.  I'd moved on to twinkles by this point, theirs are fantastic obviously, and Art was on the vino.

Dessert came in the form of tapioca, which I absolutely love topped with caramelized pineapple and some other yellow fruit which was grainy in texture and quite sour and soft.  There was a sweet crisp bread type thing which really made the dish for me, it was a brilliant end to a pretty much faultless meal.

I actually hadn't expected to love Grain Store, but I really did and I can't wait to return, they do a decent brunch by all accounts but what excites me is the idea of returning and trying more from the dinner menu.  We paid a little over £60 each for all this which I think is real value for money.  The room is large and service is perhaps a tad too keen and excitable.  I think once they've been up and running for another month or two, this will be one of the most sought after reservations in London.

Grain Store
Granary Square
1 Stable Street

Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 August 2013

LA Eats

I was away in LA for work last week and whilst I was mostly busy with meetings and clients, I did manage to sneak to a couple of places on my hit list during my 4 day stay.

Now, everybody knows you absolutely must have a car to see the best of LA, I didn't have one, but I was staying and working in Santa Monica, so did my best to explore the area local to The Huntley Hotel and hitch a ride with colleagues as and when I could.

I'm pretty sure nobody will care that I ate an In-N-Out burger, given that we are now so spoiled here in London but it was top of my list of must visit places and I wasn't disappointed.

Following the advise of literally everybody I spoke to, I ordered my cheeseburger animal style, which is not an advertised option that comes pimped with caramelized onions and special sauce.

Chips were nice, I wasn't aware these could be 'animaled' so missed out on that treat.  The chocolate milkshake was excellent.  Two things struck me, firstly how cheap it was and secondly, how most other diners seemed to be eating 2 burgers at a time.  I was saving room for more food later but at about $4 each for the meal, it's easy to see how things soon get out of hand in the US.  Also available on the 'secret' menu is a 3x3 or 4x4 option.  Heh.

Thanks to Daniel Young for tipping me off about Intelligentsia.   We went one morning for breakfast and there was a huge queue before 9am.  They really take their time making each cup, it is a chain, but it doesn't feel at all like it, the place has a laboratory feel to it with all kinds of filters and machines contributing to the production of each cup.  The choice of coffee bean alone is staggering.  I played it safe and went for a black cat classic latte which was sweet and rather mild.  I was in a jetlagged haze so could really have done with something a little stronger.

That beast is a cheese and bacon croissant which was pretty special.  Representing the USA, my colleague had a doughnut.  For breakfast.  When we left the queue was even longer.  Loved the place.

Blue Plate Oysterette
I snuck in some solo snackage right before I had to leave for the airport.  I propped up the bar at Blue Plate Oysterette a seafood bar on Ocean Avenue, overlooking the beach.  There is a chalk board where the daily catch is advertised, there is a huge selection of oysters, I had never heard of any of them so asked for recommendations and got these, 2 Laguna Bay, 2 Malpeque and 2 Chincoteaque.

The 2 closest to camera were the Malpeque and they were my favourite.  All were quite meaty and briney, I ate one of each by themselves then loaded the second ones with the shallot vinegarette and lemon juice.  I saw no use for the tomato sauce, but each to their own I suppose.  These were about $3 each.

I couldn't resist the lure of the lobster truffle mac and cheese for $20.  Maine lobster mixed through the mini conchiglie with an obscenely decadent cheese sauce, complete with stringy bits when you got a forkful.  It was so good.  I ate all this accompanied by 2 glasses of oyster bay and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Service was mostly lovely, American priding itself on hospitality.

From here, I waddled off, content and slightly tipsy, to the airport.  My bill came to about $60, so not cheap but it was an off peak time and the place was heaving, who doesn't love a bit of seafood on the seafront?

Other places I ate while I was there included Wabi Sabi (great sushi), Urth Cafe (good coffee and eggs) and Canal Club (don't do it).  Special mention to the crunchy rice spicy tuna at Wabi Sabi, I need to find them in London, any suggestions would be hugely appreciated.  Check them out.

I also loved Abbot Kinney.  It's a street with lots of independent shops and cafes, it's where Intelligentsia is and on Friday, they had tonnes of food trucks lining the street.  It's like Kerb or We Feast but supersized. Crap photos, taken from inside cab, but you get the idea, there was literally everything you could ever want, every type of cuisine represented, I was in awe.

Hope I'll be back soon, and next time I'll get my own wheels so I can explore further afield.  

Culver City
13425 Washington Blvd
CA 90034

In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon

1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, California 90291

Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Blue Plate Oysterette
1355 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401 

Blue Plate Oysterette on Urbanspoon

Wabi Sabi
1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291

Wabi-Sabi on Urbanspoon