Monday, 31 March 2014

March Round Up

Rounding up this month, my final weeks in London were pretty out of control, I had breakfast, lunch and dinner out one Monday and my waistline has expanded as a result.  Fortunately, despite the -25º lows, I've been walking everywhere in Montréal.  Here are a few of the places I've eaten this month in both cities.

Harwood Arms
I had a brilliant Sunday lunch at The Harwood Arms with Nibs and Charlie, returning to our previous hood for one of the best roast dinners ever.  This is the special roast beef for 2 and it was awesome.  I tried the roast pork, also great but this was the one, 2 kinds of beef, yorkshires filled with beef, cauliflower cheese, horseradish moussey stuff, hispi cabbage.  Every element was excellent.  They also do Pol Roger by the glass, loved the place.  We paid around £50 each but we stayed and drank all evening.

27 Walham Grove

Harwood Arms on Urbanspoon

Chicken Shop
I finally made it to Chicken Shop in Kentish Town with Bel in the weeks running up to my departure.  We may or may not have been drinking champagne all day in Hampstead so this is exactly what we needed.

We opted for the half chicken with plenty of sides, we sat at the bar seeing the chefs doing what they do, chopping up chickens with cleavers, we drank more wine.  The sides were excellent, fries, green salad with avocado and the slaw.  The hot and smokey sauces are also great, both really have a kick. 

I knew I'd love it.  They've recently opened in Vauxhall too.  Service was nice, we paid around £20 each, cheap and tasty.

Chicken Shop
79 Highgate Road
Kentish Town

Chicken Shop on Urbanspoon

Silk Road
Also on my list for a long time was Silk Road, one of Nibs and Charlie's faves.  We went as a group of 5 and I was informed it was all about the middle plate, a big bowl of meat, broth, veggies and later, noodles for groups to share.  It was amazing.  I always find it funny when places are renowned for bad service, this place is popular and they do their best, but don't expect them to roll out the red carpet.  It was really hot and sweaty in there, it's communal dining, and it's really fun, the sauna like environs added a headiness to the whole experience.  We also had dumplings, home style cabbage and loads of beers, we paid about £13 each and left stuffed.  Quite brilliant and eye wateringly chilli hot!

Silk Road
49 Camberwell Church St

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

The last meal I squeezed in was lunch at Barnyard, Ollie Dabbous' new opening on Charlotte St.  There Art and I were, sat beside Matthew Fort on their 2nd day of opening.  It's a tiny dining room up some stairs at the rear of the building, an even smaller bar area doubles as the entrance with a couple of tables outside.  The most memorable dish for me was the barbecued grain fed short rib, with mustard and black treacle (£12), so so good.  Everything was good actually, as you'd expect, here's the sausage roll with piccalilli (£5). 

And these chicken wings were lovely, smoked paprika and lemon flavoured (£4).  Worst was perhaps the cornbread (£3), it was a little dry, served in their signature paper bag with date stamp, but we'd forgotten about it and go to it late.  Cauliflower cheese (£3) was amazing as was the black pudding bubble and squeak topped with fried egg (£8).

Desserts were a highlight actually and I rarely favour the sweet dishes.  Lemon posset (£4) and popcorn ice cream with smoked fudge sauce (£4) were so so pretty and both absolutely delicious.

Loved the food.  Drinks I wasn't overwhelmed by, they have a selection of alcoholic shakes and shandies.  Sort of beer cocktails.  I tried the country house shandy with elderflower, lemon, ginger ale, bourbon and goose island IPA.  It came in a mini tankard though, lotta love for a mini tankard.  I imagine it'll soon be a queue situation here, they were full for lunch on day 2 and it's a no bookings situation in stark contrast to Dabbous. 

18 Charlotte St

Barnyard on Urbanspoon

Gotta say I was very disappointed about dinner José.  I just don't think Barrafina and Fino can be beaten for Spanish in London, but I went with high hopes because everyone else seems to love José and Pizarro.  These croquetas (£6.50) had some kind of pimento filling.  The menu doesn't tell you what's inside, and I saw other people with cheesey ones, which upset me.  The beet, walnut and blue cheese salad (£6) was the best thing we tried.  We also had Ibérico pork meatballs which were good, in a tomato sauce (£7), pan fried squid with confit onions (£8.50), which had a really unpleasant texture and pan con tomate (£3), nice but the bread wasn't toasted enough.

Lentils and chorizo (£6.50) was more meatballs, they were fine and the cheese plate was very good (£10).  Maybe I'm just a Barrafina fangirl, but they'll always have my heart, go there instead.

104 Bermondsey St

José on Urbanspoon

Paul A Young
Best leaving present ever from Bel!  These little truffle selection boxes are best enjoyed, as we recently discovered, with a bottle of Pol Roger.  That's a battenberg one (bottom middle)....I assure you, you need this in your life. Best_thing_ever.

Paul A Young

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Zetter Townhouse
Best cocktail bar in London.  They can be a bit dismissive sometimes, if you show up late as a large group, they'll most likely tell you to do one.  But show up early, pre dinner drinks are your best bet.  Most recent visit was for a pre Quality Chop House martini and scotch egg.  Both incredible.  The gin martinis are dangerously drinkable.  LOVE and will miss this place a lot.

The Zetter Townhouse
St John's Sq

The Zetter Townhouse on Urbanspoon

Here's what I managed to try in Montreal in my first week:

Boucherie Lawrence
One of the places I most want to eat at is Lawrence.  I want their pancakes at brunch, but they've not been on the menu both weekends I've been here so far.  I was happy to learn that they have a butchers shop a few doors down the Main (as Boulevard St-Laurent is known to locals) and that they serve incredible sandwiches from 11:30-7pm.  Better yet, it's just round the corner from me!

First I tried the porchetta ($8) and it was a revelation.  They're into their sandwiches in a big way here but this one is next level.  Every element is perfect, the home baked rolls, the meat - just the right ratio of fat to pork, the cornichons, the mayo, lettuce, really everything is spot on.  I was in awe.

Also tried the ham, look similar don't they?  This was nice but the porchetta is the one.  They have various fillings depending on the day, but you want that one if you go, I promise.

Boucherie Lawrence
5237 St Laurent Boulevard
H2T 1S1

Boucherie Lawrence on Urbanspoon

Close to my new office there are literally tonnes of restaurants I'm dying to try, the Old Port area has almost as much to offer as the Plateau.  The weather really does make it tough to get about though, I've tried to walk as much as I can as it's the best way to explore but I've fallen over twice already and I don't want any more bruises.  Luckily, Holder is literally 5 minutes away so an ideal post work drinks spot.  I've been twice since arriving.

On my first visit, night 2 in the city I had the boeuf bourguignon, apols for the shoddy snap, it's taken from my Instagram.  It was beef cheeks with mash and green beans.  Plenty of big chunks of bacon and little onions, really good.  The wine didn't agree with me at all though.  I've also had the confit duck with roast potatoes, very good too.  Service is great, nice bread and the fact they give individual bills still astonishes me, makes it so much easier when time comes to settle up.  Good one Montréal.

Rue McGill
Old Montréal
H2Y 2G3

Holder on Urbanspoon

In the search for something a fraction as good as Bone Daddies, I head to the newly opened saka Ba, in the Plateau.  Bar style seating with ramen and all the usual sides from gyoza to kimchi cabbage.  Very nice it was too.  Think Tonkotsu in London, reminded me of their ramen, really good noodles, clean broth and good pork.

I got the small bowl for $10 which was just right after the kara age ($6) with spicy mayo.  This was really good, thigh meat, perhaps could have been a better crumb on it, but it was nicely seasoned and the mayo with a wedge of lemon gave it an extra zing.

In other news, it seems that restaurants not having a website but relying on a facebook page is a thing here.  Which I deplore.  I so rarely use facebook, feels plain lazy to me to not have a website these days.  

1278 Mont-Royal Ave East
H2J 1Y4

Saka-Ba! on Urbanspoon

Monday, 24 March 2014

My 10 Favourite London Restaurants

I've been blogging about my dining experiences in London for just under 5 and a half years now and I've seen both the types of food on offer in the city and the quality of the average meal go from from strength to strength.  I've been introduced to so many new cuisines, it's been quite mind boggling at times. Trends of note during this time include:-

The burger invasion
Aussie breakfasts and coffee
Rotisserie chicken

Along the lines of Krista's farewell post, here are some of the things I'll miss about the place.  (I'll be back in June for the wedding of the year, and regularly after that no doubt).  It's so telling about the standard of food in this amazing city that my list of places soon to open that I'd like to visit when I'm back is already out of control. 

Prêt (I know, it's pathetic) in particular the mozzarella and tomato croissants and the egg and tomato breakfast baguettes - saved me on many hungover days
Waitrose (and Ocado, nothing like this in Montreal, apparently)
Hampstead Heath
Borough Market
La Fromagerie
Green Tomato cars
Curzon Cinemas
London buses (love and hate one, this)
Pierre Hermes
Cider (apparently not widely available in Canada)
& Other Stories
Clarence Court eggs
Marmite (god help them if I can't find this)
Whole Foods
Truffles Deli

And obviously all of my wonderful friends and family.

I've met some amazing people and made great new friends through my love of food, long may that continue.  London, it's been better than I ever dreamed.  Canada, be awesome, please.

As a parting gift, here's an update of my top 10 places to eat in London, in no particular order.

1) Berners Tavern

Here's a post recounting my first visit.  Bel and I went for Bel's recent birthday celebration and will return for mine when I'm back in June.  The dining room, the food, the punch room, the doorman welcoming you back, everything about the place is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  It's my absolute London favourite. 

2) Koya

Here's my recent post on Koya Bar the newer opening.  Love them both.  I find myself drawn to whatever the special Udon is on most visits, this one was haddock and leek.  So so good.

3) The Quality Chop House

Here's my post after my first visit.  Revisit was every bit as good.  I drank a wine made from grapes that were picked in 1936 (the Château Sisqueille 'Rivesaltes' no less).  This dish was one of my favourites last time (though it's impossible to choose just one) broccoli, bagna cauda and summer truffle.  The restaurant offers one of the best value dinners available in London.  Love everything, every time.

4) Kitchen Table

Here's my post following dinner on their opening night.  I remember liking the savoury dishes far more on early visits, this roasted pork for example, was exquisite.  THE best crackling I've ever had.  Last time though, dessert was the highlight.  Still love the place.

5) MEATmission/ MEATmarket/ MEATliquor

Here's my account of eating all the food at MEATmission.  To be honest, since monkey fingers were born, I've probably thought about them daily.  They are the sole reason that MEATmission is my fave of the 3, but they're all great and I visited them all regularly over the last few years. 

6) Bone Daddies

Here's my Bone Daddies post, shortly after they opened.  This spot needs no explanation, best ramen in London, full stop.  I tended to go tantanmen with extra egg and corn.

7) Mishkin's

Here are my initial thoughts on Mishkin's.  Revisited recently and, thanks to Bel's love for whitebait, had the above which was just brilliant.  It's my favourite of Russell Norman's restaurants, but they're all excellent, Polpetto, Spuntino, Ape & Bird, they all deliver and he's contributed so much to the London dining scene, it's quite remarkable. 

8) Burger & Lobster

Here is how I felt about the place after my first visit to the Soho branch.  It's a genius formula, offer only 3 food options + open multiple restaurants = £££.  Great cocktails, don't queue though, be smart, go at lunchtime and make sure you ask for that garlic butter. 

9) Barrafina

Here is an old old post about Barrafina, almost 5 years ago.  This must be my most frequented London restaurant, I adore the place, Fino too.  Can't wait to visit Barrafina Covent Garden when I'm back, due to open shortly.  It still is, and always has been, about the ham croquettas, they are the best thing in the world, ever.   The daily specials too are worth trying without exception, this one, pictured, was the pencas, a sort of Spanish scotch egg containing cecina (air dried beef), chard and tetilla cheese.

10) Brasserie Zédel

Here is a recap of a wonderful blogger dinner I attended at Zedel.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, this Ile Flottante is one of the finest and best value for money desserts I've ever had.  I do not know how they can keep prices so consistently low.  Corbin & King are opening more venues in the coming year, which can only mean great things for the London dining scene. 

Special mention to these too:-
Cay Tre Soho
Bob Bob Ricard
Green Man and French Horn
The Red Lion & Sun
Le Coq
The Sportsman (not technically allowed as it's not London, but I love it, so it's on here)

So that's that.  Look at what I'll be missing out on!  Here is a blue dog, attempting to mount me, to cheer me up.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Chiltern Firehouse

This will be my last London restaurant review in a while (I guess not strictly true as I'll have the usual end of month round up next weekend) but this is the last post on a single London restaurant until I'm back, and it's a bloody good one to end on. 

Chiltern Firehouse is Nuno Mendes' latest venture (who I keep calling Nuno Gomez, who is - was - a Portuguese footballer).  Anyway, it's obviously not him, we all know Nuno Mendes, he of Viajante fame.  With that and the Corner Room closed, soon to reopen with, who else, but Jason Atherton at the helm, Nuno has moved on, he's now in cahoots with hotelier Andre Balazs.

I'll not lie, I was steaming drunk when I arrived at Chiltern Firehouse, I blame my friends and Mezcal for this mishap in equal parts and can only apologize to Art who patiently listened to me talk a lot of nonsense for 3 hours.  We started things off with the cauliflower florets in truffle paste (£4) and fried chicken (£5), the latter was incredible, bacon bits sitting on top of a dish of bacon aioli, does a dip get better than that?  I think not.

Something that good is hard to outshine, but the crab doughnuts (£5) managed that.  Just look at them.  I might have said I don't like doughnuts but these are one of the best mouthfuls of food I've ever eaten.  The snack menu is spectacular.  As is the open kitchen, such a hive of activity.  Things running impressively smoothly given how little time they've been up and running for.  We sat at the bar, which is great because it's lower than your usual bar seating, made me happy given my woosiness.

Art's starter of steak tartare (£11) fights my main for my favourite actual dish of the night.  Served with chipotle ketchup and the usual accompaniments but with a bit more panaché than your average version.  Loved it.  I had the octopus with aubergine and mushrooms (£14), very good, but incidental compared to the tartare.

My main however, was very impressive, slow roasted shortrib with hazelnut and bone marrow (£28).  The marrow was hiding beneath the meat, little onions and watercress rounded things off and I could not have been happier.  Art was less pleased with the monkfish with barley and fennel (£26).

Onto desserts, in an unfortunate turn of events, I neglected to order the frozen apple pannacotta, it's a sort of baked alaska and I blame my dilapidated state for this oversight.  The poached rhubarb sundae (£8) was a good contender though.   Dessert wine placated me.

I'm so glad I got to try this place before I left, booking before the important gushing reviews poured in, there's now a 2 month wait for a table I'm told.  You should still go obviously, but, if you're reading this, you most likely already are.

Chiltern Firehouse
1 Chiltern St

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Gauthier Soho

Gauthier restaurant had been on my list for a long time prior to my visit last week.  Not sure what took me so long to get there.  Sold as 'modern French cooking with a twist of kitsch' I was intrigued.  What I find unappealing about the place is seeing the calories listed against each dish on the menu.  Is this really what diners want?  I don't.  I ignored it.

Anyway, we decided quickly to have 5 courses from the a la carte menu at £60.  Welcome cocktails, amaretto sour and negroni (£12.50 each) were excellent and the bread was amazing.  We were offered more bread so many times that we actually turned it down eventually.  These 2 are hazelnut and malted bread. 

Amuse bouches were served first, tuna tartare and cheese straws with aioli were the highlights.  First up on the menu proper are the premiere plat dishes.  I had the duck egg and soldiers, lurking beneath the top egg layer was a smoked eel sabayon and parsley jus.  Definitely kitsch presentation!  Really delicious.

My choice of deuxieme plat was the lobster, served in a shell shaped dish, in small pieces with mussels and a crustacean fricassee.

Troisieme plat was the Cornish cod with bass crisps, capers, bone marrow and sea urchin, this was seriously impressive, the bass crisps were incredible and the delicate fish was buttery soft, just lovely.

Of the whoppingly calorific choices for quatrieme plat I opted for the Welsh lamb.  Roasted loin and braised shoulder were served with herb and parmesan crusted celeriac.  Plenty of jus and a few sprigs of thyme added a wonderful aroma to the dish.  Another strong dish, my favourite on the night.

Next a little pre dessert of isle flottante.  This has to be my all time favourite pudding, so I'm always extremenly happy when it makes an appearance, particularly when it's an added extra!

We shared desserts, this was the Yorkshire rhubarb with lime mascarpone and lemon pepper.  This was interesting texturally and the fennel seed flecked crisps on top were great.  Ate some more flowers...

The other dessert we selected was the Golden Louis XV which I mistook for something else altogether, but it was great, hazelnut mousse, crunch praline and chocolate ganache topped with gold leaf, it's very decadent and rich, certainly needed something fruity to cut through it.  Very good though.

We drank a white rioja (I'd just flown back from Spain earlier in the day) and a couple of glasses of recommended dessert wines paired with the dishes we chose, I'm really into dessert wines at the moment.  Petit fours of madeleines, marshmallows and these other little sioux pastry creamy things were all fantastic.

Service was sweet, the room was intimate, ideal for a date and the place has plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, it's a townhouse so the restaurant spans 3 floors.  I'm glad to have been, not sure I'll rush back, but the savoury courses in particular really do shine.  Should probably have had the truffle risotto in hindsight, but I'm trying not to eat rice as a starter, things got silly a couple of months ago.

Gauthier Soho
21 Romilly St

Gauthier Soho on Urbanspoon