Archive for February, 2016

Review #20 Il Piccolo Diavilo, Stroud Green

February 28, 2016

An old favourite so this review pretty much writes itself. A good spread of Italian staples on the menu with a tempting rota of specials that changes regularly. The room is cosy and the service warm and friendly. On this occasion I shared a couple of starters of deep fried seafood/veg/cheese with dips. On any day but the coldest of the year it would have filled me up but I was ready for more. A pizza rosso (?) of fiery chilli and peppers that was just right with a slug of Montepulciano. One diner had a Stinco that was billed as being pig-based but surely came from something the size of an elk. Le Pic D does good Italian comfort food to be shared with friends.

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #19 Le Voltaire, Paris

February 24, 2016

The last time I dined in Le Voltaire I’d left myself an hour for lunch before getting the train back to London.

Big mistake.

Being Henry de Montherlant’s local I should have known that Le V is not the kind of place to give you a Nando’s paced turnaround on the munching front. I’ll never forget the waiter’s shocked/ puzzled (shuzzled?) expression as he mouthed back at me ‘No coffee, Monsieur?!?!’ as he handed me the (heart-stoppingly big for a solo lunch) bill.

So I returned with nothing else scheduled for the day except a Eurostar from Gare du Nord at 6 o’clock, leaving me ample time to wallow in the the Voltaire experience.

Because it is an experience. If you plan to visit do read the comments on Google for a cross section of the most wrong-headed nutjobs to ever attempt to visit a high class Parisian restaurant.* To get the most out of Le V you have to treat it with respect. Don’t disrespect the V, as Tony Soprano might have said.

As well as being a haunt of Henry de M (before his death by his own hand) and various writers, actors and upper crust, it is the place where Voltaire himself lived way back in the eighteenth century. A statue of the old rascal looks down on present day company in a room that feels as if from another era once the door closes behind you and the twenty first century is lost from view. Objets d’art and paintings decorate the walls and a good run of lived in pannelling gives a masculine feel while not being overly intimidating.

Time slows.  A good thing.

The waiters are seasoned pros, discreet and scrupulous about service. They’ll greet Savile Row suited regulars like old friends yet make shabby, stressed newcomers like myself feel relaxed – expertise in hospitality that is rarely encountered in these start-up, make-a-buck times. I especially like the palaver that comes from everyone being fitted in behind tightly aligned (but generously sized) tables.

The menu seems more of a historical document than anything I’ve ransacked in the Bibliotèque Nationale, hand-written with specials overlaid in cute little notes. The prices are not for the faint-hearted, €50 plus for a fillet steak is, like an evening at Covent Garden, a self-indulgence for the likes of me; although the full room showed that there’s plenty of people around who would see that as a quotidian expense.

But you do get value for money. Not for Le Voltaire the sly tricks to squeeze the customer’s wallet. You want bread? Have as much as you like. Crudités? Side dishes of spuds, fries, veg? All in the deal. Petit fours with your coffee? With our compliments. And everything prepped/cooked to perfection.

The filet was a mouthwatering slab of pinky earthy paradise on a plate. I savoured every mouthful. Sorbet to clear up after was like nectar. Oh! And the wine …. Well, they’ve got some kind of a bible for the connoisseur but I was happy to pop down a €29 Côtes du Rhone with an Armagnac chaser.

Frankly, if I died there (as I believe Voltaire himself did) I would be dying a contented man.

9/10

*I especially liked the guy who was outraged that they wouldn’t let his wife use the toilet.

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #18 Café de l’Opéra, Paris

February 20, 2016

Given the choice between having a second helping of Jérôme Bel’s lump of balletic pc bullshit Tombe or trying to get another drink in the Café de l’Opéra I’d pick up the service revolver and shoot myself between the eyes.

Preferably while Bel or the waiter was standing directly behind me.

Nul points.

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #17 Le Manoir, Boulevard Haussmann

February 20, 2016

A brief review for a brief stay. Post-ballet munchies we were looking for a quick half of wine and some meat’n’bread to go with it. Le Manoir seemed the ideal solution (a home from home you might say). Wine was 50cl of boozy goodness at a reasonable price. Big plate of charcuterie and bread on demand. A welcoming room and friendly staff, what’s not to like? Only their mysteriously early closing time.

7/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #16, Lima Covent Garden

February 19, 2016

So the eldest child was back for reading week and by way of a little get together we decided to do a little eating ‘n’ shopping in Covent Garden. Our rendezvous was at the Lamb and Flag (top pub, recommended if you don’t know it already) and not being in the mood for scouring the area for food we went to literally the nearest restaurant.

This meant Lima (not Lemur, arf), a short stagger out the back in Floral Street. Having never been to a Peruvian restaurant in my life before 2016 I’ve now been to two in a few weeks but this was a totally different experience to that to be had in Tito‘s. While Tito’s is at the cantina end of South American dining Lima is definitely at the the opposite end of the scale of sophistication.

The food and ingredients are basically the same however – ceviche, seafood, meat, maize, exotic spuds and sour/sweet heat. But at Lima the food is exquisite both to taste and to look at. Each plate was a picture, and the refined nature of the food is only enhanced by a similarly elegant room. We had a Peruvian Chardonnay and were soon hit with the two bottle conundrum – three people and one bottle doesn’t work but two bottles seems a bit much. Being on holiday the next day we went for broke and got a second. What we should have done of course is had a pisco cocktail to warm up and then supped one bottle of white. Which goes to show that in Peruvian dining I may be learning rapidly but have yet to turn pro.

All this good stuff comes at a cost – Lima is not cheap. But that’s okay if the product is good; compared to most places in Covent Garden Lima delivers value for money.

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #15 Café Tramp, Green Lanes

February 14, 2016

Tramp took an age to arrive on Green Lanes, construction and fitting out seeming to operate on a geological timescale over the past year or so. Located opposite the heroically shambolic Beaconsfield pub (and at the end of my street) it’s a bold entry into the Harringay dining scene, attempting to bring a touch of upscale bistro-style dining to the Kebabisch Karnival that is Green Lanes.

Such an unorthodox proposition in this part of London had deterred me from visiting previously but a happy confluence of an empty nest and the chance to catch up with old friends tempted us into a Friday night feast. On the whole Tramp exceeded expectations. The room, Tardis-like, is bigger on the inside  than it appears – long and thin with a mezzanine cunningly slotted in near the front window. It wasn’t too busy on a Friday night (I guess people were saving themselves for Valentine’s) but the busily eclectic décor worked well to make the restaurant feel homely even with only a smattering of customers.

To the food. Standard bistro fare of soups, seafood, steaks and fish. I feared carrot and coconut soup might be a bit on the sweet side but it was actually delicious, as was the rib eye steak which came with a generous portion of chunky chips which I was able to share with the rest of the table (who’d forgotten to order stodge as it’s extra). For once I went for a dessert too and tried out a crème brulée, always a good test. I despatched it in about twenty seconds with a Calvados on the side.

Wines are of good quality but those on a budget won’t find much change from twenty quid if going for the cheapest option, which seems a mis-step. While Harringay is gentrifying (slowly at the Sainsbury’s end of the ladder) I don’t think its diners would automatically pay £20 plus for a house white. This meant that the bill was slightly north of what I would have expected, pushing Tramp into a mid to upmarket West End price bracket.

And now I feel a bit of a churl because it was a really good meal, helped by the staff being very friendly and obviously aware of the need to generate some repeat custom. I’d recommend Tramp for locals who are looking for something different to the usual; whether you’d travel to visit is another question.

7/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

 

Review #14 Carluccio’s, Russell Square

February 13, 2016

The first of the chains in 2016 and a shame to get Carluccio’s ticked off so early in the year. It’s not that the food is outstanding or the value that good. It’s more the fact that when you’re alone in a strange town Carluccio’s (like Pizza Express) is dependable and saves you having to think. So it was a tactical mistake to pick one close to home for the sole visit of the year.

Nevertheless, we didn’t want a big lunch but we did want some decent wine so Carluccio’s extensive menu was ideal for our purposes and we got what we were looking for. Food-wise we took the big antipasti to share. It came on a curious bridge-type wooden construction that effectively cut us off from one another on either side of the table. Not really conducive to conversation but we managed. The bits and pieces were tasty enough and sufficient to plug the hunger gap. A slosh of red did the trick on the booze side of things.

The R Square restaurant is a bit of a goldfish bowl in the evening but in the daytime the big picture windows let in a welcome flood of cool winter sunlight. We dined in a convivial atmosphere of local NHS and office workers with a smattering of shoppers, helped along by friendly service. I’m not gutted to not be going back for a while but the next time I’m eating bad pasta in a small university town I’ll likely be wishing I could have gone to Carluccio’s instead.

6/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #13 Motijheel, Russell Square

February 12, 2016

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A solo mission on this occasion having arrived in London ravenous from an afternoon’s teaching in the Biggest Seminar Room in the World. Motijheel is an old favourite. If ever I want to remember what my teenage culinary years were like I can stroll down Marchmont Street and back into the timeless atmosphere of Motijheel where the decor and the recipes are dependably unchanging as the chaos and dynamism of London swirls around outside.

While I was starving I’ve still got an eye on the expansive Christmas waistline so starter was chicken tikka (tasty chunks of juicy chicken and a frugal salad with it). I stuck it to the chicken again for main with a chicken sag masala and a naan bread on the side. The curry could have done with a bit more juice for my naan to soak up but thankfully I had a pint of Carlsberg to deal with any drought issues.

My fellow diners were a couple of contractors making raucous conversation (no bad thing) and a French family who being very French had gone off menu and ordered mushroom omelettes for the offspring. The service, as always, was charming and although the room could do with a spruce up it would almost be a shame if they did so. It’s about time someone preserved one of these old Indian restaurant interiors in the V&A.

7/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #12 Ravi Shankar, Drummond Street

February 11, 2016

Drummond Street, an unprepossessing stretch of Euston that nevertheless possesses the cream of South Indian restaurants. A place to go to keep vegan friends happy. The jewel amongst them is Ravi Shankar, although a close second is Chutney’s across the road. My preferred option is to do the all you can eat buffet at lunch time (less than a tenner with a lassi on the side) but with veggies in the group we did an after-work Friday visit. Good call.

For starter I took a benchmark testing onion bhaji – good crunchy onion and a generous side salad. Followed by a baroquely turned dhosa with chana masala (and a cobra (too sweet for my taste really)) on the side conversation flowed and everybody happily munching away, even the most carnivorous amongst us.

The room is functional, with elbow to elbow seating, and the service can be on the abrupt side but this is forgivable given the quality and price of the food.

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Easter Rising 1916

February 4, 2016

  

Fresh from two hours of document analysis with the students of the University of Westminster I was absolutely in the mood for the kind of exhibition that ‘Easter Rising 1916’ at the Photographers’ Gallery purports to be, especially as I’ve got an upcoming seminar to teach on British stereotypes of Irishmen in the nineteenth century. Looking on the website I found some good introductory blurb which promised an exploration of the complex events of the Irish revolution through documentary photographs, propaganda images and personal memorabilia. The promise wasn’t kept.

Sure enough the documents presented are complex enough. A standout object was a complex collage of images juxtaposing a photograph of John Wilkes Booth (the assassin of Abraham Lincoln) with pictures of Irish nationalists and a derogatory cartoon depiction of simian Fenians. You could write a decent essay on such a document. That is if you were told (among other things) who had assembled it, where the pictures and images that made it came from and to whom it was distributed, if it was distributed at all. There was no contextual information at all. 

Some explanations were given of the political and social context for the Easter Rising (and its political aftermath) but not enough. Even for a historian who has written (marginally) about the politics of the period there was not enough information on the images to really let me know exactly what was going on in a particular shot. There were a lot of pictures of Men in Uniforms but too often no information as to whose uniforms they were wearing. And the occasional laconically expressed moral judgement reminded me of the Empire exhibition at Tate Britain in that it showed the modern taste for self-righteous condemnation of a group of people of whose lives and motivations the commentator has a limited historical grasp.

Worse, it made no effort to make life easy for the non-specialist, for someone who may be interested in the events of the time but who hasn’t made a life’s work of knowing about Collins, French, Parnell or Markiewicz. To take one example, a picture is shown of Michael Redmond reviewing troops in 1915. A student of history would know who Redmond was and why his reviewing of troops heading to the Western Front (if that’s where they were going – we’re not actually told) would be a controversial action for a significant section of the nationalist public. 

Unfortunately for non-historians none of that is explained. Redmond doesn’t even feature in the historical account of the period that appears on the PG website or in the information panels on the walls and in the picture he is one of five or so men on a platform above the troops. So if you weren’t familiar with who he was before you got to the exhibition (physically or politically) you still would be none the wiser once you get there even though you were staring at a photograph with him in it.

So this is an exhibition that if it were in Dublin would be forgivably light on context. But for a London audience it needed a lot more work. And ideally an Irish historian on board, I can’t imagine that Diarmaid Ferriter or someone of his ilk would have turned down the opportunity.


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