Archive for March, 2016

Review #31 Côte Brasserie, St. Katherine’s Dock

March 27, 2016

After a visit to the Finnish Church we were on the hunt for substantial food at the uncivilised hour of five in the afternoon in an obscure (to us) corner of London. After having exhausted the options in Rotherhithe we crossed the river to try our luck in Wapping and ended up in St. Katherine’s Dock.

When I worked there twenty years ago it was a different culinary age for both me and London. While the food scene was most definitely on the up there were greater sections of the population (myself included) to whom a visit to a restaurant of any description was a treat rather than a commonplace event.

At the time I was working at the International Petroleum Exchange. The IPE was a scene of capitalism in the utmost raw. Its denizens survived the working week on a heady mix of rampant bullying, racism, misogyny, Macdonald’s takeaways, pints of Stella, titty bars and class A drugs. There was also a certain camaraderie to the place inherent in an unreconstructed working class culture. Even in a nostalgic mood I can’t bring myself to pine for it, now that those savage Essex beasts of the bourse have been replaced by computers. Frankly, I spit on its grave.

And dine in its disembowelled corpse, otherwise known as International House.

Côte, as a dining experience, is a vast improvement to The Dock dining scene of the early ’90s when hungry traders had the choice of Mela (a good Indian but expensive in those days), the Dickens Inn (frightful ‘pizzas’, they may since have improved) and the Medieval Banquet Hall – a scene straight from the very entrails of Hell where mystified Japanese bus parties would be confronted with a bastardised concoction of Middle Ages horseshit on a plate in an olde worlde atmospheer of headache-inducing kitsch wenchdom. But the beer was cheap.

To get back to the present, Côte’s proposition is French brasserie food a notch up from its close neighbour Café Rouge. It works. Its dockside location is a plus – there are good views of the London sunset through the plate windows and plenty of elbow room at table reflects the new build nature of the site. A restaurant about three quarters full in this part of London on an early Saturday evening is a good sign.

The food is solid if unspectacular. I went for the benchmark – fillet steak, frites and beans. The steak was good, cooked as I requested. Crunchy chips and crunchy beans (the way I like ’em) on the side and a proper peppercorn sauce. Service discreet and professional – the forgotten beans were prepped and brought without fuss.

If this is the standard across the chain then Côte is a good option for French dining if you’re starved of choice within walking distance. I don’t think it would be worth visiting the Covent Garden branch (for example) when there are more characterful and more adventurous French restaurants to be had close by.

7/10

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

 

Cris Brodahl

March 24, 2016


For Magritte, Simenon, Franck, Merckx, Scifo, Delvaux, Brel, Montevideo and the good people of Kortrijk.

Tuesday saw a walk on the theme of the Blitz with some students that finished in an old home, The Approach Tavern. The Approach was itself blitzed during the war and has the photographs on its walls to prove it. Further, the barman told me, its landlord not only carried on living on the premises, once the rubble of the top storey had been cleared away he continued trading the very next day. Which you might say perfectly encapsulates the ‘Blitz spirit’, a much abused term but in this context surely appropriate. I commented as I ordered a pint of Ordinary, London has always been a very thirsty city.

On our walk from the City to the East End we had passed through Bank station to see the photographs that recorded the damage done when it was hit by a HE bomb in January 1940. Being paid to be loquacious as a guide I nevertheless thought it was wiser to let the images speak for themselves at this point, commentary being unnecessary given what happened this week.

Despite having been a regular of The Approach in the 2000s, when my children went to school around the corner, I’d never been to an exhibition in the gallery on the first floor – I always had an exactly FT crossword and pint-sized gap in my day. So it was serendipitous in the light of the events in Brussels that the first time I should visit, at the insistence of a friend I’d met for lunch, it was a Belgian artist whose work was on display.* Her work reminded me of why I love Belgium, why I love Brussels and why I want to go back as soon as I can.


Like all good art the work of Cris Brodahl is not flattered by being photographed. This is why those photographing hordes clogging up the galleries of the world who see without looking are to be pitied and disparaged. The illustration above is more to underline a point about how the work in this show needs to be seen as a whole rather than as a collection of individual canvases. It is a suite, like a suite of music (emphasised by the spare title of each canvas). The shifting colours and interventions in the structure of the frame act as variations on a theme and I think would be far less effective if seen in isolation. Which is a good argument for going to see them now isn’t it?

The work itself, to quote the bumf, may ‘explore the hauntological’. It certainly operates in the hinterland ‘between Surrealism and Symbolism, photography and painting.’ Each is an image of a woman, a glamorous woman, one might say noir-ish, a woman whose image is cut up, obscured and stretched. Magritte obviously comes to mind but Brodahl is less quotidian in her motifs than him, her work is distinctly filmic.

They seem less portraits of an individual than expressions of a type of personality – a personality disrupted or obscured. This made me think of the Bazille in the Delacroix exhibition at the NG where the central woman in a portrait of three stares back at us brazenly, with an erotic charge that surely mostly comes from the artist’s (and his client’s) desire of what a woman should be. Brodahl seems to take that female subjectivity and look inside it and re-present it fractured by the spectator’s gaze until it explodes the traditional frame of portraiture.

Ok, maybe that’s the Ordinary talking, although it wasn’t that long a lunch. But the show made me think, and that’s what shows should do. I urge you to go to it. And then go to Brussels, or indeed anywhere else in Belgium, as soon as you feel that you can.

* Lunch was paid for at the bar and therefore not subject to the Rules of 2016. Thank heavens! I feel like I’ve done nothing but write about food (and mark essays) for the past week or so. For the record the haddock and chips were excellent. 8/10

Review #30 Gustavo’s (?), Stroud Green

March 21, 2016

This was a curious one. Friday evening often finds me in the Stapleton in the company of friends and this week we were peckish. The Stapleton would usually be followed by Il Pic Diav but I was hamstrung by The Rules of 2016 and had to persuade the others (and they were reluctant) to forgo the IPD and find somewhere fresh to try.

Not being at our most energetic we went across the road to Gustavo’s. At least I think that’s what it’s called, they’re not listed on google maps. Gustavo’s sign was saying ‘Closed’ but there was activity within. Friday night at 8 o’clock would be a strange time to turn away customers. We peered through the window and made willing faces to the waiter. He came to the door, turned the sign round and let us in. Shortly afterwards several other customers turned up and the room soon became over half full. I leave to the reader to decide whether Gustavo (or his minions) ever intended to open that evening.

There being no licence we had to source our booze from the Tesco’s down the road (my friend firmly ruling out a £2.99 red from the offy on the corner) and returned to order. A calamari starter, unbreaded but cooked to perfection with a little salad, was delicious but hardly enough to keep the wolf from the door. And soon it was a very hungry wolf.

Pizza came and went, but for other people. There was pizza for some diners in the room who had arrived after us but more gallingly it seemed that they were delivering takeaways to half of Crouch End.

A clearly under pressure waiter was coping manfully in the face of passive aggressive snarks from the hungry hordes at our table. Just as it was being debated whether we would decamp the pizza started to arrive. A near miss. Not everyone was happy with the pizza but I thought mine rather good. Lots of topping and a good base. Whether it was cooked in house or brought from across the road I can’t tell – the oven by the room wasn’t operating and we had no means of seeing where the things were being made.

We departed in semi-rancour and as I walked past later on the waiter was stacking the chairs at the end of service. He gave me such a mournful, baleful look that I didn’t dare take a picture from in front of the restaurant but waited till I’d sidled towards Finsbury Park to get a shot from a distance.

5/10

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

Review #28 Curry Leaf East, Moorgate

March 20, 2016

One of us had been to the Delacroix exhibiton (a must-see), the other had endured a 90 minute school presentation on university options. We were both famished and hungry for spice.

Thames-side near St. Paul’s we decided to walk north. Big mistake. Between St. Paul’s and Old Street there is no Indian to be found now that London Wall is going through wholesale redevelopment. Eventually we stumbled upon Curry Leaf East near Old Street roundabout.

The menu looked standard so we ducked inside and were greeted warmly. However, the only two person tables on offer were either in the middle of a row or tucked behind a pillar in a corner. We took the least worst option and went to the corner. It was an ideal location for those on the run from the law but otherwise the scraggy wallpaper and chipped plaster were rather unappealing.

The food however was very good. A mixed vegetable starter was piping hot (in both senses of the word) and went down a treat. The tarka dhal was excellent as was the chicken curry. And yet, and yet. At about 35 quid per head this was by far the most expensive Indian of the year thus far. If we’d struck out East we could have had better eats at half the price and taken our own choice of booze rather taking the usual Cobra-Kingfisher challenge.

6/10

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

 

Review #29 House of Ho, Fitzrovia

March 19, 2016

Looking for a quick bite at lunch with a friend Vietnamese seemed a smart option. House of Ho is much more opulent within than it appears from without, or was it just that my mind was elsewhere and I didn’t pick up the superior vibe? Either way I was happy enough to be led to the table by an elegant waitress and slide into my seat beside a quartet of adland kings.

To the food. The dumplings were extraordinary! A mixture of fishy ds were gelatinous melt-in-the-mouth perfection and really if I’d just eaten a dozen each of them that would have been a perfect lunch. But having slipped down three of the beauties I moved onto the chicken pho. Now normally this would have been just very satisfying. It had everything you expect in a pho – fresh ingredients, a tasty broth and a good mixture of sauces to liven it up to your own taste. But it was let down by some average noodles (weird but true) and thus completely upstaged by its warm up act.*

I looked enviously at the admens’ battered prawns (served on a gurt heap of chilli) next door which were resplendent among a range of goodies  and determined that this place would be better for a sophisticated dinner than a Pho-type lunchtime bellyfiller.

I’ll be back next year.

8/10

*Just like when I saw Radiohead (then unknown) supporting the Sultans of Ping FC (now unknown) at the now defunct Riverside in Newcastle. I bet the boys from Oxford don’t reminisce about that evening very often.

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

Review #27 Pizza Express, British Museum

March 18, 2016

For me this Pizza Express is the original and the best. I’ve been coming here for over twenty years and in a normal year I would eat here about once every couple of months. Anyone who read my review of their branch in St. Paul’s in 2013 will know that I’m an admirer of their operation. So obviously I’ve made a massive tactical mistake in using it up so early in 2016, in a central London location (as PE is a dependable option when you’re alone in a strange town), and on a one-man mission to boot!

My bad.

Well, not really. I was ravenously aware of the  need to lay in some bait before the Fullback quiz and I had a pizza sized hole in my stomach. I used to bring my infant children to this branch after school and before I abandoned them to the Birkbeck nursery while I improved my mind. It brought genuine nostalgic warmth to my heart when I saw that the manager on duty on this evening was the same one who used to welcome us all in on cold Tuesday evenings all those years ago. Such continuity is rare in the West End.

The room itself is a bit echoey but it’s in a beautiful old building that has been carefully tended over the years. You get a mixture of regular locals like me and tourists like the big family at the round table in the centre of the room. It feels homely. The pizza, as ever, was just right and washed down with a slug of Chianti made me a very contented man.

I strolled off to contribute to a narrow win. A good day.

9/10

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

Review #26 Kata, Green Lanes

March 15, 2016

IMG_4127.jpg

Another snooker match, another pair of ravening beasts scouring Green Lanes for cheap eats. Kata, which is hosted by Brouhaha bar on Green Lanes (I think they have a branch in West Green too) offers standard Japanese food of the type that Wagamama has popularised the length and breadth of the U.K.

On an early Friday evening the bar was already starting to fill and we were lucky to grab a table in the front room. You pay for drinks at the bar but for food at your table which is a bit of pain if you’re all walked out from frame after frame of top snooker action.

The food was good. A beef teriyaki had a terrifically deep flavoured sauce and plenty of meat/veg (lots of crunchy broccoli, yum), although the beef wasn’t exactly melt in the mouth. But at about seven quid for a main that’s forgivable – I’d expected a cheaper cut. On the side some veggie gyoza were good sized crunchy bites.

With generous portions and cheery staff Kata is well worth the ten quid a head that we paid.

8/10

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

Review #25 Mirabai, Headington

March 14, 2016

To the Mirabai with new departmental chums for a getting-to-know-you curry. Booking wasn’t necessary on a quiet Wednesday evening but popadums were – mountains of ’em. And what a glorious array of chutneys to go with! Definitely a plus. But did we stop there? I shouldn’t bloody well think so.

Straight into the mains, no starters – mine was a prawn curry which went heavy on the mustard seed. Yum. In fact double yum, lovely big king prawns and a generous dollop of sauce. If only I’d got my own personal naan it would have been perfect. But that was my fault rather than the restaurant’s. A scattering of veggie sides, all good, and at a reasonable price.

Conversation flowed naturally, helped along by lashings of Kingfisher. After passing up dessert I said goodbye and got the last bus to London in a state of solid gut-full sleepy contentment.

8/10

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

Review #24 Hawksmoor, Air Street

March 10, 2016

A family get together so we decided to treat ourselves to Hawksmoor. Previously I’d been here for a quick-ish, quiet-ish lunch but this was a Saturday evening and it was heaving. Despite this the front of house from coat check to sommelier was Rolls Royce smooth.

The photo, I should emphasise, is not of the restaurant! It is of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s wonderful St. Mary Woolnoth by Bank tube. At a junction which contains some of the most significant buildings and monuments to be found in the City it nevertheless stands out as a bold, eye-catching work of genius. Hawksmoor Air Street on the other hand has a discreet door off Piccadilly Circus and lays opulently on top of a slather of Regent Street shops like a gastronomic Jabba the Hutt on his dais.

On the food front everything was cooked to perfection – delicious steak and each of the sides utterly yum. But beware, those treats come at a cost! Everything is itemised to the gram. And maybe I wasn’t in a Saturday night mood but the noise of the big, open room was fearsomely prejudicial to civilised conversation. Should we have chosen to have indulged in it that is.

6/10

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

Review #23 Yak&Yeti, Stroud Green

March 8, 2016

A brief review as it being awards night (and a week after the event as I’m writing this) clarity is not strong in the reviewer today. But I have eaten at Y&Y many times before so it’s an easy review to write.

The Yak is at the glamorous end of the Indian spectrum so it’s the kind of place I could quite happily go to with my grandma (unlikely as such an outing may be) as well as my 5-a-side chums. This also means that the prices are slightly (only slightly) elevated above its surrounding Asian competition.

On a Friday night the room wasn’t bursting at the seams but was full enough. The food is good – all the standards plus a few outliers with the theme (I’m assuming, I’ve never actually enquired) being Nepalese as well as Indian food (a subtle difference I’m sure). Which means that you can choose Nepalese beer if you prefer to avoid the sugary Cobra (I did, it was yum).

Everything was served swiftly and with charm, I’d be happy to go back.

8/10

For the record the awards were won by Eric (Player of the Year) and Kev (Fair Play Award). Marshall – despite being nominated on both occasions – alas went home trophyless.

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


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