Archive for May, 2016

Review #49 Osteria Tufo, Fonthill Road

May 29, 2016

Friday by Friday I’m munching my way through all the Italians around Stroud Green and yet after half a dozen I’m still not done! As the proprietor of the WB Yeats noted, there are more pizzerias in N4 per square inch than there are in Naples! But Osteria Tufo is no pizzeria (they don’t serve it), in fact its offering is a cut above your standard pizza/pasta place and is well worth the detour round the back of Finsbury Park tube.

I did well to pop in in person earlier in the evening to reserve as the booking for 7 o’clock was only confirmed after the waitress consulted with her manager and phoned me back. Fonthill Road is not the most picturesque in north London but OT does its best to prettify it with a profusion of foliage out front on the terrace. The room itself is small but open and light. It feels a comfortable place.

We weren’t sure of how much starter to get – I guess we could have asked how substantial they were – and decided to split a salad and some baby octopus between the four of us. The salad of mixed grilled vegetables was tasty but not enough for our purposes. The octopus on the other hand was a generous helping of very tasty babies that I would have consumed as Saturn would devour his own childers if they’d all been left to me.

The mains were a mixture of Italian classics and some more left-field options. Everyone was jealous of the squid ink pasta with seafood. I had a hefty chunk of cod cooked in a delicious soy and sesame sauce. The house white worked very well with all this and we had more wine on top of more wine. Everyone very convivial, including the staff, and thus was I tempted to take on dessert.

My espresso chocolate cup was thick and sticky but not half as enjoyable as the very high quality grappa that came alongside it. I approached it through sniffing. I’ve been hoodwinked by grappa before – sometimes it promises subtlety at first sniff but then just clubs you in the gob and leaves you with heartburn and a headache. Like the Margi Clarke of alcohol. This one not only had the required alcoholic ferocity but also a subtle fruity taste that for one brief moment made me feel that I could be in a Paolo Sorrentino film if only I took on a more world weary demeanour. Like La Fabrica around the corner Osteria Tufo offers West End quality at N4 prices. Recommended.

8/10

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

 

Review #48 Abi Ruchi, Stoke Newington

May 24, 2016

Sunday evening in Stoke Newington and I’d forgotten that there was a match on. So before meeting in Abi Ruchi I had a pitstop in the excellent pub on the corner where by some curious conjunction I saw Jamie Vardy score to the sound of a typically bittersweet Elliott Smith track.

But that’s beside the point. Abi Ruchi is a no frills South Indian selected by my vegan friend. More specifically its cuisine is from Kerala so a sweeter variety to your regular high street Asian fare.

They have a licence (Cobras all round) and they serve meat so after a starter of some lentil fritters, which were a bit dry and short on sauce, I had a very good chicken curry. Sides of flaky bread and various veggie dishes were delicious and if I’d had the appetite I would have carried on munching all evening.

It was a quiet Sunday evening so good service was to be expected. As a break from the gentrified norm in Stokey Abi Ruchi makes a good value for money option.

7/10

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

Missoni in Bermondsey

May 22, 2016

Being confined to SE1 in many of my waking hours there have at least been two consolations this week. Borough Market of course is the destination of choice for lunch, even if it means having to walk past The London Bridge Experience and its shit-tackularly spectral shoite there and back.

The other consolation this week has been a visit to a new museum (to me I mean, I think it’s been there for a decade at least), the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street. A friend of mine, who is very much not a fashionista, makes it his destination of choice when visiting London and had been pressing me to go for ages. So I did.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I’m not much of a fashion person myself either. I vaguely thought it might be a space devoted to the history of fashion in London. Well, it’s not that but that’s not a criticism. You can get that (or a great part of it) in the V&A. No, the FaTMu is a lunchtime-sized exhibition space dedicated to a rolling programme of one-off shows.*

So it was pot luck that I got Missoni, a label that I’d vaguely heard of but really knew nothing about. Well it turns out they’ve done a whole lot of shit, and most of it tremendously good shit. Italians, Rosito and Ottavio Missoni were inspired by the Futurist art movement and their Italian successors to use ‘Made in Italy’ fabrics to produce some quite stunningly beautiful clothes. As you can see from the header image one of their distinctive design features is to use brightly coloured bands that have a musicality and rhythm that is unique to their look in spite of much imitation.

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The central hall of the exhibition space has a slightly sinister array of mannequins wearing clothes from a range of years of Missoni’s collections.

IMG_4294What’s missing in the photograph though is the musique concrète that is piped through the gallery. Unlike the Russians at the NPG this music enhances the work displayed since it is assembled from the factory sounds where the fabrics are produced. The machine noises pulse and throb industrially but also suggest something organic; blood pumping through arteries or the sound of your own lungs when resting. It emphasises the way in which the fabrics Missoni use combine artifice with nature. You’re not meant to touch the hairy walls but I couldn’t help myself just once.

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Like me you might not be a fashion nut but fear not, there is more to the exhibition than fashion. As mentioned the original Missonis were inspired by Italian artists and before you get to the clothes you have a very high quality selection of Italian fine art of the twentieth century. There are big names that were familiar to me from visits to the Estorick, such as Severini, Balla and Lucio Fontana. But also unfamiliar names – Gottardo Ortelli, Tancredi and many more.**

This I would argue makes it a show not to miss for the art lover. Although not displayed in the best of circumstances (basically in gloomy corridors) the paintings have so much energy and colour that they light up the building by themselves.

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And it’s hit after hit after hit. Sure, you could probably see many pieces in this style and of this quality down the road in Tate Modern but there you’d have to elbow your way through rucksacks, shooting sticks and class 3c. Here, all is tranquillity save for the blast of fierce beauty on the walls. The exhibition runs to September so I think I’ll pop back when I’m feeling glum and need cheering up.

*It also has an excellent café which you can visit without entry to the museum. Quiche, salad and wine for a tenner isn’t a bad deal.

** I wanted to put the Estorick into this review as its stuff is so complementary but I haven’t had the time to go there. But if you have the time do that thing, it is a great museum.

Review #47 La Bota, Crouch End

May 20, 2016

Argh! So not only have I been too busy to eat anywhere, I’ve been too busy to even write about the places I went to before I was too busy to eat. So La Bota is a distant memory now.

As I recall we were looking for meaty snack yums and we got them. We also got Padron Peppers (but no hint of the Russian Roulette as billed on the menu) and ice cold Mahous.

Service was prompt and the bill was reasonable.

7/10

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

Review #46 Standard Tandoori, Holloway Road

May 17, 2016

To the Standard Tandoori to catch up with old friends and celebrate the inDoctrination of another. I’ve been a regular at the STandoori for getting on for twenty years and so it obviously has its appealing points. Chief among them is the consistency of the service. Like a high quality string quartet new members are introduced over the years but never disrupt the equilibrium of the group. They are a credit to their profession.

The food, the decor, the booze is Standard. By which I mean excellent. When I have a hankering for the traditional British-Asian comfort food of my youth the ST does the trick. An unwavering order of poppadom, onion bhaji, jalfrezi, naan and bindhi bhaji trips off the tongue (if not the keyboard) to be accompanied by ‘Kingfisher, Sir?’ and conversation with chums from teams I have known, whether of the football or quiz variety.

Social networks really don’t replace social gathering.

9/10

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

 

 

Review #45 Rabot 1745, London Bridge

May 8, 2016

For a Friday night family gathering on the hottest day of the year thus far I was given instructions to find a restaurant where we could ‘sit in the sun’. While there’s plenty of al fresco eating in London Bridge most of it is either of the ‘eat out of a box’ or ‘suck on an exhaust pipe’ variety. So I chose to book Rabot 1745 chiefly on the basis of its balcony. While not exactly outdoors it is airy under the glass of Borough Market and gratifyingly distant from the gastronomic hordes below.

The restaurant is just one part of the operation. There is also a buzzing bar downstairs that specialises in rum and a chocolatier that sells cacao and its various products direct to the consumer. I am not passionate about chocolate, in fact I rarely even have dessert due to the absence of a sweet tooth, so I thought I would be a tough judge for a restaurant that uses chocolate in most of its dishes.

In fact the food was extremely good, both in its execution of conventional ingredients and its use of more exotic (to my palate) ingredients such as cacao, sweet potato and plantain. With dessert in mind we skipped starters and went straight into mains. I had a trio of chicken that was marinated in Bois Bandé.* I demolished it and wanted more. Fortunately we’d got some sides – green beans came plain but the mashed potato had an infusion of white chocolate truffle. Normally just the thought of white chocolate would induce nausea but while the mash was quite sweet for my taste I didn’t vom on this occasion. Which is a plus.

Wine was a crisp Viognier, reasonably priced, and while we waited for dessert we took in the atmosphere of the market as the sounds of Friday night drinker-diners filtered up to us in the iron eaves. Ok, so now comes the chocolate overload. I took a trio of mousse – three deep glasses of thick chocolate velvet flavoured with various stuff. They were all good but one would have sufficed for me. I look across the table enviously at a trio of sorbets that would have been much more to my taste.

Feeling completely in a Friday night mood I asked the waitress if they had any rum. ‘Do we have rum?!?!?’ She scuttled off and brought us a rum bible. I chose a Diplomatico at £7. After one sip I wanted the rest of the bottle. Sadly though we didn’t have all night to get ratted and I whapped it down and settled the reasonably large bill.

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Rabot’s bar – I recommend the Diplomatico

Passing through the busy bar downstairs we picked up some cacao nibs for home as (who knew? Not me anyway) these are the latest health thing. In chocolateyrum contentment the ride on the 141 felt like a tranquil ride through the greatest city in the world.

8/10

*Which apparently translates as ‘West Indian bush magic rum’ and hell knows we could all do with a bit of bush magic from time to time.

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

Review #44 Brindisa, London Bridge

May 4, 2016

We were in the London Bridge conundrum again – where to get a sit down meal before 5 o’clock when most places are either shut or if they’re open are just chain outlets. Brindisa seemed a good idea. The waiter told us that they could only offer cold tapas but after glancing at the menu we decided to stay.

It was one of the first hot days of the year and the room was nice and cool while open windows gave a sense of being part of the hustle and bustle of Borough High Street. We ordered a plate of meat, tortilla, olives, sardines, peppers and a jug of beer. Scepticism was cast on my egg aversion and we had a discussion about whether tortilla tastes eggy or not. I firmly believe it doesn’t when it’s good, and besides this one tasted mostly of smoky chorizo. The sardines were filleted and arrived on their own little chicory boats and a bit of salad. A good slather of meats were accompanied by tasty bread and olive oil, while the olives themselves were stuffed with orange. All of it showed attention to detail and a good balance of flavour.

The jug of lager slaked the thirst nicely and then, what’s this on the jukebox?! Hotel California! But not the soft rock aquiline snoozathon of my childhood. No, this was delivered straight out of the Big L by the Kings of the Gypsies (I thought they were French?). A thing of wonder that doesn’t pall after the thousandth listen. Swift service ensured we could get the bus back north in time to watch Man City get stuffed by Real Madrid (fingers crossed).

8/10

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

Review #43 Hanoi Phô, Green Lanes

May 2, 2016

After delivering a thrashing at snooker it was to Green Lanes to find some dinner with the family. As far as I know Hanoi Phô is the only Vietnamese within strolling distance of Harringay and thus offers a bit of variety from the kebab avalanche (kebabalanche) of high street eateries.

The small room is bright with bucket seats not exactly ergonomically designed for our brethren – it was somewhat akin to sitting on a Chopper.* Maybe it’s a Vietnamese thing. There’s also good people-watching to be had through the floor to ceiling window. I don’t think they have a licence – there was no alcohol on the menu – and I didn’t find out if you could take your own as we’d already had a couple of Efes baize-side followed by a cheeky one in The Salisbury (a good pub) and it was time for a rest. So I had a sparkling water.

We shared starters of one portion each of spring and summer nem. The spring nem (prawn variety) were packed with fresh and aromatic crunchy herbs and lettuce while the summer variety was a deep fried pork’n’stodge thing that wasn’t quite as appetising.

A big bowl of prawn phô was my main. A dozen or so good-sized prawns were swimming in a too subtle broth with ribbony noodles. So I livened it up by lobbing in the entire side veg and a liberal dose of Goose Island Sriracha Chilli Sauce. Yum.

Service was efficient, perhaps a bit too efficient for a relaxing Saturday evening, so I’d say Hanoi Phô is more suited to a quick pit stop than a baggy evening dinner.

7/10

*The classic low-slung 1970s bike, not some hardware from Apocalypse Now.

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

Review #41 La Porchetta, Stroud Green

May 2, 2016

A stroll from Highgate to Stroud Green had as its final destination La Porchetta, a local stalwart that operates in an increasingly competitive environment for pizza in this neck of the woods; as one commentator put it there are more pizzerias per hectare in Stroud Green than in Naples.

So how does La P fare? On a Friday evening it wasn’t difficult to get a table, which is not how I remember it a few years ago. Famished, one of our number made the rash request that everything we ordered be brought at the same time. This instruction being followed to the letter it meant that mains of pizza and green salad arrived with olives and bruschetta – meaning that in the intervening twenty minutes or so I was left to glug (pretty good) Montepulciano with a rebelliously grumblyhungry stomach. A waiter with more initiative might have at least brought us the olives – or I guess we could have just asked for them. Either way it was a mistake.

The pizza was excellent – the diavolo had salty, meaty pepperoni and a tasty base. I demolished it tout de suite. The salad was nothing beyond chopped stuff but went the way of the pizza too as I was a very hungry chap.

Otherwise, the service was a bit off – they could easily have sold us another bottle of vino (we were four at the table) and plates were cleared before they were barely finished, indicating that our presence was no longer required. Which would have been understandable if we had been behaving boorishly (we weren’t). Or if there was a queue out of the door. Tellingly that wasn’t the case.

6/10

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

 

 

Review #42 Akbar’s, Coventry

May 1, 2016

To Coventry to hand over tickets for a Tindersticks gig and catch up with the eldest. We had snow, hail, rain and sun on the way to the excellent Twisted Barrel Alehouse and similar on our trek back to the other side of Coventry to Akbar’s in search of curry. And boy did we get it.

Reading Google reviews we had intended to purchase our own beer from TBA to take with us. This would have been a mistake (if we’d remembered to do it!) as Akbar’s is not a BYOB one room affair but a veritable curry palace just off the ring road and within stumbling distance of the station.

A couple of cold cobras and a brace of poppadoms arrived almost before we’d finished asking for them and then we consulted the menu. It has everything you would expect and a bit more. Lamb chops to start were good although not quite as pungently aromatic as those in Tayyab’s. But then nothing is like Tayyab’s lamb chops, which really ought to be Preserved for the Nation in some Museum of British Food. Onion bhaji was decent and then onto the main event.

A Rezalla for James and a Naga for me. The waiter did warn us that they would be hot to which we chuckled indulgently. Did he take us for hicks?! Yamma hamma, he had the last laugh! The sauce was rich, tasty and thick with generous hunks of lamb within swimming. At the first taste I recognised that this was going to be a memorable experience. I piled in a bit of rice to mitigate the heat.

In vain.

For variety I scoffed down half of the sag paneer, which was very very good but only delayed the scaling of the Naga. A couple more mouthfuls and my forehead was sweaty damp and conversation confined to, ‘How’s yours?’ ‘Hot!’, ‘Good?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Mine too’. Then I felt my eyeballs begin to sweat. ‘More Cobra, sir?’ I nodded furiously and carried on until I could take no more.

Crunchy smoky chapati helped a little and another dose of Cobra also helped to calm down the eyeball sweat enough to see the bill. After a wipe down with a hot towel it was back into the Coventry weather for a welcome dose of fresh April air before returning to London in the company of some charming West Ham fans.

8/10

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


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