Archive for August, 2016

Review #73 Le Fumoir, Paris

August 29, 2016

In Paris for the day I’d booked Le Fumoir on the basis of good ratings and its location – half an hour’s stroll from Victor Hugo’s gaff (v good) and virtually next door to the Louvre, for which I’d booked a 3 o’clock entry. It was hot.

Victor Hugo – not just a long-winded medievalist he was also a gifted interior designer

Yes, it was so hot that I was tempted to roll my sleeves up. But I kept a stiff upper lip about it.

Salvation came in the form of an ice cold towel presented to us by the waiter barely before we’d sat down. It was the best thing I’ve had in a restaurant this year bar none. Cold towel applied to brow, cheeks, back of neck and wrists put me in a very good frame of mind.

As well as being hot I was also very thirsty. Fortunately our friends at Le F had a solution for that too. One side of the table got a negroni while I had a dolce vita. Freshly made cocktails fizzy sour and poured over a colossal goblet full of ice. Already Le Fumoir had become one of my favourite places on earth.

We contemplated the room. Fans spinning lazily from the ceiling over a mixture of workers lunching, well-heeled tourists and one middle aged couple engaged periodically in sucking each other’s face off in between pecking at their food. An eclectic crowd. All this in a subdued light with blinds half drawn to allow a discreet view of the passing trade of standard issue bumbag charabancists, their adipose tissue visibly melting as they slithered their way to take selfies in front of Renaissance art.

Our waiter, who made Bradley Cooper seem a second rate Marty Feldman, was out of the French Old Skool. Formal but willing to chat if it was to a purpose. They have a prix fixe menu at lunch of three courses for €27 which even in these troubled times of the sterling drop seemed an incredible bargain. Courgette velouté (still looking for chills) was gorgeously smooth and then bass with celeriac, all excellent. The bread kept coming and was helped along with a Domaine des Schistes (‘An excellent choice’) and I was seriously considering selling everything I had in London to move into Le Fumoir. We couldn’t resist dessert and so combined coffee by taking an affogato each. The total bill for two was just over €100, which is an absolute snip.

Our next stop was the Louvre where we spurned the hordes to seek out Chardin and Poussin, two painters guaranteed to take the feverish mess out of any day. Having gorged on them we couldn’t resist another stop in Le Fumoir on the way to the station for their happy hour. This time we sat at the bar while another male model, this time trained as a mixologist, made us a mint julep and a Tom Collins.

Good times.

9/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #71 Bi Won, Bloomsbury

August 24, 2016

After a quick look at the Sunken Cities exhibition (recommended … also featuring an unexpected familial connection on the sponsorship side of things!) we were looking for hearty food. Bi Won delivered.

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Bi Won is right next door to Cocoro (where we went last week) and so making a comparison between the two is inevitable,. But that would be slightly unfair as while they both offer Asian food they do offer distinctly different menus, which is not always the case with Japanese and Korean restaurants. For example, Bi Won doesn’t offer sushi/sashimi on its starters, although the battered starter selection was reminiscent of the tempura next door but a bit on the heavier side. Which wasn’t such a bad thing as I was ravenous.

Being early arrival they plonked us at a table for four in the window from where you get a good view of people milling around on Coptic Street or hurrying down New Oxford Street on the way home from work. The menu was all in English so despite my inexpertise at Korean food even I know that their stews are bibimbap but I guess this is tourist central and there’s a menu for the regulars and a menu for the visitors.

Well, I took the spicy kimchee pork stew and it was perfect. Fierce heat and good sour cabbage interspersed with strands of porky good stuff. Seaweed on the side was a bit overpriced for what it was, as was a kimchi to share. With a good portion of rice after a starter you really only need the main course. Max beer was good and malty and helped mitigate the heat of the stew.

With good service (included in the bill) I was happy to pay around twenty quid a head. It reminded me that I must go back to Dotori in Finsbury Park this year, which in my experience is yet to be improved upon for this kind of informal Asian cooking.

7/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #70 Cocoro, Bloomsbury

August 20, 2016

After meeting at the excellent Skoob Books we were looking for a hearty lunch to set us up for an afternoon of exhibitioning. I’m rapidly running out of options in Bloomsbury so we opted to raid Coptic Street where good food is usually to be found whichever restaurant you choose to visit.

We tossed up between Korean at Bi Won and Japanese at Cocoro and Japan won. Trade was decent for a midweek lunchtime and a good sign was that half the clientèle were Asian. Asahi on draft was sweeter than I remember it being and we got stuck into the menu. There’s the usual range of sushi/sashimi, curry, teryaki, ramen and sides. They do a lunch option of ramen, salad and rice for around eleven quid which we both went for.

To start we shared a plate of tempura prawns. They arrived freshly done and piping hot, in fact too hot to eat before out ramen arrived. The batter was lovely and fluffy, I only wished I’d ordered a whole portion to myself. My ramen was kimchi with good lumps of cabbagey goodness in a spicy sour soup. The rice seemed a bit surplus to requirements on top of a good dollop of noodles.

Service was quick and cheery, the only downside to the room is that it lacks natural light but I guess there’s not much they can do about that. I’m looking forward to trying out Bi Won soon to see who wins this East Asian head to head.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #69 BFI Riverside, South Bank

August 17, 2016

I was at the South Bank killing time before going to see Notorious and thought to meet up at the NFT bar (as it’s still known in my head if not in reality) and grab some meat’n’cheese or similar to keep hunger at bay.* But as I was early for my rendezvous I thought I’d get a G&T and cool down while I read my book. Well, that’s what I thought I’d do.

It was late afternoon, before the office crowd had escaped their cubicles and so trade was leisurely at the bar. As I got to the counter one guy was dealing with a family of four while the other member of staff was staring into space. I stood to the left of the family and looked at her. She glanced my way and then carried on chewing imaginary gum. I fixed her with a laser-like beam. No reaction.

Just about to say something a feller rocked up the other side of the family and she served him immediately. This was starting to feel personal. As the other customers took away their drinks and the barman turned to chopping up limes or somesuch I commented in a neutral voice to the barmaid that I’d been next at the bar.

‘Yes, but the till is over here.’

‘And that makes a difference?’

‘Yes, you have to order at the till, you didn’t come to the right place.’

‘I thought it was the job of bar staff to serve the customer rather than the other way round.’

‘No, you have to order at the till.’

‘I have to guess that?’

‘It’s what we do here’

Or in other words, ‘NO SOUP FOR YOU!’

I retired to the other side of Waterloo Bridge and picked up an excellent G&T in the Lyceum Tavern and calmed down over a chapter of Cyril Hall. But after twenty plus years of going to the bar at the NFT  (hell, I even proposed to my wife in there in one of its former incarnations!) I’ll not be back again.

(No rating)

*Despite the feelings expressed in the rest of this post the NFT remains a pleasure to visit. To see Notorious with Bergman and Grant at their best in the plush surroundings of NFT1 was one of the highlights of my summer.

To see where else I’ve eaten (or now haven’t) in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #68 Getti’s, Jermyn Street

August 8, 2016

Getti’s is an old standby for pizza/pasta in the Piccadilly area and since we’d just exited the Summer Exhibition at the RA (where the only thing that took my eye was an unusually sprightly Anselm Keifer) we thought we’d load up on Italian goodies before heading home.

The crowd is pretty democratic for Jermyn Street – tourists rub shoulders with hedgies – and the room is pleasant, especially if you get a table near the window from which to gaze out on passers-by. A shared calamari to kick off was perfect – crispy batter, tangy garlicky aioli and a bit of salad on the side. This went down with a lashing of Pinot Grigio. Next up my pizza was loaded with good goaty cheese and everything was going swimmingly.

Until the cheese course. Oh dear, the cheese. It came on a bed of limp rocket and was very much a grab bag of stuff that none of us was in a hurry to finish off. The stock of Port had run out (how on earth does that happen in as civilised a location as Jermyn Stree?!) and its replacement, a sweet Sauternes-like liquor, was not really what was wanted on the side of the salty slabs. And it took a long time to get the bill.

So we should have left after the mains but I’ll be back at Getti’s as this is the first time I’ve had a less than excellent experience there and I’m convinced it must have just been an off day.

5/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #67 Shikara, South Kensington

August 7, 2016

Pre-Prom and looking for spice South Ken didn’t seem all that promising, its independent trade having largely succumbed to the crushing onslaught of the chains since I first used to come to SK when my children were wee bairns. But we found Shikara tucked away in Rue de Bute and rolled the dice.

The room is pleasant enough and Bute Street itself is fairly quiet, although I’m not sure that the lonely pavement table looks all that appealing. We chose to stay indoors. The offer is your standard tandoori fare. Chef’s specials up front, jalfrezi/biryani/dhal in the middle, veg, sundries then the filthy English stuff – Madras/Vindaloo/Chips – hidden away at the back.

A starter of shami kebab was a bit disappointing with not enough spice for my taste. The poppadoms though were excellent with a good selection of chutneys. A main of one of the chef’s specials was ok but again not as spicy as I was hoping. I guess this shows the value of cultivating your local curry house – you get to learn what they mean by mild, medium and hot. Visiting an Indian at random you don’t have the time to work out what’s good for your palate.

The service was friendly and there was the usual Cobra-Kingfisher face off which provoked the thought of why aren’t Indian restaurants getting into the craft beer game? While I’m sure there are commercial incentives for them to live within the C-K duopoly (although I’ve sometimes seen Heineken on offer too) it’s a shame that local brews seem to be the domain of your Dishooms rather than reaching down to the independent sector.

So we rolled out of Shikara content but not wowed. Which is okay, the bill was reasonable for the area. Stephen Osborne doing the Britten Piano Concerto at the RAH on the other was utterly sensational.

6/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Øve Arup at the V&A

August 6, 2016

With an hour to spare before meeting for a pre-Proms dinner I thought I’d have a look at what was on at the V&A. I wasn’t tempted by the knickers show but Øve Arup was definitely my bag and delivered an hour-sized piece of intellectual entertainment.

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The show only opened in June, as part of the V&A’s engineering season, but I don’t recall any publicity about it on my usual cultural channels. Which seems a shame as it’s a gem. Arup, despite being Danish, was a man whose history was inextricably bound up with London. Indeed the firm that he founded, which is now the leading engineering practice of its kind in the world, continues to be so after his death.

You can find out about the modern practice and its cutting edge development of the fields of crowd flow studies and acoustic engineering in a hi-tech, interactive section that works via a wifi linked app on your phone and touchscreens. Or at least you could if they all worked! The irony of the first touchscreen I tried to use not working wasn’t lost on the gallery assistant.*

But that was just a glitch – the show gives a good overview of Arup’s career from his arrival in London in the 1920s, through working in London during the Blitz to making his international reputation with high profile projects such as the Sydney Opera House and the Centre Pompidou. What is more it brings across the personality of the man with humorous sketches from his personal notebook and memorabilia from office parties and awards dos.**

I hope you’ve already decided to go and visit so I won’t describe the exhibits in detail but will pick out two titbits of particular interest to Londoners. Arup, together with Lubetkin, was the man behind the pioneering modernist masterpiece of the London Zoo penguin pool and it was a real treat to see the plans outlining the geometric and technical conception of one of the greatest sculptures in London.***

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Secondly, there is a fascinating section devoted to Arup’s work on air-raid shelter during World War 2. I’ve been guiding and teaching on the Blitz for a few years now and it was quite exciting to see the correspondence between Arup and various committees about the necessity for deep level shelters, as well as various publications that he produced for the public sphere. Perfect for someone with an interest of life during wartime in London.

It was also a delight to find a display on one of my favourite pieces of architecture – the King’s Walk Bridge in Durham. This elegant sliver of brutalism spanning the deep gorge of the River Wear has been a favourite since childhood and remains my top piece of concrete. The video of the two halves being swung into place and Arup himself the first stroller across is mesmerising and brought a sharp tinge of nostalgia for the most beautiful city in England.

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*Perhaps this was a sly reference to one high profile Arup project that is curiously neglected – the Millennium Bridge between St Paul’s and Tate Modern.

**This contrasts significantly to a similar show at the RA a year or two ago about Richard Rogers which was a long on on pompous hagiography and short on charm.

***I say sculpture because it was notoriously unpenguinny.

 

 

Review #66 Rule’s, Covent Garden

August 1, 2016

To a long lunch at Rule’s for a family get together sadly reduced from four to two. One party requiring the sobriety required to take on three hours of Richard III later in the evening. Another on a yellow card for a bout of geriatric fruitiness got out of hand. So we were just two but met under the tacit understanding that should it be required we could scoff’n’booze for four. And if you want to do that thing Rule’s isn’t a bad venue.

I arrived to find that my uncle had already got stuck into the Black Velvet (served by the pint in a chilled pewter tankard) while I’d been lurking doing the crossword in the Porterhouse up the road. It seemed uncivilised not to join in on the BV and so I did while we perused the menu.*

But first, the room. Rule’s is Historic, dating back to 1798, but inside at least wears its history lightly. The opulent décor lends gravitas and there’s a splurge of artistic production over the walls that could keep an active mind amused all day but the atmosphere seems to be as formal as you make it at table.

The menu features beasts from the restaurant’s own Yorkshire estate and majors on English classics. By which I mean it’s best to be on the hungry side when you arrive. Under the Guinness’s influence I went for half a dozen oysters to start which arrived on a bed of ice and with a variety of garnishes to be applied as one liked. I gutted and consumed them immediately. In the meantime we’d started on a bottle of Meursault and talk flowed.

A son on one hand and a father-in-law on the other being missing chat turned to inter-generational relations, helped along by an unexpected Turgenevian present.

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We’d put away the starters and now arrived the mains and a bottle of claret. Rabbit leg was promised on the menu and didn’t disappoint, being a whole leg in a bowl of juice, peppers and spuds to be decanted onto the plate. Up top we had fresh minted peas and spears of broccoli to share. The red was slipping down nicely I felt more and more like a trencherman as discussion turned to Brexit, Nigel Farrage, sciatica and the therapeutic power of walking in London.**

By this time I was riding a boozy bus of bonhomie and any resistance I had to the onward march of Trad Food was futile. Toffee pudding was the order of the day and what’s this alongside? A large glass of Tokay. I stuck away the remains of the red and munched golden syrupy-fluffy pudding promising myself that Sunday would be a monkish bread and water day of penance. The Tokay caressed my tastebuds.

After climbing the stairs to the jakes I passed through the cocktail bar which seemed an admirable retreat from the horrors of the modern world. In fact, Rule’s as a whole has that effect. The charming service, calm room and well-cooked food is a guaranteed stress-buster at a smaller price than you would pay to be made to feel both anxious and unwelcome in some ponced up bit of fusion flim-flam bollocks such as appears in and disappears out of both the West End and colour supplements on a weekly basis.

9/10

* My first ever. I’m not entirely certain that I’ll repeat the experience as I found that it ranked alongside Irish Coffee in taking two things that I love (in this case Guiness and Champagne) and by mixing them rendered them far less satisfactory. While the BV is not nearly as filthy a thing as the IC (which adds to the crime of ruining good whiskey with coffee by then further mixing it with sugar and cream) it is definitely an acquired taste.

**Farage, whom I once thought to be a minor English Poujade seems likely to be one of the most influential Englishmen of the twenty-first century. Who’da thunk.

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here


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