Archive for October, 2016

Review #92 Barrica, Fitzrovia

October 27, 2016

Looking for a pre-teaching lunch we ambled through Fitzrovia seeking fresh pastures. Do I want to go to a restaurant called Dickie Fitz? No. No I don’t. A cabaret mebbe, but not somewhere for lunch. Fortunately there are plenty of alternatives on Goodge Street.

One of which is Barrica, an old favourite. They do tapas here that are as good as anything I’ve had in Spain. We got there early so they were still writing up the specials on the board, of which we took a squid ink rice. From the card we had octopus, chicken, tortilla, peppers and chorizo. A hefty lunch but excused by the prospect of football playing in the evening.

The tortilla arrived first. It was a straight tortilla, kinda like the Ray Wilkins Scott Parker of tortilla – no superfluity, no surprises and completely unlikely to get sent off in a crucial world cup match for no good reason. Which is no bad thing as more interesting eats were to come. The octopus, for example, was a chunky heft off the legtacle (a bloctopus of octopus if you will) over a heap of sweet cauliflower.

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Ray Wilkins in his pomp. Too unpredictable to be compared to a Barrica tortilla.

And then your chorizo wasn’t of the sliced variety but rather of a girth and length that one might see hanging off an aroused Alsatian. With a couple of spuds for good measure. Visually striking you might say! Tasted good. The peppers were bang on and delivered good smokiness while the rice was crunchy and depth of the sea flavoured. What about the chicken you say? I don’t know what they did to the chicken but it tasted better than any chicken I’ve had this year. It made me want a whole chicken like that. House wine is a white Rioja that tastes better than anything you can buy for more money in most chains.

The room was empty when we arrived but pretty much full by the time we got coffee – with service that is charming and efficient you can see why the denizens of adland make this place a regular. I’d say I was gutted not to be able to go back to Barrica except that I spotted Salt Yard down the road and look forward to squeezing that in before the end of the year. I wonder how it’ll shape up in comparison.

8/10

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

Review #91 Taste of India, Drummond Street

October 24, 2016

Coming to review a restaurant when the intervening 48 hours have seen a bacchanalian 60th birthday party and a 6 hour police assisted face off with somebody with mental health issues (not mine (this time at least!)), one could be forgiven for not exactly remembering the details of the cuisine on Friday night. Especially as that occasion was an end of season cricket social that inevitably involved a real ale lead in of several hours.

Fortunately my choice of dish at the trad Friday night Indian is as constant as the North Star. Taste of India is a blaze of light on the Drummond Street curry furlong and was selected over the excellent veggies to be found there to satisfy the carnivores amongst the team. We were a raucous-ish table of twelve but the service was remarkably good given the ‘confused’ state of some of us, and a fair amount of badinage going across the linen. I glanced at the couple next to us and felt a mild pang of pity for what they were about to have to listen to.

We had a poppadom starter (two each), which came with a four piece chutney backing group. Well, they were fine but they didn’t last long. My stomachbrain was then wondering where the hell the onion bhaji was. But the jalfrezi arrived soon enough with good sized chicken bits and the refreshing blast of unmediated chilli. On the side was the usual carb overload – rice, aloo, naan – but also some good vegetable involving okra, cauliflower, mushrooms and other unspecified stuff which was at the other end of the table and beyond my arsedness to reach.

Did we have coffee? I don’t think so. The Kingfishers were admirably chilled, the last dregs slipping down surprisingly well with a complimentary mint. Taste of India does what you want a traditional Indian to do and it does it well enough.

6/10

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

Review #90 Bonnie Gull, Fitzrovia

October 21, 2016

Opposite Sergio’s (a very different beast), Bonnie Gull is a place I’ve been meaning to go to for quite sometime. Fitted out like a port side piece of sunshine even on a gloomy October day it felt warm when we got in. We got there pretty much the second it opened and so briefly, very briefly, had the place to ourselves. Soon however the place was buzzing with the animated yet discreet conversation of mid-level BBC types and their (at times celeb) chums.

Bread arrives while you’re perusing the menu and its a shortish but very tempting offer. We skipped sharing plates and I had a starter of smoked salmon with and horseradish. Generous smoky salmon and shards of olive oil fried bread was a very good combination while the horseradish could have been slightly more fierce to please my jaded palate. Then a main of mackerel. Not one but two fillets; perhaps they’d overheard me saying that mackerel is one of my favourite things and heaped on another one. Yum yum but I was looking enviously across the table. Definitely had chip envy.

It’s a tight room but the staff get around efficiently and lunchtime flashed by in a blend of good conversation and fishy deliciousness. With football in the evening I could have indulged in dessert guilt free but thought I’d save myself for when I return in the evening, which I will do as soon as I’m allowed. The bill was pretty reasonable and the cooking a cut above most restaurants I’ve been to in this part of London.

Recommended.

8/10

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

Review #89 Shoryu Ramen, Regent St

October 17, 2016

Shoryu Ramen has been a stalwart for a quick lunch in the West End for quite a few years now (I think I was one of their first customers in 2013) so it’s quite a surprise that I’ve taken so long to visit this year. There’s more competition for the ramen dollar these days but Shoryu remains a reliable disher of the bowls of goodness.

Having to work in the afternoon I foreswore an Asahi and had a mineral water instead (asked for sparkling, got still, couldn’t be arsed to change it). Up front there was a crispy tempura soft shell crab and then into the soup – milky broth, plenty of noodles and veg with gurt lumps of chicken floating about. On a cold-ish October day it was just the kind of hearty thing that sets you up for a an afternoon of teaching.

Service was faultlessly cheerful and the fact that within ten minutes of a midday arrival  the place was heaving shows that Shoryu have earned their rapid expansion across London. They give their customers good food at an affordable price with just enough quirkiness and variety to mark them out from your Wagyermamas or Yos.

7/10

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

Review #88 Wigmore Hall, Marylebone

October 13, 2016

After popping in to the Caravaggio show at the National we were to have dinner before a concert at the Wigmore.* I hadn’t eaten in the Wigmore for a couple of years but had only good memories of it so we decided to make life easy for ourselves and do that.

The room, if you don’t know it, is low-ceilinged and in the basement, so it could be slightly gloomy in the wrong colour scheme. However, they make the best of it with white nappery all over the place, good lighting and charming sketches of past performers dotted around the walls. We arrived at six and there was a smattering of custom already (the usual Wigmorians) which got better over the course of the hour before the pre-gig rush on the bar.

A starter of guinea fowl terrine was a good warm up. They give you plenty of bread here so don’t worry too much about having to order extra sides or anything. A bottle of Picpoul was excellent and went down well with the main of smoked haddock with spuds ‘n’ spinach (not exactly how it was described on the menu). All of this not complicated but very well executed.

Did I want dessert? Well, not really but there was still half an hour to kick off so what else am I going to do? I took the sorbet and fruit while across the table there was a stab in the dark for a salted chocolate blondie. Nope, we didn’t know what it would be either. It turned out to be a slab of sponge pudding – not what the doctor ordered and I had to sacrifice my sorbet.

I couldn’t detect much chocolate in in the blondie  (though it definitely delivered on the salt) or mint in the crème fraiche it rode in with either. But I’m sure sweeter tooths than mine would have been far happier. There was a generous helping of sharp blackberries, that was more my style. Throughout this the service was first class and it was very genial to be guaranteed a table for the interval snifter.**

 

8/10

*Hmm, not exactly a Caravaggio show and to be fair to the folks at the NG they don’t oversell it as one. But still, there was an awful lot of Championship-level filler. Go for the Caravaggio from Dublin and the two de la Tours if you like but when you’ve got Abstract Expressionism one way and Picasso portraits the other I’d think very carefully before choosing this show if you’re only in London for a day trip.

**The concert itself was extraordinary. Eleanora Burrato accompanied by Nazzareno Carusi sang Italian arias in the first half, followed by Italian songs in the second. I’ve been to the opera a fair amount but to sit three rows from someone with such a beautiful voice was really quite emotionally overwhelming. And Curusi on the piano was no slouch either, as he showed with a fantastic recital of a piece from Liszt’s Années de Pelégrinage.

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

Review #87 La Viña, Harringay

October 9, 2016

Nestling by Harringay station La Viña is our local restaurant and while it’s often busy the owner usually manages to find a table soon enough if you just walk up, even on a Saturday. So it’s proved a good standby over the years at times when we couldn’t be bothered to either cook, book or travel very far.

The food is Spanish; tapas are on the menu but we skipped them in order to hurry towards something more substantial. I chose a steak in pepper sauce and to wash it down a bottle of Tempranillo. The steak was well cooked and had a generous helping of sauce. Stodge came in the form of mashed potato but I was absent veg! Oh well, across the table had been chosen a salad and I shared that. It’s good hearty cooking that is ideal for an unpretentious evening out.

The room is convivial, helped along by not-too-loud Iberian music and plenty of customers who know both the staff and each other well. And the root cause of La Viña’s appeal is that it is run by a team who obviously care about what they do.

8/10

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

Zak Ové at Somerset House

October 9, 2016

Thursday I was fortunate enough to catch a talk at Somerset House with (among others) the artist Zak Ové and friends. Rarely have I heard a panel talk so passionately and lucidly about art and I only wish that I’d remembered to take my notebook so that I would have something on which to base this blog! Oh well … I hope I’ll get the chance to hear him again. In the meantime you can see his work (for the rest of today at least as it’s disappearing tomorrow) at Somerset House.

Black and Blue. The Invisible Man and The Masque of Blackness  is a site specific installation that Ové had made to fill the courtyard. It consists of forty identical black figures whose style is inspired by African art. Ové, who is from a Trinidadian background, said that he was partly concerned to challenge the absence of reference to the black experience of Empire in the history of Somerset House which once was home to the Navy Office, where men such as Cook and Nelson would once have come to collect their pay. And now, if briefly, we have a troop of totemic black men overlaying their footsteps and standing proudly at the heart of the present-day multi-cultural London. I only wish all public art were as good.

And if you do go (and you have coin in pocket) I’d recommend popping into Spring or Pennethorne’s for eats. If you want to see more of Ové’s works go to the Vigo Gallery website where they also have a preview of his upcoming shows.

Review #86 Villa Maria, Amsterdam

October 4, 2016

After fine dining at lunchtime and an afternoon strolling around town we were after less sophisticated eats in the evening. Which was fine because we were in a pretty unsophisticated part of town.

I’m always (rightly) suspicious of restaurants that have pictures of their food in the window but we were hungry and one of us needed a top up of cow so we opted for Villa Maria.

Don’t let the signage fool you – VM is definitely not Argentinian. I mean surely even the most rudimentary of minds would realise that Buenos Aires is not renowned for the mambo but the soundtrack here would tell you otherwise. So let’s forget authenticity, what about the food?

It was a relief to find that the meat was good, served Argentinian-style (?!?) on skewers with a good helping of salad and chips. What? You mean that this is the same review as for De Twee Grieken? Well, save for the décor and the nationality of the waiting staff (Indian on this occasion I think) it was pretty much groundhog evening. Except for the wine, Heineken was consumed instead.

5/10

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

Review #85 De Belhamel, Amsterdam

October 3, 2016

Saturday, after a morning in the Rijksmuseum, I was fresh and raring to get stuck into some quality food while the day was still young in Amsterdam. We’d wisely booked ahead at De Belhamel on the basis of its canal-side location and good reviews. It didn’t let us down.

Despite the sun it was a bit chilly to sit outside but they’d booked us a table in the window so the view was just as good. We gazed down upon the canal, the misguided stag’n’hen parties (not all of them as festive as you’d imagine) and the passers-by. The room itself is tastefully shabbed Art Nouveau, smart without being overly formal. Just like the clientèle in fact which ranged from well-turned out locals to discerning trippers.

We took a look at the menu while we sipped a home-made elderflower liqueur (delicious, a foretaste of things to come). You can take a 3-course set lunch for around €40 but being in an expansive mood we went à la carte. Watercress soup with a sliver of brie-style cheese on the side was a good, crisp way to set up a four hour lunch without ruining one’s appetite. We demolished a bottle of Sancerre with that and waited for our mains.

Guinea fowl was a fiddly customer but came on a bed of buttery mash with a large helping of greens. The bread was very good. Not having any appointments in the afternoon we decided to have some Bordeaux to aid conversation, which is the only excuse one of our number has for asking the waitresses if they were sisters. Translated into Dutch for the whole staff to hear this provoked gales of laughter from the dining room to the kitchen, and from the volume of it possibly beyond.

Despite this provocation the service continued to be charm itself and we settled into dessert, which was also yum in three ways. Coffee to round off and we strolled out into the crowds as a trio of Halsian bonhomie.

Into the top ten dinners of 2016.

9/10

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

Review #84 De Twee Grieken, Amsterdam

October 2, 2016

Having arrived in Amsterdam in the afternoon and with only train food in our bellies by the time we arrived at De Twee Grieken we were very hungry, not overly discriminating chaps.

We’d come to the right place. Just how Greek an outfit the DTG is I’m not sure – the chef was suspiciously tall for a Hellene. The food he churned out was okay though. A shared meze followed by a mixed grill went down well, although some grills were more mixed than others. Where were my chops!

We asked for a bottle of wine but the waitress assured us that the house red by the carafe was good. Which was a falsehood, it was a tricky customer from the fit for a plastic one litre bottle range.

But still, we could have gone to a fancier place but DTG was about what we needed after a day of refreshed merriment.

7/10


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