Archive for December, 2016

Review #111 Rowley’s, St James’s

December 31, 2016

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A little visual pun for the kids as I forgot to take a picture of Rowley’s

A festive meet up with the family in St James’s saw us take on a classic British one two – G&T in the Chequers followed by a solid lunch in Rowley’s. The Chequers is the pick of the pubs around here and the G&T slipped down nicely even if the FT crossword seemed more difficult than usual.

Once we were assembled we strolled up Jermyn Street, a trip just long enough for one of us to have a crafty fag while we mused on the tragic fate of Stewart Lee, a sad clown it seems for his inability to escape the chrysalis of comedian and transform himself into a fully-fledged public intellectual.

They found a table for us (in a room which has a beautiful period interior) near the window. There were plenty enough fellow diners to make for a civilised atmosphere while we looked at the card. Rowley’s does grown up food – cuts of beast, pies, fish and a couple of veggie things. After days of feeding off scraps and party food I was definitely in the mood for something solid with a good dose of vegetables on the side. I’d come to the right place.

Artichoke and asparagus soup to start was an excellent idea – a deep bowl of yum with a generous portion of bread and butter alongside. This was followed by a fillet steak, cooked perfectly medium rare and arriving on its own little gas warmer. You get unlimited chips at Rowley’s to go with, plus I took a cauliflower cheese which was golden and crusty on top. I surveyed my food and demolished it with glee, slurping down a hefty quantity of Berry’s claret to aid digestion.

The service was polite and attentive and though I was tempted by dessert I had one eye on an evening engagement and just had a coffee. Conversation roamed widely from family matters to the dubious delights to be had at Torture Garden, then to the miraculous survival of Mark E Smith in the year of pop death. We also talked about the reviews of 2016, which like a lot of internet journalism are done on a pro bono basis. But the question was, cui bono? Well, I hope that I’ve encouraged in a minor way my readership to reward the good stuff with their patronage and avoid the stinkers. I’ll be  drawing up a digest (arf) of 2016’s postings in the New Year with a top ten and a bottom three (possibly more) to laud the champions and trash the sinners.

9/10

#Food #London

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

 

Review #112 Rotunda, Kings Cross

December 31, 2016

A marathon eating day – Rowley’s for lunch would usually lead to salad in the evening but hey, it’s Christmas so the fun must go on. After a meet up with a couple of friends we headed to Rotunda to find a calmer atmosphere than the frenzy around the station.

We did find it but maybe it was a little too calm. There was a  smattering of drinkers at the bar but no-one else in the restaurant. We batted on anyway, Rotunda has proved to be reliable in the past. The room is especially good in the summer when you can look out onto the canal. On a winter evening it’s less picturesque but still pleasant.

I think with New Year’s Eve the next day it was forgivable that there was a skeleton staff and a limited menu. I had a Groundhog Meal of soup to start followed by a ribeye steak (fillet was off, grr). The soup was decent, the steak less good – cooked well but a bit chewy. To be honest I was flagging by the time the steak turned up and it was with less of a bang than a whimper that I consumed the last meal of 2017.

7/10

#Food #London

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

Review #110 North Sea Fish Restaurant, Bloomsbury

December 25, 2016

Last night a fish bar saved my life. Well, kind of. In the crazed fashion of the festive season I’d sorely neglected solid nourishment while maintaining a steady intake of liquids. The North Sea Fish Restaurant proved to be an excellent remedy for the consequent hunger.

A table in the window gave a good view out onto a quiet Bloomsbury byway and we selected from a wide range of fishy beasts. I took a skate with a dollop of chips and mushy peas on the side. The skate was perfectly cooked. Crunchy batter wrapped around a generous helping of delicately flavoured wing. Chips in a basket were proper chips and too plentiful even in my empty-bellied state. The tartare sauce was homemade and tangy. The only small disappoint was overly mushy peas. They were not quite up to Ferryhill standards but I guess it’s not unusual to find one’s childhood treats difficult to replicate in the here and now.

With beer on tap the NSFR is my new favourite chip shop.

8/10

#Food #London

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

Review #109 National Gallery Café, Trafalgar Square

December 21, 2016

An air of melancholy hangs over the National Café. The room is too big, with a ceiling a mile from the floor and windows thus too high to see out of. Rarely full, this Thursday evening we had the pick of the room and chose a corner table (standard agent choice – back to the wall and a view to both exits). The décor, even ten years or so after opening, is hi spec with lovely red leather furnishings, woody warm walls and antiqued mirrors. It’s the melancholic air that draws me back. That and the macaroni cheese, which is perfect post-guiding fare.

The melancholy was added to by the state of Trafalgar Square. Why Shrigley, why? All those stick balancing Yoda scroungers, now transformed by the Magic of Christmas into rapacious aerial Santas, make a mockery of the imperial pomposity of the Square’s original plan far more effectively than Shrigley’s tragic waste of bronze could ever do. The big thumb is a piece of egocentric art so facile it makes a Banksy graffito of a transvestite copper look like a piece of allegory on a par with Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time.

 

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Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time. Not to be confused with Shrigley, Thumbs Up!


But I digress.

We chose from the Italian set menu, drawn up in honour of the Caravaggio exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing. Bean soup to start was a winner as I was exceedingly hungry. Plenty of satisfyingly thick soup and some good bread to go with it. Bruschetta next to me looked a bit meagre but was made up for by a generous helping of pasta with shin bone beef as a main course. My roast cod was delicious enough with  enough cherry tomatoes alongside to see off a whole platoon of prostate problems but the side order of chips was a curiously bloodless affair and appeared to have been assembled at very short notice.

A small tragedy around the wine.The list had the same Oregonian red that I’d enjoyed at the Opera but at twenty quid less. I put in an immediate order. And rhapsodised on its qualities. But what’s this? None left! A stab to the alcoholic vitals that was only slightly mitigated by its Pinot Noir replacement being a tenner cheaper.

Though the room was sparsely occupied a certain charm was added by the friendliness of the staff, who chatted to us about the film that we’d been to see (Son of Joseph at the ICA – highly recommended). Unfortunately this was to a backdrop of music sorely lacking in taste in a venue such as this. A cover version of Eddie Reader’s Perfect? U2’s A Beautiful Day?! And they were the least rancorous of the selections.

After coffee (good coffee) and dealing with some comic business around the bill we slipped across to the Opera Room of the Chandos to rediscover a jolly festive tone and leave the melancholia behind.

7/10

#Food #London #Art

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

Review #108 Bistro Aix, Crouch End

December 19, 2016

On a filthy, grey cold day of such a gloom that only London in December can provide we sought big food in bright surroundings. We found what we were looking for at Bistro Aix.

Warmth was provided by a series of food-themed pictures around the walls showing scenes of sun-baked gallic types involved in producing good stuff. The room itself was cosy in a classic bistro style with solid furniture and plenty of linen to go round. A big window gave a view out onto nippy Christmas shoppers hurrying by.

We went for a pre-theatre set menu which comes in at a very reasonable £18 for two courses (£22 from memory for three). And they’re not stingy on the options – there’s one fish, two meat and something for veggies. First up for me was a chicken liver terrine, followed by magret de canard. The terrine was smooth and rich, ideal winter food. Home made bread on the side was a nice touch. The duck was a hunk a duck and plenty of spuds and beans with the star of the plate being a thick lashing of deep-flavoured sauce that makes me slaver to think of even as I write this.

Didn’t we have wine? You’re asking me after all these reviews? You bet we did. They’ve got a big, chunky book of wine with a good selection from around France. I was tempted by a Pinot from Alsace but eventually opted for something from the South West to go with my rustic duck. It was well worth thirty quid and did its job perfectly. You can go plenty north of that on the wine front if you’ve got the budget (and the discernment) but there’s enough options around the 25 quid mark.

Service was faultless and very French. A coffee to round off and we sloped around to the Harringay Arms for soul tunes and Laphraoig. I can’t wait to go back to Aix in the New Year though and take a look at the à la carte – it’s a place worth saving for a celebration.

9/10

#Food #London

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

Review #107 Hanoi Phø*, Green Lanes

December 13, 2016

After another afternoon on the baize we were two hungry chaps in search of some non-kebabisch sustenance on Green Lanes. What luck then that another Vietnamese has opened on the high street. This Hanoi Phø is a more upsacale beast than its canteeny namesake across the road with comfy chairs and big linened tables. It being Sunday teatime it wasn’t especially busy but we didn’t care.

I was struck by the music. Elton John crooning Your Song wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. This was followed by a further smattering of syrupy ballads and then a John Williams megamix (the guitarist rather than the Star Wars guy).

The food on the other hand was authentic Vietnamese. We started off with some nem – crunchy crisp prawn filled shells with a bold flavoured dip. So good I wish I’d ordered a whole plateful for myself. A main of phø had a rich stock and good lumps of real chicken as well as the usual accoutrements. I was rather jealous of the sizzling goat across the way and will have that next time. A couple of Saigon beers went down very well and this was another bargain dinner, coming in at less than a score each. Definitely on a good run of eating in December.

8/10

*Okay, so this is getting confusing now. I went to Hanoi Phø on Green Lanes for review #43 but at that point it wasn’t listed on GoogleMap so I just used their other branch in Mare Street. Now there’s another Hanoi Phø on Green Lanes but that one isn’t listed on GoogleMap so I’ve had to use the first Green Lanes Hanoi Phø’s location which has in the meantime been listed. Confused? Well, the #43 review is next door to The Salisbury, while the one I’m concerned with now is further towards Finsbury Park, next to Hot Nuts. That’s not the first branch of Hot Nuts, which is nearer to the railway bridge, but rather the second branch of Hot Nuts which is closer to the snooker club. All clear?

#Food #London #Harringay

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

Review #106 Autograf Grill, Green Lanes

December 9, 2016

Next door to Kata Autograf is conveniently located for some post-baize scoffage. Their proposition is Polish food and if you go there make sure you’re hungry as it’s an-all-you-can-eat pigfest.

Well, not exactly on this occasion. I felt that I’d had enough pork for one day so instead I went for the chicken grill. Much as I like pierogis you’d have to be an Olympic weightlifter to take on a starter, especially as each order is preceded by good quality rye bread, dripping and gherkins. We scoffed these with an Urquell (draft, a bargain £3.90 a pint) while the room filled up.

The chicken arrived. A foot long skewer of tenderly grilled paprika’d meat and alongside it a generous bowl of peppery chips with a tomato salad. Across the table there was a blood sausage that had been cooked in tin foil that looked like the kind of thing I’d want for breakfast the day after a marathon.

At under twenty quid a head including drinks Autograf rivals the Green Lanes kebab shops for value and warmth of welcome.

9/10

#Food #London

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

Review #105 Salt Yard, Goodge Street

December 8, 2016

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Back in the smoke to catch up with a Nippon bound friend we arranged to meet at Salt Yard, an old favourite. I was on the back of prepping a Fitzrovia walk and having memorised a range of anecdotes of thirsty thirties Fitzrovians I was definitely in the mood for food.

In a bid to squeeze in a cheeky sherry (it’s nearly Christmas after all) and do the crossword I got there early. And so did he, so the crossword had to wait for later and we both supped a sherry while we looked at the menu.

And what a menu. I could pretty much eat anything on it. Except for the risotto which was billed as arriving with a duck egg.* So we took an intro of thin, raw meat and then two from the top, two from the middle and one from the bottom please Carol (showing my age), along with a bottle of white from Puglia.

The room filled up rapidly and as a large office party was slotted in downstairs I feared that the kitchen might be put under pressure. I couldn’t be more wrong. Our tapas arrived on a smooth conveyor belt of punctuality.

The meat – thinly sliced pieces of pig flavoured with marjoram and chilli – were an excellent way to start. Then, Dylan Thomas style, we took the sweet stuff first; soft cheese-stuffed courgette flowers drizzled in honey. V good. Then the main event – chicken, more oink, squid ink croquettes. The pig was a hefty cube of braised belly and just melted in the mouth. Chicken arrived prettily arranged in a  bowl alongside the subtlest aioli I’ve ever had. The croquettes were served I’m A Celebrity style as a row of four crocadilly-like eyeballs, which was slightly disconcerting but delivered on flavour and texture if not looks.

I’d eaten well but I still wanted more so we got some manchego to go with the dregs of the booze before getting a beautiful espresso served in a good deep cup. The deep cup is very good for holding in warmth and aroma isn’t it? With the service charming and discreet it was one of those days where I could have just remained seated for the whole afternoon with a glass of something sticky and then done it all again for my tea. Salt Yard isn’t cheap but you do get value for money.

9/10

*I still harbour a deep resentment towards M. P. White for once delivering an un-menu’d egg to me at The Criterion on top of some guff or other that I shouldn’t have ordered.

#Food #London

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

Review #104 Bistrot Blanc Bec, Paris

December 6, 2016

Well, we’d been in Paris for a whole weekend and had yet to go to a proper bistrot for a proper lump of cooked stuff. Across from Les Trois 8 and down the road from Les Félines le Blanc Bec was within staggering distance of two of my newest favourite bars so we did that.

Downstairs was full on a Saturday night (a good sign) so we got a table up top where the atmosphere was quieter but not too quiet. Fellow diners were mostly French and a good hum of conversation formed the background noise with a bit of discreet music. The food is solid French cooking and very, very good. First up was a delicious terrine which I polished off pretty quickly.

And then to the main event – three chunky bits of magret de canard in a deeply sweet sticky sauce and a good amount of carrot ‘n’ spuds. Rustic yet elegant and washed down with a bottle of red from the Jura. The duck was the best thing of the weekend, partly because I was so damned hungry but also because it was good of itself.

I wouldn’t have minded a dessert but it was a thumbs down from Giuseppe del Bosque so I got my dose of sweetness from a glass of rum in Les Pirates down the road.

8/10

#Food #Paris

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

Review #103 Les Babines, Paris

December 6, 2016

Having missed out on Les Babines the day before we made our way back after some morning’s shopping (shout out to Billards Jean Marty, the best alternative to Sports Direct I’m aware of) for a cold collation lunch. Les Babs is a wine shop that does food which seems to me the best shopping of all, even better than snooker.

It seemed as though we’d crashed a family get together but they didn’t seem to mind and set us up in the corner of the room with a view of some Mike Gatting sized bottles that were tempting as train booze.

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Mike Gatting wrestles with a Rickety Bridge

So we went for two planches again, this time with the little wrinkle of a fish planche followed by a duck planche. Various textures of each tastefully arranged with a scattering of veg, all good. We asked our host to recommend some wine to go with the fish and he slipped over a generous amount of Chablis. Very good. And with the duck? He gave us a cheeky grin and fired out some French about something that was as good as a Crozes Hermitage without being a Crozes Hermitage. We were sold and we took a glass of that followed by another one as we started to ease ourself into the afternoon.

All this for about 20 euros a head?! Best value of the weekend, and if we’d a had Gatt with us we would’ve got a carryout.

9/10

#Food #Paris

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


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