Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Resto 12 Irvin, Crouch End

May 14, 2019

In Crouch End to celebrate a friend’s impending departure on a three month jungle placement we couldn’t get in to our first choice, Bistro Aix, due to a party booking. Irvin turned out to be an excellent substitution.

Arriving early we warmed up with a Bellini and had a look at the menu while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive. Irvin’s thing is Scottish-Italian food, making me think of Paolozzi, Nardini, Nutini, benedetti, Ianucci, Macari … in fact quite a dazzling array of good people in the Italo-Scot line.

The most obvious manifestation of Irvin’s lineage comes in the shape of haggis arancini. Well, we had to have some of those! They were excellent – nutty haggis meat and not too heavy on the stomach. My own starter of freshly prepared crab was also very good with a healthy flesh to veg ratio. A main of venison was cooked to perfection and arrived with a generous portion of roasted new spuds. I was tempted to splurge on dessert but wiser heads prevailed, despite the temptation of home made ices (I’ll have to go back for those).

A small but well-chosen wine list made it difficult to decide what to stick alongside but an Alto Adige white followed by a Puglian red was a knockout combination and helped conversation along admirably. And then, and then .. what this? Three grappas on offer? Well it would seem daft not to give two of them a go when celebrating. Thank heavens for the long-ish walk home to walk it all off.

With excellent service throughout and design that shows a close attention to detail Irvin is a very happy-making place. And the tempting bar makes it an attractive venue for a pitstop of wine and small plates during the upcoming Crouch End Festival. I’ll be back.

9/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 11 La Petite Auberge, Islington

April 25, 2019

Our go to pre-Almeida place is usually Radici but this week we fancied a change. La Petite Auberge is only marginally more distant from the theatre and at six on a Tuesday there was plenty of room inside, and given the state of traffic on Upper Street a pavement table wasn’t especially alluring.

The room is French-themed without being over the top, while on the sound side we had a mega-mix of mostly not-so-obvious chansons.

The menu is old fashioned bistrot fare. A good thing.  I didn’t see any need to look beyond the specials and took an artichoke salad up front with a pan-fried trout to follow. The salad had a good balance of flavour while the trout was excellent – skilfully filletted and done to perfection with plenty of buttery sauce.

This was neighbourhood restaurant cooking of a standard that you don’t find in Paris so much these days unless you know where to look. With a house white to wash it down we were set up for an excellent night of Chekhov.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 9 Gusto, Glasgow

April 14, 2019

It’s difficult to live up to the standard that Paesano sets for Italian in Glasgow but it was Friday night and I wasn’t willing to queue half the evening. So we opted for Gusto based on it being the nearest point for curing ravenousness.

The room, a former bank, is plush and we had plenty of space to not feel hemmed in. A pretty extensive set menu means it’s not really worth looking at the à la carte. Or should we have done?

Bruschetta up front was pretty much tomatoes on bread (I know that’s what bruschetta is but it can be more than that) though the calamari alongside it was better.

The main of rump steak was not really pink as ordered (Christ knows what the well done would have looked like) and arrived without chips.

Nae chups i’ Glasgae!

That was scandalous but the courgette ‘salad’ on the side was just a wet waste of jaw.

Enough savagery. The Chablis was excellent, as was the service. In fact Glasgow sets a high standard for service in the UK, from King Tut’s to the Cathedral front of house was professional to the core.

5/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 8 Sacro Cuore, Crouch End

April 9, 2019

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A Soldier’s Song is over. All that remains is a script and joyful memories of working with a talented cast and crew for a series of satisfied audiences. So with the next writing project the altogether (and indeed literally) more prosaic drudge of academic history I turn back to restaurants for a lighter side of writing.

Sacro Cuore is at the end of Crouch End that I usually can’t be bothered to walk to but it was late afternoon and most regular restos were closed. We were greeted by a charming (and ‘hot’ apparently) waiter and had the run of the room. I liked the mural of north London decorating one side of the room, I liked the clutter-free room and I liked the brevity of the menu – wine is either red or white, no fussing.

We all took pizza – mine was salsiccie and brocolli with a good dollop of chilli oil. The base was really tasty and crispy with plenty of sausage and veg riding on it. I wouldn’t normally finish a whole pizza by myself but this one was despatched without mercy. A rocket salad on the side was a generous heap of the green stuff with a light balsamic dressing. The white wine did a solid job without being anything spectacular – which is fine for the price.

There was plenty of takeaway action going on and soon a few more diners showed up too. With Italian banter carrying on between the kitchen and the front of house even on a slow Monday teatime it felt pretty homely. My preference is still for Bufala di Londra in this neck of the woods but Sacro Cuore gets the same mark.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 7 Lao Café, Covent Garden

March 6, 2019

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The first birthday dinner of 2019 was a leftfield choice. Lao Café is the only Laotian resto in London, possibly the UK. One of us had been to Laos (not me) so knew what to expect – leaning more towards Thai food than Vietnamese but quite distinctive. I was happy to try it out.

Lao Café’s interior is refreshingly modern and zappy with a great big mural on one wall. We had a table in the window. In fact we’d commandeered two tables to cope with the amount of food that we’d ordered, so I felt a bit guilty since there was a queue at the door by the time we left but the owner didn’t seem to mind.

I sucked on a glass of wine while perusing the menu – my interest was immediately piqued by ant eggs. This was a new thing to me. I’d have them as part of a Lao mushroom curry. Alongside that we took a Lao papaya salad and a fish dish for two with some grilled sticky rice.

“You want that spicy?’ enquired the owner. ‘Yes please.’ She looked sceptical. ‘One, two or three chillis?’ I looked at Karen for guidance but she stared back inscrutably. ‘Three, why not?’ ‘You’re sure?’ I sensed a challenge being laid down. I nodded resolutely but ordered a beer just in case.

I definitely needed that beer! The heat was slow to arrive but ferocious when it did. In a good way. At least that’s what I said in between glugging down cold booze by the brace. The fish was excellently cooked – meaty and bony so requiring delicate knife skills. Ant eggs were less of a delight, although the curry they rode in on had an excellent depth of flavour with a high mushroom content that would make it a good lunchtime option. The Lao element to the papaya salad appeared to be hard-shelled baby mud crabs, which I was happy to deposit alongside the fishbones uneaten. I was also less than enamoured of the grilled sticky rice, though that may be due to the fact that I’d had a tooth extracted at the weekend and the hole in my face rapidly turned into a sticky rice mine.

Despite ordering less than the recommended amount of two salads and two mains we still couldn’t finish everything that was brought to us. The service was outstanding – really friendly and quick. I especially liked the feller with the low slung jeans who brought us the wrong bill (lower than we expected) and quite happily admitted his own doofishness about it. Even at the higher rate the bill was reasonable for this part of town for the amount of grub/drink we’d got.

I’ll be back to Lao for curry but without the ants or crabs – this is a place where it’s good to know your way around the menu.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 6 Tomo, Hornsey

February 17, 2019

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Back in Hornsey for a play (someone else’s) at the Great Northern it was thought wise to lay in some bait before in prep for the after-show party. Not having had the greatest experience at La Giaconda across the road we decided to give their rivals a go.

Tomo was busy but not too busy to squeeze us into a corner table. The menu is full Italian – pizza, pasta and fish/meat – but we kept it simple. A Tartufo pizza with sausage and truffle (an altogether superior production to that we saw at the National the night before) accompanied by a rocket salad with artichokes. The pizza was delicately turned and sausaged enough to satisfy. House white by the carafe did the job on the side.

The service was outstanding – three members of staff keeping the whole room happy. If I hadn’t had an appointment with fringe theatre I would have stayed for home made sorbet and grappa. I’ll happily go back soon to amend that.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 5 Franco Manca, Kings Cross

February 11, 2019

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Once upon a time the only place to get a decent drink or a bite to eat if you were on the way to Kings Place was either the Lincoln Lounge or the venue itself. Now all sorts of shit is springing up around York Way to service the ever gentrifying residents and workers of the area.

The Lincoln Lounge is still keeping it real but alas they don’t do bait (well, they’ve got crisps) so we took a punt on a quick dinner in Franco Manca before the excellent Steven Osbourne did Prokofiev as it should be done.

This FM is proper restaurant-sized so it was a mystery to me why, in a half empty restaurant, the waiter should squeeze us into a corner between two other couples. I couldn’t be arsed to argue, I was too hungry.

The menu is pleasantly brief – snacks, salads, pizzas and pasta. We went for an alfalfa (or as they called it when I was growing up, ‘cress’) salad, a meat board and a mushroom pizza to share.

Then the craziness began. The salad arrived in record time. Now I like a salad but I don’t really see a small bowl of it (and no plates to eat it off) as worthy of putting down in front of two people and retreating as if you’ve just delivered a feast in Cana’. So we stared at it and wondered if anything else was going to show up. After about ten minutes we got the pizza. Counterintuitive – where was our thin, raw meat?

Oh, you wanted that? Yes, we did.

Someone taking your order without writing anything down is only impressive if said food is actually delivered.

So now we had pizza, two plates, meat board, salad, wine and water on a table the size of a postage stamp. But we managed. The pizza base was excellent but was scant of mushroom. The meat too was top quality, while the salad was a salad.

If you want to survive in the Italian market you’ve got to do better than that.

5/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 4 Saigon, Northampton

February 6, 2019

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I’ve been working in Northampton for about six months now but thus far without the opportunity to eat anything but canteen fare and humble pie. A visit from the Old Boy was an opportunity to break out of the campus routine and see what the town has in the way of gastronomy.

I’d been recommended Mandarin by one of the students – James had other ideas. He’d spotted Saigon on his way from the station and I was happy to do that. After a pint in the excellent Wig & Pen we strolled up to Saigon with phô in mind.

We were early (I was booked on an 8 o’clock train) so the room was empty of customers but that was okay – there were plenty of staff to make up the numbers. We took a table in the window; who would want to deprive themselves of the Northampton street scene? With its broad vista of pound shops, chicken shacks and Polski skleps it was like being at home in Harringay.

But looking at the menu I knew I wasn’t in Harringay any more – everything was about 30% cheaper. We went for a summer-spring roll mash up to start and a beef phô for main. The summer rolls were fat tubes of fresh veg with a sticky sweet sauce. Hard to get wrong and the bees knees when done to perfection (as these were).

Spring rolls were wrapped in a crunchy green shell and came with a haystack sized pile of fresh leaves alongside. We spurned the veg and got stuck into the rolls straight away. This prompted a rapid intervention by the owner who stormed over and enquired, ‘You ok?!’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You wrap the roll in mint and lettuce – MORE FLAVOUR!!’ This seemed less a piece of advice than a command. We complied rapidly. ‘The girl not tell you?’ We couldn’t help but admit that she hadn’t. ‘I tell her.’ Oh dear.

The girl (who looked like her daughter) didn’t seem overly fussed about getting a bollocking when she brought us the phô so all was good. The phô was a big bowl of good stuff – a rich broth and about half a cow in it, the fat melting into liquid, sitting amongst a good helping of noodles.

The owner brought us the usual fish and soy sauces but these were unnecessary. We’d already tested what looked like a home-made chilli sauce in a little china bowl on the table, dipping the complimentary prawn crackers in it when we got our first beer. This sauce was straight from Vulcan’s kitchen, chilli seeds visible in a bright red paste that promised sweet burning fury in the gob and utter devastation of one’s middle-aged digestive system. I piled it into the phô and ordered another beer as an antidote. I was in chilli heaven.

Meanwhile the owner started gearing up for Chinese New Year by sticking a kitsch pig in the window. ‘Year of pig! VERY LUCKY!!’

Indeed we were.

#food #Northampton

9/10

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Resto 3 – BFI Riverfront, Waterloo

January 28, 2019

 

Bonnard provokes nostalgia – all those sunburst gardens, shady book-supporting desks, sinister cats and naked bints in baths (together with their underlying psychological tremors) recall times past in many climes.

As does the NFT. It will ever be the NFT for those of a certain age.

Reincarnated many times since I proposed marriage while waiting to see Hamlet Goes Business, whatever is done to the Riverside Bar it will never recapture the tobacco-stained, schlobby fading glory of my first visits with Clive James in my pocket.

However, the latest splurge of cash on the place has seen a definite improvement since the time when I had a memorable row with one of the rudest servers I’ve ever encountered. (And there have been a few.)

The offer now is Italian small plates, which was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for. We took a spread of cold and warm things, including a vegetable pizza (vulcan was at the pizza forge, doing a damned fine job as far as I could see). This brought high quality salami and olives, zucchini (battered) and excellent pizzette.

A bottle of house white did the job very well and I’m glad to report that the service was excellent. Though perhaps less so for the lady next to us who had a glass of white poured down her dress.

So, a vast improvement in food, service and atmosphere, I’d like to go back some time and try out the rest of the pizza. Alas, we didn’t have the time to linger and watch some Antonioni, spontanaiety being more elusive thanks to my recent marriage to Mrs Woof.

8/10

#food #London

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

Resto 2 – Holborn Dining Room, Holborn

January 21, 2019

Back in Blighty, I was to Holborn to meet a friend for dinner. He insisted that I book the Holborn Dining Room on the recommendation of Jay Rayner. (I don’t read The Guardian – not because of JR but because I can’t be arsed. As an academic this is quite the social disease.) In return I insisted we have one in the Princess Louise first, it wasn’t a difficult sell.

The HDR turned out to be in the Rosewood Hotel, seemingly a venue where superlawyers of various nations go to spend their Brexit earnings. We seemed conspicuous by our normalcy, perhaps that was why the waiter marched us past a whole slew of empty tables and plonked us in a corner at the far end of the room. Was he worried that we might make a break for it before settling our bill? Certainly Phil, with his double hip replacement, isn’t up to some Olympic-level table hurdling, so he needn’t have worried.

And besides, that’s not the way we roll.

This minor irritation aside the service was excellent throughout, as was the food. And at £23 for a steak and kidney pudding (accompanied by the richest sladge of gravy, poured steaming hot from the boat) I should bloody well hope so. But Rayner’s no liar, this stuff was the shit and no mistake. Fray Bentos seemed a very distant memory.

Sides of sprouts (a bold move in the post-festive season!) and chips were equally good even at the risk of pushing the bill to the yamma hamma end of expensive. If you’re on a budget and hungered for stodge load up on bread, it’s complimentary.* The cheapest wine comes in at £34 (if you’re drinking red) so bear that in mind too.

The room is a great barn of a place, quite masculine and, frankly, full of the kind of people I would usually cross the street to avoid. So a weird one this – I had an excellent dining experience that cost me a packet yet I couldn’t wait to get back to my usual milieu amongst the Pitmen of The Whippet for a digestif and a good chat about home.

6/10

*Though I forgot to check if there’s a cover charge.

#food #London

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


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