Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Resto 25 Searcy’s St Pancras Grand Restaurant

May 9, 2017

I’d often wondered, as I hurried along to get a Midlands train, who dined in Searcy’s trackside at St Pancras. It seemed a halfway house between the luxury of the Gilbert Scott and the midbrow convenience of Carluccio’s et al elsewhere in the station that couldn’t really work. The door is narrow and you can’t really see inside to get a handle on who your company might be once you’re in. So we gave it a go at the weekend.

The room is tardis-like, much bigger than you expect, and pleasingly appointed. There are big tables, proper nappery and good, brasserie-style décor. The food is standard bistrot fare too. However, there’s nothing to mark out the restaurant as worthy of note, from food to service. It’s all competent without making you think you must go back so it’s noticeable that most of the customers (on our visit at least) appear to be out of towners who are indeed less than likely to need to go back again. And alas the prices reflect the location rather than the value of the experience. It’s all a bit soulless.

#Food #London

6/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 24 Saki, Crouch End

April 30, 2017

Opposite the now defunct Ohba Leaf Saki is maintaining a solid Japanese option in Crouch End. The elimination of its rival has obviously not harmed business for we were lucky to get a table even at around 6 o’clock. People arriving after us without a reservation were being turned away.

The menu is standard sushi/sashimi, bentos and curries but no ramen as far as I remember. Which was good as it made me try something different for a change. We took a range of appetisers to share which arrived as they were cooked. Duck dumplings were excellent – crispy and squidgy – while the octopus balls (‘When was the last time you had octopus balls?’ badinaged across the table) were okay but not especially life-enhancing. Best of the three was the squid; fluffy batter sweet and hot chilli sauce, made for not sharing, you’ll want the whole plate.

Big food was eel on rice. How I love eel! This was well cooked in a tasty sauce on sticky rice. I wish I’d got some veg to go with it but apart from that it was perfect. Asahi on the side worked fine and for about twenty quid a head this is a good option in a fiercely competitive N8 market.

#Food #London

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Saki

Resto 22 Dragon, Crouch End

April 15, 2017

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A Chinese restaurant isn’t the traditional venue for a Good Friday dinner I guess but when you’re in the grip of the perma-hang it’s  a good option. The last time I was in Dragon was at least twenty years ago but it’s a good sign that in a place like Crouch End it still exists. Few other restos in N8 have such staying power.

We got a mixture of starters and then a main each with some mixed vegetables. All of the starters were piping hot and cooked fresh – definitely a good sign in a genre of dining that too often (in my experience) relies on the reheat. We should have got two soft shell crabs as between four of us I was lucky to get a crabnail.

My main of sizzling Szechuan prawn arrived suitably spectacularly and had a good kick of fresh chilli. I should have had a beer but my mind said I’d had enough so we had wine. It wasn’t the best wine but it was quite cheap. In fact the whole meal came in at under 25 quid a head for plenty of food and drinks each.

The room was quiet for a Sunday evening and this is a shame when other places around here are bursting at the seams. The décor may be old-fashioned but the atmosphere was pleasantly calm, and the service was excellent. I think it won’t be two decades before I visit again. For a trad Chinese Dragon does a good job for which more ‘designed’ places in this area would charge you a premium.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Restaurant 19 Galette Café, Paris

April 8, 2017

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We wanted a quick lunch on the way to the Louvre and galettes (or Breton pancakes) seemed a good option. Half empty when we arrived the room was soon full with students, local workers and a few tourists like us. The seating is tight with individual tables around the fringe of the room with a communal table in the middle. This gave the space a nice, informal vibe that was just right for our mood.

The menu has a good variety of galettes to suit most tastes. I had a mushroom and chicken with a Grimbergen on the side. Being Breton they go big on cider so I felt a bit guilty at not trying some (especially with pictures of the producers smiling rustically down at me from the walls) but I lost the need for cider when I was about 16.

The galette was delicious – chunky and rustic with a good helping of mushrooms and chicken on top. I think double up the carbs by adding potato to the mix was a bit unnecessary but it didn’t diminish from the tastiness of the dish. A highly recommended non-touristy spot close to the d’Orsay or the river for a quick bite.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 18 Goppa’s, Hackney

March 28, 2017

Killing time before heading to a gig at MOTH club (one of the best ever!) we were looking for quick food. I couldn’t be tempted by a steakwich at The Globe, even though the company was charming, so we pressed on to Goppa’s, lured by pizza.

On an unprepossessing (but is anywhere in this corner of Hackney prepossessing?) stretch of road Goppa’s is alluring from the outside. A warm room, rough and ready seating and a nice bar with Italian pop tunes on the stereo. I liked it immediately.

The menu is more sophisticated than expected with the usual pizzas but a great variety of pasta as well as a good range of smaller dishes. We went for calamari up front followed by Tuscan sausage pizza with a green salad. The calamari were great – light batter and straight from the pan. I was wondering where the aïoli was but actually they didn’t need a dip. With a squeeze of lemon they were absolutely perfect and I wish I’d had a whole bowl to myself.

The pizza had a good base and plenty of sausagey-mushroom topping. A large one was enough for two to share. The salad was a slight let-down after all this excellence with a bit too much salt in the dressing for my taste but others may differ. With a cheap bottle of white the whole thing came in at about 30% less than you’d pay at a medium-level chain so it was great value too.

Business was slightly slow on a quiet early Monday evening but I expect it’s busier later and at weekends. The staff were really friendly and if I’m back in the area I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.

Recommended.

8/10

#Food #London #Hackney

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Two exhibitions at the British Museum

March 26, 2017

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All the publicity for the British Museum recently has been for The American Dream, a show about prints from the past sixty or so years in the States. If you pair it  with America Between the Wars at the RA you can get a pretty good overview of the art of twentieth  century America. At the cost of quite a lot of shoe leather – neither show is negligible.

The BM’s is the more extensive however, more extensive and more comprehensive than I’d imagined it would be. Up front are the star names – Warhol, Rauschenberg (haven’t we seen enough of him lately?), Johns and Jim Dine.

The last I admit was new to me, which made him the most interesting of the nominated big three, who get their own rooms pretty much. Dine’s Red Design for Satin Heart was truly a thing of beauty. I won’t reproduce it here because as a digital image it looks a bit Clintons Cards. You have to see it in situ. Dine is more interesting than Oldenburg (who has a few prints up front) in his monumentalisation of the ordinary, for example with his print of paint brushes. He makes his re-contextualised implements living subjects whereas Oldenburg it seems is more concerned with artifice.

Then up comes Ruscha. Was I rattled by the Ruscha? (There’s one for all the Pavement fans out there.) Well, not really, it seemed that his processes – for example his use of gunpowder in print-making – were more interesting than the things he produced. Once you’ve seen three or four rooms half-full of slick stuff satirising ad-land you start to wonder whether the satire was ever there in the first place, except as a counter-cultural rhetorical device.

It was at this point (about halfway through) that I came to the opinion that the exhibition was far too big to take in in one go. But I ploughed on because in London, with so much going on, one’s best intentions of going back to a place rarely see fruition. And this is where I got a bit annoyed.

Minimalists were up next but then what’s this? The last three rooms are dedicated to Aids, women artists and black artists. And I question the whole basis of that. Because your average punter is likely to be art blind by the time they get to these rooms and therefore possibly miss some compelling work.

If the curators were going to switch to such an explicitly thematic approach I wished they’d front-loaded these rooms so that they were the first things that the public sees. Were they scared that if the punters couldn’t see a friendly Warhol from the door (well, not that friendly, it’s an electric chair) that they wouldn’t dare venture inside? Do the public have to be sold the familiar constantly?

I’m not arguing that Raschenberg/Warhol/Johns et al aren’t interesting or important, just that their work is so familiar that you only need to close your eyes to conjure it up. On the other hand I hadn’t seen ANY work by the artists in the last two rooms devoted to women and ethnic minorities (oh, except for another Warhol, who is represented by a depiction of a race riot, which seemed banal in the extreme next to much more complex work by less famous artists on the same subject of racial tension and radicalism in late twentieth century America). The unfamiliar isn’t necessarily obscure because it’s less interesting. As the Guerilla Girls point out.

So I would recommend going to the exhibition and starting at the last room. Your mind will be freshest to soak up the wonderful work of unfamiliar artists. If you’re as ignorant of American art as I am. Do not miss Kiki Smith’s Born 2002, which has the best wolf ever. Or Dotty Attie’s Mother’s Kisses which the label po-facedly informs us ‘hints at incest.’ Hints at like the Sistine Chapel hints at Christianity.

And the other show? Well, you’d hardly know it was there given the lack of press attention or indeed publicity for it in the museum itself. Just a discreet sign pretty much by the door of the prints gallery if I’m not mistaken.

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It is a wonderful thing. You might at first glance think it’s just for the connoisseur when you see Victorian depictions of the English countryside by the yard as you enter the room. But anyone could find something to their taste in here as the art gets far more radical as you progress around the room. Which is not to say that there aren’t things of genuine beauty – of course Turner, Constable and Cotman blow everything else away.

But I was taken by the unexpected depictions of London in watercolour. Especially this week. A Nevinson of Air Street and Piccadilly Circus tube under construction has a bus fleetingly viewed through a half-built Regent St Quadrant. Joseph Parnell’s Balloons Over London showed barrage balloons over the Thames at Battersea during WW1. But not barrage balloons as I imagine them – big fat silver sausages. These balloons are dainty Montgolfier affairs. Montgolfier turned sinister.

And best of all Henry Moore, London Skyline. St Paul’s is central to an extraordinary composition of a sheltering family, seemingly sheltering in the womb of London while wraiths stalk a fractured landscape. But St. Paul’s, like The Dude, abides. London is the place for me in good times and bad. Oh, and the watercolours are free.

#BritishMuseum #AmericanDream #London #Art

Academic Writing, or the Slow Crawl to (Possibly Non-) Publication

January 25, 2017

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Is it wise to whine about the time it takes to get a piece of work published when you have two articles and a book chapter currently in the peer review process? Probably not. Probably not original either so I’ll just point out that I have had one little piece of work published recently, a book review for Cultural and Social History.* The book in question is a wide ranging collection of essays on childhood in the British world. If you want my opinion of it in more depth those charitable souls at Taylor and Francis have given free access for the first fifty clickers via this link:-

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/FU6ANGEnYTYkheq4P43p/full

Enjoy.

* Simon Sleight and Shirlene Robinson (Eds.), Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World (Palgrave, 2016)

#History #British

Annie’s Burger Shack – First restaurant of 2017

January 5, 2017

Well, I’m kind of hooked on the reviewing thing now so this aspect of the blog will carry on into 2017. However, it would be daft to deny myself the opportunity of going to restaurants I enjoyed in 2016 so I shall revisit them as I will and only mention them if they have improved/declined noticeably in the intervening time.

I will try and keep the same spirit of novelty though and try to visit as many unfamiliar places as possible, starting with Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham. We were in town for the Miners’ Strike derby – that’s Notts Forest v Barnsley.* The match was a corker with a last gasp winner for the Tykes and plenty of baiting of the Nottingham folk for their dubious political allegiance during the 1980s. Being an Essex born Ipswich fan I didn’t have much skin in the game but was happy to enjoy the spectacle (ever the flâneur).

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NFFC v BFC

We laid in some stodge at Annie’s, a cavernous room in the centre of town that was selected by one of the beer aficionados amongst our group. He chose well. They’ve got a range of real ales on tap as well as a fistful of good lagers. The food majors on burgers (no shit Sherlock) but one of us went off piste with a hotdog. I took the Lemmy, which was a good hunk of meat with a mountainous (and I mean mountainous, I’m not exaggerating) helping of jalapeños. It was delicious. Skinny fries on the side were good too.

Service was brisk and friendly and the fact that a large room (with even more space in the basement, where they have big screens and music) was pretty much full for lunch shows that it’s popular with the locals. I’m guessing 12 quid odd for a burger around here is at the high end of the market around these parts but for someone from London it was fine.

There was some grumbling about the packets of ketchups etc but as the waitress pointed out we could have added on a fresh sauce for 75p. I had no complaints, this was the perfect way to kick off 2017 in the company of friends new and old.

8/10

#Food #Nottingham

*County also have the same grudgery from BFC.

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

 

Restaurants of 2016 – the round up

January 1, 2017

New Year’s Day doesn’t seem the most psychologically astute to consider how much time and money one has spent on consuming food and drink over the preceding year. The grip of hang lends a jaundiced eye to even the sunniest experiences while the stinkers on reconsideration become full blown catastrophes.

However, on a day such as this it is wisest to remember how fortunate are those who have the leisure and lucre to dine out. I don’t take my good fortune for granted.

Ratings

The average rating over the year was just over 7 out of 10, suggesting that the standard is pretty steady across the industry. Or I could be a generous reviewer. No restos received a 4, 2 or 1 out of 10 rating with three getting the dreaded zero for utterly crap service that led to a walk out.  Below I’ll recap the worst experiences of 2016 though not at too great length.

To my surprise there are fourteen 9 out of 10 ratings, which means I’ll have to whittle down for a top 10! I’ll give weight to those restaurants which over-deliver on value for money.

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Location

It’s not surprising that the centre of London tops the charts for eating but it’s also been a very French year, which looks likely to last into 2017 with the eldest going to university in Paris (exam results allowing).

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Cuisine

I often feel I could do with a curry so I was not surprised to see that they come out on top of visits, confirming the trend that Indian cuisine is the nation’s favourite. No Chinese (except for the Uighurs) is a bit of a shocker though!

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Okay, so that’s the stats, time to dish out the gongs and the rotten toms.

The stinkers

Let’s get these out of the way eh? I should emphasise that all of the opinions are based on what happened at the time and things may have improved since then.

The Botany Bay

Worst dining experience of the year from a culinary point of view was undoubtedly The Botany Bay, an evening that was only saved from being truly hideous by the patience and good humour of my wife.

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Botany Bay. Go for the view rather than the food.


2. Gustavo’s

Now sadly defunct Gustavo’s turned the pizzeria experience into a marathon from which I thought I was never going to escape.

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Gustavo’s. Their mysteriously non-functioning pizza oven is still in the building though no-one’s set up shop.


3. Cafe de l’Opéra

I asked the waiter for a Coca Light, he brought me an espresso. What a prick. Tourist Paris at its very worst. Doesn’t merit a picture.

Special mentions go to BFI Riverside and Vapiano for having such charmless staff that I didn’t even order anything.

The Good Stuff

In no particular order ten of the best of 2016.

Autograf

Save it for winter because they tee you up with rye bread and pig fat before giving you some serious amounts of wholesome Polish food.

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Autograf on Green Lanes. If you like pig this is the place for you.

2. Standard Tandoori

The go to Indian for the last twenty years. I couldn’t leave them out of a top 10, Tariq would kill me.

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The décor occasionally changes but everything else remains reassuringly the same at the Standard.

3. Bistro Aix

As authentic a French bistro as you’re likely to find in Crouch End or any other London ‘burb. Good cooking, great value and friendly service. A real find.

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Bistro Aix – the set meal is a bargain.

4. De Belhamel

Canalside eating in Amsterdam and a good laid-back feel in the room. I liked it.

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De Belhamel – the best of a good weekend in Amsterdam.

5. Karamay

It felt like dining in someone’s front room but in a good way. Uighur cuisine at its best, or so my Uighur savvy fellow diner informed me.

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Karamay – recommended for a post-rugby feast.

6. Rule’s

Sometimes you want to leave a restaurant light of wallet and heavy of stomach. Rule’s will do that for you in style.

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Rule’s banquette. Sat on by some mighty ass.

7. Vagenende

On the recommendation of Ian Nairn we found Vagenende largely unchanged since his visit in 1968. A good thing.

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Vagenende – keeping up standards on the hell that can be Boulevard St. Germain

8. Pizza Express British Museum

Like the Standard an old reliable that hasn’t lost its charm over the years.

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The near original and in my opinion the best.

9. Salt Yard

In a year packed with Spanish food Salt Yard came out the champion. Top class.

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Salt Yard – pick of the festive season.

10. Le Voltaire

Saving the best till last. It’s not cheap but where else could you dine a historic building, eat perfectly good food and have dignified waiters indulge you with bouts of table shenanigans?

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Le Voltaire. I’d happily di(n)e there.

All of these got 9 out of 10 but so too did Rowley’s, Le Fumoir and Les Babines. Join me in 2017 for more eateries.

#Food #London #Paris #Amsterdam

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

 

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

 


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