"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, October 31, 2006



In the Times the other day I read about a UN survey that named London as the most ethnically diverse city on earth. I can’t recall the exact number of nations represented but it is certainly true that there are few creeds and colours not to be found in this weather beaten old place we call home.

So, I guess, it should have come as no surprise to me to find myself having supper on the Goswell Rd in an “Italian” café now run by a Bulgarian who, in the evening, offers up Tex Mex food while I was seated at a table between two Chinese students and a German tourist

But there you have it, and more than acceptable it was too. Certainly better than any of the abominable meals I had last week each of which cost at least three times as much.

While I looked at the menu, the owner brought out some store bought nachos for me to nibble on alongside some salsa which he had beefed up with the addition of plenty of green chilli.

The menu itself is short and to the point. About six or so starters, alongside the usual suspects of the Tex mex world, Chimichanga, Enchilada, Burritos and Fajitas. But, much is made of the fact that it is all made fresh to order so there is a need to be a little patient as the kitchen is small and he seems to be a bit of a one man band.

Well, fresh it certainly was. A well made Quesadilla was stuffed full of smoked chicken and would have been a meal in itself for £4.50 coming, as it did with a good dollop of fresh guacamole.

But, I am in the last stages of “carbing up” for the big race on Sunday and decided I needed more. So, I added an order of mixed enchilada with a side order of Pico de Gallo.

The enchilada were as they ought to be, a mass of meat cheese and doughy goodness with an added dose of chillies to pump it up a bit. The Pico was bright and tangy and ,for £6, there was enough here to feed two people.

Chatting to the owner, it appears he used to work in a Mexican restaurant in North London when he first came to the country. The owners, still his friends, come from Oaxaca and suggested he try some of the more straight forward dishes when he was looking for something to bring in people in the evening and to offer up for take away and delivery.

Well, he has made a very decent stab at it and is serving up some simple but tasty food ( remember the time when food was judged by how tasty it was rather than how clever or pretty?) at very reasonable prices. With a Diet Pepsi (I have to watch my weight don’t you know?) the bill was about £12.

Another contribution to the diversity of the city. Next week I shall be visiting a Bangladeshi tapas bar to eat sushi with a side of pierogi.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006


The food blog gods really had it in for us this week. Two shocking meals already and, now, perhaps the most appalling Fish & Chips I have tried served up with a good dose of argument by an uncaring management.

In our search for the best F&C’s in London, the name of The Sea Shell had come up a few times as a place to try. So, we decided to give it a go.

It looks the part and the take away section of the shop was packed which is always a good sign.

We should, however, have known from the first moment we walked in and saw that the toilets were named “restrooms” that this was full square on the tourist trail with all the horrors that entails.

As ever we began with three starters. Squid was acceptable if not much more. Whitebait was over breaded and the looked like it had been pre-prepped, frozen and then flash fried to order. A far cry from the excellent whitebait at Master’s Superfish which just gets a gentle dredging in flour before frying.

Poorest of all, were the fish cakes. All filler, no killer. Mushy and flavourless. None of them were cheap and, as HP says, you can tell from the first bite the intentions and capabilities of the place. That being the case we should have got out while the going was well not good but not dreadful.

More fool us, we stayed for the main courses. For me, Haddock & Chips. For HP, Rock Salmon & Chips. We had a fair old wait until they arrived which can often be a good sign with F&C as it means they are preparing them from scratch. I am not sure what they were doing here, but what turned up was perhaps the worst example of the art of frying I can ever remember.

The Haddock was edible, but no more and I, being hungry enough ate most of it. I left most of the chips which were pale and flaccid. The batter of the fish was soggy and there was no gap between fish and batter to show that it had puffed up to protect the flesh. The fish itself was tasty enough, but for a whopping £11.75, it made the Yorkshire man in me wince. I could hear Freddie Trueman slowly revolving in his eternal resting place.

However, compared to HP’s Rock & Chips, mine was a beacon of success. His was a disaster, not once, but twice. This was as foul a plate of F&C as you are ever likely to see without someone actively wanting to do you harm. The first attempt was so soft and soggy, that HP took one look at it and sent it back. We waited a while and then it returned. This time, the outside was crispy enough ( though still with no bubbling which shows they had made too thin a batter) but the inside was raw enough to practically still be wriggling.

By this time we had enough and asked for the bill and for the Rock & Chips to be taken off the total. Particularly as it was a stonking £14.75 When it came, the offending item was still on there, so I asked for it to be taken off again.

There then followed one of the more bizarre conversations of my eating out to date. I quote from memory

MANAGER : “what was wrong?”

HP: “ we sent back the first time because it was too soggy. The second time because it was too raw”

MANAGER: “ The problem is it was too big a piece so it could not cook through”

HP: “ That’s OK, just knock it off the bill”

MANAGER: “ I can’t do that, it was a fresh piece of fish, it only came from Grimsby this morning”

ME: “ I am happy to pay for everything else but I am not paying for the Rock, it was awful”

MANAGER: “ I can’t knock it off the bill, you’ve eaten half of it” - at this point I refer you to the picture to show the plate seconds before it was returned for the second time and ask you to be the judge. Half eaten or no?

ME: “ There is no way on God’s earth I am paying for the Rock. I will give you my details and if you want to take it up with us later feel welcome, but I refuse to pay it”

I am sure I have not noted it word for word. But, the claim seems to be that we should pay for the fish for three reasons, er,

1) It came from Grimsby
2) It was too big a piece to cook through, so we should expect bits of it to be raw
3) HP had eaten half ( again I refer you to the picture )

So laughable as to be insulting.

Finally, he returned with a bill and had taken off the £14.75 but demanded we leave our name and address, which we duly did. It still came to a shocking £40 for two.

It was filling up with suckers, I mean punters, as we left and no one gave us a second glance. That about sums it up. They just did not care. There will always be another coach load of tourist who wont know that this is as far from good Fish & Chips as it is possible to get and I am sure they are raking it in. At those prices how could they not be?

So hungry was HP after this “meal” that we traipsed over to The Edgware Rd so he could have a Kebab at Beirut Express. Not great, but it filled the gap. Unfortunately, not even that nor the Lebanese coffee and pastries at Fatoush could take the bad taste of the evening out of our mouths.

It is meals like this that almost make me want to give up trying new places ( or new to us places ) and to stick to the old faithfuls where we know we can get a good meal. It might make for less interesting blogging but at least we would not have wasted £50 odd a pop (£85 in my case ) on meals of the ineptitude of the ones we have tried this week.

A poor end to a dispiriting week. Ho hum

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Friday, October 27, 2006


It’s obviously been a week for openings in London’s restaurant world with DH visiting three new places in the last few days.

Restaurants come and go, I suppose. They certainly do in Islington. So, it’s “Thank You and Goodnight” Brasserie La Trouvaille. “Hello and Welcome” Emni. Well, “Hello” at least.

After St Germain’s ludicrous comparison to Paris and New York, I thought the hubris trophy for most idiotic boast would have to be retired, but Emni has made a late dash for the 2006 award with its proclamation to be “INDIAN REDISCOVERED” Oh deary, deary me.

When I read those words I couldn’t help thinking of the time I had to tidy up a student flat before leaving so I could reclaim my deposit. I moved a sofa and found the remains of a four year old onion bhaji that had rolled under stayed there when I proved too lazy to move the heavy furniture. That’s one bit of India I certainly wish I had not rediscovered.

Anyway, Emni opened yesterday, so I gave it a try today for an early supper.

There was only one other couple in the place when I arrived and I chose a table at the back of the restaurant away from prying eyes. My server was cheery enough, about 14 years old and had patently never been further East than Lowestoft. When I asked him where the chefs had come from he replied confidently “ Oh, India” I guess you can’t fault his logic.

However, you can fault his training. The restaurant makes much about the provenance of the chefs in the front of the menu. Apparently, they used to cook for the Sultan of Brunei. On the evidence of the food , I suspect that’s a curry house near Chingford rather than the second richest man on the planet. In either case, I expect more from the waiter than just practically pointing in the vaguely eastern direction and going “oh, from that way somewhere”

Anyway, none of this would matter if the food was splendid. It wasn’t. It wasn’t foul either, it just was well, hugely bland. Again, the menu makes a big play about the fact that the chefs insist on churning their own Indian cheese and in making everything from scratch to bring out the true and real flavours. You could not taste any of that supposed attention to detail in any of the dishes I tried. Quite the opposite. All the dishes tasted much the same.

To begin, some slightly chewy papad with three brightly coloured but muted chutneys. The best of them was a lemon mango which was a lurid green. A chilli chutney was cloying and lacked heat.

To begin, “ Chicken Chops From West Bengal”. These should be bursting with clean flavours of the traditional Bengali spices ( ginger, turmeric etc) instead, what I got was drumsticks of chicken in a slightly overpowering marinade of mint and coriander. Not horrible, just not correct.

With this Samundri Khazana which, apparently is a Goan seafood dish. What appeared were two small dishes with a couple of strips of squid and a couple of tough prawns in a sauce that reminded me of that sketch in Goodness Gracious Me “ Bring me the blandest thing on the menu”

The place was beginning to fill up by now and they were obviously caught unawares as the wait for my main courses went from the point where I thought “ I could do with my main course soon” to “ where the hell is my main course?” to “ if they don’t bring my main course soon I am going to go down the kitchen and introduce someone’s knackers to my calf skin Merrills”

Finally, it did arrive. Not really worth the wait. Again, not terrible just, bizzarely lacking in any discernible flavour at all. A Rogan Josh is a dish that is, in theory easy to make, but actually incredibly hard to make well. This was not made well. Instead of a rich, dark sauce thick with hours of reduction, this was thin and watery. Instead of tender chunks of slowly cooked meat which had marinated first in spices and then yogurt, this was small, tough chunks of lamb which was grey in the middle all of which showed it had been cooked separately and too quickly.

A side dish of Dhal Makhani was better. Slow cooked and unctuous urud dhal with butter and cream. I am not sure the skin it had formed from sitting under pass too long added anything though and again no great taste sensation.

For a restaurant that is making its stand based on recreating classic dishes from around India with the help of classically trained chefs ( from Mumbai, I later extracted from another waiter ) this is really uninspiring, insipid cooking. For a standard curry house, it would have probably passed muster, but for a place with the aspirations this restaurants strap line proclaims, it just looks foolish

It’s not cheap, either. The small dish of seafood was £7. The Rogan was £9 and a bottle of Hildon water was a massive £4.50 bringing the total to £35 including service.

By the time I left, it was packed and the staff were scurrying about and far too busy explaining that the chefs came from India to bemused punters to notice me leaving. I suspect in a very short while, no one will notice this place closing. It’s just not good enough to last in a street that has plenty of uninspiring places to eat already
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Monday, October 23, 2006


It really was a tale of two openings. They could not, however, have been more different.

On Friday, a really excellent meal at Upper Glas followed tonight by a meal at St Germain, on Turnmill St,of such irredeemable awfulness that new words will have to be created to communicate just how lousy it was. So bad, we are still laughing about it as I write this

HP had its number from the beginning. Mind you, any restaurant that declares on its website an aim to combine classic Parisian brasserie cooking with the uber glamour of their New York counterparts like Balthazar is showing an extraordinary amount of hubris and so must perish in the first burst of fire.

There was only one other table occupied in the room and it is clear to see where all the money has been spent, on expensive light fittings and a smart bar. It certainly isn’t on quality ingredients or quality staff for this was one of the worst meals with the most inept service I can ever recall eating.

From the moment the friendly but poorly trained waitress plonked some wafer thin and entirely flavourless bread in front of us with some butter that tasted as if it had been sitting around too long (quite a feat in a restaurant that has just opened) there was not a single second where any level of competence was on show in front of house or particularly in the kitchen.

I am not drinking now for the next couple of weeks to try and clean out the system before the NYC Marathon, so I just went for a diet Coke. Flat as a pancake. That is what was left in my glass after it had been sploshed over me and the table. A good start. HP went for a 500ml carafe of Rioja which had been handily placed somewhere hot until it got warm enough to be tasteless. Mind you it was one of the only things in the whole meal that was warm.

To begin with, our usual assortment of three starters.

The “Chef” here obviously has arsonphobia, a fear of heat and flames as the toast with HP’s pork rillette was no such thing. More of that floppy bread. The meat had a decent texture but no flavour at all even when HP dumped ample seasoning on it.

My Frisee au lardon was not much cop either. Cold and composed, the lardons were chewy but less chewy than the croutons. Really a disgrace to the name.

Much worse, so much worse was a shared dish of Potted Shrimp (that staple of Brasseries all over Paris ) which turned out to be a pool of melted butter ( cold of course ) with a handful of shrimp dumped in it served, in case we had not got the theme of the evening, with more flaccid bread only this time a different colour. When I pointed out to our waitress that Potted Shrimp should traditionally be solid, she just shrugged her shoulders and said “ oh, really?” Yes, Love, really.

That this vileness in shrimp form got to our table tells you all you needed to know about this restaurant. No one knew it was wrong and no one cared. No one really seemed to care about anything.

We began to dread our main courses in the way that you might a visit to a dentist with a bad case of the DT’s. We were right. They were, if it is possible, even more ghastly than the starters.

A rib eye steak brought shame to the name. Just at the time when London is seeing a handful of restaurants that can serve decent steak, this lump of poor quality flesh takes it right back to the dark age of Berni Inn in one swoop. It was rare as ordered, but again I think that was down to the chef’s fear of flame as it showed no sign of being near a grill. Worse still were the chips. Frites, straight out of a fast food catering pack and cooked until just pale by holding them close to a very bright light bulb, I think as, patently no fryer was involved.. Disgusting is the only word. Even more shameful for costing £17.

I had wanted to go for the daily special of pork shoulder with apple sauce and crackling only to be told that “ it is not coming with crackling today” Er, presumably pork comes with crackling by default unless, that is, you have a chef who does not like high temperatures. Perhaps, their crackling supplier let them down on opening night, damn him. For pity’s sake.

So, I went for coq au vin. From this point on renamed as Cocked up au vin. Not as dreadful as HP’s dish but again featuring a main ingredient of such low quality one wonders why they don’t just get sponsorship from Aldi and have done with it. More of those chewy lardons, a few baby onions and a chunk of chicken cooked separately and showing no sign of having been marinaded whatsoever.

A side dish for a mere £3 was the oldest, driest most stringy spinach in Christendom. When the waitress came to clear our table we complained about it, the chips, the steak. Well, pretty much about everything.

The person who appeared to be doing all of the front of house duties did come over and ask us what our complaints were. I told her, HP kept silent. If he had really got going the poor girl would still be there now and probably there would be tears involved. I took pity on her. She did not take pity on us and offered us a free dessert. Callous woman. Unsurprisingly we declined politely. Calm on the outside, while inside we were both re-enacting Munch’s The Scream at the thought of eating any more of this slop.

Instead, she gave us the promotional price for the meal and knocked 50% of our food bill which still saw us forking out £59 for two. Without the discount, the bill would have been £80 for two.

That’s £80 for a meal so shoddy you cannot simply put it down to first night nerves but have to put it down to a restaurant where all the money has been spent on the décor and none on finding competent staff or decent ingredients.

This was certainly my worst meal of the year and I am hard pressed to think of any meal in recent memory that was so abject a failure in every aspect.

The first picture is of HP looking like he is about to vomit after our meal. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps, I should have just posted that
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Sunday, October 22, 2006


Ever had victory snatched from your fingers at the last moment? Haven’t we all? Ever had a wonderful experience ruined by one act of stupidity? Of course.

That’s how today’s lunch at Hakkasan felt. A great shame as, to the last minute, we both agreed that this was “right up there” with the best dim sum we had ever tried and they had to go and spoil it all by trying to bend us over the table we had just used and try and take the piss when we came to pay the bill.

And, it all started so well too.

We had not been to Hakkasan for quite a while. But, on previous visits the food had been exemplary. So, after a week of over indulgence we thought some dim sum would be the perfect way to round it off. Recent experiences at both the lower and mid level places had been underwhelming so, we decided to splash out and make a reservation for 12.30 at the best place in town.

The food, well the food was as good as ever. In fact, better than ever. There were many new dim sum dishes that had been added to the menu only days before and we chose three of those along with a more regular selection of fried, baked and steamed.

All excellent, but standouts were an Australian blue swimmer crab dumpling, a deep fried cuttlefish roll with a fabulously sour fish sauce, turnip paste topped with an omelette of chives & garlic and fried Shanghai dumplings. All the other dishes were spot on too with even a standard dish of har gau causing some raised eyebrows.

I don’t have many pictures as they are a bit “iffy” about it and asked me not too. Fair enough. Still, every dish was attractive and each maintained the distinct nature of its key ingredients without swamping them in stroke inducing MSG.

Along with some noodlage, some garlic shoots, some non alcoholic cocktails and a couple of pots of “four seasons” oolong, the bill came to £90 including 13% service.

The service, was, as always, bang on the button and I have no problem at all paying a service charge. What I do have a problem with is then being presented with a credit card slip where the gratuity line is still left open. It seems to be a common practice in all Chinese restaurants in London and that is bad enough, but for a place at this level everyone involved should hang their heads.

It left as bad a taste in our mouth as if we had been offered a palate cleanser of dead dog and has soured what was otherwise a excellent meal to no more than a bitter memory.

I am not often tempted to write to a restaurant owner, but, as I am in full consumer vengeance mode today having taken some foul hot chocolate back to Apostrophe this morning and demanded a refund, I am going to send an e-mail and see what they say.

I suspect I already know and I think the second word will be “off”

Shame on them.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006


You can always tell who is posting on this blog. If it is HP, his title is alway an obscure lyric. If it is me, then it is usually a painful pun.

So, I was bound to be attracted to a restaurant that had the temerity to use the most excruciating pun possible as a name. Hats off to upper Glas.

Relocated from a very successful 18 month stint opposite Neal’s yard in Borough Market, Upper Glas is now in the location that was, up until recently that Islington Stalwart, Lola’s

Lola’s was an odd place. More up and down than a manic depressive on a pogo stick it went through chefs as often as I do apology cards. The scene of some decent meals and some dreadful meals, it finally closed its doors a couple of months ago.

I had passed the site every day at lunchtime, but seen little movement until Thursday night when I saw the lights on and much activity. A “ friends and family” night it transpired with the official opening being last night. So, I booked a table for two at 9pm.

The owners, who had been much in evidence the night before were conspicuous by their absence when we arrived and it showed as no one even bothered to look in our direction as we waited to be greeted. We waited and waited and waited a bit more until finally, someone noticed us standing there and showed us to a table.

They explained that the owners had a vacation booked in Africa and had left that morning. Well deserved, I am sure but on the opening day of your new venture, a tad weird, no?

The table configuration is weird too with large tables being separated into seating for two by the use of cloths and candles so you sit bench style but they try to make you feel like you don’t. It doesn’t work and I suspect they will find themselves having to change it very soon.

So, so far so bad and I was not sure that it was going to get any better. I was wrong. I am pleased to say that this turned out to be one of my meals of the year with one of the dishes of the year.

The predominantly Swedish menu is split into hot and cold dishes with the cold choices being small plates, mainly of fish at around £4-5 with the hot dishes of meat, fish and seafood being around £10-13.

There is a small wine list and a good selection of Nordic beers and Aquavits.

After sampling a couple of beers, which we used two wash down a large amount of splendid homemade crisp bread, we ordered five small plates to begin. Each was, in its own way excellent.

Beer battered beetroot was so much better than it sounds and topped with a thyme and walnut foam that actually had a taste.

Spiced Matjes herring were toothsome and smokey ( apparently laid out to “age” on sandlewood we were told ) but not quite as delicious as small strips of herring marinated in vodka and citrus which gave it a real kick.

Prawns in a dill mayonnaise on toast was, probably, the most standard dish but we still wiped the plate clean.

Best of all, cured reindeer meat on top of a “panacotta” of wild mushrooms with lingonberries. A really tremendous dish with the dense dark meat being offset by the creamy but rich mushrooms. We almost came to blows over the last sliver of meat. It was that good.

The hot dishes were equally as good. A pike perch came with a herb crust and was served with meaty chanterelles. The perch was cooked perfectly and was as good a piece of fish as I have tasted this year. The Hasselback potatoes were the one duff note. Tough as old boots and we told them so.

Best of all though and now set in my memory as one of “those” dishes that you dream about in quiet moments was a West coast casserole of mussel and fish with grilled crayfish. How can I describe it? A bowl with,perhaps, the best seafood sauce I have ever tasted, filled with chunks of perfectly prepared fish and mussels ( a few still in the shell ) and topped with a crayfish with the sweetest tasting flesh I can ever recall. The first bite brought out the sort of squeal of pleasure I have tried and failed to extract from any number of girlfriends over the years and each bite following bite was better than the last.

I am not ashamed to say that I wiped the plate almost clean with my finger and was sorely tempted to pick it up and lick it so good was the sauce. For £10 a pop I am going to stick my neck out and say this was, arguably the best and best value thing I have eaten this year. I recommend you try it and try it soon.

After that it was bound to be a bit of an anti climax. We shared a blueberry mousse thing that was a bit like a Christmas cake whizzed up and put in a martini glass. HP liked it. I did not.

Throughout the meal, we stuck to beer and a few types of Aquavit all of which came in frozen glasses. Very good they were too.

They are offering a 50% reduction on food for the first couple of weeks which meant the bill in tip came to about £80 which was excellent value. It would still be good value even without the deduction.

The service was very sweet and Scandinavian. Although, the young women all seemed to be out way past their bedtime. Without a proper front of house though it did seem a bit rudderless and, while that was fine with less than 20 people in the place, it could be an issue if it begins to fill up.

I hope it does fill up and stays full for a long time to come as, make no mistake, this is a very good restaurant offering food worthy of superlatives at reasonable prices with charming service and in decent surroundings. Isn’t that what restaurants are meant to do after all?

It seems London can learn a lesson from our Nordic chums
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Thursday, October 19, 2006


If, ten years ago, anyone had told you that The Essex Rd would be home to a Japanese canteen, a hookah bar, a tapas bar, a branch of Giraffe and a Pan Latin American restaurant, you would have had them carted off while whistling that song by Napoleon XIV.

It is a sign of the increasing gentrification of London that it now boasts all of these alongside the much blessed Steve Hatt and James Elliot, Master Butcher.

A supper tonight with two colleagues saw us pottering the short hop from our office up to Sabor. It has been open a little over two years, I think. But, because it stopped opening at lunchtimes, I have barely given it a glance since my one visit shortly after it opened its doors.

Tonight however, it made a decent non destinational venue for some serious publishing matters to be discussed.

At 7pm, as we arrived , we were the only people in the place and we took a table near the front of what is a very attractive room indeed. Minimalist but littered with fun Cuban “tat”.

The menu takes in a good deal of Latin America in its scope with dishes from Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile being in evidence. The wine list, too is predominatly from Chile.

To begin, a Colombian Sopa de Calabaza ( roasted pumpkin with spices ) was smokey and dense with a touch of fire. A Ceviche Mixto ( which I did not try ) contained prawns, haddock and octopus which had been par cooked and then dressed in a ginger and citrus marinade to finish the “cooking”.

I decided to up the carbs with some Chilean empanada which were plumped out with minced beef and olives and served with a moreish chilli and coriander relish. The pasties were a little on the lumpen side but the relish was worth the price on its own and I could have just eaten a big bowl of that along with some of their excellent homemade breads.

For main courses, one of my colleagues chose Tuna with a salsa verde which came with a dusting of ground cumin and pumpkin seeds which was more interesting than successful. Much more successful was a huge mound of crisp sweet potato chips which we helped her demolish.

Least attractive was a Pato con Maracuya which was a duck breast ( again I did not try ) with a passion fruit sauce and a mash of walnuts and plantains. My colleague polished it off though so it must have been fine.

More than fine was my Ropa Vieja ( literally, Old clothes ) which is a classic Cuban dish of shredded braised brisket which came with rice & beans and maduros. A hefty plateful and I had to leave much of the rice. But, damn tasty.

We began with a glass each of a typically cats pissy Chilean Sauvignon and two of us had a glass of anonymous Merlot. The wine list though is interesting and not overpriced.

I did not pick up the tab so can’t tell you the total, but dishes are well priced with starters between £4-5 and main courses between £13 and £15. Wines by the glass are around the £4 mark which is about fair. I would imagine that two courses with wine and service would come to about £60.

If anyone had told you ten years ago that you could spend £60 on The Essex Rd without it involving at least a blowjob and a week’s supply of Amyl you would have had them carted away while you whistled……………………. Ah, I’ve already done that one.

Still, by the time we left it was almost full, so The Essex Rd is obviously the place to be. Who knew?
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