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

Thursday, July 31, 2008


A little over a year ago, I posted about Embassy Electrical Supplies, a small shop on Compton St, where, alongside fuses, wires and plugs for Clerkenwell’s handymen, Memhet Murat sells olive oil sourced from his own groves in Turkey and Cyprus. It is some of the best I have tasted in a long time, fresh and green, just the way I like it.

I popped in to see Memhet again earlier this week and came away with a bottle of his latest Turkish oil and a bottle of his Cypriot oil along with some rather lovely olives, which he recommended I rinse, drizzle with oil, lemon juice and a few chilli flakes.

It is people like Memhet who are the real food heroes of the U.K, unassuming, and dedicated to producing the best oils and olives he can, it is impossible to leave the shop without being given a taste of everything and almost as impossible to get him to take money from you. Well worth a visit.

Further along Compton St, towards The Goswell Road, is another unassuming little treasure. The Coffee Café may look like A N Other Sandwich shop, but one glimpse at their blackboard shows you that all is not as it seems. The owner is from Sao Paulo and, as well as offering the usual “something in a toasted ciabatta” The Coffee Café serves Brazilian pastries, a wide range of Brazilian juices and a very passable stab at a fejoida.

This being Clerkenwell, the only slaves are of the middle class wage kind, so the fejoida is lacking in the hooves, lips and assholes of the original dish and it needed the added punch of hot pepper sauce from a bottle on the table. But, it has the correct beans plumped out with meaty chunks of pork and bacon in a suitably rich sauce. It comes with rice, greens and farofa, toasted matioc flour, and for £4.50 is very good value for money particularly when, after ingesting all those carbs, supper will be unnecessary.

With a tall glass of Surinam cherry juice and a tip, the bill was £7 including a bottle of water.

Places like Embassy Electrical Supplies and Coffee Café are well worth supporting. Honest and good value for money, which in these times of credit crunch is all too rare.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


It was HP who first suggested we have supper at 12 Temple Place, the new restaurant in The Howard Hotel. His unerring nose for matters porcine had lit upon a starter promising an “Assiette of Suckling pig: Loin, Rillette, Belly Bacon and Crackling with Celeriac Apple and Grain Mustard”

They had us at “suckling”

12 Temple Place has replaced the little mourned Jaan, which garnered shocking crit and limped on until June this year when it disappeared from view and hopefully soon from memory.

Sitting with a pre-supper glass of something white, we peered into the dining room, which looked as unappealing as an offer of “a good, hard shag” from Brian Blessed

“It’s going to go one of two ways” HP said fearing the worst and we were already marking it down as one of those nights when we chose a table in the middle of the empty room and were presented with the menu.

Perking up immediately at a list of starters including confit smoked salmon, pea & crab mousse with marjoram and English watercress soup, we kept to our original plan and both went for the suckling pig.

The kitchen obviously has serious intentions and three types of excellent bread came with salted and unsalted butter alongside a handful of the flakiest, most delicious cheese straws I have tasted since my Welsh grandmother went to sing “Bread of Heaven” in the great pit choir in the sky.

The Assiette was initially a disappointment, the description suggesting something heartier than the artfully presented plate we received. But the taste of each component was perfect. Shreds of rillette, hidden under an jelly which was pure essence of pig, house cold smoked belly bacon with a sharp apple and celeriac remoulade and, best of all the poached loin, wrapped in pancetta came with a sliver of crisp crackling. At £12.50, the most expensive dish amongst the starters but delivering on every level.

The main courses read just as well and HP chose the Elwy Valley Lamb with Pea & Tarragon puree and a mini Shepherd’s Pie while I had to see what was involved in the beetroot cannelloni which came with the squab pigeon.

Both dishes showed the same attention to detail as the starters with a soft lamb cutlet, perfectly cooked pink coming in a clear broth of distilled bleater, with a crispy parcel of confit shoulder, crunchy carrots and peas which popped with freshness. The sherpherd’s pie was a well-made distraction.

The squab pigeon breast too was perfectly pink and the small confit leg was soon crunched down to sawdust as HP and I swapped tastes from one plate to another. Pickled golden beets added a sharp counter point and the cannelloni came with more shredded confit breast spiked through with tarragon. In the centre of the plate was a “candy cane” of spaghetti, deep fried and spearing two small, sweet kidneys and a liver.

We split a desert offering the fruits of the tail end of the English Rhubarb season three ways, in a light soufflé, a thick fool and a sharp daiquiri, which again showed that there was someone in the kitchen who knows what they were doing.

That someone is Brian Spark, formerly sous at Jaan and before that, The Lanesbrough with Paul Gayler and Lola’s in Islington. It’s a good C.V, but not one where the chef’s provenance is allowed precedence over the ingredients, which are allowed to speak for themselves in well executed and interesting preparations.

It was never going to be cheap and the bill for £130 including a deserved service charge and an overpriced but delicious bottle of Roaring Meg Pinot from Central Otago, came as little surprise. The little box of delicious shortbreads we got with the bill to enjoy at home with a strong cup of builder's tea was a nice touch.

12 Temple Place has a lot of strikes against it, the location, the room and the failure of the previous incumbent, but with an enthusiastic, talented chef given the benefits of a hotel budget, I suspect it will be a while before this particular Howard’s end.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 28, 2008


Do me red do me blue
What goes on behind door number two ?

The other day I wondered whether Mark Hix still had any connection with the Rivington Grill. The question was answered for me (sort of) the other day when I popped into the Shoreditch branch for an impromptu supper. There he was, at the bar, chugging away on a glass of Rose and looking rather hangdog – mind you, he always looks that way – apparently oblivious to all the hustling and bustling around him.

Chastened by the critical drubbing his new West Country eatery had just received ? Possibly. Sudden realisation that Dos Hermanos were right about the Oyster and Chop House being no more than a very ordinary gaff and that all the professional critics (whatever that means) were wrong ? Possibly not. But first a drink.

I’d visited SAF a few weeks ago, had a queer sort of meal and decided that I’d only return to try their drinks. A Dry Martini is the classic test of a bar tender’s skill. The small variations are endless. Like, say a Steak or the inside of a boxing ring there’s nowhere to hide if things go wrong. Unfortunately, SAF got several things wrong. The Martini glass was too big and hadn’t been chilled – putting some ice in for a few minutes was never going to work – and with a standard pour the drink was a bit lost in the bottom. When the barman was making the twist most if not all the vital oils were lost to the ether leaving very little for the drink. Luckily the London Gin used was good so all was not lost. The least I could have expected at £7.

It’s been a while since my last visit to the Rivington Grill. Once a mainstay of DH dining out in the nabe it proved to be a little too inconsistent in quality for the high prices charged. It felt that things were back on form though as I was seated promptly and brought some decent bread and pork scratchings.

Things got even better with my first course. A Scotch Duck Egg was everything I’ve ever wanted in a Scotch Egg. I was expecting some pre-cooked, solid, cold thing. Instead, what arrived had a crisp greaseless breadcrumbed exterior, a warm sausagey layer and a perfectly cooked duck egg at its core. This was Scotch Egg++. The Caper Mayonnaise was great as well. My only (slight) disappointment was that I would have like it served whole so I could have had the pleasure of breaking it open and discovering that someone in the kitchen could cook.

The menu at the Rivington has become even more Hixified than it used to be – it’s peppered (see what I did there) with stuff like Blythburgh pork belly and Speyside flat iron. And who else has Sea Purslane on their current menu ? So, of course, my steak had to come with a name, in this instance, the Bannockburn rib. Chosen because its name spoke of something massive and bloody that would put up a hell of a fight, the reality was more mundane: a fairly polite lump of meat, untidily butchered. The kitchen had at least made a fair attempt at getting a char on the outside and although it tended to charcoal in a couple of places it was correctly rare inside.

Even so, I was disappointed with it. It tasted underhung and was tough (not in a good way) and hard work to eat. This was in part down to the crappy steak knives. They do make a difference, you know.

Chips were vile. Possibly the worst I’ve every had…and I’ve had a lot. They tasted as if they’d been pre-cooked and had been allowed to desiccate – possibly uncovered in the fridge. I had about two of them. I got an apology but really they were so bad that even if I’d been comp’d the whole meal I would still have felt diddled. These were Chips--.

But then, just to confound me further, I had one of the best double espressos of recent times and which was relatively cheap to boot. The accompanying Somerset Brandy helped smooth things out a tad too and sent me off in a slightly better humour.

Like Oyster and Chop House and similar to our earlier experiences of RG the inconsistencies and the lack of care shown with some of the dishes is annoying as it could and should be a whole lot better. I might persevere with RG though as it’s nearby and it did serve me that Scotch Egg. Damn you, RG, you caress me with one hand while poking me in the ample belly, hard, with the other .

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Lounge Bohemia is a buried treasure.

The discreet entrance at No1 Great Eastern St, decorated with newspapers from the three years of Czech revolution, leads down two flights of stairs to one of London’s least known but most stylish bars.

Although recently voted by CLASS magazine as one of the 50 best bars in the world, it remains a secret well kept by those in the know, not wanting to let their little hidey-hole become too popular. I only found out about it after being taken there by Nick Strangeway on Thursday (sorry for letting the cat out of the bag, Nick) and, after a welcome pint at The Wenlock, headed off to try it out again with HP in tow.

Czech owner and self-trained mixologist, Paul Tvaroh opened Lounge Bohemia in November 2007 after a number of years working at The Prague Bar on Shoreditch High St. He enforces a strict “no suits, no standing policy” which ensures a bar with a laid back atmosphere rather than a delivery system for booze for those on the lash.

The room is small, but comfortable with high design furnishings from the 60’s and 70’s and the excellent cocktails are served in beautiful stemware, which Paul has collected over the years. The menus are hidden inside hardcover editions of Czech classics.

The back bar is impressive and again, Paul does things differently, eschewing the normal horizontal selection of a wide spread of different brands instead choosing one brand for each spirit (Courvoisier, Stoli etc) and offering them from entry to elite levels. The Bar offers the widest range of Czech beers in town and Paul also has his own unique range of infused vodka, including a remarkable Digestive biscuit creation, which, he told me, Simon Difford has called one of the best he’s ever tasted.

Food is limited to canapés which serve only to take the edge of the alcohol, but like everything else in the bar they are well made and thoughtfully presented making this the perfect place to bookend a meal elsewhere, particularly as the service is equally thoughtful.

In an age of identikit bars and restaurants, places like Lounge Bohemia deserve to flourish and I hope at least some people reading this give it a try. As long as you tell them you read about it here, so DH can still get a table.


Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Korea seems to be a forgotten land, in dining terms at least.

While Chinese food, Indian food, Mexican food, Japanese food and even Moroccan food have undergone a re-evaluation in London in the last decade, Korean food seems to have been left alone to get on with what it does best.

While other cuisines have been driven to bring overpriced "authenticity" and shoehorn themselves into ill fitting western dining formats, Korean restaurants seem happy to bring a taste of home to the UK’s 50,000+ ex-pat community.

Given that the majority of them live way out in New Malden, Central London, itself only has a smattering of Korean restaurants, but they have been around forever, testifying to their value, quality and loyal customer base.

One of my particular favourites has always been Han Kang on Hanway St and on Thursday, when wandering through town, I noticed that it had been refurbished while I had been away on my travels. A once gloomy room was now light and airy and looked a welcome spot for a post workout weekend lunch.

The menu is extensive with a particularly enticing selection of Korean BBQ dishes, but I turned my attention to lunchtime specials costing around £8 including soup and kimchi.

A plate of greaseless Goon Man Doo filled with beef and spring onions were some of the best dumplings I have eaten in a long time. A lightly spiced filling showing itself after you broke through the al dente casing and the crunchy, fried underside giving a perfect counterpoint in texture.

The bibimbap was colour supplement pretty, particularly when presented with an array of pickles, kimchi, soup and chilli sauce and with strips of vegetables, noodles, beef and the rice base, it looked as nourishing as it did attractive. Minus points for overcooking the egg so that the yolk could not break free and coat the rest of the ingredients and also for not serving in a pre-heated bowl so that the bottom layer of rice caught to provide a crunch. But, these are minor failings in an otherwise good example.

As I drained the last of the soup, I was presented with some sliced oranges to cleanse the palate and a bill for £20 including service, which was friendly if not stretched in a room where I had only the staff, my Boxing News and piped korean Hip-Hop (I wonder if they call it K-Rap) for company.

Decent value for decent cooking.

Perhaps it is time that someone turned their attention to this underrated cuisine as long as places like Han Kang are left well alone to keep doing what they do so well.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 24, 2008


If it feels right
Just drive for the light

Denmark Street in W1 is London town’s very own Tin Pan Alley. When Saturday comes long-haired kids with rock star dreams and Dads whose dreams died long ago press their noses up against the windows of the guitar shops while somebody, somewhere is always playing Stairway To Heaven. Short but fascinating it’s a must-visit for any lover of modern popular music. It’s now, somewhat incongruously, home to a dinky little bistro from Australian chef Paul Merrony. But first a drink.

In olden times, well twenty-plus years ago, HS was a hard-working rep for Penguin and this was his ‘patch’. One of the places he went to drown his sorrows was The Phoenix Artist Club just off the Charing Cross Road. Of course this being London it has plenty of history: Noel Coward made his stage debut upstairs in the theatre. It’s one of those places, like say The Cork and Bottle, that unless you’re actually going there you would never go there. If that makes any sense (probably not). Anyway, it’s a convenient place to meet for a drink and it’s blissfully free of tourists or annoying twenty-somethings, although worryingly HS informs me that it’s becoming so hip you might spot Kate Moss having a pint of lager there…whoever she is.

After a pleasant glass of White Rioja we went in search of The Giaconda Dining Room. I use the word ‘search’ advisedly. On the first sashay down Denmark Street we missed the restaurant completely. Only after carefully retracing our steps did we find it. Mind you, it is tiny, more akin to something you might find in France or Spain than London. The latter which seems to have given up the small scale, in the centre, at least. Mr Merrony also appears to have brought all his fans from Sydney with him - the majority of diners sounded Antipodean. Not a problem – I can learn to forgive and forget (the last drubbing we got in The Ashes).

The menu is what one probably calls Modern European with specific biases towards the Latin although the odd English dish or component creeps in there. So to start we were somewhere in France chowing down on a lovely de-boned trotter which was flattened and the skin crisped to a thing of beauty. Underneath was a fatty, messy and, goddamit, unctuous layer of the trotter flesh. Lurking under all this porcine loveliness was some egg mayonnaise and some of those leaves that look like they came out of a bag. Neither of the latter two items were needed but I suppose their presence was indicative of the kitchen’s generosity and its inclination to please the punter. Homemade Foie Gras au Torchon was predictably lovely and rich as only FG can be but there was also a nice little gelee that was by no means the lesser partner.

HS stayed En France for “Grill of the Day” which was announced as Bavette although having just cooked such a cut I didn’t recognise it as such – this one being a small fist of meat rather than the flatter shape of the Bavette. But who knows, it won’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about something. Probably about the fifth. HS would have been more than happy with just his steak but again the kitchen wanted to add something more, this time in the form of a sliced tomato. Ok, but hardly essential. The Beef was accurately cooked and although not the finest piece of beef I’ve ever tasted was some way from being the worst.

The chips divided us like Tom and Rudy Jordache. HS thought they were good - though tellingly we didn’t finish them off - whereas I found them a bit mealy in texture and not crisp enough. Their taste reminded me, for some reason, of a chippy which may have been down to the cooking medium (dripping ?).

I really lucked out with my Pork Chop. The big lump of pork (not me) had been cooked medium and although the fat could have been crisped up a bit more still delivered the requisite porky hit. Even better though was a beautifully judged Risotto Milanese on which the Pork Chop sat. Rich, creamy and morerish with just the right amount of bite to the rice, it had both of us battling it out to get yet another mouthful in. Impressive stuff.

Of course, after this little lot we could never give the desserts the attention they probably deserved. My Iced Nougat was good although the Raspberries that surrounded it were the star for me. HS’s Apple Compote with Whipped Cream Walnuts was a nice enough combination but perhaps something more seasonal like gooseberries would have been more interesting and apt.

In any case, the criticisms we had had were pretty minor in view of the fact we just had a very good time. Everything is attractively priced, especially given the location, the Wine List had a good mix – it’s always nice to see bottles of Txacoli and Bierzo - at reasonable prices and service from a French lass working by herself was friendly and generally on the ball.

Quite unlike the impression its name may convey there’s nothing remotely enigmatic about The Giaconda Dining Room: it’s just an honest and enjoyable place to have a meal in Central London. We’d go back – which is really all you need to know.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older