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

Friday, September 26, 2008



The Barbican is my favourite place in London to see films. The prices are cheap, the programming isn’t bad with a decent mix of art house and commercial stuff and best of all it doesn’t attract the popcorn munching crowds that plague the theatres of the West End and the Multiplexes. And in which other cinema would there be a sign encouraging you to take your drink with you into the auditorium ? Class. Or it would be if the bar wasn’t run by Searcy’s whose sole aim appears to be extract the maximum moolah from mug punters for the least outlay (although to be fair this criticism could probably be levelled at every other cinema chain).

But Searcy’s tentacles reach beyond mere serving out overpriced drinks to the Barbican-goers – they run all the restaurants there as well. Dos Hermanos had visited the main restaurant here a while ago and we found it suffered from ok-ish pre-prepped dishes and indifferent cooking. Now it’s had a relaunch and from the usual PR bollocks we are promised, well, the usual PR bollocks.

The room hasn’t changed – it still feels like eating in the Aeroflot lounge in pre-glasnost Moscow (or at least how I’d imagine it would feel). The staff still seem slightly surprised that someone’s actually come to eat there. The food, unfortunately, has slipped backwards.

The menu has obviously been constructed to push the right buttons: Air dried Beef Rump, Hare Pie (how could anyone not love the sound of Hare Pie), Market Fish Stew, Roast Leg of Lamb and so on. However, between the good (?) intentions of the dishes and their execution there’s a yawing gap.

That Air dried Beef Rump might have been really good but because it was served so cold I couldn’t taste anything. It wasn’t only the beef that was cold – the plate was too. I’m pretty disappointed that the kitchen was so overburdened that they couldn’t take the beef from the fridge and plonk it onto a room-temperature plate.

Hare Pie was listed as a dish for two but they were happy to cook an individual one for me. Good thing too as if I had to eat the bigger size I would have died of boredom long before finishing it. At first I thought it was ok – I could taste the hare – but then discovered there was very little else going on and it was, in fact, very dull. Add to the mix unpleasant shards of bones and a pie crust that wasn’t particularly crisp or flaky and you had a disappointing pie. Not massively important in the grand scheme of things but bloody annoying at £29 for three courses. Fat chips.

It was the Scrumpy bit in the description that drew me to the Cheesecake, but I overlooked the Savoury bit. The French waiter did warn me it had Kirsch. Odd but not necessarily a bad thing. What actually turned up though was a quiche. How I laughed. Neither cake nor chutney were very nice.

I could go on about the cynicism of operations of like Searcy’s but to be honest I can’t be bothered. Just don’t give them any of your hard-earned. Take a flask to the flicks and afterwards go five minutes down the road to Vinoteca and find out that there are operations with soul out there.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, September 25, 2008


While the music played you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights (2008 style)

As we had visited St. John the other day I thought it would be a good idea to check out one of its progeny to see how the stout yeoman school of cooking was doing. By chance I went for Hereford Road in Notting Hill and blow me I only realised afterwards that I’d visited almost exactly one year ago. In fact, and no surprise here, I was the first paying customer through the door (though only after being told to walk around the block a few times as they were hoovering).

So what’s changed ? Very little really. Wine’s gone up a few quid - you used to be able to get a glass for £2.40 – the food has gone up a bit and side dishes are extra, but Crab with Mayonnaise is still a tenner. The upper and lower rooms still look the same, service is still pretty much on the money.

As for the food, well, it’s not bad. I wasn’t as wowed as I was the first time around but I suppose a year is a long time in eating out and I’ve had a lot of good meals since then.

Crispy Pork, Chicory and Mustard was a good plate that certainly delivered on the Crispy Pork component and the dressing and little chopped cornichons added the necessary piquancy.

Red-legged Partridge with Lentils didn’t work quite so well. Partridge should be cooked so that it’s slightly pink but this was over. Not a disaster as they’d manage to keep the flesh moist. The bird could have done with a bit more hanging.

I couldn’t taste the Girolles that were mixed in with the Lentils and there was too much liquid. The whole was underseasoned and a bit relentless to eat. It cried out for something like lardons to lift it. And what would have been so wrong with some bread sauce and game chips ? Best by test as they say.

I thought it a bit mean that I only got two scoops of the Caramel ice cream especially as it was so good. Rich and bitter it was some of the best I’ve had recently. A wafer wouldn’t have gone amiss either but that’s probably me being greedy (what me?).

With this style of cooking there’s nowhere to hide if the ingredients aren’t of a decent quality and the cooking itsn’t spot-on. Hereford Road almost gets it right and given the reasonable (for London) prices that makes it a decent local bet.

Happy First Birthday !

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Supper last night with my good chum, Petra allowed me to tick another box in my quest to eat in London restaurants representing all the countries I visited on my recent trip.

Although, I did not visit Georgia itself, I ate at one of Moscow’s top Georgian restaurants, Tbilisi, which at the time was already feeling the pinch as Putin’s desire to consume the former Soviet states back into a new Russian order meant that many of the key staples of Georgian cuisine were becoming hard or impossible to find. Mind you it did not stop them producing a lovely meal nor indeed did it stop them presenting a bill that was equal to the amount I had spent on food for the last month as I crossed from China via Mongolia. But, it was worth it, even if I had to put up with typically Russian service, which invariably makes the response to each little request seem like you have asked them to take poison or kill their parents.

One year and a few days on, I found myself in the slightly less exotic environs of The Holloway Road at Tbilisi, a restaurant that appeared to have little in common with its namesake except that name.

One of only three Georgian restaurants in the capital that I can think of, Tbilisi, on previous experience, provided a better option to relive the past than Little Georgia on Broadway Market and I persuaded Petra to join me in a shared selection of starters.

Piping hot hachapuri bread came stuffed with a slightly salty cheese and provided the ideal vehicle to transport dips from plate to mouth. Petra particularly zoomed in on a plate of Bhaza, pureed beets with walnuts and local herbs (does local mean they came from the Costcutter next door, I wonder?) while I spent more time protecting a plate of smokey aubergine puree.

These were filling enough and with a bottle of typically semi sweet Georgian wine, we could have stopped there and been quite satisfied. We didn’t, of course and Petra moved on to a plate of Ostri, a stew of beef, which came bubbling to the table in a clay pot and was spiked with pickles and chilli to give a sharp bite. My own Tabaka comprised a jointed baby chicken cooked in a heavy pan with another on top to press it down and then served with Tkemali, a sour plum sauce or a garlic sauce blended with more of those walnuts. They kindly gave me a dish of each to try and I can see why both versions are Georgian family favourites.

We really were stuffed by then, Petra asked for a doggy bag and I requested the bill, which came to £50 including wine and tip, less than the cost of my meal for one in Moscow and the service even came with a smile.

No wonder Putin hates Georgians, enthusiastic, friendly service, how thoroughly un Russian.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


In a slightly scary “Gilbert & George finish each other sentences” kind of way, when HP called to say he was about to tuck into the enticing looking food at the new branch of Brindisa, I had just finished doing the same at the Borough Market branch.

I needed the sustenance to keep up with the energy levels of my irrepressible chum, Lex who was experiencing her first visit to London’s food tourist Mecca. She had already been given a pork pie by Mr Hartland, a sliver of Jamon at Brindisa as well as finding every other morsel of free grub in the market like a heat seeking missile, but by 11am, she declared she needed something more substantial and announced she was treating her "Uncle" to breakfast as thanks for helping her find gainful employment in our city.

Remarkably, at that time we not only found a table at Brindisa, but also one outside in the last of the Summer sun. The brekkie menu is short, but the quality is good and Lex’s plate of chorizo, eggs and potatoes was soon a memory as were my own rather good scrambled eggs, which came with slices of manchego, mushrooms and tomatoes.

With some freshly squeezed orange juice, the bill came to £20 including tip (thank you, Lex) a good deal less, I suspect than HP was racking up at their new venture.

Wish he had brought some of those croquetas back with him though.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar


When the cold wind comes
I go where the dahlias bloom

Many years ago – this was when Borough Market was yer actual market and not just a place for tourists to gawp – I ordered a whole Joselito Gran Reserva Jamon from Brindisa as a Christmas present for my Dad. A few days before the big event a nice lady called Monika rang up and told me sorry, but they’d had to give my ham to Harvey Nicks. I was pretty distraught. A day before I was due to drive up North a courier van arrived from Brindisa bearing the ham and Christmas was saved. My father was thrilled and I got weekly packets of the best ham money can buy for the whole of January.

Fast forward about ten years and I’m sitting in front of a plate of perfectly cut Jamón Ibérico de Bellota from Joselito in Guijuelo which costs £20 plus service. A hell of a lot more expensive than it was all those years ago. It’s still great stuff though and if you’re going to splash out then there is no better place to do it than at Tierra Brindisa in London’s West End.

There’s more too: fat olives stuffed with orange and majoram, a huge diver caught scallop served complete with roe and topped by crisp Serrano ham and Chorizo de Leon with Piquillo Peppers that delivered a massive hot pimenton hit.

Monte Enebro Cheese with Orange Blossom honey: a classic from the Borough branch was present and correct. Battered Hake suffered from a slightly spongy covering but the accompanying aioli was the business.

The croquetas here are made with Ibérico ham. I may not be able to call them the best croquetas in London, but that's only because I haven't eaten in every Tapas bar in the capital. They were so good I considered saving some for HS for about, oh. at least half a second.

Tapas Brindisa in Borough has been a big success for the few years it’s been open so it seems natural to roll out the concept and join the other playas in the area: Salt Yard and Dehesa, Fino and Barrafina, Fernandez & Wells. This can sometimes mean a drop in standards but on my visit everything save a glass of manzanilla that wasn’t sufficiently chilled (my life is full of such miseries) was tiptop. This may have been owing to the fact that chef José Pizarro was watching over proceedings but I like to think that the staff can maintain these standards when he leaves to open the next branch.

¡Buen Provecho!

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, September 22, 2008


Chinese music under banyan trees
Here at the dude ranch above the sea

Where can you go for a quiet cocktail and a decent meal in relaxing surroundings ? Most places these days seem to major in buzzy atmospheres which usually means tables packed too close together, oppressive sound systems and frenetic service. So I was pleasantly surprised ten minutes into our visit to Min Jiang, a new restaurant in the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.

There had been smiles all round on our arrival, nice comfy chairs for our ample arses and a (distant) view of the bright lights of London. There was some music of the jazz noodling variety playing quietly in the background, a big bowl of nuts and a couple of not-girly-at-all cocktails in hand: Oriental Mojito for me, Mai Tai for HS. Best of all, there were no young people to annoy us.

As well as being a teenager-free zone Min Jiang also has a Malaysian chef, Lan Chee Vooi, turning out rather good Chinese food and their speciality, Beijing Duck, is what we were there for.

The main course descriptions were either admirably straightforward or annoyingly prosaic depending on one’s point of view. We tended toward the latter especially as the prices were a bit scary for these uncertain times. As it turns out the quality of cooking was so good we would have been more than fine so maybe on a future visit…

Appetisers were very good exhibiting a sure hand with the old deep fryer (or presumably wok). Salt and Pepper Squid, Soft Shell Crab with Fish Floss and Xiao Long Bao filled with a superior stock were exemplary if a bit familiar from Asian menus everywhere.

Much more surprising, in a good way, was the Crispy Eel in a Butter and Vinegar sauce. When it arrived HS thought it looked like some weird deconstructed Toffee Apple. He wasn’t totally off the mark as the bits of eel had been cooked in caramel and honey. In the mouth you first got the tang of the buttery, vinegar sauce then the slightly sweet, crunchiness of the coating followed by the fishiness of the eel. Great stuff.

Daffy is served here in two courses, the first as a filling for pancakes and the second as a stir fry. HS for whom a lot of ducks went to ducky heaven during his visit to China tells me there is usually an unadvertised third course as well: a soup for the staff made from the carcass.

There was actually another first course - 1a, if you will. Some of the skin from the duck’s neck is served with some sugar to dip it in. Apparently, back in the day, the women folk usually got the skin so they had to make it more palatable. You have to eat it while hot so the sugar melts a bit. Sweet and savoury combinations are seldom a bad thing and this was a good start.

The nice man then showed us how to make a little duck pancake roll which of course us cack-handed Westerners couldn’t really emulate and ended up making a bit of a, er, pig’s ear of. As well as the standard accompaniments of plum sauce, shredded leeks and cucumber the restaurant has also come up with their own take of garlic, cabbage and radish which worked well.
Pancakes were ethereally light and the duck was, predictably, excellent: moist and not too fatty. The little parcels were soon finished off and we engaged in battling chopsticks for the last slivers of the bird.

For our second serving the duck had been shredded and stir-fried with pepper. Although, the end result was not particularly picturesque this dish was if anything even better than the preceding one. The chef had managed the difficult knack of layering the flavours in the dish ending up with a good peppery hit.

There were smiles all round on our departure (of course there were) not least on our faces. There may even have been a spring in our step which given the number of pancakes we ate would have been pretty miraculous. A grim ride on the Piccadilly Line lay ahead but for just a couple of hours we had been cocooned away from the credit crunch, bankruptcy and merchant banker sob-stories.

Labels: , , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older