Month: April 2010

Holiday! Celebrate!

No posting for the next week or so, folks. I’m off to Turkey!

I’m going on one of those ‘foodies-would-roll-over-in-their-graves’ package holidays, but I’ll try to venture out to try some local cuisine.  I fear it will all be muesli and chips at the resort buffet :-(

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Fino – Fitzrovia (Second visit)

Oh, Fino – how I love thee…

My first experience at Fino was a little over a year ago when I went with a friend visiting from the States. It was before this blog had a proper form (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take a lot of pictures). We had done some mega restaurant research and knocked off Galvin at Windows (thumbs up), St John (love), Maze (really love), Sake No Hana (meh) and Hakkasan (double meh) in a week. Fino was to be the last hoorah. And what a hoorah it was. I had it built up in my mind over the next 12 months, and when I finally went back I was terrified it would no longer be what I imagined.

Thank god I was wrong. Fino is, without a doubt, my favourite tapas restaurant in London. It’s one of those rare places that every dish that comes out is equally as good as the last.

Please excuse the crap iPhone photos – they do the dishes no justice!

A lovely Crisp Pork Belly was indeed very crisp in all the right places, and absolutely bursting with savoury spices.

Fino

Brushed with a slightly sweet glaze, the Stuffed Squid was perfectly cooked – not a hint of rubbery texture.

Fino

The Chorizo Chips were delicious fried morsels of spicy cured meat.

Fino

And the Ham Croquetas were just as tasty as I remembered.  How they make a huge fried ball of cheese taste like you’re eating a cloud, I’ll never know

Fino

Dessert was their absolutely gorgeous Cinnamon Doughnuts and a sort of Chocolate Parfait thing that I can’t remember the proper name of. Both delicious, but the fried bits of dough with ice cream were my pick.

Fino

Fino

Dining with one other, four small plates and two desserts was more than enough. With wine and service, the bill came to about £68, more than worth it. But I will warn, it’s pretty easy to get carried away here, and things do add up, so watch out. Throwing another bit of chorizo on the table could bump the bill up pretty quickly.

Go here, now.

Fino on Urbanspoon

Yard – Old Street

I was at Yard a few weeks ago when the place was absolutely buzzing with all the Shoreditch office locals. I don’t often get a chance to eat lunch outside of a 5-minute walk radius of my office in Fitzrovia, so it was a rather welcome change.

After walking into the rather industrial/trendy restaurant, we were sat promptly and ordered a bottle of red and a sharing platter starter of  Crostini, Pesto, Olives, Hummous and Tzatziki:

A nice little sharing platter, but nothing more. Everything obviously came out of a jar.

I should mention that Yard is one of those pizza places that serve clever pizzas not by pie, but by yard (hence the name). A quarter yard yields you a normal size pizza though, so for my main, I went with their specialty – 1/4 yard of Crispy Duck Pizza:

I enjoyed this quite a bit. The hoison sauce was a nice blend of five spice – nothing was too overpowering. The duck was indeed crispy. The crust lacked some of the flavour I’ve come to expect at ‘nicer’ pizza joints, but it was certainly edible. In fact, I ate the whole thing (much to my stomach’s dismay).

They were busy, and I can’t complain too much about the service. Everything tasted perfectly fine, but it didn’t leave my mind soaring and my tastebuds reeling.

I’d say Yard sits somewhere in between Zizi and Pizza East in terms of price, quality and cache. It’s just a stone’s throw from Old Street tube station, and worth a try if you’re nearby or Pizza East has too long a wait.

Yard on Urbanspoon

Boulevard Dining Room – Soho

I’m going to warn you now – this is going to be a short review. Why, you ask? Because like my meal at  Boulevard , it’s not really worth the effort. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this is so that people don’t make the same mistake I did by going for their 3-course and a bellini menu for £15.

The starter, penned a Crispy Flatbread with Tomato, Chorizo, Monterrey Jack Cheddar and Jalapeño Peppers, was nothing more than cold limp formerly frozen pizza.

The main, Chargrilled Chicken Breast with Buttermilk Mash and Sizzling Lime Butter, was a dry piece of meat served with mashed potatoes so hard I had to cut them with a knife. (And the salad? What’s up with that?)

The dessert, Blueberry Creme Brulee, was a mess – burned sugar over a far too cold, too dense cream with gloopy overly sweet blueberry paste curdled at the bottom.

I want to say that every dish was worse than the last, but really, I think they were all equally rubbish. In fact, I might go out on a limb here, and say this is one of the worst meals I’ve had in London.

Avoid at all costs.

Boulevard Bar & Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Mango Tree – Victoria

Finally, after a year of diligent Top Table dining, I banked up enough points to take myself and a friend to dinner. For free.  Score.

I remember reading a very mixed review of Mango Tree from EuWen over at A Very Unusual Chinaman – one that was confirmed for me earlier this week when I saw him at an event at Silk for the India Tourism Office and 2010 Commonwealth Games put on by my sister PR agency (yes, that’s a small plug, but India really does look amazing). However, the other choices for a free meal looked pretty rubbish (like Maxwell’s in Covent Garden, which may just be the worst tourist trap in London apart from all the chain steakhouses), so Mango Tree it was.

The restaurant is very slick. It’s accented with dark wood and low lights all around, but each table has an overhead spotlight, which made the food look brilliant, and even gave me enough light for my stupid iPhone to take a decent picture.

We had a very small menu to choose from, but I was starving, and when faced with too much choices, I tend to waffle. I was grateful.

For my starter, the Vegetable Spring Rolls:

Nice light, albeit basic, spring roll. It was a little on the greasy side, but it was served with a very nice sweet chilli sauce that masked any imperfections.

I also got to try a bite of my friend’s Thai Fish Cakes:

I wasn’t a fan of these rather rubbery little patties, but to be fair, I’ve never really had one I’ve liked.  Every Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to cooks the hell out of them and then serves them with a completely overwhelming dipping sauce.

My main, on the other hand, was much more successful. The Thai Green Curry on Noodles:

Alright, it was fairly basic, but it was still really tasty. Rich, but not too rich. Spicy, but not too spicy. It was juuuust right.

Dessert was the Ice Cream Selection and the Lychee Cheesecake:

Both fairly odd selections for a Thai restaurant.  The ice cream was essentially a Neapolitan, and the cheesecake was just normal cheesecake served alongside a lychee jelly.  It was just ok.

Mango Tree is certainly not the best place in the world, but it was decent easy-to-handle Thai food in a nice setting. I should mention we had very attentive service too. And for free, it was totally worth it. But then again, I suppose there would be little that wasn’t worth it.

Except Maxwell’s.

Mango Tree on Urbanspoon

Fernandez & Leluu – Super Secret Supper Club Location

I’d never been to a supper club before a two weeks ago.  I’ve always thought it was a cool idea, but for some reason, I’d just never gone through with it.  But then I was invited to the much-lauded Fernandez & Leluu supper club. F&L (aka Simon and Uyen) were hosting a special event with Qype , sponsored by After Eight mints and led by the King and perhaps first-ever supper club master – Jim Haynes.

Jim is a total legend. American-born, has lived in Paris for decades, and every Sunday for the last 30 years has hosted anywhere from 80-120 people for dinner. Such a cool story. Plus, he was a wicked ‘tache:

Jim Haynes

So late one Monday evening, about 40 of us all pile into the secret supper club location, and eat Jim Haynes-style, which basically means standing up with plates and mingling while trying desparately not to drop our food. (It was as difficult as it sounds.)  Normally, however, Simon and Uyen host abut 25 people in their living room, which my friend Sian described as ‘a magic supper club TARDIS’. Brilliant.

The first course was a selection of finger foods, mostly Vietnamese:

  • Fresh Summer Rolls With Mint, Shredded Pork Skin, Barbequed Pork, Roast Pork Belly, Cured Vietnamese Ham, Sweet Basil & Lettuce
  • Spring Rolls With King Prawns, Minced Pork, Black Fungus, Carrots & Glass Noodles
  • Pork & Chicken Liver Terrine On Ciabatta
  • Whole Prawns With Green Herbs Mayo & Salmon Caviar
  • Carrot & Corriander Salad With Shredded Chicken

I’d never given much thought to a summer roll before. They’re usually just a bit basic, but this one (the big honkin’ roll on the left side of my plate) left me speechless. I never would have thought to put pork skin, barbequed pork AND pork belly in a summer roll, but wowza – I sure would now.

Also a big thumbs up to the liver terrine. I’m not generally fan, but this was gorgeous.

For our mains, we had:

  • Carpaccio of Argentinian Beef Fillet Rolled in Black Pepper With Raspberry Jus
  • Mashed Garlic & Spring Onion Inside Baked Potato Skins
  • Lambs Lettuce In Olive Oil & Lemon
  • Garlic Foccacia

I wasn’t as big of a fan of this as I was with the starters, but mainly because it was way to difficul to cut it into manageable pieces.  I ended up having to chow down on huge chunks when I really would have preferred to savour it a bit longer.  Note: If holding a standing supper club, I’d recommend bite sized foods.

Dessert was an absolutely amazing Trifle Of Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding With Whisky Raisins, White Chocolate Custard & Strawberry, Raspberry & Blackberry Soaked in Cointreau.

By this time, I was outside in very low light, so I didn’t get a great photo. Luckily, Kang over at The London Eater did though (as usual!):

I was in love with this from the first bite it was a beautiful explosion of fruit with just about the most boozey strawberries I’ve ever had in my life.  If I wasn’t ipsy before this dessert, I certainly was after.

The verdict?

My first supper club may not have been traditional, but it was certainly good fun. I’m really excited to try Fernandez & Leluu, properly, if not just to have a chance to eat that summer roll again.

If anyone has any other Supper Club suggestions, let me know!  I’ve had a couple already, but would be keen to hear more.

Haché Burgers – Camden

Technically, I’ve been to Haché (pronounced ashay) before. It was nearly four years ago when I was just visiting London. I don’t remember much, but I do remember not being very impressed (despite the fact that a friend said it was one of the best burgers he’s ever had). I have a much fresher opinion now, and I’m sad to say that my disappointment still stands.

Their burger menu is immense, and there is certainly something for everyone. There are some really interesting combinations like Steak Louisiana – scotch beef burger topped with crunchy peanut butter and cheddar cheese – or the many varieties of falafel burgers, which look lovely. The night we went, I was on a beef overload from the Hawksmoor just a few days earlier, and wanted to opt for something slightly healthier. I went with the Jerk Chicken flavoured with Jerk Spices and topped with Caribbean Mango Chutney:

Hache

Dry, overcooked chicken with about as much jerk seasoning as the contents of a pepper grinder. A messy mango chutney that wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but more just like chopped up mango instead of a sauce. The ciabatta it was served on was cold and dry. Not impressed in the slightest, and at £8.95, I thought it was quite the rip-off.

Trying to remain healthy, I didn’t get a whole side to myself, but was able to steal an onion ring from someone else. A nice batter, but way too greasy. The kind of greasy that when you bite down, you can feel it seep down the back of your throat.

Hache

The problem is Haché has all the parts for a really pleasant dining experience. Eclectic burgers, nice decor, cozy surrounding, cool location – but the execution is all wrong. Quite simply, poor food and poor service. We waited for a good 20 minutes before someone came to the table. I don’t eat in Camden often, but I’m convinced there are far better places to go than here.

UPDATE:

I completely forgot to mention – if for some reason you do find yourself at Hache, stay clear of the house wine – it’s vile. Best, shell out another 20p to get something at least palatable.

Hache Burgers on Urbanspoon