Month: March 2011

Rossopomodoro – Notting Hill

Do you want to hear the saddest thing ever? Up until a couple weeks ago, my flatmate wouldn’t eat cheese. In fact, he hadn’t tried it since he was a kid. Just went off the idea of it all. ‘It’s squidgy’, he told me on a number of occasions.

I know. Let me give you a moment to pull your jaw from off the floor.

When he moved in about a year ago, I remarked that we’d have him eating it in no time. Well, it took longer than I thought it would, but we’re nearly there. The first step was cheese on toast – a mild cheddar. As one could imagine, it was slightly dry – not the first thing I’d eat.

The second step was pizza, so Neil (my other cheese-loving flatmate) and I took Charlie to Rossopomodoro in Notting Hill.

We started out with the Bruschetta (£3.50):

Fairly standard, but nice and fresh. And no parmesan! I think he liked this one.

What didn’t work for him, but I found a cheesy delight, was the A Tiella Platter (£6.00):

This was an assortment of Traditional Neapolitan fritters – some with cheese, some with potato, all fried to a delicious crispy golden brown.

For the main event, I went with the Pizza Fru Fru (£10.50):

Divided into three sections, this pizza was a bit schizophrenic. Provola and tomato sauce on the left; Ricotta and salami in the middle ;and friarielli (wild turnip tops) and provola on the right. While I really enjoyed the first two, I wasn’t too keen on the turnip tops. Slightly too bitter and overpowering for the milder provola. What was delicious though, was the crust. Perfectly structured, but not too crisp – this was really nice bread.

Charlie, a bit anxious at this point, had a margherita pizza, which he did actually finish. I think he wanted to say that he didn’t like it, but the fact that he ate the whole thing tells me otherwise.

With all of that, and a bottle of wine down, we took a look at the dessert menu. Man, oh man, the choices. Curiously though, 90% of them featured Nutella as a key ingredient. Not that I’m complaining.

We had the Calde Calde (£5.00):

Sweet warm doughnuts iced with vanilla sugar and topped with Nutella – these were the best, by far.

I went with the Tiramisu (£5.00):

The actual Tiramisu was good – not fantastic, but good. The Nutella was good too (of course), but I’m not sure about the two together. It was a bit heavy.

Neil went with the Nutellotto (£5.00):

Buffalo milk ice cream topped with (you guessed it) Nutella. I really enjoyed this. It was just a nice subtle flavour. I wouldn’t mind getting it on its own for a nice light treat.

And to top it all off, because we were fat asses that spent over £20 a head, we were given three placemats featuring Italian vegetables. Here’s Charlie modelling one:

Fetching, isn’t it?

I should add here that the service was stellar. Warm, friendly – very Italian. In fact, I think we may have been the only native English speakers in there, which is is generally a good sign.

So that’s it. Charlie’s first real brush with cheese was a success. So much so, that we got Firezza two days later, takeaway from our local pizza place the next weekend and this past Sunday we had Mulberry Street delivered. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Charlie ‘likes’ cheese yet, but he certainly likes pizza.

Rossopomodoro on Urbanspoon

Pearl – Holborn

I love posh girl dates. There is nothing better than throwing two sheets to the wind, spending some money and having a bit of gossip. The other thing I love is when TopTable deals don’t turn out to be absolute shit. So you can imagine my delight when I went to the near-perfect Pearl, a Japanese/French fusion restaurant just near Holborn tube, on a ‘3-course and a cocktail’ deal for £43 deal with one of my good friends, Kat.

First off, Pearl is gorgeous. It borders on being a teensy bit too snobby for its own good, but the little touches (pearls on the chandeliers, mainly – I know, cheesy, but whatever) made me forget that. The service, also, from the time we walk in the door was absolutely flawless.

On the random Wednesday we went, the restaurant nor the bar was particularly busy, which made me think this is probably why they have the TopTable deal on. It also worried me a bit because as often is the case with money off deals, the servers treat you like a second-class citizen. Not so with Pearl. I think they were happy to see people.

Our amuse bouche came straightaway. Three little delicacies: some sort of minced salmon paste with a glaze over top, chicken liver parfait with a goat cheese filled cherry tomato and a mushroom risotto ball:

All excellent, including the risotto ball, considering I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms.

The next course was a bit of a surprise, an extra little treat before our starters – Goat Cheese Truffle with Artichoke Soup and Parmesan:

A lovely combination, and just enough to whet the appetite.

For my actual starter, I had the Beef and Oysters:

The plates were exactly the same as Launceston Place, so already I had fond memories. The beef was a braised beef cheek with watercress tortellini, crispy oysters and parsnips. The combination of textures served it well. The tortellini, in particular, was fantastic. It tasted of/probably was squid ink. You could certainly do worse.

Kat went with the Mackerel Fondant:

The presentation on this was a bit more like a flower wreath than food, admittedly, and I’ll say it certainly wasn’t my favourite of the night (most likely due to the dill. I hate dill), but the candied beetroot garnish was quite tasty.

For mains, we both went with the Sole with Artichoke Gnocchi and Chicken Wings:

The sole was a bit of an odd one, because I absolutely LOVED everything on the dish….except the sole. The artichoke gnocchi was brilliant, only superseded by the most tender and delicate roasted artichokes I’ve ever tasted – and the ‘chicken wings’? Let’s just say, they weren’t the kind you get at Fridays (thank God). But the sole? It was like a salt lick. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt here, though. With everything else being perfect, something must have gone wrong in the kitchen with the fish. Shame.

Pre-dessert was a Couscous Mango Foam with ‘Walnut Crunch’:

Audible squeals of delight on this. I might venture to say it was even better than the actual desserts…similar to my Viajante review.

Speaking of, I had the Tiramisu with Amaretto Ice Cream:

Neither particularly French, nor Japanese, I was a little confused by the fact that this was even on the menu, but regardless, it was tasty. Presentation was fun, and the tuile the tiramisu was wrapped in was a sugary delight, despite being thinner than tissue paper. Exactly as it should be.

Kat went with this:

I’m so sorry I can’t actually remember what it was. Some sort of tapioca-ish thing with a bit of jelly on top. It was served with a ‘spiced’ ice cream, which I do remember was infused with cardamom and clove. The rest, apparently, not very memorable.

Apart from the lacklustre finish and salty sole, the meal was brilliant. Kat and I ordered a lovely bottle of viognier for £32, which made the final bill a bit more expensive (£65 per person with water and service), but you can do it much cheaper and still have a wonderful time. The TopTable deal is still on, so do yourself a favour, and go. Now.

Pearl on Urbanspoon

Dishoom – Covent Garden

I’m going to keep this short because, well, Dishoom has been done to death. It’s routinely one of the most talked about restaurants on Urbanspoon, they have a very loyal Twitter following and pretty much every food blogger I know has written about them – anything I say will just be reiterating.

I’ve been to Dishoom now three times – twice for breakfast and once for dinner. All three experiences were consistent in terms of quality and service – it reminded me of service standard back home in the States. I’ll go on about dinner a bit later, but for me, Dishoom is all about breakfast, particularly the Bacon Naan Roll. It is pretty much the best thing ever. Seriously.

Crisp salty bacon with fresh coriander, spicy chutney, other lovely yummy things and wrapped in fresh naan bread all for £3.50 make this the perfect on the go brekkie. It’s not too big either. Perfect for me as I always get overwhelmed by the size of restaurant breakfasts.

I went for dinner in between my two breakfast experiences. Maybe I just got the wrong things, because while certain things were very good – I wasn’t over the moon about it.

We started off with Vegetable Samosas, a good deal at (£2.90), but pretty tasted pretty standard.

The Spicy Lamb Chops Rubbed with crushed black pepperand chillies (£9.70) were a disappointment as they were too charred to really taste anything. I left half of this uneaten.

The House Black Dahl (£4.50) was lovely as was the Vegetables and Paneer:

I really wanted to like everything, and I’ll definitely be back for dinner (and many many many breakfasts, I’m sure), but I’d like to try something else.

Dishoom on Urbanspoon

Mason & Taylor – Bethnal Green/Shoreditch

At the top of Brick Lane in overcrowded, hipster central used to be Green & Red, a Mexican restaurant and underground bar with some of the worst atmosphere I’ve ever encountered. I remember spending Halloween 2009 there. It was a good party, but the space was cramped, ugly and the staff all looked like they were out to kill (which may have been more of a symptom of Halloween than their general disposition, but still. The mark had been made in my mind).

Fast forward a year and a bit, and Green & Red is now Shoreditch’s newest ampersanded restaurant: Mason & Taylor.

I was invited to come by and check it out, which I did so anonymously a few Sundays ago*.

Walking in, it’s already an improvement. Mixing comfort with a little industrial, the place is far cosier than what my picture suggests, and I quite like it.

I started taking a look at the menu. It’s clear from the word go that Mason & Taylor is the place to go if you like and appreciate beer. Me, I’m more of a wine gal, but that didn’t stop me for perusing and trying something new: the Chimay Blonde, served in a near-challis that probably impressed me more than the beer inside. I’m easy to please, apparently. My friend Andrew, who just returned to London after travelling in the States for a few months, was especially happy to see Sierra Nevada on the menu:

Ready for food, and having done a bit of research before, I was excited to try the scotch eggs I saw on the menu online as a starter (For some reason lately, I can not get enough scotch eggs. I’m beginning to think I have a problem), but upon looking at the printed menu at our table… shock! horror! no eggs.

Cheekily, I asked the server if they had any, by chance. He looked doubtful, but quickly went to go check with the kitchen, and lo-and-behold, they could make up to two portions. Lesson learned: It never hurts to ask.

The Scotch Quails Eggs with Gribiche (£4.50):

Nice crispy exterior with a not-too-runny egg, good savoury sausage casing. I only wish it was a normal sized one instead of a quail’s eggs. The gribiche sauce was just the right balance of tartness with a good range of texture.

Only thing that really brought it down was the presentation, which sort of became the theme of the lunch. Good food, not amazing, but good – served on depressing plates with absolutely no regard for balance, space, negative space or anything, really.

We also had the English Rabbit with Gherkin (£3.50):

Our server warned us this wasn’t rabbit in the way we were probably thinking, and for £3.50 I expected that. It was more like a open-faced meat spread and cheddar toastie. Again, the taste was fine – a bit conventional, perhaps, I certainly could have made the same thing at home – but the presentation was just horrible. Completely unappetising.

On Sundays, Mason & Taylor roll out the roasts, and so for mains we went with the Rare Roast Sirloin with Horseradish Cream, Yorkshire Pudding and Duck Fat Roast Potatoes (£14.50) and the veggie option with Roasted Butternut Squash and Olive Oil Potatoes (£9):

The roasted vegetables on both dishes were absolutely fantastic, particularly the parsnips, which seemed to be brushed with a bit of honey. They were scrumptious. Ditto the thin delectable slices of butternut squash and duck fat potatoes. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the actual beef, which was sliced too thinly and therefore overcooked to about medium/medium well, but overall the dishes were decent enough.

Far too stuffed for dessert, we asked for the bill. Throughout the meal, service was adequate enough. I’m very pleased I got my scotch eggs, after all, but as they got busier, they seemed to be incredibly rushed and things deteriorated. My friend had to go to the bar to find out where the glass of wine he ordered 20 minutes prior with his roast was. It’s not an uncommon practice here though, sadly.

In total, the bill would have come to £57, which does seem a bit steep to me for the sort of place I think Mason & Taylor currently is right now. For the moment, I’ll chalk it up to growing pains. If they just tweak a few things (presentation, attention to detail), they could be really good, and exactly what the area needs.

Mason & Taylor on Urbanspoon

*I was an anonymous guest of Mason & Taylor, meaning that instead of my meal being comped on the day, I was instead reimbursed at a later time. I dined without the server or staff knowing I was a food blogger, which I’ve found is the only true way to get an authentic ‘off the street’ experience

Malmaison Brasserie – Leeds

I don’t get to travel within the UK too often unless it’s with work. Most of my friends have always lived in London, so until recently when my friend Dom quit his job and moved up to Leeds to go back to school and become a teacher, I was sad – but also a little excited I could go visit. Six months later, I finally made it ‘oop norf’, as they say.

Before I went though, the lovely Diana Massey had got in touch with me about the Brasserie at The Malmaison Hotel. Although I generally don’t do invite to review restaurants without being anonymous, I said yes. A new city, no clue where to eat, and a friend who went from PR wages to being a student at 27 – if there’s anyone who deserves a nice meal out on the house, it’s him.

The hotel itself is beautiful – rich plum colours and twisted wrought iron sculptures and light fixtures – it does very much ring of Paris in the 30s. Just beautiful. A bit early, we settled in the bar for a quick drink before being whisked off to our table, which was set off from the main dining room, a big comfy half-moon Mafia-style booth that gave a nice view of the rest of the room.

We were served some bread and a nice tapenade to start. The maître d was serving us, which at first I was a little put off by (I don’t like special treatment), but as the room filled up, he looked after the whole section. Perhaps they were short-staffed, or perhaps he is just the kind of manager that really gets stuck into it – either way, we were all looked after well.

The menu is mostly French with some British inspiration. The most important thing about it though is that everything, and I mean everything, is local. They make quite a big deal of this on the menu, which made me think it might not be that common in Leeds. Even my starter, the Pigeon with Spiced Vegetables and Bread and Bay Sauce (£7.50), I was warned twice that it was killed locally and so I should be careful of little bits of shot in the meat. How rustic. Luckily, I didn’t get any. I think pieces of leftover metal in my bird might have been a bit much.

The mild creamy bread sauce with well cooked vegetables (including some fairly tart beetroot) was a hit, but the pigeon itself was a little tough. It was the right colour – it didn’t *look* overdone – but it was really missing the tenderness that bird really needs. Of course, my last brush with pigeon was at Heston’s Dinner, so I admit I have been a bit spoiled.

Dom went with the Whisky Smoked Pork Belly and Tiger Prawns (£7.50):

I loved the streaky (American) bacon garnish on this. Salty crispy goodness. The prawns were fine and the slightly sweet sauce worked well with the dish over all, but the pork belly itself – again – just a tad overdone.

For my main, I had the Whole Plaice with Spinach and Brown Shrimp Butter (£13.95):

A stonkin’ huge portion well worth the 14 quid. The fish was delicate, flaky and the butter sauce was nice. I had this was a side of New Potatoes, which were also quite good. If I could complain about anything, it would be the skin was lacking in crispness, which while not a necessity, is always a nice perk when having this type of fish.

Dom had the Stout Braised Heather Fed Mutton with Sage Mash and Herb Dumplings (£15.95):

I’ll admit I’m not much of a mutton fan, but I found this too, to be a bit dry. The herb dumplings were nice and added a bit of much-needed moisture, but they weren’t quite large enough to do the trick.

Desserts were Warm Rice Pudding with Ginger and Rhubarb (£5.95) and Apple and Hazelnut Crumble (£5.95):

Both a good idea in theory, but they both fell short. The flavours in my rice pudding were lovely, slightly sweet, slightly tart, slightly spicy, but the rice was underdone. The crumble’s apple was perfect, but the actual crumbs were dry and tasted a bit too similar to cardboard, if you ask me.

The Malmaison Brasserie has some really great things going for it (service, style, price), but they need to step up on the not-so-little details (over/under cooked food, consistency) if they want to make it to the next level. It was a nice evening out, but next time I’m up in Leeds, I may be wondering what other restaurants are around…

Om Nom London was a guest of the Malmaison Brasserie