Month: May 2011

Bumpkin – South Kensington

After a fun night at the Science Museum Lates (which you really ought to go to – it’s an adults only night where they open up a bar on each level and let the ‘kids at heart’ run wild), my friend and I found ourselves starving and on the lookout for somewhere nice, not too expensive and not too far away, as it was nearing the 10pm mark – a little late for dinner.

With Twitter to the rescue, we settled on Bumpkin. Even at a late hour they were bustling and politely seated us at a lovely, but extremely loud table.

I felt bad because as I perused the menu, I suddenly had a craving for Thai instead of heavy roasts and pies. And then I spotted the specials. I managed to nab myself the very last order of Steamed Mussels, served with a saffron cream sauce, clams and crispy ‘streaky’ bacon (£14.95):

It was tasty. The saffron cream was great, the clams and bacon plentiful. I remember think at the time that it was a wee bit expensive (mussels are pretty cheap to buy, even from a retail fishmonger), but as I reflect, I was happy. It was a great dish.

My friend went with the Fish Pie, a short crust pastry, cod and root vegetables and cream (£12.50):

I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of <insert any name here> pies – a bit too heavy for my taste, but the cream sauce didn’t over do it. I caught some faint citrus notes, the potatoes were lovely and the giant chunks of fish also made this a winner. It was finished within minutes.

Two mains, two glasses of wine, bread and water ran about £60 (I can’t remember the exact price), so for a mid-range meal, it wasn’t horrible, but I wouldn’t go everyday. I’d have to be in the mood for it anyway.

However, if you fancy it, I just saw on their site that if you ‘like’ them on Facebook during the month of May, you get 50% off your bill. Go, you have 4 days.

Bumpkin on Urbanspoon

Bonjardim: om nom nom’ing in Portugal

One simply can’t go to Portugal without having a little Peri Peri Chicken. I was told that the best in the country was from A Rampa in Monchique, but alas, only five days in the country (and most of them at a beach), I couldn’t make it. Instead, on my first day in Lisbon, I took to TripAdvisor and my trusty guidebook to find Bonjardim, a cheap and cheerful eatery off a charming winding alleyway in the Baixa district.

Arriving shortly after 2 (tactically before siesta), I was seated upstairs and presented with bread, cheese and a croquetta. These little nibbles are only charged if you eat them, and being as famished as I was, I happily did.

The menu was expansive with most mains seemingly priced around the 10 euro mark, which I figured was totally fair. Naturally going with the Peri Peri, some chips a bit of red wine, I was surprised when it all arrived to the table within minutes (telling me that not only had it probably waiting, they were also trying to rush me out so they could actually close before dinner service).

No matter though. The chicken was tender and the skin crisp. The portion was huge (the picture is only half of it), but somehow I managed to most of it. It was spicy, perhaps a bit too salty, but still put Nandos to shame (and I actually like Nandos). The biggest surprise was when the bill came.

9 frickin’ 80.

Apparently the prices on the menu were ‘sharing’ prices. For a single diner, they cut everything in half. Those little nibbles at the beginning of the meal were 35 euro cents, and my half bottle of wine (I just asked for ‘red wine’ and that’s what they brought me instead of a glass) was €2.80.

I’ve never been so shocked in my life – tasty to boot. Go here when you’re in Lisbon. For the price, it’s impossible to be disappointed.

Travessa de S. Antao 11
Lisbon, Portugal

Bistro du Vin – Clerkenwell

Bistro du Vin is the firs standalone restaurant from the people behind Hotel du Vin, and wow, is it pretty. Located at the much-lauded and sadly closed Eastside Inn (rest in peace) on St John Street, they really outdid themselves. It’s sleek, still has that lovely open kitchen and has just enough French influence without being too ‘Cafe Rouge‘. I was invited to come try it out after hearing quite a bit of fuss over its opening.

We got there a bit early and decided to sit at the bar for a quick drink – the Marmalade Martini (£10). It was the perfect aperitif, crisp light and just enough to dazzle the taste buds. It was also served with bar snacks, which generally scores big points in my book.

Sitting down, we took a look at the expansive menu. For the vibe of the place, I’d call it competitively priced. Most starters were around the £7-£10 range, while most mains were around £15 (steaks and lobster obviously quite a bit more). After going back and forth, I decided on the Cornish crab, toasted sourdough (£9.50) for a starter.

Our server told us it was the most popular on the menu, which I’m guessing is more because it’s crab, rather than because it’s a showstopper. It was alright (a bit too cold and bland, it needed quite a bit of lemon to jazz it up), but I wouldn’t repeat the order. The Crispy lambs sweetbreads with sauce charcuterie (£8.75) were a much nicer choice.

Besides being much more pleasing to the eye, these were quite moreish, but then again they were fried, so really, what’s not to love?

Things changed for me when I got my main course, the Scallops and prawns with sauce vierge (£22) with a ‘mixed salad’ and new potatoes on the side for the table (both £3.50), because for all of the nicely priced parts of the menu and the lovely interior, it’s clear that Bistro du Vin need to make a profit. This is the only reason I can see to charge an outrageous £3.50 for a bowl of lettuce (no other ingredients and oddly washed in salt water) and call it a side salad. Even more infuriating was charging a ludicrous £22 for the main, which consisted of exactly three small prawns and three average-sized scallops:

That’s it.

Doing the math(s), it works out to a whopping £3.66 per shrimp and scallop. Outrageous highway robbery. Full stop. To add insult to injury, the prawns were overcooked and the scallops inconsistently cooked. And have I mentioned how difficult it is to cut through something when it’s sitting on a perforated concave shell?! I don’t know what they were thinking. Disappointment incarnate.

Thank god the Saucisson à la lyonnaise, ratte potatoes and Dijon (£15.50) was better.

A much more generous portion, lovely little potatoes and sausage that almost had the distinct flavouring of chorizo. It was a man’s meal, and this pleased DQ (I’m playing around with an alias for the boyfriend. Bear with me) greatly.

Desserts are where Bistro du Vin really shined. We ordered the Chocolate Pave and Strawberry Sundae (both £5.50).

The chocolate was rich, but the portion size helped it be not over the top. Bonus points for the sprinkling of pistachios on top. The sundae reminded me of back home, but Brits would probably call it more of a Knickerbocker Glory as it was dotted with meringues throughout.

I didn’t see what the final bill would be (I was a guest of Bistro du Vin), but we estimated it out at around £120 with water and wine. The wine, by the way, was excellent. They have this clever little top up card that allows you to try some really fantastic wines by the glass that in normal restaurants would only be served by the bottle.

I’ll admit it was a mixed bag. A bit on the pricey side for just a normal meal out, but good for a slightly more special occasion. If you order smart, and stay away from the ludicrous scallops, you should be fine.

Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Senhora Mae: om nom nom’ing in Portugal

Trying to figure out where to eat in Lisbon there are a few things that keep popping up: Pastéis de Belém, pretty much anything ‘cheap Peri Peri’ (more on this later) and Senhora Mae.

Ranked no. 20 on Trip Advisor‘s best restaurants in Lisbon (out of 554), not budget breaking and located on the lovely hilly streets of the Alfama neighbourhood, I knew I had to try it.

Specialising in ‘modern’ Portuguese cuisines, Senhora Mae has had accolades across the board for their bold and innovative style. Oddly enough though, I couldn’t really see what was ‘Portuguese’ about the menu at all. It’s not a bad thing, just a bit of a misnomer.

Though the inside of the restaurant – with its exposed rock, beautiful oak tables and smart lighting – was beautiful, I couldn’t be tempted away from the Senhora’s rather modest patio with a view of the famous Tram 28 rumbling by every few minutes and the sound of Fava music lofting from the apartment next door. It was a good vibe.

I ordered a glass of wine and some bread with a lovely sun-dried tomato spread, but my eye was taken to the mains – odd combinations, that they were.

My immediate reaction was that the chef was pretty damn ambitious. The menu was rather large and there were a lot of different cuisine-types to boot (Duck burgers to Sweet and Sour Shrimp with Papadoms).  I was hoping it wouldn’t be disastrous (Jack of all trades, etc) and was eventually tempted by what sounded simple enough: Enrolado de Vitela c/ Amêndoa e Puré de Maçã – Rolled veal w/ almond and apple puree (14.00 €):

While it was not at all what I was expecting, somehow they pulled it off. Sure it was a bit pretentious; sure it was nearly a foot tall; and sure it had everything in it but the kitchen sink, but it worked.

The veal was sliced thin and tender, wrapped several times around a bit of spinach and mushrooms, housed in a crisp wonton and topped with a generous disc of goat’s cheese, a poached apple and caramelised figs. It should have been all wrong, but there was enough savoury to balance out the sweet. Naturally after finishing off the monster, I was stuffed. Dessert was absolutely not an option.

I’m guessing if my ‘simple’ rolled veal arrived GIANT, with everything but fireworks, the rest of the menu is the same – a recipe for disaster, surely. In fact, upon returning to London, I came across a 2/10 review from Cara at Ms Gourmet Chick for that very reason. So the only thing I can warn is: go to Senhora Mae with few expectations. You may leave happy, you may leave slightly confused, but no matter what, you will leave with a full stomach.

Largo de São Martinho 6
1149 Lisbon, Portugal
218 275 599

The Lukin – Fitzrovia

I eat out a lot in Fitzrovia, mainly because it’s where my office is located. So on the Thursday before the Easter bank holidays, and just having finished a huge presentation at work, some colleagues and I decided to treat ourselves to a lazy lunch. But after a while, Busaba and Amaretto get a bit old, and you – just once – want to try somewhere you all haven’t been before. That’s how we found The Lukin.

Tucked away on a quiet leafy street, far enough away from the craziness of Tottenham Court Road, The Lukin is a tiny pub, with the normal ‘pub on the ground floor, dining room on the first floor’ layout. The decor is nothing to shout about (I’ve read it used to be an O’Neil’s, which would explain it), but there’s a very ‘local’ feel to it, despite the fact it’s not really in a massively residential area.

We booked for 7 people about an hour before we wanted to dine (a long shot), but luckily it worked out. We were seated on time, and immediately I was impressed with friendliness of the staff. We started with a couple orders of Scotch Eggs (£4.50):

I do like a good scotch egg – these were commendable, but not Earth-shattering. They were served slightly chilled (I tend to prefer warm ones hough) and came with a lovely mustard sauce. Still, they were a hit with the table…

For my main, I was having trouble deciding. Nothing was jumping out at me except the 8 oz Homemade Cheddar Burger with Chips (£10.70) , but with my recent couple posts, I started to get The Fear that om nom London was turning into om nom Burger. So, even though I did order it – I promise: no more burger posts for a while. Even I’m a bit sick of them…

It was a bit… weird. I like that it was homemade (as was the weird runny, but tasty ketchup), I like that it was gigantic (for the price it should be!), but the spices they used in the mince were totally wrong – cinnamon being the worst offender. I imagine that with an incredibly skilled chef and the right balance, cinnamon and beef not being really really wrong in every sense, but not here.

On the plus side, it was juicy, the cheese and other toppings were lovely, and the chips were a thumbs up.

Despite the cinnamon disaster, I would try The Lukin again. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a cheerful pub oasis in the middle of one of the most cramped areas of London.

The Lukin on Urbanspoon

Pastéis de Belém: om nom nom’ing in Portugal

When I first told friends I was going to be in Lisbon over the Easter holidays, the first reaction was generally, ‘Oh my god, you HAVE to go to Pastéis de Belém for their custard tarts’. Taking good advice to heart, I ventured out within about 3 hours of arriving to the famous bakery and cafe (open for business since 1837) in the Belém district of Lisbon, just a 10 minute train ride outside the city centre.

Walking up Rua de Belém, you can almost feel the air start to change. There’s a palpable difference as you approach the giant blue awning, not eclipsed by the fact that the two (yes, two – sue me, I was on holiday) times I went in a day and a half, there was a small army of people queued outside and around the corner just to get their hands on these tasty little morsels, more commonly known as ‘pasteis de nata’.

The good news is the queue moves fast. You order on one side give your ticket to the counter.

Less than a minute later, you have this:

The most mouth-wateringly fantastic bite-sized dessert I’ve ever had. Buttery, flaky crust with the fluffiest, creamiest custard I’ve ever had, torched with a crispy contrasting layer of burnt sugar on top.

Known for moving over 18,000 tarts on a weekend day, it’s no surprise that Pastéis de Belém tarts are still warm out of the oven when you get them. It’s also no surprise that the recipe is top secret. While you can get plenty of pasteis de nata in and around Portugal (and Nando’s apparently), they’re not like this…

These tiny custard tarts, dear readers, were worth the trip to Lisbon alone – and all for just 90 euro cents per pastry.