Month: June 2011

Patara – Soho

What an absolutely polarising experience, Patara was. On one hand, you have excellent, melt-in-your-mouth, near perfect main courses; and on the other you have what is probably the worst table service I’ve experienced all year. Somewhere in between were our starters.

DQ and I came to Patara‘s Soho restaurant for his birthday after a special screening of Senna at the Curzon Soho. It was a late dinner, 9:00pm, and most of the diners were on their way out. We sat down, ordered a couple glasses of wine, and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after about 15 minutes, we were able to order starters.

We shared the Kong Nueng Ruam – Assorted steamed handcrafted dumplings with prawn, chicken and pork fillings – (£6.75) and the Porpia Tod – Crispy spring rolls of prawn, crabmeat and vegetable fillings – (£7.25), but unfortunately, that isn’t what arrived. Instead of the spring rolls, we were brought satay. Ok, fair enough – it happens – but we had to wait another 20 minutes to have it corrected.

Mistake aside, we mostly enjoyed what we had. The dumplings were perfectly steamed with three distinctly different fillings. The only slight disappointment was the shrimp dumpling, which was really quite dense and made chewing a bit more difficult than average.

Spring rolls were creatively packaged and lightly crisp. The crab rolls off to the left in the picture had clearly been sitting in the fryer too long, but the seasoning and lovely soy dipping sauce made it less noticeable.

If I sound a bit down about the starters, it’s only because the mains were so absolutely frickin’ brilliant in comparison. I’ll admit we were both a bit boring by going for the same type of meat (duck), but with both being cooked in different ways – and both being delicious – it showed me whoever was on the grill that night was a skilled DuckMaster™.

We had the Phed Tod Sauce Makham – Spiced crispy duck leg confit in piquant tamarind sauce and roasted pineapple – (£14.75) and the Phed Pad Graprao – Slices of Gressingham duck breast stir-fried in garlic and chilli sauce with crispy basil – (£14.50), with sides of rice (brown and white).

But again, there was a mixup, and I was brought brocoli instead of brown rice. We told the server, she apologised and promised to correct it. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I started tucking in to my duck before it got cold.

And it was delicious. So tender it fell of the bone. The roasted pineapple’s tart juice mixed perfectly with the sweetness of the tamarind sauce. With just a bit of heat and a few bitter garnishes, this dish achieved brilliantly what all Thai food strives for: the perfect balance of the sweet, spicy, bitter and sour.

DQ’s duck breast was equally tender, and the crispy basil was rich and fragrant, giving a delightful texture to the dish overall.

But guess what? Despite us trying to make eye contact with every server that walked by, my brown rice never showed up. It was fine because DQ shared his with me, but it really shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

By this time, it was nearly 11:30, and the thought of staying another estimated hour for dessert made me ill. With my credit card out and waving in my hand, we flagged down the server for our bill, and sure enough, we were charged for the missing brown rice and the satay instead of the spring rolls. I let him know, he disappeared for another 10 minutes. I still had my card out, clearly ready to pay, but as he returned the new receipt, there was no credit card machine to be found. Another 10 minutes passed before he came back with one. I swear, I couldn’t make this shit up.

I really really want this to be one bad service experience because, honestly, the food was gorgeous, but I’m not sure I could take a repeat of that dinner.

Patara on Urbanspoon

Viajante (Second Visit) – Bethnal Green

I do tend to go on quite a bit about Viajante. I went once last year for the 3-course lunch, and it ranked no.2 in my best restaurants in London list behind Launceston Place. This time, I went back for dinner. A full six plate extravaganza, which  – with all the amuses and a special bonus dish sent over to our table by the restaurant’s lovely comms guy, Richard – ended up being about 13. It’s a lot to take in, and you don’t need to know my every thought, so I’ll be succinct. The pictures say a lot more about the complexity of what we ate, so I’ll let the visuals do the talking.

Part 1 – The amuse bouche and bread and butter:
Crab doughnuts, Thai Explosion II and Duck Ham

Mackerel with lemon and Wood Sorbet

Fresh Cheese with Peas and Flowers

Bread with Chicken Skin Butter and Black Pudding Butter

I’m still in love with the Thai Explosion II and it’s delicious crispy chicken skin, but what really took it for me was the Black Pudding butter. It certainly wouldn’t win any healthy eating awards, but my god, it was worth it.

Part 2 – The starters:

Squid with Ink, Pickled Radishes and Sea Lettuce

White, Green and Wild Asparagus with Milk Skin

Leek Heart with Lobster and Leek Consumme

By far, my favourite was the lobster. Shocking, I know. There was something about the charred leek and richness of the lobster that worked well together. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the asparagus, mainly because of the cold asparagus jelly it was served over. It was a difficult texture to take in.

Part 3 – The Mains:

Cod and Potatoes with Egg Yolk and Saffron

Iberico Pork with Cereals, Hot Potato Gel and Clams

The cod was fantastic (especially with the perfectly formed egg yolk in the middle), but the pork wins hands down for best dish of the night. I only wished it was bigger. The meat was so tender, I could cut it with a spoon.

Side note: The pork was so good, in fact, I’ve nominated it for a food competition that So Feminine is running to find the best dishes in the UK. I was asked a couple weeks ago if I wanted to submit something, and honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more deserving. If you want to check out the other nominations, check them out at So Feminine on their food page. Hopefully, Viajante’s pork will be showcased up there soon.

Part 4 – The Desserts:

Frozen Maple with Shiso and Green Apple

White Chocolate with Grapefruit and Lemon

Pickled and Raw Cucumbers with Milk Sorbet

Having a tasting menu means the server will always ask if you have any allergies. This is the first time I haven’t said cucumber, and what happens? A cucumber dessert. *le sigh* While the smell did turn my stomach, I was assured by my friend that it was actually quite tasty. Out of the three, though, it was all about the white chocolate, bitter grapefruit contrast. Refreshingly different.

We finished off with Viajante’s classic petite fours including two chocolate truffles and the luscious Vanilla Cream:

All in all with two cocktails and three small glasses of wine each, it was a budget-breaking £220 for two (aka more than I’ve spent on dinner pretty much ever).  It was lovely from beginning to end, and it’s no wonder the restaurant earned its first Michelin star last year. However, next time, I will probably stick to the slightly more manageable lunch or go to The Corner Room (the newest Viajante venture I can’t wait to try)

Viajante on Urbanspoon

Belgo Noord – Chalk Farm

I’m no stranger to Belgo’s Lobsterfest. Taking place every June, the Belgian restaurant chain stops pushing their ‘moules et frites’ and goes full-on crustacean. I’ve been invited the past two years to take part, and every year it gets better.

This time, DQ and I were invited to a Belgo Lobster Quiz* in celebration. Yes, an entire quiz solely about lobsters. Despite my lobster research just hours before dinner, we lost. Badly.

Luckily the food was much more of a winner. I started out with the Lobster Bisque (£6.35):

Creamy, rich, buttery and more creamy…Usually I have trouble finishing a bisque because of those, and this was no exception. However, I take that as a good thing.

DQ, not being a fan of pretty much anything creamy, started with the Warm salad of smoked bacon, shredded duck, eggs & black pudding with garlic croutons and a Dijon mustard dressing (£6.50):

I really really really liked this, and luckily he did too. The saltiness of the black pudding was a perfect complement to the mustard dressing. Highly recommended.

And on to the main event: lobster

We tried the two mains available during Lobsterfest: Surf and Turf (£21.95) and Whole Lobster (£24.95)

With any lobster, you can’t expect to go in and not get your hands a little dirty. The more buttery and rich, the better, right? Both lobsters were tender, sweet enough and deliciously messy. Naturally, Belgo provides a ridiculous amount of napkins and wetwipes, though, so no complaints there.

For dessert, naturally some nibbles of Belgian Waffles with white and milk chocolate dipping sauces:

The main waffle dessert on the menu is £5.50 and comes with ice cream as well. Trust me, it’s a lot better than the waffles you get on Oxford street (no matter how good they smell)

Lobsterfest 2011, goes on through the end of the month

Belgo Noord on Urbanspoon

*I, along with about 20 bloggers, was a guest of Belgo for the Lonsterfest event

Naked Wines, Wine Scout and Mirabeau Rosé

Every once in a while, the PR gods smile upon me and invite me to a wine event even though I’m mainly a food blogger. I suppose they do go hand in hand, but I’m always surprised, mainly because since moving to London, my palette has gone to pot.

Back in my Michigan days, when I was working at Pacific Rim and even after, I got to try – on a regular basis – some of the best wines in the world. I found it easier and easier to identify flavours and smells and textures – even identifying dominant grapes and likely regions. Then, I moved to London, where I couldn’t really afford to drink anything decent at all. Within three years, all that wine knowledge I’d built up was poof(!) gone.

Photo courtesy of The Wine Hos, who also attended the eventThings are a bit better, but I’m not really inclined to spend three times mark-up on wine in restaurants, and when I have a bottle at home, something in the £10 and under range works just fine for me. Any help I can get in the right direction is usually appreciated, which is why I decided to go to wine events for Naked Wines and the launch of a new rosé – Mirabeau Rosé. I attended the Mirabeau event with a few fantastic bloggers at The Powder Room in Soho where I received a little pampering in the form of a girly manicure. A perfect estrogen-filled evening.

But on to the important part: the wine itself. Mirabeau Wine  is a refreshing rosé from Provence, which just went on sale at Waitrose this past Friday (£8.99). It’s light and fruity on the nose. I got a lot of strawberry with a bit of an apple/pear accent. It’s fairly acidic (a good thing in my book), and makes a perfect summer wine. I’d love to take it on my next park picnic – it’d be the perfect addition.

Also in the ‘competitively priced’ bracket is the online wine retailer Naked Wines*, where I attended an event launching their new iPhone app, WineScout. The event, at the Hoxton Grill (who, I might add, had absolutely fantastic nibbles. Seriously, wow) was a mix of food, wine and tech bloggers, and I got to see a few familiar faces including Luiz of The London Foodie, Uyen of Fernandez and Luluu supper club, Gail from 1million Gold Stars and Jeanne from Cook Sister.

Naked Wines is a completely different way to buy wine online. Basically, they invest in independent winemakers, in exchange for preferential prices. It’s a great concept, and a great way to discover something new, tasty and inexpensive.

I was given the chance to try out their new iPhone app, WineScout, in Beta. WineScout searches for you the best independent wines available at nearby restaurants and retailers based on your location. It acts as a social network for wines, allowing you to input your favourites, rate them and find the best food pairings. When it launches, it could be a valuable little search engine, but I imagine in the beginning it’s going to be in need of content. If you’re passionate about the wine around you though, give it a shot.

*Full disclosure: Naked Wines is the client of my company’s sister PR agency. However, I attended the Naked Wines event solely as a food blogger and not as a PR person. The connection did not influence my post positively or negatively.

Pizza East Portobello – Notting Hill

When it first opened in 2009, you could have called me Pizza East‘s biggest fan. However, over the next year, I kept going back to increasingly disappointed food and service, which is why when they opened up a new branch in Notting Hill, I had mixed emotions. I was as equally elated that I would no longer have to travel to Shoreditch for Veal Meatball goodness as I was dubious that the decline in quality would follow westward.

Luckily I was proved wrong. But still, the meal wasn’t without mixed emotions.

The good: the food was top notch
The bad: they don’t take reservations (yet) and they have the most asinine system of ‘first-come, first-served’ I’ve ever seen. There is no list. If the waiting area/bar is full, the smiling ladies at the front tell you to come back in 20 minutes, and *maybe* then you might be allowed to wait in the bar/staging area for 45 minutes to an hour for a table where – I might add – you are not allowed to order any starters or nibbles. If there happens to be a two-top that comes up, and they happen to remember you’ve been waiting a while, you might get the table. Completely asinine . You can tell the hosts think so too. Through their smiles, I think they were dying inside to tell every single person ‘Sorry, we don’t do a list here.’

Anyway, the food… Mostly excellent. I enjoyed the Char-grilled squid, salsa verde (£6), although it was slightly overcooked

DQ had a big loaf of Garlic Bread (£3), in which its garlic-y goodness lingered pretty much the whole night.

I naturally went with my favourite Veal Meatball pizza (£11):

Fluffy, wonderful bubbly crust brushed with a lemon cream sauce, sprinkled with sage and topped with prosciutto and veal. I love this pizza and won’t get anything else at Pizza East.

Our other pizza was the Salami, Red Onion, Chilli (£11):

Also good, but no veal meatball. We asked for extra chillies, and I’m glad we did – the salami lacked a bit of punch.

Service was a bit spotty, but as alluded to, the place is ridiculously busy, and they’re still finding their feet (We waited almost two hours for a table and dinner took about an hour and a half). I’ve no doubt Pizza East Portobello will end up on my heavy rotation of West London restaurants, but only when they sort out the reservation system!

Pizza East Portobello on Urbanspoon