Delicious by DS5 – Shoreditch Pop-up restaurant

Often times, pop-ups are a little difficult (if not slightly pointless) to write about. By the time you get a chance to do so, they’re – poof! – gone. However, the one I was lucky enough to snag a table at a couple of weeks ago was a unique enough experience that it would be a disservice not to talk about. Oddly enough, it was for the launch of a car, the Citroen DS5.

The setting was typical of your Shoreditch pop up: big, white gallery space, hidden door, champers on arrival, lots of creative types waiting anxiously to be sat, but once led to our tables, it was quite unique. Three reasons why:

  1. Entry was a £5 donation to Fareshare
  2. For £5, you got a 5-course meal devised by Tim Anderson (of Master Chef and Brew Dog Camden fame)
  3. The menu was based loosely on the 5 senses, and incredibly posh at that

First course, Textures of Duck included a tissue-like dissolving in your mouth piece of crispy skin, a lovely liver parfait disguised as a quail’s egg and a deliciously leather-y jerky

Second course, Visions of Beetroot, was visually stunning, but not for me. I take beets in small doses, and this was way too much for me. Pretty though…

Hands down favourite was Flavours of Beef, a simple, but majestic fillet perfectly cooked and served with a delightful blue cheese potato puree and cashew butter.

And of course with any gastronomy-inspired tasting menu there has to be a bit of theatre.This in the form of Sounds of Bacon, made up of a pancetta lolly pop and pork rind popping candy (ie Pop Rocks). Good fun, both, although the popping candy made me want to reach for a nice cold Diet Coke rather than wine.

Also in the theatre department were the liquid nitrogen macaroon palette cleansers. I can’t say I enjoyed them any more than any other macaroon, but it was quite fun to blow ‘ smoke’ out of your mouth in between courses (as modeled by my friend George…)

Dessert – Aromas of Syrah – I was incredibly sceptical of. Peeling back the lid on the jar, you’re met with what can only be described as a cigarette barbecue. Not at all appetising. However, once the ridiculous odour dissipated, you were left with what actually was a quite nice chocolate ganache.

And in between all this, we got to play around with the car itself, and all its shiny buttons and features. It’s about nine million times out of my price range, but we had a lot of fun playing with the moon roof and driver’s seat massage function

By the end of the evening, suitably impressed with almost everything and having now been to two different Tim Anderson sort-of ventures, I’m wondering when is he going to get his own restaurant. I think it would have a lot of potential.  Surely something must be in the works…


The Hind’s Head – Bray

The Hind’s Head in Bray was an afternoon of seconds for me. The second time I’ve dined at a Blumenthal restaurant, the second time I’ve actually seen Heston in the flesh (the first being a sherry tasting at Shoreditch House many, many moons ago) and one of the few times I’ve ordered seconds of something at the table.

Walking in, I felt immediately in good hands. The place is warm, woody and welcoming – very much a mix of that old pub style with unencumbered luxury. Somehow the fine china, white linen and Tudor-style ceilings so low even a 5’3″ gal like myself had to duck for, work together.

The menu is your classic, poshed-up English dishes. Not tons to choose from, but something for every palette. For those who think British food is still all limp vegetables and boiled meats, I bring your attention to the below…

I decided to start with a couple nibbles in place of a full starter. The Scotch Egg (£3.50) in all its glory was marvellous. A very nice crispy exterior sprinkled with fresh sea salt flakes, opened up to a gooey (but not too gooey) quail’s egg hugged with minced pork so fresh and tender, you’d think it was picked off the farm that morning. Hell, it probably was.

After enquiring as to what the devil it was, I chose the Devils on Horseback (£1.80) as my second little nibble:

Bacon-wrapped, pitted dates. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but I’ve always been partial to the bacon/fruit flavour combo.

Finally, on to mains. We must be really boring, because out of a table of 8 people, 7 of us ordered the Veal Chop, Cabbage, Onions, Sauce ‘Reform’ (£29.50). The odd duck out was a vegetarian. Poor girl – she missed out on this:

Considering it was taken on an iPhone 3GS, this is a photo I’m particularly proud of. It’s bright, colourful and almost looks like a transparent background. Luckily, the dish tasted as good as it looks.

But as good as the veal was, it was shadowed by something infinitely simpler: Chips. Delicious, delicious triple cooked chips. Piping hot, crispy on the outside, salty, not greasy Heston chips. I couldn’t get enough of them, so I ordered seconds for the table.

It may not be as flashy as its flashy molecular gastronomic neighbour, The Fat Duck, but it is good, proper British food with incredible service in an idyllic village setting. Anyone could complain a bit about value for money when talking about Heston Blumenthal, but you don’t book a table unless you’re planning on spending about £100 a head – simple as that. With those expectations, The Hind’s Head was a fantastic experience.

Now, I just to save up my pennies and complete the trifecta.

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker – Clerkenwell

I really wish I could tell you a lot about The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker, but unfortunately this post is probably more of an amuse-bouche than a full-fledged main. I got a little bit of a preview of it at an event I went to last week, but like so many media gatherings, there just wasn’t enough food to go around. Sad, because what I did try was actually very nice.

I know the pub itself is in a bit of a black hole. It’s one of those places that has probably changed ownership in names three times in the last couple years. I remember the space being a bit old man-looking from the outside. I can understand why – it’s stuck in front of a council estate and in between the void that is the journey between the winding streets of Farringdon to restaurant row on Upper Street. The new owners, however, have given it a breath of fresh air. I might even go so far as to say the pub is cute and quirky. Or at least as quriky as a pub can be. I mean, just look at this:

Stuck? Yeah, it’s soap. I probably spent a good minute searching for something with to cleanse my hands, staring at this weird wall fixture until I realised that it was ‘soap on the roap stick’. Probably not the most sanitary, but quite a cool idea.

But yes, the food. What little of it I had, I thought was fantastic. Even though the event was positioned as a re-launch of the pub/new menu/etc, it actually ended up being more of a tasting of English wines, paired with nibbles. I must admit I was sceptical of English wines, but for the most part, they were pretty good too. The Sharpham Estate, Dart Valley Reserve 2009 reminded me a fairly strong viogner, perfectly paird with ‘potted salmon’, which was actually quite a bit more like a parfait.

Maybe parfait is their thing though, the chicken liver variety was a fine little number. Served on homemade bread and whipped with enough consistency and texture to remind you it’s actually meat, this little dollop tickeld the tastebuds:

My favourite nibble of the night, though, was the Scotch Egg, paired Mumford’s English Rosé from Somerset.

I usually prefer my yolk to be slightly more runny, but the sausage casing and crumbly outside more than made up for it. I’ve been told they have a black pudding scotch egg on the menu as well, which I think I’m going to need at some point.

I guess it’s not a bad thing that the worst thing about this event was that there wasn’t enough food. Perhaps it was intentional – the ‘leave them wanting more’ mentality has sort of worked on me. So much so, that I am actually thinking of trekking all the way from Kilburn to Angel (possibly the most inconvenient journey in North London) to try it properly.

Bob Bob Ricard – Soho (revisted)

Those who talk about Bob Bob Ricard generally mention three things: the awesome ‘Press for Champagne’ button installed at every table, the absolutely stunning and unique decor and the staff’s reluctance to ever let anyone order tap water. It’s always ‘Still or Sparkling’ as pointed out in an Evening Standard article earlier this week. The latter certainly remained true, as every time someone at our table took even a sip of our £4 per bottle water, it was promptly refilled, clearly in an effort to make sure we worked our way through as quickly as possibly so we’d have to order another.

This was my second visit to ‘the Bobs’, the first being a blogger event, and just as before, the incredibly eclectic menu of both British and Russian favourites did not fail to impress me.

I started with the only dish I’ve had there before, the Scallops, Black Pudding and Apple (£10.50), and it was just as good as I remember it. It even managed to change the mind of a staunch Black Pudding Hater at our table.

Unfortunately, the Chilled Tomato Soup (£6.75), complete with a futuristic over-the-top presentation, was a total miss. The first sip was pleasant, but shortly after it descneded into what I can only describe as the Gardens of Hell. A bit like drinking grass, really.

Across the mains, the Vareniki (£14.50) were lovely little dumplings bursting with a fantastic combination of truffled potato and mushrooms, topped with tiny fried onion rings.

The Veal Holstein with Quail’s Egg, Anchovies and Truffled Mashed Potatoes (£21.50) was quite the hearty portion or pounded veal, served schnitzel-style. It made me very glad I didn’t go with the extra side dish our server tried to up sell. The serving of potatoes was much more than ‘a garnish’, as she tried to suggest.

I was tempted by dessert. The souffle looked lovely, and I remember just about dying for the salted caramel ice cream, but as our food settled, I felt as if my stomach might pop if I put anything more into it. Still, when a small plate of Profiteroles (£6.50) arrived at the table on the house (presumably because I tweeted I was going that night), I couldn’t turn them down. The Rose Petal and Earl Gray and Chocolate, in particular, were fantastic.

The buzz around Bob Bob Ricard seems to have decreased since last year, but I still found it to be fairly consistent with my last experience there. If one ‘not great’ dish and overly attentive service are the main detractors, I’d say they’re doing alright.

Princess Victoria – Shepherd’s Bush

The Princess Victoria is in Shepherd’s Bush, but just barely. It’s a good 20 minute walk West from Shepherd’s Bush Market station down a rather unpleasant stretch of Uxbridge road, which in 30 degree heat and a pair of high heels isn’t very nice at – especially when you’re late for a working lunch with a journalist friend.

But upon arrival, you’re immediately transported into the refined and elegant surroundings of what clearly is a gastropub with a fantastic interior design budget. Gorgeously striking navy walls, vintage chandeliers, old newspaper clippings framed on the wall and the sort of chairs and tables that cost £600 a piece at Portobello Road Market make it a rather lovely place to have lunch.

The menu is standard posh gastropub with a rather large selection of nibbles, bar snacks, starters, mains and desserts – probably a good 30 dishes in all.

We decided to go for a variety for starters, including the Chorizo Scotch Egg (£3.50):

It was small, but packed a punch. I know I’m going to cause some groans from a few readers on this, but there is a thing as too much chorizo. The casing completely overpowered the quail’s egg. I really wish they would have opted for a full-size hen’s egg instead.

The Gazpacho (£5.50) was a more popular choice, especially for such a hot summer day. It was fresh, light and perfect. It could stall other gazpachos flat, I was assured.

There was a similar reaction to the plate of Oysters, and unbelievable value for £10.50.

For my main, I went with a sharing plate normally reserved for the starters section: the Pork plate (£12.50):

So much pork has made my memory a little fuzzy as to what was on the plate (and the Princess does not list her menu on her website, for shame), but I do remember some salami, pate-type spread, homemade blood sausage and something I can only describe as shredded-pork heaven rolled in bread crumbs and fried to perfection. Yum!

Also on the table was the Potted Shrimp (£8-ish), which on the smaller side of starters-as-mains. We weren’t impressed as a whole, especially at the layer of butter over top that weighed down the sweet, fresh prawns.

The one proper main on the table was the Guilt Head Sea Bream (£15-ish):

A generous portion of fish, but unfortunately no sides unless you count the smear of pureed cauliflower (which I do not). It was a decent dish, but from my view it looked a little too oily once you got past the thin layer of skin, and my friend left hers half uneaten.

Despite the mixed bag, I really did enjoy the Princess Victoria. We made a few wrong choices, but I’m quite confident there is enough on the menu for even a table of 10 to be happy all around. For those who live in the area, I can imagine it being a fantastic place for a lazy Sunday lunch or a post-work drink.

Princess Victoria on Urbanspoon

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

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