Monthly Archives: June 2015

Farewell to Food for Thought…

Food for Thought is the oldest and longest running vegetarian restaurant in London. After more than forty years of service, it will close its doors on Sunday 21st June – Father’s Day.

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My father has been a regular since it opened in the 1970s. He took me when I was young; I too fell in love with the alternative vibe and hearty, homespun, delicious and low priced food.

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As the team from Food for Thought put it, “It has been a remarkable venture. That such an awkward, cramped and unconventional set-up could have survived so long is, in no little measure, due to the commitment of our staff and the loyalty of our customers.”

The news that it’s shutting in a few weeks because of escalating rent prices is incredibly sad, but my dad and I will always smile at the fond memories we’ve had here over the years. I love the food scene in London and how there’s always an exciting new opening, but the flip side is seeing historic stalwarts like Food For Thought shut down more than they should.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy – thank you for sharing memories with me over the years, including our last meal together at Food for Thought.

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The Botanist Broadgate Circle

This piece first appeared on The Holborn

London is most certainly a city of villages: whether you are loyal to the tribes of the north, south, east or west, you are never too far from a venue owned by the ETM Group, which has gastro pubs all over town. Over the past 15 years brothers Ed and Tom Martin have learnt a thing or two about adapting successful concepts according to their location.

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is the latest addition to the ETM Group, recently opened in a corner of London which has just undergone significant redevelopment. The concrete area near Liverpool St has seen a flurry of buzzy openings from big names like Jose Pizarro, artisan coffee house Beany Green, sourdough pizza specialists Franco Manca, and brand new surf&turf concept Crab Tavern.

Botanist BGC Exterior smThe Botanist Broadgate Circle is one of the latest to join this newly dressed up restaurant hub. Named after its “sister” restaurant in Chelsea, the family resemblence can barely be detected: something was lost in translation in the few miles travelled from West to East. Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the genteel vibe of the original outpost of The Botanist: in this neck of the woods, you’re greeted by an outdoor terrace heaving with thumping music and braying suits fresh out of their Square Mile offices.

The familiar name is there to appeal to punters who know the Sloaney stomping ground, while the wholly new offering has been calculated to appeal to punters from the Square Mile heartland.

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Dining booths

The venue is all handsome dark wood and leather banquettes over two floors, with surprising flourishes such as exotic taxidermy in the downstairs nightclub the “Soda Room”. Unfortunately the sound system for the whole venue is connected to the club, meaning it was impossible to hear anything.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, having to strain to understand the waiter and your table-mates, and going hoarse from shouting to be heard, is not an enjoyable experience. By all means, crank up the volume when the night has moved on from dinner to dancing, but most people don’t want to dine among nightclub-level volumes – it can’t be good for digestion and unfortunately taints the whole dining experience.

The only similarity to the Sloane Square Botanist is the drinks. The waiting staff know their way around the cocktail and wine lists, recommending a bottle of South African Kanu wine with confidence that we would enjoy the unusual variety – shame there had to be so much shouting and pointing to order it.

The menu is an appealing mix of British and European dishes, with market-fresh fish sourced daily from Billingsgate and a solid selection of steaks.

For a starter, I ordered the special of salmon cured in Thai flavours of galangal and lemongrass. Slivers of fried lotus fruit, crisp radish and shiso leaf scattered on top added crunch to a pleasingly fragrant, fresh starter. Meanwhile my companion was busy piling forkfuls of her dressed crab onto delicate melba toast.

Crab

Monk’s beard, is an underrated green vegetable which is available for so short a time each year that I am compelled to order it whenever possible. My main course of roast cod, clam chowder and monk’s beard was a showcase for the best foods in season.

Roast cod, clam chowder, monks beardIf it hadn’t been so good I would have succumbed to food envy for my friend’s Iberico pork shoulder, served with almonds, pickled nectarines and nasturtium flowers.

Iberico Pork shoulderThe dessert menu was a surprisingly long list of tempting dishes, all vying for our attention. In the end we ordered the sticky date pudding, served with a refreshing, clean-tasting cornflake milk sorbet which captured the very essence of cereal bowl dregs, in a good way.

Sticky date pudding, cornflake milk sorbet

It alternated beautifully with spoonfuls of the other dessert we shared, coconut and lime panna cotta with mojito sorbet.

Coconut and lime panna cotta, Mojito sorbet

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is a decent, dependable addition to the City, but will be vastly improved once the issue with the music is sorted out.

This restaurant’s food is commendable, and deserves an appropriate setting; it is a disservice to the kitchen’s skilled cooking to serve it in an oppressively loud environment.

While my ears recover from the evening entertainment offered at The Botanist, I will return for one of their weekend brunches: great value at £25 for three courses and surely 11am is a quiter time of day (depending on the number of bottomless Bloody Marys you order)… Until the sound system is sorted, I will have to agree with the Sloaney saying, at least when it comes to The Botanist: west is best.

The Botanist, Unit 5 Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS, 020 3058 9888.

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@botanistlondon

Something for Everyone at Maze Grill, Park Walk

I originally wrote this piece for the Tiki Chris blog

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan’s suggestion for healthy, balanced eating habits has a simple, bold clarity which rings true on a deep level. We should all be eating less meat, for both health and environmental reasons.

And yet. The “mostly” in the famous phrase is a giant loophole, carte blanche to veer off course in the quest for wholesome living – once in a while. In my view, if red meat, seafood, rich sauces, dairy and other delicious non plant-based food is acceptable occasionally, it makes sense to make those times a real occasion.

Book a table at a restaurant with carefully sourced meat, handled with skill by people who are passionate about the whole process: somewhere like Maze Grill Park Walk in Chelsea.

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The beauty of the menu is that there is something for everyone; it would be an excellent option for a reunion with old friends, or a family gathering of various generations. The space is cosy with a chic interior design – somehow the restaurant manages to pull off an exposed brick wall in swanky Mayfair.

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The restaurant specializes in rare-breed, dry-aged prime beef, a mixture of British native breeds, US prime steaks and Japanese wagyu. Some of the cuts can be seen maturing in Himalayan Salt Block ageing cabinets, which help draw the moisture out of the beef.

T-bone

Taking equal billing is a “raw bar” making sushi and sashimi to order. We tried the California Roll (£9), which comes topped with a generous pile of snow crab and tempura crunch. Scallops Yuzu (£14) which was finished with frozen yuzu grated at the table caused chopsticks to clash over the last bites. Another stand-out dish was the Salmon Nashi (£10) with the silky, high grade salmon contrasting pleasantly against thin slices of crunchy, refreshing Nashi pear. The sashimi selection showed off the pure quality of the seafood at maze Grill.

Sashimi selection (2)

The small plates section of the menu comprised modish dishes like Smashed Avocados with Sweet Potato Chips (£4) and delightfully retro Tuna Devilled Eggs (£4), updated with the addition of dill and nori seaweed in the filling.

Tuna devilled eggs

In the past I have felt indifferent to Gordon Ramsay Group restaurants such as Heddon St Kitchen, which neither wowed nor disappointed. But I left Maze Grill Park Walk thoroughly impressed – there were simply no duds on the menu. Even the salads were astonishingly good – if you have taken Michael Pollan’s advice to heart, you could still enjoy a fantastic plant-based meal at this restaurant without feeling at all deprived. The Shaved Cauliflower side dish quietly stole the show: paper-thin slices tossed with creamy pureed cauliflower, parmesan and dill dressing. The contrast between the silky dressing, toothsome raw veg, crunchy toasted almonds and fragrant herbs was addictive.

Honestly I happily ignored the last bites of the giant T-Bone steaks my companions were digging into in favour of the Young Kale and Nori salad – this one was given a deep kick of savoury, salty umami with bottarga fish roe.

Young kale and nori salad (1)

Between us we tried a few desserts and surprisingly, the best was the “Frozen Lime Yoghurt with Toasted Meringue” (£6) – light and refreshing after the previous hearty courses. Next time I will leave more room for the “Monkey Bread”, spiced cinnamon rolls with pecans and ice cream (£12 to share).

Whether you’re a carnivore, omnivore or vegetarian, maze Grill Park Walk is somewhere you will want to go more than once in a while.

I was invited to dine at maze Grill as a guest of the restaurant, to give an honest review.

maze Grill
11 Park Walk
SW10 0AJ

http://www.mazegrill.co.uk