Tag Archives: restaurants

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.

image1

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.

IMG_4350

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.

IMG_4351

Advertisements

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.

IMG_6602

IMG_5503-Edit

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.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

Are you Sitting Comfortably? Street Food Heroes Crabbieshack Pop-up at The Hat & Tun

Sure, street food is great, but let’s be honest – eating on the street is a bit of a drag. There’s nowhere to sit and you never have enough hands. I hate to think of the amount of precious booze I’ve spilled trying to juggle drinks, plates, cash. I know that the street food movement was all about rebelling against fusty, fancy “fine dining”, but frankly – I like to have a table when eating.

I’m not alone: park benches, low walls, street signs, steps and doorways near street food markets always get taken over by crowds of people crouching down and unwrapping their lunch, creating an impromptu (yet still uncomfortable) dining table with their knees. Near the fantastic Whitecross St Market, dozens of fully grown adults steal a march on a nearby children’s playground, repurposing the swings and climbing frames as a lunch venue – the poor kids wanting to play not getting a look in!

Trouble is, most cafes and bars frown upon bringing food in from outside. Kudos to the ETM group, who have had the brilliant idea of inviting Crabbieshack to host a pop-up at the The Hat & Tun pub in Clerkenwell – meaning punters can enjoy street food while sitting comfortably.

crabbieshack

For three nights only from Wednesday 13th – Friday 15th May, 5.30pm to 9pm, Crabbieshack will be serving Old Bay Batter Soft-Shell Crab Burgers (£9.50). There are enough options on The Hat And Tun’s Crabbieshack menu to keep you coming back throughout the three days of crustacean craziness:

  • Fennel, almond, avocado and harissa
  • Pickled cucumber, chilli, coriander and wasabi mayo
  • Leafy sea aster and tartare sauce
  • Sweetcorn salsa and lobster mayo
  • Nori seaweed, apple, cabbage, spring onion and Sriracha mayo

You can also go for a simple “crab and bun” without sauce and filling, for £7, or crab with salad (£7.50).

Shell out for some of London’s best burgers at The Hat & Tun this May.

The Hat & Tun is located at 3 Hatton Wall, EC1N 8HX. Find out more at thehatandtun.com. For more about Crabbieshack, go to crabbieshack.co.uk.

I was invited to a preview of the Crabbieshack pop-up as a guest, and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris

Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen, Mayfair

HSK Neon Sign

Last Autumn, “wedmin” (and a few weeks of last minute carb-dodging before the big day) meant I neglected to keep up with my always-growing list of must visit new restaurants with my usual vigour.

One of the places that has been on my radar for several months is Heddon Street Kitchen, the latest in Gordon Ramsay’s international portfolio. Mr “Big Sweary” has a dozen or so restaurants in London and this newest offering promises informal Modern European food in Heddon Street, a pedestrianised section of Mayfair which is being dubbed “Regent Street’s Food Quarter”.

vb458182_7H0A8047

HSK Ground Floor

The restaurant has received a mixed reception since opening, and I was looking forward to sampling it for myself now the venue has had a few months to bed in to the London dining scene.

The atmosphere is buzzing; the crowds of people did not seem to be put off by any negative reviews. The industrial chic vibe is offset with cosy tables and banquette seating, plus some inviting details dotted around such as retro desk lamps and piles of rolled up blankets. It’s all very dark and my camera couldn’t capture any decent shots, so I’ve relied mainly on PR images.

Our assembled group of food bloggers kicked off with cocktails: Brits Spritz reminded me of a combination of a classic Aperol Spritz and Pimms fruit cup, combining Kamm & Sons, elderflower cordial, soda and Prosecco.

The Lady Regent was an elegant and refreshing blend of Hendricks gin, Ruinquinquin peach, elderflower, lemon and mint, garnished with a single rose petal.

heddon street kitchen

Most memorable was the Heddon St Grog – a quirky metal tankard brimming with Bacardi Oakheart, Cherry Heering, pineapple, lemon, Bitters, sugar, Innis & Gunn original beer.

Heddon Street Grog

We then shared platters of hot and cold starters so we could sample a variety of dishes from the menu.

The spicy tuna tartare, chilli garlic, sesame oil, wonton crisps (£12) was incredibly moreish and just the type of thing I would be happy picking at throughout the evening over cocktails with friends.

Similarly, the California maki roll with snow crab mix, avocado, tobiko made a great bar snack – I’ve had better sushi not too far from this restaurant, but it was tasty enough.

heddon street kitchen

The Fried Rock Oysters with fennel and lemon confit salad (£13.50) were popular, but in my humble opinion, I don’t see the point of deep frying oysters, or smothering them in accompaniments. This rare treat is far better ice cold, raw and freshly shucked for that pure taste of the sea.

heddon street kitchen

My top choice was the Tamarind spiced chicken wings (£8.50) which had a perfect crunchy crust, tender flesh and lip-smacking, tangy sauce.

Another winner was the potted salt beef brisket, grain mustard and piccalilli, buckwheat crackers (£9.50) – the bold, salty and meaty flavours of the meat were a brilliant foil to the punchy piccalilli accompaniment. I couldn’t stop piling it onto the nutty buckwheat crackers.

Roasted veal carpaccio with dill pickles and tuna dressing (£12.50) is an interesting combination and while it was pleasant enough, was not a finely balanced dish as the dressing overpowered the delicate flavour and texture of the veal.

Moving on to the mains, we sampled bites of a variety of options, starting with slow-roasted saddleback pork belly, spiced apple sauce (£16). Like several of the dishes at Heddon Street Kitchen, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve enjoyed better, cheaper versions not too far from this restaurant. The meat was a touch dry and mealy, which is surprising for such a fatty cut.

heddon street kitchen

Similarly Herdwick lamb cutlets (£26) were fine, but could have done with more “zip” in flavour, either from a marinade or a smokier finish from the grill.

IMG_2436

The spiced plaice, piperade, chorizo, cauliflower purée and parsley oil (£22) was a divisive dish: it was my favourite of the mains while others felt it could have been didn’t go particularly well with the other dishes we sampled.

Typically, the dish I most looked forward to was one of the most disappointing. The best mac & cheese should make you want to bury your face in it; I abandoned the Macaroni cheese with garlic roasted crumbs (£5) after a couple of forkfuls. Someone on the table queried whether the chefs may have forgotten to put cheese in – not a good sign.

IMG_2437

The highlight of the evening was hands down the Chocolat fondant (£8). We held our breaths as the first spoon went in, the moment of truth – sure enough, molten chocolate goo spilled out joyfully over the plate. A perfect example of this favourite dessert.

IMG_2438

I almost overlooked it but the Pineapple carpaccio (£7) quietly stole the show. Shaved slices of the aromatic fruit were served with a syrup infused with star anise and chilli – it was the most delicious way to round off the evening’s indulgences with something light yet interesting. I have made a mental note to recreate this at home; it would be an amazing, refreshing dessert after a curry night.

So to summarise, there were some hits, some misses, a pleasant evening of food all in all with nothing particularly astonishingly good or bad. While I would advise heading elsewhere if you want to be wowed by a truly unique dining experience, Heddon Street Kitchen is spot on for catching up with group of friends over cocktails and crowd-pleasing bites.

I was invited to dine as a guest of Heddon Street Kitchen.

Heddon Street Kitchen

3-9 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BN

http://www.heddonstreetkitchen.co.uk

@heddonstreetkitchen

Facebook.com/heddonstreetkitchen

 

Picture, Great Portland Streeet

Poor Mondays. They are the ugly sister of the working week; a time to hunker down and battle through.

Heads feel delicate, wallets light after the excesses of the weekend. No wonder many restaurateurs opt to close on this day.

Those who stay open often do their best to lure in trade – so actually Manic Mondays can be a great time try out restaurants and dodge the madness of weekend crowds.

Picture restaurant is where you are likely to find me shedding the last of Monday blues from now on.

The restaurant, which was founded in summer 2013 by three former members of restaurant group Arbutus and Wild Honey, is now offering free corkage on Mondays – a great excuse to crack open a decent bottle and drown your sorrows that the next weekend is four whole sleeps away.

Even better, the tasting menu is remarkable value at £35 for 5 courses. There is also a tasting menu for vegetarians (or those observing Meat Free Monday).

Picture (2)

Picture (1)

IMG_1991

When I visited, we started with a velvety squash velouté spiked with cumin – soft, earthy and rounded flavours, soothing for a frazzled soul struggling to readjust to the working week.

IMG_1993

The second course seemed to sense that we were perking up; creamy goats cheese curd and tender broccoli were cut with fruity plum tomatoes and piquant capers.

IMG_1995

Crisp pork cheek with braised celery, apple, hazelnuts was expertly cooked.

IMG_1996

A flaky fillet of sea bream on top of a light helping of lentils, fennel and diced turnip: juicy and pleasant.

IMG_1998

The bavette was the star dish. A well judged portion arrived – more generous than the tiny morsels you often get with tasting menus, but not a huge slab to trample on the courses to follow. It was a beautiful example of this underrated cut with loosely packed meat fibres, a rich umami crust and a pink, yielding centre.

IMG_2001

My only gripe about the dish was that the heavy handed use of cumin in both the jus and the carrot purée, which tasted very similar to the squash velouté we started with. A wider flavour spectrum throughout the tasting menu would have been more enjoyable.

After all that I was feeling rather like Mr Creosote and wondering how I could manage anything more than a “wafer thin” dessert, but the silky chocolate mousse with blackberries and peanut butter cream was not too heavy or sweet, just right.

IMG_2004

See you there next Monday!

Picture, 110 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 6PQ

Telephone: 0207 637 7892

info@picturerestaurant.co.uk

http://www.picturerestaurant.co.uk

Open Monday – Saturday
Lunch 12pm-2:30pm
Dinner 6pm-10:30pm

I was invited to give an honest review as a guest of Picture restaurant

Teppan-yaki at The Matsuri St James

I have wanted to go to Japan for years but have never quite made it. So I’m thrilled that finally, tickets are booked for next spring (honeymoon!) and have been literally feeding my excitement by visiting some of the best destinations for Japanese cuisine here in London.

The Matsuri St James is a traditional Japanese restaurant in the heart of Mayfair. It specialises in authentic (I’m told – ask me again after spring 2015!) and theatrical teppan-yaki, in which fresh fish, meat and vegetables are cooked by a chef on an iron grill in front of customers seated around a semi-circular table.

On arrival, you are greeted by a gigantic mask made of washi paper and bamboo – apparently the symbol of one of the largest Japanese festivals, called Nebuta. The rest of the restaurant carries on this festival theme, such as the colourful kimono worn by the waitresses.

IMG_1358

We started with a newly invented cocktail which as yet has not been named by the skilled barman; the combination of unfiltered sake and passionfruit pulp gave an unusually silky, creamy texture.

20140730-225829-82709316.jpg

Just the thing to wash away the day’s stresses.

20140730-225829-82709770.jpg

You can order individual dishes from the a la carte menu at The Matsuri, but it’s more fun to let the knowledgeable staff guide you through the suggested menu of impressively showy dishes, many of which are prepared before your eyes.

The first course was a selection of sushi; turbot, salmon and seared tuna sat atop palm-warm parcels of rice.

IMG_1320

Then the house special, Matsuri roll with plenty of chilli bite:

IMG_1322

Next came tempura, which Mark pronounced the best he’s ever had. The batter was impossibly light and not remotely greasy; it encased perfect specimens of prawns and vegetables.

20140730-225831-82711130.jpg

Meanwhile the teppan-yaki grill was being fired up and the chef began to prepare the next course in the procession, egg fried rice. Watching the deft knife and stir fry action was mesmerising.

IMG_1341

IMG_1336

As well as being a dab hand on the teppan-yaki, the chef was remarkably affable, sharing a couple of trade secrets.

IMG_1353

Top tip: the secret to egg fried rice is to use day-old rice; the dryness means the grains will brown better and give more flavour to the dish.

IMG_1338

I wouldn’t want to betray any of the courses by picking a favourite, but special mention must be given to the black cod, which is marinated for a minimum of three days until it is meltingly cloud-like.

IMG_1348

Chunks of rare, flash fried fillet beef, served with a mild wasabi dip.

IMG_1351

We couldn’t help but rubber-neck at the table next to us, who were clearly having fun with the company card and ordering amazingly marbled wagyu beef:

IMG_1343

To complete the experience, the Fireball Ice Cream is a must for dessert – brandy is poured onto ice cream to create a huge fireball which is then served on a pancake with grilled pineapple.

IMG_1357

For those not in the mood for pyrotechnics, the matcha green tea ice cream is a lovely way to round off an excellent meal.

20140730-225831-82711952.jpg

Every course was matched by an excellent selection of wines and to finish, the whisky trolley was wheeled over, groaning under the weight of an impressive array of rare Japanese spirits.

20140730-234203-85323794.jpg

The experience at The Matsuri has made me even more excited to visit Japan; and I will know just where to come to help along the slow countdown until our flight takes off.

I was invited to dine as a guest of The Matsuri and to give an honest review. I will be back!

On the Bab, Old Street

Ooh I do love a soft launch.

The hefty discounts, the jovial first-day-at-school atmosphere, the shyly welcoming staff – and of course the chance to give a new restaurant’s dishes a whirl. Even the inevitable delays and mishaps are part of the fun of the dress rehearsal before the “real” opening.

On The Bab is billed as East London’s first restaurant specialising in anju : the Korean custom of eating small snacks with alcohol.

20131211-085308.jpg

20131211-085322.jpg

A friend and I popped into On The Bab yesterday for lunch for the second day of its soft launch. While the 50% off prices allowed us to order with impunity, the lunchtime hour stopped us from ordering booze, so we will have to return for a true anju experience.

However the food was good enough sober to ensure that we will be back soon for the lethal-sounding soju cocktails.

Yangyun chicken with soy garlic glaze. Crushed peanuts gave the crust a fantastic savoury crunchiness.

20131211-085334.jpg

Pa Jeon – pancakes with seafood and spring onion. Surprisingly dense and chewy, I was expecting a lighter crepe style. These were a decent vehicle for the house chilli oils and sauces.

20131211-085849.jpg

Bibimbab – not served in a sizzling pot like in New Malden. This version was more like a refreshing salad with its mix of crunchy veg, room temperature rice and sesame dressing.

20131211-085906.jpg

“On the buns” was a highlight for me. I can’t get enough of pillowy steamed buns at the moment and these bad boys had a special shape and deep pockets for a generous amount of spicy pork filling.

20131211-085916.jpg

Naturally, we had to order a side of kimchi, which was served clamped down in a sturdy tin, presumably to keep the dish’s famous fermented fumes in check.

20131211-085923.jpg

They had run out of Kimchi Jeon and Bab Twigin, an innovative kimchi & cheese arancini which was a shame, and I do think they’re missing a trick by not offering a takeaway service or a set menu for the lunchtime crowds.

At half price we paid just £8 each. I’ve heard it said that to avoid buyer’s remorse and foolish purchases when shopping in sales, you should consider whether the item you covet would really be desirable at full price before you dig out your wallet. In the case of On The Bab – absolutely.