Tag Archives: review

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.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

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The George Foreman Grill “Evolves”

This week a student became an internet sensation after being snapped using a George Foreman grill to make a bacon sandwich in the front row of a university lecture.

The last time I encountered a George Foreman I was also a student, which was more years ago than I care to admit. In those days, the student halls had a greasy, squalid kitchen shared by over twenty freshers who would rather spend their pennies on snakebite than washing up liquid. The communal “George” was the high point of the place; the only reliable appliance and the maker of many late night cheese toasties. Even the culinarily challenged (one guy genuinely used to eat dry Supanoodles straight out of the packet) could whip up something hot and nutritious on our trusty George.

Coincidentally, in the same week that the brazen student’s antics went viral, the nice people at George Foreman invited a group of bloggers to try out the latest model.

Like those early Noughties students, the George Foreman has grown up; the new “Evolve” model is described as “the next generation”. New features such as a deep bake pan mean you can easily create so much more than the toasties, paninis and grilled meats associated with the earlier versions. It’s now possible to cook small stews, casseroles and even pizzas using the grill.

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The main draw of the original models was the angle of the grill which meant excess fat drained away. The Evolve still has this feature, but as people are gradually coming around to the idea that fat isn’t something to be afraid of, this model lets you adjust the angle as you wish.

Another snazzy new addition is the sear function, which gives a blast of intense heat before returning to normal cooking temperature.

To put all of these features through their paces, we prepared a menu of seared tuna with salad, a beetroot and broccoli pizza, finishing with grilled plums on rosemary skewers with a hot buttery citrus sauce.

Some of the dishes were more successful than others – all of our tuna steaks ended up overcooked despite following the instructions to the letter. The sear function did not seem to deliver on its promises. The pizza was decent but the base was so crisp it was difficult to cut through – a far cry from the pillowy soft Napoli style pizzas. The best dish was the grilled fruit dessert recipe which didn’t require such precision timing and temperature control.

The George Foreman Evolve grill certainly looks impressively shiny and is easy to use; the dual LED display has a digital timer and variable temperature. The ceramic coated grill plates are simple to remove and clean (even for lazy students) and are dishwasher safe which is a bonus.

Although the appliance is touted as space-saving as it combines several features in one, it is a fairly bulky bit of kit to keep on your kitchen counter, particularly if you already have a hob and oven/grill. It’s not for everyone; I struggled to think when I would prefer to plug in the George instead of using a normal pan or oven dish. Even our famous student would have struggled to set this up in class.

However, the George Foreman Evolve is great solution in many situations; it would be fantastic in a setting with limited cooking facilities such as an office, student accommodation or for taking on self-catered holidays. And let’s not forget those hangover saving cheese toasties. I may not keep one on my kitchen counter 24/7, but I dare say I’ll dig out the George Foreman Evolve next time I feel nostalgic for my student days.

George Foreman Evolve grills are available from Argos, £149.99. Find out more at georgeforeman.co.uk.

I was invited to review the George Foreman Evolve 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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Mien Tay, Battersea

Not too long ago, the thought of moving to Clapham Junction filled me with horror. I thought this patch of sarf London was horribly bland, twee and borderline suburban; a painfully uncool, soulless “Nappy Valley” ringing with the sound of buggies clashing in cafes.

Although my father still refers to my new ‘hood as “the wrong side of the river”, in the couple of years I’ve lived here I have gradually, begrudgingly accepted that it’s not all bad.

The main thing which redeemed Clappy J in my mind was Mien Tay, a local restaurant which produces consistently great, authentic Vietnamese food.

From the outside it’s rather shabby, with dog-eared clippings of reviews in the window (a particularly glowing AA Gill number is one of the reasons the place is packed day and night, seven days a week). The interior decor doesn’t improve much; there is an incongruous shamble of filing cabinets and mismatched chairs as soon as you enter, where you must wait to be seated. The tables are peculiar glass-topped things which display miniature garden scenes and doll-like furniture. Best of all are the luminous green tunics worn by the staff. If the food wasn’t so good, these details would I’m sure add to the restaurant’s awfulness. But because it’s so good, they add to the charm!

I do think Mien Tay was probably better a couple of years ago, back when you were able to BYO booze, but it’s still a failsafe option for a reliably delicious and cheap meal out. Typically I’m there a couple of times a month; during one ridiculous six week period when Mark and I had no fridge (it’s a long story which will only end up with a rant against John Lewis, so don’t get me started), we were at Mien Tay two or three times a week.

Here are some snaps from my last few visits.

Green papaya salad with dry spicy beef. My favourite starter…

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…although occasionally I like to ring the changes with green papaya salad with fat, juicy prawns

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One of Mien Tay’s signature dishes, chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices. Yes, that is a little dish of MSG on the side. I told you it was authentic Vietnamese!

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Vietnamese style spring rolls – so good wrapped up in lettuce leaves and herbs and dunked into the dipping sauce.

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No Vietnamese meal is complete without pho noodle soup, the national dish and the “soul of the nation”. Served with a thicket of fresh herbs on the side, to add as you eat.

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Whole crispy fried sea bream with fish sauce and mango

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Stir fried goat with galangal. Don’t be shy about eating goat; it’s bloody tasty. Pretend it’s beef. 20140219-204716.jpg

Stir fried morning glory with garlic. Took me right back to Hoi An.

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No frills, so no dessert option – just some orange segments to refresh the palate, served as you realise the coins in your purse don’t quite cover the cash-only bill and you need to nip down the road to the cashpoint.

Mien Tay would be a success in any part of town (they have an equally popular sister restaurant in the much edgier neighbourhood of Shoreditch) but situated on the otherwise lacklustre Lavender Hill, it’s a true local gem.