Market

18 Feb

Don’t you just love it when someone buys you a present and they then doubt themselves and then overcompensate with additional gifts? Well, sometimes I love it. Often it means receiving some body cream I will never use or a spotty notebook I will too embarrassed to be seen out with. However, it can work out. For Christmas my sister bought me a couple of great gifts, the mother of these being Thor on DVD (this is not a joke (I really like this film (I LOVE Thor))) and after much worrying she decided to treat me to lunch at Market in Camden to make up for it. I don’t mean a dodgy Chinese where the meat is more likely cat or human than pork from Camden Market, but a small restaurant on Parkway serving modern British fare with seasonal produce. At £10 for two courses during lunch times on a weekday, this was some rather inspired work from my sister (also known as Liza) – a restaurant I most definitely wanted to visit for the price of some utterly forgettable consolation present.

On a crisp day in January Liza and I joined forces on our matching day off and from different parts of London we headed into Camden, colliding outside the tube station. This is not entirely accurate as I was early and Liza was late and I had to wait, biding my time by painting my nails with all the tester bottles of nail varnish in American Apparel. The girl in the shop did not find me annoying at all, just like I wasn’t finding Liza’s inconsiderate tardiness increasingly frustrating. Because we are sisters I was very understanding when she finally decided to turn up 10 minutes later than originally arranged.

When we walked into Market a member of staff did that disconcerting thing of looking worried while scanning the room as a result of saying we had not booked a table. Now answer me this, why does this sort of response only happen when the restaurant is at most a quarter full and at a time where it won’t get much busier? This is not a criticism on the place because it seems to happen everywhere so there must be a reason. Right? So anyway, once she had found an empty table (if it were a competition, I would have won) we sat down and were promptly given the menus. My eyes went straight to the £10 deal at the top but it took a little longer for Liza to understand. I think because she didn’t want to give up on the idea of having absolutely everything on the main menu. Soz Lize, it is your own restrictions holding you back.

As there were two options per course I decided to order the opposite of whatever Liza ordered which meant that although I had to go for the cauliflower fritters, I did get to order the linguine with chorizo as Liza inexplicably went for the grilled chicken breast. As soon as they took our menus away she knew it was a mistake and I believe she was in a state of confusion for the rest of the meal. Imagine what she’d be like if she didn’t have someone like me to look up to? Eating cauliflower fritters as well as chicken breast I’d imagine.

We waited quite a while for starters. I didn’t mind so much as Market really is a nice restaurant to sit in. Cool, bright and casual and our table was placed in great viewing distance of the kitchen pass. This did mean that I received a constant reprimanding from Liza as I seemed to be concentrating on my food arriving more than our conversation. But it is so tantalising when you are so hungry and you see your cauliflower fritters that you were never that excited about waiting at the pass for ten minutes while your sister’s starter is sent to the wrong table. It all ironed itself out in the end and my fritters which were just a bit cold were finally put in front of me.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed them. Despite their temperature they were crispy and light and the creamy mayo went very well with it. The mayo was especially delicious, being all genuine and olive oily. I was gross and ate the remainder out of the pot using my finger once I had run out of dipping appendages. Another surprise was how much the sprinkling of paprika really livened up the dish. Cauliflower seems to have such a bad rep as being the most boring vegetable in the world, but come to think of it, I really like it. I think I had been swayed by the opinions of others when I should have stayed true to myself. I love it when a meal leads to a moral lesson.

Liza’s starter was mushrooms on toast. Even with my new found love for the flower we call cauli, I cannot deny that Liza won the starter round. The mushrooms were rich, earthy and almost boozy in taste and the toast was crispy and possibly fried in the same pan as the mushrooms. It was so simple yet so ridiculously good – I like it when that happens. But I mostly like it when it is my starter and not someone else’s.

Despite the long wait for our first course, the main dish followed shortly after the starters were cleared away. This was good because I was still very hungry, my cauliflower fritters having opened my hunger gates even further rather than closing them. Luckily my relationship with pasta is that it takes very little to fill me up. Once Liza and I went to Florence together and we found a restaurant that sold spaghetti and nothing but spaghetti and that was wonderful. Not wonderful were the sporadic opening times that made no sense but we managed to eat there three times in 4 days. I tell you this because I think it important that you have an idea of how important pasta is to us.

This linguine with tomato and chorizo went down very well. As predicted, I filled up pretty quickly but it was so moreish I managed to finish the lot. The sauce was creamier than expected with a strong tomato flavour and a nice spicy kick from the chorizo. It wasn’t groundbreaking but it is the kind of pasta dish I wish I made at home rather than the usual dollop of pesto from a jar. I wish I had the foresight to keep some of the sourdough given to us at the beginning of the meal to wipe up the rest of the sauce.

I believe Liza was jealous, but as I have already explained, she only had herself to blame. Her chicken was nice though and it came with some wonderful crispy fried potatoes. When trying each others meals I think I was a little greedy with her spuds which I do feel bad about but it was a meal gifted to me so I don’t feel that bad. There was a bale of rocket on top of the chicken which was tasty but aesthetically it made my inevitably terrible photo look even worse. So that is my excuse.

I think you can deduce that for £10 this was a pretty successful meal. It really is astonishingly good value, especially in a place which is surprisingly devoid of good eateries. We decided not spend extra on pudding in favour of doing a bit of shopping and finally ending our day at Yumchaa for a nice cup of Earl Grey for me and a less nice cup of mulled tea for Liza which just tasted of mulled water. The banana and nutella bread was an excellent addition.

So I think it is only right that after Liza’s initial doubts that Thor on DVD would not be adequate present enough I should provide her with some words of thanks and support: Thank you Liza, for a delicious meal and your time and don’t stop doubting yourself for then you will never let me down.

Market Restaurant
43 Parkway
London, NW1 7PN
http://www.marketrestaurant.co.uk/

Season Kitchen

8 Feb

Just over a year ago I was walking back home from Finsbury Park station when I got the sudden craving for some chicken from Nando’s. I love Nando’s. Sometimes I literally cannot get enough of it. So with a quarter chicken (medium heat) and peri chips in mind, I changed my normal route home and walked along Stroud Green Road towards the glowing light of Nando’s welcoming sign. I peered into shop windows in order to check out my reflection, as I am sure at least 75% of you lot do, when I noticed a new shop interior. No longer a place selling shampoo, hair extensions and nail varnish, this shop was now a restaurant and a rather hip and cool one at that. So cool I couldn’t quite make out the name of the restaurant as it was painted in gloss black over a matt black background and it was also night-time, thus very dark. ‘Se-a-son’ I read out slowly as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. That suggested seasonal produce to me and with a quick glance at the menu my suspicions were confirmed. I got out my phone and called my good friend Frances who handily only lived around the corner: ‘So like, there’s this new restaurant on Stroud Green Road and it like looks nice and cool and stuff’ and moments later I had stepped inside to nab us a table, my original trip to Nando’s all but forgotten.

We had three courses of hearty and very good food and I felt proud to inform anyone I could that a restaurant of such high-caliber could be found just round the corner from me. And then when Giles Coren said it was brilliant I was proud to point everyone to that review. So I am surprised that it has not been picked up by other critics as the new hot thing, and I am equally surprised at myself that it took a whole year for me to return. It was Frances who suggested another visit and it didn’t take much prodding for me to agree.

Season does feel a bit like a shop inside. It is a square room with the kitchen at the back, much like the layout of many of the shops along the road with the goods out front and the till at the end. Our table was the very same I sat at on our first visit which I thought must be a good omen. Another good omen was the gorgeous soda bread immediately placed on our table once we had sat down. It is so treacley and oaty I’d be happy just eating that with butter for dinner. But that is not why I was there and thankfully the menu was very reassuring. We ordered a bottle of wine, and just like the last visit I found myself incapable of politely asking for ‘the house red’, instead barking out ‘YOU KNOW, THE CHEAPEST RED ONE’ which was both uncouth and not very ladylike, but who am I to dismiss a rather quick setting tradition.

I went for Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley, Radish and Toast to start.  I love bone marrow so it was a fairly easy decision, however the last time I ate it when it had not been added to a sauce to make it AWESOME was at Hawksmoor and it was pretty grim – a huge bone filled with marrow that was just a bit too jellyish (everything else is brilliant at Hawksmoor though). So when I ordered the bone marrow at Season I did have worries that maybe St John was the only place that could cook it successfully. The plate arrived and I was pleased to see that the bone was more dainty than huge, which was a very good start. However, one must never judge a book by its cover, beauty is only skin deep, and the proof is in the tasting. With all this in mind I boldly scooped some of the marrow out, briefly admiring the faint wobble as it was transferred from boney cave to toast, and then the ease of spread, melting ever so slightly with the residual warmth from the charred bread. I artfully added a leaf of parsley, a round of radish and a sprinkling of salt as a final embellishment before the inevitable journey towards my mouth. The journey was smooth yet swift as I was hungry, but most importantly the landing was superb. I ate it all very quickly, the last few bites less considered than my first but enjoyed just as much. I love the animal butteriness and slight greasiness of marrow and I will until the day I die. Thankfully my Hawksmoor experience was just a freak accident, not to be a regular occurence.

Frances had Rabbit and Marmalade on toast. I did try a bit but I was too busy enjoying the marrow to remember what it was like. But for what it is worth, Frances confirms it was very nice.

We both went for the same main: Pot Roast Guinea Fowl with Black Pudding and Potato Cake.  As I was very hungry I was pleased to see a rather large plate piled high with meat and carbs. Alas, it appears my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and though I managed to finish it (Booyah!) the last third was most definitely what one may call a struggle. The meat was moist and succulent and was bathed in the gamey liquid it was cooked in. However, my highlight of this dish was the circle of black pudding which was rich and had a good smattering of barley throughout which gave it a very pleasant chew. There was a lot of potato, which probably added weight to my struggle, but one can hardly complain as I do like potato and the many guises it comes in.

As you may have gathered, I was full to the brim. I would also like to add that my wallet was a little bare. But there is something about Frances’ presence that makes me go for gold. I like this about her because it generally means that by throwing caution to the wind I tend to have a better time. It also lends an air of decadence to the proceedings, an air I very much like to breathe. This urge that she creates usually manifests itself in us spending £20 on snacks and dodgy sweets with the ingredients cannily printed in a foreign language on the back when we just popped out for a sharing bag of Doritos, but not at Season. At Season, we ordered desserts.

Rice Pudding with Berry Jam for me. For those of you who regularly read my blog, I understand that I may sound like a broken record. I think I am going to create a Rice Pudding Scale as a quick and simple way of understanding where each pudding stands in the grand scheme of riz au lait. Though all rice pudding is good and will vary in taste wherever you may happen upon it, I do struggle in describing it in a new and fascinating way each time. This rice pudding tasted of rice pudding and I gobbled it down quick. The berry jam was nicely sharp, cutting through the sweetness of the rice perfectly. Frances had Poached Pear with Brown Bread Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Hazelnuts. It is the dessert I would have ordered if I were a more interesting person.

Nursing my food baby, I gladly emptied my purse for Season’s troubles. I still find it so exciting having the opportunity of being so well fed just around the corner from my house, and though you may have guessed, I am not just talking about Nando’s. I’ll be moving south of the river soon so I am disappointed that Season will no longer be local, but I will follow its inevitable success like an obsessive ex-girlfriend.

 

Season Kitchen & Dining Room
53 Stroud Green Road
London N4 3EF
seasonkitchen.co.uk/

Mishkin’s – Twice

29 Jan

I like to talk about how I am Jewish even though I am not (apparently half Jewish doesn’t count). I spent almost every Sunday of my childhood in Golders Green eating potato latkes, salt beef sandwiches, kosher sausages, cheesecake etc which does help with my pretence. I can at least claim that I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish cuisine to people who do not know any better.

I don’t go to Golders Green much anymore and since Bloom’s deli has closed I am not really sure where the good places are to eat. This has meant I haven’t had a potato latke in years, probably one of my most favourite foods in the world. I was pleased therefore when Mishkin’s opened in Covent Garden. They describe it as ‘a kind of Jewish deli with cocktails’ and as I am ‘a kind of Jew’ I figured that would be good enough for me. Also, from the collection of restaurants Spuntino, Polpo, Da Polpo, Polpetto, Da Polpettopinopolpetti (one of these may not exist) I was more or less guaranteed a good time.

On a chilly day in December I crossed the river after work and hungrily hurried into the warmth of Mishkin’s. Tucked away into a corner sat Mark and his mother, Sheila, and I went to join them. I like the aesthetic of Mishkin’s, much like the others it has cool, rustic charm and yellow tinted lighting. I looked at the menu and said things like ‘ah yes, glad to see a potato latke here’ and ‘it will be interesting to see how their Reuben compares to my authentic memories of the sandwich’. In the end I ordered neither and opted for the Duck Hash, Fried Egg and Liquor because as the regular readers will have noticed I cannot resist an egg.

Just look at that plump, round, glowing yolk. Look at how it is just ready to burst with yellow creamy liquid. As already established I love egg, I also love fried potatoes and duck so you can imagine what I thought of the dish as a whole. It was comfort food in its most pure and perfect form. The liquor that I poured on top was essentially a rich and silky gravy, elevating it to something quite special. Thinking about this has tempted me to buy a whole duck so that I can recreate a really big portion of it. My belly knows no limits. We all dipped into each others dishes, but I am ashamed to say that I was incredibly greedy and was less inclined to share mine. Naomi did very well, Mark and Sheila had a comparatively poor deal.

Mark ordered Meat Loaf, partly in preparation for the meat loaf we were planning to cook the following week. I’ve always been wary of the appeal of said lump of compressed meat as I am not sure what can make essentially a loaf of minced beef taste that good. As we waited for our meal we were informed that Mark’s dish would arrive a bit late as the soft-boiled egg in the middle of his meat loaf had burst so the whole thing needed to be made again. My ears pricked up. It now had the makings of a promising dish. It was presented in a mini loaf tin and was glistening with meaty flavour. And eating it… lets just say trying this was confirmation that cooking our own would be a great idea. Unfortunately, my attempt at a soft-boiled egg in the centre was not as successful.

Sheila went for Oxtail Cholent with Barley, Beer and Beans. It didn’t look or taste quite as I had imagined it, being pale in colour and more creamy than meaty in taste. I thought it was delicious and much like the steak and eggs at Spuntino, this will be the one plate of food that I will order time and time again in the future. I’m having a bit of a love affair with barley and its many forms at the moment – if deep, warm, pure love were a texture, that would be it.

I had rice pudding for dessert and as there is no such thing as bad rice pudding it was good. Not the best I have ever had, but better than Ambrosia, and I do really like Ambrosia. Mark had Bananas Foster because I made him have it, which is unkind of me as I don’t think Mark really likes bananas. Cover a banana in caramel though and not even he could complain.

As it was approaching Christmas I treated myself to a mulled gin because lama lo? as my grandmother would say (it is Hebrew for ‘why not?’ – yeah, that’s right). I say I treated myself but it was actually Sheila who paid for it all and I am eternally grateful. I do like Sheila (not just because she bought me lunch).

So hoorah and l’chaim etc. I had a fantastic time. But I am not done, oh no. This post is titled ‘Mishkin’s – Twice’ for a reason and I think you can guess why. I went back a few days later, mainly because I had not tried the famous Reuben that everyone seemed to wax lyrical about even before they had tried it. I had bumped into a friend on my first visit and she confirmed that yes, I should try it and that was about all the encouragement I needed. Another stroll across the river after work led me back to Covvy G and into the embrace of Mishkin’s. This time round I was not given much of an opportunity to consider anything else on the menu as I was told I had about 10 minutes to order before the kitchen closed. Luckily I already knew what I wanted, but it did mean I forgot about the opportunity of bringing my lips to a potato latke once more which has made me sad.

I ordered Chicken Matzo Ball Soup to start as people seem to love this to infinity as well. Understandable as there are few things more comforting than chicken broth with dumplings – it is the perfect thing to eat when ill. I was a little underwhelmed by the soup as I found it rather bland. The matzo balls were boom and warm all the way through which was particularly nice as anytime I have it at home the centre tends to be cold. I know the flavour of the broth is meant to be subtle but a couple of shakes of salt wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Nevermind, I had the Reuben on Rye with Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Russian Dressing and Swiss Cheese to contend with next. Cripes it was mighty. I realised my first course was entirely unnecessary in my attempt to get full. From pictures I assumed that the bread to filling ratio was slightly off in the same way that an average sandwich shop panini always appears to be 97% ciabatta and 3% filling. I assumed wrongly, there was plenty of everything between the rye. I was pretty sure I had tried a Reuben before but after my first bite I knew I was mistaken – it didn’t taste anything like I imagined it was. I am afraid to say I was not that keen. It was very creamy from the dressing and cheese and a bit sweet from the pastrami. The sauerkraut wasn’t strong enough to cut through the richness of it which meant that the whole sandwich felt a bit one-dimensional. This made me sad, especially when it defeated me half way through and I had to give up. Not before I did that revolting thing of dismantling the sandwich and messily scooping out the filling I wanted – namely the sauerkraut.

It is partially my fault as I always seem to forget that I don’t like pastrami. Why have it when you can have salt beef? But I do miss that aniseedy rye I used to devour so greedily all those years ago in Golders Green. Will I ever taste it again? Oh Bloom’s, how you have left a loaf shaped hole in my heart. As my favourite Jewish saying goes, when one door closes another door closes. I left Mishkin’s the second time round a little disheartened. Isn’t it terrible how choosing the wrong thing on the menu will ruin a potentially good time?

I’ll be honest, I am not as discouraged as all that, I do plan to go back. Memories of the potato latkes of my childhood keep flooding back and a craving is developing that just won’t go away until it is satisfied. I often find myself distracted thinking of soft and crispy shredded potato and the smell which is like no other. Though Bloom’s may have let me down, I think Mishkin’s will be a very good place to start.

 

Restaurant Sat Bains

21 Jan

You may remember a little while ago I went to Fortnum & Mason to sample the food of Sat Bains. He left a comment on my blog explaining that the bits of puffed rice I so enjoyed the cardboardy taste of was the missing crackling I criticised about the dish. This made me exceptionally giddy because not only had someone read my blog, it was the man himself. It was my biggest blog success story yet and I think I rather excitedly told everyone I knew about it the next day.

Now you may also have noticed that a couple of weeks ago I listed my Top 10 Meals of 2011 and Restaurant Sat Bains came out tops. As lovely as it was, this was not referring to my F&M trip, but to a later excursion to his actual restaurant in Nottingham. I’m surprised Mark and I haven’t made it up there before as I think one of the first things he ever said to me was ‘yeah, and I really want to go to Restaurant Sat Bains’.

So early December we found ourselves sitting in Mark’s Nissan Micra in the car park watching one of the front of house staff peer at us from inside the restaurant in order that he open the door at just the right time. We tested his patience for a few seconds while I also got over a small bout of giggles, often incurred by excitement but also by funny situations, and we headed out the car and up the pathway into the warmth of Restaurant Sat Bains. The door was opened with grace and class.

We were given menus and we pretended to deliberate to stop ourselves from looking too greedy when we really wanted to shout ‘THE ONE WITH THE MOST FOOD’. There is choice between two tasting menus, one being smaller than the other. I was sad to wave goodbye to pearl barley, oxtail and smoked bone marrow as well as the apple-parsnip treacle sponge as part of the 7 courses. But then 10 courses does sound infinitely more appealing. On top of that we also decided to share Sat Bains’ winning dish from Great British Menu a few years ago – duck egg, ham and peas.

I also decided to go for the matching wines. I hoped that by going to more and more good restaurants I would begin to learn more about wine. Sadly, this is not the case, but I have learnt that it does get me pissed. I am a lightweight and just two glasses will have me gripping onto the table for balance. So obviously the promised ten glasses of wine to accompany my meal was a brilliant idea. I am telling you about my poor ability to handle alcohol in order to both explain and apologise about both my memory and the quality of the photos I took that night. I may not remember some of the finer details and almost every photo I took is completely blurred which is perfectly representative of my inebriation that night but is also a real shame because everything looked so exquisite. Ironically the only clear photograph was the following:

I will insert only the less awful of my poor collection of images and you will just have to take my word for it when I say something looked beautiful.

We had a very exciting amuse bouche titled NG7 2SA which is the postcode of the area. It was a horseradish panna cotta with nettle puree. Great to start things off with an easy texture (I’m like a baby, I love easy textures) and fresh savoury flavours. Palate definitely whetted. We were then presented with the famous duck egg. So it turns out that cooking an egg in a water bath at a very particular temperature for a number of hours will make it taste really really good. Like better than the extra £15 we had to pay for it. It created a wonderful thick, creamy and unctuous sauce over the sweet and refreshing peas and salty ham. I’ve never tasted anything like it and doubt I will again. There was a scoop of pea ice cream that stunned me with every bite because of the intense pea flavour. I would eat it again on a cone I enjoyed it so much, though maybe without a flake.

Now to hit the tasting menu. We started off with Scallop, Pork Belly, Crackling and Piccalilli. It was very similar to the pork dish we had at F&M so this time I took the opportunity to concentrate on the taste of the puffed crackling. The overriding taste was not of cardboard as I had originally stated, but of crackling. I now realise that I should probably not eat so fast in the future. Much like the one we tried before, this version with sweet scallops was very edible.

The next dish was another treat on the easy texture scale with ‘Fish Pie’. I think this was Mark’s least favourite dish because from what I remember it was ultimately some grated potato on top of some bits of flaky fish. Call me a girl of simple tastes or maybe even a girl who is boring, but I really liked it. It slid down my gullet like a treat and with minimal chewing effort. It wasn’t packed with flavour but because of that I found it comforting which I believe is the essential role of a fish pie, with or without the inverted commas.

Dish number three was probably my favourite. Another name in inverted commas, this one was called ‘Allium’. Apparently I am the only person in the world who didn’t know that allium means onion, something I found out when describing my meal to many in the weeks to come, and because of that I had no idea what to expect. I find my most favourite dishes are the ones that surprise me, and this one certainly did.  It consisted of a jar filled with french onion soup that was almost custard like in thickness and creaminess and onion oil, all topped off with crispy shallots. I am not a massive soup fan usually because it is the same with every mouthful, but when something has such perfect and intense flavour having just one substance to gulp down means that you can fully concentrate on what it tastes like. In this case a really good version of those onion ring crisps. Yes please.

English Duck with Asian Influences was a cold dish of duck liver parfait sandwiched between what I think was crispy duck skin. I enjoyed this very much and was glad we hadn’t peaked on protein too early as often a slab of hot meat will send me into a coma. The peanuts scattered around the sides were a welcome addition. This was followed by Salt Baked Celeriac with Chicken Juice. I don’t like celeriac as a well established rule. This stems from all the times when I was young where I would dip a spoon into a bowl of mash and bring it to my mouth expecting the bland comfort of potato only to be greeted by the taste of celery. I would despair at the cruelty of my mother and vowed never to eat it again. However, like most old laws, my prejudice against celeriac has now become dated. I am beginning to like it, especially when bathed in delicious chicken juice that I could have drank by the gallon. Just don’t try tricking me into believing it is potato.

Around this point my speech was becoming slurred and I was seeing double. Though I did manage to give off a responsible appearance as the sommelier (who was just brilliant) told me I was doing such a good job he would treat me to a bigger glass for my next course. I am not sure what job it was that I was doing so well but it is nice to have some appreciation all the same. Thankfully I was also presented with some meat to help soak up some of the alcohol in the form of Roe Deer, Cauliflower, Chocolate and Quince. Unfortunately that glass of wine really did take its toll on me all I remember is that I enjoyed it. 

I was offered a glass of port with my cheese course and I think my response was something along the lines of ‘OH MY GOD WHAT I WILL DIE’ so I didn’t take the sommelier up on the offer. The cheese course was a lot more exciting than the one at F&M but much along the same theme of a slice of cheese accompanied by some carbs. I shared with Mark some stilton with an eccles cake and truffle tournoise (I have no idea how to spell it) on top of some fried raisin bread. Mark asked if the tournoise was a brie as my sister who works in a cheese shop has been banging on about truffle brie since she started working there. We were told ‘no, it is a tournoise’ which is fair enough, but it tasted like truffle brie to me.

Three deserts followed after ‘The Crossover’ which was a blend of sweet and savoury flavours in the form of beetroot and goats cheese granita. Blackberries, Tarragon, Rocket and Vanilla was akin to the berry desert at F&M and was just as fabulous. So fresh! Chocolate, Coffee and Salt was a rich slab of a ganachy chocolate cake which was delicious but probably the least exciting dish on the menu. Sea Buckthorn, Pine and Meringue was most excellent. Almost like a sea buckthorn flavoured cheese cake, it was creamy but also had a great balance of sweet and sharpness.

We finished on a high and our bellies were the right kind of stuffed which means it didn’t involve pain. We were about to order some tea and ask for the bill but the sommelier stopped us in our tracks with another glass of wine and the words ‘I don’t know what you have done but they really like you in the kitchen’. Another dessert miraculously appeared and we were told it was inspired by cardboard and was cooked in a cardboard cup. It was the apple and parsnip treacle sponge I had lusted over only a couple of hours before! And I loved it!

We were then invited into the kitchen to meet Sat where I felt I had to explain that I do really like cardboardy tasting things, it was never a criticism. I would also like to take this opportunity to explain I do really like those onion ring crisps, so that is also not a criticism. As you can imagine I was very giddy and I found out he was not scary like I first thought – he was lovely!

I woke up the next day in a B&B wearing a hangover hat that I just could not remove and picked at the full english I had ordered the night before in a fit of hungry. The bacon was rolled into a sausage shape and I am still questioning why it was. On the long car journey back home Mark and I repeatedly asked each other ‘do you remember when we had that cardboard dessert?’. In fact we still ask each other that question but a little less frequently, maybe a couple of times a day. If that isn’t a sign of a meal well enjoyed, I don’t know what is.

Northcote

14 Jan

Following our meal at The Vineyard Mark has suddenly become more enthusiastic about repeat visits to restaurants. From someone who used to balk at the idea of eating at the same restaurant more than once when there are hundreds of other places to try, I am not sure why his second visit to The Vineyard has inspired him thus.

Though I suppose during a visit to his parents’ up North, it is only natural that we dine at Northcote. Whenever I show people the area that I grow up I feel I have to take them to every single local restaurant or cafe that I have once enjoyed, or at least walk them round a long route just to point them out. I am not sure what this achieves but I do it anyway. So I can understand Mark’s enthusiasm, especially when a cheap lunch menu is on offer.

I did have a bit of a strop when I was guilt tripped into agreeing to order from the lunch menu after drooling over the a la carte. Why would I want chicken when I could order a dish (I can’t remember what the main component was) that came with fondue on the side? Well, precisely. But apparently I cannot spend what does not exist, that being the money in my bank account.

Like charm itself I sulked during the entire car journey and I sluggishly sat on the sofa in the living room at Northcote Manor, staring mournfully into the crackling fire. Our menus were handed to us along with some crackers and dip and within moments my mood spun 180 degrees into joy – the lunch menu and a la carte courses were interchangeable and for just a few extra pounds I wouldn’t have to endure the chicken. What made the menu even more attractive was that it gave wine recommendations alongside certain courses or particular meats and by the glass at not ridiculous prices. I didn’t have to play the game of yes the second cheapest wine looks good, I just picked the wine that went well with hare, my a la carte substitute.

I chose my starter based on the side that came with it. I am a sucker for potato skins, though my main experience of them tends to be on the yellow and pink rubber side (also known as ‘bacon and cheese’). The fact they came with leek and potato soup was irrelevant.

With few exceptions soup generally sends me into a state of depression. The only way I can describe this dislike is that it is just soooouuuuup. This one was not just soooouuuuup, but it was not Mark’s Potato Wrapped Wild Rabbit, Lentils and Bacon Foam.

Potato skins aside (which were very tasty topped with a goats cheese mousse, if not a little burnt), I was never going to win on this one. The potato was shredded, wrapped around the rabbit and fried in what I imagine was quite a lot of fat. Lentils are lentils, but the bacon foam was pretty good too.

I definitely upped the stakes with my main course of Loin of Hare, Potato Wrapped Homemade Black Pudding, Girolles, Celeriac Puree and Cherries.

I had tried hare once before at Launceston Place, it was braised and had a delicious pistachio crust. It was wonderful but did nothing to prepare me for the intensity of flavour of this particular loin. It had a strong iron taste almost like liver but with more depth and an almost disolvable texture that only needed a couple of chomps to disintegrate. I had the added joy of the black pudding that was treated like Mark’s rabbit. The girolles were delicate and silky on the tongue and the cherries cut through the richness and creaminess of it adding a welcome fruity tang.

Mark decided to splash out as well and ordered the Grouse Wellington, Sweet and Sour Turnip Puree, Roast Pear and Grouse Parfait.

That is what I copied from the website, but I have a feeling there was some apple on the plate, I just can’t remember so please forgive me. From August 12th Mark had been obsessed with trying grouse for the first time. He went through a phase of searching through menus to find the bird and alerting me to the restaurant and how much they charged for it whenever he hit the jackpot. I thought he may have built up his expectations until they were more than a little unrealistic but I needn’t have worried, he loved it. It really was very good. It came with crunchy balls of potato which were a welcome and moreish addition. Despite the success of this dish, I personally believe I won this round.

I was happy to revert back to the lunch menu for desert as it included the magic words ‘Rice Pudding’. I liked it very much because I love rice pudding and there is no such thing as bad rice pudding. It was sprinkled with yellow raisins which I like the taste of but the feel of one between my molars sends shivers down my spine much like the sound of nails on a blackboard may do to others. It came with roast pear and sorbet which did make it stand out from your average tin of ambrosia and made up somewhat for the unwelcome texture of the dreaded sultana.

I persuaded Mark to go for the Organic Apple Trifle, Sorbet and Crisps because I wanted it. Mark wasn’t so keen on the dense layer of apple jelly but I was happy to chomp on it. It came with a mini choc ice which made me say ‘oh yes I think so’ when I tried it.

The pudding round was a draw which meant that we both won. Mark may have argued otherwise but this is not his blog (this is, in case you are interested) so there. We returned to the living room for tea and coffee and I gazed into the crackling fire with contentment and slight discomfort from the pressure in my belly. I also had the delight of filling in a feedback card, a personal pleasure for me, with witty comments such as ‘free food next time please’ as well as plenty of high praise. If Northcote was local to me, I too would include this on my tour of must-eats.

Top 10 Meals of 2011

7 Jan

Ok, I admit it, I am the laziest blogger in the world. In 2011 I only recorded about 25% of my restaurant experiences which is ridiculous considering how good a culinary year it has been. So that is why I decided to make a new years resolution that in 2012 I will blog once a week. Although this is a resolution I will probably break (what are resolutions for if not for breaking?) I would like to last out for at least the first month, and as I only made this decision last night before I went to sleep I haven’t left myself much time to go through with it. So with the thought process that listing my top 10 meals of 2011 will mean just a few sentences I can probably snatch from old entries I have embarked on this task.

Of course, after assembling and reading through my list I have realised that I have only blogged about one restaurant out of the ten. More work and shame on me – I deserve it really. So with no delay, I present to you NAOMI’S TOP 10 MEALS OF 2011!

Numbers 10 to 4 in no particular order:

10. Spuntino

The long wait for a place to sit is almost unbearable once you know what is waiting on the other side – namely steak and eggs. It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is so great about this dish, but the fact that it is so incredibly simple yet delicious is something to consider. Incredibly cool but not so that it has pushed over onto the side of irritating and inaccessable. The Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich will BLOW YOUR MIND.

9. Honest Burgers

The best burger I have ever had in my life and I have eaten a lot of burgers. Mark and I went with a friend Sally and her daughter after Sally and I had run a 5k. We waited in line for a long time with rumbling bellies (it appears the best places make you do that these days) but it was completely and utterly worth the wait. We were all speechless as we tucked into beautifully pink beef, strong cheddar and a delicious and sweet onion relish. The chips were triple fried and tossed in herby salt. It was so good we all returned the next week, waited in an even longer queue but enjoyed our burgers all the more as they tasted even better.

8. Petrus

No one seemed to like Petrus when it reopened, but all the reviews did mention canapes and an amouse bouche and there is nothing I like more than extra food. I was sold already. In the end the really great thing about my experience at Petrus was how much of a delightful surprise it was. The vibe was special occassion casual – though I felt I was somewhere a bit swish I felt totally comfortable slumping in my chair to stretch my legs out and rub my swollen belly at the end of the meal. I had a starter of partridge ravioli with confit leg and mushroom veloute which was just plain beautiful. Silky is the key word to describe that course, in flavour, texture and appearance. Desserts were also brilliant, Mark’s in particular which looked like a piece of art. There was a thin slice of jelly where a cross section of cherries created a pattern of pursed lips. You may think I am speaking metaphorically, but I am not that imaginative. It actually looked like that. Our special petit fours were forgotten at the end of the meal so I asked the waitress if we would get any and with tact and friendliness she made us believe we had not been missed off but they were on their way and no more than 5 minutes later they were in our bellies.

7. Anthony’s

I paid my sister a visit in Leeds while she was studying at the university which obviously warranted a visit to Anthony’s – the Gordon Ramsay of the town. Attracted by the very cheap lunch menu we ate food that I would have been happy to pay three times the amount for. Liza had bream with a jamon sauce which was hearty yet refined, and I went down the traditionally boring route by ordering chicken, but the marvellous twist is that it was the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten and also one of the most exciting dishes. Desserts sent us into raptures. Jasmine tea mousse with slithers of mango. Oh my days. On top of all this we got canapes, an amuse bouche, petit fours and a fluffy loaf of white bread with three different types of butter. All for just over twenty quid. I cannot reccommend this place enough. Everyone in the world go and if you don’t enjoy it you are the biggest fool in the land.

6. Pitt Cue Co

You know those times where you have something to eat be it a boiled egg or cheese on toast and it is more satisfying than a four michelin starred meal cooked by God? Yes well, the time I had wings from Pitt Cue Co definitely filled a hole that nothing else could fill. Hot spicy wings, cool slaw, ham hock salad, scorching hot day. Yes yes yes yes. My face was covered in hot sauce for the rest of the day which just served as a wonderful reminder to what I had eaten only hours before.

5. The Hardwick

Once Mark and I stayed in a Romany Gypsy caravan that just so happened to be in Wales. And because we just so happened to be there we visited some of Wales’ finest and also some of the not so finest (dodgy chinese one night when nowhere else was open and The Foxhunter). One night we had a tasting menu at The Crown at Whitebrook which was lovely but the portions were not tasting size, they were generous for even a full plate of food. I thought I was going to die at the end of it and I had to unzip my dress in the car park for the fear of fainting (nothing has ever felt that good since). The next day we went to The Hardwick for lunch despite still being full from the night before. We shared A Taste of Local Beef – Grilled Fillet, Ox Tail Suet Pudding, Burger with Creamed Mushrooms & Onion Rings, Braised Shin with Confit Shallots, Swiss Chard, Poached Carrots and Sauce Bordelaise, as well as a portion of triple cooked chips. You better believe everything was absolutely wonderful and the best taste of beef I’ve had in all my 24 years. It was a bitter sweet lunch as I was too full to eat as much as I wanted which meant I had to turn down pudding. Sob.

4. Mamuska

Mamuska is a polish restaurant in the heart of Elephant and Castle shopping centre. While everything is peeling and breaking away around it, Mamuska is comforting in that it is neat and not falling apart. When I first visited this restaurant I spent about £15 with Mark and we shared plates of pork dumplings, breaded chicken with mashed potato and carrot slaw, sauerkraut, borscht and pork croquette. It was heart warming, scrumptuous and much too much. It could have fed four people. That is why I love it so – unpretentious, authentic, finger licking food for under a fiver. The last time I went I visited it twice in a day and also found out that their shredded beetroot is something I will order on every subsequent visit. The diners are diverse, from polish to the local community to the trendy arty types from LCC and then of course me for as long as it exists.

So now all there is remaining is the final three. Again in no particular order, but they stand out from everywhere I have eaten at this year, and in my life come to think of it.

3. St John

I went here with Mark and Sally and Kim from work. It was one of those nights where the company and setting couldn’t have been more perfect. The bone marrow was everything I could have wished for and Kim’s stewed mutton with aioli gave everyone acute food envy. But nothing could beat the desire of the whole suckling pig being devoured by the stag party on the table next to ours. Sally’s dessert of eccles cake and lancashire cheese is now our tea time treat of choice. The noise level was loud and filled with happy chatter, understandably so. Sally went back a few weeks later to the bar and had some Welsh Rarebit and I was stuck at work when I got the good news via text. Mixed emotions of excitement and jealousy hit me and I did everything I could not to run out and join her.

2. Roganic

A couple of years ago Mark and I went to L’Enclume and had the best meal of our life. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard Simon Rogan was opening a pop up restaurant in London. I booked a table as soon as I was able but so had everyone else so I had to agree to a 9pm slot. Much like our meal at L’Enclume we had a tasting menu of wonder, like the plate of vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel that surprised with amazing flavours and textures despite it being a plate of potatoes. Mackeral with elderflower honey was also divine. We ended up being the last people to go and we chatted with the friendliest front of house team in the world, in particular Jack Settle who on top of being fun and charming, gave us a tour of the kitchen and gave us some leftover bread rolls for our journey home. We ate them for breakfast the next day with huge grins as we relived the night before.

1. Restaurant Sat Bains

I can’t say much about this meal as there is a full blog to come in a couple of weeks, but I can say that the few hours I spent at Restaurant Sat Bains were probably the most pleasurable of the year. After sampling Sat Bains’ wares at Fortnum & Mason earlier in the year and being suitably impressed and an upcoming trip to Nottingham in tow it was only natural that I had another try of what he had to offer. And the answer is SO MUCH. His care and attention to making sure we had a good time was thrilling and heartwarming, so much so that I do not resent spending an extra £15 on his famous duck egg dish which was worth every penny.

So there we go. Other notable mentions go to The Hand & Flowers which everyone knows is brilliant. Also the free meal at Hawksmoor where Mark and I sat next to and chatted away with people we had only just met while we ate steak and were filmed for a promo vid. Their stilton mayonnaise is beyond heavenly.

Well done 2011. Lets hope 2012 is even better.

Savoy Grill

6 Dec

You can often find me in a state of bewilderment and despair over my bank balance. I have no idea where the money goes, and before you say it I don’t seem to have any money even before I manage to sit down at a restaurant. This sorry state of affairs not only affects me but Mark as well as it means his restaurant plans are put on hold until I manage to scrape together a few pennies. However, his impatience often gets the better of him which results in an occassional treat for me.

That is why one nondescript Sunday morning Mark announced he had a treat in store because of my recent good behaviour. I begged him to let me know what it was but he refused and even suggested this treat had nothing to do with food. Because of this I said we may as well leave a bit earlier than he had originally planned so that we could get a quick bite to eat beforehand. We walked around Covent Garden and Soho for about an hour and a half to my cries of ‘I’m tiiiirrreeeeed’ and ‘I want my treaaaaaat’ before we appeared at the front of the Savoy and Mark admitted the treat was indeed something to do with food.

I had wanted to go to the Savoy Grill as soon as it reopened. Despite lacklustre reviews, there is something about the old style dining and vast menu which includes a lunch trolley that appealed to me. I didn’t think Mark was that keen, often using the phrase ‘rip off’ when I mentioned it, but it was clear to me why his views had changed once we were handed over the menus – one a la carte, the other a cheapy weekend menu. I knew which one I would be ordering from (I’m not complaining, it was a lovely treat for Mark to have organised).

We were seated at a table that was considerably higher than our seats which made me feel like a little girl sat in a restaurant for grown ups. Had the chairs been a little higher it is fairly likely I would still feel like a little girl sat in a restaurant for grown ups. The diners were of three sorts. The first and biggest percentage were of the traditional and flashy well off sort, the kind of person I will never be. The second lot were from the school of blue rinse, having the kind of restaurant experience I imagine they had when they were young. The final sort were the dutiful children now in their 30’s treating their mothers to a birthday lunch which the mothers were all dutifully enjoying.

Mark and I both ordered the same starter and main. Bubble and Squeak with Burford Brown Egg and Salt Cured Pigs Cheeks to begin. I know it said ‘salt cured’ but I rather enthusiastically imagined the pigs cheeks to be soft lumps of meat. More fool me, it was just a bit of crispy bacon. I love egg, I love bubble and squeak. I didn’t love this dish so much as it completely lacked seasoning leaving it bland mound of texture.

Running with the theme of pig and potato, our main was Potato and Bacon Pie with Tarragon Cream, French Beans and Shallots. Our beans didn’t arrive until we were half way through our pies. Well, they initially were placed on the table at the same time as our pies but they were swiftly whipped away by a waiter who I assume was the head of our section who snapped at the very friendly waiter who had brought over our food that those greens were not for us. While we ate our pies I watched the greens being carried on a tray around the room by the snappy head of section. I think he did about three laps before he realised they were indeed meant for us.

The pie was a bit of a disappointment. I liked how rich and creamy it was but half of the potatoes were just slightly underdone. Though they were not rock hard it was just not pleasant. The low chairs proved quite of a problem at this point as the pie was served in a high pie dish so our elbows ended up around our ears as we tried to tackle the pastry with our knives and forks.

The dessert list wasn’t that inspiring. I went for Blackberry and Banana Eton Mess because I love banana. It tasted exactly how you would imagine it to. Mark had a Chocolate Fondant which was surprisingly good following the two courses of disappointment. Hot and chocolatey with a very runny centre indeed. Meanwhile I watched a brother and sister look at their bill and gawp at each other, horrified by the price I believe, while Mummy sat looking full and content.

We finished off with some tea and some petit fours which were alright, nothing spesh. Mark paid the bill and we left, taking a Savoy Grill card with us on the way because it looked really cool. We also had a nice time using the toilets and peering through the windows of an overpriced chocolate concession shop. No, it wasn’t the greatest of meals, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a nice time. The Savoy Grill was refurbished with the intention of looking like it originally had I believe, and eating there felt like how it might have been about 50 years ago. I enjoyed this feeling of being stuck in the past and I thought I might bring my mother here in the future because I think she would find it charming and faintly humorous. Though the food was disappointing there is something about the place that makes me want to make a repeat visit. I think it has something to do with that lunch trolley and the lobster bisque I happened to notice on the a la carte menu… Mark, take note.

 

Savoy Grill
Strand City of London
Greater London WC2R 0EU
http://www.gordonramsay.com/thesavoygrill/

 

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