Archive | January, 2011

Great Queen Street

17 Jan

As often as we can my sister and I endeavour to meet up with another sister duo that we have been good friends with all our lives for lots of food and a bit of boozing. Unfortunately this only happens a couple of times a year, one of them being our annual Christmas Social which is usually organised last-minute and involves a lengthy argument with my sister about what we should eat while the other two stay sheepishly quiet in the corner. So come October I took it upon myself to choose a date and a venue to avoid the inevitable stress and bad curry. I tentatively broached the idea of Great Queen Street in Holborn as my sister is one to keep her purse strings securely knotted and thinks a maximum of £15 for a main is unheard of, but to my surprise she happily agreed and I was safe in the knowledge that food wise I would have nothing to worry about.

Great Queen Street is probably my favourite restaurant in London. It is the sister of the Anchor & Hope, a great pub that does equally great food, just next to my work. Both restaurants have a daily changing menu which offers dishes that include great cuts of meat as well as huge plates of food to share which encourages a type of social dining that I love. Better than tapas where I tend to get possessive over certain dishes (BUT I CHOSE THAT ONE), you could be sharing a slow cooked shoulder of lamb with seasonal veg so there are no begrudging feelings as everyone tucks in.

Two months later we found ourselves sat at a heavy wooden table by the window devouring bread from St John (nom nom nom). I thought we would all be going straight to mains, but my sister of all people asked if anyone else was thinking of having a starter. I could have hugged her right there and then, but I restrained myself in order to choose my first course correctly. I would have gone for the snail and bacon salad as I usually do but as someone else had chosen it I went for an anchovy and beetroot salad with a soft-boiled egg, purely because I do love a soft-boiled egg.

I was a bit confused by my starter as the whole thing was cold. The cold anchovies and beetroot didn’t surprise me but the chilled soft-boiled egg threw me. The yolk was soft… but it was cold. I just couldn’t get my head around it. It wasn’t exactly non-tasty, it was just, you know, um, really weird. Even now, a whole month on, I am wearing a quizzical expression.

My main was much more successful. After rearranging the seating plan my sister from another mister and I shared a chicken with chips and tartare sauce (it was the chips and the tartare sauce which seduced me). It all arrived on one platter, the chicken moist and laying in its own flavoursome juices. Nothing stopped me from wiping the dish clean with the huge, squidgy and piping hot chips. Ooooh, they were good. The tartare sauce was tangy and cut through the richness of the chicken and the potatoes. I had such a good time tucking into this. The other two both got Arbroath Smokies which were so creamy and comforting they created the illusion of lying under thick woollen rugs by a blazing log fire.

By this point I was stuffed, but as always I still had a little pocket of stomach left for a bit of sweet. I was about to enter the so full I hurt category but welcomed it with open arms. We decided to order a different pudding each and share them all between us – the puddings in reverse order of greatness go:

4. Brown bread ice cream and quince sorbet. Both were really delicious. The brown bread gave the ice cream a pleasant chewy texture and a smooth malty flavour. The quince sorbet was fresh and tasted wonderfully of quince, believe it or not, which is only a good thing. The reason why these come last is because do ice cream and sorbet really qualify as a dessert? They ultimately belong on the side of a dessert.

3. Chocolate fritters. Basically lumps of rich, dark chocolate cake dusted with caster sugar and a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Sumptuous but after two spoonfuls was way too much and a short train ride to clag central.

2. Buttermilk pudding with a sort of orangey compote on the side. The buttermilk pudding was refreshing yet creamy, a bit like a Panna cotta, and the orange burst through with tangy zing. Gobble gobble gobble.

1. A slice of pumpkin jam tart. This won on so many levels. It was like pumpkin pie but had a layer of jam between the pumpkin and pastry which wasn’t too sweet but meant that each mouthful was finished off by a fruity punch in the gob. So good. Too good. Everyone else back off. NAOMI DOESN’T SHARE FOOD. This had turned into a tapas situation.

My sweet stomach pocket was definitely filled and I had crossed over the threshold into immense pain that only a cup of tea and a long sleep could sooth. Other than the blip that was my starter which I am quick to forget, Great Queen Street cements itself as one of my faves. I will forever be returning.

Great Queen Street
32 Great Queen Street London WC2B 5AA
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St. John Bread & Wine

16 Jan

Working on a Sunday is unnatural. Sundays are made for waking up around midday, staying in your pajamas and eating stodgy meals that will promptly send you into a coma until Monday morning. So imagine my disdain as I sat at my desk on a drizzly Sunday morning in December, fully dressed and with an empty stomach. No matter how many times I repeated ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘I’m starving’ I still felt as if I wasn’t getting my point across, so it was with some surprise that I heard my boyfriend ask ‘Do you think we should go to St John Bread & Wine after work?’ Naturally I leapt at the opportunity and my protestations of hunger became optimistic as I anticipated my upcoming meal.

By the time we arrived we had about 10 minutes to decide what to eat before the kitchen closed at the end of lunch service. Luckily I had obsessively perused the menu before we left so I already had certain expectations of what I would be eating. I went for a glass of cheeky white as well, only because I didn’t notice the red wine list on the back of the menu.

We gratefully scoffed the bread provided as we both ordered a main course that would take 40 minutes to prepare which meant that our starter also arrived later in order to shorten the gap in between courses. I am a big fan of bread from St John – it pops up in restaurants everywhere, probably because it is so nice. While we tucked into the freshly baked goods we chatted about the difference between black pudding and blood pudding as our impending starter consisted of the latter and a poached duck egg. Based on our one experience of blood pudding at The Fat Duck I deduced that it would be soft and red, though I was fully aware that our previous taste of it may not necessarily bear any resemblance to the original product. However, my prediction was right. It was a musky red colour and was rich with fatty flavour. The egg was just cooked so that the yolk coated every bite with eggy glaze.

Although there were few diners left at this point, the restaurant surroundings are relaxed and small enough to encourage conversation. Although, it did mean that the group of yummy mummies with rich husbands and screaming kids in tow were just that little bit too close making gaps between courses just that little bit painful. However, once our mains had arrived we were able to divert our concentration on to the food in front of us. We both went for Mallard which came with a beautifully crisp salty skin. The meat is richer than your average duck and metallic with iron in a very pleasant way. Some of it was incredibly tender and melted away in the mouth, yet some of it was very chewy and a bit of a chore to masticate. It was while I was munching away on a particularly tough bit that I nearly broke my tooth on a bit of shot. This made me very excited because of the good luck that apparently comes with finding shot in your mouth – a tasty pudding maybe? Or perhaps the screaming kids to magically disappear?

We were re-presented with the menu and I was immediately enamoured with the idea of rice pudding with quince jam. My belief is that rice pudding can’t ever be bad. Whether it comes from a tin, from a school dinner tray or Gordon Ramsay’s oven my taste buds are always guaranteed that they will have a good time. A somewhat signature pud of St John are the madeleines that come in either a full or half-dozen, so to avoid missing out on anything I encouraged my boyfriend to order them.

The rice pudding arrived school dinner style – at room temperature and with a generous dollop of jam in the middle. Of course I enjoyed it, though I found the jam to be a bit sickly sweet. The madeleines were warm, soft and comforting, though after a couple just a little bit on the dry side and slipping on the flavour excitement scale… the jam, however, made a wonderful accompaniment which brought them up a notch. My good luck from the shot was fulfilled though the children still screamed and had taken to running round the tables in a frenzied manner.

We left St John Bread & Wine full and with our earlier shift at work almost eradicated from our minds. Stepping out into the rain and the ice would have been a sad parting if it weren’t for the fading cries from the bored children that I contentedly left behind.

St John Bread & Wine
94 Commercial Street London E1 6LZ
http://www.stjohnbreadandwine.com/

Friday Feasting – Part 2

7 Jan

With the three course meal that was to await me later and my freshly bulging belly in mind I made sure to keep my hunger gates open for the rest of the day. I had a light lunch at Bar Chocolate in Soho with my work buddy Kim. She tucked into her Eggs Benedict while I devoured some chilli beef nachos, followed by a handful of chocolate buttons which arrived next to my glass of mulled wine on a slab of wood. I liked the way the slab of said wood managed to disguise the fact that my lunch had consisted of chocolate and crisps through its rustic trendiness.

Needless to say, come 7.30pm I was so hungry I felt as though my belly were digesting itself. My second set of work chums and I started our perilous walk on the icy ground to RSJ – a restaurant hidden round the back of the National Theatre. Once we slid through the door we were greeted immediately by three grinning people, one of whom offered to take us to our table. We were led downstairs passing more staff who were very happy to see us along the way and with an ever-increasing smell of ‘downstairs’ that you so often get downstairs at a restaurant when trying to locate the loo. None the less, my spirits were not dampened as once seated there wasn’t a whiff of toilet anywhere despite it being just round the corner. Our table was in an alcove which gave off the impression that we had a private dining room – much to my work chums’ relief as I distributed a selection of Christmas headgear from my bag.

We were given a set menu which made choosing for me very easy – I’ll have the meat please – and the vegetarians were handed an extra menu should they want to swap any dishes over. I took this as an opportunity to crack some jokes about how they must be spoilt for choice on the wide range of vegetables they had to offer. I laughed but no one else took notice so I made myself busy with the wine list. Pretending I knew what I was talking about I mentioned that the wine selection was meant to be very good here and with that I was encouraged to choose a bottle for the table. Feeling confident I pointed at the cheapest bottle of rouge available and assured everyone that I had made the right decision.

After wolfing down four slices of bread our starters finally arrived. I had picked a salmon rillette which was alright. It was food, I appreciated that, but a couple of weeks on that is about all I can remember of it. It did come with a couple of mini gherkins and a smattering of capers which were particularly memorable purely because I do love a mini gherkin and I could quite happily eat capers straight out of the jar. I find this hard to admit, but I wish I had gone for the veggie starter. Sat in front of me was Emma digging into a goats cheese and shallot tart and I had a rather powerful surge of food envy. It is not a great feeling, looking over on to another plate and wishing you could swap your lump of meat/fish for something without a lump of what generally makes my life worth living.

Having just had my morals and beliefs turned upside down I wasn’t anticipating my main as eagerly as everyone else seemed to be. My plate of duck leg resting on a sizeable lump of mash surrounded by winter veg and drizzled with a raison jus was placed before me. I grazed my fork along the mash and dispensed the fluffy white potato into my mouth – it tasted purely of butter. A massive win in my book. Feeling braver, I cut a small chunk out of the duck leg and noticed with glee the sound of the skin crackling against my knife. It was meaty and moist and rich. Second win. With fervor this time, I eagerly tried the winter veg. The parsnips were so hard I wondered if they had been cooked at all, but by that point I was beyond caring as I had tried the raisin jus. I almost punched the air with my triple win.

This time my usual feeling of superiority over the vegetarians was not because my diet was enriched with meat and theirs was not, but because their meal did not come with a raisin jus. A sweet, smooth, powerful and rich raisin jus. And I know that if I return to RSJ and something comes with the raison jus, I will be sure to order it. And my love for a good sauce continues.

By the time we had got to pudding I was sporting a new piece of Christmas headgear – a one-eyed Father Christmas dancing on a spring – courtesy of my Secret Santa and I discovered that drinking wine alongside a cup of coffee is not a flavour marriage made in heaven. Most of the party had ordered a lemon posset which arrived unset and more like a drink, however, we had all received a packet of Iced Gems in our homemade Christmas crackers which meant that no one lost out.

Full of food and good cheer, we all headed off home in the snow, my partially sighted Father Christmas bobbing his head in festive spirits. Although my belly was full and I couldn’t ever imagine being hungry again, my thoughts drifted to the upcoming meals I would be having in the near future – next stop: Great Queen Street for an annual meet up with friends. Or so I thought…

RSJ Restaurant
33 Coin Street London SE1 9NR
http://www.rsj.uk.com/
Bar Chocolate
27 D’Arblay Street London W1W 3PF
http://www.barchoc.co.uk/