Ich bin guernican aus London. Ich bin Qyper seit dem 03.03.2008
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61-63 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 6HJ
I've now been to this little bistro twice. It has not disappointed.
I believe it was once a deli for the far grander Club Gascon. Now converted into an extremely intimate little dining room serving deeply unpretentious French food, it's a place to take someone if you're looking for a tiny slice of the Pigalle vibe in industrial Farringdon.
The famed "piggy treats" was, as it was with my first visit, the place to start. Let's get this out the way, because it's a huge pity. It's not as varied, as rustic or as interesting as it used to be. The selection is a little smaller and put together with a little more fuss than on my first try a couple of years ago. This could very well be because the previous incarnation was a seriously robust starter, which (with bread) could very well take the edge off your yearning for a main. But, somehow, curating and prettifying this beautifully-named dish has left it less satisfying. I certainly take issue with a comment elsewhere on this page, where some person deems it inferior to a supermarket serving of cold cuts. This is, patently, ignorant bilge, yet the fact remains that it's both more refined and less sensual in its construction. The accompanying bread was dangerously close to flawless.
My main was sea bream with a smattering of bisque and chunks of celeriac. The fish was cooked beautifully and the bisque was marvellously rich, although the celeriac could have stood being cooked for longer. The maitre'd explained this away as "crunchy", when a simple apology would have sufficed. A low-budget Syrah was both delicious and great value. Sadly, desserts were beyond us, although a cheeky enquiry led to us being presented with a gratis loaf of the coveted bread. Top marks for rescuing the celeriac disappointment.
This is not fine dining, not does it have pretensions thereof. To resent an Eton Mess variant for not being "cuisine" despite the stark, staring fact that one ordered the bloody thing in the first place strikes me as a little bloodyminded, but perhaps I'm guilty of judging restaurants based on how they present themselves, not whether they fit into a neat little box in my noggin. This is excellent second / third date territory: quiet but bustling, dark and welcoming, with school furniture trappings and a decently varied wine list with nothing looming over the £50 mark. Dinner for 2 was £70, infusing a well-fed smile with hints of recession-beating frugality.
121 Borough High Street, Southwark, London SE1 1NP
Not since Ted Danson flirted with Dianne Chambers in Cheers has barman seemed a desirable vocation. I can see why. Catering to the endless supply of drunks, sociopaths and media professionals that litter the bars of central London must be a particularly dispiriting way to spend an evening when, frankly, you could be on the other side of the bar.
This may explain why good barmen - apologies, bartenders of either gender - are so hard to find. When was the last time you raised your eyes above the level of the bar to be met by anything other than slack-jawed indifference and a heartily welcoming "Uh?".
When you do find one... one that somehow manages to perform that oh-so-difficult feat of, oh, I don't know, remembering roughly in which order the waiting patrons might have turned up at the bar, or managing to project an aura of anything other than casual hostility, you treasure them. Such a one seems to exist in the St Christopher: a jolly Kiwi who actually makes you feel welcome. Astonishing. Go now, before he saves enough to go off inter-railing.
Other than that, the pub's not bad. Quiet in spite of its busy location on the slightly grubbier side of the City, with the excellent Budvar Black on draught, and with a strapping extended rear section that means you should be able to park your own rear section at any time bar the brutal Friday rush. Recommended.
63 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 3JW
I was about to review Le Gavroche. It seems, though, that you lucky Qypers have already reviewed Michel Roux Jr's temple of deliciousness to hell and back. Fine, then, I said to myself. I'll review Arbutus instead, because it's still fairly fresh in my mind. And here I am, and some bugger's reviewed the bejesus out of this one too. Well, too late. I'm not budging. You'll just have to read this one too.
I have been to Arbutus twice, in fact, once just weeks after it opened its doors and once pretty recently. Not only was it excellent both times, it was consistent in its foibles. On both occasions, the service lifted an outstanding meal dangerously close to the sublime through the simple expedient of eschewing the usual fine dining reserve, and just being really goshdarn enthusiastic about everything.
This will, of course, divide some of us. Service at Chez Bruce, for example, manages to combine geniality and formality with the lightest of touches, and remains (in my head) the high watermark of how it should be. Le Gavroche, with the profound weight of those two glittering stars, has a certain portentousness to it (bar the maitre'd, who was utterly charming and very relaxed in his manner). And, while we're talking about Michel's Urchin, I'll take this opportunity to remind the staff that being rude about colleagues in French in a London restaurant is a rather risky thing to do, however sotto voce. Some of us have A-levels, you know.
Arbutus is light, airy, and rather free range. It's also a little bigger than it looks from the outside, so the inter-proximity of the tables won't leave you gasping for elbow room. It's in a reasonably quiet part of Soho, if such a thing exists. And it's staffed by angels, as the following anecdote may demonstrate.
I was late. Due to some confusion about times, I was 15 minutes late for a 7:30 reservation, which (in theory) isn't the end of the world. Until, that is, you get there and discover that you're 45 minutes late for a 7pm reservation. Which is embarrassing. And here it was that our cheerful South American waitress earned her gratuity. My order was whisked off my lips and into the kitchen with the despatch of a donated kidney. She, in short, made unobtrusively and efficiently sure that my crappy timekeeping made no impact on the proceedings. I received my food a smattering of seconds after everyone else. She kept dinner together under reasonably pressing conditions, and she did it so well that we hardly noticed. It sounds simple when I say it like that, but I'm sure it wasn't.
What's that? Oh yes, the food. Braised pig's head to start - soft, and almost flaky in the way that only pig's head can be - with astonishing pommes purees on the side. And then pieds et paquets, a concoction of lamb tripe parcels and pigs' trotters. Alright, it's not for everyone, but if you're a fan of offal then this is more than worth a try. There's almost something of the farmyard in the smell of tripe, with salty, fatty, piggy trotters nestling alongside. They had to roll me out of the front door after the coffee.
And everyone else was happy too. And it's priced more than reasonably for what you're getting. Look at it this way... there's no reason to print, as they do at Le Gavroche, menus without prices for the faint of heart.
Friendly, thoughtful, central and polished. Go.
3 Varnishers Yard, The Regents Quarter, London N1 9FD
17.11.2009 (aktualisiert am 17.02.2010)
When the powers that be decided to plumb Kings Cross into the Eurostar network, they faced a problem. If first impressions are so important, how do you get around the fact that starting off a London sojourn in Kings Cross is like starting off a relationship by sniffing someone's backside?
What happened, I hear you ask. Well, they did what most governments do... they encouraged people to throw lots of money at it. The result is still the Kings Cross we know and loathe, with places like Camino tacked on or hidden away inside it.
At face value, Camino doesn't seem so bad. It's large, clean, sports exposed brickwork and plenty of faux-Spanish paraphernalia. What it lacks, sadly, is personality or accomplishment. I tend to avoid Spanish wine, so asking the staff for a little advice off the exclusively Iberian wine list seemed in order. No one knew what I was talking about or how to help. In the end, we had a beer. I didn't try the food, so I can't really comment. Perhaps it's wonderful. Perhaps it's not.
There's nothing really wrong with Camino. It just lacks character, charm or competence, but there's nothing unusual about that in London - or indeed any other big city. It's just sort of there, possibly the only clean aspirer to bar status in the area, which will make it plenty of people's choice by default. That's ok. If you're in the area, I suppose it's probably as good as you're going to get.
135-137 Stephendale Road, Fulham, London SW6 2PR
I was all geed up not to like the Sands End.
It lurks in a kind of urban hinterland somewhere in the unholy triangle formed by Fulham, Parsons Green and Wandsworth. As you approach the door, a blood-chilling howls cuts the air like a knife and you realise that, at any given moment, a crowd of tweed-wearing Ollies and Tarquins could gallop out of the mist, mottle-cheeked and flushed with booze and razorburn, and bray you into submission.
Aforementioned crew of Caspians were, indeed, in evidence, but we were six. Heartened by strength of numbers, we entered. It's nice enough inside, I suppose. I can't remember too many paeans to pretentiousness but then I can't remember an awful lot about the decor at all, so I suggest we file it all under "inoffensive" and move onto the food, which was generally pretty good. Snails to start were perfectly nice but would have
benefited from even more garlicky goo. Oysters, I'm told, were excellent, but as an allergy prevents me from indulging what was once a passion for oysters that verged on the indecent, you'll have to take someone else's word for it.
Mains were mostly meaty, with steaks very well cooked and my game pie warmingly savoury. Having to order potatoes as a side always strikes me as a bit of a swizz, but everywhere else does it too, so we won't judge them too harshly. The clanging discord in this otherwise rather mellifluous concerto of the carnivorous was a horribly underdone slice of venison. We had no chance to test the kitchen's retrieval routine as the afflicted diner chose to keep shtum about the offending object until plates were being cleared. Tch. Trust me, I would have spoken up.
Allow me to spare a word for our thoroughly professional and comfortingly attentive waiter, who didn't miss a beat all night. A disappointingly breathless bottle of Barolo was decanted instantly (it helped, but take my advice and skip it and go for the cheaper and better St Emilion). Plates and glasses were cleared and replaced with the perfect blend of despatch and unobtrusiveness. I salute him.
We didn't stint on the wine but the bill still didn't set any alarm bells ringing. Go with a measure of restraint and you'll escape for £35 a head with booze. Which, ok, isn't exactly recession-friendly, but I've paid more for worse. Heartily recommended.
58 Penton Street, Islington, London N1 9PZ
As always, I take a little glance at my fellow reviewers to see if I'll be sailing into the wind or before it. The answer is neither, really, but I'm afraid I can't offer the unconditional praise of my peers.
That the Compass is a reasonably new convert to gastropub-ness is evident from the entrenched and numerous drinkers propping up the bar. This wouldn't be a problem, except that there's no separate room for the restaurant. You're in the pub, next to the bar. So if there's a raucous crowd in - and there was, and then some... at one point a middle-aged woman climbed onto a bar stool to announce, at the top of her voice, that her mate "really needed a shag" - then any hope of having a civilised dinner kind of goes out of the window.
In this sort of situation, you're really relying on the food to deliver. It sort of did... in the delivery stakes, it wasn't quite Federal Express gold service, but it was better than a second-class stamp and a hoof in the swingers.
So my dining companion had a beetroot salad-y thing with a few pea shoots and some goat's cheese. To be fair, it's hard to get something like that wrong, but it was a very pleasant and refreshing little number. My own starter was a terrine affair and was meaty and substantial, almost too much so for a starter, but lovely nonetheless. Apparently the kitchen does its own pickling, butchery and other assorted knifetastic wizardry: something to be proud of.
Cheap Malbec is usually something to avoid. Serves me right for ordering it. A rare steak was perfectly fine but slightly overdone. Sadly, my guinea fowl was undercooked, for which there is no excuse. I'll eat a steak only seconds after the butcher's dissected it, but I draw the line at bleeding poultry, however gamey it is. The waitress was apologetic and attentive, but by this stage the increasingly loud clientele were starting to grate on our nerves. On top of all of this, a dreadlocked waiter - not ours - insisted on hurling himself around the room as though a phantom Usain Bolt was whispering into his ear... go on, Catweasel. Faster. You can do it. This is fine in a fastfood joint. It is not fine in a cramped restaurant aspiring to foodiness. I felt like the guy stuck in the aisle seat on Ryanair. Time to be elsewhere.
It's close to being very nice. The space is pleasant, although I'd recommend trying it on a weeknight rather than a Friday evening. At the moment, food is 50% off if you book through toptable, which makes it very good value. Part of me wonders if I'd be so forgiving if I'd had to pay that other 50% - it would have taken the cost of the meal to around £70 including wine, which isn't exactly cheap - but, to be fair, they're doing plenty of things right. And I'm sure they'll get into their stride. I suppose I'd be willing to go back, assuming they're willing to do a Kathy Bates "Misery" sledgehammer job on that bloody waiter.
240 St. John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4PH
I keep going to nice places, which speaks volumes for my impeccable taste. It does, however, get rather dull to be continually writing 4 and 5-star reviews. Sharing the joys of good food and drink is terribly rewarding, but the act of writing a vicious, unpleasant review in return for a brutal, painful dining experience is... well, it’s cathartic. And fun.
My meal at The Peasant, then, was a ghastly experience tempered with a kind of pre-emptive schadenfreude. Every gruesome mouthful was seasoned with glee. You’re making me hurt, Peasant. And if I’m in pain, I want as many people as possible to know about it. If we hurt the one we love, I personally will take great pleasure in administering a planet-sized shoeing to the one I hate. That’s you, by the way.
Ok, it’s a gastropub. It’s sort of midway between Angel and Shoreditch. Downstairs is a standard boozer, upstairs is restaurant. The joy began when the six of us sat down. “How are you,” we smiled at our waitress. “Harried,” was the response as she scuttled off. No, she wasn’t joking. And the restaurant wasn’t even half full. An auspicious beginning, I think you’ll agree.
Starters came and were bad, with that sort of creative badness that suggests a Bond villain artisan in the kitchen. Someone’s really sat down and thought this badness through. Crab claws deep fried in a beer batter had barely a smattering of dryish meat on them. The batter was greasy and too thick, perhaps to offset the paucity of actual crab. And when you order a duck spring roll, you’re effectively offering a prayer to the twin gods of duck moistness and envelope crispiness. Fail and fail. Truly, the gods of the culinary weren’t smiling. They weren’t even giving us a La Giaconda lip-curl.
Mains. Well, the wine was good, but recounting the mains makes me feel as though I need another couple of glasses. I’m desperately, desperately trying to remember what everyone else had, and I can’t. I just can’t, and it was only 3 nights ago. The only explanation I can come up with is that my cortex has somehow successfully expunged all extraneous memories from those forever-lost 150 minutes. Yes, my brain has spontaneously done its best to block as much of this evening out as it can. Thank you, brain.
Sadly, recollection of my own main is branded in inch-thick letters on the front of the cerebellum. It was roast lamb, which is something of a favourite of mine. And it was bad. It was really, really awful. It was dry. It came in the form of what appeared to be cutlets, but sliced diagonally and then lumped one atop another in a frighteningly unattractive cairn of grey meat. And it came with a sausage roll.
Yes, you did read that correctly. A. Sausage. Roll.
Now, I’m all in favour of experimentation. What the hell... a classic may be a classic, but I’m willing to admit that there’s always a chance a bona fide classic can have something added to it. A little twist, another glance... something that generation after generation of cook, chef and meat-basher has missed over the many, many hundreds of years that roast lamb has been served around the world.
For anyone to whom the outcome of this review is still in any way a surprise: guess what? A sausage roll is not it. Least of all a sausage roll that could have been shaken out of a packet that’s languished at the back of a Somerfield freeze since the mid-80s, slowly accumulating bile and a deep inner hatred for all life forms. A sausage roll that seemed to have gone bad. Not in an ‘off’ way... in a kind of Damien from the Omen films Roll of Pure Evil way. If this sausage roll had owned a dog, you wouldn’t even had had to look to know it was a Rottweiler, yellow fangs glimmering with poisonous drool. This sausage roll would steal children’s sweets and kick old ladies. This sausage roll, frankly, could have served in the apartheid government of 70s South Africa. As Minister for Being a Bastard.
I can’t remember what people had for dessert. I ordered an espresso. A restaurant-owning friend of mine once said to me that you’ve got to get the bread and coffee right. First thing and last thing you have, right? Start well and end well and you can get away with the occasional shortcoming in between. He was exaggerating for effect, of course, but the point was well made.
The Peasant’s coffee is crap.
26 St. John Street, Finsbury, London EC1M 4AY
St John is a restaurant that has a very clear idea of who it is. This allows it to make some bold choices about how it presents itself. I find that interesting because although there are plenty of places to buy good food in London, the words ‘fine dining’ usually demand a certain sheen to the proceedings. A sheen that can occasionally be used to distract attention from, say, mediocre food.
St John’s very sparseness means that the food and the service have nowhere to hide. You can’t be sidelined by the acres of challenging art on the walls - because there isn’t any - and the only concession to design is an almost unbroken line of coatpegs running around the walls at just above head height. It reminds me a little of a classroom in a minor public school. This is not, contrary to what you may think, a bad thing, partly because the confection of scent that that conjurs up in my head – a faint whiff of old cabbage and gym socks – fails to materialise and you’re left with the perfume of really good cooking.
When I say that there’s no sheen to St John, I don’t want you to think that it isn’t slick. Front of house is friendly and brutally efficient, as was our waitress. Perhaps too efficient, almost: I don’t doubt that she’s answered questions about the specifics of the menu more times than I’ve eaten… er… pigs chitterlings, but that’s no excuse for blitzing through it like Lewis Hamilton through a crash barrier. The menu, in case you’re wondering, is as sparse as the decor. There’s no attempt to explain the ins and outs of the aforementioned chitterlings, or indeed the Ox Heart with Chips, or any of the other oddball concoctions. As I’d imagine most of the clientele will feel faintly apprehensive about precisely what they’re getting, explanation would seem to me to be absolutely de rigeur.
I started gently, with brown shrimp and white cabbage in a herby, crème fraiche-y sort of dressing. It was lovely without being spectacular: a refreshing, almost palate-cleansing intro. My partner charged straight in with sliced saddle of venison accompanied by a celeriac and horseradish splurge. The venison was absolutely thrilling: sweet, soft, rich and compelling. Almost the high point of the meal. Almost.
My partner’s main was a couple of slabs of Gloucester Old Spot pork, smoked and pot roasted with marrow and potatoes. Lovely, but almost too easy for a place like this. Let’s be honest, roast pork is great but it’s not a culinary journey into the unknown. Which made me terribly glad that I’d chosen ox heart. Sliced into thin strips and pan fried, with excellent crispy chips in attendance, it was a dark and dangerous plateful of meaty joy. I really, really cannot recommend it highly enough. The wine list veered into the overly expensive, but there were plenty of reasonably bottles for under £35 and a youngish burgundy served to wash all this goodness down.
After the mains, desserts were almost comic in their simplicity. My strawberry sorbet with a shot of ice-cold vodka freshened me up nicely, while figs in honey with a crème fraiche accompaniment was lovely and comforting but very rich after all that meat.
St John is probably not for everyone, although the packed dining room on Friday night seemed to say otherwise. It’s also not cheap, with dinner for two (including a £35 bottle of wine) coming in at over £100 with tip. Still, it’s an experience you’ll find in few other places. My advice is to go, bury any misgivings you have, and choose something you’re really not too sure about. If you like meat, I give you a 90% chance you’ll love what you’re given.
49 Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London NW1 6UH
Some of our cousins from across the pond or over the Channel may take a certain view on the idiosyncrasies of 'British’ cooking. There are the names, for a start. Spotted Dick. Toad in the Hole. Severed Retina in Suet. I may have made one of those up.
Fish 'n’ Chips (you have to use the 'n’... it’s traditional) is a timeless example of the genre, and has the added advantage of being What It Says On The Tin. And we should make the distinction here. Chips are not fries. Fries are thin, and made of cardboard. Chips are thick and made of grease.
I have spent at least some of my life living in Yorkshire, and they take their fish 'n’ chips seriously up there. The Seashell, though, is the equal of any Northern pretender. The pisces in question are spanking fresh and sheathed in light crispy batter. The chips, contrary to the laws passed down from parent to issue throughout the annals of British culinary history, are crisp. And they sell big bloody gherkins to go with them. Gherkins, as I may have mentioned in a previous review, are good. Oh yes, and they sell proper scampi, which remind me of being 8. Christ knows why. I must have eaten a lot of scampi as a young fella.
All the usual suspects are present. I’m talking about the fish, not the clientele. There is, oddly, a restaurant attached to the chippy. Or perhaps it’s a chippy attached to a restaurant. The room is clean and faintly 50s-looking, and the service is nice and friendly and tends to be a tad slow. I spend occasional Fridays having lunch there - it’s my Catholic upbringing - and in this instance I don’t really mind if the food takes a while. If I was rushing on a Monday, I might feel differently.
Here’s the kicker… it isn’t cheap. Lunch will set you back £11 for fish and - sorry, 'n’ - chips, or the takeaway is £6 or thereabouts, depending on what you have. Annoyingly, at the takeaway you pay extra for sauces like ketchup and tartare, which would seem to me to be necessities rather than luxuries. Still, it’s a small sacrifice for what is a fine, nay, pre-eminent example of the genre. Don’t forget your gherkin.
13 Eyre Street Hill, London EC1R 5ET
I have a select list of pubs. I’m happy with them. Rare indeed is it that I edge one out, or add a newbie. They’re there for a reason.
Recently, however, I’ve been forced - after much soul-searching and angst - to remove Kensington’s Cumberland Arms from my list. I just never go there anymore. As a result, there’s a vacancy on the list. Landlords, take note. Publicans, change the keg and wipe down your bar staff. I’m a-looking.
I went to the Gunmakers during Satan time. Which is to say, I was there at 7 on a Friday. Now I’ll grant you, 7 on a Friday is one of the most perfect times of the week for those of us that slog the 9-5. Problem is, chucking-out-of-work time usually equals full-to-bursting-pub time. And the latter does not a happy Guernican make. So imagine my surprise when I rocked up to meet my sophisticated, witty chums and found them in a sophisticated, witty, and above all reasonably quiet pub. On a Friday. In Clerkenwell. I know. You could have floored me with a cornichon.
To celebrate, we had some cornichons. They came with chicken liver pate and nice crusty bread, and were good. Very good, for bar grub. We punished the draught Guinness, which tastes like draught Guinness always tastes in London, then tried some wine. Sauvignon Blanc not bad at all. Pinot Noir good. Later, a dram or two of Laphroaig was also good, but you can’t really give the bar credit for that. And besides, everything was tasting good by that stage.
It’s nice. It’s almost 4-star nice. Nice is a rubbish word, but here it works. It’s pleasant. It’s airy. It’s roomyish. It has space and the back, a couple of tables out front, and a pair of drop-dead delectable girls behind the bar. Go. Did I say it was nice?
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