Friday, 30 December 2011


Let me start by admitting that my pictures of Copita are terrible. So awful that I’m pretty embarrassed to post them up. The food was also largely mauled before I got my chance.

Copita is a tapas bar on D’Arblay Street, right by the corner of Bodeans on Poland Street. It used to be a crap bar, and the makeover is incredible. It looks and feels like an authentic yet modern Iberian drinking den. It’s yellow and sultry, with great tiles and moody low lighting. Hence my rubbish pictures.

a touch of almodovar?

It’s more bar than restaurant, and the stools don’t really encourage lingering mainly due to a lack of back support. Sounds old fogeyish perhaps, but once one person in our group proclaimed their gyp, the rest concurred.

Come here for the drinking. There’s a long list of interesting Spanish wines and plenty of sherries also.

The food is still very good though. As well as great bread & oil, and massive olives like inflated manzanillas, we had grilled iberico pork, served medium rare which was delicious. That seems to be a hugely popular dish for London in 2011 and it’s done well here.

We also had venison which was possibly even tastier. Portions of both of the meat dishes were a little small for the price, especially the venison. Some scallops and a mixed cured meats and cheese platter were also solid. Special mention to the Spanish blue cheese as well as the generous chunks of manchego.

iberico presa

I’m a fan of Barrica, Copita’s elder sibling in Goodge St, but that is better equipped as a restaurant for people to seriously dine in. Copita is different, but it’s in a different area too which it should take advantage of. Service was friendly and Spanish; you really could have been in a bar in Madrid. And I think that is where Copita is best placed in the market.

I don’t think I’d plan to have a big, long dinner here because it’s not overly comfortable but it’s a brilliant atmospheric place for a glass of wine or two and some authentic tapas. Especially with some attention to the music and the bloody furniture (supported barstools?), and if it had Madrid opening hours...

Food – 7/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10

Copita on Urbanspoon 
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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Come Dine With Me - Christmas Special

What an honour it was to to be invited to join the Come Dine With Me Christmas Special. In a real grown-ups' house in Holland Park! And in such illustrious, erudite company too.

On the menu was trout with a small soup and cornichons and stuff-I-can't-remember salad.
Followed by a massive goose, with all the trimmings.
And finally, a ridiculously rich Yule log.

All washed down with lashings of, prosecco and red wine. Grammy Awards were held, politics was argued, George Michael managed to pop by, and our resident expert on the Twittersphere and all things celeb educated us about Scousers' jaunts in curlers (recently proven) and rubbing shoulders with Makosi.

Top stuff - I'm ineligible for voting of course, but it was a definite 10. So in the spirit of scoring here at TPT Towers:

Food – 9/10 (bit fishy for this fussy pig)
Drink – 9/10
Service - 10/10
Value – 10/10
Tap water tales – 2/10 (positively Saharan I recall)
Staff Hotness – 11/10 (bonus point for the radiators)


God Jul!

Christmas Eve Norwegian Style including pinnekjøtt.
Christmas Day Traditional British.
Boxing Day Hunt-themed Game Spread.


Special guest: Mr Darcy!

homemade game terrine on the left

haunch of venison

Le Relais de Venise / L'Entrecote

Simple. Brilliant. Lazy. Rude. Boring. Tacky. Naff. Genius.

If I were a Zagat guide, cobbled together with snappy one-liners from sub-editors diners, I might use some of these to describe ‘Le Relais de Venise  L’Entrecote’, or The Entrecote as I’ve always called it. This is that place where the only meal is a Parisian walnut and mixed leaf salad, drowned in mustard gloop, and then steak and chips. And the gimmick is that; there’s no menu and you’re only asked how you like your steak. Then of course, there’s the irony of a compendious dessert offering. And it seems to be a love-hate place.

So, to declare early, I’m in the ‘love’ camp. The salad I’m not bothered about, but I think the steak frites are great. Nice rare slices of bavette/onglet, drenched in a mystery sauce which is more like chip shop/Chinese curry sauce than anything French I can discern. And completely inundated with hot, crunchy fries, some of the best around. If you like chips, this is the place for you. 

Especially if you’re a vegetarian, where the menu on offer is the same, but with extra chips and no steak, and dessert thrown in. The sadist in me loves the lack of concession there.


The venue itself is a pastiche of a Parisian bistro - even though it started in Paris, it’s still a cliché. I’m not sure about the ‘Venise’ element except for the rather horrendously ugly artwork of Venetian scenes which pollutes the walls like 360 degree projectile vomit. I think smoky mirrors and old French adverts might have been a bit better.


Service is efficient verging on strict, but you get what you need and the whole process is expertly juggled. The maid-uniformed waitresses are experts at serving up the two servings of steak, frites and sauce with their masterful spoon/fork tonging, and are coquettish enough to exonerate a touch of attitude.

Desserts are fine, probably pre-made and frozen but nobody cares. The house wine is drinkable and the atmosphere is quite upbeat. There are hordes of tourists, rich ex-pats with spoilt children and all sorts of other people you might only mix with in airports, but it’s all pretty harmonious. And it never fails to deliver, as the frequent queues attest. 

happy face

Food – 8/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 6/10
Value – 7/10 (salad & steak is £21 but the bill can creep up with booze)
Tap water tales – 6/10
Staff Hotness – 8/10
Le Relais de Venise on Urbanspoon 
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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cay Tre

I must hold my hands up and admit that I’m no expert on Vietnamese food. I’ve always found it palatable, but never as exciting as Thai for example.It’s greener, fresher and more healthy tasting than Thai or Chinese, but doesn’t give me the same exotic frisson at all.

I’ve not been to Vietnam, one obvious explanation I’m sure, and I’ve never been a huge frequenter of the hipster BYO joints on Kingsland Road either. But I have been to Pho a few times, and a couple of places on Melbourne's Victoria Street too and it's never rocked my world. Vietnamese food’s surge in trendiness, mapped with London’s most hipster, faddy area is no coincidence.

But I'm an open-minded pig and having read some good excited comments about Cay Tre on Dean Street, I was keen to give it a go. Service and welcome were friendly, although it was so busy the bar area felt more like a crowded bus shelter at times, especially with everyone’s big coats, scarves and shopping bags.

We started with some various spring rolls and the table-griddled beef: quite a deal at £7 per person for the ceremony of it all. It’s basically making up your own summer rolls, with some slices of beef to grill on a hot plate and the usual accompaniments such as coriander, chilli, lime, onions and some salad. And rice paper to roll it all up into. It’s fun but as the beef isn’t marinated or anything, it needs severe seasoning or some sort of dipping sauce. Quite anticlimactic upon eating.

The Tiu Bowl (£9) was a reasonable dish. Pho noodles and a veritable meat feast (chicken, beef strips and bbq pork) in a stock base, but not enough to be a soup. The amount of meat was generous, but the stock tasted of nothing and lacked the ‘tangy sourness’ described.

Pork loin with vermicelli (£9) was also quite meaty. Small bites of crab and pork spring rolls were a little bonus. The pork loin was subtly but well flavoured. Again, well executed and cooked, but no element of thrill at all. 

The staff were effective when it came to a nut allergy thing with a friend. The restaurant itself was like a furnace and so quite uncomfortable. And I found it quite pricey compared to my perceptions. I know it’s a little patronising and unrealistic to expect all Asian food to be good value, but I can’t help it sometimes especially with the precedent of Vietnamese joints in London. This wasn’t exceptional cooking and so the bill didn’t sit quite right. The bottle of prosecco was about £36!

I’m no doubt green and ordered the wrong things, and I happily admit to liking Pho's spicy red soups, but this just did nothing for me. The food was frankly very plain. I know it’s subjective and based on expectations, but one man’s delicate is another man’s bland.

Food – 5/10
Drink – 6/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 3/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 5/10
Cay Tre Soho on Urbanspoon 
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Tuesday, 13 December 2011


What can I really add that hasn’t already been said about Zucca? In a few short years, this modern, neighbourhood Italian has elevated itself to cult status. And not just within the foodie world, but with the wider public too. A weekend evening table here can be as hard to get as at The Ivy, and the food’s better too. The huge windows convey a continuing parade of taxis, with diners piling out, some quizzically wondering where the hell they are.

Anchoring the southern end of Bermondsey Street, Zucca has played no small part in the ascendancy of the area. Even this former dodgy end of the street now has an art-house cinema, great bookshop and farmers’ market, and this is before even touching on Maltby Street. It really is an exciting place to be, but Zucca hasn’t strayed from its earnest, unchanging proposition of quality ingredients, zen-like simplicity, fantastic value and a fresh, clean feel. 

To start, some antipasti dishes (all a steal at £3-5) including the legendary ‘Zucca fritti’  Which is exactly what is says; fried pumpkin, and it is absolutely delicious. An underdog contender for Zucca’s most cultish dish, the tempura pumpkin is bountiful, hot, crispy, salty, completely without grease and just an excellent snack. 

A plate of San Daniele ham and Milano and ventricina salamis is great value too, and the silky San Daniele sits perfectly alongside the spicy, almost chorizo-like ventricina. Breads are baked in-house and served warm. The olive oil is so richly flavoured, it’s almost enough for a whole meal. They have even rebranded it from Planeta to Zucca’s own brand, so great has the demand been for it. It’s a golden yellow but tastes of a greener unfiltered oil. 

My friend goes for the casarecci with pork & fennel ragu, parmesan (£8 or 10, astutely generous differential) which is al dente, meaty, with the fennel so bold that you might think there was a shot of absinthe on the table, and piles of pre-added, quality parmesan and black pepper on top. A great plate of comfort food. It’s just as well Zucca only regularly offer 2-3 pastas, as they’re so irresistible that they can pull a diner away from their secondi. But not quite…

Zucca’s veal chop is about £16 and truly something to behold. A perfectly grilled chop, with charring and nicely pink, is served on a bed of spinach and drizzled with lemon juice. In a West End restaurant, you’d end up blowing another twenty quid on sides, but this doesn’t need anything. It’s massive, juicy and full of flavour. And now one of London’s legendary dishes.

A quick affogato for dessert at Zucca means two massive scoops of creamy, malt vanilla floating in a smooth espresso. Among the best I’ve had.

This is the new London school of Italian, definitely taking more inspiration from The River Café than the red sauce ‘pizza-pasta-rias’ of old. And with others like Trullo, Tinello, Bocca di Lupo and of course Russell Norman’s Polpo dens, we’re really starting to be spoiled.

Service is solid – efficient and informed, young yet passionate, without any Dolmio nonsense. Well, a tiny bit. Just enough. And no service charge is added, which is a rarity these days.

So if you want The River Café gastronomic salivations but without the financial palpitations, get yourself down Bermondsey Street, far cooler - and more central - than the arse end of Hammersmith will ever be.

Food – 9/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 9/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10 (young, engaged Italians)
Zucca on Urbanspoon 
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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dean Street Townhouse

Bar snacks are important. And I’m not sure why they aren’t generally better, especially in more classic cocktail and hotel type bars. Southern European places generally have plates of meats, cheeses and picky bits, but cocktail bars don’t usually offer much more sustenance than nuts or olives.

Serious grub, such as this absolutely delicious sausage roll, or the tangy Welsh rarebit below (both £6), will keep a drinker drinking when his appetite kicks in and his potential bar spend is on the wane (cynical much?)

At Dean Street Townhouse, I love sitting at the bar and taking in the Soho buzz. They have a great range of drinks and the service is top notch. I’ve eaten fully here a few times, and sadly have found the menu a little spiritless. I completely appreciate the intention, but there is no flourish, colour or joy with much of it. Cross the road to Bistro du Vin for a more passionate kitchen, but linger here for the booze and the bar accompaniments to soak it up.

Dean Street Townhouse on Urbanspoon 
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Friday, 2 December 2011


Sauntered down Bermondsey Street to get stuck in to the soft launch of José Pizarro’s new restaurant – Pizarro. José is the chef who set up José (see a theme here?) on the same street, but was also involved in setting up the Brindisa tapas places. In short, we owe him a lot.

He’s extremely passionate about Spanish food, and this was ever true when I visited, as he was in the open kitchen cheffing away, but also taking time out to meet and greet people. Encouraging to see such a work ethic, as I believe these things are contagious and cascade down.

It’s a full service restaurant, serving classic and modern Spanish dishes rather than tapas, which I think is relatively rare in London. Spanish food is usually synonymous with tapas, so it’s great to see perceptions being changed and something a little different on offer.

Of course the Spanish are great carnivores and know how to cook meat exquisitely, and rumours on Twitter abound of José’s pig cheeks braised in cava, so I was salivating on the walk down. And did I mention this is London’s first cava bar? ¡Me gusta!

It was hugely busy, and after a wait (no reservations of course, it’s 2011!) we had a seat at the bar and a flute of cava. The front of house staff were fantastic; very well organised, friendly (and attractive), managing the crowd of hopeful arrivals with ease. Bill Granger could do worse than talk to José about his hiring policy.

My one concession to tapas was a portion of José’s famous ham croquettes, but they’d run out! I guess they’re pre-made in the afternoon or something. One glitch to watch out for, as they’ll be hugely popular. Also my pig cheeks in cava were missing from the menu.

I heard they’ll be doing charcuterie which is a good idea especially if one is waiting at the bar (maximise revenue from the queue!) but hopefully won't cannibalise José or distract from the goal of taking Spanish food beyond platters of ham and cheese.

Smoked salmon with beetroot salad and egg yolk was an interesting dish. Very fresh tasting and the yolk provided a luxurious richness to the salmon.

The butternut squash was stuffed with blue cheese and pomegranate seeds. Good dish, but the accompaniments provided more of the flavour than the squash itself. Once they ran out, it was a little hard going and dense. So this squash could do with some more friends.

pic doesn't do it justice but the squash was a big boy...

The quail with romesco sauce was fiddly, but extremely tasty. The quail was well cooked, and the romesco was nutty and crunchy (not smooth) with hints of garlic not overpowering the pine nuts. A bowl of that sauce and a loaf of bread would make me a happy man. Delicious.

Lamb with lentils was an ambiguous description of the first main. But we needn’t have worried about a solitary, starved lollipop: the dish was plentiful slices of tender, rare lamb, charred very nicely indeed. The lentils? Barely noticed them I'm afraid as the lamb was so damn good.

The pork (iberica speciale?) with olive oil mash and piquillo peppers was another strong dish. The pork was cooked medium rare (so London 2011) but in small strips so it wouldn’t be a problem for anyone of a nervous disposition, and tasted great. It reminded me of a more grown up, gastronomic version of my beloved pork escalope dish from holidays in Spain – usually with peppercorn sauce and chips!

The peppers were amazing, full of bold Spanish flavour. The mash and the pork itself were a tiny bit too oily however.

Desserts were a rice pudding with some sort of stewed fruits (rich but very good) and two scoops of the freshest, sweetest pear sorbet, swimming in a tumbler of cava. Amazing.

not for sharing!
I had a great time at Pizarro and I’m sure it’ll be hugely popular. Décor is modern, with a cool wooden ceiling, discreetly Iberian tiling and simple, modernist furniture. Toilets have Aesop products.Wine list is good but punchy (scant under £20), with plenty of carafes available. The crowd will no doubt be the usual luvvies and hipsters of Bermondsey Street.

With Zucca next door, it is in very esteemed company but will have no problems holding its own. The simplicity, value and freshness make it like a Spanish equivalent of Zucca, almost.

As with José up the street, Pizarro will no doubt be a great addition to what is already one of London’s most dynamic urban villages.

Food – 8/10 (weighty yet simple - could do with some salads or sides though)
Drink – 8/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 8/10 (ignoring the great 50% soft launch, starters are £6-8 and mains £13-16)
Tap water tales – 10/10 (filtered still and sparkling carafes brought for free!)  
Staff Hotness - 9/10
Pizarro  on Urbanspoon 
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