Monday, 30 January 2012

Long White Cloud

Long White Cloud is quite an innocuous little place in amongst the inner city mix of charm and squalor that Hackney Road juggles so well. Squalor often wins out, so it’s nice to see little patches of ‘loveliness’ emanating out from Columbia Road and Shoreditch High Street.

As the name describes, it’s a Kiwi joint doing coffee and breakfast. It’s not a fancy one by any means and isn’t particularly stylised or slick. The space is long, narrow and cluttered, but with enough varied seating to relax. There were a few people just chilling out on the wi-fi, which you could never do at Lantana for example.

Breakfast offerings are pretty simple. The French Toast with bacon and banana was a fulfilling dish. I’m always torn between fruit compote/blueberries and bacon with my pancakes or French toast. How refreshing to be offered both. 

This very attractive plate of food also contained some spinach leaves with a drizzle of oil, adding colour and freshness (and a little healthy virtuousness) to well grilled bacon, generous banana and filling french toast – all made at the grilling station behind the till – American deli style. At £6.50 it comes in at half the price of Bill Granger’s with double the amount of bacon (must get over that) and is definitely more satisfying.

My friend had the muesli which was good quality and piled high with shredded green apple and natural yoghurt. Again, well-priced at £3.50.

Coffee is Monmouth and strong. The wall is lined with local artists’ works, and the back has a few shelves of Antipodean chocolates and other bits for homesick Kiwis. 

Another solid breakfast and coffee option for an area with more and more choice. This joins Allpress, Story, Nude and Leila’s, among many others…

Food – 7/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 9/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10
Long White Cloud on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


I’d wanted to visit Iberica ever since Marina O’Loughlin of Metro fame gave it such a glowing review. I’m a massive tapas fan, as anybody going through this blog’s keywords would quickly realise. The appeal for me is the relaxed buzz and that it takes me back to warm nights in Spain, knocking back cañas and cava, and wolfing all manner of meats and cheeses. 

Of course, not all tapas is traditional and safe. El Pirata de Tapas in W2 and Barrafina are both more adventurous and urban, and the recent opening Copita offers another fresh take on it. Iberica is similarly slick with some creative use of ingredients and presentation.

The location is a little staid, being at the very top of Great Portland Street by the eponymous tube station. Its neighbours are the Portland Hospital and not too much in the way of foodie or coffee stuff (save Villandry) so it’s quite alone here.

The space is cavernous. A little disconcertingly so, especially with the lack of music and the bright lights. It does feel a little like it could be in a mall or an airport. Featureless high ceilings and mezzanine levels can do that.

Food itself was good though, a little punchy on the prices but excellent quality. Patatas bravas (£5.65 – eek) came with two options: the more paprika aioli sauce (Catalan?) or the more spicy tomato sauce. I liked this as it’s can be a bit Russian Roulette which one you get sometimes.

Fresh bread was warm and came with a very fruity oil.

Chorizo lollipops with pear aioli were delicious, inventive and fun (£5.60), and the padron peppers were perfect: hot and salty with a little zing. They were very pricey though at £6.90 - I'm used to them being among the cheapest staples on a tapas menu.

Asparagus tosta (bruschetta effectively) with truffle oil was fine and not overpowered. I’m not sure where it came from in December but it certainly wasn’t this hemisphere.

Jamon de teruel (£9.70) was silky and rich. They do many more high-end Jamon Iberico types – as can be witnessed at their deli counter.

The mixed cheese and meats platter (£12.30) gave a little more variety of the usual lomos, chorizos and manchegos – worthy of note was the Spanish blue (first piece alrerady eaten in the pic) which I’d not had before and was excellent.

Croquetas didn’t compare to José, but is there ever such a thing as a bad one? Sprinklings of paprika was a nice touch.

The apricot sorbet, chocolate, olive oil and strawberries was amazing. As was all the booze.

Overall, I liked Iberica but I didn’t love it. The food was thoughtful and well executed, and very carefully presented. The service was a little bit patchy considering the amount of staff on – I’ve been in tapas joints in Spain where one person has run the place with ease. Even though it was fairly busy, it felt quiet and a touch sterile. Lower lighting and decent music would help to bring some much-needed intimacy to the space.

One final event but probably the most memorable, and dare I say authentically Spanish: a couple of old gypsies came in begging at the tables! This goes on in Spain with a blind eye turned, and certainly when sitting outside, but I’d have expected a quicker reaction in London. The staff saw them enter and didn’t rush to evict them or appear very surprised – to the extent of “Oh, them again…”

Maybe the Spanish are a little more tolerant, but the diners were pretty astonished and I can’t imagine many them would return. No matter what kind of person or cuisine it is, you don’t expect beggars in a London restaurant.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 6/10
Value – 6/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 8/10
Iberica on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Back to Bill’s

Just a brief recap of my second and final trip to Granger & Co. After my previous review I had said that I’d return for the brunch, which is certainly what I’ve been fondest of in my trips to his Sydney eateries. The hotcakes specifically.

I was even asked to come back and try it again by a PR after some teething problems, so I did. Of course, anonymously and self-financed. I don’t need a theatrical performance of redemption and obsequiousness.

It’s still very busy and popular. That isn’t their fault. What is, is a complete lack of any control over their crowd. People were spilling across the entrance, a woman’s handbag was bashing a diner, people were hovering over tables gawping at food. It was appalling. BAA have done better in a snowstorm.

They should make more than about 4-6 people wait outside. 

So we waited for ages, but eventually got our table. Ricotta hotcakes (£10.50) were good, silky and rich. The dish became a little repetitive even though the portion wasn’t huge, and they sit quite heavily. But they were good, I can’t deny that.

Like my man Mr. Noodles said, the sweetcorn fritters (£11.90) were decent but a tiny portion. You really have to make that one rasher of bacon sing, a bit like WW2 rations. Although Mr. Granger, we will not meet again...

The Piglet wanted an egg on the side – “Sorry we don’t poach eggs” proclaims the waiter at London’s hottest brunch place. Erm, ok. You must have some mad kitchen skills back there. 

Very Fordist I must say – even Burger King lets you have it your way. A consolatory side of scrambled eggs had not seen an iota of seasoning. Bland, like the experience.

So thanks Bill but no thanks.

I think I’ll keep you as my taste of Sydney – the frenetic profiteering operation in London I can do without. Back to The Providores everyone!

Granger & Co on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Pitt Cue Co.

Pitt Cue is finally here.

I could ramble on about it being the year of the night market/food truck, or indeed the continuation of no reservations – although at about 30 covers when they get their stools, not unreasonable here.

I could mention the “new Meat Liquor”, “queuing at The Cue” or theories about the NY-ification of London’s food scene, and a million other foodie clichés also too.

Many are true, but more are irrelevant. As frankly, Pitt Cue is just damn good.

bourbon with your red wine, sir?

Sometimes I have a flash of clarity and remember that this food blogging game isn’t about science, history or deep social commentary, but the fundamentals of great food and a good time. Copious booze usually supports this too. And Pitt Cue certainly delivers.

Bit of a wait upstairs but nothing major. New York Sour (£6) to get me in the mood - bit heavy on the wine though! The other one wasn't drinking.

Pork scratchings were as they should be; crunchy, fresh and fatty. Although these were a touch cold and I think at least room temperature could be better. We didn't really have time to care though as the big boys arrived pretty much straight afterwards.

brisket and friends
Beef brisket (£9.50 including a side) was nicely cooked; the plentiful strips had a slow cooked taste but a shade of pinkness too. You can really taste the smoke, as the BBQ sauce is generally served on the side.

St Louis Ribs (also £9.50 with side) are pork ribs but big ones, not baby back. Again, the taste is in the meat and the smokey charring. They have a bit of bite too - you have to work for them. For those who prefer them sliding off, drowning in BBQ sauce, Bodean's isn't a long walk! Or you can add your own.

St. Louis ribs

Sides here are also set to be legendary, and really what help set it apart from The Other Place. These are no chips or onion rings, it's all proper down home stuff. Not that it's boring - the amazing mash comes with a lovely topping of burnt ends, and the baked beans are home made, in a rich sauce with proper turtle beans. You also get a hunk of grilled bread, incredible pickles and slaw in your Labour & Wait retro-style tin. It's like a Dirty South bento box.

A side of chicken wings (£4) was a deceptively generous portion of wing nestled in a moderate hot sauce. Very nice, moreish, gloopy and everything they should be. A more Confederate type of wing to the Yankee buffalo with blue cheese dip, but no worse for it.

Desserts are good. Service is friendly, although it'd be hard not to get attention in this tiny space. I guarantee it'll be packed solid for month and months. On being the new Meat Liquor, I think it'll be hugely popular but I don't think it has that rock 'n roll, hedonistic objective to it. It's not a club, and with no NFL in sight either, it's just a great place to grab some ribs and a proper drink.

Like the late great Pat Butcher, they're all about the smoking and the drinking here. Doris and Ethel, the named smokers in the kitchen, have done an excellent job. You can follow them on Twitter.

So once again, another great addition to an area already overrun with options in every price range and cuisine imaginable.
Food – 9/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 5/10 (not offered, not requested)
Staff Hotness – 8/10
Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Lucky Pig

No pics and no food.

Not much to go on then, for a review. But I thought I should say a few words about The Lucky Pig, a new cocktail joint in deepest Fitzrovia.

It's ok. Instant reminder of The Worship Street Whistling Shop, but less designed. And it's not trying the whole prohibition thing, but it's not quite clear exactly what they're going for. It's still something of an underground speakeasy. I've since read it might be something New Orleans focused, which I didn't get at all.

Table service was attentive and the staff were generally very affable. The cocktails themselves were quite a compendious lot. These newfangled places usually only have about four on the list, made with weird bitters, tinctures, syrups and tonics you're never heard of. Often medicinal and minging too.

But The Lucky Pig has a solid list of modern classics (not a Woo Woo in sight) as well as some more inventive numbers. I had about five or six, and can't quite remember each one. My favourite, the New York Sour was made correctly, but was a little bit weak. In New York, you'd get some grief for that.

My friends' cocktails also tasted like they'd been assiduously measured to 50ml rather than free-poured. At £10 and up and with 12.5% on top, it's not really in the, er, spirit of things.

The crowd was a W1 fun lot, party people who couldn't be arsed to head to Dalston so early. Special mention to the 80s pop soundtrack which was excellent.

It's a good effort, but I'm still not quite sure about The Lucky Pig. And I don't think it can get away from feeling like a damp basement, rather than the underground den of hedonism. Indeed, their New Year's Eve party was closed by flooding.

And finally, for a bar aspiring to The Lucky Pig's calibre, the £1 charge for coats at about 6:30pm is tacky and rapacious. I could happily have spun around and gone to Riding House. Given that is many people's first impression, it's pretty myopic and frankly dumb. Surely the aim is to be an alternative to the shit West End clubs?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bleeding Heart Tavern

I had a lovely lunch at The Bleeding Heart Tavern just before Christmas, which was a new place for me. I’ve not been to the more formal restaurant either, so I was keen to dip a toe in here. For some reason I was expecting something like The London Dungeon, all blood, guts and pigs' heads everywhere. I was only marginally disappointed, because what I got was a pub cum bistro with great staff and good grub.

It’s an old pub near Hatton Garden, and seems to balance the pub/restaurant dynamic with ease. The vibe is more Edwardian Dining Room of Gluttony than generic gastropub and it has 'great period features' as Foxtons' filth might say.

They own their own vineyard in New Zealand called Trinity Hill which pushes out the house wines; we tried a pinot noir and a shiraz and both were excellent, especially for the price (£4ish). Didn’t ask about the wine miles!

To eat, the bloggers’ nightmare: two people, stubbornly on the same main. It was the bavette steak, well-cooked with excellent chips. Pet peeve (at the risk of repeating myself as it was the same at LesDeux Salons) but the bavette wasn’t sliced to serve. Which I think makes it a bit of a faff as it’s not the easiest cut to slice correctly.

It was in a rich red wine jus, and good value at £12.95. Had some roasted parsnips on the side too, feeling all festive. They were sweet and with those burnt ends I love (£2.95).

Service was attentive and very friendly. The manager was great and topped up our wine – higher than the paid-for level! Of course we left buzzing and raving about the place, cheap dates that we are. Very shrewd!

The menu was extremely varied and there were numerous things I could have ordered – and will definitely go back for, like the rotisserie menu. It’s not as carnivorous as the name and reputation might imply either, and has a decent mix of people and buzz too. 

I wouldn’t say it’s a destination place but it’s very solid if you’re in the area. And especially if you fancy a cheap NZ winery tour!
Food – 7/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 2/10 (not offered and then forgotten on request)
Staff Hotness – 8/10 (couple of French hotties)

Bleeding Heart on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Les Deux Salons

carrot with your bavette, monsieur?

A quick one on a recent trip to Les Deux Salons, the French bistro which will be known by many as the old Pitcher & Piano by Trafalgar Square. And what a transformation.

The dining room is bold, mature and quite authentically Parisian in style. Or possibly Lyonnais too, I do keep seeing things about Lyon’s culinary scene. Anyway, it’s more simple and less over-stylised like a Café Rouge.

It’s a grand place, with a strong sense of occasion to it. Our meal wasn’t a long one – mains and dessert. And champers, and wine. Fantastic wine list, and I’ll be damned if I can remember what we had but it was certainly good value. Hic!

The rib of beef for two (£22.50) was fantastic. And great value. A generous portion, perfectly charred and even more perfectly pink, and nicely salted. Having had a few lacklustre chateaubriands and sharing steaks in my time, I wasn’t expecting great things, but it was delicious.

Another in our party had the bavette which at £15.50 is approaching the realms of pricier cuts. It inexplicably had a whole, massive carrot which was frankly bonkers. 
It was served in a pan with juices aplenty, a thoughtful touch for a cut which usually needs some moisture. Not pre-sliced though, and unless one is a butcher experienced at ‘the grain’, I’ve found bavettes can be less satisfying when you end up mutilating them.

The macaroni with butternut squash and wild mushrooms was creamy, cheesy, rich and indulgent. Veggie tick! And again served in the pan, although punchy at £15.95.

Fries were solid; gratin dauphinois was better (both £3.75). And a luxurious accompaniment to the steak.

At dessert, we had more booze and the cheeseboard. Oh, and the apple tart which was excellent. Nice caramelised apples with some bite left (I hate it too soggy I’m afraid so prefer this style to tarte tatin) and the obligatory scoop of vanilla which cannot fail to enhance a dessert. Much like bacon with a main course. 

But this vanilla was a slice and reminded me of that weird astronaut ice cream.

In terms of clientele, it is a fairly mature place and given the location, there are lots of theatre goers, people taking their London-visiting parents, dates, Euros, work dinners….it’s not Duck Soup or Polpo, but not everywhere has to be so sceney. It’s characterful and quite regal considering what it was. Must be one of the best renovations I’ve ever witnessed. It could have been here for years, if the mirrors were a tad smokier!

The bar possibly isn’t being utilised as well as it could be, or maybe it was just a bit quieter when we were in. Walk-ins and theatre dining are encouraged, but more of a cocktail scene would give this place the edge. It’ll certainly be in for a fight in terms of profile when Balthazar lands on these shores, but the excellent food and service should see it do absolutely fine in the longer term.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10
Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal