Tuesday, 28 February 2012

10 Greek Street

Is there anything quite as coveted as a great local restaurant? 

Especially in London, where commuting is a rarely a pleasure, W1 at the weekend is handed over to the Home Counties, and ‘villages’ are fetishised within the sprawl, like estate agent’s fantasies. 

The problem in this era of inflation, crazy property prices and the resulting necessity to live in East London, is that if you don’t live near a Trullo or a Pizarro, you’re bang out of luck. Step forward therefore 10 Greek Street, a new place with a neighbourhood feel but bang in the middle of Soho.

The food is simple stuff. I’m not sure how specifically it’s pitched or envisaged, but I’d say it was Modern European/British. Each dish has barely 3-4 ingredients and is simply presented.

To start, I had the charcutierie platter (£7) from the bar menu. I loved the vintage china which reminded me of those scamps at Foxcroft and Ginger. Some finocchiona, prosciutto and a darker, smokier ham surrounded a treasure trove of caperberries, cornichons and whole garlic cloves.

The Piglet had a ham terrine invention with crusty bread and some accompaniments. It seemed to be mainly fat.

The mains we ordered didn’t have too much to distinguish between them, both around £16. Here is where the simplicity of the menu led to duplication.

The pigeon breast, served with kale and shallots, was quite undercooked. The breast itself was attractive and plump, and it should be rare but that is why the breast filled are usually removed. When on the bone, rare becomes almost alive and the plate resembled a the scene of a massacre. 

Pheasant, served with kale and parsnip puree was a better dish. The pheasant was on the bone but cooked properly, well-seasoned and spatchcocked to enable even charring.

game bird and kale #1

The menu changes frequently though, and a look today shows more variety than our visit, but our friend the kale is still the obligatory green, and there are plenty of dishes consisting of “ingredients 1,2,3 – done”.

Now onto the wine. I’m not quite sure if the person behind the wine list is a charitable, Dionysian soul, or perhaps is oblivious of the going rate of decent plonk in W1, but it’s hugely good value, to the point of cheap.

There are many lovely drops like those Californian Zins that they usually hoard for themselves, Oregon Pinot Noir, and much from across Europe. Loads by the glass at £6 and under, including prosecco and champagne.

game bird and kale #2

The service was a tad scatty early on, but got better throughout the evening, befitting a neighbourhood restaurant. It’s cosy but loud, so Andrew Edmunds will be just fine. The whole place is pretty bloody warm, so in summer up at that bar, you’ll struggle. If they could install big windows that opened out onto the street, that would be brilliant.

Nonetheless we lingered for over 3 hours, plundering the normally aspirational depths of the wine list. I’ll be back and I sincerely hope they stay focused on the food – even if everybody else is too pissed to notice.

And in true Soho style, we skipped dessert and hauled our wino selves down to Gelupo for Central London's best gelato (I still prefer Dri Dri). The lady swore my peach granita and pistachio gelato was a popular combo! I'm not so sure...

Food – 7/10
Drink – 10/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 5/10 (requested twice early on during rubbish service, but carafed and topped up thereafter)
Staff Hotness – 8/10

10 Greek Street on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Salusbury Pizzeria

The Salusbury Pizzeria is the night-time incarnation of their deli and café – itself part of quite the local empire. Notwithstanding all scurrilous rumours of wife-swapping, benefaction and fragile partnerships, the two guys who set up these foodie establishments in Queens Park have always been ahead of the curve.

Like little Russell Normans of the North Weezy, they succeed in creating good, buzzy atmospheres and are excellent product buyers (the wine shop has exceptional food, beers and spirits in addition to regular wines and enomatic bar service too). 

The pizza here is authentically Italian and yet a bit more contemporary in ambition – toppings such as bresaola, nduja, pecorino and pancetta show a respect for their clientele and a more thoughtful approach to ingredients. Even Pizza Express do a rendition of that naughties favourites of prosciutto, rocket and parmesan I believe.

The “pea n ‘am” – or pancetta, gorgonzola with sweet piselli is a handsome looking chap.

This fellow is a pizza bianca with chicken, pesto and mixed peppers:

And this bad boy sports olives, mixed peppers and spicy, crumbled nduja sausage from Calabria. With a little chilli oil, this pizza had a real zing.

Service is friendly and efficient. Drinks are a little bit lacking considering, but I appreciate they may not want to cannibalise their enomatic bar or pub by offering great wines and beers. It’s a popular hang out – punchily priced at £9-11 for a pizza, but some love and thought has definitely gone into these pizzas. An easy, solid week night option for the area.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 6/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10
Salusbury on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Osteria Basilico

Osteria Basilico is arguably the most well-established of a clutch of Italian neighbourhood bistros on Kensington Park Road, just parallel to Portobello Road. 

The area isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Kensington Park Road on a summer night (with this place, Mediterraneo, E&O, Montgomery Place and several others) has a true international buzz to it. It’s certainly one of my favourite little pockets of West London, especially on a balmy evening.

It’s a pretty standard place serving Italian staples and comfort food, ranging from a compendious selection of pizzas and pastas to some serious meat dishes. The menu is a little broad to the point of unwieldy but this place has been here for 20 years so they’ve pretty much mastered it all.

Authentic enough in terms of décor, staff and menu, the buzz is really the draw card here. Loud, smug and sybaritic, it’s a place where the food is familiar and consistently fine, but the boozing and social scene define it. Many will find it hateful, but then they probably wouldn’t find themselves round here anyway.

So what did we even eat? Without going all AA Gill, I was with a group of Mancunians so all I can truly recall is prosecco bottles, house red and a lot of competing with the Notting Hill decibels.

Fritti misti spookily resembled a plate of beachside holiday food. Escapism is no bad thing on such a freezing February evening.
Fettuccine with veal ragout was smooth and creamy, and there was a lot of veal. However I would have preferred this as torn pieces or chunks rather than mince. These days, you can’t move for a duck, pheasant or wild boar ragu, so serving the veal minced seems a retrograde step. I could buy that at Waitrose!

Still it was incredibly satisfying, a big bowl of steaming pasta on these winter nights has to struggle to not hit the spot.

I’m afraid I have no idea what this is:
any clues?

Veal Milanese was huge – two cutlets served with salad and artichokes. Delicious.

Osteria Basilico is a fun little place. If you like your neighbourhood restaurants loud and your wine flowing, it’s definitely for you. 

Sure, the clientele are not the most modest you’ll be subjected to and it may not win any awards for originality (should it need to at 20 years old?) but it’s charming, lively and difficult not to have an enjoyable meal here. Notting Hill doesn't get the headline grabbing openings too often, but it's got its fair share of dependable stalwarts. 

Food – 6/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 6/10

Osteria Basilico on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Friday, 17 February 2012

52 North

52 North is a new bar on Poland Street in the old Amouse Bouche – which was a cavernous, offensively inoffensive champagne bar with ridiculous low tables. That’s about all I can remember of it.

The Match Bar team have certainly transformed the space here. The size is obviously the same, but they’ve worked hard to make it more urban and yet intimate – with monochrome murals of the 52 North typefaces and associated patterns, and a fantastic lighting installation. Yes it’s lot of light bulbs but, no it’s not the old filamenty Polpo chestnuts. They’re smaller and more numerous, sweeping like a catwalk from the entrance to the bar and then off at a sharp right angle.

The premise is supposedly British (hence the name referring to our latitude parallel) but it’s not overly themed or even that obvious. It’s nice not to have wanky concept rammed down your throat and be able to ponder it yourself.

The cocktails are certainly global in scope, and the very accomplished bartenders were challenging us punters (and themselves) by asking what we fancied or liked, and knocking something up. My New York Sour (£7.50) was expertly made and went down a treat. So did the second and third…

chips with 'ninja sauce'

The food here isn’t ground-breaking but it’s not trying to be. I think the idea is that it’s primarily for drinks but then if you get hungry, it just so happens that the kitchen is turning out competent, relatively thoughtful grub.

Ale battered fish & chips (£13) was excellent. Two small fillets of Coley, (which is essentially Pollack so 'fess up), nicely battered in an unspecified ale. Tartare sauce and mushy peas with a slight minty twinge accompany lovely double-fried chips with a bit of skin on.

fish - chips on the side (above)

The Coley fish fingers were even more crispy and salty. Great bar snack for those with a kids' tea craving.

The rest of the quite tightly edited menu features loin of pork with mash, lamb rump, risotto, Caesar salad and some other staples from the higher end of pub grub. A morcilla and egg salad for instance. 

No burger or steak though. Which is absolutely fine, but worth noting.

fish fingers

It’s not destination in terms of the food itself, but the drinks are great and the service is keen (Max & OB from Hollyoaks seemed to be enjoying it too). There are loads of beers including on draught but I was in cocktail mode so relatively oblivious.

I imagine it’ll fill up with the after work W1 crowd and also that questionable weekend W1 crowd. It’s a bit like Graphic, but with better food and staff – and you’ve certainly got a better chance of a seat and service than a lot of other W1 venues. 

After dinner, we nipped round the corner for a night cap - in this case the almost legendary 'donostia' G&T at Copita. God I love Soho:

Food – 7/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10
52 North on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Ian Brown Food & Drink - Glasgow

Who ever said that you couldn’t get modern, intelligent food outside of London, Edinburgh and a few isolated hotspots such as Bray and Ludlow? Ian Brown Food & Drink is the solo venture of the same Mr Brown, who was formerly the head chef at Glasgow’s renowned Ubiquitous Chip.

This isn’t in the West End either, but out in Giffnock which is a salubrious but sleepy area on the South Side. It is also where Whole Foods have just opened a (fantastic) new store, filled with a brilliant mix of Scottish producer and Americana – with a free car park and an intuitive, familiar supermarket layout. And sure enough, people are filling their trolleys and their cars, unlike in W8.

little freebie of beetroot soup

Scots love Scotland, and all things Scottish. At all levels of society. They probably buy as much Scottish rubbish from the souvenir stores as tenth generation American wannbes. The place names and provenance resonate with them and is so important up there.

The restaurant itself is a cosy little place-  neutrally decorated enough to be contemporary, but not daring enough to scare away the slightly superannuated crowd comprising the bulk of the punters. Well, everybody except us is 45 plus, and noise levels are somewhere between library and crypt; every clink and throat clear is discernible.

The waitress tells us they’ve never had a 9pm booking before – while most people are finishing dessert. Feeling a tad Royston Vasey at this point...

Yet when the menu comes out, any provincial tweeness goes out the window. It’s keenly priced, Scottish to the max and loaded with tempting choices. As a firm carnivore, I don't have great success with many starters which are often more seafood based, but here I had plenty to choose from.

pig's cheek

Slow braised Perthshire pig’s cheek on a bed of herby polenta was delicate and tender, in a wonderfully gloopy sauce and the polenta cheekily shaped like that champion of Scottish breakfasts, the potato scone.

Salmon three ways was extremely popular and an impressively presented dish.

salmon three ways

Special mention also to the squat lobsters – Scottish langoustines effectively. Which are about a third of the price and equally meaty – served here with a nutty romesco sauce. All starters were about £5-7.

squat lobsters

Slow-cooked shin of Scottish beef with garlic crushed potatoes, carrot puree and honeyed shallots was a lovely dish. The beef was fantastically presented and cooked, staying pink on the inside but crumbling away very delicately, infused with the garlic vapours from the tatties.

beef shin with garlic tatties

Sea bass with a lemon hollandaise was a good bet also (fish and seafood always is in Scotland), again expertly prepared.

sea bass

Stirlingshire venison in a bramble sauce was another great example of Scottish ingredients, with the sweetness of the sauce tenderising and complementing the venison perfectly. Mains were £13-16.

I think we just drank more for dessert.

venison in bramble sauce

Ian Brown was a perfect execution of a local restaurant, but with serious foodie credentials and ambition. The menu is a lot more precise and thoughtful than most, and certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a more uptown location. In fact, the sleepy location must be what keeps the prices so reasonable (compared to Ashton Lane). 

Service was attentive and informed yet very friendly, with Mr Brown’s wife an extremely passionate front of house. The young waiter deserves a brownie point too for his enthusing about every aspect of the meal – very well-trained.

I can’t imagine Giffnock is a place many readers of this blog will encounter in their travels, but you could certainly do a lot worse. This isn’t quite at the level of a La Trompette for Glasgow, but it’s not far off.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 10/10
Tap water tales – n/a - we had sparkling
Staff Hotness – 6/10 (can't have it all!)
Ian Brown Food and Drink on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Mele e Pere

Mele e Pere is a new Italian place helmed by Andrea Mantovani, from a Wild Honey/Arbutus trajectory. Those two restaurants have a fantastic reputation for enabling people to enjoy top class cooking in smart yet unstuffy dining rooms, at very reasonable value. So I was hopeful that this Soho newbie’s offering of Northern Italian cooking with London’s first vermouth bar would deliver a similar ethos. It's an arguably slicker proposition, but it doesn't quite over-shoot.

Refreshingly, they aren’t too lazy to manage reservations and the bar area is as nice a place to wait as you’d need. Especially the high tables across from the bar with the naval swivelling stools, certainly a novelty for Brewer Street anyway. A decent soundtrack would help, never a forte of Italian bars or restaurants...!

Opening week meant a round of zesty prosecco on the house, salute! Staff hotness warrants an early mention – there is plenty of eye candy here which is just as well, as the dining room is a tad sparse otherwise.

Breads come at £2.50 per head which if we’re empathising ourselves into Italian authenticity, is fine as a cover charge. House baked skinny grissini were moist and flavoursome, the best I’ve ever had. Gorgeous focaccia with whole roasted garlic cloves and amazingly deep, fruity olive oil made the bread basket certainly worth it. The grissini led to facile headlines of  "Zucca in W1" floating round my head as we waited for our antipasti and primi.

A platter of antipasti meats was a bit steep at £12.50 even if it did include rabbit bruschetta and some wonderfully spicy deep-fried cichetti olives. The pancetta slices were another standout addition.

Spaghetti Carbonara was fantastic, bitey and good value at £7.50 – I’ll always allow a deviation from the Northern Italian blurb for this Roman classic. Made with rich yolk, plenty of pecorino, plenty more pancetta and not a drop of cream in sight, it was perfect.

Beetroot, walnut, pear and Gorgonzola salad (£7.50) was a light, fresh dish, perhaps made that little bit lighter with scant Gorgonzola.

Hand-chopped veal (£9.95) was a brave choice by The Piglet – this was obviously top quality meat and was excellently seasoned. Even though he thought he was eating Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

"After them Shredder!"

On to the mains, a clean summery plate of grilled plaice and cannellini beans was simple and top notch (£17).

The rabbit (£17) wasn’t a whole bony carcass as it can be, but several meaty leg and thigh pieces in a tomato jus, replete with olives, pine nuts, tomato, carrots and other pseudo-peasant food accompaniments. Very nicely cooked indeed. I’m still rather shocked I managed to move past a Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Lamb neck risotto was well put together but could have done with more meat!
We had some lovely digestivi and gelati – Campari and Blood Orange flavour being one highlight, and an exquisite pistachio being another.

Service was bubbly and helpful – our wine could have been topped up a little more but nothing major. More importantly, no glaring food errors which can be harder to iron out. I hope the menu is seasonal if not daily as per the masters of the genre in W6, and that the pastas change accordingly to keep it all fresh. Some slightly inconsistent pricing; some great value to be found but a few stings in there too.

I liked this place but it needs a little time to mature I think. It’s not Zucca – primarily as it’s in the basement rather than boasting floor to ceiling windows - but it's spacious in a way that Soho can’t often provide. Once word spreads, I think this will become a great place just to come for a drink and some snacks too.

At street level, cabinets of beautiful hand-blown glass apples and pears could be an exhibit at the V&A. You wouldn't risk it on Tottenham High Road though.

Although it's far less fusty than the V&A, with the promise of great food and drinks down the old "mele e pere"… *

* early reviewer’s rights to make rubbish obvious gags is reserved

Food – 8/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 9/10 (iced carafe and glasses brought immediately with no prompting)
Staff Hotness – 9/10

Friday, 3 February 2012

West End Coffee Round Up

Brief one really, but I thought I'd highlight some of the new cafés and coffee joints which have been springing up recently - three of which are in W1. Curiously recession-defying, especially with West End rents, the London coffee movement does seem to be defiantly marching on against the ubiquity of the chains.

Parisian goodies at Cafe Gourmand
Two of the three are actually second ventures by established coffee heavies, but with different names, vibes and directions. This isn't empire building - Nude, Foxcroft, Tapped & Packed - much as I love you all, take heed.

Sensory Lab is a new place on Wigmore Street by the St Ali team. It's not a huge, brooding undertaking such as theirs resplendent with vertical garden and roastery, but more of a clean, fresh, small outlet with similar coffee provenance. Think Tapped & Packed, but a little smaller. It's at the bottom of Marylebone High St, which actually doesn't have any great coffee beyond Providores, so could clean up.

Speakeasy is sneakily located on one of the alleyways between Carnaby and Newburgh Streets, but the discreet location is belied by what at first appears quite a clinical set up - tall counters, a lot of concrete and white, with very bright lighting. The staff are however extremely sociable and fun, which makes it a more relaxing place. Great food selection as well.

This is from Leather Lane's Department of Coffee and Social Affairs but is a wholly different concept. The basement is a little cosier, but this is more of a take away venue than a wi-fi doss-house.

Café Gourmand is a rather grand looking place - also new and contemporary, but with a classical approach to cakes and fantastic vintage signage, it looks as if it could have been there for years. They specialise in teas also, and this is definitely more of a place to lounge than the other two. It has more of a continental feel to it, with quirky touches inside.

So three new venues all in the same postcode. Tapped & Packed's newish second place up near Warren Street makes four. Big postcode mind.

London's coffee offerings are going from strength to strength, and it's great that people are confident enough to expand and establish new venues - that the desire for meaningful, informed or just plain stylish coffee places has not yet been saturated. The scene is now long past aping and imitating a few Antipodean venues as imports, and only attracting said Antipodeans as customers, and is now proliferating into a London-wide discernment for better.

The girls in my office clutching their Square Mile flat whites have probably never been close to Melbourne or a food blog, and are not what one might call hipsters, but regular people who recognise that the 'coffee-flavoured milk drinks' from the high street are just not cutting it anymore.

Speakeasy on Urbanspoon
Cafe Gourmand on Urbanspoon
Sensory Lab on Urbanspoon