Thursday, 28 February 2013


Day late and a dollar short was this pig to the Mishkin’s party. On a Sunday afternoon, it was relatively languid but having been past several times (and with plenty of Polpo experience) I can imagine how loud and hectic it must get.

The food is an eclectic collection of inspirations and quite resolutely refuses to be pigeon-holed. Yes it’s heavy on the New York Jewish dishes, but East End Jewish features too, and yet it’s not kosher. You couldn’t expect so from the man famed for pork & fennel meatballs or the pork shoulder and pepper pizzette. And of course, it’s boozy, music-focused and sceney. So really it’s many miles from being Katz’s in London, which the laziest blurbs indicate.

However, matzo ball chicken soup (£6) isn’t something you come across every day in London. This was a small bowl with only one dumpling (you’d be strung up in NY for such parsimony) but it concealed plenty of shredded chicken and veg in a light chicken broth. Clearly this isn’t New York and there is better to be had in situ (for about $3-5) but I was glad of the escapism and warmth on that hideous afternoon. A regular ‘Jewish penicillin’ chicken soup might be a smart addition too, especially as a seasonal special.

Onwards from a wholesome bowl of cuddles to a rich, oozing mess. The mac ‘n’ cheese (with mustard and salt beef - £11) was quite something. Baked and crispy on top, with a select few of those teeth-threateningly burnt pieces.  Plenty of chunks of salt beef – absolutely delicious. Do not be deceived by the size, this is rich, heavy fare. I was stuffed full about halfway through, but persisted to the inevitable stupor and slump. 

East End chips with green ketchup were staggeringly tasty and moreish. The green ketchup seems to be something close to chip shop/Chinese curry sauce. Chips were crunchy, piping hot and yet soft inside, with some skins left on for a bit of variety. Superb.

Cinnamon donuts are rarely bad but I’ve had better (Disco Bistro’s were world-beating) - these weren’t fryer-fresh judging by the struggle they put up, and the chocolate sauce was thick but too springy, meaning it merely imprinted the donut, rather than transferring. Generous portion though.

Unlike Polpo and its small plates, there isn't any pressure to dine in a sophisticated or civilised Mediterranean manner – you are thoroughly encouraged to stuff your face, wipe the melted cheese off and waddle out. The size of the deli sandwiches (including the famed Reuben) attest to this. I would say it's by far the best value in the stable, for this reason. I'd struggle paying £10 for a pizzetta having gorged at Mishkin's.

Service and staff are similar (attentive, clued-up and quick, but totally into themselves) and drinks are top notch. The spiced negroni (£8) provided a zingy kick to the Sunday, desperately needed to attack the cheese gloop now sunken to the lowest fathoms of my stomach.

What I enjoyed about Mishkin’s its uniqueness and honesty. This is not healthy. These are not small plates. Or for sharing. It’s selfish, coronary-inducing food, far beyond the levels normally ascribed to ‘comfort’. It does have obvious themes, but constantly surprises, twists and ultimately bangs its own drum. Or shtick. I’m not aware of anywhere imitating it beyond the odd reuben, and in contemporary London gastronomy, a dash of originality is a precious thing indeed. 

Food – 8/10 
Drink – 8/10 
Service - 7/10 
Value – 8/10 
Tap water tales – 8/10 (jug brought and topped up) 
Staff Hotness – 9/10 (as ever, hand-selected by Russell I'm sure)

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Parlour and The Chamberlayne

West London, and specifically North West where I currently live, is a culinary desert. There are a few old favourites and predictable stalwarts, but these are not the fertile, lush plains of Central and East London in terms of choice, openings and excitement.

I’m not going to continue with the god-awful terrain analogy. So where I might have mentioned oases, I will say that there are some exceptions – mainly in related to buzz rather than quality or dynamism. Around Portobello, spots like the Electric, E&O and the Italians of Kensington Park Road are packed out, extremely lively but equally are part of the furniture. Crazy Homies, El Camino, Santo and Taqueria feed the area’s many Yanks, giving the area a rare edge on others for Mexican. And of course there is The Ledbury.

A little north of there, even less is going on. Shambolic for somewhere so central and extortionate to live. Sacro Cuore’s pizzeria is tasty but let down by apathetic service. The Dock Kitchen has shades of brilliance (and not just Tom Dixon’s metallic numbers) but isn’t quite there on the food.  Too preoccupied with concept and identity to relax and confidently secure its future. People are confused – it is open? Is it a pop-up? Foraged menu only? Is there a bar? Shame as the space is fantastic.

But the pubs of North West London are decent, and this blurb is about The Parlour and The Chamberlayne. The former has been many things, known to most as that other pub behind that suburban fleshpot The Paradise, the Infernos of NW. However it’s been taken over by the Mall Tavern team, and is looking rather slick.

The starkness of the tiling is given warmth with a sea of mismatching, reclaimed wood tables, red booths and mixed up seating, and next door an attractive teal dining room sports plenty of clubby amber booth seating and original panelling. Inspiration seems to be Schiller’s Liquor Bar meets Riding House Café. But it retains a pub feel, no least due to the many interesting drops on tap – for example Anchor Steam’s Liberty Ale. Seeing their regular beer on tap is a special enough, so this is quite unique. 

Breakfast has been lauded here and it delivers. They’re trying the frying pan as a plate thing but seemingly bottling it due to lack of space for the handle (some tables are a little small). The beans in the jar are a great touch, although homemade might have been more exciting than Heinz given the effort in other areas. Hash browns are not seen enough on brunch menus and the sourdough and spreads bar for £1 (included in main breakfasts though) is cheaper than chips. Amazing bacon too. Solid coffee from South London’s Volcano and excellent service. And on weekends the kitchen is open until 1am which is a rare thing in W1, let alone out here in the sticks.

From breakfast to dinner, and for carnivores it has to be The Chamberlayne. Owned by The Salusbury team, they have gone for steaks and other meats (with some bistro touches) rather than the Italian you’d expect. Steaks here are dry aged and from a various sources, Scottish or English with the odd USDA guest. 

My T-bone was immense; quality meat, masterfully charred yet pink, well rested and absolutely nothing to improve upon. As respectable as you’d have anywhere, and at £36-ish inclusive of chips and a sprightly salad, extremely good value. An added bonus was receiving both rosemary & red wine jus and a decent béarnaise as standard – no fleecing on the sauces here. Chips were double cooked and amazing dipped in the rich jus.

We ate in the pub area on a Saturday night. It was rammed and so not much to say in the way of service, but to be expected. One teeny gripe was that we ordered all food, drinks and desserts (crumble was gigantic but mealy, loose and unfinished) all from the bar as per the pub norm, but at the very end we asked a passing barman for our bill as it was so busy. It had the 12.5% service added, which I think would not have happened had we got up and paid our pub tab. Not the worst thing, but a little cheeky – our fault for being lazy I guess and a lesson learned.

Clientele are those that can’t afford Notting Hill – either willing exiles looking for space and value, or reluctant snobs and penniless second sons. Think older dads working in TV and advertising: turned-up selvedge, tan brogues and the now-encouraged salt & pepper hair, having their monthly night away from Olivia and Rufus on the Guinness and nosebag.

Both Parlour and Chamberlayne represent some reasonable options in the area. There isn’t an influx of fancy fried chicken, not many places to grab a flat white and certainly not a sniff of Peruvian but food trends aside, there are several spots for dependable grub in the area.
The Parlour on Urbanspoon

Chamberlayne Pub and Steak House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Lucky Fried Chicken at The Grafton Arms

Lucky Fried Chicken is a pop up above a pub in Kentish Town. It is so on trend and encapsulates everything current in London food that it is almost a caricature of itself. Rumours were that it might be around for a while, but it now seems as if it’ll only last a few weeks (at The Grafton Arms at least).

Perhaps the margins in half-decently sourced chicken are tight compared to burgers, which seem to be coming. Mixing pubby furniture with a few booths, and surrounded by beautiful tiling which could have been pilfered from the Northern line station up the road, it’s a lovely space. There is draft beer upstairs (take note Disco Bistro!) and plenty of space.

The board is a pastiche of a generic chicken shop menu, but the cheekiest touch is the familiar face on the chicken buckets, which I imagine itself won’t survive too long before the letters arrive. Nonetheless I think the Colonel would be proud. The chicken is well seasoned (there is no discernible single flavour, it is just ‘seasoning’) and absolutely piping hot. Freshness is great, but we couldn’t eat for about 5 minutes and even then had to use cutlery. However it was juicy grub, with even boneless pieces very moist.

And grub this is. There is no semblance of provenance (being communicated clearly at least) here – no-one is telling you about the farm or the ingredients or the culinary process.  And the crowd didn’t seem to care. It’s unadulterated junk with no loftiness, emulating fast food outlets in a way that no burger places have quite dared to do without a huge improvement in product. 

Our table was debilitated – the chicken burger was a soggy, delicious mess not unlike many I've had at 3am, but the mash and gravy a nice homage to KFC across the pond as more canon accompaniments. The much-lauded cherry pie was overcooked, with a rock-solid base.

Fantastic fun but I doubt I’d return. If you took Kentish Town’s Chicken Cottage, kicked out everyone brown, served Camden lager, doubled the prices and played some 80s tunes, the food wouldn’t be a huge step change upwards. Nicer tiles though. And marginally fewer nutters. You get the gist... go if this sounds all appealing, but don’t expect to feel any more sprightly or wholesome afterwards. 

Drink – 8/10 
Service - 7/10 
Tap water tales – 3/10 
Staff Hotness – 7/10

Lucky Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Attendant

The Attendant is a coffee shop which has taken over the relatively iconic Victorian gents’ outside of the Crown & Sceptre pub in Fitzrovia.

I’ve been to a few of these in the past as bars; Ginglik is cavernously tragic, the Spitalfields church bar is plain shite and Manchester’s Temple of Convenience is too small and smelly to work, even with a tapestry of preserved Victoriana.

But this definitely works as a café. The space needed is less than for a bar and the robust, warming smell of Caravan's roasts is better than stale beer at eliminating what thoughts of what might have been. How curious that we are so happy to sip lattes and munch pastries in a former den of bodily functions and knee-tremblers. London after all does reinvention better than that desperate bag of bones Madonna, perhaps why she persists in darkening our door...

Great care has been taken to preserve in some cases (check the fantastic repurposing of the urinals or the tiling upon entry) and improve in others (peppy new orange tiling along the ‘bar’) and it really succeeds as a space. Staff are lovely, offering both water and WiFi code unprompted, allaying fears of a subterranean lack of 3G.

For a tiny old bog, there is a pretty ambitious and tempting food menu. Foxcroft & Ginger may have a new challenger for the best sandwiches and lunch in London’s coffee scene. I was majorly eavesdropping and learned that the co-owner is versed in NY Jewish deli culture and so we can expect brisket, pastrami and turkey hand-sliced in situ as well as a brunch menu. Plans for future private dining hire and wine evenings excited this little pig too – there’s only so long you can sit in a basement before grape or grain spring to mind.

And as I enjoyed my perfect long black under the lampshades of an old cistern, my head nestled between the cheeks of  a formerly working urinal (voyeur no doubt to plenty of illicit head itself), I realised that in London's booming coffee-verse, duplication and choice have grown quicker than originality.

The Attendant dispels any plateauing of innovation resolutely, offering somewhere quite brilliantly conceived and executed. It certainly fuels the fire that Fitzrovia, now boasting Kaffeine, Gitane and the Scandi Kitchen even on Great Titchfield Street alone, is now firmly W1's underdog coffee hub. And a lot cooler about it than Berwick or Lexington Streets.

The Attendant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Disco Bistro

One of London’s previously unloved and underused gems (and greatest assets) are the dining rooms on the first floor of many pubs. Central London in particular is replete with these, and successes such as Flat Iron, The Young Turks and many more have originated from humble takeovers of such space. It seems win win in this age of crazy rents and start-up costs.

And while Sam Smith's nabbed all of the show-stopping gin palaces long ago, with the right treatment these dining rooms can be incredibly handsome, resplendent with period features and atmosphere.

Disco Bistro in the deepest alleys of the City is one such venture. The ground floor is The Rising Sun pub, still hawking £5 Peronis to yakky, gakky suited boozers but I imagine the dining room was previously sentenced to a servitude of team fish & chips Fridays and not much of note in between.

Bore that I am, I had to try the famous Disco Burger which is conventional enough, with the exception of a mound of beef short rib. However rest assured that the menu at Disco Bistro ranges far beyond wings and burgers, and includes quite grown-up, sophisticated plates, solid fish options and noteworthy creative execution. Doesn’t sound like me though, so wings and burger it was…

My visit was with a group of fellow bloggers, food nuts and SLR shooters, and feedback was unanimously positive across the various dishes ordered. I hasten to add at this stage that we all paid full price for everything.

This merry band enabled me to try a sticky wing as well as my own portion of spicy (both £7). The sticky wings were strongly flavoured with vinegar, yes there was sweetness beneath but the sharp, pickled taste was dominant. This isn’t a criticism for me personally, sour as I am, but it may not be for everyone. I’d say they’d work better as a bar snack.

I did prefer the spicy wings, which weren’t overly hot but had a decent warmth. Flavour was closer to an almost-Asian chilli route than a cayenne pepper/Buffalo recipe, and especially without obligatory blue cheese and crudité support, these more than stood up on their own.

With popularity comes debate, and wing portion size has become a contentious issue on Twitter of late. Not quite Syria or equal marriage, but a crucial topic all the same. At just under £1 per wing, this is up there with MEATliquor for both value and quality..

The burger was excellent too. Value-wise, less so. At £14, this will no doubt send many people running for either the hills or The Hawksmoor (about a 10 min walk, near a Goodman too) but bear with me. The short rib adds a depth of flavour and juice which I don’t think pulled pork experiments have accomplished as well. The patty itself was perfectly cooked to medium rare without any mention prior (plus point) and the practically liquefied cheese oozed everywhere. 

One gripe was the barbecue sauce – not only did it make a mess and derail the architectural integrity of the burger (yes I did just write that) but even worse, it simply wasn’t necessary. The quality of the contents sang through more than confidently without it. Fries were fine, but not remarkable.

On to dessert, and another universal trend of late, the doughnuts. I was a little slow to understand this, much as the whole Krispy Kreme craze baffled me too. They weren’t a step change from supermarket ones at all. And I’m a bit new to the savoury and even meat flavoured versions which Electric Diner among others are now slinging. The oxtail one at Two Nights Only I didn’t enjoy particularly.

Luckily Disco Bistro's hark back to basics in theory, but with contemporary execution. These are gingerbread doughnut balls with a pot of lemon curd for dunking. Fantastic – with the lemon providing freshness and a sharpness to diminish the risk of overt doughiness, and the gingerbread providing a homely warmth to compliment the horrible winter outside. 

Service was friendly and accomplished; our group of 14-odd ‘foodies’ wouldn’t seem the easiest punters on paper, but it all seemed a breeze. One mini gripe was the beer situation. Better bottles please, or deliver pints to upstairs. The service charge should cover that. And another slight disappointment was the vibe itself; perfectly buzzy sure, but not disco enough! I wanted more fun and better music, they could definitely go further with the disco house and the volume. Not thinking Car Wash and wigs here…

I’m not quite sure what the long term plans for Disco Bistro are, as the pub dining room takeover seems to be a springboard rather than a permanent home, so I would implore people to go as soon as they can.

Drink – 6/10 
Service - 8/10 
Tap water tales7/10 (jugs provided, not topped up)
Staff Hotness – 8/10 (friendly, pretty waitresses, clued up on the menu)

Disco Bistro EC4 on Urbanspoon

Friday, 8 February 2013

North London Tavern

Before writing up some fantastic wings, burger and great service at Disco Bistro, I have a brief tale of woe to share. It concerns another, less fortunate burger at Kilburn’s North London Tavern.

Said burger was dropped into my lap. Luckily the bun bounced off my leg and decorated the floor, not leaving any marks on my jeans, but the barman didn’t see this, nor did he enquire. He did apologise meekly however, and offered to ask the chef to prepare me another one, as if it was a wonderful favour and I should be grateful. It would take ten minutes.

Thirty minutes later, my replacement burger was delivered, approximately five minutes after my intended was swept up from around my feet. Lovely. I asked the retreating barman if I would be offered anything given that I’d had to wait half an hour, and could not eat with my party and he seemed perplexed.

Cue a sweaty palmed manager waddling over with a ‘wanna fight’ gait, except it was more “Is there a problem here?” – so not too far off. He tried to dispute the waiting time, and then in the most patronising attitude possible, proceeded with “Oh, is it a free drink you’re after? Fine, what do you want…”

No I don’t want a free drink you big sack of tatties. I’m in a round of four and it’s quite obvious we’re about to leave anyway. How about offering something when it happened, or giving a shit? 

The worst thing is that butter fingers himself was North American, and if this happened there I would have been showered with all manner of excessive platitudes and freebies. Such a shame London has ruined his service outlook, but he’s found his rightful place.

In the end, I suggested a dessert we could all share. Didn’t touch a morsel myself though.

Luckily my friend also ordered the burger (safely delivered) and so we could eat half at a time. The burger itself was overcooked, dry and mealy from a breadcrumb-heavy mix. Precarious presentation on a wooden board does not equate to quality, be warned. But it does increase the risk of wearing said burger.

Shame as it’s decent as a pub, and I’ve never had any previous complaints with food. And people drop things, that isn’t the be-all and end-all. But how you deal with the situation is…

North London Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bay Area and Sonoma

Of the many people who visit San Francisco, and certainly those from the UK, I imagine very few experience much of Oakland. And generally I would say it’s a place you need a reason to visit (family in my case), but it also has a few highlights especially for foodies.

Manhattan has its Brooklyn, and San Francisco has the Mission. There isn’t too much to contest there. But Oakland is striking out in a more balanced way. There are hipsters sure, but also plenty of baby-booming ex-hipsters and yuppies who simply can’t afford any space in SF. Oakland has always been a very black city, and suffers from social issues in certain parts, but interestingly there is also a large black middle class population which adds a different element to the place.

Plum Bar and Restaurant is on a small but perfectly formed strip running down from the CBD towards the Lake. Here I had my best burger of this trip to the US, following a recommendation from SF Gate. It was a flawless clash of textures; a beautifully rich, soft patty cooked rare but with some bite, and topped with an incredible Alpine concoction of caramelised onions and cheese. The spicy fries were among the best I've had too.

This burger is 2 mins walk from the BART and easily worth the 15 minute ride from Market Street. The bar itself had superb drinks and funky décor (check the elaborate network of suspended tea lights and plum mural).

Plum on Urbanspoon 

Next door is a sloppy but delicious Mexican joint: La Bonita Taqueria. As I mentioned on my SF post, I find the black beans and general US Mexican food a bit more mushy and plonked than the food I’ve had in Mexico itself. It is American’s comfort food, and could easily be apportioned through a drip. 

This explosion of enchiladas was exactly what this hungover little pig needed, but at this Mexican equivalent of a greasy spoon there was nothing delicate going on. 

 La Bonita Taqueria on Urbanspoon

My absolute food highlight of the trip, and I would say best of 2012 was the B Side BBQ. This is a barbecue joint owned by the same people as the famous Brown Sugar Kitchen, one of the sceniest brunches in the Bay Area. We sadly couldn’t get a table there (which looked FANTASTIC) but they referred us here,

I wonder if the team from Pitt Cue have been here? It’s BBQ but done in a modern way, with bourbon cocktails, succinct menus and bar seating. The food was outstanding. 

My Dark & Stormy St Louis ribs were the most tender, flavourful and juicy I’ve ever had. Amazing. Worth the 11 hour flight alone. Sides were also outstanding; brilliant Texas toast with a meaty dipping sauce, good pickles and dense, rich beans to die for. The pics don't do justice to the size of these dishes, they were enormous.

My sister’s baby back ribs with pineapple salsa were equally lauded, accompanied with creamy mac. Her  boyfriend’s pulled pork sandwich was the same - they live in Oakland and said it was the best meal they’d had yet. 

It’s in a rather ‘characterful’ part of Oakland (think burning oil drums in Homer & Eddie) but I couldn’t recommend it more. Come in a cab. Straight from SF airport. And then fly home, happy.

B-Side BBQ on Urbanspoon

Onwards from Oakland, as one must. Many visiting the Bay Area strike out towards Monterey and Big Sur, or perhaps to Yosemite. A fair few head to Napa wine tasting, but an even wiser few choose Sonoma instead.

Healdsburg is the spiritual home of the Sonoma wineries, and definitely worth the drive. It’s barely an hour from the Bay and its quaint, walkable centre set around a green square makes a pleasant change from auto-centric California. There are numerous twee interiors shops but a serious amount of wine bars and tasting rooms. Many of the wineries have their tasting rooms in town – it’s ideal as you don’t have to worry about driving and can do a crawl.

It’s a tad sneaky too, because common practice in this region is to use grapes from dispersed sites. So as their sources are scattered around (with some scandalously coming from Napa?!) it means their main premises may not be impressive. Hence the town locations.

My winery recommendation is the Portalupi team, who quite refreshingly work with Italian grapes such as Barbera and Sangiovese, rather than the ubiquitous Cabernets and Merlots. Also try Woodenhead and their punchy, booze-filled Pinot Noirs provide a bulkier twist on this grape associated with Ribena transparency and easy guzzling.

In Healdsburg it’s easy to get wine fatigue. Seems ridiculous but it’s all anybody talks about. Step forward Bear Republic –self-appointed state craft brewery and playfully jingoistic with it.

Their Racer 5 beer is relatively well known, and can be found in London, but some rare and riotously strong IPAs can be found here. Food is resplendently London 2012 in its natural habitat – all chicken wings, mac & cheese and more filth and dirt than you could ever wish for. The chilli bread bowl was particularly impressive slush. Not to mention the garlic fries....

 Bear Republic Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Healdsburg is a genteel place however, so beyond California’s best brews, showy food and cocktails are expected too. This is not Paso Robles – the Sonoma apple has not rolled as far from the Napa tree as Sonoma folk would like to think - there is plenty of fine dining. We chose Spoonbar, where the cocktails were beautiful and the bar snacks dainty. Who would have thought chicken crackling with drops of buttermilk could be so fantastic!

Spoonbar on Urbanspoon 

There is more gush in this post, and its San Francisco twin than I am usually comfortable with. There was an analogy concerning female elephants somewhere but I thought better of it. My avid readers (hi mum!) wouldn’t approve.

Suffice it to say that San Francisco and the Bay Area has some of the best, most diverse and sustainable eating and drinking on the planet. Far more as a region and hinterland than New York I would say. The localism of both wine and produce means food frenzy has spread across the whole region and people are genuinely obsessed. I’d say that isn’t the case with New York which is, much like London, a beacon shining out to the wider world, but casting shadow upon the chains and mediocrity surrounding it.