Hawksmoor, Seven Dials

Friday, 12 November 2010 | |

'You don't have to be (in to) Mad (Men) to eat here, but it helps!' 

This is the imaginary sign I've got in mind as I descend down the stairs of the new Hawksmoor restaurant, recently opened in London's Covent Garden. Comparisons of the design of the dining room and bar with the stylish TV programme have been plentiful, apparently, though some have also juxtaposed it with the Titanic; the refined and stylish elegance is obvious for anyone to see. Where the original Spitalfields location exudes a scruffy, laid-back charm, the Seven Dials follow-up is all wood and brass - a gentleman's club that serves the best steaks in town. 

Your choice of which bit of bovine to gnaw on is restricted to only a few cuts, though the team can get in any preferred steak - once again supplied by the fantastic Ginger Pig butchers - with 48 hours' notice. Among the ones we tried were the three larger cuts from the board, written out by weight and 'ideal for sharing'. The rendered and gooey fat made the bone-in prime rib our number one choice, but the porterhouse and chateaubriand (essentially a larger cut of the fillet) were also well liked. The D-rump - the cheapest steak on the menu at £19.50 - was also a delight. A minerally, beefy taste was ensured by the steak being aged for 55 days, while the cooking was spot on: a crusty exterior gave way to a slightly soft, slightly chewy red centre. Sides came in the form of beef dripping chips and triple cooked chips (go for the former), a moreish creamed spinach and the almost pornographic buttered vegetables. 

With gigantic steaks proving tempting on the main course front, there's the temptation to forego the starters; don't. The Tamworth belly ribs, in particular, proved an erudite choice. The wobbly fat on the ribs came in equal measures to sweet, tender flesh - seasoned with a simple but addictive dry rub of salt, pepper and sugar. Perfect with some of the spicy shredded red cabbage provided on the side. 

Drinks at the aforementioned bar include a tempting volume of cocktails and one of the best wine lists in town - reasonably marked up and charmingly housed in a dedicated storage area, behind a door with a pass code. 

Space permitting, desserts are also worth investing in: a cornflake ice cream sundae was what breakfast is probably like in heaven, while a sticky toffee pudding took the genre beyond expectations, with a rich toffee sauce and a deceptively light body to the pudding itself. 

The décor might have already invoked comparisons with the Titanic, though if the popularity of the restaurant during its 'soft launch' period and opening week is anything to go by, it'll stay afloat for some time yet.

ThaT Burger, Watford

Thursday, 2 September 2010 | |

I've not blogged in a while. I'll be honest: I was getting quite bored of it. Plus I wasn't really going out to eat that much, and if I was, I was showing up at places I've eaten hundreds of times before; nowhere new.  A mention in the Independent reminded me that I do have a blog and that I should perhaps update it - a cheap cash in for any new readers, or something.

The Independent article in question was primarily focused on The Meatwagon and the fantastic burgers available from the mobile street food truck. I'm afraid I'll once again be writing about burgers in this post, at the risk of being typecast. Am I...the Michael Cera of the food blogging world??


ThaT Burger recently opened in Watford (I'll spare you the shock now - it's in zone 8...yes, there is a zone 8) to little fanfare. Despite some Twitter buzz and a promisingly active Facebook page - fans were asked on their opinions of fries, deals and so on - hardly anyone else had picked up on it. After seeing that they would be opening in August at some stage, and they were giving away thousands of free burgers, I fired off an inquisitive email. I was introduced to Justin Davies, who, along with his brother, was opening ThaT Burger on Watford High St. They're no strangers to the restaurant business, having operated The Rotisserie and deli chain Delisserie previously. A phone call later and it was clear that Justin had a meticulous blueprint - this was a man who'd eaten burgers in the United States and wanted to bring the same level of fast-food to London.

After missing out on a pre-opening test run, Sam and I finally made our way over to zone 8 (eight). I would claim that we had other business to attend to there, but no, we made the trip specially. It was worth it:

ThaT Burger (£3.55)
Taking inspiration from Five Guys, presumably, a ThaT Burger comes as a double as standard. With each patty weighing in at about 60g, it's not a lot of meat, which makes the fact you can request as many patties as you wish (75p per patty; £1.05 per patty with cheese) an appealing prospect. That's not the only thing you can modify, with the entire burger being customisable; each burger is cooked to order so requests are noted before they hit the griddle. The aforementioned patties, despite their diminutive size (the thinness allows quicker cooking) pack decent flavour. They're well seasoned with salt and pepper, but the meat's quality also shines through. Justin has expressed his desire to use prime quality beef in a fast-food setting - the same quality beef he'd use at one of his upscale deli or grill restaurants. It certainly makes a difference: a lip-licking greasiness (in a good way) that leaves you anticipating the next bite. If you choose to go for cheese, expect a classic American style slice, with a taste and feel reminiscent of Kraft. It obviously works incredibly well, as does the fresh salad (sliced pickles as standard) and the special sauce. A bespoke baked bun surrounds and does a good job of retaining the structure of the sandwich. A really enjoyable fast-food burger.

Fries (£1.25)
Part of ThaT Burger's consultations with fans on their Facebook page was to find out how customers wanted their fries: with skins on or off. Some suggested that peeling the spuds would mean it was more authentic, while others were of the belief that keeping the skin-on would provide more flavour and make it seem more home-made, more natural rather than the frozen and reformed spindly numbers you'll find in the high street fast-food chains. I'm firmly in the skin-on camp. The twice-fried potato chips here are once again reminiscent of the effort by Five Guys. These are just as good. Piping hot and spilling out of the cup they come in, they're crispy and pack a great potato flavour. Sauces and cheese are available at a price, but they were good enough on their own; cajun seasoning is available if you require it.

Chicken burger (£2.95)
I was kind of against this - I thought it would detract from the cheeseburgers. I thought it would be a cheap afterthought, cashing in on those who are dim enough to dine at a cheeseburger restaurant and not wish to eat a cheeseburger. How wrong I was. The chicken burger from ThaT Burger may well be the best chicken sandwich I've ever tasted. Good quality chicken breast is breaded and deep fried so that juicy flesh hides below a crispy coating (which tastes like it's well seasoned with paprika as well as salt and pepper, but I'm just guessing from memory). The sandwich is constructed in the same way as a hamburger, which works incredibly well, somehow. The special sauce complements the fantastic fried chicken. Worth the trip to zone 8 alone.

We also tried the cheesecake (baked at Delisserie - very good; dense) and the soft serve ice cream, which was great. If they can add a fried apple pie to the dessert menu and root beer to the catalogue of sodas, I'll be incredibly happy. As it stands, ThaT Burger is very promising. I understand there are plans to expand, and it seems like it's ready to roll out to a high street near you soon, but I just hope the same quality can be found at every potential store. The team clearly know what they're doing though, and their research shines through.

15/17 The Parade
Watford, Hertfordshire
WD17 1LQ,
United Kingdom
Keep up to date with ThaT Burger events and news via their Facebook page

Whole Spit-Roasted Lamb at the Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

Tuesday, 6 July 2010 | |

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon 1609–1674

That's fair enough, Ed, old bean, but let's be honest, the meat also plays a part. Picture the scene: Jay-Z is round your gaff for a party, smiling like the Grinch on a ruined-Christmas morning cos he's showing off his new yo-yo, but you've only got enough meat for a Jay-Z-less shin-dig. No matter how cheerful he is, your feast is now more uncomfortable than a seal at Crufts. That won't happen at The Red Lion and Sun, though (I got there in the end...). As well as being a generally ruddy good pub - the drinks are good, the staff friendly and the food well thought out and executed - they've also got a couple of tricks up their sleeves. Owner Heath Ball is no fool, and has realised the potential of having two beer gardens; a larger one out the front, and a more private, cosier space out the back of the pub. As well as inviting Yianni's Meatwagon and Petra's Choc Star van over to pitch up in the front garden, Heath also allows patrons to hold parties in the back garden. For £350, you'll get a whole roasted lamb, a ridiculous amount of sides and more sauce than the top shelf of a newsagent. The ideal number is 20, which then works out at £17.50 per person, though you can have a smaller party if you desire (prepare for leftovers).

As to how myself and 19 others found ourselves tucking into a whole lamb? Well, let me take you back to a month ago. Heath tweeted this, which instantly grabbed my attention. HOW MUCH? HOW DO I DO IT? GEE, THAT'S FOR SURE A WEIRD LOOKING CHICKEN, MISTER. 
Price. Get twenty people. Choose a date. I knew what I had to do: I gathered twenty hungry meat fans and booked in for the evening of 4th July - America's birthday, my lamb day.

(Photo by Fiona Wong)
By the time we arrived the lamb had already been on the (motorised, electric) spit for a couple of hours, and was looking fantastic. Smelling it, too.

(Photo by Ken Chu)
The finished article. There were some grumbles questioning the size of our little friend, but it proved us wrong, the little soldier. The skin looked, on first glance, a little bit too cooked. Foolish human - the skin was delightfully crispy, whilst the fat hiding beneath had been rendered down and helped to baste the flesh as it turned.

We decided to set it up so we would eat buffet style:

Our fantastic host Paulo (pictured in the top picture, with the lamb) cut off huge chunks of lamb before handing them over to the chef, who further dissected the meat. It was visibly tender, with minimal knife motions needed to separate the flesh, before putting it into the tray.

Potato salad. A very nice potato salad, a worthy side to the magnificent lamb. The new potatoes were cooked until still crispy to the bite, while the mayonnaise and diced red onions provided the sharp and creamy flavours.

Greek salad.

SO MUCH coleslaw. Far too much. Very nice though, a real oniony kick which I enjoy.

Skin-on chips. Big fan of fries with their skin on; I dig the earthy flavour. Good, crisp fries.

(Photo by Ken Chu)
Any place that gives you a ladle with your gravy is fine by me. It had a nicely alcoholic tang to it from the red wine.

Sam's plate. Needs more meat, which was unbelievable...have I said how good it was already? Well honestly, the lamb was as tender as you'd expected after being cooked low and slow, though some bits were better than others. Rather predictably, the shoulder fared best, whilst the more expensive cuts (lamb loin/saddle) had unfortunately become a touch dry and flaky, though they were still delicious. The skin turned out crisp, caramelised and delicious, with not a lot added save for salt and pepper - the mint sauce (a little too vinegary) worked as the accompanying flavour, if required.

There was a surprising amount of meat on the animal. Enough for some (I shan't name names) to have four plates of lamb! I went for a reasonable three. Thank you, Red Lion and Sun, I'm already planning the next one...

Price: £350
Party size: 20
What's included: Lamb, mint sauce, gravy, sides, bread/butter
Where: The Red Lion and Sun, Highgate
Phone number: 020 8340 1780

Kooky Bakes, Shoreditch (Photoblog)

Thursday, 24 June 2010 | |

Some photos from the Kooky Bakes stand at Sunday Upmarket. Look at the website for contact/opening info.

I ate one of these. Very good indeed. The strawberry flavoured buttercream was nice and not overly sugary. The jam hidden deep inside was a nice touch. The actual cakey bit was well made.

I also had a 'Krazy Kid Slice'. Scott who runs the stall explained that they were a childhood favourite. Rice krispies, fruit loops, fruity pebbles, sugar, fairy dust...probably. Delicious. Well priced, too!

Well priced and well made sweet treats. Great looking stall too - it really stood out among the rather cupcake-saturated Upmarket. Top tip: eat one of their Krazy Kid Slices whilst playing Robot Unicorn Attack. It'll have you bouncing off the walls.

The Spot, Kilburn

Sunday, 20 June 2010 | |

London is an unbelievable city to live in for a 'foodie'. It may not be as economically competitive as, say, New York City and it may not always have the Wabi-sabi conceptualised sheen of Tokyo, but there's still numerous options all over the city. A large number of these are 'ethnic' restaurants, showcasing the food of migrants living in London, usually in suburban areas. Despite this, there are some holes that need to be filled: 'American' food. In particular, food from the South. Sure, there's Bodean's, but where's the cornbread? The chicken and waffles? Well, they're at The Spot in Kilburn, apparently.

Southern fried chicken with waffles and collard greens (£6). Seriously good fried chicken. Crispy, tender and full of flavour - paprika and cayenne mainly. The fresh-made waffles are also very good. At the right level of sweetness, made even better when topped with a knob of butter and some maple syrup, provided. Goes surprisingly well with the chicken. The collard greens are perhaps my favourite item though. From the same family as the cabbage, these are traditionally cooked down with 'hog jowl', but considering The Spot is fully Halal, the pork is overlooked. Instead, they use coconut oil, which gives it a distinct flavour. It's absolutely delicious though: creamy, salty and moreish.

Crispy catfish, biscuits and coleslaw. The coleslaw tasted homemade...in a good way, of course. The biscuits were also very good: salty and buttery, but perhaps a touch too dry. The catfish was fantastic. Well seasoned, crispy and moist fleshed fish. Generous portion, too.

Seafood gumbo, fries and waffles. Probably the strangest combination of the three, but still very good. The seafood gumbo hid a pleasant spiciness in the liquid, whilst the bits of various seafood (prawns, squid, not sure what else) were well cooked and good tasting. The fries were great for frozen, perhaps because they were seasoned with chilli as well as salt.

There are a couple of problems with The Spot: the place only has about ten seats, while the food takes ages to come out (which suggests it's freshly cooked, but twenty minute wait for some fried chicken is a bit much when you're hungry). I'm a fan of the place though. They're passionate about the food they're cooking after various staff trips to Amy Ruth's and Sylvia's in NYC. It's also great fun trying to create the strangest 'combo' thinkable. I just wish I lived a little closer to Kilburn so I could take the food away when all the seats are taken...

See also: Matthew's post on The Spot, on the excellent It Ends With Dovi blog.

B&K Salt Beef Bar, Edgware

Tuesday, 8 June 2010 | |

The only bad thing I can say about the B&K is ITS TO FAR FROM ME!!!! Im in Indiana 

the portions are as big as mikes chest ,plenty to grab hold of and the price is still to this day very very reasonable.

B&K is every bit as good as Schwartz's in Montreal & Carngie Deli in NYC.

Above is three excerpts from reviews on London Eating. We'll put the questionable spelling and grammar down to their excitement about this Jewish restaurant/deli in Edgware, north London. An area with a significant Jewish population, it houses a few Kosher and Kosher style eateries - most are closed on Saturdays, of course, but a few like B&K ignore Shabbat and remain open. Along with the salt beef pictured here, they sell chopped herring, ox tongue, fish balls, matzoh ball soup and various salads, available to take away by weight or eat in as part of a meal. You can also take away the meats away as part of a sandwich. The big seller is the salt beef in rye bread, with a smear of mustard.

Salt beef on rye bread (£4). Brilliantly cheap, but I suppose we're in Zone 5 now, not Selfridges! For my money, the vast difference in price between this sandwich and the salt beef available at the Brass Rail can only be explained by location; the quality of both sandwiches is only notable in that the salt beef in Edgware is more enjoyable due to being about six pounds cheaper! That is to say, the salt beef from B&K is brilliant: it has the perfect half-way texture, between chewy and a softness the perfect distance away from mushy. The good quality meat also comes piled high in your sandwich, but not so much that you can't fit it into your mouth. Well judged.

The rye bread is good. I can't help but think of the rye used at Katz's deli for their pastrami sandwich - an imitation, more similar to cardboard than bread, its purpose similar to a fork, used to carry meat to your mouth. This bread is a million miles away and is delicious enough to eat on its own. Studded with caraway seeds, it's the appropriate level of soft and doesn't detract or distract from the meat.

I've been going to B&K Salt Beef Bar for a few years now so perhaps I'm biased, but I think it's one of the best salt beef sandwiches, if not the best, in London. The other options are good too, if you have space after eating one of their mega sandwiches.

11 Lanson House
Whitchurch Lane

B&K Salt Beef Bar on Urbanspoon

Hereford Road, Notting Hill

Monday, 7 June 2010 | |

Note: I was dining with @samanthanewbery and @harrywilkinson. Follow them on Twitter cos they're ten out of ten nice.

Hereford Road is by no means a new restaurant, as you may know. Opened nearly three years ago by Tom Pemberton (ex head chef of St John) it aims to deliver more of the same, on the street of the same name. Locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, with offal playing a part in the starters and the main courses - calf's brains with tartare sauce, and lamb sweetbreads, for example.

I was here to try out the set lunch menu. Seemingly a bargain - three courses for £15.50. All of the options also appear on the a la carte menu and there's no skimping on portion sizes. As well as the prix-fixe, there's a one-dish "express lunch": one main, a glass of wine and a coffee for £9.50.

Home made bread and (not home made) butter. Pretty good stuff: well made bread and high quality butter, at the appropriate temperature.

Photo by me.
Grilled sardines, parsley and lemon.

Photo by Samantha.
Grilled sardines, parsley and lemon. 
Why do I even bother? Look at my photo, then look at Sam's. I might as well have drawn mine in Microsoft Paint. Anyway... The description I've given in bold is off the menu verbatim - the 'ingredients list' style is one of the simplistic features that Pemberton and Hereford Road employ, paralleling their menu with the style of cooking and perhaps even the greater mindset at the restaurant. On the fish, freshness is always the first issue that creeps into my mind. Flaking the flesh away from the spindly bones gave an early insight: the fish came away with the right level of ease, pulling apart but still retaining a firm, not mushy structure. The initial tasting note was of scorched flesh from the grilling, with the parsley and lemon zest complementing the fresh, oily fish. A squeeze of lemon completed a simple but good starter, despite the last sardine being overcooked and rather cottony in places.

Another reason I like eating sardines: they make me feel like a cartoon cat when I've finished with them.

Harry's beetroot, sorrel and cow's curd. He seemed to like it.

Sam's crispy pork, chicory and mustard. We all liked this one. Probably the best starter of the lot. Really well composed of complementary flavours. Plus it had bits of pork belly dotted about, which always makes everything better.

Photo by me.
Onglet, chips and aioli.

Photo by Samantha.
Onglet, chips and aioli.
(Much better composition, more sharp, better colours...) Sam and I both had the onglet as a main course. Otherwise known as a 'hanger' steak (due to its 'hanging' from the diaphragm of the cow) or 'skirt', it's an economical (cheap) and unforgiving cut - you can only cook it rare or take it to just medium-rare, otherwise it'll be tough, chewy and a waste of flesh. Apparently butchers used to keep this for themselves as no one else would take it or want it, but Hereford Road seems to be all about the unloved cuts of meat. The steak came out already pre-sliced against the grain, which some may not like but I do, and looked perfectly cooked; the exterior had caramelised and developed a crust, whilst the meat inside was rare, pushing medium-rare in places and as juicy as you'd expect. There were no problems with the tenderness of the meat, nor the flavour for that matter. Onglet is one of the stronger tasting cuts, similar to the neighbouring kidneys, and the meat shone with the right amount of seasoning added. It was equally good with some of the pungent aioli, the strong garlic matching the flavourful beef.

The chips are triple cooked and nearly creep into roast potato territory, through size and structure- and taste-wise. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, they were a touch too oily (perhaps the oil was too cold for the first fry?) but were still delicious.

Harry's mackerel, tomatoes and rocket. No messing about, give the lad a whole grilled fish. He seemed to enjoy it, once again.

Photo by me.
Lemon and almond tart.

Photo by Samantha.
Lemon and almond tart.
A pretty nice tart, which I can't remember too well to be perfectly honest. The crème fraiche worked nicely with the slightly bitter candied lemon zest.

Caramel ice cream.
Two generous scoops and two delightfully buttery shortbread-like biscuits. Smooth and almost stringy ice cream with minimal ice crystals, and a great burnt-caramel taste. Marvellous ice cream.

The bill.
Very good for a three course meal - about £22 including a beer and tip.

We spent a couple of hours at Hereford Road, with the service being quite relaxed - perhaps it was because the restaurant was empty, save for two other tables dining inside (and two outside) on a Friday lunchtime. I'm not sure how busy it still gets in the evening, but nearer to opening I remember having to book a while in advance. Maybe people have forgotten about Hereford Road? The set lunch, whilst hardly pushing the boundaries of cooking or using top end ingredients, proves a good, budget-friendly option for the area.

Hereford Road on Urbanspoon

Lobsterfest at Belgo Centraal, Covent Garden (Photoblog)

Sunday, 30 May 2010 | |

Note: I was invited to sample Belgo's Lobsterfest by Sally Bishop of Relish PR, so therefore did not pay for any of the food or drink consumed.

Each year for the past decade or so, Belgo (who label themselves 'The World's greatest Belgian restaurants') have been running Lobsterfest. It's a month-long affair which celebrates all things lobster - with a Belgian twist, naturally. I've been a fan of the Belgo chain for a few years now, trying out their lobster dishes in past Lobsterfests and also being a regular consumer of their excellent express lunch: £7.95 for moules frites and a glass of Belgian beer? Not bad at all. The Lobsterfest event I was invited to gave me and a few others a chance to see Muir Picken, the executive chef at Belgo demonstrate some of the dishes that would be on the menu.

The preparation area. The lobsters had been cooked before our arrival, just to save time and under the assumption we know what a pot of boiling water looks like.

The cooked lobsters, complete with rubber bands holding their pincers together. Pictured on the left is some béchamel sauce, chopped peanuts, a Thai red curry sauce and some chopped leeks.

After taking off the claws off the cooked lobster, Muir demonstrates how to cut Sebastian in half, allowing you to scoop out the meat whilst keeping the shell in tact, for later presentation.

The Thai red curry lobster dish. Surprisingly, the curry topping didn't detract from the lobster at all, and instead the spicy sauce complemented the sweet lobster meat. A bit of a bargain at £8.95, if you ask me; you get a few good bites of lobster for your money.

Lobster salad (£17.95). A whole lobster, chopped up and served with spring onions, green beans and carrots, then topped with a light port and lemon dressing. An unbelievable salad dish (and you'd expect so, from the price, I suppose). It's well worth it though, arriving in a main course sized portion. The dressing is a light and summery accompaniment to the lobster meat, working together and allowing the lobster to shine.

The whole lobster (£17.95) preparation. Straighten the lobster's tail, knife through the head and all the way down, turn him and then cut in half. Simple. Perhaps, but I made a bit of a mess of mine to be honest. Luckily Muir saved it, and applied some garlic and Pernod butter on top before grilling.

This preparation also comes as part of a 'surf and turf' (6oz ribeye steak) - half a lobster with steak is £17.95, whilst a whole lobster comes in at £24.95 if you fancy a bit of red meat on the side. Who doesn't?

The ever-reliable twice-cooked frites. Crunchy on the outside, pillowy potato inside - consistently great fries at Belgo, especially when dipped into some of their mayonnaise.

Of course, you may read this and consider that I didn't pay for any of the food, but in perfect honesty I can say that I'll be back soon for some more lobster and those delicious frites, as well as their great selection of beers.

See also: Londonist post on Lobsterfest