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Sunday
Sep112011

Vinoteca

I had high hopes for Vinoteca. Its near to my new place of work and I had hoped this would be my "Dear God, I need a drink and some fattening food" place.  Sadly, I don't think this is it. It wasn't that it was bad, it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination, it was just very familiar.

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Monday
May092011

Coq D'argent

Finally Britain is warming up and so, The Boyfriend and I are determined to make the most of this weather by eating and drinking outside as much as possible. Sadly, London is a city that makes this a pretty difficult challenge. My list for outdoor restaurants is a small one; 
The Chelsea farmers Market - is the obvious place for sunny weekends, if you can be bothered to queue, but gets cold and quiet at night. The Boundary - again if you can face the queue, is a good option but really slows down past nine pm. 

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Friday
Feb112011

Androuet - When is a fondue not a fondue?

 

For those who don’t know, Androuet is a Parisian cheese shop/restaurant that has been brought over to Spitalfields market. The place itself is tiny, just accommodating 12 people snuggly. Given their space shortage, they have done a lot to make the place feel lively. I was really excited to try Androuet. I was so excited I spent the day preparing. I managed to survive ten waking hours on smoothies, olives and dried fruit. By the time I rolled up to Androuet, I was ready, and willing, to eat the whole shop. We ordered a fondue for two to share, wanting to get straight on to the good stuff - although I was tempted by the truffle grilled cheese (if I worked in the vicinity I think that I would be here every day and at least 50lbs heavier).

 

Now, my main experience with fondue is limited to the most amazing restaurant in the world - a half falling down, 16th century farmhouse in the middle of the French alps, where everything you order comes with something that resembles a torture device to cook your food. This is a place, where if you order a Raclette, you get a quarter wheel of cheese - not just little slices with mini frying pans. Androuet, sadly is not one of these places. In fact when I asked which method they used, the waiter scoffed. He also told me that Raclette is only served outside and that yes, you only get slices. This should have been an indication that my fondue was perhaps not going to be as authentic as I had hoped.

So, when is a fondue not a fondue? When it is heated by a candle. In my opinion, it is the equivalent of eating at a bakery and watching your brownie bake in an Easy Bake Oven. It is toy food. Luckily, the cheese itself and the charcuterie were both lovely, and whilst the contraption may not have been authentic, the important part was.

My preparation actually let me down as in my eagerness I managed to stab my hand with my fondue fork. Equally, the Boyfriend and I were unsatisfied by just the first fondue, so we ordered another. To be honest, I think even if I hadn’t been starving before I arrived we probably would have ordered another, making this place not quite the bargain it appears.

It was a fun night out, for a casual midweek dinner, and it was different. It didn't cost any more than my previous night out at Jamie's, as it came to £40.00 (fondue plus a lot of wine) and it was a lot more enjoyable. This would be a great post work, lets grab a bite to eat venue or lunch time, I so want to try that grilled cheese, or a really great first midweek date place. However, if I want real Savoyarde fare - I think it prefer to test out L'art du Fromage, or L'Cave du Fromage. 

Androuet (Old Spitalfields Market) on Urbanspoon

 

Saturday
Feb052011

Baranis - I'll take you to the South of France







Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, describes Pétanque as "a form of boules where the goal is, while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground, to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally "piglet") or jack."

Sounds fun, right? It conjures up images of the South of France, wine, sunshine, beaches... ahh. Oh wait, it’s February. Its cold. It’s London. But fear not, if you think a taste of the South of France is what you need in these depressing months, Baranis will help you out.





( Sorry, random people in this photo. I wasn't aiming for you)
I really hate February, as I have described in previous postsMy credit card statement is a testimony to this. As the only way I find to get me through this month is internet shopping. I mean, think about it. January, there are new presents to play with and resolutions to keep. March, it’s almost April and April has Easter, which means more sunshine and a potential holidays. May is practically Summer.  June/July/August/September its warm enough to justify drinking outside so what could be bad? October, I spend a lot of time winter wardrobe shopping so that’s not so bad. November is leading up to Christmas and December has Christmas.
Basically, my visit to Baranis could not have come at a better time. Baranis is a relatively new addition to the scene, arriving around Christmas time to the outskirts of Bankerland. It’s the bar of Cigalon (the life changing-ly good restaurant I visited last month). I had high hopes. No pressure or anything, Baranis. Anyway, back to Petanque. They have a court here. In fact, they have the only indoor court in the UK. (Please note – Petanque is not a sport for heels unless you’re particularly apt at walking on gravel in those Louboutins)

Baranis is located beneath Cigalon, in the basement area. The décor is adorable. Arches everywhere, little nooks and crannies, lime green pillars, you might as well be in the South of France. There is low lighting and mismatching chairs. It’s gorgeous. Even the waitresses are in cute and nautical, white and blue striped tops. It's weird - there is something about the atmosphere that seems to make all troubles melt away. Even better, The Boyfriend's blackberry didnt get reception so our meal went uninterupted by world collapsing/phonecalls/emails etc.
Starving, The Boyfriend and I started with a Charcuterie plate for £9.50.  I had an issue with the presentation. Maybe its my OCD/love of organization but I kind of wanted to take this, and line up all the different dried meats in columns, instead of having to poke around to find them. I liked the charcuterie but didn’t love it – I think the one at Comptoir Gascon (the Piggy Treats) is actually better and it pales in comparison to the one at Tom’s Kitchen, although it is half the price.  
We also had Bread for £1.50, which is a bargain for what we received. Normally, I don’t think you should have to pay for bread in a restaurant, but as this is really a bar/wine bar this was more than reasonable, especially when you consider how wonderful the bread was. It was warm and the lovely butter they served with it just melted away into it.
We then moved on to a selection of cheeses, which were artfully presented and another good bargain at £8.00. The cheeses were lovely and organized from mildest to strongest. The first 4 I adored, but the last 2 I found too strong. Overall? Lovely.
We then moved on to our only hot dish of the evening a squid dish with caponata for £8.00. It was again, great. The squid was perfectly cook and melded well with the aubergine and roasted peppers. Perhaps, there could have been more squid but that was my only complaint.

I have to say at this point, I normally love short menus. I hate too much choice but with Baranis I kind of felt the menu was a bit too short. Perhaps this really isn’t meant to be used as a dinner alternative, which would be a waste if that were the case. Or maybe i'm just being too picky.
We moved on to dessert where we had a citrus crème brulee for £3.00, which was perfect. Nice crunchy top, lovely smooth texture underneath and cute candied limes on top.

I didn’t love the dessert wines we had with this, which says something if I actually manage to pick up on something about the wine.  We tried 2 and I found them too bitter and aggressive to work well with the Crème Brulee but oh well. The wine list itself is pretty good. They have and impressively large section of wines from Southern France and prices start at £3.50 for a glass and £19 for a bottle. Another bargain. The cocktails also looked good.

There’s one major problem with this place however. You know when your holiday is coming to an end and you have to start packing/ hoarding the free toiletries and you start talking about what time you need to be at the airport and how you’re going to get there and suddenly you’re heart just sinks because its suddenly hits you - its over. It wasn’t real life, it was fantasy. At the risk of sounding over the top, I kind of felt like that leaving Baranis.


But eventually, we had to leave as it closes at 11. At least, my credit card issues maybe saved. It came to £60.00 most of which was booze related. Not only was this pretty good value but the experience left me so happy I probably won't be online shopping for at least a week. Its truly a wonderful place. I can't wait to come back. I just hope they like me as much as I like them, because I intend to make Baranis my every Thursday place.

115 Chancery Lane,
WC2A PP
London 
Baranis on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jan202011

Roka Canary Wharf - Third Time's A Charm

 

I've had bad experiences every time I've been to Roka. Nothing to do with the food, mind. Just for some reason every time I go it immediately triggers a crisis at The Boyfriend's work. The first time we went he was two hours late for dinner, which meant that I actually ate alone. The second time, I had to sit and watch him talk on, not one, but two conference calls at the same time, (a phone at each ear) throughout our lunch. Surprisingly, each time I stil enjoyed myself because the food is so good I don't think I would even have been capable of talking. I'm pretty sure anything could happen in the restaurant around me and I would still be a supremely happy bunny. Which is why I will jump at any chance to go. My only real problem with Roka, (bar the Bank world collapsing every time I go) is that its too popular for its own good. It takes at least a week to get a table, and inside they've tried to squeeze too many people in, which also has consequences on the service, which suffers as a result.

 

 

I'd never really considered Canary Wharf as a place to go to dinner, (as I'm sure most people haven't, unless you work in the vicinity) but for the Boyfriend and I, starving at 7.30 pm on a Monday night, craving sushi and tired, Roka Canary Wharf seemed like a perfect choice. They had space last minute, (finally a good restaurant in London with space!) and on public transport took me only ten minutes longer than walking to Charlotte Street, and this way didn't involve any rain. Sold. 

The restaurant itself is basically a larger version of the Charlotte Street venue, except they probably have similar numbers of tables as these were evenly spaced. It was half empty but the atmosphere didn't feel as empty as it was.


We started with a Age Wari Gan roll - Soft shell Crab, cucumber, Kim Chi and Chilli Mayonnaise. The soft shell crab was crunchy but still soft and and the mayonnaise provided a bit of spice to the roll. However, the Kim Chi and cucumber flavours were lost due to the strength of the mayonnaise. Still, easily the best soft shell crab roll in London. My only criticism is the fact that they are five rolls instead of the traditional six which makes splitting them difficult especially when they are so good. Playing the " If you really loved me card" here is advisable.


We then had Fried Baby Squid, Schichimi and Lime - which was the low point of the meal. It wasn't that it was bad, it's that relative to the other things we ordered it wasnt as exciting. Poor ordering on our part. The lime flavour really dominated in this dish, which was a nice change to the usual plain calamari, again the Schichimi (a japanese spice mixture) flavour was either non existent or destroyed by the other flavours. They were nicely cooked though and not too greasy.


My highlight of the meal, actually scratch that, highlight of my life were the ribs. They were amazing. Sticky and spicy, in a barbecue sauce type glaze, but not smothered in sauce like your typical ribs. Crunchy cashews nuts and spring onion added an extra uumph. They were so good I didn't care that I looked revolting stuffing my face with the ribs  and ended up being covered in the glaze. None of it mattered because they were so damn good.


The Seabass arrived shortly after the ribs, luckily as after I started eating those I wasnt about to stop to take a photo of some vegetables, so I managed to get a quick shot of it. The Seabass is good. Its about the same standard as Nobu and the rest. I have never felt the need to touch the yellow sauce that accompanies it (no clue what it is) as the seabass is flavoured enough to make it redundant. It was perfectly cooked, as always, and fell away in flakes after a gentle poke with a chopstick. Lovely, but second fiddle to the ribs.

Aubergine and asparagus accompanied these two. The aubergine was baked in its skin and served with a little spoon with which to scrape it out. Covered in yet another sauce so good I couldn't believe that this could possibly be healthy. (To be honest, god knows what they put on it to make it taste like this, but it was a vegetable so I assume it has to be just a little bit healthy).The asparagus had been grilled on the Robata and was still satisfyingly crunchy. It tasted just like asparagus should which was refreshing after the rich glazes/sauces on everything else we had ordered.


All of this was accompanied by a nice carafe of some wine which, I liked as always but about which The Boyfriend seemed fairly apathetic. The service was perfect, the waiters really didnt miss a beat (probably helped by the fact the restaurant was half empty).


The total came to 50 a head, not cheap by any means, but when considered relative to the competition around it, (I'm thinking about you, Barbecoa) and given Roka is also an "it" restaurant, its a pretty good deal. I challenge anyone to find better Japanese in London for the same price. The Canary Wharf venue has none of the problems its older sibling does and comes off as less pretentious too. It seems to be more about the food. But maybe I'm just biased because for once at Roka I wasn't a Blackberry widow.



Roka Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon

 

Sunday
Jan162011

Cigalon - Perfect.

I had a good feeling about Cigalon before I went. Maybe it was because it had been getting perfect reviews. Maybe because the restaurant looked gorgeous. Maybe it was because it was within walking distance of my home. Maybe it was just meant to be.



For the first time, in a very long time, I wasn't let down by a restaurant. From the beginning, and I mean the very beginning, everything went right. From the gorgeous rope door handles, to the charming and chatty front of house. Even our corner table overlooking the elegant dining room, which is now tied with Galvin La Chapelle as prettiest restaurant in London in my mind, was perfect.


I started with half a dozen oysters which isnt all that great a way to judge a restaurant, but I did very much like the plate it was served on. They were fresh, and all performed a satisfactory wiggle when reacting to the lemon I squeezed on.


The Boyfriend opted for a side as a starter - the Bacon and Jerusalem Artichokes Salad (or something along those lines) - which was to die for, and meant I immediately ate half of his as well. This is one of those dishes where the salad was much more than the sum of its parts.
Next, I had Veal (they were out of the usual pork) with salsify and vegetables similar to The Boyfriend's salad. It was heavenly. I am normally not a big red meat eater, but this was just incredible. Moorish and comforting, but not heavy at the same time. The veal was tender and perfectly cooked, and the salsisfy, which I have never eaten before, immediately became my favourite vegtable at all time (I am now determined to learn how to cook it myself). Only 8 days into 2011 and I think I found my dish of the year.


The Boyfriend's Bouillabaisse was equally wonderful. Although, oddly enough contained no seafood just fish. It was accompanied by toast with a mustard sauce provided a nice contrast of spice and bite to the soft soup.


The only let down of the meal was the dessert. Nothing on the menu jumped out at me. I really wanted Creme Brulee or something of that sort, but alas I settled for Carmalised Orange Mousse. It was fairly flavourless, although the Boyfriend enjoyed it as it was the kind of dessert the left you feeling light and refreshed rather than sluggish.


The bill came to around 100 which, for a meal of this quality in Bankerland is more than reasonable. Even more reasonable given this included 2 glasses of champagne, fresh bread with tapenade, a carafe of wine, 2 starters, 2 mains, a desert, desert wine and service from the charming and attentive staff.


I left a very happy camper, determined to return in the next couple of weeks. It reminds me a lot of La Petite Maison except slightly cheaper with more interesting food and a menu that looks likely to be changed regularly.  In a way, I hope this place doesnt become as popular as its destined to be. Selfishly, I dont want it to turn into yet another "Yes, we have a table free in 7 weeks time but you will have to eat at 5.30 and can only stay for an hour" place.


Until then, I can't wait to go again.


Cigalon
115 Chancery Lane
City of London

WC2A 1PP
020 7242 8373

Le Cigalon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Jan112011

Barbecoa - Iwouldntgoa

 

I booked Barbecoa at least a month before I went. I dont know if that is because its incredibly popular, I really doubt it given recent reviews, or if Opentable itself was trying to warn me. Oh, if only I had listened. The only good thing about Barbecoa was its location on top of New Change and therefore an excuse for me to hit the shops, without technically breaking my "I will not shop in January" resolution.
New Change itself I quite liked except the open air concept. London is cold three quarters of the year. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk between stores not only sheltered from the rain but also warm. If not why build a mall at all? Why not just keep with the traditional high street we love so much.
Anyway, we arrived early as the stores at New Change close at 8. We started with pork scratchings in the bar which pretty much set the standard for what was about to come. Despite appearances there was not enough salt. They also seemed to stick together in a way I have never seen other fried foods do. The ‘mole sauce” was bland and flavourless much like the pork scratchings.
We were eventually taken to our table which we could barely see. This is the kind of place where you want to yell “Just turn the lights on!”  It's akin to what imagine eating at Dans Le Noir is like. Eventually our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we could see that the restaurant itself is awful. It feels like your sitting in an empty store filled with a load of cheap chairs. Which, in fact, you are. It looks spacious because of the high ceilings but in reality the tables are spaced very close together.
And then there is the view. This is no Galvin At The Windows or Rhodes 24. Yeah, the views are pretty but it's not that pretty - its too low down for the view to be extraordinary. If you went and stood at the store next to the restaurant at night it would be the same experience, except maybe nicer.
We started with Scallop Ceviche –  £11.00. Truth be told, it was far too acidic which killed not only any bacteria lurking on those scallops but also my taste buds. At least they were presented nicely in the shell and served with watercress and avocado which softened the lemon flavor slightly.

The ribs came next at £9.00 (I couldn't even take a photo of the ribs it was so dark.) They were on the spicy side although had a nice flavour. The coleslaw that accompanied was nice on the first bite, with a mint flavor that was refreshing but there was a sweetness that became sickly after that.
My pulled pork - £16.00 - was the same sickly conception. I gave up midway through. The cornbread was burnt, the coleslaw was bland and the pulled pork was again, very sweet and very liquid.
The Boyfriend however, liked his Fillet steak - £30.00 - and from what I could make out, through the darkness, it did look perfectly cooked. 
We decide to give Barbecoa one last shot and order dessert. I was expecting something classically American - like Mississippi mud pie or something equally satisfying - on the menu but alas no. We settled for Cheesecake 8.00. The lime flavor dominated meaning the typical cheesecake taste wasn’t really there. A layer of whipped egg white and sugar like uncooked meringue sat on the top, which was lovely and helped to balance the lime.
In conclusion, a place of subtle flavours this is not. I left feeling sluggish and truth be told a little bit nauseous, in sharp contrast to my dinner at the not so far away Cigalon.
At £50 a head, for not even 3 courses with only one glass of wine each I think this is a pretty expensive place for dinner.I should have gone to the Nandos opposite.


Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

 

Thursday
Dec022010

Comptior Gascon – Food, Food, Everywhere but Not a Bite to Eat.

Comptior Gascon is part of The Gascon family: a trio of restaurants all around Smithfields with Club Gascon (the daddy of them all with one Michelin star), Cellar Gascon, the relaxing Wine Bar, and Comptoir Gascon the low key bistro.Refusing to head to one of my normal midweek haunts The Boyfriend and I decided to head to Comptoir Gascon where, I have been numerous times never to be thoroughly impressed but he had never. 

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Sunday
Nov282010

28-50 - Perfection

28-50. The latitude between which grapes can grow. I guess that really tells you all about the type of restaurant this place is however, despite the primary focus being on the wine the food is actually very good.


Thirsty, anyone?

The wine menu has about 60 types of wine all served in any option of size from a 75ml taster to a bottle. In addition to this there is actually an "exceptional wine" menu so if money is burning a hole in your pocket I guess this is your list. Very appropriate given it's location in the heart of the City. The wine menu changes pretty frequently, which is destroying my aim of drinking through the white section.

I have to admit I love this place. It's nice to be able to try a variety of wines throughout a meal and still be able to walk out of the place, as opposed to having to be carried.  The staff are charming and friendly and the restaurant itself is beautifully done. A restaurant where the interior doesn’t look like an Ikea catalogue - finally!  Comptoir gascon would be it's nearest competition but 28-50 beats it on every level.

Boyfriend and I headed out on a freezing Monday night. The place was unusually quiet but I predict in the run up to Christmas the place will be unbearable, filled with drunken city types enjoying the festive season.

Our starters arrived fairly quickly after ordering.

Duck Rillettes with Cornichons and sour dough toast – 7.00
So perfect it immediately made up for the hypothermia I had almost contracted on the walk over.

The Boyfriend had Trout, fennel and avocado with mustard dressing – 7.50. I gathered he enjoyed by the fact it was gone within a minute.
Both The Boyfriend and I then ate Sea bass with Shellfish volute and Basil Farfalle – 15.95

I LOVE THIS DISH. It makes me want to stand on the table and yell it to the whole world. The combination of the creamy veloute, the crunch of the sea bass and the basil flavour is so unbelievably lovely there aren't really words to describe it.

Boyfriend's and and I's diets were already firmly out the window at this point and of course we couldn't leave without trying desserts.

Rice pudding with maple syrup – 6.00

Beautiful, isn't it? It looks like its smiling and boy, was I smiling back.
The only thing that could have made me happier than the sea bass and the only rice pudding I have ever tried superior to my grandmother's. The addition of dried apricot and hazelnut provided a satisfying crunch and the praline ice cream melted seamlessly into the creamy rice. If it were possible to make love to a dish this would be the one.

Perfectly nice is the best way to describe this place. It will leave you with a nice warn feeling, an incredibly expanded stomach but a bank balance largely intact. The total damage came to only about 80.

28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen
140 Fetter Lane

EC4A 1BT

London
 020 7242 8877
28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen on Urbanspoon