I’ve been wanting to see Limbo at London Wonderground on the South Bank since it was announced by its musical director Sxip Shirey whose music I have admired since he first supported Amanda Palmer. His style is rather off-the-wall with … Continue reading
On Friday I had some time to kill in the afternoon and as it was rather chilly I decided to have a look at the British Museum (where I hadn’t been for years), forgetting it was Good Friday and therefore heaving. I did find a few quieter sections, though and was able to take a few photos. No chance getting into the temp exhibtions that required booking, though. A few photographic impressions below:
Sowei mask, a free temp exhibit.
A few more on flickr.
Saturday morning, I had breakfast again at The Hampshire Hog as I was staying a few minutes down the road at a budget hotel. As I had no proper lunch planned (or even a time when I would eat), I opted for something a little more substantial, Eggs Benedict:
They were fine indeed, the eggs poached on the spot, good ham on nicely toasted muffins with a smooth hollandaise. Freshly squeezed orange juice on the side. The few undressed rocket leaves didn’t really add anything. I also managed to catch up with Ed before he leaves the running of the Hog to others and leaves for India to run a big business venture.
I had orginally planned to spend daytime wandering around various markets and the food festival on the South Bank but I really didn’t fancy it in the cold wind (and later sleet) so I spent the day at Leisure Games in Finchley instead playing board games as it was International Tabletop Day. That was good fun but I did need some food so I went to a Persian restaurant a few doors down. The food was pleasant enough but there was just too much of it (and I ate too much) which in hindsight was a bad idea.
I had booked dinner at Trishna early in the evening as it was a bank holiday weekend which tends to be notorious for train travel and I really didn’t want to spend a long time on cold replacement busses. Considering my late bulk lunch I sadly wasn’t feeling hungry enough to splurge on the big tasting menu so I chose the five course one with a matching flight of wines. I had only heard good reviews from both critics and friends so I was really looking forward to it and I was not disappointed.
Bread with two interesting chutneys, a milder one with mango and a rather hot one.
The first course was Koliwada lobster and shrimp which was quite spicy but the spicing so well judged that the flavour of the crustaceans still came through. Needless to say, they were very nicely cooked.
Hariyali Bream with green chilli, coriander and tomato kachumber. Less hot than the previous course despite the green chilli and wrapped in coriander, the fish was wonderfully moist and almost flaked before my knife touched it. Easily one of my favourite dishes.
Duck Seekh Kebab was probably the odd one out. While the duck flavour was excellent, the kebab was rather dense and a bit dry, at least to my taste. The spiced pineapple chutney worked brilliantly with it, however and added some moisture.
The main was a whole spread of dishes: prawns in a rich, fragrant and somewhat spicy curry sauce, spicy yellow dal, spinach with garlic, basmati rice and two kinds of naan. Brilliant in every way, my only regret was really not being hungry anymore otherwise I would have finished the rice with the sauce and dal. As it was, quite a bit of those elements went back into the kitchen.
However, there’s always room for dessert and truly magnificent that was:
Cardamom Kheer: The queen of rice puddings, if I ever had one. I could hardly chew and swallow because of the smile it put on my face, a smile that would not fade for quite a few minutes after it was all gone. Indian sweets and desserts can be very sweet and cloying but this was just right with just the right amount of spicing.
Like my friends, I can only recommend Trishna, not just because of the quality of the food and well matched wines but also because it presents excellent value. My menu was towards the upper end and came to 80 pounds including wine and service. For a one star restaurant in a posh part of London, this is very good indeed. Even better value are their smaller and early evening menus.
My dinner on Friday at John Salt had been planned last year already. At the time Ben Spalding was in the kitchen and the waiting list had been long so I decided to go as part of my birthday binge. He has since left but as it was Neil Rankin (formerly of Pitt Cue Co.) who replaced him as head chef I upheld the booking. I met up with yet another twitter friend (@CityJohn) and it turned out to be a treat for both of us.
The restaurant itself is upstairs on a mezzanine level, away from the busy bar and music downstairs so it was actually possible to talk without shouting.
The menu consists of “plates”, starter sized portions ideal for sharing and mains with optional sides. We chose to share cod cheeks with tomato, scallops and sardines. There was a mixup as the octopus we ordered ended up being tempura oysters but we didn’t mind as they were really good. We even received a freebie in the shape of a plate of razor clams cooked with wild garlic. Everything was excellent but our favourites were the scallops, roe intact and served in their shells in a fragrant sauce (we were so excited by them that I forgot to take a photo, oops).
For mains we chose the onglet with kimchi hollandaise (John) and the whole megrim sole with bone sauce (me). Both were cooked on the spot with nice sauces, the kimchi hollandaise being especially interesting which would have matched the fish as well. On the side we had a bowl of grilled salad and excellent frites.
For dessert, we had the bacon panacotta (something my companion had not had before) and the rhubarb trifle. The trifle was really good, not too sweet and not too much cream so rather light. I didn’t take photos as they were served in tumblers which wouldn’t have worked well in the available light.
For all this great food and a bottle of wine the bill came to just over 50 pounds a head, including service which I call excellent value indeed.
The next day after a breakfast of pancakes at The Hampshire Hog, I made my way to Hyde Park to meet up with the male half of The Critical Couple for lunch at Koffmann’s which is located within The Berkeley Hotel but has its own restaurant from the main road. The main part of the restaurant is downstairs, away from natural light which is always a bit tricky for photography but as it was rather quiet we managed to get moved to a table by the window upstairs which was much better.
Pierre Koffmann has been a household name in the UK for a long time and quite a number of well-known chefs with their own established restaurants learned the ropes his kitchen like Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Bruno Loubet, Eric Chavot and many others. With a reputation and pedigree like this you might think the food would be over elaborate and potentially pretentious but it actually is brasserie food, just refined and done very well.
The amuse already showed us the quality of the dishes we were to expect. This onion tart was light and perfectly crispy. Just two bites for each of us but full of flavour.
This being my first time, I had to go for the signature dishes:
Squid Bolognaise: I had first seen this dish on Saturday Kitchen a while ago and it intrigued me. The pasta is replaced by shaved, perfectly cooked squid, served with a bolognaise style sauce that had clearly been slowly cooked for a long time, imparting lots of deep flavour while still not overpowering the squid.
The next obvious choice was the pig’s trotter stuffed with morels and sweetbreads. The skin of the trotter turns rather gelatinous but is very tender indeed so it almost melts in your mouth. The stuffing is well judged and adds some crispy bits. This was served with a smooth pomme puree (easily the same amount of butter to potato) and a shiny, well reduced sauce. Not exactly a dish for the faint-hearted as it is quite substantial but it is actually less rich than it sounds and its reputation is more than deserved.
For dessert we both chose the pistachio souffle to which our waiter added a quenelle of pistachio ice cream at the table. This slowly sunk into the souffle without collapsing it and instead almost completely melting on the way. Light and fluffy after the rich main, this was the perfect way to end. It has been a few years since I had Tom Kitchin’s version (who serves the ice cream on the side) but I daresay they were both equally accomplished.
You can find photos of my companion’s dishes on flickr but you will have to wait for his blog post to see what they were like. They both looked fantastic, too, so I might well have to come back at some point soon. Considering the location, the quality of the food and the restaurant’s reputation, our meal was reasonable value: 70 pounds including efficient and friendly service and a generous glass of wine. Their set lunch menu is a true bargain which I will have to try soon.
In the evening I went to House of Wolf in Islington who have a rather silly website. Instead of having a full time head chef, they invite a series of chefs for a “popup residence” for a month or two. Currently, it’s Dave Ahern, formerly of The Ship in Wandsworth, The Alexandra in Wimbledon, Ben’s Canteen and most recently his Burger Breakout project. At the House of Wolf, there’s a big bar downstairs, a smaller “reservations only” bar on the first floor and the restaurant on the second floor. The only option is a five-course tasting menu, there is no a la carte.
The first course was SBLT (bacon salmon, lettuce and smoked tomato) in a toasted sandwich. The bacon flavour worked really well with the salmon, a really good starter. Sadly, the photo was not usable due to a focussing issue.
The next course was a “quail’s nest”. Warmed deviled quail’s egg in a nest made from confit quail leg meat, spelt & wild herbs with quail breast and pickled berries. I didn’t find the devilling of the egg very strong but all the flavours and different textures went well together.
Chowder: Scallops, mussels & cod cheeks with cubes of bacon and sweetcorn milk jellies & fish broth. Perfectly cooked pieces of fish and seafood came in a bowl, with the rich and very flavourful broth served in a separate jug. The jellies were really intense adding long lasting bursts of flavour to several spoonfuls of chowder. This was the most interesting dish and my favourite.
The main was a beef cheek, slowly braised for 12 hours so the meat was really tender. The sauce was a strong reduction of the braising liquid combined with black garlic. The potato and horseradish purrees as well as the mushrooms were excellent, too but the most surprising element were the beef tendons. They go through a long process of boiling, dehydrating and finally deep frying and come out like really good pork scratchings, just with a strong beef flavour. Marvellous.
The dessert was called “Poptarts & Lollipops” but obviously not that simple. The crispy poptart was filled with poached rhubarb and the lollipop was a toffee apple. The small jar contained “beer custard”, a combination that worked really well. The only element that was a touch too sweet for me was the candy floss cordial but everything was a pleasure to eat and drink.
An excellent way to spend an evening. The company of my old friend Maria who I hadn’t seen in almost two years meant three hours went by in a very short time.
As this tasting menu shows, Dave Ahern has come a long way from pub food and gourmet burgers and I am looking forward to his next venture.
This year’s birthday extravaganza started at Angler, the fish restaurant at the new South Place Hotel where Tony Fleming is now head chef. To celebrate the occasion, The Renaissance Epicurian joined me. We had been chatting on Twitter and reading each other’s blogs for a while but only now had the opportunity to meet and a good time was had indeed, aided by Tony’s excellent cooking. To make things even more interesting, Tony had created a personalised tasting menu for each of us which was a very nice touch indeed. At Angler they concentrate on fish which was reflected in our menus. I’ll only show my menu below, you can see the other one on flickr.
Ballotine of London cure salmon, horseradish, apple, blini (not in the photo, they came in a separate dish). Subtle, well combined flavours, with little pops of salt from the caviar. A great start.
Roast brill, brown shrimp, capers, butter, parsley. A perfectly roasted piece of fish on the bone with excellent flavour, the brown shrimp were little meaty crunchy bits, all brought together by the butter. This was a sizeable portion but I could have had a bigger one.
Line caught cod, chicken oysters, sweet onion puree, roasting juices. I still can’t decice if the brill or this was my favourite dish. The rich chicken element added to the cod rather than hiding its flavour and texture. Brilliant.
An excellent start to my “birthday binge”. I would also like to thank Tony and the staff at the South Place Hotel for showing me around the place. One day I will be able to afford one of those suites…