Lunch at Osteria Waggon and Horses, Milton

Osteria Waggon & Horses in Milton has been on my list for a while since various friends gave rave reviews but despite being deceptively close to where I live it’s just a little far to walk and there is no bus back from Milton after dinner would be finished so the only time I can get there and back easily is Saturday lunchtime when I’m usually out shopping or do other things. I finally managed to get the timing right and visited last Saturday and really regretted not having done this earlier.
The former pub was stripped down to a very simple and clean style with well spaced tables in the dining area and a small bar area. The menu consists of a blackboard of aperitivi, small plates of meat, fish, veg, salad, charcuterie and everything else they can think of on the day, a bit like Spanish tapas. I think there were at least 10 different ones on the board when I was there. Two make about a starter portion. The printed menu has starters, pasta, mains and desserts, all rather more varied than what you usually find at Italian places. There is also a set lunch option on weekdays and a “Taste” menu on weekends.

Aperitivi and bread selection
Squid ink bread

I chose two aperitivi, ox tongue with salsa verde on the left and salted sardines on the right, with their bread selection. The bread was warm and delicious (the black blob was made with squid ink, the standout one was the foccaccia), the ox tongue tender and rich nicely complemented by the fresh salsa verde. The salted sardines were small, more like anchovies, the tapenade was not too strong in olive flavour (proper olives, too, not those dyed ones you often get) and the lemon jelly cut through the richness.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

My main was a superb vegetarian risotto with jerusalem artichokes, pesto, beetroot and parmesan crisps. Perfect consistency, rice al dente (which might not be to everyone’s taste) and a great balance of flavours and textures. This was a joy to eat, easily among the best risotti I’ve had anywhere.

By this time I was quite full already but I couldn’t pass on dessert:

Gianduja semifreddo, black sesame ice cream

This seemed to be the lightest option (with the exception of the gelato selection), a gianduja semifreddo (the chocolate glazed log), black sesame ice cream, truffles and chocolate soil. The gianduja was rich but not too sweet, helped by the dark chocolate glaze. The ice cream was rather remarkable, too, first time I had one based on black sesame. The truffles were excellent, too.

The experience was rounded up by friendly and helpful service. Osteria might be a little more expensive than other neighbourhood Italians but the extra cost is entirely justified by the quality of the offerings and I can only recommend it.
Next time I want to go with a few friends and go through the whole aperitivi menu.

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First impressions of Butch Annie’s, 14/02/2015

Like many new discoveries, I came across this new burger place in the centre of Cambridge (Market St, where Carrington used to be) on twitter.

Entrance

The room has been updated a bit (the graffiti on the walls will probably divide opinion) but it should work well for a long and relatively narrow room.

Beers Booths One side of the bar

They offered a free burger to the first 250 people through the door who had retweeted their info so of course I couldn’t resist. I arrived at noon but had to wait about 10 minutes until they had sorted out some issues. The menu has five beef burgers and two with iberico pork (all the topping combinations are also available with a veggie patty); sides are skin-on chips with various seasonings, “onion popcorn” (onions cooked in a chickpea and beer batter) and coleslaw plus additional dips and sauces. The drinks menu has bottled craft lager and ales (Freedom, Chapel Down, Fourpure, Rosita, Harviestoun), two ciders, four wines and five bourbons. Soft drinks are Cokes and Sprite, juices, Fentiman’s drinks and mineral water. Prices for burgers range between 6.90 and 8.90, the average of a craft beer is around 4.60, soft drinks are more harshly priced at 2.50 for a tiny orange juice, and 3.30 for a Fentiman’s. Now for the burger. I’d had breakfast not long before so only ordered a burger without any sides. I chose one of the iberico pork ones, just to see how they would treat such a superb and delicate meat.

"Topsy Turvy" iberico pork burger Cooked medium, as it's supposed to be

The burger was a decent size, the toppings were well balanced so you could still taste the meat and the brioche bun was crispy and not really sweet as some brioche can be. As you can see in the second photo, the meat was cooked pink, as it should be with iberico pork. It was delicious and I will happily pay the £8.90 they are charging for it next time, although I want to try some of the beef options, too, maybe even investigate the “secret” vegetarian patty. It’s served simply wrapped in greaseproof paper on a metal tray.

There were a few kinks in the service but in the first hour of opening that’s to be expected and I’m sure they will be smoothed out soon.
I had a brief chat with Tim, one of the owners and they sound like they both know what they’re doing and have a good philosophy generally, and more importantly, in the sourcing of their ingredients. Their beef comes from a small, well-managed herd in Herefordshire, for example.

They’ll be open from 12pm (11am on weekends) to 11pm all day so should provide a good source for a quick meal in town later in the evening.

The website is still quite bare but will hopefully have more info soon.

A feasting at Fitzbillies

As Fitzbillies opened for dinner again after a summer break, they introduced a “feasting” menu (see bottom of the dinner menu), available to groups of four and above and consisting of a starter (from the current menu, and the whole group has to agree on one), a main which is usually a whole cut of roasted meat to be carved at the table or a “dish of birds” and a dessert (selection as with starter). When I read this, I immediately knew this would be good fun so after a few weeks of herding catsfriends, we had decided on a date and a menu.

Cured rabbit loin, celeriac/hazelnut remoulade
We started with cured rabbit loin and celeriac/hazelnut remoulade. The meat was superb, tender and flavourful, another example of Fitzbillies’ excellent cured products. The crunchy remoulade went nicely with it.
Sweetcorn chowder, queenie scallop
A little extra course in the shape of an espresso cup of sweetcorn chowder with a roasted Queenie scallop was next. The chowder was fresh and subtle in sweetcorn flavour, the scallop cooked perfectly.
Dish of birds
The main event, Dish of Birds: A quail each and a half each of pheasant and poussin, all perfectly roasted with crisp skin and juicy flesh. Not in the photo are the sides: roast potatoes, dandelion leaves, carrots, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and an excellent gravy. This was as delicious as it looked and after we’d finished, everybody was groaning with full stomachs.
Pear and chocolate cake
The dessert, however, was still to come and it fit in, too, as the pear and chocolate cake was rather light.

All the courses were served on sharing platters.

It was a really fun evening and I highly recommend it for a family celebration or just a reason to bring friends together. With a few bottles of wine, coffee and service, this feasting came to 50 pounds a head.

Lunch at Minneci, Nuremberg

As I had a few hours to kill before my train I did some research into excellent restaurants. The only Michelin starred restaurant, Essigbrätlein, doesn’t have a website(!) and despite reading more favourable than negative reviews, I wasn’t going to chance a visit (and quite a lot of money) without getting an overview first. The other restaurant on my list was Aumers La Vie, which does have a website and their food sounded like my kind of thing but they don’t serve lunch on weekdays so the next one that caught my eye was Minneci, an Italian restaurant near Färbertor. Their menu not only looked excellent and they also offer a tasting menu which sounded perfect to spend a couple of hours on.

I guess their main business is dinner as when I arrived, I was the only guest and even later there were only a further three tables. Everything on the menu sounded very good indeed but I wanted to sample as much variety as possible so chose the tasting menu.

Bread
Vegetable soup
The amuse was a fresh and well-flavoured vegetable soup served in a large shotglass alongside a savoury pannacotta and a basket of fresh bread and butter whipped with garlic, herbs and tomato.A brilliant start and a good indication what was to come.
Salmon terrine
The starter was a salmon terrine. Perfectly cooked fish surrounded by a jelly in which a brunoise of vegetables was suspended, served on sliced and dressed cucumber, two tiny quenelles of a light horseradish cream as well as some basil oil and a really good balsamico, a perfect summer dish.
Wild mushroom soup
Followed by one of the best wild mushroom soups I’ve had anywhere, light, strong in flavour, with chunks of fresh ceps and girolles in the bottom. Brilliant. I don’t think I stopped smiling after that.
Pasta with summer truffles
The pasta dish was the flavour highlight of the menu for me. Very fine pasta parcels that melted on the tongue with a green vegetable puree, with shavings of fresh white truffle on top. Except for the foam which I found a bit pointless, this was a truly superb dish. By this time, despite arriving hungry I was almost full already due to the rather generous portion sizes. The main was yet to come:
Veal
Veal
Two perfectly cooked chunks of veal fillet (as you can see from the second photo) with mediterranean vegetables, a fine polenta cake and brought together by a well reduced sauce. Another great dish indeed
Dessert
The dessert was an assortment of various things, a light pannacotta, almond ice cream, a nicely presented strawberry and a little salad of mango with a raspberry on top.

This was a fantastic meal and reasonably priced (compared to the UK, at least), too. The tasting menu is €59 and my bill with a glass of excellent Pinot Grigio, a mug of latte macchiato and a bottle of water came to €73. At 5.50, the .7l bottle was rather outrageously priced, however. Still, I really enjoyed the meal and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some excellent Italian cooking.

Dinner at John Salt

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).

Razor clams

Oysters and scallops

Sardines

Cod cheeks

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.

Onglet

Megrim sole

Water was served in fun china jugs:
Water jug

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.

Lunch at Koffmann’s

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.

Amuse
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.

Bread
The breads were equally well made and freshly baked, too.

This being my first time, I had to go for the signature dishes:

Squid Bolognaise
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.

Pig's trotter
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.

Pistachio souffle
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.

Petit fours
A few petit fours to finish.

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.

Dave Ahern’s tasting menu at House of Wolf

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.

Quail's nest
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
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.
Chowder

Beef cheek
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.

Poptarts and lollipops
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.