Archive for the London Category

London – Kings Cross – St Pancras

Posted in King's Cross, London, St Pancras, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on October 30, 2015 by gannet39

St Pancras station is one of my favourite buildings in the world, partly for its architectural beauty and partly because it’s the station that I, and my fellow Yorkshiremen and East Midlanders, always alight at when arriving in London, which usually signifies the beginning of an adventure of some kind.

Built in 1868, it had at the time the largest single-span roof in the world. It’s a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic engineering and for me, it’s one of the most elegant train stations in the world.

Station buffs may be interested to know it was also the model for Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in Mumbai, which looks like a fancier version with several Indian adornments added.

The station was renovated between 2001 and 2007 to be a public space in preparation for the London Olympics, and there are now a few places to go for a drink or a bite. The oyster bar is a bit out of my price range so if I really need to eat, when I’m waiting for my off-peak train, I invariably end up at Carluccio’s where you can get decent Italian food at a good price. They have a deal where you can get two courses for a tenner, and add on a dessert or a glass of wine for £3.50 or so, which isn’t bad. You can sit outside and take in the enormity of the roof above you.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Meeting Place’, the huge bronze statue created by Paul Day which is just by the restaurant. Supposedly showing an amorous couple, either meeting or saying goodbye, the woman is looking at her mobile phone over the shoulder of her lover! I also like all the small friezes cast in the plinth of the statue.

Click on the photos for a better view.

For a good cocktail in splendid Victorian surroundings, I like to go to the bar of The Gilbert Scott (out the front of the station and turn right, the entrance is at pavement level in the west wing of the station building), a brasserie named after the station’s architect. It’s on the ground floor of the old Midland Grand Hotel, now the five star Renaissance Hotel, which occupies the distinctive frontage of the station.

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I like the building so much that I’ve hired the station clock tower to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2016, but more of that in this space next year!

If you have a bit more time and want something cheap and spicy to eat then I strongly recommend Roti King in the basement of Ian Hamilton House at 40 Doric Way (just five minutes around the corner). Their rotis are sublime and the curries are pretty good. Marina O’Loughlin likes it too.

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London – Islington – Chapel Market

Posted in Chapel Market, Islington, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , on October 29, 2015 by gannet39

Chapel Market is how markets used to be in London, before all the farmers and artisans appeared on the scene. It’s a good place to come for some good old fashioned Cockney grub.

Alpino’s (Elementary B+), 74 Chapel Market, open 06.30 to 15.00

A classic old Italian café that’s a local institution. This is the place to come if you want a proper greasy spoon full English breakfast for a fiver (B+) but they also do Italian specials as well. Friendly and very popular.

Manze’s Pie & Mash (Elementary A), 74 Chapel Market www.manzepieandmash.com

One of a chain of four Manze’s, the original is in Deptford, a family that have been making pie & mash for over 100 years. Double pie and mash is the way to go for a bellyful of satisfying stodge. You will also need a good pouring of ‘liquor’, a parsley and cornflour sauce made with the water from stewing the eels.

Get Stuffed, 105 Essex Road, www.thegetstuffed.co.uk

Although nothing to do with food, I feel a mention should go to this nearby institution who proclaim themselves to be ‘the UK’s premier taxidermy company’. A peak through their windows is a quite a trippy experience with crows, albino peacocks and birds of prey tussling for space with giraffes, antelope and zebras!

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London – Soho

Posted in London, Soho with tags on October 28, 2015 by gannet39

Barrafina (Advanced A-), 54 Frith Street, Soho www.barrafina.co.uk

On the Soho scene since 2007, Barrafina is very much trying to emulate the Barcelona institution Cal Pep by providing high end Spanish cuisine in a tapas bar setting. (please see my El Born post)

Like Cal Pep it’s not possible to make reservations but you can have drinks and nibbles in the queue while you’re waiting (about 40 mins in my case). Again like its counterpart, it’s not cheap, but the food is usually top notch. Since my visit in mid-2014 they’ve been awarded a Michelin star which goes some way to justifying their prices.

I started with Chorizo & Potato Chips which were a bit of a surprise as they looked more like spring rolls than ‘chips’. Don’t recall being particularly blown away by them (B). Gambas (just two) al Ajillo (A) and the Morcilla Iberica with Quails Eggs (A) were more to my taste and Chips with Brava sauce were okay (B+). To drink their cheapest wine, a Humilitat red, off a pricey list, was pretty decent (B+).

This place is great if you’re flush and happy to pay top dollar for good food. Personally I found it tough to justify the expenditure because I know I can get as good or better on my travels, and for less money. Don’t let me stop you going though, it’s definitely a good foodie experience.

London – Shoreditch

Posted in London, Shoreditch, United Kingdom with tags , on October 27, 2015 by gannet39

Came down to the big smoke in 2014 to try a couple of the new kids on the block that were creating a stir. In a nutshell I loved the first more down-to-earth place but felt ripped off by the second more pricey establishment.

As a consequence I’ve virtually given up on high end eating in London as it’s so hard to get value for money. Yes the quality is there but you have to pay through the nose for it, and I know I can get better food for a fraction of the price on the continent. But then that’s London for you…

Lyle’s (Advanced A) , Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, www.lyleslondon.com

The no-choice set menu was a good deal at £39 for 7 courses with extras like bread, water and petit fours. The menu is constantly changing depending on what’s available that day. I came here in October 2014 with my buddies Tom and Toby. We had:

Blood Pudding
Mackerel Broth
Squid & Tomato
Middle White, Pumpkin & Chestnuts (Middle White is a rare breed pig from Yorkshire)
Pear, Wigmore & Walnuts (Wigmore is a soft sheep’s cheese from Berkshire)
Plums & Vanilla Ice Cream
Les Clapas Cote de Rhone 2012 (Garnacha/Syrah blend)

I was having fun so didn’t take any notes but it was all B+/A as I remember. Décor is all white ceramic tiles which complements the simple, practical feel of their food philosophy. Service was friendly and efficient and we were able to take our time over the food. Would definitely go again.

Clove Club (Advanced B), Shoreditch Town Hall, Old St, www.cloveclub.com

I came by myself and had the £65 set menu (plus a supplement of £12 for the scallop) for which I got 6 courses and 3 extras, and the wine matching for an additional £50. The menu stated:

Wild Irish Trout Tartare, Citron Baches, Sesame & Chives
Raw Orkney Scallop, Hazelnut, Clementine & Perigord Truffle
Cornish Pollock, Peas, Ham, Morels & Wild Garlic
Slow Cooked Black Faced Suffolk Lamb, Wild Seaweed & Spring Cabbage
Amalfi Lemonade & Sarawak Pepper Ice Cream
Warm Blood Orange, Ewe’s Milk Yoghurt Mousse & Wild Fennel Granita

nb Perigord truffles are named after a region in France famous for black truffles.

However there were several free extras, such as a short section of sausage, Longanzina I think, a piece of fried chicken, and a freshly baked Madeleine. I also added a cheese board to the bill. I can’t remember that are in a couple of the pics, but I do remember it was all very good!

Again no notes were taken, but everything was excellent if occasionally over presented (like the single piece of fried chicken in a basket of pine twigs, what the hell?). They make their own bread and even have a specialist citrus supplier.

All the wines were very big on the nose but didn’t seem to linger on the palate as long as you’d think they would. I also noticed this at Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds so perhaps it’s becoming a trend to serve more pungent wines.

Service was friendly and efficient but the next morning when I reread the bill I was disappointed to see that I’d been upsold a glass of wine that cost £22 just by itself. If I’d been told the price before I had it I’d have refused it, or at least savoured every valuable drop.

I can’t even remember what the name of the wine was, but here are some of the others:

La Morandina, Moscato d’Asti, 2014 is £12.50 a bottle from here.

Richard Leroy’s ‘Les Noels de Montbenault’ Chenin 2011 was unavailable on the net but the 2013 is around €30 on this French website.

Solera 1842 VOS (Valdespino) is a medium sweet Oloroso blend from Jerez. What’s known as an ‘Oloroso Abocado’. Gets 4 stars on this wine tasting website.

Clos Thou, Supreme de Thou 2010, Jurancon France. Complemented the dessert fruits I had but a review suggests that it’s not best drunk on it’s own. The 2014 is €17.50 here.

Service was also 12.5% which although the industry standard in London, is pretty hefty for a provincial like me in a place like this. The total cost of £175 left a sour note on an otherwise enjoyable experience. I did complain, and was offered a free course next time I came, but I have no plans to go back, even though they now have a Michelin star.

UPDATE: Clove Club now ask that their diners pay in advance, to cut down on losing money on no-shows. It will also hopefully cut down on problems like the one I had.

London – Whitechapel Curry Crown

Posted in London, United Kingdom, Whitechapel with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by gannet39

Not being a fan of fine dining in London, I tend to head to Whitechapel for a cheap curry. Not only is it easy on the wallet but the area has some of the best curry houses I’ve ever been too. These are my favourites in order of preference.

Needoo’s (Intermediate A-) at 87 New Road in Shadwell is my favourite. It’s the best for food (great curries, sublime breads) but the service isn’t as cheerful as it was when it opened just a few years ago. The Bollywood surroundings give it a bit more atmosphere than the others, and you don’t have to queue.

The Lahore Kebab House (Elementary B+) has been a legendary East End destination for lovers of good Bangladeshi food since 1972. Whether it deserves its self-awarded title as ‘the most famous Hal-al restaurant in the world’ is another matter.

Modest LahoreSomeone didn't see the warning sign

 

Kitchen

The place is certainly popular, with queues down the street on weekend nights.Fortunately we arrived early on a Thursday evening and were seated by the head-mic wearing greeter within a couple of minutes of walking in the door. The decor is downmarket, plain and simple cafe-style, except that it’s in a very large room. Every one of the 100 or so seats seemed full when we were there, most noticeably with big groups of raucous middle-aged Bangladeshi men enjoying the bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label that the BYOB policy allowed them to bring in. On the way to the table you pass the kitchen with a small army of chefs labouring away over rows of pans.

Masala FishMutton TikkaMogoA quick survey of the tables told me that the lamb chops were the starter of choice. Sadly though due to one of several language confusions with our waiter these, along with any sign of a popadom, were not forthcoming, although we did get a plate of wilted salad and a bowl of yogurt to look at while we waited for our other starters.  Although these were poorly presented, slapped on the plate rather than arranged in any way, they did include some delicious chunks of Masala Fish (B), a small but tasty Mutton Tikka kebab (B)  and something called Chilli Mogo, which we tried because we’d never heard of it. It tasted and looked something like parsnip to us but our struggling waiter tried to tell us it was potato (I later discovered it was cassava). It was interesting and tasty, but we couldn’t finish it all (B-).

The mains were pretty good too, the Lamb Curry (on the bone) being a good choice (B+).

Lamb on the boneThe chef’s special Batera (Quail) was nicely gamey but the curry sauce it came with could have done with some more kick (B-)…

Quail

…and the Saag Panneer was fine but unspecial (B-).

Saag Panner

The star, as so often, was the Taarka Dahl which had a slightly unfamiliar but sublime spicing (A). The Coriander Naans were nice as well (B).

Taarka Dahl

Coriander NaanSo the food is good but not the greatest (although better than anything I had in Bangladesh!) but at £15 a head for seven dishes with rice and naan you can’t really complain. You can get drinks from the corner shop over the road (large Cobras are £2.50).  I’d definitely come here again, but try to make better selections next time.

Two weeks later and I’m back in town again, this time to check out Tayyabs, another famed curry spot that’s been packing them in since 1974.

Tayyabs

Again we grabbed a few Cobras from a shop on the main road before we came. The queue inside on this Saturday night was insane, as usual,  running the full length of the restaurant and spilling out of the door. There must have been over two hundred people crammed into their seats with forty others standing waiting to take their places (Overheard: ‘I don’t queue for clubs but I’ll queue for this place!’). Fortunately we had booked ahead and were seated by a polite greeter (not everyone’s experience on some forums but maybe they didn’t deserve it) within five minutes of stepping in the door (although I have waited for twenty minutes before, with a reservation). Compared to the stark walls of its competitor, the lighting is lower here and the rooms smaller, making the atmosphere (once seated) more relaxing.

After some preliminary popadoms (served with mint yogurt, chutney, an amazing tomato and chilli dip (A) and a wilting salad) and Sarah’s very pleasant Onion Bhaji (B), Stuart and I were reduced to groans of pleasure as we tackled a joint plate of wonderfully delicious Tandoori Chicken (A+) and sublime Lamb Chops (A+), which have to be some of the best we have ever tasted.

BhajiChicken and chops
Our mains were recommended to us by a friend and weren’t apparent on the menu but the waiter seemed to know what we wanted. The vegetarian Karahi Mixed Veg (B+) and Aubergine Dahl (A) were great too and Baby Chicken Karahi was another winner (A). A karahi is a big pot, like a flat bottomed wok, that the curry is cooked and served in.

Aubergine DahlBaby Chicken Karahi
The rice was perfect and the garlic naan was crispy yet soft.

Nice naan
Seeing all this on the table together (everything arrived simultaneously except the bhaji) was quite daunting but unbelievably we did the lot in.

Karahi Mixed Veg

 
The restaurant has a sweet counter with a huge array of Pakistani sweets which, although very pleasing to the eye, were a bit too bulky to contemplate putting in our bulging bellies so soon.

Balls of delight

 

 

 

 

Mmmore sweetsMore sweetsSweetsThe bill came to £50 for three, slightly more than at the Lahore but then we had less meat there. Good luck getting in!

The winner!

 

Brick Lane Beigel-Off

Posted in Brick Lane, London, Spitalfields, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on March 14, 2011 by gannet39

Aah beigels, little gluten-packed balls of pleasure. What distinguishes the London beigel, apart from the spelling (the rest of the world spells it ‘bagel’) is its harder surface (achieved by boiling the dough before baking) and the coarser texture of its interior. Originally Jewish, they are ideal for breaking fast after the Sabbath because they can be prepared beforehand and left to prove on the day of rest.

Beautiful beigel

Two shops have been fixtures on Brick Lane for donkeys years Beigel Shop (to the left as you’re facing the shops) claims to be Britain’s first ever beigel shop, opening in 1855, and the Beigel Bake (aka Brick Lane Bakery, to the right) which opened in 1974. Along with the local synagogue, they are last historical vestiges of the local Jewish community, many of whom settled here after escaping persecution in Eastern Europe during the 30s.

Beigel Shop

Legend has it that the Beigel Shop at #155 was owned by two brothers who fell out and one went off to open the Beigel Bake a couple of doors up at #159.  Still others say they are the same business. I’ve never had the courage to ask the stroppy staff which story is true but I suspect both are just urban myths! Here’s a video about the Beigel Shop.

Brick Lane Bakery

 

Both shops are open for 24 hours and  sell bread and cakes as well with most of the baking being done in the small hours.

Sweet stuff

This was how I first discovered them, at 4am in the morning after a hard night on the town, as part of a long queue of hungry clubbers, policemen, refuse collectors and other assorted nighthawks. There’s something very warming about coming into a bakery while it’s still dark outside.

stack em high

What blows me away are the huge tidal waves of beigels pouring out of the ovens and moving glacially down the production lines (the Bakery alone produces 7000 a night).

Ready for boiling

I try to drop in whenever I’m in nearby, eat two on the spot and take at least a dozen plain home for breakfast and the freezer.

Beigels for days
So which one is the best? I decided to have something from each to decide.

First I had the classic Hot Salt Beef beigel from the Brick Lane Bakery; thick slabs of hot salted meat, topped with fiery mustard and a cooling slice of pickled gherkin on request, although they forgot the gherkin (A-). The beigel itself was perfectly baked with a nice shiny firm surface all over, uniform colouring both top and bottom and a softer yet firm interior that was a joy to bite into. I bought half a dozen plain beigels here as well.

Hot salt beef and mustard
At the Beigel Shop I had the Chopped Mackerel option, the pickled vinegary taste of which appeals to my Nordic taste buds (A). Sadly however, the bun was disappointing, nicely firm and browned on the base but overly soft, pale and squashed on top, as were the half dozen plain ones I bought on the side.  It seemed I’d been unlucky and hit a bad batch. At 25p a throw you can’t complain too much though. Not that you’d want to, as service can be brusque (but generally friendly) in both places.

Mmm, chopped mackerel

As you can see, quickly filled beigels aren’t particularly photogenic but I can assure you they are much tastier than they look. Equally classic would have been the Salmon and Cream Cheese version but you can make those at home. I also had a huge apple turnover from here too which was hearty and tasty if lacking in finesse (B).

Price listThe next step was to cross reference my findings with a couple of local friends who I had blind taste the two plain versions as well as tell me their usual preference. The results were split, with current tastes conflicting with historical experience. It seems the Brick Lane Bakery at #159 had the best tasting beigels on the day, but usually the Beigel Shop is better.

However, it was pointed out that my testing was fundamentally flawed due to not having the same fillings from both shops. Seems that I’ll have to rerun the tests a few times to be completely sure. Bear with me.

Butty Boys at Borough Market

Posted in Borough Market, London, Southwark, United Kingdom with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by gannet39

 

Legend has it that Borough Market began life at the end of the original London Bridge when it was built by the Romans. Or was it King Canute? Anyway, the first written recordof its existence dates from 1276 and it moved to its present sitenearby in 1754, which at over 250+ years, still makes it London’s oldest market. The surrounding Victorian streets and buildings have been used as set locations for several films, including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Richard III and the Elephant Man.

Things have changed a lot since the good old days of course. Now Borough is justifiably famous for its farmer’s market which attracts an upmarket crowd, ready to pay top dollar for quality produce. On Saturday when we went it was heaving with Londoners and tourists, all hungrily perusing a massive range of artisan food stalls.  As well as handmade Melton Mowbray pork pies, Lincolnshire sausages and Wakefield rhubarb, this is the place to come for your German bread, Spanish charcuterie, Greek olives and fresh Mozzarella di Bufala (flown in every morning), and it’s all top tackle.

Stick and I were here to graze rather than to gather and, after a starter of samples of exotic cheeses and bread dipped in various grades of cold-pressed olive oil from several stalls, we settled down in the yard of Southwark cathedral next door to devour delicious grilled koftas, sandwiched in French bread, topped with charred halloumi and dripping with harissa. These went down with hearty tumblers of hot, spiced red wine and cider and a duo of Portuguese egg custard tarts finished things off nicely. Multi-cultural munching is the way forward.

Wholesale is from 2am every day and retail from midday on Thursday and Friday and all day on Saturday. Many of the traders here can also be found at the much smaller but equally excellent Broadway Market on Saturdays in London Fields. Get to both if you can.

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