Sunday, 25 March 2012

Market Cafe: a welcome addition to Broadway

When I went to La Vie en Rose between Christmas and New Year the food was so absolutely terrible that it came as no surprise to me a few weeks later when its doors were shut for the very last time.  The place lay empty for around a month or so and then the builders moved in - someone else was going to give it a shot.

Market Cafe opened at the beginning of March and, if the bustling tables are anything to go by, has been a bit of a hit with the Hackney hipsters.  For, while Broadway has many eating options, there is nothing to fill the market between cheap and cheerful (Solche Cilician etc) at one end and Buen Ayre (an Argentinian steak house) at the other.  The Market Cafe does just that.

I have now been three times, once for breakfast and twice for dinner.  The food has been mostly good and you would have to think that, when they have settled into a rhythm, this place will go from strength to strength.

At breakfast the Fashionista had the homemade granola, fruit and yoghurt- sadly lacking much in the way of fruit.  I had the truffled rarebit on sourdough - mature melted cheese doused in truffle oil, not the healthiest way to start a weekend, but I loved it.

On my first evening visit I had the chicken al mattone and chips (an old recipe in which the chicken is cooked under weights leaving the skin crispy and the meat juicy).  Unforutunately the chicken, although nicely flavoured, was dry and the chips not up to much.  It could really have done with some greens as well (UPDATE: I have been told that this dish now comes with a side of wilted spinach).  LJC had the lamb with polenta and slow cooked carrots - all absolutely delicious.  The Ginger Weegie had the same dish on the second visit and it was a repeat sucess.

Undeterred by the chicken, which I think may have been the result of a very busy restaurant (the press were in that evening we were told), I headed along again last night. This time the Fashionista had the pasta and "meat sauce" (minced pork on that day) - nicely done although nothing spectacular.  I had the Tuscan sausage and bean casserole which came atop a crispy piece of sourdough and with a hunk of slow cooked pork belly. A really great dish which left me wanting more.

A month in and I can see Market Cafe shaping up to be a stallwort of the Broadway scene for years to come. Three visits in as many weeks says all you need to know, this place does simple hearty food in a friendly atmosphere - you can't ask much  more than that from your local eatery.  

Market Cafe on Urbanspoon

Quo Vadis: A Breath of Fresh Air

I have a problem.  I am addicted to the latest food trend.  While I sneer at those who change their wardrobes twice a year to match the latest from London, Milan and Paris, I follow religiously the "next big thing" in food.  I scour blogs, queue for hours and talk incessantly to anyone who will listen about where I want to go next. 

I heard about the revolution Jeremy Lee (formerly of the Blueprint Cafe at the Design Museum) was leading at Quo Vadis through the usual sources.  The blogs, the twitterosphere, reviews in the paper (Jay Rayner's is excellent).  But this is not my usual kind of place.  There is nothing new-fangled, secret or trendy about this place.  It is far more grown up than that.  And do you know what, I loved it.

You step through the door and are warmly welcomed by (at least two) staff who guide you to your seat.  The restaurant is all white linen tablecloths - often an indication that a place has spent more on their laundry bills than the food - but not here.

Previously the prices had been so daunting (150 for a rather average lunch, apparently) that I had not been tempted.  But since Jeremy Lee has taken over the kitchen, the prices have come down to a much more manageable 5-7 for starters 10-20 for mains.

I kicked off with the pork terrine.  Moist and well seasoned, this was delicious although the cornichons did seem somewhat of an afterthought.

For main I went for the ox liver, sage and onions - for some reason the challenge of offal and weird and wonderful cuts of meat always appeals to me, much to the Fashionista's concern - duck's tongue anyone?  This time, however, I was on the money.  Tender, rich and moist liver with sweet onions - this dish was an absolute joy.  Glad we ordered some greens on the side though.

My companions for the evening had the squid and wild garlic to start (very nice apparently), the skate, black butter (a traditional preserve made from apples) and capers - a well balanced dish, cooked well, and the roast sirloin with (fiery) horseradish sauce - nice beef and the sauce hit you like only horseradish can!

All in with a nice bottle of burgundy it worked out about 50 per head - not cheap, but a darn sight better value than a lot of other places I have been while chasing after the "latest thing".  And so we went off into the night (or rather to the bar at St John's Hotel for an Old Fashioned - they do them very well), bellys full and satisfied. There was no fanfare, nobody commented on the novel use of "sous-vide" cooking - there was no need to, this was just really good food, cooked in a traditional way, expertly.   

Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ceviche - is Peruvian the next big thing?

If you listen to those whose job it is to predict the next big thing in food, this time next year we will all be eating ceviche like its pizza.  2012 is the year. The time has come, we are told, for Peruvian food to take its "rightful" place alongside the great cuisines - the Italians, Chinese and Indians of this world  I enjoyed Peruvian food when I was there, but as with Bolivian and Ecuadorean, it didn't strike me as something which was about to embark on an era of global expansion.

And yet this week the first, of what is likely to be many Peruvian openings this year, threw open its doors to guests.  Joining the burgeoning food scene on Frith Street is Ceviche - an offering from Martin Morales.

At the front is a ceviche bar, at the back a casual restaurant with tables packed together like sardines - so close that we ended up in conversation with the table of girls sitting next to us!  The decor is a bit Wahaca-ish, you certainly don't feel as though you should get dressed up to go.

The menu is split into nibbles, smaller plates and what you may assume to be the main plates - don't be fooled, all of the plates are small, very small.  We shared a few plates, and then got a couple more to fill up.

In round one we had the Don Ceviche (sea bass ceviche (raw fish, "cooked" by being marinated in lime juice)) - very good, almost up to the stuff I had in the central market in Chiclayo in Peru.  We also had lomo saltado - a dish of grilled beef in saltado sauce which, in Peru, is normally served on top of soggy chips - here the chips came on the side, a definite improvement on the original!

Braised and grilled octopus - tender and delicious but rather on the small side for 8 quid!

Sakura Maru: salmon marinated in "Tiger's milk" (a Japanese marinade made of soy, satsuma and mirin).  Tender salmon, delicious.  The Japanese link is not as tenuous as you might think, there are strong ties between these countries - the former President was Peruvian of Japanese descent.

On the side, Solterito, a salad of broad beans, Peruvian corn and feta, and Yucas - deep-fried cassava -crispy like the best triple-cooked chips you've ever had.

For round two we had some fried seafood and some mixed seafood ceviche.  Tasty, but unfortunately the prawn and the Octopus tasted like they had been cooked before being put into the ceviche.

The food was very good indeed.  But the portions were on the small side and I sometimes felt a little shortchanged!  Shame as, if the portions were just a little more generous, this place would get a full thumbs up from me...

Ceviche on Urbanspoon

The Ship: not quite ship shape

The Ship in Wandsworth Town continually gets rave reviews from bloggers and punters alike, all of which should mean that the food is very good indeed. So when I was tasked with choosing a place to go for dinner with a couple of my bosses from work and their wives, one of whom lives in Battersea, the other in Richmond, The Ship seemed like the obvious choice.

Situated on the edge of the Thames, this place is normally rockin' with well-to-do youngsters - their BBQs in summer are legendary.  As we went on a Thursday evening in March, it was a more downbeat vibe.

To start I had the pigeon breast, lentils and pancetta crisp.  This was delicious, melt in the mouth.  However a few of the others had salt and pepper squid - so overdone it was almost painful to eat - the batter like shards!  The Fashionista had the scallops with fennel puree and crisped fennel.  This looked impressive and tasted quite nice.

Piegon and lentils - tasted a lot better than it looks!

Scallops and fennel
On to the mains, I had pork belly, sage dumpling and fondant potato.  The meat was tender, the fondant well executed, the sage dumpling was not.  It was heavy, gooey, and, as can happen when too much sage is used, it tasted chemically.  Others had the fishcake with poached egg, quite tasty.

Pork Belly  with "that" dumpling

Fishcake with poached egg.
On the side we shared some chips, okay nothing special, and one of their scotch eggs - runny yolk, well seasoned- just like it should be!

A great Scotch egg.
The portions had been huge so there was probably no need for us to delve into the dessert menu, but dive in we did.  A portion of sticky toffee pudding was rich and sweet, it could have fed four easily.  The rhubarb and apple crumble was less successful. It must be said there was no scrimping on the crumble, it fell down on the fruit - there just wasn't enough of it.

I really wanted to love The Ship, it has a reputation for being one of the best places to eat in London.  Sadly, other than the pigeon, most of what we ate was not much above your average pub grub.  Bearing in mind that the prices are the same as somewhere like Quo Vadis which is receiving plaudits all round at the moment, that is a little disappointing.  And that sage dumpling, well the less said about that the better...
The Ship on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Campania: Columbia Road Market

The perennial attraction that is Columbia Road Flower Market rumbles on - packed to the rafters every Sunday with people who would not normally consider going any further East than Liverpool Street.  On Sundays between 11 and 2, however, it is "safe" to go that bit further East and my do the restaurants seek to capitalise on these new found adventurers.  Places that do not open for the rest of the week throw open their doors, tables heaving with croissants, the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafts along the street.

Living as I do about a ten minute walk from the market, I too am constantly drawn by the attractions on offer.  However, such is my sense of slumber on a Sunday morning, that I do not normally make it along much before one. By this time the regulars are in residence and it is impossible to get a table without waiting for far longer than the food probably deserves.  So I normally buy a plant and leave (I now have far to many- my flat is stating to resemble some kind of East end jungle), feeling destined never to sample the delicacies on offer.

Not so a couple of weeks ago.  An early night saw me rise at 9.  I was on Columbia Road for 11.  This was quite astounding for me.  One place in particular, Campania, has always had a certain allure.  A constant queue means its good right?  Today I was to find out - there was a table!

I went for the poached eggs with nduja on toast (spicy sausage from Italy which you squish onto bread).  The Fashionista had the fried eggs with chili. 

Now lets start with the good points - the bread was delicious sourdough, the nduja was very good indeed, the coffee nice.

Set against that were incredibly overcooked poached eggs, the yolks were cooked solid like little yellow gobstoppers.  The nduja was a mere smear, the toast half a slice.  The fried eggs were at least runny but were again served with only half a slice of toast.  For around seven pounds I expect more, much more.  Or if not much more, then at least a whole slice of bread!

Campania looks great.  People seem to like it.  Maybe it was an off day, maybe they were just warming up until the crowds arrived.  Sadly it just didn't live up to the standards I would expect from a place apparently so revered.

Campania Gastronomia on Urbanspoon

Malaysia Canteen: Make Yourself a Malaysian Friend

After leaving school some years ago now, I spent a year living and working in Malaysia.  I had a great time, met some fantastic people and ate some wonderful food - my local restaurant, in a small town south of Kuala Lumpur called Mantin, served some truly delicious dishes.  Perhaps it is because there is less of a party atmosphere, but it has always confounded me why Malaysia is so often overlooked, both as a holiday destination and in terms of its cuisine. 

Most of the Malaysian food I have eaten in London has been a sad imitation of the wonderful blend of Chinese, Indian and traditional Malay dishes that make up dinner on the peninsula.  So when I heard that there was a canteen underneath the Malaysian High Commission serving up traditional food for its workers and Malaysians living in London, I was always going to go.

On my visit we shared a wonderfully tasty beef rendang, a prawn curry and some crispy fried anchovies.  The rendang (a slow cooked curry originally from Indonesia which has strong flavours of lemongrass, galangal and tamarind) was just like I remembered from Malaysia.  The prawns were juicy although the sour sauce was a little tough for me.  The anchovies were great.

We were on a roll now and ordered some roti canai - originally Indian, this has been adopted as Malaysia's national dish.  A crispy, multi-layered fried bread, normally served with dal, in our case it came with a thin curry- sadly not quite up to the Central Market next to the national mosque in Kuala Lumper.

Beef Rendang

Crispy anchovies.
Prawn Curry
Eating lunch took me back to being a 17 year old taking my first tentative steps into south-east Asian food (growing up the most authentic Asian food I had came in westernised restaurants in Edinburgh!) This place is great! A word of warning, though, in order to get in you must be accompanied by a Malaysian!  So find yourself a new Malaysian friend and head on down...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Young Turks: hopefully not just a pop up

What do you get when you combine the former head chef of St John (one of my favourite restaurants in London) with the development chef at the Ledbury (somewhere near the very top of my wish list) - the Young Turks of course. 

These two have been popping up all over London doing events for a couple of years.  However their nomad years may shortly be coming to an end.  Having started as a two month pop-up in November of 2011, the pair have now been serving up a different menu upstairs at the Ten Bells pub every week since and have just extended their residency to the end of April. We will just have to wait and see whether this latest extension is the last or whether this is one "pop up" which ends up being permanent.

Having tried to get a table in both November and December I was delighted when I got a reservation in January.  On arrival you go through the door at the back of the pub (with a large no entry sign on it) and up the stairs to the restaurant.  It is a small space and, unless you are a large group, the likelihood is that you will end up sharing a table with others.  Unconventional but quite fun.

The experience starts with a Hendricks gin-based cocktail.  The week I went it was beetroot - nice idea but the flavours were weak and it just didn't pack enough of a punch.

We started with a home-cooked bread served with a trio of starters:  pheasant and pine needle salt, smoked cods roe and a take on Jeremy Lee's (of Quo Vadis and formerly of the Blueprint cafe) smoked eel sandwich.  The eel was incredible, the smoked cod roe delicious but the pheasant, whilst the most visually engaging of the trio, lacked flavour - the pine did not come through at all.

Smoked Cod's Roe

The Jeremy Lee Sandwich
Pheasant with Pine Salt
This was then followed by January King (a hardy type of winter cabbage), mussels and seaweed, absolutely delicious!

We then moved on to swede, mutton and purple sprouting broccoli.  The mutton was rich, deep and full of flavour but the real star was the liquor which came with this dish.  Distilled clear it was the kind of thing you would dream of on a cold winters day - simply brilliant!

Next up were sweetbreads, turnips and oats.  The sweetbreads were tender but, as in the last dish, it was the sauce that was the real treat.  As well as a few crispy oats, underneath the sweetbreads was a milky oat sauce - I would never have thought that this would work but it did.

Last up was one of the best deserts I have had.  The Fashionista even placed it above those which we had on our visit to Osteria Francescana (2011's fourth best restaurant in the world).  Buttermilk panacotta, a layer of reduced rhubarb jam and some slow cooked pieces of rhubarb on top.  Very good indeed.

Dinner at the Young Turks pop up was very, very tasty.  Especially when you consider that all of the above (including the cocktail) came for thirty nine quid.  With wine that is guaranteed to be marked up by no more than ten pounds a bottle you can eat and drink here incredibly reasonably.  Part of me hopes that this residency never comes to an end but, given the Turks wandering spirit, I would bet that before long they will be off on their travels creating another culinary hot spot elsewhere in London.  If this is the case, London can only hope that they don't take too much of a break...
Young Turks at the Ten Bells (Pop-Up Restaurant thru January) on Urbanspoon

Burger Monday: Honest Burger

I reviewed Honest Burger way back in August of 2011 when it was possible to get one of Tom's awesome burgers without having to queue for at least 30 minutes.  So I was delighted when Daniel Young (of the excellent blog Young and Foodish) decided to ask Honest Burger to set up shop for a one night special Burger Monday.

The premise of Burger Monday seems to me to be to ask some of London's most interesting chefs to come along to Andrews (a rather grimy greasy spoon which would you normally be happy to walk on by) and provide their interpretation of one of the great American meals, the burger.  It all started with Hawksmoor and it has hosted such culinary stars Ben Spalding of Roganic.  Sounds great, and it is, but you'll need to get your skates on if you want to go along, they generally sell out in under five minutes.  Follow @burgermonday on twitter to be in with a chance!

And so to this particular Monday.  The Fashionista was caught up at a event looking at the latest trends for food over the forthcoming year (pine needles are apparently the thing this year- a multi-sensory experience) so I persuaded G-Star to come along.

It all started with an incredible black pudding duck's scotch egg - rich and gooey yolk with peppery black pudding.  Not healthy but darned good!

On to the burger - it was the usual tasty Ginger Pig aged beef patty, but something was different.  Rather than rashers of bacon perched perilously atop a burger, the streaky rashers had been instead been woven together into a lattice and cooked as a whole.  This sheet of bacon was then divided into squares and placed on the burger!  The rationale being if you cooked bacon this way it wouldn't curl up leaving you with a perfect mouthful every time!  Genius! With the burger came rosemary-salted triple-cooked chips - some of the best in London if you ask me.

Feeling rather full now we were served up with a Relay custard tart- quite nice but completely overshadowed by what had preceded it.

A great night with wonderful company, I will be keeping my eyes peeled for the next Burger Monday.  In the meantime I may have to join the back of the queue again at Honest to get my hands on one of those burgers again...

Daniel Young of Young and Foodish (left) and Tom from Honest Burgers
Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon
Foodies100 Index of UK Food Blogs
Morphy Richards