Monday, 29 August 2011

Allpress Roastery

We woke up this Bank Holiday Monday with a craving for some tasty bruncheon eating. First we tried Hurwundeki- the antique shop come coffee shop underneath Cambridge Heath station- unfortunately there were no croissants on offer, only average looking sandwiches. So we went on a wander ending up in Shoreditch by which point we were getting desperate. Settling on a smart little cafe called Allpress Roastery which was bustling with people, we did not know what to expect!

Inside there is a selection of about eight different types of coffee, a large coffee roaster and thankfully various breakfast options from soft boiled eggs to filled croissants. By this time we were pretty ravenous so went for two of the larger options- smoked salmon with cream cheese on toast and a "mixed breakfast plate", alongwith an americano and flat white.

The smoked salmon and cream cheese was served on tasty bread with chopped chives, a large lemon segment and a piece of gherkin- all in all a nice way to start the day!

The "mixed breakfast plate" consisted of cured ham, avocado, tomato, provolone cheese, a hard boiled egg and some toast. It was a simple dish but all of the ingredients used were top notch and it came together in a simple Germanic kind of a way.

Tasty coffees and a simple, but delicious, breakfast made for a great start to a relaxing bank holiday- I would recommend it!

Allpress Espresso on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Su Sazzagoni

Having put out a last minute request for a Friday night dining location, Martin Yarnit of the blog Taste for Bologna gave a few great tips including Zucca (a terrific little Italian on Bermondsey Street) and Boca de Lupo (near the top of my current wish list!).  By that stage however we were back out East and therefore decided to try and find somewhere nearby- a quick blog search later and I had closed in on Su Sazzagoni- a family run Sardinian eatery in Victoria Park.

The only time I have been over to the quaint little area next to Victoria Park was to visit a branch of the Ginger Pig- a great butcher that has the added benefit of opening on Sundays! There is also a good little wine shop- Bottle Apostle

Arriving at Su Sazzagoni you are greeted with a deli counter jammed full of cured meats, sun dried tomatoes and other tasty Sardininan treats.  The interior is bright and modern with low hanging lights and long wooden tables- there are no individual tables so we were sandwiched in between a group of six and another table of four.  Given that a recent poll on found that being too close to other diners was the top-ranked bug bear for people at restaurants, this might not be to everyone's taste, but the convivial atmosphere made up for any lack of personal space.

On to the food- the menu is formed of antipasti (most of which seemed to be based on some form of foccacia), el primi, el secondi and dessert.  Following our recent trip to Bologna we were more than aware of the size of Italian meals and, despite our gargantuan appetites, have suffered the realisation that we are both incapable of eating a full Italian meal. 

In this knowledge we bypassed the rather uninspiring antipasti, shared an el primi, and had a secondi each.  With such tasty offerings as spaghetti with tomato, chili and lobster, and squid ink tagliatelle, it was hard to decide what to go for.  We settled on a papardelle duck ragu- this was a great dish.  Light and springy homemade papardelle, tender duck and fresh ragu.  If I had been served this dish in one of the local restaurants in Bologna, I would have been more than happy.

For el secondi I went for the grilled Sardinian sausage, roast potatoes and grilled aubergine and courgette.  The sausage was delicious- coarsely cut pork, well seasoned with a strong flavour of fennel seeds. The veg and potatoes were simply okay- certainly nothing special.

The Fashionista went for an interesting dish of salmon carpaccio, tuna tartare and prawns with garlic, lemon and parsley butter.  We were both quite excited about this dish, however it was underseasoned and, while the quality of the ingredients was undoubtedly high, it was just a little bland.  The dish really could also have done with some sort of accompaniment - the Fashionista asked for some bread to go along with the mountain of fresh fish.

Su Sazzagoni is a friendly, family-run restaurant and I think that, provided you stick to the more basic items on the menu, you would have a great time- all of the pasta dishes coming out of the restaurant looked tasty as did the pizzas.  Unfortunately though, tuna tartare and salmon carpaccio were just a step too far for this restaurant...
Su Sazzagoni on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Kao Sarn: Another Surprise in Brixton Village

After being delighted to have ended up at Honest Burger the other night (see previous post) I still had an itch to return to Kao Sarn, the minuscule Thai restaurant we had tried in vain to get into that night.  The reviews from both bloggers and critics have been fantastic and, given how hard it is to get good quality Thai food in London (there may be a lot of Thai restaurants but in my experience most of them seem to serve bland, pan Asian MSG-ified food), I just had to try this place out.

Kao Sarn is at the end of one of the rows in Brixton Village and therefore is able to open on those nights when the other restaurants in the arcade are shut.  It really is tiny- inside there is an open kitchen and seating for no more than 16 with seating for a further 20 or so in the yard outside.  Given how hard it is to get a table at the moment, even with all the tables outside, it is going to be nigh on impossible to get one come winter. 

The Fashionista's smooth talking had managed to secure us a reservation for eight o'clock (no mean feat given that they are fully booked for the remainder of the week), but when we arrived all the tables were full and there was a quite a queue.  Somehow the Fashionista's charm worked again, however, and within five minutes we were sitting down, our bellies rumbling at the smells emanating from the kitchen.

We decided to get one of the salads and two mains to share- all at the same time of course as is customary in Thailand.

We chose a Larb pork salad- minced pork with lettuce, chillies, red onion, Thai Basil, fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and (a little too much) black pepper.  This dish really had attitude to it- as all Thai salads should do- but there was just a little too much black pepper which gave the salad a grainy texture.
Pork Larb Salad

For the mains we had gai yang, kow neaw, som tum- marinated chicken served dry with sticky rice, chili and soy dipping sauces and a som tum salad.  The chicken had a wonderfully subtle spicy flavour to it but the rice was a little disappointing and the som tum, unlike the Larb, just did not have enough kick. 

Gai yang, kow neaw

Som tum

I remember arriving in Bangkok a few years ago to meet a friend who was living out there.  He took me, straight off the plane, to Chatuchak Market with a few of his Thai friends.  We sat in a shop and his friends starting shouting down the tightly packed alleyways in the market only for food to arrive minutes later from every direction.   One of the dishes which arrived on that day was my first ever som tum- the heat from the chillies, the saltiness from the fish sauce and the bite from the lime all took my breath away (I should also say, in fairness to my mate, that his time in Thailand was put to good use and he now makes a mean som tum which goes down a treat with a cold beer).  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the som tum at Kao Sarn which had just a little too much palm sugar and lacked the heat and bite from the chillies and lime.

The other dish which we ordered (the Thai name escapes me) was essentially beef fried with chillies and holy basil served on rice with a fried egg on top.  I was unsure of this dish when it arrived but bite after bite I grew to appreciate the fresh Thai flavours lurking within- a mouthful of chili, holy basil, beef and a piece of the egg yolk was truly delicious.

Making Thai food outside Thailand is always going to be so hard as so much of what Thai food is about comes from the freshness of the ingredients and flavours.  Kao Sarn does, however, give it a really good shot and all things considered comes up trumps (even if they could do with ramping up the flavours in their Som Tum!).   
Kaosarn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 August 2011

An Honest Burger

If you haven't been down to Brixton Village recently- or as is more likely the case given Brixton's (undeserved) rep, ever- you really should give it a go. I was at the re-launch of Brixton Village a couple of years ago, more by chance than design after stumbling upon it while wandering around Brixton Market proper, and what was then a couple of start up restaurants and lots of empty units has really blossomed into a great little hub of foodie activity with numerous restaurants and a real buzz.

The Fashionista and I popped along last night to try a little Thai place called Kao Sarn- unfortunately though they were fully booked so that one will have to wait until another time. We wandered around for a while and then decided to settle on "Honest Burgers" which serves a simple menu of Chicken burgers, various 35 day aged beef burgers or a vegetable fritter. With such a short menu they really are pinning a lot on the burgers being up to scratch- and they are!

Most of the burger hype in the last few years has been surrounding the phenomenon that is #MeatEasy. We went when it was in New Cross Gate (now of Peckham Rye) and had to queue for about an hour when we got there and wait at least another forty-five for our food. When it arrived it was great-so good in fact that I didn't ever think I would find a better burger in London- Honest Burgers, however, manages to top it on every level! The buns are lighter, the meat tastier and the toppings more generous!

And these burgers really are that good. I went for the honest burger- a delicious bun filled with a large chunk of tasty burger meat cooked very rare (I like it this way but it may have been too rare for some), smoked bacon, cheese, relish, and gherkins- my oh my this was burger perfection. With the burger were served triple cooked chips with rosmary salt- all for 8 quid.  An absolute steal for food this good...

The Fashionista had the vegetable fritter- made from (according to the menu board) cauliflower, sweetcorn, shallots, spices and coriander with a mint yoghurt again served in a bun with tripple cooked chips- having seen my burger, the Fashionista thought she may have made an error going veggie for an evening but the fritter was really good- it was good to know there was such a tasty alternative if I ever (although I doubt I ever will) decided to stray from the beef burgers.

Everyone should give this place a try- I doubt you will find a better burger anywhere in the London!

Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Corner Room- A Hidden Gem

The Fashionista and I have had our eye on a trip to Viajante, Nuno Mendes' seminal restaurant in Bethnal Green, for quite a while now but a lack of money and distracting trips to other legendary restaurants (the Fashionista treated me to a trip to Fergus Henderson's St John's) has meant that we have just not managed to get round to it.  Scouring blogs for interesting new finds recently, however, we both came across Mendes' side project: The Corner Room.   I would provide a link but seeing as there is no website, no phone and they do not take reservations this place seems like it almost doesn't want to be found.  Tucked away in a corner of the first floor of the Town Hall Hotel it is quite hard to find but definitely worth the effort when you do.

The interior is stripped down industrial white tiles with a wall of lights at the back and large film set lights on the ceiling.  We sat down and were greeted with a complimentary bowl of mixed bread (sourdough and walnut) and large green olives stuffed with anhovies and olives- a great start.

The menu is a stripped down list of ingredients which hides the intricate nature of the dishes on offer- I started with the simply named squid, fennel and new potatoes- what arrived did contain all of those ingredients but also so much more- beautifully cooked tender squid, wonderfully subtle aniseed from the fennel, samphire and seaweed all served on top of blacker than black squid ink.

The Fashionista started with the equally simply named crab with pickled apple and cucumber.  At first taste this appeared to have been a bad choice when compared with the robust flavours in the squid dish.  Mouthful by mouthful, however, a broad smile spread across the Fashionista's face as the subtle flavours in this dish started to work their magic.  Sweet crab, tart apples and cucumber and a subtle heat which may have been from either chili or something horseradish like, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

On to the mains: I went for the Iberico pork with Portuguese bread pudding and baby carrots.  The tastes were uncomplicated and married beatifully together.  Tasty tasty pork fillet cooked simply with some rock salt and served pink (I know pork is not normally meant to be but this really worked) with sweet red pepper mixed with breadcrumbs and fried in butter- street foodesque, hearty and full of flavour.

The Fashionista went for the duck confit with girolles mushrooms- like the crab what arrived had much more to it than was suggested on the menu- duck confit, girolles mushrooms, a poached egg, radish, blackberries and grapes.  Everything was cooked perfectly but as a dish this just didn't come together and it seemed a little confused.
Now we come to dessert- normally when we are out for dinner I get my way and we share a cheese board (although in my defence, the Fashionista is hardly averse to a bit of cheese).  At the Corner Room, however, such was the interesting nature of the desserts on offer (pineapple with smoked pastry anyone?) that the Fashionista persuaded me to share a dessert with her- goat's cheese (I still got my cheese fix) with blueberries, toffee and "shesaw" granita (at least this is the phonetic of what we were told the granita was- apparently it is a Japanese spice but I couldn't seem to find it anywhere on the net- leave a comment if you know more).  This was the best dessert I have ever had.  It blew the desserts at Osteria Francescana (no mean feat given that restaurant was voted fourth best in the world in 2011) out of the water- savoury, sweet, refreshing- brilliant.

The food at the Corner Room is some of the best around and when you combine that with prices that vary from 6-8 for a starter, 10-14 for a main and a fiver for dessert you know that you are on to an absolute winner- this place is only five minutes from where I live and I can really see myself being there at least once a month from now on.  The only thing I would say is that is that the wine list is a little on the expensive side and service is automatically added at 12.5% (a pet hate of mine) but, given the quality of what's on offer, the Corner Room can be more than forgiven for this.

P.S. There is a limit of 90 minutes on the table which was enforced as there was a queue of people out the door when we left- fair enough as the more people who get to try this food the better but definitely something to be aware of.

P.P.S. Sorry the photos aren't great on this one, left my camera at home so was reliant on the power of the i phone which really doesn't do the food justice. 

Corner Room on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Wild Game Company- Whitecross Street Market

I have noticed the Wild Game Company stall at Broadway market a number of times but have never quite got round to buying anything- after my tasty lunch today though at their stall in Whitecross Street Market I definitely will.

Whitecross Street Market is a mish-mash of food stalls running from Monday to Friday selling everything from (really very good) burritos through average looking curries and Chinese to paninis and hog roasts.  There really is a mixture of everything- and if you're not hungry there is even a stall selling batteries and another one selling all manner of household tools (what's not to like!).

As the Fashionista had a day off today, we decided to meet at the market as its only a few minutes walk from where I work. Having wandered up and down I noticed the Wild Game Company stall.  They had lots of tasty things on offer from wild venison fillet sandwiches to venison burgers. The thing that caught my eye, though, was a pigeon and chorizo roll- I am a big fan of pigeon which is, apart from being absolutely delicious, apparently very "healthy".

The roll was delicious- two pigeon breasts cooked nice and rare, a couple of slices of chorizo, some rocket, balsamic reduction with what I think was a little chili jam (although I couldn't swear on it).  The only thing I would maybe change is swapping the pre-sliced chorizo for some cooking chorizo (a la Brindisa's amazing chorizo, char grilled pepper and rocket rolls at Borough market) which would take it from being good to absolutely superb.  At £6 it was on the more expensive side of things at the market but you get what you pay for as the Fashionista discovered to her cost with a rather lacklustre pad thai at £4.50.

If you're nearby one day I would really recommend giving Whitecross Market, and especially the Wild Game Company, a try- I now know where I will be going at Broadway Market this Saturday to source some genuinely good game.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The (ever so slightly) Crooked Well

Riots may well be now spreading accross London affecting both my area (near London Fields) and the Fashionista's "hood", Camberwell, however before this mayhem ensued, I managed to fit in a quick visit to a new restaurant down in Camberwell which has been receiving some pretty good reviews, the Crooked Well.

Camberwell, despite its chequered past, has got some great little eateries (my favourite Xinjang(ese) restaurant, Silk Road, and great tapas at Angels and Gypsies- second only in London, in my view, to Brindisa) so given the upward trend I was quite excited to try this new offering. 

Of course we hadn't booked a table but thought we would try our luck in any case.  The maitre de greeted us warmly but said that unfortunately there would be no tables available until 9:30 (it was 8) so we had a look around and then wandered away disappointed only to find out that Angels and Gypsies was also full for the evening (a pretty regular occurrence).  And so we decided to return in the hope that someone would chow down their food faster than expected and allow us to swoop on their table.

We sat at the bar, had a drink and shared some tasty olives.  We were just about to order another drink and continue waiting when we noticed a table free in the "bar" area (the maitre de had definitely not been keeping his eyes open) and asked the wonderfully cheerful French barman if we would be "allowed" to eat the restaurant food in the bar area- "why of course" came the reply.

So off we went to sit down and the barman came across with menus etc (the maitre de was still resolutely failing to notice the fact that a table had become empty and we were now sitting down, although, in fairness, he did apologise later).  The starters looked interesting and we decided to go for pork belly served with crackling, watercress, capers and a tuna creme fraiche.  I am all for a bit of surf and turf but have never come across the idea of tuna and pork so was happy to give it a go.  Unfortunately it was a little bit of a let down- the belly was dry (I am not sure how this is possible with a cut like belly), the crackling tasted of old oil and the tune creme fraiche was simply nothing other than average.  A disappointing start...

Pork belly, crackling, watercress, capers and a tuna creme fraiche.

On to the mains and, to my surprise and delight, the Fashionista had agreed to go for the two person rabbit and bacon pie (pies are not normally her kind of thing!). The pie came on its own so we decided to get a plate of mixed greens on the side.

Two minutes before the pie arrived I turned to the Fashionista and said- the pie's ready- the smell wafting down from the upstairs kitchen was unmistakable.  Sure enough shortly after the pie arrived along with a plate of kale (so much for the mixed greens).  The pie was absolutely delicious- fluffy puff pastry with juicy shredded rabbit and big chunks of bacon underneath- a great pie which would probably have done for at least three if not four people (suffice to say, the two of us saw it off!).
Bacon and rabbit pie (for two).

Given the size of the pie, there was just not enough space for us to fit anything else.  The bill, for the two of us with a (very average) bottle of wine, was over £60- a reasonable price for two for a shared starter, main course and wine if they were all up to scratch.  Unfortunately, though, the starter was a real let down and, while the pie was fantastic, for £60 in London you can get so much more for your money.  If you are in Camberwell I would suggest that you try Angels and Gypsies and give this place a miss- its just not worth it when you have such great options, which deliver consistently on every level, so close by! 

Crooked Well on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Delightful Wee Restaurant

The Wee Restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants around, partly because it is ridiculously close to where I grew up, but mainly because the food is almost without exception delicious. Craig Wood established the restaurant in 2006 after working with Martin Wishart (of Michelin fame in Edinburgh) and on the luxury five star train, the Scotsman- given his resume I was particularly excited when it opened and, having now been countless times, I have never been let down.

The menu is essentially French but there is real focus on Scottish ingredients particularly locally sourced fish and seafood.  The ever presents of the menu are, for first course, mussels cooked in a creamy sauce with bacon, and for main a succulent rib eye served with slowed cooked tomato (always deliciously sweet and simply outstanding) and varying types of potatoes.  For me, while the mussels are delicious, the portion size is just too large to allow you to fully savour the main courses so I often have to give these a miss.

Anyway, so I was back in Scotland recently and decided that a trip to the Wee Restaurant on my last night before coming back down to London was a must.

We started as usual with the black olive tapenade and homemade bread- delicious as always although I do sometimes wish Craig would expand beyond the black olive tapenade which, while tasty, has been on the menu for quite some time.

Next up I opted for the calves' tongue with salsa verde and a baby caper and watercress salad.  Sadly, the delicate taste of the tongue had been lost in the frying and, although the salad and salsa verde were delicious and helped somewhat to cut through the fat, this dish was a little disappointing.

My dining companion for the evening fared somewhat better, however- thick cut slices of Shetland smoked salmon, watercress salad and a horseradish cream- I would never have thought of putting horseradish with smoked salmon, but it really worked.

Onto the mains where I heartily enjoyed a piece of smoked pork belly. The belly was succulent and had a wonderful subtle smokiness to it- a real triumph. 

The other main was the steak- always delicious.  When I first went to the Wee Restaurant a number of years ago I had the steak and asked for a steak knife to eat it with- I was told that if I needed a steak knife I could have the steak for free!  Needless to say no steak knife is needed- succulent, tender and juicy.

On to desert, I went for cheese (I am not a huge desert fan and would much rather nibble at some tasty cheese and biscuits with a glass of port).  They always have a nice selection of mostly British cheeses served with oatcakes which, on this occasion, was accompanied by a tangy homemade pepper chutney.

My dining companion went for the strawberry dessert on what appeared to be toasted brioche- this was simply incredible!

So all in all another successful trip to one of my favourite restaurants at a highly reasonable £32 per head.  If you are ever in Edinburgh I would recommend taking the short trip (20 mins by train) out to North Queensferry to visit this wonderful little restaurant- remember to book in advance on the weekends though as it is often booked out
The Wee Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Solche Cilician

Just a quick post about a restaurant, Solche Cicilian, I went to the other night with the Fashionista near my new flat.

I love the area round Broadway Market, it really has got a lot going on right now and when we were out on a Tuesday night all of the bars and restaurants were buzzing.  We were trying to keep it on the cheap side and so, although I normally try and steer clear of places which look a little manufactured, we decided to give Solche Cilician a go as its always busy.

The place is decked out in dozens of colourful lamps with an open garden area at the rear- it certainly looks more individual on the inside than outside.  We sat next to the window with a view over the canal and were given a complementary bowl of olives to start which, unlike most complimentary olives, were actually quite nice.  We then shared a starter of Taramasalata and flatbread.  It looked a little on the pink side to be entirely homemade but nonetheless was very tasty and a lot better than the fluorescent gunk you get in supermarkets.

Moving on the Fashionista had the Mousakka which she declared delicious. I had the Iskender- cubes of lamp served on "paper thin" bread with yogurt and a tomato sauce.  The bread was in fact a pita bread and was definitely more cardboard thick than paper but, notwithstanding this, it was delicious and certainly appeared homemade.

If you are looking for somewhere "special" this is not the place to go, but if you fancy tasty homemade pan-Mediterranean food in this area at great value (two courses and a drink each came to £30 for the two of us) then this place is definitely worthwhile checking out.   

Solche Cilician on Urbanspoon
Foodies100 Index of UK Food Blogs
Morphy Richards