Thursday, 10 November 2011

Mama Lan: A Threat to Silk Road's Crown?

One of my favourite restaurants in London, or maybe anywhere, is Silk Road in Camberwell.  No pretence, great northern Chinese food and friendly staff - it never lets me down.  There is, however, a young pretender to Silk's crown as the best northern Chinese restaurant in south London, Mama Lan - another new restaurant in Brixton Village.  I know I keep going on and on about Brixton Village but really what is happening down there in terms of new restaurants right now really is that exciting.

In the tradition of Brixton Village, Mama Lan is a small, basic restaurant with seats about a maximum of 20 at any one time.  The menu is short (always a good sign for freshness) with a couple of noodle soups (a beef and a tofu one), three choices of dumplings and a few other bits and bobs.  We went for the spicy beef noodle soup, the pork dumplings and a seaweed (kelp) salad.

The soup was quite tasty but the broth lacked a bit of heat and the noodles were a little mushy - pretty nice though.

The dumplings were incredible.  Nicely fried to be crispy on one side, the filling was super tasty - the best dumplings I have had in London (even better than Silk Road).  If you can't get a seat or just fancy a snack while wandering round the market (they do dumplings to take away) get involved- they are definitely worth it!

The Fashionista was a big fan of the kelp which was served with a sesame and soya sauce dressing -  for me it was okay but not a patch on the kelp with chili at Silk.

All in all a pretty tasty lunch and I will definitely be back, even if it is just to get some more of those dumplings!
Mama Lan Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Spuntino - Another Success for Russell Norman

Spuntino has to be one of the most talked about restaurants in London this year.  With the success of Polpo and Polpetto (the sister restaurants) already in the bag and with so many glowing reviews, it would have been easy for them to have sat on their laurels - so I thought I would go and check.

The tag line for Spuntinos is "no telephone, no reservations", but it may well have included "no sign".  This is a place for people who read about food.  Situated at 61 Rupert Street is what looks like a disused shop, with only the faintest scrawl above the windows to let you know that you're at the right place.  Stepping through the door, however, everything changes.  You are met by a bar with high seats and low lights, candles flickering - effortlessly cool - this is the definitive answer to "stripped down" decor.

Sat at the end of the bar we ordered a couple of small, but perfectly formed, Bloody Marys and were given a cup of freshly popped popcorn served with paprika and a lug of tasty oil to work through while we pondered the menu.

There menu is made up of various salads, a good selection of sliders (mini-burgers), some interesting small plates (fried olives?) and some tasty looking mains.

We settled on marinated artichoke and coppa crostini, a beef and bone marrow slider, spicy sausage with cheese grits, soft shell crab with tabasco aioli and aubergine fritters with fennel seed yoghurt. 

The marinated artichoke and coppa crostini -  looks a total mess but was absolutely delicious!  Juicy artichoke, tasty coppa (a tasty cured ham made from the neck of the pig) and toasted bread- my kind of food and an absolute steal at £4.50.

The beef and bone marrow slider - I had read a lot about this and, in truth, was a little disappointed.  Tasty meat, but a little dry.

Spicy sausage and cheese grits (a corn dish of American Indian origin) - delicious spicy tomato sauce, with cheese grits -  I had never had grits before but they were pretty good, reminded me of a cheesy semolina. May not sound too good, but it worked.  Little tight on the sausage though, with only three thin slices.

Soft shell crab with tabasco aioli -  I read recently that soft shell crab was a chef's dream -  incredibly cheap but considered a delicacy!  Overpriced or not (and I don' think it was) this was one tasty tasty dish.

The eggplant fritters with fennel seed yoghurt -  we had got these to add as a filler - as we had heard that the plates were generally quite small - but it stole the show.  Soft aubergine in a crisp sesame seed crust and delicious fennel seed yoghurt -  absolutely incredible.

I had not wanted to like Spuntino.  It sometimes nice to go against the crowd.  But try as I might not to, I really like this place.  Effortlessly cool decor, friendly staff and great tasting food -  another success from Russel Norman.  If it's half as good as Spuntino's I can't wait to visit his next venture, Mishkins, a jewish style deli serving old school cocktails (opens late November 2011).

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Brixton Village: Tapas Dining at Seven at Brixton, Casa Morita and French and Grace

As I have been saying for a while now, the most happening place for new restaurants in London has to be Brixton Village (and Brixton Market Row, accross the street). It all started two and a bit years ago - with long term residents such as Cornercopia and Etta's Seafood - but in the last few months has gone stellar with places like Kao Sarn and Honest Burger getting rave reviews.

And so with a free Friday night ahead of us the Fashionista and I decided to head round some of the new offerings to see if they match up with some of the more established places.

First to Seven At Brixton in Brixton Market Row (across the road from Brixton Village proper). We got to this place around 7 and it was already jumping. Given that this was the official opening night (it had been open for a soft opening the weekend before) the turn out was incredible. Specialising in pintxos and booze this was my kind of place. We went for the skewers of chorizo and cheese and olives anchovies and padron peppers and a bocadillo of goats cheese and fig. The skewers were okay, the bocadillo nice.  But this place really comes into its own when its booze you're after -  great vibe and awesome mojitos for a fiver!

We then moved next door to Casa Morita. They were fully booked (it was not long ago that the idea of a fully booked restaurant in Brixton Village was a pipe dream -how times have changed!. No matter we propped ourselves up on a couple of chairs. I had modela negra beer and we shared a taco carnitas and a taco de chorizo. The welcome you will get here is second to none and the food is delicious - highly recommended!

The Fashionista hadn't been tempted by the beers at Casa Morita so she decided to get a caipirinha from the Brazilian place across the market (super friendly bar man - such a shame that restaurant didn't seem to be getting any trade). Really good caipirinha and nice that Casa Morita were more than happy for us to drink another place's caiparinha while tucking into their tasty tacos.

We then wandered next door to Brixton Village proper to see what else we could find- it was rammed. Places like Honest Burger had queues of 20 long. But we found French and Grace (of the Salad Club) who do take away and settled on a chorizo wrap and a lamb merguez (a sausage traditionally from north Africa) wrap- we asked for haloumi but unfortunately after a few minutes they realised they didn't have any left- no matter, they refunded the difference. I enjoyed my lamb merguez one but the Fashionista thought her chorizo wrap pretty average - both could have done with being warmer, maybe just down to the constant rush that night -  I will have to give them another shot and report back.

My verdict -  Seven At Brixton, a great bar with reasonable snacks to soak up the booze; Casa Morita, all round brilliance - tasty food, nice drinks, brilliant staff and atmosphere; French and Grace - almost very good but not quite.  If you've never been to Brixton Village and you like your food, you need to get on it, there is something for everyone!

P.S. Sorry for the quality of photos on this one, left my camera at home and my old school i phone 3GS was just not up to scratch!

Casa Morita on Urbanspoon
Seven At Brixton on Urbanspoon

French & Grace on Urbanspoon
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Morphy Richards