Saturday, 28 January 2012

Polpo: A Little Disappointing

I loved every mouthful at Polptto when I visited earlier in the week, so when we failed to get into Pitt Cue Co. (there was a queue of 40 by six in the evening), we thought we would give Polpo a shot.  The original restaurant in Russell Norman's ever-growing empire, I had high hopes for Polpo. 

Once again this place has the trademark bar with high seats, low hanging light bulbs and stripped brickwork.  With a long wait ahead of us for a table (there are no reservations), we propped ourselves up against the bar and ordered an old fashioned (good, but not great), a great moscow mule (they had run out of Worcesterhshire sauce so the Fashionista couldn't get her Bloody Mary fix), some arancini (fried Italian rice balls) and some olives.  The arancini were stuffed with melted mozarella and were really good.

After about an hour's wait we got a table.  Having eyed the menu while we waited we promptly ordered a chickpea and anchovy crostini and potato and parmesan croquetta to start.  Following this we ordered the flank steak with porcini sauce, the cotechino (a slow-cooked Italian sausage made by stuffing pork intestine with pork, pork rind and wine) and braised cabbage, some roasties and cauliflower gratin.

What I forgot is that, like all Russell Norman restaurants, the food comes out when the kitchen decides its ready, rather than in any logical order.  This works well at Spuntino and Mishkins where most of the dishes are tapas-sized, but not so well in a restaurant with a more convential small and large plate menu.

First came the roast potatoes - very very disappointing.  Luke warm when served and not crispy at all.  A second later came our "starter" of croquetta (also below par) and crostini topped with a tasty mixture of chickpea and anhovies. 

Then came the cauliflower gratin - creamy and delicious.  Then when the potatoes had already been on the table for about ten minutes, the flank steak.  This was the best dish of the evening - creamy porcini sauce, very well seasoned and tender steak, all served tossed through rocket.  Very tasty.

When all other dishes had been finished, out came the cotechino.  The cabbage had been braised in stock and the cotechino was suitably gelatinous.  It was, however, not a patch on that which I had tried at Da Enzos in Modena. 

With a caraffe of wine it came to ninety five quid. Although some of the dishes were quite good for me it was just not worth it.  I have loved all my other visits to this ever-growing empire - the food at Polpetto was probably my favourite meal so far in 2012.  Maybe it was because they were so busy, maybe the group has taken their eye off the ball at their longest standing restaurant, what with all the other openings - but for that price you can eat much better elsewhere.  I would suggest giving it a miss and heading on up to Polpetto to get involved in some of their incredible maltagliati.

P.S. Again no photos, just too dark for my old school iPhone 3GS.   

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Friday, 27 January 2012

Eat Street at Kings Cross: The Rib Man

It being my birthday I decided to do something I had been meaning to do for a while - make an ambitious attempt to get from Moorgate to Kings Cross, eat a mean rib roll from The Rib Man (aka Mark Gevaux), and back again - all in one hour flat.  I succeeded and my was it worth it.

Eat Street at Kings Cross is a really exciting development.  They are a collective of street traders, all tried and tested by the people at Eat Street and showcasing some of the best street food you can find anywhere in the capital.  The stalls vary from day to day and include some of my favourites in London, such as Banh Mi 11 who, in my opinion, serve far and away the best Pho and Vietnamese baguettes in London.

But on this visit it wasn't Vietnamese I was after, I was going to go get myself some ribs.  The Rib Man, originally only resident at Brick Lane on a Sunday, now pops up at Eat Street from time to time.  The babyback ribs from pigs which are outdoor reared on Norfolk and Suffolk farms, cooked slowly from midnight each night for twelve hours (if you follow him on twitter, the Rib Man gives blow by blow updates on his prep).  Taken off the bone, shredded and served in either a roll or wrap, this is what ribs are all about.

To go with the ribs Mark Gevaux makes an incredible chili sauce (made with scotch bonnet peppers and naga jolokia- formerly thought to be the world's hottest chili) which is fast gaining a cult following.  Christened by his regulars "Holy Fuck Sauce", this stuff is incredibly hot but also has a wonderful depth of flavour.  Also served by Big Apple Hot Dogs - you have to try this stuff, it is awesome! 

If you can make it one lunchtime, you should definitely get yourself along to Eat Street, even if the Rib Man is not there, there will still be plenty of other tasty treats on offer! 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Polpetto, Incredible Chestnut Pasta

I have now completed three fifths of Russell Norman’s uber-cool restaurant empire:  Spuntino’s (the coolest of the lot) was good, the meatloaf at Mishkins made me smile from ear to ear, and now Polpetto.  Polpo and da Polpo to go. With Spuntino and Mishkins scoring highly I am happy to report that Polpetto did not disappoint.

Dinner last night was with an old friend from Canada who has been studying in London for six months already (I should have met up before much to my shame!).  Her experiences of food in London have, thus far, been expensive and disappointing.  On one occasion, when querying why the pho she had been given lacked the deep flavour that only comes from a stock made over many hours, the restaurant offered soy sauce by way of recompense.  I forgot to ask the name of the restaurant concerned - such laziness should be publicly named and shamed.  So, with such negative experiences to date, the pressure was on to deliver a cheap and cheerful but delicious dinner.  We tried Barafina and Duck Soup but both had queues out the door – we settled on Polpetto.

Located in a tiny space above the French House pub (it seats 28), the d├ęcor is all long-hanging light bulbs and stripped-back red bricks – needless to say you know you are in a Russell Norman restaurant.  One difference is noticeable from the outset, however, the staff are incredibly friendly (as opposed to Mishkins and Spuntinos where rumours abound of bad service - although I should say that on all of my visits the service has been nothing but friendly).  Sat at a table by the window, we pondered the menu, the waitress providing useful tips on the dishes.

To start we went for the polpette (meatballs in a rich tomato sauce) and zucchini fritters with lardo (pig back fat cured with rosemary - always good, even if it isn't the healthiest).  Both were delicious and rapidly devoured.

For second course I went for the chestnut maltagliati with sage and butter sauce.  Originally maltagliati pasta was made up from the off-cuts of other bits of pasta – lots of pieces of varying size.  Apparently the interesting shapes have now become so popular in Italy, however, that it is now considered a form of pasta in its own right.  If Polpetto’s chestnut maltagliati is anything to go by I can understand why.  Large trapezoid shapes of al dente chestnut pasta drenched in delicious, rich sage butter with a few crunchy pieces of chestnut interspersed – very good indeed.

My friend order the pork shoulder with rhubarb – the pork melted in your mouth, the rhubarb was tart and cut through the richness of the pork.  We asked for some lentils as well and these came served under the pork and added an earthiness without which the dish might have been lacking.  With the lentils, however, it was delicious.

On the side we also shared some cavolo nero – tender and reasonably tasty but nothing special.

All in all the food at Polpetto was very good indeed.  Perhaps a little pricier than Mishkins and Spuntinos but with the cosy atmosphere, the friendly service and the delicious food it is more than worth it.

P.S. Sorry no pics this time - the restaurant was just too dark for my poxy iPhone 3GS and I didn't have my camera with me.

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

Monday, 9 January 2012

Meat Liquor: Hype Over Substance?

2011 has been the year of the burger in London.  And of all of the places which have opened none have been talked about so much as Meat Liquor

For those not in the know, Meat Liquor started life as a mobile burger van called The Meat Wagon (rather like the excellent Lucky Chip at Netil Market).  When Yiannis Papoutsis' burger van was stolen, an idea was hatched to open a pop-up restaurant in a pub's dis-used restaurant in New Cross Gate. Called #meateasy, the aim was to save up enough money to buy another meat wagon.  This was an untold success, queues out the door every night! I went once, the Fashionista three times - all in all we queued about ten hours for the simple but excellent burgers on offer!

There followed another pop up in Peckham and an appearance on Jamie Oliver's tour of Great Britain food programme.  So when it was announced that Meat Liquor was to open in Marleybone the hype was already fever pitch.

Situated on the ground floor of a modern building behind Oxford Street, Meat Liquor lives by the same code it always has - everyone queues, always, and meat is the order of the day.  The interior is "distressed rock chic", the music heavy rock.

We started with the fried pickles and blue cheese dip - juicy gherkins, light batter and delicious blue cheese dip. We also had the pork slider. Both really good!

For mains I had the Dead Hippie, a double burger with "Big Mac" sauce, gherkins, lettuce and tomato.  The Fashionista had the Philly Cheese Steak roll.  For sides we had fries and onion rings.  We also asked for a mac and cheese but it never arrived.

The burger was good, but a little overcooked and under seasoned unfortunately - certainly not as good as they used to be at New Cross Gate but still a lot tastier than your better than average chains like Byron.  The chips were so salty they were almost inedible and the onion rings were a bit greasy.  The major disappointment was the Philly Cheese Steak roll - dry and boring!

Now I am a fan of Yiannis Papoutsis' burgers. They have, before this visit, been excellent.  I also know that the general consensus is that the burgers at Meat Liquor are up there with the best of them.  But this time it just wasn't that great - in fact it was a little sub-standard (especially the Philly Steak) when compared with places like Lucky Chip and Honest Burgers.  Maybe it was just a bad day.  However I am not sure I will queue for another 45 minutes just to find out if we were unlucky...

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 7 January 2012

La Vie en Rose: just not up to scratch!

Living near Broadway market I have always had my eye on La Vie en Rose, the quaint French restaurant situated on the corner of Broadway market at the Regent Canal end.  The menu always looks interesting and it is normally packed.  And so with most of the restaurants near me closed between Christmas and New Year, I decided to give it a shot.

The decor is that of a small Parisian cafe/neighbourhood restaurant.  The staff were very welcoming- indeed they were probably the highlight of the evening

We had the charcuterie to share for starters.  Unfortunately, given the quality of French cured meats and saucisson on offer on Broadway Market on a Saturday, the charcuterie was a selection of pre-sliced meats including Parma ham (hardly French!) - if I had to guess I would think it came straight out of a supermarket packet.  This was served with pickled apple, which was overpowered with cinnamon.

For main I went for the pork fillet with potato and turnip gratin.  This could have been good, the combination should have worked, but unfortunately it was not.  The flavours were okay but the pork was dry, the gratin sloppy. 

LJC had the pheasant breast with wild mushrooms.  As will be evident from the picture below, the pheasant had been severely overcooked.  Burnt on one side, dry throughout.  Again the flavours in this dish were okay, but when it came to the pheasant, the cooking went clearly awry.

The menu at La Vie en Rose is always intelligently formed, the ingredients are interesting and well-matched. The place is also more often than not very busy.  Both of which leads me to suspect that, given it was just after Christmas when I visited, the usual chef must not have been cooking.  However, given how far from the mark the food was, this is no excuse.

Update: La Vie en Rose closed in January 2012.
La Vie En Rose on Urbanspoon
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