Monday, 27 August 2012

Pitt Cue Co: at last the wait is over

The London restaurant scene is full of hype.  Sometimes its well-placed (Honest Burger, Upstairs at the Ten Bells spring to mind), other times less so (Ceviche being the perfect example).  But no restaurant has received as many glowing reviews in the past year as Pitt Cue Co.  The darling of bloggers, newspaper critics and anything and everything in between.  But could it live up to its billing? 

It certainly kept me in suspense.  Before today I had tried three times since it opened, but have been faced by a two-hour wait each time.  Such are the options nearby that I have never managed to wait it out.  So with a free bank holiday upon me and the Fasionista out of town, I decided to head along to try it out solo.  Slipping into a single seat by the window, I had arrived.

How I wished others were with me so we could have ordered the full menu.  However without them I restricted myself to some pulled pork, green chili slaw and the "hot rib tips".

The pork was melt-in-the-mouth, topped with sweet, rich, BBQ sauce.  It came with some sourdough (a little dry but okay with the sauce) and pickles - one cabage and apple, the other gherkins. The slaw was delicious - a nice bit of heat and topped with puffed rice - it had slight undertones of an Asian salad. 

The rib tips fell off the bone and were coated in sweet chili sauce.  The meat had a nice flavour but was slightly overpowered by the sauce.  Better than I've had elsewhere, but not a scratch on the pulled pork and slaw.

So was it worth the wait? Was the hype hyperbole? Was I left disappointed?  Certainly not. For once, there was no exageration - Pitt Cue Co's reputation has been hard-earned.  It is without doubt the best place for BBQ in London.  
Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Fox and Anchor: a burger for the noughties

What is about London and burgers.  They are everywhere.  From pop up to Oxford Street (Meat Liquor) and from established restaurant group to pop up (Soho House's new venture, Dirty Burger), everyone is at it.  And us bloggers dutifully search for that perfect burger.  Is it going to be 40% shin, or 65% chuck?  20 or 25% fat?  Its all in the details.

So when a mate said he had discovered a new great, I was all over it.  The location makes sense. The Fox and Anchor is on the edge of Smithfields, the largest meat market in UK.  Quality meat should not be a problem.

And so we headed along for an early meat fix on a Friday evening.  The place was surprisingly quiet given its location and the quality of beers on offer - Sierra Nevada on tap.  We stuck to Red Diesel (in a quiet nod to nights of Diesel-fuelled fun at Glasgow University Union) - a great beer from Colchester Brewery, served in metal tankards.  Retro awesome.

On to the burger.  We were asked how we wanted it cooked - rare for the both of us.  The bun kept its structure well but the burger was overcooked and a little on the dry side.  The sad thing was if it was 2005 I would have been pretty happy.  But things have moved on so much since then.  Burger making has become an art.  Basics -it should be juicy, meaty, and, most important of all, you should be able to get a mouthful of everything in one go.  This was not possible.  No chance.  It was just too thick.  A burger for the noughties when over-sized meant good.  In mitigation G-Star did say it had been a lot better on previous visits but at fifteen quid a pop you need consistency.  That is almost double the price of an Honest Burger and about the same those legends of the meat game Hawksmoor and Goodmans.

While the burger was disappointing, the chips were splendid.  Triple-cooked, crisp, fluffy - everything a chip should be. They came with a burger sauce - we asked for the ingredients but were told it was a chef's secret.  My guess mayo, Dijon mustard and some Worcestershire sauce - either way it was pretty darn good addition to dunk your chips in.

In the search for the perfect burger, there will always be disappointments.  But normally they set you back less than a tenner.  If the Fox and Anchor wants to be known as the place for a burger in the home of meat in the UK, it had better up its game.  Its a tough market out there for the burgermeister.

Fox & Anchor on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Duck and Waffle: Breathaking Views (and the food ain't half bad)

What is it with restaurants: the better the view, the worse the food. Eating in Paris? Not at the Eiffel Tower.  Looking for proper Venetian cuisine?  Don't linger too long on Piazza San Marco.  Searching for the burgeoning British food movement?  Skip on by the BT Tower.  You get the idea!  So when I heard that a new restaurant was opening at the top of the Heron Tower, I wasn't all that excited.  Given that Duck and Waffle has views over the whole of London, surely the food would be the same old drudgery.  It is not.

Turning up at ground zero, you're met by a possy of bouncers.  No reservation, no entry.  Stepping into the Great Glass Elevator, you really do feel like you are going to Willie Wonka's wonderland as you are whisked up into the clouds. Fast.  Each second more and more of the City is revealed until you are standing tall, above everything but the Shard.  You can see so far there is even countryside.  It seriously is one of the best views around.

The view from our table...
We started with a few cocktails, an incredible Manhattan, served in a cloud of cinnamon smoke.  A rather disappointing Mojito, lacked sugar, then followed by a very good French Martini and Old Fashioned.  What can I say, we were in the mood.

Sat at a table in what was more of a corridor than the restaurant main, there was a chill in the air. We asked if they could change the a/c, they moved us into the body of the place with a view over the Gherkin and Tower Bridge.  Great service which continued throughout the night.  Our waiter, Jamie, was exceptional.  The kind of guy this place needs - unpretentious, Londoner, knowledgeable.

We started with some cod tongues and crispy pig ears - the tongues were nice (great touch with the scrap of newspaper), but the ears were fantastic.  Sweet, crispy, paprika laden - served in a paper bag. 

We then moved on to rich rabbit rilette and a juicy burratta which came with tart caper berries.  The rilette was up there with the best of them - smooth but meaty, it worked wonderfully with the sweet beer chutney.  Next, a mutton slider -  perhaps the best I have had in London (controversial I know, but it was that good).

Next a couple of oysters just for the sake of it.  Then some octopus and chorizo and a whole lobster.  Needless to say we weren't holding back.  The octopus came barely cooked, gelatinous, doused in paprika oil from the chorizo.  The lobster was delicious, cooked perfectly with a herby butter.

We finished with Eton Mess-  a perfect end to a delicious meal - and wandered downstairs to take in the party atmosphere at the sister restaurant and bar, Sushisamba, below.

The food at Sushisamba is getting mixed reviews, Duck and Waffle should not.  Everything we ate was very good indeed.  No weak dishes.  Yes its not cheap, but its not prohibitively expensive either.  That rabbit rilette, five quid, the octopus, nine.  You could probably eat quite well for thirty quid a head plus drinks.  We spent more, but not grudgingly.  Food very good, views unbeatable.
Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Lardo: where is the lardo?

The first thing that drew me to Lardo was the giant disco ball.  Now, don't get me wrong, disco balls are  not generally my kind of thing.  I'm more of a quiet-pint-in-a-corner guy than a disco-diva John Travolta.  But when that gleaming bright disco ball surrounds a fiery furnace turning out proper thin-based pizzas, you've got my attention.  Throw into the mix that the place cures all its own meats and I am surprised I wasn't there, queueing, on the opening night!  Give me a steak and I'll be happy for a night, give me chorizo or some coppa, and I'll be happy for life.

And so, one Sunday evening, we decided to make to short walk up through London Fields to try out our latest local eatery.  Would it match what's now coming out of the kitchen at Market Cafe? Or would it be a damp squib like Market House? 

We shared a few of the smaller plates to start: some delicious arancini stuffed with mozzarella and rich, fiery nduja (soft Italian sausage, rich in paprika), a broad bean salad with pecorino and some of that home-cured coppa (of course) -served by the 25g.  All very nice: simple food, well seasoned at reasonable prices. Can't ask much more than that!

Moving on to what is the main event at Lardo: the pizzas.  Although there are other mains, a rabbit stew was offered the day we were there, the disco ball will get you.  At least one person you are with will order a pizza, such is the draw of the "ball".

The base may be all Naples, thin and crisp, the toppings are more cosmopolitan!  I had the speck, spinach and belper knolle (a 15 week aged cows cheese from Berne, often served, as in Lardo, shaved over food like a truffle).  This all worked wonderfully well together - up there with Homeslice as one of my favourite pizzas of the year!

The Fashionista, her sister and her mate all had the pancetta, mozzarella and marjoram pizza.  I liked this, but not as much.  No tomatoes is fine, provided the pizza still works.  However, without the tomatoes, there was nowhere for the fat from the pancetta to go and it all became a little bit oily.  Nice flavours, just not quite there.

The girls finished off with some ice cream which seemed to go down a treat. 

Lardo is a very good local Italian eatery.  I wouldn't travel half way over London to go there.  But I don't need to, its just round the corner.  The test, does it stand up to the other places opening in East London? Categorically, yes!  This place will go from strength to strength:  after all it does have that disco ball pizza oven!

P.S. An honourable mention to the negroni maker - one of the best in London!
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Morphy Richards