Sunday, 30 September 2012

Green Goat: some mighty tasty fish

Street food has been buzzing in London for years now - from Eat Street to Whitecross Street, Broadway to Borough, Brockley Market to Brick Lane - traders such as The Rib Man and Big Apple Hot Dogs have obtained near legendary status.  Cue five minute segment on prime-time BBC series with standard celebrity chef on street food in the Capital.

In fairness to Lorraine Pascale, other than for The Rib Man, she (or should I say her team of researchers) has not gone for the obvious choices.  And so she ended up at the Green Goat on Whitecross Street -  the daily strip of street traders that satisfies the crowds of suits billowing out from the City.  Now I am a regular here (my office is round the corner), but never had I made it past the delights of Luardos (excellent burritos), Hoxton Beach (best falafel in London - freshly cooked), and Wild Game Co. (simply incredible venison steak roll).

So when LP started banging on about this van at the top of Whitecross Street serving up the freshest fish in London (shipped up overnight from the small Cornish fishing fleet), cooked by two chefs - one ex-Caprice, the other formerly of Petersham Nurseries and Club Gascon - I really was taken aback.  How long had this been going on?  Why had I not eaten there?

I've been a few times now - I had the mussels the first time in a fresh mariniere sauce (with pancetta), hard to eat as street food but tasty nonetheless.  Th second time I had the sardine burger - super fresh, it went down a treat.

While both were good, I just didn't get round to writing about them.  This week though I had their whiting with a slow cooked chorizo and bean stew.  It was, in their words, a "bangin' eat".  If this was being served  at a "proper" sit-down restaurant, the Jay Rayners and AA Gills of this world would be beside themselves with joy.

Needless to say, I now need to try their signature chorizo and mackerel burger pronto.  Bringing sustainable, fresh, delicious fish to the masses at incredibly reasonable prices -  these guys deserve a standing ovation.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

L'Autre Pied: Food as Art (but unfortunatley not as food)

Food as art.  Art as food,  G-Star recently called this into question.  Had we strayed too far from what a plate of food was meant to be?  Number one, provide sustenance.  Secondly, taste good.  One and two together should bring happiness.  A belly full of tasty food is a wonderful thing.  Only then should we take into consideration how it looked.  I agreed to a point - two dishes, same ingredients and method deployed - one can taste better if it presented in a more appetising way.  But I can see where he is coming from.  First and foremost when I leave a restaurant I want to have enjoyed the taste of the food I have just eaten.  Only then will I revel in the beauty of its presentation and the chefs techniques.

So it is a great shame when an incredibly talented chef focuses too heavily on technique and presentation and forgets to make it taste good.  Andy Macfadden, it seems, has fallen into that trap.  The food at L'Autre Pied is packed full of technique.  His skill is obvious in every dish.  In the main it also looks beautiful.  Each plate a piece of art.  But did I leave with that warm glow you get from eating wonderful food? Sadly not.

Again I was out with work so the meal was gratis and we didn't have access to the full menu - a pared down two choice offering  instead (although I should at this point commend the restaurant for being incredibly accommodating to those whose choice was restricted).

We shared some amouse bouche - goats curd, okay, the highlight a hare samosa.  A real treat.  The accompanying bread was fantastic - in particular the onion brioche.

We were then given an extra course of what appeared to be a pesto mousse with toasted pine-nuts (no dish was explained - a great shame).  This was fine, it did not get me excited though.

I went for the artichoke - fried to a crisp, it came with parsley oil and blobs of a hazelnut.  The oil was bitter, the hazelnut reminded me of Nutella - it didn't do anything for me. Others had the crab garganelli (kind of like penne) - the pasta was just too thick, the crab got lost, the belper knolle cheese was barely evident.  All in all not that impressive.

Next up was cocoa coated venison, beetroot and smoked goats curd.  The venison was perfect.  Soft, moist, moreish.  The beetroot and the sweet onions worked well but the goats curd was a strange addition.  It also needed something more.  Some dauphinoise potatoes perhaps? Something to offset the sweet and sour combination of cocoa and onions.  Unfortunately it left me wanting.

To end I had the yuzu and mandarin parfait, poppy seeds and yoghurt sorbet.  A dish of techniques - beautifully presented. The parfait was a little sour for my liking, the poppy crisps the highlight of the meal.  But it didn't really all come together.  You can see what is being attempted.  There is sweet and sour, crispy and smooth, even a jelly - tastes and textures contrasting everywhere.  And it looked beautiful.  But it didn't make me happy.

So what to make of L'Autre Pied?  Here is a restaurant blessed with an exceptionally talented chef.  There is no doubt Andy Macfadden can cook.  A mountain of effort has been put into each dish.  No one can say the cooking is lazy.  But that breeds problems.  I think that the kitchen is trying so hard to let everyone out front know that they are top of their game, that they have forgotten what it is their are meant to be doing - cooking food that leaves you full and happy.  Sadly L'Autre Pied, despite the obvious talent, falls at the first hurdle.

L'Autre Pied on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 September 2012

River Cafe

Value.  What is value?  "The worth of something in terms of the amount or other things for which it can be exchanged".  An inherently subjective concept.  I would not think a five hundred quid  pair of Louboutin's represent value.  Others do.  I thought that four hundred for a meal at Coi in San Francisco (albeit with two hundred of that covered by the restaurant due to the wait) was fair.  It was the best meal I have ever eaten.  By a long way.

Sometimes when I eat out, I wish you didn't see the prices until the end.  But were this to be the case,  the food-loving world would go bankrupt - as it is I am already prone to over-ordering. I just want to try everything.  But prices provide a barometer.  They go up, you expect more. At rock bottom, all you expect is to be fed and watered, preferably without being antagonised in the process.

So when the prices are as high as they are at the River Cafe you're expecting a real treat.  Throw into the mix its Michelin star and a reputation earned over 25 years at the coal face of the London restaurant scene, and the expectations go through the roof.  Perhaps that is unfair.  Perhaps I should have just considered what was on the plate in front of me - but I don't think that is possible.  Value matters.

I was at the River Cafe for a work event -  a closing dinner.  The firm was paying.  So I should have been able to relax - the bill wasn't going to worm its way to me.  But as it was my first time, everything was being judged against a return visit.

To start we shared some antipasti - cold meats, mozzarella and some panzanella.  All excellent - especially the mozzarella, perfect.

We also shared some char grilled squid with chopped chilies.  This was vastly over-seasoned.  Salt, salt and more salt.  Not good at all.

Onto to El Primi.  I went for the wild mushroom ravioli in sage butter sauce.  The pasta was light, well made.  Sage butter (something close to my heart after first encountering it in while stumbling around Eastern Europe as a student in a place called Konoba Mate on Korcula Island - go if you can) worked well with the porcini and girolles.  An accomplished dish.

For el Secondi I had the lamb leg, fresh canellini beans, stuffed yellow peppers pangrattato (or breadcrumbs, for the likes of me) and salsa verde.  Everything was well cooked -  the salsa verde cut through the lamb, the beans were nice.  The peppers didn't add much.

To finish, panacotta with grappa soaked raspberries.  The panacotta was creamy, but lacked flavour. Grappa soaked raspberries, not for me.

And so we come back to "value".  Was the portion of six ravioli worth fifteen pounds?  No.  Was the lamb worth thirty five? Definitely not.  Did I enjoy them both? Yes.  I can see the appeal of River Cafe. Sitting by the river, enjoying a glass of prosecco, feasting on seasonal Italian cuisine.  Could I recommend that you do so?  If money is no option, then yes.  If not, spend your hard-earned coins elsewhere, even taking into account the (almost exclusively) excellent food, it just does not represent value.

River Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Olives: like 'em or love 'em

Olives, olives, olives.  Along with cheese (by which I mean the Mont D'Ors and aged Stiltons of this world), they are one of the great definers of taste in Britain.  A simple, "no, I think I will pass on the olives" will often be met with a gasp, or worse, a knowing, smug, "oh I didn't use to like them either - I think it's something you pick up with age". But it needn't be so. They need not be the haven for the self-proclaimed "taste" conscious.  I am convinced that separating this wonderful, miniature fruit from references to long hot days holidaying in Tuscany would break the social stigma surrounding them.

Perhaps it is because I love them so. Perhaps they just got lucky.  But I was invited recently to an event organised by Taste of Spain - an organisation single-handedly trying to break down the norms surrounding olives, and, in particular, Spanish olives - the world's largest producer (who knew? not me).  Sat with the wonderfully friendly Big Spud and London Foodaholic, we were to be shown dishes by Omar Allibhoy, formerly of El Bulli, now owner of Tapas Revolution at Westfield, all of which incorporated olives.

A classic starter of sardines, olives, artichoke and radicchio went down a treat - fresh and full of flavour.

Next up was some Spanish tortilla and chicken thighs, cooked again with green olives.  The dish was simple - chicken fried then braised in a sauce of stock and sherry.  The olives worked okay here, although I think I would have added them a little earlier to soften them up and impart more flavour.

On to my favourite of the night, sea bass, piquillo peppers and olives.  This is something I will need to try at home before long.

Finally, after a feast of green olives we finished with a round of black olives in the strangest of places - truffles.  As with sea salt and chilies, the olives worked wonders with the rich, dark chocolate, a real treat.

Thanks to Storm Communications and Taste of Spain for a great evening - olives, already de rigueur for any sunny afternoon, will now need to be incorporated even further into my daily diet.

Sedap: a little slice of Malaysia

Malaysia is one of those countries which has never really taken off for foreigners.  It has more beautiful beaches than Thailand (Perhentian Islands), a more diverse array of cultures and, in my view, a more interesting cuisine.  Despite this, people always seem to skip on by.  Trips to South East Asia always  involve Thailand, perhaps Vietnam and Cambodia, and a flight out from Singapore.  This is a great shame as, having spent a year in Malaysia growing up, I think it has to be one of the best places around (especially when you are outside the hustle and bustle of KL).

But while the people, history and landscape are all impressive, it is the food I love the most.  Sat at the crossroads of centuries old trading routes (Melaka/Penang), Malaysian cuisine is a blend of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian. Despite this interesting blend of flavours, it has never been popularly recognised - I can't see Alan Yau opening a Malay version of Busaba Eathai any time soon.

Things started wel at Sedap, the Archard was delicious -  a thick peanut and sesame paste on crispy pickled veg.  So too was the roti prata - rich chicken curry with flaky pastry-like bread.  I would have preferred it if they had served roti canai - my favourite of all Malaysian dishes - but you can't have it all.

On to the char kway teao (thick rice noodles fried with egg, prawns and a chili paste) - this transported me straight to the markets and restaurants of Ipoh (the supposed home of kway teao - although the people of Penang may have something to say about that).  Absolutely fantastic - spicy, rich, five stars.

Less impressive was the laksa - insipid sauce with vastly overcooked noodles.  A real disappointment.

A little better was the sambal okra.  The okra was well cooked but the sambal was a little sweet, lacked the hit you should get from shrimp paste and could have done with a great deal more chili.

All in all it was a mixed bag.  What was good, was very good.  The laksa, third rate. That said, I have no doubt I will be back, even if its just for a portion of kway teow at lunchtime.

Sedap on Urbanspoon

This Bright Field: Excellent Brunch

The food industry is full of catch words.  Spurred on by "celebrity" chefs, "sustainability", "local" and "organic" have entered the national consciousness.  And here's another one, "provenance".  Where has what you are about to put in your mouth come from?  Can you identify the chicken which laid the (golden) egg?  Now I am huge fan of all this: small producers, high-quality food.  I don't mind a small acknowledgement on a menu, and helpful staff who can tell you where their products are sourced is always a useful thing.  But there is a line. 

Every dish on the menu at This Bright Field is packed full of "provenance".  And, lest you forget, there is a large blackboard listing all of the wonderful people who supply the goodies which are about to be cooked for you.  This made me nervous.  I find that places that go on about ingredients in this way sometimes forget that they still need to cook them well: provenance in and of itself does not a good meal make.

I need not have worried.  For, despite the over zealous listing of ingredients, the chef had done his products proud.  We were there for brunch so I had their take on a full English, the Fashionista had some crushed avocado, rye bread and (Maldon) salt.

Meaty, well-seasoned sausages, proper bacon, a wonderfully sweet tomato, fried egg, oozing yolk - would have been nice to have been given a choice though, I prefer poached- and some tart tomato relish lurking at the bottom.  Excellent.

The avocado and black rye bread was nice.  Not really my kind of thing but the Fashionista liked it.  Still, no need to reference Maldon as the salt of choice - too far.

There are some real treats for breakfast nearby, The Market Cafe on Broadway for one, but I think This Bright Field may just pip it to the post as my favourite local brunch spot.  Thank goodness they spend as much time thinking about their cooking as they do choosing their suppliers. 

This Bright Field on Urbanspoon
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