Monday, 27 May 2013

Beagle: a place you'll want to stay

Perhaps it was the fact it was a bank holiday weekend, perhaps it was the glorious evening sun streaming through the windows making the food glisten, or maybe, just maybe, Beagle was as good as I remember.  Set in three railway arches - one bar, one restaurant, the other kitchen -Beagle is the new home of James Ferguson, formerly of La Rochelle.  It is a great little bolt hole from the hustle and bustle of Shoreditch and, despite the fact that trains rumble their way towards Liverpool Street only meters above you, surprisingly serene.

The food is very much on trend, but it does not feel trendy. It doesn't feel like its trying too hard. Yes they sell smoked cod's roe (a favourite of the St John's empire). But not in a "what you haven't tried smoked cod's roe, seriously?" kind of a way.  It's far friendlier that that. There is English asparagus with fried egg and a salad of courgettes, tomatoes and feta (I am sure this was more interesting than it sounds), but we opted for the cuttlefish with aioli and the grilled lamb's tongue (a new one on me) with beets. The tongue was soft, the beets sweet. The cuttlefish was perfectly cooked, just enough bite.

The lamb's tongue and beetroot

Cuttlefish and aioli
With the sun beating down, the forerib for two or the mutton with pearl barley would have been too much - I  went instead for the pork belly. Salty crackling, melting meat with sweet onions and rich lentils - this is the kind of food that works well in July and January. The onglet steak (by the frequency with which this cut is now served in London you could almost be led to believe that there is no other!) was cooked rare and seasoned well. The duck fat chips were the only disappointment - not crisp enough for me, although the Fashionista thought they were tops.

With no space left for dessert, we sauntered off.  Yes I went on a sunny summer evening, yes we'd enjoyed a beer in the sun before, but I have this sneaky suspicion that I will be just as comfortable in Beagle come winter - snuggled up in the archway watching the snow whirl outside. This is a restaurant for keeps. This is my kind of place.

Beagle on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Square: exactly what you would expect

Sometimes a restaurant can be ruined by expectation - Heston's Dinner is a prime example, nothing wrong, just not all that! But sometimes it can go the other way - when the Fashionista first dragged me to Honest Burger in Brixton back before it became the sensation it now is (they are even tying up with television shows these days!), little did I expect that I was about to eat my all time favourite burger. So what was I expecting from The Square - technically excellent cooking, a little flair (but not too much, we were in Mayfair after all), and faultless service. And what did I get? Exactly that - not much to excite, but everything just so.

Phil Howard has been round the block - he knows how to run a restaurant. You don't keep two Michelin Stars for as long as he has if you don't. On the Wednesday night we visited, most guests were brandishing their company cards come payment time. That is not a bad thing, but it is a reality. And it has an impact on the atmosphere of the place - just a little sedate.

But enough of that, on to the food. We started with a wafer cone filled with foie gras and some rice crackers and taramasalata - all spot on. Then another pre-course of "scrambled egg" - I have no idea what was in this, but my it was tasty.
The "scrambled egg"

While others went for the signature crab lasagne with champagne and shellfish foam, I was drawn to the trotters. I always am. There is something about the gelatinous, sticky, loveliness that I keep coming back to.  Served wrapped in Pata Negra ham with peas and a light broth it was excellent.

The trotter
To follow I opted for the Pot au Feu of pigeon with asparagus, morels and barley and hazelnut dumplings.  The pigeon melted, the dumplings like the best ever gnocchi, the morels rich - heavy umami - the broth was just too salty for me though. I ended up battling valiantly to avoid the liquor - I should have been wanting to swim in the stuff.

Moving on to sweeter things, the chocolate souffle looked suitably impressive and was consumed in silence, but for the odd mmm and ahh - the sign of a good dish. Being not much of a desert man I opted for the closest thing to their (very impressive looking) cheese trolley - cheesecake with sheep's milk ice cream. The cheesecake was fine, the sheep's milk ice cream good, but not a patch on Isaac McHale's at The Clove Club. But the dessert had a secret super ninja trick up its sleeve - a small dark blue blob that, when pressed, revealed all - dark blackberry, sweet, delicious, like a Rowentrees' Fruit Pastille (come on, none of us would go for any flavour other than blackberry if we had a choice!), but better - that good! And with that, the dish was pulled to another level - delicious.

There followed many sweets, jellied and choclatey, all very nice (some were struck silent mid sentence by the salted caramel chocolates!) and a good selection of Plantation rums - it would have been rude not to.

So back to that expectation thing. I got what I expected. That is not to say I didn't like it - the place has two stars for goodness sake - I was expecting a lot.  Would I go back?  With a group, with work, unequivocally yes. The food was, in the main, delicious. For a meal for two?  No, it just doesn't strike me as that kind of place.

Square on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Towpath: Perfectly Formed

A walk along Regent's Canal has many highlights - winding from the whoops of the monkeys in Regent's Park in the West through the mayhem of Camden in the North, you will eventually find yourself in East London.  Home to Broadway Market and the magnificent (at least since the Olympics swung by) Victoria Park. But take a few steps back. There is less obvious treasure on the canal.  Just by Whitmore Bridge (about halfway between Broadway and Angel), is the Towpath Cafe - an eatery, hewn out of four recesses in the wall.

Set up in 2010 by Lori de Mori, Towpath is always packed to the brim at the weekends - hipsters recovering from the night before, now yummy mummies regaling pre-infant conquests - East London in a recess. We had tried to come before, but had always failed to get a table.

So, with the sun shining one Sunday (albeit briefly as the rain has now returned) we set up stall and waited to see what all the fuss was about. The menu is varied - from standard brunch (sausage sandwiches) to full-on lunch plates (there was pork loin on the menu the day we went along). But we decided to keep it light - a sausage sandwich and a plate of Monk's Beard and Bottarga to share.

Two huge slabs of toasted sourdough encased wonderfully meaty sausages, drenched in homemade Tommy K - all sausage sandwiches should be like this.  

But the real treat was the Monk's Beard and Bottarga.  I have to confess, I had had neither of these ingredients before - Monk's Beard, a long thin leaf from the chicory family, with a season lasting only five weeks, and Bottarga, cured fish roe from Grey Mullet. Drenched in lemon juice and olive oil, we were meant to be sharing, but I almost wolfed the whole lot. A seriously tasty plate of food. 

Along with excellent coffee and freshly squeezed juice, Towpath made for a delightful place to while away a Sunday morning. Small it certainly is, perfectly formed, perhaps.

Towpath on Urbanspoon
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