Sunday, 11 August 2013

Flesh and Buns: Izakaya arrives in London

Flesh and Buns is the new offering from those clever people behind Bone Daddies. Having taken the ramen world by storm, they have now decided to introduce London to the joys of Izakaya dining. What, you've never heard of Izakaya? Really? Neither had I. But, given that it is essentially Japan's answer to a pint of bitter and scampi fries (with the bitter replaced by sake and the scampi by sushi), I thought it was something I should explore.

The restaurant is gigantic, a large high table stretching all the way down the middle. Think Wagamama, but much, much cooler. The menu is made up of snacks, small hot and cold plates and "flesh and buns". Everything is for sharing.

We kicked things off with some "chips and dips" - tasty homemade rice crackers, shiso avocado (essentially guacamole, I struggled to detect any shiso) and tomato jalapeno (for which read salsa). I loved this take on Japanese/Mexican fusion.

Tuna tataki was seared on the outside, served with a tart grapefruit, chili, coriander. If this is food to drink by, pass the sake. Beautiful to look at, even better to eat, this was a splendid dish - all of the flavours balanced perfectly.

Then came the "flesh". A hulking great lump of pork belly, mustard miso sauce and the fluffiest buns you will find anywhere in London. Our waitress tried to pull the pork at the table, sadly for her, she ended up in a bit of a wrestling match - moist on top, it had dried out a little at the bottom, pork has pulled easier before. That said, once she had put her all into it, it came apart fine, with a dribble of the fiery mustard miso and some pickled apple, the buns were devoured in record time.

Surprisingly filling, we probably didn't need anything else. But of course we had done our usual of ordering one more dish than the staff recommend (when the Fashionista is on form, and snacking food is the game, it is quite incredible how much can be devoured). And so we ended up finishing on some chicken yakitori - grilled skewers of perfectly moist, marinated chicken interspersed with crunchy spring onions. A great end.

So let's get back to the premise of Flesh and Buns. Food to accompany sake- there is a great selection (sadly, given it was lunchtime and we had a busy afternoon stretching ahead of us, we didn't get involved). It does that admirably. But to relegate the food to a sideshow would be harsh in the extreme - it's far more deserving than that. I, for one, can't wait to round up a few mates and head there for a sake-fuelled session of Izakaya. The scampi fries may at last have found their match!

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, 10 August 2013

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar, A Special Place

When you go out not intending to eat, let alone drink double shots of mezcal, but leave somewhere feeling full, smiling, you know the place you've been was special. And, so it was, last Thursday I was going for two beers, then home to enjoy the treats my lovely neighbours had given me to celebrate the end of Ramadan. So, two turned into three, it always does. Then of course we had to finish the round. The Italian suggested a cocktail at Hawksmoor's bar, underneath their Spitalfields restaurant. Okay, just one more then...

Who was I kidding? Walk into a Hawksmoor and not eat? That was never ever going to happen. One step into the achingly cool bar (the de rigeur metro tiles have even been aged!), I knew my Ramadan feast was going to have to wait for another night.

So let's get one thing straight, there are no steaks - if that's what you're after, go upstairs. But there are ox cheek nuggets (I was sold!), burgers, pulled pork rolls, chili dogs, wings and ribs - need I say more.

We opted for a burger, pulled pork roll, ox cheek nuggets and pig's head poutine. And a cucumber and watermelon salad also turned up - we weren't complaining, respite for the arteries.

As you would expect, the burger is good. Very good. Rich, juicy beef, perfectly cooked medium-rare, topped with cheese in a beautifully soft brioche bun. Best of all, it is only £8.50. That is the same price as GBK. One can only imagine GBK's margins are significantly larger. Seriously, £8.50? It is an absolute steal! The Italian had the pulled pork which went down a treat.

The sides are where things started to get really exciting. I had no idea what poutine was when I ordered it, I was lured in by the pig's head. Turns out it is a perfect dish for two Scots to devour following a night on the beers. Originating in Canada, it is made up of chips, cheese (yes, okay, not the holy trinity of mozzarella and two types of cheddar you get at BBQ Kings in Glasgow, but good nonetheless) and gravy. Not content with that, Hawksmoor have added pig's head. Filthy, yes. Healthy, no. Worth it once in a while, absolutely.

We also had the ox cheek nuggets - slow-cooked cheek, encased with some mozzarella in breadcrumbs, with some kimchi dipping sauce. I could have eaten these all night long.

And, to freshen things up, a salad of large chunks of cucumber and watermelon, with a touch of ginger, chili, garlic and, I think, some fish sauce - this was a refreshing counterbalance to the rest of the meal. Excellent in its simplicity.

So the bar is cool and the food is great, but it is the drinks, or, more specifically, the barmen, who really make this place really stand out. Excellent cocktails (butter infused bourbon old fashioned anyone?) served up by a tag team from Turkey (Mr Pinky, you know who you are!) and Wales - we were kept in stitches for most of the night. If you like fun, go. If you don't, well, that's your loss, this place isn't for you.

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar on Urbanspoon

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