Sunday, 29 September 2013

Grain Store: can I go back already?

"Surprise!", well that's the name of the menu we had. But it shouldn't really have been. Grain Store is Bruno Loubet's new place. Of course it was going to be good. I just didn't know it was going to be this good. This generous. This fun.

King's Cross is growing up. The teenage years of all night raves seem a distant memory. Gentrification is working its wily way. Gone (almost) are the sleazy bars and warehouse clubs (much to Mr Meantime's disappointment). In their place, plush flats and restaurants. Set in a large warehouse next to (the rather disappointing) Caravan, is Grain Store. It's all open plan New York warehouse, the kitchen stretches along one side, colanders for light shades, friendly waiters a hive of activity.  No table cloths, lots of smiles - no pretence. I was hooked by the time I had the first sip of my truffle martini (okay, so maybe there's a little pretence).

The courtyard outside The Grain Store: gentrification in motion
You can either choose from the menu or go with whatever Bruno has decided is best that day - the "Surprise" menu. It's not a tasting menu, you share four different starters, then each have the same main and desert.

Up first: tender octopus; peppers; punctuated with coco beans. Rich with smoked paprika, it may well have introduced itself with an "Hola" and demanded a cerveza. I loved it.  There was also yoghurt flat bread topped with carrot spread and grated carrot. Not something I would have chosen from the menu, but it worked.

There followed a hulking whale of an aubergine, chopped in half, the middle scooped out and stuffed with tomato sauce and lamb: a novel moussaka. And no, that's not a mirror, it was a half an aubergine between two; a whole aubergine for the table of four. We also had girolles and (wood-scorched) leaks. Simple, bold flavours - although I wish they had left a bit of the "scorch" on the leeks - they were peeled, tender, but they had lost a bit of that smoky oomph!

We were starting to think that the moussaka and mushrooms had been mains - we were filling up. But no, there was much more to come. Christmas had arrived early. On a plate. Roasted partridge replaced the turkey. Baked celeriac the brussels. Pickled red cabbage brought snow drifts to mind.  A roasted greengage - summer fruit eaten in the depths of winter. It made me want to snuggle up with a wood fire and a dram - cosy food.

Finally we were brought a chocolate and red bean pudding, with ginger ice cream. The fiery ginger made for some of the best ice cream I have ever had. Sat alongside, a rich chocolate pudding surrounded by crumbs of what tasted like oreos, and a rich bean sauce. "I don't really like chocolate" I said. The plate was licked clean.

Before we left Grain Store, we booked our return visit - a group of twelve this time. We are all going for another "Surprise!". I, for one, can't wait! 

Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Jubo: London's love affair continues

Just when you think London may be slowly falling out of love with American fast food, when sensible, grown-up, dare I whisper it, healthy, restaurants are opening to fanfare, you are again faced with chicken strips. Okay, so Jubo isn't quite in the same mould. Its Manhatten via Seoul. Nevertheless, the American influence weighs heavy.

Nestled into the corner of the ground floor in the Bedroom Bar, Jubo serves food to eat while drinking. There are wings, chicken strips, and steamed buns of various sorts. Kimchi slaw. A beef-stuffed sub. Perfect food after a few cocktails.

The "Yangnyeom Tongdak" (Korean-fried) chicken came winged or stripped, with soy or hot and sweet. We went for the strips, three of each. I am reliably informed by my trusty companion Wikipedia that the difference between American and Korean fried chicken is that the Koreans are not happy with frying their chicken once. No, theirs is double-fried for extra crunch (cue Heston's next show, triple-cooked chicken). And, sure enough, the chicken was super crunchy, but still juicy and tender inside. The hot and sweet ones with sesame seeds slipped down a treat.

We also got the Bulgogi (Korean-marinated) beef sub - a tasty roll, but nothing exciting.  Kimchi slaw was disappointing - the fermented hit lost in a sea of mayonnaise.

Hirata buns, one filled with slow-cooked pork and sriracha, the other with portobello mushroom, were rich, the mushroom heavy with umami. A couple of years back, they would have been exciting. Now they were just a little disappointing, at least when compared with those on offer at places like Yum Bun round the corner. Still, not a bad effort, and certainly fine to nibble on while drinking with friends.
The mushroom hirata...

And that's where I end up with Jubo. If you are going expecting a revelation, you will be disappointed. If you are meeting a few drinks and want some tasty bar snacks to sit alongside your cocktails, Jubo will do just fine.

Jubo on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Auntie Naan: definitely an improvement

Before Auntie Naan (what a name!) opened there was only one option for spice on Broadway. Joy. It may well have been called Misnomer. Recommended by a friend of a friend from whom no further recommendations were sought. It served the worst food I have ever eaten.  It was like they had established an Indian restaurant based solely on Tesco club card points and a microwave, by someone who was quite happy to take your money and then smirk. Everything about the place was utterly awful.

So you can imagine my scepticism when Joy closed down and a new Indian "concept" restaurant popped up in its place. Was this the old place with the same owners, but with a lick of paint and some trendy old beaten up furniture?  It is entirely possible it is, I forgot to ask.  But, if it is, you can rest assured that more thought has been put into a single dish at this re-opening than the entire menu at Joy. It's all Indian-British fusion - spicy fish fingers, "Bombay" wedges and a few samosas, bhajis and curries thrown in for food measure. I was intrigued enough to give it another shot.

First to the five stars, you walk in and feel like you are on holiday. Roughly sawn wooden floors and walls, brightly painted chairs and tables, a superb outside garden area and a generous helping of random Indian signs. It may not be like the cafes I have experienced in India, but in this case that is a positive. Someone has clearly spent a long time working out how this place will look.

Turning to the food, it is a mixed bag. The onion bhajis are things of splendour - sweet onion, crispy on the outside with a hit of fresh chili, I could have munched a whole bag of these. The wedges and samosas were fine (if a little toned down), but both needed more crisp - a little anaemic, I suspect they were rather hastily warmed up.

I liked the idea of the fish fingers, but the crumb needed more spice and the fish inside was slightly overcooked.  Minor points, but the difference between fine and good. Nothing really to right home about. What was exceptional was the curried mayo which came alongside - sweet and sour with a hit of tamarind, this was no ordinary mayo.

The only real let down was the chaat salad - a mixture of chickpea, radish and cucumber. With just a little lime, chili and seasoning this could have been the perfect accompaniment to the rest - as it was, it was just a little underwhelming.

So no more Joy. But happiness instead. The food won't blow you away, but it's not bad.  Auntie Naan brings something different to Broadway - some fresh flavours and a great new place to meet with friends for something light to eat.

Update (23 September 2013): having only been open for some three weeks, Auntie Naan has shut down (well at least it is closed at the moment for what appears to be a name rebrand).

Auntie Naan on Urbanspoon
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Morphy Richards