Friday, 21 August 2015

No Reservations - Soho

Soho's food scene has gone from strength-to-strength in recent years and Londoners now have a long list of outstanding, affordable eateries to choose from right in the centre of town. However, you do have to be careful where you go as the trend for no reservations, championed by the likes of Polpo, Burger & Lobster and Barrafina, is still going strong.  Queuing is what we English do best though. Here are ten restaurants worth getting in line for:

-------------------------------------------------------------------

1) Bao - one of the hottest restaurants in London right now. Street food heroes Bao have settled down in a tiny space in Soho serving up their signature steamed buns and Taiwanese dishes. Queues start building before it opens at 12 for lunch and 5.30 in the evening, but it's worth the wait.  Don't miss the Pig Blood Cake or the Fried Chicken Bao.


53 Lexington St, Soho, W1F 9AS - Mon-Sat: 12-3, 5.30-10


-------------------------------------------------------------------

2) Pizza Pilgrims - another street food team turned permanent, Pizza Pilgrims quickly took over Franco Manca as the sourdough pizza darlings of London. There are two Soho sites (Dean St. & Kingly Court) so there's never much of a wait for a table. I rarely make it past the Salsiccia e Friarielli on the menu, with some deep fried mac'n'cheese ragu balls and a shot of their very own Pococello on the side. Oh, and there's table football in the basement of the Kingly Court site. The Dean Street site does allow two bookings per night for groups of 8 or more in "The Crypt".


11 Kingly St, London, W1B 5PW - Mon–Sat: 11.30–10.30 / Sun: 12–9.30

11 Dean St, Soho W1D 3RP - Mon–Sat: 11.30-10.30 / Sun: 12–9.30


-------------------------------------------------------------------

3) Smoking Goat - take a bib and night vision goggles. Smoking Goat is a smoky, messy affair, and you'll most likely come out covered in crab or some other fantastic modern Thai twist plus plenty of eau de BBQ. The menu changes regularly but Fish Sauce Wings are usually there to start you off. You can book the "Lazy Susan Feasting Room" apparently, but otherwise it's time for another wait.


7 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LZ - Mon-Sat: 12-3, 5-12 / Sun: 12-9


-------------------------------------------------------------------

4) Blacklock - one stop shop for all the chops. Blacklock from ex-Hawksmoor folk has quickly built up a large fan base who get in line for chops cooked over charcoal with Blacklock irons. Go all in for £20 to get pre-chop bites, and a huge plate of the day's skinny chops piled on top of chargrilled flatbread.  You can reserve for lunch or for tables of 6 or more in the evening - huzzah!


The Basement, 24 Great Windmill St, Soho, W1D 7LG - Mon-Fri: 12-3, 5-11.30 / Sat: 12-11.30


-------------------------------------------------------------------

5) Flat Iron - Flat Iron in Beak Street has been around longer the most on this list but the queues are still there. A second site in Denmark Street has helped to alleviate the crowds. A beautiful £10 flat-iron steak is the reward for the wait (a lively basement bar with St John doughnuts in Beak St. makes time fly). Keep an eye out for Flat Iron burger specials.

Photo taken from Flat Iron Facebook page

9 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LS - Mon-Sun: 12-11

17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW - Mon-Sun: 12-11


-------------------------------------------------------------------

6) Barrafina - The most serious restaurant on the list, Barrafina in Frith Street was recently awarded a Michelin-star for their outstanding tapas.  Once you are in, it's relaxed and fun counter dining, and the food is phenomenal. There are two more sites in Adelaide St and Drury Lane, but I suggest starting with the original.


54 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SL - Mon-Sat: 12-3, 5-11 / Sun: 1-3.30, 5.30-10


-------------------------------------------------------------------

7) Bone Daddies - Bone Daddies arrived early to the London ramen scene before it exploded, and their rock'n'roll Peter Street joint still draws the crowds. Multiple visits are required to work through their range of ramens. Their late night menu 10.30-11.30 Thu-Sat might be a clever way to avoid queuing. They have recently opened a second site in High Street Kensington and also run Flesh & Buns in Covent Garden and Soho popup Shackfuyu.  A third outpost in Old Street should be open by the end of 2015.

Photo from Bone Daddies Facebook page

Mon-Wed 12-3, 5.30-11 (Mon-10) / Thu-Sat: 12-11.30 / Sun: 12-9.30

31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR


-------------------------------------------------------------------

8) Pitt Cue Co - another oldie in relative terms, Pitt Cue Co is an outstanding, 30-seater BBQ joint that started life on the street food scene under Hungerford Bridge.  Get a drink in the bar while you wait before heading downstairs for all the meat and bone marrow mash. Exclusive hire is available on a Sunday night.

Photo Credit : Paul Winch-Furness

1 Newburgh St, Soho, London W1F 7RB - Mon-Sat: 12-3, 5.30-11 / Sun 12-4


-------------------------------------------------------------------

9) Balls & Company - the newest addition to the list is a meatballs focused joint from Australian Masterchef 2012 finalist Bonny Porter. It's been an instant hit with its simple but superbly executed menu, and the basement bar is a great spot for a drink whilst waiting for a table. Groups of 8+ can reserve tables, but there's not a lot of space! Don't miss the Wagyu meatballs or the Brownie with Persian Fairy Floss.


58 Greek St, Soho, London, W1D 3DY - Mon-Sat: 12-11


-------------------------------------------------------------------

10) Polpo - Restaurateur Russell Norman's original Venetian bacaro in Soho was an early proponent of the no reservations theory, and Londoners continue to flock to Beak Street for ciccheti and spritzes in a stylish space. There are now six Polpo sites in London, and chef director & founder Tom Oldroyd recently left the company to open his own neighbourhood restaurant Oldroyd in Islington which has been earning him rave reviews.


41 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SB - Mon-Sat: 12-11 / Sun: 12-10


-------------------------------------------------------------------

Notable omissions:


I'll see if I can scramble together a Yes Reservations post soon...

Friday, 14 August 2015

Doodle Bar - Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - Food & Booze News

This post comes to you from California! Or at least that's where I was headed when I started this post. I wrote most of it on the plane in between showings of Interstellar & Birdman, both of which included far too much dodgy aviation for in-flight entertainment.  Anyway, rather than transport you to Venice Beach (expensive), let me introduce you to Doodle Beach.

Unbeknownst to most East Londoners, the closest our fine city gets to Williamsburg warehouse fun is Testbed1 in SW11 - a slice of Brooklyn in Battersea.  Turn left out of Bunga Bunga and never look back.  Inside the sprawling space lies Doodle Bar, a hangout for hip RCA students and in-the-know locals.
 

As you may know, you can draw (or doodle) all over the walls with chalk, but there's so much more to it than that. Let's start with the beach.

OK, it's not the sandiest, but beggars can't be choosers (and it's preferable to hanging out on top of the Roundhouse with the rest of London).  It's more of an "industrial beach", but there is real water (Ransome's Dock) and it's a mighty fine sun trap. Two out of three ain't bad.  Arrive early to grab a table, but be prepared to move inside at a moment's notice around 10pm (security staff need a lighter touch).

Live music on Doodle Beach

This Summer, the Doodle Beach is the setting for several Saturday supperclubs, the details of which can be found here.  But the real trick is to go on a Friday night when two of London's finest street food traders, Street Kitchen and Well Kneaded, can be found slinging out next-level burgers and delicious firebreads respectively. Street Kitchen's Foghorn Leghorn is right up there with Patty & Bun's Smokey Robinson and Boom Burger's... Boom Burger; and Well Kneaded's Carl is a living legend - seek them out.  Street Kitchen are also on site for lunch Monday-Friday with a lighter menu.

Read about Street Kitchen's permanent home in Broadgate Circle here

Street Kitchen burgers at Doodle Bar

Well Kneaded firebreads at Doodle Bar

Louisiana Crawfish Boil - Saturday Supperclubs at Doodle Beach

Louisiana Crawfish at Doodle Beach

Live art on the Doodle Beach

What about the booze? Well, most bars don't live directly opposite a gin & whisky distillery.  The latter of the two spirits is still resting inside The London Distillery Company, but their Dodd's Gin is ready to go.  Unsurprisingly Dodd's features in several of Doodle Bar's cocktails, including a barrel-aged Negroni, but a simple G&T is an excellent plan B.  Beers aren't too shabby either with the likes of Paulaner & Affligem on tap, and some fine bottles in the fridge. Worried #craftbeerwankers can waddle over to Draft House Westbridge round the corner for a wider selection.



When you inevitably have to move inside, swing by the free table tennis tables (are you reading Bounce & Ping?) before sneaking through to the overflow Testbed1 events warehouse. It's pretty basic (who need's chairs?) but the lighting is incredible and the atmosphere is electric.








Great food, top shelf booze, free games, loads of space, and a sprawling sun trap? Sounds awful.

Mon-Thurs 10am-11pm / Fri 10am-midnight
Sat 12pm-midnight / Sun 12pm-11pm

Doodle Bar - www.thedoodlebar.com
33 Parkgate Road, London SW11 4NP

Square Meal

Click to add a blog post for The Doodle Bar on Zomato

-----------------------------------------------

Neal's Yard in Seven Dials is one of those magical London spots that I'm always recommending but rarely visit myself.  Homeslice is a smart pre-theatre option, but to best appreciate the space in all its green glory, go al fresco at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - a Parisian wine bar and restaurant from Experimental Group (Experimental Cocktail Club, Joyeux Bordel).


You can easily lose a few hours here working your way through their wine list whilst stuffing your face with charcuterie and cheese. I dropped in recently to have a look at some new Summer dishes over a few glasses of vino in the sunshine.  

I'm no wine expert myself (yet) but we particularly enjoyed Clos Saint Fiacre Orleans L'Excellence Chardonnay, Loire, France 2013 and Thierry Germain Saumur l'Insolite, Loire, France 2013


On the food front, we ordered Handmade Spinach Gnocchi with Ricotta & Almonds, Tuna Tatiki & Courgette with Sesame, and a Soy & Ginger Dressing and Fassona Beef Tartare with Spring Onions, Pine Nuts and a Quail's Egg.

The generous gnocchi was borderline dessert (in a good way) and indulgent in the extreme.  The beef tartare had the right intentions but needed a touch more seasoning, whilst tasty tuna tatiki & courgette was subtle in its use of soy & ginger (enjoyably so).

Handmade Spinach Gnocchi with Ricotta & Almonds

Fassona Beef Tartare, Spring Onions, Pine Nuts, Quail's Egg

Tuna Tatiki & Courgette, Sesame, Soy & Ginger Dressing

Other new plates include a Summer salad with rocket, feta, peach and avocado, and Japanese aubergine rolls with dorset (?) and balsamic. However, you may find it hard to look past their ever present Posh Madame with Truffle Ham & Quail Egg. Either way, you'll be alright.


If the weather isn't holding, their dark, sexy interior space isn't a bad backup. Alternatively, hop on the Eurostar and pay the original Paris branch a visit. Santé!

Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - www.cvssevendials.com

Mon-Sat: 12pm-12am / Sun: 12pm-11pm

8-10 Neal's Yard WC2H 9DP

Square Meal

Click to add a blog post for Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Zomato

------------------------------------------------
 
I'm going to finish off with a few bits of Food & Booze News which might become a regular feature. Let's start with some clickbait:

- Immerse yourself in alcohol at Bompass & Parr's breathable cocktail / booze cloud installation
Street Feast's Dinerama was forced to shut after a major fire but has since reopened
- Hotel launches dedicated water menu and "Water Butlers"
- Felicity Spector investigates the tee-total bar scene
Town Hall Yard is the place to be at the weekend

What am I drinking at home?

Well it's been the year of the Negroni so far for me (and many others) which has led me to seriously up my Vermouth game.  Cocchi di Torino, Antica Formula and Lillet Rouge are all regulars in my fridge, but the winner has to be Belsazar Vermouth - a new German vermouth range crafted near the Black Forest that has exploded on to the bar scene.  The secret ingredient is a mystery blend of Schladerer fruit brandies that is only known to a handful of people. Go and get yourself a bottle of Belsazar Red right now.


Looking up Belsazar led me to find Axiom Brands who represent the whole range here in the UK. Naturally, I nosed around and tried a few of their other brands that appealed. Here are my recommendations:

- WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey - A 100-proof straight rye whiskey, aged for at least 10 years through a unique double barrel process. The Wall Street Journal called it "the essence of rye whiskey". Try it in a Manhattan with Belsazar Red and a dash of Axiom's Ratafia cherry liqueur. Buy WhistlePig 10 for £69.96 at The Whisky Exchange.

- Mondino Amaro - Once you've sorted out your vermouth, amaro is the next home bar essential. Mondino Amaro is handcrafted in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps using rhubarb, yellow gentian, and arancia amara (bitter orange) amongst other locally sourced botanicals.  It's wonderful neat, but I would get out the Belsazar Red again and make some next-level Negronis and Americanos using a shot of each plus one more of gin or a splash of soda respectively. Buy Mondino Amaro for £23.45 at The Whisky Exchange.

- Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. - It's not all booze behind the bar; Meet Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. - a family-run company with roots in Charleston, South Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky. They have got you covered with a visually appealing range of bar staples including Aromatic Bitters from Colorado, Small Batch Grenadine from Napa Valley, and Bourbon Cocktail Cherries featuring Oregon cherries. Their Small Batch Tonic stars in one of W&P Design's magnificent Carry-On Cocktail Kits - guaranteed to brighten up your next EasyJet flight.



To further showcase my favourite back bar items and cocktails, I've recently added a little booze-box to the blog beneath the Instagram stream. Go on - scroll up and take a look. Nothing else to see here.

P.S. If you are a brand looking to feature in my world-renowned booze window, all you have to do is send me, let's say, 4 cases of premium spirits, liqueurs or beers so that I can really put it through its paces.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Barrafina - Balls & Company - Luxardo at Obica

Three more lovely London eateries ticked off this week (only a few hundred to go):

Monday 20th July - Despite visiting 900 odd food & drink places in the last two and a bit years, my London restaurant wishlist still has some big hitters on it - The Clove Club, Typing Room, Restaurant Story, Kitchen Table and Gymkhana to name a few.  

And then there's Barrafina.  Not only have I not been to the Michelin-starred Soho institution, the Barrafina boys have kindly added two more to my list with outposts on Adelaide Street and Drury Lane (which opened last Friday).  All three have entirely different menus full of tempting tapas plates (except for their Classic Tortilla) so I can't even claim a hat-trick in one visit! In order to stop the rot, I went along to their latest opening for a light lunch with Dad The List.

To cut a long story short, it was excellent. The service was friendly with Eddie Hart milling around in the background, and the plates were superb.  You can't really go wrong, but you shouldn't leave without getting something from their Tortillas Y Huevos section.  Our Pheasant Egg & Morcilla de Burgos (flavoured with cumin) on Toast (£6.50) was outrageously tasty - perhaps the first sign of #BarrafinaBrunch? Order it.

Elsewhere Courgette Flowers stuffed with Cream Cheese & Goat’s Cheese (£7.80) and Baby Gem with Botarga, Walnuts, Pancetta & Manchego (£6.80) impressed, whilst Raba de Toro / Oxtail stuffed with Pine Nuts, Walnuts and Leeks (£9.50) and Milk Fed Lamb Sweetbreads (£12.80) kept my nose-to-tail fan of a father happy.

Pheasant Egg & Morcilla de Burgos on Toast

Pheasant Egg & Morcilla de Burgos on Toast

Courgette Flowers stuffed with Cream Cheese & Goat’s Cheese

Baby Gem, Botarga, Walnuts, Pancetta & Manchego

Baby Gem, Botarga, Walnuts, Pancetta & Manchego

Ordering an extra dessert is standard Dad The List practice. We diplomatically shared Leche Frita (Fried Custard) with Plum Jam (£6.50) and Torrijas (French Toast) soaked in Cinnamon & Orange with Pistachios & Creme Fraiche Ice Cream (£6.80) before diving in to Cuajada - a pot of milk curd served simply with hazeulnuts on top and honeycomb on the side. Glorious stuff, if not as memorable as Ollie Dabbous' curd creation.

Torrijas - French Toast soaked in Cinnamon & Orange with Pistachios & Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

Leche Frita - Fried Custard with Plum Jam

It's the usual no reservations stuff I'm afraid, but the Drury Lane site is your best bet for avoiding queues currently.  Get over there for lunch (Monday to Saturday) when it opens at 12pm and take whatever seats are going!  Alternatively, email events@barafina.co.uk to book a private dining area on the lower ground floor for up to 28 guests.  I'm to visit the other two before they open another one...

Barrafina Drury Lane - www.barrafina.co.uk

43 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London

Monday-Saturday - 12-3 // 5-11

Square Meal

Click to add a blog post for Barrafina on Zomato

-------------------------------------------------

Wednesday 22nd July - From Barrafina to Balls and Company - Timeout's restaurant of the week was unsurprisingly busy, so I popped down to look at their basement bar space that will look after hungry Londoners until a table is free (much like in Pitt Cue Co & Flat Iron).

Cocktails are well priced at £7 - Malt'N'Monkey is a dangerously drinkable Manhattan on ice with a chocolate bitter twist, whilst Gin Dilla is, well, gin and dill, with salt and fresh lemon balm for complexity.  And then there's Company Iced Tea - a bonkers mix of red wine, Early Grey and orange infused vodka, raspberry, strawberry, agave and orange brúlée.  It's surprisingly well-balanced!

For some moody Balls & Co. shots in Black & White, head to Matt The Tumblr

Malt'N'Monkey - Whisky, Sweet Vermouth, Chocolate Bitters, Cherry Liqueur, Citrus Twist (£7)

Gin Dilla - Gin, Dill, Lemon Juice, Cucumber, Salt, Fresh Lemon Balm (£7)

Back upstairs, a complimentary bowl of ultra-thin, moreish parsnip crisps is the first sign that Balls & Company isn't a gimmick. Owner and head chef Bonny Porter (2012 Australian MasterChef Finalist) is the second.

Alright, at the heart of it there's a list of balls to choose between (served in fours with a sauce for £8), but you've also got sides and specials like Ricotta, Summer Peas & Pangrattato (£4) vying for attention. Our simple but sensational salad of Heirloom Tomato, Oregano & Balsamic Pearls (£4) threatened to steal the show. Mac'N'Cheese Arancini was always going to be a winner, though £7 is steep for four cheesy rice croquettes, even if they are served in an adorable little pan.

Mac’n’Cheese Arancini (£7)

Mac’n’Cheese Arancini (£7)

Heirloom tomato, oregano & balsamic pearls (£4)

Back to the balls, we went for Wagyu (served medium rare - £1 supplement) with a Romesco sauce of red pepper, tomato, almond, hazelnuts and garlic and Salmon with Dill and Seeds with a Pesto sauce consisting of basil, lemon, garlic and cashew nuts.  The meat and fish were beautifully cooked and seasoned, and satisfying sauces left room for the balls to shine.  I'll be back for Bonny's Pork Balls (with ricotta, parmesan, milk bread, pine nuts, basil & sage) along with the Quinoa with beetroot and feta that a trusted source recommends.

Wagyu balls (+£1 - £9) served medium rare (+1), with a Romesco sauce (red pepper, tomato, almond, hazelnuts & garlic)

Salmon balls (£8) with dill and seeds, with a Pesto sauce (basil, lemon, garlic, cashew nuts)

But wait, the show's not over.  Do not leave without getting yourself Bonny's Brownie served with Purbeck Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Persian Fairy Floss (£5).  Once we finished playing with Gandalf's hair, a serious dessert emerged underneath and then quickly vanished.

Brownie with Persian Fairy Floss, Purbeck vanilla bean ice cream (£5)

Brownie with Persian Fairy Floss, Purbeck vanilla bean ice cream (£5)

Balls & Company is a fine addition to the increasingly exciting north end of Greek Street that also boasts Bo Drake and marvellous Milroy's. Stumble in to the shambolic New Evaristo Club at the end of it all and you've got yourself quite an evening!

Balls & Company - ballsandcompany.london

58 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 3DY

Monday-Saturday // 12pm-11pm

Square Meal

Click to add a blog post for Balls & Company on Zomato

----------------------------------------

Tuesday 21st July - To finish, some snaps and words on a fun evening at Obica Mozzarella Bar, Pizza & Kitchen in Poland Street (one of four London branches, many more worldwide). 

I dropped in for a #NewSeasonFeast of Obica's finest and freshest produce, plus some original cocktails showcasing Luxardo liqueurs created by brand ambassador mixologist "G" Franklin.  I already knew the Luxardo team well having been on a memorable trip to the distillery in Padua but it was a first visit to Obica.

We started with a refreshing Luxardo Fresco (Luxardo Maraschino, tonic water, fresh lemon juice, cucumber, fresh rosemary, and a cheeky spray of absinthe) which was a great vehicle for their aromatic Maraschino.

Luxardo Fresco - Luxardo Maraschino, tonic water, fresh lemon juice, cucumber, fresh rosemary, absinthe spray

As the second cocktail was prepared, we tucked in to a buffet of burrata, bresaolo and more.  A whopping 1kg ball of classic mozzarella (£38) was the star of the show, ably supported by some outstanding hay-smoked affumicata mozzarella balls of a more manageable size served with various pestos and focaccia.  Seasonal salumi (Soppressata di Gioi, Salame Nero dei Nebrodi, Salame di Mora Romagnola, Capicollo di Azze Anca) and Caponata alla Siciliana (aubergine, pine nuts, almonds, raisins, capers and vinegar) were also in great supply which was dangerous.

We also tucked in to some superb pizzas (prepared with Petra flour) - most notably the special with Pomodorino di Piennolo (Tomatoes) from Mount Vesuvius National Park, plus buffalo mozzarella and olives.  Each month, Obica collaborate with Presidi Slow Food to showcase small, artisan Italian food producers and products, and the exotic Piennolo Tomatoes will be around until the end of August (when Prosciutto di Nebrodi with figs takes over) or a bit longer if you are lucky.

In their honour, G created the Obica Spritz - a mix of Luxardo Aperitivo, Piennolo tomatoes, lemon, and basil, topped up with prosecco; quite the opposite of a Bloody Mary!  It will be available at Obica in August and September.

Hay-smoked mozzarella with basil, tomatoes and focaccia at Obica

Luxardo Aperitivo, Piennolo tomatoes, lemon, and basil, topped up with prosecco

For dessert, we shared out Obica's Torta di Capri (a warm almond and chocolate cake) which was the perfect partner to G's third drink of the evening, the Fashionista - a boozy Boulevardier twist with Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Cherry Liqueuer in place of sweet vermouth, and a generous splash of salty smoked mozzarella water. Ingenious!

Fashionista - Luxardo Sangue Morlacco, Bulleit Rye, Campari, Smoked Mozzarella Water

Torta di Capri - Warm Almond & Chocolate Cake

To finish, G went all festive with a Venetian Christmas - Luxardo Sangue Morlacco, Hot Americano Coffee, Christmas Spice and Double Cream.  I'm still not sold on hot cocktails but Irish coffee fans would enjoy this Italian twist.  Scroll down to see my current favourite Luxardo serve.

Venetian Christmas - Luxardo Sangue Morlacco, Hot Americano Coffee, Christmas Spice and Double Cream

Obica & Luxardo worked very well together, and they are both especially appealing in the Summer months.  I suggest you get yourself over to Obica from 5pm-7pm every day for Aperitivo Hour for free taster plates with drinks - an Italian tradition that really should have taken off here by now.  Don't miss the smoked mozzarella, and get yourself a Pomodorino di Piennolo pizza before it's too late!

Obica Poland Street - obica.com // Luxardo Liqueurs - luxardococktails.com

19-20 Poland Street, London, W1F 8QF 

Mon-Sat - 12pm-11pm / Sun 12pm-10pm

---------------------------------------
 
Matt The Luxardo / Luxardo The List


0.75 Lime Juice

A.K.A Division Bell (created by Philip Ward at Mayahuel NYC)
Usually made with a smoky Del Maguey Mezcal and Aperol

Shake with ice and strain into chilled coupe - garnish with a grapefruit twist