Franco Manca, Brixton Village

I adore Brixton Village –  really really think it’s totallywonderfulandgreat. If you are remotely interested in good food and haven’t been there then you are having a total nightmare and you must get on the Victoria Line & head southbound immediately. Now.

20130217-210806.jpg

Well now that you’ve been you’ll know all about Franco Manca, but I’ll re-cap for you anyway. This is somewhere that’s been on my hit-list for ages but there’s never been a right time – something that’s especially inexcusable as they’ve also just opened a branch on my doorstep – the Northcote Road – and now that I’ve finally been I am devastatingly cross with myself for being so goddamn tardy. What on earth was I waiting for? Certainly not a better pizza, as THERE ISN’T ONE.

20130217-210800.jpg 20130217-210813.jpg

Franco Manca do pizza & pizza alone. Sourdough pizzas actually, which for the uninitiated are soft, doughy and seriously tasty thin-based delights. If you’re a fan of the Deadly Dominoes then stop reading (and go away please) as these are nothing like that. They are proper, authentic pizzas which are bursting in flavour and are so moorish that you’re left scouring everyone else’s plates for any scraps of manna that might be left. Despite their huge size, you are always going to want more.

Everyone knows it too – this is a seriously popular spot and I suggest you get there early if you want to avoid the snaking queues that are pretty much always there, despite the hench competition of other excellent places in the units nearby. Don’t be put off though – they move quickly as pizzas are cooked fresh to order in literally a few minutes so people don’t hang around for long. They’ve got what they came for & probably nip up the row for a Fro-yo for pud. Works for everyone.

20130217-210752.jpg

We went for a hungover Sunday lunch and ordered a good array between us. I went for the No 4 – Home-Cured Gloucester Old Spot Ham, Mozzarella, Buffalo Ricotta, Wild Mushrooms & a cheeky addition of Caramelised Red Onions. I blasphemously asked for ketchup before they arrived and was quickly shut down, but quite right too – it would have been tragedy. Absolutely nothing else was needed to make my pizza any better than it already was. I actually squealed with excitement when it arrived (slightly a la  Harry & Sally – embarrassing) and didn’t stop moaning with delight as I got stuck in. It was really, really wonderful – the ham was delicious & salty, the cheese creamy, the onions sweet & the mushrooms wild & nutty. The crusts was perfectly soft and melted in the mouth. Genius.

20130217-210831.jpg 20130217-210837.jpg 20130217-210820.jpg 20130217-210826.jpg

Everyone else was busy adoring all over theirs as well and I lead the way in a continuos revival of  “isn’t this SO great”. I couldn’t stop with the praise. By the time I’d finished I was so desperate to try someone else’s too (I had been so engrossed in my own affair that my usual food envy hadn’t even considered rearing its normally uber-alert head) that I settled for picking what I thought was a delicious leftover red pepper from N’s plate just to get that extra last bit of flavour. I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t a red pepper. It was a chilli. A ridiculously hot ‘ohmygodmyeyesarewatering’ chilli. I couldn’t close my mouth for ten minutes. Now who’s having the nightmare?

This taught me two lessons though:

1. Don’t pinch other people’s food (a lesson I’m pretty sure I’ll never learn).

2: Obviously no-one ever leaves anything on their plate at Franco Manca. They eat it all. All of it. Because it’s heavenly.

Square Meal

Disco Bistro EC4

Disco Disco Disco Disco!

Type that into Google and the first thing that comes up (after the Groove State video) is Disco Bistro EC4: Carl Clarke‘s new pop up in the culinary desert that is the dead area between St Paul’s & Blackfriars. Well, this desert has now got a feeding hole, and a heck of a tasty one at that.

20130217-201512.jpg 20130217-201556.jpg

What I like about this place is that it’s doing things differently – there are so many ‘dirty food’ restaurants popping up all over the city these days that serving a really good, really naughty burger in a dimly lit corridor just isn’t special. There’s not enough creativity around, and that’s because Disco Bistro is hogging it all. They’ve nailed the ‘we’re trendy like a pop up, cosy like a pub & confident like an established restaurant’ thing – which is no mean feat. It’s a cool place – you go up the back stairs of a pretty dingy pub and enter a very quirky, sparsely lit dining room – complete with ‘Launderette’ sign hanging from the wall – obviously. It was a grim evening outside but when we walked in we felt instantly calmer, warmer & hungrier – it’s one of those places that fills you with a great sense of anticipation, and with good cause.

20130217-201610.jpg

Let’s start with the soda bread. When booking we had (very sensibly judging by the sticky beer mats) opted to eat upstairs in the restaurant rather than down in the bar – the Rising Sun pub – where only burgers were available. Thank god we did as had we not then the little balls of soda bun delight would never have made they’re way into our lives. They arrived before we’d even ordered with a creamy pot of homemade butter and were somewhere between bread and cake – malty, sweet & moist. Heaven. You wouldn’t get that at Meat Liquor now would you?!

20130217-201716.jpg 20130217-201754.jpg

The menu was more extensive than I’d anticipated which was nice, with a delicious array of interesting, seasonal dishes like Grilled Cornish Squid with Black Pak Choi or Parsnip & Potato Pudding. Yum. It changes daily and Carl Clarke’s always talking about the next exciting thing to come into his kitchen on Twitter so there’s plenty to get excited about and lots of reason to keep you coming back for more!

There was only one choice for me though. I’d heard exceptional things about the Buttermilk-fried Chicken Roll so my eyes went straight to that & locked on. No deviation. I wasn’t the only one – D also waived the ‘proper’ menu and went straight for the Disco Burger – pure Devon Ruby patty, bacon, cheese & bbq short rib – an excellent choice. If we’re going to forget our waistlines & order burgers then they had better be good & we were both giddy with excitement for the main event – a giddiness helped nicely along by the divine House GnTs made with my all-time favourite Fever Tree Tonic. Tick tick tick.

20130217-201650.jpg 20130217-201620.jpg

One drink later and red plastic burger baskets were delivered to us by the chef himself. Service! They were HUGE. We didn’t know where to start. Steak knives had to be fetched to allow us to break down our approach and attack in two halves. The race was on. My chicken was delicious. Skin-on (not something I normally like but I barely even noticed it here), crispy and oozingly juicy, it worked a treat with the sweet brioche bun & spicy guac and I didn’t waste any time smothering it in ketchup (a serious weakness of mine which I really need to address) and devouring. There were chips too which I happily polished off, but they were a side-show, not to be billed in their own right.

20130217-201629.jpg 20130217-201704.jpg

D’s Disco Burger did the trick too – hers was even harder to manoeuvre than mine but she wasn’t going to let a silly thing like size stop her (that’s my kinda girl). Apparently the bbq short rib was a sensational addition – that’s the kind of innovation I like. I think it’s so much more important for restaurants to focus on doing things differently, and deliciously, in their actual food – not just swanky (or shabby) presentation. An average burger on an awesome tray is still just an average burger. It’s all about the food folks.

Sadly we’d inhaled our burgers with such dedication that there was absolutely no room for the wonderful sounding puddings (Hot Gingerbread Doughnuts with Lemon Curd being particularly hard to resist) but that’s fine – that’s just another reason to go back.

20130217-201732.jpg

After originally planning to only be around for a few months they are now planning on staying a little longer which is wonderful news if you’re a person who eats food. Let your next stop be here. Stay long enough & they might even buy a disco ball. Groovy.

20130217-201744.jpg

Square Meal

Clockjack Oven, Picadilly

I’m just going to say it..

I don’t like Nandos.

I mean, I don’t HATE it, but what is there to love? Mediocre chicken with average sides just doesn’t do it for me and the once, maybe twice, I’ve been there I was left chronically disappointed and craving my mum’s Sunday roast. Well, nothing’s ever going to beat one of F’s phenomenal feasts, but as far as chicken goes – I think I’ve found a contender.

IMG_2050[1]

Clockjack Oven. The concept is simple – fresh, rotisserie chicken sliced up and served with sides & sauces. Simples. You know what you’re getting – please don’t go here if you’re a veggie, or if you don’t like chicken – there is nothing else on the menu. If you do, however, roll up your sleeves.

IMG_2054[1]

This is a place that knows what they’re doing and does it well. It’s compact, but the atmosphere is buzzing and it’s perfect for a catch up dinner with friends. We were immediately made to feel at home by the chatty staff who brought over (unprompted) tap water and bowls of root vegetable crisps seconds after we sat down. Major points straight away in my book.

IMG_2052[1] IMG_2051[1]

The menu is by no means extensive but it’s all there – between 5 of us we ordered a whole chicken, 2 sides of crispy chicken bites, 2 house salads &a coleslaw. It took a lot of collective will-power to refuse the chips that were mistakenly sent to our table, but we wanted to save room for the good stuff, and pudding.

My only quibble about this place is the time it took for the food to arrive – yes, it was a busy evening, but the chicken’s were already rockin’ round the rotisserie and ready to serve, so excuse for tardy birds. Luckily it all finally arrived just as we were reaching the threshold of patience, so all was forgiven quickly. The food was good. Simple, unpretentious & tasty – perfect Friday night fare. The chicken was seriously juicy & even though we’d gone for the ‘whole to share’ it still came nicely portioned up so no messy carving necessary, thank God. However for me the real winner was the BBQ sauce – sweet, smoky and fruity it was the perfect accompaniment and I’m pretty sure I’d reached fourth portions by the time I’d finished licking my fingers. Saucy.

IMG_2057[1] IMG_2058[1] IMG_2056[1] IMG_2055[1]

The chicken bites were nice but slightly too deep-fried for my tastes, a little too KFC, but when solidly dunked in aforementioned BBQ heaven I managed to get over this. On the other hand the house salads & coleslaw were crunchy, light & delicious – the crispy sage & onion balls deserve a special mention as they were just wonderful. Never have I ever enjoyed a stuffing ball quite so much.

IMG_2059[1]

By the time we’d finished our plates were clean and H had led the way in getting our fingers dirty and stripping those chicken bones for any meat that had the audacity to still be clinging on. It didn’t last long.

IMG_2060[1]

Next time (I will be going back) we might just order a little more food – perhaps succumb to the chips – as we were definitely not full when we left. This was entirely our trying-to-be-good fault however, and actually worked out perfectly as it meant we could stroll around the corner for a cheeky Snog for pudding. All in all a great evening and a cheap one too – £9 a head! I’m pretty sure you can’t even get Nandos for that kind of bargain, and why on earth would you?!

In other chicken-related news, why not waste some time looking at churches that look like chickens?

 

Square Meal

Flat Iron, Soho

January was a bleak month. I’m not going to bore you with tales of my virtuous abstinence but trust me, it was boring, and involved far too much Hot Chocolate because “that will obviously take the edge off my sweet craving so I won’t want to scoff my face with doughnuts”.  Well folks, DOUGHNUTS ARE  BACK. Even better, doughnuts and STEAK, together, united, in one glorious place known to us mere mortals as Flat Iron, and trust me – it’s way more exciting than it’s domestic-chore-like name lets on (clever, might keep those greedy men away..).

So, it’s a steak jungle out there; not least with the staggering variety of cuts and styles available to the discerning diner, but also because EVERYONE IS DOING IT. Even those who really shouldn’t be doing it are shipping in the Wagyu like it comes from lauded cows or something. Well. Since my first fillet experience at my all-time favourite Hawksmoor, I feel as though I’ve been in a constantly heightened state of steak awareness – I’m always looking for the next best juiciest and find it hard to ignore the huge amount of hype some places receive. By all accounts Flat Iron was one not to be missed, so miss it I daredn’t.

IMG_1662

Let’s get down to business.

Key facts:

No bookings. Boring, predictable – yes, but totally irrelevant on the two occasions I’ve been as there was no queue to be seen! Straight up & in, that’s how I like it (don’t be so rude).

Sharing tables. Again, not a problem as it’s hardly the kind of place you’d take a date – first thing they do is give you a ruddy great CLEAVER. Romantic, hey?

Wine in tumblers. Pet hate of mine (choosing trendy over traditional which actually works as a wine glass rather well thanks) but I’ll forgive them because the tumbler was filled with a delicious NZ Sauvignon that made its way to my lips so quickly that it could have been coming from a smelly wellie for all I cared.

IMG_1661

They don’t do bread. GOOD. They do do Beef-Dripping Popcorn. PHENOMENAL. I’m not a beef-dripping kinda gal (if you are I would very much like to meet you) but this was excellent – savory, buttery and mouth-watering, it set off the meal perfectly and got you oozing for the main event. Which was:

IMG_1663

Steak for a tenner!!! A tenner! (Hawksmoor who?) Now I’m sure you can get an amazingly awful £9.99 cut at your local Harvester but I challenge you to find a better steak for this price in London, or anywhere. Everyone gets there own aforementioned cleaver and your dripping steak arrives on a wooden board, neatly sliced (so why do you need the cleaver?) and screaming “Eat me immediately, don’t wait for the chips”.

IMG_1665     IMG_1664

Good thing we didn’t wait, as the chips took a while, but it didn’t matter – this was a fantastic bit of beef (a New York cut known as Butler’s Steak over here) that I would have been happy to have paid triple the price for. Buttery smooth, nicely caramelised and cooked on the rarer side of medium rare (always the best way round in my opinion), it disappeared far too quickly and left me wanting another. Sadly the sides weren’t anything to shout about – we shared Dripping Cooked Chips, Creamed Spinach and Market Greens which were fine but unimaginative and slightly overdone – and the signature Fred’s Sauce was basically ketchup but just a bit worse, but stick to steak and you’ll be in for a treat, and a cheap one at that.

IMG_1666

Sadly the Doughnut Bar in the basement hadn’t opened on my visits, but I’ve heard great things. Supplied by St John and filled to order with house-made jam or vanilla cream filling,  I reckon that’s a pretty perfect end to great meal, all for £20 a head. Winner.

Honest Burgers, Brixton Village

I don’t know when it happened, but if you haven’t heard, burgers are now cool. Seriously cool. No longer are they reserved for only teenage boys & Americans – actual girls are eating them too! Mental.

Except it’s not mental, because, generally, they are amazing. Provided you don’t go for a pre-packaged pasty pattie (try saying that with your mouth full), there are some exceptional burgers to be had in London (Dirty Burger being my favourite) and Honest Burgers is honestly no exception. Sorry.

IMG_1602

A group of us headed down to Brixton Village (a foodie HEAVEN if you’ve not been – you must) one Sunday morning after a particularly heavy party the night before and proudly started the queue at 11.40am. Yes, AM. It’s never too early for a burger. Twenty minutes later and we got the first (and one of only about eight so get there early!) table in the house and promptly ordered from the blackboard (well, a human being took our order, but the menu was written on the blackboard… you get me). No time wasting on this hangover.

IMG_1603

Before we even get to the burgers I’ve got to do a little shout out to the Honest Homemade Lemonade. It’s a treat. Served in a ultra-trendy-but-actually-practical jam jar with a Helter Skelter paper straw, it was zingy and sweet and delicious, the perfect antidote to the meat feast that was to come. Get ready.

IMG_1606

Between the six of us we had actually managed to order everything on the menu so I can honestly say with good authority that this place doesn’t have a weak spot, not one. I went for the original & the best, the mighty Beef Burger. Some might think of it as the vanilla choice, but with a double helping of red onion relish (I asked for extra before it even arrived – I am a girl who likes her red onion) I knew it was the one for me. Cheese just complicates things. I wasn’t wrong. It was perfectly cooked (on the rare side of medium rare, obviously), juicy and flavoursome. The brioche bun was sweet and soft and the red onion relish was predictably excellent. A lather of Ketchup and I was off into burger heaven.

IMG_1609IMG_1611

Apparently everyone else felt the same as there was actual silence at our table for a good few minutes as everyone was far too busy devouring their burgers to even contemplate conversation.

Fine by me, I had more important things to think about. The Chips. The house chips with rosemary salt, to be more precise. The best damn chips in the whole wide world to be absolutely accurate. I am not joking. These were, without question, the best chips I have ever tasted. Until this moment, my favourite Sussex pub and second home The Griffin had deservedly held this title, but Honest Burger came swooping in from the left field and have unquestionably stolen the crown. I don’t know how many times they fried them but whatever that number is, it’s magic – they were the perfect balance between crispy and chewy and gooey and I can’t recommend them enough. I want an Honest Chip Van at the end of my road and I don’t care what it does to my waistline. They’re worth it.

IMG_1608

We all finished our meals in record time, probably because we weren’t hindered by a silly thing like conversation, and there was a mutual lul, a smug glow, a contentedness that can only be achieved by consuming (or in our case inhaling) the best thing you could possibly have eaten at that time in your life. That Sunday we needed a burger, and Honest delivered. Then re-delivered, with red onion relish and rosemary chips.

We staggered home and on our way stumbled upon something that was the cherry on a cake that was already very well iced: an HONEST BURGER DOORBELL. Somewhere between Brixton & Clapham on a totally unmarked wall, a good five minute walk from Honest Burger themselves and no-where near anything of any relevance, there it was, a real-life bell. What would happen if we rang it? Did we dare? Was it a test? We rang.

IMG_1613

Shouldn’t have been so stupid. Nothing happened. Maybe it links back to the restaurant with a secret video camera and the whole place howls with laughter as “another moron’s pressed it again”. Except we can’t be called morons because we’d just had an Honest Burger, and that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Whilst we’re on the subject, other great burger joints are Meat Liquor, Burger & Lobster and Home House, all definitely worth a visit next time just nothing else will do.

Bone Daddies

If I were to suggest to my male friends that dinner should be a bowl of soup & noodles eaten with a large plastic spoon & chopsticks, I’d be eating alone. If, however, I suggest somewhere called Bone Daddies (you don’t get more macho a name than that) which actually ADDS FAT (deep breath, girls) to it’s meaty ramen, then my evening might take a whole ‘nother turn. I didn’t actually invite the boys – it was a girl’s night – but you get the principle. It’s all about the clever sell.

IMG_1584

By some stroke of genius we managed to arrive on Peter St five minutes ahead of the queue that formed behind us (or maybe the queue was there because we were there?!) so we quickly ushered behind the black curtain and into a warm, cosy, tiny room. Seating is a la Wagamama so we were nestled between two couples on date-night – the worst kind of social sandwich. To distract ourselves from the  heavy petting going on oh so awkwardly around us we decided to get on with the ordering. This didn’t take long. This place is famed (in a kind of James Arthur, new fame way) for Tonkotsu, a type of ramen made with bone broth simmered for 20 hours and with a massive injection of pork fat. Naughty. I chickened out however and ordered the chicken (cluck). The ‘T22′ was a delicious bowl of soy ramen, chicken & cock scratchings (cluck cluck) in chicken bone broth. Floating atop this meaty glory was the most perfectly soft-boiled egg I have ever tasted and it didn’t take me long to slurp up the whole bowl.

IMG_1595

I also particularly enjoyed the presence of pickled cloves of garlic & a garlic crusher & at our table which meant we could really scare the boys away even more by adding several squeezes to our ramen. Heady.

IMG_1587

N didn’t have such an easy ride however as she’s only a bleeding vegetarian (whatwhyhowWHY)! I should have planned this better – I mean, the clue’s in the title – ‘Bone’ isn’t exactly referring to tofu now is it? This meant that every ramen option was off the cards and ramen was the only option, so starters it was. This worked out fabulously for C & I as it meant we got to sample even more of the menu, so win win all round (sort of). N ordered Soft Shell Crab, Cabbage & Miso and Tender-Stem Broccoli – covering all bases there, my kind of girl. Sadly the broccoli never arrived but the crab was deep fried and juicy, served with a punchy green chilli sauce. The Cabbage & Miso was literally just cabbage (uncooked) and a miso sauce – fine but nothing to write a blog about. Oops.

IMG_1591

Aside from the obvious garlic danger, which would be best avoided, this would be a great date location(as the couples next to us so amorously demonstrated). Cosy, fun, atmospheric and tasty, it packs a real punch & lives up to its Rock ‘n’ Roll reputation. Next time I’ll be bringing the boys.

 

Dishoom, Shoreditch

“Dish – what?” – it’s almost impossible to say this word aloud without sticking your bottom lip out & looking like a moron, so probably best not to. Dishoom generally refers to the exaggerated sound effect heard in Bollywood movies when a gun is fired, or someone gets punched. It is also more recently used to express style, spirit and sex appeal, ie. ‘He’s got dishoom’. I’m slightly at a loss to come up with a gunfire link to the new  ‘eccentric old Bombay cafe in London’  which has just opened its second branch just off Shoreditch High Street, but the later is definitely more along the right lines – this place is seriously cool, and worth getting pouty over.  A typically-Shoreditch industrial space has been transformed into an atmospheric, aspirational Indian restaurant. With the mecca of Brick Lane only yards away, it could easily have melted away into the well-spiced melting pot, but it doesn’t. It’s different. The waiters are dressed as Father Christmas!

IMG_1536

The only thing that’s not quite so sexy is the reservation situation. There isn’t one – not unless you’ve got more than 5 friends who want to eat with you, which on a Tuesday night I rarely do- so this meant a fairly substantial wait for a table in the not-so-substantially-sized bar. We were lucky enough to nab a few stools so settled in and ordered a round of Bollybellinis – this is where the sex appeal began. Up there with the Champagne Charlie’s of the cocktail world, these delicate bellinis were fruity and girly and kept us happy whilst we waited and drooled over the menu.

drink2

An hour later & our table was ready – any lingering grumpiness about the wait was alleviated as soon as we were lead downstairs and shown to the chef’s table – right next to the pass & opposite the bread kitchen, we were able to ogle the chefs doing some seriously impressive dough tossing and watched in marvel as delicious trays of fresh naan were produced in seconds, then promptly whisked away, right under our noses. Our appetites were well & truly whetted and we were getting hungry now.

IMG_1538[1]IMG_1543[1]IMG_1544[1]

After much deliberation and toing and froing from the Lamb Raan Bun ‘Feast for one’ (this was excruciating to resist, especially after seeing it whizz past in all its slow-cooked lamb burger glory) I went for the Dishoom Chicken Tikka Roll (spicy charred chicken, lavish salad and tomato chilli jam) and a side of Slaw – there is a magnetic pull between me & chilli jam so I had no choice in the matter really (this one was very good, but if you’re looking for the best get it here). The others went for the more traditional Masala Prawns & Chicken Tikka with yet more Slaw and some sensational Garlic Naan. The presentation wasn’t swanky (this place is a cafe – it shouldn’t be) but everything was served piping hot and tasty. I had to ask for more chilli jam. Twice.

IMG_1545[1]IMG_1548[1]IMG_1546[1]

By the time we’d finished it was getting late so we decided against pudding (although I’d heard great things about the Mango Kulfi) and were instead brought over gorgeous little bindis to stick in the middle of our foreheads. We left exceedingly well fed & better adorned than when we walked in.

I’m sure I heard someone whisper after us “They’ve got Dishoom”.

KaoSarn

St John’s Hill, which used to look longingly over Nappy Valley’s (Northcote Rd, for those yet to be initiated) many restaurants & high-end boutiques, can afford to pale down it’s envy and start to boast, just a little, about the opening of new family-run Thai restaurant KaoSarn.  Originating from the foodie mecca that is Brixton Village, KaoSarn’s second branch is less of a street-market, more of a high-street restaurant, but doesn’t lose it’s authenticity or charm in the process.

Image

We weren’t so sure when we walked in however; it was EMPTY. 7pm on the dot and F & I were the first souls in there – perhaps everyone else was fashionably late? After hearing lots of buzz about how popular and impossible-to-get-a-table this place was, we were starting to wonder if we’d been had. BUT HAD WE HAD NOT BEEN. No sooner had I hung my coat up (a good restaurant always has a coat rack in my opinion) than the entire place was full! I felt all pied-piper. We had been fashionably early!

Image

Not wanting to get caught behind the influx of orders, we promptly ordered a stack of chicken satay to share – this had been highly recommended so excitement levels were high. I don’t normally brandish this kind of praise around, but I can safely say it was the best chicken satay I’ve ever had. Unbelievably tender & succulent and served with a deliciously sweet nutty dip, it melted in the mouth quicker than I could devour it. As always, I regretted thinking it was a good idea to share. I must learn.

Image

For mains F chose Kua Sapparod Goong (or red thai curry with king prawns to you or me) and I again trusted a recommendation and went for Plah Goong (grilled king prawns in hot & spicy salad with roasted chilli paste) – I’d been promised I wouldn’t have curry-envy!

Sadly I did. The prawns were cooked perfectly and really delicious but the hot & spicy sauce was just too much for me – it was really citrusy as well as hot and I just couldn’t hack it. I actually ended up pouring off the sauce & asking for sweet chilli to sweeten it up a bit. Amateur. F’s curry was great though – perhaps the oldies always are the goodies (food, not mothers!).

Image

Image

We decided to skip pud and head across the road to one of my favourite places in Clapham, Powder Keg Dipolomacy, for cocktails. I’m sure I’ll come to write about this place in it’s own right at some point but for now just imagine open fires, comfy leather socials and amazing “colonial” cocktails in fine vintage glassware served by barmen in dickie bows whilst 30’s music serenades…

Sorry, daydreaming.

Image

Back to the point. Although my main course was clearly just bad ordering (and bad recommending – you know who you are!) I think KaoSarn hits the nail on the head for relaxed, authentic Thai food. Oh, and I’ve saved the best ’till last – it’s BYO! This is made even better by the fact there’s a wonderful wine cellar directly opposite selling any bottle you could possibly fancy.

Bring friends. Bring wine. Bring plenty.

The Jam Tree, Clapham

The Jam Tree is a sore subject for me. It is intrinsically linked in my mind to that-which-is-no-more and that-which-was-the-greatest – Public. Public was, in my opinion, London’s greatest (and most recently deceased) club. The Jam Tree in Chelsea sat just over the bridge from this hallowed ground and it’s Raspberry Jam Mojitos are glorious and signalled the start of a many a great night. Sadly not any longer. If you want an accurate depiction of the general reaction to it’s closure by the nasty council then please see this factually correct video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-L98eOll8w.

So when I heard that those jammy dodgers were adding a tri to their bipod in Clapham Old Town (the original being in Kensington), mixed emotions arose. I was nervous. Would it be the same? Could it ever? Would it end in Infernos? I braced myself.

First thing to note – it has a swanky entrance. A member’s club-esque glass door opened entirely of it’s own accord in front of me – this was not the kind of pub I was used to. I had, predictably, arrived earlier than both my friends (B & K) and as well as all the rest of the diners, apparently. I had a whole restaurant to choose from! I went for a snuggly spot in the corner and settled in to wait for them. The atmosphere was warm and background music (so background I can’t remember what it was) tinkled away nicely. I waited.

Still waiting.

I ordered a Raspberry Jam Mojito.

I drank it.

I tried to make some ‘business calls’ to make me look less like a total loner who had been stood up by not one, but two whole people, but business was busy.

Forty-five mojito minutes later and B arrived! Apparently she’d been waiting at the station for me – hmmm. K was still in transit so we decided to go ahead and order, meaning we simply had to share the Slow Roasted Duck Croquettes which were sold to us entirely by the truffled celeriac puree & wild mushrooms that accompanied. They didn’t keep company for long. I wasn’t expecting great things with the food here but they really delivered – the croquettes were cripsy and moist and the celeriac creamy & woody, perfectly balanced with the delicate mushrooms. De-lish.

Then swooped in K all sweaty from running a 10K (now that’s a real excuse) and all was right with the world. She had phoned in her order so our mains arrived precisely as she sat and we weren’t backwards about being fork-forward. B went for Pan-fried Seabass with Pea Puree, K for the Pulled Pork Burger and the Jerk Chicken Salad for me. My salad was HUGE. Like a Carribean Volcano with plantain lava. I thought I could never eat it. I was wrong. The chicken was tender and succulent and all those words a good KFC ad should sing, without the cardboard bucket. It was flecked with pomegranate seeds which I adore in salads and the crispy plantain was a great crouton-alternative.  I only had a little taste of the other two (restrained, I know) but the standard hadn’t slipped and there hadn’t been to much food envy – satisfied faces all round.

We opted out of the pudding menu, knowing we’d be tempted if we ever saw it, and decided a glass of red & a gossip was in order, so we did just that. An hour later we left happy and contented, even more so after getting 50% off with my Jam Tree card (you can get yours here http://www.thejamtree.com/clapham/loyalty-card-sign-up.php), and decided that ending up in Infernos probably wasn’t the best idea on a school night, so we headed home to sneak a square of Lindt from the fridge.

I came for the mojitos. I left raving about the food. I’ll be back.

Hawksmoor Air Street

Many people find it hard to believe but until about 6 months ago I had never had a steak before. NEVER. I was a fussy diet-conscious teenager who avoided beef (much to F’s dismay) and this unfortunately lingered with me into my twenties until I was convinced it was just one thing I didn’t like. SILLY FOOL.

I then made the perhaps genius, perhaps disastrous mistake of having my first ever steak at Hawksmoor Spitalfields. It was like the dawning of a new world. It was divine. I am now obsessed. So when I got that hallowed email announcing that pre-launch bookings were being taken at Will Beckett and Huw Gott’s new offering on Air Street, I was chomping at the bit. I waited patiently for that call from an unknown number to tell me I was one of the chosen few. It came!

A month later and six of us were eagerly opening the smart doors (I think just one of us actually pulled the handle) just off Regent St and ascending the staircase into an Art Deco style bar with high stools and a business-lunch vibe. So far, so lacking in the good-time atmosphere I’ve come to love at Hawksmoor. I promptly ordered a Champagne Charlie (probably my favourite cocktail in London – a heady mix of gin, champagne & homemade seasonal fruit syrup which is just glorious) to help get the party started. I needn’t have worried – we then moved through to next door. The main restaurant is a mind-mindbogglingly long and thin room with plush booths and beautifully installed stained glass window and it presents a new, fresh kind of Hawksmoor. Airy and elegant, it seems to reflect their move away from traditional steakhouses and is perfectly judged.

I’m just going to fast-forward straight to the food bit now. Although this latest in the Hawksmoor family aims to focus on fish as well as meat, I couldn’t bear to give up that fillet I’d been dreaming about, so I made up for it with half a half a dozen Oysters followed by Scallops to start. The roasted scallops were presented in their shells and looked as delicious as they tasted, smothered in white wine and garlic – they didn’t last long. THEN CAME THE MEAT. I was lucky enough to convince two others that Chateaubriand was obviously the only way to go. I was so right. It was sensational – buttery and flavoursome, it ticked every box for me and managed to please three medium rare/medium fussies all at once. What’s more there was a whole new bonus box for the ‘Jason’s Tempation’ which our waitress recommended we order on the side (along with the fifteen other side options we greedily devoured) – it was potato gratin with anchovy & Parmesan and was truly exceptional. Jason, whoever you are, you really are a minx.

We finished off with Peanut Butter Shortbread & Salted Caramel Ice Cream which is probably my favourite pudding of all time – I order it on every delicious Hawksmoor visit. There’s even surprise chocolate in the middle of the shortbread which is up there with the best surprises ever, and as if that wasn’t enough we couldn’t not order the Salted Caramel Rolos. I’m not going to say any more, but I wouldn’t give you my last one.

http://www.thehawksmoor.com/airstreet