Tag Archives: Covent Garden

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Top 5… New Restaurant Openings in Early 2014

So 2014 has got off to a great start (ignoring the fact our roof has a leak and my train has been late every day this week). I’m not drinking in January, and people are actually sponsoring me to do this. And there’s lots to look forward to in 2014, including lots of lovely, new restaurants opening in London for me, you and the rest of London to try out.

I thought I’d compile a list of the five places I am most looking forward to visiting (in no particular order of preference) in early 2014…

1. Q Grill, Chalk Farm Road, Camden

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Q Grill will be offering a London slant on the now-ubiquitous-in-the-London-scene American barbecue restaurant. From the team behind Islington’s Fish and Chip Shop, Q Grill will see chef Phil Eagle from Hix fame serving up a range of “raw, charred and smoked favourites” including moonshine-battered shrimp, queen scallop ceviche and pecan wood-roasted chicken. There will also be a strong line in cocktails, with American spirits playing front and centre roles. With a 150-cover capacity, Q Grill is going to be a big player in 2014. Opens January 25th, 33 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ

2. The Big Easy, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

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The Big Easy “Bar.B.Q and Crabshack” already has an outpost on the King’s Road, but February 2014 will see them opening a second branch in the heart of Covent Garden. Similarly to the aforementioned Q Grill, The Big Easy will be serving up a range of American-style barbecue dishes. Their signature dishes in Chelsea include canadian lobster; fresh crab and shrimp; a  classic chophouse burger; and surf and turf. With a huge following out west, The Big Easy is sure to be a huge hit in central London too. If you sign up on their website (link above) then you can receive more info and get an invite to their 50 per cent off soft launch. Opens February 2014, 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2E 7NA

3. Brooklyn Bowl London, O2 Arena

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Slightly more than “just” a restaurant, Brooklyn Bowl, the acclaimed NYC nightlife destination hailed by Rolling Stone as “one of the most incredible places on earth,” is opening its first branch this side of the pond. The venue will be in The O2 (stay with me on this, guys!) and will be a medium-sized concert venue with 12 lanes of bowling (some of which you can hire in a private area, if you hunger for more clandestine bowling…). Food will come from the Bromberg Bros. team and will include oyster po’ bos, cajun catfish, egg shooters and fried chicken. Beerheads will be kept happy with beers from the local Meantime Brewing Company. Opens January 16th, O2 Arena, Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX.

4. Oslo, Hackney Central

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Enough American-style cuisine! All things Nordic are set to be a big blimmin’ deal for 2014, so this opening in the old Hackney Central train station is coming just at the right time. Oslo will be an all-day eatery that turns into a live music venue in the evening, with a late license ’til 3am. Alright then! Food-wise, head chef Dave Ahern will be fronting a menu that takes on strong Nordic influences. Expect pickling, smoking, curing… and I hope some kind of mushroom sauces, lingonberry… meatballs? Come on Dave, be a pal. As a massive fan of Scandinavian culture, I am very excited about this opening. Oslo opens on January 17th, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1LL.

5. Polpetto, Soho

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Fresh off the back of various successful 2013 openings, including Ape & Bird, the Polpo team are opening – or should that be re-opening – Polpetto on Berwick Street, Soho. Having been hugely over-subscribed for when it was first open, the new venue will seat many more people craving it’s Italian food. The same head chef, Florence Knight, from its previous incarnation, is on board at new Polpetto so expect much more of the same: delicious Italian sharing-y food, but with the added bonus of actually being able to score a reservation. Opens January 2014, 11 Berwick Street, W1F 0PL.

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Restaurant Review – Joe Allen, Exeter Street, WC2E

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This week was Thanksgiving in America. In the UK, this tends to mean that everyone turns to each other and says, “What is Thanksgiving anyway? Is it just a dinner?” I don’t think any conversations I had drew any conclusions further than: dinner, watch football (not the UK version, obvz), don’t work. Apart from the football aspect, I’m on board.

Now, more about that dinner… On Thursday I headed to Joe Allen in Covent Garden to have a Thanksgiving feast with some other delightful food bloggers.

Joe Allen is an American bistro deep in the heart of London’s theatreland. Having opened in 1977, Joe Allen has recently come under new management and has benefitted from some subtle and sensitive tweaks that breathe new life into the London institution.

Delightfully tucked away down a side street, not much marks out Joe Allen from the road. It’s like a private members club for Americans. And the Americans in London had made a pilgrimage to the place to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

The place was bustling, to put it lightly, but had a wonderful buzz about it. It certainly felt like the place had history and soul to it, and I thought it’d be the ideal location for a big, hearty and jovial group dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I went for a starter of roasted vegetables with creamed goats cheese and truffle. It was my ideal starter for a large meal – fresh, light but still packed with lots of different and complementary flavours. The earthy beetroot was delicious with the sharp, salty goats cheese.

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I then went crazy and didn’t order turkey for my main course. Why? Cos I hate turkey. Judge me all you want, but we all know turkey is a paltry (GEDDIT?!) version of chicken. Anyway, I went for honey roast ham, which came with plenty of fresh veggies. It was perfectly cooked, lovely and rich with a salty and sweet flavour. I love me some roasted ham.

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I finished up with a traditional Thanksgiving dish that I’d never tried: pumpkin pie. As my first pumpkin pie, I obviously have no reference point from which to compare it, but it was tasty – full of warming winter spices but yet sweet.

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Joe Allen’s regular a la carte features ribs, wings and all that good American stuff. However, it’s classier and more refined – and dare I say it, slightly more traditional and old school – than Bodeans, The Big Easy etc. This place is more white table cloths and strong Old Fashioneds than plastic bibs and wet wipes.

I would definitely go back again, if nothing else than to try their famous off-menu burger. There has been much hype about it! And also their cocktails are wonderfully sophisticated and pack quite the punch. It’d be a great place for dates too – sipping cocktails, listening to the pianist do his stuff (I’m a sucker for live piano music)…

Service: 5

Venue: 4

Value: 3

Overall: 8/10

Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)

Joe Allen on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Joe Allen, and given a complimentary meal. However, this in no way means I offered them a favourable review in return.

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Restaurant Review – Flesh & Buns, Earlham Street, WC2H


I often find myself searching for places to eat in Covent Garden. This is because it is the most convenient place for me and my closest group of friends from school to meet up. We essentially have a semi-regular non-booking at Wahaca, but even I, life-long crazed Mexican food fan, can grow tired of their “healthy pork scratchings” (that’s a lie, and it hurts me even to type it; I will never stop loving you, my porky pals).

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Erm, anyway, for a change we decided to head to Flesh & Buns, which is a subterranean restaurant a hop, skip and jump away from Seven Dials. Set up by the Bone Daddies crew, Flesh & Buns is a Izakaya -style joint (that, between you and I, is a Japanese eating and drinking establishment – a pub, I like to call them but this is probably quite far from what a Izakaya is, but I don’t know – never been to Japan, innit).

Inside, there are loooong high tables, and more exclusive-looking booths. I was on the high table with the rabble, obvz. It’s worth noting that I walked in at about 7pm and got a table no problem. It was probably mid-week, so hardly crazy-town busy time but still, not to be glossed over.

F&B, as no one is calling it, serves “raw” food – mainly sushi and sashmi – which we skipped over because I was dining with my pregnant pal, Is, or MEAT. We went straight for the meat and ordered some flesh and buns.

Basically, it’s like you construct your own sandwich – they bring the meat and veg, along with some steamed buns and you whack it all in a steamed bun and enjoy. I got Flat Iron Steak with BBQ sauce, and Is got crispy duck leg with sour plum sauce. I asked for my steak medium-rare, and it came on the edge of medium. I prefer to err on the rare side, but Is said she thought it was slightly too rare. Prone to agree.

Flat iron steak - super juicy!
Flat iron steak – super juicy!

Annoyingly, the steak was suuuper chewy and therefore not conducive to being put in a sandwich to take bites out of. One bite and the whole steak slice came out and you were left with an empty bun (and a full, unattractive gob – Isabel felt realllly happy to be seen out with me, I am sure).

Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns
Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns

The duck, however, was a dream. It brought back lots of fond memories of duck pancakes at Chinese restaurants, as the taste was pretty much exactly that.

We had to order more buns because there was way more meat than there were buns – sneaky sneaky. But out of the two I suppose better to have more meat than bread. Rules to live by, right there.

After our bun feast, we went for a Bone Daddies Sundae, and I felt in love with green tea ice cream. I HATE green tea as a drink (reminds me of being ill in Vietnam, weirdly), so have avoided all its incarnations so far. Until that night, when I realised in ice cream form, me and green tea were actually alright.

Bone Daddies Sundae
Bone Daddies Sundae

The atmosphere was nice and buzzy, without being loud or irritating, and the service was allllright. Wouldn’t go higher than that though, as I had to ask about a billion times for the bill.

Service: 3

Venue: 3

Value: 3

Overall: 7/10

Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX

Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Shake Shack, Covent Garden Piazza

Shake Shack Shack Burger

I have to make a  confession – I have turned into everything I thought I was not. I, Zoe, went and queued on the opening day for something. I have never done it before (and don’t plan on doing it again). I have always judged people who have queued for Harry Potter books, Apple Stores or Kate Moss at Topshop; “Those idiots,” I bleated to myself. “They’ve been sucked in by consumerism. They are the advertisers’ dream, giving press to these events!” Then I became one of them. Grim. So what made me become a massive hypocrite? Burgers. Yes, a hot, greasy sandwich. Forgive me.

In case you don’t live in London/live under a rock (same thing? I JEST!), Shake Shack opened in London last Friday to great fan fare. The hype was huge. They’re from New York! They make burgers! I had one at Dubai airport! Wow, the stakes were high – and so were the queue levels. YET STILL I went along.

Here’s the Shake Shack menu:

Shake Shack's London menu
Shake Shack’s London menu

Yes, you’re right, that is £7.50 for a burger. No, it does not come with fries. No, there is not table service. What there IS is a massive, hour-long queue manned by harmless yet slightly annoying Shake Shack workers who try to enforce the British queuers to do “mexican waves”. We’re British – we love queuing and we hate enforced fun. Know your audience, Shake Shack. Eesh.

So you queue for an hour to go into a little, noisy hut to place your order. It’s like the world’s smallest McDonalds with Kiss FM playing so loudly you have to shout your order (and they get it wrong anyway). I have photo evidence:

Inside Shake Shack's ordering "hut".
Inside Shake Shack’s ordering “hut”.

 

Aside from burgers, SS do “custards” (read: milkshakes) and “concretes” (read: McFlurries). They have interesting flavours (chocolate, vanilla… haha, I kid. They do have those flavours but they have other things like, um, sea salt and brownies and jam etc). They also do crinkle fries and crinkle fries with plastic nacho cheese on top (bleurgh). I will never cheat on MEATLiquor’s chilli cheese fries with those nacho-carby things.

So then you order and go and find a table. Someone might help you find a table – there were loads of employees there (that might die down though after the first wave of enthusiasm). You get a buzzer thing and they buzz you when your food is ready. Then you go to a window, get your order, realise your order is wrong, ask a man to get you the right order, wait 10 minutes and he brings you the right burger after everyone else has finished their burgers.

Here’s what my burger looked like (clue: it looked like a BURGER):

Shake Shack Shack Burger
Shake Shack Shack Burger

Inside the burger:

Inside the SS burger
Inside the SS burger

The burger was nice, yeah. Moist, meaty, but overall slightly bland. It had nothing that made it stand out as being worth queuing for an hour. I like burgers too. I love MEATLiquor et al. I just found this burger REALLY underwhelming. I do not understand the hype. The concrete was fine. But just that: fine.

So I feel like Shake Shack are going to clean up because everyone is like me, and gets excited by hype and has to see it for themselves, but ultimately I feel like there are a lot of home-grown places in London doing far more interesting and better burgers. It all just felt slightly soulless and deflating.

Service: 3

Venue: 2

Value: 1

Overall: 4/10

Shake Shack, 24, Market Building, The Piazza  Covent Garden, London, Greater London WC2E 8RD

Nearest tube: Covent Garden (3 min walk – maybe more depending on how many annoying tourists are in the way)

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review – Homeslice, 13 Neal’s Yard, WC2H

Salami and rocket pizza, Homeslice

 

Homeslice's yummy pizza menu
Homeslice’s yummy pizza menu

I’m working in Covent Garden at the moment, and was very happy to hear about a new pizza joint opening up called Homeslice. The self-confessed nomadic tribe Homeslice have now secured a permanent spot in Covent Garden’s most famous courtyard, and are serving up wood fired pizza by the slice or 20-inch whole pizza. I went on a mission to find out more.

Homeslice is a small venue, and I imagine gets packed out in the evenings. However, I was there for lunch and got a table pretty easily – but every table was filled and the place was bustling with people stuffing their faces (in the nicest way possible). The menu is pretty simple – pizza or nothing. If you don’t like pizza, don’t go here – a nugget of wisdom from me there. There will be more, stay tuned.

As I was in my lunch hour, I was pretty rushed and also didn’t fancy sitting at my desk tinkering with words having stuffed myself with a huge pizza. Carb comas are never fun in the work place (nugget 2). So my lunch buddy and I plumped for three slices to share.

Unfortunately you don’t have the choice of the whole menu if you order by the slice. Upsetting, as I wanted to try the duck guy. I love me some of that canard. Anyway, we ordered three slices as I said from a very friendly waiter who was so nice he almost tempted me to get a carafe of wine. I go back to the carb coma thing and add it’s not advisable to drink at lunchtime when you’re freelance. No one likes you turning up smelling of wine (nugget 3).

The slices came thin and fast (do you see what I did there). Here follows some gratuitous photos (and ever so slightly crap) of pizza:

Margherita pizza from Homeslice
Margherita pizza from Homeslice

Doesn’t look like much, does it? But it was delicious. The base was thin and crisp and in no way soggy. The toppings pleasingly slipped off in big chunks and landed in my gob. I was ready for my next slice…

Courgette and artichoke pizza from Homeslice
Courgette and artichoke pizza from Homeslice

I’m going to tell you now that I don’t like artichoke. Every time I’ve eaten it, it has been bitter and slimy: two of my food worsts. The fellas on this pizza were neither, but they were also nothing – this pizza was a little bland and would have benefitted from a sharper cheese than mozzarella to add some interest. That’s my answer to everything: more cheese (nugget 4 – guys, I am spoiling you all here with these nuggets!).

Salami and rocket pizza, Homeslice
Salami napoli and rocket pizza, Homeslice

This little chap was a dream. The salami was delicious and crispy, the rocket lovely and peppery, adding something nice and fresh to what could have been a bit of an overly rich slice o’ pizza. Instead I found myself sad that I hadn’t ordered a massive 20-inch pizza all of this fella.

The bill came to £14. I took a picture of it with you in mind:

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Will I be going back to Homeslice? Oh sure. They do takeout too, so I can snaffle some on my lunchbreak no problem. It’s great pizza. Is it the best in London, as it has been lauded by some? I don’t honestly know as I have not even begun to eat all the pizza in London, but it is different and interesting in a world that seems to be dominated by crappy, ubiquitous pizza chains serving up unimaginative and tasteless pizzas. That can be no bad thing. Also, they serve prosecco on draught! The dream!

Service: 5/5

Venue: 4/5

Value: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Homeslice, 13 Neal’s Yard, WC25 9DP

Homeslice on Urbanspoon

RESTAURANT REVIEW – Dishoom, Upper Martin’s Lane, WC2H

Lamb chops from Dishoom
Lamb chops from Dishoom
Lamb chops at Dishoom

I met up with a few friends this week and headed to Dishoom. Incase you can’t be bothered to click that link, it’s a “Bombay cafe in London”. Yep. I’d heard relatively good things about Dishoom, so went along cautiously optimistic…

The welcome on the door was good, and as we’d booked a table there was no wait time. The service was speedy and we were soon engrossed in conversation and drinking cocktails, beer and wine. One of my friends claimed his chilli martini was amazing. I sipped it and thought it was “meh” – certainly not much kick to it. A bit style over substance. Which set the tone for the rest of the experience…

As a group of copywriters and editors, we started reading the menu and promptly felt ill due to the language used. It was so try-hard, pretentious and frankly nauseating. Here are some gems… “Delicate minty yoghurt, cool as the cucumber“, “Paneer is vegetarian first-class fare and a subtle cheese to make. Marinated then gently charred with red and green capsicums” “The skewer’s antecedent was the warrior’s sword.” Double-yew tee eff?

Anyway, we went for a starter each – sorry, I mean “A Small Plate to be Taken Lightly” – and I got Vada Pau, which was described on the menu as some kind of chip butty. The food arrived pretty quickly and was dumped down by a waiter who couldn’t care less who ordered what, even when it became quickly obvious we hadn’t ordered them as sharing dishes. He seemed to be annoyed to have to say what anything was more than once too.

The Vada Pau was good. The potato was deep-fried and soft and fluffy on the inside. It came with a green dressing, which was deliciously zesty, plus some chillis for sprinkling. I added a modest amount of chilli, where my friend Matt gamely added the whole lot without much thought. I asked him how he found it and he reported it was too hot. Oh Matt.

But before we’d really got through our starters, our main course arrived. Again, dumped down with no real interest in who was having what and even when we told them it was met with a shrug and the pots were put down all in the same place so we had to hurriedly move them around the table.

I ordered Spicy Lamb Chops, which in the menu said they come pink. I like lamb pink. It should be pink. These chops – at over £11 – were not pink (see photo above), they were overdone and dry. They had some spice mix on them, which added nothing to them really. The only nice thing on the plate was the pomegranate seeds. I also had rice – mistakenly I took too much (again, see photo above). We also ordered waaaay too much naan, which was good – but it’s naan, so how hard can it be?

The meal came to £33 each including drinks, and I think we all left feeling rather underwhelmed. There was a huge queue outside, as, annoyingly you can’t book for groups numbering below six (when will restaurants stop this ridiculous no-booking policy?! It’s frankly deeply uncharming of them), and I felt genuinely sorry for them that they were queuing in the rain for unsatisfactory food and service.

Would I recommend Dishoom? No. I mean go along, see what you think if you want, but don’t come crying to me when you have to eat dry meat and undercooked rice, served by someone who feels they’re totally above having to talk to you.

But there are far better places to get a decent and different curry/Indian-style meal – namely Tayyabs. Go there instead – you won’t regret that.

Service: 2/5

Venue: 2/5

Value: 0/5

Overall: 2/5

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB (There’s also one in Shoreditch)

Nearest tube: Leicester Square 2mins, Covent Garden 5mins

Dishoom on Urbanspoon

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