I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but it’s never happened. I don’t mean having friends and family – I have those, I’m not a freak. But I’ve never really had that feeling that you can walk in somewhere – a bar or restaurant – and the staff will wave to you and know what you want. In my fictionalised version of my own Central Perk, friends (I have friends, remember? I protest too much, right?) will come along and stay. We’ll laugh, we’ll chat. We’ll stay all day and drink cocktails.
One of the perks of food blogging in London is meeting lots of lovely new people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful bloggers and PRs since I started The Z Factor. And the other night a few of us got together to sample the delights of 64 Degrees in Pimlico.
This week heralds a very important time in the British foodie diary: National Chip Week. Us Brits love chips, right? Fish and chips is a national dish, chip butties invoke memories of childhoods, order a sharing bowl of chips in the pub and it’ll wolfed down by your friends before you can say, “Greedy rats!” To celebrate, Andrew & I decided to head to a lovely fish and chip shop in Stoke Newington.
This summer my family and I went to Italy. Tuscany to be exact. One of my brothers lives in LA with his wife and two sons, so seeing him and his family is an extremely rare treat. This year to celebrate various things the whole family decided to sack off the UK in favour of Tuscany. My family now numbers 12 members, which is astounding to me when I think we started out as just five Hedgeses.
It was Friday lunchtime. I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my lofty publishing office to go out for lunch, but I had to. 1. I needed to buy a birthday card for my friend (spec: must have a cat on, must say “happy birthday”. Paperchasiér came up trumps, FYI) and 2. I needed food.
My plight saw me stride down the Strand and I found myself on the ever-claustrophobic Villiers Street. This was my first mistake. No good lunch could come out of a street that always makes me feel a bit ill – it’s a combination of the smell, the damp and the fact sunlight hasn’t touched its pavements in over 200 years.
I went for Herman Ze German – this was my second and most costly mistake. There was a queue to order. “This must be a good sign,” I reassured myself, stepping inside among a horde of German teenager tourists queuing eagerly – hey, when in Rome!
For those not in the know – as I wasn’t, and information is power, guys – Herman Ze German was set up by a photographer and a hairdresser. What could go wrong? This carries all the hallmarks of excellent food. Guys, the hairdresser and photographer-combo toured their German wurst around festivals such as Oxygen Festival Kildare. Such heady heights could only be reached by someone who sold amazing food, right?
When I stepped inside it smelt a bit like a kennel, made worse by the man in front of me having a flatulence problem so bad he should probably seek medical help. Either that or the smell was emanating from the kitchen. I did not solve this mystery. I don’t know which option I would prefer.
The decor was pretty makeshift. Rustic is perhaps what they were going for. Everything had “quirky” signs, where to German-ify them they had put “ze” in front of them. The, sorry, ze drinks cabinet was stocked with what I assume was their own soda. I didn’t select any of them. Tap water felt safer.
Eventually I was served at a McDonalds-style till by a man so softly spoken I had to ask him to repeat everything twice. I annoyed him. But perhaps it was a two-way problem as when I asked for my Bratwurst to be topped with mustard and ketchup he replied “mayo and ketchup, OK”. What? Who has mayo on a hot dog, German or otherwise?! I said, “No, not mayo – MUSTARD!” He waved in my face, so I assume this meant, “I know, I am sorry, I said the wrong thing.” In hindsight what it meant was, “Whatever”.
I waited for my hot dog and with every passing second my feeling of regret and sense of foreboding increased. Everyone in the place was miserable – staff and patrons alike. Only the German teenagers seemed happy, and I imagine that’s because they had managed to throw off their boring English teacher who had been droning on about Christopher Wren for the last 24 hours.
My hot dog arrived already packaged up, but I’d been watching them like a suspicious hawk, and knew that the sausage in my cardboard box had mayo and not mustard on it. I said this to the lady who handed it to me. She offered to cook me another one, but I just wanted to get out of the place so I just asked her to add mustard. I took my hotdog and chips – £7 lighter! – and scuttled back to the office feeling truly ashamed of what I was carrying.
I ate my hot dog at my desk like a mongrel guiltily eating something it had stolen off the kitchen work surface. It was disgusting and I hated myself, but I wasn’t sodding buying another lunch having paid £7 for this hot dog.
The inside, which I didn’t get a picture of due to my wurst shame, was the colour of cardboard – grey and dry. It tasted like cardboard too. It was the worst lunch of my life. THE WURST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. At least I can laugh, right?
It’s a testament to the stupidity of tourists and myself that in London with all it’s amazing food – from fast food to fine dining – that a place like Herman Ze German continues to exist. At least the tourists have the excuse of not knowing the area. Me? I’ve got no excuse.
19 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)
My parents have been a great lesson in how to maintain a relationship. They’ve been happily married for over 41 years, and with the advent of SatNav now barely ever have a cross word. I find it incredible that they still can make each other laugh, can genuinely surprise one another and that they get such pleasure out of being in each other’s company. I know it’s rare to have a love like they do, and it’s made me determined in my relationships to not settle while also realising relationships need a certain amount of effort, compromise and patience. And if you’re very, very lucky – then relationships just might last like my parents’ has.
And they are still kind to each other, still want to go out of their way for each other. So when my Mum’s birthday came around my Dad booked to take her to one of their favourite restaurants – Otto’s. For some reason, apparently because they like our company, my parents also invited Andrew and I. We snatched their hands off…
Otto’s is a traditional and classic French restaurant in the midst of Bloomsbury, Holborn and Russell Square. Modest in its facade, with curtained windows, you’d easily miss it on the often grey and bleak Gray’s Inn Road. However, step inside and it’s like being whisked to an upmarket bistro in Paris.
Rich, ox blood red banquettes line the walls as French waiters and waitresses bustle, providing much theatre by carving huge sides of smoked salmon and mixing steak tartare at the table side. You’re welcomed in and sat with a drink in front of you before you really have time to consider much.
The restaurant’s speciality is canard a la presse, which is whole rare roast duck prepared and served at the table in quite an elaborate way. We didn’t go for this, as you need to order in advance. However, the rest of the menu has many exciting options.
For starter, I went for a light option of saumon fumé coupé à la minute with traditional garnishes. A whole side of smoked salmon was brought to our table and lovingly sliced into wafer thin cuts, then whisked away again. I was brought various garnishes to complement my salmon, and I went for soured cream, shallots and capers. The salmon was absolutely delicious – soft, fresh and beautifully smokey.
We also went for terrine de Foie Gras marbrée aux figues, gelée au verjus with crème de dattes. This is basically fois gras terrine with figs, grape jus and dates.
Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).
And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.
For main course, I indulged in Tournedos Rossini, which is beef fillet topped with foie gras. It also came with a rich truffle sauce and potato mousseline. It was probably the best steak I’ve ever had, and I make somewhat a study of eating steak. It was also incredibly rich thanks to the pate and truffles – but so, so delicious.
We also had…
Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:
And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:
After all this we were absolutely stuffed, and couldn’t really manage space for pudding. We left full and content, with memories of a lovely evening. With starters north of £10 and mains averaging about £25, this isn’t really a place I’d normally visit. The regulars seemed to be solicitor/law types who have finished work and need to wine and dine clients – not my normal scene AT ALL, but great people watching for a change.
182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW
Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)
My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.
The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!
SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.
The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.
Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.
This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.
This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.
I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.
So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!
Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)
Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd EC1Y 1HQ
Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)
Burger & Lobster is the Ronseal of restaurants: it does exactly what it says on the tin. They serve burgers or they serve lobster. Those are your two choices. In theory, anyway. Both items are priced the same, £20 (again, in theory). It does raise the question of who would order a £20 burger when you can get a £20 lobster, but let’s proceed with this review, shall we?
We – and by “we” I mean Andrew and I – went with two awesome pals we met at a fitness bootcamp in Highbury Fields. Having falling off the bootcamp wagon and into our bootcamp instructor’s bad graces, we decided to go the whole hog and eat loads of food together. In for a penny, in for a pound. We went one rainy Saturday night, and put our names down – there was an hour wait I seem to remember, so we went for a swift drink in the Crown and Two Chairmen up the road (a Soho fave of mine, I know not why), but were called much more quickly than an hour to say our table was ready.
We sat down and ordered cocktails and beer, and got down to the serious business of choosing a crustacean to eat. The menu goes that you can get a lobster roll with chips and salad for £20, a burger with chips and salad for £20 or a lobster with chips and salad for £20. I know I already covered this, but there are further options. You can get a larger lobster to share for more money, which comes with unlimited fries (greedy!) and salad (meh, who cares?!). We went for a massive lobster to share between the four of us, with unlimited fries. On the advice of our waiter, we got it grilled instead of boiled and we all opted for the lemon and garlic butter sauce.
Our monster lobster arrived. Yikes! We donned our complimentary and very flattering plastic bibs and went to work. It was DELICIOUS. The lobster was sweet and soft, tasting ever so slightly of the sea. The butter sauce made the dish stand up to attention, and the fries were, well, they’re fries but they were good.
The tasty cocktails kept coming, and the atmosphere was lovely – relaxed yet buzzing. The waiters were pretty busy, as the place was packed to the rafters, and it is a large restaurant, but they were attentive.
The meal was slightly on the pricey side – I think about £140 for four with drinks maybe. Could be wrong, it was a while ago. BUT we did all eat A LOT of lobster, and it was such a fun night out. It was a really sociable, laid-back evening, and those are some of my favourite evenings.
Burger & Lobster, 36 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PS
Burger & Lobster also have branches in Mayfair, Faringdon and the City (near Bank)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square (7 min walk), Tottenham Court Road (9 min walk)
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.
Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB (There’s also one in Shoreditch)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square 2mins, Covent Garden 5mins