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.
Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.
Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.
The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.
We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.
The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.
The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.
The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.
The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.
The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.
Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)
Winter is approaching at an alarming rate. Britain has just had an almighty storm. The clocks have gone back, meaning I leave work when it’s already dark. I can’t be the only one craving cosiness, comfort food and a nice warming glass of something. Add to that, that it’s Halloween tomorrow and I think I’ve found the perfect wine accompaniment: Apothic Red.
Apothic Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvigon, which produces a really full body flavour. It tastes exactly how you’d expect from looking at the bottle – it’s like a gothic red wine, with plenty of different, rich flavours. It’s totally perfect for snuggling down with on Halloween while you’re watching your favourite scary movie (mine is Psycho, FYI). Just try not to jump at the scary bits and chuck your red wine everywhere!
It’s not a wine that will now be my go-to wine (I still love you, Argentinian Malbec), but it made a really nice change and was dangerously drinkable.
Apothic Red was sent to me to review, but this by no means I have offered them a favourable review in return.
On our trip to LA we visited Umami Burger at The Grove (a shopping centre in LA). So far, so uninspiring, right?
But Umami are the best burgers I’ve maybe had in America. Ever. OK, tied with In-N-Out. But they’re amazing.
Umami Burger is a gastro burger chain in California, although they have a branch in New York and Florida too. Anyway, it’s basically about packing a burger full of as much rich, savoury flavour as possible. And they take it very seriously. Consequently Umami is always super-busy. The word has spread and the people, they have arrived.
Here’s what the menu looks like (the menu various slightly from venue to venue):
We went for truffle fries, fried pickles and sweet potato fries to share. We also got some aoli dipping sauce.
Burgers-wise, I went for a Royale, which is a beef patty topped with braised short rib, roasted garlic aioli and Umami’s truffle cheese. Here it is:
Andrew went for a Grove Truffle Burger, which sounded insane: beef patty, parmesan fondue topped off with The Grove special truffle sauce. Cray. Here is it:
Everything was incredibly fresh, savoury and addictive. I’d say moorish, but addictive is more accurate.
A side note: they also service Mexican coke(-a-cola) there, which is apparently coke without all the fake stuff in. SUPER sugary.
You can find Umami Burger venues by clicking here.
Nearest tube: hahahaha.
Images © Andrew Phillimore
This Sunday I had a hot date with one of my closest friends, Ames, and Andrew. Without any deliberation we selected Caravan for the venue of said hot date.
Caravan is located just north of Kings Cross station, underneath Central St Martin’s. It faces out onto Granary Square, which had loads of weird events going on – something about the industrial revolution. This seemed to involve dressing pre-pubescent children up as chimney sweeps and someone screeching along to “Who Will Buy” from Oliver. It was a no from me.
We arrived at 1pm at Caravan and was told there was a 45 min wait. No worries, I thought, it means I get to spend more time catching up with Amy. However, an hour came and went… We were sat after 90 mins, but I am not really sure it’s worth a 90 min wait. You can go away and they’ll text you when your table is ready, but we were stuck in some pseudo-Victorian nightmare and just wanted to eat.
So anyway, yeah, cut to the chase – we got a table…
I ordered a salted caramel hot chocolate, which sounds incredibly sickly. I don’t really like sickly things, so I have no idea what came over me – I think I was discombobulated from the Industrial Revolution outside. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a creme brûlée in a drink. I pretty much drank it like a shot.
Food-wise, I ordered baked eggs, tomato pepper ragout, Greek yoghurt, chorizo sausage with sourdough toast.
It looked kind of on the small side when it arrived, but was actually incredibly rich. I’m glad I got the chorizo though, mostly because it’s my fave. The egg yolks were cooked all the way through though, which was a massive shame. The ragout was nice and punchy, and the bread soaked it all up nicely.
For some unknown reason (again, I blame the child slave labour homage outside), I ordered toast too. It came with tiny pots of homemade jam. The jam wasn’t actually that good – pretty flavourless – but the jars were cute. I shared the toast with Amy, as I felt totally sick by this point.
Amy and Andrew ordered jalapeno corn bread, fried eggs, black beans and guindilla pepper. I had a bite of Andrew’s, as I badly love corn bread. Again, the yolks were cooked through, which seems like a pretty easy thing they were getting wrong. There also wasn’t much of the dish, and not enough sauce, so it was kind of dry.
Andrew also ordered some kind of amazing museli thing, which was honey roasted. It was incredibly rich, but very yum. Not very healthy I don’t think though.
The service was good at Caravan though, after we got past the hostesses (who seemed to have mastered the art of flouncing past mass hoards of people vying for their attention). The atmosphere was really buzzy and it was great people watching. I would go again, but perhaps if I had the day off and could go when it’s less busy. Having said that, there are lots of amazing brunch places in London that means cafes and restaurants really need to work hard to gain my loyalty and I’m not sure Caravan was really on its game on Sunday.
Oh, the bill came to just under £50 for three, with three hot drinks.
Caravan, 1 Granary Square (off Goods Way), London, N1C 4AA
Nearest tube: Kings Cross/St Pancras (5 min 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)
It’s my last week working in Covent Garden for a while, and having put of visiting Koshari Street for one reason or the other (rain, laziness, other shiny things caught my eye), this week I was determined to get a visit in.
Koshari is an Egyptian dish which is a mixture of pasta, lentils, pulses topped with chickpeas, tomato and garlic sauce, caramelised onions and some herbs. It is carb-tastic.
Koshari Street sell koshari and pretty much nothing else. Here is the menu so you can check if I’m wrong.
Oh they do a salad as well. Alright, I was wrong. Let’s get over it and move on.
So I ventured in, and was helped to a medium bowl of koshari by two very nice staff in what was a pretty empty shop/restaurant. I got to choose from the level of heat in the tomato sauce: mild, hot or mad. I went hot. I’ll let you into a secret: it wasn’t that hot at all.
I got back to my desk and took out my swag…
Inside, well, it didn’t look that pleasant. I blame the caramelised onions, which kind of look like meal worms…
Eh. They tasted delicious though! As I excavated through the layers, I was pleasantly surprised by all the flavours in the koshari. The portion was incredibly generous, and I couldn’t finish it all though. Here’s a picture of the layers… (It’s not a great photo. Standard.)
Would I go to Koshari again? Sure, it is delicious – but massively filling. A perfect warming dish for winter though, or perhaps a perfect hangover cure. And it’s perfect fodder for tourists, workers or theatre-goers deep in the heart of theatre land.
Koshari Street, 56 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4EA
Nearest tube: Leicester Square (3min 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
So having moved slightly further north in North London, to Finsbury Park, I’m enjoying exploring places that before seemed a schlep (I am the first to admit I am lazy and Zone 3 seems like a foreign country). This weekend, with time and inclination on our sides, we decided to explore Crouch End. By “explore” I mean eat so much brunch we felt sick and then get the W7 back to Finny P.
Having read quite a few favourable things on Twitter, I was happy to stumble across Gail’s Bakery and so I convinced Andrew we needed to try this place (he rarely takes much convincing!). The front of the shop is a counter full of delicious-looking food. Out the back there are tables, big and small. It was nice and bright, with plenty of bright April sunshine filtering in through the large windows. The place was busy but we found a table easily enough, and then we got down to the serious business of ordering.
We both went for Brioche French Toast with rhubarb compete and greek yoghurt. Andrew also got us a ham and cheese croissant to share. I also got a hot chocolate and Andrew got a flat white. The hot chocolate was delicious – very, very creamy. It gently coated my tongue in unsophisticated, milky hot chocolate – definitely child friendly! Andrew, a man of few words, claimed his flat white was too milky and large.
Yeah, OK, not much to look at. But crikey, it was bloody good. The croissant itself was buttery and light, the outside flaking into delicious melt-in-your-mouth crumbs with every bite. Inside, the cheese was piquant – a good, strong, mature cheddar – and the ham was, well, ok, the ham was nothing to write about so I shan’t. BUT it was the best (ham and) cheese croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a fair few. I’m not like, the expert on them, but I’ve had a few OK. Let’s not make a big deal out of my lack of credentials here.
These came quickly, and were served by pleasant staff who were efficient but nondescript (the way I like my wait staff to be in eateries of all levels. I’m not there to make friends with them). There was a short-ish wait for our French Toast – 15 mins – no big drama. I’d had that croissant (well, half, I shared with Andrew), I was OK to wait 15 minutes. Sheesh.
So, the French Toast arrived. It looked great, but I was a little sad that there wasn’t much compote. I mean, it’s in season now – gimme a bit more. The brioche was in hearty slices though and beautifully crisp on the outside and nice and fluffy and sweet on the inside.
The compote itself, apart from being sparse, was a bit flat. I’m a bit besotted with rhubarb – I grew up on the stuff. Seriously, it was the go-to Hedges pudding in our house. My Dad grew it (still does! Hi Dad!). We pick it fresh, my mum stews it up (hi Mum! I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say hi to her now) in a big pan with a bit of sugar and then we eat it up. The smell of stewing rhubarb is the smell of my childhood (that irks me in how middle-class that sounds, but hey ho). So I like my rhubarb nice and tart (so tart my American sister-in-law grimaces and has to add extra sugar to hers – hi Irene!). This was too sweet. It was Irene-suitable sweet. So I felt it lacked a little of the rhubarb flavour. Wow, that was a diatribe about Gail’s Bakery rhubarb. Sorry. I’m passionate about those red sticks ok?
Other than that lack of flavour, the dish was good. We certainly felt sated afterwards.
So would I recommend Gail’s Bakery? Sure, go for it. But there are A LOT of kids in there. They’re nice kids – there wasn’t a tantrum or snotty nose in sight – but they’re everywhere. I guess it goes with the territory of being in Crouch End. But the food was good, the drinks were OK and it was great people watching. I’d definitely go back, but maybe on a week day before playgroup kicks out, or for take out.
Service – 4/5
Venue – 4/5
Value – 3/5
Overall – 3.5/5
Gail’s Bakery, 48 The Broadway, N8 9TP
** Gail’s Bakery can also be found in the salubrious endroits of Battersea, Bloomsbury, Chelsea, Chiswick, Dulwich Village, Exmouth Market, Hampstead, King’s Road, Notting Hill, Queen’s Park, Soho, South Ken and St John’s Wood. Anywhere middle-class, essentially.**
Nearest Tube: No idea. Most people seem to have 4x4s and no need for the tube. You can get the W7 from Finsbury Park tube station (Wells Terrace side) up there though.
I love a portmanteau and I love an excuse to eat, so brunch is my heaven. Also, who can actually be bothered to get up for breakfast on a Saturday? Crazy people, that’s who. I think everyone should do away with weekend breakfasts and just admit that brunch is the way forward.
I’m going to be doing reviews of brunch as I eat my way around London. Here is my first one – and it’s going to be a hard one to beat.
The Table on Southwark Street is one of my all-time favourite restaurants in London. It’s close enough to the attractions of Southbank and Borough Market to be easy to get to, but far enough away that not everyone knows about it. Their canteen-style lunches are incredible during the week, their evening meals are some of the best food I’ve had in London and their brunch… well, read on.
For weekend brunch, it’s table service, and you sit on long canteen-style tables. It’s a really upbeat, happy vibe in there, with an open kitchen so you can nosy at what other people are having!
I like a varied brunch menu. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the traditional Eggs Benedict, but I don’t always want egg all up in my grill. Sometimes I want an American treat of pancakes, and sometimes I might just want an English breakfast (I know it’s brunch, but whatevs, I’m a maverick). It’s HARD to find a brunch menu that covers all bases and is still exciting and well-executed. But The Table delivers on this. There are delicious smoothies (I recommend About Last Night – a refreshing and fruit blend of apple, banana, green grapes and spinach), there’s cocktails if you’re feeling fancy, there’s a Borough Full English (two fried eggs, bacon, pork & leek sausage, ham hock baked beans, grilled tomato, Portobello mushroom and sourdough toast) and there’s the ol’ Eggs Benny. BUT there’s other stuff too. The Table are pushing the boat out, so get right on board. The sweetcorn fritters excite me (sweetcorn fritters with char-grilled tomato compote, baby leaf spinach and hollandaise) as does the chorizo stack (I love me some chorizo!). There are also varieties of pancakes and waffles. After some torturous decision-making, I went for the pancakes.
I’ve had pancakes in my time guys, but these were the kind you dream of when you’re hungover and don’t want to leave your bed. They had crispy, salty, deliciously-savoury bacon, there were pools of thirst-inducing maple syrup and the bananas cut through it all with a kind-of-not-at-all nod to fruit. The pancakes were deliciously fluffy. I did not want this brunch to end. I want to go back there right now, at 7pm on a Sunday night to eat it all over again.
My dining partners seemed to enjoy their brunches too, with everyone agreeing it was a hard act to beat. My pancakes cost £8, which I reckon is pretty standard for brunch-y type places in London, and it was better than any other brunches I’ve had so well worth the money.
In general, I cannot recommend The Table enough – but definitely make the effort to go for their brunches. You’ll be dreaming of it all week after.
Service: 3/5 (we had to wait a little while and were starving!)
The Table, 83 Southwark Street.
Nearest tube: Southwark (5min walk), Waterloo (12min walk), London Bridge (15min walk).
Brunch is served between 8.30am and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays only.