Saturday, 19 July 2014

Arabica Bar & Kitchen - Only in Thought

So after 8 days of Israel and Jordan, it looks like I didn't get enough of hummus and chickpeas and decided to hit the newly opened Arabica Bar & Kitchen in Borough Market. Maybe it was my way of extending my holiday.  

Moutabel - Smoked aubergine, tahini, garlic, olive oil & lemon 
Tarama - whipped cod's roe, olive oil & lemon juice 
We ordered a couple of dips to nibble on while we were deciding on what else to order. Although I was pretty hummus-ed out, I did grow an addiction to this smokey aubergine and tahini mix. It was nowhere as good as what we had in Jordan, wasn't smoky enough, the aubergine flavours were too subtle and the sesame aroma didn't come through. Quite disappointed. The tamara dip was better; it was just like taramasalata.

Armenian-style Lahmacun - Flatbread with spiced lamb, tomato, onion, peppers and pine kernels 
It was the first thing Shan spotted on the menu. I think I had something similar in Turkey, like a mini pizza, except the ones we had in Turkey were twice the size and double the meat toppings. The flat bread could have been better with a lighter and crispier base, this was quite hard and dense. The spiced minced lamb was good though, plenty of meaty fragrance from the grease.

Lamb Kibbeh & Spinach Kibbeh - Bulgar wheat croquette stuffed with spiced lamb / spinach, onions, pine kernels and sumac.
The croquettes were really well made, the potato layer was just thick enough to give it substance without overloading it; both the lamb and spinach fillings were succulent with some good chew from the nuts and veg

Label Anglais chicken wings - marinated in Lebanese 7 spiced yoghurt, lemon and oregano 
I thought the chicken wings were the best of the lot, probably because I really like wings. The skin soaked up the marinade and the combination of spices was balanced, the meat was soft and tender but overcooked to fall off the bone. The yoghurt smear on the side helped to cool the spices and kept the dish light and refreshing. 

Beef & Bone Marrow Kofta (served rare) with roasted tomato, red onion and Turkish chilli
This was supposed to be a signature dish and turned out to be the biggest disappointment. First of all, it wasn't served rare; there was perhaps a trace of pinkness in the middle of the meat balls, but pretty sure the beef was cooked through. This dried out the meat, and the texture was grainy and rough on the mouth feel. Then we couldn't spot the bone marrow in the meat, there was no bovine fragrance, no buttery richness, just a ball of dry mince. The seasoning was also lacking, and we ended up dipping the meat balls into the yoghurt from the wings. Meh.

We didn't stay for dessert. Though Shan and I could really do with some knafeh, we weren't really impressed by any of the dishes we had today. I was very underwhelmed by Arabica Kitchen & Bar. Perhaps the cuisine tastes better when I was on holiday, perhaps the food has lost its authenticity here or the kitchen just wasn't strong enough. Moreover when I have been paying 2 pounds for some great quality hummus in the MIddle East, I find it somewhat hard to justify paying 4.5 for something half the quality and quantity. I might just stick to their baklava at the stall in the market.

3 Rochester Walk
Borough Market
Tel: 0203 011 5151

Arabica Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon You may also like: NOPIElliot's CafeJose

Monday, 7 July 2014

Feast with the Beast

I can't remember the last time I was this excited about writing a review. This beast is special.

From the guys behind Goodman and Burger & Lobster, came another specialised menu restaurant of steak and crab. The underground restaurant is hidden behind Oxford Street with no marked entrance. I only took a punt with the massive bronze bear in the hallway and was invited to take the lift down to the restaurant. I was greeted by a huge tank of swimming Norwegian king crabs, next to slabs of beautiful beef being dry-aged. 

As I was sipping on my Knickerbocker at the bar, Divy offered me a quick intro to see the custom made Texan grill; glaring coal in the middle of the grill rocking the temperature up to 6-700 degrees, searing the dictionary-thick steaks in no time. To quote Divy, it's a beast. 

The dining room is organised by 3 long benches with overhanging medieval style candelabras to create a Hogwarts / Oxbridge banquet ambiance. This works well for groups, and couples are mostly sat beside each other. Some say it's slightly awkward to have strangers sitting opposite them during a date; I don't mind it much as it allows another type of casual intimacy, and it also meant I didn't need to shout across the bench.

Our feast began with the a quarter-wheel of Parmesan, pickled artichokes and onions and olives, served on a silver tray. We weren't sure what to do with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, though apparently the viscous, sweet vinegar is supposed to go really well with the powerful and nutty cheese. We went easy on the nibbles to save space for the steak and crab to come, and I was a tad conscious of having onion and cheesy breath. 

About half an hour later the first of the two mains arrived - The steaks are dry aged for 30-60 days, on our evening, this beautiful hunk of meat was dry aged for 6 weeks, plenty of time to pack the flavours in. Approx 700-800g of rib-on-bone per pair, I think they throw in some sirloin for the third leg. I love my rib-eyes. Our server recommended medium as opposed to my usual medium rare, because it allows more melting of the rich marbling on the Nebraskan steaks - okay. 

The two-inch thick cut came sliced to show off its ruby red centre, piping hot and no leakage on the skillet. And this could be the juiciest and most flavoursome rib-eye in the history of beef - exploding with fatty goodness and meaty succulence, it's the highest quality of steak one could only dream of and simply exquisite. The truffle sauce was also delicious though not necessary. All came with perfectly dressed leaves and smoked heritage tomatoes.

I didn't think it was possible, but things got even better with the arrival of the Norwegian king crab. The long legs of the crab were incredibly fleshy, just some gentle tearing of the cracked shell exposes the long sword of muscles, which were moist and firm, oozing the freshness and sweetness of the Arctic Sea. The taste of fresh crab is just unbeatable, so delicate, so clean and sweet; it quite effortlessly blows fresh lobster out of the water. It came with two sauces, creamy lemon butter and a lighter soy sauce with sweet chilies, and some excellent roast carrot, beans and celeriac. 

I wish I could rewind this dinner and put it on loop.

The feast finished with a choice of desserts: lemon mousse and deconstructed cheesecake. They were pretty unnecessary. If we could have it our way, we'd have the king crab as starters, beef and more king crab and then finish with a serving of king crab. Apparently that wasn't an option - what a shame.

At £75 per head without drinks, Beast is not an everyday diner. And yea okay it's pretty steep, but honestly I thought it was fair. For the quality of steak and crab they offer, it's definitely worth forking out for. Service was friendly and staff were passionate about the food they were serving, the mains were out-of-this-world and there a fun vibe about the place. Like I said, some may not like their concept and sitting arrangement, but for the more open-minded who enjoys something special, Beast is THE place.

3 Chapel Place
Tel: 0207 496 1816