Monday, 17 November 2014

Blackfoot - Lost its Footing

Blackfoot and I haven't had it easy. I have made multiple bookings before but they never happened, and that one Sunday when I turned up to a very limited brunch menu didn't quite hit the spot for me. So the night before my favourite girl moves her life over to Switzerland, taking her one step closer to the States, we decided to pig out here.

It's a casual restaurant with a piggy menu, not to the extent like St John, where they could make a dish out of every bit of the pig, more just the typical ribs and belly. I already tried the whipped lardo on toast last time when I came for brunch, thought it was a tad too salty, so we launched straight into the mains.

Sticky and Aromatic
Braised with lemongrass, ginger and lime leaves, deep fried and stacked up with crispy garlic, chilli and spring onions
The flavours were spot on, it giving off plenty of lemongrass and garlicky fragrance. The ribs were coated with a sweet honey glaze, then came a brief wave of mild heat from the chillies, finally leaving a trace of meatiness. The meat was slightly dry from the deep-frying, I prefer my ribs juicier and tenderer, but this was still enjoyable. It kind of reminded us of Chinese deep-fried bbq ribs with honey glaze...

Love me Tender
A rack just the way Elvis would have wanted - Southern BBQ-style. Served with pecan coleslaw
This on the other hand achieved the fall-off-the-bone texture, but the flavours were far less sophisticated and structured. Just the regular barbecue sauce smothering a rack of ribs. One of the things I hate about bbq ribs is when the sauce has cooled and looks like a plasticky slab of goo. This kind of arrived like when it came lukewarm. I've had better.

The Long Smoke
Whole belly smoked in applewood chips. Sichuan pepper, black treacle and star anise crust, cooked low and slow for six hours. Carved up and served with pecan coleslaw and pickles
We thought it was going to be a hunk of pork belly glistening its own juice. Sadly not. This piece of pork belly didn’t arrive hot, probably lukewarm at best and it looked rather unappetising; the opaque layer of lard and with smidges of grey charcoal did a great job at reminding me how it plans to invade my arteries... Looking back, it wasn’t even worth the risk. The meat was bland, no trace of fragrance from the sichuan pepper or star anise, or hints of sweetness from the treacle, or even subtle smokiness, just meat cooked to death enveloped by a bitter ring of burntness. There wasn’t even a sauce / dip to drown the hopelessness. Fail.

Clam & Pork Stew
Pork shoulder slow-cooked with leeks-a-plenty, finished with palourdes and a smooth coriander sauce, then spooned over hunks of toasted ciabatta
This dish simply didn't work. We were expecting it to come in a pot with a thickish consistency as a comfort dish. Instead it was a watery broth with a few chunks of dense pork shoulder, empty clam shells stuffed with leeks and lots of bread. I was really disappointed with the meat, the cubes of pork were very lean and they turned into dry, sinewy blocks from excessive boiling. Another flimsy dish.

We had some fries and chilli pork crackling on the side. Not bad.

We didn’t go for dessert, but I’m throwing in what I had last time on a very quiet Sunday lunch, for info.
Whipped lardo on sourdough toast
Unlike Barnyard, the lard is whipped to a translucent, thick-ish consistency - it looked like kaya toast from Singapore. The sea salt sprinkle was a tad too heavy-handed but the rosemary worked for me. Didn’t fall in love with it, but glad I tried it.

Bacon Porridge with maple syrup
Don’t know if this is on their menu anymore. I really enjoyed it, I reckon it’s the winning combination of maple syrup and bacon.  The bits of fried lardon and bacon mingled well with the syrup-drenched sweet porridge. I have porridge every morning already, wouldn’t mind mixing it up with a bit of bacon every now and then.

Hash and Egg with Onion Gravy
I think this was good. It didn’t really leave much impression in my memory though, except the onion gravy, which I liked because reminded me of a French onion soup. And boy I am a sucker for that.

I had high hopes for Blackfoot. When a restaurant dedicates itself to one thing, they usually do it well. And Shan tested this place out and said great things about it. Changes in the kitchen? Team lost the steam? None of the dishes stood out in a positive way this evening, and when a place that specialises in pig haven’t nailed ribs and belly, there isn’t much else going for them. Given there are now good options at Exmouth Market, I don’t think the piggy is getting a second chance anytime soon.

Come to think of it, I have eaten a lot of bad meals recently - bring me something good!

46 Exmouth Market
Tel: 0207 837 4384

Blackfoot Pork Restaurant on Urbanspoon
You may also like: CaravanSmokehouseFoxlow

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Smack Lobster laid the Smackdown on Lobster Kitchen

*Scroll straight down to Smack Lobster if you haven't got the time for how not to run a lobster shack.*

Lobster Kitchen
Where do I start with this Lobster Kitchen... literally. Shan and I both struggled to find it; the only signage it had was an A4-size laminated poster stuck on the stairs. It was their opening week and naturally there was a crowd drawn to their soft launch offer.

The automatic door got us playing musical chairs. Despite pushing the queue to the bottom of the stairs in the biting cold, the automatic door was still having its spasms, swinging wide open every 2 seconds because the waitress forgot there is also a sensor from the inside, next to which she sat a group a of 3. Every time the door opened, it sent a gush of Arctic wind into the tiny restaurant, so everyone was desperate to nudge closer to the kitchen end, which was giving off waves of greasy warmth from the deep fryer and mini portable grilling machines. With the random painted wood block dotted around the place, the crowd huddling for warmth and awkward movement in the cramped space, we definitely felt like we were in the middle of the sea, getting smuggled across the ocean.

We shifted places 3 times and ended up in the middle of the large table after witnessing 3 guys almost twisting their knees trying to get out of the bench without judo kicking their neighbours. We opted for a lobster roll, lobster tails and a lobster mac and cheese. As the cashier repeated my order, I pointed out he'd missed the mac and cheese. He said it was on the system, not to worry. And of course it wasn't and we didn't get it. With the 20-min wait in the freezing shack, I wasn't going to place another order.

Lobster Roll - The Garlicky One               
Toasted brioche bun stuffed full with lobster claws and knuckles, finished off with chopped garlic sauteed in butter and fresh parsley
The roll wasn't warm enough; bread slightly stale and there wasn't enough dressing, which meant the whole thing was quite dry. It was very obvious the lobster was frozen stuff, no sweet shellfish juice or flavours coming from the meat, could have been shreds of seafood stick and that might have been more succulent.

For shredded frozen lobster meat stuffed in a half-toasted stale bun served on a paper boat with plastic cutlery in a shithole, they are demanding £15 (or £19 for a drink and a side). Why wouldn't I just thrown in another £5 for 2 sides at Burger and Lobster for the real deal?

Lobster Tails - Thermidor
Split lobster tails steamed in a white wine and celery stock
This was marginally better than the roll, perhaps it was because it had more surface area to smother the cheese sauce on. Definitely frozen tails too, as the muscle was dense and quite chewy, partly due to the overcooking. The good news is the meat wasn't unbreakable, still edible and the cheese topping was quite pleasant, but it didn't need to be on a lobster tail. At £17.50, I'd call the police and report robbery if we weren't getting 50% off. So instead I'm slating it all over the internet.

Without the 50% offer, the pricing is completely off the wall. 

Shan and I were pretty deflated at this point - cold, hungry and mugged. Then he spoke my favourite words of the month, "Shall we check out Smack Lobster?" The good stuff starts here.

As we made our way along Oxford Street with the Christmas lights, we felt the first snow of the year. I wasn't exaggerating when I said it was a cold night.

Smack Lobster is the newest project by the guys behind Burger & Lobster, Goodman and Beast. It was surprisingly quiet around 9:30pm, 4th night of their opening. The menu was plastered across the wall on a blackboard, and I would have order everything if I hadn't wasted space at Lobster Failure Kitchen - 4 types of lobster roll at £9 each (£7.50 to takeaway), lobster bisque or a chick lobster at £12. 

We placed our order at the cashier and they were ready in about 5mins. Then we followed the sign that mentioned alcohol and naked women  downstairs. Instantly I fell in love with the space. It was like a gallery opening event. Granted it was almost empty, and it may have a very different vibe when it's packed with crazy Christmas shoppers, but on this particular evening, it was sexy, sophisticated and stylish. Narrow hanging benches with high stools, a couple of slow-mo topless lobster mermaids projected on the walls, and an ultra cool bar. Not the most usual place to find a bath, but I'm getting used to it - this tubs is filled with ice cold beer. We had a couple of reds from the tank.

California: Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, avocado mayo with lime
I was choosing between this and the seven samurai, which was a lobster tempura roll. The staff recommended this one. 

Check out the claw and the real lobster meat. This is how a lobster roll should be done. And the brioche - oh the buttered grilled brioche - is out of this world. The combo worked well for me, creamy ripe avocado added extra smoothness and the L&T gave some refreshing crunch. I think, and it could be psychological, the roll at Burger and Lobster is packed with a higher density of lobster meat. But I can't be sure, and honestly, the lobster meat in this is plenty. 

Mexican: Smoked chipotle, mayo, peppers, corn
Shan's rolls had a bit of a kick to it from the peppers, but didn't kill the lobster sweetness. It had a good crunch from the sweetcorn, which Shan thought was slightly intrusive as it was canned sweetcorn and a tad too sugary for his liking. Personally I liked it because it neutralised the heat. All good.

I usually choose a whole grilled lobster over a lobster roll at B&L, purely because the roll gets demolished in 5 bites, then I'd be staring (perhaps drooling) as the rest of the table tears yet more lobster meat from the claws. Sometimes we share a roll as a starter, but it gets too much. Now all problems solved. I'm kind of excited about dragging Mister down here for his verdict, as he prefers the roll - can't wait to check out the lobster tempura and the chick lobster....

Smack Lobster is the best opening of the year. 

111 Great Russell Street
Tel: 0207 300 3324
Lobster Kitchen on Urbanspoon
26-28 Binney Street
Smack Lobster on Urbanspoon

*Credit to Shan for a great review title