Sunday, 17 August 2014

Ottolenghi - Summery Delights

At 31 degrees, there is no better place to dine than Ottolenghi. The small deli counter with an add-on dining room is a pain to book.

As usual the place was packed with people waiting at the deli counter. We were shown to the long white communal table, almost rubbing elbows with our neighbours. We had a bottle of Lambrusco Fernando – not the kind of viscous, sweet Lambrusco I was hoping for. It was surprisingly dry and thin, almost Rose like. The bread board had an excellent variety; thought the cornbread was a bit dry and crumbly, but the rest was fine.

Yellow fin, line-caught seared tuna with mixed sesame seeds and soy, honey, spring onion and ginger sauce

I really enjoyed the cold deli dishes at NOPI, especially the aubergine with yoghurt. But seeing we have secured a table, we thought we’d concentrate more on the dishes from the kitchen. Cold food from counter we can always get as take-out for picnics.

The tuna was beautifully seared on the rim with a sesame crust, leaving the majority of the slice raw and sashimi-like; its rich, luscious textures were amplified by the generous thickness of the cut. The honey dipping sauce complimented the powerful rareness well, with a subtle, fragrant kick from ginger and spring onion. Delicious.

Poached lobster, green tomato and lime salsa with pickled cucumber, coriander and fried capers

The small cubes of lobster were cooked perfectly to retain its bounce and succulence. The dish was kept light and summery with a mildly tangy and citrusy salsa, plenty of crunch to contrast with the soft lobster.

Five spiced quail, rhubarb and apple salsa and pickled yellow mustard seeds
It was hard to pick a favourite from the 3 dishes from the kitchen, but if I had to choose one, it would be the quail. The skin was almost covered with mustard seeds, and the mixture of popping seeds and crispy skin gave a very interesting mouth feel.  The muscles were moist and tender, packed with gamey flavours from the little bird, gently lifted by the citrusy fruitiness from tiny cubes rhubarb and apple. It was simply a perfect execution of a very balanced dish.

Roast pork belly, prawn and chilli sambal, pickled kohlrabi, nashi pear and chargrilled baby leek
The skin on the pork belly was incredibly brittle, shattered into pieces as I pressed my knife through the slab of juicy pork. Despite the belly, it didn’t feel greasy or heavy, the meat tasted clean with concentrated piggy flavours. The sambal added an eastern touch with more powerful kicks, evened out with the sweet pear sliced. I only wish there was more of it.

Strawberry Cheesecake
The food was spot on. Like NOPI, the recipes were well thought-out and creative to add an unexpected twist. The dishes were kept light but with plenty of flavours and textures. I am a fan of small dishes, and these were perfectly sized to allow tasting of a few without being over-indulgent. I didn’t think there was much ambience in the dining room at first, there was something a tad too sterile about the shiny white table and chairs and the minimalistic interior. As it got darker outside though, the effect of the candles was more warming and brought a cosier vibe. I really enjoyed my evening.

On a side note, we went to see Mr Burns at Almeida Theatre across the road. It was an extremely odd play. I’m not going to lie – I slept through the first act. It got better I the second act and then I was completely lost in the third, thinking I was conned into a weird cult gathering. I understand the underlying message around fragility of memory, but the delivery was not my cup of tea. Marmite material.

287 Upper Street
N1 2TZ
Tel: 0207 288 1454

Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Arabica Bar & KitchenYalla YallaRiding House Cafe

Monday, 11 August 2014

MASH – Wagyu Destruction

The reason that brought me to this Danish Steakhouse was the 50% off all steak in July. If it wasn’t for this offer, MASH would never have made it to my Eat List. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Denmark, except NOMA tried sending me to Japan once when I asked for a table, I just don’t automatically associate the country with top-notch steaks.

The stairs spiralled to a beautiful dining room that boasted elegance and 1930s glamour; dark polished pillar, mahogany booths and plush sofa seating. It reminded me of Balthazar, but much posher and much sexier. The photos on the website and that awful white-on-red logo really don’t do this place justice. We started with a couple of cocktails; my El Prado was fruity and sweet; Alex’s All-American Martini was way too manly and Bond-like for me.

It’s not really the season for oysters but hey we were in the mood. These were fresh, clean and crisp, not the plumpest or creamiest, but good enough.

American Greater Omaha Rib eye (medium rare)
Our steaks arrived in an iron skillet on a trolley. From where I was sitting, I didn’t spot any leakage on the plate. Our server split the steaks for us on a massive wooden board, placed them back on the skillet before transferring that onto our table. Quite unnecessary to be honest.

I started with the rib-eye. At 400g it was a decent thickness, well seared and rested to lock the juice in. The steak was sweet and flavoursome from the dry-aging, plenty of meat juice from the melted grease. It was a good steak, just that I have been spoilt with even better ones; ones that were more buttery, ones that were bursting with more bovine goodness, ones with even more concentrated flavours. But – this was a good steak.

Australian Wagyu Grade 9+ Sirloin (medium)
We weren’t sure if we wanted the Wagyu after our server explained the steak was relatively thin cut, and at 200g, it had to be. Problem is, thin-cuts are pointless in a proper steakhouse with a crazy grill that rocks up to hundreds of degrees in no time. That said, at a discounted price of £37.50 for a Grade 9+ Wagyu sirloin… it’s a hard one to pass. And Alex said he hadn’t had Wagyu before (*Gasp*)… In the end we decided to give it a go.

I was kicking myself when I finally got round to this. The steak was stone cold. Ah how long did it take me to get through half a rib-eye?! I was so annoyed. Either way, the steak was even thinner than I expected, and a thin steak is simply depressing, especially when the marbled fat has dissolved away to leave the steak even flatter than it started. It was such a waste; there was no buttery, melty meat, no explosion of wagyu juice, no oozing beefy fragrance; too grainy and too much chew – nothing like a top grade Wagyu sirloin. What’s wrong with upping it to 300g so there’s a decent bite to steak?

Bone Marrow, Fries & Creamed Spinach
The bone marrow was amazing, as one would expect, as was the creamy spinach. Fries were more hard than crispy and lacked seasoning though.

It was a great evening and my stomach was killing me from laughing too hard; Alex is awesome company and I suspect the 2 bottles of quality red and another couple of cocktails had something to do with it. In terms of food, however, I wasn’t overly impressed because I have had a better US rib-eye elsewhere, say Goodman or even Hawksmoor. More importantly, I cannot, and will not, forgive what they have done to the Wagyu. Have I missed the Danish twist?

77 Brewer Street
Tel: 0207 734 2608

Mash on Urbanspoon
You may also like: CUT at 45 Park Lane, Beast, Foxlow