Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Launceston Place - The Poise Brit

Sweet memories of the good old days flooded back as I strolled towards Launceston Place; we used to walk to lectures from our little flat on High Street Kensington. Back then the restaurant had drawn white satin curtains across the window, but did little to veil its poshness, and of course its emptiness in the evenings. It has since been re-owned and now led by Chef Tristan Welsh.

As students this used to be totally out of reach, but now the place looks rather appealing for a long weekday lunch. The dining room is split into two cosier rooms by the entrance, but the high ceilings with large window conveyed much spaciousness despite fairly closely arranged tables. Its posh and classy, you could just tell by the Maîtred introduction and his posture, how he is so very proud to represent the restaurant.

Potato crisps
Hole-punched handmade potato crisps with a Launceston Place ribbon. I laughed.

Homemade Sourdough bread with Herring and freshly churned butter
The freshness of the butter was obvious; there is still a splash of buttermilk. And what good butter this is, light with trailing hints of aroma. The gently pickled herring was a pleasant surprise that complemented with the warm sourdough.

Duck egg on Toast, Summer Truffle

We could smell this making its way from the kitchen; the truffle fragrance was overwhelming. I was ecstatic by the sheer presentation of the dish; the wobbly glowing yolk, translucent duck egg white, distinctive pattern on the two sheets of truffle that nonchalantly floats on the egg. Flavours were unbelievable, no words could do justice; it was silken, creamy sauce overflowing with truffle goodness.

The egg white was just on the point of solid form and added a new texture that lifts its elegance to maximum heights. Sourdough bread was toasted to a fragile brittleness on the edge, it soaked up all the truffle-infused veloute like a sponge so each bite oozes truffle juice, yet retained its crispiness and was still incredibly soft and moist in the centre. There was so much finesse in this dish.

Venison heart and liver with butter roasted pear and squash
I admit the arrangement looked rather odd, but credit to the autumn colours. Its amazing how the thin strips of venison heart had so much power; strong muscles yet tender, potent flavours but not bloody. The liver was less exciting on its own, though the familiar grainy texture held much moisture. But then itcame to life together with the roasted pear, sweet juice seeped through to the liver and gave a lighter touch to it. Pure class and sophistication.

Lightly smoked haddock, mussels, coastline vegetables
Mister enjoyed this, thought the thick fillet of fish was succulent, just about cooked to keep all the juices in. The bigger surprises were the mussels, so creamy they were like crab roe, packing the best of the ocean into the plump morsel. Fresh and clean.

Good cleanse of palate with a temperate lemon tingle.

Buttermilk rice pudding, raspberries
Some classic British desserts very well done. I cant say there were fireworks with a classic rice pudding, but I did like the buttermilk on the side.

Treacle Tart, crème fraiche ice-cream
Not a fan of treacle tarts, so I cant comment.

We finished just past 4 oclock; this Friday lunch was impeccable. Launceston Place is oozing with British pride and elegance, boasting an air of the British excellence. And when it says Chef uses the finest ingredients, I believe it because the freshness and brilliance are so evident in all senses. Together with the immaculate cooking in the kitchen, this is effortlessly the Best of British.

1a Launceston Place
W8 5RL
Tel: 0207 937 6912

Launceston Place on Urbanspoon
You may also like: MedlarOdette'sOne O One

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Bukowski - Poor Cow

We set out with The Long Table on Abbott Street in mind, you know, the ‘secret’ market opening every Friday till Christmas with Nuno Mendez heading The Loft and all the cool eats in the neighbourhood. But things rarely go as planned; we were distracted by the new BoxPark in Shoreditch. It looks uber trendy – shops in cargo containers, each bursting with their characters.

It was cold, I was starving and Abbott Street was miles away… we followed the aroma trail of sizzling beefy meat patty coming from one of the upper boxes to find Bukowski, a burger bar squeezed into a cargo box. The tiny space managed to fit 3 booths and an open kitchen at the end; the patchy paint and low-hung lamps all fitted the Shoreditch look. We were so worked up to for this – the homemade condiments, menu printed on brown paper (blown up Spuntino- and Polpo- style), Josper oven in sight and freaking king-size burgers flying out the kitchen.

Hop Daemon’s Green Daemon
Beer was on the house to celebrate its introductory week. Not dissimilar to organic honey dew, Mister says. No idea.

Cheese Burger with Stilton
I thought about the Mother F Burger, double patty, loaded with cholesterol and whatever else that will make us sick afterwards, but chickened out. Instead I decided to take the acid test by opting for the cheese burger with stilton. I was offered the choice of Ciabbata or Brioche bun – Brioche totally.

This looked the part: toasted bun, meatball-like patty and melted blue cheese sprawled all over the beef. But it only took one bite to realise this was only a good burger impostor. The meat was so overcooked I could squeeze it in my palm and no juice would drip from it. Seasoning was off by miles as if it had been coated in salt then topped with even saltier cheese. No bovine goodness detected it could have been made out of cardboard. This was a burger nightmare. And had the cow known this was what it was dying for, it’d have legged it from the farm.

Obscurely I was charged an extra £1 for the cheese on top the £6.50 cheese burger. Hmm…

Iberico Burger
This was the month’s special; beef patty topped with Morcilla, Pancetta Iberica and Red Onion chutney served with oven dried tomatoes, lettuce and sweet Guindilla peppers.  And the nightmare continues. This time with an extra salt kick from the limp pancetta (bacon really) dangling its fat on the side.

Had the Iberican Pig known this was what it was contributing towards, it’d have legged it with the cow.

Hand cut Heritage Organic chip
Triple cooked and fried in beef dripping. Yea, only half the portion was really chips, the other half were bits and pieces found at the bottom of the fryer. The good portion was truly good, nonetheless, fluffy and crispy.

The formula is spot on; specialised menu, guaranteed traffic in the super hip BoxPark, the right kinda food in Shoreditch, cosy enough to be a public secret… but the food didn’t deliver. All boxes checked, except for the ultimate key: the beef. Is it teething problems? I don’t think so. Say the service was rocky or flavours need fine-tuning, then yeah it’s teething issues. But it felt as though the owners have yet to grasp the essence of a real good burger. The waitress didn’t even ask how we wanted it, and judging by the cooking, chefs have yet to do the Josper oven justice.

Unit 61 BoxPark
Bethnal Green Road
E1 6GY

Bukowski Grill on Urbanspoon
You may also like: PrinciSpuntino, Hawksmoor

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Pollen Street Social - Special

Pollen Street Social has been sitting on the top of my Eat list for months; getting hold of a table hasn’t been easy. The main dining room was all booked up, as expected, but we managed to secure a small table for two in the bar area. We were 30mins late, partly because I woke at 12 and mainly because of traffic jam on the Central Line.

The receptionists weren’t bothered when we turned up at one. As if everyone else was just waiting for us, after we were seated, diners were flooding the door in batches. Before our canapés arrived the restaurant was packed plus people waiting at the bar. Seriously? On a weekday lunch? We were offered fresh bread some canapés, Greek olives and cod roe taramasalata.

Colchester Crab mayonnaise, avocado, sweet corn sorbet, caviar
Looking super classy served in a cocktail glass. I stole two spoonfuls from Mister; the sweet juicy crab meat, velvety rich avocado cream with a light twist from a squeeze of lemon, together with the potent kick from the caviar lump, an absolute godsend. Sweet corn sorbet was a little unrecognisable, added some ambiguity to flavours, though no harm done. The only caveat was the odd broken bit of crab shell.

Mister wasn’t so enthusiastic towards the end of the dish, the intensity of the avocado eventually became an overdrive.

Full English Breakfast
This was the dish I came for. I have seen too many photos of this full English breakfast, yet when that wobbly yolk on that bed of gleaming tomato velouté sprinkled with crouton confetti arrived at my table, I was still amazed.

The softest egg was beautifully complemented by the crispy, paper thin bacon sprinkles and fried-bread wannabes; the sweet tomato sauce was reined in by the mushroom puree; then that egg yolk flooded over the composite, and brought all the familiar flavours together. While the textures were mostly baby food-like, the construction of flavours was structured with distinctive layers from each item on a typical full breakfast, minus the grease. This interpretation is ingenious, humorous and glowing with finesse.

Yorkshire Partridge, game bolognaise, various carrots, spiced plum jam
We both had partridge because of my new found passion for game birds, served rare. Gotta say, this doesn’t look pretty. I guess bolognaise is not easy to beautify. Still.

The presentation issue was quickly forgotten. The partridge was immaculate; silken textures akin to chicken thigh, compelling characteristic gamey flavours from oozing juices minus the metallic bloodiness or rawness, complete with a prevailing aftertone further strengthened by the distinctively gamey bolognaise. Blow after blow of intense flavours were softened up with carrots of unlikely colours and smooth pumpkin puree. It was one of the best things I have eaten, ever.

Two things, though. 1) Mister found buckshot in his partridge, though common we expected better care. 2) Cutlery. Is it not better to have knives with a serrated blade for ease of cutting? Incidentally all our cutlery had scratches all over them. It could be the design of a super brand I’m simply ignorant of…

Pistachio Financier, pistachio ice cream, English Blackberries
Mains were substantial so we shared a dessert. In short, there was nothing pistachio about this dessert, except for the colour. Both the ice cream and financier was all almond no pistachio. Crumbly edge, yes. Moist cake, yes, Pistachio, no. The vanilla chantilly on the side, however, was addictably good; light and airy, pack with vanilla seeds for that extra fragrance.

Goodie Bags
A cute gesture. We were given a little key when we checked our coats in and were told they had a little something for us to take away after lunch. The key opened up these gold lockers at the reception, inside there was a wooden box, inside which these little white bags, and inside which were two buttery Madeleine with a teabag, and note saying Afternoon Tea is on them.

To say the food at PSS was great is an understatement. The table of four next to us had their rib-eye steak served on a pine fruit set alight to give off this smoky festive aroma; the scallop ceviche on our left was edible art. Recipes have been carefully designed for a three-dimensional meal, interpretations were creative and senses were maximised. Some waiting staff was brilliant, knowledgeable and swift. Others were probably bar staff that was less particular about serving on the right side and overall formality. But hey when the food is that good, nothing else matters.

8/10 Pollen Street
Tel: 0207 290 7600

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Sketch, Viajante, Pearl

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dishoom - Dis Room is Full

I’d never thought about having Indian food in Central; don’t the good ones always cluster, like Brick Lane or Bayswater? So I wasn’t too interested in Dishoom or its concept until I spotted my friend at work emailing her friends about it. She is Indian by origin, and if the natives like it, I shouldn’t miss it.

Since I read they have a no-booking system, I walked in nice and early at 7 on a Friday night. There was already a small crowd aggregated by the door, but I thought I was in luck as I eyeballed the few unoccupied small tables. We were checking out the cute little origami Santa hats subtly stuck on the nostalgic wall photographs when the guy said it was a 40-min wait. Huh? Whose invisible friends are those? We were invited to the bar downstairs, which was flooded by hungry diners. I smell business strategy.

Do they or do they not do bookings for less than 6 people?

It’s a silly system. The waitress end up battling through the horde at the bar, yelling out names of waiting diners and getting little responses.

Veggie Samosas
Six beautiful years with Mister and I didn’t know he liked samosas. I don’t usually order or even consider them an option. There is something in the garam masala I don’t like; it might be some derivation of nutmeg or cinnamon, given the range of spices in existence, I can only say it leaves a strong pungent aftertaste when I exhale. That aside, it was packed with potatoes and peas and f-loads of the spices I don’t like, wrapped in clean crispiness.

Keema Pau
This wasn’t dissimilar to chilli con carne minus the beans, I think? Quite mild at first but then the heat gradually catches up, still pretty ordinary stuff though. The good bit was actually the soft toasted buttered bun…

Bombay Sausages
We don’t see much pork in usual Indian restaurants, so we thought we’d give the chipolatas a go here. Chopped sausages, lots of it, were tumbled in a Bombay masala sauce with onions. The sauce was meek and it’s sausages in a bit of sauce afterall, so it didn’t really win me over.

Murgh Malai
Yes! Chicken thigh is the correct part of the chicken to eat! I decided to ignore the pink bits on the chicken, and convinced myself it was the lights. I hope it was. Very tender and succulent pieces of chicken, but there wasn't much seasoning. It didn’t taste of anything, and Mister pretty much hit the nail on the head when he said it was like the grilled chicken thigh at a kebab shop without any flavours.

Chef’s Special – Lamb Curry
Our waiter described this dish in great detail, I just can’t remember. It was a flat tomato-based curry with large cubes of meat. The lamb was very lean and dense, but not inedibly leathery. Kinda boring stuff.

Garlic & Cheesy Naan
These were the highlights of the evening. The thin naan was stuffed with plenty of cheese (my half was, mister was less lucky) and rubbed with butter, grilled to wafer crispiness on the outside yet stretchy from the inside. They reminded me of pizzas.

Come to think of it, it’s rather tragic when naan becomes the pinnacle of a meal. Like going to a Chinese restaurant and the only thing one enjoyed was the rice.

On a separate note - didn’t like my Pino Grigio served in a mini water glass or a tall tumbler; somehow it’s okay to drink wine from tumblers in Polpo and Great Queen Street, but the yellowy liquid in this rather ugly looking container didn’t feel right.

Dishoom was alright, nothing was particularly bad yet the décor was far more exciting than the kitchen. The limited menu and drab flavours didn’t impress. I sorely missed the Lamb Passanda, Sag Paneer and whatever sweet coconut milk-based curry dishes I can’t spell. I must have gotten too used to the much Briton-ised Indian food... I was full, but not satisfied.

12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane
Tel: 0207 420 9320

Dishoom on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Tayyabs, Lahore Kebab House, Koya

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cakes & Sweets

Maison Blanc
Mister bought this for my birthday cake. I loved it – it was like Gauthier’s Golden Louis XV blown up 4x. The richest coat of dark chocolate enveloping the most sinful torte and thickest cocoa mousse, which was more like velvety whipped cream than light airy mousse, finished off with a solid block of biscuity wafer base. For a true chocolate addict, the high density cocoa couldn’t be better news. Each mouthful clung onto the roof of mouth, slowly releasing the deep aroma that flirted with every nerve to maximise the ultimate guilty pleasure.

Gail’s Artisan Bakery
Mister bought home this beautiful chocolate tart from Gail’s new opening at South Kensington. Dense and intense, contrasted with some delicate toffee brittles. Scrumptious.

L’Eto Caffe
Sandwiched between Princi and Hummingbird’s Bakery, L’Eto draws attention with its magnificent display of vibrant cakes in generous portions and layers. The choices were overwhelming, from the classic carrot cake to passion fruit meringue tart to baileys cheesecake.

Napoleon slice
Definitely not my type of millefeuille; puff pastry layers were damp and leathery and the filling was just thickened condense milk! Sickeningly sweet and squashy textures. Truly awful.

Honey cake
It was more maple syrup than honey. The cake was very moist, almost like each sponge layer was dipped into honey before gelling them with syrupy cream. I don’t know, it was different to cakes I usually have, but I’m not sure if I enjoyed it as much as my usual choices.

Sure enough the cakes are served big here, and they should too at £4.70 a shot. Serving a big slice of so-so cake is sad news; serving a huge slice of no-good cake is simply bad news.

I think Harrods cheesecakes are still unbeatable; as for millefeuille Patisserie rarely disappoints (except for their gelatine cheesecakes).

On a side note, Wafflemeister does some pretty extraordinary, well, waffles. I tried the one in South Ken for a late afternoon snack the other day; the bittersweet chocolate sauce, hot crispy-edged waffle, generous cream and ripen banana... Whoa!

Maison Blanc
303 Fulham Road
SW10 9QH
Maison Blanc on Urbanspoon

Gail's Artisan Bread
45 Thurloe Street
Gail's Bread on Urbanspoon

L’Eto Caffe
155 Wardour Street
L'eto Caffe on Urbanspoon