Sunday, 23 June 2013

Beagle - An Old Train

Part of the joy of eating at Beagle was the intermittent rumbling from the Overground train running above our heads. Nested right next to Hoxton station, the restaurant attracted the East London bunch with its bare bricks, railway arches and iron candelabra, not to mention a promising kitchen headed by James Ferguson from Rochelle.

The cocktail list looked too good so we decided to start with Summer Cup for me, which was exotic and fruity, and Krank for him, way too whiskey-y and bitter for my liking. Friend highly recommended their pulled pork from the bar snacks, unfortunately it wasn't on the menu that evening so we randomly picked others.

Deep fried kid Haggis
I am not usually a haggis fan, purely because of bad experience of dodgy haggis that smelt so strong of offals I thought a public loo landed on a plate. These were fine.

Unlike the more traditional haggis in a sausage casing, this was presented more like pigs head - encased in breadcrumbs with the all the pluck neatly packed. What I particularly liked about it was the moistness and bounce in the cake, probably because it wasn't stuffed with overcooked grainy liver. Plus a healthy dollop of eggy bernaise, it went down very well.

Grilled pepperoncini
In short, pepperoncini and I started on the wrong foot, I was never going to like it. No idea why, maybe it had something to do with the macaroncini at The Endurance the previous night, but my mind was geared towards something greasy and satisfying. Then these arrived, and the smirk on his face basically meant I was programmed to dislike these.

On a more serious note, it was lacking in seasoning and despite the tenderness and juiciness, there was very little flavour from the veg itself.

Grilled octopus, royal jerseys
The chunky octopus tentacles were slow cooked to an almost marshmallow texture, slightly springy but soft and squidgy. It was also very succulent and retained all its sweet juices. Normally I'd object to potatoes with seafood, but these delicate wedges were generously seasoned and well greased to mingle with the rest of the dish.

Asparagus, goats curd and lemon butter
Nothing really shouted at me when I was looking at the menu... I was choosing between watercress soup & poached egg and grilled asparagus. Our waitress recommended this because it was in season.

I am now very sure, I do not like asparagus enough to have as a course on its own. I don't mind it in my risotto or as a garnish on my mains, but I simply don't understand its charm on its own. The goats curd is deliciously creamy and subtle, but in my humble opinion it doesn't work with the asparagus. Maybe wrap some serrano ham around it, pair it with a good soft boil egg as everything tastes good with a gooey egg yolk... but I still wouldn't fall in love with it.

Lemon sole, courgettes and green sauce
I felt slightly bad about cornering him into the lemon sole just because I wanted the hogget. But given how I had been unlucky with the menu so far, I wasn't going to budge.

To be fair, it was a very well cooked sole, it was spared from the typical earthiness and the fish was slithery soft. But it was still a very ordinary dish with little surprises in the recipe. Good, but not extraordinary.

Grilled Hogget, vine tomatoes, parsley
The hogget was the only part of the meal that got me paying a tad more attention to my food. Definition of hogget varies in countries, but generally it's lamb between 12-24 months. Since it's slightly older than the usual young lamb, the flavours are richer in the muscles.

It was cooked to a perfect medium. The meat was incredibly tender and the usual milky, weaning tang of lamb was substituted by stronger meatiness, almost a touch of gaminess to it. The tomatoes were sugar sweet and complimented beautifully with macho muscles. Really enjoyed it.

Chocolate & Caramel Pot
The lag time between us placing the order and this hitting our table was approximately 45 seconds. I know it came straight from the fridge, but still. Anyway it was velvety chocolate ganache on top of thick caramel, topped with a thin layer of single cream - a good finish that wasn't overly sweet.

I can't say I clicked with Beagle; feels it's somewhat style over substance. A small part of me regretted picking Beagle over Social Eating House for this occasion - at least with SEH perfect food is guaranteed and the bill would hover around the same mark, but there would be more efforts and surprises in the dishes. Don't get me wrong it wasn't disastrous, but it didn't help me impress either.

Despite not falling in love with the restaurant at Beagle. I did return with Ana for the bar because the cocktails were impressive. My Somerset was an intricate balance of bitter and sweet, Ana's Yorkshire rhubarb was slightly fizzy and very easy to drink.

Grilled Chicken Wings & Pesto

Absolutely delicious these wings - succulent, meaty and beautifully seasoned.

397 - 400 Geffrye Street
E2 8HZ
Tel: 0207 613 2967

Beagle on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Flat Iron - Good Meat for a Tenner

Another pop-up gone permanent - this time from Shoreditch to Soho. In short, it's great steak for a tenner, need I say more?

Flat iron has set a trend for this unconventional cut of steak. It was previously called top blade from the shoulder, and because it takes a fair bit of work to remove all the gristly connective tissues, it was never mainstream. But now they know how to do it, turns out it is the second most tender cut of meat, after the tenderloin.

The decor is the East London brick house type, raw with wooden tables for sharing. The seats are fixed to the table, and one needs to straddle onto the seat. It's fine once you're seated, just the mounting was slightly awkward when wearing a short dress. We were greeted by a super smiley waitress and a mug of popcorn. There was only 1 item on the menu on our visit so we needed to choose was sides.

Flat Iron Steak
Mine was perfectly medium rare, overall well rested with just a tiny bit of leaking. Thanks to beautiful marbling, the meat was packed with meat juice, which was oozing from the ruby muscles with the most gentle pressure from the knife. The steak was rich and intense in flavour, not dissimilar to an onglet filet, and also incredibly tender. Without a lump of fat, it's not as heavy as the rib-eye and it was more balanced. I loved it.

Olivia's medium looked quite overdone from where I was sitting, and the Fred's sauce was really quite disgusting. It was a tomato based sauce with kicks from horseradish and mustard grains that sent punches in odd directions. My bernaise sauce was fine. 

Dripping cooked chips and Roast Aubergine
Chips were okay. Roast aubergine was great.

There really is no reason to dislike Flat Iron. The vibe is trendy, steak is delicious, menu is simple, price is dirt cheap, even the queuing system is fine, they take your number and give you those little buzzers like Pizza East and Dishoom Shoreditch, so we were free to pick any bar in the area. It not the regular steakhouse for a romantic date, but perhaps the perfect steak fix on a weekday evening.

17 Beak Street
Walk-in only

Flat Iron on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 8 June 2013

Stripped Back @Street Feast

 The name says it all really - Ben Spalding's pop up restaurant at London Street Feast show cases his sophisticated cooking in a street food market. 

I wasn't sure what to expect of Stripped Back. We know Ben Spalding is great, but how much can he possibly do in such a small 'kitchen' with so limited equipment? The setup couldn't be more stripped back (!) - a long wooden table in the middle where Ben plates up; a double hob in the corner where two / three chefs crowd around, a sink and boxes of ingredients.

Bread & Butter
The machine kicked into gear pretty much the moment we sat down. We were hit by a torrent of creative nibbles.
First bite was a miso mayonnaise and brown cheese powder on a thin cracker - slightly sweet from the miso and slightly salty from the sprinkles of cheese. Nice.

Whipped malt loaf - squeezed onto the back of our hands - this was a breath of warm buttery fragrance, like butter heated to the point of browning. So rich in flavour yet so light in texture. I wanted another shot.

Nettles picked yesterday on the coast, creamy ricotta, black rice & Senia olive oil
This silky soup was savoury, and ricotta added body and fullness. The toasted crispy rice contributed a nice crunch and a subtle dose of smokiness. Beautiful start.

Cake & Holy Fuck
Langoustine claw meat, brown & white crab, octopus head & dried tuna roe & Holy Fuck tartar sauce
The team has been frantically cooking on the small hob in the corner ever since we were nibbling on the breads, and by the time we had our soup, Ben was already plating and assembling the this dish. His concentration and insistence in getting each item on the plate right was somewhat sexy.

The "cake" was almost like a seafood omelette, moist and oozes with shellfish juice with an eggy coat. Not sure if the Holy Fuck tartar sauce has anything to do with the famous Rib Man Holy Fuck sauce - this one is not hot - so I am guessing it is simply referring to well-justified its greatness. The shellfish stock base in the tartar added a punch of unami, supported by gently acidity, which complimented the luscious cubes of salmon sashimi. It was an incredibly complex ensemble of ingredients and flavours that worked perfectly together.

Piggy Piggy
Glazed in chocolate ketchup, roasted lettuce puree & greasy pig gravy
The small cube of pork belly was divine, barely held in shape that slowly disintegrated into a mouthful of nutty, piggy goodness. The shredded pork on the side was sadly less impressive, it was overcooked to pieces of parched, sinewy muscles, even the sweet sauce couldn't save it. The lettuce puree didn't quite gel the flavours together, its meek flavours confused the equation.

Mary Ann didn't fall in love with this dish either. I agree with the apparent awkwardness of oriental touches in the recipe that didn't click with the rest.

Boozy Fudge & Preserved Fig
Apple liqueur fudge, preserved fig with pastry & buttermilk
I think we were sprinting towards the final 100m now. 

The fig was pressed into a thin sheet in an almost jam-like form and toasted between delicate filo pastries - it reminded me of red bean pancakes. The fig paste wasn't overly sweetened so it could pick up the strong syrupy fudge, which was overflowing with fruity alcohol. Very moreish.

Jelly & Custard
Blueberry vodka & tonic jelly, blueberry jam & sweet lime custard
Another boozy sweet - this mini dessert was equally tasty with the small lumps of alcohol jelly and pressed blueberry fruit. I thought the sweet lime juice was a particularly good finish to such an eventful menu.

So did Chef Spalding deliver? More than one could possibly imagine. The apparent 4-course menu plus all the nibbles and bits were mind-blowingly impressive, and watching the team at work under such immense time pressure fuelled the excitement of the entire experience. The food was stunning, and in particular, temperature of each course was perfect. I was half expecting cold dishes throughout, but the soup was served piping hot and the shellfish cake was fresh off the pan. I didn't feel there was any compromise on the quality or creativity of  the food because of where we were. Instead I felt each dish was given extra thought and design to bring out the best of our environment.

I thought I'd have space for a Big Apple hot dog or perhaps a sandwich from the Rib Man. Haha - silly me. Ben mentioned Stripped Back will run for another month or so, and then he's moving on to his next project... 

317 Kingsland Road
E8 4DL

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Saturday, 1 June 2013

A Caravan Brunch

I love brunches, because I know for sure eggs are on the menu. Out of the selection I almost always go for poached eggs because there are comparatively harder to make at home, but occasionally I'm swayed to a very good-looking omelette or scrambled eggs. I kept telling myself to try the more exotic options, you know, the ones with an eastern European touch - never got round to it.

Caravan Kings Cross is nested in the Granary Square. With the University of Art students as neighbours and an open space with 1000 fountains, the restaurant oozes an arty vibe. Despite the spacious restaurant, there was a small queue at the door when I arrived around noon on a Saturday. Thankfully Yuk Fai was more sensible and secured us a table by arriving slightly earlier, and he spotted Jimmy Carr. 

Watermelon apple mint juice

Salt beef bubble, poached eggs, spinach, hollandaise
It looked so exciting. The 'bubble' was a ball of shredded salt beef mixed with grainy mash, deep fried in a breadcrumb shell, which softened by soaking up the hollandaise sauce.Then it got even better with the gooey yolk moisting up the mash to add silkiness. Any derivatives of the eggs benedict is pretty much fool-proof and the salt beef simply added creativity and substance. It was a delicious weekend treat.

Poaches eggs, aubergine puree, yoghurt, sumac, parsley, toast with soutsouki sausage
This was a cold breakfast. Thick slices of sausage topped a bed of aubergine puree, followed by two poached eggs and yoghurt. I sampled a forkful; the sausage was quite heavily seasoned, which was okay when neutralised with the yoghurt and the egg yolk, but it could get too much. The puree was gorgeous with the egg though, I liked the smoothness.

And I agree with what Yuk Fai, not that it's not a nice breakfast, just wasn't what he was expecting or wanted.

Chocolate brownie & Orange almond cake
Lots of hazelnut in the brownie, with a super crispy top and a rich, gooey centre. The almond cake was equally delicious with a moist, eggy sponge and a generous almond topping.

I didn't sample their coffees, because I wanted to save it for Ozone on my ride home. Yuk Fai had a latte that looked very decent though. 

There are a handful of great brunch spots in the city, and Caravan has definitely become one of my favourites. The menu looks so exciting with some bold pairing of ingredients and exotic touches - I have my eyes on their crab omelette, raclette French toast and parmesan grits. I wonder how their corn & morcilla fritters compare to Granger & Co's at Nottinghill too...

Granary Building
1 Granary Square
Tel: 0207 101 7661

Caravan Kings Cross on Urbanspoon
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