Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Spoilt Princess of Shoreditch

Grouse. I had been thinking about a good piece of grouse for weeks because the hunting season for these game birds is back in late August. Mister had been trying to get us a table at The Harwood Arms since we hopped off the plane, but on a Friday evening? Ha. So despite my reservations of these 'dining rooms' above pubs, Princess of Shoreditch had the right menu in the right place. 

We made our way up the spiral staircase at 9:30 and it was almost a full house.

Free range pork scotch egg, apple slaw
I was surprised that Mister went with the scotch egg. Personally it never appealed to me, I didn't know what a good scotch egg is supposed to taste like.

As the runny yolk slowly poured from the centre, wedged within a layer of just-cooked (and collapsed) egg whites and thick rim of moist pork meat, I may start liking scotch eggs. The flavours reminded me of an English breakfast really, yolk-covered pork sausage seasoned with sage - nothing complex, just hearty and comforting. 

Salmon Ceviche, pepper puree, gem hearts
Since we had crab on toast for lunch at Elliot's cafe earlier that day, I went for ceviche, hoping for something lighter. It was quite a substantial ceviche dish - cubes of salmon marinated in lime juice just longer enough to 'cook' the surface, leaving the middle raw and bouncy. Fishiness came from the cooked side while the sashimi retained its fragrant fish oils. The marinade was quite one-dimensional, however, could do with more depth or layer to keep the dish interesting.

Nonetheless, the acidity got my palette and stomach juices going to welcome my much anticipated grouse!

28-day aged Hereford sirloin, watercress, double dipped chips, red wine jus
Mister had a hard time choosing his mains. First it was venison, but we had it for lunch; then it was pork belly, but at the last minute he realised his starter was already pork. In the end he almost reluctantly settled for the sirloin, and it was partly my fault as I read somewhere that they serve the smoothest beef in London. Well, they don't.

It was quite disappointing really. The steak was unmistakably overseasoned, fuelled with the very burnt, not gracefully charred, rind, it was downright unpleasant in mouth. The quality of meat was okay, however the beefy flavours were somewhat meek and mild as it lacked meat juice. All I tasted was salt and pepper.

Why didn't we send it back? We waited for a good 45mins after we finished our starters for the mains and it was nearing 11pm.

Grouse, black pudding, chargrilled spring onions, glazed beets, bacon jus
My grouse turned out better; the skin looked a bit burnt and quite lifeless, bit it was beautifully crimson and rare nearer the bones. The lean muscles were powerful, packed with bloody gaminess. The black pudding croquette was pungent, slightly dry, and was awkward with the beets. Perhaps not as strong as the one I had at Pollen Street Social or Medlar, as the composition was thin on finesse, but good enough as a fix for this great game bird.

It was quite fiddly to eat - Given it was served as a whole bird, and it's rawness, a serrated blade knife would have helped breaking into the meat. 

It started off well at The Princess of Shoreditch, but I can't say they kept up with it with our entrees. Perhaps it was getting late and so the consistency began to dwindle a bit, both for execution and service. While the food was overall quite good, there is still some mileage to being great.

I'm still not too sure about these gastropubs: squeezing fine dining upstairs of a cozy, and decidedly noisy, pub; shaky wooden tables cramped closely together with flimsy metallic chairs; a seasonal but very traditional British menu. In my humble opinion, it feels a bit forced and East-London engineered. I didn't catch on with the Ten Bells craze 6 months ago, while I liked Princess d Shoreditch better, it still didn't do it for me. I just have to accept it - these upstairs kitchens aren't for me.

76-78 Paul Street
Tel: 0207 729 927

Princess of Shoreditch on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Ten BellsSt John Bread & WineBeagle

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Boulestin - Half-heartedly Half way

Boulestin used to be one of the most expensive restaurants in London with clientele from the high societies, and this was back in the 1920s. Xavier Marcel Boulestin brought French cuisines and its culinary culture to England. It was really the place to be and no doubt the place to be seen.

Joel Kissin did say he was not trying to recreate the restaurant, however with its Mayfair location, creamed walls and plush cushion chairs, there was still an air of poshness in this modern version of Boulestin.

Oeuf en Meurette

This is a classic country dish, I remember having this almost every Sunday during my days in isolated French villages, but not something I see very often on menus in London. It's basically poached egg in a red wine sauce. 

The egg was perfectly poached, floating in a reduced red wine sauce. The yolk spilled out to the sauce while the soft silky egg whites took on the flavours. Unlike what we had in France, it didn't have the saute mushrooms and bacon sprinkled on top with toasts on the side, but I was happy with what I was served. I only wish I had more bread to soak up the delicious concoction.

Sweet-cured herrings, potatoes, olive oil, dill
This wasn't really exciting. Compared to what I had in Moscow, this wasn't as good. This herring wasn't fatty enough, the sweetness was masked by the pickles - just generally uninteresting.

Grilled calves liver, pommes Lyonnaise
I was choosing between the roast rack of lamb and this, and the Maitre'd claimed the liver has received very positive reviews.

Apparently it was supposed to be served pink. Unfortunately this arrived cooked through, which means it was quite parched and grainy. Two large slabs of very dense liver, with a jus that I thought was a bit flat and too salty, plus overcooked potatoes, were hard to stomach. This was nowhere as good as the calve's liver I had at Galvin Bistro de Luxe.

Roast pigeon, girolles, lardons, kale
This was much better, the bird was cooked to a scarlet pink with soft and tender muscles. It was cooked very well to bring out the gamey taste of the pigeon. I thought the jus was very similar to what I had with my grilled liver, and as mentioned above, it lacked depth and didn't do much to support the meat.

We ordered spinach on the side - cold, bland and slack.

Overall I was disappointed. When the menu offers very classic French fare, and the restaurant is demanding £20-26 for a main course, I would expect the kitchen to have nailed the dishes with precise execution. It just felt very sloppy and uninteresting. Service wasn't great either; there was a long wait between our courses, and an even longer wait for our bill. Nonetheless it was a soft launch and so there were understandably hiccups and teething problems. I hope Boulestin will run more smoothly after its official opening, unfortunately it didn't show me enough to prompt another visit for me. I'd be heading to Brasserie Chavot for my fix of classic french fare.

5 St. James's Street
Tel: 0207 930 2030

Boulestin on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Brasserie ZedelLittle SocialBalthazar

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Brasserie Chavot - Timeless Classic

I wanted an authentic French dinner. While Zedel offered great value for money, I didn't think the quality of food was up to scratch, and Balthazar really is just a posher version of Zedel. I heard nice things about La Petite Maison, but the steak tartare at Brasserie Chavot was rated very highly by Skinnybib.

As one would expect from a Mayfair hotel, Chavot is quite up-market with chandeliers and red leather booths. The mosaic floor removed the sterility by adding a touch of timeless glamour and grandeur. Very elegant. The menu may appear uninspiring for those who expected modern French, as it offers the most classic, old-school French dishes. And this was exactly what I was craving.

Beef Carpaccio, pickled mushroom
I cornered Ana into opting for this over her original choice of the tartare. The dish was beautifully presented; wafer thin slices of deep crimson beef submerged in generous splurge of olive oil, scattered with pickled ceps, croutons, parmesan and artichoke. The melty texture of the carpaccio was faultless, and flavours, though mild, were balanced. It was a delicate ensemble.

Steak Tartare, capers and mustard dressing
The steak was chopped to a creamy smoothness, blended with a finely minced capers and shallots, mildy dressed with gentle acidity that gave an appetising zing without overpowering the delicacy of the dish. The beautiful quail egg topped it all off with roundness and depth. I think this was as close to Paris as it gets.

Rump of Oisin venison, honey glazed root vegetable
The venison was beautifully medium, succulent, tender and bursting with gamey flavours with precise seasoning. The honey sauce was subtly sweet; it supported the meat and was soaked up by the vegetables. It was a substantial and comforting dish.

Cote de porc, honey and mustard
The hunk of pork chop had a good rind of lard grilled to a crispy, charred edge. I know it's not one of the superfoods, but definitely one of my guilty pleasures - the release of nutty, piggy essence with each chew. The mustard sauce was addictive, the simple combination of honey sweetness and porky meatiness was spot on.

For desserts we moved over to Sketch (The Glade) for some sexier creations.

Brasserie Chavot won me over. It may not be the most stylish restaurants to be seen at, but it serves up authentic French classic dishes with utmost precision in execution. There is no gimmick to it, just pure quality. On the other hand, if you're looking for something with a bit of a twist and a bit of wow factor to churn conversation, Little Social would be a better option.

41 Conduit Street
Tel: 0207 183 6425

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Harwood Arms - British Comfort

Harwood Arms is the only London pub that was awarded a Michelin star. I have been wanting to visit for almost 2 years, but having moved out of Fulham, I hadn't found enough reason and motivation to make the trek. Seeing Mister gave me a free choice of restaurant for my birthday dinner - it's a good enough reason.

I was an hour late for dinner. The only comment Mister made was that he ate my bread. I don't even know what to say. The bread was definitely worth mentioning - especially the warm potato bread from Borough Market that was moist and dense with a crusty edge - delicious. 

Unlike any regular pub, the dining room at Harwood Arms was cosily adorned with a shabby chic, country-house feel; tables were well-spaced apart with a small pot of flowers and candle. There was a warm homely feel to the restaurant.

Venison scotch eggs
The signature venison scotch eggs (above) were simply gorgeous. 

Treacle cured smoked salmon with picked apple, whisky and watercress
I didn't know smoked salmon could taste so good. The thick slices of salmon with strips of fat were beautifully cured with treacle sweetness and a tone of fruity smokiness. It was just sweet enough to complement the smokiness without drowning the flavours from the fish. The salmon was bouncy but soft, with gentle crunches from the cucumber shavings. It was delightful.

Braised ox tongue in stout with picket onions, broken eggs and scallions
The wafer thin ox tongue almost started to dissolve away as I rolled it around my fork, it was smooth and rich, a bit like beef carpaccio but more savoury and flavoursome. The ox tongue was also presented as small cubes, giving more substance and some chew to the dish. The chopped eggs helped to neutralise the flavours and added a touch of jelly-bounce. It was a sophisticated combination.

Muggleswick Estate grouse with buttered greens, pressed potato and malt
This was served with a whisky shot mixed with tea topped with a bread sauce foam - absolutely delicious. 

The game bird was cooked to medium, and as expected, was succulent and tender. Instead of powerful bloodiness, this was relatively mellow with the meat juice and diluted with the greens hidden in the breast. There was less metallic tones from the rawness, but more comforting and autumn-like with the whiskey and malt. Loved it.

Slow cooked saddle of pork with turnips, young carrots and ale
Seeing there was no venison on the menu, I went with pork. The hunk of meat was barely holding its shape, quickly crumbling under the softest touch from the knife. The meat was interwoven with cartilage and a tad of nutty lard, so there were layers of textures from the denser lean meat, squidgy cartilage and soft, wobbly fat. I wasn't mad about the shavings of mushroom, carrots and turnip, thought the crunch almost spoilt the mouthfeel.

Frozen goat's curd with vanilla, strawberries and blueberries
The goat's curd wasn't too pungent, just enough with a weany, goaty kick, complimented well by the berries and broken meringue. It was a light and refreshing finish.

I loved The Harwoord Arms. It was undoubtedly one of the best meals I have had this year. The seemingly familiar ingredients were put into recipes with a little twist, giving a bit of surprise to the dish. The meat was fresh, cooking was precise, service was swift and personable - I couldn't fault it. Those upstair dining rooms in East London pubs are no match, not even close. It was a shame there was no venison on the menu on the day, but I would definitely go back to have a taste of their hunted wild game.

Walham Grove
Tel: 0207 386 1847

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Elliot's Cafe - Tops the Burger League

I was done with the burger chase, until this guy pinged me a burger league. Curiosity got the better of me and I was back in the game again. His personal recommendation was Mother Flipper, which ranks 3rd on the league. I have yet to make the trip to Brockley Market and so I decided to start from the top.

After we hopped off the plane from Moscow, waiting for the train to London Bridge, Elliot's Cafe in the Borough Market was the natural choice for lunch. And after 3 days of dumplings and pancakes, my stomach was totally juiced up for a good burger.

Instead of a burger each, we settled for sharing one so we can try out other dishes. EC is proud of the bread they serve and rightly so.

Cheese burger & fried potatoes
The patty was absolutely perfect - thick and chunky, stunningly medium rare with a smooth mouth feel; just enough fat content to keep the patty glistening with meat juice, but doesn't compromise its beefy flavours. I think this even beats my favourite Patty & Bun by the thinnest margin, it's less greasy, still juicy and more meaty in terms of taste. Hmm....

Together with the smoothering of comte cheese that had a sweet finish, the toasted light, fluffy bun with a seedy bite, the brush of olive oil and caramelised onions, it makes a very fine burger. 

Crab, fennel and chilli
Plenty of crab meat mingled with crab roe and drizzled with olive oil. The crab was fresh and oozing with sweet seafood juice; umami from the roe added depth and roundness. Chilli was very subtle, which didn't bother me as I thought it was already beautiful, but Mister probably chose this because of the word 'chilli'.

The fennel salad complimented the heap of crab meat well, keeping its light and refreshing touch with its gentle pungency and a good crunch.

Venison, berries & chicory
After a 10/10 burger and a pile of fresh succulent crab meat, this dish was inevitably less exciting. Nonetheless the meat was well-cooked, paired nicely with the fruity citrus from the berries. The rest felt quite busy; the crushed nuts and crispy leaves of chicory over shadowed the smooth venison slices. It couldn't probably do with a touch more dressing and olive oil drizzle to moist it up, especially for the meat.

Does Elliot's Cafe live up to its reputation of ranking top of Burgaffair league? I have to agree. From bun to patty to toppings, everything was so perfectly put together, even the fried potatoes on the side were super fluffy with the crispiest edge. I have to admit Elliot's patty beats my beloved Patty & Bun in terms of a more balanced fat content; beats Honest burger in terms of texture; beats Lucky Chip in terms of structure. It's pretty invincible.

Unlike the other specialist burger joints, the more diversified menu and its proper restaurant setting makes it a venue for a proper meal, AND it takes reservations. It's worth noting the burger is not on the evening menu, though.

12 Stoney Street
Tel: 0207 403 7436

Elliot's Cafe on Urbanspoon

You may also like: MEATliquorZuccaBorough Market