Sunday, 25 May 2014

Lyle's - The New Brit in Shoreditch

Lyle's took over the Tea Building gallery space next to Pizza East a few weeks back. It has been one of the hotter openings as James Lowe from the Young Turks goes solo since the Upstairs series.  I have held off from the Clove Club because Ten Bells and I didn't quite click, but I had a good feeling about Lyle's. 

The dining room was quite stripped back with school chairs, polished concrete and painted-over brick walls, plus an open kitchen to warm up the space; it reminded me of St John Bread & Wine only with much more space. Since it's a set menu of 8 dishes for £39, we didn't have to ponder over the menu. We kicked off with a bottle of Hungarian red, which I shan't comment, and some crusty bread. 

Smoked Eel & Horseradish 
A couple of nibbles to kick off our meal. The small fillet of fish was plump and fatty, with plenty of fish oils to give it lovely flavours. Interestingly we all thought the fish reminded us of mackerel, probably due to its strong fishiness, which I really enjoy. The horseradish gave a good punch to the subtle smoke, almost like a British take on Japanese pickled mackerel sushi. 

Blood Cake & Damson 
Another nibble with black pudding. The distinctive pungency from pigs blood was very subdued as the flavours were quickly replaced by the mild fruity acidity from the plum juice. The combination was bold and refreshing - strong start. 

Asparagus & Walnut Mayonnaise 
I'm not too much of an asparagus fan. Not because I don't like the precious, seasonal vegetable, just that I haven't learnt to appreciate it as much as the others do. Restaurants somehow get away with just pan-frying, or worse, blanching them, yet everyone loves it. Maybe I haven't come across really good ones, but right now, meh.  The walnut mayonnaise was stripped off its bitterness and left with a mild nutty fragrance, which went very well with the crunchy asparagus. Overall though, as a dish, I wasn't excited. 

Turbot Broth & Sea Beet 
This was easily my favourite dish of the evening. The thin strip of turbot was perfectly cooked to its softest, slithery form, and broke into slices with a gentle poke from the spoon. The broth was not dissimilar to clam miso soup, perhaps marginally over-seasoned as it got too salty towards to the end; it would have been even better with a clearer soup for the turbot to come through. 

New Season Onions, Ramson & Yoghurt 
Hmm... I still haven't made up my mind about having just onions on a plate as a course, even as an interim. I thought the onion dish at Story was beautiful, more because it was served with a gin broth that made me a bit light-headed; the one at Dabbous was okay, again with a clean broth. This... perhaps like asparagus, I just don't understand. It was pan-fried spring onions and onions with a smear of yoghurt. Yea okay I'd eat it, but is it supposed to be an exquisite dish? 

Mutton, Anchovy & Spinach 
Despite its popularity, I didn't enjoy Upstairs at Ten Bells much which is why I haven't been to the Clove Club yet. The roast lamb I had back at Ten Bells was a big disappointment, sadly this mutton chop was no better. I don't usually mind the rind of fat, as I think the grease gives much of the flavour, but it could do with a lot more grilling to bring to flavours out. Afterall a thick strip of lukewarm opaque fat was hardly appetising. It wasn't a bad piece of meat, just under-prepared. The anchovy sauce didn't work as it overpowered the relatively meek chop, and there was nothing pleasant about chewing a mouthful of anchovy. 

Baked Riseley & Chegworth Leaves 
I enjoyed this cheese course, it was creamy and stretchy, more savoury and flavoursome than the usual mellow Camembert. 

Rhubarb & Custard 

I have mixed feelings about Lyle's. I found the food significantly more enjoyable than Ten Bells, definitely more creative with finer execution, but I'm still not convinced. There were a couple of courses that I thought were very good,  not great enough to etch into my memory but still strong, and a few others that I felt impartial or just downright baffled about. Perhaps I thought it was trying too hard with the trendy ingredients and fixed multi-course menu; perhaps I simply haven't learnt to appreciate modern British cuisine. Either way, I believe it's time that the Young Turks and I recognise our differences and part ways. 

Tea Building 
56 Shoreditch High Street 
E1 6JJ 
Tel: 0203 011 5911

Friday, 16 May 2014

Foxlow - the real Beast

Foxlow has done very well in growing our of the Hawksmoor shadow. Initially I was a bit confused by the menu, it clings onto its roots by offering steak, then people were talking about their ribs, as well as really good salads. Is it possible to specialise in everything? 

We started off with some cocktails. My Miami Dolphin was deliciously syrupy; St John's cocktail was much mellower and balanced, but the Sanlucar Fizz was decidedly odd. Instead of sharing some starters, we went for some light bites to save space for the meat feast to follow. 

Anchovy & Goat's Butter Crisps
The combination of goats cheese and anchovy was surprisingly pleasant, neither were too intrusive and the creamy textures of the cheese helped to stretch the flavours and got my palate going. 

Mama Ghanouj & Sourdough
It must be a middle eastern dip. It was much lighter and moister than hummus, We were told that it was made from courgettes as opposed to squash. I liked it, didn't fall in love with it. 

Eight Hour Bacon Rib with Maple & Chilli
This was simply brilliant. The sturdy rib held its structure firmly despite the slow-cooking, but we could slice through it like a hot knife through butter. The meat retained its succulence and its smokiness, which came through the thick barbecue glaze and was packed with meaty flavours. The grilled pineapple was the perfect touch to round off the savoury rib.

Ten Hour Beef Shortrib with Kmichi
This was probably the low-light of the evening; not because it wasn't good, more because the other dishes were so much more exciting.

The meat was very tender, so much so that when James tried to separate the hunk of rib into 5 portions, it kind of reduced to a mass pile of pulled meat. I think the meat was well-seasined, but possibly a tiny weeny bit drier than anticipated because it's relatively lean. I doused it with the more watery peppercorn sauce and it was better, just not mind-blowing.

Deckle medium rare
Deckle is also known as the ribeye cap; that's the meat around the eye of the rib-bone, which could be a long strip of muscle once trimmed from the bone. It may not look beautiful, but it has the tenderness of tenderloin and the flavours from the rib-eye. The meat was incredibly soft, although it wasn't quite like wagyu where the meat melts away to leave strong bovine fragrance, it was still fatty and marbled, so it was like chewing on marshmallow and the muscles just kept oozing meat juice. This steak alone is strong enough to pull me back to Foxlow. How come Hawksmoor doesn't do it? 

Rib Fillet medium rare

I shouldn't down-play the rib-fillet, for it was still very much up there with some of the finer steakhouses in town. The steak was rich in beefy grease, beautifully seared on seal its concentrated meat juice and so rich in flavours. Unfortunately when we had it next to the deckle, it was losing out on the limelight. 

Iberico Pork 'Pluma' served medium
Just as we thought the deckle cut was pretty unbeatable, the 'pluma' gave us another perk. At first I thought the pork was looking a tad dry, but boy I couldn't have been more wrong. The charred edges gave a powerful smoky essence, and locked in all the piggy goodness. As expected the pork was delicate in texture, balanced in fat and bursting with flavours.  We have tasted a fair number of Iberica pluma dishes, and this one comes top, hands down (even beats Nuno Mendes' *gasp*). 

Skin-on Fries with chicken salt
The fries with chicken salt deserves a special mention too as they were addictive together with chicken salt. That said after a while it began to taste too similar to chicken stock cube, which is arguably the same thing. 

Sausage-stuffed onion
I thought the sausage-stuffed onion sounded intriguing. Sadly it was literally sausage meat plonked into an onion and drowned in a thick gravy. Not that it had anything wrong with presenting what's written on the tin, but the sausage was too lean and bland, together with the mushy onion and the pool of gravy... just really looked like it came out of a tin. 

We didn't stay for dessert, no one had space for it. Instead we popped next door to Giant Robot where the extensive list of cocktails kept flowing through to midnight. 

Foxlow is absolutely fantastic - personally I think it beats its giant sister Hawksmoor. I like the diversity of the menu without losing focus of delivering top-quality steak. The dishes are straight forward and it's simply solid cooking and top quality meats.  I can't wait to come back - Foxlow has officially became my favourite meat joint. 

69-73 St John Street 
Foxlow on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Zoilo,  Smokehouse, Bread Street Kitchen

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Stripped Back Strikes Twice

 Another great meal with Chef Ben Spalding at Stripped Back. 

Last year Mary-Ann and I went to the setup at Street Feast. This time I wanted to treat Mister to this unusual dining experience. I won't be describing each course in detail, as this more or less takes the surprise element out of the menu, but in short - it's freaking brilliant. It was on a completely different level to the Stripped Back Iast year. 


The spiced popcorn with caramel with a sprinkle of pork cracking was very moreish; there was an addictive subtle smokiness aftertaste. 

A very clever contrast between the tom yum paste and the cool lettuce.

This was one of the highlights of the evening. I loved it, such a bold move with the nutella and truffle, but also beautifully balanced and delicate.

Piggy Piggy

After some beetroot granita to refresh our palate, we were offered candied pork floss and sweet cured pork belly with maple syrup. I think it was so good, I reached out for the last piece before Mister had a chance to object. Again, careful control of flavours throughout a very complex process and the result was fantastic.

Beans, Beans, Beans
Carl really played it down by calling it baked beans, but it was a lot more than that. A good mixture of lentils to give various textures and mouthfeel, mixed with a slight sweet but mostly savoury paste... hmmm...

I think this was my second favourite dish of the evening The tuna was blended into a mousse form, so light and airy but concentrated with fishy essence and a tad of fish sauce; lifted by the crunch from baby gems and toasted rice crispies. Just clever stuff.

Beef Broth
After a horseradish / wasabi granita, we had this thick, wholesome broth with a handful of bouncy noodles and veg. We were told to slurp, and boy did Mister slurp up the entire bowl.

White Chocolate
The white chocolate mousse was marshmallow-like with ginger chutney and mango cubes - a very light dessert with a safe combination of exotic fruits.


Cleanser: Goldenberry granita and grapefruit granita

Thank you Ben, Carl and Alex for a great meal. We thoroughly enjoyed it - will see you guys again at No Rules and looking forward to 2-minutes!

Stripped Back
(Varying Locations)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sketch Again. The Lecture Room

Brought my folks there for some pretentious lunch. I’m keeping this short; already wrote too much about our love at first sight during my first visit. Don’t want to get too emotional…

Dried Mushrooms / Apple Sorbet with Tandoori
This was weird. Like 50% pleasantly weird and 50% pure oddity. First met the tongue was coldness, and then the familiar apple sweetness but that quickly vanished as it was taken over by another familiar savoury something, followed by pure mushroom air. Finally ended up with spices that left a trail of heat. None of the flavours described above merged; they distinctive came and went one after another. Can’t it was delicious, but definitely interesting. Dad looked very confused.

Marinated Mackerel / Avocado / Grapefruit / Crunchy Rice
Ah my favourite fish, melted amidst the thin slices of ripen avocado for mega richness, contrasted by sprinkles of spiced crunchy rice. I left the grapefruit blob on the side, didn’t like the bitterness that clashed with the ultra fishy mackerel.

Poached Quail Egg / Garlic Puree / Croutons / Dried Black Olives
Yes – just as good as last time.

Foie Gras / Pickled Cherries / Chocolate / Pane Carasau
And yes – just as good as last time.

Roast Organic Salmon / Nettle and Watercress Cream / Razor Clams with Pearl Barley
And the little cubes of salmon were so good; mostly raw in the middle, just lightly but evenly seared on all sides. The balance between the silken texture in the middle and the fishy flavours brought out by the searing was spot on. The chewy pearl barley absorbed the oceanic goodness from razor clams, oozing with flavours…

Braised Beef Cheeks with Red Wine / Radicchio / Roasted Salsify / Sautéed Calamari
I only tried a small mouthful; this black, rock-lookalike was deceivingly tender and succulent, wedged with semi-solid softened tendons.

Cabbage Parcel with Cabbage Cream / Chestnut Soup with Green Curry / Jerusalem Artichoke and Greek Yoghurt / Pomegranate / Pineapple and Aquavit Vodka Sorbet
This didn’t quite rock my boat, probably because it was lacking an element of surprise. The cabbage cream was exactly that, dense, velvety cream of cabbage; and chestnut soup a lot of crumbled chestnuts. Though possibly the best chestnuts we could find, it was just chestnuts. That said the sorbet on the side was an absolute delight, refreshing with various mild citruses layered one after another.

Pierre Gagnaire Dessert
Lemon and Lime Mousse
I never thought I’d say this, but this was unbelievably terrible. The pale green gel around the mousse looked like fairy liquid, and tasted like fairy liquid with concentrated lime juice. The mousse itself was face-twitchingly sour and together with the fairy liquid they'd make the next gastro-weapon. The only bit of the dessert that contained sugar was the thin lace of wafer sitting on top of the mousse, and trust me it wasn’t nearly enough to sweet things up.

But this was fine. The ice cream centre was delicious with the light chocolate mousse.
The disaster with one of the desserts aside, I do love this place…

Sketch - Lecture Room & Library

9 Conduit Street
Tel: 0207 659 4500

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