Monday, 25 August 2014

Pizza Pilgrim Pizzeria & Frigittoria – Neapolitan Expansion

I wasn’t sure where to have dinner with Lee on a Monday night, and then Pizza Pilgrim 2 soft launch popped up on Twitter. Perfect – good pizza and 50% off food too.

We got there early-ish, 6:15pm and it was a short 15min wait. Like the Pizza Pilgrim on Dean Street, the centrepiece was the massive oven, and there were tables in green chequered tablecloth. We started with a carafe of Prosecco on tap to share and some nibbles to check out the Frigittoria part of the new gig.

Carciofi Fritti – Deep fried artichoke hearts with rosemary salt
Simple stuff well made. The artichokes had a crispy edge and were bursting with juice as I bit into them. Good seasoning and incredibly moreish.

Arancini Rosso – tomato risotto balls with smoked mozzarella
There were 3 deep-fried arancini balls per portion. The deep-frying was done very well, the shell was crispy and almost grease-free, encasing the soft, creamy risotto with tomato and half-melted mozzarella in the centre. The flavours and textures were sensational, I could have smashed a few more if they weren’t so filling. These would have been even better if the cheese had melted fully and the risotto less mushy, but still pretty darn awesome.

Aubergine Parmagiana Fior di latte, roast aubergine, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, garlic
I didn’t get to taste the plum tomato passata last time when I had the Portobello mushroom & Truffle Oil pizza at the Dean Street shop, so we picked one of each this time.

We were slightly disappointed by how little aubergine there were on the pizza, could have been more generous to help spreading that flavour around. The tomato sauce was gorgeous, mildly tangy but mostly refreshing sweet, mixed well with the smooth and milky mozzarella. The sourdough base was as good as I remembered it to be, moist and chewy with a gently charred, crispy edge. It was an honest and simple pizza with great ingredients, nothing tricky or gimmicky, just pure authenticity.

Carbonara Bianca base, roasted pancetta, fior di latte, parmesan, pecorino, black pepper & an egg yolk
I think we both agreed this was the better pizza. The white base pizza was cheesy-rich and indulgent, with the right amount creaminess from mozzarella and nutty pecorino, topped with a sprinkle of crispy and savoury pancetta and a runny yolk – it was a tried and tested combination of flavours done very well.

Nutella Ring
As if we didn’t have enough pizza, we decided to finish off with a chocolate filled pizza ring. We also ordered some hazelnut ice cream from Gelupo to mix with the warm Nutella doughy bread… winner.

Pizza Pilgrim 2 really stuck to their stuff of making traditional Neapolitan sourdough pizza, using quality ingredients in and around Naples. I prefer the space in Kingly Court compared to the basement seating in Dean Street, and there are more to sample with the Frigittoria, but the two joints are equally good. I’ll be coming back for the deep-fried calzone.

11 Kingly Street
Tel: 0207 287 2200

Pizza Pilgrim Pizzeria & Frigittoria on Urbanspoon
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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
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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
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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Big Easy - Big Sloppy

7 years ago we went to Big Easy on Kings Road and absolutely hated it. The lobsters were frozen, the fries were soggy, most of the food turned up lukewarm and the place was a trashy dump. For some obscure reason, 7 years later when Big Easy decided to open shop in Covent Garden, I got excited enough to accept the table for 10:30pm on a Friday night.

The only positive thing of this dinner was that my date wasn’t late this time. From that point on, the series of wreckage began: first we were shown to the table next to the live band, or more accurately, next to the drums. There was no hope of conversation, not without someone getting stabbed anyway. After 15mins of waving at the sparse number of staff, we were finally moved to a table nearer the bar, next to Mr Homer Simpson that wouldn’t stop wolf-whistling at any tune that the band put together. Grrrr.

After more waving, I asked for a Calle 23 100% agave white Tequila with Watermelon juice. Apparently the juice was freshly pressed at the bar – ah yea, maybe freshly pressed a couple of weeks ago, and it should have said the ‘juice’ was mixed with lots of water. In short, it was gross. The chocolate milkshake was easier to stomach, but nothing worth writing home about.

Crispy Calamari with Tartar sauce
At this point, it was way past 11pm and we were starving. The calamari was good, a well-seasoned batter with pieces of squid that was full of bounce. Could have been better though; the batter had fallen off to leave large lumps of deep-fried dough; some pieces had more batter than squid, but overall good.

Chilled Atlantic Crab Claws with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
These were downright awful. The 5 claws arrived clinging onto the edge of an ice bucket, uncracked on the shells and frozen to absolute lifelessness. We had to ask for the tools to break into the meat, which became shreds of defrosted mass with as much flavour as a melting ice cube. The sickly sweet dip was pure honey no mustard, which would have made no sense with any seafood. But given the claws had no taste to them, it didn’t matter. Simply not worth the effort. 

Deep fried Voodoo Shrimp with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
We decided to add this to our order after our waitress said this was her favourite. And damn right this was possibly the best of the worst, well, at the time anyway (first thing the following morning, I was told even this shrimp basket wasn’t that great). The large (frozen) prawns were deep fried in a thin batter, remarkably fleshy and crunchy, brought about great satisfaction. Personally I liked the blue cheese dip, but the tartar sauce from the calamari worked too.

Lobster Bake

Half ½ pound Lobster, Peel n Eat Jumbo Shrimp, Mussels, Crab Claws & New Potatoes, Garlic White Wine Sauce
This was an epic failure. It looked so good, too deceivingly good. I started with the jumbo shrimp, coated with generous seasoning and fragrant white wine sauce on the shell, only to find the flesh mushy to the core. I think they left the prawns in water for too long before cooking. The lobster was rubbery and sinewy, all the sweet shellfish juice had been drained from the overcooking, leaving the muscles curled up and shrunken. Mussels were no better, the once-plump morsel shrivelled in the shell and parched from the excessive baking, chewy and unpleasant. We decided not to battle with the crab claws after the starters.

The dish was largely left untouched. We pointed out the flaws to the manager. He was apologetic and took 50% off the dish. While the gesture was appreciated, this kind of standard for a restaurant that calls itself “crabshack” is still unacceptable.

Dry-Rubbed St Louis Pork Ribs (6hrs)
No, it wasn’t just the seafood, the bbq meat was no better. I can only assumed the barbeque ribs were smoked for 6 hours, and it surely looked that way. The slab of meat arrived looking dry as a rock and black as charcoal. The actual ribs weren’t terrible, the meat was easily torn from the bone, though I have had much juicier ones elsewhere. The rub was too salty and that goddamn bbq sauce on the side was an unnecessary overkill. My tastebuds were numbed by the heat and the combination of over-seasoned meat and chilli attack just wasn’t doing it for me. The ribs were also left largely untouched.

Service was dire from start to finish; we were ignored by the receptionists because they were too busy gossiping; given only empty glasses because they forgot our water; constantly signalling for attention as the staff ran pass our table. The manager apologetically explained 4 waiting staff called in sick. I could only be sympathetic to an extent; customers shouldn’t suffer as a result – if you can’t handle a full house, then don’t open up the whole restaurant. Judging from the food, I could only assume half the kitchen didn’t turn up for work either. The meal was a car crash – quality of seafood was poor, recipe was crude and cooking was slack. I was right 7 years ago; Big Easy is still sloppy.

I’ll give you the hot tip: Stick to Burger & Lobster.

12 Maiden Lane
Tel: 0203 728 4888

Big Easy on Urbanspoon
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