Monday, 19 December 2016

Clipstone - No-Brainer


Originally I wanted to try Portland but he has already been earlier this year, so I booked for newer sister Clipstone. I didn’t know what to expect, but reviews have been mostly positive.

The compact dining room was casual with a warm buzz; the open kitchen was sending out waves of mouth-watering perfume as we were seated at the window counter. Our server explained the menu was designed for sharing, so 2 or 3 dishes each should be enough. I started with a light and fruity Cherubino, one of the very wallet-friendly on-tap options, and he with a Chateau Pesquie, probably too acidic for his taste.

Isle of Mull Scallops, puy lentils, brown butter & dill
The scallops were gignormous; easily 3cm thick. The muscular scallops were just cooked to retain its bounce and succulence, showing off its sweet juices and freshness. I secretly wished it could be a tiny bit undercooked, so the centre would be more creamy. I remain undecided as to whether lentils go particularly well with scallops, but the brown butter sauce and lentil combination was definitely a winner.

Delica pumpkin, apricot, herbs & crème fraiche
The squashy wedges of pumpkin were topped with chopped tangy apricots. The morsels of fruit bursted with refreshingly citrusy juice that balanced well with the pumpkin sweetness, harmonised by small blobs of sour cream. The roasted herbs added a beautiful finishing touch for a wholesome after taste.

Calves brain meuniere on toast

Having seen this as one of the top 10 dishes in 2016 in Timeout, I had to give it a try.

The brain was wobbly soft and silky, not dissimilar to a thick block of Japanese tofu, perhaps just with slightly higher density. Its milkiness mixed with the rich bovine gravy that had a gelatinous finish was absolutely delicious. I loved it.

Our waitress explained this dish divides people - It's all in the head (pun intended). He struggled with the idea and was visibly reluctant to put the brain-loaded toast into his mouth.  The fact he had to convince his own brain that it was tofu to stomach it wasn't worth the effort.

Pheasant, chanterelles, chestnut & cranberry

We were offered pheasant or Guinea fowl, we opted for pheasant as it's more gamey. The meat was perfectly roasted to gentle softness, but extremely powerful in flavour, even mildly metallic, paired with earthy and aromatic girolles mushroom and rounded by a savoury meaty jus. It was one of the best winter dishes this year.

Hebridean Lamb, artichokes, parsley root & shiso
The lamb was sensational. The meat was blanketed with a layer of fat that gave it a distinctive fragrance. It was roasted to a beautiful medium pink, glistening in its juice and melted grease, remarkably tender as if it was lamb marshmallow.  The confit on the side was almost as impressive,  packed with meaty essence from the leaner cuts, paired with a velvety parsnip root purée, which was clean and mildly sweet like celeriac. It was a delicately balanced dish.

Paris Brest
We knew the Paris Brest wouldn't be as good as the one from Les Reves de Patisserie, but it didn't disappoint either. The choux pastry was slightly doughy and lacked a brittle crisp shell, but the thick layer of hazelnut ganache made up for any shortcomings of the pastry; it was airily smooth and oozed nutty perfume. Great finish.

We thoroughly enjoyed Clipstone, so much so that he said he'd happily eat here every week (though he quickly backtracked to every month), minus the brain on toast. The dishes were thoughtfully composed with a wide range of ingredients, all beautifully balanced. We agreed it was one of the best restaurants in 2016.

5 Clipstone Street
London
W1W 6BB
Tel: 0207 637 0871


Clipstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Honey & Smoke - All about Mezze

We were fans of Honey & Co and so were naturally keen to check out Honey & Smoke when they finally decided to expand. 

The decor was frankly strange. The plastic table and chairs, shallow alcoves along the wall and strange rail lighting that lit half the room with bright spotlights while keeping the other half in the shadow - there was little ambience to speak of. It reminded me of a student hall common room or the dining area of a very average European hostel, one without much character. Though much more spacious than the cosy Honey & Co, this space didn’t look or feel like a restaurant.

Moroccan Sourdough, olives from Kalamata, Pickles, vegetables & Greek olive oil
The only thing he eats on this nibble platter is olive oil with the bread, which he enjoyed – possibly because he did a 15min dash and was happy to munch on anything. The pickles and olives were nothing special, not sure if we needed it.

Share of all Mezze:
Charred blush pears, almond tahini, raw honey
This was delicious, one of my favourites along with the burnt celeriac. The wedges of pear were sweet, juicy and crunchy with gently charred skin for some smokiness, paired beautifully with the subtly nutty, velvety tahini. Luxuriously rich without the guilt. 

Warm goats cheese, red onion, walnut & pomegranates (left) & Falafel, tahini (right)
The soft goats cheese was reined in by the caramelised onions, which wasn’t particularly sweet; the familiar combination of flavours were challenged by the slightly crushed bitter walnut and sprinkles of pomegranates, giving a little twist to the mix. The falafels were alright, not worth writing home about.

Cauliflower florets with homemade amba & tahini (right) & Msabaha – chickpeas cooked overnight, Turkish pepper & garlic sauce (left)
The tender cauliflower florets were delicious with mango jam, fruity and tangy, neutralised by the omnipresent tahini. We weren’t mad about the chickpeas though; I don’t usually like peas anyway, and the spices came out slightly flat – reminded me of a heartless daal.

Beetroot baked in ashes, citrus and mint (right) & Burnt celeriac, urfa chilli butter, sour cream & chives (centre)
The beetroot was a hit and miss; the sweet juicy beets were earthy and moreish, but the grapefruits were less enticing. We occasionally stumbled upon a bitterly sour chunk of grapefruit, which made our eyes water a little. The soft discs of celeriac were subtly fragrant and nutty, brought out the luscious richness of the buttery cream, quite simply delightful.

Baba ganoush – burnt aubergine dip, seeded lavoush

Just like Honey & Co, the mezze were mostly excellent. I may even say they are even better here at Honey & Smoke – more sophisticated and more flavoursome.

Hamama pigeon with sweet onion, pine nuts & sultanas, as they do in ‘Philadelphia’ restaurant, East Jerusalem
When taking our orders, our server checked with us that we were okay with the pigeon served rare or very pink. Yep - how they should be. Unfortunately it arrived parched and burnt. There was very little pink left when we cut open the bird, it was mostly cooked through with no juice left. The burntness gave the skin an unpleasant bitterness, mixed with the charcoal-ed spices, leaving a horrible taste in mouth that not even the sultana could overcome.

We were disappointed and provided feedback to our server that we didn't enjoy the pigeon. The manager was truly apologetic and offered to take the pigeon off the bill. 

Lamb Chops in tahini BBQ sauce & charred plums
The lamb chops were much better, cooked through but the meat retained its juices with a slightly charred rind of fat. The marinade could have been stronger though, the flavours were drowned by the sweet and tangy fruit.

Sweet potatoes, Lebanese zaatar and lemon (front) & M’jadra, lentil rice with cumin and caramelised onions (back)
The sides were not too interesting, just a baked sweet potato with a drizzle of lemon and sprinkle of herbs. The lentil and rice mixture was laced with plenty of pungent cumin, a tad too strong for my liking.

Feta & Honey cheese cake on a kadaif base
This dessert alone is a good reason to come back to Honey & Smoke. This is like a deconstructed knafeh - crispy thin vermicelli noodle base soaked with honey, topped with soft creamy cheese. So simple yet so good.

Warm chestnut cake with salt caramel and sour cream
The chestnut in the cake was barely noticeable, very moist and soft. The viscous caramel worked well with the dollop of sour cream.

I had mixed feelings for Honey & Smoke. Despite the incredibly delectable mezze starters, the mains were less accomplished as Honey & Co, the control on the grill could have been better and the flavours could have been more exciting. Not to mention the lacklustre decor and ambience. Think we'll stick to Honey & Co.

216 Great Portland Street
London
W1W 5NN
Tel: 0207 388 6175

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Frog is no Prince

We hadn't plan for a date night; seeing it was an impulsive date, options were limited. The Frog was one of the hotter restaurants in the East and they have availability on a Friday night (They need credit card details to make a reservation, clearly this puts people off - Londoners have commitment issues).

We were seated in the extended atrium - if one could call it that - lit by some uncomfortable red lights. Our table was up against the full length window of the main dining room, which meant it was almost like sharing a table with the people inside; we'd be rubbing shoulders if it wasn't for the window. 

We asked our  server for recommendations, she launched into an explanation of how the plates were designed for sharing, and that we should go for the tasting menu. So we asked again... As if to punish me for asking, she began reading out each item on the menu in a jumbled order, testing my literacy. 'Hmmm... Bread, chicken butter is bread served with butter that tastes like chicken... Potato, hummus, truffle is new... Chicken, sweetcorn, curry is like a chicken curry...' Thanks. We sat through the full recital. 

The snacks started off well.

Cheese, Doughnut, Summer Truffle
The cheese doughnuts reminded me of deep-fried custard buns in dim sum restaurants, just a savoury version; a crusty shell enveloping an airy bun, filled with melty Gruyere cheese, sprinkled with Parmesan and truffle shavings. Absolutely divine and we could see why they had to put it on the menu twice.

Beer, Beef, Chilli
The crackers were smeared with a layer of raw beef minced with chopped chillies, which were more like a playful poke as opposed to a powerful spicy kick. The smooth tartare went well with the brittle base, we both enjoyed it being something different. We couldn't tell where the beer had gone, probably in the crackers.

Burnt Tenderstem Broccoli, Verbana, Salt-Fried Egg
The broccoli was sold under 'garden'. It's a side. And at £8 for 6 pieces of broccoli with a fried egg, it's outrageous. It's broccoli!

BBQ Veal Tartare, Chilli, Garden Herbs
The egg yolk looks massive right? No, there just wasn't much tartare. It was a regular-sized yolk with a thin stretch of dressed tartare around it. The veal was finely chopped, too smooth and too mild for my taste, I prefer more bounce and more powerful flavours from beef. The BBQ was lost on me.

BBQ Octopus, Potato Skin, Black Garlic, Sour Cream
It looked like the kitchen had to spread every single ingredient out to mask how little food there was on the plate - where there was too much blank space, it was dusted with black garlic powder. For £17 we only got a short octopus tentacle and a half, scattered with morsels of potatoes (mostly skin) and droplets of garlic aioli. The octopus was good, bouncy but soft with some char for smokiness, and worked well with the sour cream and purée globules, just needed more substance.

Kid Goat, Ponzu, Shallots, Grains
The kid goat was very disappointing. The meat was slow-cooked and shaped into a roulade, topped with crispy fried shallots. It was terribly overseasoned; one side was much worse than the other, as I was biting into large crystals of sea salt. Even on the side that was not studded with a salt crust, the thick gravy was too strong and it killed the goat. The ragu mixed with grains was quite enjoyable with the it's forkful, then I was reaching for water again. There is a distinctive difference between intense meaty flavours and just downright salty, this was no doubt the latter. The portion was fine though.

Burnt Honey, Malted Ice Cream, Lemon
It was alright, the ice cream tasted much like vanilla, especially with the thick sickeningly sweet paste of 'burnt honey' curd on the side. 

The menu was confusing. We were told that it was designed for sharing and so they recommend 3 or 4 dishes per person, and like a tapas restaurant, it was split into fish, meat and vegetables sections. But then within each category, some dishes were intended to be a starter portion.

Looks like the chefs couldn't decide their serving style; the menu was not big enough to warrant a tasting menu option, but they wanted each table to order more to jack up the bill, as they couldn't just increase the prices for each item when diners were basically sitting in an extension into a car park...

Service was atrocious. As well as their lack of knowledge in the menu. Staff don't use trays for drinks - I'm okay with that. But the lady held my wine with the bowl of the glass in her palm - that, I don't like. It's not mulled wine, it doesn't need warming up.

The other guys standing round the place were more like bouncers than serving staff, carried an accusatory tone when clearing the plate. It was nice when the chefs brought the dishes out themselves, though they don't say any more than what it does on the menu.

We finished our evening with some Orange Buffalo Wings from the food truck park. For some real food.

Definitely not coming back to The Frog.

2 Ely's Yard
Old Truman Brewery
Hanbury Street
E1 6QR
Tel: +44 203 813 9832

The Frog Restauarant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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