Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Spuntino - Rupert St W1

Last night I checked out Spuntino, Soho restaurant du-jour and latest offering from Russell Norman of Polpo and Polpetto fame. I was dining with one of my favourite bloggers, Gourmet Chick and we also got a visit from the equally fab Greedy Diva. To cap off the London blogger presence, the LondonFoodie was also in attendance! So there I was, surrounded by the cream of London food bloggers, in the super funky surroundings of a buzzy, totally "of the moment" eatery, being served delicious morsels (more on that shortly) - I felt very content and very "London". I couldn't remember what had been in this space before Spuntino but apparently it was a Tandoori restaurant, with the associated decor - but underneath the false walls was amazing tile-work and mosaics, possibly from a butcher's shop (Gourmet Chick and I had speculated either that or a public toilet, but in a good way...). Anyway it looks amazing, particularly in combination with the pressed metal ceiling and low lighting. There is a no bookings policy and that, along with the buzz on this place made for quite a crowded and somewhat chaotic environment, with most people seated around a U-shaped bar and I did spend a large part of the night with an elbow shoved in my kidneys (I shall not name and shame you here semi-famous female journo, but you know who you are...). But in a way that all added to the fun of Spuntino - not somewhere for a quiet  dinner or even somewhere you can really manage with more than 2 or 3 people, but definitely somewhere to come with a fun drinking and eating buddy (thanks GC you filled both roles admirably) when you're in the mood for a rock 'n roll nosh-up. So - the food. This was posh comfort food, all done well and all with an element of fun and irreverence. We started with the complimentary paprika popcorn and moved swiftly through egg and soldiers (tasty) ground beef & marrow and lamb & pickled cucumber sliders - otherwise known as mini burgers (delicious) and a salad of beets, salted ricotta and pistachio (our attempt to introduce something vaguely healthy, this was nice but unremarkable). Having washed all this down with a carafe of rose and then two of red wine (hic), we prepared ourselves for the richest of our dishes - truffled egg toast. Man this was good, but seriously unhealthy! It's kinda hard to describe and I almost feel like it was slightly narcotic, because when I try to focus on what it looked like or tasted like, a voice in my head just starts saying "mmmm cheese" over and over again, so that probably tells you something...  Determined to also try the much lauded mac 'n cheese, we loosened our belts and managed to make it two thirds of the way through a creamy, savoury bowl of macaroni goodness, with some eggplant chips and fennel yogurt thrown in for good measure. And yes, we did have dessert - who could resist a Nutella pizzetta? Not us! It was sensational.  We had a lovely waiter called Ahmed (you can check him out on Gourmet Chick's review) - which is always a plus.  So my advice - get there early and I mean early people (we got there at 6.20pm and had to wait around 20 minutes for a seat) and definitely try the super trippy truffled egg toast.  (P.S. Thanks GC for the use of the photo!)

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hanway Street - W1

I feel the need to blog about Hanway St because I have a fear that it is changing, particularly as there is some worrying demolition work at the Tottenham Court Rd end, which I understand is to do with Primark moving into the old Virgin Megastore site (read about it here).  Some may say Hanway St needs sprucing up, others may question why I feel a fondness for an often smelly "less a street, more an alley" that runs between TCR and Oxford St.  These days I like it most as a shortcut between our two offices (avoiding possibly the most horrible stretch of Oxford St) but I also love it for it's time-warp record shops, in particular On The Beat (pictured) that blares out (mostly) 60s pop and 70s funk and makes me smile every time I walk by.  Anyone who has been drunk late at night in Soho and wanted to keep the party going is bound to have visited some of the late night Spanish bars along Hanway St, or perhaps the intriguing "Troy 22" (which I first thought was a sex club - hey, that's the way my mind works).  In 2001, Hakkasan opened in Hanway Place, an even smaller alleyway that runs off Hanway St.  The very incongruity of walking down a dark alleyway smelling of piss, going through a door, down some stairs and emerging into a super glam, over the top eatery was part of the appeal and I have to admit, I loved it.  There was definitely a bit of a wank-factor and I do remember some friends Mark & Jaine who were departing London around that time to head home to Melbourne, desperately wanted to go to Hakkasan before they left - they rang to try and get a reservation weeks in advance and were told they could have a "midnight sitting".  Needless to say they politely declined.  But that was Hakkasan in the early Millennium, people were so desperate to go there that they would wait until midnight for a table (although given we waited 2 hours for a burger and chips at #Meateasy, perhaps not much has changed).  Anyway I digress - back to Hanway St.  It's the mixture of late-night drinking haunts, retro vinyl stores, DJ equipment shops and random eateries, all squeezed along this ancient laneway dating from the 1600s (although largely rebuilt in the 1800s - read about it here) that is a winning combination.  Long live Hanway St and it's seedy glamour - boo to High St chains and blandification. 

Monday, 28 March 2011

Wahaca - Wardour St W1

I think I was one of the few people in London that hadn't been to Wahaca - either the original Covent Garden branch or the snazzy new Wardour St incarnation. But now I have. In fact my friend Don and I were going to go to the temporary Modern Pantry (at Meza in Wardour St also) for lunch but after walking in there and finding it empty and being looked at kinda funny we realised it was only open in the evening...awkward. Anyway Don was singing the praises of a particular pork sandwich at Wahaca so in we went. The place is really big and bright and fun looking and I actually felt really happy sitting down - amazing how decor can totally influence your mood. I let Don do the ordering as he is a Wahaca veteran. The aforementioned sandwich, actually called a Pork Torta was AMAZING - seriously I could have eaten 3 of them. Pork pibil (slow roasted pork), guacamole, refried beans and lettuce in a really delicious bun, oh man - I want one right now! We also had tasty frijoles (black beans and cheese), excellent guacamole and some pretty decent spicy slaw. This was all really good food - I had heard some mixed reviews of Wahaca but my experience could not have been better. The advice from Don was to avoid the typical, standard Mexican dishes and go for things like the pork torta - this was where Wahaca excelled. I am considering emulating the excellent Young & Foodish and doing a review of my top London sandwiches and the Wahaca pork torta will definitely be included.

Wahaca (Soho) on Urbanspoon

Fleet St Dragon - EC4/WC2

I do love a good London dragon (look around people, they're everywhere!) and after the weather vane on St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, the  handsome specimen on a plinth in the middle of Fleet St is a favourite.  It stands at Temple Bar, the point where the City of London becomes the City of Westminster (hence the two postcodes) and also marks where Fleet St morphs into The Strand.  Handily it is also really close to Coffee by the Clock coffee cart so you can sip a primo flat white whilst gazing at this fine statue. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

#Meateasy - New Cross SE14

I had never visited the Meatwagon, Yianni Papoutsis' hugely popular travelling burger van but became aware of it once it got stolen and Yianni ingeniously decided to strike a deal with Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross Road to take over the upstairs room and turn it into a burger joint.  The blogs have been humming with praise and as lovers of a fine burger, the other half and I made the trek to New Cross last night.  I am a bit of a SE London novice, we have some friends in East Dulwich, I've been to Greenwich and have driven through New Cross on my way to the O2 but I have never hung out there, as much as in my head I am sometimes a groovy Goldmsiths' art student, writing beat poetry and smoking reefer while looking grubbily handsome...anyway....back to #Meateasy (hash-tagged because of the use Yianni makes of Twitter to update his many fans).  We were guided by scrawled messages on the outside of the pub to a side door and up some grungy stairs, hearing what sounded like a really wild party going on up above.  Entering the room, it was a bit like a party - super crowded, good music playing, lots of booze and the funky waitresses/hostesses occasionally banging on a tin bucket when someone had deposited a tip.  We were told that the wait for food (we arrived at 8.30pm) was around an hour and despite being starving we decided the burgers being carried past us looked worth the wait.  We consoled ourselves at the bar with excellent New York Sours (as pictured - I know it's weird to not have a picture of the burgers but the one I took is really just of a bun and doesn't do it justice so you get the drink picture instead).  The woman working behind the bar was obviously an expert mixologist 'cause these babies were sensational.  The one hour turned into almost two and we were getting delirious with hunger, also a little squiffy after two sours and a beer but the upside was that the place had started to empty slightly (it certainly couldn't have got any fuller) and we managed to nab a table.  I almost wept with relief when they called our number and shortly afterwards we had the main event put in front of us.  I had a cheese burger, the other half had a chilli burger and we shared the famous onion rings and some chilli cheese fries.  So was it worth the wait?  Oh yes people.  If you are a fan of burgers this is the nuts - soft, lustrous, savoury, meaty, perfectly seasoned goodness - I had to stop myself from wolfing it all down in one go.  The onion rings were also fantastic and the chilli cheese fries took me back to the end of big nights out in my younger days in Australia - there is nothing like fries covered in some sort of sauce and cheese, simple but delicious!  This place is a real experience and I loved the huge mix of people that were there - from the aforementioned Goldmsiths' students to ageing hipsters, businessmen and food geeks (whilst I may be a lithe art student in my head, in reality I like to think I am a combo of the last two categories).  But be quick people, this "residency" only lasts until April 16th - and my advice, get there as close to the 6pm opening as possible and definitely try out the New York Sours.

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 March 2011

St Ali - opening in EC1

I am excited that Melbourne coffee gurus St Ali are poised to open a London outpost.  Word on the street is that it will be in Clerkenwell Road, just back from the corner of St John St, which is a really cool area.  Right across the road is The Zetter and also the Modern Pantry.  For those of you who wondered, could Clerkenwell get any better?  The answer my friends is yes.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Les Deux Salons - William IV St WC2

I am a massive fan of Arbutus and also loved Wild Honey (the one time I visited) so I was really excited about checking out Will Smith and Anthony Demetre's latest venture Les Deux Salons (I say "latest" but LDS has been open for around 6 months I think). I was a bit concerned after reading Greedy Diva's blog post but luckily we seem to have had a better experience. Overall I really liked this place - it definitely has some way to go before the absolute excellence of Arbutus but there is lots to love. First impressions were good - it is styled as a Parisian bistro but to me it was more Prohibition era American, a bit "Boardwalk Empire" if you will. I love that vibe - Dean St Townhouse, Hawksmoor all have an element of this as well and something in it really appeals to me.  Basically I am a sucker for art deco lighting, banquettes and a slightly louche, cocktail-ish feel. Anyway - on to the food. The other half and I decided to share everything so we could both sample more dishes and we were steered resolutely by the waiter to the specials (I am always slightly suspicious of this but tend to be persuaded anyway...sucker) - in this case a salad of Sicilian tomatoes and olive oil and the Thursday special, cassoulet of duck confit, Toulouse sausage and white beans. The cassoulet was delicious, meaty, earthy and comforting. The tomato salad was OK but not amazing - the tomatoes could have been a bit riper think. The standout dish for me was a classic country terrine with fruit relish. Oh man it was so good - I could have happily munched away on another serving (as it was I definitely had more than my half share). We also had an oriechette pasta with artichokes, pecorino and pine nuts which was my least favourite dish of the night. Poor old vegetarians, often left with the least interesting dish on the menu and I think this was probably it. After two hits, one OK and one disappointment, we struck a winner with dessert - glazed lemon tart with creme Chantilly. Just the right mix of tartness, sweetness and crumbly pastry, this was a perfect way to finish the meal. Service was good if a little fraught (and this seems to be a theme) - our neighbours had an issue with a cold cassoulet and some corked wine so there was lots of attention to their table for a while to the detriment of us trying to order dessert, which took some time. Putting that aside, this is a great place and a welcome addition to the London dining scene - a beautiful building, well fitted out, some flashes of brilliance in the cooking and somewhere you could easily imagine whiling away an evening. I will most definitely be back - and look forward to when the kinks are well and truly ironed out because then this place will be outstanding.

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Prufrock Coffee - Leather Lane EC1

I have been hanging out to visit Gwilym Davies' new Prufrock Coffee location on Leather Lane.  Having already had amazing coffee at the first Prufrock site in Shoreditch High St and having enjoyed many a fine coffee from Gwilym's stands at the Columbia Road and Whitecross Street markets, I was fairly sure I was in for a top notch flat white.  And I was right - it's amazing that now that we are so spoiled for good coffee in London you start to distinguish between "good" coffee and "excellent" coffee.  Just think, a few years ago I was forced to drink double tall lattes at (gasp) Starbucks and now I can take my pick and critique from at least 6 great cafes within 5 minutes walk of my office.  Anyway I digress - the flat white I had at the new cavernous Prufrock space in Leather Lane was sensational.  I am a little confused by the aforementioned cavern though - so much space and so little furniture!  Don't get me wrong - after crowding into many a teensy cafe (yes Flat White I mean you) it is nice to have some space (one of the reasons I really like Notes and Store St) but they don't seem to be using half of it.  Anyway - I am super excited about this opening (snigger) and I look forward to seeing how it develops and what they do with all that space.  Leather Lane is fast becoming the new coffee destination - I am very fond of Department of Coffee & Social Affairs just down the way.  I am surprised that the cafe called "All About Coffee" further down towards Clerkenwell Road still has the audacity to keep that name, given the contrast.  In case you are visiting Leather Lane around a weekday lunch time as I did I can highly recommend the lamb, halloumi and salad wrap stall - man, so tasty.  Also my other "insider tip" (although I'm not sure I qualify as a Leather Lane insider...) is that if you want a quiet spot to munch on your lamp wrap and slobber into your flat white, take a short wander into Dorrington St and find the church of St Alban the Martyr where there is a lovely peaceful courtyard with seats - a great little oasis, unknown to most.

Save the Cleveland Street Workhouse!

I was so disappointed to hear about the plans to demolish one of London's best preserved Georgian workhouses in Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia.  Also thought to be the inspiration for the workhouse in Oliver Twist, the site faces demolition and lacks listed status through one of those annoying loopholes - apparently due to its use by the NHS.  Given the shocking demolition of the Middlesex Hospital nearby (and years later the site remains unused - thanks Candy & friggin' Candy) I can't believe that another amazing old building is under threat.  Please, please sign the petition to save this historic site here.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Curzon Soho - Shaftesbury Ave W1

I have considered (and may still do) a post on the great small cinemas of London - obviously including The Ritzy, The Renoir, The Electric and others - but if I had to name a favourite it would be the Curzon Soho on Shaftesbury Avenue.  I think it's partly to do with the great films I have seen there (including "Howl" on the weekend) but it's also to do with the cool little Konditor & Cook cafe on the ground floor, the equally cool bar downstairs, even the movie posters in the toilets.  Every now and again I like going to a big fuck-off Multiplex, buying a giant sized bag of pick 'n mix and a bucket of Coke (the drink) and watching some Harry Potter-esque blockbuster but the majority of the time I want to watch a cool movie in a funky little cinema, surrounded by true cinephiles, buzzing on good espresso and nibbling on wasabi peas and I can't think of any better place to do it than the Curzon Soho.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tea & Tattle at Arthur Probsthain WC1

I had walked past Arthur Probsthain - Oriental & African Bookseller on Great Russell Street many times but had never been in.  What finally got me in there was noticing a sign for Tea & Tattle, the tea room downstairs.  I had a really good flat white (made with Monmouth beans I think) and a delicious danish pastry.  The surroundings are "old fashioned tea room with a twist" - which is fine with me.  I also checked out the bookshop upstairs which as well as a wide range of interesting books with an Oriental or African theme, had some interesting artwork for sale.  I love this precinct - there are some great places within walking distance of the British Museum (as well as some tourist-targeted crap) and Arthur Probsthain and Tea & Tattle downstairs are definitely in this category.