Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Jinjuu

I love how the restaurant world evolves so quickly in London. A few years ago options  for Korean restaurants would have been limited to the occasional local place run by Koreans for other Koreans with any public comment on their cuisine likely to involve manifestly unfair references to eating dog. I'm not a fan of the proliferation of start-of-the-year "food trends for 2015" articles littering the internet but you have to admit that a lot of them have hit the nail on the head with a nod to the continued explosion of last year's Korean theme.

Granted, a lot of focus has been on fried chicken and kimchi pickled vegetables but Jinjuu is so much more than that.  Billed as a Korean fusion restaurant and also described as being home to a 'celebrity chef' I have to admit I wondered what I was letting myself in for. Fusion can be very hit and miss and quite frequently restaurants that rely on PR about "celebrity chefs" focus on that fact because the food ain't up to much. In this case I was very wrong.

The stairwell downstairs


Chef Judy Joo is not someone I was previously familiar with but I like her story, as a desk chained lawyer it inspires me. Starting out as an engineer before becoming a Morgan Stanley trader, sensibly she quit to work at Saveur magazine and become classically trained. A move back to London lead to her working for Gordon Ramsay and for Time Out before involvement with the restaurant at the Playboy Club which, bar various Iron Chef interludes, brings us right up to the present. 

A UK tv show "Korean food made simple" is imminent on the Food Network so if Ms Joo is not yet a household name its likely she soon will be. If she can show me how to make food half as good as what I ate on my first visit to Jinjuu I will be watching.....
 
The interior is classy, the bar upstairs is dark and sleek perfect for dalliances in dark corners over cocktails whereas the restaurant area downstairs has booths and tables all with a view of the kitchen where flames leap from hissing hot woks. In summary a hybrid of Hakkasan meets Flesh & Buns. 



Posters of androgynous K-pop pretties adorn the walls of the loos with a matching soundtrack to accompany ablutions. That and a door covered in Korean Spam adverts because... well just because I guess.

 
 
Although Judy Joo is the name in all the press releases (and by all accounts is presently qite hands on in the kitchen - she was there when we ate) the man with his hands firmly on the tiller is Head Chef Andrew Hales who's background includes stints with the Rouxs and the Pont de la Tour before a role as head cheef at the Playboy Club which last placing all three keys chefs have in common.

Enough about the facilities though and onto the food. Edamame were perhaps the most perfect specimens I've ever tried. Covered in a dusting of spices (some kind of fish sauce and garlic definitely featured in the mix) they were both fiery and juicy in equal measure and infinitely munchable whilst poring over the menu. The portion is also enormous and most of them came home in a tub and were just as good cold in front of the tv later on.




The menu is divided between small plates known as "Anju" designed as snacks to accompany drinks and larger main courses. You could order a small plate or two each before a main or pile in and all share a selection. 

Sae-woo pops (£7.50) are deep-fried minced prawn balls on a stick with a fiery gojuchang mayonnaise to dip. They come to the table piping hot with a crisp shell on the outside giving way to a springy prawn rich filling. If your visit is anything like mine you will be hard pushed to see a single table not adorned with a sputnik of sticks bearing these treats.



Mandoo steamed beef and pork dumplings were good, packed with meat although the skins were not quite as thin and were a little tougher than a good dim sum.


Fried chicken sliders were just ridiculously delicious. Fried flavoursome thigh chicken meat is tender and juicy with an explosively crispy coating. Sweet, sticky gojuchang red sauce and black soy with mayo all keep it moist and put you in peril of a drizzle down your chin. A mini brioche bun is almost into perfection territory; scratch that- it is perfect! I even ate the lettuce because pulling it out would have risked losing some of that precious sauce and that's saying something.




After the sliders it was impossible not to try a portion of the fried chicken. A choice of either thigh or wing makes up the options.  For larger groups you can plump for an entire chicken deep fried whole. The sauce served with the fried chicken is little short of the crack of the sauce world. I kept finding myself pouring more and more on my plate and frankly only just stopped short of needing physical restraint from pouring it onto a spoon and lapping it up like a pussy cat. 

The highest praise possible is that both of us simultaneously developed criminal tendancies and contemplated snaffling it away in our handbags.  A plate of radish cubes with black sesame seeds act as an effective palate cleanser after all that grease. 



A main course of glazed short rib beef was served the traditional way in cubes with lettuce leaves to heap with meat, kimchi, spiced radish and toasted seaweed. More of that sauce might have made its way into the parcels too. Alongside the beef are chargrilled vegetables and garlic chips which add another flavour and texture dimension.

The only thing that made me sad was that it was USDA beef; we have very good cows in the UK you know Judy!




Whilst the wine list isn't bad, it also didnt thrill me so I'd recommend cocktails as the way to go, especially as all the staff seem very empassioned by them! I tried a Lychee Lover; lychee liqueur, champagne   - possibly the prettiest smelling cocktail you could ever try, almost wearable as a perfume. Gun Bae!


 
My pictures do not do the desserts justice. Quite often in Asian restaurants desserts are very much an afterthought but here they are just as perfect as the savoury food. Not surprising as the restaurant has a dedicated patisserie chef in the form of Jaime Garbutt who has just as impressive a pedigree as the other chefs having worked in various classic restaurants of the non-Asian variety such as Petrus and Ottolenghi. Its fair to say that they aren't Asian desserts but desserts with an Asian twist. 

A yuzu pudding cake was served with sesame tuile biscuit and coconut ice cream. Yuzu is apparently called Yuja in Korea but its the same delicious citrus flavour (I always think its somewhere between lime and grapefruit). The sesame tuile was quite strongly flavoured though so a little more yuzu would be great.



The  next dessert was essentially a very fancy version of a Snickers bar. A heavy, creamy peanut parfait is served alongside an oddly (but not unpleasantly) chewy doughnut thing filled with sweet sesame and salted caramel. A rich, thick chocolate ganache and lashings of crunched caramel crumbs balance it all out texture wise.  




Jinjuu

15 Kingly Street, London. W1B 5PS
0208 1818887

Would I go again? In a flash! I tried booking for 4 days later but they were already full. In good news though apparently they are soon to introduce lunchtime take away so we can keep getting a fix of that food without going through reservation hell. 

Highlight: Fried chicken & its sauce and edamame

Summary: Proper Korean meets Soho cool but you for once you can book!

8/10  Would have been 9 but I'm taking a mark off for the annoying habit of the card machine asking you to add a gratuity when service has already been included. Its a pet hate and I've mentioned it before but it feels a little grabby and deceptive. That's my only negative. 
 
Jinjuu on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 5 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions. Hint; they involve a lot of wine.......

Like most people I always sit and think about some well meaning resolutions at the beginning of each new year. Sure, do more exercise, use my juicer more and eat five a day inevitably feature in there somewhere but they aren't very interesting or original are they?
 
Sat back at work on the first Monday of the year overlooking a grey and dreary West London flyover I've realised that what is needed is more fun so this year I'm adding a few wine based resolutions to the fray. None of them are vital to life, health or general well-being but the first three might just get me through the last one still vaguely sane. Here goes......
 
1) Blasting Through Bordeaux
 
I'm  setting myself a challenge to try a first wine from one of each of every of the Cru Classé chateaux of Bordeaux. Couple of caveats attached to this one. Its quite possible that this might take longer than a year just to ensure I'm not declared bankrupt before the end of 2015. Also, I may have to cheat and do some of them retrospectively- I can't imagine many Mouton Rothschild opportunities popping up any time soon.
 
2) Ringing in the Changes
 
It doesn't matter whether its a lesser known grape or a wine from an unusual country but there has to be something completely new each month so expect Juhfark from Azerbaijan or some such curiosity. I'm quite conscious that this could result in drinking some truly horrible concoctions but this will surely be tempered by the Bordeaux deliciousness above? I am distinctly tempted to try and find one wine made from every one of the 1368 grapes covered in Jancis Robinson's gargantuan tome "Wine Grapes" so consider that one as a quasi resolution for now - I don't want to bite off more than I can chew/ swallow.

The Mighty Juhfark grape.  Image:  Budai Zoltan Wikipedia Commons
 
3) Visiting More Wine Regions
 
Despite being essentially food and wine obsessed, the majority of my "big" holidays seem to result in me being bereft of decent wine for extended periods of time; the Arctic, Namibia and Sri Lanka being cases in point. 2015 is hereby decreed to be the year of the wine based minibreak. Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Priorat and many others in between; I'm coming to get you!
 
Hospices de Beaune, Burgundy. Photo: Stefan Bauer, http://www.ferras.at (wikimedia Commons)
 


4) Getting the Diploma Done
After getting WSET 3 out of the way in 2014 I had mulled it over and decided to take a break from studying in 2015 rather than plunging straight into the diploma. Cue a long break over Christmas and the realisation that I'm never going to get less busy so maybe I should bite the bullet. To cut to the chase I'm signing up to start the distance learning version of the course. Two years of study, swilling, spitting (occasionally swallowing!) scribbling and sweating ahead of me but I think it will be worth it.
 
If I'm going to be doing this via distance learning then I'm going to need as much support and advice as possible from all you clever clogs' out there who have already completed it or who are undertaking it too as well as lots of tasting opportunities. Consider this a plea for any help and advice!
 
There. Its all down in writing now so I can't escape. If anyone fancies joining in on any of the above escapades let me know.......

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Le Chalet, Selfridges



We were supposed to be meeting at the Savoy for drinks at 6.30pm. I got caught up in the shops. Then he got delayed at work. Then there was no 3G. I passed the time by ambling around Selfridges food and beauty halls buying things I shouldn't have with my arms getting ever wearier with each bag added to the fray then I remembered the new "Le Chalet" bar on the roof. He agreed to hotfoot it from the City and I prepared to settle in with a cocktail list.


There is a lift near the main entrance dedicated to getting to the fifth floor and when you emerge its to a Narnia like tunnel of trees and fairy lights. 



A honeycomb Old Fashioned was exactly what I needed post-shopping. The bar staff make them properly; swirling in a bit of whisky then a bit of ice then a bit more whisky until the glass is full. If I'm honest I couldn't identify any distinct honey flavour but didn't care as it hit the spot magnificently. At the moment its still fairly warm so with the heaters and flames so I was in dire need of a cold drink but the alcoholic hot chocolates look obscenely good and I can't wait to drink one outside on the roof another time.  How good does a Cuban sound- Rum, Cinnamon & Chocolate? Or Hazelnut almond liqueur, dark chocolate and hot chocolate. 


The dining area is decked out in fairy lights, lanterns and mini alpine trees all adding to the low lit glow.



Granted, the name is far from imaginative but I suppose you know what you're getting. Yes, there's also a strong risk that Arabella and Jasper will be knocking back hot chocolate and braying about apres ski in Courcheval/St Anton/Klosters and the time that Squibby once skiied down a black run topless after one too many schnapps. Yes, its also a bit early for Alpine scenes but come Christmas it will be fabulous, I promise - stop fighting it and go with it, you just need to get into the mood. 

Run by the people from Q Grill in Camden, the kitchen offers a varied menu both in terms of style of food and prices- mains range from £13-40. It is a bit of an exercise in crowdpleasing with some dishes veering from the theme (not sure how 'Alpine chalet' a  but I'd expect that Selfridges get a good deal of input into making sure it fits every demographic. 


Barked Shortrib with caramelised parsnip mash was a no brainer sitting squarely in the mid price bracket at £19. I'm not entirely sure what made the shortrib "barked" but whatever it is I hereby decree that all shortrib from henceforth and forever more should be "barked" because it tasted bloody delicious. As delicate and prone to falling apart as Kerry Katona on a reality tv show, its held together only by a charred outer crust and something unidentifably sticky but sweet. Just to make you feel like you're not a complete carniverous neanderthal there's also a sprig of something green and utterly superfluous, excellent. 


Buttermilk chicken schnitzel was an absolute triumph. Hammered thin, coated in a light, crisp coating it still managed to be really succulent. The accompanying blue cheese fondue was one of nicest things I've eaten in ages; smooth and creamy with a subtle blue cheese tang - not in the least bit overpowering. 



A side order of broccoli and chilli may not have been the most exciting dish Ive eaten this year but it was great with the schnitzel and made me feel a modicum towards healthy.






Dessert was skipped in favour of a bag of macarons and chocolates that I'd accidentally acquired from Pierre Herme, Pierre Marcolini and Artisan du Chocolat downstairs in the foodhall (so many good things in one place!) but the fabulous sounding "Apple Struesel with Lashings of Custard" did make my mouth water. "Egg Nog Snow Egg" still has me baffled...

There was some confusion over the wine, I thought I'd ordered a Chilean Cab Sauv and wasn't paying attention properly and before I knew it the Waterford version from Stellenbosch had been poured. At £60 a bottle its overpriced but a cook hearty cab sauv rich in ripe blackcurrants. 


If you're a cigar fiend they also have a decent humidor and lots of outdoor seating and blankets to enjoy it.  Like all the rooftop pop up restaurants, it won't be around forever is bound to get busier towards Christmas so get down there as soon as possible.

Would I go back? Yes definitely, I've been dreaming of the food all week since I ate there!

Highlights: the location (helped by the fireworks, granted) and that Schnitzel and blue cheese fondue

Summary:  The overall effect is even cheesier than my blue cheese fondue but its a lot of fun. Go and do it. 

7.5/10

I eat out far too much for my own good and as a result its pretty rare that I get fixated on a dish but that schnitzel and blue fondue kept sticking in my mind so I found myself back there only a week later mid shopping trip begging for a table for one. It was just as good the second time and even better when accompanied by boozy hot chocolate. Its gone up half a point as a result....

8/10

Le Chalet
Selfridges, Oxford Street

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Rules

Fighting our way past a rag-tag group of Guanabara carnival dancers (some of whom might want to rethink a sequinned g-string in a breezy overcast Covent Garden - and I'm not just talking about the women) was not how I had imagined my arrival at Rules. 




This was not my first visit to Rules, the last time being almost a decade ago and as a host for a work dinner back in the days when entertainment budgets had several zeros.  I had one of those 'cultural sensitivity' incidents that those who work in a corporate environment with an avid HR team will be painfully conscious of.  Smoked salmon arrived. A table of colleagues of around 10 different nationalities all looked in bemusement at the beige fabric parcel on their plates. After seeing me pick it up prod it with a fork and squeeze liquid out onto the salmon tentative questions were asked - the main one being "but why?". Nil points for British Cuisine so far then. Things carried on in the same vein with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It didn't occur to me to warn them that the innocuous creamy sauce on their plates concealed fire in the form of horseradish the result being a United Nations worth of lawyers joined in their common hatred of British food through tears streaming down their faces. I recall an Indian gentleman spluttering "I like spices, I eat a lot of chilli, but this? This is evil!!!" Oops, no job offers in diplomacy for me in the near future. 

The positives that I do remember from that evening were both the attentive service and the beautifully decorated private room we were squirrelled away in so it would prove interesting to see if the experience was the same for common or garden diners. I also learnt that very few people of any nationality can find treacle tart offensive and thank goodness for that. 

Rules has a significant history to it not least for having been one of various central London destinations where the then Prince of Wales ('Bertie' to his friends) carried on his secret - or not so secret - assignations with mistress Lillie Langtry. Even now regulars can enter via a private door reputed to have been used by Langtry. Stories of this ilk combined with the chockload of antiques and pictures and a Covent Garden location makes it a mecca for tourists. Indeed, on this visit Japanese and Americans made up a majority of the diners.


So, fast forward ten years or so and is Rules still the same place? This time we were sat downstairs in the main room nestled under an unusual painting of Maggie Thatcher - see what I mean?


The impressive reputation of "London's Oldest Restaurant" brings with it a certain level of expectation and cachet. This assumption of cachet seems to be directly reflected in the attitude and demeanour of various of the serving staff who treat guests with a certain froideur usually reserved for the snootiest of Parisian brasseries which is unfortunate as the food is very decent. Our waiter was distinctly unhelpful, seemingly adopting an attitude designed to make you feel as though you should be grateful to be there.

The menu is understandably very traditional and very British. You're never going to come here looking for culinary wizardry or foams, savoury snows and anything sous vide. A starter of smoked duck salad with stilton was good but largely down to the quality of the ingredients rather than any level of culinary expertise.


A dressed crab with a delicately flavoured aioli was plentiful and, again, of excellent quality. 



Smoked salmon (£15) was served with that pesky lemon muslin again with the option of chopped egg or not. personally I find the addition of egg a little too breakfast but nice touch nonetheless. 




I was abroad for the glorious twelfth so this was my first occasion of the year to eat grouse. A whole grouse no less (£32). In hindsight I should probably have taken up the option of the bird being pre carved and served ready to eat but I got all cocky (see what I did there?) and decided I could do it on my own. So a carcass arrived at the table, feather strewn legs and all and I got to work with a rather large knife. Not a very sharp knife incidentally so it did all rather descend into a Neanderthal display of tearing meat from fowl.  The Americans sat at the table next to me looked slightly horrified. The flavour was good though- just the right side of gamey and still moist- and although I might have regretted how I'd opted to have it served I was glad I went for it. I somehow always manage to forget that "game chips" aren't chips at all in the British sense but crisps. I know its tradition but it still feels weird having a plate of meat, veg, gravy and the best part of a packet of crisps. 


Steak and kidney suet pudding (£18) was hearty with a suet pastry so full of grease it was almost translucent. Breaking it open revealed a rich, meaty filling surpassing all of our expectations. Vegetables and sides are well cooked if unexciting.



Desserts are of the rich and comforting variety; sticky toffee puddings, lemon meringue pies and almond tarts. All nursery favourites that never grow old. 



Would I go back? I'm sure that I will, although not on a regular basis, its rather too pricey for that. If you want to experience the place without the almighty price tag then pop into the upstairs bar for a cocktail. 

Highlights: The crab, the pomp of the surroundings and all the desserts.

Summary: It feels like its become a little touristy but can still be relied on to provide well executed British food albeit at an eyebrow raising price and will undoubtedly remain as part of London's dining Establishment for years to come.

6/10

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London. WC2E 7LB
0207 8365314

Rules on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 November 2014

Berners Tavern

We had a little time to kill before our dinner reservation so popped into the Sanderson purple bar for a cocktail. Some years ago the height of cool, the Sanderson was feeling tired around the edges. That impression only intensified on crossing the road and strolling down to the London Edition Hotel, a collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager- its clear that he long ago gave up on his former baby at the Sanderson. Schrager's influence is keenly felt as this is like no Marriott I've ever been to before.  Berners Tavern opened in the middle of 2013 with Jason Atherton as restaurateur. Yes, yet  another of the almost amoebic spread of Atherton restaurants across London, Berners Tavern is located on the ground floor of the London Edition Hotel. 

In this case "Tavern" is possibly the greatest misnomer for a restaurant that I have come across. Its tantamount to living in a ten bed mansion at the end of an oak lined drive and calling it "Acorn Cottage".  Picturing a "tavern" in my minds eye conjures up images of a low ceilinged Dickensian drinking house with blowsy bar maids attending to red nosed men. This couldn't be further from the reality on Berners Street.  My pictures don't do the dining room justice, you need the widest angle lens possible to take it all in. Its massive. Its gorgeous.  Toweringly high ceilings with beautifully lit plasterwork and architraves sit atop wooden panelled walls covered in an eclectic patchwork of framed prints and paintings. It is the perfect blend of contemporary chic in a classic setting (that sounds sickeningly estate agent but you know what I mean). Caged chandeliers left me thinking of the scene in Moulin Rouge where Satine descends singing 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'. Its the kind of place that just makes you want to misbehave in the most decadent way possible. 



Its also enough to make most of us feel under dressed. This is somewhere that people are instinctively dressing for dinner even without there being a formal dress code. Despite it being a Sunday evening I'd worn a dress and was glad I did, jeans just wouldn't cut it here. There was also a certain 'type' of clientele. Lots of West London mediahhhhh and creative types in their late forties and early fifties with much younger girlfriends. Yep, its that kind of place. 

As the lights dim in the evening to a golden glow, the cocktail bar is the perfect place for not so illicit dalliances over potent and novel blends, definitely get there early and drink it all in provided price is no object. So over to our table and let the fun begin.....

Pea, ham and eggs is anything but the plain, simple fare it sounds like. A pea risotto is served in a separate saucepan and zings with freshness. A hen's egg is lightly breaded and fried. Ham hock is tender and salty. Classic ingredients that can never marry badly together.





A dressed crab with coriander, apple and lemon juice is perfectly seasoned and not a shard of shell in sight. At £20 it may well be the most expensive starter I've ever ordered but is really good (and felt pretty virtuous compared to my usual creamy sauce and foie gras based starters - the skinny blondes must be having an effect on me!)





The skinny effect wore off pretty quickly with the onset of the main course, a giant slab bearing a sizeable chunk of rare cow; chateaubriand and roast artichoke (£80 for two). A decent char on the outside gave way to tender and flavoursome flesh on the inside.






Truffle macaroni cheese was something of a disappointment. Not enough sauce and, despite the slices of summer truffle on the top, not a very deep truffle flavour to the overall dish sadly.  Could do better Berners Tavern!



Some of the wines are priced a little on the hyper inflated side. £170 for a 2000 Chateau Gloria compared to just under £50 retail. The third wine from Chateau Margaux 2009 was £120 compared to £63 in Mission. Granted the overheads are higher here and they are tied by hotel pricing but its still the same bottle of wine…. We let the sommelier go freestyle on a maximum budget of £60 and he came up with a biodynamic red from the Languedoc. I think I've got some way to go on my wine tasting odyssey before I'm going to truly appreciate the merits of organic/biodynamic. Too often I find them a little musty and the haze you frequently find is unappealing (let alone all this "you mustn't drink it on a root or leaf day" nonsense). This may make me a philistine granted but there you have it. I found this particular Roussillon a little thin and lacking the substance to stand up to beef and macaroni. It certainly wasn't a bad wine but I wouldn't rush to order it again.


I was waaaaaay too full for dessert. Sorry. An Uber whisked me off into the night to dream of food. 



Would I go back?: If you are really trying to impress or its a special occasion, yes definitely, do it! I might suggest it to someone on expenses.

Highlights: The venue, its just gorgeous. 

Summary: A pricey night out but a reliably delicious one that does make you feel special. 

7/10

Berners Tavern

10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP
0207 9087979

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Smokehouse


Like most of the rest of the London 'Big Smoke', I love barbecue. More than that though I love barbecue without all the machismo and hype that often accompanies it. Its generally associated with grease, excess and gluttony but why could it not be subtle and measured? Chef Neil Rankin is known for doing good barbecue in a relaxed atmosphere (ex Pitt Cue, John Salt..) but has strong roots in classic cookery having worked at multiple Michelin starred locations. This combination makes for delicious, smoky food with exacting balance of flavour and texture- something you don't often find in my experience. This all means that its not your common or garden ribs 'n wings, its more about using smoking in unexpected ways. 

That in itself is surely worth a pilgrimage? I'll be honest; for a South of the River girl it is a little bit of a schlep. All the way to Highbury & Islington and then a good ten minute walk. Just as you're starting to tire and expire from hunger you round a corner and outside a very plain looking pub we were greeted by this:



Well quite. Bring it on. 

Inside the design is simple and light and airy during the day but cosy at night, lots of wood, mismatching furniture and church candles. Outside there is a walled garden full of greenery and tiny fairy lights- possibly the perfect pub garden feeling a million miles away from the rest of Islington. One of the joys of Smokehouse is that whilst its definitely a restaurant menu on offer, it is still run very much as a pub with plenty of space for casual drinking. 




This being barbecue, we are firmly in craft beer land. The range on offer is truly mind boggling with a board of almost unlimited wittily named options; Weird Beard, Flying Dog, Beavertown and Anchor Steam all sound nothing like the beer that they contain. The wine list is dominated by a pretty comprehensive trip around Italy, Spain and France, reasonably priced with plenty of sub £30 options and contains a couple of my Gascon favourites from Plaimont Producteurs. If you've never had a Pacherenc before try the St Albert here, at £3.50 a glass it would be criminal not to. 

The staff are all young and very enthusiastic and all to keen to explain the background to any of the dishes. At their recommendation we kicked off with a potted smoked duck leg on toast giving us a first hint at the deep, dark smokiness instilled by the green egg barbecues favoured by Rankin. Staying succulent under a seal of peppered, clarified butter this was a taste of things to come.




Determined to try out some of the non barbecue bits we ordered a courgette flower stuffed with Fourme d'Ambert & honey. Utterly delicious but not in the slightest bit pretty so you're not getting a photo. It was also a lovely change to have a delicate blue cheese in the flower instead of the usual goats cheese. 

It took a long time to order main courses due entirely to our inability to choose. We finally settled on Shortrib Bourguignon (£17.50) which is an almost unrecognisable spin on the classic and essentially consists of  a large chunk of smoked beef shortrib on the bone with a thick wine sauce, crispy onions and a super smooth Mr Whippy style mash. Really absolutely nothing to fault. Seemingly held together only by the sticky sauce coating the outside, it fell apart with the slightest prod of a fork into perfect strands of deeply smoky meat.


The somewhat innocuous sounding "Grilled salmon, radish peanut & green chilli" (£16.50) turned out to be mindblowingly spicy. Cooked delicately and still surprisingly moist, it was unfortunately a little overpowered by the spice. That said, I get the feeling that meat is what these guys do best. It isn't all meat, meat, meat though; there are plenty of options for vegetarians so don't shy away from letting them come along for the outing. 

Speaking of spice we had also ordered a side of Korean pulled pork; well why wouldn't you? Light and a little crispy with a gently building heat searing past the sweetness, its beyond good, its fantastic. What we couldn't eat came home and was possibly even better the following day.


The almost rans included a highland burger topped with that same Korean pulled pork (£15) and the very dramatic sounding "The Sphere" which, contrary to sounding like a Saturday night gameshow, is actually a construction of smoked ham hock, pigs cheek, squid romesco and fregola (£18).  A smoked duck, kimchi and potato cake (£19) sounded pretty delicious too and smelt it as a plate of it drifted past leaving us craning our necks behind it. 

Dessert almost didn't happen. We were stuffed to the gills with meat in an almost undignified way but then that second stomach thing happened. You know, that little bit of space that seems to stay free no matter what you eat? Yeah, it came into play and a DD Tart (apparently an homage to and pimping up of the lowly Double Decker) was ordered at our waiter's recommendation.  It could/should have been very sickly indeed but a thick, dark, bitter chocolate ganache kept things away from too sweet on the top of a crunchy base of cocoa pops in white chocolate (£6.50). 


A trend seems to be developing recently for pictures involving the loos in my posts so this one will be no exception. Antlers host those ever crucial spare loo rolls. Great quirk. 


Whenever I eat out I always try and order something that I'm not likely to be able to make at home which is perhaps why I found it so hard to choose what to eat here. Although the emphasis is on comfort food, the big plates and simple presentation conceal real skill and innovation of cooking.

Would I go back? If it was more local to me I'd be there for Sunday lunch more often than a vicar goes to church but due solely to distance its more of a once in a while trip. 

Highlights: Shortrib & mash.

Summary: Excellent carnivorous comfort food

7.5/10

Smokehouse
63-69 Canonbury Road, Islington, London. N1 2DG
0207 3541144
Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Colombo: Galle Face Green

I don't know about you but I am an expert people watcher. I get it from my mother. My brother calls it just plain nosey but I'd like to think I'm just super observant and good at taking in my surroundings. At least that's what I call it.  Galle Face Green in Colombo is an excellent place to sharpen those well-honed people watching skills and is a fascinating snapshot into leisure time in Sri Lanka.

Dusk begins to fall and the Green gets busier and busier as parents finish work and bring their children to the shore.  The skyline becomes dotted with kites dancing in the breeze as people weave in and out, dodging competing kite strings and chasing their aerial toys.




Whole families kick off their shoes and paddle in the foamy waves crashing onto the sand.







Even soggy monks get in on the action




Lovebird couples stroll along the waterfront or steal kisses hidden under umbrellas unfurled in the pretence of blocking out the sun.






Small green huts dotted along the promenade offer various types of street food usually involving prawns in every incarnation you can think of...



Street vendors call out offering all kinds of mystery goods...



Brightly coloured inflatables and windmills draw admiring glances from awestruck toddlers


Most of all though, it feels like a very happy carefree place to be.

If you're thirsty or just need some time away from the hustle and bustle head next door to the Galle Face Hotel for a pot of Ceylon tea or an early evening cocktail. First constructed in 1864 it has managed to retain a lot of its old world charm. It was under renovation when I visited (and will be until the end of 2014) but despite the builders you can still see hints of the beautiful colonial architecture.  If you sit in the garden there is a fair chance you will be visited by one of these inquisitive chaps….