Monday, 18 May 2015

Dip & Flip

Another day, another burger joint. Yawn. As soon as I saw the crazy moustachioed hipster man on BBC's The Restaurant Man last year introducing Southampton to the delights of drippy burgers in squishy brioche buns in a room of exposed brick walls it finally felt as though the burger's moment in the sun must be done. 

So it was with some surprise and a little burger fatigue that Dip & Flip popped up in Clapham Junction a while back now and, whilst conforming to some of the burger stereotypes- those brick walls and the no reservations policy being just two- the food is rather good. Despite the 'no reservations' issue I've never seen queues of the likes of Soho burger joints here despite the food being just as good. We arrived at 6.45pm on a Friday night and walked into a table although, granted, by 7.30 you'd have had a few minutes wait at the bar. 


My staunch belief that these posh fast food joints are not a time for exploring the world of wine was reinforced by the fact that they were completely out of red wine on a Friday night. Not a drop to be had. White wine seems wrong with a burger so double rum and coke it is then. Diet Coke because y'know you need to watch your weight.... (cheeseburger and fries don't count clearly). Craft beers and ciders are, of course, abundant being one of the compulsory ingredients for any successful burger joints these days. Apparently they rotate the offerings and on this occasion Local Battersea brewery Sambrooks is on tap. 


A bacon cheeseburger is decent value at £7.95. Excellent brioche bun, juicy, well textured burger patty and plenty of oozy cheese. The kind of burger that sends juice running down your arm if you lose concentration for more than a moment. Serious stuff this burger eating. The highlight, however, was the bacon. That said bacon is always a highlight of any meal ever but in this particular burger it was really very good; super smoky and properly crispy on the outside. 

Fast forward less than a fortnight and I'm back again; the call of the eponymous Dip & Flip burger had been too great. You can choose between either roast beef or roast lamb as your burger topping.  Unfortunately asking for the slice of roast beef rare got lost in translation and I ended up with a burger that was so rare the middle was cold and slimy making a chunk of it inedible even for a beef lover like me. The waitress promised to tell the kitchen and I can only assume that she did as that was the last I heard of it. Had it been just a leeeetle more cooked it would have been awesome. Dip and Flip prides itself on its gravy (hence the "Dip" in the name) and if you're a gravy lover then  this one is for you...



Poutine has been much talked about. Traditionally Canadian, it usually consists of chips in gravy with a variety of toppings always including cheese curd. In this case the curd is joined by bacon and jalapenos as in my opinion there is nothing in life that is not improved by bacon. I am no doubt an awful heathen but I don't like the cubes of cheese curd, give me liquid American cheese any day. 


Crinkle cut fries are served either plain or with a slop of gooey American liquid cheese on top. The child in me adores the wiggliness but they are very salty, half a portion and you're gasping for a glass of water. On my second visit there were no wiggles sadly; crinkle cut was off the menu. Still look pretty good though don't they?


If you need something sweet to round off a full belly then dessert shots are supplied courtesy of the lovely Laura at Dessert Deli keeping it nice and local. 

So, in summary, the burgers are great when you go for the straightforward, service is hit and miss but definitely the best place to get a burger in Battersea.  I also understand that a second branch is on the cards imminently for mid May in Wimbledon- somewhere else that is currently lacking exceptional burgers. Bring it on!

7/10

Dip & Flip
87, Battersea Rise. London. SW11

Dip & Flip on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wokit, Borough Market

I made a decision a while ago that I was going to be less negative on this website. Despite people clearly preferring reading an article when I get the semantic daggers out (the website stats are testament to this), the places I am writing about are the result of someone's hard work, hopes and dreams and who I am I to trample all over that? It was all going so well until I had the misfortune to need a quick supper in Borough one Saturday late afternoon.


Everyone knows that Borough Market is home to some of the best food that London has to offer right? Especially tourists who flock there in huge numbers expecting everything to match up to scenes from Bridget Jones' Diary or the Trip Advisor reviews - I particularly loved a recent one penned by Ted in California who proclaimed it "without a doubt the best market in Great Britain" - granted its good but I do question how many others Ted might have visited to make such a sweeping statement.

So its a bit bloody annoying when someone takes a lease on a unit right in front of the market and sells what is, frankly, very average food at hyper inflated prices with a "concept".


The model at Wokit is, in theory, a decent and well-meaning one. A fresh stir fry using organic vegetables from neighbouring market trader, Ted's Veg, served within only a couple of minutes to eat in or take away. You pick your protein, pick your carbs and pick your sauce. Standard veg such as bean sprouts, cabbage and carrots are included and you can pay a supplement for extras. Here is where things start to annoy me. £4 for the basic noodle or rice mix. Not bad value. Add in a protein at £3 and start adding the sort of vegetables you would expect to see in a stir fry and the prices start shooting up at an alarming rate. 

So basically if you have one protein with standard noodles and a sauce its a minimum of £8. Getting something approaching what you might sling into a stir fry at home (handful of mange tout, couple of peppers) will cost you in the region of £12 upwards. Throw in some fancy apple juice because they don't sell many "normal" drinks and you've peaked £15 to sit on a stool in what is little more than a shed (albeit a very prettily decorated one) and eat fast food. 

An objection to paying £12 for a stir fry may sound ridiculously hypocritical coming from someone who has willingly forked out (pun intended) in excess of £300 for lunch but here is where my food philosophy holds firm: 1) It's not about cost, its about value. A meal can be £3 or £300 but if its excellent quality and cooked well, that's what matters. 2) It's also about the experience. I have been made to feel like a million dollars in a neighbourhood pizza joint and like something iffy on the sole of a shoe in Michelin star restaurants and, regardless of how good the food is, trust me, it clouds your judgement. 3) if you ever find yourself questioning any of the above whilst still in the establishment or at any point afterwards then its an automatic fail. 

Therefore, applying my own rules, I would not object to paying upwards of a tenner for a really nice stir fry served with a smile. That's not what I got when I visited Wokit one early Saturday evening though, oh no. 

At the till I was met by a skinny jeaned, beanie wearing chap who was most definitely more disgruntled by my interrupting his conversation with a mate than he was interested in taking my order. Order finally placed for stirfry and a bottle of juice and I had the temerity to ask for a cup to put the juice in. Apparently that was a crazy-assed request as most people just swig the juice from the bottle. I attempted compromise and suggested a straw. Nope, no straws. No cups either apparently unless you count the giant ones that the food is served from so I sat there with three inches of juice in the bottom of a cup the size of which has only previously been seen used for drinks by a borderline-diabetic chugging Dr Pepper in a Texas branch of Taco Bell. 

Because the meats are already cooked before the stirfrying begins they do not have the opportunity to take on the flavours or moisture of the sauce meaning that you end up with rather bland chunks of dry meat proliferating the paper cup. Yes, its fresh but the result is not very flavoursome. The sauces are nothing novel and bear startling resemblance to those found in most takeaways (without the MSG granted). 



My sweet and sour pork was almost fluorescent yellow and very, very sweet. I ate less than half. Being positive (and I am trying, honestly!) the vegetables were very fresh. 


Wokit is an example of an exercise in marketing and "concept" over execution. The website is a perfect reflection of this less savoury side to the London restaurant scene right now where food and service take second place. 

Their website is a case in point. Cartoon cows and smiling sheep proclaim their ethos to be "fun", "sustainable", "wholesome", "community",  What does "Community" even mean as a description of an eatery? (as much as I hate the word 'eatery', I can't bring myself to call this place a restaurant). The website gives plenty of air time to the "social media consultant", the "brand identity designer" and the "creative director" but if you click on the one picture of the "wokstar" chefs on the team page you get very little information and are taken back to the brand identity designer's personal homepage.  Despite the emphasis put on the ingredients there is no real information given about them. Where did those chunks of rather dry pork come from (i.e. which poor pig died in vain). If you're going to harp on about sustainable/ local/ wholesome blah blah, then I'd rather know what makes the ingredients special than the fact that the brand identity designer will also design wedding invites for you. To be honest it smacks of a group of hipster mates hyping themselves up and hoping it catches on as the next big thing regardless of the food being any good. 

I don't care how worthy, entrepreneurial, shiny and happy the whole exercise is designed to be, if it tastes god awful and the service is terrible then its a failure in my eyes, end of.

There are areas in London where there are very few good places to eat. In those areas you accept that the trade off for convenience is less exciting food. This could not be further from the case in Borough. Take twenty steps in any direction and you are tripping over brilliant food and exciting cooking. That is why I believe that its an absolute liberty to serve up this tosh. Please take those twenty steps and find somewhere else to eat, I beg you.

Highlights: The pretty flowers on the wall.
In summary: Opportunistic 
Would I go back: Hell, no. 

2/10

Wokit
3 Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AA
020 7403 2111

Friday, 8 May 2015

34

There are some people who exude money. I don't mean it literally of course, no one has pound coins popping out from behind their ears magician style it was more that the other diners seemed very expensive. The whole experience felt very expensive. I'm sure that you know what I mean? Even before I arrived I felt slightly inadequate just trying to find the restaurant. Address: 34, Grosvenor Square. Except there isn't a 34 Grosvenor Square on Grosvenor Square.  We drove around at least twice looking at numbers and found nothing. It started to seem like an insider joke - if you can't find the secret door you can't come in. The cab driver suggested that maybe it was actually IN the neighbouring US Embassy but even I knew that was a silly idea, imagine the security clearance needed just to get supper. Finally in desperation- and now five minutes late for the reservation- I called the restaurant; the entrance is actually around 100m down South Audley Street - as I would have known if I'd checked their website to be fair. 

This may all say more about my navigational skills and powers of observation than the place itself but it wasn't the most auspicious start to the outing. Neither was fighting my way up the steps through a cloud of smoke past leggy, sleek, thoroughbred racehorses in skyscraper red soled Louboutins suppressing their appetites with cigarettes  as I trotted up like a Shetland pony.  

Strike three in the arsenal of bad starts to the evening was a call from the other 50% of my table announcing she'd broken up with her boyfriend, was in tears and hadn't yet dressed or left the flat. I got bossy - dress on, face on, Uber ordered and bottom in seat within half an hour or else. Best order myself a drink as I'm in for a wait.

A cocktail is going to set you back somewhere around £10-£20 depending on your poison and averaging somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Wine by the glass ranges from £8 up to the sky being the limit. A glass of Coteaux de Layon as an aperitif was therefore not only a delicious, but also comparatively economical, choice.



Shortly after this photo the lights were dimmed for the evening crowd and became darker and darker as the night progressed until you could barely see what was on your plate and photos became virtually impossible. The two photos below are admittedly awful and the remainder were completely unprintable so you will just have to imagine.

It says something about the food and the pampering attention from the waiting staff that my heartbroken friend was happily munching on sashimi within a few minutes of arriving- A £17.50 starter plate of sashimi no less. Good quality fish- as you would expect- and presented nicely. Definitely the low-cal option for the Mayfair lady who lunches...



Being more of a dame who dines myself I was not limiting myself to raw fish but went for a plate of grilled squid with Iberico croquette and very nice it was too. Things generally are when they have been fried in my experience. Pork and seafood make such excellent bedfellows when, logically, they totally shouldn't. Probably the worst possible starter going if you are Jewish though, sorry. Starters on the whole range between £9-18. 



I'd been advised by friends to make sure to choose something from the grill and they weren't wrong. With a couple of exceptions, much of the beef is sourced from Scotland via suppliers Billfields and hung for a minimum of 28 days. The grills they are cooked on are imported from Argentina (this sounds impressive but how different can a grill from Argentina be?!)

I've harped on quite a bit recently about London's increasing disposition towards USDA beef and 34 has joined the fray offering USDA burgers and steak frites, I am hoping that this is only due to the preferences of their neighbours at the US embassy.


A 2004 Chateau Musar was every bit as good as you would expect it to be. Yes, Lebanese blends can be an acquired taste for many but for me they are a reliable go to in a sea of eye waveringly expensive Burgundy and Bordeaux targeted firmly at the 'out on expenses' market. La Tache, Cheval Blanc, Lafite, DRC, Le Pin; the gang's all here. At £89 the Musar was still not exactly the cheapest option on the list but made for comparably good value. 

The atmosphere is ideal for a romantic night out but equally suits friends catching up although proper gossip is hard on the banquette tables as you can hear every single syllable of what your neighbours say so don't go imparting secrets unless you want the better heeled of London to know.  A live jazz trio were playing in the bar.

On the dessert front we had something chocolatey and it was very nice but I'll be honest, I cannot remember for the life of me any more than that.

Highlight: The steak and the atmosphere (the jazz trio do make it feel more special)

Summary: Feels expensive, tastes expensive and is expensive but if you've got and don't mind spending its worth a visit. 

Would I go again? Yes definitely on expenses, or for a special occasion. For the price, there is better food in London but everything I ate was nonetheless good and the experience is always a glamorous one. 

7/10

34
34, Grosvenor Square
London. W1

Square Meal 34 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Brasserie Lipp

Waking up on a Sunday to a gloriously sunny (and unseasonably warm) Paris morning and it would be churlish to do anything other than go for a long stroll through the streets of the Left Bank. Meandering up to the Musée Rodin to do a bit of 'thinking' followed by a roam along Rue du Bac gazing into the windows of all those wonderful patisseries

Several hours and a labyrinth of St Germain streets later and we had built up quite an appetite which brought us to the door of Paris institution Brasserie Lipp.

Notorious as the place for Paris' artistic and political intelligensia to see and be seen, at first glance you can imagine that it has changed little since its inception in 1880 despite its purchase in 2002 by French Restaurant group Bertrand.  Painted tiles and notices to clients in classic unmistakably French font dot the walls.

All eyes are on the door as the next people wander in and your rank as a diner can be measured by where you are sat and how effusively the maitre d' and waiters kiss you on arrival.  Although a lot of the customers are elderly and well groomed, even on a Sunday, the room was smattered with tourists and as we were leaving Roman Abramovic and Dasha Zhukova were being ushered through so if its good enough for an oligarch.....


To a degree its a big cliche but its a fun snapshot into Parisian old school society without a stupid price tag. After all, anywhere where the menu has to point out in big red letters that salad is not a meal and that 500 Euro notes are not taken must have an intriguing clientele. I'm not sure whether it says more about me or them but I genuinely had no idea such a thing as a 500 Euro note existed let alone that its prevalent enough to require routine refusal.



Still, there are plenty of places I could name in London where its all about being seen and the food is, frankly, a secondary consideration so I was intrigued to see if its the same at Lipp. 

Although snails are only listed by the dozen on the menu, you can have a half dozen with plenty of baguette to mop up the garlicky ooze of butter. Let's be honest- and sounding a bit of a philistine I'm sure- few people really differentiate between the quality of the snails, its all about that lurid green butter.



Carrying on with the classics I went for the steak tartare. For me it was a little overly finely chopped as it was more like a steak purée but the flavour was great. Capers, onions and egg already mixed in. The thinnest of allumette fries liberally dusted in salt completed the dish. 

My love affair with the tarte tartin started about 25 years ago on a childhood holiday on the French Atlantic coast. The English version of the menu had translated it as "apple tart' and I had expected something like the apple pie I was used to at home. What arrived was an iron skillet containing a steaming, golden dish with the most beautiful caramelised apples roasted down until just barely holding their form for long enough to make it into your mouth before dissolving into a sweet, citric burst. 

This one was served with sour cream which is just a little wrong to my sweet palate. 


A Parisian lunch would not be lunch without coffee and like everything else Chez Lipp its branded to the hilt!



In summary: Its maybe a little pricier than some other brasseries but you know you will get reliably good French classics with people watching opportunities second only to a copy of Paris-Match.

Highlights: The snails and people watching opportunities

Would I go again? If I was in the St Germain area then yes definitely but there are so many classic Parisian brasseries to try and so few trips to Paris sadly that I would probably spread the love in future. 

7/10

Brasserie Lipp
151 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Publicis Drugstore; Paris

As the song says; "I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer; when it sizzles....." So when don't I love Paris? I don't love Paris when it is Fashion Week and bars and galleries are blocked up with androgynous, black clad giraffes, eyes cold with a combination of hunger, cocaine and sheer ambivalence. I also don't love Paris when I catch a stinking cold from a man behind me on the Eurostar who spent the journey over snorting like a pig. 

So there I am slumped in bed on Saturday morning when I had planned on being up with the oiseaux meandering my way round a marché aux puces in Montreuil. Still, even in the depths of a cold there can be glimmers of gastronomic pleasure to be found. I had the most fantastic supper in bed the night before due entirely to the cold and I bought it all from a corner shop. No, really, the best corner shop I've ever encountered: Publicis Drugstore.

At first glance the back entrance to Publicis Drugstore looks like most late night corner shops; plastified sandwiches, microwave meals, rows of Coke and Evian and a small baked goods area. Its only when you look more closely that you see the croissants are all by Alain Ducasse, the patisserie from Philippe Conticini's Patisserie des Reves range or from Dalloyau. Petrossian has a small counter of caviar and smoked salmon. Around the corner is a Pierre Herme macaron counter. Dinner for me was a truffle risotto from Maison de la Truffe. At 16 euros probably the most expensive microwave meal ever but by God was it worth it. Rich and creamy with a powerful truffle aroma filling the store as it cooked. It feels utterly wrong to be praising a microwave meal but it was truly very, very right indeed. A dessert of a tarte tatin from Patisserie des Reves and two vanilla macarons completed the meal. 

Continue further into its depths and there is a bookshop with some great food and art coffee table type books as well as international magazines. A beauty area stocked with top brands is next to wines and cigars as well as counters of the sort of expensive fripperies and pretty things that everyone wants but nobody needs. Its like a mini late night shopping heaven and if I hadn't been such a red eyed sniffing mess there's a significant chance that my bank balance would have been further damaged.




If you're not looking to hide in your sick bed like me there are plenty of restaurant options on site. In the basement is a 2 michelin starred branch of Joel Robuchon as well as a see and be seen brasserie on the ground floor looking out onto the Champs Elysee. A steakhouse rounds off the restaurants.

In goods news for my cold it also has a 24 hour pharmacy. Possibly one of the most useful shops in the whole of Paris. We even went back a few days later post cold on the way back to the Eurostar and stocked up on all our favourite brand foodie souvenirs in one place, perfect.

So if you're ever looking for an out of hours macaron fix, the ingredients for breakfast in bed or some late night drink you know where to go. Oh and whilst you're enjoying your treats, visit their website, there's an awesome playlist on it.

Publicis Drugstore
133 Avenue des Champs Élysées, 75008 Paris, France

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Taillevent, Paris

A few nights ago I saw heaven. Heaven is located in 6th arrondissement of Paris.


Taillevent is a bastion of classic French cuisine having been named after the nickname of 14th century chef Guillaume Tirel who created one of the first ever cookery books at the behest of his patron, King Charles V. You surely can't get any more French than that? It first opened its doors in a flush of post war Parisian pride in 1946. Three venues later and an ascendancy from a first star in 1948 through to a third in 1973 gave it a fixed place in the Paris gastronomic firmament.

Current chef, Alain Soliveres, has been in place since 2002. Taillevent's stellar domination took a dent in 2007 when their third star was removed by Michelin. It hasn't come back since - it being notoriously difficult to recover a star once its gone - but the meal I was served was an equal to any three star meal I have had anywhere around the world. 

The start wasn't quite so heavenly admittedly. I arrived early (my bad) and was consequently the first person in the silent restaurant. Three dark-suited waiters peered curiously at me - I think a woman dining on her own might still be an oddity-  and much whispering ensued before a wine list was produced. I buried my head deep inside the list (easy to do, its massive) to hide, cheeks burning. After working through Burgundy and Loire by way of Bordeaux and Champagne I paused and looked up. Three waiters had amoebically morphed into eight, stood in a row, staring at me. My head went back down and I blurted out an order of a glass of house champagne to keep the hovering waiter at bay.



Taillevent have in excess of 50 own labelled wines all sourced from big names in the French wine world. Their house champagne is by Deutz whilst Bordeaux names include the Chateaux of Rauzan-Segla, Phelan Segur and Haut Bailly. Things became more relaxed once accompanied by the gentle fizz of a glass of Deutz- nothing unusual- crisp with a little yeast and a general crowd pleaser as you would expect from a house champagne. 


Few things in life can appear more deceptively simple but be more delicious than a good gougere. Perfect round pillows of cheesy air that deflate on your tongue into a soft savoury goo. These were made from comte and I ate more than my fair share (I think they felt bad after the initial cold staring incident and gave me a massive plate).

An amuse bouche of a langoustine encased in filo pastry in a sweet and sour sauce might possibly be likened in theory to a riff on a Waitrose Christmas canapé classic but was on a whole different level and disappeared in a flash. A crab terrine was amongst the prettiest dishes I've ever been served although the person charged with slicing the radishes, fanning them then squeezing those tiny blobs of green herb pesto around each plate must have the patience of a saint. Pulling it apart felt like an act of sacrilege but the flavour was worth it. Intense crab bound in a soft creamy sauce, cut through and contrasted by the lightly pickled radish and pesto. Why add too many ingredients when the base is as perfect as this?



Paris wouldn't be Paris without frog's legs.This version was served with a spelt risotto and brown butter. I'm not sure that I've ever found a great deal of flavour in the frog's leg itself - its one of those meats that falls into the cliché of "tastes like chicken" - but rich butter and translucent wafers of fried garlic gave it enough flavour that the frog might be lacking to a non-comprehending 'rosbif'.


A rather large slab of pan fried foie gras with reinette apples and muscat grapes came next. Of course I ate the whole lot but in all honesty both my rapidly furring arteries and I could probably have done with half as much. A weak complaint though as it was properly caramelised to a crisp on the outside but with a warm, wobbly and gelatinous interior. No graininess or slight bitter favour as you occasionally get from less superior foie gras. Skinned sweet little explosions of grape and soft apples were ideal (although I'm feeling for the chap peeling the grapes- here's hoping it wasn't the same one who had to finely slice and layer all those radishes in the crab dish). The sauce was a masterpiece. Deeply savoury to balance out those sweet apples and grapes and reduced down to a small sticky puddle.

Ordering wine on your own can be a bit of a minefield in my experience as you are either limited to whatever is on offer by the glass or you have to order by the whole bottle and either be plastered or limited to one wine throughout the meal. For the most part (and yes I know there are exceptions) restaurants in the UK are not great at offering a good selection of half bottles. This is something that French restaurants excel at. A half bottle of 2000 Sociando Mallet set me back about 60 euros which, whilst pricey, is comparable to half the price of a full bottle. The 2000 is drinking perfectly right now, slowly gaining some more secondary flavours of cigar and smoke to complement an intense black fruit on both nose and palate. 

A pigeon pithivier seems to be something of a traditional dish at Taillevent and was cooked very rare with a mixture of winter mushrooms encased in a pretty puff pastry parcel. Sauces are all sensational at Taillevent and this one was no exception. Rich and cooked down to its very essence of red wine and game juices- clearly the work of several hours. From my perspective though, completely superfluous salad leaves! 


Any self-respecting French restaurant excels at cheese and Taillevent is no exception. You will never find a perfect triangular chunk of underripe brie served here alongside celery and a grape. Oozing cheese as far as the eye can see...


A truffled Brillat Savarin invoked the equivalent of a food orgasm with very developed St Felicien and Epoisses taking me into multiple O territory. Having stratospherically exceeded my recommended intake of both cholesterol and salt on one plate it seemed like the sensible thing to do to proceed straight to dessert. When you're in heaven no one's counting right?

Dessert wouldn't be complete without a decent wine to go with it and the claret was long gone with the cheese. A glass of Huet Moelleux Clos de Bourg 2003 can never be a bad thing. Its honey and sweet apricot fruit matched brilliantly with a pineapple and lemongrass sorbet and coconut cream parfait confection but less well with a dark and cloying Nyangbo chocolate mousse. It was filled with a vanilla ganache similar to the one found in Laduree vanilla macarons that I have never managed to replicate. I can only think that it involves an obscene amount of butter.


Petits fours included an utterly beautiful, light as a feather orange blossom marshmallow, the smallest vanilla macaron I have ever seen and a chocolate truffle. Enough, I'm done. Except I'm not as a bottle of house cognac and a glass appears on the table and is left for me to help myself. 


It's entirely likely that the cognac bottle is strategically in place just in time to properly anaethetise you prior to receiving the bill. There is no other way of putting it, its very expensive. A 330 euros kind of expensive in fact (although granted I had good wine). This is a long, long way from being a cheap meal by anyone's standards. By Parisian standards though it is positively good value for a 2 star tasting menu with wine. If someone told you than evening in your particular version of heaven would cost 330 euros who could say no? There is a cheaper way of doing things though; lunch is available for 108 Euros for 4 courses including drinks which sounds eminently more reasonable.


To round my personal heaven off in style I went for a quick gander at the wine cellar deep beneath the kitchens. 'Cellar' in the singular is a misnomer for they have five onsite cellars as well as various others around Paris. The five in the building are divided between Burgundy red, Bordeaux red, white, spirits and sparkling and locked behing steel doors by giant keys. The floors of all them are covered in gravel and pebbles to help moderate humidity and to absorb movement (the building is close to a Metro line). It was like being a child in a sweet shop. Incredible bottle after bottle was pulled out; 1894 Lafite, 1919 Haut Brion, 1909 Yquem, they just kept coming shown off by a head sommelier with such obvious pride in his babies. They threatened to lock me in there then looked slightly alarmed when I agreed. If there is ever a threat of zombie invasion or nuclear destruction I know where I will be hot footing it to. 


When I'm visiting a restaurant like Taillevent I tend to opt for a tasting menu just to make sure that I get to try as many different dishes as possible, this does mean that I miss out on the beauty of the a la carte dishes. The table next to me went a la carte and the presentation was incredible - gold leaf a go-go and ornate decorations of pastry, vegetable or chocolate depending on the dish. Traditional dishes such as crepes suzette are cooked and served with a flourish of purple flame at the table side. A la carte is a stratospherically expensive way to dine though so this may remain a spectator sport for me. 

Highlights I just can't pick one, it was all incredible from start to finish.

Would I go again? Were I a resident of Paris with unlimited means and complete disregard for my waistline I dare say I would become a regular. In fact I would probably have my own banquette. As it is I can only hope that one day I might go back.

Summary Classic French food cooked superlatively well. Yes, its starchy and extremely old school but its hard to beat for a sense of occasion. An experience that almost felt religious with Taillevent as the temple.

9.5/10
Taillevent
15 Rue Lamennais, 75008 Paris, France
+33 1 44 95 15 01

Friday, 10 April 2015

Shackfuyu

If you've read this blog for a while you may know how rare it is that I am unstintingly positive about anywhere - what can I say, I'm a discerning (*picky/fussy call it what you will) kinda gal. That said, one of the few places I adored without limitation last year was Flesh & Buns. I was therefore pretty excited when I heard about Flesh & Buns owner Bone Daddies opening a pop up place on Old Compton Street.


The term "pop up" has a rather ambigous meaning these days. When the term first, well- popped up, it meant somewhere opening for just a few days or weeks. Then the phrase became a bit overused so when Jamie Oliver announced his "pop up" Jamie's Diner in Piccadilly Circus - still marketing itself as "for a limited time only'- eyes rolled, especially when it was uncovered that the lease was for a minimum of three years so hardly what most people consider "pop up".  In the case of 14a Old Compton Street it seems that the lease is for an initial year so its not yet a permanent fixture but also isn't going to be one of those places that by the time I've pulled my finger out and written about it you can't go because its already upped sticks and left. Due to its not-sure-if-its-permanent status its also not had a high gloss makeover so is charmingly rustic with the previous inhabitant's brick pizza oven still very much mid restaurant (and in use). Its is suited to casual dining with your mates rather than first date territory but none the poorer for it. It also gets pretty smoky in there from the oven so don't be going on to anywhere you need to smell nice.

I'm still allergic to queuing so we had planned afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse for a lazy Sunday afternoon but when our table still wasnt ready 15 minutes after the booked time I went in search of Shackfuyu. Its one thing to queue when its 'no reservations' but quite another level of annoyance again to queue when you had bothered to book. Back to Shackfuyu... Not a single person queuing and a haven of peace and calm inside with a lovely warm smiley welcome- job done!


Drinks are served pre-mixed in little potion bottles and, feeling a little delicate after a big night out, I went for a "California Dreaming" apparently a mix of cranberry, lychee and lime. I say 'apparently' because  the lime was dominant and the lychee almost indiscernable. It was still tasty but the bottles are pretty tiny so I'd stick to the label soft drinks like Fevertree ginger beer. The boozy cocktails sound rather delicious though so Id be tempted on a less tender day. Its also worth mentioning the comparatively large downstairs bar that you can have a beer or two in whilst you wait for a table on those evenings when queues inevitably grow. Better than trailing down the street in the rain...
"Prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki" was just that; a circular slab of minced prawn fried patty but topped with spring onion, creamy sauce and the faintest whisps of bonito flakes that fluttered and danced in the air just like Hiroshima's favourite snack. This was nothing like your stereotypical Chinese takeway prawn toast though. No fried bread and not overly greasy; a soft, well seasoned prawn filling and the lightest of coatings.



My highlight beyond compare was the beef picanha with kimchee tare butter. Or an alternative description would be just really tender, rare beef slices dripping in savoury salty butter. Let's go with that. As with Jinjuu, the meat is listed in the dish description as being USDA. Yes, I know its good meat, my mouth told me that, but its a long way to bring cow when we have very good ones here too thank you very much.


Its apparently almost illegal to go to any Asian fusion type place in Soho at the moment and not order Korean fried chicken so we jumped on board. Sticky enough to require copious finger licking with sharp tang that gives way to a blast of chilli and spice- they are not for the faint hearted.  Being brutal, the wings aren't quite as good as those at Jinjuu (mainly down to their incredible sauce) but they are still delicious so I certainly wouldn't hold back on ordering them again. The Mentaiko Mac & Cheese got full marks for quality of sauce- thick and creamy- but I'm not sure about the mentaiko ball served on top. It was suggested that we stir it into the sauce but having tasted a small mouthful of cold pollock roe we decided to go more traditional and keep fish and cheese well apart.



Scallop with chilli miso butter might sound pricey in the singular at £8 but our portion contained two scallops and a plump roe so kept me happy if not my scales. Swimming in a deeply savoury butter (albeit with less chilli then the name might suggest), the molten pool gave way to a springy but delicate opalescent flesh. 




The hot stone rice comes in a big cast iron bowl with gome tare, chilli and beef along with various veggies like shredded carrot and roast sweetcorn. It is then mixed together at the table so that the heat of the bowl cooks the egg through the rice. Don't just take my word for it though, my first attempt at a gif below will hopefully prove it.

Shakfuyu


Kinako french toast with matcha Mr Whippy is the only dessert on the menu and has been a much instagrammed and talked about dish. I think its worth all the praise it gets. Although firm on the outside, the caramelised, kinako-covered crust gives way to a sweet, soft inner. L wasn't so sure about the ice cream but I know that the not-quite-sweet and a bit powdery flavour of matcha can be an acquired taste.



Would I go again: Yes definitely. Lovely staff, no queue on a Sunday afternoon and not too spendy (sub £30 a head although no booze)

Highlight: Its between the French toast and the beef. I can't decide. Am I allowed one sweet and one savoury highlight? Oh, I make the rules here so yes! Have both.

In summary: Another Eastern fusion riff on the Bone Daddies/ Flesh & Buns concept but so nice and different enough that you don't care.

7.5/10

Shackfuyu
Old Compton Street, Soho, London. W1D 4TJ
020 7734 7492

 
Shackfuyu on Urbanspoon Square Meal