Monday, 30 September 2013

Nancy Lam's Enak Enak, Battersea

Back in the mists of the 1990s, in the days when TV cookery shows were not as prolific in their abundance as they are now, when Ready, Steady, Cook was new and Loyd Grossman confused us all with his Masterchef transatlantic drawl, Nancy Lam exploded onto our screens as the larger than life and eccentric Indonesian chef. 

Her restaurant 'Enak Enak' (or "Yum Yum")  actually came before Nancy's tv career rather than being a spin off from it and underlines the reasons that she was plucked from obscurity to become a tv chef to begin with; it is all founded on excellent cooking skills and genuine passion for food. In its current location since 1988 it is at the slightier less gentrified end of Lavender Hill, it involves a bus or a 10 minute walk from Clapham Junction or from Battersea Park/ Queenstown Road but its worth a trip I promise....

Entering at 7.30 on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was eerily empty as in completely empty. Settling in with a beer and some prawn crackers with a home made dip I was treated to a soundtrack of unmistakeably nineties tunes with a smattering of eighties for good measure but nothing that has seen the charts this side of the millennium. The decor is similarly stuck in time with wicker chairs and vases of dried things. That said I see from her Twitter account that the restaurant is being decorated this week. There is a massive portrait of Nancy brightening up the walls and on the opposite side a plethora of photos of the various guests on her tv show and celebrities who have visited over the years, some yellowing a little but nonetheless quite endearing. I know that makes me a complete hypocrite since I criticised it only a few weeks ago about Mango Tree but here it just added to the family feel of the restaurant. The other thing that added to this sentiment was the number of regulars who appeared over the course of the evening who were all greeted warmly and who made a point of talking to us and telling us which dishes they love and how long they have been coming. Nancy's family must be doing something right to engender this level of enthusiasm. I hear that the photos also aren't just from one off visits. Apparently a trip to Nancy's is a must for the England cricket team when they are down the road at the Oval. 

The menu is a blend of various Asian specialities, something I'm usually quite hesitant of (after all if a restaurant claimed to specialise in "French, Spanish and Italian" cuisine this would seem very odd so why any different for Thai/Chinese/Indonesian etc?) As Nancy is known for Indonesian food I tried to steer more in that direction.

P found the menu a little limiting for a vegetarian so I think its fair to say that meat is what Nancy does best. I wanted to get a decent overview of the starters so went for the mixed satay. Consisting of chicken satay, spare ribs, barbecue prawns and achar-achar (indonesian pickles), I can honestly say that every element was utterly delicious. Described as "marinated pork ribs cooked over charcoal with sweet and spicy chilli sauce", I had been worried whether the sweet chilli sauce would be that of the ubqiuitous orange bottled variety and in many other locations that would have been a valid concern but not here. Slipping off the bone, they were tender but moist and the tangy sauce complemented the rich smoky meat rather than smothering it. The chicken was vying with the pork in the tenderness stakes and the peanut sauce "from scratch" was rich and gloopy with a little Malaysian tang. The prawns had springy, sweet flesh without having gone tough on the charcoal which is a tricky business as those little suckers must take no time at all to cook. The pickles were a great contrast to the meat and rich sauces.

The best bit of all though was the beef rendang. I always forget that a proper rendang should not have a great deal of sauce having cooked down over hours. Aromatic cinnamon and cardamom push through whilst competing with all the other Asian spices and the beef is just fall-aparty on your fork (yes 'full-aparty' is a word...) Spicy without sending me over my chilli limit is was beyond delicious. I think it is worth sticking to Nancy's specialities since whilst the vegetableThai green curry was nice, it wasn't blow me away nice and probably needed a little more spice.

Upon first sight the portions can seem rather small, that said I did leave very full  and couldn't manage dessert which was a shame as there were things that looked nice.

Nancy's seemingly long suffering but genial Ghanaian husband Ben was running the kitchen on the night that we visited. I say long suffering because he was roundly berated for coming to talk to one of the regulars and duly sent back down to the kitchen. Nancy's daughter works as a waitress and behind the bar so it is a truly family business. I can't write up my meal without a paragraph devoted to Nancy herself. There all sorts of cliches littering the internet; "force of nature" seems to be a consensus and she is very in your face. I can imagine if tourists wandered by they may get a bit of a surprise (unlikely given the location) but if her reputation precedes her then the very loud, chirpy borderline abrupt service is endearing. That said I can't imagine what would happen if anyone complained about a dish!

The wine list is quite limited and not the most exciting (but as a rule I tend to find this to be the case in many Asian restaurants. I stuck to Singha beer but P ordered the house sauvignon blanc which turned out to be a really pleasant surprise. Not too dry, it was fruity and complemented the dishes better than I would have thought possible. The cocktail list is worth a mention. We reeeally are going back in time here and I was tempted to order just to see if it came with a sparkler and an umbrella. With names like "Luscious Luke" and "Gorgeous Gregory", they are tropical in content and quite sweet sounding. For example the "Passionate Paulo" consists of "a seductively sweet tart fragrance that oozes passion fruit".

Although there is a certain air of wistful nostalgia around the restaurant and the tv cameras may have gone away, what is left is a lovely family run, neighbourhood restaurant with a warm welcome and some excellent food with some clearly very dedicated and effusive regulars. Oh and just to top off the 80's/90's theme the bill came with After Eights, excellent stuff!


Nancy Lam's Enak Enak
56 Lavender Hill, Battersea, London. SW11 5RQ
0207 9243148

Nancy Lam's Enak Enak on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Can you Trade Mark a Dish? Or When Can You Not Call a Pho a Pho or a Dirty Burger a Dirty Burger?

The two major elements of my life seem to be fusing rather publicly on Twitter at the moment. When I’m not wittering on about food and drink here on my blog I spend my days earning a crust as a trade mark lawyer*. There have been a few instances over the last few months of companies applying to register trade marks for things that a lot of us would assume are rather descriptive so I thought it might be an idea to clear up some of the misconceptions about what you can and can’t do in relation to IP and food.

The most recent incident involves Pho Holdings Limited who started their restaurant branded as “Pho” in Clerkenwell in 2005. They appear to have contacted “Mo Pho” who are based in South East London with a legal threat based on trade mark infringement and passing off. Apparently they are demanding that Mo Pho change their name which I think is a big old shame as a) Mo Pho’s name is a really cool play on words and b) I think that Pho’s name is rather boring; its like calling a Dim Sum restaurant “Dumpling” or “Har Gau”. On the face of it “pho” is a dish that all us foodies (and any Vietnamese) know and love as a classic, iconic dish of Vietnam so why or how could someone acquire a monopoly right to prevent others from using the name?  In fact there are essentially two questions to be answered here 1) Are Mo Pho infringing Pho’s trade mark? and 2) Should Pho’s trade mark even be registered at all?

At its most basic you can’t register a trade mark which is either a) descriptive or b) non distinctive.  This is what has got people hopping up and down about the Pho case. “Pho” feels descriptive. Also where would this end? Will Pho be chasing down every London restaurant that dares to have "pho" on its menu? The system is designed to prevent this. 

Pho Holdings Limited appear to be claiming on Twitter that they aren’t actually claiming a monopoly over the dish name but to the right to use the name for restaurant services. When you file a trade mark application you have to choose from a list of goods and services to which your trade mark will apply. For example class 29 is meat and processed foods, class 33 wines and spirits whereas class 43 is for restaurant services.  From a quick check of the trade mark register, Pho Holdings Ltd have registrations in the UK and EU for a whole host of classes some of which actually include food (thereby arguably covering the dish itself) They even have a registration for "Phocafe" which covers "noodle dishes".  Naughty, naughty!
Is this similar to Mo Pho?

One way of getting a difficult trade mark registered is to include a logo (making it more distinctive) and this is what Pho seem to have done. They  have a variety of registrations for the logo mark (see above). They only have one word mark for "Pho" but its arguable you could challenge this as a) not having been used in a trade mark sense (a cursory glance indicates they only seem to use the logo mark on their website and use "pho" generically on the menu) and b) descriptive (see below re cancellation). This means the legal comparison could potentially be between the entirety of each mark i.e. “MO PHO” versus the "logo+Pho".   Even more different now eh?!

To decide whether something is an infringement you need to compare the marks and if it can be shown that either a similar or identical mark is being used for similar or identical goods then, in essence this could be the grounds for an infringement claim. One defence to infringement is to show that the claiming mark should never have been registered at all and if not then to file a cancellation action. If I was Mo Pho this is the route that I would be exploring with some specialist lawyers right about now. The challenge will be to show that “pho” was recognisable to consumers at the time of filing (2005) in a wide area (i.e. not just London or even a Vietnamese populated part of London).

Mo Pho have also apparently been accused of “passing off”. Passing off occurs when someone (in this case Pho Holdings) have good will and reputation in a brand which they can show has been misrepresented by a third party (in this case Mo Pho) and is in danger of leading to damage to their brand. Or in essence, would consumers be likely to be confused into thinking that Mo Pho is in some way linked to Pho and as such, money is spent at Mo Pho which would have been spent at Pho?  It is very hard to prove in the UK (and expensive) so let’s hope Pho have got their cheque books ready and that Mo Pho get the support they deserve to fight this.

On this I wish Mo Pho all the luck in the world as I would like to see them able to continue trading under their current fab and imaginative name. That said, let the Twitter storm and the PR continue – the case deserves it!

Other Examples
Soho House Group have applied for a whole host of trade marks in the past year including “Duck Shop”, “Meat Shop”, “Fish Shop” and “Steak Shop” covering (amongst other related services) “Services for providing food and drink” all of which have successfully reached registration.

They have also registered “Dirty Burger”, which I’ve used for years to describe a multitude of burgers (especially ones outside football grounds), meaning that the next time you’ve had a skin full and say to a mate “I could murder a dirty burger” you should in theory say “I could murder a Soho House Dirty Burger™

I’d be interested to hear if there are any other examples out there. Okay so taking the work hat off now, boring law lecture over and back to the usual antics of eating and drinking. Cheers!

UPDATE: After an afternoon of Twitter doing what it does best at a frenetic pace, Pho Holdings posted the following tweets this evening:

I'm glad that what could have been a nasty protracted legal battle for all parties has been resolved without the need for litigation. Hard as it is to believe, lots of lawyers don't like litigation and do what we do to try and avoid it!

*Important disclaimer: none of this is legal advice, its my own personal thoughts from a decade of experience. If you’re in any doubt or have got yourself in a pickle then consult a paid lawyer.  You can also find lots of useful IP advice at the UK government Intellectual Property Office website  They also have a helpline which, although they can’t give legal advice is nonetheless very helpful!


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Gentleman's Afternoon Tea at Sanctum Soho

The Sanctum Hotel is billed as an "opulent 30 room boutique hotel" located just off Regent Street. Although flashy, it isn't really opulent, its all fur coat and no knickers. It trades on a theme of rock star glamour and glitz but in reality is a little more Footballer's wives.  "Faux" is a horrible Gallicism designed to soften the damnation of something being just "fake" but it applies aptly to pretty much everything about The Sanctum. Banquettes are upholstered in a garish gold plush pleather and chairs are the type of burgundy high shine mock croc only previously seen on a hooker's boots in Pretty Woman. If I were to encapsulate the decor in one phrase it would probably be "Vegas wipe clean".

The walls are adorned with every permutation of modern skull art possible from neon light installations to spray painted graffiti numbers, apparently an exhibition of Dan Gold artworks. Each item has a sizeable "For sale" sign and price glued to the wall, in fact in one case the price tag was rather more tenacious than the artwork itself which is absent. The overall impression is one of overpriced stag do.  We were the only poor souls in the restaurant on a rainy Sunday afternoon making the atmosphere even more depressing.

There is something that gets my hackles up about the idea of "Gentleman's afternoon tea". Its all a bit Yorkie "not for girls" isn't it? This sentiment is reinforced by the fact the the laydeeeez alternative is the "High Tea for High Heels". That said the prospect of sliders and beef Yorkshire puddings appeals to me much more than "mini parmesan crusted fish pie" so any mild feminist indignation is cast aside. I had heard good things about the Gentleman's Afternoon Tea and found a deal online for two people for £75 instead of £50 each. This seemed pricey still but as it included a whisky and a cigar I thought that to be the reason for the uplift beyond the London £35-40 average price tag. What follows is unfortunately a description of the worst afternoon tea I have ever been served at an arrogantly inflated price.

Tea and coffee is "unlimited" but considering the tea options are all bags made by Twinings this really ought to go without saying. My green tea was an accurate representation of Twinings green tea as was the English Breakfast tea.  That's the best I can say about it. 

My main complaint with the menu at Sanctum was that various bits of it sounded fantastic in theory but in reality didn't ressemble their description in the slightest. For example "seared steak with mushrooms and peppers on sourdough" was actually a slice of cold, wet roast beef on stale wholemeal sliced bread. Yes, you could argue I'm being picky, after all its still a beef sandwich but don't describe it to sound better than it really is (especially if you're going to reuse the same sliced beef later on as something else).

The oysters themselves were not bad but the "bloody mary" sauce on them was extremely spicy.

The smoked salmon, watercress and caviar bagel was a good size but the bagel was a bit too doughy and heavy rendering it rather chewy. Although the salmon was well smoked it was just laid in a bare bagel with a sprig of watercress plonked on top. I see from the "girls"  option that their menu has a lemon creme fraiche, smoked salmon bagel; the simple addition of some creme fraiche may well have improved the version that I received immeasurably.

The second platter most closely resembled something you would expect to see in your local Slug & Lettuce as a bargain basement happy hour platter to line those rosé swilling stomachs. The Yorkshire puddings were a dry splodge of batter with a small roll of roast beef inside with the stingiest topping of horseradish I have ever seen (we asked for an extra portion of sauce). Incidentally the beef was the same stuff served as "seared steak" during the first course. The mini slider burgers were ok flavourwise but completely overcooked and the bun wasn't the freshest. I understand that the restaurant doesn't usually open on a Sunday for dining and is only there for afternoon tea so if I was being generous I might surmise that the "usual" chef isn't working on a Sunday. As you can see from the photo its all rather beige.....

The lamb and potato hotpot was as close to a 'highlight' of the experience as you could get in that it was okay. It had a decent cheesy mashed potato topping and well seasoned pink lamb filling. This made it more of a shepherd's pie than a hotpot and it could have done with a little more gravy but it wasn't bad. 

The "rabbit, pancetta and leek pasty" was dry and stringy at best, and utterly bereft of any sign of pancetta whatsoever in either one and, frankly,  if that was rabbit then you can call me Flopsy and knock me down with a cotton tail. 

Dessert was an inedible abomination. Billed as "Twice baked chocolate fudge cake with Jack Daniels ice cream" it was actually half of a dried out nut brownie on a completely unnecessary squirt of raspberry sauce accompanied by something purporting to be ice cream. Actually inedible. To add insult to injury it was the half of the brownie that had been cooked at the edge of the pan on two sides leading to extra dry crumbliness. The ice cream had essentially had too much alcohol put in it therefore destining it for an inevitable doom of failing to freeze. The cream had completely split resulting in texturally horrible splurges of grease. I really cannot describe eloquently enough quite how vile it was.

We left it virtually untouched and sprang onto the whisky element of the menu -after all you can surely not go wrong pouring a whisky (either standard JD, a honey version or the Gentleman's Jack were on offer- although not in a 'tankard' as billed). The honeyed option was really good and reminded me of the basis of an Old Fashioned. The cigars were pocketed for another time and we paid up and scarpered.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining and in the case of the Sanctum this was most definitely the service. Our waitress was a ray of sunshine and did her best to make our experience pleasant despite the slurry of dross being ejected from the kitchen hatch. She showed an interest in what we were doing later in the day and loved to talk about food, drink and her home region. I have no idea what Sanctum's policy is on division of service charge but you can't hold front of house staff responsible for bad cooking so I only hope that the  12.5% goes directly and entirely to her and is not swallowed into the pockets of a greedy hotelier because she deserves it and they don't. She was upset to hear that we hadn't enjoyed our experience (I don't believe in pretending everything was okay then slating it online later so I was up front about it) and said she would pass on the feedback to the hotel and they would likely be in touch. I'm unsurprised to say that a week later I haven't heard a thing. 

When you think that tea at somewhere that really understands the meaning of the word 'opulent' like The Lanesborough or the Goring is around the same price overall when you include a glass of champagne then the Sanctum is little short of a disgrace and I have no compunction about saying so.

We left still feeling hungry and popped round the corner to Yauatcha to top up on a couple of dishes of dim sum. The cocktails there are still fantastic and the food great too so maybe go there instead, or anywhere else actually, just not Sanctum. 

1/5 (for the service)

Afternoon Tea at Sanctum Hotel, Soho
Warwick Street, London
0207 2926100
  No.20 Restaurant @ Sanctum Soho Hotel on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Friday, 13 September 2013

Bistro Union, Clapham

I love Adam Byatt's first restaurant, Trinity, nestled away in Clapham's Old Town. Good honest produce, cooked well. Bistro Union was his much heralded second opening on Clapham's Abbeville Road just a stone's throw away from Trinity. I knew we weren't looking at fine dining but other than that didn't know what to expect. What I got was a warm and welcoming neighbourhood bistro with plenty of options whatever the size of your wallet or appetite.  It wasn't all plain sailing though....

A drinks list offers a decent selection of both wine and cocktails and something I've never seen before, what are essentially mini cocktails as a pre prandial snifter. I had a gin based confection for only around £3.

A brown paper roll announces the day's bar snacks and either offers something to nibble on or a selection of cheap starters depending on how you look at it. Pork crackling with apple sauce sounded like the perfect accompaniment to some menu perusal. The uniform sticks of crackling were very pretty and the apple sauce tangy and not over sweet but the crackling didn't seem super fresh meaning that, rather than being crunchy hard, they had softened off slightly into both chewy and hard. Every bite felt rather like I was tightrope walking a precipice into potential dental disaster unfortunately and this may have been the first time that I didn't finish a pork product.

A carafe of wine was plonked in front of us unceremoniously and we were left to sample and pour our own.  However after trying to pour it myself I can see why the server didn't want to pour it for us. The carafes are clearly designed by the same mischievous person who designed those metal cafe teapots that resolutely refuse to pour liquid into a cup but result in more of it ending up on your hands and the tablecloth. 

The house red wasn't bad and works fine as a "gulper" to accompany a basic dinner. 

Service was a little haphazard with wrong dishes appearing and disappearing at frequent intervals. Some of the staff were super friendly whilst one was clearly having a bad day with his own personal rain cloud

Mushroom, wild garlic and fennel tart came from the small bites menu which are kept on the bar counter. It was very tasty although I couldn't identify fennel amongst the flavours. If tasted blindfolded I would have thought it just creamy mushroom and garlic. 

Mac n cheese was good and worth going back for especially for a vegetarian. Properly nice and gloopy with thoughtful vegetable additions  which might annoy a macaroni purist but turned it successfully from a side dish into a veggie main course.

Bavette was cooked medium rare (I had been warned that it would be too chewy rare) and to be honest it was still overly chewy and half of it stayed on the board. Chips were very good  but please, for the love of god, stop using those infernal mini ketchup bottles! On one hand you have to shake it like an imbecile to get anything out and even then half of it stays in the bottle to be eternally unreachable even when you root around in there with your knife. They must be an absolute bugger to clean and they waste so much sauce. I pity the poor sod that has to fill them each day. The mushroom ketchup that was served with the steak (in one of the annoying bottles) was not very mushroomy and had more of an anchovy taste to it and, well, just wasn't very nice really. If you want to make mushroom ketchup take a leaf out of Heston's book I reckon.

Chocolate and coconut flapjack was a little on the tough and dry side resulting in yet another sore tooth moment. The ice creams and sorbets though are definitely worthwhile and a great little sweet ending to my carnivore meal (I don't know what it is but when I'm dining with a vegetarian I always seem to inadvertently order the most bloodthirsty options possible oops.)

Although it was, overall, a pleasant evening and supper, I was left wondering whether some kind of deal had been done with the dentists down the road to cause maximum risk of tooth based troubles after dining. Between the crackling, the steak and the flapjack I did begin to sense a conspiracy.... Considering the pedigree of head chef Karl Goward (Soho House New York, St John Bread & Wine) I might have expected more consistency in all honesty. 

Would I go back? Yes, if I was meeting friends locally and wanted a bottle of wine with a really good selection of bar snacks, then I would. The menu is extremely good value, especially the bar snacks.  It is very much a neighbourhood restaurant but probably not worth travelling the length or breadth of London for (whereas Trinity very much is).

Bistro Union
40 Abbeville Rd, London SW4 9NG
020 7042 6400

Square MealBistro Union on Urbanspoon


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson

I seem to have acquired a bit of an afternoon tea habit in recent months. Served late enough in the day to pop open something fizzy, it always feels like something of a celebration. I somehow try and justify that filling myself with a plethora of pastries and sandwiches is a good thing on the basis that a) tea can replace lunch and dinner thereby meaning you eat one less meal making it "healthy" and b) all the components are bite size small (although I'm sure that it would be frightening to see them all in a big heap). I am also supremely confident that this is a false economy. 

I'm not the only one that has jumped willingly onto this cake laden band wagon. There are now whole websites devoted to identifying the best afternoon teas. Some years ago it seemed to be only tourists who came to London with "afternoon tea" on your tick list of things to do.  Now even long time Londoners are regularly to be found gossiping away over a pot of lapsang souchong and a plate of scones. 

Some  London eateries are going out of their way to find methods (I was going to say gimmicks but that might be unkind) of marking themselves out from the competition.  The Berkeley has the "Pret a Portea", BRGR Soho is currently marketing a "burger afternoon tea" and the Sanctum Soho hotel is doing a men's afternoon tea replete with mini burgers and JD and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Sanderson has gone down the route of an Alice in Wonderland "Mad Hatters" theme. Their website has a bizarre warning that fancy dress will not be tolerated which gave me fantastic mental images of someone taking theme a bit too literally and turning up late dressed as a giant rabbit. 

On arrival I wandered through the bustling main restaurant area, hoping my table was not one of the indoor high ones with stools (who wants to eat afternoon tea perched atop a bar stool?) until I found P lounging in the corner of the garden. Phew. 

The Japanese garden once the crowds had cleared
Perhaps it didn't help that I had a colossal hangover, but I expect an afternoon tea to be a soothing, calming experience. What should be a haven of outdoor tranquility (especially as its called the "Japanese Garden") is spoilt partly due to the sheer number of tables they have crammed out there each with a two hour turnover- don't even think of trying to have a private conversation-  and secondly due to an excessively noisy water feature. I feel a bit like "Outraged of Tunbridge Wells" even using the phrase "excessively noisy water feature" but its actually really annoying. It took four, yes FOUR, attempts at ordering a Diet Coke before the waiter could hear me and he blamed the water feature. Yep, sure it looks pretty but can't it be pretty a bit more quietly? (doesn't that apply to so many things/people in life?)

A silver tray of four crystal bottles introduces the four specialist teas including mint chocolate (chocolate tea? Hmmmm), strawberry, rhubarb and custard and  apple pie. They all smelt either sickly sweet or rather overly perfumed to me (and one actively looked like pot pourri) so I opted for a standard green tea which arrived in a suitably themed teapot. 

So onto the actual food (when it finally arrived that is, well over 30 minutes into our 2 hour "slot"). 

The carrot meringues in a pot of pea shoots make a visually stunning topper to the tea carousel but, again, had no real flavour and had gone very slightly mushy. 

The highlight for me was a delicate dark chocolate cup filled with a white chocolate matcha mousse topped with a pink chocolate daisy. Totally OTT clearly and very much on the sweet side but very delicious. A victoria sponge clock was also a tasty play on the classic and deserving of its place on the tea stand.

The real let down of the outing, however, were the savouries. I know that in the original book Lewis Carroll described sandwiches that were rolled "like hedgehogs" but the fact is that unless the bread is super fresh sandwiches aren't made for rolling. In this case they were crumbling apart and seemed slightly stale. I appreciate that when you're serving what must have been topping in excess of 200 covers every 2 hours you can't make a fresh batch for each table but if you can't do them well, don't do them at all.  The fillings were the standards with a twist; ham and mustard on tomato bread, smoked salmon and lemon butter on rye bread, egg mayonnaise on a slight funny sweet tasting bread (the menu claimed it to be egg and smoked sea salt on lemon bread) and a cream cheese and cucumber roll on spinach bread. 

The savoury scone was a high point with a dense flaky crumb served with herb butter. Most disappointing of all, perhaps, was the chocolate scone. It didn't look like a scone for starters. Scones are supposed to rise. They are supposed to have a gentle outer crust that breaks to reveal a soft, warm inner just crying out for clotted cream and jam. These were rock cakes. They should have been embarrassed to serve them in all honesty.

Talking of being embarrassed to serve something, this brings me finally onto the cheese and tomato quiche. I genuinely would not have served these misshapen objects to any guest in my home and I'm no professional. A heavy, clumsy blob of solid shortcrust pastry contained a tiny teaspoon of under seasoned eggy cheese mix topped with a shrivelled cherry tomato quarter (too shrivelled to be fresh and not shrivelled enough to be sun-dried; just ugly!)

The experience ends with what is optimistically titled "jelly wonderland" which turns out to be a table that you can go and serve yourself from buffet style of various flavoured jellies. I was too full to be bothered especially after P had reliably informed me that a) it was hard to determine what flavour each one was supposed to be and b) they were all horrible. 

Price wise, at £35 (without champagne) its on a par with some of the other big hitters but the quality was not there for me both in terms of food and service. Despite the extremely patchy service there is 15% service whacked on top though which almost brings it into line with the total cost at the Ritz and I know where I'd rather be. It was a fun afternoon and a good girly activity - maybe as a break from shopping on Oxford Street, perhaps ideal for a hen party as you wouldn't be making too much noise. I think I will carry on my quest for the perfect afternoon tea for now though as I didn't find it here. 

Mad Hatter's Tea Party @ The Sanderson
50, Berners Street, London W1T 3NG. 
(0207) 3001400

Mad Hatter's Tea on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Shrimpy's Outside Grill, Kings Cross

Shrimpy's is located a little way off the main thrust of the new Kings Cross complex and about a five to ten minute walk down York Road away from the station. Just as you're wondering whether you've missed the turn off, the neon lights of the "Filling Station' appear and you hang a left into what must until comparatively recently have been industrial wasteland alongside the canal. The rejuvenation of the station must have done wonders for the canalside too, I can fully imagine it used to be home to upturned shopping trolleys. The building itself used to be a BP garage the husk of which is still apparent from the flat roof over the outside grill. To this shell, however, has been added a frame of corrugated wiggles that light up once the sun has gone down.  

The majority of clientele are painfully fashionable hipster types populated with the earnest young staff of the neighbouring Guardian/Observer building but I didn't feel as self conscious as I used to in Hoxton a decade ago when it was the epitome of cool.  It would be fair to say that Kings Cross has undergone nothing short of a miracle renaissance over the last couple of years progressing from somewhere that you went to only for the Eurostar to a dining destination. Its not quite there yet, the area around the station itself is still a building site, but the addition of places like Grain Store and Shrimpy's are all good news. Next summer its going to rock. 

I've got to start by highlighting that I've only been to the outdoor grill and not to the fancier indoor restaurant, I'd like to have tried dishes like the soft shell crab burger and prawn fritters with green chilli and lime inside but unfortunately we were out of luck on the table front (unlike much of hip London they do take reservations indoors). Both indoors and outdoors are a novel spin on Mexican street and beach food unlike anywhere else I've been to in London. To ensure a table space at the outdoor grill area on a reasonably warm evening you need to be there by 6pm latest.

Drinks are limited to a selection of whats on tap plus a couple of wines so the full range consisted of Bitburger beer (£4 a pint or £2.50 a half) , Hogan's cider, red & white wine (£4), the margarita of the day (pineapple and coconut for me) and prosecco (£5 each). 

I got a little caught out by the menu. Like so many places they have simplified it down to single ingredients so when I ordered 'barbecued pork belly' and some smoked 'aubergine, caramelised onion provoleta' I assumed they were tapas style dishes but no they were ruddy great sandwiches (or 'tortas' as they're known), not that I'm complaining they were pretty good value at £7 and £6 each. Too much for me to eat alone but the guys sitting next to us left happy (and one of them is now even a vegetable convert who didn't think he liked aubergine so they must have been good) The pork belly was shredded pulled pork style and mixed with a lightly vinegared red cabbage slaw and guacamole. The aubergine was roasted until soft and oily and cradled by the squidgy slick of melted cheese and onions. Whole husks of corn are thrown on the barbecue and come out super sweet so a bargain at £3. No pictures though, it was too dark by the time I got round to eating. 

The one weird quirk is that you are not allowed to pay by cash. Yep, you read that right, hard currency bearing the queen's head is not welcome at these premises! Card only. Sounds a bit dubious legally to me but just make sure you take some plastic with you. 

In summary, its not fancy but its a great way to spend a sunny Friday evening pretending that you're abroad by the waterside until a canal boat floats past and reminds you where you are!

Kings Cross Filling Station, Goods Way, London. N1C 4UR
(0208) 8806111

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