Category Archives: Eating out

Restaurant review – River Cottage

 

18-Agretti-Heart-Corbis.jpgSo what was the spindly green vegetable?”, I asked. “Looked a bit like samphire?”

Agretti“, said the chefs. “Italian. But we grow it in the garden here, then cook it and serve with three types of beetroot – candy, purple & golden.”

Nice. Loved it. And what about the cabbage?….I’ve spent 59 years avoiding it, but that tasted so good with the beef and all the other veg.”

“Yeah, that’s just a bit of lovely summer cabbage, chopped finely and cooked with chives and lemon.”

Whoever thought vegetables could be so interesting and tasty, almost hoisted to the front of the stage after years cowering in the wings?

I was in the kitchen of River Cottage HQ, in a gloriously verdant valley just outside Axminster, on the border of east Devon and west Dorset. I have never really watched the TV series but one of our holiday group is a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and, staying nearby for a week, Sunday lunch at RC HQ sounded an appealing prospect to us all.

But this is so much more than just another meal.

From the moment you arrive – transported from the car park to the farm by rustic tractor and trailer – everything done here is a joyous celebration of nature and food, rather than a reverential prayer at the altar of yet another temple of gastronomy.

Welcomed in a splendid yurt with a glass of apple cider brandy, we sit on straw bales to hear what’s in store.

In a moment, we’ll bring round a couple of appetizers to enjoy with your drink. Then feel free to wander anywhere you want. The cottage is on the other side of the dining barn. The kitchen garden is beyond the cottage. The pigs and chickens are up on the ridge, by the polytunnels, where the tractor dropped you off. Drop into the cookery school, where they’re being taught how to make blue cheese today. And go and say hello to the chefs in the kitchen.”

Labneh with cumin, pickles and sauerkraut, and pork liver pâté with tomatillo chutney, got the taste buds moving. And after exploring the estate, sitting communally in the cathedral-ceilinged dining barn on two long tables, British split-pea hummus with seeded dukkah, and smoked pollock rarebit with leeks and apple chutney revved up everyone’s culinary engines.

Between courses, ask the friendly chefs about ingredients and techniques. No sweary, over-stressed prima donnas in this kitchen.

 

Or browse through the RC books and other merchandise on display by the bar, although there is no hard sell at any time. Or find out what’s brought your fellow diners to River Cottage.

Back at the table, fennel roasted carrots, green beans with shallots and tomatoes meant the innovative veggie support acts were threatening to steal the main course show.

But not quite.

The undoubted star was the 6 year-old local heifer, barbecued overnight in the rustic smoking machine, carved and served with that perfect combination of blackened crust and still reddish meat. Add a rich, silky beef-bone gravy, anise hyssop Bernaise sauce, roasted skins-off charlotte potatoes, the symphony of vegetables and a glass of red and you have a meal that lingers long in the culinary memory.

Orchard mist jelly, barely concealing cheeky wobbling raspberries, apple crumble, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream completed the show.

We wandered around the estate and trudged back up the valley to cars, reluctant to leave River Cottage behind.

This wasn’t a cheap lunch, but the overall experience was worth every penny. Come here to see first-hand the easy, natural transition of food from farm and garden to table, to understand better how to combine ingredients and how to cook with passion. But don’t come here if you want just another Sunday lunch.

Thanks to all at River Cottage, and especially to Andy Tyrrell – senior sous chef – for his humour and for his patience in annotating all the ingredients for me!

We’ve got a vegetarian friend coming for lunch tomorrow. I hope she likes agretti…..

Restaurant review – Galvin la Chapelle

The Galvin brothers are gastronomic rock & roll stars, with several acclaimed eateries in London and Edinburgh.

Image result for galvin brothers chefs

La Chapelle is their outpost near Spitalfields Market in the city, close to Liverpool Street station and Bishopsgate. Once St. Botolph Hall, the building was a girls’ school in the 1890s and served as a parish hall and gymnasium until 1975. It was due for demolition in the late 1970s, until a group of local residents chained themselves to the front door gates to stop the bulldozers moving in.

Derelict for years, it was only opened again in 2009, as La Chapelle restaurant, after extensive refurbishment for Chris & Jeff Galvin.

Image result for galvin la chapelle outside

And what a refurbishment. As soon as you walk through the front door, the building and the interior space is as much a star as the food. Well, almost. Your eyes are drawn to the soaring cathedral-like ceilings, light flooding in from the Gothic-arched church-like windows, and the suspended mezzanine floor inserted into history.

Image result for galvin la chapelle

The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2011, and continues to dazzle. We went for the first time a couple of years ago, for a special celebration, and vowed to return.

Well, we just have done. With friends, and to take advantage of a special summer menu, at a fixed price of £29 for 5 gastronomic courses, and including a glass of fizz. Yes, it’s expensive, but not bad value really for such an acclaimed venue.

Parfait of goosnagh duck liver was as light and ephemeral on the tongue as a church wafer…but much more sinful.

Lasagne of Dorset crab, with beurre Nantais and pea shoots, was a perfect marriage of English seaside and Italian pasta. I wonder if it will last…

The central culinary pillar was pot roast supreme of Landes corn-fed chicken, nestling down on a risotto of girolles and soft herbs. This was an unctuous dish, a tad salty but with rice of that perfect texture that is so elusive at home.

The cheese course – a creamy blue Fourme d’Ambert, with grape chutney and walnuts – was so small that we sent out a search party to find the fromage.

But a raspberry souffle, bathed in decadent Valrhona chocolate sauce, was a suitably indulgent finale, before we staggered out into the Spitalfield night.

Service throughout was impeccable. Professional, friendly and engaging, but not subservient as it sometimes can be at temples of gastronomy.

If I’m honest, the meal was slightly disappointing. It fell between the twin stools of a proper a la carte menu and a grazing option, and felt a little like a summer conveyor belt. If you decide to push the boat out, la Chapelle is highly recommended but go for the full a la carte experience, if you and your wallet dare.

Restaurant review – Drake’s, Ripley

Foodie neighbours and friends Ian & Jean have long eulogised about Drake’s in Ripley, but somehow we had never quite made it across the Georgian threshold ourselves.

Well, tick that one off the bucket list.

We’ve just enjoyed – with Ian & Jean – our first adventure at this stand-out Surrey temple of gastronomy. And, mange tout Rodney, was it worth the wait!

Remember the saccharine rom-com movie Jerry Maguire? Towards the end of this far-fetched Hollywood piece of schmaltz, sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) finally expresses his love for Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) in a long-winded speech.

Her simple reply? Shut up. You had me athello“.

The very first bite, one of three amuse bouches – a tiny morsel of tender beef inside a feather-light crunchy bread-crumbed parcel – sets the tone for everything still to come in a long, lazy lunch at Drake’s.

You had me atcroquette“.

And we were still in the bar at that stage, agonising over the many menu options: should we go for the simple, cheaper fixed-price seasonal lunch menu? The grazing menus….either the 6-course Journey * or the 8-course Discovery? With or without the matched wine flights? Or the a la carte multiple-choice option?

We all decided on the Journey*. Well, it was bucket-list time….

We put ourselves in the expert hands of the sommelier to recommend complementary red and white wines. He delivered. And how appropriate – but surprising – that he served up a subtle, spectacular Pinot Noir from Tasmania, where we were a year ago to the day.

I can’t find words that will do justice to the food that we savoured over the next few hours.

The Journey* was quite simply a culinary trek through perfectly balanced ingredients, beautifully married tastes & textures, and impeccably judged quantities and pacing. All transported from the kitchen by charming staff, professional but friendly, helpful but unobtrusive.

My own highlights?

  • the will o’ the wisp texture of the parsnip crackling, accompanying slow cooked pork cheek, scallop and gribiche sauce
  • the complete dish of guinea fowl, coq au vin, dandelion, wet polenta, king oyster mushrooms and pancetta
  • cinnamon, hibiscus ice and Pedro Ximenez

But that’s really unfair to the rest of the menu, like singling out Geoff Hurst from his 1966 World-Cup winning team-mates.

No wonder Steve Drake has been awarded a Michelin star for the 13th consecutive year, and has recently been voted number 35 in the Sunday Times Top 100 UK restaurant list for 2015/16.

It took us a few years to get here, and it might be another few years before our bank balance has recovered – but thanks, Ian & Jean. We’ve finally been Draked. And we loved it.

JOURNEY

Available for dinner Tuesday and lunch/dinner Wednesday – Saturday

Designed to be taken by the whole table

Leek, Haddock, Quail’s Egg

Slow Cooked Pork Cheek, Scallop, Parsnip Crackling, Gribiche Sauce
Brill, Romanesco, Vanilla and Parsley Root, Grain Mustard, Baby Spinach

Guinea Fowl, ‘Coq au Vin’, Dandelion, Wet Polenta, King Oyster Mushrooms and Pancetta

Cinnamon, Hibiscus Ice, Pedro Ximenez

Roast Plum, Hazelnut Cake, Caraway Syrup, Mint Jelly

Restaurant review – The Coach, Marlow

Padstow is famously known as PadStein, thanks to the proliferation of eateries owned there by Rick Stein, the TV chef who seems to know a thing or two about fish.

Tom Kerridge opened The Hand and Flowers in Marlow in 2003.

12 years later, it is renowned as the only pub in England to have been awarded 2 Michelin stars, and is so popular that you have to carve TOM on your left wrist with ox’s blood, and H&F on the right, just to reserve a table for 3:30 on a Monday afternoon in 6 months time.

Now, the good middle-class burghers of genteel Marlow-on-Thames are not huge fans of body art, and wouldn’t stoop so low just for a bit of Tom’s pub grub and a pint.

The answer? Open up another pub in Marlow. With no booking policy, so you can just walk in and enjoy some decent nosh without all that planning malarkey. Keeps everyone happy. Well, everyone in Marlow. Not so great if you travel up from Padstow for lunch and the place is rammed by 12:15.

Gill, my lovely missus, treated me to a meal at The Hand and Flowers a couple of years ago. Marriage is all about give-and-take, I’m told, so I thought it would be worth a few matrimonial brownie points to take her for lunch at The Coach.

On a glorious, sunny Friday in February, we turned up at The Coach, outside its inconspicuous looking facade in the town’s West Street. At 11:30, just to be safe. The strategy was to  grab a coffee, check out the menu and decide if it was worth staying around…there are plenty of other good options for a decent bit of lunch in Marlow. If you believe Trip Advisor.

We beat the rush…but only just. Welcomed by several of the friendly young crew, we were given the option of sitting at a more conventional – and slightly too cosy – table, or in some slightly barber-shop looking high swivel chairs at the bar. Good to be different, right, so we went for the bar stools.

 

Great decision.

And even better, we were at the far end overlooking the kitchen, the team prepping away in anticipation of a busy lunch service, lamb loins churning away slowly on the gleaming new rotisserie, and Tom’s lieutenant Nick Beardshaw doing something clever with a piece of offal – or was it shellfish? – right in front of us.

We were hooked. The welcome, the way the pub has been fitted out, the service for coffee and a birthday Bloody Mary, and a quick glance through the menu and we were going nowhere for a couple of hours. Screw those Johnny-come-latelies from Padstow, or Henley, or just round the corner.

The concept at The Coach is great food – presumably inspired by Tom and executed by Nick and the team – served in small portions. Not quite tapas, but certainly not a conventional 3 course meal. And it’s all the better for it, to my 5-weeks-in-Australia overfed belly way of thinking.

The unfussy lunch and dinner menu is split into Meat, No Meat and Sweet sections. Simples, eh?

The Nice Man Behind The Bar was patient with us. First up, we ordered just a pukka Caesar salad (£4) and potted Cornish crab with a cucumber chutney (£7.50). The chutney punched way above its sweet yet acidic weight, and elevated the crab in the same way that Beth has probably helped Tom to achieve all he has over the last 12 years.

We were getting into the swing of this and wanted more. All the food is freshly cooked as ordered and, with the place now rocking, Nick was pulling at the strings of the kitchen brigade like a master puppeteer. But in a sotto voce non-shouty way, as different from a certain Mr Ramsey as a Russian dissident is to Vladimir Putin.

So be patient and don’t go to The Coach if you’re looking for a quick sarnie and a couple of pickled onions in your 25 minute lunch break. Immerse yourself in the experience and let the culinary juices work their magic.

Another bonus of sitting at the bar, by the kitchen, was seeing all the dishes roll off the metaphorical conveyor belt, moulding your thinking about what to have next.

Gill went for the Chicken Kiev with maple glazed squash (£12), I liked the look – and sound – of the venison chilli with toasted rice cream, red wine and chocolate.

Ding dong, to plagiarise dear old Lesley Phillips. The richness and depth of flavour in the chilli, combined with the crunchy texture of the rice cream and the subtle chocolate, nearly had me falling off the barber’s chair.

Rounding off the birthday treat with a rather nice Spiced Plum Fool with brandy ice cream, we were sated. Well, nearly. We could have had more but – damn it – we had to leave room for the birthday cake with Gill’s Mum & Dad on the way home.  And the birthday buns with Gill’s sister after that.

We would both like to have tried everything on the menu. Really. It was hard to step away from the crispy pig’s head with piccalilli. Or the rotisserie beetroot with goat’s cheese, horseradish and apple. Some of our bar-stool neighbours were eulogising over the The Coach Burger with Lincolnshire Poacher. And the lady next to me almost had her own When Harry Met Sally moment with the Brixham Plaice, brown shrimp and Calcot onion.

So next time we go to Kerridge-on-Thames – or whatever Marlow soon becomes known as, when Tom inevitably expands his empire à la Rick – we’ll get there early again, to make sure we get some more barber’s chairs.

Actually, they’re open for breakfast. Perhaps we’ll make a day of it, grazing our way through the entire breakfast and lunch menu, like vultures picking lazily over their prey.

Thanks, Tom. Thanks, Nick. Thanks, Nice Man Behind The Bar. Gill had a great birthday lunch, thanks to The Coach. And my wrists are tattoo-free.

(photos courtesy of The Hand and Flowers and The Coach websites)

 

 

 

 

Melbourne – less is more

Day 17 – Saturday, January 31

When you’re travelling it’s nice to push the culinary boat out occasionally, but it’s just as rewarding to eat simply – as the locals do – to get under the real skin of a city.

Strolling through Melbourne’s main shopping precinct on Bourke Street on a busy Saturday, we wandered off into the maze of more atmospheric laneways and narrow covered malls.

 

Within earshot of an ageing accordionist playing hackneyed but romantic old tunes, we ate in a tiny and basic cafe, hunched up at a narrow counter and surrounded by industrial-size bags of quinoa and enough coffee beans to keep neighbourly barista Simon Ware grinding away for a year or two.

Delicious, healthy and generous portions of chicken waldorf and pumpkin & chickpea salads were just $6.90 each, about £7 for both, eaten reading the local Melburnian newspapers, listening to the old accordionist and people-watching.

In the evening, we ended up climbing the dingy stairs off a dark alleyway between Bourke and Little Collins Streets to eat at The Waiters Restaurant. Opened in 1947 – and with decor, tables and curtains barely changed since then – this humble eaterie was once a place for Italian & Spanish waiters to unwind after work. Anyone can go now, but the simple ethos remains the same.

No wine list, just red or white offered verbally. We had a couple of glasses of excellent Shiraz in petrol-station giveaway tumblers.

No menu, just a blackboard of regular dishes and one with the specials.  We both had pasta, with garlic bread on the side. Honest, wholesome food delivered without pretension. Buonissimo! And all for A$60/£30.

The service was equally simple, but friendly, from two young English girls…one from The Wirrall, studying at St Kildas for a year as part of her International Business degree course in Leeds; the other from Stamford, having fun and with no idea how the rest of her life would unfold.

The Aussie boss wandered amiably around, until huddled by the side of the radio blaring out by the open kitchen counter……The Socceroos were in the final of the Asian Cup against South Korea, and were 2 minutes from glory when the Koreans equalised. The food might have suffered from that point on…..*

Earlier in the day, we had done the official Neighbours tour. Gill is ever so slightly addicted to this Aussie soap, and this was a small price to pay for inflicting 3 days of tennis on her.

It was a fun way to spend a few hours, but somehow the functional, small street (actually suburban Pin Oak Court) and outdoor sets back in the Fremantle Media TV studio lot undermined the glossy vision of what end up on our TV screens. Another dream shattered….

But fortunately the subsequent dining experiences, as humble as they were, reinvigorated the soul.

Less is definitely very much more.

* the Aussies scored again in extra time to win the Asian Cup. Phew!

South Australia – Road Trip 1

Day 6 – Tuesday, January 20

After a few days in Adelaide, it was time to head out of the city and explore the wide open spaces of South Australia.

An old Aussie work mate from the UK, Bruce – yes, that really is his name – recommended we have lunch at D’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant on the D’Arenberg winery in the McLaren Vale area, south of Adelaide.

So we hopped, kangaroo-like, into our rented Toyota and headed to epicurean and oenophile paradise.

The D’Arenberg winery cellar door and restaurant are classy but understated, in a typically Aussie way. And the ambience encouraged us to push the metaphorical boat out. You know when you’re all relaxed and think that you might as well do something bold and outrageous, just in case you’re struck down by a flying wombat, or gobbled up by a Great White Shark…..

The 8 course degustation menu, with matching wines, would brook no denial. For the next 4 hours we indulged in course after course of exquisite food, washed down with 2 wines – yes, 2 – for each dish.

It all became a bit of a self-indulgent blur but stand-out dishes were the signature lobster medallion with blue swimmer crab & prawn tortellini, and lobster bisque; and the pink gin cured salmon with beetroot rye toast, cucumber jelly, fried capers and keta caviar. The puddings – passion fruit souffle with cream, and soft centred chocolate pudding with chocolate ice cream – were none too shabby either.

The D’Arenberg wines have jolly names like The Money Spider Roussanne, The Hermit Crab Viognier or The Noble Wrinkled Riesling but strewth mate, do they taste bonzer.

With outstanding but friendly service this was a great way to spend a few hours in a hopefully long life. It would have eaten up all our holiday dosh had it not been for a generous contribution from my Mum & Dad, but it was worth every Aussie Dollar. Theirs and ours. And thanks to Bruce for the recommendation.

Later, back at The Retreat on Chapel Hills winery estate, we went for a short stroll in the adjacent Onkaparinga National Park. As the shadows lengthened and the tinder-dry grass crunched under our sated bodies, we saw our first kangaroos bouncing around in the wild. Or did we? We’d got through a fair few gallons of wine, mate…..

 

 

Adelaide – coffee culture

Day 2- Friday, January 16

In search of a healthy breakfast away from our corporate hotel, we hit the streets of Adelaide in dazzling sunshine, feeling self-righteous after an early jetlag-banishing gym session.

I thought we’d embraced coffee culture in the UK, with artisan temples of caffeine gushing up on seemingly every corner in London….but this is a whole new religion.

Adeladies and Admen en route to work grabbed their fix on the run or chatted amiably, standing at newspaper-strewn high counters, in the dozens of cafes on Pirie Street, before hitting the office.

We settled on Kicco, a buzzy temple on the corner of Pirie and Wyatt Streets, enjoying an organic booster of yoghurt, fruit and seeds, together with poached eggs and bacon on toast. And a double espresso shot of their house blend, producing a caffeine injection so intense that any last vestige of jetlag was banished as quickly as a jihadi from a synagogue.

Later, we dropped into The Store in North Adelaide, recommended by friends James and Helen. The area has a different vibe to the Central Business District, feeling  as cool and moneyed as Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, but still with the same adoration of coffee. Simon Barista Ware, get your bean-fuelled arse over here….you’d never leave.

By the way, an Americano translates into a Long Black in these parts, unless you want to stick out like a sore Pom.

The rest of the day was action-packed. A long exploration of the serenely immaculate botanic garden was followed by a oenophile adventure at the National Wine Centre, education preceding practice, with posh Aussie whites accompanied by a groaning platter of exquisite charcuterie from the nearby Barossa Valley.

And much later, Gill tried her first ever oyster – the apparently world-class Coffin Bay variety – thanks to young expat Germans Anita and Claudia, with whom we shared several beers on The Deck at the Entertainment Centre, overlooking the Torrens River in warm evening sunshine whilst listening to some excellent eclectic live acoustic music.

A late curry on Rundle Street, then an unprofitable casino splurge, ended a brilliant introductory day to Adelaide.

But it’s the coffee culture that has defined the city for me so far.

Our Story

It’s simple really – good things are made with the heart. Like a composer writing a symphony, or an artist creating a masterpiece. At Kicco, coffee is our art. And in a world where the good things are hard to find, we put the heart back into the daily grind.

Our coffee is so good because each part of the process gets our care and attention. From plantation, right through to the cup. For us it’s not about formulas, figures or focus groups – it’s about the experience. The experience of great coffee.

At Kicco, the process begins with the selection of superior beans from premium estates, but the real magic happens in the roast. Our beans are carefully handpicked and roasted locally in small batches. This special treatment is what makes Kicco coffee consistent, fresh and full of flavour.

Over the years Kicco have perfected the art of coffee with a selection of much-loved signature blends and specialty coffee. Allow us to share the espresso love affair with you.

 

 

 

A tale of two restaurants

Michelin starred restaurants are just like buses, eh…..you wait years for one to come along, and then you go to two in one week.

Well, Gill and I did, anyway.  And what a contrasting experience they both were. The restaurants, not Gill and I.

First up, L’Ortolan, just outside Reading. The restaurant building is beautiful but there has been plenty of development around it over the years, and you have to drive through a housing estate to reach the manicured estate of Alan Murchison’s temple of gastronomy.

With one Michelin star and 4 AA rosettes, their aim is to provide exquisite contemporary French cuisine, exceptional service and a warm welcome.

The service was indeed excellent, if a little too formal for our liking. We prefer informal and knowledgeable to stiff, starchy and un peu reverential.

We threw a blanket over the Menu du Jour, and covered off most options between us. Without exception the food was picture-perfect, presented up like a virgin to the slathering audience at the altar. But sadly there seemed to be a lack of overall depth in the flavours. She didn’t come through. A case of style over substance. A bit Tony Blairish.

 

A couple of days later we rocked up to JSW in the sleepy Hampshire market town of Petersfield. A very different proposition to L’Ortolan, JSW is located in a quaint 17th century building in a quiet street, just next to Thai and Indian restaurants. No showiness here, from the get-go, as our American cousins might say.

Jake Saul Watkins has presided here since 2000, earning the coveted star in 2002: It’s no coincidence that I cook what customers want. By keeping it simple, the food my chefs and I cook allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. I believe that cooking is a craft, one of the few remaining crafts left in society. It’s expressing our creative side and through cooking part of it is giving happiness to others. Our food has a practical, eatable quality about it. There are few, if any, garnishes on the plate.

Not just lip service either. The food was outstanding, the service friendly but professional from the ridiculously youthful front of house team, and the ambience relaxed and comforting.

We spread ourselves around the larger of two set menus, luxuriating in John Dory fish with mushroom risotto, whimsically titled lamb spag bol, lemon curd parfait with raspberry…and just about all other compass points on the well balanced menu.

Simply elegant presentation combined with a real depth of exquisite flavours. Style and culinary substance, in spades.

JSW 1, L’Ortolan 0 in this battle of the stars.

How long before another food bus comes along….?

 

Restaurant review – Koshari Street

Stumbling across Koshari Street in St. Martin’s Lane last week was one of those finding a £20 note in an old pair of trousers moments.

We were in the Big City for the Wednesday matinee performance of Shakespeare in Love. Yes, Wednesday afternoon. Still milking the newly-retired feeling before it becomes the when-do-I-have-to-work-next stage.

The main culinary event of the day was supposed to be an early supper at Hawksmoor, the uber-posh hand-reared corn-fed OMG-steak place. But in many ways, the cheap but oh so healthy & tasty Koshari Street Egyptian street food place, directly opposite the Noel Coward theatre, usurped it.

The proposition is very simple: enjoyed by thousands daily, this humble and healthy yet outstandingly tasty vegetarian dish of lentils, rice and vermicelli, topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions, comes from the heart of Egypt and is a national dish sold on road side stalls and restaurants in Egypt.

The tomato sauce can be mild, hot or mad, the chickpeas and onions add good texture variations.

At just over £10 for 2 medium sized pots of Koshari, with all the trimmings, and some mini crispy pitta breads and hummus, this was amazing value for a kiss in a bowl, to plagiarise the bald, fat bloke from Masterchef.

We ate inside, teetering on top of stools in the narrow space. Definitely more a takeaway experience rather than a sit-down restaurant, but that doesn’t detract from the  enjoyable surprise we had at Koshari Street. A healthy, warming appetiser to a Shakespearian main course.

JR rating = 19

  • Food = 8
  • Service = 7
  • Ambience = 4

Restaurant review – Hawksmoor Seven Dials

Remember that first date with someone which went so well you thought: maybe, just maybe, this could be the one ? And the frisson of excitement anticipating the second….only to be left with a hollow feeling of back to the drawing board after a disappointing rematch ?

I’d been to Hawksmoor Seven Dials just a few weeks earlier, with my brother and his two lads, to celebrate Paul’s BIG birthday. You know, one of those mad, alcohol-fuelled weekends where eating at a vegetarian restaurant just wouldn’t cut the mustard.  We needed meat. And the good stuff. So we went to Hawksmoor, and devoured the rib-eye and the Chateaubriand…and then told everyone we’d eaten the best steaks ever.

So when I wanted to celebrate retirement with my wife Gill, Hawksmoor seemed the perfect accompaniment to a Wednesday afternoon performance of Shakespeare in Love.  Decadence piled on decadence. I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit (Master Shakespeare – Twelfth Night)

Hawksmoor plays the shy coquette. The sign is barely visible in Langley Street, one of those narrow Covent Garden alleys a far cry from the tourist-strewn Piazza. And the image of a Prohibition speak-easy continues as you descend into the subterranean meat-pit, all exposed brickwork and subdued lighting.

The service is nicely informal, but slick. First name terms as you’re passed from ground floor reception to the downstairs speak-easy front-of-house , and then a smooth affability from the waiter when you reach your table.

We hit the cocktails to embrace the sense of midweek bravado. The slug of alcohol from the Bitter State concoctions (Appleton Rum, apricot liqueur, Campari & lemon) bludgeons us between the eyes, and sharpens the appetite  in an instant.

At £24 for 2 courses and £27 for 3, the Express Menu is a relative snip. Well, we are eating into our pensions now. And the pre- and post-theatre options look attractive enough for star-crossed lovers with not long to live.

Gill’s Doddington Caesar Salad and my Potted Mackerel are accomplished first acts, but the main player of the drama – our 250 gram rib-eye steak – should have been better prepared, and fluffs its lines. It’s cooked medium rare, although slightly too rare for my taste, with more blood than Lady Macbeth’s dastardly dagger. The quality is good enough but the main villain is the chewy, sinewy edges. A disappointing performance after the theatrical hype.

The extras are multi-textured beef dripping chips, and buttered spring greens – cabbage and overly chewable, tough spinach that do little to upstage the flailing central character. Thank goodness the Argentinian Malbec has played its part in perking up our spirits.

I mentioned our meaty disappointment to the waiter, exacerbated by the outstanding recent performance I’d enjoyed so much. An off day? Complacency? Forgotten lines? No matter, his reaction was word-perfect….an abject apology and immediate offer of free desserts, despite my genuine insistence that wasn’t necessary.

The final acts of peanut butter shortbread and white chocolate cheesecake with strawberries did much to recover the happiness of the occasion, and Hawksmoor’s image in our eyes. But you’ll always come away wanting more if Hamlet has messed up, no matter how good Henslowe’s small contribution was.

JR rating = 21

  • Food = 6
  • Service = 9
  • Ambience = 6