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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 10:21pm on 05/03/2011 under , ,
At first, it was a hamburger truck. Back then, the Meatwagon had enough buzz that I started following its updates in the hopes of some day intersecting it. Then the truck was stolen. What could have been sheer disaster for such a small-scale business was saved by someone's bright idea: a pop-up restaurant in a room over a closed pub (under renovation) down near New Cross Gate. And so #meateasy was born.

It's due to have approximately two months of life, so opportunity was limited. Having heard that it fills up so fast, it can take two hours to put in an order, we were advised to go at 5:30, right when the doors open. That's how C. and I came to be sitting on mix-and-matched chairs in a cheerful paper-and-chalkboard decorated room lit two-thirds by candlelight with slips of papers numbering 4 and 5 in our hands tonight. Those valuable slips of paper entitled us to order three items each (not including drinks) when our numbers were called on the sensible PA system whose throttled siren breaks through the buzziness of the rapidly crowding-up space.

Our drinks, in jam jars, are from the separate bar on the side which features an impressive array of ingredients. I particularly admired the half-prepped pineapple and the relatively unusual array of cordials. My drink is improvised, a fruity mojito with crushed raspberries; C.'s is a nicely well-rounded G&T. Soon, the wait for the bar looks substantial too; good call getting there so early.

We're so early in the evening that it's not a long wait, either to order, or for our food to arrive on their paper plates, delivered to the table. My bacon cheeseburger is a lovely burger, perfectly cooked, meaty and a little juicy, but the bacon is, almost inevitably, wide, tougher slab bacon and only really noticeably added a little toughness to the burger. C. praises the chili cheeseburger.

We've skipped fries (lackluster earlier reviews) and gone with buffalo wings, mac n' cheese, and onion rings for our shared sides. Buffalo wings! How I pined for them when I was living in York. These are aren't quite classic, but they're close and, more to the point, they're good, well-seasoned wings with a touch of spice and piquancy. The mac n' cheese is straightforward, a solid pot rendition (i.e. no crunchy top), and is the only dish which comes in something other than paper. I should have had the onion rings when they were newly delivered: by the time I tried one, it had lost its first delicacy of still-warm grease, but were still good renditions of thick-cut ones, easy to eat and at one with its crust (instead of slithering free of it).

By the time we left, it was all of 6:30. Spare pockets of standing space were jammed with the hovering 20-and-30-something crowds, gratefully receiving a spare table. The local mobile phone network was jammed up with users, and we'd had quite a nice dinner.

It's only due to be open for another two to four weeks so go now if you're going to go at all.
owlfish: (Feast)
Location: 18 Almeida Street in Islington, about a 10 minute's walk north of Angel. London.

For Chocolate Week, Almeida, a restaurant, coordinated with Paul A. Young, chocolatier, to create a three course menu for the second year running. We went with [livejournal.com profile] cwjat who, as it happens, is allergic to chocolate and so ordered off of the regular menu.

Richly chocolatey, with a really nice bit of pork belly.... )

Service was helpful and good-natured, if stretched a little thin at peak service times. The kitchen's clearly doing good things, if not reliably so; but it's hard to tell with a special one-off collaborative menu, not refined over months or years of operation. The Chocolate Week menu was a good idea, but the results were more a work in progress than a polished work of art.

Alas, this proved true of my other attempt at a Chocolate Weke event. The Orangery at Kensington Palace promised a week of chocolate-themed afternoon tea, but failed to live up to its advertised Sunday opening hours; it was closed for a private event.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:06pm on 05/08/2010 under , ,
I went down to Southank today, to meet [livejournal.com profile] swisstone for lunch. As a result, I have experienced the singing lift in Royal Festival Hall, in which a recorded choir mark the rising and falling of the elevator with steady increases or decreases in their notes, singing the name of the floor at the same pitch when the doors open. They could barely squeak out "level 6".

Down around level 2, on the first balcony level, outside Royal Festival Hall, was an art installation drawing attention to Brazil's favelas. On the one hand, it's important that such a massive situation as Brazil's enormous slums have attention paid to them. On the other, it was a little unexpected as part of a festival of Brazil in London. Is it helpful? Is it a cultural statement? Is it appropriative? Is it useful to draw parallels between London and favelas in the form of an art installation, that there is poverty at home as well as abroad? Does this trivialize the mind-boggling scale of the favelas? That there is a standard word for the slums in a particular country which I have known for years shows just how endemic the problem is.

I'm still not sure what to think, but here are some photos.

Photos of the Southbank favela... )

Bonus: Finally trying out Canteen, the up-and-coming little restaurant chain aiming to serve good classic British food. The fennel, tomato, and basil pie special was good, especially because I like fennel and the mashed potatoes very smooth, but very much real potato. It's a semi-fast food concept, as was evident by how much we needed to fit into their ordering process. After turning down dessert, our placemat/menus were taken away so we wouldn't have a chance to change our minds.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:11am on 20/07/2010 under , ,
Location: 152-154 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, in London. Moderate walk from Old Street or Liverpool St. Stations.

In a spacious chic-industrial space full of light, Saf's bar serves up some impressive and innovative cocktails. I drink a praise to England's Rhubarb Triangle, while C. is on the tarragon & tonic, and [livejournal.com profile] doctorvirago tries out the "Pick of the Garden Martini". A radish lounges on a floating leaf in her drink. Each cocktail is vividly complex, but with each element still distinct. This is superb teamwork on the part of the ingredients and the artfully performative bartender.

Dinner is thought-provoking, but we're not blown away the way we were with drinks. We have all three courses, starting with a vibrant sea vegetable salad, or a inadequately-varied set of tacos whose meat-replacement filling wasn't nearly as interesting as the sauces it came with. The salsify fettucine was visually lovely, but the comparison with fettucine was a distraction, with its flavor being less robust, more delicate than its namesake. Baked tofu really needed its dash of red pepper sauce to enliven it. The desserts were fine, but none of them were memorable for more than presentation.

Vegan fine-dining is a laudable accomplishment, but frequently, the dishes were, for all their visual elegance, not internally varied enough. We should have gone for more, smaller plates, perhaps a selection of appetizers. We also felt distracted by the names, with vegan dishes labeled as derivative of meat-laden versions we already knew. We wished we weren't burdened by those comparisons.

So: a pleasant meal, outside in the intimate little courtyard with twining pepper plants, fresh air and hard seats; friendly-but-uncertain service from a new waitperson; but the biggest active lure for a return trip is the cocktails. They really are awfully good.

Photos... )
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:42pm on 23/06/2010 under , ,
Location: 3 Hereford Road. Ossington Road becomes Hereford, heading north from Notting Hill Gate. West London.

The main dining room of Hereford Road is down the stairs, a well beneath a rounded skylight. Above us grow grasses and the sun is clear and warm. Here, capacious maroon booths, comfortable for four, ample for two as we sprawl our belongings across their lengths. Without the wash of sun, the room looks like it would be dim, despite its white walls. It's hard for me to picture either way.

The three course lunch special is £15.50. I have a refreshing salad, with large chunks of beetroot tumbled up with sorrel and tender hard-boiled eggs. [livejournal.com profile] d_aulnoy is generous and shares a full half of her much-needed salt intake, in the form of cod roe, delicate and light, on a more of the restaurant's good bread. (It arrived, untoasted, with butter, earlier.) Slices of onglet are nearly meltingly tender and buttery. The chips are crunchy and light, just as I like them, with a lemony aioli as accompaniament. The menu is literal: had we wanted additional vegetables, it would have required ordering sides.

The waitress is apologetic - no more strawberries, so I have a non-traditional Eton mess with raspberries, the sticky crushed meringue and fruit giving my stomach the illusion of lightness and very real energy. Service is pleasant and when we need it. The food refines on classics with minor experimentations along its edges. I wonder what dinner would be like there, lighting and all?

Afterward, we explore vintage clothing, Paul A. Young's lastest truffle innovations, and the tranquility of London streets in the middle of a World Cup football game when England is playing. Later, the cashier at a supermarket tells me of 3:30; the cashiers were all at their posts, but there was not a customer in sight.
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Clear blue skies, clement temperatures, talented chefs, good food, and lots of freebies: my annual four hours at the Taste of London flew by in a whirl of decadence, scribbled notes, and sporadic light conversation.

I used up half-an-hour of those scant four at a colorful cooking demonstration being given by the chef at Tamarind, a really good Indian restaurant. He was being hosted by some guy who referred to working with Gordon in Tamarind's kitchen, but he never did think to introduce himself. While on the whole, I tried to focus on new-to-me restaurants and products, I failed to resist the lure of finding out who the chef behind Tamarind is; nor did I resist the lure of the one-day-only L'Enclume booth. The presence of this booth is, indeed, why I knew I had chosen the right day to come to Taste. L'Enclume is a *really* good restaurant.

Taste of London features a decadence of samples. It's one of the many reasons to go. This year, samples ranged from an individually-wrapped seeded California prune to a bottle of iced tea to cherry tomatoes to hearty soup to quivery Malaysian lychee jellies. A supposedly halo-wearing frozen yoghurt was being given away by Sensodyne, the tooth past company. At one point, a particularly spicy pickle killed my taste buds so effectively that I could no longer taste jam, chocolate, or other spicy sauces; a conveniently-placed booth led to my discovery that a G&T is a good counterbalance to aggressive spice. It being only midday, I had intended to stop after one drink, but when I went back to thank the nice G&T people, they comp'd me a second.

At one point in the afternoon, I took five minutes or so to fill out the computerized survey on the event. Subjectively, it went on for a very, very long time, but it is how I discovered I must not really be a food blogger; I hadn't heard of a single blog that the survey asked me if I read. I was so startled that, despite reflective glare, I took photos of the screen so as to record this mysterious list of bloggers. This was one of two ways I rhetorically came to this conclusion this week. The other was that I had not heard of Food Blogger Connect '10, a London-based food blogger convention which was held for its second year, before it happened.

The best part of going to Taste is the chance to sample restaurants dishes - but since I have so much to say about those - and so many photos with which to illustrate them - I'll save them for another post.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 06:13pm on 16/06/2010 under , ,
Location: 118-120 Shaftesbury Ave, south side, by Chinatown. London.

This used to be the restaurant named Chinese Experience; rebranded and somewhat reworked inside to relatively plain, functional decor, it is now one of London's very few Hunanese restaurants. The menu is a picture book, poorly translated, but clearly depicted. We had a Hunan Chinese speaker in our group to bridge confusion, and the waitress double-checked our orders against the items in the picture menu to make sure.

Many dishes... )

If this assortment is at all typical of Hunanese food, then it is a rich cuisine, meaty, and dominated by an assortment of strong, decisive spices, whether cumin, garlic, or chili. It is not excessively spicy (although we were uncertain if they had been at all toned down for us because we were (mostly) not Chinese). Overall, it was a feast of regular visual interest, spice variety, and flavorfulness,

Service was friendly, not always wholly bi-lingual, but since we had a Hunan Chinese speaker with us, this was never a problem. One odd service moment: part of our party ordered wine from the wine list; the waitress had to come back to tell us that actually, they only had one wine in that day, the house wine. It was, for a while, a challenge to catch the attention of staff when, later in the meal, we needed refills of drinks, including chrysanthemum and green tea in tea pots, and rice, but they were prompt and helpful once we had secured their attention.

I'm now more interested than I was before in consciously being able to contrast regional Chinese food as represented in London (or elsewhere) restaurants. My particular thanks to [livejournal.com profile] nou in arranging for the dinner in the first place!
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:29pm on 27/05/2010 under , ,
Location: 1a Langton Street, at World's End. Chelsea. London.

A cheese-themed restaurant: how could I not check it out? Under the slightly confused "Cheese Gourmet Restaurant" sign, L'art du fromage looks Chelsea-elegant from without, but is more casual within. Bare wooden walls and tables, and a tasteful stained-glass window to hide the view out the back. Cheese, cheese, and non-cheese... )

The menu is seasonal, so it should be worth returning regularly to this restaurant. To our pleased surprised, the portions were not generally too large and, after a meal in which every course, for at least some of us, featured cheese, we were not cheesed-out. The main downside was that over the phone, we were told they have seatings, at least on Saturday night, of 6:30 and 9:30. Although the time gaps are generous, we were half-worried that we would be kicked out at 9; we were not, but it was a hazard hanging over our tranquility. Pleasant, friendly, low-key, but diligently-put-together dishes star at a rare cheese-themed restaurant. I'd go back.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:23pm on 15/05/2010 under , ,
Location: 12 St. George St., London, southwest of Oxford Circus. London.

[livejournal.com profile] pittenweem was off at the annual medieval congress in Kalamazoo, having dinner with my friends, so I spent Wednesday evening having dinner with hers. Fair trade. [livejournal.com profile] siusaidh was en route back from Botswana. Judah was over from Paris for the night. I dragged them around London for pastries (Cocomaya), chocolates (Paul A. Young), and dinner at Wild Honey.

Wild Honey is sister restaurant to Arbutus. It has the same high-end economical philosophy, good food, competitively priced, with intelligent use of its ingredients. It's the plusher-feeling of the two, with comfortable, spacious booths and oak-paneled walls. We made our reservation an hour before we showed up. They only had space for us at the bar then, but shortly after we settled in with blood orange and prosecco cocktails, a booth opened up - much better for comfort and conversation all around.

Onion tart, smoked lettuce cream, honey ice cream... )

C. was impressed enough with our meal that it may have moved to the top of his list of London restaurants. I enjoyed it, and will certainly be remembering that wonderful onion tart for a long time to come; but then again, the two of us don't agree on what makes a good risotto. The company was excellent, even if [livejournal.com profile] pittenweem couldn't join us.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 01:27pm on 14/01/2010 under , ,
Location: 167 Wardour Street, London.

Imli was the restaurant I thought I was going to when I had an amazing dinner at its more expensive sibling Tamarind, all those months ago. Better-informed this time around, I joined C, and visitors (previously unknown to each other) [livejournal.com profile] austengirl and [livejournal.com profile] gleodream for a long, loitering dinner in this fairly casual central Soho Indian tapas restaurant.

Warm colors, bare tables, paper napkins, and food which arrives whenever it's ready define Imli's informality. We started with a single order of pappadoms, two of them sensibly pre-divided into smaller pieces and served with pleasant chutneys made in-house, most memorably a tomato one. The drink selection was a delight of variety, with juice blends and interesting flavors of lassi to add to the usual suspects. [livejournal.com profile] austengirl's traditional lemonade was enlivened by thyme*. My refreshing pear-and-lychi juice blend was unexpectedly pink from the unmentioned addition of blackberries.

A variety of dishes... )


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