Tag Archives: london

The Riding House Café: a review (and a recipe for that artichoke purée)

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Homemade artichoke purée, fruity olive oil & crusty bread

The Riding House Café is achingly cool. From the shabby-chic New York-inspired dining room with its sweeping bar, shared tables and bare brickwork down to the distressed metal covers on Dyson airblades in the toilets (seriously…), it’s a lesson in laid-back luxe for a twenty-first century crowd.  In amongst the glamorous set of Soho after-work media types typical of a Tuesday evening, you might encounter some more unusual dining companions; a stuffed squirrel, a blue plastic Smurf or a pigeon frozen mid-flight, a light bulb clutched in its beak like an olive branch. A little pretentious perhaps, but somehow the overall effect is on-trend and very enticing; you definitely want to eat in this restaurant.

So what about the food? Does it stand up to the quirky, contemporary design or is this restaurant a matter of style over substance? Continue reading

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The River Café, Hammersmith: Sublime or ridiculous?

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Like it or not, we live in a consumer culture. Whether it’s Prada or Primark, foie gras or filet-o-fish, we’re a society that knows the meaning of money and (with some exceptions) we like to spend it. Some more than others. What exactly is it that makes people fork out for a designer dress, an eye-wateringly expensive hair cut,  a £100+ bottle of wine? Is it an assurance of quality that we often seem to accept as going hand-in-hand with a high price tag, the status and sense of self-importance that comes with flashing one’s flexible friend, or are these products actually better, more rare, made from finer products and with more love, care and attention?

Any review of The River Café is going to mention price, so I’m not going to pussy-foot around it. Renowned for its incredible approach to food and fabulous ingredients, this Michelin starred restaurant is also much maligned for its extremely expensive menu. Jay Rayner has described it as peasant food at plutocrat prices, and there seems to be a great divide in the foodie world as to whether it falls into the category of the sublime or the ridiculous. Or as A.A. Gill puts it in his full marks review for The Times, ‘Depending on the delicacy of your own social digestion, the River Caff either fills you with syrupy feelings of excitement, warmth and nameless intellectual superiority, or it makes you want to join a nihilist terror cell’. . . Continue reading

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Salt Yard Tapas

tapas_londonSharing food is great. I’m not talking about the kind of ‘sharing’ when someone leans over and pinches the crispiest looking chip on your plate, or when an eagle-eyed, weight-watching girlfriend suggests her loved one goes halves on dessert. Absolutely not. I’m talking sharing in a specific context i.e. the joys of tapas-style dining.

No longer confined to the Spanish cuisine which inspired it, tapas-style eating is perfect for big groups. It allows you the opportunity to be both adventurous and gluttonous, ordering numerous little dishes to compare, contrast and comment on without having to commit to one main meal. If you’ve ever sat in front of a menu racked with indecision (followed shortly by food envy when your companion’s meal arrives), then this is the perfect format for you.

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Dreaming of Da Polpo: Incredible pizza & meatballs

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Anchovy, black olive & caper pizza

For the last week or so the blogosphere has been alight with talk of Da Polpo, the new venture in Russell Norman’s ever-expanding restaurant empire. The fourth to open in half as many years, it builds on the menus of Polpo and Polpetto, adding an expanded list of pizzette alongside incredible sounding variations on an italian classic, the meatball. Not surprisingly for the brainchild of one if the first restaurateurs to truly harness the power of social media, Da Polpo has been a highly trending topic on Twitter as bloggers race to get their bums on the seats and reviews on their sites.

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Pork & fennel meatballs

Having read a number of reviews over the last couple of days, I was left feeling three things. Number one? Hungry. Not surprising given the mouth-watering menu, great photos and gorgeous descriptions provided by some of my fellow bloggers (for some stomach-grumble inducing snaps take a look at reviews from Eatlikeagirl, Crumpeats, Londoneater or The Skinny Bib). Two? Jealous. I’m off to Barcelona next weekend and trying to save pennies for some serious tapas-fuelled budget-blowing, so trying new restaurants isn’t really on the agenda for the next few days. Three? Itching to get in the kitchen.

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Marco Pierre White’s Kings Road Steakhouse (and the joys of the internet)

marco_pierre_white_steakThe internet is incredible.  Terrifying and wonderful in equal measures, it has completely changed the way we think, communicate and develop on a daily basis. While as a child I found it funny to think that my parents grew up without TV and computers in their family homes, my kids are going laugh at their dinosaur mum who can remember the arrival of the internet, rise of mobile communications and had her first (definitely not touch screen) phone at the ripe old age of 15.

The internet has also had a huge impact on the foodie community. Where once we relied on a handful of suited and booted Michelin men to dictate our restaurant choices and Delia provided the first (last and only) word in creative home cooking, we’re now inundated with photos, blogs, news, reviews and instant updates from anywhere around the world. Pretty much every restaurant now puts its menu online, celebrity chefs and home cooks alike post their recipes for anyone to see and a world of wonderful bloggers write and tweet their way through culinary highlights to suit every taste going. When started blogging back in February, one of the first recipes I made was Dan Lepard’s Tahini Flapacks. I tweeted a link to my recipe post, mentioning his name, and within 6 hours I’d had hundreds of hits on a pretty much unknown blog, gained several followers on Twitter and received a photo from a woman based in the States who’d found my recipe and baked the flapjacks as a teatime treat for her kids that afternoon. All because of the internet. Incredible.

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Joe Allen restaurant review

covent_garden_diningGone are the heady days when publishers’ lives were filled with star-studded outings and long boozy lunches. In fact, they’re so long gone that in the short time I’ve been working in the industry, I’ve become more accustomed to a packed lunch at my desk than the kind of liquid lunches publishing history is made of.

Having said that, occasionally we do get to wine and dine our authors, and this week I was taken to Joe Allen. The last time I went was with my family as a teenager after seeing a West End show. I remember the bustling atmosphere, even as we sat down to eat after 10pm, the sultry lighting, friendly staff and generous servings, variously accompanied by giant stacks of fries or slabs of ice cream. Maybe the short supply of media types willing to splash their cash on a daily basis has had an effect on Joe Allen, because this time round, it seemed to have lost a little of its magic.  

joe_allen_american_restaurantTucked away in a darkened basement on Exeter Street, this restaurant has been a theatre-land stalwart since before I was born. The walls are lined with vintage posters, famous faces and wooden panels, and these, combined with the soft lighting and pianist tinkling away in the corner, make for a fun, if a little tired, dining room.

We were  party of nine, arriving for dinner on a quiet Monday night. Ushering us through to a cosy corner, the waiting staff were friendly and helpful, and quickly brought water, wine and bread to the table. The bread basket was nothing to write home about (by strict little loaf standards. . .), but crusty and doughy enough in equal measures to keep me happy until our starters arrived.

The menu at Joe Allen is pretty comprehensive. Divided into Starters, Salads & Eggs for those in more of the mood for brunch, Main Courses, Sides and Desserts, there’s something for everyone. Gilt head bream and tiger prawns sit alongside chilli con carne, mutton cobbler and macaroni & cheese and, as you might expect from such variety, some dishes do better than others.

A starter of (very little) asparagus, red onion and blood orange was little more than a glorified side salad. The ingredients, while all nicely flavoured and fresh, lacked an extra something to bring the whole dish together. A chorizo starter was better, although the tiny nuggets of sausage again made this feel more like a side dish than the star of the show. Caesar salad and a plate of gravadlax did what they said on the tin; not hugely exciting, but nothing to complain about either.

Mains fared much better, although my overall feeling was that the food was good, not great, for these kind of prices. Grilled gilt head bream fillet was delicate, and the accompanying caper and parsley salsa was a nice contrast to the crispy skin. Four oversized chips served in a line seemed a bit pretentious for a restaurant that serves steaming bowls of chilli in simple white bowls, but they tasted pretty good. The chilli con carne with plain boiled rice was warm, comforting home-style food, and, in the restaurant’s favour, the lower price point of £9.50 showed that they recognised this. The Barnsley chop was huge, while a plate of scallops were tiny, which made me glad I hadn’t opted for this main (I adore scallops but the raisin couscous had put me off – raisins and savoury, I just can’t do it).

After a large meal and a very small pause, we barely had time to undo our top buttons before the waiter was ready to take our order for dessert. It being Monday, and the start of the working week, we quickly made our decisions, although a slight breather before pudding would probably have been a better idea.

Puddings were giant, and mostly enjoyable in the sickly sweet way that giant puddings are. We demolished sticky pecan pie, a chocolate brownie and an enormous dish of rich chocolate and vanilla ice cream, but were left bemused by a slightly bizarre cheesecake. Snowy white, and with hardly a hint of crumb or crust, it tasted of very little apart from a strange salty tang. It felt like the kind of dish that might once have been a signature, but now fell slightly short of the mark in a restaurant that is just a bit long in the tooth.

Joe Allen’s New York brasserie style comfort cooking was never going to win it any major awards. And situated in the heart of theatre-land, its pretty much guaranteed that it will continue to pull in a reliable stream of fairly uncritical punters. This is a  restaurant that’s more about the atmosphere, history and location than incredible food, but I don’t think that should mean they become complacent. My meal was ok. The company was good. But at knocking on £40 a head without wine, I think it could be better.

Joe Allen on Urbanspoon

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