Friday, August 27, 2010

Chipotle: A bad import

Chipotle, Charing Cross Rd

Part of the excitement of starting a new job is the discovery and research of nearby lunching options. Three weeks in and I have already established a good noodle place, somewhere that makes a half decent bacon sandwich, where I can get my morning coffee and probably more importantly, considering London’s obsession with "Mexican" food, somewhere I can rely on for a decent burrito.

Chipotle, Charing Cross Rd

Therefore it was more with curiosity than actual need that I thought I would give Chipotle a go. A popular chain out in the US, its arrival in London  got people excited. American friends told me about how Chipotle would thrash the competition in London if it was anything like it was "back home". If only. You see, that was the bottom line, was it going to be a successful import? Early indications were not great and it wasn't really enticing me to try it out, but now my office was so close, I really couldn't resist.

Chipotle, Charing Cross Rd

A mere six minute stroll from my office, I strode into a restaurant in full swing. A queue had formed nearly to the door, packed with workers from the nearby area, all probably as eager as I was to try one of these famed American import burritos. I checked out the menu and my first observation was that it was slightly dearer than most of its competitors, weighing in at £6.95 for a steak burrito. Add the additional and frankly staggering sum of £1.40 for a smear of guacamole, chuck in a soft drink, and you will have forked out nearly a tenner for lunch.

Chipotle, Charing Cross Rd

The cost may be on the high side, but the chunks of meat looked the business. Nice char on the outside with a ruby pink centre, I knew it was too good to be true. I trudged back to the office, took it back to my desk and took my first bite. A wave of disappointment immediately came over me. If you want a blow by blow account, the first taste to hit you is the intense sourness. Odd and unpleasant, a heavy handed squeeze of lime assaulted my taste buds. The intense smokiness from the chipotle chilli sauce wasn't too bad but could have done with a bit more heat. You may be wondering why there has been no mention of the beef so far, mainly because it was totally tasteless and chewy. What promised so much had turned out to be chewy and bland chunks of meat. Very, very disappointed, I discarded the last few mouthfuls in disgust.

Chipotle is bad value for money. Not only is it an expensive burrito in comparison to its local rivals, but it comes nowhere near to the others in terms of flavour. It's a shame as I have heard from multiple sources that Chipotle in the US is the "dog’s danglers". I’m afraid to say, using yet another animal analogy, that London’s Chipotle is pony.

Chipotle - 114-116 Charing Cross Rd, London, UK WC2H 0JR

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

The London Restaurant Festival and win tickets to the Big Quiz!

Last year saw the inaugral departure for the London Restaurant Festival, an event designed to promote London Restaurants, where we saw over 450 restaurants taking part. It involved these restaurants creating a specific "festival" menu as well as special events including ones which saw Gordon Ramsay cooking on the London Eye and the return of Pierre Koffmann, who ran a "pop up" restaurant on the roof of Selfridges (which I wrote about here).

This year is no different and the London Restaurant Festival is hoping to be bigger and better. I was contacted by the PR and in full disclosure fashion, they have asked me to cover a few of the events and run a few competitions where you guys can win some stuff.

Running from the 4th to the 18th of October, and with hopefully around 800 restaurants taking part this year, this event should be bigger and better than last year. You are still going to be able to get the individual "Festival Menus", but there will also be an abundance of events such as the Gourmet Odyssey a culinary pub crawl aboard an old routemaster, and the Big Debate which will involve some of the UK's most recognised food figures shouting at each other across the table.

So first up on the give away front, I have been given two pairs of tickets (worth £100 each) for the Big Quiz on the 11th of October. This will be hosted by Rowley Leigh at his restaurant Cafe Anglais in Bayswater, and will involve the full Festival menu, as well as a night of food based quizzing.

All you need to do is leave a comment on this post, mentioning your favourite restaurant in London, and why we should go there. I will randomly draw the winners on the 1st October, so please keep an eye out then. Good luck!

OFFICIAL STUFF:


From confit to crème brulee, manuka honey to miso, grouse to gravalax, London’s
restaurants offer a delectably diverse range of flavours to tempt all tastes. The London
Restaurant Festival (4th-18th October 2010), proudly supported by American Express, is a
citywide celebration of eating out designed to encourage Londoners to make more of our
rich array of restaurants.

To celebrate, American Express has teamed up with moi to offer 2
pairs of tickets to The Big Quiz and a bottle of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne, the
official champagne of the London Restaurant Festival and the perfect partner to pair with
food.

The Big Quiz will be one of London Restaurant Festival's more intellectual contributions to
the capital's culinary scene! The event is hosted by Rowley Leigh, London's most cerebral
chef, at his restaurant Le Café Anglais on Monday 11th October. The Big Quiz will be an
evening of great fun and food with one of the country’s most well-known question masters
leading proceedings.

To find out more, go to londonrestaurantfestival.com

Monday, August 16, 2010

Benitos Hat: It's all about the tequila

Tequila tasting at Benitos Hat

One of the perks as a food blogger is that on occasion, you get a letter drop into your virtual inbox asking you to try a new restaurant or sample a few drinks. Many of these can be dull and no more than a simple PR exercise, but the odd one flies in and get your taste buds buzzing. When I was asked along to the new Benito’s Hat in Covent Garden to learn about tequila, make tequila cocktails and eat tacos, how could I say no?

Upon arrival, I immediately had one of their house cocktails thrust into my hand. The Paloma is slightly less "edgy" version of their standard margherita and was perfectly light and refreshing. After mingling and catching up with a few other people I recognised, we all soon settled down to an education in tequila from Alex, their consultant mixologist and teacher for the evening.

(taken by Tikichris)

A thoroughly fascinating 45 minutes followed. A potted history of tequila followed by a lowdown of all the house cocktails, with the enraptured crowd hoovering up the remains. If you ever pop in, I highly recommend the Juarez Summer Cup, a light summery drink akin to a Pimms, really delicious. After all that was said and done, we got down to the business end of this event, designing a tequila cocktail that will be on the Benito’s Hat menu for the next few months.

Tequila tasting at Benitos Hat

We settled into teams and worked away, testing our creations. As you can imagine, copious amounts of tequila require copious amounts of food, and Ben certainly did not disappoint as an unlimited flow of tacos descended. Soft tortilla and a fantastic array of meaty fillings, they were delicious but merely a distraction as my team of Tikichris, Anniemole and Cowfish feverishly developed our cocktail....the TikiLa!

The TiKiLa:
2 parts tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part horchata
3 parts crushed watermelon
Agave syrup for extra sweetness (if needed)

Shake all the ingredients together with ice (adding agave syrup to sweeten if necessary) and strain into a tumbler over fresh ice. Edge and garnish the glass with a bruised mint leaf.

This was yet another competition I was never destined to win, but I did have great fun making sure the tequila balance in our cocktail was just right, as well as stuffing my face with tacos. I would definitely try out our cocktail; we were all big fans and will definitely be making it again in a less competitive environment.

Tequila tasting at Benito’s Hat

I have been quite an advocate of Benito’s Hat for quite some time. With the huge influx of restaurants peddling burritos and other food items of Mexican origin, you are going to get your fair share of "bad heuvos". Alongside Chilango, I don't really think that there are any better, and since I work a mere two minutes away, you will often see me in the queue sampling one of their excellent chicken tacos. Thanks Ben and keep up the good work!

Benitos Hat - 19 New Row, Covent Garden WC2N

(for a more booze focused account of this event, please check out Billys Booze Blog)

Benito's Hat on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A taste of Tuscany: Tinello, Pimlico

Tinello, Pimlico

It's not often I am made aware of a new place to eat by my sister. She's normally more interested in jewellery and bags (it's her job and hobby) but was pleasantly surprised when she suggested an outing to a new Italian restaurant in Pimlico. A joint venture between the founders of Locanda Locatelli and two of their former employees, it focuses on Tuscan flavours and is located a short stroll from Sloane Square.

The restaurant itself is exactly how you would expect a restaurant on the Pimlico Road to be, full of middle aged people who look like they have plenty of money. My sisters fashion radar went into overdrive, spotting Louboutins left right and centre (these are shoes, right?), and a sure-fire sign that the clientele are members of the well to do. The space itself is relatively compact and has the appearance of being rather dark, but most tables have their own lamps hanging overhead, shining enough light on the table to be able to determine what you are eating.

Tinello, Pimlico

The menu appears to be relatively standard for an Italian restaurant, indicating anti pasti, pasta and secondi, with the addition of a selection of small plates. Between the three of us, we ordered all the small plates and sat back waiting for the feast to begin. It didn’t take long before all the plates came out and what landed on the table really was quite a diverse selection of food. From the creamy and rich chicken livers on crostini, to the fishy and crisp cuttlefish deep fried with a little of its own ink. Every small plate had merits in its own right but I think my favourite was the panzanella, a simple salad made with stale bread, rich with that sharp vinegary tang. Oh, and look out for the burrata, an incredibly soft and creamy mozzarella, and well worth a try.

Tinello, Pimlico

After the rapid demise of the contents of the small plates, and after a short wait, our mains touched down on our table. My sister had opted for the paccheri with nduja (a smoky Italian sausage) and burrata, whilst our other dining companion had opted for the chicken. However, all eyes were instantly on my main, a tender filet of beef served with girolles on a bed of Swiss chard. The piece of beef was probably the most tender and buttery piece of meat ever to have graced my lips. The outside was perfectly seared with the meat inside a glorious ruby pink. Every bite was silky smooth and combined with the slightly bitter chard and the earthy girolles, I happily munched away quietly, a certified sign of a happy diner.

Tinello, Pimlico

I had a few nibbles from everyone's plates and the general consensus was very good overall. I ended with some ice cream and sorbet which was made in house but was sadly a little disappointed. The "Malaga" or rum and raisin flavour ice cream was pleasant enough but was way too sweet, and the yoghurt ice cream just wasn't my cup of tea. Raspberry sorbet was again nice enough, but lacked a deep raspberry flavour.

I had read a few comments on Twitter about Tinello before I went which had started to paint a rather lacklustre picture, but I am happy to report that my experience there was rather good. I really enjoyed the variety of "small plates" and at a couple of pounds each, they are extremely good value. My main was one of the best I have tasted all year and it was only the disappointing ice cream that let down my meal. And the best thing about the meal? The cost. For all that we ate, albeit with only one beer under the drinks column, the total came to £75, a mere £25 a head. For the amount of food we ate, I thought this was excellent value. I shall be returning soon.

Tinello - 87 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8PH

Tinello on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The London Particular, New Cross

The London Particular, New Cross

One of my favourite things in the world is to find a nice cafe, settle in with a coffee and a bite to eat, and while away a gentle afternoon without a care in the world. I seem to have an abundance of these little cafes around where I live, maybe a subconscious reason why I refuse to move away! The last few months has seen an influx of new independently run places, with No 67 on Peckham road my current favourite.

The London Particular, New Cross

The London Particular is a welcome addition to the relatively bare stretch between New Cross and New Cross Gate stations. Selling "healthy" food in bowls seems like a bit of an odd selling point for a cafe but seems to work as the little place was crammed when I visited. With one big table, and 2 smaller tables (one outside), it reaches capacity pretty quickly but feels cosy and welcoming.

The food itself is pretty simple with sandwiches and salads dominating the menu, with their own blend of "Particular" coffee on the menu. I know that my fellow diners were slightly disappointed that they had run out of their brioche pizza (probably my fault as I was late), but we all opted for the bacon and sausage sandwiches.

The London Particular, New Cross

This is where it all falls apart a little. For a small place, the service was painfully slow. Once we had finally managed to order, we had another excruciating wait before our sandwiches decided to reveal themselves. Although the "Banger Sanger" arrived with a salad comprising of squash, chickpeas and cauliflower, the bacon sandwiches didn't. We had requested that this also came with a side salad, but instead arrived on its own and we were charged an extra £3 for the privilege.

The London Particular, New Cross

"Jon's BAD vegetarian" sandwich was a halloumi and bacon sandwich. This was a most excellent bacon sandwich between two slices of soft, bouncy and flavourful white bread. Alongside a well made cappuccino, I took a few moments to myself as I slowly savoured each bite, and just for a little while, all this little cafes shortcomings were forgotten.

The London Particular is exactly what the area needs, a nice little place that people can chill out in, eat nice food, drink good coffee. The surrounding area is a bit of a wasteland and other than the Venue (never go there), has no discernible landmarks or real points of interest. It's still early days so hopefully the issues I encountered will be ironed out but I wish it well and is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in New Cross.

The London Particular - 399 New Cross Road, London SE14 6LA

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Bombay cafe in London: Dishoom abridged

Dishoom, Upper St Martins Lane

I go to lots of places to eat, all in the name of research *ahem*, but finding the time and energy to write them all up can be quite draining. I know, I am just making excuses, and I like to waffle on with the best of them. After all I spent three years at university doing a Geography degree perfecting the art of writing 3000 words on nothing much at all. However, I realise that not everyone wants to read an essay (and hell, I don't want to write one) so I will make an effort to post more regularly, but write less.

Dishoom, Upper St Martins Lane

Dishoom is a Bombay cafe located in the heartland that is Upper St Martins lane, very handily located in between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. After a fair outporing of love on twitter, I felt a visit was required and popped in for a quick dinner. Ordering way too much seems to be my modus operandi and between me and my friend, probably ordered enough for three.

Dishoom, Upper St Martins Lane

A variety of dishes landed in front of us at an alarming rate. Within 5 minutes of ordering, our entire order of breads, meats, sides and dal appeared on our table. I now understood the little metal stand brought to our table, used to stack dishes on top of each other. Our table simply wouldn't have coped. Highlight for me was a delicious chicken tikka, nicely spiced with a nice char, although all the food was competent and enjoyable.

I find it very hard to gush about Dishoom but I did enjoy my ultra quick meal. A handy place for a quick tasty dinner and a darn sight better than nearly every other place in the immediate vicinity. At just under £50 for enough food for about two and a half people plus 3 cocktails, it's pretty decent value and well worth a visit.

Dishoom - 12 Upper St Martins Lane, WC2H 9FB

Dishoom on Urbanspoon

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