Thursday, January 27, 2011

A supper club way out west: The Montpelier Basement, Bristol

Montpelier Basement, Bristol

I've never been a big fan of writing about Supper Clubs. The thing is, the majority are borne out of somebodies passion for food, and you never want to say a bad word against someone else's endeavours. Taking that, and the fact that most of the Supper Clubs I have attended are run by people I consider friends, I always dread being in the position where I may want to say something bad about them.

Montpelier Basement, Bristol

Thankfully, I have never been put in that situation as all the Supper Clubs I have attended have been excellent. Last weekend in Bristol, visiting the Montpelier Basement was no different. Run by two lovely twitter (and real life) friends, Dan and Elly, they put together a beautiful menu of local ingredients which wouldn't have looked out of place in a high end establishment. An amuse, scallops for the fish course, palate cleansers? Not your everyday supper club at all.

Montpelier Basement, Bristol
Baked diver caught Cornish scallops with a tarragon crumb

I was really impressed by how professional it all was, and even when the oven refused to play ball when trying to cook the frankly excellent steak and kidney suet puddings, they handled it like pro's with a calm demeanour. If you get to Bristol (or if you already live in the neighbouring area), you would be a fool not to reserve a place. Get in early, and at a mere £25 a head, you are guaranteed great local food and local hospitality from Dan and Elly.

Montpelier Basement, Bristol

For more pictures, check out Flickr here.

Montpelier Basement - Email montpelierbsmt at for more details

Monday, January 24, 2011

A night in Paradise, Kensal Green

Paradise, Kensal Green

It's not every day that two beautiful women ask you to join them in Paradise. I couldn't say yes quickly enough. Unfortunately, once I had rolled my tongue back into my mouth and taken a reality check, I looked into this a bit more and realised that "Paradise" was in fact a den of food and drink, and not iniquity. All the same, a night in good company eating and drinking? I can't think of many better things to do on a Friday night.

"Paradise" is located in the wasteland that is Kensal Green, a strange Bermuda Triangle for transport. Recalling my frankly horrendous journey home from the nearby Dock Kitchen in the summer, I really wasn't looking forward to the impending journey later in the evening, but a gin and tonic at the rapidly filling bar area was bound to offset my travel woes. It did.

I was shortly joined by my companions for the evening (the aforementioned beautiful women, and a few other guys) and we sat, drank and chatted, the precursor to most enjoyable evenings. Mood lightened and we were ready for food. Led to the back of the building, we entered a spacious room filled with other diners, and other quirky knick knacks (birdcages, animal heads and other paraphernalia) and sat down. The menu itself is pretty par for the course for your everyday London gastro pub, although it certainly read well and started to make my mouth water. I wanted a bit of everything.

Paradise, Kensal Green

Luckily there were 5 of us and we did end up having a bit of quite a lot. To start, I opted for a fowl terrine, consisting of nuggets of chicken, duck and pheasant. I was surprised at being able to distinguish each individual bird, and with a really rather nice and tart cranberry relish, I managed to polish the lot off with minor assistance. In exchange, I snaffled tasters of scallops and soup, all excellently executed, although I was quietly pleased that my favourite dish was the dish sitting in front of me.

Paradise, Kensal Green

After the terrine, I was really looking forward to my main of smoked haddock, egg and leeks, but felt saddened by all the great looking dishes being delivered around me. A whole butternut squash filled with lentils would normally turn my stomach, but the lentils had been cooked so that bite remained, and whatever liquor it had been cooked in had imparted a quite delicious flavour. The duck was well, it was just wonderful. Generous portions of tender duck and perfectly crisped up skin. I suffered massive food envy. That's not to say that mine wasn't enjoyable, it's just everyone else's choices were so good.

Paradise, Kensal Green

Desserts were a complete dud note, so the less said about them the better, but it certainly didn't put a dampener on the evening. With a name like Paradise, it certainly has a lot to live up to, but thankfully it could mostly justify those claims with a solid display from the kitchen. It seemed the party was just beginning as we left as the clock struck twelve, having to wade through the revellers in the front bar, but I was very satisfied. In my old(er) age, I favour parties of the dinner kind and spending a fun evening with friends was a pretty perfect Friday night for me. Was it Paradise? Not quite, but it's heading in the right direction.

Paradise by way of Kensal Green - 19 Kilburn Lane, Kensal Green, London, W10 4AE

Flickr Photoset here.

Paradise By Way of Kensal Green on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yalla Yalla: Branching out

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street

Some time last year, I visited the original branch of Yalla Yalla in the heart of London's red light district. A tiny little place with about 8 tables huddled closely together, dimly lit and manic service. It always struck me as slightly ironic that a restaurant with a name like Yalla Yalla, meaning "hurry up", was so slow with so few people to serve. Decent food couldn't quite make up for the fact that the whole experience was quite off putting and the first Yalla Yalla fell on the blog scrap heap.

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street

Almost a year down the line, another branch has opened, this time just north of Oxford Street, a considerably less seedy area of town. The restaurant itself has had quite a transformation as the number of seats appear to have mated like rabbits and have multiplied considerably. The decor is modern with shared tables and bright lighting, nice but not filled with the character of their other restaurant. I still had high hopes, as the food was always decent, and this time round, the service was excellent, with waiters flitting around and always greeting you with a big smile on their face.

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street
Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street

The food was pretty much the same as before, still pretty decent. On both occasions (I seem to have visited twice in a week), we plumped for a selection of mezze, which I guess is the order of the day in a Lebanese restaurant, although there were also a wide selection of larger dishes too. We got busy with the ordering and ended up with dish after dish being brought to our table in quick succession. No long waits here. The hommos was excellent, and I have not alwyas been the biggest fan of chickpeas, whereas the baba ganoush was pleasant, if not quite as smoky as I would like. Halloumi, always a personal favourite, was well charred and went surprisingly well with its olive and mint garnish.

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street

The meat dishes revolved around variations of lamb and chicken, with a stuffed lamb bread drenched in lime and pomegranate molasses probably my favourite dish. The slices were light and thin, with lime and pomegranate molasses adding a sweet and sour tang. The chicken livers were also served in the pomegranate molasses, and even though I have quite a dislike for livers, these tasted highly astringent. The lamb tartar was also very disappointing as it had suffered from a heavy hand with the seasoning, although when highlighted to the staff, this was whisked away and removed from the bill, with some assorted pastries sent over to say sorry.

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street

The whole meal came to under £20 each, which is pretty good value for the food that we had just eaten, but I couldn't help but feel that a charming restaurant in Soho (albeit with massive faults) had turned into a restaurant ready to be rolled out across the country. I would definitely happily return to Yalla Yalla, and it's ideal location just off Oxford Street should keep business ticking over steadily. 

Yalla Yalla - 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The #MEATEASY: Getting the wagon back on its feet

Meateasy, New Cross

So, this will no doubt be one of many many posts on Yianni Papoutsis' new venture, the #MEATEASY in New Cross, so I will keep it brief. A month ago, Yianni's business was turned upside down when some vagabond stole the meatwagon. Thousands wept.

Meateasy, New Cross

Now a mere 10 days from idea to end product, the Capital Pub Company has lent him the upstairs of his latest project to cook his line of comestibles indoors, away from nature, until he raises enough cash to get a new meatwagon back on the road. Thanks go to Scott who helped make it all happen.

I was lucky enough to get there on his pre launch test run. Here is just a teaser of what to expect:

Meateasy, New Cross
Tonights menu

Meateasy, New Cross
Kitchen and Cocktails

Meateasy, New Cross
The Signature Cheese and Bacon Burger

Meateasy, New Cross
Onion Rings

Meateasy, New Cross
Chilli Cheese Dog, Mac and Cheese, Buffalo wings

Meateasy, New Cross
The Chicken Sandwich - Probably my favourite of the night. Amazingly crisp, but succulent and tender on the inside. Bloody amazing.

Doors open on the 12th and will run in the evening to start (opening at about 6ish), although this will change once the kitchen gets up to full speed. I understand why many of you would want to rush to get your burger fix, but the #MEATEASY will be around for at least a couple of months so no real rush. There will be specials, inventions and all sorts. This was a preview so all the grub and drinks were on the house, but I couldn't leave before donating to the "Rebirth of the Meatwagon" fund. Expect to pay about £6 a burger, and less for the peripherals. So go, and once you've been, go again.

More pics here if you fancy it.

MEATEASY at the Goldsmiths Tavern - 316 New Cross Road, New Cross London

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kopapa, Covent Garden: Fusion...

Kopapa, Covent Garden

During my recent stint in between jobs, I decided to while away some of my time "down under". There I visited friends and family, eating well, taking in food from many of the cultures which make up the Australian population. "Fusion" was commonplace, with influences pulled in from all the surrounding cultures into one dish, a million miles away from dished painted with the same "fusion" brush here in London. Instead of chucking together a multitude of ingredients which cluttered the plate and didn't taste quite right, dishes appeared to be more carefully thought out and balanced.

Kopapa, Covent Garden
Smoked Salmon with a beetroot and yuzu dressing

Kopapa is a great example of how to bring these flavours together for a more Western palate. The brainchild of Peter Gordon (the Kiwi head chef of Providores), it opened it's doors in Seven Dials, an area of London which seems to be burgeoning with new restaurants and is handily located for a cheeky lunchtime jaunt.

Kopapa, Covent Garden
Chickpea battered lambs brains

On my first visit, I met up with a group of Covent Garden lunchers and we took advantage of their soft opening offer of 50% off. The menu on launch was highly adventurous including ingredients many may not have tried or heard of before (like betel leaf and yuzu), and more challenging cuts such as lambs brains. Split into small plates named "Ko-Tapas" and the more standard set up of starters/mains/desserts, we opted to road test the entire tapas side.

Kopapa, Covent Garden
Bone Marrow and Parmesan on toast

Taking into consideration that this was only their second day, and two of our most desired dishes were unavailable as they had sold out (ribs and ox tongue), we really enjoyed our meal. The service was slow if friendly, but the food itself was decent. The highlights for me a delicious smoked salmon drenched in yuzu beetroot salsa, and slices of toast slathered with rich parmesan and bone marrow. There were disppointments with the steamed buns almost raw and items such as the duck liver parfait quite disappointing. On the whole though, everyone was pleased and actually excited by what we had tried, and I for one wanted to return.

Kopapa, Covent Garden
Snails and chorizo mash

So a few weeks later, return I did. A few of the more challenging items had disappeared (goodbye lambs brains, although they were a little on the bland side) and the rather poor buns from our first trip. Even looking at the menu today, it looks very different from my last visit, which keeps it interesting although may disappoint those who return for certain dishes. On this occasion, I managed to get my hands on the coconutty spare ribs and the crispy cheese filled ox tongue. Both were good, but the real star of the show were snails cooked in olorosso with a chorizo mash, a strange combination but incredibly moreish.

Kopapa is an interesting venture, and I certainly haven't tried anything like this in London before. Personally, I like it a lot. The prices are reasonable, and the food is exciting as well as tasting good. I will certainly be back and look forward to what's next on the ever constantly developing menu.

(Check out the rest of my Flickr series here)

Kopapa - 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden WC2H 9HA

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A few good things about 2010 and a few goals for 2011

Sinking Spritz
A Sinking Spritz at Hawksmoor Seven Dials

It’s the end of the year, and in the true spirit of the London food blogger, I feel I should do a round up of sorts. 2010 has been a pretty amazing year for many reasons, and instead of doing a straightforward “favourite things I ate” post, I thought I would highlight 3 of the main things that have shaped my 2010, and five things I really want to do more of next year.

2010 Favourite Things:

A day out East - Prufrock Coffee
A Cortado from Prufrock

1. Twitter
Yes, I understand this isn't for everyone, but it has opened my eyes to a great many things this year, has helped me make many new friends and is a fabulous resource. You get chatting to people, they introduce you to new people, you go out, rinse and repeat. You're stuck for a place to go, or need a recipe, one tweet later and your problems are no more. In the year that all my closest friends from home have settled down and had kids, I made new friends, started to live my life and enjoy myself once again. Like I said before, not for everyone but I wouldn't be where I am today without it.

Eating in Kuala Lumpur
Kon Lo Wanton Mee in Kuala Lumpur

2. Travelling
Until July last year, I had been pretty much grounded and my trips were restricted to short trips around Europe and New York. This year, I managed to travel much more, taking in trips to Malaysia, Bali, Thailand, Australia and South Africa. In each of these countries, I experienced new cultures, new food and a kaleidoscope of experiences. I fully intend on carrying this on into 2011 (as well as actually writing up a few places).

Dim Sum at Hilltop Pheonix, Castle Towers
Siu Mai, not at Dragon Castle, although it is my favourite place in London for Dim Sum

3. South East London
I am a proud resident of Camberwell but if there was one thing I learnt this year, I am not the only South East Londoner out there. Over the year, I have made friends with a close knit group of people who love where they live, and love spending time there. This year has seen many great nights out with these people, culminating in the really enjoyable #Tweetmassgathering, a night involving street food and Jaeger at The Florence in Herne Hill, which I helped to organise. South East London, the only place I want to be.

The Sportsman, Seasalter
Salmagundi at the Sportsman

There were of course many great things this year, and in particular, many great eats (some of them interspersed within this post). However, you may already have read about them, so I really didn't feel the need to regurgitate them, just read this. Probably the best meal I ate in 2010 and sums up pretty much everything that was great about the year.

So, 2011. What the hell am I going to do with myself?

Cheese and Bacon burger
A Meatwagon Cheese and Bacon Burger

1. Challenge myself with more foods
To be fair, I think I have done pretty well this year, conquering many food phobias including fish and innards. I even had a whole anchovy, my food kryptonite. Next year, no food will scare me and I will try everything at least once. Who knows, I may even like some of it.

Salmon poached in licorice gel served with an artichokes vanilla mayonnaise.
Salmon poached in licorice at the Fat Duck

2. Get out of London more
With the wealth of places I still haven't managed to get to in London, it may seem that London should continue to be more focus. However, the trips I made to Birmingham and Seasalter in November just highlighted the depth of quality available if you are prepared to venture a little further afield. More adventure, more gain.

Arancini and Taleggio @ Polpo
Cicheti (arancini and taleggio)at Polpo

3. Spend less money on food, eat just as well
Looking through the stack of receipts I seem to have, I was definitely spending way too much on restaurants last year. I don't regret any of the meals I have had, even the bad ones, but I realistically cannot sustain the expenditure. My aim, to still eat well, but look at more affordable neighbourhood joints. If you have any suggestions, send them my way!

Zucca, Bermondsey
Veal Chop at Zucca, and it wasn't even mine

4. Cook more
I always used to love cooking, so I don't really know what happened this year. I found myself avoiding my kitchen entirely and I genuinely can't remember what the last thing I cooked at home was. Having eaten well at the hands of Catty, CharmaineCarla, Lizzie and Nicola, I definitely owe them all a home cooked meal so will endeavour to do my best next year.

Pierre Herme @ Selfridges
Pierre Herme Macarons at Selfridges

5. Be a more efficient blogger
I always find that if I don't blog something within 3 or 4 days, any fleeting thoughts I may have seem to disappear into the ether. And at times when I finally get round to writing, I find it hard to avoid sounding like a some tedious one sided diatribe. So a change.
Many blogs carry it off effortlessly, like Passport Delicious for example. I've been reading Krista for many years now, and she continues to be witty, informative and succinct. Something I need to aspire to.

So that is all. Hope you have had a great 2010 and thanks for sticking by. Here's to 2011, lots of great eats and an amazing time for all!