London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

Experiential Dining – The New Normal?

The most ridiculous place I have ever been out for dinner was a mobile dining room attached to a crane dangling 150 feet in the air above Londons South Bank. Ridiculous in the main part because it was 5 degrees, blowing a gale and my inability to shake off the preoccupation of needing to pee was somewhat distracting.

Dinner in the sky

In the landscape of modern dining, I’m sure that dinner in the sky sounds quite modest in comparison to some of the more outlandish offerings available in the City. You can have food thrown at you by Basil Fawlty in an immersive dining performance or be quaffing moonshine while locked in a prison in the Alcotraz’ experience, where they encourage full-on Guantanamo attire and an obligatory orange jumpsuit. Staged and forced fun still seems to be more palatable than dining on the high street which continues to see a steady decline in patrons.

Seemingly the more obscure is the most popular and lets not forget ‘The Shed’ at Dulwich created primarily to expose the ease of forging TripAdvisor reviews, by creating a fake restaurant. The bi-product of the stunt was the unexpected demand for the non-existent venue which had consumers desperately scrambling to get a table at what they thought was London’s latest hot ticket. The simple truth being; it was a Shed in someones back garden, and all of the staged food photographs were a mixture of ready meals, bathroom sponges and Gillette shaving foam.

The prank had everyone fooled including The Guardians Jay Rayner who was rebuffed for a table. Nevertheless, the consumers desired to seek out something extraordinary that promoted its success. Had they have knocked out some food they might just have made a go of it, but having good food in your dining space is only one part of the essential components required for success.

Other contributing factors, include the ability to brag about it on social, and having an environment so unique that it distracts you long enough to keep off your iPhone (until you get it out to photograph your dry ice amuse-bouche). Does this mean food has become the least important factor of eating out?

This week I found myself dining on the Victoria line. This wasn’t the daily face-full of commuter armpit, but thankfully something far more palatable, in the form of a Supper Club organised by ‘Eatwith’. Supper Clubs are not a new trend and have been in existence as long as we have been hosting dinner parties. In the last few decades pop-ups such as this have been a springboard for some of the capitals favourite restaurants, such as The Clove Club which had humble beginnings in a first floor flat above a pub in Shoreditch, but seemingly what has changed over time is the way these dining concepts are being presented.

Our Victoria line dining car featured a delicate tasting menu of Andean origins curated by Head Chef Beatriz Maldonado Carreño (Bea) who originally hails from Bogotá Colombia. Bea was part of the team at Corazón Soho, which demonstrates a degree of proficiency.

Upon being presented with the menu, I struggled to link Columbian cuisine to the setting. I’m not suggesting it had to be pie and mash with jellied eels, but this menu was about as un-British as you can get. Tenuously we soldiered on with the opinion that Peruvian cuisine is trendy, Lima is the soon to be the most Michelin star rich territory in the world and London is a city on the gastronomic pulse, make sense?

The food was utterly charming, and each dish was presented by the Chef herself, which immediately has guests emotionally connected with the creator – heaven forbid you don’t like it as she’s just over there with really sharp knives.

Dishes were well balanced and colourful but after four Negronis fairly unmemorable. Although I do remember a purple potato that tasted of hay, which isn’t a criticism.

In terms of an immersive experience, there was a real feeling of discomfort due to the proportion of seating, the hot then cold ambient temperature and the tuneless din of a full tube train, all very akin to the morning rush hour – TFL would have been impressed with the re-enactment.

Tube Image

However it is all of these imperfections that ladder up to making it perfect as the modern-day foodie doesn’t just want to eat fabulous food, they need it to look good and most importantly they want it to be instagrammable.

Tube Image 2

I just wish that this particular restaurant had been hurtling back towards central London at 60mph instead of being stationary and leaving me slightly squiffy in the arse-end of London. Cocktails in an Uber anyone?

Dinner for two £49 per head for set menu, excluding alcohol and service. http://www.eatwith.com

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London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

CARAVAN KINGS CROSS – Suggest You Camp Elsewhere

It worries me that this restaurant was established in 2012…and it’s still trading. Not only trading, it’s doing incredibly well. Not satisfied with packing out the Old Granary Store at Kings Cross from dawn till dusk, they have since opened a further three sites; Exmouth Market, Bankside and the City.

Lauded by Time Out as ‘one of the best’ for brunch, has seemingly inspired a wave of vanilla diners that are unfamiliar with what a good brunch looks like. At least someone seems happy with it, as the staff working there certainly aren’t.

Our first interaction set the tone for the afternoon, as we received a welcome as severe as the fringe that the hostess was sporting. Without flinching or removing her eyes from her screen she told me the wait would be 45 minutes. With that she handed me a bag of coffee beans and told me to wait at the bar.

As well as being the main villain of this piece, the purpose of the bag of coffee beans is supposedly used to identify hungry patrons impatiently waiting for a table. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they came up with this idea. How a small bag of coffee with a three digit number on is helping the staff swiftly expedite guests to the empty tables is mystifying – if it were to spontaneously combust when your table was ready they may be in with half a chance.

bag with numbers

During our wait for a table I approached the bar to order some drinks, and my appearance seemed to distress the bartender. Further distress was caused after requesting two drinks which appeared to be the zenith of her bad day in the office. Once I submitted my order she turned on her heel and marched to the till, pausing only to yell at me to enquire on my coffee bag code. After yelling back my numerical identify she informed me the drinks would be right over.

Cue fifteen minutes later a bewildered member of the team was pacing the floor with a lukewarm flat white attempting to track down a three digit number on a bag of beans. She seemed genuinely broken by the process. I took her out of her misery and informed her that is was probably for me, and also that ultimately her shift will end, and she will be able to leave this place, but alas I imagine her dreams are plagued with small bags of coffee containing three digit numbers.

A full hour of standing with a bag of beans on my head, I decided to go back to the severe fringe on the door. Quelle surprise, they had been trying to find our number, and our table had been ready some time ago. A frustrating admission, as now the only place to seat us was a sharing table by the door. I wasn’t prepared to challenge as I was so hungry that eating the stupid bag of coffee was starting to seem a feasible option.

Sitting down and perusing the menu further fuelled my agitation. If discovering new ways to describe salmon and eggs was the primary deliverable of this restaurant then they would succeed with flying colours. Menu descriptions were unfathomable and pretentious. Example; ‘Seasoned brown rice, sesame salmon, avocado, miso mayo, mung beans, pickled ginger, furikake. The reality was somewhat different, and as such was sent back upon delivery.

Poached eggs on sour dough was passable fare, but not worth a sixty minute wait, additionally we should have omitted the smashed avocado side, as it was over processed and more reminiscent of exorcist slime rather than anything that once resembled a vegetable.

Underlining my utter distaste for this restaurant was the Jackson 5 soundtrack. I love a bit of MJ, but there’s a time and a place.

Attempting to search for the positive I must give a nod to the coffee. Regardless of the lukewarm offering we received on the day, Caravan does great things with the beans by roasting their own and farming it out to whoever wants to buy it. So my recommendation would be to buy a bag and enjoy it in the comfort of your own abode. Personally, I will shudder when I remember the foil packaging, because who wants to be just a number?

Brunch for two with a glass of fizz £60. Breakfast menu: 8am – 11.30am, Mon-Fri. All Day menu: 12noon – 10.30pm, Mon-Fri & Sat from 5pm. Brunch menu: 10am – 4pm, Sat & Sun. No reservations.  020 7101 7661. www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk 

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London restaurant, Restaurant review, Uncategorized

THE MARKSMAN Hackney – Sharp Shooting East End Publicans

I’ve had the Marksman in my sights for a while, but have been unsuccessful in ticking it off until now. One of my previous failed attempts was due to a bank holiday kitchen closure, and as it happens that afternoon wasn’t marred by disappointment, but fortunate discovery as we decided on Bella Vita at Broadway market, and happened to taste the most sublime crab ravioli in London, heavenly pockets of crustacean royalty encased in fresh sheets of pasta – all enough to ensure the first choice of venue was the last thing on my mind.

The Marksman public house has been a trading pub since 1869, and as you can imagine has a legion of session drinkers not quite willing to let go of their favourite watering hole, so on the one hand you have a thirty something Hackney foodie coming to sample a casual red mullet with fennel and bergamot sat next to Ernie who is content to sit for hours sinking flagons of IPA. This clash of cultures is one of the most endearing parts of the Marksman – even if it does seem that Ernie has probably been here since 1869.

Sitting down to pore over the menu, and the small yet focussed selection of dishes on offer threw up numerous possibilities, so between three of us we ordered a small smattering of starters to share and plumped for our own main courses. Opening up we had some crispy pig skin, which was aerated and satisfyingly crunchy…the piggy popcorn gets thumbs up from us all. Cornish crab was the next to arrive and was the disappointment from round one, it was a little too subtle and was crying out for a kick of citrus, and had the unwelcome addition of quite a bit of shell. Rounding off we had clams which were pleasant enough with a sauce bordering on a classic marinière style, but with more boozy bite and less cream.

My main course of treacle cured pork belly was one of the more accomplished dishes of the day. Slow cooked and juicy it tasted remarkably like a frankfurter, which was wholly unexpected but certainly pleasing, as was the baby onion garnish which reminded me of pickled silver skin onions and had the same palate awakening sourness, coupled with a breath taking dollop of homemade mustard meant this dish had it all. The fried potato side dish was equally rather special, imagine a deep fried dauphinoise, utterly decadent and the only time we sat in complete silence throughout the entire lunch. The Spring green side was underwhelming in comparison and desperately needed seasoning.

marksman pork belly

Brown butter and honey tart was ordered for pudding and even thinking about it now is inducing large jowls of saliva to droop from my mouth. Inconceivably divine, rich and creamy, with an almost digestive biscuit savouriness to the base. It lasted 5 seconds.

Attention to detail at The Marksman is excellent, from the stark white plates and bowls to the mismatched antique cutlery and the parchment paper for the menus, all work together to create a sympathetic aesthetic in an ancient East End boozer. Service was particularly charming and anchors the whole experience.

The Marksman shoots, and is well on target with its rustic, old school flavours all executed with modern pizazz.

Lunch for 3 £168 with a couple of glasses of prosecco and a bottle of wine. 254 Hackney Road, London, E2 7SL. Check website for opening hours (as they are very detailed and slightly confusing!) marksmanpublichouse.com

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