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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London restaurant, Restaurant review

FLOYD’S Dalston – The Rise and Fall of the Neighbourhood Restaurant

It’s Friday night, the sun is shining and needless to say we are the only two people in Hackney foolish enough to bury ourselves away when the sun is merely lingering over the yard arm. However in a shady spot on Shacklewell Lane you can get away with kidding yourself it’s dark.

Arriving in the dining room I spot my name scrawled on a piece of A4 paper sandwiched between a tired piece of lavender and bottle of tap water, which is actually a nice touch, all very style over substance but it does the job. The restaurant styling resembles something rather Cornish, with an egg shell emulsion coating the floor and ceiling and foraged knick-knacks found on Newquay shoreline littering the shelves.

floyds 1
Orders for cocktails were taken swiftly by a thoroughly charming Australian, which further compounded the feeling of being in Padstow. After a quick glance towards the bar to survey the bar tenders ability I resisted the urge to order a Gin Martini and decided not to stray from the list and opted for a Spicy Margarita. Trés bon, and very competent – in fact, a Gin Martini wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of their capability.

The menu is very well structured and reassuringly small, featuring four to five choices for starters, mains and sides offering something for everyone from your gluten intolerant vegan to your flesh eating carnivores. We were unanimous in our decision for starters and both went for the pigeon breast. It was highly unusual, with a tangfastic sour kick of rhubarb on the side and a bulgar wheat salad. The breast itself was perfectly cooked with a deep purple gamey colour staring back at you, but it was seasoned within an inch of it’s life which completely disguised the flavour of the meat. It also required a damn good chew to get through it, which had me suspecting they picked it up in Trafalgar Square.

Main course was a toss up between the Dover Sole and the Chicken Supreme. I wouldn’t normally go for chicken in a restaurant but I felt compelled to order it as I had seen it arrive a moment earlier to the only other person eating there, but thankfully my duo in our culinary escapade wanted the fish, so we got both.

Dover Sole was a disaster, it was so overly lacquered in butter that the flesh had the consistency and appearance of a used condom. It also made it rather impossible to fillet due to the binding nature of the sauce, further on in the evening I also saw one go back to kitchen. The Chicken Supreme was average with the skin lacking the crisp that each and every clucking creature deserves. The best thing about the dish was the potato croquette which took me right back to school dinners with a satisfyingly crunchy coating and a fluffy, salty spring onion infused centre – definitely the star of the show.

We opted to skip dessert, as a drink in a nearby bar was beckoning, but after whiling away a couple of hours the restaurant had become full to bursting, and the service which started off so attentive and bubbly had descended into mediocreville with us being all but forgotten about.

Anywhere else in the country this would be passable fare – but here in what is becoming the most vibrant and diverse area for culinary excellence it isn’t good enough. But would I be sad if Floyd’s was no longer here? Yes. Every town, village and city has a need for a neighbourhood restaurant, a place where you can decide to tip up and have some fresh, locally sourced grub. Yes Floyd’s falls short on many levels, but this is in comparison to some of the best in London.

Judging by how busy this restaurant was on a Friday night, I suspect its future isn’t in jeopardy, but to court the mid-week crowd and be more sustainable in this market, they need to completely simplify their offering; get rid of the over elaborate garnishes and busy plates of food, beef up the wine list with more wines under £28, and make the whole package cheaper. But most of all they need to remember to; K.I.S.S – Keep it simple, stupid – Because Dalston needs you!

Dinner for 2 £110 with wine, two cocktails and service. 89 Shacklewell Lane, London E8 2EB (020 7923 7714 floydsonthelane.co.uk) Open Monday-Friday 18.00 – 23.00 and Saturday-Sunday 12.00 23.00.

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London restaurant, Restaurant review

MISSION Bethnal Green – Mission accomplished or mission impossible?

From the brains behind Hackney Road’s hippest wine bar Sager & Wilde comes the latest in a swathe of new establishments cropping up in East London. Billed as a ‘Californian wine bar and kitchen’ I felt the depths of winter the most appropriate time to indulge in some sunny SoCal delights.

During the Summer I did spend a few weeks traveling through California with a slight sojourn into the Nevada desert, and the food and drink was a mixed bag. The week spent in the desert eating beef jerky and and drinking neat gin doesn’t count, and besides a few incredible meals in LA it was all rather unremarkable.

So being fully aware of California’s culinary potential I was intrigued to see what Mission had to offer and was hoping to be transported to a hot spot in Silverlake as opposed to a dead end in Venice Beach.

A huge palm tree greeted us on arrival, which was a warming sight as the connotations of this tropical specimen were rather welcome on a Baltic Winters evening. Sadly the theme of cold was going to be a recurring motif during our time spent here, beginning with our table placed directly next to the door which ensured that neither us or the food remained at a temperature akin to California.

mission-interior-1-addie-chinn

Being a rabble of six friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, high on our agenda was a raucous catch up, however this wonderful human interaction was clearly not what our rather cold server had in mind for our evening. Getting the order in was her only priority, which was proving difficult as menus were only sparingly provided. Eventually we submitted our orders, which did cheer her up – marginally.

To start I had the ox cheek parpadelle (£12.00) which was dry and bland. I had to request parmesan cheese to liven it up which took the waitress by surprise, and thus took an age to arrive. This style of dish is a default choice for me, and I have ordered it twice memorably. Once in a restaurant in LA called Osteria Mozza (osteriamozza.com) and another on home turf in a cicchetti style eatery named TOZI (tozirestaurant.co.uk) both of which offered a rich and velvety ragu which left you threatening the server with a blunt spoon if they approached too early to remove the plate. On this occasion however it was gladly returned.

On to the main event, and I was very pleased with my duck (£15.50). It was rudely pink, and cooked  to perfection, plump and juicy with just the right amount of caramelisation of the fatty layer encasing the meat. It was however served in what I can only describe as a cereal bowl.

Sadly further down our table there was trouble brewing with the beef chop (£60.00 for 2 people). The main issue being it was overcooked. Naturally I offered my input and suggested it could be an aged meat which would suggest why it wasn’t ‘pink’ as requested, but after masticating with a piece for longer than comfortable I also joined the school of thought that it had been basking under the grill for far too long.

By way of apology for the over done steak the management offered the whole table an apple crumble to share. A smart move, as correcting a cocked up steak is one of the biggest challenges in a restaurant, due to cooking and resting time  – especially a £60 cut. The gesture certainly redeemed some of the service failings throughout the night.

As you would imagine wine is high on the agenda here, which is what piqued my disappointment above anything else. You simply can not get a decent bottle of wine here for anything below £32. The ‘Mission House White’ (£26.50) was vile, acidic tart and unpalatable. The Pecorino Tiberio (£32.50) was better, but still extremely thin. We eventually bought a few bottles of the Foxglove Zinfandel (£41.50) which was bold and beautiful, but I still had a gripe with the grape, as it was freezing cold. I questioned our waitress and she informed me it had come from the cellar, as if this was supposed to fix the fact it was served sub-zero. If you are charging over the odds for your wine why don’t you show it some love, and keep it in a temperature regulated area like other restaurants charging the same would do?

In terms of wine pricing the same can be said of their original venue Sager & Wilde, as the last time I went I remember stumbling out £80 lighter after splitting a couple of bottles of red. However the cost felt justifiable as the service was excellent, the glassware reeked of expense and it’s a cosy venue. They need to look to what made them successful in their first venture and emulate in Mission where possible.

My lasting impression of Mission will unfortunately be the price. There has been a trend lately of narcissistic foodies launching restaurants in East London and strapping on a Mayfair price tag. Whereas I wouldn’t necessarily put Mission in this category they need to seriously consider what value they are actually offering their customers, as there was far too much wrong with it to justify the cost.

Table for 6 £458 including wine and service. 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green. (020 7613 0478. missione2.com) Open
Monday 6pm-12am, Tuesday-Friday 12pm-12am, Saturday-Sunday 11am-12am.

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London restaurant, Restaurant review

GAUTHIER Soho – Not enough Jean Paul.

I had already recommended this restaurant to a friend prior to eating at it myself, so sure was I that it would be utterly exquisite. Thankfully my friend had a wonderful experience, but my meal didn’t quite hit the mark.

This particular meal was due to be a long leisurely lunch with one of the many fabulous women in my life, my Mother. Choosing venues for these occasions requires a great deal of thought, tenacity and patience. Expectation levels are usually soaring, so venue choice is key, and having been cast aside for a reservation at Chiltern Firehouse, rebuffed from Rogan’s new joint at Claridges I joined the waiting list for a table at Gauthier. Our time spent on the waitlist was luckily rather brief, so I was able to call off the hunt for a prized table for two and it was all systems go for a leisurely luncheon in one of my favourite parts of London.

The restaurant itself is located within a terraced house on Romilly Street, which makes the arrival experience wonderfully quaint as you approach the huge black door and wait for permission to enter. It has a real air of exclusivity which imparted in the correct manner receives a big thumbs up from us both.

Back Camera

Being shown to our table our feelings began to alter. The dining room itself was lacking. There was no panache and it was all quite bland. As my feet wandered over the heavy piled carpet I didn’t feel like I was in a restaurant. It had a feeling of a home where people had just moved in and hadn’t got round to unpacking or decorating.

Once we were rooted in our armchairs our waiter came over with the menus – of which there are numerous. He diligently went through all of the varying options that were available to us, and I have never come across so much choice or ways to package up and supplement your meal choice, it was quite baffling and I needed some libation to make sense of it all.

Eventually after much deliberation, a cold glass of bubbles and two freshly baked brioche rolls our orders were in, so we were able to resume our judgemental gazes towards the decoration – or lack of. It was also unusual that they had the blinds closed in the middle of the day, so  whilst we sat on the second floor of this terraced house in the middle of the day it felt like a bat cave with a shag pile carpet.

After a few brief moments we were presented with a couple of pre-starters. Firstly a pumpkin velouté, which had sadly become split and resembled the texture of baby spew which was doused in a disproportionate amount of mushroom sauce, and secondly some parmesan crisps which were extremely flavoursome and packed a great nutty punch of fromage.

To start with we had a Crustacean Medley swimming with slivers of squid. Now I may be wrong but the last time I checked squid or octopus wasn’t part of the crustacean family. The dish itself was actually delicious with an oceanic lobster bisque, but tentacles were not what we were expecting, I wasn’t about to split hairs with the staff about differences between molluscs or crustaceans so swiftly got over it.

Main courses followed shortly after, and this was the most disappointing part of the lunch. I ordered pheasant, and it was just bad. Over cooked, under seasoned sinewy meat that felt as though I was chewing on Paula Radcliffe’s left calf muscle.

There was an absence of appropriate accompaniments with this dish and the Savoy cabbage that was supposedly gracing my plate was so negligible in size that it may as well have been omitted. Chef patron Gauthier is billed as being a ‘vegetable magician’, well he was certainly very competent as he had made ours completely disappear. Clearly the rabbit he had in his hat had been busy.

Rounding off proceedings we had some coffee and petit fours, which is worth mentioning purely down to the crockery that was used. It was beautiful, unique little vessels with bold colours and individual styling. Perhaps an indication of where they ought to draw inspiration for the decor?

gauthier tea cup

I think you will likely find more atmosphere on the moon than in Gauthier. Clientele on this particular Tuesday afternoon was predominantly city boys bragging about how many times they ‘bang their mistress’, displaying language as colourful as the coffee cups. Perhaps the weekend would see a more representative cross-section of those of us spending our own hard-earned pennies as opposed to the expense accounts.

There were some great nuances running throughout the lunch such as the arrival experience, the complimentary mineral water, the stylish crockery and the comfort of the dining room. There has clearly been a lot of thought placed on this restaurant, just not in the areas I consider most important – like the food.

I have decided to save the best for last and that is the service. It was impressive. The boys had the correct amount of rapport and charm, and timed the whole experience with Swiss watch precision. Service recovery was also dealt with swiftly and sans drama – you didn’t think we were going to pay for the pheasant did you?

Table for 2 £112.50 with wine including service. 21 Romilly Street, W1. (0207 494 3111 gauthiersoho.co.uk) Open Tuesday to Saturday lunch and dinner, Monday dinner only.

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London restaurant, Restaurant review

POPPIES Spitalfields – A Northerners quest for great fish and chips.

You will be hard pushed to find a Northener that doesn’t like fish and chips and i’m no exception. Fish and Chips are a British institution, and as a Nation we consume over 382 million portions annually.

Living in London for the last decade my ‘friday fish and chip’ intake has taken a battering  due to the distinct lack of quality fish and chips on offer, or anything else even resembling what’s occurring in deep fat fryers North of Watford.

This is an issue that I am always very vocal about, and every time I whinge about it someone always offers me a solution to cure this inert desire for fried delights. So true to form I will more often than not give peoples recommendations a go, and am nearly always disappointed. The truth is if you haven’t had traditional fish and chips from the North West coast then you don’t have a point of reference. For me the North – South divide has never been so apparent as when discussing fish and chips.

In order to provide you with said point of reference you should be aware that a good fish consists of a steamed milky white fillet encased in a delicate light and crisp batter, which should be integral to the fish and not a layer that easily peels away like soggy wallpaper – fried food of this quality is fairly universal to ‘chippies’ in Lancashire.

This Friday afternoon I found myself in a familiar predicament so after a brief Google found myself en route to Poppies in Spitalfields. It bares all sorts of bold claims on it’s website and has been decorated with an extensive amount of awards so thought it was worth a shot. On arrival we were greeted with a queue of hungry patrons snaking out of the door. Surely a good sign?

Our time spent queueing at Poppies certainly wasn’t in vain as it allowed us to take in the rather bizarre surroundings. The dining room reminded me of the diner in Hill Valley when Marty McFly takes a trip Back to the Future, whilst the staff wear an outfit that suggests that they ought to be wearing roller-skates while carrying pots of over brewed filter coffee.

After waiting in line for around ten minutes we were taken to our table, which unfortunately  for us was next to a table of fifteen very enthusiastic Chinese tourists, each projecting a hysterical cackle that had a similar effect on us as kryptonite has on Superman. Luckily the menu didn’t require much concentration so our order was placed swiftly. “Haddock and chips times two and give me two minutes with the wine list.”

Sancerre is a great choice for fish and chips, it’s crisp herbaceous character cuts nicely through the oiliness – perhaps a long shot to hope that a chippy in the East End would have it. They didn’t, so after perusing the five wines they did have on offer I settled on a tempranillo rose (£15.90). The wine list wasn’t actually as uninspiring as it sounds and I was pleased that the only rose they did have on offer wasn’t a white zinfandel (I wouldn’t even cook with it) but a nice dry and fruity Spaniard.

My enthusiasm for the wine list was short lived as what was ordered was not what arrived. After studying the bottle I decided it was of comparable quality to what I ordered so we stuck with it. It was actually a decent bottle and worth noting that it was chilled to perfection. If a ‘caf’ down the market can get it right then why michelin standard restaurants in town are still serving whites and fizz that feel as though they have been basking in Dubai is unfathomable.

We waited patiently for around twenty minutes for the main event to arrive. Time again not altogether wasted as it gave us an opportunity to learn about owner and founder Pop Newlands glittering fish frying career and how he came to start Poppies. One would assume that it has been here since the forties, hence it’s decor and popularity with the Chinese tourists, but it is a staggering four years old, feeling slightly duped I was able to console myself with the knowledge that our food had just arrived.

The fish and chips were good – batter was light and crisp, however there were small traces of undercooked batter lurking beneath. The fish whilst nicely poached in it’s batter still had the skin on, which wasn’t a particularly welcome addition to my plate. Chips were nice chunky slaps of carb heaven which once drowned in a mountain of salt certainly did the job.

If sitting in a dining room with laminate table tops listening to Del Shannon Runaway doesn’t sound top of the pops then this place isn’t for you, and as such my expectation wasn’t great. Some of it’s charm however was not altogether lost on me, and the fish and chips? It’s probably the best i’ve had in London. I’ll save my review of the worst for another day…

Table for 2. £42.65 with wine, excluding service. 6-8 Hanbury Street, E1 (020 7247 0892, poppiesfishandchips.co.uk) Open daily from 11am – 11pm. Sundays until 10.30pm.

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London restaurant, Restaurant review

POND Dalston – Anyone else got that sinking feeling!?

In the latest wave of new openings in the culinary revolution currently occurring in and around Dalston, Pond has now washed up on our doorstep. The remit of this new contender is serving what is apparently the ‘toast of the US dining scene’.

It is in actual fact Hawaiian cuisine which i’m sure wouldn’t be an altogether unsuccessful concept if it were executed elsewhere and by a different chef – unless you’ve missed the subtext, the food was poor.

Located in the dodgy end of Gillett Square – on approach you may feel slightly out of place unless drinking neat rum or Guinness from the bottle, so I would suggest you do both as it will soften the blow of paying the bill at this place.

Aesthetically Pond Dalston ticks all the right boxes, it’s on trend with it’s industrial exposed brickwork, warehouse location and funky Hawaiian shirts adorning the pretty staff. Being thoroughly enamored with the vibe I felt I needed to relieve the excitement with a trip to the little boys room. It was upon viewing the toilet bowl that my excitement faded and I decided against draining the weasel – the old chap has seen some sites in it’s time but this porcelain was straight out of a halls of residence.

With a full bladder I felt it best to heighten my discomfort so obviously turned to the cocktail menu, an experience that was altogether positive, if not a little sweet for my pallet. I kicked things off with a ‘Tinglet’ which is based on a homemade cordial of Ting. The world is a better place with Ting ‘innit, so this beverage received rapturous applause.

pond bar

Moving through to the restaurant we were given our menus which were secreted in a National Geographic magazine – nice touch, very Dalston. I took to the helm with ordering and for a table of four, ordered a couple of dishes from each section of the menu.

From the small plates section we opted for the Kalua Pork (£9.80) and the Fillet Poke (£10.20). Both of which were thoroughly unpleasant. The pork reminded me of fowl that had been frozen, thawed out and microwaved and was served with a green sauce that had the texture of baby food but sadly not the taste…it had no taste. The texture of the Fillet Poke was halfway between fat and gristle – a poke in the eye would have been preferable.

I also ordered us a selection of sushi rolls, which were rather good, and to their credit they served kizami wasabi which is a version of fresh wasabi which provides great depth of flavour and offers a good accompaniment to the rolls. Sashimi here is best avoided. It wasn’t the most unpleasant flavour we had that evening but it was tasteless and not the best quality.

Other lowlights included the Smokin Cow (£21.00) beef ribs which were dryer than the Sahara and the Sambal Black Cod (£23.50) which hadn’t been de-boned and nearly sent me to an early grave.

Accompanying our meal I had a few glasses of crisp South African Chenin Blanc which was a good pairing, but the rest of the list really ought to be reviewed. It lacked any kind of thought and was limited and overpriced. They have no bottom range in the list, so those on a budget will struggle to find a wine.

The service here at Pond really ought to get a mention, as it was fluid and consistent and punctuated with some good banter – I was slightly perturbed when I initially saw the bar staff perusing the latest edition of National Geographic, however hindsight demonstrates that this was a willingness to swot up on the menu, rather than a keen interest in the Amazonian Bull Frog.

Named Pond as a reference to hopping over the Atlantic to the UK, I think it an appropriate title, as i’m quite sure this restaurant will go the way of the Titanic on it’s fated trip over the pond and sink without a trace.

Table for 4. £178 with wine and service. Unit G2, Stamford Works, 3 Gillett Street, N16 (020 3772 6727 pond-dalston.com). Open daily 5pm-11pm.

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