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

BLIXEN Spitalfields – A Gin Palace Out of Africa

Is a good G&T enough to bring me back to a restaurant? A good one perhaps not, but one of Blixen’s is an entirely different story. Laced with homemade grapefruit and coriander cordial with a whopping chunk of fresh neon grapefruit and served over an avalanche of ice, this is a serious drink packed with character and addictive persuasion, I feel that this could have the potential to descend London’s drinking populous into a scene from Hogarth’s Gin Lane. But sadly people go to restaurants for more than just gin these days…

Stylistically there is a lot going at Blixen, and there is something distinctly colonial about it, with wicker chairs, tan wooden panelling and an abundance of ceiling fans, all very British Empire circa 1920. Our table was out in the courtyard, which gladly felt a million miles away from Spitalfields Market, and sported more shrubbery than an African plantation. A penny starts to drop and given the decor I deduce that Blixen could well refer to Karen Blixen and her famous memoir ‘Out of Africa’…

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The staff, who were by and large all rather lovely bore a stark contrast to my first experience of Blixen over 6 months ago when a member of the team sat down at my table to reel of the specials, it certainly put me off my stride and made me question what was in my gin and tonic. Thankfully this over familiarity has been stripped back and Blixen staff 2.0 are much more in keeping with what you would expect. Our Aussie server displayed the right amount of interest in us, but not too much that we became bored of her, she looked about 12 years old but you can hardly hold that against her.

On to the menu, and there were no colonial surprises lurking within the descriptions, however the dishes sounded peculiar and contained a selection of ingredients and flavours that you will recognise but perhaps not necessarily ever together. Beef and anchovies? Frogs legs and jamon? Sea bream and hazelnuts? Lamb and pistachio? It all sounds rather experimental. The starters appealed far more so we opted for a few of these and one main course to share.

Beetroot hummus with crispy lavosh (£3.50) was disappointing and after tasting this i’m confident the ever faithful beetroot was never meant to meet the chickpea in circumstances such as these. The beef carpaccio with anchovy, parmesan and crispy shallots (£8.00) was similarly disappointing, and believe it or not it would have benefitted with the omission of the fishy aftertaste, it was Caesar salad meets carpaccio and contained a bit too much surf with my turf. Our sea bass ceviche hadn’t quite got the right citrus balance however wasn’t unpalatable. The squid and chorizo stew (£8.00) most definitely made up for the shortcomings of it’s forerunners – deliciously tender squid rings with a rich deep paprika infused oil, all soaked up with butter beans and chickpeas – a real trophy dish.

Sea bream with white beans, broccoli and hazelnuts (£13.00) was proficient enough and the fish was fresh and well seasoned. Presentation was way off the mark and looked like it was ‘bring your toddler to work’ day in the kitchen as it was seemingly plated up by a three year old.

Pistachio ice cream with lemon shortbread (£6.00) for dessert was pleasant enough, and reminded me of an Indian kulfi, could this be the nod towards the colonial cooking of yesteryear that I was searching for?

A tray of petit fours and an espresso martini each finished off the evening – though it was staggering to believe that our G&T had been made by the same hands that sent out this under shaken and over sweetened imposter…such a shame.

For the price I think Blixen is a hit, and you’ll be hard pushed to get this quality for the same money in a mile radius. Go for the G&T and the squid…just make sure they don’t put it in the same glass.

Dinner for 2 £92 with two cocktails and service. 65A Brushfield Street, E1 6AA (0207 101 0093 blixen.co.uk) Open Monday to Friday 8am – 11pm, Saturday 9am – 11pm, Sunday 9am – 8pm.

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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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