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

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.

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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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