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Eating (and drinking) at Nottingham’s most anticipated new opening – Alex Bond’s Alchemilla

There has been much fevered anticipation of the opening of this new restaurant on Nottingham’s Derby Road over the last year. It has been a project of gargantuan proportions by Alex Bond and his backers. Alex (Chef Director) has been overseeing the complete renovation of a former carriage building and stables at the front of a what used to be the grand townhouse of a local lace merchant. The building has been unused and standing empty for around 200 years. I interviewed Alex last year for Great Food magazine and was astonished to the see the scale of his vision. The building was in a state of significant disrepair with tree roots growing through the roof and centuries (quite literally) of dirt, dust and damp to dig out.

  

And now he has done it. The former semi -derelict Coach House is now an amazing space, retaining the wonderful brick walls and archways, with new sky lights bringing lots of natural light in. Nottingham can probably boast one of the most architecturally interesting and atmospheric restaurants in England. From the unassuming, unbranded facade to the sweeping entrance that leads you directly into the open kitchen space before taking you through to the arches and alcoves that form the restaurant and bar area. With “living walls”, modern furnishing and a light, spacious feel (the tables haven’t been crammed in, thankfully, so you can whisper sweet nothings or even possibly have a hushed spat with your partner and not have the next table wincing in embarrassment).

  

The menus are tasting menus, 5 course (only at lunch), 7 and 10. We went fully intending to go with 7, until we saw the 10. It was probably inevitable that we would choose it in hindsight, the road to hell and all that. 10 courses (£60) with wine and beer pairings (£45).

I am going not going to make your ears bleed by reviewing every dish and wine pairing at length as I am pretty sure I will get bored even before you do. I could sum the whole thing up by saying it was “utterly brilliant”, and it was, but I should try a bit harder than that, so I have been a bit picky, but hopefully fairly brief and very fair, and I apologise for the dark photos, it didn’t seem right to be flashing away, (as it were).

I might do a separate blog on the wines (and cocktails and gin).

Bread was offered at the start of the meal, a superb, warm and yeasty sourdough, with a sturdy crust and lovely salted butter, how I miss proper, crunchy salted butter (we had 3 lots during the meal….bread, I mean, not just butter)

 

First up – smoked shiitake mushrooms with pork fat. Admittedly, probably not the prettiest dish you will ever see, to be fair. I’m going to leave it there and you can use your imagination. As for the taste though – fantastic. The pork fat sort of dissolved into the mushrooms, the combined flavours of pig and fungi were fabulous – if a little rich for some palates, I’d imagine,  (the FWD, though, who apparently “hates” mushrooms, and has, for many years refused to eat them, ate the lot).

I was looking forward to the crab, elderflower and rhubarb dish and it was indeed good, a neatly wrapped parcel of crab wrapped in raw  (pickled perhaps?) rhubarb, although I think the sourness of the rhubarb pretty much saw off the flavour of the delicate, sweet, white crab meat. Perhaps a bit of more of the robustness of brown crabmeat would help it to stand up against the rhubarb? Not as attractive though, I concede.

This fermented garlic, potato and buttermilk dish won all round accolades from the table, we pretty much picked up the fabulous oversized bowls to drink the last of the buttermilk.

The cauliflower dish came with a Belgian beer. The FWH is a bit knowledgeable about Belgian beer (as we lived there and he consumed vast quantities of it) and we had never thought of combining it with anything other than moules and frites. But this really worked – very clever. (Think that is right picture btw, had consumed rather a lot of achohol by this point – bear that in mind if you order the 10 courses!)


You almost certainly can’t tell from that picture but this is tomato and lovage, which was a great palate cleanser after the yeasty cauliflower. This was swiftly followed by the only meat dish on the menu – veal, gremolata and smoked cream.  Discover I love smoked cream, but have no idea how to recreate it at home? Reminded myself I can take or leave gremolata.

Apple, horseradish and dill. Yep, really liked the fresh flavours and dill is one of my favourite herbs, we don’t use it enough in England in my view. It is, admittedly, a bugger to grow. As for apple and horseradish, who knew?

    

Sweets were just an all round hit – the strawberry hay was perhaps more strawberry than hay, but this probably a good thing, the chocolate, miso, banana and lime was interesting and the cherries woodruff –  my favourite.

Alchemilla is something else, my nearest comparison of recent months would be Adam Handling’s Frog in Spitalfields, both exciting, young (by my standards, natch) chefs doing amazing things with new and innovative flavour pairings and textures. I am so glad that Alex’s vision for his restaurant was so bold and that he got the backing to deliver his dream. This place, will I am sure go from strength to strength and must be up for a Michelin star sometime in the future, surely?

 

And finally, even though Alchemilla was full, and rocking, by the time we came to desserts (and it was a Friday night) I just want to thank Alex for coming out of his busy kitchen to say hello (of course, I was much the worse for wear by that time….), but it was appreciated nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

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A super lunch at the Staunton Arms, Vale of Belvoir.

Just had a fabulous pub lunch and felt the need to share the joy. This is a not a Sunday Lunch you understand – as that’s a whole other kettle of fish, as you know. In fact it was a Wednesday lunch and bloody good too.

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We drove out to the delightful Staunton Arms in the beautiful Vale of Belvoir, we drove out because I can’t imagine there is really any other way to get there, I didn’t spot a bus, but one might exist. The Staunton Arms is certainly rural.

I was recommended to try this – always a risk I find – but I was not disappointed. It is a 200 year old pub in a listed building in a small, what would you call it? probably hamlet rather than village, surrounded by rolling countryside. The weather was kind to us and we sat outside. It was busy, we only just found a parking space so full was it and I am glad we made reservations as the place was bustling (in a good way, I hasten to add). There appeared to be only one guy front of house which made me think that perhaps they had experienced an unexpected rush of customers due the clement weather, but apparently not, when we asked our server if this was unusual for a Wednesday lunch, his reply was “standard”. Okaayy, we discovered as lunch went on, he was perfectly polite but he was a man of a few well chosen words…

The pub has several menus, “lite bites” and daily specials and an a la carte. From this I chose the Crab Croquette with samphire, chilli and a spring onion broth with micro coriander. It was very good indeed, great texture, great flavours and contrasts, just enough chilli but not too much to kill the delicate flavour of the crab. It was also huge, I was wondering if I would get through my mains.

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FWH went with the Local Beetroot frittata, creamed goat’s cheese, textures of beetroot and pea shoots. I’m not a big beetroot fan (nor of goat’s cheese) it has to be said. As the FWH was raised, so he tells me (but he tells me all sorts) on beetroot sandwiches (I cannot imagine, frankly) he considers himself something of an expert and was very happy indeed with his starter.

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For mains, I went with the crispy skinned chicken breast with charred baby gem, garlic crispbread, parmesan shavings, parmesan puree and tempura anchovy. This was so good, a pretty salty combination for those thinking blood pressure, but I loved it, I find so much food is under seasoned now in pursuit of the “healthy” (but tasteless) option. And deep fried anchovies – what a bloody revelation they were. Never had them before, loved them. Before I had known the size of the starter I asked what the chicken came with…. the server tells me “What is says on the menu” (perfectly politely) and I thought yeah, perhaps it was a bit of a stupid question, however, there were sides listed so I went with the salad (couldn’t possibly eat it and it would have added nothing to this great dish, so I took it home for supper).

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FWH went with the soy and chilli glazed pork belly with Pak Choi, radish and spring greens, honey and hoisin dressing and sesame seeds. This was a beautiful, sweet and sticky dish with perfectly cooked meat. The side of home-cooked fries (yes, I did say to the FWH that chips didn’t belong with this dish at all, but they were cooked in beef dripping and he was blind to any culinary advice after that) also came home with us as they couldn’t be finished (and he fried them again for supper…).

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We had no room for puddings but I can only assume they would have been as good as the rest of the meal. Reasonably priced and superb pub food are not phrases often seen in the same sentence but in this case it applies. Despite our server being rather succinct, he was nonetheless lovely – efficient and perfectly polite (We have now added the word “standard” to our lexicon eg “How was your day dear?” “Standard”) and he coped admirably and efficiently with the busy service.

The food was great, the setting very pleasant and all in all a really good experience. Fab pub.

On taking Mother to a very unlikely spot for Teppanyaki

Taking the FWM out for lunch is always a bit of a challenge as she lives in a village in Lincolnshire that is a virtual desert when it comes to local pubs (at least that sell decent food) and restaurants. In fact such a dearth is there that unless one is prepared to drive into Lincoln and take your chance on finding a parking space anywhere near where you want to be, or settle for a sandwich at the local garden centre, there is pretty much nowhere to go. So when I spotted a Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi bar existed on the Doddington Road  (the Lincoln Bypass, essentially) that also had parking, we decided to give it a go.

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If one is to imagine a setting (or even a name – Ethan’s) that looks less likely to host a Japanese restaurant I can’t think you could conjure up anything quite as unlikely as this. It is essentially on a garage forecourt abutting the ring road located in a rather odd (or quirky if you prefer) circular building with exposed iron scaffolding on the roof, which it shares with a BBQ grill and cocktail bar called Damon’s.

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The menus are extensive and the place runs a myriad of offers, reductions for students, the over 60s and other combinations. You can choose from any number of sushi dishes, starters, mains and sides.

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FWM was a bit whelmed. I think, and went with the prawn tempura (which she then concluded was “too large” when it arrived). FWD and I went with the Teppanyaki set lunch offer.

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This consisted of miso or beef broth, sushi, noodles and beansprouts, egg fried rice and then a choice of salmon, beef, chicken, scallops, prawns and pork. I scanned the menu for a price. (FWM muttered something about there can’t possibly be that much food for a set lunch). £9.95. Yep, £9.95 a head for lunch. Hard to comprehend. Must be small portions, we concluded.

 

The communal table around the teppanyaki plate was shared with another family and the usual performance of clanking knives, juggling eggs and setting fire to stuff that accompanies most teppanyaki cooking, began. FWM seemed mildly entertained, which is a result of not insignificant note.

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My miso soup was perfectly nice, and FWD enjoyed most of her beef broth (think Bovril – but nicer). The sushi dish was good, and generous, and the veg and beansprouts were really well seasoned and very nice. Oh, yes, we also had a side salad, which was fresh and very pleasant (unlike the brown, tired thing I was served up at Ginza in Nottingham).

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My steak was beautifully cooked and delicious, really tender and the FWD’s salmon was superb. Couldn’t fault any of the food, nor the Chef’s endeavours to entertain (although throwing egg fried rice from his spatula for customers catch in their mouth was perhaps a stunt too far and one I declined to take part in – FWM was mortified at that one, so it did have a good side….).

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This food was as good, if not better, than anything I have had recently at Ginza in Nottingham, it was fresh and well cooked and the restaurant was smart and clean (if vaguely like a mix between a hotel lobby and a snooker hall). Service was good and there was so much food we couldn’t quite finish it all. And it was only £9.95 a head for lunch. I mean, you cannot complain at that, I am astonished they can make it work at that price, they must get very busy in the evenings, and that wouldn’t surprise me as this must be the only Japanese in Lincoln, certainly the only one on the ring road, and it was bloody good.

 

 

Sicilian Stories, sweat and bruschetta

Love Italy, love Italian food (except gnocchi – just cannot get that stuff) and have had some amazing food on some fabulous holidays. I think I have visited probably 10 times, from the lakes in the North, to Rome, Tuscany and Venice, to Sorrento, Capri and Positano in the South, but never yet ventured to Sicily. So this year’s holiday was a first.

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Before Sicily though we have Birmingham airport, and I just wanted to share this gem with you. This beaut is a “sausage bloomer sandwich” and it cost £7. Yep. I will leave that with you….

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Taormina is perched halfway up a cliff and is truly beautiful, a wonderful old town with meandering ginnels, alleyways and streets, with ancient artefacts (the odd 2000 year old amphitheatre or mosaic) around every corner, mingling with characterful old buildings and all human life, particularly Italians, for whom this is favourite holiday resort.

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The streets are packed with shops, restaurants and bars and the views from the cliff side over the med are stunning. Alongside the smaller antiquities there is also a truly fabulous Greek amphitheatre which was pretty much behind our hotel (Ariston – great location, great hotel, definitely recommend) with the sea and hills as its backdrop, where we watched the best of Bellini’s operas on a glorious evening. And of course there is the magnificent Mount Etna, smoking away gently in the background.

Sicily is famous for its blood oranges and is a major producer of  lemons, mandarins, aubergines (for the signature aubergine parmigiana) tomatoes, prickly pears, almonds, capers and pistachios. There is an abundance of tuna, swordfish, sardines (locally served stuffed with herbs) and shellfish and, of course, ricotta, pecorino and honey. The island also produces a huge variety of superb wines, (at a price).

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 I will however, tell you that this is not a cheap place, especially for food and wine (and given my main reason to travel anywhere at all is for food and wine, this is a bit of a bugger). The cheapest wine we found in the shops was around £9 a bottle, in restaurants the prices were eye-watering.

I have never had a bad meal in all my visits to Italy (actually I tell a lie,  I did get served some rotten shellfish in a restaurant in the godforsaken resort of Lido de Jesolo which we stayed in for a visit to Venice and the islands of Murano and Burano. That place is a memory I have tried hard to suppress, the only good thing about it was the ferry out).

But for me, eating in Sicily was something of a curate’s egg. Apart from the fact that much of the food is excoriatingly expensive for what it is, pretty much every restaurant whether it had magnificent views overlooking the sea or was tucked away in a back street charge much the same (very high) prices. One would hate to suggest that there is something of a cartel going on here with food and drink? But there are clearly some influential “families” in the region…

In any event, I wouldn’t have minded the prices so much if the food had been a bit special. But with a couple of exceptions it really wasn’t. Often not well presented (I don’t mind rustic but not when a place is supposed to be fine dining) and often not well cooked. See this grilled squid? Couldn’t get a knife through it.

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I even, and I kid you not, had some badly cooked spaghetti (it wasn’t al dente it was crunchy), I ate the vongole and ditched the pasta. And this gnocchi (not that I get this mushy potato dish at the best of times) was, well, judge for yourself.

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So there were some highlights, some great pizza served on tables clingy precariously to a narrow steep staircase,

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 fabulous ice- cream (you might scoff, how can it be anything other than fabulous in Italy you ask? but believe me, I was taking nothing for granted by this stage)

great cannoli, a lovely meal at Mama Rosa’s (which was a recommendation) and finally a trip up the hill to the very top  (you need to have a head for heights here, with the hairpin bends and sheer drops – and I don’t, made worse by the fact I was largely sober as the booze was so bloody expensive) and the lovely Castelmola. The food here was superb and slightly less expensive, so frankly a ten minute bus ride (even with your eyes closed as in my case) is worth it for some really good food and more astonishing views.

I also had some of the best bruschetta ever in a tiny, family-run bar with a stunning view of Etna (who produced a lava flow for our entertainment while we had a few beers).

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When we arrived the mamma welcomed us and the pappa…. well, let say, he was a large, sweaty man in a vest who quite clearly did not wish to be there baking his own ciabattas in a tiny hot kitchen and I am guessing that he is rarely deployed front of house, if you get my drift. We ordered beer and the order was yelled at him from the mamma and he growled back some apparent obscenity (we were all occupying a space of about 3 square metres here). When he brought out, clearly very reluctantly, the bruschetta (not ordered but Italians do not like to serve drinks without some kind of food/snack it seems) and kind of growled something as he pretty much threw it on the table, we did notice he was perspiring rather heavily and had distinctly grubby nails, he also, rather worryingly, had breadcrumbs and crushed tomatoes clinging to his chin and top lip.

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We looked long and hard at that bruschetta, considering ever so slightly the hygiene implications and then thought, sod it. It was, by a country mile, the best bruschetta I have ever eaten, and makes almost all other attempts seem inadequate. And, of course, we came to no harm and, honestly, if we had had more time I would have come back and eaten there every day, despite the fact that I never once saw either proprietor or proprietess wash their hands and the loo was basically in the kitchen and the flush was broken. To pappa’s clear relief the son eventually turned up, a charming and jovial chap, who took over front of house…

Love Sicily, love Taormina and we had a wonderful time, but finding some really good food was more of a challenge that I imagined, so I will have to go back and try again….

 

One more gem to share, this time from the fight home. This item is a called a “ham and cheese melt”. A delayed flight (storms over France) meant I was starving and so I recklessly ordered this microwaved monstrosity. It is essentially wet bread with some kind of cheese -like product on top.

And with that, I will say arrivederci.

 

 

Eating out in London – random musings on the great, the okay and the rest

We had some fabulous food on our recent stay to London, Adam Handling’s The Frog in Spitalfields, Smoking Goat in Soho and the Oystermen in Covent Garden were the highlights. We had some pretty good sushi (I am no expert on this, has to be said) at Eat Tokyo in Camden and a fabulous pizza in Neal’s Yard. All these have their own posts on the blog if you have the time.

We had some not so good stuff – my taco at Greenwich Market was a particular low-light, soggy, gritty and taste free (see separate post).

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 and I had a not unpleasant but distinctly underwhelming salt beef brioche in Convent Garden Market.

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Popped to a couple of nearby café for breakfasts, I didn’t record the names for posterity and mostly I watched the rest of the FWF eat the food, but we had some decent fry-ups, and I discovered that a  “Liver Breakfast” is a thing. I think this is a fry-up with liver (I’m hazarding a guess here, but for sure most of the cafes in this bit of London served it, so it is clearly a thing).

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We had a shockingly expensive croissant and a bowl of granola with yoghurt on High Holborn that could’ve fueled an army, and a bacon sandwich that was served on the thickest slice of bread I  think I have ever seen, imagine a loaf cut in half with bacon inserted (couldn’t manage all the bread, but no complaints about the bacon).

Some really good Chinese food at Canton Element in Camden. Way over-ordered, mind you, leaving us in pretty much a food induced coma at the end.

And a Korean BBQ, at Kimchi also on High Holborn. We just walked into this place on our first night and hadn’t planned it, it was very busy all evening (and every lunchtime and evening that we walked by).

It is clearly popular. But, although there was some great flavours, the meat was tough. I mean I had to give up on chewing the beef as I actually thought I would gag if I tried to swallow it and the pork belly wasn’t much better (both eaten served in lettuce leaves which I love) But how does this happen? Was I just really unlucky (on both dishes?) or am I a poor masticator? I don’t know, but clearly (and I think there were probably lots of repeat customers there) it didn’t seem to bother any one else. FWH loved the mackerel jorim.

It was enough that we wouldn’t return despite the fact that the service was fine, and the décor and presentation of the food was good but, no, just can’t get passed that meat.

And….just in case you are wondering, whilst the FWD was at work, myself and the FWH walked about 20 miles across town as the weather was so lovely so we, kind of, burned it all off..

 

 

Street Food in Greenwich – not everything I ate recently was wonderful.

I didn’t actually know there was a market in Greenwich, so you live and learn. I haven’t been to Greenwich since I was a kid but it still seemed so familiar. I guess those old naval buildings appear in so many films, that you feel you know them, even though I think I was about 10 when I was last there. The Clipper from Bank was fast and with great views of the city in the sunshine, you have to wonder why people don’t commute this way more often.

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Anyway, I was here to see a friend, so no time to admire the Cutty Sark apart from a fleeting glance through the glass dome that surrounds the ship’s hull. Great idea – tried hard to convince Plymouth they should so something similar with a copy of the Mayflower once upon a time….anyway enough of that.

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Greenwich Market, where I met said friend is a sort of artsy crafty affair, very pretty, lovely atmosphere. Good pub.

It also, I discovered, has the ubiquitous street food bit tucked away. This always makes me happy. As, indeed, did the little gazebo with deckchairs and the TV showing Wimbledon. The sun was shining and the conversation and the beer flowed. Happy days.

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However, I am just going to share with you the worst Taco I have ever eaten. Thankfully I just ordered the one and thankfully the FWH ordered a Cuban “sandwich” which was basically grilled cheese and chillies, which always works and is pretty difficult to get wrong.

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Somehow, despite me having just seen the vendor pull out the Old El Paso taco shell from its box, it was still soggy on one side when I came to eat it. I am not even sure I know what was in it, I think I asked for chicken, but it was just an unidentifiable mush and, despite my asking for chillies, he had clearly forgotten to add any, so there was nothing to add flavour to the gritty gloop in the shell. And what was the gritty stuff? who knows, did they grind the avocado stone up with the flesh for the guacamole? Anyway it was pretty inedible, and soggy and, and £2.50!!!

 Loved the drink though a Jarritos Mandarin soda (toothachingly sweet, but good nonetheless), and a first for me.

Can’t win them all I guess.

 

Passing through Neal’s Yard? Homeslice Pizza- perfection.

So you know, you just wander around a small bit of London and the history and stories of the town never cease to take you by surprise. I know Seven Dials quite well, but not as well as I thought. I mean, how come I had never actually wandered into Neals Yard and Monty Python’s old gaff? Well with a bit of time to spare before a hair appointment, we popped in for some lunch.

The sun was shining, the crowd was mingling and the smell of freshly cooked pizza was just that bit too much to resist. It was ages until dinner, in any event.

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Homeslice Pizza was buzzing, the place was rammed, queues were out the door, the woodfired oven was on full and the pizza smelled divine. Homeslice is rooted in streetfood, starting as precisely that (as so many do now, and it’s fab) and now has 3 permanent sites in Covent Garden, Fitzrovia and Shoreditch, so not a chain and I think it shows in the sheer quality of the pizza. Do something simply and do it well.

And they are huge….

FWH and myself chose the same, with spicy salami (yes, yes, on some things we do agree)  – you can go for a slice,  the one pizza with two different toppings on each half or the full thing. With the freshest dough, the base was perfection and the heat of that oven gave the perfect finish to the toppings. Passing this way, you could do a lot worse than this pizza, as clearly lots of people have discovered.

 

 

The Smoking Goat, Soho

So, here’s another gem, this time in Soho. Nestled between any number of guitar and musical instrument shops that stretch the whole length of Denmark Street is the entirely unassuming Smoking Goat. The ‘Goat describes itself as “Thai Barbecue” but it is as far from the usual fare that this implies as I’ve seen. Moreover, they specialise in using rare-breed British meat. Again, with much owed to Thai street food, (the guys behind this place travelled extensively in the northern regions of Thailand) this amazing food has transitioned perfectly.

The Smoking Goat is small with around 20 covers at the front (if you include eating at the bar) and some more space at the rear (10 maybe?). The food is to die for, honestly, the flavours, textures and execution were just fabulous. Like The Oystermen in Covent Garden and, indeed, Rok in Shoreditch, I love the intimacy of these little places, each having a distinctive vibe and located in interesting places and characterful old buildings. I am pretty much done with stuffy formality and reverence when I’m eating. Even fine dining can be relaxed (take the Frog in Spitalfields, say).

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Anyway, we went with cocktails to start (yes, I know, it was only lunchtime… – oh yes, make sure you book as this place is very popular, gets full quickly and we couldn’t get in for dinner all week). I didn’t take note of what I had, but I’m sure it had Thai Basil in it? I remember thinking, don’t have a vodka-based one its too early, so it may have been rum. Who knows…? No matter, it was lovely. In fact I had two.

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Anyway, the food. I started with the Coal Roasted Scallops with red nahm yum. I am funny with scallops, they really need to be cooked well and for me the charring on the outside is critical, otherwise they are just meh, usually. I had some fantastic ones at Pitt Cue (Devonshire Square on the edge of Spitalfields), but these may have been even better. Cooked on the coals in the shells, crispy on the outside, melting in the middle and a delicious spicy sauce (which I drank rather wantonly from the shells, naturally..).

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FWD went with the eponymous goat, not the smoked shoulder (which was huge even for two as we noted from the neighbouring table) but a Goat Laab spicy Thai Salad. This was so good, the flavours were remarkable.

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I went with a rare breed pig version and was equally impressed. I really need to learn to make this at home. FWH also tried the smoked Lamb Ribs with gapi rub and pickles. The meat just fell off the bone and crawled into your mouth unaided. Fab stuff.

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(Btw my hairdresser of the previous day – who was French  – waxed lyrical about the fact that Smoking Goat serves a beef bavette (or skirt) which he loves and finds difficult to get hold of in the UK, but which is quite common in France. So, interesting cuts as well as rare breeds.

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Absolutely loved this place and run by two fantastic guys for whom nothing was too much trouble. Make the effort to go if you get chance.

 

There is no “r” in the month. But what the hell. The Oystermen, Covent Garden.

As you know, I’m an ostreophile. I love a good oyster (and, no, no chewing, just a push up against the roof of the mouth and a swallow, see earlier posts and please God, don’t cook them), so the opening of “The Oystermen” in Covent Garden just the week before our most recent visit to London put this squarely on the “hit list”.

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The Oystermen is small, like the Smoking Goat (more of that superb place later), located on Henrietta St just beside Covent Garden Market. Small, as in, maybe 20ish covers? but perfectly formed. Simple, fresh, seafood, trendy, bearded owner and chief shucker.  Not only am I a fan of oysters, I love a fresh boiled crab. I can dissect one with alarming alacrity, even if I do say so myself. Keep your boring, expensive lobsters and give me a good old fashioned brown crab.  I was at home the moment we walked in.

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I started with the oysters, (natch). Half a dozen, 2 of each type (the FWD can’t cope with the texture *rolls eyes* so she passed). Maldon Rock, Blackwater Wild (the huge ones – a test for even me, these, like swallowing a chicken breast whole….) and, my new absolute favourite, the small and sweet Kumamoto.

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Shucked at the bar in front of us, these were so perfect, if it weren’t for the rest of the menu, I could have poured them down my throat all day. The menu advice, along with the usual “eat at your own risk” disclaimer, is not to drink spirits with oysters. Here we part company, vodka and oysters are a great pairing in my view, but I was sensible, nothing but the red wine and shallot dressing accompanied my oysters. The  white wine came later.

 

FWD and I went with the smoked mackerel pate on grilled multigrain bread, this was so lovely, fresh with great textures. The FWH went with the scorched mackerel, pickled cucumbers and capers with salted citrus yoghurt.

 

I chose my whole Devon Brown Crab from the Board by weight. This was a supremely good, fresh crab. I know my crabs, let it be said. I can usually guess when it was caught within a few of hours accuracy, no word of a lie. My only disappointment was that it came partially already dismembered. This is probably a plus for most people, but not me, the act of wanton destruction and careful picking out of the sweet meat is a whole lot of the joy for me. Next time,  I will tell them to just drop the bugger on the platter whole and leave me to it.

 

It was lovely though, and I am not much complaining.

 

The FWD went with the Coley Bap, Tartare Sauce, Pickles and Old Bay Fries and the FWH with the Curried Clam Chowder. All fabulous, all polished off.

The Oystermen had only been open a week when we visited so I can only assume it will go from strength to strength. I could have spent the entire afternoon in the company of their fantastic shellfish.

Well done, lads, fab place.

If you’re in Covent Garden Market, and especially if you are a fellow ostreophile make a beeline for the Oystermen.

 

Adam Handling’s Frog in E1

As you may know (check out my blog post from 2015) I have been a fan of the lovely Adam Handling since the evening before the first airing of Masterchef, the Professionals (in which he featured) when I tweeted my view that he looked like a winner (he didn’t win, but still emerged the star of the show). The FWD would almost certainly dispute that I am a fan, and would probably suggest I am more of a rather embarrassing, aging groupie, with an inappropriate crush on a late 20 something year old chef… and this is probably fair.

 We first ate Adam’s food at the Caxton and it was amazing even then, and we tried again when he opened the Frog last year but events intervened and we couldn’t make it.

However, last week we rocked up to the rather cool The Frog in Spitalfields.  It feels like a pop-up but isn’t. It’s not what you’d necessarily expect  – after the slightly stuffy formality of the Caxton – with it’s graffiti-style logo and scribbled billet doux to Adam (and his food) on the walls. It’s kind of fine-dining meets festival grunge. But I like it, it has a great vibe and a huge open kitchen.

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You feel that you are essentially sharing the same space as the chefs so it all feels quite intimate, as though you are a part of the action. And, frankly, I am way over the hovering waiters and hushed reverence of so many fine dining places. Must admit, as soon as I spotted Adam the FWD began rolling her eyes in that “Oh God you’re going to have a drink and embarrass yourself flirting with him aren’t you?” kind of a way. Me?

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Firstly the food though. There is a tasting menu and a la carte “British Tapas”. We went with the tapas. I love Adam’s food, it is interesting, innovative and creative. My only reservation is his ongoing fascination with beetroot. I have tried and tried, but no, cannot get on with beetroot, just doesn’t taste pleasant to me, bit like eating soil, even if it is served “3 ways”.

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We started with Burnt (Adam is fond of “burnt” stuff, we had burnt cabbage last time I seem to recall – which is now a bit of a thing in lots of places) Toast, tomato and basil, Smoked Cod with caviar and the Pork with Lovage.  These “eat with your hands” snacks were so good, great flavours, quirky combinations, great textures, and who knew I loved lovage with pig?  If I’m sticking my neck out the Burnt Toast was probably the favourite.

 

These were followed (from the Garden) by Burrata, cucumber and black olive caramel and Celeriac, truffle and yolk – gorgeously “sous vided” I’d hazard (I know that’s not a word, cheers!)

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Squid, potato skin and black garlic, Salmon and Pickles and Tuna Tartar with jalapeno and avocado – this was exceptional, beautifully balanced if I may just be a slightly pretentious foodie type for a moment (from the Sea)

and Mac and Cheese (the Frog way) with fresh truffle grated on top (sooo good) and Piggy with radicchio and pear (from the Land).

I think Adam’s food is fantastic, (yes, I am perhaps a little biased but nonetheless it is so) there was not a dish no one loved and flavours and textures are refreshing and distinctive. I know there are plans to roll out some more Frogs, Covent Garden next I understand. Can this food be replicated in several outlets? I don’t know. But I still think we’re looking at some Michelin stars for this lad before long, and if not, well I think they are often overrated…..

I ended on Passionfruit, rum and coconut, with dry ice (which was for my “inner kid” it seems) and an espresso Martini (second in a week no less…get me the first at La Rock in Nottingham – more of that another time).

Loved the feel of this place, loved the food, got a selfie (several actually) with the main man and a quick squeeze (cue one mortified FWD and long suffering FWH). Service was great (some have commented otherwise but we had lovely servers – and some were the chefs themselves which adds to the sense that you are in a shared space) and the atmosphere relaxed. The Frog is not cheap, with cocktails, and wine, we went well over the £230 mark. But, hey, it’s not like I do it every week and the food is sublime. We had a fabulous evening.

Until next time….