The Delaunay

Address: 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB
Bookings: booked
Day: Saturday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 20.05.09I dropped into The Delaunay last night, to celebrate my mum’s birthday. I was without my usual partner in culinary crime. I mention her absence upfront only to excuse any inferiority in the photography featured in this blog, less the blame falls on her. I tried my hardest, but was unable to capture the food in all its glory, partly through lack of skill, and partly because I was normally halfway through devouring the dish before I remembered I was supposed to be photographing it for our audience.

She will be back for the next instalment of Life at the End of a Fork, armed with her camera and keen eye for the nuances of a plate of food, a Cartier-Bresson of the Instagram era.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 20.05.56But on to the restaurant in question! The Delaunay is a grand place to look at, large and elegant, with dark wooden tables, green leather chairs, and a large antique clock dominating one side of the room. Paintings from the early 20th century lurk in dimly lit corners. Waiters glide across the room, dispensing small baguettes and counselling you on the wine list.

The Delaunay models itself on the grand cafes that thrived in Vienna and other parts of Middle Europe in the 1930s, and stepping inside does make you feel like you’ve caught a train out of 21st century London and into an older, more cultivated era.

The menu is also stocked with dishes you rarely find in most modern London restaurants: kedgeree, pan fried sardines, a range of schnitzels, and an entire section of the menu dedicated to various sorts of sausages with sauerkraut.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 20.05.32I warmed up with some Carlingford Rock Oysters, which were nice, but didn’t have quite the sea-breeze freshness of the oysters we ate recently at the Wright Brothers. I then moved on to the Chicken Kiev, which I last had aged about 17, oven cooked out of an Iceland package, costing the grand sum of £0.87. The experience had put me off the food for over a decade, but I can happily report that The Delaunay has rehabilitated it. The crisped, salted breadcrumbs, the tender chicken, the right amount of garlic butter oozing out of the core, all worked wonders for me.

At the other side of the table my father worked his way through the Char-Grilled Calf’s Liver, making appreciative grunts as he did so, which I take as his official stamp of approval for any food. My mum ate a plate of sausages, one spiced lamb and the other wild boar, which she reported as excellent.

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I finished with a ‘Kinder’, which was a tall glass of vanilla, raspberry and chocolate ice creams, with marshmallows, meringue and chocolate sauce, an excellent end to a good meal.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 20.06.28I would classify The Delaunay as a restaurant where the ambience outdoes the food, but it is a must visit for any London restaurant explorer nonetheless, and a great warm-up for anyone looking to have dinner ahead of a West-End theatre trip.


Otto’s

Address: 182 Grays Inn Rd, Camden Town, London WC1X 8EW
Bookings: booked
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 8/10

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I first became aware of Otto’s during the balmy summer of 2015. The introduction was a lucky one. Reclining peacefully in an armchair in my flat, I noticed an annoying sound floating through the open window.

After ten minutes during which the racket refused to go away, I donned a pair of shoes and went in search of it. Out on Theobald’s Road, I was confronted by a strange sight: a scruffy little mob of malcontents was gathered outside a non-descript restaurant, sandwiched between a dry-cleaners and a Japanese takeaway. Facing them down was a suited figure, the top-button of his jacket done-up, a claret tie suffocating his throat, almost military in his stiff formality, part gentleman’s butler, part Mr Burns from the Simpsons. This was Otto Albert Tepassé, the German owner of the eponymous French restaurant over which he now stood guard.

The protestors were part of the London Vegan Activism Society, their anger stoked by Otto’s serving of foie gras, the delicate and delicious dish created by force feeding a duck or goose until its liver takes on a rich, buttery and absolutely delicious flavour. Over the next several months, the protestors turned up every night of the week, rain or shine, between the hours of 6 and 9pm. They sang, they chanted, they harangued, screaming variants of “shame on Otto’s!”, or “meat is murder”, all amplified by the use of a number of megaphones.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 21.38.30Through it all, Otto faced them stoically and inscrutably, at most despatching an underling to film proceedings when the weather was particularly bad. The foie gras remained on the menu, and as the months passed and the weather turned colder, the protestors began to trickle away. One day, they were no more, leaving in search of a less stout-hearted foe. The battle of bulging liver had been won, the siege lifted.

That’s ancient history, and I’m now a regular diner at Otto’s, one of the best French restaurants in London, and in fact one of the Capital’s best kept secrets (although the cat is increasingly out of the bag).

It is a weird looking place. It is hard to describe the décor. Crimson banquettes line the walls; paintings of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe adorn the cushions. A little statue of David perches high on the wall, whilst on the tables stand wizened, emaciated figures wrapped in cloth that look like little voodoo dolls. It looks as if someone raided a car boot sale, or the gift shop at the British Museum.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 21.38.45Then the food, arrives, and you forget everything else. On our last trip, my partner in culinary crime ordered the steak tartare, which is created at the table with excellent commentary from a waiter clearly in love with his job. Patting the rich, raw beef, he then made mayonnaise from egg, olive oil and mustard, mixed in onions, capers, some pepper, Worcestershire sauce, a dash of tabasco, and a delightful dab of ketchup.

As this captivating culinary performance unfolded, someone in the kitchens was labouring over my steak. It came with a slab of pan-seared foie gras lain across the top of it, which was absurdly nice, impossibly rich, as succulent and fatty as an item of food can be. The steak was excellent too, smothered in a rich truffle and madeira sauce, but even as I ate it I could feel my eyes drawn irresistibly to the thick, red disk of meat that sat on my companion’s plate.

Fearing rejection, in one swift and fluid motion I blurted “can I try some of that?”, whilst plunging my fork into the finely chopped cubes of beef. The theft was worth any potential punishment: the sharp undertones of onion and Dijon, a frisson of fire from the tabasco, sweetened by ketchup, cooled and moistened by the beef itself, the flavours toying perfectly with each other. On the side, a kind of potato pancake, fried in oil and butter, provided respite from pure carnivorism.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 21.39.55By the time we were finished, dessert was out of the question. We practically crawled home.

For a while, Otto’s was our semi-secret, a place we could walk into on a Friday with no reservation and receive world-class food. Alas, those days appear to be no more. Having recently been listed as one of the Evening Standard’s 50 top restaurants in London and featuring prominently in the upcoming London Food Month, Otto’s is emerging from the shadows. I wandered in a few weeks ago with the proprietary air of a country squire and almost had my jacket over the back of one of the chairs before I was politely informed that the restaurant was: “fully booked.” An empty stomach knows no crueller words.

Jilted, I stepped back out into the night, a little resentful, but also grateful; grateful to Otto and his obstinacy, grateful for geese and their liver, but also grateful to the London Vegan Activism Society, for inadvertently alerting me to a culinary gem on my doorstep, back in that balmy summer of 2015.


Marcus

Address: The Berkeley, Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL
Bookings: booked with Bookatable – set menu £45 per person
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: £££ (alcohol included)
Rating: 6.5/10

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Mackerel appetiser

Our mid-week trip to Marcus, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, has me pondering exactly what the priorities of the Michelin rating agency are.

Don’t get me wrong, Marcus is in no way a bad restaurant. It is a good restaurant. The food was gorgeously presented, every course a shimmering little structure of art on the plate. A vast army of waiters and waitresses – occasionally outnumbering the diners – floated across the restaurant, immaculately mannered and well-informed, almost desperate to pull out a chair or re-fold a napkin.

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Cured Salmon

The food itself was pleasant. My partner in culinary crime enjoyed a starter of cured salmon, calamansi, shallot and cucumber, a cooling, refreshing number that livened up the palette without burdening the stomach. I had a pork belly, with carrot, mustard and rose, which was satisfying enough, although the rose did give it an overly perfumed quality.

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Pork belly

For the main event, I ate a roasted cod with a green bean sauce, with shrimps littered around the perimeter of the fish. The cod, not typically the most exciting of fish, was nevertheless well-cooked, whilst my partner’s steak was rich and succulent.

One of the major pleasures of eating in a restaurant like Marcus is to watch with fascination the endless parade of multi-millionaire foreigners who inhabit Knightsbridge and eat in its restaurants. At the other side of the room sat two Chinese people, barely out of their teens, who spent the entire evening texting, showing far more interest in their mobile phones than in their food, and certainly more than in each other, although I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover they were texting each other.

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Roasted Cod

In the middle of the restaurant a bulbous, bearded Russian man, with the build of a wrestler, entertained two blonde compatriots, bellowing jokes at the top of his lungs and laughing uproariously as he gradually slipped further and further down his chair. And on the other side of the room a young boy of perhaps 11 sat with his hoodie up over his head, sulking next to a stressed looking nanny as he prepared to tuck into hundreds of pounds worth of food. Ah, the variety of life!

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Beef fillet (£12 supplement)

There are only 11 restaurants in all of London with 2 or more Michelin stars. 11! And to my mind, there is no way Marcus is one of the best 11 restaurants in the capital judged purely on the basis of food. I have eaten better at Barafina, at Otto’s, at Ember Yard, to name just a few.

Michelin seems to be infatuated with an old-world style of service, the hovering waiter, the perfectly presented dish, the elegant surroundings, that doesn’t resonate all that much with me. We booked through Bookatable, and the set-menu was excellent value.

 

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Bookatable – set menu £45


Red Rooster

Address: 45 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT
Bookings: booked with Open table
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: £££ (alcohol included)
Rating: 5/10

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Red Rooster top bar

American restaurants aren’t known for delicate fine dining, often making up in size and big flavours what they lack in finesse. Newly opened ‘Southern soul’ restaurant Red Rooster may have taken this too far.

Having heard a fair amount of hype about the place, and since it sits only a stone’s throw away from our office, we thought it high time to put in a visit. Downstairs, the restaurant space is enormous, filled with odds and ends to reinforce the old-style southern theme, from shop mannequins and plaid chairs to photos of 1950s jazz musicians which smothered the walls.

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Syrup Corn Bread

The staff were friendly, kitted out in a medley of baseball caps, plaid shirts and denim jackets with large red roosters stitched into the back of them, and the atmosphere generally a cheerful and laid back one. We were seated right next to the stage, where live bands perform six nights a week, belting out jazz numbers and the occasional hip-hop song. Mercifully, however, we left the restaurant just as the live act was beginning to warm up, and so weren’t subjected to a 21st century Shoreditch hipster’s reinterpretation of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

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Ol Man Shrimp N’Grits (top) Ceviche (bottom)

But onto the food itself. I ordered up ‘Ol Man Shrimp N’ Grits’ as a starter, a stodgy, gruel like substance that tasted like lightly salted porridge, with a single, lonely prawn sat on top of it. I had never actually heard of grits before, but a quick Google search defined it as “food made from corn that is ground into a coarse meal and then boiled.” It was about as unappetising as that sounds.

Corn in general, is a big theme in the restaurant, in fact it was almost impossible to find anything on the menu that didn’t contain a healthy dose of it; I ate my grits with a side of cornbread and honey, a dish that management the extraordinary feat of being both dry and oily at the same time.

My partner in culinary crime ordered up a Ceviche Del Barrio to start with, which was a little better, sharp and zesty, with a large slab of tuna in the middle of a riot of watermelon and tomatoes.

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Obama’s short ribs

Already dangerously full by the time our starters were cleared, we decided to split ‘Obama’s short ribs’ for a main, named because the restaurant’s chef has made the dish for Barack Obama. These ribs were full and flavoursome, but large enough to feed a small army on a completion of a long march, and completely impossible for two normal humans to get through.

For thirty full minutes we tackled the ribs, fighting our way through them, mouthful by mouthful, before finally admitting defeat, less than half of the dish eaten. Even though these ribs were enjoyable, they were incredibly stodgy, and gelatinous with fat. And we didn’t even dare attempt the enormous, wobbling blob of bone marrow that sat soaked in juice on the side.

I would only recommend this restaurant to those who are experienced lovers of American soul food, and even then, don’t visit if you have any evening plans that go beyond lying groaning on the sofa at home in a food coma for several hours afterwards.


Wright Brothers

Address: 8A Lamb Street, London, E1 6EA
Bookings: no booking
Day: Friday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 22.00.07‘Happy hour’ normally conjures up images of people ferociously guzzling watered-down alcohol in pursuit of maximum drunkenness for minimum financial outlay. Nothing wrong with that per se, but last Friday evening we came across a happy hour with an altogether more civilised twist.

Wright Brothers, server of all things seafood, based in Spitalfields Market, East London, run a happy hour on oysters every day of the week between 15:00 and 18:00. For a pound a pop, you can have as many Jersey Rock Oysters as your digestive system can handle.

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£1 Oysters

Never ones to shirk a challenge, we promptly ordered a fistful of the little creatures, which were the colour of ivory, and came sat on a bed of ice, accompanied by a sharp slice of lemon, a crimson bowl of red vinegar, and a bottle of tabasco sauce to add some fire to the proceedings. Getting into the happy-hour mood, I threw the first oyster back like a shot. It was a cold, salted mouthful of the ocean, bringing back memories of the fresh breeze on the coast, waves lapping at rocks.

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Ceviche

Five minutes later and I was hailing the waitress and demanding reinforcements, which turned out to be the little duo of oysters you see on this blog… the first batch having been eaten before they could be recorded for our loyal audience.

I had to be dragged away from ordering yet another round, switching to a bowl of Shetland mussels swimming in a sauce of white wine, garlic and parsley. The sauce could have been a little thicker, and a little more garlicky, but the dish was pleasant enough.

My partner in culinary crime ordered up a scallop ceviche, which came vibrant and decorative in a large shell. The ceviche was wincingly sharp, the citrusy flavour sending a shiver from my tongue down to my toe and back up again.

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Garlic Mussels

Our appetites almost sated on these bountiful gifts of the ocean, we ordered up one more item, a pan-fried cod, with potatoes and chorizos. This was a little bland for our liking, but perhaps after a dozen oysters and a large bowl of mussels we were simply suffering from a mollusc overload, and in no condition to take on a fish. A side of buttered vegetables were well done, and recently beat out Comptoir Gascon in our battle of the dishes!

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Situated in the middle of the financial City (which is something of a restaurant desert), I recommend Wright Brothers as an excellent spot for City workers looking to dine clients in an affordable and convivial environment.

As I paid the bill, the shells of oysters scattered on my plate, I was minded of the refrain from the Walrus and Carpenter in Alice in Wonderland:

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“Little Oysters? Little Oysters?
But answer, there came none
And this was scarcely odd because,
They’d been eaten,
Every one!”


Kanada-Ya

Address: 64 St Giles High Street, London, WC2H 8LE
Bookings: no booking allowed
Day: Sunday
Meal: lunch
Price: £
Rating: 7/10

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If life is about the learning of lessons, then here is one I take away from my recent trip to ramen specialists Kanada-Ya: it is not advisable to order a steaming-hot bowl of noodles, molten-red with spice, on the hottest day of the year. I learnt this lesson the hard way, hunched over my ramen on St Giles High Street, sweat pouring off my forehead until the dish before me was part pork-and-chicken broth, part spicy yuzu, and part human perspiration.

If it had been the heart of the bleak mid-winter, then no better nourishment could have been imagined. The noodles are made on site using a machine imported from Japan; the broth is thick, bubbling with flavour; the tender pork collapses at the lightest of touches, melting in the mouth. An outstanding chicken karaage was about as a tasty as any I’ve had in London. If snowflakes had been descending outside, I would have hugged my broth to my chest and never let it go. But, instead, it was that most freakish of weather phenomena: a London day above 30 degrees centigrade.

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Truffle Ramen

Kanada-Ya, which was founded 20 years ago in a small city on the southernmost island of Japan, made the leap across to London in 2014. It opened its first premises around the corner from Tottenham Court Road Station, rapidly became a place of pilgrimage for devotees of ramen. It has since expanded, opening a second branch in Soho.

It is part of that exclusive club of restaurants people will queue long and hard to eat at. Aware of this, we arrived half an hour before opening, setting up base in a café across the road, watching the entrance to Kanada-Ya like hawks, ready to spring into action at the slightest hint of a queue building. For a few minutes, no one arrived. We were lulled into a false sense of security, relaxing our vigil.

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Spicy Yuzu Ramen

 

Suddenly, glancing up, we saw to our horror a small queue of intrepid noodle-lovers had gathered outside the restaurant. Leaping up and discarding our coffee, we risked life and limb in a headlong sprint across the intervening road, winning ourselves a spot at the back of the queue, just in time for the first seating allocation.

If you love ramen, you must visit this restaurant. There is nowhere in London that does it better. But if it’s the hottest day of the year, perhaps don’t order the Spicy Yuzu Ramen…


Comptoir Gascon

Address: 63 Charterhouse St, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 6Hj
Bookings: no booking needed
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

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There aren’t many things in life more miserable than a wet Tuesday weeknight. But then again, there aren’t many remedies for misery better than a trip to an excellent French restaurant that serves large glasses of inexpensive wine and enormous, tender duck breasts as if they were going out of fashion.

Well aware of this, we braved the rain (actually we huddled in an Uber) and shot off to Comptoir Gascon, the little brother of neighbouring Michelin-starred restaurant Club Gascon. Overlooking London’s oldest market, Smithfield, where meat has been bought and sold for over 800 years (and, for our Scottish readership, also the place where William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered), Comptoir Gascon serves up cuisine from the Southwest of France.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 20.15.25I lost no time in ordering the aptly named ‘piggy treats.’ Served on a wooden platter, it is a lesson in the utility of pigs, serving one up in almost every way imaginable: a fried pig’s ear, black pudding, pork pate, a dried sausage, Bayonne ham, a confit sausage. Never have I felt more gratitude to a four-legged creature.

My partner in culinary crime ordered a sea bream ceviche, which was delightfully fresh and sharp to the taste, and followed this up with a succulent steak, a little cluster of garlic perched on top of it.

I ordered the duck burger, which was as decadent as it sounds, arriving with a rich slab of foie gras draped across the bird’s back like a tribute.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 20.23.31

The restaurant itself is small and dimly lit, rustic in feel, drowsy French music interrupted only by the occasional shriek of merriment from the kitchen staff downstairs, which was unorthodox, but not off-putting.

The only drawback to the meal was a side-dish of sautéed greens, which had a nauseating after-taste and smelt like it had been doused in a particularly pungent bubble bath.

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Well-cleansed vegetables aside, I recommend this restaurant whole-heartedly. It is actually better than its Michelin-starred sibling, both in food and atmosphere, and is cheaper to boot. So, next time the rain is falling and weekend is oh so far away, hop in a taxi and make your way down to Smithfield Market, and discover all the wonderful things that can be done with a pig.


Hoppers

Address: 49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG
Bookings: no bookings allowed
Day: Saturday
Meal: dinner
Price: £ (no alcohol)
Rating: 7/10

Mild chicken curry

Mild chicken curry

Hoppers offers a slice of Sri Lanka dropped in the middle of Soho… for those prepared to brave the frighteningly long queue.

We went down on a Saturday, at 7pm, probably the worst conceivable time of the week. A glowingly friendly member of staff informed us that the wait would be “two hours, perhaps two and a half,” before adding by way of consolation: “but you can go away and come back.”

Two hours later, having sat in nearby La Bodega Negra eating a parched bowl of nachos and flavourless guacamole all whilst watching a small clan of homeless people quarrel with each other on the pavement, we made our way back to Hoppers, ready to be resentful.

Once inside however, our mood quickly melted. Bubbly staff were matched by upbeat music, old film posters decking the walls and the throb of lively conversation.

The menu comes equipped with a glossary (handy for those whose knowledge of South Asian cuisine doesn’t extend much further than chicken tikka), but the staff seem to relish explaining the menu at any opportunity.

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Lamb roti

The fusion of spice and flavours can be tasted in every dish. The highlight was a lamb roti, a mixture of onions, roti bread, tender pieces of succulent lamb, and a tomato based curry, all blended in one bowl. The dish was well spiced, but have no fear, an ample supply of yoghurt is on standby for those with more delicate palates.

Another novelty is the restaurant’s actual namesake, a hopper, which we had served with an egg. Made out of fermented rice and coconut, it takes the form of a thinly shaped bowl that you can tear pieces off for dipping purposes. Great for sharing.

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Egg hopper

A mild chicken curry (apparently spelt ‘kari’ in Sri Lanka) was a pleasant contrast to the heat of some ‘Hot Buttered Devil Shrimps’. The entire experience was a riot of flavours, each dish its own unique blend, making every bite something of an adventure.

The restaurant has a casual feel and friendly vibe. Go down with your mates or have a casual date. All for a great price. But unless you turn up at a time nobody else actually eats, then prepare to queue!


Ember Yard

Address: 60 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 8SU
Booking: no booking
Day: Friday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

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Strips off a leg of Iberico ham

We found ourselves perched high on bar stools in the dark, oaky bowels of a restaurant on Berwick Street, Soho: lively music and the cheerful babble of voices created the perfect pitch to wrap you in a warm, convivial cocoon; rich, throbbing oil paintings lingered on the shadowed walls; a bearded waiter carved fine strips off a leg of Iberico ham… welcome to Ember Yard.

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Grilled honey flatbread

The food is a blend of Spanish and Italian, cooked on a grill over charcoal and wood. The fire infused everything we ate, from the grilled flatbread dunked in the sweetest of honey, to the small chargrilled Iberico pork steaks that sat in little pools of whipped, salted butter.

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Padron peppers

We ordered a bowl of padron peppers, which came blistered black and brown, infused with oil, and littered with great shards of salt. My gin mare was big and refreshing, and lasted the duration of the dinner.

It is hard to find a criticism to level at the restaurant. The meats were succulent and smoky; the dishes were nice to look at; the room itself was a pleasure to sit in, well-décored without a single exposed brick or industrial piece of piping that characterises much of Soho’s faux-warehouse restaurant aesthetic.

thumb_IMG_1698_1024Even our fellow diners couldn’t spoil the experience! Next to us were a middle-aged Arab man and a much younger woman of east Asian appearance, who snuggled and kissed each other throughout dinner to the edge of indecency.

I almost fell off my chair, when, without the slightest justification, the man produced a pair of keys to a BMW and handed them to a member of the bar-staff for his “safe-keeping,” (the recesses of his pocket presumably not being safe enough), to which the tip-hungry bar-hand replied, with great seriousness: “I tell you honestly… never in my life have I held the keys to such a car.”

But even these primitive mating games provided amusement rather than irritation: when they walked out, the Arab gentleman retrieving custody of his car keys and leaving a hefty tip to his ego-boosting assistant, I felt a surge of affection for them as they drifted off into the Soho night.

Ember Yard has won itself a coveted place on the top-ten list of Life at the End of a Fork’s favourite restaurants. There are few greater honours. Visit this restaurant.