Address: 6 Southwark St, London SE1 1TQ
Bookings: no booking
Day:  Saturday night
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.01.30We have walked to Southwark Street pasta specialists Padella a number of times, before blanching at the size of the queue (which normally snakes round the front of the restaurant and deep into the bowels of Borough Market) and rushing instead to its excellent, under-queued neighbour Brindisa.

This weekend, we figured we would beat the queue. We set off at 16:30, half an hour before the restaurant even opens, and hours before most civilised people consider dinner. We picked the coldest day of the year, a chill Siberian wind stalking the London streets, and flecks of snow falling rapidly from an overcast sky. Surely, at such a time and on such a day there weren’t enough fanatics in London willing to queue to gobble up a bowl of pasta? Wrong.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.01.44Arriving at the door 10 minutes before opening, we gaped in horror at the freezing, huddled line of people wrapped in hats, scarfs and gloves, winding out of sight into the market beyond. Our instincts told us to turn tail and run, head for the warm embrace of Brindisa. But if we didn’t eat there today, we probably never would, so we joined the back of the queue, shivered, and waited.

Mercifully, the restaurant fits 60 people, and we were numbers 55-56, so we were seated in the first trembling batch of diners. The menu is simple and to the point: you select a main course from ten pastas, with a handful of starters and desserts on either side. Each pasta weighs in at 100 grams, with 1-2 dishes recommended per diner, depending on the size and greed of who’s eating.

 Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.02.53We ordered up a fettucine carbonara, a spinach ravioli with ricotta and sage butter, and a tagliarini with baby clams. I am no stranger to pasta, primarily because it is the only thing I am able to cook, and so I have served it to myself five times a week for the past ten years. Given this, I am able to say with confidence that the fettucine carbonara served to us at Padella was the nicest carbonara I have ever eaten.

It was rich without being heavy, solid, salted nuggets of pancetta studding the dish, and the pasta itself warm, soft and inviting, pillows of the culinary world. My partner in culinary crime had been the one astute enough to order this Italian classic, and she guarded the plate diligently, fending off my fork on a number of occasions. I was limited to two mouthfuls.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.01.13The spinach ravioli, which we split 50-50, was nice as well, the spinach fresh and lively, the pasta a vivid green, parmesan sprinkled generously over the top. The least satisfying was probably the plate I had to myself, the tagliarini with baby clams, which came with garlic, chilli, parsley and a butter and olive sauce, but had a flavour which never really took flight. There was something weak and unloved about it, in stark contrast to the booming flavour of my partner in culinary crime’s carbonara.

A carpaccio of beef that we had for a starter was drowning in so much olive oil I almost threw it a life jacket, whilst a bitter, dark chocolate tart for dessert was nice.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.02.03Padella makes excellent, unpretentious pasta, all rolled on the premises, and then sells it very cheaply. If it was your local, undiscovered Italian, then it’s the kind of place you would rave about to everyone you know. Instead, it is very much discovered, and everybody you know is already queuing to get in. This dims my enthusiasm slightly, but still, a good restaurant for those patient enough to wait.

Dining in Japan

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 21.51.01For loyal readers of Life at the End of a Fork who have noticed a slight lull in content on the blog recently, there is no cause for alarm. We are not fasting, nor have we lost our jobs and been forced to abandon the wallet draining hobby of shuttling around London’s exorbitantly priced restaurants.

Instead, I am in Japan for a few weeks. And I am here without my partner in culinary crime. This is a problem for two reasons. Firstly, I am an appalling photographer, wielding an iPhone camera with all the sophistication of a chimp trying to use chopsticks. And secondly, I am here on my own, and find it somewhat embarrassing to dine out solo in nice restaurants, in case the staff laugh at me.

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 21.51.44This is a shame, because Tokyo is one of the greatest cities on earth to dine out in. It doesn’t just have more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world; it has far more. Paris, a city where food is sacred, has a total 141 Michelin stars scattered across an assortment of restaurants. Tokyo has a mind-blowing 302 stars, including 12 restaurants will the full allotment of 3 stars. London sits in tied 6th place, with 87 stars, a little over ¼ as many as Tokyo.

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 21.52.21Incredibly, out of the top 5 food cities in the world by this Michelin metric, 3 are in Japan (the others being Kyoto and Osaka, both of which I am visiting next week). It would almost be an act of disloyalty for me to launch into this culinary paradise without the company of my partner in culinary crime. So I won’t. Or maybe I will, but not too much…

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 21.52.54Either way, I must eat something, so I have spent my first few days here wandering into dingy little ramen noodle joints, or shabby looking yakitori bars. Every single thing I’ve eaten in them has been excellent, the ramen thick and hot, the yakitori perfectly grilled, meat tender and succulent. I’ve ordered platefuls of chicken karaage, which is what McDonald’s chicken nuggets would taste like if the world was a perfect place.

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Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 21.52.39I often think the sign of a great culinary nation is not the quality of its best restaurants, but the quality of the food served in its average eateries. Thailand passed this test. We ate bowls of perfect fried rice from a half-collapsed shack on the banks of the Andaman Sea whilst we waited for a boat to take us to Ko Yao Noi. Japan is like that too. You don’t need to hunt down the great food. You just bump into it.

Sayonara for now!


Address: 4-6 Russell St, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5HZ
Bookings: no booking
Day:  Sunday
Meal: Brunch
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 18.06.47We stopped off for Sunday brunch at Balthazar, the showpiece, Covent Garden restaurant that is the handiwork of Keith McNally and Richard Caring. McNally opened the first Balthazar in New York in 1997, before bringing the brand to London in 2013. It falls into the category of restaurants that looks better than it cooks. Not that the food is bad, it’s just fairly good, whereas the room itself is a bit of a show-stopper, in a self-conscious kind of way.

It is also crammed with people. Being without a reservation, we were seated cheek by jowl at the bar. The menu nearly caused a crisis right off the bat, placing my partner in culinary crime’s two favourite starters directly above one another: salmon tartare and seabass ceviche. Like a malfunctioning robot, she moved her finger from one to the other and back again, mumbling repeatedly: “the seabass… no the salmon tartare… but what about the seabass?”

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 18.07.48Just as I thought her indecision was so great she might open up a wormhole to another dimension – swallowing up the entire restaurant in the process – she bravely settled on the salmon tartare. Full of resolution, I picked the French onion soup.

The salmon did not disappoint, cool and refreshing, a small pot of garlicked crème fraiche adding some body, while some thinly sliced cucumber was well flavoured with mustard and honey.  My French onion soup was a molten volcano of thick cheese, soft onion and disintegrating bread, an indulgent, nourishing antidote to the frigid, nipping wind outside.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 18.07.58Embracing the brunch theme, my partner in culinary crime had avocado on sourdough toast, with poached eggs, for her main course. The eggs were well-cooked, their interiors bright orange, ready to flow at the prick of a fork, the avocado fresh, a tomato salsa adding a snap to the ensemble. It was solid brunch-time fare, without doing anything to move the needle.

I ordered a bowl of mussels with French fries. The mussels were stacked high, threatening to the topple at any moment across the bar. They were unmemorable, a little small and a little shrivelled, the sauce a bit weak and thin, too little garlic, too little cream.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 18.07.28The waiter behind the bar was a talkative chap, but without being irritating or intrusive. He kept all but the most standoffish customers entertained and well-served. And he gave us some excellent tips on where to buy mattress topers and easy chairs in central London. That’s priceless advice, and so for the first time in my life I left a double-tip, which is an act of epic generosity given that I was about to drain my wallet on some sickeningly over-priced furniture.

It’s hard to attack Balthazar. It fulfils a role: decent brasserie classics, in an impressive room, with excellent service. I would prefer The Delaunay for food in a similar style, but not everything can be number one.

Caravan City

Address: 22 Bloomberg Arcade, London EC4N 8AR
Bookings: booked
Day:  Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.04I would like to say that we ended up in Caravan on Valentine’s Day as part of some elaborately romantic plan – hatched well in advance – possibly involving the scattering of rose petals across the table, a small band of violinists emerging from the kitchen to serenade us, an exquisite piece of jewellery buried in a favourite cake for dessert. But the reality is, Caravan was the only restaurant within 300 metres of our offices not named Nando’s that had a free table on an hour’s notice on this most over-booked of days.

The fact that this table happened to be about two yards from the large double doors, meant that we were subjected to an arctic blast of wind every 30 seconds, and did not enhance the romance of the evening.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.25But what of the food? Did it claw back victory from the jaws of defeat? Not really. Caravan, like almost everywhere these days, has a tapasy, share your plates, things come out when they’re ready type of vibe. Embracing this, we ordered up a plate of stilton and peanut wontons, on the basis that we both share a deep love of cheese, and when better to indulge in what you love than Valentine’s Day?

The dish they brought us was capable of killing off even the most rocksteady of human-food relationships. The fried wonton pouches were cloying, sickly and artificial, reminding me of McDonald’s cheese bites, or even the dreaded Mozzarella dippers. The bowl of soy sauce, brought for dipping purposes, made a bad dish even worse. This strange collection of ingredients should be kept well apart and never be allowed to interact with each other again, under any circumstances.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.44The jalapeno cornbread was okay when lavishly covered with chipotle butter, but the cornbread itself was savagely dry, and eating it unbuttered felt like swallowing a desert nomad’s flip-flop without a glass of water to wash it down. A bowl of burrata with slithers of artichoke, mixed with parsley, lemon and garlic, was better, but partly this was down to our desperate gratitude after being water-boarded by two kitchen atrocities right off the bat.

A bowl of pork belly, served with chopped cucumber and celery, flavoured with caramel and coriander, was a quality dish, and could have held its head high in most restaurants. The pork was tender, juicy and flavoursome, the only issue the fact that there were only three small chunks of it, which threatened to cause a riot as I tried to fend off my partner in culinary crime’s fork as she desperately tried to spear the third and final piece.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.59A plate of carrots in paprika and mint yoghurt went almost untouched. This was perhaps more our fault than the restaurants, since we both loathe carrots, and only ordered the dish because my partner in culinary crime’s parents had told that we constantly order and review exactly the same foods each time. We can now say with honesty that we have ordered something never before mentioned on Life at the End of a Fork, even if we never got around to eating it.

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I enjoyed a delicious chocolate tart for dessert – the chocolate was dark, rich and powerful, and was the highlight of the meal. My partner in culinary crime ordered a cheese board, but only nibbled at it, at which point I began to feel positively alarmed, and decided I needed to order the bill and let her get some rest, perhaps visiting A&E in the morning if she was still turning down cheese.

Perhaps we should have tried the Nando’s…

Wok to Walk

Address: 39 Great Windmill St, Soho, London W1D 7LX
Bookings: walk in only
Day:  Saturday
Meal: after 2am
Price: £
Rating: 6/10
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 21.56.53Life at the End of a Fork probably gives the impression that we two culinary explorers spend our time sailing endlessly from one illustrious eatery to another, swinging a lobster in one hand, a prime cut of filet mignon in the other, all whilst balancing a bowl of well-cooked mussels on our noses.

We do all of those things of course, but for every occasion where we find ourselves pulling a chair up at a Michelin-starred restaurant, there are half a dozen where we are trying to work out how to use the self-service screens at a McDonalds at 2am, panicking because we have forgotten to add cheese crust to our Domino’s Pizza, or asking ourselves whether it is a health hazard to eat a congealed kebab that was already horrific when purchased 12 hours before (the answer is yes… but if you’re hungry..).

With that in mind, in this review I’d like to pay homage to Wok to Walk, the Chinese doyen of the late-night takeaway. It follows a simple formula: you pick a type of noodle or rice, you choose an accompanying meat or vegetable, and then select a sauce to fry it in. And you pay approximately a fiver. London is studded with these little orange eateries, whose logo of a man running with a burning saucepan in his hand looks like a public service announcement warning of fire hazards.

My favourite branch is that on Cranbourn Street, a road that sits in-between my flat and some of the most appalling clubs that London (and perhaps the world) has to offer, namely those that dot the perimeter of Leicester Square. Into these dank, dark and ferociously noisy places, tourists, first year university students, the staff of Pizza Express, Bella Italia and the Angus Steak House, as well as an assortment of drug dealers, leches and paralytic hen-parties, descend on a Friday and Saturday night, to dance, drink and eventually pass out. And occasionally I join them.

When I do, no journey home is complete without a stop at the aforementioned Wok to Walk, where I invariably order the egg noodles and chicken, smothered in a black bean and soy sauce. Served in a tall orange paper cup, this is without a doubt the supreme combination on the menu, and few things have ever tasted better in the dark hours of the early morning. It is so moreish, so salted and so pan-fried, so brimming with the cheapest and tastiest of flavours.

Despite living in Asia for many years, I am hopeless at using chopsticks. However, a dozen gin and tonics and several tequila shots improves my technique tremendously, and I have no difficulty gobbling down a carton full of these noodles whilst staggering past Covent Garden and up Kingsway, with at least ¾ quarters of what leaves the cup on the end of my chopsticks making it the full distance to my mouth.

Not only is the food tasty, but it is a supreme sponge for alcohol. Many a night that was heading towards a savage hangover has had the edge taken off it by a bellyful of these absorbent noodles. In the interests of full disclosure, I have never eaten Wok to Walk during the daylight, and don’t intend to. It is nocturnal food. But what’s wrong with that?

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 22.06.40So, the next time you are out, your hunger aroused by hours of hard boozing, eschew McDonalds, or Dominos, and look for the bright orange hole in the wall that is the calling card of the excellent Wok to Walk.

Tapas Brindisa London Bridge

Address: Borough Market, 18-20 Southwark St, London SE1 1TJ
Bookings: no booking allowed
Day:  Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 8/10

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.27.44January started with us being slightly underwhelmed by a Spanish tapas restaurant (Rambla), and ended with us being very much overwhelmed by a less-hyped one: Tapas Brindisa, Borough Market.

As Londoners, we owe a debt of culinary gratitude to Brindisa. When it first opened as a shop in Borough Market in the early 1990s, Spanish food was a strange and alien concept to most British people, whose encounters with Spain were mostly limited to getting sunburnt on a beach in Malaga or pick-pocketed by a friendly local in Barcelona.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.27.55Brindisa introduced us to a world of chorizo, padron peppers, Iberico meats and perfectly aged Spanish cheeses. It then expanded beyond mere shop status into a fully-fledged restaurant, flinging its doors open on Southwark Street in 2004, and is now dangerously close to becoming a chain, five outlets doing brisk business across the capital.

But age has not dimmed Brindisa. Yes, they commit the cardinal sin of not taking reservations. Yes, they massively compound that sin by not even allowing you to explore the pubs and bars of Borough Market whilst you wait an hour for your table to materialise. Instead, they herd you towards a miniscule bar where you have to wrestle with dozens of other hungry, red-wine fuelled customers to get any sort of service from the frenetically busy staff.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.28.11But still… with food this nice, almost anything can be forgiven. Of the five dishes we ordered, all were excellent. The padron peppers, which my partner in culinary crime won’t touch, were wizened, bitter little things, sharp, salted and full of flavour. They are rapidly becoming my favourite ‘snacking dish’ at a restaurant (although the very best pork scratchings can give them a run for their money).

Croquetas studded with iberico ham were smooth and smothering, enveloping the tongue with creamy layers of flavour. There was something so warm and comforting about them, the edible equivalent of a favourite blanket.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.28.32A chargrilled iberico fillet on top of blood red piquillo peppers was so soft and tender it was difficult to believe it was actually meat. With not a sinew in sight, the weight of the knife was enough to slice it in half. If I have one criticism, it is that the meat carried slightly too much charcoal with it, the lick of the flames too heavy in its flavour.

A Catalan flat bread with garlic and tomato was juicy and succulent, whilst a huevos rotos was a wild medley of whipped eggs, potatoes, onions, paprika and cured sausage meat. It was a mess, and all of it was delicious.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.28.53After this performance, Tapas Brindisa has claimed a spot as our second favourite tapas restaurant in London, elbowing Ember Yard into 3rd place, and nipping at the heels of Barafina.  The taste buds are fickle things, and it is inevitable that as time passes, other, newer, fresher tapas restaurants will spring up to dazzle London’s hungry population. But we should never forget the pioneers, especially when they are as good now as the day were born.

Brasserie Zedel

Address: 20 Sherwood Street, London W1
Bookings: no booking
Day:  Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.05.17I find it impossible to dislike Brasserie Zedel. It is huge, it is theatrical, it is opulent. It is a pastiche piece of Art Deco Paris buried in the bowels of a particularly unattractive part of Central London. To get there, we walked past the Rainforest Café, and then a Jamie’s Italian encased in one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen in my life. Running this gauntlet of miserable architecture only enhanced the playful grandeur of Brasserie Zedel, its top-hatted doorman ushering us into a cavernous space of marble columns, oak walls, dimly-lit jazz bars and velvet banquettes.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.04.33It is also cheap (although not as absurdly cheap as when I went there several years ago). Starters are arranged on the menu by price, ranging from £2.95 for pumpkin soup to £9.75 for a plate of snails. A French onion soup sits handsomely in the middle at £5.75. There can be few better value restaurants in London.

We turned up without a reservation, banking on the fact that it was a Tuesday, and that the restaurant has the capacity of a small football stadium. It was near run thing. A waiter, who looked about 12-years’ old, chaperoned us to one of the few vacant tables in the building, next to the long, elegant bar.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.03.09I threw myself into a chicken liver parfait, which was smooth, dense with flavour, and, when spread all over thick white bread, intensely filling. My partner in culinary crime polished off a plate of succulent smoked salmon.

My main course styled itself a Steak Hache, but to all intents and purposes was just a really nice hamburger – minus the buns – sat in a pepper sauce. The beef was full-bodied and earthy, bubbling with the rich vigour of the countryside. It was everything that a McDonalds patty is not, and despite the latter swearing blind that every granule is 100% pure beef, it is difficult to convince your taste buds that the two products ever sprung from the same creature.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.04.18Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime chewed her way through a tough-ish ribeye steak. The meat had the tired quality of an animal that has lived a hard, challenging life. Two cups of French fries were chilly and bland.

But the odd mediocre dish does not spoil a place like Brasserie Zedel. You don’t go there for the best cooking in London. You go there for the vast spaces, the sense of eating somewhere fun and light-hearted, the aura of another time and place. I felt that at any moment Hercule Poirot, complete with stick-on moustache and cartoon French accent, might glide out of the Bar American. That two people can experience all this for £70, including drinks, makes Brasserie Zedel a place worth cherishing.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.02.54We left with our 2018 dietary plans yet again blown to smithereens, but our bank balances blessedly intact.

Lima Floral

Address: 14 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BJ
Bookings: Booked
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.03Lima Floral is the laid-back sibling of Michelin-starred Lima, which was the first London offering of star Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz, and, incidentally, the first Peruvian restaurant to obtain a Michelin star in Europe.

With tickets for Book of Mormon that evening (which is hilarious, but perhaps not something to take either a Mormon or a Ugandan to), we were in the hunt for something delicious, quick and in the Covent Garden vicinity, and Lima Floral ticks all three boxes with panache.

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Peruvian cuisine was fusion food before fusion was a trend, blending European (think Spanish, Italian), Indigenous, Asian (Japanese) and African culinary traditions by virtue of the multiple waves of migration that have washed up on its shores over the past 500 years. They do miraculous things with fish, pork, corn, cassava, potatoes, and of course lemon and lime.

Bearing those key ingredients in mind, we attacked the menu with gusto, informing our helpful waiter that we would have to be fed, watered and sent on our way all within the span of an hour. First to grace the table were cassava chips with a dipping bowl of creamed potatoes, cheese, oil and peppers, which had enough of a kick to it to send my partner in culinary crime’s hand scuttling back to her side of table, moodily waiting for the next course.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.40I have mentioned in these pages my PICC’s adoration of raw fish, and her mood was almost instantly lifted by the arrival of a seabream ceviche, which was bathed in a marinade of lime, onion, chilies and salt, a wild, sharp, fresh combination that sent tingles down the spine. It came accompanied by avocado, shards of corn and three hoops of crisped onion. With plates as tasty as this arriving, it isn’t hard to finish your food in under an hour.

If there’s pork on a tapas menu, chances are I’ll order it. This occasion was no different, as we tucked into a slow-cooked suckling pig, served with a garlic sauce and celeriac puree. It was soft, it was rich, and it pulsed with flavour, reminding me why pigs are the king of the barnyard.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.24Not all was sunshine and light. A trio of salmon, tuna and cobia fish, doused in the ubiquitous citrus juice, looked a lot better than it tasted. As part of an enormously half-hearted attempt to be healthy, we ordered a quinoa solerito salad. This was a mistake. Firstly, you can’t reverse the effect of eating an enormous wedge of suckling pig by layering something healthy on top of it. Secondly, quinoa is a ghastly food that I would be reluctant to even feed to livestock. It deserves to return to its historical place as a fringe food for health nuts.

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But all in all, Lima Floral did what was asked of it. We left it doors with all the cheer, joy and goodwill of a pair of young Mormon missionaries embarking for their two years across the seas.

St. John

Address: 26 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4AY
Bookings: no booking but advised
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 8/10

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As I have said before in these pages, St John Bread and Wine used to act as a food oasis during the long, arduous journeys (approximately 15 minutes, if walking slowly) between where we work in the City and the minuscule, grubby flat I used to occupy in Aldgate. Like nomads seeking refreshment after days in the desert, we would slump down in its chairs, swig on a diet coke, and scan its fresh, ever evolving menu, sure of nourishment and refreshment.

Given the importance of this restaurant to us, it was inevitable that we would seek out the original, St John, named after the street it sits on in Smithfield. For a restaurant that does magisterial things with meat, and particularly with pigs, it is perfectly located, just a leap away from Smithfield Market, where meat has been sold continuously for almost a thousand years. I have walked to work past this market with the dawn breaking, and had to step over little rivulets of blood as animal after animal is hauled out of the back of trucks to be sold to restaurants across London.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.41.00We have tried to get into St John on a number of occasions, only to be turned away due to lack of space, so it was with some excitement that we took our seats last week. St John is much like its offshoot. It serves many of the same things. It has an adoration of the pig. It has the same look and feel, the simple, hard white walls, the spartan furnishing, the mildly uncomfortable chairs, the serious, well-informed serving staff. It is much larger.

The core ethos is the same though. There is a no nonsense feel to the place, as if there is no time to fuss over anything except the quality of the food.  And that’s fine by me.

First to the table was a brown crab on toast with half a lemon ready to squeeze. It was a delight, the crab soft and fresh, perfectly moist, kicked into gear by the lemon, the toast fresh and crunchy, made at the in-house bakery. We followed this with a Welsh rarebit, a thick layer of cheese infused with mustard, served on a massive wedge of bread an inch thick, Lea and Perrins sauce sprinkled on top. This was solid, fortifying food, a simple dish done very, very well.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.42.00It would be wrong to go to St John and order nothing made from a pig, a bit like driving through Arizona without stopping at the Grand Canyon, or holidaying in France without donning a beret and eating a baguette. So, we ordered the pork and pistachio terrine, which was earthy, coarse and powerful, full of chunks that I couldn’t quite identify, but that I knew were delicious.

 The only dish that disappointed us was a roast mallard with braised red cabbage. It was somewhat dry, and it must have been a lean, lanky duck, because we found ourselves with considerably more bone than meat. This may have been an unintentional blessing, since both of us have sworn to lose weight this year, but any benefits will have been cancelled out by finishing with a bread and butter pudding, a great ball of vanilla ice-cream melting rapidly on top.

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I explained to my partner in culinary crime that even the most disciplined dieters have one “cheat day” a week, where rules are discarded for the day, and you gorge on whatever you like. We are just having our entire years’ worth of cheat days in January…

There is also some change in our top 10 restaurant list: St John is in, Ember Yard is out. To deny this mecca of food a spot in the top 10 would be a culinary crime.


Address: 64 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 4QG
Bookings: Booked through Opentable
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.17.07Our first review of 2018 finds us in Rambla, a Catalonian restaurant named after Barcelona’s most famous boulevard. Rambla is buried in heart of Soho, and our seat in front of an enormous window makes us spectators onto a slightly less illustrious thoroughfare, Dean Street.

The pane of glass is so large, and the table so close to it, that as night falls and crowds gather, you almost feel immersed in nocturnal Soho, with all its noise, colour and oddness, which is a mixed blessing, but great for veteran people watchers, or those struggling for conversation at the table.

Inside, the restaurant is equally lively, waiters, waitresses and chefs calling out to one another across the open kitchen, and new diners stumbling in with hungry anticipation written across their faces.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.54Is this anticipation deserved? The food is certainly nice here. A plate of ham is perfect, marbled with just the right amount of fat, its texture oiled and rich, each strip curled temptingly on a wooden board. A bowl of blistered padron peppers – which my partner in culinary crime won’t lay a finger on – are wizened, salted and wonderfully bitter. A pair of pan con tomate, the bread gently toasted, the tomato almost made into a paste, suffused with a subtle olive oil, shards of salt scattered carelessly across the top, is good.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.41But I was left with a feeling of slight disappointment. Some of the reviews I had read of this restaurant over the previous month or two spoke of it with the reverence and awe normally reserved for places of worship or Unesco-approved world heritage sites. Critics described the dishes served at Rambla as stunning, as things of beauty, food worth clogging an artery for. I did not feel quite like that.

Four small wheels of cured salmon were so salty that even my partner in culinary crime, no stranger to smothering a dish in condiments, had to take several water breaks to get through them. Some lamb chops with rosemary aioli were a little washed out, the meat lacking that vibrancy of flavour. Some seabass with Jerusalem artichoke was good, but it didn’t have me scraping the plate to ensure I removed every last morsel.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.26Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps Rambla had been projected too far into the stratosphere by frenzied restaurant critics for me to leave without a tinge of disappointment. If I juxtapose Rambla with Barafina, it falls short. I would probably place it half a rung below Ember Yard as well.

The restaurant also did not help itself by having a number of waitresses whose English language skills were so minimal that they struggled to function on the floor of a restaurant. No one is asking that restaurants staff themselves exclusively with English literature graduates from Cambridge, but if a waiter can’t understand the phrases “please can I have a gin and tonic?”, “one more of these please,” or “bring me the bill!” then we have a slight problem.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.13I will go back to Rambla. A place so well-regarded deserves a shot at redemption. It is also great value for money. But for now, I am not ready to sing its praises, even drunkenly on a street in Soho.