Paternoster Chop House

Address:  1, Warwick Court, Paternoster Sq., London EC4M 7DX
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.22Paternoster Chophouse is part of the restaurant empire of Sir Terence Conran, who also sells sofas and salad bowls (think Habitat, BhS, M&S etc.).

It achieved a small amount of notoriety as the venue for the Channel 4 show First Dates, where an eclectic mix of people are paired up and then filmed making toe-curlingly awkward small talk, before deciding at the end of each episode whether they want to meet for a second date or not.

We went there on a random Tuesday evening (it certainly wasn’t our first date), and sadly no romantic encounters were being filmed. What was occurring however, was a besuited father taking his three-year-old daughter out for a burger. He fulfilled his paternal duties in the most basic of senses, kitting his daughter out with a range of colouring pencils – which she used on the table – and chatting on the phone whilst watching as she stood on her chair and washed her hands in her glass of water. Extremely romantic for those of us sat directly next to them.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.04As for the food, it slid somewhere in between adequate and good. Better than a Pizza Express, but worse than a restaurant you would recommend to a friend you wanted to keep. I started off with a chicken liver and port pate, which was the highlight of the meal, sharp and tangy, spreading smoothly over some decent bread.

My partner in culinary crime ate some smoked salmon, with shallots and capers, which she found nice. Although given that you can get nice smoked salmon in most British supermarkets, this is not the highest of culinary hurdles.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.11.58It may be one of the driest summers in recent British history, but my main course of chicken Kiev came swimming in so much grease and oil that it could have been used to moisten the whole of the south east of England. It was accompanied by some cauliflower that had a green, unhealthy colour. Perhaps they were feeling sea-sick from bobbing up and down in so much grease.

My partner in culinary crime, a true scavenger of the ocean, ordered the sole for her main course. She liked it. The sauce was buttery, rich and lemony, a smooth accompaniment to a well-cooked fish.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.10

 

We finished with a Lancashire cheese and two rather sad little Eccles cakes. I’m sure it is a tried and tested combination, but I found the excessively sweet cakes a poor match for the strong, sour cheese. Perhaps the dish was a homage to some of the less successful dates that have featured on the show.

The restaurant is situated in the lovely Paternoster Square, bathed in the beauty of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s. I would say that the best thing about this restaurant is the view you get of the cathedral as you walk out of the door. Hey, it’s a one in a million view. It’s not a one in a million restaurant.  No second date for me please.

 


African Volcano

Address:  6 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0EF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.45I have explained the concept of Great Guns Social on this blog before. Different pop-up restaurants are allowed to take up residence in their kitchen for a brief period of time, normally a few months, before saddling up again and hitting the road, to be replaced by another chef with a stack of recipes and a dream.

Previously, we ate the tasting menu provided by Fodder, a pop-up specialising in foraged food. It was brilliant, surprising and delicious. They’ve vanished now, but the memory of their cooking remains vivid with us. Wherever you are Fodder, you have two fans here at Life at the end of a Fork!

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.10.39In their place is African Volcano, a pop-up specialising in the cuisine of Mozambique. It’s the creation of Grant Hawthorne and his wife, a pair of South Africans, who sell peri-peri sauces and marinades from their website, as well as at a stall in Maltby Market. They have a fairly large pair of foraged boots to fill, but at first taste, they’re having a good go of it.

Their peri-peri prawns with tomato and pilaf were a hit, rich and buttery, full-bodied and smoky. It was the kind of dish that you miss the very second you stop eating it. Spooning up the last morsel was like saying goodbye to a friend at the airport. I would happily have had a bowl five times its size and just sat around all evening with that plus a bucket full of chilled beers.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.37But all precious things come to an end, and before long the bowl was vanishing towards the kitchen, replaced with a plate of great, thick cuts of smoked salmon. My partner in culinary crime normally corners any fish dish (even if it’s nominally intended to be shared), and deflects any would-be scavengers with the tenacity of an African lion swatting hyena on Serengeti. This is fine in principal, but it does mean I have to take her word for it when reviewing marine dishes. This time was no different, so you’ll have to have it on her authority that the salmon was well smoked and full-bodied.

A plate of cured hams were marbled and glistening, almost purple. They were thin and lean, but full of flavour.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.54A southern fried chicken burger with spiced mayonnaise and red onions disappointed me. It was tall and narrow, difficult to eat, and strangely absent of the punch and vigour of the other dishes. It was certainly not volcanic. We found ourselves deconstructing it, eating the decent piece of fried chicken, and leaving the pretty pedestrian salad and bread on the plate. The ingredients of a burger should want to bind together. These had no affinity for each other.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.30The best dish turned up last at the party. Their Cape Malva pudding was an instant classic, one of the nicest desserts we’ve had this year. It came hot and spongy, studded with dark chocolate, a scoop of cool vanilla ice cream melting on the side, a cluster of fresh raspberries and strawberries gathered round it. Everything on the plate played perfectly, the sharp tang of the fruit and the deep flavour of the chocolate, the warmth of the cake and the chill of the ice-cream.

The dish took me by surprise. We’d dithered about whether even to have a dessert. But it was an ambush worthy of the African savannah, and it put an exclamation point on the meal.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.10.30

Congratulations to African Volcano. And congratulations to Great Guns Social for picking pop-ups so well, especially ones so sprawling different in their offering. Here’s to further culinary eruptions on the Southwark Bridge Road.


Pollen Street Social

Address:  8-10 Pollen St, Mayfair, London W1S 1NQ
Bookings:  Booked
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.02.46I’m in the middle of reading the late Anthony Bourdain’s career-launching book Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain has some interesting comments on tell-tale signs that a restaurant’s kitchen may not be entirely sanitary, or its cooking particularly artful. For example, he says that if a restaurant’s bathroom is not cleaned thoroughly, then it’s unlikely its kitchen will be. If its front-of-house staff are dishevelled, smell like sour milk, and slump about the dining area like students nursing a hangover, then this slovenliness will also pervade the kitchen, where cooks will leave fridge doors open, not wash their hands, and hang on to fish just a little longer than they should.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.03.02His point is that a restaurant has an ethos, and if it cannot be bothered even to make the visible parts of the restaurant presentable, then the invisible kitchen will likely be the stuff of nightmares.

Now, when I eat out, I pay attention to these things (and I don’t eat fish on a Monday, but you’ll have to read Bourdain to find out why). Pollen Street Social, where we dined out on Saturday evening, passed with flying colours. Its staff were better dressed than most of the clientele. Certainly, better than I was. The bathrooms had the clinical shine of an operating theatre. Staff glided across the well-polished floors.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.02.38The occasion was my Mum’s birthday, and so the whole clan, plus my partner in culinary crime, were gathered in Jason Atherton’s flagship restaurant, Pollen Street Social, inconspicuously tucked away in a little side road off Regent Street.

The food here is nice. Some of it is very nice. My partner in culinary crime had a portion of lamb from the Lake District, pink and delicate, accompanied by a small mound of peas, broad beans and mint oil, that she adjudged better than the slow-cooked lamb shoulder we ate at Berners Tavern last year. This is praise higher than the Burj Khalifa. As she sat on the sofa this evening, she suddenly furrowed her brow, shook her head and murmured simply, “that lamb though”, as if marking the 24-hour anniversary of first encountering it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.02.03Across the table my father was nodding approvingly at a plate of jellied eel, whilst my crab salad was sharp and fresh, a slither of crispy toast a perfect scoop for it. My mum made her way through a rich saddle of Lincolnshire rabbit wrapped in Parma ham.

If I have a gripe with Pollen Street Social, it revolves around portion size and cost. The portions were Lilliputian. I could, if challenged, have eaten my entire crab salad in one bite. My main course, a couple of pork chops, might have required two gulps and a glass of water.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.03.09True, the food we ordered were supplemented by a continual stream of miniature dishes that arrived unannounced at the table. A small tea cup of mushroom soup that kicked things off was exquisite. But still, Atherton is certainly coming down very firmly on one side of the ancient quantity vs. quality debate.

The restaurant is also expensive. The wine by the bottle would make a Russian oligarch blanche with terror, and not only for fear that Putin might have slipped a vial of novichok into it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 21.02.55No main course on the menu even thought about creeping below £30. That ignominy was reserved for the starters, which sat at around £20 a dish.

Nevertheless, this is a quality restaurant, serving very good food in elegant surroundings. And it passes the Bourdain test so effortlessly that I might even dare to order fish there on a Monday

Happy birthday Mum!


‘O Ver

Address:  44-46 Southwark St, London SE1 1UN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.17O’ ver is a Neapolitan restaurant around the corner from Borough Market. On its menu, it boasts rather bizarrely that in its cooking it uses the unique ingredient of sea water, “extracted from the purest areas of the Mediterranean.”

It is hard to believe that every fistful of spaghetti and every ball of dough served in this restaurant are brought to completion with water lugged out of the sea over 1,000 miles away in the Mediterranean. Surely this would require a small team of planes perpetually in motion between Heathrow and Naples International Airport, the pilots only stopping momentarily to mop their brows and take a sip of water (hopefully not also scooped out of the sea), before taxiing off again to get the next barrel of warm, salty acqua.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.10And why on earth would sourcing your sea water on the other side of Europe make a pizza taste nicer? Are the sweet coastal waters of Devon and Cornwall not sufficient? Never mind. In the ever more saturated eco-system of London restaurants, perhaps the saltier the gimmick the better.

Whatever ingredients they’re using, the food at O’ Ver is pretty good. Their rosemary ‘seawater’ focaccia infused with melted parmesan was criminally moreish. The sort of starter that you can feel yourself filling up on with each bite, so you promise not to touch any more until your mains come, only to miserably break the pledge moments later, the bread just too warm, too cheesy, too plump and too nourishing to ignore for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.28My partner in culinary crime, whose appetite for fish is well flagged on this blog, tore through a red tuna tartare sat on a bed of avocado, dressed with olive oil and a sprinkling of lime juice. I heard no complaints.

I had a lobster linguine, which was a little poor. The lobster, sourced in far off Canada, had travelled a long way to disappoint me in Borough. It was a small little fellow, with a lot of shell and very little meat. It could have done with fattening up a little bit more off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tomato sauce that came with it could have been popped out of jar of Loyd Grossman Pomodoro sauce.

My partner in culinary crime had a pizza with burrata, mozzarella, Italian sausage, cherry tomatoes and basil, with truffle oil drizzled on it. It was a decent pizza, if a little wet and a little limp.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.38O’ Ver has an al fresco dining option, which is not as appealing as it sounds, even in the middle of a very warm London summer, unless you enjoy getting gassed by bus fumes.

O’ ver is a steady, solid restaurant, which will appeal to pizza lovers, or those who refuse to eat anything not prepared with Mediterranean seawater. For the general diner, Borough Market has better options, Brindisa, Padella, and El Pastor, to name a few. O’ Ver and out.


Andina

Address:  1 Redchurch St, London, E2 7DJ
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.12.27If there’s one group of people in the world who like raw fish and lime juice more than my partner in crime, then it’s probably the Peruvians. And that’s saying something, because as mentioned previously, my partner in culinary crime eats more raw fish than a hungry basking shark, and gobbles more limes than a sailor warding off scurvy. But the Peruvians love it more than that. They even have a national holiday for ceviche, the 28th June, where they doss off work and eat the stuff.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.12.09Certainly, it’s a dish worth celebrating. I was reminded of that last week at Andina, in Shoreditch, part of a small chain of informal little Peruvian restaurants scattered around London. We kicked off the night with a plate of sea bass ceviche, a princely fish marinated in lime juice, served with avocado, sweet potato, goldenberry, red onion, chilli and tiger’s milk. The dish was searingly, bitingly, wincingly tasty, sharp enough to cut diamond, the lime sending lightning bolts of flavour down the tongue. The sea bass itself was plump and fresh, soft as a pillow.

A side dish of some pitch black yawar croquettes had no flavour of their own, but it was almost a relief to have some palate cleansers after the culinary blitz of the ceviche.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.12.17Next to slide across our table was a Peruvian corn soufflé, topped with a loin of smoked bacon, an egg and some hollandaise sauce. Peruvian corn bread is wonderfully starchy, absorbent, somehow managing to be both hearty and light at the same time.

As we ate, I was fascinated by the couple next to us, who sat in complete silence for minutes at a time, looking at each other vacantly, before occasionally making small snippets of conversation which were so awesomely boring that they could have auditioned for Love Island, and probably won the entire programme if they hadn’t been overweight. The silent dinner remains one of life’s great mysteries to me, and yet all over the world they occur.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.11.54The centre piece of the meal was a braised duck leg, in a butter bean and pumpkin puree. This I found a little disappointing, the meat a little dry, somewhat worn down. It brought to mind a stringy, lanky duck, with a weary set of legs that waddled it many miles. It didn’t have the strength of flavour of the best duck. Perhaps it was a dyed chicken leg.

We finished with a chocolate mousse, topped with a dollop of elder berry and a smothering of pink rice krispies. Berries and chocolate are probably the ultimate dessert combination, and I wolfed this down, spoonful by spoonful, good to the very last.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.12.01I had the meal with half a dozen pisco sours, and so probably drank the equivalent of 3 eggs with my meal. Each glass was a sharp, acidic complement to the food, and left me walking unsteadily in the gorgeous summer night.

Andina is fine, fresh and casual, part of a little storm of Peruvian restaurants capturing the hearts of London diners. Give it a try. In fact, why not embrace a little bit of the Peruvian spirit, take this Thursday off (the 28th, National Ceviche Day), grab a sea bass, throw it in some lime juice, and then try not to wince whilst watching England slaughter Belgium in the World Cup that evening.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 20.11.37


Temper

Address: 5 Mercer Walk Mercers Yard, London WC2H 9FA
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Sunday
Meal:  lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 20.59.36Temper has been high on my hit list of restaurants to visit ever since I read a review celebrating its hellacious fire pit, which takes whole animals and smokes and grills them, pushing out vast shoulders of lamb, legs of beef and bellies of pork, leaving your hair, clothes and soul ingrained with smoke for days afterwards.

Unbeknownst to me, however, there are three Tempers, and I have now visited all of them except the one I wanted. Late last year, we went to Temper City, near Bank, where we ate some lukewarm Indian food and lost badly in a 1980s-themed quiz. Sat directly adjacent to us was the founder and head chef at Temper, Neil Rankin, along with a gaggle of his friends. Far be it from me to even hint at foul play, but it was in fact Rankin and his gang who won the quiz…

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 21.00.20Last week, keen to finish what I started, I wandered into Temper off Covent Garden, forgetting entirely that the mothership restaurant with its pulsing fire pit is actually in Soho. The food served in the Covent Garden branch was not as expected. It tried hard. There was thought behind it. But it didn’t quite hit the mark.

It wasn’t even serving the great cleaved slabs of meat that the review promised. The menu consisted of tapas dishes and pizzas. Not being a big fan of pizza (unless using it to soak up the remains of a big night out and tame a raging hangover), we restricted ourselves to the tapas.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 20.59.59First up was the lardo carbonara I don’t say this often, but it was like nothing I’ve ever tasted in my life. Smothered in a mountain of grated parmesan, it was cold, it was flavoursome, it melted, it was mercurial. It had the texture of an eel.

I was curious as to how pasta could feel like this. A nervous looking waitress told us that the strings of ‘spaghetti’ were actually made purely out of pork fat. My partner in culinary crime looked queasy. I stand by the dish though. For cardiac reasons, it’s probably not something to eat in large quantities on a regular basis, but it was the best thing they served us, and a true culinary original.

Our fried tortellini with hot honey were stodgy, comfort food, something you might get on the side with a domino’s pizza. A platter of charcuterie was decent, but when you live 200 metres from Brindisa, and can gorge on plates of fat, soft, acorn-fed iberico ham at the drop of a hat, you have been well and truly spoilt, and anything else seems like a slippage in standards.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 20.59.51A beef cannelloni, with provolone and mozzarella cheese, cooked with anchovy butter, had a bubbling warmth, the tang of capers coming through, and melted on the spoon. A big wedge of garlic bread, sprinkled with rosemary and cooked with nduja butter, was greasy, ridiculously filling, and essentially flavourless. It was the low moment of the meal, a piece of culinary flotsam spat out of the kitchen.

Some entertainment was provided by the Korean American family on the table next to us. The father of the family announced to the waitress that he made a living from running a food rating app., and proceeded to pose his food and snap photos of it with an ancient looking camera.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 21.00.26

Before sitting down, he had been wearing a sort of straw boating hat, which he placed upside down on the free seat at the table. As he photographed a bizarre looking pizza covered in clams, his wife accidentally jolted the table, sending a dozen of the juicy crustaceans tumbling into his jaunty hat.

He shrieked at his wife and daughter to keep back, as if the clams were nuclear waste, and proceeded to scoop them back onto his plate, before giving his fishy hat a good shake. He acted too hastily: clams in a hat would have made for an excellent photo on his app, and perhaps started a new culinary trend.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 21.00.10In any case, there is only one branch left go. By process of elimination, we shall get there. Neil Rankin has one last chance to awe us with that fire pit, before we finally lose our Temper.


Dining in Crete

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.54.32

This past week my partner in culinary crime and I were on the sunny island of Crete, and as usual in the aftermath of a trip abroad, we are bringing you the culinary highlights and lowlights of our adventures across the seas.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.54.22Some general comments on Cretan cooking: portion sizes are astronomically large, with starters the size of main courses, and main courses the size of small buffets. The food is also dense and very heavy. It is not advisable to attempt to swim in the aftermath of a Cretan lunch or dinner.

The size of the portions is made more problematic by the fact that the restaurant proprietors seem genuinely upset by the sight of any food left on your plate, and the chef in family run restaurants will sometimes roll out of the kitchen and enquire why the 10th potato on the plate hasn’t been finished.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.55.00At the end of every meal we were brought small cakes “on the house”, as well as a small flask of ouzo and two shot glasses. I warmed to this tradition, and by the end of the trip was looking forward to knocking back my shot. But on to the restaurants.

Taverna Petra, Kissamos – 3

We were recommended this restaurant by the Lonely Planet Guide. People stopped buying the Lonely Planet guides back in the 1990s when the internet made them redundant, and ghastly, holiday-sabotaging recommendations like this one will not win them back any readers. We pulled into this restaurant after we had finished trekking down into the breath-taking Balos Lagoon, and had worked up a considerable appetite in the process. No degree of hunger however, could make what they served up appealing. I ordered a pork gyros with chips, which was like a bad kebab but without the bread. The meat was tough and fatty, the chips cold and stodgy.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.55.08My partner in culinary crime ordered a lamb kebab with cream, with the meat burnt more severely than some of the British tourists we’d spotted smouldering on the local beaches. She ate so little of her meal that it was actually embarrassing to face the friendly waitress, and so she cut off some large chunks of the kebab and surreptitiously slipped them to a stray dog who was marauding around the legs of our outdoor table. The tough little bastard – no doubt used to eating out of bins – swallowed both pieces, but did so without any real relish. I could swear that he gave us a slightly hurt look as he lay back down in the sun to digest. Avoid this restaurant, no matter how hungry you are.

Akrogiali, Chania – 4

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.25.38We were recommended this restaurant by the Daily Telegraph, who commended it as serving the best seafood in Chania. I can only assume that whichever food critic the Telegraph dispatches to Crete has had a successful and complete amputation of his taste buds, because no one with a working mouth could possibly recommend this place in good faith. They served us a bowl of mushrooms that were prehistoric in their texture, as old and leathery as a well-worn flip-flop. My partner in culinary crime ordered a swordfish which was bland and dry. I was served a bowl of calamari. The waiter described them as, “fresh.” I don’t know if there’s an equivalent of the Trade Descriptions Act in Crete, but if there is, I would certainly be due some legal redress. They may have been fresh some time last year, but not in May 2018. Avoid this place, regardless of the Telegraph’s burblings.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.25.24

The Well of the Turk, Chania – 6

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.26.06Set in the old Turkish district of Chania, the Well of the Turk served up good food, and was a welcome break from the tourist trap restaurants that littered the seafront in Platanias. I had an Armenian pizza, known as Lahmajoun, a thin piece of dough with minced lamb, onions, tomatoes and parsley laid loosely across the top of it. It was light and tasty, the lamb warm and salted, the onions adding crunch to the dish. My partner in culinary crime had a well grilled shish kebab, the chicken well bronzed, but still succulent. We finished off with a murderously delicious cake, appropriately named Death by Chocolate. It was dark and sweet, with fruity undertones shot through it. It would certainly be a pleasant way to go.

The restaurant is delightfully situated, with a small, leafy garden for al fresco dining, and the place is surrounded by historic buildings and narrow, winding, cobbled streets. It is the probably the best place in Chania for a meal.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.26.16

To Pigadi, Rethymno – 6.5

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.24.46The pick of the restaurants in Rethymno. Again, beautifully situated on a small side street, with a gated garden full of creeping vines, frescos on the rustic walls, and a little water fountain acting as background music. I had a zesty, succulent tuna, which was wonderfully light, and set off beautifully by a subtle lemon sauce. My partner in culinary crime ordered a lamb cooked in a ceramic pot, which was literally bubbling with flavour when it landed on the table, a crisp top of pastry concealing a cauldron of lamb, potatoes, artichokes in a thick stew. It was tasty, heavy food. This is certainly a good spot for a sunset dining experience, the picturesque streets a romantic backdrop to well-made food.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.25.11And thus, it comes to an end, another culinary expedition complete. I certainly wouldn’t place Crete anywhere near the top of my list of places to go for food, but, like pigs hunting for truffles, we did manage to sift out some decent spots. If you do go, avoid restaurants in heavily touristic areas like the plague, order light, and enjoy your ouzo responsibly!

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.54.32


Arabica

Address: Borough Market, 3 Rochester Walk, London SE1 9AF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

After a short, work-induced leave of absence, Life at the End of a Fork is back. Apologies to any review starved readers. Posts will be coming thick and fast.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.27.44Firstly, a long overdue announcement that Lima Floral is being flung out of our Hall of Fame top 10 restaurants list, cast into the ranks of the merely good but not great. Replacing it is the undeniable Brindisa, in Borough Market. We first went there back in February this year, when we were scouting the area for places to live, and it was love at first bite.

Since that day, we’ve eaten there more than anywhere else, and it is always surprising, but never disappointing. The padron peppers are mandatory ordering, their salted, vaguely bitter taste, and their wizened, gentle texture, announce that another phenomenal meal is in the offing.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 12.28.11The Catalan flat bread with tomato and garlic is refreshing, sweet and soft. The last time we were there we laid Manchego cheese across the top of it; it would be presumptuous to say that this improved the dish, but it certainly didn’t hurt it.

The fact that most days of the week you can just walk in there without a reservation is bizarre and baffling, proof that when it comes to restaurant queues, fad trumps flavour. And in this instance, I’m very glad it does.

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 11.08.36Just around the corner, also in Borough Market, is Arabica, a Middle Eastern restaurant sat under a railway arch. We ordered up great plates of halloumi, lamb chops with artichokes, and a feta salad that came with fresh cucumber, parsley, mint, tomato and olives. I also ordered a milky looking glass of Arak, diluted with water. Arak is a Levantine spirit derived from aniseed that is so strong and hideously flavoured that it could make an oak tree wilt. No matter how much water I doused it with, I couldn’t put the flavour out, so I ended up just gritting my teeth and getting through it, mouthful by bitter mouthful, much to the amusement of my partner in culinary crime, who sat sipping a diet coke.

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 11.08.47The restaurant itself is decent, probably a 6 on our rating system. It was later somewhat ruined by the fact that I ordered it on Deliveroo – if you want to kill off a favourite restaurant, then eat its food after it has been sat in a paper bag for half an hour and bounced around on the back of a motorbike. Arabica is nowhere near a favourite restaurant to start off with, but delivery certainly did it no favours.

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 11.08.56It does have its place as a summer destination though. On a warm day, you can sit outside and bask in the sunshine whilst enjoying a front row view of the rivers of people who flow through Borough Market, clutching fresh fish, jumbo prawns, enormous raclette sandwiches, hog roast baps and freshly blended smoothies.

With summer upon us now, we will keep an eye out for more al fresco dining spots over the next weeks and months.

In any case, Life at the End of a Fork is back. Let the culinary explorations continue!


Ladurée

Address: 1 The Market, WC2E 8RA 
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 4/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.34.13People living in London are almost tragically grateful for the merest hint of warm weather. Particularly at this time of year, when we have been hibernating under hats, coats, scarves and gloves for the preceding seven months. Like starving people unleashed on an all you can eat buffet, the population of London floods into parks and beer gardens, strolls along the bank of the Thames and fights for space on wind-blasted rooftop terraces.

We at Life at the End of a Fork are no better. When, a few weeks ago, London was warmly embraced by a one week micro-summer, we surged out of our respective offices in search of somewhere to dine al-fresco. Exchange Square was dangerously crowded, every single blade of grass either sat or stood on, and hundreds of people snaking around the block for the right to buy a pint of cider for £6. Rather than risk being stampeded by sun-crazed city workers, we travelled down to Covent Garden.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.29.15London is bereft of many good outdoor dining choices, which is understandable, given the miserable weather. The few slices of pavement that you can eat on normally sit in the shade of some vast building, which obliterates any wan ray of sunshine which may have penetrated the clouds.

One exception to this is Covent Garden, where a number of restaurants do allow for sun basking. We found ourselves in one of these: Laduree. It is a strange place. The staff are so incompetent that at times you wonder whether they are actually playing an elaborate prank on you, that this is not a restaurant at all, but part of some slapstick social experiment designed to see how far a diner can be pushed before he or she finally suffers an apoplectic fit.

One example from the start of our meal will give you a flavour. The couple next to us had been served coffees, and asked staff if they could have some sugar. A grinning waiter returned five minutes laterwith an enormous pot of mayonnaise, dumped it on the table and departed before they could register protest.  We offered them the sugar that sat on our table, at which point the clownish waiter returned, grin still fixed ear to ear, and transferred the mayonnaise to our table. Coffee and mayonnaise…? Perhaps that’s all the rage in the Parisian bistros that Laduree apes.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.29.47The food was tolerable. My partner in culinary crime continued her life-time ambition to eat smoked salmon in every restaurant she sits down in, and declared Laduree’s offering to be “pleasant enough”, although you’d probably want praise more extravagant than that to justify an £18 price tag.  I had a cheese board and a tiny little roll of bread that would have been too insultingly small to throw to one of the many pigeons that were marauding around the square.

We both ordered the lobster roll in brioche buns for a main course. These were decent enough, slightly inferior to the sort of thing you’d get for half the price in a Burger and Lobster.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.28.53The dining area is directly next to the space in Covent Garden that is given over to magicians and various other ‘comic’ performers. During the hour and a half in which we sat there we saw a man performing some basic tricks on a yo-yo (whilst heckling the audience for not applauding enthusiastically enough), and then some break-dancers in tracksuits, who rolled around on the floor and jumped over each other a few times. I thought of suggesting that the waiters and waitresses of Laduree offer themselves up as entertainment. Their serving skills were certainly more comical than the gentleman and his yo-yo.

Any humour however, was removed from proceedings when the bill arrived. It was comfortably north of £100. I started to feel as if I was suffering from sunstroke.

Stay away from Laduree, whatever the weather.


Palomar

Address: 34 Rupert St, Soho, London W1D 6DN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 8.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.54.22There are a number of restaurants in our top ten Hall of Fame that are serially up for eviction. At least one will be flung out into the cold this week, to be replaced by a favourite tapas restaurant of ours. Palomar – an Israeli-fusion restaurant – is not amongst these names. It is one of a select few that sit snug and contented somewhere in the top five, an accumulation of goodwill buffering it from relegation.

Nevertheless, like a boxer who is only as good as his last performance, each of our restaurants must defend its reputation on every visit. With that in mind, we dropped in on Palomar last week, weaving through the heaving, surging mass of humanity that clog China Town’s streets, until we found ourselves on Rupert Street, on the fringes of Soho. As usual, Palomar defended its status with aplomb.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.49.58We started with the mandatory pot-baked bread that comes steaming out of a tin, soft, fluffy, as light as air, with a small bowl of tomato and tahini to dip it into. I could eat this bread all day long, but I have made it a new dining resolution to not feast myself into a coma on bread before any other dish arrives, and so I satisfied myself with half a loaf, my partner in culinary crime devouring the rest.

Next to touch the table is a small bowl of falafel, little nuggets of chickpeas suffused with chilli and herbs, sat in a shallow pool of cooling yoghurt. I’m normally not a fan of falafel, finding it as dry as the desert climates from which it originates, but these were a powerful exception, rich and succulent.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.33With the preliminaries complete, we tucked into a pleasant, ocean-fresh sea bream, which came on a bed of green beans in some herbed-oil. The fish was mild and delicate, the flesh pulling off the bones easily. We then helped ourselves to the poetically named Tree of Life, a terrifyingly huge head of broccoli, which was indeed the size of a small tree, and came with feta and tomatoes. It was the sort of thing I imagine a vegetarian might dream about, thick and healthy, delicious from top to bottom, without one sentient creature harmed in its creation…

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.11A ‘Persian Pappardelle’ was a pleasant surprise. We live on the edge of Borough Market now, and take the steaming offerings of Padella as the gold standard of pasta in London, but I can’t deny that Palomar’s Persian Pappardelle was every bit the equal of anything I’ve been served in Padella, which the exception of its other-worldly Carbonara. The pappardelle was firm and thick, the lemon sauce subtle and sharp, parmesan grated over the top, and some mange tout crisp and fresh, not a string of starch in them. This was probably the highlight of the meal.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.54.11As all this is being served, the restaurant is a whirling dervish of energy. The open kitchen runs like the most chaotic of armies, the chef bellowing orders, with his motley crew of underlings (one with an enormous butcher’s meat cleaver tattooed on her thick forearms) replying in unison, “Yes chef!”. The clatter of pots, the crackle of flames and the hiss of red-hot pans plunging in cold sinks forms the music to your conversation, as waiters and waitresses tap their feet, bob their heads and chat to the diners. This is certainly not a place to have a long overdue catch-up with an elderly relative who is hard of hearing.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.22By this stage I was starting to flag a little, but since the final dish was a Shakshukit, a sort of deconstructed kebab, consisting of beef, lamb, pistachios and pine nuts, I made a special effort to locate some unoccupied chamber of my stomach. It was a struggle, but I did it.

Twenty minutes later, we limped out into the sunlight, the echoes of “Yes Chef!!” ringing in our ears, full-blown food comas induced, Palomar victorious, its place in the top ten retained.