Dean Street Townhouse

Address: 69 – 71 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3SE
Bookings: Booking required
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Dean Street Townhouse is a small island of calm conservatism in the middle of Soho. It serves all the staples of the British culinary repertoire, from Dover Crab to Dover Sole, from Fish & Chips to Slow-Cooked Shepherd’s pie. And it serves them in warm, solid, convivial surroundings, the red banquettes and long mahogany bar a million miles from bohemian. 

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 11.30.22Which is absolutely fine. To a point. Half-way through my plate of mince and potatoes this point was probably crossed. I’d ordered it up because I was intrigued as to how a restaurant could make two such simple, rudimentary ingredients interesting and enticing. I still haven’t found out.

The first forkful of mince was tasty, full of a blunt, forceful flavour. By the fifth forkful I was reaching for my glass of water to take the edge off this bluntness. Halfway through the meal I felt that the food was bludgeoning me with its down-to-earth simplicity, each forkful replicating the last to the nearest detail, like hearing a 5-second piece of music on loop forever. And what was provided alongside this mince to add some spice and exoticism? A bowl of unadorned potatoes.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 11.29.47This is probably the sort of sturdy, belly-filling food an army would relish on the eve of a winter’s battle, but it was a bit much for a Tuesday night in Soho. 

My partner in culinary crime had ordered a rib-eye steak, with a cup of chips and a bowl of béarnaise sauce. This was more of a success than my mince, but was again simplicity taken to the extreme. The steak really was just steak. You could have examined the plate with a microscope to detect any trace of any other food type or ingredient, and you would have come back empty-handed. The steak lay there, imperious and alone.

Our starters were somewhat more interesting: we both had cured salmon, with a wedge of lemon and a heap of pickled cucumber. It was refreshing, had some nuance, some subtlety. Which was what was lacking from the rest of the food.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 11.29.34This isn’t an attempt to rubbish Dean Street Townhouse. It is actually a good restaurant. What they served was well cooked. The venue is fun, the atmosphere is jolly, the staff are friendly and professional. What’s missing is that bit of panache, of culinary creativity. They need a maverick in their kitchen. They need a slice of bohemian Soho.


Mirror Room

Address: Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN
Bookings: No booking required
Day: Monday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 21.08.27I like the Rosewood Hotel. It is elegant, it is grand. The elegance and the grandeur cannot even be undermined by the fact that Justin Bieber allegedly stays there when he’s in London. Watching him take afternoon tea in its dining room wearing a baseball cap, a basketball jersey and a pair of over-sized shorts must be a bizarre sight. Any self-respecting Edwardian gentleman would have taken a riding crop to him.

But moving on. Earlier this week, we decided to sample the Rosewood’s Mirror Room, an all-day dining spot at the back of the hotel. It is spectacular to look at. As the name suggests, there are floor to ceiling mirrors dotted around the room, with myriad tables, sofas, fires, paintings, low-lighting and mysterious side-rooms, giving the space a disorientating, endless feel.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 21.08.46We were sat at a low, dark, Japanese table. The menu started off with a page of canapes, which were terrifying expensive (think lobster, avocado croustade, £14 a hit), before moving on to a short list of starters, sandwiches and mains, before rounding out with a much larger selection of cocktails, champagnes and wines.

I ordered up a plate of burrata cheese to start, which came hidden under fistfuls of roasted fennel, and a scattering of sultanas, berries and pistachios. It was a hugely refreshing dish, but refreshing in the way that a glass of cold water is. It was deficient in flavour and body. My partner in culinary crime ordered a Scottish scallop carpaccio, which was again too watery, too mild, without the zest and sharp intensity of the best carpaccio. We found ourselves sipping on our tap waters to lend some flavour to our starters.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 21.08.55My main course was an excellent chicken schnitzel, great shards of sea-salt sitting on its golden, crispy coating, the chicken succulent and tender. I’ve only had better schnitzel at The Delaunay, down on Aldwych. An accompanying bowl of mash potato was so soft and creamy as to border on being liquid. I almost poured it onto my plate. Delicious.

Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime was chewing her way through a beef onglet, which looked for all the world like a thick, wooden log. I tried some; it would have challenged the jaws of a sabre-toothed tiger, so tough and sinewy was it. Another mouthful and I would have developed a migraine. My partner in culinary crime laboured through it bravely.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 21.08.37So, a mixed meal, in a highly impressive room. I would recommend a trip for afternoon tea, rather than dinner. The Holborn Dining Room – the Rosewood’s other restaurant – serves better food. And on the off chance of bumping into Bieber, keep a riding crop close at hand.


L’Osteria 57

Address:  57 Grays Inn Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8PP
Bookings: No booking required
Day: Thursday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 18.27.38I have eaten at L’Osteria 57 more than any other restaurant in London. Because it was delicious, and because it sits barely a ravioli’s throw from my front door. But then everything changed.

Back in the day, it was owned by a Neapolitan gentleman who ran a tight ship, selling magnificent bowls of pasta, a chicken fricassee that was frighteningly tasty, and bowls of mussels swimming in garlic and cream sauce. The restaurant was busy almost every night, catering to a noisy crowd of local lawyers, and occasionally Jon Snow, who would lope across from the nearby ITN building and devour pizzas in front of an adoring audience of youthful media types.

But one day, our Neapolitan host, deep into his 60s, decided to hang up his apron and head back to enjoy a well-earned retirement in Italy. He sold the establishment to a Russian man, who promptly proceeded to run it into the ground, within six months it had all the cheer and warmth of a winter’s day in Chernobyl. We stopped eating there. Everyone stopped eating there. I think I once saw some tumbleweed peeping out from the side entrance, but I may be wrong. I almost forgot about the place.

So, it was with some excitement that earlier this week I noticed a new group of people staffing the place. Gone was the Russian man, replaced by a moustachioed, tanned chap who looked like he could have been an Italian. We decided to give it another chance. Gathering up my partner in culinary crime (PICC), as well as my sister, I headed in.

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 18.28.03I am quietly hopeful. We were the only diners there, and clearly the restaurant is still in the process of opening, but the food was pleasant enough. Full of nostalgia, I ordered the cozze alla marinara, mussels cooked in white wine, cream and garlic. It had shades of its former glory. The mussels were juicy and ripe. The sauce was bursting with flavour, and after I had a pile of empty shells stacked on my plate, my PICC and I mopped up what was left of it with delicious, fresh bread.

My sister reported a mediocre meatball and tagliatelle dish in a tomato sauce, whilst my PICC spoke highly of a ham, onion and mushroom pizza, which came with a thick, soft crust. My main course was a basic but well-done spaghetti with olive oil, chilli and garlic, the spaghetti pleasantly al dente, the chilli pleasingly hot.

We were provided with constant amusement and occasional concern by the young, Italian waitress who served us. To say she was drunk would have been an understatement. She would have been turned away at the door of most self-respecting London clubs. Even in Italy, she wouldn’t have been allowed behind the wheel of a car. She was rollingly, gigglingly, babblingly drunk.

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 18.28.25She brought us multiple plates of olives, each time informing us that they were Italian, free, and delicious, and that we could have more if we liked them. They piled up on our table. She dropped at least one piece of cutlery on every trip to and fro the table. When she took my plate of mussels away, balancing it wobblingly on her forearm directly over my partner in culinary crime’s head, my heart missed a beat as I imagined a rain of shells descending on her.

When she wasn’t serving us, she danced around the kitchen and irritated the chef. She popped downstairs every 5 minutes, presumably to top up on whatever sort of liquid had elevated her to that happy place. At one point, the owner accused her in a not so quiet voice of drinking the restaurant’s gin, a charge she hotly denied.

As we were paying the bill, we heard a shrieking sound from outside. The young waitress was on the phone, sucking on a cigarette and ranting in Italian at the top of her thankfully very small lungs. The girl taking our payment looked ruefully at us, before saying: “Boyfriend troubles, we’ve all been there.”

If you like Italian food, and plenty of drama, book a table.


Château Mon Desir

Address:  B41, Balaclava, Mauritius (Maritim Resort & Spa Mauritius)
Bookings: Booking required
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 17.21.33Our final night in Mauritius, and we decided to jettison any attempt at tramping through backstreets to uncover rough at the edges, flying under the radar type local cuisine, and instead booked ourselves a table at Chateau Mon Desir, an upscale restaurant within the leafy, spacious confines of the Maritim hotel.

 The restaurant immediately distinguishes itself from the Mauritian sartorial norm by forbidding t-shirts or shorts, and the general tone of the place is in the classic European tradition, immaculately suited waiters pouring bottles of fine wine and dusting crumbs of bread from crisp, white tablecloths.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 17.21.21The building is a colonial-era mansion, overlooking a picturesque, ruined old French fort in Balaclava Bay, with the swell of the sea faintly audible from the balcony. Retired race horses, now in their dotage and confined to providing rides for guests at the hotel, cantered around a paddock on the other side of the restaurant, snorting in the warm night air, giving the whole place an oddly surreal tinge.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 17.21.12The menu was strong on seafood. To start, my partner in culinary crime ordered a tuna tartare, wrapped in a film of cucumber, with salmon lain in crème fraiche, a medley of vibrant vegetables on the side. The effect was fresh and enlivening. I ordered a beef carpaccio, liberally sprinkled with a surprisingly good parmesan cheese. The beef was paired with and a soft, rich wedge of pan fried foie gras, which was nicely cooked, a nod to Mauritius’ French heritage.

Both of us gravitated towards a Scottish salmon confit for our main courses, which must have been flown an awfully long way from the chilly waters of Scotland, just to make a return journey in our stomachs less than 24 hours later.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 17.21.54The salmon was served with the mushroom risotto on a separate side plate. The salmon was well cooked, two succulent scallops sitting on either side of it, and an excellent bed of spinach lying beneath. The risotto was pleasant, if a little unexciting, my main complaint being the paucity of it. I was forced to mete out miniscule forkfuls of it to accompany each piece of the hulking salmon.

And so, our Mauritian odyssey ended, rounded out with an excellent dinner, although by far the most expensive one we ate in the country. I would recommend it for those on a special occasion, perhaps one of the many honeymooners who come to Mauritius.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 17.21.00

Heading back into the night, stars flung out against the sky, horses stamping their hooves in the pale moonlight, a warm breeze playing in the palm leaves, our minds were already turning to our next culinary adventure, and wherever it is, we will faithfully chronicle it on Life at the end of a fork.


Dining in Mauritius

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 01.35.20Life at the End of a Fork is broadcasting from the sunny beaches of Mauritius this week. After visiting the island in 1896, Mark Twain said: “Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius.” This may be a bit of an exaggeration. Heaven hopefully has a much smaller population of flies, better drivers, and pizzas that don’t come topped with processed turkey ham. But Mauritius is certainly very beautiful, full of gently sloping green mountains and turquoise waters lapping onto quiet, sandy beaches.

Rather than review restaurants individually and in great detail, we decided to summarise four good restaurants that are worth visiting on the island during a visit, providing micro-reviews in the body of the blog below.

Palais de Barbizon
Address: St Anne Road, Chamarel village, Southwest Mauritius
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Saturday
Meal: Lunch
Price: £
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 15.50.19

We dropped into this little orange-washed restaurant on the way back from the Seven Coloured Earths, on the Chamarel plain. Having been let down by the Seven Coloured Earths (in the name of honesty they should be renamed A Couple of Shades of Brown Dirt), we were then uplifted by Palais de Barbizon. It is presided over by the garrulous, chuckling Rico I’Intelligent, who also happens to be the village mayor, whilst his wife, who looks like she has spent a lifetime both cooking and eating delicious food, works magic in the kitchen.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.09.58The menu is simple and fixed: five bowls of various vegetables, rice, and a choice of either fish or chicken. We ordered up both, and everything brought to the table was wholesome, satisfying and bursting with flavour. For dessert we had banana flambé. It was all washed down with a homemade concoction of beer, rum and lemonade. The four of us left with a combined bill comfortably under £50. Suffice to say that I’ve paid ten times the amount for worse food in Michelin-starred restaurants in London.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.10.10

Chez Tante Athalie
Address: Mon Repos, Route Royale, Pamplemousses, North Mauritius
Bookings: no booking required last order 14:30
Day: Friday
Meal: Lunch
Price: £
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.01.50An open-air restaurant presided over by a Franco-Mauritian couple. It is less than a ten minute drive from the Botanical Garden in the Pamplemousses District, North Mauritius, and we twinned a trip to the gardens with lunch here. The food was French with a slight island twist.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.11.35I ate a bowl of exquisitely fried calamari with a garlic, mayonnaise sauce , and a main of chicken in cream sauce, garlic sautéed potatoes perched alongside. My partner in culinary crime was in raptures over some elegant looking tuna carpaccio, a melting globe of lemon sorbet sitting incongruously in the middle of the fish. Unorthodox perhaps, but it worked, the whole plate a tart mixture of lemons, limes and the freshest of fish.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.10.54

For a main course she was appreciative of a steak, served rare, on a skewer. We ate to the accompaniment of a chorus of gorgeous birds, whilst swatting almost manically at the equally abundant flies. Vintage cars dotted the restaurant’s garden, and a beaten up old Cessna aeroplane sat in the shade of a tree, never to fly again.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.10.46

Domain
Address: Narainen St Grand Baie, Mauritius
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: £
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.11.42A divisive one at Life at the End of a Fork. The chilli lamb, served in a frying pan, was the single best thing I ate on the island of Mauritius.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.11.55

It was perfectly spiced – putting the tongue constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but never quite pushing it over the edge – and came with a liberal dose of onions and peppers. I ate it at a frantic pace, accompanied by a delicious medley of fried rice, egg and spring onion. My partner in culinary crime was distinctly unimpressed by her fare, declaring a plate of fried chicken and seafood to be “upmarket KFC” (which sounds like a compliment to me), and her curried prawns to be dull and bland. The food was cheap, with 3 courses each and drinks coming in under £20 a head.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.11.24

Luigi’s
Address: Royal Road, Grand Baie, B13, Grand Baie
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: £
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.13.55A decent Italian restaurant near Grand Baie, given a touch of Mediterranean authenticity by the fact that the Italian lady who owned the place left the kitchen at one point to loudly berate and gesticulate at one of the customers, who sat sheepishly, holding the hand of his much younger Mauritian girlfriend.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.10.19I had some mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce, which was a little meagre, but the mussels themselves were fresh and well-cooked. My partner in culinary crime had some gauze-thin tuna carpaccio, which was a delight, salted and seasoned, and tasted as if it had been swimming blithely through the ocean only moments before.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.11.05

The list of pizzas was extensive. I ordered up pepperoni and mushroom, which was solid and filling, if a little over-greased. My partner in culinary crime wolfed down a chicken and mushroom pizza. The chocolate brownie we finished with was the nicest dessert we found in Mauritius.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 16.24.33


Morito

Address: 32 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QE
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.45.57Exmouth Market is a little oasis of restaurants in Clerkenwell, stretching from Paesan in the west to Bourne & Hollingsworth in the east, with the jewels in the middle being Moro, and its younger sibling, Morito.

These are run by the same husband and wife team, Samantha Clark (nee Clarke) and Sam Clark, who were apparently introduced by friends many moons ago because of the similarity of their names. It turns out they were both excellent cooks as well.

We stood outside Moro and Morito for a few moments, deliberating between the two. Moro, large, a little formal, a little empty at 6pm on a Tuesday night, or Morito, tiny, seats crammed against the pane of glass facing the street, pulsing with people and energy, a whir of small plates meeting wooden tables.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.40We chose the latter, and moments later found ourselves perched high at the window table nearest the door, which meant we were exposed to an arctic blast every few minutes as some cheery food pilgrim came in to enquire about availability.

Morito serves tapas, which loyal readers will know is a favourite eating form for Life at the End of a Fork. It is perfect for the indecisive eater, allowing you to order a series of meals in miniature, each one an experience unto itself.

Once ordered, the food came thick and fast, and a slight moderation of pace from the kitchen would have been appreciated as we found ourselves shifting the plates on the table into ever more intricate patterns just to make space for the next arrival.

Two small jamon and chicken croquetas dropped first.  They were good, but lacked the truly eruptive flavour of the very best croquetas we’ve had at Barafina.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.57Next appeared a mound of well-crisped aubergine, cooled with a whipped feta and date molasses concoction. Seldom have opinions been so divided at Life at the End of a Fork. My partner in culinary crime found the dish positively offensive, wrinkling her nose and reaching for her diet coke to act as a makeshift mouthwash. I found it to be perhaps the best dish of the evening: tangy, creamy, sweet, and deeply moreish. This the is the perfect sort of disagreement to have over tapas: I decided I would drag the dish in my direction and eat the whole thing, and she was happy to oblige.

A plate of bruschetta was fresh enough, with a frisson of garlic, but a little non-descript. It could have done with a little more vinegar, and the tomatoes with slightly more texture. A pair of prawns in a green pesto sauce blinked at us unappealingly, but a hard-fought war with their shells revealed the small slither of meat within to be firm, but juicy, a shot of the ocean.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.24We finished with some spiced lamb, mixed with pomegranate and pine nuts, sat on a bet of pureed aubergine, which was unequivocally delicious. The lamb had body and a thick salted flavour, the pine nuts crunched, and the pomegranate offered a sweet little kick to the whole thing.

It was a satisfying ending to a satisfying evening. Drop into Moro if you fancy something serious, something substantial. But go to Morito if you fancy a flurry of fun, a twist of Spanish soul on a little strip of London.

 


Cielo Blanco

Address: 55-57 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QL
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Sunday
Meal: Lunch
Price: £
Rating: 3/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 20.45.40I normally go into a restaurant knowing ahead of time that I am going to review it. Not on this occasion. This is an impromptu review written out of a sense of civic mindedness. Having had lunch in Cielo Blanco, it would be wrong of me not to pass on the warning: whatever else you do, never, ever eat there.

It is difficult to know where to start rubbishing this restaurant. The food was slower than if a team of sedated snails had been manning the kitchen. It took 25 minutes for a bowl of tortilla chips and guacamole to arrive. I could have nipped to the local Sainsbury’s in 5 minutes and got exactly the same produce, which is probably what they did anyway.

The food itself was an atrocity. For our main courses, we ordered Huevos Rancheros off the brunch menu. They arrived 45 minutes later, and I wish with all my heart that the wait had been much, much longer. The eggs were a deathly grey, the bacon almost inedible, the avocado lifeless. The concoction was completely tasteless, and exuded a watery, greasy liquid that makes me tremble to think of even now. The only consolation to take from the meal is that I ate it several hours ago and still haven’t succumbed to food poisoning, which is a good sign.

I didn’t take any photographs of the food (it would have been cruel to inflict them on you), but the presentation was the worst I’ve seen in a restaurant – the food was so viscerally ugly that even the Tate Modern would think twice about hanging it on their walls.

The experience was further blighted by the behaviour of the couple who sat on the table directly opposite me, smack bang in my line of sight. Now, I am the furthest thing from prudish or puritanical. Nor am I a killjoy by nature – the sound of birds chirping or the sight of a new born babe grinning both bring light into my life.

But this couple, evidently in the first flush of a particularly soppy sort of romance, spent the entire meal kissing, muzzling, stroking and petting each other. For long periods of time he just gazed into her eyes, their noses touching, and didn’t even say a word. When the food arrived, things were a little better, because they occasionally broke off eating each other’s faces to eat some actual food, although, of course, he couldn’t resist spoon-feeding her guacamole as if she was a baby, and then dispensed with the spoon all together, and just pushed little pieces of fajita into her mouth with his spindly, hairy fingers. She cooed and batted her eyelashes in response.

Turning to my sister, I tried to analyse what is so infuriating about this sort of behaviour. Is it the wanton exhibitionism? The refusal to acknowledge any distinction between public and private acts? Is it the arrogance of trying to broadcast to everyone in sight that you are in the grip of a deeper, more powerful love than they are? Perhaps it is just the sickly wetness of character it reveals.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 21.13.54

I cannot blame Cielo Blanco for the behaviour of these two repellent love-birds. But I can blame them for serving hideous food at a glacial pace, and for making my quest to locate a great Mexican restaurant seem more hopeless than ever.

 


Berners Tavern

Address: 10 Berners St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NP
Bookings: Booking required
Day: Saturday
Meal: Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 9/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 10.45.56Last weekend, I went to Berners Tavern. It is a long-standing fixture of Life at the End of a Fork’s illustrious top-ten restaurants list, notable both for the food it serves and the impressive room in which that serving takes place.

The joyous occasion was my younger brother’s birthday, and so after spending the afternoon hunting around Covent Garden for a suitable gift (he narrowly missed a set of black working socks and blue tie), I headed off to Fitzrovia to meet the family.

Regretfully, my partner in culinary crime was absent from the dinner, marooned outside London because Greater Anglia had closed various train lines for the weekend, presumably because one of their staff had spotted a rogue leaf on one of the tracks and had called in a full bomb squad to remove it. Given her absence, apologies in advance for the dearth of photographs, and the dark, blurry quality of the only one that does exist from the meal.

But back to the restaurant. Berners Tavern couldn’t be less like a tavern if it tried. It is one of the most spectacular dining rooms in London, vast in area, the ceiling high and ornate, and every single inch of the walls smothered in paintings. The paintings may be of variable quality, but their combined effect is dazzling, making the place both very majestic and a little surreal.

I ordered a 2-person slow cooked Herdwick lamb shoulder, which came with potatoes, roasted sprouts, and a sprinkling of bacon, bathed in lamb sauce. I split the dish with my dad. Having eaten lamb the last time I visited Berners Tavern, I was forewarned of its gargantuan size, and so broke the habit of a life-time by not ordering a starter.

This decision was not regretted. The lamb was glorious, so tender as to practically disintegrate at the touch of a fork, wholesome and hearty. We dug into it with genuine joy, even conversation ceasing briefly as reverence for what we were eating took hold. The sprouts and the potatoes were simple, perfect companions.

My siblings and mum ordered steaks and some sort of fish that I was too lamb-fixated to enquire after, but there were certainly no complaints.

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 10.45.56There was one odd distraction. Midway through the meal a woman in a white, wispy dress, her faced blanched white with powder, her eyes sad and lifeless, her arms outstretched, came walking slowly into the dining room from the adjacent hotel lobby. She began to step softly from table to table, running her hand across the backs of people’s chairs, pausing to bat her eyelids mournfully, to sigh heavily. For a moment, I genuinely believed that a raving lunatic was in our midst – perhaps that some wealthy lady staying in the adjoined hotel had just uncovered a husband’s infidelity and been driven to insanity on the spot, and was now venting it on some hapless diners.

But as the staff stood by either smiling or ignoring her, I recalled that it was Halloween weekend, and that this was just one more piece of theatricality from a pretty theatrical restaurant.

If you live in London, Berners Tavern is one of those restaurants you must dine in at least once in your life.

 


Margot

Address: 45 Great Queen St, London WC2B 5AA
Bookings: No booking
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

My partner in culinary crime and I have two lifestyle objectives at the moment. 1) To spend less money; 2) To consume fewer calories. Neither of these two objectives are conducive to the writing of a food blog. Both become almost impossible if you are overwhelmingly greedy and surrounded by some of the best restaurants in the world.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 17.31.01And so it was, that earlier this week, only hours after piously agreeing to dine frugally on a few leaves of lettuce and diced tomatoes in my flat – possibly to be followed by a brisk run through a leafy park – we found ourselves slumped in one of the more decadent, expensive and calorific restaurants in Central London: Margot.

Margot is an Italian restaurant on Great Queen Street, just around the corner from Covent Garden. Everything inside is low-slung, symmetrical, squeaky clean, glamorously lit, soft, deep-green, inviting banquettes lining the walls, glasses and wine bottles hanging behind the bar, refracting the lights. Everything exudes a calmness and a confidence, a world within a world, detached from the babble of the streets outside. The waiters, masters in their realm, glide from table to table, dispensing bread with a polite serenity, if even if they do look faintly ludicrous in full dinner jackets, complete with bowties.

And the food was good too. We started off with a large plate of hams and cheeses, including a well-aged Parma ham, a solid, earthy salami, a firm goat’s cheese, and another softer, creamier cheese (I forgot to ask the waiter which particular barnyard animal we were indebted to for the last of these).

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 17.30.42For my main course, I had a bowl of tonnarelli pasta with clams, parsley and chilli. The tonnarelli, thick and squarish, was perfectly cooked, firm and al dente, the ideal companion for some fresh little clams. I would have wished it a little hotter from the chilli, but it seems rude to complain about pasta this nice.

My partner in culinary crime had a tuna carpaccio, which the restaurant happily agreed to upsize from a starter to a main course. When the fish arrived it brought the freshness of the ocean with it, sharp and tart, a zip of lemon infusing it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 17.22.02

We finished with a milk chocolate and hazelnut fondant, with meringue and a deep cherry sauce, which was ceremoniously set on fire in front of us. Since we had no warning, and were dazzled by the act of pyromania occurring under our noses, my partner in culinary crime was a little slow on the draw with her camera, so we only caught the dessert in the smouldering aftermath of its glory. It was rich and mysterious, even if the meringue could have done with a little more crunch.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 17.22.48A good, confident restaurant that you will never be embarrassed to recommend to anyone. It just slightly lacks that element of creativity or twist of culinary genius required to elevate it right to the top of the London restaurant scene, but is knocking on the door of Life at the End of a Fork’s top ten list.


Sticks’n’Sushi

Address: 11 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8PY
Bookings: No booking
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 5.5/10

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.43.33

The irritatingly named Sticks ‘n’ Sushi is just off Covent Garden, on Henrietta Street. Apparently it is based on a Danish “concept”, which I think means that the décor is minimalist, and the furniture may or may not come from Ikea.

Either way, the place was bulging with diners on a Wednesday evening, and so we were seated downstairs at the bar, the whir of the kitchen occurring right under our noses. Bewildered by the enormous and chaotic menu (which comes in the form of an album with every single dish photographed), we pointed at the two-person Gala set menu and sat back to sip a pair of diet cokes.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.43.50

The Gala menu turned out to be absurdly large. Certainly, it was far too large for two people, unless those two people were a pair of sumo wrestlers bulking in anticipation of a yokozuna title bout. Some of things on this smorgasbord were nice. These included edamame beans, which I ate compulsively, and some delicious scallops with trout roe and miso aioli.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.57.32Other dishes were less satisfactory. A plate of beef tataki with smoked cheese, chives and almonds (a fairly disgusting combination even to read) looked so incredibly grey and sickly, so like a corpse in a morgue, that I didn’t even dare have a bite. My partner in culinary crime, showing courage, ate one, and then pushed the plate as far away from her as was possible without actually tossing it onto the floor.

A bowl of tuna tartare was decent, but nothing to write home about. The final dish to arrive was a plate with three pairs of skewered meats; chicken, lamb chops, and duck. These were difficult to eat because they had been smothered in so much salt that each mouthful had to be accompanied by a gulp of water to stop the body rejecting it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.44.21

Compounding this, the Japanese sushi chef who stood in front of us rolling maki and chopping sashimi spent the evening snorting so violently and loudly that I wondered whether he was trying to inhale the entire room up his nose. By the end of the meal I wanted nothing more in the world that to unite this poor man with a tissue and instruct him on how to use it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.44.08The atmosphere in the place was lively and the staff were friendly. A certain sort of diner will like Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, but on balance, we did not.