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.

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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.


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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.


Kimchee

Address: 71 High Holborn, London WC1V 6EA
Bookings: Walked in
Day: Saturday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 5/10

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 17.24.07I have on many an occasion seen long lines of Koreans shivering in the cold outside Kimchee, on High Holborn. I have just as often been told that the best barometer for the quality of an Asian restaurant is its popularity with the relevant local Asian community. Putting these two elements together, I decided this weekend to pay the place a visit, accompanied, of course, by my partner in culinary crime (PICC).

Normally, a restaurant review focuses mainly on the food eaten, interspersed with a comment or two on the physical appearance of the premises, with perhaps a nod to the service received. But in Kimchee, the staff warrant more than simply an off-hand comment. They were most fascinating thing about the place.

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First, let me dispense with the food. It was mediocre. Not offensive. Not memorable. I ate my way through some mildly pleasant beef bulgogi, marinated in a ginger and soy sauce, whilst my PICC ate a chopped-up rib-eye steak. Speaking slowly and clearly, she asked that the steak be medium-rare, but fifteen minutes later it arrived looking like it had been barbecued by Steve Irwin. Whatever morsel of flavour had ever resided in the poor beast had been thoroughly cooked out of it, leaving something chewy and flavourless.

Our vegetable dumplings were tasty, piping hot and retained some structure, unlike the gelatinous, watery dumplings I’ve had the misfortune to encounter at other Korean restaurants. All in all, the food was okay, perhaps worth crossing the road for if your stomach is already rumbling, but certainly not worth queuing for on a bleak winter’s evening, no matter how many Korean diners appear to think otherwise.

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 17.21.52Unless, of course, you go there to marvel at the bizarre behaviour of waiters and waitresses. We were seated a yard or two away from a large bin at the mouth of the kitchen, and on at least three occasions staff members lobbed food and other waste cleared from the tables at the bin, as if they were playing a game of basketball, and on each occasion, they missed the target with at least some of what was thrown, and then walked away as if nothing had happened.

Over the course of the meal, a small mound of detritus accumulated at the foot of the bin. A pair of used chopsticks which missed their target so severely that they then bounced back onto the floor of the dining area itself, were kicked around by waiters as they loafed around taking orders. The poor little sticks must have been booted a dozen times. I was almost moved to pick the things up and bin them myself, but was worried the staff would accuse me of interrupting their game of football.

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 17.21.30It wasn’t that the staff were rude when taking our orders. They smiled. They grinned. It was more that they simply had no notion of restaurant – or indeed human-  etiquette. From where had these bizarre specimens been recruited? Perhaps in an attempt to push down staff costs the owners had raided a mental asylum. At least they looked to be enjoying themselves. More than we were, in any case.


M Restaurant

Address: 2-3 Threadneedle St, London EC2R 8AY
Bookings: Booked through Bookatable – 4 courses and free-flowing Prosecco for £36.50
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

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Friday night saw us dining in the City for a special occasion. It was none other than my partner in culinary crime (PICC)’s mother’s birthday, and thus an event worth celebrating in considerable style.

We went to M, a restaurant opened by Martin Williams, the former managing director of Gaucho, and a man who knows his way around a slab of steak. Several were ordered to the table, and although I did not partake of them myself, I have it on the authority of my PICC’s Dad (himself a chef of much skill and experience) that the meat was subtle and tender, its only flaw being that there was not more of it. This opinion was endorsed by the birthday girl herself, as well my PICC, both seasoned carnivores.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.03.52With a holiday in the Mauritius looming, I am attempting to shed half a stone, and so I reluctantly shunned any red-meat, restricting myself to a beetroot risotto, which had a good consistency, the rice properly softened whilst retaining the slightest of crunches.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.04.07Having said that, I have always believed that a meal entirely without meat is a meal wasted, and so I did also order up a plate of buttermilk fried chicken as an entrée, probably cancelling out any modest health benefits conferred by the risotto. It is nearly impossible to make fried chicken anything other than delicious (KFC has been trying unsuccessfully for almost 100 years), and I tore through it like a wildfire.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.04.27The side orders were less appealing. Several of us made the mistake of ordering buttered mushrooms. If it had been a blind-tasting, I would have guessed that I was eating a particularly bland piece of cardboard. In a desperate attempt to wring some flavour from these lifeless fungi, I salted them so heavily that they probably had the sodium content of the Dead Sea, but it was all in the vain.

The restaurant itself is enormous, and populated mainly by City types, by which I mean men in suits and women who only emerge in the City after darkness settles, and totter around in precipitously high-heels whilst drinking copious volumes of prosecco.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.03.01The bathrooms contained Japanese toilets with heated seats and complicated waterworks, the slightest movement in their vicinity prompting spouts of water to shoot in all directions. Walking into the bathroom I was accosted by a band of drunken Australians who were mesmerised by these contraptions, and begged me to try them out.

All in all, M is a good restaurant for anyone in the City looking for a red-blooded dinner in a lively, energised environment. Or a homesick Japanese tourist. Half the experience of dining is the company you’re keeping, and mine couldn’t have been better.


El Pastor

Address:  6-7A Stoney St, London SE1 9AA
Bookings: no booking
Day: Tuesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.56I once had delicious Mexican food as a child. Once. Every other Mexican restaurant since has been a disappointment. In vain I have searched for the perfect taco, the delectable burrito, the delightful quesadilla. Instead, I have had to sift through endless portions of wet, greasy, rubber-cheesed stodge from Wahaca and Chilangos. Even La Bodega Negra, the popular Mexican restaurant in Soho, left me unmoved. 

So, when I heard that the owners of Barafina, one of my favourite restaurants in all of London, had opened a Mexican restaurant in Borough Market, I gathered up my partner in culinary crime and headed straight for it, feeling sure that the long voyage in search of great Mexican food was finally at an end… it is not.

As with Barafina, El Pastor cannot be booked ahead of time. Despite it being early-ish, and mid-week, all of the main tables were already occupied when we arrived, and so we were seated on some stools at a little table by the door. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.03These stools felt as if they had been designed by an ergonomic genius to be maximumly uncomfortable. They were also so ridiculously high that I felt myself suffering from vertigo as I sat perched on one, sipping a pineapple juice as I tried desperately not to look down. The problem was compounded by the fact that one of the stool’s legs was shorter than the other, so that each time I shifted my weight the whole thing rocked violently, threatening to send me hurtling down to the floor below.

We ordered up a batch of tacos, half of them chicken and the other half marinated pork shoulder. My partner in culinary crime took a bite of the chicken taco before recoiling in horror, the spicy heat of the thing turning her mouth into an inferno, and sending her diving onto the nearby bowl of guacamole in desperate search of some sort of coolant. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.52.25This guacamole was, incidentally, the best thing about the restaurant; thick and full-bodied, infused with lime and viscerally fresh, we made our way through 2 bowls, dipping tortilla chips compulsively into the green paste. 

Next to arrive at the table was a greasy little cheese quesadilla. It sat small and plaintive on the plate, a bit of cheese oozing unappealingly out of the corner. The tortilla casing was utterly flavourless, and we ended up prising it off to eat the moderately nice cheese inside.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.54.23Lastly, we ate a tuna tostada, sprinkled with lime and sesame seeds. This was nice enough, but by then it was far too late to salvage El Pastor. 

So the search goes on. Did I merely dream it, all those years ago as a child? Is there no such thing as excellent Mexican food? Or are we just looking in the wrong places? To all our loyal readers, point us in the right direction, show us the way to El Dorado.


Envy – Amsterdam

Address: Prinsengracht 381I, 1016 HL Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bookings: booking
Day: Saturday
Meal: dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 18.59.31Life at the End of a Fork has once again stretched its wings, this time finding itself in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is ridiculously easy to get to from London: we had barely taken our seats on our EasyJet flight at Southend-on-Sea – surrounded by utterly inebriated stag-parties dribbling on themselves and irritating the air hostesses – before we were being told to fasten our seatbelts for the descent. From the reception of my office in London to the door of my hotel room in Amsterdam, barely 4-hours elapsed.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 18.52.54Now, Amsterdam is not considered a centre of gastronomic excellence, but being food hounds we made it our business to try and sniff out whatever gems did exist. On Saturday night, we found ourselves in Envy, a long, dimly-lit restaurant that fronts out onto one of Amsterdam’s many canals. A small, eclectic menu consisted of tapas, our waitress advising 4 dishes per head. This seemed daunting, but we never need much encouragement to over-order, and so started demanding most of the things on the menu and she scribbled furiously to keep-up.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 18.53.07First to land on the table was a petite little steak tartare, with bell pepper and zucchini artfully arranged across the top of it. It was sharp and fresh, but it was impossible to eat this little purple disc of raw beef without having flashbacks to the full-bodied, ragingly flavoursome steak tartare we have had so many times at Otto’s, in Holborn. Otto’s has effectively ruined steak tartare by making lesser variants pale in comparison, a point my partner in culinary crime made as she mournfully ate her way through this lesser substitute.

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Next, we had a tomato, peach and pesto concoction, with shards of lime meringue on the side. It was inventive and delicious, the meringue a perfect scoop for the cool, succulent tomatoes and sweet slices of peach. This dish was partnered with a sort of egg soup. The egg, our waitress proudly informed us, had been cooked at exactly 62 degrees, before having artichoke and garlic added to it. The result was fantastic, as lovely to look at as it was to gulp by the spoonful.

Throughout the dinner there was an inventiveness and a panache to the cooking that I had to admire. The flavour pairings were unusual; the food looked bold; the kitchen throbbed with youth and energy. Sometimes they fell short: if I never again have a slimy nugget of foie gras wrapped inside a ball of white chocolate then I certainly won’t complain. Their lobster with mushroom, asparagus and citrus sauce was small, insubstantial and rubbery.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 18.58.35But I was never bored during the meal, and not only because of the sparkling conversation of my partner in culinary crime! I knew that whatever came out of the kitchen would be different, well-thought through. We finished with a plate of soft cheeses, 3 Dutch and 1 Belgian, 1 from a goat, 1 from a sheep and 2 from a cow. They lay in ascending order of flavour. Each was delicious, a credit to their respective countries and animals.

So, next time a long weekend beckons and you feel like stretching your wings, consider Amsterdam, and drop into this bold little hub of cooking.