Terry’s Cafe

Address:  158 Great Suffolk St, London SE1 1PE
Bookings:  Walk ins only
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  Breakfast/lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 7 /10

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 16.29.41We spent last week in Tuscany. There are many things that the Tuscans understand about la bella vita, but making edible bread certainly isn’t one of them. If any Italian tells you differently, then their taste buds have been severely brainwashed.

I was reminded of this fact again this morning, at Terry’s Café, on Great Suffolk Street, Borough, as I buttered up some inch-thick bloomer bread. It was soft, fluffy, wholesome, and, vitally (listen up Tuscans!), salted. And butter! Why, oh why, oh why would anyone, anywhere in the world, serve bread without butter? It seems almost perverse. They are one of the great double acts of culinary history, along with lemon and salmon, ketchup and chips, pasta and cheese. To keep them apart seems almost cruel. And yet the Tuscans do.

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 16.33.56Never mind, we’re back in England now, and all is right. Terry’s Café is a grand little place decorated with old black and white photos of cockney market stall owners, bobbies on the beat, and women cheerily helping with the war effort. Union Jacks deck the walls, a photo of the Queen resplendently watches over assembled diners, and china plates commemorate various royal weddings or national anniversaries. In other words, it is a sort of pastiche of 1950s England, a restaurant harking back to a homelier time when Britannia still just about ruled the waves.

It also serves a mean breakfast. I ordered an Austin’s BLT Special, which was the aforementioned bloomer bread just about managing to restrain a riot of egg, bacon, lettuce, cheese, tomato and mayonnaise. It was simple, basic, hearty and delicious. As I took bite after bite, I felt myself marching towards a classic Saturday morning food coma, but I was unable to stop myself. The taste was worth the lethargy. This is how a sandwich should be made, the sort of thing that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, would have wrapped up and taken on a hunting trip, to sustain himself in-between pursuing foxes and spearing stags.

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 16.29.53My partner in culinary crime ordered the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (what else?) and proceeded to drown the salmon many times over in lemon juice (there’s that combo again!). She reported the salmon fantastic, and the scrambled eggs golden, smooth and delicious, well beaten and well buttered.

Complete with two glasses of very fresh orange juice (which you would have been lucky to get in the real 1950s England) and some thumping breakfast tea, the whole bill comes to less than £30.

Terry’s Café is not Michelin type food. It doesn’t remotely aspire to be. But there aren’t any cafes I’ve visited in London that do what it does as well as it does it. It’s the best of its kind. Which only a cluster of restaurants can claim to be. So if you’re a sucker for a bit of wistful nostalgia or a hearty fry-up, or if you’re a wandering Tuscan looking to learn how bread should taste, take a trip to Terry’s one morning (it closes at 2pm).


Dining in Barcelona

Despite the U.K. deciding to adopt a Mediterranean climate for the duration of the summer, a few weeks ago we decided it was time to head south for our second trip to the continent this year. For four days, we took our gourmet game to Barcelona, the city of wide, imperious avenues, upscale brands, crooked little backstreets, surreal architecture, football and beaches. A trip to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia presented a building the like of which neither of us had ever seen before: vast, irregular, part gothic, part Walt Disney, clusters of bizarre towers sprouting towards the sky. It’s hard to know what to think of it. The cathedral attracts more than 3mn visitors a year, but was described by George Orwell as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”

But you can’t eat La Sagrada Familia, and so it is not a fitting subject for this blog. So on to the restaurants!

Can Ramonet 

Address:  Calle Maquinista, 17, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 6 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 10.32.49A decent seafood restaurant situated down in the Barceloneta district. With the Mediterranean ocean gently lapping at the beach only 200 yards from their kitchen, Can Ramonet serves some very fresh fish, prawns and clams. We ordered a seafood paella, which only came in 2-person portions, which was irritating, because my partner in culinary crime, despite loving both seafood and rice when served separately, refuses to eat even a single morsel when the two are blended in a frying pan. I was therefore left with a vast mound of dark, ocean flavoured rice, full of mussels, clams and squid, and four long prawns perched on top, their black beady eyes glaring malevolently at me. This paella was tasty, but needless to say there was far too much for me to handle.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 10.33.00We also had a plate of ham, some plump, light-as-a-feather croquettes, and some pan con tomate that was so soggy it felt like it too had spent the morning bobbing around in the Mediterranean, before being fished out and given five minutes under a hair dryer. Stop at this restaurant if you’re walking past it, but don’t travel across the city to eat there.

 

Txapela

Address:  Passeig de Gràcia, 58, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  walk in
Day:  Monday
Meal:  Brunch
Price: ££
Rating: 2 /10

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 20.45.40A monstrous restaurant on the broad Passeig de Gràcia, a street famous for its high-end fashion shops, and indeed it would have been more pleasant to eat a crocodile skin handbag or a sharp stiletto than anything served up in this dismal spot. The food consisted of ready-made tapas that sat on a glass counter in front of the diners, and we were treated to the unappetising spectacle of flies buzzing around what we were about to eat, the only saving grace being that most of the flies did a few laps of the dishes and then flew off uninterested, probably heading towards the toilets in search of something less disgusting. Despite the food being already prepared, it took twenty minutes to cross the two yards that separated it from our table. There are glaciers that move much faster than that. Meanwhile, a waiter behind the bar managed to break the orange juice presser, and then flounce off in a strop, and so we didn’t even get our drinks (although they were included in the first edition of the bill). When the food did arrive, it was tasteless and stale. We paid the bill and then went straight around the corner into a McDonalds, which tasted like the Fat Duck in comparison.

Restaurant 7 Portes 

Address:  Passeig d’Isabel II, 14, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.02Our favourite restaurant in Barcelona, where I ate a phenomenal bowl of squid ink paella, which was as black as a lump of coal, and thumping with flavour. I blended it on my plate with a delightfully garlicky aioli sauce, and each mouthful was full bodied, salty, dark and tangy, a mysterious quality to the flavour. I washed it down with five glasses of red wine, so by the time I finished my meal my lips and tongue looked like I’d swallowed a gallon of oil.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.09My partner in culinary crime, one of the world’s great experts in raw fish, enjoyed her tuna tartare, which came with avocado, freshly chopped tomatoes, and a hint of lemon. We also ate some glistening ham, and some crusty, slightly harsh pan con tomate. This is one of Barcelona’s oldest restaurants and has a slightly faded, decaying charm. Definitely worth a visit.

 

Bar jai-ca

Address:  Carrer de Ginebra, 13, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  walk in
Day:  Sunday
Meal:  Lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 7 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.34.28Cracking little tapas bar just off Port Vell, near the beach. The portions were gargantuan, the prices modest. My only complaint is that our waiter didn’t talk us down from ordering six different tapas dishes. My idea of tapas is a small little plate of food that you can polish off in five bites, but that isn’t the scale worked to at Bar jai-ca, or many of the restaurants we went to in Barcelona.

We gorged ourselves to the point of ruin on fresh, eating zesty little fried tiny squid, a big plate of ruby red Spanish ham, a bowl of padron peppers, salted and fried. A wonderfully simple Greek salad, the tart little bits of feta cheese, healthy, well-juiced tomatoes and simple vinaigrette, was perfect for a summer’s day. I barely touched the tomato bread, taking one bite and immediately seeing that it was, as so many times during our trip, the weakest thing on the menu. There is certainly scope for a quality bakery to be established in Barcelona. By the time our plate of manchego cheese arrived, the waiters had to drag a wooden stool over to accommodate it. If you visit the beach, drop in here for lunch.

Hisop Restaurant

Address:  Passatge de Marimon, 9, 08021 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 7 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.35This was our foray into the Michelin-starred world of Spanish restaurants, with Hisop the owner of a star since 2010. We both ordered the 7-course tasting menu. Some of the dishes were very nice, but in general it felt like Hisop was going through the motions of modern Michelin-starredness, with the unusual flavour combinations, the intriguing presentation, the allusions to classic dishes, but with each dish falling slightly short of that mark. There was a verve and a magic missing from the kitchen. Their smoked eggplant with comte cheese and squid sat wet and stodgy on our plates, almost a bit embarrassed of itself.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.47The final dish, a piquillo red pepper stuffed with white chocolate and vanilla, was inedible, and even good manners couldn’t get me through more than one bite of it. My takeaway from the dish was not: “oh what a fascinating combination, why haven’t I seen that before?”, but rather, “piquillo peppers must never, ever, ever be allowed in the same room at the same time with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. On pain of death.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.15On the flip-side, a bowl of cold green tomato soup, like a gazpacho, was sharp and delicious, with a triplet of rich, succulent chunks of veal bobbing happily in the middle of it. Some steak with artichokes was nice, whilst a selection of cheeses were laid out from strongest to weakest, a little edible dairy tour of Europe. A decent restaurant (and not too expensive by Michelin standards), but not a highlight to build a trip around.

 

 

Headed to Tuscany in the not too distant future, so watch out for that!


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.

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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!

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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!


Padella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dining in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sayonara for now!


St John Bread and Wine

Address: 94-96 Commercial St, London E1 6LZ
Bookings: no booking
Day: Friday
Meal: dinner
Price: £££ (including alcohol)
Rating: 8/10

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.14.10Probably the best restaurant in the City, St John Bread and Wine is based on Commercial Street, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station, in the shadow of Christ Church, Spitalfields. It is an offshoot of St. John restaurant in Smithfield, Farringdon, which was opened by Fergus Henderson in 1994, the eccentric looking chef with no formal training but a positive genius for taking neglected cuts of meat that people would normally run from in horror (think offal, or worse), and turning them into mouth-wateringly delectable dishes. Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.14.21St. John became a smash hit, nose to tail eating a culinary phenomenon, and Fergus Henderson a celebrity chef. In 2003, he opened his second restaurant, St. John Bread and Wine, which is where we found ourselves on Friday night.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.15.14St John Bread and Wine is a safe place to discover food. Its menu, changing and shuffling on a daily basis, is a treasure trove of surprises, rarities and oddities, along with the odd established classic. And because everything is always so fantastically cooked and flawlessly thought-out, closing your eyes and ordering bone marrow, or a serving of pig’s trotters, doesn’t really feel like such a risk. There is a sense of trust between diner and chef: if anyone can do it well, then St John Bread and Wine will do it well.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.14.31Having said all of the above, we weren’t remotely adventurous in our selection of dishes on Friday. We started off with a Welsh Rarebit, which I thought I’d never eaten before, only because I’d forgotten it was simply cheese on toast. However, true to form, St John Bread and Wine contrived to make the most childish of all dishes an excellent warm-up act: the cheese was loosened with milk and was a bubbling, golden colour, laid out on top of soft, absorbent bread an inch thick. A dash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce gave the cheese a little sharpness.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.14.49Next up was perhaps the nicest pork terrine I have ever had in my life. It had an earthy, deep flavour to it, layered and subtle, and on at least a dozen separate occasions in the 24-hours since sitting eating the last forkful I have found myself day-dreaming of it, which is becoming a little worrying. A fresh tomato salad complemented it well.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.14.00A plate of cheeses ran the gamut of the farm, with goats, sheep and cow cheese, accompanied by quince and a stack of little oat cakes. Finally, we ordered venison, which came on a bed of white cabbage studded with little pieces of fried bacon. The venison was soft and succulent, the heart of each chunk almost as red as a strawberry.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.15.23My partner in culinary crime then ordered a bread and butter pudding with butter scotch sauce for dessert. The dish was so delicious that it rendered her speechless, which is an almost impossible thing to do, but always very welcome when it happens. She gobbled it down in record speed, scarcely pausing to breathe, before describing it as: “moist, warm… unbelievable.”Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 00.15.01

Anyone serious about restaurants must visit this place.