Angler

Address: South Place Hotel, 3 South Pl, London EC2M 2AF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Monday Night
Meal: Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.32.20Here’s a fact of no interest to anyone but the writers of this blog: Angler is the nearest Michelin-starred restaurant to our offices, sitting within a hundred yards of my desk, at the top of the South Place Hotel, Broadgate.

Because of some ingrained suspicion of City restaurants, we’d never visited it. But last week, in the noble spirit of overturning prejudices and recklessly splurging money the day after payday, we found ourselves in the lifts of the South Place Hotel, heading skywards.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.32.38The first thing to say about Angler is that it looks good. The dining room is long, sleek and elegant, business-like but fun. Its sloping windows make it feel strangely small and intimate. We arrived before the restaurant even opened, and were shown out onto a terrace. This space has a retractable roof which is opened for parties in the summer, but so greenhouse like were its enormous, sun-capturing windows that even on a chilly early-spring evening we felt warmed.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.32.50The sofas on the terrace were so comfortable, and the room so sunlit, I almost fell asleep in between sips of my merlot, and if it wasn’t for the sparklingly lively conversational skills of my partner in culinary crime (or was it her kicking me under the table?) the waiter would probably have had to wake me when the table was ready. You also get a decent view of London from both the restaurant and the terrace, although this view is getting trimmed on an almost monthly basis, as office after office sprouts on the City skyline, swallowing up relative minnows like the South Place Hotel.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.32.29We ordered the 6-course tasting menu, which was supplemented by an assortment of tiny snacks. Snacks probably conjures up images of a piece of cheddar on a ritz cracker, or a small plate of prawn cocktail crisps. Our snack was an exquisite little wild boar arancini, with a squid ink cracker covered in taramasalata, and another with a whip of garlic, butter and wild mushrooms on it. Not pub food exactly.

From there the courses came thick and fast: a tartare of yellowfin tuna with little mounds of muted, cooled wasabi to give it the slightest of kicks; roasted octopus with Suffolk potatoes, which managed to escape the rubbery destiny of most of octopus; roasted mullet with yet more octopus.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.33.01Each dish was small, light and well measured. I did find myself pausing occasionally and wishing I would find something on my plate that had not been dredged out of the ocean, some four-legged creature raised on a farm or shot in the sky. Even my partner in culinary crime, whose ideal diet would be similar to that of a basking shark, looked as if she was beginning to want some break from the sea.

But on we pushed. And the last savoury dish turned out to be the best one: a white Talbot on a gleaming white plate, with Japanese mushrooms and squid, and a Japanese sauce poured across it. It was warm, aromatic, crisped, subtly flavoured.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.33.11The desserts of Yorkshire rhubarb and chocolate pave were okay, but the Yorkshire rhubarb was flavoured with ginger, which I absolutely loathe, and by this time we were dangerously full anyway.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.33.18Angler is jostling for entry at the foot of our top ten restaurants list. Lima Floral and Sosharu are probably the restaurants currently in the top ten that are closest to being forced to walk the plank. One of them will likely be evicted this coming week, and the other will likely receive a stay of execution. Neither one will receive a last meal. The tension mounts.

Regardless, Angler is an excellent restaurant, tucked in the heart of the City, and deserves more attention.

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Rules

Address: 34-35 Maiden Ln, London WC2E 7LB
Bookings:  Booked
Day:  Friday night
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 20.52.46I think it’s one of the marks of a civilised society that people find things more interesting the older they are. But as a student of history, I’m probably biased. For me, a room is a more interesting if interesting things have happened there, if fascinating people have walked through it and talked in it. Places are enriched by their stories.

It was this magnetism of the past that drew us to Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule. Over the next several centuries it has hosted some of the world’s greatest actors (Laurence Olivier and Charlie Chaplin were regulars), Charles Dickens scribbled ideas for his novels at its cramped tables, Edward VII held secret meetings with his lover, Lillie Langtry, in its private dining room, and a bomb fell on it during the Blitz. There has been much water under this bridge since it first started hawking oysters 220 years ago.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 20.52.56Does that make its food taste any nicer? Not really. If I was judging Rules purely on the basis of culinary quality, I wouldn’t shout its name from the rooftops. It serves heavy, solid food in the classic British style, the menu rich with hare, deer, pheasant, pigeon and quail, anything that can be shot in a field essentially. Indeed, Rules sources much of its game meat from the Lartington Estate, which is owned by John Mayhew, also the proprietor of the restaurant.

I ordered a middlewhite pork terrine to the start, which came with piccalilli and toast. It was a big wedge of meat, thick and tasty. But it wasn’t bursting with the earthy, farm-rich flavours of the very best terrine. There was something subtle missing from it.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 20.53.19My partner in culinary crime had smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, which in most places would have been considered a hearty brunch, but at Rules is just a tantalising warm-up for the main event.

For my main-course, I had a grilled leg of lamb, spiced up with some curried spinach, big boulders of potato, and minted yoghurt. Think British country pub meets India. The lamb was good quality, but slightly burnt, and then served freezing cold, which was an unusual combination: as you bit into the chilly flesh the charcoaled flavour gave a taunting reminder that once upon a time this meat must have been hot.

My partner in culinary crime ate a Gressingham duck breast, bathed in a beetroot puree. She reported it as delicious, on a par with the legendary duck we were once served at Comptoir Gascon, opposite Smithfield Market, so many moons ago. For once, size was what let Rules down. My partner in culinary crime was left searching the plate in vain for a final morsel of duck.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 20.52.33Finally, we shared a bread and butter pudding, with prunes and custard. It was simple, warm, familiar and comforting, nothing extraneous or extravagant, made just as bread and butter pudding should be.

And all this is served in a unique set of surroundings, creaky old stair cases, faded, frayed carpets, thousands of paintings of long-dead grandees wearing monocles or hunting foxes, stuffed pheasants glaring from the walls, and a rather alarming, more than life-sized, mural of Margaret Thatcher as Britannia triumphantly standing over the Falkland Islands. This is a proudly British restaurant, with a legendary past, a vibrant present, and occasionally suspect food. A little bit like the country then.

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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!


Dining in Portugal

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 18.20.54This week, Life at the End of a Fork is coming to you from The Algarve, Portugal. With London no longer able to contain our culinary explorations, we have struck out across the ocean (leapt on a Ryanair flight) and arrived on the southernmost tip of Portugal.

Now, there is a certain sort of diabolical coastal restaurant that springs up in towns catering to large volumes of tourists. They tend to have enormous boards outside with faded photographs of stale looking burgers, or rubbery eggs that a dog could use as a chew-toy, whilst swarthy looking waiters strut along the pavement trying to coax passersby to part with their money. 

Within, they serve food that makes you feel as if the chef has hated you his entire life, and has been waiting until this very moment to seek vengeance for something you have long forgotten. It is the sort of food you feel ill watching someone else eat, that a Little Chef on the side of the M6 would be ashamed to serve.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 18.31.24During our holiday to Cyprus, last year, we naively blundered into many such places, and by the end of the trip we swore that should we venture down to Southern Europe again, we would come well-researched. And so here we are.

Over the course of the next week, we will be dining in some of the finest restaurants that The Algarve has to offer. But all these are ahead of us.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 18.21.05Last night we made do with the Hilton Hotel’s poolside grill restaurant, which served reasonable food, and offered great views, if you enjoy watching fat people fall off sun-loungers.

I ordered a salad with halloumi to start things off, which was passable, although the enormous slabs of halloumi were slightly burnt. My partner in culinary crime ordered a salmon and shrimp tartare. As far as I understand it, ‘tartare’ typically indicates raw food, so we both a little perplexed when the salmon and the shrimp arrived thoroughly cooked.

My grilled lamb was tasty and tender, whilst my partner’s steak was well-done on the outside and literally raw on the inside. Perhaps they got their tartares the wrong the way round…

On to bigger and better things!

 

 


Marcus

Address: The Berkeley, Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL
Bookings: booked with Bookatable – set menu £45 per person
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: £££ (alcohol included)
Rating: 6.5/10

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Mackerel appetiser

Our mid-week trip to Marcus, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, has me pondering exactly what the priorities of the Michelin rating agency are.

Don’t get me wrong, Marcus is in no way a bad restaurant. It is a good restaurant. The food was gorgeously presented, every course a shimmering little structure of art on the plate. A vast army of waiters and waitresses – occasionally outnumbering the diners – floated across the restaurant, immaculately mannered and well-informed, almost desperate to pull out a chair or re-fold a napkin.

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Cured Salmon

The food itself was pleasant. My partner in culinary crime enjoyed a starter of cured salmon, calamansi, shallot and cucumber, a cooling, refreshing number that livened up the palette without burdening the stomach. I had a pork belly, with carrot, mustard and rose, which was satisfying enough, although the rose did give it an overly perfumed quality.

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Pork belly

For the main event, I ate a roasted cod with a green bean sauce, with shrimps littered around the perimeter of the fish. The cod, not typically the most exciting of fish, was nevertheless well-cooked, whilst my partner’s steak was rich and succulent.

One of the major pleasures of eating in a restaurant like Marcus is to watch with fascination the endless parade of multi-millionaire foreigners who inhabit Knightsbridge and eat in its restaurants. At the other side of the room sat two Chinese people, barely out of their teens, who spent the entire evening texting, showing far more interest in their mobile phones than in their food, and certainly more than in each other, although I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover they were texting each other.

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Roasted Cod

In the middle of the restaurant a bulbous, bearded Russian man, with the build of a wrestler, entertained two blonde compatriots, bellowing jokes at the top of his lungs and laughing uproariously as he gradually slipped further and further down his chair. And on the other side of the room a young boy of perhaps 11 sat with his hoodie up over his head, sulking next to a stressed looking nanny as he prepared to tuck into hundreds of pounds worth of food. Ah, the variety of life!

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Beef fillet (£12 supplement)

There are only 11 restaurants in all of London with 2 or more Michelin stars. 11! And to my mind, there is no way Marcus is one of the best 11 restaurants in the capital judged purely on the basis of food. I have eaten better at Barafina, at Otto’s, at Ember Yard, to name just a few.

Michelin seems to be infatuated with an old-world style of service, the hovering waiter, the perfectly presented dish, the elegant surroundings, that doesn’t resonate all that much with me. We booked through Bookatable, and the set-menu was excellent value.

 

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Bookatable – set menu £45