Banh Mi Bay

Address:  4-6 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8PN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.49I may have eaten at Banh Mi Bay in Holborn a hundred times, and in the words of a certain famous French cabaret singer: non je ne regrette rien.

Yes, convenience played a part. I could have punted a Vietnamese spring roll over the restaurant from my front door. But then again, you don’t make weekly missions to every restaurant over which you can kick or toss small items of food. No, Banh Mi Bay’s magnetism derives from the fact that it serves up consistently excellent food, to take away or to eat in, for less than £10. Each time, every time. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.35When taking out, I normally order the chargrilled chicken and boiled rice, which comes with a bundle of fresh vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, and two pots of sauce, one fire-hot red chilli, the other a kind of Vietnamese soy sauce. The chicken is always grilled to perfection, trim and succulent, the rice sticky and light. The whole dish has a fresh and clean feel, healthy and simple.

Last week, I dropped in with my partner in culinary crime, a debutante at the restaurant. The place itself is simple: a huge glass panel window that faces the street; an open kitchen with a grill; twenty or so wooden tables with rickety little chairs.

I ordered the five spice lamb, marinated overnight and fried in a wok with peppers and succulent onions, served in a drop-dead soy and honey sauce. Outrageously nice. The whole ensemble came sizzling and spitting on a platter, the soft lamb and juicy onions browning before my eyes, the heat bubbling through the food as I speared at it with a fork. The rich fragrance came smoking off the platter, and for a moment it felt like I was in some ramshackle food market outside of Hanoi. I had a bowl of fried rice on the side, the grains crisp and aromatic.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.43My partner in culinary crime wolfed down a bowl of stir-fried flat rice noodles with fat little prawns, crispy shards of onion scattered over the top. Unable to set about them with the desired pace using chopsticks, she raided their cutlery draw for a fork and went hell for leather at the delicious mound of noodles.

The only disappointing dish was the Vietnamese spring rolls, which were pork and prawns wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper. These were cold, stumpy and somewhat gelatinous, and there was nothing welcoming about their taste. The main courses were very generous anyway, and so we left these dumpy little creatures on their platter with few regrets.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.29All of this came to around £30, and as mentioned, we could easily have done without the spring rolls, meaning two people can dine well in this restaurant for £25. You can’t say that about many places in central London. Banh Mi Bay’s quality to price ratio is one of the highest in the capital.

Banh Mi Bay has now expanded to three locations, with venues in Fitzrovia and St. Paul’s joining the Holborn original. This success is well deserved. Try one of them. Like Edith Piaf, you’ll have no regrets.


Paternoster Chop House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


African Volcano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rambla

Address: 64 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 4QG
Bookings: Booked through Opentable
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.17.07Our first review of 2018 finds us in Rambla, a Catalonian restaurant named after Barcelona’s most famous boulevard. Rambla is buried in heart of Soho, and our seat in front of an enormous window makes us spectators onto a slightly less illustrious thoroughfare, Dean Street.

The pane of glass is so large, and the table so close to it, that as night falls and crowds gather, you almost feel immersed in nocturnal Soho, with all its noise, colour and oddness, which is a mixed blessing, but great for veteran people watchers, or those struggling for conversation at the table.

Inside, the restaurant is equally lively, waiters, waitresses and chefs calling out to one another across the open kitchen, and new diners stumbling in with hungry anticipation written across their faces.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.54Is this anticipation deserved? The food is certainly nice here. A plate of ham is perfect, marbled with just the right amount of fat, its texture oiled and rich, each strip curled temptingly on a wooden board. A bowl of blistered padron peppers – which my partner in culinary crime won’t lay a finger on – are wizened, salted and wonderfully bitter. A pair of pan con tomate, the bread gently toasted, the tomato almost made into a paste, suffused with a subtle olive oil, shards of salt scattered carelessly across the top, is good.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.41But I was left with a feeling of slight disappointment. Some of the reviews I had read of this restaurant over the previous month or two spoke of it with the reverence and awe normally reserved for places of worship or Unesco-approved world heritage sites. Critics described the dishes served at Rambla as stunning, as things of beauty, food worth clogging an artery for. I did not feel quite like that.

Four small wheels of cured salmon were so salty that even my partner in culinary crime, no stranger to smothering a dish in condiments, had to take several water breaks to get through them. Some lamb chops with rosemary aioli were a little washed out, the meat lacking that vibrancy of flavour. Some seabass with Jerusalem artichoke was good, but it didn’t have me scraping the plate to ensure I removed every last morsel.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.26Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps Rambla had been projected too far into the stratosphere by frenzied restaurant critics for me to leave without a tinge of disappointment. If I juxtapose Rambla with Barafina, it falls short. I would probably place it half a rung below Ember Yard as well.

The restaurant also did not help itself by having a number of waitresses whose English language skills were so minimal that they struggled to function on the floor of a restaurant. No one is asking that restaurants staff themselves exclusively with English literature graduates from Cambridge, but if a waiter can’t understand the phrases “please can I have a gin and tonic?”, “one more of these please,” or “bring me the bill!” then we have a slight problem.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 14.16.13I will go back to Rambla. A place so well-regarded deserves a shot at redemption. It is also great value for money. But for now, I am not ready to sing its praises, even drunkenly on a street in Soho.


Sugar Hut Restaurant

Address: 93-95 High St, Brentwood CM14 4RR
Bookings: Walk in
Day: Sunday
Meal: Lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 21.46.39On a cold, wintery Sunday afternoon we found ourselves in Sugar Hut, on Brentwood High Street, Essex.

Now, Sugar Hut doesn’t necessarily conjure up images of haute cuisine. For those not familiar with the venue, Sugar Hut is a small nightclub that acts as the local watering hole for cast members of the reality TV show The Only Way is Essex. It is a spot where more cheap champagne has been spilt than probably any other place on earth. Where luminaries like Joey Essex and Gemma Collins congregate of an evening to discuss the latest trends in nail varnish or back waxing. A place where the words “that tan is too orange”, “those heels are too high”, or “that suit is too shiny” have never, ever been uttered.

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 21.47.17Given all these things, my expectations for lunch were not particularly high. I ended up being pleasantly surprised. With the place almost empty, a cheery waitress took down our order, enquired about our holiday plans, and brought a round of drinks before we’d even unfolded our napkins.

I decided to kick proceedings off with some calamari. Despite my fears that they would be as rubbery as a garden hosepipe, they were actually quite succulent, just firm enough without being chewy, spattered with sea salt, their batter a pleasant golden colour. They came with a decent bowl of garlic mayonnaise.

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 21.46.57Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime was tucking heartily into some lamb kofte, which despite looking like two burnt sausages, were apparently quite nice. Certainly, if the speed with which a dish is devoured is the most basic test of its quality, then this starter passed with flying colours.

I was served a beef stew for my main course, which came with thick, boulder-like potatoes. It was solid, hearty stuff, that chased away the memory of the nipping wind on the high-street, and left me full until at least 8pm that evening. The beef was tender, cooked just long enough, the sauce thoroughly absorbed.

My partner in culinary crime ordered a steak, which came nicely browned on the exterior, and pink and delicate on the inside. It did what a steak is supposed to do: be powerful, be tender, be juicy. That’s all you can ask.

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 21.46.23So, the ‘Hut surprised us, and reinforced that age-old adage: you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, no matter how orange and prosecco-soaked that book happens to be.


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.


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.


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.


The Three Horseshoes

Address: Dyehouse Rd, Godalming GU8 6QD
Bookings: no booking
Day: Saturday
Meal: lunch
Price: £
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 19.44.56Eating in a provincial English pub can be a harrowing experience. Soggy chips. Gristle burgers. Battered cod where you eat through the batter only to discover there is no fish inside. Beer sodden carpets. Jingling quiz machines with Noel Edmonds winking at you on loop. All of these things will be familiar to anyone ever caught in a village pub at lunchtime.

But that only makes the experience of blundering across an excellent pub meal all the more special when it does happen. This weekend marked just such an occasion.

My partner in culinary crime and I had escaped London for the weekend and were driving through the quaint villages of southwest Surrey, when we came across the Three Horseshoes, a picture postcard pub in the leafy village of Thursley. A glorious beer garden at the back overlooked rolling, ploughed fields, trees studding the horizon and little cottages peaking cheerfully out from the foliage.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 19.44.15With the sky threatening to deluge us with rain, we decided to part with the idyllic view and make our way inside, to be seated in one of the pub’s many little nooks.

We started off with a whole baked camembert to share, which came with half a dozen warm, garlic-infused breadsticks covered in sea salt. Never has a wheel of cheese been devoured more quickly. Each of us grabbed a breadstick and began scooping away at the delightfully soft, warm, melting cheese, a perfect starter for a cold, wet day. With the gooey interior eaten, my partner in culinary crime proceeded to devour the cheese rind until there was no trace a camembert had ever even been there.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 19.44.37For my main course, I ordered up a pub classic: gammon with egg and chips. The gammon was slightly sweet, cut thin, whilst the eggs where soft, the yolk ready to burst. My partner in culinary crime ordered a roast duck on a bed of bubble and squeak, which although not Comptoir Gascon standard, was certainly more than edible. Everything can be washed down with local beer from the Hogs Back brewery.

So, we learnt a valuable lesson: good food doesn’t end at Woking, and the country is indeed studded with little culinary gems, pubs nestled in picturesque valleys or hidden behind small country vicarages, with neglected geniuses labouring away in the kitchens. But you have to be prepared to hunt them down… and you may have to sift through a lot of empty batter on the way!

 


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.