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.


Ladurée

Address: 1 The Market, WC2E 8RA 
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 4/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.34.13People living in London are almost tragically grateful for the merest hint of warm weather. Particularly at this time of year, when we have been hibernating under hats, coats, scarves and gloves for the preceding seven months. Like starving people unleashed on an all you can eat buffet, the population of London floods into parks and beer gardens, strolls along the bank of the Thames and fights for space on wind-blasted rooftop terraces.

We at Life at the End of a Fork are no better. When, a few weeks ago, London was warmly embraced by a one week micro-summer, we surged out of our respective offices in search of somewhere to dine al-fresco. Exchange Square was dangerously crowded, every single blade of grass either sat or stood on, and hundreds of people snaking around the block for the right to buy a pint of cider for £6. Rather than risk being stampeded by sun-crazed city workers, we travelled down to Covent Garden.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.29.15London is bereft of many good outdoor dining choices, which is understandable, given the miserable weather. The few slices of pavement that you can eat on normally sit in the shade of some vast building, which obliterates any wan ray of sunshine which may have penetrated the clouds.

One exception to this is Covent Garden, where a number of restaurants do allow for sun basking. We found ourselves in one of these: Laduree. It is a strange place. The staff are so incompetent that at times you wonder whether they are actually playing an elaborate prank on you, that this is not a restaurant at all, but part of some slapstick social experiment designed to see how far a diner can be pushed before he or she finally suffers an apoplectic fit.

One example from the start of our meal will give you a flavour. The couple next to us had been served coffees, and asked staff if they could have some sugar. A grinning waiter returned five minutes laterwith an enormous pot of mayonnaise, dumped it on the table and departed before they could register protest.  We offered them the sugar that sat on our table, at which point the clownish waiter returned, grin still fixed ear to ear, and transferred the mayonnaise to our table. Coffee and mayonnaise…? Perhaps that’s all the rage in the Parisian bistros that Laduree apes.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.29.47The food was tolerable. My partner in culinary crime continued her life-time ambition to eat smoked salmon in every restaurant she sits down in, and declared Laduree’s offering to be “pleasant enough”, although you’d probably want praise more extravagant than that to justify an £18 price tag.  I had a cheese board and a tiny little roll of bread that would have been too insultingly small to throw to one of the many pigeons that were marauding around the square.

We both ordered the lobster roll in brioche buns for a main course. These were decent enough, slightly inferior to the sort of thing you’d get for half the price in a Burger and Lobster.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 17.28.53The dining area is directly next to the space in Covent Garden that is given over to magicians and various other ‘comic’ performers. During the hour and a half in which we sat there we saw a man performing some basic tricks on a yo-yo (whilst heckling the audience for not applauding enthusiastically enough), and then some break-dancers in tracksuits, who rolled around on the floor and jumped over each other a few times. I thought of suggesting that the waiters and waitresses of Laduree offer themselves up as entertainment. Their serving skills were certainly more comical than the gentleman and his yo-yo.

Any humour however, was removed from proceedings when the bill arrived. It was comfortably north of £100. I started to feel as if I was suffering from sunstroke.

Stay away from Laduree, whatever the weather.


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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Wok to Walk

Address: 39 Great Windmill St, Soho, London W1D 7LX
Bookings: walk in only
Day:  Saturday
Meal: after 2am
Price: £
Rating: 6/10
Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 21.56.53Life at the End of a Fork probably gives the impression that we two culinary explorers spend our time sailing endlessly from one illustrious eatery to another, swinging a lobster in one hand, a prime cut of filet mignon in the other, all whilst balancing a bowl of well-cooked mussels on our noses.

We do all of those things of course, but for every occasion where we find ourselves pulling a chair up at a Michelin-starred restaurant, there are half a dozen where we are trying to work out how to use the self-service screens at a McDonalds at 2am, panicking because we have forgotten to add cheese crust to our Domino’s Pizza, or asking ourselves whether it is a health hazard to eat a congealed kebab that was already horrific when purchased 12 hours before (the answer is yes… but if you’re hungry..).

With that in mind, in this review I’d like to pay homage to Wok to Walk, the Chinese doyen of the late-night takeaway. It follows a simple formula: you pick a type of noodle or rice, you choose an accompanying meat or vegetable, and then select a sauce to fry it in. And you pay approximately a fiver. London is studded with these little orange eateries, whose logo of a man running with a burning saucepan in his hand looks like a public service announcement warning of fire hazards.

My favourite branch is that on Cranbourn Street, a road that sits in-between my flat and some of the most appalling clubs that London (and perhaps the world) has to offer, namely those that dot the perimeter of Leicester Square. Into these dank, dark and ferociously noisy places, tourists, first year university students, the staff of Pizza Express, Bella Italia and the Angus Steak House, as well as an assortment of drug dealers, leches and paralytic hen-parties, descend on a Friday and Saturday night, to dance, drink and eventually pass out. And occasionally I join them.

When I do, no journey home is complete without a stop at the aforementioned Wok to Walk, where I invariably order the egg noodles and chicken, smothered in a black bean and soy sauce. Served in a tall orange paper cup, this is without a doubt the supreme combination on the menu, and few things have ever tasted better in the dark hours of the early morning. It is so moreish, so salted and so pan-fried, so brimming with the cheapest and tastiest of flavours.

Despite living in Asia for many years, I am hopeless at using chopsticks. However, a dozen gin and tonics and several tequila shots improves my technique tremendously, and I have no difficulty gobbling down a carton full of these noodles whilst staggering past Covent Garden and up Kingsway, with at least ¾ quarters of what leaves the cup on the end of my chopsticks making it the full distance to my mouth.

Not only is the food tasty, but it is a supreme sponge for alcohol. Many a night that was heading towards a savage hangover has had the edge taken off it by a bellyful of these absorbent noodles. In the interests of full disclosure, I have never eaten Wok to Walk during the daylight, and don’t intend to. It is nocturnal food. But what’s wrong with that?

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 22.06.40So, the next time you are out, your hunger aroused by hours of hard boozing, eschew McDonalds, or Dominos, and look for the bright orange hole in the wall that is the calling card of the excellent Wok to Walk.


Brasserie Zedel

Address: 20 Sherwood Street, London W1
Bookings: no booking
Day:  Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.05.17I find it impossible to dislike Brasserie Zedel. It is huge, it is theatrical, it is opulent. It is a pastiche piece of Art Deco Paris buried in the bowels of a particularly unattractive part of Central London. To get there, we walked past the Rainforest Café, and then a Jamie’s Italian encased in one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen in my life. Running this gauntlet of miserable architecture only enhanced the playful grandeur of Brasserie Zedel, its top-hatted doorman ushering us into a cavernous space of marble columns, oak walls, dimly-lit jazz bars and velvet banquettes.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.04.33It is also cheap (although not as absurdly cheap as when I went there several years ago). Starters are arranged on the menu by price, ranging from £2.95 for pumpkin soup to £9.75 for a plate of snails. A French onion soup sits handsomely in the middle at £5.75. There can be few better value restaurants in London.

We turned up without a reservation, banking on the fact that it was a Tuesday, and that the restaurant has the capacity of a small football stadium. It was near run thing. A waiter, who looked about 12-years’ old, chaperoned us to one of the few vacant tables in the building, next to the long, elegant bar.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.03.09I threw myself into a chicken liver parfait, which was smooth, dense with flavour, and, when spread all over thick white bread, intensely filling. My partner in culinary crime polished off a plate of succulent smoked salmon.

My main course styled itself a Steak Hache, but to all intents and purposes was just a really nice hamburger – minus the buns – sat in a pepper sauce. The beef was full-bodied and earthy, bubbling with the rich vigour of the countryside. It was everything that a McDonalds patty is not, and despite the latter swearing blind that every granule is 100% pure beef, it is difficult to convince your taste buds that the two products ever sprung from the same creature.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.04.18Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime chewed her way through a tough-ish ribeye steak. The meat had the tired quality of an animal that has lived a hard, challenging life. Two cups of French fries were chilly and bland.

But the odd mediocre dish does not spoil a place like Brasserie Zedel. You don’t go there for the best cooking in London. You go there for the vast spaces, the sense of eating somewhere fun and light-hearted, the aura of another time and place. I felt that at any moment Hercule Poirot, complete with stick-on moustache and cartoon French accent, might glide out of the Bar American. That two people can experience all this for £70, including drinks, makes Brasserie Zedel a place worth cherishing.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 21.02.54We left with our 2018 dietary plans yet again blown to smithereens, but our bank balances blessedly intact.


Lima Floral

Address: 14 Garrick St, London WC2E 9BJ
Bookings: Booked
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.03Lima Floral is the laid-back sibling of Michelin-starred Lima, which was the first London offering of star Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz, and, incidentally, the first Peruvian restaurant to obtain a Michelin star in Europe.

With tickets for Book of Mormon that evening (which is hilarious, but perhaps not something to take either a Mormon or a Ugandan to), we were in the hunt for something delicious, quick and in the Covent Garden vicinity, and Lima Floral ticks all three boxes with panache.

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Peruvian cuisine was fusion food before fusion was a trend, blending European (think Spanish, Italian), Indigenous, Asian (Japanese) and African culinary traditions by virtue of the multiple waves of migration that have washed up on its shores over the past 500 years. They do miraculous things with fish, pork, corn, cassava, potatoes, and of course lemon and lime.

Bearing those key ingredients in mind, we attacked the menu with gusto, informing our helpful waiter that we would have to be fed, watered and sent on our way all within the span of an hour. First to grace the table were cassava chips with a dipping bowl of creamed potatoes, cheese, oil and peppers, which had enough of a kick to it to send my partner in culinary crime’s hand scuttling back to her side of table, moodily waiting for the next course.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.40I have mentioned in these pages my PICC’s adoration of raw fish, and her mood was almost instantly lifted by the arrival of a seabream ceviche, which was bathed in a marinade of lime, onion, chilies and salt, a wild, sharp, fresh combination that sent tingles down the spine. It came accompanied by avocado, shards of corn and three hoops of crisped onion. With plates as tasty as this arriving, it isn’t hard to finish your food in under an hour.

If there’s pork on a tapas menu, chances are I’ll order it. This occasion was no different, as we tucked into a slow-cooked suckling pig, served with a garlic sauce and celeriac puree. It was soft, it was rich, and it pulsed with flavour, reminding me why pigs are the king of the barnyard.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.24Not all was sunshine and light. A trio of salmon, tuna and cobia fish, doused in the ubiquitous citrus juice, looked a lot better than it tasted. As part of an enormously half-hearted attempt to be healthy, we ordered a quinoa solerito salad. This was a mistake. Firstly, you can’t reverse the effect of eating an enormous wedge of suckling pig by layering something healthy on top of it. Secondly, quinoa is a ghastly food that I would be reluctant to even feed to livestock. It deserves to return to its historical place as a fringe food for health nuts.

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But all in all, Lima Floral did what was asked of it. We left it doors with all the cheer, joy and goodwill of a pair of young Mormon missionaries embarking for their two years across the seas.


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.


Dean Street Townhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Berners Tavern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Terroirs Wine Bar

Address: 5 William IV St, London WC2N 4DN
Bookings: No booking
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 20.13.19Terroirs is a restaurant and wine bar on William IV Street, a stone’s throw from the National Gallery. We were there on Tuesday night, as part of a week-long extravaganza of joyous treats in honour of my partner in culinary crime’s birthday (exactly which birthday shall go unspecified).

It was a clement evening, warm for the season and without a raindrop in sight. It felt as if most of London was out and about, beginning to warm up for Christmas. Terroirs itself was packed to the rafters. Coming in through the doors I scanned the restaurant nervously – my week of joyous treats had not extended to actually making a reservation anywhere, and for an awful moment I suspected that we were about to be turned back into the night by a pitiless French waitress.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 20.12.36But then I spied it: one, lonely, unoccupied table, beckoning us on. And thank goodness. Because Terroirs is not a place you want to be turned away from. Crouched over our small wooden table, bathed in the contented babble that is the auditory hallmark of satisfied diners, we ate very well.

First to land at the table was a pork and pistachio terrine. As soon as I saw it I knew it would be delicious. It had that crumbling, thick appearance, that compactness, that reddish brown complexion, that marks out all great terrines. It tasted inexpressibly earthy; I could almost see the pig, snuffling on a farm somewhere in rural France, fattening himself for our table on a cold, crisp morning. I can only thank him… he did not snuffle in vain.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 20.12.04We had a decent beef tartare with lemon and rosemary, although ever since we ate steak tartare at Otto’s it has been the fate of all other tartare to exist in its shade. I have never before or since tasted one so sharp, so rich, so sweet, and that of Terroir’s, try as it might, fell short of this elevated benchmark.

A fresh, nicely seasoned bowl tomatoes with oregano tided us over until the final stage of the meal: a quartet of cheeses, and a Scottish onglet with braised peppers and salsa verde. The cheeses were a delight; a smooth, soft Gouda and a blue veined French cheese were particular favourites.

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The steak was a good one, rich, blood red and tender. But by then I was nearly spent, my appetite dulled by the excellent small plates we had already eaten.

We wandered home along the Strand, our bellies full, the city buzzing around us, the lights of Theatreland twinkling, another happy birthday in the books.