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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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!


Palomar

Address: 34 Rupert St, Soho, London W1D 6DN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 8.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.54.22There are a number of restaurants in our top ten Hall of Fame that are serially up for eviction. At least one will be flung out into the cold this week, to be replaced by a favourite tapas restaurant of ours. Palomar – an Israeli-fusion restaurant – is not amongst these names. It is one of a select few that sit snug and contented somewhere in the top five, an accumulation of goodwill buffering it from relegation.

Nevertheless, like a boxer who is only as good as his last performance, each of our restaurants must defend its reputation on every visit. With that in mind, we dropped in on Palomar last week, weaving through the heaving, surging mass of humanity that clog China Town’s streets, until we found ourselves on Rupert Street, on the fringes of Soho. As usual, Palomar defended its status with aplomb.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.49.58We started with the mandatory pot-baked bread that comes steaming out of a tin, soft, fluffy, as light as air, with a small bowl of tomato and tahini to dip it into. I could eat this bread all day long, but I have made it a new dining resolution to not feast myself into a coma on bread before any other dish arrives, and so I satisfied myself with half a loaf, my partner in culinary crime devouring the rest.

Next to touch the table is a small bowl of falafel, little nuggets of chickpeas suffused with chilli and herbs, sat in a shallow pool of cooling yoghurt. I’m normally not a fan of falafel, finding it as dry as the desert climates from which it originates, but these were a powerful exception, rich and succulent.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.33With the preliminaries complete, we tucked into a pleasant, ocean-fresh sea bream, which came on a bed of green beans in some herbed-oil. The fish was mild and delicate, the flesh pulling off the bones easily. We then helped ourselves to the poetically named Tree of Life, a terrifyingly huge head of broccoli, which was indeed the size of a small tree, and came with feta and tomatoes. It was the sort of thing I imagine a vegetarian might dream about, thick and healthy, delicious from top to bottom, without one sentient creature harmed in its creation…

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.11A ‘Persian Pappardelle’ was a pleasant surprise. We live on the edge of Borough Market now, and take the steaming offerings of Padella as the gold standard of pasta in London, but I can’t deny that Palomar’s Persian Pappardelle was every bit the equal of anything I’ve been served in Padella, which the exception of its other-worldly Carbonara. The pappardelle was firm and thick, the lemon sauce subtle and sharp, parmesan grated over the top, and some mange tout crisp and fresh, not a string of starch in them. This was probably the highlight of the meal.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.54.11As all this is being served, the restaurant is a whirling dervish of energy. The open kitchen runs like the most chaotic of armies, the chef bellowing orders, with his motley crew of underlings (one with an enormous butcher’s meat cleaver tattooed on her thick forearms) replying in unison, “Yes chef!”. The clatter of pots, the crackle of flames and the hiss of red-hot pans plunging in cold sinks forms the music to your conversation, as waiters and waitresses tap their feet, bob their heads and chat to the diners. This is certainly not a place to have a long overdue catch-up with an elderly relative who is hard of hearing.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 17.50.22By this stage I was starting to flag a little, but since the final dish was a Shakshukit, a sort of deconstructed kebab, consisting of beef, lamb, pistachios and pine nuts, I made a special effort to locate some unoccupied chamber of my stomach. It was a struggle, but I did it.

Twenty minutes later, we limped out into the sunlight, the echoes of “Yes Chef!!” ringing in our ears, full-blown food comas induced, Palomar victorious, its place in the top ten retained.


Fodder

Great Guns Social
Address: 96 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0EF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Friday Night
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.19Great Guns Social may look like a squat little pub, but it is actually a very good restaurant. Or perhaps I should say that it’s a very good restaurant right now. Why this emphasis on the present? Great Guns Social has adopted a series of cooking residencies, offering talented chefs the opportunity to occupy its kitchens for a period of time, win some admirers and gain some experience, before rotating on and vacating the place for the next batch of eager cooks.

This is so obviously an excellent idea that I’m amazed more pubs haven’t tried it: good cooks get badly needed exposure, and pubs get the opportunity to serve something that isn’t a greasy battered cod or a rubbery hamburger. And, most importantly, we all get the chance to eat in the places.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.45.54At the moment, the kitchen is occupied by Fodder, a 4-strong culinary crew including two former Fera at Claridge’s chefs, Michael Thompson and Ollie Downey. They say that they “celebrate local, wild and seasonal ingredients by foraging for their produce”. ‘Foraging’ is a culinary concept I’m only vaguely aware of, and in the context of London it conjures up an image of an urban fox rummaging through a split bin-bag in the moonlight. But perhaps that’s just me.

Either way, what we were served certainly didn’t taste like it had been discovered in a bin. Every little dish we ordered was clever, inventive and exciting. Pig and Squeak were two solid little cakes of pork and cabbage, sat in a sweet apple sauce, their rough exteriors giving way to steaming, succulent contents. The green, whipped beef fat butter that accompanied our sourdough bread was rich with salt and flavour.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.07We ordered a poached cod in a bath of buttermilk. If a fish is going to be killed, it seems only reasonable that this sacrifice should be made worthwhile by the excellent cooking of the creature, and what we ate was a lesson in the posthumous treatment of a cod. It was delicate, soft and delicious, and the buttermilk was so tasty that it now seems wrong that a cod would ever swim in anything else. I’m not sure how one goes about foraging for a cod – did the chefs spend the night before wading around the surf on Chalkwell Beach, Southend on Sea? – but frankly I don’t care.

We ordered a chicken thigh, which came accompanied with broccoli. It had only been added to the menu that day, but I hope it enjoys a long and fruitful existence within those pages. It was lovely, the skin crisped and golden, the sauce light and encouraging.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.31Jersey Royal potatoes with baby dumplings and tiny morel mushrooms was also a fascinating little dish in miniature, although it did occasionally feel like being slapped on the tongue with a clove of garlic. Not a dish for a first date, unless you carry a bottle of strong Listerine around with you. One could probably be foraged in the Co-op around the corner.

We finished with a scoop of dark chocolate mousse and ice-cream made out of nettles. One of the fodder team informed us that nettles are one of the few things that are forageable all year round, and thus the unseasonably cold weather holding back Spring hasn’t put a dent in them. My partner in culinary crime was a little wary of gobbling up spoonful’s of something derived from a notoriously unpleasant little plant, so I had it all to myself. My mouth tingled for ten minutes afterwards.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.45.35Great Guns Social is pushing a great idea, and fodder is doing it proud. Visit this restaurant if you find yourself in Borough. And next time I see a fox foraging in the moonlight, rather than shoo it away, I’ll wander over, and see if I can net something for the table.


Caravan City

Address: 22 Bloomberg Arcade, London EC4N 8AR
Bookings: booked
Day:  Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.04I would like to say that we ended up in Caravan on Valentine’s Day as part of some elaborately romantic plan – hatched well in advance – possibly involving the scattering of rose petals across the table, a small band of violinists emerging from the kitchen to serenade us, an exquisite piece of jewellery buried in a favourite cake for dessert. But the reality is, Caravan was the only restaurant within 300 metres of our offices not named Nando’s that had a free table on an hour’s notice on this most over-booked of days.

The fact that this table happened to be about two yards from the large double doors, meant that we were subjected to an arctic blast of wind every 30 seconds, and did not enhance the romance of the evening.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.25But what of the food? Did it claw back victory from the jaws of defeat? Not really. Caravan, like almost everywhere these days, has a tapasy, share your plates, things come out when they’re ready type of vibe. Embracing this, we ordered up a plate of stilton and peanut wontons, on the basis that we both share a deep love of cheese, and when better to indulge in what you love than Valentine’s Day?

The dish they brought us was capable of killing off even the most rocksteady of human-food relationships. The fried wonton pouches were cloying, sickly and artificial, reminding me of McDonald’s cheese bites, or even the dreaded Mozzarella dippers. The bowl of soy sauce, brought for dipping purposes, made a bad dish even worse. This strange collection of ingredients should be kept well apart and never be allowed to interact with each other again, under any circumstances.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.44The jalapeno cornbread was okay when lavishly covered with chipotle butter, but the cornbread itself was savagely dry, and eating it unbuttered felt like swallowing a desert nomad’s flip-flop without a glass of water to wash it down. A bowl of burrata with slithers of artichoke, mixed with parsley, lemon and garlic, was better, but partly this was down to our desperate gratitude after being water-boarded by two kitchen atrocities right off the bat.

A bowl of pork belly, served with chopped cucumber and celery, flavoured with caramel and coriander, was a quality dish, and could have held its head high in most restaurants. The pork was tender, juicy and flavoursome, the only issue the fact that there were only three small chunks of it, which threatened to cause a riot as I tried to fend off my partner in culinary crime’s fork as she desperately tried to spear the third and final piece.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 18.26.59A plate of carrots in paprika and mint yoghurt went almost untouched. This was perhaps more our fault than the restaurants, since we both loathe carrots, and only ordered the dish because my partner in culinary crime’s parents had told that we constantly order and review exactly the same foods each time. We can now say with honesty that we have ordered something never before mentioned on Life at the End of a Fork, even if we never got around to eating it.

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I enjoyed a delicious chocolate tart for dessert – the chocolate was dark, rich and powerful, and was the highlight of the meal. My partner in culinary crime ordered a cheese board, but only nibbled at it, at which point I began to feel positively alarmed, and decided I needed to order the bill and let her get some rest, perhaps visiting A&E in the morning if she was still turning down cheese.

Perhaps we should have tried the Nando’s…


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.


Morito

Address: 32 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QE
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.45.57Exmouth Market is a little oasis of restaurants in Clerkenwell, stretching from Paesan in the west to Bourne & Hollingsworth in the east, with the jewels in the middle being Moro, and its younger sibling, Morito.

These are run by the same husband and wife team, Samantha Clark (nee Clarke) and Sam Clark, who were apparently introduced by friends many moons ago because of the similarity of their names. It turns out they were both excellent cooks as well.

We stood outside Moro and Morito for a few moments, deliberating between the two. Moro, large, a little formal, a little empty at 6pm on a Tuesday night, or Morito, tiny, seats crammed against the pane of glass facing the street, pulsing with people and energy, a whir of small plates meeting wooden tables.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.40We chose the latter, and moments later found ourselves perched high at the window table nearest the door, which meant we were exposed to an arctic blast every few minutes as some cheery food pilgrim came in to enquire about availability.

Morito serves tapas, which loyal readers will know is a favourite eating form for Life at the End of a Fork. It is perfect for the indecisive eater, allowing you to order a series of meals in miniature, each one an experience unto itself.

Once ordered, the food came thick and fast, and a slight moderation of pace from the kitchen would have been appreciated as we found ourselves shifting the plates on the table into ever more intricate patterns just to make space for the next arrival.

Two small jamon and chicken croquetas dropped first.  They were good, but lacked the truly eruptive flavour of the very best croquetas we’ve had at Barafina.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.57Next appeared a mound of well-crisped aubergine, cooled with a whipped feta and date molasses concoction. Seldom have opinions been so divided at Life at the End of a Fork. My partner in culinary crime found the dish positively offensive, wrinkling her nose and reaching for her diet coke to act as a makeshift mouthwash. I found it to be perhaps the best dish of the evening: tangy, creamy, sweet, and deeply moreish. This the is the perfect sort of disagreement to have over tapas: I decided I would drag the dish in my direction and eat the whole thing, and she was happy to oblige.

A plate of bruschetta was fresh enough, with a frisson of garlic, but a little non-descript. It could have done with a little more vinegar, and the tomatoes with slightly more texture. A pair of prawns in a green pesto sauce blinked at us unappealingly, but a hard-fought war with their shells revealed the small slither of meat within to be firm, but juicy, a shot of the ocean.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 18.46.24We finished with some spiced lamb, mixed with pomegranate and pine nuts, sat on a bet of pureed aubergine, which was unequivocally delicious. The lamb had body and a thick salted flavour, the pine nuts crunched, and the pomegranate offered a sweet little kick to the whole thing.

It was a satisfying ending to a satisfying evening. Drop into Moro if you fancy something serious, something substantial. But go to Morito if you fancy a flurry of fun, a twist of Spanish soul on a little strip of London.

 


Cielo Blanco

Address: 55-57 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QL
Bookings: no booking required
Day: Sunday
Meal: Lunch
Price: £
Rating: 3/10

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 20.45.40I normally go into a restaurant knowing ahead of time that I am going to review it. Not on this occasion. This is an impromptu review written out of a sense of civic mindedness. Having had lunch in Cielo Blanco, it would be wrong of me not to pass on the warning: whatever else you do, never, ever eat there.

It is difficult to know where to start rubbishing this restaurant. The food was slower than if a team of sedated snails had been manning the kitchen. It took 25 minutes for a bowl of tortilla chips and guacamole to arrive. I could have nipped to the local Sainsbury’s in 5 minutes and got exactly the same produce, which is probably what they did anyway.

The food itself was an atrocity. For our main courses, we ordered Huevos Rancheros off the brunch menu. They arrived 45 minutes later, and I wish with all my heart that the wait had been much, much longer. The eggs were a deathly grey, the bacon almost inedible, the avocado lifeless. The concoction was completely tasteless, and exuded a watery, greasy liquid that makes me tremble to think of even now. The only consolation to take from the meal is that I ate it several hours ago and still haven’t succumbed to food poisoning, which is a good sign.

I didn’t take any photographs of the food (it would have been cruel to inflict them on you), but the presentation was the worst I’ve seen in a restaurant – the food was so viscerally ugly that even the Tate Modern would think twice about hanging it on their walls.

The experience was further blighted by the behaviour of the couple who sat on the table directly opposite me, smack bang in my line of sight. Now, I am the furthest thing from prudish or puritanical. Nor am I a killjoy by nature – the sound of birds chirping or the sight of a new born babe grinning both bring light into my life.

But this couple, evidently in the first flush of a particularly soppy sort of romance, spent the entire meal kissing, muzzling, stroking and petting each other. For long periods of time he just gazed into her eyes, their noses touching, and didn’t even say a word. When the food arrived, things were a little better, because they occasionally broke off eating each other’s faces to eat some actual food, although, of course, he couldn’t resist spoon-feeding her guacamole as if she was a baby, and then dispensed with the spoon all together, and just pushed little pieces of fajita into her mouth with his spindly, hairy fingers. She cooed and batted her eyelashes in response.

Turning to my sister, I tried to analyse what is so infuriating about this sort of behaviour. Is it the wanton exhibitionism? The refusal to acknowledge any distinction between public and private acts? Is it the arrogance of trying to broadcast to everyone in sight that you are in the grip of a deeper, more powerful love than they are? Perhaps it is just the sickly wetness of character it reveals.

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I cannot blame Cielo Blanco for the behaviour of these two repellent love-birds. But I can blame them for serving hideous food at a glacial pace, and for making my quest to locate a great Mexican restaurant seem more hopeless than ever.

 


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.


Iberica

Address: 89 Turnmill St, London EC1M 5QU
Bookings: Walk in
Day: Tuesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 19.29.52Farringdon is one of London’s neglected food neighbourhoods, somewhat overshadowed by adjacent Clerkenwell, and entirely drowned out by the clamour around Soho’s ever evolving warren of innovative, exciting places to eat. But Farringdon is littered with a good batch of restaurants that can hold their own: St JOHN, Comptoir Gascon, Polpo, Sosharu and Foxlow spring to mind. And I can now add Iberica to the list.

Iberica fails the very first test of the arch food snob, its success having seen it evolve into a chain restaurant, and not even a chain with the decency to restrict itself to London! Led by chef Nacho Manzano, it has ventured outside the capital and now has outlets in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. But if the food is nice, then why hold an owner’s ambition against him?

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 19.29.36And the food is pretty good here. We started off with a charcuterie and cheese board, a trio of hams opulent in their redness and rich in their flavour, paired nicely with some goat’s and cow’s cheeses. Croquetas with Serrano ham were warm little golden nuggets of flavour, moist and light as a cloud. The fact that they were served in an uneven number almost drove an irreparable rift between my partner in culinary crime and I, but in an act of chivalry (and also afraid of losing a finger), I allowed her the extra croqueta.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 19.28.59A pair of miniature pork burgers with Pippara peppers were a delight to eat, sharp and flavoursome.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 19.28.39The low point of the meal was some asparagus on toast with cheese, which even a heavily touched up photograph can’t make look particularly appetising. The toast was bland and soggy, the cheese flavourless, and the runty little stalks of asparagus were pitiful even to look at. I ate them just to put them out of their misery.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 19.30.16A dessert of churros was wickedly nice, buttery, crisped on the outside, soft on the inside, caked in sugar. The only drawback was that the rich dark chocolate was literally scolding hot, as I discovered when I dripped some on my forearm as I manoeuvred a churro towards my mouth. I spent the rest of the dinner periodically dabbing at my arm with an ice cube.

Anyway, put your food snobbery aside and visit Iberica. Perhaps even the Glasgow branch.