Terry’s Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dining in Barcelona

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

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

Can Ramonet 

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

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

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

 

Txapela

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

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

Restaurant 7 Portes 

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

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

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

 

Bar jai-ca

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

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

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

Hisop Restaurant

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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


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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.10

 

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.

 


‘O Ver

Address:  44-46 Southwark St, London SE1 1UN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.17O’ ver is a Neapolitan restaurant around the corner from Borough Market. On its menu, it boasts rather bizarrely that in its cooking it uses the unique ingredient of sea water, “extracted from the purest areas of the Mediterranean.”

It is hard to believe that every fistful of spaghetti and every ball of dough served in this restaurant are brought to completion with water lugged out of the sea over 1,000 miles away in the Mediterranean. Surely this would require a small team of planes perpetually in motion between Heathrow and Naples International Airport, the pilots only stopping momentarily to mop their brows and take a sip of water (hopefully not also scooped out of the sea), before taxiing off again to get the next barrel of warm, salty acqua.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.10And why on earth would sourcing your sea water on the other side of Europe make a pizza taste nicer? Are the sweet coastal waters of Devon and Cornwall not sufficient? Never mind. In the ever more saturated eco-system of London restaurants, perhaps the saltier the gimmick the better.

Whatever ingredients they’re using, the food at O’ Ver is pretty good. Their rosemary ‘seawater’ focaccia infused with melted parmesan was criminally moreish. The sort of starter that you can feel yourself filling up on with each bite, so you promise not to touch any more until your mains come, only to miserably break the pledge moments later, the bread just too warm, too cheesy, too plump and too nourishing to ignore for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.28My partner in culinary crime, whose appetite for fish is well flagged on this blog, tore through a red tuna tartare sat on a bed of avocado, dressed with olive oil and a sprinkling of lime juice. I heard no complaints.

I had a lobster linguine, which was a little poor. The lobster, sourced in far off Canada, had travelled a long way to disappoint me in Borough. It was a small little fellow, with a lot of shell and very little meat. It could have done with fattening up a little bit more off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tomato sauce that came with it could have been popped out of jar of Loyd Grossman Pomodoro sauce.

My partner in culinary crime had a pizza with burrata, mozzarella, Italian sausage, cherry tomatoes and basil, with truffle oil drizzled on it. It was a decent pizza, if a little wet and a little limp.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.38O’ Ver has an al fresco dining option, which is not as appealing as it sounds, even in the middle of a very warm London summer, unless you enjoy getting gassed by bus fumes.

O’ ver is a steady, solid restaurant, which will appeal to pizza lovers, or those who refuse to eat anything not prepared with Mediterranean seawater. For the general diner, Borough Market has better options, Brindisa, Padella, and El Pastor, to name a few. O’ Ver and out.