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.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.52

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.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 20.46.13

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.


St. John

Address: 26 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4AY
Bookings: no booking but advised
Day: Wednesday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 8/10

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.41.34
As I have said before in these pages, St John Bread and Wine used to act as a food oasis during the long, arduous journeys (approximately 15 minutes, if walking slowly) between where we work in the City and the minuscule, grubby flat I used to occupy in Aldgate. Like nomads seeking refreshment after days in the desert, we would slump down in its chairs, swig on a diet coke, and scan its fresh, ever evolving menu, sure of nourishment and refreshment.

Given the importance of this restaurant to us, it was inevitable that we would seek out the original, St John, named after the street it sits on in Smithfield. For a restaurant that does magisterial things with meat, and particularly with pigs, it is perfectly located, just a leap away from Smithfield Market, where meat has been sold continuously for almost a thousand years. I have walked to work past this market with the dawn breaking, and had to step over little rivulets of blood as animal after animal is hauled out of the back of trucks to be sold to restaurants across London.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.41.00We have tried to get into St John on a number of occasions, only to be turned away due to lack of space, so it was with some excitement that we took our seats last week. St John is much like its offshoot. It serves many of the same things. It has an adoration of the pig. It has the same look and feel, the simple, hard white walls, the spartan furnishing, the mildly uncomfortable chairs, the serious, well-informed serving staff. It is much larger.

The core ethos is the same though. There is a no nonsense feel to the place, as if there is no time to fuss over anything except the quality of the food.  And that’s fine by me.

First to the table was a brown crab on toast with half a lemon ready to squeeze. It was a delight, the crab soft and fresh, perfectly moist, kicked into gear by the lemon, the toast fresh and crunchy, made at the in-house bakery. We followed this with a Welsh rarebit, a thick layer of cheese infused with mustard, served on a massive wedge of bread an inch thick, Lea and Perrins sauce sprinkled on top. This was solid, fortifying food, a simple dish done very, very well.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.42.00It would be wrong to go to St John and order nothing made from a pig, a bit like driving through Arizona without stopping at the Grand Canyon, or holidaying in France without donning a beret and eating a baguette. So, we ordered the pork and pistachio terrine, which was earthy, coarse and powerful, full of chunks that I couldn’t quite identify, but that I knew were delicious.

 The only dish that disappointed us was a roast mallard with braised red cabbage. It was somewhat dry, and it must have been a lean, lanky duck, because we found ourselves with considerably more bone than meat. This may have been an unintentional blessing, since both of us have sworn to lose weight this year, but any benefits will have been cancelled out by finishing with a bread and butter pudding, a great ball of vanilla ice-cream melting rapidly on top.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 22.41.17

I explained to my partner in culinary crime that even the most disciplined dieters have one “cheat day” a week, where rules are discarded for the day, and you gorge on whatever you like. We are just having our entire years’ worth of cheat days in January…

There is also some change in our top 10 restaurant list: St John is in, Ember Yard is out. To deny this mecca of food a spot in the top 10 would be a culinary crime.


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.


Goodbye 2017, hello 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 19.02.562017 witnessed the birth of Life at the End of a Fork, and as we roll into a new year we wanted to quickly glance back at some of the highs of the previous 12 months.

Whilst we have enjoyed eating at a multitude of restaurants, a few are deserving of special mention for providing the highest level of culinary comfort.

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 18.57.43Otto’s continues to be one of London’s best kept dining (semi) secrets, serving the best steak tartare in London, some of the best foie gras, and a pressed duck for two which is my number one must try dish in 2018, all done with great theatricality and skill. They also won my undying admiration by refusing to bow to a horde of militant vegans who laid siege to them for months in 2015, in an attempt to bully the restaurant into changing its menu. They didn’t change a single comma. Full marks for food, full marks for standing their ground.

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 18.58.29

 

 

Berners Tavern in Fitzrovia is one of the most spectacular dining rooms in the country, walls decked head to toe in paintings, the bar a towering mass of shimmering spirits and glinting glass, the ceiling magisterial. It is a special place to eat in. Their slow-cooked lamb shoulder for two might have been the best thing I ate in 2017 – after 99% of the food I’ve eaten over the last 12 months has faded to grey, this lamb is still vivid in my memory.

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 18.58.42

 

 

Finally, St John Bread and Wine must be called out, for acting as an ever-reliable food pit stop on the walks from the City where we work to Aldgate where I lived for much of 2017. Their menu was in constant flux, and almost everything that appeared on it was interesting, surprising, and delicious. And affordable. A stop at this excellent restaurant made the journey back to a small, stuffy flat bearable.

If these three restaurants warrant special mention, which particular dishes in 2017 rose above the rest? Below are the ten best things we ate in 2017:

  • Meat fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread)
  • Duck liver and foie gras on toast at St John Bread and Wine
  • Stone bass ceviche at Wright Brothers, Spitalfields
  • Stuffed courgette flower at Barafina
  • Slow cooked Herdwick Lamb Shoulder at Berners Tavern
  • Tartare de Boeuf Simmental at Otto’s
  • Tipsy cake at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
  • Deconstructed kebab at Palomar
  • Classic duck burger at Comptoir Gascon
  • Risotto of wild mushrooms at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

Here’s to another year in pursuit of an edible El Dorado! Bon Voyage!

 


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.


Frenchie

Address: 16 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8QH
Bookings: Booked through Open table
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.18.49Friday night saw my partner in culinary crime and I on our last pre-Christmas restaurant excursion. For this valedictory event, we picked Frenchie, the 2016 offering from French chef Gregory Marchand.

Marchand has something of an interesting backstory. Placed in an orphanage at the age of 12, after his mother died, he cooked his first dish (escalope normande… a type of chicken) when the home’s chef was having a weekend off. Cooking became a form of self-defence, his talent for whipping up concoctions in the kitchen earning him the protection of bigger – but very hungry – kids in the orphanage.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.18.16At the age of 16, he left and joined a culinary school, before moving to London in his 20s to begin a cooking odyssey across a number of the capital’s prominent restaurants, including the Savoy Grill and Electric. He also worked as the head chef at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen.

It was Jamie Oliver who, summoning all his immense wit and creativity, dubbed Marchand ‘Frenchie’, a name which became Marchand’s personal brand when he set his up own restaurant in Paris in 2009. After many accolades and much adulation, and a stint cooking in New York, he came back to London last year, bringing his Frenchie brand with him.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.19.29

And we’re glad that he did. Frenchie is a good restaurant, and a fun one as well. It is not tethered to strict French culinary traditions, either in terms of the food it serves, or the ambience it cultivates.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.18.37The menu was small, but interesting. I launched into a dish of burrata, with slices of avocado, pickled onion and olives. It came with great shards of crisped bread which were useful tools for scooping up the burrata, which was perfectly creamed on the inside, soft and delicate.

My partner in culinary crime honed in on the sea bream tartare, with yuzu, quinoa and chestnuts. As someone who has eaten more raw fish than a leopard seal, her verdict on such dishes carries weight, and she pronounced it excellent, light and fresh, carrying that sharp undertone that characterises the best fish tartare.

For my main course, I had the pan seared gnocchi, which came with shimeji mushrooms, potato confit and tarragon. It was an excellent twist on gnocchi, well sauced, powerful and full bodied, the texture excellent.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.18.26As I was wolfing this down, my partner in culinary crime was grumbling that her roast duck was too tough. Looking up, I saw that she was sawing at it with the wrong side of the knife… once this was pointed out, and the knife was flipped, the duck cut beautifully. She declared it succulent, the exterior well-crisped, the interior bursting with flavour.

We finished off with a selection of 3 cheeses: Spenwood, an unpasteurised sheep’s milk cheese, a lovely Innes Log, which is a goat’s cheese, and a Deauville, from France. Only the Deauville missed the mark, with a 4-second aftertaste so smoky it felt as if you’d swallowed a small ash tray.

So, dinner was a success, not tainted even by the occupants of our adjacent table who talked loudly, at length, and in detail, about a range of operations recently undergone on various body parts, which isn’t ideal background music for the eating of gnocchi or cheese.

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 16.18.59

Never mind. My partner in culinary crime and I are fleeing London for Christmas, but we shall pop up again before New Year, to regale you with further culinary adventures. Have a lovely Christmas.


Savini at Criterion

Address: 224 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9HP
Bookings: Booked through Bookatable
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.47With scarcely a week until Christmas, London has entered full-festive mode. Drinks are flowing freely, chins are multiplying as people scoff an ungodly number of mince pies, gammons, turkeys and chickens, and work in offices across the land has slowed to a barely discernible trickle.

We at Life at the End of a Fork have been fully embracing that festive ethic. Friday saw us in Savini at the Criterion, in the excellent company of my partner in culinary crime’s parents, aunt, uncle, sister and sister’s boyfriend.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.59The first thing to note about Savini is its physical splendour. Built in 1873 in a “neo- Byzantine” style, it is a Grade II listed building of almost infinite length, with soaring, golden ceilings, and cream-coloured columns encircling the dining space. A plaque on the wall commemorates the fact that it was within these hallowed walls that Watson first received word of his new roommate, one Sherlock Holmes.

The restaurant itself has passed through many hands, Marco Pierre White owning it in the 1990s, before some Georgians bought it, apparently serving ghastly food there for a number of years before filing for bankruptcy in late 2015.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.34.24It is now owned by an Italian family of restaurateurs, but the same problem remains: how to create an appealing restaurant in one of the most grubby, tourist-clogged parts of central London, where street-performers noisily bang drums or break-dance before the watershed, and inebriated clubbers from Leicester Square vomit and fight with each other from 11pm onwards, all whilst grappling with monstrously high rents that more or less force you to sell over-priced food.

Savini has not found the answer. The food was decent, but it fell well short of matching the grandeur of the building.  It fell even further short of warranting the £550 bill that was racked up by a group of eight, despite the fact we ordered from a discounted set menu that confined us to choosing between three starters, three main courses and three desserts.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.34.09The high-point was hit straight off the bat. Almost our entire group ordered the caprese salad, the avocado and tomato vivid in taste and colour, delightfully refreshing, the globe of mozzarella as light as a cloud, moist without a hint of rubbery-ness.

From there we started to roll steadily downhill. I ordered fish and chips, which was reasonable, but certainly nothing that you couldn’t buy on a pier in Brighton for half the price. The chips needed more body, and another minute in a deep-fat fryer.

My partner in culinary crime’s sister ordered a lasagne which was so small we needed all the power of an iPhone zoom-lens to capture it for this blog. It was an unhealthy, feverish colour, with the texture of a rubber glove.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.34Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime was digging into the chicken breast with turmeric, pumpkin, potatoes and mushrooms, which was as dry as a fistful of sand.

The wine was nice, and enough of it was drunk that I can’t accurately comment on the desserts.

Despite the mediocrity of its main courses, the Savini was not able to put a dent in our Christmas spirits. Eighty percent of the quality of any dining experience is the people you are with, and my many accomplices in culinary crime that evening were all on brilliant form. The pleasure of the evening will remain long after the flavour of the food has faded.


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.