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indian accent

Indian Accent, London W1: ‘Curry sauce as an aperitif? I bloody loved it’ Grace Dent says in her first review in the Guardian.

If you find yourself in Mayfair drubbing through someone else’s expense account, well, I cannot recommend Manish Mehrotra’s teensy-weensy blue cheese naan enough. His style of naan, smaller than a Farley’s rusk and thinner than a slice of Mother’s Pride, appears as an amuse-bouche with a Lilliputian pewter jug of curried coconut sipping sauce. Pinky in the air. Glug, glug. It is a cutting stereotype that all northern women love gravy, but at this, Mehrotra’s third opening (after New Delhi and New York), I drank curry sauce elegantly, as an aperitif, and I bloody loved it.

An opening course of two Kashmiri morels is outstanding. They’re dusted with walnut powder and come perched on a parmesan papad (another teeny suggestion of seasoned dough). Only a wrong-headed person can’t enjoy an earthy morel, and this particular nutty, piquant, cheesy fungus singular mouthful is indeed a dream.

That soy keema, incidentally, is one of the greatest vegetarian offerings I’ve ever tasted. Whip off the quail egg, and I dare say they could make it vegan. This thing rocks with fenugreek and mustard seeds, and looks like meat, but tastes better. I could consume it daily. The ghee roast lamb with roomali roti is a riff on Cantonese duck pancakes, even down to the trimmed slices of cucumber. And you can swap the lamb for rajastani chakki, a meat substitute formed from fried atta dough and tossed in an onion gravy.

We ate two puddings – one a triumph, the other simply puzzling. One was an adult-sized portion of Punjabi barfi treacle tart of golden syrup, crumbled chocolate sponge cake and cream on a pastry base with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream. But the meethe chawal sweet rice with almond milk and barberries was the hinterland between Trill budgie feed and pot-pourri. I suspect it simply didn’t match my western pre-notions of sweet rice on soft, melting puddings, but my rule of thumb is that anything that makes me gurn or swear when I eat it is just not for me.


The Times’ Marina O’Loughlin reckons Norse, the struggling Harrogate restaurant which candidly spoke of its difficulties in a blog, has nailed it with the new menu format.

In this pleasing two-part room with its walls of living moss and pale wood, the style is still, as the name suggests, vaguely Nordic: plenty of pickling and smoking, rye and dill, buttermilk and horseradish, sharp wild berries (not, they insist, raw fish and meatballs). But they’ve moved away from the tasting-menu-only format that kettled the restaurant under “special occasions only” and have taken the radical step of starters, main courses and desserts: “Modern food using Yorkshire produce.

Format may have been reined in, but skill and creativity continue at full tilt: duck, its breast carmine, its confit legs packed into a little croquette; parsnip both roasted till almost parsnip toffee and fried into crisps; fierce little fermented cranberries with a soothing malt purée holding the whole shebang together like an accomplished hostess. Or a chunk of perfect seared cod with whorls of acidulated romanesco, a fritter packed with sweet crabmeat and a jug of intense shellfish bisque.

Potatoes are oiled and roasted hasselbacks, crunchy, half-cut kings among spuds. These — plus a thick barrel of ruby, aged beef striploin with a kind of dauphinoise crafted from swede and brown butter that manages to intensify the caramel quality of both ingredients, plus smoked bone marrow and a sauce scented with bay — are dishes to cheer, clever without being convoluted.

Creativity can backfire, of course. But here it often fires on all cylinders, too: a chunk of maple-poached apple crowned with a billow of miso-salty marshmallow and parfait of pepperkake — Norwegian-style gingerbread — rubbly with toasted oats: seductive brilliance.


Nuala

The Evening Standard’s Julie Burchill enjoys the full Irish at Nuala, City of London, minus the fiddler.

The lunch menu was short and ‘wholesome’ — possibly the first time I haven’t used that word as an insult. The ubiquitous rabbit was present and correct (surely it can’t be long before skunk starts appearing on menus, too, so all millennials will be able to fulfil their apparent wish to munch their way through the entire cast of Bambi).

I shuddered with priggish pescatarian dismay and got stuck in to my cod with artichokes and Pernod — so silky it could have been made into drawers fit for a duchess, and so good I actually closed my eyes. A dish of radicchios ranging from pale pink to purple cocked a knowing snook at the idea of Irish greens, but was easier on the eye than the tongue. I wasn’t exactly shivering with sheer molten glee to see that the single dessert on the lunch menu was a delice of pumpkin, pistachio and walnut — surely three of Mother Nature’s wallflowers — but it flounced up looking like an Anish Kapoor sculpture and revealed itself to be the sweetest show-stopper ever.

Nuala takes two played-out preposterousnesses — that of the hipster and that of comfort food — and makes them shiny and new. It’s a hipster restaurant for people who shun hipsters and comfort food for people who don’t need comforting. I’ve always wanted to slap people who talk about ‘having the craic’, but if it’s to be found in a public place in broad daylight, Nuala is a good place to start.


Giles Coren of the Times reviews the Coal Shed, London SE1 where he had more than enough to share.

The menu is a cross between the new-wave posh steakhouse vibe of the past few years, with a load of cuts of well-aged steak written up on a board at some distance across the dark-wooded room, and the low and slow barbecue thing, which is slightly different, but not much, I grant you.

My eyes lit upon the “goat to share” for £50, which was written up on the menu as “Moroccan spiced smoked goat, zatar flatbreads, aubergine, tahini, chickpeas, harissa yoghurt”, and, as far as I am concerned, is the kind of thing one can’t not order.

It was slow-cooked for hours over wood, blackened and crispy, oozing its juices, scattered with parsley and pomegranate seeds, with two flatbreads that had been fried crisp and folded, and little saucepans of rich, tangy sauces. I ordered another set of the flatbreads immediately, for there were not enough, and then fell to ripping up the goat. Torn and then stuffed into flaps of crispy bread, slathered with tahini and harissa, the deep, almost petrolly charred goat meat, slippery with fat, sang easily through the tart spicy notes of its condiments and was the most epic of kebabs.


The Observer’s Jay Rayner says Edo in Belfast “deserves to be better known”.

The menu is a game of two halves. One side is dedicated to familiar tapas, and it’s fine. Not earth- shattering; not “sound the trumpets” good, but solid and reliable. Crispy squid with a chilli aïoli comes in a pleasingly chunky batter reminiscent of karaage, or Japanese fried chicken. There are pieces of pork belly, first slow cooked, then deep fried to crisp, and I’ll never complain about that. A cheery dish of beans stewed in a tomato sauce with chorizo and a fried egg on top provides perfect lubrication in the evening and would be an even better breakfast.

But the real reason for going there is listed on the other side of the menu under the word “Bertha”. It refers to their wood-fired oven, filled with logs of pear and apple tree alongside pieces of peat. Suddenly the sunny southern European restaurant becomes something darker and northern and, frankly, altogether better. A chunky cured ham hock for £15.50 has been slow roasted in that oven until it is sticky and falling apart. It comes with a celeriac purée that must have been whipped and passed and passed again until it is all velvet and silk. Around it are carrots, both roasted and pickled, along with toasted breadcrumbs. Here I was trying not to stereotype the food of Northern Ireland and then I’m served a brilliant bacon dish.

A salt-cured beef cheek has been for a long turn through Bertha until it, too, is falling apart. It is deep glazed and served on another brilliant purée, this time of cauliflower, alongside earthy pieces of both golden and red beetroot. Elsewhere on the menu there’s ox tongue with crushed new potatoes, and roast saddle of venison with red cabbage. They may serve plates of Iberico ham but here at Edo, in the depths of a Northern Irish winter, Bertha is your friend.


Rascals

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon describes Shoreditch restaurant Rascals as a “temple of banter” where guests can enjoy “London’s first waterproof dining room”.

Rascals is a restaurant in Shoreditch that embodies an unusual blend of hipsterism and laddism; its target customer, I imagine, being Danny Dyer with a lumberjack beard. Its website promises ‘food, drink, mischief’, and urges patrons to ‘unleash your inner rascal’. It offers ‘London’s first waterproof dining room’, where, for a mere £59 a head, you can eat ‘a three-course banquet’ while squirting your friends with giant water pistols (‘The ultimate after-dinner escalation’).

For an additional £10 you can sit, with other grown adults, in a ball pool, such as would be normally found at a small child’s birthday party. The lavatories are unisex, but the wall is gaily adorned with a mural of a man urinating.

In what no doubt constitutes a grave dereliction of critical duty, I’m afraid I didn’t book the waterproof dining room, but I’ve no doubt that, if you enjoy trying to eat while being drenched head to toe by gangs of elaborately hirsute young men, you will find no finer venue in London.

Instead, I sat in the main restaurant, which turned out to be almost disappointingly 
civilised. At no point was I soaked, pelted with food, or hung by the belt-loops from a ceiling fan. Each table kept itself to itself. Naughtiness and mischief were at a premium.

This is probably the last thing Rascals would wish a critic to report, but it was actually quite nice. According to its website, the restaurant has ‘a zero-tolerance approach’ to ‘polite small talk’, but mercifully this rule didn’t seem to be enforced.


Yen in London’s Temple serves close to flawless sashimi, says the Telegraph’s Keith Miller.

Prawns were sweet and bouncy, served raw but tinged with pink. (The only time I’d had a raw prawn before was in Sicily, when a fishmonger slipped one into my mouth as a freebie after we’d put in a big order – my hands were weighed down with carrier bags – and I must confess that the assertive intimacy of the gesture distracted me from ¬forming a clear sense of whether I liked the taste.)
Marble tuna nigiri sushi had a perfectly even fatty texture, as if the fish had been fed on beer then lovingly massaged to death, as Kobe beef cattle are, and as I one day hope to be. A loose sea urchin roll was musty and a little dribbly, and quite delicious.

Miso black cod from the robata grill had maybe been cooked a few seconds longer than I’d have chosen to cook it on my robata grill, if I had a robata grill; but it was glossy and smooth-fleshed, wallowing happily in the burnt-toffee flavours of the sauce.

By the time our noodles came, we felt as if we’d been taken on a journey: from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, miles and miles along Bashō’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, past Matsushima – blimey! – all the way to some sempiternally rustic spot straight out of the Studio Ghibli flip-book, where stonemasons and samurai perch buttock-to-buttock on wooden stools of impeccable wabi-sabi wonkiness at a wayside inn, slurping companionably, and everything’s covered with moss.


HOTELS

Kettner’s Townhouse

Tom Chesshyre of the Times reviews celebrity haunt Kettner’s Townhouse in Soho, London.

On a corner facing the Coach & Horses pub (once the famous haunt of the journalist Jeffrey Bernard), Kettner’s is in the heart of Soho. [The rooms are] lavishly decorated, with flowery wallpaper, marble bathrooms, acorn-coloured velvet sofas and minibars stocked with fine wines. Windows have been well soundproofed, so there is no Soho noise. The rooms are reached by lifts or a winding staircase with a brass handrail. The cheapest “Tiny” rooms are decent value for the heart of theatreland: from £225, room only.

Meals are served in a splendid dining room with 1920s mirrors, a parquet floor, candles and oriental screens between tables. The menu covers everything from roasted bone marrow on toast to caviar blinis and poached chicken with a broth. My Normandy oysters with lemon and Tabasco sauce were juicy and fresh, while my fillet steak with (good) fries and a spicy peppercorn sauce was a perfect medium-rare, with a steamy portion of spinach on the side. I enjoyed the Bourdaloue tart with crème fraîche. Three courses cost from about £28.

This is marvellously OTT, with superb cocktails in the dimly lit Champagne Bar, but a night out can be very pricey (with drinks) and, for those staying over, breakfast is extra.