Thursday, 27 February 2014

mele e pere, soho - review

There are so many establishments in London dishing out plates that look like they belong in the results of an ‘Italian food’ Google image search - a mass of spaghetti with a generic sauce plonked on top, sporting a pair of perky basil leaves. ‘Italian’ food, as many people know it - by which I mean a bunch of stock pasta and pizza options - is so often the default offering chosen by restaurants, as dishes are deceptively simple and hot carbs with cheese will always please the masses. But it’s also very easy to make them mediocre, or worse still, poor. And a lot of them do. Not to mention these places do little to represent the far-reaching range of regional Italian cooking - it’s not all spag bol and carbonara made with cream *shudders*.

So thank goodness for the very good places in town that do truly represent the variety and quality of Italian food - the likes of Bocca di Lupo, Zucca, Locanda Locatelli and now also, Mele e Pere.

Occupying a prime location on the corner of Brewer Street and Great Pulteney Street in the middle of the dining hotspot that is Soho, the heart of Mele e Pere (“apples and pears”) is found below ground. Continue down a flight of tiled stairs - past the few tables, window bar-seating and mirrored wall adorned with glass apples and pears upon entrance - and diners are greeted with an impressive copper-topped bar and a large yet restful dining space.
My companion was someone who knows the restaurant and the dishes well, so I said that thing that is either well-received or slightly aggravating in this situation; “I eat anything, I’ll leave the ordering to you - whatever you think is good”. The reply to which was, “Well, it’s all good”. Dammit.
But we must get the smoked swordfish carpaccio. And the aubergine parmigiana. Because it’s gorgeous. And the potato gnocchi with truffle - god, that’s really good. And the vitello tonnato”. This was going well.

Before I could prioritise that day’s menu according to which words I wanted to eat the most (they were coming out level-pegging, an unhelpful case of “all of the above please?”), a plate of three fresh-from-the-oven pillowy focaccia buns appeared, their aroma heavy with olive oil, sporting hats of pesto and something cooling I think was crème fraîche (£2.50). Shortly after, deep-fried ascolana olives stuffed with a little heat and served still warm, simultaneously crisp and ripe (£3.50).

Then a plate of partially translucent mackerel tartare with crunchy baby radishes and bergamot; there was a punchy hit of mustard in the mix and piquant pickled cucumbers to cut through the flesh*. It agreed with my oily-fish sentiments entirely: the best way to enjoy them is raw. A complete pleasure. A third plate - quenelles of chicken liver parfait with wine-poached pear, little mushrooms, Italian leaf and a bright yellow pansy - was something I wanted to photograph as much as eat. Velvety, rich and cooling pâté, sweet fruit, sprightly leaves. Another solid entry*.

The swordfish carpaccio bore the colour of a girl’s cheek after its first peck from a boy; flushed pink and with batons of vibrant crisp radishes and cornichons standing to attention - it was delicate and delightful (£6.50). Vitello tonnato is a Piedmontese antipasto of thinly sliced veal covered in a mayonnaise-like sauce, bolstered with capers, anchovies and lemon - all great things that cause the tip of the tongue to smack the roof of the mouth (£6). And then there was the aubergine parmigiana with pesto - a glorious mess of smoky aubergine mush, stretching cheese and sweet tomato meeting in a piping-hot melty mass of what can only be described as unadulterated out-of-the-oven pleasure (£6).

*No individual prices as both were from that day’s pre-theatre menu of three courses and a glass of prosecco for £18.

And the potato gnocchi glowing from saffron with generous shavings of pungent Umbrian black truffle? Well, there’s little point trying to evade it. You know you want it and if it’s there, you will order it. And once it arrives, you’ll be its prisoner until the bowl is clean. There’s probably only five ingredients involved, and the beauty is in its (luxurious, decadent, buttery) simplicity (£7.50 for the small portion).

There was no room for dessert. Even my second stomach - usually reserved for sweets - let me down. I was defeated, by what was a very good lunch; I’m happy to take a beating like that any day.

Mele e Pere has daily changing menus: lunch specials at £8.50, pre-theatre set menus of three courses with a glass of prosecco for £18 (both with entirely different dishes to the a la carte), the option of small or large portions for pasta, substantial mains and a bar specialising in vermouth. 

With such lovingly-prepared and well-executed creativity from Head Chef Andrea Mantovani available at very accessible prices, this is the restaurant card to keep in the back pocket and pull out when - well, whenever.

Liked lots: gnocchi, focaccia, 
aubergine parmigiana, mackerel tartare, location, prices, creativity
Liked less: the main dining area being without natural light
Good for: frequently changing menus, frequent visits, all occasions, quality food at affordable prices, vermouth (so I hear - must return to try some)

My rating: 4/5

Find the menu on Zomato.

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was kindly treated to this meal by the restaurant thanks to their relationship with my companion.

Mele e Pere on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

flavour expats supper club series, hackney - event

The only thing standing between me and a tantalising, cosmopolitan, six-course feast cooked and hosted by some of London’s finest supper club chefs on a brisk evening in late February, was the 1 hour and 45 minute journey on public transport to get to it.

Clapton may as well be as far as Manchester for those of us residing towards the bottom of the Northern Line, but with the promise of an East vs. West tasting menu for the press launch of the Flavour Expats Pop-up series at the other end, I needed little convincing to contend with a tube line change or three.

Rob and Fabio - the dynamic duo behind Italian/Spanish supper club stalwart Backdoor Kitchen - have collaborated with Edible Experiences (the food and drink experience booking platform) to bring together 14 chefs with culinary roots stretching across the globe in this East London-based pop-up project. 

The premise is this: in the large airy space above iconic Hackney corner shop Palm2, a different pair of chefs (representing Team East and Team West) battle it out each night by serving up three courses from their home-country to a group of hungry patrons. Diners enjoy six dishes from two different cuisines in one evening and the series lasts for seven nights between 8th March and 12th April.

The press event menu revealed a snapshot of some of the food to be enjoyed over the series, with six of the participating chefs each cooking a single dish that evening.

First up, tempura squid salad with aonori (seaweed), punchy wasabi mayo and a cracking dressing. Platter after platter furnished the long communal dining table; battered baby octopuses with cute tentacles were gobbled down, barely touching the sides. Team East's first entry was by Erica from Hackney-based Japanese mobile kitchen Tacochu with expertise in Taco Rice, a Japanese/Tex-Mex hybrid straight out of Okinawa.

Mae’s mussels cooked in coconut milk with turmeric, leek and shrimp paste were hot and saucy and capable of blasting away even the most fuzzy of February colds; such were their addictive quality, my plate of shells soon spilled out onto a second. Pepe’s Kitchen - Mae’s supper club serving up traditional Filipino fare - waved the second flag hard for Team East. Then there were individual plates of coconut and spinach dhal topped with a gathering of Mauritian vindaye poisson; tasty chunks of trevally cooked in a turmeric and mustard seed marinade and sporting a flourish of deep pink pickled onions. We had Selina from Taste Mauritius (aka Yummy Choo) to thank for a very pleasing third course and the final Team East entry for the evening. I’ve written some words in the past about Selina feeding me with great food at one of her Mauritian pop-ups and a dinner recently hosted in collaboration with Great British Chefs.

Now to the west, starting with Australia (which I suppose is as much west as it is east from this part of the globe). Alex - one half of the private catering and supper club duo at The Pickled Fork - had us diving head-first into two steaming-hot behemoths of kangaroo pie. Steak simmered for four hours in a mirepoix (the French term for a mix of chopped celery, onions and carrots - yes, Alex had to explain this to me) with Guinness, finished with Worcestershire sauce and topped with a flaky crust, the pies gave way to a whole lot of tender meat fawning.

Supper club host and private caterer Ian (aka The Candlestick Maker) waved the red and white flag for Old Blighty with a striking and architectural dessert that had the room cooing with glee. Spiced poached pears, chocolate foam and vanilla meringue shards were a coming together of several accomplished components with stellar presentation, and it tasted great too.

The closing plate for the night was a basil gelato with strawberry coulis and pistachios, the product of organiser Rob from The Backdoor Kitchen. Cooling and fragrant, it wrapped the evening up with a pretty bow leaving us to roll down the flight of stairs leading to the street and began our journeys home.

Tickets for the six courses each evening are £35 and can be purchased via the Edible Experiences website where you’ll find further details of the dates and chefs taking part. The dinners are also BYOB. Gather your crew, saunter on over to Hackney, and taste your way around the globe in a single evening.

My rating: 3.5/5

Afiyet olsun.

NB I was invited as a guest to review this event.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

chef omar allibhoy at tapas revolution, westfield - event

I like to think that when it comes to Mediterranean bites, I know my onions. The influence of my part Turkish-Cypriot heritage means I’ve snacked on a good few olives, caperberries and cloves of pickled garlic in my time.

So when I heard that the recent collaboration between Spanish chef Omar Allibhoy (author of Tapas Revolution) and Spanish olive and Mediterranean food brand Fragata, was to be celebrated with a dinner hosted by the man himself at his restaurant in Westfield Shopping Centre, I needed little convincing to pop over and check it out.

The partnership makes a lot of sense. Fragata is a long-standing family-run business based in Seville and established in 1897, a brand well-loved by the Spanish. Spanish olives (a vast range of them too) are their main offering but they’ve also branched into other antipasti-type products. 

Omar has been on a mission to make traditional Spanish cuisine accessible and bring it to the masses for some time through his recipe book (very good, by the way) and many TV appearances. He also told me on the night I’ve tried all the olives on the market and these are the best. The two together are a fitting marriage.

I’ve visited Tapas Revolution in Westfield and met Omar before at a separate event launching his book of the same name. The consistency in the quality of the food has remained; I sampled many plates of solid, reliable and very agreeable tapas. Each menu item that evening involved something from the Fragata product range to demonstrate the many ways in which it be used.

Endless jugs of sangria and small bowls of Halkidiki and Kalamata olives marinated in rosemary, garlic and chilli entertained our fingers and palates in the spaces between the more substantial plates. 

Pan con tomate - demonstrating the power of well executed simplicity - is just toasted bread rubbed with garlic, dressed with tomato, salt and olive oil. But it’s great. Mackerel escabeche (poached fish marinated in an acidic mix) came with guindillas hot yellow peppers (like the ones you get with kebabs and who doesn’t love these) and Ajo encurtido garlic cloves, the piquant chillies playing very nicely with the oily fish.

A clay pot of pimiento piquillo peppers stuffed with wild mushrooms and concealed by a piquillo pepper and bechamel sauce imparted all the pleasure of a light pasta-free lasagne.

The rounds of morcilla (Spanish black pudding) were great; sitting on sweet apple they sported a hat of vibrant green olive, caper and pistachio paté with a little flourish of finely sliced hot piri-piri peppers. I do prefer my morcilla more pungent, but they still went down barely touching the sides.

Handsome pork cheeks, lacquered with a dark jus, braised with olives and capers provided pleasure beyond it’s compact size; deep and flaky and delightful. Then there was the chocolate fondant laced with the flavour from Seville oranges and punctuated with bitter rind from the La Vieja Fabrica marmalade (currently available in Waitrose). Dastardly decadent.

When your feet are weary from traipsing after new season pieces at Westfield, stop and eat at Tapas Revolution because the menu there is good, authentic and devised by Omar who knows his stuff. Lucky for all of us, many of the dishes I had that night are resident on the menu. 

And if you’re after titbits for your own tapas feast recreation at home, make like a Spanish chef and try out Fragata - they seem to be a very safe bet. 

My rating: 4/5

Afiyet olsun.

Tapas Revolution on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 February 2014

la sophia, notting hill - review

I know first hand how difficult it can be indulging in particular cuisines when dining out with someone who does not consume alcohol.

My partner does not drink. Not that unusual, and power to him for getting by all these years without the lubricant so many of us feel we need in social situations. But for no reason other than I think he enjoys being a bit of a diva, he will also not eat anything that contains it.

I can't put wine in the ragu, he's never had tiramisu, we've never 'gone for a drink'. He follows no religion, he has no allergies, there were no issues with alcohol in his upbringing. It's just the decision he made many years ago as a child and not a drop has knowingly ever passed his lips.

I actually have little, if any problem with this. The sheer stubbornness alone has its merits and he has no issues with me drinking (and I'm rather skilled at enjoying a few glasses of wine). The only area that sometimes poses difficulties is dining out; at French, Italian and Spanish restaurants he has to check if a dish contains alcohol and request if it can be made without. Often, it's already included and so he misses out. Indian and Middle Eastern food tend to be the safer bets.

For all of the above reasons, a French restaurant claiming to be the only in London with a
fully halal menu is unique enough for me to journey to neighbourhood restaurant La Sophia in Notting Hill to investigate. I asked two friends to join me me; a big-eater Muslim along with a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, just to help up their game.

A stone's throw from
Portobello Road, the restaurant opened in the summer of 2010 and presents a Mediterranean and French menu with classics from the latter cooked with no presence of alcohol (think confit de canard and escargots de Bourgogne). Not to mention all the meat is halal (which includes what can be eaten and how it is sacrificed and prepared). Halal snails and foie gras? Who even knew there were such things.

It’s certainly the first time I’ve had a response of, “Would you like the real wine?” when asking for the wine list in a restaurant. They have non-alcoholic options sourced from Kevser Tabak and whilst I struggle with the concept of non-alcoholic wine, I wish I had tried some - they look like they know what they’re about.

Lamb shoulder croquettes
with herbs and fat slices of garlic within were soft and appealing, if a touch dry. Sweet cherry tomatoes, buttery lambs lettuce and slashes of garlic aioli contrasting against the slate made for a pretty plate. Slices of grilled aubergine wrapped around golden halloumi sported a flourish of sprightly chilli and tomato salsa and a pecan and parsley pesto. The exact sort of thing you would want with a rough dry white at the tail end of a day under Mediterranean sunshine.
The poached smoked haddock main was very competent. Well cooked fish breaking off into meaty flakes topped by a perfectly poached egg lacquered in Benedict sauce, with a cascading yolk pooling around ratatouille and batons of savoury and deep red beef chorizo. Someone should get this on a brunch menu. The wild mushroom risotto with shaved artichokes and truffle oil had a good consistency and depth of earthy flavour.
Bright yellow miniature pansies brightened the plates of well-presented chocolate fondants with surfaces ready to breech at any sudden movement of the plate. They were decadent and dark, although needed a minute longer in the oven for a greater sponge-to-gooey-middle ratio.
La Sophia is a very capable local restaurant with merits beyond their unique halal-French offering. Our Friday night visit included an acoustic guitarist strumming by the entrance and a full restaurant of around 28 jubilant (if not a tad loud) diners. A la carte might seem a little pricey, but the three courses for £25 set-menu is a good deal. Whether you require a halal menu or not, it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area. If it didn’t take so long for me to get to, this would likely become a regular that the other half would also approve of.
Liked lots: beef chorizo with runny yolk Likes less: nothing was unpleasant Good for: those with halal requirements getting the chance to sample French food; a local regular; trying non-alcoholic wine if that takes your fancy
My rating: 3.5/5
Afiyet olsun.
La Sophia on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

cava and tapas at copa de cava, blackfriars - event

I like a glass of fizz as much as the next person. But I’ll be the first to admit I know little about the intricacies and variations of wines - oenology (yes, I had to look that up) isn’t quite my bag. That said, when it comes to bubbly I know what I like the taste of and I’m always willing to learn. Couple this with a deep-set appreciation for a plate (or nine) of quality tapas, and the opportunity to attend a cava tasting evening with complimentary Spanish bites reads as a perfect way to spend an evening.

A handsome bare-bricked subterranean haunt situated just a minute’s inebriated stumble from Blackfriars and brought to us from the team behind Comino (upstairs), Copa de Cava is the UK’s first restaurant and bar dedicated to that very quaffable Spanish sparkler. They stock an impressive range of 29 types of cava and have devised a menu (different to Comino) to compliment each one. I’m very drawn to the idea of whiling away a few hours over their tasting menu with a different glass for each dish; "here is my money, bring me everything that is good"

Here’s that learning bit. All cava is made using a traditional method of fermentation in deep underground caves and tunnels (similar to the process for making champagne). It’s not a quick job, but does result in the range of complexities that can be found in this wine. There are ten grapes from which cava can be made, all of which are indigenous to Spain (apart from the Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), and 95% of cava comes from Penedès in Catalunya in the North East. 

Then there’s the aging; a Brut has done so for a minimum of 9 months and will be fresh and light, a Reserva has laid patient for at least 15 months resulting in richer and more structured aromas, and a Gran Reservera is the mature Grandaddy of the lot with a minimum of 30 months under its belt.

Behind the science lies the proof in the eating (and drinking) - how did it all taste? The overwhelming response to which is, good. Very.

Gobstopper-sized Gordal olives dressed with lemon zest, rosemary and a splash of cava vinegar came paired with the Vatua Colets Brut; crisp and balanced, this glass works well as an aperitif and with light dishes. 

The dry and delicate qualities of the pink Raventós í Blanc de nit Reserva 2010 (a combination of red and white grapes) made best friends with the plates of pan con tomate (toasted rubbed with roasted garlic and spread with tomatoes, olive oil and salt) and cured meats that busied our searching fingers.  

Glasses topped up with the smooth and rich Conde de Haro Brut (Rioja) coincided with three tapas dishes. Abalone mushrooms that looked like fat slabs of foie gras were substantial and earthy and elevated with garlic and chilli. The tortilla was deconstructed, playfully served in a glass with a bottom layer of fluffy crushed potato topped with an egg mixture similar to a Benedict sauce - I had two. The patatas bravas were also in a novel format, potato-roll bites filled with the spicy tomato brava sauce - I had many.

Then there were hunks of stonebass and prawns denaturing in a bath of lime, chilli, onions, coriander, and with a flourish of corn kernals. A stellar dish, the juice of which I sunk from two bowls after the meat had gone, the salt burning winter-chapped lips and the sourness aching the gum line. God, I love ceviche. With this, a creamy and zesty Raimat Gran Brut Dominant.

Roasted peppers and aubergines with anchovies and onions perched on crisp sheets of pastry accompanied a dry and grown-up glass of Mont Marcal Reserva, and alien-looking octopus tentacles covered in suckers and paprika and as thick as a baby’s arm looked a picture but could have been softer. But it did marry with the olive oil mash and a fresh and tangy glass of Albariño (Mar de Frades Brut Nature) extraordinarily well.

Iberico pork shoulder was tender and still glistening pink at the centre, the creamy pearl barley a touch too al dente. And then there was one of my favourite steak tartare encounters - unveiled beneath a glass dome with captured smoke, the flavour imparted onto the meat. With the crisp shreds of fried potatoes and a sip or four of an intense and elegant Reserve de la Familia Gran Reserva, this was a winning course.

Little dark chocolate truffles filled with white chocolate mousse accompanied La Rosita Brut and as if we hadn’t been swigging quite enough cava, Richard the owner generously cracked open a stunning bottle of rather special Kripta, Gran Reserva Brut Nature.

If my maths serves me correctly - and let me tell you it’s difficult to count beyond the fingers of one hand after this many bubbles - we sampled ten different cavas that evening, with top-ups for each. I make that a lot of glasses. Inebriation aside, this is just the sort of place that appeals to me; somewhere that focuses on one thing very well, with a lot of good food to go with it. Do visit.

Here are some blogger pals who also attended, check them out: Matt - The List, Wilkes888The Faerietale Foodie, The Cafe Cat.

Liked lots: location, interiors, specialising in one very lovely type of lubrication, novel takes on traditional tapas
Liked less: the headache the following morning
Good for: letting experts guide you on what to enjoy with what

My rating: 3.5/5

Find the menu on Zomato

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was invited as a guest to attend this event. Many thanks to Sauce Communications and Copa de Cava for organising.

Copa de Cava on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 15 February 2014

bocca di lupo, soho - review

Ah yes! You must have the sanguinaccio. I’ll give it to you to try and if you don’t like it that’s fine. Please, follow me’.

Not the usual response I get after giving my reservation details in a restaurant. Have I already met this lady? Has she confused me with someone? The sang-which-one-now? 

The context of the situation made itself apparent in the short walk to the table; the previous conversation the welcome hinted towards had taken place over Twitter a few weeks back. 

Someone had mentioned their dislike for blood-based dishes. I said something along the lines of, ‘What about the pig’s blood and chocolate pâté at Bocca di Lupo - I love blood sausages but I’m not sure I could have it as a dessert’ (I‘d read about the dish in Jay Rayner’s review). The restaurant Twitter account challenged me to try it one day when I visit. It turns out they monitored this and held me to it; I was seated whilst smirking over an impressive example of customer engagement.

Bocca di lupo ("the mouth of the wolf") is a spruced-up Soho trattoria, more stylish and better dressed than one would usually associate with an informal Italian dining experience. It’s too easygoing and friendly to call itself a high-end ristorante, but it certainly looks the part with a front half dominated by an impressive marble bar overlooking an open kitchen for off-the-cuff grazing and home to a busy prosciutto slicer, and the rear occupied by tables and statuesque paintings with the feel of a living room in a stately home.

Established in 2008, it could easily be regarded as a senior representative of the Soho dining scene when compared to the unending list of recent openings within the area. Victor Hugo (what a name) and Head Chef Jacob Kennedy (formerly at Moro) present an almost daily-changing menu of honest and uncomplicated regional Italian cuisine, the sort of food you would like to think your mamma would make if she was Italian. Where they can make ingredients themselves, they do - pasta, gelati, breads, sausages, salame, pickles.

The really clever thing here is the option for tapas-sized or larger portions for almost every offering on the menu. They have recognised many diners prefer to sample a range of dishes rather than being confined to the traditional three that fill a standard meal, perhaps accompanied by a clandestine dip of the fork into your companions plate to try a fourth. It’s a great format that allows for free-wheeling ordering, ‘we’ll start with those and see how we go’.

It's also a restaurant that has an anchovy menu - a side menu of anchovies every which way you could want. Believe it or not, these critters are in the top ten most hated foods of the nation and to these people who don't care for them I say, tu sei pazzo! I can't get enough. The bagna caoda was a very agreeable warm and salty bath of blitzed up fish, garlic and fruity olive oil served with bread and bitter puntarelle, a type of chicory trying to look like asparagus, and a new one for me. 

More anchovy sandwiched between large sage leaves, lightly battered and deep fried were both substantial and excellent, like biting into a crisp and savoury ham toastie. A great big dome of creamy burrata (and this was the small portion) with it’s gorgeous fat and milky backside sitting atop a bed of oily roasted vegetables was about as good and soft as fresh burrata can be. Slices of buristo blood sausage made in-house with flecks of vibrant green pistachio was subtle and delicate and served with grilled red peppers.

The long and curled sausage (luganega) of foie gras with its well balanced and powerful but not overwhelming flavour had a touch of sweetness, accompanied by farro with bite and earthy porcini. The venison ragu tagliatelle was pleasing but the sauce could have been richer - I still cleared it.

Caffè alla nocciola read very much like a cà phê trung, a Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk and egg yolk I had recently seen on television - this Italian version with just coffee, yolk and hazelnut. Like aerated and frothed up Nutella with a shot of strong espresso, there is little about it not to love.

The milk-free espresso gelato (made across the road in Gelupo along with the rest of the frozen desserts) is the result of the chef putting a batch of caffè allo zabaione (coffee with just the egg yolk - also on the menu as a beverage) into an ice cream machine; the end product an intense hit of frozen voluptuous coffee. It made best friends with the light and delicate ‘Grandpa’s balls’ of deep-fried ricotta and chocolate.

And the pig’s blood and chocolate pâté? It was fine. Actually, good. It’s really just set chocolate spread with a slightly grainy texture and a detectable layer of unfamiliar flavour that would be hard to identify if you weren’t informed. 

Our waitress was utterly charming. The table next to us was the only to remain empty for most of our visit - it was reserved and waiting for a WWII veteran who visits every Saturday lunchtime without fail. Frail but smartly turned out, he revelled in her attention as she seated herself next to him on the leather banquette to take his order. They didn’t charge him for dessert, rightly so.

This lady also informed us about a recent visit by Alan Carr who had the ‘Grandpa’s balls’; when she asked how they were he replied with ‘melting in my mouth like usual darling’. Good waitress banter - I really should have noted her name.

With a frequently changing menu full of things I want to eat, a sprightly atmosphere, wonderful service and the opportunity to pop-in unannounced and prop up the bar with a small dish or three, I suspect it's not the last they've seen of me.

Liked lots: the homely food, the menu format, an anchovy menu, ingredients made in-house, excellent service, Jacob also opened Gelupo across the road that provides all the frozen desserts and is widely regarded as the best gelato experience in town
Liked less: the paintings at the back aren’t my cup of tea, but who the hell cares
Good for: spontaneous dining plans at the chef’s counter, welcoming service, social media interaction, getting to know the staff

My rating: 4/5

Find the menu on Zomato.

Afiyet olsun.

Bocca Di Lupo on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

gaylord, soho - event

I like to think when it comes to putting it away, I can run with the best of them. I’m no Black Widow but for my stature, I put in a commendable effort. Tasting menus are a good test of stamina. Seven, sometimes nine courses with an amuse-bouche and petits fours often leave diners steeping in their own digestive juices, torsos stretched and floor walks made to redistribute the contents of convex abdomens in an attempt to find room for dessert; top trouser buttons discreetly undone two hours ago and only three courses in.

You can imagine my wide-eyed expression then, of both anticipation and fear of death, when faced with an evening menu involving no less than: three amuse-bouches, six starters, five mains, five sides, two desserts and endless wine - I make that 21 separate dishes. I should have worn my elastic pants.

Gaylord is a smartly furnished (in that princely old-school handsomeness long-serving Indian restaurants often do) and established West End fixture of the dining scene focussing on Mughlai and North Indian cuisine. Established in 1966, it is part of a large group with a sister Gaylord in Mumbai and was the first to house a tandoor oven in the UK. It was also the chosen venue for a dinner organised by the restaurant review platform Zomato for some of their most prolific contributors - they know how to put on a good show. 

Crisp puri spheres containing a little potato and chickpea and filled at the table with flavoured water and tamarind chutney were demolished whole in the mouth, just before the liquid made a break for the table linen. Cones of fluffed up and chewy rice, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce (bhel puri) were tasty nods to the classic Mumbai beach snack. The flavours and textures of crunchy, aromatic, hot and sweet aloo papdi chaat came together very well in one mouth-swoop over the spoons they were presented on.   

Meaty prawns marinated in saffron and tandoori masala provided good resistance against the molars. The burnished-orange tilapia fillets fried in a paprika gram flour batter were less interesting, but the mint chutney side-kick worked wonders at lifting. Murg gilafi clove smoked minced chicken manipulated around skewers and presented alongside mild tandoor roasted chicken tikkas were delicately flavoured, but the stellar meat was the lamb in the form of expertly cooked Anardana chops and minced patties.

The former marinated in ginger and grilled, still a deep pink at the centre with charred corners and a splendid amount of fat disintegrating on the tongue, with seasoning good enough to call for teeth-stripping of any remaining flesh from the bones. The latter soft and yielding to the point of it unrecognisable as animal based, but with all the depth of flavour you could hope from it.

The butter chicken was very good, an unmistakable smokiness from the presence of fenugreek. Prawn coconut curry, delicately spiced and aromatic from kaffir lime leaf and mustard seeds, provided a perfect medium via which to absorb the saffron basmati . A fiery garlic, onion and tomato masala in which hunks of lamb had been stewed until flaky represented the corner for rogan josh rather well (even if with a little too much oil), with puréed spinach elevated by a lot of ginger representing the corner for paneer.

Slow-cooked (overnight) dal bukhara and chickpeas with a secret spice mix were both bowls of hearty and comforting pulses, providing much needed fibre amongst a table creaking under it’s own weight of sauced-up protein. Naans and rice and puris filled with scalding steam helped to mop-up and a number of chutneys - including a great homemade lime pickle - complimented the spread.

The malai kulfi was very agreeable - dense and solid from the reduction of milk and sporting a twist of cardamom and a flourish of chopped pistachio. And it was my first encounter of gulab jamun (made from milk solids) flambéed in dark rum; the sort of dessert you should run round the block to make room for between courses. It was celestial, despite me fighting unconsciousness by this point.

We had it all, and it was laid on thick. A constant flow of wine and cocktails, a magnum of posh 5-grape South African something-or-other which I know nothing about other than it tasted really great, attentive service from Sameer (the General Manager) and his team with explanations of each of the unending conveyor belt of dishes, and the remaining doggy-bagged for some good eating the following day. 

The restaurant takes a lot of pride in what it does - it shows. There’s tough competition from the likes of Gymkhana and Trishna, and the very accessible and more contemporary Dishoom these days. But Gaylord has survived on its own merits with a loyal following and good food coming from the kitchen, all contributing to a restaurant that continues to fill seats.

I’ve had more comfortable sleeps than I did that evening, but it was worth it. As always, a huge thank you to Zomato for the blowout - you don’t half do them well.

Liked lots: lamb chops, lamb patties, kulfi, gulab jamun, service, location, atmosphere
Liked less: fried tilapia, I expect bills can quite easily creep up when entertaining alcohol
Good for: a big Indian blow-out

My rating: 3.5/5

Find the menu on Zomato.

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was invited as a guest to this event.

Gaylord Indian on Urbanspoon 

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