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Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Boca di Lupo, Soho

November 8, 2016
Boca di Lupo, Soho

Considering that Italian food is my favourite cuisine and I spend most of my time eating in Soho, it’s a bit of a miracle that I had never been to Boca di Lupo until last week.

London has some wonderful Italian restaurants; from ‘swanky’ Zafferano, to South Ken favourite La Famiglia, to the more relaxed but no less excellent Trullo and Padella.  But Buco di Lupo is a name I hear regularly, constantly, and it’s always being praised.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

Book to sit at the kitchen bar, where all the action is.  The food is excellent.  Simple, no messing about, wonderful Italian food.  My favourite was the potato gnocchi with sausage.  While gnocchi is usually a stodgy, heavy dish, this was light, delicate and full of flavour. The pumpkin risotto was good too, but didn’t stand out as much for me.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

We ordered the Tagliata to share for the main course.  I’m glad we shared because it is truly massive (and beautifully cooked).  The rocket and parmesan are the perfect accompaniment, and we ordered a tomato salad which worked very well too.

We also enjoyed their wine.  Quite a lot of wine, as a matter of fact, from different regions in Italy (they have an excellent, if expensive, Italian wine list).  My favourite was the Barbera, but, at £17 per glass, it’s not automatically your go-to wine.  The Sangiovese was good too, and I can’t remember what else we drank because things got a bit blurry…

Boca di Lupo, Soho

In Soho, where you are spoilt for choice of restaurants, Buco di Lupo stands out.  The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, the food superb, the setting beautiful, warm and cosy.  Next time my father’s in town, I’m taking him there.  And that’s got to be a good sign.

Buco di Lupo

12 Archer St, Soho,

London W1D 7BB

 

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Clipstone, Fitzrovia

October 29, 2016
Clipstone, Fitzrovia

Before going to restaurants I always love checking out the menu (mainly to prepare myself for the bill).  Clipstone’s menu reads like it was ‘written by Chaucer’, as my friend Harry so aptly put it.  We didn’t understand half of it.  What’s ‘ventricina’ and ‘hispi’ cabbage, why put ‘mallard’ instead of just plain ‘duck’ (apparently because mallard is a wild duck), what’s a ‘torched gurnard’ and a ‘Paris-Brest’?  I’m clearly not really ‘with it’ anymore.  But it didn’t put me off at all.  It actually made me more curious.

While it’s high on my list of go to places, I am yet to try the much-praised restaurant Portland which opened in January last year.  Then its sister restaurant Clipstone opened this summer and the reviews were as good, if not better.  And for some reason I was even more drawn to it than Portland.  So I went last night.  And it was excellent.

It started very well with their homemade warm sour dough bread.  Thick and soft and filling and just what you need when starving and downing your first cocktail of the weekend.  The Halloween appropriate pumpkin with apricot, crispy herbs and creme fraiche was incredible.  The hispi cabbage (a diamond shaped sweet cabbage, apparently) was perhaps one of my favourite dishes, as were the leaks with gibriche sauce (effectively leak tempura – so so good).  The ravioli of celeriac & ricotta was unbelievably moorish and I could easily have had another plate of it.  Our meat options, the pork with quince (the sweet quince made this dish) and the pheasant (beautifully cooked) were good too, but it’s the vegetable dishes that receive the standing ovation.  There’s a clear love here for fermenting, smoking and pickling food and it allows for the perfect autumnal dinner.  It’s very hard to fault this place.

Clipstone, FitzroviaClipstone, Fitzrovia

The service was excellent and friendly and they put up with us asking what every other word on the menu was.

Pudding was a hard choice between the Paris Brest and the Buttermilk pudding, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect from either.  But I’m so glad we went for the Paris-Brest (effectively a lot of cream and choux pastry).  It was to die for and apparently very much the pudding du jour in London at the moment.

Clipstone, Fitzrovia

But one word of warning.  If you want a post-dinner aperitif, don’t, whatever happens, order the pear liqueur.  If you opt for it you can expect poison in a glass and a consequential blurry evening.  But everything else on the menu: order, order, order away.  You won’t be disappointed.

Clipstone

5 Clipstone Street

Fitzrovia

 

Blog, Drink, Eat, London

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

August 31, 2016
Samarkand, Fitzrovia

An Uzbek restaurant might not be your first choice on Charlotte Street, where you have a vast array of excellent international – and British – restaurants to choose from.  But I was curious, no less because of the promise of craft vodka and a dish called Jizbiz (I know…).

I rarely write bad reviews, mainly because I don’t want to waste my time writing about places I would simply not recommend.  The only negative one I wrote was about Restaurant Ours, because there was a hype for no reason, the prices were inflated and the service was appalling.  The problem with Samarkand is that I genuinely quite liked the restaurant (and bar), I thought the interiors were appealing and – most importantly – the service was really good.  So I feel for them a little, writing this review.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

But there is one big problem with Samarkand, and that is, very unfortunately, the food.  Arguably we enjoyed the 50% soft launch offer, which made for a very affordable and fun dinner.  However, the prices of the food cannot be justified without it.

To start with we ordered the beef and lamb ‘Manti’, Uzbek dumplings.  I’m always a bit of a fan of dumplings, but not of these.  Soggy, falling apart and bland, even the sauce which accompanied it resembled a Dolmio tomato sauce.  Maybe that’s the Uzbek way, but if it is, I wouldn’t put it on the menu.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

Next came the Shashlik (grilled skewered meat).  We ordered the Wagyu Beef with Truffle and a Buttermilk Lamb one.  Bearing in mind that the beef shashlik (one skewer – albeit 100g) costs £24, you’d expect some seriously good meat.  But it just didn’t do it for us (though the lamb was better than the beef).  The biggest mystery of all was the truffle clearly resembled truffle shavings but tasted of, well, nothing.  Nor did it smell of truffle.  It just looked like it.  When questioned if it was perhaps Uzbek truffle (if that exists) our very charming waiter said he’d check with the kitchen, and returned adamant it was Tuscan.

For the main course we decided to order the JizBiz, since a dish with a name like that surely can’t be ignored.  This was a rack of lamb with a potato cake.  It was fine, but not more than this – and just could have been so much better if they had properly grilled the lamb so the fat was crispy rather than soft.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

We moved to the bar area (which I really liked) after dinner to try some of their vodka.  They recommended two kinds: a sugar beet and a malt vodka – both completely new to us.  We couldn’t dine at an Uzbek restaurant and not have a vodka.  But then to our complete surprise we were served British vodka, two types of craft vodka made in London in fact.  I just couldn’t understand why a restaurant from an area famed for its vodka would serve British vodka.  Totally bizarre (I did like the Uzbek tea cups the vodka was served in).

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

Samarkand’s not all bad, as I said above.  I really liked the staff, who were attentive, enthusiastic and clearly proud to be working at there.  The head barman could talk for hours about the vodka we were drinking.  Some of the cocktails we had afterwards were good too (though the Whisky Sour could do with more whiskey).

This is not a place for a summer’s day (it’s underground), and should be better in the winter, where the British vodka can warm you, though the truffle with still mystify.  So in conclusion, I’d grab a pre or post-dinner cocktail here, but choose one of the plethora of other excellent restaurants on Charlotte Street (Roka, the Ninth, Barn Yard) or Bao around the corner for actual dinner.  If Uzbek cuisine wants to make its mark in London, it’s going to have to improve dramatically at Samarkand.

Samarkand

33 Charlotte St,

London W1T 1RR

Photo credit: Samarkand

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Oklava, Shoreditch

August 15, 2016
Oklava, Shoreditch

While Istanbul and in fact, Turkey in general, are massively struggling at the moment, Turkish food in London seems to be flourishing.

The very popular Babaji Pide opened in 2015 (another one of Alan Yau’s venture), and then Le Bab (serving gourmet kebabs – what’s not to like) opened earlier this year to rave reviews.

But perhaps the most talked about opening has to be Oklava (modern Turkish food), by Selim Kiazin – a young, hungry and exceptionally talented Turkish chef.  She wowed throughout her stint at Carousel, and was so loved that she set up on her own in a quiet Shoreditch side street.

Oklava, Shoreditch

The result is rather satisfactory.  It is a lovely little restaurant, with a busy open kitchen (and a kitchen counter to watch the chefs at work), large windows which open widely and a few seats outside too.

We arrived early and grabbed some of the outside seats to enjoy the warm Friday evening (and later moved inside to their kitchen counter).  I tried their sumac and pomegranate Martini – am always a fan of a vodka cocktail –  especially if they keep it quite simple.  Sumac might not be your cocktail ingredient of choice, but it’s actually quite sweet and worked really well.  We then moved onto the wine – all Turkish – which originally we (mainly Rob) were sceptical about.  Until we tried the wine the lovely waitress recommended, and that shut us up.

Oklava, Shoreditch

The menu is quite succinct, with everything sounding as mouth-watering as the dishes looked as they were prepared in front of us.  A must try is of course their ‘pide’ (flat bread), prepared in their special wood fire.  We went for the ‘traditional’ lamb one (Lahmacun), but their potato, leek, mozzarella, tulum cheese and fresh truffle one looked incredible too.

Oklava, Shoreditch

Our culinary journey here started with fresh Baharat bread and date butter – superb.  They were followed by whipped feta and pumpkin crostinis which were slightly disappointing, not taste-wise, but size-wise (and at £2.50 a pop, not worth it in my opinion). The courgette, feta and mint fritters came next, and while they also looked quite small, they were wonderfully filling and one of my favourite bites of the night.

Oklava, Shoreditch

After the pide we were suddenly feeling quite full, but then came Rob’s beef short rib which was melt in the mouth delicious, followed by my pomegranate glazed lamb breast with yoghurt. Both excellent.

Oklava, Shoreditch

In a city where restaurants are competing for attention, to properly ‘stand out’, Oklava does.  The price can add up (as tends to be the case with sharing plates) but it is totally worth it.

Oklava

74 Luke St,

London EC2A 4PY

Photo credit: Oklava (and the Instagram ones are mine)

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Oldroyd, Islington

August 13, 2016
Oldroyd, Islington

I used to really like Polpo.  Until it became a chain restaurant.  Dinner there, while the food was still good, became a less special occasion (the one in Notting Hill gate is large and impersonal, contrasting massively to the tiny original in Soho).  So it’s perhaps no wonder that then chef-director of the Polpo group Tom Oldroyd packed his bags last year and opened his own restaurant on Upper Street.

Oldroyd, IslingtonOldroyd, Islington

Oldroyd has buckets of what the new Polpos now sadly lack: charm.  It’s much ‘cuter’ than Polpo (I promise the comparisons stop now), and its bright and airy disposition lends well to a long and boozy Saturday lunch.  Which is what we did, after accompanying my sister to try on some wedding dresses down the road.  Summer dinners could work too, as they have a few tables outside on the street, so you can enjoy lively Angel vibes while having dinner.

Oldroyd, Islington

Tom Oldroyd clearly knows what he’s doing.  The food is excellent.  Small sharing plates, seasonal fresh ingredients, interesting flavours.  We had huge fresh prawns, crisp light salads and phenomenal ‘vegetarian’ meatballs.  Pudding wasn’t quite so light, with warm rhubarb almond tart and tiramisu, where plates were licked unabashedly.

Oldroyd, Islington

While the place is tiny, this is no bad thing (if you book well in advance).  I love small restaurants.  They offer something more intimate, and also give you a sense of smugness for having managed to get a table.

So full marks for Tom, who’s given me yet another reason to return to Angel.

Oldroyd

344 Upper St,

London N1 0PD

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London

Foley’s, Fitzrovia

August 13, 2016
Foleys, FItzrovia

Palomar is still up there with one of my all-time favourite London restaurants (and I also really loved its new sister restaurant the Barbary).  It’s not surprising therefore that Palomar’s Sous Chef Mitz Vora has opened a restaurant which blew me away, rivalling Palomar in standard and flavours.

I might be a little biased as I rocked up to the restaurant on a high (and a little merry) from a long afternoon at the wonderful Pergola on the Roof, in a very good mood. This was definitely helped by cocktails from the ‘outside’ bar at Foley’s, which I loved!  A further 50% off the food because of the soft launch meant that we all got very over-excited and ordered everything on the menu.  I think the only thing we missed off was a random salad.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Everything else we devoured completely.  Our favourites?  The ceviche endive tacos with tuna and octopus (heaven), the aubergine with pomegranate, quinoa and feta, the lamb and the beef.  But to be honest, I’d happily have all of it again.

Foleys, FItzroviaFoleys, FItzrovia

We finished it off with a few Espresso Martini cocktails (and again, moved outside for that – one has to take advantage of a warm summer’s evening).  These are not cheap, but are most definitely a way to emerge from any food coma.

A special mention should also go to the décor and the feel of the place.  It’s one of those restaurants with such a fun, upbeat vibe.  Unpretentious, down to earth, cool but not achingly (painfully) trendy.  The open plan kitchen is always welcome (next time I’ll sit at the kitchen counter, but a table is better for groups).   And it’s in Fitzrovia, which is just ideal in terms of location, not heaving with tourists, and a short walk into Soho if you’re looking for more after dinner party time.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Foley’s

23 Foley St,

London W1W 6DU

Photo credit: Foley’s

 

Blog, Eat, Healthy, London

Casita Andina, Soho

August 9, 2016
Casita Andina, Soho

Clever clever Martin Morales.  Introducing affordable (and delicious) Peruvian food to London (Ceviche)?  Check.  Expanding into Shoreditch with a focus on the Peruvian Andres (Andina)?  Check.  And now, the last master stroke: opening a completely gluten free, super healthy (but still Peruvian) new restaurant in Soho.   Enter Casita Andina.  Andina’s little sister restaurant but with an increased focus on health, without of course sacrificing on taste.

I went for the soft launch last week, at lunch time.  The staff were clearly still a little confused with what was going on.  One lovely girl didn’t really understand the menu, as hard as she tried.  I got a call from the reservations team twice after I had left, asking me if I was still coming for lunch.  But this is all completely forgiven because a) it’s a soft opening, so these problems are inevitable, b) the food makes up for it all.

Casita Andina, Soho

They offer a great lunch time deal: two plates for £10.  I suggest if you’re dining with someone (which I hope you are), that you choose four different dishes between you.  One of the ceviche dishes (I’d go with the classic) is an obvious must.  Super delicious.  We also had the croquettas with a twist (pork and liver, with chilli jam) – unusual and surprisingly moorish.  From the hot plates we chose the Salmon Scabeche (perfect, and I love the sweet potato with it) and the Aji de Gallini (chicken with botija olive and a quails egg).  I’d never had chicken quite like it, it looked almost like scrambled eggs (without wanting to put you off) but was delicious, if not for everyone.

Casita Andina, Soho

The place itself is super cute, great location, small but with so much charm.  The Peruvian theme is of course very apparent, like at Andina, but without it being too naff.

The perfect lunch place, if not light dinner option.  I shall return.

Casita Andina

31 Great Windmill St,

London W1D 7LP

Photo credit: Casita Andina

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

The Barbary, Soho

June 20, 2016
The Barbary, Soho

I haven’t had been out for dinner in London for a while, and so perhaps that’s why I may have appreciated the Barbary even more than usual.

The place is tiny but so atmospheric. There are no tables, just one large kitchen bar, with 24 seats around it. The focal point is clearly the kitchen, where chefs cheerfully work away at creating beautiful, mostly grilled, dishes from Jerusalem and the Barbary Coast. I’d never heard of the Barbary coast (also known as the Berber coast), but it’s the coast off Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya. So expect a mixture of flavours from the Middle East and North Africa.

I was expecting a long wait, as this is no normal restaurant opening. The Barbary is the little brother of one of my all time favourite London restaurants: The Palomar.  But we only waited about 15 minutes, with a glass of rouge from the Languedoc (they have a range of European wines on offer) and a delicious lamb/pork mince in a grilled pitta with humous.

The Barbary, Soho

After 10 minutes the waitress suddenly bounded up to us with a bottle and three shot glasses.  ‘Sorry for the wait, guys’, she said, ‘this should ease the pain’.  And poured us all, her included, a shot of limoncello-esque liqueur.  Later we observed the whole restaurant, chefs included, do another shot.  It clearly contributed to the lively vibe.

Like The Palomar, the menu offers a range of small sharing plates.  We opted for the Naan e Barbari (mouth wateringly delicious),  a wonderful smokey Baba Ganoush, the Pata Negra Neck (such succulent meat), the grilled prawns (huge and juicy, but sadly just two of them), the Cauliflower Jaffa style (possibly my favourite dish) and the Kholrabi, Rocket and Peas, with feta sumac vinaigrette (super fresh and light).  Last we ordered the Jerusalem Bagel which was also excellent, and good to soak up all the juices and sauces (though only order if you love sesame seeds).

The Barbary, SohoThe Barbary, Soho
The price easily adds up, and it’s hard not to be greedy.  But the food is very filling, so be warned – there is no need to order more than 8 dishes.

This truly is the perfect Thursday night place, it gets you in the mood for the weekend, makes you forget work stress and more than satisfies your hunger (and tastebuds).  Go now before the word properly spreads.

The Barbary

16 Neal’s Yard

London WC2H 9DP

Blog, Eat, London

Morden & Lea, Soho

June 26, 2015
Morden & Lea, Soho

Mark Sargey has a lot on his plate. Already owning two restaurants in Kent, as well as being ‘Executive’ Chef at the Strand Dining Rooms, he opened his third restaurant in the heart of Soho last week.  And it certainly did not disappoint.

Morden and Lea, on bustling Wardour street, is divided in two. Upstairs is the more refined of the two: a brasserie with a fixed price menu (2 courses for £28, 3 for £35), with a very British menu.  Great value considering the quality.

Morden & lea, Soho

 

The ground floor, with its slick and en trend decor, is their more casual wine bar/restaurant which serves small plates and sharing platters, as well as a good range of Old World wines (their Nero D’Avola – if you like rich Sicilian wines – was really good).

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On Tuesday I went with a friend who’s into his gourmet food, to take on some small plates and to talk travel.  We were pretty much the only people there – but that’s clearly because it’s new and most people don’t know about it yet (they will soon) – rather than because it’s unappealing. It did mean we had the waiter to ourselves and there was very little waiting around for food.

Morden & lea, SohoWe tried pretty much everything on the menu: a range of tartines and a number of small plates. And two deserts to finish.

Apart from the mackerel, which we decided was a bit ‘I-can-make-this-at-home’, everything we ordered was delicious.

Stand out plate:
The crab sausage roll. Wouldn’t normally be my dish of choice but I was intrigued by the crab addition. It was incredible. There has already been quite a social media stir about these moorish items, so go try them and put your version on Instagram/Twitter (or just enjoy them). #crabsausageroll

Morden & Lea, Soho
I also really enjoyed the broadbean, pea and peccorino tartine and the goats curd. The sourdough bread was super fresh and delicious (ideal for dipping in the Aubergine puree).

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Pudding was another highlight. Intending on sharing one we of course ordered two, as choosing between chocolate and buttermilk was just plain impossible. The chocolate ganache had the most incredible texture, creamy and thick but with a nutty crunch.  The buttermilk pudding was similar to a Pannacotta (my favourite desert of all time) and I loved the berry compot with it.

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In short: Mark Sargey has nailed it. I like restaurants which give you the option to book if you want as well as the option to walk in and grab a quick bite if you prefer. And that’s rare in London these days, especially in Soho.

Morden & Lea

17 Wardour Street, London W1

Photos Morden & Lea’s and my own

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