All reader reviews by Mise En Place
Last week we attended the late Friday nights at the London Zoo. It sounded like a great idea; cheap zoo entry, rum, animals at dusk…. what more could you want. The animals were great, if you could see them through the thousands of people and the drinks were ok too, once you had forked out £4 for a small bottle of beer.
Anyways Zoo aside, we were left wandering around Camden on a Friday night and very hungry. Not being iPhone users we didn’t have the web at our fingertips to do any research, so it was back to the basics, walk around and find something which looked good!
Enter Jamon Jamon on Parkway in Camden. Surrounded by lots of busy eateries and pubs it stands out on the street because it is always busy and exudes a fun energy. I had also heard great things and Tapas sounded perfect for a quick fix to our hunger issues.
The restaurant is long and thin with a warm feel it is packed tables – where the maître d’ will squeeze you in even if it looks impossible. We ordered some Jamon Croquettas, Baked Prawns, Stuffed Peppers, Pulpo Gallego (Octopus with Paprika Potatoes) and Pork with crispy Potatoes and a Roquefort Sauce.
We were looking for a quick eat and we got just that. Before I had finished my Mahou and started on the house Rioja our food arrived! I am always a little concerned when hot food arrives within five minutes of ordering, usually correctly so.
Since I had heard such good things I was in a positive state of mind and didn’t think much about the frozen bread rolls and overcooked prawns. The Pork with the cheese sauce and potatoes was the star and pretty much made up for the average quality of the rest of the food. The thinly sliced Pork was super tender with a char grill smoky flavor complimented perfectly by the creamy sauce and crispy potatoes.
It’s funny how a positive mind state can make what could have otherwise been a disappointment, entertaining. The Octopus was also really overdone and rubbery with half cooked potatoes covered in cheap Paprika. The Peppers were ok, but it’s pretty hard to mess up Peppers. I didn’t like the Croquettas, they tasted like they had been de-frosted and re-heated – my girlfriend seemed to enjoy them though!
Our whole meal was over before we could even get through half a bottle – we sat sipping that waiting for the bill which took a while, as the restaurant was super busy by this time. At £50 for a few drinks and 5 dishes it’s not too pricey but for the quality probably on the steep side.
If you are looking for super authentic tapas in London then Jamon Jamon isn’t your place. If you are looking for a table in a busy, energetic restaurant with OK priced, half decent dishes that will arrive quickly then it might be worth a visit! 2/5 stars
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Food 7 | Service 5 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 5
Expensive meals out are no longer the realm of posh rooms, French classics and suits and ties. In 2010 you can eat scientifically styled dishes for over £100 in Shoreditch wearing trainers if you like. Eating out is trendy in London but not all of us can afford to waste a week’s wages on one meal – or would even want to if we could!
Bloggers (and newspaper critics) seem obsessed with reviewing these trendy, pricey places, but what about all those local eateries on high streets around London, surely some of them deserve attention? Enter Fish in a Tie.
We had read a few random reviews on Urban Spoon about Fish In A Tie, the prices were what caught my eye, two lunch courses for £5. Reviewers all were local and commented on its eclectic decor, large portions and super cheap prices. We had to check it out.
Tucked in behind Clapham Junction Station, Fish In A Tie is not going to win any awards for location but we arrived at 7:30 on a Wednesday expecting an empty room but were greeted by a smiling host rapidly looking around a packed room trying to find somewhere to ‘squeeze’ us.
The decor is kind of crazy but the room feels warm and homely and I was impressed it was packed on a Wednesday. They have a £10 3 course menu plus a normal a la Carte and specials menu.
The cuisine is Mediterranean influence and the menus are tough to pick from, so many delicious dishes! We ordered a bottle of house red, a Prawn and Avacodo Salad and a Goats Cheese and Pepper salad for starters from the smiling waiter. Sipping on the wine we commented how loud (in a good way) the room was, everyone in there was in high spirits and I love a meal where you don’t need to whisper.
The Entrees were both delicious, a great hunk of quality warm Goats cheese and roast peppers and the Prawns were spicy served with avocado on top of a Mexican style crunchy tortilla, a strange combo but the small prawns were juicy and fresh and the spice perfect.
We both decided to order of the specials board opting for Pork Belly with a Calvados sauce and Sword Fish with herb butter. There was lots of great looking dishes to choose from though, Rib Eye Steak and Béarnaise, Pork Medallions with mozzarella and bacon, Duck breast with ginger and honey, Rack of Lamb with Rosemary and a seasonal Risotto with green beans and courgettes.
Our mains were pretty good, nothing gourmet but for £7 we weren’t expecting finesse. The Swordfish probably had been a fair few days out of the sea but the herb butter was great and the pork belly was well cooked with a tasty sauce and a slice of black pudding.
Our waiter looked like he was about to cry when we refused dessert, I caved and ordered a Banoffee Pie which seemed to cheer him up a lot! It cheered us up to when it came, delicious!
Our whole meal with wine and service came to just under £45 and as we were leaving around 9 people were still piling in the door! Obviously this place is a hidden gem; it may not get love by the trendy foodie scene but if you’re looking for well cooked honest food in great atmosphere at ridiculously cheap prices then Fish In A Tie is well worth the trek to Clapham Junction!
We will be back, a lot!
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 10
We have been addictively watching the Masterchef Australia series for the last few weeks. An overdose of Masterchef has the effect of turning an average weekday meal into a serious discussion on the acidity of the pasta sauce and the combination of cheese and macaroni, “does it really work?” Watching all those delicious meals plated up night after night got us excited to get up off the lounge and actually go and eat something original. Luckily living in London, you do not have to travel too far to find amazing food; the only real issue is the sheer amount of choice!
Being a serious meat eater there was one restaurant which had been tempting me for some time, London’s home of nose to tail eating, Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson’s, St John. Praised as a revolution in British cooking since its opening in 1994, St John has become a foodie icon. Henderson’s sparse style of cooking everything edible on the animal is not to everyone taste though but if bone marrow and Ox’s heart doesn’t make you squeamish then read on!
With one Michelin star and several appearances in the world’s top fifty restaurant awards there is a surprising amount of mixed press about St John. Many online reviewers seem to be expecting more from a Michelin quality establishment and a large percentage are purely put off by the intimidating menu. Is its status as the foodie’s temple just hype from celebrity reviewers like Anthony Bourdain? There’s only one way to find out.
St John doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. Built in what was once a smokehouse, Henderson and Gulliver have kept the decor minimal. You enter into an airy foyer/bar/bakery where you can sample the bar menu over a Brew Wharf Beer (one of Gulliver’s side projects). The dining room is set to the right up a few stairs, a large, uncluttered brick lined space with simple white tablecloths and very little else. The first impression is that of an upscale cafeteria – but at the end of the day it’s the food that counts, plush carpets and fancy lighting won’t ever make up for a terrible meal will it?
Me, my girlfriend and her mum freshly in from New York arrived at 6:15 (the only slot available for a last minute booking) which was ok since we had just been to a matinee theatre performance (Jeff Goldblum in The prisoner of Second Ave – avoid at all costs!!!). The dining room was basically empty and we were in no rush. The menus like the decor are simple photocopied A4 sheets – changing daily to reflect the freshest produce. We ordered a bottle of the house red (St John’s own brand) our waiter promptly returned to spill a few good measures of vino on our tablecloth while reciting the specials. I am not fussy at all when it comes to service but this kind of thing might be the reason St John gets such mixed reviews from the punters. I feel as if the spilt red slotted in well with the cafeteria style setting it reminded me of tables lined with butchers paper covered in crayon drawings and grease from a hearty family meal.
Not being a wine snob either the house red was just fine, although St John is praised for its extensive (predominantly French) wine list. They also serve by the glass which works well if you like to match your dishes.
Ambience, service and wine aside, on to the food!
Famous for serving simple, tasty offal (pr. Awful) based dishes the St John menu also caters for vegetarians and the wimps. The Broad Bean, chard and Goats Curd vego option actually sounded enticing – but we weren’t there to eat plain old vegetables. For entree’s we had to pick from delights such as, Rabbit Offal and Chicory, Cured Beef & Celeriac and Snails in Bacon. The most famous/iconic starter has to be Henderson’s Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad (inspired by the film La Grande Bouffe!) It has been on the menu since he opened his doors and I had to try it. You are literally served three or four hacked off, roasted beef bones full of creamy marrow with a side of sour dough toast and an acidic flat leaf parsley salad. I remember my mum always getting excited at the prospect of sucking the marrow from a roasting joint, it never really seemed that appetising to me to be honest. I scooped my first dollop of marrow out with the supplied tool and dolloped it on the toast. My first bite was not great; it tasted like fat on toast. Once I added a mouthful of the salad though, I got it. The acidic parsley cuts through the fatty marrow and a small sprinkling on the supplied rock salt on top makes the starter POP. Incredibly simple food but very very yummy! Two of us got the marrow and my girlfriend ordered Langoustines with garlic mayo, which were equally amazing, four huge, very fresh langoustines with a creamy garlic mayo.
While we were ordering our mains we asked what the waiter thought of the Snail, Chorizo and Chick Pea stew. His reaction was odd, either he doesn’t like it (which he adamantly said he did) or he thought that our guests from NY were not ready for snails and sausage on the same plate? Maybe the US contingent come for the hype and aren’t ready for the awful (offal) or maybe that’s a terrible stereotype. Either way she ordered it, I ordered Roast Middle white with carrot and my girlfriend got braised veal with fennel. I suppose neither of ours were that out there (think squirrels brains) but I had heard great things about the Middlewhite and we are both suckers for roasted fennel.
The Middlewhite is a rare breed of pig and considering how good it tastes I am surprised it not rarer! I was served four thick slices of juicy pink pork next to a whole braised carrot on top of the cooking jus. Such a simple dish, some might argue not Michelin quality food – but it tasted amazing. The pork was cooked expertly, juicy and full of savoury meaty flavour, as was the carrot. The waiter offered some mustard to go with the dish, which was a great accompaniment. The Snail stew was also brilliant. The snails themselves were tender and had soaked up the spicy chorizo flavour in the broth, as had the chickpeas. It would make a comforting dish in the depths of winter (or English summer!) very warming and satisfying. The braised veal (which was a special) was tender and falling off the bone, the serving was HUGE; it took two of us to polish off most of it. As with my dish it was served simply with the Fennel, what you see on the menu is what you get at St John. What the mains lacked in complexity they made up for in flavour. They were a testament to the product, which is the underlying foundation of all Henderson’s cooking.
I am not a huge dessert man, unless it comes in liquid form. So I was happy to see the blackberry sorbet with Russian vodka. My girlfriend ordered Eton Mess and we got a half dozen Madelines to share. Considering St John’s has a reputation for its carnivorous delights, the puddings were amazing. The Eton mess was perhaps the most delicious dessert I have ever had. Full of tart blackberry’s, luscious cream and super sweet meringue, it melted in your mouth – all three of us considered ordering another to share. My sorbet was equally delicious and full of flavour but I think I should have downed the shot of cold vodka rather than pour it over the top! To top off a great meal (and a few bottles of the house vino) we had six perfect little Madelines, crispy on the edges, and soft and sweet in the middle – a perfect finish to a great meal. The bill wasn’t as scary as you would imagine for such a highly esteemed joint in trendy Clerkenwell either.
St John’s isn’t what you imagine a Michelin starred restaurant ranked in the top 50 in the world should be. But then again what makes a good restaurant? Ambience, yes, setting, yeah, hospitality, of course but…..the food is what separates the good from the bad and the great from the good and what St John is able to do is take a minimal approach to everything but produce massive bursts of flavour in its food and also a casual, un-stuffy environment in which to enjoy it in.
We will definitely be back – especially when the Eton Mess is on the menu!
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Food 8 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 7