Posts Tagged With: Okay Experience

Lunchtime fun time in Croydon: Part 1

Nearest Station: East Croydon/West Croydon

My team got moved down to Croydon in January this year – let me tell you this, it is a very different place from Canary Wharf. But whilst there aren’t that many suits and ties down there, there is still a Waitrose!!

Image

This isn’t Croydon…

However, unlike a few of my colleagues, I was rather okay with the transition: I was rather familiar with shopping and eating in Croydon from my days living in Surrey, and my commute is now hella easy and crowd-free… and I suppose I was getting a bit tired of the samey-chainey food options in the Wharf (WASABI I HATE YOU SO MUCH).

Sure, I would miss the lunchtime window-shopping, the glass-steel-marble skyscrapers, the preppy hot girls in their finest office wear, the… erm, prestige I guess of working in Canary Wharf? But hey, I love (re)discovering different parts of London; Croydon lunchtimes would therefore be fun times.

Over the past few months I have therefore taken it upon myself to discover the best in lunchtime dining in Croydon – not just for my stomach’s sake, but also maybe for my career’s sake: I think I’m well on my way to becoming my team’s (hopefully indispensable) Food Guy. See below for the results of my exhaustive, scientific and completely objective study.

 

Uncle Lim’s Malaysian Kitchen

Cuisine: Malaysian

Address: Whitgift Centre, CR0 1RZ

Tel.: 020 8688 8378

Website: N/A

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal

Ah yes, good old Uncle Lim’s; I’ve known you for a long time.

Cheap and cheerful Malaysian canteen that can whip up dishes fresh from the kitchen or, the more usual option for me, a selection of food from their hot counter, packaged into a Medium Meal Deal (rice/noodles, one meat, one veg, one drink) or their Large Meal Deal (rice/noodles, two meat, one veg, one drink).

Portions are hearty (the Large will put you into a food coma. You have been warned), the prices are cheap, the turnover of the food is fast enough, and the quality itself decent for what it is.

The Malaysian lamb curry may be a bit too bony and the salt and pepper squid a bit chewy, so I would go for the beef rendang (rich and flavourful but not too spicy) and the sambal aubergines – they are both delightful. The rice is soft and fluffy, whilst the noodles are a bit plain but more-ish in that “fried food tastes so good” way.

I also recently had the char kway teow; very generous portion and again very tasty. Rather surprisingly, the prawns were not the piddly kind you get in the supermarket, but more properly-sized beasts. Not bad for a canteen in Croydon!

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

It certainly does not stack up against Satay House or Melur, my two favourite Malaysian restaurants in London, but then again Uncle Lim’s has no pretensions (and certainly not the prices) to be like them. This is a place for a filling and hearty lunch that delivers flavour, if not sophistication.

I took my team’s business analysts here for lunch once; several have been back, including very recently for a colleague’s leaving lunch. If it’s good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for you?

VERDICT – A good place. Let me make clear that this is not the height of fine Malaysian dining in the capital, but it’s not trying to be like that, and so cannot be rated in the same way. You want something different in Croydon? You want teh tarik? You want a hearty meal that delivers on flavour for a good price? Then Uncle Lim can feed you, and he will feed you well.

 

Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Cuisine: Indian/Pakistani

Address: North End Mall, CR0 1UB

Tel.: 020 8633 1779

Website: http://www.chai-corner.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Takeaway

I was rather surprised to spot these guys in the Allders mall: Indian street food in Croydon? Seems a bit too hipster for the area… but the more important question is – how do they square off against the currently on-trend Dosa Deli and Everybody Lovelove Jhal Muri Express (as if that’s even a legitimate question)?

The reason I group Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney together is because a cursory internet search and first-hand experience shows them to be owned by the same people – and funnily enough, they do seem to cook each other’s food, with the ladies at Chilli Chutney producing the wraps for the lads at Chai Corner. Interesting business plan…

Regardless of who is making the wraps, they are tasty enough for lunch. The first time I went, I had the paneer tikka wrap: adequate amount of paneer filling bulked out by salad and a flavourful if mild tikka marinade/sauce/spice. I have since followed this up with other wraps, but the meat options present a rather unremarkable dining experience.

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

The pakora were good and crisp and nicely savoury, if rather oily, but the samosa is a nice and fresh little parcel of deep-fried goodness (just about superseding my love of cold 85p samosas from the corner shops, the height of gastronomic experience). A further visit for a sit-down meal with mia madre saw us having the tandoori chicken – a succulent and juicy affair – whilst the lamb seekh kebab salad was… interesting in its combination of olives and sun-dried tomatoes with lamb seekh.

At least the tikka was the right colour

At least the tandoori was the right colour

Are those... sun-dried tomatoes and olives? YES :-(

Are those… sun-dried tomatoes and olives in an ‘Indian’ salad? YES 😦

The output is quick, the prices are low and the food is adequate. It certainly makes for a change from the normal wrap experience, not that there are many in Croydon.

VERDICT – An okay experience. Dished out from the rough-and-ready stalls lining the passageway in the rather tired Allders mall, Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney’s food do an admirable job of bringing a different kind of Indian experience to town. It’s not particularly polished, but it ticks all the boxes for a decent and quick lunch.

 

Roti Masters

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Cuisine: Caribbean

Address: 26a St George’s Walk, CR0 1YG

Tel.: 020 8760 0999

Website: http://rotimasters.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal, Friendly conversation, Spice

We’re getting into some serious lunch territory here. I’d initially spotted this little bad boy of a café back in December, on our team away day and Christmas lunch outing, and made a mental note to myself to check it out. Further research revealed some very promising reviews; Roti Masters moved high up my hit list.

And who wouldn’t want to try a bit of Trinidadian roti wrap? For the uninitiated, these are a true fusion food from the Caribbean: Indian-inspired flatbreads (roti) filled with Indian-inspired curries using Caribbean meats, spices and ingredients… it’s a recipe for success, one that I hoped that Roti Masters would, well, have mastered (ha!).

The proof of their ability is clear in the number of times I’ve been back: the man with the plan behind the counter now recognises me and has met my colleagues and even my dad and my mum – he now asks how the parents are doing! This is certainly one friendship I am happy to cultivate.

The Curry Goat Roti is a delight – succulent and tender pieces of goat in a highly-spiced and rich sauce, packed into a light and fluffy roti along with a myriad of other delicious fillings inside the light and chewy roti skin. Although it looks small on the plate, first impressions can be deceptive; this bad boy will fill you up.

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

The saltfish version of the roti is also very tasty and savoury, but I do understand that saltfish can be divisive – however, this is not too salty, so it’s definitely worth a spin.

The least comfortable lunch I had there was when I rather stupidly ordered the Buss Up Shot (the roti skins by themselves – oh so very more-ish in their fluffy doughiness) alongside a Hot Double (roti filled with mushy and hot chana chickpeas) and some palori (chickpea fritters that are ever-so-slightly crunchy on the outside but all chewiness on the inside) – as you can imagine, I ate myself into a food coma, albeit a delicious one. Have those things on separate occasions, not at the same time, or you’ll be falling asleep at work, as I did. But was it worth it? Oh yes…

VERDICT – A good place. Friendly, delicious, wholesome and tasty, Roti Masters is a no-frills café with some banging food at affordable prices. Not sure there’s much more to say oth- oh wait: “Suck it Canary Wharf!! You may have Roka and Le Relais de Venise, but Croydon has Roti Masters! BOOM”

Currently listening to: Sonic Boom Six – For the Kids of the Multiculture

Categories: Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After-work Pubs: Part 1

More fun at More London

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Elephant-tastic

Elephant-tastic

Everyone enjoys a cheeky pint or a flirty glass of wine after work, no? You know how it is: you get a group of you from work, you head down to your usual post-work watering hole (“the meeting room downstairs”, as my current company calls it), and you all have a natter and a couple of drinks and then head on your merry ways – unless, of course, it’s a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night, or any other night of the working week, and things escalate and get messy, and you end up partying hard. Andrew WK HARD.

Thing is, that pub or wine bar you always head to every time someone proposes a drink? Unless you happen to work somewhere really cool and trendy, you would probably never, ever frequent your local watering hole in any other circumstances, because either a) it’s crap b) it’s where your colleagues/directors hang out c) it’s always crowded or d) it’s bloody pricey. No matter how much you avoid it otherwise, inevitably, you always find yourself there, putting up with it until that time when it’s safe to resume your life elsewhere.

BUT: what if you had a choice? What if you were able to propose another location, just to “mix things up a bit”, to “bring something new to the table”, to find somewhere else just that bit less odious etc. etc.? Well, this new series of reviews is just for you. It does not profess to be comprehensive – it is purely based on where I’ve had the chance to go to for my after-work drinks during my potted career around London. It does not profess to offer magical places of alcoholic delight – some locations are just lacking  in good choices, but we just have to shut up and put up with what we have.

So, first off, we’re going to that God-forsaken No Man’s Land: south of the river (I jest, but only because I’m a south Londoner now). More specifically, I’m talking about that stretch between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, including the More London development.

Now, my office and team were pretty small, so I did not necessarily drink with my colleagues as such, but I still arranged to meet with friends and my girlfriend at the time at some of the local establishments for a refreshing, winding down/pumping up drink. Here are some of the places I used to hit up:

Horniman at Hays

Hays Galleria, SE1 2HD, 020 7407 1991, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/thehornimanathayslondonbridge/

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

This Nicholson’s pub has quite a few great things going for it: riverside location with a sizeable terrace, a rather large and characterful interior, an excellent and ever-changing range of guest ales and, previously, not bad prices. It’s great for sipping a pint of ale by the river, watching the sun set over the City, and having a natter with friends. The food’s pretty decent too, if you’re looking for something British and hearty.

Unfortunately, all of these positives do mean that the place can get horrifically busy in the immediate post-work crush. As in, elbows-out-sorry-don’t-mind-me-as-I-slip-and-slide-my-way-across-your-chest/back-and-inadvertently-fondle-you-with-my-beverage busy. Service does tend to be brisk at the bar though, seeing as they’re mainly pouring pints or glasses of wine, meaning you never have to wait too long.

On the flipside, the crowd does mean that it can be quite a lively place, good enough for getting you buzzing again after a hard day at the office. This is especially true in summer, when the crowds can comfortably spill out to the riverside and enjoy the fresh air.

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

I do miss being able to go to this pub more frequently. I am just about due a free pint from their discontinued loyalty card scheme – maybe I should see if I can go claim it.

VERDICT – A good place. Decent pub in a great setting. Sort yourself out with a pint of one of their guest ales, grab a table outside and enjoy the view over the Thames. Just bear in mind that everyone else is probably thinking the same thing.

The Mudlark

Montague Close, SE1 9DA, 020 7403 7364, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/themudlarklondonbridge/

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

A mudlark is someone who goes scavenging in river mud for any items of value – which, if you strike lucky, can be quite lucrative sometimes – but you certainly won’t find any in this pub, especially not of the traditional type. It’d be a bit smelly if you did get them coming in, so it’s no big loss.

What you get instead is another Nicholson’s pub with lots of character (imparted by heavy wooden beams and pillars supporting a white-washed brick ceiling) and a decent range of guest ales. Nicholson’s seem to do pretty well on guest ales and on ensuring their pubs look like they have lots of tradition and history behind them which, as far as pubs go, is quite a good thing. You expect a pub to have some history and character, otherwise what’s the point? Especially in an area as historic as Southwark, you want something that’s reflective of the surroundings.

But enough on that. What’s it like to drink at the Mudlark? I’ve always managed to find space to sit down, no matter how busy it got – either in the rather cosy interior or in the equally cosy courtyard outside. Cosy it may have been, but it’s not cheek-by-jowl cosy, so you can still have those intimate conversations. However, it can get a bit loud inside, but not deafeningly so, allowing for you to sit/stand around with colleagues in awkward silence not because you can’t hear them but because you don’t have anything in common with them.

So what I quite enjoyed doing with friends was coming here, having a pint and then following it up with a pie. The pies at the Mudlark are pretty decent and substantial for what they are, and will give you that wonderful warming feeling that is vital for survival in these cold winter months.

Pies, pies and more pies

Pies, pies and more pies

I still pop here if I am meeting with a friend in the London Bridge area – as it’s just around the corner from the station, it’s a perfect meeting spot before heading on home to New Cross.

VERDICT – A good place. Another characterful pub set in decent environs, with a good selection of ales and food that does satisfy. Despite its small size, there always seems to be enough space to squeeze a group in, which just adds to the busy and buzzing atmosphere. And as a stopping point before the rest of the evening, it’s perfect – down your pint, and away you go through London Bridge station.

 

The Shipwrights Arms

88 Tooley Street, SE1 2TF, 020 7378 1486, http://www.shipwrightsarms.co.uk/

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Now this is a pub I did not frequent as often as the Horniman or the Mudlark, even though it was closer to the office.

According to their website, the pub was built in 1884 and still maintains its original tiled murals (ahh see, there we go – the history). Another feature which they’re quite proud of, and which does distinguish it from other bars and pubs in the area, is the high-ceilinged, cavernous space inside, within which the island bar in the middle seems rather dwarfed. It makes it feel rather roomier than it actually is – the place does get busy, presumably from the More London crowd situated just across the road.

The only times I’ve been have been during summer, so standing outside on the pavement in the sunshine has been pretty alright and certainly much more preferable to staying indoors.

So what is it about the Shipwrights Arms that meant I did not go there that frequently? There was no real particular reason, but perhaps there was a first impression that was formed in a very superficial fashion: the clientele there seems to be very male-dominated. Speaking as someone who has worked in the City and now Canary Wharf, to criticise a place for being male-dominated now sounds a bit rich of me… but I guess I like places that seem to offer a wide appeal, not that there’s anything particularly about The Shipwrights Arms itself that necessarily disadvantages itself in that manner any more than the other places. And certainly, the crowd doesn’t seem intimidating whatsoever. It’s just a, you know, standard pub.

Ah well. If you do find yourself at The Shipwrights Arms, you’re not doing too badly. There are far, far worse places to find yourself for a cheeky pint after work.

VERDICT – An okay experience. It’s a standard pub that has some distinctive features. It never struck me as being the most attractive and appealing place to go to, but that hasn’t stopped me from popping in there every now and then. And that’s probably what it’s good for – an occasional change from the usual watering hole. Certainly doesn’t do any harm.

Currently listening to: Andrew WK – Party Hard

Categories: British, Pub | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Here it is!” Obikà brings some Neapolitanism to Canary Wharf

Copyright of Obikà. Sourced from Obikà website

Copyright of Obikà. Sourced from Obikà website

Cuisine: Italian

Address: Unit 1, West Wintergarden, 35 Bank Street, E14 5NW

Area: Canary Wharf

Nearest Station: Heron Quays/Canary Wharf

Tel.: 020 7719 1532

Website: http://obika.com/portal/GB/en/home/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Takeaway, Fresh ingredients, Leisurely lunching

“Obikà!” the cry did not go when we stepped into the restaurant. As a Neapolitan exclamation meaning “Here it is!” I was sort of hoping that mine and my friend’s arrival would warrant such an announcement.

I’d been to Obikà previously for takeaway lunches as their mozzarella bar offers up some good and hefty portions of focaccia, insalata caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad) and cannoli (Sicilian pastry tubes with sweet fillings) for quite decent prices, considering that we’re in the Canary Wharf Banker Land. Certainly, there were many days during our wonderfully scorching hot summer where all I felt like doing at lunch was sitting in a park somewhere, having some fresh tomatoes and mozzarella on springy and moist focaccia. Definitely beats getting your regular bog-standard sandwich from Pret or, God forbid, some pointless sushi from Wasabi. Probably healthier too.

I wish I had an office outdoors

I wish I had an office outdoors

But what was it like to go for a proper sit-down meal there? I was meeting my friend for our first catch-up lunch since my moving to Canary Wharf, and suggested with some caution that we may be able to get a table there. Turns out I make false promises – we didn’t get a table, but we did get placed atop some tall stools by the bar.

Obikà sits within an open space inside the West Wintergarden (any ideas on the name? Still trying to work out why the complex is called the Wintergarden), so it has a very corporate glass-and-steel feel to it; you could sit here with colleagues, possibly even clients and listen to a thousand-and-one conversations reverberating around you. It’s light and airy in summer, making it a bit of an uplifting and pleasant place to be dining.

We enjoyed the atmosphere as we swiftly made our choices; as feared, the lunchtime press did mean that our dishes and even our drinks were not as swift to arrive.

When it finally came, our starter of mozzarella di bufala affumicata went down a real treat: we treated ourselves to a lovely woody smokiness infused into such creamy mozzarella; it certainly got our appetites going. Accompanied by a simple basil garnish, it was a punchy start to the meal.

Our main courses soon followed (again, no shouts of “Obikà!” to announce any sort of arrival…), but we did have to wolf them down, being conscious of the impending end of our lunch hour. My friend’s parmigiana di melanzane (aubergine parmesan) looked quite enticing, even if the presentation did seem to emphasise the smallness, in my mind, of the portion. She tucked in heartily and with much enjoyment, so I didn’t quite have the will to steal a bit from her.

Mo' mozzarella please!

Mo’ mozzarella please!

As for my schiaffoni di Gragnano pasta with mozzarella di bufala and ‘La Motticella’ sauce, the flavours were good and warming, and the addition of torn mozzarella pieces really lifted the pasta with their bursts of creamy refreshment even if their numbers were not legion. It was a nice and simple dish – zing and juiciness from the tomatoes in the sauce, savouriness from the parmesan and creaminess from the mozzarella. However, what of the pasta there was on my plate was far too al dente and really needed a few more minutes’ cooking. Most likely they were trying to rush orders out to deal with the busy lunchtime trade – at least, that’s me giving them the benefit of the doubt. Which, considering that they seemed far too busy and rushed to even take our bill, seems to be quite likely.

Isn’t it funny how even if the service has been great throughout, if they tarry in doing the one thing you really need them to (you sort of, like, need to leave when you ask for the bill), it can potentially colour your opinion of the visit? Just a thought that’s struck me far too often in far too many places…

And so, at the end of that experience, what do I think of Obikà as a lunchtime option? I’m actively thinking of their focaccia now and planning my next lunch excursion there. A simple caprese on some soft and well-made bread for a decent price; how can you go wrong? As for a sit-down lunch? Only if you’re willing to spend a bit more, and you’ve got the time and patience – and maybe a very irregular lunch hour.

VERDICT – A good place for takeaway, an okay experience for a sit-down meal. If you work in Canary Wharf and want to mix things up a bit at lunch, I’d really recommend heading on over to Obikà to grab one of their focaccia sandwiches. Maybe don’t take it out to the park, as it’s not so warm any more. But if you are after a bit more of a formal dining experience, I’d imagine that Obikà would still deliver and meet your needs – you may just have to time it right and be prepared for a small meal.

Currently listening to: The Presidents of the United States of America – Peaches

Categories: Italian | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dining with La Fayette and Washington: Balthazar comes to London

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Cuisine: French

Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Covent Garden

Tel.: 020 3301 1155

Website: http://www.balthazarlondon.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Smart dining, Buzzing atmosphere, That je ne sais quoi feeling, Place for romance, Proper service, Extensive French wine list

It’s hard not to take notice when one of New York’s finest French restaurants decides that it’s about time to head over the Atlantic and set up shop in a prime location in Covent Garden.

It’s even harder when your friends blast frantic emails around trying, nay, demanding to get a date in the diary to go check it out. Man, their excitement is infectious…

Before our big dinner together, I was able to get a ‘sneak preview’ of sorts when my brother scheduled the first of his many birthday dinners there (see here for another one of his birthday treats). I felt a bit naughty, getting there ahead of my friends, but sometimes in this cut-throat world of ours, you just have to look out for yourself.

Not that having a birthday dinner with my brother and my darling mother was exactly the greatest act of betrayal. I think.

It was a rather pleasant evening – sat amidst grand splendour, surrounded by scrubby yet chic mirrors and bathed in golden mood lighting, we dined well that night and generally quite enjoyed ourselves. I dined on a rather agreeable lapin à la moutarde, which was succulent and creamy, whilst my brother had steak tartare and oysters (which suited his low-carb diet perfectly, despite how extravagant and sumptuous that all sounds) and my mother had the moules frites.

To finish things off, we had the raspberry soufflé with crème anglaise, which we were informed was their signature dessert. And it was delightful – once that spoon dug in through the crust, you entered a realm of saucy and smooth goodness. Never have I had a soufflé that delicate – it was a real triumph.

A towering yet delicate soufflé

A towering yet delicate soufflé

But apart from that soufflé? All serviceable and well-executed dishes – but not mind-blowing. They were just decent, nothing more. Even trying to remember back to the rabbit I had is a bit of a struggle, as nothing from that dish jumped out as being absolutely amazing, as I would expect from a place of Balthazar’s hype. Was I wrong to have such high expectations, or would I just have to wait for my second visit in order to get that brilliant Balthazar experience?

Alas, it was not quite to be – that second visit was a bit of an odd one. From getting one of my friend’s order wrong (a simple case of forgetting to take the bun out of the bunless burger) to completely wrecking another friend’s dining experience – she had to send her rack of lamb back TWICE, the first time because it was inexplicably half the size of the other rack of lamb on the table, the second time because it was still raw inside – we had a pretty rough time of it. You know when you’ve got that legitimate complaint but you’re too embarrassed to do anything about it? Yeah, that was us. Our waiter was absolutely amazing though, ever-willing to take that dish back until the kitchen got it right, no matter how much flak from the chef I’m sure he took. They were very quick to offer us her rack of lamb, as well as dessert for the entire table, on the house as a means of saying sorry – a pretty good recovery, and one that would make me doff my hat to them, if I wore hats. But still, it’s always very awkward and uncomfortable when you find yourself in that situation in the first place.

Desserts for all, on the house!

Desserts for all, on the house!

And now let’s look to the food: apart from having some of the biggest onion rings I have ever seen (which were crunchy and well-seasoned), I had the duck confit with roasted potatoes, cipollini onions, wild mushrooms and frisée salad. It was very tasty and delectable, with suitably crisp skin and tender duck meat, but again when I think back to it I am hard-pressed to consider myself wowed by it.

How big is that onion ring?

How big is that onion ring?

Duck duck duck... not goose

Duck duck duck… not goose

And let’s consider the crème brûlée – it did come with a wonderfully crisp and fluffy madeleine, but it was just short of absolutely creamy loveliness. I’m putting my neck on the line here, but I would offer up Le Relais de Venise’s version as one of the best ones I’ve had in London.

Hmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Mmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Why this obsession with being wowed? Balthazar has come in to London, on a wave of hype, encased in an absolutely gorgeous Parisian bistro setting that feels so warm and comforting. When my friend made a dinner reservation for six, the earliest date they could offer her was nearly two months away. Surely it’s reasonable to expect that the food should live up to all that?

But considering that I still rave about the meal that I had with my ex some years ago at the Bleeding Heart in Farringdon, and considering that I can still fondly remember most of the details of my experience with her at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden, both of which are roughly similar (if just a smidgeon higher) in price to Balthazar, AND considering that I had just as much fun at the very reasonable neighbourhood bistro Le Sacré Coeur in Islington, ultimately I find that Balthazar is not the place I will be falling over myself to recommend to someone if they want an outstanding French meal.

Certainly, go for the one-time experience, the mood, the atmosphere, the very extensive and commendable wine list (we enjoyed a bottle of the Château Villa Bel-Air ’07 from Graves, Bordeaux), heck even for a taste of proper and courteous service. Balthazar can give you all of that by the bucket load. But maybe do what my mum does when she and her friends baulk at paying through the nose for an expensive-and-not-quite-worth-it-yet-atmospheric restaurant: go there just for dessert (most certainly the raspberry soufflé – that is worth the trip) or for afternoon tea.

VERDICT – An okay experience. The attempt to recreate a grand French bistro in New York and in London (I’m told they’re almost identical) is successful, and you could spend a lot of time there soaking up the bustling atmosphere and admiring les très français waiters avec leur je ne sais quoi… but if you’re looking to be wowed by the food, this is not the place for you.

Currently listening to: Cali – Que se soucie de moi

Categories: French | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a new day, it’s a new burger: BRGR.CO throws its hat in the ring

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Cuisine: American

Address: 187 Wardour Street

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Circus

Tel.: 020 7920 6480

Website: http://www.brgrco.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Good sides

BRGR.CO first appeared on my radar courtesy of my brother pointing me and his friends in the direction of an offer of a free burger to the then-unknown BRGR.CO’s first 500 Twitter followers. “Who were these guys?” was my first question. “When shall we collect on our free burger?” was my second.

So, having followed them and then having rounded up a posse, we hit BRGR.CO to see how one of London’s newest additions to the burger scene was doing.

In light of some of the pretty savage reviews we’d been reading in the days immediately after its opening, I was somewhat nervous about what to expect – but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised by BRGR.CO. Not amazed, but just surprised.

Our waitress was a delight – all smiles, friendly chatter and helpfulness. Even as our group expanded from 3 to 5, she was obliging enough to scrounge around for other chairs and tables in order to accommodate us all. Nothing could flap her; thankfully for her, all we needed was for her to note down our food.

An order of onion rings went down quite the treat as my brother and I waited for our friends to turn up. Nice and crunchy, full of real onion flavour (I’m looking at you, Burger King, even if I do love your onion rings so), and not overly greasy, it was a shame that there wasn’t more to the serving.

Fries fries fries

Fries fries fries

We were excited by the number of fries options on offer, and proceeded to order enough to feed a small army – regular, truffle parmesan, chilli and chilli and cheese. The chilli was suitably meaty and messy and imparted its saucy flavour well to the fries, but I must say that I very much enjoyed the truffle parmesan fries, even if the topping resembled some sort of gloopy béchamel sauce. What sort of parmesan – and truffle ‘sauce’ – are they using that it melts like that? No matter, I would have gladly had another bowl of it.

Now on to the main event – the BRGRLICIOUS burgers. I had ordered the 6oz. (it being the biggest option in the freebie deal), which they recommend having medium rare to medium. So as to “preserve the juiciness and the flavour”. The burger comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and dill pickles on the side, so you have to pay a bit extra for things like cheese and bacon. I opted for the provolone, as it’s not something you see in a burger that often.

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The provolone didn’t really add much to the burger. Additionally, when I took the burger apart in order to put the greenery inside, the provolone really didn’t make it look great. My brother and friends were similarly puzzled by this assemble-it-yourself set-up (maybe we’re just a lazy bunch who need our burgers spoon-fed to us).

The burger itself: there was a pleasing char-grilled flavour, good meatiness, some juiciness… but little else. The burger tastes a bit flat; it feels a bit flat. Maybe it’s a lack of compelling seasoning, or maybe the thinness of the patty reduces the burger’s impact. When compared to the bog-standard fast food burger, it is much better, but when lined up against the best that Soho has got to offer – Patty & Bun being a good example of a stellar recent opening – it falls rather short.

Considering the time and effort they’ve taken to put this whole operation together, and the pride they take in their ingredients, you would expect something a bit better. So perhaps BRGR.CO hasn’t quite hit its stride yet. Let’s hope that they do.

VERDICT – An okay experience. They’ve done a good job with the space, and they’ve definitely hired some great people to take care of customers. But the burgers themselves were not awe-inspiring. If BRGR.CO are going to pitch themselves in the top league of burgers in London, they need to do more to create a compelling patty. They definitely have the potential for it.

Currently listening to: Gojira – Into the Wilderness

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