Posts Tagged With: Seasonal menu

Things have gotten a bit fishy in New Cross: Maddy’s Fish Bar sets up shop

Copyright of Maddy's FIsh Bar. Sourced from Maddy's Fish Bar Twitter

Copyright of Maddy’s FIsh Bar. Sourced from Maddy’s Fish Bar Twitter

Cuisine: British

Address: 397 New Cross Road, SE14 6LA

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross

Tel.: N/A

Website: https://twitter.com/MaddysFishBar

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Takeaway, Casual dining, Comfort food, Fresh seafood, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu

The past year has been pretty tough: sometime in May or June last year, our local chippie in New Cross closed up for renovation works and then never reopened.

Once patronised by Sir Paul McCartney (no, really), Sirius Fish & Chips was run by a lovely Filipino couple who knew me and my brother quite well – courtesy of our mum introducing us to them, without our knowing about it, not long after we moved into the area. Whilst the fish was not the best, it was decent enough to fill the fish-shaped hole that appeared in my life on the occasional evening, but certainly I enjoyed going there for the conversation and the friendliness.

So yes, with the loss of my favourite Filipino-run chippie, I think it’s fair to say that New Cross suffered heavily for it.

For where was one to go for good fish and chips from a proper chippy (I’m going to leave Sefa Kebab out of this discussion, and for argument’s sake the other places at the far, far end of New Cross that no one ever told me about)? The nearest one I could fathom then was Brockley’s Rock, but as the name suggests, that’s in Brockley, not New Cross and certainly not just down the road from us. The round-trip, including bus ride, ordering and waiting, and loitering at the bus stops at both ends, took at the very least a good 45 minutes, if I remember correctly.

Imagine carrying that on the bus home and not being able to eat it

Imagine carrying that on the bus home and not being able to eat it

The cod was absolutely delightful and crispy, the chips that perfect middle point between overly-crunchy and soggy and the mushy peas a great texture – but 45 minutes is too much effort for a ‘local’ chippy. Brockley’s Rock is a gem that neighbouring Brockleyites can keep to themselves – this New Cross boy needed something closer to home. Desperately.

And so, when the news appeared on the grapevine that the London Particular (brilliant café, FYI) would be backing their friend, Maddy Inoue, in opening a new fish bar venture in the empty shell that was Sirius, of course I was excited. There was even to be a Kickstarter campaign to help her purchase a state-of-the-art fryer. Although hesitant that a ‘fish bar’ might entail grossly-exaggerated prices, my cynical thoughts were over-ridden by a stomach desperate for some really good fish and chips. So my brother and I chipped in (haha!) and backed Maddy on Kickstarter.

That was in the last quarter of last year; Maddy’s Fish Bar officially opened a week ago Tuesday. Suffice to say, it has been a long and tortuous wait. One that was thankfully shortened by just a few days, thanks to our Kickstarter contribution and subsequent invitation to a ‘VIP’ tasting session (ballin’) during their soft launch. Over the course of an evening, set in their bright, clean-cut and rather utilitarian space, we were treated to a wide range of dishes from the proposed menu, which is meant to be a modern twist on British classics.

Look who's in the window!! Sourced from Maddy's Fish Bar Twitter

Look who’s in the window!!
Sourced from Maddy’s Fish Bar Twitter

So what is on offer from Maddy, and how does her fare hold up as a neighbourhood chippy?

Rock Oysters: Not your average chippy dish, but certainly what you’d expect from a fish bar. I’m no fan of oysters, so I’ll defer to my brother on this one: “fresh”. So there you go.

Rock Oysters!

Rock Oysters!

Chicken Nuggets: These were delightful. Moist and tender pieces of chicken in a substantial coating (which admittedly could have done with being just a bit crispier), served with a home-made mayonnaise that was very more-ish. I can foresee these being a rather guilty treat.

Chicken (not Mc)Nuggets!

Chicken (not Mc)Nuggets!

Selection of Pickles – Egg in pickling broth and radish: The aforementioned ex-Beatle was apparently a fan of the pickled eggs of Sirius (no, really), so I’d love to hear his opinion on Maddy’s take on this classic dish.

You call that a pickled egg?

You call that a pickled egg?

Sadly, he was unable to comment, so I’ll blunder on. What we got here was a gloriously warm and soft-boiled egg that spilt its yolk ever so generously into the savoury vinegar-dashi bath that the egg found itself in; it was a real treat, and I can imagine that having one of these alongside your fish would be rather eye-opening. The accompanying radishes, on the other hand, were rather under-powered as a pickle and didn’t really add much to this course. Something to work on, I guess.

Salt and Pepper Squid: Continuing with the injection of Asian influences into a British chippy, Maddy is turning her hand to that favourite Chinese staple of ours, salt and pepper squid. She wasn’t so successful on this one – yes, it was crisp, had great texture and did not feel greasy at all; unfortunately, it lacked real bite and flavour. All I think it needs is just an adjustment to the seasoning – a much easier thing to improve upon than trying to rescue dead and limp fried squid.

Salt and pepper squid... with not too much salt or pepper alas

Salt and pepper squid… with not too much salt or pepper alas

Fish and Chips with Maddy’s Slaw, mushy peas and curry sauce: And here we have the pièce de résistance, the whole reason why I welcomed Maddy to New Cross with wide open arms: crispy crisp fishy fish. You can just see from the photo alone how phenomenal that batter was – light, fluffy and crispy, it covered all the bases. It’s good to see our Kickstarter money was used well! The whiting fish itself was cooked just right and was juicy up to the point before fish starts to fall apart. When I went back on opening day, I was able to have the panko-breaded plaice, which again was delightful and crisp – the picture below does not represent a one-hit wonder.

Crispy crisp fishy fish

Crispy crisp fishy fish

As for the chips – although Maddy did say that she had to go through several iterations of her chip recipe, I was fairly happy with where she’d gotten to that evening, for the chips were, like Brockley’s Rock, hitting that right balance between overly-crunchy and soggy. Really good chippy chips then, perfect for soaking up the delicious curry sauce accompanying the dish.

Maddy’s Slaw was a standard sauced cabbage affair, which adds some freshness and vegetable bite to the dish, serving its purpose adequately as a side dish.

The mushy peas, however, I was not hugely wowed by. Whilst the flavours were perfectly fine (good level of mintiness, even if I don’t like mint with peas too much), when I want mushy peas I want, well, a complete mush. Yes, mixing in whole peas with some mushed ones creates a pleasing contrast of textures, but… I’m just a stickler for a real mush of peas that I can scoop up with a chip. No doubt other people will like these peas – they are welcome to them.

Cornflake Ice Cream: You know that pleasing state, right at the beginning of your bowl of Frosties, where the coldness of the milk really brings the sugary flavour and crunch to the fore? That’s what this ice cream is all about. A shot of freshness, first thing in the morning.

Cornflake ice cream. Inadvisable to add vinegar

Cornflake ice cream. Inadvisable to add vinegar

I was able to confirm this initial impression on opening day, and discovered that Maddy had gone the extra mile by putting actual cornflakes on the ice cream. Winner winner ice cream dinner!

 

So, it all looks good, no? But I am sure you are wondering, “A chippy this fancy don’t come cheap”. And you’d be right in that this is no Sirius Fish & Chips – the standard meal of fish, chips and Maddy’s Slaw comes in at £8.50, and the portions are smaller (healthier!?) – but at the same time it is no pricey Fish and Chip Shop in Islington, which is what I feared the most for the local area. So yes, I think Maddy’s has done just about alright bringing these prices to New Cross… it’s a step up from before, but at least it’s a measured step and in the right direction.

VERDICT – A good place. Maddy’s Fish Bar is a more than welcome addition to the neighbourhood, not just because it fulfils the criteria of existing and being an open business, but because it brings some genuinely good fish and chips to the area. Friday Fishdays are back on!

Currently listening to: Battlelore – Beneath the Waves

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C’est une tête-à-tête: French one-upmanship at The Green Man & French Horn

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Cuisine: French

Address: 54 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4EA

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Leicester Square

Tel.: 020 7836 2645

Website: http://www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co

Pricing: Medium-High

Good For: Smart-casual dining, Wine selection, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu, Place for romance

And so the birthday celebrations continued… this time, with my mum doing me the honours. Being a true mummy’s boy, I wanted to show her that my birthday (and by extension, me) would be so much better than that other son of hers – as he had opted for a little bit of French bistro stylings at Balthazar, I thought that I would go one better and choose The Green Man & French Horn.

However, as with my brother’s birthday dinner, I was held up in getting out of work and turned up late. Yes, I turned up late for my own birthday dinner (shocking, I know). This did concern me a bit, as the online booking I had made did specify that we would only have the table for two hours… this did not prove to be a problem, as not only were we finished in just about that time, but we were not really hurried out the door (who was going to sit at our table anyway? The place was half-empty by the time we were done).

We were in for a ride down the Loire Valley for this meal, as that’s what The Green Man & French Horn is all about. For someone who’s a bit of a (ignorant) Bordeaux vinophile, this meant that I was completely stumped when it came to sniffing out a good wine from the extremely extensive wine list. But the chatty and knowledgeable Kiwi (?) waitress was on hand to offer her expertise; based on my instructions that I wanted a red wine that was a) not too tannic, b) was medium-bodied c) was not fruity and d) was easy to drink, she recommended the 2011 Le Cousin ‘Le Grolle’ from Domaine Cousin-Leduc, Olivier Cousin, which fit most of my criteria perfectly: it was indeed an easy-drinking, medium-bodied red, but it still had a nice complexity to it that finished with light pepperiness. I may have very visibly showed my delighted surprise when I tried it out, maybe even a bit too much, for I think she had a bit of a giggle to herself. Ah well, I just have that effect on women, I guess (*cough*)…

So, what is a culinary trip along the Loire like? To start with, I had fried sand eels, lemon, garlic and parsley, primarily because I’d never had sand eel before. They taste very similar to whitebait, and I’d presume that to the unknowing eye, it probably does look like whitebait. Crunchy yet soft on the inside, the garlic was subtle whilst the lemon added real zing.

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Moving away from the estuary of the Loire and up into the wooded valleys, I moved on to civet of rabbit with girolles and fresh pasta. What I got was a wonderfully dark hunk of rabbit meat – almost black in the dim light. Rich and strong flavours of red wine, onion and aniseed (probably too much aniseed for my liking) came out of the succulent meat. This was all nicely countered by the plainness of the tagliatelle-like pasta, which also added some welcoming al dente textures to the whole affair. The girolles were rather pleasing too, let’s not forget them!

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

I managed to have a try of my brother’s Bourbonnais lamb belly with coco beans and girolles. The meat was tender but a bit softly-flavoured for lamb, and the coco bean and tomato stew was very hearty and warming. I’d imagine that this would be a great winter dish.

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

These were all traditional, simple dishes coming with good, mostly strong flavours. It was therefore rather suitable for us to follow up with desserts that were a bit lighter. I’d already made my mind up as to which three desserts we should get, but we had to go through the formality of deciding who would order which – our kindly waitress had to return a few times before we felt ready to tell her our deepest desires.

The crémet Nantais with figs was delightful – light fromage blanc mixed with whipped cream and then paired with fresh figs in a sweet sauce to produce a dish of contrasts. Next up was the white chocolate mousse with coffee and almonds – sweet but not overly so and smooth and creamy to boot. Completing the trio was baked peach, fromage blanc and sablé biscuit, which was I quite enjoyed, as the fromage blanc offered a slight tart creaminess against the caramelised pear.

Green Man & French Horn dessert

A trio of desserts. not all for myself, obviously (duh)

The Loire region is a (big) part of France I’m not too familiar with, so I appreciated the little introductory session we had at The Green Man & French Horn. Excellent wine, hearty food, friendly and helpful service; what a birthday dinner. It was definitely better than my brother’s (ha!).

VERDICT – A good place. There was a nice, grounded and personable atmosphere at The Green Man & French Horn that made this a rather welcoming place. Throw in a meal well-enjoyed and a wine recommendation much-appreciated, and I think you have the makings of a decent French bistro experience, right in the heart of London.

Currently listening to: Engel – Blood of Saints

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Working up an appetite: The Quality Chop House

Copyright of The Quality Chop House. Sourced from The Quality Chop House website

Copyright of The Quality Chop House. Sourced from The Quality Chop House website

Cuisine: British

Address: 92-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA

Area: Clerkenwell

Nearest Station: Farringdon

Tel.: 020 7278 1452

Website: http://thequalitychophouse.com/

Pricing: Medium-High

Good For: Fresh ingredients, Seasonal menu, Smart-casual dining, Friendly conversation, Wine selection

It was my birthday recently, don’tcha know (“Hooray, Happy Birthday Mark, we all looove you”), and you know what that means – fine dining courtesy of the parents, oh yeah.

First up was dinner with my father – being of good English stock, I thought that a good place to try out with him would be the Quality Chop House, a restaurant serving up good, honest, solid and hearty British cuisine (or so I’d been told) on the Farringdon Road.

Utilitarian spaces are soo hot right now

Utilitarian spaces are soo hot right now

It’s a fairly no-nonsense ethos that permeates what the Quality Chop House does – from the fact that it was, according to their website, borne out of Rowland Plumbe’s desire to make “utilitarian spaces for the masses that had a touch of glamour” (much of this working man’s café feel has been preserved, to the great benefit of the place), to the fact that in the Dining Room there is only one thing you can have – the set menu.

The set menu comprised of several sharing dishes that would be brought out one after the other, with the quantity tailored to the size of the dining group. As our lovely and obligingly informative waitress said, the whole point was to let patrons focus on the food (which changes day by day, dependent on what they can source from their suppliers), and leave all the messy decision-making to the kitchen.

Our set menu for the evening. Laconic, to say the least

Our set menu for the evening. Laconic, to say the least

Though there is an element of choice allowed: the Quality Chop House prides itself on having an extremely extensive and wide-ranging wine list. Whilst they do make pairing recommendations for the set menu, they were kind enough to let a philistine such as myself to choose our bottle for the evening – being a Bordeaux vinophile (a love gained from doing some volunteer work there some years back), we had a 2005 Chateau Bernadotte from the Haut-Médoc region. It was rather pleasing, delivering a smooth complexity that was not overpowering and was without a strong tannic edge.

Our drink selection for the evening

Our drink selection for the evening

And so, having made that choice, we were then ‘railroaded’ into our set menu:

Peas & lemon – this was a simple dish of fresh and crisp peas with real bite, served with two types of lemon sauce (one a cream and the other more syrupy) and sprinkled with flower petals. It was all about the peas, a vegetable which can be quite divisive I know… but it’s a great way to start the meal.

Quite evidently not just "Peas and Lemon"

Quite evidently not just “Peas & lemon”

Grilled squid, smoked spring onions – large, smoothly-textured and meaty hunks of squid cooked in a warm and earthy chipotle sauce, served with slightly-sweet fried and smoky spring onions. Does that sound good? Because it tasted amazing; each piece of squid was delectably more-ish and gave a real sense of satisfaction with each hefty bite.

Squid - how I enjoyed thee

Squid – how I enjoyed thee

Pressed lamb, pickled walnuts – essentially a lamb terrine. Unusual, I know, but quite a plucky concoction. The meat was soft and easy-going, and melted in your mouth. The pickled walnuts added something different, with the acidity going a little way to cutting through the richness of the terrine.

Lamb pressed into service

Lamb pressed into service

Duck hearts, girolles, chicken liver – initially this was a dish we were fearing, being none-too-keen on eating heart, but we were pleasantly-surprised. Served in a rich gravy, the duck hearts packed a really umami punch and were soft and savoury; the girolles added further to this taste sensation and also added a contrasting chewy texture; the chicken liver parfait was smooth and extremely flavourful, but was not rich and overpowering at all, making it a perfect accompaniment to the duck hearts and great for spreading on the hunks of bread we were served.

What a 'hearty' dish that will warm the cockles of your heart

What a ‘hearty’ dish that will warm the cockles of your heart

Middle White pork, beetroots, runner beans, boquerones – this comprised of two cuts of pork (one was shoulder, I’m sure) that were roasted until juicy and tender, with such superb crackling, topped off with boquerones for an extra savoury hit, with perfectly-cooked runner beans and beetroot. A very good combination indeed, one that relied on quality ingredients thrown together in a simple dish. Do you really need anything more?

Does what it says on the tin

Does what it says on the tin

Pink fir potatoes – not dry, not over-cooked; good starch to accompany the pork.

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts – what a classic and straightforward combination: chocolate, berries and nuts. Think Black Forest gâteau, think pralines; and then think of creamy and dense dark chocolate parfait, sprinkled with ground walnuts packing a smoky punch, surrounded by a very berry sauce and generous offerings of blackberries. Despite all that, it still seemed like a rather light way to end the meal. And afterwards, I was able to wash it down with a glass of 2005 Robert Weil ‘Kiedricher Gräfenberg’ Spätlese, a Riesling from the Rheingau that served as a decent palate cleanser.

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts. Loquaciousness is not a quality much-appreciated here

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts. Loquaciousness is not a quality much-appreciated here

Once done with the eating, the drinking, the post-prandial chit-chat and the settling of the bill, we were approached by one of, I presume, the managers. A rather charming and friendly lady, she said she’d heard that it was our first time here, asked how our evening was and even explained a bit about what they were trying to achieve with the Quality Chop House.

That was a nice and warm touch, capping off what had been a fine and welcoming performance by the staff all evening. There was even one point where our waitress conspiratorially leant in and enquired whether the ‘ambient noise levels’ were okay with us (in reference to the rather loud and excitable crowd sat behind me); although we said we were fine, we were pleasantly surprised by her kind enquiry.

We tumbled back onto Farringdon Road, appetites sated and our taste buds delighted. Thinking back on it, I’ve become a bit melancholic that the chances are I will never have that meal – those exact ingredients, that combination of dishes – ever again, as the Quality Chop House’s menu will change and change again. At least I will have the fond memories of a birthday dinner thoroughly enjoyed.

VERDICT – A good place. The Quality Chop House is a gem of a place – lovely historic atmosphere, friendly and helpful staff and some good quality food and wine. The set menu we had contained some superficially-simplistic dishes that turned out to be excellent; on that note, I would say that you should not be put off by the straightforward nature of the Quality Chop House, as it is one of its greatest strengths.

Currently listening to: Cancer Bats – Old Blood

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A shanty down by the shore: Seafood shackin’ at Bonnie Gull

Copyright of Bonnie Gull. Sourced from Bonnie Gull website

Copyright of Bonnie Gull. Sourced from Bonnie Gull website

Cuisine: British

Address: 21A Foley Street, W1W 6DS

Area: Fitzrovia

Nearest Station: Goodge Street

Tel.: 020 7436 0921

Website: http://www.bonniegull.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Fresh seafood, Fresh ingredients, Seasonal menu, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining

“It’s okay to eat seafood, as fish don’t have feelings”, roughly goes the little saying scrawled along the top of one of the walls in Bonnie Gull. Surely a sentiment that some of our vegan friends may not share, but I’m not one to quibble with a restaurant that is all about the seafood; they must know what they’re on about, right?

Me and my friend (check out her blog, Stuff I Love to Do, it’s rather lovely) were quite excited about the prospect of some top-notch seafood and so had come with stomachs prepped after respective hard days of work. However, as the menu is extremely seasonal and dependent on the day’s catch, I was a bit hesitant about what would await us: whether the dishes would be tantalising (think scallops, crab, lobster, tuna, meaty fish etc.), or just frankly a bit beyond my limits (think jellyfish, razor clams, sea cucumber, abalone, dancing squid… *shudder*).

Scallops and stuff

Scallops and stuff

Imagine my excitement then when they had Isle of Man queenies as one of the starters. Accompanied by new potatoes, samphire, crunchy bits and other things that escape my non-photographic memory, it was a fairly straightforward dish that allowed the tenderness and juiciness of the scallops to speak for themselves, with their sweetness enhanced by the sea saltiness of the samphire. Samphire was just made to go with the bounties of the sea, despite some protestations from my friend (which she eventually overcame). It was a great start to the meal, and certainly built our appetite.

We were further excited to see both lobster and crab on the menu, but our enthusiasm was dampened when we were informed that the crab had been sold out (this appeared to be a lie, as a table that arrived after us managed to obtain some of the delectable crustacean… rightly or wrongly, we wished that table the illest of our feelings that night, boo hiss). And so, instead of constructing a purely shellfish evening for ourselves, we had to invite turbot to the table.

A rather fishy piece of culinary art

A rather fishy piece of culinary art

It ended up being a rather inspired choice. I had turbot in a herby crust was served with a stuffed deep-fried courgette flower, courgette tempura, samphire and cockles, and was set upon an artful display of pea purée. The turbot was cooked so that it was meltingly soft and still meaty; the herby crust that accompanied it added some contrasting texture and some delightful earthy flavours that made me feel that there was a bit of ‘surf and turf’ going on here – a theme perhaps reflected in the dual use of courgettes and samphire…? The pea purée went well with it all and was good mixed in with the cockles (which were rather grittier than ones I’ve had previously). Overall, a good meal.

Lobster and chips - as good a shot as I'll get (sorry I didn't stand on my chair to get the aerial view)

Lobster and chips – as good a shot as I’ll get (sorry I didn’t stand on my chair to get the aerial view)

As for my friend’s lobster – well, she is a Happy Lobster Girl, and she was pretty satisfied with what was placed in front of her, so I’ll trust her judgement. She did compare the portion size a bit unfavourably to Burger and Lobster, but I don’t believe the quality of the lobster nor the preparation were up for dispute.

Well-fed and well-watered, I found Bonnie Gull to be pretty good fun and a wonderful insight into some of the great seafood surrounding this little island of ours. Considering that I had a pathological (and unexplained) hatred of all things fishy and crustacean-like for most of my life (I really, really don’t know why), I think that’s a pretty big statement to come from my lips.

VERDICT – A good place. Whilst Bonnie Gull didn’t quite transport us to the British seaside (a cheap and cheerful chippie/cockle and whelk stall would probably do that for me more effectively than a high-priced concept restaurant), we got a fine taste of good, fresh, maritime produce in deepest driest London. Dishes that let the seafood speak for itself – not much more is needed.

Currently listening to: Twin Atlantic – Eight Days

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