Posts Tagged With: Smart-casual dining

What does the fox say? Not much – it’s too busy eating at Foxlow

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Copyright of Foxlow. Sourced from Foxlow website

Cuisine: European

Address: 69-73 St John Street, EC1M 4AN

Area: Smithfield

Nearest Station: Farringdon

Tel.: 020 7014 8070

Website: http://foxlow.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Carnivorous eating, Umami, Friendly conversation, Smart-casual dining, Filling meal, Quality ingredients

Want to know what sort of texts I like to get?

“Dude, I’ve got a booking for Foxlow next Wednesday for 4. You in??”

This one came from my brother. As the booking also came during Foxlow’s soft opening, it also included a complimentary drink. I therefore do not hesitate to say: I love you man, you mah BRO (more specifically, my ADOBRO – cheeky plug for our Filipino supper club right there!!).

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick's website for the photo

A smart but casual diner feel, with *gasp* matching furniture! Cheers to BarChick’s website for the photo

Billed as the more casual sister restaurant to Hawksmoor, that esteemed temple of steaks, Foxlow’s offering of charcoal-grilled and slow-cooked meats automatically appeals to the carnivore inside of us all – hence all the excitement that I’ve seen bandied around online.

However, judging from the menu we were presented with that night, I would say that Foxlow is more an ode to all things umami – there are various ingredients in use there, like beef dripping, anchovies, meat stock, Gubbeen cheese, capers, kimchi and others, that suggest that those guys just want to make sure you get your savoury fix, whether it come in meat, vegetable or fish form.

And let me tell you – we chowed down and got our savouriness on. Guided by our helpful and chatty waitress, who tried to ensure that our order included all of the big-hitters from the menu (e.g. “I would say the monkfish is pretty nice and a must, but since you’re after meat, I wouldn’t bother”), we managed to get ourselves a good spread.

Anchovies on goat's butter crisps. NOM

Anchovies on goat’s butter crisps. NOM

First to come along were the anchovy and goat’s butter crisps. This consisted of a very thin crisp wafer flavoured with goat’s butter, topped with freshly chopped shallots and a piece of anchovy. Our waitress stressed the quality of the anchovy, with the chefs aspiring to provide a healthy balance of salt and fresh fish flavours; once you pop one of these into your mouth, you can see what she means. It was packed so full of flavour and savouriness, you were left craving for more, in spite of how rich they were.

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise. Get some crabs!

Then came our starters, which we dished out amongst the four of us: Crispy Five Pepper squid, Brixham crab with devilled mayonnaise, Baby back Iberico ribs and Smokehouse rillettes. The squid had a hint of smokiness to it, but otherwise I felt them to be rather unremarkable. Good – not greasy, not salty, suitably tasty – but unremarkable. As for the Brixham crab, it was served shredded on green leaves, which I felt made it a bit more difficult to appreciate it fully. Still, it was refreshing and beautifully flavoured, with the devilled mayonnaise adding interesting but not overpowering bite. The ribs, as expected, were very tender and full of barbecue flavour. The smokehouse rillettes, on the other hand, were not as smoky as suggested by the name, but were brilliant in texture and taste. The winning starter, I felt.

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

Baby back Iberico ribs. Not going to quote Fat Bastard for this one

So far, so good. By this point, we’d finished our complimentary drinks (my Tom Ford – a twist on the Tom Collins with gin, Benedictine, lemon and soda – was well-received for its light and herbal touch) and I made a move for the wine, selecting a very smooth and medium-bodied rioja crianza from the decently-sized wine list.

I’d originally earmarked the Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi for myself, but seeing as two of the group were also going to order it, I made the adventurous choice and went with the charcoal-grilled Iberico pork ‘pluma’. As our waitress explained, pluma is a type of cut from the loin, and given where it comes from in the pig and the quality of the meat itself, it can be served medium. And oh man was it tasty. It was tender, had a brilliant charcoaled crust to it and just packed an absolute savoury punch, almost akin to a well-flavoured steak. I have never had a cut of pork loin that tasted like this, and the next time I find myself in Foxlow I will definitely order it again.

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

Iberico pork pluma, in all its glory as captured by my brilliant smartphone

The other dishes, in comparison, fell by the wayside. It feels bad to denigrate the other meats on offer, but this is more a tribute to the surprising delights of the Iberico pork pluma than a comment on any form of substandard quality on the parts of the other dishes. The beef was amazingly tender and was also beautifully-flavoured, but after the pluma it tasted rather pedestrian – it was like “Yeah, I’ve had shortrib before, so what?” The Eight-hour bacon rib with maple chilli also suffered a similar fate: again, slow-cooking it for that long produced meat that you could cut like you had a hot knife going through butter, and the flavours of maple and chilli produced something rather special – but hey, bacon rib tastes of bacon and we all know what that is like, right?

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong...

Ten-hour beef shortrib with kimchi. One of these things does not belong…

Before I do any more disservice to the other mains, let’s talk about the sides that we shared. The Beef-dripping potatoes with Gubbeen and capers provided us with very crispy and more-ish potatoes that were a very good accompaniment to our meals; the Broccoli with chilli and anchovy were crisp very well-appreciated, although the chilli was almost undistinguishable beneath the savouriness of the anchovy; the Sausage-stuffed onion was a slightly-caramelised onion in a thick and tasty gravy filled with substantial and nicely seasoned sausage meat – a good combination, but as a side dish it seemed rather overbearing, with the sausage meat competing too much against the main courses.

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

That rather unappetising lump in the foreground is a sausage-stuffed onion, whilst those are potatoes behind. Not that you can tell

So, you’d think that by now we’d be done, right? Think again. Dessert was dangled in front of us, and we just had to take a bite. My Peanutella & Sweet Toast was a crushing blow to any semblance of healthiness I retained: here we had a Nutella jar filled with layers of, er, Nutella, caramel, peanut butter and peanuts, served with lightly-fried sweetened toast batons and – in case you thought Foxlow forgot the savouriness – a sprinkling of sea salt. It was perhaps a bit overwhelming, but in some instances that’s okay. Such as when you are chowing down with your bros, homes.

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

The photo is so dark because the evilness of this Peanutella and Sweet Toast sucked the light into it

And thus our meal was complete. It provided enough sustenance to last us for a leisurely walk down to St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge and all the way to London Bridge (one of us is still new to London *cough* tourist *cough*) – and you know what? I’d happily walk that distance again just for a bit more of that Iberico pork pluma. Mmmmmm.

VERDICT – A good place. The dishes we chose were all good and decent, but there were certain highlights that really wowed, like the Iberico pork pluma – and unfortunately that did rather unceremoniously shove the other meats into the shade. But we can overlook that, for Foxlow was a very friendly and cheery place for us, and that’s already a very big plus for the place. Oh, and did I say that I liked the Iberico pork pluma?

Currently listening to: Fun. – At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to be)

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

A View to Kill For: A Chinese Soirée at Hutong

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

Area: London Bridge

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel.: 020 7478 0540

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

Pricing: High

Good For: Views to die for, Atmospheric soirée, Feasting with friends, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining, Efficient service

I can’t quite remember the circumstances under which it happened, but at some point during my birthday drinks I was assigned the task of booking a table at Hutong for my group of friends. We were all given such tasks during a fit of merry proactivity; it was universally decided that Hutong would come first. Hardly fair for the birthday boy, I thought, considering I had just organised a killer night at Little Nan’s Bar (still riding that train).

Since this evening was my baby as well as the first event of what I guess we can now call our Dinner Club, I was a bit nervous as to whether Hutong could deliver the quality experience we were hoping for – after all, some of the reviews I’d read decried the prices charged for mediocre food, along with the ridiculous waiting time to make a reservation (I found that around about 5pm seemed to be the best time to call their reservation hotline). Additionally, if any of the other twelve Dinner Club members flaked out at the last minute, it would have left me being charged £20 per head for their absence, and I’m not sure I really am that generous.

Naturally, such mishaps would have left me feeling just a bit embarrassed, something my friends probably would have constantly reminded me of, because they’re nice like that.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment we arrived, just in time for sunset, we had a great evening. Firstly, you are most definitely paying for the setting: there are some outstanding views across the City, made more exciting by the new generation of skyscrapers rising up in the Bishopsgate/Gracechurch areas. Being up on the 33rd floor certainly offers a different perspective on how London looks – and having our own private room in the northwest corner certainly helped.

Sunset over London

Sunset over London

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

This enjoyment was further enhanced by the staff, who were very unobtrusive in letting us chat and mingle as we admired the views and waited for everyone to arrive – quite a nice and delicate touch.

Blazing orange over London

Blazing orange over London

Once we were all settled, it was decided that as the token ‘Chinese’ person in the group, my friend (check out her blog here, it’s rather lovely) would do the ordering for us. She was suitably helped by our waiter, who advised fairly accurately how much we would need to feed a whole table of 13 – we hit the mark of satisfied-but-not-stuffed pretty well.

And so the cavalcade of food began, each dish arriving in very quick succession, ensuring that our table – and our stomachs – was never empty.

We had quite a range of dishes – the benefits of being a large group and able to order huge amounts – that included pork dumplings (a suitable start to the night), Chinkiang pork ribs (succulent and extremely tasty), crispy de-boned lamb ribs (could not get enough of this) and Sichuan chilli chicken (these were an astonishing savoury delight), amongst many others.

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

One highlight of the evening was of course Peking duck. Carved at the table, as it should be, the duck that gave its life for us tonight blessed us with superbly crispy skin and such delicious and soft fat – the least you’d expect for £58 a duck. The second serving of the duck, once we were done with the skin, was stir-fried mince with onions and spices, a wonderful thing to mix in with plain rice. We all hankered after the duck, but alas one duck just about squeezes out enough meat for 13 people. Would it have been extravagant for us to order one more? Maybe. But it would have been tasteful extravagance, I think.

Spotlight on the night's champion

Spotlight on the night’s champion

Another highlight was the signature Red Lantern – a basket full of Sichuan dried chillis, Sichuan peppercorns, and crispy-fried soft shell crab. Aesthetically, it is very eye-catching, all reds and golds mixed together very auspiciously. Gastronomically, the crab was all perfect crunchiness and flavour, and the mix of the numbing peppercorns with the fieriness of the chillis was just about right. Again, it was a tight squeeze for nearly all of us (nearly – one of us has an unfortunately fatal relationship with shellfish) to get some crab.

Auspicious golds and red

Auspicious golds and red

Well-satisfied with what we ordered, we were rather pleased that there was space for dessert: crispy red bean cake (earthy sweetness in lightly crunchy pastry sheets), sticky sesame balls (gooey and not too sweet) and the cutest sweet thing I have seen yet this year: hedgehog-inspired steamed custard buns.

Edible pygmy hedgehogs - living the dream!!

Edible pygmy hedgehogs – living the dream!!

We’d been talking earlier about having pygmy hedgehogs frolicking in my garden (a serious and mature conversation, I assure you), so to have a tray of custard buns arrayed before us, with hedgehog spikiness and little black eyes was good fun. I’m still unsure as to whether it’s pure coincidence or whether they overheard our conversation (if so, for their reaction to involve hedgehog desserts as opposed to slowly walking away is a credit to them), but it filled us with endless delight. It also gave us the opportunity to play with our food. Eeeee!

Hungry hungry hedgehog

Hungry hungry hedgehog

All in all, it was a very pleasant and leisurely evening: a perfect setting, unobtrusive but helpful service and well-presented and flavourful food – the inaugural night of our Dinner Club had been quite the enjoyable success.

St Paul's in light and shadow

St Paul’s in light and shadow

And the best part? Our wallets were spared a massive hit. Sure, you could get just as filling and delightful a meal elsewhere for cheaper, but you wouldn’t have the service, view or the setting. At about £39 per head (sans alcohol, mind), we were able to enjoy all that as well as treat ourselves to a veritable feast, with space to order more if we wanted without seeming extravagant (still could have done with another Peking duck though). It certainly pays to have lots of friends to share food and bills with – as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

VERDICT – A good place. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable experience. You could go for the setting alone and be satisfied, but thankfully the food and service were also up to scratch. I’ve always readily enjoyed Chinese food as a banquet for many, and I would heartily recommend that you go to Hutong for the same. Though I’m sure as a romantic setting for your significant other, it would also be very impressive, you big spender you…

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – All My Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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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