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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The New Morito Hackney Road - Bigger and Bolder

Name: Morito Hackney Road

Where: 195 Hackney Road, London, E2 8JL, www.moritohackneyroad.co.uk

Cost: Average spent per person is £35 (not including drinks or service). The menu consists of small eats to share, and the recommendation is to start with 3 small plates per person, plus a portion of bread (£2.50), followed by dessert. Small eats are priced from £6 to £12. 

Wines are served by the glass, 500ml carafe and bottle. The house red and white wines are available on tap - Spanish Verdejo and Tempranillo  (£4 per glass, £15 per carafe). 

About: Opened in March 2016, this new branch of Morito in hipster Hackney, just over the road from the Columbia Road flower market, is much larger and can accommodate many more diners than the original restaurant on Exmouth Market.

It features a stunning ‘U’ shaped central bar with an elevated counter for those who prefer to dine there, as well as a total of 70 covers on tables scattered around the restaurant.

With an open-plan kitchen overlooking the restaurant like at Moro, polished concrete floors, simple wooden tables with cushioned aluminium chairs, the look is clean and industrial, and with plenty of natural light. Morito Hackney Road is a lively, buzzing place for lunch or dinner.

Tables are allocated for a maximum of 90 minutes, so Morito is not the place for a relaxed long lunch or dinner.

The staff are super-helpful, efficient and well informed though, and we got through our dinner without feeling in any way rushed.

What We Ate: The menu is divided into 5 sections and changes daily. There are only a few options per section, which should make it easy to order, though on our visit I was tempted by so many of the menu items that I struggled to make my choices!  

From the ‘para picar’ (appetizer) section, we ordered the bread basket (£2.50), which included a delicious and warm, freshly baked flat bread that worked a treat with the labneh, a thick and creamy Greek yoghurt, spiked with chillies and charred corn (£7), our choice from the ‘vegetable’ section. With a scattering of fennel and coriander seeds, and a pesto of parsley, as well as fragrant chilli oil, this was deliciously fresh and zingy.

From the meat offerings, we chose three dishes. The chicharrones (£7.50), an Andalucian specialty also popular throughout Latin America, are crispy pieces of fried pork belly – Morito’s version was sweet and tender, and I loved the addition of a simple dressing of cumin and lemon that cut through the fattiness and gave the pork such a lift.

The least promising of the dishes (Dr G’s choice, which I had to go along with), was in fact the best dish of the night. Fried rabbit (£7.50) was nothing short of a revelation - crispy rabbit morsels on the bone, seasoned with a fantastically aromatic dressing of rosemary and moscatel vinegar, lemon and sea salt.

The third meat option was the baked courgettes flowers with jamon and Manchego (£7). I found this disappointing in flavour, presentation and portion size – I could not detect any jamon, and the flower was of the type that did not have the baby courgette attached. I just wish I had ordered another portion of rabbit at virtually the same price!

From the fish section, we ordered two dishes. The slow-cooked cuttlefish with chickpeas and fino sherry (£11) came with flakes of red chilli and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. I enjoyed the dish – the cuttlefish was super-tender and delicious, the chickpeas were soft, waxy and had a lovely texture. The only snag for me though was the overpowering and pungent smell (of offal I think, even though there was no offal in the dish as far as I am aware).

A much fresher option was the grilled mackerel, which came with tangy beetroot, walnuts and a sweet and aromatic borani (a Persian or Turkish yoghurt dip) flavoured with dill and tarragon (£9.50).  This was excellent –the fresh herbs and beetroot cut through the oiliness of the mackerel, it had great flavours and textures, and in all was a very well put together dish.

To finish our carafe of red wine, we shared the cheese platter dessert (£6.50).  With Zamorano and Fuente Los Angeles cheeses and membrillo, this was a classic combination of mature and well-flavoured hard sheep’s milk cheese and blue cheese, served with miniature biscuits.

For dessert proper, we shared a delicious fruit salad (£7), but not as we know it - this had crispy pieces of filo pastry, with sweetened labneh flavoured with gum mastic (a Turkish tree sap), slices of fig and peach and fresh green pistachios. I was so pleased to have ordered this – it had everything going for it – texture from the filo pastry, creaminess from the labneh, sweetness and freshness from the ripe fruit. A real winner.

What We Drank: We started off with a lovely bone-dry Manzanilla Gabriella sherry, from Bodegas Sanchez Ayala (£5 per glass). 

With the main meal, we shared a 500ml carafe of Garnacha 'El Marciano' from Alfredo Maestro 2015 (£24). Medium bodied, this had ripe cherry and plum fruit and soft tannins.

Likes: I love the extra space, the deep fried rabbit with rosemary and muscatel vinegar was the highlight. The chicharrones, labneh, cheese platter and dessert were all very good. Well-informed, efficient and friendly staff, what a joy to see this in London, and particularly in Hackney. 

Dislikes: The baked courgette flower with jamon and Manchego was the weakest link. 

Verdict: Super-fresh, zingy and delicious Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern flavours, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and service at Morito Hackney Road, and highly recommend it. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

The New Weekend Brunch Menu at Polpo

Name: Polpo Soho

Where: 41 Beak Street, London, W1F 9SB. www.polpo.co.uk

Cost: Average spend is around £20 per person. Cooked dishes range from £6 to £8, with pastries at £1.50, granola and doughnuts at £3. Boozy cocktails, Breakfast Bellini and Bloody Mary, are £6 while a whole bottle of Polpo Prosecco comes in at a reasonable £16. Coffee, whether cappuccino, double espresso, latte, or flat white, is all priced at £3. Breakfast tea is £2.  

About: Opened by restaurateur Russell Norman in 2009, Polpo Soho was the first branch of several that have slowly spread across London and beyond.

Sister restaurants are Polpetto above the French House in Dean Street, da Polpo in Covent Garden, and Spuntino on Rupert Street.

Polpo is known for its small-eats and informal dining style for lunch and dinner, that was somehow ground-breaking when it first appeared. As of June 2016, it also offers brunch on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10am to 12.30pm.

What We Ate: The menu is concise, with four cooked options, plus pastries, doughnuts and granola, and a range of hot and cold drinks including a couple of breakfast cocktails. 

We started with the soft poached eggs served on a bed of scafata (£6). Scafata is a traditional stew from Umbria in central Italy, made from fava beans and spring vegetables which may include Swiss chard, asparagus, peas and onions and sometimes pancetta or salsiccia. Polpo’s version had beans, peas, rocket and baby artichoke hearts.  It was a stunning-looking dish, rather like spring on a plate, with perfectly cooked beans and vegetables, and oozy, runny eggs, but it sadly lacked seasoning. I have seen scafata recipes with Pecorino cheese or pancetta, and I think the dish would have gained from the addition of either.

Better was the brunch pizzetta with Italian salsiccia, wild mushroom and a soft egg (£8). With a fine thin crust and a scattering of fennel seeds, it came with top quality Italian spicy sausage, and slices of thick-cut pancetta, marbled with wonderfully aromatic, savoury fat - this was the highlight of the brunch for me.

Polpo's posh mushrooms on toast had wild garlic, an array of mushrooms (I think oyster, closed cap and perhaps porcini) topped with crumbled ricotta and a scattering of parsley, served on thick wedge of toasted sourdough (£6). I liked this but it didn’t rock my world – the bread had a great texture, but the mushrooms, though in abundance, were a tad uninspiring in flavour and texture, and again lacked seasoning.

To wrap up, we had the ricotta doughnuts and cinnamon sugar (£3). I enjoyed these mini doughnuts – they were fluffy, light and cinnamony, but would have been greatly improved by something served alongside like jam or clotted cream, or even some ice cream.

What We Drank: The Breakfast Bellini (£6) with a dash of Prosecco was sweet, peachy and refreshing. I also enjoyed the spicy Bloody Mary (£6), which was well seasoned with Tabasco and black pepper.

Likes: The brunch pizzetta is delicious - a simple dish elevated by the use of some top quality Italian ingredients. 

Dislikes: Service was in my opinion poor - the staff were not terribly friendly and an occasional smile would have gone a long way. They were uninformed about the dishes too – for example, nobody could explain which mushrooms were on the mushrooms on sourdough, one of only four cooked items on the menu. Besides, the seasoning of some of the dishes needs looking at. 

Verdict: A perfect brunch for me at Polpo Soho starts with a spicy Bloody Mary, accompanied by the Italian pizzetta, some strong coffee and a couple of their moreish sugar and cinnamon doughnuts slathered with a good helping of clotted cream or jam, if available.    

Friday, 8 July 2016

Excellent Value & Much Scrumptiousness: The Saturday Supreme Menu at Yauatcha City

Name: Saturday Supreme Menu at Yauatcha City

Where: Yauatcha City, Broad Gate, London, EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/supreme-saturdays/

Cost: On Saturdays, Yauatcha City offers this great value set-price menu at £49 per person, inclusive of a pre-lunch and a post-lunch cocktail, half a bottle of wine per person, and a four-course meal between 12pm and 6:30pm.  There are two house wines to choose from in the Supreme Saturday menu, an Italian red and an Alsatian white.  

About: Regular readers will know that I regard Yauatcha, both Soho and City branches, as the best dim sum venues in London.

Yauatcha City is packed during the week with a mainly work crowd, but I was surprised to find, arriving on a Saturday lunchtime, that this Liverpool Street eatery was packed with Londoners even when the City types are away for the weekend.

The Supreme Saturdays menu at Yauatcha City is available from 12pm until 6:30pm on Saturdays, for a minimum of 2 guests. There are four courses on this menu – two courses of dim sum (fried and steamed), followed by the main course (a choice of three dishes with each person choosing one), ending with the dessert course.

Yauatcha’s open-air terraces are now open to the public, with great views over Broadgate Circle, they are ideal spots for dim sum and after work drinks.

What We Ate: The menu starts with a platter of 4 fried or baked dim sum items. The venison puff, with unctuously tender venison in a richly flavoured sauce encased by a buttery and super light pastry, was definitely a treat.

Equally good was the mushroom spring roll which had a delicate truffle aroma, while the lobster roll came in a snow-white crisp rice-flour casing around a rich, velvety lobster filling - quite a technical feat.  

The sesame prawn toast was an accomplished version of a dish which has been a British favourite since the 1970s, with the tail of a whole king prawn beautifully presented, emerging from the top of the dumpling.

Moving on to the platter of 6 steamed dim sum dumplings – the pork and prawn shui mai and the har gau prawn dumplings were both excellent – light, flavoursome and so fresh.

There were two steamed dim sum in striking jade green casing (the colour coming from Chinese chive extract) - the black pepper and Wagyu beef dumplings were scrumptious, while the vegetable wrap had great textures (crunchy but also soft) was deliciously scented with a slice of fresh truffle.

The mushroom dumpling was filled with a rich variety of aromatic wild earthy fungi while the crystal dumpling wrap with pumpkin and pine nut had a vibrant orange casing (coloured with carrot juice). 

The main course offers a choice of three dishes, we opted for the lobster vermicelli and the pork belly. The lobster was segmented, wok-fried with vermicelli, the meat was sweet and so tender, making for a deliciously luxurious main course.

But my favourite main course was the truffle pork belly served on the rib, and beautifully presented with a topping of Shimeji mushrooms, aromatic diced truffles, and with a side serving of baby asparagus and an edible nasturtium flower. The meat was very tender, coming off the bone, it was sweet and totally scrumptious.

The main courses came with a portion of jasmine steamed rice and stir-fried pak choi with garlic.

Included in the Saturday Supreme menu is a selection of desserts from Yauatcha's famous range of patisserie.  One of our choices was the delectable apricot yoghurt, with honey cream, freshly baked orange madeleine, and almond.

The other choice was the jasmine honey dessert – a milk chocolate dome filled with jasmine cream and caramelised honey, served with a quenelle of honey ice cream. Stunningly presented as might be expected, both desserts showed off the skills of the patisserie team at Yauatcha. We were also impressed by the size of the desserts – they were surprisingly generous.

What We Drank: The Saturday Supreme menu includes both a pre- and a post-lunch cocktail, and while making our food selection on the open-air terrace, I had a well made, strong Negroni that really hit the spot! Dr G chose the Thea martini - a refreshing an appetite-stimulating concoction of Zubrowka vodka, ginger juice, vanilla and chilli sugar, apple juice and lime.

With our meal, we chose the house red - a Cabaletta, Rosso delle Venezie 2014 from Veneto. This oak-aged blend of Corvina, Rondinella and  Sauvignon was medium bodied, with prune and cherry fruit flavours and very soft tannins. Enjoyable in its own right, it worked surprisingly well with many dishes on the menu.

We also got to try and a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc on tap which is available at the open-air terrace at Yauatcha (this is not part of the Saturday Supreme menu). This was a fresh, herbaceous and young Sauvignon Blanc, easy drinking and ideal for the English summer.
For our post lunch cocktail, we opted for the Manhattan and Espresso Martini. Combining sweetness with astringency, these were the perfect accompaniment to our desserts.

Likes: great value set menu, fantastic cocktails. Stand out dishes for me were the truffled pork belly and the patisserie desserts. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: The Saturday Supreme menu at Yauatcha City is one of the best value menus in London right now – four courses of exquisite food, boozy cocktails and wine all thrown in. I have already been twice, and cannot wait to return! Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Steaks Galore, Parmesan Chips and Ice Cream at Boyds Grill & Wine Bar

Name: Boyds Grill & Wine Bar

Where: 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY, http://www.boydsgrillandwinebar.co.uk/

Cost: Hot and cold small eats are all priced at £5. Charcuterie and cheese platters for sharing between two cost £19.95. Grilled meat or fish main courses range from £14 to £50, with most being around the £15 to £20 mark. Side dishes are £4.

The wine list is comprehensive, with a focus on classic French regions, but with a good representation of wines from England, the rest of Europe and the New World. There is a good selection of wines by the glass. By the bottle, the entry-level white is a Solano Blanco 2014 from Galicia, Spain at £21.50. The red, at the same price point, is a Tarabilla Tinto 2014 also from Galicia. Prices ascend as far as the Cos d'Estournel 'Les Pagodes de Cos' 2009 at £192.50. 

About: Situated on the ground floor of the The Grand Hotel, Trafalgar Square, Boyds Grill & Wine Bar is set in a sumptuous room, dating back to the origins of the hotel, with black and white marble walls and floors, and a glamorous copper-topped bar in the centre of the dining area.

The menu, designed by Executive British chef Nate Brewster, features an extensive range of grilled meats, all cooked on a high heat, eco-friendly Synergy Grill, which claims to retain the natural juices of the meat and give it an authentic barbecue charred flavour.

Signature dishes include a Tomahawk rib steak, served with two sides and two sauces (1.2kg, £70 to share), and braised short rib sandwich with caramelised onion, rocket and jus (£10.95).

There is a range of British meats to choose for the grill, including British Wagyu beef, Scottish Black Gold beef, Welsh lamb, Suffolk pork and Norfolk black chicken.  For those with fish and seafood in mind, there is a selection of small plates and fish dishes.

If you get to visit Boyds Grill & Wine Bar, the Dessert Bar experience is not be missed – for £11.95 per person, the pastry chef will prepare (and demonstrate) up to 11 different types of ice cream and sorbet using liquid nitrogen, but more on that later.

What We Had: We started with a selection of small eats (£5 each) and a glass of fine Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 (£10 per glass). The salmon tartare with avocado, mango and chilli was zingy, well seasoned and beautifully presented.

Equally good were the Mac n Cheese croquettes (with Wookey Hole cheddar), served with Boyds own bbq sauce. Crunchy on the outside but cheesy and delicious inside, I love Mac n’ Cheese in any shape or form, and these were no exception.

The duck liver parfait with crispy brioche, fig and mandarin meringue was also good – I particularly liked the citrusy, sweet meringue combined with the creamy liver parfait, a revelation.

I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek fish and shellfish goujons deep-fried in beer batter and served with a curried hollandaise much like a posh chippy's curry sauce.

We were very impressed by the eclectic and surprisingly well priced wine list, we went a bit overboard on our choices. Accompanying our starters, we ordered 3 different whites: the Austrian Gruner Veltliner, Lossterrassen Weingut 2014 (£8.25 per glass) was a good example of its kind, with apricot and gooseberry flavours. The Croatian Primus Reisling, Bolfan 2012 (£7 per glass) was rich and off-dry, with green apple and mineral aromas. Best of all was the Puilly Fuisse 'Vieilles Vignes' 2014, from Domain Patriarche, Burgundy (£10.25 per glass) - made from 100% chardonnay, this was rich and concentrated with subtle tropical fruit aromas. 

The starters were followed by a scrumptious meat platter (all Boyds meat comes from British farms), including pork chop (£17), Black Gold rib eye, lamb hogget (£18), and Wagyu minute steak. Lamb is a sheep aged up to 1 year, while the hogget is aged between 1 and 2 years (over 2 years it becomes mutton). The hogget had a great depth of flavour while still retaining the tenderness of lamb.

Boyds gets its Wagyu from Sussex, where native cows have been crossed with Red Wagyu from Australia and the USA. The final product is a 28 day dry-aged, beautifully marbled and tender cut of beef.

Sides (£4 each) were assorted seasonal vegetables, Parmesan fries and triple cooked sweet potato wedges, served with lemon, thyme and Port jus, and a Béarnaise sauce (£1.95 each). The Parmesan fries were among the finest chips I have ever had the pleasure of eating - light, fluffy, crisp and cheesy all at the same time.

With the meats, we had an outstanding glass of Gevrey Chambertin 'Vieilles Vignes' 2011 from Domain Gerard Seguin (£67 per bottle). Refined and elegant, this had delicate redcurrant fruit and a surprisingly long finish.   

The Chateauneuf du Pape 'Le Calice de St-Pierre' 2014 (£47 per bottle) was altogether more robust as would be expected from this hot climate area, and more than a match for the richer meats, with black berry fruit and a good grip of tannin. 
One of my favourite red wines is Chateau Musar 2007, from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (£61 per bottle). This was an excellent vintage, with brambles, plums, leather, tobacco and just a hint of mushroom. 

After dinner, there is an option for diners to have the Dessert Bar Experience (£11.95 per person), where some amazing ice creams are rustled up to order.

The Dessert Bar experience includes up to 11 different ice creams and sorbets, from a mind-boggling array of fruit creams and purées, where guests are invited to select their favourite flavours. They are then mixed with liquid nitrogen at -190 degrees centigrade, to create an amazingly light and airy ice cream. The Dessert Bar Experience can also be enjoyed on its own, without any requirement to eat dinner at the restaurant.

We started with “Dragon's Breath” – a selection of flavoured, superchilled meringues that literally froze the breath, followed by the ice creams.

Some highlights were intensely flavoured and creamy blackberry and raspberry ice creams. The Jack Daniels ice cream came on a classic vanilla base, while the lemon sorbet made with Limoncello was mouthwateringly refreshing.

We went on to have some increasingly unusual flavours - why go for vanilla when you can have smoked strawberry, smoky bacon, English breakfast tea, canned pork and picallilli, dill and cream cheese, and even smoked salmon and wasabi!

With dessert, we had a chilled and creamy cocktail of Baileys, Sambuca and Espresso that went down a treat. 

Likes: Trafalgar Square location, elegant dining room, fantastic chips, a great selection of grilled beef, Wagyu and other meats. The small eats are well made and very reasonably priced. Loved the Dessert Bar Experience!

Dislikes: None

Verdict: A perfect meal for me at Boyds Grill and Wine Bar starts with their Black Gold rib eye accompanied by the scrumptious Parmesan chips and a large glass of 2007 Chateau Musar. The Dessert Bar is an experience not to be missed, and is worth a trip to the restaurant in its own right. I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

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