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Tuesday 30 August 2016

Salut! - At Last a Decent Restaurant in Islington

Name: Salut!

Where: 412 Essex Road, London, N1 3PJ, http://salut-london.co.uk/

Cost: Average food spend per person is around £30 not including drinks. Starters cost from £7.90 to £11.40, mains from £14.30 to £19.80 and desserts from £7.90 to £11.20. The entry level red and white wines are from La Mancha in Spain, both priced at £20.   

About: This restaurant is sympathetically converted from the former King George pub on Islington's Essex Road. Opened in December 2015, the restaurant has eight wood-topped tables, gorgeous copper lights, and an open-plan kitchen. With huge glass windows all around it, there is plenty of natural light, making it a bright and welcoming spot.

The menu is concise, well-thought out and changes regularly with a choice of 5 starters, 5 mains and 3 desserts. Run by ex-Noma chef Martin Lange and his brother Christoph Lange, they were very much in evidence throughout our dinner.

I loved the unusual crockery - it turns out that it is made by fellow Japanese-Brazilians, and imported from hometown São Paulo. The restaurant serves modern European dishes with Nordic, French and German influences. On the Sunday evening we attended, the place was packed.

What We Ate: We opted for the Tartar 3 Ways (£11.40), featuring 3 quenelles of 45-day dry-aged short horn rump steak, beetroot and smoked pigeon breast. Regular readers will be aware of my devotion to steak tartare, and Salut's version did not disappoint served with a scattering of glossy balsamic glaze, a Parmesan tuile and quail egg. I loved this dish as a whole but in particular the raw smoked pigeon, a revelation!

The seared scallops (£10.90) came with pan-fried squid, over squid ink veloute, micro coriander and red amaranth leaves, broad beans and radish. The scallops were superb, and the finely scored fried squid perfectly tender - a simple dish, gorgeously presented but concealing a great deal of culinary skill.

The shorthorn sirloin (£19.80), the shorthorn is a breed of cattle from the North East of England, was served with wilted kale, a griddled king oyster mushroom and the creamiest truffled potato puree – another great dish, it was served with mini turned potatoes and a rich, glossy reduction.

The salt marsh lamb (£19.60) included best end and breast, and came with pomme dauphinoise, Savoy cabbage, baby carrots and garden beans. With top quality, super tender lamb, this was our favourite dish of the evening.

For dessert, we opted to enjoy the remainder of our red wine with a cheese platter (£11.20), served with gooseberry puree and hazelnut crisp bread. The cheeses were eclectic and well chosen to include cow, goat and sheep, blue and hard varieties. They were a Rouelle from Tarn in the Pyrenees, a Sharpham unpasteurised goat Brie from Totnes in Devon, a Napoleon Vieux ewe's milk cheese from Montrejeau, France, a Crozier Blue made from County Tipperary, and a Fleur de Maquis unpasteurised ewe's milk cheese from Corsica. For such an interesting cheese platter served in peak condition, the price was very reasonable.

The poached pear with marinated berries, white chocolate espuma and hazelnut (£7.90) came with a scattering of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and physalis, and made an excellent end to the meal.

What We Drank: The wine list is unusual, mainly chosen from artisan producers, making wines with wild yeasts and often made organically or bio dynamically. There is also a small selection of craft beers.

We opted for a bottle of Alvero Castro Outeiro Tinto (£29) from Dão in Portugal. Made from a blend of Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Roriz grapes, this was a light, fruit driven wine gentle on the tannins, which went well with the beef and lamb.

Likes: There wasn't a disappointing dish on the menu, but I particularly enjoyed the tartar 3 ways, the salt marsh lamb, and the excellent cheese platter is not to be missed.  

Dislikes: None

Verdict: Salut! is a much welcome addition to the food scene in Islington, a neighbourhood dominated as it is by uninspiring chain restaurants. This independent, stand-alone venue is a joy to visit, with great attention to detail in everything served to eat and drink, friendly informative service, and great value for money. I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

Friday 26 August 2016

Duck and Waffle Reviewed - Stellar Cooking in the London Skies

Words and Photography by Caroline Ghera and Luiz Hara

Name: Duck and Waffle

Where: 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY, www.duckandwaffle.com

Cost: The average food spend per person is around £45 not including drinks. The All-day menu at Duck and Waffle is divided into snacks priced £3 - £5, freshly baked breads £6 - £7, and small sharing dishes £10 - £14; Large plates are priced £14 - £18 and large sharing dishes for 2/3 diners are priced from £35 to £40.

On the beverage front, Duck and Waffle offers a range of cocktails at £14 while the wines are available by the 125ml glass from £7 - £13.50, a small selection of 400ml carafes from £20 - £43.50 and bottles come priced £33 - £79 with many finer and sparkling wines rising considerably above that mark.

About: Located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower on Bishopsgate, Duck and Waffle is the highest restaurant in the London skyline, offering the most spectacular views of the city in a buzzy but easy-going setting.

The menu, developed by the group executive chef Dan Doherty and executive chef Tom Cenci, combines traditional British cuisine and flavours from around the world with their own modern, unique interpretation.

The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, taking you from breakfast through to brunch, lunch and dinner with different menus for different times of the day though an All Day menu is also available.

Duck and Waffle attracts a variety of diners, from city-types to foodies and visiting tourists, who come for the creative, gutsy cooking and the amazing London views.

What We Ate: We started our meal with two signature D&W snacks – the first was a very posh version of ‘devils on horseback’ a British classic (£3.50) - juicy medjool dates filled with sausage, wrapped around crispy bacon rashers and served on grain mustard sauce. These were utterly delicious – sweet and savoury, juicy and but meaty, these dates are a must for any meal or bar visit to Duck and Waffle.

Our second snack was the equally appetizing barbecue-spiced crispy pig ears (£5) - cut in thin strips, they were super crunchy and savoury, served in a brown paper bag closed with the Duck and Waffle seal. The pig ears were so very moreish and I've been craving to have them again.

Next we moved on to one of the freshly baked breads, our choice was the charred baby aubergines with sumac yogurt and fresh coriander on flat bread (£6). The bread was crispy on the outside with a pillow-y centre while the sweet, soft aubergines were well complemented by the spicy yoghurt and herbs.

The highlight of our dinner however was the delectable foie gras crème brulee served with a small brioche topped with weightless crispy pork crackling and chopped chives (£13). The crème brulee was luscious, silky and rich with the distinctive flavour of foie gras and a crunchy top caramel layer, while the brioche was light, buttery and fluffy (as all good brioche should be). The crackling added texture and flavour to this winning dish.

A hot mini cast-iron pan of baked haddock covered in rich lobster cream and parmesan crumble (£12) was our next dish. The flaky haddock and creamy lobster sauce were utterly delicious with the generous Parmesan crumble adding extra umaminess and texture. Another faultless and indulgent dish.

We  proceeded with a cooling salad of grilled octopus, with raw fennel, lemon, red chilli and a refreshing green herb sauce (£13). The octopus was succulent and well paired with the zingy dressing.

We  also could not resist the corn on the cob with jerk mayo and toasted coconut (£8). Nicely presented on corn husks, the sweet corn was soft while the jerk mayo and coconut flakes adding texture and flavour.

Finally, our meal came to an end with a sharing plate (2-3 persons) of roasted whole seabass (£36), with potato and samphire ragout, radicchio leaves, oyster emulsion and pickled seaweed. The seabass was large and rather meaty, accompanied by the heavenly potato and samphire ragout which was rich with butter and herbs. The silky oyster emulsion, radicchio and tangy seaweed added extra interest and textures and the whole dish was another triumph, one of the best plates of fish I have ever tasted.

What We Drank: Richard Woods, Duck and Waffle's head of spirit and cocktail development, has created a summer cocktail list entitled Urban Foraging versus Urban Decay. As the name suggests the cocktails use ingredients foraged in the city or discarded in our daily lives. 

We started our evening with an Urban Foraged Woodland Negroni (£14), a concoction of "damp gin", Campari, sweet vermouth and formica rufa (red wood ant!) infusion slowly dripped through layers of "nature". The tumbler with the familiar flavours of gin, Campari and vermouth was served on a bowl filled with a patch of grass, perhaps referring to the layers of "nature" among the ingredients. Apparently, formica rufa has a flavour reminiscent of lemon and lime with a touch of lemongrass but the overall end result had the intriguing scent and taste of musky garden foliage.

Our second cocktail was a less adventurous Meadow Spritz (£14) from the Urban Decay list. We found this to be a refreshing mix of Bombay Sapphire "Spring" gin, aspargus ends, cut grass cordial, preserved elderflower, verbena and citrus with an iced orange peel garnish. The lightly carbonated drink with elderflower and citrus tones had a slight hint of grass and asparagus but was perfectly cooling and refreshing.

To accompany our meal with ordered a bottle of 2012 Dog Point Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand (£67). A bright yellow colour with golden hues and an intense nose of citrus fruit melded with brioche, minerals and gunflint, this rich chardonnay had a fine balance between sweetness, acidity and minerality with a long  finish. An excellent Chardonnay and it went really well along with our meal.

Likes: We enjoyed the wonderful views and excellent service but most of all, the food served by Duck and Waflle was outstanding. We loved the dates wrapped in bacon, the crispy pigs ears, the foie gras crème brulee, the haddock with lobster sauce, the whole baked seabass with the heavenly potato and samphire ragout…

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: I cannot believe this is my first visit to Duck and Waffle – I have always disregarded it as a place for tourists or flashy City types, but how wrong was I! In addition to the spectacular London views, the cooking is highly creative, gutsy and faultlessly delivered. These guys really know what they are doing and I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Frog's Tasting Menu Reviewed

Words and Photography by Caroline Ghera and Luiz Hara

Name: The Frog Restaurant

Where: 2 Ely's Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR, http://www.thefrogrestaurant.com/

Cost: The Tasting Menu offers a selection of four snacks, three small dishes, one pre-dessert and one dessert, and is priced at £45 per person. The A La Carte menu is divided into snacks priced £4 and a selection of dishes under the headings Garden, Sea and Land costing £7 - £18; desserts are priced £7 - £10.

The Frog's drinks menu has a good choice of crafts beers from £3.50 to £12; cocktails are £6.50 - £13.50 while the wines are both available by the 125ml glass from £4.50 to £13 and bottles from £21 to £72.00. If you are having the tasting menu, it is possible to choose between a beer pairing at £25 and a wine pairing at £35 per person.

About: The Frog is the first restaurant by Adam Handling, a Scottish chef who captured the public's imagination when he became one of the finalists of Masterchef The Professionals in 2013. Since then, Handling worked as Executive Chef at the Adam Handling at Caxton in the St Ermin's Hotel in Westminster, and went on to be awarded Chef of the Year 2014 by the British Culinary Association.

At the beginning of 2016, he decided to set out on his own and created The Frog, where his love for fresh produce and elaborate techniques is free to leap forward. Located in hip Spitalfields, at first you might mistake the entrance into Ely's Yard for an unused industrial backyard but will soon be faced by a large marquee framing the restaurant's outdoor bar.

The main restaurant is reached through an entirely glazed wall, revealing a high-ceilinged white space with polished concrete floors where the industrial open kitchen is visible. A long bar with a thick oak worktop and shelves occupies the wall to the right while the dining room is furnished with a mixture of galvanized steel and reclaimed furniture.

What We Ate and Drank: The Tasting Menu (£45pp) caught our eye as an opportunity to try 10 dishes also available on the a la carte menu. Our dinner started with a crispy chorizo croquette with a deliciously soft centre, served on caramelised onion puree topped with yet another layer of puree, a slice of Manchego cheese, a sprinkling of smoked paprika and a micro nasturtium leaf. I enjoyed the contrast of textures and flavours of this delectable morsel which quickly disappeared from the plate.

As  a vegetarian alternative to the croquette, we were brought a salt-baked celeriac slice cooked al dente and filled with cream cheese, then covered with shaved truffle and salty egg yolk flakes.

Our second snack was a stunning plate named "Beetroot, beetroot and more beetroot". Two translucent sugar cannoli were filled with beetroot pannacotta, beetroot gel with a hint of yuzu and covered in vibrant beetroot powder and micro red amaranth leaves. This was a wonderful dish where the crunchy sugar casing paired beautifully with its beetroot cream and yuzu gel fillings, while the powdered beetroot added chromatic drama.

The third snack to reach our table was a light and crunchy beer cracker topped with beef tartare, with aromatic chilli and egg yolk flakes. So fresh, spicy and salty, this was another moreish snack.

The non-red meat option was a beautifully pearlized tapioca and squid ink cracker topped with little pieces of salt cod tartare, baby cucumber slices, parsley cream, caviar and micro herbs.

Our last snack arrived in the form of thick slices of freshly baked spelt sourdough served inside a hessian pouch and accompanied by two quenelles of churned butter, one plain salted and the other flavoured with rich roast chicken gravy. We adored the warm lace-textured bread and the intense flavour of the roast chicken butter, which I believe is one of the most flavourful bread and butter combinations being served in London at the moment. A must.

Our wine pairing for the above snacks was a glass of Prosecco Glera, Italy (£4.50). Fresh and dry, with hints of citrus fruit and grass, this prosecco was a little too high in acidity for my liking but light and versatile enough to accompany the wildly different flavours of the snacks.

We then moved on to our first small plate from the "Sea" section of the main menu - an attractive composition of curled thin apple ribbons, white crab meat, daikon, grapefruit, samphire, dill & gin granita, avocado cream, micro sorrel and nasturtium leaves. Beautifully presented and with some great textures, it was however bland in flavour, and despite all the lovely ingredients, it did not come together as a whole dish in my opinion. An example of when less would definitely be more.

Our next dish was a perfectly cooked hake loin with crispy skin, served with limestone mashed potatoes, baked radishes, tarragon leaves and a delicious sauce of beurre blanc and tarragon oil. Well presented on a stunning piece of ceramic pottery, the smooth mashed potato was accompanied by a generous drizzle of tarragon beurre blanc sauce, while radishes added colour and crunch.

The hake was paired with a glass of Paper Road, Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (£28.80 per bottle). A youthful wine with hints of gooseberry, grapefruit, lime and cut grass, this had an intensely refreshing finish.

Our final small plate came from the "Land" section of the main menu - pieces of caramelised beef bavette with a juicy pink centre were served with delicious crispy potatoes, micro onions, onion puree, green herb cream and micro nasturtium leaves.

We  requested the mac & cheese from the "Garden" section of the a la carte menu as a non-meat option. Handling's version of this comforting dish displayed macaroni standing on their end in a circle at the centre of the plate which were then generously covered in a super light cheese sauce of Gruyere, Montgomery Cheddar and Parmesan, aerated with CO2 and sprinkled with shaved truffles. This was delicious and one of the best versions of macaroni cheese I have ever tasted.

The beef bavette and mac & cheese were paired with a glass of Primonero Livelli, Negroamaro, Italy, 2013 (£34.50 per bottle). Fine and intense with a rich ruby colour, this had aromas of plums, leather and spices, and on the finish had soft tannins and fruit.

A cheese course can be added to the tasting menu for a supplement of £4 and consists of fried doughnuts filled with cheese and topped with shaved truffle. The rich combination of crispy sweet batter and a creamy, salty cheese centre was absolutely delicious, and a highlight of our dinner.

I was looking forward to my pre-dessert as a refreshing palate cleanser. Sadly, a dish of red cherry sorbet with crumbled almonds, pecan nuts, and what seemed to be granola (?) and chocolate proved to be sweet, filling and confusingly reminiscent of a breakfast bowl. I could not believe I was eating granola after 8 savoury courses.

For dessert proper we ordered a nitro tiramisu which was a rich chocolate ganache on a crunchy biscuit topped with chocolate soil, nitro-mascarpone cream and amaretto crumbs. The billowing nitrogen created quite a spectacle, but I found the chocolate mousse and biscuit were again for my palate too sweet and rich, and the dish did not match up to the finesse of the savoury courses.

Our second dessert was a yuzu bavarois with a raspberry coulis centre served with a quenelle of milk ice cream, crumbled toasted meringue and chunks of aero white chocolate. As with the other desserts, this was also out of synch with the rest of the meal - the yuzu had an unfortunate, overpowering and artificial flavour, and the dessert as a whole was excessively sweet.

Accompanying our dessert we had a glass of Kombucha Bellini (supplement £5) made with Prosecco, 20-day yeast-fermented silver leaf tea and roobois tea. 

Likes: We loved the beetroot, the wonderful bread with intense chicken-flavoured butter, the weightless indulgence of the mac & cheese as well as the luscious hake with tarragon sauce. Both food and drink menus are reasonably priced.

Dislikes: The desserts were a bit of a let down. The wine pairing at £35 per person only provided 3 glasses of wine throughout the meal, which arrived in a random order. At £70 per couple I feel it might be better ordering your own bottle.  

Verdict: There is real culinary flair on display in The Frog – the beetroot, mac n cheese and sourdough bread were some of the best things I have eaten lately, and I can’t wait to have them again. Recommended. 

Thursday 18 August 2016

Coppa Club - Crispy Fried Truffled Gnocchi to Die For!

Name: Coppa Club

Where: 9-10 Market Place, London,W1W 8AQ, www.coppaclub.co.uk

Cost: Nibbles cost £2.95, small plates are priced from £4.95 to £9.95, mains are £10.95 to £18.95, with pizze at £7.45 to £9.45, and pasta dishes from £9.95 to £13.45. Filtered water, both still and sparkling, is refreshingly free.  Cocktails are priced at a reasonable £6.25. The house white is a Pinot Bianco/Garganega blend from Veneto, while the red is a Sicilian Syrah, both priced at £16.35.

About: Market Place, tucked away just a couple of blocks northeast of Oxford Circus, is home to a number of restaurant groups including the lovely Honest Burger (I bow down before their rosemary salted chips), as well as Italian (Carluccio), French (Cote) and Mexican (Tortilla) options.  On the Friday summer’s evening we were there, the area was packed with people enjoying an after work drink or meal, as well as shoppers and tourists settling down with their bags after day of bargain hunting.

Coppa Club is an bar and eatery with a great value cocktail list and a compact menu of bistro-style dishes with an Italian-inspired flavour, with an emphasis on pizza, pasta, small plates, steak and fries. Outside, there is a covered terrace with heaters and lighting for year-round use.

The bar and open plan kitchen are prominent in the ground floor restaurant, while the basement has a cosy cocktail bar.

What We Ate: We kicked off with a platter of fried truffled gnocchi (£2.95). These were a revelation – a crisp exterior with a velvety centre, deliciously perfumed with truffle and scattered with soft Parmesan cheese.

The crab bruschetta (£6.95) combined toasted bread with fresh crab, yoghurt, mint, chilli and lemon. With a fragrant scattering of lemon zest, this was simple but satisfying.

The fillet steak crudo on toasted sourdough (£6.95) combined chopped raw beef with tuna mayonnaise, lemon and paprika. Vitello tonato is a classic Italian dish with the unusual combination of beef and tuna, and this variation on the theme was delectable.

The crispy fried squid (£5.95) was also delicious, accompanied by a little bowl of spicy sriracha (Thai hot chilli sauce) mayonnaise, lemon and paprika.

For mains, we had the Coppa Club hot pizza (£9.45). With a good thin crust base  layered with spicy salami, nduja (Calabrian pork spread), chilli, tomato and mozzarella, this was a well made pizza.

To accompany it, we ordered also a house salad (£3.45) with lettuce, avocado and toasted seeds which was only let down by the 'jarred' taste of the dressing.

Better was the 8oz British ribeye steak (£18.95), served with grilled field mushrooms and watercress, and side orders of truffle cream (£2.50) and skinny fries (£2.95). Steak and chips is about as simple as it gets in restaurants, but Coppa Club’s version was just right for me – marbled, richly flavoured and served medium rare, served with crisp and salty chips.

For dessert, we had the rhubarb panna cotta (£5.45) - served with a scattering of orange zest, toasted oats and nuts, this had a good combination of textures and flavours, although the rhubarb was a little tough.

We also shared the mini butterscotch pot (£2.95) with salted caramel sauce and whipped crème fraiche was, for me, misconceived and oddly cheesy.

What We Drank: We started with a couple of cocktails (£6.25 each) – classic Negroni and Aperol Spritz, both well made and refreshing. 

With our main course, we had Salice Salentino Riserva, from Francesco Candido, Puglia (£29.15 per bottle or £9.95 per 250ml glass). One of my very favourite Italian red wines, this Riserva was very well made, with a complex nose of black cherries, mushroom and cedar, a lovely weight of fruit on the palate, and a long, satisfying finish. 

Likes: Friendly staff, central location in a quiet little enclave by Oxford Circus, great value cocktails and a tempting wine list. For me, the best dishes were the truffle gnocchi, the fillet steak crudo with tuna, and the steak and chips. It’s also open for breakfast and lunch.

Dislikes: A few of the dishes, for me, didn’t quite work – principally the salad and the butterscotch pot. 

Verdict: Coppa Club Oxford Street is a great place for meeting, drinking and relaxing in the heart of the West End, with probably the best value cocktails in the area. Open seven days a week, it’s a place I hope to revisit soon for a few Negronis and more fried truffled gnocchi! Recommended. 

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