Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Retro Foods Which Haven't Been Revived Yet

Chefs-taurateur-prenuers…. Fagged off with fried chicken? Bored of burgers? Had enough hot-dogs? Scratching around racking your brains trying to dream up London's next ironic food sensation? Well worry not, as I've been sniffing around for some as-yet untapped retro food trends to keep you busy til summer at least.

So get on the phone to your graphic designer, quick, and have them knock up the logo, then book your slot in your nearest hipster pub.

Thank me later….

What with Poland supposedly being our first language now, I'm utterly astounded that Polish food isn't featuring in pop-ups all over town. The only Polish restaurant I can think of is Daquise in S Ken, and even that's supposedly not what it was. Bigos stew, golabki, pierogi all fabulous and ripe to be sent up into hipster heaven. 'Riling The Daily Mail' is surely a decent enough reason to do it as it is.
Possible names: 'Kasia in the attic', 'Got to Kotlet you into my life'

70s Suburban Soiree
This one's all about the style & decor. Floaty dresses, man-made fibre suits, moustaches, fantasy romantic swan paintings, orange and brown decor, veneered rosewood, stainless steel multi bowl servers with various kinds of nuts, the complete works of Shakespeare on the bookshelf (never to be read of course). Babycham probably. Apparently there was an Abigail's Party private member's bar in Soho in the 90s, but it was never like this. 
Editor's note: Actually, just googled it and it looks a bit like one of @DowneyJD's recent creations, so maybe I'm a bit late to the party there.
Possible name: Abigail's Party

Pot noodle
The student super snack whose ad agency premeditated 'dirty' as a positive adjective waaaay before London's burger fans. Someone could fashion authentic style plastic beakers, complete with outrageous flavours and little sachets of sauce for the really daring. You'd get them at the table then have to pour on your own boiling water.
Possible names: 'Pot Luck' or 'So wrong, yet so right'

Baked beans on toast

Originally an idea suggested by Damian Hirst in the 90s for Quo Vadis, but never done. Everyone loves baked beans. Serving suggestion: Ironic mini 'tins' with Heinz style branding, and playful opened 'lids'. 
Suggested dishes, cheesy beans, hot spicy beans. 
Possible names: 'Bean a while' ' Beanz'.

Acid Drops

A bit Heston I know, but a sweetshop style pop-up dedicated to the sweets and desserts of the yesteryear. The 'proprietor' would be a bloke in his fifties who wears a brown shopkeeper's coat. Only two people would be in at a time.
Dishes: Syrup sponge, spotted dick, gobstoppers, cola cubes, all that.
Drinks: R White's Lemonade, Tizer based cocktails. 
Possible names: 'Wham Bar' 'E102' etc


Kebabs, yeah we've had 'Kebab Kitchen' but that was a go at the fancy shish and kofte type stuff that Mare Street and that place in South London has been doing absolutely brilliantly for years. No, we need someone to ironically do the doner. 
Big fat elephant's leg processed style, but cunningly made with locally sourced hand-reared milk-fed lamb and served on artisan pitta. Two sauces, garlic & chilli, to be eaten together obviously, and a lump of red cabbage top by a couple of massive green chillies.
Possible names: Endless. 'And Doner-come back', 'In bed with my doner' etc etc.

Italian trat

Everyone knows my love of corny old time Italians, but what about a pop-up defining all this into one gingham table-clothed wicker chianti bottle candlesticked, tricolore salad and veal escalope big pepper mill fest? I'm thinking 'An Evening at Rao's' meets 'Lady and the tramp' spaghetti scene. 
Possible names : 'Black pepper' 'Giorgio Giorgini'

Old time colonial Anglo-Indian. 
Yes I KNOW Dishoom is sort of having a crack, but no-one comes close to that right blend of ludicrous uptight Victorian-ness and denture-proof textures. 
Delicious mild creamy fruity curries with almonds, Kedgeree, mulligatawny, pineapple embassy pudding all served in a kind of tongue in cheek Kipling style. With pith hats, campaign furniture and mosquito nets.
Possible names: 'Boy scout breakfast', 'Calcutta Cutlets' .

The Middlesborough take on a breaded chicken cutlet with melted cheese and b├ęchamel. Surprisingly refined for an after-hours post booze treat in a North-Eastern town, and tastes amazing.
The pop-up would be outside in winter, and women must go dressed in bare legs and mini skirts, blokes in ironed pastel coloured shirts, untucked.
Possible names: 'Tees me'

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

10 Greek Street: An Ode

I frequently mention 10 Greek Street, but I realised I have never reviewed it on this blog. Probably because it would be a very boring review, in which I talk about nothing but how great the restaurant is. I fear I've become boring as it's the one restaurant that springs to mind when I talk about no-bookings restaurants, or small plates restaurants, or… well, all Soho restaurants.

From 10 Greek Street's website

But that's the reason it's one of my favourite restaurants. Because whenever someone asks me to recommend a restaurant in Soho, or Central London, or well, all of London, it floats to the top of my mind. 

Having a restaurant that you can pretty much always call upon in London is very handy, because you can guarantee that as soon as you're asked the question 'Can you recommend a restaurant in London?' you won't be able to remember all the great ones you've been to recently. So it's good to have one that you can pull out of the bag, and feel smug when others have a great time there too (the only problem with that is that someone might have a bad experience because they're fussy or it wasn't what they were expecting and blame you - see my blog on how to recommend a restaurant).

I'm not going to do a comprehensive review of all of the dishes I've ever had, because that would take far too long. There have been some great salads, meat and vegetable dishes and desserts. In fact, I've never had a bad dish there except for one disappointing waffle dish (the less said about that, the better). So I'll just tell you why I like the restaurant so much.

On entering, the staff are always friendly and accommodating. Even if the restaurant is chock full, you can usually get a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen, which is basically the same, if there are two of you. And like with any London restaurant, if you go at the right time (before 6.30 and after about 9.30-10), you can get a table with relatively little trouble. Better still, at lunchtimes, you can even reserve a table.

Another thing which is pointed out time and time again is the wine list. What a good selection, what reasonable prices the chateau neuf de blah blah are compared to the blah blah. I don't really know anything about wine except for getting it down my neck as quickly as possible, but as a frequent wine drinker, the price is the one thing that jumps out at me!

The menu changes pretty much every day, so there's no chance of you getting bored with the menu. 
It's got loads of nods to hip Soho-ness, including decanting water in milk bottles (which they give you when you are seated: TICK, a barely noticeable sign on the door and those hip white rectangular tiles, but it's not trying to be cool, with its down-to-earth staff and menu that is without affectations, as well as the huge range of people who go there.

10 Greek Street doesn't need to have queues out of the door and inflate its well-sated ego while its potential customers freeze, so staff take your name and you can pop next door to Pillars of Hercules.

I know I'm not alone in this - there are so many people who love this and I certainly know people who are in there all the time. Everything down to the free bread which you are served to the fuzzy feeling I get when I get a table there.

There's nothing I don't like about this restaurant. Ok, so I don't think I'd take a large amount of people there on a whim (they have a Private Dining room but I like the hustle and bustle of the main restaurant with this kind of casual food), and if I had to guarantee a table on a busy Saturday, I wouldn't, because I'd probably have to wait, but that's not what they're trying to do anyway!
10 Greek St,  London, W1D 4DH
020 7734 4677

10 Greek Street on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 18 February 2013

Soho Snacks

Here are some of my favourite snacks in Soho. Some are guiltier pleasures than others!

1. The fried chicken at Sliderbar, purely because of all of the different accompaniments - coleslaw, creamed corn, gravy and cheese croquettes.


The Player  8 Broadwick St, London W1F 8HN

2. The smoked mackerel tostadas from Wahaca. Yeah, there are probably better Mexican restaurants in Soho but I'm a huge mackerel fan and I could eat these all day.

From Channel 4 website
80 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1F OTF

3. The pancakes from The Diner. I went there on pancake day and despite having to queue for twice the time we were told (we forgave them because it was Shrove Tuesday), the pancakes were good - slathered with (probably) additive-filled raspberry sauce, white chocolate and marshmallows. I dread to think how many calories.

From The Diner's Instagram

The Diner
18 Ganton St, London, Greater London W1F 7BU

4. Aubergine chips from Spuntino. There are never enough.

61 Rupert St  Soho, London W1D 7PW

5. The goat roti from Mooli's, or any of the rotis from Mooli's. Just don't ask for a burrito. 

From Mooli's website

50 Frith St  London, Soho W1D 4SQ

6. A stumpy from Fernandez & Wells. Just bigger than a macchiato and smaller than a flat white. Handy if you're trying to get a coffee for Goldilocks.

Fernandez & Wells
43 Lexington St, London, Greater London

7. Ham & cheese French toast with honey mustard dressing from Foxcroft & Ginger, it's very decadent (I haven't been for a while but I hope they still do it).


Foxcroft & Ginger
3 Berwick St  Soho, Greater London W1F 0DR

8. The pork and fennel meatballs at Polpo. Not exactly a guilty pleasure, but meatballs are often overlooked in favour of something prettier.

From Polpo's website

41 Beak St  London W1F 9SB

9. I don't know what it is but there's something about the ham and cheese croissant from Pret. You can say what you like, but I've had them from artisan cafes and independents and they haven't quite hit the spot - too heavy, greasy etc. The ultimate hangover cure (not a Soho thing, but something I usually get in Soho).


55 Frith Street, London W1D 4SJ

10. The broccoli and stilton soup from The Stockpot on Old Compton Street. You can get that with a main course for £7.95 for lunch at a restaurant that's not trying to be cool whatsoever.

The Stockpot
18 Old Compton St  London, Greater London W1D 4TN

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Mishkin's Review

It's funny how you can have two entirely different experiences at the same restaurant.

One visit could be the worst meal of your life, because you were having an argument with your boyfriend and you thought the waiter gave you a funny look. The next time you visited, could be the best meal of your life because it was your birthday and you got a candle in your panna cotta.

There are tiny details that you remember that did or didn't happen the next time, and it can really make a difference. Sometimes I think if I have such a great time at a restaurant, I shouldn't return because it mightn't be as good. But that's silly, because it may well be as good and I have returned to restaurants and had the same great experience again and again. Such as 10 Greek Street - I can't get enough of it. However, there have been places I've returned to and haven't had such a good time. It's only usually little things, but they spoilt my perfect experience and I might not return again.

A perfect example is my meal at Dabbous. I think it was partly because the dishes weren't all as amazing, or perhaps because the wait staff didn't make me feel quite as special as they had last time, but it slightly tarnished my memories of that place. Of course there are many different factors - a slightly distracted waiter or chef - mistakes happen. But somehow you're slightly less forgiving of a place that in your eyes, can do no wrong.

Hipster cutlery containers
Mishkin's wasn't one of these places that can do no wrong. I think there was one dodgy dish the last time I went (not long after it first opened), but the rest of the dishes made up for it and so did the laid-back but attentive service. But I had a great time.

This time felt different. Not terrible, just different. We arrived late (my fault) and to their credit, they weren't pissy, or had given away our table. It's always nice when you're not chastised, so kudos to them for that. I also want to make a point of saying that the service is always really friendly, consistently.

We made the mistake of asking them to come back to get our wine order. The problem was, they sort of forgot about us and we had to flag them down, as we couldn't even make eye contact. My own experience of waitressing is making sure that I at least look at each table when walking past, so I wasn't overly impressed with this ignoring approach. 

After that it all went smoothly, though, service wise. The starters were lovely - well, you can't really go wrong with candied beetroot and goats' curd - a variation of a very common dish but one I can never resist ordering, such is my love for beetroot with a creamy accompaniment. We also ate beetroot tartare with pickled herring which was again, as expected, if anything, in surplus of beetroot.

One of the worst disappointments in life is tasting something you enjoyed previously and it not being quite as nice as you remembered. I had this predicament with the Reuben: pastrami, sauerkraut, pickles and mustard on rye bread, which I really liked the last time. But this time, the meat came apart and the rye tasted a bit burned. Why didn't I complain, why you ask? I didn't want to be a dick and ask for another one because my sandwich was a bit burned on the outside. They might do that with all of them. Probably other people like their sandwiches a bit charred, but it was just too charred for my tastes.

We went for a bottle of the Picpoul de Pinet, which was nice and easy to drink. One thing that they forgot with the first bottle was to put it in an ice bucket, but with the second one they remembered to put a suitably hip ice bucket on the table. Still, it's kind of on the first page of being a waiter or waitress, isn't it?

We didn't have a dessert, because we were too full, so we paid and lingered over our leftover wine.

It was kind of an enjoyable meal, but it just wasn't quite as enjoyable as the first one. Perhaps I'd put it on a pedestal after a particularly nice experience, perhaps I was too picky this time or perhaps I should learn to judge each meal on its own merit. Though, I suppose, most people expect similar experiences at the same restaurant, don't they?

*All images are from the Mishkin's website.

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

How Cool is your Ramen?

Image from Tonkotsu's website

There's been a lot about noodle soup in the past few months. And so many varieties. I can barely read a publication without it being mentioned. 

The question is, are you eating what's cool?

1. What sort of noodles are in your soup?
a) Udon. They're hand-pulled* that day, to an ancient Japanese recipe. By a geisha, probably.
b) Don't really care. They're all the same.
c) Ramen, of course. It's so now.

2. The service?
a) Pretty friendly. Almost apologetic, and whispering.
b) Trained down to the last detail. They scribble all over your menu.
c) Brusque and rude, which is perfect, because it gives your review a negative angle.

3. How pimped up is your noodle soup?
a) No extras, but the specials they post on Twitter are pretty 'pimp'.
b) I think there's some chilli oil on the tables...
 c) You can add pipettes of fat and humorously named bits of fried chicken

4. What about sides?
a) Tempura prawns and vegetables.
b) Chilli squid. That's pretty edgy, right?
c) Fried chicken, donuts and popcorn, of course!

5. Who will your dining companions be?
a) People who know where to get the real deal.
b) Your parents, anyone you're not trying to impress.
c) Your cool hipster mates. No need to talk, too busy instagramming.

6. You are drinking:
a) An artisan Japanese beer.
b) Free, refillable green tea.
c) Sake that you probably can't afford.

7. Music:
a) Traditional ambient Japanese music.
b) The sound of millions of other drones chatting.
c) Full-volume rock so you can Shazam that cool track without moving.

8. Did you pay?
a) You went to the soft launch, so you got it half price.
b) No, your dad did.
c) After loudly mentioning the name of your blog a few times, no.


Mostly As

You're at a place that's been open a while, but it's still got cult status. You're there to appreciate good food, and no gimmicks. Go to Koya or your favourite secret place in Chinatown.

Mostly Bs

You like what you know, and judging by all of your friends' check-ins, you should go to Wagamama. And chilli squid isn't really edgy, by the way.

Mostly Cs

You were the first to predict the ramen craze, probably soon after you came back from a stag night in Hong Kong. You're at Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu or Shoryu every day, probably, sitting in the window.

*Just been pointed out to me that udon noodles aren't hand-pulled!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Is Food the New Music?

HMV employees tweeting about their impending departure yesterday actually shut down Twitter, for about an hour, such was the outrage of the people of Twitter. It's a truly sad day for them, as finding a job is scary for anyone. And especially when you're in the music industry. But the funny thing is though, most of them probably don't even buy music. 

Truth is, we all know that the music industry is dying. People don't buy music. They might use Spotify, they might illegally download or they just might not be that bothered about music any more. HMV died not because of a bad business model or any greedy corporate nastiness. It died because kids don't buy music anymore.

Alex James crossed the line from
music to food. 
What they are spending money on though, is food. Talking to various people and most agree, those in their thirties & forties wouldn't have dreamed of going out to dinner in their teens or early twenties apart from a special occasion or date. But most would have budgeted for an album or two per week. Now twenty-somethings, (as the Daily Telegraph's 'gastronaut' article pointed out) me included are dining out 3-4 times a week without thinking about it. But buying music? I've not bought an album in six months. Even the word 'album' seems rather quaint now, like something my mum would say.

This age group used to spend all their money on music. Gig tickets, CDs, t-shirts, were what disposable income used to be splurged on. Now, the younger generation think nothing of spending £70 in one sitting, for a regular meal in a dingy basement and it's not even a special occasion. 

I went to a party the other week and ended up having a long conversation about not clubs, bands or festivals, but which restaurants we'd been to. It became like a competition of who was cooler. 'Haven't been to John Salt yet under the new chef? Christ.' 'Well, I got a table at Dabbous.' Not film, or music, or anything that young people used to talk about. 

Food is becoming the new music. You can no longer remember the names of all the members of The Strokes but you can name all of the head chefs of the Polpo group. 

Calling oneself a foodie now seems to be the norm, almost as normal as saying that you like music. Before, you the foodie were the one all your friends went to for restaurant recommendations, the coolest and newest places. Now, you get a text from your mate saying 'I've just heard about this place called Pitt Cue Co's [sic]. Let's go there!' People are no longer excited about being the first to own the new Foals album, they're too busy buying tickets to Tom Oldroyd's (Head Chef of the Polpo group) pop-up at The Thatched (which sold out in 9 minutes, give or take a few held tickets). 

It's sometimes difficult to tell what's a cool gig and what's a restaurant. The chefs have loyal groupies who follow them from pop-up to pop-up, the wait staff have tattoos, there are queues around the block to rival those of what you'd expect to get into a Muse gig and there are those who the newly enlightened can only wish to be - the bloggers (the new equivalent of NME writers). Dishes are hit singles, menus are albums.

And it's not just a niche group of hard-core foodies any more. Now you really just need to follow the right people on Twitter or read Time Out and you can know all of the new openings and gossip, without having a lot of background knowledge. And more and more celebrities are tweeting about, and being spotted at, the new cool places, making it even easier to discern which are the cooler places.

Where will this go? Will people jump ship? A photographer friend of mine at EMI has been talking about food 'being the new rock n roll' for ages now, he'd  get into restaurant work in a flash if he had the balls. 

The good news is, there is no real 'digital threat'. You can't download food or pirate it, so if anything, food culture benefits from rather than fears the internet.

I predict food festivals equaling music festivals in a few years, chef residencies being as in demand as DJs were in the 90s. Dishes will develop into cult 'done it/ not done it yet' statuses.

Where young people were staying out all night at gigs, they'll now spend them in a more civilised manner: sharing small plates and discussing the generation's burning question: burger or lobster?


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