Lately, not a day seems to go past without hearing about how restaurants are climbing over each other to be more simple. Rejecting anything that might be considered 'fancy', and instead stripping everything away until we are left with nothing to adulterate the ingestion of its ingredients.
But restaurateurs, how can you tell if your restaurant is simple enough? Are you still wallowing around in 90s fine-dining stiffness? Or flopping around in lost in some 00s nostalgia comfort-food retro theme concept?
My simple quiz might help.
1. Is your restaurant name:
a. Something like 'L'atelier de Francis de la Touche, with subconscious interaction'
b. A two word tribute to its owner's surnames, helpfully old-fashioned and Dickensian sounding and joined with a plus sign
c. A single word, evoking your dedication to nature, hand written in lower case.
2. Where do people read about your restaurant?
A. On an aeroplane in their leather bound company issue Michelin guide
B. On twitter
C. In an achingly honest piece in the Guardian food section, where they follow the head chef on a foraging tour of their home village, which will be a remote beach near Sunderland.
3. How is your restaurant designed?
a. A six month refit by a heavyweight interior design house, with specially imported materials, exotic wood marquetry and bespoke Italian marble inlaid panelled walls and Axminster monogrammed carpets
b. A whimsically retro throwback to a Victorian City bank clerk's daily eating house, complete with green glass shaded desk lamps, reproduction hunting prints and lots of simulated mahogany?
c. All white, with communal refectory tables and mix & match school chairs.
a. Individually spotlit tables, luminosity adjusted to best flatter both the food and the particular customer
b. Near darkness, apart from a few filament bulbs
c. Operating theatre bright.
5. How are your serving staff dressed?
a. Formal suits
b. Easy going Edwardian throwback waistcoats, loose ties, jeans, converse
c. Scandinavian designer asymmetrically buttoned overalls, in gunmetal grey
6. What food concept is it?
a. Concept led. The chef was once visited by a God in their dream and was instructed to continue their work in the form of food. What you are eating is the physical realisation of this dream.
b. Nostaglia led. Retro dishes, tweaked comfort food, English and American home classics with a twist.
c. Ingredient led. Pure and unadulterated dedication to nature.
7. How seasonal?
a. Always seasonal! We import this asparagus all year round from four different global timezones.
b. Totally seasonal. This hamburger is bang-on-the-minute-on-trend, so you're always 'in season'.
c. Highly seasonal. You've identified the sub seasons as you find the regular seasons too restricting
8. Who are your customers?
a. Jet-lagged global company reps
b. The London in-crowd, this week
c. Restaurant spotters, foodies with big cameras and Blackadder's puritan Aunt and Uncle
Your temple to vulgarity is not really getting into the 'simple' vibe, is it. Disappointed.
Your restaurant is better, but not really simple enough. Wincing at the nonchalant use of unrefined basic foodstuffs, and frivolous ornamentation you lavish your room with.
Congratulations, your restaurant is uncomfortably simple. Allow yourself with a firm pat on the back and celebrate with a glass of your home distilled early autumn sloe gin and relax by skinning a freshly trapped rabbit.
Friday, 21 March 2014
Gosh it's been a while since I've reviewed a restaurant. Frankly, I'm not nearly enough of a food trainspotter - trying to think of a portmanteau - 'grainspotter'? - to form an opinion that anyone might find useful, as most of the time I kind of like pretty much anything as long as a. it's served nicely, b. I'm in a place I like the look of, and c. I'm drunk enough. So I tend of leave the ham reviewing to the others.
Well, since the recent blaggergate hoo-haa, I thought it only fair I should jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the golden dripping honeypot that is freebieland and wave the flag for the good old hard-blagging blogger.
Lanes of London is of course the very place that started the most recent blagger storm: Jay Rayner's rant at 'effing blogger' @samphireandsalsify ended with his claim that their review of Lanes couldn't possibly be impartial.
Well, it seemed the best option to go back to the very place and give it my own review. And it wouldn't be a food blog review without it being free! So here, in all its freeness, is my free dinner at Lanes of London.
|Bloodhound & Garden of Edhen Cocktail|
Both cocktails were very good (obviously, being free), and while we were waiting for them, we had some spiced nuts and two glasses of water.
We had the Portobello road cocktail - Bloodhound : Bombay dry, Martini Gran Lusso, Martini dry vermouth, house made strawberry liqueur, Peychaud's bitters, and the Edgware Road cocktail, alcohol free - Garden of Edhen : Lebanese seven spice syrup, apple juice, lemon juice, egg white, rosewater. Being alcohol-free was quite apt, since they were also 'cost-free'.
|Edgware road - Kafta meshwi: minced lamb skewers, "babaganoush", smoked aubergine|
Dinner started with kafta meshwi, this dish wasn't very good, the babaganoush was too acidic. I will say however that being 'gratis' added a certain deliciousness to it, so on second thoughts would of course heartily recommend it.
Kingsland Road - Bun thit nuong : Barbequed pork skewers, Marinated pork, rice noodle salad, homemade sweet chilli sauce
|Portobello road - Beef brisket sliders : roasted bone marrow, horseradish cream|
The best dish of the night was from the Portobello section: (completely cost-free) beef brisket sliders served with bone marrow. In appearance it looks like a real burger, but when you bite the texture was like a pulled beef. Totally bang on! It goes very well with the (mine complimentary) horseradish cream sauce. My friend added the bone marrow inside the burger.
|Vegetarian- Apple & Celeriac salad: poached duck egg, walnuts|
After all those handout meaty dishes, it was a pleasure to have something light and fresh like the apple & celeriac, especially when it's 'on the cuff'.
|Meat - Smoked ham hock fritters : buttered cabbage, apple sauce|
Brick lane - Butter chicken: cumin rice and paranthas
Brick Lane butter chicken - have to disagree with Mr Rayner here. I'm no curry pro but have had my fair share of late night Brick Lane neon curries, and I thought this butter chicken was great, the sauce was not just the usual sweet/salt and fat yellowy instant-thigh-circumference-increasing fluent I'm familiar with. It had real flavor. Rice was...rice. I also loved the paranthas.
According to the waitress, this dish is the chef Anshu Anghotra's family recipe. Now whether or not this recipe would have tasted awful had I paid for it, I cannot say.
So, of course Lanes of London is never going to please London's food bores who guff on about the sodding authenticity of everything.
It's aimed at international hotel guests (which it seemed to be populated with on my visit) who on a visit to London, I might imagine would find it all quite fun.
'Oh, but you can easily go to the actual places and get the real thing'
Yeah, why don't you just go down to the arse end of Dalston on a rainy tuesday night after a boring conference in a city you're not familiar with, or dodge bullets in Tottenham searching for that authentic Turkish, or shlepping over the river just to find some mythical hamburger.
No, you've got it all right here, neatly packaged and 5 minutes from your bedroom.
Anyway, what do you care? Being 'in the pay of the restaurant' as a freebie taking food whore means no-one will take a word of what I say with any integrity in any case.
140 Park Lane
London W1K 7AA
I was invited to eat at Lanes of London.