We veg-test @MarketCamden #Camden

The ultimate eggs & soldiers: baked salsify, wrapped in golden, crispy filo pastry and served with a soft-boiled duck egg (£8.00). PHOTO: Hatti Owens

With a self-confessed “committed carnivore” at the helm and only one meat-free dish on the main menu, the good ship Market is not necessarily the first choice for a top veggie meal in Camden Town. But, boy, did this place deliver. As my companion and I gobbled bread, butter, salt and pepper (top marks), proprietor Denise talked us through the vegetarian options she had been specially rustling up with her team – despite the fleshy focus of its menu and specials, Market is more than happy to develop dishes for specific dietary-requirements or preferences. What a treat.

A light starter of bitter leaves, pear and Berkswell (£7.50) was crisp and tasty. The second starter was special. Sticks of baked salsify, wrapped in golden, crispy filo pastry and served with a soft-boiled duck egg (£8.00) – the ultimate egg and soldiers.

We shared two main courses. The spinach and ricotta dumplings dish (£14.50) was kept fresh with a sweet tomato ragu. Gnocchi and wild mushrooms with truffle oil (£15.00) was everything you’d expect and a triumph all the same. A mound of crisped gnocchi parcels topped with a tangle of creamy and warming wild mushrooms, finished with cheese, herbs and truffle oil. Hearty, garlicky and comforting – there was nothing not to like.

Choosing puddings was, as ever, tricky and the only real option for me and my companion was to share three. Obviously. The Bakewell tart (£6.00) – served warm and oozing sticky raspberry jam – was delightfully moist and matched well with milk ice cream buddy. The buttermilk pudding with chocolate, pine nuts and candied orange biscotti (£6.00) had a pleasing wobble and was kept just this side of too rich by the zing of fresh blood orange segments. The forced rhubarb and custard mess (£6.00) was pure indulgence. The rhubarb had mercifully kept its shape and the thick vanilla custard was a dream. A tumble of broken pistachios on top were stunning to look at as well as eat.

Denise and her team are committed to doing this restaurant thing ‘right’: dishes are seasonal; much of the produce is sourced from the local area – fruit and veg from Parkway Greens across the road, cheese from Neal’s Yard – and there is a clear willingness to cater for diners’ needs and wants. This effort is recognised and appreciated by diners – on a Monday evening, Market was bustling with repeat custom and newbies alike. I fully intend to travel 13 stops on the Northern Line to see what veggie delights Market will rustle up for my return.

3.5 / 5

We veg-test @MarketCamden #Camden

Market Camden

43 Parkway London NW1 7PN
Web: http://www.marketrestaurant.co.uk/

Reviewer: Hatti, February 18, 2016

#BestOf2015 – London’s Best #Vegetarian Dishes for #2015

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As the year draws to a close we thought it time to shout about our favourite veg dishes of 2015. While some are still relegating veg diners to “same-old” risotto’s, this list praises the creative, bold, talented and downright impressive veg creations we’ve seen this year.

10. Kohlrabi Ravioli at Grainstore Unleashed

It can’t be a surprise to see Bruno Loubet on this list. A true master of cooking with veg, his Grainstore Unleashed pop-up graced Clerkenwell for but a few weeks in the summer, but long enough for this magnificent creation to grace us with its presence. Wafer thin slices of Kohlrabi (there’s no pasta in this ‘ravioli’), stuffed with broad bean and tofu and served with a smattering of peas, further broad beans and wild garlic.

Try Bruno’s cooking at Grainstore Kings Cross: www.grainstore.com

9. Polenta and Artichoke at Jones and Son

Slightly tucked away just off Dalston’s Kingsland Road, Jones and Sons served up an unconventional veg main when we visited in July. Flipping the typical polenta orientation on its head, this was a creamy and provocatively placed fritter. The veg abundant and in many forms: whole artichoke hearts, fresh salsa and a chestnut purée. We want more of this kind of fresh thinking with classic veg ingredients.

jonesandsonsdalston.com

Jones and Sons Polenta with grilled Artichoke. We want more of this!

Jones and Sons Polenta with grilled Artichoke. We want more of this!

8. Beans and Artichokes at Rotorino

Staying in Dalston and with artichokes, we visited Rotorino in August and found this tasty, cheesy stew. In the company of several meat eaters, we shared the veg dishes: all who tried rated this dish one of best of the night. The highlight was the elegant yet simple broth, pulling together the mushrooms, beans and artichokes that featured. Topped, of course, with parmesan for a salty southern Italian kick.

rotorino.com

The veg special at Rotorino on Kingsland Road in late August was this brilliantly balanced Bean and Artichoke number.

The veg special at Rotorino on Kingsland Road in late August was this brilliantly balanced Bean and Artichoke number.

7. Mushroom, Miso, Bean and Cabbage at Paradise Garage

We’ve been dazzled every time we’ve been to Paradise Garage. Incredibly honed dishes, fabulous wine and wait staff, and THAT rabbit, what higher praise? Well, alongside the meaty tasting menu magic they also conjure up a vibrant veg tasting menu. This bean and cabbage number with miso may look and sound simple, but Robin Gills pulls these ingredients together with the kind of precision we’ve come to expect. Every element perfectly prepared, and the overall result: an artful plate.

paradise254.com

Impressive, as you'd expect. Mushroom, miso, bean and cabbage - Paradise Row's vegetarian main for their launch menu.

Impressive, as you’d expect. Mushroom, miso, bean and cabbage – Paradise Row’s vegetarian main for their launch menu.

6. Beetroot with Horseradish at Primeur

There’s an awful lot of beetroot around London restaurants these days. Seldom however, is it prepared and served as perfectly as this. Primeur has gently cooked this heritage beetroot so they’ve an al dente texture with an ever so slightly candied edge. Served warm with horseradish, hazlenuts and parsley, it’s a starter that screams “you’ve only just begun”, in a dulcet Karen Carpenter kind of tone.

primeurn5.co.uk

Served warm with a horseradish cream, Primeur (Highbury) serves this heritage beetroot as a starter.

Served warm with a horseradish cream, Primeur (Highbury) serves this heritage beetroot as a starter.

5. Courgette stuffed with Provençale sauce

If the chef at La Ferme were an artist, I’d have to guess a Parisian abstract expressionist. And the visual impression is what grabbed us the moment this dish arrived at the table. The round courgette was stuffed with a feta, pepper and olive sauce, and sat atop a bed of puréed corn.

Despite escaping a lot of mainstream foodie attention, La Ferme has established itself in a busy, competitive setting. The menu changes seasonally, so expect good variety of veg dishes, and hopefully the Courgette makes a return in the spring.

lafermelondon.com

Courgette stuffed with feta and olives, with corn purée at La Ferme, Exmouth Market.

Courgette stuffed with feta and olives, with corn purée at La Ferme, Exmouth Market.

4.Vegetable Spring Roll at the Modern Pantry

This is the sort of veg main that screams “who needs meat”. And, we weren’t all that surprised, Anna Hansen can always be relied upon to served up an impressive vegetarian main. Packed with persian spices characteristic of the Modern Pantry’s Asian-fusion style, we adored these crispy spring rolls, and the beetroot chutney they came with. The filling includes spiced roast parsnip, cassava and swede and shaved turnips. These have crunch and flavour punch.

themodernpantry.co.uk

With a beetroot and almond salsa and shaved turnip garnish, these vegetarian spring rolls packed punch and had crunch.

3. Gorgonzola Arancini at Bernardi’s

Italian food is such a fruitful cuisine for the vegetarian. And although Arancini are often stuffed with ground veal or pork, that’s not always the case. Relative newcomer Bernadi’s has been well recieved in the foodie community. And we’ve found a lunch at this Mayfair bistro can really lift your day. This gorgonzola stuffed arancini was pure food porn and ticked the oozey satisfaction box too. On a grey autumn day, it bought a splash of sunshine. Oh and so did dessert (but that’s another top 10 list).

bernardis.co.uk

Crumbed and crispy while oozing molten goodness, Bernadi’s Arancini with Gorgonzola and Spinach

Crumbed and crispy while oozing molten goodness, Bernadi’s Arancini with Gorgonzola and Spinach

2. Acorn Squash Risotto at Holborn Dining Room

It’s not often a Risotto takes our eye. Though a well-made Risotto is an angelic thing, too often a mushroom or pumpkin risotto is a catch-all in the vegetarian section. Calum Franklin, Head Chef at the Holborn Dining room went out of his way to create a distinctive acorn squash risotto in the Autumn.

“Acorn squash are at their best in Autumn, dense and with a decent amount of natural sugar, we slowly caramelise them to transform the flavour,” Franklin says. The risotto is topped with crispy sage and diced squash, with a flash of Perigold truffle in the evening service to give a touch of earthy luxury. When designing the dish, Franklin says his aim was “to feel like someone putting their arms around you and giving you a hug whilst you were eating,” we think he achieved that.

holborndiningroom.com

Cepe, squash and crispy sage top this autumnal treat of a risotto at Holborn Dining Room.

Cepe, squash and crispy sage top this autumnal treat of a risotto at Holborn Dining Room.

1. Bao’s Daikon Bao

Unassuming looking fella, isn’t he? Looks can be deceiving, this Bun filling is anything but boring. The daikon is steaming hot inside, giving it a softness that compliments the pillow like texture of the bun. But with a crispy, breaded coating in between, there’s serious contrast in texture. Add a squirt of coriander salsa and a little chilli sauce, there’s a flash of zing too. We first tried this dish in the launch month, overhearing a certain Times food critique describe it as “just a radish sandwich”. We prefered our waitresses interpretation “it’s just sheer comfort, you gotta try it”.

baolondon.com

Serious comfort: Daikon Bao at Soho’s Bao.

Serious comfort: Daikon Bao at Soho’s Bao.

To the chefs that put the effort into creating these meatless marvels, we salute you. And if you’re reading and craving veg, we suggest you head along to these restaurants. These dishes may have changed now, but safe to say, these restaurants take their veg very seriously indeed.

Review: The (very cute) @ChinLaundry, #Angel

Comforting, savoury tofu drenched in soya, with edamame and pickled mushrooms. Breakfast and brunch menu, £5.5

There’s something ever so heart-warming about seeing a local, owner-run business open, find it’s feet and begin to get noticed. When Chinese Laundry opened on upper street a few months ago I felt a curiousity: what was Chinese home-made food in the 80’s like? Not the tarted up Anglicised Chinese I knew in my 80’s childhood. When a certain well-known food writer reviewed it, I knew I had to try.

Two aborted attempts at dinner (they’ve since published a website with opening hours and have introduced a dinner service) and two actual visits later, I now feel somewhat armed to answer that question.

Enter and you’ve landed in what looks like a Shanghai hotel room in a style we’d perhaps assume to be more 50’s than 80’s. Decorative wallpaper and antique ornaments are dotted around, some looking as if they survived the great march. There’s been a real effort to create a certain atmosphere here – that’s sure. But as references to 1980’s China are somewhat missing from our culture, it’s a little hard to get a grounding. We dined twice, both times the restaurant was a little on the slow side, with curious commuters, passing through Islington checking out this new arrival.

The brunch menu is filled with dumplings, congee, omelettes and pancakes. The tofu battle (a challenge between sweet and savoury) took our eye. Dinner takes on a more cosmopolitan vibe with Baijiu (chinese wine spirit) cocktails. Small plates for starters (smashed cucumber and century egg, for example) and two ranges of larger plates, hot snacks and classics. Whether breakfasting or having supper, there’s a good smattering of veg, most notably the tofu dishes.

At breakfast I thoroughly enjoyed the savoury tofu. Smooth and comforting and topped with a variety of flavours and textures, it most certainly wasn’t boring – as tofu is so often criticised. The purple omelet, filled with purple sweet potatoes came promptly and was well executed, but was probably a bit more miss than hit. At dinner we were a larger group so tried a few more dishes. The crispy tofu was a delight. The piping hot, soft tofu, encased in a fried shell was like a treasure, smothered in a curious sweet meets savoury sauce. The manchurian lamb skewer also a spicy treat for the meaties: combining slow cooked rich lamb with a crispy edge. I found the veg dish (brocolli, pumpkin and peas) a little plain, despite the salted duck egg coating. The desserts were curious – a panda cotta caught our eye, if mostly for the play on words.

The portions aren’t huge – eat your fill and whack a few cocktails onto the bill and you’re up for a relatively expensive night out. Not, perhaps what you’d expect in a family dining room. There’s always a risk that home-style dishes end up being “could have made at home” dishes. Some, I fear, fall into that category. Others, are quite impressive.

All in all, Chinese Laundry is worth a visit, both to support this local crew as they establish and refine and also, to open a window into a little known culinary world. A cuisine which provided comfort and nourishment to many in China, but not at all known on these shores.

3 / 5

Brunch and dinner at the very cute @ChinLaundry, #Angel

Poco

107 Upper Street London N1 1QN
Web: chineselaundryroom.co.uk

Reviewer: edible Jared, November 7, 2015

Brunch at @EatPoco #BroadwayMarket

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It was difficult to contain my excitement when Tom Hunt announced plans to open a branch of Bristol’s Café Poco in London. Tom’s one of my food heroes, thanks in part to his focus on sustainability, seasonality and his effortless and long-standing veg focus. To top it off, brunch at his Stokes Croft café was one of the most memorable meals of my recent Bristol visits.

We visited as a gaggle of bloggers in early Autumn. Via Uber, bicycle and bus, one by one we arrived at the canal side, Broadway Market location once known as a bike repair shop. If this all sounds very East London so far, just wait. Poco’s interior transforms a relatively modern build into a friendly, warm wholesome dining room, with a feel of sustainability that runs deeper than the aesthetic. Reclaimed English timber, low energy lighting and clay based paints assure that. The crowd, a mix of Hackney locals taking brunch as they prepare for a day of doing what ever it is that East Londoners do, is unpretentious and chilled.

The weekend menu serves a good-sized brunch menu until 4.30pm and a tapas menu all day. We enjoyed brunch, kick-started with a delicious, boozy beetroot bloody mary. With six of us eating, we managed to try most brunch dishes, and as four of the dishes reflected Tom’s veg friendly focus, it’s safe to say vegetarians wont be disappointed. The Papas A Lo Pobre (£5.5) are Portuguese style potatoes that are crispy fried with rosemary, well seasoned (they pack punch) and topped with a fried egg and smattering of paprika. The Moroccan scramble (£7.9), one of the most popular breakfast dishes, is voluminous, spicy and down right impressive.

If the large serves don’t fill you, you can always top up, as we did, with a serve of the churros (£4), slightly gooey but with crispy edges and a deliciously rich chocolate sauce for dipping. We ravenously devoured, OK, I ravenously devoured. My foodie mates were much more restrained.

As well as being eco-friendly, Tom’s style is delicious and hearty, with a smattering of pan-European influence that makes for a meal that doesn’t need to apologise for being sustainable. We hope Poco becomes the Broadway Market cornerstone it’s location allows and which we think it deserves.

4 / 5

Brunch at @EatPoco #BroadwayMarket

Poco

129 Pritchard’s Rd London E2 9AP
Web: eatpoco.com

Reviewer: edible Jared, October 11, 2015

Two toasty #Clapham #popups: @RotliCrew @JimmysPopUp

Visit the lodge, a cosy alpine-themes pop-up just steps from Clapham High Street. PICTURE:  (Hatti)

There’s a chill in the air, burnt orange leaves brighten grey London pavements and my favourite woolly jumpers have found their way to the front of the wardrobe. This time of year is meant for gathering around a candlelit table laden with comforting, hearty food to share with a huddle of your closest friends. Thankfully, this is what these two quite different Clapham pop-ups, in their own ways, both offer.

Rotli Crew at The King & Co., Clapham Park Road

“Curry? For breakfast?” was the bewildered response to my suggestion that we take a trip up Clapham High Street to check out the Rotli Crew’s residency at the King & Co. on a crisp Saturday morning. Luckily, after the initial shock had subsided, my eminently sensible flatmate came round to the idea and I’m so glad she did.

The Rotli Crew are settling in well as the King & Co.’s latest short-term resident. A Gujarati potato curry, served with parathas, yoghurt and a delightfully mustardy carrot pickle was popular at our table. As something of a kedgeree connoisseur, I was pleased by the generous helping of warming masala, perfectly soft-boiled egg, Moxon’s sustainable smoked haddock and curried rice which landed in front of me. The standout savoury dish was the aubergine, paneer & spinach bhajia, which was coated in a light, spiced gram flour batter – a great sharing starter for a long weekend brunch.

The mango and lime mousse to finish was wonderful – creamy and indulgent, yet refreshing and zingy. Think set mango lassi, with homemade buttery and lightly spiced nankhati biscuits and you’re there. And you want it all over again.

The Rotli Crew’s brunch menu is not set – admirably, it will change throughout their two month residency in order to adapt to shifting seasonality. I’m certainly keen to return. There’s talk of some Gujarati dumplings making an appearance on the evening menu – an opportunity I’m just not willing to pass by when they’re a brisk five minute walk from my front door on a chilly autumn evening.

The Rotli Crew are serving food every day at the King & Co. until Sunday 29 November.

3.5 / 5

Rotli Crew at the King and Co

Rotli Crew

100 Clapham Park Road London SW4 7BZ
Web: http://thekingandco.uk/events/rotli-crew/

The Lodge at the 409, Clapham North

Perhaps a bright October afternoon when the temperature was pushing 16⁰C and warm sunshine streamed in through the windows wasn’t the most appropriate day on which to visit The Lodge, a cosy Alpine-themed pop-up just steps from Clapham High Street.

Greeted by a warming glass of spiced mulled wine, we perused the menu. Whilst veggie options are a little thin on the ground (artichoke and mushroom risotto, anyone?), I’m not one to turn my nose up at sharing a huge pot of melted cheese resting over a flame in the middle of the table. Indeed, don’t mind if I (fon)do. Sorry. The tasty mushroom fondue that we went for is made with a happy blend of comte and coolea from Neal’s Yard, white wine and kirsch and is served with generous portions of bread and buttered new potatoes, along with a little but lovely salad for good measure.

I’m not one to turn my nose up at sharing a huge pot of melted cheese

The Lodge also boasts a fantastic cocktail menu which includes warming treats such as Marmottes Hot Chocolate (made with a blood orange liqueur, milky hot chocolate and whipped cream and, if you like, served in a thermos) and spiced buttered rum served with pineapple and meringue. This, along with its ski chalet chic wood-cladding and undeniably fun atmosphere has got me longing for clear, frosty evenings so I can return to The Lodge and legitimately settle in for the night with good friends, good fondue and a cocktail or two.

Jimmys Popup’s The Lodge is open Tuesday-Sunday until March 2016.

3 / 5

The Lodge at the 409, Clapham North

Jimmys Popup’s The Lodge

409 Clapham Road London SW9 9BT
Web: http://www.thelodgeclapham.com/

Reviewer: Hatti, October 10, 2015

We Veg-test @Rotorino #Dalston

Rotorino Dalston - basked in neon pink.

I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s OK to visit a restaurant even when the fanfare’s died down. It’s easy to get caught up in the explosion of new openings. But, it’s also telling visit some time into a restaurants tenure, to see whether the pressure to increase profitability has meant the owners have cut corners. We visited Rotorino almost a year after it’s opening – so, a chance to test out if this place is keeping up it’s launch hype.

Offset from Kingsland Road by a row of parked cars and next to a chippie, Rotorino is unassuming from the outside. The exterior is sparse, brick walls and blinded windows, while a bright sign spells out the name in neon pink outline. Enter and you’re in a cozy, somewhat opulent world of copper fittings, more brick, dark lighting and “served-with-an-edge-of-cool” staff. Is this Dalston, or have we entered a porthole to the west-end? We got our bearings: this is Dalston, but it’s new Dalston, polished Dalston. Nothing wrong with that per-say, but surely not the hole in the wall Turkish, Afghan and Indian eateries we are more accustomed too this far up Kingsland Road.

On glancing the menu we’re impressed to see some of our Sicilian favourites appear: Panelle (a chickpea pancake) and Caponata (a rich stew of aubergine, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts), both served as starters. We were transported back to a hot summers night in Palermo. The menu takes a slight detour to samphire and cold meat platters, then a selection of fried and grilled veg in a small plates section. Pastas’ follow, then meaty and fishy third courses, served with sides.

We combined first and third courses with sides and shared the lot between four. The food arrived quickly. Obviously, we chose the Panelle and the Caponata, both guzzled down quickly and of a good standard. We also chose the singular veg main, La Fritella, a gorgeous mix of broad beans, artichokes and peas in a tasty, light broth and topped with parmesan. The trotollini peppers stuffed with ricotta and chilli, were fun. The stuffed courgette flower supposedly had an anchovy accent, which we couldn’t detect. I prefer mint, both for the flavour and the veg friendliness. The fish-eaters on the table had the mussels, which were of a good size but slightly over-cooked in their otherwise fragrant sauce. The mussels went well with the tomato and salsify, though that combination re-appeared in a lentil, tomato and salsify side dish, which though interesting, didn’t seem like it was sure whether it was a hearty, stew-like side or a fresher, lighter alternative. That didn’t kill it, just made it a little indistinct.

Rotorino still has its impact: the space and overall service possesses an element of finesse. The food, solid, though perhaps losing some of it’s shine; not that I’ve a personal comparison of its launch offering, I’m just, so to say, believing the hype.

3.5 / 5

We Veg-Tested @Rotorino #Dalston,

Rotorino

434 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AA
Web: rotorino.com

Reviewer: edible Jared, August 29, 2015

Two new #Scandi openings: @Rokshoreditch & @Lundenwic

A salad box (£6) and the best seats in the house. Photo: FelicitySpector.

A Nordic smokehouse and a Scandi inspired cafe. Two recent new openings which promised plenty of excellent veg-friendly food – we were immediately hooked.

Rök Smokehouse Soft Launch: Seasonal freshness and simplicity.

Rök Shoreditch was a long, narrow space with a small bar, tucked away on Curtain Road. On the very first day of the soft launch, some dishes were still being perfected, but we ordered everything veggie on the menu to try as much as we could. We weren’t entirely sure what was Nordic about ingredients like n’duja and watercress – but consultant chef Matt Young explained. “The menu is not expressly Nordic. We have instead set out to create a restaurant which follows the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto, but makes use of British produce. In short, we are all about seasonal freshness and simplicity”.

Standout dishes were a fabulous charred broccoli salad with toasted seeds and tahini, and another salad of roasted beetroot, goats cheese and watercress, the grill again lending the beets a smoky depth of flavour. A cauliflower cheese was rich and oozing with sauce, although the sweet potato was a bit on the al dente side: teething problems which the opening week appears to have sorted out.

Of the pickles, our favourite was the crunchy sauerkraut – but perhaps the standout dish was the fabulous roasted peach with a crunchy almond crumble and a scoop of creme fraiche. The peach, roasted whole in the wood fired oven with a whisky honey glaze, was soft and tender and just sweet enough, with that note of slight bitterness from the char. And who can say no to a plate of crumble and cream?

3.5 / 5

Rök Smokehouse, Shoreditch: soft launch review

Rök Smokehouse

26 Curtain Road London EC2 3NQ

Reviewer: Felicity Spector, August 3, 2015

Lundenwic: Lunch at Aldwych just got Skandi

At Lundenwic, another tiny venue in the heart of London’s Aldwych, the Scandi influence is all about the design. Set up by Oliver Hiam and Dominic Handy, the pair behind the popular Scotchtails, the decor is pared back minimalism, all white walls and sleek lines. The menu is short but full of interest – there are four salads, huge toasted sandwiches, a tempting array of cakes, and coffee by Workshop. They’ve recruited the former Bob’s Lobster chef Matt Shea to design the food, and his expertise shows – there’s plenty here for vegetarians, from the salads to a sandwich stuffed with butternut squash, chermoula and preserved lemon, on bread by Balthazar.

£6 buys you a pretty generous small box of salads: I was more than happy with my mix of roasted butternut squash with chick peas, pearl barley with roasted and raw beetroot, and pickled peach with green beans, feta and hazelnuts. The desserts certainly lived up to expectations too: a little cherry frangipane slice was gorgeous, while a mini chocolate fondant managed to ooze perfectly: deep and rich with dark chocolate. Breakfasts, including a range of different porridges and some excellent plum compote with granola and yoghurt, looked tempting too.

The entrance to the cafe used to lead to a theatre: Oli points out the old mosaic lettering on the doorstep which still remains, almost intact. “YOU WANT BEST SEATS WE HAVE THEM”. I ate my lunch alfresco, in the nearby Lincolns Inn Fields. Best seat in the house.

4 / 5

Lundenwic Food + Coffee, Aldwych

Lundenwic

45 Aldwych London WC2B 4DW
Web: http://www.lundenwic.com/

Reviewer: Felicity Spector, August 10, 2015

Where to eat in (and around) #Bordeaux, France

If you’re heading down to Bordeaux to enjoy the wine, you might, like us, be a little picky about where to eat. We’re foodies who love a good “gastronomique” experience; we love Michelin starred, though don’t need constant fine-dining. And, we needed to eat on a Sunday. It may surprise you but we found what we think are two of Bordeaux’s best restaurants that fit that bill. One about forty minutes out of town across the border into Charente-Maritime, in the town of Montendre. The other, slap bang in the middle of downtown Bordeaux in the historic centre. Both, with sufficient quality, to call them best.

Belle Campagne Restaurant, Downtown (Historic Centre), Bordeaux

Belle Campagne has a philosophy we can truly get behind. Ultra local (most food sourced within 250 miles), prepared with creativity and finesse, served in a contemporary, casual, friendly environment.

Any weariness from our cross-country schlep to get to Bordeaux left us as soon as we were seated in the pleasant dining room of Belle Campagne. Ours, a lovely window seat, overlooked the cobblestoned streets of Bordeaux’s historic centre. We perused the menu and our waitress handled our finickiness impeccably. The Beynatpink Merlot Cabernet Franc, fulfilled our need for a local rosé, while a surprisingly tasty artisan blonde beer Mascaret Blonde Grand Cru, a Gironde local brew, sated my uncharacteristic beer craving.

The menu is a contemporary, small plates and main dishes affair. Obviously it’s seasonal, with products coming from 70 local producers. We chose every veg starter, although were almost tempted by the house hot dog and made a meat exception for the frites, fried in animal fat. But they were served of  “mother’s house” and with” son’s aioli” – how could we resist? There were also two sharing boards which we didn’t try, one of charchuterie and the other of cheese.

The mains were as delicious as the starters. For veggies, a massive ravioli, stuffed with cheese and herbs and drenched in a soupy sauce with more cheese and (optionally) topped with truffle d’été. If you see a “plat confidential” on the menu do enquire. We had the delicious duck sashimi. Seriously one of the most ingenious and considered dishes I’ve had in a long time. The duck, ever so lightly seared and complemented with a charging stir fry of leek, onion and sharp soy. Melt in mouth deliciousness.

Desserts were what you’d expect from a top notch French kitchen. The pictures above, surely say it all. Creams and sauces like soft cushions of loveliness, combined with bright berries and delicious presentation. What a finish!

While Belle Campagne isn’t open for supper on Sunday, it is for brunch. We recommend you book in advance, this place is highly popular with trendy young French things. Belle Campagne, 15, rue des Bahutiers 33000 Bordeaux visit www.belle-campagne.fr for more information.

La Quincaillerie, Montrendre’s restaurant gastronomique

It’s atypical to find somewhere smashing for lunch in France, that’s open on a Sunday. We had to search high and low. But finiding La Quincaillerie was worth the effort. Located in Montrendre, about 40 minutes north of Bordeaux, it’s perfect spot for lunch, even on a Sunday, if you’re heading up the E606 to Jarnac, Cognac or Angoulême. We parked in a gorgeous town square, dabbled in sunshine, and made our way to La Quincaillerie.

La Quincaillerie is Michelin guide listed, and the menu described as “hearty and with good ingredients”. We couldn’t disagree, except to add that they also cater very well to vegetarians. As we were seated we explained to the waitress that one of our party was vegetarian, she smiled, “So am I! And my Husband is the chef!”. She bought out an alternative set menu, designed that day. The 5 course set menu is €50, with wine accompaniment at five different price points. We were tempted by the cocktails but, wary of the further drive ahead of us, opted to order wine by the glass.

While meat eaters will be impressed with the hearty beef served, perfectly cooked and served with a classic foie gras, the veg diner is well catered for. Each course was customised and although there was a small amount of repetition, the asparagus drenched in a rich sauce and topped with truffle made an excellent focal point. The dessert deserves special mention. I was at first worried that the chef had gone overboard, including elements of almost every dessert ever known, but the rich combination of apple, chocolate mousse, chocolate and salt caramel (plus garnish!) was enticing, decadent, yet balanced.

La Quincaillerie serves a set menu lunch every day and dinner every evening except Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Located in the centre of Montendre, 30 r. de l’Hôtel-de-Ville 17130 Montendre. More information www.restaurant-laquincaillerie.fr.
Could it be, that vegetarianism is starting to be seen less as a dark art in France?

Could it be, that vegetarianism is starting to be seen less as a dark art in France? Neither of these restaurants looked down upon us when we asked for veg-friendly options. In fact, they embraced our request and what they delivered, rather excelled. Tres bon! Experiencing both of these gems has solidified to me, that Bordeaux is one of the gastronomique epicentres of France. Go for the wine, but stay for the dining.

A Popup to follow: @SabelFood in Clapton, via @FelicitySpector

Sabel Food Popup

“Extra wheat, for the table!” You’ve got to love a place like that: where warm bowls of smoked freekeh, cooked risotto style, creamy with stock and dotted with peas and lettuce, are ferried over to a table already crammed with huge platters of beautiful food.

This is the Sabel Food pop-up, a family run business where flavours are big, produce is impeccable and the cooking is confident and assured. Chef Toby Williams has an impressive pedigree, learning his craft from some truly world class restaurants, from The Square to one of my New York favourites, Gramercy Tavern. His soon-to-be wife, Lianna, with a background in event management, leads the front of house.

And all that experience shows: from the very moment we walked into the bright, airy space above a Clapton grocery shop: there were baskets of sourdough bread and whipped brown butter, plates of peppery sharp radishes with a smoked cods’ roe dip, pigs cheek croquettes and for me, a special veggie option, grilled peas in their pods, as fresh as you like.

These were just the ‘snacks’ to get us going: next came plates of technicolour heritage tomatoes with a floral hit of lovage, toasted seeds and crumbled feta, scallops with salsa and air dried ham. And for me, another inspired veggie creation: tranches of grilled cucumber with yoghurt and mint, and thin shavings of radish. Who knew cucumber could taste so much better grilled?

With cheerful efficiency the plates were cleared and replaced: and in came the mains. That freekeh, with tender chunks of lamb neck for the meat eaters, and for me, an individual onion tart, the allium caramelised super-sweet on its own round of crisp puff pastry. I’m not usually a fan of onion. Or puff pastry. But I was completely won over: it was delicious. There were salads too: fragrant with mint and slick with buttermilk dressing – summery and fresh. And an extra plate of grilled sardines, “just in case.”

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An individual onion tart on a round, crisp, puff pastry. Photo: Felicity Spector.

But then, the piece de resistance: dessert, and the custard tart I’d been promised. I couldn’t resist darting up to the pass for a look – a huge table, loaded with perfect tarts, dusted with nutmeg, waiting to be sliced. Alongside, bowls of summer berries scattered with tiny elderflowers: that faultless attention to detail.

Piece de resistance: Custard tart. Photo: Felicity Spector.

Piece de resistance: Custard tart. Photo: Felicity Spector.

And what a tart. The pastry, thin and crisp. The custard smooth, velvety, and heady with vanilla. There were eight slices. There were six at the table. Somehow by the time our plates were cleared, the tart was gone. I couldn’t possibly comment.

What a dinner: what a night. There must have been sixty covers, yet chef Toby and his small team pulled off a flawless service. Nothing was too much trouble – and they’d taken the time and care to come up with skillful and imaginative vegetarian dishes.

I went on the last night of their current run – but follow them on Twitter @sabelfood and keep an eye out for their future events – this is one supper club I’d gladly go back to again and again.

4.5 / 5

Felicity visits the @SabelFood #Popup

Sabel Food Popup

Palm2, 152-156 Lower Clapton RdLondon E5 0QJ

Reviewer: Felicity Spector, August 1, 2015

The best #Pizza in London?

PIZZA UNION: Thin and crispy and served ultra fast.

While the ancients in Europe and the far east ate baked bread dough, topped with fruit, nuts, meat and cheese, it was the emergence of the word “Pizza” in Naples in the 16th century that signifies the start of the mega-phenomena we know today. Fast forward several hundred years, finding great (dare we say “the best”) pizza is surprisingly tough. From home-delivered greasy discs topped with questionably sourced toppings, through to franchise “gourmet” businesses, who’s claim is only reflected in price, the pizza world is complex and, in London, unfortunately prone to disappointment.

But of late it seems there’s been a Pizza renaissance. The traditional mainstays have been joined by a group of challengers, each achieving varying levels of hype, but all providing a preferable pie. And, we’d argue, each having a different slice of the market. You see, Pizza works in a variety of circumstance, from casual street food to more formal evenings out. So rather than find “the best”, we thought we’d offer up a selection.

Best street food: @PizzaPilgrims

Founded by two gents who trekked 4,000km across Italy to research the Pizza tradition, Pizza Pilgrims have a hard earned and well deserved reputation for being amongst the best. Baked fresh and served fast, you’ll only have to choose from three or four options. These sour dough pizza’s are simply topped with authentic ingredients (how does portobello mushroom and truffle oil bianco sound?) and are so good that they often sell out their daily supply of dough. Get in early!

To be fair, they’re no longer a pure-play street food vendor (Pizza Pilgrim’s is now open in three London locations), but we still prefer to eat them that way. In August you’ll find their van at Summer Tales in Old Street, Thursday through Saturday nights. More information at pizzapilgrims.co.uk.

Down with the kids: Pizza Union

Pizza Union, now well established in Spitalfields has just extended to Kings Cross. This tasty, super fast (3 minutes in the oven is all it takes) pizza in a trendy atmosphere hits a very particular spot and is achingly popular with the younger crowd. That said, when two *almost* 40 year-old foodies ventured, we gobbled up the crispy based pizza and happily lingered to finish our wine.

Part of the youthful appeal of Pizza union is no doubt the value. A 12″ Margherita for £3.95 and the more heavily (and meatily) topped pizza’s come in at £5.95. Costs are kept down in part as there’s no table service: order at the counter and you’ll be buzzed when it’s time to collect your order.

If you do go, be sure to try the filled dough ring. We shared one between two. It’s awesome foodporn and finger licking good. Pizza Union Kings Cross at 246-250 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY, more information at www.pizzaunion.com.

Most hyped: Franco Manca

Not being huge fan’s of waiting, we skipped out of the queue at Franco Manca Soho, hoping the Tottenham Court Road branch would be less popular. How wrong we were, the queue here was just as long and we almost gave up. But glancing inside to the busy, open plan kitchen and the vibrant, on-trend crowd ordering, sipping, eating and chatting, we couldn’t resist. The queue moved fast and after another streamlined decision (only six topping choices here), the pizza came quickly.

Franco Manca’s dough is superb. Our white pizza (no tomato) was so creamy the dough and the ricotta almost melded. It was like eating air. Thoughtfully prepared toppings too, like marinated courgettes and Franco’s own pecorino graced the bready base. Has to be said: this place is worth the hype.

Worth the hype: Franco Manca's Courgette, Basil, Mozzarella, Ricotta and Pecorino Pizza, £6.85.

Worth the hype: Franco Manca’s Courgette, Basil, Mozzarella, Ricotta and Pecorino Pizza, £6.85.

Franco Manca are soon to be at 15 locations across London, though they’re managing to maintain good quality pie. For more information visit www.francomanca.co.uk.

Neighbourhood favourite: The Regent, Barnsbury

With plentiful carbs, fat and protein, Pizza has to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. And that’s why on a Friday night we can often be found at our local pub, the Regent. The pub is sister to the Lauriston in Victoria Park, both attract a welcoming, vibrant, local crowd and both serve up great stonebaked Pizza. Toppings are generous and include a potato, rosemary and gorgonzola ($7.95) as well as our favourite, the spinach and olive, topped with a poached egg (£8.25). Not quite as cost-effective as some of the high volume, low cost new arrivals, but worth it for the atmosphere and friendly service.

Great pizza, beer and atomsphere at the Regent pub, Islington. What better Friday night?

Great pizza, beer and atmosphere at the Regent pub, Islington. What better Friday night?

The Regent serves pizza lunch and dinner, 7 days a week and offer gluten free on request. Visit them at 201 Liverpool Roadd, Islington, N1 1LX. Visit theregentpub.com for more information.

It might be a dish with ancient heritage, but Pizza continues to be deliciously contemporary and hugely popular. It’s great to see it’s reinvention has upped the quality, without a ridiculous price. What’s more with the range available, it’s now more than ever, the best dish for just about any occasion.