Fisheye, Marathias, Corfu 15/20

AND so…Corfu has a decent restaurant, at last. Not in the north, the kensington by sea, where you might expect, but in the south, which you might deem more Dusseldorfia.

Take the road south on the west coast, almost to Lefkimmi, at the sign for Marathais keep taking the right hand slip roads until you reach the beach. There is a solitary red house on the hillside by way of a beacon. Below it, in among the dunes, like a Spanish chiringuito, is a white wood terrace that used to be Rick’s that used to be another cliche but now we have a chef. There is no phone, no web site, but Google maps has a few mentions of the new regime already and the season has barely started.

You might think it would be blindingly obvious that an island surrounded by fishing boats might have worked out that you can do more than grill the catch of the day. But here carpaccio is radical – not ceviche which would be a cure but closer to sashimi, thinly sliced with coriander, pepper and spring onion.

These sardines have been butterflied, boned, turned on themselves and then grilled with oil and lemon to the side:

And from the ice cabinet we have prawns and mackerel:

And anything that does not go the to the charcoal goes into one of two casseroles in cast iron, the one with white wine wine, garlic and potatoes, the other tomatioes and peppers…

And there are other things like excellent aubergine, a salad of split peas, sourdough bread…

And even even chips, because after all if there is one thing Corfu does well, it is chips. And other elements – the sandy beach, the calm sea, the headland that keeps out any afternoon winds, the local wine, and that increasingly hard pressed sense of hospitality are all extra pluses. Other venues, some of which I have written about here before, serve the tradional dishes well enough, but they are a bit of an old oompah band, but this kitchen has another tune…excellent little place.

Bull in the Alley, north Main Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma

WALK down this mews in downtown, or north main street, would you believe, you might spot the little bull sculpture over the green door. And you might think this is a tanners, a speakeasy, some kind of smelting yard or even a fashion shop. If you are here, you are supposed to know…The Bull is nothing if not discreet. Inside is black walls, dark, barring a few spots and chandeliers and a grand piano that has been converted into a bar. There are booths if you want even more anonymity. The web site does not offer any address or menu or anything at all, just a phone number.

It is a short menu. but we are here for one thing…the steak, listed as table steak at $115, in fact sold by the ounce depending what is in the kitchen. There is a ladies fillet for $52. We order a tomahawk on the bone weighing in at 48 ounches, enough for three. That is 1360 grams by Europeans standards. Served plain, as it is, off the grill:

The lighting does not do it justice, but for the record:

Albeit the dinner plate might give you an idea of proportions:

It comes with an array of vegetables that have already been prepared so everything pivots on how long to cook the steak…we opted for rare with the sweet fat barely cooked through (fine by me). You don’t get steak like this in Europe. This was Wisconsin, prairie grass raised, they do not defer to Chicago here, it is a Kansas strip, should you ask.

In the event I plan to go vegan, I will be passing here for a final steak.

Other elements are deep grained American hospitality like the gargantuan four tier chocolate cake and the creme caramel that comes on a soup plate. Plenty of cream in the chowder. Those vegetables at $10 a go – rare enough around here – are swift to is a mushrooms bourguignonne:

If you should be in the area…

Le Petit Sommelier, Montparnasse, Paris 15/20

ONE for you oenophiles. If you are in Montparnasse, one of those junction boxes that links much of southern Paris but otherwise its artistic legacy as a meeting place of inspired and penniless artists has given way to urban sprawl and oppression – the original name was mount parnassus after the Greek poets. Wine pilgrims come here.

The wine list is emphatic and even if your pockets are not deep enough for the Hermitage ’91 La Chapelle at 600 euros or even the four variations on Morgon in an encyclopaedia put together by Pierre Vila Palleja, formerly of Ritz, Lasserre, Crillon etc that runs to 750+ examples of the finest in French viticulture, there are wines of the day by the glass (upwards of 10 euros) which are typically convincing to the notion that the French keep the best things to themselves.

The dining rooms is in the railway car by the station tradition of the capital, well schooled by a team who know where are they are coming from. Many people seem to come for steaks (well curated meats) and chips but there are more interesting old school dishes which marry even better with the wines like the bouef bourguignonne marinated for 24 hours for around 20 euros. Plus a few modern touches like this marinated salmon with seasonal vegetables.

To finish, the cafe gourmand amounts to an espresso with a small glass of chocolate cream, another of rice pudding and a slice…a riposte against gentrification of latte culture, old school.

The Fox, Corscombe, Dorset, England 18/20

SO the heart and soul of what was the Ivy (and before that the Caprice) has morphed to the deep combes of north Dorset, a fair drive away from the tourist torrents by the coast, almost on the Somerset border, here where the accent is wider, my luuuvvveerrrrrleeee, on a crossroads to nowhere in particular.

Old Ivy hands will recognise the scoop of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate sauce that is not quite quite dark, bitter or milk but as old fashioned as the silver goblet in which it is served, the ice cream perhaps a shade superior from the local milk from Hollis Farm, a gentle crunch in there quietly hidden.

There are no TV gimmicks, no flunkey doorman, no multi-course set menu, it is a pub. Mark Hix does food, dinner, vittles. He has never worked in the Michelin territory of sauces, of water baths etc but as the reputations of his former venues and those that used to carry his own moniker in London before lockdown shut them down attest, his cooking carries the endorsement of many people paying their own money, a guiding respect for ingredients (among other things he was the first chef to champion sea buckthorn), the technical skill unshowy. Subtle simplicity. In American terms he is akin to Alice Waters. There is sausage and gravy on the menu.

So we have brill as a main dish. Not the over-fished, smaller and smaller Dover sole, nor its cousin the too fashionable turbot now going the same way, but brill which is in its own way probably more delicate, messier, finer you might say. Here the skin on, baked 10 minutes, served with butter, unfilleted, a garnish of sea beets. Vegetables of the day come in another old catering hotel goblet of parsnip, kale, turnip…potatoes are separate, new with parsley (another old catering trick) or chips, skinny as Macdonalds.

Cuisine you could say brought back to abstract, elemental, at its best, un-mucked about with. You might like think your grandmother cooked like this only she probably did not.

Another example that holds strongly to purpose but is more in the swank mode are the smoked anchovies criss crossed on the plate with grapes, crumbs and chilli – Dorset chilli which is to say not too much – and olive oil:

And there is a wry sense of humour at play here. So you can also have a bar snack of pork scratchings with apple sauce – served, a rare thing, hot, so crackling really

The elderflower is foraged as too the soup of the day of nettle and wild garlic, the excellent beer is from Palmers in Bridport, there is a wine from Portugal that Hix has been working on himself.

Beyond this being excellent food in modest surroundings, there is a political kickback here. We are not in the fakery of TV’s Masterchef, or the desperation of the Great British Menu, or the extreme hubris of tasting menus with wine pairings, just cooking as it should be, intelligently sourced ingredients and priced sensibly. This is what chefs should be doing. You have the option to book the chef’s table and eat with Mark at his home in Charmouth if you want the full chef-o-drama stage set, to discuss…

Noodle and Beer, the City, London 14/20

POSSIBLY this is the hottest place in town. Hot as in chilli, Sichuan chilli. Chongqing Xiaomian. My companion, my chief chilli-ometer, said very hot at two chilli denomination. There is a five grade rating for the beef which opens the dried noodle dish section and there is a four chilli denomination in the rice section.…the beer therefore is an essential. Do not say I did not warn you.

Bell Street is back of the city by Liverpool Street station on the Aldgate side. This is not the only Sichuan arrival, a few doors up, among the street stalls that become the fag end of Petticoat Lane on Sundays, is super inscrutable Chew Fun with China graphics for a menu but well populated by young Asians. More canteen like is XI’An  Biang Biang Noodles on Commercial Street which gets a lot of enthusiasm on TripAdviser.

Noodle With Beer has the best graphics. It would be a good venue for Succession. Bring the boss. Get him/her drunk. Ask for a pay rise.

The offending or alluring articles in question for us are Sichuan dumplings – beautiful silky dumplings filled with minced pork and lotus root, sitting on a powder keg of chilli and peanut sauce. More powerful perhaps are the innocent sweet white udon noodles until you discover this cobra hot red, secret sauce, underneath – pictured above.

However the braised beef and noodles with coriander in soup – based on an eight hour broth –  is impeccable and worth the visit alone. The rest is probably fantastic but I don’t do properly hot food, thank you all the same.

It is a shade more expensive than the competition at around £20 a head but still salaryman rather an expense account – NoodleandBeer.Com

Balzar, Paris 5th, 16/20

THERE is some salvation of having a slightly nutty name like Balzar, or at least for those of us who are having increasing difficulty with the tourists bombing well known restaurants. The great Balzar has only two reviews on Trip Adviser since lockdown. Hurrah.

The blog EatLikeAGirl tells me this is where Sartre and de Beauvoir had argumentative lunches, although the Paris authorities have given them a plaque down by Les Deux Magots – so we can all argue about that instead. Possibly as a result Les DM has a cordon currently thrown around it to direct the traffic of tourist and is really more hostage than host…like a lot of central Paris. it is all getting a bit too theme park.

The food writer Waverley Root praised Balzar some 60 years ago – actually it opened in 1886 more as a beer and choucroute caffe – but as John Whiting pointed out in 2001 if it was in any other city it might be the talk of the town. Its reputation tends to fall in and out of fashion.

What is really, really good about Balzar is the dining room, the super brilliant staff, the sense of history and a menu that knows its place well enough and, a point of issue these days, it is not overly pricey – before 7 there is a set menu at 22 euros, a daily dish of the day such a petit sale with lentils is less than that. Compared to London, or indeed a lot of other places in Paris these days, that is pretty good value. Post lockdown Balzar seems reassuringly again where to go.

Obviously, well obviously for Paris which likes a cliche, there are oysters, and foie gras but there is also also, less rarely found, quennelle de brochet sauce nantua and a curiosity with sweetbreads admittedly with morels and Dauphine potatoes at 39 euros nearly the same price as Dover sole which must be some kind of historical moment of parity. The web site also has some totally out of date photographs of how the cooking used to look.

La Maison du Jardin, Paris 6th, 16/20

THE said gardens of Luxembourg measure 56.8 acres, the two front rooms here are not 500 sq feet, say 30 seats, just a front room with one of those distinct brass rails stretching horizontally so a net curtain discreetly hides the patrons but leaves an upper glimpse of a warmly lit room. It is not really the House of the Gardens, it just happens to be a house off a street off the gardens, at the start of the long and snaking rue de Vaugirard (the longest street inside the Paris city walls). Discreet and modest, surrounded by no less than two boulangerie, three caffe that also have menus, an oriental traiteur, a proper croissement des croissants, all within 100 metres. On the next block is Philippe and Carole Tailleur’s awesome Bread and Roses.  Sometimes the best gastronomie is not the most obvious.

This maison is rated 300th best restaurant in Paris by Trip Adviser which is a pretty cool place to be – not so high up the list as to be spoiled by gastro tourists, and not so low down as to be with the run of the mill. It is a local, a Parisian local, on a small scale. Menus are short, 31 or 37 euros, cheaper at lunch, not in a style that might attract Michelin but more bourgeois, go back in time between those wars and you could imagine Julia Child cooking such things for Gertrude Stein. Homely, but accomplished, not dishes you want to embellish, or improve on.

Unannounced arrives a small casolette of wild mushroom soup, earthy, creamy, dirty like it is snuffled down in the roots of an old oak tree. And a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau on the house. It is that time of year. Old and new.

The first course is an old bistro trick, being the same thing done two different ways; one a mesculun green salad of mache and fine beans with shavings of foie gras. The other being the foie gras with its toast (from Poilane) and a garnish of mesculun leaves and fine beans. There is a smear of chutney to one side as if to say I could have done it this way, nouvelle cuisine or molecular style, but why bother? It is not what this dish is about. Which is what is good about this place in general, it is on message, it is Peugeot efficient, it is personable. Philippe Marquis has been here for a couple of decades. He has had time to adjust everything, so it is just so.

There is a bit of thing going on around the coeur de rumpsteak (origine France) which appears on other menus – it is a tough cut – here tombee – fallen on with mushrooms and spinach, a tomato, jus, and the chips are polenta.

Scallops are another two-in-one incarnation, this time all on one plate, a rich risotto of shellfish stock on which the scallops themselves become an opulent garnish with micro chopped chives and deep fried crisp shallots.

Lots of people on TA also mention the pastilla of lamb with braised lettuce.

And so, asks Gertrude, how will you finish this meal, Julia? With an ile flottante, with an almond tuile, more toasted almonds and a little cream. Does that suit? You really should write a book Julia.

In terms of scale this is not too different from say Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, as it was originally under Pierre Koffman, where dinner is now from £140 plus drinks. Here dinner was £35 each all in. Gertrude says: keeping things small and tight like here is the way to go, as Greta might say, everything else is just so much brouhaha, brouhaha…

Limnopoula, Petriti, Corfu, 15/20

PETRITI is the southern port where most of the fish is landed for the rest of Corfu. It is a cluster of smart coffee shops and grill tavernas. When the boats leave each evening, the tables and chairs come out and the quayside becomes an al fresco restaurant. If you had a villa nearby with a kitchen you could buy straight off the boats in the morning.

Limnopoula is in the middle of all this, a family concern set up more than 20 years ago with one half of the operation on a deck on the shore and the other inside. Here the stifado means octopus. They are robust in dealing with trippers, yachters, sailors, tourists, locals whoever. There is, as we used to say, no side to it.

Fish is the main deal – you can pick your own from the chill cabinet in front of the kitchen old school style – this is snapper, rather comfortingly served with old fashioned boiled potatoes, soft cooked beans and boiled courgette, but the skin so crisp it is a feature in itself.

All the catch is priced at a standard 50 euros per kilo which roughly translates as four portions. For shellfish they do a hefty pasta with squid, mussels and prawns.

Then of course we have the tarama and the more interesting fava bean puree with olives and red onions which marries well with sauteed courgette (if you are vegan).

Plus bread and local wine, and of course the view, about 35 euros.

Tay Do, Shoreditch, 13/20

OF all the Kingsland Road Vietnamese, Tay Do, seems to have got back on its feet quickest, perhaps because it is family run – now third generation – and so the links back to the kitchen are perhaps stronger than others. The name is from the village in south Vietnam, (known for its paper making and floating market, the town was recently re-christened Can Tho). It was among the first of the Kingsland Road Vietnamese, 30 years ago. While others have brought more modish swagger and are scrambling to get things up to scratch  this green room is back to its elegant and authentic best, evidence of which is the Hanoi Pho based on an elegant and slow braised broth.

The menu spans everything from populist Peking duck to more radical frogs legs. The heartland Vietnamese dishes excel. The Tay special rice is a deconstructed dish of char grilled pork, shredded pork skin and an egg cake and steamed rice and salad which differentiates itself from straight special rice. Lemon grass heaven. BYO.

Golden Dragon, Colindale 16/20

DETAILS of the full massacre of the restaurant business in central London has not percolated as yet into the chitter chatter of most social media. But there is pushback around the M25. Maroush, so long the go-to Lebanese outlet on Edgware Road has opened down the M40 at Park Royal. Etles popular Uyghur restaurant by Walthamstow station has re-opened its original branch on Finchely Road – very superior noodles – Goa’s inspired son Cyrus Todiwalla has left Tower Bridge for Buckhurst Hill.

And here Soho’s Golden Dragon has reincarnated a new version at Colindale at the Bang Bang food complex which also includes a Loon Fung supermarket and street stalls upstairs.

Followers of this blog will know that I have defended the excellence of the GD against most Chinatown competition but here it is blossoming. It is 12.20 pm and we get the last table. By the time we leave the queue is out onto the street. It is a big room that someone probably once thought might be a car showroom but now it is all lanterns, dragons, hanging ducks and lazy suans and its mobbed by families, mostly Asian in all senses. There is no booking at the weekend, because they know they will get the numbers, but you can book in the week when things are calmer, but not necessarily better. This is a big restaurant that hums and brims with customers and is on peak form at the weekend. Mainly for dim but people stray beyond the dumplings and it is even possible to have takeaway. It is a very happily grounded major Chinese.

It is the same grand menu as in Soho covering everything from lobster – in a tank in the window – to hotpots, well just about everything you had in mind, all 363 things you associate with Cantonese cooking. The full repertoire. The wun tun soup is exemplary, very plain and invalid-like but the broth has verve and the dumplings are silky. A couple of visual details: the broccoli taste of garlic and ginger.

Glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf is accurately cooked, the grains separating.

Dumplings are still steaming fom the kitchen – no trolley here – It is a wow. 16 going on 17/20 at weekends. Large scale European restaurants never get this sense of ignition. My partner mentioned the Cantonese restaurant on the flight side at Singapore airport we once visited, which has Michelin star. This is more ambitious and more wonderful and it is not an airport.  Lunch for two was £36 including service.