Master Wei Xi’an, Bloomsbury, London 15/20

biang biang

Reporting back: the most excellent noodles here about which I have written before, but in lockdown have become doubly desirable, testimony to the queues of Uber and Deliveroo drivers outside. We had numbers 35 and 36. The latter is Qishan hand pulled noodles with pork in sour and spicy soup pictured below, just the kind of comfort food one needs in a pandemic. So too the addictive pork biang biang noodles with tomato and egg sauce and chilli oil. They are about £10 apiece but you probably won’t want to share. There are tables outside on the pedestrian concourse and with social distancing room for perhaps 12 inside…or order online because of 52 dishes there are very interesting things going on that London has not seen before. Mistress, Wei Guirong (for yes it is a she not a he) runs a pretty capable kitchen. If you can get on the orbit for delivery, it is a must.

Quishan

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Yiannis, Krouzeri beach, Corfu 14/20

There is one villa placard by the road signaling a deep descent, say four per cent, say a double black ski run, between Nisaki and Agni pointing to the bay. Nisaki Bay, as opposed to Nisaki itself, which is actually the other side of Kaminaki, another beach outlet reached by a vertiginous stretch of old concrete, another three per cent descent from where you could also walk along the shore. There are lots of confusing Ks around here going north to Krouzeri, Kalami (where the Durrell family hung out), Kaloura, Kerasia, Kasiopi. In season it is a bit Kensington on sea, a public school summer camp. Google struggles with Greek and if you search for the Koyrzeri Taverna, you will end up in Turkey. This is Corfu.

A krouzeria might be an excellent moniker for a tavern – but walk on a bit to the falling down wooden jetty and to your right snuggled into the cliff, almost invisible in fact. That it has three doors next to the WC sign might suggest things are not as sleepy as they may seem. An illuminated cocktail bar wedged into the cliff beams affluence.

Yiannis is the kind of place hippies used to write home about, the kind of place nice girls stayed all summer or longer. This is Leonard Cohen and Marianne territory (well not really, that was Mykonos,  but might as well be). You want a view, try this one. There is no music, just a lapping, swoosh of the flat sea and the hum of an outboard motor.

Yiannis’s is a proper restaurant, part of the shore economy, mother in the kitchen, family out front. For mysterious reasons sparkling water is the same price as beer at 4 euros, either of which will make up a goodly percentage of the bill.

Beyond the stifado and dolmades we have Pork in the Oven – belly rolled around local hedgerow herbs mainly sage which is Corfu’s emblematic leaf , thick slices, so not quite souvlaki which is loin. Enough people must have asked what the stifado was that it is now just Beef in Red Wine. No bling.

Taramosalata is white (bread not tomatoes), the aubergine salad is an elegant mix with tomato, not bread which comes warm in a paper bag, courgettes are thinly sliced and fried crisp.

How fresh do you want your fish? Here is the boat moored outside. The morning catch is in the chill cabinet, pick your own. The grill is on. The coals are hot. Mullet? Snapper? Bream? Bass? Mixed? Grilled prawns are 16 euros, add spaghetti for another two euros. The fish comes with chips and very fine chips they are too, shallow fried in olive oil. To the side as garnish is a tomato. Now on Corfu the tomato is not what you find in Waitrose. It  is a nmotata pronounced as in No Matter. They are different things, even laid up as a garnish. A nmotata is even a  ντομάτα. It is changing the typeface on my computer as I type as if to make the point that my spellcheck is confused. It might aswell be hakuna matata, the basis of much of the cooking. This is a country where an anchovy translates as fried where a sardine means grills.

Yiannis is the quintessential restaurant-you-may-never-have-heard-of, even a bit of a surprise to the visitors who stumble off the ferry three times a week for the authentic taverna lunch off the same pier, ironically where the water taxi picks up to whisk people staying locally to other restaurants with a free boat ride thrown in…probably no better than here anyway. They should have stayed put.

Daffodil Mulligan reopens

The most excellent Daffodil Mulligan has re-opened. Here is the review I wrote just before lockdown. If you go to the Hot Dinners website there is a deal for weekdays from now until October, although to be fair, given the parlous state of most restaurant finances, if you can afford, you might pay the full price. It is a good crack.

Charlie, the organic milk float, north London

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IS IT a bird? Is it a plane? No it is an organic, zero waste milk float…heads turn in the street as something unusual comes along….

Meet Charlie. Charlie is a converted van that trundles around north London, available to book, will come to your door, you just need the containers because that is how they make their margin (and save the planet). It is organic or natural, zero waste, fair trade.IMG_3340

They tell me they are one of only 10 shops in north London that refill rather than selling everything in packets. They started last year in Tufnel Park and have plans…Essentially it is a wholefood store on wheels stacked with pulses, rices, fashionable things like chia and quinoa and some rarities like mulberries (very sweet) and golden berries (very sour) – full product list here.

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You book, she comes, you hand over your empty jars, she fills. Prices are pretty much in line with the cheaper end of supermarkets so Arborio rice is £4.40 a kilo compared to Waitrose own label £2.78 but brands like Gallo are £5. Chia seeds are a snip at £7.6 a kilo against Waitrose £12.30 but what to do with a kilo of chia seeds is one for postcards and answers on, only.

Good produce. The van itself is a bit of head turner so they are making friends on the street and overall it beats queuing for a supermarket. You can social distance all you like.

While the notion of the resuarant has been hauled off for a refit at the local garage, I will give these pages over to endeavours that have if you like restaurant values and concerns or if you like a return to the original meaning of the word… restoratives.

Takagiya, West Hampstead, London 12/20

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LET me tell you a story about a lovely couple who thought of opening a restaurant of their own. They picked a nice spot on a semi main road in West Hampstead. Opposite a Tesco. What could go wrong? And they decorated it nicely with lovely plants and vases and benches outside and a bar for sake and intimate little tables. And that was in March.

Undeterred they put up a little takeaway sign…I am not saying this is the best Japanese restaurant in town but it is one of the best that is open and it actually tastes of Japan rather the usual out of a box formula of miso and cold rice. Their rice is warm, and seasoned. Their miso soup has colones, if that is not an image or a culture too far. The full bento takeaway is £14.20 and here it is, this one based around wild seabass but it can be salmon.

japanesetakeaway

 

The menu changes daily and when it runs out, it runs out. Makoto Takagi used to cook at Zuma in Knightsbridge. His wife Yoko is front of house. There is a vegetarian option but otherwise it leans towards pork katsu, wagu beef, chicken yakitori but with lots of asides. If you are in the area, they deserve your support.

https://www.takagiyalondon.com/takeaway-menu/

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Sable d’Or, north London, 12/20

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THE only concession for this page to the lockdown is not to travel too far but I can report in miscroscopic local detail where there are vibrant examples of what will surely be a new culture taking shape. I have one this week and another next week, so we are not dead yet.

I am rather hoping that mom and pop style operations are going to survive this chaos, if for no other reason than mom and pop don’t really have anything else to do. Sable D’Or has soldiered on as if trying to nurture a queue as big as the neighbouring chemist shop or Tesco. Ours is in England’s Lane, Belsize Park, one of three in the group with others in Crouch End and Muswell Hill.

Such places start as retail bakery and confiserie, then realize like all the coffee shops, that a few tables and chairs were super profitable. But that has all had to stop. It is back to basics, but very very good basics. Another similar which is open again with a more Nordic slant is Fabrique.

For the moment breakfast is cancelled. Pancakes are terminated. So it is back to an honesty box in the corner, only two people allowed at a time, a table full of intelligent salads, and a window full of small tea-time cakes that bear the imprint of a master baker. The espresso machine survives, so it is shopping with coffee (and juice). That queue is growing. By way of validation I can offer photographic evidence of its quality from the local constabulary and witness testimony to the fire engine parked up outside too.IMG_2976

There is a choice of salads – three for £10 that usually feature a healthy slant in quinoa and kale or just roast potatoes. IMG_2968

Quiches also survive. Individual items of absolute excellence I could cite at random are the Viennoiseries, the brioche, the tarts all very high quality, with a bias towards apricot rather than chocolate which differentiates it from the excellent Paul (which has also reopened in Hampstead at least).

This photograph reminds me of one I took some years ago in Paris here. The comparison is not an exageration. You will be glad you supported them.IMG_2969

https://www.sabledorpatisserie.com/

Daffodil Mulligan, Old Street, London 18/20

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DAFFODIL Mulligan sits right in the middle of the Old Street maelstrom of construction work, beautifully trimmed in steel and black stone with yellow motif, surrounded currently by ubiquitous orange cones and bright red crash barriers. And a scarf of idling cars and buses.

Daffodil herself is according to the 1938 song “hale and hearty and the life of the party” and there is a basement bar for music and carousing

Welcome to the nightmare of Old Street, perhaps a tarmac manifestation of these troubled times, Mr Corrigan, aka Richard, aka Mr Bentley. As it happens I am reading Margaret Hickey’s excellent book on Food in Ireland (Unbound) and Corrigan has his name blazed across the front and in the preface by way of endorsement.

I am half expecting cabbage and bacon on the menu but Corrigan is not really what you would call an Irish chef, more of a Marco Pierre White with an accent. There is kale on toast. There is stout. There are oysters. But there are other things too.

Many years ago, in another era, when Richard first opened in Soho, a young A.A Gill, aka Mr Amber Rudd (yes there are politics even when it comes to restaurant writing) penned a very rare complimentary review in the Sunday Times, the first for many months. The switchboard and telephone exchanges collapsed as five million readers tried to book 10 tables. Newspaper reviews can be a bit disproportionate like that.

There is a sign on the door saying One thousand welcomes. It is a modern space, an L shape dominated by a bar  from where you can see every corner of the room and big overhead lights drop down on you like dumplings.

IMG_2825It has more of the feel of a slick diner than a comfy cushioned restaurant. In the corner tucked away is a burning woodfire for cooking.IMG_2837

There is a tasting six course menu at £50 including a glass of stout which is about what you can expect to pay here which is not excessive given that we are on the City fringes and the heart of hipsterdom. Well not for this quality anyway. We got distracted by the starters, which was a mistake. We could have had grubben (trotters) with mashed swede or even Totenham curd with beetroot and pomegranite.  We opted for the kale:

IMG_2829 And then something rare by way of a Dorset cherry clam which had been spiced with a tiny shard of lime pickle that looks like sea urchin.IMG_2828 And three mounds of cod’s roe with some salmon as garnish and some seeded crispbread to smear it on.IMG_2832And then this pretty as you please ceviche of bass with chilli and orange.IMG_2833And a beef tartar which came in an oyster shell and a blob of oyster cream and is one of those that get you talked about. Very, very good.IMG_2831All or a few of these are good sharing dishes which makes them good value and leaves some change for main events from the wood oven including lobster or Hannah’s sugar pit pork or diverting specials like salt baked chicken or scallop ceviche with a Goan curry. Or game pie.

This is the back sole from the wood fired oven, cut horizontally off what must have ben a sizeable fish, set on a mess of cavolero nero or something you might have to refer to Hickey’s book to identify, together with some sparkling roasted grapes and hazelnuts which gives a totally different idiom from a pan fried and grilled versions. The pumpkin garnish also gets a roasting.IMG_2834Side dishes include mash with bone marrow crumb, roasted carrots or pruple sprouting brocolli with an anchoide mousse.

Front of house is run by Richie who is Richard’s son. The downstairs bar Gibney’s is an offshoot of Dublin’s which boasts 27 beers on tap and a wine cellar more than 500 bottles strong. A serious craic, you might conclude. They are not messing around here. If you have to choose one restaurant to survive the coming onslaught, I would opt for this one.

Tsiakkos and Charcoal, Old Oak, London 13/20

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THE Greek restaurant was a feature of London life for my parents’ generation, pioneers of what we now term ethnic cooking, all along Charlotte Street, around Camden Town, the iconic Kalamaris and its micro version in Bayswater, the latter still trading in the mews after 54 years. Limonia has dominated Primrose Hill for 40 years old now.  I found a single second hand review of Tsiakkos and Charcoal from the Guardian from an article about where chefs like to eat from more than 10 years ago. Harden’s does not list it. Time Out does not mention it. Maybe that is because it is W9 which means the Harrow Road to most people but Norf Kensington to estate agents. There is a lovely review on TripAdviser where someone was having their hair cut in the idiosyncratic barbers opposite and noted his cutter’s kebab and immediately crossed over for dinner and has become a regular convert since.

I love restaurants like this – family run, hospitable, low key. They are what the Good Food Guide used to be known for discovering. The décor just stops at one round of tongue and grooving. It is not caffe-esque, it is caffe. If it did breakfast it would be egg and bacon and a slice with margarine. Beans 50p extra. The Formica tables and mustard pot glasses must have survived from the early days. The back is more of a canvas tent, which has a bit of a local reputation for parties among the young professionals who have colonized this part of town – it is a no choice mezze for £25 which may count as one of the capital’s major bargains.IMG_2802

The smell of the charcoal wraps itself around you like a scarf as you go in. You are greeted by a dark room that has not so much been designed but had tables rearranged to suit everyone before you got there. There is one wall sculpture of fish swimming. I think they are saving on the electric bill.IMG_2803IMG_2804

The Greeks have their own ideas of what a tavern should be – everyone (or the women should) prepares the food all day for the mezze and everything should be ready before the guests come so they have time to concentrate on their customers while the men can tend their hot fire and meats. So the conversation goes something like this:

  • Was everything OK?
  • The salad was great
  • Of course it was. I made it.

I guess quite a few people get that line.IMG_2807

Down to business there are the usual tarama, tsatski, local sausage, the said salad, not listed as Greek but as feta, possibly because it also had kalamata olives and peppers and was cutely dressed, and was indeed refreshingly great and a necessary offset to an otherwise carb and protein heavy manifesto. The grill will deal with seabass, sheftalia and souvlakia, there are also variations on homemade sausages but perhaps more interesting are the slow cooks like burnt pork. The moussaka gets many many mentions on TripAdviser which rates it the 3,921st best restaurant in London but it only has 109 reviews in total, pretty much all saying excellent or very good or just amazing, and they span a while, one reviewer says he has been going for 30 years).

The killer for me was the kleftiko on superb rice, the meat collapsing into a definitive, degenerate fatty mess. It broods, still steaming, on the table seductively lit only by a tee-light.

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You could have a great big fat Greek wedding here, a memorable reception to boot. They are happy to do a whole suckling pig to order.

Cash only, and yes best to book

http://tsiakkos.co.uk/

5 Marylands Rd, W9; 020-7286 7896

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Dragonfly, Clerkenwell, London 13/20

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THE original hole in the wall was marked with the metal face of a cat in Holborn through which a pipe would dispense shots of gin. In homage to this, the great restaurateurs George Perry Smith and Joyce Molyneux named their Bath restaurant which was a sort of hole in the arched pavement but led to a grand room and was the most famous restaurant outside of London in the ’50s and ’60s.

Small magical places have always manage to bring a sense of romance to the hospitality industry as if they are in some way purer, more exact, the perfect abstract.

Dragonfly is not quite a hole in the wall accounting for perhaps 20 seats plus perpetual lunchtime queue in a sidestreet near the Waitrose in Clerkenwell. The menu is beautifully deconstructed. It is pho – flat noodles – or spicy bun – round noodles in broth which it claims is 48 hours rich.. Or you can have it without broth or on rice in place of noodles. Or in a sandwich as a messy, addictive bahn mi.

Cash only. No web site just a Deliveroo link which I notice is a bit more expensive dish to dish, bun being £8.50 which is £2 more than in situ but if you are in the catchment area you could order a fine takeaway. I can vouch for the papaya salad too. On that basis Deliveroo is making more money than the restaurant itself.

71 Compton St, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0BN 0207 251 9090

 

 

Sardine, Old Street, London 14/20

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I AM partial to the notion that the capital is suddenly starting to push up proper restaurant roots, tucked away down small corners, on side streets, in otherwise impossible spaces. Sardine has largely been hidden from view behind the big MacDonald’s on City Road and surrounded by scaffolding for most of its short life. It predates the political party in Italy, but feels not dissimilar by way of a gastronomic huddle manned by a small crew who are not rapacious with their prices or their vision. It is a local, like you find in Paris, where the staff talk to you. There is a line of tables for two, a big communal table and an open plan kitchen in what I might guess to be 1500 sq feet or so. If you got 40 people in it would overheat what is an industrial, tall ceilinged, should-have-been-an-office space.

You get the signature cured sardines for £4.50, you get a perfect canapé of almost Melba thin sourdough covered with wilted fennel and a touch of chilli and tomoato for free.IMG_2731

Ribollitto comes as a bowl to start which may not be all Tuscan grandmother’s brodo but it is beans, brassicas and bread all right.

IMG_2735The accent is really a little more towards Provencal – purple sprouting with egg and crumbs, Jesus de Lyon sausage sliced thinly over remoulade. A big pork chop that that looks like it might have been plated on more beans, but it is different subtler mix.

At the back of the kitchen there is a medieval style metal contraption that lowers meats down into a hole in the floor inhabited by the wood-fired oven. Sharing nights tend to favour using this for whole chicken, or leg of lamb.They have choucroute nights.

To finish nougat ice cream comes with a long fennel encrusted biscuit. IMG_2738

The head chef is Alex James and business partner pop up maestro Stevie Parle.

After so many decades of chefs following the money (and Michelin); of so much venture capital décor, of mummified chains, here is a personable restaurant, run by real people who enjoy cooking and work within a sensible culinary dictat and don’t have to charge major money. More of these please, boys. No I don’t mean that, stay where you are, don’t do Sardine two or three or four please.

www.sardine.london