Sunday 28 May 2017

Blacklock City, Foxlow Soho and Bellanger

Blacklock City pre-chop bites
I'm not deliberately moving the blog towards more reviews, it's just been working out that way. This past week I have eaten out an unprecedented three times. Well, it may not actually be unprecedented but I can't remember the last time I did (while not actually being away from home). And now I am coming to think about the three meals, I think they are quite representative of the way I prefer to eat out in London. Independents or small chains. Not stuffy or fussy, not enormously expensive but good ingredients and generous hospitality.
All in. Why not?
On Monday I had lunch with Mimi and her lovely baby son at Blacklock City. We originally planned to meet because Mimi was embroiled in an imbroglio, as Wodehouse would have it, over the appropriation of Burmese culture and I'd offered to be moral support in her meeting with the unrepentant appropriator. But then Mimi decided that he wasn't worth the time, so we just had lunch. I'd been to Blacklock Soho for their (exceptionally good) Sunday lunch, but this was the first time I'd been to the new City venue. While the Soho branch on a Sunday is pretty mixed, a chophouse in the City on a weekday might as well have "NO GIRLS" on the door: some of the suited and booted diners looked slightly horrified to see women with a pram.

We went "all in" - pre-chop bites, chops piled on grilled flatbread and a couple of sides, for a very reasonable £20 a head. The pre-chop bites, int the same vein as the anchovies I had at Foxlow recently, were Peter's Yard (probably) rye crispbreads topped with salty, delicious toppings. The nicest of the three was topped with egg and anchovy - so good we ordered another round of those in lieu of pudding. The chops (beef sirloin, pork belly and lamb t-bones) were delicious, the chips perfect and the salad just what was needed. A couple of £5 cocktails and extremely friendly staff going above and beyond to accommodate the baby made it just about perfect.  
Lenny Henry as a Depression-era gangster
On Wednesday I had a quick, early dinner back at Foxlow before seeing the excellent Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar. We had a table towards the front of the restaurant, which was a reasonable height so my feet were able to touch the floor comfortably.

I almost never order chicken burgers, because the chicken is so often woolly and bland, but with the memory of their delicious fried chicken fresh in my mind I felt confident to have the chicken burger, with an optional kimchi topping. Messy. Very messy. But absolutely delicious. The service was a bit scatty - my friend had specifically asked if there was mayonnaise on the Foxlow burger, had been told no, and then it arrived with a massive load of mayo on it. She complained, and the staff member complained to went to get the staff member who'd taken the original order, who said it wasn't mayonnaise it was KEWPIE MAYONNAISE. And it then took much longer than it should have to bring a replacement, mayo-less bun.
Chicken burger with kim chi, fries and cherry tarragon sorbet
I decided that I couldn't forego ice cream on a very hot day, so I ordered a scoop of salted caramel ripple and a scoop of cherry and tarragon sorbet, both of which were gorgeous. Then we strolled off to the theatre.
Rose weather at Bellanger
And finally on Friday I had dinner at Bellanger before a dance show. Turned out to be a slightly less good idea because the show wasn't at the venue we thought it was at, so we ended up having to hustle to get there in time. But Bellanger is a Corbin and King restaurant, and I love what they do so, so much, so it's never going to be a terrible idea, even if it results in a more expensive Uber. The Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel, Fischers - all good food, professional service, some of the nicest loos in London and reasonable prices. You know you are in safe hands.

It was a really hot day, and I couldn't quite bear the idea of choucroute garnie, or even one of their huge, delicious schnitzels. The salad section of the menu appealed but it was a bit tricky to fathom what size the salads were. The waitress advised us that the crab and smoked salmon salad, at £13.95 was a starter size, and the beef, endive and roquefort salad at £14.50 was a main course size. Which was slightly confusing. We took her advice and ordered the salads, with a tarte flambee to share. The portion size was perfectly judged to leave space for dessert. The last time I had a knickerbocker glory it was a tragically disappointing waste of calories. This one restored my faith in them, with strawberry and vanilla ice creams, not-too-jammy berries and whipped cream.
Crab salad, tarte flambee and knickerbocker glory

Sunday 14 May 2017

Foxlow Soho

Anchovy and goats butter on rye crisps
Hawksmoor - either Air St or Seven Dials - is one of my happy places. The food is always good, the staff are always friendly and competent and the atmosphere inviting. You step through the door and take a deep breath because, for a couple of hours, nothing bad can happen. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor is priced to make that particular happy place quite a rare treat. Once a year, if I am lucky. A few years ago, presumably recognising that people want good food, nice staff and a welcoming atmosphere more often than that, the people behind Hawksmoor opened Foxlow, pitched as a "neighbourhood restaurant". The neighbourhoods they started in were Stoke Newington, Clerkenwell and Balham though, none of which are convenient for me to drop in on or particularly enticing as a destination in themselves. The new Soho branch, however, is very convenient for getting home from.
Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew - the head is deliberate
The soft launch was this week, with a very appealing 50% off food, and I managed to be quick enough on the booking button to get a table for last night. I started with one of Hawksmoor's most famous drinks, Shaky Pete's ginger brew - a fabulous take on a shandy and the best possible use for London Pride. Paul had a beer, but he was very impressed when I gave him a sip of my drink.
Five pepper squid
I knew I wanted fried chicken as a main course - I've been having a craving lately - so chose the lightest possible option for my starter. It was 3 little (almost certainly Peter's Yard) rye crispbreads, topped with whipped goats butter, plump curled anchovies and rings of crunchy red onion. Perfect appetite-whetting mouthfuls, with enough salt to make the ginger brew sing. Paul had five pepper squid. Which was nicely crisp but slightly underpowered for something claiming five peppers. The devilled mayo could have had a little more tang as well. But it's always nice to see tentacles on the plate as well as calamari rings.

We'd ordered a bottle of pinot noir (the wine list is very reasonably priced) to go with our mains. They didn't have it, and in what may be a world first for wine waiters, they suggested an alternative that was actually cheaper than our original selection. I was a little surprised by the assertion that the flavours in the suggested Chilean carmenere were similar, because the carmeneres I have had in the past were pretty big, fruity wines with a bit of smoke, whereas the pinot noir we were anticipating was a lighter, more refined affair. As it happened, the recommendation was absolutely on the money: a much lighter bodied and very drinkable wine.
Rib eye with green salad
Ever since he first had a kimchi burger at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, years and years ago, Paul's been devoted to them, so I was slightly surprised that he pulled himself away from the Foxlow burger, with an optional kimchi topping, opting for a rib eye steak with peppercorn sauce and a green salad. The steak was excellent. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and a very nice piece of meat (as you'd expect from them, really). Also, as you'd expect from the team that brought you the best salad in the world, the green salad wasn't just a garnish, but a properly dressed assembly of leaves. The boy a couple of tables down wasn't having such a positive experience, holding forth loudly about how the flat iron he'd ordered wasn't a flat iron. Not that he said anything to the waitress when she checked on him.
Fried chicken
My longed-for fried chicken absolutely nailed the craving. I had a slight language barrier with the waitress though - they offer 2 or 4 piece portions, and I'd asked if a piece was a joint like a drumstick or if it was divided into smaller pieces. She said "Oh no, smaller!" and indicated a size with her hands that led me to believe I wanted the 4 piece. Fortunately Paul helped me with the last piece. But it was SO good - really crisp, well-seasoned and the flesh had that melting quality that certain famous chicken chains achieve with a pressure cooker. The accompanying habanero vinegar, apple and fennel slaw was just the right tangy, acid counterpoint to the richness. Although I couldn't actually detect any habanero heat in it.

For dessert Paul had whiskey and I had gorgeous pococello. And a couple of scoops of lime and mascarpone icecream from Poco Gelato. The icecream had almost the chewy texture you get with Middle Eastern mastic-based icecreams, which I like, but not quite enough lime. So I poured half my pococello over it and that was absolutely perfect.

It was the soft launch, of course, so you don't expect everything to be absolutely right and there was very little wrong. Except the seats. I'm not the tallest woman you are likely to meet, but at 5'6" I'm not really short enough to have my feet swinging 3" off the ground. And I noticed that most of the other diners on the similar seats were swapping places half way through the meal. If I sat right forward at the edge of the seat my toes touched the ground and took some of the pressure off. But they really might like to offer footstools.

Monday 1 May 2017

Bank holiday barbecue

It's a bank holiday weekend, and unfortunately it has played into the British bank holiday stereotype of shit weather. We haven't had much in the way of rain for weeks, but it's been threatening all weekend and just been unpleasant to be outside in.
Pulled harissa lamb
We could've made plans to do something indoors, but we haven't, despite actually getting as far as looking at cinema screentimes. So I have been reading and Paul's been whacking aliens on the computer and the cat has been patrolling the lawn in between lengthy naps.

On Saturday, though, we did a nice, long, low & slow barbecue. A shoulder of British lamb, seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, smoked gently for 5 hours, then wrapped in harissa paste and vegetable broth and cooked for another 2 hours before resting for an hour. We had it piled onto bread flavoured with dukkah, hummus laden with wild garlic leaves and grilled courgettes in a preserved lemon and coriander dressing. It tasted perfectly springlike even if the weather felt very much like late winter.


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