Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ember Yard, Soho

It’s not long since I wrote about the little Gallic Blanchette.  I mentioned my soft spot for Salt Yard (the Salt Yard group consulted for Blanchette), and today went to their newest opening Ember Yard, just nearby on Berwick Street. 

Iberico Presa
With clues in the name, there’s a focus on cooking over charcoal and wood with all their chargrilling and roasting.  There was a wonderful light char to many of the beautiful dishes we tried (the perfect level of smokiness, never over-blackened or acrid).  We ordered a lot, but one of my favourite was the chargrilled Iberico Presa (£8.75) with whipped salty Jamon butter (obviously more pig needed), blushing inside of the kind you can with this kind of pork, and very tender. 

Salt Marsh Lamb
Cod & Cannellini Beans
Other chargrilled dishes included the Salt Marsh Lamb with a slick of roasted aubergine and salsa verde (£6.50), and the octopus with perronata and a herby alioli (£8.75).  The cod (£7.25) was smoked before its grilling, on top of braised cannellini beans, samphire, but maybe I missed the clams reading the menu now.

Courgette Flowers
Parsnip Buttermilk Chips
One of Salt Yard’s signatures is the courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese and drizzled with honey (£7.95) – they are exactly the same here, which is perfect.  From the other vegetable dishes, we had the parsnip buttermilk chips sprinkled with lots of manchego (£5.75) and the very cheesy gratin with lots of the smoked ricotta and Idiazabal cream on top of the root vegetables.

Chorizo & Flatbread
We tried some of the bar snacks too – some of the tiniest olives I’ve seen (£3), along with skewers of crispy brick-red chorizo (£2.50 each), perfect with the grilled flatbread (£3.25).  This bread came with honey, thyme and smoked butter – an unusual and utterly delicious combination. 

Chips & Chorizo Ketchup
Basque Burgers
Chorizo really is one of the best Spanish exports, and they have even managed to turn some into ketchup here.  It comes in a little pot alongside the chips (£4.50), which have to taste great if they are cooked in Iberico pork fat (probably even better than a beef dripping or goose fat chip).  Just when we thought the stream of plates and slates had stopped, a couple of the little Basque burgers came (£6.25 each), with more of the Idiazabal cheese and the chorizo ketchup.

There’s a lot of photos for all the little plates.  I’m always trying to shoot a little surreptitiously not to draw attention.  But I needn’t have worried, as AA Gill sailed past at one point.  I’m sure the terror he might strike was enough to distract from me and my trusty Canon.

Ember Yard on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Ape & Bird, Leicester Square

The Ape & Bird sits nearly on the corner of Cambridge Circus, in the site that used to be The Marquis of Granby pub.  Due to its proximity to my first London office, the memories of the previous incarnation are of Friday night gin and tonics, and the occasional bowl of chips after a few too many.  The re-done Ape & Bird is rather nicer, sprawling back, down and upstairs.  It’s billed as a Public House, and you can pop in for a drink (there’s even a cosy so-called dive bar down below) like an actual pub, or eat too.

Ape & Bird is a new addition to Russell Norman’s collection which includes the fabulous Polpo (do go to one, or even buy the excellent recipe book).  Instead of small Venetian plates, it’s very much British food, with pies, mince and dumplings, crumble etc (perfect for freezing January).

From the starters I went all retro with a prawn cocktail (£7), complete in a sundae glass.  It was a great version not too messed about, with sweet prawns and a few whole head-on poking out the top.  The other starter we tried was the penny buns (a type of mushroom), with squash, salsify and roasted garlic(£7) – a really earthy and delicious plate.  

B asked for the wild mushroom and chestnut cottage pie.  The meaty cottage pie came out instead (£12), which was very tasty, but very lucky she isn’t a vegetarian as they would probably not have enjoyed the surprise.  I had the roast cod (£16), perfectly cooked with charred beets, kale (cropping up everywhere if there’s such a thing as a vegetable trend) and walnut pesto to bring it all together.

The Bannoffeebocker Glory (£7) definitely needed sharing.  A sweet, sticky mess of ice-cream, toffee, biscuit, bananas, maybe some cream or something else rich and sugary (it was hard to tell after a while) – decadent yet old-fashioned comfort pudding.

Very central London is lacking lots of good pubs with food, and Norman cleverly spotted a gap with nabbing this place.  It’s relaxed and cosy – a really useful spot for theatre-land/Covent Garden.  It would be great for a roast on a Sunday too.

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Blanchette, Soho

Sharing food is good.  I don’t like eating with people who don’t share.  And of course there's the all important rule that you can’t all order the same thing.  

There are many places in London with their small plate offerings, perfect for me (not so for the many who like guarding their own food).  One of my favourite is Salt Yard, with their delicious Spanish/Italian flavours, tucked on Goodge Street.  They have consulted for the newly opened Blanchette on Soho’s D’Arblay Street, which also has perfect little plates with interesting yet still classic flavours.

Confit salmon
The menu is made up of snacks, a great selection of charcuterie and cheese, then dishes split between fish, meat and vegetables.  From the fish, we had warm confit of salmon on puy lentils (£6.50), which has crispy shreds of duck mixed in (the combination sounded a little strange, but was great).
Beef Onglet & Chicken
Lamb shoulder

From the meat, firstly the smoky chargrilled chicken on white beans, savoy cabbage and smoked aioli (£6.50), then the beef onglet (£7.25), pink with snails en persillade (garlic and parsley).  This also had an intriguing cigar shapes, from just suidgy salsify, wrapped in a crispy kind of pastry – it’s a shame this vegetable isn’t on more menus.  We also had the braised lamb shoulder with anchovy, rosemary and a sticky soubise (onion) sauce (£8) – do try stuffing anchovy fillets in your roast lamb, as it really does work.

Frites & Bearnaise
Jerusalem Artichoke & Potato Gratin

The frites (£3.75) were skinny, crispy and very salty (perfect), with a pot of tangy bĂ©arnaise sauce – definitely a new must-have chip side.  We also had the Jerusalem artichoke and potato gratin (£5.50), with the fabulous melty Reblochon cheese (it’s the sort used in the brilliantly comforting yet heart-stopping Tartiflette).  Finally, a little greenery with the leeks vinaigrette with frisee and wild mushroom (£5.00).

Croque Monsieur
The only snack we tried was the croque monsieur (£4) – a great example of the toasty French classic, with a good mustard kick.  It’s the perfect place to perch at the bar with a few of their snacks (they also include baked St Marcelin cheese, cheese beignets and terrine) and a glass of red wine.

The only little quibble was the order was a little sporadic, and we were nearly left with just the vegetable dishes at the end.  And it felt a bit much to ask us to move from our table to the bar 20 minutes before the 7pm sitting. 

But overall I loved Blanchette with all its Frenchness.  The music is brilliant (one of the three brothers who has set it up is a founder of a sound design company), along with the wine and sweet interior.  An excellent addition to the already very long list of great places in Soho.


Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Jackson & Rye, Soho

Well January has come round again.  Everyone has given up the mounds of cheese and chocolate.  And of course it’s raining. 

I like the new start to the year, but lots of resolutions are just a bit too mean and self-punishing.  We need something to cheer up the grey of the month.  So even if you have vowed to a January of abstinence, you need a cosy all-day restaurant to escape the weather of London at some point.

Jackson & Rye saved us from the downpour on New Year’s Eve day.  It’s newly opened at the bottom of Wardour Street, open from breakfast until late every day (one of the backers is Richard Caring, soon after Grillshack nearby on Beak Street).  The menu’s all American – grits, burgers, corn bread, chopped salad. 

We started with the sweet sticky bar nuts (£3.50) and the completely addictive truffle popcorn (£1.95), with a couple of glasses of the great value French sparkling wine.  But word of warning – a sip of this after the truffle of the popcorn as rather strange (a little non food/wine pairing for you).  The cocktails were excellent, especially the Breakfast Sour (Buffalo Trace, lemon, peach bitters, egg white and apricot preserve).

From the starters, we shared the crispy squid (£6.95) with an excellent chipotle mayonnaise.  The batter fell off a little, and I think I prefer non-battered squid, but tasty nonetheless.  I loved the shrimp and grits (£8.50), with my highly scientific explanation to the others as grits being corny porridge.  The prawns on top had a good chilli kick.

I was recommended the buttermilk fried chicken by friends who had already been, and it was some of the best I’ve had.  It was really tender meat with crunchy batter and a perfect tangy, light slaw on the side (£11.95).  The cheeseburger (£9.75) was deemed good and apparently made by the extra slab of bacon that came on the side, before being crammed in the burger.

M had the ham and eggs, part of the bar menu, which is made up of lots of sandwiches too.  There’s a shrimp roll with avocado, the fried chicken in a bun and a salt beef Reuben (some sandwiches sub £5).  There’s a wide choice on the menu, and it’s all really reasonable. 

Jackon & Rye’s a relaxed, all-day addition to Soho, and I’m sure I’ll pop back in for brunch for another Breakfast Sour and the buttermilk pancakes with ricotta and maple syrup (an excellent start to the day in dreary January).

The beginning of the year has also brought a new London restaurant must-visit list – what new venue is at the top of yours for 2014?

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon