Friday, 21 March 2014

Elliot's Cafe, London Bridge

My inner history geek loves the Globe Theatre.  The plays are always excellent, but it’s the fashioning on the original 16th century playhouse that I like the most.  They have a beautiful new addition in the Sam Wanamaker playhouse.  It’s small and intimate, with painted ceiling and lit by candlelight.  Last Thursday I saw the hilariously brilliant The Knight of the Burning Pestle – it’s on until the 30th, but do book something else there for the theatre experience alone.

But it has to come back to the food.  We went for dinner at Elliot’s before the play, just a five minute walk away, on the edge of Borough Market.  The menu is mainly made up of small plates – we shared a mixture (there are a couple of large plates if you just don’t like sharing).

The artichokes a la Grecque (£8), came prettily turned, with little pickled florets of cauliflower, soft fennel, and a tangy dressing.  The Elliot’s merguez sausages were perfect with smoky grilled spring onions (£8), and the lamb onglet tender on top the cucumber and yoghurt (£8), with little fried leaves of what looked and tasted like big oregano. 

I’ve just been writing about purple sprouting broccoli – this was a great version, with slices of crunchy fried bread and bagna cauda (£8), the incredibly punchy Italian dip full of garlic and anchovy.  From the sides, we also tried the cavalo nero, caramelised onions and almonds (£5).  All with very good sourdough bread, and a glass of orange wine (I forgot how they make it – just checked, and it’s made in the same wine as red wine, but with white grapes).

The desserts most involved lovely sounding ice-creams (including a honeycomb affogato), but we shared the other, a plate of the cider brandy truffles.  They were completely cocoa rich and truffly, but with the slight apple tang of the brandy – very delicious.

So not just a restaurant recommendation, but a whole evening sorted for you.  Just book some tickets and a table.

Elliot's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 March 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 5 March 2014

Everyone likes a list.  They make information that bit more digestible.  The below are 5 of my top tips for March – what or where will you be eating this month?

Swiss chard & ricotta malfatti at 8 Hoxton Square
8 Hoxton Square – 8 Hoxton Square just sneaked into February (opening on the 27th), but it’s a great new opening for March, from the same people as 10 Greek Street.  My favourites from the other Friday dinner were the swiss chard and ricotta malfatti, and the lamb with spiced carrot puree.  A relaxed spot, and do pop downstairs next door to Happiness Forgets for a drink first.

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry – Diana Henry is a fabulous writer who already has a number of cookery books under her belt, and is currently one of the Telegraph food contributors.  Her eight book came out on March 3rd, with the title reflecting the shift as she started to crave a lighter and fresher diet, looking at what ‘healthy eating’ means.  Another one for my (ever-crammed full) cookery book shelf.

Chiltern FirehouseDefinitely one of the hottest new places for 2014.  It’s inside the new hotel from And Balazs (New York hotelier of The Mercer, The Standard etc), with Nuno Mendes in the kitchen (coming from Viajante in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel).  Less experimental than Viajante, and supposedly very glam, I’m planning a visit in the next few weeks.

The Quality Chop House Shop – This isn’t technically brand new, but the first time I visited was this month (it’s next to the lovely Quality Chop House restaurant at the end of Exmouth Market).  There’s a great butcher’s, along with cheeses, pies, olives, vegetables etc (including bags of the rather pungent wild garlic at the moment).

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – One of my favourite vegetables has its time at the moment (much more exciting than the normal green kind).  For an easy bowl of pasta for supper, just blanch the broccoli and sauté with a little garlic and red chilli, and finish with lots of grated pecorino (orrechiette pasta works well here).

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Holborn Dining Room, Holborn

Holborn is not the best spot for restaurants.  So it is now very handy for my Holborn office that the (relatively) recently opened Rosewood Hotel just down the road is so very nice.  It was previously the Chancery Court Hotel, which underwent a fancy facelift (complete with cages of budgies and the glowing gas lamps lined up outside).  It opened its newly done doors at the end of last year, including the Mirror Room restaurant at the back, and Scarfe’s Bar at the front.

I have been for cosy drinks in Scarfe's bar, and breakfast and lunch in the Mirror Room.  I also seemed to end up in the last part to open, the Holborn Dining Room, twice in nearly 36 hours last week (along with a third trip to the hotel for drinks in that time, and all not even my own choice).  The breakfast (poached eggs, kale and smoky beans with bacon) was very good, but there’s a little more to write about lunch.  It’s billed as British, seasonal and locally sourced (it's operated by Des McDonald, who opened The Fish & Chip Shop on Islington's Upper Street last year after working at the Caprice Group).

The starters at our table included a crisp goat’s cheese and red onion tart (£6.50), chicken salad with avocado and smoked bacon (£9.25) and fried squid with gentleman’s relish mayonnaise (£8.75).  I had the dressed Cornish crab (£17.50), not stuffed back in the shell, but all very dainty in a neat ring with swirls of intense brown meat mayonnaise. 

I carried on with crustacea with their shrimp burger (£14.50) – a brilliant take, with lots of juicy sweet prawns chopped, crisp on the outside, inside a toasted brioche bun with properly spicy jalapeno mayonnaise.  We also tried the smoked haddock with poached egg and mustard sauce (£17.50), and very good fish and chips with mushy peas (£17). 

It has got a bit of a French bistro feel inside, combined with a little of Italy/Spain with the charcuterie bar, lots of seafood, and the classic main courses.  But all the puddings are distinctly old-fashioned British comfort puddings (surely the best kind - there's even a version of bananas and custard).  We tried the sherry trifle (£6.50, and living up to its boozy name), and the deliciously squidgy sweet steamed treacle and whisky pudding (£6.50), complete with mini bottle of creamy vanilla custard (you need to seriously question anyone who doesn’t like a steamed treacle pudding). 

There’s also a tiny little delicatessen attached at one side, with lovely jars and cakes to take away.  As decadently shiny as the Mirror Room is, I think the Holborn Dining Room is a better bet for lunch/dinner (Scarfe’s Bar is the snuggest spot for a drink).  I haven’t been this week after cramming in the visits on the previous, but I’m sure it won’t be long.  And not just for convenience, as I’m far too picky for that to be reason enough.

Holborn Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Hoi Polloi (at the Ace Hotel), Shoreditch

The perfect weekend brunch spot needs to be relaxing.  You don’t want crowded tables too close together, screaming children, lots of clattering and people running about.  You need somewhere like Hoi Polloi, in all its gold and tan glossiness. 

Hoi Polloi is the new Ace hotel’s restaurant, from the people of Bistroteque, with a very lovely room.  The walls are clad in wood, with hanging gold lights (a little like giant earrings), pastel leather booths and just the right lighting/music for a lazy weekend. 

The menu is printed on a newspaper – it’s a long menu, with breakfast, elevenses, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and late night for hotel guests.  From the weekend brunch page I had the crisp eggy bread, with a nice squidge inside the bread, stuffed with lots of smoky bacon and ketchup (£8).  E went all Celtic with potato farls, crispy black pudding and a sunny egg (£6.75).   Both of the dishes were very good alongside their tangy Bloody Marys (£8.50).         

We also tried one of the desserts, with the chocolate stout cake (£6.50).  Instead of a hearty chunk, this was a dainty slice of moist cake with a layer of ganache, chunks of hokey pokey and a splodge of salted caramel foam (this even came with a little gold on top). 

It’s a very easy place to while away the weekend morning into the afternoon.  And as E pointed out, an excellent place for Shoreditch Beard Watch too, if that floats your boat.  I’d like to return to try more of the menu, and I would definitely be a fun place on a Friday/Saturday night for drinks/dinner.

Hoi Polloi at The Ace Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Otto's, Holborn

The walk to work from my last house went via Gray’s Inn Road.  There’s a funny old mixture of places when you get towards the crossing of Clerkenwell/Theobald’s Road, but definitely no trendy restaurants.  There is a little, seemingly unassuming, place called Otto’s, which I only noticed towards the end of my Gray’s Inn Road route (pre-Farringdon flat).  Over the last few months, I have seen more and more mentions of Otto’s by the great and the good of the food world (Simon Hopkinson’s is apparently a fan, and he is very particular and rather brilliant, as shown by his precise and perfect recipes).

It’s rather eclectic inside, with a very old-school, and very French feel.  Definitely no bare brick walls, brown paper menus or social media flurry here (red velvet and strange little table statues instead).  The menu is all very classic, and they like a little theatre at the table.  I started with the smoked salmon (£12.50), hand-carved from a silver platter next to you, before being daintily garnished with little grassy piles of parsley, cornichon and caper. 

The steak tartare (£24) preparation was even more fun.  The sweet French waiter brings over a tray, full of little dishes and jugs.  After cracking the egg, he made a mayonnaise in the wooden bowl (explaining each ingredient), before mixing in the other additions (parsley, shallots, a bit of spice etc) and the fillet steak.  He then artfully shaped and squashed into a perfect round on the plate, alongside a green salad and crunchy golden potato rosti.  It’s a rather special experience, and the best steak tartare I have had.

We also tried from their set lunch menu (two courses for £24, three for £28).  To start, a carrot and lentil soup with dainty poached egg perched in the middle, then an expertly cooked rump steak with Pommes Anna (it went all the way to converting a very recently non-vegetarian). 

The bread is of course French, warm and very delicious, with a little pot of salty pike taramasalata.  We skipped the desserts (managing to just about turn down the fine fig tart, with almond ice cream and caramel butter sauce).  But they then brought a little plate of homemade chocolates and tiny pastel meringues to finish.  The wine advice was spot on, bringing a few for me to try before deciding on the glass.

If you’ve got a spare £140 for a bird, they have a couple of decadent dishes to order in advance.  The first is La Poularde de Bresse Demi Deuil, a Lyonnaise speciality with black truffle slices under the chicken skin (using the special ‘Black Diamond’ truffle).  The other is their pressed duck, the recipe first created at the beginning of the 19th century in Rouen by a restaurateur named Mechenet and famously served at the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris (Otto’s use their duck suppliers).  For both, the tidy sum provides a couple of courses for two of you – have a read on their website for more history of the dishes.

A wonderful find, and worth the (albeit a little under the radar) raving.  You wouldn’t want too many people to find out about it – I’ve only been singing its praises to people I really like.  And I’m even going back again next week.
Otto's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 2 March 2014

8 Hoxton Square, Hoxton

Twitter could definitely be accused of being the perfect tool for procrastination.  It does sometimes have its uses though.  8 Hoxton Square was on my list of places to visit once it had opened, but a tweet on Wednesday announced Thursday was their first day.  I booked a table for Friday night dinner with E and M (they’re slightly long-suffering, in tow of my new restaurant chasing).

8 Hoxton Square is the second site from the people of 10 Greek Street, with very similar interiors (even the sunken cutlery holders in the tables), and a menu also split into snackier small plates, with starter size and main-course size (a few come in both sizes).

The deep-fried anchovy-stuffed olives (£3) were mainly ordered to try and convince an anchovy and olive hater – she did actually have quite a few of the crispy, unsurprisingly very salty, and rather moreish little balls.  We also had a bowl of blistered padron peppers (£5), and the sesame crusted cuttlefish (£6).

From the starters, we shared the queen scallops (£8) with morcilla and salsify, which had mixed feedback from the table – I loved the little pearly scallops in their pretty shells.  The beautifully green swiss chard and ricotta malfatti (a little gnocchi-like) were delicious in their brown butter with crispy sage perched on top (£6 for the starter sized portion).

The mains were the stars of our ordering (even if I did forgot to take photos).  First our favourite – Brecon lamb, tender and pink on top the headily spiced carrot puree with sprouting broccoli and anchovy (£18).  The confit duck leg (£15) came with puy lentils, parsnip and rhubarb, which added a slight sour tang to offset the richness of the duck.  The fries (£4) were nicely hand-cut, super-salty and came with a little bowl of aioli (always welcome), and were also amazing dipped in the carrot puree of the lamb. 

We didn’t try any of the puddings (including an intriguing sounding chocolate and clove tart), but had a plate of excellent cheese.  The wine list is all really affordable (if only I could actually remember what bottle of red we had – it was very nice all the same).

They have a few seats out the front for the summer time (rather than the zero degrees rain of Friday – it was a little chilly inside).  A great second place after 10 Greek Street, and I would visit either again depending if I’m more central or more east.  Do stop off at their neighbour bar Happiness Forgets for a drink first – very handily just in the basement next door (have a cocktail or glass of cremant, the often ignored sparkling wine).