Friday, 30 April 2010
It was rather remiss of me not to try the sashimi at the time of my first review of Kikuchi. Please excuse me. But the time has come to share the good word.
Kikuchi has now become a regular haunt when we crave good, local Japanese food. Or the bustling atmosphere of Tokyo. Or a night on the sake.
So, we’ve been diligently saving up our vouchers from each visit (£5 for every £50 you spend) and recently had a big blow out which the neighbours of Hanway Street are still talking about.
So, I won’t rave on (and on...) (again...) about Kikuchi (see my earlier review for more details). But I will say there’s a big difference between bad sushi and good sushi. This stuff’s good. The happy hoards of Japanese business men crowding the room are a testament to the fact. Sit in front of the cartoon character-like sushi bar man, knock back some sake or Japanese beers and watch as the chef’s selection of deliciously fresh slithers of fish, lush flavours, and slippery smooth textures are lavished up on you. Bless him.
The nasu dengaku (aubergine grilled with miso sauce) is another essential for us. The miso caramelises in the grilling process over the smoky aubergine – scoop it out, sit back and luxuriate in the sweetness. If you don’t normally like aubergine, this is the one to convert you.
And I always like to finish off with some cold buckwheat noodles (soba) which come with a side of spicy dipping sauce (often bland, but delectable here). There are reportedly over 30,000 soba restaurants in Japan. Soba noodles have been eaten in Japan for over 400 years, and it is a distinguished Japanese art to perfect them so they stay firm, slippery and intact. Close your eyes, slurp loudly and wallow in the traditions behind your feast.
It’s all wonderful, and you’ll even feel healthy* when you finish (*depending on beer consumption).
Book ahead, and don’t forget the £20 minimum food spend (plus drinks/service).
Kikuchi, 14 Hanway Street, London W1T 1UD
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
(The stocks at Bill's Produce Store, Lewes)
I've just experienced a sudden rush of love for the English countryside.
Maybe it was the much reported "heat wave" (1 full day of around the 20 degrees mark - expect announcements on the Tube warning travellers to carry a potentially life saving bottle of water, and sunburnt Vs on chests aplenty)? Or maybe it was the 9 hour cider drinking session (complete with Connect 4 and Jenga) in the local country pub? But as I cycled through the fields of daffodils and bluebells, cows and llama, soaking in the scenic delights of East Sussex (and the odd whiff of cow poo), with a bluebird perched on my shoulder chirruping in my ear, I knew the countryside and I had rekindled the flame.
TPG and I overcame our fear of lace doilies, and a secret suspicion that all country folk roam the shadows at night with pitch forks, to celebrate our friend Lawrence's birthday in Lewes this weekend. Only just outside an hour from London Victoria on the train, this is a terrific little town, on the verge of stunning countryside, with a long high street of shops and cafes, a brewery, a really old, decrepit looking book shop, some decent food stores and, it seems, one pub to every one and a half men. Everything was going to be alright.
The Pelham Arms
This traditional British public house sits right at the top of Lewes town. Built in circa 1640, it has low ceilings, original oak beams across the ceilings, a fireplace, wooden tables and floors, and quite a sunny disposition on a summers day. It has oodles of country pub charm, but without the scary twee factor.
We started with some local ales and ciders (as well as some Hofbrau lagers, most often swilled at Oktoberfest) in the small beer garden out the back, mid afternoon. Our party of around 20 people then took over a significant chunk of the dining room, where some top notch, pubby fare was brought our way. The ingredients and free range meats are apparently sourced from independent, local suppliers and the quality here is mostly well above what I would expect from your average local watering hole. Food clearly is important to The Pelham Arms.
With the possible exception of the burger, which looked a bit on the dry side, everything was excellent by all accounts.
My generous serve of pork belly was sweet and delectable, accompanied by some hearty mash, kale, and a mellow, slightly sweet, creamy sauce. Some definite "eyes closed, chewing in the moment" times here.
TPG's steak was tasty and moist - good quality and well executed. They even cater to freaks, replacing the normal side serve of fries with some asparagus on request (TPG appears to be on a sudden health kick, which I am monitoring with some trepidation. There was even talk of forbidding any more stocks of chocolate biscuits in the cupboards - the notion was met with the look it deserved). Our chefs seemed to get everyone's rare or medium grilling orders right on the money.
We moved on to sticky toffee pudding and ice-cream which was lovely, but - it has to be said - was a little light on for toffee sauce. Note to chefs: too much of this stuff is never enough.
Over some Saturday Safari reggae tunes from our DJ, we moved on to snooker, Connect 4 and Sambuca shots - an unexpected, but perfect combination. A highly recommended way to blow almost 9 hours in the countryside, safe out of harm's way from strange wandering animals and cow pads.
The Pelham Arms gets the GD thumbs up.
The Pelham Arms, High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1XL (Ph: 01273 476149)
Bill's Produce Store
Bill’s was formerly a produce store, but since 2001 has re-invented itself primarily as large, bustling cafe with a small produce store on the side. Established by Bill Collinson, reportedly Richard Caring (of The Ivy group of restaurants) also owns a stake in the popular enterprise. It’s rustic and casual, but the food is terrific and service is pretty much perfect – staff have obviously been well trained and are happy, smiling, helpful types that are so few and far between in many cafes. Service is so good (without being annoyingly chirpy), you’ll do a double take.
Bill’s allows you to eat while surrounded by crates bursting with fresh fruit and veg, or shelves lined with colourful produce, available for purchase. Food is, apparently, mostly sourced from local farms and small suppliers.
The all day, extensive breakfast menu is a winner. On arrival in Lewes, we made a beeline for Bill’s, and I feasted on some wholesome scrambled eggs heaped on toast with mushrooms (around £5) and fresh orange juice. They don’t hold back on the butter (praise the Lord). TPG literally inhaled his bacon and egg sandwich (around £4) with coffee and OJ. Servings are hearty and ingredients seem fresh and flavourful.
We returned for lunch the next day. I was tempted by Bill’s salad plate with toasted breads (£7.95), but opted for a tasty smoked haddock, prawn and leek pie with a colourful, zesty mix of side salads.
TPG loved his salmon with a delicious "mash" of pea and feta, mouth watering bacon and cherry tomatoes, roast potatoes, dill and rocket.
My only quibble - and my pet peeve – one glass housing our water had that awful eggy smell that arises when glasses are put in the wash with eggy dishes. Eurgh. It seems to happen everywhere. However, it was replaced along with our sparkling water (despite our protests that a new water would not be necessary). You get the feeling that nothing’s too much trouble.
All up, lunch came to around £25, including service.
There’s now also a site in Brighton, and there’ll soon be sites in Reading (2010) and Covent Garden (likely 2011). I can see it being a hit in the West End – there are not too many decent breakfast places in Covent Garden (most people make the trek to Soho). However, it's lovely to sample Bill's after a ride through the countryside, with fresh air in your lungs, and the sights from the local farms and paddocks still clear in the memory. Recommended.
Bill's Produce Store, 56 Cliffe High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2AN (Tel: 01273 476 918)
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
If it's big meaty portions of chin wiping, greasy fingers glory you’re after, Bodean’s is not a bad option. It’s probably not Texas, but it might be the most convenient way to imagine you’re chowing through a good ol’ Texan BBQ in the heart of London.
We’ve been a number of times now, always at the desperate behest of The Peanut Gallery, when he needs his fill of American, cowboy hat wearing, testosterone filled, beer swilling, gut thumping stuff. Or when he wants to watch the football on the big screens.
On the ground floor is the casual deli/diner. Downstairs is a dark restaurant which looks like a sports bar. I prefer the ground floor bit.
I always go for one of the gigantic hot deli sandwiches (in hamburger buns) – usually the Pulled Pork as pictured (£5.25) with mounds of juicy pulled pork piled on a toasted bun, topped with BBQ sauce. There are also sandwiches with pastrami, burnt ends, brisket, coleslaw, slow cooked pork shoulder, or combinations of the above. The fries are good too.
TPG recently tried the beef hot dog (£4.95) – just like any junky-in-a-good-way hot dog to me, although he (being more of a hot dog man) seemed pretty happy with it (although it's not in the same league as Shake Shack's in New York). This was, of course, just a “side dish” to his BBQ chicken burger (£6.95). I consider it mandatory that all this be washed down with the beer on tap. Preferably while beating your chest and shouting at the big screen.
The pulled pork and ribs are the signature dishes. The ribs are enormous. Even the salads are heart attack inducing.
I also love the ample trays of USA condiments on offer – condiments make us happy.
You’ve probably been already (there’s quite a few branches – we go to the Soho one). If not, for decent quality cow or pig, when you don’t want to spend your weekly food budget on some of the limited places in London cooking top notch meat, I think it’s a decent goer. If you know a better place for American style barbecue, centrally located, I'd love to hear about it - I'll pass it on to The Peanut Gallery as his birthday present.
If you're prepared to pay extra for some of the best pieces of meat in London, go to Hawksmoor or Goodman - but you won't be able to watch the football and howl at the moon while you eat it.
Bodean's BBQ Smoke House, 10 Poland Street, Soho, London W1D 8PZ
Saturday, 17 April 2010
Last night involved a 2 part mission:
1. To entice The Peanut Gallery beyond Zone 2 of the London Tube map.
2. To find a curry worth writing home about.
Today, I'm one happy camper.
Some time ago, over a glass or two of wine with the fabulous Food for Think, I lamented my complete inability to find a delicious curry truly worthy of London's repute for such fare. Ms Food for Think promptly issued, and I eagerly accepted, an invitation for TPG and I to join her and boyfriend Mr J at Karahi King in North Wembley.
North Wembley is in Zone 4. No, I am not joking. Somehow, possibly due to the guarantee of good company, the promise of plentiful food and my inadvertent omission to mention zoning, I managed to lure TPG there anyway with barely a whimper. He did pack 2 magazines for the journey.
Karahi King is plastic plate, paper napkin, no frills dining in an almost canteen/cafe style setting. Naturally, this is the perfect backdrop for wonderful, pleasure filled plates of joy to be scooped, shared and chatted over in glorious Friday night abandon.
There's an open kitchen with karahi pans ready and raring to mix you up an exotic storm of spicy North Indian goodness. Mr J, who has travelled around India and seems to know his stuff, took care of the ordering. I recommend you take him with you if you visit - he's right on target every time. Our starters were scrumptious - juicy Seekh Kebabs (lamb mince) were perfectly grilled with a hit of aromatic spice, while the gorgeous Paneer Tikka (cubes of cottage cheese), grilled with onion, tomatoes and capsicum, went some way to revealing the mystery of what might get a vegetarian out of bed in the morning. Each dish was broken up over beer bottles and wine glasses, and scooped into some fine naan to aid delivery.
Our curries followed. Each had its own distinct flavour and texture, and was in a whole other league from the "pieces of meat floating in non-descript sauce" variety that I have come to presume. (Although we recently had some decent ones with friends at Gaylords, Fitzrovia. Oh, please - so immature). We feasted on the Karahi Chicken (tender chicken breast cooked in tomato, onion and coriander, with a hint of ginger), Keema Karahi (minced lamb and potatoes in a spicy mix of tomato, chilli, garlic and coriander leaves), a smoky Saag Paneer (spinach and cheese), and soupy looking dahl with temperate spices. We soaked them up with rice and large garlic naans.
(Top: Karahi Chicken; Below: Dahl;
Top of page: Keema Karahi)
TPG and Ms Food For Think lingered over some creamy, pyramid shaped mango kulfi (ice cream to you and me).
(Most indecipherable total in the world -
until you see it's written on the back)
There's a huge array of both meaty and vegetarian dishes. It's delicious, cheap (around £15 per head if you're really feasting - including beers and service) and it's even BYO (extra tick). And despite my carryings on with the bit about Zone 4, it's actually an easy shoot straight up the Bakerloo line. Oh, and you must stop by at the formerly Irish, now of mystery variety, pub across the road on your way home. Ah, the thrill of new discoveries. I'm back on the curry wagon.
Karahi King, 213 East Lane, North Wembley, London, HA0 3NG (Tel: 020 8904 2760)
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
I like the combination of wine and sport. Champagne at the races, beer and bowls, Pimms and croquet (as you do), vodka shots and a mad dash to the nearest souvlaki bar...
So, we're about to be hit with World Cup fever. To mark the occassion, last week, Bibendum hosted a flurry of London food and wine bloggers for the Quarter Finals of its World Cup of Wine. Some key wine producing countries were matched head to head, white for white and red for red. We tasted, we voted. Only the winners would progress through to the semi finals next month. Corks popped, spittoons creaked, the pressure ran high.
The thing I love about Bibendum's wine tasting events is that they're not only interesting and informative, but they make wine fun and accessible. There were some serious wine experts in the room. And there was me. I did try to hold back on my usual comments of the "tastes like Creamy Soda" ilk but, as my tasting notes will reveal, you can't stop me thinking them.
There are already some blog posts from wine fanatics recording the results of the evening - see Wine Passionista, Bibendum Times and Cellar Fella. The only difference between my post and theirs is that they know what they're talking about. So, I'll let my tasting notes speak for themselves...
Round 1: Argentina v South Africa
Saam Mountain Middelburg Chenin Blanc, South Africa, Paarl 2007 (£9.51): This wine gained one of my highest scores of the evening, and is great value at £9.51. GD expert tasting notes: "6 months in oak; creamy; bit like a chardy but slightly acidic aftertaste". Grand.
v Argento Reserva Torrontes, Argentina, Torrontes, Salata, 2009 (£6.59): "Fruity, light, aromatic. Would go well with seafood, Thai". Lovely, easy drinking, but no match for the Chenin Blanc.
Vinedos de la Posada Merlot, Argentina, La Rioja 2009 (£6.51): "Classic, soft South American Merlot; Crowd Pleaser [rubs chin, I imagine]; Organic; Good value".
v Journeys End "The Cape Doctor" Shiraz, South Africa, Stellenbosch 2005 (£14.76): The clear favourite, and quite a price difference. For me, it just edged out the Merlot (even taking price into account, as we tried to do...). There was much discussion about South African red developing a real following of late (Tim Atkin is a convert) and being one of the most exciting red wine regions of the moment. GD's expert tasting notes included: "Not too heavy; lovely; restrained and elegant" [I'm clearly having a moment here].
Round 2: Spain v Australia
I tried to put my Aussie bias aside, but my palate likes a big red and old school oak.
Cuatro Rayas, Verdejo, Spain Rueda 2008 (£7.76): Tasting notes reveal only that "The house wine at El Bulli is a Verdejo - not this one." Helpful. In any case, this wine was no match for the big Aussie...
v D'Arenberg The Hermit Crab, Viogner Marsanne, Australia, McLaren Vale 2008 (£9): "Bit oily; aromatic; no oak, just fruit, but full bodied; thick". It got my vote.
Damana 5, Taula, Spain, Ribera del Duero, 2008 (£10.01): Made from the same grape as Rioja, but coming from a warmer climate, this wine spends 5 months in oak and is the entry level, softer wine from this new winery with the funky label. With astounding eloquence, I noted but a single thought: "Has a full on finish".
v Katnook Founders Block Shiraz, Australia, Coonawarra 2006 (£10.75): Spicy and rich, this one had it on the nose in a tough battle of the reds.
Round 3: Chile v Italy
Augustinos Reserva Privada Chardonnay, Chile, Bio Bio 2008 (£7.25): "Harsh; needs food". This was suffered my lowest score of the evening, although it's only a 2nd vintage wine so a mere bub.
v Lageder, Chardonnay/Pino Griogio, Italy, Dolomites 2008 (£14.50): At twice the price, this was perhaps an unmatched fight, and I found this wine quite expensive for what it is - "lots of minerality; stone fruits" and a northern Italian wine showing Germanic influences. My penmanship is transforming into a relaxed scrawl.
Valdevieso, Cabernet Franc, Chile, Colchagua 2007 (£11.26): "A straight Cab Franc; tastes a bit green and peppery". [The "green" bit may have been lifted from someone else.]
v Ceppaiano "Violetta", Italy, Tuscany 2004 (14.25): "90% Sangiovese, 10% Cab Sauv; warmth, tannin, acidity; smells like Italy". Except, I didn't love it as much as I normally love my Tuscan reds. Not a knock out, but the Violetta had it.
Round 4: France v California
Loredona Pinot Grigio, USA, Califormnia, Monterey Country 2008 (£8.75): "Smells fantastic - doesn't taste as good; short on finish". I tripped over my own heel at this point.
v Chateau Bonnet Reserve, Bordeaux, Entre-deux-Mers 2009 (£9): "Not oaked; quite well balanced". No stunners in this round, but ok.
Marmesa Syrah, USA, California, Central Coast 2006 (£9.75): "Fruit and spice; Metallic aftertaste" [I seem to recall I did not think this a good thing at the time].
v els Pyreneus, Les Hauts de l'Agly, Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2006 (£10): Good value, 14.5% alcohol, but balanced. Would probably improve with food. "Tastes like oyster" - hmmm.. Clearly, it had been a long evening.
Drum roll ....
The winners of the evening will play off as follows in the Semi Finals on 13th May: France v Italy, and Australia v South Africa.
As far as the rivalries go, some super heavy weights were pitted against some puny contenders. It's not necessarily the fairest competition, but unless Australia gets knocked out prematurely, I support the notion that it's all about the fun, trying some interesting wines and picking up some knowledge along the way.
It was great to meet a whole new array of wine lovers. Thanks to Gal, Gareth and Erica of Bibendum for hosting yet another fabulous wine evening.
Sunday, 11 April 2010
I'm on the bus to Farringdon, salivating rather enthusiastically over Marina O'Loughlin's description of stickily rich hare royale with onion raviolo, pumpkin and dried mandarin puree at Bistrot Bruno Loubert.
Unsurprisingly, having held the bus driver's foot to the metal, we arrive early at Bistrot Bruno, like 2 eager puppies. It buys us some time to peruse the menu in the window - tongues to pavement.
And there's no hare today.
The lip quivers.
But the sun is shining in Farringdon, and nowhere does it gleam brighter than in the breezy modern bistro we've come to inspect. With white walls and big windows, BBL is casual but aglow, humming with a contented chatter.
Loubet has returned from an 8 year sojourn in Australia (Brisbane) to once again have the London food scene in a lather. He previously flaunted his skills at such places as London's L'Odeon and the Inn on the Park where he earned a Michelin star. He was named the UK's Young Chef of the Year (1985 Good Food Guide) and was appointed head chef of Raymond Blanc's 2 Michelin Star restaurant, Le Manoir, all before heading to Oz and coming back again to tackle his new creative venture. Blimey.
Loubet's interesting, creative bistro food adds a modern twist to French classics. It has both feet on the ground, but adds something surprising and creative, often involving exotic Asian or North African ingredients.
I start with the Mauricette snails and meatballs, which circle seductively around a light, creamy mushroom mousse (£8). The sauce is delectably sweet and savoury, but the heavenly mousse steals the show.
We're dining with our lucky charms, T & M (it seems they never have a bad lunch, at least not with us). TPG and Lucky M have chosen the Sunday roast (beef this week), which comes with a plentiful starter - slabs of hearty terrine, bread and cornichons - and a floating island and Pernod custard dessert, all for £22. The starter is meaty, tasty and generous - we easily could have shared one between all of us. Lucky M is working his magic already.
Lucky T starts lightly with a side salad, which was basic but did the job - she's only warming up. (Believe me, wait until the chocolates arrive...)
Having braced myself for the hare, my chosen substitute was going to have to be a rip snorter. Lucky T and I both opted for the confit lamb shoulder. The lamb was pressed into a round little bombshell - fatty, juicy and tender - with white bean mash, sweet red pepper, preserved lemon and green harissa (£16). I wouldn't say there were fireworks, but this was an absolutely lovely combination of flavours, adding some exotic zing to an otherwise hard core meaty dish.
The menfolk enjoyed their lashings of perfectly cooked slices of roast beef with vegetables and bearnaise. Again, servings were generous.
Lucky T and I shared an apple and quince mille feuille with an orange blossom sabayon (£6). Beautifully presented, this was at once a decadent and light finish to the meal. Eternal thanks to Lucky T for allocating to me the larger share.
The menfolk tried to look manly, beating their chests as they nibbled daintily at the their floating island of cloudy meringue in its creamy custard base. In the name of research, I helped TPG crack his way through the toffee coating (which he wasn't fussed about, but I liked) to serve myself several spoonfuls. The meringue was dense rather than delicate, and TPG thought it excellent. The custard was lovely and creamy with a surprisingly strong hit of Pernod - I don't know how that works, but it really does.
Coffees came with a scrumptious little chocolate ganache each, with hints of salty caramel undertones. In true Peanut Gallery form, TPG likened the flavour to a sophisticated version of the Cadbury Chocolate Eclair.
Service was friendly and mostly good, although dessert wines would have come after dessert was devoured had we not issued a prompt (and even then we had to hold back our spoons awhile). Then, having specifically requested coffee to arrive after we'd finished the dessert wine, it came early - twice. We let it go the second time.
Niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Bistrot Bruno Loubet. It's been heaped with praise since it opened some weeks ago, but it's a worthy recipient. I can see it going from strength to strength as it continues to provide clever bistro delights to us lucky Londoners.
A 3 course meal for 2 with wine, dessert wine and service costs around £90. And you probably won't need dinner...
Bistrot Bruno Loubet, The Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon (Ph: 020 7324 4455)
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Eastside Inn has enjoyed rave reviews in the blogosphere since it opened last year, and so it was with much anticipation that we looked forward to our reservation for four hungry food enthusiasts on the verge of celebrating the Easter break last week.
Bjorn and Justine van der Horst have put the open kitchen in the heart of the restaurant - a feature which I adore, as much as anything because it reminds me of sitting up at the bench top "chewing the fat" about the day's events at school, while diving in for the spoils as Mum toiled away at dinner. That's not quite how it works at Eastside Inn, but the chefs all seem so friendly you can imagine it would be a nice place to sit (and beg for a scrap or two).
However, our party was seated in a small enclave off the main bistro-style dining room. It was, unfortunately, completely lacking in atmosphere, and held all the charm of a bland hotel foyer - we were facing the main entrance as though waiting for something to happen. We could have been virtually alone in the restaurant for all we knew. It was only later in the evening that I took a stroll through the main dining room with its French bistro decor and mirrored walls, and was stunned to witness the chatter, buzz and charm that was completely devoid from our corner of the world. My first tip is to request the main bistro room when you book. Our enclave appears to have been a hangover from the days when the kitchen divided the bistro from a more formal restaurant - the latter has now been converted into rather unwelcoming looking lounge bar (again, with some stilted, hotel foyer type qualities). The bistro was not full, so perhaps they just don't realise how off-putting this room is for anyone who likes a bit of atmosphere (don't we all)?
Bjorn and Justine were not in the house on the night of our visit (a rarity, I believe, owing to the Easter break), and perhaps that is why, as much as I liked the food (and, generally, it was undeniably good), it did not soar to the dizzying heights that others have experienced. From his previous roles at the Greenhouse and La Noisette, to his current work at Eastside Inn, Bjorn has developed a reputation for his innovative, skilfully prepared gastronomic delights. The new bistro menu balances elegance and rustic charm well. On this occasion, the food was lovely, but it was outshone by the excellent service we received from all. And, to some extent, the lack of buzz must have shaded my impressions of the experience as a whole.
We started with some hors d'ouevres - French radishes (a current favourite - £3.50), Nicoise olive tapenade on toast with pickled anchovies (absolutely delicious - £2.95) and little clams (also lovely - £4.95).
My starter let me down. Why, oh why, did I order the classic prawn cocktail "Las Vegas" (£8.95) when I was bound to love "Justine's favourite onion soup" with Beaufort cheese (£6.95)? The medium sized prawns were crumbed and fried, then perched on the side of a dish of lettuce leaves, with a tangy-sweet dipping sauce. All was executed well enough, but no taste sensations here.
TPG's starter was a winner - a fricassee of morels on toast with a perfect, gooey egg yolk (£9.95). Good eggs are just so nourishing, and this was a beautiful combination of rich and moreish flavours.
Our friends Fiona and Robert enjoyed the soup of the day (white onion with chestnut - it looked scrumptious (£4.50)) and chargrilled baby squid with spring onions, lime and paprika vinaigrette (£9.95).
Feeling seasonal, I opted for some Easter Bunny - a main portion of braised leg of Lincolnshire rabbit served atop some silky tagliatelle and a light mustard sauce (£14.95). The generous serve of rabbit was moist and tender, falling into the delicately creamy sauce. It was good, although it seemed to be missing some kind of X factor.
The pasta in TPG's rigatoni with veal ragout, capers, lemon and pecorino (£13.95) was surprisingly undercooked (well short of al dente), and overall this dish lacked flavour despite reading like a terrific combination. Disappointing.
Our companions seemed to choose more wisely - Fiona adored her prawns "Al Cremat" (delivered in a cast iron pan with white wine, chilli, herbs and garlic - £17.95) and Robert's chicken breast with asparagus and morel sauce (£17.95) looked the goods - it was devoured wholeheartedly.
We requested a side serve of the asparagus, which was not on the menu but was gracefully provided. Bursting with flavour, the perfectly cooked spears were among the biggest hits of the evening.
Our cheese selection was lovely (£11), although the cheese trolley is nothing to rival my favourite at Chez Bruce. However, the Laughing Cow clearly on display was surely worth a smile. I enjoyed TPG's classic dessert of the day (a chocolate and coffee number with ice-cream) even more than he did - rich, creamy and chocolatey (£7.95).
A clever and stylish amuse bouche arrived in the form of a large, rectangular ice block, with a hollowed out semi-circle for a dollop of sweet, rich mango sorbet. Another surprise amuse bouche - a coriander sorbet - also arrived later, which was lovely and refreshing.
The wine list is extensive, but expensive - try finding something decent for less than £30.
Despite being shunted into a dreary enclave, we had a super fun evening fuelled by much food, wine and merriment. Eastside Inn has a great menu, and mostly executes things very well. However, it didn't leave me desperate to claim it my new favourite haunt, despite my long-held suspicious that it might. Perhaps I'll give it another chance for lunch in the bistro with the big kids one day.
Eastside Inn will be open on Sundays as of 11 April 2010.
[Postscript, 9 April 2010: Justine van der Horst contacted me in response to this post to confirm that the lounge area is currently in a transition phase and will be revamped shortly - so hold tight. Great news! It's also terrific to see enthusiastic restauranteurs who care enough about this sort of feedback to respond to it positively and quickly. I'll be giving them another go soon.]
Eastside Inn, 38-42 St John Street, Farringdon, London, EC1M 4AY (Ph: 020 7490 9230)
Apologies for the lack of photos - I didn't want to detract from the ambience any further by snapping at everyone's dishes. (Normally, I hold no such qualms!)