Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Street Kitchen - Broadgate

Street food is the new black. Bloggers will flock in a frenzy to queue for hours for a taste of a USA style greasy burger served from The Meatwagon (and don't forget a side of chicken wings). It's game on for eating on the hoof - whether it be banh mi at Broadway Market, pulled pork under a bridge on South Bank, expertly brewed flat whites from Brewed Boy's Soho coffee cart, delectable chocolate brownies from ChocStar Van or chocablock burritos from Daddy Donkey, London foodies are lapping it up. Quality food, without all the fuss and someone waiting to fluff your napkin every time you look sideways.  

Slow roasted lamb from Street Kitchen

Street Kitchen wants to ride the wave to a whole new level - gourmet, restaurant style fare served from a shiny, vintage silver Airstream van popping up around London over summer.

Jun Tanaka (executive chef at Pearl) and Mark Jankel (chef and founder of The Food Initiative) have initially set up in Finsbury Avenue Square in Broadgate (with other locations to follow until the end of September).

Grilled mackerel

All produce is sourced from organic farms and producers in the UK ,and the menu changes daily. Last night, I was invited to a freebie launch event where I feasted on superbly succulent slow roasted lamb shoulder (cooked for 12 hours, no knife required) with new potatoes and tomato salad, fresh grilled mackerel with chunky wedges of beetroot, cress, smashed potatoes and mustard dressing, followed by a creamy Eton Mess pudding. There will also be a daily vegetarian option. We may have been eating from paper boxes, but this is scrumptious, quality fare in plentiful serving sizes - a great lunch option for city worker bees.

The van will be serving a bistro style lunch daily from 11.30am - 2.30pm, at the Broadgate location for at least the next 2 weeks. Prices range from £4.50-£7.50.

One to check out.

Street Kitchen, currently at Finsbury Avenue Squre, Broadgate, EC2 - you can follow them on Twitter for updates (@StreetKitchen).

 Greedy Diva feasted for free on this occassion.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Rioja Tapas Fantasticas 2011, Southwark

I'm not really one for camping or festivals. I like a good solid roof over my head, and I like to be able to stand up and switch on the lights within my accommodation. The thought of trudging off to the shrubbery with a shovel send shudders down my spine. I do have wellies, but I bought them from Marc Jacobs so I'm not sure they count (not bad for £12 and where else can you find wellies in a last minute panic in Soho?). As for feasting off paper plates and cups, that's all well and good so long as the sun is shining and I'm not paying so much that its costing me an opportunity to eat wagyu beef laced with gold leaf and truffle at The Fat Duck*.

So I'm not often seen at food festivals. However, the sun was shining, and I still haven't booked that trip to Madrid I've been hankering for. So, it was that TPG and I ventured to the foot of Tower Bridge on Saturday for the FREE event, Rioja Tapas Fantasticas.

While taking in the views over the Thames and the Tower of London, we tasted white, rose and red riojas from a large number of wine makers (such as Marques de la Concordia, Marques del Atrio and Vina Salceda), while feasting on thick tortilla rolls (from restaurant Barcelona), a hearty rabbit paella with spinach and asparagus (from Number 22 Restaurant and Casa Catering) and creamy Iberico hams (carved to thin, melt in the mouth perfection by Tozino - a company with experience carving for the likes of Ferran Adria and the Spanish Royal Family).

Taste from the tapas stalls of some of London's Spanish restaurants, such as Barrica, Camino and Paellaria (serving huge pans of inky arroz negra) or try Picota Cheeries which are exclusively grown in the Spain's Jerte Valley and only available from mid June to end of July each year. Fellow blogger and the woman behind Catalan Cooking classes, Rachel McCormack, is also there with her Rachel's Bunuelos stand.

Entry is FREE, and you only pay £3 to purchase a tasting glass and 4 tokens to exchange each for a small (ok, teensy) sample of 4 wines of your choice. (Call me what you will, but the samples could be bigger.) After that, you pay £1 per sample, or you can buy by the glass at good prices - I had a lovely (and big glass of) spicy, vanilla-y Reserva for £3.50. Our food was mostly priced between £3.50 - £6. There are also wine workshops, cooking demonstrations (eg from Jose Pizarro) and Spanish bands.

Tapas Fantastica runs over one weekend in summer each year (look out for it in 2012) and is a low key, hassle free way to have a taste of Spain in London. And it won't cost you the tasting menu at Le Gavroche.

Thanks to Phipps PR for the press pass.

*  Ok, so I'm not sure The Fat Duck does this dish, but you get my drift.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Opera Tavern, Covent Garden

Mini Iberico pork and foie gras burgers. Yes, that's mini Iberico pork and foie gras burgers. Ooomph.

Opera Tavern opened in Covent Garden in February, joining it siblings (and Greedy Diva favourites), Salt Yard and Dehesa to provide a range of small plates inspired by Spanish tapas, with an Italian cicchetti twist. The biggest difference is the addition of the robata charcoal grill, where "pinchos morunos" are quickly sizzled up and skewered in all their smoky deliciousness.

A selection of skewered meats( pinchos morunos) from the robata charcoal grill

The restaurant is small (and rather noisy from the celebrations in the dining room upstairs on the night I visited with Gourmet Chick, MTV Boyfriend and A Girl Has to Eat) - perhaps not one to take your hard of hearing grandparents). Downstairs near the bar, where we're seated, feels like a typical Covent Garden pub turned simply into a place to eat ham and drink sherry with abandon.

Grilled Octopus & Chorizo

Although the pig's head terrine is catches my attention among the range of bar snacks (priced from £2.55 - £4.25), we move straight to the offerings of the charcoal grill for mini Iberico pork and foie gras burgers, juicy and medium rare, topped with oozey grilled manchego, aioli and onion jam on a mini brioche bun - phwoar. Incontrovertible proof that size is not everything.

Deep fried courgettes with goats cheese and honey

We try a selection of grilled pinchos morunos - there's marinated Iberico pork, Gresshingham duck with fig, and octopus with chorizo, green tomatoes, cucumber and pomegranate (ranging from £3.25 - £3.95). The deep fried courgettes with oozy goats cheese and honey are a favourite from Salt Yard and are just as good here.

Chargrilled Saltmarsh Lamb

Try the range of hams, charcuterie and cheeses, or move straight on to the tapas - FISH like crispy squid and sea purslane with chilli aioli (£6.75) or roasted monkfish with crab and chickpea sauce and crab fritter (£7.50), MEATS like chargrilled salt mash lamb with faro, peas, broad beans, wild garlic and goat's curd (£7.25) or chargrilled beef sirloin with bone marrow, Iberico pork fat chips, garlic and thyme aioli (£12.50), or VEGETABLE dishes such as grilled asparagus with crispy duck egg yolk, fresh pea and truffle dressing (£5.75) or salad of grilled baby fennel and trope onion with orange and black olive (£6.25).

Patatas bravas

We manage to work our way through a couple of bottles of wine, both lovely and reasonably priced.

Warm hazelnut cake with lemon thyme ice-cream

Of the lovely puddings, my favorite was the warm hazelnut cake with lemon thyme ice cream (£5.35), or you might like the tonka bean pannacotta with English strawberries and white chocolate almonds (£5.35).

As usual when 4 gluttons get together and start ordering small plates, the bill sneaks up on you, although I think we manage to get away at around £40 per head including wine and service.

For atmosphere and stylish surrounds, I prefer Salt Yard and Dehesa, but Opera Tavern is certainly a welcome addition to the restaurants of substance infiltrating the former tourist trap haven of Covent Garden.

Opera Tavern, 23 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 (Tel: 020 7836 3680)

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon

You can see my earlier review of Dehesa here. Another good addition to the Covent Garden area is da Polpo (sibling to Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino) - I've visited da Polpo twice but have not reviewed as there's really not much to add to my reviews of its siblings. It's a place for fun food rather than anything gourmet, and as much as I like it, it lacks some of the buzz and charm of its Soho siblings (you can read my reviews of them at the above links). Nevertheless, it's much easier to get a table (walk ins only) at the Covent Garden newbie.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Eleven Madison Park, New York

Pea soup amuse bouche

If you find yourself with something to celebrate in New York (the fact that you're in New York, perhaps?), look no further than Eleven Madison Park for a special occasion meal that you won't forget in a hurry.

With its soaring ceilings and huge windows, the Art Deco dining room is light, airy and elegant. It has a classic New York feel. But Eleven Madison Park is different right from the start.

Amuse no 2.


The surprise tasting menu allows diners to choose from 3 or 4 courses by only selecting the main ingredient listed - so, for first course, choose from LETTUCE, CRAB, TROUT or FOIE GRAS, and the rest will be entirely up to the imagination of Chef Daniel Humm. Each dish is delicately and beautifully presented - a smile inducing joy to look at as much as to eat.



Among the delights, we enjoyed a dainty CRAB salad with pickled daikon radish and crustacean mayonnaise, followed by a luscious soft poached EGG with frogs legs, English pears and ramps. Mains included poached CHICKEN with Provencale asparagus, morels and black truffles, followed by a magnificent CHOCOLATE tart with salted caramel and chocolate sorbet.


Wines were expertly matched by the glass (resulting in quite the happily on top of the world toddle home) and service was friendly and unstuffy - right down to accommodating TPG's new gluten free diet with 4 different types of bread (putting my efforts of buying him the occasional pouch of sympathy flax to shame).


It's pricey but reasonable considering the quality and creativity (particularly given the outrageous pricing of many London tasting menus) and the rollicking good long lunch you will have.

Lunch: 3 courses for $56, 4 courses for $74.
Dinner: 3 courses for $125, 4 courses for $195.
Worth every cent.

I think Eleven Madison Park now has the edge over Per Se, Jean-Georges and any other fine dining I've had in my favorite city of gastronomic delights. Book well in advance.

Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue, New York, 10010

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Other favourites from this most May 2011 recent trip were newbie The Dutch (fabulous, fun, great food, open late), The Spotted Pig (a burger for brunch - why not?), Craft (an old favourite - still wonderful), Georgia's Eastside BBQ (for massive plates of fried chicken, pulled pork potato salad, slaw etc - not one for dieters) and Gimme Coffee for coffee. Oh, and don't miss the views from the hotel bar at the Mandarin Oriental for cocktails. If I get time (and you may have noticed I'm struggling on that front lately - work can really get in the way of a good time) I'll try to write some of them up. TPG has been promising to help me on that score with some kind of guest entry but so far, so tumbleweed.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Dinner By Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge

The meat fruit with toasted sourdough

There's quite the black market in trade for reservations at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal's latest restaurant in London. Diners have to book in advance 2 months to the day before their reservation (it was formerly 3) and seats are, to put it mildly, like hen's teeth. I had a reservation when the restaurant first opened, then had to give it away due to some travel plans so BIG thanks to my friend Sarah who passed on a reservation to me when her friend Mark couldn't make it.  Yes, I will happily play Mr Hummington for the night if it gets me a slice of meat fruit.

Meat fruit? Yes, meat fruit. A fantabulous, creative ball of lusciously creamy chicken liver parfait, wrapped in a mildly citrussy mandarin jelly which looks just like a mandarin.

Pigeon, artichokes & ale

The menu is not your everyday experience, although it's not as out there as Heston's The Fat Duck so might also appeal to those like to keep their forks planted more firmly in the steak and veg camp. Each dish is sourced from historical books and recipes, and is listed on the menu with the date indicating the period from which the recipe originated (so, say "Salamugundy (c.1720)"). To the old, Heston adds the new - his own creative twist and, in some cases, a small pinch of genius.

But even before we get to the food, we love it. Service is so friendly, genuine and helpful - no uppity stuffiness, despite the well heeled clientele and glitzy location. The room is gorgeous, from the soaring ceilings, huge windows overlooking Hyde Park, glass fronted kitchen with pineapples roasting on a spit to the jelly mould light bulbs.

Rice & flesh

Among the 8 starters which include roast scallops with cucumber ketchup and borage, or savoury porridge with cod cheeks, pickled beetroot, garlic and parsley, my meat fruit (£13.50) is matched in loveliness by TPG's "Rice and Flesh (c 1390)" (£16) - buttery rich saffron risotto, with meaty chunks of calf tail and red wine.

Black foot pork chop

Mains include the Iberican Black Foot Pork Chop (c. 1860) (£28), served with pointy cabbage and juicy Robert sauce, cooked sous vide to perfect tenderness. Plump, rich morsels of velvety "spiced pigeon (c. 1780)" (£33) cooked in ale with artichokes is another winner.

Tipsy cake

Things continue on a high with desserts which earn the highest praise in TPG's repertoire - [eyebrows raised, mouth full] "these are as good as New York desserts" [further scoffing]. The tipsy cake (c. 1810) (£10) is a billowing brioche bun soaking in oozy, sticky juices from the spit roasted golden pineapple which is served sectioned and glistening on the side.

Chocolate bar

The chocolate bar (c.1730) is a dark gooey chocolate film covering passion fruit jam and chocolate with ginger ice cream. Gorgeous!

Our sommelier choses matching wines by the glass which range from "good" to "get me another one of those" and at prices from £7-£13 per glass.

It's pricey - around £100 per head if you don't hold back on the drinks. But it's fabulous and fun. Just go.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge,  SW 1X 7LA (Tel: 020 7201 3833)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 June 2011

The River Cafe, Hammersmith

Linguini with broad bean puree, mint and pecorino

If you live in London and like your food, you already know about The River Cafe. The grand Nonna of simple, fresh, seasonal Italian dining in London has launched the careers of several of today's hot chefs. In its day, The River Cafe was revolutionary for its seasonal, twice daily changing menu and open kitchen. Today, it's still all very lovely even if it isn't as memorable for standing out above the fold of the new wave of Italian restaurants in London.

I've been twice now, for dinner in winter a couple of years ago, and for a summery lunch recently with some girlfriends.

Fritto Misto

After a girlishly pink Rossini (Prosecco with crushed strawberries), some antipasti plates were pretty as a picture - light, perfectly crunchy vegetable fritto misto, creamy prosciutto and bright and chirpy asparagus with lush buffalo mozzarella and greeny olive oil.


Buffalo mozzarella with asparagus & olive oil

My linguini with broad bean puree, cream, mint and pecorino was light and fresh, the pasta cooked just right. However, it did become a bit same same after a few bites. Same goes for the hand cut tagliatelle with a summery pomodoro sauce, although my friend's ravioli stuffed plumply with buffalo ricotta (and with - I think - marinated tomatoes and basil) was probably a highlight among the pastas.

You'll pay through the nose of course because it's The River Cafe (antipasti generally range from £15-£18, pastas at £15 and mains from £32 upwards). And you can't actually see the water from the restaurant, so don't make the schlepp to the middle of nowhere in Hammersmith expecting to have the Thames floating past your seat.

Our sommelier picked a great bottle of white to match our mood, but other than that nothing about the service leaves a lasting impression either way.

It's all very nice. But, as much as the loyalists won't like me saying it, for my money, I prefer Bocca di Lupo, Tinello, Trullo or Zucca. There, I said it.

The River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, London W6 9HA (Tel: 020 7386 4200)

River Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Tapas Brindisa Soho

Despite all the rave reviews it gets, I've only recently discovered for myself the joy that is Tapas Brindisa at Borough Market. If you haven't been, go - eat ham, drink sherry, enjoy the buzz. I was earlier put off the Brindisa restaurants by an altogether ho hum experience at related Tierra Brindisa in Soho, which I couldn't even be bothered writing about. But now, at the same site, the restaurant has re-opened full of Madrid-like abandon, as a walk in tapas restaurant - another Tapas Brindisa.

Being in the neighborhood and with my ear to ground, I was quick to take up the 50% off soft opening offer tonight with my friend, the intrepid Rachel. There's a no reservations policy, so the sherry bar at the front was already bustling with a crowd eager to hoe into bite sized Padron Peppers, creamy Iberico ham and smoky chunks of chorizo as every table and stool in front room and back was crammed with happy, hungry diners. The room in the back has an open kitchen and a fiery grill, so be warned it can heat up in there. Extra Cava required.

From the Picoteo snack menu, try toasted broad beans and marinated Cantabrian white anchovies, or gorgeous, shrivelled little pan fried Padron Peppers (the best I've tasted) with some pan de pincel (toasted thick bread lathered in herb and garlic olive oil). We didn't try the hand carved, acorn fed Iberico ham (usually a must for me), but if its anything like that at the London Bridge branch, don't go past it.

The gambas al ajillo are large, meaty prawns served with big slithers of garlic and chilli still almost sizzling in the clay pot. Cured ham and chicken croquetas are lush and creamy pockets of oozy fun in a crispy, crumbly case, while grilled smoked chorizo on toast is a generous portion served with rocket and piquillo pepper.

Try a silky potato tortilla or fantabulous deep fried monte enebro - goats cheese with orange blossom honey and crispy beetroot. Oh yeah. There's even Presa Iberica (top shoulder of Iberian pork), marinated lamb or lemon chicken skewers - all straight from the parrilla (an iron grill).

Take all of the above with a glass of Cava or sherry and have yourself a good time. Actually, we lucked out on our wine choices, but there's plenty to choose from. It might have only been the soft opening, but it's already running like a well oiled machine - they make it all look too easy.

Our bill came to £40 per head (or £20 per head during soft opening) with drinks and service.

Tapas Brindisa Soho, 46 Broadwick Street, Soho, London W1F 7AF, Phone: 020 7534 1690

Or, if it's closer to home, try the lively Tapas Brindisa at London Bridge, 18-20 Southwark Street, London SE 1 1TJ (Tel: 020 7357 8880)

Tapas Brindisa on Urbanspoon

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