Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Rotorino, Dalston

I usually miss out wandering up the stretch of Kingsland Road north of Haggerston to Dalston, usually just passing through on the 243.  There’s now a very good reason to, with Rotorino open at number 432 (a second actually until middle of May, as the Mussel Men site is a few doors down – apparently the Sunday seafood roast is the thing to go for).  



Stevie Parle (of the Dock Kitchen) is behind the menu, with Ruth of Legs Long Length  behind the wine, and Jonathan Downey as a partner (of Milk & Honey, Streetfeast etc).  The interior is a rather gorgeous mix of geometric 60s wallpaper, shiny over-sized industrial hanging lamps, bare brick and blond wood.  There’s a bar and long sharing table at the front, with tables and boots for four people at the back.




The menu is split into First (small dishes, under cured, raw/cold, fried and grilled), Second (pasta), and Third (meat and fish dishes).  From the first, we started with the octopus (£4), grilled with the smoky fragrance of its rosemary sprig skewer, and really tender with the chilli and soaked bread sauce (I’ve forgotten the rubbery over-cooked sort, with all the lovely silky/justthe right bite kind I have had recently).  





From the First, the chickpea fritters (£3.50) came as little square pillows, with fried sage.  N thought they were a little bland, but I really liked them alongside the sweet/salty tang of the aubergine, tomato, celery, pine nuts and raisins in the caponata (£4.80).



There was a selection of four pasta dishes, to come as a small or big bowl (great blue and white spot spattered enamel bowls by the way).  We had the pistachio casarecce (small £7.50), a little like a non-cheesy pesto with lots of crushed pistachio nuts with the basic, garlic and olive oil.  The other we tried was the mussels fusilli longhi (£7 for the small size), with the seafood chopped and intense, with tomato, oregano and chilli.  Rotorino will definitely be added to my top 5 London pasta places (in progress at the moment).



It’s often good to go with the waitress recommendation.  It paid off with the Sasso chicken (chicken’s usually my last choice on the menu) – there’s tender meat, with ricotta stuffed under the crispy chicken (£14 for a one-person version).  It came on rich chicken juice soaked toast, and was absolutely delicious.  We had it alongside the Monk’s Beard (£4.50) with lentils (Monk’s Beard looks a little like samphire, and tastes similar but less salty, and has only a five week season where it grows in Tuscany).



The rest of the bottle of very good red wine (all very reasonable) and pudding pretty much finished us off.  The pudding was billed as chocolate cake (£5), but it came as a very rich, dark fudgey cocoa ball, sprinkled with pistachios and honeycomb.  They also obliged with swapping the sour cream on the side with the excellent hazelnut ice-cream. 

You can really tell the team behind it come from successful existing places – service was spot-on, and it’s just the relaxed room you want to rush back to.  Alongside the excellent, and well-priced, interesting Italian menu, I’ll be hopping off the 243 bus on Kingsland Road more often.  


Friday, 18 April 2014

Wright Brothers Spitalfields, Spitalfields

Maybe it’s a little macabre to choose the crab destined for your plate.  I watched some of the critters in the tank at Wright Brothers Spitalfields, and did partly want to select the tastiest looking (I’m not quite sure what signs you should look out for to equal a delicious cooked state).






I didn’t make the fatal selection, but the crab we had was excellent - really fresh, with a tangy pot of mayonnaise and sourdough bread (and £13 for a small crab, even if it was very sizeable).  The oysters were also beautifully briny, dressed with pickled cucumber on top (£9 for three).  The new site from the oyster farmers, shellfish merchants and two existing London restaurants (Soho and Borough) has 1,400 live shellfish upstairs to select, along with 9,000 more in holding tanks in their basement.  You can’t get much fresher from tank to table.





The first side of the menu is made up of the shellfish, with the other side items from the kitchen.  From the kitchen, we shared the octopus with potatoes (£10), tender with the red burnish of paprika, and the sprouting broccoli with chunky green sauce packed with capers (£5.50).  The fried stuffed olives (£6 for three) were a little different to the last kind I tried at 8 Hoxton Square – here they came chopped with the anchovy and parsley, then reshaped within the crispy crumb, with the same pleasingly saltiness/bitter ness.



We sat at the bar – it’s definitely the best spot for watching the construction of the impressive shellfish platters, or today revealing the whole baked sea bream from their snowy salt crusts.  The room has the salty tang of the sea, and it’s a brilliant spot for seafood (a welcome addition to Spitalfields too, which has a generally not very exciting selection of restaurants in the market).


Wright Bros Spitalfields on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Lockhart, Marylebone

The Lockhart opened in Marylebone last year – the new southern American place was on my radar (and added to my restaurant list).  But I really started reading rave things about it when Brad McDonald, the new head chef, arrived to cook the food of his Mississippi childhood.






The menus are nicely concise, and we tried much of the lunch one on Friday.  We shared a couple of each of the starters, including crisp catfish goujons (£4.50) and grilled chicken oysters (£5) on a tangy mustard sauce.  The buttermilk wedge salad (£8) was very delicious for such a seemingly simple sounding bowl, with the fresh crunch of iceberg lettuce, salty bacon crumbs, hard-boiled egg and great dressing.





Half the table ordered the fried chicken plate (it had to be done, especially watching other tables eating theirs), which came with sweet potato puree and beans (£12).  I sneaked a bite, and it was I think the best I’ve tried (I’m no expert in this field, but tender meat and perfect coating).  There was also a bowl of melting lamb shoulder with pommes puree and wild garlic (£17), and the mysterious Muffuletta.  It’s a actually a giant sandwich (you get ¼ for £12), stuffed with different cured meats and cheese. 



I had the shrimp and grits (£14), which made any recent shrimp and grits pale into comparison (sorry Jackson & Rye).  The rich grits were under sweet prawns, mushrooms, bacon and spring onion – a beautiful comfort food dish (I’m not a fan of the similarly corny sloppy polenta, so I’ll be sticking to the grits here).  The sides were very good, including a clean, sharp coleslaw (£4) and spicy collard greens (£4), with some more chunks of pig tucked in there.



The cornbread needs a special mention.  It arrived warm in its dish (£5), all glistening with the honey butter.  I have sometimes found other cornbread a little sweet, but even with this butter it was utterly perfect. 




After the brilliance of everything else, we felt we needed to try the desserts (around the £7 mark – I forgot to make a note).  These included a creamy rice pudding, and an interesting version of a kind-of lemon meringue pie and doughnuts.  The former involved graham cracker crumbs with lemon curd and ice-cream, with toasted meringue on top – a great combination (better than the usual kind I think).  The doughnuts were Calas, light little New Orleans rice flour beignets, on top rich cocoa dark chocolate, and sprinkled with fennel icing sugar.



It’s sweet inside, simple with wooden floors and tables, and mis-matched crockery. Do remember that the fried chicken isn’t on the supper menu, but they do brunch at the weekend (where you can even get it with waffles).  There’s definitely a place for southern American food in London, especially with execution this good.  Go there sharpish for your grits, cornbread and fried chicken.

Lockhart on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Barnyard, Fitzrovia

My list of restaurants to visit doesn’t ever get seem to get shorter.  Some get taken off after eating there, with plenty of new places added.  There are a few that have stayed for over a year.  Dabbous is one of them.  Ollie Dabbous’ restaurant opened to absolutely rave reviews two or so years ago, and subsequently got very, very booked up.


                                                 
I never quite got round to thinking in advance for booking a table.  But now there’s now a second place, run by Ollie and Oskar Kinberg (who runs the bar downstairs at Dabbous), with Joseph Woodland in the kitchen.  It’s more fun, with picket fences, corrugated iron and lots of checked shirts.  You can’t book, so get there early – we had an hour wait at the bar when the two of us got there at six on Friday evening.

There’s an interesting drinks menu to keep you occupied.  It includes shakes (that you can have with bourbon/rum added), along with a new kind of shandies – innovative cocktails that all include wine/beer.  To fit with a little of a farmyard feel, the menu is split into pig, cow, chicken, egg and vegetables (and other sides).  We picked each animal to try, sharing some sides too. 






The roast suckling pig (£11) was a perfectly cooked slab, with juicy (not too fatty) tender meat under a deliciously crispy crackling, and a little pot of shredded celeriac with caraway seeds.  My favourite dish was the pink roast beef on crunchy toast with peppery watercress salad and a warm horseradish buttermilk (£9) in a tiny milk bottle.  The chicken in a bun (£6) came tender with tangy avocado inside the toasted brioche bun, but would have been nice with something a little crunchy.


The cauliflower cheese (£3) was very rich and really excellent – I will try and find out their secret, as there must be something special added to the usual white sauce.  We also had the nicely crunchy charred broccoli (£3), and the hispi cabbage (£3) with the interesting addition of clover (a little aniseed-y). 

It’s a relaxed place perfect for Friday night.  There was great service over the evening, and really interesting to give feedback to our waiter, who turned out to be one of their directors working on the floor that night.  I also love the fact it’s not another menu of  just burgers/other American re-workings, as I think London’s maybe reached its capacity of these.  If you you haven’t got round to organising your table at Dabbous, it’s a great alternative just down the road.


Barnyard on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 6 April 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 5 April 2014

It’s April, and I have left the house without wearing some kind of scarf.  It must therefore be spring, and time to leave behind some soups/stews for something a bit fresher.  There’s more new openings filling up the diary in London – I’ve picked my top 5 food things to do this month:

RotorinoThis is the second site from Stevie Parle after The Dock Kitchen (which I haven’t quite made it to, but I have cooked quite a few of his always great recipes).  The East London location (on Kingsland Road) will have an Italian menu (it opens next week on the 10th) – first look at it shows delights like pea gnudi, chickpea fritters and hanger steak with Calabrian chilli sauce.



Spring Onions – I’ve already written about my penchant for these stems, but now is the perfect time to buy a bunch in season.  Thinly slice raw for your summer rolls or sprinkle on rice dishes, or nicely char them whole for something different.  A very handy ingredient.

Cat and MuttonThis pub institution on the corner of Broadway Market and London Fields is about the re-open this month after a major facelift.  There will be a cocktail bar upstairs called Pearl’s (it’s being reopened by the man behind Ruby’s bar in Dalston), with the food from Licky Chops (with their Lucky Chip van just round the corner in Netil Market).  There will be small plates and roasts on a Sunday (menus are already on their website).

Bonnie GullI have a handful of favourite fish restaurants in London, with Bonnie Gull in Fitzrovia being one (along with Prawn on the Lawn and Wright Brothers).  Luckily for me, their second site will be even closer, five minutes up the road on Exmouth market (surely one of the best London roads for restaurants).  The opening is planned for the 22nd April, and they will do brunch at the weekend, with their excellent Bonnie Marys (complete with an oyster garnish).

Masterchef – The show is back on TV to fill your evenings – the 10th year of this format (I don’t think Gregg should have boasted about the three wives in that time though).  There’s some good and some very bad cooking so far, with lots of exclaiming on our sofa that I could clearly do it much better, and it obviously isn’t that difficult (maybe some is).  Still very addictive though.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stockholm, March 2014 (with the best places to eat)

I have terrible luck with breaking technological items.  More than a little is user error, the rest misfortune. I've just got back from Stockholm, which was all very lovely apart from a dropped camera (and therefore a wonky and decidedly broken lens).  So this post should have featured plenty more photos of Swedish food and general stylishness, but should still provide some ideas for visiting the city.

We stayed in Östermalm, just a few minutes from the very civilised Östermalms Saluhall food hall.  There are rows of cheeses, sticky buns, artfully displayed butchery and lots of seafood on ice (especially giant crab claws and shiny coral langoustine) to buy. You can also sit at counters or tables and eat at a few places for lunch (it's closed in the evenings).  

Smoked Salmon & Shrimp Salad at Tysta Mari

We stopped at Tysta Mari for a plate of excellent smoked salmon and a shrimp salad, both beautifully fresh with great cracker-bread (new addiction). Neither cheap, but that's pretty much the general theme of Stockholm (I would say fancy London food prices, with drinks more expensive). 

Snickarbacken 7
Snickarbacken 7


Not too far was Snickarbacken 7, my favourite find for Fika (you can Fika, or have Fika - so important is coffee with something to eat, that they have a verb/noun for it).  It's also a gallery and shop inside the 19th century garage, with very good coffee and chewy hazelnut biscuits. 

Fabulous Speceriet Gin & Tonic
In the evening, we went to Speceriet, the more relaxed outpost of Gastrologik next door.  Instead of a set menu in plush minamalism, it's a small place with just three sharing tables to fit eight people.  You can't book, but there's a little bar for waiting, and the gin and tonic was very chic - just a solo L-shaped ice-cube, with Hernö gin (try and look out for this Swedish gin, my new favourite).  There was delicious sourdough bread (Stockholm is full of delicious bread really).  

Salt Cod Croquettes (Speceriet)
Fried Skrei Cod (Speceriet)


Hanger Steak (Speceriet)
Baked Dark Chocolate (Speceriet)


To start we shared a bowl of teeny crisp salt cod stuffed croquettes with anchovy mayonnaise.  Then a plate of perfect pink hanger steak sliced on top potato and cheese cream (happily very full of cheese), crunched crouton crumbs and the fresh tang of horseradish.  The fried Skrei cod was golden and flaky, on top cauliflower cream with nuggets of chorizo, chickpeas and shaves of just blanched or raw cauliflower.  Both absolutely superb.  Then the baked dark chocolate, a kind of hot baked mousse, with the salt of peanuts, caramel sauce and vanilla ice-cream.

Day two started with a broken camera.  But improved with an explore of Södermalm, wandering down through the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan on the way.  The first stop was Drop Coffee, one of the places with the trend for drip coffee (this is cropping up all over London too).  They roast their own beans, which they also supply to Coffice, another great place (with meeting rooms and ports for laptops for freelancing Swedes).  

The cardamon bun at Drop Coffee was delicious, packed full of the fragrant spice, before we tried Semla at the Chic Konditori around the corner.  Essentially a Swedish cream bun, this was stuffed with an extra layer of marzipan inside.  It’s definitely worth spending a while wandering around the cafés and shops of Södermalm, especially around Nytorget.  A few places I didn't have a chance to try were the Urban Deli (like a cooler Whole Foods, with a restaurant too), and Sardin, which sounds the place for tapas.

In the evening Konstnarsbaren was somewhere perfect to try you something more traditional, just next to the Louis Vuitton store in Östermalm.  It felt appropriate to have some herring, so we shared the four types (one very pickled, one mustardy, one garlicky/full of dill, one sweet) - a giant plate alongside caraway rye bread and more caraway seed in chunks of cheese.  The main courses were hearty, with a smoked pork and barley sausage with beetroot, and veal meatballs with mashed potato and lingonberries.  Very good, but rather huge.  The Semla earlier in the day may have been partly to blame for the fullness.  And just to demonstrate how bad phone photography is in comparison to the dead camera – a very unappealing snap of said sausage.

Bad food photography as demonstrating on phone (after SLR lens loss)
Sunday brunch was at Oaxen Slip, the sister of the much fancier Oaxen Krog, just by the water on Djurgarden.  It's a brilliant room with boats hung from the ceiling, more trendy white tiles and a splendidly shiny looking high-tech kitchen.  We had the pulled cured veal brisket with smoked horseradish mayonnaise, pickled red onion and rye, with the chopped egg, shredded apple and warm potato salad with brown butter.  Both very delicious – this was on a par with Speceriet, and I think these were the best two meals of the trip.

The Story hotel we stayed in is definitely worth a mention - perfect central location, and full of quirky art with a buzzy bar (affordable rooms too).  They do a fabulous breakfast too (especially the granola, and the gravadlax with more rye bread).  To finish, and to offset all the eating with something cultural, make sure you visit the Museum of Modern Art and The Vasa Museum (with the very spectacular giant preserved Vasa Warship inside).

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.

www.elliotscafe.com/

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