I have lived in London for 15 years, yet I have never been to Birmingham just a couple of hours away. Londoners are notorious for sticking just to London and it irked me that I was now doing the same (I am a Londoner, after all!). So, this year I decided that I would make the effort to explore places nearby and not just foreign shores. The UK is very diverse and holds lots of interest for me. (And I have been trying, see my post on A Sunny Weekend in Bournemouth & Lunch at the Pig on the Beach from earlier this year).
Can you believe that summer is almost over? My garden is wild and enthusiastic, my small harvest looms, and my tomatoes are finally turning a glorious red. Autumn is almost here. The sun is bolstered with crisp air, and the evenings are drawing in. The leaves have started to fall off the trees in my garden.
There is a tired and jaded notion that cooking over fire is the preserve of the male, and that women are neither interested in or inclined to BBQ, preferring instead to be at the stove indoors. This is nonsense, of course. There are people who love to cook, indoors and out, and it is in no way gender specific. Why are people so obsessed with gender when it comes to cooking, anyway? We all eat, it is the one thing that unites us, and so many of us love to cook too. Why be divisive?*
If I had a beach hut I would paint it yellow. Somewhere between canary and primrose, cheerful, bright and full of promise. I would put it facing the sea, surrounded by heather, long grass and all sorts of sea vegetables. It would have a lovely little hob and lots of gorgeous pots and pans hanging from nails on the wall. There would be lots of enamel dishes. I might whistle as I walked there. If I could whistle. (I never could and I spent most of my childhood trying.)
The secret to living in London well is not encoded in the size of your pay packet or the size of your flat. It is in knowing when you need to get out and take a breath, so that you can rush back to go through it all again. I love London, deeply, but I love the sea also. I grew up by the ocean and I miss the clear salt air, the familiar smells, the sounds of the crashing waves, the slippery seaweed, creeping crabs and barnacles, hostile and pointing and telling you what is what.
I know that I am one of those Londoners guilty of not exploring the countryside surrounding. It could be that I don’t have a car, nor do I drive anyway, but that is a poor excuse with the extensive train network that we have here. Life is busy and I am often elsewhere. Last year I decided that I would dedicate more time to exploring the countryside around me, the nearby cities, towns and villages. I made little inroads and so I raised the task this year again.
Bournemouth is only 2 hours from Waterloo on the train. It has a mixed reputation. Some describe it as God’s Waiting Room, others simply describe it as dull. I went along with this for a while until friends told me that this was nonsense, with recent years seeing an influx of interesting places to eat and drink there. And then there is that big long beach and glorious fresh sea air.
Sold! I booked my train ticket and off I went. Being an excessive planner I researched painfully as I always do, and booked anywhere I needed to before I left, leaving enough time to idle or wander, an essential component of any weekend trip.
I stayed at the Hilton in Bournemouth, freshly pressed (not yet a year old) and well located just 5 minutes from the beach. Everywhere you turn you are greeted by a cheerful windmill pattern, on the walls, on the blankets, on the wallpaper, there are even some windmills in your room for you to play with. It is not overdone, though it may sound like it. It is all soothing and lovely. The bed is very comfortable and the sheets are crisp.
We had Executive Lounge access along with an Executive Room, which meant we could goto the lounge for snack and drinks throughout the day (including alcoholic drinks from 6-8pm). We started here before heading briefly to check out the view from The Sky Bar which has a bright white balcony stretching the length of it. From there we went to the restaurant downstairs, Schpoons & Forx, for dinner.
A little about the name, for I thought the same as you are now. WHAT? It is quite sweet really, the restaurant is names after Bertram Bell, a master cutler from the area in times past, who had a speech impediment, and was chosen to speak at the The Cutler’s Feast in 1733. He was nervous, but the audience embraced it, and so the term Schpoons & Forx was coined. Matt Tebutt is at the helm here, behind the stove but also behind the tandoor. They are doing very good things.
Hotel restaurants fail when they try to be all things to all people. A restaurant that knows its mind has a much stronger chance of success. That is the case here, the menu is divided between dishes for the table (snacks, really); starters; tandoor, clay oven and chargrill and sides. Desserts follow on their own page later. The sea has a strong presence, we order some fried cockles which were divine, I was so tempted to order a second portion (and I did when I returned the next day, I ordered 2!). Crisp and light with hardly a trace of grease, we had them with the buttery large nocellara olives and some smoked aubergine with flatbread.
For starters, I had the monkfish “scampi”, firm fresh nuggets of monkfish in a light batter, with some gorgeous fried slices of lemon. A fragrant aioli came on the side. My friend had a small portion of mussels, that came in a fragrant fresh bath of riesling, ginger, coriander and lime leaves. For mains we both had the 400g tandoor rib steak, served sliced in tarragon shallot and port butter with watercress and a sturdy pot duck fat chips. The steak was gorgeous, the tandoor delivering an intense crust, but it was tender and rare inside (as I had ordered it). The port butter added a layer of indulgence. I will by trying that at home in BBQ season (of course, now I want a tandoor!).
Lemon posset was large and tart, with raspberries on top. I was full but it served well to cut through everything that I had eaten before. I battled a little but I couldn’t manage a lot. To drink we had the Portillo Malbec from Salentein, a wine that I have not had since I visited Salentein in Argentina in 2011. Seek it out, it is very good, and well priced.
We were woken early by breakfast in bed (which I had ordered the night before). Poached eggs, sausages and hash browns. No bacon, as I have eaten SO much of it recently in the final (final!) round of Project Bacon testing. Then to the beach to hire some bicycles, we had a plan for lunch booked before we had ever boarded the train from London.
We cycled along the beach, hugged by beach huts on one side in varying degrees of gorgeousness. Some bright and cheerful, others concrete with pale enquiring faces made of windows. We boarded the ferry at the Sandbanks crossing, and 2 minutes later continued our journey through the National Nature Reserve that is Studland and Godlington Heath. Furze bushes, soggy marsh, proud rushes. One cow grazing announced by numerous signs.
After an 8 mile cycle in total, we arrived at the Pig on the Beach, a hotel and restaurant set in a rambling old house with a kitchen garden and garden wood oven. Deck chairs and tables are dotted throughout the garden, overlooking the white cliffs and the sea nearby. The day was absolutely gorgeous, so bright, so blue. We sat at a table outside on the terrace for our Sunday lunch.
The kitchen garden provides much of the vegetables and salad, the pigs nearby the meat and there are chickens also. Everything that isn’t sourced in house is sourced from within 25 miles. I can never resist crackling, even if I am going to order a pork roast for main course, and so we had that to start with apple sauce. Also house fish fingers which were pleasant, although I would have preferred them with a mayo based sauce.
The pork loin came in slices, which were nice and moist, the yorkshire was large and proud and the potatoes crisp from their roast in beef fat. Mustard sauce came in place of gravy, which worked quite well. House ice cream came for dessert, in 3 flavours (chocolate, mint & thyme) with a pig shaped cracker. We had some lovely Cote du Rhones white throughout. Service was charming and the day cheerful, we didn’t want to leave but we had to get back on our bikes.
We finished our short trip with drinks at The Library, above the Larderhouse in Southbourne. The Library is the last thing that you would expect in Bournemouth if you listened to those that rehash its old reputation. The Library, complete with taxidermy and quirk wouldn’t be amiss in London. Perhaps that shows the sometimes small mind of the Londoner, there IS life outside the capital after all (I jest but you know what I am saying). The menu is delivered in a bronze tube and is written over a map. We opt for the Peruvian and the Madagascan, both so lovely we immediately order 2 more, the Haiti and the New York. Salvatore was manning the bar, with white jacket and bow tie. I dragged myself from the table to get my train. And I had a couple of portions of fried cockles back at the Hilton when I collected my bag.
A lovely 28 hours, it felt longer, and just 2 hours from London! Gorgeous.
What You Need to Know
With thanks to the Hilton Bournemouth who hosted us for dinner and our room. We spent £90 on lunch at the Pig on the Beach with drinks and service. Cocktails at The Library were £10-12. We hired bicycles for £16 each from Front Bike Hire on the beach, and I paid £2 extra for a basket. Our train fare paid in advance was £56 return each.
Eating and Drinking Map of Bournemouth (for a weekend break)
London food is on fire. We have great markets, lots of street food, some of the worlds best fine dining, terrific mid range restaurants, ace cheap eats and superb international food, especially Asian. So many restaurants are opening, on a scale that compares with New York in recent years.
I travel a lot, and I love it, but I always love to come home. Travel makes it better, and makes me appreciate London even more. I spoke about London recently with Rick Bayless on The Feed Podcast, and was delighted to share my views on what makes the London food scene so brilliant at the moment, with reference to our vibrant markets (the episode of The Feed podcast that I spoke on is here).
A very good example of the new energy in London is Robin and Sarah Gill. The effect that they have had on the London food scene in less than 3 years is remarkable. Last year, two of their restaurants were in the Good Food Guide Top 50, and Robin was named chef of the year.
There is their first restaurant, The Dairy, where they do a relaxed version of fine dining, and very well priced too. They opened The Dairy quietly in 2013 after a 4 year stint at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. They opened under their own steam, unusually for London with no PR, no design agency putting the room and brand together, just their own energy and ideas (and lots of it).
There is a kitchen garden on the roof which supplies much of their produce, and they have their own bees there for honey too. I have eaten there several times, and always enjoy it. There are hints of our mutual Irish origins, but The Dairy is a contemporary space making the best of their kitchen garden and seasonal ingredients in a deceptively laid back way.
The Manor & Paradise Garage
The Manor followed, a different style, but also striking in its own way. It seemed that the Gills could not put a foot wrong. Head chef Dean Parker is doing interesting things with fermentation here. This extends to the drinks list too, I loved the kombucha sour.
Following that, Robin and Sarah turned their attentions east, and opened Paradise Garage, one of the most exciting openings of 2015 (read my review of Paradise Garage from last year). I had a gorgeous solo lunch there on a day when I had fully earned it. I need to return with a posse so that we can order the highly regarded whole rabbit for the table.
My lunch at Paradise Garage
So, three restaurants and also The Delicatessen, next door to The Dairy, where I go regularly for their terrific spongy boules of sourdough bread with a thin but perfect crust, house made pickles, house cured trout, the best of what is in season, and great sandwiches (salt beef or ham for me), which I eat with a coffee on the sunny patio outside. There are cakes too, and the whipped bone marrow butter is worth the trip alone. Plus the potato bread, whatever you do, don’t leave without some of that. It is divine.
One of my many hauls from The Delicatessen last year, plated out in my friends garden for lunch. Joy!
Bloodshot Supper Club
That seems a lot but not enough, as last year Robin turned his attentions to the monthly Bloodshot Supper Club. Running on the last Saturday of every month, The Dairy team and a guest chef serve a multi course menu, starting after midnight so that restaurant staff can go when their shift ends. Food and drinks comes to £70 all in, per person.
On Saturday, Chris Trundle (Senior Sous chef at The Manor) took charge of the stove and served a stellar menu, the highlights of which were Duck Hearts, Dates & Dukkah; Polenta, Hokkaido Pumpkin and Mandarin; a stellar Pork with Minestra Nera and and Anchovyand a smart cheese course of stichleton (the original recipe stilton, still unpasteurised) in between sliced pear and topped with truffle.
Chris Trundle’s food at Bloodshot Supper Club
Bloodshot Supper Club served up one of the most fun nights that I have had in a restaurant, the perfect evening for people who love good food, and a lot of fun. A one off meal cooked by someone already known to be good, given a chance to stretch their wings.
Here is to London, and The Dairy, and their wonderful Bloodshot Supper Club. Don’t miss it. I brought a visiting friend from NYC as I thought it was the most perfect London experience that she could have at the moment. And I was right.
What you need to know
We paid £70 a head. There are only 45 places and it always books out so get in early. More info here: http://the-dairy.co.uk/events
Shackfuyu ticks a few boxes: great food, fantastic playlist, secret basement bar and a great drinks list (hello sake). From the team behind Bone Daddies, one of my favourite London ramen bars, Shackfuyu are serving Japanese soul food including eclectic and full flavoured fusion dishes like mentaiko mac and cheese and have been for the last (??) 6 months.
Shackfuyu do great things with their wood oven, sukiyaki style wagyu picanha, roast fish, and a wonderful hot stone rice with sesame, chilli & beef which I have burned myself on more than once. Worth it every time, enthusiasm often triumphs sense when there is good food in front of me. Instagram loves the Kinako French Toast with Soft Serve Ice Cream, but I can’t look past the Prawn Toast as Okonomiyaki, which is exactly as it says, a round prawn toast topped as an okonomiyaki is with Japanese mayo, brown sauce and shaved dried bonito flakes. Did I mention the Korean Chicken Wings?
Unfortunately, Shackfuyu also ticks another box at the moment: closed. Just temporarily while they refurbish the Soho location. But, happily, until then they will pop up at weekends in the Bone Daddies Bermondsey kitchen.
I expected a pop up in a commercial kitchen to be a little rustic, but this feels like it is built to stay. A little past Maltby St and Druid St Markets and past a commercial dry cleaners, I wondered if we had wandered the wrong way.
The menu at the pop up is in collaboration with Cornish Grill, and so there is lots of Cornish seafood featured, and we focussed on this. To start: a tasting flight of sake (£8 – 90ml with Masumi, Dewa Oka & Tamagawa), a cocktail (£7.50 – nashi chu-hi, a fresh, bright and refreshingly sour drink with shochu, lemon, nashi pear & soda) and a couple of meaty Cornish rock oysters with a lively fresh chilli coriander granita (£3 each).
Mylor shrimps (from Mylor in Cornwall) with curry salt & lemon (£8.50) were deep fried whole an dso more
I already know the Shackfuyu menu really well (I have been five times), if it is your first time, I suggest the picanha, Korean fried wings, prawn toast as okonomiyaki, pork pluma, potatoes with Japanese curry sauce, and the roast sweetcorn with lime butter with seven spice pepper.
A quick one for you today! Another London restaurant for your lists, I think this is an essential. Chef Robin Gill of The Dairy, The Manor and The Delicatessen seems to have the midas touch or is that the lardo touch, right now? I say with that with great respect and affection, lardo is one of the most delicious things on the planet, and Robin has the good sense to wrap some around a gorgeous egg.
With head chef Simon Woodrow and Robin’s wife Sarah, Robin has created one of my favourite new openings this year, Paradise Garage, in the railway arches near Bethnal Green tube station. They have delivered a menu that is as exciting as it is comforting. I went for lunch recently and it was one of my best lunches this year. So, I just had to let you know.
Venison tartare, preserved egg yolk & watercress – a lively and gorgeous dish to start my meal. On top was grated preserved egg yolk, tasting a little like bottarga.
Tilley’s farm egg, charred grelot onions, spinach & lardo – I thought that I had crossed a line when I started covering my breakfast eggs in lardo, I was thrilled and relieved to find Paradise Garage were doing the same. This was a terrific dish, the spinach purée underneath a perfect rumbling contrast to the bright egg.
Lady Hamilton’s pollock, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed, pied de mouton – a very elegant dish, the pollock was covered in a layer of brown butter gorgeousness.
Iberico Presa, pig head, coco beans, anchovy & lettuce – don’t be nervous to read pigs head, the pressed pigs head in this dish is one of the tastiest things that I have eaten this year. This dish brings pork and beans to the next level, seasoned with anchovies and lifted with some lightly fermented lettuce.
Apricot tart, milk ice cream & lemon thyme – I often skip dessert, I am much more of a salty individual, but Kira Ghidoni is a woman of rare talent and produces the most amazing desserts at The Manor and now Paradise Garage too. This apricot tart was nectar sweet and soothed with a milk ice cream. Joyful.
Prices are fair, and the drinks list is interesting. I went at lunch time and had 5 dishes and a couple of glasses of wine and my bill was not far over £50 (I have mislaid my receipt!). For the calibre of the food here, this is terrific value. There is also a £45 tasting menu which I will be returning for.
If all of this was not enough, Robin was awarded Chef of the Year earlier this year by the Good Food Guide.
Ps you could do a lot worse than start with an aperitif at gorgeous Mission E2, a Californian wine bar a few doors down from the folks behind gorgeous Sager & Wilde.
254 Paradise Row, London
It would be improper of me not to let you know about the new Sunday Roast at Bob Bob Ricard in London. Or to mention Bob Bob Ricard at all, it has been a while. Bob Bob Ricard is a most under rated restaurant. It doesn’t care about trends, the food is classic, and it is very well executed. It is refreshing and it is fun. Even though Bob Bob Ricard is in the heart of Soho, it feels like it could be a grand restaurant from 100 years ago or a very large carriage of a luxury train. When I have visitors in town, we often go.
It is famous for being the home of the famous Press for Champagne button. I always allow myself to press it at least once. When you do, your table number lights up above the bar, and a glass of house champagne is delivered to you. Another essential drink for every visit is the rhubarb G&T, bright pink, intensely flavoured and textured with egg white. The cocktails generally are very good.
The menu is part Russian, and I always order some Russian dishes. Baked Oysters Brezhnev were like a parmesan truffle soufflé with a delicate oyster underneath.
For starters, I had the beef tea soup, a crystal clear gorgeous broth with Siberian pelmeni, traditional beef and lamb dumplings. Others at the table had lobster, crab and shrimp pelmeni; seabass ceviche with avocado and truffled potato and mushroom vareniki (also traditional dumplings served with crispy onion and shimeji mushrooms).
Then the main event, the Sunday Roast arrived. Preceded by plates with perfect Yorkshire puddings, slow roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted in beef dripping with honey and thyme, horseradish cream and truffle gravy, the USDA prime black angus was delivered perfectly pink. The beef was a roast rump cap, a cut that I love for the rich beautiful flavour that it has. We don’t see enough of it here, but is is hugely popular in Brazil, where it is called picanha. We also had bright sweet creamed corn and buttered greens. To drink, we had Crimson Pinot Noir from Ata Rangi in New Zealand. I would normally go for something fuller, but at lunchtime, something light seemed more in keeping, and I do love a good pinot noir, particularly from New Zealand.
I opted for a simple dessert of a trio of sorbets (lime, lemon and pink grapefruit) served with platinum vodka. Bob Bob Ricard specialise in vodka too, so I felt it important to have a tipple. The signature chocolate glory is a must for chocaholics, and there was one at my table. It is a chocolate jivara mousse, chocolate brownie, berries and passionfruit and orange jelly served as a perfect gold ball on which warm chocolate sauce is poured, which collapses it. Very dramatic, and tasty too.
I loved it. Bob Bob Ricard is a place you go because you love to eat, and you want to be a little decadent. I am planning to go back very soon.
I attended a press preview of the Bob Bob Ricard Sunday Roast. The Sunday Roast is available at Sunday lunch time, a 16 oz portion of USDA prime black angus with all of the trimmings costs £29.50. Opinions, photos and words are all my own as always. Of course!
Barrafina Adelaide St seems to be London’s new favourite restaurant. I can’t bear hype, and I loathe queues, but I love the original Barrafina so I braved it. The queue wasn’t that much a of a drama in the end, you get to have a drink at the counter while you wait. There were 4 of us and we waited about 45 minutes. Which flew by.
If you are not in the know, Barrafina is a Spanish tapas bar, the original is on Frith St in Soho, the newest sibling on Adelaide St, between Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square and just up the road from Terroirs (which I love). Diners are seated along a curved counter which circles the kitchen, the room is buzzy and smart.
Meatopia rolled into town again last weekend. A US food institution and brainchild of food writer Josh Ozersky, this was their second year in London. Meatopia gathers the best chefs, butchers, artisans, evangelists and burgerati and has them cook over fire – and only fire – for the weekend at Tobacco Dock. Only the best naturally raised and ethically sourced meat is used.
Chefs this year came from all over the UK, the US, Singapore & Brazil. Mixed in with all of this was an American Whisky Bar, some pretty raucous live music and dancing. Lots of fun & great food. Here are my highlights and your guide on how to cook Dirty Steaks at home.
(Some of) the burgers of Meatopia – Fred Smith’s Dream Burger (made with 60% Welsh wagyu short rib beef and chuck); the MeisterShack Burger from Mark Rosati of Shake Shack; 60 day aged beef burger with American cheese & bacon in a traditional sesame seed bun from Zan Kaufman of Bleecker Burger.
Charlie Carroll / Flatiron’s Whole Spit Roast Dexter, served in a yorkshire pudding with fresh horseradish cream.
January was not a hugely successful month for dining for me. Not that I was on some dry January mission, January, of all months, needs decadence and I will never do that. I ate out a lot and had some good meals, but rarely anything exceptional. Then I went to The Lockhart and had my faith restored.
The Lockhart opened last year but not well. So they got a new chef, changed the menu, closed and worked on it before opening again in January. I was meeting two food loving friends for dinner, and booked at the last minute after one friend objected to the original reservation elsewhere. Expectations were high. Very.
We sat by the kitchen, a bright vivid space, and watched the chefs gently choreograph our meal. Brad McDonald leads the kitchen, a well respected American chef who now cooks southern food in London. And lucky us. We ordered pretty much everything between us (the menu is not overwhelming and is perfect for this).
Bobby Chin is well know for his TV exploits, however, he also owns two very well regarded restaurants in Hanoi & Saigon. Now, a third in London has been added to the list in an impressive double fronted site on Old Compton St in Soho. The official opening day was January the 6th, although they were operating in soft launch over Christmas. I popped in earlier this week.
First impressions are good. The space is vibrant and buzzy and the menu looks promising. We started with cocktails, I had a horny devil simply because I can’t resist chilli anywhere, even in my drinks. With lemongrass vodka, Vietnamese devil’s chilli (floating menacingly on the top of the cocktail) and fresh coconut, it was fresh and sharp with a lovely gentle heat.
St John St is a busy street, and in a very good way. Home to St John’s restaurant (from Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver), and also wine bar & restaurant Vinoteca (across the road), with Bistro Bruno Loubet (which I have eaten at 3 times but neglected to blog, a huge oversight), and The Zetter Townhouse around the corner (one of my favourite spots for drinks and bar snacks). There are lots more and I could type all day, but my point is, that this isn’t an area that has been crying out for great new restaurants. This hasn’t stopped the Hawksmoor team from taking a stab at it, and given their pedigree (I am a fan of their Hawksmoor steakhouses and bar), I was curious as to what they planned to deliver and how. I knew that this wasn’t going to be another Hawksmoor, but I was expecting it to be quite meaty. And so it was. In a very good way.