Archive for August 2012


The Table, Southwark

August 31st, 2012 — 12:45pm

I have a problem with pasta. The issue is that I utterly adore it and for that reason have to limit my consumption to roughly once a week. I save up my pasta allowance for as long as possible then cave and indulge in a binge of, frankly, disgusting proportions. I can eat enough pasta in one sitting for approximately four people; probably more if I really put my mind to it. My favourite ‘recipe’ is something I call ‘sick spaghetti’. This is a concoction I have, ahem, ‘refined’ over the years until it is now unhealthy and intense enough to deliver ultimate pasta binge satisfaction. I will share the recipe at some point. Maybe.

So anyway I saw a picture of this tagliatelle alla bottarga at The Table Cafe in Bermondsey and instantly became obsessed with the idea of eating it. I mean, look. Just look. I could see that the pasta was very well made and cooked; yes I can tell how well pasta is cooked just by looking at it. In fact, I’ve eaten so much pasta in my life I can tell when it’s cooked by the change in the sound of the water. I’m serious. And bottarga – if you’ve never had it you’re missing a trick. It is the roe of either tuna or grey mullet, which is salted and dried, then sliced or shaved thinly to serve. It is intensely salty and rich in flavour, which obviously makes it perfect for working through pasta. This is a classic Sardinian dish, usually made with spaghetti, then plenty of bottarga, parsley, lemon juice and more than a slug of olive oil. The pasta was al dente, almost chewy; just the right side of too thick. My mouth waters as I think about it now. It was, basically, a perfect plate of pasta. Tagliatelle with porcini and parsley was also excellent. Behold the glossy magnificence…

A quail with crisp, salty skin was stripped clean, though only after we all stopped laughing at its frankly gynaecological appearance on the plate. Mature.

A bowl of fregola sarda (toasted Sardinian pasta shaped like giant cous cous)  with crab and courgettes was unexpectedly good; we only ordered it because I needed to know whether or not something can be done with fregola that isn’t that soupy Sardinian clam dish. I’m sure it’s lovely and all but the idea of mini balls of pasta bobbing about in soup just weirds me out. I’m totally ripping off the crab recipe…

The chef at The Table, Cinzia Ghignoni is, unsurprisingly, Italian. She’s previously worked at Duck Soup, Angela Hartnett and Zucca. Nice. It’s a damn sight easier to get a table here than at any of those restaurants and yet my friend remarked while we were eating that the meal was ‘better than the meal I had last week at Zucca’. The menu has recently changed, and The Table are working with a homeless charity, St. Mungo’s, who provide vegetables and herbs from their allotment. In short, they’re doing lots of very good things. Get a table now before everyone else does.

When I compare this with my much over-hyped meal at Dabbous I am baffled. This cost* half the price for a lot more food which was infinitely more enjoyable. A fussy, hit and miss, technically complicated tasting menu, or a plate of perfect pasta. I know which I’d rather have…

*I didn’t pay for my meal at The Table Cafe so you’re just going to have to believe what I say oh and LOOK AT THE PICTURES. 

The Table Cafe
83 Southwark Street
London
SE1 0HX

The Table on Urbanspoon

41 comments » | Pasta, Restaurant Reviews

Dabbous. Boo Hoo.

August 29th, 2012 — 11:31am

Despite being happier trekking to jerk shacks in zone 3 rather than queuing outside the hottest new restaurant in Soho, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all interested in necking fish skin chips at Lucky Chip’s new slider bar, or washing down hot dogs with fizz at Bubbledogs. Of course I bloody am.

I’d written Dabbous off, thinking it would be impossible to get a table and really, it is, unless you have the chance, like I did, to benefit from the misfortune of some poor sod who couldn’t make his reservation. Don’t mind if I do, Hugh.

It’s the kind of restaurant I can’t really afford to eat at nowadays; my quarterly blowouts at The Ledbury are less frequent since London seems to suck up more of my dosh than ever before but I just couldn’t miss this spot at such a hot restaurant. Lame? Yes. Irresponsible? Yes. So you understand why I was thinking it had better be good…

The set lunch menu looks good value at £26 for 4 courses and so does the tasting menu at £53 for 7. We desperately want the latter but are short on time and so ask them just how fast they can get us through that menu. Well, we do that once we catch the attention of someone who will actually come to the table. Much eye contact is made in vain before this happens. Eventually however, we are reassured, ‘if you can eat fast, we can bring the food as fast as you like’. Done.

It’s easy to see where the restaurant is making its margin in the first two courses. I’m quite taken with the ‘peas and mint’ however; a sort of firm pea mousse (sounds gross I know), a granita on the side and the prettiest arrangement of petals, shoots, pod and pansy in the whole world (top photo). The next course, ‘ripe tomato in its own juice’ sounds optimistic. A ripe tomato? Really? Imported? Hopefully. The flesh itself is okay I suppose, speckled with salty dehydrated olive bits. It’s just a tomato though, and not a particularly amazing one. The surrounding juice, which I’m sure has been made using some sort of very sophisticated technique, is just way too sweet. ‘This would be great as a drink with a shot of vodka in it” remarks my mate. He’s right. As a plate of food, not so much.

The much hyped coddled egg with smoked butter and mushrooms is the biggest let down of the meal for me; there’s way too much butter (no I didn’t think that possible either), and just a few cooked lumps of egg bobbing about in it. The mushrooms are lost. it’s overwhelmingly salty. I didn’t get it.

Best of all is the poached halibut with lemon verbena. The fish is almost perfectly cooked and the leaves (e.g. oyster leaf – tastes like oysters!) are genuinely fresh and interesting, not just unfamiliar.

Iberico pork I try very hard to love but ultimately think well…it’s just a bit boring, actually. I must say the experience of eating it was marred somewhat by my companion’s commentary on the appearance of the smear of acorn praline underneath…bit unfortunate…

A ripe peach in its own juice was basically like posh tinned peaches, which is no bad thing whatsoever. It was tasty and it ticked the nostalgic foods trend box but at the end of the day, was just playing the exact same trick as the tomato.

The custard cream tart was universally liked; banoffee pie in disguise, basically, with banana slices (which I usually hate) nestling in the bottom atop a smear of toffee. The custard was thick and excellent. I scarfed it and wanted another.

So the food was hit and miss, which left me feeling confused as to why the place is so popular; I’ve not heard a bad word spoken. Some bits of cooking were genuinely lovely, and yet some were odd, verging on unpleasant. It wasn’t just the food however; the service was pretty slapdash for a place where it’s easy to drop the bones of £100 on lunch. The staff in general looked scruffy, for example one guy was wearing a suit which had something spilled down the front and a hole in the trousers. Wine which should have been served was forgotten, or poured into a dirty glass rather than the clean one. I had to give the waiter a nod every time he wanted to clear our plates which was rather odd and oh you know I could go on but it just seems unnecessary. The point is the service was sloppy and like I said, the best part of £100…

So in short, I wouldn’t go back. If I’m going to spend that kind of money on a meal nowadays I need to know it’s going to be good. The meal I ate at Dabbous wasn’t worth the £85 I paid for it; albeit that figure incudes wine. My companion, an ex sommelier, thought the wine list had been put together by someone with very little experience and the sommelier who was on duty didn’t appear to have much of it himself. If pulling a very serious face and nodding sagely is the mark of a professional however, he was totally on top of his game.

We spent time during the meal laughing at a nearby table of stereotypical Patrick Bateman-esque bankers; all glinting gold watches, suits and slicked back hair. They didn’t seem that  interested in the food or indeed in each other and in fact these are the kind of people I can imagine populating Dabbous in the long term. Loadsa money, not much interest in the details…

“Listen, the mud soup and the charcoal arugula are outrageous here” [Patrick Bateman, American Psycho].

Dabbous
39 Whitfield Street
London
W1T 2SF
Tel: 020 7323 1544

Dabbous on Urbanspoon

32 comments » | Restaurant Reviews, Uncategorized

Cold Sesame Noodles

August 20th, 2012 — 12:26pm

I refuse to shun big bowls of carbs during summer, although I will concede that a steaming hot noodle soup or heavy pasta eaten in the blazing sun would be a little…sweaty. This is a cold noodle dish I’ve been enjoying for ages now; perfect hot weather carb binge material.

The predominant flavour is, DUH, sesame, which comes from, ideally, Chinese sesame paste. Tahini could also be used, although its flavour isn’t as strong so it needs bumping up with extra sesame oil. In the absence of Chinese sesame paste however, I would recommend using peanut butter; it’s rather a nice variation.

The noodles are mixed with crunchy slivers of shredded cucumber and carrot. I also added some pickled mango because I had it around after a recent spree in the Asian supermarket; it’s considerably less pickled than one would expect from something labelled as such but it has a pleasing acerbic funk nonetheless.

The sesame dressing makes for one slippery bowl of noodles; I got into a right mess eating them. Catching myself in the mirror I marvelled at the way the sun had really really brought out my freckles. Then I realised my face was just covered with flecks of sesame noodle sauce…

Cold Sesame Noodles (serves 2 people with proper appetites)

400g egg noodles
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
1.5 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or peanut butter)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1.5 teaspoons sesame oil
1.5 teaspoons rice vinegar
Pinch sugar
Chilli oil, to taste (or chilli flakes)
3 spring onions, sliced (green parts only)
1 small carrot, cut into very thin strips (I have a nifty peeler that does this for me)
1/2 cucumber, de-seeded and cut into very thin strips (again, the nifty peeler)
1 piece pickled mango, cut into very thin strips (optional)
Sesame seeds, to garnish

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, drain and rinse them under cold water until totally cold. Toss them with the sesame oil and set aside.

Heat a little oil in a small pan and gently cook the ginger and garlic for about a minute.

Mix together the soy sauce, sesame paste, rice vinegar, sugar, chilli oil, garlic and ginger and then thin it out with water until it is the consistency of a dressing. You want it to coat the noodles but you don’t want it too thin either.

Pour the sauce over the noodles then toss with the spring onions, carrot, cucumber and pickled mango, is using. Garnish with extra chilli oil, a little more spring onion and sesame seeds.

28 comments » | Noodles, Vegetables

Negril, Brixton

August 16th, 2012 — 2:45pm

I’ve been attempting to visit Caribbean restaurant Negril for yonks. Like, years yonks. The first failed attempt came when a Brixton restaurant crawl (yep, restaurant crawl - I also did one in Peckham) was cut short. Two years passed with no success. Then I started working opposite the damn place. Surely my time had come? Opening times were duly noted and I skippy skipped over there at lunchtime the next day to find it…shut. Turns out the opening hours written on the sign outside are completely inaccurate. Ace.

Anyway the other evening I ended up in there on the spur of the moment. I was drunk. I was hungry. I was nearby. The outside tables were rammed with punters on a beautiful sunny evening; excitement levels and expectations were high. We ordered a half jerk chicken meal, sat back with a couple of beers and waited to revel in the very definition of delayed gratification.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because that jerk was poor. The chicken had barely a taste of allspice, hardly any chilli heat to speak of and a skin that was really quite odd; a little bit like eating tracing paper. Mostly however, it was just incredibly dry. So dry it was actually hard to chew and swallow. There were two hot sauces; one is worth mentioning as having quite an unapologetic shitload of scotch bonnets in it. The slaw was…meh; way too much mayonnaise. The salad was a salad.

If the food had been any good, I could let the presentation go, but seeing as it wasn’t, I’m going to get annoyed about the fact that they’ve tried to make it more restaurant-y in style by putting everything in bowls and using *gasp!* a proper plate. The best jerk chicken in London comes in a takeaway carton, hacked into pieces with a cleaver, shoved on top of a mound of rice and peas, hot sauce squirted carelessly on the side. Behold my meal at Tasty Jerk

Why is Negril apparently so legendary amongst Brixton locals? Perhaps it’s gone downhill? Frankly, I’m baffled. And, after a 3 year wait, also extremely deflated. Come to think of it, I’ve never found any really good jerk in Brixton. Does it even exist?

Negril
132 Brixton Hill
London
SW2 1RS
Tel: 020 8674 8798

Negril on Urbanspoon

41 comments » | Caribbean Food, Jerk, Restaurant Reviews

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