Footballer turned faux-pas
I would expect a restaurant by Gordon Ramsay to be like a perfume by a celebrity. That is to say, my hopes for his endeavors aren’t optimistic. Still, the endless tedium of restaurants that form part of Ramsey’s Empire must be doing fabulous things for his bottom line. Whether or not they are as rewarding to his paying customers is a test to put to Bread Street Kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, the location of this restaurant is as unfeeling as I expect the food to be. It is situated in a brutal shopping mall (One New Change) whose hulking mass blots out the beauty of neighboring St Paul’s Cathedral. The inside of the restaurant is a yawning black hole, punctuated with the kind of exposed faux-pipework, vents and urban city bric-a-brac that ought to be sold in a flatpack entitled ‘same shit, different restaurant: the warehouse chapter’. Here then, underneath the façade of character is where we dine.
Good things come to those who vegetate
The regeneration of Kings Cross has turned a once dubious locale into somewhere much more palatable. The derelict warehouses north of the station are now rejuvenated spaces, home to the restaurant Grain Store. The philosophy at Grain Store shines the spotlight on vegetables, demoting animal proteins to the periphery.
Even though my loyalties will always remain with the latter, it would be a lie to say that the notion of butternut squash ravioli doesn’t excite me. The ravioli can be had as a starter or main, which sees perfectly-pressed pasta full of roasted vegetable. Peppered in between these playful sacks are flavour-bombs of mustard apricot, more subtle than the fruit itself. A finishing dash of pumpkin seed oil rounds off the flavour profile decidely well.
Heston, are you here?
Heston Blumenthal is a chef synonymous with mad-cap food creations, whose experimentations with ingredients are well known. This mastery of illusion is evident in complex constructions which sometimes look like one thing and taste like its opposite. You would expect this kind of wizardry to be abundant at Dinner, but there are only a few instances where this is the case.
The philosophy at Dinner is based around the resurrection of long forgotten recipes. A medieval starter of ‘meat fruit’ looks like an orange, whose skin is crafted from carefully shaped and dimpled mandarin jelly. Cutting into this reveals a parfait of chicken liver and foie gras, served with toasted sourdough. Detracting from the enjoyment of the meat are the rock-hard bricks of bread, which are incredibly arduous to chew on. The bread dominates every mouthful such that the delicacy of the parfait is lost in its burliness.
The Clove Club has fast become hot property in the restaurant world. Although a set menu is imposed in the main dining room, an a la carte is available in the bar which offers many of the same dishes without the restriction. The freedom of choice is a nice surprise, and the evening starts amiably enough with an order of cod chitterlings (intestines). An effervescent waiter describes them so favourably that to spurn his advice would be an injustice. The chitterlings are nothing that you would expect from a fish; instead they have a padded, rich texture similar to that of sweetbreads. Seeming like a thing that is best eaten with some fava beans and a nice chianti, the chitterlings are entirely delectable.
Surprisingly, the flesh of a fish can be less appealing to eat than its guts. Mackerel tartare is served with its uncooked skin still firmly attached. This intentional ick-factor prompts a hesitancy not usually encountered with food. As this is The Clove Club however, I resolve to give it a go, sure in the belief that it must be a thing of hidden genius.
Not your usual meatery
Foxlow is the new restaurant from the guys behind Hawksmoor. Although steak is also on the menu here, the emphasis is on less common cuts of meat. A salad bar serving a jewelled array of nut-studded choices suggests that Foxlow is a less visceral alternative to your usual steakhouse. Peppery squid to start is effervescent with chilli and lime. The batter is delicate whilst the squid itself is soft and giving.
Delicacy is surrendered to stature with the next course. A ten hour beef shortrib is one of the biggest cuts of meat I have ever been presented with. This mammoth hunk of slow-smoked meat is served on a bone of pre-historic proportions. The beef is veined with softened fat and falls off the bone in neat layers. The cabbage kimchi it is served with kicks the meat up a notch with a pickled chilli frisson. A sauce would improve the dish, but on a whole it still pleases.
Big, brash and bloody gorgeous
The food at MEATliqour is burger-centric and highly sought after. Queues are inevitable as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but going off-peak can help bypass the waiting. With this in mind, we arrive just after noon to a queue-less MEATliquor, feeling as if death itself has been cheated. The vibe inside is trashy, loud and darkened. Conversation from neighbouring tables feels thunderous, as if the acoustics are specifically tailored to be deafening. The walls are covered in clashing graffiti so that both the ears and eyes are overwhelmed. The tongue is about to feel the same treatment.
There is a good amount of choice on the menu; a ‘dead hippie’ burger is oozy and slippery with melted cheese. Tomatoey sauce squelches out of the bun as bites are taken, dribbling down fingers and wrists with bits of onion. The double beef patties are thick, juicy-pink and covered in liquid cheese. A jaw-distending bite of toasted bun, cheese, pickle and bounteous amounts of meat gives smooth and unutterable pleasure. Every other burger may be ruined for me henceforth.
Fills a hole
Shake Shack is a burger joint from across the pond, now located in Covent Garden. The hype around this American import means that queues to get in can be an hour long. For the burger-militants out there, there is no obstacle too large for the promised patty.
Upon ordering, buzzers are handed to signal when orders are ready to collect from a hatch. This second round of waiting can be efficiently used to scout for a table. You can dine in the communal piazza space of the market, or in limited indoor space specifically for Shake Shakers. Shake Shack looks like how a McDonalds would look in The Emerald City. This similarity to Maccy-D’s extends to the food.
A lot of hot ‘air’
Cambio De Tercio is named after a bullfighting move, where a matador charges in a new direction to avoid a bull. With the philosophy of serving ‘modern’ Spanish food instead of traditional tapas, it would seem that the restaurant has taken inspiration from its name. This intention of freshness, however, is at odds with some aspects of Cambio De Tercio.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some dishes which are genuinely good, but awkward attempts at molecular gastronomy do not inspire confidence. The menu highlights these by shouting out, in capital letters, when a dish has a side of ‘air’ or ‘gold’. Grateful at being warned of this, it seems only polite to avoid ordering something which can only end in a bad review.
Please sir, can I have s’more?
A little playground humour is always appreciated, and so the explicitly named Flesh and Buns has a certain titillating appeal. This is not enough, however, to warrant a visit. In fact a restaurant thus titled seems less likely to be of any value on the food front, when the tone is already set for sensationalism and flippancy. The fear of being at risk of a gimmick is overridden, however, when the legend of a certain dessert makes itself known to me.
This dessert of promised pleasure involves fire and my undivided attention. Its name is simply the s’more, and it consists of marshmallow lollipops held over a table-top flame to toast. The resulting sugar-goo-gunk (the technical term) is then sandwiched between biscuits and green tea flavoured white chocolate. The hot mallow smelts itself onto chocolate and wafer with ease, ready to be devoured. Up against this fount of joy, the savoury courses are destined to disappoint.
The silence of the lambs
Jason Atherton breeds restaurants at a rate that would make even the most virile of bunnies blush. Since opening Pollen Street Social, he has gone on to launch Little Social, Social Eating House and Berners Tavern. With each restaurant opening, Atherton has thwarted the derision of critics and bloggers alike. Given this almost unanimous seal of approval, expectations for Little Social are high.
In the first instance, these expectations are fully met in a buttery artichoke risotto. The voluptuous plumes of cream and carbohydrate are gummy and toothsome, festooned with curried sweetbreads, pickled chanterelle and rocket. This layering of texture is echoed in a parsnip veloute, which is poured over slow-cooked egg, crouton and wild mushroom. Rupturing the swollen egg releases a ribbon of velvety yolk, thickening the mouthfeel of the veloute. This is comfort food at its plushest and most dependable.