Saturday, 26 January 2013

John Salt: The Sequel

John Salt.

During Ben Spalding's 'blink and you'll miss it' time as Head Chef at John Salt, he produced some of the most exciting food to come out of the otherwise artery-busting, yet delicious, fare which London has been swimming in over the last 12 months. Waiting lists for a table grew by the day, it seemed to be an unstoppable culinary force and a fantastic coup for 580 Ltd, who perhaps were more well known for their music pubs such as The Lock Tavern or annual festival Field Day. But, after two short months, more hype and publicity of any restaurant opening in 2012 (albeit justified) and with just a smidge of 'he said she said' he was gone. And the seemingly difficult task to re-imagine a new menu and its swift conviction with as little fall out from Spalding's departure as possible, has fallen to Neil Rankin, former head chef at BBQ legends Pitt Cue Co. 

Its a bitterly cold Friday night on Upper Street and a table by a warm radiator is most welcome. The crowd is a mixed bag of foodies, after work drinkers and almost everyone else in between as its really busy, and a sneak at the booking form as we took our seats indicated a full house for food that night. Yes....I'm THAT nosey. But fortunately dinner has been extended to the downstairs areas too. 

After a peruse through the extensive drinks list consisting of some truly delicious cocktails courtesy of Soulshakers, and a vast amount of lagers, pale ales and porters, 'Angels Kiss' (Somerset cider brandy, gin, raspberries, pineapple, lemon and sage) and a pint of Kernel IPA were decided on. The cocktail was delicious, slightly acidic courtesy of the lemon and pineapple but avoided being sour. And my other half on the Kernal IPA 'yeah its lovely'. So there you have it.

When it comes to much hyped openings, the menus seem to hit many a social media site long before you have time to get there, so truth be told, we had an inkling as to what would be eaten before we walked through the door. A starter of crab and fennel on pork skin and another of burnt leeks, egg yolk, parmesan and truffle vinaigrette were first up. Its evident as soon as the crab arrives it has been supplied by Newlyn Fish Market (yes it says so on the menu but you can definitely tell!) Even from the smell, the quality of it cannot be denied. And thankfully it hasn't been too tampered with once its in Rankin's hands. Save for a light seasoning with fennel. The huge chunk of pork skin is where the dish gets a saltiness and adds a depth of flavour it seems it would be lost without. The burnt leeks sprinkled with parmesan are amazing. That combination alone is enough, but then to add the velvety texture of the egg yolk and the light sweep of truffle vinaigrette is like angel dust.

After careful consideration, and around 8 readings of the menu, I went for the Ribeye, after reading in recent weeks that Neil Rankin was going to be using coal and a more BBQ style in his cooking (not in a bottle bbq sauce kind of way, but real BBQ food) and when the flavourful charred outside, and the most sumptuous pink meat inside, glistening with cracked salt across the top landed on my plate, I knew I'd made the right choice. This came with a gorgeous and flavoursome kimchi hollandaise that had a slight kick but worked perfectly with the meat. My other half was bitterly disappointed as they were out of whole crabs but he plumped for the half coal baked crab instead. (I'm still unsure as to why he couldn't have two half crabs to make a whole one, my understanding of fish maths perhaps hazy?) however the crab meat was infused with a gorgeous smokiness from the coal, and teamed with a bisque sauce so utterly delicious my other half practically drank it from the serving jug, his disappointment was short lived. Side dishes were a chicken skin hash with another velvety egg yolk hiding among the potatoes, sweetcorn and peas which were delicious, and secondly, skinny fries topped with kimchi, pulled pork and cheese. (not pictured). This was a mammoth of a side dish, maybe more aptly named 'kimchi, pulled pork, cheese with a garnish of fries'. Kimchi doesn't make for a light topping, its heavy and rich, but it was delicious, if just slightly too big.

Now one may think after all this food it would be time to roll on home and pop a couple of Rennies for the journey. NEVER. One banana dog and two spoons please! The banana dog. WOW. It was utterly indulgent and utterly delicious, and yes, utterly phallic. Fried in a sugary, cinnamon-y batter and served with vanilla ice cream, it disappeared in mere seconds. It was a perfect end to a near perfect dinner. And I already want to go back. 580 Ltd needed something big to compensate the loss of Ben Spalding and its safe to say that Neil Rankin is a damn near perfect fit.

ps. Not wanting to disturb those who aren't there to take pictures of every morsel, these pictures aren't fantastic. The lighting is quite dark in John Salt and flashing a camera every thirty seconds just isn't cool. You can have a look at John Salts facebook for more pictures.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Party and Bun....

Patty & Bun.

Yes I hear you moan, 'another burger review Ash, really?' Hey, you know what? If they keep serving burgers to me, I'm gonna eat em and I'm gonna write about em. But I promise after this one, I will lay off the meat and bread. For a short while at least. Anyway, moving on. After a successful residency at The Endurance, Soho, Patty and Bun have gone and got themselves a permanent base in their very own, brand spanking new, and VERY shiny restaurant off Bond Street. We took to the very cold yet festive streets to give them a try.  

The 30 covers restaurant is no bigger than a large living room. And I love it. You get a real sense that Patty and Bun isn't the type of place you visit to sit for hours and muse over the dishes and an expensive bottle of red. This is a 'get in, enjoy and get out' experience. We are greeted by friendly and eager staff who show us to our 'P&B' branded tables  . Literally branded. Like a cows behind. Smaller details such as this make it clear this is a project painstakingly thought of, and the effort put in is clear form the outset.

On the recommendation of our waitress we started off with a caraffe of Rum Punch, and some table water served in old school glass milk bottles. Such kitsch details as this make me giddy. The Rum punch smelled strong yet didn't taste of alcohol. The most dangerous combo in the booze world I reckon. I decided on the Patty and Bun signature, 'Ari Gold' (Brioche bun, Beef Patty, Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Pickled Onion, Ketchup, P&B Mayo and I added bacon too) one of my companions chose the 'Lamb shank Redemption' (Brioche, Coriander & Chilli, Braised Red Cabbage, Cumin Aioli and Feta). YUM. And the other the Veggie burger. And attention Vegetarians. My vegetarian friend firmly believes that the mushroom is a vegetarians worst nightmare, so I was hesitant to inform her of the veggie burger on offer, although the clue was in the title, Portabello 'Dig it' Mushroom Burger (portabello mushroom, garlic parsley butter, cheese, slaw, buttermilk baby courgette, tarragon mayo and salad) on devouring it, she said, and I quote, 'that was the best veggie burger I have ever eaten' Lord knows what they did to that mushroom. We also order every side on the menu.  Maybe the rum punch has taken affect by this early stage because when the food does arrive, the amount is slightly overwhelming. Wrapped in paper and served on a silver tray, the sides in small cardboard bowls, its feeding time. The brioche buns are so shiny you could almost do your make up off them. The pickled onion add a crunch otherwise provided by gherkins and they really work well. The star of these burgers though, as it should be, are the patties. They're not too thick and are perfectly pink in the middle, which can be off putting for some but in my opinion I feel this is how burgers should be served. And just as a side note, I HOPE WESTMINSTER COUNCIL CAN HEAR ME RIGHT NOW. Would be a travesty for burgers everywhere if this comes to pass.

Anyway. The sides are great. The 'Winger Winger Chicken Dinner' wings are so sticky and messy, smothered in a gorgeous BBQ sauce, and sprinkled with spring onions. The Rosemary chips are tasty and the coleslaw adds a freshness and a zing. I loved it. So after all of this, you would think dessert would be out of the question. Well it wasn't. We had to try the ever so retro choc ices. I plumped for hazelnut. Served in paper wrappers they instantly took me back to being 10 years old and chomping the ice cream and inadvertently eating the paper wrapper too. Bliss.

As far as burger joints go Patty and Bun does exactly what it says on the tin. Which is no bad thing. The staff are very helpful, and the owner, Joe, has energy and enthusiasm that would put Tigger to shame. As gluttonous as it is to admit, I ate there 3 times in its opening week (hangs head in shame) and the quality of both food and service never faltered once. My waistline however is another story altogether...

54 James Street W1U 1HE

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

You Dirty Mother Flipper...


Mother Flipper have been around for a wee while now. And as well as tearing up many of London's street food markets in recent months, they have also taken up residency in Camden's NYC dive bar-esque The Black Heart. So obviously, I had to have them. Well, I tell a lie. I've had them before, but I wanted to try them in a semi permanent home. Would their street food ethos transfer indoors? 

The Black Heart is a great blink and you'll miss it bar tucked away just behind Camden High Street, serving up a great selection of craft beers, seemingly not suffering at the hands of Brewdog opening right around the corner recently. Also a selection of hand pump ales, rawk n roll aplenty and, until recently, some great tasting pizzas. But I don't do bar reviews. If I did they would adopt a certain blurriness after 10pm. I'm here for the meat. Literally.

We perused the menu and decisions were made at an alarming rate. We headed to the cash-only hatch and ordered. One Bacon Swiss Flipper, One Double Candied Bacon Flipper, onion rings, fries and a whole host of dips. This may come as no surprise but in my opinion, this is the best burger in Camden right now. And if you wanna be pedantic, Dirty Burger is in Kentish Town. And my favourite thing about it is they're not the most appetising when they arrive, especially when the waiter has his thumb dug into the top of the delightful brioche bun. Dinner etiquette is tossed out of the window as there is no other way to eat other than to just get stuck in. The patties are thin but not lacking substance and are beautifully pink in the middle. The best thing about these burgers is that they're meaty but they don't sit in your stomach like a lead balloon afterwards. The bun is light and holds well under torture from meat juice, crunchy pickles, the radioactive yellow of the american cheese (which I LOVE) and our hands which attempt, in vain, to keep it all under control. It all works in harmony to pull off a great tasting burger. I cant mention these burgers without mentioning the candied bacon. Little strips of artery-busting goodness. Strips of bacon fried in Maple Syrup. I mean. I didn't know whether to lick it or chew it. 

I did both.

I have to mention the sides too. The onion rings. Red onion fried in a heavily seasoned, slightly mustard batter are just lovely. However, team this with the extremely strong garlic mayonnaise one hour before you're off to the cinema? Wow. Heavy stuff. The chips were also yummy too but were just slightly on the soggy side for me. My boyfriend devoured them and completely disagreed with me.

For the beer lovers among you, there was a great Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale recommended by the lovely staff as a great partner for the burger. I agree completely as without the food the bear was oakey as hell and quite difficult to drink. But thats my view. If you like it oakey then its right up your street. 

All in all The Black Heart have done well to secure such a great street food staple here. And its a real coup for Camden. We left with full belly's, smelling like garlic and Arrogant Bastard to stink out the local Odeon.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Pass the Salt....


John Salt, formerly The Keston Lodge, is the new venture from 580 Ltd (The Owl and Pussycat, The Defectors Weld) and is home to 'hot chef of the moment' Ben Spalding's (ex-Roganic) culinary vision. I was lucky enough to enjoy a preview of some of the amazing bar menu that will be served downstairs. His 4,8,12 (and a rumoured 18 course whopper) course menus, including the now famous glazed brick, are now booked up until well into 2013. And if the bar menu is anything to go by, it is not surprising in the slightest.

I started off with the dish I'd been most excited to try, the Greasy Chicken Skin Sandwich. 2 wafer thin slices of, well chicken skin, sandwiching paprika mayonnaise, cucumber, baby gem and red onion. This is a bit of a wonder if I'm honest. Two pieces of chicken skin manage to retain moisture, texture and flavour regardless of the fact they're completely flat, combined with the crunchiness of the salad and kick of the paprika mayonnaise.

Next up was the Spiced Wagyu Beef Wraps. With blowtorched lettuce and minted sour cream. Unfortunately the picture doesn't do these any justice, as even from the seemingly 'normal' looking wraps, they're spongey and delicious. These wraps, in their simplest form are like a chilli beef with minted cream sauce. But they're more than that also.The depth of flavour is such that the simple ingredients do more than if you or I attempted the same thing. It comes from Ben's complete understanding of the ingredients he uses. 

I veered off course for a short while and sampled a dessert before heading back into savoury. Chantaclaire Apple and Lemongrass Crumble. This came with a miniature individual bottle of beautifully green basil milk. This was yummy and tasted as a good crumble should. The basil milk, resplendently green in colour added a savoury edge to the more traditional custard. And it works. 

Next up, and back on the savoury course, is a great example of simple ingredients joined together to make something utterly delicious. Ciabatta bread, with a homemade BBQ sauce. This was topped with the smoothest and creamiest pomme puree (thats a kind of mashed potato for the uninitiated) with shaved truffles on top. I'm a girl of simple tastes and this was comfort food on another level. I could have eaten it all night, and believe me, I tried. And it was good I didn't event get a picture of it. Oops sorry.
Last but my god no means least, the Fried Macchiavelli Egg (Called Macchiavelli because the hens are brought over from Italy where they have feasted mostly on almonds. I THINK. I am sure I will be corrected on this if its wrong.)  served with smoked watermelon, mash, aromatic ketchup, golden crumbs and garnished with thinly sliced radish. The egg was so thick and silky, combined with the mashed potato and watermelon each mouthful was an utter delight.

All in all, John Salt is a labour of love for these guys. Its evident from the second you walk through the doors. From the in house design of the building itself, to the cocktail menu devised by Soulshakers, to the selection of beers you wont find in any 'craft beer' style place thats popping up across the capital these days. Every element has been painstakingly thought over and it really shows. I loved every mouthful at John Salt and cannot wait to go back to try their newly launched Sundy Roast. Not an Aunt Bessie's in sight.

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Friday, 26 October 2012


Hello everyone.

Just wanted to assure you that I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, food wise.

I started this blog and really started to enjoy it, but then disaster struck. I could't afford to go out and eat. WHAT KIND OF BLOGGER AM I?! I have quickly realised that the blog I should have started was the one where I sit in every night watching eating various Heinz soups and watch several US TV shows back to back. My top tips there? The lentil soup is yummy and The US Office rules supreme.....I digress. 

What I do want say is that in the next few weeks I will be back in action and reviewing some new openings including John Salt, the new venture from 580 with 'man of the hour' Ben Spalding heading up the kitchen, the newly refurbed and reborn The Grafton in Kentish Town, the new Patty and Bun site in Soho, Disco Bistro EC4, from the guys that gave us that summer smash God Save the Clam, the new Flat Iron permanent home in Soho (I reviewed it already but I reckon there will be some additions to the menu) and I will also finally get down to Lucky Chips Slider Bar. An oldie in terms of getting on the blogger bandwagon but who cares, its burgers for crying out loud! 

Thats a lot of food.

Cant wait.

Ash x

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

I like the name Rita...


Rita's Bar and Dining, the new pop up restaurant in Dalston above the new and already successful 'Birthdays' club is a new venture from Vauxhall's Brunswick Cafe's Jackson Boxer. Still in its infancy having opened 2-3 weeks ago, so we decided to head down early to get ahead of the crowds. We arrived at 7.13pm. THIRTEEN MINUTES after opening. And there was a 30 minute wait for a table. I was astounded, but I suppose thats the strength of both East London and the 'pop-up' revolution which is still going strong across the country. So we got a drink and waited patiently keeping one beady eye on the hostess so as not to lose out.

The decor is stripped back and industrial, which is being seen a lot. Its a more disposable, budget-friendly and adaptable style for venues that intend to have many pop ups through their door. This is by no means a bad thing. Personally I like it. Its simple, its doesnt cloud over the reason people have come. Do away with the pomp and ceremony and concentrate on the food. Speaking of which....

The menu for the evening is on a chalk board behind the bar, so pray you can read the writing, or you're at least sat close enough to it. We dived right in and went for 6 dishes in total to share. I think their method is to bring each dish as its cooked which is fine as our table was far too small for the feast we had ordered.

We first went for the Napoli Sausage Roll. Now, if you're like me, you would expect pastry right? No. But I couldn't be disappointed. Out came a flattened pork patty, with roasted red pepper and melted cheese, in a smal white bread roll. This was delicious, so yummy! The juiciness of the red pepper with melted cheese and the meatiness of the pink pork patty was great. We're off to a flyer.

Next up was a Patty Melt - What I will say to anyone who orders this is......Appearances can be deceiving. Out came this teeny, for want of a better word, burnt toasted bread sandwich with an equally charred patty with a dark brown something smeared across the charred bread. IT WAS AMAZING. If a slice of toast is past golden brown, I generally wont eat it (snob) but I gave this a go and was not disappointed. the 'dark brown something' I believe was an onion jam, it was quite tangy and complemented the patty and moistened the toasted bread.

(the pic doesnt show the other side which was black!)

Soy and Ginger Wings - absolutely delicious, but very messy. That is no bad thing. The chicken was moist, the soy made them hot and so very sticky, and the ginger worked well with the soy to enhance the flavour but not overpower it. The small pots of kimchi and tomato and watermelon was a nice refreshing touch also.

The table became very overcrowded, not helped by the dish full of Chilli Mac n Cheese - If there is one thing I love, its a good Mac n Cheese. Its the ultimate comfort food. I was slightly disappointed with this one as it was definitely more mac than cheese. There was a cheese flavour running through it but it was slightly on the dry side and the chilli didnt seem to be present other than a few flecks of colour. I'm not sure f it had been cooked for slightly too long or its not meant to be a heavier sauce based dish but either way, it did let us down slightly.

Next up was the corn on the cob. Quite frankly if you can mess up corn on the cob you shouldn't be in a kitchen! Thankfully they didn't and it was yummy.

And lastly, but my god no means least, came the Fish Taco - Out of all the dishes we had this was by far their standout for me. The whitest, freshest, flakiest fish, on a soft taco, a small helping of salsa verde across the top of the fish, onions, tomato. It was full of flavour, full of filling and again, the best thing we had from the menu.

What really let them down for me was the bar. Apart from the watermelon frozen margarita, which was so yummy and refreshing given I dont drink Tequila, and a small cocktail menu, the main bar offerings were so disappointing. On draught there was Briska Cider and Birra Moretti and in bottles there was Desperados and Heineken. Ther were a couple others but I didn't get chance to glimpse them. A wine menu was offered too, but I dont know I just assumed, maybe wrongly I dont know, that if I was a person who didnt like cocktails and wanted a really good beer to go with a Patty Melt or a fish Taco, a bottle of Heineken just wouldnt even be entertained. And for a mexican beer, neither would Desperados. By all means, this wouldnt stop me from going there again, and I dont know if the bar menu will develop the longer they're there, but it was such a stark contrast to some delicious food to not compliment it in all areas of their drinks.

I dont want to end on bad note so I wont. Rita's is a great experience. Food that looks pretty average but delivers on all levels in terms of taste and flavour. I would definitely go back!!/ritasbaranddining

Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BJ

Tuesday 7pm—Late
Wednesday 7pm—Late
Thursday 7pm—Late
Friday 7pm—Late
Saturday 7pm—Late

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Sorry Morrissey.


Now, those of you who know me, know that I am a devout carnivore. I am. I cant help it. I truly believe its inherant. You will never see write ups on this blog about the latest soy and tofu hang out because it just isnt me. I do have a boyfriend who doesnt share this love, so you will get to see other culinary options from the places I visit too from time to time. I dont want to alienate or offend anyone, I try to be as honest as I can whilst I write, otherwise whats the point eh?
Ok, down to business. Now, when I hear the words 'pop-up restaurant' I generally get excited. What cuisine will they serve, what is the concept, the location, how long will it be available, its an almost thrilling experience before such places have even opened their doors.
BUT. When I hear the words, 'Flat Iron STEAK AND COCKTAIL pop-up restaurant' well, I'm positively giddy.
As hard as it is to believe, this isnt an 'Ode to Meat' this is a review of sorts of Flat Iron Steak at The Owl and Pussycat, Shoreditch. Always ahead of the curve in one way or another, be it with their 'tarted up boozers' or hugely successful festivals (Field Day, The Apple Cart, Beacons anyone?!) 580 Ltd have re-invigorated the restaurant above The Owl and brought a stunning culinary experience to Shoreditch....and I, am about to try it.

The Owl and Pussycat restaurant has been literally stripped back to bare brick for Flat Iron. Bare bulbs and candles in jam jars litter the walls and the tables are simply set with cutlery, menus and candle light. The simplicity of the setting reflects the simplicity of the menu. 

Firstly, as gimmicky as it may be, they have replaced all knives in this place with mini meat cleavers. Mini meat cleavers for cryin out loud! So you are the butcher. The power lies with you. Sort of. After a brief look at the menu, and a munch on the enamel cups full of salted popcorn, I go for the Flat Iron (medium rare, as recommended by the chef) with triple cooked dripping chips, bearnaise sauce, a house leaf salad and fresh horseradish cream. The latter of which is made by hand at a butchers block by our table. These small but effective details really make the difference. The veggie option is a roast aubergine with tomato, basil and parmesan which comes as a side dish or main course.

It arrives. A slab of meat spilling across a wooden block, thinly sliced to perfection. The chips in a small enamel dish and a vision of lovely green leaves form the salad. The steak is simply delicious. So soft and tender, it literally melts in the mouth. Slathered with the smooth and creamy bearnaise for one bite, the fiery kick of the horseradish in the next, each mouthful is wonderful. The chips too are crunchy and enriched by the fact they're cooked in beef dripping.....3 times!

This was accompanied by a Smoked Thyme Bramble, fruity and infused with thyme without being too 'herby.' They have a selection of cocktails, created by Nate Sorby of The London Cocktail Club, and all designed to enhance the flavours of what you're eating. If cocktails aren't your thing, there are plenty of other options such as Flat Iron Stout, Meantime London Lager and a selection of wine served by the glass or carafe.

And if that wasn't enough then came a small glass dessert of a caramel mousse topped with salt. Without the salt, its Angel Delight (I love Angel Delight) but add a pinch of rock salt at our waitresses recommendation and it takes on a completely different taste. Its lovely and a perfect amount to end the experience.

Flat Iron is brilliant. I loved every aspect of it and the attention to detail is not missed out on any aspect of it, and it really shows. Already planning my next visit.