Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Postcard from London Pt. 1

Earlier this month, the chap and I hit The Big Smoke for a weekend trip. We only had one aim in mind: to eat and drink ourselves silly. So, where I'd normally plan an itinerary of art galleries and 'must-see's, I replaced it with a lengthy list of bars and restaurants. A gourmet getaway if you wish. Anyway, not to bore you with all the details, I'll just tell you where we went and what we ate, with lots of visuals.

First stop, Honey & Co, a Middle Eastern jewel in Fitzrovia, which recently won the award for 'Best Newcomer' at the Observer Food Monthly Awards. We were one of the first there for lunch, and sat in the window of the tiny restaurant, we watched as, one by one, it filled to capacity. We had a selection of homemade bread and olive oil to start - milk, brioche and flatbreads - all light and fluffy, and to drink, I went for one of their own iced teas; it was orange blossom, and it was divine. The chap had moussaka with a big leafy salad for a main course, whilst I had chicken, braised with lots of spices and currants, all wrapped up in a flatbread, and served with a parsley/pomegranite/sumac salad. It was perfect. I only wish that I had saved some room for dessert as their cake/pudding selection looked ace; think pistachios, honey, cherries, rose, almonds.. I'll be back

We ventured to The Experimental Food Society exhibition in Shoreditch; a culinary arts event featuring a number of pioneering foodies. Greeted with a meadow of sugar flowers and a cake constructed to a life size version of The Queen, we went on to try breathable tea, bread made from brocolli, boozed up chocolate bars and smoked liqueurs. The Meringue Girls had their colourful 'kisses' for sale, and there were odd ice creams from Lick Me I'm Delicious; I had a quinelle of port and stilton on a savoury cracker, whilst the chap had a scoop of salted caramel whisky in a bitter dark chocolate cup. Our favourite experimentalists were The Robin Collective, who have created Winston Churchill Historical Bitters; bitters infused with moisture extracted from the walls of Churchill's underground bunker. Fancy a taste of the iconic figure? Apparently we did. The bottle's now sitting on our shelf. Oh, and we tried some of their 'Medicinal Marshmallows' too - an 'aphrodisiac', rose, chilli and ginger, and a 'remedy for a broken heart', red wine and black pepper.

Next on the list was to find Upstairs at Nancy's, a little London pop-up above The Crown and Shuttle pub, serving the likes of Borough Wines, Boodles, Sipsmith, Partizan and Redchurch Brewery. The main reason I wanted to go was for their barrel aged cocktails, I had my heart set on a Negroni made with Kamm & Sons Ginseng Spirit and Sacred Vermouth, but it wasn't open. The pub was really lovely though, so it didn't really matter, instead, I had a strong Botanist gin and tonic as the rain pummelled down outside.

After a spruce up, we galloped to The Running Horse Mayfair, a recent re-opening just around the corner from Bond Street tube station. With the face of Chase Vodka behind the bar, along with the ex-bar director of Sketch, it's obvious this place will do well. It's early days at the moment, a very British drinking den - filled with modest tables and chairs, wood panelled walls, and pubby green tiles - but the pair have big plans for the place, particularly the upstairs area. Watch this space. It has a limited menu, but it's all top quality, and pre-dinner bar snacks of a pork pie and scotch egg, washed down with a 'healthy' gin, beetroot and lemon balm sours, was spot on.

Dinner was a grand affair, the much talked about Duck & Waffle atop Heron Tower, which I had booked months ago. Shooting skyward in a glass lift felt a bit like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; I'm not used to big city living and hoofin' skyscrapers, so going 40 floors up at a very fast pace, peering over London's landmarks, was a breathtaking experience. We arrived a little early in order to soak up the surroundings, and I'd already heard about the bar's inventive cocktails. If there's something a bit weird on a menu, you can be rest assured that I'll probably pick it, so my drink of choice was a Verde; gin, chartreuse, agave, rosemary, citrus and kale juice. Yep. Vivid green in colour, quite sharp, with a savoury/kale-y aftertaste. A new take on the Bloody Mary perhaps. Predictably, the chap chose a gin martini with a lemon twist. Even if you don't come here for food, I'd definitely recommend coming just for a cocktail; leave all your troubles at street level and enjoy the ride, it feels magical.

For eats, we were persuaded into trying their freshly baked bread, a spicy sausage and gruyere combo, which taunted us as it arrived, as it was too hot to eat with all it's molten cheese and oozing oils. The idea is that you get a few dishes to share but, being in a two, it makes it a bit awkward as you don't want to over-eat/over-spend. We started with a raw plate; yellowfin tuna with watermelon, balsamic and basil; presented on a block of salty-marble-rock, which we were told to rub the fish on to get added flavour. There were five nibbles, so we fought over the last one. We then asked for the rest to come together so we had lots to pick at and taste; roasted octopus/ chorizo/ potatoes/
lemon/ capers, pollock meatballs/ lobster cream/ parmesan, and the duck and waffle. To be honest, I was a little gutted that they had sold out of the spicy ox cheek doughnut, but I'll have to try that another time.

Neither me or the chap were very keen on the fish meatballs, everything about them was a bit bland; rich but without flavour. The octopus had it all though - salty, sour, smooth, chewy, crispy - all the tastes and textures you'd want in a dish, so we were able to forgive. And as for the duck; it lived up to expectations. A duck leg confit sitting on a picture-perfect waffle (though I doubt the Belgians would approve), topped with a fried duck egg, and mustard maple syrup on the side. Its the breakfast dish turned badass, the humble bacon sarnie just wouldn't make it in these waters. Sweet, savoury, and super indulgent; I'm glad it was to share. So, whilst I don't think it was the best food I've ever had, I'd go as far as to say that it was possibly the best restaurant... What a view.

Part 2 Coming up..

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