Saturday, 27 February 2016

Lurra: not quite a Basque Grill

Rubia Gallega at Lurra
Donastia, Lurra's sister restaurant, has the honour of being on my list of banned London restaurants. Oh yes, the list is real and it is lengthy. I wanted to like Donastia when it first opened but, a bit like Lurra, some of the dishes failed to hit the mark. Donastia's overcooked pluma was unforgivable while their mini wagyu burger was a pale imitation of the drool-worthy iberico burger at Opera Tavern. That's not the reason for the ban though. Donastia is the only restaurant in London where the staff turfed me off my table at the end of my allotted 2 hour dining slot. We were handed the bill and our coats with the last bites of dessert while a couple stood next to the table. Needless to say, I haven't been back. Lurra wasn't like that though, but to invoke a sporting analogy to describe the food, there are a lot of swings, a few hits but no home runs.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Sportsman, Kent - Just do it

The Sportsman
The Sportsman is one of those seemingly mythic restaurants existing beyond Zone 2 that always seemed unreachable to this non-car owning city slicker. Yes I know there are trains but really, who would entrust their punctuality, or anything else for that matter, to SouthEastern Trains? The four hour lunchtime tasting menu at The Sportsman kicks off at midday and I'd prefer not to have to leave home at 6am to reach Whitstable in time thanks very much. So we bit the bullet, hired a car, organised a shady mid-week hookie day from work, et voila, found ourselves in Kent on a frosty mid December day. For some reason, I had thought the focus of the meal would be solely on seafood given the proximity to the coast, but I was wrong. The seafood courses were my favourites, but vegetable-only and meat-based dishes held their own. There was very little to fault in the meal and with the relaxed and friendly service, I'd even brave SouthEastern to get another taste of the terrific brill braised in vin jaune sauce.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Frenchie Covent Garden: not one for sharing

Duck foie gras at Frenchie
It was a rookie error really and considering I can no longer honestly tick the juvenile box on questionable questionnaires, I have no one to blame but myself. Frenchie, newly landed from the Rue du Nil via Eurostar in Covent Garden, suggests that dishes from its confusingly structured menu can be shared. Well of course they can be shared, but it doesn't mean they're suitable for sharing. Portion sizes are on the, shall we say, modest size. This means you'll need a couple of their foie gras dishes at £14 a pop unless you're happy with a thumbnail-sized mini mouthful. Likewise, pasta dishes can be shared, but only if you fancy smearing some ragu across the metal tables. So, my advice is to ignore the advice on the menu. These dishes aren't for sharing. Treat Frenchie like a three course (ok probably four) kinda place and you'll enjoy it. The food is well executed, the wine is good, the space is open and light and service is...let's say the service is still a work in progress.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Eating Well (and other fun things) in Kanazawa, Japan

The impressive torii at Kanazawa JR Station
Little here is original. I'm afraid that when I visited Kanazawa in March 2015, the internet lacked much in the way of help for the non-Japanese tourist wanting to visit the area. I think that was partly because travel connections to Kanazawa from the east coast weren't that user friendly until the opening of the high speed line just a few weeks before my trip. The train from Tokyo now takes as little as 2.5 hours, although I would suggest breaking the journey in Nagano to visit the terrific temple precinct and to drop in on the Snow Monkeys (oh and also check out the brilliant oyaki purveyors in the train station). Without many blog posts to rely on, I planned my eating in Kanazawa with the help of an article I found penned by Adam Liaw, the Aussie Masterchef winner with personal links to the area. Kanazawa was a refreshing break from the bigger and more well trodden cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. We enjoyed world class sushi, an intimate kaiseki meal, plenty of noodles, more wagashi breaks than you could hope for and it was topped off with gold leaf covered soft serve ice cream. With top quality food, as well as a number of interesting districts to visit, Kanazawa warrants a good three days to appreciate.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Eating Well in Austin, Texas

Texas is all big hair, shoulder pads and bitchy pool-side cat fights, right? No? What about oil money, the Bush family and crazy cults? Wide of the mark again? Well, if your perception of the Lone Star State is all (bad) 80s TV references and the less salubrious side of life, then you should head to Austin. You may still see some big hair and probably a cat fight or two (it is a university town after all), but Austin is a great spot to spend a few days particularly if you want to eat well. I enjoyed a long weekend there in mid September when the weather was just a few degrees cooler than Hades, so pack your sunscreen and let’s talk where to eat.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The cracking Bonnie Gull Seafood Masterclass

Bonnie Gull: my crab is bigger than yours
I won something! Seriously, I never win anything. My mum is the lucky one in the family. Every Christmas, she'll win the ham and most likely something else. It's uncanny. Me though, always diddly squat. But the stars must have aligned before Christmas because I won a Seafood Masterclass from the lovely people at Bonnie Gull in Exmouth Market via a Twitter competition. Colour me amazed and excited! I'm a pretty good cook (he says modestly), but seafood is an area that I don't tend to dabble in at home since it can be a bit daunting. No one wants to eat overcooked fish. Knowledge begets confidence though, so being given the chance to learn some tips from the professionals was keenly appreciated. Along with a three course lunch with matched wine plus a cocktail, the afternoon was hugely enjoyable. Granted it was a freebie, but I would definitely shell out the very reasonable £80 for this experience.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Kurobuta Marble Arch: let's do the time warp

Kurobuta: wagyu sliders £19
Do you remember the late 80s? In Tokyo? No? It's pretty vague for me too, but if you take my hand and come with me to Kurobuta in Marble Arch, you'll time warp to find Aussie chef Scott Hallsworth recreating the excesses of the rampant consumerism of the bubble economy in the ludicrous ambitious pricing of his Japanese-ish restaurant. You'll find pricing as lofty as those Tokyo apartments (pre crash obvs) and nouvelle-ish portion sizing presented by fresh-from-Sydney staff. The space is pretty relaxed with a mash up of Aussie culture in the music (early 90s indie-punk Ratcat?) and the posters (umm, Warwick Capper, anyone? Bueller?). The food though is actually pretty good and in some cases excellent, but I couldn't really get past the pricing. I mean, a can of Old Jamaica ginger beer that you can pick up at the Kwik-E-Mart for 50p costs £4.50 at Kurobuta. The mark up is astonishing and lingers longer than a gulp of that ginger beer. Clearly, there's a reason why Kurobuta has locations in Chelsea and Marble Arch and not further east: it's aimed directly at the moneyed classes. In Marble Arch I was surrounded by lots of very real fur trim on the winter coats of plucked mothers plus their undisciplined whining children. In Chelsea I'm sure there's more than a fleeting pair of red trousers. If that's your thing, I'm sure you'll have a great time at Kurobuta. For me, it'll take a generous benefactor emulating the feted (or hated) 80s to make me return.