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16 April 2014

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Blog Reviews from The Food Judge

(menu)

Never knowingly underfed.


  1. Published : Saturday, 12th April 2014

    Antidote | Antidote. You’ll need a lot of bread.

    The menu is short and sweet. Obviously there was the bread. Six slices of superb sourdough, with good salty butter. For me, this alone justifies a visit, but I accept that I may be more interested in bread products than your average restaurant-goer. Other people might just order the aged Gruyère, which came with three more slices; this time a fruit bread. I ate that too, obviously. They didn’t mention the other bread when I ordered. I would have. And I decided to try the cod brandade because I was worried that the cheese might not be enough. A salt cod and olive oil mixture, this was smooth and delicate. Not salty. It came with the freshest radishes and was a gorgeous plateful. Gone in a couple of mouthfuls...

  2. Published : Saturday, 29th March 2014

    Otto's Restaurant | Otto’s. OTT. In a good way.

    They had me at the Kir. Regular readers will know that Kir is my aperitif of choice. On the menu, Kirs Royale, Vin blanc, Impériale and Pêche. With these Kirs you are spoiling me. I would never have tried this, had I not read the glowing reviews. And as I walked through the nondescript door, I was transported straight back to rural France,to one of my many get in the car and see where we end up holidays, and of those local restaurants you come across by pure chance, serving well-cooked classic dishes for thrumpence. Not that you’ll be paying thrumpence here, mind. The décor may best be described as eclectic...

  3. The first thing you’ll notice is the suit. It must have been quite a challenge to find an outfit that could hold its own in this glamorous, cavernous room but the maître d’has managed it, with aplomb. The self-styled HDR is the main restaurant of the new Rosewood Hotel, in that no-man’s land area of High Holborn known as mid-town. Decked out with plush red leather banquettes and well-spaced tables, this is an impressive room. There are a few high tables and stools which you could use for drinks and snacks, but they were all empty for the duration of our meal. As was much of the restaurant. Cocktails are a bargain for central London and it may be worth trying this for those alone. You could quite happily sit for a couple of hours after work, with a plate of charcuterie and a bottle of wine...

  4. Published : Saturday, 22nd March 2014

    Bocca di Lupo | Bocca di Lupo. We wolfed it down.

    And I know everyone has already been here and it’s not new and it was the place and it’s fun and funky and buzzy but I hadn’t. I have, however, frequented that ode to sugar and fat, over the road at Gelupo. One of the best Gelaterias in London. The dairy-free chocolate ice-cream is a thing of beauty. Save room and pop over the road for a cone after. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s a fairly compact, narrow restaurant, this...

  5. Below the radar for some time, it’s suddenly on everyone’s wish list. That may be because it’s awfully hard to get a table. Only 40 covers and not that many sittings, it’s not a last minute sort of place .The chef-owner is the wonderfully-named Taylor Bonnyman, previously chef at Corton, in New York, the executive chef was at Marcus Wareing and the pastry chef worked with Tom Aikens. Pedigree central then. And you can see that in the precision of the cooking. All neutrals, good lighting and plush luxury, someone with deep pockets has spent a fortune on this fit-out. Tasteful, elegant and calm...

  6. Published : Sunday, 9th March 2014

    The Five Fields | The Five Fields. It’s complicated.

    Below the radar for some time, it’s suddenly on everyone’s wish list. That may be because it’s awfully hard to get a table. Only 40 covers and not that many sittings, it’s not a last minute sort of place .The chef-owner is the wonderfully-named Taylor Bonnyman, previously chef at Corton, in New York, the executive chef was at Marcus Wareing and the pastry chef worked with Tom Aikens. Pedigree central then. And you can see that in the precision of the cooking. All neutrals, good lighting and plush luxury, someone with deep pockets has spent a fortune on this fit-out. Tasteful, elegant and calm...

  7. I’d really not fancied going to Ametsa. It wasn’t only the name that put me off. The negative reviews didn’t help. Ametsa with Arzak Instruction? What does that even mean? I’d heard of Arzak, the restaurant in San Sebastian. It’s on my bucket list. A look at the Arzak website shows Arzak has a separate arm, called Arzak Instruction, which offers consultancy services to food operators. So this is the reason for the unusual name. It’s very literal. And a bit of a mouthful. The restaurant is in the Halkin Hotel, yet another one of those London places that I can’t believe I haven’t been to before...

  8. Published : Tuesday, 25th February 2014

    Roka Mayfair | ROKA rocks Mayfair

    I’ve been watching the building works, hoping for something I might actually like, or at least not hate. And given the radical transformation, I would never have known I was walking into the same premises, so very different is the feel. All dark wood, moody lighting and buzzy atmosphere, despite only having been open for a week or so, this is much more the ticket. It’s a great fit-out. And given the dearth of smart yet lively places to eat in the vicinity, I predict a long life. As you walk in, conventional tables are dotted around a huge central area, which is surrounded by a large and beautiful carved piece of wood, where you can sit, eat and watch the chefs in the centre, preparing the food. It would be quite easy to eat on your own here, which I like. And the speciality here is the robatayaki cuisine, which is translated as “fireside cooking”. You and I would describe it as barbecued food...

  9. Published : Saturday, 25th January 2014

    Café Murano | Cafe Murano. Raise a glass.

    This is an Angela Hartnett venture, back to her old stamping ground. Literally. She worked here, alongside Marcus Wareing, when it was Petrus of blessed memory. Bang on trend with its informal dining and the possibility, but not the necessity, of sharing plates, this is a well-priced and very welcome addition to the area. And it’s packed. According to our very friendly waitress, they were expecting 150 covers that evening, the busiest ever. And she was looking forward it. The room is long, narrow and simply furnished with stylish lighting. there’s a long bar, where I’d be quite happy to dine alone, tables set along the wall and a wider restaurant area at the back. I like the window tables at the front. That’s because I’m anti-social and don’t want to squeeze in next to other diners. And I like to hear the conversation on my own table rather than every one else’s. I know. Fussy. And the food? A small daily menu. Great wine list, reasonably priced. ..

  10. Have you ever eaten in the The Foyer and Reading Room at Claridges? Thought not. You’ll have heard of the main restaurant, soon to be occupied by Simon Rogan, whose flagship restaurant at the Midland Hotel in Manchester has undoubtedly transformed that dowdy dowager duchess of an hotel dining room but has also divided the critics. I am not sure whether he plans to use the produce from his own farm in Cumbria at Claridges, but it will certainly be very different to the rather tired Gordon Ramsay offering previously occupying the space and now quietly laid to rest. But meanwhile, if you want to dine in the legend that is Claridges, you have the choice of The Foyer or The Reading Room. The Foyer is not a foyer in the usual sense, but is an actual and spectacular room, just adjacent to the main lobby of the hotel. Art Deco arches of splendour greet you as you walk through the main entrance. Understated it is not, attracting a mix of ladies who lunch, out-of-towners and hotel residents. And hidden away to the left of the look-at-me Foyer is today’s destination of choice, The Reading Room. You wouldn’t know that it was there, if you didn’t know that it was there...

  11. Published : Thursday, 9th January 2014

    The House of Ho | The House of Ho. Ho ho, so so .

    House of Ho. In Soho. Ho ho ho. Even the taxi driver laughed. This is the brainchild of Bobby Chinn, restaurateur, who already has two restaurants in Vietnam. According to his website, Bobby’s restaurant mixes French technique, Californian sensibility, a pinch of Middle Eastern spices and a touch of South East Asia’s flavours. It says that The House of Ho will be “fun, informal, sexy and moderately priced, showcasing a resolutely Vietnamese menu and some dishes with a “Bobby” twist.”...

  12. Published : Wednesday, 8th January 2014

    Caffe Caldesi | Caffé Caldesi

    I’ve been going to Caffé Caldesi for years. My office used to be around the corner and it was one of my regular haunts, for somewhere reliable and mid-priced. I’d always choose the downstairs, where two courses at £14.50 and three at £17.95 is good value, especially in this part of W1. Downstairs, my more regular haunt is more casual. I once spotted Bill Nighy there. I found it quite distracting. Upstairs, where we were on this occasion, is a little more formal and in the evening, slightly more sedate...

  13. Published : Thursday, 2nd January 2014

    Kai | Kai Mayfair. Cry, wallet.

    It’s got lots of awards, has Kai. Not only a Michelin star, but, according to its website, the highest ranked Chinese restaurant in the Sunday Times Food List 2012, Best Chinese restaurant in London in the Hardens Guide, Best Chinese restaurant in something called “Zagat survey” though it doesn’t say when, or what that survey was, UK Best Dishes Award Finalist in Restaurant Magazine, again no mention as to when and finally, Best Kitchen Finalist in the Tatler Restaurant guide...

  14. For some reason Hélène Darroze at The Connaught isn’t wildly popular. Perhaps it isn’t edgy enough, or perhaps it’s because it’s in an hotel, but, whatever the reason, I’m very glad, because it means that I can often get a table at short notice. Not that this is a short notice sort of place. It’s very wood panelling and plush, with big comfy chairs and large cushions. No music. A mixture of modern and traditional with original wood panelling here, a few modern lights there and a subtle Damien Hirst (I know) taking pride of place in the area where we were seated. It’s a good-sized room made cosy by strategically-placed pieces of furniture, so it doesn’t feel particularly hotel dining room-y. A great maître d’ and friendly knowledgeable staff, to me this is a celebration restaurant. And I am celebrating having got through the year with only five bulging discs and moderate level of anxiety. Result...

  15. Published : Thursday, 12th December 2013

    The Guinea Grill | The Guinea Grill.

    By the end of the year, when I’m work-knackered and even more crabby than usual, I crave the warm fug of a cosy room, lots of dark wood, tartan carpet and old-fashioned waiters in formal suits. I know, shocking. The Guinea Grill ticks all those boxes. It’s a restaurant that screams OLD CHAP. They use silver-plate vegetable dishes, you know the ones, oval and slightly scratched and the vegetables are served by the waiters. So are the younger guests. I think I heard the word “madam”. I noticed two slightly older men sporting fine syrups. Never an improvement, whatever the wigmaker tells you. The Guinea Grill is one in a long line of ale houses situated on this very site since 1423 or thereabouts, when Mayfair was just open fields and farmland...

  16. Published : Thursday, 28th November 2013

    The Wolseley | The Wolseley. An Old Classic.

    So to the issue of where I can eat with ease. I’m thinking comfort, space, service and no music. My mind wanders to somewhere I expect to find all these things and it falls on the self-styled ‘café-restaurant in the grand European tradition‘ that is The Wolseley. I probably don’t need to tell you that the name “Wolseley” derives from the fact that this was built as a car showroom in 1921, for Wolseley cars, who went bust shortly thereafter. It was taken over by Barclays Bank in 1927, but rescued and restored to the food-loving public by the present operators, Corbin and King, in 2003. And it is a spectacular sleb magnet that isn’t flashy, glitzy or blingy, in the manner of certain newcomers...

  17. Published : Sunday, 10th November 2013

    Gymkhana | Gymkhana. For the Maharajas of Mayfair.

    Gymkhana. I can’t help but think of those Thelwell cartoons. Little fat girls on even fatter ponies. Events that happen in the Home Counties. Rosettes. That sort of thing. I don’t automatically think sophisticated curry-house in Mayfair. My mistake. “Gymkhana” is, I now know, an Anglo-Indian expression, derived from the Persian and Urdu word “Jamat-khana”. Most Indian gymkhanas (places for riding horses) have a “Gymkhana Club” associated with them, a term coined during British Raj, for a gentlemen’s club.’ These clubs appear to have been rather exclusively British, at least until Independence...

  18. Published : Thursday, 31st October 2013

    Berners Tavern at Edition Hotel | A Tale of Two Taverns.

    Apparently, a tavern is somewhere that serves wine and an inn is somewhere that serves beer and ale. According to Wikipedia, in the UK, the word “tavern” is no longer in popular use”. I’m not sure that the owners of the relatively new Newman Street, Berners and Merchants Taverns would agree. And other than the fact that it serves wine, I’m not sure that the word “tavern” gives quite the right impression of what Berners Tavern is all about. And for me, it’s all about the room. Pretty jaw-dropping, somewhat spectacular, this is a glamorous, exciting and dramatic dining space. An hotel dining room, yes, but not the drab, dull exercise in neutrality that normally greets you. A delicate and ornate carved ceiling, an eight-storey bar, drop dead gorgeous chandeliers and funky pictures covering all the walls make this a space which makes an immediate impact. If only the food could match it...

  19. Published : Monday, 28th October 2013

    Little Social | Little Social – I can be, sometimes.

    This sits bang opposite Pollen Street Social, the mothership, but it’s really quite other. Aiming to recreate the feel of an old Parisian bistro, this is intimate and cosy – very different to the glitz, light and noise across the road. As you walk in, a long and narrow room, with a number of ox-blood leather banquettes on the right hand side of the bar. The clients were already ensconced and I slid in. I knew within about three seconds that I could, nay would, slide off the edge. Not due to the size of my backside, though that doesn’t help, but because it was one of those very slippery leather seats which, combined with slippery clothes and alcohol, meant it wasn’t going to end well...

  20. This was the next new thing some time ago and I thought it had had enough time to settle down a bit. It’s an old pub, a small narrow and long one, with a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere, simple semi-industrial décor, plain brick walls and cosy but comfortable seating. And it’s all about the Loire, from the Ardèche to Saint Nazaire. Seasonal cooking, with wine from that region, matching the food. Holy Shist. That’s the wine list. Written with a sense of humour, it was informative and unusual. So unusual that unusually, I needed help. And I was recommended to try a “natural” wine. I didn’t know it was a natural wine though, when they recommended it and I might have baulked. For natural wine is made with the very minimum of technical or chemical intervention. And please don’t confuse it with organic or even biodynamic wines (keep up) – they are entirely different. And there is, apparently, a great deal of controversy around it, partly because there’s no certification system. Or maybe it’s just because it doesn’t actually taste very nice. I’m glad I’ve tried it...

  21. Published : Wednesday, 16th October 2013

    Hutong at The Shard | Hutong at the Shard. Lord, love a duck.

    I’d really no business to be going to the Shard for dinner. I’d no business to be going anywhere other than one of those places where they make you fast for a week. It had been a weekend of sheer piggery in Paris, where, on the Friday night, we unexpectedly ended up at Guy Savoy. We thought we’d cancelled the reservation – they thought otherwise. So to avoid any argument and in that very British way, we forced ourselves. Hard on the heels of that, Le Cinq, again entirely uneccessary and grotesquely over the top. The sort of dining room that makes me want to misbehave, because everyone is being ever-so-polite and speaking in hushed tones. The sort of place where they give you a stool, just for your handbag. And because it was my actual birthday on the Sunday night, an event which, obviously, I no longer regard as something to celebrate, I could justify yet another big meal. And I have wanted to try Hutong for some time...

  22. Published : Saturday, 5th October 2013

    Smokehouse | Not smokin’ at Smokehouse.

    I had heard lots of great things about this, before I actually found out where it was. And when I did, I was a little surprised. I had imagined that it was going to be in the more gritty, happening part of Islington. I used to know its predecessor very well. It was at the end of a road I used to live on. But I didn’t go there very often, because it was noisy and it didn’t really seem to be aimed at people of my age. That hasn’t changed. But that’s fine. I will endure generational dislocation for food...

  23. Published : Thursday, 26th September 2013

    Texture | Texture too.

    I’d given it a miss for a while. I’d been last year for dinner and not been entirely blown away and when that happens I tend not to return. Not when there are always shiny new and interesting places to try. Of which there appear to be about six a week. B had been banging on about the brilliant set lunch and despite the fact that I caught B eating a McDonalds in her office last week, I do respect B’s food opinion. Fantastic value, she said, really. Try it. So when the name Texture jumped out at me...

  24. Published : Thursday, 26th September 2013

    Clockjack Oven | Clockjack Oven. *Disappointed face.*

    I want chicken, that’s what I want. So said C. It’s a well-worn chant. He really likes chicken and can make a mean one himself. It’s one of his very limited repertoire. Small but perfectly formed. Ok then, why don’t we try Clockjack Oven, I said, I’ve heard good things about it. There’s a few foodbloggers who’ve given it the lurvve. So we walk from Mayfair and I realise I don’t actually have an appetite. Any regular reader of this blog will know that this HARDLY EVER HAPPENS but, even when utterly without appetite, faced with something delicious I will always find room for it...