Bubba Gump, Piccadilly

Bubba Gump business card

I’d never heard of Bubba Gump, a big American chain that specialises in shrimp, until it opened its first UK restaurant right in between DSTRKT nightclub and the Trocadero Centre – glamorous!

Considering the place has only just opened it was absolutely rammed – which is quite impressive considering it can seat around 400 diners. I can’t understand why the hell anyone was in there though as it was the most unpleasant place to have dinner – filled with references to the film Forest Gump everywhere you look and screaming children running around drinking giant milkshakes with flashing lights in, it was ghastly. Not to mention the insanely bright lighting, it had all the charm of a kebab shop at 2 in the morning.

Outside

Inside

The food was awful. To start the three of us shared the ‘Run Across America’ (£15.95) which was an odd mixture of nachos and a cheesy spinach dip (which would have actually been quite nice if it was served warm), some chicken strips in a disgustingly tangy brown sauce, breaded shrimp and cold shrimp. The latter were sitting atop some ice cubes, which once melted left them swimming in icy water – weird. Garlic bread (£3.25) was cold and flavourless.

Starters

Garlic Bread

For main, the ‘Shrimper’s Heaven’ (£19.50) was just as bad. The prawns; tempura, breaded and cold (atop more of that ridiculous ice) hadn’t been prepared properly meaning after every bite you could see their poo tract which was most off putting. None of the accompanying sauces were the slightest bit enjoyable; they tasted sugary and factory made.

Shrimper's Heaven

The BBQ ribs (£15.25) were humungous and just a bit….ropey. It didn’t help that they were stone cold. The same could be said for the ‘Frizzled Onions’ (£4.50) which were 98% frizzle and 2% onion – it was all greasy batter and not much else.

Ribs

Frazzled

Service was certainly sweet but totally clueless – everyone was running around with their ear pieces in but not really doing much. It made TGI Friday’s look like Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – I honestly believe you could get better prawns from Iceland. Someone pass me a Rennie…

2/10

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co on Urbanspoon

BIRD, Shoreditch

BIRd business card

I had a feeling I was going to like BIRD, a restaurant specialising in ‘free range and fried’ chicken on the Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, as soon I heard they do a fried chicken waffle burger.

It’s a vibrant and colourful space and one which feels like it’s totally ready to be rolled out; a more stylish Nando’s you could say just without the faff of having to order at the counter.

Outside

Inside

We ordered a whole load of stuff which all arrived at the same time. The wings (six for £5) had a really crispy coating which gave way to tender strips of chicken. The glazes; honey ginger, gochujang and buffalo all tasted nothing like the factory made versions you often find clinging on to wings for dear life.

Chicken

My beloved chicken and waffle burger (£12) would have only been bettered if the two cheddar and onion waffles (of gargantuan proportion) were just a bit thinner. Even so, the filling of fried thigh pieces, thick cut bacon, American cheese, crispy shallots, hot sauce and Canadian maple syrup was a brilliant blend of flavours. It managed to avoid being sickly sweet and instead it was the sort of thing you couldn’t stop eating.

Waffle burger

For me, the fried chicken pieces (a mix of thigh and leg for £7) were the real highlight. I’ve never had a coating on chicken quite so crunchy yet totally grease-free; it was seriously impressive. With good quality chicken it almost felt healthy – well sort of.

The jalapeño corn pudding (£3.50) was a hearty bowl of creamy sweetcorn topped with breadcrumbs – I really hate sweetcorn but my gentleman companion wolfed the lot however. I’d hate to be the poor chef who has to cut the fresh cut fries (£3.50) as I bet it takes him hours; it’s worth it though as they were hot, thin and salty little beggars.

For dessert we decided to share the ice cream donut sandwich (£4). A donut topped with a blueberry glaze and filled with ice cream and fresh cream – it was right up my street!

Donut

What I really like about BIRD is that it’s so affordable – there’s often a tendency these days to make burgers and fried things epicly expensive. Here it’s good quality stuff with really charming service that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s the best fried chicken I’ve come across…

9/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Bird on Urbanspoon

Barrafina, Soho

Barrafina business card

Barrafina, a small tapas bar on Frith Street in Soho has proved so popular that they’ve opened another in Covent Garden. As I’ve been to neither, I thought I’d pop my cherry with a visit to the original, which recently received a Michelin star.

I was pre-warned about the lengthy queues (they don’t take reservations) so we arrived at 5:45 and nabbed the last remaining stools. The open kitchen gave the place a lively atmosphere and our tatt-covered waitress was very charming indeed.

Outside

We started with the cold meat platter (£13) which featured cecina de León, lomo Ibérico de bellota, salchichón de Vic and chorizo Ibérico de bellota. All were absolutely delicious with the perfect amount of oiliness and they went perfectly with the pan con tomate (£2.80 a slice).

Cold meat platter

Pan con tomate

The ham croquetas (£4.50) were beautifully gooey with a crisp breadcrumbed coating; they were divine. The chicken thighs with romesco sauce (£7.50) had been deboned and were so perfectly cooked (succulent flesh with crunchy skin) that I felt like standing on my stool and doing a dance.

Croquetas

Chicken thighs

The rest of the dishes weren’t quite so successful though. Chorizo, potato and watercress (£7.50) had a pleasant flavour but the spicy sausage was rather tough to cut through. Milk fed lamb (£12.80) was a pleasant couple of mouthfuls but the slices were so thin it didn’t seem good value for money.

Chorizo

Lamb

The gambas allijo (£8) (that’s prawns) were a bit too mushy for me; they fell apart and disintegrated as I shelled them which didn’t feel right. Again, the prawns in the prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla (£7) were mushy and a bit flavourless too.

Prawns

Tortilla

The chips with brava sauce (£4) were really bloomin’ tasty but I would have rather had the more traditional patatas bravas. The worst dish was the pluma Ibericá with confit potatoes (£12.50) which had thin slices of Lancashire Hot Pot style potatoes that were inedibly salty and a piece of pork that was totally devoid of flavour. I thought Ibericá pluma was supposed to be the very best – but that wasn’t evident here.

Chips and pluma

Our meal at Barrafina certainly wasn’t a disaster, in fact it was good. But at those prices I was hoping for a bit better than good, I wanted it to be spectacular. There was nothing I couldn’t get at Josē on Bermondsey Street for half the price – a restaurant which in my opinion is far superior.

6/10

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

The Escoffier Room, Westminster Kingsway College

Escoffier Room business card

Not many people have heard of the The Escoffier Room, a small fine dining restaurant situated inside Westminster Kingsway College which gives the catering students the opportunity to cook and serve paying customers.

It’s a small, lovely dining room (if not a little old-fashioned) which could have done with a bit of background musak to liven up the atmosphere. You’re also served by the catering students meaning although service is a little nervous, it’s charmingly so.

Outside

Inside

Only a tasting menu was available priced at £27.50 per person. Our meal wasn’t without its faults; the focaccia in the bread basket was as dry as Jay Rayner’s sense of humour and the pudding came with some leopard print chocolate work which looked like something Kat Slater might wear.

Bread

Pudding

But the rest of it was really rather good – VERY good in fact. Scallops that had been pan fried in chorizo oil, sat atop the most beautiful cheesy cauliflower sauce (sorry, cauliflower béchamel) and to top it off they were sprinkled with spiced breadcrumbs and diced apple which added texture in the most pleasant of ways.

Scallops

The fillet of sole stuffed with a bouncy salmon and coriander mousse was cooked exquisitely and the overiding flavour of curry from the couscous was delicious. The fillet of beef atop the crispest rosti you’re ever likely to find was exceptional; the flavour was the sort you want to keep on eating forever. And this was all cooked by students.

Sole

Beef

A trip to The Escoffier Room is definitely worthwhile as there’s nowhere quite like it in London. They also have a more relaxed and cheaper brasserie which is worth a look too. Fair enough you won’t have a perfect meal but you can’t help leaving with a big smile on your face – well we did anyway.

7/10

Escoffier Room on Urbanspoon

Sketch: Afternoon Tea

Sketch business card

Sketch in Mayfair is home to a whole host of different dining rooms and bars – not to mention the oddest toilets you’ll ever see in your life (I’ll talk more about them later) and the two Michelin starred Lecture Room & Library on the second floor.

Outside

Afternoon tea has more recently become available in the Gallery and as it’s just completed a rather dashing makeover, we thought we’d pop along to check it out.

‘Dashing’ certainly is the right word; the vast space is a pretty shade of pink and there are witty, framed drawings circulating the room. It’s such a shame then, that the three of us were plonked on a breezy table barely big enough for two, right by the open door to the toilets. My view was of the hundreds of visitors getting selfies with the bogs – it was a ghastly place to sit. And the toilets weren’t even that good – I remember them being fascinating a few years back but now they just feel like worn-down portalaoos that need replacing.

The room

The toilets

The Sketch Afternoon Tea (£39 per person) wasn’t bad; all the sweet things were certainly very pleasant. A ‘green tea macaroon’ (which tasted only of pistachio) was a perfect macaroon – simply exquisite. The lemon eclair, poppy chantilly choux, exotic cheese cake, opera cake and a Bordaloue pear and nougatine tart (featuring the best pastry EVER) were all proof that the pastry section knew what they were doing.

Afternoon tea

The scones (you could choose plain or raisin) were less impressive however; mine was cold, which was really disappointing and it was far too stodgy, which was perhaps due to its humungous size. The strawberry and fig jam, as well as the clotted cream were OK.

Scones

The sandwiches were the most disappointing part though. The cucumber and ricotta looked pretty and was a pleasant flavour combination, but the bread was far too doughy – it was gooey. The vegetarian Croque Monsieur (which isn’t then a Croque Monsieur) was basically a finger of fried bread with a strangely spongey centre; fair enough I ate four of the things but they were far too greasy. The smoked salmon and the egg & mayo tasted of absolutely nothing.

Towards the end of our visit a manager brought over the bill and reminded us we only had the table for two hours – which wasn’t the most pleasant of ways to end things. I always thought the whole point of an afternoon tea is to lounge around in relaxing surroundings – something which isn’t at all possible at Sketch. A totally joyless experience.

4/10

Sketch - Afternoon Tea on Urbanspoon

Cliveden House

Cliveden House business card

Cliveden House is a stately home in Taplow, not too far from Bray, and after a rather illustrious past (it’s where much of the Profumo affair took place) it’s now owned by the National Trust and leased as a five star hotel.

It’s still very much a work in progress; some of the grounds were in the middle of being renovated and the hotel entrance and library room (not to mention the first floor terrace) could do with a bit of a makeover but even still, it’s an utterly beautiful place.

Cliveden House

The dining room (which really is the star of the show) was stunning; elegant and grand without feeling awkwardly stuffy. We had a table right by the open window with views of the rolling countryside – you could see for miles.

Dining room

The view

On Sunday lunch they offer three courses for £50 from a menu that all sounded rather enticing. Seared Orkney scallops drenched in a rich lovage velouté sprinkled with fresh peas saw some of the finest scallops I’ve tasted in a long while; seasoned beautifully with a crisp exterior.

Scallops

My lime cured South Coast mackerel would only have been better if the accompanying compressed peaches had been more ripe; they were a little sharp and tough to cut through. The flavour of the mackerel was lovely though.

Mackerel

The ballotine of confit duck leg was beautifully rich which was partly due to the exquisite foie gras centre. The crunchy French bean salad helped cut through all that richness perfectly.

Ballotine

We were kindly treated to an extra dish as a gift from the kitchen; roasted Loch Duart salmon which was easily the best thing we ate. The salmon was so soft and flakey with the crispest skin possible and the sauce, filled with soft cockles and clams, was addictively good.

Salmon

For main, the roast chateaubriand of beef was a cracking Sunday roast. Great big yorkies, crispy and well seasoned potatoes, plenty of gravy (sorry ‘Madeira jus’) and thick slices of soft, tender beef. There was plenty of it too.

Beef

I went for the Yorkshire Red grouse which came generously drenched in Cliveden Estate elderberry jus which had the perfect balance between sharp and sweet; a great companion for the gamey meat. The little slice of toast smothered in the livers (and quite possibly the rest of the bird’s innards) wasn’t for the faint hearted but I loved every mouthful.

Grouse

For desserts, the almond panna cotta topped with Gariguette strawberries was a bit too sweet for me. The pavé of Araguani chocolate with aerated milk chocolate and a brilliant thyme ice cream was a fantastic blend of flavours. The highlight however had to be the caramelised banana soufflé which came topped with the most delicious peanut butter ice cream – it was the tastiest soufflé I’ve eaten in a long time.

Panna cotta

Chocolate

Souffle

Cliveden House was the perfect choice for a spot of Sunday lunch with my parents; a beautiful lunch followed by a long stroll round the grounds made for such a pleasant day out. The staff were so friendly too which made us feel relaxed as soon as we arrived – it really is worth a visit.

8/10

André Garrett at Cliveden on Urbanspoon

Tredwell’s, Covent Garden

Tredwell's business card

Tredwell’s is something a wee bit different from Marcus Wareing, who also owns the two Michelin starred eponymous restaurant inside The Berkeley Hotel.

It’s a casual, affordable, “accessible” restaurant on a site just round the corner from Seven Dials which always seems to have struggled; many a restaurant has failed to make it a success. What a transformation though; it’s three floors of pure beauty. We were seated in a booth on the ground floor opposite the bar which was very pleasant indeed.

Outside

Inside

The menu was vast; take your pick from snack, pots&jars, breads&buns, bowls – it goes on. Charred bread with chorizo jam (£4) wasn’t charred in the slightest – the bread should have been far more crunchy. Either way, the chorizo jam was a pleasant enough spread (it had the texture of chilli con carne) with a nice, subtle heat.

Chorizo jam

Crispy prawns, fennel and kimchi mayo (£8) were OK – although the prawns tasted fresh and were cooked perfectly, the batter encasing them along with the sliced fennel was a tad too grease laden.

Crispy prawn

Smoked chicken croquettes (£5) weren’t the gooey breadcrumbed delights I was hoping for, instead these had a dry filling that tasted more like ham than chicken.

Sticky smoked Goosnargh chicken thighs (£10) delivered their promised stickiness but they were overcooked which seemed such a shame – chicken thighs are usually so wonderfully moist.

Curried lamb sweetbreads with lentils and carrot (£8) would have been better if the sweetbreads had been caramelised giving them a crispy coating. Along with the lentils and the carrot purée it all felt terribly ploppy.

The Onglet steak (£8) was cooked perfectly and the accompanying mushroom ketchup (which on its own was far too tangy) worked really well with the strong beefy flavour.

The food

For dessert we opted for the avocado and white chocolate, chia and chocolate Cornflakes, mainly out of intrigue. Avocado and white chocolate? Made into a mousse? It was quite honestly disgusting, it had the texture of cake mixture with an oddly savoury and healthy aftertaste. And chia is a superfood – what the hell is a superfood doing in a pudding?! The one saving Grace could have been the chocolate covered Cornflakes but they just tasted of Branflakes. Bizarre.

Avocado and chocolate

Tredwell’s is a pretty restaurant and the staff are super kind and friendly. The food on the other hand didn’t fill me with excitement – most dishes were just a mouthful or so of averageness. A very forgettable meal.

5/10

Tredwell's on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 541 other followers