L’Escargot, Greek Street

L'Escargot business card

L’Escargot is London’s oldest French restaurant which is a pretty impressive statement. I remember going for dinner here back in the days when it was owned by Marco Pierre White and it was crap; stuffy atmosphere and service with mediocre food. It has since been given a rather dashing makeover and it’s now in the capable hands of a chap called Brian Clivaz who’s also chairman of Langan’s Brasserie.

Outside

The ground floor dining room (it’s split into two) looks unrecognisable – it’s all red and black now with beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. We were seated by the open window overlooking Greek Street and it actually felt like we were on holiday.

Inside

The bread and butter was served alongside an anchovy dip which got things off to a pleasantly fishy start. The dip was intense but moreish at the same time.

Bread

To start, we couldn’t resist ordering les escargots extraordinaire (£12 for 6) which were absolutely delicious. The snails, served in their giant shells, were cooked perfectly and more bread was brought out for us to dunk in the hot, herby butter. To top it all of, the dish was served on top of a doily – who doesn’t love a doily?!

Snails

The terrine de lapin (£12) featured rabbit, duck and foie gras and although the flavour was there, it was a touch on the dry side. The chunks of creamy foie helped remedy that however.

Terrine

For main, we shared the spatchcock chicken (£15) and the large steak tartare (£18). The chicken was brilliantly moist yet with the crispest skin possible and it was served alongside a really lovely romesco sauce. The steak tartare wasn’t your traditional version as it came with salad, and quite a bit of it too, which actually worked really well. My friend even said it was the best tartare she’d ever eaten.

Chicken

Tartare

A side of frites (£5) were brilliantly salty but could have been double the size for a fiver. The dauphinoise (£5) were spot on; creamy, cheesy, gooey – heaven!

Sides

The food we ate L’Escargot was really delicious – the only thing that wasn’t so faultless was the service. Although it exuded friendliness, it was a bit clumsy at times, and the dining room was often left unattended for long periods. A restaurant like that needs a maître d/manager as flamboyant as its history making sure everything’s in order. Once that’s sorted, it looks like L’Escargot will be back on the map.

7/10

L'Escargot on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Dirty Bones, High Street Kensington

Dirty Bones business card

Dirty Bones is a basement restaurant and bar in High Street Kensington which specialises in the kind of ‘dirty’ food this city has grown accustomed to; hot dogs, ribs, wings etc. It’s backed by the same company as Rum Kitchen and Tommi’s Burger Joint, so one can only imagine a second Dirty Bones is on the cards.

It’s kitted out beautifully inside and on our Sunday night visit, even though the place was dead, they had live music which was a nice touch; it was the perfect place to chill out and have a chat. It was incredibly dark though so excuse ‘les images merde’.

Outside

Inside

We started with some sticky pork back ribs (£6) and the crispy spiced fried chicken (£8 for 1/2 a pile). The ribs were really tasty; the meat was firm meaning it had texture and didn’t turn to mush yet at the same time wasn’t tough or chewy. The chicken, two pieces of deboned thigh and a drumstick, had a beautifully crisp exterior giving way to soft, moist flesh. The coating had a really lovely spiciness to it too.

Ribs and chicken

The hot dogs were less impressive however. We went for the Brit Dog (£7.50) and the Burger Dog (£8.50). The latter was my favourite as it was a hotdog made from aged bavette and beef fat mince – and you could really tell as the meaty flavour came through in every bite. But the bun was dry and a little burnt on the top. The pork hotdog in the Brit Dog had a really tough and chewy skin making it really difficult to bite into. The triple cooked fries (£3) were rubbish too; undercooked, under seasoned and slightly eggy. I’m pretty certain they hadn’t been cooked three times either.

Hot dog

Hot dog

Chips

As it was a Sunday and they’ve recently started doing the whole music thing, we were given 25% off the bill which was sweet of them. Even without that the bill was pretty cheap which is never a bad thing – I’m just not convinced the food on the whole was good enough. I’d gladly go back for a drink but I think I’ll leave the hot dogs next time.

6/10

Dirty Bones on Urbanspoon

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Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Borough Market

Arabica business card

Arabica Bar and Kitchen is a restaurant which specialises in food from the Middle East (if you’re into that sort of thing you must try The Palomar by the way) and it’s based right in the heart of Borough Market.

The dining room sits under a huge railway arch making the space a rather charming one. The atmosphere matched that of the market; bustling and lively which was helped by the open kitchen and bar with stool seats, and not to forget, the loud music.

Outside

Inside

The menu was vast meaning there was plenty to choose from. We started with the Armenian style lahmacun (£6), which was a flatbread topped with spiced lamb, and the three cheese man’ousheh (£6) which was basically a cheesy garlic bread. Plenty of flavour was found in both.

Lamb

Cheese

The tarama, or whipped cod’s roe (£5.50), was unlike any taramasalata I’ve had before; here it was white and had the texture of polenta – I can’t stand polenta! The flavour however was absolutely delicious and it made for a great dip for the flatbread which was served in an Arabica paper bag.

Tarama

The semolina crumbed Cornish squid (£9) was a particular highlight with its succulent flesh and peppery coating. The beef and bone marrow kofte (£9.50) was also up there; the little balls of beef were served rare and had serious amounts of meaty flavour. The charred tomato and pepper provided the perfect sweet accompaniment for the richness of all that fatty bone marrow.

Squid

Kofte

The Label Anglais chicken wings (£7) were cooked perfectly; they had a crispy skin and moist flesh; I could have easily eaten another portion. There could have been a little more meat with the onglet and smoked barbecue salad (£9.50); for the price I thought the slices could have been a little thicker. Great taste though.

Wings

Onglet

The batata harra (£5) which were triple cooked potatoes, were an explosion of flavour, and so would you be if you’d been dunked in the fryer thrice and then mixed with sautéed peppers, onion, toasted garlic, chilli and coriander. Corr they were good.

Potatoes

We loved our lunch at Arabica; each dish exuded big, bold flavours meaning everything was most enjoyable. It could all add up quite quickly though if you’re pigs like us and order loads of plates (and the glass of pomegranate juice at £6.50), but it’s definitely worth a visit.

8/10

Arabica Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Alimentum, Cambridge

Alimentum business card

Alimentum is a Michelin starred restaurant based in Cambridge which is run by a chap called Mark Poynton, whom you might recognise from BBC’s Great British Menu. He used to be head chef at Midsummer House (a two Michelin starred restaurant, also in Cambridge) so he’s got plenty of experience in the art of fine dining.

Alimentum

The dining room simply wasn’t my cup of tea; it all felt a bit cheap and naff. The black and dark red colour scheme (which clashed with the brown village hall flooring) made me feel like I was in an episode of Changing Rooms in the 90’s. I half expected Carol Smillie to bring out the amuse bouche.

Inside

Talking of which, two started things off; some mini cheese scones which were far too dense (they were actually described as gougères but they were nowhere near light enough) and a crispy wafer topped with dots of pea purée which lacked any flavour whatsoever.

Amuse

Bread was a little better as it had flavour at least; a slice of milk bread and a mini sage and onion loaf. The latter was again a little too dense though. It was served alongside another amuse, this time a ‘white gazpacho’ with cucumber, lime and toasted almonds. I’m as baffled as you are by what a white gazpacho is – I even asked another waiter to repeat it and he said the same thing! To be fair, it did taste very white.

Bread and amuse

Three menus were available; a seven course tasting menu at £72, a three course a la carte at £49 or a three course prix fixe at £24.50 (only at lunch or before 7pm) which is what I went for.

To start, the duck croquette with red onion and watercress didn’t set my world on fire but it was very pleasant never the less. It was a bit ‘pub grub’, but the duck was cooked well and it had a crispy breadcrumbed exterior.

Croquette

For main, I’m still undecided whether the pigeon ballotine, wild mushroom and red cabbage was actually rather repulsive or quite pleasant. Something about it just wasn’t quite right; the flavours didn’t blend together harmoniously. There was a grey purée which tasted bitter and of an overpowering flavour of liver. I’ve no idea what, but something was incredible spicy; I’m talking ‘stop what you’re eating and take a gulp of water’ spicy and I really couldn’t work out what or why – was it a mistake? It was all overly salty too and the pigeon was a bit tough. To be honest, I think I’ve now decided.

Pigeon

Next was a pre-dessert which looked exactly like the white gazpacho. This time it was a lime and tonic granita with a gin and juniper foam – basically a gin and tonic. It was so incredibly bitter that it actually made me wince.

Pre dessert

Pudding was finally a dish that looked pretty and more of the Michelin standard I’d expected. Sadly however, it didn’t live up to its pretty exterior. The lemon curd had an odd texture, like that of a split custard. The whole thing was in no way sweet enough either; the dollops of gooey meringue needed way more sugar. Because of the oats, it felt like I was eating breakfast, not a dessert.

Dessert

Service lacked a certain warmth; it was by no means unfriendly but as I was dining alone I had hoped for a bit more conversation. In a desperate plea for some interaction I asked one of the waiters how long the restaurant had been there and he replied “I’ve no idea” which sums it up really. And then there’s the food – it simply wasn’t good enough. If I’d made a special journey for that meal at Alimentum, I would have been right hacked off.

4/10

Alimentum on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Searcys at The Gherkin

Searcys at the Gherkin business card

To celebrate their 10th year at the top of the Gherkin, Searcys (a private members club) have opened their restaurant on the 39th floor to the public for seven weeks – hoorah! I was kindly invited along to a preview lunch to see what it’s all about.

The Gherkin

My first visit to the Gherkin was a really impressive one, but a lot has changed since then. Gone are the white tablecloths and the champagne trolley; the whole place feels far more relaxed now. What hasn’t changed however is that magnificent view – and it really is worth seeing.

The dining room

The dining room

There’ll be a small a la carte menu available priced at £35 for three courses at lunch, £45 at dinner and a tasting menu priced at £70 for ten courses, which is what we opted for.

The first two courses, or snacks, arrived together; ‘watermelon, ginger, lime compression’ and ‘tarragon, fennel, sourdough’. The first was as light and refreshing as it gets; little watermelon balls served atop a block of ice and topped with a sharp lime foam. The latter was a great blend of flavours and textures and it looked really pretty too.

Melon

Fennel

‘Asparagus velouté, sweetcorn ganache’ was a divine couple of mouthfuls; possibly too sweet for some but it was right up my street. The velouté was light and frothy with a subtly asparagus flavour which went perfectly with the sweetcorn ganache.

Asparagus

‘Ham hock, saffron, cauliflower’ was a porky treat – the ham hock was cooked perfectly and served at room temperature meaning the flavour was really strong. Sitting beneath it was a silky smooth cauliflower purée which was lovely.

Ham hock

Next up was ‘scallop, Jersey Royal, pea, broad bean’. The scallop coral (that bright orange bit that I don’t normally like eating) had been dehydrated, ground up and then sprinkled over one side of the scallop whilst cooking, which gave the dish an intense seafood aroma which was great. I’m not sure the potato was needed but the broad beans and tiny cubes of tomato made for a real taste of Summer.

Scallop

Next was one of my favourite dishes; ‘red mullet, bouillabaisse, bread foam’. The mullet was cooked to perfection and the bouillabaisse (traditionally a French seafood stew) was light and creamy yet packed full of flavour.

Red mullet

A rocket and basil sorbet with a red onion granita followed, which was most unusual. I had a rocket velouté at The Waterside Inn once and loved it – anyone who can make a liquid out of a salad leaf is really rather clever. Here it was herby yet sweet and seriously refreshing.

Rocket sorbet

The most simple of all the dishes but one which was probably the best was ‘Herdwick best end of lamb, ratte potato, mushroom’. A chunk of soft tender lamb, a big dollop of mashed potato and some spinach with mushrooms all topped with a meaty ‘jus’ which was probably the best bleedin’ sauce I’ve ever eaten – this was a truly faultless dish.

Lamb

‘Pineapple consommé, coconut’ was the first of two desserts and it was a real delight. The coconut sorbet was a brilliant pairing for the small chunks of pineapple and crystal clear consommé. The ‘strawberry, champagne jelly’ was a thing of beauty; both to look at and eat. It was the perfect end to a great lunch.

Pineapple

Strawberry

We absolutely loved our visit to Searcys at the Gherkin and before you say anything, that’s not because I’m a freeloading effing blogger, it’s because the whole experience up there is so special. The building itself, the view (which has to be the best in London), the food and the utterly charming service – they’ve got it all so right. You can even have a drink at the bar after your meal, which is at the very very top, giving a 360° view of London – it’s amazing. Whilst you’ve got the chance, you really should go.

10/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant 

Searcys, The Gherkin Bar on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Porky’s, Bankside

Porky's business card

Based in Bankside near the Globe Theatre, Porky’s is a restaurant specialising in BBQ food and as the name would suggest, there’s plenty of pork on the menu. This is the their second restaurant in London, they’ve also got one in Camden, so I can only imagine this is the start of a roll-out; just what this city needs, more BBQ!

Outside

It was a deceptively large space with the usual exposed brick and piping running throughout – it all felt a bit cheaply done though. If Bodean’s and TGI Friday’s were to have a love child, it would look a little something like this.

Inside

We started with some pork scratchings (£2.50) whilst we looked through the menu. They were ever so dry which made them quite difficult to swallow and they were so crunchy I actually thought I was going to lose a tooth. Very little flavour too. The BBQ wings (£4.95) were far more successful as they were drenched, and I mean drenched, in a sweet BBQ sauce that was delicious.

Pork scratchings

Wings

For main, the pulled pork (£8.95), which had been smoked for 18 hours, was unappetisingly grey and could have been served a lot warmer. The flavour was good but the whole thing was a touch dry; the bun could have done with a smear of butter and the pork could have done with a dollop of sauce. The seasoned fries (£3) were the best bit; salty, crisp and moreish.

Pulled pork

Fries

The Memphis meaty ribs and tips (£9.75) had plenty of sauce and the ribs themselves were really tasty but the tips were just dry and chewy. I couldn’t help but daydream about the ribs at Big Easy in Covent Garden which were far superior.

Ribs

Our dinner at Porky’s wasn’t a disaster, but considering there’s plenty of places that do the same thing a whole lot better, then I couldn’t really call it a success either. It wasn’t without its positives; the staff seemed very charming and capable and the food wasn’t at all expensive but still, I won’t be rushing back.

5/10

Porky's on Urbanspoon

Jackson & Rye, Chiswick

Jackson and Rye business card

I really enjoyed my visit to Jackson & Rye’s first restaurant on Wardour Street in Soho, so when I heard they were opening a second one in Chiswick (where that awful Jamie Oliver pizza restaurant used to be) I thought I’d pop down – if only Chiswick wasn’t such a faff to get to eh!

As it was a really warm evening, we decided to sit outside which was a pleasant, if not a tad uncomfortable spot for a bit of people watching. We soon regretted doing so however as it took 30 minutes for someone to come and take even a drinks order – no one seemed in control. Before getting our bottle of plonk we were brought another table’s bill which confirmed that the staff didn’t have a clue what they were doing. I also felt a bit cheated by the paper napkins – inside had linen so why couldn’t we?

Outside

Food on the whole was entirely edible but not particularly exciting. Scallops with creamed peas (£8.75) could have been more plentiful for the price – they were sliced very thinly. The chopped raw tuna (£8.75) was fine but totally lacked seasoning – there was just a dusting of fiery paprika.

Scallops

Tuna

I’d had the shrimp and grits at the Soho Jackson and Rye and loved them; plump juicy prawns in a bowlful of hearty grits. Here, they looked like the credit crunch version; gone were the fat prawns and instead tiny little ones which lacked flavour. There wasn’t enough of the grits either – at £8.50 I felt short changed.

Shrimp and grits

For mains, the word ‘fine’ kept popping up. The chef’s salad (£11.95) – fine, the blackened roast chicken (£13.50) – fine. What wasn’t fine however was my 10oz rib cut (£18.95), which was dry and chewy. It wasn’t even over cooked so I have no idea how they managed it. For a rib eye there was no where near enough fat either which perhaps explains the lack of flavour. The peppercorn sauce (£1.95 extra) was the best thing I ate all evening.

Salad

Chicken

Steak

With Richard Caring as its backer (he sold Cote Brasserie for ten trillion pounds) I’m sure Jackson & Rye will do just fine, sitting on every high street across the land and filled with people that don’t know any better. But it’s a shame, it really is, because I thought it was going to be so much better than that.

3/10

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

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