Café Pistou, Exmouth Market

Cafe Pistou business card

Café Pistou is a new all day Provençal brasserie on the old Strada site in Exmouth Market – a street which is far from short of good places to eat.

It’s a pretty and quaint restaurant; the type that makes you walk past and take a double look. The inside sees tightly packed tables against the edge of the room all gravitating round a central bar which creates a lively atmosphere.

Outside

Inside

We started with the pissaladiére (£4.50) (a puff pastry tart) topped with fig, sunblush tomatoes and gorgonzola and some ‘Barbajuans’ (£4) which were deep fried wontons filled with goats cheese served with a honey dip. Anything deep fried and cheesey is always going to get on well with me.

Pissaladiére

Barbajuans

Burrata with basil and tomatoes (£7) was a simple dish which allowed the quality of the ingredients to do the talking – and what a lot of talking they did. The same could be said for the Pistou Baked Tomatoes (£7) which were stuffed with a really strong and delightful goat’s cheese. The salt cod croquettes (£6) were divine; a comforting fishy mashed potato encased in the crispest breadcrumb coating imaginable – proper tasty stuff.

Burrata

Tomatoes

Salt cod

The Provençal shepherd’s pie (£9) was slightly less successful. Perhaps it was because it was a vegetarian dish or because it bore no resemblance to a shepherds pie or the fact the diced vegetables were topped with a chewy, aggressively paprika’d pastry top. It didn’t eat particularly well to put it politely.

Shepherd's pie

Getting things back on track the lamb cutlets (£18) which were chargrilled to pure perfection and the grass fed Duke of Buccleuch English rib-eye steak (£18.50) were cracking pieces of meat. The cutlets had the right balance of soft succulent flesh yet crisp and thoroughly cooked fat – something which sounds simple yet so often isn’t the case.

Lamb

Steak

The spatchcocked poussin (£14) was an interesting one as it was topped with a seriously strong sweet and sour dried apricot and mint dressing which was most unusual. Once my mouth adjusted to the flavour I couldn’t get enough it.

Poussin

Sides of French fries and dauphinoise potatoes (both £3.50) were both brilliant with the latter being as rich and creamy as you could possibly wish for.

Dauphinoise

The standout pud for me was the hot chocolate and caramel mousse (£5.50) which was no looker but one of the tastiest desserts I’ve eaten in a long time. The meringue with raspberries and vanilla cream (£6) was chewy, gooey and the kind of sweet treat I love to end a meal on.

Mousse

Meringue

It can’t be easy opening a restaurant on a street which has places like Caravan, Moro, Morito, GB Pizza Co and Blackfoot just a few doors down but Cafe Pistou seems to be up there with the best of ‘em. On a damp and miserable Thursday evening a touch of Provence is just what I needed.

8/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Café Pistou on Urbanspoon

Barrafina Adelaide Street

Barrafina business card

I was slightly underwhelmed by my visit to the original Barrafina in Soho (which recently received a Michelin star) but as their new one on Adelaide Street in Covent Garden has had such glowing praise I thought I’d check it out.

Outside

Sticking with the stools at a counter theme this one is much bigger meaning the wait isn’t quite as long (forty minutes for two of us at 7:30 on a Wednesday). You don’t have to queue in a line either you just put your name down and have a drink round the edge which is good.

Inside

We started with the crab croquetas (£2.50 for two) which were first class; the delicate sweetness from the crab filling along with the crisp breadcrumb coating was just divine.

Croquetas

A plate of Jamón de belotta 5 Jotas (£18.50) was perhaps not worthy of the hefty price tag but the quality of the pork was most clearly of a high standard and the flavour in the fat was epic.

Jamon

The pan con tomate (£2.80) which was basically tomato topped bread was such a simple yet wonderful dish; I could eat plates of that alone. Suckling pig’s ears (£6.50) were served whole and tasted so good that they even give Duck and Waffle a run for their money (they’ll always be my favourite though!).

Pan con tomate

Pig Ears

Papas aliñadas (£6.80) was one of the weaker dishes as it lacked seasoning. Waxy potatoes and strips of slightly overcooked tuna with a dollop of aioli didn’t really do it for me. The morcilla and qiquillo pepper tortilla (£6.80) wasn’t much better as there was a severe lack of morcilla (blood pudding).

Tuna

Tortilla

A humungous wait then ensued for the rest of our dishes which was a tad annoying as there was no explanation. It was worth the wait for the Iberian pork ribs (£8.80) however as they were seriously tender. The meat fell off the tiny bones and although it all looked a mess, the flavour was brilliant.

Ribs

The suckling pig (£12.80) had a really impressive layer of thin crackling on top but there seemed to be more bone and cartilage than meat which was a shame.

Pigs

Things ended on a high with the milk fed lamb’s kidneys (£8.50). They were served atop a mini grill with coals underneath meaning every time the fat dripped down (and there was masses of fat) it would create a waft of smoke which really flavoured the kidneys. You really should order these as they’re the best thing I’ve eaten in ages.

Kidneys

I enjoyed my experience far more than the other Barrafina but even still it wasn’t consistently brilliant. Long gaps between dishes and then empty plates being left with us for far too long made us feel like the whole experience could be better. It ain’t cheap either. But some of that food is astoundingly good.

7/10

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

Kaspar’s, The Savoy

Kaspar's business card

Kaspar’s is the seafood restaurant that replaced the River Restaurant in The Savoy. It’s not somewhere I’ve heard much about but as we were off to see Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi (which is 100% worth seeing by the way) we thought we’d pop in for a spot of pre theatre dinner.

Outside

There’s something about The Savoy which I simply love – it’s just so glamorous. Even dumpy old me in my Uniqlo chinos couldn’t help but feel elegant walking through the lobby. It’s a fairly small dining room but with a view out of the semi-mirrored window onto the Thames, it was a pleasant place to sit. The waiters were dressed like characters out of Bugsy Malone which was a bit weird though.

Inside

A nice choice of freshly baked (or should I say warmed?) bread with salty butter got things off to a good start. The pre theatre menu was priced at £28 for three courses.

Bread

To start, I opted for the London cured Scottish smoked salmon which came with an organic egg salad and watercress. It was very pleasant in the same way some smoked salmon with an egg mayo sandwich filling might be. My gentleman companion opted for the merguez sausage with sautéed girolle mushrooms, micro herb salad and sourdough croutons. Again, the word ‘pleasant’ popped up; it was a tasty plate of food just a little on the small side.

Salmon

Sausage

Mains were also quite tiddly; my slow roasted Gressingham duck breast could have done with another element other than the tangy red cabbage. The duck was cooked beautifully though; seriously tender with a lovely crisp, salty skin. The pan-seared sea bream fillet was also well cooked and the corn succotash (an American dish of sweetcorn and Lima beans) was a hearty accompaniment.

Duck

Bream

Sides were charged at £5 each and as the portions were so small you really do need them. We went for the sweet potato fries with smoked paprika aioli. They had the perfect blend of crispiness and sogginess which made them delicious.

Sweet potato

For dessert we shared the pistachio and lemon cake with strawberry jelly and praline tuile which tasted factory made; like the sort of thing you might expect to find in a petrol station shop. The tuiles were soggy too.

Dessert

Although the food wasn’t exactly spectacular I really liked Kaspar’s. I wouldn’t rush there or recommend anyone else to do the same but sometimes in life you just need a restaurant that’s convenient. If you’re off to the theatre or staying in the hotel then there’s many a worse restaurant in London that you could spend your money in.

7/10

Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Rowley’s, St James

Rowley's

Rowley’s is somewhat of a St. James institution; it’s been serving its signature steak swimming in Roquefort butter sauce and unlimited fries for over thirty six years.

The dining room had a touch of the old school about it in a glamorous kind of way. It was packed and the atmosphere was noisy and echoey yet not intrusively so. The menu was fairly short and concise and featured a lot of the old classics that my parents are so fond of.

Outside

Inside

To start, the chicken liver pâté (£8.50) was simple (and simply presented) yet perfectly made. A mouthful of the smooth pâté and congealed butter atop a slice of crust-less white toast was a most pleasant one. The same for the prawn cocktail (£10.50); there’s nothing wrong with simplicity if you get it bang on and that was certainly the case here.

Pate

Prawn cocktail

For main we opted for the chargrilled 28 day matured entrecôte steak (small at £24.50) but we asked for the Roquefort butter on the side. The steak was served on a heated skillet left on the table which was a nice touch as it kept the meat warm and added a touch of theatre to proceedings.

Steak

We also went for a rather huge T-Bone steak (£38.50) which really was exquisite. Both steaks had enormous flavour which was bettered by the gloriously darkened crust on the outside of the meat – it was seriously impressive beef (from the Lake District). The fries were cracking too and as they were unlimited you kept getting them fresh from the frier which was great.

Desserts were perhaps the weaker part of the meal; the steamed treacle sponge pudding with custard (£8.50) was good but the tarte tatin (£9) appeared to have fallen apart a little somewhere along the line.

Desserts

There’s something about Rowley’s that we found utterly charming. Perhaps it was our incredibly sweet waitress who described the dishes with such passion and enthusiasm. On a wet and windy Thursday, sitting in there with a bottle of Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd ‘Good Ordinary Claret’ and a nice bit of steak was most delightful.

7/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Rowley's on Urbanspoon

Sea Containers at The Mondrian

Sea Containers business card

The Mondrian has opened its ship inspired five star hotel in the old Sea Containers building right on the river near Blackfriars Bridge. It’s a pleasant, if not a little showy, hotel with a large tin covered ship’s hull running all the way along the reception and through to the restaurant.

Outside

The dining room is all open plan with a semi open kitchen and lively music in the background – it’s a bit plain but perfectly fine. We had a seat by the window with a lovely view of St Paul’s which was nice.

Inside

I knew I wasn’t going to hugely enjoy the food when our waitress described the dishes as “delicious and really healthy”. To start, we went for the kale salad (£10) which featured apple, pecans, avocado, yoghurt, chillies and a dill vinaigrette. It lacked depth of flavour and excitement; it tasted like all of the said ingredients had been thrown into a bowl and left to wilt for a few hours. There was a lack of chilli too.

Kale

The smoked lamb flatbread (£11) should have been described as a yoghurt flatbread as there was so much of the bloomin’ stuff. There was hardly any of the promised rich, smokey lamb – it all just felt very healthy. Even the base was wholegrain; it tasted like a crispy pita bread.

Flatbread

From the raw section of the menu we opted for the salmon crudo (£11) which was basically a deconstructed salmon blini. The smoked salmon was of good quality but the fennel and dill yoghurt (they do love their yoghurt) was overkill as it made everything too wet. The only thing I did like was the crispy salmon skin which had been deep fried – finally some flavour!

Salmon

From the ‘Large Plates’ section of the menu, or ‘Big Boys’ as our waiter described them, we shared the double cut heritage pork chop (£42). Served on a large wooden board it looked impressive but that’s where the fun ended for me. It was undoubtedly a well cooked and great quality piece of meat with a serious gammon-like flavour but it was just a bit boring. Served with a giant mound of watercress and a crunchy carrot vinaigrette it didn’t knock me for six. Not in the slightest.

Pork

There weren’t any potato sides which seemed a shame so we opted for the seasonal vegetables (£5) which was randomly a celeriac gratin. Hoorah, a cheesy, gooey creamy delight right? Well no, as even that felt healthy. Rather than a thick rich sauce it was very thin and watery. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t provide the comfort factor that I was longing for.

Gratin

For dessert we ordered the homemade cookies (£4) which were pleasant but no better than you’d find at Pret. The chocolate cookie contained no actual chocolate just cocoa powder which was a shame. From the Sundae section I ordered the carrot sorbet with raspberry ice cream mainly out of curiosity. The carrot sorbet was simply disgusting but the raspberry ice cream was heavenly. A bowl of that with the accompanying stewed berries and granola would have been great – so why go to all the effort of making a carrot sorbet?!

Cookies

Carrot sorbet

Perhaps it didn’t help that I went to dinner at Sea Containers with a mild hangover but even so, it’s just not the sort of food I enjoy eating – or ever will enjoy eating. It was expensive too; for the same price we recently ate at Spring which featured big, bold hearty cooking with plenty of sustenance. That’s what I’m after. I didn’t hate it – I just didn’t get it.

4/10

Sea Containers on Urbanspoon

The Colony Grill, Beaumont Hotel

The Colony Grill

The Colony Grill is the latest offering from restaurant giants Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who also own The Wolseley, Delaunay, Colbert, Brasserie Zédel, Fischer’s and now this, inside the recently opened Beamont Hotel in Mayfair.

It’s a grand building in an understated kind of way – the giant Antony Gormley art installation on the outside (which is actually a suite you can stay in) is a thing of beauty.

Outside

The dining room was small with no windows and a low ceiling but with that comes a certain intimacy and great atmosphere. There was an exciting energy about it all; we were seated near Raymond Blanc and Margaret off of the Apprentice (they weren’t together) – it felt like how I imagine The Ivy once was.

Inside

The only downside to our perfect for people-watching booth was the lack of space; the four of us felt mega packed in. Fair enough we’re a family of fatties but I think it was just a little too cramped to really enjoy ourselves.

The menu was eclectic and there really is something for everybody. To get things going, as is often the case with a Corbin and King restaurant, some very decent bread and butter hit the spot perfectly.

Bread

To start I went for the Colony Club Salad (£8.50) which was most pleasant indeed. Finely diced avocado, cheese, tomato, chicken, bacon and cucumber (I’d hate to be that poor chef) drizzled with a tangy dressing made for a really light and refreshing salad.

Salad

The New York shrimp cocktail (£14) wasn’t served how I imagined as there was no lettuce with it but the shrimp were of exquisite quality and taste and they came with a fiery tomato sauce which was great. Bigoli and meatballs (£10) was a comforting plate of thick spaghetti and plump, juicy meatballs.

Shrimp

Meatballs

For main, the calf’s liver and bacon (£19.75) was perfectly cooked and not dry or chewy which is so often the case. The 14oz New York strip on the bone (£37.50) certainly wasn’t cheap but it was the most enjoyable steak I’ve had in ages. Both were served with grilled mushroom and tomato which seemed so charmingly old fashioned.

Calf's liver

Steak

Grilled Dover Sole with bearnaise (£38.50) was exquisite – and for a restaurant that doesn’t specialise in seafood the quality and cooking was seriously decent. The veal pojarski (£19.50) was a minced veal version of a schnitzel and although the sauce that surrounded had created an unpleasant skin, the flavour was really enjoyable.

Sole

Pojarski

A side of roasted pumpkin (£4.25) was particularly wonderful as it isn’t often seen on a menu. The French fries (£4.50) were as perfect as you’ll find and the creamed spinach (£4.75) did just the job.

Sides

As tempting as most of the desserts sounded we could hardly resist ordering a Colony Club Bespoke Sundae (you choose what you want from a mini menu). With a generous choice of ice creams/sorbets, toppings and sauces, it brought back memories of the Ice Cream Factory at Pizza Hut – but the posh version. Two scoops (£5.50) of hazelnut and vanilla with a flake, marshmallows topped with salted caramel was a winner for me.

Sundae menu

Sundaes

Colony Grill is undoubtedly an exciting place to go for dinner. It’s good old fashioned glamour with charming and perfectly executed service with really tasty grub thrown in. Like all their other restaurants, they just seem to get it right from the beginning.

8/10

The Colony Grill Room on Urbanspoon

Mission, Bethnal Green

Mission

Mission is a new restaurant in Bethnal Green by the husband and wife team who created the ever popular bar and toastie haunt Sager + Wilde.

It’s based in a large railway arch but the large palm tree (is it a palm tree?) in the middle of the dining room turned it from something quite plain and ordinary to something a little more fun. We were seated against the large glass wall which shook ferociously every time someone opened the door which wasn’t ideal.

Outside

Inside

To start, the ox heart tartare (£7.50) was a tad disappointing as the heart was really chewy. The accompanying toasted bread was so hard and crunchy that it actually hurt my mouth chewing it. I know it sounds so fussy but these things are important if you want to make an enjoyable plate of food.

Heart tartare

Squash, hazelnut, kale and ricotta (£7.50) was a far more successful dish; it was the sort of salad that even on a cold day you’d want to munch on for hours. The duck pappardelle (£12) has become something of a signature dish and I can see why as the flavour was superb and the pasta was expertly made. I found the sauce a bit thin though.

Squash

Duck pappardelle

For main, they’d run out of the lamb shoulder for three to share (£38) once we ordered it which was annoying. The ox cheek, carrots and coco de pajmpol beans (£17) was nice big chunk of meat and it was sitting in a beautifully rich sauce. The breasts of the partridge with sweetcorn and giroles (£17) were cooked perfectly but the legs were quite dry and chewy.

Ox cheek

Partridge

Grilled onglet, purple sprouting broccoli & chili (£16) was an odd one; the onglet was lovely but it came swimming in soy sauce which I wasn’t expecting. It was fine but I don’t think I would have ordered it if I’d known.

Onglet

A side of garlic & rosemary potatoes (£3.50) were pungently garlicky which was great – they were crispy and really salty which made them totally moreish. The cauliflower cheese (£5) was the cheesiest I’ve come across – a definite must order.

Sides

I didn’t hate Mission but for the price I was hoping for a little more perfection with the food – the dishes all sounded like the sort of grub I love to eat but they didn’t quite deliver. Service was charming; we were served by the owner who was so sweet and lovely which is always a good thing. I’m just not sure I’d go back for that food though.

6/10

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 564 other followers