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

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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

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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

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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

The Palomar, Soho

The Palomar business card

Based on Rupert Street in Soho, The Palomar is a restaurant that specialises in ‘the food of modern day Jerusalem’. Even though it’s only just opened, I don’t know anybody that hasn’t loved it so I went with high hopes and I wasn’t disappointed – hoorah!

Outside

As they don’t take reservations at the long counter which overlooks the kitchen, on our busy Friday night visit we were told of an hour wait, but we could wander off for a drink and return once they’d rung which was good. We arrived back to a packed restaurant with a brilliant atmosphere – it’s got to be one of the most exciting places to sit and eat your supper in London at the minute. At one point a chef picked up some drum sticks and started banging on the pots and pans (impressively well might I add) to Happy by Pharell Williams – everyone looked like they were having so much fun.

The counter

We started with some Kubaneh (£5) which was Yemeni pot baked bread and it was served with tahini and ‘velvet tomatoes’ which was like a tomato gazpacho. The bread was soft like brioche and utterly divine.

Bread

The Kubenia (£8.50), which was a beef tartare, was served with pomegranate seeds; a really unusual but wholly pleasant companion for the chunks of raw beef fillet. The lemony oil that surrounded it was so good we kept the plate so we could use more bread to soak it up.

Kubenia

The oysters (two for £6), served with coriander, lemon zest and arissa oil, were prepared in the raw bar directly behind us – it was fun being able to see the chefs prepare it all. I must say, I’ve never had oysters quite like them; so rich and creamy.

Oysters

The shakshukit (£9.50) was described as a deconstructed kebab which set alarm bells off – deconstructed anythings are usually crap, mainly because they don’t taste better than the real thing. This wasn’t the case here however; the beef mince was topped with four vibrantly colourful sauces which blended together deliciously. It was all served alongside a mini pitta – these guys seriously know how to make bread.

Shakshukit

Next was the Labenah tortellini (£11). The pasta parcels were light and delicate and the butternut squash cream that lay beneath them had the perfect balance of sweetness. The onglet steak (£14) was served on a wooden board with a knife sticking out of it which was a nice touch. The homemade latkes with the gooey fried egg (Clarence Court of course) made for the most perfect of mouthfuls.

Labenah

Onglet

By this point we were full but enjoying ourselves so much we decided to order one more dish; the cornfed chicken (£13). The chicken had been cooked in buttermilk making it really moist and tender and the sauce, as we found with most of the dishes beforehand, was phenomenally good.

Chicken

Everything about The Palomar was just so right; the design and layout, the friendly and helpful staff, the food – even the playlist was spot on, which might be due to the fact one of the owners used to be a DJ. Perhaps we wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves quite so much if we’d been sitting in the small dining room out the back (which does take reservations) as it seemed to lack the fun of the counter. If you ask me, turn up and put your name down, you’re in for a treat!

10/10

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

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Bocca di Lupo, Soho

Bocca di Lupo business card

Bocca di Lupo (which means ‘into the mouth of the wolf’) is an Italian restaurant in Soho and one in which I’ve always struggled getting a table – believe me I’ve tried. We were on the waiting list for dinner for my friend’s birthday and as luck would have it, they managed to squeeze us in as long as they had the table back within two hours.

Bocca di Lupo outside

The restaurant was split into two sections; a long and narrow bar with stool seats overlooking the kitchen, and a small dining room out the back, which is where we were seated. Waiters quickly scurried in and out of the tightly packed tables, which gave everything a slightly chaotic but charming atmosphere.

Inside

The menu, mostly in Italian, was split into lots of different sections making it confusing to know how much, and of what, to order. When asked for some advice our waiter replied “you cannot order too much!” – he was a pleasant chap but he wasn’t particularly helpful, let’s put it like that.

The bread; sourdough and onion focaccia, served with a really delicious olive oil, was so good we asked for more as soon as we devoured it.

Bread

We started with a load of deep fried things, or Fritti. The lamb sweetbreads with artichoke and sage (£7) were plentiful and cooked to perfection. Courgette flowers filled with mozzarella and anchovy (£4.50) were creamy, salty and ruddy lovely. My favourite however was the buffalo mozzarella boconcini (£4.50) – deep fried cheese is always going to win me over! The home salted cod (£4.50) was a little bit fish and chip shop greasy for me – I was hoping for less batter and more cod. The fish was soft and flakey though.

Fritti

Fritti

Fritti

We opted for two pastas; pappardelle with duck ragú (£10) and the orecchiette with ‘nduja, red onion and tomato (£7), and both were the two best pasta dishes I’ve eaten in my life. The pasta, the sauce, the seasoning, the flavour – it was all so perfect; I’ve never quite eaten anything so wonderful.

Pasta

Pasta

Next was the meat, and there was loads of it. The spicy sausage (£7.50) and pork neck (£7.50) were both superb. The quail (£7.50), which looked like a seductive lady with her legs crossed, was so flavoursome and meaty. The only disappointment was the lamb skewer (£6) which was basically tiny pieces of dry overcooked meat; it didn’t seem in keeping with the wonders that sat next to it. All were served with chilli bruschetta, which was a great accompaniment.

Meat

For dessert we shared the milk free espresso gelato (£4) (they own Gelupo over the road which makes incredible gelato) and ‘Grandpa’s balls of deep fried ricotta and chocolate’ (£7). I can confirm Grandpa has delicious balls – the perfect balance between sweet and tangy; we devoured them in seconds.

Dessert

Our dinner at Bocca di Lupo was a really great one and I’m glad I’ve finally been – those pasta dishes were so exceptional that I’m already thinking about when I can go back. Because the four of us shared everything it was far cheaper than I anticipated too, which is never a bad thing. There’s a good reason why it’s always so bloody busy.

8/10

Bocca Di Lupo on Urbanspoon

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