London and more noodle..
Maybe I am complaining. Maybe I am not. Shoryu Ramen has expanded at the speed of light. Its 4 branches extend from Lower Regent Street, through to Kingly Court. In addition to this, a chain “Southeast Asian” noodle restaurant from… well… Dubai has just opened on Shaftesbury Avenue. There are also news about 2 ramen and 1 udon restaurants coming from Japan to London in the foreseeable future. This seems the age of noodle resurrection since Yau’s Wagamama. In my opinion, there is no super perfect noodle here yet (Koya, ahem!).. and here’s my experience at the latest noodle contenders.
A bit of Dabbous..
It is a truth universally acknowledged by food critics that Dabbous is a restaurant worthy of month-long reservation attempts. For me, I have found tastier solace at its downstairs bar. You’ll find bar nibble quickies (BBQ beef buns, etc.), some Dabbous signature dishes, awesome desserts and funky cocktails. And, in my opinion, Barnyard – a walk-in only restaurant by Ollie Dabbous – is precisely that.
There were rumours that a certain Michelin star chef has quietly moved in at an existing restaurant address around Carnaby Street. He shunned the aids of PR. I was also further teased, “you had his food before and you liked it”. That’s about it. My two clues: the “Carnaby” location and that the chef is a “he”.
My brain labour started, no doubt. Social media network didn’t help much. The “no PR” works most effectively to obscure, when a lot of restaurants these days (especially in Central London) rely on PR bombs. Luckily, I was able to single out a couple of possible sites that had recently been refurbished. My foot work followed. I looked through the menus of my narrowed-down restaurant list.
Social and colonial stuff
For those with limited cultural and Commonwealth knowledge (like me), Gymkhana may be summed up as a posh colonial-style sport club where members come dine and drink. And walking in, the ambiance and the design – a well-lacquered floor, framed pre- and post-colonial equestrian memorabilia, hunting taxidermy, and so forth – did live up to the brief. Social, nearly informal. There was also an unmistaken vibe of masculine gentility as I was seated at the table by a pristinely uniformed staff (in a Nehru jacket?) who explained away, with great but simplified detail, the culinary crux of Indian cuisine that I am never familiar with. (Yes, by now, I hope you have spotted that the cuisine of South Asian origins is not my forte).
A cut above average..
A buzz cut. A neck shave. An espresso. Or, a sandwich!? Sharp’s can fix it for you. This is a relatively hip barber’s formerly located on Charlotte Street. Recently, it was seduced to a new *flagship* site on Windmill Street. The operation is split into two parts, as trend has it in Fitzrovia. The front bit is a premium coffee shop by consultancy coffee brand DunneFrankowski, known to those from the East (of London). The barbers are kept in the vintage grooming ground in the back. According to TOB, who has been a loyal Sharp’s customer since its Charlotte Street site, if you get a cut, you can get a free barista-grade coffee. (I can’t verify this as I have my haircut at an internationally corporate, expensive and soul-less hair salon elsewhere). The sandwich that I speak of is a fabulous two-month addition at Sharp’s * DunneFrankowski.
The emerging gastro-scene of Hackney..
I like the way the up-and-coming crowd of East London make it work by throwing random things together and strut with a cool smirk. A new restaurant in Mayfield in Hackney is a bit like that. The team behind Borough Wines (with chef Matthew Young) took over a site that was once a greengrocer’s shop on Wilton Way, kept the name (and the facade) but transformed the rest in tune with the changing vibe of East London. White veneered tables contrasted with black, repainted wooden chairs. Very pristine. The walls were robed with a wavy surface of wood and glowstick neon lights. It is, still, a neighborhood restaurant. It exudes that particularly friendly charm and bustle but also couples it all with a cool smirk. (I like it very much).
The menu reads an inventive deviation from Paris bistronomique – not as British as the Young Turks and leaning towards being European. There is no fixed price and no tasting menu. You order what you want, and as much as you want. The price for the savoury is between £5 – £14; for the desserts, £4.50 – £6.50. The portion is substantial. The taste, focusing on the natural, is light and with not much jus/dressing. My Peach, Mozzarella and Ham (£8.50) was quirky and predictably tasty. The mozzarella used was of good quality, and so was the olive oil. The torn purple basil added an extra touch of aroma. The peach, if just a little more ripe, would make the dish exquisite. Beef, Lettuce, Mint & Summer Truffle (£14) was a visual delight. The strips of beef, which seemed lightly blanched, were pleasantly chewy and slowly released a decent length of taste. This foiled nicely with the onion-y crunch of shredded and coyly vinegared lettuce. The unusual addition of mint left me with a familiar (Thai) note. The truffle did not taste or smell much. (But, I think it is an environmental problem and we have the bad weather to blame). Next was Octopus in Miso Broth with Broccoli and Slow-Cooked Egg (£12.80), which I highly recommend. The elasticity from the octopus was naturally toothsome and well-judged. The halved and charred broccoli was skillfully prepared. The silky miso broth (with chevril) boast a mild fermented saltiness that combined well with the leaking egg yolk. Pea Veloute (£6.50) – served with tart apricot foam, white sesame seed and samphire – was visually out of place from the rest we ordered and did not hit as high a note. Though the veloute was refreshingly pea-y and smooth, I would have liked it to be more liquid. I also found the seeds and the samphires redundant. Duck, Courgette and Raspberry (£11.50) was pretty and good. The duck breast (pink and tasty) could have held a little more moisture but the crispy skin (and the leak-y fat underneath) was sublime. I also liked the fresh tang of the raspberry, the juicy sweetness and dense texture of the grilled courgette. Brown Butter Ice Cream (£4.50) was stellar. The perfume was luscious and caramel-like. There was also gummy creaminess to the texture, too. The cherries served alongside were moreish. TOB didn’t let me eat his Peach Melba (£6.50).
52 Wilton Way
Tel. 020 7254 8311