All posts filed under “Wine Bar

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Antidote

Four clues..

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.

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The Quality Chop House: Great British Quality in Central Location

The one..

This might be offensive and untrue. But, as a foreigner living in the haunt of tourists (AKA Central London) and often asked for restaurant recommendations, I have found properly good and properly English food a myth. First there are pubs serving consistently inedible food to a consistent number of tourists. Then there are chip shops where fish swim in oil. You also have so-so food with a grand British space or with a great British view. And, you have an ok place and ok food but a not-as-OK price >__<”” The very nice restaurants are either closing down (sadly) or come often with a slow service. That’s where the newly revamped Quality Chop House comes in. A historical 19th-century “eating house” setup. A simple offering of traditional British fare. A young FOH team with sparkles of enthusiasm. Some cool booths (ideal for those with small behinds). And an awesome wine bar.

 

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The quality of Britain

The ever-changing menus at The Quality Chop House are sensibly priced but a little confusingly segmented. At lunch the rather brief a la carte is available in the Dining Room (£5.5-7.5 for starters; £11.5-14.5 for mains; £6-6.5 for desserts), while the lengthier bar menu (£3.75-15.5) is available at the Wine Bar. The latter may be made available in the dining room, if the kitchen isn’t too busy. At dinner the Dining Room only runs a 4-course set menu (£35). The bar menu stands as it is, in the Wine Bar. Make sure you are in the room with the menu that you most desire. The wine list is very alluring.

My own menu confusion aside. The food at The Quality Chop House is a true British gem and comfort. Game Terrine with Mustard (£6.5) was an exquisite infusion of pheasant, pigeon, mallard, pork and prune. I loved the livery firmness contrasted by the more tender bite of the attractively pink mallard breast. The zingy wholegrain mustard on the side brought these game-y birds to life. Middlewhite with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Apple (originally tagged at £14.5 as a main but here requested as a starter at £7.5) did justice to the Great British tradition. The pork was skilfully roasted and left quite an impression of flavour; the crackling satisfactorily crackled; the apple sauce had good acidity and freshness that made me salivate for more. Game birds were big on the menu during my visit and Woodcock with trimmings (£30) was divinity. The pungent aroma from the perfectly roasted fowl (with its head intact) was mediated by the milky note from the bread sauce. The jus was potent; the lightly dressed watercress fresh and peppery; the crisps were crispy. This was food that delivered and found no better description than what it actually was. Humble. And gorgeous. And there I was.. ordering a second “main” of Longhorn Faggot and Beer Onions (£8) from the bar menu!! The perfume, as I was slicing the faggot open, of porky liver and heart was bold but inviting. Taste-wise, this faggot was very buff. Not so much fat. Not so much excess. Just pure quality meat treat. The beer onions lent quite a robust aroma, too. The caramelized sweetness from the onions had quite a length of taste to nicely foil. Blood Orange Jelly (£6.5) arrived with a little “Mess” (of fresh orange segments, whipped cream and broken biscuit). Intense, though I might prefer my jelly to wobble more.

Verdict? GO!

 

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RATING: 4/5

THE QUALITY CHOP HOUSE

92-94 Farringdon Road
London
EC1R 3EA

Tel. 020 7278 1452

www.thequalitychophouse.com

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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L’ Avant Comptoir, Paris

(Sorry, folks, for NYC and London blog interruption! This is a quick post for the “family” who’s on the way to Paris).

The easiest is the tastiest..

L’Avant Comptoir is a hole-in-the-wall “tapas” bar attached to Hotel Relais in St Germain des Pres, Paris. Unlike the hotel’s popular but booking-essential bistro Le Comptoir, you can just walk in at L’Avant pretty much any day and any time you’d like. The menu featured a decently priced wine selection (French, of course) and a joyful range of charcuterie (€4-€22) with a few tapas-sized cooked dishes (€3-€7). The majority of the menu were laminated and hung loosely on the ceiling of the bar. You need to be able to read a bit of French or make some random guess from the printed photos as to what these dishes are.

Boudin Noir (€3.50) was flash grilled for a moreish effect and presented sandwiched by soft and sweet meringue discs. A bloody (pun-intended) brilliant savoury macaroon. The platter of Jambon Noir de Bigorre de Pierre Matayron (€22) was generous in size and divine in taste. I liked a touch of fat, a hint of salt and a pronounced porky flavour but I loved the fact that it was also thinly and expertly sliced. Tuna Tataki (€4.50) – a chunky piece of tuna torched on both sides and served with acidic puree and cress – was less successful. My issue was not so much about the tuna but the  redundant olive oil underneath. Grilled Scallop with Jambon (€LostTrackOfPrice) was just cooked but could have done with more snoozing on the grill for a charred effect. Deliciousness was restored by Roast Beef (also €LostTrackOfPrice). The roast beef was paper-thin and a little pink in the middle. The light dressing of pepper and parmesan helped bring out the genuine beauty of the beef.

By far, the meat dishes were very commendable..

Oh my crepe!!

I rounded up my meal at L’Avant Comptoir with their OTHER great thing: a creperie stall at the front window (!!). My Ham+Cheese+Egg below (made from buckwheat flour) was a killer and could have been a meal in itself. Good quality ham; gooey Emmental cheese (I assumed); unctuous egg yolk; a note of black pepper; and the crepe base that achieved a good balance of soft and crispy texture. While this was not the best crepe I’d ever eaten in Paris, it was a well-conceived one.

RATING: 3.5/5
GO FOR: Heavy (or light?), porky bites.

L’ AVANT COMPTOIR

9 Carrefour de l’ Odeon
Paris
France
75006

Tel. +33 144 27 07 97

www.hotel-paris-relais-saint-germain.com

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E Mishkin: One Jewish Dream Fulfilled in Covent Garden

A Jewish Dream

… that he[Ezra Mishkin] might make it to London, England and that he might realise his dream of one day having his own restaurant…

Ezra Mishkin, I don’t care if he is fictional, historical, pseudo-historical, historical-fictional, fictional-historical. All I knew was this Jewish man from Ukraine sparked thoughts in Russell Norman’s head to open a “kind of Jewish deli” in his honour of his existence in the heart of Covent Garden. When I had my chicken soup and “alternated a sip with a hunk, sip with a hunk”, I couldn’t help being distracted by the decor, NYC’ Lower East Side blitzed with London’s East End quirk. A well-polished shopfront glared at Shrek the Musical and led way to a class-act gin and cocktail bar, where like all of Norman’s restaurants, you can perch for drinks and nibbles. Inside red leather banquettes were embraced by reclaimed bricked and timbered walls and a tiled ceiling. London’s smallest, cozy, sound proof private room was tucked in one corner and a long table in the other where natural light (if such thing exists in England) beamed through a glass roof. The long and limp lamps oozed charming warmth.. yes, in this pseudo-Jewish establishment, nothing – NOTHING – was reminiscent of Palestine, Israel, UN’s disputes or Sarkozy’s slagging off Netanyahu.

Home, not Home?

The menu at Mishkin’s was Jewish/Eastern European-inspired but left unkoshered. Dishes – Meatloaf, Hot Dog (from the famed Big Apple Hot Dog of Old Street), Chicken Soup and Salt Beef – ranged from being nibble size to quite shockingly huge portion size, while the price fluctuated between £4- £13. There were sections of “sandwich”, “meatballs”, “all day brunch” and “all day supper”!!

To start, I had this off-menu Duck Gribenes. Crispy fried duck skins that burst juicy fat. Then came Cod Cheek Pop Corn, a simple bowl of battered cod cheeks with salted, pepper, gremolata and chilli Though this a combo reminded me of Chinese “Salt and Pepper” with a twist, the Mishkin’s dish was done up with much better quality. The cheeks were crispy on the outside but popped appetising moisture. I quickly found the WOW factor in my Meatloaf which arrived as a dainty, guilt-free (as I’m on a diet) portion. One prick in the middle resulted in an eruption of yolk-y lava from a hidden soft-boiled egg. The coarsely ground, expertly seasoned meat was not just love at first bite but would last as a lifelong relationship. I asked for two of this. Then, to slurp was Chicken Matzo Ball Soup, where floated a baby-fist-sized herbed dumpling. The soup had a distilled taste. Not strong but heart-warming enough. Pickled Herring was a more Ukrainian dish (the origin of Mr. E. Mishkin) and featured zingy herring fillets on a finely chopped beetroot paste with additional intensity and contrast from slivers of pickled gherkins and scattering of dill. Not the best I had since Moscow but a nice find.

The dishes from the “Sandwich” section were much bigger than the above. Steamed Patty was served with a “supersize me” option, which for the sake of my “Skinny” branding, I declined. The normal sized one featured a densely packed patty of beefy robustness, well interjected by an obscene amount of caramelised sweet onions and stringy salted cheese. If asking for a “supersize”, you would get to have two of those patties and more cheese. Chopped Liver with Schamaltzed Radish was my second most favourite of the day. The small hill of fine liver paste was mixed with chopped egg white and a side of goose fat rendered radish & parsley salad. The freshness from the radish helped cleanse my palate off offal-y deliciousness well.

All went excellently well until this Reuben on Rye arrived. Probably the biggest toasted sandwich I’d ever eaten in years. Thin sheets of pastrami sandwiched by a steep dose of sour sauerkraut, gooey cheesy and awesomely crusty Rye. There was a lot of acidity in play from the sauerkraut to the pickled gherkin on the side, but the flavour from the delicate slices of pastrami was not lost. I was also delighted to find Salt Beef Slider from Spuntino (which has been off for months!!) to reappear on the Mishkin’s menu. But I didn’t have enough room for it today :’(

No dessert. I was way too, too, too STUFFED!!!!!

Five Times a Charm

There was no doubt that Mishkin’s will be an overnight success. There are also queues and a lot of phone bookings taken already but the bar area is reserved for walk-ins. I am amazed how Russell Norman makes all this happen – Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, da Polpo – but at least I’m so glad that he has turned Catherine Street into a destination for those not on their way to see Shrek the Musical. Oh, and Tom the manager is quite hot, too.

Go for: Comfort food and really, really cool vibe.

RATING: 4 out of 5

(read about new rating here)

E. MISHKINS

25 Catherine Street
London
WC2B 5JS

Tel. 020 7240 2078

www.mishkins.co.uk

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon

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Le Dauphin, Paris

Praises sung

Praises have been sung and we have all heard too terribly well about Inaki Aizpitarte and his Chateaubriand, the best of France according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, for its innovative, tremendously reasonably priced, ever-changing tasting menu. The thing is, when I was there, I only found my menu of that day hit-and-miss and left nowhere near the edge of satisfaction..

Le Dauphin, neighbour to Le Chateaubriand, is Inaki’s second addition into Paris’s booming “bistronomique” scene. It follows the formula not otherworldly from its brother restaurant. Innovative dishes, jovial ambiance, and no website. The only difference is that Inaki scrapes off the tasting menu format and institutes a tapas dining menu of over 30 dishes, excluding cured meat and cheese options. The price per dish fluctuates between €6 and €20, with the average being €11-14.

The place looks a quirky coupling of wooden tables, granite floor, a lot of mirrors and stark white fluorescent lights. There is an island of wine bar in the middle and an ad hoc wine glass chandelier. Booking at Le Dauphin is, of course, essential but the reservation line isn’t so much a pain in the arse. You can call all day, as opposed to Le Chateaubriand’s line only taking calls from 12-2pm. Walking in after 9pm is also possible, and you can sit+eat at the bar.

A meal of no boundary!

This tapas bar format means liberty. (A lot of it).

I ordered some few dishes, topped up my meal with some more, and more. Food can land on the table as one dish at a time or all at once, depending on the kitchen. (I rearranged the sequence below in order of what I think it should be).

Oursins, Navet & Citron Caviar (€13) was a dish to behold. This was a chilled broth of lemon carpaccio, pickled radish and sea urchins. Very clean and refreshing taste that merited from an acute layering of acidity. The subtle sea aroma from curd-y urchins was pleasantly juxtaposed by seaweed dust and sea purslane. Ravioli Grilles (€6) was delicious gyoza with a twist of shallot & red wine vinegar dipping sauce. The casing was expertly done – delectably chewy and crispy – while the filling oozed very well thymed meaty-ness. St Jacques & Panais (€16) was one of the most memorable dishes of the evening. Here two succulent scallops surfing on a wave of sweet parsnip puree were seared to heavenly crispy-ness on one side while the other was left raw and naturally, exuberantly silky. The pickled turnip discs added zingy pleasantness and the parsnip crisps bitefuls of mild medicinal bitter taste.

Poireaux, Oignons & Oeufs de Truite (€10) featured charred leeks and perfuming onions. The latter was slow-cooked for an intensely sweet and moreish effect. Trout roe provided accidental pearls of fishy salty-ness. That said, it’s not one of the most rave-worthy dish of the evening. Risotto a l’Encre (€11), however, was the quintessence of luxurious comfort. In this dense and glossy pool of squid ink, the al dente rice grains did not float or sink, but were suspended in between the surface and the bottom. The cheese-infused ink had miraculous consistency to do just that. The taste was rich and sublime, but more liquidified than its Spanish counterpart of Arroz Negro. I could lick this bowl clean over and over and over and over and over again!!!!! Marquereau, Persil & moules (€11) was, by no means, less impressive. The fillet of mackerel was pan fried for an exceptional crisp and served minimalistically with parsley puree and watercress. Grassy herb sauce lubed up the oily, nicely salted fish and implemented flavours not short of being explosive and cleansing. Good acidity from the pickled radish, and the perfectly poached molluscs injected an oceanic scent to the dish.

(Half way to my finishing line of writing this post. I can’t believe I had eaten this much!!!)

Meat!

Demi Pigeon de Paul Renault, Coing & Figues (€14) arrived with a crispy skin but still blood-leaking pink. Game-y, very game-y. The pairing of sharp quince and mellow sweetness from roasted figs was a touch of genuine uniqueness. “Paul Renault” referred back to the farmer who bred the bird (and I can assure you he did a bloody good job at that). That said, my preference went directly to Wagyu, Aubergine Fumee (€15). The majestic beef was just seared. Just! One bite into this led to carnivourous robustness., which the very, very smoky aubergine and the rich dehydrated black olive powder worked to intensify. And to balance this off, there were rings of grilled sweet red onions. Simply gorgeous…

Sweets…

Glace au Lait Ribot (€5) was translated into fermented milk ice cream. The flavour, however, was mild, like a smooth paste of non-fat yogurt ice cream. Big peppery kicks from olive oil. I liked Tarte aux Fruits Rouges (€8) more. The crusty biscuit played a boat for fresh raspberries and strawberries and spiky Italian meringue. Vibrant and expertly assembled flavours. There was a note of lavender in the background, too.

<3 <3 <3

That’s it!

I had 10 dishes at Le Dauphin, all of which delivered. The evening felt unrestrained (unlike at Le Chateaubriand), and the place got more bustling at night break. Le Dauphin is seriously where I don’t have to take myself too seriously, when I know and can rest assured that the food I eat is taken absolutely seriously. While I wouldn’t make so bold a statement that this was one of the best meals in my life, it was, along with L’ Arpege, the best and most exciting meal I had in Paris. The bill wasn’t as explosive as the flavours. €100 including a glass of wine and a bottle of water seems a fair price for such a big meal, high quality ingredients and innovations.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.

LE DAUPHIN

131 Avenue Parmentier
Paris
75011

Tel. +331 55 28 78 88

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Copita: Spanish “Bistronomique” in Soho

My new haunt..

I didn’t want to rave about Copita for many reasons. First, I loved its intimate ambiance of high wooden counters and stools. I could stand, sit, perch, perv, do whatever I like. Second, I loved its “No Reservation” policy and the carefree tag line on its website reading “Dinner 5.30pm to Close”. Third, I liked it very much today that I was the only diner there. No queue. Dishes arrived at a highly appetising pace. So tranquil and perfect…

I would hate for punters to flock Copita. I wanted to keep this place to myself!!

Back to reality of London restaurants, Copita offered something truly endearing and adequately inventive. While such repetitive terms as “small”, “sharing”, “tapas”, etc. could easily kill my culinary excitement (for the fact that the concept has been done, redone and undone to buggery in the last couple of years), this little Spanish tapas gem stood out. Say, a decent sized menu with prices hovering between £2.50 – £7.95 with the exception of Jamon de Bellota (40g) at £13.50. Dishes were, of course, as lilliputian as the prices. I could demolish one in a matter of less than 3 spoonfuls.

The twists?

The twists were the raw beauty and precision that accompanied these small plates. Ajo Blanco with Beetroot (£3.95) was this coy almond soup. I was blown away by the subtlety of flavours. Served chilled, the soup was milky and sweet. Little pearls of grapes rested alongside cubes of beetroot and chopped almond rendering not just multi-dimensional sweetness but a maelstrom of pleasurable texture, while the courageous topping of dill brought it all to life. A good note of vinegar-y acidity in the background. Razor Clams & Chevril Roots (£3.50) was no less beautifully created. Lightly cured and sliced razor clam was pleasantly springy and served on a bed of olive oil-infused potato puree and garnished with nano-cubes of potatoes and smashed chevril roots. Creamy and delicious (though I think some more acidity would have made it even more stellar). I was also in love with my Baked Duck Eggs, Girolles & Summer Truffle (£5.95). The just congealed and faintly salted egg yolk added sumptuousness to girolles, peppers and sorrel. There was some truffle dust but hardly any aroma. (They could have cheated with truffle oil).

My next dish was John Dory & Shrimps (£5.95), which featured this pretty and fresh JD fillet and bulb-y, shelled shrimps braised in parsley, garlic, chilli and white wine sauce. It was packed with sea flavours but verged on having too much salt content for my liking. Less distinct in deliciousness was Lamb Sweetbreads & White Asparagus (£4.50). While the sweetbreads were wonderfully crispy outside and sponge-y within, I found the flavour combination to be ordinary. White asparagus puree did not have much taste and the sourness – from the fresh scattering of sorrel leaves and the pickle-y sharpness of the capers – was intrusive. An okay dish, nonetheless. Squab Pigeon, Pear & Chocolate (£4.50) brought the grin back to my face. The meat expertly done at medium oozed robust goodies. The layering of fruity garnish, from pear paste, sugary roasted figs and (if I didn’t get it wrong) tangy dehydrated redcurrant (if not, Goji berries), proved that the inventiveness of the kitchen had paid off.

Desserts were less inspiring. Nata (£2.50) was curd-y and delectable, though the pastry was not as immensely flake-y as them ones at Fernandez & Wells. Olive Oil Ice Cream Choc Ice (£4.95) arrived very much a Magnun ice cream. The milk chocolate coating was lightly salted and made my mouth water insanely. The down side was that its richness overwhelmed the silky ice cream inside. I couldn’t taste olive oil as billed but detected some vanilla note. Not bad but again not how I envisioned the taste of an “Olive Oil Ice Cream”.

Stuffed!

I was.

My meal at Copita made me feel as if mopping up a superbly constructed tasting menu rather just tapas-ing. It brings to mind two disparate dining experiences that I love – say, hip tapas bars in Spain + Parisian bistronomy! This is food that is playful and inventive without negating comforting honesty. Risks are, certainly, paid off. (I hope the kitchen will be able to deliver precision and consistency during its busy hours).

Last question.. did the nano portion bother me?

Not one bit (this does not mean some others might not have issues). Flavours at Copita were bold enough to make themselves tasted and loved in a few bites. Be careful about the bill, though, as it could mount!

But, as it happens, I bloody love the place and can’t wait for a reprise.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

COPITA

26-27 D’ Arblay Street
Soho
London
W1F 8EP

Tel. 020 7287 7797

www.copita.co.uk

Copita on Urbanspoon