All posts tagged “Pub Food

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Upstairs at The Ten Bells: Isaac McHale Zings Up East London

Hip – young – and – British!

Last year Isaac McHale & James Lowe of The Young Turks together with Johny and Daniel of The Clove Club took over the space (literally) “Upstairs” at Spitalfield’s infamous pub The Ten Bells (known for its association with hookers slaughtered by Jack the Ripper) and transformed it into a fixed menu pop-up restaurant. That was finished. James & Isaac have recently parted ways to pursue their solo projects. An amicable “divorce”, according to Isaac who carries on at Upstairs with the boys and along with the introduction of ex-Ledbury Giorgio Ravelli to help helm the kitchen. These boys – with the now running, semi-permanent Upstairs – are also cooking up a new, so-mother-f**kingly-awesome-I-am-not-allowed-to-announce venture.

For the time being I returned to Upstairs at The Ten Bells.

The menu at Upstairs champions British cooking and comfort with thoughtful, inventive twists. It is also A La Carte – a major adjustment to the fixed tasting menu that The Young Turks were famed for – with “Snacks” (£4.60-£5.20), “Starters” (£5.50-£6.20), “Mains” (£14.30-16.60) and “Desserts” (£6.20-7). There remains an unofficial and unprinted option of a tasting menu of sort for those unable to make up their mind (me and my friends). The signature nibble of Fried Buttermilk Chicken (£5.20) still boast earth-shattering crust and pine perfume. Lardo & Walnuts (£4.60) had a balanced proportion of salt, fat and pork; the walnuts contributed extra powder and crunch. My friends and I were indecisive with the starters, so the kitchen kindly prepared us miniature portions of the all three items on the menu. (Bear in mind your full portion will be MUCH larger). Salad of Tomatoes was a rather delicate dish noted for a playful contrast of warmth and icy-ness. The heritage tomatoes were served at room temperature; the baby plum tomatoes were carefully roasted for juicy sweetness. I found the mint-y burst from the torn shiso leaves – coupled with mild peppery-ness from the rocket leaves – an uplifting departure from the convention of tomato-basil pairing. The granita of goat’s milk left a pleasant aftertaste of cream and ephemeral chill, while my tongue was being tickled by the fried sandy crumbs. Pheasant Egg was a kickass hybrid of your British favourites. Isaac gave you not cauliflower cheese, egg or cheese on toast but an exclusive, superfluous all-in-one option (!!). On a piece of crusty toast sat a well-timed poached egg, leaking a golden lava of yolk. It was toppled with piping hot cheese fondue and garnished with two textured cauliflowers (boiled&buttered and carpaccio-ed). The good graciously delicious grease was well boosted by spicy watercress and a crispy, high-acidity sliver of pickled gherkin. (I could eat two more of this). My parade of starters gathered momentum with Courgette Soup. First there was an ensemble of pan fried Jersey Royal discs, textured courgette and razor clams. The latter were sliced into almond size and poached in five-spice brown butter. The soup itself – served chilled – was prepared with a well contemplated infusion of razor clam juice and mint. Together it was packed with refreshing punch. The minty chill jostled with a subtle note of zingy spices. The essence of razor clam provided a macho touch. Just. Brilliant.

The mains were tasty spectacles of British comfort. My friend raved at her Plaice with Elderflower and Wild Fennel and refused to give me any (BBbbbrrrrr). I somehow managed to nibble a few bites off Roast Lamb (bone) with Spinach and Anchovie (toppled with fried spaghetti-ed potato!!). The lamb was very tender; the two-way anchovies – marinated and as cream – completed the dish with not only with a silvery sparkle but also layers of sea-salty depth. MY Smoked Pork Belly (which I also refused to share) was a gargantuan stack of meat (now thinking of calories I maybe should have shared). The fatty layers partially dissolved into gelatinous essence and injected moisture to the very firm meat; the skin was separately crisp-ed up, broken and scattered about. The combination here – of parsley pure, pork jus, braised radish and squeaky, risotto-like oat groats – leaned towards the hearty traditional but skillfully assembled. There were two desserts on the menu and I got to sample both. The winner by a small margin was Strawberry Tart. It arrived a cream-filled UFO of brik pastry (almond meal, sugar and brushed with butter) with fresh strawberry slices. I loved the juxtaposition of the tart’s very fragile texture and its rich, nutty sweetness. I also loved the aromatic milky-ness from the white chocolate and elderflower ice cream (Giorgio’s invention). Together with the fresh strawberry (good acidity) the dish created an idyllic English vision of sort – a typical English open field and a typical English summer (when it doesn’t rain). The other dessert – Blueberry Mousse, Milk Crisps and Tarragon Cake – was a good, but not as brilliantly orchestrated dish. The wave-like blueberry mousse swept across the plate. The mousse itself had a fine, fruity taste. I would have preferred it a little lighter, as with the cake, the dish became quite heavy. That said, the moss green tarragon-accented sponge was to die for, and the milk crisps, which dissolved in my mouth, were a joy to eat.

Upstairs has ticked so many boxes for me. Unfussed and creative, Isaac’s post-Young Turks cooking is also notably more restrained and refined but without losing the heart and soul of what The Young Turks was all about. And judging from my dinner that night I should perhaps head East more often ^_^



84 Commercial Street
E1 6LY

Tel. (not quite confirmed but) 0753 049 2986 (but it’s probably easier to make a reservation on Toptable).

Upstairs at the Ten Bells on Urbanspoon

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The Guinea Grill: Where You’ll Find The Great British P(r)i(d)e

The oldest, no!?

The Guinea Grill is a jolly old pub in the back alley of London’s most affluent quarter. Back in the 15th century when the earliest record of the pub existed, The Guinea Grill was a hangout for servants and horsemen to lords and ladies. Today the scene, though still friendly and unpretentious, is dominated by the well-off, old-and-young swaggerers of Mayfair. The pub area at the front mirrors our modern day bustle, while the cozy dining room in the back captures the charming, old-world Great British pride. (In another note the dining room wasn’t big and got quite noisy).

Great British p(r)i(d)e

The cooking at Guinea Grill led by head chef Mark Newbury epitomises British classics, with a focus on seasonality and comfort. Steamed Asparagus with Poached Egg (£12.80) tasted according to what it was. The accompanying Hollandaise sauce could do with a touch less of vinegar. Crayfish Crab Cocktail (£11.75), noted for its reasonable freshness, also tasted according to what it was. The pies at Guinea Grill have won fame. My Steak and Mushroom Pie (£14.85) was great value for money and, arguably, the must-order dish if you were to dine at Guinea Grill. The steak used in the pie filling was of high quality and cooked to delightful moreish-ness; the sauce had a pungent beer aroma and an unmistakable peppery note. That said, I was not madly in love with its heavy suet crust as it was too hard to drill and chew. (If you love crusty suet dumplings, you’ll probably love this, though). The steak – 280g Scottish fillet and dry aged for 14 days – at £33.70 was a wonderful surprise. Cooked precisely to my medium rare order, it also boast a smokey charcoal aroma as well as a textural contrast between the rougher exterior and the tender interior. (I am not the biggest steak eater but I think this one at Guinea Grill is better than, say, at Hawksmoor or CUT, but is still second to Goodman’s). This was pretty much the kind of steak that tasted so good I would eat without any sauce. Having said that, the peppercorn sauce (£3.50) was not remarkable. The sides of chips (£4) and chestnut mushrooms (£NotSure) were passable but I could do without. The chips had a good crispy skin but was too mushed inside.

The puddings were traditionally pleasing. Summer Pudding, served with clotted cream, could have brought joy to my taste bud, if the bread versus berry content were re-adjusted. On its own I found the berry filling refreshing, but as imprisoned by a very thick fortress of bread, the zingy berry taste became void. Raspberry Sorbet (£4.60) was exuberant. I also enjoyed the tang from the raspberry coulis. My only criticism would be that the portion for the sorbet was large and half way into finishing it my tongue turned numb. In short, it was a pretty good meal (but not indisputably brilliant).

RATING: 3.5/5


30 Bruton Place

Tel. 020 7409 1728

Guinea Grill on Urbanspoon



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The Admiral Codrington: Burger Danger in Kensington

Made in Kensington

The modest-looking Admiral Codrington – nicknamed Ad Cod – is a gastrohub among London’s most revered burger lovers. The quiet front (the quietness was, surely, due to the low-key Easter period) led way to an opaquely cream-and-green dining room with flower-patterned banquettes. Not a fun-looking place and all seemed a little too preen, too proper and too Kensington for my liking.

Luckily, in the kitchen, chef Fred Smith cooked up meals of an extraordinary appeal and fetched fame beyond SW3 and its environs. And, from my experience, it would be a danger if I lived nearby..


Real danger..

The menu was comprised of many pub fares with facelifts. The price for starters varied between £7.50- £9.50; and for mains £13.50- £17.50. There were many cuts of steak from White Park and (London’s more revered) O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge to tempt my taste bud. The price range was between £17 – £30. (Maybe next time?) I was after the burger. The one and only on the menu. 8oz. Cheese. Bacon. Pickles. Chips. £15. I was after this one. NO!! This was not the ONLY one. I spotted the Double Cheese Stack as the special (Until 19th April! Quick!!). There were two of us. I settled for the regular cheese and TOB for the double cheese.


I could tell, from the cascading cheese rendering juice into the medium rare patties, the pillow-y sesame bun.. and I could also tell, from the way TOB’s jaw bone twitched a little after a bite.. and I concluded, from the intensity and focus on his brows, his mopping up the beefy juice with his bun, and the FACT that he was NOT SHARING (!!!), that this burger must be damned good. (I offered him a morsel of my burger. A failed tactic). My cheeseburger was quite brilliant, too. The brioche bun formed a light construction for the burger; the pink patty boast some girth and juicy robustness; the dripping was trapped by the shredded lettuce and pickles; the homemade tomato chutney had depth; the bacon bites added smoke-y saltiness; the cooked onions sweetness. It struck me as a not-so-dirty-but-not-too-neat burger – half way between MEATliquor and Goodman’s – but with a taste that triumphed them all. The best I’ve ever eaten, in other words. The chunky chips were fluffy and crispy.


I ate other things, too. Crab Penne, Wild Garlic and Chilli (£9.50) was successful. The fresh and sweet crab meat was tossed in a loose, buttery sauce made from tomatoes, garlic and chilli. I liked the twist: the use of a few different heirloom tomatoes, which resulted in a varying degree of texture. The penne was correctly al dente. The only criticism I had was that it could do with a little more acidity. A very, very gentle squeeze of lemon juice, perhaps. The side of Macaroni Cheese (£6) was sinful. Firm and biteful macaroni lay seductively in a bowl of chive-infused three cheese. I noted a twist of blue (but was too occupied by its sumptuous richness I forgot to enquire what cheese was used), giving a surprisingly pleasant, mature aroma. This was the dish that did not pale in comparison with the Ad Cod burger glory. I finished the meal with a very pleasing honeycomb ice-cream.

(You make stop reading and start planning a trip to Ad Cod now).




17 Mossop Street

Tel. 020 7581 0005

Admiral Codrington on Urbanspoon

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The Young Turks @ The Ten Bells (Round 2)

Get in

The Young Turks at The Ten Bells is fully booked for the whole November (if you have not seen my first post about The Turks, click here). However, the phrase “fully booked” in the restaurant world does not necessarily suggest there is no possibility of getting in!

There is the waiting list, first and foremost. But, there is also another way to fast track your wait…

No. You didn’t need to know people; you didn’t need to pay bribe for a table; nor needed you sneaking in via the toilet like those two chaps above. Just ask… nicely!

Here, at The Ten Bells, the tables are turned around 9pm or 9.30pm. I tried my luck walking in after some email exchange and there I was, in the same dining room as last week, sipping “Les Perrieres” and looking forward to my dinner.


The £39-fixed-price menu “bistronomique” at The Ten Bells is thoroughly rewritten on a weekly basis, and what read “Raw Fore Rib, Oyster & Dripping Toast” and “Fried Duck Egg, Chestnut & Duck Hearts” on The Young Turks’s frequently updated site sped up my second trip to this guerrilla bistro-dining. This prevented the three-month pop-up from being just a one-off experience for me.

There was the usual procession of nibbles. Lightly salted crisps came with mayo and hot bean powder. More addictive was Buttermilk Fried Chicken, which once made an appearance at The Turks’ previous pop-up. Moist chicken thighs (I believed) in golden batter and coated in pine-infused salt. The distilled perfume of pine was just subtle and elegant. The nibble got more racy with what I came here for – Raw Fore Rib, Oyster & Dipping Toast. Premium quality beef was served tartar-style. The sumptuousness came from tender but robust beef being lubed by the smoky oyster cream to contrast with the holy crispy-ness of the paper-thin toast. Big, big love!!

Then came Smoked Trout, Pickled Cucumber & Celtic Mustard. It was highly accomplished in flavours. The burnt hay aroma teased my nose even before I picked up my fork. The trout cut as if butter, while the dill-infused cucumber gel and seaweeded mustard gave the dish mouth-watering sparkles. My only criticism was that I would have liked more acidity to juxtapose from the pickled cucumber. Fried Duck Egg, Chestnuts & Duck Heart did not soar above the ordinary. While all the elements were nicely done – smooth chestnut paste, crispy dehydrated chestnuts to contrast, hugely yolked duck egg, and rather effete hearts – the dish lacked the je-ne-sais-quoi element and verged on being two dimensional – yolk-y and sweet.

Pheasant, Swede & Quince was, arguably, the dish of the night for me (The Other Bib thought the dessert was the star). Look-wise, this meat course reminded me of a Sunday roast. It even arrived with a tub of pheasant jus. However, there were lots of magic involved. Say, the salty acidity of the jus worked wonders with very sharp quince paste – a sort of a delectably sour lubricant for the succulent, expertly roasted bird. Comforting and perfect for all occasions. This was followed by extraordinary Jerusalem Artichoke, Vanilla Ice Cream & Savory. The bean-y artichoke was prepared three ways. The cream and mash, along with the aromatic vanilla ice cream, created layers of smoothness (sans vegetable smell); the crisps provided texture contrast and distinct saltiness, while torched savory cream and fried savory leaves left a refreshingly thyme-y note. A genius touch :-D


I don’t quite know how to sum this up. The Young Turks meals have always been different and exciting in the London scene. (It somehow reminds me much of another sensational pop-up Roganic). This weekly menu change is outrageously risky but at the same time it shows James and Isaac’s courage and belief in their innovations. That said, their dishes so far at The Ten Bells have been comfort with incredibly unique touches, not at all gastronomically intimidating. A kind of British “bistronomique” that toys traditions with skilled kitchen alchemy. Some dishes work better than others; some make you crave for a reprise; others make you want to follow The Young Turks and see what else they will come up with next..

..and (I promise) you will hear of that in a week’s time :-D


Again the dining room was still too barely lit for my humble camera >_<

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.


(from 1 Nov 2011- 29 Jan 2012 only)

The Ten Bells, 1st Flr
84 Commercial Street
E1 6LY

Tel. 075 3049 2986

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The Young Turks @ The Ten Bells

The old boys

The Young Turks, by now, need no introduction.

Rather, over the past 6-7 months, Isaac McHale and James Lowe have epitomised London’s gastronomic hipness with their agile British menus – we’re talking micro leaves, honey granita, or even, grouse sausage – competent cooking and the appealing price tags. They have, in the process, recruited thousands of ardent followers. This three-month takeover at Spitalfield’s historical pub The Ten Bells has, therefore, already drawn a big crowd and may offer a glimpse of what it would be like IF this duo finally opens their own restaurant (I’m not sure if this is their plan together, but never mind!).

Enter with a buzz

The Ten Bells was lively, but when I climbed upstairs to the more demure first floor, there was this nouveau vibe. A sign that read “Live East Die Young” at the entrance to this pub-y dining space was a nuisance to a WC2 resident like me (we are more used to unmistakably green signs of Shrek the Musical or Disney-themed Christmas lights). The intimate, pub-y room was reclaimed with the East End quirk – some sort of “Tracey Emin” neon lights thrown in with a taxidermic fox and Banksy humour. Daniel and Jonny synch’ed the service with immense charm.

The menu waited for me at the table. 4-course tasting-style at £39, which will change weekly over the course of the Turks’s residence at The Ten Bells. It spelled a true British comfort, sprinkled with inventive twists. The wine list also prided itself for being marked up at no more than a tenner per bottle. Before all that came a (free) welcoming cocktail of gin, tonic, cinnamon and apple juice “tea”, which was swiftly followed by the succession of rustic amuse bouche. Oyster & Dulse encapsulated the perfumed flavours of the sea with seaweed-y springy-ness. Home cured Middlewhite Ham, moist and delectably salty, could easily make the Brits forget cliched European delicacies. Serrano ham, what? The feisty Grouse Sausage arrived caramelised in amazing Bordelaise. I fought for the last drop of the sauce.

Green Radishes, Squid & Tarragon, to me, made the least impact. Meticulously shaved radishes not only retained bites but also mild bitterness. They jarred a little with the steeply herbed tarragon sauce. I would prefer just those beautifully charred squid strips with the sauce, though The Other Bib was adamant he could do with just squids and radishes. But, we did eat it all up. The next dish of Artichoke, Onions & Watercress was the MOST criminally sensational. It benefited much from an intriguing layering of sweetness from roasted onion wedges, artichoke puree and deep-fried artichoke skins. The chicken jus bound these three elements with distinctive, lip-licking oily richness, while the cress gave a healthy slap of peppery-ness. The main of Ox Cheek, Celeriac & Apple was huge and satisfyingly mellow. The cheek was braised for an unforgettable melt-in-your-mouth effect; the soft apples boast sweetness to counteract the beef-y intensity; and the celeriac puree infused with chocolate malt oozed vanilla, mash-y and velvety texture. A truthful comfort, re-writing the meaning for autumnal joy. Chestnut Mousse, Pear & Honey Granita felt an ideal dish for Indian summer and was in a slight shortage of a heart-warming effect I much needed at this time of year. While I commended the nearly gelatinous poached pear and the mousse finely textured with crispy chestnut slices, I found the dish too politely flavoured to carry on the taste momentum of the two previous dishes. That said, it might be my fault as I had taken too much time taking pictures, and my granita melted and diluted the mousse. Never mind, I will go back and give it another go!

The way forward..

I love The Young Turks and I also love the risks they have so far undertaken. The menu at The Ten Bells is exciting and marries inventiveness with familiar taste successfully. The price is well synch’ed with skills, quality and portion size. The quirky and tasteful venue completes this package. This is one of the best “bistronomy” applications in London, the exciting way forward of replacing the “fine” in the “dining” with the “fun” and “friendly”…

..and I am much looking forward to returning in a matter of weeks ^_^



Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.


(from 1 Nov 2011- 29 Jan 2012 only)

The Ten Bells, 1st Flr
84 Commercial Street
E1 6LY

Tel. 075 3049 2986

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Royal Oak Paley Street: Dining With The Stars in Berkshire

Tired of the fame of Heston Blumenthal, you might find joy in knowing the madhatter chef isn’t the only celebrity in Berkshire with stellar eateries. The Royal Oak Paley Street is your other alternative. Owned by Sir Michael Parkinson this is a pub restaurant, which two years ago, earned itself a little red macaroon AKA the Michelin and is still holding it. Yet, unlike other M-starred pub-restaurants, say The Hand and Flowers or The Sportsman, the Royal Oak didn’t look too much like a pub. Quite dark (for lunch), demure, done up, no tablecloth, nearly fine dining, a bit more fancy.

The kitchen headed by Dominic Chapman creates a celestially English menu utilising very fine British produce, which has been attracting gourmands and chefs far and wide across the British Isles. Dishes were individually priced. The cheapest main was £17.50 and the dearest £34. Lunch menu was available at £22.95 for a three-course. Bread arrived and so did bar nibbles, Roll Mops (1) and Scotch Egg (2). The latter was crowned the “World’s Best Ever Scotch Egg” by Olive Magazine in 2009. Both were travel-worthy. Roll Mops were the delight of taste bud. Voluptuous fillet of pickled herring. The silvery skin still sparkled. The touch of genius came with this paradox of sweetness and acidity in finely sliced pickled onions. That said, they each were huge and do not try eating it in one bite. The Other Bib choked. Poor him.. The scotch egg was densely delicious. Perfectly soft-boiled quail’s egg with its yolk so runny. The meat had good firm of texture and neatly packed with flavours; the golden brown crumbs so crunchy they made noise at a bite.


I settled for three starters. Fried Sand Eels with Mayo (3) looked mental and stuck out everywhere as if it hoped for a Big Brother entrance invitation alongside Jedward. Meaty. Delicate and light batter. Quite a winner (unlike the Twins) though I wished there would have been twists in the yolk-y mayo. Fricasse of Lamb Sweetbreads (4) was rustically served. Three chunks of sweetbreads with crispy skin and creamy flesh. Concentrated broth almost as rich as a jus but nicely balanced by this delectable citrusy acidity. The joyful freshness from peas, crunchy baby gem lettuce and a mild note of mint restored the spirit of summer into the dish. Courgette Flower with Ricotta, Baby Artichokes, Pine Nuts and Sultanas Vinaigrette (5) to share appeared dazed and tasted rather confused. Apart from the items billed, there were also beetroots, peas and tomatoes. In such an entourage the beautifully roasted courgette flower did lose its limelight. The paste with subtle tomato-like acidity did not quite bind everything together.

Main.. our eyes went straight to Roast Grouse (6). Here it arrived with bread sauce, crab apple jelly, gravy and game chips. Homey. This grouse landed with a pleasant aroma and wasn’t particularly game-y. The season has just started and they were only hung for two days. Tender meat and gentle flavour. Personally we would have loved it done more pink.We also had to pace ourselves with the gravy as its mouth-watering intensity could easily drown the taste of grouse. Lovely, nonetheless. The homemade chipolata sausage was nicely done but a piece of grouse offal – a liver, a heart, perhaps? – on the plate would have made my heart pump in excitement.

The desserts, sadly, did not deliver the similarly robust excitement as the savoury dishes. Blackberry and Bramley Apple Crumble with Custard (7) was good but not special. Solid flavours from the zingy apple infused with fresh blackberry. A scattering of nuts provided a contrast of crust. The 2-in-1 dessert of Warm Vanilla Rice Pudding with Jam Doughnuts (8) fell short of success. While the rice pudding was slightly impressively al dente, luxuriously creamy and nicely perfumed, the doughnuts were awkwardly heavy (for their size) and an effort to chew (we both are not yet 30 and our teeth are natural). The heaviness of the dough cancelled out the otherwise enjoyable jam filling. The two elements did not complement each other either.

.. and as I had forgotten to snap a shot of Rice Pudding (boo!!), you may need to indulge with a very pretty image of the same dish on CC’s here

The bill – with water, two glasses of wine, a orange juice – came to £158. The service was slightly laissez-faire and did not exude warmth. We were only friendlily conversed with at the end of the meal. That said, the meal did have its momentum. Honest food. Heartily English. Good but not special. Did not strike me as a destination restaurant, though if you pass by and pop in, I’m sure Royal Oak Paley Street won’t disappoint. When calling for the bill, we took note of Parkinson roaming the bar. And on my slow walk back to Maidenhead station, I took time foraging some blackberries .. and stalking horses.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.


Littlefield Green
near Maidenhead

Tel. 01628 620 541

Royal Oak on Urbanspoon