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Soapy Joe

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  1. My absolute favourite Japanese in London is Sushi Tetsu. It's at 12 Jerusalem Passage, London EC1V 4JP and the main concern for anyone thinking of going there is that it is absolutely tiny and you need to book at least a month in advance. But the sushi is superb. Chef Toru Takahashi (his nickname is Tetsu, hence the restaurant name) used to work at Nobu and trained in Kobe. He runs it with his wife and I would go there at least once a week if I could get in. Kikuchi on Hanway St (between Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road) is another place I really like but is more of an acquired taste. I think the sashimi and sushi is truly excellent (the citron miso with scallops is one of my all time favourites) but the food is somewhat let down by the service, which veers from inattentive to sometimes outride rude (although I am sure it would help if you were Japanese). However, I go to restaurants for the food much more than anything else and think this is as good as many of the top restaurants in Japan.
  2. I would love to write more often...just not enough time. I think the problem with the arancino was that they were under-seasoned. I've had them in several locations in London (Sfizio in Theobalds Road do some good ones) but also in Sicily and the equivalent rice dish in other parts of Italy (for example as suppli in Rome and around Lazio). They can be one of the most delicious dishes but this version just didn't taste of very much. Thinking back, I think probably the best ones I have had have had the rice cooked in a good stock and then seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. This may not be authentic but I can see why I would prefer it as the flavour cuts against the oil from the deep frying, which can be the overwhelming taste if you are not careful.
  3. I was looking for a new restaurant to try for Sunday lunch last weekend and thought I would give Briciole a try (partly, I admit, because the top three on my list of places to go to aren't open on Sunday lunchtime). We arrived at 1.30pm and there was a large family party (perhaps 25 to 30 people) of Italians celebrating what might have been a 65th birthday. A large gathering of Italians having a family party in a new restaurant is always a good sign, in my opinion. We were the only other people there. The dining room is a big, open space. I guess it was a pub originally and now it has brick walls, light wood floors and simple wooden tables. Very minimalist. There is an open plan kitchen where the bar would have been. I ordered a Negroni, which the waitress didn't appear to entirely know what it was (but it was perfect when it turned up), and my wife had a glass of Prosecco (which was originally delivered as a glass of white wine but was quickly swapped). We ordered a basket of bread (£1.50) which wasn't huge but the focaccia was excellent. I gather Briciole prides themselves on their breads and they deserve to as this was some of the lighest focaccia I have had in London and was perfect. The menu is very much in small plates/big plates style which is so trendy at the moment. It is a well thought out selection and well priced. Various plates of meats, plates of cheeses (all priced between £4 and £9), fried dishes, breads, vegetables etc. The problem is really knowing how much you should order and the balance between starters and main courses. Perhaps if you came here as part of a group of 6 then this would become a non issue but for two people it was definitely a consideration. To start we had: Pizza Fritta - not quite cooked enough, rather dull (£3) Arancini - rice balls with cheese, underseasoned and quite bland (£3) Scamorza - delicious although hard to go wrong with smoked mozarella (£6) Prosciutto di Parma - generous plate of very good ham (£5) Insalata Rape & Formaggio - I've actually forgotten the details of this salad, so dull it was. I think it was a beetroot, walnut and goats cheese salad but what I remember from it was that the flavours weren't strong, the cheese wasn't very special (it was fresh, just didn't taste of much) and I thought "I wish I'd ordered something else" (£5) Main courses: Ravioli - my wife had the Ravioli with sage and butter, which she said was delicious and the best bit of the meal (£8) Gnocchi - I had Gnocchi was a tomato sauce which was well cooked but slight lack in depth of flavours. It was fine but nothing very exciting (£7). We had fagiolini al limone (green beans with lemon) (£3) as a side dish which was good. Pudding The pudding menu is short and heavy on the ice cream and sorbets. My wife had a chocolate ice cream (£2.50) which she descibed as good value but not very high quality and she would have rather have one scoop of really good chocolate ice cream than two scoops of average ice cream which she didn't want to eat all of it (very unusual!). I had the Sgroppino (£3) which is lemon sorbet in prosecco. Great value and quite delicious. We drank a bottle of the Alto Adige Terlaner which was keenly priced at £27.70. In fact the wine list was probably the most impressive thing about Briciole. Next time perhaps I will go back and just drink the wine and eat the breads! The total bill including service was £99.79. Our overall feeling was that it was "fine" but we weren't blown away by any means. The cooking was perfectly acceptable but nothing by comparison with Bocca di Lupo or Polpetto (or at least when they opened, I actually was a bit disappointed when I last went to Polpetto and thought their standards had slipped a little). The service was fine but a little vague at times and I didn't get the feeling the waitresses were fully at home in the restaurant yet. It could also be that the main chef wasn't on duty at Sunday lunch - fairly likely, in fact - but I would have thought early on that those in charge would want to be keeping a close eye on what was coming out of the kitchen. I also get the feeling that they are still finding their feet six weeks after opening. The manager said something along those lines when I asked him how things were going. Things like the fact the website (www.briciole.co.uk) isn't up and running yet suggests to me that things aren't fully organised yet. With a few tweaks they could be a lot better. I hope they make those tweaks as that area is short of this sort of restaurant (Dinings is great but not where I'd want to go as my neighbourhood local if I lived around there). Let's hope they can make those tweaks before the critics come and give them a test...
  4. Clapham's not far from me so will definitely try that place, thanks for the tip. And Clapham definitely is London in my book! Are you from North London by any chance??!! ← How did you guess? South London is surely anywhere south of the Central Line but north of the river? Heh heh...just joking.
  5. La Fromagerie (Moxton St, Marylebone or in Highbury) usually have some too. I buy mine from Neal's Yard too.
  6. Pizza Metro in Clapham (if you can that London...) is good. Not as good as the very best in Italy but certainly one of the better offerings outside Italy.
  7. I don't mean to be negative but all the best places will have been booked out months (if not years) ahead. I'd focus on getting yourself a good 30 miles away from Monmouth Park if you want to eat well...
  8. Well, we did end up at the Trouble House. I will write a full report when I can find a bit more time but the highlights were: 1. The cooking was very well executed and show real flair. It was a cut above what I was expecting. 2. The cooking needed to be that good to make up for the fact that the room is unwelcoming and cold. We were initially sat in a small wooden table by the far escape and just next to the window leading to the front. It was raining outside and lorries whoosed past at what felt like 10 metres from our heads. The room was about 5 degrees colder than it should have been (perhaps the onset of autumn had caught them out) and no one had thought that closing the curtains might keep the temperature up and the noise down. We moved to a table next to the bar which was better (not so near the road) but was very drafty indeed. 3. If you're charging £18 for a main course I am not sure that ordering at the bar is the way forward. In my opinion, you either pay top notch prices and get great service as well as great food or you drop your prices a bit and people put up with it. At London prices in the middle of Gloucestershire, it is pushing it. 4. One of our fish dishes arrived with ham in the accompanying vegetables. As one of our party did not eat meat, they were a bit surprised by this (the menu is very short on non meat dishes as it is). When they pointed this out to the waiter he said "we can't put everything that's in the meal on the menu". If he had said "It's Yom Kippur [as it was] so we didn't expect any Jewish diners" I would have at least seen the logic but I think this was very sloppy. 5. On a hot summer's day sitting in the garden, I think I would have been a lot more impressed. Good food saved the day but total lack of ambience (and rather amateur service) would put me off going again.
  9. I used to be a big fan of Harbour City but I think the standards have slipped badly. If I have to eat in Chinatown then I would recommend HK Diner on Wardour St. I was taken there by Chinese friends and it is definitely a different class to most of its local rivals. I would particularly recommend the deep fried aubergines, the long beans with chilli and garlic and the Chinese chives with shrimp (might not be on the menu but they have Chinese chives - which are hard to find in London in my experience - and will cook them as requested).
  10. Ragam in Cleveland St (nearest tube: Goodge St) is good, cheap southern Indian food. Just make sure you only order from the specials on the left side of the menu (especially the Masala Dosai and Uppatham) otherwise you'll wonder why you bothered. Salaam Namaste in Millman Street, Bloomsbury employs the former head chef of the Sheraton, Mumbai and is excellent, great value and has a range of dishes from across India. Just dont try the crab vindaloo which was a shocker. Everything else is usually spot on. Neither are restaurants you would pick for the decor, just in case you're trying to impress someone on non food basis.
  11. Now that the Bedfords have left the Trouble House where does one eat well in Tetbury? My wife and I are there on a Friday evening in a couple of weeks and don't really fancy Calcot Manor, although I guess we could end up at the Gumstool Inn (same kitchen) if anyone knows it is good. Anyone got some better suggestions? All help much appreciated.
  12. I tend to buy from Pages (Shaftesbury Ave, London) for every day items and then if I need something specialist then I will buy it online.
  13. I am afraid I cannot agree about Giraffe. To me it is somewhere close to hell on earth. For fast food (albeit served slowly) at a chain restaurant it is fine but its main appeal is that it is child friendly. If you like proper food, well cooked by individuals then avoid Giraffe. Particularly with an 8 month old who won't even appreciate the balloons, ketchup, colouring kit etc (much more suited for 2 through 5, imo). If you like ear splitting amounts of noise, lengthy waits, different dishes appearing at random times and a relative high bill then go right ahead. I'd recommend dim sum at Royal China on Baker St (or other branches but I like Baker St best of them) as they love children, have plenty of high chairs and are super friendly to those with kids (they tend to be less friendly to unaccompanied grown ups!). Otherwise anywhere with Italian staff tends to be a good bet. We also used to take our under one year old to Matsuri on High Holborn for sushi and they were great with her. The food is fantastic too and there's very little smoke generally and they will seat you away from smokers.
  14. I used to work with Mark when he was deputy news editor of The Sunday Telegraph. A nicer journalist you could not hope to meet. At least he is kicking off telling his readers what his personal foibles are about eating out and where he is coming from. God only knows what demented features editor forced him into an ill fitting dinner jacket for that picture. If you've got that posted on your front podium, I doubt you will recognise him (but if you do want to try and spot him, a good clue is that he looks a tiny bit like that picture and he's not very tall).
  15. I wrote the things above before reading the Observer review (bit forgot to press submit last night....oops). All I can say is that you should try and take some positives out of it, try and make the changes that have been suggested (IF the owners are capable of making those changes, which I would guess was the biggest problem) and then try and get Jay back in a year so he can write a nice review about how you have turned it all around...
  16. I'm just an ordinary punter, probably the sort of person you'd like to get into the restaurant. I am happy to travel far and pay high prices for good food. If I find a place that is great then I will tell a lot of people about it (including restaurant critics) and will do my level best to make sure the restaurant succeeds, so that I can keep on going back there. However I am not likely to be going to Alexander's just yet, certainly not at the prices on the website. For one thing, you are a long way from anywhere (I live in central London) and at those prices I can eat very well within a small radius (a few miles) of my home. So my guess is that until you have a reputation (GFG, Michelin, reviews etc) then you are going to be trying to get people within a 10 mile radius of Limpsfield. I don't know too much about the area but my uneducated guess would be that the general population have a 'posh' meal out (ie more than £50 a head) about four times a year, maximum. If I was forced to make an under/over it would be nearer 2.5. Do you have a large enough potential customer base to make it work with that sort of visit frequency? My main reason why I would not go is that your website does its very best to put me off. This is intended to be constructive criticism, so please don't take it in the wrong way. But here's my thought just about the homepage (or rather, the page you click through to after the totally pointless homepage which only serves to a) confuse and b) ruin your search engine optimisation efforts: You say: "Alexander’s at Limpsfield is located in a wonderfully idyllic setting in the quiet and enchanting village of Limpsfield, Surrey. Here, the innovative talents of proprietor Patricia A Douglas have brought together style, elegance and a gastronomic experience of the highest level." I say: "FFS. I thought this was a restaurant I was going to. How come we don't get a mention of what kind of food it serves in the first paragraph? And why do I care about the proprietor? Damn, I hope it's not another of those restaurants where someone has made a shedload of money in another profession and now is going to blow it all by pursuing their dream of running a restaurant. Proprieters should neither be seen nor heard, imo, and certainly not in the first paragraph of the sales pitch. As for the "wonderfully idyllic setting in the quiet and enchanting village of Limpsfield, Surrey" it only makes me think that the premises is a rather ugly building stuck in the middle of a nice village - if it were a 17th century converted farmhouse then they would tell me. Ah look at the picture, it's the restaurant in snow. I wonder how ugly it looks when it's not covered in snow". Anyway, why do I give a toss about the setting or even the style and elegance when I'm being asked to fork out 15 quid for a starter!" You say: "Transformed from a traditional style restaurant, Alexander’s at Limpsfield opened its doors in November 2006 to challenge the standards of its competitors and raise the bar by delivering a truly memorable experience. At Alexander’s, our aim is to provide every guest with an event in the art of good eating where exceptional food, excellent service and relaxed atmosphere all come naturally." I say: "Give me a break. "An event in the art of good eating". Let's try and communicate in English rather than bullshit. "Transformed from a traditional style restaurant"....hmmmm, you mean it was once a Harvester? What is a 'traditional style restaurant'? This sounds like a euphemism for it being horrible. You say: "With a cleverly mixed blend of casual and fine dining under one roof, Alexander’s has something to offer everyone and will leave guests wanting to return time and time again." I say: Have you seriously got to the end of the home page of the site without mentioning what kind of food you serve and why it is good? So far, so cruel. Now, let's get to the left navigation of the website. Which do you think your average customer is more interested in, a sample menu or the personnel? At the prices you charge I would hope it would be the sample menu? So why is key personnel listed first? My guess is because there are some big egos involved in this project, which puts me off massively. Even when I do look at the personnel, it makes me more concerned. For example, let's look at Simon's page as head chef: http://www.alexanders-limpsfield.co.uk/SimonAttridge.html It starts: "Born in Reigate, Surrey, Simon spent his early catering years in Redhill and Reigate Golf Club when he developed a strong desire to become a Chef at the highest level." Okay, I've read enough. I'm being charged 15 quid for a starter by the chef from the local golf club. Surely you bury that detail somewhere in the biog. Try something like this: Head Chef Simon Attridge is a Michelin-starred chef who had worked in some of Britain's top kitchens. He was head chef to Heston Blumenthal at xxx and has also worked with Gordon Ramsey. Before moving to Alexander's he was head chef at Drakes On The Pond in Surrey, where he achieved his first Michelin star. Personally I think this should be on the home page....others may disagree. A couple of other points: http://www.alexanders-limpsfield.co.uk/associates.html is a complete mess and your web designer needs a nudge. And Bruno Cicco might always have dreamed of achieving a Michelin star but this... "Bruno has been privileged to work in some amazing locations, for some of the largest and most notable restaurants in the world and is thrilled to finally be given an opportunity to fulfill his ultimate dream of achieving his first Michelin Star alongside the dynamic team at Alexanders at Limpsfield." ....may not help his quest. I think the desire for a Michelin star is something you tell your friends and colleagues about, not post it on the website. Feel free to ignore this...I freely admit I am no expert.
  17. Red and Green at the top end of Brick Lane is a good (newish) Mexican restaurant. Definitely the best one i have found in London, at least.
  18. We do it specifically to piss off all of you. ← And it works quite effectively too....
  19. For thse sort of budget you have why not take over a small restaurant for the night? I would recommend Konstam at the Albert if you want to impress and suprise people with a place that has great food and a location that most people will assume is not going to produce fantastic food. For your budget you will have much more fun having somewhere entirely to yourselves.
  20. It depends what time you want to eat and where you are approaching from. Close by are Moro (which you know), Medcalf (right next to Moro) and the Eagle. All are good and we eat at Medcalf most often of the three. If you are eating early (ie pre theater) I would definitely recommend Medcalf. The Eagles is too smoky early on while Moro has no atmosphere. Medcalf also has a more adventerous menu, imo. Can't fault the idea of Konstam but it is decent hike away. Or even a taxi ride. I would personally avoid the Angel/Upper St choices but that may be just a personal prejudice. The Peasant is just not what it used to be. Seems to go backwards with success. You could also walk from St Johns...it's about the same distance as Konstam.
  21. Under-rated: Fish roe, especially smoked cod's roe. Everybody I introduce it to asks where they can get it and why it costs so little. Soured cream Crab (why would anyone eat lobster when you can have four times as much crab for the price?) Over-rated: Pretty much any salad in a bag from a supermarket (does it ever taste of anything?) Anything grown hydroponically (Dutch peppers, tomatoes etc). They don't taste of anything. Those herb plants sold in supermarkets, especially the coriander. Designed to add colour but no flavour to a dish (just occassionally a basil plant is okay but I woud say only about 10% of the time)
  22. I like Super Star too (took sister in law and 10 friends there for her 30th birthday and had an excellent meal) but I think the food is better at a new place, Hong Kong Diner, on Wardour St. Various Chinese friends have recommended it and I have to say I was very impressed by the food, especially the deep fried aubergine. It is good value too. I would try not to get stuck in the basement as it lacks atmosphere. If you want atmosphere above food (and want to be able to sit around after the meal without being hassled to vacate youir table), go to Super Star.
  23. Theobald's (also known by their trade name McKenna Meats - you may see their vans delivering to some of London's top restaurants) is my local butcher. I am no expert but the following are (imo) good signs: 1. They will prepare pretty much what you ask for. If you want an obscure cut they will get the carcass and prepare it for you, however long the queue is 2. There is usually a long queue (unless you get here at 5am when they have been open for an hour or so) 3. The queue is often made up of Chinese and African shoppers who want unusual cuts of meat and know that they will get top quality meats here. 4. A lot of the top restaurants use them as their sole meat supplier 5. They do the whole range from incredibly cheap offal and bog standard chicken breasts to organic free range chickens that cost more than a small flat in Hackney.
  24. I am surprised no-one has mentioned HK Diner, a relatively new restaurant on Wardour St. I was originally taken by a Chinese friend and have been back twice since. It is fortunately not yet on the tourist list and so is almost entirely populated by Chinese diners - a good sign. The steamed sea bass, gailan with ginger, deep fried aubergine and green beans with chilli were all excellent. Only dish I could fault was the steamed mussels with black beans in which the sauce drowned any flavour of the mussels. Good value too.
  25. Thanks for everyone's very helpful suggestions. My wife took me to Bologna for my birthday two weekends ago and it was an excellent two days away. We spent most of the time eating. The best meal we had was at Caminetto d'Oro. Great Bologna specialities (tortellini al brodo, spaghetti ragu, meatballs etc), good wine suggestions (we took what was suggested which was a delicious light local white for 18 euros when many restaurants would try to sell tourists something a lot more expensive) and very friendly service. There is a small choice - perhaps 6 starters and 5 main courses - and all seemed to use the highest quality seasonal ingredients. The clientele (early October) were mainly local businessmen and rich Italian ladies who lunch. Get there early if you want a seat outside (when it is warm enough) as we got the last one at 12.20pm. Some people won't want to sit outside because there is the constant buzz of traffic in the background and the road Caminetto d'Oro is on seems to be a cut through for students driving Vespas. For my birthday meal we went to Bitone, which I will admit was a touch disappointing. It's quite a long way out of town (we took the 20 bus and must have been Bitone's only customers all year to get their by public transport) and it has a very 80s feel. It feels like a scaled down version of the reception of the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. The bathrooms in the basement are in shades of lurid yellow and green which I will kindly describe as an acquired taste. We had a bad experience with the food. I ordered a soup which is a regional speciality but I cannot remember the name. It comes in a clear meat stock with 'worms' of pasta. It was advertised as coming with white truffle but when it arrived mine had no truffle. I tried to catch a waiter's attention but they were all busy and when I finally got the waitress (who admitedly had been taking an order from a table of 10 ceramic salesmen) she went off to the kitchen and came back and told me the chef had decided we wouldn't like the truffle. She could tell I was pretty peeved about this, especially as the soup was now cold. To their credit, they then did produce a second starter of spaghetti with white truffles as way of compensation. The chef even came out of the kitchen to shave the truffles over. But I couldn't help but feel that they had a sudden panic that we were foreign restaurant reviewers or something and decided to make good and that the chef had decided that they could try and get away with serving the soup without truffles to cut costs. The spaghetti with truffles was excellent. For the main course I had grilled shrimps wrapped in courgettes which was extremely rich and some of the shrimps were marginally overcooked. All in all, I felt Bitone were running off their reputation and that you could do a lot better for the money (it's not cheap and I would definitely go to Caminetto d'Oro twice than Bitone once). [more to follow...]
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