Tag Archives: London

There ain’t no (Beer) party like a Beer Mansion

Music Cellar...

In recent years, I’ve gotten more and more into Craft beers – As part of my 40 Project, I tried to drink local beers from places whilst on my travels (I actually went to a local Birmingham brewery but didn’t manage to take any photos so am not counting it). I was briefly into Real Ales whilst at University, but I was never really someone whom liked lagers when out drinking with friends. My memories of it was mainly of my Dad treating himself to a pint of lager or bitter from the pub opposite the Takeaway and when trying a mouthful myself, complaining about how bitter it was. By no means would I consider myself to be an expert, but yunno, I think I have a fairly decent palette, I know what kind of tastes and flavours I do and don’t like and it’s been (and continues to be) a real voyage of discovery as I continue to not only learn about, but discover new, tasty beers from the ever growing list of breweries out there. I do have some favourite breweries, ones that have consistently good beers across their portfolio – Anchor Brewery, Founders, Magic Rock and Brooklyn Brewery.

Summer Ale

Admittedly, I have a bit of a soft spot for Brooklyn as they’re probably THE brewery that really got me interested into craft beer. Whilst I was busy avoiding Brooklyn Lager through fear of bringing back unpleasant childhood memories of drinking lager (by virtue of containing the word “lager”), it was at the brilliant Grillstock that I got to drink the very delicious Brooklyn Summer Ale for the very first time – It was light, crisp with a slight fruity note – words I would normally use to describe wine, not beer and yunno, it was absolutely perfect for drinking on a long, warm summer night. It was also from that weekend at Grillstock that I got to try other beers like the East India Pale Ale which was delicious, but a whopping 6.9% – Which I didn’t realise at the time when I bought a case for some friends who were competing in the King of the Grill contest, oops!. From there, I tried other beers in the Brooklyn range and very quickly, Brooklyn Brown Ale established itself as a firm favourite of mines (along with Summer Ale both of which are 2 of my favourite beers and regular go-to beers). It was from here that I learned about the BQE range of beers and fortunately for me, the (also very brilliant) Stirchley Wines tend to stock beers from the BQE range and again, I’m generally impressed with what Brooklyn produce. I should also point out that I have since tried Brooklyn lager and (as expected from a brewery that takes taste and flavour seriously, rather than mass-producing something bland), it’s actually really nice and nothing like anything my Dad used to drink.

American Ale

Through the joys of social media, I learned that Brooklyn Brewery were bringing their Mash to London – A series of different types of events over a few days – And whilst I don’t live in London, I was keen to see if there was anything I could make it to (without taking any leave from work as I may need to save them for other fun things this year…) and my eyes are drawn to the Beer Mansion. I really wanted to go to the feast – A collaboration with Smoking Goat but given it was midweek, it would have meant a bit of a dash to and after (not that I could buy tickets anyway, it was more of a raffle).  Quick message to my craft beer brother, Moon, and I’m booking tickets for the Beer Mansion along with accommodation.

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The Beer Mansion was described as “an immersive beer experience” and if I’m completely honest, my first thoughts after reading that were that it was a load of pretentious marketing twaddle so upon arriving to the entrance to MC Motors in the back streets of Stoke Newington, I didn’t really know what to expect – But I went in with an open mind…

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So we arrived at the back of what seemed like a former car mechanic’s yard and there were ship containers a-plenty, all stack on top of each other. Quick scan to make sure we had actually bought tickets and literally before we could step into the entrance/shipping container, the bouncer (shades, black suit and all) sternly instructed us to “grab a beer” and pointed at 2 large black plastic bins filled with iced water and cans of various Brooklyn beers. Naturally, we weren’t going to argue with the scary bouncer and I headed straight for a can of my beloved Summer Ale whilst Moon went for the American Ale. Right by the entrance, we’re approached by someone whom obviously works there (walkie-talkie, dressed in Brooklyn Brewery clothing…) and asked if we’d just arrived (yes) and whether we’d been told about the Beer Mansion. Claiming (quite rightly) ignorance,He proceeded to tell us that “This is a beer festival – with 50+ beers in different settings for you to appreciate” and his best advice to us was “to not stay in one space for too long.” Well, that would be our interest piqued. Moving to one end of the courtyard, there were plenty of people lining up for food (provided by Voodoo Ray Pizza), playing Cornhole or like us, just chatting and drinking the (free) beer and making the most of the sun coming out to play. We’d only just got there and were already loving it..

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As the night went on, we took the advice of the aforementioned guy and started to explore the complex – There were indeed lots of different areas with different themed bars at each spot, all with beers for you to try. In the courtyard by the entrance, they were offering Brooklyn Bel Air Sour – Which I *loved*. I’m really into my sours atm, and this one was an absolute cracker! Going downstairs to what was ostensibly a basement, there was a DJ on one side and an (empty) stage at the other with another bar nearby – This time with another 4 different varieties to try. Everywhere you went, there was a bar with yet more beer to try, soon it became clear what the advice meant – You really wanted to continue exploring the complex and trying different beers in different settings. Hell, there was even a photo booth – Who doesn’t love a photo booth (especially after a few drinks?). There was so much to see and do, including a slight element of danger added to the proceedings in the form of concrete stairs steeper than those found at the Colosseum in Rome with a bit of loose rope pretending to be a banister.  I mean, even the security bod had to keep saying to people (in his stern voice) to take care which presumably, he had to after too many ppl were staggering up (and down) them.  I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, but the main feeling was one of disbelief that everything (including danger and comedy elements) were included in the £10 for the ticket?!

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One of my favourite bars within the Beer Mansion was where Head of Culinary Programme Chef for Brooklyn Brewery Andrew Gerson essentially plated a dish in our palms and paired it with one of the beers. The dish was some lightly cured salmon with micro herbs, roasted seeds and nuts, some sauce and it was very nice indeed. More to the point, it did pair exceptionally well with the beer and was for me, a perfect example of drinking beer differently. I stood a little in awe, watching wave after wave of people crowd round and follow instructions given diligently and seeing the reactions on all their faces after eating the dish. If I wasn’t already having a brilliant time, this last experience completely cemented it for me.

Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Talking through the food... topping.. Hands at the ready..

I left the Beer Mansion completely in awe at what I experienced – So much thought and planning had gone into it and it was a very slick operation, but it didn’t lose its core ideal in that it was something to not only allow you try different (Brooklyn) Beers, but also try them in different settings which may (or may not) enhance the experience. Truly, I had never experienced anything like it but that’s not to say that it was a bad thing. I admit, I do like Brooklyn Brewery beers – They’re very drinkable! – And by the end of it, I admit that I was taken in by the marketing spiel, but the Beer Mansion was just something else and very special. They have set the bar  impossibly high for others when it comes to Beer Festivals and I tell you what, if Brooklyn Brewery bring the circus that is the Brooklyn Brewery Mash round to the UK again, I will be clearing my diary to make as many events as possible, wherever it may be.

Signage Bounty from the night

More photos can be found at my Flickr album

Reaching even greater dizzying heights – A return to Hedone

Poached Cornish rock oysters, Granny Smith, shallots

For my Birthday, I obviously wanted to go somewhere pretty special to eat and with that came all sorts of questions – Do I stay in Birmingham or should I venture out further afield, possibly abroad? Do I try somewhere new or do I return to somewhere I’ve previously loved? I did initially think of staying in Birmingham but decided against it because well, I live here so can go to the good restaurants whenever I want (or at least it would be much easier for me to do so). I can’t really afford to go anywhere abroad so it was a matter of where else in the Country I wanted to go to. For a moment, I considered le Champignon Sauvage; the first 2* place I’d ever eaten and somewhere I went to in the beginning of my foray into finer dining establishments so I have a bit of a soft spot for them out of pure nostalgia. However, the cooking there is very robust and in them early days whilst my palette was still developing, was at times a bit *too* rich for me, but I reckon I could cope with it now. But was it enough for my Birthday meal? Not quite was that answer.. Besides, I want to go back to LCS with specific people to make it special again and by the time we thought about it, couldn’t get a table. I really needed somewhere I could get to easily by train for a day trip so that ruled out L’Enclume and other places up North so I looked at the train router and thought about the Hand and Flowers; I’ve been meaning to go there for a while with a friend but when I called them, they didn’t have any tables free for then next 6 months(!!). So there was only 1 place left – Londinium.

Nibbles

I go to Londiunium quite a bit really – Partly to visit friends and I used to go for work, but mainly because there are a lot of places I want to try in London. That said, there hasn’t really been anywhere new that has opened up in the past 18 months or so which has got me really excited and thinking that I *must* rush there (Well, apart from Sushi Tetsu last year). I mean, I remember being desperate to get a table at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Pollen Street Social pretty much as soon as they opened, but I’ve not had that feeling about a lot of places which have opened in London for a while now. That’s not really a bad thing though, as it means that whilst everyone is rushing around trying to get a table at the latest establishment opening its doors for the first time, I’m finding it easier to get a reservation at somewhere which has had the time to iron out the kinks associated with new openings and have found their groove (so to speak). However, there has only been 1 new restaurant opening in the past couple of years where I actively seek to go back to time and time again – Hedone.

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There’s no secret that I absolutely love Hedone given how completely blown away I was from the very first meal I ate there (and subsequently wrote about here) and am subsequently absolutely itching to go back as soon as possible pretty much all the time. Since that first visit, I’ve been back a few times and I’ll be honest, there has been an occasion when I’ve felt slightly underwhelmed and thought that Mikael showed off his mortal side. Whilst chatting to Mikael on a visit last Summer, he told us that he was (finally) a lot happier with how the kitchen was operating and subsequently much happier with the dishes being served – And you could tell that from subsequent visits; The near culinary god-like status was reinstated and every dish coming from the kitchen was absolutely stellar. Subsequently, there’s been no looking back; Hedone has been awarded its first Michelin star – Just over 12 months after first opening and as Mikael himself documented in his Gastroville blog, getting the Michelin star was a source of great pride to him and he finally a lot happier with the way the kitchen and restaurant is being run. From that slight dip where all the dishes were probably 7 or 8’s out of 10, every single dish that was being served now was worthy of at least a 9 out of 10 and that old familiar feeling of wanting to go back as soon as possible returned. And well, that turned out to be my Birthday;

Detail: "Fish and Chips"

The 4 of us arrived absolutely famished because as we deliberately ate a light breakfast given we knew that there were going to be a lot of courses eaten but I don’t think we were prepared for just how hungry we all were by the time we got there. Jokingly, we thought of asking them to have bread waiting for us on the table for our arrival, so when we all sat down eventually (after I had a bit of a brain meltdown in being asked to make a decision when hungry as to whether to sit at one of the new tables or the banquette) and ordered aperitifs, our server was about to serve us bread and butter before remembering that we had ordered aperitifs and quickly retracted from serving us bread – So close! The pêche royale was so delicious and strong, it went straight to my head and I soon forgot about being famished.

Actually, I really need to dedicate some words to the bread here; I mean, I’ve been making a lot of sourdough bread myself (thanks to a starter from Loaf) and yunno, I don’t think it’s too bad. The luxury of being able to have sourdough toast – Which could well be one of the greatest breakfast items ever – every morning is a real treat. The bread at Hedone has always been pretty good but I remember Mikael saying (again) how he’s much happier with the bread now and it’s almost at a point where he’s willing to bake it for other restaurants. All I can say is that if Mikael thinks that the bread could be better, it will be classified as borderline illegal from being so good. I mean, the bread as it is now at Hedone is stunning: The crust is a thing of beauty and the bread itself, whilst resisting the urge to talk about crumb structure, is almost sweet and malty – with the signature sour tang. Seriously, I used to think I made good sourdough and sorry guys, the sourdough from Loaf is delicious – But the bread at Hedone is leagues above. What’s more, they keep offering you some until you decline (after which, they quickly clear away your side slate/rock thingy) and whilst I’ve always liked the bread at Hedone, I can see why Mikael is much happier with this recipe and as we (half) joked, our mission to get Mikael to offer us a loaf of their sourdough to take home..

Exceptional crust! Sourdough Sourdough Sourdough

I could give a course-by-course detail, but I would run out of superlatives; Every single dish that came out to us (and we deliberately asked not to be told what we were getting to keep the element of surprise with Carte Blanche) was stunning and became a new favourite – until the next dish came out. Even now, the four of us struggle to decide upon the top 3 dishes of the day – From the Broken duck’s egg, green asparagus, green peas, fresh morels, red bell pepper where, as P commented, even the peas were delicious to the sublime Langoustine tail and claw, lobster bouillon and roe with a langoustine tail so thick, it looked almost like a really thick centipede, but was cooked to perfection and the bouillon so packed full of flavour. And that liquid parmesan ravioli – None of us had any idea how they made the liquid parmesan, but it was utterly delicious and I’m glad that the chefs at Hedone do know how to make liquid parmesan and cook it for us (grateful) paying guests.

Detail: Broken duck's egg, green asparagus, green peas, fresh morels, red bell pepper Detail: Langoustine tail and claw, lobster bouillon and roe Detail: Liquid Parmesan ravioli, Roscoff onion consomme, mild horseradish Roast squab pigeon, offal sauce, beetroots five ways

But that’s not to say that every dish as a whole was a complete success; Whilst I loved the liquid parmesan and the mild horseradish foam it was served with, I found the ravioli pasta *just* a smidgen too thick – And we are talking millimetres here. Perhaps it needed to be to contain the liquid parmesan – And I must also stress that I was the only person in our party who thought that the pasta was too thick, but personally speaking, I would have given the dish a 10 out of 10 had the pasta been a teeny bit thinner, rather than the 9 out of 10. Yes, I am being that particular! For the suckling pork dish we were offered, the suckling pig itself was sheer perfection with crispy skin and the meat so tender and moist underneath. It immediately made me think of Chinese New Year (which is no bad thing) and I almost yearned for some jellyfish or some hoisin sauce. However, the endive and aubergine with miso and walnut served with it made it less of a successful dish as a whole; the aubergine wasn’t quite cooked enough and the glaze on both the aubergine and endive was incredibly salty – overpoweringly so and they didn’t really enhance the pork in any way. But you could overlook such misgivings purely because that piggy was so damned tasty..

Roast suckling pig, miso and walnut glazed endive and aubergine Detail: Roast suckling pig, miso and walnut glazed endive and aubergine

However, these are genuinely minor gripes and in no way affected all of us having a brilliant time – Any kind of lunch that lasts 4 hours where each dish is at least 9 out of 10 is pretty damn good in anyone’s book, I’d say. Hell, I’m even eulogising about the bread served in this place!. I know that I’ve been a big fan of Hedone since the very beginning, but I can honestly say that Hedone now is not only very different to when they first opened, but they’re an awful lot better now. It’s very clichéd, but in a society where we are in danger of forgetting how things should taste (remember P commenting on how even the peas were good?), what Hedone does is remind it’s diners just how good ingredients treated simply can be. I mean, what can be more simple than getting asparagus that (quelle horreur) actually tastes of asparagus and not some of the bland, tasteless crap you can get from Supermarkets these days?. They don’t make a big song and dance about it (that’s left to bloggers such as myself and reviewers), but I do think that Hedone is genuinely one of the most exciting restaurants in London, possibly the whole Country. It certainly is brilliant value (especially for lunch) where you can go 2 course set lunch for £28.50, 3 courses for £35.00, but why would you when you can get have a 7 course tasting menu for £55.00? Sure, Hedone may not be a very fashionable restaurant nor may it be trendy enough to be a place to be seen. But Hedone is absolutely a place to eat (strange that, for a restaurant eh?) and I was already plotting when I can return to Hedone before we finished our meal. I am seriously excited to find out what culinary tricks Mikael and his brigade will do to fantastically great ingredients every time I visit – which is why I maintain that Hedone is one of the most exciting new restaurants to open up in the last few years and also why I keep going back. It is also why you should eat there, too.

Finished plate

You can view the full set of photos from my visit on my Flickr page

Koya, London

Entrance

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone for me to say that I’m somewhat of a noodle-freak; I simply love noodles in all forms that they come in, particularly Asian, but that’s mainly because of my roots. There’s been a lot of love and hoo-har for ramen in recent months with several ramen places opening in Londinium and local favourite MinMin looking to make their own ramen soon. But whilst I like ramen, I don’t think it’s the tastiest noodle that our Japanese friends have given us. I mean, I much prefer something like soba noodles (especially in a cold soba noodle salad) but I’ve always had a bit of a special love for udon noodles. I mean, I love their thick chewiness and even with the packaged stuff you can buy from Asian supermarkets, I actually quite like the sour tang they have at the end. I can remember the first time we ordered udon noodles in a Chinese restaurant and apart from the fact that I was trying something new (with what I thought was a bit of a funky name), I loved how chewy they were. In recent years, I started making my own udon noodles and whilst I can modestly say that I thought they were OK, there was always a little something that I thought was missing – But having not tasted them in Japan, I had no real point of reference, apart from the packets of udon noodles. That was, until Koya opened.

Udon noodles for HIya-Atsu

Koya was a bit of a revelation to me the first time I went because it was the first time I recognised that this is how udon noodles should taste, what texture they should be, etc. And from all the blurb that was written about Koya around the time that it first opened its doors, it was very authentic – Some even suggested it was as good as what you could get in Japan. But they also offered dishes other than udon noodles and as you would expect with Japanese cuisine, every dish that came out was as pretty as a picture. But whilst dishes like their tempura was crisp and light like it should be, the udon noodles here were king. Well, they should be considering that the flour is especially imported from Japan and they soften the local Thames water to make them.

The menu at Koya is pretty straightforward: You first need to decide if you want hot or cold noodles, if you choose hot noodles then you will get it in a hot broth, if you choose cold noodles, you then need to decide if you want it with a hot broth or a cold sauce to either dip in or pour over your noodles. The idea is that you would choose hot noodles and hot broth on cold days and the cold noodles option on warmer days. From there, it’s whatever protein takes your fancy. There are rice dishes (donburi) available too, but let’s face it, why would you go to Koya to eat rice? Then there are the small plates and specials; I have a particular soft spot for the onsen tamago which a perfectly soft poached quail’s egg in a light broth. It’s a little 2-bite bowl of deliciousness which I can’t help but every pretty much every time I go. I’m also a bit partial to the seaweed salad and especially like the green salad on warm summer days and the tempura here is pretty good.

Onsen Tamago Small Plate Detail: Kaiso Salad Vegetable tempura Vegetable tempura

If you follow Koya on Twitter, they usually tweet what the day’s specials are to further tempt you; my most recent visit saw us ordering the oysters and Jerusalem artichoke in broth from the small plates (Again, a delicately balanced broth with a couple of lightly poached oysters and chunks of Jerusalem artichoke which added a real earthiness to the whole dish) and ordering the special atsu atsu – char shu lamb with dandelion udon. It intrigued me in that char shu is (like char siu in Chinese cookery) is usually roasted pork (the Japanese tend to just flavour it with soy and honey and not add any food colouring like the Chinese do and slow roast it), so it intrigued me to see lamb being used and wondered how it was going to be served. What arrived was some thinly sliced char shu lamb with some dandelion leaves and other light toppings (crushed ginger and sesame seeds) on top of the udon in a light broth. And well, the lamb may have been thinly sliced but it was packed full of flavour and perfectly pink.

Small Plate: Oysters and Jerusalem Artichoke in broth Small Plate Detail: Oysters and Jerusalem Artichoke in broth Special Atsu-Atsu Special Atsu-Atsu

The broth for my Kamo (duck) hiya atsu had a bit too much of a sheen from too much fat floating on the surface (which made it awkward to photograph) and although the slices of duck in the broth were really thick, each slice had been coated in some floury coating which made it all a bit slimy. Still, I ate the lot. As for YKL’s kinoko hiya atsu, it was nice but the brother was served warm and the udon noodles were so chilled that it unfortunately lowered the temperature a bit too much and she was in a rush to eat her dish because the broth had actually gone cold.

Kamo Hiya-Atsu Kamo Hiya-Atsu Kinoko Hiya-Atsu detail: Kinoko Hiya-Atsu

So there have been occasional misses whenever I’ve gone, but whenever I’ve taken my friends there, they’ve absolutely loved it. However, the one thing which has consistently been good at Koya is the udon noodles; They truly are a thing of wonder with the perfect chew and spring to them, and there isn’t that sour tang at the end. The noodles are soft, with a bit of a bite to them and are so long that when you actually enjoy slurping them. Whilst there may have been issues with the broth at times, when you get the right combination of noodle to broth, it really is a thing of beauty and a joy to eat.

And therein lies my problem with Koya; Whilst the noodles are fantastic – easily the best out there (OK, Koya is the only place out there offering fresh udon noodles), but whilst the prices may be considered cheap for Central London (they won the Cheap Eats category in the Observer Food Awards in 2011 and was a runner-up in 2012), most of the dishes are priced £10+ when I could go to Noodle Oodle on Oxford St and get a roast duck with fresh hand pulled noodles in broth for £7.50. Plus, whilst the food at Koya is good, I don’t walk out of Koya thinking that it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten or that I got great value for money. I mean, ordinarily I wouldn’t bother going back to anywhere if I thought they were overpriced or that I didn’t think it was particularly good value. Yet every few months or so, I find myself going back to Koya time and time again. I think that for all of Koya’s flaws, I am blinded by my love for their udon noodles, so much so that I’m willing to overlook any other factors which may leave me feeling disappointed. I don’t mean to say that Koya isn’t worth going to – it absolutely is – But if it wasn’t for the fact that their noodles are so goddamn tasty, I probably wouldn’t keep going back. And that is the key; I may not think that the food at Koya in general is perfection every time, but I certainly think that the noodles alone are – And *that’s* why I keep going back.

Kamo Hiya-Atsu

Sushi Tetsu, London

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There’s been a bit of a buzz on the ol’ Interweb and Twitter about a new sushi bar opening in Clerkenwell, London. Sushi Tetsu was opened by former Nobu chef, Toru Takahashi and his wife in a tiny place in Jerusalem Passage in Clerkenwell, London. It’s only been open a month, but has already won over most food critics and various foodies in the blogosphere with their authenticity and what’s been described as “the closest thing you’ll get to being in Tokyo”. It’s already established cult status within the foodie world and well, I’m willing to travel for good food..

It was actually a bit of a palaver trying to get there as I initially booked to go with TSW and she was only free on a Monday, and I thought that whilst it was a bit unusual that a sushi place was open on a Monday but booked anyway. Then I read that they get their fish fresh every day from Billingsgate Market so I felt better about going – Until Nick and Lap told me that Billingsgate isn’t open on Mondays, so I began to wonder how fresh the fish was going to be. I mean, as Lap teased, thawed Mekong Delta catfish could be a possibility so with haste, we re-arranged the booking. As luck would have it, I had to go to Londinium for a few work meetings; *KER-CHING!*. A dinner reservation (without TSW who was away for her work) was hastily booked.

Sushi Tetsu is located in a quiet alleyway behind the Modern Pantry and the Zetter (with the Bistrot Bruno Loubet) in Clerkenwell. The inside is quite small too – A counter with 7 seats and 1 other table (which can seat up to 4). So, not many seats but it suits Takahashi-san as it’s a 1 man operation with Harumi doing the drinks and greeting guests as they arrive, but Takahashi-san does all the preparation (and cleaning afterwards) and he gives you his full attention during your meal there. Given it was quite early (I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to eat at a leisurely pace before getting a train home), it was just myself and another young Japanese couple dining there. Sat down in prime position at the counter, I chatted to Takahashi-san and explained that rather than me bumbling about the menu, I’d like to go for Omakase (chef’s choice) of both Sashimi and Sushi, to which he recommended a set of 5 different types of fish for sashimi and 8 + 1 roll for the sushi. I was completely at his mercy but was completely happy for him to choose for me and with a warm towel brought to me by Harumi, I sat back and let the feasting commence;

The sashimi platter offered included turbot, pickled sardine, scallop, sea bass, spot prawn and midi-toro. As you would expect from such a high-quality restaurant, every single component was fresh and delicious. It took all my self-control to not inhale the plate in one go but the biggest surprise was the sea bass. Long has the sea bass suffered in my culinary world because it was pretty much the only fish the Mothership ate in her later years to the point where even in other sushi places where they offer sea bass, I’ve never really enjoyed it. But the sea bass here, it was a reasonably thick slice but it was sweet and as with all good raw fish, it tasted of the sea and not fishy. I actually stopped myself mid-conversation with the young couple who were there and exclaimed: “OMHMYGODTHATISDELICIOUS!”, much to the amusement of everyone there. Seriously, could not fault a single item on the whole dish and if what followed was anywhere near as good as the sashimi platter, I was in for a fantastic night. So with a single bamboo leaf laid out in front of my with a pile of sushi ginger at one end, Takahashi-san started on the sushi;

Master at work (Scallop) Sashimi It's all coming together... Finished plate - Sashimi

Kicking off the sushi was the turbot; a single nigiri was placed on the bamboo leaf and in I went. What I hadn’t noticed as I was mesmerised by watching Takahashi-san working was that he had put tiny, fine marks into the fish so that it would absorb the delicate soy seasoning he applied to each piece better (and also helps to break down the fish when you eat it). This happened throughout the rest of the meal and even though you have the option for more soy sauce to dip in your sushi, there really is no need as each piece is perfectly seasoned by Takahashi-san. Oh, and the fish was really sensational – sweet and tender – but almost with a slight crunch when you bite into it, I did feel a bit like I had inhaled the nigiri and wondered if I should take my time to savour each bite, otherwise it was going to be a very short visit!

Untitled Nigiri - Turbot

I needn’t have worried because next on offer was Ebi – Shrimp. Now, these are often given a bad rep by Supermarket sushi packs because they only offer cooked fish (longer shelf life, you see), and what you do get is overcooked, bland and texturally is closer to cardboard than to any living organism at all, let alone marine life. But here, the shrimp has already been boiled but not yet peeled – Essential in retaining some of the moisture. The prawn was so big that it seemed to envelope the rice rather than be perched on top. The inside of the butterflied-open prawn was given a quick scorch by a blow torch which not only helped elevate this prawn nigiri above others in terms of temperature, but the slight char it left on the flesh added another dimension to the whole flavour of the prawn – Utterly delicious.

Blowtorching the inside of the prawn Ebi Nigiri

Given how fantastic the Ebi nigiri was, it was interesting to see how tuna nigiri should be done (again, as compared to what you may get from the chilled cabinets of supermarkets). The fish was soft and almost bouncy in texture as you chewed. The rice was warm, soft with a slight hint of vinegar and perfectly seasoned where it was almost creamy when you chewed it. That, combined with the bouncy texture of the fish was a great marriage, especially in the yellowtail and the razor clam which had a satisfying crunch when you bit into it. In fact, the same could be applied to all the sushi which was served to me that night – Astoundingly fresh and high quality fish, each piece prepared with great care and attention you would expect from a sushi chef, perfectly seasoned and draped upon some rice which is not only perfectly seasoned and served at the right temperature so that it’s almost creamy, hand-crafted to perfection, yet rice and fish work together yet against each other. As with all good dining experiences, I was reduced to making guttural noises in appreciation.

Nigiri - Yellowtail Nigiri - razor clam

I tried to take my time and not wolf down as every piece of sushi as soon as Takahashi-san placed it on the bamboo leaf – especially when you see the care and attention he puts into making each piece (not to mention how he perfectly judges the pace of everything too, so you’re never too rushed, nor are you waiting to excessive periods of time in between offerings) – But every single piece was just so delicious, I could see why people are already raving about this place. It helped that the couple whom were also there were lovely and we got to having a decent chat – Even though I asked a near impossible question to answer when I asked “what makes a good sushi bar?” (The answer to which is that it’s completely subjective, some like to eat in complete silence whereas others may like more banter between guests and/or the chef, so there isn’t a definitive answer as such).

Nigiri - Salmon Nigiri - Tuna Nigiri - Yellowtail Salmon roe

And then came the o-toro. Oh GOD! The o-toro! I had known how this is the prized (and most expensive) part of the tuna because it’s the part of the belly which is seriously marbled with fat – And the Japanese know that fat=flavour. I have had midi-toro and chu-toro plenty of times, but I couldn’t actually remember if I had tried o-toro or not in the UK. Takahashi-san brought out a slab of o-toro, impossibly marbled with fat so that it was more fat than meat and carefully sliced a piece out and fashioned it on top of some of the delicious rice. Then, to my surprise, Takahashi-san also charred the o-toro slightly and placed it onto the bamboo mat in front of me. So how was it? Well, it was another Serious Foodie Moment for me; the o-toro was rich and creamy with a slight smokiness from being blow-torched, it practically melted in my mouth before I had to chew the soft grains of rice. I could easily see why o-toro is so revered in Japan and it had me practically begging for another piece!

Preparing the o-toro Ready to be blow-torched Blowtorching Nigiri - O-Toro

To round things off, the one maki roll was offered. I saw Takahashi-san making the roll with speed and precision but I wasn’t too sure what the main ingredient was (other than the cucumber). When presented, I was told that it was scallop skirt with cucumber and shiso leaf. Well! Who’d have thought that Scallop skirt would be so delicious? The satisfying crunch from the scallop skirt combined with the cool, refreshing cucumber, lightly toasted sesame seeds and minty shiso leaf was an absolute revelation and if you like something different, you should absolutely try this.

P7192063 Ready to roll Rolling rolling rolling.. Maki - Scallop skirt (mantle), cucumber and shiso leaf

Then came the killer question from Takahashi-san: “Would you like more?” Mindful of the time as I had a train to catch, but at the same time not really wanting this experience to end, I asked Takahashi-san if he had any eel. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for grilled eel and as a consequence, always try to order it whenever I can. However, I was also keen to try the sea urchin given the quality of the fish and asked if I should go for the eel or the sea urchin; to which the reply was to have the eel this time because the quality was much better and also “Jay Rayner’s favourite”. Well, who am I to disagree with Takahashi-san given the quality of food thus far, and also with Jay Rayner (who would publish his review on Sushi Tetsu a few weeks later). And how I was glad I did here – grilled eel with a thin layer of fat between the crisp skin and meaty flesh with the sweet soy sauce perched upon that killer soft, seasoned rice. I had to pause and savour the moment because it was so damned good.

nigiri - unagi

And that’s the thing about Sushi Tetsu: I am (reliably) informed that it’s authentic and as close to something you’d experience in Japan, but a lot of people then state the obvious and say that will never be “truly authentic” or as good as Tokyo because the fish is mainly sourced from Billingsgate – And Billingsgate is no Tsukiji. Well of course it bloody isn’t! And if you’re going to make impossible comparisons, it will never be great. Rather, why can’t we celebrate what we have here; A brilliant new place with exceptionally high quality sashimi and sushi composed of ingredients and resources that are available to the chef. Of course it’s not going to be the same as if you were eating somewhere in Japan, but it’s pretty damn close and makes the most of what is available to us here in the UK. I brought up how I was a bit worried about eating there on a Monday lunch time and Takahashi-san told me (in no uncertain terms) that the fish he got on Monday may not be from Billingsgate, but he had resources which meant that he could still get high quality fish. After going to Sushi Tetsu, I completely trust Takahashi-san and am confident that he would not serve any fish that he thought to be substandard (like how he told me not to go for the sea urchin earlier in my meal). In a very Asian way, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to write about Sushi Tetsu because I am aware that I would only be adding to the hyperbole and deserved praise – Which in turn would mean that it would be even harder to get a table. But, all good things should be shared and if you can bag a reservation (at the time of typing this post, they were fully booked for lunch for 2 weeks and for Fri + Sat dinner for the next 6 weeks), then you absolutely should go.

One final thing though; when you are served the tamago at the end of the meal – Just remember that nothing sweet or hot is served at Sushi Tetsu. It’s a small detail but helped cement in my mind how brilliant this place is. I can’t comment on the authenticity and really don’t care how it compares to somewhere in Japan, all I know is that Sushi Tetsu is one of the best places out there for Sushi and Sashimi.

Tamago

You can view my full set of pictures on Flickr

Hedone, London

Sign

Hedone: The word itself originates from Greek Mythology meaning “pleasure”, and is where the word “hedonistic” comes from. It’s been over 24 hours since I ate at Hedone restaurant and I’m still trying to process how glorious the meal was. Seriously, I’m still slightly stunned by how good it was there, to the point where I don’t think there are words (certainly in my vocabulary) which adequately describe just *how* pleasurable my meal there was, but I’ll certainly give it a bash..

Hedone is the result of a lifelong dream for Mikael Jonsson. As Dos Hermanos eloquently wrote in their review of Hedone “To call Mikael Jonsson an ingredients obsessive is to do him a disservice – It’s a bit like saying footballer Lionel Messi can play a bit”. After a few years working in a different profession because of an allergy, the allergy has now cleared and Mikael has finally been able to open a restaurant serving food using only the best ingredients he’s worked long and hard to source. So be it sea bass or turbot caught that morning from Cornwall or hand dived Scallops, if the ingredients don’t meet Mikael’s exceedingly high standards, he won’t accept them.

Now, I need to admit that on the day, I was slightly hungover and had eaten breakfast at St John Hotel. More to the point, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Hedone. From reading Mikael’s blog, it’s been nice to have followed him on his journey from conception of the restaurant to seeing it all come together until finally today, I was about to try it out myself. So it was with a completely open mind (if slightly groggy head and belly full of butter) that we made the journey to Chiswick..

The restaurant itself is anonymously amongst a strange mix of shops on the Chiswick High Road – Opposite is a funeral directors which itself is next to (what will be) a Japanese Sushi and Bento restaurant and in the same row of shops as Hedone is a chippy and a pizza place. But within Hedone is a large space (for about thirtysomething covers?) with an open plan kitchen and very modern furnishings. Details like the ceiling covered with what looked like doodles of various ingredients or kitchen items, to the slats in the tables just before the edge so that the tablecloths don’t drape over the edges give the interior a welcoming feeling. Even things like the design of the wine list so that it can be left of the table facing you (leaned against something like a small beanbag) to how the bottle of water is always left on the table with the label facing you, I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always the small details which impress me.

The menu itself is simple and broken down into 3 dishes, then a choice of 2 mains and 3 desserts. You can have either 3 courses for £30, 4 courses for £40 or 5 courses for £50. It was pretty much a no-brainer that we would have the 5 courses but we couldn’t quite decide on what to have for mains: Lamb or Sea Bass. As we were deciding, the man himself came over to chat to us and he recommended that we went for the lamb, despite his revelation that he’s not too sure if he liked the lamb or not, and that it was “strange”. Still, if it was good enough for HM The Queen (I’m pretty sure he said that the supplier he got it from supplies the Royal Kitchens too), then it’s good enough for me! Whilst chatting to us, Mikael told us that he had a surprise for us later: He had a lobster dish and wanted us to try it – And we weren’t going to turn down such a generous offer.

Now, given how much the menu changes due to what ingredients Mikael can get, it may not be possible to get exactly the same dishes that we did, but I will recap on what we had to eat.

Firstly, we were given some sablès made with Berkswell cheese with some crushed dried blackcurrant on top. It pleased me no end to see a cheese made locally to where I live being used by Mikael and the crisp sablès were given a nice acidic note from the blackcurrant.

Berkswell Sablés

This was then followed by the Umami Flan. This isn’t a flan like a quiche or tart with pastry, but think of it like a set savoury custard – Very much like a Japanese chawanmushi and topped with a toasted nori compote. I’d heard about it before we went but it was so much better – and different – to what I expected. The nori on top a very familiar smell (and one I’ll never tire of) and when you broke into it to reveal a silky smooth set savoury custard, you know you’re in for something special. But the tastes were extraordinary (I may be saying this a lot in this post), you got the egg, then the duck stock it was cooked with, then the taste of bonito flakes and it was rounded off by the nori. None of the flavours overpowered or fought with one another, it really was a something to get your tastebuds going. A fantastic start.

Umami Flan Detail: Umami Flan

So, onto the first dish; Lightly smoked salmon, roe, dill flower cream; 3 fat fingers of salmon with a bright sauce drizzled in between and small dollop of cream on the side. Trying the cream first, it packed a punch with what I thought was horseradish at first, then I got the strong flavour of dill coming through. The salmon itself was so fresh that it disintegrated in our mouths with a faint smokey taste at the end which complimented rather than overpowered the natural salmon flavour.

Lightly smoked salmon, roe, dill flower cream Detail: Light smoked salmon, roe, dill flower cream

Next up was Slow cooked hen egg, cèpes and apricot chutney. Now, I’m a sucker for a slow cooked or poached egg with mushrooms, so this dish was full of promise and high expectations. Yet it still exceeded those expectations; the cèpes, both cooked and shaved on top were intensely flavoured and the hen’s egg so rich and creamy, offset by the sweet apricot chutney and there was a textural crunch from some bits of fried bread. When I split the yolk and it slowly oozed itself out, I tried to get a photo of it but got distracted by the waitress who thought I had dropped the spoon and offered to replace it, only for me to reply: “Oh no, I didn’t drop the spoon, I’m only have a minor convulsion..” So wrong to be saying such a thing, but so very right and apt at the same time.

Slow poached hen egg, cèpes, apricot chutney Detail: Slow poached hen egg, cèpes, apricot chutney

Then came the Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour. Oh God the mackerel – THAT mackerel! This one dish is one of the main reasons I’m eulogising about Hedone so much. Mikael had told us that this singular dish had divided diners into absolutely loving it or absolutely hating it; A fillet of mackerel is lightly grilled until the skin is barely blistering and served with a few dressed leaves – The simplest of dishes to look at. Firstly, the smells get to you; the smell of sesame oil, some mirin and/or rice wine vinegar and soy (the Japanese flavours) These are all flavours which appeal to my palate anyway so we’re off to a good start. Breaking into the fish – And you didn’t need to try too hard as it was barely cooked but broke away easily and then to taste…

..

..

… Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the taste of the mackerel. Extraordinary, stunning, amazing don’t do it justice. The fish itself was creamy and unctuous, then the Japanese flavours kicked in and it’s rounded off by the oily flavour of the fish. YKL said it was like a religious experience and I’ve never had a piece of fish so delicious before – And this is a humble mackerel we’re talking about here! It was so good that I even tried delaying tactics so that I could savour it for longer as I knew that I would be sad once it was all gone. This one dish summed up our Hedone experience: The very simplest of dishes but using the finest ingredients, treated lightly so that the quality of ingredients shone through without any of the flavours being compromised.

Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour Detail: Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour Detail: Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour Detail: Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour

And could it get any better? Well next was the lobster, cooked in a banyuls and butter dressing with cocoa and a lobster roe sauce with French green beans. Visually, the contrast of the greens, reds and blue from the barely cooked lobster was stunning and given we were still on a high from the mackerel previously, this dish was no let down at all. The lobster barely cooked yet with each mouthful you got very clear flavours; lobster, then butter and banyuls, then lobster again. Even the green beans (imported from France) were amazing. It’s a testament to Mikael’s obsession for the best ingredients that EVERYTHING we’d eaten so far tasted so very fine. I’m not sure if we were supposed to use our fish knife and fork for this dish but we took on a feral-like existence and got stuck in with our hands – Completely forgetting where we were but at that moment, we were so happy that we didn’t care what other diners thought. There was absolutely *NO* way we were going to let any part of this dish be wasted – Even if it meant sucking the shells or licking our fingers to extract every last drop of sauce.

Lobster, banyuls, butter, cocoa, roe, green beans Detail: Lobster, banyuls, butter, cocoa, roe, green beans Detail: Lobster, banyuls, butter, cocoa, roe, green beans Detail: Lobster, banyuls, butter, cocoa, roe, green beans

Mains was Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English peas. We were given 2 hunks of meat from the leg and shoulder and the contrast in flavours was extraordinary; the leg meat was full of lamb flavour that you would expect but the shoulder didn’t have any flavour at all – despite coming from the same animal and being cooked pink. I could understand why Mikael called the lamb “strange” and you could see it was a work in progress for him, but still delicious nonetheless. And the smoked potatoes – Who’d have thunk that peeled baby new potatoes could be so intensely flavoured and buttery, yet brought to life by a slight smokiness added to them?

Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English Peas Detail: Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English Peas Detail: Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English Peas Detail: Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English Peas

We weren’t really sure about dessert, to be honest, given we’d eaten so very well so far and were beginning to lag a bit (the butter in the Breakfast Buns were catching up on us), but when push came to shove, we opted for the Raspberries, cinnamon ice cream, horseradish, aromatic vinegar and am I glad we did; the quality of Mikael’s sourcing for fine raspberries were very evident in this dish. They weren’t mouth-puckeringly tart, nor did they need any sugar to macerate in, they were perfect just as they are. The cinnamon ice cream was rich without being too sickly and it was all given a punch from the horseradish cream and lifted by the vinegar. So light yet packed full of flavours. A nice end to the meal.

Raspberries, cinnamon ice cream, horseradish, aromatic vinegar Detail: Raspberries, cinnamon ice cream, horseradish, aromatic vinegar

So that was it, one of the most extraordinary meals I’ve ever eaten and still, I can’t quite believe just *how* brilliant it all was. The lobster dish which had us abandoning all sense of decorum was very generously comp’ed to us by Mikael, which only added to the sense of having eaten somewhere very special.

A lot of chefs these days talk about seasonality and how we should always buy produce according to what’s in season. Similarly, they talk of buying the “best quality ingredients” and how they don’t do too much to them so that “the ingredients speak for themselves” but inevitably, they are still mucked around with – Either with sauce reductions, emulsions or foams, or the meat has been given something like the sous-vide treatment so it’s about technique, too. Well, after eating at Hedone I would say that any chef who uses such statements are charlatans and bullshitters. Only at Hedone can they truly say that the food hasn’t been fucked around with and the ingredients are the main thing in each dish. In every single course, not only was everything collectively delicious, but EVERY single ingredient’s quality and taste came through – without having to fight with all the other flavours and tastes from everything else. For the first time (possibly in my life), I understood why “Fine French Beans” are called that – The ones eaten here – sourced from the Loire Valley where there are currently in season – were indeed, finer in size and appearance but they were also packed full of flavour compared to (what I now know are) dull, oversized and bland green beans which have been imported from Kenya and are available all year that I’m so accustomed to eating from Supermarkets. The presentation of each dish isn’t as intricate as some other places I’ve eaten, but Mikael would never let anything detract from the main thing on the plate (the ingredients and their flavours). Sure, you could argue that without making the dish look pretty as a picture and every plate that comes out looking the same, you have nothing more than a bunch of (fine) ingredients on a plate, but trust me, these will be the finest ingredients arranged on a plate you’ll eat. Never have I eaten a meal where the dishes which I’d say were excellent and scored 9/10 were almost forgotten about by the end of the meal, because the quality of each DISH was that good. In every single dish, I can still remember the taste of each ingredient because they came through so clearly. It almost became a joke how delicious everything was every time the next dish came out. I mean, there wasn’t anything mediocre in our meal; it ranged from excellent to unbelievably amazing. What’s more, the restaurant has been open barely over a month and is already fully booked at least 2 weeks in advance as word-of-mouth spreads, which is pretty extraordinary. Mikael never expected this reaction so soon and admitted that “things have been crazy”, but so long as people understand what he’s trying to do here, I’m sure that deep down he’s very happy – Despite his calm, laid-back exterior.

I started off this post by saying where the word Hedone comes from and what it means, to say that this meal was a pleasure is almost to do it a disservice given just *how* extraordinary it was. It really was mind-blowingly awesome and I never, ever thought that I would have reacted this way from eating there. Food has always been an important part of my life but my brain is still trying to process what happened in those few hours of lunch at Hedone – It’s almost as if I’m stuck in a post-euphoric state of some sort. I left appreciating fine ingredients a lot more than when I went in. Chatting to Mikael. he said that he hoped to see us again and promised that next time, things will be “very different” and “much better”, I suspect that Mikael means that he himself will be happier with things in that he will have settled into a better routine and have a better relationship with suppliers and trust me, that can only be a good thing. The idea that I don’t know what I’ll be eating, but am safe in the knowledge that if the produce meets Mikael’s high standards, he will honestly treat them with the greatest care and respect to let their flavours shine through in each dish is incredibly exciting. I’ve not been this excited and blown-away by a restaurant in well, ever, and I’m already eager and looking forward to going back.

The full set of photos can be viewed on my Flickr page

Hedone

Pollen Street Social, London

Window

For my Birthday this year, I was treated to lunch at Pollen Street Social – One of this year’s highly anticipated new restaurant opening (after Dinner by Heston Blumenthal) in London. Pollen Street Social is Jason Atherton‘s first restaurant (He’s Executive Chef at a few restaurants overseas) and given the good name he carved for himself not only from being the first British chef to complete work experience at El Bulli, but also from being chef-patron at Maze (whilst still working for Gordon Ramsay Holdings), Pollen Street Social was always going to be hotly anticipated from diners and critics alike. It officially opened a couple of days before my Birthday so when I learned not only that lunch reservations were scored on my Birthday so soon after they opened, but that it was going to be a Birthday treat, to say I was *very* excited would be somewhat of an understatement.

From the outside, it doesn’t look like a very big restaurant (especially as Pollen St itself is more like an alleyway) but once you step inside, the room is surprisingly large and thanks to some clever design, very airy and not at all claustrophobic. Upon checking in, we were handing a nifty brass key fob and key and were told that this was a key to a collection of locked boxes behind reception where there is a gift for us when we hand the key back in as we leave. A nice touch, I thought but anyway, back to the main room. The bar is long and seats comfortable, looking at the list you can order some bar tapas to nibble at (presumably if you weren’t there to eat) and given Jason Atherton’s previous plaudits for Maze, you’re assured of its quality. Looking over the drinks, I was treated to a gin cocktail and decided upon an Eastside: Tanqueray Gin, Lime, Mint, Cucumber which was as refreshing as it sounded (and somewhat more appropriate than my initial choice of a Last Word which the waiter informed me was “a bit alcoholic for this time of the day”!). From there, we were led to our table..

Eastside Keys

There is a set course lunch which I think is great value at 2 courses for £22 or 3 courses for £25. Looking at the table next to me who had the 3 course lunch, I was somewhat amazed that they complained that the starter portions were too big. That said, I was equally amazed when they thought that the mains portions were too small. Given that the different components meant that it took up most of the table and to me, the portions looked very generous, I really didn’t see how they could be complaining at all (This view was further backed up when I saw the desserts being made).

The A La Carte menu is divided into Starters and Sharing dishes of Cold or Warm and Hot, then you get your Mains dishes and Vegetarian dishes. It would appear that a lot of people are confused or just don’t get the menu at all. Basically, you can make up the ALC menu to suit yourself: The starters can either be a large starter or can be enough for 2 (3 at a push) people to share. So if nothing on the mains tickle your fancy, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t order several of the starters and share them amongst yourselves and create your own tasting menu. There are no hard or set rules to dining here, it’s about eating to suit yourself and to have fun – Which I absolutely love and admire them for being so flexible in doing so. None of the mains really appealed on the day so we opted for a couple of cold dishes and a couple from the warm and hot selection:

The Light cured Loch Duart salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream was proof that you don’t need to muck about with high quality ingredients. The quality of the salmon shone through here and was paired with the delicious combination of avocado and smoked herring roe cream (which are the black blobs on the plate). More intriguingly, and a nod to show modern techniques and Jason Atherton’s molecular past, perched on top of the salmon snaking itself amongst the avocado was a slither of a jelly-like substance. Turns out this was the salmon skin which had been roasted, then made into a consommé which was in turn, jellied, cut and added to the dish. This touch of not wasting a good part of the fish wasn’t lost on me at all and I loved this dish. My only slight complaint was that the ribbons of mouli dyed with beetroot didn’t really add anything taste-wise to the dish. I was expecting something pickled, but sadly it wasn’t. That said, it didn’t detract from the salmon which was undoubtedly the star of the dish.

Cold: Light cured Loch Duart salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream Cold: Light cured Loch Duart salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream
Cold: Light cured Loch Duart salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream

Next was Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin. Seriously, put foie gras on the menu and not only will it be the first thing I’ll notice on the menu, but I’ll pretty much forget looking at the rest of the menu as a result. This dish was no let down: The silky rich, smooth foie gras lightly smoked but in a great contrast to the black sesame and sweet smoked golden raisin purée (and the thin slithers of pear which the foie gras rested on). Then you had the added textural crunch from the radish and what looked like a baby mouli – which were both pickled so added a nice zing to the dish (which was lacking in the mouli in the previous dish). Again, another winner.

Cold: Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin Cold: Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin Cold: Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin Cold: Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin

Our warm and hot dish was kicked off by Full English breakfast. Those familiar with Jason Atherton will know not to expect something which can be found in a transport cafe. Instead, you have a slow poached egg (and I mean poached at 75c for 90mins) on a bed of fresh tomato purée (and hidden inside was a bean purée not too dissimilar to refried beans, which I love), with shards of very crispy bacon, fried bread cubes and morels dotted along the top. Break open the egg and a pool of golden sumptuousness that is the yolk slowly seeps out into the bowl. It was very good but the tomatoes on their own didn’t really taste that special – If I were to be harsh, I’d say they were like tinned tomatoes blizted up. They definitely needed some egg (yolk) or another component of the dish to compliment it, but given the pool of egg yolk once the egg was broken, that wasn’t a problem.

Warm and Hot: Full English breakfast Warm and Hot: Full English breakfast

Warm and Hot: Full English breakfast

The 24hr braised Suffolk pork belly & pork cheek, fermented apple sauce was another dish that caught my eye so when it was presented to the table and the sauce poured around the edges of the dish, it took every ounce of self-control to not grab the plate and eat the whole thing there and then – Not least because I spotted a cuerito sitting upright on the plate practically screaming “EAT ME!”. The dish itself was quite subtle; the difference in textures and tastes between the slow braised pork belly which pretty much fell apart once I attacked it with a knife and fork, to the gently smoked but still very flavoursome pork cheek. If truth be told, I thought it was more like a pork loin but it was tasty nonetheless. The cuerito (as it didn’t have any pork fat, so wasn’t really a chicharrón) was a mouthful of crunchy porcine goodness and I could imagine a bowlful of them in the bar would go down a treat to accompany any drinks. The pulses and root (salsify?) were a nice contrast and the sauce wasn’t particularly overpowering, but this dish was about pork and much like in the salmon cold dish, the main component was the star.

Warm and Hot: 24hr braised Suffolk pork belly & pork cheek, fermented apple sauce, Warm and Hot: 24hr braised Suffolk pork belly & pork cheek, fermented apple sauce, Warm and Hot: 24hr braised Suffolk pork belly & pork cheek, fermented apple sauce Warm and Hot: 24hr braised Suffolk pork belly & pork cheek, fermented apple sauce

For desserts, we were seated at the already fabled Dessert Bar. It’s basically an open plan kitchen with several high bar stools for you to sit at which 3 pastry chefs take care of you as you watch them making desserts. Call it gimmicky, but I personally love it. We started with a nice sorbet as a pre-dessert and I’d heard of a “micro menu” where a small trio of desserts from the menu were made for you. Well, who could turn that down?

Dessert Bar Pre-dessert: Sorbet

No single component of the Sangria mousse, blood orange granita, curd milk jam overpowered each other even though when you ate them on their own, were full of flavour. Combined, they were a delicious contrast of flavours and temperatures – The cold Goat’s milk jam sweet and dense contrasted the light airy sangria mousse which was more like an espuma, then the cold crunch from the granita.

Dessert: Sangria mousse, blood orange granita, curd milk jam

The “PBJ” Parfait, cherry jam, creamed rice puffs sounds like something that shouldn’t really work and it wasn’t my favourite, if I’m honest. Individually I liked all the components and they did go nicely together but there was a certain something that was missing – And I can’t quite put my finger on it. It was a perfectly nice dish but it just didn’t wow me like the others.

Dessert: “PBJ” Parfait, cherry jam, creamed rice puffs Dessert: “PBJ” Parfait, cherry jam, creamed rice puffs

Finally, we had something entitled “Ham, cheese & herbs” on the menu which was Watermelon cut to look like slices of ham, candied goat’s curd rolled in between, basil sorbet and topped with a watermelon granita. Oh I loved this dish – The play of making the watermelon to resemble ham and pairing it with cheese, the shockingly green sorbet FULL of basil to contrast the cheese and watermelon (I got chatting to the chef as she was making it and she was happy to chat about the processes involved in making it) and topped off with a cooling and refreshing watermelon granita. Again, I couldn’t help but smile as I ate this because not only was it so playful, but it tasted so bloody good too!

Dessert: “Ham, cheese & herbs" Dessert: “Ham, cheese & herbs" Dessert: “Ham, cheese & herbs" Dessert: “Ham, cheese & herbs"

So that was it, it may not have been the most delicious food that I’ve ever eaten nor the most showy, but it was more than very good and very much acceptable. I had a smile on my face for nearly every dish and they’re bringing home the fact that good food isn’t necessary about big and bold flavours or a showy thing to wow you, but that in sourcing good ingredients and treating them with understated skill and respect, you will please the customer. More to the point, there’s a fun element to the food and I love how you’re not restricted to the confines of fine dining (as in other establishments) and they won’t bat an eyelid here. It may not be for everyone who want to label it either as a fine dining restaurant, or don’t get what they’re trying to achieve here with their menu construction, but personally, I love it. I think Jason Atherton should be applauded for daring to be so flexible and forward-thinking.

After asking for the bill and there was one more surprise in store for me: Knowing that it was my Birthday, I was presented with a box all tied up with ribbon and a nice “Happy Birthday” card on top. It was a lovely touch and indicative of the exemplary service we received – Friendly, knowledgeable and completely on the ball throughout the whole meal. They staff (including the bar staff) were a credit to Pollen Street Social and I left feeling very loved and satisfied after a very good meal. I already look forward to going back.

Birthday Surprise

Finally, that surprise in the locked box that we were given a key for upon arrival? It was Afternoon Tea from the restaurant – Tea bag, scone and cookie to take away with us. If I didn’t already have a smile on my face, I certainly did after that nice little touch

You can view all photos from my visit on my Flickr

EDIT: Since my visit, the menu has changed slightly to make it easier for people to order/understand; some one the starters have gone and they’re all listed as starters now (rather than cold or hot and warm). The price of mains dishes have come down significantly which will again help with however you want to construct your meal. The set lunch prices have come down a touch which make them seem even more good value for money. Credit to Jason Atherton for listening to feedback and reacting upon it – I still look forward to going back

Pollen Street Social

Hello AWESOME

My day trip to Londinium had already been fantastic from lunch at Min Jiang and afters at Gelupo. Becky and Dan had to go back home earlier but Rich and I were staying behind and getting the last train home at 9.30pm (Getting a coach back to Birmingham was out of the question). Rich had previously said that he wasn’t too bothered about getting dinner anywhere, but he’d like to have a few drinks somewhere before we went back to Brum. I then had the bright idea to go to #MEATEASY. From all the blogs and reviews about it so far (its only been open a few weeks), they had warned of a possible 2 hour wait and that even if you get there for 6.30pm (they open at 6pm) all the tables will have been taken. Oh, and there’s no reservations (unless you’ve helped out there).

With that in mind, I figured that we would have enough time to get there for as close to 6pm as possible and would have to leave by 8.30pm to give us enough time to get the last train home. I also figured that even if we didn’t get to try the food, the cocktails (served by Soul Shakers) should be good enough to keep Rich happy. So, we set off to New Cross..

Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t that great and eventually got there at… 6.30pm UH OH! We walked round to the back of the Goldsmiths Tavern, past the MOUNTAIN of rubbish bags and headed up the stairs (to be honest, we just followed 2 girls in front of us). We headed inside and immediately got a delicious waft of burgers being grilled and once the door opened, some fantastically funky music being played (very loudly). We’re immediately greeted by a girl with a big smile and given a raffle ticket who then explains to us that there’s approximately an hour’s wait before you can order food, but once you order your food (whatever combination to make a maximum of 3 items), it takes 10-15mins. Rich and I quickly glance around and as we feared/expected, the place is absolutely packed. We mention that we need to leave by 8.30pm and the lovely Sofia reckons we should be OK. We take our tickets (117 and 118) and hear that they’re only in the 60s.. There’s only one thing to do –  get a drink!

At the bar (it’s not a very big room), I notice there’s an impressive collection of spirits behind the bar and a large block of ice. Ah, this must be the block of ice they chip away at rather than use ice from a machine. I also notice there are no measures and well, no glasses. Oh, there’s no menu either. Unsure of what to have, the only drink I could think of was a Mojito. I don’t normally drink mojitos, it’s a drink I only have when I’m on a cruise in the Caribbean and it seems right to have one (along with Pina Coladas), but still Rich fancied one too so we order 2 Mojitos. Out comes 2 empty jam jars and the guy starts free-pouring rum into them, Rich and I look at each other and a broad smile immediately appears on our faces. The guy bruises the mint between his hands, adds some (freshly chipped) ice, squeezes some lime juice then (and how I love this part), he puts the lids onto the jam jars and shakes them both. A top-up of ice and a bit more mint, couple of straws in it and it’s good to go. £6.50 each? BARGAINOUS. Rich and I head back outside to the stairs (it was getting a bit crowded and warm in the room) and take a sip – OH. MY. GOSH! Seriously, this Mojito was BETTER than what I’ve had in the Caribbean. In fact, it’s possibly the best Mojito I’ve ever had. Rich and I know that if the food is as good as these drinks are – We’re in for an awesome night!

Mojito

We grab a Bramble (which again, were awesome) whilst still waiting and pretty soon, they’re in the 100s and so edging ever closer to the magic numbers of 117 and 118. By now, we start working on a strategy to grab a table. Fortunately, people are vacating their tables once they’ve eaten so there’s a quick turnaround but still, it was getting closer to the time we had to order and still no table. There’s a couple before us who have ordered and they still don’t have a table by the time their food arrives so the helper clears some space so they could at least eat together. This act alone made me feel better because I knew that even if we still didn’t have a table when our food arrived, space would be found for us. By 19:45, Rich and I were on the Lynchburg Lemonades and our numbers were called out. Rich was going to decide when he ordered between the Philly Cheesesteak or the chilli dog. I was going for the bacon cheeseburger and we decided to share sides of triple-cooked fries, onion rings and mac & cheese. Right after we order, a large table vacate and we both sit down (pretty much as they were still putting on their coats to leave). Yes, we were jumping in their graves but we had food arriving!

Lynchberg Lemonades

10mins later and our food arrives. Mindful of the time, we’d already resigned ourselves to having to take the burgers to go and only eat the sides. The food was so quick in arriving that we probably had time to eat the burgers too, but we stuck to our original plan of only eating the sides – And oh my word how glad I am that we did:

First off, the onion rings. I’d seen and read about how good these were but they somehow exceeded all my expectations. The batter light and so crisp, yet there was a deep crunch sound as you bit into them. The onion inside thick and cooked through. These are the kind of onion rings you expect to eat when so often you’re disappointed by ones that have been cooked from frozen where the batter is thick and soggy, tastes claggy and the onion is cut into small rings so they cook quicker.

Onion rings

The triple cooked fries suffered a bit from being eaten after I’d tried an onion ring so whilst they were very crisp and perfectly cooked, you couldn’t help but think “they’re fries”.

But the best was yet to come; I had (again) read that the mac and cheese was great and I’m not really a great mac and cheese eater if I’m completely honest. I have to be in the mood for cheese, generally and I’d made the mistake a few weeks previously of craving mac and cheese and buying one from a supermarket (It was truly horrid). Rich took a bit first and it was like a EUREKA! moment, his eyes widened and he started making noises that indicated that it was delicious. Giggling, I took a bite and it was one of those moments in food when everything just came together and made sense. We’re both giggling because we can’t *quite* believe how gorgeous this dish was – The macaroni was perfectly cooked, the cheese sauce itself not too thick or runny, it wasn’t lumpy, nor was it too rich or bland. The ratio of macaroni to cheese was just right.. The spring onions on top gave it a nice bite – This really was the best mac and cheese I’d ever had. Rich commented that he was almost sad to eat it because he knew that he would never have another one quite as good again as he would never be able to replicate it at home. I think Rich’s best description of that mac and cheese was that it was so delicious that it made him want to carry on eating it – What more could you ask of from food?

Mac and Cheese

To recap, the cocktails were superb, the music was funky and storming, the ambience was perfect – You couldn’t help but enjoy yourself there and the food was nearing a religious experience, yet we hadn’t even tried the burgers yet. Rather than staying until 8.30pm (or beyond), we wrapped our burgers (or in Rich’s case, a Philly Cheesesteak) and headed out slightly before 8.30pm. Outside, Rich takes a bite of his Philly Cheesesteak and as I take a picture of him, he looks as if he’s about to cry. I ask him what’s the matter and he says that it’s so good that a little part of him dies knowing (as with the mac and cheese) that he’ll never be able to replicate or have another quite as good as this again. I take a bite and although the cheese is a bit too strong for me (it’s just right for Rich), the thin strips of steak are still tender and moist, the onions cooked through yet the peppers still have a bit of bite to them, the seasoning is spot on and the bun has soaked the juices so no flavour is lost.

Philly Cheesesteak The face says it all...

And what about my burger? The wait was completely worth it: The bun (was it sourdough?) still held it’s shape and wasn’t soggy (despite the bottom part absorbing all the juices from the burger patty), the pickle gave a sour crunch to lift the whole thing, the patty itself was seasoned well and there was a crisp char on the outside with a pink centre (that was so tender it almost melted in your mouth) was revealed when you bit into it. In short, it was ruddy marvellous!

Burger Bacon Cheesebuger Detail: Bacon Cheeseburger

A few days have now passed and I’m still giddy when I think about that night. I can’t quite believe/get just *how* good it was – I had high expectations yet it was so much better than I could possible have hoped for. My only sadness is that we don’t have anything like this in Birmingham. Sadly, too many people in Birmingham think that a good night out is to go somewhere hideously overpriced and corporate (just look at Broad St on a weekend night) and anything as independent and free/forward thinking as #MEATEASY wouldn’t last as a result. It’s no exaggeration to say that #MEATEASY provided both Rich and myself one of the best nights out in a very long time – possibly ever. Plus, we had already had some seriously good food earlier in the day but #MEATEASY completely blew them out of the water – It was *that* good. We manage to catch Yianni on our way out and I ask him how long they’re going to be there for as we’re heading down mid-March so would love to go again. I mention that we’ve come down from Brum especially for the food and a big smile shows on his face. Yianni says that they should be there “mid-to-late March” but should definitely be there on the 12th. After hearing how we’ve come from Brum, Yianni instructs me to drop him an email next time we’re down and he’ll “sort something for us” (He’s since messaged me on Fbook saying how he was impressed by our dedication to the cause of meat). Well, as if we needed an excuse to go again?

Seriously, try to go to #MEATEASY whilst you can – You won’t regret it. I’m definitely going back – For the mac and cheese if nothing else.