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Review: MEATliquor

3 Dec

Burger

MEATliquor

74 Welbeck Street,

London,

W1G 0BA

http://www.meatliquor.com/

**No reservations**

MEATliquor, centrally located, not far from Oxford Street, is the creation of Yianni Papoutsis (he of #meateasy and Meat Wagon fame) and Scott Collins (Capital Pubs Company) and is a) a purveyor of mighty fine burgers and lip-smacking pies, b) achingly hip and c) very nearly let-down by atrocious service.

The food, to start on a high, is exactly the kind of thing I love.  Unashamed Americana delights: juicy burgers, cheesey chilli fries, fried chicken, sweet pies and strong cocktails are all done with aplomb.  From the skinny, crisp fries drowned in spicy hot chilli topped with gooey cheese and onion and pickles to the ‘Dead Hippy Burger’ – two soft patties, sauce, huge pickles served on sweet, chewy bread – this was frigging amazing. At about £8 each they’re not a bargain but you’re not being mugged either, they’re reassuringly moderately priced.  The pies though, wow, – we tried “Crack Pie”, Key Lime and Coconut Cream – were unreal.  Only £4 a pop they were a slice of sweet heaven.

The cocktails, served in jam jars with names like Memphis Steamer and Louisiana Jam, were pretty special, and strong too. Yum.  The boys drank Meantime Lager and none of the drinks seemed wildly expensive.

Cocktails

The decor of MEATliquor is none-too-subtle.  Loud red and white walls covered in graffiti, almost no lights, low tables, rolls of kithchen roll on every table and awesome blues and rock-n-roll at an ear-splitting volume.  You may or may not like this but for playing amazing bluegrass and filthy blues alone I can’t wait to get back.

The only thing that could stop me is the service. Sweet momma it was poor.  As you can’t book a table queues grow crazy-fast and the staff were pretty obnoxious the whole time.   When you’re seated it’s incredibly tricky catching their eye and settling the bill was also a protracted affair.  With so much demand on the tables they should have been faster than a speeding bullet. They were not.

Overall though, this is a fun and delicious place to grab a beautiful burger.  If they can work on the service and work on being a little less hip and a little more helpful, then there will be next to nothing wrong with this place.  I would say go.  Go early.  Don’t wear clothes you don’t mind dripping burger-juice on and leave room for pie.

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Review: Starvin’ Marvins

27 Nov

What'll ya have?

Starvin’ Marvins

Central Parade,

Western Avenue,

London,

UB6 8TF

0208 998 5132

http://www.starvinmarvins.co.uk/

(Website doesn’t seem to work).

Starvin’ Marvin’s menu declares that they are “Not just a diner, but a way of life” and, you know, I totally understand that.  Americana diners are one of my all-time favourite things.   Whatever it is the formica tables, the rock n roll on the radio, the tiled floors, red leatherette bar stools, thick malt shakes, the juicy cheesey burgers or the sassy waitresses, they make me giddy.  Don’t understand what all of the fuss is about?  Have a look at Retro Roadmap to see  drool-worthy diners and roadside cafes in America  that will make you dream of hiring a Cadillac and hitting the open road.

And that’s why it is so very incongruous to see a sleek, aluminium 50s style diner, just past the Hoover building off the A40.  But there it is – decked out in neon, with a jukebox pumping out Johnny Cash and  burgers, dogs, shakes and baked cheesecakes being whipped up in the kitchen.  Roadside eating in the UK is pretty woeful, I think we can all agree.  Whether it’s the ‘Olympic‘ breakfasts at Little Chef or crazily expensive Ginsters at dreary ‘Welcome Break’ service-stations, I don’t envy truckers their lunch options.

Cheese Dawg and Fries

Starvin’ Marvins has so much of what makes travelling to the States and eating three square (read: huge) meals a day on the road fun.  The walls are decked out in Americana tat, the styling of the Diner is pretty perfect.  The food options are fun – chicken goujons, chilli cheese dogs, hot dogs with that squeezy cheese which I know I shouldn’t love (but do, I do, I do!), there are sloppy cheese burgers and more fries than you can shake a stick at.  The milkshakes were thick, malty and drizzled with syrup and scrummy.  The prices are reasonable,  but with Burger Kings and KFCs able to fill your belly for less, not as competitive as they should be.  However everything we ate was good.  Hot dogs are on the small side but tasty – in a guilty pleasure kind of way – and the fries are horribly addictive.

Where Starvin’ Marvins really lets itself down though, is the service.  Anyone who’s been to a real American Diner knows that the service is whip-smart.  Coffees are re-filled whilst you blink, the kitchen hums and the waitresses smile and call you “baby” as they serve you, fast.

Choc 'n' Malt Shake

At Starvin’ Marvins, service is slow. Glacially slow.  The Waitress didn’t acknowledge us when we arrived and took an aeon to serve us.  Unsmiling, she jotted down our order and then made it near-impossible to catch her eye.  The diner was – at most – a fifth full at any time and yet we, and other diners, found it crazy-hard to get some service.  This is no way good enough.  The waitresses were mardy and didn’t bothered about making any tips. It’s a shame that they didn’t import any American hospitality as I am sure they are losing return business.

Starvin’ Marvins was, without question, a really fun dinner.  The Ritz it aint, but unpretentious, terribly unhealthy, and lots and lots of fun.

Review: Mooli’s

6 Jun

Divine Street Cuisine

50 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SQ

http://www.moolis.com

0207 494 9075

Tonight at Mooli’s in between sipping on Mexican beers, knocking back lychee and guava mojitos and gossiping with my friends –  Sam, Daria and Josh – about tipping for expensive haircuts (a £50 tip? What is this madness? Only in Sloane Square!) and where to find the best burgers in New York… along with listening to some totally toe-tapping songs – Phoenix and Belle and Sebastian – and appreciating the ridiculously friendly and lovely service, there was the tasty, clean, fresh and ruddy gorgeous eats.  Mmm and double mmmmmm.

For a pound we scoffed our way through a bag of roasted pappadom bites which came with fresh, zingy chutney – crisp and spicy; really good.  Between us we tried a selection of the Mooli roti wraps – the keralan beef, coconut, salsa and yoghurt, the chicken, fenugreek, lentils, pickled turnip and yoghurt and the Punjabi goat, cumin potatoes and salsa.

Not just a wrap, ok?

The Mooli’s rotis were about a fiver a pop and, without daring to be sexist – not least because I like to think I could eat many a man under the table – were properly filling for both of us girls whilst the guys at our table needed sides; and were spicy and tender, with soft, taut flatbread and lovely salsa and smooth, creamy yoghurt.  Delivered to the table wrapped in foil, like a burrito, and served with a smile and on shiny bright trays this is just how fast food should be.

For pudding we licked and nibbled our way through mango and pistachio kulfis – lovely sticks of Indian ice cream – which were fantastic although a teeny bit too pricey at £2.50 a go.

The mojitos were powerful good.  Sweet and strong, fragrant and fuzzy.  It was very very easy to stay and watch the street scene unfold before us (we spotted an ex-cabinet Minister who used to share the gym with me when I worked in Parliament drinking by the door and I befriended a cat called Bob who belonged to a sweet homeless guy) and knock back a few jars.

The atmosphere was lovely and made me realise how lax I had been in not getting to Mooli’s before now.  The food tasted good, honest and true.  It made me wish I worked just a bit teenier closer to Soho so that I could indulge at least one lunchtime a week.  The service was also so ridiculously lovely and sweet that I wished more restaurants could be just a smidgeon as good as this.  It was a wonderful summer’s evening and I urge you, if you haven’t been to Mooli’s yet… go.

Mmmmmmojito

If your office is in Soho, go, for lunch, for a post-work date, whatever,  go.  If you are busy shopping one Saturday afternoon and fancy a pit-stop:  go.  When it comes to Mooli’s I would say – just go!

 

Review: Bodean’s BBQ

28 May

Pork fest

Bodean’s

10 Poland Street, London, W1F 8PZ

020 7287 7575

At the end of summer Josh and I will embark on another American Roadtrip but this time, we will leave behind the ochre New England forests and salty Cape Cod beaches for the sticky, soulful South.  Already my tummy rumbles at the prospect of beignets and po’boys in New Orleans, pulled pork in Memphis, slow burning tamales in Clarksdale, meat and three in Nashville, crab and shrimp in Charleston and stacks and stacks and stacks of sweet, smoky barbecue.

Today, we were treated to a preview of these waist-expanding delights when we accompanied Josh’s parents to Bodean’s in Soho.  Upstairs the floor is laid-out like a diner – all white tiles, stools at the counters and baseball on the telly.  Downstairs it’s dimly lit, tartan carpets and green leather straight back booths – to my eternal shame I’m yet to set foot in an Angus Steakhouse – but I imagine the decor is broadly the same; and this is no bad thing.

Our service was quick, friendly and eager to please.  We began with cocktails.  Josh had the dubious sounding ‘largerita’ – a concoction of beer and tequilla which I promise was better than it sounds – whilst Howard plumped for a trusty mojito and I nursed a short cocktail made with apple juice and Kraken black spiced rum – lipsmacking.

Sweet smoky goodness

We ordered a plate to share to whet our appetites and quickly tucked into sticky chicken wings, pork fajitas, crab cakes and ribs, which we drizzled with blue cheese sauce.  Very nice all of it.  But then the main act arrived on the stage and was simply “ribs ribs, RIBS!”  I was given a platter larger than my face, piled high with babyback ribs, slaw, pulled pork and spicy, crisp fries.  Leonie had ribs, Howard had ribs, Josh had burnt ends – spicy, sweet, chunky beef – pulled pork and cheesey, chilli fries.  I am exhausted just typing it.  Napkins were deployed, bottles of smoked hickory BBQ and hot chipotle sauces flowed and we ate, pulling meat of bone with our fingers and teeth.  Indeed ‘need no teef to eat my beef’ is the slogan of Bodean’s owner and the soft pork fell away from the bone with ease.  The table weighed heavy with our plates and also held bowls of lemony-fresh wipes and tooth picks – essential tools of the trade when you’re elbow deep in ribs!

We ate and ate and ate.  The fries were really very good, the coleslaw better than expected, but my goodness it was the pork that sung the loudest.  Soft and juicy, plump and sweet. Just delicous and lots of fun.  When we could eat no more we checked with the waitress that we could carry out our leftovers, we could!, and as I type this, I can’t stop thinking of the doggy-bag of meat in my kitchen, waiting for me to attack later on tonight as soon as my stomach does the gentlest of murmurs.

Whilst Bodean’s may not be the perfect place for a first date – I am not sure if chewing on ribs has ever attracted a sweetheart? – it is a great meaty treat.  Vegetarians beware, ditto weightwatchers, barbecue lovers wear loose pants.  Bodean’s will leave you smiling ear to ear and begging for more.

Burnt ends and chilli cheese fries

Review: Byron

2 May

Beautiful

Byron

Ariel Way, Westfield, London, W12 7GF

T – 020 874 37755

Website

I adore burgers.  Proper, simple, tasty burgers.  Be they tender beef patties, squidgy halloumi or succulent chicken, the humble burger in so many forms – except perhaps the filet o’ fish – is a wondrous thing to behold and to scoff.

My roadtrip around the States last year blew my mind in terms of what a great burger could be. Sure, I had a diabolical Burger King – sluttishly devoured in the rental car a few miles outside of Woodstock – and yes, I did chomp my way through a McDonalds cheeseburger and slurp my way through a guilty Vanilla McShake which made me feel over-full like they always do – but there were also burgers so exquisite, so perfect, so delicious that I was close to punching the air in triumph.

French Fries

At Five Guys in Connecticut the burgers were so breathlessly simple – juicy, medium rare patties, soft fluffy bread, a splash of BBQ sauce, a slice of cheese – that I swore I would never eat a burger as fine again… and I am still yet to.  At Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, the burgers were dripping wet and came with a spicy jalapeño kick.  At a roadside diner towards Cape Cod I slurped my way through a malt shake as dreamy as Brad Pitt.  This is how you do it.

And I think it’s fairly simple.  Here are my* rules to achieving burger heaven:

1. The meat in a beefburger should be good quality, juicy and medium done.  It should taste like it’s just been lifted off a BBQ but not one where Dad’s cremated everything in sight.

2. The bread should be soft as a cloud and ‘squishy’ around the patty.

3. Onions, lettuce, and gherkins are great for me but not, I accept everyone. I do not approve of fresh tomatoes on my hamburgers.

4. Cheese is ALWAYS good.  Monterey Jack, Cheddar, American, Emmental. Yes Yes Yes.

Coke Cola

5. Ketchup, yellow mustard, mayo and sometimes BBQ sauce just make the burger.

6. Fries should be skinny, crispy on the outside, fluffy inside and served with a grotesque amount of full-fat mayo.

Now, it just so happens that on my first trip to Byron in Westfield shopping centre today, that they had totally, utterly and completely nailed my perfect burger experience.  What are the chances, I ask you?

Byron say that they serve ‘proper burgers’ and that they’re “the ultimate comfort food and so satisfying in their simplicity. Hamburgers the way they should be” and how right they are.  From the unfussy, beautiful decor to the perfect, charming and (nicely) laid-back service before I lifted a French fry to my mouth I was happy and relaxed.

I ordered a bowl of fries, a cheese burger and a diet coke, my fiancé opted for a Royale with Cheese (that’s a double cheese burger to the uninitiated).. with cured bacon.  The bread was really soft, lightly grilled and nicely chewy.  Our burgers came medium and were pink and bloody inside; melt in the mouth good.  The fries were skinny, fluffy and I hoovered them up in about a nano-second. Gorgeous.  There were fricking delicious gherkins on our plate and I got to eat Josh’s too – YEAH!  This was just as burgers should be.  And with regular cheese-burgers coming in at £7.50 and a bowl of chips at £2.50 the prices are entirely reasonable too.   The burgers at Byron today were without question the best I have had outside of the States.  I always approve of a good job, well done and by concentrating on simple burgers and making them properly they are doing a really grand job.

Burger Heaven

*Of course, these are just my rules.  What on earth are yours?

Review: Lahore Kebab House

26 Apr

Curry Overload

Lahore Kebab House

2 Umberston Street, Whitechapel, E1 1PY (just off Commercial Road)

T – 020 7488 2551

W – http://lahore-kebabhouse.com/

Meals served from Noon to Midnight, daily.

Yet again I found myself hankering after chilli and spice and all things nice in Whitechapel.  After my trips to Needoo Grill and Tayyabs I thought it only right and honourable that I stop by and fill up at Lahore Kebab House.

And so I dragged him-indoors and a couple of friends and our hollow bellies there last Thursday where we chatted and laughed so much that I very nearly did that naughty, awful thing of barely noticing what I was eating. Whoops.

Seekh Kebab

But luckily for me – and this frickin’ blog – there were enough big flavours to keep me aware, just, of what I was tucking so merrily into.  From the unassuming decor (think a big empty space over two floors, with lots of tellies showing cricket and plain and simple crockery) and perfunctory service (our waiter was a picture of insouciance) the Lahore Kebab House is no-frills and mercifully all about the food.

It’s a Bring-Your-Own policy which I wholeheartedly endorse, although I was too busy drinking pop and lassis and the prices are as friendly on the wallet as I had heard.  It would be hard to spend more than £20 here unless you were carbo-loading for a marathon or just very very greedy.

We ordered poppadoms and sunshiney fruity mango chutney (and I ask you is there a finer pleasure in life than chomping on a poppadom and ordering a meal which you are about to demolish?) before scoffing lamb chops – which were gorgeous but not, I’m afraid, quite as tender and smoky hot as those at Tayyabs – and a bunch of kebabs at a pound a stick. They were juicy and perfectly spiced.

Naan

We then selected a couple of chicken curries and a lamb curry – at this point I was probably distracted talking about weddings, Marioworld and boxing – so I am not entirely sure what we asked for or what I ate but I do recollect a super silky Daal Tarka and buttery chicken.  We ordered a range of Naans – plain, keema and Peshaweri – and scoffed until our trousers nearly split.  Again, the bread was soft, buttery and chewy, and smarter than at your average curryhouse, but if comparisons are to be made – and it feels inevitable that they will be – again I think Tayyabs edged it here too.

From the generous portions, the hot chilli flavours, to the rockbottom prices the Lahore Kebab House is pretty special.  I will almost certainly be back.

Review: Tayyabs

2 Apr

Oh. Ma. Hod.

 

Tayyabs

83-89 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, London, E1 1JU

020 7247 6400

http://www.tayyabs.co.uk/

As a birthday treat to moi I dragged Josh around the East End last Sunday – where we sloped down Columbia Road, a riot of colours and activity as the flower market was in full swing, snooped around Spitalfields market looking at Royal wedding tat, had a nose around Whitechapel Gallery,  before drinking rum in a pub which played Michael Jackson exclusively – it was sunny, and we had had an amazing Portuguese brunch.  Josh had bought me a sodastream for my birthday.  I had selected some gorgeous flowers. Things could not be topped, right? Wrong. We were yet to step into Tayyabs.

Mango Lassi

I had heard much about the place.  About the prices (super cheap), the queues (humongous), the lamb chops (to die for).  I had been to Needoos Grill and gobbled up the mouthwatering Punjabi kebabs and told that if I liked it then I *had* to go to Tayyabs.   We strolled along at around half three and walked in, without a queue, and were seated straight away.  Time Out and Qype reviews talk of lines that stretch down the road and take an hour of patience, so if you go one Friday or Saturday evening I suggest you wear comfortable shoes.

The dining hall was simple, large and chaotic.  Nearly every table was full and mostly with Asian families.  The din was lovely – laugher, gossip and coughing fits that erupted every time a spicy plate of food was bought out into the restaurant-  the air inside smoky and heavy with chilli.

We were still full of chorizo from brunch but ordered lamb chops, chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, keema nan and enough popadoms to get our bellies rumbling.  I ordered a mango lassi and goodness me, it was incredible.  Thick, sweet and smooth.  I never wanted it to end.

The spice is right

Service was snappy and the food was bought, sizzling and spluttering, to the table minutes after it was ordered.  The lamb chops were everything I had heard they would be.  Tender, smoky and popping with flavour.  We gnawed at the bones as if we were in the middle of a medieval banquet.  Sighing and catching our breath now and then.  The chicken was hot and I doused mine with mint yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice as the soft meat fell apart with each bite.  Then came the nan. Easily the best nan I have ever eaten – soft and chewy with the most fragrant, rich lamb mince sealed inside.  Slurping away on my lassi, as I felt my jeans tighten around my expanding waist, I realised that I was experiencing a perfect London meal – frantic but friendly, rustic and real.  Josh grinned over his sizzling meat fest and between greedy bites affirmed that this was good, good eating.

After we could eat no more, the plates vanished in seconds.  Annoyingly we had no room left for a dessert and I pledged to squeeze in a curry next time.  When the bill came to £20 for two, this just sweetened the deal.  The waiters were all efficient and friendly, the atmosphere so warm and happy.  I wish only that it hadn’t taken so long to go and cannot wait to return.

 

Review: Franco Manca

13 Mar

Get a pizza the action

Franco Manca

Unit 4, Market Row,

Electric Lane, Brixton,

London, SW9 8LD

http://francomanca.co.uk/

020 7738 3021

I heart Brixton.  When I first moved to London I lived there for a while and would spend sticky summer Sundays watching movies in the Ritzy Cinema, jog around Brockwell park taking in the views of the city, scoff jerk chicken until my belly ached in Negril on the hill and enjoy sweaty gigs at the Academy.  I adored walking around the market, nipping into the bookmongers and little Asian supermarkets, and always I would see the eager queue for Franco Manca and think “one day, one day…”

Well yesterday was the day.  Josh and I braved the queue and yes it was long, very long – “mental” as the guy behind me labelled it before skulking off – but oh my, it was worth it.  I have read breathless reviews of Franco Manca, describing the pizzas as extraordinarily good and the best pizzas in Britain and everyone I have ever spoken to about it have just said “just go there.”  And so, having done so, I urge you to do the same.

Under the arches

The  pizzas are made from slow-rising sourdough, which takes at least 20 hours, before being baked in a brick oven – blasted with heat of more than 500 °C – so that it takes less than a minute to cook and the pizza’s dough is soft, chewy and ever-so slightly sour.  Wonderful and about a lightyear away from the stuffed crusts of Pizza Hut.  The menu has just six pizzas, a salad, a couple of wines, a beer and a few juices – all at very keen prices.  The pizzas range from £4.50 to £6.95 and have organically sourced toppings.  So far, so good.

Josh ordered the  tomato, cured chorizo and mozzarella pizza with an additional topping of Gorgonzola and I went for the mozzarella and wild broccoli with wootton organic pecorino cheese.  We sat and waited as staff raced around, the queue grew longer and market shoppers strolled by.  Franco Manca is spread across two halves of the covered market corridor, next to a barbers and a fishmongers, and the higgeldy-piggeldy tables and chairs, inside and out, provide an ambiance that is surprisingly cosy and relaxed considering the inherent frenzy of the setting.

The pizzas arrived in a few minutes and were served with a smile.  Wow.  They were unfussy but packed a mighty punch.  The dough was stretchy and had a lovely bite. Speckled and charred it looked absolutely beautiful and tasted just as good.  A quick grind of pepper and glug of chilli oil and I was set.  This was the good stuff.  I had a juicy big slice of Josh’s pizza and it too was exquisite.

Yes yes yes.

Josh – who had been a little cheesed off by the long queue and was already a bit grumpy that I was making him accompany me to a showing of a Japanese movie based on a Haruki Murakami novel which he was almost certain to find dull – and who has a longstanding commitment to Dominos pizzas, said that Franco Manca’s were good and that the dough was pretty special. This is a result, I promise you.

From the service, to the price (£20 for two with a glass of wine and juice), the quality to the flavour, Franco Manca does it for me.  And judging by the popularity of the place and the smiles on the diner’s faces, does it for others too.  Don’t wear shoes you can’t stand around in for a long time and take a friend who can keep you entertained.  Wear loose fitting clothes as the pizzas are big and you won’t want to stop until your plate sparkles.  Just go there.  This is a place to be happy, it’s La Dolce Vita.

Review: The Fish Place

23 Jan

"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch." Orson Welles

The Fish Place

Address – Vicentia Court, Bridges Wharf, Battersea, London, SW11 3GY

Phone – 020 7095 0410

Email

Open –  Tuesday to Sunday: 12 – 3pm, Tuesday to Saturday: 7pm – 11pm

Whether I’m lying in bed listening to seagulls squawking and soaring above the Thames, as sailing boats bob along with the wind and barges chug down the river, or wrapped-up warm strolling in the park, alongside the dog-walkers and rollerskaters, as I feed the ducks and geese in the lake by the Pumphouse or cloud-spotting and freckle-growing beneath the pagoda, I love Battersea. Where else boasts the twinkly lights on Albert Bridge and the brutal chimneys of the power station.

"I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon." Ronald Reagan

For the last couple of years I’ve lived in a shiny new apartment, Bridges Wharf, right on the riverside, where I’ve spent happy summers enjoying barbeques and sunflower growing competitions on my balcony and watched fireworks pop and bang over the city during dark winter nights.

New to Bridges Wharf is the Fish Place, where Josh and I popped for lunch today, and it is shaping up to be a fantastic neighbour.  The dining rooms are spread over two floors, with huge windows which will let in streams of summer sunshine once this winter gets a move on.  The decor is sharp and crisp, the service polite and friendly but my; it’s the food that deserves your attention.

We began with a decent portion of beautifully toasted fresh bread, popping with nuts and soft fruits, which we slathered with butter*. Gorgeous.  To start I had the Dorset Crab ravioli with buttery savoy cabbage and delicate tarragon; Josh had a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad. My starter was impeccable, the crab soft and fresh, the pasta taut, the cabbage silky sweet.  Josh’s salad was tangy and light and was gobbled up unashamedly fast.

Josh ordered roast beef for his main (I know it IS a fish place, but there something irresistible about a Sunday roast, you’ve got to admit) which was cooked perfectly – rosy pink in the middle – and topped with a rich boozy gravy and the requisite Yorkshire pud. I opted for cod on wilted spinach with parsnip crisps and a herby mash.  Once again my plate was left sparkling as I delighted in bite after bite of creamy mash and fresh, succulent fish. Both meals were the perfect size and bursting with great flavours.

"Lunch is for Wimps." Oliver Stone

Never knowingly underfed, we moved onto desserts and I had a trio of fruity, sharp sorbets whilst Josh plumped for a chocolate fondant and almond ice cream. The sponge was moist and rich and super gooey inside. Delicious.

Feeling tender after a few nights on the liquor we didn’t have any wine but even if you did have a glass or two, the lunchtime menu was an absolute steal: £15 for 2 courses and £18 for 3. There are also deals on Thursday and Friday nights when you can have a bowl of mussels or fish and chips, respectively, with a glass of plonk for £12, and I’ll be scanning my filofax for a free night to try it out.

It’s hard for me not to want the Fish Place to do really well. Not only were the staff incredibly friendly and the food absolutely beautiful, but as it’s my sort-of-next-door-neighbour I want to see it thrive.  I think come the summertime it will.

8/10. We ate as guests of the Fish Place.

"Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch." W. C. Fields

*Josh asked me to add that the bread and butter portions at the Fish Place, unlike in some restaurants, were wonderfully generous. Consider it duly noted.

Review: Joe Allen

12 Dec

The cosy interior of Joe Allen

Joe Allen

13 Exeter Street, London, WC2E 7DT

T – 020 7836 0651

W – http://www.joeallen.co.uk

It’s rather hard to review somewhere when attempting, the following day, to recall exactly what you scoffed – and drank – is a struggle. But this, perhaps, is a sign of a place where it is all too easy to relax, eat well and be very very merry.

After arriving at it’s discreet entrance – on a side street amongst the theatres in Covent Garden- and taking the steps that plunge to a dining room that’s dominated by a long American-style bar and walls adorned with theatrical paraphernalia (for me there’s something thrilling about drinking or eating underground – miles away from the real world outside) you find old-school service and thoroughly top-notch food. A terribly exciting combination.

After opening his first restaurant in New York theatre district in 1965 and finding huge success, Joe Allen decided to recreate the winning “recipe” (bam bam!) in London in 1977 and it has remained one of those wonderful not-so-secret places ever since.  I had never heard of or seen the place, but last Christmas my friend Sam decided to begin, what I hope will grow into a long and healthy tradition, of hosting an informal, long and sozzled lunch there with friends.  This year, as last, we pitched up after noon and drank and ate until dusk before strolling to Gordon’s Wine Bar, near the Embankment, to brave the London winter and sit outside drinking endless bottles of red wine and telling filthy jokes.  The combination of my favourite bar (in Gordons, which also, with it’s smoky underground caverns, piles of cheese and bread and bloody good wine is the most romantic, wonderful place in London), of so many amazing friends in one spot and unfussy, classic grub in JA’s is an absolute stonking highlight of my year.

Good times

It is also very possible – if you’re not a filthy lush and insist on guzzling booze at every opportunity – to leave Joe Allens with a bulging wallet.  The Saturday and Sunday brunch menus come in at £19.50 for 2 courses or £21.50 for 3 and include a glass of fizzy or a very welcome cocktail. There are late supper and pre-theatre specials too. Of course, on Saturday we ordered loads of wine, liquor coffees and bottles of fizz so our wallets we less than protruding…ahem.  Between us we worked our way through celery soup, crab cakes, salads, olive bread, Spanish sausage, smoked haddock tart, sweet potato enchilladas and stilton and biscuits. Not all of it flawless but it all did the trick. I am yet to order an off-menu cheeseburger, which I’ve heard is fab, and I would love to drop by for a hangover breakfast one day.  So while the food isn’t the best you’re going to ever have, the experience just might be.  Intimate, classy, fun. I simply can’t wait for my festive feast next year.