I rarely visit new restaurants within a week of opening. I’m never in a mad rush to be first; I tend to plan my diary in advance – I’m not a short notice kind of girl; new places don’t always cross my radar until they’ve already built up quite a buzz. But Galley restaurant and bar caught my eye amongst the flutter of press releases into my Inbox and as soon as I read the menu, I put my hand up to accept an invitation to review. After a soft launch weekend, it opened officially on Tuesday 2nd and we visited the same Friday.

In a prime location on Islington’s Upper Street, not far from Angel tube station, Galley is in a sea of restaurants along a street of little else. Clearly there’s custom enough for all – everywhere was rowdy crowdy, Galley included.

Summarising that tempting press release, Galley is a restaurant and bar ‘specialising in small and large international plates with a strong focus on fish’, founded by siblings Oriona Robb and Marcel Grzyb. Oriona put her styling experience to good use designing the interior while Marcel’s focus is on the menu – now cooking in his own place after 18 years at Randall & Aubin, the last 10 of which as head chef.

galley small interior galley Banquette shot
Images provided by restaurant

I’m late to arrive, so rush to meet Pete at our table in rather a fluster but it doesn’t take long for me to settle in and start to take in the interior. It’s a beautiful space that skillfully balances vintage elegance with a modern aesthetic; the bar sits near the entrance, then a few much-coveted booths before a banquette of tables opposite an open kitchen with a handful of counter seats.

My only bitch is that tables along the banquette are very close together indeed, making me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic towards our neighbours. Perhaps that’s why there’s a banging soundtrack of which, once the place is full, we can hear only the pounding bass; all melody is lost in the babble.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7976 Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7978

Having only recently discovered I like gin, after decades thinking otherwise, I love that a whole page of the drinks menu is dedicated to Gin & Tonic. I choose G’Vine Floraison with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic and frozen grapes (£14) which is wonderful. And yes I pick out and eat the grapes too!

With it I try just one Crispy Tempura Oyster (£3 each). It’s delicious but, goodness me, it’s a teeny tiny little thing – you can just see it peeping out from behind the sauce and garnish there. Not quite a satisfying mouthful, I’m afraid.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7982 Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7984

There are several seafood starters that appeal, including Octopus & Chorizo a la plancha with white bean purée, smoked garlic pesto (£9), Hand-picked Cornish Crab on crostini with smoked garlic aioli, confit tomatoes (£9.5) and Hand Dived In-Shell Scottish Scallops with carrot, cardamom purée, toasted hazelnuts (£9) but in the end we pick two of the non-fish options.

Wookey Hole Cheddar & Ham Hock Croquettes  with harissa mayonnaise (£7) are generously sized, served hot out of the fryer, great texture inside and out. The flavour from cheese and ham is a little milder than I’d like but the harissa mayonnaise makes up for that well enough.

The Hereford Beef Carpaccio with wild mushrooms, beef jelly, pistachio, parmesan (£10) is the definite winner – soft, well-textured beef with fabulous little cubes of vinegared beef jelly, a selection of properly cleaned and delicious wild mushrooms, shavings of parmesan, rocket leaves and roasted pistachio nuts; far more interesting than the usual beef, cheese, leaves and olive oil cliché.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7986 Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7992

The Scottish Venison with smoked potato purée, braised cabbage, thyme gravy (£21.5) is not at all what Pete was picturing – venison three ways rather than a single steak; while I’m not a fan of menus that provide an essay on every dish, more information on this one would have been welcome. All three ways are delicious, full of flavour and with a decent gamey flavour often lacking in farmed venison. I’ve no idea on provenance but it’s tasty meat.

We also follow our waitress’ suggestion that the venison dish needs a side (though on arrival, we don’t think it does). In any case, the Chargrilled Purple Sprouting Broccoli with crispy onions, lemon oil (£5) is a good choice, the broccoli still with some bite in the stems but not too much and a nice flavour from char, onions and oil.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7988

My main of Pan-fried Sea Bass, gnocchi, peas, courgettes, wild mushrooms, truffle oil (£19.5) is delicious! The kitchen have not stinted on that truffle oil, indeed it’s the dominant flavour so if you’re not a fan, ask for less. I love it against the soft fish, crisp fish skin and pillowy gnocchi. The thick sauce of peas, courgettes and mushrooms is just right too. Simple, confident, tasty cooking that is absolutely worth coming back for.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7997

With such success on the starters and mains, it’s hard to resist trying the desserts, though I can’t say we really need them, full as we are.

The Salted Caramel Tart with green tea ice cream, chilli & hazelnut praline (£7) is super rich, silky smooth and sinfully sweet though with a clear bitter caramel flavour in the background and a touch of salt to make everything pop. The green tea ice cream is insipid though, very little green tea flavour discernable.

Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7995 Galley Restaurant Islington on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-8001

My pick of the two desserts is the Amaretto & Verona Chocolate Fondant with cherry compote, mascarpone vanilla ice cream (£7), served hot and gushing hot molten chocolate when I cut it open. The amaretto flavour is clear but not overwhelming and lovely with the sweet chocolate and sharp cherries. Once again the ice cream is rather bland, though in this case that’s no bad thing as it’s simply a cooling hit of dairy against the rich pudding.

It’s been a super meal and one that certainly has me itching to come back – virtually every dish on the menu appeals and there is a tempting Sunday brunch menu too. Prices are very reasonable for food of this calibre in London – that runs through to the drinks, with bottles of wine starting at just £20 and cocktails all priced at £9.50.

It’s hard to judge service so early on when everyone’s peachy keen, excited and enthusiastic – certainly staff seem on the ball already and eager for customers to enjoy their visit. I’m sure the front of house team will continue smiling for the foreseeable; hopefully I’ll be back before too long to check for myself.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Galley Restaurant & Bar.

Galley Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

Feb 062016
 

Ichiryu brings fast food udon noodles to London’s increasingly diverse Japanese dining scene and it’s about time!

In the last 5 years, ramen has spread its wings and there are now umpteen London restaurants specialising in ramen – including a few small chains – selling delicious bowls of the much-loved Japanese noodle soup.

But udon noodles haven’t enjoyed the same rate of growth; not yet at least. Koya, particularly loved by the fooderati, has been a stalwart of course, but the main restaurant closed it’s doors last year, leaving only Koya Bar still in operation; in any case there was never any expectation of the brand expanding. Den Udon in King’s Cross was open for mere months before it closed its doors again, perhaps a victim of its rather out-of-the-way location. And so the best bet for udon-loving Londoners is usually a general Japanese restaurant that happens to offer one or two udon dishes amongst the sushi, katsu and teriyaki.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7917

As one of those udon-loving Londoners, I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that udon makes more of a splash!

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7938 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7943

Located on New Oxford Street a few steps away from Tottenham Court Road station, Ichiryu Hakata Udon House, to give it its full name, is another business venture from entrepreneur Tak Tokumine, founder of the long-established and much-loved Japan Centre in 1976, as well as Shoryu Ramen — now a chain with five locations. Tak’s hometown is Hakata, in Fukuoka city, Kyushu which claims to be one of the birthplaces of udon in Japan. Just as Shoryu’s original menu focused on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen (there are now multiple styles of broth available), Ichiryu also looks to Kyushu for inspiration.

Note that Ichiryu is set up for fast dining, though not as fully self-service as your usual burger or chicken joint.

Guests are seated and given a menu as in most restaurants, but must place and pay for their orders at the till, giving their table number on ordering. Food and drinks are then served to the table by staff, and tables are cleared by them too.

The menu focuses on udon and tempura with a range of sides, a few rice bowls and some sushi and onigiri.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7918 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7921

The Hakata Bun (£4.50) with its filling of BBQ pork, Cod Tempura or Chicken Tempura inside a pillowy white steamed bun will be familiar to Shoryu customers, and it’s just as delicious here. I love the combo of pork, lettuce, cucumber, Japanese mayo and barbeque sauce.

Tempura is hit and miss for me. The single Tempura Prawn (£2) is decent; the batter light and crisp and the prawn cooked just right. But the mixed vegetable Kakiage (£2) is very unwieldy to eat and very quickly goes soggy as steam gets trapped within the ‘nest’.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7930 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7931

After these snacks it’s on to the udon. For those of you not yet familiar with these noodles, they are thick and white with a distinctive chewy texture that is enormously satisfying. Ichiryu’s udons are made fresh daily using Japanese wheat flour.

From the Hot Udon list we choose Niku Beef (£11.50) described as sukiyaki beef, spring onion in tsuyu bonito soup.

The broth is light yet with a decent beefy flavour, and the noodles are cooked to retain that lovely chew. My surprise on tasting this is that the generous portion of thinly sliced beef is plain and not marinated in a soy, sugar and mirin mix as I’d expected from the sukiyaki label. That makes the dish a little blander than I’d like, overall. It’s good but doesn’t blow me away; when it comes to soup noodles I’d prefer a bowl of intensely rich tonkotsu ramen.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7926 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7936

Our choice from the Cold Udon list is something far more special.

Ontama Egg (£8.40) comes with an ontama poached egg, spring onion, ginger and tempura pieces in tsuyu bonito sauce. There’s a dollop of fresh ginger paste too.

This dish shows off the udon noodles far more successfully, and the first mouthful of noodles, slippery from the sauce and studded with a few crunchy bits of tenkasu, transports me immediately to Japan. It’s an immediate visceral reaction that remains with me through subsequent mouthfuls. The cold perfectly poached egg, the soft raw ginger, the fresh spring onions and the crunchy tempura fragments combine with the noodles and sauce in perfect harmony.

This is the dish I will be returning for again and again and again.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7947 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7950

For dessert, Pete enjoys a Kagua Rouge Craft Beer (£6.30, 330ml, 9% abv), brewed on license in Belgium.

I can’t resist Mochi Ice Cream (£6 for 3 pieces) and am delighted to find that they are Little Moon ice cream mochi, which have admired since they launched a couple of years ago. From front to back, they are matcha, sesame and yuzu flavours.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7937

With it’s fast food approach, Ichiryu doesn’t take reservations. Opening hours are Mondays to Saturdays 12 – 22:30 and Sundays 12 – 21:30. Last orders 30 minutes before closing.

Do yourself a favour and find time to drop in for a Hakata Bun and a bowl of Ontama Egg Cold Udon. You will not be sorry!

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Ichiryu Hakata Udon House.

Square Meal
Ichiryu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Imagine you’re in the mood for Indian food. Sometimes that means seeking out the amazing place you’ve found across the other side of London, the one that makes rotis and parathas just like the ones you had when you travelled around India. Or the one down in Peckham serving Keralan food redolent with curry leaves and coconut. Or the new place everyone’s talking about, specialising in fermented-rice appams and lentil-and-rice dosas. But sometimes it means heading to the nearest curry house for a lamb saag and a naan. And that’s just fine because they are all delicious and satisfying, if they are what you fancy in that moment.

Why am I talking about Indian food in the introduction to a Thai restaurant review?

Because this was one of the topics of conversation when Pete and I visited Suda Thai recently. Suda is one of the collection of restaurants within St Martin’s Courtyard, an open space between the buildings that line the triangle of Long Acre, Mercer Street, Shelton Street and Upper St Martin’s Lane.

Billed as a Thai Cafe Restaurant, Suda’s extensive menu is full of familiar Thai dishes, the classics you already know and love – the traffic-light of curries, som tam malakor (green papaya salad), satay chicken, pad thai (rice noodles), minced chicken sesame toasts and more. But there are also a wide range of dishes that are less likely to found in the Thai equivalent of a curry house, such as tub gai (chicken livers sautéed with garlic and black pepper), gui chay (pan-fried chive cake), kao soi (a yellow curry noodle soup in the Chiang Mai style), kao ob talay (seafood rice pot) and cho-chee pla (sizzling sea bass in a kaffir lime leaf and red curry sauce). This is no Janetira Thai but there are some interesting dishes here nonetheless.

The menu is a little bit all over the place though. Starters are split between regular portions and Small Bites – a kind of design-your-own-platter idea. There’s a Small Bowls section, more of which later. Mains are split across Curries, Thai Salads, Thai Soups, Stir Fried, Chef Recommends and To Each His Own (no, I have no idea what the meaning of that heading is either). And there are separate sections for  Accompaniments and Rice. There’s also a page pulling together all the vegetarian starters and mains.

We are in the mood for familiar flavours, so our order is quite pedestrian. Perhaps next time we shall stray further into dishes we know less well.

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7838 Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7847

The drinks menu is also extensive with a range of wines one side of the sheet and cocktails, smoothies, juices and soft drinks, beers, spirits and liqueurs on the other.

My Lychee Martini (£9.25) is lovely – full-on lychee, exactly as I’d hoped. I’m not as keen on the Thai Pimm’s (£7.85) as I’d asked for recommendations for a sweet cocktail, but this one has more sour and sharp flavours than I like.

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7840

The first starter we are served is the most disappointing, not to mention shockingly over-priced. Roti with Peanut Sauce (£3.25) turns out to be four small pieces of cold, fried roti (flatbread) with a small dish of peanut sauce. It’s genuinely hard to comprehend the pricing on this dish, surely one of the cheapest and easiest to put together?

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7842 Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7845

Some of the Small Bites we pick are a better. The Toast Na Gai (minced chicken sesame toast £1.25 a piece) is nice enough, a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of dish. The Goong Sawan (king prawn wrapped in egg noodles and fried, £1.85 a piece) is far, far smaller than I expected and a little bland. The best of the selection is Gae Yang (marinated lamb chop, £6.50 a piece), though I’m not sure where the fresh green salad and sweet potato crisps promised on the menu disappear to.

The sauces that accompany the starters are served in shot glasses – these no doubt make it easier to fit more items on the serving plate, and perhaps someone decided they look stylish too – but they are awkward to dip food into and a perfect example of style over substance or practicality. Give me wide shallow sauce dishes any day.

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7849

One of the strongest menu ideas for me is Suda’s Small Bowls – a short and sweet list of five Thai curries which can be individually ordered in small portions; I love the option to enjoy more variety than a single main portion of one curry would afford. The Gaeng Kiew Waan (green curry with chicken £4.25) packs a punch of flavour – the thin sauce is hot and delicious. The Gaeng Panang Nua (beef penang curry £4.25) is thick and creamy, generous in the amount of beef and seriously hot. Another delicious whack to the taste buds!

With these we have a portion of Kao Mun (steamed coconut rice £3.50).

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7852

One of Pete’s long time favourites is Pad Thai with chicken (£10.50) and the mound of stir fried rice noodles is generous and enjoyable. Note that you’ll pay a whopping £6 extra for king prawns instead of chicken, and the menu stipulates that you’ll get just two of them – if they’re the same size as the one I had as a starter, I’d steer well clear!

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7856

We also order a Nua Yang Salad (£13.95) of grilled sirloin steak with a spicy dressing. This is good and tasty but the salad alongside is not what I expected – a standard mixed salad leaves affair with it’s own dressing on the side; I think a small dressed som tam would work much better here.

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7857

I cannot resist finishing with Kao Niew Mamuang (sticky rice with fresh mango £5.95), a huge favourite of mine. The sticky rice is unsweetened, dense and chewy – gorgeous against the fresh, sweet mango. Suda Thai do this dish very well, though I don’t think the vanilla ice cream adds anything.

Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7863 Suda Thai London Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7862

Pete orders a Suda Coffee (£2.70) which comes in glass cups tucked into a charming carrying frame. Mild black coffee sits above a layer of sweet condensed milk. The second glass holds richly-scented jasmine tea, provided as a chaser.

There are certainly some missteps in our meal – the pricing and portion size of some of the starters and a boring pile of leaves with the sirloin beef salad. But there are highlights too, the two Small Bowl curries are superbly delicious and well priced; the sticky mango rice is wonderful and the novel (to us) coffee and tea combo is a delight.

Staff are helpful, guiding customers through the menu with warmth and efficiency. The restaurant itself is attractive, split across two floors and with plenty of space, plus a disabled lift to the first floor.

Would I go again? Yes, particularly with a group of friends – I think sharing a few more dishes between 4 or 5 would work well for this menu. The location is very handy too.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Suda Thai, St Martin’s Courtyard.

Square Meal
Suda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Social media – for those of us who follow lots of London fooderati – was filled with photos of plates piled high with grilled meat when Blacklock opened its doors in the heart of Soho last February. Mounds of beef, lamb and pork chops cooked on a charcoal grill and served over bread that soaks up the meat juices.

Despite my best intentions, I never managed a visit last year. Starting a new job last spring – based outside of London and a pig of a commute – put a bit of a brake on my central London dining experiences. But lately I’ve been keen to make up for lost time. And meat is at the top of my list.

Blacklock, then.

The brainchild of ex-Consultant Gordon Ker who decided to swap a desk in the City for running his own restaurant, pausing to take some time working in Hawksmoor along the way, inspiration has come not only from Hawksmoor but from Joe Beef in Montreal, London’s Turkish ocakbasis and steak houses around the world.

The offering is a short menu of top quality meat cooked over charcoal, a trio of snacks to start and a few simple vegetable sides. To wash those down, a handful of surprisingly affordable cocktails, a couple of craft beers, tapped wine by the volume and a soft drink or two.

Named for its main cooking method – meat is cooked ‘on a homemade charcoal grill and seared with scorching hot vintage irons, made in the 1800s by a cast iron foundry in the Deep South called Blacklock’* – the restaurant is located in a basement in the heart of Soho; a former brothel, no less. Note that access is not great for anyone with mobility issues; I expected no lift access – common in basement-only restaurants in historical properties – but what I didn’t expect was a staircase with no handrail for the top few steps. Probably not an issue for the vast majority of customers, but difficult for me.

blacklock interior1
Image courtesy of Blacklock restaurant

Downstairs is an impressively open space with unusually high ceilings for a basement and a slightly retro, low-budget-cool decor. Much of the seating is at large tables with stools, at least one of which is communal, or at high tables with high chairs to match; both are a no-no for me – I need a backrest and I find clambering onto high chairs uncomfortable – but probably not a problem for most customers. There are some tables available with proper chairs or back-supporting banquettes, so reserve in advance to request these.

Menu - Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle
Image from Blacklock website

Skinny Chops are listed on the two-sided printed menu (all at £4 each) but Big Chops are chalked onto pillar blackboards, impossible to read from our table and staff didn’t seem eager to run through the contents for us before ordering – have a quick browse before settling in at your table.

In any case, we went for the All In option – £20 per person for 8 Skinny Chops between two – 2 beef short ribs and one each of all the rest, we were told, plus 1 each of the three Pre Chop Bites, and one Side each.

Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7791

At first glance (of the menu), Pre Chop Bites (£3 for the set or £1 individually) didn’t sound very exciting but actually, they were bloody marvellous! A precarious pile of pickles over sharp cheese, a draping of Dripping Ham and – my favourite – egg mayonnaise with an anchovy fillet and raw onion, all served on bite-sized Peter’s Yard crispbreads; these were perfectly balanced mouthfuls of texture and flavour. A good reminder that the supremely simple can be superb!

With these we enjoyed some of the very keenly-priced cocktails (£5 each); Spiked Lemonade and Aperol Negroni both get a thumbs up.

Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7795

Impatient though we were, we didn’t have to wait too long before the main event arrived. A magnificent mound of ‘Skinny Chops’ of beef, lamb and pork that looked anything but skinny to me – fat, juicy cuts of meat cooked on charcoal and served over bread that soaks up the meat juices. What was served didn’t quite match up to the menu list – we had two beef short ribs as expected, but only two of the pork cuts and four of lamb. This wasn’t a problem, but it would have been nice to be advised on ordering that one skinny chop was not available and asked for our choice of replacement.

Still, the chops were tasty and beautifully cooked. The beef short ribs were the least favourite, for both of us I think – nothing wrong with them but not a cut that’s particularly tender cooked this way, so a little chewy to eat. Pork was superbly tender, with nicely browned fat – the best bit! Lamb had the best flavour of all, and was juicy and tender. I was full after three chops, but luckily my friend has an appetite that belies her lithe body and hoovered up the other five with no hesitation at all!

Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7797 Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7798
Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7801 Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7799

For our two included Sides we chose Beef Dripping Chips and 10 Hour Ash Roasted Sweet Potato. The restaurant also sent out Charred Courgettes, Chicory & Stilton and a green salad with parmesan. Next time I visit I’ll likely do the same and order extra; at £3 each these sides are great value (especially compared to those at fellow meat purveyor, Zelman).

The sweet potatoes were the best I’ve had for a long time, superbly soft flesh full of smoke and sweetness; very special indeed. The green salad (listed on the menu as kale and parmesan but served as rocket) was a welcome addition, refreshing against the unremitting mountain of meat. I’m not a fan of chicory but the courgettes were cooked just as I like them – with a little firmness of bite – and the flavours of charring and stilton worked well. Chips were as good as they sound and look – excellent flavour, and perfect combination of crunchy exterior and fluffy inside.

Not pictured are the sauces (£1 each) – we ordered both available – Chilli Hollandaise and Green Sauce, the former served in a sauce boat and the latter in small jam jars. Both excellent and a nice change from the usual Peppercorn and Béarnaise (even though I adore it).

Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7804
Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7808 Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7809

I was full to bursting but my friend was confident she had space so we went ahead and ordered dessert (£5); there’s only one available and on the night of our visit it was a white chocolate cheesecake with rhubarb compote. Served at the table straight from a family-style dish, my friend would have happily devoured a teetering tower but the portion served was generous enough; a bit of mess dolloped into the bowl, but homely and tasty and a good way to end the meal.

I asked owner Gordon Ker to describe the Blacklock experience in a nutshell; he suggested, ‘the very best meat cooked simply over charcoal for great value in a fun setting with great hospitality.’ Based on our visit, he’s achieved his goal. Three courses (including that impressive pile of meat), 5 alcoholic drinks, a softie and 2 extra sides resulted in a very reasonable bill of £40 a head plus service and the food was certainly an enjoyable feast.

Blackfoot Restaurant Review on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7802

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Blacklock. Interior image provided by the restaurant. Info on Blacklock’s name* and sources of inspiration courtesy of top London restaurant review site, Hot Dinners.

Blacklock Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

 

When I was a child back in the Seventies, the only terms I knew for the aboriginal peoples of North America were Red Indians and Native Americans. As a child, I understood that the former was considered offensive, a relic clinging to the clichéd coattails of Hollywood Westerns. It also surprised me that early European travellers had confused the indigenous people of the North America continent with my own ancestors in India, or indeed with any of the various distinct peoples of East Asia. After all, their appearance and behaviour were completely different, each tribe with its own rich history, culture and traditions.

As a member of a minority ethnic group myself – albeit a large one – I was keen to give others the respect of addressing them as they preferred, rather than use terms associated with exploitation, marginalisation, derogation and prejudice. Of course, it’s never that simple – I’ve since discovered that there are some who still choose to identify as American Indians while others use Native American and others who ask for their tribal identity to be used, rather than a generic term that groups all tribes together.

The best way of finding out how someone prefers to be labelled, if such a label is even relevant to the conversation, is to ask them!

The reason it became relevant for me recently was my desire to find out more about the food of Canada’s indigenous peoples during my recent trip.

Until I started researching the trip, I didn’t realise the term Native American is not commonly used in Canada, indeed it’s pretty much only used in the United States.

In Canada, the collective term for the country’s indigenous peoples is First Nations, with an individual referred to as a First Nations person, man or woman. Generally this covers all the nations except the Inuit of the Arctic regions and the Métis, a formally recognised cultural group that was born of mixed-race unions between First Nations people and Europeans and between those of different First Nations.

Just as Native Americans has (somewhat) replaced American Indians in the United States, so First Nations has replaced Indian bands in Canada. There are more than 850,000 Canadians who are officially recognised as First Nations people on Canada’s Indians Register. As well as protection from discrimination (under the Employment Equity Act), Indian status also confers a range of additional benefits including property rights and tax exemptions related to Reserve lands, carefully controlled traditional hunting rights and access to a range of social programmes.

HuronWendat First Nations Hotel and Nuseum collage
Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, artwork in the museum and hotel lobbies

For those interested in learning more, Tourisme Wendake operates the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake, less than half an hour’s drive from Quebec City. Established in 2006 by the Council of the Huron-Wendat Nation, Tourisme Wendake is a non-profit organisation created to promote aboriginal culture and tourism. Their website is a mess – the navigation will make you weep; I recommend navigating directly from the Sitemap.

Visiting in person, however, is a pleasure and the site is a Must-See for anyone seeking an insight into First Nations history and culture.

At the heart of the museum and hotel complex, located on the banks of the Akiawenrahk river, is the Huron-Wendat Museum. Named for the Wendat people – also known as Huron and Wyandot – the museum opened in 2008 with the aim of protecting and promoting the nation’s heritage through permanent and temporary exhibits, activities and workshops. The museum also serves as a gateway for visitors keen to explore Wendake’s numerous heritage sites.

The complex is decorated with traditional and modern arts and crafts created by artists from many of Canada’s First Nations; indeed some of these items are available to purchase from the onsite shop.

I am shown around the museum, hotel and longhouse by Jason Picard-Binet, Marketing and Tourism Development Coordinator for Tourisme Wendake. Jason is part of the Huron-Wendat nation and takes enormous pride in sharing his culture with visitors. Indeed he says that many of the staff working in the complex are First Nations people.

As we stand in the entrance lobby to the museum, Jason points out colourful paintings on floor and ceiling, and tells me the story they represent. The creationist saga of the Huron-Wendat people relates how Aataentsic was banished from the sky world for breaking the rules. As she fell through the sky towards the world of water below, the water birds flew up to help her and gently held her above the water with their wings. As they tired, Great Turtle arrived to relieve them and held her on his back instead. Toad arrived, and dived into the water to retrieve earth from the ocean bed, giving it to Aataentsic to sprinkle over Great Turtle’s back. Soon after, Aataentsic gave birth to twin sons and they created all the elements of the earth and sky. Where one created light and human life, the other created darkness and destruction. The twins fought, and when the good brother won, the other was banished into the underworld where he remains.

HuronWendat La Traite collage 2
Chef Martin Gagné, La Traite Restaurant, some of the dishes served during my Autumn visit

One of my key interests is to find out more about First Nation cuisine, including some of the unique ingredients traditionally farmed and foraged from the local landscape.

Jason introduces me to Martin Gagné, the Executive Chef at Restaurant La Traite, an elegant restaurant at the museum-hotel. In summer months, tables on the peaceful outdoor terrace are particularly sough-after.

We sit down for a chat over tea. Martin offers me a choice of teas and infusions, highlighting those made with herbs and berries that have long been a part of the First Nations diet. Arctic Blend features juniper and other local berries and herbs. Cloudberry and crowberry teas are both fruit infusions. I follow Martin’s lead and choose Labrador tea, an infusion of a flowering plant in the Rhododendron genus which has a refreshing, mildly minty and rosemary-like flavour. Some of the traditional First Nations ingredients are becoming more popular of late, says Martin. Labrador tea is one such ingredient; traditionally used to cure headaches, to relax and to help mothers through childbirth, it is now being investigated by Western Pharma and has tripled in price in the last few years.

Although Martin is not registered Indian, he is part Algonquin and has always had an interest in First Nations culture. I ask him how he came to work at the Huron-Wendat Museum and Hotel.

After studying catering Martin worked at a number of prestigious restaurants, eventually taking up the head chef position at Manoir St-Castin, not far from Quebec City. It was here that he became more inspired by First Nations food traditions, and began to incorporate them more regularly into his cooking. Indeed it was during a visit to Wendake to purchase a teepee in which to host events at Manoir St-Castin that he first met the Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat nation. Later that year, he was invited to cook at the community’s Harvest Festival. There, the Grand Chief told him of the nation’s plans to set up a new museum and asked Martin to head up the restaurant.

Other First Nations restaurants in the area tend to serve traditional First Nations food, but Martin wanted to take things further – to take the traditional and bring it up to date. At La Traite, he uses local products to create a modern, nature-focused menu with strong influence from First Nations traditions, but not bound by them. The cooking is informed by his classical French training, the wider Canadian-Quebecois food culture and some international references. These he skilfully fuses with a larder of wild game, seafood and many vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices foraged from boreal forests that still cover much of Canada. It is a celebration of the abundance of nature, seasonality and the ethos of sustainability.

As much of the restaurant’s customer base is repeat diners and corporate clientele, Martin is keen to offer a menu that not only changes seasonally but introduces diners to new ideas and dishes each time they visit. Alongside traditional game meats of the region, he also assimilates ingredients and ideas from aboriginal traditions elsewhere in the world – hence the menu has also seen dishes using Australian kangaroo and Mayan shrimps (from modern day Belize) over the years.

When it comes to adding flavour, Martin uses herbs and spices favoured by First Nations cooking to complement his main ingredients, but often looks to use them in new ways. Gathered when in season, some are are dried and preserved for use throughout the year.

We want our customers to discover new flavours in our forest’, he says, ‘but we also want to show them that with our local products, we can produce similar tastes as the spices of the Orient’.

Dune pepper (poivre des dunes), for example – the small buds from the green alder tree – is traditionally used with game meat such as buffalo; Martin describes its aroma as the perfume of the forest, adding that it has a peppery flavour but not the heat of peppercorns; it is good in a creamy sauce, much as one might use peppercorns.

Balsam fir (sapin baumier) is similar to pine; Martin uses it to smoke fish, imbuing the fish with a citrusy woodland flavour.

Coltsfoot (tussilage) flowers are found all over Quebec and traditionally used in medicinal infusions; with a flavour resminiscent of chamomile, Martin likes to pair them with fresh fish.

Myrical gale (myrique baumier) is also known as bog-myrtle, sweetgale and royal piment (pepper); the leaves and buds have a nutmeg-like aroma and taste and can be used in similar recipes.

Horsetail (prêle des champs), also called sweet grass, is a sacred medicinal plant for the Nation and has a very particular scent. Martin grinds it to make a marinade for prawns.

There are over forty such herbs and spices in Martin’s kitchen, each of which brings a unique flavour to his cooking.

As restaurant service starts, Martin heads back to the kitchen and Jason and I take a table in the restaurant, to enjoy some of the flavours I’ve recently learned about.

With traditional bannock cornbread rolls, we have a refreshing ‘rhubarb water’ – I’m not usually a fan of rhubarb but the perfect balance between sweet and sharp, and the gentle flavour, is delightful. Our first course is a traditional Sagamité Soup featuring the three sisters, red beans, squash and corn, in an elk broth – the ingredients are so known because of the way they are traditionally grown together – the tall stalks of the corn provide a frame for the beans to climb, and these in turn provide shade to the squash plants growing beneath; an early and enduring example of companion planting.

Next comes a beautiful tasting board with several perfectly-presented little dishes including smoked salmon, lemon ‘caviar’, salicornia (a beach or marsh-growing succulent) and capers; foie gras with a spiced apple butter; a fresh vegetable salad; venison with parmesan and cheddar cheeses, confit onion and wild blueberry jam; crab rillettes with sweet peppers and gherkins and a smoked L’Algonquin Cheese, grilled with pear.

To finish, we enjoy fresh fruit with maple syrup mousse and maple syrup – of course the First Nations people harvested and used sap from the maple tree long before the Europeans arrived in North America!

As I’d hoped, the cooking is accomplished and delicious; the way Martin and his kitchen team weave together ingredients, techniques and dishes I already know with those I’ve not previously encountered is a special experience indeed.

I’m reminded that there are many such ingredients available in Europe – foraged for centuries, perhaps even millenia, but somehow forgotten by modern cooking, yet readily available in our local woodlands, verges and untended grounds. First Nations food is above all about that link to the local environment, and making best use of the produce it offers; surely a good lesson to take home.

HuronWendatEkionkiestha longhouse collage
The Ekionkiestha’ longhouse at Huron-Wendat

After lunch, Jason shows me more of the site.

The main hotel is within the same complex of buildings as the museum and rooms are gorgeous. Spacious, attractive, decorated with traditional and modern First Nation art and crafts, they are really delightful and of course, staying one or more nights gives you more time to learn about the First Nations as whole and the Huron-Wendat nation in particular. It’s also a great base for outdoor activities in the region such as hiking, boating, fishing and more.

Just outside the hotel and museum buildings is the traditionally constructed Ekionkiestha’ longhouse. Here, guests can learn traditional First Nation myths and legends over a cup of Labrador tea and some bannock bread. Guides are also available to teach interested visitors about First Nation cooking, hunting and craft-making. For a more immersive experience, guests can book to spend a night in the longhouse, under the supervision of the firekeeper.

My visit this time is too short to stay overnight. I’d like very much to come back and spend longer next time, learning more about Huron-Wendat culture and traditions.

 

Kavey Eats visited Wendake courtesy of Destination Canada, with the assistance of Tourisme Quebec. Huge thanks to Jason and Martin for their time and all that they taught me.

 

I’ve enjoyed visiting Hawksmoor, albeit only intermittently, since the days when there was just one of what later became a mini chain of five; each new property to open serving the same impeccably sourced and delicious steaks, super and inventive cocktails and tasty desserts in a wonderfully individual, beautifully furnished, welcoming setting. Owners Will Beckett and Huw Gott created a wonderful brand; a sure bet if you ever fancied a damn good steak at someone else’s table.

In 2013 they sold a majority stake (geddit?) to investors but remained involved in the business, turning their efforts to launching sibling steakhouse Foxlow, which provides a similar offering to Hawksmoor but is aimed at a more local neighbourhood clientele. There are now four Foxlow properties – in Clerkenwell, Stoke Newington, Chiswick and Balham – and certainly on the night of our visit, the newest to open was doing a roaring trade.

Although I’ve seen Foxlow referred to as a less expensive sibling to Hawksmoor, I’d say that prices for the star of the show – steak – are pretty much on a par with Hawksmoor. Starters, sides, sauces and puddings are a touch less, though, but it’s not a huge differential. The vibe is more relaxed though, not that it’s overly formal at Hawksmoor, and the location of this branch close to a tube stop makes it handy for weeknight dining even if you’re not a local.

Just as it does at Hawksmoor, the beef is from native breed cattle reared by The Ginger Pig in North Yorkshire, the meat is dry aged for 35 or 55 days, depending on the cut. Seafood is caught off the South Coast and travels directly from Brixham every morning. Chicken is slow-grown herb-fed Yorkshire Ross. Charcuterie, cheese and bread are similarly carefully sourced.

Which means that whatever you choose from the menu, you’ll be in for a treat.

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7694

Burrata with Sorrel Salsa Verde (£7.5) is fresh, creamy and wonderfully matched by the citrus notes of the sorrel. A good example of allowing quality ingredients to speak for themselves.

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7697

Salmon Crudo, Chilli & Ginger (£7.5) is thinly sliced and lifted perfectly by a light gingery dressing, slivers of hot chilli and a scattering of micro herbs. Delicious and disappears alarmingly quickly!

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7704

300 grams D-Rump 55 days (£18) is cooked medium rare as requested and is a truly delicious piece of meat. (D-Rump, by the way, is cut from the centre of the rump). It’s served with a small bone marrow and onions, no vegetables included, so don’t forget to order (and factor in when assessing the prices of a main meal) your choice of sides. This is as good a steak as any I’ve had in the last year or two, and beautiful smeared with a very tasty Béarnaise, generous servings of which are £1 each.

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7701

We select a 250 gram Rib Eye (£21) from the board (because it’s a smaller weight than the 275 gram cut listed on the menu) and ask for it medium, to give the fat a chance to cook. It’s served rare, so we send it back. Not a bother, a new one cooked exactly as requested is back with us before too long. Never feel nervous to return a steak that is not cooked as you requested – even a good kitchen can get a steak wrong from time to time, especially a thin cut like this, and any good restaurant won’t baulk at changing it for you, as was the case here.

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7703 Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7709

Our sides are a super soft Baked Sweet Potato (£3) and lovely Buttered Anya Potatoes (£3.5).

To drink Pete enjoys a 375 ml carafe of Foxlow House Red (£8.5); it’s odd not to see any hint of what kind of wine it is, but I imagine this allows the restaurant to switch in different wines more easily, and he deems it a perfectly satisfactory easy-drinking red. I have a Vietnamese Iced Coffee (£3.5) which would also make a nice after-dinner drink if you don’t have room for dessert but fancy something sweet and caffeinated!

Foxlow Balham Steak Restaurant on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7714

The desserts list is full of temptations and I lament my lack of space for the Black Forest Brownie (£6.5) but decide instead to steal a few spoons from Pete’s Bourbon Caramel Soft Serve Sundae (£5.5), especially when it arrives with unexpected candied pecans which he doesn’t like but which I am happy to devour.

Is Foxlow the perfect neighbourhood restaurant? Yes. While the interiors may not be as lavish as those of elder sibling Hawksmoor, they are comfortable and attractive. Service is friendly and enthusiastic (to everyone, not just those of us invited to review). And the food, particularly the steak, is every bit as good. Certainly I’d love to have a branch near me (though this one is within easy reach of my current workplace). That said, £90 between two for three courses and only minimal drinks, remains on the high side for an everyday meal, although that line is, of course, different for everybody. But for a little splurge on pay day, or for those little celebrations of milestones achieved, anniversaries and birthdays counted, it’s spot on.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Foxlow Balham.

 

When you’re married to a beer lover, the beer menu can be just as important as the food menu, and it’s good to have a few places up the sleeve that will tempt said beer lover into town!

Handily, The Three Johns in Angel is easy to get to – just a couple of minutes’ walk from Angel tube station.

It’s also in the close vicinity of other drinking gems such as The Craft Beer Company , The Lexington (great for American beer and bourbon) and The Earl of Essex (brewpub), not to mention recently opened chocolate palaces Damson Chocolate (London’s new bean to bar chocolate maker) and Jaz and Jules (purveyors of very fine drinking chocolate).

Three Johns 5145 Three Johns 5108
Three Johns 5131 Three Johns 5047
Images provided by The Three Johns

The space is rather grand, certainly when it’s not too busy it’s easy to appreciate the beautiful copper tiled ceiling and huge windows, with the space divided into two rooms – the main one with the bar and a second one off to one side. It’s an appealing space and the only real downside for me is that lighting is very low; it’s almost as dark inside as the November night outside.

The food menu at The Three Johns is short and simple. There are nine sourdough pizzas, three salads and a couple of desserts to choose from. But, as long as you like pizza, that’s plenty – the pizza toppings are so damn appealing it’s hard to narrow it down and pick just two.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7663

In the end we select Chilli Con Carne, Tomato, Smoked Mozzarella (£9) and Fennel Sausage, Chilli-Roasted Sprouting Broccoli, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmesan (£9.50), a white pizza, without the usual tomato sauce, with the intention of sharing both. Both are excellent; the base is so good that I even eat some my crusts – if you’ve ever shared a pizza with me you know this is a rare thing – and the toppings we chose are as good as we hoped.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7662

The chilli con carne is fiery hot, and generously smeared over the base, reminding me of a Turkish lahmacun with Mexican flavours.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7659

The fennel sausage and broccoli go together wonderfully, and this pizza my favourite of the two. Since Pete likes the other one best, we’re both happy bunnies.

The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7657

The beer list is extensive with a good range on draught and an impressive list of bottles. During our visit we tried:

  • Gypsy Hill Bounder – Pete liked this old-fashioned draught ale, a “very classic best bitter, perhaps a touch watery, nice English hops more leafy than fruity”.
  • Stod Fold Dark – Like the previous pint, Pete appreciated the traditional nature of this pint, also on draught, and described it as a “a classic Porter, toasted malt, fairly dry, not much in the way of hops… very nice, very traditional”.
  • Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black – Pete was quite a fan of this bottled beer, noting that it was a “very curious, clean crisp Porter that [was] joined 2 seconds in by buckets of grapefruit hops. Unusual but everything you’d hope from a south pacific Porter. Cracking. Very craft!
  • Heretic Evil Twin – Pete’s notes for this one were short and sweet, he described it as London Brewing Co’s “Mad As Hops in a can”.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7666 The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7668

For dessert, you can have a sweet pizza spread with nutella and toasted hazelnuts (£6) – we added strawberries to one half and bananas to the other; or some very decent ice creams (bought in from Snowflake Gelato, £2.50 per scoop) – the peach was utterly delicious and I appreciated it being peach ice cream rather than sorbet, peaches pair so perfectly with cream.

With my food fixation, even a venue that’s primarily about the beer needs to offer tasty food to make my shortlist. It’s great to have another such pub which will keep both Pete Drinks and Kavey Eats happy.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Three Johns pub, courtesy of Barworks.

The Three Johns Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

 

Within hours of touching down in Montreal I was comfortably esconsed in Restaurant Toqué!, one of Canada’s most-respected and highly awarded restaurants.

The name amuses me greatly – a ‘toque de cuisinier’ is a chef’s hat but ‘toqué’ means goofy, crazy, loopy, mad… Perhaps the implication is that wearing one indicates the other?

When Toqué! first opened back in 1993, its focus on seasonal, market-fresh, locally-sourced products was a rare notion rather than the industry norm it has become today in high end restaurants. Chef proprietors Normand Laprise and Christine Lamarche  also took a risk by opening a high end gastronomic restaurant at a time when the city was in the grips of a fierce recession. But the quality of their cooking, the warmth of their welcome and the strong relationships they developed with local producers proved to be a winning formula and the restaurant has been a huge success ever since.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1253

In 2004 they moved from their original location (right by Jean-Talon Market) to new premises in the city’s International District, an address handily just across the road from my hotel, the InterContinental Montreal – an superbly situated hotel, by the way, for exploring both new and Old Montreal.

Although it meant fighting the jet lag during the last couple of courses, I ordered the Tasting Menu to enjoy a wider range of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Despite a desperation to get to bed by the last course, I was hugely glad I did.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-191110 Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1255

The space is large but broken up into smaller, cosier areas. My spot was not too far from the floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the free-standing bar within the unusually shaped room. The restaurant is often fully booked, so the restaurant offers last-minute diners a place at the bar, should they wish.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1257 Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-192052

The amuse bouche was tuna confit covered in a glossy white dome of tomato water foam. Beneath the aerated blanket tiny shards of crisply toasted bread provided textural contrast. The flavours were surprisingly classic for just a modern-looking dish. A lovely start.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1259

Princess scallops with chervil mousse, lime and physalis were fresh and sweet, the combination of fruit, herb and citrus complemented them well.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-194554 Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1263

The halibut was a surprising dish and I could not entirely decide whether I liked the combination of white fish, melon, black sesame seeds, kohlrabi , coriander, cucumber, radish and yuzu gel – it felt a little random on the plate and especially so on the palate. That said, each element was delicious, the fish wonderfully fresh and delicate and I’m a sucker for yuzu!

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9490

Foie gras was served with curried candied pistachios, argan oil and brioche. The foie was perfectly cooked – not easy to achieve such caramelisation on the surface without melting away most of the substance – and the candied pistachios delightful with it but the brioche was an enormous dry slab, providing neither crunch nor softness.

For those who prefer not to eat foie gras, or simply don’t enjoy it, the tasting menu offered an alternative choice of sea urchin and mushrooms.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-202850 Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9494

This unassuming dish was one of my two favourites of the evening – the dish I went away dreaming about! A thick slice of tuna loin was cooked rare, its meatiness enhanced by a bone marrow sauce. Served with white beans, fresh cherry tomatoes, a few tiny pieces of lightly pickled courgette and a thyme and lemon sauce, the combination sounds almost nondescript and yet this dish was anything but.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9498

A juicy venison steak was served with a dense venison sausage, yellow beetroot, a fiery pink chilli sauce and a cherry sauce. The flavour of the meat was excellent and the sauces balanced each other nicely, and yet I found it a rather forgettable dish.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9503

The tasting menu offered a choice of two dishes for the cheese course. I struggled to pick between the two,  asking my waitress for advice before eventually choosing the polenta and almond cake with caramelised goat’s milk, sweetcorn mousse, chilli oil and roasted peach sorbet.

To my surprise, I really didn’t like this dish – neither the component parts nor the whole. I did like the roasted peach sorbet though it was a little too subtle to stand up to the rest. The sweetcorn mousse was a thing of fascinating strangeness. The caramelised goat’s milk was OK. All the flavours seemed to clash; this was too discordant a dish for me and I left most of it uneaten.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9500

Luckily for me, and without knowing my reaction to the first cheese course, my waitress had already decided to serve me both!

Out came this delightful glass bowl cupping a stunning soft, fresh curd cheese – made from sheep’s milk I think – with melon granita and rocket granita spooned over, a dribble of lemon and thyme sauce and a pair of tiny grissini. Gosh, this was fantastic; even against the ice-cold punchiness of the two granitas the fresh cheese held its own. I adored this dish and it was my other favourite of the night, and the other dish I dream of tasting again.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9507

Confit strawberries were served with a strawberry gel, caramelised black garlic, a creme fraiche ice cream and lemon balm syrup, tiny flat shards of meringue finished the dish. The sticky black garlic caramel was the surprise star of the dish, working amazingly well with the red fruit – much like balsamic vinegar does, but with a wholly different flavour profile. The lemon balm provided a balancing freshness and in this case, all the elements came together perfectly.

Tasting Menu at Restaurant Toqué! in Montreal - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9509

Just in case there was any corner of me left unsatiated a beautiful plate of petits fours were served. The teeny tiny blueberry financiers were moist and delicious and there were cubes of the softest fudge, its texture quite unlike any I’ve tried before, it dissolved on the tongue into a pool of liquid sugar.

I’d love to dine here again, perhaps for a regular three course meal from the a la carte menu. Creative, delicious cooking makes the best of high quality ingredients; the setting is comfortable, attractive and welcoming and the service is attentive, friendly and professional.

That said, the Tasting Menu is priced at CAD$122 per person; that’s just £61 based on the exchange rate on the date of my visit, which makes Toqué! a must-visit restaurant for British visitors. But do make sure to book a table – the locals know they’ve got a good thing going!

 

Kavey Eats visited Montreal courtesy of Destination Canada.

 

I loved Viet Food so much I went two nights in a row. Yep, I really did!

Viet Food opened its doors in the heart of China Town – just where it meets Soho – less than two weeks before my visits, and was packed to the rafters both evenings, with queues waiting outside to boot. Some of that will no doubt be down to its superb central location, even busier than usual thanks to the unseasonably warm weather and with the beautiful red lanterns still hanging after the recent Moon Festival. But I’m sure it must also be because word has already got out about the excellent cooking and attractive setting.

The restaurant belongs to chef proprietor Jeff Tan, who was at the helm of Hakkasan for 3 years from its launch, winning a Michelin Star for the restaurant during his tenure. His aim for Viet Food is to present a menu of high quality, reasonably priced food that celebrates Vietnam’s vibrant food culture. That concept has been translated for the interior by designer Nina Kuan, who has created a very appealing space across two high-ceilinged floors. Several of the walls are exposed brick, the huge upstairs windows are fitted with woven ropes that let in light but break up the pedestrian view outside, flooring is a mixture of oak boards and vintage tiles, ducts and pipes along the ceiling are exposed, lighting is slightly retro and there are wonderful vintage decorative objects such as hanging birdcages, huge mirrors and pretty postcards. The whole effect is very welcoming and I really like it.

My first meal in the restaurant was an invitation to review, organised by the PR; a friend and I enjoyed tasty and beautifully presented food, served with a smile in a charming setting.

The next night Pete and I needed an exciting, delicious restaurant for dinner with my cousin and his wife, visiting London from Washington DC. Happily, the food and overall dining experience were just as good the second night running.

Here’s my low down on what we had; a few dishes were ordered on both nights because they were so delicious and I knew everyone would love them. Visit two was more chicken-, pork- and beef-based dishes, as we had a few non-seafood eaters.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0258 vietfood interior1
Image of interior provided by restaurant

Lovely to discover an appealing range of soft drinks including two mixed juice options. On the left, Coconut Slap – coconut, mango and passionfruit and on the right, Wow Wow – melon, pineapple, apple and lime. Both delicious.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0261

For both meals, we ordered quite a few dishes from the first page of the menu – labelled as ‘Incoming’, this consisted of smaller dishes, ideal as starters.

Crispy home made Vietnamese spring roll (£4.50) paired a succulent pork filling with super crunchy vermicelli exterior, fresh lettuce to wrap and a beautifully balanced sauce to dip. 3 in a portion, these were a favourite both nights.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0263

Vietnamese pancake (£5) was far thinner than I expected. Generously filled with perfectly cooked seafood, stir fried vegetables and fresh herbs and served with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. I loved the filling but found the thinner softer pancake less appealing than the slightly thicker crunchier type I’ve had before.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0268

Pomelo prawn salad (£5.50) was one of my absolute favourites and another dish ordered both nights. Juicy prawns and one of my favourite citrus fruits were complemented by fresh herbs and a fantastic salad dressing – I’m guessing brown sugar, fish sauce and lime or lemon juice as a base, but it’s all about getting the balance right and this was just so good. Perhaps I shall beg Jeff Tan for his recipe, do you think that would work?

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0299

The dressing for the Grilled beef salsa with fresh herb (£5.50) was similar, though the mix of vegetables and herbs quite different. This was another winner on night 2.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0285

The Vietnamese style grilled minced pork balls with lettuce and vermicelli (£5) were also one of the dishes everyone particularly liked – full of flavour, perfectly cooked and great with lettuce, lightly pickled vegetables and vermicelli.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0282

The Chargrilled glazed lemongrass chicken wings (£4) were absolutely delicious, with strong flavours, tender chicken and a wonderfully charred and crisp skin. However the portion was small for the price, given the unusually tiny size of the four wings served. If the kitchen could source more generously sized chicken wings, I would give this dish a bigger thumbs up.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0272 Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0295

The next section of the menu covers ‘Greens’, from which we ordered Morning glory stir-fry with preserved shrimp paste (£5.50) the first night and Stir-fried French bean with minced beef and dried shrimp sauce (£5.50) the second night.

Both were excellent – fresh, beautifully cooked and with wonderful flavour from the preserved shrimp and dried shrimp paste. My cousin-in-law particularly loved the beans, one of her favourite dishes of the evening.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0270

The next four dishes are listed in the ‘Chef Signature Dish’ section. Lamb chop Hanoi style (£8.80) was one of the first dishes I decided to order, lamb chops being one of my favourite foods in the world. Some meat was left on the bone – two ribs joined together, but the rest were served as boneless fillets making the dish perfect to share with those who aren’t as happy to gnaw on the bone as me! The flavour in the glaze was super punchy, and the meat very tender. These didn’t disappoint.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0264

Tender pork belly (£7) was as promised – several generous cubes of belly pork with meltingly soft layers of fat and tender meat, served in its sweet thick braising liquid. This dish must surely be based on Chinese red-braised pork, much like the origins of Japanese Buta no Kakuni, but I found the flavours of the braise a little muted in comparison.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0294

Vietnamese grilled chilli sirloin (£8.80) turns out to be four tight rolls of thinly sliced sirloin, simply grilled (with a little pink inside) and served with okra and a thick, tasty sauce.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0302

Chargrilled lemongrass chicken (£6) is, unsurprisingly, somewhat similar in flavour to the lemongrass chicken wings but with less char and crispness and a lot more meat. It’s a simple but delicious dish.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0292 Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0289

Another favourite on evening two is Bun Thit Bo Nuong (£7.90)– chargrilled beef over vermicelli noodles with a cucumber and herb salad, peanuts and fish sauce. Served with a sweet chilli sauce to pour over. The generous portion makes this one of the best value dishes on the menu too.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0275

On first glance, we thought the Home-style fried rice with king prawn and soy sauce (£4.80) a little disappointing, just a pot of rice with a few prawns thrown in – but as we started eating, we quickly realised it was simple but very delicious; a really tasty fried rice.

On my second visit we went for the Egg fried rice with beef ginger, coriander and Vietnamese pickled [sic] (£4.80), which was even better. Again, a simple dish when perfectly executed had us nodding in appreciation.

Vietfood London - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0277

There isn’t a dessert menu, but a note on the main menu promises a Chef’s daily special – ask your waiter for more information. The Pandan sago with banana (£4) was unlike anything I’ve tried before. Pandan gave the custardy pudding a subtle flavour and pretty green colour, sago pearls added a slippery, mildly chewy texture and cubes of ripe banana added sweetness. There were no punchy flavours here; rather a satisfyingly simple ending to our meal – I liked it very much.

There is plenty, plenty more on the menu to try. We didn’t order any of the 8 pho on offer, though I spotted several fellow customers digging in with gusto. There are many more fish and seafood dishes I’m keen to sample. Another return visit is surely on the cards but the difficulty will be in sidestepping so many of the dishes above, in order to give the rest of the tempting menu a fair chance!

Do yourself a favour and make your way to Viet Food soon!

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Viet Food on the first evening, and as regular customers on the second.

Oct 032015
 

The Truscott Cellar is a wine bar and restaurant in Belsize Park, a residential neighbourhood in North London. As the name implies, it has a strong focus on wine, but food is definitely not an also-ran; the short menu offers a range of small dishes that are delicious, fairly priced and a great sop to the wine. And speaking of  wine, it’s enormously pleasing to note that every single wine listed is available by the glass, carafe or bottle.

There is also a short cocktails list and some decent soft-drink options.

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0236

With glasses of wine served in 125 ml measures, wine lovers can try a wider range than is often the case, and staff are on hand to advise and recommend, if you wish. Pete enjoyed a Muddy Water Pinot Noir from Waipara Valley in New Zealand (£8), a Bodega Ruca Malen Petit Verdot from Mendoza in Argentina (£6.50) and a Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent from Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (£5.50).

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0241

The Meat board (£7 per person, one person serving pictured) includes pressed English pork, Potted Duck and Cured beef and is served with celeriac, slices of pickled gherkins, giant capers and crisp sourdough toasts (not shown). Ours also had additional charcuterie items from those mentioned on the menu. Looking around us, this was clearly a popular way to start the evening.

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0245

The Cornish mackerel, purple potatoes, pickled cucumbers, lemon and chervil (£8) was probably my favourite dish of the night. Everything was perfectly cooked, the salad was beautifully dressed and the combination worked wonderfully. And purple potatoes always looks so pretty.

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0239

The beef cheek, smoked mash and crispy shallots (£10) was Pete’s favourite and a very close second for me. Cooked perfectly, the meat was fork-apart tender and rich in flavour. The smoky mash was rich and buttery and with the beef and gravy, made for a supremely comforting dish. One not to be missed!

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0248 The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0251

The Heritage Potatoes (£6) is a plate of three generously-sized potato cakes – you can order all three the same or one of each flavour. On offer are Westcome cheddar and leek, smoked haddock and spring onion and blackened Lancashire bacon with ragstone cheese and truffle oil. Given the pricing, I’d really like the option of ordering these individually for £2 or even £2.50 each; a plate of three is a lot of spud between two and most fellow diners were solo or in parties of two. Flavours were decent though I’d like a little more of the flavouring ingredients in each potato cake; the truffle oil didn’t come through at all, either on the nose or the palate.

The Truscott Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belsize Park Londonl - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0253

The chocolate mousse, honeycomb, chocolate soil (£7) dessert was decent with a rich and dark chocolate flavour, but the texture was very dense indeed and had a hint of graininess. The combination with honeycomb was simple but effective.

Although the food is very good, I’d say that Truscott Cellars is aimed at drinkers first, diners second. How so? Tables are tiny oval-topped affairs on which it’s a squeeze to fit drinks and more than two dishes. Given that the menu offers small plate dining, it’s not unreasonable to have three dishes at a time and we only managed by borrowing space on a neighbouring table while we could. As the place filled up, this became less of an option.

The space looks modern and attractive on first glance but it felt to me that it had been designed for style over comfort and without sufficient thought to how the spaces would work when the seats were full of customers – the first table we chose was spaced such that pulling out the chair enough to sit in it meant that it pushed right into the banquette seating of the table behind; we decided to move to another table instead. The decor also seems to have been done on the cheap, with some messiness visible in the finishing.

It was surprising not to have coat hooks available; I’m curious how this will work when it’s raining – will customers really be expected to keep soaking wet coats with them at their tables? When I wondered where I should put mine, a member of staff did agree to take and store it for me, but this is clearly not the default option.

That said, within less than a month of opening, the place quickly filled up on a Tuesday evening and we were told that some customers were already regulars with multiple visits under their belts.

We enjoyed our evening and would certainly recommend visiting for a few glasses of wine and some tasty dishes.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Truscott Cellar.

The Truscott Cellar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha