Friday, 20 May 2011

London – Two Weeks in Food / Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Two Weeks in Food, London town style. I would like to apologise in advance for the length of review number one. I wanted to convey every negative emotion that Oslo Court instilled in me. It just required a lot of characters to do that.

For Part 1 - Step this way

Oslo Court - Restaurant Review

I honestly do not know where to begin with this place. I think the best place to start would be to give you, the reader, a bit of background information. Oslo Court is a French/English restaurant that is situated at the bottom of a block of 1930s flats in the affluent area of St John’s Wood, serving food from the 1970s...Not produce from the 70s... well, maybe? Across the internet, it is seemingly loved and hated in equal measure. Some refer to it as the best restaurant in London and others walk away feeling like they have been robbed.

After my weekend of Broadway Market and sushi, I was invited to Oslo Court to join my parents for dinner, as my father was celebrating his 62nd birthday. I looked the place up online and it seemed to have very good reviews. It also seemed to be ‘themed’ in the sense that the entire decor was pink and the menu, very 70s. My initial reaction was fairly positive and I thought that the whole experience would be steeped in irony and self-awareness.

When we arrived, the exterior was as I expected and I clung to the potential for Irony. We entered the pink room, with waiters hovering in tux’s, as I strolled through in smart/casual, feeling completely out of place. One table filled with elderly people, another table with a textbook upper-middle class family from the 70s, with two young children that looked like they had been dragged there by parents who used phrases like, “children should be seen and not heard”. Chateaubriand, spatchcock chicken, prawn cocktail and Steak Diane predictably crowded the menu. There were no prices, except for one that said it was £42.50 per head. Right. Does that mean you have to have three courses? If you don’t, are you just charged the same? Why do they only do half bottles of wine? Why are they all overpriced?

I chose Lobster Bisque for starter and Crispy duck with cherry sauce and vegetables for main. In typical 70s style, they have a job lot of veg out back, that they believe just goes with everything.

The service has been praised by many, as excellent and very friendly. I found it neither here nor there. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t great. The Lobster Bisque arrived. Straight away, the colour was wrong, it was a greyish brown. No Lobster bisque is greyish brown? It tasted greyish brown. My heart sank. Bisque at its best is creamy, velvety, full and rich. It is packed with depth of flavour. It is sweet and herbaceous. This tasted like they had boiled two day old lobster in vegetable stock cubes mixed with water. My heart sank deeper. They have no idea. There is no irony here. All that lies here is a group of people that enjoyed the mediocre melange of food they ate as younger adults and now accept it as the height of haute cuisine, in 2011.

My main course was a large piece of crispy duck. It wasn’t great, but seasoned well and crispy none the less. The cherry sauce had a slight sweetness but no depth. The many vegetables were average and in total there was far too much food, even for a 6ft 5 man with a big appetite, such as myself. As I waded through the masses of food, just finishing it as not to embarrass our hosts, I looked around at my surroundings and back at my food. I felt like I was in an old people’s home and the food was all the budget would allow. The chef; maybe employed off the back of being a dinner lady in the 1960s? We were paying for this and that depressed me.

The much talked about dessert waiter delivered the menu verbally, like some poetic riddle. To be fair to him, he was the highlight. He was camp, 1970s style. You know, where they allude to being gay, but don’t quite ‘come out’ as it were.

I had the strawberry tart with whipped cream. (oooh matron). This was actually the best dish of the night. It lacked any presentation, but it was fresh, the pastry was good and it had just the right amount of sugar through the cream. However, it was not enough to save this meal. The bill weighed in at over £160 for three people. As I looked at the bill, then down at the dog under the neighbouring table full of grannies, I didn’t know who wanted to be there less.

As we left, that “robbed” feeling that Oslo Court manages to instil in so many of its guests enveloped my body. In another 20 years time, this restaurant will no longer be here. The reason; anyone that a) thinks that food hasn’t improved since the 1970s and b) enjoys the nostalgia of the experience, will all have passed on.

Despite all of this, I find it hard to dislike the proprietors of Oslo Court. In the same way you find it hard to dislike your own grandmother for using the word n***er in passing. They are of another time, they don’t know any better and they don’t want to know any better. How can you argue with that?

1 Star

____________________________________ << let's draw a line underneath it

Comptoir Gascon - Restaurant Review

Located in the heart of Farringdon, opposite the meat market, Comptoir Gascon offers good quality fresh food, which has been very well executed, at fair prices. My friend and I went in for a casual lunch after a hankering for charcuterie. My first course was exactly that, aptly and humorously named ‘piggy treats’. This consists of cured pork and sausage, with a few sweet & tart (not spicy) pickled peppers. These acted as the perfect palette cleanser between bites of fatty, salty meat. A well thought out dish.

In order to avoid an overly heavy lunch, I went for a light vegetarian pasta dish as my main. Baby basil ravioles in a light cream sauce, with what I believe was sweet asparagus slithers and crispy deep fried kale leaves. These were bitter, which again offset the creamy, aromatic pasta. The baby courgette served a third purpose. It was all perfectly seasoned and again, well conceived.

My friend’s main course was a simple barbecued chicken supreme with French fries. The chicken was once again, perfectly seasoned. It was a chunky piece of meat but still so, so moist throughout. Thick breast meat can be tough to get right. The fries were thinner due to their French beginnings. However, they tasted as though they were done in beef dripping. Very Moorish.

All washed down with a crisp beer and back out into the London sun; it was a very satisfying 2-course lunch with drinks. The chefs here have great palettes. They know how to keep dishes interesting throughout eating and they know how to season. At under £20 a head, Comptoir Gascon have bagged themselves a couple of regulars.

4.5 Stars

Newman Arms - Pub with food Review

When one of your favourite films is Michael Powell’s 1960s thriller, ‘Peeping Tom’ and you like a good pie, it seems to make sense to visit the location of the film’s opening scene, to enjoy “one of the best pies in London”. That is exactly what I did one lunch time during the week. Located on a quiet street in Fitzrovia, this famous pub is fairly small and set across two floors, the top floor being ‘The Pie Room’. The atmosphere is cosy and old fashioned, without feeling stale and stuck in time.

The pie is king at the Newman Arms, so I plumped for that British classic, steak and kidney. I washed it down with a pint of London Pride. All the pies are served with mash, carrots and other veg of the day. When the pie arrived, I knew it could not be up there with the best. Why? It was a floater. By floater, I mean a casserole with a pastry lid put on top. This is not a pie. A real pie is encased in pastry. That aside, the pastry was very good. The filling was rich and meaty with soft kidneys and tender beef. It was a little colder outside than it could have been on this spring afternoon, so it all helped. Is this one of the best pies in London? Absolutely not. Is it a nice pub in a nice area, with nice pies and beer? Yes. Have a visit if you’re in the area and/or are a massive fan of films about murdering prostitutes and the psyche of fear.

3 Stars

Part 3 coming soon -  CAMRA Pubs of the year and quick Korean hits high holborn...

Thursday, 12 May 2011

London – Two Weeks in Food / Part 1

It was over a year ago that I moved away from my birthplace and home, to explore the north of England. Tired of the daily grind and claustrophobic commute, I went in search of pastures new. How easy it is to take a city like London for granted. Returning twice over the spring period (inc. The Royal Wedding) I was able to see London with fresh eyes again. I crammed my time with theatre, exhibitions, public parks and lots of beautiful food. Allow me to talk you through where I went, on my food tour of London.

Broadway Market

What better way to start the weekend than with a stroll through Broadway Market and London Fields? Where else can you find the plumpest olives, the freshest bread and the gamiest game? Okay, probably Borough Market in London Bridge, but this is better. It is better for being scaled down to fit a residential road crawling with young and vibrant minds. I couldn’t help but say to my friend, how nice it was to see so many young people thinking, doing and absorbing. Not only can you eat like a king here, but you can feel part of something that is current and exciting. This is the generation of people that have grown up listening to their parent’s LP’s, the generation that are revelling in their freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

At the beginning of the market is ‘The Cat & Mutton’ pub. The staff seem to think their shit don’t stink and they don’t do ale, but the sardines are good and so is the atmosphere, that happens to flow from the market and through their doors. Grab a pint and people watch, whilst you take a rest from the bustle of the market.

Recently, a program focusing on the revival of British baking saw Michel Roux Jr visit an artisan bakery in one of the arches underneath London Fields rail. Arch 402. It was the gentleman’s 200 year old sour dough starter mix that sold it to me. At £3.20 a loaf, it is worth it, just to remind you what bread is. Not bleached, tasteless pap, but fluffy and filled with depth of flavour that runs through the satisfyingly crunchy crust.

At the market, you can eat Persian, Indian, French, British Game, Mediterranean & Greek amongst others. There should be something to satisfy all palettes.

Atariya (Japanese Sushi) - Restaurant Review

Located just off of Oxford Street on the Bond Street end, this Sushi restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside. With a sign dirtied by the nearby buses and cars, it looks a world away from the super clean and sleek environments we are used to eating our Sushi in these days. However, do persevere for some excellent food. A trio of chefs await you on the left as they prepare the orders of local workers who have rung in advance. If you are in a hurry at all, you do have to know about this, as it is all sliced and prepared to order. I ordered Edamame beans to nibble on whilst I waited.

The interior is rather like a small cafe, with only a few tables inside and a couple outside. I think most people just takeaway here, but sitting in wasn’t at all unpleasant for a light lunch. I wanted to sample everything I saw but ended up getting some bream, bass, tuna, octopus, mackerel and scallops. All came served with the usual accompaniments of soy, pickled ginger and wasabi, with what looked and tasted like some finely shredded Kolrahbi or similar. Everything was fresh and moist apart from the octopus, which maybe could have been slightly wetter. For me, the highlight was the scallops. Up until this point, I didn’t know they could be eaten raw. Sliced about 3/4cm thick and served between slithers of lime, they were so soft and juicy. Very different from cooked scallops, I think I could eat them like this every time. Texture is a big part of our perception of food and this simply melted. The rice was light and sticky and the fish was fresh, what more could you want?

For everything pictured it was £13. More than you might normally pay for Sushi, but a world away from the conveyor belted chains of two hour old, revolving fish. Also, for me it always comes down to that old adage, “pay a little more, gain a lot more”. This is the nicest sushi I’ve eaten, but I’m by no means an aficionado on the subject. If you’re in the area, I would recommend popping in, but maybe make a note of the telephone number, if you don’t want to be hanging around.

20 James Street, London, W1U 1EH
0207 491 1178

Stay tuned for Part 2, in the coming week...