Restaurant Story, London Bridge

Restaurant StoryThe purpose of my trip to London is ostensibly to have my yearly dental check up. That I am able to breakfast, lunch and dinner with old friends is a bonus. And treating myself to Dinings, Yashin, La Fromagerie, Rose Bakery and ‘white hotRestaurant Story is – who am I kidding? It’s the best.

Once I secure a lunch time reservation at Restaurant Story, I email my friend Paulina: “Wanna be my date for this?”  Somehow she finds time in her crazy schedule (she’s the head pastry chef at Ottolenghi) and brings me along an epic goody bag that includes homemade cordial.  (Yay!)  Lucky for me because lunch with a nerd in arms is infinitely more enjoyable than dining alone or with someone who eats solely for sustenance or worse still someone on a…a diet.  We  nibble on radishes Peter Rabbit style and suddenly she whips out her iPhone to show me a picture of Daniel Patterson (Coi), Rene Redzepi (Noma), Alex Atala (D.O.M), when they were promoting “Cook it Raw.” in London.  Like I said, nerds. Paulina's picturesRestaurant Story is unique in many ways. Its location, on a traffic island, means I walk past it without registering it. Once I am seated on one of the squat plush chairs, a table side candle is lit (a candle made of beef dripping which I will eat later) and before I’ve even figured out where the menu is (in the book on my table) tiny dishes start cluttering our table.  The sweetest most succulent green peas I’ve ever eaten, interspersed with orbs of black truffle, savoury oreo style cookies, a flopsy flower with a blob of green mousse in its center.  It’s strangely topsy turvy, even for a seasoned eater such as myself.PigeonWith a later engagement looming, we order the 6 course menu (£45) which leaves me staring wistfully at the tables who are on the 10 course menu (£65) – there is no a la carte option.  And it doesn’t matter at all because the place is at fever pitch.  Eating for sport, for pleasure, for culture: it’s very London.  A fact that the adjacent table of 6 men or the couple next to me, iPhone’s coming out with for every course – illustrate perfectly.  If the young staff is irked by this, they don’t show it but continue to smile and explain the layers that make up the deceptively simple looking dishes.  Sometimes one of the chefs comes out to give us even more anecdotes about our ingredients.  Like our potato that has been grown by a man who has been growing tubers for 20 years and excels at making potatoes taste of: potatoes.  There are miniature purple nasturtium leaves and many other herbs besides that have been foraged by the kitchen staff. Read more of this post

Honey & Co, Food From The Middle East, London

IMG_3559I’ve mentioned that my father is Jordanian, I probably haven’t said that half his family is originally Palestinian. My best friend in High School was an Israeli girl named Jo.  He used to joke that he sent me to an International School and from all the many nationalities – I found an Israeli. To be fair to both of our parents, they never interfered in our friendship or tried to get political with us. Jo and I bonded over our love of illicit bacon, chewing gum anxiously after we had consumed the contraband meat – convinced that somehow our fathers would know.

After visiting Honey & Co (opened by an Israeli couple who both worked in the Ottolenghi group) I took Layla to the playground in Primrose Hill where there was a Hasidic jewish father with 5 children sporting curled payot.  When they left, there was a couple sitting on a bench speaking in Hebrew.  I dialled her number.

“Jo Joseph!” I exclaimed. “I’m surrounded by your country men and women here.”
“Suzan!” she laughed. Jo always laughs, it’s one of the reasons I love her so much. “How are you?”
“Oh my god. How could you let me get pregnant again? I blame you.”
More laughter.
“Don’t worry, it get’s better….in three years.” Another of Jo’s characteristics. She gives it to you straight, no garbage about the first 100 days. One thousand and twenty-eight days to go then…IMG_3556

Paulina told me about Honey & Co.  Paulina has mastered professional baking and aspires to all things molecular (last time I had lunch with her she was telling me that she had contacted Simon Rogan to get some advice on how to use a contraption that captures the essence of ingredients) it’s rare for her to get excited about things she can do blind folded and laying down.  But she gushed about this place and she worked with both chefs. So on her recommendation, I went.

Layla was being fractious, in 28 minutes I had a rainbow beetroot salad, stuffed vine leaves, orange blossom ice tea and a chocolate brioche.  Running out of time, I ordered the cheese cake to go.  Later, while freezing on a bench in Primrose Hill, I rewound the meal I had gobbled up in record time and played it back slowly.   Read more of this post

Dabbous, Modern European, London

IMG_3525In his review of Dabbous, Jay Rayner writes: “Oliver Dabbous is being hailed as the next big thing. There’s only one problem: you’ll never taste his cooking.”

Well I did. Because on the 16th of May, when I was seven and a half months pregnant with the twins, I wrote them (Dabbous not the twins, although it would have been nice to have some email correspondence to agree on acceptable sleeping times) an email and said I would like to come for lunch any day in September. I knew that by September I would be feeling a lot like Pandora and Dabbous was meant to be my hope in the chest of challenges I had opened up.

(My husband went one further booking a non-refundable, 6 day car rally in the south of France. “Networking”. He says. I say. Aha. I play Fabienne to his Butch – can you believe how young Bruce Willis looks in that clip?  My husband did say that I could / should come with him.  Which is a bit like Marie Antoinette declaring “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” when the poor people complained that they had no bread. This is what our trip looked like last June.)IMG_3532

Here is the thing about Dabbous; their lunch menu is £26! It can cost you that much to have lunch at Giraffe if you get enticed into ordering a silly sounding smoothie.

Dabbous serves beautiful food without the pomp.  My starter of peas features a mousse, a granita and tender tendrils. It’s so sweet, it tastes like they must be growing peas on the roof and picking them for every order.  For my fish course I had ling.  It was a pale looking dish, punctuated with 3 petal pink discs, which turned out to be slivers of pickled garlic.IMG_3531 Read more of this post

The Food Hall, Selfridges, London

Nothing opens the appetite like exhaustion.  A combination of physical and emotional fatigue seem to work best.  Today I ate a bagel with cream cheese and salmon, 2 hours after I had eaten breakfast and my stomach felt like all I had done was chew a couple of sticks of gum.  If anything it had made me hungrier. I moved on to the free cookie I had received when I had collected 10 loyalty stamps from the ice cream shop.  Nothing.  I polished off a packet of nuts and raisins. And it went on.

I have a lot of guilt every time I eat.  Not because of my weight (producing milk for two babies means you can eat anything and not gain so much as a gram of fat) but because of my teeth.

I went to see my dentist, whom I love.  He sat me down on his green chair, put the paper bib on, took a deep breath and asked me to give it to him straight.

“What have you been eating?” There’s an edge to his voice.

“I’ve been snacking.” I confess, sharp intake of breath but he remains calm.

“Go on.”

“I’ve been eating sweets.” I continue.

Haribo?” He almost whispers it.  My dentist equates eating Haribo to crack cocaine.

“God no!” I exclaim.  “No, shortbread biscuits, cakes things like that.”

He relaxes and has a look.  He tells me it’s not that bad but that he is prescribing me Duraphat 5000 ppm as a prophylactic.  It’s got 5x the amount of fluoride of regular toothpaste and should tide me through this turbulent period.

My obstetrician is similarly concerned about prophylactics.  What am I using for ‘protection’ he asks without a hint of irony at my 6-week check up before giving me a prescription for the pill.  Which let’s face it, is like giving a Bedouin a life boat in case the desert floods. Read more of this post

La Fromagerie, Cheese Shop and Deli, Marylebone

If money were no object what would you spend it on?I would eat lunch and do a lot of my shopping at La Fromagerie. (And have round the clock hired help for the twins and buy the Saarinen oval table in white marble – since I’m making a list and all…).

Of the robust deli brigade in London, La Fromagerie is easily my favourite.  They don’t pile it high nor do they have the colour range of somewhere like Ottolenghi (Oh! Do you know Ottolenghi’s new book, Jerusalem is out?).  What they do is put out a selection, say 3 salads and a tart out at midday, which they only leave out for a few hours.  This ensures that you aren’t served up  a green bean puckered with age or a wedge of beetroot that has lost the glossy veneer of dressing. There are warm mains, things like a melanzane or tomato soup.What they serve is always at its best.  The San Danielle ham I had was balanced at just the right pitch of saltiness.  The ribbons of white fat were starting to be just that little bit translucent around the edges from being at room temperature – it melted on my tongue.  The figs were soft and ripe, which is the only way they are edible, an immature fig is just gritty and thin in the mouth.  That was one dish of many like that.  The charcuterie plates with stocky cornichons vinegary enough to cut through the rich homemade rillettes.  The cheese plates with a small stack of crackers and a few wedges of apple, composed with the austerity of a Baugin still life.  Chocolate cake with a spoonful of cream. Read more of this post

Bubbledogs, Hot dogs & Champagne, Fitzrovia

Imagine being the person who opens the press releases and decides whether they are worth passing on.  There in the stack of burger places (how many more ways are there to present minced meat between two buns?) is a hot dog and champagne bar.  “Oh, that’s new.” I would think and pass it on.

Hot dogs were my favourite food as a child.  (Do you remember that?  Besides knowing your name, age and where you are from.  Your other vital statistics on the playground were favourite colour, food and animal.)Not that I ever got to eat them because until the age of five I was either in Kuwait or Bucharest.  On the few occasions that we would go to the US my father would have to ask in every McDonalds if they had hot dogs.  Later on when we moved to Athens, we could buy sausages  that were too red in hue and put them into crusty bread with non-Heinz ketchup and there was obviously no relish to be found.  It was the poor kids hot dog.  I would wait until International day at school and then get 3 hot dogs and a Welche’s grape soda.  Those American kids had it good.

I still like sausages.  I’ve even eaten them from the street in New York from those stands that allegedly don’t change the water (but that adds to the flavour right).  Then I found Gray’s Papaya and the itch no longer had to be scratched.

At Bubbledogs the hot dogs are beef, pork or vegetarian and are made to a house recipe.  There are 13 to choose from. Like the K-Dwag topped with kimchi, fermented red bean paste and lettuce.  To go with your gourmet hot dog…champagne, what else?It’s an odd pairing.  Is the champagne there to justify the price tag of the hot dogs (Naked Dog is £6) or is this a champagne bar that serves hot dogs in case you get peckish?  (There are 3 sides, coleslaw, sweet potato fries and tots £3.50).  Not that I didn’t think the hot dogs were good – I wolfed down my New Yorker (beef dog with grilled sauerkraut) and not just because I hadn’t fed enough money into the meter.  The dog was savoury and juicy and the sauerkraut better than any I’ve had in Berlin (including the one from the famous Rogacki). Read more of this post

Broadway Market, Hackney, London

I was reading Simon Kruper’s column in the FT “What makes London different?“.  I had been mulling over the same question.  On a daily basis, I am confronted by an uncanny openness of different cultures.  An Indian Tesco’s employee showing two Hasidic jews around the stationery shelf, around the corner a Halal fridge, two shelves away from that row upon row of ethnic foods.  Unlike mainland Europe, you don’t have to erase your origin or culture to live in London.  Rather, everyone get’s to be who they are and somehow live together more or less peacefully (136 murders a year in London as opposed to 536 in New York – researched by Simon Kruper).It’s not only in supermarkets that things are peaceful.  Traffic is refreshingly non-aggressive.  If you see someone indicating that they want to drive in front of you, you don’t accelerate, (inconceivable, isn’t it?) instead you slow down.  They in turn, flash their hazard lights in thanks or raise a hand.  And you know what?  Everyone still manages to get where they want to get to without getting their panties in a bunch or abusing their car horn.I think all this amicable cohabitation of cultures contributes to the vibrant food scene.  Without unmasked prejudice floating about, people are curious to try new things while others are encouraged to share what they know.I got myself to Broadway market.  Where I had 3 destinations; Banhmi11, Lucky Chip and Yum Bun.After all the accolades, Banhmi11 fell well short of my expectations.  This is one instance where I can confidently say you can get better in Berlin at CôCô.

Yum Bun was indeed yummy.  And I say this having had the steamed pork buns at momofuku ssäm bar a couple of times.  The apparent ease with which the slim girl behind the stack of bamboo steamers made up the buns inspired me give steamed buns and their filling of pork belly a go when I return to Berlin.

Read more of this post

Rita’s, Bar & Dining, Dalston-London

I didn’t think you could find food or places like this in London.  Unlike New York where there are original concepts being launched by people who want to have a go, London is (was, to my mind at least) sadly bereft of such things.  A good burger restaurant might open in an out-of-the-way neighborhood and no sooner had I eaten there before 5 more would open.  It would become a chain and the food would end up being rubbish.  If you ask me ‘the chain’ is one of the abominations of Britain.  It means that you can drive for 10 hours and when you get there, the high street will look exactly like the one you left behind.I am not sure what has brought on this flurry of independent activity.  The recession perhaps? Plenty of talented young  people with ideas and energy twiddling their thumbs.  There has been a food truck renaissance for example (Timeout article here or The Guardian here).  Two years ago when I left London, restaurants were flying the flag for British food using local ingredients.  The local ingredients have stuck but there seems to be a seismic shift towards American food.  First we got ‘sliders‘ in places like Spuntino or Bar Boulud.  Pulled pork seems to be everywhere and you owe it to your stomach (although not your waist line) to try it at Pitt Cue.  In fact, just the other day I was in Waitrose looking through their recipe cards and there was one from Heston for pulled pork.At Rita’s, it’s tacos.  Fish (£5) – pretty good or ox heart (£5) – stupendous.  With ox heart you get bundles of flavour without fat or gristle.  The pickled onions and diced tomatoes created enough of a puddle on the plate that I wanted to use my finger to squeegee it all up.   There is also a chicken sandwich (£6.50). It is served in a brown paper bag which instead of feeling gimmicky, contributes to the anticipation as you rip your way through the paper and fried chicken smell wafts up and tickles your nose.That chicken sandwich. Read more of this post

The Counter, Cafe, Hackney-Wick London

NOTE: I am in London until the beginning of October, for Berlin Posts, please visit my Berlin, Favourites page or Places I’ve Eaten In 

I was doing some accounts today listening to Desert Island Discs (as is my habit).  Nick Clegg this time. After choices such as Prince singing ‘The Cross’ for song number three to take to a desert island, David Bowie ‘Life on Mars’ at number 6,  things went wacky with his choice for number 7: Shakira Waka Waka. “Because my one year old loves it.” He explained to Kirsty Young.

Aha. Just the teensiest bit sceptical about that.

Shakira on the radio prompts my father to drive hands free so he can clap as the car veeres perilously between lanes. “I love Shakira! I don’t know why?!”Someone close to me is more specific. As Waka Waka comes on the car radio, the heavy metal fan turns it up. I give him a shocked side ways glance. “When she sings certain refrains I feel a tingling in my balls.” He grins sheepishly. “See listen…”  (Sorry, I did search for an elegant way to say that but failed)

He cranks it up.

“I don’t have balls”. I reply. Turning it back down.It’s all doom and gloom here: wettest June since records began; Olympic lanes with £130 fines for driving in them; surface to air missiles; ‘shambolic’ G4S Security.  The list is long.  This is a congested city, people are fighting for space on the sidewalk or the tube without the extra 4 million visitors due for the Olympics.  So I’m thinking that maybe what London needs is a Shakira song (like the one that she did for FIFA 2010).  At least to get the boys on board.  For the girls…  Ryan Gosling squinting and flexing should probably do the trick.

My sister took me to Counter Cafe in Stour Space for brunch on Sunday.  Across the river from the cafe we could see the Olympic stadium.  Which if you don’t have a ticket is as close as you can get.Even without the looming Olympic Stadium, the Counter Cafe is a nice brunch spot.  With seating over two floors and outside by the river and no reservations there is usually a bit of a wait for a table.  Which is somewhat alleviated because you queue against a cake laden counter watching the barista make coffee, it really gets your appetite going. Read more of this post

Pitt Cue Co, BBQ, Soho-London

Pitt Cue has been so hugely popular, that I got wind of it when I was still in Berlin.

It’s a tiny BBQ joint.  I didn’t believe how tiny until I saw it in bricks and mortar.  8 bar stools upstairs and a few crowded tables downstairs in the basement.  And when I say basement, I mean basement, the kind of place that were it yours, you would insist on company every time you went down to search for your ski boots. As the dark space fills up and customers down a few drinks, their bodies start to give off heat so the second time I nip down to the loo its substantially hotter than the first.  We chose to eat upstairs.  On the comfy  bar stools while we peered through the dentelle curtains at crazy busy London.  I forgot how mad this city is.  I look at its inhabitants and think they would all make a convincing mad hatter’s.

I am not a BBQ fan, it’s easy to love the food you’ve grown up with (I am not sure how many western people would go crazy over mulukhiya) but it’s a much harder sell to someone who has grown up with different taste buds to yours.   I still struggle with the English habit of putting vinegary chutney in their sandwiches or the German habit of putting in that white creamy sauce (what is that stuff?).  So despite rave reviews from The Guardian, Timeout, a funny one from The Telegraph – I wasn’t expecting to like it that much.  Oh but I did. I had the pulled pork and it was delicious, not too fatty, big juicy strands and not too sweet.  A parcel of house pickles flavoured with fennel seeds, a few strands of cabbage.  The grilled baby gem lettuce with kimchi dressing didn’t work for me, my sister generously offered to give me her fennel and apple salad which was bland but cut through the richness of the pork well.   Read more of this post

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