Friday, 4 July 2014

Pix Soho

Pix-Bar - or 'Snack Bar' in English - is my idea of heaven. Let me tell you why...

... When things take you by surprise they always seem so much better don't they? I have no idea how many times I actually walked passed this place before I finally decided to go in, but if I ever end up running my own restaurant and see a guy like me doing nothing more than window-shopping for 2 years, then I'll start to wonder whether I'm doing something wrong: Is it me? Is it the branding? Is it the smell? Does this guy even exist? For the welfare of the inn-keepers sanity, and after 2 years of observing from a distance, I finally made the big step into the Soho snack bar. Only to be told that they were full. Bugger.

But here's reason no. 1 why this is heaven: The staff are actually humane about the concept of the no-booking system. Rather than asking you to line the streets as if you're about to sign-on, they take your number and suggest that you go for a drink across the road until they are ready for you. How easy is that?
This is in stark contrast to the current trend, where restaurateurs churn out customers like a farmer would when sheering his sheep. This is executed rather aggressively - by ramming the food down your throat before you even have time to take a breath. Once they have decided that you have had enough they then take your plate, frisk you for all your worth and then boot you out onto the street, demanding that you triple-pat your belly and give a thumbs-up to the shivering punters lining the streets outside.

Patiently sitting in the pub next door I was getting more and more anxious as the clock ticked closer to the time the manager said he would call me. I felt like Ashley Cole would have done on the eve of World Cup squad announcement day. I prayed that I wouldn't have the same fate as he did. 

Ring ring. My time had come.  

We were seated right at the back which allowed us to have a preview of what we were about to experience. The format here is that all of the food is laid out on the bar for you to pick and choose whatever dish you want. Each item has one of two sized wooden skewers sticking out of it. It's pretty simple - small sticks = £1.95, large sticks = £2.75. You then collect the sticks in a jar for them to be added-up later.
The overall vibe of the bar I would say has a very romantic feel to it. It's dim lighting, tile-panelling and small tables sets an intimate atmosphere. Perfect for a date. Or alternatively for three hungry and thirsty blokes to graze for a an hour or two. Either way this place will satisfy your desires. 

Even the way in which they open the large window at the front, inviting people to come in, look at the food, leave if they want to, but invariably they will stay because it all looks so irresistible. 
This place oozes relaxation and gives reason no. 2 a nudge as to why it is heaven: The staff are there purely as bar tenders. No table service means no interruption during the course of your meal. For me there is nothing worse than someone praying over you whilst you eat. This privacy and relaxed atmosphere is a precious commodity in London's dining scene nowadays. It's refreshing. It's heavenly. 

The food itself is not mind-blowing, but the variety of what is laid out creates conversation, it encourages you to be adventurous; but above all, it allows you to see and smell the food you are about to sample. So in this sense, there is rarely a swing and a miss when it comes to whether or not you would like the dish you choose.  

What I will say is that my two pals and myself have 20/20 vision and a keen sense of smell, hence why every dish we selected was a home-run. Naturally...

Accompanied with a bottle of their very reasonable £20 Acantus Rose, we kicked things off with the Smoked Mackerel Pate.

This was followed by the stuffed olives in breadcrumbs alongside the Iberico Ham and fried Quail's Egg.

After a breather we then tucked into the Tuna with Sweet Peppers. The tuna was fresh, tender, and had a fantastic deep-pink colour to it. I could eat this all day. 

On top of the Parma Ham that followed, we treated ourselves to many of the other delights that were laid out on the bar.

Going up to the bar for more grub was addictive. I would have spent all night there had the rose not got the better of me. The key thing about this place is that you don't feel as if you are being rushed, it was a delightful dining experience. 

This is a place for any occasion. It is inviting for those who are curious and comfortable for those who finally decide to step indoors. 

Please don't make the same mistake as I did. If you walk past it, go in. And if you don't, just be sure to not make eye contact with the duty manager; his sanity rests on your shoulders. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sausage & Tomato Bake

What's better than chucking a load of ingredients in a pan, slamming the oven door shut and just letting the fresh ingredients work together to create something that is quite simply - don't mind me saying - DELICIOUS?

I have to admit this is an adaptation of a rather famous t.v. chef's recipe, but whose isn't right ;). 

So here goes...

(serves 4)


  • 12 DECENT sausages (preferably spicy Italian but they are quite hard to come by)
  • All different shapes, colours and size of tomatoes (how many is up to you, but 3 packs of different tomatoes should be fine
  • 1 pack of diced / sliced pancetta
  • Chorizo sausage
  • 1 courgette
  • 2 peppers (1 red & 1 orange)
  • 1 red onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Herb de Provence
  • Rosemary
  • Dried chilli (or fresh – no biggy)
  • Fresh basil
  • 1 loaf of Ciabatta bread 

  • Slice and dice all of the vegetables. Maintain a pretty decent size all round – don’t cut cherry tomatoes in half, just the large ones into quarters.
  • When all vegetables diced, throw into large bowl with garlic cloves (halved), onion (diced into big chunks) and oil.
  • Season the bowl with salt and pepper and give it a good toss around with olive oil.
  • Place sausages in baking tray and chuck in a preheated oven (180⁰). DON’T PIERCE THE GODDAM SAUSAGES.
  • Whilst sausages are in the oven, slice up the pancetta and chorizo and chuck in a SEPARATE baking tray. Put in oven and keep a keen eye on it.
  • You will see that the pancetta and chorizo cook pretty quickly – about 5 mins.
  • Once cooked take out of oven, shake about a bit and then throw in the big bowl of veg. Add the herb de Provence, chilli and rosemary and mix well. Put back in oven.
  • Now you have a bit of time to breathe.
  • When the sausages are nice and brown, take them out of the oven and place them all on some kitchen paper on a plate to cool.
  • You will see that after about 20 mins of the veg mix being in the oven it starts to soften a bit. Take it out, give it another stir.
  • When sausages are cool enough, chop into inch long chunks.
  • When you are confident that all of the vegetables are cooked into a soft, bubbly, sloppy mess, put sausages in and stir into the veggie mix. Then throw in some chopped basil and give a good stir.
  • Now grab the ciabatta, rub with water (don’t soak) and place in the oven. Cook for about 4-5 minutes.
  • When ciabatta cooked, take out and slice.
  • Get four bowls, take out the bake and serve...


Friday, 9 May 2014

Burger & Lobster

Just because people talk about Justin Bieber all the time doesn't go to say that he's a decent bloke. A PR machine with an unfounded ego who delivers tasteless over-priced performances to an over-excited crowd. I think you know where I'm going here... 

It's just one of those places isn't it? 

A lot has been said about Dean Street's Burger & Lobster, mostly mixed reviews, but I thought I should give it a test-drive and see what all the chat was about...
Despite the fact that it was the Tuesday after the Easter bank holiday, the place was still absolutely heaving. A crowded bar and a full service meant for a great atmosphere - it had an American steak or rib-shack vibe to it. Time to get excited, order a drink and look through the menu... Or not. No menus in this joint, forcing us to fully interact and engage with our waitress. How dare they?! 

I've read many reviews of this place and most of them applaud the knowledge and passion of the staff by the fact that they know the menu off by heart. I admire it when restaurant staff have an in-depth knowledge of the menu, an opinion, and most importantly a good memory, but when their spiel consists of nothing more than what's about to follow, then I'm not exactly overawed: 'Good evening, welcome to Burger & Lobster. On the menu today we have burger and er, well, lobster. On the specials board we have more lobster, but if you don't have deeper pockets than from where these guys were caught from, then I won't waste my breath on you'. But what did I expect?

Seeing as there were four of us we decided on one grilled lobster, one burger and one of the pay-by-the-pound lobsters on the specials board (just to at least pretend to the waitress that we thought she did a good sales pitch). 

With the burger and grilled lobster at £20 a pop, we were expecting something pretty special. God only knows what we were going to be charged for the big chap on the board, but at least our host introduced us to him in the tank before he was sent out back. 
Now here's where my hunch began to form. Where in the world are you expected to pay the same price for a burger as you do a lobster?! Yes it creates ease of choice and speed of service, but 20 quid for a burger! This better be good.

Whilst waiting for our food I nipped to the gents, only to find that on my way there I got the benefit of some quick feet drills trying to dodge the army of staff that seemed to gather and move around like a shoal of fish. There were bloody hundreds of them, all with a slightly confused face on them. Perhaps they were trying to recite the menu over and over in their head whilst approaching each table? Either way, the realisation that this place was a money-making machine suddenly hit me. Not only do they have an army of staff, but the venue is enormous. But they've earn't it right? The food is exquisite... Right?

So the food finally came out and I have to admit it was a spectacle: A HUGE grilled lobster was placed in the middle of the table alongside a surprisingly large burger. This was accompanied by another - smaller - steamed lobster as well as a bowl of chips each, of which were unlimited. 

So into the burger we dove, expecting a sloppy, greasy and delicious mess. I'm afraid not. Two words: Dry and Bland. For the first time ever in a restaurant I genuinely felt insulted. Created by the founders of the infamous and well-respected steak restaurant Goodman, I expected a certain level of quality at £20 and I'm afraid that they delivered well below par on this. 
The lobster itself was impressive in its appearance, but it certainly wasn't the best I'd ever tasted. It was slightly tough and lacked that lightness that you would expect. However I'm all for alternative dining experiences and I really enjoyed hacking, picking and snapping my way through the poor fellow I only just met about 10 minutes earlier. The conversation and laughter it creates when everyone dives in with their tools - each with own technique of dissecting the lobster - is the reason why I can't help but love an experience like this. 
All in all however I was deeply unimpressed. The whole experience - in theory - is great, but how can you charge that much money and not deliver a certain level of quality? I'd be interested to see how many of the people who were in the packed restaurant were visiting for a second time. I can't imagine it was too many. 

Am I uncultured? Am I a cynical tosser? Am I a cheapskate? Perhaps. But morning after receipt-checks and post-digestion analysis on the dunny the next morning confirms that I would have been better off if I had played a game of thumb wars against one of those unfortunate crustaceans. 

But I have to take my hat off to them. They've created a monster. Square Meal

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Ember Yard

Endless deliveries of bite-sized beauties alongside an abundance of the amber nectar. The Sharing Platter was born due to my love of tapas, and last week at Ember Yard I was reminded why.

Sister restaurant to Salt Yard on Charlotte Street, Berwick Street's Ember Yard is a newbie, demonstrated by the potent smell of fresh paint when we were led downstairs to our table. Granted we were there for an early lunch so the chef clearly hadn't fired up the grill yet, but the whiff of paint isn't the most inviting welcome gift! However, I was willing to forget, and that I did when the gentle hiss of the grill was heard from the kitchen, followed closely by the comforting aroma of smouldering embers. 

The menu itself is extensive without being too complex; On the one side you have the charcuterie and on the other you have the tapas. Naturally, we dabbled in both sides of the menu, helpfully assisted with some translation and guidance from the charming Spanish waitress. She made it known pretty early on in the sitting that it was her first day, adding a certain amount of comedy to proceedings. 

We kicked things off with some Spanish cheese (apparently they start with cheese over there) which didn't blow us away. I found it too soft, sour and generally unsubstantial. An unfortunate slip-up at the first hurdle, but from then on we leaped and bounded our way to the finish line. 

Next the waitress bought out... Actually, hang on. I'm fed up of saying 'the waitress'. Let's call her Elena. In honour of Penelope Cruz's character in The Mask of Zorro. Mainly cause she looked kinda like her...  

...Next Elena bought us some flatbread topped with honey, thyme and smoked butter. In all honesty it took me by surprise initially as I thought it was garlic bread. But after the initial shock I found it to be literally the most pleasantly surprising thing I had tasted in a long time. The smokiness of the butter, the sweetness of the honey and the freshness of the thyme was an exceptional combination. I don't know whether this is a staple dish on a tapas menu, but sign me up. Every time.

Elena was then so kind as to bring us some chorizo skewers with a mustard dip alongside the the board of Iberico Ham. Now we were getting into it. Spicy, greasy, juicy chorizo followed by some wafer thin Iberico Ham would be a vegetarians nightmare. Confirmation that we were certainly not vegans came through the demolition of the two boards. At this stage I had a slight hint of starting to feel a bit full, what could possibly come next?

Any over-fulfilment was erased when the sliders were bought out...

...Followed closely by some deliciously tender smoked mackerel...

...Which was then tail-gated by something pretty special. I'm a massive pork lover, and these Iberico Presa delights really sealed the deal. No room for these wet flannels who believe that pork should not be pink. Make your stomach work double-time so your jaws can relax and glide through the meat!

So we are all aware of the 'Oh you've gotta try this dish' right? The one dish that everyone talks about. The one that is plastered all over their website, the one which is Instagramed, Tweeted, Facebooked, the one which bloggers go bananas over and spray hyperboles about all over the place.

Well this is the one. The main event. The crème de la crème. The goddam Oscar winner. The greasy, smoky, bubbly, ember-stained champion. The roasted and chargrilled Iberico pork ribs ladies and gentlemen! #nofilter :)

Wow. Now for me to wipe the sweat off my brow and to summarise what was a very special meal. 

Simple food done very well was the order of the day here. Good company, great service, and delicious food. 

You see for me, tapas isn't just about that fantastic array of food that is laid out. It's about exploration in trying something new and encouraging others to do the same. 

I could live here. Elena can join me. We'll lie for eternity on a bed of Iberico Pork Ribs. 

Square Meal

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Ultimate Cheese Board

Happy New Year one and all!

So the Festive period is over. Back to work, back to the gym, broken livers and broken bank accounts. This means only one thing - it's January. The time of year when we all feel the prolonged hangover and chill of the bleak midwinter. A time for contemplation and resolution. The time when I hunch at my desk, occasionally prodding at my turkey-belly, hoping that this will mean I don't have to get up for the gym tomorrow morning. 

This won't stop me smiling though. Smiling at the memories of the enjoyment friends and family got out of our festive feasts. The 'Ooooos', the 'Aahhhhs' and the 'I can't eat this' (reference to how I spiced-out my step-dad in the post-Christmas curry). All feedback made was in good taste and good humour, no less was the case with the obligatory cheese board. A key moment in time for all food lovers. 

For those of you who have been collared by a dinner party host to hold the responsibilities of attaining the dairy, here's a quick-fire insight into my personal favourites...

Vacherin Mont d'Or 

Vacherin is presented in the same manner as baked Camembert - oozing cheesy goodness in a box, begging to be dipped and scooped at, occasionally swallowing the broken crackers of over-zealous dippers. The difference here is that Vacherin holds a lot of flavour so there is no need for additional oils or herbs. It's pure and honest cheese heaven in a box.

After trying a few different methods of serving, I have concluded that serving at just above room temperature is the optimum condition. When you have taken whatever you were cooking out of the oven, turn it off and chuck in the Vacherin with the lid on. You can leave it in there for however long you like. When you are ready pull it out and bang it on the table. You will not be disappointed. 

Black Bomber

We always need a cheddar on the board, it is essential. But don't settle for sub-standard 'plastic' brands. Go big and go Black Bomber. You need something that's really going to tickle you, create a crunch and pack a punch. Black Bomber has all of these in abundance. That's all I have to say.


A rustic, creamy addition to the board. You literally can't go wrong with this. I was introduced to Comte in London's Borough market a couple of summers ago and it is always the first thing I pick up whenever I go there. If you manage to have a nosey around the market it is impossible to miss the Comte stalls. Huge wheels of the stuff piled high on top of one another, with the vendors offering up free tastes which cannot be refused. 

Blue Monday

Alex James - musician, songwriter, author, TV personality, columnist and cheesemaker. What's that? Cheesemaker? 

Yes. And a damn good one at that. 

Like cheddar, there is always room for a blue such as Stilton or Cambozola. But these are regularly the ones which people don't finish due to the sharp taste. Blue Monday defies this. Despite the fact that it is a blue, it is still creamy, soft and unintrusive. This doesn't last long so make sure you get your money's worth early doors. 

Stinking Bishop

Now I treat a cheese board as if I was selecting a five-aside football team. We need strength, solidity, the occasional bit of flare, and one stinker who will repeatedly leather your taste-buds into row Z. They are picked purely for comedy value, to lift the spirits and lower the tone. 

This cheese is rude. Plain and simple. But if you can break through the initial stench you will be pleasantly surprised by it's kindness. Try it, you'll enjoy it. 

So there it is. The Sharing Platter's ultimate cheese board. Let us know how you get on.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Street Feast @ Hawker House

For those of you who don't know, Street Feast is a 'nomadic street food circus' that curates vibrant experiences for food lovers. 

Myself and a few mates headed to Hawker House on Friday to see what it was all about, and what a treat it was...

When presented with a queue the size of what it was on Friday night, in any other situation I'm pretty sure that I'd be kicking and screaming my way to the front door, preparing to mutter at least one or two expletives under my breath at the door man. 

Nothing of the sort. On this occasion there was an overriding sense of contentment throughout the punters in the queue. I'd say calmness, but maintaining this state of being was an impossible task. I'm pretty sure that this was down to the unassuming showmanship of the Mama's Jerk Station chef, who casually flipped and basted the mountains of chicken thighs. Every flip would send out a puff of smoke into the queue. Breathe in through the nose... and exhale: 'aahhhhhhhhhhh!'

The drool trail guided us to the next stage of the queue - Smokestak with their 4.5 tonne custom built smoker. Uh oh. The chef opened up the smoker to reveal the bubbly glaze of the BBQ ribs, which was then followed by an eruption of smoke onto the onlookers. This was too much. Get me inside. NOW!

When we finally made it through the door for the more than reasonable price of £3, the sense-assault then began. The sights, sounds and smells were unreal. The combination of the food, the music, the dim lighting and the warmth, created an atmosphere and vibrancy that can only be described as exceptional. 

Moving through the venue to meet our friends who were 'holding down positions at the Whiskey Bar', we managed to get our bearings and scope out what were going to eat. The conclusion was pretty simple - we'd have the lot.

For the majority of the evening we stood propped-up at the Whiskey Bar, re-fuelling ourselves with cocktails whilst one recon man at a time would move out to collect some nourishment.

First on the list was Yum Bun's Pork in a steamed bun. Now for those of you who read my last post will appreciate that these aren't for me. But rest assured that everyone else was blown away. 

Next were the Slider Bar's mini burgers in the form of a cheeseburger and a 5 chilli cheeseburger. For me it's really hard to get the feel for a burger when there is only two bites-worth of goodness, but in the spirit of tasting everything on offer these were more than enough, and DAMN good. 

Back to the bar and a few more 'Barman's Choice' whiskeys down, we then moved onto the Rola Wala's special, which for the average punter can only be described as an Indian pizzas. We ordered two (Organic Pulled Pork and Channa Dal) and passed them round one-another until they were gone, 'hhmmming' and 'aahhhhing' with every breath, trying to savour every last crispy bite of the spicy pizzas. They didn't last long and there were absolutely delicious. 

Without a break we then moved onto the Rib Tips by Smokestak. Presented in a paper bag these sticky little dudes were unbelievable, the kind of rich smokiness that makes you cough every time you swallow. For me this is how it should be. To be reminded with every bite that these weren't just cooked, they were barbecued in a 4.5 tonne custom-built smoker with all the TLC that ribs deserve.

The following couple of hours involved many other treats from the likes of Breddos Tacos, Bob's Lobster and Mama's Jerk Station. If I wrote about all of them we would be here for hours, but all in all I was blown away. The whole atmosphere of the place put smiles on the faces of everyone around us. People with one common interest in one perfectly curated experience. 

I can still smell the smoke on my clothes now. It reminds me of the scene in The Simpsons when Bart refuses to wash his hand for fear of losing the scent of the girl he had a crush on...

..I can't stop thinking about you Street Feast

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Flesh & Buns

Filament light bulbs, queues and communal seating seems to be the theme de rigueur running through the restaurant scene at the moment. 

Strangely enough though, one never actually ends up conversing with the person who has been placed next to them. We merely use each other as guinea pigs so that we can build a rating of each dish in our minds. Most people just glance over and lamely point out: 'That's supposed to be really good here'. Until another plate comes out and they realise that the dish they were thinking of wasn't actually the first one they pointed out. Confusion erupts across the table. Back to square one. Some brave souls actually manage to break-down the social barrier and ask the people next to them what they have had and whether or not it was worth trying. A useless exercise if you ask me. 

You know what? Next time I'm in a restaurant I'm going to skip the first two steps and move straight onto asking if I can have a bite. Let's see how that goes down.

Anyway where were we? Ah yes, Flesh & Buns...

Placed just off the Seven Dials in Covent Garden - a place starved of some decent grub - the arrival of the new restaurant is a welcome sight. Birth-child of Soho's Bone Daddies, it came with great expectations, so when I rolled in there one Wednesday lunchtime I arrived with high hopes.

After entering through the rather over-sized barn door, you can be forgiven for thinking that you have just walked into anything but a restaurant. But when you make yourself down the stairs and into the restaurant itself, you are immediately comforted by the smell of oriental cuisine and a friendly waitress itching to sit you down and show-off the restaurant's delights. 

I must add also that this place is enormous, more filament than you can shake a stick at and dominated by one huge table that runs the full length of the restaurant. There must be space for at least 30 people on there, which more than advocates the idea of surrounding yourself with like-minded people to elevate the vibe.

After we sat down in one of the booths we ordered a couple of beers, some crackers and a bowl of edamame beans whilst we mulled over the menu. The highlight of this for me was the tomato salsa that was presented with the starters. So fresh and vibrant that we managed to get through two boxes of crackers and 4 pots of salsa. We couldn't help ourselves. 

The vibrancy of the food continued throughout the starter, the edamame beans were covered in huge chunks of rock salt, invigorating the taste buds and preparing them for what lay ahead. 

Something that we have got very used to with this new brand of restaurants is the simplicity of the menus, here it is quite large in comparison. It ranges from delicate sushi fish, to grilled meat and chocolate fondants. You almost want it to be just Flesh & Buns, no messing about, after all this is the reason why people come here isn't it? 

After much deliberation we decided to choose one meat each (to share), which was to be accompanied by a number of buns (or so we thought). It transpired that for each plate of meat we would only get 2 buns. This meant that there would be vacant, lonely and redundant pieces of meat left on the plate with no bun for it rest upon. This left us confused, annoyed and irritated. It meant that we would have to order more portions of buns at the rather steep price of £2.50 for 2 buns. 

Anyway rant over... What we were presented with was some truly sensational meat - one BBQ Sirloin Steak and 4 Kimchi Lamb Chops. WOW. 

The only bit of feedback I got from my eating buddy was: 'The only problem with lamb chops is that there is never enough meat on them'. Never has a truer word been said! These were the real deal. 

I'd go as far to say that they were the best lamb chops I have ever eaten. Great quality meat matched with flawless cooking meant that there was wonderfully tender meat underneath a charcoal glaze. I couldn't recommend them higher.

Now some people aren't going to like me for saying this, but the only flaw to this dish was the bun. I mean they have a nice appearance and I love the idea, but after spending the best part of 5 minutes trying to fine-tune the masterpiece above, upon placing it in my mouth I ended up having a chewing fight with myself. After every mouthful I had to use my chopstick to dig out remnants of the bun from my teeth. The contrast in emotions from before and after the first bite was vast: Excitement and anticipation was soon replaced by a warm sticky mess. Some people may see that as a good time. But not me. Not during lunch at least. 

Following the chops we were presented with the sirloin steak. Again - brilliant, the picture speaks for itself. Not much more could be said about this apart from the fact that the sauce it was presented with was much needed and welcomed with open arms. 

Unfortunately we had to skip dessert, but apparently the S'mores are great fun. D.I.Y. melt your own marshmallows in a wafer biscuit with chocolate sauce. A good excuse to come back again.

All in all however I left Flesh & Buns with mixed emotions - happy I came due to the sheer quality of the food, but also quite confused. Mainly because I only liked half of the reason I decided to come. But we live and learn don't we?

Next time it's just 'Flesh' for me...

Square Meal