This time of year tends to signify a period for reflection, ahead of striding forward into the next year with all guns blazing, resolutions like ammo sitting loaded in pockets, learned nuggets of wisdom promising a, perhaps, straighter path through the following twelve months.
I’ve learnt enough about myself now to know not to be too hard on myself, though it’s taken many years to get here. So no New Year’s Resolutions for me, no restrictive diets or detoxes and no dry January. What may be more useful, is to learn to say ‘no’ a little more often. …We’ll see about that.
With old age I’ve also got to the point where I don’t really feel the need to use this blog to write about every restaurant experience, in fact I don’t necessarily feel that desperate urge these days to try any and every new place like I might have done once. God knows the internet doesn’t need any more inept thoughts on them. I know what I like, and more often than not I find Twitter and Instagram are as good a place as any to share those meals I do enjoy. Having scanned the last year’s, increasingly infrequent, posts I’ve noticed my shift towards recipe ideas and seasonal flavours. If I’m honest that’s partly because I find them far quicker to write but also because I like to note these things down here as a sort of scrap book and reference.
There *are* a number of places I feel I’ve neglected to comment on over the year, mainly again due to time restraints, so here I’m going to jot down my stand out recommendations for bar dining, since I’ve established that this is by far my favourite way to eat out. I, more often than not, don’t really want a full and coherent meal these days, so mix and match, snacky options score highly, I also require delicious wine and or cocktails, a relaxed atmosphere and warm but unobtrusive service. These that follow come up with the goods consistently and with aplomb.
40 Maltby Street is a place that fills me with warm tingles every time I walk through it’s doors, and at the same time makes me wonder why I don’t visit more often. It’s like coming home. Well, to a home with a very well stocked wine cellar and an accomplished chef in the kitchen. I know they’re now open some weekday evenings, but for some reason I can’t remove them from a Saturday lunchtime slot that always coincides with a trip to Maltby Street, having failed as yet to visit at any other time. Always busy, always warm, always welcoming, I’ve yet to find a more consistently, impressively ever changing, desirable menu in London. The wine list is always interesting, natural, with a couple of red and white corkers by the glass.
A recent trip just prior to Christmas was a particular highlight. A plate of pheasant sausages with sprouts, pancetta, chestnuts and bread sauce and a couple of glasses of wine a far more festive way to spend a saturday afternoon than the horrors of Christmas shopping. If there’s Yorkshire ham on the counter, make sure to get a plate.
I think the only place on this list I haven’t ever dined alone, and doesn’t technically have a bar to sit and eat at, is Quality Chop House. However it still fits the criteria. I would ordinarily say stick to the bar area and select from their delightfully comprehensive wine list along with a collection of plates of food. But having now dined in the main dining room, I’d say you surely have to try the set menu here at least once for the incredible experience and value.
Always, ALWAYS order the confit potatoes. Possibly the most ridiculous food item in London.
Wines are available to take away by the bottle and many of the ingredients can be purchased in the grocery and butchers next door. Whipped lard I find particularly hard to resist.
Josē’s simply can’t be beaten for tapas in a tiny but great space, I’m such a fan I’ve never visited the more proper Pizarro for fear of disappointment. Ooozing croquetas, unrivalled ham, the best potato bravas and should the Iberico Pork be on the chalkboard, DO NOT resist.
I’ve been a regular at Lyle’s since they opened in Shoreditch’s Tea Building earlier this year. The beautifully spartan room, a perfectly serene backdrop to a menu that is pared back to basics and transformed into astonishing plates. Highlights have included sweetmeats served with brown butter dressed grilled lettuce, duck hearts with sweetcorn and hazelnuts and a completely jaw droppingly delicious broth described simply as chanterelles, egg and onion that tasted all of myth and magic.
Lyle’s coffee bar is worth a mention as one of the only really decent places in London to get great restaurant coffee, serving a rotation of roasters but do keep an eye out for Parisian roasters Belleville as it’s one of the only places you’ll find them over here. It’s also one of my favourite, secret spots to sit and work, though just try and resist the incredible doughnuts and smoked pork fat canneles on the counter if you do. Seriously, just try.
I have a dirty little secret – I’ve never actually dined at The Clove Club. By that, I mean I haven’t eaten in the dining room from their set menu. I can’t ever get past the rather lovely bar and it’s snacks. It suits me just fine to be honest. Service is utterly charming, martinis excellent, wine best ordered by the bottle with friends and plates of aforementioned snacks. The pine fried chicken is now infamous, but don’t overlook some of the other small plates. We had some incredible chicken kebabs on a friend’s birthday made from various parts of a chooks anatomy including cleverly deboned and puffed up feet.
I’ve been to The Remedy a handful of times and each time I do, I remember how utterly charming it is. Just a small bar towards the top of Cleveland Street, they always have a great selection of light, natural reds (my preference) along with a list of small plates. The pair behind the bar always more than happy to chat, offer advice and tastes of their wines. It’s another of my secret little working lunch spots. They’re usually quiet around late lunch, so a plate of livers on toast with a glass of wine at the corner of the bar is pretty much perfection. I’ve heard a horrible rumour they’re now closed at lunch now though….
Best kept secret, if other rumours are true, is that they have a half price Monday industry night on all bottles.
Honey & Co never fails to delight. Again, it’s actually another spot without a bar, the tiny room is intimate enough to offer a similar service though. I’ve dined here alone and with friends and it’s always hit the spot perfectly. Itamar and Sarit are an absolutely charming couple, full of joy, and it comes through fully in their food. Middle Eastern mezes and larger dishes, turkish coffee and the most completely irresistible Fitzroy buns; one of my favourite sweet dishes in London – the pic below is of one half eaten, they way I do by uncoiling it’s syrupy goodness slowly, eking out the pleasure.
It’s been too long since I’ve darkened Duck Soup‘s doors. Shame on me. The danger of London’s vibrant dining scene is in that of neglecting old favourites. I fell in love with the small bar at first sight, and spent my first evening there feeling transported from the busy london streets, to European and warmer climes. It’s embodies a tick list of my favourite things; great wine list, classic cocktails, seasonal small plates, great bread and a chilled atmosphere that comes alive in the evening. Those small plates so enticing I’d happily order one of each, and pay a number of limbs for the pleasure, this type of dining can certainly rack up. But here I don’t mind because it works; it’s charming and intimate and welcoming in a way Raw Duck (sister restaurant) just doesn’t achieve – though I like it for other reasons.
It didn’t take Sager & Wilde to win me over, in fact I was hooked almost from day one. Leading the pack of a new breed of wine bars, of which I’d include The Remedy, that London was really, finally ready to embrace. I shan’t write in length as I did when they opened, but it remains one of the most perfect places to relax for a glass, or five, seduced by attentive staff and a wine list that boasts some of my very favourite things.
I plan to write similar posts on cocktails and coffee shops. For as ace and new and sparkly Kitty Fishers, Portland etc etc look, oh and they sure do, I chose to dine, with a friend, at Duck Soup last Friday night. It was as brilliant as it’s always been, better than when they first opened (surely a lesson there…) – an intoxicating experience, wine splashed chatter rising above jazz, glasses chinking in candlelight. A white negroni to start, a dish of lamb hearts, bulgar, mint and pomegranate a highlight, not everything is perfect but the languid atmosphere soothes over any wibbles like the most effective of salves.