"I was served overcooked, battery farm chicken that tasted of cotton wool, and a poor, unfortunate friend was dished up something that was masquerading itself as a lobster and crab burger..."
I've been eating out and doing various gastro-related things recently, but nothing and nowhere that really merits the honour of a full feature on Gastrolad. However, some of the places I've encountered on my travels deserve a heads up for good reason, whereas you should steer clear of a couple of the others.
First on the list is Me Me, which is a little Vietnamese place in Fulham Broadway. I've been here plenty of times and the food never fails to impress. It's the perfect stop off before you head across the road to the cinema, and that is exactly why I was there last week, for a pre-Bond feed. They do all the standard Vietnamese dishes that you know and love to a very high standard and it is remarkably cheap.
Is it the perfect neighbourhood restaurant? Possibly, and back in the days when I used to bother with such things I remember voting for them in either the Observer Food Monthly or Time Out awards for best cheap eat. Head on down and look out for the pho, pork kho, bun xa and bun nem lui.
Next up is a place I went to in Edinburgh at the weekend. The Dogs ain't the best name I've ever heard for a cafe / restaurant, but they do the best haggis hash I've ever had, which is reason enough to forgive. A great little place at the top of Dundas Street in the New Town, The Dogs is light and airy inside and has a well thought out menu using local, seasonal ingredients. Not only this, but it is very good value. I know the Scots are notoriously tight fisted, but nothing on the day menu is over £7, which is a welcome sight for a tight Yorkshireman.
Now let me get back to that hash. I was in Edinburgh for a weekend of bromance and man on man action with a load of mates, so it was the usual itinerary: trip to the rugby; putting people on top of phone boxes; shoe golf; karaoke; boozing; and the horsey dance. We went to The Dogs for a pre-rugby, hangover busting lunch and boy did that hash do the trick. Haggis, black pudding, bacon and a fried duck egg - what more could a man desire to set him up for a day? Definitely better than my cultured Scottish friend Jamie's "local" favourite - The Hard Rock Cafe...
Number three on my hit (rather than miss) list is not a restaurant as such, but a semi-permanent supper club I went to the other evening on a Hackney roof terrace. It was in my capacity as pen for hire that I trekked all the way over to Bethnal Green to attend the press night of Forza Win(ter) on behalf of Foodepedia.
Forza Win(ter) is the cold weather reincarnation of Forza Win, an open-air supper club that served wood fired pizza from the very same Hackney rooftop throughout the warm summer months. Instead of pizza, they have now taken inspiration from the snowy alpine north of Italy, and are dishing up fonduta: an Italian version of fondue made with young fontal cheese, milk, cream and eggs. So for £30 a head for your supper you get bowls of melted cheese with roasted root vegetables, roasted meats, bread and other such items suitable for dipping, as well as a gelato from Gelupo for dessert. What's not to like?
The guys running it are good fun and they sorted out some decent after-dinner entertainment, courtesy of up-and-coming band, Josh Flowers and the Wild. This might be doing them a grave disservice, depending on your point of view, but they were a sort of Mumford and Sons tribute band with a cello (it wasn't just me who said that either).
Forza Win(ter) is pretty much booked up until Christmas, but some January dates are in the pipeline, so keep an eye out on all the usual social media hotspots.
That's it for the hits, but as we are getting close to Christmas, I've got a couple of turkeys up my sleeve that are plump and ready for plucking...
Back when I started my first job in London - wide eyed and fresh off the train from York - my friends met me after my first day and took me to Belgos in Covent Garden for dinner. I may be looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but my, what a great time I had. Everyone sat on long tables, there was a real buzz, and the waiters were dressed up as trappist monks as they doled out bowls of steaming mussels, frites, frothy Belgian beer and trays of flavoured schnapps.
So I'll always have a place in my heart for Belgos, but, my god, how standards seem to have dropped off a cliff! We went to the one on Clapham High Street for dinner on a Saturday night (my suggestion of Fish club was vetoed) and it was, without putting too fine a point on it, rubbish. I was served overcooked, battery farm chicken that tasted of cotton wool and a poor, unfortunate friend was dished up something that was masquerading itself as a lobster and crab burger. In reality this was a breaded fish cake that they had decided to burn on one side and leave raw on the other. A complaint was issued to the manager who took away the untouched plate without a word of apology and then had the nerve to bill us for it. Never again.
The other place I had a mediocre experience at recently was Colbert, which is Chris Corbin and Jeremy King's new place on Sloane Square. It is another all-day cafe a la the Wolseley and the Delaunay. In these places the food isn't necessarily the be all and end all - I'm sure Lucian Freud didn't eat at the Wolseley every day just for the chopped liver and Wiener schnitzel - but you do expect competence in the kitchen.
Unfortunately Colbert, on this occasion, failed. A steak tartare was done well and elegantly presented, but my croque grand-monsieur - a glorified cheese and ham toastie - for which I paid £6.95, was a miserable excuse of a sandwich. The bread was burnt, not just browned, but blackened and some sly thief had stolen the cheese in-between the kitchen and table. My student self could have done better with a Breville and a loaf of white sliced.
I should also point out that I saw one of the barman virtually molest a large dog that the customer sitting opposite us brought into the restaurant, then go back behind the bar and serve drinks without washing his hands. I'm not usually that fastidious when it comes to hygiene, but I do object to dog hairs in my white wine.
E finalamente, something non-gastro related. I went to the Royal Opera House on Friday and saw Roberto Alagna in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, which was one of the most enjoyable opera productions I've seen in a while, so if you can get hold of a ticket, I would without hesitation.