Archives for category: Restaurants

I left you as we departed last week’s wedding in Queens for Manhattan with the younger party goers still in full swing. But the following morning the energy was more subdued with some very sore heads. And the solution? (indeed what is the solution to most things these days?) well Shake Shack of course. This burger phenomenon has spread over the pond now and was one of the most popular stands at Taste of London this year, believe it or not, and back in New York the queues are still endless.

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We met at the original Madison Square Park site under the trees – a cool outdoor space and 94 burgers later, the friends and family were back on their A game, repleted and waving goodbye to Mr and Mrs K as they departed for their Italian honeymoon. Another clever food ploy from these two and a perfect finale to a wonderful three days.

Mum, Dad, sis and I met that evening for our own get together at Kings County Imperial – a superb Chinese in Williamsburg with their very own soy sauce and their own garden out the back to supplement their organic seasonal produce. It was one of the best Chinese meals I have ever had and was rounded off by us mopping up the remaining cronuts.

Eataly, NYC

Eataly, NYC

I still had a couple of days to explore and having read this Eater article, decided to review the food halls of NYC. The article points to the fashion in Europe for what they call food halls and cite Eataly in NYC as the first of this growing US fashion. Eataly is indeed a place to be visited and the combination of Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali is a marriage in food heaven. The benefit of this is that there is a single overarching style and standard which this duo imposed on the concept moving it on from the originals in Italy. The article also says the new halls are a far cry from the suburban shopping mall food courts but I beg to differ.

I visited all on the Eater New York list and found them to be disappointing experiences. My first foray was to City Kitchen which claims to be a food market with funky signage leading upstairs. There you find good views over 8th Avenue and the queues at Shake Shack opposite but no food market. Rather a strange mix of places with poor seating in the section itself and an overflow going into the adjacent Row hotel which was at least a little more interesting. I really struggled to find anything worth eating and when I decided just to get a drink I was confronted with a New Yorker with attitude that made me feel like I had done something horribly wrong. I am sure that the brands that are there all link back to some great places back in their mother sites but honestly it didn’t connect for me.

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Unperturbed, I progressed to the next on my list which was Gotham West Market and a showcase in how to do the industrial look with quirky comms. I know my timing was a little unfortunate, but again this was too much style over substance for me. I left almost immediately and progressed down towards the World Trade Centre and the shopping centre opposite: home to Le District and Hudson Eats.

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To be fair, Le District was a well designed homage to French cuisine and when you are such a long way away from Europe I am sure that it ticks a lot of boxes.

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The zones inside worked much in the same way as Eataly in Turin and the overall atmosphere was much more enticing and the product range at least made sense in terms of the concept.

A bit further upstairs in the upmarket and yet unfinished Brookfield Place shopping centre is a better but similar version of City Kitchen: a mix of trendy brands each with their own cubicle to serve an edited menu of their dishes. The trouble for me was that it wasn’t as grunge or as a pop up or as slick as the actual restaurant itself, instead a strange combination of the worst of each place. Yes there were bagels and salad bars, ribs and Mexican but sitting together with formulaic seating and lots of trays carrying food that was rapidly going cold, I really couldn’t be inspired to eat anything at all. The best option would be to take away a Sprinkles cupcake which reminded me of a great experience many years ago in LA but I just wasn’t in the mood.

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The final place to try was Gansevoort Market in the Meatpacking district and warily I made my way down there making sure that I went via the Highline and Chelsea Market just in case I was disappointed. These two places are always worth seeing in my eyes when you are in NYC and whilst they were crazy busy they still retained many of the aspects that I enjoy. And so to my final market foray.

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Ganservoort was my favourite of them all. It simply had more atmosphere and a more foodie slant, relating back to the history of the market back in the 1880’s. It reminded me of the Saturday Biscuit Mill market in Cape Town.

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The products were well prepared, the authenticity was more easily communicated within each stand and the seating was more familiar with clusters sitting throughout the area rather than one big central communal melamine topped section. It also falls out onto the Meatpacking district with outdoor seating and more going on which gives a vibrancy that the other shopping centre floors lack.

All in all I have to conclude that the food markets or food halls or whatever the latest marketing says are merely more like the original shopping mall eateries and if you want to create a new community of young vibrant food brands you have to do a bit more than put them in a giant circle around a central seating area. What Eataly has is a connection to how the food is made, the ingredients it comes from and the vibrancy that sitting together and sharing a meal can deliver. As a food hall it allows you to eat in and take home, it gives you more choice and a wide range of all things relating to Italian food. It gives you a story with a message that allows you to connect and therefore feel grounded in its wake.

Nothing new that has cropped up since I first saw Eataly in NYC has come near to matching what it offers. I await with bated breath to see what Antony Bourdain does with his new concept because I know he understands the levers that make great food experiences and combining that with his passion for street food will undoubtedly add up to something more real and tasty than any of these new breeds. I look forward to that.

It is always difficult when you place yourself as someone who has knowledge about food because you inevitably get asked about where to go for dinner and I often find myself trying to match the people and occasion to the right place. It is increasingly hard in London where new restaurants are popping up all over the place and to varied abilities. I have honestly had as many disappointing meals as I have successful ones. Many times the hype does not match my own personal experience.

This weekend I was meeting friends over from South Africa and with the rand making everything so expensive, I needed to find a great cheap eat. So my mind went straight to Asian, which is not only the tastiest food around right now but also the most interesting for me. I find myself drawn to it every time I want a good meal.

Over ten years ago now, David Chang took the New York food scene by storm with Momofuku and since then it has gone from strength the strength. The pork belly bun earned its own fan club, followed closely by the lines queuing up for the crack pie and cereal milk ice cream. The savoury bun took the Asian bao into a new modern era by opening up these soft steamed pillows and filling with sticky slices of pork belly, hoisin sauce, quickly pickled cucumbers, spring onions and a dash of sriracha if you want. Hot, spicy, sweet, sticky it was a mouthful to beat all mouthfuls and stayed with me for some time after I returned home.

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It was much copied and I found Yum Bun doing a great impression of the original at Eat Street in Kings Cross before they went on to open a bricks and mortar place to showcase their creations. And others followed suit. But it was really only this year that the bao bun had a resurgence and that comes with the restaurant, suitably and simply named Bao. What more do you want? So I took my friends to this tiny space in Soho with pared back seating, simple hanging for coats and bags, staff in white coats and a small menu of perfect mouthfuls.

Fried chicken bao

Fried chicken bao

We shared many of the dishes between us savouring the balance of flavours. We started with pickles which are almost obligatory at any self respecting restaurant these days. And very good they were too. Tasty aged beef in white soy and really hot and spicy fried chicken was followed with guinea fowl rice served with a well placed egg yolk to be stirred through. But the heroes for us were those boa buns. Chicken was served in a sesame pillow, pork belly with sweet and sour flavours and the classic, well my favourite to be sure, with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, herbs and more pickles.

The classic

The classic

 

At £50 for the three of us including sake it was a great value meal. But beware, you will have to queue. We put our names on the list and then popped into the next door pub for a really good G&T. Just make sure you don’t miss your place in the queue because there will always be someone waiting to pounce behind you. But know that it is worth the wait.

Beautiful pickles

Beautiful pickles

 

It’s always interesting in my field of work to see how things cluster together to point you in a certain direction.

Brunch @tahinirest

Brunch @tahinirest

Last week was my birthday and I was lucky enough to be taken to one of the last days of the @tahinirest: a pop up established by an old colleague of ours, Josh. He took a big step last year taking his family on the most incredible journey travelling around Europe and the Middle East and was so inspired by the Israeli food in particular that he created a temporary restaurant offer on his return.

Over a really fabulous brunch, we discussed what it was about the food in Israel that had captured his imagination. He talked about the balance of fresh food, spices, and flavours: a combination of which he hadn’t seen much of back in London. In particular we chatted about to make labneh and how tahini really was most amazing almost undiscovered product over here. Whilst we know it to be a key ingredient in hummus, he told us how versatile it was and how it could be used in so many, both savoury and sweet ways. Apparently Yotam Ottolenghi had only that week declared it one of the best kept secrets that was about to emerge and I went away still relishing the combination that had been served that day.

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Fast forward only 4 days later and I was also being treated for my birthday – well a girl has a right to elongate her celebrations! This time, it was a chance to try The Palomar. This new eaterie has been getting rave reviews and whilst they are new to us, the Jerusalem food scene is only too familiar with this team. The Machneyuda Group now boast five outlets headed by the trendiest of Jerusalem restaurants and inspired by Iron Chef Assaf Granit and his two other Exec chefs: Uri Navon and Yossi Elad who combine Palestinian/Israeli food with European influences to huge success.

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When something is so well reviewed, I can’t help wondering whether it is just hype and in so many cases the actual experience is never quite so good. In the case of the Palomar, it is all true. As Mr Jones said – they had me at the bread. Pastry chef Yael really has brought a great intro to the meal with a must-have soft, buttery Yemeni pot baked bread. Yes, this is all about sharing although you might not want to let anyone else near the bread, but what we loved most was the use of those flavours that Josh had talked about just a few days earlier. The bread came with a grated tomato and silky tahini (what else) and parsnip crisps with labneh and chilli harissa. Early dishes from the raw section of the menu mixed fresh salads with herbs, spices and pulses with yogurt or homemade labneh dressings. The mains showcased the resident Josper grill to add a smokiness to the meat which balanced hot chilli and sweet fruits to create such tasty dishes. The chicken had crispy skin with succulent meat … the pork mixed sweet fruit and sour spice. The overall effect was just truly tasty plates of food and how often can you say that?

The only disappointment was the announcement that the tahini ice cream was off the menu. I had really wanted to see that sweet application to better understand the aforementioned versatility. Shame. I will just have to go back and try out a few more dishes. Next time I will risk a walk in on the bar and partake in some of that chef/customer banter that has been written up.

In light of the ever popular Ottolenghi and the much applauded Honey & Co., The Palomar just goes to prove that food of the Levant is the latest craze to try and I for one embrace it wholeheartedly. It is also well on the way to proving that tahini may well be the latest ingredient to look out for in the future.

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Sofabrother and I had a day out today in London.

It’s always difficult to know where to take someone who is already knowledgable not only about London but also the food world. He always has things to show me in Cape Town and so I needed to reciprocate. We both observed just how over populated the food ‘scene’ is in London. Everywhere you go there is some new place opening, and shutting, so what is worth seeing and knowing?

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Our day started at the Tower of London. Not for its food offering, but because I really wanted to see the evolving art installation that is there. Those of you who know me well understand the relevance of poppies and this really is an incredibly moving, innovative, thought provoking artwork. Over 800,000 poppies fill the Tower’s moat representing the lost lives of the British military who died in the First World War. You can read more about it here and like me, buy one of those poppies here.

Onward to our food day. We decided to explore areas that Sofabro hadn’t already done on his trip and that took us first to Marylebone High Street. Honestly there was not a huge amount that was different there. La Fromagerie is as lovely as ever and Ginger Pig as impressive. Patisserie de Reves had the now famous Kouign Amann in a long oblong form rather than the traditional round and whichever way you look at it, layered buttery pastry with sugar can only be yum. Probably the most surprising moment was to see the old home of Divertimenti now under construction to be replaced by Anthropologie. Such a sign of the times. We grabbed a coffee at Nordic Bakery so that we could see the Swedish influence and then moved onwards to Selfridges.

There we were able to see some products that I wanted to show him. The Pressery almond milk is pure and wonderful, pressing (sorry – bad pun!) all the fashionable buttons that Roots and Bulbs also did on the way down to Oxford Street. The raw health market is one that is gaining coverage for the right reasons and cold pressing seems to be the thing to do lately whether with nuts, fruit, veg or coffee…or any combination of the above. These are quality drinks with nothing added. Pure goodness. They sat alongside Mr Sherick’s milkshakes, created by an old colleague of ours. This is the other extreme in terms of health, but certainly a wonderful product in its own right. The eponymous Mr Sherick used to work in the meat department at M&S and now he is the proud winner of the Grocer’s New Product of the Year 2014. Quite a feat.

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We also had a nose at The Meringue Girls, Daylesford’s new buttermilk, Selfridge’s new range of Christmas products, a try of hot cordial and tasters at St John’s Bakery. Finally we passed Boomf magical mallows. This pod promoted a new service that allows you to print any picture you have onto a box of nine square marshmallows. White fluffy instagram pics. I don’t know if I was impressed or appalled at the thought that you could print a pic of your loved one, or favourite scene and then eat your way through the whole thing. What will they think of next?

Onwards through St Christopher’s place, Bond Street, South Molton Street and Regent Street until we arrived at Pitt Cue Co. Sofabro hadn’t eaten there yet, so we shared a couple of things and whilst the menu is not as exciting as previously and the prices not as keen, I was relieved to find that the food itself was as yummy as ever. Smoked kimchi, Mangalitsa pork shoulder, beans & red chard….all as rich, dense, smoky and meaty as ever. We needed to walk it off, so made our way back up Kingley Street, Great Portland Street and wended our way towards Tottenham Court Road.

We spotted the new Boopshi’s schnitzel & spritz offering which carried on the theme of so many of these places specialising in one thing. Like the Greek, Opso, that we saw earlier on, they are all offering a select menu, an industrial look & feel, metal, wood and the obligatory pendant lights made from something relevant: a whisk, a pot, a bottle….you name it. Continuing the design theme, we wandered along Tottenham Court Road through Heals, Habitat and West Elm before pondering the offer at Planet Organic and Paul A. Young for a chocolate fix.

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Finally, we ended up at Honey & Co. It felt right that we went there as it has received so much coverage. It’s such an unassuming place but has received great publicity because of its food offer and also its book. I kind of wanted to find it pretentious so that I could snub it but the truth is that it is as good, if not better than people say. We perched outside on a little table, had mint tea made with handfuls of fresh mint and shared a warm chestnut cake with salted caramel. The chef/owner, Itamar Srulovich welcomed us personally as if we were old friends and took us through the impressive afternoon cake offering. He charmed us with observations about his lovely wife and served us himself the most delicate cake. I was touched by the tiny vase of flowers on the table. Plucked daisies and cornflowers just showed me how much they cared, and it reflected in their food. We browsed the book, pondered our day and shared our thoughts before Sofabro went South and I went North to our respective homes. Next time, Cape Town but for now, a great day in London.

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