Sunday, 19 June 2016

Noak Bakehouse and Brew, Brockley

Pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple
Noak Bakehouse & Brew, a Danish inspired café, opened back in November. Brockley is still under-served by good cafés and the delayed opening had definitely whipped up some anticipation and excitement from us local who were crying out for another addition to local dining options.

From my visits to Noak I've thought the food is pretty strong too. Our first visit was on their opening weekend where they'd sold out of nearly everything so we just had drinks and tried a couple of the sweet treats. The brownie, so often a disappointment in cafés, was really rather good. The flødeboller which my friend William tried reminded me of treats I used to be bought in French supermarkets when we were on our summer holidays.
Roast pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple 
On our most recent trip we tried a couple of the savoury options. Pizzas have been on the menu since they opened but seemed to have evolved over time to thinner and crispier affairs. I had the pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple. It was a tasty, if slightly messy to eat number. The pork skin had gone a bit soft and didn't have the crunch you'd expect from good crackling.
Noak brownie 
I think it would be fair to say that Noak are still working on finding their true identity. Even after being open for six months the order of service doesn't feel well drilled. The staff always seem friendly but it can be a bit chaotic which leads me at least to being uncertain as a customer. There is some definite skill in the kitchen, you couldn't cook such good sourdough and pastries without it, but there does seem to be a lack of clarity too. Fads seem to come and go with the latest being burgers, rather then sticking to the Danish bakehouse vision.
Noak makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure. Hopefully the local good will and skill in the kitchen keeps going and they nail the service offering so that they become a local institution that is with us for a good while yet.

Noak Bakehouse and Brew
209–211 Mantle Road

SE4 2EWNoak Bakehouse and Brew Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Pickled Fork at the Grosvenor Arms, Earlsfield

Asparagus with sheep's milk cheese, peas and Jersey Royal vinaigrette
Last Wednesday night I was the guest of Go Earlsfield who invited me out to dinner at the newly refurbished Grosvenor Arms on Garratt Lane in Earlsfield. The pub has only been open for five weeks following a change of ownership and refurbishment. The pub certainly looks brighter following the renovations and the new team are very friendly (with crushingly firm handshakes), but the place still needs a few finishing touches / pictures on the wall before you could call it properly homely.

We were there for a collaboration with the Pickled Fork, a local catering company, who put on a couple of pop up dinners in the upstairs of the pub last week.
Barbecued octopus with broad bean hummus
There was live jazz and a glass of prosecco to greet us in the bar downstairs before we all headed up to the restaurant on the first floor. I was very pleasantly surprised by all of the food which had subtlety and an interesting combination of flavours in every dish. Reading the menu it would be easy to think they were trying a bit hard, but everything worked together really well.

The starter was new season asparagus with smoked Sussex sheep's cheese, raw peas and a Jersey Royal vinaigrette. Are there really potatoes in the vinaigrette? There did seem to be and it created a subtle and creamy texture. If I had to split hairs, one of the spears of asparagus was cold and it would have been much better at room temperature allowing the flavours to come out more.
Pulled lamb's belly with spelt pitta and tabouleh
My favourite dish was the middle course of barbecued octopus, broad bean hummus, nduja, pickled chicory and dukkha. The octopus was tender and lifted by the spice of the nduja and pickled chicory. The balance of soft and crunchy textures worked well.

Before our mains we were treated to a song by Elsa Hackett who appeared to be a friend of the two jazz players and was also dining in the pub. A young jazz singer who is studying at the Guildhall School of Music, there was something of the Amy Winehouse about her voice. A very good singer indeed.
Strawberry pavlova with a basil syrup
When our main of pulled lamb's belly on a fermented spelt pitta, with spelt tabbouleh and roast garlic yoghurt came out I thought it was a bit on the small side for a main, but I was forgetting I was three courses in at this point and it filled me up perfectly. The lamb and tabbouleh were great. The pitta was more robust than your average pitta, but then it can't be easy making them out of spelt. I finished GE's dish which tells you all you need to know.

The dessert was a strawberry pavlova with elderflower, nyetimber and basil syrup. If I'm honest I'm still unsure what nyetimber is!

The Grosvenor Arms
204 Garratt Lane
SW18 4ED
Grosvenor Arms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Solvang, California

Solvang, CA
It's time to return to the write up of our holiday to California at the back end of last year. Only six months ago now!

I've been to the US quite a few times now, mainly with work and to the large cities of New York, Chicago and Charlotte. Our visit to Solvang was one of my first visits to small town America. Although admittedly Solvang isn't your typical small US town, originally settled in 1911 as a Danish colony, the place has hung onto it's Danish heritage and turned it into a tourist industry.

We were staying in The Landsby which, as expected, played up the Scandi minimalism. Despite a few quirks (no light switches next to the bed and stingy breakfasts) I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and design.
Inside the Landsby
I kicked off our day first full day in Solvang with a run across the Santa Ynez river and along Alisal Creek, past a golf course (crazily green considering the drought) and past a ranch with its own rodeo stadium before turning round and heading back into town.

After breakfast we drifted through town and across to the Mission Santa Inés. Founded in 1804 the mission is now a basic museum and Parish Church with a small garden outside the church that you can look round.
Solvang Mission
After visiting the Mission we did another loop of town to see more of the Danish style buildings around town. All very cute, but none of them really tempted us inside to look round being filled with touristy knick-knacks.

 We thought we'd head over to the nearby, and equally chocolate box, town of Los Olivios in the afternoon. Being in wine country I quite fancied the idea of lunch in a vineyard somewhere nice. However, it wasn't clear that many of them had restaurants which were open midweek in winter so we ended up buying some sandwiches and eating them in Sunny Fields park instead. So glamorous!
Los Olivios
Los Olivios is even smaller than Solvang and is another town geared towards the tourists, although it felt like we are the only visitors in town. Los Olivios seemed to be a centre of the local wine business with quite a few offices / tasting rooms for the vineyards in town. We had a look around St Mark's-in-the-valley church before leaving town.

Having failed to visit a vineyard we enjoyed some local wines during happy hour in the hotel bar before heading over the road for dinner.
Fish of the day at the Succulent Cafe in Solvang. Seared tuna on 'risotto'

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Queen's, Camberwell

Charred hispi cabbage and asparagus
We first properly met Mike, the owner and chef behind Queen's in Camberwell, at his excellent supper club back in 2012. I've had a soft spot for his great cooking and strong desire to use local and sustainable ingredients ever since.

Like quite a few other people, we joined the incredible surge of donations in the dying hours of his Kickstarter project last year to help Mike open his own restaurant. We were in New Zealand when the restaurant opened last year so exchanged our ticket to the opening party for a voucher at the restaurant that we used on Saturday night.
Flat bread and harissa oil at Queens in Camberwell
Between the three of us we were able to order all but one dish on the menu which gave us an excellent opportunity to see what Queen's was all about. As expected there were lots of seasonal ingredients with new season asparagus, peas, cabbages and salads heavy on the menu. The grill is heavily used with lots of charred dishes and in line with their street food stall there are quite a few homemade pickles on the menu.
Kent asparagus manti 
My favourite dishes included the home made flat bread, a signature from their street food stall. Charred and rubbed in spices it was a great start.

Next up was another favourite, the charred hispi cabbage and asparagus with garlic, mustard and fresh cheese. The dish might have been a little oily for some, but I really liked the new season asparagus.

The whole juicy grilled plaice came with vividly coloured beetroot borani (yoghurt dip) and an amazingly smokey spring onion. It tasted like the most intensely smoked aubergine I've ever had.

Photos of the other dishes we sampled, none of which put a foot wrong, are included above and below.

Rounding off the meal was a single scoop of dark chocolate sorbet. I'm not usually one for chocolate ice creams but I really liked this version which came with charred oranges (the grill even gets used in for the desserts!), cocoa nibs and nuts.
Rosehip and star anise marinated pork belly with raddichio
At £98 for the three of us, including a bottle of wine, I thought the meal was good value. The restaurant manager was welcoming and on top of all the restaurant comings and goings. The rest of the staff were friendly and helpful, although it was a little uncoordinated when we were asked three times if we had ordered drinks and our table could have used a wipe before desserts came out too.

Camberwell is definitely lucky to have Queen's and it seems inexplicable to me that they aren't as busy as nearby Silk Road or Theo's pizza. I'm sure it won't be long before the locals are queueing here too.
Whole plaice
Fried potatoes with harissa and seaweed aioli
Marinated lake district lamb, carrots and pickles
Dark chocolate tart and dark chocolate sorbet

45 Camberwell Church Street

SE5 8TRQueen's Camberwell Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Mr Bao, Peckham

Smashed cucumber and golden kimchi
"Would you recommend the peach beer?"


That was pretty much how our evening at the excellent Mr Bao in Peckham began last Saturday night. (We ordered a Taiwanese beer and some sparkling sake instead.)
Tender stem broccoli with ponzu (we'd already eaten some broccoli
before I took this picture)
The food at Mr Bao is very reasonably priced, with everything under £5 and a lot under £3. The fair pricing meant that we were able to sample a good selection of the menu between the two of us.

We ordered five of the small share plates, including the smacked cucumber, golden kimchi, Taiwanese sausage, tender stem broccoli and sweet potato chips.

The golden kimchi, made with pumpkin, was definitely a highlight, but all of them were really good. The battered and deep fried sweet potato chips was a generous serving for £2.50 and I loved the simplicity of the steamed broccoli with ponzu.
Sweet potato chips and pork dumplings
The quality of the starters got me very excited about the steamed buns which were still to come and the whole reason I'd dragged Becks to Peckham for dinner. The flavour of the fillings was definitely on point. My favourite being the slow cooked lamb with pickled red onion and mint. The lamb was tasty in itself, but the pickled onion and mint just lifted the whole bun.

The bao were also surprisingly easy to share between two, retaining their structure as we ate them. The buns themselves I found a little heavier than expected and stuck a bit to the roof of my mouth.
Mr Bao pork belly and shredded lamb bao
I really enjoyed our dinner at Bao. The food, particularly the share plates and the lamb bao, was fantastic and the service was really friendly too. At £28 for two people (excluding drinks and service) you can't argue with the value either.

I've added Mr Bao as a favourite to my London eats maps.
Bao Didley, chicken

Mr Bao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
293 Rye Lane
SE15 4UA

Monday, 16 May 2016

Padella, London Bridge - lunch with Fergus Henderson (well almost)

Pappardelle  with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu &
Tagliatelle with new season asparagus
Becks and I have both recently read reviews of a new Italian restaurant in London Bridge called Padella. Described as good value and, more importantly, tasty, we both put it into the memory banks. When we found ourselves in London Bridge on Saturday lunchtime it was the obvious place to visit.

From outside Padella looks like a pretty small spot. There is a counter wrapped round the kitchen and another bench facing out towards the street. (I discovered later they have more seating downstairs.) Luckily they could fit us in with two seats at the kitchen counter, directly in front of the head chef and a man grating vast quantities of parmesan. He grated so much that I suspect there might soon be a shortage in Parma, so get yourselves to the supermarket quickly if you need any more.
Pici cacio e pepe
Sitting at the counter was a great way to experience the restaurant. Beside parmesan grating man, there were four other guys working the kitchen. The first chef blanched the fresh pasta before passing it onto the second chef - with pleasing splashes all over his whites - who finished off the pasta with the sauce. Finally we had the head chef checking all of the dishes and the quietly efficient pot wash keeping everything in order. They looked every bit a well oiled machine.

One theme from the reviews was that the dishes were quite small so we decided to order three pastas. Just after we'd ordered Fergus Henderson walked in and sat down just behind us. I thought this was some top celebrity spotting, but most people I've spoken to since haven't known who Fergus is. Nose to tail eating anyone?

If you are only going to serve one thing it better be good and Padella pretty much nails it with their pasta. The signature pici cacio e pepe (pici pasta with pecorina, salt and pepper) had a slight bounce still left in the pasta. A couple of mouthfuls had possibly a bit too much pepper for me, but that's kinda the point for this dish. The pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu was also a highlight. I wish they sold the ragu in jars to take away.
Almond tart
About midway through our main courses Fergus' starters were served (not that I was looking you understand). When their table was cleared, the plate of salami was only half eaten. The look on the head chef's face when the plate was shown to him was a picture. The man was mortified.

There was a tiny bit of room left after our mains so we ordered an almond tart. The coarsely ground almonds made it another winner.

6 Southwark Street

London Bridge
Padella Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara Pier 
For the second morning in a row I started the day with a run up San Vicente Boulevard. Essentially in the middle of a dual carriageway, but this being California it was a lot more glamorous than trying to run on the A34 in the UK. It was much quieter on my second morning without the running clubs to keep me company.

Back in the hotel we checked out, leaving our bags in reception to come back and pick up later with the hire car.

We strolled across town to the hotel where housed the hire car location. On the way I realised that I was actually quite nervous at the prospect of driving in America. A strange car in a strange country. (Driving only three or four times a year I've realised I find driving a more and more alien experience these days.)

My nerves meant that I'd carefully plotted our route onto the Pacific Coast Highway that we'd take all the way up to Santa Barbara and we were quickly onto Route 1 and heading through Malibu and out of the city.

The coast road was definitely more scenic, if slower, than taking the in land motorway. Around Oxnard we passed huge fields growing strawberries. Must be back breaking work to pick those huge fields of fruit!
The lobster roll from the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
We arrived in Santa Barbara in mid afternoon, parked the car and went to explore. With the sun slowly sinking in the sky we walked out onto the pier taking a look in a couple of the tourist shops and watched people fishing at the end of the pier for a while.

I was in need of some lunch so we decided to stop at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company who have a small shack towards the end of the pier. We wrote our names on the list outside the door and luckily didn't have to wait too long before we were shown to a table outside, result!

I ordered the lobster roll. It was on my wish list to have a lobster roll while we were in America and sitting by the sea seemed like a good moment. The lobster roll was excellent. It had lots of lobster, wasn't overwhelmed with mayonnaise and nicely seasoned with chopped cornichons. I definitely could have eaten a second.
Fried calamari and scallops
Becks ordered the fried calamari and scallops which was also pretty good. The scallops were quite a bit smaller than the ones we get in the UK, but they were a lot cheaper and seemed to be more plentiful.

After lunch we went for a walk along the beach and sat on the sand for a while to take in the views. We'd noticed on the drive up that there seemed to be a lot of small oil rigs quite close to shore along the coast and we could see a few more for the beach.

With the sun setting and our parking we'd paid for about to expire we headed back to the car and drove inland to our next overnight stay in Solvang.
Sunset in Santa Barbara