Friday, November 25, 2011

Is Meat Liquor as good as it’s cracked up to be?

Maybe I expected too much. I’d been gagging to go to Meat Liquor or Meatwagon as it then was since last summer when a chef friend seemingly went down there every night to get his burger fix. And now there was a restaurant. Just off Oxford Street. With amazing cocktails. In jam jars! And deep fried pickles. Heaven!

The menu certainly reads well. I’m up for any burger called Dead Hippie (2 patties, sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions) apparently their take on the Big Mac. I loved the fact they put a whole roll of kitchen towel on the table. Yes, it’s THAT messy.

But the burger was a real disappointment. Overcooked, it tasted more like mince then chopped meat. The chips were pallid, bland and frankly McDonalds-ish. The homage had gone too far. My daughter’s chicken burger looked - and tasted - a bit like KFC. What on earth had gone wrong?

Maybe lunch is the wrong time to go (I suspect it is). Maybe you need a couple of serves of House Grog “a dangerous blend of light and dark rums with a splash of overproof rum” before you get stuck in. Maybe you should ask the ‘burgerette’ for some Pure Death Sauce. There must be some reason why everyone is raving about it except me.

Frankly if you’d come across this restaurant in say, Luton or Leicester and they’d served a burger like that you’d have thought ‘that’s not a bad burger’ but from a joint touted as serving some best trash food in London it felt like a massive let down.

Two other quibbles - the wine list while fun isn’t exactly cheap. £9.50 for a glass of Washington State riesling, even if it’s called Kung Fu Girl is going it a bit. And while the service was fine the message “‘Cheers mate’ is not an acceptable tip” on your bill is just plain cheeky. (For the record we tipped. In cash. But I didn't need to be instructed to.)

If you want a great burger, Honest Burger in Brixton Village which I checked out the other day is streets better. But what about you? Is Meat Liquor as good as the original? Meatwagon fans tell me I had an off day . . .

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Five new blogs to enjoy

I can't believe we're over half way through November already. Which makes it doubly embarrassing that I not only failed to have a blogs of the month feature in October but it's taken me this long to get one up this month too. Still, they're worth the wait . . .

For a start, who could resist a blog called Warm & Snug & Fat. Certainly not me. It's written by Amee from Co. Galway, "a graphic designer, kids books illustrator; accidental Aga enthusiast, amateur gardener & learner camera owner" as she puts it. If so she's learning very fast as these stunning images of her apple pie muffins testify. And although it's mostly baking there are other delicious things as well. Check out this homemade celery salt crusted baked potato.

I was also charmed by Mailhos Cuisine du Jardin whose author Carol - coincidentally also Irish - wrote to me to tell me about her blog. (I wish more people would do that. It makes it more of a discovery than hearing about them at second hand.) They have a smallholding in S.W.France where they grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and 75 fruit trees, all local varieties. It sounds totally idyllic. A recent post on my favourite base for tisanes, lemon verbena or verveine, also has a recipe for verbena chicken. Read on and drool.

Then there's Liza de Guia's delightful which is full of very professionally shot, quirky videos about people in food. Like Erin Evenson a 'competitive home cook' who enters contests like the Food Experiments National Championship in Brooklyn for which she cooked a dish that required 150 cods tongues. A really unusual and captivating blog . . .

. . . as is Mise au Poing, a visual blog by food and interiors prop stylist Samira Buchi who lives in Switzerland. (Thanks to Trish Deseine for this one). Look at this lovely series of pictures of quinces.

And finally a rising star in the world of wine - Matt Walls, who, er, calls his blog Matt Walls Wine Blog. He used to sell wine and now writes and gives talks about it and has just been signed up by Quadrille as the latest author in their New Voices in Food series. Impressively his blog doesn't rely on pictures, just on very good writing as you can see from this recent post on California. One to watch.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Taste the Difference Dun Leire 8yo Irish Single Malt

It's not often I feel moved to write about whisky (well, actually, slightly more often since I went to Islay a couple of months ago) but this is a real bargain.

Sainsbury's is selling its excellent Taste the Difference Dun Leire 8yo Irish Single Malt for £15 for the next three weeks instead of the launch price of £19.99

Those who poo-poo Irish whiskey as being inferior to Scotch (my late mother-in-law was always outraged if we tried to sneak one by her) would have to acknowledge that this is a fine dram by any standard. Matured in American Bourbon and Irish whiskey barrels it's made by the Cooley distillery.

My tasting note says - rather lamely, but it was the end of a long wine tasting - 'beautifully sweet and fragrant'. For a more evocative description you'll have to turn to Jim Murray's Whisky Bible which describes it as 'one of the great whiskies from Cooley, ever' and names it his Irish Single Malt of the year. At £15 it's a steal.

Sainsbury's also has a trio of Scottish whiskies in the Taste the Difference range, a 12 year old Highland, a 12 year old Speyside and (my favourite) a 12 year old Islay, all at £28.49 (though I'm waiting to see if there are special offers on those too). They're all non-chill filtered, unusual for supermarket whiskies, which adds to the complexity and flavour.

It's interesting how whisky seems to be becoming the new battleground for supermarkets. Aldi is selling a very fine 24 year old Glen Marnoch whisky in its stores next Thursday for £29.99 which might sound expensive but is probably about a third of the price you'd have to pay for a bottle of that age and provenance. There will only be a few in each branch though so get down there early.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A three course lunch at Brixton Village (all at different restaurants)

The problem with living out of London is that you feel totally out of the loop when it comes to new openings. The whole world, it seems - certainly the whole blogging world - has been to the conglomeration of cool caf├ęs and restaurants in Brixton Village, a place where you might once have hesitated to set foot unless you were in search of callaloo and tripe. But that's not the case, of course, and if you haven't been, as I hadn't until yesterday I strongly recommend you go.

I went with my good mate Fiona Sims (the other Fiona) which was a mistake. The original intention was to have a quick burger at Honest Burgers and return to the very interesting biodynamic wine tasting we'd been at up to then. But as there was a queue at HB we had to explore other options. Fiona favoured Elephant (Pakistani street food), I wanted to try the okonomiyaki at Okan.

We settled on Elephant (above) where we shared a spinach pakora and a veggie Thali. Being an aficionado of Bristol's Thali Cafe I don't think it quite lived up to theirs - but it was hot (in both senses of the word) freshly prepared and cheap - by London standards. (About £11.50 for the two of us). Great value.

While we were there we spotted the owner bringing in a plate of something tasty for his own lunch - which turned out to be the okonomiyaki so we had to move on to Okan to try one. We bickered amiably about that too - Fi wanted tofu, I opted for pork and kimchi (wouldn't you?) and won this time. Again, good but I've had better - a bit too much gloopy sauce on top and the bottom was slightly burnt but it looked amazing and the eggy/cabbagey bit was great. £7.95.

By this time were were totally stuffed but the queues at Honest Burgers had disappeared and we couldn't miss that burger. Which was awesome - fabulously beefy with a gorgeous light bun and hopelessly moreish triple cooked chips with rosemary salt. They very sweetly divided it into two for us to share. That was £9.

So we never got back to the tasting (I went clothes shopping instead, always a bad idea when you're feeling feckless) but I think we did Brixton Village proud. You should try at least two places if you go - there are many more tempting ones as you can see above and in this review Jay Rayner wrote for the Observer and this one by Marina O'Loughlin in Metro. And some fantastic food shopping to be had around the various food and home stalls. I can't wait to go back.

NB We went on a Thursday afternoon - I suspect it gets a lot more hectic at weekends.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Epic Breakfast at Hawksmoor Guildhall

I debated (for about 30 seconds) whether I should blog about the new Hawksmoor Guildhall breakfast. I am, after all, intimately related to the joint owner Will Beckett ('Will’s mum' being the moniker by which I’m most commonly known these days). But I’m so fired up about the place and the food which is actually masterminded not by Will but his business partner Huw Gott and chef Richard Turner, that I couldn’t resist.

Full English takes on another meaning at Hawksmoor. Those of you who have already experienced the brunch at their first Spitalfields restaurant will be familiar with the outsize bacon chops, steaks, and HkMuffin (Hawksmoor’s cheeky take on the Egg McMuffin) which make it unnecessary to eat for the rest of the day.

All make an appearance at the new Guildhall restaurant along with British stalwarts such as kippers, omelette Arnold Bennett and - what I decided to eat before I even sat down - the Edwardian favourite devilled veal kidneys on toast (above).

Just to demonstrate I haven’t entirely abandoned my critical faculties I would say the devilling was a touch fierce for 9am in the morning, even penetrating my current cold but the kidneys were perfect, the saucing just right and the toast firm enough not to disintegrate under the onslaught. Partnered with a side of Hawksmoor hash browns (the best I’ve eaten, a must if you go there) it made a bracing start to the day.

I also sneaked a bit of the Marmalade French toast which hadn’t penetrated my radar which is served improbably but successfully with hot chocolate given the Flat White treatment. Drenched in custard spiked with Pedro Ximenez sherry it probably runs perilously close to breaching most City firms’ anti-alcohol policies.

There had been reports - and somewhat unflattering pictures - of the doughnuts which do have the unfortunate appearance of spewing something unspeakable but believe me They Are Good, oozing with creamy vanilla custard (they like custard at Hawksmoor) and fresh-tasting plum jam. I also managed a bite (just a bite - honest) of a melty chocolate Danish-cum-pain-au-chocolat, an outrageously rich toffee-pecan thingy and an almond pastry stuffed with an indecent amount of almond paste.

On the credit side I managed to resist anything boozy (French toast aside) including the new Cornflake Hardshake (cornflake milkshake with added bourbon), my favourite marmalade cocktail, which you can also order at Seven Dials, and the Bloody Mary ‘buffet’ (pic at top of post) where you can go up and mix one to your own taste, opting instead for an invigoratingly healthy orange juice blend (carrot, orange, yellow pepper and ginger) of a livid colour that might come as a bit of a shock if you have a hangover. You may want to wear your shades.

Trying very hard to be objective, I would love Hawksmoor even if I wasn’t related to it. Theres an Alice in Wonderland ‘eat me’ edge of mania about the food which owes a great deal to the inventiveness and greed of Huw and Rich. And the staff are always so incredibly friendly - though you would, I suppose, be nice to the boss’s mum wouldn’t you . . .

PS Nearly forgot to say. They also have a couple of dinner dishes they don’t do at Seven Dials and Spitalfields including veal chops and oysters, a ginormous mixed grill (to pre-order) and a seven course beef menu to share for parties of 8-10 including the outrageously good beef shin macaroni which you can find - ta-daaa - in the new Hawksmoor at Home book in which I'm proud to have played a small supporting role.

PPS Hawksmoor Guildhall is only open from Mondays to Fridays

Disclaimer: I ate at Hawksmoor - and generally do - as a guest of my son. So take maternal fondness into account.