Monday, February 27, 2012

London restaurant miscellany

I keep on stumbling across odd developments on the London restaurant scene I mean to blog about and never get round to so I'm going to jam them all into one post.

All-day brunch at Angelus
A brilliant move from a long-standing favourite in Lancaster Gate, run by ex-sommelier Thierry Thomasin. You can eat breakfast all day on a Sunday. I discovered this recently when I was staying nearby because of an early Monday morning meeting. We went to eat at 8.30pm and found we could have a full English. There's also an omelette menu and the best steak tartare (above) I think I've eaten, hand-chopped, beautifully seasoned and, dare I say, even better than Racine's. Served with a generous portion of excellent chips so you don't really need to order extra ones with the omelette. Amazing winelist too. An overlooked gem.

Ribs at Pitt Cue Co
The entire blogosphere has raved about this southern-style barbecue joint so there's not a great deal to add except to say that the ribs live up to the hype. I think I like the St Louis pork ribs marginally better than the beef ones - there are also superb chicken wings, home-made pickles and a side of mash with burnt ends - which is basically mash with gravy and leftover bits of roast meat. Mmmmm. For a more measured, coherent but equally enthusiastic assessment read Jay Rayner's review here.

Meaty mash seems to be a bit of a trend because you also find mash with roasting juices and truffles (above) at Dabbous, which I've already described as London's hottest opening this year. Admittedly we're only 9 weeks or so in but it's apparently already booked up till May. You can, I imagine, walk into the bar though which is worth doing as the cocktails are really good too. And - who knows - if you're lucky you may pick up a table from a no-show. This is Ollie, the chef, a star in the making if I ever saw one.

And finally it's the annual winter set lunch promotion at the River CafĂ© which enables you to eat for £25 for two courses and £31 for three instead of the £15-18 and £33-37 you have to pay for a starter and main course respectively at dinner. I did it the year before last and it's a terrific deal. On till the end of March.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New harvest olive oil from Fattoria la Vialla

There's almost nothing as luscious as freshly pressed olive oil as I was reminded last night when we dunked our bread into a saucerful of bright green grassy Tuscan oil. It's a world away from the cheap - and not so cheap - commercial oils which are blended from all over Europe. Think of the difference between a cup of coffee made from freshly roasted beans and one made from instant coffee granules and you get the picture.

I was sent a sample of the new year's harvest by Fattoria La Vialla who I visited a couple of years ago to research a feature for the wine magazine Decanter. It's a large estate in the south of Tuscany that produces its own organic oil, wine, cheese and various artisanal food products but what makes it especially interesting is that they sell not to wholesalers or shops but direct to the public*.

You can buy their products online (you need to register first) or by ordering from their charming handwritten catalogue. And because they cut out the middleman their prices are very reasonable - £12 a 750ml bottle for the new estate bottled olive oil, £1.80-£1.95 a 500g pack for pasta and £3.20-£5.50 for sauces, including delivery.

The product I'm most interested in - and plan to order next - is a non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grape juice or spremuta di uva which is made from Sangiovese grapes ("a healthy drink ... which is liked by both big and small" as the brochure nicely puts it) and which they claim has similar health benefits to red wine. That's £4.10 for a 750ml bottle or £1.55 for a 200ml kid-sized one.

They're also selling their bright, fruity Vino Novo - Tuscany's answer to Beaujolais Nouveau which pairs really well with the oil and the estate's own pecorino cheese - at £5.50 a bottle. I'm not quite so grabbed by their more mature reds though the vin santo at £7.50-9 a bottle is terrific value.

Most of the products come in bulk - the spremuta di uva, for instance in packs of six so you might want to band together with friends to put in an order.

*In the UK, Germany and a number of other European countries.