Hawksmoor Knightsbridge

Let me set the scene. A beautiful Sunday afternoon in Knightsbridge. Sat outside a neighbourhood pub sipping Rose waiting for our Sunday lunch companion to arrive. The sun just a little too hot for us but we sit in full sun nonetheless.

Perfect pre lunch drinks before we head off to Hawksmoor Knightsbridge.

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I’ve been to the Spitalfields Hawksmoor but the newest in the mini chain is the Knightsbridge restaurant. The basement room is all swanky splendour and low key lighting, the staff are superb and on this late Sunday afternoon, the room is not full. We like the attention that brings from the staff I have to say and our French waiter is all charm.

A free glass of champagne later, we order the Sunday roast special with some oysters for me and Gwil with J opting for the crab salad. The oysters come with cheeky hot sausages which are epic, given their diminutive size.

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The roast is the best I’ve had in London without a  doubt (although we haven’t been to lots of places for Sunday lunch I have to be honest). That said, the beef was an honest slab of rump, impeccably cooked medium rare and perched majestically on a stack of roast potatoes and perfectly cooked veg. The Yorkshire pudding was very good too, crisp and light. At £19.95 for the special Sunday lunch we though this was excellent value for Knightsbridge—not particularly famous for value for obvious reasons.

Unusually for a lunch with Gwil we didn’t go hell for leather on the wine and only had two bottles (only) of a very serviceable Picpoul. The waiter did his best to talk us into a dessert but we let him down badly and his disappointment was palpable—we were really stuffed and couldn’t get near it.

I love Hawksmoor because it loves meat more than I do.

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8 Hoxton Square

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At the first sign of sunshine, the first thing we Brits do is sit outside. Our weather is so uniformly unpredictable that we simply can’t afford to miss the opportunity for an al fresco lunch or a relaxed barbecue. Of course we overdo it and Monday morning scorched foreheads and glowing arms are a sure sign that the weekend was blessed with sun.

Saturday was one of those days that started out with the promise of a beautiful day: but azure skies turned to cloud and it even felt cool with it. But the clouds scudded on and clear skies followed so we headed for 8 Hoxton Square to see if we could bag an outdoor table on their small but perfectly proportioned terrace. Our luck was in so we settled down to enjoy the company of our friends from the North, the sun and of course the food.

8 Hoxton Square is right on the square in Hoxton as they name suggests and on a summer afternoon, there is no nicer place for lunch in North London. Hoxton Square is right in the heartland of cool, packed with buzzing bars and bustling restaurants all full of the right kind of people. 8 Hoxton Square is a beautifully informal place, whitewashed brick interiors, communal table, laid back staff and a menu to set it apart from its neighbours—proper food and by that I mean not just burgers, ribs, chicken wings and pizza (of which there is plenty of in Hoxton), but the real deal.

We’d been a couple of times before and had a plate or two of padron peppers and a bottle of well-priced rose but this was our first time for lunch. The menu offers plenty and especially for our non dairy vegetarian diner who eats fish, it offered lots of choice. The food is interestingly eclectic, a bit English, a bit Italian, some French thrown in and a bit of Spanish for good measure. But it hangs together and you know you’re on to a winner if the choices just seem too difficult.

We wolfed down some of the padrons which were probably the best I’ve had outside Spain and the boys opted for the sea bass, baby leeks, brown shrimp and capers whilst the girls went for the welsh beef and cockles and mussels. We added a couple of bowls of fries to the order too. Service was on the slow side if I was being critical, but we were sat outside, the sun was shining and the wine was flowing so we didn’t mind too much.

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The food was well worth the wait— clean, crisp flavours, wonderful silky, crispy textures and a joy to behold. The fish was spanking fresh and light as air, the chips devastatingly good, mussels delicious sat in a deeply fishy broth. The Welsh beef was a huge rib eye, perfectly cooked. We caved in to desserts on this occasion with surprisingly light rhubarb bread and butter pudding and a zingy lemon curd meringue with strawberries shared among the four of us.

House wines come in at a very agreeable £15 a bottle (you’d be hard pressed to find wine of this quality for this price in Leeds) but we had Le Poussin Rose, brittle and crisp for just £18, followed by the oakily chewy Allende Rioja which we splashed out on at £28. A very sensibly priced wine list.

All in all, a wonderful lunch in great company and as we sauntered back to our flat (a ten minute walk) we knew we’d had one of those meals that would set the bar for subsequent outings.

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Shoreditch Sunday Lunch

The Princess of Shoreditch

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Since we moved to London we haven’t had a proper Sunday lunch. Having moved into an open plan flat, we certainly haven’t tried to cook a roast dinner yet and those of you who live in a similar space will understand our reluctance to make everything smell of Sunday dinner. The weather has been so nice too and when the weather is good, roast dinners go down our food agenda for more lighter fare.

But we had a hankering for a roast dinner recently, so I went on the hunt for somewhere local that would deliver the goods. Just a short walk from where we live is The Princess of Shoreditch is a cool, airy gastro pub ( I hate that term but it I can’t think of any other way to describe it) just off Old Street right in the heart of hipsterville Shoreditch. It’s a busy and unpretentious pub with bare wood floors, white walls, mix and match furniture, vintage prints and a kind of cookie cutter cool vibe (beards, check shirts etc), but in a good way.

I booked a table as last time it was rammed when I passed and we were ushered upstairs to a light and airy room. The Sunday lunch menu was our main focus so ordering was easy: we both went for the three roast dinner. Yes, three roasts on one plate: beef, pork and chicken. Greed knows no bounds I realise, so I ordered a starter too. And a bloody Mary!

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The bloody Mary was nicely spiced and packed a punch served pretentiously in a dimple glass (I get it, it’s a pub) . The cod cheek scampi starter was a bit of a let down: it was hard and tasted blandly of deep fried frozen fish but the aioli lifted it.

But as far as restaurant Sunday lunches go, it was up there with all the key elements excellently done. The roast meat was tender and melting, the beef served nicely pink. The Yorkshire was a delight, wafer thin and puffed up — enough to bring a tear to the eye of any Yorkshireman. Sitting atop a pool of unctuous gravy were crisp and not crucially not overcooked vegetables. The duck fat roasts were the only let down: not like the ones I make at home but I challenge any commercial kitchen to top the TLC I afford my roasties.

All in all, just what the doctor ordered. Price point was fairly reasonable, £16.95 for the full mashings roast dinner washed down a half carafe of the sensibly priced house red. We toddled home, satisfied that our Sunday lunch appetite has been sated for at least another week.

 

It’s all about the pig

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I reckon I could spend a good few weeks exploring the restaurants around Exmouth Market and I still wouldn’t have been to them all. It’s a serious foodie destination and I won’t deny that I love it: chilled, cool, unpretentious and authentic. I mentioned the Quality Chop House recently, we’ve been to Moro, albeit some time ago — so in the interest of fairness, we decided that we’d try a few others.

First on the list was a rather attractive looking Porchetta bar / restaurant right on Exmouth market from where, one gloomy midweek lunchtime, I decided to bag a fantastically great takeaway porchetta sandwich . At the time I didn’t realise that is was a ‘proper’ restaurant but the sandwich was bloody lovely all the same. Heaps of well seasoned pork with salsa verde in a chewily fresh bun. Oh my god it was lovely. The lunchtime trade is seriously competitive on Exmouth but I thought it was up there with the best I’ve tasted, even though I do fancy myself as a dab hand at the old Porchetta.

So when Mrs D and I decided to have an executive lunch, we headed right there. This lunchtime sandwich  bar, it turned out, was more than just that…it’s a full on dedication to all things piggy: a restaurant called Blackfoot.

Sometimes I’m just a bit dim and I didn’t realise at the time whose restaurant this was. Blackfoot was  founded by TV food celeb Allegra McEvedy along with Tom Ward (both ex Leon bosses, which is A* in my book)…but you could just tell someone amazing was behind the cooking, even from the simple elegance of their humble pork sandwich.

The front of the restaurant pays homage to its origins as a pie and mash shop (no, I’ve still not tried P&M yet if you’re wondering) and there are more traditional tables in the rear. The menu is super simple and the service is warm and welcoming. Our waitress studied in Leeds , recognised our accents and we had a lovely rapport.

We weren’t really in the market for a blow out lunch so Mrs D opted for pulled pork tacos and I went for the long smoke pork belly. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but these were quite clean and not hugely stodgy, although the fiendishly good chips to share put paid to any dietary smugness we might be feeling. We washed this down with a bottle of the house white, which was superb value and very good indeed.

My pork belly was smokier than Lauren Bacall’s voice in To Have And To Have Not and Mrs D’s pulled pork tacos defied civilised eating, resulting in a finger-licking good lunch. Chips, black treacle and star anise, salsa verde, pickles, salad all complimented each other beautifully, adding bright flavour and satisfied grins to our lunch.

We wimped on desserts and vowed for an evening return when we didn’t have to be responsible and talk sensibly to people in the afternoon. Superb.

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Bank Holiday Sunday

Cafe Murano

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Those three words are the most wonderful combination to us Brits. They are the signpost to those of us who work long hours midweek that a long weekend of chilled activities lie ahead and the most delicious thing of all: a Sunday where there are no Monday morning blues to worry about.

May in particular is joyous with a whopping two long weekends to enjoy and we thought we’d make the most of the first one since the weather was so lovely and our dear friends D&G were in town for their first visit to our new home.

Home made asparagus and duck eggs got the day off to a cracking start. The quality of the early, delicate Yorkshire asparagus from our favourite farm in Sand Hutton was a delight and the titanium-shelled duck eggs poached a treat, although our electric hob (that I’ve not got quite to grips with yet) gave me a scare or two re overcooked eggs.

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We had a lunch booking at Cafe Murano, the little sister to Angela Hartnett’s impressive Michelin-starred mother ship in Mayfair. We’d carefully timed our day to allow a leisurely mooch along the South Bank, although the manic tourist bank holiday crowds and a well attended Spanish food festival meant it was reasonably stressful for my crowd averse outlook. But we rocked up early for our table and, joy of joys, we got seated early and the natural order of things was resumed.

We’d eaten here before on a very busy Valentine’s night and really enjoyed ourselves in the  busy Friday night hubbub but the Sunday afternoon vibe was quite chilled and very enjoyable. Our late booking meant we were unrushed and the service was good (not that it wasn’t last time).

Italian small plates are the order of the day here and after much deliberation we each of decided to skip about the menu, ordering different plates of different sizes. It’s the perfect kind of menu for us: we love smaller dishes and more choices. It means more flavour and variety.

Mrs D and I went for frito misto, I added the Lobster linguine followed by the pork belly with clams. The lovely wife can’t resist a good risotto, especially one bursting with spring flavours like pea and mint. The frito misto was light as air, delicately leading the way for the Italian onslaught of flavour. Lobster linguine packed a deliciously fishy punch with an unusually generous amount of lobster meat. The pork belly with peas, clams and romanesco was sticky and comforting without being too cloying. At one point a peas stuck to the bottom of my fork and refused to move, such was the unctuous liquor in the dish. I didn’t want this dish to finish. The cime de rapa (humble turnip tops) accompaniment were bitterly beautiful, the warmth of chilli and the massive dose of iron delivering a real sense of well being — or maybe it was the perfect Gavi by the 500ml carafe doing its job.

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Other highlights from our party included warm octopus with chickpeas and pesto (‘a triumph’), pea and mint risotto with ricotta (‘fresh and lovely’) and squid ink tagliolini with crab and radicchio (‘amazing freshly made pasta’).

Desserts were were admirably resisted but G and I couldn’t resist a vin santo with cantucci biscuits, the ice cold vin santo soaking into the pistachio-peppered biscuits with glee. By now the restaurant was emptying out towards the end of service and we slurped some energy boosting espresso and paid the bill. It’s worth noting that although Cafe Murano is in one of the smartest parts of London (St James) where real estate prices are amongst the highest in London, the chef patron is a Michelin-starred TV celeb, the prices are very reasonable indeed. We averaged £75 per head — but we did have two carafes of very good Gavi — D&G noting that a meal in Leeds earlier in the week wasn’t far off this cost but not at the same quality by a long chalk.

Footnote:

People have been asking me a lot about the cost to eat out in London, since we moved here. It’s true that you can spend a fortune — if you have the money — on some of the best food in the world, after all London is one of the true global cities so it’s to be expected. But I would say that the competition at the mid range level is fierce — and even fiercer at the low end. My conclusion is that If you’re canny, eating out in London can be done at a lower price and higher quality than in cities like Leeds or Manchester.

The truth is, Cafe Murano is a truly superb central London restaurant charging what are essentially Leeds prices. I have a very clear view about who is best served, the diners of the large regional cities in their captive markets, or the diners of London with infinite choice and competition.

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Buttylicious

The Quality Chop House

There is actually a sandwich shop in Leeds called Buttylicious and I take no credit for this ridiculously good play on words. But I did think that the word summed up the lunchtime sandwich experience I had this week when I visited The Quality Chop House food shop in lovely Exmouth Market for lunch this week.

I’ve eaten at The Quality Chop House restaurant before and as a dining experience it was an elegantly simple and high quality experience, so I was expecting great things from their humble sarnie.

In keeping with the trend to open food establishments off the back of a restaurant, the Quality Chop House now has its own superb butchers — the meat looks beautiful, dark with proper ageing and etched with marbling. Next to the butchers there is a well curated deli, serving all manner of lovely things: homemade pies, artisan cheese, home smoked mackerel, wine…anyway you get the picture. In summary: it’s my kind of place.

On the day I visited, I was drawn in by the offer of hot, slow roasted beef sandwiches, freshly carved for £5 a pop. That may seem like a lot, but a fiver seems to be the average price for a street food / takeaway lunch of quality in Clerkenwell where I’m based and usually for this price it’s well worth the modest investment. You can easily spend that in a Pret and it’s a dull and unfulfilling experience.

I wasn’t disappointed — the sandwich was divine. the beef combined beautifully with peppery watercress, dijon mustard and meat jus to create an outstanding sandwich. Monumental even. It was served rare as you like too and it just melted in the mouth.

I couldn’t resist a hot sausage roll (sublime, packed with well seasoned meat) and a handmade lamb family pie for dinner later, which was also wonderful, packed with tender meat and topped with a delightfully crisp crust. I can see myself on first name terms with everyone in this shop before too long!

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From Po Boys to Pulled Pork and beyond

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Just before Christmas, I was invited to eat at the brand new sister restaurant to The Pit in Leeds city centre, the rather sensibly named Pit Chapel Allerton, due to its location. For those of you who don’t know Leeds very well, Chapel Allerton is about ten minutes drive outside of the city centre and quite an up and coming place, if it’s not actually up and come already.  There are already a number of cool restaurants and bars, one being the highly prized Mexican Pinche Pinche, so it’s well worth the detour if you are in the city.
Back in the day, Chapel Allerton wasn’t always this nice so it’s good to see it grow and the out of town vibe spread with new bar and restaurant openings, the latest of which is The Pit. Pretty much a carbon copy of the Central Leeds operation in terms of branding, design, menu and interior, The Pit is a big restaurant with equally large ambition and clearly they believe that the market is there for them to open here.
It was another ‘getting the kitchen up to speed’ event but this time a lunch table was offered. We paid for our drinks and the food was laid on and it was order at the bar as there was no table service for some reason. No issue, so we ordered from the same menu the Central Leeds restaurant has, which is extensive Americana. I’d been to the original restaurant a few months ago and I have to say was a little disappointed, so was eager to see if there was any difference with the Chapel Allerton outpost.
My lunch companion and I went for nachos and fried catch of the day to get things underway, both of which were perfectly good. It’s all straight forward food here so it’s all about getting the small things right – so far so good. I ordered the half roasted chicken for mains with mac and cheese side and my fellow luncher opted for the very good looking fillet burger, which came perfectly rare as ordered. The chicken came with sweet potato fries and a lip smackingly hot peri peri style sauce which was on the money and still makes my mouth water as I write this.
The menu is very much in vogue  right now and the time is right for burger / rib / nachos / po boys / pulled pork et al – and a particular emphasis on attracting a younger crowd will ensure the success of places like this.
With Schooners of Brooklyn lager to wash it down, this was the perfect easy going lunch and, in my opinion, a more enjoyable experience that the previous meal at the Central Leeds restaurant. Perhaps it was down to the food ordered or the nuances of the individual restaurants, I’m not sure. The service was better in Leeds, but the food was marginally better in chapel Allerton.
I’m sure they will iron out these wrinkles in both restaurants in the coming months, but one thing is for sure, restaurants in Leeds that serve this kind of cuisine will have one eye over their shoulder at The Pit Leeds and Chapel Allerton – there is a lot of ambition and investment here, and I get the impression they won’t settle for second best.