Jones & Family

Midweek lunches in Shoreditch are rarely dull. This one was no exception at super cool restaurant Jones and Family. From the outside it looks like a cross between a bar, a gallery and a restaurant, so obviously it goes down well in the heart of Shoreditch.

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My starter of squid salad was bright and punchy, bursting with flavour.

IMG_9025Mrs D’s potted Cornish crab hit the mark and was declared an instant hit!

IMG_9027Not quite Harry Ramsden, but the Fish and Chip salad was innovative if not a 100% success due to soggy chips underneath the fish.

IMG_9028It’s a cool place though with nice folk manning the decks, well worth a nosey if you’re down Shoreditch way…

Tasting Port in Porto

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On the other side of the Rio Douro from Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia. These two cities have faced each other for centuries across the steeply banked slopes down to the river. Over the years these have been built up and spectacular bridges have been added across the chasm.

On one side is Porto: picturesque UNESCO world heritage site and on the other, lots of port wine lodges. It’s quite bizarre to see all the British port names emblazoned on buildings on the other side of the river. Names from our colonial past, still here making and shipping port all over the world. It was quite a surprise to see these quintessentially British brands in such a place.

We arranged a port tasting at Taylor’s lodge  (we were told it was the best) which was right at the top of the hill. Apparently the higher up the hill you were in the past spoke volumes of your stature and of course Taylor’s is still up there with the best. The Taylor’s lodge is a little bit of England’s past clinging on to the notion that the Empire still exists. Cool, dark tasting rooms make way for English country gardens, spectacular views from the terraces and peaceful old warehouses full of slowly maturing port.

We tasting four kinds of port: chip dry white, ten year old tawny, LBV (late bottled vintage) ruby and vintage port. All this at 10am in the morning! I am actually a fan of port but mostly drink it at Christmas time, so drinking it in the summer felt a bit odd, but when in Porto…

We learnt the differences between the ports, when they should be drunk and with what kind of food they should accompany. It’s a complicated business this port drinking. Our guide was deeply knowledgeable as you’d expect and visibly proud of the product and tradition and we were lucky enough to have a private tour which made all the difference. The port wine making process hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and I loved the giant vats of port, nestled in the darkness, quietly waiting for their time to decant their contents. The smell in the giant warehouses was gently boozy: cool, damp air mixed with old oak combining to create a woozy atmosphere.

After the tour, we staggered out into the late morning sunshine, blinking in the light, feeling more than a little fresh, heading off in search of an early lunch to counter the port.

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Porto

Just back from our first trip to Porto in Portugal and I’ve just realise that it would be nigh on impossible to write up every meal we had (and quite tedious to read). Instead I thought I’d provide a snapshot of this culinarily vibrant and fascinating city…so here goes:

Eating out in Porto is exciting, diverse and different to Spain. All the menus are primarily in Portugese (which often bears no resemplance to Spanish!) but restaurant staff all speak excellent English and always happy to make recommendations. Often, we’d leave it in their hands including the wine. It’s also worth saying it’s very, very good value in Porto compared to the rest of mainland Europe including and especially the UK.

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No trip to Porto is complete without a tour of a port wine lodge. This is quintessentially Porto — this is the Taylor’s lodge, which was very ‘English’. The tasting was my favourite bit, obviously!

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Tuna carpaccio starter at Cafeina, a lovely up market restaurant out near the ocean, quite traditional but very relaxed and excellent prices for the quality of food.
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Exquisite seafood, spankingly fresh, is everywhere. This octopus tentacle was a meaty as pork fillet and packed a real garlicky punch.
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I won with the starters at Cafeina I reckon although Julie’s beef carpaccio was pretty good.

Slightly sparking Vinho Verde or green wine is everywhere. Very cheap and quite palatable, I was loving their labels!IMG_0258 IMG_0303 IMG_0391

We tried to get into this place but had to book and we were successful second time around. Great food and bizarre ambience with a Michael Jackson live from Prague concert video projected on to the wall. Cool staff.IMG_0368Meat and cheese of course always come in to play when we’re in town. Local charcuterie (or whatever their version of it is) delicious and plenty of it. This gaff was a bit trendy for our liking but we fitted right in as we looked the business 🙂IMG_0262 I now know all there is to know about Port. Next time you see me, ask me.IMG_0396 Nice touch. Ouch!IMG_0277 Mrs D enjoying some fizz in the sunshine. hard life! This place was on the edge of the transvestite red light district, so it was quite an entertaining lunch!IMG_0261Cheese literally like mayonnaise. Unctious and pungent, running all over the shop.IMG_0339 If I’m not mistaken, Tawny, LBV Ruby and Vintage…where’s the Chip Dry?? Oh yeah, I drunk it!IMG_0392 They love a bit of codfish brought back , national dish I think. This is a local special with cabbage and cheese. Sounds grim but it’s actually amazing.

IMG_0291 IMG_0382 Oh dear. Pastels de Nata. Part of my five a day regime!!IMG_0358 IMG_0289Chateaubriand for one at Cafeina. Spec-tac-u-lar is the only way to describe it.

IMG_0326 LBV on the way back to the apartment. Cheese and nibbles? Oh, go on then!IMG_0393 Chuck steak for two at Cantaina 33. The photo doesn’t do it justice as the portions were gargantuan. As usual we blobbed on dessert.IMG_0366 IMG_0298 There really is no need to spend more than ten euros a bottle in Porto, all the local wine is that good. The cheapest bottles are as good as pricey ones in the UK.IMG_0365 IMG_0327 IMG_0310 More cheese trying to escape the plate in liquid form. Local cheese teamed with a ten year old tawny picked out by the owner of the restaurant.IMG_0263 Flaming sausage served at the table. No, really. It was great too but don’t try this at home.IMG_0322 IMG_0323 This was our second up market restaurant and even here the prices were very reasonable. We pushed the boat out and spent twenty euros on a bottle of wine, must have been the sun going to our heads!IMG_0308 IMG_0371

Around the world in 80 hours

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The name of this site started off as a bit of a joke. We all liked a bit of travel and food so we thought a site documenting both passions would be appropriate. In truth it has evolved into a much different beast but we still kept the name.

This weekend with family visiting offered us an opportunity to travel the culinary world without leaving London. This is of course very easy in London with an amazing array of food — arguably the best and broadest in the world, right here on our doorstep.

Here’s our whirlwind weekend…

Turkey

One of our local restaurants, Tas Firin is a homely charcoal grill restaurant Eastern Turkish style on the City Road, Old Street end. We ate in some style, J and I sharing the grilled meat platter special. Like eating barbecue without the hassle of cooking it yourself. House wine a bargain and the service excellent. We like this place, as you can tell from Julie and Carol in the photograph!!

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Italy

Ducking out of the thunderstorm we happened upon a small Italian restaurant just off Tower Bridge. Named after Marlon Brando’s character The Don in The Godfather, it looked a bit old school but the lunch special for £6.95 wasn’t bad value. It served a purpose as the deluge continued outside. I’ll only say pleasant things about this place in case the mafia link is more than just branding. No food pics I’m afraid, just moody shots of London in the rain and Tate Modern.

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Vietnam

Huong restaurant is in the heart of hipster Shoreditch, offering an energetic and vibrant dining experience, largely due to the hard-working, multi-tasking staff and colourful clientele. Food arrives lightning fast and is packed with flavour. I’m thinking Vietnamese is fast becoming my favourite far eastern food. The quick IG snap of my main course Hanoi fish is all that survives of the evening. Cheap and cheerful, we will return.

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Mexico

Thomasina Myer’s Wahaca chain blazes a trail for Mexican street food throughout the capital, delivering lip smacking flavours so bright sunglasses have to be worn at all times. Wahaca Soho was the location for our quick lunch with the sharing platter for two at £20 superb value. We were full to bursting for a tenner, which for sat down in Soho isn’t bad at all. Bright room, even brighter food. Decent food pics this time…enjoy! Spot on.

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Spain

Our globetroffing culminated with Spanish tapas at Brindisa Tramontana, again in Shoreditch. Sore feet after a day walking dictated a local affair and we weren’t disappointed. Ordering two dishes each with a few extras for good measure we tucked in heartily as each dish arrived. Comforting and leisurely, Tapas is surely the best kind of food when the wine and conversation is flowing. Brisk, friendly service with complimentary cheese from the chef too. Too dark to get a decent images unfortunately except for a moody shot of the bar. Trust me, it was fabulous.

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Putting the Ho in Soho

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Looking for inspiration for a Sunday lunch is Soho is like shooting fish in a barrel.

There’s tons of it.

We’d been impressed greatly by celebrity Vietnamese chief Bobby Chinn on Saturday Kitchen so we looked up his new London restaurant The House of Ho on Old Compton Street, and yes it made us chuckle too with its cheeky reference to Soho’s past —and present—whilst nodding to Vietnam at the same time. Unusually we were able to make a reservation (many trendy gaffs in London won’t take bookings which irks me) and a plan was set.

Chinn has cooked in Hanoi for the last ten years so we were excited to see what he might get up to in one of the most vibrant food cultures in the world. The style of cooking is a mix of Vietnamese street food with other influences…French, Chinese, Thai—I guess Vietnam is one of those countries that takes on board lots of influences due to its history and location.

The style is tapas with small plates and perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon lunch catching up with friends. The flavours are bright, rich, comforting, surprising, familiar in fact they run the whole culinary gamut and it’s an exciting experience. Prices are pretty sensible as it’s right in the middle of Soho where competition for custom is fierce. Booze prices are good too but you can go nuts if you want to.

We put ourselves in the very capable hands of our waitress who advised knowledgeably on what we should order and if you go, I’d recommend you to do the same. The menu is quite simple but there are some dishes that you shouldn’t miss and this is one of those restaurants where lack of familiarity led us to a sublime journey of flavours and textures.

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First up coconut with monkfish ceviche. Crisp, fresh and sweet and the coconut cut up afterwards was a revelation, moist and juicy.

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Signature grilled aubergine with crispy shallots was a slippery and crunchy joy followed by ‘shaking beef’ fillet seared quickly so the outside is charred and inside pretty much raw. I could have eaten my own body weight of it, after which I would probably shake too.

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The pork in the dish above had been cooked for 6 days. It tasted seriously good, the most umami thing I’ve ever tasted, melting in the mouth with a deep, deep, deep flavour. Oh yes it had an egg on and some chilli. Bonus.

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A crab salad was ordered to keep Mrs D happy and also some chicken wings to fill up the boys. The salad was subtle and gentle whilst the chicken wings smashed the front door down.

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Salmon tartare was a bit of a let down after all the pyrotechnics to be honest but if we’d had that first we would have probably loved it. The wine kept flowing thanks to Gwil ordering a new bottle every 10 minutes and we rounded off a rather fabulous long lunch by sitting by the window watching the colourful world of Soho go by.

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Finally, here’s our good friend Gwil with Julie, both looking quite content after vast quantities of wine and top-notch Vietnamese tucker, all thanks to House of Ho.

 

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Restaurant bingo

Restaurateurs are looking for innovative ways to apply new concepts to food and the ambiance of their eateries, but no matter how new their ideas seem, another restaurant has probably already gone through the same transformation. Similar restaurants are emerging here and there, especially in metropolitan areas like London. Whether the new bistro around the corner has hired a celebrity chef as a consultant or that “one-of-a-kind” hipster café now has a raw vegan menu, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between some places.

It must be a nightmare for restaurateurs because they want to do everything in their power to avoid concepts that have been done to death. Even staff restaurants are looking to reinvent themselves by hiring renowned chefs to aid in this transformation. 

Chef Mike Truelove, the only English chef to have two Michelin stars at the time, was recruited by Iceland Bingo to turn its staff restaurant The Roxy into a dining experience that is Michelin star-worthy. Yet, according to bloggers on Meta Filter, even the Michelin star (and Michelin star-worthy) restaurants are beginning to look and taste the same. 

In order to stray away from jumbling all your new dining experiences into one, it might be a good idea to have a game of restaurant bingo at each new restaurant you and your friends eat at. Although Food Riot does already have a set of restaurant bingo cards at your disposal , it could be fun to gather your own observations that have appeared as patterns in your last few dining experiences, or just contribute restaurant clichés of your own. A few examples you could include are dessert-turned cocktails, Western takes on sushi, and dimly-lit ambiance from candles. That way, you can differentiate between the new restaurants you’ve tried by the new restaurant clichés. 

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(image courtesy of Food Riot) 

And of course, what fun would bingo be if there wasn’t a prize at the end — the winner of Restaurant Bingo should be exempt from paying the bill.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.