Monty’s Deli

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Maltby Street food market is another super cool food destination to put on our growing list of super cool food destinations. Just over the river in some random railway arches in Bermondsey (how do these things start?), is a collection of fabulously curated food stalls. Perfect for a Saturday morning mooch we hopped on the bus and did just that. And came away half a stone heavier.

We’d actually come to try a legendary Reuben special sandwich at Monty’s Deli after seeing them on a re-run of a Tom Kerridge feature on Saturday Kitchen. Our mouths were watering just watching the sandwiches on TV, so we absolutely had to try the real thing and we weren’t disappointed.

The reuben is skyscraper sandwich is packed with melt in your mouth salt beef and smoked pastrami, home-made sauerkraut, sauce, sharp mustard, Leerdammer cheese and topped with super light toasted bread. Then it’s crammed into a sandwich toaster for what seems like an age when you’re hungry. The place was as rammed as the contents of the sandwiches too but the staff were coping well though, keeping the queue moving and the fast turnaround of tables meant there were seats on the communal benches.

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When the Reuben specials arrived I was actually a bit scared. It was huge but the toasting had compressed the sandwich so it didn’t look too overbearing. But it was still more than enough and it looked sooo good. Tender pink meat crammed tightly, oozing molten cheese, crisp sharp pickles and a can of time travelling cream soda (well it took me back). To die for. Literally.

There’s no airs and graces here. It’s basic, comforting food of the highest quality. Jewish soul food in fact. Monty’s speaks of passion and late nights, of trying new things, getting it right and wrong, burning the candle at both ends and an unswerving belief in what they are doing. You can even wash your hands in their sink if you want.

Post sandwich we waddled around the market feeling comfortingly full, nursing our salt beef babies. It’s a good job too as the rest of the food on offer looked just as good: tartiflette, fresh bread from St John, smoked Oysters, home cured salmon, delightful French pastries, tapas, local gin…the list goes on.

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Tramshed

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It’s not in every restaurant that you see a real Damian Hirst artwork in the middle of a dining room, but then London’s Tramshed isn’t your everyday kind of restaurant. Tucked away in the super cool hipster backstreets of Shoreditch, Tramshed is the latest restaurant opened by Mark Hix, he of Chophouse and Lyme Regis fame.
The name gives away the building’s previous existence and the cavernous exposed brick interior is both wow and cool from the get go. We visited on a Sunday night and it was still jammed, so much so we could only get a seat at the counter, which turned out to be a great move.
Sitting at the counter you get instantaneous service, the eye of your server but a blink away. It delivers a more engaging experience too, one which we tend to shy away from in this country, perhaps it’s our famous reserved nature – but we really enjoyed it and I would recommend it here. We even discovered that our server’s dad came from Wakefield, now that wouldn’t have happened if we’d sat at a table.

The place is all hustle and bustle, with a lively, laid back, family friendly vibe early on a Sunday evening. Watched studiously by the cow and chicken in formaldehyde—which has pride of the place in the centre of the room – we ordered cocktails and perused the menu. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable taking you through the form on the menu—what you should order, how much etc,  some people get annoyed with this perceived nannying approach, but I like it: information is power, especially in a cool London restaurant.

The menu is very simple indeed, chicken or beef ( hence the Hirst artwork and many others in the same vein adorning the Hoxton hipster brick) except for a few bits and bobs, which add some variety to the stripped back offering. I confess I do like this kind of menu: it makes life super easy for me and given I’d had beef the day before, my life just got even easier so we shared a full Swainson House Farm chicken (barn-reared Indian Rock, no less) and the birds are served legs akimbo, with feet attached, golden roasted with a ceramic pot where the head could be. Quite dramatic and very cool.
Starters were simple but lovely: light as air Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers (oh my) and a shaved pumpkin and walnut fennel salad paved the way for a slap up feast that made us smile. Chicken, chips, onion rings, proper chicken gravy – before long we were knee deep in a perfect combination of a homemade / upmarket / dirtbag food experience. Some would say that is the perfect foodie storm and who can disagree?
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Tramshed white vino was excellent at a sub £20 price in London—shame on pricey Leeds gaffs pricing wine as a way to boost revenues. We don’t mind paying of course, but it’s in London that you see the value of a highly competitive market.
As per usual our eyes were bigger than our bellies and the chicken beat us and in turn edged out the desserts, but we left happy and full, satisfied that London cool needn’t cost the earth and provide a warm and engaging experience.
Northern restaurants can learn a lot from this—and I note with encouragement that newbie Rare in Leeds has taken a few cues from Tramshed, with great success, more on that later…
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Gail’s Kitchen

Continuing the London theme, I had breakfast at a cool little place in Bloomsbury called Gail’s Kitchen. It’s rather oddly situated in the foyer of the hip MyHotel as their in house/external dining room that serves for all the meals on offer. But having said that it all works reasonably well.

Unusually for London, the cooked breakfasts are all to order. I note that even in the most expensive of central London hotels, the vile breakfast buffet rules supreme and I for one will seek out alternative hotels that offer an edible, human breakfast experience. I generally don’t eat one at home midweek, so it’s a treat for me to do so when travelling and rubber eggs and poisonous sausages do not light my fire.

Anyway Gail’s kitchen is simple, cool and unpretentious in a pretentious kind of way. Clearly the hip choice for breakfast meets, I followed suit and had a breakfast meet there.

Coffee was acceptable and the poached eggs on San Francisco sourdough with bacon jam (I know) was on the right side of funky. I felt cool just ordering it. Either way it was all good, if a little pricey given the Bloomsbury address but worth the extra as other options were corporate Costas or touristy outlets. Service was a little confused, requiring some chivvying although quite amiable.

No pics of food unfortunately this time but I did get a pic of the bill and a handful of cards that came in an old John Player cigarette tin. Lovely touch. Nice branding too.

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Cafe Spice Namaste

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Midweek dinner with colleagues in London this week had to do these 4 essential things:

1. Warm us up – it was flipping freezing.

2. Be easy – we’d had a full on week and we needed to keep it simple.

3. Taste amazing – we are an exacting bunch

4. Be local – we were staying near the city and didn’t fancy travelling

Bearing the above in mind, we headed straight for Cafe Spice Namaste – our new go-to Indian restaurant near the Tower of London. I’ve written about Mr Todiwali’s superb gaff before, but I thought he deserved another mention it’s that good.

A table of four men trying miserably to keep to some kind of January dietary regime in a top-notch Indian restaurant is a recipe for disaster, but we did manage to keep the beer to a minimum (school night) and skipped starters going straight for mains. Vast quantities of excellent pickles and poppadoms made up for the lack of a starter and our mains arrived promptly. Three of us went for the superb mixed tandoori grill which contained all manner of meat and fishy loveliness with some rice in case we were feeling too smug with our low carb intake. Our fourth diner opted for springbok (yes, the South African deer-like animal) which he deemed first rate.

We will continue, I’m sure, to use Cafe Spice Namaste as our midweek curry bolt hole as it the food and service is tip top – and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s definitely up there with the best. In the meantime if you are in the vicinity it’s well worth a look.

 

Cafe Spice Namaste

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The third of my London triptych of blogs is all about Indian spice of the finest kind.

Cafe Spice Namaste is the famous London ‘culinary institution’ owned by Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala. The restaurant is just a short walk from the Tower of London so a little off the beaten foodie track, on the edge of the City of London.

Cyrus has been on television many times (including Saturday kitchen) and he is famed for his contemporary take on traditional Indian food using locally sourced ingredients from the UK.  Cyrus has even cooked for royalty, so this guy is no slouch in the kitchen.

The restaurant is very unassuming and could be anywhere in the country and the emphasis is very much on the food. I was dining alone on this occasion and it’s worth noting that I absolutely love eating out alone. I have no issues with my own company and I’ve noticed that a lone diner finishes their meal about ten times quicker as there is no chit chat to slow things down, apart from my tweeting along the way…

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Back to the food. My strategy is to usually go for the specials – after all that’s what the chef has made for that day and they are usually spot on. To start, I opted for their take on the humble but much-loved, by me at least, Scotch Egg (which according to the menu came from India originally, named after Walter Scott apparently) – their version was a spiced quail egg and turkey. It was on the money, small but perfectly spiced.

For my mains, I ordered from the specials again, and went for the breast of Langley Chase organic mutton Goda Masala. The lamb was marinated and roasted then served in a masala sauce especially made for the restaurant by a couple in Bombay. Lovely attention to detail. Although the menu did warn me this dish was ‘hot’ I wasn’t prepared for the deep heat emanating from the dish! It really had a depth of flavour not found in everyday Indian cooking, but it was hot, hot, hot. I overheated dramatically and drank around four litres of water and had to calm my tongue down with a large portion of roasted fig ice cream – at least that’s my excuse.

Prices and service are what you’d expect for a restaurant of this quality but surprisingly not over the top cost-wise given the stature of the chef. Just go.

Look mum no hands!

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This week in London uncovered some real food gems for me.

A quick lunchtime meeting turned into a wow moment when a friend suggested we meet at a place called Look mum no hands! He’s a cycling nut – as almost everyone seems to be at the moment, post Olympics and Wiggins fever – and he suggested we meet a new place that’s doing something quite different for London.

Look mum no hands! is a bike geek’s dream – it’s one part bike workshop, one part cafe bar and one part bike nut hangout. Located in one of London’s coolest areas on Old Street near Clerkenwell it is chock full of cool cyclists, hipsters pretending they have a bike and imposters like me.

The atmosphere is buzzing and on the day we visited, it was jam-packed with people sharing tables and pretty much squeezing themselves into any available chair. The food is high quality and simply prepared with everything from toasted ciabatta sandwiches to stews and from black pudding scotch eggs to home-made cake. It all looked good I have to say. We tucked away two very serviceable emmental and chorizo toasted sandwiches and sipped perfectly made flat whites and admired the ‘concept’ for what is was – a really neat idea, brought together with love and attention to detail.

Well worth a visit if you love bikes and are in the vicinity. Even if you don’t love bikes and you’re in the area, it’s well worth stopping by.

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Leon

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It’s been a busy old few weeks and this week was no different. I spent two days in London on business but managed to find some foodie love among the work stuff. I try to make time when I’m travelling on business to discover new things from a food perspective – it’s often too easy to go for the hotel dinner for one option after a long day travelling.

I had arranged a breakfast meeting at Leon in Ludgate Circus near Blackfriars. I really like Leon, it strikes me as a chain with a heart. It’s a small London chain of high quality fast but good food restaurants in the cooler parts of the city. I really wished we had one in Leeds.

On this occasion I ordered one of their full english breakfast pots as the menu says ‘Poached egg topped with Cumberland sausage, British back bacon and saucy beans, for those who love both breakfast and England’. These pots are pretty cute and well worth teaming up with some hot buttered toast for a very satisfactory start to the day. And their coffee is excellent.

It wouldn’t be a post from me if I didn’t mention the branding and identity of Leon. It’s really cool, lo-fi and very much of the moment. It captures the spirit of what they are trying to do and the staff reinforce this by also being right on song from a brand perspective – chatty and unpretentious.

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