I had the pleasure of being invited to review the Ivy Cafe recently. Little sister to the famous west end haunt, it’s newly opened on the lovely Marylebone Lane serving an all-day menu, dinners and cocktails.
DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.
It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.
The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.
Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.
A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!
Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.
Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.
The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.
Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.
Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.
The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.
Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.
There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!
Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.
One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?
Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own
I apologise for it being blogger-perk frenzy round here at the moment. I’ve had a good run lately! The latest was the chance to try the tasting menu with matching wine selection at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, on the borders of Covent Garden and Soho, where a new executive chef (Xavier Boyer) and pastry chef (Francois Delaire) have just been appointed.
We started by going up the first floor for a delicious cocktail in the plushy bar. There’s a lovely terrace which on this warm evening was full.
Downstairs, we were seated at the central bar with a view directly into the working kitchen. Quite uniquely for a Michelin restaurant, the food is informally served by the bar staff/waiters, as was the wine for each course. I really liked this less stuffy approach and our waiters were relaxed and funny – a nice change from formal fine dining.
In what must be a first, L’Atelier Joel Robuchon is a Michelin-starred French restaurant with a vegetarian tasting menu. Gosh, I do love the treat of seeing a list of delicious-sounding food where I can eat all of it!
Each course was beautifully dainty and almost too pretty to eat. It was a real ode to the humble and lovely vegetable, whether a mushroom whipped into a silky veloute or an heirloom tomato simply dressed and served zingily red in a martini glass with pickles and flowers.
Asparagus with comte; a beautiful girolle and truffle risotto; crisped glazed tofu with wild mushrooms. It was all perfectly pitched and a delight to eat. Unlike some tasting menus, the pacing and portion size were spot on: it never felt like an onslaught and I didn’t feel uncomfortably full at the end.
Josh went for the omnivore tasting menu; he declared the ox cheek gyoza to be a particular standout dish. Personally I loved the blingy gold toast rack and gilt leaf on the caviar and salmon starter.
As a special side we were given some of the infamous Robuchon pommes puree, made with 50% butter to 50% potato. Jeez, I could feel my arteries furring up as I ate it but it is just so good I didn’t care.
The dainty portions meant we had space for dessert, hurrah. Josh’s was a beautiful physics-defying orb of shiny gold, with a delicate citrus mousse inside.
I had an equally gorgeous concoction; light as air milk chocolate mousse with bitter dark chocolate sorbet and Oreo crumbs.
Each course was matched with the sommelier’s selection of wine, and wow – they were all utterly amazing. I don’t know much about wine at all, but I loved how our choices featured some really unusual ones with tasting notes like smoke, mushroom, cellar, and minerals. Even the dessert wine which I don’t usually drink was a sweet, light red that was perfect with the chocolate.
This was one of the most enjoyable fine dining experiences I’ve had; partly for the superb food and partly for the unique relaxed ambiance and friendly service. For a special occasion meal I would certainly go back.
I was a guest of L’Atelier Joel Robuchon for my dinner; views my own.
So excited we were that Breddos Tacos were popping-up just down the road in Haggerston, we visited on consecutive weekends right after it opened earlier this month. Well, there’s both the American-style brunch and night-time Mexican street food menus to check out, so it’d be silly not to really.
First up, a foray down to grab some breakfast just a couple of days after the opening night. The pop-up is in Trip Space, cultural/events centre just behind Haggerston station. It was half-full with a relaxed buzz about it, with a mix of local hipsters and families at the tables.
The menu looks promising; mostly American breakfast classics with a stab at healthiness in the avocado toast and granola options. Ain’t nobody got time for that, though…
His n’ hers coffees to start
Josh went for the chorizo, egg and bacon muffin: a pimped up Egg McMuffin with requisite fluffy bun and ooozy innards, complete with chipotle ketchup to slather on.
I had huevos rancheros. They let me swap the chorizo for a second egg, and it was a great example of one of my favourite dishes: the tomato sauce and guacamole were spot on and there was a good balance of all the elements.
We shared a portion of triple-cooked potatoes, perfectly crispy-skinned and fluffy inside.
A week later we were back for round two, taco edition. Booking is pretty essential in the evenings and it was much busier. There’s a short but well-judged range of wines, cocktails and local beers. I started with an Anejo Sour, which is basically all my favourite things in a drink: rum, honey, lime, ginger, bitters. Ace.
The food menu is small but mega appealing: there aren’t tons of vegetarian taco or plancha options but there’s a whole section of veggie sides which we hit hard. The food comes as it’s ready from the kitchen and the menu changes up often.
First up we got the charred spring onions with queso fresco, and a slaw salad. Both were super fresh and full of vibrant flavour. In fact I’m going to copy the spring onion idea as a taco filling at home.
I ordered the mushroom, porcini and peanut tacos and was really impressed. I think it’s hard to make a vegetarian taco reach the same mouthwatering levels as say, pulled pork, but this was a really good stab: the mushrooms cooked down to a meaty reduction, given an extra whack of umami and crunch from the roasted peanuts and topped with a fresh salsa and baby greens. Very clever. Devoured immediately.
Grilled corn is a street food classic, and this had that intense buttery flavour offset by a sprinkling of habanero. I also liked the little jar of pickled chillies (jalapeno and habanero) you get for the table so you can dial up the heat to your liking – a nod to their Netil Market stall where a big jar stands waiting for the brave. (The even braver neck the pickling brine as a chilliback shot – yikes!)
Not quite full, we has space for a second cocktail and a wedge of key lime pie to finish. It could have done with a bit more lime for my taste, but the curd was smooth and creamy and the base biscuity-crisp perfection.
It’s ever so slightly dangerous to have all this yumminess just down the road for a few more months; I feel we’ll be back sooner rather than later. See here for opening hours and here for a bit more about Breddos.
It was my birthday this week, and rarely for me I was paralysed by indecision on where to go have dinner on the day. I’d nearly resorted to an old favourite (Polpo, Dishoom or Yautacha) before booking Foxlow, the newish place in Clerkenwell from the guys behind Hawksmoor. Yes, the meaty, steak-y Hawksmoor that I could never go near with a barge pole. Luckily Foxlow is not all about the meat, though it still features fairly heavily on the menu, but there were enough veggie options to keep me and my veggie-for-January boyfriend happy. The cocktails, vino and service – and mighty desserts – made me even more happy.
Win the first: our booked table wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, so were treated to a complimentary drink in the bar area while we waited. I went for a St John; I don’t remember what exactly was in it (we’d been to three cocktail bars prior to dinner) but it was delicious. Josh was happy as the beer list is strong, with local London breweries Partizan, Beavertown and The Kernel amongst the offerings.
Once seated, we went for every veggie thing on the menu to share. The waiter helpfully guided us, even pointing out that the parmesan on one of the salads was not veggie. I was delighted to find that they even have my favourite wine, Le Petiot, which we first had at the Corner Room and is offered by the glass or carafe here.
We started with a butternut and ricotta toast. Unusually served at room temperature, the perfectly caramelised onions amongst the sweet squash meant this was destroyed pretty quickly.
The mains were imaginative and skilfully executed. A dish of roasted vegetables and grains was more tasty than it sounds, with a mix of seasonal beetroot, artichoke and carrot amongst nutty and toasty grains. The Imam Bayildi was a superb example of the dish, the aubergine smoky and super soft, stuffed with a spiced tomatoey mixture with a dab of yogurt on the side.
We also got two of the salads from the salad bar (which colourfully greets you as you enter the dining room) including a zingy sour slaw, and uh, chips. Really good crispy, salty chips. With kimchi ketchup. oooof.
Somehow we still has room for dessert, especially after looking at the menu. It reads like a pornography of comfort foods: apple crumble, cherry pie, salted caramel, nutella, chocolate popcorn…
We went for the Peanutella, served in a jar with a layer of salt caramel and served with filthily buttery brioche soldiers. I can famously usually only manage a mouthful of sweet things, but I would happily have licked this jar clean.
And a chocolate-popcorn soft-serve sundae. A superluxe McFlurry basically. Yeah. No words.
They even have good coffee. I’m glad that’s becoming a thing now. Everything as Foxlow is just done very well, but it never feels stuffy or pretentious. I can completely understand why it’s tricky to get a table at the moment. I hope they change up the veggie menu regularly so I can go back and try more soon. Though I’d be fine with just the chips and a sundae really, thanks.
This was always going to be an indulgent foody holiday. I’d saved about 200 places to my Foursquare list and Google map and was determined to plough through as many as possible, waistline be damned. I think we did pretty well! I don’t know if it was the exchange rate or being in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, but prices everywhere seemed really reasonable, and it was a delight to have so many places on our doorstep in Williamsburg.
I’m pretty late to the blogging party with this one, because Street Fast is now nicely settled into its newest temporary home in Dalston Yard – just up the road from the last incarnation in Merchants Yard. In all honesty I’ve visited three times already in as many weeks, but like a bad blogger I never took my camera until this time. Here’s a peek at why you should definitely visit before it pops down again.
Street food markets are still a bit hit and miss in London: at one end you have the woefully disorganised ones with massive queues, vendors running out of food early and no toilets; then you have the fancier ones like We Feast which attract high end restaurants and are superbly organised in lovely venues – but charge a hefty fee just to get in before you’ve even bought your food and obligatory cocktail.
Brilliantly, Street Feast seems to have nailed an ideal middle ground: it’s free, capacity is limited to 500 at a time, the venue is an old car park but well equipped with rustic decor touches, large bars and loads of seating… good vibes all round. The vendors vary from week to week: in past weeks I’ve had Japanese egg curry from Nanban (Tim from Masterchef’s new venture), fried Mauritian fritters, and delicious gelato from Sorbitum.
This week I was delighted to find Horn OK Please which offers veggie Indian street snacks – I went for a samosa chat, topped with chickpea curry and some fabulous chutneys.
Josh had tacos from Street Feast stalwarts Breddos (you can find them at Netil Market in London Fields too) followed by salted caramel and pecan bites from the excellently-named You Doughnut.
There’s really someone for everyone, from jerk chicken to handmade gnocchi, to an old fashioned burger and chips (albeit poshed up with rosemary salt). There could be more choice for veggies but I can generally find something new to try each time.
The crowd’s a variety of all ages, with little kids having as much fun at the adults.
For the gin fans, there’s even a separate little bar dedicated to the good stuff including a very passable Negroni.
Vibes are high, in other words. Make sure to check it out before it moves on again.
It’s great to see all the redevelopment in the Kings Cross area recently: it’s quickly becoming a really cool hub for food (see also Caravan, The Gilbert Scott and Kerb), arts (the new St Martins college campus is there) and fun (pop-up skate rink!). The beautiful new station concourse and renovation of the canalside area is making it a destination in its own right as opposed to just a thoroughfare. We tried to get into Grain Store – the latest addition from chef Bruno Loubert and the people behind the Zetter Townhouse – a couple of weeks ago but it was full, so we made do with Caravan but vowed to come back.
The menu is pretty unique, and seemed utterly delightful to me at a glance because vegetables really take front and centre. There are meat and fish dishes too but they are written as if the meat is the incidental part which is refreshing. There are even dedicated vegan options – pretty rare for a mainstream restaurant, never mind from a French chef. For the indecisive or adventurous diner, they offer a completely surprise menu devised by the chefs on the day for £35 a head, which is what we went for. In retrospect unfortunately I think this decision slightly marred our meal. Firstly, there was a loooong wait between each of the five dishes, explained by the waitress as the place being particularly busy that night. Secondly, I felt a little like the collection of dishes we were given all clashed and fought with each other rather than flowing and creating a cohesive whole, leaving us with quite an unpleasant sensation of our palates being assaulted and ultimately overwhelmed by the end.
There were definitely high points however: warm onion bread started the meal promisingly and I loved the first dish of rich and gooey little fried mushroom balls, served on a cute bed of pine needles.
Beetroot with goats curd and pickled onion is a modern classic combination and didn’t disappoint.
As the tasting menu wore on however, we started to get that unpleasant clashing of extreme flavours, and I started to crave something bland like chips to offset it all! Some dishes just didn’t work for me at all: radishes were served with raw red onion, a cream with no trace of the promised horseradish and, bizarrely, padron peppers with a gazpacho sauce on the same plate.
The main dishes were probably the most disappointing, and by this point two hours in we were starting to lose interest anyway. Lentil dal was fine but ruined by overly bitter green peppers on top. A dish of corn husk stuffed with corn and quinoa was oddly sweet and decorated with more unnecessary padrons. Most bizarre of all, we got a third plate of literally just cooked onions, slivers of courgette and samphire – the lamb was missing because we’d asked for a vegetarian tasting menu, but I assumed we’d get proper veggie options rather just missing the key component off another dish. A horribly chalky tapioca pudding for afters didn’t serve to remove any of the lingering aftertastes and was left barely touched by both of us.
To end on a positive note though: the cocktails, curated by Zetter and 69 Colebroke Row’s Tony Conigliaro, were most definitely the high point of the evening. We started on a cedarwood sherry concoction for Josh and a Campari champagne cocktail for me, and then moved onto the excitingly unusual Greco Roman wines: I had a honey one and Josh had smoked paprika. They were well priced at £6.50-£7.50 each and really saved the day.
This review is written in partnership with match.com‘s London dating guide, and they requested I write about the restaurant’s suitability for a date night. In theory, I think Grain Store would be a great date spot because the unusual flavours and sharing plate concept mean you have plenty to talk about and interact with. Josh and I usually love to go to places like this because we can try twice as much food by ordering different dishes and sharing. The super cocktails will mean you feel relaxed and can begin and end the meal with a leisurely drink – there’s a nice dedicated bar space bar space to unwind in. The whole space is elegant yet informal with an outdoorsy vibe, ideal for a warm evening.
Despite my misgivings about some of the menu – especially as a vegetarian hoping for a revelation – I still think Grain Store is a unique and interesting restaurant with something new to offer. The veg-first menu concept is a great one and I suspect we would have enjoyed the meal much more if we’d picked our own dishes and had something more to our personal tastes. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and try the delicious sounding brunch menu either.
It’s been a while since I succumbed to some good old new-foody-place hype, especially within the London burger invasion realm: I was over that trend before it even started. But last Thursday – the 4th of July – the stars and stripes aligned and I found myself in a sunny queue for Five Guys in Covent Garden with the lovely Bee. It seemed doubly appropriate as the last time I saw Bee was in a San Francisco diner, so where better to catch up than a Stateside burger place on our home soil?