Friday, 28 June 2013

Sen Viet: 'Nam wasn't so bad

Quick, cheap, delicious. In King's Cross!

King's Cross is not really the kind of place you want to find yourself of an evening. Not only is it currently the country's biggest building site, but it's also a hive of bad kebab shops and takeaways, usually overlooking three lanes of traffic.

But there's one good pub there, the Queen's Head on Acton Street, and after a few beers we decided their pork pies were just a little too indulgent. So I rather hopelessly googled "good restaurants King's Cross" to see what was around. The result shocked even cynical me: Urbanspoon's top scoring restaurant in King's Cross was a Pret A Manger.

Further down the list, though, was Sen Viet, where the reviews told us to ignore the kebab house décor outside and risk it. I believe the words "hidden gem" would have been used had I kept reading the google reviews, but they usually have less incite than a Katie Price book. Instead we waltzed around the corner and swanned in to the restaurant, to the general astonishment of the staff. Everyone dining there was Vietnamese. Some say that's a good sign, but would you trust British expats to find the good UK restaurants? Hell no. "English" pubs abroad are always filled with Brits, but they are unerringly shit.

But Sen Viet was excellent, and deliciously cheap. With a menu longer than the bible it took a while to choose anything, but the sauce on my Thit Heo Kho (pork belly cooked in coconut juice, with eggs) was hot and sweet, and the pork belly melted like butter – which made it almost impossible to eat with chopsticks. Sadly, instead of whole eggs I got a strange almost potato-like cake of it with a bizarre texture, but that couldn't spoil the gorgeous meat and glorious gloop. Even the beer was super – they only had one type called Saigon, which had a Belgian-esque sweetness to it, presumably a happy hangover from French occupation, but slipped down like a drunken penguin on a glacier.

At £12 for mains, sides, beer and prawn crackers, it's great little cheap eat when you find yourself inexplicably caught short in King's Cross. If you go, write a review - we need to knock Pret A Manger off the top spot.

Sen Viet on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Haberdashery: best of the brunch

Best brunch in northern North London

French toast is a misnomer. It conjures up the idea of something posh, probably topped with foie gras or something else ethically questionable. 

I grew up thinking French toast was the kind of thing Sarkozy put in his rider when he went on diplomatic visits. In my house we called it eggy bread. We ate it with ketchup. We said it while doing a Peter Kay impression. In our minds, there is nothing less french than white bread dipped in milk and egg, then fried.

We were right. It was invented in Rome in the fourth or fifth century, and most famously cooked in Germany. Neither of those revelations explain why the best way to have it is with British bacon and Canadian maple syrup – with a side of presumably Asian cinnamon bananas. But someone, somewhere, did it, which meant that years later one exceptionally hungover man in yuppy yuppy Crouch End had himself a lovely brunch in an even lovelier place, then went away and scoured Wikipedia to impress some strangers on the internet. He also took a picture of said brunch, now mostly to piss of the self-righteous pricks self-involved enough to think that someone taking a picture of their food could possibly affect their evening.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if the toast was a little cold by the time it arrived, and it came with a pointless, slightly infuriating garnish of curly parsley. Frustrating to eat at the best of times, curly parsley should never arrive on the same plate as a banana. Especially when the said man feels really rather nauseous already. Still, that was the only pretension in the Haberdashery, which is a wonderful bit of faux-country café culture in the centre of London, complete with rustic wooden tables too small for the purpose, mismatched wooden chairs and even some bunting on the outside. For the hungover like us, the coffee was served in hearty mugs, the cappuccinos in enormous bowls and the smoothies long and full of supposed super-foods. Our pleasingly deadpan waiter, who I sincerely hope is on suicide watch by the owners, also soothed my aching head and alcohol shakes.

There is no finer place to spend an hour or two in existential crisis, sure that the sky might fall on your head at any moment, and that if it doesn't there is NO EFFING WAY you are EVER drinking again. In fact, we felt so unhurried that when the free tap water finally arrived with the bill we waited around for 30 minutes until we had finished it, soaking up the atmosphere and gathering the strength to leave such a lovely place. Then we went back to the pub.

The Haberdashery on Urbanspoon   

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bukowski Grill: box park rebellion (almost)

Good for drunken munching, not for those in a hurry

Ah work drinks. The mad dash for the nearest pub, the herds of already-drunk suits at the bar, and the drunken search for food because if you pass out in your clothes again your housemates might call Alcoholics Anonymous.

Well I won't let that happen. Not again. So on Friday we stumbled out of the Old Fountain in Old Street (a brilliant craft beer pub you should all go to) and headed for the Box Park – where a poor, lonely waitress at Bukowski Grill took orders from, served and cleared up after 100 unruly drunken hipsters. As we stood and felt ourselves growing old in the queue, we started to muse about giving her a hand to speed up the process. After 15 minutes we were arguing about who we'd kill and eat first in the queue. After 20 we'd worked out who, but not how to tell them. by 25 we were searching for a gun. Instead, we went and bought beers from the Pieminister next door and concentrated on staying drunk. After 30 we started to consider going to back to Pieminister next door to eat – and the only reason we didn't was that every other drunk had had the same idea, and they had sold out of pies.

Finally we got served by the inexplicably upbeat waitress, and retreated to the long wooden tables that overlook Shoreditch Overground. Not a fine view, but with a Camden Hells in hand there are worse places to be on a Friday. Like a burger joint overlooking Willesden Junction.

Bukowski Grill's website claims that their "Josper grill" can cook burgers in record time – and to be fair the Purist burgers did arrive pretty quickly. Evidently the chef was having a better time of it than the waitress. However, their promise of sealing in the flavours wasn't so evident. It was a decent burger, but nothing I could even really string a sentence together about. It wasn't as rare as I'd like, the bun was toasted an slightly dry, and the toppings more important to the appearance than the taste. But the chips. God help me the chips. They were a goddamn joy. Fat as Lisa Riley and triple cooked in beef dripping. Its probably the only restaurant in the world where you could drunkenly order a plate of chips and not feel guilty, cheated and disappointed when they arrive. They were a lovely meal in themselves, especially with the homemade peppery mayo which was a lovely touch.

You should know that I was drunk, starving and made to wait, so on the verge of just biting the nearest person that even resembled a cow, but if you find yourself at Box Park of an evening, skip the shit looking fish and chips, ignore the rum bar (until later) and get yourself a good burger and better chips. At a tenner it's more than decent, and if the queue's big just buy your beers from Pieminister.

Bukowski Grill on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Fish & Chip Shop: off the scale

Good, but at these prices I want battered whale.

I've already written a Fish & Chip Shop review. They send you an email asking for your thoughts the very next day. In fact, they are very up on technology: you can book online and get a text straight away; the waiters all have iPads (more on that later); and their pricing is years ahead of 2013. By which I mean they must be predicting some pretty wild inflation, because I've never paid £70 in a fish and chip shop before.

But then I've also never had such good fish and chips – except the one time I cooked them myself with spectacular results (see my instagram). The beer batter, made with Beavertown beer was light and crispy, the fish white as snow and fresh, and the mushy peas absolutely perfect, with just a hint of mint and lemon and a lovely skinless texture. The dish of the day, though, was starter – called "fried particulars" – which were, bafflingly, deep-fried mushy peas with soft ham hock in the middle. Only three came but I would have happily chomped through ten of them. Special praise should also go to the Knickerbocker glory dessert, which was as retro and ridiculous as I'd hoped.

So it was all pretty brilliant. But was it worth £70? God no. For £13.50 my partner got a lovely fish curry, but barely a fillet's worth of fish, and my cod was by no means a Moby Dick. The whole movement of cutesy comfort food, done simply and done well relies on reasonable prices because the cooking skill required is low. It's all about ingredients. When you look at MEATliquor, Chicken Shop et al they all seem to have agreed to keep prices low –  a memo the Fish & Chip shop never received. Perhaps Des McDonald and head chef Lee Bull are too used to charging Ivy pricing, but it's more likely that finding sustainable cod is harder than beef, but that just made me realise how disappointingly mainstream the fish selection was.

To be fair, we had three courses (although we shared our Knickerbocker Glory). But for fish, chips and mushy peas, you'd be slightly peeved to pay £14.50, especially at the absolute polar ice-cap of Upper Street. It's £11.50 to take away, so where that extra three pounds comes from is a mystery given that they can cash in on drinks and stick a 12.5% for service charge on top of that to eat in. And the service. Oh God. Despite making a huge show and dance of their iPads, they forgot my beer twice before bringing the wrong one; gave us extra asparagus by accident, said it was for free and then charged us for it; and brought extra chips at the main course by accident too. Apparently the chef "misheard the waiter", which made me wonder what the point of the iPads were.

I'll send them my review via my iPad and see if they get the message.

The Fish and Chip Shop on Urbanspoon   Square Meal