Monday 14 March 2016

Beefsteak Bacchanalia at the Fat Bear

So here's a question: When an email pops up in your inbox offering infinite steaks at a beefsteak bacchanalia, what is the correct response?  Well, obviously, book yourself a spot at The Fat Bear's beefsteak bacchanalia event - which generates you the amusingly entitled ticket typer "Mountains of Beef".  Sounds like my sort of thing.

The Fat Bear is situated in the upstairs rooms of The Rising Sun pub, an ale house in the quite backstreets just a couple of minutes stroll from the hustle and bustle of St Paul's Cathedral.  We've been in before, actually - way back, before it was the Fat Bear, GrubsterGirl and I visited when the upstairs rooms were B.O.B.'s Lobster's pop-up.  Pretty much since then, however, the Fat Bear has been in residence, moving from a pop-up to more of an established restaurant in its own right.

First up, there's a fully stocked bar - with, in the far left of the picture, the largest section cocktail bitters I have ever seen.  There's clearly a great deal of passion, commitment and professionalism behind the mixology here.  From the house creations to the classics, the drinks at the Fat bear are excellent.

GrubsterGirl started with the self-styled "Really Bloody Good Martini@ - served wet, which effectively means a larger measure of vermouth than usual.  This was delicious, a complete revelation - the use of Cocchi Americano (a more authentic substitute for Kina Lillet in a Vesper, if you're interested) was fantastic and really changed the drink.  Thinking back, actually, to Dry Martini in Barcelona, their historic martini recipe used half-and-half gin and vermouth.  Whilst I would't go that far (and they haven't here) I can certainly see why a larger measure of vermouth can, in the right context, work pretty bloody well.

I had a Problem Solved, a combination of rye whiskey and cherry Heering.  I do love a good whiskey cocktail, and this was no exception.  Complex and family sophisticated - my only note is that it might have been better at the end of the meal, being a bit sweeter.  But excellent generally.

Round 2 (when did we ever limit ourselves to one) for GrubsterGirl was the 1934 Cosmopolitan.  Using a more traditional array of ingredients, this was seriously good.  A great twist on a classic.

It is also quite possibly the prettiest drink I've ever seen.

I'm going through a bit of a Negroni phase at the moment, so thought I'd see if they could knock one up for me - which was done to great aplomb.  The barman's personal house blend of red vermouth - a combination of Martini Rossi and Carpano Antica - it makes a brilliant drink.  I was also advised to have it straight up, rather than over ice, on the basis that it would avoid dilution and that further flavours would come out over time.

Then onto the food.  The event was held around large, communal tables, which is always fun.

On the tables were pots of quick, mixed pickles - all of which I expect had been made the same day, so were beautifully fresh and crisp, and mixed in a sweet vinegar brine.  Perfect as a palate cleanser.

Also available was a bone marrow whipped butter.  No two ways about it, this was incredible.

Then the meat started coming out.  And it didn't stop.

Smoked brisket with a devilled gravy on toast.  Deeply, deeply smokey - but avoiding the over-sweatness that most brisket is dredged in.

Pulled brisket in BBQ sauce.  Perfectly done, the meat was still moist and had been cooked to perfect tenderness.  The sauce was good as well - classically BBQ, but not too sticky or cloying.

The star of the show, in our view: Korean-marinated onglet with a Korean inspired dipping sauce.  This was a proper steak.  Cooked rare - very rare in some cases - which was smashing, and it was wonderfully tender and tasty.  The marinade also shone through and perfectly set-off the beef.

Hot link sausages.  Perhaps slightly more chorizo-esque than I would have expected, they were nevertheless great.

And then...

...round two.  Seriously, that lot wasn't enough between two?  Fine, here's the next batch.  We were pretty much driven to a standstill by now, but bravely had a good stab at our next round.  I have no idea if it would have kept coming, but I expect it would have.  You need to be pretty hungry...!

After a lot of food, though, there really is only one cure: more cocktails.  I had a classic old fashioned, made with Buffalo Trace, that was expertly put together.

Whereas GrubsterGirl had another house cocktail, the Pendennis.  This was a gin, lime and apricot liqueur concoction that was good - if perhaps not as good as the very excellent 1934 Cosmo GG had enjoyed earlier.

And with the bill?  Well, just to finish off: a quick round of classic pricklebacks - a shot of bourbon chased immediately by a shot of sweet pickling liquor.  Perfect ending to such a heavy meal.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Wild Mushroom and Sausage Fettuccine

This is a favourite simple supper of mine.  You could leave out the sausages and/or throw in some crème fraiche and parsley if you like – it’s really a fairly flexible feast.  But I generally have a real thing for pasta, especially in the colder, wetter months.  When working late and I cannot be bothered to do a big cook, this is perfect.

This feeds two, but could easily be halved.


200g mushrooms (see below)
2 sausages
2 cloves of garlic
50g butter
150-200g fettuccini (depending on how hungry you are)

I’ve used some speciality mushrooms here, just because Sainsbury’s had them in when I was shopping.  You can use anything really, but I recommend portabello if there’s nothing particularly exotic about.

It’s probably a good idea to get your pasta water on from the word go.  The dish doesn’t take long to make, and you want everything to be ready at once.

Start by prepping the mushrooms – you want them sliced / separated into ribbons.  How you do this will really turn on what mushrooms you’ve bought.

Next up, get a big frying pan on the heat and glug in a bit of olive oil.  Squeeze the sausage meet out of the sausages, discarding the skins, and fry the sausage meet in little chunks, breaking it up as it cooks.

You want to end up with slightly browned, crispy and fully cooked little chunks.

When done, remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving as much of the rendered fat behind as possible.

You probably want to get the pasta in the pot now, so that’s ready when your mushrooms are.

Add half the butter to the pan and get your mushrooms cooking, so that they soften and begin to brown.  You may need to add a bit more oil, as mushrooms can really soak the fat up, but don’t overdo it.

When the mushrooms are soft, peel and crack the garlic cloves and add to the pan.  Don’t do this sooner or else the garlic will burn (as it cooks quicker than the mushrooms) and leave a nasty, bitter taste.  Add the rest of the butter with the garlic and reintroduce the sausages.

Cook for 5 minutes, but don’t let the mushrooms get too crispy.  Drain the pasta and throw it into the pan with the mushrooms and sausage mix.  Using tongs, mix the two together so that they are fully combined, then serve up, covered in grated parmesan.

Monday 11 January 2016


Preconceptions are funny things.  I have to admit having three of them, about Hispania, that were held before last week’s visit:

  1. I had never noticed it being there, despite it being open now for over two years and passing by it relatively (although not very) regularly.
  2. Even if I had noticed it, I’m not sure I would have gone.  Another fancy Spanish restaurant in the middle of the City full of dreadful bankers and serving overpriced food? Hmmm. 
  3. Also, some of the reviews have not been great (Time Out: 2 stars…)

Anyway, turns out preconceptions are a crock of shite, because Hispania is really rather good.
There was a group of us searching for a meal.  One chap suggested tapas at Hispania, despite him being strictly averse to sharing food, but he’d had a colleague go there who enjoyed himself.  Everyone agreed.

Have you ever tried ordering tapas amongst a large group of people?  Well don’t.  Even when you tell people to choose two dishes there is so much chit chat and wasted time and then you end up with a dozen bowls of patatas bravas and a platter of cured meats.  Best do what we did: Order the lot.  Literally, we ordered one of everything on their tapas list plus a platter of mixed meats and another of mixed cheeses.

Quick (photo-less, sorry) word about the wine.  Matthew, our resident wine expert and who has sold Hispania wine before, chose two bottles of red – one lighter and one heavier.  The heavier wine was Lucero del Alba, a Tempranillo (£30).  Dark, tannic and chewy, with t scent of burnt toast.  It was a food wine – and a rich, red meat kind of food wine at that.  Very good though – just my sort of thing.  The lighter wine was the Lágrimas de Garnacha (£26).  This was stunning – just amazing.  It was, again, quite punchy and spicy but with an immediate sweet note as well.  There was toffee as well, together with a hint of horseradish and also – and stay with me here – the flavour of burnt fat you get around a steak that’s been barbequed over charcoal.  Fantastic.

Now onto the food.

First out were the cold dishes.  Cured meat selection.  Top to bottom: Jamón Ibérico, lomo (loin), salchichón and chorizo.  Great stuff, top quality.  There’s not much more to say, I suppose, but I do love Spanish meats.

Crujientes de quesos:  toffee-coated crispy, wafer thin pastry stuffed with creamed cheese.

Initially, these were poo-pooed by the group, who did not like the sound of the dish.  OK, I get why some people might not be so keen – although a seasoned ‘salt-and-sweet’ grubster like myself had no truck with such objections.  These were great – in fact, it was the biggest opponent who ate the spare sample.

Spanish cheese selection.  Manchego (top, yellow triangles), Ibores (left, sticks with orange rind), Cabra Montenebro (right, grey rind, interspersed with membrillo (quince paste)) and Mahón (bottom, triangles with orange rind).

Again, all first rate and very delicious.  The standout favourite was the Cabra, a goat’s cheese – which is funny because I’m not that into goat that often.  This was delicious, however, and the membrillo worked with it like a treat.

Now for some fishy things.  Starting with monkfish.

Monkfish is a brilliant fish, in my humble opinion, probably because it’s so meaty.  Just excellent (even though it costs a fortune) and here was no exception.  Lightly battered and fried, they fish was cooked properly.  I also absolutely bloody love piquillo peppers.  I will never forget the first time I tasted one any being physically knocked back by the intensity of their flavour.  How, I remember thinking and still wonder each time I eat one, does that much pepper-taste get in to such a small amount of vegetable.  So two of my favourite things.  What’s the catch?  Simple: they just don’t go together.  I’m not sure who paired these or why, but whilst each constituent element is wonderful, the finished article just falls a little flat.


Bloody love calamari and these were bloody good examples.  With a squeeze of lime (not lemon, peculiarly) and a touch of lime zest this was a simple but delicious tapa.  It’s also worth noting that the squid was evidently fresh and cooked properly – soft and light, not hard and rubbery.  “Kentucky Fried Squid” said one diner (cruel but accurate – except, I might add, with significantly higher quality) whilst another diner passionately sworn off squid wolfed down a portion.  Happy days.

Gambas al ajillo.

Or, prawns in a spicy, garlicky sauce.  Very classic.

Onwards and upwards: Now we hit the ‘hot food’ section (notwithstanding that the fish was hot – it was meant to be a sort of starter-fish-mains experience – I think?).

Croquets, which came in two forms:

1. Croquetas de jamón.

Very nice.  Large enough to get a proper portion but not so large that they are difficult to eat.  Very tasty too.

2. Croquetas ‘Hay Festival’.

I am sure there is a back story to these, other than “created specially for the famous literary festival” that the menu proclaims.  I would like to know the back story because otherwise I cannot work out how (a) they are especially (that’s the correct word, btw) suited for the Hay Festival and (b) it was ever thought that substituting jamón with leeks would be an improvement.  Unless, of course, the chef at Hispania hates the Hay Festival / bookworms in general and wanted to serve an inferior croquet.  To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s more a case that there’s nothing right with it either.  It’s just that I can’t help feeling that, on the choice of croquet with ham and croquet with leeks, the sane person would (and should) always choose the former.

And the ubiquitous Spanish tortilla.

Now, I actually tried to talk the table out of ordering this because I’m no fan of omelettes and most forms of potato (yes it’s weird, no it doesn’t preclude me writing a food blog, and I’ve written about this in more detail elsewhere).  But I was overruled by the resident vegetarian and, given that we were having all sorts of other meat, I reckoned I should let her have her way.  It was actually pretty spectacular.  Rather than being, as is customary, a big, stodgy cakey of eggy potato, it was crisp on the outside whilst still being beautifully light and underdone inside.  This was actually a revelation.

Together with some padron peppers.  Not much to say about these.  They are nice.  They always are.  Five years ago you couldn’t find them in London for love or money, now you can’t go to a Spanish restaurant without having them virtually thrown at you.

Morcilla duo.  If you’re not familiar with morcilla, it is what is known as a ‘blood sausage’, or black pudding, in plain English.  Although, it’s not really like a black pudding.  It tends to be softer, more moist, and has lumps of fat or sometimes rice where the English version has oats.  But you get the idea.

These two were onion and rice.  Both excellent, and very moreish – although the differences (other than in texture) were not immediately obvious.

A short break then followed before we were presented with what had to be the finale – the potato course (or so it seemed).

Huevos rotos de corral – or ham, egg and chips as it is known over here.

We are well and truly into hangover food territory now.  To tell the truth, when I saw this on the menu I knew I recognised it from somewhere – and assumed I liked it. Then it came back to me – my first visit to Tapas 24 in Barcelona (the very best tapas restaurant I have ever been to) and one of my earliest Grubster posts.  And when it came back to me I remembered: this is not a dish I enjoy.  Not then, not now.  Again, it’s more of a case of what’s right than what’s wrong.  This is a grease fest – Spain’s answer to Canada’s poutine or Britain’s chips and gravy.  You can try all you like, it’s not sophisticated, it’s not clever and it doesn’t belong in an upscale tapas joint like Hispania.  You can try all you like, but just no.

And then, of course, patas bravas.

I mean…  Really, let’s cut to the chase.  If you like this sort of thing then you’ll like this version – very nicely done, with a fancy romesco sauce that’s full of flavour.  I personally find it hard to get excited, but the others seemed to enjoy it.

Greg, the man with the plan who suggested the place, had earlier confessed to me is worries regarding the cost.  I don’t wholly blame him – it looks from the outside (and within, with its epically tall ceilings, marble floors and wide, sparsely tabled spaces – it’s actually a very pleasant atmosphere) like it will be expensive.  When the bill came we were pleasantly surprised.  All that food (12 tapas plates and two platters) and drink (half a bottle of wine each in the end) came to about £36 a head.  Not bad – for the City.

Someone remarked that it somehow didn’t feel like authentic, Spanish tapas.  No kidding.  It wasn’t – it was high end tapas, done in a fancy, marble lined dining room.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s simply that you’re looking at a different beast.  And a very fine beast, in this case.