Wednesday 29 January 2014

Borough Market

Borough Market is perhaps the most established part of London's ever-growing food scene. Ten years ago, food in the capital was hardly a huge thing - fifteen years ago British food was synonymous around the world with phrases like 'bland', 'stodgy' and 'boring'.  Today it is anything but, and it is spots like Borough Market that has changed that.

That's not to say that Borough Market is a new addition.  In fact, there has been a market flogging food on that site since at least 1014, which makes it 1,000 years old this year.  Just think about that.  Sure, in the pre-Norman conquest days of yore I rather imagine that there was less flogging of white truffle infused flax oil and more basics like meat and potatoes, but it's great to know that the tradition of food selling has lived that long. 

Borough Market has something for everyone, as well.  Whether it's a present for a friend or relation (the only use that I can think of that white truffle infused flax oil might reasonably be put to) or finding that hard-to-find ingredient, Borough Market is a great first stop.  Even if your quest is ultimately defeated and you have to resort to the internet, I can almost guarantee you'll have found something else worth finding there. 

 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 27 January 2014

The Dining Room

That is roast loin of venison, served with roast parsnips, potato dauphine and hazelnuts.  It comes from the Dining Room at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh, which is the restaurant in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  This was the main course of one of the very best meals that I have ever eaten in my life.  It was simply stunning.  Hay-smoked lamb, roast venison and a massive cheese board, washed down with a complimentary dram of malt, our bouches amused with peat smoked salmon roulade, kept quietly happy with a bottle of malbec and tucked into bed with coffees and complimentary handmade truffles.  All for less than you'd pay for two courses and a glass of wine in many London joints.  Bloody marvellous. 

Don’t be put off if you're not a whisky drinker – there's no obligatory whisky to drink. Just incredibly good fine dining at less than the usual fine dining prices. 

Sadly, a very, very low battery on the mobile left me unable to capture this meal and blog it.  But, if you're north of the border, please go.  You won’t regret it. 

 - GrubsterBoy -

Friday 24 January 2014

La Tablita

La Tablita is a very long way to go for a dinner of roast lamb.  But it would be totally worth it if you did go.
Set in the town of El Calafate, Patagonia (yes, Argentina), La Tablita has won plaudits around the world for its food – and most of all its roast lamb, which has been described by some as the best in the world, a pretty tall order but not something I feel inclined to question as if it were in some way inaccurate. 
It's not just the lamb either – La Tablita is well renowned generally for its parillas – an Argentine speciality of grilling enormous hunks of meet.  Much of the meat is roasted in the traditional manner, arraigned on iron racks around a charcoal fire, to be slowly smoke roasted in the coals' residual heat. 
The meat is fantastic, and absolutely the star of the show.  We shared a missed meats platter, described as food for two but really providing enough for a small family to be satisfied.  We added to it with rosemary seasoned fries and a salad.  The Argentine thing of having a salad with grilled meats, by the way, is a truly magnificent idea – it totally cuts through all the fatty richness of the meat. 

All of it washed down with this pretty little number.  GrubsterGirl and I are both fans of malbec, but this was just in another league. 
We visited about a year ago now, but the experience stays with me.  The restaurant itself has a slightly Alpine feel – but then the whole town of El Calafate does too, as if it were a French ski resort off season (where everyone speaks Spanish).  We went in the Argentine summer, but I imagine in their winter it gets a whole lot colder and snowier. 
Patagonia is well worth the effort to get to.  Whether it's its broad, desolate landscapes, its majestic glaciers or its rocky peaks, that make it I don’t know – all I know is that it is just stunning.
 - GrubsterBoy -

Wednesday 22 January 2014

An Italian Feast

Following our trip to Vallebona, the Italian-deli-in-a-warehouse of South London, we all piled home to whip up a big feast. Generally, I can't recommend that place enough - the difference between what you get there and what you get in the supermarket is like... Well, it's another world - like eating wholly and completely different food, albeit with the names you know and love.

Here we have a variety of fun, starting from the top of the picture and working down: Salame Finocchiona Toscana (with fennel seeds – they also have a delicious picante version, well worth a try); Bresaola (cured, tender beef); Speck (a smoked, cured ham that starts its life wrapped in juniper and garlic – very alpine, which is hardly surprising given that it's cured in the very north of Italy, up in the mountains); Venison Prosciutto (beautifully gamey, lightly smoked Bambi); and Lonza (smoked pork loin). Full marks, this stuff was epic.

We also sampled a little spicy sausage that started out like any other salumi and grew in intensity and flavour as eaten.
Nor did we hold back on the cheese. Starting at the top right and working clockwise, we had: Testun al Barolo (a cow's milk cheese aged in wine barrels and then wrapped in the lees (the crushed grape must) from making wine); Gorgonzola Dulce DOP (a young gorgonzola that's still fresh, gloopy and creamy – like a beautiful half way house between a blue and a stinky cheese); Taleggio DOP (another alpine product, and a beautiful, if quite well known, stinky soft cheese); and Robiola Tre Latti (a cheese made from a gorgeous combination of cow's, sheep's and goat's milks – soft and creamy on the outside, soft and crumbly on the inside).
The cheese - especially the Barolo - ought really to be eaten with Mosto d'Uva - a Sardinian ultra-concentrated grape juice that, like pickle with cheddar or membrillo with manchego, adds a beautiful fruitiness that cannot be equalled.
Nor could we resist the sweets. Seriously, how could anyone? Hard, brittle torrone nougat and panforte (an Italian desert from Tuscany of honey, spices, dried fruits and nuts pressed into a cake).

Also on offer were sunblushed morello cherries cased in rich, dark, bitter chocolate that were just phenomenal. No other words to describe them.
- GrubsterBoy -

Monday 20 January 2014


In a warehouse in South Wimbledon, tucked away out of sight and almost undiscoverable, there resides a utopia of Italian food: Vallebona.  Hidden on an industrial estate, originally it wasn't open to the public – we only found out about it via my uncle, a native Venetian. 
Now it's becoming more and more popular, as the word spreads – and with good reason.  It's seriously good stuff, have no doubt of that.  You don’t just need to take my word for it, either – this is the business supplying the top end across the board, from Fortnum & Mason to Paxton & Whitfield, from Bocca di Lupo to The River Café.  This is a seriously good outfit.
Inside there's a chilled cheese meat room with all sorts of peculiar and wonderful morsels, all laid out to be sliced and diced to your heart's content by the legion of friendly helpers.

More generally the warehouse, now stretching over two rooms, is full of plenty of longer life samples – from the breads and pastas... countless jarred and bottled treats...

...grappa (as well as countless varieties of Italian wine)...
...and, of course, finishing off with magical Italian sweet goodies.
So, naturally, with all this on offer and on display, a feast back at the Grubster family home was mandatory.  And what a feast it was.  But more on that to come...

 - GrubsterBoy -

Friday 17 January 2014


Hawksmoor is flipping brilliant. 
If you haven’t heard that before, hear it now: Hawksmoor is flipping brilliant.
I don’t believe you can’t have heard that before, though.  Seriously, this has become one of London's hottest restaurants.  So much so that they've open four branches and a bar, floated on the money markets and opened a kith-and-kin mini-variation, Foxlow, aimed at providing the same quality for a wider audience.  You always, always have to book in advance – forget walk-ups, even on quiet nights these days.  And they can do all that not because I say that they're flipping brilliant, but because everyone says that they're flipping brilliant.
So when it came to picking a birthday dinner venue for GrubsterGirl, I could think of little better than a big, indulgent, slap-up meal at our favourite place in town: Hawksmoor Seven Dials
Opening proceedings were the starters.  For me, it was brown shrimp on toast.  Beautifully sautéed in melted butter and herbs, set on a light sourdough slice, these rocked my world.  I have had potted shrimp cold more times that I can recall, and loved them each time.  But I have never before had brown shrimp on toast warm.  This immeasurably improves them, bringing the flavour out completely and bringing the taste of the sea to life. 

GrubsterGirl tucked into her lobster cocktail, a big silver goblet of chopped lobster tail and Thousand Island dressing.  The key here is to get the dressing right.  Too often it's so rich that it completely masks the lobster (or shrimp, as is more common).  Here no such mistake was made.  Here it only enhanced the dish.

For mains we tucked into glorious, trick fillet steaks.  We've shared the chateaubriand on previous visits but sadly that was not to be this time – the smallest on offer came in at 950g, a cut of steak we once shared with GrubsterMummy and GrubsterDaddy and still couldn’t finish between the four of us.
Hawksmoor grills its steaks over charcoal and the proof is in the eating, as it were.  It's a true revelation – go to anywhere else that pan sears them and you'll instantly see the difference.  Good as they are, the charcoal roasting really adds a depth of smoky flavour that, I'm sorry, you simply cannot get from a skillet, no matter how hot you get it. 

Hawksmoor also get a lot more right beside the steaks.  I've already told you about the starts and how good they were.  But there's also the side dishes.  We had triple cooked chips (thank you, by the way, Heston for giving us these – you're a genius), although you can opt instead for fatter chips cooked in beef dripping.  Actually.  On the side we added a delectable stilton hollandaise – not to pour over the beef but to use as a dipping sauce for the chips.  If you're not into that (and you should be) then the homemade ketchup's pretty damn good too.
We also had bone marrow – a bargain at the price, and a beautiful addition to the steak – I recommend smearing it on like you might smear mustard or horseradish.  We also had beautiful creamed spinach. 

For pudding... Well, we were pretty done by this stage.  Proper stuffed.
But still we managed to cram in a couple of scoops of ice cream or sorbet – in my case blackberry, in GG's case salted caramel and popcorn.  Also, by way of celebratory treat, with coffee the staff were kind enough to give us some of their salted caramel rolos (literally to die for) with coffee.
Oh, and  I nearly forgot – cocktails.  Bloody marvellous.  I often think that a huge cocktail list in a restaurant is a bad sign – it usually suggests a desire to charge a fortune for the drinks without giving much thought to them or the food.  Hawkmoor bucks that trend entirely - here the drinks are works of art in themselves and clearly as important to the folks that run the show as the food is.  Sadly, the signature Hawksmoor Fizz has vanished from the menus, but can often be made to order by the super friendly staff.  They also mix what I am certain is the best old fashioned in London – don’t just take my word for it (and have it with rye, not bourbon – trust me on that at least). 

Price wise, it's spenny – almost painfully so.  But every mouthful, ever sip, was totally worth every single last penny.  If I'm going to splurge – and I am, I love food, why else would I write this blog – then I want it to be good.  And Hawksmoor is.  Bloody good.
 - GrubsterBoy -