It's not fancy, it's not big and it's not clever, but the scrag end is delicious. For simple, honest opinions on restaurants, recipes, supper clubs and what not, you've come to the right place.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Vrisaki, 73 Myddleton Road, Wood Green

‘Hell > Wood Green’ (anon. ,Facebook status update, 2011)

I suppose if you believe Hell is an actual place, it must indeed be greater than Wood Green, which is relatively small, and prison to fewer damned souls.

That said, it’s easy to see why, in non-mathematical parlance, you might consider Hell the better location. I guess it depends what you’re in for, but it’s certainly easier to get to on a Friday night in rush hour.

We visited (Wood Green, that is) in order to eat at Vrisaki, a Greek restaurant far closer to Elysium than Hades. It’s a bustling dining room behind a regular kebab joint, full of Greeks and Greek waiters, dressed up in ties and suits and generally making everything feel old-fashioned and no-nonsense.

All four of us ordered the set meze, which at £38 for two people, promised an awful lot. And it largely delivered, with large being the operative syllable. The quantities of food at Vrisaki are staggering. Our starter platter included more dishes than I can remember, but certainly lentils, beans, tuna, taramasalata, hummus, pitta, beetroot, olives, tsatziki, potato, assorted salads and pickled shellfish. And while it’s true that food is about quality, not quantity, it’s also about quantity.

In any event, the quality was pretty good too, especially those dishes that you felt hadn’t come out of large vats or jars. Copious Aphrodite (a wine) was cheap and flirty, helping to smooth out the rougher edges of the food. 

Next came a fish, ham, halloumi and veg course, featuring excellent asparagus, decent prawns, and smoked salmon presented in the style of a 1970s Sheffield cocktail party. Piping hot, gigantic garlic mushrooms were hearty, while deep-fried calamari limped a little. Ham and halloumi was pretty awful, to be honest – salty to the point of inedibility. Copious Aphrodite (a wine) was cheap and flirty, helping to smooth out the rougher edges of the food. 

By this stage, I couldn’t tell you which course we were on (I don’t think they all have names, and this was at least our fourth new set of plates at the table), but whole trout followed, firm and flavourful, accompanied by more prawns, butterflied and grilled. Copious Aphrodite (a wine) was cheap and flirty, helping to smooth out the rougher edges of the food. 

And then on, unabashed, to some meat: about six whole quail in a salty, slightly spicy rub, and some absolutely fantastic sausages, herby (mint and sage, at a guess) and juicy and great. Oh, and a tomato and feta salad, for some reason. Copious Aphrodite (a wine) was cheap and flirty, helping to smooth out the rougher edges of the food. 

A glass of metaxa and a coffee finished the meal off perfectly, and if Wood Green is Hell, well then I’m Beelzebub.

Phil Letts’ take: 6/10

Vrisaki on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 April 2011

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell

There are a couple of reasons why you might spend three and a half hours over one meal in a restaurant. But on a midweek night, with work the next morning, it’s unlikely to be because you want to linger long, indulging yourself over a slow-burning tasting menu, quaffing big wines and luxuriating as the late evening stretches.

At Moro, everything took too long. The table was booked for 7.30, for six people. We’d all arrived by about 7.50, admittedly a little later than ideal. Our order was taken at about 8.15. Our starters arrived around 8.45, mains at 9.30, dessert menus (after some prompting) at about 10.05, desserts at 10.30, and the bill sometime after 10.45. We were in no particular rush, fortunately.

Service apart, Moro is a decent restaurant, capable of real excellence, though not consistently enough to be truly great. My starter, a spiced farika (grain), veal and chopped almond soup, was a meaty, earthy concoction, smooth, rich and filling, but with a pleasing almond crunch that prevented it becoming too much. At £7.50, it was the cheapest first course on the menu, though that belies its quality.

The other starters varied from the brilliant (pigeon breast and piquillo pepper with garlic puree) to the merely adequate (a white and green asparagus and egg dish that was overwhelmed by dill). Morel mushroom and prawn revueltos seemed an odd idea, but the scrambled egg mix somehow worked, while butifarra sausage and warm grelos (turnip tops) didn’t.

Mains were similarly variable. Mine, wood-roasted kid with garlic and mashed potatoes, was an excellent reminder of why we should cook more goat in this country. Intense animal flavour combined with a superbly crispy skin and comforting mash made the £19.50 it cost seem reasonable.

Four out of the six mains available were ‘wood roasted’ on the menu, when roasted might have done. I do understand that they want to advertise the woodiness of the roast, but if you start the majority of your menu descriptions with the same phrase, there’s a danger of overemphasis, making customers think that the importance of their ‘wood roasted grey mullet’ and ‘wood roasted kid’ lies in wood roastedness, not meat.

Wood roasted pork with artichokes, chickpeas, sherry, and spinach was very nicely cooked and generous, but it seemed like discrete dishes (chickpeas and pork) that had been thrown together without a thought for whether that was a good idea. Wood roasted chicken with caraway, yoghurt and lentils, was beautifully soft but rather underpowered, neither especially woody nor very interestingly spiced. The caraway shadowed the chicken, when it should have taken it on. A gigantic mixed vegetable mezze was better, with notably excellent beetroot pilau, crispy flatbread and assorted tasty lentil numbers.

I shared a cheese plate in lieu of dessert, and it was marvellous. Various Spanish treats (especially the wonderful blue Picos de Europa) were the right temperature and the right taste. A chocolate and apricot tart was similarly inspired and lighter than expected, while a rhubarb and rosewater fool topped things off ideally.

With a couple of bottles of red and one of champagne (it was a birthday celebration, after all), the bill came in at about £55 per head, including a small discount for the tardy service. Food alone was about £35 each. For what I ate, that seemed reasonable, but I know others disagreed. If you pick well at Moro, then you’ll have an excellent meal. But really, with its reputation and pricing, it should be doing a little better.

Phil Letts’ take: 7/10

Moro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Lupita, 13-15 Villiers Street, Charing Cross

A recent survey found that less than 30 percent of Mexican restaurants in London are any good. Admittedly, the survey was of me, and conducted by me, and I haven’t been to that many, but I’d be very surprised if I was wrong. Really, there’s Wahaca, that burrito place on Portobello Road, and not much else. And unfortunately, the brilliantly-located Lupita does nothing to redress the balance.

It’s not that the food is bad, exactly. Ceviche seems authentic (though my experience is of Liman, rather than Mexican ceviche). It’s been long-marinated in citrus, chilli, onions and other treats. The fish is rather chewy, but it’s nice and spicy, clean and simple.

Quesadillas are pleasantly soft, filled with a mushroom concoction, like a mushroom chocolate mole, that I love but Cute Letts hates. Huiltacoche it’s called, and it is at least interesting enough to divide opinion.

Because the problem with most of the food at Lupita is that it’s just so boring. Refried beans, stingily portioned next to packet tortilla chips (at least, I hope they were from a packet), are flavourless and so long-cooked that they’ve completely turned into a paste. There’s not a lump in sight. Pork carnitas is dry and dull, which for this most desirable of Mexican dishes, is criminal.

We also try some arrachera tacos, described on the menu as a ‘classic Mexican cut of beef, tenderised and marinated in our own special recipe.’ It’s a little hard on the teeth for something that’s been tenderised, while I can only assume the special marinade is not described in full because it’s not very special at all. Again, it’s not exactly bad, rather just woefully uninteresting.

Worst of all is a prawn and nopalitos (cactus) salad, which consists of an array of eight ingredients, from jalapenos to avocado, tomato to lettuce. Never has so much tasted of so little. It’s bland, underdressed and very disappointing, especially since at £7.80, it’s a couple of pounds more expensive than anything else we order.

The beer's nice, the service ok if a little terse. All together, the bill creeps in just below £40 pounds for two. It’s not a bad price for the area, or for the quantity of food. But with Wahaca about 300 yards away, I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

Phil Lett’s take: 3/10

Apologies for the lack of photos. Darkness, as ever, intervened.

Lupita on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Anchor, Walberswick

Walberswick. What a thoroughly satisfying word that is. Go on, try it. Try rolling it around for a minute. It’s like a fine wine, with that lovely, open-mouthed wal, the puckering ber and then that gorgeous finish, swooping and stiffening into the k, full of rigour and chutzpah. 

I imagine the people of this coastal village absolutely adore it. I certainly did. There’s the sea, the beach, the river and the beer, to name just four. And for a fifth, there’s The Anchor.

Few things afford more delight than walking into a pub and not only seeing some of your favourite beers on tap (Meantime and Adnams), but also receiving a beer menu, listing more than 20 bottles, carefully sought and sourced from the great brewing nations of the world.

First impressions count, and The Anchor could hardly have made a better one. We drank for a while, enjoying the comfortably comfortable atmosphere, then took our seats. The menu is fish-heavy, as you’d expect, and each dish has a suggested beer match as well as wine.

I started with confit cod cheeks, alongside a glass of San Franciscan Liberty Ale. The cheeks, meaty and rounded in both senses, were notable for their richness, playing off a perky tomato, fennel and leaf salad. It was a marvellous start. Three of us had the cod cheeks, leaving just one to branch out with chilli squid, superbly cooked and sweetly sauced. 

Mains continued mostly fishy. Mine, a simply cooked whole lemon sole in butter and lemon, melted on the tongue, fresh and a lot naughtier than fish should be. It was hardly an unusual combination, but still provided a reminder of just how brilliant it is to take something very healthy (fish) and render it superbly unhealthy (lashings of butter). Battered cod and chips did something similar, the crispy batter undermining all the good work of that chunky cod fillet. 

One of us went for meat: short rib of beef on a truffle mashed potato. The rib had been slow cooked, stripped and remoulded into a little patty, texturally satisfying and pretty tasty too. The truffle mash, an oily, buttery number, was a good as it sounds. Flying Dog Gonzo Porter was a brave beer choice, but proved somewhat foolhardy. At 8.7%, it rather ruined one of our number for the rest of the evening, though we could occasionally make out approving noises through his drunken babbling. 

Desserts followed, as is their wont, sweet and sticky. Ever the unorthodox, I plumped for a cranberry and walnut tart with cranberry ice cream. I have no idea why. I don’t really like cranberries, and I certainly have no truck with desserts that carry the stench of virtue about them. I shouldn’t have worried. This was not in the least bit virtuous. The tart cranberry proved an ideal mediator, moderating and translating the rich caramel and walnut of the filling.

I didn’t try the other desserts. They looked good, if that’s any help – a chocolate pudding with coconut and a something-or-other panna cotta (I lost the receipt, so can’t remember what it was). Coffees all round brought the bill to about £40 per head. For what we ate, and especially for the quantity and quality of delicious beer, it was excellent value. We returned the next day for lunch, when beef rib and Yorkshire puddings reached a similar standard. 

You may never go to Walberswick, but if you do, visit The Anchor.

Phil Letts’ take: 8/10