A weekend of restaurant firsts
It had been a while since I’d been out to a restaurant in the ‘out out’ sense, rather than somewhere cheap and local. But a combination of events (most notably my birthday!) conspired to land me with a week packed with restaurant reservations with a number of new places on the list. Here are my thoughts on some of the newer (and not so new) restaurants I came across this week.
Dumpling Shack, Old Spitalfields Market
A lot of my posts have sung the praises of the offerings in Spitalfields Market, but in the last month a new permanent central stand, The Kitchens at Spitalfields, has opened in the market offering a range of different foods.
There are two good reasons I haven’t sampled many of the new food stalls: firstly because it’s been open a matter of weeks only, and secondly because I just keep eating at Dumpling Shack. Consistently busy at all times of the day, they serve a limited but delicious range of Sichuan street food, notably dan dan mian (which I’ve never successfully tracked down in London before) and delicious pork shengjianbao.
The dumplings are lovely and chewy with a delicious pork, spring onion and water chestnut filling. The noodle portion is enough to share (assuming you’re planning to eat your way around the rest of the market), with a lovely sichuan pepper burn, plenty of meat and a tasty peanut sauce.
Spitalfields market has been crying out for some good Asian cuisine and this is a great addition to the already excellent pizza, pasta and seafood on offer in the area. There are plenty of benches nearby to eat your food and it makes a filling and economical lunch or snack, with noodles at £7.50 and the dumplings at £6.50. Why not wash it down with a fruit or milk pearl tea from the tiny Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea stand which has also appeared in the market?
Noizé, Whitfield Street, Fitzrovia
Another great find is newly opened Noizé in Fitzrovia. Run by former co-owner and manager of Pied a Terre, Mathiue Germond, the restaurant show cases the best of Loire Valley cuisine in a relaxed and cosy environment. The menu is seasonal and focused on using the best ingredients. This is the best meal I’ve had in a while in London.
The wine list is extensive and exceptionally and unusually reasonable, with mark ups on the finer wines at only £50. Customers can even bring their own wines for a £30 corkage fee. We had a Gaja and a 1997 Salon Champagne (at only £321 it might been steep, but trust me it’s a bargain).
I went on a Friday evening and dined upstairs in the formal dining area, but even there the atmosphere is relaxed and the owner and staff will stop by and chat with you and help you out with the food and wine.
The meal starts with a beautiful sourdough bread and butter (which they’ll just keep bringing you at no cost), followed by a small snack of cheese gougeres. I had the foie gras, followed by partridge and cheese for dessert.
The foie gras comes two different ways, I had mine seared and on a small pastry crust with some kind of fig reduction and smashed up hazelnuts to garnish it- absolutely delicious.
My main was breast of partridge with a dauphinoise and some green apple. I couldn’t name everything on the plate but it was a really elegant and tasty combination. I picked a blue and a goat’s cheese for dessert, which comes with a fruit bread and a chutney. A perfect end to a great meal.
The food was great, wine reasonably priced and the staff affable and accommodating, flaming my boyfriend’s baked Alaska dessert when he seemed disappointed that it didn’t come like that as standard. I find excellent service is increasingly rare so Noizé gets a huge thumbs up from me.
Test Kitchen, Frith Street, Soho
Adam Simmonds’ Test Kitchen has sprung up in Soho where Barrafina used to be (which I never had the chance to try). It’s a 12 month pop up restaurant by award winning chef Adam Simmonds where the chefs work at the counter and also serve the food. The concept is in the interaction between diner and chef, with customer feedback leading to the constant redevelopment of the menu (they’re apparently on version 25 at the moment).
I had the broad beans and girolles (fairly bland) and then the beef, which was delicious but not much larger than a box of matches. I also tried the roasted pearl barley which was a bit of a revelation- I’d be tempted to go to back just for that. I do enjoy sitting at the counter in restaurants as it seems to engender a more friendly and interactive environment, both with the staff and between diners, but the food really needs to stand up to scrutiny as well and for me it was overpriced and not consistent enough.
We pre-booked so we got 20% off the bill, which I was glad off as it was £91 for two people plus their cheapest bottle of wine (a Slovenian Chardonnay- extremely drinkable and very reasonable at £29). Bread is £1.50 a portion and we had to stop at McDonald’s on the way home to fill ourselves up. A nice enough place and interesting concept but it would benefit from tripling the portion sizes!
I suppose the clue is in the name, so it’s worth a try for the experience and to see how the menu might have changed over time, but make sure you budget for the second dinner you’re going to need…
Bibendum, Fulham Road, South Kensington
My ‘real’ birthday meal was the six course tasting menu at newly crowned 2 Michelin-starred Bibendum in South Kensington. After two nights out I was very excited to try Bibendum which recently shot straight from zero to two stars in the most recent iteration of the guide.
The food is beautifully presented in a homely but smart restaurant. There were some interesting flavours, not all of which worked for me. Perhaps I’m over my fancy food fetish, but for me some of it was rather over-engineered, but impressive nevertheless.
That said, the cod course and the scallop dish were perfection. And dessert was a beautifully presented pumpkin shaped treat of passion fruit and some other delicious and delicate flavour which tasted like a fancier version of a pfeffernusse. It was a high note on which to finish a meal which had some delicious highs and some confusing and slightly disappointing lows. The service was obviously impeccable and the ambience rather charming.
We also drank a lovely Merlot, a 2012 Chateau Troplong Mondot, a bit on the young side but still a nice wine to accompany the meal.