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Archive for June, 2010

The quest for quality restaurants in Sarf London is ongoing. Over the past few weeks, we’ve tried three new ones: one gastropub, one Oriental and one Turkish restaurant.

First up, The Florence in Herne Hill. It’s had a bit of a revamp lately and some good reviews – my fellow bloggers speak very highly of the fried chicken, which is apparently made according to Heston Blumenthal’s recipe. Delicious it doubtless is, but we didn’t get the chance to try it because they’d run out. Now, to be strictly fair to the Florence, we did visit on a Bank Holiday Sunday and it was extremely busy (in a not unpleasant slightly meat-markety way, packed as it was with 30-somethings nearing the end of an earnestly undertaken drink-as-much-as-possible mission), and our waitress was new, but isn’t it fairly obvious that when two people order two starters then two burgers, they’re expecting them to arrive as two courses? Thought so. Anyway, the starters (togethers?) scored reasonably well: fishfingers were home-made, with a good thickness of crisp crumb coating; potted smoked haddock was more of a gratin than a pot, and not a particularly good texture for spooning on the accompanying toast, but full of flavour. Of the main courses, the beefburger won, being a perfectly good example of its kind. I rashly ordered the veggie burger – beetroot and chickpea – and it suffered from the gluey clagginess which often besets my own attempts at veggie burgers. Worst of all were the chips: advertised as chunky skin-on wedges, they had the scalding temperature and rapidly toughening texture that speak eloquently of time spent in the microwave. It’s a pleasant enough place, The Florence, and we will probably return the next time we feel like a few al fresco drinks on a sunny day, but I don’t think we’ll give the food another chance. Oh, and a word for the woman in yellow with the “show” cocker spaniels: you are quite memorably annoying, and no one uses choke chains any more, you cruel git.

Next! The ever excellent Jay Rayner (I can’t tell you how convenient is is having one’s fave restaurant reviewer living just round the corner. Seriously – we don’t need to hunt for good local eateries, we let Jay to the dirty work for us.) had spoken very highly of Silk Road, a Chinese (Xinjiangese, to be precise) café-style restaurant in Camberwell, so we marshalled our friends Jo and Lisa, had a drink first at the very lovely Tiger pub round the corner, and gave it a bash. This is not a restaurant that scores highly on the decor front: it’s a basic, studenty place with bench seating and a no-frills approach to the drinks list as well – beer, house red or white, and that’s about it. However, the food is fantastic. First up, we had pork dumplings – dumplings is what they say you’ll get, and dumplings you do indeed get – loads of them, unadorned, on a plate. They’re home-made and absolutely delicious. The boys loved the barbequed lamb skewers too, but Lisa and I found the intense smokiness a little overpowering. The stir-fried cabbage was the surprise hit of the night – spicy and addictive. And we loved the noodles, particularly the giveaway unevenness of their shape, which told us they’d been made no further away than the kitchen. Oh, and then there was the chicken… You get the idea. The food here is fab, it costs peanuts, and you’ve got to go.

And finally, I’ve mentioned before how much we love Hisar, the bargainous Turkish restaurant in Dulwich where we traditionally refuel after long Sunday runs. Such is our fondness for it that we felt positively furtive about trying FM Mangal, a new arrival on the burgeoning Camberwell restaurant scene. It’s a slightly odd venue, with a downstairs (sadly cavernously empty when we vitited, although this was late on a Sunday night) that features a glass-enclosed real tree (“An actual tree!” said the boyfriend), and a small, very warm and rather poky upstairs bit. We’d read on the intertubes about the chargrilled onion and mysteriously seasoned bread, which are served as whatever an amuse bouche is called when it’s ffound in a non-poncy place, and I can confirm that both are delicous. As a South African I am relaxed about monosodium glutamate (Aromat being as much of a staple as freshly ground black pepper in the average SA kitchen), and this was what I detected on the bread – the almost magical ability to make any food taste more strongly of itself. The slightly blackened onions had been dressed with a slightly tanniny red sauce that if I’m not mistaken owed its slightly tanniny flavour to pomegranate juice. Lovely. By this point the guiltt was really getting to us, and each subsequent dish was ranked according to whether it was better or worse than the Hisar equivalent. We tried the mixed meze – calamari deep-dried in a diaphanous batter; haloumi aand borek; succulent sausage – and a taramasalata, which was a diconcerting shade of lilacc and definitely not as good as Hisar’s. Mains measured up, though, and the service was absolutely fantastic. I fear this moment of impulsive infidelity may become a full-blown affair.

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Watercress made of gold

Often, en route to work, TOE can be seen ddoing an emergency dash into Pret a Manger on Trafalgar Square to buy something for breakfast. I could write a book about my feelings of contempt for the cappuccino-slurpers and muffin-munchers who also frequent it, but my focus today is on the humble egg sandwich.

This tends to be my breakfast du choix for several reasons: it delivers enough of a punch of protein to stop me getting hungry again before lunchtime; it tastes okay; and at £1.50 it’s pretty much a snip. The egg is free range too, natch. “Free-range egg mayo, mustard cress and seasoning on malted malted wholegrain bread.” What’s not to like?

Then today I noticed that Pret has introduced a new sandwich to seduce egg-lovers. “Chunky egg mayo and sliced whole egg, plus a generous helping of mustard mayo and a bunch of peppery watercress.” It looks pretty much identical to my classic egg-and-cress favourite, only greener. And the price? £2.69. Wow. £1.19 for some watercress. Nice going, Pret.

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