Something is happening in Folkestone. As the next phase of development of the harbour, seafront, and former Folkestone Harbour railway station kicks into gear, the ripples of renewed vigour are reverberating across the town. There's a sense of energy, creativity and derring-do that is pulsing through everything going on, a palpable feeling that Folkestone is a few short moves away from being a Kent coast spot that is about to 'pop'.
A key marker for this nascent and quickening uptick is Custom Folkestone, operating out of a shipping container on the swiftly regenerating Harbour Arm, flung like a pioneer outpost up against the buffeting winds and sea spray of the English Channel, the vanguard of a clutch of operators flying the flag for the renaissance of this port town nestled against the edge of the Kent North Downs. The old Custom House on the harbour is itself in process of a makeover, built in 1859 yet remaining damaged since shellfire during World War II, and will now form a focal point for the refurbished station and Harbour Arm.
Founded by artist and chef Cherry Truluck, this community interest project has a wide-ranging manifesto combining food, food-focused artistic projects, an ingredient and labour exchange/bartering system with the local community where a call for ingredients is put out each week to small growers (this week it's Jerusalem artichokes and tarragon), a vision to be a genuine transformative force within the community while 'changing the world, one whelk at a time' – Folkestone whelks are often on, fresh off the steamer and on to the menu.
The menu cartwheels through myriad influences, whirligiging from skate with wild garlic miso and sweet pickles to Folkestone huss cured with Walmestone Grower's beetroot and Dockyard gin; from a pitch-perfect slab of Jansson's Temptation to borscht with homemade yoghurt and apple. Scallop wontons make an appearance in a sonorous chilli/ginger broth – chillies with plenty of kick, from their own plant – while 'Crabaroni' cheese featured this week, crabs freshly steamed from Folkestone Trawlers and combined with Ottinge Court Farm cheese, their version of the Swiss cheese Mutschli. While chatting about growers and producers I'm introduced to the brilliant L.E.A.F. Folkestone, a community online market allowing seamless ordering and pick-up of local produce at the Quarterhouse.
Drinks feature the excellent sparkling from Terlingham Vineyard, the vines just a few miles away on the Kent North Downs, bread is courtesy of Docker Bakehouse and Brewery (operating from the shipping container next door), with ingredients for the menu obsessively sourced from local growers and producers. Together with the innovative Dr Legumes housed in another container alongside, there's a sense that this little patch almost pitched right into the sea, is a signifier of things to come, the brave outliers.
Rocksalt was undoubtedly the first bold culinary sign for Folkestone, led by chef Mark Sargeant, perched on its impossibly perfect location on the harbour, a slice of 'Côte-de-Folke' life – its opening in 2011 was a very early signifier of what was to come, and with the regeneration led by the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company now flipping into overdrive, the Harbour Arm has been revamped dramatically, becoming an increasingly vibrant hub for food and drink – this summer will be a big step change, a marked momentum shift. Custom are looking to add another connected container alongside soon, doubling the space.
The original genesis of Folkestone's renaissance is due to the titanic efforts of Sir Roger de Haan, who mainlined the proceeds of the £1.4 billion sale of his Saga group into the set-up of a visionary arts charity, The Creative Foundation, whose sole existence is simple – the regeneration of Folkestone.
The waves of current momentum have been sweeping through the Old High Street and surrounds over the last 18 months or so, with the arrival of The Folkestone Wine Company which I wrote about here, the opening of the swank, very shiny Radnor Arms and the imminent opening of the new project from Ben and Lucy Cuthbert – the couple behind the excellent Pullman pub (2014), Lubens pizzeria (2016), and recently acquired and transformed Harbour Inn (2018) – set to become an all-day café/bistro with a wine shop, fresh produce, and plans to brew their own beer on site. The huge building had lain abandoned for four years, and its reopening will bring fresh energy to the Creative Quarter. Chuck in the fact that Folkestone has a thrumming Nepalese community – due to the Royal Gurkha Rifles base – churning out the finest Momo dumplings available to humanity, and you have a right old culinary smackdown happening.
The Folkestone chatter is about to start getting noisier: HS1 train 45 minutes from Stratford International, 53 minutes from King's Cross International, you say? House prices a good 50-60% cheaper than most of London, you say? Hmmm....
Ahead of the curve? Custom is part of the curve, and it's only going to get better.
"You should cut down on your Folke Life mate, get some exercise....or some more whelks..." – Anonymous, Folkestone, 2019
Leyton Pub Rising
"Are you looking at my bird, mate?" and "Will you sing your songs outside?" – The Coach and Horses felt like this kind of dive for years: scuzzy carpet, grimy lavs, faint aura of menace.
It's all change with this impressive revamp, the kitchen led by hip-hop loving local chef Steven Wilson, who has spent time in some top London kitchens. With Leyton Orient currently languishing in the Vanarama National League – within chanting distance of the pub – this is another welcome boost for Leyton which has started getting jiggy, most significantly on Francis Road with the additions of Yardarm, Kettle & Ryan, Marmelo Kitchen and friends.
Several visits and the 'perfect pub' classics are being ticked off:
* Sausage roll is a Platonic ideal (massive) and a very fair £4.50 for the size. 1-0.
* Scotch Egg: Cumberland mince with a smattering of Clonakilty black pudding. Top corner.
* Crisp potato cake with roasted garlic mayo. Cheffy layers of mandolined potatoes, a nod to the classic Pavés de pommes de terre.
Hat-trick (2', 57', 89').
Return trips are made to make sure this isn't a mirage, just to check that it's a bona fide pub with owners that give a massive toss about what's going on. The Sunday Roast is a beauty, probably the best that Leyton has seen for decades. Beef suet pudding with mash and liquor is the clincher – deeply satisfying on a drizzly day, a mound of suet giving way to reveal hunks of tender short rib, the whole lot collapsing into parsley flecked liquor (no eel juice here, no eels on the menu...yet), with a jug of extra liquor on the side. Woof.
The owners have form, led by Ronnie Finch who transformed The Duke in Wanstead a few years ago, as well as partnering with chef Chris Hruskova on Hackney bakery The Bread Station – next project is the reopening of The Leytonstone Tavern.
"Will you sing your songs outside?" – Yes mate, just let me finish this Scotch Egg...
391 High Road
It was the 'Mission Chinese' spices on the fried chicken that hooked me in: have only seen Danny Bowien's firecracker Sichuan peppercorn charged spice mix appear in London once, at the peerless Black Axe Mangal in their 'wing spice'. Then a sausage and egg 'McMuffin' with slow cooked egg yolks and kimchi ketchup, appears on the brunch menu. Disciples of Bowien? Sod this, it's around the corner from me on the Wanstead/Forest Gate borders....cover me, I'm going in.
A short walk from Forest Gate and Wanstead Park stations, Arch Rivals occupy one of the arches on Winchelsea Road, and unlikely looking strip already perked up by wine shop and bar Burgess and Hall, and The Wanstead Tap. A couple of visits and I'm a believer: tiny menu of asian accented dishes to smack across the chops, alongside a sharply chosen list of beers, wine and cocktails. Pinot Gris from Mount Difficulty in Otago, New Zealand, is a winner with the food.
Jitterbugging across Asia over six dishes, these are bites falling squarely into the 'booze food' category, full of punch and spice to sustain and revive after a skinful. Sichuan aubergine here, smacked cucumber over there, a rib steak with miso butter and kimchi, XO sauce and Mapo Tofu darting in and out of the evening and brunch menus.
We just miss out on Dan Dan fried rice one evening (pork runs out) but with a swift substitution of kimchi for pork, it reminds me of a raucous evening in the Lower East Side in NYC, and a fried rice dish of salt cod at Bowien's Mission Chinese: oh look, there's a kedgeree fried rice dish with smoked haddock on at brunch. Riffs on Bowien, flashes of David 'Momofuku' Chang – we spot books from both on the shelf, alongside Pok Pok's Andy Ricker – reveal the influences the kitchen enjoy playing with most.
That 'McMuffin' is a gem: free-range pork patty with American cheese, the ooze of slow cooked egg yolk, kick of kimchi ketchup between a particularly good toasted muffin. Mushroom Mapo Tofu with jalapeño cornbread and eggs, hopping with Sichuan peppercorns and black beans – while feeling slightly dusty from the night before – is a most welcome Saturday breakfast.
I'm liking Arch Rivals – a bar with attitude and hutzpah.
361 Winchelsea Road
À Tout Le Monde
As well as founding one of the greatest thrash metal bands of all time – celebrating 35 years this year – Dave Mustaine has recently released a Megadeth beer, a Belgian style saison brewed by Unibroue, one of the most highly rated breweries in North America, who have won a hatful of medals along the way.
Crisp, beautifully balanced, subtle hop character, touch of coriander and lemony citrus, with a great little spicy lick at the end. Would work beautifully with spicier Thai curries, or taming the chilli heat of a Malaysian laksa noodle soup.
À Tout Le Monde is the name of one of the tracks from the Megadeth album Youthanasia (1994). Dave's interest in the drinks industry also includes Mustaine Vineyards, a winemaking project which includes La Reve, the family's private estate vineyard in California. He's often seen enjoying good food and drinks on his Instagram feed: it's not all thrash, thrash, thrash.
Winning its first Gold Medal last year for 'Best Saison', scoring the highest points in its category in the World Beer Championships, the beer has only recently become available in the UK.
Right, I'm off to listen to Holy Wars...The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990)
Distributor (Europe): kanata.fr
Restaurant Richard Wilkins
'Everybody laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they're not laughing now.' – Bob Monkhouse
Buckhurst Hill County High was a tough place in the late 1980s, one where getting to class each day tended to involve stepping around fisticuffs as it all ‘kicked off’, a boy’s school that had a seam of latent aggression simmering beneath the surface – of particular note was the ‘flob pit', whereby retrieving a stray football in the playground that had bounced down some basement stairs, required a quick grab and go before cries of ‘flob pit’ had echoed around, leaving the unfortunate lad covered in spittle and – I seem to remember – a high percentage of greenish flecked phlegm. Halcyon days.
A casual walk along Queen’s Road – around the corner from that school, closed years ago – sees me throwing a cartoon double-take towards a newly refurbed interior. Hang on, that’s not another tanning salon…it’s not even a nail boutique…glory be, it’s going to be a restaurant. The look of it recalls memories of the dining room of Alistair Little in Soho back in the 90s – starkly white, bright, a room unadorned with very much at all. I tap in the details on the window into Google….
Oh ‘ello, what’s this? Richard Wilkins, 29, a chef with time spent working at Maison Pic in France (Anne Sophie Pic’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Valence), the Waterside Inn in Bray, Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, and Chiswick’s Hedone, opening a thirty cover, swank looking place with a teeny open kitchen in the dining room? On Queen’s Road? The same quiet, cute, village-y Essex street that a member of TOWIE used to have a boutique? It would appear so. A booking is made.
Two days later and I’m scarfing an impeccable Landes Foie Gras torchon, with mango and papaya relish. A first, for Buckhurst Hill, fo’ sho’. Then it’s Cumbrian lamb, saddle and neck, cooked to blushing pink, crisp ribbons of deeply flavourful fat, with Cévennes onion (first journey to these parts, surely, for the sweet ‘Doux de Cévennes’ flourishing its AOP from the Gard in south central France) – it’s all several gear changes above anything else in IG9.
Agnolotti ‘Carbonara’ á la Heinz Beck’s lauded iteration with fagotelli pasta makes a welcome appearance (the Beck version I tried at The Lanesborough Hotel in 2009 was an eye-opening thrill-ride), and while not reaching the heights of those silken parcels of molten carbonara eruption, another couple of visits sees it much improved, the addition of guanciale rather than pancetta raising the game. Matthew Norman, in his 2009 Guardian review, best distils how good the Beck pasta was: '…parcels of impeccable fresh pasta filled with a cheesy, bacony cream that shot gratifyingly down the throat as you bit into them.' Yep, they were good.
There’s seared foie gras from the plancha on some days; Landes chicken and braised hispi cabbage on others; fresh pappardelle with pumpkin; whole native lobster cooked in brown butter with citrus zest has made an appearance – sourdough bread is particularly good, breadmaking skills bringing it into the same league as the wonderful bread at Hedone. There’s a moulleux au chocolat wedge that has this dessert dodger – usually ducking out after main courses – cooing at silken, satin textured fondant.
Matt Hough runs front of house (most recently at Hedone), and with the tiny kitchen set-up at the end of the room, the experience is currently akin to a private chef landing in your living room – no bad thing, when you can poke your nose over the pass and ask how he’s prepped the venison loin. Turns out Richard did lots of the refurb of the building himself, plastering and re-plastering, knocking a wall through here and there. The pair admit that the kitchen should really be bigger, but it’s the very start of their project – two months since opening – with everything still evolving.
Friends who went to school in Buckhurst Hill and have since moved away, they laugh when I tell them that this part of Essex is strutting like never before with ambitious openings. Well....
'Well, I can’t see anyone else smiling in here….are you sure?' – Jarvis Cocker (Common People, 1995)
75 Queens Road
Essex IG9 5BW
'O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings....' – John Keats
John Keats shared lodgings with his friend Henry Stephens on St. Thomas Street between 1815-16, while they were studying at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals. The street takes its name from the hospital – named after St Thomas Becket, sometime after his canonisation in 1173 – which for over six centuries occupied ground where St Thomas’ church has stood since 1704. The oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe survives in the garret at the top of the building, now a museum.
Duddell’s occupies St Thomas’ church, a grand old building built by Sir Christopher Wren’s master mason Thomas Cartwright, its Queen Anne architecture caught against the glowering shadow of The Shard – it’s an unlikely, beautiful setting for a restaurant.
Two Michelin star garlanded at their first restaurant in Hong Kong, arriving into a building wreathed in a rich history makes me immediately inwardly mutter: ‘Please don’t f**k this up’. It turns out that they haven’t – three visits confirm that it’s rather good.
There are shades of Hakkasan, echoes of Yauatcha, flickering throughout this premium menu (this is posh Chinese, with prices to match), which makes sense on discovering Head Chef Daren was previously Executive Chef with the Hakkasan Group.
A rat-a-tat-tat hammering of visits within a week revealed highlights of Peking Duck, its skin lacquered into ravishing crispness and carved tableside, skin to be dipped in fennel sugar, flesh wrapped with homemade pancakes and mandarin and sesame dressings; textbook prawn dumplings pass the 'Har Gau Test' (nowhere to hide here for a dim sum chef), crammed with sweet bouncy prawn, gossamer casings; glutinous rice with chicken in lotus leaf, generously filled; black pepper duck pumpkin dumplings, gentle pepper heat; prawn and crispy bean curd cheung fun, a playground of crunch and chew; a playful ‘Dim Sum Symphony’ of artfully crafted seafood dumplings (fishy shapes, little eyes) including king crab, scallop and prawn.
They are not dicking around with their chicken dishes, either, using the regal Poulet de Bresse in each plate of Cantonese soya chicken (poached and then smoked with jasmine tea leaf); crispy salted chicken (to gnaw and suck off the bones, the skin a joy; roasted pomegranate chicken a favourite of General Manager Xian Ming Chen. As someone who gets excited about a great chicken – yeah, sheltered life – this all gets a massive ‘high five’.
There’s every chance that Keats would have entered St Thomas’ church while studying here (a statue of him was installed in 2007 outside the hospital building across the road, within an alcove from the original London Bridge dating back to 1176), finding solace from an area he described as ‘a beastly place in dirt, turnings and windings’. In 1815 this part of Southwark was littered with dilapidated buildings, open ditches of waste, and frequented by thieves and prostitutes.
Duddell’s is already doing a fine job of giving this building, steeped as it is in the history of the area, a renewed relevance and resonance for this part of town.
9A St. Thomas Street
Turkish food is currently shapeshifting in London, a chameleon changing its colours and emerging brighter, more stylish, with more tricks up its sleeve than the classic 'mangal' formula. Restaurants like Skewd, Yosma, soon to open Hovarda, and Pide on Charlotte Street are shaking moves that knock many hum drum Turkish offerings into a cocked Fez.
No longer involved in his first Turkish foray, Babaji Pide, Alan Yau's latest restaurant is still going long on the boat shaped pide breads (karadeniz with oozing egg; develi; pastirma; sucuk and friends), but this time adds lahmacun into the mix (hoorah), alongside flatbreads of roast chicken, salt beef, and Turkish tandir bread.
This tiny joint feels a lot more 'real' than Babaji ever did, less bling, less shiny, and far more useful as a place to drop into on the hoof. A first visit for lahmacun (with excellent quality salad), and a Karadeniz pide spaffing it's yolk over the meat – yes, all good. Cute touch of butter wrapped in paper on the side, for rubbing over the edges of the pide dough.
Çok güzel – 'very beautiful'.
26 James St
I'm LOVEN' It
"Tottenham, Tottenham, no one can stop 'em...", as the 1982 FA Cup Final squad belted out with Chas and Dave before going on to win the trophy – now the momentum is with the food and drink offerings in the area, a growing list that includes Five Miles bar, the arrival of Pressure Drop brewery (joining Beavertown and Redemption), Craving Coffee with food residencies, and Tottenham Green Market. After the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is completed next year, the options are going to ratchet up several notches.
In an arts space on an industrial estate off Broad Lane (still suitably edgy and ragged around the edges), Kate Allison and pizzaiolo Fabrizio Interdonato have installed their custom made wood burning Neapolitan pizza oven. Fabrizio has worked at the noted L'Antica Pizzeria in Hampstead, as well as at Princi since arriving from Sicily, and a couple of visits confirm that he has the moves: the Margherita D.O.P. should keep most pizza fascists happy, those who may be concerned about the accuracy of the leopard spotting on the 'cornicione' crust, and the integrity of buffalo mozzarella that hasn't been overcooked and leaked a watery mess all over the shop. The details are taken care of here.
Feels a bit like the outer reaches of Brooklyn NYC as you approach the building (walk past three times, where the hell is it?), dodge the bins, skip past the 'CCTV WATCHING' graffiti on the wall (spooky), and press the buzzer for entry – speakeasy pizza? Almost.
There's more to come: their bakery, wine shop and café opens in September in Tottenham Hale, close to Beavertown brewery. How they laughed when I told friends that Tottenham is set to become the next Deptford. It's happening. Whack a pizza on the sideboard next to the beer please, lads...
"I've got my beer in the sideboard here, let mother sort it out if he comes round 'ere..." – The Sideboard Song, Chas and Dave (1979)
2 Norman Road
A flurry of scintillating dishes at TāTā Eatery in Haggerston from 'rice master' Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves. Ox cheek and bone marrow wrapped in diaphanous rice paper; pickled asparagus tempura with crab and lovage mayonnaise; raw smoked Galician beef with egg yolk, and exemplary rice; turbot head in a haunting toasted rice dashi stock; curried alfalfa sprouts, shiitake and vermicelli – quietly, assuredly brilliant.
Already racked up several visits to Jacob Kenedy's new pub on Regents Canal, which delights in serving up Cajun and Creole dishes from Louisiana. Oysters Rockefeller; gumbo; boiled crawfish; fried shrimp; smoked pork boudin; crab cakes; shrimp 'n' grits. Standing at the bar has been the preferred mode of attack, with a pint of Juicebox Citrus IPA (a pokey, eye widening 5.9% ABV).
The wine list is a gem too, with sole supplier Theatre of Wine pulling the vinous strings: Valencian white and red from Academia Nocturnos may be the best house wines in town (£19). Shrimp 'n' grits are a cosseting number; creamy, buttery, soothing. Sucking stuffed crawfish heads plucked from their slick of bisque is a particular pleasure, alongside some spicy pickled okra and pickled quail's eggs.
A Sazerac cocktail and a 'Peacemaker' Po' Boy (fried oyster and bacon) is a merry combination. 'Put Some South in Yo' Mouth' is the flourish on their website – yeah, go on then.
“…so I back again to Deptford, and there find them just sat down. And so I down with them; and we had a good dinner of plain meat, and good company at our table: among others, my good Mr. Evelyn…” – The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Monday 3rd June, 1667)
Deptford has held a fascination for me ever since reading A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess, a fictionalised narrative account of the murder of playwright Christopher Marlowe – a contemporary of Shakespeare – during a brawl in a house on Deptford Strand in 1593.
I read that book around twenty years ago, yet visited Deptford for the first time last year, driven by the news that the area was in the nascent stages of a renaissance, spearheaded by the revamp and renovation of the Grade II listed carriage ramp (the oldest of its kind in London), its arches, and the public space beside it. Food and drink was the main lure, to sniff out anything interesting going on as part of the renaissance – then to retrace the steps of Marlowe…
A plaque on a wall in the grounds of St Nicholas church, a short walk from the high street states that ‘near this spot lie the mortal remains of Christopher Marlowe’, along with a line from his play Dr Faustus. The intrigue and mystery regarding the brawl and what happened to Marlowe is another story, with one theory remaining that he fled the country and continued to write plays, some of which may have been ones attributed to Shakespeare – high drama indeed.
Then I begin to uncover more layers of history that are steeped in the core of Deptford and am a little dumbstruck. It begins with finding out that the first Royal Naval Dockyard was established here by Henry VIII. I start to revel in asking friends, any Londoner, a question: ‘When did you last go to Deptford?’, knowing there’s a 98% chance the answer will be ‘never’.
Pepys was often kicking around Deptford in the 17th Century, mainly due to his position working for the the Royal Navy as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board – dining and drinking crops up often in his entries.
This former fishing village and base for the English Navy is dripping with more history than most London suburbs, buried over the centuries. It was mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, part of the pilgrim’s route to Canterbury; Pepys’ friend and fellow diarist John Evelyn developed the sprawling Sayes Court and gardens, adjacent to the first Royal Navy dockyard founded by Henry VIII in 1513; Sir Francis Drake was knighted in Deptford aboard The Golden Hind by Elizabeth I on returning from his circumnavigation of the world in 1581, the ship left on display in Deptford for over a hundred years; Sir Walter Raleigh had a ship built here which later fought the Spanish Armada.
That dockyard is now the empty 42 acres of Convoys Wharf, currently in an uneasy limbo regarding its future – the fear for years has been that it will become another apartment edifice on The Thames:
"When Convoys Wharf has been redeveloped, the history of the King's Yard and its Tudor remains will lie in a shallow grave underneath shiny apartment blocks and cappuccino bars. Professionals will move into the residential towers, which will probably be named after Drake's Golden Hinde. And when their dinner party guests ask them where the docks used to be, they will reply: 'I don't know' – Kieran Long: Battle for Convoys Wharf, Evening Standard, Oct 2011
A charity has been set up since 2011 with the highly laudable aim of building a full-size replica of The Lenox, a warship that was built in the dockyard for Charles II – The Lenox Project represents one of the best possible future uses for the site which would secure the legacy and history of a site with such historical maritime significance.
The adjacent Royal Victoria Victualling Yard which stored provisions now forms the Pepys Estate, a social housing project opened in 1966 which itself became mired from the 80s with a reputation for crime and unrest, which itself now has bounced back from darker days.
Another reason to have affection for Deptford? The bounciest Grime star to date, Elf Kid, is from Deptford, and rat-a-tats lyrics that reference the area:
Hello, my name's Elf
All the same people, you already know me
Yes, I'm a local pest
Deptford Market's local rep – Golden Boy (2015)
It’s the most dizzyingly addictive song I’ve heard in ages, and the video bristles with images of Deptford High Street, Pepys Estate, and nearby Lewisham.
Food and drink? Oh yeah, almost forgot about that. It’s happening, and more is to come. Deptford Market Yard quickly added good operators, including Little Nan’s Bar, Mama’s Jerk, and Archie’s Bar. Independent brewer Villages moved in. The Brookmill pub a short hop away towards St Johns is another indicator of what’s happening.
Now I have another reason to return: helping out with a few bits at Winemakers Deptford in the high street, a quite brilliant wine bar (biased, yes, but it is a ‘stonker’, as Elf Kid might say), with a great kitchen – crab croquetas; Lincolnshire Poacher soufflé; homemade charcuterie, their own bread and butter…and the owners of Artusi in Peckham are close to opening an Italian restaurant a few doors away. It’s all kicking off.
A swift 10 minutes walk from Greenwich’s Cutty Sark; 7 minutes from Cannon Street; a DLR stop at Deptford Bridge – the connections are easy, rapid, surprisingly easy.
When did you last go to Deptford? From Samuel Pepys to Elf Kid, it’s a journey worth taking.
The Black Garlic
Turkish food has been feeling the love like never before over the last few years, helped by a number of young bucks (Turks?) who are finally shifting things away from the ‘identikit mangals’ around Stoke Newington, Dalston and Green Lanes, which often look – and indeed, start to taste – all a bit samey.
So when I catch wind of a couple of chaps doing something a bit different at a recent opening in Leyton, I peg it down there. Suleyman Kahraman and Sameer Shahzada are the chefs/owners, and have previously had stints between them with Giorgio Locatelli, Jason Atherton, Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc: not your average Turkish kitchen team’s CV.
The site is on the former Gym’s Kitchen, a ‘protein based restaurant’ geared towards dumbbell botherers – nothing much has changed inside, the interior not having shaken off the soulless ‘anti-restaurant’ design ethic of the previous incumbents (muscle bound characters still adorn the doors of the loos), so cash has clearly not been spaffed on the interior….yet. I rat-a-tat-tat several visits over a few days. Turns out they have some moves.
Böbrek Kavurma (lamb’s kidneys) arrive in their own cutesy iron skillet, and set things off at a cracking pace. Juicy, well seasoned kidneys (no honk, cleaned well), a flourish of red onions, a squeeze of lemon. Moppage and more moppage with flatbread, chasing round the last sticky slick of sauce.
Kuzu Kavurma is a beauty, tomatoes and onions cooked down into silken sweetness, chunks of lamb carrying the char of the grill, with rendered, wobbling nuggets of flavour packed fat amidst a muddle of Turkish peppers and spring onions. Mopped up with plenty of flatbread. A belter.
Karni Yarik is an artful interpretation of the classic oven baked stuffed aubergine dish, the ‘split belly’ of slowly cooked aubergine stuffed with minced meat, onions, and tomatoes – here, the mince is spewing out and around rather than neatly packed in, and other than needing a grind of salt to perk it up, is excellent.
Plating is considered, but not wanky. Yes, there’s some wooden board action going on, but this is forgiven when some of the dishes on these are served in their own cast-iron cookware, keeping everything at exocet heat until the last morsel. And what’s this? Chefs bringing the dishes from the kitchen to the tables? Lordy, this has never happened in the huddle of Turkish grills in N4.
A promising opening. BYO wine seals the deal. Grab a bottle from Yardarm five minutes away on Francis Road.
The kitchen has started firing at Winemakers Deptford, the new wine bar on Deptford High Street. Helping out in the background with these chaps has its perks: a justifiable excuse to drop in and try more of the dishes that Head Chef Rory Shannon (ex-Canton Arms) and Andrew Gray (Petersham Nurseries) have been conjuring up.
Crab croquetas are a staple on the menu, oozing with a wicked brown/white meat béchamel; Lincolnshire Poacher cheese soufflé is a darn beauty; fresh pappardelle (Andrew the pasta whizz) with wild garlic pesto; dry aged Angus beef rib with bone marrow (loads of wobbling marrow), excellent béarnaise, and impeccable chips (frites style, hand-cut)
Charcuterie is made in-house by Rory, and Andrew has been making Rowies on Sundays, a butter drenched Aberdeen bread roll. Sticky Middlewhite pork with Shaoxing broth and peanut pickle has made an appearance....
Wines are all imported by owner John Baum, and are worth the trip alone – the opening of the kitchen has added the final flourish.
Full Spin Ahead
When Primeur opened in a former garage on a quiet leafy street in Canonbury three years ago, a first thought came to mind: "Good luck chaps, this is a tough spot. Hope you can make this work." It has since become my most visited restaurant in London.
Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell have opened their second site, Westerns Laundry, just fifteen minutes walk away (some have referred to this part of Holloway as LoHo - shudder), this time in a 1950's building that used to house a wholesale laundry business – this knack of finding disused sites and turning them into convivial dining rooms is now looking like it was no fluke first time around. Head Chef James Mitchell takes the reins alongside manager and wine Tsar Francis Roberts, both of whom have been working at Primeur in the build-up to opening.
This time they are 'focusing on produce from the sea' (they have good form, having worked together at Wright Brothers) and a first visit has already shown them nailing the brief and smashing it out of Drayton Park. The chalkboard menu has plenty to entice each day. Three of us gave the menu a right old hammering.
Cuttlefish and ham croquettes are remarkable, first tasted at a Westerns menu trailer evening at Primeur: crisp panko crumbed casing, jammed with chunks of cuttlefish and its ink, to be dredged through a wickedly garlicky aïoli. Order these or go home.
Langoustines and Marie Rose sauce (superior prawn cocktail) feature some of the fattest langoustines around, large sods that deserve having their heads sucked of every last dribble of juice. £3 each? We order three rounds. If they can keep those prices, it will be happening again.
Baked lobster fideuà pasta has its vermicelli noodles steeped in sonorously rich stock, speaking of lobster shells and its gubbins. £17. Likely to happen again, too.
We also take down silky raw seabass; grilled mackerel with miso, chilli and spring onions; tomatoes and crème fraîche (stunning tomatoes); oysters; top notch Paleta Ibérica jamón; more of those ridiculous croquettes.
Francis pours a glass of Werlitsch's 'Legoth', an Austrian Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc that is remarkably fresh and perky for its ten years of age. We also hammer through many Picon Bières, a supercharged serve of Alsace's Meteor lager that they take seriously here: blizzard cold, slammable.
Open kitchen, counter dining, and the room hums in the evening with the same energy, joie de vivre and candlelit charm of Primeur. I'll be at the counter...
34 Drayton Park
An early visit to Lorne in the formerly depressing restaurant wasteland of Victoria (A. Wong was at the vanguard of the upturn a few years ago, a couple of doors away), reveals some smart cooking from chef and co-owner Peter Hall, and a razor sharp wine list by fellow owner Katie Exton. They bring some tasty pedigree with them, including The Square, Chez Bruce, The River Cafe, Brawn and Benu in San Francisco – the expectation is on them to be shaking some impressive moves from the kick off.
Cuttlefish is deftly fried with a boldly seasoned semolina/cornflour crumb, alongside a punchy romesco humming with the addition of a bisque sauce that speaks of simmered prawn heads and their friends. Bream with baby gem, puntarelle and monk's beard comes in a sonorous, beautifully balanced dashi broth, the fish having had a quick brine before cooking: cleansing, ascetic, echoes of Japan. A dessert dodger (me) managed to enjoy a homely Yorkshire curd tart with 'builder's tea ice cream' which does indeed spookily taste like just like builder's tea...I later find out that Yorkshire Tea bags play a leading role.
Grower Champagne Veuve Fourny 1er Cru as the house fizz at £9.50 sets the tone, and when you see Produttori del Barbaresco and Kumeu River by the glass on the first page, you know you'll be in safe hands. Fleur de Thénac Rouge is one of the best value reds in town.
Lorne is wedged between Turkish restaurant Kazan and Znips hair salon (I missed it walking past four times), but there's enough going on here to pull me back again soon – and in this fervid London restaurant opening climate, that's becoming something of a rarity.
A couple of plates at Stevie Parle's latest opening in Clerkenwell are compelling enough to plan another visit, pronto. Housed in a building of shared serviced offices run by foraspace.com (Fora prefer 'pro-working' to 'co-working'), this corner site on Central Street - the 'no-mans land' between The Barbican and Old Street - has the feel of a neighbourhood joint you may find tucked away off The Bowery, in New York.
Riffing on the dishes and flavours of Rome, the menu reads like a beauty: saltimbocca; chicken, pancetta and pistachio meatballs; rigatoni with veal pajata; tonarelli cacio e pepe. Ravioli of spinach and squash are ruddy good, a generous portion for £8, excellent lurid green pasta: the amount of butter they wallow in is reassuring. Pillowy bites of gnocchi alla Romana with brown butter and sage deserve a 'high five' and have 'order again' written all over their Parmesan and sage strewn pucks. Bombolotti ragù 'Marcella', inspired by cookery writer Marcella Hazan, who effectively 'blueprinted' the correct way to make a ragù bolognese, is also safe in the hands of this River Café alumnus.
The open kitchen adds to the hubbub in the room which also serves as the entrance to the offices, plates of food being passed out for some kind of work 'do' or networking event going on the night I was there. The River Café begun life as the canteen for the architects next door – not a bad precedent if the parallels begin to be drawn here. Next time, arrowing in on the saltimbocca...
Taste of Sichuan
Walthamstow has been stubborn. E17 is still gagging for more decent restaurants, while nearby neighbourhoods of Leyton, Leytonstone, Woodford and Wanstead are now ahead in the North-East London pecking order – so I'm instinctively pessimistic when I hear of a new Sichuan restaurant in the main drag of the market. Several visits later, and yep, it's a good 'un. After some digging I find out why – they have some some pedigree. They own The Sichuan on City Road EC1, which received raves last year from Giles Coren and Jay Rayner. Executive Chef is Zhang Xiao Zhong, originally from Chengdu, and was the Head Chef at Soho's Bar Shu in 2005, before moving to Hutong in The Shard. He has also helped Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop with her book Every Grain of Rice.
A classic Sichuan cold corn-fed chicken dish, fiery with the numbing thwack of Sichuan peppercorns and a peanutty 'special homemade sauce' is a ripper. Other highlights: Gong Bao chicken; Wontons in red chilli; Dan Dan noodles; 'Boiled Beef in Extremely Spicy Sauce' (not that palate scalding, really). The utilitarian box of a brightly lit dining room won't win any awards, but this is now on the 'once a week' list – E17 may be slow off the mark, but it's getting better.
A taco storm is sweeping London and the ones firing out at Breddos are Champions League quaility. Nud Dudhia and Chris Whitney started their taco shack in a Hackney car park in 2011, before several pop-ups and residencies, an extended stint with Street Feast, and now to their first permanent home on Goswell Road. A first visit revealed a flurry of belting plates: Pig's head cochiita pibil; beef rib eye with shrimp chiltomate; kung pao pork belly. Corn for tacos, tortillas and tostadas are ground each day on the volcanic stone mill. A special mention for an infernal sea urchin and queenie scallop tostada, an iodine slap of sea urchin and sweet, sweet scallop, with a kick of spice and chilli heat. The masa fried chicken taco with roasted habanero may need to be ordered twice on each visit: sodding good.
Tacos, tacos, tacos. London is under a taco onslaught at the moment, and Temper have brought their own taco game to Soho. This jaw-dropping Soho basement site are grinding corn from Masienda, who partner with local farmers, smallholders and producers to produce top draw Mexican ingredients: the emphasis is on promoting agricultural bio-diversity, sustainability, and supporting smallholder farmers. The rough hewn tacos have heft and texture, and toppings are playful and imaginative: soy-cured beef, fermented chilli and sesame; aubergine and chipotle miso, green chilli, avocado; blowtorched mackerel, avocado, bottarga and green sauce; ibérico ham, pineapple, mozzarella, chipotle passata (a riff on a Hawaiian pizza…one worth eating). Smoked and grilled meats are cooked in the huge, supermodel of an open kitchen. The wine list is worth giving a good bashing, too
Enter the biryani. Who doesn’t like a good biryani? How often do we order one? Probably not often enough. This basement site on Wardour Street is aiming to blitz all (most) of those other distracting options from your Indian meal: you WILL walk out having ordered a biryani, the end. Chicken wings tossed in a spicy/sour Masala threaten to overshadow everything before we even see a biryani, hopping with slow chilli burn and a masala that has us chasing it around and sucking it off the bone. Andhra Prawn Fry has a similarly wicked sauce of red chilli and coconut. 'Scoop-up’ worthy.
Biryani arrives festooned with a pastry top – crack into that, scoop up fluffy rice scented with fragrant spice, hunks of lamb shank, and whack in the accompaniments of green chilli curry, boiled egg, and a smoked aubergine raita, if you’re in the mood. The tiny booths are cute, the place is cosy, the biryani mighty fine. Another Cobra please. Make it two. Cheers.
Steak, Chips, Bijou Wine List
I'm helping with the wine list for this two months residency at The Newman Arms, Fitzrovia. Philip Warren's grass-fed Cornish beef, hand cut chips, and a little list of wines at rather silly prices. Upstairs at The Newman Arms.
Turkish cuisine is having a bit of a 'moment' in London right now, and the 'styling' of Turkish concepts is starting to be seen around the Capital, this one fashioned by the Arch Mage and soothsayer of recent London restaurant history, Alan Yau (Wagamama, Hakkasan, Yauatcha) and his team. As well as having the Midas touch with a ream of concepts over the years, Alan's wife and Operations Director is a bona fide Turk, ensuring the details will be spot on. A wood fired oven of considerable beauty dominates proceedings, pumping out Pide flatbreads. Manti (Turkish ravioli), Köfte, and stews feature too. A 100% Turkish wine list is a Brave New World and deserves applause.
53 Shaftesbury Avenue
Fitzrovia is humming with the crackle and energy of a rejuvenated dining and drinking scene. Head Chef Vernon Samuels most recently cooked at Bibo restaurant in Putney, and his menu is sparking with some belting dishes. Middle Eastern with flashes of influences from the Mediterranean, there is plenty to explore. Slow cooked short rib braised in Ras el Hanout with Jerusalem cous cous is a stormer, and beef cheek tagine with Agen prunes is another highlight. Za'atar Burrata with heirloom tomatoes is notable for having the creamiest, most seductive Burrata in town, from the estimable importers Natoora. A chef quietly shaking things up in Fitzrovia.
Kitty Fishers is close to opening, a cute little site in Shepherd Market focusing on its wood grill, with Tomos Parry heading up the kitchen. The mighty Galician 'Txuleton' beef will feature on selected days with huge 1.5kg chops cooked over a custom made grill — first rumblings of testing in the kitchen. Basque style gin and tonics are in the mix, and a first look at the wine list reveals gems in Jean Foillard's Morgon (a daddy of Beaujolais), Sylvain Bzikot's Puligny-Montrachet, and a Sybille Kuntz Riesling from the Mosel: a list worth exploring. Here, Kitty Kitty....
One of my local pubs has undergone a shuddering, glorious transformation. Pulled up sharply by its boot straps, it has gone from gloomy, scruffy and intimidating to a bright and sunny, family friendly pub, with a food and drink offering of genuine charm. Recently installed Head Chef is Christoffer Hruskova, formerly of Michelin starred North Road in Farringdon. The menu is now a joy, with some storming recent highlights: stout braised Ox cheeks with smoked bone marrow; smoked foie gras and quince compote; tattie scones with egg and bacon on the brunch menu. Hoorah. Wanstead deserves this pub.
Andrew Wong is cooking some of the most exciting modern Chinese dishes in the UK right now, and kicks things up a gear with a basement bar dedicated to snacks and drinks pairings. Yunnanese seared beef with fermented chilli bean paste, lemongrass and mint; 'Imperial Style' chicken floss with spun sugar; crispy foie gras with air dried sausage and pomelo — just a few of the dishes. The dim sum will play a role too, amongst the finest in London.
Smoking Goat arrives in Soho this week, a wood ember barbecue with punchy and uncompromising Thai flavours. Smoked lamb ribs basted with fermented shrimp, chilli and palm sugar; fish sauce wings; slow roast duck legs; coal roast scallops with red Nam Yum; whole chilli crab; oysters with Thai dipping sauces; fiery Som Tam papaya salads. We've had the pleasure of putting a wine list together for them, so get stuck into that, or get tucked in to some rare Brooklyn lager 'Sorachi Ace'. It's a whole lot of fun with the feel of a gritty dive bar — you may stay longer than intended.
'Spring' opens this week in the gob smackingly beautiful re-furbed wing of Somerset House. Skye Gyngell's new restaurant is one of the most anticipated this year, and a first glimpse and taste of the wine list put together by sommelier Frank Embleton has revealed a list that sparkles with gems. Sugrue-Pierre sparkling from a Sussex vineyard, made by ex-Nyetimber winemaker Dermot Sugrue is a 60% Chardonnay/40% Pinot Noir blend of real poise and elegance. Look out for the Muscadet 'Cuvée Excellence' 2011 by Château du Coing de Saint Fiacre — at £29 it may well be one of the best value/quality whites in a London restaurant.
An impromptu lunch found us diving into Boopshi's for the first time, and what a spritz fuelled fun lunch it was. Wiener schnitzel in a bun; bockwurst and bratwurst; gooey, cheesy spätzle with speck; energising Campari spritz with a shot of sherbet; goblets of whistle clean lager. Cute little wine list, too. Schnitzel and Spritz, yeah.
Mission is a Californian wine bar and kitchen showcasing the finest wines of the Golden State. The list is dripping with the kind of beauties usually reserved for la-dee-da restaurants — it's a game changer. The second venture from Sager and Wilde, who have already shifted the London wine landscape with their first bar in Hackney, is brave, bold and unique. The best place to drink Californian wine in the UK has arrived.
The best wine merchant you've never heard of has just opened a shop under Holborn Viaduct. Supplier to many top London restaurants, The Winemakers Club is now also a place where you can drink great wines for a small corkage. If you like wine....GO.
Caprice Holdings stalwart Daphne's has emerged from a subtle yet significant revamp, with a cosy re-launched bar which is begging to be used for an impulsive Chelsea drive-by. Veal ravioli, Fritto Misto, excellent Vitello Tonnato. A Barrel-Aged Negroni awaits...
Alan Yau is set to shine a light onto the Turkish staples of Pide (unsatisfactorily coined 'Turkish pizza'), and Lahmacun (minced lamb flatbreads). Woodfired oven. 100% Turkish wines. Shaftesbury Avenue. Babaji Pide is set for the end of August.
Clapton. Never been? A new wine bar has taken over a pub in resurgent Clapton, and my oh my it's a beauty. Ed Wyand and Tom Bell have created a Mecca for great wine (what a list), charcuterie (impeccably sourced), and cheese (same again). Champagne in the picture is Savart. Drink it. Go to Clapton. Clapton is GOOD.
The food at Antidote Wine Bar sure is purrrtty since Mikael Jonsson (of Hedone fame) is pulling the menu strings. Take a look at this cute as pie Guinea Fowl dish. The lunch menu is stupid value.
A sunshine dappled Primeur on the Islington/Stoke Newington borders from restaurant alumni with serious pedigree, David Gingell and Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim, remains one of the most joyful lunch venues in town. On the site of a former garage in the 1930's, the quiet tree lined street is idyllic. Small plates of simple brilliance. They like Lambrusco, too, which means we love them long time.
Salmon tartare? In a taco? Crunch of casing? Silky fish? Masago and miso dressing? Reasons to go to UNI. Sharp wine list, too.