Tuesday 31 January 2012

Latte art training at Extract

Commit To The Pour. The same four words bounced around inside my head, mocking, taunting as yet another of my failed attempts at ‘latte art’ swirled down the plughole. It all looked so easy when our tutor, Sam patiently demonstrated the process for the umpteenth time, pouring a beautifully textured coffee adorned with an infuriatingly neat and symmetrical ‘rosetta’ (the industry name for the delicate, fern shaped, artistic pattern often seen decorating decent coffee). Fighting down the strong urge to howl in rage and knock the perfect cup to the ground, stamping on the broken pieces like a petulant child, I step forward, determined for another go.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a total carve up. My milk is too ‘stretched’ and I adorn my cup with a shapeless foaming milk blob. Cappuccino anyone?
Pouring my effort down the sink and gritting my teeth, I prepare to go again…

‘E’ and I were spending the morning at Extract, a South West based artisan coffee roaster of some renown and we’re learning how to ‘do coffee’, more specifically flat whites and lattes.

Irritatingly, ‘E’ is great at it from the start. (Hardly surprising from someone who owns a café). Me? I’d been quickly sized up; my capabilities measured and had been relegated to the remedial class of just one pupil, pouring the somewhat easier dumb-ass heart shape instead of the soaring phoenix like Rosetta. It felt like I’d been handed a coffee bean shaped dunce hat.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Sam insists that’s all it needs, and after 3 hours or so, I was back in the nerdy top set, adorning coffees with a stunted and withered parody of a fern shape instead of milk foam icebergs.

I had no idea that there were so many factors and variables to getting it right. The texture of the steamed milk, the height of the pour, the size of the cup, the angle it’s held, the angle of the milk jug and if that wasn’t enough, the right wiggle movement when creating the pattern. The pros make it look so easy. Bastards.

By the end of the morning, my face plastered with a smug grin, I’d actually produced something that was aesthetically pretty decent. So what if the cup was only three quarters full and any customer I attempted to foist it upon would immediately complain and refuse to pay for it? I’m chuffed with my final effort. Yes I need more practice, but I actually sort of know what I’m doing, kind of.

So, here’s what I learnt…

Tamp the coffee nice and flat, but not too hard (30lbs of pressure to be exact – I’ve no idea how you’d actually put that information to any practical use though)

Flush the machine and the steam wand before and after each use.

Use a small jug, and fill it to the same height each time – make only 1 cup at a time.

Insert the steam wand into one side of the milk, to create a vortex.
‘Stretch the milk’ for only a second or so, you want an initial crackle and then the wand needs to pushed slightly deeper into the milk. There shouldn’t be any loud hissing and spitting, more a smooth murmur.

Hold your hand on the jug and turn the steam off as soon as it feels too hot to hold.

The milk should be slightly creamy, not foamy.

Bang the jug’s base on a flat surface firmly, to remove any bubbles and then swirl the milk to add texture.

Hold the coffee cup at a downward angle.

Swirl the milk again right before pouring.

Commit to the pour, once you start, just go for it – (any half ass-ness will guarantee it goes wrong).

Pour the milk from around 4” or so height into the centre of the coffee, and move the jug closer as you pour until the jug is at right angles and the spout is pretty much touching the coffee. At this point, make tiny small sideways movements, whilst gradually straightening the cup as it fills.

The final flourish is a straight pour through the centre of your (hopefully) beautiful rosetta pattern.

After the training, we had a brief opportunity for a look around, and spent some time admiring the massive cast iron heft of ‘Betty’, Extract’s centrepiece and very much in use 1955 vintage coffee roaster that had been so lovingly restored that to my layman eyes looked like it had been built yesterday.

So, putting what I’d learnt into practice, my first attempt in ‘E’s café this morning wasn’t half bad. The milk was exactly the right texture, I didn’t manage anything that could be described as a rosetta, but the fancy artistic squiggles will come with more practice, the main thing was, it was the best coffee I’ve ever made. So, right now I’m more than happy with that.

Thanks to David, Samm, Marc and Sam for being so welcoming (and patient) as we spent hours making one disastrous coffee after another until we got it right… well, nearly.

Extract Coffee Roasters

Telephone: 01454 228 457


Tuesday 24 January 2012

Shallot Puree

There are some recipes that, for the home cook, remain nothing but food porn. Almost impossible to re-create in a domestic kitchen, except for only the truly masochistic or the utterly deranged, they remain exclusively the domain of chefs in the professional restaurant kitchen.

Often, the stumbling block is the lack of some expensive piece of kitchen kit. I’m thinking sous vide and vacuum sealer, siphon and N20 cartridge. Or perhaps it’s just the sheer impossibility of making and storing umpteen different component parts for one dish, in your postage stamp sized domestic fridge.

But that’s not to say these problematic recipes don’t have uses. I often scan through inspiring cookbooks, mentally discarding overly complicated elements and settling on a part of the recipe that’s a bit more do’able.

As was the case with my New Favourite Thing, shallot puree from the recently released Galvin Cookbook De Luxe.
The dish it’s featured as a component in isn’t ridiculously complex, although the recipe does ask for a very specific red wine and uses both chicken stock and chicken jus in the 2 1/2 hour cooking time. The real problem with this dish for me is that it’s a quite a bit of faffing around, when it’s pretty likely I’d be the only one eating it. It’s slow cooked short-rib of beef and ‘E’ is a frigging pescetarian. Bugger.

Forcing the thought of beef short-rib from my mind, the shallot puree element of this dish was a revelation for me. It’s just so bloody nice! I made it out of sheer curiosity, and it just blew me away. Subtly sweet, creamy and flavoured throughout with that sticky golden savoury taste of slow cooked onions. I fell instantly in love and started thinking what I could serve it with.

The Galvins obviously serve it with beef, but as ‘E’ can’t eat that – I thought it might be nice piled with some chargrilled purple sprouting broccoli, sautéed potatoes, garlic and tarragon crumb…and a poached egg – just for the sheer hell of it.

Oh yeah, frigging spot on. It was, even if I say so myself, muchos delicious’osh.

Shallot Puree

60g unsalted butter
300g Shallots, finely sliced
50ml Double Cream
200ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Sea Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Melt the butter over a low heat in a pan, and add the shallots. Sweat on the lowest heat for 1 hour until soft and golden brown. Add cream and stock, cook for another 5 mins. Puree in a blender and season to taste.

That’s all there is to it. Almost too simple. I used veg stock, instead of chicken and it was great. Now I’m wondering what else would it go well with.
What do you think?

Thursday 12 January 2012

3 years of Essex Eating!

Today is a momentous occasion, a special day indeed. Cup your hand to your ear and listen carefully. Hear that noise? That low murmur from right outside in the street rising in pitch louder and louder until it’s an almost deafening roar of celebration? It’s the sound of a hundred thousand trillion (at least) satisfied readers celebrating the fact that this, the blog I started in January 2009 as a new year resolution is 3 years old! That’s right people, the terrible two’s were so 2011 – it’s trois, trois and frigging trois Happy Birthday to moi!

As is now traditional, I like to celebrate this most sacred of occasions by re-capping on the previous year, the good, the bad and downright Antony Worrall Thompson gorging on stolen Tesco cheese and washing it down with cheap wine from the bottle. So, this was 2011….

Best meal I ate in 2011

Looking back, seems like it was a vintage year for eating in restaurants, I ate out loads and loved (mostly) every minute of it. The absolute highlight had to be finally making it to The Sportsman in March. Proving to be everything I’d heard it was cracked up to be, the lunchtime tasting menu blew me away, in fact it was probably the best meal I’ve ever had.

Saying that, in July I had an absolute belting lunch with Niamh of ‘Eat like a girl’ at Simon Rogan’s London outpost, Roganic. I can’t recommend it enough, such beautiful and interesting food.

November saw a visit to Mark Hix’s Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis as part of a Talisker Whisky tasting event. Bloody hell, it was a treat – very British, very seasonal and incredibly elegant, after years of enviously watching other, more financially flush diners tucking into huge tiered platters of seafood, I finally got to experience it myself, unforgettable.

A tasting menu at The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna has to be another contender; entirely confounding any expectations I may have had, this was easily the best meal I’ve eaten in Bristol and one of the best meals I’ve eaten all year.

My recent birthday dinner at Jose Pizarro’s eponymous new Bermondsey restaurant Pizarro was also another incredibly memorable meal, sitting up at the bar and watching the chefs cook right in front of us, whilst Jose himself picked dishes from the menu for us to try was an incredible experience, it goes without saying that the food itself was superb.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2011

I still cook loads, but because of the Montpelier Basement supper club I run with ‘E’, most of the really memorable cooking seems to revolve around that. When I think about it, the daily lunch and dinner cooking seems to have been simplified a bit of late, more quickly thrown together meals using up leftover ingredients.

That said, a fresh Homewood ewe’s curd & blood orange salad with croutons tossed in marmalade was a winner back in February, we served this up to the pupils at a Cheese School event and I was really pleased with how it turned out.

Another Ewe’s curd based dish, but this time a dessert (It’s such an amazing ingredient, equally at home as a savoury or a sweet depending on what you pair it with). Pinched and adapted from a Tom Kitchin recipe, we used the Ewe’s curd in a baked cheesecake mousse; we partnered this with spiced shortbread, butterscotch apple sauce and fresh apple slices. This was the dessert we served when we brought Montpelier Basement to the Coach & Horses pub London back in September.

Apart from that, I particularly liked pigeon breast with pontack (a 17th century, old English elderberry sauce recipe); we fiddled with the available recipes heavily to come up with something we could use right away, without maturing for 7 years! And it turned out really well.

How could I forget Celery ice cream! An absolute winner, subtle, peppery and unusual – I made it as an experiment and it didn’t turn out half bad at all. ‘E’ turned her nose up at it, but we gave samples to some of the guests at ‘The Basement’ and pretty much everyone loved it...so in your face ‘E’! Although, I have to say, the whole concept wasn’t an unequivocal success. For what I originally wanted to partner with it, see below.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2011

So, there were a few kitchen disasters last year. Returning to the surprisingly excellent celery ice cream, I thought it’d be great served with some kind of hot Stilton dish. I eventually found a recipe for Stilton fritters and I thought this would be just the thing. No. On it’s own, the celery ice cream was lovely, partnered with the hot fritters it tasted like the freakiest, weirdest dessert ever (I envisaged some kind of savoury dish). It just didn’t work at all.

Other memorable kitchen disasters were, with a room full of 18 expectant diners, our first course of Keen’s Cheddar Biscuits (A tried, tested and reliable recipe) inexplicably failing and strangely melting all over the oven into one steaming massive biscuit and leaving us panicked and scrambling to come up with a last second alternative.

Parsnip crisps – how I hate thee. We had all sorts of problems with these, burning them and when finally getting them right, our perfectly crisp and erect examples suddenly going soft (oooer) they were an absolute pain in the arse.

Oh, and finally apologies to everyone at our New Year’s Eve Basement when we filled the room with an acrid burning smell and for the complete absence of pork crackling. In an attempt to crisp it up under the grill, we got sidetracked and forgot about it – setting the whole tray alight.

Best Booze I drank in 2011

I’m all about the food, and often forget to record what I drank with my meal, but every now and again something grabs me by the lapels, gives me a good slapping and makes me sit up and take notice. A bottle of Grüner Veltliner, Soellner Fumburg 2008 at the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna did just that. Amazing stuff.

In general, 2011 seemed to me to be the year I became really aware of natural wine. Friends of ours, F&T are incredibly well informed on the subject, and sampling various bottles with them over the year, and attending an incredibly interesting natural wine dinner at Bell’s Diner has left me convinced as to it’s virtues. Don’t ask me for specific recommendations though, as always I’m guilty of drinking, thinking ‘this is nice’ and then forgetting exactly what it is I drank. Although I very much enjoyed a Spanish Red Natural wine ‘Flos de Pinoso’ whilst eating at Soho’s DuckSoup.

December saw me invited to Ghent as the guest of ‘St Stefanus’ beer (or Augustine as it’s know in Belgium). The trip left me in no doubt that the Belgians know all there is to know about making amazing beer, the ‘blonde’ St Stefanus in particular was a bit spesh, but based on what we ate, they could do with a few pointers on food (mashy prawny fishy croquettes…errrr no!)

Worst Dish I ate out 2011

I’m really struggling here, unlike the previous two years no outright disasters spring to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten some incredibly mediocre food and been disappointed on numerous occasions, but for the life of me I can’t think of anything that was so truly abysmal and utterly, utterly shit that it deserves the ignominy of being recorded here. Either I’m becoming more discerning in my restaurant/dish choice or food in Britain is improving at a phenomenal rate.

Best Dish I ate out in 2011

Loads and loads of contenders here and probably far too many to list, but here goes…

From The Sportsman, a piece of Roast Lamb from Monkshill farm, which was just over the road from the pub, I’d actually seen the cute ickle lambs scampering around in the fields as I arrived. I mused on this whilst eating the cutlet resting against a piece of braised shoulder accompanied by probably the most amazing mint sauce I’ve ever tasted (and which I’ve spent some time trying to replicate – see here).

Next, a dish based around the humble potato, the genius that is Roganic’s Heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. Easily one of the standout courses in what was a lunch packed with amazing food. I was particularly impressed with the incredible sharp savoury taste of the onion ashes. (Onions, dehydrated and reduced to dust using some kind of cheffy wizardry). Amazing.

‘That’ seafood tower from Hix Oyster and Fish House, a beautifully tiered heap of Dorset seafood Gorgeous lobster, razor clams, oysters, big prawns (quality of life) and mussels. Holy shit, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when this bad boy was plonked in front of me.

The Edwardian gentleman in me (oooer times deux) thought that breakfasting on Devilled Veal Kidneys at Hawksmoor Guildhall was quite possibly one of the most tip-top starts to the day I’ve had all year. Yes indeed Sir.

Pizarro provided Beetroot Cured Salmon, Capers and an Egg Yolk – essentially a kind of Salmon tartar. Breaking the yolk and mixing it through and then taking a bite was a revelation. Very simple and rustic, yet so effective. I absolutely loved it.

Closer to home for the last couple of dishes – Bristol’s Bell’s Diner served up an incredibly elegant Chocolate Millefeuille, Praline, Salted Caramel, Pain au Chocolat which was so beautiful to look at and so meticulously constructed it seemed like a shame to eat it. It tasted every bit as good as it looked and impressed me no end.

Finally, at The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna, Grilled Bone Marrow, Brown Shrimp Butter with Capers, Garlic & Lime and Celeriac Puree (with toast to smear it all on) had me tonguing the bone in the most obscene manner imaginable. It was rustic, imaginative and full of flavour. Amazing.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2011

After whisky eating fish
Food poisoning from Halloumi cheese
Full faggot factory (?)
How to get a table at The Ladbury (I think I may see your problem there).
What food do they eat in Essex?
Spied on a parisian store shelf, a châteauneuf-du-pape that cost a tad too little (very specific)
Recepis for porh cheeks (sic)
Pho soup gas bloating
man eat cheese

Best Recipe book 2011

My favourite cookbook of the year has to be the Hawksmoor cookbook. Like the restaurant it’s superb, very British and slightly eccentric. The recipes, cooking tips and historical background information are fascinating, oh and I also made a little contribution with a tiny bit of recipe testing for it (check out the acknowledgements, I’m in there and so is ‘E’).

Hopping across the channel with regards to cooking style, but not origins (they’re firmly Essex) The Galvin cookbook is also a bit special. I haven’t had my hands on it that long, but have already pinched a couple of ideas and techniques out of it for ‘The Basement’ and they’ve worked really well. I especially like the fact there are explanations for how the dishes work in a restaurant setting and where the cooking can be held and finished off, all really useful.

Strangest thing I ate in 2011

Calves Brain at Racine. Nothing else came close. A French classic, it was actually quite pleasant, until I got to the last forkful and started thinking about what I was eating. My stomach suddenly turned and I came over in a cold sweat.

Must visit restaurants 2011

Ok, first – here’s last years list. Not a bad showing, I managed to make it to the excellent Racine, The Sportsman, Oxford’s Magdalen Arms and Casamia. Once again a whole load of restaurants I wanted to eat at somehow got overlooked for one reason or another.

Anchor and Hope - London
Racine - London
The Sportsman - Whitstable
The Kitchin - Edinburgh
Magdalen Arms – Oxford
Brawn – London
Casamia – Bristol
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road – London
St Johns

So that was then, this is NOW – here’s my personal list of 2012 must visit’s…be interesting to see how many of these I made it to when I look back in January 2013!

The Kitchin – Edinburgh (I will make it there this year)
St Johns – London (How the hell have I never eaten here?)
Brawn – London
Hedone – London
The British Larder – Suffolk
Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Zucca – London
Wild Honey – London
The Felin Fach Griffin – Brecon

So there you have it, my third year at Essex Eating.

Stay tuned throughout 2012 for another incredibly exciting year of me stuffing myself silly in restaurants, burning and scorching myself in the kitchen, getting drunk throughout, then recording the whole experience right here in my childish drivel style for your enjoyment. I love it.

Mwah Mwah

Monday 9 January 2012

Pizarro - London

One of my favourite new restaurants of 2011 was José, the eponymous sherry and tapas bar located in Bermondsey. Chef and owner, José Pizarro’s no nonsense, fresh and deceptively simple menu absolutely nailed modern Spanish tapas and had food bloggers, restaurant critics and punters alike singing it’s praises, so much so that the place is consistently packed. No bad thing, believe it or not, it adds something to its charm as you can eat perched at the bar, off a barrel top or on any space you can cram yourself into. Muchos authenticas as we often say in Essex.

The end of the year saw sister restaurant, Pizarro open just down the road; bigger, swankier (you can actually sit down) and just a bit more refined, it’s an opening I’d been looking forward to for ages. As it turns out, my birthday was the very opportunity for a visit, and so there I was on a rather frigid December evening, standing with ‘E’ at the bar in a very packed restaurant, sipping some very nice Cava and waiting for a table.

Now, before I write this up I need to make a few things clear. Pizarro was so newly open, that the paint was still wet on the toilet doors. It was late December, a notoriously manic time for any restaurant, packed full of big groups on work nights out etc, and finally ‘E’ had arranged this meal for me as a Birthday treat. Chef José knew we were visiting and we were treated by him as his guests and as such didn’t pay for everything we ate and drank. Which, I’ve tried not to let affect my opinion of the food or the restaurant, but is something that needs to said for the sake of transparency.

After a bit of a wait, this being a no reservation restaurant, we ended up being seated at the bar with front row seats watching the chefs preparing the food right in front of us. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have been sitting. It’s absolutely fascinating to eat and watch the workings of a kitchen at full tilt dealing with the hectic demands of a packed out restaurant, pure theatre.

As we studied the menu, a small bowl of cauliflower and radishes appeared to nibble at. We decided to let Chef José Pizarro pick out dishes for us, which we mostly shared. This proved to be a wise move, as we got to try a good cross section of the menu and some things we might not have necessarily ordered.

To start, one of the best things I’ve eaten all year, Beetroot Cured Salmon, Capers and an Egg Yolk – essentially a kind of Salmon tartar. We were told to break the yolk and mix it through everything. Frigging amazing. The egg-coated salmon had a silky, fresh creaminess, reminding me, unsurprisingly of breakfast. It was very simple and rustic, yet so effective. Beautiful.

Following this, for me only as ‘E’ is a pescetarian, a half portion of Jamon Iberico Manuel Maldonado. An absolute treat, small wafer thin pieces of melt in the mouth, intensely savoury acorn fed ham. If I had the cash, I could sit and eat a plate of this, washed down with glass after glass of cold fino sherry all day long. My only regret was I stuffed the lot in no time at all.

Artichoke, Cauliflower, Soft Cheese and Walnut was nicely put together, and we certainly enjoyed eating it, but following on from standout dishes like the cured salmon and Iberico ham, it felt a bit overshadowed.

A half portion of the same amazing Croquetas they serve down the road at José. Absolutely beautiful, light, creamy cheesiness containing small pieces of ham and literally melt in the mouth.

Boquerones, Roast Red Peppers and Olives, topped with a soft-boiled egg was another standout dish. The marinated anchovies themselves beautifully subtle and understated combining well with the other flavours Again, simple and rustic but well thought out.

Comedian Stewart Lee has a sketch, where he equates big prawns to quality of life. After eating the big prawns at Pizarro, I can kind of understand why. Cooked on the plancha and served simply with chilli and garlic (and with a plate of Serrano Ham on the side for me – surf and turf style), bloody hell, these were good prawns. If you visit, definitely order these.

As a dish, Butternut squash, Blue Goats Cheese and Almonds didn’t really work as well as it should. The flavours did, massively. The earthy squash, the salty cheese scattered throughout with the sweetness of pomegranate, spot on. But, served in a scooped out baby butternut squash, which seemed to be just a vehicle for the filling and mostly inedible, I felt there just wasn’t enough to actually eat for £6.50. It’s just a couple of mouthfuls really. But, stuffed silly with the same filling, this could be a winner, as it stands, I wouldn’t recommend it. This said, another diner seated nearby demolished the entire plate, so either we were unlucky in that our squash was undercooked or she had the eating tenacity of a mountain goat.

Duck Livers, Capers and Fino however, a resounding thumbs up. With the beautiful, savoury liver flavour and an underlying sweetness from the sherry. It was another superb rustic dish and something I’d definitely order again.

‘E’ tucked into her main of Salt Cod, Potatoes and Vizcaina (a Basque tomato and red pepper sauce). A great chunk of fish sitting on a piquant sauce and crisp fried slices of potato. ‘E’ really liked this, saying it was quite spicy but really well balanced and delicious.

I was by this time stuffed silly and just a bit drunk (it was my birthday after all) Nevertheless, I happily ate a dish of Iberico Pork Cheeks, Olive Oil Mash and Almonds. The cheeks were so soft; they collapsed into meaty shreds at the touch of a fork. It was pure winter comfort food of the sort I like best. Outstanding.

Our main dishes were accompanied by a bowl of chicory and crisp mixed leaf salad, tossed with a really unusual vermouth vinegar and honey dressing. This was apparently complimentary and served with every main course.

Coasting over the finish line, both stuffed to bursting we celebrated with a shared dessert of chocolate, toast and hazelnut ice cream. The chocolate in this case being a quenelle of incredibly rich mousse, combined with the hazelnut and the toast, it reminded us of Nutella chocolate spread – which believe me, is no bad thing. A fantastic light(ish) end to a superb dinner.

I had a bloody good meal at Pizarro, so good in fact, after writing this and remembering what I ate – I’m now gagging to revisit. Apart from the butternut squash dish, everything else we ate was incredible, nothing too fancy or pretentious, exactly as with José down the road, just really good, honest cooking of superb ingredients. The ‘heart on its sleeve’ simplicity that both José and Pizarro exude seemingly so effortlessly is a formula for success that many restaurants strive for but few achieve. Well-done José for doing it again!


194 Bermondsey Street


Friday 6 January 2012

Mishkin's - London

When I told ‘E’ that I’d booked a table for my birthday lunch at Mishkin’s, the latest London outpost of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty of Polpo-Spuntino-Polpetto-Da Polpo fame, she was aghast. For one thing, being otherwise engaged, she couldn’t come with me and more importantly, in a departure from the Polpo’esque Italian vibe of the other restaurants, Mishkin’s declares itself as ‘a kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails’. This struck something of a chord, as ‘E’ herself is ‘kind of Jewish and likes cocktails’, who whilst growing up ate most of the menu at her grandmother’s house. To say she was disappointed that she couldn’t come would be an understatement.

So, instead of accompanying me she made herself useful at every opportunity by irritatingly correcting my pronunciation of all the Jewish food and lecturing me at some length….
Which was a complete waste of everyone’s time. I am of course from Essex. I can’t pronounce anything correctly. My monosyllabic estuary accent is stubbornly grafted on to my very soul; so no matter how hard I try ‘Latkes’ will always be ‘LATkaaah’ much to the disgust of ‘E’. Anyway, I digress. I was going, she wasn’t, so there. *Muttley style snigger*

Standing out on the street and admiring the striking black, red and gold retro exterior and then stepping inside it’s immediately obvious that the attention to detail at Mishkin’s is phenomenal, it actually looks like it’s been directly transplanted from New York and replanted in Covent Garden. The black and white chequered floor tiles, the bare brickwork, red leather booths, the lace curtains and the so-awful-it’s-cool 1970’s style wallpaper really are spot on, without it feeling gimmicky and overdone. So, top marks for interior design, but what about the food?

Taking a seat in a booth, it wasn’t long before the somewhat grizzled, motley crew of Neil, Mat and Claire joined me for lunch (just kidding, love you guys).

I’d been told that the chopped chicken liver was particularly good, and yep turns out it was. A generous portion of roughly textured meat with some toasted bread for spreading onto and a pile of cold schmaltzed radish on the side (schmaltz is a Jewish term for rendered chicken fat). I thought it was decent value at £6. The naff ‘granny style’ plate it was served on raised a smile.

Mat ordered a bowl of Cod Cheek Popcorn, scattered with sliced green chillies and presented on an even more outrageous rubbish plate-frilly-doilie combo. I thought this a really good tasty dish, a nice light batter and an interesting use of a relatively underused part of the fish. I liked it a lot.

Neil meanwhile went for Duck Hash, Fried Egg and Liquor. It was tasty enough but nothing remarkable. It is what it is. At £9 I thought the portion size was a bit on the small side.

Claire’s Brick Lane Salt Beef Sandwich was also £9 and I’d say better value than the hash. I’m actually a bit of a salt beef sandwich aficionado, having spent a hellish week serving up hundreds of them, so many in fact it put me off eating them for over a year. This example was really decent actually; one of these and a side dish would make a good lunch. BTW I didn’t get a photo because Claire immediately took a bite before I could get a chance. As you can imagine, I was tres sulky and unimpressed at her sheer impertinence, I mean - how dare she take a bite of her own lunch?

As it was my birthday, and I’m a greedy bastardo, I’d ordered a second dish of Latkes, Smoked Eel, Apple Sauce and Soured Cream. Having absolutely no frame of reference for this, I had no idea if these were good examples of latkes or bad. They were certainly very crispy, so crisp and brittle in fact, whilst eating there was the constant underlying tension caused by the worry that a piece would break off, skittering across the table spattering me with eel and soured cream. This proved to be unfounded in the end, due in no small part to my refined eating skills. Despite perhaps looking a bit messy, this was in fact delicious; I’m quite a fan of eel.

To follow up the cod cheek popcorn, Mat ate a decently constructed radicchio, Stilton, walnut and pear salad, at least that’s what I think it was – I’m going from rubbish memory and perusing the photo. Strangely, it’s not on the menu, maybe it was a daily special. I remember thinking at the time that there seemed to be a generous amount of Stilton scattered through it.

Everyone declined dessert, apart from, unsurprisingly me. Bananas Foster, somehow, I have no idea how, but I actually knew what this was before ordering it. A real retro classic of warm caramelised bananas swimming in a syrupy sauce with a ball of vanilla ice-cream sitting on top. So simple but so frigging amazing. I really, really loved this.

Errrr but what I didn’t love was £5 for a can of London Pride or £4.50 for a can of Red Stripe plonked on the table. The problem with this is, there’s no added value. I look at a can of Red Stripe and know I can buy exactly the same thing at an off license for a quid. Therefore, it really sticks in my craw paying almost 5 times the normal price for it. If it was a pint of draught, then that’s different, you can’t really replicate that at home, but a can of lager for £5? Holy-Moly, my jaw hit the table. Maybe I'm just being naive?

That aside, I really liked Mishkin’s. I had a really nice lunch. As with all the restaurants in the Polpo stable, it’s unusual, a bit hip and cool but it’s also a lot of fun. All credit to Russell and Richard for once again bringing something new to the London dining scene, ‘A kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails’ is an inspired idea. The food is good and the menu incredibly interesting, scanning it now, there are at least a dozen dishes that intrigue me and that I’d love to order. I honestly can’t say that about many restaurant menus.


25 Catherine Street

Telephone: 020 7240 2078