Tuesday 17 September 2013

Bone Daddies - London

It’s hard to cast your mind back and remember exactly where you first heard of something, now seemingly quite familiar, but my very first encounter with ramen, many years ago, was in Thurrock Costco and it was the cheapest, bargain basement variety you could find, a plastic foil lidded pot containing noodles and some dust dry powder, just add boiling water. I thought it was the American knock off version of a pot noodle, which in fact, I suppose it was and that’s how things remained, fixed in my brain for quite a long time.

And then, a couple of years ago the Momofuku restaurant cookbook helped ramen once again shoulder its way into my consciousness. This was the real deal as served in the trendy New York restaurant and inspired by American Chef, David Chang’s time in Japan (ramen is a Japanese noodle dish, served in a broth, usually meat based). I was fascinated, it looked absolutely frigging delicious.

As is often the way, it wasn’t long before a few ramen joints started popping up in London with the intriguingly named Bone Daddies a clear favourite with just about everyone I know in London. 

So, I know I’m a bit late to the party, Bone Daddies having been reviewed and loved to death already, alles uber da platz, but I don’t give a f*ck, I live in Bristol now, I don’t get back to London as often as I’d like. I ate there last week, I thought it was awesome, I’m going to write about it. Yeah.

Rocking up to the restaurant in Soho at about 9pm, I was initially disheartened to see through the windows that it was banged out inside and that there was a queue outside. Operating a no booking policy can be an utter ballache for the terminally organised and a gift from God for lazy bastards. Luckily a supermarket just down the road provided cheap alcoholic refreshment, which made the short wait for a space unsurprisingly bearable. In the end, it was no more than 15 minutes.
Finally inside, Bone Daddies was dimly lit, loud and extremely busy. Squeezing unsteadily up onto a stall (we’d been for a few drinks previously, obvs.) my mate Liz and I agreed to share a couple of snack size plates before cracking into a bowl of ramen each.
Chasu pork and corn croquettes were as you’d expect crispy exterior, squishy meaty interior, what’s not to like?. Chasu pork in case you were wondering (I was) is pork belly that has been marinated in soy and spices, and then braised. 
Soft shell crab with green chilli ginger sauce was something else entirely. This blew me away, seriously amazing. Deep fried with the most intense, fresh tasting chilli and ginger sauce. I bloody loved it.

At this point, with time to kill whilst waiting for the rest of dinner, our attention turned to the table setting, some of it surprisingly mysterious. A pot of chilli sauce (very poky), soy, something in a grinder (turns out it was sesame seeds), bibs (we availed ourselves of these, despite looking decidedly unhip) and a mysterious jar of rubber bands (turns out these are hair bands so the luxuriously coiffured don’t get their lustrous locks dunked in their food). Fair play.

Our game of ‘guess what the hell’s that for’ was at this point interrupted by two steaming bowls of ramen. 
Liz had ordered the Tonkotsu variety, containing spring onion, slices of the aforementioned choshu pork, a halved soft-boiled egg and various other bits and bobs, all merrily suspended in a 20 hour, pork bone broth. I’m no ramen expert but bloody hell, I tried a bit and it was ridiculously fine.
Meanwhile, I was slurping away at a bowl of Tantanmen, which Wiki tells me isn’t actually ramen as such but a related, Chinese influenced noodle dish (based on Sichuan dan dan noodles) – how appropriate – and often served in Japanese ramen establishments. Consisting of a chicken bone broth containing sesame, chilli, pork mince, a soft-boiled egg and bok choy. Yeah it was amazing. Stupidly-drunkenly I added too much extra chilli from the little pot on the table. Spicy enough as it was, it blew my frigging head off, but it was so delicious, so intensely rich that despite the fact my nose was streaming from the heat, I couldn’t leave it alone for even a second and ate the whole lot.
Taking a second to look down and appraise my ramen spattered bib, I saluted my own good sense in favouring practicality over fashion sense. 

We were both too full to eat anything else so slunk away into the neon night glare of Soho, stuffed and well pleased with dinner.

I have no previous ramen experience to compare Bone Daddies against, I can’t tell you how authentic or inauthentic it is, all I can go on is how good it tasted and in that regard, it was bloody fantastic. Seriously good. Honestly, I want to go back and order everything on the menu, just to experience what’s on offer. It’s wasn’t even that expensive, if I remember right (things were a little hazy by the end) my half of the bill was £25

Thanks for everyone who recommended Bone Daddies to me. They were right and now I'm recommending it to you.

Bone Daddies
31 Peter Street

Telephone: 020 7287 8581

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Le Champignon Sauvage - Cheltenham

I've got a wish list of restaurants relentlessly processing through my brain, an organ that, lets face it, can ill afford any of its limited resources to be used up in such a frivolous fashion. Nevertheless it’s there *slaps forehead to emphasise* and it’s constantly changing and evolving as my tastes change, restaurants close and new restaurants open. But for the past couple of years, two Michelin starred, Le Champignon Sauvage in nearby (ish) Cheltenham has featured prominently in my noggin and finally, last week, I ate there. 

The Chef and owner, David Everitt-Matthias is often described as a ‘Chef’s Chef’ which basically means he’s a serious grafter, always to be found cooking in the restaurant’s kitchen, in fact, famously he’s never missed a service in twenty five years, if he’s not there Le Champignon Sauvage is not open. An amazing record in an industry, which is notorious for long hours, hard work and uncompromising attention to detail, especially at the two Michelin Star level. 

Last week, I had a rare day off work and although I haven’t quite been knocking my cods off non-stop for twenty-five years, I've been working pretty hard lately and reckoned I deserved a bit of a treat, so a solo lunch at Le Champignon Sauvage it was.

After arriving and being ushered to a sofa in the bar area I sipped a cheeky pre-meal gin and tonic whilst studying the menu, I decided to go for the three course set lunch.
An amuse of a blue cheese and walnut cookie with rye crisp bread, smoked horseradish cream and pickled pear was placed in front of me and I was faced with something of a dilemma, as well as a beautiful looking piece of grub.

If I'm eating in a restaurant and planning to write about it, I do my utmost not to draw attention to myself. I take photographs as surreptitiously as I can and generally keep it low key. I want it to be as fair a write up as possible. But here I was in a hushed bar area with the manager and two staff standing just nearby with a dish I wanted to take a photo of just sitting there. In addition, Le Champignon Sauvage very specifically states on their menu ‘no mobile phones in the dining room’, which is fair enough. How would they feel about me whipping out my massive (yeah) Nikon?

Honestly. I sat there and agonised about this for a good five minutes, my food untouched in front of me before deciding to deal with the situation head on, I asked if they minded if I took a photo. ‘Not at all’. Phew.

The blue cheese and walnut cookie was delicious by the way, the incredibly short savoury pastry, filled with a fresh blue cheese cream. The accompanying rye crisp bread with smoked horseradish cream and pickled pear was equally delicious and looked almost too beautiful to eat, right up to the point I shoved the lot in my gob.
Shown to my table, I was offered a selection of bread rolls but they had me hooked instantly with the bacon and shallot brioche, which was frankly incredible. Seriously, some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten, (easily as good as the Ledbury’s) beautifully textured and sweet with both the saltiness of the bacon and a subtle shallot flavour throughout. Later I tried some of the other rolls proffered, just in the interest of being a greedy bastard and it’s fair to say they were all bloody nice. 
A second amuse followed, Jerusalem artichoke panacotta with field mushroom puree and smoked bacon foam, and I made pretty short work of it. It was surprisingly refreshing with the smooth, savoury, earthy flavours of the panacotta and the salty smokiness of the bacon foam. Lovely.
My first course proper, duck confit, crispy egg yolk, fig purée and pak choi, was beautifully plated. I sat there for some moments, just admiring the composition before wading in. The combination of rich duck confit with the sweetness of the fig and the fresh green crunch of the pak choi was superb. The crispy egg yolk was interesting in a cheffy, technical kind of way and rather pleasant to dip bits of confit into.
Lamb fillet with poached apricot, aubergine, garlic yoghurt and Moroccan spiced sauce…where have you been all my life? I just can’t believe this dish is on the set lunch menu, it was phenomenal. Seriously one of the best plates of food I’ve eaten anywhere. I don’t even know where to begin; the lamb was so tender and there was so much of it! The sweet dots of poached apricot and the subtly spiced sauce, just amazing. I ate every last bit, meticulously scraping my plate back into a pristine state.

I was starting to feel a little stuffed at this point, but I was enjoying this lunch a hell of a lot.
A pre-dessert of rice pudding, greengage compote and milk foam was probably the most conventional tasting thing I ate. Don’t get me wrong; it was delicious but just not quite as impressive as any of the previous courses.
However, chocolate delice with milk ice cream, buerre noisette and butterscotch was off the frigging chart. I don’t think I need to describe it to you, the photo says it all. It was just lovely.
If you go, definitely order coffee and petits fours. It’ll be the best £3.50 you've ever spent. What arrived was a slab of treats, to say it was generous doesn't quite do it justice.  I couldn't believe it. Ridiculous and all of them threw me slightly. Some looked quite conventional, but each had a hint of some unusual flavour twist. Yes. Of course I ate all of them and pretty much waddled out of the restaurant as a result. 

So, do not wait two years like I did. Go and eat at Le Champignon Sauvage as soon as you can. I promise you will not regret it. My bill, including a gin and tonic, two glasses of wine, three courses (with additional bits and bobs), a £5 supplement for switching to an a la carte dessert, petits four and coffee but not including a tip came to £56 That’s right, FIFTY SIX QUID!! That’s for one of the best lunches I've ever had, at a two Michelin starred restaurant with a chef in the kitchen who’s right at the top of his game. I don’t want to lower the tone, but of course, being me, I shall. WTF?

Seriously. Go and enjoy.

Le Champignon Sauvage
24-28 Suffolk Road
GL50 2AQ

Telephone: 01242 573449