Thursday, 2 January 2014

Restaurant review: Outlaw's Fish Kitchen, Cornwall

Set in Port Isaac in a 'can-this-be-real?' quaint old building, Outlaw’s Fish kitchen serves up small plates of delicious fish, sides, pudding and cheese.

Port Isaac is the village for which the phrase “picture postcard” was invented. It’s the location of the genial series Doc Martin, which prompts many a stout tourist to embark on the uphill walk to pose for a photo in front of his house.

And it was also the harbour village in which the Young’s fish ad was shot – the ‘When the boat comes in’ ad, sung so mellifluously by the men of the The Fisherman’s Friends sea shanty choir.

And it’s this inspiration Outlaw uses (and quotes) on his menu of extraordinarily good fish tapas -  “you shall have a fishy on a little dishy”. The philosophy in this place is very nice: the local fishermen’s catch dictates the menu. Thus, the menu changes regularly and dishes are cooked to order and come out when ready.

We had:
grilled brill with anchovy and tarragon butter
crispy squid
grilled John Dory on carrot, apple and curry
the Outlaw fish burger
a little gem salad
fennel gratin (I’ve dreamt about this side dish since).

Once that little lot was dispatched with, we shared burnt Earl Grey custard with gingerbread and quince, and two espressos.

And after that, we were in no fit state for the vertiginous pilgrimage to the Doc’s house, so we settled for a photo of the lobster pots on the harbourside instead.  

A delicious, and snuggly atmospheric lunch, and excellent, on-the-ball service.  

Restaurant review: Luke's Lobster, Financial District, NYC

This is a tiny little canteen with seats for about twelve people, incongruously located next to Wall Street, where lobster rolls, crisps and a bottle of local beer are the orders of the day, every day.

(I later discovered it’s not as much of a curio as we first thought, as it’s one of about six locations of Luke’s Lobster in the States. The eponymous Luke grew up in Maine where he fished for lobsters as a boy. Or so his PR advisor asked me to tell you).

We called in here for a spot of lunch.

You order at the counter and are given your packet of crisps and beer, while they make up your roll fresh.
The lobster rolls were delicious, sweet and buttery bread, served with the obligatory pickle, and oozing with lobster meat and mayo.
A nice little find in the middle of the Financial District’s lunch-hour.  And significantly more lip-smacking than my lunch-break equivalent of popping out for a Tesco sandwich.

Thoroughly sated, we ambled out into the bracing New York weather and onwards to the Staten Island Ferry. Behold: 

Restaurant review: Striphouse, New York

After a craft beer in McGee’s Pub, supposedly the inspiration for the bar in the series How I Met Your Mother, we repaired to Striphouse for our belated anniversary meal.*

Striphouse has a handful of locations in NYC and we went to the one closest to Times Square - but don’t let that put you off.

Clearly the scene of some heavy business deals and nearly exclusively male in its customers, it’s a dark, glamorous and heady restaurant.

The martinis are served strong and dirty, the wallpaper’s risqué and adorned with pictures of vintage glamour girls (earning the restaurant its name) and the steak comes in powerful slabs of very fine meat indeed.

After 6 oysters with cocktails to start, we moved on to a salt-crusted, beautifully-charred 42 oz classic Porterhouse to share.

Too coy to take photos in the restaurant

The steak is so good, you know it's going to be a benchmark of all future steak dinners. The cut, the preparation, the cooking of it are all flawless. And the moreish sides, the slick service and the swish crowd, were all on-the-money too.

The whole experience feels like it was designed to make you imagine you’re Robert de Niro in The Last Tycoon. And channelling that when the bill arrives doesn't hurt either. It’s expensive.  But it’s also worth it for a grand old slice of New York glamour and ritz.

*On McGee’s resemblance to the bar in How I Met Your Mother, I’d say the set builders on the show freestyled. 

Restaurant review: Lou Malnati's, Chicago

Home of the iconic deep-dish Chicago pizza pie, Lou Malnati’s is a huge and worryingly commercialized-looking establishment.

And whilst it no doubt caters for several hundreds tourists a day (including us) we witnessed enough Chicago families in there for it to feel acceptably authentic.

What makes a Chicago pizza a pizza pie, is that it’s based on the English quiche with a butter crust base pulled up high around the sides.

Then the traditional way to go about filling this crust of wickedness is to layer it  - tomatoes, then sausage, then mozzarella.

Apparently half a pound of mozzarella goes in to every large pizza and at Lou Malnati’s, they squeeze and rub tomatoes fresh onto the base of each pizza, rather than using a pre-made tomato sauce.

The result is delicious – and calorific – beyond reason. One bite in, I found myself concerned about when and where I’d ever taste another pizza like that one. I will, however, apply myself steadfastly to the search. 

Restaurant review: Merchant's Tavern, Old Street

This bar and restaurant has been designed with such an eye, you imagine that every single little piece of detail was agonized over.

Perhaps not – perhaps it came together most organically – but if it did, then that’s tribute to the very talented team of people at the helm.

Everything is right. 
Everything you’d like to think you’d do if you opened your own restaurant.

So, I give you a dog-friendly, warm and snug bar, giving way to a large airy glazed-roofed restaurant. Both environments sublimely fit for respective purpose. 
I give you the most shit-hot waiters I’ve experienced for a while - who knew about everything, talked intelligently, could read the mood of the table (none of that barging into the middle of a conflab you and your dinner partner are having, never to be resumed again from quite the same point). 
I give you no music in the restaurant but fantastic jaunty reggae playing downstairs in the bathrooms acting as soundproofing.
I give you the right lighting – not as my father regularly bemoans, an atmosphere so dark that he has to get out his torch app in order to make sense of the menu.
I give you an imaginative and appealing selection of beers at the bar.
I give you chatty but not chummy waiters.

It’s all here.
The praise its had from the critics felt richly deserved.

Angela Hartnett presided over the passe all night, and tasted absolutely everything before it went out. (Perhaps not giving her boyfriend all the space in his new venture that the press would have you believe). 

I had cerviche to start followed by the most delicious pork belly of the year. 

You must make it a new year’s resolution to hit the Merchant's Tavern as quickly as you possibly can. The gym can wait.