Sunday, 21 June 2015

Restaurant review: Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

Illustrious food blogger and holder of ‘Most Covetable Lifestyle’ Clerkenwell Boy, has been following me around London recently.

Well, not exactly. But I do seem to have beaten him to it on a couple of recent occasions.  Nuno Mendes’s new informal eatery, Taberna do Mercado, in Spitalfields is one such instance.

We thought we’d try Taberna do Mercado before it became impossible to bag a table. We turned up at 8pm on a Saturday night and had to leave our names. After two glasses of wine at the light and arcadian Blixen, a few doors away, we were summoned back. Our table was ready.

The whole point of Taberna do Mercado is the food, not the fixtures and fittings. And it takes pretty legendary food to distract you from the fact you’re sitting on uncomfortable metal chairs, at a spindly metal table, in the deserted Spitalfields market – after hours, a graveyard of broken up stalls and packing crates.

When we visited, the restaurant had been trading for two weeks and it was a bit chaotic around the seams. They were admittedly under-staffed and kept stressing their infancy, but not in an apologetic way. But that’s how it is here. There are no airs and graces (if you want that, go to Chiltern Firehouse). You take a tacit oath of agreement to join their laid-back family when you come to eat here. You chinwag with the manager. You wait a while for your wine to come.  The chef comes out to deliver your dessert. There’s one toilet and it’s in the kitchen. Take it or leave it.

This front-of-house ‘undone’ feel is all a rug-pull really. Because the food is certainly not haphazard.  Taberna do Mercado is about as authentic an experience of Portuguese food as you could encounter from twelve hundred miles away. The food leaves you weak at the knees. It’s exceptional.

The menu is exciting. It’s actually exciting. You want to try it all, you feel emboldened to go out your comfort zone, safe in the knowledge of the expertise of the chefs. 

We had some of the house-tinned fish with crusty toasted bread - the scallops in brown butter were historic. Had the meal ended there, I would have been deeply satisfied.

The pork tartare in a broth with cabbage was a thing of velvety beauty. If I found myself locked in a Groundhog Day movie conceit, the Beef prego sandwich, served with Savora mustard and chilli oil, would be my meal of choice to scoff over and over again, ad infinitum.

Because we couldn’t bear not to try the desserts, we squeezed in the Abade de Priscos and port caramel. Looking like a piece of modern art in stained glass, it was exquisite in taste and texture.

Taberna do Mercado reminded me a lot of Bodega Casa Montana in Valencia.  A little locals’ hideaway serving extraordinary tapas. A place where you perch on bar stools and eat what comes, and where you have to duck under the bar and into a warren of stairs and corridors to find the loo.

It seems that Nuno Mendes needs something more soulful to counter his role as Head Chef at the resplendent Chiltern Firehouse. Here at Taberna Mercado, the focus (the fanaticism, even) is on the food not the Ferraris outside. And it is, indeed, soulful.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Restaurant review: Goodman, Mayfair

The mantle of 'best steak in London' is closely-fought. I would say we are acolytes of Hawksmoor but we road-tested Goodman on Friday night to celebrate Sartre’s birthday.

Goodman embodies old school, fat-cat, largesse. Sitting on the table beside us was a captain of industry and a female companion he was almost certainly paying for by the hour.

It’s not cool, exactly.  Best explained by mentioning the branded plates they serve everything on. Or, the slightly naff menu typography with little diamond shapes between the letters in the headlines.

But you cannot knock the exuberant New York-style unabashed gluttony of the place.

Of course you have pre-dinner cocktails. Of course you go for an extra lap on the cocktails before you consider ordering. Next you order a starter - even though you filled up on the delicious warm bread basket. And why have one bottle of wine, when you can have a white and a red?  (Perhaps this, my father’s mantra, was born in a restaurant like Goodman).

There’s something about the place that encourages this kind of brashness. It’s all super-slick waiters, polished marble and dark wood.

Our food was very good, and very big. We started with tempura tiger prawns with avocado, mango and Cajun mayonnaise. Moreish is a euphemism. I wanted to go and stick my head in the fryer from whence they sprang for more. 

We moved on to the Bone-In Rib-eye to share, served by weight, which was sensational. It was expertly cooked and served with three different sauces and beef dipping chips.  At Goodman, they obviously care deeply about the way they prepare and cook their steak, and it was as good as I’ve had for a long time.

A special mention for a remarkable bit of attentiveness. When I first booked the table months earlier, I wrote that it was my boyfriend’s birthday in the ‘special requests’ box. I never mentioned it again, not even when we arrived that evening. As much to my surprise as his, at the end of our meal they produced this:

A lovely touch.

Goodman serves great steak with great service. It’s in-your-face, like the New York exudes. You’ll have a ball.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Restaurant review: Fifteen Cornwall

I have frequented Fifteen Cornwall on and off over the years and it remains consistently good.

Their recipe is simple but pleasing.

One part peppy, knowledgeable staff.
One part delicious plates of food – the best local fish and meats with an Italian twist.
One part a view that is a feast all of its own.

A view beautiful enough to distract me from the fact my glass is empty

We popped in for an early dinner on our last night of a stay in Cornwall recently. The staff seemed to be really pushing the Tasting menu this time around – their “Signature Tasting Menu” now no less. We side-stepped that. At the end of several nights of pub grub and cream teas, for once, our eyes were not bigger than our bellies. 

We started with Tagliolini of St Ives Bay crab, and Risotto primavera with pecorino.

My generous tangle of tagliolini and crab was delicious. Sweet and salty with a crunchy toasted topping.

We moved on to Duck breast with polenta and kale, and Monkfish with lentils and broccoli. Both excellent dishes of quality produce, tinkered with to bring out the best flavours.

I always leave Fifteen with a stomach that’s satisfied and a mind that’s dissatisfied with the idea of returning to London. It really is a failsafe for when you want a smart dish of pasta in a setting that slaps you in the face with its beachy beauty.