Thursday 31 July 2014

Honest Burgers (Oxford Circus), London

My burger of the year for 2013 had to be from the Soho branch of Honest Burgers and I have been desperate to return for my burger fix. It seems that the brand has really taken off in the past year blooming into a mini chain including new branches in Oxford Circus and Kings Cross. The compact Oxford Circus restaurant is based on Market Place just off the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street.

With a regularly changing special which collaborations this year with BrewDog and The Rib Man, Honest keep things fresh and give reasons for diners to return. I was gutted to miss the collaborations and had to settle with the special burger this time with the signature Ginger Pig dry aged beef reared in North Yorkshire, comte cheese, Alsace bacon, red onion relish, sauce gribiche and baby leaf.

Burgers come pink as standard and my burger was certainly perfectly pink. However I would of liked the outside of the burger to be grilled more to form a harder crust as the whole consistency of the burger was soft like the inside. The comte cheese was quite mild and the bacon overpowered it. A good burger but not as impressive as the honest burger. This was echoed by a colleague who had the honest burger with red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce proclaiming it to be amazing.

Another colleague who visited the Soho branch with me last year choose the Tribute burger with bacon, American cheese, burger sauce, frenchs mustard, pickles, onion and lettuce. He also thought the burger needed to be grilled more on the outside and that the Honest burger was still top.

Consistency is key when it comes to expanding brands and given time I’m sure this will be rectified but it just gives me more reason to return and try the other branches.

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Wednesday 30 July 2014

Dehesa, London

Having tried Ember Yard of the Salt Yard Group I have been eager to try more of their restaurants. Working in Soho gave us the perfect opportunity to visit Dehesa on Ganton Street off Carnaby Street. The cuisine is probably best described as fancy tapas with presentation playing a big part of Salt Yards offerings.

The interior of Dehesa is simple with plenty of outdoor tables and wooden tables indoors. We were plonked on a small circle table for three right adjacent to a staircase leading down to the toilets. Not the best table for three of us but we let it slide. Onto the food, the dishes come thick and fast and we started with a Spanish charcuterie selection of Chorizo Ibérico de Bellota (Castilla y León), Salchichón de Vic (Catalunya) and Lomo Teruel (Aragon). Good fatty cuts of cured meat for a reasonable price.

The tapas soon flowed but the table was way too small to accommodate our plates, drinks and tapas. Scallop a la plancha with amatriciana, cumin yoghurt and crispy jamón was fine without being exceptional. More successful were the plump chili prawns with morcilla purée and apple, pomegranate and samphire salad.

We chose the Iberico pressa special and having had similar in Ember Yard it was a no brainer. However what came bore no resemblance in size or quality, no big meaty satisfying chunks of pork but small slivers of unremarkable flavourless meat. The next dish of confit old spot pork belly with rosemary cannellini beans also lacked in the size and flavour department, two small cubes of pork belly for £9 was scandalous. I would have been disappointed if given this for starter elsewhere let alone a tapas dish. 

Our last dish of grilled chorizo with pea purée and crispy red onions worked but only due to the produce and quality of the chorizo. In the end we were all scrambling for the patatas fritas with romesco sauce and alioli and tortilla which is a shame as I really enjoyed Ember Yard.

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Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Palomar, London

The Palomar is a small compact restaurant on Rupert Street right in the heart of Theatreland and Soho which opened in June. The restaurant serves the food of modern day Jerusalem with a contemporary approach, the menu influenced by the surrounding cultures of Southern Spain, North Africa and the Levant as described on their website.

The open kitchen is at the front of the venue with theatrical bar seats only available for walk-ins. A small dining room with dark oak panelled walls and banquette seating in blue leather is found at the back with tables available for reservations. The menu is split between nishnushim (snacks), raw bar and bigger dishes from the stove, josper and plancha.

We started with Moroccan oysters with coriander, lemon zest and Arisa oil. These were slight bitter with the lemon zest. The Daily 6 is an assortment of daily mezzes served in small dinky saucepans. The standout mezze for us were the aubergine and lentils. We ordered kubaneh, a wonderful pot baked bread to mop up the mezzes. Our last dish from the raw section was Kubenia, chopped beef fillet with bulgar, tahini, herbs and pine nuts, a well-seasoned tartare.

From the bigger plates section we started with Shakshukit, a deconstructed kebab with minced meat, yoghurt, tahini and pita croutons. The flavours married well, it’s been a long time since I had any sort of kebab. Polenta Jerusalem style was served in a jar with asparagus, mushroom ragout and truffle oil. A powerful scent of truffle escaped from the jar when opened, a wonderfully rich dish that had us scraping the last bits from the jar.

Seared scallops with cured lemon beurre blanc, swiss chard, Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut tuille. The scallops were cooked enough to give them a bit of bite without being chewy. Our eyes were bigger than our bellies and we ordered pork belly tagine to finish when we saw it paraded on other tables. It come served with dried apricots and Isreali couscous, the pork was slightly dry but was fine with the sauce. Probably the next heaviest dish behind the polenta and one we should have left until next time as we struggled to finish it. 

Service was swift and on point, aided by the compact nature of the restaurant. Next time we will probably try for the kitchen bar seats for a couple of dishes, ideal for pre or post theatre.

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

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Monday 28 July 2014

Gymkhana, London

In a rare outing for Indian cuisine we were torn between Michelin starred Trishna and its newer sibling, Gymkhana, which was recently crowned the restaurant of the year at the National Restaurant Awards, sitting at the summit of the top 100 list. It was this that swayed us to Mayfair based Gymkhana despite us initially preferring the seafood heavy Trishna menu. I thought booking at relatively short notice would be a problem but luckily we managed to get a table for lunch at midday which fit in ideally with our plans.

Gymkhana serves contemporary Indian cuisine using seasonal British ingredients, with a strong focus in the tandoori oven and sharing dishes.  The interior of Gymkhana is dominated by dark wooden panels, hunting trophies and ceiling fans in references to British Raj India. There is a an array of interesting cocktails on offer using exotic fruits and spices but being relatively early we stuck to old favourites, alphonso mango lassi topped with pistachio and a sweet lassi.

A set menu or the a la carte is offered during lunch service, we opted for the 3 courses for £25 which contained most of what caught our interest from the a la carte. A snack of cassava, lentil & potato papad were served with shrimp chutney & mango chutney was served before the starters. I preferred the spicy shrimp chutney whilst Mrs Nom preferred the sweet mango.

The starters arrived soon after and I was glad I made the decision to skip breakfast when I saw the portion sizes. We chose duck egg bhurji with lobster and malabar paratha and a dosa with chettinad duck & coconut chutney. The duck egg bhugji was a rich creamy scrambled egg littered with small lobster pieces which we mopped up with the extremely good malabar paratha bread. The duck with and coconut chutney was well spiced and fragrant but the dosa let it down slightly by being too oily.

After a short break the mains and sides arrived and kept on arriving, the whole table was soon filled with food and we both declared we’re never going to finish it all simultaneously! There was one dish that was an automatic choice being the kid goat methi keema with salli, pao and additional bheja (brains). The mince kid goat was given an added richness by the brain and it was recommended to be eating in the pao (sweet bread roll) sort of like a slider. I actually preferred to eat the kid goat with rice as I felt it was a little dry in the pao.

We chose the tandoori guinea fowl breast, leg & green mango chat, mint coriander chutney as the other main. This was slightly too spicy for Mrs Nom and this was quickly spotted by the helpful service who offered a cooling pomegranate & mint raita to offset it. I found the spicing just right and the guinea fowl was grilled perfectly without drying out the meat. The mains were served with dal maharani, palak paneer, basmati rice and a naan bread basket. The sides were generous to say the least and we would have been happy with them being half the size as it felt we were wasting a lot.

To finish we picked the lightest dessert on the menu despite being at bursting point. The rose kulfi, rose Jelly, vermicelli, basundi, and wild basil seeds was light and fragrantly sweet. The service was on point without being overbearing and it was good to see that the dishes, many with street food origins retained its rugged charm rather than being dainty. For a set lunch it is certainly extremely good value.

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Thursday 24 July 2014

Kua Aina, London

There’s definately no shortage of burger joints in London.  Wanting to try something off the beaten track we found ourselves by Carnaby Street one day after work and decided to try Hawaiian inspired brand Kua Aina. All of the staff are kitted out with Hawaiian accessories as expected and the interior has a beach club feel.

We ordered a half pound hamburger each, two bacon & cheese and one avocado & bacon topped with cheddar and Monterey jack cheese. The hamburgers are grilled and served open in a basket with lettuce, tomato and onions. When fully compiled the burgers looked too big to eat but we managed in the end. The grass fed beef is sourced from farms in the West Country and were meaty and juicy despite asking for them all to be cooked medium.

To go with the burgers we ordered large skin-on and sweet potato fries. Both the varieties of fries were nice and crisp. To wash it all down we couldn’t look past the Kona Brewing Co. craft beers, we each ordered a different one including Longboard Lager, Firerock Pale Ale and Big Wave Golden Ale.

The burgers were perfectly fine but just lacked a little something to make it standout from the likes of Honest Burger, Meat Liquor, Patty & Bun at the same price point of around £15 per head including a drink. Probably a little too plain compared to the rest but still enjoyable.

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