Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sophie's Steakhouse & Bar

Came tonight for dinner, as it was the last night of the soft opening at Sophie’s. This respectable SW10 stalwart surprised me by not expanding their operation earlier. Then all of the sudden with immense aplomb they took over the huge premises vacated by the utterly appalling and certainly not missed Papageno Restaurant; basically a tourist trap offering faux Italian cuisine.

Like the original outfit at Fulham Road, Sophie’s operates a non booking policy, thankfully this flagship place is huge so you shouldn’t have to wait till eternity for a table. From my observations, I hazard on at least 100 covers on the dining floor alone. The ambience is buzzy, youngish, abundance of loudish music and although I’m no fan of under lit rooms; I did however appreciate the clever eclectic mix of modern lighting utilised. The service at our table, surprise surprise, was handled astutely by a well-heeled English girl and in turn she and her colleagues were supervised by a couple of ‘hands-on’ blokes, Brits no less!

Sophie's trademark gratis salami- ironically the highlight of the meal.

As mentioned earlier, soft opening night and 50% off the food bill!

Common sense or rather the gluttonous side of me decided to plump for the dearest, biggest and most audacious piece of cow offered on the menu; the 27oz Porterhouse.

My dining companion (DC), bless his little cotton socks, went for the 8oz Fillet.

I ordered my steak medium rare and DC wanted his medium well; hoot to the highest promised land, the kitchen confused the order! My medium well Porterhouse was indeed very large (loads of greyish hue when cut) and DC’s medium rare fillet looked promising (but bloody when cut). Unfortunately we both concurred that both our steaks tasted lacklustre and found the claim on the menu that their meat has been dry aged for 28 days incredulous. In addition these steaks despite their burned "lines" also lacked the charbroiled taste. The not so crispy chips with skin on were generous but average tasting.

DC’s Lemon Meringue Pie was similar or tad inferior to what he experienced at boarding school.

My Sticky Toffee Pudding was a barely passable grade C.

I could have sworn these puddings are not entirely made on the premises but brought in en masse from some other place, if that’s not the case, they certainly tasted that they were.

Just as well for the 50% offer, otherwise the average meal will amount to nothing but poor value. This place will succeed for two reasons alone-
They’re open till 3 AM therefore good for the weekend drinkers, and what with the weak pound I’m also sure that they’ll attract our theatre going friends from across the pond who will appreciate Sophie’s Porterhouse more than I did.

29-31 Wellington St
London WC2E 7DB


I first watched Five Easy Pieces when I was about twelve. I know I was way too young for some of the scenes from that film but there was a particular one that takes place in a diner where Jack Nicholson's character Robert 'Bobby' Eroica Dupea is decidedly the biggest pain in the butt of all time. I've been gobsmacked ever since. Here's the dialogue-

Dupea: I'd like a plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee, and wheat toast.
Waitress: No substitutions.
Dupea: What do you mean? You don't have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what's on the menu. You can have a number two - a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Dupea: Yeah, I know what it comes with. But it's not what I want.
Waitress: Well, I'll come back when you make up your mind.
Dupea: Wait a minute. I have made up my mind. I'd like a plain omelette, no potatoes on the plate, a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of English muffin or a coffee roll.
Dupea: What do you mean you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Dupea: ...You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don't make the rules.
Dupea: OK, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two, chicken sal san, hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Dupea: Yeah. Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Dupea: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Waitress: Do you see that sign, sir? Yes, you'll all have to leave. I'm not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.
Dupea: You see this sign? [He sweeps all the water glasses and menus off the table]

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Another grand Alan Yau venture therefore another must try.

No, not the washroom but an impressive water display feature in the dining area. This place has obviously been feng shui-ed.

First the good-

1. Amazing location.
2. Wondrous atmosphere.
3. Great crowd.
4. Incredible display of bread, cakes, pizzas, salads and pasta.

Secondly the bad-

1. The slice of Ham and Crescenza pizza tasted bland and quite possibly rendered any of the Domino's offerings positively gourmet.

2. The Raspberry Cheesecake, attractive it may be but lacked synergy between the three components it was supposedly composed of. The raspberry top felt ill at ease with the white cheesy stuff that tasted more like a vapid cottage cheese from a plastic pot than ricotta. Ah well the lemony base was hardly pastry, cookie, or digestive biscuit; erm…it was just wet and soggy. Poor.

Lastly the ugly-

1. Once you’ve ordered and paid for the food and drinks, for the latter you’ll need to hop over to the beverage and drinks section. This is when your hot and warm savouries start to cool down rapidly as you find yourself waiting for your cappuccino or tea. This delay is unnecessary and besides the coffee was so-so.

OK, it may be early days but surely it’s no excuse. The Italians define pizzas and coffee, sadly there’s very little evidence here. I can see myself coming back just for the ambience alone and it’s also perfect for hanging out with friends. But then I can also see this is slowly but surely turning into another (yawn) Le Pain Quotidien wannabe.

135 Wardour Street
London W1F 0UT

Friday, 28 November 2008

Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant



Grilled Quails

at 11 quid to include hefty dressed salad and loadsa bread

Prices have generally gone up from 15 to 20 percent since I last came here.

One of the best places in London for grilled meats.

Don’t you dare mention the battery hens, silence of the lambs or carcinogens!

Came here for lunch with Jase the Essex Lad, his next favourite kind of tuck after saveloy and chips.

Shared starter of Patlican Salata
(Lightly grilled aubergine and peppers both mashed up and topped with yoghurt & butter)

Shared mains of Special Mixed Kebab.
(Including shish, kofte, lamb chop, rolled shoulder, wing of a pterodactyl and a quail)

The waiter, whilst purposefully bearable was irritatingly smug as well. He said the two shared starters and mains were not enough to feed the two of us and suggested we doubled our order. I begged to differ and guess what, we couldn’t finish the bread basket, accompanying salad and the aubergine. That said, the excellent lunch came to £20 to include two small bottles of Turkish bottled water that made our Thames taste like nectar. Bloody good value and you will not be disappointed.

As for puds and coffee, head down here (10 mins walk).


This place gives a whole new meaning to the word kebab!

I wouldn’t be here without giving credit to World Foodie Guide, thank you Helen. Her write up on this place was measured and enough to convince me to make the pilgrimage. Stoke Newington is as a whole pretty much loveless and simply lack the vibrancy and excesses of the coalescence of Hoxton and Shoreditch. However what Stoke Newington has on the upper hand over the other two hip areas is the thriving proliferation of Turkish related restaurants, mini marts, bakeries and shops. On the restaurants alone I’ve had delightful meals and kebabs at Istanbul Iskembecisi and Somine Restaurant. And now we have Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant, which might well be the home to one of the finest kebabs in London.

The street where this restaurant is situated is nondescript and suitably grim, the shop-front is typically reminiscent and generic of most fast food joints found in any misunderstood inner city corners. Upon entering and finding ourselves a table, I couldn’t help but adjudge that it wasn’t really a restaurant but instead a takeaway with seats and tables. The ambience is non-existent (like the service, but at least the men in black enjoy smiling) and the dining area veering towards shabby side of things. Like all restaurants of this ilk, the sight of the multi tasking man sitting by the brazier manning, fanning, cooking and preparing the salads can only encourage the appetite even more.

The breadbasket arrived first, it was fresh and lovingly warm but I couldn’t help but gulp at the quantity of it all. An order of mixed kebabs for two was epic and huge, the accompanying mixed salad was well-dressed and equally generous in portion, probably too much IMO (I hate wasting food).

All the meats were beautifully fresh, impeccably seasoned and skilfully cooked except for the Lokma. For instance the Adana Köfte is quite often bland and made from dodgy lamb mince, but the ones we had at Mangal was huge, lamby and properly spicy. The Sis kebab, lamb chops and chicken wings were all equally fantastic as well. The only let down was the Lokma Kebab (grilled deboned fillet of lamb), for it was too overcooked and as a result too chewy. Despite the glitch, I can confidently say that this place serves the finest kebabs to date.

Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant is indeed a wondrous find, superior food at stupendously affordable prices. I can’t really imagine anyone being let down here, even the vegans will be happy with the impressive salads. Afiyet olsun! (Enjoy you meal).

10 Arcola Street
London E8 2DJ


The best quality tea must have creases like the leather boot of Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like a fine earth newly swept by rain.

Lu Yu (AD 733-804)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Giaconda Dining Room


Came back here to one of my favourite haunts for lunch with two wonderful ladies. Good food and good companions, bliss.

Saffron Risotto

Rigatoni “Puttanesca”

Halibut with Straw Potatoes

Roasted Cod

Grilled Lemon Sole

Chocolate Mousse Cake and Caramel Sauce

Iced Nougat with Raspberries

Eton Mess


Whenever I’m happy, I’m nothing but a happy biscuit. There are only currently a couple of places that, beyond my control turns me all crumbly and euphoric. They are Hereford Road and The Giaconda Dining Room. I’ve been to the latter a few times before, I come back here because of its no nonsense cooking, its welcoming atmosphere, its strangely but wonderful utilitarian service and of course the reasonable prices. All in there’s absolutely nothing frivolous about the whole establishment, it gives you exactly what’s said on the tin- chill, relax and enjoy the food.

Today’s visit was for a reason, and a rather special one for that matter. The following has been copied and pasted from GDR’s site-

11th November 2008
While cycling home from work on Halloween night our chef, Paul Merrony, fell off his bike and broke his arm (in about 16 places). Stuff happens. Sadly therefore we will be closed until at least the 25th November when we will be getting back on the bike and reopening with our delicious and interesting new ‘One Armed Chef’ Menu. We will only be opening for Lunches until the end of the year. We’ll reopen on the 5th January with our regular “Two armed Chef” Menu, as before. Please accept our grovlling (sic) apologies for all inconvenience we have caused you.

Paul Merrony

Well there you have it, the chef Paul Merrony deserves a frigging medal for this sort of commitment alone. Within half a year of opening the GDR, he’s already turned himself into a legend, probably not intentionally but whether he likes it or not it’s been bestowed upon him and I daresay he’s probably one of the few blokes around who’s able to uphold it.

The ‘One Armed Chef’ Menu is one of those rare things that you boast to other foodies that you’ve been there and done that. It might sound gimmicky but it was hardly a novelty. The food produced and cooked was nothing short of serious and utterly delicious.

It was also worth pointing out that the fellow diners observed during lunch today were obviously regulars and it was gratifying to see they were enjoying themselves at the same time.

KC’s Blanquette of Coco Beans & Ham Hock- declared rich, thick, perfectly salty and ultimately filling. He loved it, this soup was very nearly a dish unto itself and just as well he ignored the breadbasket to make room for the mains and pudding.

My Marinade of Raw Salmon with Cucumber, Fennel & Grated Salt Cod was brilliant. This deceptively simple looking dish often throws me and probably a few others as well. Try making this at home and I can guarantee it’ll never taste as good as GDR’s.

Our shared mains of Paella “The Fields” – which includes Rabbit, Partridge, Chicken, Snails and Chorizo. OK, I’ve never been to Valencia, and to think that an Aussie in London has concocted this dish. At this stage alone I’m not going to be lectured on me not tasting the real thing; I don’t care, as far as I'm concerned this is the best paella I’ve tasted to date.

The rabbit was beautifully tender as well as amazingly, the snails. The not too intrusive gaminess of the partridge mated beautifully with the spicy chorizo.

KC’s Chocolate Truffle Cake with Coffee Sauce. He was really slowing down here now, as he was pretty much stuffed. The amusing thing was he kept saying he’s not having anymore, quarter of an hour later the plate was empty. He cited the cake was actually rather light with a moussey consistency, it was quite simply gorgeous.

My Colston Bassett Stilton and fig cake (heavy and stodgy). I stuffed the cheese in with more bread than you can imagine and ignored the crackers. As always the belt was loosened thereafter.

Foodies who frequent and advocate three star restaurants only need not apply here at the GDR. For they’ll only complain and rant incessantly about the lack of amuse-bouches, the ne
ar elbow to elbow dining, a maître d' to lick their proverbial and satisfy their every whim, the lack of sophistication on the plating up of dishes, the Eton Mess served in a dessert plate instead of a large wine goblet, the location and close proximity to the Centre Point Tower and so on. I think these peeps should stay away, even if they did enjoy the cooking it’ll be hard for them to admit to it in the first place.

Paul Merrony, welcome back (well doubly so, first from Sydney and secondly the broken arm fiasco) and long may the GDR flourish in London. Thank you so.

My past review.

9 Denmark Street