Thursday, 30 December 2010

Delhi Grill

Success can be begat by the networking powers of Twitter. To open a new Indian restaurant in London these days can only be described as a Herculean gamble in willing to take risks in order to make a profit. What with the market that’s been sewn up for a fair number of decades and thus hopelessly saturated. I can only envisage three types of the following curry houses:

Formulaic (your local neighbourhood ‘Star of India’ et al serving textbook ChickTiksMas and where all the luridly coloured sauces look and taste the same except for the varying degree of macho hotness applied).

Vegetarian (on a partial mission to convince carnivores to kowtow to the experience that aubergines and chickpeas can be more satisfying than their usual battery hen or stringy lamb but never sufficiently fulfilling enough to sway even the most fair-tempered lovers of the tandoori mix grill).

Or get a PR dork to concoct some kind of Canterbury Tales about the chef’s bio. (Poor sod will be under pressure to serve the smallest leg of partridge imaginable, cook it in a tandoor and charge us 13 quid for it. He then appears on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and somehow gains a Michelin star soon after!)

Thank goodness, Delhi Grill applied none of the above and took a different route instead. DG was inspired by the food served by motorway cafes or truck stops in India known as dhabas. I think I’m not too far wrong in also suggesting that a dhaba is the Indian subcontinent’s version of our beloved greasy spoons. DG undertook the initiative to promote itself on Twitter by making friends with the food networking sites and teasing (albeit gushingly) the food bloggers who twitter actively. DG sealed its reputation in a relatively short time; it became the place for a righteous curry fix in London!

Located in Angel, Islington, the street DG resides on is far from pristine and orderly (if strewn rubbish is your idea of misunderstood beauty then Chapel Market has answered your prayers). As the name implies, this stretch of road is also home to a daily street market. Angel is en route to my girlfriend’s abode in deepest Hackney so I religiously stop off here to pick up a couple bottles of malbec or pinot noir from Waitrose- the resulting perversity to saunter past DG on several occasions indicated that the place was mind-bogglingly deserted and desolated! What happ’ed and did all the tweets resulted in nowt much!?

On my first pilgrimage here the restaurant was empty and I wanted the best-lit table in the middle of the dining room (bloody cameras and so on). Unfortunately I was turned down as the table was allegedly reserved for a table of six (guess what? They never turned up! Bleeding porkies and tall tales…restaurateurs, please take note, a majority of your potential patrons don’t relish the idea of being bullshitted to!). That said, DG is all about informal dining and the service is genuinely chummy and undoubtedly efficient. If you’re coming here for the first time, do keep your eyes peeled on the monthly specials on the blackboard, take this advice as a well-worth nag.

The menu is wonderfully idiot proof and concise. To the suburbanites from Pinner to Croydon, sorry no butterflied king prawn, Dansaks, Vindaloos or Kormas here, but sob no more mates as DG offers their take on the nation’s much loved Chicken Tikka Masala.

Now I know there are wine bloggers out there who are mercilessly snooty about ordering house wines and only because they have a certain ‘reputation’ to uphold. Well sod them, as I’d absolutely no complaints about the springboks’ Shiraz. At a tenner a bottle, it was much better and tastier than either a pint of Cobra or Kingfisher fizzy dishwater!

The complimentary chutneys and dips
You’ll need to order some poppadoms now. The chutneys were all amazing and a special mention goes to the memorable but fiery coriander, mint and chilli chutney.

Tandoori Paneer
Excellent and incredible value at less than two quid!

Lamb chops
Impressive and dare I proclaim, much better than HERE. I cannot see this dish being listed at £2.95 for too long!

Sheekh Kebabs
Unashamedly spicy and voraciously juicy. A must have at £2.50!

Tarka Dhal
Ubiquitous in name but rather superior here than the norm ordered everywhere else. The amount of fried caramelised onions and cumin seeds added to the dish was spot on. A sort of dish that can be eaten everyday and anytime without an ounce of interfering conscience.

Egg Curry
The only fail IMO. Dispiritedly laden with enough cloves to numb the mouth. It was at best a disappointing local anaesthetic of a dish.

Haandi Murgh
A most delectable chicken on the bone curry and only a close second to this. A nigh on unmissable dish that should by all accounts appear permanently on the menu instead of the specials board (but then again folks in Blighty only eat boneless and tasteless breast meat…sad beyond belief).

This belonged to the non-heavy dough variety. Light and fragrant, a mandatory order to mop up what’s left of the various karahi dishes.

Masala chai
Soothing and delicately spiced. One should be able to slumber with ease after this cuppa.

Mango kulfi
I could’ve sworn this was made with sweetened condensed milk. Loved it nonetheless, intense mango flavours and texture-wise; a perfect balance between a sorbet and ice cream.

Second visit-

Tandoori Paneer
Now there are more sweet peppers crowding the sizzling dish to achieve a better perceived value. It was as rewarding as my first visit and stonking value at £1.95.

Tandoori Chicken

The best I’ve had in London. Period. I bet the guys at DG guard their secret recipe for the marinade like the Coca-Cola Company does for their dark liquid.

Rogan Gosht
Slow-cooked tomatoey lamb curry. Another sensational offering from the regular menu. For the faint-hearteds, best be warned that this dish was hot enough to make me hallucinate and perspire like a wretched wuss. Sublimely delicious.

Gracious and much needed protein for my dining companion, an unrelenting vegetarian. The chickpea curry was as spicy hot as the lamb rogan and equally decent.

Tarka Dhal
Less majestic looking in a plain-jane bowl than the one served in a karahi from the first visit. But worry not, as it was just as good as expected.

Delhi Grill is an immense find, so much so that I’ve decided it’s my best restaurant of 2010. The outstanding food served here is so good I can perceive DG either relocating to or starting a second branch in an area in London that’s more prominent and noteworthy, and alas the upping of the prices will be inevitable. DG knocks the spots off its contemporary Dishoom and as far as great Punjabi cooking is considered it’s also the new New Tayyabs. With the latter getting a trifle too big for its boots (what with indifferent service, greasy dishes, badly cooked rice, etc), Delhi Grill is for now London’s current curry champion (let’s just hope they maintain the consistency). A thumping recommendation is thus endorsed. GO!

Delhi Grill,
21 Chapel Market
London N1 9EZ

Thursday, 23 December 2010


I cannot think of any other reason to visit Camden than to make a pilgrimage to Asakusa, the famed Japanese eatery for the majority of us with budget constraints. Alas, when attempting to secure a reservation at Asakusa, I’m either downtroddenly luckless or phone-ragingly impatient (with its constantly engaged lines), for I’ve yet to sup here. Apart from Drummond Street and of course Asakusa, Camden has little to offer in terms of joints offering a memorable meal. I might well be gazumped by some that NW1 offers more diversity and variety of restaurants than most districts in London, but the bulk of the newer places are annoyingly PRd for the wrong reasons and truth be told they end up confusingly forgotten before you even set foot in them! Was it ‘Made in Camden’, ‘Proud Camden’ or ‘Kentish Canteen’ (I know it’s in NW5, but for a Notting Hillbilly it’s still Camden to me!)? You’ll be forgiven for being baffled.

It was on an occasion I was turned away by Asakusa for the umpteenth time (You! One place…sushi bar and you, no win lottery…actually they were magnanimously more polite than that) that my Dining Companion and I decided to seek tummy solace elsewhere in the vicinity. Luck doesn’t always abandon me without a cause for I remembered reading the great Terry Durack’s review of Camden Market Market Camden Market Tydfil Shaka Zulu Market market summat. Off to Parkway we did.

I would without much R&D classify Market as Modern British but interventions on the menu like chorizo, risotto and onglet (hanger doodah FGS!) suggest otherwise. Market is thus a tad Modern European but without the straying into the bigos or pierógi territory. However the waitresses, who provide a decent service, are from the latter and they speak English miles better than Camden’s own N-Dubz. The ambience during dinner is particularly suited to those who are aversed to bright lights and conforming to first-dates rituals but not so for photography. FYI, the rendering of the photos shown took me a couple of days to make them vaguely presentable but the usual flawed text as with all my posts, never more than ½ hour.

The shot that did no justice to the bread served. I sincerely hope this was homebaked at the premises because it was one of the best I’ve had in memory. The butter accompanied was served at a perfect room temperature (rare and indifferently ignored at most places).

DC’s starter of chicory, beetroot, Stilton and pinenuts.

She was more than happy and I said thank gawd for the Stilton!

My first course came from the daily specials’ board. Ox tongue fritters and mustard mayo.

A wonderfully executed dish and beautifully seasoned. I love tongue dishes and this is in spite of a psychological trait to injure one’s own when eating them. These fritters put to shame to the ones I had at Peter Gordon’s Kopapa recently.

Fussy veggie DC’s mains of risotto, roast cauliflower and hazelnuts.

She was utterly praiseworthy of this dish and thought the chef deserved a triumphus like Cicero and Pompeius Magnus. I tasted a bit and concurred, but felt the rice was slightly undercooked.

My mains of confit duck, boulangère potatoes and red cabbage.

The duck was as good as it gets; crispy, tender and salty enough without the aid of the Dead Sea. The potatoes (think dauphinoise but baked in meat stock instead) were a revelation. The red cabbage, for once not over marinated in vinegar, was subtly sweet and heart-warming

A 5* dish.

The pudding menu is to all intents and purposes a British affair.

The shared poached pear and ginger ice cream confirmed that Market is serious contender for one of the better restaurants I’ve been to this year. The well-cooked fruit had the right amount of watery crunch that boded well with my elderly gums. And the excellent ice cream tickled imagination of strong ginger beer without ten teaspoonfuls of sugar and the fizz. Another 5* deemed.

Market is an overlooked and unheeded joint, maybe it should stay that way, at least you can get a table here without the fiasco that’s associated with Asakusa. Market is not entirely without faults, the coffee served was crap and the grim single page website is food and wine menu-less. But it’s still a splendid place. A big hearty recommendation is warranted.

43 Parkway

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Coach & Horses

It hurts me to pen a review that’s less than positive especially when a meal is anticipated to deliver the goods. The Coach & Horses is a 'gastropub' (like 'foodie', 'nibbles', ‘nom nom’, 'sourced', 'delish', etc- they’re all unnecessary and projectile vomiting inducing words). The C&H has harnessed more than its fair share of tributes from the press like the Evening Standard and Observer Food Monthly to establish itself as worthy of respect and not an ounce less! But I didn’t come here because of dem lot reviews!

I first took note of Henry (Harry) Herbert the C&H’s head kitchen flake on BBC’s Great British Menu 2010. Although creatively outshone and pummelled by both Nathan Outlaw and John Hooker the much younger and quintessentially nice Herbert showed promise with great aplomb. His determination throughout the competition, and tolerance from the barrage of mockeries by the other two chefs were at best meritorious. So game, set and match, the C&H can do no wrong!

Came here one eve with my nursery school pal, Sue (FYI we’re in our ancient forties and why the fudge did remove the age identity from my profile page!). Sue, being from and residing in hotter climates was on a well-deserved holiday from being mum to three kids and wanted to relive her days when she was at a public boarding Tory school in Blighty. She wanted pub grub like pork scratchings, steak and kidney pud, chicken kiev, Ploughman’s or bangers and mash. As ever I intervened and exhilarated- ‘I’m but a food knowall, and my dear Sue you’re so out of touch with the scene here, we don’t do that kind of thing anymore in London. Look hon, we’ve moved on and so have our tastebuds, the majority of Londoners are now savvy eaters!’ I dragged her to the C&H but ended up eating my hat instead!

The C&H is located in a quiet corner of Clerkenwell and possibly too teasingly close to the original gastropub. It’s a posh pub and therefore no championing of live Champions League matches. Service was efficient but a tad dour with no small talk encouraged.

What rattled and pleased us (in a very small way) -

Franschhoek Cellar 'The Old Museum'.

Quaffworthy red, I’m not trying to be Andy Hayler but this 19 quid bottle can be bought from the shops for 7.

The supposedly signature dish at this place- the charcuterie plate.

It consisted of home-cured salami, rabbit rillettes and Lop pork & spiced fruit terrine served with pickles, shallot chutney and home-baked breads. I thought the starter was enough for two, three slices of well-baked bread and the small amount of meat on the wood platter was miserly and ill judged. But that was beside the point- the rillettes was too cold and bland but for those who are contrary to rabbity flavours then this right up your street. The salami was too ‘waxy’and porkless tasting however the estimable terrine salved (sic) the entire starter somewhat. Sue asked thereafter- how come they don’t have prawn cocktail here? Me heart sank. (Oh the half pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord real ale on the left tasted crap- it was either badly kept or end of a cask!).

Roast Cornish gurnard with clams, Alsace bacon, new potatoes and chicory.

A beautiful piece of the freshest fish imaginable, perfectly cooked but hopelessly over salted and the inclusion of the bacon made it a double whammy. I was convinced this dish was conceived in a salt mine. Although I’m no carb fan I had to concede that the potatoes were very good and were also the only palatable food on the plate. Overall fail.

Roast mallard with sautéed potatoes, squash, red cabbage and chanterelles.

An altogether more satisfying dish than the fish. The duck was strong flavoured and tasty but a little tough to chew, serving a bit pinker would suffice. But as you can see from the photo this mains was tainted by the presence of burnt potatoes. Aghast aside, I just didn’t think it was possible to serve an accompaniment like that in establishments like the C&H! Poor oversight!

Puddings consisted of sea buckthorn doughnut, plum crumble with crème fraiche ice cream and for curiosity’s sake, a token sea salt caramel truffle.

Having tried the esoteric sounding sea buckthorn for the first time I can confidently declare it as the most astringent and unpleasant thing I’ve ever tasted. It was simply superfluous! I mean why not use stuff with loads more flavours instead like lime, lemons or perhaps even sorrel (to upkeep the British only ingredients stance). The doughnut on the other hand was very good.

Of all the dishes Sue loved the plum crumble best. I sampled a bit and acknowledged that it was at least a hit. I thought the oats sprinkled on top of the crumble were a rather enticing touch. For yours truly the only redeeming thing of the evening was small and I paid a quid for it. The salted caramel truffle was outstanding, at least someone in the kitchen is deft at making world class chocolate morsels.

My dining companion and I were disappointed with the meal and more so when we saw the bill. Being the able gent that I’m, I footed the bill because of my misguided misdemeanour in recommending the C&H. I still believe that Chef Herbert has age on his side to realise his full potential and until that happens I can’t see myself going back to the Coach & Horses in a hurry.

26-28 Ray Street
London EC1R 3DJ

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Railroad is the following-

A café

A bar

A wee bookshop as well a live music venue for the discerning lot (but no Mahler’s 2 here I’m afraid).

Indeed and yet another new indie caff/eatery in London or Hacks to be precise. Railroad is housed in a rather anonymous building that soon beautifies when viewed from a certain angle i.e. the railtrack arch. Its location on Morning Lane instils an image of loveless urban decay but the area is also home to the rather iconic Burberry factory building. Expect coachloads of chavs pilgrims heading towards the latter’s outlet store.

Railroad is an Anglo/Aussie affair. The Anglo bit being the fine looking sibling of the Observer’s ’Young chef of the year’. It’s a great find despite Time Out’s baffling 3/5 rating*. Railroad is at least a fourer. This is a place that’s not unlike visiting a friend’s abode that can cook well or a legit supper club who doesn’t charge up to 40 quid a head plus booze. Service can be hectic when it becomes busy, so be patient- you’re not in the West End now! But if you want good honest homecooked food and one of the best flatties in London then you’re home and dry.

Made from beans supplied by the monopolistic but excellent Square Mile Coffee Roasters, the Flat White is strong and momentous, it’s my kind of perfection. I suppose the approach to making such an exquisite flattie is down to serving it in handmade ‘flower pots’ that cup considerably less than the usual 150ml. The Flat White at Railroad is nothing short of definitive.

These guys can cook and the prices charged for the wonderful dishes verge on charitable status. If the word spreads about Railroad then the majority of supper clubs would start to judder!

Stuff I had here and relished-

Bar snack- crispy chickpeas (who needs dry roasted clones!)

Bar snack- fried sage leaves (first on the map!)

Pumpkin Soup (thickset and memorable).

Savoy cabbs stuffed with rice, raisins, pumpkin, and pine nuts. Like all cabbage concoctions, the term photogenic absolves.

Pork and fennel sausage sandwich.
(If it tickles, Railroad also serves their take on the Vietnamese bánh mì sarnie- they call it the Vietnamese sandwich stuffed witch slow cooked, spiced pork & pickled vegetables at £4.50)

Now if you’re lucky enough Lizzie or Matt Max MATT! might bake you some madeleines. An awakening experience and they tasted so much better than the ones at St. John. Droolworthy and much beyond!

Roast squash, onions and potato salad.

Roast pork belly, tatties and Popeye’s greens.

First on my mind, where’s the gravy? Not needed, as everything melted within the mouth. And as I write a perfect antidote to Engerland being denied 2018, oh such lusciousness…the pork I mean! Ridiculously priced at a lowly eight quid fifty!

Nice Northern caaake. Baaakewell Taaart.

Railroad destinates! Go!

* Time Out has since upgraded their review of Railroad to a more realistic 4 stars. I'm perfunctorily influential.

The original condensed link from London Eating-

TimeOut - 3/5
Wednesday, December 01, 2010 - Railroad is a lo-fi, low-key, DIY operation run by Lizzie Parle and her partner - Lizzie is the sister of Stevie Parle, who runs Dock Kitchen in west London...Starters were breaded quail with fish sauce, and deep-fried spiced chickpeas; for mains we shared a spinach and potato curry, shot through with nigella, mustard seeds and curry leaves, and also a chorizo and lentil stew, stained red with tomato and paprika, served with chunks of own-made bread. Dessert was shared - a slice of almond and pear tart (also oven fresh). Good ingredients were in evidence throughout, and everything was confidently cooked.
Read full review

120-122 Morning Lane
London E9 6LH

(Shut Tuesdays)