'O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings....' – John Keats
John Keats shared lodgings with his friend Henry Stephens on St. Thomas Street between 1815-16, while they were studying at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals. The street takes its name from the hospital – named after St Thomas Becket, sometime after his canonisation in 1173 – which for over six centuries occupied ground where St Thomas’ church has stood since 1704. The oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe survives in the garret at the top of the building, now a museum.
Duddell’s occupies St Thomas’ church, a grand old building built by Sir Christopher Wren’s master mason Thomas Cartwright, its Queen Anne architecture caught against the glowering shadow of The Shard – it’s an unlikely, beautiful setting for a restaurant.
Two Michelin star garlanded at their first restaurant in Hong Kong, arriving into a building wreathed in a rich history makes me immediately inwardly mutter: ‘Please don’t f**k this up’. It turns out that they haven’t – three visits confirm that it’s rather good.
There are shades of Hakkasan, echoes of Yauatcha, flickering throughout this premium menu (this is posh Chinese, with prices to match), which makes sense on discovering Head Chef Daren was previously Executive Chef with the Hakkasan Group.
A rat-a-tat-tat hammering of visits within a week revealed highlights of Peking Duck, its skin lacquered into ravishing crispness and carved tableside, skin to be dipped in fennel sugar, flesh wrapped with homemade pancakes and mandarin and sesame dressings; textbook prawn dumplings pass the 'Har Gau Test' (nowhere to hide here for a dim sum chef), crammed with sweet bouncy prawn, gossamer casings; glutinous rice with chicken in lotus leaf, generously filled; black pepper duck pumpkin dumplings, gentle pepper heat; prawn and crispy bean curd cheung fun, a playground of crunch and chew; a playful ‘Dim Sum Symphony’ of artfully crafted seafood dumplings (fishy shapes, little eyes) including king crab, scallop and prawn.
They are not dicking around with their chicken dishes, either, using the regal Poulet de Bresse in each plate of Cantonese soya chicken (poached and then smoked with jasmine tea leaf); crispy salted chicken (to gnaw and suck off the bones, the skin a joy; roasted pomegranate chicken a favourite of General Manager Xian Ming Chen. As someone who gets excited about a great chicken – yeah, sheltered life – this all gets a massive ‘high five’.
There’s every chance that Keats would have entered St Thomas’ church while studying here (a statue of him was installed in 2007 outside the hospital building across the road, within an alcove from the original London Bridge dating back to 1176), finding solace from an area he described as ‘a beastly place in dirt, turnings and windings’. In 1815 this part of Southwark was littered with dilapidated buildings, open ditches of waste, and frequented by thieves and prostitutes.
Duddell’s is already doing a fine job of giving this building, steeped as it is in the history of the area, a renewed relevance and resonance for this part of town.
9A St. Thomas Street
Some seriously impressive cooking coming out of the swishest shipping containers yet, at Jöro in Sheffield. A playful Scandi/Japanese mash-up of influences, and pricing so sharp you'll want to take down all nine courses on offer. Highlight of barbecued Lincolshire sweetcorn, shiitake XO emulsion, kimchi maize cracker. Umami bomb. £4.50. Woof.
Ham hock gnocchi gratin with leeks, peas, and topped with a crisp poached egg. Homely, comforting lunch at the buzzy Thyme Cafe, with plenty on the blackboard to tempt. Great homemade chips, too.
Quick pint in the characterful Bath Hotel, a corner pub dating from 1867. Next time, hot roast pork sandwiches, sausage rolls, and pork pies will have to be sampled. Worth tracking down this little spot, opposite the Turkish Baths (1877).
Chardonnay 2015, Pacific Heights,
Russian River Valley, California
Impressive Russian River Valley Chardonnay at the Marks & Spencer press tasting, and a rare treat to find a decent, elegant Sonoma County Chardonnay that doesn't make teeth itch and toes curl at the price. I fell in love with this region twelve years ago, eventually spending a harvest working 'crush' at boutique Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne – the landscape, the restaurants, the wines....yep, I fell for it all with goofy abandon. Sideways comes to mind...
Classy, subtle yet ripe, a lick of buttery oak, a beam of bright acidity. Worth pouncing on. Not much around, so worth looking to find it on the M&S website. £16.
Dorking Deepdene: No One Can Hear You Scream
‘Dorking Deepdene? Does this place even exist? I’m scared.’
So we missed the train from Dorking. The last train that night, pulling away from the station as we came clattering down the station stairs in a deranged sprint from the cab – missed by five seconds. Five bloody seconds.
I blame the taxi driver, who took fifteen minutes to arrive. I blame us for not booking it earlier. That taxi arrives seconds earlier, we make the train – the bare facts. Last train from Dorking station gone at 11pm. Surrey is now HELL. Options? The final FINAL one back to Blackfriars in an hour…from Dorking Deepdene. Eh? Where The Actual F**k? A short walk away from the main station, where we are stranded. Ok, phew.
Where The Light Gets In
The Mash Inn
Grand Trunk Road
The Laughing Heart
German Doner Kebab
Black Axe Mangal
House of Ho
Turkish food is currently shapeshifting in London, a chameleon changing its colours and emerging brighter, more stylish, with more tricks up its sleeve than the classic 'mangal' formula. Restaurants like Skewd, Yosma, soon to open Hovarda, and Pide on Charlotte Street are shaking moves that knock many hum drum Turkish offerings into a cocked Fez.
No longer involved in his first Turkish foray, Babaji Pide, Alan Yau's latest restaurant is still going long on the boat shaped pide breads (karadeniz with oozing egg; develi; pastirma; sucuk and friends), but this time adds lahmacun into the mix (hoorah), alongside flatbreads of roast chicken, salt beef, and Turkish tandir bread.
This tiny joint feels a lot more 'real' than Babaji ever did, less bling, less shiny, and far more useful as a place to drop into on the hoof. A first visit for lahmacun (with excellent quality salad), and a Karadeniz pide spaffing it's yolk over the meat – yes, all good. Cute touch of butter wrapped in paper on the side, for rubbing over the edges of the pide dough.
Çok güzel – 'very beautiful'.
26 James St
I'm LOVEN' It
"Tottenham, Tottenham, no one can stop 'em...", as the 1982 FA Cup Final squad belted out with Chas and Dave before going on to win the trophy – now the momentum is with the food and drink offerings in the area, a growing list that includes Five Miles bar, the arrival of Pressure Drop brewery (joining Beavertown and Redemption), Craving Coffee with food residencies, and Tottenham Green Market. After the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is completed next year, the options are going to ratchet up several notches.
In an arts space on an industrial estate off Broad Lane (still suitably edgy and ragged around the edges), Kate Allison and pizzaiolo Fabrizio Interdonato have installed their custom made wood burning Neapolitan pizza oven. Fabrizio has worked at the noted L'Antica Pizzeria in Hampstead, as well as at Princi since arriving from Sicily, and a couple of visits confirm that he has the moves: the Margherita D.O.P. should keep most pizza fascists happy, those who may be concerned about the accuracy of the leopard spotting on the 'cornicione' crust, and the integrity of buffalo mozzarella that hasn't been overcooked and leaked a watery mess all over the shop. The details are taken care of here.
Feels a bit like the outer reaches of Brooklyn NYC as you approach the building (walk past three times, where the hell is it?), dodge the bins, skip past the 'CCTV WATCHING' graffiti on the wall (spooky), and press the buzzer for entry – speakeasy pizza? Almost.
There's more to come: their bakery, wine shop and café opens in September in Tottenham Hale, close to Beavertown brewery. How they laughed when I told friends that Tottenham is set to become the next Deptford. It's happening. Whack a pizza on the sideboard next to the beer please, lads...
"I've got my beer in the sideboard here, let mother sort it out if he comes round 'ere..." – The Sideboard Song, Chas and Dave (1979)
2 Norman Road
"See how its strength bursts to the top of the glass...the difference is almost frightening." – These are the mellifluous tones of suave British actor William Franklyn, on a voiceover for a 1970s Schweppes commercial, as a wrecking ball keeps smashing into the house he's walking through. You can hear the tonic in his glass fizzing amongst the crashing.
'I forgot it was still open'
'I forgot to go back'
'I haven't had a chance'
'Been doing the new places'
'I thought it wasn't all that'
'I thought it was shit'
— It started with venison medallions and a Barossa Valley Shiraz: the dish that sent me down the path of food and wine while living in Sydney. A career change from advertising began by joining Oddbins in 2003, then to independent merchant The Winery (specialising in German Riesling, Burgundy, Piemonte, California), moving to selling wine to London restaurants, and a stint as sommelier at Zucca in Bermondsey — the writing kicked in after all of this. I’ve written for various publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Christie’s Magazine, The London Magazine, Noble Rot, Completely London, Caterer, and Ocado magazine. I consult on wine lists for restaurants, recent projects including Smoking Goat, Kiln, Coombeshead Farm, Bibo, Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Frontline Club, Cây Tre and Martello Hall.