The Black Garlic
Turkish food has been feeling the love like never before over the last few years, helped by a number of young bucks (Turks?) who are finally shifting things away from the ‘identikit mangals’ around Stoke Newington, Dalston and Green Lanes, which often look – and indeed, start to taste – all a bit samey.
So when I catch wind of a couple of chaps doing something a bit different at a recent opening in Leyton, I peg it down there. Suleyman Kahraman and Sameer Shahzada are the chefs/owners, and have previously had stints between them with Giorgio Locatelli, Jason Atherton, Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc: not your average Turkish kitchen team’s CV.
The site is on the former Gym’s Kitchen, a ‘protein based restaurant’ geared towards dumbbell botherers – nothing much has changed inside, the interior not having shaken off the soulless ‘anti-restaurant’ design ethic of the previous incumbents (muscle bound characters still adorn the doors of the loos), so cash has clearly not been spaffed on the interior….yet. I rat-a-tat-tat several visits over a few days. Turns out they have some moves.
Böbrek Kavurma (lamb’s kidneys) arrive in their own cutesy iron skillet, and set things off at a cracking pace. Juicy, well seasoned kidneys (no honk, cleaned well), a flourish of red onions, a squeeze of lemon. Moppage and more moppage with flatbread, chasing round the last sticky slick of sauce.
Kuzu Kavurma is a beauty, tomatoes and onions cooked down into silken sweetness, chunks of lamb carrying the char of the grill, with rendered, wobbling nuggets of flavour packed fat amidst a muddle of Turkish peppers and spring onions. Mopped up with plenty of flatbread. A belter.
Karni Yarik is an artful interpretation of the classic oven baked stuffed aubergine dish, the ‘split belly’ of slowly cooked aubergine stuffed with minced meat, onions, and tomatoes – here, the mince is spewing out and around rather than neatly packed in, and other than needing a grind of salt to perk it up, is excellent.
Plating is considered, but not wanky. Yes, there’s some wooden board action going on, but this is forgiven when some of the dishes on these are served in their own cast-iron cookware, keeping everything at exocet heat until the last morsel. And what’s this? Chefs bringing the dishes from the kitchen to the tables? Lordy, this has never happened in the huddle of Turkish grills in N4.
A promising opening. BYO wine seals the deal. Grab a bottle from Yardarm five minutes away on Francis Road.
An early visit to Lorne in the formerly depressing restaurant wasteland of Victoria (A. Wong was at the vanguard of the upturn a few years ago, a couple of doors away), reveals some smart cooking from chef and co-owner Peter Hall, and a razor sharp wine list by fellow owner Katie Exton. They bring some tasty pedigree with them, including The Square, Chez Bruce, The River Cafe, Brawn and Benu in San Francisco – the expectation is on them to be shaking some impressive moves from the kick off. Cuttlefish is deftly fried with a boldly seasoned semolina/cornflour crumb, alongside a punchy romesco humming with the addition of a bisque sauce that speaks of simmered prawn heads and their friends. Bream with baby gem, puntarelle and monk's beard comes in a sonorous, beautifully balanced dashi broth, the fish having had a quick brine before cooking: cleansing, ascetic, echoes of Japan. A dessert dodger (me) managed to enjoy a homely Yorkshire curd tart with 'builder's tea ice cream' which does indeed spookily taste like just like builder's tea...I later find out that Yorkshire Tea bags play a leading role.
Grower Champagne Veuve Fourny 1er Cru as the house fizz at £9.50 sets the tone, and when you see Produttori del Barbaresco and Kumeu River by the glass on the first page, you know you'll be in safe hands. Fleur de Thénac Rouge is one of the best value reds in town.
Lorne is wedged between Turkish restaurant Kazan and Znips hair salon (I missed it walking past four times), but there's enough going on here to pull me back again soon – and in this fervid London restaurant opening climate, that's becoming something of a rarity.
A couple of plates at Stevie Parle's latest opening in Clerkenwell are compelling enough to plan another visit, pronto. Housed in a building of shared serviced offices run by foraspace.com (Fora prefer 'pro-working' to 'co-working'), this corner site on Central Street - the 'no-mans land' between The Barbican and Old Street - has the feel of a neighbourhood joint you may find tucked away off The Bowery, in New York. Riffing on the dishes and flavours of Rome, the menu reads like a beauty: saltimbocca; chicken, pancetta and pistachio meatballs; rigatoni with veal pajata; tonarelli cacio e pepe. Ravioli of spinach and squash are ruddy good, a generous portion for £8, excellent lurid green pasta: the amount of butter they wallow in is reassuring. Pillowy bites of gnocchi alla Romana with brown butter and sage deserve a 'high five' and have 'order again' written all over their Parmesan and sage strewn pucks. Bombolotti ragù 'Marcella', inspired by cookery writer Marcella Hazan, who effectively 'blueprinted' the correct way to make a ragù bolognese, is also safe in the hands of this River Café alumnus. The open kitchen adds to the hubbub in the room which also serves as the entrance to the offices, plates of food being passed out for some kind of work 'do' or networking event going on the night I was there. The River Café begun life as the canteen for the architects next door – not a bad precedent if the parallels begin to be drawn here. Next time, arrowing in on the saltimbocca...
Taste of Sichuan
Walthamstow has been stubborn. E17 is still gagging for more decent restaurants, while nearby neighbourhoods of Leyton, Leytonstone, Woodford and Wanstead are now ahead in the North-East London pecking order – so I'm instinctively pessimistic when I hear of a new Sichuan restaurant in the main drag of the market. Several visits later, and yep, it's a good 'un. After some digging I find out why – they have some some pedigree. They own The Sichuan on City Road EC1, which received raves last year from Giles Coren and Jay Rayner. Executive Chef is Zhang Xiao Zhong, originally from Chengdu, and was the Head Chef at Soho's Bar Shu in 2005, before moving to Hutong in The Shard. He has also helped Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop with her book Every Grain of Rice.
A classic Sichuan cold corn-fed chicken dish, fiery with the numbing thwack of Sichuan peppercorns and a peanutty 'special homemade sauce' is a ripper. Other highlights: Gong Bao chicken; Wontons in red chilli; Dan Dan noodles; 'Boiled Beef in Extremely Spicy Sauce' (not that palate scalding, really). The utilitarian box of a brightly lit dining room won't win any awards, but this is now on the 'once a week' list – E17 may be slow off the mark, but it's getting better.
A taco storm is sweeping London and the ones firing out at Breddos are Champions League quaility. Nud Dudhia and Chris Whitney started their taco shack in a Hackney car park in 2011, before several pop-ups and residencies, an extended stint with Street Feast, and now to their first permanent home on Goswell Road. A first visit revealed a flurry of belting plates: Pig's head cochiita pibil; beef rib eye with shrimp chiltomate; kung pao pork belly. Corn for tacos, tortillas and tostadas are ground each day on the volcanic stone mill. A special mention for an infernal sea urchin and queenie scallop tostada, an iodine slap of sea urchin and sweet, sweet scallop, with a kick of spice and chilli heat. The masa fried chicken taco with roasted habanero may need to be ordered twice on each visit: sodding good.
Tacos, tacos, tacos. London is under a taco onslaught at the moment, and Temper have brought their own taco game to Soho. This jaw-dropping Soho basement site are grinding corn from Masienda, who partner with local farmers, smallholders and producers to produce top draw Mexican ingredients: the emphasis is on promoting agricultural bio-diversity, sustainability, and supporting smallholder farmers. The rough hewn tacos have heft and texture, and toppings are playful and imaginative: soy-cured beef, fermented chilli and sesame; aubergine and chipotle miso, green chilli, avocado; blowtorched mackerel, avocado, bottarga and green sauce; ibérico ham, pineapple, mozzarella, chipotle passata (a riff on a Hawaiian pizza…one worth eating). Smoked and grilled meats are cooked in the huge, supermodel of an open kitchen. The wine list is worth giving a good bashing, too
Enter the biryani. Who doesn’t like a good biryani? How often do we order one? Probably not often enough. This basement site on Wardour Street is aiming to blitz all (most) of those other distracting options from your Indian meal: you WILL walk out having ordered a biryani, the end. Chicken wings tossed in a spicy/sour Masala threaten to overshadow everything before we even see a biryani, hopping with slow chilli burn and a masala that has us chasing it around and sucking it off the bone. Andhra Prawn Fry has a similarly wicked sauce of red chilli and coconut. 'Scoop-up’ worthy.
Biryani arrives festooned with a pastry top – crack into that, scoop up fluffy rice scented with fragrant spice, hunks of lamb shank, and whack in the accompaniments of green chilli curry, boiled egg, and a smoked aubergine raita, if you’re in the mood. The tiny booths are cute, the place is cosy, the biryani mighty fine. Another Cobra please. Make it two. Cheers.
Steak, Chips, Bijou Wine List
I'm helping with the wine list for this two months residency at The Newman Arms, Fitzrovia. Philip Warren's grass-fed Cornish beef, hand cut chips, and a little list of wines at rather silly prices. Upstairs at The Newman Arms.
A sunshine dappled Primeur on the Islington/Stoke Newington borders from restaurant alumni with serious pedigree, David Gingell and Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim, remains one of the most joyful lunch venues in town. On the site of a former garage in the 1930's, the quiet tree lined street is idyllic. Small plates of simple brilliance. They like Lambrusco, too, which means we love them long time.
Salmon tartare? In a taco? Crunch of casing? Silky fish? Masago and miso dressing? Reasons to go to UNI. Sharp wine list, too.