Review: Copper and Ink, Blackheath

Broccoli bite

Broccoli bite

There’s a helluva lot of care and attention that goes into fine dining – even informal fine dining – that you only notice when it’s absent. When our dessert showed up at Copper and Ink, with two cubes of chiffon cake, there was plenty of jealous comparing going on; lucky me, my cubes were nearly twice the size of everyone else’s! Similar story with the beef main; everyone had a noticeably different sized chunk of rump. And they were maybe running low on watercress in the kitchen because the sprigs got smaller and smaller around the table; all I had was a single yellowing leaf and Maureen’s was missing altogether.

That leaf should probably not have got over the pass, and it’s a fair summary of my thoughts: Copper and Ink aren’t yet able to execute perfectly on their ambition.

Beef n leaf

Beef n leaf

First starter of parmesan beignet with broccoli was pleasant, a clean start with an innocuous foam. The next course was a scallop well seared and served with a chermoula so very punchy that the rest of the dish never recovered. I had rabbit two ways; bonbon of shredded bunny and ham-wrapped loin, with minced mushrooms and a deep jus. Really jolly good, except the spinach puree served with it was over-salted.

Main course was the rump. Cooked rare but not so well prepped; half of us found some unchewable gristle in our piece. Parsnip, potato and shallot accompaniments were all pretty good, but the plating was just a bit duff. The bit of onion ash looked like someone had been cleaning out an ashtray nearby.

Choc tart AND BASIL SORBET OF THE GODS!

Choc tart AND BASIL SORBET OF THE GODS!

The last two courses were desserts and both were splendid. Chiffon cake with orange sorbet and scorched meringue blobs was a good start, probably dish of the day for me. Followed by a sturdy little slice of chocolate tart topped with fresh strawberries and a scoop of basil sorbet on the side. This sorbet was absolutely banging, fantastico, SORBET OF THE GODS. Like being beaten around the head with a huge bunch of fresh basil on a Ligurian hillside. So I guess they saved the best ’til last!

It’s worth reiterating that this was a very reasonable £40 for 5 courses and although I can pick a hole in each dish, we basically had a pleasant meal. The wine list also needs a shout, as it’s packed full of interesting bottles and the two we picked were top-notch. But I do know lots of places to go for a much more consistently brilliant meal at this price point. All that said… they’re a brand new restaurant and a young team, so I’ll definitely come back in a bit and see if they’ve sanded the rough edges off.

Chiffon cake etc

Chiffon cake etc

Review: The Rattle Owl, York

Soup

Soup

Hey, front of house folks. If you have a table of braying, cackling, bellowing morons dining in your restaurant then I totally understand that there’s not much you can do about it. The other tables seated nearby trying to enjoy a friendly Sunday lunch really do just have to put up with the raucous, ear-shattering, bonhomie of the sextet of swine gurgling their way through several bottles of wine in close proximity. But it’s really, really hard to enjoy the deliciously cooked food at all. So what you could do is just maybe quietly show some sympathy. An apologetic wince, or maybe just a quiet “sorry about that” when you bring our bill. It would be a nice gesture.

We found an app on the iPhone that measures volume. Apparently that table generated the average volume of “alarm clock” rising at times to “power tool”. Given that, maybe it would have been worth a member of staff, perhaps a manager, telling them to SHUT THE BLOODY F*CK UP AND LET OUR OTHER GUESTS DINE IN PEACE, YOU PACK OF BRAYING ASSHOLES!

Then again, they were ordering an awful lot of wine. And we know how the markup on that goes. : )

Beef

Beef

So let me try and push the noise to one side and review the rest of the experience. The Rattle Owl is a nice looking restaurant with a long, thin dining room and an art deco vibe. Our waiter at Le Cochon Aveugle recommended their Sunday lunch, and that was recommendation enough for us.

I tried a white onion soup to start, with goat curd and char-grilled silverskin onion. This was nice but the soup was rather over-salted. Maureen’s smoked salmon was good. But of course roast beef was the main event. Beautiful bit of beef, very well treated, meltingly good. The Yorkie was huge and puffy but burnt a little too brown. Fine veggies, including a well braised leek and excellent roasties. Gravy was decadent, but oddly distributed: Maureen’s beef was bathing in it, mine only sprinkled on. Wines by the glass were reasonably priced and good.

Sunday lunch was £21 for 2 courses and I’d say that’s about square value. You’d be very lucky to stumble on a roast as good as this by chance, though I can’t say it was epic. And of course it’s also hard to disentangle the effect of six raucous tossers on my enjoyment of the food. C’est la vie.

Review: Le Cochon Aveugle, York

Boudin noir macaron

Boudin noir macaron

York is an awesome city to visit, absolutely saturated in history, very beautiful, and more and more full of great places for a coffee or a full-on feast. There’s even a medieval beer hall. And now imma give you a tip on a lesser known place to visit in York that I found every bit as cool as the cathedral: the York Cold War Bunker. The hour long tour is fascinating and the guides are knowledgable and charming, just like service at Le Cochon Aveugle.

See that? That’s a segue. Boom.

The menu at Le Cochon Aveugle is a blind tasting menu, which I guess is a neat way of saving time usually spent trying to decide how to label up a long list of dishes on a menu. Do we go with the stark one-word simplicity of “carrot”? Or the full-on romance of “carpaccio of Wetherby carrot with kumquat granita and Perigord truffle”? Sod it, let’s just not provide a menu, it’s not like they get to choose what they’re having anyway, let’s get back to cooking.

Creamy oyster

Creamy oyster

So, let’s talk about the boudin noir macaron. O. M. G. Beautiful to look at, filthy magic in the mouth, absolutely one of those “just give me a dozen of these on a plate and leave me be” snacks that only a few tasting menus ever come up with. It was the last of a series of really very good amuses, including a tiny young red kale leaf with a blob of delicious umami and crunch on top, and a crispy potato bite with silky smoked cod roe on top: the poshest fish and chips.

The whole meal was full of dazzlingly strong dishes. A perfectly poached plump Lindisfarne oyster made velvety with a delicately rhubarby cream. And then a toothy scallop baked in the shell, punched up with powdered scallop roe and an even more powerful sea urchin butter (lucky there was still a bit of bread left to mop this up with!). Eel and charred veg in a dashi was lip-smacking good too. Main course was pared back but very effective: guinea fowl breast and leg, rich jus, brightened happily with two early wild garlic leaves.

Sauternes egg

Sauternes egg

I need to talk about the pud, though. Glisteningly rich chocolate. Peppy crisp black pepper tuile. Sea salt ice cream, as refreshing as a walk along Scarborough seafront in a gale. And the gentle grassiness of some excellent olive oil. These elements combined sublimely and I’d have been happy with a dozen of these to follow the dozen boudin noir macarons. A silken custard flavoured with funky Sauternes and bitter caramel on top, served in an eggshell, was a lovely finisher though.

This was an assured, inventive, 100% delicious tasting menu. At the very top of the tree. And for £75 you’ve got 8 courses and 5 snacks, which is dazzling value in my book (and only £60 mid week apparently). We enjoyed the wine pairing but it’s worth noting that they’re passionate about their natural and bio wines, just in case you aren’t! York has a top drawer fine dining restaurant in Le Cochon Aveugle, no doubt.

Beautiful scallop and urchin butter

Beautiful scallop and urchin butter

Review: The Dairy, Clapham

The Dairy

The Dairy

Why is flat-hunting so tiring? You’re just spending a day trotting from place to place, being shown around a variety of living spaces ranging from stunning to sadly dilapidated by a variety of letting agents ranging from tooth-jarringly perky to pinstripe sleazily urbane. By the end of it you feel like you’ve done a marathon. I think it’s all the thinking. We spent hours weighing up the pros and cons of each place, and each location, in minute detail. Dinner at The Dairy was a very welcome distraction (although it had the sad side-effect of waking us to the possibility of Clapham as another cool place to live!).

It’s a cool space, a fine example of stripped-back industrial chic. Service is friendly. There’s a good drinks list and we have a couple of fine glasses of wine. The menu is one of those odd tasting plate experiences; it’s definitely not a “3 course meal” and yet the tasting plates are divided into 3 sections and you’re recommended to pick one from each section. So…? I don’t mind. At the end of the day we tend to find that if you follow the waiter’s instructions you end up with a right-size meal. The tableware is all of solid, heavy, heat-conserving, carved stone with plenty of wabi sabi chips out of it. That was noteworthy and splendid.

Gougeres

Gougeres

Maureen picked a slice of truffled Baron Bigod cheese to start, served on a slice of toasted sourdough it was a perfectly gnarly pleasure. My start was pollock cheek gougeres; satisfying mouthfuls of cheesy puff with a friendly blob of fish inside. Good start. To follow I had bone marrow agnolotti. These little pasta parcels literally exploded in the mouth. Having bone marrow jus dribble down your chin is a wicked sensation. Mmmm. Filth. The jerusalem artichoke crisps and little chunks were just the right accompaniment. Maureen’s fillet of mackerel was a splendid piece of fish but I definitely scored on this course.

Our main courses… sorry, third small plates… were just a tad below par by comparison. My sturdy tranche of middlewhite pork was very well cooked, still on the juicy side, and served with some decent cavalo nero, red cabbage and swede puree. So, yeah, kindof a decent pub main. And Maureen’s lovely pink piece of lamb with a bean stew was also another perfectly decent pub main. I may be being unfair, but that’s the thing about small plate cooking: you expect every plate to have some pizazz.

No room for pud, but the little petit four of sticky fudge with tiny pieces of caramelised jerusalem artichoke inside was veeeeeery lovely. At about £32 for three dishes I’d happily give The Dairy a thumbs up. If we end up living near Clapham then I think it’ll easily become a local favourite. Otherwise, I’m not sure if I’m likely to bother making a special trip here; it’s good, but not memorable.

Agnolotti

Agnolotti

Review: Scully, St James

Tentacular spectacular

Tentacular spectacular

When you go all-out for flavour and innovation, you won’t hit perfection every single time. Some dishes will be a bit OTT or just plain weird. For me, that’s part of the joy. I’d rather have food I can talk about and maybe a couple of dishes I can absolutely rave about, than several courses of refined perfection that are just going to merge together with every other fine meal I’ve eaten in a forgettable soup of food.

Well, I won’t be forgetting Scully’s thousand-layer pork belly in a hurry! Or his salt-caramel egg yolk, for different reasons (reasons which may simply be that my tastebuds aren’t ready yet for broccoli with caramel sauce).

It’s a classy little joint in St James, with an open kitchen. Service was excellent, informed and clearly enthused. So they should be.

Broccoli with caramel egg yolk

Broccoli with caramel egg yolk

Our first plate was a snack of crispy beef tendons (think beefy prawn crackers) with a dip of pancetta kilpatrick covered in a layer of light foamy oyster mayo. This was just absolutely filthy delicious, I could have scoffed it ’til I died. Every flavour and texture: salt, sweet, spicy, earthy, umami, sour, crunchy, silky, chewy.

Next, two veggie plates. Winter tomato and coconut salad with a tomato shrub I liked a lot, Maureen less so. It was easy to add too much of the vinegary shrub and overpower things, but done right this was a fine salad. The char-grilled broccoli came with nice little blobs of dark vinegar gel, but also with dollops of “salted egg yolk”. This was actually salt-caramel egg yolk, and delicious though it was I couldn’t quite enjoy broccoli and caramel. Yet. Maybe it’s me that needs to evolve?

Back on prime form with beautifully cooked thick octopus chunks paired with a deeply funky/smoky XO pork goo and cubes of perfectly pickled daikon. This was a marvellous bit of surf and turf.

Pineapple and pepper pud

Pineapple and pepper pud

But the best was yet to come. How can I describe thousand-layer pork belly with mustard greens, tapioca and pork broth? I’m going to have to go with: PHWOOOOOOOOOOOAR! Real words escaped me. It’s also very clearly a dish that a lot of careful prep and attention goes into, so hat’s off to chef Scully. If you’re reading this, I reckon you’ve got a signature dish right here chap! We very seriously considered ordering a 2nd one instead of dessert. I wish it wasn’t only Jan 10th, because calling it “dish of the year” feels a bit daft! I’ll be lucky to eat something better in 2019.

Dessert was a bit of a let down. Black pepper ice cream and pineapple tart is a great idea, but both element were so just-barely-set that within seconds we had a plate of orange and white goo. The flavour was excellent, the texture not.

Who cares? I loved the heck out of my dinner at Scully. At £41 each before drinks, it beats the pants off a lot of £60+ tasting menus in terms of ideas, flavours and execution for my money. Wine list was good, full of interesting stuff as you’d hope. Get yourself here.

Thousand layer pork belly magnificence

Thousand layer pork belly magnificence