Posts Tagged ‘Clerkenwell’

Hix Oyster and Chop House

Since March, Jon has been training to do a relay swim across the English Channel. Beginning tomorrow evening, he and his teammates will be waiting for their crossing boat pilot to tell them “today’s the day.” And then they’ll be setting off from the dark shores of Dover sometime after midnight, dodging tankers, jellyfish and waves to (hopefully) reach France in 12-15 hours’ time.

It’s nuts. And I’m proud of him for even getting this far, of course.

What’s this to do with food, you ask?

One of the beauties of Jon’s endless training is that he’s constantly hungry and has worked for months to *gain* weight (it helps with the chilly water, apparently). So a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised when Jon announced he wanted steak for dinner, and he didn’t want to travel far from our neighborhood (because of course he had early-morning swim practice the next day). Cue Hix Oyster and Chop House.

mint and pea soup (£7)

We convinced our friends, J & N, to schlepp over from Maida Vale to join us, and first impressions were good: a nostalgia-inducing tiled room with a long bar and flattering soft lighting. Service was friendly but distracted (e.g., our server gave the four of us only one menu and then completely disappeared for ten minutes), but we were forgiving as it was a World Cup match night for England.

We shared three starters – oysters, a mint-and-pea soup, and scallops – all of which were fine, but not memorable (except for the £14.50 we paid for the scallops, anyway).

beef and oyster pie (£15.95)

What *was* memorable? The beef-and-oyster pie was as good as I remembered Londonelicious describing it. A flaky crust that tasted as good as it looked, and a filling that was rich and thick and chock full of generous hunks of beef and oyster.

Websters fish fingers (£12.95)

porterhouse steak for two (£65)

Memorably disappointing were the fish fingers (much too salty) and the porterhouse steak for two, a travesty for £65. I’d thought that, because we were around the corner from Smithfield Market and were at a restaurant with the words “chop house” in the name, steak would be a good bet. Sadly, although the meat looked good (thick cut, charred exterior, rare interior), the steak was chewy, and worst of all – no flavor. Maybe it’s time for me to give up on steak in London? (Admittedly, I haven’t been to Hawksmoor, but Goodman, for example, expensive and disappointing).

Other than the decor, the excellent steak-and-oyster pie, and a bottle of tasty Douro wine for £29, Hix Oyster and Chop House was a disappointment for everyone in our group except Jon, who at least accomplished his primary goal of taking in a lot of calories. If only we all had trouble gaining weight, no?

Including wine, three shared starters, three sides and four mains, our total came to £50 a person.

Hix Oyster & Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill Rents (just off Cowcross Street); EC1M 6BN; 0207 017 1930; closest tube station: Farringdon.
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Bistro Bruno Loubet dining room

Last week, I met Gourmet Chick and Londonelicious for dinner at Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell.  I’d been there once before, back in March, soon after the bistro had opened in the Zetter hotel, and that time, the food had been very good.  Clerkenwell is perfectly located between work and home for me, so I was glad to pay it a return visit when the three of us were debating where to eat.  (The beauty of dining out with other food bloggers is that choosing the venue is half the fun).

bread served in a flowerpot - a super charming touch

Things got off to a bumpy start when the day of our reservation arrived.  The bistrot called to confirm, and in classic passive-aggressive fashion, they asked if it’d be “OK” that they’d need the table back after two hours.  I asked if I really had a choice and added that it would have been nice to know this policy in advance (for example, when I was making the booking originally).  The restaurant’s response was that it was hard for them to know in advance that they’d need the table back at a certain time, which is kind of crap.  How do other restaurants – who don’t limit the amount of time you can have the table – estimate turnover times?

Anyway, to make a long story short, at the two-hour mark, we were asked to pay our bill or  move to the hotel bar.  I was supremely non-plussed and felt like I was getting booted out.  The first time I ate at Bruno Loubet, I enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal with family friends, and this second time around, I left feeling kind of cranky, which is too bad, because our server that evening was attentive and helpful and generally everything you want in a server, really.

revised Lyonnaise salad (£7)

On to the food – like Gourmet Chick, I chose the revised Lyonnaise salad for a starter, and although I remember loving it the first time I ate at Bruno Loubet (poached egg and bacon on greens – what’s not to love?), this time around, I thought the greens-to-toppings ratio could’ve been a lot higher.  The generous amounts of crispy, salty bacon overwhelmed the frisee, and the egg was overcooked and not runny.   Sad.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc with leek fondue and chervil sauce (£7)

Guinea fowl boudin blanc (white sausage) was both impossibly light and heavy.  The texture was memorably fluffy, but halfway through, the salt got to me, and I had trouble finishing the boudin.  Good thing my dining companions wanted to try some, because otherwise, I would’ve been embarrassed that I hadn’t finished a meal comprised of a mere two starters.

lamb shoulder confit (£16)

Confit lamb shoulder was served in an unappetizing ball shape.  And disappointingly, the lamb was dry and underseasoned, so I’m 100% in agreement with Gourmet Chick there.

wood pigeon breast, cauliflower, almond, quinoa and giblet sauce (£15.50)

Gourmet Chick’s pan-fried breast of wood pigeon was a winner, though the presentation was pretty hideous.  Pigeon is too often served tough, but at Bruno Loubet, it was juicy, rare and had the richness that only offal can provide.  If I weren’t so annoyed about the service, I’d say I’d return to BBL just to order this dish for myself next time.

Things being what they are, though, it’d take a lot to get me to return to Bistrot Bruno Loubet.  Bar Boulud, where I’ve also been twice, delivers better service than BBL does; prices are similar, and Bar Boulud’s chop chop salad with lobster is still calling out to me.  So, as handy as Clerkenwell is for me, Knightsbridge will be my destination the next time I’m looking for a casual bistro meal.

With a £30 bottle of wine and glasses of dessert wine, we paid £50 a person for dinner at BBL.

Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ; 0207 324 4455; closest Tube station: Farringdon
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crab claw (£8) at the Well gastropub in Clerkenwell

There are very few things I miss about working in Canary Wharf, and lunch at the Gun is one of them. So two Fridays ago, when our friends suggested we meet for dinner at the Well, whose owners also own the Gun, I was thrilled.  A quick glance at TimeOut’s review of the Well revealed that the Well was running a 50% off food promotion, which sweetened the deal.

roasted scallops (~£9)

Several of the tables at the Well (including ours) are extremely close to the door.  Which means it’s cold what with all that traffic in and out.  But the place was lively, and pints with good friends have a way of warming you up.

The food, though, was worthwhile once we took 50% off the menu price.  At menu prices (starters at around £8 or £9 and mains were £15 to £20), the Well strikes me as too expensive for the quality.  I appreciate how, once you get the discount, it’s tough to imagine paying double what you did, but my roasted scallops, for example, weren’t great and weren’t awful, either.  How do you put a price on that?   £4.50 seemed alright for this level of cooking, but at £9, I’d be upset.

rabbit pie

My rabbit pie was similarly alright.  The filling was more soupy than I like, and I had to dig around to find the bits of rabbit, so again, at £7.50, I’m tolerant, and at £15, I’m outraged.

For starters, mains, shared desserts and drinks, we paid £31 a person, which felt fair.  And if the food hadn’t been 50% off, I would’ve felt ripped off.  The Well may share owners with the Gun, but I think that’s about all they have in common, as I recall the Gun being pricey, but worth the price.

Which is all to say:  go to the Well only for drinks with friends, or if you can get the 50% off food deal.

The Well, 180 St. John Street, EC1V 4JY; 0207 251 9363; closest tube station;  Farringdon
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The Modern Pantry (photo by Kake Pugh)

The Modern Pantry (photo by Kake Pugh)

Last week, a friend sent me this Evening Standard review about the Modern Pantry, which just opened in Clerkenwell. I liked the review’s invocation of Fergus Henderson (if you’re a fan of pig, you know what I’m talking about); the fact that the chef-owner, Anna Hansen, is a woman; and the restaurant’s location about a mile from my flat.

A few days after we made our booking for this Saturday, TimeOut added to the buzz with this review, saying that “(for) vibe and novelty factor, this is most exciting place to eat in Clerkenwell right now.”

So off we went last night with two friends. Right now, only the ground-floor cafe is open, and it’s a simple, cheerful space lined with windows. It’s dominated by a super-long table, which you share with other diners, but the places are set far enough apart that the effect is convivial rather than cramped.

The menu (which I suspect will become the restaurant menu once that floor opens) is divided into four sections: snacks, starters, mains and desserts, with starters being slightly larger and a quid or two pricier than the snacks.

I couldn’t resist ordering the chorizo, date and feta fritters, and you know, all the other reviews are spot on: they’re hot and crispy and appealing in that fried-food way, but I didn’t taste chorizo, date or feta. In fact, all I tasted was the oniony dip that accompanied the fritters.

My dining companions enjoyed the octopus cooked in its own juices, and true, it was tender with no hint of rubberiness, but there’s only one way I enjoy octopus, and that’s sizzling right off a plancha. So I wasn’t as wowed by the room-temperature serving with arugula. I felt similarly about the eggplant with miso, expecting it to be hot and intensely smoky-sweet, and feeling a little disappointed that it was served room temperature with a very (very) light hint of miso.

There was at least a 45-minute gap between our starters and mains, but when our mains finally came out, they were worth the wait. [Or maybe it’s inevitable we’d find the mains so delish after feeling so hungry and downing wine with little in our stomachs?]

My friend’s beetroot, fennel and leek gratin, served with a tahini dressing, was the surprise treat of the evening. Beets are something I usually just tolerate, but in this dish, the color and crunch were wonderful; the fennel added a flavor kick; and the tahini’s nutty creaminess blended all the flavors.

Jon’s hanger steak (onglet) was rare and melt-in-your-mouth juicy; my Middlewhite pork belly could have been a lot warmer, but its crackling was all crisp, fatty, piggy yumminess, as were the puy lentils on the side.

The wine list offered lots for around £20, though the restaurant had run out of two choices we wanted. Starters and snacks were £3-£5; mains were £15-20. Our four appetizers, four mains, three desserts and three bottles of wine set us back about £50 a person. If we’d taken it easier on the wine, I guess a more ‘normal’ bill for starter, main and dessert would come to about £35 a person.

Overall, I loved the energy in the room (it’s a great place to meet friends), and the food, particularly the mains, had enough high notes that I’d go back. But I’ll wait a few weeks to let the service and the menu get into a groove.

The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St. John’s Square, 0207 250 0833; closest tube: Farringdon.
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