Posts Tagged ‘Spitalfields Market’

The original Hawksmoor steakhouse location near Spitalfields Market

Back in August 2010, I joined omnivorous food bloggers, the Critical Couple, for lunch at the original Hawksmoor steakhouse near Spitalfields Market.  The Critical Couple were not the first food lovers to have sung the praises of the Hawksmoor, and given how close by my office sits, it seemed silly that I hadn’t yet been there.  Unfortunately, as the Critical Couple noted at the time in their blog post, the steaks we ordered (a bone-in prime rib for an eye-watering £61 and bone-in sirloin for £29) were disappointing, as was the Hawksmoor’s signature burger (served only at lunch).  The two steaks looked beautiful but tasted a bit tough and lacked char.  Definitely not what you’d expect at those prices.  And the atmosphere at lunch?  A bit too spare and utilitarian.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever return.  (To the Hawksmoor’s credit, the restaurant contacted the Critical Couple after they blogged their review and offered them a free lunch to redeem itself, which it sounds like the Hawksmoor accomplished).

Hawksmoor burger with chips (£15)

bone-in prime rib (950g for £61 @ £6.50/100g)

bone-in sirloin (600g for £29)

Fast forward four months, and Jon tells me he’s craving steak for dinner.  Unfortunately, I’ve been temporarily swearing off rare meat.  And to go to a place like the Hawksmoor and order a well-done steak is synonymous with flushing money down the toilet, yes?  A cow will have died in vain, that’s for sure.  So Jon asks the Hawksmoor if they’re willing to serve their lunch-only hamburger at dinner to accommodate me, and you know, they were totally lovely about it.

When we showed up for dinner, the room felt completely different from lunchtime.  With the lights dimmed and candles burning, the room is warm and inviting.  The place is full but not loud, and Jon and I ordered the grilled bone marrow (£6), which arrived silken and smoky with char.  The bone marrow’s accompaniment of sweet grilled shallots complemented the acrid char.  More toast (also tasting beautifully of char) was no problem when we asked for it, and although we could easily have shared this starter four ways, I’m glad it was just the two of us.  I liked this bone marrow even more than I like St. John’s version, which I think is saying a lot.  For starters, because the bone is cut lengthwise, Hawksmoor’s version is easier to eat, but mostly, I loved the mix of acrid and sweet flavors.

My cheeseburger was served well-done, and before you raise a hue and cry that I would do such a thing, I will say that if all well-done burgers tasted this tender and flavorful all the time, then I might be willing to order it that way more often.  And oh what char!  The mayo, cheese, pickles melt into the burger patty, and it’s deliciously messy.  So much better than the prim and proper medium-rare burger I recall from my last visit to the Hawksmoor.  Jon’s medium-rare rib-eye (£26) was very tasty, so he tells me.

Service at dinner was friendly and attentive.  Tap water refills were fast and furious. Overall, I had a really nice experience at the Hawksmoor this time around.

No question that eating at the Hawksmoor is pricey, with our simple dinner costing us £90 for bone marrow, a burger, a rib-eye steak, two glasses of wine and coffee.  What a difference welcoming service, glowing decor and beautifully-blended toppings on a burger can make.   I’m still wary of returning to Hawksmoor for lunch because I felt so burned the first time around, but when I’m back to eating rare meat, I’ll look forward to dinner there again.

Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ; 0207 247 7392; closest Tube station:  Shoreditch High Street or Liverpool Street Station.
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Tsuru Bishopsgate/Spitalfields

I love working near Spitalfields market, partly because it means my commute is short, and mostly because the food options are about ten thousand times better than they were in Canary Wharf.  Still, I’m nothing if not a complainer, and for a while I’ve bemoaned the lack of good sushi options for lunch.  Itsu is OK in a pinch.  Japanika isn’t bad but there’s no seating.

A few months ago, I was excited to learn on “Good for Lunch” that Tsuru Sushi had opened a branch at 201 Bishopsgate.  Bizarrely, despite keeping an eye out for Tsuru while walking on Bishopsgate numerous times, I couldn’t find it.

So here’s my tip for those in search of sushi when near Liverpool Street station:  despite the restaurant’s Bishopsgate address, Tsuru’s entrance is actually off Primrose Street, and even from Primrose Street, it’s easy to miss.  You’re more likely to see the Pret a Manger next door because for some reason, Tsuru has eschewed proper signage.

salmon-avocado rolls and prawn tempura rolls (background)

salmon-avocado rolls in the foreground (£3.95) and prawn tempura rolls in the background (£4.25)

In any case, Tsuru is worth searching out.  The ready-made rolls always taste freshly made.  In fact, a couple of times, the prawn tempura in the prawn tempura rolls was still warm and crispy.  Yum.  Another plus:  the rice isn’t stone hard/refrigerated to within an inch of its life.  For ready-made stuff, Tsuru’s rolls are  good.

pork katsu curry (£6.10)

I should confess I’m not always eating healthy when I drop by Tsuru.  Pork katsu curry hits all the buttons – crispy, relatively grease-free, and generous amounts of slightly-sweet curry and rice.  You can order it in chicken, too, but given the choice, I’ll take pig every time.

chicken teriyaki (£6.35)

Chicken teriyaki (looking kind of gross in the above picture, I must say) is comprised of thigh meat, which is my fave if I have to eat chicken.  It’s not bad, but when I’m ordering a hot lunch, the katsu curries always win me over.

Tsuru’s outdoor seating on a nice day is shady and pleasant, and there’s plenty of indoor seating as well.  For a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch during the work week, Tsuru is a great option.  You can even get tap water served in a proper glass.

Tsuru Sushi, 201 Bishopsgate (but accessible only via Primrose Street, look for it next to a Pret a Manger), EC2M 3UG; 0207 377 1166; closest tube station: Liverpool Street Station

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Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Pilpel falafel shop in Spitalfields Market

Of the many amazing memories I have of my trip to Israel last summer, eating the best falafel and hummous of my life ranks up there. So imagine my excitement when Pilpel opened near Spitalfields Market (which is where I work). For the past three months, I’ve found it a colossal exercise of willpower to limit my visits to Pilpel to only once a week. Often I break down and go twice a week. And no, I don’t want to know what my cholesterol is.

As Londonelicious has already noted, it’s a grab-and-go type of place. On weekdays, two long queues snake out the door at lunchtime, ensuring high turnover, which is key when you’re dealing with deep-fried goodies. You can order a falafel salad for £4.49 (which is basically all the stuffings of a falafel sandwich served in a bowl with the pita bread on the side), or you can order the falafel sandwich for £3.99 (which is the way to do it, in my opinion).

The servers at lunchtime work fast, but they’re good natured and always oblige when I ask for extra tahini (if it weren’t unseemly to drink that stuff down, I would). I’ve found that paying the extra 50p for a boiled egg or feta doesn’t add much, but occasionally I can’t resist the extra topping of fried aubergine, which is evil because everyone knows that there is no better sponge for oil than an aubergine.

falafel from Pilpel

falafel from Pilpel

Although I think Pilpel should throw on some red cabbage (like they do at the Parisian institution, L’As du Fallafel), I like that Pilpel’s falafels are always hot from the fryer and that the servers are fast and friendly. The place is a little slice of Tel Aviv here in London, and as the days grow shorter, thinking of a warm, Mediterranean beach city is no bad thing.

Pilpel falafel, 38 Brushfield Street, E1 6EU; 0207 247 0146; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

Xinjiang lamb skewers at My Old Place

Back in January, I first visited the divey-but-certain-dishes-are-delicious Gourmet San, and so I was thrilled to learn that Gourmet San has a sister restaurant near Spitalfields Market called My Old Place (now that I work near Spitalfields, I’d like to find a nearby Chinese restaurant that’s good for lunch).  So two weeks ago, four friends and I gave My Old Place a try.

On the plus side, the restaurant’s decor is slightly nicer than that of Gourmet San, and the portions are enormous and cheap (i.e., most dishes on the menu cost £7-8, and the one or two “pricey” dishes – like crab – cost only £12).

On the down side, the dishes ranged from mediocre to very good, and the service is chaotic (e.g., even after our main dishes arrived, we waited almost twenty minutes for our server to bring us white rice – her explanation was that the kitchen had run out of white rice, which I’m sure was true – but query WHY a Chinese restaurant ran out of white rice at the beginning of a Friday lunch rush?).

Just like at Gourmet San, the cumin-dusted Xinjiang lamb skewers were loved by everyone at our table. Juicy and fatty “in a good way,” as one friend said.  They’re definitely the star of the show at My Old Place.

ginger scallion crab

ginger scallion crab

The ginger-scallion crab was great value for £12 except that we had to crack the shell ourselves with no tools except our hands and chopsticks.  Even though the crab meat was sweet and firm, it took a lot of very messy effort to get at it, and the slippery over-corn-starched sauce was an especially challenging obstacle standing between me and the crab meat. I’d be willing to pay a few more pounds if someone at the restaurant would do some pre-cracking for us. Or at least: give us better napkins and more of them.

Fried tofu

"House" fried tofu

I liked the fried tofu dish despite the generic brown sauce, but I confess I have a soft spot for the texture of fried tofu. I can see why one friend thought the fried tofu had the texture of “old socks,” but personally I love that slightly juicy, spongy interior. All the better to soak up delicious sauces with.

twice-fried pork belly

twice-fried pork belly

Twice-fried pork belly was too salty and dry, and I’d also hoped that the pork fat would be soft and silky, but instead it was chewy. I wouldn’t order it again even though a few members of our group enjoyed it and I generally love pork belly.

We rounded out our meal with a fifth dish: some dry-fried French beans, which were fine.

Ordering five dishes for five people was way too much, and we rolled out of there stuffed beyond belief. It was a sh*t load of food for just £10 each, including service.

Would I recommend making a special trip to eat at My Old Place? Not unless all you want to eat are the Xinjiang lamb skewers. Rather, it’s a cheap-and-cheerful lunch spot if you’re already in the area, and if you order carefully, My Old Place can offer a very good meal for very little money. (Like Gourmet San, My Old Place has its flashes of brilliance).  But you can also order very poorly (the kung pao chicken at another table looked horrendously bad), so caveat emptor and prepare for some trial and error.

My Old Place, 88 Middlesex Street, E1 7EZ; 0207 247 2200; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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Canteen Restaurant, Spitalfields Market, London

Canteen restaurant is this year’s Observer Food Monthly “Best Restaurant of the Year”, so Jon and I have been meaning for a while to see what all the hype’s about. Unfortunately, Canteen doesn’t take reservations until 6 pm on the day you want to visit, and I’d heard it’s always a wait to get a seat at one of the resto’s long, communal tables.

Well, it seems the trick to getting a table at a popular restaurant like Canteen is to eat there when everyone else in the country is watching, say, a Rugby World Cup final match between England and South Africa. And that’s how Jon and I found ourselves with a choice of seats at Canteen on a Saturday night.

Big pluses for Canteen based on our visit: convenient, fun location (in Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street station); low prices (few main courses above £10); lots of wines served by the carafe; multiple vegetarian options; casual, helpful service; and an all-day breakfast menu (for when you just have to have eggs benedict!).

Minuses of our meal there: uneven quality of food; a carafe of Meursault served lukewarm (gross!).

Overall, the pluses outweigh the minuses, but I did have high expectations thanks to that whole Observer Food Monthly thing.

potted duck and piccadili at Canteen restaurant

Potted duck (aka shredded duck cooked in duck fat till it’s spreadable) is one of my favorite dishes of all time, and I think I might have to live in the UK forever to ensure a regular and continous feed for my addiction. At Canteen, its consistency was thick but still spreadable, and it smelled rich and meaty. Imagine my surprise when I found that it tasted kind of bland, which is why the piccalilli was so key for adding some fruitiness to all the blandness. Overall, the Albion‘s potted duck remains tops, and Canteen’s felt like a waste of calories. (more…)

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