Sunday, 13 July 2014

#STFFbitesize - Arabica Bar & Kitchen

Arabica Bar & Kitchen has come full circle. Starting out as a man with a cooler box setting up a stall in London's Borough Market to sell mezze, with a few stops in between and now ending up with a restaurant specialising in Levantine cuisine in that very market he started out at. I first came across Arabica at the Real Food Festival Market and it quickly became a favourite stop of mine, so when I heard that they were opening a restaurant, I just had to try it.

Food: The menu is split into several different sections including dips and dishes from the clay oven. I tried to order from each section, but I had a tough time choosing because it all sounded so good. Particular favourites were the falafels and the sautéed chicken livers with pomegranate molasses.

Ambience: We had seats near the windows and it was great for people watching. The restaurant was busy but didn't feel cramped and it had a really nice buzz to it.

Service: A little slow to start, but when we engaged with the waiting staff they were friendly and happy to help. TBH was disappointed to hear that their beer shipment got held up in customs, so were not able to offer any beer on the day of our visit.

Price: We ordered 2 cocktails, a glass of house wine and 7 dishes and the total came to £75.94 including service. TBH and I both thought the price of the cocktails (£9.00 each) in comparison to the wine (£3.50) was high.

And finally....A great little restaurant if you're looking for a pit stop from the throng of people in Borough Market or if you want to try some really delicious and interesting Levantine cooking.
Rania's Spritz (left) and Zarif Zegir (right)

King Prawns with urfu chilli and garlic
Hummus with Herdwick lamb fillet, toasted pine nuts and ghee
Feta salad with tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and kalamata

Batata Harra - Triple cooked potatoes with sauteed peppers, onions, toasted garlic, chilli and coriander
Sauteed chicken livers with pomegranate molasses
Sujuk Pide - Turkish pizza with smoked red pepper sauce, spicy sausage, haloumi cheese

Sujuk Pide - Turkish pizza with smoked red pepper sauce, spicy sausage, haloumi cheese
Until we eat again!
Arabica Bar and Kitchen
3 Rochester Walk, Borough Market SE1 9AF
Square Meal

Saturday, 5 July 2014

City Social

Very dear friends were visiting from Dublin last weekend and I wanted to take them somewhere special for dinner. Somewhere with a good view and where you're guaranteed good food - a perfect opportunity to try City Social. The seventh London restaurant by Jason Atherton, this one is an absolute stunner. Located on the 24th floor of Tower 42 in the City of London and having been to the previous restaurant that was in the same location, I was keen to see how different the space would be. City Social takes up the entire 24th floor and the 360 degree views of London are just incredible.  I have also just loved every single one of Jason's restaurants. Surely I couldn't go wrong. 
Inside, the restaurant is dark and sexy. A complete contrast to the bland dining room that was there before. We were seated immediately and while looking over the menus, we were absolutely thrilled to see chef Michel Roux Junior and his family stroll past and be seated at the table one over from us. I get so star struck it's ridiculous! But if someone like him was dining here then it had to be good, right? And boy, was it good! 

To start I had the Cumbrian beef tartare, sourdough crouton, goat’s curd, truffle dressing, dried vinegar (£14.00)  I’ve never had beef tartare before, even though I am a major carnivore and don’t mind the sight of an underdone steak, the thought of raw meat just makes me slightly nervous. But when I saw the dish going to another table, it really piqued my interest.  That and the fact the other dish I was interested in was ordered by my friend. Damn her and damn my self-imposed rule for not ordering the same thing as anyone else! Anyway, the beef tartare was not in the traditional style. No egg yolk on top, no onions, capers or cornichons; but what you did get was a gorgeous goat’s curd that added a lovely creaminess to the iron-rich raw beef. The truffle dressing and shavings added a woodiness and I loved the crunch of the sourdough crouton. I enjoyed my first foray into raw meat territory and I will definitely try it again.

The Better Half (TBH)  and 'our man John' ordered the Pig’s trotter and ham hock with crispy Mrs Brown’s black pudding, apple, and Madeira (£12.00). Whoever Mrs Brown is, she makes a mighty fine black pudding. A very tasty dish with lots of different textures and flavours. Both men thoroughly enjoyed their starters. 

My friend Kendra ordered the Heritage and heirloom tomato salad, burrata, chilled tomato consommé, frozen basil (£13.00). This dish looked like summer on a plate. The various colours of the tomatoes, the bright vibrant green of the basil and the milky white burrata all looked so pretty and the taste that I had was very good. 

For my main course,  I wanted something light considering the relative richness of my starter. So I chose the Dorset John Dory, mussels, grilled leeks, marinated tomatoes and bacon powder (£28.00) It was delicious and I really couldn’t fault any of the cooking. It was everything I thought I felt like eating at the time and would thoroughly enjoy under normal circumstances.


But then....The Côte de bœuf for two served with duck fat chips, salad, béarnaise and peppercorn sauce (£77.00) ordered by Kendra and 'our man John' arrived. I had plate envy on a major scale. Don't you hate it when that happens? A glorious hunk of well cooked beef was delivered on a wooden plank, with two sets of perfectly crunchy duck fat chips, salad and two sauces. The tastes of béarnaise and peppercorn sauces I had were rich and creamy and fiery in the case of the peppercorn sauce. Totally sublime.

TBH ordered the Creedy Carver duck, boulangère potatoes, English berry chutney and shallots (£28.00). The duck breast was cooked pink and was succulent. The boulangère potatoes were extremely buttery and the English berry chutney brought a lovely sharpness to the dish.  He enjoyed his dish, but between you and I, I think he also had a bit of plate envy for the Côte de bœuf!

I forwent dessert, but TBH ordered the Bourbon vanilla custard tart, nutmeg and milk sorbet (£8.00). Of course I had to have a taste. It wasn't overly sweet and the bourbon added a lovely spiciness to the custard tart. 

Kendra ordered the white chocolate mousse, caramel hazelnuts, salted caramel ice cream (£8.50). The taste that I had was lovely, but far too sweet for a non-sweet eater like me. She absolutely loved it though and made particular mention of the salted caramel ice cream. 

Service was pleasant and professional and our total bill came to  £344.25 including service. If you're looking for a restaurant that is sure to impress on every level, then I highly recommend City Social. 

Until we eat again! 

City Social
Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, EC2N 1HQ

Square Meal City Social on Urbanspoon

Monday, 9 June 2014

#STFFBitesize - Dindin Kitchen

Fast-casual Persian cuisine is going to be the next big trend and leading that charge is Dindin Kitchen - or that's my opinion anyway! Founded by Iranian, Vida Tayebi, a former investment banker, the first of what I hope to be many Dindin Kitchens is located near Chancery Lane tube station. There is a lot of competition around with all the usual chains like Eat and Pret within spitting distance - but this Middle Eastern slant is a new and totally exciting concept.

Food: My friend and I tried a selection of dishes from each section of the all day menu. Everything we tried was freshly prepared onsite and particular favourites were the savoury chicken soufflés and the stuffed meatballs. The spices were perfectly balanced and no flavour overpowered another. We were told that at the moment Vida spends every day in the kitchen taste testing everything that goes out to make sure the flavours are 100% right. (Vida, I'd be happy to be a taste-tester if you ever get bored of it!)

Ambience: It's bright and the colours are welcoming but I would say it is best suited for lunch.

Service: As a fast-casual restaurant, you're not going to get waiting service. You're served at the counter when you've made your choices and need to pay. However, Johanna, who looked after us when we were there, was extremely passionate and excited to be part of this new venture. 

Price: We were invited to try Dindin Kitchen, so on this occasion didn't pay for our meal. But the prices are extremely reasonable and the most expensive item was £6.95, which is what you could expect to pay for a lunch in London.

And finally....A brilliant concept that is reasonably priced and absolutely delicious.  I cannot wait for more to open. If you're in the area, make sure you stop by.

Vegetarian soufflé

Stuffed meatballs with split peas and barberries

Minced lamb skewer with sumac

Beef falafel wrap with saffron mayo
Chicken skewers marinated in yoghurt, lime and saffron; served with rice of the day

Chicken and lemon saffron soufflé
Selection of cold mezze 

Endive, pomegranate and walnut salad

Until we eat again!

Dindin Kitchen
52 - 54 Gray's Inn Road, WC1X 8LT

Square Meal Dindin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 31 May 2014


I've been to Trinity before with some friends and really loved it. It's in the 'burbs of South London, so not the most convenient of locations to make a return visit that feasible for The Better and Half (TBH) and I. But seeing chef/patron Adam Byatt appear on the Great British Menu on TV recently reminded me what a fabulous meal I'd had at Trinity before and I promptly booked a table. It was good as I remembered!

We decided on the set lunch menu, which at £32 for 3 courses is incredible value. But first we were to start with warm bread rolls and a whipped goat’s milk butter – I love the fact that both are made in-house. Along with the bread, we were served the thinnest of buttery puff pastry straws with black olive tapenade, radishes and a delicious smoked salmon dip.

It took us some time to decide what to order because every dish appealed, but in the end I chose the asparagus vichyssoise, crisp fried bantam egg, asparagus soldier. (It was the bantam egg that swung it for me!) The cold soup was perfect for a sunny spring day as it was on Sunday. The bantam egg adding a lovely bit of texture and the runny yolk a gorgeous richness to the soup.

The Better Half had Bayonne ham, celeriac remoulade and sourdough to start. He really wanted the soup, but has a weird thing about us not ordering the same thing! He enjoyed his starter, it was light and the celeriac remoulade brought a nice freshness to the dish. The sourdough was a little on the crunchy side, so he was unsure how best to eat it and in the end ate each element separately.

Braised lamb and sweetbread, Jersey royals in seaweed butter, samphire is what I chose for my main dish. The braised lamb was melt-in-your mouth tender and the loin cooked to a perfect pink. The addition of seaweed butter and samphire added lovely saltiness to the dish. I enjoyed it immensely.

Ever the traditionalist, TBH chose the 40 Day Aged Dexter beef, Yorkshire pudding, horseradish, cauliflower cheese. It was Sunday and how could you not have a roast on a Sunday? But let me tell you, this was no ordinary roast! For one thing, the size of the Yorkshire pudding was quite something else - eating it all nearly defeated him. The roast beef was not fatty in the least (nothing worse than fatty meat for TBH) and packed full of flavour. The cauliflower cheese was creamy and rich and the addition of freshly grated horseradish added a nice bit of heat. TBH rated it as his number 1 Sunday roast ever! High praise indeed.

I very nearly skipped dessert as I was well satisfied by this point, but the summer berry gazpacho, grape sorbet and mint sounded so refreshing that I thought I would try it. It was a perfect ending to our meal, light and palate cleansing just as I expected it to be.

TBH went for another classic dish for his dessert - rhubarb and custard. It sounds so simple, but it's a combination that works perfectly together. There was a poached rhubarb, rhubarb pearls, a rhubarb shard and rhubarb sorbet. The custard was packed full of vanilla and extremely more'ish. Another dish that TBH thoroughly enjoyed.

We received a warm welcome from the front of house team and the friendly, yet relaxed service continued throughout our lunch. The total bill for our lunch was £114.37 which included a 3 course meal, 3 beers, 3 glasses of wine and service.

Trinity is a fantastic neighbourhood restaurant and Clapham really is lucky to have such a gem in its midst.

Until we eat again!

4 The Polygon, SW4 0JG

Trinity on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Thursday, 22 May 2014

#STFFBitesize - Wahaca (Canary Wharf)


The brain child of former Masterchef winner, Thomasina Miers, Wahaca is a group of restaurants serving authentic Mexican street food. You won't find nachos and chimichangas on this menu! Instead you will find an interesting selection of authentic Mexican street food from cactus tacos to gorgeous looking salads in huge tortilla bowls.

Food: The menu is broken up into nibbles, street food (made for sharing), plates fuertes (bigger plates), side dishes and desserts. The Better Half and I decided to share a few dishes from the street food section and the stand out dish was the 'black bean tostada' - so good we ordered it twice. Everything we ordered tasted fresh and packed full of flavour.

Ambience: Bright and very colourful. It would be great fun for a group, but just as cool for smaller parties.

Service: A little hit and miss. The waitress was good, but the person who brings the food out kept getting our order mixed up with our neighbours.

Price: Very reasonable! £39.05 for 7 sharing plates, 1 beer, 3 soft drinks and service.

And finally... If you're looking for good Mexican food that's not going to break the bank, then I highly recommend you give Wahaca a try.

Guacamole with Tortilla

Quesadilla with Chorizo and Potato
Black Bean Tostada
Chicken Tinga Tacos

Pork Pibil Tacos
Churros y Chocolate

Until we eat again! 

Various branches throughout London 

Square Meal Wahaca on Urbanspoon