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11 posts from April 2006

25 April 2006

The Lock Dining Bar *****

I do not want to mess about, The Lock is a fantastic restaurant.  The food is astounding, the service brilliant, the wine advice spot-on and it's cheap.  Three courses plus a smattering of amuses bouches, bread, wine, tea and service came in just shy of £90 for two.  You have to go and try it - I gave it five stars because I'm in love with it.

Sounds too good to be true?  Well, sort of.  The facts listed above are all correct, the pay-off is that the restaurant is in Tottenham Hale, an area that is to be polite, a culinary wasteland.  Plus, if any self respecting food lover drove past the place, they'd assume from the gaudy sign and hulking building that at best the restaurant is an American diner / pub.  They'd be sorely mistaken, it is so much more than that.  The clear skill in the kitchen and deftness with service belie the strong backgrounds of partners chef Adebola 'Ade' Adeshina and Fabrizio Russo, who is front of house.  Ade's CV is littered with restaurants like Aubergine (when it was under Ramsay), Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road, The Square and Eric Chavot.


I'd heard good things about The Lock on The Square Meal and in a review by Terry Durack and was expecting a buzzy setting.  I was therefore a bit disappointed to walk into an entirely empty restaurant at 8pm on a Tuesday night.  As the night wore on and we were the only people in there, my disappointment transformed into ambivalence: it was great to get so much opportunity to speak to Fabrizio, but I felt sorry for all those people missing out on such a great opportunity.

The meal started promisingly with a demitasse of gazpacho.  Maybe it could have been slightly colder for my taste, but otherwise it stuck close to its Andalucian heritage.  The soup was the first opportunity to experience the restaurant's much lauded (on their menu anyway) sourcing.  They make a big deal that all their suppliers are local.  Fabrizio told us that the tomatoes were bought from a husband and wife team at Walthamstow Market who have been selling fruit and veg for the past forty years.  If the punchy, sweet flavour of the tomato base of the gazpacho is anything to go by, the denizens of Walthamstow Market are eating some of the best fruit and veg in London.


My starter of goats cheese risotto came served with julienned sun-dried tomatoes crisscrossing it's surface.  It was very good.  It was the right consistency, gooey but not a soup and was seasoned perfectly.  The pungency of the goats cheese was at just the right level so you knew it was there, but it didn't taste like you were eating a wheel of cheese.  Silverbrowess's salmon tartar was equally good.  It wasn't complicated but it tasted great.  It was initially served with an enormous dollop of glistening caviar, which we had to ask them to remove for religious reasons.  It was swiftly replaced with a topping of fried-to-a-crisp julienned leeks.

Main courses continued to hold the side-up.  My sea bass on a bed of pasta al forno was fantastic.  I wasn't sure that the sea bass would be able to handle the cheesy pasta, but it was a great combination that was well complimented by a tangy tomato and pesto sauce.  It was a riot of colour on the plate but was perfectly executed.  Silverbrowess's halibut with mushy peas and wilted cabbage was similarly good.  Dotting the side of the plate were three perfectly formed won-ton, stuffed with salmon mousse, that had not been on the menu.  They added to the subtlety of the dish, the smokiness going well with the sweetness of the peas and the luscious white fish.  Of the two dishes, I preferred the halibut, mainly because it was a bit more subtle.  Silverbrowess preferred the sea bass, which only goes to show it's horses for courses.  Both were exceptionally good.


A pre-dessert of tiramisu was good.  The desserts of crème brulée three ways and three different ice creams and sorbets were fantastic.  Of particular note were the passion fruit and banana ice-cream and the unannounced jam doughnuts served with the crème brulée.  I was equally tempted by the treacle sponge pudding, which I understand has become something of a signature dish, and the armagnac and prune mousse.  Fabrizio twisted my arm to try the crème brulée, and I was more than pleased.

We left the wine up to Fabrizio to choose and he recommended a great Frascati - no it wouldn't have been my choice either but it worked well with our food and tasted like a young Loire.  None of the wines on the menu are more than £30, with the exception of one bottle of champagne for £115.


This place is an astounding local.  Ade and Fabrizio are both lovely guys who have a clear passion for food and their restaurant.  They deserve all the plaudits they get.  They've taken a big risk setting up in what many would consider the middle of nowhere, but I for one really hope they succeed.  I've already booked a table for a couple of weeks time.

The Lock Dining Bar, Heron House, Hale Wharf, Ferry Lane, London, N17 9NF, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 8885 2829

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What others think

The Independent - "...it already has real food with real flavour, generosity, effort, spirit and the sort of knockout value (on both food and wine) to make it the best restaurant in many a London suburb..."
Square Meal - "The menu descriptions are simple; the dishes accomplished."

Tropes and tripe

The whining continues with that other bête noire of the whingeing classes, Tesco.  Once again, Comment is Free on the Guardian website is the source and Felicity Lawrence is the author.  I was amused to read in her profile that she is the consumer affairs correspondent for the paper.

Predictably Lawrence rehashes that old trope that Tesco is the devil, or in her words "a weed".  It seems contradictory that she is writing on behalf of the consumer, yet argues in her article that Tesco needs to be "controlled."  She readily forgets the benefits of Tesco, the cheaper food, the greater accessibility and the jobs.  She takes the lazy way out, focusing on its detrimental impact to the small food shop or suppliers.  As with McDonald's, I choose not to shop at Tesco.  The only reason Tesco were able to report such stonking results today, is because lots of people do decide to go shop there.  If they didn't, Tesco wouldn't make so much money, it wouldn't be so ubiquitous and it wouldn't be able to turn the thumb-screws on suppliers.  I also think we shouldn't take everything the suppliers say at face-value.  After all, they too are in business and therefore ultimately out to make as much profit as possible.  Negotiating through the press is a very useful tactic.

Rather than taking such a po-faced and facile position on Tesco, Ms Lawrence should start looking at consumers themselves.  Rather than calling for more regulation which will increase costs and therefore hurt the consumer, she should berate the consumer (her readers) for shopping at Tesco - really take them to task.  Somewhat more tricky than repeating dull, lazy arguments that are fundamentally flawed, I realise, but maybe she'll get a bit closer to fulfilling her job title.

Shut up and stop complaining

Steve Easterbrook, president and chief operating officer of McDonald’s in the UK, defends his company on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog.  What he writes is fair enough, but what I find particularly interesting are some of the comments at the bottom of the post.  Although there are some notes of sanity, typical and irrational comments include:

"A rubbish employer passing off rubbish as food. Who are they trying to kid?"


"...judging by the facts McDonald's have a long way to go in terms of being a model of responsible business practice." 

Of course, this latter poster makes no attempt to offer up suggestions for what is a model of responsible business practice.  Nor are there any recommendations on how McDonald's could reprieve itself, in the eyes of this great corporate strategist.

McDonald's are no angels.  I don't eat there and really don't want to eat there, or work there.  But that's my choice, in the same way that it is the choice of those people who do eat or work there.  I don't understand why consumers are so scared to take responsibility for their actions.  People seem to take great pleasure in taking a morally superior position of bleating about the ills of McDonald's.  As Easterbrook rightly says, it is the ills of the society we live in, not McDonald's that we should be complaining about.  McDonald's may well be a symptom but it is definitely not the cause.  I wish people would stop complaining, when they blatantly fail to understand the issues at hand and don't have anything useful to add.

Euphoria and weight loss

I need to lose weight.  I know I do.  The last time I was properly slim was when I did a ski season in Vail, Colorado.  It didn't matter what I ate because I was skiing every day.  Although it is tempting to return for another svelte-inducing season, I'm not sure Silverbrowess or the boss would be too impressed.  Basically, I need to go the gym.  I hate the gym, but unless I want to buy a new wardrobe (which I don't) it is an evil I am going to have to endure.  I wish that I could properly kick-start my diet by cutting out unhealthy food, (un)fortunately I rarely eat anything really unhealthy.  I'm not a chocolate fan, I can't stand fast food.  I probably do eat too much of good food and I don't exercise nearly enough.  So, quite simply, if I want to continue my love affair with good food, I need to go through the purgatory of an exercise regime, either in the gym or elsewhere.

What got me thinking about this (apart from the shirts that are a little tight around the neck) was a recent stroll along Upper Street.  Upper Street is the main thoroughfare of Islington, an area of London that one way or another, elicits groans - people love it or loathe it.  I'm growing to love it.  One reason for my new kindled relationship is that I was reminded that it is the home of Euphorium, a truly fantastic bakery.  Seeing Euphorium reminded that I have not been putting my all into my personal attempt at fostering world peace: discovering the ultimate pain aux raisins.  I instinctively felt confident that Euphorium might make the Kofi Annan of pain aux raisins.


At the time, I was with Silverbrowess and I would have been on the receiving end of significant tutting and murmuring had I tried to buy one of these totems to love and the free world.  She doesn't get the importance of finding world peace, you see.  However, this morning on my way into work and free of the shackles of despots, I was able to nip in and pick one up.  I was right, oh so right.  This was a fine example of the species.  It was slightly warm when I bought it, it was soft but not doughy, sweet but not sickly, enough raisins to keep you wanting more and enough butter in the dough to keep a cardiac surgeon occupied for some time.  True, it had an unusual hit of candied orange peel, which some might consider outre, but I felt added depth and sincerity.  I could eat one of these every day, several times a day - but then I'd be in real trouble.

Personally, I don't consider this to be too unhealthy (no preservatives, additives or the like) but I realise it is fattening.  So, if I want to continue my odd foray into world peace, I appreciate that I have to go to the gym, or at least do some real exercise - more than the one hour daily stroll I currently undertake.  It's not going to be easy, but if it means that I can justify eating another one of Euphorium's pain aux raisins, then it will be worth it.

Euphorium Bakery, 202 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RQ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7704 6905

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23 April 2006

The Riverside Restaurant ****

I have already written about our recent sojourn in Cornwall and the long drive to get there.  On the way home, I wanted to stop somewhere for lunch that was around half-way between Cornwall and London.  I almost achieved that with The Riverside Restaurant in West Bay, Dorset.  I'd had several recommendations for it and was convinced to go when I heard that it was one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's favourites.

West Bay, as the name would suggest is a bay.  I'm not sure where it is west of - could be Chesil Beach.  There is very little in the town except for the stunning cliffs (part of Dorset's Jurassic Coast and it would seem The Riverside Restaurant.

The restaurant is situated on a tiny island in the middle of one of the rivers that runs into the sea.  The room itself is nice enough, like a large conservatory.  The chairs reminded me of the type you often get a conferences.  It may not have been stunning to look at, the but the food coming out of the kitchen was enough to get me going.


The menu is simple, is fish focused and makes clear that what is available depends on what has been caught.  As with Margot's, they're keen on letting the ingredients speak for themselves.  To start, Silverbrowess and I shared a plate of smoked salmon and gravadlax.  The smoked salmon was nicely dry, thinly cut and with a lightly smoked, oaky taste, suggesting a London cure.  The gravadlax was sliced slightly more thickly, with a good kick of dill.  Simple and perfect.


For main course I had the grilled lemon sole and Silverbrowess had grilled sea bass with slow roasted tomatoes and a side of chips and a mixed salad.  That's it, there's not a lot more to say except that when the best ingredients are cooked with the best technique, the outcome is the best dish.  Although far from hungry, we both could have had the same again and agreed that a six-hour round trip for lunch, was not such a chore afterall.

The Riverside Restaurant, West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, DT6 4EZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1308 422011

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

What others think

The Observer - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's son's favourite restaurant

22 April 2006

Margot's ****

I recently spent a beautiful weekend in the South-West of England, an area like so many others in the UK, that I don't know well enough.  Silverbrowess and I had gone in celebration of her 'special' birthday.  Being the cunning sort, I realised I could tie in a few decent meals to break-up the schlep to and fro.  I also realised that given our proximity to the sea down there, fish was going to play a large role in our diet.  In theory, we're fortunate in the UK, according to my school geography teacher, nowhere in Britain is further than 60 miles from the coast.  Consequently, there is little excuse for not being able to get decent fish wherever you are.  But the South-West of England, Devon and Cornwall in particular have a strong fishing tradition.  Cornwall's has been made even more world-renowned by the hard-work of Rick Stein.  Rick may have come in for a bit of an (unfair) battering recently about the fish he uses, but it seems that he is widely credited for reinvigorating the British love-affair with fish.

Rick's base is Padstow, a fishing village on the north Cornish coast.  It is a beautiful place, with a calm harbour (at least on the day we were there) and what seems to be a close knit community.  Rick has so many restaurants and shops in Padstow that to some, it is now known as Padstein.  A tag that I feel is unfair because it doesn't do justice to the other non-Rick Stein attractions of the village, such as Margot's.  I found out about Margot's because the chef, Adrian Oliver, is a regular user of one of the food forums I lurk on, Opinionated About (registration required).

We only had a light lunch, without any alcohol, because although Silverbrowess loved the scenery, she was less than impressed that we'd spent over five hours in the car on her birthday.  She was however significantly ameliorated by Adrian's astounding home-made bread.  Things only improved with our goats-cheese salad, the most sublime smoked haddock chowder I've been fortunate enough to taste and a stunning sticky toffee pudding to finish.  The chowder successfully managed the balance of being creamy but light, but not so light that you didn't know you were eating something hearty.  It was a beautiful colour, a light saffron and was dotted with chunks of haddock and properly smoked salmon.  The sticky toffee pudding was enormous, the size of a brick, gooey, unctuous and perfect.  The truffles that came with the coffee were a perfectly rich end to the meal.

I feel we didn't do the place justice.  It's the type of restaurant where you immediately feel at home.  You want to sit down, mull over the wine list, have a couple of bottles, maybe a little tipple after your coffee, stagger into the street, find the nearest bed or deck chair and snooze the rest of the day away.  What was clear from even our limited meal was Adrian's skill in letting fantastic ingredients speak for themselves.  I'd urge you to not be tempted too much by Rick's empire and instead tuck into a feast at Margot's.

Margot's, 11 Duke Street, Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8AB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1841 533441

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

What others think

The Independent - a buzzy favourite with the locals
Evening Standard - family run bistro that serves good food

18 April 2006

Argentina ahoy

I recently found out that a good friend is getting married later this year.  In itself it is obviously great news, but even better news is that the wedding will be in Buenos Aires and Silverbrowess and I are invited - and we're going.

You should be unsurprised to read that I've spent considerable time reading as much as possible about decent restaurants in BA and deciding which of the vineyards we should be visiting in Mendoza, the wine region.  The internet being a wonder of hyperlinks, I came across this fantastic essay entitled "Argentina on two steaks a day".  I'd suggest an alternative title of "The zen of Argentinian steaks."  The photos alone are enough to make me salivate.

Hat-tip: Gridskipper