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8 posts from December 2007

28 December 2007


For some reason I have been finding it difficult to write-up my dinner at Patterson's and I'm not sure why.

It's not because of a conflict of interest, but I should come clean. My table was treated particularly well because I'm friendly with one of the owners. He did me a massive favour getting me a table for dinner with the boys at very short notice, a week before Christmas. We had fantastic service throughout and a fair amount of free food and drinks, in addition to what we ordered.

So back to my problems writing about this dinner. As I say, I'm not sure why I have a problem, my thoughts are pretty straightforward: this is a great restaurant that serves very good food, has attentive, but unobtrusive service and on the night we went, had a great atmosphere.

But in some respects it is a restaurant of contradictions.

Both the kitchen and front-of-house are exceptionally confident. For example, my starter of smoked poached duck egg was inspired. The lentil ragout was nice, but I sat there loving the egg. I'm still trying to figure out how they infused it with smoke. I can only assume they put raw eggs in a cold smoker (like smoked salmon, as opposed to hot smoking brisket) and then poach them. It was a fun dish that had interesting flavours but otherwise wasn't too fussy and was all the better for it. It was clear from this starter that the kitchen knew its game, innovative and with the execution to back it up.

Similarly, being a family run restaurant (dad and son in the kitchen, mum tending front of house) ensures it is a slick operation. But, despite this confidence, I couldn't help but feel that they tried a bit too hard with the food - especially the presentation. It was if the kitchen was trying to prove a point.

The Patterson family and their business partners, own one of London's leading fish suppliers, in addition to the restaurant. As such, the fish they serve and the way they cook it is excellent.

My main of sea-bass was some of the best fish I've had in London in a long-time. As was an amuse geule of haddock. Both of the fish were so good, I'd have been quite happy with them by themselves. They weren't quite in the realm of Chez Panisse's single peach but comparably, I would guess, not too far off.

Why then did they feel it necessary to embellish the plate with all those blooming swirls and frills on the plate? The sauce vierge with my sea-bass was very good and went well with the fish. But there was no need to make the plate look like Jackson Pollock was on the pass. Someone in the kitchen was letting their inner artiste get the better of themselves.

My dessert was the weakest of the three courses. Although the crème brulée - the main event - was nigh on perfect, its accompanying pain d'epice ice-cream was what Silverbrowess would describe as pishy: not one thing or the other.

These gripes are not enormous but given my personal connection I want this restaurant to be as good as it can be, and I reckon it's not far off achieving that. For some reason Patterson's is not well known, but it deserves to be. At £13 for starters, £17 for mains and £10 for dessert, at dinner, and with a very reasonable wine list, it represents some of the best value for money in London.

The ingredients are top quality, with cooking to match. I strongly suggest you try at least one fish dish while you're there. In addition, you'll be well looked after and probably have a fun time. My gripes should be read within this context. The kitchen can take a chill pill. Let your food and your cooking do the work. Sod the art lesson.

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Patterson's, 4 Mill Street, London, W1S 2AX, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 1308

What others think

Jay Rayner, The Observer - a damn fine place
Square Meal - ...the imaginative bold food has done all the talking
Giles Coren, The Times - good cooking...and not unreasonable prices

17 December 2007

Secret Ingredients - The New Yorker on food

I was supposed to be buying Chanukah presents for my family, when I came across Secret Ingredients, a compendium of The New Yorker's food writing.

I've long admired The New York: every week it seems to be full fascinating articles and fiction written by some of the best English language writers. I was therefore delighted to discover this book and once I realised what a goldmine it is, I was surprised not to have heard about it before. It seems not to have received the fanfare it deserves.

I started reading it on holiday and love it. Articles such as Liebling on the last of the French gourmands or Joseph Wechsberg on his lunch at La Pyramide, courtesy of Fernand-Point, give an insight into a life most of us can only dream about.

I haven't finished the book and I look forward to what follows, especially articles such as Anthony Lane's (the New Yorker's uber critic) take on the most important cook books. Other contributors include Bill Buford, Malcolm Gladwell, Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes and MFK Fisher.

Given the time of year, it would be remiss of me not to suggest this as a stocking-filler for those in your life who love nothing better than reading about food. Like me, you might find you are the one that falls into that category.

15 December 2007

Mahane Yehuda

In the hours running up to Shabbat, it seems that all of Jerusalem descends on Mahane Yehuda market. The time constraints imposed by Shabbat means everyone is running around like a meshuganeh (nutter).

14 December 2007

Under the ethical table

Below is my first article for Word of Mouth. You can also read it over there, by clicking here.

As I predicted earlier in the year, Word of Mouth is a welcome addition to the food blogging community. Under the stewardship of Susan Smillie it has become a great example of a community blog - one where a variety of people post, from pros like Jay Rayner and Paul Levy to more amateur folk like Andrew Barrow or Aidan Brooks, aka Trig.

As ever, I hope you enjoy it. If you feel inclined, comment below or on Word of Mouth.

According to Sarah Irving, author of a report published in the current edition of Ethical Consumer magazine: "The restaurant industry would particularly benefit from good environmental and social reporting and better transparency." She is particularly critical of restaurants for bandying around phrases 'sourced locally', 'organic' or 'free range'.

But this is not really such a surprise is it? After all, there is no broadly accepted definition of any of these terms or their benefits. According to Whole Foods, anywhere in the UK can be deemed local. Organic status is determined in the UK by the Soil Association Ltd (a body only affiliated to the Soil Association charity). And anyway, organic does not mean the same thing in any two countries. As for Fair Trade, an early Word of Mouth post touches on some points dear to my heart.

So it cannot be a surprise that restaurants are confused, given that the ethical industry doesn't know its free range bottom from its organic elbow.

The Ethical Consumer report boldly states that the restaurant industry would benefit from better reporting and transparency, but offers no argument as to why that would be the case or by what metric they are measuring the benefits.

Tragus Holdings is one of the UK's largest restaurant groups. It owns brands including Belgo, Strada and Café Rouge and has about 240 individual restaurants. It comes in for a bit of a kicking from the report, earning only 2 out of a possible 20 points.

Given the seemingly self-evident benefits derived from ethical dining, Tragus must be financially crippled, or at least diners must be fleeing? Well, no. According to their 2007 full year results (pdf), turnover was £149m. Each restaurant in the group made an average profit of £238,000. This is not a company desperately in need of salvation from greater transparency.

Loch Fyne comes out of the report with a freshly burnished halo, receiving particular praise for its sustainable fish buying policy. But that's hardly a big surprise. Its branding is all about the high quality fish, For Loch Fyne, quality and provenance is all. I don't think anyone would try to argue that is the case at The Gourmet Burger Kitchen or Café Rouge.

I think this report missed a trick by focusing on cheaper brands. Far more interesting would have been an audit of some of the top-end restaurant groups, whether those directly associated with chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse or more general brands such as Caprice Holdings.

I'd love to know how many air miles are racked up delivering their produce.

With rare exceptions, chefs are notably schtum on these sorts of issues because they risk accusations of hypocrisy. There is a good reason that Oliver Rowe was able to secure so much press coverage when he announced he was sourcing all his ingredients from within the M25.

So my challenge to the team at Ethical Consumer is to carry out an audit on the top restaurants and see how they fare and then see if the easy prey of the chains are quite so abominably unethical.

HaCarmel market, Tel Aviv

13 December 2007


Where does all the offal go? I ask because I've got into my chicken hearts. I had my second helping yesterday and they're pretty darn good, but I've never seen them on sale in the UK.

They have a more subtle taste than liver and are just the chewy side of being tough. Yesterday's meal was at Avazi. I had been expecting a slightly grubby, hole in the wall. In fact, it is a rather slick mini-chain, with a few branches in Tel Aviv.

We ate at the original in Hatkiva, a slightly run-down neighbourhood, with a larger than usual immigrant population. Which is saying something for a country made up almost entirely of immigrants. The current wave of immigration into Israel is from Africa and former Soviet Union and quite a few from China as well.

Overall the food was good. The numerous salads they brought at the start, as is the norm in these sort of grill restaurants, were an odd combination of traditional Ashkenazi dishes like egg and onion and traditional Middle Eastern dishes like falafel. Once I overcame that shocking dissonance, I was able to delight in the pitta. Fresh out of the taboon, boiling hot, crispy and pitted with sesame seeds it was one of the highlights of the meal. Dipped in their house special of tehina with grilled aubergine, washed down with a cold beer, it reached the zenith of what any pitta-parent could want for its pitta-offspring.

Salads and bread are very nice, but meat was the main order of the day, specifically offal. As I've mentioned the hearts were good, but the star attraction was the foie gras, which was excellent. You can see it nestling in-between the spring chicken skewer (foreground) and the aforementioned chicken hearts.

I can't vouch for the grade of foie gras they use, but it seemed pretty decent quality. I may be a traditionalist at heart, but I reckon it could have done with some sort of marmalade type sauce to cut through the fat. Then again, simply grilled and unadorned, I was able to delight in the meaty goodness.

The staff were especially friendly. As soon as I got out my camera to photograph the plate, they whipped it away and sprinkled some salad on to make it look a bit jazzier. This place is worth a detour, if only to see a bit of Tel Aviv you're unlikely to venture into for any other reason.

Avazi, 54 Etzel Street, Hatikva, Tel Aviv, Israel
Tel: +972 (0)3 687 9918

12 December 2007

Roladin sfuganiyot, or doughnuts to you and me

Poor web connection has resulted in me posting this after the end of Chanukah, but there is still merit in posting it, just for the food-porn aspect.

Sfuganiyot are basically doughnuts, but these ones from Roladin are at best, distant third cousins, several times removed, of the stodge available at Krispy Kreme.

Mine was stuffed with dulce de leche, Silverbrowess' had strawberry jam. Both were very good, oddly, mine was lighter and fluffier, perhaps its was fresher. Also - and this might be sacrilege - I preferred this dulce de leche to some of the over-sweetened stuff we had in South America.