September is gone! October is upon us. My bank account dwindles…London is just too exciting! There is too much to do! Too much to see! Too much to EAT. Yet, my London restaunt blog sits ignored. Let me try to do something about that. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately. If you can’t tell, I’m on a bit of a Chinese and Spanish kick at the moment.
Gourmet San, Bethnal Green. My friend JP and I did a little Szechuan crawl one night, inspired by our mutual love of Sichuan Folk off Brick Lane. We had high hopes, but Gourmet San let us down. It was dirty and smelly and the service was distracted. Everyone told us to order the lamb skewers. They were off. Very off. No desire to go back, like ever.
Ba Shu Fang, Bethnal Green. The red velvet chairs make it feel a bit like Valentine’s Day, but our Szechuan lobster was outstanding. I have been dreaming of this place ever since and might actually make the trek over for lunch today. Also great, the sea bass. Check out the photo gallery for pics of these two dishes. Best quote: “Our new chef is from Chengdu. Our old chef was Hainanese. Our new chef…he is more….professional.” Ask the staff for their recommendations. The menu is a bit tough going for the unadventurous among you!
Yipin, Angel. Somehow, this place got a Bib Gourmand. I want to like it more than I do, so I keep going back. (It’s convenient.) But no, I just don’t like it. Like Gourmet San, also dirty. Everyone tells me this place is great so maybe I need to give it a third try. But my first two attempts have been less than stellar. Ah, but they do bring you peanuts to start your meal.
Jose, Bermondsey. I will happily eat here every day. Love everything. The jamon! You can taste the acorns! The boquerones! The croquetas! ALL of it. Go go go go go.
Pizarro, Bermondsey. I liked Pizarro, but I like it’s sexy busy sibling Jose better. Pizarro is more serious, more sedate. Jose is a party. Still delicious though.
Iberica, Farringdon. I really like the space here more than anything. Maybe whoever did the decor can come over and do my flat. I also really like the staff. They are very happy and helpful people. Ah, and their pinxtos at happy hour are a great value. But given the choice, I would still go to Jose. (Just in case that’s not clear or anything.)
More to come…I’ve also been to Mission in Bethnal Green and I am about to go have a big bowl of ramen on Upper Street. Good times!
Winter is upon us here in Chicago. And I’m not happy about that. As I write this, it’s 22 Fahrenheit outside. That’s -5 Celsius for the rest of you. Yes. No fun. So I’m heading to South America. Seriously. But in preparation for my departure, I’ve been eating where and when I can. Here’s the latest…
Vera: First stop, Vera in the West Loop. I like Vera for the sherry alone. Americans don’t drink enough sherry. So I’ve been drinking enough to make up for the rest of you, but you really do need to get on this and widen your drinking horizons. While we were at Vera, we settled in for mixed platters of meats and cheeses. My favorite dish of the evening though had to be the anchovies. I don’t know what it is about me and anchovies lately, but I just can’t get enough. I’ll be back here to sample more of the menu, as we were only there for sherry and snacks. The Verdict: Recommended for the sherry selection and the very nice Spanish menu.
Slurping Turtle: I dropped in here on a Friday afternoon…I think it was their first week of business. Well, that will teach me because I totally suffered the consequences. Service was ridiculously, abysmally slow. (All my American romanticizing about service in America while I was living abroad? I’ve yet to have my expectations MET…forget about having them exceeded. America, what has happened to you???) Service aside, my Yuke Tataki of beef tartar, spicy chili paste, sesame oil, and quail egg was pretty awesome. The pork belly snack was also pretty great. The Verdict: Recommended for interesting Japanese food and communal seating/solo dining.
Jerry’s: I ended up working from home one day for some reason or another and was going a little stir crazy so I needed to get out of the house for lunch. I discovered that there’s barely ANYTHING open on Division in Wicker Park during lunch so I found myself at Jerry’s, which was fine because I wanted a salad anyhow. Jerry’s is very low-key. I liked that. I also liked that they made their own sodas on the premises, so I had something lovely with lime and ginger. Then I ordered a salad, which actually came with a side. (!!!) So I had some creamed spinach. This was all very acceptable, although the service — yet again — was pretty poor. I had no idea where the guy was half the time. Maybe he was in the back making soda. The Verdict: Not a destination, but a good place for lunch.
So…that’s three places I’ve been recently. How about you? Been anywhere good recently?
The Background: Let me skip right to the punch. My food at Barrica was good. But my experience with their service was pretty terrible. It was some of the worst service I've ever experienced in London.
But before I tell you what happened with the service, I should briefly cover the food. It was fine. It was Spanish. I like ham. But the croquetas were anemic looking. Tiny. Miserable. And the patatas bravas were just so…gunky.
And now back to the service. It started out fine. We liked the guy that waited on us and took our order. But then he swapped out and left us with a young Spanish girl, who while very sweet, didn't understand a word we said. Dishes arrived that we didn't order. Other dishes arrived in multiples.
And then we made the mistake of ordering a 2nd bottle of wine. 20+ minutes later and it still hadn't arrived. But our food had. After waiting a bit for the wine, we decided to just eat while we tried to flag down a server. No joy.
Let me clarify that Barrica is NOT a big place.
I then embarrassed everyone at the table by going up to the bar to get our bottle of wine and open it myself. The staff balked and promised it would be right over. Time went by. Still no wine. At this point, the food was gone and we don't want the wine anymore. (We're at the 40 minute mark now.) So I flagged down a server again and canceled the wine order and we all ordered some sweet wines. My face must have said it all because the dessert wines arrived immediately. Our original server explained that the girl waiting on us was brand new–only four days on–and while I am sympathetic to that, it does NOT take 40 minutes to pick up a bottle of wine, open it, and walk it 10 steps to our table. I'm sorry. That's just not acceptable.
Iberica Food & Culture
195 Great Portland Street
Date of Last Visit: Friday, September 4, 2009
The Victim: Natalie
The Damage: Golly I forget. I think it was about 50 euros each?
The Background: I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned Natalie before. But even if I have, let me tell you the story again because it’s a good one. A few years back, I was at my friend Richard’s house for a party. And Richard’s friend Claudine was there. I’ve met Claudine before. Many times. Many, many times.
And Claudine is that type of person that NEVER remembers that you’ve met before. Not even a vague, “I’m sorry, I know we’ve met but I can’t remember your name.” Claudine just flat out has no idea who you are.
This annoys me.
Or at least, it used to annoy me until that fateful day at Richard’s when I was sitting there on the couch, minding my own business, where in walks Claudine. I think “Great. Here we go again. She’s going to have no freaking idea who I am. Again.” Luckily, she starts chatting to the girls on the sofa across from me first. She introduces herself. And before she can even finish, one of them says, “Yes, I know who you are Claudine. You introduce yourself to me all the time. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve met and you never remember my name. I’m Natalie.”
Claudine didn’t have much to say and just walked off.
I immediately introduced myself to Natalie and pronounced myself her greatest fan.
The Entrance: A week earlier, while I’d been waiting for my flight to Brittany, I’d called and made a booking at Iberica. I enter on Friday evening and they HAVE NO RECORD of my booking. This annoys me, because I can assure you…I made a booking. How do restaurants lose reservations? Someone please explain.
It’s fine though. They still have space. Upstairs. Which I accept as fine. And it is fine. We have a server practically to ourselves. He admits he’s married and then promptly falls in love with Natalie. Frankly, this is sweet at first and then I start to feel like chopped liver. Flirtatious servers need to learn to spread the love.
The Food: We order many things. Firstly, the trio of ham. (Tragically, Natalie’s flirtatious server can’t remember which ham is which. But we think the serrano is in the middle.) We decide we like the one on the left. The ham croquetas arrive shortly afterwards. (Crispy on the outside. Very creamy on the inside. Almost too creamy.)
The artichokes and pear with alioli were a last minute addition to the order, after our first few vegetable choices were either not available or not enthusiastically recommended by Cassanova. This dish turns out to be the big surprise of the night: no one mentioned they’d be deep-fried, but the artichokes are absolutely positively one of the best things I’ve even lately.
Asparagus with some sort of red pepper alioli is the sole bit of green on the table. We also get some squid with–wait for it–alioli. There’s a lot of alioli at Iberica. Or at least, it seems that way given the dishes we’ve ordered. Luckily, I’ve brought mints.
As our final order, we go for our server’s recommendation of the cuttlefish in black rice. I’ve had this dish in Madrid, and truth be told, it’s not my favorite. It’s too rich and too monotonous. But he is so heartily recommending it, we go for it. (We have a moment of panic when they mistakenly deliver two dishes but quickly right their wrong.) I was right to hesitate…this dish is way too rich and dense and creamy in all the wrong ways.
Other Things: There was a fly in my cava. A small one, but a fly nonetheless. Also, after dinner, we headed back down to the ground floor to use the loos, and the ground floor is just so much more fun. If they hadn’t had lost my booking, we probably could have sat down here.
The Verdict: I’m really annoyed about the lost booking. And I wish our server had lold ME that I have beautiful eyes. (Not to be conceited or anything, but I do think I have nice eyes.) I would go back here for the artichokes. And the atmosphere on the ground floor. Don’t get talked into the black rice.
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, June 7th and then again on Monday, June 8th, 2009
The Victims: Myself the first time. Fernando, Guillermo and William the second time.
The Damage: About 25 euros the first time, and unknown the second time because Fernando paid.
The Background: I had all these grand plans of having a big day out in Madrid on Sunday.
Until I figured out that getting to Spain takes a long time. A really long time.
Not sure how I missed that.
My flight was at 9:30 a.m. from Heathrow and we took off on time. I landed in Madrid around 1 p.m. and then my luggage came out around 1:40 p.m. By the time I bought my metro tickets and figured out where I was going, it was after 2 p.m. And by the time I checked into my hotel, it was nearly 3 p.m. So by the time I was ready to go anywhere, it was 5 p.m. (I squeezed in a quick workout at the hotel gym.)
So–worst possible time to eat in Madrid?
Lunch is over and dinner won't start til 9:30 p.m. (10, really.) But it was 5 p.m. and I was STARVING. And so the hotel directed me to Jose Luis. And it was okay. Just okay. (I had the squid–a different squid than what I talk about below.)
And Even More Background: Now fast-forward to the next evening. My colleagues suggest taking me out to dinner. I say sure. And we start walking. And we're walking some more. And eventually I say, "Are we going to Jose Luis?"
And we are.
Really, what are the chances? The Entrance: My waiter from the previous evening doesn't recognize me. I think this is a bit of a bummer. Even after we had this whole discussion where he said everything in Spanish and I said everything in English and we totally understood each other.
The Food: I put myself in the hands of my Spanish colleagues. (I don't mind someone else ordering for me when I've asked them to order for me.) And so the parade begins. The first dish of the night is the best dish, and it leave me with high hopes for Jose Luis. It's squid and the batter is great. Super great. And then there's some jamon serrano, roughly cut. It's pretty darn good too. And the manchego cheese. I have no complaints. We've started this meal on a high note.
But then the pulpo arrives. And it looks great, with great big chunks of octopus. But it's not so good. It's tough and chewy. Poor reviews from around the table…my Spanish colleagues apologize to me for it.
The Pimientos de Padron arrive, and they look like they've been through a lot, just to get here. They're okay. But they seem slightly overcooked. And I like them with a bit of rock salt.
In between, there's some forgettable calamari (for which my colleagues, again, apologize) and then we have fun with Google Translate trying to figure out what this next dish is. It's cuttlefish. And it's chewy. But the garlicky mayonnaise is good.
The Verdict: There are lots of people who probably love this restaurant and give it rave reviews. I thought it was just okay. But the squid (the second time) was great.