Review: BRAT, Shoreditch

Anchovyonastick

Anchovyonastick

BRAT is definitely very on-trend. There’s a natural re-loved feel about the big old workshop-like space that has been fitted out with plenty of re-purposed wood. There’s a massive open fire full of fiercely glowing red coals, ready and waiting for the big chunks of meat that are BRAT’s hallmark. And of course, it’s all intended to be sharing plates.

And it may be that we did it to ourselves, by not showing enough savvy in the selection of the dozen or so dishes that the four of us shared, but I ended the meal feeling on the one hand a bit dyspeptic from salt, fat and protein and on the other hand a teensy bit peckish as, truth be told, we didn’t seem to have eaten that much.

Anyway, at least an awful lot of the fat and protein we ate was of very excellent quality. And it kinda goes without saying that it was full of that lovely cooked-over-natural-fire flavour. Some of the nice things we had…

Clam and seaweed porridge

Clam and seaweed porridge

Clam and seaweed porridge was an unassuming bowl of grey goop, but it was the most comforting umami goop imaginable, a very soothing paean to the sea. Young leeks were braised to a meltingly soft bright green, with a dollop of milky fresh cheese. Lovely monkfish sashimi, I’ve never tried it before but as wafer-thin slivers of raw fish it has a slightly fatty texture that works great. Roasted squab was good too, and I’m a sucker for quince puree, but I’ve had bigger and better flavour from a pigeon before now. Mallard also very nicely cooked. Nice bit of duck, yeah. Their dessert list is short and focused on simple cult classics. A good creme caramel, a good rice pudding.

Overall I was a bit underwhelmed. Even though most things were jolly tasty. Lemme see if I can put my finger on why (and this may be a personal thing)…

Mutton chop

Mutton chop

Okay, let’s look at our other main dish, a Cornish mutton chop. It comes in at £23. It comes on a plate, is beautifully grilled, and sliced up for sharing. About the right amount of meat as a main course for one, perhaps, and some golden pieces of grilled fat. It’s all very muttony. But that’s all it is. Call me old fashioned (“you’re old fashioned!”) but it feels a bit cheeky, if you imagine instead the same mutton chop served with a flavoursome jus, perhaps some cavalo nero with pan gratata, maybe boulanger potatoes and a scattering of tiny cubes of mead jelly. Or whatever. You get my point. A fully conceived dish, not just a piece of meat for £23. There are a handful of vegetable side dishes to order at BRAT, and I wish we’d figured out that you need to order plenty of them!

But anyway. In my head BRAT is an emperor’s new clothes restaurant. It ticks all the boxes and presses all the buttons to make critics and savvy punters coo. But when you look at what you actually get on the plate, for me it just didn’t stand up to the price point – which is just over £50 a head before drinks, and that for not a big meal. To be fair, it might just be the indigestion talking, I can’t quite decide whether I want to give ’em another try.

Monkfish

Monkfish

Review: Trinity, Clapham

Most elegant trotter ever

Most elegant trotter ever

Does it tell you anything about us that the last three places we’ve lived have all been within ten minutes walk of a Michelin starred restaurant? For the record: Mr Underhills in Ludlow, Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, and now Trinity in Clapham. Of course not all Michelin stars are created equal, so it was really important to go to Trinity as soon as possible and find out whether it’s going to become our local treat.

Trinity is proper classy fine dining. Tables have linen, there is most definitely a brigade at front of house, and the sommelier does not discuss the menu while the waiters do not discuss the wine. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression, the atmosphere was friendly rather than stuffy. The wine list is worth a mention: there’s very very little below £50.

Splendid soused mackerel

Splendid soused mackerel

After a couple of tasty amuse bouche and particularly excellent crunchy rolls with tangy cultured butter we got into starters…

Mine was a warm salad of jerusalem artichoke, truffle and chestnut. It was basically a hedgehog on a plate made out of my favourite autumn foods. I would buy those crunchy j-choke chips by the bag, eat them every night and live in a state of flatulent bliss. Great blocks of candied roast chestnut too, and the truffle flavour humming through it all. Maureen’s mackerel was a beaut, sensitively cured, strongly flavoured, and served with refreshing slices of persimmon.

Second course for me was a breadcrumbed fritter of pigs trotter, served on a bed of sauce gribiche and topped with a quail egg. This was a pretty, pretty plate and yet inside the crispy case the trotter was simply deeply piggy goodness. Great stuff. Maureen had smoked eel pissalardiere, a much more rustic puff of pastry with a generous chunk of eel fillet perched on top and a fruity mustard sauce poured all over it. Frankly I defy anyone not to love that.

Posh mince pie

Posh mince pie

For main course I stayed in the piggy regions with a really hearty layered chunk of pork jowl and squash, draped in translucent lardo and topped with a toothsome langoustine. This was an insanely good concoction, madly indulgent, with blobs of spiced date sauce that cut the richness like a good dollop of HP sauce does. Maureen made happy noises over her dover sole baked in truffle butter.

I went all Christmas for pudding, and picked the mince pie special. This turned out to just be the best mince pie you are likely to find. Absolutely pinpoint perfect pastry, served with a Christmas spiced butter and a very (very) gently Stilton-y cream. Maureen’s lemon vacherin was probably a better example of what they can do here, the pure white dome of meringue cracking to reveal a blazing yellow lemon cream both sharp and rich.

Four courses is £60 at lunch and £75 for dinner. The level of cuisine and the experience overall make that about spot-on for the price. I’m very happy having Trinity as my “local Michelin star” (and if I’m honest, even happier to have Trinity Upstairs as I’m much more likely to be lured in there at the end of a long week when we deserve a random eat out)!

Pork jowl and langoustine

Pork jowl and langoustine

Review: Anglo, Holborn

Anglo

Anglo

Meh.

Shortest review ever! To be fair, there’s a bit of a clash of expectation vs reality here, as people have written lots of gushing and nice things about Anglo. So I was expecting special. What I got was a by-the-numbers 6 course tasting menu with some fairly clunky flavours and cooking in parts. Hence, meh.

It’s a small dining room tucked in a corner of the city and I imagine great for the higher end of business lunches. The decor is urban hipster. Wines by the glass were good. The initial snack of a slowly roasted artichoke half topped with lemon cream was absolutely divine, amazing earthy flavour and a sticky almost date-like chewiness. If I’d been given a dozen more of these we’d be having a very different review.

Glorious artichoke

Glorious artichoke

Pureed parsnip with nuggets of blue cheese and apple was a pleasant starter, with really good sweetly autumnal flavour in the parsnip. The fish course was a piece of halibut, nicely crispy on one side but overcooked to Dulux pure brilliant white within. The creamed leeks were… fine… and the smoked mussel sauce didn’t pack a lot of oomph.

By contrast, the smoked truffle mayo with the lamb was a very powerful. I’m not sure smoke and truffle really need to be made to do battle like that? Anyway, well cooked cannon of lamb but not particularly flavourful meat. The wild mushrooms definitely were wild varieties, so top marks there (pet hate: restaurants who claim wild mushrooms and it’s clearly cultivated oysters and chestnut).

The savoury of malt loaf, sticky shallots and a nicely yeasty rarebit was an excellent snack, a top notch bit of inspiration. I’m off home to buy some Soreen and a jar of caramelised onions.

Halibut

Halibut

First pud was a rather sturdy pannacotta with clementine and hazelnut. Both Christmas things but not brilliant in the same mouthful. And the pannacotta hadn’t anything very creamy about it. The main pudding was a dark and friendly chocolate mousse, slightly bitter chocolate crunchy bits (that’s a technical term) and a buttermilk ice cream. Lovely fresh and slightly sour taste to the ice cream but… well, I’m sure the freshness is there to “balance” the richness but I thought it fought with the richness instead. It’s chocolate. Just enjoy it.

At £50 for the menu before drinks, it’s hardly claiming to be the very top end. And if you’re not a massive foodie who eats out all the time then you’ll have a lovely meal here. But if you like to scour London for the best dining and your budget isn’t infinite, then you might find Anglo to be a wasted opportunity.

Lamb and truffle

Lamb and truffle

Review: Trivet, London Bridge

Trivet

Trivet

We’ve hit peak small plate. I know that, because our waitress at Trivet took the trouble to explain the menu: “Our menu is a three course concept. We suggest you pick one from the starters, one from the main courses and one from the desserts.”

Which is entirely fair. I expect there are probably many gen-Z hipsters who have never been to a restaurant that isn’t either small plates or a tasting menu.

Trivet looks effortlessly cool, tables are elegantly polished and given acres of space for your comfort, there’s smooth wood everywhere. I felt like I’d stepped inside a magical Ercol cabinet. This is classic a la carte fine dining. There are no tasting menus for you here. There are no amuse bouches. The audience seems to be people in black turtlenecks for whom fine dining is more an assumption than a luxury.

Artichoke and truffle

Artichoke and truffle

I started with a beautifully cooked artichoke stuffed with an all spice cream and topped with generous truffle shavings. All the notes in this dish played harmoniously together, and I love finding a new combo on my plate. The sourdough broth and diced root veg underneath rounded out a really good starter. Maureen’s veal sweetbread had an awesome cumin glaze, although for me this very generous thicc sweetbread needed some serious charring to balance against the vast and creamy interior.

More great combos in the main. Powerful bit of pigeon, nicely roasted, paired with persimmons and chervil root. The perfume of the fruit drifted through the earthy, nutty, gamey dish like a will-o-wisp. Maureen’s Iberico pluma was as good a chunk of pork as you can imagine, and it worked well with a satisfyingly deep beetroot puree and fermented beetroot leaves. Shiitake mushrooms somehow weren’t the best notion with this, but that’s the trick with brave combinations; not every one will score with every punter.

Pigeon and persimmon

Pigeon and persimmon

My dessert was glorious. Nothing outlandish about this almond and cherry tart, but the sticky depth of cherry flavour packed in there with the gooey almond was exactly the kind of gurgly pleasure you want to finish up a fine meal, and the cardamom ice cream with it was a nice pop of bright green spice. Hmm… Maureen’s choice was the signature Hokkaido potato millefeuille, going brave again and maybe insisting on one bravery too far. The pastry and potato itself was excellent, the unexpected flavour working really well. But the sake cream in the sandwich was just too austere. Mr Potato needed something sweet and indulgent to really win us over.

Trivet is traditional fine dining. Here are your three plates of food, and here’s your eye-searing bill – around £70 for 3 courses without drinks. Is it worth it? Well, I was seriously impressed by the precise cooking and the inventive combinations. And being an old fart, and having perched on many uncomfortable industrial stools in hip small plate restaurants, playing elbows with the folk next door and tetris with the dishes on our tiny acreage of tabletop, I’m going to admit that spacious and comfy surroundings oozing cool are worth a few bob on their own. So, yeah, I think Trivet is worth your time.

Potato millefeuille

Potato millefeuille

Review: Acorn, Bath

The Acorn

The Acorn

I like to think I’d find it easy to go vegan. When I scan a menu it’s the accompaniments that catch my eye before the protein. “Oooo… roast jerusalem artichokes and Madeira sauce! I’ll have some of that! With chicken? Sure, whatev.” More than that, some of my favourite dishes at top restos have been veggie ones recently. And more than half our meals at home are meat-free.

But my meal at Acorn, a new vegan fine dining restaurant in Bath, leaves me wondering whether in reality I would have to stop at merely vegetarian? Maybe all those veggie dishes I’ve loved at other restaurants only work because they’re heaving with butter, cream and – sometimes – a wee drop of fish or chicken stock?

Or maybe Acorn just isn’t very good.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

The old Georgian house in the tangle of lanes behind the Abbey is a cosy and romantic setting, though the tables are packed in a little too cosy to be properly romantic. Front of house were a bit lacking in knowledge or engagement. I suppose it was a Sunday night!

Lemme pick apart some of the dishes.

Smoked potato and hazelnut agnolotti in a red wine sauce. The pasta was okay, the potato puree inside was most definitely smoky. If there was hazelnut in there, the flavour had got lost. The wine sauce was thin and weak. Perfectly edible dish, just not really elevated anywhere.

Butternut squash was a dish of roasted butternut squash, some shreds of crunchy sauerkraut, and a dark umami broth that was rather good. But not really good enough to lift this or make these few mouthfuls look like a dish that deserved to be a tenner.

Celeriac

Celeriac

Shouldn’t really come as any surprise that truffle oil popped up twice. On the celeriac dish it was the overwhelming flavour. They’d taken all the trouble to make something like a celeriac boulangere (very thin slices layered, pan baked, then sliced) and had somehow eradicated all of the beautiful celeriac flavour.

By the time dessert rolled around I had low expectations. So Maureen’s burnt apple compote with blah blah was surprisingly good, packed full of flavour and a nice balance of bitter-sweetness. My pear concoction was much closer to form. Poached pears in almond milk. Pretty much literally, two slices of plainly poached pear with some almond milk.

The dishes at Acorn are all perfectly edible, but if you detect damning with faint praise then you’re right. Dinner at this price point and in this setting needs to feel special and luxurious, whatever the style or cuisine on offer. They haven’t elevated vegan cooking to the right place here. I’m keen to love vegan food, but the Acorn hasn’t hit the spot for me. Four courses was £38 each without drinks.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash

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