Restaurant(s) 26 and 27, The Dovetail Farringdon and Bierschenke Moorgate

My 25th and 26th stops on this challenge shared a common denominator… Beer. Both places were chosen as we fancied a couple of pints and that ultimately meant we managed to ‘taste’ the country’s food at the same time.

That’s not to say the food of Belguim or Germany is not worth attention alone, but in The Dovetail (a wonderful Belgian bar/restaurant in Farringdon) and Bierschenke (a Bavarian beer hall in Moorgate) we originally had gone for the beer, and oh wow… what great choices we made.

At The Dovetail we were greeted by an array of Tin Tin cartoons on the wall and treated to what seemed like an endless selection of Belgian beers behind the bar. Of course in the interest of research we made steady progress through the list… A Trappist, A Blonde, A Witbier and even a Sour Red were all perfect accompaniments to my delicious Moules Frites. Sadly though given it was a school night we had to postpone our further scientific research, but will be sure to return – perhaps even for their beer tasting evenings.

Whilst at Bierschenke we were treated to a full on Munich experience – complete with the German feed of a Bayern Champions League game. The Steins were great and the beer inside went down scarily quickly and we found ourselves feeling a little tooty – so decided to soak up the booze with a full on Bierschenke platter: Schnitzels, Bratwurst, Nürnberger, Frankfurter, Debreciner, chips, mash and sauerkraut… So.Much.Food.

I’m yet to experience a night in a genuine Bavarian Bierhalle or Bar in Bruges but I plan to do so soon… however until then its good to know that there are some pretty authentic experiences closer to home!

The Dovetail, 9-10 Jerusalem Passage, London, EC1V 4JP. 020 7490 7321. http://dovepubs.com/

Bierschenke, London Wall buildings, 4 Blomfield St, London EC2M 5NT. 020 7100 2500. http://bierschenke.co.uk/

Restaurant twenty five, Steers, Clapham Junction

One of the interesting debates this challenge creates is that around authenticity… Ultimately what is an authentic dining experience? We all know that the nation’s favourite curry is a Tikka Masala, a dish created in the west end of Glasgow… So by all accounts a British “Indian” experience is decidedly unauthentic.

So does going to a South African institution five minutes from Clapham Junction count as arguably my most authentic experience to date? I’d say the argument is compelling… This is not some fast food joint flying the Saffa flag offering food ‘inspired’ by the country, but rather one of only two branches found in the UK of this genuine chain, Steers.

As soon as we walked in, my food buddy was whisked back to her homeland… Bottles of Castle beer, thick cut fries and exactly the same menu options as we’d have had if we’d travelled 8,000 miles not 8 for this stop! My king bacon was very good, but only a South African burger chain would offer a full rack of ribs as standard… We had to have those too!

Perhaps the only kicker came in the price. Compared to the likes of Burger King and McDonalds this was at the top end, although certainly worth it… but when you think that back in its native land that meal would have cost somewhere nearer £5 versus the £20 we paid, you know you live in an expensive city!

But nevertheless it felt like a step into what many in Johannesburg or Durban would do on a Saturday and so for that, it was certainly (for me) one of my most authentic stops.

Steers, 313 Lavender Hill, Clapham Junction, SW11 1LN. 020 7924 1684. http://www.steers.uk.com
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restaurant twenty four, Fujiyama, Brixton

It’s amazing how sorting out one part of your life can reinvigorate other seemingly unconnected areas.

You’d have thought working from home, feeling pretty bored and uninspired during the day would have given me endless energy and motivation to go out and knock at least one country off my list a week, but no… it seems the brain rotting that took place during the day spelled over to my evenings and meant doing something creative in the evening was clearly too much to ask.

Well fortunately I find myself free of that working environment and enjoying a renewed interest in making use of my spare time… Because well I suppose when you have almost endless free time you don’t appreciate trying to do something with it. Now I am getting immersed in my work again I certainly don’t want to be wasting my down time sat doing nothing!

With that in mind I found myself out in Brixton (fast becoming my go to place when I’m in need of a little global culinary inspiration) for a visit to Japan at the recommended Fujiyama, just off Coldharbour Lane. With a huge range of sushi platters and a wonderful variety of warm options, we opted for some Katsu vegetables and the sushi selection, followed by a cheeky extra mixed starter to round off the meal. This was all washed down with a Kirin Ichiban for under £40 including tip.

Very much recommend from my end too, and with my next two stops likely to take place over the weekend I’m targeting hitting 30 by the end of April. Of course I’ve said this before so the proof will be in the pudding… Ahem.

Fujiyama, 5-7 Vining Street, SW9 8QA. 0207 737 6583. https://www.fujiyamabrixton.com


  
  

Restaurants 21-23, Its been a while…

So I think I’ve been suffering from writers block over the past four months. To be honest, it gets to a point where you start to feel unless you go to somewhere really genuinely stunning or different, what can you write for restaurants 21-23, that hasn’t been said previously for numbers 1-20?  As a result, I have had three sat brewing and I’m hoping that by tackling them in one foul swoop I will get over the hump and push forward… Indeed it was only last week that my Facebook ‘on this day’ feature showed me that it had a been a year since I started this blog and challenge. 23 countries in one year is hardly record-breaking pace, but still an achievement, so if I can get my mojo-back and push on nearer to 50 over the next 12 months then I’ll be doing ok.

I think what has been surprising over the year is how easy it has been to find food from places you wouldn’t expect, and I think the cause of that is largely the pop-up culture that exists now. Stop 21, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, was a perfect example of that. Having previously been a well-regarded supper club and pop-up restaurant, they have taken up a permanent spot at Pop Brixton. Pop is not my favourite place, and indeed I would describe it as an example of bad gentrification as, for me, it stands out like a sore thumb as a place that just tries too hard in its eclectic and laid back surroundings. However, whilst the site is somewhere I would not put on my places to go in London list, the restaurant is very good… Homely, authentic and very tasty. You can absolutely see why Zoe’s has gained such a good reputation and following. I will certainly return.

Next up was somewhere a little more established in the London scene – Andina. A Peruvian restaurant that specialises in Pisco Sours and Ceviche… both of which were mind-blowing. Having walked passed it every day en-route to work for the best part of two years, I had long wanted to pop in. So on a rather wet August night I found my way there and was not to be disappointed… The staff were as friendly as any place I’ve eaten in a long time, the food was delicious and perfect for sharing, whilst the cocktails were simply incredible. They host evenings on how to make your own ceviche and pisco sours and I plan to one day attend. If my end results could be 1/10th as good as what I had there I will be a very happy man… although dinner party guests may get a little tired of endless ceviche-inspired courses!

Finally I headed to Iran via Crystal Palace. This was a somewhat unusual place and an absolute example of a you’ll miss it unless you know it’s there restaurant. Tucked away down some stairs between a mini-cab and off-license, Kishmish is regularly packed out every evening, but with some local knowledge we stopped by for their lunch menu and enjoyed the place to ourselves. 90 minutes later, after gorging on falafel, houmous, flat breads the size of a medicine ball, lamb kebabs and a lamb stew we stumbled back to work only £10 each poorer off. For value and quality, I think I’ll be hard pressed to beat it in London.

So there we go, three reviews written, but it doesn’t quite feel right as this was never about simply rating the restaurants for food – it was about the experiences that can take you outside of your comfort-zone in London. However, what this has reminded me is how wonderful it is to be able to eat food, and damned good food at that, from three continents through ease of convenience. Be it at the start of a night out, on my way home from the office, or as a lunch break when working round at a colleague’s flat – that is what inspired me to do this originally… the amazing opportunities that are out there in this city.

So with that firmly in my mind, I take this renewed passion and vigour and head back out to look for my next stop. I will aim for another 20 odd this year, but you know what, I think it’s time to take this on to the next level. Time to hunt down some of the harder ones, time to find the restaurants with that special story – whilst still knocking off a few others when I get that must have craving for Eritrean food on a Saturday evening!

Onwards!

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Pop Brixton. http://www.zoesghanakitchen.co.uk, 07931 602889

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Andina, 1 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, E2 7DJ. http://www.andinalondon.com, 020 7920 6499

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Kishmish, Lower Ground Floor, 13-14 Crystal Palace Parade, London SE19 1UA. http://www.kishmishrestaurant.co.uk, 020 8670 6969

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Restaurant Twenty, Los Pibes, Shoreditch

“Brand endorsements, adverts, product placement, subliminal advertising… clearly they do something to boost brand awareness or they wouldn’t be such a big business, but they don’t impact me, I am immune to their powers”. I’m sure at certain times we’ve all thought that and up to yesterday evening I was certainly in that camp. However that all changed when this tweet popped up in my timeline…


Fernando Forestieri is perhaps one of my favourite Watford players of all time, certainly within the current squad. Quick-footed with great vision, who when on form is an absolute joy to watch… indeed he’s not nicknamed ‘Fessi’ after a more illustrious Argentinian for no reason. Since moving to the UK from Italy he has embraced the club, the town and the country… and has earned a loyal cult following from this ‘hornet’ for one. So when he tweeted a picture of himself enjoying an Argentinian Steak Sandwich courtesy of Los Pibes at Pump Shoreditch street food market, I found myself instantly craving a steak sandwich. And given its proximity to my office, I took decisive action and decided that I would be lunching there as Argentina stop the very next day… opting out of visiting some of the amazing Argentinian Steakhouses that can be found within the M25.

Now the sandwich was good don’t get me wrong. The spicy Don Diablo sandwich went down a treat, as did the cheese and vegetable empanada… however it left me questioning my very being – in that am I really that swayed by brand endorsements that I will chose where to eat simply because someone who is pretty good a kicking a football for my team has eaten there once? Had it been Fabregas, Rooney or Cech tweeting they were there I certainly would not have dropped everything to go, but for a Watford player I did not even bat an eyelid.

So I’ve spent the day thinking whether this is a new phenomenon for me or I have acted like this before? For example have I ended up eating a Boost because I have seen a someone else eat one, or the word boost was repeatedly mentioned in a meeting at work and I’ve then gone out and bought that exact chocolate bar as the thought of it was planted in my mind…

It’s all a bit odd and to be honest I don’t quite know what the story is to sum up this stop is… but well, all I now know is that my boost analogy and constant writing of the word boost has got me craving a boost so I’m off to the shops.

I’m such a sucker for marketing…

Los Pibes can be found at Pump Shoreditch with the Don Diablo costing £7.50.


  

Restaurant nineteen, Capo Caccia, Peckham.

Apologies for the delay since my last entry… however I return with the first of two stops, a trip to Italy – specifically Sardinia.

For those who don’t know me in person, Sardinia is one of my favourite places on earth. Having spent six wonderful months working on the northern coast of this delightful island, I have developed a real love for this genuinely beautiful, unspoilt haven. Trust me when I say, if you are looking for somewhere to visit that has not been spoilt by tourism in the slightest, Sardinia is absolutely a must go. Crystal clear waters, stunning scenery and (importantly for this blog) sensational food…

Now there are a few Sardinian restaurants across the city; Places where you can go and enjoy some porchetta and cannonau very easily, but given a blog describing Italian food would hardly make for interesting reading (if you can ever call this interesting… ahem), I thought I would take a slightly out of leftfield approach and visit this country through one of London’s many small Saturday markets, Peckham Market.

Located at the Academy in Peckham, this pop-up market disappeared from our streets for the best part of seven months after debuting last Autumn with some amazing stalls offering fresh local produce, as well as some incredible food that is slightly harder to find around the city. However, last weekend it made its long awaited return and with that came the return to Peckham of Capo Caccia, a stall offering a great range of Sardinian delights.

So after grabbing a coffee from my favourite coffee stand in London (Mousetail), I wondered over to Capo Caccia and filled my boots! Starting with some Pane Carasau (a flatbread perfect for cheese and meats), I had a tough decision to make with the Salsicce. However, life is about difficult decisions, and after some serious sampling (such a chore I know!), I opted for the Mirto infused variety, along with a red wine variant… none of your bog standard pepper salami here!

No anti-pasti selection would be complete without cheese, and given I was in Sardinia it meant only one thing… Pecorino. After sampling a few different maturities, I opted for a medium and creamy cheese, but topped it up with some Pepe Nero. A type of pecorino filled with black pepper.

At this point I was worried my eyes were bigger than my stomach so forced myself to stop and go simply enjoy this wonderful feast. So yes, while this may not have been an official restaurant, who has to say that you have to be confined to four walls when eating from around the world in London? Armed with this mountain of food, I headed to Peckham Rye with a bottle of wine in hand and sat down in the glorious sunshine and treated myself to a picnic on the Rye… for 90 minutes I could have been back in Sardinia.

It seems Capo Caccia were missing this week from the market, I hope this is not a sign that they won’t return as I don’t know what I’ll do without my fix of Sardinian delights. But either way, I think this really shows how easy it is to get great food from around the world without a) breaking the bank and b) without having to venture too far from your own front door.

Capo Caccia (www.capocaccia.co.uk) can be found at a variety of markets across London, whilst Peckham Market can be found every Saturday from 11-3 at the Academy in Peckham. Both are must visits!

          
 

  

Restaurant eighteen, Ikea, Croydon

I was recently discussing where next to visit and given their success at Eurovision, I was challenged to toast their musical glory with a ‘trip’ to Sweden. Now this at first may seem easy… surely there are plenty of Swedish restaurants given the wonders of food such as gravelax and Swedish meatballs? However, I had looked for this stop previously but had heard on the round the world grapevine that Sweden was somewhat difficult to complete. Indeed, there were a few Scandinavian places, but no truly authentic Swedish restaurants across this fine city. However, just as I had lost all hope, assistance was given to me in my hour of need as a friend of mine at work spoke of a little known boutique furniture store that is a rather popular pick up place for men of a certain persuasion. Apparently, outside of being a more primitive version of Grindr (his words not mind!), it serves lovingly prepared, authentic Swedish food… food served where you can buy a sofa? Seems very odd to me, but hey ho – this blog is all about new experiences, so off I trundled to one of the most beautiful parts of London, Croydon – the home of this Ikea place he spoke of…

En route I popped on to their website and was amazed by the wonders that were waiting for me… Fish and Chips for less than £5, Cooked breakfasts for just £2.25… how had this wonderland escaped my attention for so long? My appetite was further whetted when I saw they offered  15 Swedish meatballs for under £5 and even a salmon wrap for a mouth-watering £2.25… with such wonderfully low prices, these goods were surely very locally sourced. As we got closer to the majestic Croydon, I told those I was with that I hadn’t been so excited for a stop since I began this journey…

Once there I was blown away to discover this was not just some restaurant that sells some up-cycled furniture on the side, but instead a mecca of top quality home-based delights. After devouring over a dozen meatballs (that I’m certain contained no traces of horsemeat), we headed to explore this theme-park for the middle-aged. After spending three of the most joyous and not at all soul destroying hours walking through this maze of beds, sofas and wardrobes… and yet more sofas and more beds and more wardrobes, we finally escaped blinking with the first glimpses of daylight afforded to our eyes in what seemed like an eternity. Being overjoyed with what had been simply a wonderful experience from top to bottom, we felt it would be a shame to leave while the night was still young – so stopped by the food market for something special… a £1.25 hotdog. We enjoyed this beautiful sausage in a gourmet bun whilst perusing their “Swedish Food Market” – where I of course bought countless bags of meatballs and a couple of Dime Bar cakes.

Forget this challenge, all in all this will no doubt rank as the highlight of my 33 years to date… all that is left to ask is how had somewhere this special remained hidden from me for so long?

Ahem… Look I know Ikea probably shouldn’t count, but you try doing this. It’s not as easy as it looks… Indeed one bit of advice I was given by a fellow ‘round the worlder’ was that really you’re only doing this for yourself… So I call the shots. And yes I can live with myself for chalking this down as a stop.

Joking aside, if you do want to enjoy some genuinely good Swedish food – and not just some guilty pleasure treat that really shouldn’t have warranted 550 words on a blog – try a place called Stockholm Restaurant and Deli in Mortlake… by all accounts it is wonderful.

   
 

Restaurant seventeen, El Rancho de Lalo, Brixton Village

Having defied my north London roots and broken rank to move south of the river last June, it is probably somewhat remiss of me to have not visited Brixton for a evening out before my trip to ‘Columbia’ a couple of weeks ago. Sure I had been to the Academy and of course I had eaten at the delightful Negril (https://aroundtheworldin196tables.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/restaurant-eleven-negril-brixton/), but I had never really just explored this part of town… So I was perhaps more excited than usual to step out of Brixton station, eager to see if it would live up to its reputation.

After a ‘pre-match’ drink at the Craft Beer Company, we headed over to Brixton Village – which for those who are not aware was, until reasonably recently, a rundown arcade in dire need of some TLC. That came and it has been transformed into a cultural hub, home to more than 20 restaurants, cafés and boutique shops.

Walking in to the arcade I was pretty overwhelmed by the choice and it took some tough decisions to decide which country would be conquered that night. What really impressed me was the lack of generic chains. Here there were no Nandos, La Tasca’s or Pizza Expresses, but genuinely independent, locally run restaurants offering some great looking food at an impressively low price. I was also pleased to find such a variety of countries represented… indeed if I’m ever struggling to find a country, there is a good chance I could locate it here!

So after much deliberation, we opted for El Rancho de Lalo, a quirky Colombian restaurant that offered a menu full of meat and more meat!

We started with some mini empanadas and cornbread with a Colombian soft cheese. The size of both starters was impressive enough, but the taste made us confident we had chosen the right country. I followed this with by a Bandeja Paisa – the Colombian national dish consisting of steak, pork belly, sausage, egg, plantain, kidney beans, cornbread, avocado and rice… yep, you read that right, there was really that much food on my dish!

I’m ashamed to admit I failed to finish my plate, so this meant there was definitely no room for dessert. But a great meal was had and I headed home knowing a few carb-light days were needed!

I’m not going to say that this was the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was very good value, hearty food with wonderfully friendly service and I’d certainly return.

The bill came to under £50 for two courses with a bottle of wine and a tip for two people.

El Rancho de Lalo, 94-95 Brixton Village Market, SW9 8PS. 020 7737 2648. https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Rancho-De-Lalo/156815314336773?sk=info

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Restaurant sixteen, The Bleeding Heart, Farringdon

France was always going to be a big one. Having holidayed there for practically my entire childhood, I grew up a total Francophile. My love for the country was further enhanced after spending many summers working across the country for Canvas Holidays. The combination of fulfilling a childhood ‘ambition’ of working as a campsite courier, drinking great wine and living alongside some amazing people meant that France was firmly established as my favourite country in the world… indeed I have a dream of one day ‘retiring’ to run a small B&B and bar somewhere down near the Cote d’Azur.

This was also going to be a big one as France holds an even bigger place in my heart for one pretty huge reason… it was where my relationship with my wife, Claire, was really established. Again thanks to Canvas Holidays placing us just 15 miles away from each other (without knowing that we knew each other) on the west coast, we met up and began eight years of our lives together.

However, life is not always easy and there was no ‘happily ever after’ here, as sadly things didn’t work out between us. In fact it was a year ago today that we agreed to separate. Through it all we have remained very good friends, supporting each other every step of the way. Many people have commented it is somewhat unorthodox for us to be such good friends despite our marriage ending. However, we embrace our unique style and are proud to still have each other in our lives… and with that in mind we agreed to celebrate our awesomeness by taking a trip to ‘France’ and to a restaurant called The Bleeding Heart… to toast one year of un-married bliss.

The Bleeding Heart is set back in a beautiful courtyard in Hatton Gardens and immediately has the feel of the sort of restaurant we enjoyed discovering in the Dordogne or in the hills around Provence. With a wine list to die for, we opted for the syrah sourced from their own vineyards, which was accompanied by a maison bouche.

While we waited for our food, I couldn’t help but be taken in by the charm of the place, including the fable behind the name ‘The Bleeding Heart’:

“According to the legend, Lady Hatton, during one of her winter balls, was swept off her feet by a swarthy gentleman (the European Ambassador). They left together and there was a buzz around the ball that she and he would re-unite. However, the next morning her dismembered body was found with her heart still pumping blood onto the courtyard – henceforth the yard was to be known as the Bleeding Heart yard.” Ahem… very charming!

After shaking off that image, we were treated to a staggeringly good assiette of suckling pig, before sharing a crème brûlée that was literally as big as my face for dessert.

The food and wine were wonderful, the restaurant was very special and was the perfect place for our ‘anniversary’ dinner. Same time, same place next year Claire?

The bill came to £88 excluding service and whilst not cheap, offers excellent quality and impressively good service.

The Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart Yard, off Greville Street, Hatton Garden, London EC1N 8SJ. 020 7242 8238. http://www.bleedingheart.co.uk

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Restaurant fifteen, Dishoom, Kings Cross

After the failed attempt to visit Dishoom as stop number three, I finally managed to make the trip to the newest restaurant in the ‘chain’ a couple of Thursdays ago. The Shoreditch location has long been one of my favourite restaurants in the city, so back in the Autumn when they announced an expansion to the newly regenerated Kings Cross Quarter (complete with some soft launch discounts thrown in), I felt compelled to visit and chalk off India from my round the world mission. Unfortunately, the queues were so huge, we simply decided to go to the pub instead…

Having written all about the premise and aims of Dishoom during the aforementioned aborted mission (https://aroundtheworldin196tables.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/restaurant-3-dishoom-kings-cross/), I feel this gives me a great opportunity to talk about the amazing work that has gone into the Kings Cross Quarter. For those not native to London, you should know that Kings Cross used to be an absolute waste-land… full of run down pubs, disused train sheds and many things far less savoury and certainly not appropriate for a family-friendly blog! However, now it is home to some brilliant bars and restaurants, a wonderful canal-side open square and vibrant creative spaces… and this is what I currently love so much about London. Almost every couple of months somewhere new opens up to be discovered, so it is impossible to ever be bored or feeling like you’ve seen it all!

However, for all the benefits of regeneration, we need to be careful that the soul of the city is not being damaged. Perhaps this is most to the fore where I currently call home (Peckham), where there is a campaign to protect the genuinely inspiring rooftop views of Frank’s and the Bussey Building. With £5 million of mayoral funds available to the council, there is a real fight going on over where the money is spent – and for some the idea that this will result in the destruction of something that gives Peckham a unique charm in the city is heart wrenching and must be fought at every step… and I agree. And that is why Kings Cross is such a brilliant place, as it has shown that regeneration can occur with only benefits to the community… let’s hope other places take heed.

Anyway, off my high horse, and back to the meal. It was, as I hoped from my previous experiences, phenomenal. The black lentil dhal is without a doubt one of my favourite dishes of any restaurant in London, whilst everything else was delicious. The biggest highlight were the cocktails that blew me away. Served in ornate medicine bottles, the two we chose were unique to Dishoom and worth the visit alone.

Dishoom Kings Cross, 5 Stable Street, N1C 4AB. http://www.dishoom

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