Monday, December 20, 2010

The River Cafe, London: A True Taste of Italy in Hammersmith

The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
The River Cafe London,London Restaurants,Food Photography
There are very few restaurants that actually impress me anymore. Call it vanity, or just experience. But it's true. In order for a restaurant to rate highly on my gastronomic-excitement meter it needs to be fairly brilliant. The River Cafe in the borough of Hammersmith in London is just that kind of restaurant. And it's no wonder when chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have called this place home.

Being American, my guests and I were slightly early, as usual. This annoyed the attractive girl that checked us in but only for a moment. We were seated at their very long bar and asked several times if we'd like a drink. As it had just passed noon we declined the offer. At this time the restaurant was completely empty, except for the three of us and the staff, who were having a meeting near the open plan kitchen.

As the minute hand got closer to 12:30pm, the time in which The River Cafe actually opens, the restaurant became filled with anxious, hungry diners. Our waitress ushered us to our table, which was in the middle of the restaurant and I threw a mini tantrum. Exclaiming to her that I had expressly asked for a table by the window and that this simply wouldn't do. Scenes from American Psycho reverberated through my mind, "I'm on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I'm positive we won't have a decent table. But we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave." With a few exhalations of slight annoyance she led us to another table that was not only by the window, but right next to the kitchen and more importantly, the stunning wood fired oven.

After I got over the shock of seeing the extortionate prices, £30-£36 for an entree, I ordered for the table. We all watched expectantly as our first course was served, Calamari ai Ferri-Chargrilled Squid with Fresh Red Chili & Rocket. At most restaurants Calamari is served in tiny, thin strips, all tangled together. These were chunky, beautiful, busty strips that reeked of freshness. The spicy Chili was a fine compliment to the delicate Squid.

If I had left the restaurant at this point I still would have rated it very high. But there was more. My Pernice al Forno-Whole Partridge Stuffed with Sage, Wood-Roasted in Amarone with English Porcini Bruschetta was one of the best dishes I have ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth. And it was cooked 5 feet from my face. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The English Porcini Mushrooms were soaked in butter and olive oil, but had a sort of Utopian flavor.

My fellow diner's were also in awe as they sat there enjoying and contemplating each and every bite. I inched my fork ever so carefully towards my wife's Coscia d'Agnello ai Ferri-Chargrilled Marinated Leg of Lamb with Salsa Verde, Wood-Roasted Pumpkin, Celeriac, Tomato and Florence Fennel. Which was yet another nonpareil dish.

Could the three of us all been blessed enough to order perfect dishes? The Maiale al Forno-Middlewhite Pork Leg Wrapped in Coppa di Parma, Cooked in Fiano d'Avelino with Fresh Cannellini Beans and Cima di Rape confirmed it. The River Cafe can do no wrong. For dessert we all shared the Caramel Ice Cream. Which is made from burnt sugar and cream. And nothing else! I loved it.

I left with one regret. That I didn't have a tree that grew endless amounts of money. Because if I did, I would be at The River Cafe every day of my life.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

River Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 3, 2010

An Ode to Burough Market, London SE1

Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Burough Market London,SE1,Neals Yard,Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale
A tale of a tasty market
That started in this town called London
By a bunch of humbly bumpkins
With wine and fish and meats alike
3 friends used to frequent it like every freaking night

There's more to love than drink me think
They have Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House
And Neal's Yard Dairy
Let's not forget the Ginger Pig
And the big reds of Burough Wines
May all you traders live long and happy lives

This is the tale of Burough Market
That sits on the mind of thee
And me

So join them there every Thursday
And Friday if you care
But don't go on a Saturday because that's when I am there

My rhyming is a little rough
For that I am sorry
I don't mean to tarry
But the Burough Market in London Town is where I got my starty

So if you like good food than go get in the cary

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wahaca, Covent Garden: Tex-Mex is Not Mex!

Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant,Menu at Wahaca
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant,Chips and Salsa
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant,Taquitos
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant,Tostada
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant
Wahaca London,Mexican Restaurant,Tacos
Growing up in California taught me one thing; appreciate the sun, because one day if you move to England you may never see it again. Ok, maybe it taught me two things. California taught me the importance of Mexican food. I haven't done the research on this but I'm fairly confident that California has more Mexican restaurants than people. That was a joke. Take it easy fellow Californians.

I now live in the South of England. A place where Mexican food simply has not caught on. In my town I have one Mexican restaurant. And by the looks of it on a Friday night, bare, desolate and unappreciated, I'm sure very soon we'll have none. The Brits just don't get Mexican. I think it's because you have to use your hands and really get involved with your food. None of this, fork in your left hand, over turned, scraping individual peas onto it with your knife. Having trouble picturing that? Me too. It's not easy. My pinkies hurt after each meal.

When I heard of this incredible "authentic" Mexican restaurant by various bloggers and friends, each extolling the virtues of the Mexican Street Market model, I was more than a little intrigued. A 45 minute train ride to London and I was there. Sitting in the basement that is Wahaca. Hot. Bright lights gleaming down on me and my fellow diners as I scrutinized the menu. Our blond, Nordic waiter gave us our menus and began describing it in great detail.

We ordered the Wahaca selection: 3 Pork Pibil Tacos, 2 Broad Bean Quesadillas, 3 Chicken Mole Tacos, 2 Black Bean Tostadas and 2 New Potato Taquitos. We then waited patiently to see what the results would be. And I'm happy to report that we may have a winner. However, and this is a giant, monstrous however. This is NOT an authentic Mexican restaurant. Nor is it street food. This is Gastro-Tex-Mex in Tapas style and with UK Tapas prices. But it is delicious. The flavors are all very clean and refreshing. I especially liked my Mole Tacos. They brought me back to my youth. A little brat sitting on my tricycle, sucking down Tacos from the Mobile Mexican Truck that used to frequent my area in Glendale, California.

But, that being said, I wouldn't go back. It's too commercial, too pricey, too hot (temperature-wise), and doesn't even come close to the average Mexican restaurant in California. Give me a $1 Tripe Taco with a little bit of Cilantro and Lime and send me on my way.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Black Pig Pub & Dining Room: A Royal Pub in a Royal Town

The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells,Pigeon Breast with Lentils
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells,Sussex Steak Burger
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells,Kentish Hop Sausage
The Black Pig Pub,Royal Tunbridge Wells,Harrissa Marinated Chicken
I love pubs. But you know that already. The old furniture, the musty smells, the regulars who frequent the same pub every night for a lifetime, and of course, I love the food. Simple and tasty. Since moving back to England with my wife in May I have embarked on a mission to seek out the best pubs in the South East. It's a large task. One that seems repetitive and monotonous at times. I have often wondered if I'm wasting my time. Should I be reviewing the bounty of Indian restaurants in the area? Or the myriad of Thai restaurants? What about the one Mexican restaurant? That's just sad. ONE Mexican restaurant in my area. The answer is, yes. However, pubs in England are currently undergoing a very special revitalization and I can't help but be swept up in their attempts to create fabulous, locally grown gastro-food.

And so it is with The Black Pig Pub and Dining Room. Located in Royal Tunbridge Wells and owned by Julian Leefe-Griffiths, the same man that owns The George and Dragon in Speldhurst. I knew that going in and my expectations were high. From the outside, The Black Pig doesn't look like anything special. In fact, I had seen it numerous times and hadn't been drawn to it. That is, until I found out that Julian owned it.

As I sat with my fellow diners in the almost empty dining room staring at the nearly wholly exposed, tiny kitchen, I wondered if Julian had faltered slightly. When our Pigeon Breast with Caramelized Lentils and Truffled Mash came, my worries were calmed. It was rich and beautifully prepared. But man does not live on Pigeon Breast and Truffled Mash alone. When the mains arrived I was beginning to believe Julian was a gastro-God. My Sussex Red Steak Burger with Red Onion Confit and Black Pig Chips was a mighty effort. The Caramelized Onion added a sweetness to the clean, dense Burger meat.

My wife's Kentish Hop Sausages, Truffle Mash, with Spinach and Red Onion Confit made me believe in a higher power. And his name was Julian. Is it wrong to have a man-crush on someone I've never met? When he makes food this good, I don't think so. The last main I tasted during the meal was the only letdown of the day. The Harissa Marinated Chicken with Black Pig Chips and Salad reminded me of being in the Bahamas. It felt out of place. Like they were just looking for an excuse to put Chicken on the menu. And although it was tasty, it felt incomplete.

Once again, Julian Leefe-Griffiths has shown me how simple it is to make excellent food when you use quality, locally sourced ingredients. Even if it's made in a kitchen the size of Nissan Micra.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bibury Court Brasserie: Old English Gastronomy

Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England,Guinness Bread
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England,Salmon and Herb Fishcake
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England,Pan Fried Calves Liver with Bacon
Bibury Court Hotel Restaurant,Cotswolds,England,Lamb
The village of Bibury, which lies 22 miles southwest of Cheltenham, is about as idyllic as English villages get. There's Arlington Row. A row of weavers cottages built from the local stone. The Bibury Trout Farm on the River Coln. And, nestled into the woods stands one of the prettiest hotels I've ever seen. The Bibury Court Hotel. This former monastery was built in the 16th century, but fell into disrepair before being bought for a family home in the 1920s and converted into a hotel in 1968.

Like most old English hotels it felt cold and aloof. However, the brasserie, a conservatory built in 1998 is another story. The all glass building is cozy and warm. With picturesque views of the garden. Two types of bread were presented to us, however only one of them stuck in my mind. The Guinness bread. It was tremendous. The roasted barley that came through on my palate was staggering. I felt like an Irish goat herder leaning into a hearty meal in my thatched roof cottage on the Dingle Peninsula.

And it only got better as the meal wore on. Our Salmon and Herb Fishcake with Pea Puree and a Poached Egg was an amorous starter. However, my main was something I still think about often. Bacon has become this thinly cut piece of fatty, sad meat. Not at the Bibury Court Hotel. My Pan Fried Calves Liver with Real Bacon, Mashed Potatoes and Caramelised Onion Sauce was the real deal. Monolithic in both size and taste. The Bacon must have been at least 18 inches long. It was a meal in itself. The entire dish was extremely well done. Caution, do not attempt to try this if you have high cholesterol, or heart trouble. If I had to guess I would say this was probably one of the most calorie laden meals I've ever had. But well worth it.

My wife, however, was not quite so daring to her waistline. Her Braised Shoulder of Lleyn Lamb, with Champ Potatoes, Green Beans, Glazed Carrots, Tomato and Rosemary was tasty, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have it again. It had the look of a shiny, posh school lunch meal, or a mid-week suburban family dinner. It gave me the creeps. Reruns of The Andy Griffith Show popped into my head and suddenly I was dining with Opie, Andy and Aunt Bea. Barnie was in the kitchen rustling up some more Guinness bread.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Swan at Southrop: Please Sir, Can I Have Another?

The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Wines
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Tribute Cornish Ale
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Bread and Olive Oil
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Carpaccio of Tuna with Avocado
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Goats Cheese Tart
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Marinated Duck Breast Salad
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Fish and Chips
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Steak Kidney and Mushroom Pie
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Pork Belly
The Swan at Southrop,The Cotswolds,Rump Roast
How many restaurants have I been to which warranted a return visit? Moreover, how many of those were worth driving two hours to get to? The answer, not many. But, The Swan at Southrop is one of those restaurants. Tucked into a small hamlet on the southern end of the Cotswolds, this 17th century inn has now been taken over by Sebastian and Lana Snow. The Snow's moved to this Elysian village from London in 2008. Before coming to Southrop they owned another revered restaurant, Snows on the Green, located in West London. Sebastian Snow is the head chef. His philosophy is simple, Turf to Table. A sentiment very close to my heart.

On our first visit we were greeted by a friendly, attractive woman in a very short black mini-skirt. Actually, on both occasions we were greeted by alluring women in black mini-skirts. Clearly, this being Kate Moss' local had rubbed off onto some of the staff. Whatever the reason, I can't say I was horribly offended. She lead us to our table, skirt clutching to her upper thighs for dear life. Nestled into our corner, we scrutinized the menu thoroughly before deciding on the two course, set menu. Accompanied by a pint of Cornish Ale for me and a glass of house red for my wife.

The food was ordered and in no time we were nose deep into Carpaccio of Tuna, Ginger and Avocado, with a Soy and Lime Dressing. The flavors were pristine. The Soy and Lime Dressing lending a little acid and salt to the fresh Avocado and Tuna. The Goat's Cheese Tart with Saffron, Pear Chutney and Hazelnut was equally creative and tasty. A short break followed, but it wasn't long until I was confronted with the best Fish and Chips this foodie has ever tasted. I'm not going to try and romanticize Fish and Chips into something it isn't. What it was, was delicious and a classic example of what fresh produce and meat does when incorporated into even simple dishes. Continuing in the Asian theme that had begun with our starters, we were presented with a Marinated Duck Breast in a sauce of Soy and Honey with a Warm Salad of Couscous, Mango, Cucumber and Coriander Salsa. The Duck was done beautifully, the crispiness of the charred fat and the freshness of the Mango and Cucumber married nicely.

After that meal, we decided we needed to go back. And soon. We thought that perhaps they just got lucky and created four dishes that were all delectable, or they may have made the set menu extra tasty that day. There was some other factor here, which we were determined to get to the bottom of. Or, we simply wanted another day in the Cotswolds and used that as a good excuse to take a day trip.

The second time around was a very similar story. Same restaurant, same parking space, same weather, same ultra compact, black mini-skirt on ultra compact, arresting young women. This time we did things slightly different. No starter. Nope, straight in for the kill.

I love pie. Chicken and Ham Pie, Steak and Mushroom Pie, Horse Liver Pie, Brain Pie. Ok, I've never had a Brain Pie, or a Horse Liver Pie. But I would. So when my Steak and Kidney Pie came out looking like something out of The Louvre, statuesque, crowned with Rosemary, I took a deep breath and tried to remain neutral and unbiased. "A Pie doesn't make a restaurant great. There are other factors involved." I reminded myself. Bullocks! This Pie exemplified what this restaurant is in full. It was absolutely stunning. A shining example to all Pies around. The Meat was tender and juicy and absolutely stuffed to the crust. The Kidney was big, bold and awe inspiring. And the Caramelized Root Vegetables tasted like they had been taken from the garden across the road that morning. Awesome stuff!

I decided to be fair and try the offerings presented by the other diners. My wife's Crisp Confit of Kelmscott Pork Belly with Fennel, Mushrooms and Confit Potatoes put up a good fight for best of class. Beating out the Pork Belly at the George and Dragon. Not an easy task. But the flavors were just that much better. The crispness of the fat, that much crispier. The Potatoes and Veg were just that much more fresh and flavorful. Yup, I'm afraid the G and D has slipped a notch. And finally, my best friend's Roast Rump of Cotswolds Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes, Root Vegetables and Homemade Horseradish. An authoritative example of this classic Sunday Lunch dish. Wonderful.

I stand here, totally humbled and awe struck. The Snow's have impressed this foodie and left an indelible impression on me. The Swan at Southrop has no Michelin Stars and the food doesn't carry a lavish price tag. It simply does great, local, classic food, for people who love to eat. I give them my highest marks.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography