Friday, December 19, 2014

Monty's Deli: Bliss Between Bread!

Monty's Deli Monty's Deli, London Salt Beef at Monty's Deli Reuben Sandwich Monty's Deli
There is only one thing that would make me walk around freezing Bermondsey Market in London... the thought of biting into juicy, tender meat stuck between two thin slices of bread. And what better place than Monty's Deli?

I first heard of Monty's Deli while watching Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food on BBC 2. When I watched the show with my wife she literally grabbed my arm, fingernails digging into my flesh, and said, "sweetie, you have to take me there!" Fast forward a year and I've finally fulfilled my promise to her. And it did not disappoint.

Having lived in Manhattan for a couple of years I have eaten my share of deli sandwiches. I was a regular at Katz's Deli and I have even learned the ancient art of dislocating my jaw in order to receive the delicious deli sandwich squarely and wholly into my mouth.

Monty's Deli doesn't mess around. Their meats are so good, so juicy, so tender and so flavorful that there is really no comparison to anything else I've had in London. Each giant mouthful takes me back to the Lower East Side and suddenly I can hear New Yorkers yelling their orders across the restaurant and the smell of meat cooking so slowly, it almost goes back in time.

My Reuben with Salt Beef, Toasted Rye, Melted Cheese, Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut, served with Coleslaw and a crunchy Pickle was as nice as any sandwich I have ever tasted. At a crisp £7.50 it wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had either.

Well done chaps!

To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Monty's Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2014

Duke of Cumberland Arms, West Sussex: Picture Perfect!

The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Henley, West Sussex The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Menu Inside The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Mussels Mussel Fish and Chips Burger Lovely Scenery Beautiful Views Outside Fireplace Panoramic Views
We are so fortunate to have a plethora of excellent pubs in the South of England. It seems like every time I read an article on the food scene in the country, there's another pub that is touted, "must-try", "the best in the country", "as idyllic as it gets". This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Why? Well, have you ever visited a shop early in the morning and there are a million parking spaces? Normally there aren't any and you dive into the first space you find. But when the parking lot is empty you take ages and finally pick the one that looks like it's been preordained by God as the space for you that morning. Usually it's no closer, or better than the space you normally get and it took you half an hour to decide. It's the same thing with the pub scene here in the UK.

If it were up to me I would visit the same few pubs week in and week out. I live in one of the best pub areas in the world and for me, The Bottle House, The Griffin Inn, The Coach and Horses and The Cat Inn are as good as it gets when it comes to English pubs. But, my wife and I like to get out of the area every once in a while and travel to pubs that are further afield.

The Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley, West Sussex is one of those pubs.

Now, I have been accused of being far too hard on restaurants in the past and I'm actually going to be a bit harsh about the food in a minute. So let me start with something positive. The drive to the Duke of Cumberland Arms and the scenery that surrounds it are among the best I have ever seen. It's like a mini-Lake District, right in the heart of West Sussex. Just minutes from the South Downs Way, this is truly a stunning place to visit. I felt like I was in The Hobbit, it's so pretty.

On to the negative. Ouch, this hurts me. I'm sorry to say, that I was disappointed with the food. Granted, I only had three items on the menu, but only one of the three was good. Actually, it was brilliant. The Mussels, served with Crusty Bread was the best example of this dish I think I've ever tasted. But the Fish and Chips and my wife's Burger were very poor quality, indeed. My wife's Burger was bursting with meat, but not in a nice way. It was seasoned too much and it was more than well done, it was cremated. It was supposed to be medium. The meat sat between two dense pieces of... what seemed like pine or maybe cedar wood. I'm joking of course, but it was a dense, horrible bun. As you can see from the photos above, the Burger just doesn't look right.

My Fish and Chips was slightly better. I enjoyed the Pea Puree. The Fish itself was glorious. However, the batter was dripping with grease that inevitably fell onto my Chunky Chips and made them soggy. It was one of the only times I haven't finished my Chips. They were soft and nearly flavorless. The Tartare Sauce was lovely though and I kept dipping my Chips into it in order to impart some flavor into them, but it just didn't work.

In the end, my wife left all of her bun and 1/4 of her meat from her Burger. I left quite a bit of my Fish, nearly all the Batter and a handful of Chips. £13.95 for her Burger and £14.95 for my Fish and Chips, plus £4.50 for Sparkling Water and I didn't feel like it was the best value meal I've ever had. £7.95 for a half portion of Mussels did help to ease the pain though as they are worth much more.

Having said all that, I will definitely be going back. I can be honest and I know that Fish and Chips and Burgers are not the best way to tell if a pub is good or not. It should be two of the simplest dishes to make, but so often chefs get these two easy dishes wrong. If you want to see how delicious these dishes can be, check out The Crown at Bray. Then you'll understand why I love them so.

Having won The Good Food Guide's Pub of the Year in 2012 I'm sure there are better items to be had on their menu. And I'll be trying them in the summer when I'm sure those views are nothing short of marvelous.

To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Duke of Cumberland Arms on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucky Chip, London: Lost in a Crowded Market?

Cheeseburger and Fries, Lucky Chip
Firstly, I must apologize for the poor iPhone photos and the general lack of photos altogether. I recently found myself in meetings around London and without a proper camera. Something that doesn't happen to me often. Normally I would have just left this review for another time when I did have a camera that was larger than a business card, but Lucky Chip is a restaurant I've wanted to review for some time now.

London is getting extremely crowded with Burger Joints. They are popping up at a phenomenal rate. The U.S. chains such as Five Guys and Shake Shack have caused quite a stir and more and more people are jumping on to this cash cow, if you'll pardon the pun. In fact, Burger Joints in London are so popular now that I read somewhere Byron turns over something silly like £10m a year. That's nothing compared to the large U.S. chains, but Byron is not that old and is managing to make that kind of money in this, quickly becoming, an overcrowded market.

Lucky Chip is one of the new kids on the block, (new to me anyway). Started in a trailer in Netil Market, it now also occupies the trendy Sebright Arms pub. However, walking into the Sebright I thought I was in CBGBs in New York instead of a burger joint in Hackney. Upstairs there were bands rehearsing and the bass was echoing through the floorboards and making my Fries dance.

I opted for the Plain Cheeseburger, although it would have been prudent to try one of their Burgers with a clever name, such as: the Royale wit Cheese, or the Kevin Bacon. But, I have learned over the years that it's always best to try a Burger joint's simplest Burger. If it's good, you've got a winner on your hands. Anyone can throw a Chipotle Sauce on a Burger and top it with a Brioche Bun and it will be tasty. The real trick is to master a Plain, or Cheeseburger.

And Lucky Chip has done a good job of it. Their Cheeseburger was big and had minimal toppings; French's Mustard, Ketchup, Lettuce, Tomato and American Cheese. All lovingly placed between a thick Brioche Bun. The Burger was very tasty, but not amazing. The Fries, however, were excellent.

Whenever I eat in a new Burger Joint I always judge it by, would I go back? And the answer is, no. It's a nice Burger, with simple ingredients, but it's too far out for me to travel for it and it just wasn't good enough. Add to that I was sitting on couches that were too low for the table and far to tatty and it made for a slightly less than ideal experience. Patty and Bun and Hawksmoor still reign supreme in the fight for best Burger in London.

To view my professional food photography (which is far better than what you see above) please check out Taylor Young Photography.

Lucky Chip on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Five Alls Pub, Filkins: Cotswolds Where Else?

The Five All Pub, Filkins The Five Alls Pub Fish and Chips Roast Lunch at The Five Alls Frames in The Five Alls Pub Five Alls Pub Menu Bread and Oil The Five Alls Wine Potted Shrimp Onion Tart Lamb Steak Pudding Five Alls Burger
Before I begin this post, let me first start off by saying that I think Sebastian and Lana Snow are absolute super stars. I was one of their biggest fans when they had The Swan at Southrop. My wife and I visited them many times and brought nearly all of our family and friends there. It was our little Cotswold secret and we felt very special knowing about it. It was, quite simply, a perfect pub in every way.

A couple of years ago I received an email from Sebastian and Lana (a mass email. I am not personal friends with them) telling me that they sold The Swan and were moving on to The Five Alls in Filkins. My wife and I were one of the first people through the doors and it was clear from the start that this was not the same pub. It had a much more commercial, clean, new and fresh feel to it. Which, I am not really a fan of. I loved the old world, small, slightly dated feel of The Swan. But I reserved judgement until the food arrived. After all, the food is really why I dine out.

I was initially quite happy with everything, although my burger was a very sad piece of cooking, indeed. A bun that was far larger than the patty and made of, God forbid, a white, seeded bun, instead of brioche as all proper burgers are made from, made it feel far too stodgy.

After lunch I left feeling slightly unmoved. Although my food was ok, it was just that, simply ok. A far cry from the stellar meals I had had on so many occasions when this revered couple ran The Swan. I decided to leave this post for a year or two and go back and see how things had changed. The first time I had ever done that in five years. But I felt I owed it to the Snows.

This past weekend my wife and I were back in the Cotswolds, zooming around their narrow, idyllic streets, thatched roofs resting atop nearly every cottage, as far as the eye could see.

We sat outside this time and felt even further removed from The Swan. At The Swan you would constantly see smartly attired Cotswoldians dressed in their Sunday best. Now all I could see were seas of families enjoying their Sunday lunches. The sounds of glasses chinking and people chatting about important things at The Swan were now replaced with laughing and giggling from children and post-Saturday night 20 somethings, trying to cure a dodgy head with a fresh induction of Vodka via a Bloody Mary.

But what about the food? Well, I'm afraid it wasn't at all what I was expecting. My wife's Roast was lacking flavor and there was no reduction to the gravy at all, so it was watery and quite bland. The Jerusalem Artichokes (not sure what they were doing on the plate) were terribly fibrous and gritty. We mentioned it to our server and she said she would tell the chef. The worst for me had to be the doubly stodgy Yorkshire Puddings. They were lovely and puffy all around and terribly stodgy inside. A batch that had gone askew. That should be covered in cooking 101 and not happen in a place like this. My wife tried to tell me that some people liked them that way, and I'm sure that was true when most men went down into the mines each day, their wives giving them stodgy Yorkshire Puds and Beef Dripping, but I don't believe that's true anymore. My Fish and Chips were a nice plate of food, but the Fish was dripping with oil and I didn't like their choice of using 2 pieces of Fish instead of 1 large one as they used to serve.

However, despite my seemingly unimpressed writeup above, I will not totally condemn it. It was decent cooking for the amount of covers they had on this lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon. The pub is situated in a beautiful little village and would be ideal for a quick lunch if you're in the area. I just don't think it's anywhere close to what they had at The Swan at Southrop. That was pure magic... and I really miss it! Unfortunately, without the Snows there, I don't think it would be what it was either.

At some point I'll go back and see.

To view my professional food photography please visit: Taylor Young Photography

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My 100th Blog Post! What a Journey.

With this post I mark a milestone in my restaurant review career. This is my 100th post! Nearly all of those 100 are restaurant reviews. That is a lot of eating out. When I started I didn't think I'd have the patience to create 10 blog posts, let alone 100. But I've persisted and I've loved every minute.

As I approached this achievement I began to think about how to commemorate it. Surely I should go to one of the best restaurants in the world? No, maybe I should do a piece on the top budget eat, or trendiest food market? Wouldn't going to one of my first reviewed restaurants and doing an updated blog be the way to go?

In the end, I decided not to go to any restaurants. But instead, to stay home and write what I've learned over the last five years and 100 posts.

First of all, restaurants are echoing the divide between rich and poor. The top Michelin starred restaurants, run by A-List celebrity chefs rake in millions every year. Their booking lines ring off the hook, often to deaf ears. Getting a table at some of these restaurants is tantamount to winning the lottery. Recall my incredibly strategic, almost military plan to secure a reservation at The French Laundry?

It isn't just the 3 Michelin Star restaurants that are hard to get into anymore, it is nearly every single trendy restaurant owned by anyone who can afford to hire top notch PR firms.

It is because of this fact that my tastes have changed. I am tired of patiently waiting on the phone while some snooty teenager tells me that there aren't any reservations for that date and perhaps I should call back on the day, the phone lines open at 9am and maybe, just maybe they will have had a cancellation.

I've almost completely lost interest in molecular gastronomy in the last five years. Although it is still going strong and Heston is still doing nearly the exact same tasting menu as he was when I proposed to my wife at The Fat Duck in 2007, it is not something I have much interest in anymore. Instead, I prefer food done in a simpler approach.

Take Tom Kerridge's The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow. He's earned 2 Michelin Stars by making simple food taste the way food should taste. He coaxes out the best of every single ingredient until there is nothing more that ingredient can give.

When deciding where to go for my wife's birthday this year, my thoughts turned more towards lobster rolls out of a van in Borough Market than La Gavroch, a restaurant I hold in high esteem. Right now I feel that the restaurant business has simply become too expensive and too stuck up for me to care much anymore. And let's be honest, a plate of perfectly cooked Thai food from a van tastes nearly as good as a 25 course tasting menu at Le Big Snoot Trois Attitude. Sure, we don't go to 3 Michelin Star restaurants for the taste alone. We go to be wowed and awed. To have flames coming out of chocolate dragons and eat foam that looks like the sand on a beach and tastes like soy lecithin. I think it is soy lecithin actually.

Of course, knowing me, this could all change tomorrow. But for now, I am very happy to search out and eat in restaurants that do one thing; prepare and serve excellent food in a relaxed atmosphere.

The below are a selection of some of my top meals, not restaurants, just meals. As I have learned in the last five years, favorite meals and favorite restaurants can often be completely different.

Thank you to all that have read and hopefully enjoyed my little blog. I look forward to the next 100 posts!

Beautiful Foie Gras Ari Gold Burger-Patty and Bun Truffle Foie Gras
Lamb Chunky Beef Hummus Dinner Heston Blumenthal Steak Chips Confit Duck Panang at Oli's Pulled Lamb Sandwich River Cottage Canteen

Monday, July 14, 2014

The George Inn, Alfriston: A Perfect South Downs Way Stop!

The George Inn, Alfriston Inside The George Inn Chips at The George Inn Lamb Duo Trout Close up of Trout Beautiful Trout
There are some villages in England that truly take one's breath away. And there are some pubs that transcend time and are so old that you can't help but sit in awe and wonder what it looked like back then. Alfriston is such a village and The George Inn is that pub. Opened in 1397 The George Inn was one of the first pubs in England to be granted a license to serve alcohol. It's foundation can be traced back to 1250 when tunnels beneath were used by smugglers. In fact, Alfriston itself was home to a gang of smugglers and it's ground is riddled with tunnels built to escape any unwanted callers.

With such a rich history Alfriston has become one of my favorite English villages and I can now call The George Inn one of my favorite English pubs. The food is simple and traditional. There is no chefy-cooking here, only honest, true cooking using the best local ingredients available.

My Duo of Lamb: a Pan Roasted Loin with a Braised Shank Parcel and served with Cabbage, Chestnuts and Red Wine Jus was a very tasty dish indeed. Brimming with flavor and perfectly cooked. My dining partner for the day; Simple Foodie had the Fillet of Trout on Red Lentils, Vegetables and Chorizo, with Braised Fennel and Saffron Sauce. A lovely, sophisticated dish that would please any Fish lover.

If I'm speaking plainly, The George Inn isn't a foodie pub in the way that The Griffin Inn or The Ginger Fox are. People flock from all over the region to dine at these highly revered pubs and for good reason. However, while I dined at The George Inn I couldn't help feeling that I was part of a unique club. A small band of wannabe smugglers that have visited this tiny, but exceptionally beautiful little village and an even smaller group of people that have dined at The George Inn.

If I have one complaint it is that the prices are a little steep for what you get. Looking at the menu for the first time I was reminded of the prices at The Hinds Head in Bray, which has a Michelin Star. However, I'm not sure you can really put a price on dining in such a place. And I have no regrets.

The George Inn is the quintessential English pub and I highly recommend a visit if you're anywhere near Alfriston. See the village, fall in love and have a great meal.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hummus Bros, SoHo: New Favorite Cheap Eat in London

Hummus Bros, SoHo London Chunky Beef Hummus Falafel and Chunky Beef Hummus Falafel Hummus Chunky Beef Hummus Vegetable Salad Hummus
I am constantly amazed by how many restaurants there are in London. Correction, I am constantly amazed at how many very good to superlative restaurants there are in London. They are popping up at a rate that no food blogger, unless connected to an oligarchy with unlimited funds, could possibly visit. So, one must pick and choose accordingly.

On this particularly sunny day in London I chose Hummus Bros.

The idea is simple; produce world class Hummus and top it with a mouthwatering array of fresh ingredients. Simple yes. But the best ideas usually are. Hummus Bros is an understated joint. It reminds me of a mini cafeteria. The lines are long, but go quickly. Hungry patrons whiz past the checkout, their palates ready to get stuck into Hummus that has been perfected over the years and is, in my opinion, perfect! It's hard to pinpoint exactly why their Hummus is so lovely. Perhaps it's the precise ratio of Chickpeas to Tahini. Perhaps it's the texture, smooth and creamy and not weighed down by the oil. And definitely not grainy as most Hummus is.

Like a 1982 Saab, their Hummus just works. Toppings like Falafal, or Fresh Salad just enhance the flavor of the Hummus, it doesn't take away from it. This is worlds apart from your ordinary shop-bought Hummus.

My favorite? Chunky Beef of course!

Their menu changes often and on this occasion it was a toss up between Lamb Rogan Josh and Chunky Beef, but I've eaten more Curry lately than I care to mention. So, the Beef won out. And it was gorgeous!

I left feeling a bit like a school girl who just got a kiss from One Direction... all of them! Right now I'm all about cheap eats done really well. And Hummus Bros delivers on that order in spades!

To see my professional food photography please visit my website: Taylor Young Photography

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