Archive | November, 2014

New York! These streets will make you feel brand new! Big lights will inspire you!

29 Nov

New York Soundtrack

Empire State of mind – Jay-Z and Alicia Keys:

The A train

So I arrived in New York one early afternoon mid-week and took the A train to Harlem. Apparently it’s the quickest way.

I’ve planned a whistlestop tour of some of New York’s finest restaurants, bars, markets and street food. I’ve arranged to stay in Harlem, using AirBnB. At £67 per night, this is reasonably good value in New York. I was a little nervous though as it felt a bit like going back to being a student and having a flat share.


I’ve picked a bad week. New York is freezing. Buffalo is under 5 feet of snow. Having hopped out of the subway at West 125th street and after several cold consultations of the map, I arrived at a slightly “bruk down” looking building. Surely that’s not it? It’s not quite the Harlem brownstone that I had envisioned.  I climb the 3 flights of stairs with a feeling of mild trepidation.

Thankfully, the flat is nicer than it first seemed. I met our host, settled in and began to get ready for dinner.

Just as I was bracing myself to catch a cab in the cold, I was arrested by a mellow scent familiar from life in Brixton. Hello? Of course I couldn’t resist asking my Guyanese host if that was what I thought it was. He confirmed that it was and showed me the number “420” on the blackboard in the lounge. I guess not all things about student life were bad.




I felt very lucky to book a table at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel at 60 East 65th street.



Unfortunately jet lag kicked in and I forgot my camera so ended up taking pictures with a phone.  I apologise for the fuzziness in advance.

Dress code blues

Something that I have found surprising about New York so far, is that the high end restaurants seem to all stipulate business casual wear. This is in contrast to London, where you can turn up in jeans and sneakers (as I have done on several occasions) if you so desire. This had my dinner companion scrabbling through his luggage to try to find suitable attire. He just about managed but I did wonder if we’d be turned away on arrival.  Far from it.

We received a very warm welcome although he was definitely the least well dressed of the men dining that night.

The Food

The food on offer included a price-fixe menu for $125 (one starter, main and dessert from a wide selection); a 7-course tasting menu or a la carte.  As the range of choices was excellent and having almost died having tasting menus in Australia, I went for the price-fixe.

I chose lobster to start, pork for the main. My dinner companion chose scallops and cod.

The lobster came in three ways: butter poached; rolled with Hawaiian hearts of palm, wrapped in blanched romaine lettuce; and in a small light curried lobster samosa.

The scallops were seed crusted with Aleppo seeds and came with a birch reduction and flavourful celery mousseline.

The pork included chops and belly with delicate shards of crackling. Treviso ragout cut through the fattiness of the belly and the harissa jus gave the chops a zingy edge. The pork chops were so surprisingly tender, they could probably be cut with a spoon.



The Atlantic Cod was slow baked, in order to cook without drying. It was coated in yoghurt and grilled. It was served with spinach and a lemon balm and liquorice “foamed” emulsion.




I’ve never understood why you are sometimes offered a choice of wines before you’ve even had a look at the food. I resisted, chose my starter and main and asked if the sommelier could come across and give us a hand in finding a wine to match. I like to do this as it helps to engage. A good sommelier will know the wine list inside out, sometimes producing a choice that you wouldn’t have made but that may well work better.

This was such a case. We ended up with half a bottle of an Austrian Gruner Veltliner.

Gruner Veltliner

This had a full and floral bouquet but wasn’t quite so perfumed on the palate. The rounded, full flavor worked well with the food that we’d chosen: it stood up well to the pork and the butter poached lobster but didn’t blow away the cod. The wine was described as being fun by the sommelier and that was an accurate description. Before the starter had gone, we were already contemplating the second and third halves of the bottle.

The extras

Before the meal began, we had a selection of canapes and an amuse bouche. The canapés included 3 broccoli inspired tastes: broccoli soup with crème fraiche; smoked trout with a broccoli slice and broccoli quiche. I love broccoli and this was certainly enjoyable.

I wish I could remember the amuse bouche but it was so greedily inhaled I’d forgotten what it was by the time I stared sadly at the empty plate

The accompanying bread rolls were so tasty and flavourful, they could almost be considered a course on their own. The cheese rolls were full of umami that they almost tasted Marmite-y. The layered brioche rolls were sinfully buttery, only the fear of not finishing the rest of the food stopped me from eating about four.


I strove for comforting simplicity, choosing a simple chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream. The second dessert was a work of art. It included a tempered chocolate tube with a layered “drawer” which could slide in and out. It was made of layers of cake, praline and mousse.

This dessert was technically excellent, cleverly conceived and just plain good fun.

Chocolate "drawer"

Chocolate “drawer”

Post dessert

After dessert, we were offered petit fours, despite not having coffee. I greedily galloped my way through these but my stomach drew the line at the Madeleines. Sensing my hesitation at jumping off the greedy cliff, the waiter proposed packing them up to go. I was delighted not to leave my little friends behind.



I wonder if everyone gets quite the same treatment at Daniel?

The food was delicious and varied with a lot of choice on offer.  The sommelier and waiter made the service feel not only exceptional but personal and special.  This makes it one of, if not the best restaurant experiences that I’ve ever had.

We’re off to an exceptional start in New York. Long may this continue!

Et tu, Brixton?

13 Nov

Brixton Village


I’ve been trying to avoid blogging about Brixton Village.  I have liked that spot in the old Granville arcade, ever since there was hardly much more than Federation Coffee and Etta’s…  Long before it became the next “new” thing in Brixton.

Anyway, I’ve been trying but now accept that I must fail.  I have to write about the nonsense of my recent Saturday experience there.

I haven’t been to Fish, Wings and Tings of late.

Not because the food is awful.  It isn’t, although it isn’t spectacular either.

Not because of the scintillating view of steaming Brixton market rubbish at the front either, although that is challenging.


Brixton Village Saturday rubbish, next to Fish, Wings and Tings

It’s just that I’ve got fed up of the never-changing menu, (chicken or goat?  goat or chicken?), which has less variety than the Caribbean takeaway on Coldharbour Lane. However, against my better judgment, I took a Trinidadian friend who was visiting from Scotland.

It all started off smoothly – the saltfish accra (or codfish fritters, as it has been boringly described) was very tasty – but then it all went badly wrong.  The waitress got our orders wrong.  Both.  In and of itself, this was not a disaster.  It happens in all restaurants at one time or another.  Unfortunately the wrong food was brought to us twice, as if we could not possibly know what we ordered.  We politely sent it back both times, saying that we hadn’t ordered it.  The waitress then came out and aggressively demanded to know what we’d ordered.

As my friend put it: “Yuh know Brixton reach, when you’re given grief for your Trini accent, in a Caribbean restaurant, by a French waitress!”  I won’t be going back anytime soon.


Fortunately, Brixton Village somehow still has the ability to charm you when you least expect it.  On Sunday we wandered down to The Agile Rabbit just as they were closing.  The chefs made us fresh thin and crispy pepperoni pizza while we waited and were then generous enough to share their staff food with us when we looked at it longingly.

The Agile Rabbit - Thin and Crispy Pizzas

The Agile Rabbit – Thin and Crispy Pizzas

I’ve worked in several large London restaurants and don’t remember having such simple staff food that was that nice – spinach and ricotta ravioli in butter, with an ephemeral tease of nutmeg.   Who says the best things in life aren’t free?

There are still some superb spots in and around Brixton Village – Federation Coffee continues to produce the best coffee south of the river, despite being overrun with yummy mummies – however, there are way too many glorified takeaways trying to charge restaurant prices for ordinary food and really poor, if not downright disrespectful service.  Brixton is one of the coolest spots south of the river.  We deserve better.


Environs – The Wine Parlour

One of the successes of Brixton Village has been the improvement of the gastronomic sites available nearby.  For example, the Spanish restaurant and deli, Brindisa, has opened its doors on Atlantic Road just near to Brixton Village.  For me, though, the highlight is the independent “Wine Parlour”, which is tucked away on the corner of Vining Street and the very busy Atlantic Road.  It’s a funky spot with good quality wines, displaying a range of styles at a range of prices.


Inside the Wine Parlour

They have a good quality “Enomatic” wine preservation system. It stores the wines for up to 8 days and allows you to pour as little as 25 ml at a time. Basically, this means that small independent wine bars, such as this, can offer a wide range of fresh wines by the glass, without needing to increase the price to cover increased waste.


Enomatic Wine Preservation Syste

Enomatic Wine Preservation Syste

One or both of the proprietors is always there and I’ve always found the service good and their suggestions helpful.  Chix in particular, runs the store with a fun, friendly but firm hand –that means she is able to talk me down from my near tantrum-throwing to get an outdoor patio spot with exceptionally good grace and charm.  Add to that, it is an interesting location on a busy road, where you can watch the road rage outside in cool comfort.  Additionally, if you’ve had enough, you can step out to their little patio and relax in the summer sun.

Outdoor patio at night

Outdoor patio at night

I’ve never been a fan of Champagne et Fromage in the Village – something seems quite wrong about its self-conscious pretense in the grittiness of the market.  The Wine Parlour manages to avoid this, largely because of the laid back, easy attitude of the owners and staff.  It is definitely worth a visit.