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Friday, 29 August 2014

Peruvian vs. Japanese fusion works...Chotto Matte, I bow to you!

I've acclimatised to and even rather enjoyed a variety of odd food combos over the years and you'll be pleased to hear that some of them are not just a muddled composite of cheese and hope. Fusion or eclectic food has been on the rise in London and we are seeing more and more unlikely culinary blends, so when Kurt Zdesar lifted the lid on Japanese vs. Peruvian dining, who knew it would be such a golden ticket?! Welcome to Chotto Matte in Soho...

Unveiled in September 2013, I first walked through the sleek glass doors on Frith Street in February 2014, my most recent visit was lastnight, and I still recommended it to all and sundry without a filter! At first glance it’s almost a little too Shoreditch grit and glamour for Soho's more recently gentrified grime, but you quickly realise that beyond the [exceptional] graffiti, clean wooden lines and a shiny black interior, the décor seems to reflect a fusion of culture as much as the food does. It's dark, edgy and inviting in the winter, but there is also a retractable glass wall at street level, open in the milder months, allowing for pavement dining and colourful people-watching. Live music emanates sometimes too and you'll never find me arguing with a harmonica!

Corbina aji Amarillo: seabass, yellow chilli, warm citrus salad - £13.25
I'm ecstatic to report that not only has Executive chef Jordan Sclare created an exceptional small-plate mezze style menu at refreshingly affordable prices, he brings us three luscious 9-course tasting menus at £40, £50 or £60 per person (still one of my most favourite ways to sample the best of a menu!). The Ebi Tempura prawn sushi rolls are divine and the Corbina aji Amarillo is a sea bass dish, supremely cooked in yellow chilli and a warm citrus salad; the sashimi and ceviche are fresh and thoughtfully presented, the traditional pork and prawn gyoza have cassava mixed in with the filling, with a vibrant citrus purée for dunking, and the Pollo Picante is fresh and hearty all at the same time! There are some exceptions of course (beef fillet, pork belly, black cod and the suchlike), but for the most part, every plate is priced between £6.50 - £10.50 and you'll more than likely agree that four between two people will perfectly suffice.

The waiting staff are as diverse as the food, each with their own welcoming personality and all so far, super friendly. The front of house folk somewhat ooze glamour and are notably accommodating - I would recommend making a reservation for the most part, but if you walk in before 19:00, you should get a table most nights (thereafter though, this place is very popular and busy). I believe the sushi bar upstairs is held specifically for walk-ins, so it's always worth a try (I've booked only once in my multiple visits).

If you think you don't like sushi, get over it and book yourself a table here - Japanese food is not all about raw fish and Peruvian food is absolutely not all about ceviche. It's hot in here (literally and figuratively!), and I love, love, love it! I promise you will not be disappointed.


Nikkei Gyoza: pork, prawn and cassava dumplings, served on aji amarillo, butternut purée - £6.50


Sushi Bar 

Chotto Matte on Urbanspoon Squaremeal Blogger of the Week - Restaurant Guide Square Meal

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Markets & Feasts

All my ultimately favourite things appear to be squeezed into a grotty old 1950's market area in Lewisham (who'd have thought it?!), and I couldn't be happier at a discovery that I wish was my own! Model Market is brought to us by Street Feast, who have sporadically set up various (and fabulous) micro diners in quirky locations around town, but whose home has predominantly been based at Dalston Yard, before their SE13 awakening.

Come rain or shine every Friday and Saturday nights between 17:00 - 01:00, you can expect a delectable array of street food traders who have each set up camp in their own crumbling corner of the had-been market - each hole in the wall every bit a miniature vibrant dining room as much as it is a busy and curious culinary pitstop! Entry is free before 19:00 and you will probably see a few hip families getting involved early on, but as the night creeps on and the sun sets, the crowds grow, the fire pits are lit (yes, you will smell like a woodburner tomorrow and yes, every inch of smelly clothing is worth it!), and the funky beats from Winyl permeate around the market as the transient revellers all digest their feast, oaked Chardonnay in hand! Incidentally, Winyl's retro wine bar is a pretty ideal place to catch up with your mates if you're lucky enough to find a seat.

I usually expect to pay around £6 per hearty meal at the average food truck, so I was fearful that not only would I end up skint, but that I'd need to be rolled out on a bariatric stretcher if I wanted to try more than one foodstuff! Much to my endless delight though, each micro diner served small tapas-style portions for around £3 - £4.50, which then gave me ample license to gorge (eat your heart out Augustus Gloop!). I stopped at five vendors (actually, four if you minus my second portion of hirata bun from Yum Bun!), though not through choice. They don't call it a feast for nothing eh!

After sourcing a cold beer at the bar and getting our bearings, we headed for a starter of BBQ chicken tikka naan sliders at Rola Wala (£3.50 for one or £9 for a trio), which proved to be a mouthwatering start to our blowout feed. Tempura prawn and pork belly hirata buns came up next at Yum Bun for a similar price, then I almost died over a mac 'n' cheese toastie from Grill My Cheese at only £4 for a mini portion (you can go large if you so choose, but my desire to eat everything in the market forbid me from binging on so much cheese on this occasion!). To add to the carb fest, I supplemented all of the above with one of my favourite sides of fried plantain from Mama's Jerk, before collapsing in a gluttonous stupor amidst a log burning smokey haze! No longer could I squeeze in the beer, so I swapped for a refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Winyl and learned a little about the humble grape from the in-the-know-and-willing-to-share bartender. Let's not get started on the Rum Shack...

Will I be going back? YES (before it ends on 27 September). Can't wait. I'll be taking everyone I know...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The very honest burger...

I have a friend with whom I only ever seem to eat burgers recently (not intentionally of course, but the default has unwittingly been set, not too dissimilar to the way wine manages to find its way into my fridge I suppose!). Our latest meaty indulgence then, came by way of Honest Burgers, tucked away down the slightly quieter Meard Street in the heart of Soho.

I was expecting unsavoury queues as per every other time I dared to amble past this humble burger house, but as luck would have it, at 18:15 on a distinctly average Tuesday evening after work, we were able to walk straight in and be given the choice of two tables (oh, how we were being spoiled!). Tables chosen then, against the wall (best people watching position), I squeezed my rear end into the square foot allocated to me and awkwardly apologised to the chap at the next table, who was engrossed in far more interesting things at the time of said ass intrusion - they do pack you in, but I expect no less from hotspots like this and if I'm honest, I rather enjoy the hustle and bustle of close proximity dining experiences, especially if your fellow diners are all game and social!

Turning to the grub, I have no complaints really! The menu is simple, the burgers are pink and juicy (not the most flavoursome I've ever eaten, but very enjoyable nevertheless), and the chips are fried in rosemary oil and very fragrant (possibly a little too crispy for me, but I've already let it go because I'm a weird breed of philistine who loves a soggy, salt covered and vinegar drenched chip!). Everything you get is served in one bowl, with one knife and no fuss. Happy days! The Chipotle Mayo was one of the best I've tasted in a while, so my love of the condiment still stands strong, and we had easy access to the remaining essentials: ketchup, mayo, paper napkins and the suchlike! The gin cocktails were pretty great too, with a good selection and creative blends. Frankly, what more could you ask for from burger, chips and gin!?

Please do not fall into the trap of expecting more than what it says on the tin though eh! You will not have a romantic date here, nor will you linger for 4 hours over multiple courses and an amuse bouche, but you will have a great friendly catch up (you may even make a new friend if you're brave enough to indulge in the lack of space!), and you will get honest food, served in a timely fashion, enough to fill you up for minimal spend (I spent £30 for the pair of us and we left satisfied!). All in all, I rather liked it, or is that the gin talking?! *hiccup*

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Tasting Menu

Having mentioned how much of a fan I am of a tasting menu at posh and pricey restaurants in my last blog, I really wanted to share my latest experience at Colettes, which is the fine dining spot at the The Grove in Hertfordshire. Located only a hop, skip and a jump from Watford Junction, you can get up here on the London Overground, into Zone 8 (I thought the world ended at Zone 6, but I stand corrected!), or the London Midland fast train (weekdays only) from London Euston, with a journey time of 47 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Easy peasey...

Set amidst 300 acres of countryside, it's always so delightful to be reminded of a world outside the urban jungle (if you brought in the sound of waves sloshing against pebbles and a dinghy or two bobbing around, I'd positively feel like I was back home!). The Mansion far surpasses the newer West Wing, so you'll be pleased to hear that Colettes is attached to this, the nicest part of an otherwise very large hotel. Among the beautiful grounds, the Walled Garden is without a doubt, my favourite enclave of the estate and is coincidentally where the ultra clever Head Chef, Russell Bateman, has set up a working kitchen garden, growing fresh produce for his innovative and cosmopolitan menu.

There are two tasting menus on offer at Colettes, set at £75pp for 6-courses or £85pp for 8-courses (£125pp and £152pp respectively with wine pairing). I had a slightly different version as part of a larger group, but was lucky enough to sample the Chicken from the 6-course menu - A.M.A.Z.I.N.G is all that needs to be said, except that our humble feathered friend needs to be brought back to our plates with far more frequency, using the same care and was perfect to look at and a taste sensation to eat. I shouldn't stop at the main course though, because the various canapés were thoughtful, light and delicious too - I tasted a pea mousse that was bright in colour and like a dissolving cloud in my mouth! The nicest surprise of the night for me though, as a carnivorous meat lover, was the vegetarian starter: Carrot features in the 8-course menu and was both texturally perfect and full of flavour, creativity and precision. As an event manager by day, I incessantly struggle to cater well for vegetarians, so am irrationally enamoured by any chef who can bring my senses to life by a humble carrot (one of my least favourite vegetables by the way!).

Do not come here and expect a cost effective evening, but if you want a divine treat and culinary adventure on a luxury country estate and spa, this is a rather solid option.

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Tasting Menus
Entrance Lounge

Cosy Bar



Square Meal Colette's on Urbanspoon