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Monday, 18 May 2015

Duck & Rice Advice

Sometimes it can feel as though a new place to eat opens every day in this town and it's not as if these new additions are the flat-packed cloned siblings of Pizza Express, Bella Italia, T.G.I. Fridays and MacDonalds; we are getting some seriously clever and innovative heavyweights pitching in all the most discerning of urban hotspots. We have street traders finding fixed premises' and Michelin starred chefs diving balls deep into culinary creations for the masses. I can barely keep up with it all, but I also know that I'd rather run a marathon uphill with no bra than give up trying!

Recently then, when one of my favourite people interrupted a somewhat busy Saturday morning of loafing around my shoebox of a flat (or should I say, festering in my colossal bed?!), with the curtains drawn and my hair stuck to my face (mildly hungover, you see!), I felt somewhat confused, entirely unpresentable and definitely unable to master the art of socialising! Unfortunately for me though, this very same friend knows all my weak spots, so when she brought up the idea of grabbing a lunch that would almost certainly make us feel superior to She-Ra (the Princess of Power....feminist He-Man...'80's classic...if you have to ask, you're far too young!), then told me I could choose, it was enough to have me surreptitiously climb out of bed, into the shower and onto the tube. I had almost forgotten though, what it felt like to be greeted by Leicester Square at lunchtime on a weekend. Hoards of hapless backpack-clad tourists, all elbow to elbow and shuffling their merry way between low-cost theatre ticket booths, Burger King and the dodgy chippy that someone must've told them would be accurate representation of a British fish 'n' chip. For the record, greasy fries from a polystyrene basket in theatreland does not a good chippy make - you must go to the suburbs where real people actually live; you must sit on a park bench, by the sea, on a street corner or on your sofa, with a wooden spork as the vinegar soaks through the paper and everything turns soggy (even amongst good chippies, there is a hierarchy!). Anyway, I digress...

Scrumming my way off Leicester Square, through Chinatown (carefully avoiding my favourite char siu bao pitstop), and into Soho, I realise I've walked straight into an entirely different calamity. It's 18 April and a sea of moustache-twiddling craft ale supping hipsters have descended upon Berwick Street and are seeping through the arteries of Soho for Record Store Day 2015. It may well have been the worst day to visit the newly opened Duck & Rice then, but I was committed now and I'm no quitter!

Char Shui Bun (£4.50)
Brought to us by the stick of dynamite underneath modern Japanese monster-chain, Wagamama and Thai demi-giant, Busaba Eathai, Alan Yau is a London-based restaurateur extraordinaire from Hong Kong who didn't stop there - he also built a Michelin starred empire with dim sum house Yauatcha and upscale Cantonese Hakkasan, setting up in some of the most prestigious locations and 5* luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for us then, that this Pan-Asian virtuoso has struck out again on Broadwick Street, just next door to his Michelin accredited Yauatcha!

In my head, Duck & Rice combines all the best elements of a traditional pub and Chinese parlour, and the result is quite triumphant - from the giant copper beer tanks and cosy fireplaces to the asymmetric patterns and sharp clean lines, everything appears to be in its place and very well considered. The bar pays ample homage to the hop with Czech Pilsner Urquell (stored in those shiny tanks as you enter past the affable doorman), London-based London Pride, Cornish Tribute, Scottish Schiehallion, Kentish Bath Ales, and Irish Guiness; not forgetting our friends across the pond either, who are increasingly jumping onto the craft brew wagon, with Samual Adams from Boston and Magic Rock's High Wire from the West Coast. The snack menu looks good too, so we were off to a striding start, I'd say.

Har Gau (£6.90)
Upstairs is a formal restaurant, with a menu of epic proportions, while downstairs is more of a snack menu, but amply staged to satisfy my [still] fragile appetite. Now, I don't know about you, but a menu gets my taste buds going like no other and not only do I start imagining what it looks like, but I can almost smell it and I definitely have a gluttonous imagination powerful enough to taste it. So, when I get to the bar to order, I could handle one item being sold out (fine, it's new, the place is popular and I like to think I'm a reasonable human being), but when two items are sold out, I start to visibly twitch and by the third sold out foodstuff, I'm holding my head in my hands in despair as the waitress adopts that awkward grimace of shame at having to deliver the bad news yet again to a hungry, hungover and [by now] clearly tense me. The aforementioned teeming Record Store Day almost certainly didn't help with menu availability and perhaps there were still some teething problems in the [almost] new kitchen, but Christ on a dry cracker, why me, why today, and why now?!

When our food did arrive, service was super friendly, the mini plates were delicious, and might I say, it was all a rather splendid break from the universally accepted British beer soaker - Boiled Salted Peanuts (£4.00) are served alongside Prawn Crackers (£2.00), tomato soup has been replaced by Crabmeat & Sweetcorn [soup] (£9.00) and Spicy Kimchi & Tofu [soup] (£7.80), and Venison Puff's (£4.80) are accompanied by Har Gau (£6.90), Char Shui Buns (£4.50) and Chicken Feet (£3.50). The prices are little disparate though, and I find it difficult to understand the upstairs/downstairs syndrome here. Downstairs is the pub side of the operation, oozing mini snacks that were, for the most part, all rather reasonably and proportionately priced (that said, I'm still not sure how nuts can cost £4.00 or spring rolls a whopping £7.80...huh?!). Upstairs though, a Five Spiced Fried Chicken is £30.00, Cantonese Roast Duck is £38.00 (even for the whole bird, that's pricey), and Lobster Cantonese is a gargantuan £48.00. I understand that these are all very nice ingredients and almost surely, cooked very well, but really, isn't this supposed to be a pub?! At these prices, I may as well have a blow out at China Tang in 5* luxury hotel, The Dorchester.

Beer Battered Scampi with chilli wasabi mayo (£11.50)
Prawn Crackers (£2.00)
Square Meal Duck and Rice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Playing Safe at Holborn Dining Room!

Sometimes I wonder how much my gluttonous cravings will get me into trouble, as the waistband increases, weekday bedtimes are pushed past a reasonable hour too often, and the bank balance teeters rather precariously between zero and minus sums. I am not at all helped either, by my natural propensity to say "yes" to almost anything socially adventurous, except of course, all things I unequivocally know would evoke anger, irrational fear and/or imminent displeasure (bungee jumping, eating insects, or visiting Benidorm, for example). I remember a time when all my spare pennies sank into a feckless pit of handbags, shoes, snakebite and dancing, then as I primitively evolved, I consolidated this into a colourful medley of cheap boxed wine and gin (not together, you understand!), flip flops in every colour, and a blatant travel addiction...these days, as the growing [old] continues, the burning desire to explore worlds unknown remains (albeit now with a little more philosophical retrospection and considered forethought), but the goon has been replaced by Chablis and 7p noodles have been gracefully usurped by culinary feasting! 

I've realised over the years that one doesn't always have to be lost to explore, and the best adventures can indeed, sometimes be found on your doorstep! London is a city with a brash shell and a wondrous soul, radiant and addictive. Not only can I do almost anything I whimsically imagine at any time of the day, but I can dance my way around the world and eat fare from every culture imaginable (except authentic Chiacgo pizza pie - never been able to get my hands on that artery-blocking masterpiece here - humph!). There are posh restaurants, popular chain outlets, simple cafes, inventive pop-ups, fast food joints, Asian canteens, theatrical diners and interactive bars, all served up from decadent dining rooms, cavernous brasseries, minuscule beach shacks, portable trucks, grimy basements, banquet tunnels and open markets. I can eat Indian, Nepalese, Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Austrian, Spanish, Scandinavian, American, Brazilian, Argentine, Peruvian and Mexican with ease, and don't even get me started on all the various fusion concepts opening up all over town...the list goes on and on..and on! With all that on offer then, what do I choose next?! Bloody British! How terribly ironic! 

What can I say?! I saw the Shrimp Burger (£14.50) on the brunch menu recently and I'd not stopped wondering about it since...surely everyone loves a burger fix every now and then, don't they?! Roll up, roll up Holborn Dining Room at the [still] relatively new Rosewood Hotel.

It's not too often that I indulge in fine dining at 5* hotels on my own dime, so it should be a testament to how thoroughly lovely the entire setting is for this property, centred around a grand Edwardian courtyard. Once inside, all the public spaces are 
beautifully balanced between slick masculine themes and gentle traditional tones - think black marble with birdcages and worn leather! Since you enter the large open plan brasserie style dining room from the street though, you will miss out on the hotel side of things, so I won't linger on it either.

The dining room itself if buzzy and reminiscent of Brasserie Zedal at first glance, but infact could be any universally accepted suit-clad brasserie. We were seated promptly, greeted with enthusiasm and very well looked after throughout our meal, despite the place getting filling up very quickly - just in time then, to grab an overpriced gin at Scarfs Bar next door (it may have been worth it too, if the jazz had started on time, but hey what's a band to do when something goes wrong with the new pinspot lighting?!). 

Owing to the casual ambience oozing from this capacious dining room, it's easy to forget that you're in a 5* restaurant - the prices aren't jaw-dropping either (though it could be tremendously easy to spend a disgusting amount lot of money if you weren't careful). Starters range from £8.50 - £15.50 and you can get a posh chicken pie for £16.50 (Chicken Girolle Pie with Wychwood cider and tarragon). A 15oz Diver Sole will set you back £39.00 and 45-day Aged Cornish Rare Breed Sirloin  £29.75; you can pick up Guinea Fowl with morels, wild garlic and braised leg croquette for £23.50, and thanks to our wonderful waiter, we were lucky enough to indulge in the aforementioned Shrimp Burger, which ordinarily only features on the brunch menu - it was delicious, even if a little safe. If you eat here, be sure not to miss the side dishes, by the way! The Mac & Cheese (£5.50) and Truffle & Parmesan Fries (£5.50) were both sublime and I was pleased to see a very reasonably priced dessert menu, all very humble by design - I had the Steamed Marmalade Sponge with Drambuie Sauce (£6.50) and it was scrummy, even if again a little safe.

I have no doubt that Holborn Dining Room will continue to be a popular hotspot for the varied masses - it's great for business meals, friendly catching up, and family dining alike, even if it is [again] all very safe - not necessarily something that will leave you dribbling for more, but the food, d├ęcor and ambience are all good, familiar (almost homely), and altogether rather tasty. 

Do I like it? Yes, but not because it left me excited, inspired or invigorated.. 

Would I go back? Yes, but not because any one element was enough to make my head spin. 

Will I recommend it to others? Of course, but only when you need to play safe with a suit!

Square Meal Holborn Dining Room on Urbanspoon