#streetfoodeurope

A couple of weekends ago I attended a Tweat Up event in Dalston Yard. Tweat Up has been going since 2010 and organises street food events across various trendy parts of London (e.g., Soho, Shoreditch, Hackney, Hoxton, Dalston).

Tweat Up Check in

I imagine the scale of their events was once a great deal more humble than the gargantuan affairs that they have now become. Nevertheless, the organisers have successfully managed to retain a sense of authenticity despite the scale of the occasions they host.

Tweat Up Landrover

The event I attended was #streetfoodeurope. This was a collaboration between Tweat Up and Street Feast London. The food on offer was fun and fairly eclectic (Nordic tacos, Bourguignon burgers, Victoria sponge cake etc.). I had a sort of Venison wrap thing which was pleasant enough but doesn’t really merit much further mention. I only went to one of many stalls so you ought not to draw any conclusions from the fact a Venison wrap didn’t blow me away…For example, Bao London had a stall serving their delicious Pork Belly buns.

My only real complaint is that they ran out of ingredients for Mojitos but, then again, I appreciate it must be hard to plan for events on this scale, especially when there are so many people involved.

While I was there I attempted to take a few photos. Most, oddly for a food blog, are of the place (Dalston Yard) and event rather than the food. Dalston Yard is covered by a ruined warehouse – no roof, just the exposed walls and steel support beams that used to hold it up…

Tweat Up Event

There were various corrugated steel shipping containers scattered around Dalston Yard. I don’t have the foggiest idea why they were there but they were kind of cool.

Street Feast Green Container

Street Feast Red Container

The decaying walls were covered with street art…

Dalston Yard Street Art

On the night I went there was no shortage of happy customers enjoying the event.

Tweat Up Event

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Last but certainly not least, food was served until late…

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Koya Bar

Earlier this week I took a trip to Koya Bar on Frith Street in Soho. Koya Bar has only just opened but the popular original Koya has been around for a while now.

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Koya Bar, as its name suggests, is one long bar…

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The decor is plain yet beautiful. White walls and blond wood permeate the room with occasional collections of Japanese crockery. The cliché normally used about Japanese design is ‘understated elegance’ but clichés usually exist for a reason.

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Koya Bar, Iike Koya, is essentially an udon noodle bar. Its menu has over two pages of hot and cold udon noodles and its website proclaims the Japanese proverb ‘noodle saves planet’. You can order Atsu-Atsu (hot udon with hot broth), Hiya-Atsu (cold udon with hot broth), and Hiya-Hiya (cold udon with sauce to dip or pour). Although Koya Bar has all the outward appearance of a thoroughly un-Anglicised Japanese eatery its menu has the occasional nod to the cuisine of its host country. If you’re in the mood you can choose an English Breakfast or Fish and Chips. Both are excellent.

On the day I visited I was feeling a little under the weather and so opted for the Kaiso Salad (mixed seaweed) followed by the Ten Curry Don (a bowl of prawn tempura, curry and rice).

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Both came quickly, were served with a smile, and were incomparably better than their equivalents at a well-known Japanese chain that has a name beginning with W.

If you’re in Soho, fancy udon noodles or donburi, and don’t want to spend a fortune this new opening  is a fine option for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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Koya Bar, 50 Frith Street, London W1D 4SQ.

£20 pp

Square Meal

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

Grillshack

Grillshack’s so-called “all day grill” has recently opened on Beak Street in Soho and I thought I’d give it a go…It didn’t disappoint.

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Grillshack is Richard Caring’s new baby. Caring, occasionally referred to as the ‘Lex Luther of Mayfair’ in the tabloid press, owns a phenomenal collection of great clubs and restaurants in London ranging from Annabel’s and Soho House to Le Caprice and The Ivy. Recently, with the possible exception of Balthazar in Covent Garden many of his new enterprises (e.g., Dirty Burger, Chicken Shop, Pizza East) have been a little less luxurious but certainly more convenient. Grillshack continues in this vein.

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Grillshack does not offer anything staggeringly unique. For breakfast you can pick up pancakes, French toast, eggs and bacon on toast, a bacon butty or what’s essentially an English breakfast. Its all-day menu consists of a choice between a burger, steak or chicken (and a Halloumi salad). However, these are things we all crave on a regular basis and they are all done well at Grillshack. The lack of (un-necessary) complexity also means service is miraculously almost instantaneous.

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Ordering at Grillshack is effortless. You can order and pay at the counter. If there’s a queue, you can order and pay using iPad terminals or there’s even an app that Grillshack’s built specifically for the purpose. Initially, I was a little sceptical about the whole multi-platform thing but actually it does make life easier. During the meal my friend and I were able to order sides without any hassle at all and the new technology is so self-explanatory that even a Luddite like me could handle it. When the mobile wallet finally becomes a reality the days of awkwardly trying to summon a waiter / waitress will be long gone…

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The new technology is great but it would be utterly pointless if the food wasn’t. Thankfully that’s not a problem. I had the rump steak while my friend had the burger.

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The flattened rump steak came with shoestring fries and was a good deal for less than a tenner. It reminded me of the steak I’d had at a restaurant that Caring had an interest in, Côte. I could say silly things about the steak at Hawksmoor but in reality if you want an easy convenient steak to pick you up at almost any time of day and you don’t want to pay a king’s ransom Grillshack is a damned good option. The steak is juicy and tasty and the shoestring fries are moorish.

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The burger (£4.95) my friend opted for was also a decent option. The patty was a little on the small side for my friend’s gluttonous tastes but that’s easily remedied because you can have an extra patty at minimal cost (£1.95). The burger at Grillshack is like the burger at Meat Liquor in that it’s a relatively thin patty and the buns quite doughy when compared with the bun at Honest Burgers.

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For desert I chose the ice cream cookie sandwich instead of the carrot and walnut layer cake which as its name suggests was a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between two double chocolate chip cookies. For me, ‘too sweet’ is an oxymoron. As a result, I happily munched through my cookie sandwich in short order. Those with more refined tastes, however, may balk at quite how sweet the ice cream cookie sandwich is…

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To be clear, Grillshack is not somewhere to go to if you want a new experience. It is incredibly convenient. The brand and concept are executed flawlessly. The waiters and waitresses were all attentive and charming and the food was enjoyable, if not spectacular. It is somewhere that I could return to again and again and I suspect that it is Caring’s intent that soon I and many others will not have to go as far as Soho to do so…

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Grillshack, 61-63 Beak Street, London W1F 9SL.

£15 pp

Square Meal

 

Grillshack on Urbanspoon

The Cronut is dead! Long live the Cronut!

The Cronut, as I’m sure you will be aware, is a “Half Croissant, Half Doughnut”.

In essence, it is a ring doughnut made out of croissant pastry and filled with cream.

Originally developed by Dominique Ansel for the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York, its rise has been stellar. It was launched on 10 May 2013 and it has produced a sort of Cronut hysteria ever since. Cronut fans have queued for hours around the block, paid a $100 a Cronut or $3,000 for ten (I don’t understand how that works either) and Heidi Klum has given a box of Cronuts its own seat on a private jet. There have even been reports of prosperous New Yorkers bin raiding for Cronut scraps.

The success of Domnique Ansel’s concoction has spawned an inevitable dispute about who owns the intellectual property associated with the Cronut brand and imitations across the globe.

The latest imitation of this once fashionable pastry is made by…errr…Greggs. To be absolutely clear about this, there is nothing wrong with Greggs at all. NOTHING. George Osborne has the scars of a man who challenged the might of this high street institution and lost and I have no desire to repeat his folly.

What does strike me about the whole Cronut episode is how pointless it all is. A pastry chef in New York dreams up some marketing gimmick. It turns into a runaway success. A few celebrities buy some Cronuts, decide they’re fashionable and then the trend turns global. Copy-cat Cronut makers around the world then cash in. The trend slowly migrates from people who are fashionable to those who aspire to be (there was a video about cronuts on Bloomberg.com the other day) and finally one day Greggs produces the Greggsnut. What was once rare becomes banal and commonplace and, in part as a result, not fashionable.

This would all makes sense if the Cronut actually tasted amazing. However, it really isn’t anything special – or at least the London imitations that I’ve tasted so far haven’t. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a mixture of cream, pastry and icing. It tastes good but it can’t possibly live up to the hype that surrounds it.

It is also incredibly difficult to store and serve if you follow Dominique Ansel’s Cronut 101 suggestions. You can’t store it in a warm place or a refrigerator. You have to eat the thing immediately and when you do get around to doing that you aren’t supposed to cut the thing with anything other than a serrated knife. It’s a posh doughnut FFS!!!

Frankly, if you haven’t tried a Cronut imitation, trying one is more hassle than it’s worth.

Nevertheless, if you must try one here are my recommendations:

Trendy Crodough

My first recommendation is Rinkoff bakery in Whitechapel. Rinkoff refer to their Cronuts as Crodoughs to avoid a Trade Mark infringement dispute (Hopefully, I won’t have to start all of my reviews in this charming way!).

It’s a century old traditional family-run Ukrainian bakery. Perhaps it’s that same entrepreneurial zeal that led them to be the first Cronut vendors in London that’s kept them going through two World Wars? Rinkoff’s is a five-minute walk from Whitechapel tube and the bakers there are chirpy, talkative and very agreeable.

The Crodoughs come in three flavours (custard, raspberry and toffee apple crumble). I tried them all and I preferred the custard Crodough. If you want a MASSIVE Cronut then you need look no further. They are truly enormous. They are also the cheapest, costing up to three quid. They aren’t delicate and I suspect they are somewhat removed from the original but if you just want to try a Cronut, you want to eat a BEAST of a pastry and you can get there between 8 am and 4 pm on a weekday then Rinkoff’s Crodoughs are a safe bet.

Rinkoff Bakery, 224 Jubilee Street, London E1 3BS.

Fashionista Cronut

The second Cronut that warrants a mention is Cocomaya’s.

Cocomaya describes itself as an “artisan baker”. It was started by a former head of concept at Liberty and a fashion consultant and, as one might expect, both bakeries are beautiful. There may be a little too much pink for my liking but the stores by Sloane Square and the Edgware Road are very pretty, the service is pleasant and the Cronuts are genuinely interesting. I could very happily waste a summer afternoon at either.

I tried a passion fruit flavoured Cronut which was topped with edible flowers and was smaller, less oily but heavier than its Rinkoff-equivalent. It had less cream and, in my opinion, it was nicer as a result. The Cocomaya version was only marginally more expensive than the Rinkoff Crodough (at c. £4).

The one difficulty with Cocomaya is that they bake far fewer Cronuts than Rinkoff. So…if you are only going for the Cronut there is a chance that you will return empty-handed.

Cocomaya, 12 Connaught St, London W2 2AF.

High-flying ‘Dosant’

Just over a decade ago I worked by Saint Paul’s. The City was a gastronomic desert. The pubs have always been good and, of course, there were a few great restaurants that had been around for donkeys years but by and large it wasn’t very exciting. At the time this is something I couldn’t understand. In the Square Mile you had a captive audience of people who were happy to spend (often because it wasn’t their money), who couldn’t take ages at a table (because they usually needed to get back to work), and where the competition wasn’t as fierce as, say, in the West End. It is no surprise, therefore, that things have changed…a great deal.

Duck and Waffle is an example of the extent of this transformation. Located on the 40th Floor of the Heron Tower (see below) it has a slightly scary glass lift, stunning views across London and first rate food. What’s more it’s open constantly. I think the restaurant or the bar might close at 3 am briefly but it’s pretty much open 24/7. That’s awesome. I’m not sure why I think this but, if pressed, I guess my answer would be that it enables people who have been working constantly a release and it takes away some of the formality that undermines most dining experiences.

Duck and Waffle offer a Dosant from 11 am on Sundays during Brunch. The Dosant is a fried croissant, glazed in cinnamon sugar, filled with vanilla cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips. I don’t know but I don’t think that Duck and Waffle’s Executive Chef Daniel Doherty’s Dosant can reasonably be described as a Cronut. Nevertheless, it did taste good. I unceremoniously ate two after devouring a selection of pastries and knocking back a Hot Chocolate at speed so that I could catch the Monza Grand Prix that weekend. The views alone were worth the trip. But as it happens the Dosant was very good too. Comparing it to Rinkoff’s Crodough or Cocomaya’s Cronut is silly. All trace of the doughnut is gone (except for the fact it’s fried). Of course it’s better than the Crodough, it’s probably triple the price! It’s not a fair fight. It doesn’t really belong to the same weight category. In many respects, it has more in common with Cornetti con Crema than the Cronut. However, it justifies itself on its own merits. If you have a free Sunday morning I have no hesitation in recommending a trip to the Heron Tower.

Why read this blog?

Like most people I like good food and restaurants. I also enjoy the process of putting pen to paper or whatever the equivalent is in the blogosphere. Many of my friends have suggested I write a blog about restaurants in London. So I thought I would take the plunge…

I do not profess to having any unique insight into dining out in London. In common with several million other people in this city I have lived and gone out here for most of my life. I certainly cannot hope to match the phenomenal photographic (and many other) talents of bloggers like London Eater or The Londoner or the wit of more established print media grandees like AA Gill.

What I do, however, hope to do is capture my own take on restaurants or trends that pique my interest.

Restaurants are important to me. They provide context to my moments of nostalgia. They can be inspiring places and they have, in my experience, changed many a dull night into a great night out. Bad restaurants are, conversely, also responsible for wrecking many an evening, and in some cases, a morning too. Which is why I thought I would attempt to write a blog and distil my thoughts about the good ones.

I’m not sure what makes a good restaurant but they are instantly recognisable. Which is why I’m baffled at the drivel written by many food journalists. I enjoy reading about food but I find that restaurant reviews suffer from two common vices. One is that they are often about obscenely expensive places which is fine if you’re happy to drop over a hundred quid a head on a meal on a weekly basis but most people aren’t. The other vice I have observed is that they are extremely susceptible to fads (an obvious example will appear in my next blog). Fads are fun but, by definition, they don’t last. The reason they don’t last is that their sole charm is that they offer something different. They often don’t actually taste that great. That’s fine. But if I’m going to refrain from being a hobbit and venture outside of the cosy shire-like confines of North West London I want more.

So if I hope to offer anything it is a personal take on the relatively inexpensive and un-faddish restaurants I have enjoyed visiting.

If you are still reading…thank you for bearing with me.

I very much hope you will re-visit my blog again soon.