Monday, 8 October 2018

Hatched, Battersea

You know when you go to a new restaurant within easy walk of your own front door, run by enthusiastic and friendly people, serving a short, attractive menu of seasonal British dishes and you hope with every fibre of your being that it turns out to be good? Hatched (previously, and very briefly called Darwin though don't ask me why it's changed; maybe because there's another restaurant in town called Darwin and they got wind) is, on paper, everything you'd want from a local bistro. Bright and spacious and well-appointed, all it needed to do was serve a half-decent, value-for-money dinner and I'd be something approaching a regular. A decent restaurant in SW11! Finally.

So why did I leave on Friday evening with the very strong impression that Hatched wasn't for me? Well it wasn't for want of trying, from either party. I did desperately want to enjoy the place, and from the warm welcome up until the first bits of food arrived, everything was going swimmingly. I can't remember what occupied the site previously, but you get the impression a lot of money has been spent on giving it clean, Nordic lines and a smart open kitchen, very much home amongst the coffee shops and interior design studios on St John's Hill. Of course, intelligent interior design and nice lighting shouldn't mean everything, they just project a certain confidence in the product on offer, and as anyone will tell you, confidence is attractive.

Unfortunately, there's nothing particularly confident, or intelligent, or attractive, about charging £10 for a bowl of courgetti and cherry tomatoes. OK, so there were trace amounts of white crab meat in here aswell, but it was hardly in abundance, and this bowl, piled clumsily high and lacking in texture, finesse, interest of any kind, more closely resembled something you'd find in a plastic tub at M&S rather than a £10 starter in a Modern British restaurant.

Octopus was better, if that doesn't sound too much like damning with faint praise (it does, doesn't it). The animal itself had been sensitively treated, a nice soft texture in the larger sections and nicely crisped-up tentacles, with a gentle aroma of smoke. But there was something weirdly sweet about the glaze that had been used on it, which the "red pepper chutney" struggled to balance.

My friend's veal was the best of the mains. Much like the crab starter, it wasn't about to win any prizes for presentation (I mean does that look like a £26 plate of food to you, or yesterday's leftovers?) but the veal had loads of flavour and was timed well, and the accompanying veg were nice enough even if they looked like they'd been thrown onto the plate from a distance.

Cod was certainly a generous amount, the flesh beautifully white and collapsing into strong, defined flakes so they clearly know how to cook a bit of fish, even if I'd have liked a bit more crunch from the skin. At least they left the skin on though - far too many places just give up and remove it, which I always think is a bit disappointing. But the brown shrimp it came with were vinegary and distracting - pickled almost - and a couple of bits of roast fennel did not do much to persuade that this plate of food was worth £25. Also, and I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the same sauce finished both the cod and veal dishes. Which is as weird as it is lazy.

We didn't stay for dessert. Perhaps we didn't quite need to spend £39 on a single bottle of wine, but with no introductory fizz or cocktails, no nibbles, not even a tray of house bread either (which seems particularly mean), the bill came to a painful £62.44/head. At literally half that, it still would have been a faintly disappointing dinner but it would have at least stood a chance of tempting me back at some point in the future. But I'm entitled to expect far better for this kind of money - this is approaching the Chez Bruce price point, a short walk away and far more deserving of your time and cash.

Nobody is as sorry as me that Hatched didn't live up to expectations - I would have loved nothing more than to have a new favourite local to drop into with family and friends, God knows living in Battersea I've waited long enough. But it wasn't to be. SW11 continues to be the place where restaurants go to die, and I'm kicking myself I ever allowed myself to be convinced it would be otherwise. In other, but not entirely unrelated news, a little bird tells me Meatliquor are opening on Northcote Road...


Monday, 1 October 2018

Jidori, Covent Garden

After so long writing about restaurants in London, you get used to the pace of change and ebb and flow of things, and accept that there's no restaurant (with the possible exception of Rules) that will be around forever. Mostly, restaurant closures are sad but understandable, victims of a changing market or a shift in focus from the owners. It's a shame that Typing Room is closing its doors but its time had come, and the knowledge that chef Lee Westcott is heading to Worcestershire to open a very interesting looking place in a fancy country hotel, well that sounds like a step up to me.

Of course some closures are more than welcome. Arguments about blameless staff losing their jobs and the state of the economy generally aside, I'm not going to mourn the collapse of Jamie's Italian or Strada any more than I would the cancellation of Brexit - these were bad chains that served bad food and didn't deserve to survive. In fact if Frankie & Benny's, Garfunkel's, Chiquito, Las Iguanas, Pod, the JRC Global Buffet and the Rainforest Café could also go tits up in the next few months I - and the wider world - would be most grateful.

But just occasionally, a restaurant disappears from London that I really, really miss. Bincho Yakitori used to occupy a cosy little spot on Old Compton Street and served the very best yakitori, up to that point (this was before my trip to Japan), I'd ever had in my life. It was informal, and friendly, and served tasty skewers to grateful Soho lunchers for not very much money but what really impressed me about the place was the willingness to offer bits of a chicken I didn't even know you could eat, such as painstakingly-filleted neck, and cartilage. Sure, this more specialist stuff wasn't for everyone, but for a tragic food spod like me just having the opportunity to try something so unusual was very exciting, especially with the added theatrics of being sat at the bar at the open kitchen, clouds of charcoal smoke filling the air.

The most obvious disadvantage that Jidori has, then, is the lack of an open kitchen and bar. The very best omakase experiences rely on that interaction between you and the chef, the immediacy and honesty of the cooking process and the fact the pacing is entirely guided by how fast you want to eat. The pacing at Jidori was admirable, and there's no faulting the friendliness and competency of the staff, who were assured and confident throughout. But would I have been happier sat at an open kitchen swatting away charcoal smoke than in a rather boxy upstairs room overlooking Catherine Street?

Well yes I would, but I would also happily sit in a cupboard in the dark to eat food this good, starting with crackers of puffed corn and seaweed topped with chunks of raw tuna. Seasoned properly and bound with a nice amount of wasabi mayo, these were easily better than the version served at Louie Louie a couple of weeks ago.

Cold roast aubergine is never going to win any beauty competitions but had a lovely flavour, salty and smokey, and dressed in oil. I should say at this point that yes, I know the photos are terrible. Weirdly it wasn't even that dark in there so I don't know what happened other than given my skill as a photographer it's more incredible that any of my pictures are any good at all than some occasionally look like they were taken underwater.

With the snacks out of the way we were on to the main event - bits of chicken on sticks. Breast first, apparently because the Japanese (quite rightly) are so uninterested in the boring breast meat that they want to get it out of the way as soon as possible. These were tender enough though, dressed in a sake and shiso dressing that just softened the bitterness of the charcoal.

Thigh next, neatly rolled and served next to little bits of spring onion, fattier and therefore more enjoyable than the breast, but with that same crunch and smoke from the coals.

Then wing, carefully threaded on the skewer keeping two bones in, presumably to help keep it from drying out. I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a carefully, expertly deboned chicken wing that's not turned to cotton wool from overcooking. If you're very, very clever about it (and I'm thinking mainly of the Chinese style, deboned then stuffed with prawn mince) then you could end up with something worth eating. But most of the time, you're better off leaving the bones in.

So far, so recognisable. Jidori were hitting us with the familiar parts first, the crowdpleasers. But next came the skin, neatly folded into even rows, gently crisped on the grill and satisfying with bags of flavour. I could be wrong but I don't think this was 100% separated skin, I got the feeling there was a slight amount of flesh there too, to bind it together and stop the whole thing becoming overwhelmingly fatty. Very, very good anyway.

Usually omakase diners have to choose between hearts and liver for the next course - for all their undoubted skill Jidori can't, after all, do much about the composition of a chicken - but with there being four of us we were able to choose both. So here's the liver, soft and yielding and lightly seasoned in some interesting dried herbs...

...and here are the hearts, all bouncy and jolly, with some rolls of crisp bacon to season and contrast. I think heart might be my favourite bit of a chicken overall; the texture is always a delight and the flavour is of rich offal without being bitter or difficult.

Next was what they called 'drumstick', but looked rather more like thigh meat. I think perhaps they'd carefully removed the largest portion of dark meat from the legs and pressed it into shape somehow. Clever stuff.

The next course was more of a surprise - minced chicken skewers, like mini koftas, with a bright egg yolk and soy dressing. We were instructed to whip up the egg and soy into a smooth paste, then dip the mince in before eating. This was great fun, without a hint of the dryness that can affect chicken mince, and very nicely seasoned.

Another unexpected course was this, a bowl containing good soft rice, fresh herbs, some incredibly sour lumps of something citrusy or fruity which I'm going to have to leave unexplained as I can't find anything on Google or the restaurant menu, and all of it in a kind of half chicken consommé half tea broth. If it sounds like there's a lot going on here well you're not wrong, but the flavours all mostly complimented each other (though the citrus element did occasionally threaten to derail things) and I certainly haven't had anything like it before. Also, this was the twelfth individual course of a £30/head tasting menu - extraordinary value for money.

And unbelievably we still weren't done. Coconut water sorbet with elderflower sake was light and refreshing and full of summer flavour, and looked pretty as a picture.

Part of me wonders whether Jidori should charge a little more than the frankly ludicrous £30/head and do the above with some seriously high-end chicken. People are always banging on about those poulet de Bresse that cost £50/pop and I bet if anyone could make the most of them Jidori could. But then, having said that, I once spent £50 on Poulet Dimanche at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught (it's now an eyewatering £90) and the chicken itself was a bit dry and disappointing. So perhaps Jidori do know what they're doing after all.

Anyway, what a way to spend £30. Or rather, what a way to spend £62.50 but there's no need for you to go quite as crazy on the booze as we did. Yep, that's a bottle of wine each. I'm not proud of it. But if you can't spend double the food bill on booze in Covent Garden on a Friday night with a group of old school friends who are all turning 40 in the next few months, well, when can you? The road to my own significant birthday starts now, and Jidori has got it off to a cracking start. Bincho Yakitori is dead*. Long live Jidori.


*Bincho Yakitori is not dead. They moved to Brighton and by all accounts are doing a roaring trade. In fact we tried to get in a few weeks ago and they were full. The bastards.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Dip In Brilliant, Fulham Broadway

The Brilliant, in Southall, is some people's favourite Indian restaurant in London. Of course being the hopeless restaurant spod I am, the moment, nearly eight years ago now, I learned that it was at least someone's favourite restaurant I persuaded a friend to take the train to Southall one evening to check it out.

Long story short, I wasn't that impressed, but then the mid-range of Indian restaurants is a very competitive market. I know where I am with top end Mayfair joints like Jamavar and Indian Accent, where all the food is spiced and cooked to perfection and costs an arm and a leg. And then at the budget end there's Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House, where the meat is a little more... mysterious but you can feast until you're all chopped out for £15/head. The problem with the £25-£35/head bracket is, in a word, Dishoom. Can anyone really do better than Dishoom? If you were going to spend £12.90 on 3 lamb chops, instead of £7.60 for 4 (Tayyabs) or £28 for 3 (Jamavar), would you really risk anywhere that wasn't Dishoom?

Dip In Brilliant, a more casual, proto-chainy concept from the Brilliant owners, is, I get the very strong impression, trying to mustle in on Dishoom's corner. From the quirky, casual menu descriptions ("Top dips", "Brill Grill") to the mid-range (though by no means top-mid-range) price points, it's a restaurant aimed at people who know they like black daal, and lamb chops, and comfort-fusion things like "Desi Chilli Cheese Potato Skins" (have you ever had Dishoom's "Chilli Cheese Toast"? You should, it's great) but are sick of the queues at Kings Cross.

All of which is perfectly fine - nowhere exists in a vacuum, and there's no such thing as a truly original idea, certainly not in restaurants - but if you're going to start a new, mid-range Dishoom-a-like, you're going to have to make pretty darn sure your product measures up where it counts. And from the very first tray of lacklustre chutneys, the tomato and mango versions of which, sweet and gloopy, tasted bought-in even if they weren't, it was clear this was no Dishoom. Mini poppadums were mixed in with colourful little corn snacks of various kinds, and the mint & coriander chutney was OK even if it was a bit heavy on the vinegar, but this was hardly an auspicious start.

The best thing about the mixed grill - sorry, "Brill Grill" - were the seekh kebabs, which were moist and nicely sausagey and with a very decent chilli kick. Next in order of success were the cubes of tandoori chicken, very slightly on the dry side and needed more spicing, but were still OK. Then the king prawns, again slightly overcooked and in need of some more robust flavouring but still edible. But finally lamb "chops" were just weird, leathery morsels of bland meat - not a hint of spice or seasoning - clinging to a collection of mysteriously-shaped bones. The idea they'd hold their own next to any others in town, never mind the best, is laughable.

Other bits were, thankfully, better. Naans were light and bubbly, slicked with ghee and easy to demolish...

...raita was, well, raita, but there's nothing much wrong with that. I wasn't even that irritated by the pansy on top...

...and finally, fair do's, the black daal was very nice, thinner and less richly flavoured than the best examples but I can usually find something to enjoy in even the most ordinary black daals. I think the effort and knowledge required to cook these things means there's a certain minimum standard - I don't think I've ever had a truly bad one.

But despite that, not much of the above was worth the money they were asking for it. An £18 mixed grill puts you in contention with some serious London curry houses, likewise charging £4 for mini poppadums and dips, which are provided free at most places. There's every chance that in the 8 years since I visited the mothership the Brilliant in Southall it's turned into more my kind of restaurant, but I have to say, if Dip In is anything to go by, I'm better off sticking to what I know. And what I know is that I can get in the queue at any of the Dishooms and enjoy some of the finest Indian food in town for about the same money. Did I mention I just really, really love Dishoom?


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

CheeMc, Walworth Road

With deep and heartfelt apologies to those who call the area their home, there aren't too many convincing arguments to visit Walworth Road of an evening unless you have a particular fondness for betting shops, nail bars and standing traffic. Caught in a bit of a no-mans-land between the heaving Elephant & Castle roundabout (more recently less of a roundabout than a strange C-shape, but still heaving) and the genuinely enticing restaurant options of Camberwell, it's more of a conduit than an area, and up until quite recently its most significant impact on my life has been making me late for dinner at Silk Road. And I really do not like being late for dinner.

But, the merest hints of a dynamic food culture are flickering into life. As with so many (for want of a better word) unlovely areas of town, rents tend to be lower and with the freedom to be a bit more experimentational with your concepts and not worry too much about paying large investors back, London's restaurateurs can spread their wings a bit. True, Louie Louie wasn't quite my cup of tea in the end, but I like the fact that it's there, an okonomiyaki restaurant in South London, because why the hell not, a pleasing example that there are some people out there taking risks.

I wish I could tell you that I had a more successful evening at CheeMc than at Louie Louie, that I'd finally found my Korean chicken nirvana and that Walworth Road finally deserves to be spoken about in the same breadth as Camberwell Church Street or Brixton's Market Row. Sadly, we're not quite there yet, but it's still heartening to see a quirky, independent little operation like CheeMc pack them in on a rainy Sunday evening even if, in my usual tedious way, I could still find fault with a lot of the food served.

Partly my gripes were with the menu, which was large to the point of overwhelming and included a rather geographically ambiguous mix of Japanese staples like ramen, katsu, udon and takoyaki as well as Korean classics like bibimbab and soondooboo jigae. Had the food which appeared been better, I could have overlooked the game attempts to be Jack of all trades, but once a rather lacklustre bowl of udon ramen appeared, tasting of packet stock and raw onions, it quickly looked a lot less like idiosyncrasy and a lot more like an identity crisis.

Japche glass noodles were better, containing nice fresh vegetables and a confident hand with the sesame oil, and were pretty easy to enjoy in a straightforward kind of way. £7.90 does seem like quite a lot to pay for a some stir-fried vegetables and noodles, though. I could have them delivered to the door for that from a few places on Just Eat.

Bibimbab was good. Not astonishing, but good. More interesting once doused with gochujang, certainly, and there wasn't really anything significantly wrong with it, it just did its job as much as as a bowl of rice with various bits of veg on top can do.

The only real disappointment was the chicken. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert, on this or anything else, but I've had good Korean fried chicken, and I've had bad, and this was not good. Poorly butchered, in fact hacked into a strange collection of misshapen bits of pieces with broken bones jutting out at ugly angles, they were no less upsetting to eat than look at, being overcooked and tough, and coated in a chilli sauce that tasted of nothing much more than dry chilli powder. We soon wished we'd ordered a half portion instead of a full (£18.90), but even that would have been far too much to pay for a fairly mediocre pile of wings. Even an included bowl of sweet pickled daikon couldn't make this value for money.

With a drink each, the bill came to £16.31/head, great if your life's ambition is to eat vegetable noodles and poor fried chicken, not so great if it isn't. And I'm very much in the latter camp, so it seems my search for the Best of Korea goes on. Perhaps I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and travel all the way back to New Malden; if they can't get it right there then there's no hope for anyone. And for now, the Walworth Road will go back to its primary function of slowing me down on the way to dinner in Camberwell. If anything changes, though, you'll be the first to know.


Monday, 24 September 2018

El Asador at Sabor, Regent St

If you have even the most passing interest in great Spanish food in London, chances are you've heard of Barrafina. Across three locations in Central London, these gleaming, marble-decked temples of Iberian gastronomy have, along with Jose Pizarro's emponymous gaff in Bermondsey, set a new level for the cuisine in the city, and done more for the image of high-end Spanish food than almost anyone else I can think of. It's a bit too easy to enjoy yourself in Barrafina - once the sherry starts flowing and you've picked your favourite crustaceans from the cold bar, you settle in for the long haul, ordering and snacking and slurping and ordering again, until you've racked up a bill so big you're not sure if the extra zeroes are from that extra bottle of La Gitana or alcohol-induced double-vision.

While Barrafina was earning its Michelin stars and countless other gushing reviews (not least from yours truly) its head chef was one Nieves Barragan, who with front of house José Etura were to be seen most days in at least one of their restaurants. It was an usually subtle double-act - kitchen dynamics dictated they necessarily had to spend most of the evenings communicating via the occasional barked question across a noisy dining room - but it worked, and the warmth and energy they brought to proceedings was no doubt a huge part of the Barrafina success story.

But now, it's time for the next chapter. Barragan and Etura have left the Hart Bros' empire to set up Sabor, in a brightly lit spot down a slightly dingy alleyway off Regent St, and at first glance the influences and tributes are obvious. There's the large open kitchen full of busy, smartly-dressed chefs. There's the handwritten chalkboard menus of interesting daily seafood. And there of course is a pile of crushed ice covered in a heaving spread of fresh fish, crabs, carabinero prawns, razor clams and all the other delicacies from British shores that until Rick Stein intervened, used to be packed onto the backs of lorries and sent to France and Spain.

Part of me had hoped that the opening of a new place may allow Barragan and Etura to move away from the whole Barrafina communal seating model. Call me a spoiled old grump, but I do not like sharing my personal space with a complete stranger, and if there's anything going to stop me getting in the queue at Barrafina, or indeed any of the other top restaurants where that kind of seating is the main option (Kiln, the Barbary, Padella) it's that. Sadly, on both floors of Sabor (apologies, I wasn't paying too close attention but I think upstairs is called Asador and has a slightly different menu; I can't remember the website booking page asking me which I wanted, but I may have just not noticed) it's mainly large tables, and I'm afraid I could barely hide my horror when asked to squeeze in between two parties on high bench seating. Fortunately our waiter took pity on us and we eventually got away with being sat by the wall, but I'm sure a few tables of two wouldn't have hurt. Or, as I say, maybe I'm just a hopeless grump.

Anyway, negatives out of the way I can concentrate on the positives. The food, for example, which is as good as it's ever been from these guys. Red prawns, served simply and beautifully on a wooden board, had plump little bodies and heads packed full of that briney, bisquey seafood flavour.

It's incredibly difficult to get things like monkfish tempura right, at least I assume it is as so many versions of this ostensibly straightforward dish have been disappointing, but this was basically perfect. Greaseless, moist, with a good smooth mayo (not too thick or too thin), they were a great little fishy snack, and we polished them off quickly.

Pulpo a fiera is (thank you Google) a Galician dish, involving boiling the animal in a copper cauldron. The texture is quite unbelievable, so soft and silky that they're almost textureless, and I admit at first it took a bit of getting used to. of course, thanks to some lovely spicing - oil and paprika at least but possibly much else besides - there was plenty else to enjoy about them but I did slightly miss a bit of crunch from the tentacles. But then who am I to suggest an improvement to a Nieves Barragan dish?

Finally the famous tortilla, in the Basque style so runny inside with lots of soft sliced potato, every bit as impressive here as when I tried it all those years ago at Barrafina. It's also worth mentioning not only that Sabor make more effort than most Spanish restaurants with the vegetarian options, and that £7.50 for this very generously sized item means you could probably get away with ordering just this and perhaps a snack and sample some of the best Spanish food in London for under £15/head.

Our bill was slightly more than that. But with a bottle of wine we still got away with £36.22 a head, which really isn't bad at all considering the effort going into the menu here. And more than likely I'll be back, without a pescatarian friend next time, to try their whole Segovian suckling pigs to share (£190) or a txuletón or two (£85). For that, I'll need a group, maybe ten people or so. And come to think of it, in that case, I'll probably need one of those big tables so we can all tuck in at once. Oh that's what they're for...


Friday, 21 September 2018

The Hero of Maida, Maida Vale

Usually I write up my restaurant visits in chronological order, for my own sanity more than anything else, but given the most significant meal following that rather disappointing dinner on the Walworth Road was (spoiler alert) another rather disappointing dinner on the Walworth Road, for the sake of variety I'm instead going to skip forward a few days to Maida Vale and the latest and greatest Henry Harris gastropub The Hero of Maida.

As much as anything in the restaurant world is a sure-thing, the ability of Harris and his business partner James McCulloch to aquire, beautifully renovate and reinvigorate handsome old London pubs is something approaching a given. I have not stopped raving about the Coach in Clerkenwell to anyone who would listen (and many who won't) since I first went back in February, and countless lunches there since (it's quite handy for the office) have done nothing to dissuade me that this is one of the absolute best way of spending your dinner money. I loved the food at Racine in Knightsbridge when Harris was cooking there, but it was quite pricey and the room a bit frilly and old-school. The Coach took all that was good about Racine - namely, the kind of classy French/British game and seafood cooking that you'd travel continents to eat - and served it in a no-nonsense (albeit smartly dressed) Clerkenwell boozer where you could just as happily drop in for a pint as you could sit down to a lavish multi-course spread and finish up with a nice Armagnac by the fire. I love the Coach. I love it.

And I love the Hero of Maida too, so much so that following a blindingly good evening there as a guest when it first opened I wasted very little time in organising a return visit, in game season. Because of all my happy memories of Racine, it's trips in late summer and happy evenings picking at the bones of a roast grouse that have brought me the most joy. These guys really know how to cook a grouse.

But first, a little starter of colourful seasonal veg, beets and squash and rocket pesto, with sourdough croutons for a bit of crunch and all seasoned beautifully. The lighter beetroot (I think it was) underneath had been sliced thin and soaked in oil like a carpaccio, and that and the pesto, with its punch of garlic, brought to mind the late Mediterranean summer. You really couldn't ask for much more from a salad.

Mains were all, also, essentially unimprovable. The rabbit dish from the Coach also makes an appearance at the Hero, and is just as wonderful here, without a hint of dryness (quite an achievement if past experiences with restaurant rabbit are anything to go by), hung with smoke from the grill, and topped with shards of Alsace bacon so fragile and translucent it's like eating pressed bacon floss. Served on a plate of silky smooth mustard sauce, it's a masterclass in French cooking, yet somehow far more at home here reinvented as a £16 gastropub main than something from a stuffy Parisian bistro.

Devilled kidneys is traditionally a more solidly British affair, but even here some fancy French techniques (particularly a very nice pommes purée) have been put to judicious use to give the whole thing a bit more oomph. Between this and the Guinea Grill's version of the dish on toast, I doubt I could choose a favourite, but when why should anyone have to choose? You should make it your mission to try both.

And then of course, there's the grouse. To say I'm obsessed with these funky little game birds is an understatement - I will never pass on an opportunity to eat them, and no matter what the presentation, from the Parkers Arms version served off-the-bone and dressed in local blackberries, to the Holborn Dining Room's beautiful grouse pithivier, if you're serving, I'm buying. But hand on heart, if I had to just eat one style of grouse for the rest of my life, it would be as above - with delicate golden game crisps, on toast soaked in foie gras, alongside bread sauce and salty, rich armagnac jus. The flesh of the bird was soft and gently pink, and with that ever-so-slightly bitter taste of fresh moorland and heather. It was worth the journey by itself - in fact it justified the existence of the whole restaurant by itself.

On this occasion, we didn't have dessert, but I know from the Coach that Harris puts just as much effort into the pastry section as he does the savouries. Instead, we paid up - the bill inflated slightly by the £32.50 grouse but overall not an unreasonable amount of money for such quality - and jumped on the bus home.

It's inevitable given how brilliantly things have gone so far - though should be no less of an astonishing achievement nonetheless - that Harris & McCulloch already have their sights on a fourth branch of their... I hate calling it a chain but I suppose that's what it is now, albeit an extremely high-end one. Yes the next in the chain is to be the Harlot in Chiswick, of which details at the moment are scarce but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess they'll serve high-end British/French gastropub cuisine in a lovely room, and it will be just as much fun as all the others. It's nothing short of incredible what these people are doing; ask anyone in the business and they'll tell you running one top gastropub is a constant battle, never mind four of the damn things at once. But if anyone can, these guys can. And we are all the richer for their efforts.