Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Dogfather and Big Apple Hot Dogs

I'm not even sure it's possible to make a completely inedible hot dog. I'm in no frantic hurry to test this theory out of course - I do have some dignity - but surely if even your local multiplex can produce something worth eating (even if it does cost a million pounds and has been kept warm out on those weird roller heater things for weeks on end) then anywhere can. I have always enjoyed a hot dog, not matter how basic; there is just a certain minimum standard in even the cheapest Frankfurters, and if you can't find it within yourself to enjoy a tube of salty mystery meat inside a bun with a bit of yellow "mustard" squirted on top then there's really no hope for you. Those other American fast food stalwarts, burgers, require skill, good ingredients, and a bit of attention, otherwise you end up with a complete disaster. Hot dogs are easy - even out of a tin they're pretty tasty, and there aren't many other foodstuffs of any kind you can say that about.

But just because the minimum standard of hot dogs is that much higher than other types of fast food doesn't mean that the top-end can't benefit from some attention. A few new street food stalls in London have, in the last few months, attempted to prove that there is more to the humble 'dog than law-dodging West-end traders and criminally marked-up cinema snacks. The Dogfather, who pitches up at the North Cross Road market in East Dulwich, is the first worth a mention. Using beef sausages similar (in fact suspiciously similar... saying no more) to those used in the excellent Meatwagon chilli dogs, the Dogfather dogs are dressed in a variety of fancy ways, from the Mexican Elvis (chilli and cheese and peppers) to the Snoop Dog (bacon, barbecue sauce and mayonnaise) and even a curry-themed version called (ho ho) the Slum Dog. I was impressed not only with the sausage itself, which was wonderfully dense and rich, but with the fact that the dressings had been conceived as a harmonious balance of ingredients in different and distinct styles, instead of just a random selection of toppings left to the customer to use as they wish. I enjoyed it very much.

If I'm going to be perfectly honest though, while I appreciated the flamboyant Dogfather and the unpretentiously filthy Meatwagon chilli dog, it wasn't until a visit to the Big Apple Hot Dog stall on Old Street that I really understood just how good this humble snack could be. Big Apple's trick isn't to glam up the toppings or play to any preconceived ideas of US fast food authenticity but to work directly with a butcher to produce a sausage that is just better than anything available anywhere else. Free-range pork is the secret ingredient, I was told, and it really shows - the sausages (I had something called a Big Frank) are almost as soft inside as mousse, with an amazing pig flavour that lingers late on the tongue and a butteryness that showcases an addictive fat content without being unpleasantly greasy. Texture, too, is provided by a firm and glossy casing which "snaps" delightfully on every bite, as well as a layer of crunchy onions beneath, fried (I know this because I saw him do it from scratch) in butter and thyme. The basic format of any hot dog you have ever tried is there - sausage, onions, bun - but the obvious care and attention that has gone into that sausage makes the end result rather special indeed. I ate mine with a healthy dollop of Polish mustard and a can of Sprite. Heaven.

I would ordinarily have signed off this post with some clichéd tribute to London's street food renaissance, about how the most exciting cooking in the capital right now is by a group of individuals serving great food directly to their customers without the distraction of service and tablecloths or even cutlery. But actually, Big Apple Hot Dogs have already gone big time. Hawksmoor Seven Dials are currently showcasing Big Apple's superb creation on their bar menu, alongside the famous Hawksmoor burger and the £25 lobster roll, and so if you want to enjoy your Big Frank in a proper grown up restaurant accompanied by a dry martini, then head to Covent Garden. I think myself though I'll continue to take the bus to Old Street, and not just for reasons of cost. There's something inexplicably right about standing up by a busy high street filling your face with meat and mustard - perhaps the best place for street food is, after all, the street.

The Dogfather 7/10
Big Apple Hot Dogs 8/10

Pictures, from the top:

The Big Apple Hot Dog stand, Old Street
The Dogfather, East Dulwich (pic courtesy of Food Stories)
Onions frying on the Big Apple hot plate, Old Street
The Big Frank from Big Apple Hot Dogs

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Scotch Egg Challenge at the Ship, Wandsworth

The Ship in Wandsworth is the best pub in London. I don't mean just that it's my favourite, or that you are guaranteed the best time, that it has the best atmosphere, the happiest customers, the best food or drink. I just mean that, objectively, literally, absolutely, it is the best pub in London. You could argue that other pubs are better, but you'd be wrong. It's that simple.

Alright, so perhaps I could be biased. I have known the guys at the Ship for almost as long as I've had the blog; my connection with that building goes way beyond critical detachment and is the only reason I have never felt able to give them the glowing write-up here that they most definitely deserve. I realise that as "press" (sort of) it's in their professional interests to be nice to me, but I have never known a bunch of people so enthusiastic, so genuine and so very successful at enabling other people to have a good time. This is not just the reason people from all over London travel to what is by anyone's standards a rather unusual location, squeezed in-between a drive-thru McDonalds, a cement works and a bleak modern housing development, but also why they come in their absolute hordes. For certain days last summer, to curious bus passengers travelling over nearby Wandsworth Bridge, the scene must have resembled some kind of booze-soaked refugee camp. I guarantee though, that every single person there that day, whether they'd managed to find somewhere to sit or were stood half a mile up Jews Road nursing a Pimms in a plastic cup and musing on the long journey back to the front of the bar, were enjoying themselves. It's just impossible not to, in that place.

But now that I've written my love letter to the Ship, I need to talk about Scotch Eggs. It is a direct result of the Ship management's tireless enthusiasm for everyone and everything that, following a bit of backwards and forwards on Twitter between fellow enthusiasts, they generously offered up their venue as a location for something called the Scotch Egg Challenge. You can read the full breakdown of dates, timings, rules and regulations on the Ship's own blog here, as well as the impressively long and incredibly exciting list of competitors, and I am absolutely chuffed myself to have been also been invited as one of the judging panel. Rest assured I will starve myself beforehand, abandon all previous loyalties as best I can, and remain resolutely impartial even when judging the Harwood Arms' Venison Scotch Egg against the Ship's own monumental Major Scotch Egg. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it.

To any restaurants or pubs that think their own version will stand up to such extraordinary competition, you have until Thursday 4th August to make yourself known to the Ship. I am told that the eggs must be served just as they are, as bought, in the competitor's own restaurant, so that means if you ordinarily make them the night before and sell them cold on the bar during the day, that's exactly how they will be judged on the 4th - a very sensible rule. And to any Scotch Egg lovers interested in discovering which example is definitively the best in the capital, come along to the day itself on Tuesday 9th August from 7:30pm - there are no tickets, no personal invite, all are welcome and an absolutely fantastic time is guaranteed. As I've said before, at the Ship it's just impossible to have it any other way.

The Scotch Egg Challenge, hosted by the Ship Wandsworth

Tuesday 9th August 2011 Tuesday 20th September 2011

(Entries close Thursday 4th August Thursday 15th September)

All other details here.

Photos, from the top:
The Ship from The Guest Ale blog
The Harwood Arms Venison Scotch Egg by Hollow Legs
The Ship, Wandsworth Major Scotch Egg by David J Constable
The Bull & Last Scotch Egg by Dos Hermanos

EDIT: Well, it's been a funny old few days in London, and as you will probably have heard by now, the Scotch Egg Challenge was sadly (though quite rightly) postponed. But fear not! We have a new date for the event - the 20th September - and it promises to be even bigger and better, with more time for even more exciting new entries.

Come one, come all, and come hungry. I'll see you there.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Burgers - the fight for a Happy Medium

A battle is being fought for London's burgers. If you have no interest in burgers, and I know for a fact there are at least a handful of you out there, you poor joyless things, you probably couldn't care less. But speaking as someone with a less than healthy (literally) obsession with the placing of minced beef in between two slices of bread, and for whom the search for London's Best Burger has been a bit of a personal quest over the last few years, I do care. And for once, the bad guys in this battle aren't international chains plying lowest-common-denominator ingredients, or even hugely ill-conceived "gourmet" offerings containing pineapple (ugh) or rocket (go away). No, this time the enemy is the Food Standards Agency and their team of almost comically bureaucratic Environmental Health Officers. People who have no interest in furthering Britain's reputation for food, no interest in making it any easier for struggling independent restaurants trying to do something right for a change and actually, let's face it, probably no interest in food at all. People, in fact, like Philip Harris.

I don't know what kind of person Philip Harris is. I have an image of him, stood alone in his vast, spotless kitchen using rubber gloves and a face mask to make his cheese and pickle sandwiches for work (I'm guessing he's also a vegetarian), but this might be unfair. He has a job to do, and my God he'll do it, even if it means coming up with heroically misguided rubbish like "This trend of the rare burger is becoming fashionable and is something we, as a profession, should be alert to." Alert to! Yes, Phillip, the rare burger is "becoming" fashionable (another glaringly obvious clue these people are as far removed from real life as it's possible to be - "becoming" fashionable in 2011? Really?). People are discovering juicy, tender pink beef burgers made from carefully aged meat and - horror of horrors! - actually enjoying them! Well, Philip Harris isn't going to take this kind of thing sitting down in his shrink-wrapped armchair. It's his job to sanitise, to dumb-down, to suck every bit of soul and joy out of the experience of eating out, and he has the infinitely unlikely possibility of an E. coli 0104 infection to help him along the way.

"The only way", says Harris, "such a product can be cooked to ensure the pathogens are destroyed is if the burger is totally cooked throughout, with no rare centre." And to be fair to him, that is the only way, just as the only way of ensuring you never get struck by lightning is to spend the rest of your life in a cave a thousand feet underground with a wet towel wrapped around your head. But I have it on good authority that with the combination of food safety standard in any half decent restaurant and the rigorous processes involved in the production of modern British beef, there is next to nothing at all to fear in eating pink burgers; certainly no more than there is in, say, eating raw oysters or fresh sashimi, which our friends from EH seem strangely to be far more relaxed about. There is a risk in eating anything, of doing anything, the sensible thing is to make people aware of those risks and then if they still want to have that chicken sashimi dinner (Harris would red-tape himself to an early grave if he ever visited Japan) then go ahead, why not.

You may think clueless pen-pushers from the FSA are too much of an easy target, and after all it is still possible to get wonderful juicy pink burgers from Goodman and Hawksmoor and the Meatwagon and Byron, and so, what's the problem if some obscure paranoid "directive" is drawn up by civil servants with OCD if it is only going to be heartily (and quite rightly) ignored? Ah, but you see, it isn't always being ignored. Take Barbecoa in the city, for example, who have decided that, on balance, the risk of being falsely (or otherwise) accused of food poisoning following serving someone a pink burger is not worth the damage to the Jamie Oliver brand, and have come up with a patty mix that supposedly holds its juiciness despite being cooked through to a rather unappetising monochrome. It tasted livery and strangely vegetal, like a sort of meatloaf sandwich, and was faintly unpleasant, but hey, I guess Jamie Oliver Co. is more interested in safeguarding against the reputation hit of Poisoned of East Sussex being splashed across the weekend tabloids than the damage done by serving an inferior product. And that's entirely up to them.

A couple of days earlier, and a press release from the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin group proudly announcing a "safe way of offering guests a cooking preference for their burgers which will keep the Food Standards Agency content, but without detracting from the great taste and dining experience." It seems the Mal too have been given the choice to either make a worse product, or be slapped with a prohibition notice, and being a large luxury chain with a nationwide reputation to uphold, they chose the former. Of course, I am only assuming the overcooked version of the Mal burger is worse than a juicy pink version because I have never tried either, but I think it's a fair assumption.

So, the battle continues. You may think that the right to enjoy a nice pink beef burger is sacred to every Londoner, but it is only thanks to a fearless group of restaurants actually willing to risk their businesses to produce the very best food they can that we are in such a fortunate position. From what I gather, it only takes one person to turn up at the door of the FSA claiming their dicky tummy is due to raw mince and yet another fine example is taken off the capital's menu. And if you don't care about beef burgers, think of a London without the Opera Tavern Iberico pork burger or even the pluma Iberica from José. Fantastic, exciting, unique dishes that the FSA would happily see banned. Enjoy while you can, then, the Great Burgers of London, spare a thought for the brave souls willing to stick their heads above the parapet in the name of good eating, and have a huge, heaving, cheese-soaked, juicy, bloody beef burger on me. Just don't tell Philip Harris.

Burgers pictured are, from the top, Byron's Uncle Sam, the Meatwagon Bacon Cheeseburger, Hawksmoor, Draft House, and Bar Boulud

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Roganic, Marylebone

Roganic is a bit of a silly name, isn't it? So go ahead, have a bit of a chuckle, by all means allow yourself to be amused by the rather clumsy pun and get it out of your system. Roganic! It's kind of like Rogan (Simon, head chef) and organic! See what they've done there? Roganic! HA HA HA. And then, once you've done that, pick up the phone and book a table. Because there is absolutely no way on earth you should dismiss this astonishing new restaurant based on its silly name, and if you don't pull your finger out and get yourself a place soon, you run the risk of not ever being able to; I confidently predict that in a very short space of time availability at Roganic will be as rare as anywhere in London.

In common with many of the more ambitious (note "ambitious" does not often mean "best", though strangely it does always mean "expensive") places to eat these days, the only choices you make regarding food at Roganic is between a 3-course (£29), 6-course (£55) and the full Monty 10-course blowout (£80). No prizes for guessing which one we went for, but it's worth saying that even though our meal ended up the wrong side of £250 for two, you could go for the 3-course option and drink tapwater and just about get away for under £35 a head. And I am sure even the cheaper menus would have been as startlingly original, breathtakingly presented and - the clincher - wonderfully tasty as the succession of ten (and then some) theatrical plates of food we enjoyed on Saturday.

And like all great theatre (this metaphor is in danger of getting stretched but please bear with me), the first course gently introduced us to the character and style of the place without hitting us too hard with complex or unusual concepts. Roganic apparently try not to use any ingredients from outside the British Isles, and many of the rare foraged elements were completely new to me, but the use of hyssop (an aromatic herb that tastes a bit like mint) as a subtle back note to fresh curd in a broad bean and beetroot dish was just familiar enough without being dull. Pretty as a picture it was too, with the strong dark greens and reds and spiky fresh herbs. Then, a plate of baked turnip, sea vegetables (definitely samphire amongst God knows what else) and wild mustard arrived with a fudgy, slow-cooked smoked egg yolk, again all just the right side of accessible but still innovative - the yolk in particular provoking giggles with its strong wood-smoked aroma.

Then from here on, every bit of food produced wasn't just brilliant, but groundbreaking. "Seawater-cured Kentish mackerel" was so beautiful it seemed a shame to eat it at all; three bonsai trees of crispy fried broccoli were planted in neat dollops of earthy pea purée, framing a meaty fillet of mackerel with an expertly crispy skin. And the blobs of honey surrounding it all came from Hyde Park - beat that for localism. "Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper" also managed to be just as pleasing to the eye as it was on the palate, the gently pickled vegetables providing a sweet counterpoint to a sandwich of lovely smooth ox tongue that brought to mind a variety of Heinz sandwich spread - in a good way.

Halfway through the meal, and the quality showed no signs of dropping with a dish of crab and raw squid, in which texture was provided by clever little nuggets of toasted squid ink, plump sprouts of some kind of succulent and deliacate cubes of "compressed" (don't ask me) cucumber. It smelled of the ocean and of windswept cliff top walks. Then back inland again for potatoes in onion ashes (sort of a salty, edible sand) and lovage sprouts. If I'm to take my head out of the clouds for a second, I could probably say that the lovage didn't do much for me - it's an awfully strong plant, and the unpleasant metallic aftertaste lingered far longer than it should, but you still have to admire the idea.

Reaching the climax of our play now, roasted Brill with chicken salt and clams was all kinds of amazing. The tender nuggets of fish had been "breadcrumbed" in chicken salt and sat on top of dark chard and a selection of silky wild mushrooms. Dotted around the plate were blobs of the most unbelievably intense mushroom paste, a flavour so powerful it would in anyone else's hands been too much but here was astonishingly successful. I couldn't get enough of it. The next course, though, managed to be even more mind-blowing; tender pink hogget with sweet artichokes and chenopodium (I know) leaves, and two undeclared chunks of crispy-on-the-outside-silky-within, perfectly cooked sweetbreads.

Following a very decent cheese course (in which I discovered a great new washed-rind cheese from the makers of Stinking Bishop called "Nuns of Caen" - they sell it at La Fromagerie if you want to try it for yourself if you don't mind putting up with their surly service), a dessert of sweet ciceley (what?), strawberry, buttermilk and verbena (eh?) turned out, predictably, to be excellent. The strawberries in particular had been mashed or concentrated or treated in some way and were incredibly flavoursome. But the show was nearing an end, and we only had one more dish to go, so would Roganic play it safe and give the audience what they wanted, or would there be a final twist to keep us all on our toes?

I should point out that my friend really did not like this dessert. Although (unlike some of the other dishes above) on paper it seemed relatively harmless, the combination of "warm spiced bread, smoked clotted cream, salted almonds, buckthorn curd" produced a startling effect, "like bacon, and not in a good way" my friend described it. The thing is though, I loved it. Really loved it, salty and sugary and fatty and cold and warm and sweet and sour: mind-boggling it definitely was, but I really thought it - only just mind you - worked. Our waiter described it as "Marmitey", which I think means customers either love it or hate it, although I wouldn't be surprised to discover it actually had Marmite in it.

There was still more to come. An encore of Douglas Fir "milkshake" was - needless to say - nigh on perfect, "like drinking Christmas". Who cares if it's July. And finally, two teeny petits fours, ethereally light spongecake topped with sweet fresh raspberry. Divine, of course.

It is a risk, at least it should be, putting yourself into the hands of a chef and handing over any choice over the elements of what is, by anyone's standards, a very expensive lunch. And God knows, in lesser hands it can easily go wrong - Viajante wasn't exactly bad but of a similar number of courses only about half were worth shouting about, and it cost just as much. Roganic is a triumph not because a chef with a handful of wacky ideas and bizarre foraged ingredients is trying something new, but because everything produced is worth eating. And if you don't like lovage, or thought the dessert tasted of bacon, then at least you didn't like them for a good reason, not just because they were bland or formless or weren't seasoned properly. I only worry even with such gushing prose that I haven't done the place justice; there's far more to talk about - the friendly service, the hot house rolls and artisan butter spread on a pebble on the table in front of you - but I'm already way over my word limit. In short, if you love food you'll love everything about Roganic, and will do everything in your power to go. A uniquely creative and exhilarating restaurant.


Roganic on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

FM Mangal, Camberwell

There's something special about the FM Mangal pickle sauce. It's brought out with the house bread whether you're sitting down to a £6 lunch special (huge and surely one of the great lunch bargains of London) or, as we were last night, ordering way too much from the dinner menu, and it tastes bloody amazing - attractively purpley-red, just the right balance of sweet and sharp and containing huge chunks of crispy charcoal-blackened onion. But that's not why it's special. At least, it's not the only reason. It's special because despite persistent (polite) questioning, none of the staff at FM Mangal will reveal what goes into it.

"It's a chef's secret," they say.
"But is it pomegranate? Beetroot? Is there garlic?"
"It's a chef's secret, sorry."

And there's nothing more likely to pique the interest of a curious food blogger than a hint of mystery surrounding a dish or a restaurant. It's what made the Meatwagon story so appealing - you could guess at the recipe for the bun, you could watch the guys making the things like a hawk, you could try and ask the owner Yianni where he got his cheese from, but somehow you just wouldn't get anywhere. The bun would remain glossy and tasty and just firm enough whilst being stubbornly unavailable to anyone else, the method seemed simple from what you could gather from watching and yet any attempts to recreate the things in your own kitchen were doomed to failure, and good luck getting anything but obfuscation and enigmatic evasion from Yianni. All you can do is eat those burgers and wonder how on earth they do it. It's infuriating - utterly, deliberately, deliciously infuriating.

As well as the mysterious house pickle sauce, though, there are still plenty of things to enjoy about FM Mangal. We started with a tray of cold mezze, which although fairly unadventurous (shop-bought tarama, for example, and a rather soggy tabbouleh) was still a huge amount of food for £6 and the lovely staff kept bringing out replacement bread as we ploughed our happy way through it. The bread deserves a special mention in fact - as well as being fresh and fluffy and plentiful, it appears to have been brushed with some kind of spice paste, giving it an interesting extra kick. We also enjoyed a little plate of sliced sucuk, hot Turkish sausage, dense and spicy.

Best of the mains was something called the FM Mangal Special, in which tender and tasty chunks of lamb kofte sat on top of a puréed aubergine and yoghurt sauce. A cut above your average ocakbasi dish, this contained a really interesting mix of textures and rich flavours, particularly the smoky, soft aubergine. Less impressive sadly were some lamb chops - I didn't mind so much they'd cooked them through to chewy grey but they didn't taste of anything other than plain grilled lamb. They definitely could have done with some more interesting marinade (or even any marinade at all).

Kenat were notable not just because they were beautifully cooked, crunchy outside and moist within, but because they were possibly the most enormous chicken wings I've ever seen. Each half-wing was the size and shape of a drumstick, and just four of them produced the amount of meat you'd normally expect to find on a whole bird. I don't know what freakish breed of chicken FM Mangal's butcher uses, but if they're conducting some kind of secret genetic experiment to compliment their secret dipping sauce, I think someone needs to tell Environmental Health. Scary.

In the same spirit of generosity and hospitality that had made our evening up to this point so enjoyable, with the bill (a pittance at just over £20 a head with two bottles of wine, and we had ordered far too much food) we were brought slices of watermelon, cubes of Turkish Delight and a three shots of hilarious multicoloured spirits - creme de banane, creme de menthe and triple sec. Perhaps some obscure Turkish liqueur would have been more authentic, but you have to love the idea of ending a meal on a random raid on the back of the drinks cabinet. Naff perhaps, but still rather charming.

A great little restaurant, then, and one that is evidently and deservedly popular. Through the smoke billowing up from the grill I could make out not only every table taken with a mix of large families, friends and couples but also a healthy queue of people milling about waiting for takeaway; the atmosphere was homely and happy, and it gladdened the heart. Or maybe that was just the Turkish house wine (surprisingly decent, £14 a bottle). But I will be back, I'm sure, and often - food like this, and so much of it, and at these prices, is easily enjoyed. And maybe one day I may even work out what goes into their secret pickle sauce.


FM Mangal on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Crooked Well, Camberwell

Another week, another interesting new opening in Camberwell. I seem to have been spending a lot of my time around these parts lately, although admittedly most of that is down to the marvellous Silk Road and my insatiable desire for their home-style cabbage. If you've not made the effort to visit this unassuming little Xinjiangese and haven't yet sampled a healthy handful of cumin-spiced lamb kebabs or a big steaming bowl of belt chicken noodles or yes, that silky, stocky hand-torn cabbage, then you have a real treat in store. It's the kind of restaurant every spice-loving Londoner wants as their local, and I love it.

But this post isn't about Silk Road, and the Crooked Well isn't an uncompromisingly authentic specialist in unpronounceable regional Chinese cuisine or a gritty East-African canteen with no cutlery, it's a strangely familiar, brand new and very smart gastropub. And if you've come to this area of town looking for interesting ethnic budget eats (and I can't think of any other reason you might find yourself here) the sight of this place with its polished wooden floors and £15 main courses of confit duck and roast guinea fowl may seem incongruous to say the least. I'd never go so far as to say a posh gastropub doesn't belong in Camberwell any more than I'd say a budget Sichuan doesn't belong in Bloomsbury, but there is opening a restaurant sympathetic to the needs of its locals, and there is crossing your fingers and pretending you're in East Dulwich when you're not.

Residents of East Dulwich of course would find the Crooked Well very much to their liking. House bread - a sourdough of some kind - was very tasty with a lovely crust and the salted butter good enough to match up to anywhere on Lordship Lane. The truffle mayo with my asparagus starter was excellent, too - flecked with a generous amount of fresh black truffle and lovely light (presumably home made) mayonnaise, although I'm not sure how seasonal asparagus are in mid-July. And a pork belly dish with tuna creme fraiche sounded weird on paper but turned out to be rather nice, a cold summer salad with soft rolled pork and crispy crackling.

Mains were only slightly less enjoyable. I had a lovely bone-in pork chop, tender and juicy and cooked very well, although as you can see from the photo above the advertised "gremolata" was nothing more than a few miniscule blobs of green sauce - they really would have been better off either not mentioning it at all or being a bit more generous with the application. And I'm afraid a confit duck leg with saffron aioli and chickpeas was uncomfortably heavy on undercooked, crunchy chick peas and light on any kind of acid or citrus to cut through the duck fat. The duck itself was moist and delicious, it just didn't have anything else to help it down. Mind you, there's still a lot to be said for a nice bit of confit duck and this generous portion was nevertheless polished to the bone even if most of the rest of the plate was left untouched.

I liked the cheese arrangement at the Crooked Well. From an attractive board of seven French and English cheeses you are invited to have as many as you like for £2 per portion, and I was even more delighted in my own geeky way to be told they were all unpasteurised. Of the three I went for, all were a perfect temperature and in very good condition, the highlight being a thick, gooey Affine au Chablis (the rind is washed in white Burgundy). They also left us a big basket of more than enough salty crackers, so no penny pinching there.

The Crooked Well is a perfectly decent gastropub, competent and comfortable and somehow fairly unremarkable in every way other than the fact it is in Camberwell and not nestled amongst expensive florists and Cath Kidson outlets in some South London "nappy valley". But it deserves to do well in the same way as any new business trying to make a living serving fresh food deserves to do well, and I have a sneaking feeling that it probably will do well, eventually, as creeping gentrification of this corner of SE5 brings the kind of customer that doesn't mind spending £30 on their dinner (that would be me, then) and appreciates a decent cheeseboard. Not everything about my meal was perfect but the service was friendly and absolutely on the ball (easy when we were the only people eating, but still appreciated) and it was all very easy to enjoy, especially once I realised they had a bottle of Fernet Branca behind the bar and weren't afraid to use it. There are more exciting, and cheaper, places to eat around these parts, but there's always room for another good restaurant. I wish them well.


Crooked Well on Urbanspoon