Tuesday 16 December 2014

Cheese and Biscuits Restaurant of the Year 2014 - The Dairy

Whether I found a home in this city because I'm naturally a reckless idiot, or whether my adopted home made me one, London is a city of risk takers, and this is why it's always been such a fantastically exciting place to eat out. Street food, burgers, hot dogs, ramen, foraged Modern British, whatever trend you may have leapt upon, enthusiatically devoured for as long as it was a novelty then haughtily dismissed as soon as soon as it reached the pages of the Observer Food Magazine, the fact is, this pace of change would hardly be tolerated anywhere else. And whilst innovation still very often comes at the cost of some truly bizarre and completely unworkable "concepts" that have popped-up and fizzled out recently (it's the Shoreditch Cereal Café that's become the latest object of mainstream eye-rolling but I swear I've seen worse in the past), it has, after all, also given us MeatLiquor, Burger & Lobster, Bob Bob Ricard and a few other past winners of the Cheese & Biscuits Restaurant of the Year. This is a city of innovators.

Clearly, too, there is still an awful lot of rubbish around. It's still possible to buy a really bloody awful burger, lobster roll or bowl of ramen in London in 2014, either because the owners have checked out the competition and still honestly believe their product is better, which means they don't have an ounce of talent in this area and really shouldn't be running a restaurant at all, or perhaps they haven't bothered checking out the competition and just think that by scanning a few trade articles on the latest trends they can dupe enough people that their lazy slice of commodity garbage is worth the logo-emblazoned greaseproof paper it's presented on, in which case they also really shouldn't be running a restaurant at all. Lots of people who shouldn't be running restaurants are somehow still running restaurants, but then I guess that's true of every industry. At least hospitality does better than rail transport.

So I won't dwell on the bad. It may be easy and amusing to have a "worst burger" award or "most incompetent PR campaign" or "most viciously incompetent service in a restaurant" but to draw attention to these things would cloud the fact that most of the time, London food people get it right. And my goodness, how right. I know I say this every year but it really is nearly impossible to narrow my favourites down to a short handful, never mind choose an overall best. But I hope at least you appreciate my reasons for this shortlist, and can at least forgive me for the winner.

The Culinary Trailblazer award - Peckham Bazaar

Also known as the "where the hell did this one come from" award. It's not just that the dishes at Peckham Bazaar make liberal use of obscure and exciting ingredients sourced from parts of the eastern Mediterranean you never knew existed. It's not just that the wine list is worth an award all by itself (and in fact very nearly won one), being a list of incredibly fairly marked-up and entirely unpronouncable Balkan oddities with literary footnotes from people who not only know what they're talking about but can communicate it well to us mortals. It's also that for all this, in a room hung with the smoke from a vast real charcoal grill and at a budget that only a converted pub in SE15 could manage, you can eat dishes of flair and flavour for not very much money at all (£7 starters, £16 mains).

Peckham Bazaar is a one-off, but even that label doesn't do it justice - it is one of London's true innovators, the kind of place requiring not just oodles of talent but nerves of iron and real determination to pull off. A labour of love, and you will love the fruits of its labour.

The Moment Where We Finally "Got" Ramen award - Kanada-Ya

I may never be able to persuade everyone to queue up in the freezing cold outside a tiny, sweaty little noodle shop in St Giles. But for those who are willing to suffer most kinds of hardship for a bowl of frothy, creamy pork bone noodle soup, neat slices of salty pork belly as soft as jelly, and perhaps an extra of cured egg with a yolk the colour of Christmas clementines, this is absolutely the very best you can get. It's definitely not the most comfortable dining experience, but what it lacks in elbow room it makes up for in attentiveness and a pleasant environmental authenticity - the steamed-up windows and largely Japanese clientele mean that you can imagine just outside are the streets of Nagasaki rather than central London. Now just hurry up and open a few more branches, please - food like this deserves to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

The Future of Fine Dining award - Fera

I have to acknowledge that there are people in the world, nice, intelligent people, who don't enjoy Simon Rogan's food. A very good friend of mine walked away nonplussed from Roganic (a popup that existed briefly in Marylebone a couple of years back), yet another wished he'd never booked L'Enclume (still the pinnacle of the art, in my opinion), and none other than Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard couldn't find many nice words to say about Fera. But sometimes you have to shrug your shoulders and tell yourself, well, you can't please 'em all. Rogan's food may be experimental, it may occasionally overwhelm with texture and colour and bizarre confrontations of seafood and raw beef and bright green goo. But I have never found any of it less than entirely thrilling, and he has, against all odds, shifted effortlessly from the understated charm of a medieval Lake District blacksmiths to the grandest of grand London hotel dining rooms without (in my opinion - others are available) sacrificing anything of what made his product so special.

And if you want just one example, the grilled salad with truffled custard; leaves from a dozen weird and wonderful plants some of which don't even have non-Latin names, made brittle and smoky from some fiendishly clever technique possibly involving charcoal, all forming a canopy over a mind-blowingly heady truffle mousse, the kind of thing which will haunt your dreams for years. There is still hardly a mouthful of food from my meal at l'Enclume two years ago that I still can't taste if I close my eyes. Fera is a deeply worthy successor.

The How On Earth Do They Make Any Money award - Silk Road

In most restaurants, the phrase "that can't be right" uttered on presentation of the bill at the end of the meal means beans on toast for a week and an apology to everyone else on the table for that extra bottle of Chablis. But at Silk Road, no matter how many rounds of beer, no matter how many delectable portions of cumin-spiced lamb skewers or pork dumplings or bowls of steaming belt noodle chicken, no matter how every inch of your table groans with dishes of fire and invention and sheer pork-laced generosity, the bill per head will never come to much more than the price of a trip to the cinema.

Nobody is entirely sure why this should be the case. Sure, many of the ingredients are hardly premium, but they are fresh and treated well, and in many cases require either careful slow-cooking in vast stockpots overnight, and someone's got to pay the gas bill, or are fiendishly labour-intensive and highly-skilled, like those hand-wrapped dumplings. Everything is made on-site, by the family owners, and is - and believe me we've tried everything on the huge menu at least once - invariably wonderful, packed with beguiling spicing and uncompromising levels of Northern Chinese chilli. Silk Road is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a handmade pastry casing, but nobody is complaining. A wonder.

The Fusion Fever award - A Wong

The second Chinese restaurant in the runner-up list, but A Wong deserves a spot firstly (and mainly) because it's brilliant, but secondly because it very handily highlights one of the dangers that food blogs like this one can run in to by making a decision about a place based on one visit. I can't apologise as such for writing up most if not all of these pages after a single lunch or dinner; I don't have the time or budget to do it any other way, and in fact 90% of the time even if given the chance I wouldn't need to - barring an errant point here or there, once is enough.

But in 2013 I got it wrong, so completely and utterly wrong that A Wong has leapt from a barely creditable 4/10 straight to one of my favourite restaurants in town. The food is nominally Chinese, but really Andrew Wong's cooking deserves a whole new category of its own - Chinese techniques are married with the very best of London's ingredients (steamed Scottish langoustine with Chinese herbs, for example, or chilli-roast pineapple with Sichuan pepper) to produce a inticing (and huge) menu that impresses at almost every turn. There's nowhere else like it, and for about £40 a head there's certainly hardly anywhere better value.

The Overall Winner - The Dairy

With my earlier whinge about bandwagon-jumping and creative bankruptcy neatly out of the way, I am free to point out - for the umpteenth time - just how good we have it in 2014. In almost every conceivable style and budget, there is a team of people somewhere working their socks off to make sure you enjoy your dinner - surely only New York can challenge our availability of such variety, passion and talent. You want it, you got it.

In the end though, a winner cannot reward either strict authenticity OR no-holds-barred experimentalism that alienates too much of its potential target audience to ever be a hit. The most successful proponents of any art produce groundbreaking invention whilst simultaneously taking along a huge amount of people along the journey with you. Be unappreciated in your own time if you like, but I'm pretty sure most people would rather be the Beatles than Frank Zappa.

There are a number of reasons why I think the Dairy is the best restaurant in London right now. There is of course the the food - they relentlessly push forward what it's generally accepted you can offer customers in a £40/head restaurant on the edge of Clapham Common, and they are working hard to increase the amount of ingredients they produce themselves on in their rooftop allotments not because (or at least not just because) it looks good on their CV but because the taste of the resulting dishes is demonstrably better for doing so. They are also accessible, unpretentious and charming, just as comfortably serving snacks and cocktails on a Saturday afternoon as pulling out all the stops for a ten-stop tasting menu with matching wines; there are no waistcoat-clad waiters flocking to your table every 30 seconds, but neither are you ever ignored. It's service reimagined for modern London, neither haute-cuisine-obsequious or lackadaisical.

I'm not about to suggest that the Dairy is a revolution. Its influences range from Simon Rogan to the Eagle, Farringdon and prehaps its only a few steps ahead of your own favourite local gastropub. It's also half an hour's walk from my house, and that is a factor, I mean I'm only human. But you'll have to take my word that it's my favourite restaurant of 2014 mainly because of what it represents about London. It's barely been there for a year and a half but it already feels as solidly part of what modern British food IS as what Parisian bistros or tapas bars in Madrid do for their respective host cities. Though I love ramen and belt chicken noodles and - yes - burgers, I am after all a Londoner, and we need something we can call our own. If all goes well and this kind of thing becomes our gift to the world, well, what a marvellous thing to be proud of. And if it doesn't? At least we can say we were there for the ride.

Anyway congratulations the Dairy, the other runners-up and pretty much anywhere on these pages that won 7/10 upwards over the last 12 months, and deep apologies to anywhere I've not mentioned by name; there are spots in Dorset, my beloved Cornwall and Somerset that are more than worth a few paragraphs of gushing prose but perhaps I'd better leave you all to your mince pies. I'm off for a brandy, a slice of Cornish Blue and a lie down, and then I'll be up bright and early in 2015 to start the whole thing all over again for - it hardly seems possible - the ninth year running. Thanks so much - as ever - for still reading, have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year.

All photos my own except the one of the Silk Road Belt Chicken noodles which is by Lizzie.

EDIT: For more London restaurant ideas, why not spend a couple of quid on my Top 100 Restaurants map? Ideal Christmas present etc. etc. App coming early 2015.

Thursday 11 December 2014

The Five Fields, Chelsea

This was actually the second time I'd sat down in the dining room at Five Fields. Unfortunately on our first visit a power cut meant no sooner had we got settled than a very apologetic front of house had to find us a short notice table elsewhere; a very minor inconvenience for us (particularly considering the alternative was the wonderful Medlar) but a disaster for them, losing an evening's full house of bookings and god knows how much food spoilage. This isn't actually the first time I've had a booking cancelled because of a power cut - it seems to happen in Soho a hell of a lot; maybe it's the rats - and I'm reliably informed that compensation from the energy companies is rare to completely non-existant. Which seems desperately unfair.

Anyway a return date was soon found and here we finally were, nibbling on pleasant amuses of foie gras paté and fresh crab. I can't remember many canapés that have really set my heart racing; it seems to me that you'd be silly to waste an opportunity to start dinner with a bang, and yet most restaurants seem to settle for a couple of mouthfuls of comfort food. Which isn't to say they weren't welcome, of course, just a bit disappointing.

Pre-starter of onion consommé continued the theme; nice but fairly ordinary. The cube of soft gruyere had a gentle earthy flavour and having a chunk of sweet pickled onion floating around was at least unusual, but the broth itself was really no better than the French Onion Soup at Zedel, a restaurant with no pretentious to fine dining and - to say the least - in a rather different price bracket.

But then the bread arrived and all of a sudden the journey was worth it. This buttermilk-based invention is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best house bread I've encountered in a very long time, although perhaps it's not technically "bread" at all, more of a savoury pastry. Inside a brittle, golden brown crust were soft curls of soft, sweet brioche, steaming warm from the oven, just the most perfect texture inside and out. Alain Ducasse once famously said he deliberately serves cold, sub-premium bread at his restaurants because he doesn't want people filling up before the proper dishes arrive. This is probably just an excuse for being rubbish at bread, but I can kind of see his point - I could have happily eaten 10 of these and nothing else and still gone home happy.

Another little extra course, this time beetroot done a number of different ways. It was very pretty, colourful and with an artistic arrangement of various geometric shapes, but the success or not of the whole enterprise rather depends on your attitudes towards beetroot. And to that end, I'm afraid I'm not that much of a fan. I don't hate beetroot any more than I hate parsnip or sweet potato or turnip, but it's not exactly a death row vegetable is it. Still, enjoyable enough.

Rather a lot, then, was resting on the starter courses proper. First - huge, meaty Orkney scallops crusted with toasted pistachio and surrounded by various forms of cauliflower, and these were very good indeed; not just the scallops themselves which were perfectly seared golden brown leaving the bright white flesh inside firm and tasty, but cauliflower is always a good match for scallops and the textures of veg made all kinds of interesting crunch and contrasts.

My own dish "Rockpool" is a Five Fields signature dish of sorts, and certainly comes with plenty of fanfare. It's presented in two parts, the first "cold" stage consisting of a bowl of seafood granita and a slate of various shapes and techniques of caviar, sea urchin, smoked eel, you name it. It's a dish that was more admirable than enjoyable. Bits of it were very nice - I loved the oyster (I think it was anyway) bowl with the citrussy granita on top, and the best item on the slate was a sweet glazed bit of mackerel, rich and rewarding. My problem with it all was only that the flavours and aromas were a bit too reminiscent of an actual stagnant rockpool; evocative and technically impressive maybe, but still not exactly what you'd usually consider dinner. The next stage, some good firm langoustine tails in a slightly oversour seafood sauce, had a similar curate's egg quality.

Between the starters and main was this, the first time I've ever had a dish served on a 400-million-year-old ammonite fossil. If only the food had been as interesting, as what was inside these neat green spheres was a mouthful of the kind of everyday apple sauce you might have with your pork chop. I mean I'm sure it wasn't, but it certainly tasted no different.

Red grouse was, I'm fairly certain, cooked sous-vide because there was no nice bubbly skin, in fact no sign of a direct heat source of any kind, just two tranches of medium-rare breast meat surrounded by neat chunks of winter vegetables. There is a time and a place for sous-vide cooking, I'm certainly not totally against it in all situations, but when I compare the golden brown, crisp-skinned birds fresh out of the oven at, say, Racine to these characterless lumps of salted rubber, well, there's no contest. It seems to me that too often sous-vide is a technique used for the benefit of the kitchen more than the enjoyment of the customer, and though I can appreciate consistency is at least more important in a fine dining environment than in a neighbourhood bistro, it should never be priority number one.

Cornish Turbot, hiding here under a clever piece of dried skin, was by all accounts a more enjoyable main course. Pan-fried to a nice dark exterior, the inside firm and fresh, there was little to complain about. I'm not entirely sure raw blackberries are a perfect accompaniment to anything other than a fruit salad, but that could just be me.

This miniature bowl of foam was presumably a palate-cleanser of some kind, as it was quite surprisingly bitter and not entirely fun to eat but admittedly did zap our tastebuds back into the middle of next week.

Finally the desserts. Mine was a mango, peanut, celery and buttermilk affair, a Dairy-style arrangements of different forms and textures but lacking something - salt? Sugar? Heart? It was perfectly pleasant, but entirely forgettable, a sign of a kitchen whose interests quite clearly lay elsewhere.

I think the other dessert was called Orchard, as it consisted of coils of fresh apple in an apple sorbet, with some bits and pieces of ice cream and doughnut things. It also felt like a refugee from a much cheaper restaurant; this kind of thing is done better by any of those new-wave British garden restaurants like Picture, the Dairy or Toast, and for little more than a fiver.

Five Fields is, and will more than likely remain no matter what I have to say on the matter, an incredibly popular little restaurant. Plenty of people have had enough of a good time at this cozy spot just off Kings Road to regularly propel it to the top of more than one 'readers favourites' list on sites like TripAdvisor, and whatever you think about those lists they must at least have a loose relationship with the truth. I just honestly wish I felt the same - dishes swung between oddly timid (sous-vide grouse, scallops and cauliflower) and recklessly experimental ("Rockpool"), never often stopping at enjoyable along the way, and for the prices being charged "enjoyable" is really the least you could ask. Most likely, Five Fields just isn't for me. And all said and done, I'm sure that's the least of their worries.


Thanks to the power cut kerfuffle and the intervention of a kindly PR, we didn't end up paying for our meal at Five Fields. Photos taken with a Canon 700D with 50mm lens, kindly loaned from Canon.

The Five Fields on Urbanspoon

Monday 8 December 2014

Bibendum, South Kensington

I sometimes get the feeling that the more the pace of restaurant openings in London quickens, the more of a creature of habit I am in deciding where to eat out. This is, for a food blogger, clearly a bit of a worry - I generally don't re-review places (and certainly not anywhere whose score hasn't changed), and as last month proved, it only takes a couple of unfortunate illness/power cut events combined with a dearth of new experiences elsewhere to make these pages look, well, a bit sparse. So although the gravitational pull of Bob Bob Ricard, The Dairy, Tayyabs, MeatLiquor and the other Top 100 (pluggy plug plug) are stronger than ever, there's still not much of an excuse, in a city as dynamic as this, to not at least make a bit of an effort to try somewhere new.

So this month I'm redoubling my efforts to get out there and visit some places that have been on The List (yes, I do have a list, it's on the Notes app on my iPhone but it's still a list) for way longer than they should have been. The only question was, where? And given the frightening number of options, how on earth do you decide? Then I remembered Uncover, a restaurant booking app I'd been asked to test out a couple of weeks previously. The idea (I think) is that it will keep a database of high-end or oversubscribed restaurants with last minute availability, so that if you want lunch or dinner somewhere nice that very day, it will throw up a list of options.

It's early days (the app is still in soft launch mode) but it's already quite a fun way of booking a meal. Searching from my house in Battersea (it's vaguely based on location) it offered lunch tables last Saturday at Medlar, Hawksmoor Knightsbridge and our eventual choice Bibendum, each of which I would have happily patronised. Admittedly it also suggested The Admiral Codrington (which has gone dreadfully downhill since burger maestro Fred Smith left) and Ametsa with Arzak Instruction which hasn't exactly set the world alight but I guess it was never likely to be exactly tuned to current critical consensus.

Anyway after a couple of prods at my iPhone screen and a bus ride, we were in South Kensington, settling into the plush dining room of what is surely one of the more beautiful dining spaces in London. Michelin House is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, stunning outside and in with its handpainted tiling, floor mosaics and stained glass windows depicting the proto Michelin Man in a variety of energetic activities - riding a bike, kickboxing(?), everything apart from driving a car weirdly. Perhaps it made more sense in 1911. Anyway, downstairs is the newly refurbished Oyster Bar in the cavernous (and rather chilly) main hall, and very popular it looked too, but we were booked in upstairs, an altogether more genteel (and warmer) environment.

The menu is a real crowdpleaser, priced as you might expect in these parts (£31 for 3 courses) but with thankfully just enough interesting sounding dishes scattered amongst the usual mid-high-end clichés (chicken liver parfait, haddock and chips with tartare sauce, you know the drill). House bread was from Sally Clarke and was a gorgeous baguette still warm from the oven. And look who provided the butter, M. Bibendum himself in what was once presumably an ashtray. I wonder how many of those go missing week by week.

Fennel soup was comforting and had a good light texture even if it was slightly underseasoned, but came with a couple of crunchy slices of anchovy toast which were incredibly moreish. If you've ever tried that Gentleman's Relish stuff you see in posh delis, try and imagine that only runnier and even more powerfully salty - I couldn't get enough of it.

The other starter was this generous fillet of brill, firm and relatively flavoursome in a creamy sauce that was again perhaps slightly underpowered but still enjoyable. Sometimes, a bowl of fresh white fish in a seafood sauce, served by smiling staff in a beautiful dining room, doesn't have to be anything much more than solid to make it all worthwhile.

Of the mains, cod with Swiss chard fritters and sauce "choron" (a Béarnaise with tomato added, apparently) was the more successful; in fact was very good indeed. The fish was absolutely stunningly white and split apart into moist flakes with only the most gentle of persuasion. The fritters added crunch, and wrapping up the fillet itself in more chard made it a bit like opening a Christmas present. Very festive.

My own duck breast wasn't much worse. Unfortunately, though, despite perfectly medium rare slices of nice moist bird, and with seasonal sprouts, pancetta and juniper as a very decent accompaniment, the whole thing was spoiled slightly by an incredibly powerful bitter orange sauce, which just seemed a bit clumsy. I did finish it though, so it can't have been that bad, and on the side was a little layered potato fondant thing, full of flavour and crunch, which I would have happily eaten again and again.

At the risk of sounding like a pastry pedant, doesn't the word millefeuille suggest at least two layers of ingredient? A couple of blobs of dark & white chocolate fondant inside layers of biscuit is only a millefuille if a bungalow is a duplex. Anyway, flavours were decent, and the boozy soaked cherries added a nice extra element.

Everyone knows what to expect from Christmas pudding, and this was a perfectly good example. The egg nog ice cream was nice, rich and vanilla-y, a clever extension of the brandy sauce underneath, but this was never likely to win any awards for Innovation In Dessert Design. It was a Christmas pudding.

So yes, there were bits that were less than perfect. But it's strange how it's only now as I impassively review the photos that I remember the errors here and there, whereas at the time it was all just so much... fun. Certainly that had something to do with the service, which never missed a beat, and the house prosecco which slipped down very easily, not to mention the booking process which didn't involve anything so annoying as having to talk to a human. But when you want a lunch experience to run like clockwork, and you don't mind throwing some money at it to make it happen (a bill of £130 for two is punchy perhaps, though not entirely unreasonable), this is when places like Bibendum, this grand old dame of Fulham Road, come into their own.


Uncover paid for this meal, or at least most of it (I went slightly over budget like I usually do). Here's a link if you want to try it yourself. Photos taken with a Canon 700D with 50mm lens, kindly loaned from Canon.

Bibendum on Urbanspoon

Thursday 4 December 2014

Smack Lobster, Mayfair

Yes, it's true, there's yet another new lobster restaurant in town. I've never been a believer in "too much of a good thing", so I don't really care how many there are as long as they're half decent but of course that's the problem - most of them aren't. If your business plan is simply to make money off a trend forged more bravely and more successfully by others, then experience shows your end product will be as bland, cynical and depressing as your motiviations for doing it. And despite its enviable number of trailblazers and risk takers, London has never been short of its bandwagon-chasers either.

But Smack lobster comes with a pedigree more promising than most. Surely one of the great London dining success stories of the last few years is the brilliant Burger & Lobster, which alongside employing some of the most skilled barpeople in town (gotta love those martinis) paired huge live Canadian lobster (grilled, boiled or in a roll) with crunchy fries, green salad and served the lot for a flat fee of £20. Apprently they also do burgers too.

Smack Deli is the Burger & Lobster team's go at fast food. You order from a short menu, wait around with a little buzzer in your pocket for your order to be ready, then either eat it in the functional seating area or take it boxed up back to the office. It's a great idea - egalitarian, attractive and accessible, bringing lovely fresh seafood to the Pret and Eat lunchtime crowd, and doing so with speed and style.

More good news - the lobster rolls at Smack are, whilst necessarily not as good as those from parent restaurant Burger & Lobster, fresh, tasty and insanely good value - £7.5 for (as far as I could tell) a whole lobster's worth inside a warm, crunchy brioche bun. The ordering system works well - I waited barely 30 seconds between picking up my buzzer and picking up my food, and though this is easy to do when you're not cooking the animals to order (the seafood itself is cold, but not of course frozen) no waiting around means no queues. I'd have liked some hot sauce on offer in the dining room, perhaps some more exciting accompaniments (courgette fries were the only option - what's wrong with potato?) but at these prices you can hardly complain. This is fresh lobster on a tiny budget, the kind of which I'd previously only seen in North America. On the face of it there's not much not to like, and on the strength of their product and process alone, Smack deserves to roar across town bashing the awful mayo-laden Pret and Eat branches into oblivion and bringing lobby rolls to the masses.

Except what's this, one of the styles of sandwich - the Japanese-inspired one, of course - is called the Happy Ending. And a sign pointing to overflow seating downstairs boasts of "wine, beer & naked women". I know, minor things really in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps I shouldn't be so bleeding-heart about it all and just let them get on with it, but... well, why is it when a restaurant is trying so self-consciously to be "edgy" that misogyny is always the first port of call? From mediocre burger joints looking for an easy route into the local papers, to trendy noodle bars plastering their toilet walls with pornography, "edgy" almost always means the same thing.

I mean, you don't see restaurants advising their interior designers to be 'edgy' and 'controversial' in other ways do you? I'm not seeing any East-African-pirate-themed hot dog stalls popping up in Camden ("All our meat is reared on hijacked container ships! Only one Khat Salad per customer!") or Civil-Rights-themed rib shacks in Soho ("Downstairs for beer wine and more slavery - sorry, spaces!"). And despite one hapless Mayfair restaurant happily boasting about hosting a Nigel Farage lunch a few weeks back (the restaurant industry being famously rarely in need of immigrant labour), I haven't yet noticed anywhere going the full-Third-Reich on the menu ("Two Goering Burgers and fries please." "Himmler Spritz?" "No, tap water's fine thanks."). Attention-seeking restaurants make casual references to prostitution because - for whatever reason - its gets them noticed (and yes, written about by do-gooders like me) more often than it gets them boycotted. Which says fairly worrying things about our attitudes in general.

Anyway, that's probably enough on the matter for now. The real shame of course is that while lesser restaurants have used "controversy" to raise their profile, there's absolutely no need for Smack to have done the same because their product is good enough to stand on its own. So hopefully, eventually, they'll rewrite the menu, take that stupid sign down and make an honest living selling fresh lobster rolls to happy customers. Let's leave the gimmicks to the other idiots, OK guys?


Photos taken with a Canon 700D with 50mm lens, kindly loaned from Canon.

Smack Lobster on Urbanspoon