eating out with abby

it’s been a funny few months for eating out. there has been a flurry of emails and newspaper articles circulating details of the latest deals being offered by hard-pressed restaurants, ranging from high street chains to michelin-starred successes. there has also been news of restaurant companies going to the wall – gordon ramsay’s empire has been under particular scrutiny from the media – or struggling to deal with unexpected issues such as the mystery bug which caused the fat duck to close while the health inspectors moved in.

in my world there has been less casual eating out, partly because i’m tightening my belt - sadly only in monetary terms - and partly because that’s just what seems to happen in the dark days of winter. some places have stood out though.

speaking of deals, some of the best available at the moment are the l’atelier de joel robuchon 2 courses for £19 or three courses for £25. i went for lunch back in january and had a wonderful meal. i loved the platter of iberian ham which we started with - the ham was absolutely out of this world, rich, sweet and packed full of flavour. two of the tapas dishes tood out - a salad of sautéed squid, thinly sliced fried baby artichokes, chorizo and rocket and langoustine ravioli which were served on top of savoy cabbage with a rich seafood reduction that coated the pasta. we also tried mr robuchon’s infamous mashed potato. apparently this involves a ratio of potato:butter of 4:1. it was like eating softened butter with a hint of spud and we only managed a spoonful each.

also in january, i went to the modern pantry in farringdon. starters were fab – i had an amazing dish of squid and aubergine which had been marinated with lots of herbs, spices, chilli etc. my friend jude had grilled ox tongue which was served with thin slices of beetroot and a zingy gherkin salsa. mains were less exciting, not least my pork belly which had no crackling. the vegetables - artichokes and savoy cabbage – were very good though. when i go back i’d like to have sharing plates or a mix of starters so i can try more things, washed down with their lovely verdicchio.

i have already sung the praises of terroirs and continue to be both a regular visitor and smitten by the wine and food they serve. i was less smitten by bocca di lupo. my friend helen and i ordered half a dozen small plates, several of which just didn’t work and none of which had a wow factor.

more successful was breakfast at st john bread and wine which apparently serves the best bacon sandwich in london. i have to agree. and it’s huge – david and i shared a sandwich (ample for two) and followed this with pikelets plus toast and honey.

david and i had a nice lunch at york & albany, gordon ramsay’s pub in camden. at £18 for three courses it was great value and the food was all very good. i was particularly keen on a starter of warm flaked salmon served on lemon barley with a radish cream and will be using this as inspiration to get back into cooking with farro. my pudding was also wonderful – based on an angela hartnett dish from the connaught, the lemon posset with blood orange and jelly and sorbet worked brilliantly with the three elements in perfect harmony. service was poor though, with our starters arriving before our drinks!

repeat visits to barrafina were wonderful. sadly repeat visits to my much-loved and lunchtime favourite busaba show signs of a decline, especially with regard to their previously wonderfully thai calamari. mexicali was a new find and one which i’ll return too – be warned through, portions are huge! i also enjoyed a repeat visit to franco manca in brixton which is still being lauded as the best pizza in london. i remain unconvinced but the sour dough pizzas are definitely worth a try and excellent value.

a lunch at scotts, courtesy of lactofree (who make specialist dairy products free of lactose) as part of national allergy week was also a disappointment with its overly rich and heavy dairy-laden menu. also disappointing was lunch at jamie’s italian in oxford – my special of porchetta with roasted vegetables was dripping in oil and while the other dishes weren’t bad, nothing was particularly good apart from the beautifully restored thomas crapper toilets!

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