Category Archives: Eating out

Old Tom & English: Soho

Reservations only? No queuing round the block in the rain for a soggy £14 lobster roll? Yes please. Old Tom & English in Soho’s Wardour Street is the brainchild of brother and sister team Costas and Maria Constantinou (of the Arts Theatre Club), who have opened their latest project to focus on ‘unpretentious British food and vintage cocktails’. I’m not sure how unpretentious it is to enter via ringing a doorbell, but so what, it’s fun.

The name references the 18th century British ‘Old Tom’ gin recipe, as well as being a nod to Soho’s colourful history – apparently ‘Tom’ is a bygone term for a prostitute, for whom all the little nooks and crannies are named. We were shown to a little area called Cora, who I’m sure was a lovely lady. The décor is 60s but sumptuous and expensive, and makes you feel like perhaps Don Draper or James Bond might just be relaxing around the corner…?

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Dinner comes in the form of several tapas-style dishes that are meant for sharing, although you probably won’t want to. The food is elevated to something special by the little touches that accompany each dish. Our confit smoked guinea fowl was so smoky, with such rich, gamey meat that nothing would have complimented it more than the anchovy butter it came with.

Crispy braised pig’s cheeks were sitting on a tart apple and fennel sauce, and the tiny cubes of goat’s cheese sprinkled over the scallops and courgette puree brought an unexpected sharp element that added a point of difference from your usual scallop combination, if you tend to go for that sort of thing. Triple cooked chips, almost universally a pleasure, were even more delightful dunked in the little bowl of mustard mayo. Battered seabass, and eggs and mushrooms on toast all excellent also.

Battered seabass
Battered seabass

Although not normally a dessert fiend, I dived in with unusual enthusiasm. Banana cake was light and not too banana-y, and whiskey cream made it feel extra naughty. Chocolate cake was rich and fudgy, and the hero for me.

Banana bread & whiskey cream
Banana bread & whiskey cream

The top-notch food, excellent service and luxurious furnishings makes the place feel expensive, and it’s a lovely spot to know about if you’re looking to impress, don’t want to queue or just fancy a bloody good dinner.

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A version of this post first appeared on Foodepedia

*We were guests of Old Tom & English

 

Babaji: Shaftesbury Avenue

Babaji is the latest venture from Alan Yau of Hakkasan and Wagamama fame, and is a departure from his usual top-notch Asian fare. Alan’s wife is Turkish so the connection is there, and Babaji aims to deliver no fuss, good quality food in the heart of the West End on Shaftesbury Ave, spitting distance from Les Mis.

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Turning up on a Sunday afternoon we were faced with a queue (they don’t take bookings) which had me very close to hopping over the road to grab a Chinese instead – I don’t have any patience for queuing outside restaurants. However a very sweet and smiley waiter came and promised us it was only 15 minutes and there was a large, powerful heater on the wall so let’s give it a chance.

On being seated and going over the menu, it looked great – divided into Pide (Turkish pizza), grills and meze, we went for one pide and 4 meze dishes to share, changing a couple of times when the first 3 things we asked for weren’t available – no mention of this when being given the menus.

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Karides guvec was a dish of baked prawns with peppers, tomatoes and cheese, very good. I love borek, and this one was short on filling but the filo was crispy and perfectly browned. The samphire was unexpectedly cold, but lemony and salty and went well with the other dishes.

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Our third choice of pide was the Afyon – beef sucuk with kasar cheese, which was a mildly spicy beef sausage – somewhere between salami and a frankfurter, with a generous amount of cheese. Freshly baked in the huge oven, the pides are delicious. We followed up with some lethal Turkish coffees which were delicious – strong, thick and sweet, the perfect end.

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Small issues in general included no sign of toilet roll in any of the cubicles, half the menu missing as mentioned and the first 20 minutes of our meal was accompanied by a medley of howling children – not their fault but it ruins the atmosphere somewhat. All in all, lovely food, sweet staff, great location and just a couple of things that I’m sure they’ll sort out. Would go back.

http://www.babaji.com.tr/ 

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Pétrus: Knightsbridge

I don’t know where to start with reviewing Pétrus, so with odd logic I’ve decided to start at the end: it was one of the loveliest meals I’ve had, a fabulous evening with beautiful food and quiet, attentive service, and great company and I wish I could go back every week.

As part of my Christmas present my lovely fiancé promised me dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant of my choice – a brilliant present given I love eating out, but obviously probably wouldn’t book super-expensive restaurants very often at all. I chose Pétrus following a recent grudging fondness for Gordon Ramsay, an ongoing crush on Marcus Wareing and recommendations from various bloggers. So off we went!

Aberdeen Angus tartare
Aberdeen Angus tartare

Pétrus is in London’s posh Knightsbridge area, is owned by Ramsay, was run by Wareing under whom it gained 2 Michelin stars, and is now headed by Sean Burbage, another Ramsay protégé who by most accounts is doing a fabulous job. The restaurant is dominated by a huge wine cellar in the middle, and the setting is formal with white tablecloths, thick carpet and a hushed atmosphere.

There are set menu options available but we opted for the a la carte. We were served an amuse bouche of tiny crackers with smooth, rich mushroom pate, miniature mushrooms on toast and tiny pieces of sweetbread served on sticks in their own smoker, followed by a pre-starter course of creamy butternut squash velouté with oats and crème fraiche. These were a lovely touch and set the scene for some heroic starters and mains.

Butternut veloute
Butternut veloute

We ordered the Alaskan and Cornish crab with yuzu and lemongrass consommé – the crab was delicious, so flavoursome and complimented perfectly by the Asian tang of lemongrass and yuzu. We also had the Aberdeen Angus tartare with truffle and quail’s egg, which was served like a beautiful little garden, to the point where I felt quite bad eating it. That was short lived though, as was the dish – the meat was soft and ideal with the tiny pickles and mushrooms, and I could’ve easily polished it off again.

Alaskan and Cornish crab
Alaskan and Cornish crab

For mains we went for Anjou pigeon with smoked onion purée, served with a mini pigeon pie on the side; the pie made the dish, it was so strong and smoky, with perfectly cooked meat. The main dish was beautifully presented and the various incarnations of onion kept it interesting. And honestly, what isn’t made better with a little pie?! The loin of venison was also incredible, cooked perfectly pink and served with braised celery filled with bread sauce, truffle and little fried sweetbreads, with a rich, shiny jus over the meat. The venison was out of this world, it absolutely melted, and the other elements were fun, delicious and pretty much perfect.

Anjou pigeon
Anjou pigeon
Loin of venison
Loin of venison

I’m a bit of a cheese freak (who isn’t) so the idea of a CART of cheese was too good to resist. The waiter was very patient while I dithered and eventually chose ash-coated goat’s cheese, a creamy dolcelatte, hard French sheep’s cheese and soft camembert-like one to finish off. I wish I could remember what they were all called but I was excited and impatient to dig in so admittedly wasn’t paying enough attention. Suffice to say they were all amazing.

My choice of cheeses
My choice of cheeses

Ian went for a coconut ice cream with pineapple granita, chargrilled pineapple and little blobs of creamy coconut sauce. Imagine a pina colada if it was made solid and touched by angels and you’re there. We finished off with little ice cream balls served in dry ice, a great note to finish on.

Coconut ice cream and pineapple
Coconut ice cream and pineapple
Petit fours
Petit fours

Service was as you’d expect from a Michelin starred restaurant – discreet, unobtrusive and almost reverent. It seems as if personality is something that is discouraged among staff though; I understand that fine dining is serious business in these parts, but they could have been a bit more smiley perhaps.

I’m not sure exactly what the bill came to as I was being treated, but I’m sure it was upwards of £200. Certainly not what you want to be spending on dinner every week, or month for that matter. But for a very occasional special lunch or dinner Pétrus is a gorgeous, romantic restaurant that I will be recommending to everyone I speak to.

http://www.gordonramsay.com/petrus/

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Le Garrick: Leicester Square

I must have walked past Le Garrick about 700 times (literally – twice a day for a year give or take) and finally got round to visiting this week with my fiancé’s family. It’s a gorgeous, atmospheric place with a lovely story – it’s been running for 25 years, but was taken over 8 years ago by the manager Dominika and Frenchman Charles who was previously a regular. Charles sent the head chef Rocco to SW France to train with none other than his mum, so on the menu you’ll find nothing but hearty, traditional French fare direct from Toulouse.

There are a few tables at ground level but most of the restaurant is down a spiral staircase into the cellar, where there are various nooks and crannies to settle into. We were seated quickly and served by various friendly, lively French staff.

I started with the Escargots de Bourgogne – snails to you and me. They were delicious – not at all chewy or slimy, but swimming in butter, salty and very garlicky, just how I like.. well, pretty much anything. There was soft, chewy, crusty baguette to soak up all the juice, which was almost as good as the meat itself, and more butter to put on the bread. Heaven. I also tasted the moules marinière (more garlic, also herby and winey, big and tender) and pâté, which had a nice strong meaty flavour and chunky texture.

Escargots de Borgogne

I tackled the Coquelet (whole baby chicken) for the main, and while it was cooked so it was lovely and moist with a flavoursome tomato sauce, the portion was huge. I also tried the Confit de Canard, lovely duck confit with a heart bean stew – gorgeous flavours and again, a huge portion.

Confit de Canard

Dinner came to about £30 per head for 2/3 generous courses, so great value for the West End, and they finished off with a complimentary digestif of a prune liqueur – perhaps not the particular spirit that I’d choose again (!) but a nice touch, and I’d highly recommend the whole experience.

http://www.frenchrestaurantlondon.co.uk/

*Excuse some of the pics – it was atmospheric (dark)

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Wild Serai at King & Co: Clapham

Since working for a pan-Asian restaurant in the past I’ve always been a fan of Malaysian cuisine – a reflection of the multi-ethnic population of the country but heavily influenced by Indian and Chinese. The restaurant I worked for was in Harrods, so the majority of my Malaysian eating experience has been pretty high quality with top notch ingredients and incredibly talented chefs. So I may have had fairly high expectations before visiting Wild Serai, and I’m pleased to say they were surpassed on pretty much every dish.

I was invited to join the lovely Jason and Chiara from Goan to London for lunch on Sunday to check out the new pop-up at the King & Co – I hadn’t seen them for months, hadn’t had Malaysian food for even longer and the pub is almost on my doorstep; winner!

Wild Serai have had great success in the last couple of years with various supperclubs in London, and are currently enjoying pop-up status in the newly refurbished King & Co – a stone’s throw from Clapham Common.

The King & Co
The King & Co

After much gossiping (probably to our lovely waiter Anthony’s frustration..) we finally ordered a selection of dishes to share. Mixed satay is standard Malaysian fare and this one was tender and perfectly chargrilled with just the right amount of spicy peanut sauce. Even the dribble of dressing on the cucumber garnish was lovely. We also had pork belly with little gem boats – you could just pick out the star anise in the soy dressing, it was delightful.

Mixed satay
Mixed satay
Pork belly
Pork belly

Nasi lemak is Malaysia’s national dish and Wild Serai’s is gorgeous – coconut rice garnished with spicy peanuts, cucumber and egg, with prawn sambal on the side and a crispy chicken wing (main pic).  We also had oxtail stew – the meat wasn’t overly meaty (high bone to meat ratio), but it tasted slow-cooked and the flavours were delicious.

Oxtail stew
Oxtail stew

For me the highlight was the soft-shelled crab with mantou buns. I love seafood and will always choose it, and this was crispy from the fryer without being greasy and the meat was fresh and fishy, not bland and soggy like it sometimes gets. You can taste the lemongrass and chilli in the sauce, and the sweet, soft little bun is the ideal vessel to shovel more of it in. I also adore the banana leaf plates and want some for home.

Soft shell crab
Soft shell crab

To drink we went for the recommended Cote du Rhone which was smooth and mellow, and complimented everything perfectly.

I’m not a huge fan of Asian desserts and unfortunately these didn’t change my mind! We had both the desserts on the menu, bubur cha cha was like a coconut soup with sago balls, banana and sweet potato – a bit too sweet for me, and cengkodok was deep fried banana balls. The two dishes were nicer combined, but still not as good as the mains.

Desserts
Desserts

Wild Serai is at The King & Co until 31st January 2015 – definitely get down there, it’s well worth a try.

http://thekingandco.uk/events/wild-serai/

Jackson & Rye: Soho

Although I didn’t realise until I walked in, this was my second visit to Jackson & Rye on Soho’s Wardour Street. I attended a networking breakfast there a few months ago and from what I remember (I’m not great in the mornings) it was fabulous, so I was more than keen to go back for dinner.

From the team behind Grillshack and backed by Richard Caring of the Ivy, Carluccio’s, Scott’s and J Sheekey among others, Jackson & Rye is loud, lively and exactly what you’d expect from an American themed restaurant in Soho on a Friday night – in a good way.

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Roast lamb rump on courgettes and tomatoes was tender and packed with herby flavour. Rump steak was delicious if slightly past the requested medium, and chips were thin and the ideal combination of crispy and fluffy that you come to expect from anywhere better than McDonald’s. I ordered creamed grits with sweetcorn on a whim, and thank God – they were smooth, creamy, salty and sweet, the perfect partner for roasted meat. I was expecting something sloppy and vaguely porridge-like, so they were a lovely surprise and something I’m very keen to have again, and soon.

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We also threw in half a lobster as a side dish, why not, January’s crap and you need all the little joys you can get! It was juicy and delicious as you’d hope, simply grilled with lemon.

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Not a huge fan of dessert usually but this was big hunks of charred marshmallow with blood orange sorbet and hot chocolate sauce to pour over the top (main pic) – wow, it was light, rich and fruity all at the same time, and just totally gorgeous.

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The American Merlot (when in Rome) was far too delicious – this combined with the daft proximity of the next tables meant I was extremely close to clearing all their dishes with my backside on leaving, and I was forced to apologise both before and after. No complaints about the wine, but perhaps they could allow another few inches between tables for privacy, dignity and the fact that we struggled to get all our plates on it at the same time. Obviously space is at a premium in Soho and they want to cram in as many covers as possible, but it does give an air of the assembly line.

Overall dinner at Jackson & Rye is fun, hearty and delicious, with a great menu, plentiful booze options and lovely staff. Definitely worth another visit, although go with a group for a bigger table.

www.jacksonrye.com

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Murakami: Leicester Square

Part of the reason for the existence of Feeding Franklin is so I have an outlet to bang on about lovely places I get to go to and also to share recipes and little things I’ve cooked (although this part is normally because I’m surprised it’s worked). I don’t like being too negative, partly due to first hand knowledge of how soul destroying it is as restaurant management to read a horrible blog post, so I dithered for a week about whether to post this. I decided that the hefty positives are so promising that it was worth a mention.

Murakami is a sushi and robata grill restaurant on St Martin’s Lane, on the old Jamie’s Wine Bar site. In addition to the above I have to emphasise that it has just finished its soft launch (as of yesterday) so teething problems are to be expected – that’s what a soft launch and discount period are for – it was 50% off food until 5th January.

Miso pork belly
Miso pork belly

To get the negatives out of the way, we were seated straight away but so far into a corner that my arm was in the coat rack. Slightly annoying when the whole middle section was empty, although we didn’t ask to move so joint responsibility. Our waitress was very sweet but struggled to understand what we were ordering or any questions asked. We got miso soup instead of miso marinated pork belly, despite questioning it when she brought a soup spoon, and when I asked whether what we had ordered was enough for a main meal (about 6 dishes) received blankness then a yes – it definitely wasn’t. The biggest shame was burnt scallops – I know, a travesty! They were tender and juicy but scarred with too-black griddle lines underneath where left on too long, making them bitter.

Ill-fated scallops
Ill-fated scallops

However! Despite communication problems the staff are lovely; the hostess was effusively friendly, and one of the managers brought over complimentary Champagne to make up for their mistakes which was great – although oddly only one between the two of us. The food we had (scallops aside) was gorgeous – the yellowtail sashimi was delicate, soft and light, and the pork belly tender and flavourful, complimented with the sweet marinade. Even the miso soup, although a surprise addition, was rich and almost meaty, much better than the weak ones with one piece of slimy tofu you get in Pret.

Yellowtail sashimi
Yellowtail sashimi

The place also looks lovely – great lighting and décor, and it’s obviously in a great location if you work central and/or are going to the theatre.  Despite my moaning I’m curious to give it a try down the line and if it’s all amazing will eat my words. (Which will be tastier than burnt scallops..)

*Excuse my pics, it was pretty dark in our corner

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The Porchester: Bayswater

On entering The Porchester in Bayswater, you’re mostly struck by the aroma – it’s like when you turn up at your mum’s on a Sunday; starving, hungover and itching for something warm and nourishing to sort you out, and the smell of a roast, or some gravy or fresh bread makes everything ok. So a good start for a cold, rainy Tuesday evening in West London.

Another of the newly made-over Young’s portfolio, The Porchester is situated on Bishop’s Bridge Road, between Royal Oak and Bayswater tubes, and is a fairly hefty site. It wasn’t overly busy on this occasion, but there was still a homely atmosphere, and as you may have gathered, some lovely cooking aromas.

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We started off with the scallops, which are served with black pudding and pea puree – a no-brainer combination, but if it ain’t broke and all that. They were completely gorgeous, tender with a bit of texture on the outside, presumably from being fried in butter. The pea puree was perfect, with some pea bits still present, and the black pudding was soft and flavoursome.

Crab with pork crackling was good, it’s a paste rather than chunks of crab and the brown meat gave it lots of good strong flavour that went well with the salty meatiness of the crackling. It didn’t quite have the skull-jarring initial crunch that I love about good crackling, and there was too much crab and not enough to dip in it – best to order some bread on the side.

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Pork belly (I seem to have a preoccupation with pork at the moment) with mash, apple sauce, greens and (more) black pudding was simple but very effective – spot-on comfort food with very creamy mash that I certainly could’ve eaten more of, and delicious meaty gravy. It was like a thick, rich pork soup – heaven.

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The shepherd’s pie was the hero here though, with its chunks of lamb in minty gravy, and more of the lovely mash and a smidge of cheese. We ignored the bit of cabbage on the side and devoured the rest with unseemly speed. A moist, date-y sticky toffee pudding was the ideal round-off.

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The Porchester’s a really good foody pub, with poshed-up comfort dishes in a nice atmosphere with sweet, attentive staff – they’re certainly ticking a whole lot of boxes and if I find myself that way again I’d definitely go back.

http://www.theporchester.co.uk/

*Prices are very reasonable but our meal was courtesy of The Porchester

Porchester on Urbanspoon

Peruvian Treats at Lima Covent Garden

“I can smell the toilet!”

“It’s just over here madam”

“Yes I know, I said I can SMELL it”

Emily’s first impression was perhaps not the most promising start to drinks and dinner at Lima Covent Garden,  as she joined me in the basement bar of the Floral Street outpost. After a couple of drinks in said bar we headed up to the (more fragrant) restaurant – the second Peruvian in London from Virgilio Martinez and follow up to Michelin-starred Lima in Fitzrovia. The menu looked great (phew – nothing like the smell of wee AND a crap menu) and we mostly went with recommendations from our wonderful Ecuadorian waiter Hector.

lima covent garden

lima covent garden
Sea bream ceviche and tuna nikkei

We went with sea bream ceviche to start, which was big, meaty chunks of firm white fish, sitting in a bowl of tiger’s milk with avocado and fine, crispy red onion hoops on top. Tiger’s milk, or leche de tigre is the Peruvian term for the marinade used to cure the raw fish and create the ceviche dish, and is normally made from lime juice, chillies, sliced onion and some of the juice from the fish. We were reliably informed by Hector that in Peru they drink it to cure hangovers, have it a LOT spicier, and this version had been toned down for the UK palette. Made me want it hotter to be honest, but probably wise not to go there – I’ve learned not to argue with South Americans about tolerance for heat, or ever try and get into a competition over it.  Anyway, it was so good I had to force myself not to drink the end bit from the bowl, and instead made do with rapidly scooping it into my mouth with the tiny spoon, like a desperate, hungry borrower.

Our other starter was a plate of tuna Nikkei – raw tuna, another dribble of the leche de tigre, samphire and little shavings of radish – a beautiful dish that was delicate but still packed a punch with the marinade. Small portions, a tenner each but perfect starters.

lima covent garden
Meat.

We balanced out the fishy first course with meat – rare, tender, juicy meat with all manner of delicious accompaniments. Beef sudado (main photo) was pieces of pink beef with a salty, herby quinoa stew, while the organic lamb rump was served rare again, and with a fresh minty yoghurt and fried potato strips. It also came with small cubes of potato in a cheesy sauce and perfectly seasoned, nutty black quinoa – all incredibly good.

lima covent garden

The house Spanish Grenache was light and fruity, great with the spicy fish and robust enough to still be tasty with lamb and beef.  A huge fan of sour cocktails, I meant to sample their pisco sours but totally forgot – obviously the wine was good enough to erase this intention from my contented little mind.

Lima Covent Garden was the ideal spot for a non-festive festive dinner: food is  delicious without being rich and heavy, staff are a delight and it doesn’t break the bank (although at £50 a head it’s probably not an everyday place).  I’m not surprised it’s big brother in Rathbone Place has a Michelin star, and while Floral Street is billed as an evolution rather than a copy (read cheaper and more casual) the standard is still impeccable.

www.limafloral.com/

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New restaurant! Dishoom: King’s Cross

Having enjoyed huge success with their Shoreditch and Covent Garden outposts, Bombay café  Dishoom has opened the latest jewel in the crown at Granary Square near King’s Cross. Based in a restored Victorian industrial building, it was once used as a trade interchange between London and the British Empire, with the workhorses under the building powering the canals and turntables.

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The place is cavernous,  with a 250 seat restaurant and another 92 in the bar downstairs, with another bar area at the front. It’s been designed in the style of Bombay cafés from the late 19th/early 20th century and there are plenty of beautiful items of furniture, sepia photos and other little details from the period – although the old weighing scales are definitely not what you need having just enjoyed dinner there, even less so the sticker saying ‘do you weigh what you should?’ Not right now, no.

And that’s because the food is beyond incredible. Even the crunchy, salty fried okra, which I normally hate. We ordered a selection to share, including the house black dahl, chicken ruby, calamari, paneer tikka, cheese naan and masala prawns, all perfectly delicious, with the exception of the calamari – tender but the coating was so sweet it could’ve just been sugar. But the prawns were huge and juicy, the chicken curry used big chunks of leg meat (I wish more places did this) and the dahl was soupy, comforting and perfectly spiced, my second favourite of the selection.

Tikka paneer, chicken ruby and cheese naan
Tikka paneer, chicken ruby and cheese naan

The best dish by a mile was the King’s Cross exclusive, Nalli Nahari, described as: ‘a robust lamb-on-the-bone stew with generous spice , for strength and protection against faintness of heart. First relished by Nawabs who then employed its fortifying properties to fuel their labourers’. The lamb dropped from the bone, the rich, dark sauce was spicy but not overly so, and was smooth and silky. It feels like it’s doing you good, although I’m aware I’ve probably been sucked in by the lovely description.

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Service wasn’t great; on arrival, although my friends were seated and had given a name, I was told to just go and find them. Our waiter was aloof at best, staff wouldn’t turn off the air-con (it was about 1 degree outside) and were very reluctant to move us, although did in the end.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening was the dessert course – I’ve never had much luck with Indian desserts so came to the conclusion that I just don’t like them – until yesterday that is. We pretty much ordered them all – cinnamon ice cream, Memsahib’s mess (Eton mess), guju chocolate mousse which was rich, velvety and incredibly chocolatey, and was the best of friends with the heavy, tangy Gujarati yoghurt it was served with.  Against the advice of our waiter (!) or maybe because of it, we also had the kala khatta gola ice – pretty much a slushie with fruit syrup, chilli and salt. It was bizarre, somewhat refreshing but not particularly pleasant, especially compared to the other choices.

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Definitely get to Dishoom – the atmosphere is great, it’s reasonable – £30 each including wine and service, and really is lovely lovely food.

http://www.dishoom.com/kings-cross/

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