On The Bab opened just after I stopped working in Covent Garden, which was unfortunate timing as I love a bit of Korean and always looking for a nice casual lunch spot that’s not too expensive. I wondered past yesterday and thought why not – a quick couple of snacks with my sis to keep us locked up til dinner.
Having had a lovely meal at Covent Garden’s The Ivy Market Grill when it opened, I was keen to go back and try out more of the menu, and what better occasion than a Sunday? We booked at 12 which was unfortunately too late for the majority of the brunch menu, which stops at 11.30 (nice one Lesser), but there was still lots of good stuff to choose from, namely a very delicious Bloody Mary to kick off. Not as good as The Bloody Oyster a couple of weeks ago, but savoury and spicy, and exactly what I wanted.
There are a LOT of restaurants in Covent Garden. Hundreds, I worked on the marketing for one at one point, and it can be really difficult to stand out and an extremely tough sell. There’s a lot of good food, some inspirational chefs, stellar service and some beautiful venues. Fortunately new Italian Four to Eight on Catherine Street encompasses all these and has leapt into the best few in the area.
Continue reading Four to Eight: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Having waited a week since the opening, and with it very close to where I work, the urge to check out Caprice Holdings’ new baby was practically overwhelming. And so to Covent Garden’s The Ivy Market Grill we went, with a booking for dinner on the Tuesday of its second week.
Little brother of dining stalwart The Ivy, it feels more accessible than the mother ship, with much of the menu pretty reasonably priced, and half the tables reserved for walk-ins. This almost makes it feel more casual, but the menu is fabulous and the décor stunning, all dark wood panels and mosaic floor tiles.
It was super busy on a Tuesday, nearly full. We ordered wine and Prosecco and got stuck in to the huge menu – it’s all British classics, simple and delicious. There were about 18 things I wanted to order but felt one should exercise a bit of restraint in these situations. I generally try and stick with two courses to avoid actually being a house, and this time took the risky decision to have a main and dessert (good choice – more on that later).
We ordered the shepherd’s pie and half a Banham chicken, which came with French fries, along with extra greens. The pie was delicious, chunks of lamb rather than mince with creamy potato and cheese. My other half found it slightly underseasoned, but it should be noted he like things salty. The chicken was juicy and full of flavour, covered in a lovely herby marinade/rub, and the veg was crunchy which I love.
The dessert was actually the highlight for me, which is rare – I normally prefer a few slabs of cheese and/or more wine, but this was incredible. It was a ‘chocolate bombe’, a sphere of dark chocolate encasing vanilla ice cream, surrounded by milk foam and with hot salted caramel sauce poured over at the table to melt the ball and expose the middle. I love salted caramel but this was something else, so rich and perfect with the milk foam, which stayed foamy even with the sauce poured on it, and not a hint of resemblance to spit. The post-melting pic obviously doesn’t do it justice at all but you get the idea..
They also have their own branded gin and Champagne, which coincidently is something I aspire to.
The service and atmosphere were great, if I had to highlight small niggles they would be that I asked to swap fries for beef dripping chips but they didn’t materialise, also it was extremely hot in there – to the point that we went elsewhere rather than have another drink. I’d still go back, there’s loads on the menu I’d like to try, it’s pretty reasonable and still feels like somewhere special.
We stumbled across Freud Bar whilst vaguely looking for a watering hole after a lovely dinner at The Ivy Market Grill earlier on. It’s nestled underground at the Tottenham Court road end of Shaftesbury Avenue. I’d heard of Freud somewhere before (I seem to have developed a form of Alzheimer’s since hitting 30 and can’t remember where) so headed down the rickety metal stairs into the basement bar. It was busy and lively with loud music and lots of couples and groups getting stuck in to a huge range of bright cocktails.
The cocktail menu is truly epic. They’re all stencilled onto huge boards above the bar, which is lined with people gaping up at it attempting to make an impossible decision. My own gaping had me decide on a negroni, and the other half went for a mojito.
While delicious, they’re not pretty or fancy, most things seem to come in a pint glass or tumbler, although I did see a couple of martini glasses around. It’s a high ceilinged industrial looking space with grey walls, bar and pretty much everything else, and antique paintings up – the place isn’t exactly pretty but it’s really lively, the staff are quick and smiley and everyone seemed pretty happy. They take cards (so annoying when bars don’t) and also do food and coffee etc in the daytime – one to add to the repertoire for sure.
I am more and more a fan of a good Mexican – Casa Morita in Brixton (post to come!) is one of my favourite restaurants anywhere, and I’m always enthusiastic about sampling different ones, ideally authentic little places that are probably slightly rough round the edges but make you feel like you’ve found a hidden gem.
La Perla in Covent Garden is one of those. Long and thin, wedged into Maiden Lane amongst plenty of competition, the first thing you notice is the bar at the front, which on this occasion was absolutely packed with Thursday drinkers. Pushing through to the back there is a small open kitchen, and a few tables for dinner, all set up with a bowl of tortilla chips and a deliciously hot salsa. The ideal way to start. Embarrassingly I hoovered all these up almost immediately and they were discreetly replaced before my guest arrived. Brilliant.
A delicious pear and vanilla margharita kicked things off. I usually find tequila too harsh for a cocktail but the vanilla balanced it perfectly and was a great start.
We decided to go with four small plates to share, which was more than enough. Big juicy prawns were served in a spicy tequila and tomato sauce with salad and tortillas, baked pork shoulder falls apart and is heavenly with the salsa verde. Stuffed, fried jalapenos were hot with lots of crunch and an even hotter chipotle mayo.
La Perla’s chicken wings are something else – I’m not normally a fan of fiddly bones with a tiny bit of meat but these are fat and juicy, and full of hot, smoky flavour from the marinade. Again, the tomartillo verde cream was spectacular. Sauces are definitely a high point, they’re all strong and lively, and set off the dishes perfectly.
The bill came to £35ish for 2 (only one cocktail each though) and we were stuffed. I do think £1.50 for an extra teeny pot of sour cream is a bit stingy, like charging for ketchup, but a minor point. A great choice for pre-theatre as service is quick, and probably great any other time to be honest. A potential new favourite perhaps..?