Truely Tasty Tapas
Camino Shoreditch REVIEW SUMMARY
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 10/10 Service 8/10
Truely Tasty Tapas
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 10/10 Service 8/10
I never understood what the fuss was all about. Sushi – uniform slivers of translucent fish, wrapped up in something or other. I mean, what was there really to get excited about? I thought sushi was an overpriced excuse for a meal, something for the pretentious and anorexic. How wrong I was. Sticks ‘N’ Sushi opened my eyes to a new world of flavours and exotic ingredients, each more exciting than the last.
Once seated, I was handed the sexiest menu in existence. Although overwhelming, I leafed through this glossy erotica, dribbling over the sheer aesthetics of it all. I was interrupted by exceptionally elegant cocktails promptly arriving; the ‘Yuzu Zoo’ ethereal citrus and plum notes delightfully danced around a distinguished gin base.
Sticks N Sushi followed a tapas format, with small but perfectly formed plates arriving quickly and often. For those with big appetites and expensive tastes, Sticks N Sushi was potentially exorbitant. However, the lower priced options were delicious, and dishes quickly added up to become surprisingly satisfying.
The Tuna Tartare was one of Sticks N Sushi’s premium dishes, and stunning was an understatement. Dressed up like a miniature fairy tail garden, the fine muscular units of tuna hiding underneath were world class. The tartar was so graceful in its presentation and flavour combinations that I savoured every morsel like Charlie Bucket with his Wonka chocolate bar.
The Spicy Tuna Maki was another dish I’d suggest is essential eating. Miso Aioli lovingly clung to the handsome tuna, which was itself maternally embraced by perfect rice. I now predict Miso Aioli to become the hipster condiment of 2017, dethroning 2016’s Flying Goose Siracha. I loved the Masago element too – tiny orange gems, tactfully adding colour, texture and taste.
The grilled sweet potato had a clever smokiness, and its Teriyaki dressing lifted this humble ingredient to something of status. The Gypsy Rolls were carefully prepared and offered decent value for money. Unfortunately, the desserts were something of a non-event. Diners choose from a variety of colourful things in the shape of golf balls, none of which left an impression. My advice is to skip pudding and take another look at the excellent cocktail menu.
Currently ranked 122 of 17,720 restaurants in London, Sticks N Sushi Covent Garden earned this pedigree by offering thoughtfully prepared majestic dishes in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan environment.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10
Maida Vale, a place where buying a semi-detached house demands winning the lottery – twice. Strolling by the meandering canal of Little Venice, admiring the surrounding handsome creme Regency mansions, I almost overlooked the plethora of tantalising kebab opportunities down Edgeware Road, just spitting distance away.
The quality of The Colonnade Hotel’s Afternoon Tea was ultimately disappointing. The scones were exceptional, but M&S sold superior sandwiches, cakes and pretty baked things Yummy Mummy’s like. Pret A Manger felt like a Michelin star in comparison. Some drinkable ‘champagne’ made an appearance, which was probably as French as Winston Churchill.
The Colonnade Hotel’s staff were smiley and organised. Curiously, I planned on booking for one o’clock but was asked to arrive an hour later due to a preceding large party. Not a problem, but rather than any residual buzz, the Colonnade Hotel’s atmosphere was as dead as Rolf Harris’ career.
The Colonnade Hotel’s subterranean bar needed obvious attention; the aqua and peach colour scheme was nobody’s cup of tea. If this was genuinely four-stars, go glamping and drink Prosecco from a Thermos instead. Weather permitting, there’s a charming raised garden, but the skinny trees only marginally muffled the traffic distractions. Actually, the garden was preferable to The Colonnade bar regardless of the weather.
As the afternoon tea was bought heavily discounted through Groupon, the experience provided fair value for money. London’s an expert at fleecing tourists, but even by its shameless standards, The Colonnade Hotels full price was ridiculous.
Atmosphere 4/10 Cost 5/10 Quality 4/10 Service 6/10
Beigel Bake is an institution. There is a magical quality to this small piece of East London, offering authentic, no-nonsense, affordable food. Honest, family-owned, working-class eateries should fuel a city. Despite London’s vibrancy, residents lament the ubiquitous sandwich chains and predatory fast-food corporations everywhere. Foodies fighting for freedom against these globalised monoliths suffer the burden of £4 loaves of bread. Beigel Bake is extraordinarily industrious – open 24/7 and cranking out an impressive 7,000 bagels a day.
Unfortunately, Beigel Bake’s staff are outrageously rude. After my first visit to Beigel Bake, I attributed this to a stressful day, thinking nothing of it. I empathised that 24 hours in front of a perpetual line of Shoreditch hipsters could turn Mother Theresa into Robert Mugabe. The second time, the same older lady unnecessarily barked menacingly. The third I time waited patiently, and meekly pleaded: “Can I have four almond croissants please?”. The patron saint of impatience rolled her eyes so far back she toppled over. Every time, irrespective of customer’s behaviour, they are treated like a student telling their PE teacher they’ve forgotten their kit. I’d get my atonement by summoning the courage to ask for a bacon barmcake sarcastically, but I’m terrified of getting a hot cleaver hurled at me.
Regarding the food, Beigel Bake’s salt beef bagel’s are the star of the show. The meat is thickly sliced, hot, juicy slabs with a mouthwatering depth of flavour. The mustard packs a real punch, and the pickles are an absolute necessity. If the mustard brings too many tears to your eyes, the salmon and cream cheese is a reliable alternative. The bagels themselves vary from soft to chewy, and the mustard portion control fluctuates between a splodge and a deluge. It’s either a by-product of working so industrially or just spitefulness. On various occasions, the fillings were pelted toward the bag, rather than served on the bagel itself. However, this scatter-gun approach to bagel production was forgiven as the prices were so reasonable. It’s not all bagels; the giant croissants are the best possible way to spend 50p in Shoreditch.
Beigel Bake’s perpetual stream of jolly police officers, snap-happy Brick Lane tourists, irritated local alcoholics and cooler-than-thou shell suit-clad students, all eagerly anticipating their 30p doughnuts, is as far away as Great British Bake Off as possible – which isn’t a bad thing. To learn more about Beigel Bake, this charming short film provides a nostalgic bagel-focused memoir of the food and people of Shoreditch (when it was a ditch).
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 8/10 Service 1/10
Camden Town, the simulacrum of whatever it used to be or thought it was. This one-time home of John Lennon, Charles Dickens and Sir Ambrose Fleming, saw a heroin-chic renascence in the early naughties. The skinny-limbed antics of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty preceded Noel Fielding and Russell Brand entertaining audiences by competing to have the silliest hair. Today, Camden’s biggest export is Dappy from N-Dubz. Camden falls over itself screaming how alternative it is while trying as hard as possible not to care, as carefully as possible. Camden is a hangout for biker gangs without motorbikes, the worst cocaine in Europe, and enjoys a working-class brashness despite one bedroom flats renting at £3,000 a month.
The Elephant’s Head was a scruffy, characterful pub full of scruffy characters, the kind that makes the past-time of London boozing a uniquely British pleasure. I love dark Victorian London Pubs; I like to imagine Jack the Ripper sitting at the bar, nursing a pint of mild, fiddling with a Soduku. The Elephant’s Head dates to 1832, being once part of the famous Camden Town Brewery, producers of ‘Elephant Ale’ in the 1800’s. Feeling like Julian Barrat in Nathan Barley, I sought refuge in something genuine – something with more purpose and age than me – away from the surrounding nonsense. The classic checkered floor, dark wooden bar and low ceilings filled me with hope.
The pub was teaming with leather clad punters, holding what I assumed was a piercing convention. The standard issue Full English and a pint of bitter both did the job and weren’t unreasonably priced, given the fiscal hell-hole that is Zone 1. Unfortunately, members of The Elephant’s Head staff were the sourest, patronising and most abrasive as I’ve come across.
Atmosphere 6/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 5/10 Service 1/10
I’ve admired Jason Atherton for a long time. Not only does he have sixteen restaurants worldwide, but he comes across as a thoroughly decent bloke. Pollen Street Social is probably best known for its ‘Quail Brunch’, described in 2014 as ‘London’s Best Dish’, by Time Out magazine, although I was there for bourgeois booze only.
Pollen Street Social describes itself as a: “Michelin-starred modern urban meeting point. A place to eat, drink and socialise, both for special occasions, and for informal everyday affairs.” To be fair that is exactly what it is, and jolly good it is too.
Only an evil genius would have the audacity and creativity to combine: Riesling, Pisco, rhubarb vinegar, olive oil and egg white. The resilient frothy head confidently held the droplets of oil creating a uniquely beautiful texture. The sweet Riesling and sour Pisco were best buddies, with the rhubarb vinegar adding beads of magic. This drink was so special it would have been a crime only to order one.
I can’t decide whether or not I find truffles vile or delicious. AA Gill was spot on advising they: “teeter on the edge of being disgusting, but are actually fabulous”. I’m uncertain if it was bravery or campness that provoked a gamble on a truffle infused champagne number. This glass of bubbles was beauty and the beast in liquid form. For me the incredible pungent earthy aromas were overwhelming. This was a feminine option, for only the hardest drinkers.
In between shovelling endless salty vegetable crisps, I managed to request a Manhattan. It was promptly made to my specification (Rye+Sweet Vermouth). I can’t describe it any better than Esquire magazine: “It [was] bold and fortifying, yet as relaxing as a deep massage.”
I would have liked to chew the fat with the charming staff all afternoon, but by this point my wallet was empty. Pollen Street Social was expensive, but an understatedly smart Mayfair space I’d recommend to anyone.
Atmosphere 9/10 Cost 3/10 Quality 10/10 Service 10/10
I was drawn to The Hawksmoor after Giles Coren advised it served: “the best steak you will find anywhere”. The Hawksmoor Group has seven locations (six in London, one in Manchester) but the Seven Dials branch proudly ranked highest on TripAdvisor (124 out of 17,095), so I followed the herd in more ways than one. The Hawksmoor Seven Dials in Covent Garden is named after a seven street junction, each with respective sundials. Despite every road leading to it, The Hawksmoor Seven Dials is deceptively camouflaged – the unassuming entrance only added to the intrigue.
It wasn’t my drinking debut at The Hawksmoor Seven Dials, having wisely trusted Giles’s steak advice (he wasn’t wrong). On this occasion, I only had eyes for the bar. Leafing through the menu reading ‘Absinthe Pina Colada’ and ‘Full Fat Old Fashioned’ in the same breath, I fell hopelessly in love.
Nicole kookily orchestrated the proceedings, being knowledgeable, gracious and welcoming in equal measure. She advised the Full Fat Old Fashioned was a “game changer” – naturally I couldn’t refuse. This serious libation was patiently prepared, so I planned on giving it the respect it deserved. It was too good: rather than sipping and savouring, I greedily guzzled it down like a scene from Ice Cold In Alex.
The Hawksmoor Seven Dials’ best selling drink is Shakey Pete’s Ginger Brew, achieving cult status; served in pleasingly over-sized tankards, I lived out my pirate fantasies without a court summons. This fabulous concoction was the best ginger beer in town: ice cold, extravagantly frothy and mightily refreshing.
The Hawksmoor Seven Dials bar was handsomely stocked with quality bottles – many unfamiliar – of all shapes and sizes. I spotted Lagavulin, which I thought was my favourite whisky. I was poured Caol Ila and wryly told: “if you don’t prefer it – it’s free”. Predictably, my eyes were opened, and I happily paid. As the staff knew my favourite drink before I did, I was eager to learn what floated their boat. The Hawksmoor Seven Dials staff were partial to gentlemanly drops of Mezcal, something I’m relatively unfamiliar with. Two shots later I saw the appeal: beautifully smokey, slightly sweet but still put hairs on my chest.
A Sazerac – the dark prince of the cocktail world – was promptly made to order, with Nicole nodding in silent approval. David Wondrich described it best:
“A proper drink at the right time—one mixed with care and skill and served in a true spirit of hospitality—is better than any other made thing at giving us the illusion, at least, that we’re getting what we want from life. A cat can gaze upon a king, as the proverb goes, and after a Dry Martini or a Sazerac Cocktail or two, we’re all cats.”
A zippy Margarita was soon whipped together, further jazzed up by the addition of fresh ginger. All this lead me to the conclusion that The Hawksmoor Seven Dials is my favourite bar. Bravo!
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 4/10 Quality 10/10 Service 10/10
It would have been less awkward if Basil Fawlty was serving exclusively German customers. Three tables – six diners – everything went tits up. No pair received their food together; how can two ingredients go that wrong? As the restaurant is called London Fish & Chips, I expected them to have this
bass base covered.
As a Lancastrian living near London, I physically can’t pay more than £10 for takeaway fish and chips. I didn’t care it was Covent Garden, even in Buckingham Palace, I couldn’t justify it. Fortunately, London Fish & Chips was available through a thrifty Groupon voucher, which made this transaction morally comprehensible to my northern sensibilities.
Despite London Fish & Chips having zero queue, it took thirty minutes to produce two of the eponymous meals. A meal, to clarify which was 50% potato. I assumed this was from a standing start of peeling the spuds and turning the fryer on. While waiting, I scanned London Fish & Chips promotional placards proudly proclaiming their fish was ethically and sustainably sourced; excellent, and was warmly advised all their meat was Halal. What a comfort knowing their “Signature Taste of Britain”, was barbarically butchered purely for Allah’s gratification.
Redeemabley, their glorious fish and chips were as good as any I can remember. Likewise, the accompanying succulent prawns induced a deluge of saliva. I deemed it a national disgrace all chip shops didn’t also serve these muscular crustaceans. It was all golden, piping-hot goodness: the batter was crunchier than a Crunchie and the haddock was a hulking athlete of a sea-monster. The steaming, salty chips were piled high, and I got happier and happier, getting fatter and fatter. It was all so jolly good I belted out the national anthem.
Despite London Fish & Chips’ interior feeling like an eleven-year old’s bedroom, Covent Garden produced a serious rival to the fish and chip heavyweight Whitby – I even forgave the lack of gravy.
Atmosphere 1/10 Cost 3/10 Quality 10/10 Service 1/10*
*Score is based on the general price, not the temporary discount
I fully expected to love Bibimbab Café. It benefited from a fantastic location – spitting distance from the fabulous British Museum. Unlike many of the surrounding restaurants, it bravely managed to be both independent and reasonably priced. These positive omens, combined with an unfamiliar cuisine and empty stomach, provided an appetising prospect.
Unfortunately, Bibimbab Cafe’s atmosphere was so dour, it made Pyongyang seem like Las Vegas. When I learnt Bibimbab Cafe was a Korean, I assumed South not North. Service was so anonymous, I came into the restaurant knowing nothing about Korean cuisine and left knowing less.
Feeling like the typical Brit abroad, the laminate drinks menu left me utterly clueless; with no support on offer, I meekly helped myself to a Diet Coke. The drinks menu was at least genuine, and no doubt familiar for the already initiated.
The menu focused on finely shredded healthy things honouring a sliced egg, terracotta broths with brillo pad sized tofu and uniform sushi. The website proudly advised: “Bibimbab can be almost anything you want it to be” – the one request it couldn’t accommodate was flavour.
The Spicy Pork was not spicy; I gave it the benefit of the doubt it was pork. It was languid with redundant floppy fatty pieces, served in an impressively anaemic soup. The Korean Style Beef had the elegance of a Döner kebab, but certainly had a punchy flavour that really was the dogs’ bollocks.
As Bloomsbury offers other Korean restaurants; unfortunately, I can’t justify a return to the Bibimbab Cafe.
Atmosphere 2/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 3/10 Service 3/10
Potential customers should consider before investing in Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, that your dinner will have very little to do with Heston Blumenthal. Obviously, he’s not rustling it up, but more importantly, dinner is unlikely to have any element of molecular gastronomy synonymous with Heston’s name.
Set in the bowls of Knightsbridge’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dinner by Heston is within the inner circle of London’s shadowy elite. Literally next door, two-bedroom apartments are yours for a very reasonable £19,500,000. In retrospect, the bar bill was never going to be cheap.
Dinner by Heston’s bar felt like a high-end departure lounge full of non-descript business class Euro jet-setters: not what I expected from an iconic hotel in our great capital, but probably a fair reflection of London in 2016. Still, all Dinner by Heston’s staff were nothing but gracious – professional and completely down to earth. If there was an award for best-dressed servers, Dinner by Heston would win. There were pleasing avant-garde touches to the cocktails; a Banana & Parsley Daiquiri is something one order’s only once, but without regret.
Sticking with the (relatively) frugal Set Lunch Menu, diners choose from either Hay Smoked Salmon or Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast. My partner’s salmon was beautifully composed and very much lived up to the high expectations. In contrast to this piscine elegance, the pig’s ear looked like a gruesome murder scene. It was really a filling, wintery dish, out of place on a summer menu – particularly as pork was one of two choices for main. Regardless, it had a rich, deep flavour that was certainly enjoyed. For mains, there was Roast Pollack with Parsnips or Slow Cooked Pork Belly. My partner’s pork was absolutely sensational, undeniable the best porcine-related dish ever tasted: it was pork exalted to its highest station in life. The Roast Pollack was presented simply but attractively but was irksomely lukewarm, not helped by the frustratingly cold buttermilk sauce. A beautiful piece of fish let down by its lack of body heat. However, without wanting to resort to needless hyperbole, the accompanying side of carrots was unbelievably good. Our minds were induced into a higher state of consciousness – at one with the universe – and its carrotiness. I will never look at a root vegetable in the same way again: it was the agricultural answer to crack cocaine, at a similar price-point.
Finally, despite no longer being hungry and rarely displaying a sweet tooth, the Bohemian Cake was undeniably the best dessert either of us had ever had. The presentation, the textures, the balance of flavours was truly Michelin standard. It took me by surprise, in short – it was memorable. I’d heard nothing but gushing reviews for Dinner By Heston’s iconic Pineapple Upside Cake, but it’s hard to imagine anything better their Bohemian Cake.
Regarding value, Diner by Heston’s Set Lunch was probably the lowest priced way to experience two Michelin star food in the UK. Still, at £75 per head for lunch with one drink, Diner by Heston is only a regular haunt for Champagne Charlies. Is Diner by Heston the seventh-best restaurant in the world, as the San Pellegrino Guide proclaims? I doubt it, but Dinner By Heston is probably the seventh best in London – which is a great achievement.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10