Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chowki, Piccadilly

I like the idea behind Chowki: each month three regions of India are highlighted and from each one there are three starters, three mains and a dessert on offer. For someone like myself who loves Indian food but who, like many, is guilty of selecting the same sort of thing everytime, it's perfect.

There were six of us and I booked our table two days in advance for 7.30pm, mentioning we had a Taste London card, which was no problem. It was also no problem when, on Thursday night, we were still finishing drinks in the Dog and Duck and I called to move it to 8pm.

We were seated on a table for eight, with two other diners at the end. This was fine - we hardly noticed and this is, after all, the style of the restaurant. The service was lovely from the start: they took our jackets and were prompt with offering drinks, extra tap water was brought without fuss. We all decided to order the three course menu for £14.95. In order to take advantage of this you must order your starter, main course and pudding all from the same region. This was actually really fun and prompted much debate and discussion. It also meant that instead of my usual chicken option, I went for a vegetarian starter of cabbage and lentil dumplings, deep fried with a spicy tomato chutney and a queen prawn curry for my main course.

The dumplings were really tasty, if a tiny bit hard, and the salsa was just the right amount of zingy to set them off. Everyone seemed to enjoy their starter, in fact, and indeed their main. Served in four small bowls, set in a semi circle around your plate, each section of the meal is separate. Prawns in sauce in one, more sauce in another, vegetables in the third and finally rice. This made me try the flavours individually and really appreciate what I was eating. The portions were the perfect size. Selections from other regions included a chicken stew with potatoes and cauliflower, Murg Possani (chicken on the bone with chilli, poppy seeds, ginger and garlic) and Keema Mutter (lamb mince cooked in yogurt). My only complaint would be that I only appeared to have three queen prawns, a rather measly offering. This aside, it was delicious and everyone said the same.

I never really have a pudding in an Indian restaurant, they tend to be too sweet for me, but on this occasion they were included. Mine was green ripe banana and rice flour steamed with coconut. It had a texture alike to marzipan and a pleasant taste which everyone else hated. Fresh curd cheese dumpling stuffed with nuts and saffron was universally shunned, and par boiled rice, stir fried with almond flakes in butter and sprinkled with sweet saffron milk tasted just like pilau rice with sugar on top but tasting all these gave rise my much hilarity amongst our group. In fact, we discussed food preferences and flavours as we chose and ate.

When the bill was brought the Taste London discount had already been applied without us having to ask, the first time this has ever happened and made everything much less stressful. It was incredibly good value, wonderful service and great food. Chowki - see you soon.

Three courses and half a bottle of wine (without Taste London discount): £20 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 31/40

Chowki, 2-3 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HA. Tel: 020 74391330

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Global, Wandsworth Town


We have been to Global many many times. By 'we' I mean myself, my boyfriend, my friends, my family... You get the picture - we like it - and as a local option it's always been perfect. Good food, excellent service, relaxed atmosphere, reasonably priced. That is why last night was such a disappointment.

My friend and I always go there, we never even discuss a venue when we are going for dinner and so I arrived and ordered a bottle of pinot grigio from the menu. It was 7.30pm on a Wednesday and only about three tables were taken. I hadn't booked, we never need to which up until now has seemed crazy, given how good it is (was). When Katy arrived the waiter said we could choose our table. He was quite busy being the only member of staff for both the restaurant at the back and bar at the front. Shortly after being seated he brought us the menu and scuttled off. That was the last we saw of him for half an hour. We were so deep in conversation that we hardly noticed it had gone 8 but our stomachs reminded us and we found him and asked if we could order - four dishes from the tapas menu to be precise, advertised as coming with rustic breads. He didn't write anything down and two minutes later he was back - "I have forgotten one..." he admitted.

It didn't take too long for the food to arrive and it was pretty good. Mini risotto cakes filled with mozzarella and sunblushed tomatoes were a lovely consistency, although a little more tomato wouldn't have gone astray. The deep fried calimari was limp and greasy but chicken and chorizo quesadilla were beautiful, with homemade guacamole and 'salsa' (which was actually chopped pepper to all intents and purpose). Moroccan lambcakes have always been one of my favourite dishes at Global and they didn't disappoint this time: the meat was really flavoursome and not all all fatty: the fresh tzatziki is a lovely flavour combination.

I always wonder with tapas, if you put everything you have eaten on one plate, how much of a meal you actually get. We weren't exactly hungry when we finished but we fancied a pudding, and some more wine. The plates sat in front of us for ages... eventually Katy went up to the bar to order. The waiter informed her they had run out of the pinot grigio but recommended a suitable alternative (which, incidentally, was ok but a lot richer) and said he would ask the chef about puddings.

The wine arrived with fresh glasses but no mention of puddings. Another twenty minutes went by and eventually another diner noticed us straining to see the waiter and sent him over.
"Oh sorry I forgot... I'll go and ask now." By this point it was 10pm and we had finished eating a fairly long time ago. He returned, "No we don't have any desserts on tonight I'm afraid but we could do you some ice cream or a liqueur coffee." We politely declined.

Upon regaling the sad tale to my boyfriend later I realised we had never received the rustic breads.

Tapas and half a bottle of wine: £23 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 23/40

Global, 350 Old York Road, Wandsworth Town, London, SW18 1SS. Tel: 020 88705491.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The White Horse, Parsons Green

It was the smell of the barbecue, smoking away in the weak bank holiday sunshine, that attracted us into The White Horse. It is another place we had never eaten before. The main menu is expensive for pub food and I had never heard anything much about it, but it seems we were lucky. Since visiting I see that Timeout recommends the burger and that is exactly what we had.

We managed to get a table, a big one with bench either side and we were able to order food from the barbecue and eat it indoors. The only downside to this was the paper plates and self service and you added your own salad and sauces so quite a canteen feel really. We asked at the bar if we could order some chips and they told us we needed to ask a waiter. We successfully accosted one: 'We don't do chips.' he replied. He offered wedges as the alternative with either sour cream or bacon and cheese. We ordered one of each and the rest of us (three to be precise) waited while my boyfriend collected the burgers.

Ten minutes after the burger was finished we were still waiting for wedges. Upon enquiring after them we discover that the order is still in the pocket of our waiter's apron... In fairness, he apologises profusely and the rest of our meal doesn't take too long.

The burger was delicious - good quality meat, fresh tasty salad. No cheese was available though, which was disappointing. The wedges were nice, nothing special, but nice and generous portions.

I told a friend we had been and she said she loves the food at The White Horse, especially the butternut squash and goats cheese. I think it's definitely one to try again.

Burger, wedges and a glass of wine: £15 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 26/40

The White Horse, 1-3 Parsons Green, London, SW6 4UL. Tel: 020 7736 2115.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Santa Maria del Sur, Queenstown Road

Queenstown Road is a rather unlovely part of Battersea with very little to recommend it except, it seems, a couple of excellent restaurants. I say this somewhat based on hearsay as I have only been to one of them, on Saturday night in fact, and the other is next door - Tom Ilic.

We had passed Santa Maria del Sur several times on the way back from friends' houses and it always looked extremely welcoming, especially in winter with the grill flaming in the window and fairy lights twinkling. We had no problem booking a table for 2 at 8.30pm (I called on the Monday) and when we arrived it was half full already, buzzing with chat and unobtrusive music. They seated us at a table near the door (where the man in the orange jumper sits in the photo) but there was a draught from the open door and people stand there whilst they wait to be seated. It was no problem when we asked to move and we were much happier near the back of the restaurant, tucked in next to a pillar with much more privacy.

There is a very good wine menu and I chose a mid priced red, my boyfriend opted for beer. To start we shared chorizo and the provoleta. The chorizo was tasty, very flavoursome if quite small but at only £3 that is probably to be expected. I was looking forward to the cheese - I had heard good things about this Argentinian speciality, served with oregano and grilled. It arrived in a small metal plate, which was then placed on a dinner plate, a rather unappetising prospect which was actually very bland - much like eating melted mild cheddar. There was a nice varied bread basket provided free though, with olive oil and balsamic.

All of this, though, is delaying the real reason we are there - the steak. We both plump for sirloin, me the 8oz and my boyfriend the 14. They are beautiful pieces of meat, fabulously tender and, unusually I find, cooked exactly as requested. The chimichurri was delicious as well - a traditional sauce made from mixed herbs, onion, salt pepper and olive oil. The menu advises that the steak comes with 'garnish' and so we order a side of chips between us, more than enough. The garnish is chopped iceberg lettuce, tomato and red onion. I find this a trend in many restaurants now and cannot understand it - it is such an unappealing combination of bitter ingredients, rarely very fresh and rarely dressed. This was no exception and, confusingly, we were also served a large bowl of chopped tomatoes and red onion, again with no dressing.

Despite being very full we do share a pudding - milk toffee cheesecake which is not as sweet as it sounds like it would be. In fact, it's got a very subtle flavour and is a very satisfying end to a very enjoyable meal.
The only cock-up was the aforementioned bowl of onion and tomato which turned up on the bill for £3.50. Once pointed out it was removed immediately.

Three courses and half a bottle of wine: £35 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 31/40

Santa Maria del Sur, 129 Queenstown Road, London, SW8 3RH. Tel: 020 7622 2088.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Plough Inn, Wolvercote Green

The Trout Inn is the 'almost equally attractive alternative' to the Plough Inn, according to my guide book. My boyfriend and I are walking along the river from Oxford and find this statement hard to believe. The Trout is a picture postcard example of an English country pub. Umbrella shaded tables are dotted around a garden next to the rushing water, peacocks strut in the hazy sunshine. But, it looks busy and we don't mind walking on for another fifteen minutes. Besides, the book also promises that The Plough serves large portions and we are hungry.

From the outside we are certainly disappointed. It's a rather generic building which could possibly have river views if the grass and bank were not so overgrown. Inside we can see the appeal a little more - it's large but could be very cosy in winter. The menu is fairly varied too and we select from the hot sandwich section, although main meals such as the full English and fish and chips do look tempting. We opt for a goats cheese, red onion and tomato panini and a chicken, bacon and mayonnaise rustic roll. Both are served with chips. Unfortunately, the service is terrible - no smile, no please or thank you and three sets of customers are forced to wait for one card machine whilst a woman whose card has been declined heads off to find another, with no apology. Eventually we go to sit down. There are quite a few tables outside on a patio area and we select one of the only remaining, which is under a structure named 'The Shed End'. 'At least they're Chelsea fans' my boyfriend comments.

The food arrives very quickly, a little too quickly to be fresh I think and the portions are very meagre. A handful of chips sit next to a panini that is greasy and a bit limp and a roll that is slightly stale. It all tastes ok but is nowhere near the standard of sandwich we would throw together at home for a third of the price. A blackcurrant cordial and lemonade and lime are so heavy on the fruit aspects that they are too strong to drink. We consider asking for them to be diluted but we can't be bothered: sometimes it's better to cut your losses and chalk it up to experience. Next time we'll certainly try The Trout.

Sandwich, chips and a soft drink: £6.75 per head

Value: 4/10

Service: 3/10

Atmosphere: 3/10

Food: 4/10

SCORE: 14/40

The Plough Inn, Wolvercote Green, Oxfordshire, OX2 8BD. Tel: 01865 556969.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Prince of Wales, Putney

I have visited the Prince of Wales in Putney many times since it reopened under new management last year but never for food. This is partly because my boyfriend's tastes are much simpler than mine and partly because I haven't been desperate to eat there. I'm not sure what it was that made me feel like that - the menu is simple but exciting and reviews from both critics and friends alike have been good but in the end the decision was made for me when a group of us decided to eat out and the restaurant was not my choice.

Booking was, apparently, a simple affair and we arrived to a warm welcome on a Thursday night, at 7.30pm the first to be seated. The dining room is smart and airy, the only anomaly being the busy, heavy curtains and seemingly irrelevant Bond poster. We were offered bread whilst we chose our food, lovely soft sodabread which seemed to have rosemary on but unfortunately I couldn't taste it. Having heard tales of the large portions we skipped starters and all ordered the steak pie to share between 2, which was advertised as coming with red cabbage and mashed potato. We also ordered two portions of spring greens between the six of us.

The bread came around again before our mains arrived and the service was all smiles: an excellent start. The steak pie was more than worth the wait whilst the pastry cooked. Reminiscent of my grandmother's cooking, cutting through the crisp then fluffy top I found the most tender, flavoursome steak I have had in years, with gravy and vegetables a match in quality. The waitress had unnecessarily added an extra mash to our order and, disappointingly, had thought we wanted spring greens instead of red cabbage and they were a bit cold but luckily we were too caught up in our pie to be cross.

Puddings were just too tempting to pass on. Between us we tried raspberry ripple ice cream ('very good'), caramelised bananas with rum and raisin ice cream ('delicious') and Yorkshire mess, which was very tasty but could have done with a little bit more rhubarb and a bit less cream, but I'm splitting hairs. It was the best meal out I have had in a long time, it inspired me to start this blog. A bit of confusion over the bill at the end was a shame but again didn't spoil. A fabulous local eaterie.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £27.50 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 29/40

Prince of Wales Pub and Kitchen, 138 Upper Richmond Road, London, SW15 2SP. Tel: 020 8788 1552.