Archive for the 'London' Category

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

Scalini’s traditional, classy Italian dining attracts a constant stream of enthusiastic patrons here for the combination of enchanting atmosphere and satisfying, filling dishes.

The low ceilings, mirrored walls, and well-placed dividers grant a disorienting depth to the rooms, blurring the distinction between real tables and their reflections. The number of smokers could be off-putting to some, but decent ventilation ensures it never feels smokey, just comfortable and relaxed.

Scalini: Insalata Di Mare

Within a varied Italian menu, here are a few suggestions:

Insalata Di Mare – An absolutely immense portion of squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, and clams. The squid in particular has a marvelous meaty texture I’ve never encountered with this frequently rubbery ingredient. A garnish of marinated pink peppercorns adds a spicy counterpart to the shellfish and lemon flavors.

Spinach, Cheese & Tortellini Soup – Reminding me immediately of an Italian answer to wonton soup, this chicken soup is a perfect starter for a winter night’s meal. This soup is also the single dish drawing an immediate “this is just like my grandmother would make” comment from my partner.

Veal Escalope – These hollow ovoids of veal stuffed with mozzarella and mushroom are served in a rich tomato and mushroom sauce. Tonight, they come with a side of shockingly fluffy yet moist baby potatoes, baked cauliflower, and green beans.

Scalini: Veal Escalope

Splitting a piece of creamy tiramisu for dessert tops off an excellent, filling meal. An average if overly bitter espresso makes me wish I had requested a drink with milk instead, although this does nothing to diminish the pleased, extremely full feeling in my belly.

Unsurprisingly, the half bottle of wine we imbibe makes up a reasonably large portion of the bill. A very nice bottle of chianti, full-bodied without the overly tannic flavor of cheap reds, it complements the meal nicely, but in the future, could easily be passed over in favor of paying more attention to the food, whose portions are daunting enough without filling up on wine as well.

Reservations are highly recommended, but, at least on a Sunday, can safely be made earlier in the same night.

1-3 Walton St
London, SW32JD

La Poule Au Pot
Friday, December 23rd, 2005

For my birthday this year, I was given the intimidating task of picking any (sanely priced) restaurant in London for a night out. After browsing through a large set of online reviews, and consulting my useful (albeit out-of-date) Harden’s, I chose the nearby French restaurant La Poule Au Pot. A phone call later, and a bit of compromise with the reservations on the exact date — Sunday night was wide open, while every other night in the next week was booked solid — and we were set to go.

Coming in from the cold into the cozy, busy space, we were greeted jovially, had our coats whisked away, and shown to our table for two. Utilizing well-placed screens and decoration, the space had been divided into 4-5 table-sized zones of relative privacy, while maintaining visibility and a sense of openness. The screen nearest us was made of chicken-wire frames with plastic bunches of grapes attached, which may sound a bit crap from my description, but in the low candlelight imbued a charming rural atmosphere.

To start the meal, we ordered a half-bottle of what we discovered was an amazingly smooth Bordeaux, and then chose thick white slices of bread from a basket-presented selection, with a nearly cake-like consistency which held up admirably to butter and oil.

La Poule Au Pot: Escargot

Having never tried escargot before, I didn’t know what to expect. The taste and consistency was very similar to conch, actually: a texture much like mushrooms, less chewy than clams or mussels, and with a milder flavor than any of these. The strong garlic oil overpowered the snails here, although it provided an ideal dipping sauce for the complimentary bread.

La Poule Au Pot: Pumpkin Soup

On this chilly December evening, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the pumpkin soup on special. Hearty and creamy, this soup captured the mixed essences of pumpkin and butter. It didn’t have the overpowering strength of many pumpkin dishes, and was nearly a full meal in its own right. This was the point we realized the portions were not the stereotypical miniscule high-end French, but more what you’d get at an authentic bistro dedicated to feeding people rather than presenting elegant food.

I’d been craving steak frites for weeks, and so was a bit disappointed when the more inexpensive cut of steak on the menu (and the only one labelled as coming with frites) wasn’t available. The cut that was available — I can’t remember the name on the menu, as it was in French — thankfully arrived with a basket of frites in tow and was a large if not thick steak, with more marbling than I like; while the fat lent the meat a great deal of flavour, it led to frequent overly chewy bites. The sauce (a mix of butter, chives, and presumably something else, although I couldn’t suss it out) complemented the beef very well, and acted as a dipping sauce for the frites during our more gluttonous moments. The frites themselves were surprisingly thick cuts (more like proper British chips than the Belgian-style frites I expected), and were served up in a daunting portion. Kept warm throughout the meal by a paper wrap, they never lost their crisp exteriors and hot, fluffy interiors.

La Poule Au Pot’s service was friendly if a bit forgetful (soup came without a spoon, getting water took multiple requests, and the moutarde sauce requested arrived as a butter sauce), but this was ultimately forgivable given the good wine and lack of attitude.

On a return visit, we’d order less, and sample the desserts, but this time, we’d simply eaten too much food to go any further. Go to La Poule Au Pot for a nice relaxing meal with a hearty appetite, as the generous portions of rich food will fill you to bursting.

La Poule Au Pot
231 Ebury St
London SW1W 8UT

Marks & Spencer: Lamb Chump & Potato Salad
Monday, November 21st, 2005
Lamb Chump & Potato Salad Fighting jet lag, yet reluctant to begin spending huge amounts of money in London restaurants, we make a trip to the local Marks & Spencer supermarket section for some quick & easy prepared food options. After a wide-eyed browsing session, we decide on two lamb chump rounds, and a container of potato salad.

A half hour later (and after discovering our oven is off by 40-50 degrees Celsius), we’re ready to eat what turns out to be in all aspects a very satisfying meal. For the price (£5.99 for the lamb and £1.50 for the potato salad), the quality of the ingredients far surpasses expectations. The tender, juicy lamb has a smokiness rarely if ever found in American commercial meat, and the bold Devonshire cheddar & Tewkesbury mustard crust pairs with it wonderfully. The potato salad, in a mix of mayonnaise, creme fraiche, and mustard, flavored with spring onion and mint, provides a cool complement to the savory lamb.

Add to this a glass or two of completely acceptable (and £2.70 a bottle) Tesco brand claret, and a few slices of organic butter-topped miche from the bakery down the block, and we receive a welcoming introduction to ready-made British supermarket fare.

A few early observations on London supermarkets: chicken appears to be heavily promoted with 2 for 1 offers in display cases. A symptom of wariness of the bird flu, or is chicken just not as popular here as in the states? There’s a much greater focus on organic here as well, even in the Tesco / Sainsbury’s / M & S store generic brands. The prepared meal we’ve purchased proudly exclaims that it’s additive free, which goes a ways to explaining how much we end up enjoying it.