Robata-grilled Scallops at Roka


Who doesn’t love scallops? Okay, so they’re not for seafood-allergy-sufferers. And perhaps they weren’t the perfect dish to eat at the start of Yom Kippur. But I love scallops. The taste, the texture, the simplicity and elegance. So long as they aren’t overcooked, they tend to be delicious. And the bigger, plumper, more ‘real’ the better.

“The star of the show is the scallop”

And I like Roka’s scallops. Grilled, presumably super-briefly, because these are the perfect textured and tender but full of flavour, brought out by the wasabi and shiso (a leafy, culinary herb – no, I didn’t know either). The ‘topping’ is a sideshow to the freshness and subtlety of the seafood itself – as it should be – you definitely wouldn’t want to compete with the main event.

If there’s any criticism I could level at this dish, it’s just that: the star of the show is the scallop, and it isn’t clear that the crack chefs at Roka (judging by the other dishes we ate, they know what they’re doing) really added a great deal to this star. Could these be the best scallops I’ve ever eaten? Probably yes, but, again, it’s hard to compare when they’re routinely so delicious. It’s not like a lasagne which sometimes comes together with the right taste, texture, balance of ingredients, etc., which amounts to something truly delicious. This was simple, elegant scallops.

I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t love scallops?

40 / 100 best dishes in London

Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart at Pizza East


Rich. And I mean really rich. This is your traditional basically-truffles-smeared-on-pastry. But it’s far from your ordinary take on that. The salt sharpens the richness whilst contradictorily taking the edge off it. And the milky caramel adds a sweetness that punches into the richness in a so-sweet-its-almost-bitter way. I like this dish. I particularly like that the salt is sprinkled on top, adding visual contrast and shouting about its ingredients. Though I couldn’t swear there wasn’t salt in the ganache itself. A sprinkling of nuts also added an earthen flavour and gave a hint of natural goodness (wishful thinking perhaps!), and was a good addition to the plate in a way that the cream (which I mistook for ice-cream, which definitely wouldn’t be necessary) probably wasn’t.

“This struck me as as close to an objective fault with a dish as you could get”

But this dish has a problem. I don’t know if you can see from the picture, but the caramel is sandwiched on top of the pastry and below the chocolate. This meant that

  1. it oozes out the sides, and uselessly spread onto the plate from where even the most dedicated plate-clearer (and yes, that does mean me) isn’t going to rescue it and
  2. the chocolate slides about on the caramel slick, and the dessert’s integrity is compromised.

This struck me as as close to an objective fault with a dish as you could get. It was simply a mistake to stack the dish in this way. Okay, so it might take an architectural feat to avoid the problem, such as sandwiching the caramel between two, thinner layers of chocolate, but, frankly, I think it needed it. It’s like making lasagna where you decide that for effect you’ll have the pasta super-al-dente, but which has the side-effect of making the dish impossible to eat.

Perhaps I was unlucky. Maybe the chocolate was too cold, and therefore rigid. Maybe the caramel was too warm and therefore liquid. Maybe the pastry was too fresh and therefore difficult to cut through. But even so, you need to make sure that everyone who orders a dish can eat it as intended, and I’m pretty sure you weren’t supposed to eat this in the train-wreck form mine ended up in.


I can forgive this. It was delicious. There was also too much of it – a slice half the angle would have done – but I guess you have to offer a large enough portion that diners won’t feel hard done by, even if for a second before they taste how rich it is. If Chris’ cheese plate was anything to go by, they like to be generous.


Yes, that really is five people’s worth of cheese – at least judging by the, to be frank, slightly miserly portions you frequently get elsewhere.

I’d eat this again, especially if I’m in the joint for a pizza. Or maybe I’d get the cheese between the whole table!

35/100 Time Out’s best dishes in London

Shortrib French dip at Hawksmoor Bar


This sandwich was good. Okay, let’s be fair: this sandwich was very good. Sharp cheese matched to melting braised shortrib matched to a sweet, floaty bun. The meat had an almost sloppy Joe consistency whilst still being flaky rather than mush. The cheese oozed out the edges in an indulgent, bordering-on-too-much-of-it way.

“Shouldn’t a main be able to stand up to a side?”

But, if I’m being fair I’m going to have to say it straight too: about three seconds after I’d eaten the last delicious mouthful I can honestly say I hadn’t the faintest idea what the whole thing tasted of. Even trying to recall the individual flavours just evoked a sense of the melty, easy-eating nature of it, let alone trying to think what the combination amounted to.

Is this a criticism? I don’t know. I remember enjoying the taste as I ate it, as well as thinking that I had no idea what to do with the dip, which, being the consistency of a thin gravy quickly made the end of the sandwich I’d dipped into it dissolve and collapse. Perhaps I should have poured it over, but then I’d have just had a soggy bun and it would have been even harder to eat without squirting grease everywhere.

Perhaps it’s that I paired the sandwich with thrice-cooked chips, whose crunch and salt rather overpowered the insubstantial (in a good way… I think) sandwich. But then, shouldn’t a main be able to stand up to a side: especially one as standard as (yes, pretty damn good) fries?

Again, being fair, I couldn’t quite believe that this was one of Time Out’s Top Ten – give me a Meat Liquor / Meat Market burger in preference any day.

45/100 top hundred dishes in London

Baby Gem Salad with Anchovies and Pancetta at Fino


“How good can a salad be?”

It seemed a bit rich coming from Rachael who’d expressed horror at Tom’s asking ‘How good can a doughnut be?’ of St John Bakery’s top 100 option. But sure enough, that’s what she asked when hoping for an explanation of the dish she admitted having low hopes about. Perhaps it was low expectations, but she ate her words with her lettuce!

Crunchy. That’s the main selling point of good baby gem lettuce. It offers a crisp taste in an onomatopoeic physical form.

“Eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things

Salty, with depth. Anchovies offer that umami richness alongside a salty bitterness that contrasts well with the crisp lettuce.

Salty, with bite. Pancetta (in crispy-bacon form) completed the dish with a velvety, indulgent, fatty bite that didn’t punch too strongly and obliterate the other flavours, but melted into them.

Okay, so eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things (high, commercial) concept, in which you put together three main ingredients which complement one another and forget about the other twenty ingredients Ottolenghi (for example) wants you to pile on. And, to be fair, he’s probably onto something: this dish is simple, yet surprising. I found myself actively trying to get a little of each flavour onto every forkful, and they did match well.

If anything – and this obviously isn’t a criticism – the only thing that meant I didn’t come away shouting about this salad was that the other dishes (Fino is new to me) were equally delicious and faultlessly executed. Chorizo Tortilla oozed softly-done yolks. And I couldn’t believe the Presa Iberica wasn’t beef steak – a revelation.

I have a bit of a fear that, somewhere down the line when I’m trying to squeeze in and shuffle round later dishes, I’ll want to drop this down the rankings because I’ll have lost its immediacy and think ‘How good can a salad be?’ This here is a note to remind myself that I shouldn’t: it was delicious.

26/100 best dishes in London

Beef Ribs at Duke’s Brew and Que

Beef Ribs

Disappointing. That’s the word that springs immediately to mind – this was one of the dishes on the list that I was really looking forward to. I love ribs (usually of the pork variety), but had had the joy of the gargantuan monsters that are beef ribs on a trip to the States, and was ready for another go at facing them.

“This is worrying…”

“This is worrying…”, I said to Rachael, lifting the steak knife sat on the tray next to the ribs, slaw and pickle.

“Why?”, asks Rachael.

“Surely we shouldn’t need a steak knife? The meat should just melt off the bone”. I was joking, but the moment I said it I had a feeling this wasn’t such a silly thought. Indeed, my first major complaint was the texture.

I’m not demanding a pulled-pork consistency, but this meat was genuinely tough. I certainly did need the steak knife to deal it. Second complaint: the presentation looked good enough, but there frankly wasn’t enough space on the tray to safely tackle the cutting and dicing process, especially after we’d splurted (totally delicious) home-made hot sauces onto the edge of the liner.

“Surely we shouldn’t need a steak knife? The meat should just melt off the bone”

I tried pulling the meat off the bone, and then cutting it smaller when safely not attached to an uneven surface, but it was joined by a rubbery, cartilaginous tissue that I wouldn’t recommend making the considerable effort to chew. Okay, so I can’t blame Duke’s for the physiognomy of cows – I’m guessing this is an issue that applies to all ribs of the beef variety – but all the more reason why the meat needs to have been smoked to within an inch of its, er, life, so you can eat the meat and leave the rubber to the bone.

Rachael and I have discussed the taxing question of portions. Specifically: ordering one portion or two. We’ve come to the conclusion that we each need to have a full measure of each dish, since quantities are very much part of what makes a dish great. Or, rather, we’d assumed that a dish might fail on the back of portion size. We’d imagined this was more likely through meanness, but both agreed there was way too much food involved here. Perhaps it’s sized for the appetites of our transatlantic cousins, but one of these massive ribs would have been approaching a meat-sweats quantity for me, and two was frankly absurd. This could be an unfair complaint to level (surely too much is better than too little), but combined with the first two, both of us found the meal became a chore, and gave up two-thirds of the way through.

Rachael at least got a doggie bag!

95/100 top 100 dishes in London