Sunday Roast at Trinity


I’ve been slightly annoying (or maybe just seeming weird to) Rachael by repeatedly remarking that ‘that’s been cooked sous vide‘. Boy, can you make a great roast by cooking the beef sous vide! Additional confirmation comes in the form of an assurance that the beef has been cooking ‘overnight’, and therefore will come rare, or medium rare, as the chef provides it.

“[T]here are other elements to a good Sunday Roast”

But there are other elements to a good Sunday Roast. A perfect yorkshire pudding – yes, that huge mushroom above is an enormous, delicious baked batter – is definitely necessary in my book. All the better when there’s an additional jug of gravy to pour into it. A perfect (sous vide) carrot is a delicious, though slightly embarrassingly singular, vegetable. It is slightly made up for with a carrot purée. Spinach increases the five a day quotient, in a way that the single leaf of onion (though delicious) does not.

But this Sunday Roast is all about being a cut above. The bone is presented with rosemary literally aflame in the marrow, which is oozing and naughty and fatty and slimy and gorgeous.Every part of the dish is spot-on, and a cut-above, and whilst this isn’t going to replace your regular Sunday lunch affair, it is certainly the sort of ‘aspirational’ benchmark that you’re not going to achieve at home, but is good to have in the back of your mind.

I haven’t properly addressed the beef. Perfectly rare and tender. The offer of a grating of horseradish atop the cut was gratefully encouraged by all. A crust was caramelised and lightly crunchy but miles away from tough.

Add a spectacular couple of starters, and you get a meal that was only marginally let down with relatively mediocre desserts. I’m glad I’m moving away from this place, as I could have gained an expensive habit!

Wagyu Beef Sushi with Truffle and Ponzu Jelly at Dinings


There are many things that are spectacular about Dinings. And I’m not just talking about the price-tags attached to some of the dishes. This tiny joint offers really inventive contemporary fusion Japanese cuisine, with an emphasis on high-end ingredients: truffle and wagyu beef abound. Every dish is beautifully presented, and every piece of sushi is topped with some delightful, colour-contrasting flavour-addition that propels what would otherwise be ordinary (though spot-on) bites into something truly extraordinary.

“The wagyu was so meltingly tender that you could certainly eat it without using your teeth”

The main problem I have, though, is that, what with the urge to pile on the flavours and focus on the rarest of constituent parts, everything slightly ends up tasting the same. When they matched wagyu beef sushi with truffle and ponzu jelly it tasted pretty similar to the seabass carpaccio… with truffle and ponzu jelly. Okay, okay, so it’s probably our fault for ordering a couple of variations on a theme, but in our favour a) this was selected for us (or maybe even pushed on us!) by the waitress and b) it was pretty unavoidable, since everything seemed to be matched with a small number of additions.

Unfortunately, that meant that when our wagyu beef sushi arrived, it had somewhat been pre-empted, and I might have got a stronger ‘wow’ impression if I hadn’t already tried the (yes, definitely) delicious truffle and jelly. The wagyu was so meltingly tender that you could certainly eat it without using your teeth, and gave an ethereally smoky impression on the tongue. It’s as close as a direct vector for taste – bypassing thought or internal calculation – as you might come across.

The sushi was certainly better than Dinings ‘famous innovation’ of tar-tar chips – basically (single bite) potato-chip tacos filled with any of seven flavours. Rachael felt, and I agreed, that these would have been much better made with actual (mini-)taco-shells: the potato totally overpowered the flavour of the delicate ingredients, making for a severely underwhelming experiencing.

Overall, judging it on the wagyu beef sushi alone (yes, that is the Chowdown Showdown Londontown requirement!), I’d be super-impressed. I’ll never be able to know how much more blown away I’d have been if I hadn’t tasted the accompaniments beforehand. Sadly, the pretension – and, yes, the excessive cost – lets this place down. Which is a pity, since that beef was something truly special.

Mince and Potatoes at Dean Street Townhouse


Imagine taking a pot of Bovril, emptying it out into a bowl, mixing with a potful of boiling water, until you have a thick, intense gravy that is pure meatiness. Now tear tiny strips of tough bread (maybe one of those crusty, airy French loaves which are mostly bubbles with thin membranes of wheat making up their substance). Soak these small chunks into the gravy, until you have a texture that requires no biting, but has identifiable ‘bits’ in a slick of beef juice. Dollop on herby mash, and what do you have? Does it sound at all appetising? And yet, and yet…

“Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl”

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten something quite so intensely meaty as Dean Street Townhouse’s Mince and Potatoes. This is less a story of the mince itself than the sauce, which is weirdly more unswervingly animal than the protein morsels within it. The flavour doesn’t just punch you, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let you go. Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl.

But there are issues (which seem mainly our issues rather than anyone or anything else’s).

Firstly, while we did each have a small starter, both Rachael and I felt pretty much completely full within about two seconds of consuming a forkful of this dish. And, whilst I’m happy to admit neither of us will ever win an eating competition, I’m genuinely amazed that anyone could get through a whole plateful of this. As a ‘total flavour concept’ you could imagine (and enjoy) a spoonful of this in a deconstructed meat stew, or even in a tapas-sized portion to eat with flatbreads. You’d get the effect, and probably all the pleasure, just from that much.

Secondly, the potatoes. Delicious. Delectable. Rich, and creamy. Wait – hold up a minute – did I just say that? Yes, sure I did. Whether by treating with cream or butter or olive oil (I suspect the first two) the clever chefs had managed to achieve some of the most voluptuous mash I’ve eaten.

But that’s exactly the problem: matched with super-rich mince, I’d have liked mash that cuts through it. I get that citrus-mash wouldn’t exactly deliver the nostalgic flavours to which this old-time dish is clearly alluding, but, then, I’m sure you wouldn’t be chowing down on such a refined version of the plate anyway. This is about as far from the cheap-cut-makes-cheap-meal starting point of mince as you can get (though maybe some DST visitors genuinely think they’re slumming it without rib steak).

I’d have preferred some boiled potatoes (it’s a rare moment I say that), or a simple plain mash. I could always stir in a slick of beef fat from below if I found it too boring.

It was a lucky escape that we were told, on arrival, that there was only a single plate of mince and potatoes left, which we promptly broke our rules and ordered. If I went back, I’d want to share this dish with three others, so I got a bit of variety and got to sample the many other treats on the menu. I suspect, though, that chucking a few plates into the centre of the table and picking at each would be frowned upon in this slightly formal (dare I say ‘stuffy’?) restaurant which is less deconstructed and more unreconstructed.

Lagman noodles at SamarQand


It’s hard to know what to say about the Lagman Noodles at SamarQand. Firstly, both Rachael and I had got our impressions completely wrong. We were both imagining something a bit like a laksa, in a warming, coconutty broth and rich, oriental flavours. We hadn’t realised that this establishment, whilst Asian, wasn’t Oriental (if that makes sense) – it is, in fact, a Russian restaurant. Initial impressions were that it looks a bit like a (subterranean) hotel lobby, with comfy arm chairs around formal wooden tables. Zagat’s rating of 12/30 didn’t generate a great deal of optimism on my part.

“The beef was braised till very pleasantly tender, but was more texture than taste”

We started by sharing pirogi, which were beyond hot, reaching burning-the-roof-of-your-mouth territory. Pleasant enough, I’ve always seen these dumplings as homely rather than haute cuisine, and these examples didn’t change my mind.

The main course came, in relatively small bowls, with vinegar and (mild) chilli sauce to add as you might like. Rather than laksa, this was a clear beef and vegetable broth, with (handmade?) thin belt noodles. Stir-fry-sized strips of beef and thin slices of vegetables sat in the soup.

The problem was that, if I’m honest, there was barely any detectable flavour present. The broth was light and packed little punch – even with the addition of vinegar and chilli sauce. The beef was braised till very pleasantly tender, but was more texture than taste. The vegetables, likewise, had been boiled to within an inch of retaining any shape, and had lost any individual olfactory distinction.

The small bowl was filling enough, but we left feeling unsatisfied – as if we hadn’t really had a meal out at all. So desperate was the situation that we headed to MeatLiquor for a dessert – of deep fried pickles, buffalo wings and a shared Dead Hippy burger – all of which really hit the spot!


Frenchie Burger at Bar Boulud


I’m not one of these people who think ‘how great can a burger be?’. To me, a burger can be genuinely one of the great international dishes. I certainly have that thought about steak – it’s just a slab of meat, isn’t it, and how unimaginative do you have to be to serve a slab of meat to which you’ve applied nothing but a spot of fire? But haché that steak, season it, grill and pair it with the perfect bun, salad and sauce and suddenly you can show culinary genius in spades.

I’ve had a long-standing arrangement that, whenever my friend James is in town from Geneva where he now lives, we head for a posh burger at one of the (what were limited numbers of) gourmet outlets that are now springing up everywhere in London. We’ve tried Joe Allen’s off-menu sandwich, and that of Haché Burger Connoisseur, back when there was only one; ditto Byron. So with James in town we chose to combine challenges and head for a Chowdown Showdown burger – Bar Boulud’s Frenchie.

“A burger can be genuinely one of the great international dishes”

The burger has been variously described as ‘mini’ and ‘petite’, but I think what I’m presented with is a perfectly manageable size of dish – I don’t rate a good burger for sheer volume of meat outside watching Man Versus Food. It’s the A-grade ingredients that we’re being treated to that brings in the punters both sides of the Atlantic to Daniel Boulud’s ‘bars’. Morbier cheese, pork belly confit and tomato compote are the chef’s weapons of choice – though the truth is I know this because Time Out informs me it’s so, not because I have such finely tuned taste buds to identify it.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never found myself thinking ‘this burger is dry…’ (not since those black gristle burgers at school), ‘…and could do with the addition of pork belly’ (though I definitely didn’t know what pork belly was back then). I’m not going to pretend I could tell what this added, but you know what? I think it works, and the meat has a rich, woody flavour that is certainly a cut above.

It’s hard: I’m not sure this burger has that pure, simple flavour that a really great burger has without being boring, but I could definitely eat this again.

32/100 best Time Out dishes

Salt beef bagel at Brick Lane Beigel Bake


I’m surprised they don’t call this dish ‘salt beef with a bagel garnish’! As you can see from the photo, the amount of meat you get in this sandwich is beyond generous.

But have they compromised on quality in the process? I’d have to say no, since this is some of the most succulent, flavourful, almost mellow beef I’ve tasted.

Despite the size, you almost feel like you could line up another: rather than leaving you heavy and greasy, the salting process takes the edge off the fat, resulting in a meaty but not too heavy mountain.

“Some of the most succulent, flavourful, almost mellow beef I’ve tasted”

Of course, the bagels are the eponymous star of this outlet. I’ve made many a trip to Brick Lane to avail myself of a half dozen of these beauties, and until you’ve tasted the real deal, you’ve had a raw one. Supermarket bagels are a totally different beast to these soft but chewy toruses. I’d recommend investing in several: after a day or two they’re perfect to toast, and take on a crispy, light patina just right for absorbing melting butter.

Their smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel is also a bargain at just £1.70! Any Jewish mother could recommend!

But will I be back for another salt beef extravaganza? You bet I will be.

12/100 best London dishes

Classic beef pho at Cay Tre


A big bowl of south-east Asian noodles is always warming and comforting, especially when you’re drenched in a sudden October shower. This bowl had the right mix of aromatic, sweet, and, with the addition of the red chilli served with other herbs on the side, heat. Hand-made noodles were a cut above the standard packet fare.

“I’d happily have a party at Cay Tre, with tastier food than, say, Wagamama. But would I rush back for this pho? Unclear.”

The star of the show was the beef. Some slices of grilled beef and some melting brisket were both spot on, and took on the fresh crispness of the broth while still being warm and luxurious.

I wasn’t terrible enamoured with the decision to serve a (huge) pile of herbs and beansprouts on the side. Perhaps I’m being a philistine (and, yes, I know many places serve pho in this way), but getting you to flavour your own stock seemed to shirk the responsibility of creating a delicious dish. This isn’t Koya with its amazing walnut miso concoction. Perhaps I should have just dumped my whole plate of herbs into the bowl, but anything else amounts to Mongolian hotpot, where the only one to blame if you don’t like the mix is yourself. This was only emphasized by one companion who fished out the onion, which had been served in the bowl.

The other downer was that I tried someone else’s spicy-garlicky pho, and thought that broth was really spectacular. In the end, I’d happily have a party at Cay Tre, with tastier food than, say, Wagamama. But would I rush back for this pho? Unclear.

71/100 top dishes on 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

Beef lasagna with Heston’s white sauce


I was fairly intrigued when I first read about Heston Blumenthal’s no-roux white sauce. Instead of starting with the traditional butter and flour lump and then gradually adding milk, and cheese being optional, he advises reducing white wine (significantly), adding chicken stock, then melting in cheese, coated in a couple of teaspoons of cornflour (the only flour).

It seemed just as easy as normal white sauce, with a boatload more flavour. But judge for yourself.

Beef lasagna with Heston's white sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
  • 300 ml white wine
  • 150 ml chicken stock (warmed through)
  • 200 g mature cheese (I used cheddar)
  • Cornflour, to dust (2 tsp approx)
  • 300 g lean beef mince
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 150 g spinach
  • 12 sheets lasagna
  1. In a small pan, reduce the wine to a concentrated 30ml.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the beef for five minutes (you shouldn't need any additional oil), then add the chopped onion, and fry for another three minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the beef, and reduce slightly, then add the spinach and wilt for a minute or two and remove from the heat.
  4. Stir the heated stock into the reduced wine, then dust the cheese (reserving a handful to sprinkle on top) with the cornflour, mixing to coat, then stir into the stock until nice and thick.
  5. Layer in a large dish - beef and tomato sauce, lasagna sheets, white sauce. I aim for as many layers as possible (it's all about the pasta!), so be sparing with the sauces, while ensuring there is enough wet for the pasta to absorb.
  6. Sprinkle on top the reserved cheese, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. The pasta should be al-dente, and have taken on the flavours of the sauce.