Monday, 19 March 2012

Railroad


I've been meaning to check out Railroad for months. Stevie Parle, who runs the critically acclaimed Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove, writes the Daily Telegraph's food column and has written a rather wonderful cookbook, mentioned his sister Lizzie's East London cafe last autumn on Twitter. It sounded like a little jewel, a food- and coffee-lover's sanctuary in the dirt end of Hackney. And if her culinary inquisitiveness was anything like her brother's, I was in for a treat.

Morning Lane sounds promising, and unless you've trodden down Hackney's backstreets before you might be expecting a sunny stroll down a cute cobbled street. In fact, it's a mean old dirty thoroughfare, blessed only by this bright young cafe, thronged with Hackney local 20-somethings, sitting at communal benches sipping flat whites.

An auspicious start: the coffee. Square Mile coffee, roasted in Hackney and brewed to perfection at a mammoth machine that takes up the whole of the service counter. It was sweet, rich and tangy with no bitter aftertaste, and served in beautiful handcrafted cups made by the proprietor's mother.


First to come from the tiny kitchen was their take on the Vietnamese banh mi, a sandwich stuffed with spicy minced pork, coriander and pickled vegetables. A steal at £4.50 but perhaps a little too much bread; it took jaws of steel to crack through the crust.


The menu, scribbled on a white board, changes daily. They serve dinner, too: more substantial offerings such as slow-cooked pork shoulder, roast partridge with lentils and roasted vegetables with farro and salsa verde. Moro instantly springs to mind.

Braised fennel with spring garlic and chilli on toast. £6.50. Soft, sweet and unctuous. Comfort food that would happily convert me to vegetarianism (well, not quite).

This cauliflower, coriander and yoghurt soup (£4.50) deserves a special mention. It was sensational - earthy, spicy and creamy, with pleasing lumps of just al dente cauliflower running through it.

On offer for the sweet-toothed among us is a small but perfectly formed range of patisserie from Yeast Bakery, an artisan bakery near London Fields. The banana cake (made on site) was spectacular.

As if the imaginative food wasn't enough, there is a short but well-compiled wine list, local and NZ beers, a ‘bookcase’ bookshop and a basement that hosts poetry readings and live music.

This is special little place, with a big heart and a warm welcome.

RAILROAD CAFE
120-122 Morning Lane
Hackney
London E9 6LH

Tel: 02089852858


Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Modern Pantry: Part 2

A brief update on The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, which I bored you all about nearly three years ago (see last post). I loved it then, and love it still. Anna Hansen, made an MBE last year for her services to the restaurant industry, continues to cook lively and imaginative food. The standout dishes remain the light ethereal compositions, where the delicate flavours and spices she favours are not muddied by fat or carbohydrates. This scallop sashimi with cress and yuzu dressing was outstanding.


The cinder toffee ice cream is unbeatable, particularly when doused with a shot of dark espresso to make affogato, my desert island dessert.

The Modern Pantry is offering a set lunch for £20 at the moment. It might not be the trendiest place in town right now, and Bistro Bruno Loubet is flexing its Gallic muscles next door, but I promise you it's worth a punt.

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Fino

I expected a lot from Fino. After all, its cooler sibling - Barrafina in Soho - has people queuing day in and day out to prop up at the bar for a culinary trip around Spain (in particular, Barcelona, home to Cal Pep which Sam and Eddie Hart allegedly modelled Barrafina on).

First impressions aren't great. Who wants to sit in a dark sombre, and largely empty, dining room to eat tapas?

Service was effusive, and the list of sherries imaginative, but disappointment didn't stop at the setting. The tortilla (£6.80) was melt-in-the-middle. Egg yolk and butter ran out into a pool on the plate when I cut into it. Weird, and not particularly pleasant. I'd take Moro's tortilla over theirs any day, be it authentic or not. Like Cal Pep, it disappointed on the fried options too, the batter being too heavy and overwhelming. To conclude my grumbles, six tiny triangles of Manchego with a nugget of quince paste was £6.80: feeling robbed is a particularly effective appetite dampener.

Time for the good news. The spatchcocked grilled quail (£7.80) from the plancha was perfect. Moist and succulent, and perfectly seasoned.

The chips (£4.70), crisp baby artichokes (£6.80) and pan con tomate were just okay.

Our bill came to £72 for 2. Hardly cheap. I've had better meals at Salt Yard, better tapas at Moro and Opera Tavern, and if you're looking for the real deal you just have to book a flight to Barcelona and head straight for the Pinotxo bar at La Boqueria market, home to simply spectacular tapas.

Fino on Urbanspoon