Sunday, 26 June 2011

The King's Head

It appeared that the Russian had gone mad at some point between leaving his house and arriving at our lunching destination.

Or at least that was all I could surmise with his hand around my throat as he shouted maniacally about class A drugs and threatened to kill me.

He then quit the pub, to the immense relief of bar staff who evidently hadn't been trained in how to deal with a barney, and returned home.

Ho hum.

After finishing my pint I went to fetch him whereupon it transpired that shortly before arriving at the King's Head he discovered that I had been out the previous evening with his American Sister and TOD, which was apparently not cool. To be fair, I have known for some time that TOD is the kind of person that can inspire this kind of reaction, but the Russian is normally a jovial, happy-go-lucky sort, not prone to violent outbursts, and never knowingly leaves a pub unfed.

Lunch was at this point already an hour late. The late arrival of this particular meal is something that will often ruin my day, if not my entire month. Lucky then then the newly re-branded King's Head pulled out the stops in terms of eminantly satisfying eating experiences.

It's not that the food here is revolutionary- you wouldn't expect it to be. More that it's fresh, high quality, well-served, home-made, and reasonably priced. Which is probably even better.

£2 for a couple of stellar sausage rolls or an equally good scotch egg is great value. They serve both good crisp fries and mind-blowingly good twice cooked chips. A shared fish and chips came with the fish cut in two and two portions of the accompanying salad, peas and chips. Winning beer is by Purity.

Whether this attention to detail was on account of mine and the Russian's no doubt burgeoning reputation at the place I cannot say. What I can say 'tho is that I'll be back. Maybe in disguise.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Jamie's Italian

13 Friary St, GU1 4EH, £30 pp

I arrived at one of Jamie Oliver’s Italian eateries at the tail end of a concerted (and inexplicably unsuccessful) attempt to kill myself.

The previous four days had seen a number of triumphs for myself and a group of collaborators comprising the Russian, his American Sister, my own Sister and a new friend of mine whom I shall call Emily2, as that is very nealy her name, and avoids confusion with another friend of mine, Emily1.

Notable lowlights included ‘Formal Supper’ at Queen’s College Oxford at which myself, Sister and the American enjoyed drinking a fair amount of rare red Petillant Naturel and eating almost none of the food whilst wearing silly hats, getting ejected, and consequently breaking back into the same club a total of four times in a single evening, and taking 4 ½ hours to get from Oxford to Guildford via every M&S New York Pastrami sandwich between the two.

And once you get locked into a serious bender the tendency is to push it as far as you can. So Emily2 and I went for supper.

We were almost certainly intoxicated on arrival, and steady stream of first rate Prosecco based cocktails served only to abet this. ‘Though it really did highlight the consistent excellence of the service on offer; our young lady at one point expertly fielding Emily2’s deadpan complaint about a piece of white spaghetti amongst the squid ink stuff before moving swiftly on to complimenting us on our choice of espresso martinis for pudding (served in proper glasses- please take note Soho)

The food is really quite surprisingly good, even if everything is described, cooked and served a la Oliver and hence swimming in dizzy adjectives and olive oil, and presented in incomprehensible receptacles.

Our assortment of breads was good but came stuffed tightly into a small metal pot, which meant the liberation of one piece caused the rest to go all over the floor. My own seared Grey Mullet came with a sauce (roasted peppers, olives, chillis &c.) and a small rocket salad. Great.

Emily2’s Scallop and Squid ink spaghetti was equally good and came spiked with some intensely fiery red chilli. The magic here is how they’ve made the assorted ingredients taste so much; it is vibrant, flavoursome, singing food.

A subsequent visit brought the predictable discovery that the “World’s Best Olives” are not that, but they are quite good and served on ice. I’m not convinced this brought a whole lot flavour-wise but it did make them, and the accompanying tapenade, noticeably colder. The accompanying “music bread” (large shards of flatbread) smacked of finishing the thesaurus and moving on to the dictionary.

My fried squid came with “really garlicky mayo” which is a bold claim to make, especially when the garlic quotient of the sauce in question is situated well below perception threshold. Still- Emily2’s cockle linguine was a return to form; perfect, grit-less, cokcles and pasta in broth of lipsmacking intensity.

Day-glo badges that read “I finished all my vegetables at Jamie’s Italian” are not proffered voluntarily, but nor are they subject to a particularly stringent criteria test- the bemused looking man at the front desk will take your word.

(Assuming you don’t find yourself sharing the restaurant with Emily2 and I) I guarantee anyone will find the whole affair all rather brilliant and charming and reasonably priced.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Polpo, Sputino &c.

£God only knows, Soho.

I had always assumed lunch was a bit like Christmas; special because of its scarcity. It comes but once a day, a neat anchor-point right in the middle, much anticipated beforehand, and remembered fondly over subsequent hours.

Recent experience however has led me to establish that this is a myth, a mos perpetuated by mealtime traditionalists and admirers of 'brunch' alike. There is, in fact, no reason at all not to keep having lunches all afternoon, especially if you are somewhere as small and densely populated by trendy eateries as Soho...

The Russian's American Sister is a prodigously talented luncher, never found wanting in enthusiasm or execution, and only, on occasion, in sense of direction. The hundred metre walk from her apartment to Polpo took just over an hour. Once inside though we were golden.

The lamentable affectation of serving all wine in Duralex tumblers slightly undermined an otherwise good Bellini. Tapas (or 'Cicheti' if we need another word for tapas) varied from ok to pretty good, taking in fennel salami, pickled cabbage, potato and parmesan croquette, artichoke, prosciutto and a curious anchovy and chickpea houmous-tapenade hybrid. But they were very small, and at this point we didn't realise this lunch was merely the beginning of a trilogy.

From their 'Bread' section we came away with a small tomato-less pizza topped with garlicky, cheesy spinach and an egg, and something described thus: "Cured pork shoulder & Peperonata panino" which rather predictably turned out to be a ham and red pepper pannini. Both were good, but the spinach number was better. I can't remeber how much this little lot came to, but it wasn't much, and I nabbed a postcard on the way out- so a sucessful venture all round.

We retired back to the American's flat for some time on the roof terrace and a bottle of 2010 Iglesia Vella from Roc des Anges. The wine was unfortunately a barrel sample, and though not fizzy it had more than a smack of not-quite-finished-fermentation appleyness.

With the line between digestif and aperitif suitably blurred we were ready for lunch.

I was all up for a little trip to Hix Soho just down the street, but the American denounced it as 'shit' and so we had to go to the pub next door for Bangers, Mash and Beer. It was a classic interpretation of the theme, comprising cumberlands, mash, and a summery, hoppy ale or two. Very nice, and only let down by the fact that the onions rings were doused in gravy which comprehensively negated their crunchiness. Oh well.

After lunch we headed out for a few cocktails, the most memorable- in an unmarked downstairs bar decked out like an acid trip- all plastic mushroom lamps and barbie dolls glued to the ceiling. The best- a pretty good passion fruit daiquiri was, perhaps not coincedentally, the only cocktail all day served in a proper glass.

I had come to Soho that afternoon with a number of objectives; I had to return the American a bag of her clothes which she had left at my house on Friday, I wanted to drink posh wine in the sun on her roof terrace, and (ideally) I wanted to find Sputino, a newly opened gaff described universally as "achingly hip".

No cartographer in history has ever gotten to grips with the area ('tho Signore Alighieri had a go a while back I believe), and Sputino apparently had no signage and frosted windows... I didn't hold out much hope.

Imagine my delight then when, not 25 metres from the American's front door, we stumbled across (and subsequently into) it, for lunch.

The American is a 19 year old model, and was wearing sunglasses, as such she pulled off "achingly hip" quite well. My own sunglasses, on the other hand were broken, and I had been pushing the boundary between "achingly hip" and comatose for a couple of hours already. I remember little apart from a good pulled pork mini burger, and another equally good mini burger, though we may have just ordered the same pork one again. She has since informed me that there was also a croque monsieur, shoestring fries (whatever they may be), and some cocktails made with orange blossom involved.

It is an intereating fact that any particular day's fun quotient is in fact proportional to the cube of how many times one has been for lunch. Hence this was a full 27 times better than your run-of-the-mill Sunday.

Which is convenient because attempting this kind of bollix more than twice a year would probably kill me quite quickly.

* Unfortunately I failed a little in taking any photos of our adventure, save the authentically Soho view from the American's front door.