A simple space on the first floor of the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green gives little away, but look a little closer and it becomes apparent that someone has a sense of humour: a spiral staircase leading nowhere; lamps hung at spectacularly varying heights; no external telephone. The place is unassuming. The menu is the same. Three ingredients are listed for each dish, with no indication as to how they’re to be prepared or served. Portuguese chef, Nuno Mendes – who trained at El Bulli – is best known for working his magic at Michelin-starred Viajante, downstairs, so as you settle into your seats at Corner Room you feel like you might just be in for a treat. And you’re not wrong there. Continue reading
In late 2009, mid economic crisis, Russell Norman bravely opened his first bacaro (a Venetian wine bar to you or me) just off Carnaby Street. Three years later and Norman has four more successful restaurants to his name. He’s done well. Very well. And why wouldn’t he have? The concept is instantly likeable: fairly-priced food to share, served in a hip venue. Throw in enough booze and everyone will love it. And indeed they do; it’s very difficult to find a bad word against Polpo anywhere. Until now. Not much feeling up to the scrum that is undoubtedly their evening ‘no reservations’ policy, I set on a Monday afternoon to take out a friend for a belated birthday lunch to see what all the fuss was about. Everything that goes through the door seems to have been ‘distressed’: the walls, the menus, the waiters’ jeans. Me too.
Luddite Shiraz (2006): The humour and simplicity of the label were surely a dead Aussie giveaway. And wow, that colour: purple and brooding with long, inky legs. On the nose, heavy notes of raisin and dark chocolate, and a lingering hint of cinnamon. An hour or so in the decanter to soften and it makes even more of an impression. Rich plum and cherry in the mouth give the wine a powerful dimension, but its high level of acidity counters most of its overpowering qualities. A big, bold Shiraz, probably one of Barossa Valley’s finest. No: Stellenbosch, South Africa! The 14% alcohol level does require a suitable food-match, however; for us, homemade hamburgers stood up to its richness nicely. The only clincher is its price tag. Well, that and you can get some equally decent stuff at less than half the price from Australia. I’ve seen it crop up on restaurant lists with an extortionate mark up (around £70), so it’s probably one for home. You wouldn’t want to drink it everyday, but for an interesting, special occasion wine give it a go. (Slurp, £21.35) 7.5/10
Château le Terme Blanc Monbazillac 2010: Golden hue in the bottle, becoming a more pale yellow in the glass. Much less viscous than I was expecting – almost watery. On the nose honeysuckle and candied fruit. Very clean and crisp in the mouth with hints of melon and honey – again, less syrupy than expected. However, fairly one-dimensional; could have been slightly too chilled. Enjoyable but not very interesting. Paired well with foie gras pâté; had enough acidity to cut through the fat, and a lingering sweetness which countered the richness of the pâté. Surprisingly, it really suited the dessert of passion fruit, cherries, and redcurrants, possibly due to the warmer temperature. Good value. Perhaps a few more years in the bottle to really let it shine. (Wine Society, £20) 8/10
Château Pey La Tour 2008: Deep ruby red on opening – closed nose to begin with. Slightly barnyardy. After a few hours it gave a full, brambly nose an d a touch of oak and white pe pper. Definitely one to decant. In the mouth at first jammy and slightly sweet, moving towards some pepper and spice on the finish. More oak coming through. Medium bodied with fairly smooth tannins. Unmistakeably a claret, almost St. Emilion. Difficult to enjoy without food, but that’s fine. Was served with a warm salad of rare beef, rocket and sun-dried tomatoes. Probably could have done with a richer dish, but the pepperiness really shone through in the wine. Tasted side-by-side with the pinot noir and fared better. Bit pricey for what it is. (Wine Society, £13.50) 7/10
Bourgogne Domaine Jean Grivot Pinot Noir 2006: A very pale brick red colour and slightly thin in the glass. Very little on the nose to begin with, but after a few hours open in the bottle there was a fragrance of strawberries and vanilla. It’s quite delicate and doesn’t give much away. A bit simple in the mouth with some taste of raspberry, and a touch of sourness on the short finish. It had a slight earthiness on the nose the more we drank. Its soft tannins make it easier to drink than the claret, but it was lost in the food, so it might be matched more to drinking on its own, maybe even slightly chilled. Not my sort of wine, but I can see its appeal. Recommended to drink now by the Wine Society, but still feels a bit young. (Wine Society, £10.99) 6/10
If it’s fine dining that you’re looking for without the pretence or hefty price tag head to Arbutus in Soho. Having been before I knew what to expect. Superb produce served by knowledgeable staff in a relaxed, contemporary setting. Modern European all over. This place has been on the scene for around six years now so I went back with my other half to see if its sparkle was still there. Little had changed in the few years since my last visit. Think creams and dark chocolates, mirrors and right angles. A diabetic engineer’s heaven. It might sound a little safe, but the decoration does in fact suit the U-shaped restaurant. However, with all that hard wood and bare wall, voices are always a little strained. A few soft touches here and there still wouldn’t go amiss. Bring back the tablecloth I say. Continue reading