Saturday, 31 January 2015

Brasserie Gustave

Ooh La Lovely

A hop, skip and a jump away from South Kensington Station sits Brasserie Gustave and how I wished I lived just around the corner because here is a charming French restaurant that will whisk you right to the streets of Paris and make London feel many miles away.

Brasserie Gustave is unquestionably a labour of love. General Manager and ex-sommelier Richard Weiss glides around the room meeting and greeting each and every table with a cheeky, knowing grin. His infectious character had everybody smiling and we could tell we were in for a treat.

Inside the restaurant it was all about keeping true to le tradition. Simple leather seating, tuck at the corner menus and pictures of la vie Parisienne hung on the walls while the menu presented us with all that should be expected of a traditional French brasserie. No frills, no fuss, just mighty fine food.

We sipped on tall glasses of champagne as, much to our delight, Richard appeared brandishing his Champagne saber and decorked another bottle of bubbles with one fell swoop and a style that suggested he had been born with it in his hand. How often does one get to experience such a display of prowess over dinner? We quickly agreed that Champagne sabers are a totally necessary part of every self respecting household. Watch this space, I will have my sword!

A bag of crusty french bread assisted our perusal of the menu. The elements that frequently draw me to a restaurant were nowhere to be seen: no sharing plates, no weird and unpronounceable ingredients and no crazy decoration. I didn't care a single iota. Putting aside my usual penchant for the unconventional and letting my need for novelty dissipate into nothingness, it was time to relax and unwind in the uncomplicated calm of traditional French cuisine. 

There was something about the stress-free 'you know what you're going to get' style of menu that spread the air of relaxation over the room. Richard, with his charm, attentiveness and confidence could have served me a plate of concrete and I'd have been happy. (Slight exaggeration but let's move on). 

Luckily for our dental hygiene, we chose slightly more teeth appropriate dishes. The smoked salmon arrived in an entertainingly circular arrangement. The child in me almost cut eyes and a smile but since I knew I was going to want to return, it was decided that I should hold back on the infantile artistry in this instance. The moules marinieres swam in a deliciously creamy white wine sauce and produced the kind of delighted groans that resulted in curious glances from surrounding diners and then a barrage of food envy! 

Named after Gustave Eiffel, the architect of that big tall thing in Paris, our cloakroom ticket was firmly attached to a little model which sat with us on the table and made sure we didn't forget Brasserie Gustave's roots.

For our mains, it was onto confit de carnard married with carrots and pickled white cabbage and boeuf bourguignon with mashed potato. Both dishes were outstanding, cooked with the simplicity and respect for which the French are renowned. We just about maintained composure and concluded that it is indeed socially unacceptable to bury one's head in the bowl as much as we wanted to finish every last morsel.

Some of the dishes had a little more show attached and were wheeled out on a trolley but Richard nonchalantly flipped and swished while he rustled up Crepes Suzette as if he was just chillin' in his kitchen. I think we might just all need a Richard to chill in our kitchens!

Totally stuffed and with no space for dessert, we decided to order dessert. It had to be the creme brulee. Its caramelised surface did the spoon cracky thing that ticks the brulee box and the sweet creme was silky and light and just how it should be. 

On a little explore mission, I discovered the downstairs bar where you could perch if you fancy a spot o absinthe pre dinner and a private dining room where you can really feel like you're at your home away from home.  

Brasserie Gustave is fuss-free (minus the price, pocket extensions may well be required) and fabulous. We left the restaurant draped in an air of sophistication and in that slightly stupefied daze which comes from being truly satisfied. Hats off to Chef Laurence Glayzer who arrives with The Ritz, Harry's Bar, Browns Hotel and The Arch under his belt. The food wasn't revolutionary, but that wasn't the point. Every mouthful was superb and we couldn't have been happier that London has it's very own authentic taste of Paris.  

Brasserie Gustave on Urbanspoon

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I was invited by Brasserie Gustave for a late gift from Santa .. Santa was very good to us indeed!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Bermondsey Arts Club & Ladies and Gents Bar

Toilet Bar No1

Methinks it's time to take a trip to the toilet. However, there's no need to flush at either of these lovely lavatories. 

No 1: Bermondsey Arts Club and by far one of my favourite finds in London of late. Think underground art deco, jazzy tunes and spectacular cocktails.

No 2: Ladies & Gentlemen, newly opened in Kentish town but I'll get back to that later.

Thanks once again to Matt for opening my eyes to this wonderment. Our first little jaunt presented us with the exciting opportunity to taste the winter cocktail menu. (I say 'first' because we went back within a week since it was THAT good)! 

Remember that this iron ex-public toilety entrance on Tower Bridge Road is exactly what to keep your eyes peeled for but then your lips sealed. BAC is a great secret to have under your belt! 

Let me first introduce you to the Hit and Mist - whisky bitters, treacle syrup, and an appley hickory smoke presented in a magical steamy jar.

Three Wise was a combination of port, gin, sugar and (drumroll) gold/ frankincense/ myrrh bitters, served in a sake box with extra smokey whisps. 

It's not all about the show however (although that is undeniably excellent). Each of the magical mixers at the bar (Adam, Milo and Jake) have hand crafted each of their cocktails with a personality and twist that shows both in the taste and the presentation.

Levels. It's all about the levels! Milo's combination of fashion and cocktail arrived in the form of his Coupe des Garcons, wrapped in a black tie napkin jacket with a distinctly Comme de Garcon scent. Funny that, since he'd added a spritz of the cologne to the napkin, so when you sip the Calvados, Ramazzotti, Port and Peychauds bitters, it all swirls together in a fascinatingly subtle combination. you've really got to try it yourself!

Another mind boggling combination, this time from Adam was the inspired Phra Phum which combined House Thai Gin (a crazy mix of ginger, chilli, garlic and spring onion), lemon, sugar, egg white and house soy bitters. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! I guess liquid stir fry doesn't sound all that appealing but I was on it like a gin and tonic!

With all the fabulously imaginative cocktails priced below £10, live jazz nights on a Wednesday and three delightful barmen making equally delightful concoctions, you're onto a winner if you pull up a seat at the bar at Bermondsey Arts Club. (Come and say hi, there's a strong chance I'll be there)!

Toilet bar No 2

Head North to Kentish Town and you'll find the latest addition to the toilet bar trend. Ladies and Gents has an equally irony entrance leading to an equally former public toilet interior. 

Inside, the space is considerably smaller than BAC and the rooms are set out in a rather bizarre zigzag. Come early to avoid being turned away as there is little room to squeeze or perch once the tables and seats at the bar are taken. 

On our first visit (yes, once again, we couldn't help but return a week later), we took a more creative approach to ordering our drinks. Picking something off a menu was no fun for us and we decided that making something off the menu as they had been doing all evening was no fun for the bar staff. Cue the personality cocktail game. Oo I love a good game!

How to play:

1) Choose an entertainingly obscure selection of words

2) Request a drink that best reflects said combination

3) Hope your bar tender has some imagination.

Luckily, Leah was totally on board with our little game.

The 'L.I.MU' - Loving, insightful and mentally unstable contained um alcohols. Yes, the downside to the game is a severe case of memory loss as regards the actual contents of the drinks. There was absinthe..perhaps that had something to do with it..

Next up was the 'W.W.S' - Warm, witty and secretive. This was a big hit. Chocolate bitters were involved so I was happy.

If you don't fancy straying into such unknown territories, the menu features plenty of interesting twists on well known classics but I'm not going to give the game away, I don't want to completely ruin the surprise!

Adding to the growing list of lavatory takeovers (WC in Clapham and The Convenience on Brooksby's Walk), there's nothing bog standard about either of these little loos. In fact, they're somewhat talk of the town thanks to dear Giles Coren in his latest gripe (here), amusing as always. 

So if Bermondsey and Kentish Town weren't on your to do list, add them right away and if one stop doesn't quite do it for you, give me a shout and let me help you plan an adventure!

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Shed

A Delightful Dig

On a chilly January evening, it was decided by a gruesome twosome that a trip to The Shed was in order. The adventurous duo set out for Notting Hill with bucket and spade in hand (loose translation for phone, money and keys) and tumbled into the rustic, cosy embrace of The Shed.

The Shed is the brainchild of the country raised Gladwin brothers, Richard - The Manager, Oliver - The Chef and Gregory - The Farmer. Having already visited Rabbit, The Shed's sister site, it wasn't a difficult choice of dinner spot and the pair knew they were in for a treat or two. 

Opened in 2012, the restaurant is well settled in its stride and maintains a relaxed confidence of somewhere that knows just how damned great it is. Yet behind this is a gentle modesty from the trio of gents who simply love what they have created. We love it too guys!  

Our little table was soon piled high with drinks and mouthfuls to sustain the (not so) treacherous journey through the menu as we absorbed the buzz and chatter of the restaurant. 

Scratching and apple, brown crab bomb, mushroom marmite and egg confit and a beetroot crisp with goats cheese and pear jam. 

This is certainly not your run of the mill, tumble down, crusty decaying garden shed. Oh no. This here shed is filled with tricks, trinkets, bits and bobs that would get green fingers twitching and taste buds tingling.

Every glance creates a picture, as barrows, wheels, antlers and tools hang from the ceilings and walls. Waitresses model check shirts and jeans with leather carpenters' belts to house their order pads and pencils and skip from table to table with an infectious joviality. It is impossible not to grin when you're in this sort of atmosphere and looking around, there were no sour mouths in sight.

The food just so happens to also be quite spectacular. Clever combinations of fresh fruit and colourful veg teamed with tender mouthfuls of British meat and game create explosively flavoursome dishes. Presented with an artists palate-esque attitude, it's hard to fault the creative love and attention that shines through even the most basic of ingredients.

The menu itself consists of a selection of small(ish) plates separated into 'slow cooking' and 'fast cooking' and we were advised to pick a couple from each to share (ranging from £6.50 - £12). This here is my kind of dining, a little bit of everything!

On Richard's recommendation we selected the beetroot cured trout with tempura pickled onion and sorrel which was rustically plonked on a rustic board atop our rustic table and inhaled ... rustically.

Veal Patties with swede and truffle packed a punch while the Sussex veal, celeriac, almonds bone marrow pesto and lovage was a marriage in the kitchen and disappeared just as quickly. Smooth grilled venison, squash, honey, sunflower seeds and mint was an equally beautiful partnership.

With each dish, there was a carefully balanced combination of creamy, crunch and chew (the all important three c's and my new taste test)!

While I was visiting this fine establishment for the first time, the same can't be said for my frequent flyer partner in crime who had already eaten here on a number of occasions. So, according to expertise that proved completely reliable, the dish to end all dishes in this instance were the lamb chips with parsley, lemon and Harissa. (Please ignore the awfully dark photo, the thought was there but my stomach wasn't prepared to be patient .. and it had good reason)!

 Mustn't forget the candle brick combo, another rustic fail safe.

And finally for dessert, a pear and white chocolate mousse with hazelnut sherbet and a nostalgic chocolate coated honeycomb with mascarpone and tarragon sugar. Sorry Crunchie Bar, you've been knocked right off the playing field!

Our meal was almost at an end, just enough time for a chat and snap with the master of the mill; the lovely Richard Gladwin, set in front of a dangerously attractive background wheel. 

For a shed load more chat, head to a cheeky little interview with the Gladwin brothers over at the fabulous new all things food site - Try This For

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