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London report: Mohsen, Brindisa, Great Queen Street, Bombay Brasserie, Arbutus, Harwood Arms, Cinnamon Kitchen, Tayyabs

k
Kelly Nov 21, 2012 04:50 AM

Had to go to London for work, so made a weekend of it with partner and child. As usual, a great time was had by all. Here's the chow report:

Mohsen

MEAT. The MEAT. I’m sure we did no justice at all to the subtleties of Iranian cuisine, but I had a brain spasm on arrival and couldn’t remember specific dishes I’d read about on Chowhound. Partner had gorgeous lamb chops; we ordered a “chicken kebab” for Mr Picky 3 Year Old which turned out to be approximately 4 chickens’ worth of meat gorgeously marinated and cooked; I had a lamb shank with rice, dill and broad beans. All yummy. We started with a puree of garlic, walnuts and eggplant, which was excellent; but can someone explain how we *should* have eaten the “cheese and herbs”? For some reason I thought it would be rather like labneh, but what arrived was a chunk of feta (or similar) with a big bunch of tarragon, coriander and mint. We improvised, making little tartines of the (fantastic) naan, the aubergine spread, cheese and herbs. Did we do right?

Casa Brindisa

Chosen for its promixity to the Natural History Museum, where we took the wee one ice skating before lunch. Better than I’d expected. A total madhouse, which meant even with a booking, we and our friends had to huddle outside for about 20 minutes before the table was ready. But once installed, we really enjoyed just about everything we ordered. Standouts included: chorizo, an excellent basic tortilla, gambas al ajillo, patatas bravas, deep fried Monte Enebro with orange blossom honey, croquetas de jamon y pollo and butifarra con mongetes. Those sausages were EXCELLENT. And you know what? In writing this, I realise we never got the padron peppers we ordered. Didn’t see the bill; hope we weren’t charged.

Great Queen Street

Conveniently located and remarkably child-friendly, but I wouldn’t go back. Partner’s roast partridge with mushrooms and spelt was sadly overcooked; my lemon sole was nicely cooked but seriously let down by the accompanying veg – salsify was way too crunchy, and wild fennel tasted of…nothing. We did enjoy the gorgeous pork and game rillettes we split for a starter, but…meh.

Bombay Brasserie

Had contemplated Quilon but couldn’t pass up BB’s proximity – literally 4 minutes from our hotel’s front door, so perfect after long sunny morning in Hyde Park. Was I blown away? No. Do I think the lunch buffet is good value for money? Absolutely. As noted elsewhere on the board, the made-to-order starters were the stars of the show; I could have eaten plate after plate of the bhel puri (maybe a touch too sweet) and sev batata puri. Also gorgeous crispy prawns with mint chutney and…little croquettes of spiced mashed potato, if that makes any sense (drawing a blank on the name). One thing I loved was a simple papdi with a shot glass of spicy, tangy (tamarind-based???) liquid. Pour in the liquid and pop in the mouth. Can anyone tell me what it was?
Mains fell off a bit: khumb palak was like Tesco babyfood and dal was quite bland but aloo jeera, mirch chana and pilau were good; partner enjoyed the tandoori chicken legs, chicken korma and…oh drat, what was it called? The name looked more Mayan than Indian – lamb xacutli? Even the naan exceeded expectations. Would probably go back if we stay in the neighbourhood again; certainly kid friendly with loads of Indian families.

Arbutus

Was the food stellar? No. Did I have a great time? Yes. I was dining solo and sat at the bar; the barman took excellent care of me, giving me tastings not only of the things he was pouring for me, but of just about everything he poured for anyone else. :o) Starter was a complete misfire: what I thought would be roasted scallops with potato puree turned out to be scallop and sea-vegetable tartare with cold potato foam. My mistake for not asking…it reminded me of a deranged American potato salad. But the Galician Albarino (2011 Terras Gauda Rias Baixas) I drank with it was superb. The main – haunch of venison with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and spaetzle – was perfectly fine, though the beautifully cooked venison could have used a bit more seasoning. Eric proposed a 2006 Bordeaux; I tasted it, wrinkled my nose and opted for a Montepulciano. As I was eating, I saw him call over the head waiter, ask him to taste the wine and then pour it out. He came back to apologise for the wine not being in good condition and said the Montepulciano was on the house. Wasn’t planning on pudding, but we’d had a lengthy conversation about cheese as I ate so I consented to some Lincolnshire Poacher (trying to be reasonable after a cheese orgy at Neal’s Yard the previous day!). Which came with…Cornish Yarg, Shropshire Blue and Ardrahan “just because” and a complimentary glass of 1986 Port “because it’s a shame to have cheese on its own.” Would I go back? Only if I called ahead to see if the barman was going to be on duty!

Harwood Arms

LOVED this place. Can see why it gets the hype: chilled atmosphere, the kind you want a neighbourhood pub to have; extraordinary wine list; really good food. Starters: crispy hen’s egg with white bacon, artichokes and celeriac puree plus chestnut soup with mushrooms and spelt, with pheasant rillettes toast on the side. Enjoyed my egg, which was ever so slightly overcooked to my taste, but friend’s soup stole the show: an autumnal walk in a bowl. But my main took its revenge: crispy pork belly, braised pork cheek, apple puree, roasted celeriac and cabbage. Pork nirvana! Friend also enjoyed beef short rib with fried potatoes and smoked bone marrow. With two glasses of wine apiece: 50 GBP per person.

Cinnamon Kitchen

Bitterly disappointed that I had to cancel my reservation at St John Bread and Wine because meetings ran late, but quite pleased with this substitute in Devonshire Square, suggested by my colleague. He’d forgotten the name so when we pitched up I was dubious (my partner had had a less than stellar meal a while back at Cinnamon Club, its sister restaurant). But really, the 15 GBP lunch was quite good value for money. Had Bombay mixed veg pau with a lovely kick to it followed by “stir-fried Hyderabadi baby aubergines” (cue renewed dubiousness). The aubergines were lovely, with slightly charred bitterness playing off a deep, slightly sweet sauce. Add in some serviceable naan and a stellar mango lassi (garnished with a thin slice of dehydrated mango sprinkled with something quite sour – amchoor, maybe?) and I was happy. Service was a bit all over the place, but setting was perfectly nice.

Tayyabs

Okay, this is cheating, because we haven’t eaten it yet. I timed my last meeting so I could sprint out to Whitechapel and pick up a load of takeaway before heading straight to St Pancras. So my massive order perfumed my Eurostar carriage: 2 orders of lamb chops, seekh kebabs, dry meat, saag gosht, chicken tikka, chana, tinda masala and pilau. Really looking forward to dinner. :o)

  1. k
    Kelly Nov 22, 2012 04:00 AM

    Update on Tayyabs: Largely yum. Seekh kebabs did not take well to reheating (and who can blame them?), but the tender, juicy, spicy lamb chops, amazingly, did. The saag gosht, chicken tikka and chana were all excellent. The urad dal was nicely spiced but was a bit pasty; perhaps I've been spoilt by too many makhani dals in the past. The only misfires were the dry meat (excellent flavour but the beef--which just seems a wrong meat choice anyway--was unpleasantly chewy) and the tinda masala. I had high hopes for the latter, but the "pumpkin" was unlike anything I've ever seen/tasted before...or want to again. Slimy, stringy, nasty. Lesson learned.

    Oh - and if someone can direct me to a curry house which takes pilau AT ALL seriously, I'd appreciate it. Three cubes of diced carrot, six desiccated peas and a sprinkle of cumin seed do not a proper pilau make, in my book.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kelly
      klyeoh Nov 22, 2012 05:23 AM

      I simply must mention that I admired your courage in bringing a whole bag of hot curries from Tayyabs *on-board* the Eurostar!

      After I dined at Tayyabs and Needoo Grill a few evenings ago, the heavy smell of spices on my overcoat was so strong that I boarded the underground with a certain amount of trepidation, afraid that the curry smells might overwhelm some fellow passengers!

      1. re: klyeoh
        k
        Kelly Nov 22, 2012 05:33 AM

        Thank you, klyeoh, but it's not really a question of courage.

        It's simply that after 13+ years in a city utterly starved of decent Indian/Pakistani restaurants, I have no shame and no guilt whatsoever. :o)

    2. howler Nov 21, 2012 10:15 AM

      'xacut' is a goan dish. the gravy should have looked nice and red.i

      1 Reply
      1. re: howler
        k
        Kelly Nov 21, 2012 10:18 AM

        That's it exactly. Probably my favourite of the meat dishes on offer.

      2. klyeoh Nov 21, 2012 08:53 AM

        "simple papdi with a shot glass of spicy, tangy (tamarind-based???) liquid. Pour in the liquid and pop in the mouth. Can anyone tell me what it was?"
        -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Pani puri, traditionally a street snack in India, but which Bombay Brasserie has elevated to haute dining option:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panipuri

         
        1 Reply
        1. re: klyeoh
          k
          Kelly Nov 21, 2012 10:19 AM

          Thank you - mystery solved!

        2. m
          ManInTransit Nov 21, 2012 06:11 AM

          Thanks very much for coming back and giving us the report Kelly, glad you had a really good time. It's a shame about your experience of Great Queen Street, I've recommended it for a while based on a couple of visits a little while ago but will caveat it in future.

          Seems like there was enough good food to keep you going though - sounds like your feet can't have touched the floor for the whole long weekend.

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