Location: 148 Holland Park Avenue, west of Holland Park underground station. W11 4UE. London.
It was well past 9 pm and a group of five of us needed a light meal. Edera was the first option we passed. Still, from the beginning the signs were good. A fine-looking tiramisu was carried past as we waited for tables to be arranged for us. Linen table clothes, white walls, tasteful decor, and enough other clientele boded well.
I had a simple meal, tagliolini cacio e pepe - homemade, tender tagliolini tangled with pecorino cheese and a bit of ground pepper. The ingredients made the dish, and the side salad was exemplary, simple and tasty. I tried a new-to-me wine variety; my glass of nuragus was light, slightly flowery, and pleasant, complementing the delicate flavors of the pasta. It would have been overwhelmed with anything much more. I split a zabaglione with another group member. In advance, I'd fretted about all the ways that zabaglione goes wrong, but this had none of them. Warm, frothy, consistent, and well-balanced, the amarone-flavored foam was garnished with two espresso-soaked lady's fingers, but neither of us thought them necessary.
Location: 5 Langley Street, Covent Garden. London.
M. came equipped with a Metro or London Life giving capsule reviews of eight Mexican restaurants. Neither of us had eaten much Mexican food in London and both like it, so we set out, mapless, in search of one of the two ones recommended in the Covent Garden area. Café Pacifico was the first one we found, which is why we didn't try Wahaca instead.
The restaurant had an informal feel which was immediately appealing to two midwesterners who'd grown up with Mexican food as a standard for informal dining. Turquoise paint, hard walls, and numerous tables filled the room, but I didn't notice it filling up until M. pointed it out much later. We were partially innured, off against a wall in the corner.
I was immediately impressed by my passion fruit maragherita, a floofy drink that's very easy to get wrong, by my standards. This was an excellent balance of alcohol with the tang of passion fruit, a juice glass's worth. We passed over creative appetizer combos of lobster and mango in favor of saving room for dessert. Coke came in glass bottles. Crisp homemade tortilla chips came with piquant salsa. The salsa had more gusto than any other I've yet tasted in this country (although currently it doesn't have much competition.)
My chicken-filled chimichanga came with good, interesting rice with a trace of cocoa to it, and decent beans. The deep-fried main came topped with a smidgen of cheese and rather more sour cream and guacamole. I ordered a side dish of peach salsa with it; it was smoother and smokier than the tomato-based one provided with the tortilla chips.
Finally, we tried desserts. My mud pie was decent, but M's sopapilla was excessive, more like a dessert-oriented nacho platter, with ice cream and honey playing the role usually played by savory toppings. Even with me helping, we came no where near finishing it.
Service was reasonable, prices weren't bad by London standards, and the food had a sort of a homey enthusiasm which reminded me of the Mexican food I grew up with. I'd go back.
The Yellow House Bar and Kitchen
Location: 126 Lower Road. Opposite the Surrey Quays underground station. London.
The Yellow House already has a restaurant, approved by flick and drplokta. It opened a second branch a week-or-so ago, and so an expedition was organized. I met them all there in an ex-pub-turned-bright-café/restaurant space, where the staff organized a table for six of us. We immediately started working on whether to have lunch or brunch.
I love eggs benedict, but am often disappointed by them, especially in England. Still, I gambled on them, ordering a side salad to round out the meal (since brunch dishes inevitably don't come automatically with sides in this country the way they do in Canada and the U.S.). For once, I lucked out. The poached eggs were perfectly done, still runny. They sat on top of ham, of which I do not usually approve when there could be bacon, but in this case, it was delicious ham with excellent depth of flavor, so I didn't mind. The in-house baked bread/muffin base with a little awkwardly rolypoly, but the rest of it was all so good - including the hollandaise sauce - that it was hard to mind. flick also opted for brunch, and approves of the quality of their scrambled eggs.
drplokta approved of his pizza, made in their woodburning oven. uon's spicy lentil burder was enormous with the confines of a much smaller bun. major_clanger tried the burger, and nou the fishcakes. I have no idea how any of them were (except for the pizza) since I was so distracted by discussing brunch with flick.
Afterwards, one of the owners, a baker, came over and enthused about what he'd baked that morning. It was the best sales pitch I've ever heard for dessert, mostly because it was based on honest enthusiasm. The desserts really did took good. A mountain of baked meringues awaiting chocolate and whipped cream toppings. An elegant array of breakfast pastries seemed designed for an earlier phase in our meal. The scones looked quite promising. So did the carrot cake. Instead of any of those, however, I tried the non-nut brownie. It was a decadence of well-chosen chocolate chunks with inherently chocolatey goodness. It was almost too sweet, but not quite; the whipped cream helped balance it out. It may well have been the best brownie I've ever eaten.
Service did not live up to the quality of the food, but it's early days yet for the new venue, and the staff are still settling in. The waiter came back a few times to clarify quite what we'd ordered. A glass of water required further prompting to obtain. Still, based on the food alone, I would love to go back and try more of what is mostly a burger, pizza, and dessert array of options.
Bonus: After a walk to see baby birds in the park, I could take the ferry home. Traveling by boat is so civilized.
The Alford Arms
Location: Frithsden, near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. HP1 3DD. UK. Bring directions.
The Good Food Guide came to the rescue yet again when I was looking for a good pub in which to eat lunch on Saturday. The Alford Arms is not a pub I would ever have found by accident. It's tucked away amongst the narrow shrubbed-in lanes of a small village, a cluster of beautiful old buildings in the depths of National Trust-tended woodlands. It was just as well I'd made a reservation, although I'd only done it the day before.
The venue is a balance of dark wood with pale walls and carpeting, half pub and half restaurant. The menu reads nicely, with just enough adjectives to be informative without being distracting. I started with delicate smoked haddock croquettes on an enthusiastic bed of carrot and apple remoulade which tasted of its mustard seeds more than anything else. The remoulade overwhelmed the croquettes, but was good. C. had a special to start, chicken liver paté with toasted brioche and fig jelly. As with my croquettes, everything else overwhelmed his paté which was good, but low key.
My herb-crusted Chiltern lamp rump was good, served on a bed of spinach-and-feta colcannon potatoes with a slightly arbitrary tomato butter sauce. C.'s crispy pork belly and black pudding roly poly on celeriac dauphinoise with scrumpty gravy, however, was absolutely sublime (if a little too much of the crisped fat for C. to want to eat it all).
Thanks to C.'s work schedule and a lack of Vodaphone mobile signal there, we had to leave before we could have desserts. Pity. They all sounded good. Still, between solid to excellent food and friendly service, I suspect we'll be back. I can try their desserts next time.