This week has turned into a bit of a chipathon. It was not meant to be so, but sometimes the best laid plans, or in this case, restaurant reservations fail. Sunday I had tried to eat at the Chicken Shop in Kentish Town, in the end we had to pass as one of the party thought the place too noisy. I’m quite keen on noisy myself as often it means atmosphere and people enjoying themselves, but it seems some prefer the more sombre ambiance of the traditional restaurant. We ended up eating at The Kolossi Grill and it was so completely dreadful I’ll say no more about it. I’m trying to wipe all memories of the worst kebab I’ve ever eaten from my mind.
Monday should have brought lunch at The Bull and Last, a “gastro” pub on the lower slopes of Highgate HIll. This time one of my lunching companions was taken sick and so once again there was a change of venue. To play safe we went to Côte on Islington Green. I am extremely fond of the Côte chain having eaten at their restaurants often and in many different locations. They provide simple, well cooked food at very affordable prices. On Monday there was a good pear, endive and goat’s cheese salad garnished with caramelized nuts and then a beautiful (and large) fillet of hake on mashed potatoes with a tomato vinaigrette, the two courses for £9.95. I had the steak frites and thus began my chip eating week. The frites here are good but a little pale in colour and the portion size feels small, I always find myself wishing for a few more…… Unusually service on Monday was patchy, the waiter and waitress were young and friendly but seemed more interested in each other than the customers. I don’t like overweening service but I hate having to stand up to get attention.
On Tuesday I had lunch at Balthazar. So much has been written about this New York import, with some really quite harsh words being said and for the life of me I can’t see why. It seems to achieve exactly what it sets out to. It is a glossy, buzzy brasserie in a beautiful room with a menu that offers sufficient choice but one that can be cooked and delivered all day. I’ve not yet been for breakfast but have had both lunch and dinner here and really enjoyed the meals. I may be doing them a disservice by suggesting that Balthazar is not trying to serve the best food in town, just to serve well cooked food graciously. This they have achieved to my great satisfaction each time I’ve eaten here. And as for the chips they are very good indeed. I had a palliard of chicken with salad and a side of the most delicious fries. Crisp, light and a lovely golden brown with lots of crunchy bits. It was a huge portion and they were served with mayonnaise and a fresh new bottle of Heinz Ketchup. Lovely touch but it’s hard to look elegant whilst bashing the bottle of a bottle of recalcitrant tomato sauce.
Wednesday I was back at Brasserie Zedel. I love this place and eat here on all sorts of occasions: before the theatre, after the theatre, lunch with girlfriends and lunch on my own. I love the cocktails in the Bar Américain especially the Spritz Américain which is a heady mixture of grapefruit liqueur, bitters and Crémant and I’m longing to try their cabaret club The Crazy Coqs. This time though I was having a gossipy lunch with one of my daughters. We ate very simply: Pollock with fennel salad and a black olive dressing, a bottle of house Sauvignon and, naturally, a side of fries. The fries were good, not quite the heady crispness of Balthazar, but a reasonable sized portion served with little dishes of ketchup and mayonnaise. The service is lovely, the room golden and glitzy with a lovely vibe. We had floating islands for pudding. What’s not to like about meringue, custard and pretty pink embellishments? A real girly pudding if ever I ate one.
Thursday saw me at Brasserie Chavot. This is a hot ticket in town, Eric Chavot having opened a new restaurant in the Westbury Hotel on Conduit Street. The cooking here is sublime we ate a meal of such deliciousness I almost suffered separation anxiety on leaving the restaurant. Unlike the previous three brasseries I mention, this is essentially a place for the very serious eating of lunch or dinner. A place where classic French food is cooked to the highest standard but without all the frills and furbelows that now seem essential in top eateries.
There were no added little courses, no amuse bouche, no petit dessert just top notch French peasant cooking served with style and class. I ate a chiffon smooth, beautifully seasoned chicken liver parfait with a smear of fig compote (not keen on smears myself a little too close to home) followed by a tiger prawn on chickpeas and chorizo. The prawn was grilled and sauced with something reminiscent of the best aioli you’ve tasted. This leaked into the jus and created a flavour that made me rue my plate licking days, at least in public, were over. I also tasted the soft shell crab, crisp and greaseless and dunked in saffron Aioli, the steak tartar, the lamb on cous cous with olive jus and the spatchcock poussin. This meaty bird was served with a sensationally soft, sweet, salt preserved lemon that was a show stopper coming from the less is more school of cooking. And as if all this delicousness was not enough we had some chips, well pommes frites and they were simply sensational. Crisp, golden sweet with loads of crispy bits especially designed to catch the flakes of salt. They immediately jumped to first place in my “Chip of the Week” competition. The portion was huge, we ate every one. I don’t need to tell we were too full for pudding, but then one should always leave a little something to go back for…..