Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Posts Tagged ‘the prince arthur

Game At The Prince Arthur

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On Friday I went down to The Long Table, Nuno Mendez’s new pop-up dining thing in the burgeoning cultural quarter of Dalston that is accreting around the Arcola and Cafe Oto. Everyone in else in Hackney had the same idea though; when we arrived there were people queuing for hundreds metres to get in it. Hats off to Mendez for the obvious success of his venture but we said fuck it and went to the Arthur.

As it turned out, the the pub was pretty busy too but after a pint or so we managed to grab a table. I was pretty pleased with our back up plan not just because the Arthur is a lovely pub but because it (and the rest of the ETM pubs) are currently running a series of game specials. (An email from them rather gratuitously boasts that “every November, Tom and Ed Martin and some of our senior chefs travel to the Czech Republic to hunt for deer and wild boar deep in the vast forests.”) This wasn’t a proposition I was likely to tempt the missus with so I was excited by the direction Friday night had spontaneously headed in. Intending to make the most of this I ordered two courses off the specials board. Unfortunately both truned out to be misleading and underwhelming.

The first was ox cheek and mushroom dumpling with red cabbage and bacon jus. When I think of a dumpling in the context of English cooking, I think of a snooker ball-sized lump of sticky, steaming flour or suet straight from a meaty broth. Instead what appeared was a something more akin to a fist-sized and deep-fried potato coquette. There was no appreciable taste of ox or mushroom, just warm solid stodge. It was placed on top of an absolutely enormous portion of cabbage, if you’d ordered this as a side for the tabel you’d have thought it generous. I know there is a lot of cabbage about at the moment but that doesn’t mean it all has to end up on the plate.

So I was already unneccessarily full by the time I moved to my main course of roe stew with caramelised onion and roast chesnut topping served with parsely mash. (our waitress helpful pointed out that this was wild deer rather than fish egg stew, apparently an earlier patron had been confused!) This again came with a huge amount of cabbage – savoy, this time, and drenched in butter. What it didn’t come with was any mash. Instead, this was roe and potato stew with a bit of parsley thrown in. I just don’t understand how on Earth this can happen, was the menu chalked up before the dish was created? Did they suddenly have second thoughts in the kitchen? I won’t have ordered the dish if it had been described accurately but at ten o’ clock at night I certainly wasn’t going to send it back, monster starter or not. On its own terms it continued to disappoint. The onions weren’t caramellised, only softened, and tasted strongly of vinegar, the chesnuts were pureed and disappeared into the vinegar, underneath there was lots of meat in the pot but it stringy and flavourless, lacking the depth I expect from game, and not well complemented by the parsely.

Meanwhile, N was more modest with fried sprats (impossible to get wrong but again huge) and fish and chips (a classic that they usually do well but both aspects were limp on this occassion). This came to a whopping £60 with just one pint of Amstel. Astonishingly poor value for mediocre cooking from a kitchen I had thought had been on the up and up.

Written by Martin

28 November 2011 at 10:47

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Garlic And Pork

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Of the many wonderful presents I received for Christmas, perhaps my favourite was allium ampeloprasum:

Monster Cloves

Yes, that is colossal elephant garlic and each clove is the size of a whole head of ordinary garlic. A great present because it was so brilliantly unexpected. Tasty too; I roasted the cloves and mashed them with creme fraiche to make lovely pasta sauce.

That wasn’t the only food-related item in my stocking, I also received a voucher for a butchery class at The Ginger Pig. There are four options – beef, lamb, pork and sausage-making – and I think you will agree I made the right choice by selecting pork.

Borut and Perry will explain how each part of the pig is used from the bath chap (cheek) to the rolled leg, prepared ready to roast, nothing is missed including the trotters and even the brain!

The full carcass is broken down and they will show which part of the carcass is used for sausage making, where the pork pie meat comes from and by the application of salt, how the loin is converted from pork to bacon.

The evening will finish with a roasted loin of pork (porketta) feast which hopefully Borut will have got to crackle perfectly, served with wine and you will take home the loin of pork you have prepared.

Nom and indeed nom. Expect a full report in March when I actually get to attend this extremely popular class.

To prepare myself for the coming pig frenzy, I popped down to the Prince Arthur on Friday to indulge myself in slow braised pig’s cheeks and pan fried pig’s liver with honey glazed parsnips, smoked bacon and Brussels sprouts. Rib-sticking wonderfulness. I’m a fan of the Arthur, a civilised neighbourhood pub tucked away in the back streets of Hackney, but its kitchen has never been quite the match of its (older) sister pubs such as The Gun and The Empress Of India. I think that has now changed; the consensus around the table was that menu was more exciting and the execution had gone up a gear (the previous stinginess of the portions was also gone).

Written by Martin

11 January 2011 at 16:57

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My wife loves me which is why she often invites me to things like Smother. Well, perhaps “invites” is the wrong word, she buys tickets and tells me I am coming. We could go to Komstam, she said, trying to sweeten the deal. What about that place in King’s Cross that only serves stuff from inside the M25? Konstam is that place, she said with the weariness one can only achieve by being married to me. But she was wrong! I was, in fact, thinking of Acorn House; apparently King’s Cross has two small, eco-friendly restaurants on parallel streets. I’m glad she knew about Konstam though, I had a glance at Acorn House’s menu yesterday and it is pretty uninspired. Not only that but googling for something else I came across this brilliant blog which reminded me that it is the sister restaurant of Waterhouse, a frankly rubbish restaurant down at the back of Regent’s Canal. (When I told my wife this new tidbit of information she nodded wearily and told me she knew.)

Anyway, Smother was one of those site-specific performances that is not specific enough to be more interesting than the site. Luckily it was short and Konstam was just next door. It’s full name is Konstam at the Prince Albert which is a bit silly as it gives the impression that it is a dining room above a pub when in fact they have simply gutted a small corner pub and transformed it into a restaurant. I’d heard before I went that due to the small size, number of tables and industrial decor it could be a bit oppressive but I found it quite pleasant. It is true that when we arrived the atmosphere was excessively hushed, an inevitable side effect of the small number of early diners clustered so close to the open kitchen. As soon as a few more people arrived, some candles had been lit and a bit of alcohol had been consumed it became a lot more cosy. Although not that cosy thanks to the brilliantly soft but stark design by Thomas Heatherwick, he of rolling bridge infamy. By the end of the night my wife thought the cumulative effect was a bit too much – too enveloping – but I loved it.

Usually it is my wife’s perogative to dillydally over the menu (inexplicable really since she usually only has two options). This time it was me. Skate and pork or pigeon and lamb? Whilst this conundrum rattled through my head we ordered bread and pickle of which the green tomato pickle was superb and the roast onion merely good. I then further prevaricated by grappling with the booze list. This featured an array of very tempting beers from Meantime, Westerham and Curious Brew, the Cobb IPa from the latter being the star of the evening. It is great to see restaurants taking care over their beer lists. However, I’m not convinced they’ve really got to grips with a sensible pricing structure, wine always seems to offer better value for money.

Eventually my mind was made up for me by the waiter coming over and I went for pigeon and lamb. Most times when I’ve had pigeon it was been overcooked but here it was perfect, the meat a deep wine-y red. It chimed rather nicely with the colour of my wife’s beetroot soup which had a much softer taste than I was expecting. The pigeon had been cooked on their charcoal grill and this only further whetted my appetite for my leg of lamb. It arrived exactly as I had imagined it: plump mound of barley, dash of spinach to garnish, Olympic rings of lamb lapping over each other, perfectly crustily seared on the outside and mouth-wateringly pink on the inside. I took my first mouthful… and it immediately became clear than something had gone very, very wrong. It was vile. Looking at my plate more closely, I realised I had made a school boy error: I had forgotten about the herring and nasturtium relish. Now, I had been aware of this when I ordered but I had envisaged a little dollop on the side, instead it was heaped over the lamb. I scrapped it off and tried again. It was futile, my meat had been irreparably impregnated with the taste of pickled fish. I couldn’t eat but I couldn’t send it back because it was my own damn fault. My little face was obviously a picture of woe because I had to keep telling my wife not to worry and to attend to her own plate. This consisted of a fillet of seabass which got two thumbs up but it was foolishly placed on top of the potato salad which meant it rapidly went cold.

I was not prepared to sabotage my own dinner though. Whilst the missus ordered a rhubarb tart – a bit too dense for her – I did the only sensible thing: I ordered another main course. This time I went for the pork chop that I had already hovered over and which was accompanied by nothing more threatening than a rhubarb compote (I imagine the chefs feel that just grilling meat is a little unsophisticated and therefore feel duty bound to jazz it up). It also came with roast onion & walnut spätzle. If you don’t know what that it is join the club but it turnout to be a gorgeous, silky pasta salad. With this and a mountain of pork I was simply wallowing in primal pleasure.

The bill came to £100 which even considering the second main was a bit much but then you are paying more for the principle and when this goes hand in hand with such good – if slightly repetitive (again, a feature) – cooking I am happy to do so.

The question now is where to go to lunch on Sunday? The Arthur is always tempting but fish and chips is not a Sunday lunch and, although the option of nutroast is welcome, what the fuck is “vegetarian sauce”? The menu is a bit more exciting across the way at their sister pub, The Empress Of India. The only problem is that every time we go passed my wife always reminds me of the childish strop I once throw outside it over our wedding preparations. Although that applies to half the restaurants and pubs of North-East London (Waterhouse, for example). I think, on balance, I will treat myself to The Princess Of Shoreditch since I’ve been meaning to go their for ages.

Written by Martin

28 May 2010 at 10:47