Eating in London

The new:

Dishoom. It’s taken me a while to get there and more’s the pity. Dishoom succeeds on every level. To a certain extent I mean that literally. It is an enormous area with four floors to choose from and yet it oozes atmosphere. The last few years I’ve been sacrificing, if necessary, food quality for ambience. I am not prepared to eat while shouting – like here and here – and my boycotts know no geographical confines.

Yesterday we decided to give Caravan a try; it being one of the said boycotted cafes, we hadn’t been there for years. Walked in, sat down. Noise from speakers being pumped out, like it’s a night club for the hard of hearing. People shouting over it. And it’s breakfast time. Seriously? I can’t believe all these people actually think shouting during breakfast is the right way to start the day. But apparently they do. Far out.

We went far out before we’d even started looking at the menu. Well, not that far, really. Just around the corner to Dishoom which has been on my list to try for a long time now. For those who don’t know, it’s a homage to the Irani cafes of Bombay and it’s visually stunning. In keeping with the vintage feel is layback jazzy sound at a level which can be heard or ignored. Voice level is at a happy buzz, not the loudspeaker shout of Caravan.

We were in our element, so bring on the food. Everything on the breakfast menu is tempting, but I couldn’t go past:

A Parsi power breakfast: spicy chicken keema studded with delicate
morsels of chicken liver, topped with two runny-yolked fried eggs and
salli crisp-chips. Served with home-made buns. (S) 9.50

Is chicken liver in keema a traditional touch or a Dishoom innovation? I don’t know, but it was genius. The eggs were runny, as advertised. I wasn’t taken with the buns, but that’s because I’m not a Brit. I ordered a plain naan, possibly an extravagance at £2.90, but the dish was worth it.

The other breakfast dish we ordered was:

Two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast. A favourite of the well-to-do
Willingdon Club, the first such Bombay institution to admit natives; the
dish is reputedly named for the member who kept asking for it. (V) 5.90

That and a drink: a £10 breakfast of excellent quality.

We went back mid afternoon for a late lunch. Post breakfast, there is a full menu which is available all day. We were torn between almost everything on it, but in the end settled for:

Toasted pistachios and shredded spearmint leaves are jumbled with finest, greenest broccoli, fresh red chillies, pumpkin seeds and dates. All is dressed up with lime and chilli  (V)(N)(S)9.50

Delicious, savoury jackfruit and delicately saffron’d rice, potted and cooked with mint, coriander and sultanas. (V)9.90

Puffed puris lay next to a hearty bowl of spiced chickpea curry, with sweet halwa alongside. Eat altogether. (V)9.50

These came with a variety of chutney/raitas.

Fantastic. And a special word for the service here, it was perfect.

The revisited

Lantana It’s been a few years since we last visited this Fitzrovia cafe. It’s appallingly noisy, but doesn’t offend the way Caravan does, as long as you don’t want to talk, that is.

We were particularly taken with:

Smashed Avocado
on sourdough with poached egg, labneh, hazelnut & pistachio dukkah, courgette & fresh herb salad with your choice of
Bacon 11.5 or Halloumi 11.5 or Beetroot cured salmon 12.5


French Toast
Spiced poached pears, orange mascarpone & pistachio crumble 11

Coffee, tea and service were all excellent.

The reason we hadn’t been to Lantana for a while is that we felt like they’d dropped their ball. Like Dishoom, Lantana started out as a small venture, one cafe, and became an empire. Does anybody manage this and not pay a price? If the interest is in food, in having a cafe, why are so many of those who set up a cafe planning to take over the world? I much prefer cafes which are there for the love of it, not the empire building. Nonetheless, I have to say that both these mini-London empires have, at the moment, in their flagship locations, impeccable standards. I do hope they can be maintained.

The real indie

Savoir Faire We happened to walk past this slightly eccentric establishment and the menu looked both excellent and cheap. Their website proclaims:

This is neither a chain restaurant nor a franchise, it is a family owned and run restaurant and has been in business since 1995.

We cook all our food, sauces, bread, pates and desserts on the premises. Everything is homemade with fresh and natural ingredients. If we can’t make it, we don’t have it! We never use precooked food, flavour enhancers or preservatives. We only use natural butter, cholesterol free oils or olive oil.

Our wine has been sourced from the best wine producing countries in the world and the wine list has been put together with care, to offer the best value for money wines. The price you see is all you pay. There are no hidden charges and all the meals come with vegetables and a basket of freshly baked bread. We have no happy hour or buy one get one free. We try to give the highest quality food at the lowest possible price. There are very few restaurants that can make this claim.

And indeed, our meal attested to the veracity of the claims. We were in time to try their pre-theatre menu. A very nice selection of entrees and mains for £15.95/two courses. Lamb kidneys and bacon in a mustard sauce for me followed by pork belly with spiced pears and roasted vegetables. Oh, if only we could get French food like this in Geneva.




cafes in London – July 2018 visit

Foyles cafe – 5th floor of their Charing Cross Rd store
We thought that the lunch was excellent, a choice of half a dozen (or more) options served with two salads for a tenner. The salads were not just on the plate as filler, they were really nice. We’d go back for the tea and coffee. Being in a cafe where books are the norm was also a treat. They did try the old ‘the orange juice is freshly squeezed…just not here, not now’. We are getting used to that in London, but others may need to be warned.

Muxima is a sweet spot for breakfast (and the rest) in East London. The daytime menu is terrific value for money, I had the cheap option for tea not realising that there was a teapig option for a few pence extra. The first cup of coffee induced seconds for the Caffeine Kid.

Wagamama can’t be any Oz person’s favourite Asian fusion. But if you are in an airport, standards change. We’d tried Gordon Ramsay in Terminal 5 a few years ago and that was a reason to be looking for something else. For an airport feed, Wagamama is okay.

Corner Room at Town Hall Hotel remains untried for dinner. For the simple fare advertised Mon-Fri lunchtimes, we were disappointed.

The Deli Downstairs is….on the ground floor. It used to be in the basement, I gather. We bought a lot of takeaway from here and it was all excellent. We particularly recall the bean and potato pesto salad and terrific sausage rolls. They also have a nice cheese selection where I was able to score some Yarg. It’s in Victoria Park Village, just a few minutes’ walk from the park. You can eat in.

Ottolenghi. Yes, expensive – it was our one dining out treat. Bear in mind the dishes are not large, these were a pre-dinner snack.

Green beans and grilled runner beans with sour
cherries, capers and pistachios

Pan fried octopus with Jersey Royals, pickled
radish and capers

Slow-roasted Cabrito goat with whey polenta and
spicy spring onion salsa

Good bread with excellent olive oil was provided. Prices do not include tip.

If I had my time over, I’d have tried something other than the goat, but the other two had me wishing I could make them. Indeed, I’m going to have a go at trying to recreate the beans dish…wondering what secret ingredients aren’t mentioned in the menu.

Roseate House, London: a model small hotel

Truth be told, I don’t like surprises in my accommodation, much as surprises can be good as well as bad. In London I therefore head for the big chains where I know exactly what I’m going to get and it’s adequate. Heating’s going to work, the wifi will be okay, the beds are often excellent without having to spend a fortune. The rooms in the centre of town will be small but not unworkable.

But every now and then I decide to try out a small hotel and….it’s always been a mistake. Looming large in my memory is an establishment in Kensington with a circular hole in the window, some inches wide, and a room so small that had I been male I could have relieved myself without leaving the bed (assuming a good aim, that is). That after I’d paid for an upgrade to a larger room – I was assured I was in the right place upon asking. Breakfast best left undescribed.

Another time we tried the Montague near the British Museum. They don’t describe the size of their rooms on their site, which should have set alarm bells ringing. Their basic room is, I only discover now from looking at is 15sqm. We found in practice that if we used the desk where it was located, it was impossible to get out of the room and even upon moving it, this meant that the room could only be navigated by the other person by climbing over the bed. We were really disappointed by this. To be fair, upon writing to the management subsequent to our trip, we were offered a subsequent upgrade should we stay there again, but we didn’t take that up, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in a larger room without a free upgrade. It was never going to be a regular hotel for  us, in other words.

Back to Hilton, Holiday Inn, Pullman, Novotel for a while. We even tried an Ibis. But looking for somewhere close to Paddington Heathrow Express for a one night stay last week, I happened to notice Roseate House. It was time to try a small boutique hotel again. And, for the first time ever I can define the experience in two words ‘no regrets’.

I do have to say that we were upgraded from the basic room to the next size which gave us a couple of extra square metres, but the basic room is still 20sqm, according to their site, which is so much more generous than the Montague’s 15sqm.

When we fronted at reception, we’d been on the road for 36 hours, the long haul from Australia, carrying way too much luggage (five months away) and it was 9am. Would they take pity on us and let us check in early? Very early? Personally I think that if there’s a room available there is no reason for keeping a guest out, but there are hotels in London who expect you to pay extra – let’s avoid those places if we can.

So, here we were faced by smiling staff upgrading us and telling us about the biscuits which we’d find in our room – definitely worth a special mention, we discovered. Along with the ubiquitous Nespresso machine and – three cheers for this, a kettle too. In Europe hotels don’t understand that water has to be boiled properly for tea and that Nespresso machines are not adequate. Say what you like about Brexit, the English ARE different from Europe proper. Knowing how to do tea being top of my list.

Our room was on the lower floor – basement, I guess  you’d say – but it had a window with a lovely garden view and the wifi was good, so being low down was no punishment. Sitting in an armchair with a cup of tea in hand, looking out onto the garden, life was definitely looking up. Shower, clean clothes, and we were starting to feel human again.

To continue the comparison, the Montague’s stylish furnishings are rather flamboyant and lavish compared with Roseate House. Here we have a more true to English nature gentle quirky quaintness. We loved our room, professed by Manny to be the best we’ve stayed at in London. It felt like home. The quality of everything was excellent, the bed, furnishing generally, bathroom products, good shower (over bath, which we did not try). Towels were on a warmer rack. That made me so happy!

Next a visit to the small dining room and bar for a proper pot of tea. And indeed, it was impeccably served, excellent quality tea, pot and china all held up to my stringent conditions. After lunch and an afternoon out, we decided to try the hotel for dinner. There is an excellent cocktail menu. Manny couldn’t resist the idea of a blue cheese cocktail and S-L had to try Breakfast with Granny.

  • Breakfast with Granny £9.50
    Hayman’s Sloe Gin, Lime, Grapefruit, Vanilla, Blackcurrant
  • Say Cheese £12.75
    Blue Cheese, Hayman’s Gin, Parsley

The Hyde Bar is famous for its special whisky collection, to be sampled, perhaps, another day.

Special mention has to be made of the music. I wonder why it is that so many establishments, even if they are five star – or so posh that they are beyond stars – think it’s okay to put on random shuffled music at too loud a volume. The music here fitted the style of the bar and never interfered with conversation. That gives it a very big tick from me.

Overall, we found the food and tea to be better than The Montague, which is not to damn it with faint praise. In fact we didn’t try breakfast at The M. but here we were offered full breakfast for two at the price of £25. The standard of both the buffet and the cooked to order dishes was excellent. We tried the full English and avocado with poached eggs delicately presented on crustless toast. The eggs stayed runny until they were dispensed with. I don’t know how typical that price is for the hotel, but take it if you can as I don’t think you can get a better value breakfast in London.

We’re thinking of London in July and I see these rates come up for three days in their most basic room:

  • Roseate House £600
  • The Montague on the Gardens £747

What are you getting for that? The Montague is fabulously situated for the tourist. You really do step out into the heartland of London sights. Maybe that makes up for the 5sqm you will be missing in your room. It’s also bigger and busier and some people want that.

Roseate House has larger rooms which are finely furbished, different character but at least on a par for quality. Both have excellent service, but simply because it’s smaller – about half the number of rooms – Roseate House is more personal. All the staff were wonderful.

And for us Roseate House is in a great location, uncrowded, untouristy. It’s a walk to Regent’s Park, Marylebone High St and the surrounding neighbourhood for food and Daunt’s Bookshop. The fabulous Satay House is nearby and Kendal St etc a bit further, followed by Hyde Park. London’s so teensy. But in any case, Paddington Underground is a few minutes’ walk away should you prefer. If you know London, I think you’d find Roseate House perfectly located.

In short, we highly recommend Roseate House as a place to stay in London and we are sure to be back.




Rise and Grind (Adelaide) vs Bishopgate Kitchen (London)

On the weekend we went to breakfast at Bishopgate Kitchen (Spitalfields).  It’s part of a posh chain and I hope that we saw the worst of it. Mine was probably worst. I ordered poached eggs with smashed avocado, side serves of salmon and bacon and loose-leaf tea.

I got a plate so challenged to fit what was on it that the bacon was chucked on top of the salmon. The avocado wasn’t smashed, it was pureed with a large quantity of vinegar, such as you would put on avocado to stop it discolouring if you made it about once a week. It was inedible. The bacon had been cooked much earlier than it was served and was only lukewarm as were the overcooked poached eggs. The ‘loose leaf tea’ was a teabag. When I asked the staff about that I was cheerfully told that yes, they should change that. Apparently they changed hands several months ago. Well, that would explain why they haven’t yet updated their description of the tea. Rome wasn’t built in three months. As it happened, later on in the day I had a cup of tea at the Maritime Museum’s cafe, also described as ‘loose leafed’ and also a teabag. Maybe real loose leaf tea doesn’t exist in London anymore. Maybe they don’t even know what it is. The ‘fresh’ orange juice was not made on the premises, upon further interrogation, which in my opinion means it isn’t fresh. I know Londoners beg to disagree on this.

Neither of my companions had better food, but they are born and bred in the UK, so they are used to being dished up stuff that wouldn’t let a cafe last a week in Australia. So they ate all theirs, blissfully indifferent to what they’d shovelled down.

Today we went to Rise and Grind, our closest cafe in Clarence Park (Adelaide). It was Carnavale on our last visit and the change is definitely for the better. The menu is a small but interesting selection, healthy options that sound enticing. We started out simple. I had poached eggs with a side serve of spinach, presented on turkish bread, toasted. Manny went for the smashed avo (with feta etc) and poached eggs on dark rye (maybe, I’ve guessed the bread). The avo was everything that the London version wasn’t. Vinegar? If it was an ingredient, we didn’t notice. It was excellent.

Coffee was high standard, tea was good – thought I balk at $6 for a pot, it seems a lot for a cafe. I took a mug for $3.70.

First impressions is that it is a cut above the standard of its predecessor and we are thrilled to have it at close quarters.

My only complaint is that Rise and Grind need better signage. It is mainly an ad for FACEBOOK, as it was for the predecessor too. Weird.






Satay House, London

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, but it turned out I was alive and just happening to be staying around the corner from Satay House. Even in London it isn’t easy to get good SE Asian food and in Geneva, impossible.

The chef is the daughter of the original proprietors and she tinkers to perfect things, but it remains authentic. After eating my way through quite a bit of the menu over a succession of visits, I asked her about the chicken rice – I wasn’t after something that was mucked about. She pointed to her face and said ‘See these bags under my eyes? They are from making chicken rice.’ She wants to get everything right.

And she does. Staples like satays, laksa and kway teow are as good as I’ve had anywhere. Well, maybe Nonya Hut in Syndal does better laksa by a whisker. When I’m in Melbourne and go to Nonya Hut, I always have the laksa because I go there so rarely. I always say to myself if I lived around the corner, then I’d have laksa every other time and try other things too! Here we had that luxury. We sampled the following, some of them more than once and the laksa as many times as was necessary, which is to say, every second visit.

Char-grilled chicken or lamb skewers marinated in spices and herbs, served with peanut sauce, cucumber, rice cubes and onion. 8.60

Tahu Sumbat (v)
Tofu filled with vegetables accompanied with sweet peanut sauce. 4.20

Ayam Bawang Putih
Fried Chicken Wings tossed in garlic and chillies. 6.80

Nasi Goreng Kampung
Fried rice with anchovies, egg, vegetables, prawn in belacan chilli onion base. 8.20

Nasi Lemak
Steamed coconut rice served with prawn sambal, cucumber, peanuts, fried anchovies and boiled egg. 9.30

Beriani rice with chicken or lamb, served with vegetable acar and dalca.
Lamb 10.80  Chicken  9.10

Kway Teow Goreng
Stir fried freshly made flat rice noodles with prawn, squid, egg and vegetables. 13.30

Kari Laksa
Noodle curry soup with prawn, egg, chicken, tofu and vegetables.

Rendang Daging
Traditional Malay braised beef with coconut milk and spices. 8.80

Kari Ayam
Malaysian chicken curry with potatoes. 8.10

Gado Gado
Malaysian salad with potato, rice cubes, tofu, beansprouts, fine beans and cucumber served with peanut sauce. 6.60

Rojak Buah
Famous Malaysian ‘Street Food’ fruit salad with home-made rojak sauce. 6.60

Roti Canai (v)
Home-made traditional bread, with side of dalca.
Plain 4.80 Egg & Onion 5.10

Bread filled with minced lamb, egg and served with pickled onions and dalca. 6.80

* * *

The only thing we had on the menu we wished we hadn’t was:

Spiced lamb and potato cutlets. 4.20

Rather insipid mashed potato with some lamb in there somewhere. I didn’t understand the point of these and it was the only thing we ordered there which was left unfinished.

It was my opinion that the Rendang did not use the right cut of beef, it needs something fatty and sinewy that will be soft and juicy when cooked and this one failed in that regard. The gravy was good all the same.


The ambience is wonderful. Firstly I can’t believe that they have managed to provide a proper restaurant setting at the prices charged. Secondly, it feels like a family place, all the staff have the air of belonging there, like it wasn’t just a job.

On day one, after we’d demolished the Rojak, the chef came out to ask our opinion. They were trying to get the sauce ‘just right’. That set the tone for our lunches there for the rest of the trip and I’m already hankering to go back.

NOTE: booking is highly recommended.


Eating in London

Vivat Bacchus is situated about opposite London Bridge Station on Tooley Street. We were attracted by the idea of the cheese room, something that could be a bit gimmicky but isn’t in this case. Although they have several cheese plates on the menu, you are welcome to devise your own. One books the cheeses consultant who takes you in and makes suggestions based on your preferences. She really knows her stuff, but so do the waiters.

This is one of those restaurants where the staff have infectious genuine enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, their food. It was easy to decide to eat there twice. In fact, on Saturday night, we were supposed to eat at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant attached to the Tower Bridge Hilton. But we hadn’t even sat down before we realised the complete lack of ambience was not for us. Between loud customers and an open kitchen, we realised we’d be shouting all night. Vivat Bacchus, on the other hand, is not at that noise level even with live jazz playing, as is their Saturday night wont. And, in any case, we could also eat downstairs where it would be quieter, we were told. So it was.

Three happy bunnies overate whilst certain of us overdrank. Everything ranged from ‘okay but next time I’ll try something different’ to ‘must have this again’: I’d in particular put my slow cooked pork rib in that category.

The Caravan‘s a barn, no getting around it, but nonetheless manages an aspect of cosiness to it. We’ve been coming here the last few trips to London both for breakfast before meeting people at the train station or mid-afternoon snack before heading back to Gatwick. It’s well suited to both of these.

We did not have our best meal this trip. I found the pancakes very ordinary indeed – though I’m prepared to accept that may be a personal take. At least I didn’t order the orange juice. The menu says freshly squeezed juices, which the OJ definitely wasn’t. Manny drank it anyway because he’s English. I complained because I’m Australian. It looks like the kind of place that would have a mission statement about ingredients and local and freshness and all that sort of thing, so what was up with the juice?

The first waiter I asked said ‘oh, they are having smoothies’, as I pointed at all the people with glasses of frothy fresh juice. Which they weren’t. It was juice, just juice, clearly from fruit that had been squeezed to within an inch of its life only moments earlier.

When pressed re the orange juice, he said ‘it is freshly squeezed, but not on site’. He said this without irony or shame. A little later on I asked another waitress what that actually meant. Was there a little man sitting in the back yard pedalling a squeezing machine and then it was brought ‘on site’? I pointed out that if they served up water with a sachet of dehydrated orange juice powder, it would still have been ‘freshly squeezed’ somewhere, sometime.

This girl passed me onto the manager who said that they had been having trouble with their supply and agreed it didn’t taste any good. ‘Normally’ she said, ‘We get it from this little company in these cute bottles -‘ Hold it right there. Some kind of brain eating virus was clearly working its way through all the heads of staff at The Caravan. That wouldn’t be ‘freshly squeezed’ would it? But there was worse to come. The little company was not able to supply orange juice at that time and so they were getting it from – I can’t say. I feel so embarrassed for the manager and the name of the place that came out of her at that moment. But if you know the geography of Granary Square, you will figure it out.

The latest round of eating out in London

The Antipodes

LANTANA Maybe the best ad I’ve seen for a restaurant lately was the situation at Lantana on Saturday morning. The place was supposed to be open for business at 9am. We arrived at 9.06am and nothing was happening. One of the cooks hadn’t turned up, they had no idea where he was or when he would arrive. Or even if he’d be able to cook when he did get there. Nonetheless by 9.15am the place was chockers with hungry little vegemites who were willing to wait. The staff handled the situation with aplomb, handing out drinks. Chef arrived, our orders were taken in sequence of arrival and thus we, being the first in, dug in first too, at 10am or so. The food was good.

We went back a couple of days later and this reinforced the idea I’ve had for a couple of years now that Lantana has become a bit hit and miss. We don’t think the bacon is nearly as good as it used to be. I ordered an apple and bread pudding which I expected to be warm, but that was merely skin deep, quickly degenerating to cold as I got to the inner regions of it.

KOPAPA We spent rather a lot of time at The Providores and Tapa Room last time we were in town. I hadn’t been to Kopapa for a few years partly because it is entirely lacking in warmth. You can hang around The Tapa Room, but not Kopapa. We both had the eggs and yoghurt, the dish from which there is no escape for Peter Gordon. Mine was dire. Scarcely luke warm, cold overcooked eggs. I ate them and then complained when asked if everything was okay afterwards. I was told I should have complained at the time, but what’s the point of that? Who wants to start off their day having to send their breakfast back, watch one’s companion eat and then eat whilst they watch you? Not to mention, we are talking about a dish that these guys have made many of, every day, for years. It’s a very simple dish that has to be competently executed and this one wasn’t.

Having said that, their tea was good and when asked for extra hot water a proper pot of it was brought. I wish that was always easy to negotiate.

The barns

Grain Store is a huge place across Regent’s Canal behind Kings Cross Station. We got there at 10am on Sunday morning, having picked it for its vegetarian bent. We were informed that we had to wait for all our party to arrive before we would be seated. There was a bar we could sit at. Nonetheless, I wanted to leave straight away. I guess I don’t mind that attitude if a place is filling up, but at 10am it was empty and held maybe a hundred tables. Really? We couldn’t be seated? Is the place doing so badly that it can’t afford to give us a table for 4 if it turns out there are only 2 of us? I don’t like going to places that are so hungry for every dollar. I want some affection for the food, the customer, the situation on the part of the management. Not here. We did stay, our friends arrived as expected. The food was good, though we do not yet have enough data as three of us picked the same dish. The desserts were nice.

Yoghurt and chickpea pancake, avocado, tomato and jalapeño salsa 9.5
(with merguez sausage) 12
Caesar salad with crispy seaweed, fish cake 13
Baked apple, rosemary crumble, crème fraîche and salted caramel sauce 6

The tea was ludicrously strong – a small pot with maybe 3 teaspoons of tea in it. I asked for extra hot water and received a small jug of it which made little impact. Asking again I received a pot of hot water. I realise I’m Australian, but we ate with an English person who also found the tea too strong. An odd situation since it means the restaurant’s tea overhead is much more than it need be.

I enjoyed the meal here, but the place did fill up over the first hour or so and ended up being the sort of place one has to shout in. I don’t want to shout while eating at the best of times, but certainly not over breakfast.

We noticed before heading into the Grain Store, a vast queue of people waiting to get into the place next door. Had we picked the wrong barn at which to eat?

Caravan is another huge barn of a place, but I found it much friendlier than next door. Maybe that’s the antipodean vs the French influence. Packed and noisy, again, not the sort of place I’d want to idle away the time in, but we were on our way to the airport. We just wanted food.

Garlic flatbread, yoghurt 4.5
Kohlrabi, fennel, lemon balm, walnuts, chardonnay vinaigrette 5-
Coconut lime chicken salad 6.5
Yorkshire black pudding, celeriac, apples, verjus reduction 7-
Crispy soft shell crab 9-

We both found the chicken rather disappointing, I expected gutsy tangy explosion of taste, but it was so demure I wondered if something had been left out that should have been there. Nonetheless, we will find ourselves going back next time when we are next back in London.

The chains

After going to Othello in an archaeological dig with no heating, we were looking for somewhere to defrost and quickly. Sarah-Louise described Bill’s as good pub food. We had arrived.

crispy lemon squid garlic and lemon mayo 5.95
crispy duck salad spring onion, apple ribbons, radish, red pepper, coriander and watercress, sprinkled with sesame seeds, soy and lemon dressing 5.85
Bill’s beer-battered cod minted peas, pickled onion, skin-on fries and tartare sauce 11.95
Bill’s ‘peri peri’ marinated half chicken our own blend of peri peri picuin chillies, roasted peppers, orange and lemon zest, allspice and oregano, served with a winter slaw and sweet potato fries 11.95
pan-fried sea bass chunky tomato, avocado and caper salsa with a crispy spring onion and parsley potato rösti 11.95
rhubarb and stem ginger crème brûlée ginger nut biscuits 4.50
warm mini cinnamon doughnuts fresh strawberries and warm chocolate dipping sauce 5.50

Tea came in a large pot, 2 teabags. When asked for more hot water, the waiter promptly brought it in another large pot. We were really impressed with our meal here, a chain restaurant maybe, but everything was of good quality, service was terrific and friendly, the place had a good atmosphere. It was large and crowded, but didn’t require shouting in the way the barns did.

I can’t say the same about the other chain restaurant we lunched at. Royal China Baker Street had, we think, changed its menu since last time we were there some months ago. The food, at any rate, was rather disappointing. In particular we ordered a dish of asparagus, which as far as I could see, contained no heads. Is that normal? Personally it didn’t bother me as I prefer the stems, but I’m out of sorts with the world on that one, so I doubt many people appreciate getting stems only. I wonder to what use the heads are put? Still, it’s efficient, reasonable prices – five of us with no alcohol or dessert ate for a bit under 100 pounds.

I’m not sure whether to call Gallipoli Cafe and Bistro a chain. It’s a Turkish place in Islington that is so popular it has spawned a couple of others nearby. Our visit here was an early pre-theatre dinner after a day of eating, so we don’t have a large experience to report. I had a lamb shishkebab the charcoal flavour of which made me very happy. The salad which accompanied it was simple and fresh, as was the rice. I will definitely be back to try this place again.

The set lunch/dinner

The Blue Door Bistro is the restaurant of The Montague on the Gardens. We were too early to check in and sat down to their set menu in the meantime. I’d been in England for two hours, so I was chilled to the bone and started with tea which was nicely presented. It was the only place I went to in London which served it properly, in that extra hot water came as part of the order rather than having to ask for it. Having been given menus, we had to ask for the set lunch menu. I wish restaurants didn’t do this, is it that customers are supposed to feel too intimidated to ask and therefore orders from the à la carte? It should simply come with the rest of the menu so that the diner is properly informed. I don’t mean to sound too harsh as this restaurant has high standards of service, so surely an oversight in this case.

At 17 pounds for two courses, it was reasonable value, but we both thought, for two pounds extra, that the pre-theatre set menu we had at the Almeida restaurant easily trumped it. Excellent value, including splendid bread, let down by our choice of dessert. We both ordered the poached pear. Should a poached pear need a heavy hand with a knife to saw through it? Not that we had one, we were given a fork and spoon, but a knife would have been handy. I was especially disappointed as it is such an easy dessert to get right. But still, we were very happy with our meal here and like all the new places we tried this trip, we’d be happy to give it another go.

Antipodean London

Noting that the Economist’s survey of most livable cities for 2014 was mostly ex-Commonwealth countries, one had to speculate that we got to take the best of the UK – convicts in the case of Australia – and leave the rest behind. But we Antipodeans have a heart and latterly we’ve been trying to make things better for the UK. First there was ‘Home and Away’ and ‘Neighbours’ so the English could look at blue skies on their TVs whenever they wanted. Next came the cafe. Australian coffee. Australian food. Mark my word, it won’t be long before a city like London could be considered livable too.

Having said that, I am no longer as enchanted with Lantana as I used to be, though we tried it for lunch and breakfast. It was time to expand our horizons – it isn’t the only antipodean place in town, after all – and hence we found ourselves at Caravan. Dinner here was pre-theatre, so it passed the noise tests, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that wasn’t the case at meal times. We shared some small dishes including these from the menu:


Some worked better than others, but the first three were certainly winners. We had an awful fennel and ‘roasted’ peach salad. Yes, they are ironic quotation marks. The peach was raw, hard and furry. Am I the only one in the world who objects to eating fur? I would not dream of serving unpeeled peach without issuing a warning first. Everything in my mouth is curling up just thinking about that horrible sensation of eating fur. Ugghhhhh. If I were in the neighbourhood I would be happy to try it for breakfast, but I don’t know that I’d go out of my way. The coffee was declared as good as Lantana’s. High praise indeed.

We only had 3 breakfasts in London and we’d spent 2 of them at Lantana. That left one where I got to choose and conduct a scientific experiment at the same time. Is it possible to catch an underground or two, with a five minute walk one end, ten the other before having one’s first coffee of the day without expiring en route? Fortunately my addictions have never extended thus far, but let’s just say it was touch and go for a while there before we finally got Manny seated and coffeed. We had found our way – at last – to Providores. We’d been for dinner a few years ago, but this was our first breakfast. This breakfast I would go out of my way to have again. For a start, vegemite soldiers were on the menu. But on this occasion we ended up with:

Turkish eggs from Changa restaurant in Istanbul – two poached eggs on whipped yoghurt with hot chilli butter and sourdough or seeded granary toast 9.90
Grilled chorizo with sweet potato and miso hash, a soft boiled egg, garlic labne and star anise cashew nut praline 10.40

I guess the fact that neither of us offered any of our breakfast to the other is some sort of statement. The eggs are one of those simple dishes which deserve their fame. Tea and coffee were both good. We went back later on for afternoon tea to sample the tempting doughnuts sitting on the counter. This is a place that gets really noisy too, but the food may make up for it – at least when one isn’t surrounded by good food choices, as one is in Australia. I loved the fact that we never felt rushed or hassled. Not enough data is my only definitive conclusion. More testing required.