A gift to the carnivore within; that would be Smokehouse, Islington…

In the time honoured tradition of spilling secrets to strangers, I’m starting today by confessing something…

…I eat very well in London. I get excited by new openings but much like my love for NKOTB (if you have to ask, you won’t understand), I also remain loyal to the things that delight me; when it comes to proclaiming my love for anywhere that fits the bill of holy trinity London dining – delicious, stylish, affordable – I’m just a few serpents away from being the kind of preacher normally found on cable channel 985.

Lately though, I don’t know what it is but I feel like something’s been missing. It’s been too long since one of those can’t-stop-thinking-about-it-for-days-afterward meals and to be honest, in a city where eating has become a national past-time, that can’t be good.

Thankfully over this past weekend I was pacified by somewhere only moments from my own sofa so listen up because I’m about to sing like the proverbial Tweety Pie about a place I’m both selfishly reluctant and proudly dying to share with you all.

image14

J is a man for whom I would, in the words of Jimmy Stewart, lasso the moon if I could. Alas, I fear I’m more Blazing Saddles than John Wayne when it comes to rope twirling so while the moon will have to stay put for now, I have found a more than decent substitution for showing my devotion to him, for celebrating his birthday and for wriggling my way further into his heart through his stomach…

Opened in August 2013, Smokehouse Islington is one of five restaurants owned by a group of food-professional friends including Scott Hunter & Maria Larsen, the duo behind Islington’s Pig & Butcher, and chef Neil Rankin, formerly of Barbecoa, Pitt Cue & John Salt…in other words, a man who knows a thing or two about the magic that happens when good meat & burning charcoal hunker down for a saucy night in together.

image13

Having realised in the past two years of our N1 life that the only way we could live any closer would be to enforce squatters’ rights to the fairy-light lit garden, I was determined this was not a place we would miss out on. Fact is, now I can’t think of anywhere else I want to go back to more and it’s not just because of the food which FYI, is bloody marvellous and totally upholds the first statement on their website – ‘we only use the best produce & ingredients we can’ – but because it’s one of those rare places that cares as much about the experience of eating as what is on your plate.

Understated and heartily minimal elegance catch your eye from the outside and continue through the interior decor; warm wood and blackboards feel welcoming and clean, while spotless white walls are dotted with antlers, the smallest of which are the perfect size for Halloween pug costumery. Our Saturday night visit found the place packed with people looking understandably smug with their choice of weekend restauranting but unlike other establishments, the number of tables inside was acceptable…anyone else really quite over going for dinner with one person but knowing at least 6 others by the end of the night because they’re practically sat on your lap feeding you bits of the bread basket?

image3 image4

The chance to try goat for the first time had me excited; the description of Somerset Goat Tacos with Chipotle Aioli & Green Sauce nearly had me storming the open kitchen for a taste. Soft small tortillas were generously stuffed with light & tangy shredded meat, not as richly heavy as lamb nor as dourly chewy as mutton; I could have eaten a dozen without apology or shame…run and hide now goats of the world, run and hide.

image1 image2

An accompanying starter of Chopped Brisket Roll with Gochujang was crunchy on the outside, dark and lusciously tender on the inside and big enough to cast a hefty shadow over the pool of velvety gochujang that lay puddled before it.

image5

Some people might look upon its sizable girth with apprehension and think it perhaps too big…those are not people I care to associate with and honestly, neither should you.

image7 image8

A plate of Short-rib Bourguignon was magnificent in both stature and flavour; deep, rich and dark, perfectly charred round the edges, melting in the mouth and painted with a glossy sauce and a generous handful of crispy shoestring onions.  The first bite caused eyes to widen and although a lusciously creamy mash mountain nestled next to it, the arrival of the mains also heralded the appearance of Caramel Roast Potatoes, humble spuds so crunchy and fluffy and lightly sticky that I would happily answer to the name of ‘crazy lady in the corner who comes in once a week for a bowl of these alone’.

image9 image10

A plate of smoked duck with crispy, gloriously stodgy potato hash cake, kimchi that set the belly on fire and perfectly fried egg more than held its own against the regal short-rib; the smokey flavour was so subtle but absolute it completely filled your mouth, appearing as if by some kitchen witchcraft without ever being harsh or uncontrolled.

image11 image12

Although the concept of Banana Bread French toast with Caramelised Bananas, Pecans & Dulce de Leche made me want to loosen the belt another six notches and get busy with a portion, I always prefer to try this things I could never re-create at home which is why I was drawn to Smoked Strawberries with Cream Cheese Mousse & Praline for dessert. Prettily presented berries were juice-running-down-your-chin sweet and ripely piled on top of silky whipped cream cheese, dotted with nutty praline shards and dolls-house-tiny ribbons of basil, this was a simple, beautifully light way to end the meat-feast that our dinner had been and it charmed me into total submission.

Staff were charming & friendly with a real love for their job shining through; big shout out to our waiter, known only as ‘Irish’, who was affable, sincere and possessor of excellent pale ale knowledge; his recommendation of the British Redwell Steam Lager that we rounded off our evening with was dangerously drinkable with a mellow, buttery, almost caramel flavour.

In the vast expanse of dining options that is London in 2015, it’s all too easy to feel suckered out of your money & your time by gimmicks, Liliputian portions & sad plates that are embarassed by their own appearance. Smokehouse Islington delivered quality of food that was worth every penny and the love of smoking, cooking & butchering was visible in each dish, each plate, each mouthful and that is something that will never go out of style.

Oldroyd does unforgettable new food in spectacular, understated style…

IMG_0106

To find yourself the filling in a kebab house-nail salon sandwich might not naturally sound like the sort of place you’d fight your way through a crowd to find yourself but like the obligatory rose between two thorns, something beautiful has bloomed in Angel.

Oldroyd has not yet been open a full week and it is not yet a full day since I ate there. However, some things can become very obvious very quickly dear reader, so when I tell you that a) this is a place destined to become infuriatingly, tantalisingly hard to get into and b) I’m already planning a return visit, you can trust me on both counts.

Truth be told, I’m a little loath to tell you how utterly delightful this place is because I’m afraid busloads of hungry hordes may then keep me from the little table by the front door at which J and I sat and made Meg-Ryan-in-that-film noises at last night…

…but I want it to stay and I want it to be successful so I’ll share it but heaven help you if I find you’ve taken the last portion of that chocolate mousse…

Oldroyd is the offspring of Polpo’s former chef director, Tom Oldroyd, who’s stepped out on his own here to create a small but perfectly formed addition to the culinary scene in Islington, a place already offering dining choices from every corner of the culinary globe.

The addition of ‘Ed’s Diner’ recently saddened my inner food snob somewhat – I love a fat, drippy burger as much as the next gal but with Byron, Honest Burger, Five Guys and The Diner all within a french fry’s distance did we really need another milkshake toting-chilli dog waving chain? – but the warmth of the staff, the selection on the menu & the quality of the food at this most recent opening have all cheered me up immensely.

With a 20 cover dining room upstairs and a ground floor space for walk-ins only, 7.30pm on its first Saturday night was going to be pushing it to get into but we were seated instantly and luckily as it turned out because it became busy from moments after we arrived until the time we left. General Manager Kieran was genuine & friendly and had the air about him of someone who really actually quite loves their job – when someone is excited to have you in their restaurant, it bodes well for what you’re about to fork & spoon into your mouth.

image1

A dish of Cornish Seaweed & Cider Salami with tiny baby gherkins & the sweetest-in-size-but-gloriously-sharpest-in-flavour silverskin onions started us off – the salami was meaty and delicious with a full, warm flavour. A lesser woman would have cocktail stick dueled her dining companion into submission over every fat slice; I am that woman but was ladylike enough to share…

…this time.

image2 image3

There are things in J’s life that he truly loves – ‘Back to the Future’, me and meatballs are three of those things though I’m wise enough to know that this may not be the order they are always ranked in. If I’d had to pick one dish from the menu for him therefore, the Lamb & Almond Meatballs would have been it.

Served with a generous spoonfuls of salsa romesco and enough slivers of delicious pickled garlic to make us glad it was only each other we’d be kissing the next day, these bad boys were completely gorgeous. Light, succulent meat and nutty, ripe romesco was a perfect pairing and that sauce? Oh I could have happily & nonchalantly licked every last smear off the plate. Yup, you heard me. Licked it off and not even cared.

image4 image5

Squid, Confit Rabbit & Broad Bean Paella with Aioli arrived next. I’m a gluttonous fan of anything confit and anything as comforting & sink-into-it-relaxing as paella so the combination here of juicy rabbit and perfectly cooked squid dotting squidgy, oozy rice was as satisfying as anything I’ve eaten in a long time. Sweatpants at the seaside on a plate. Comforting. Refreshing. Splendid.

image6 image7

Coming along next to sit beside the soothing dishes we’d already enjoyed, strolled a plate that if it had been draped in bunting & sandcastles  and accompanied by the musical stylings of Mr. Whippy, could not have been a better representation of summer.

Trickling-down-your-chin ripe segments of velvet peach were tossed with nuggets of creamy, salty cheese curd and stocky, golden croutons and it was a flawless example of how food doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be unpronounceable or extravagant or intimidating. If the quality is the finest it can be and if it’s served simply with a love of the ingredient and a desire to make people happy, then yeah, you’re good to go.

image8 image10

The last savoury platter to arrive was Grilled Pork Ribeye with Chard, Borlotti Beans & a Hazelnut Pistou. So I know for J, the star of this dish was the meat and yes, it was delicious. Charred yet soft, it was full of the flavour I struggle sometimes to find in pork but for me, the hazelnut pistou was honestly something I could dollop on every dish of my dining life going forward. The whole plate was, by turn, crunchy and meaty and fresh and gentle and warming and salty and earthy and I loved it.

image9 image11

Sashaying in to finish the meal was, well, if this voluptuous mound of chocolate mousse could speak then oh, it would coo, it would wiggle & it would give you the kind of wink to make you blush. The Jessica Rabbit of desserts, it was light, rich, creamy, flecked with sea salt & pistachio and draped elegantly over raspberries whose job of cutting through the cocoa goodness with a fruity zing was handled with aplomb. Shards of salted pistachio praline were crunchy & chewy and the whole dish was, quite frankly, the sort of thing you’d like to take home, close the curtains and get to know.

Promising to change seasonally & committing to using fresh British produce where possible, the menu we devoured on this occasion is likely to look different on our next visit which makes choosing from it both interesting if you see something you’ve never had before – hello pork ribeye – and potentially heartbreaking if you fall in love with something that is only available for a month or two each year. My conscience loves seasonality but as the heart wants what the heart wants, so my tummy now just wants to gorge on broad beans and peaches, two of the loveliest ingredients showcased on this visit.

Here’s what I like – food that surprises me, that introduce me to new things, that put modern spins on classic dishes delivered with class & passion. I’d like to humbly confess that my last dining experience at Polpo left me unfulfilled and hungry. I’d like to proudly boast that Oldroyd will leave you anything but and blissfully, it’s on my doorstep so come. Come and be fulfilled and fed…

…just remember what I said about that chocolate mousse.

 

Avocado, pistachio & dark chocolate ice-cream made the Udderlicious way…

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset

Desert island foods.

Everyone’s got them. One of mine – possibly the least practical choice ever assuming the island in question is of the tropically lush variety – is ice-cream. I have always loved it and that won’t ever change. I love sinking a spoon in when it’s at that perfectly soft, yielding texture, feeling the flavours both traditional & off the wall melt on my tongue and just enjoying the sheer delight that comes from eating it. Isn’t that the purpose of food? To give pleasure? I’m pretty sure you agree because those people who see food as fuel and nothing more? They don’t read food blogs. They’re too busy shoveling food in without a single thought as to whether or not they want to eat it or are even enjoying it and honestly, who ever felt worse after ice-cream? It’s literally one of the happiest foods there is.

When J & I moved to Islington, one of the things that we quickly became enamoured with was the choice of independent businesses in the area; from the hardware store that would be perfectly at home in any white-picket-fenced-small-town to the butchers whose slabs of gorgeously marbled meat make you want to press your face up longingly against the window to the coffeeshop staff who work tirelessly to provide a caffeinated buzz and a smile to every one of their Apple toting patrons, not only do we love the choices that we have on our doorstep, we also really value & feel proud of the community – our community – that supports and encourages them.

One in particular took up residence in a small corner of my heart from the first visit – Udderlicious, a petite but perfectly formed ice-cream parlour on Upper Street.

image (6) image (2)

I know…ice-cream ‘parlour’? It’s as wonderfully old-fashioned a word as you could ever delight in using and conjures up daydreams of a scoop of something sweet like cherry pie, rum & raisin or lemon sherbet but it’s a splendid word for Udderlicious.

There’s a swing chair perfect for snuggling up with your sweetheart in, glass jars of sprinkles that seem to have fallen from the tip of the latest rainbow and creamy tin milk jugs in the window full of cotton candy blossoms that invite in the very essence of spring, even if April showers softly dapple the windows outside.

As someone who has recently moved into the food industry, I’m constantly hunting for new ways to increase my food knowledge. I also like supporting local companies where the plunge has been taken by someone to do what they love and to spend their days in the creative way they may have only imagined before and this is why when I reached out to Raj and Raj, owners of Udderlicious, I was thrilled to be invited to spend some time with them, learning how they make ice-cream, giving it a go myself and seeing a tiny bit of what goes into turning something delicious into something commercially successful. Read More