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Sartoria

Saturday dinner, 1st week of May was not so successful. Great atmosphere however, but it seems Francesco is more patron than chef, even his front of house admit his appearance in Sartoria is a little random. This service was full, but kitchen seems unable to keep up. Some things were solid such as the beef tartare, but pastachijna was cold and worryingly the signature fregola dish was totally ruined by overseasoning and completely overcooked pasta that were soggy.

Spaghetti carbonara was ‘not bad’ by London standards, but that does not really say much as there is little to compare in London. For me, I feel that the bones of the dish are missing, for one there is too little pecorino and pepper. On the other hand, the extra egg on top gives the sauce an overriding taste of yolk. The sauce is supposed to be tossed with pasta and over very low heat (over bain marie) until a kind of creaminess emerges, without the use of cream. The sauce here is much too runny, it is effectively still raw yolk and not nearly cooked enough yet to achieve the right texture. It was unbalanced, when there should be richness and tension between cheese, pepper and egg. Guanciale sliced wafer thin did not provide the fried crunch that I feel is integral to a good carbonara.

Pan-fried turbot was over-cooked, a couple of shells, some without clam inside is stingy and does not warrant the premium price tag. I also had the zabaglione and surprised to find it is now whipped full of bubbles. I quite like it in this form, it had great flavour as I remember it from L’Anima, but at the same time I also missed the creamier texture. You have a couple of spoonfuls, but all that air fills you up quickly. Recipes are classic of course, but it is the kitchen that is lagging behind. Avid L’Anima fans would find this meal merely ordinary. On this form and for these prices, Mazzei lags far behind Theo Randall, River Cafe and Locatelli. Hope it’s one-off, but I think Mazzei needs to be around more often to keep the quality of food up, or he will run the risk of fading into obscurity.

Parlour Chef’s Table

In 2014 I wrote about Jesse Dunford Wood’s fabulous Northwest London not quite a pub, not quite a restaurant which does remarkable porkchops, fantastic chilli arctic rolls and is one of the happiest places on Earth. It is quite rare to come across someone so full of life, he and his food just make people smile. Behind his conviviality lies some proper chef chops, having worked in pretty decent kitchens including those belonging to Charlie Trotter, Mark Best, Rowley Leigh and Michel Roux Jr. It’s no wonder the quality of food here is so good. This comes almost as a total surprise, which is the brilliance of Parlour.

I have been wanting to try his Chef’s Table (with a view into his kitchen) for a long time. Only took two years to nail down the minimum headcount (4) to get this done. For £70pp, Jesse will feed you, and feed you, tell you some stories, display his sabrage skills and finish the show with a nod/wink to that other guy who also worked for Charlie Trotter, or a dessert bar in Hong Kong depending on where you read it first.

This finale starts with Jesse handing out wireless headphones to everyone at the table. Cue Strauss. Jesse puts them on as well, rolls out aluminium foil on the table and for the next 10 minutes, he makes pudding for you. Just about half-way, smoke blows onto the table, Pure Imagination starts playing and you’re totally inside Jesse’s chocolate factory. Not just for show, decent souffle, apple sauce, arctic rolls and a bunch of other sweet things.

I do not want to spoil the surprise for you and there were a fair few. All were intangibles entirely down to Jesse’s spirit (and decent parlour tricks) that make this meal a special one. His vision of hospitality is made of 100% joy. I’ve never felt happier at a meal.

Don’t scroll down. Don’t look at the photos. Find 3 to 6 mates and book the Chef’s table. Work the meal off at Paradise afterwards. Trust me it will be worth it.

We paid £78.80 each, which includes the surprise menu, service, drinks to start and finish.

L.C. at Climpson’s Arch

Climpson’s Arch has been fertile ground for future restaurateurs to prototype their business model before meeting the embrace of their investors-to-be. And you are clearly responding to these delicious propositions, voting with your wallets, what with the soaring success of its alumni including Dave Pynt’s Burnt Enz (now Burnt Ends in Singapore, with a spot on that list which shall remained unnamed), Tomos Parry (now at Kitty Fishers) and fresh this year and runaway success, Som Saa.

This arch plays like theatre to a rotation of residencies and latest as of October ’15, it has hosted Portuguese dinners that have enthralled you loveable Instagrammers, gleefully clogging up my feed. This is my first visit and you know what, I cannot help but join you.

But first let’s start by admiring the theatre, taking the form of a corrugated steel roof, shaped onto the railway arch under which this restaurant sits. It’s bigger than the photos suggest and it goes deep inside to where (I assume) Climpson’s roastery is located in the rear. I think now is the perfect time to visit, they push open the double fronted doors to the elements, letting the air, the rays and whaffs from the outdoor kitchen in. Out there is where you will find main man Leandro Carreira and his chef-lieutenant Julian Goh.

The Leiria native has a glowing past with Mugaritz and Viajante on his CV as well as guest spots with James Lowe and blackboard takeovers at Koya before it closed its doors last year.

My exposure to Portuguese cuisine starts from one restaurant cum cafe cum deli cum patisserie in Vauxhall and ends in a Taberna in the Spitafields Market, and so this is all a bit new to me. We do however love our seafood and Leo’s menu is a reflection of his coastal upbringing. Cooking food of his roots cold and in coal, with all manner of fermenting, salting, smoking and simply on the grill.

Front of house is choreographed by sommelier Cameron Dewar, whom you will instantly recognise from his impressively feral James Howlett style beard. He was recently with Burnt Ends and if my googler sleuthing is correct, Cameron is ex-Viajante and has also spent time with Medlar, one of my favs in town.

Cameron has curated a mostly Portuguese wine list, save for the odd French red, though he is pouring German Riesling throughout July. From plastic tumblers, I drank a glass of 2012 Shafer Frohlich Troken (£6.5/125ml) that was lively like sourdough, mineral and high in citrus. I followed with a Portuguese orange wine, 2015 Agronvinaz ‘Luminosco’ (£6/125ml), also effervescent and so fresh, peaches and apricot, with a peppery finish. The better half is dry this month, so she had a house-made lemon cordial that was sweet.

Brunswick House

I am certain that I sat on those chairs at Le Chabanais last year. Walnut on brass legs, a modern spin on the classic Windsor Chair by two American designers, they are wonderfully solid things to look at and sit on. Likely the only thing missed when Chabanais eventually shuttered according to general consensus (I am in the minority of those who ate a decent lunch there). What a pick up though, gems, for these architectural salvagers and I think a perfect new home for them this year.

This is quite the vintage mansion, tracing its foundation stones to 1759, an architectural wonder, well-looked after in its grand age and a contrast to the truly ugly developments in Vauxhall. Maybe those ghastly apartment blocks with the butterfly roofs hide the actual offices of MI6.

There have been a string of reviews by our nation’s critics earlier this year, coinciding with the arrival of Andrew Clarke (from Rita’s and previously Salt Yard) who takes the role of Chef director at Brunswick House. He has been showcasing some fantastic work this year, over at his IG account, where you’ll see plenty of evidence such as this aged veal rib. (I also greatly enjoyed following him and Willy Leigh ducking around France)

The other fella who has been running this shop for the last half decade is Jackson Boxer. You will likely have read of his family’s storied connection with food and hospitality, though I would like just to mention his beginning days on his way here. He started out with Margot Henderson and latterly landed in the kitchens of Tom Norrington-Davies at 32 Great Queen Street – one of my long time favourites.

Vauxhall is convenient for me as it takes 20mins on the mainline to get here. And I can’t believe it’s taken so long because the food is absolutely glorious! Apparent simplicity, jolly good craft and interesting recipes. Some un-obvious, some borrowed from around the globe, inventive but not for sake, as every plate is an exercise of balanced flavours and textures. These guys know good food.

We visited for Saturday lunch where the menu is a running list of 10 dishes ranging from £6 to £13 – quite the steal. Dinner is a little more and mains max out at £18.60 for delicious reading specimens such as Roast Swaledale veal, courgette, pinenuts, parmesan. Good value for money.

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