Sunday, 18 November 2012

Green Man and French Horn

The Green Man is the fourth opening from chef  Ed Wilson and partners.The others, Terriors, Brawn, and Soif are the other elements of this ever expanding and successful mini empire. Since opening it has received at least two national newspaper reviews and has been the subject of other positive reviews. This former pub occupies a slim site on the perimeter of a very busy Covent Garden. The interior is bare brick, tile and parquet floors with exposed ventilation pipes. Seating is cramped especially at the rear. It is not possible to hold a private conversation even if you or your near neighbours whisper. Every word is audible. Not good, not good at all.  The best tables for two are in the middle of the long slim room, or if you wish you could eat at the bar.

I am led to believe that the hand written menu changes daily. It was certainly different from the one that was on their website that morning. It was all simple fare, nothing mucked about with, just the sort of stuff any competent home cook could put on the table at home. The theme of the restaurant is The Loire, but on today's menu nothing jumps out as being specific to that area.

Bread was just OK. Having said that someone has mentioned it is from St John bakery, but if it is I'm afraid it did not shine for me. Thankfully though it was replenished throughout the meal as we needed it to mop up the juices from the two main courses that we ate.

Soup is not something my wife would normally choose but she needed some autumn comfort and Pheasant and Lentil (£7) fitted the bill nicely. We both tucked into this. It was hearty with nutty lentils. The broth had good depth of flavour but for me lacked a bit of seasoning. Strangely enough there was no salt or pepper on the table. Mind you having said that there was barely enough room for plates, wine and water glasses, never mind anything else. Slightly off putting were the numerous sharp pheasant bones in the broth. Fortunately none of them spiked us.

We can't resist a nice Rillette. We have had rillette before at Terroirs and Brawn and I assume that this is a standard recipe made with pork. So Rillette & Cornichons (£6.50)

Not bad really. Portion size was generous. This was not as tasty as I remember and it was a bit too fatty and certainly needed the sharp cournichons to cut through it.

Of  the four dishes under the Meat and Game listing only the Partridge dish appealed but we both really fancied something fishy and there was slightly more choice under the Fish and Seafood list. There were seven fish dishes on offer including the now ever so fashionable Slip Sole,  some Brill, an unfashionable Gurnard and a Scallop dish. I chose the promising sounding Surf Clams, fennel and Dill (£12)

For some reason the buttery broth at the bottom of the bowl had a lot more intense flavour of clam than the clams themselves, which were slightly bland. Perfect marriage of flavours though with the diced fennel and dill.

Bags of flavour in the Mouclade of Mussels (£10) and again a generous helping.

OK. So fat juicy steamed mussels in a creamy lightly curried sauce. Plenty of butter in the sauce and plenty of sauce to be mopped up with the bread. Currently this is my favourite way of eating mussels. I cooked some at home a couple of weeks ago and the only difference between my dish and this one was the curry used in the sauce, and of course there can be quite a variation. As has been mentioned above seasoning varied. This dish was over seasoned, but that was not so very important for me. We both still enjoyed it.

We skipped desserts, we were full.

If you like natural wines you will be at home here. We are not wine oriented preferring to focus on food. Wine is available by the glass, pichet or bottle. We had a pichet which was sufficient to last through the meal.

As you can see by the pricing, you can eat here for very little money. Pricing is fair and the cooking is simple, very simple. Its not a place I would dash back to. Its fine for a pit stop but there is no way that I would tolerate sitting at the rear of the restaurant again as it is far to intimate. Besides which, I like to choose my dining companions.

Green Man & French Horn on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Michael Nadra Primrose Hill

I worry a bit when chefs have more than one restaurant. I have been in business too many years to know that you can't be in two places at the same time. Also its impossible to clone oneself  (yet). So whoever is running your business in your absence needs to be hand picked for the job. Indeed your whole team need to be. Witness Gordon Ramsay's crumbling empire.

The original Michael Nadra restaurant in Chiswick is the fully operational  other half of this enterprise and indeed that has been on my to visit list for some while, as I had heard some good reports about the cooking. Still I never got around to it. Then lo and behold Nadra goes and opens a much larger 130 seat restaurant in monied Primrose Hill. To cap it all they get not one but two national newspaper reviews within weeks. That was it. We just had to give it a whirl.

Primrose Hill is a very des res. Lots of famous and I guess a number of infamous people have and still do live here. I won't name names just google it. We hardly know the area at all having only been here the once. That was a restaurant visit to TV chef Bryn Williams place.
Michael Nadra's restaurant is well out of the central commercial shopping area in a very quiet residential part of town. It sits canal side, but forget any dreamy countryside views, this is water and concrete and of course the odd narrow boat or two. However having said that we were about to find out it was well worth searching for.

Once you find your way through the door you are greeted by enthusiastic staff and a shiny bright Martini bar. Then to the right of that is a light filled conservatory. Two further interconnecting rooms complete the space. One of them being a rather atmospheric Grade two listed vaulted horse tunnel in stunning original condition.

Various menus are on offer. Prix Fixe, carte, brunch, and two tasting menus, a four course game , and a six course standard. Nothing on the prix fixe appealed so we chose the game menu and dishes from the carte.

Bread was more than decent and replenished throughout the meal.  A good choice too, from black olive, rosemary, white and brown. Our favourite was the rosemary, with its brittle, salty, explode in the mouth crust.

We were offered a little amuse of deep fried whitebait whilst the chef cooked our meal for us. The chef in question by the way was Michael Nadra himself. Which quite surprised me. Don't ask me why but it just did.

From the game tasting menu first, was my starter course of Partridge, foie gras and Cep terrine. Fairly standard starter really. Chunky flavoursome meaty bits served with a pickled carrot and pea shoot salad and whole grain mustard dressing.

The other starter, this time from the carte were Black tiger prawn, scallop and chive dumplings. (£9) The vivid green pond was a spinach and broccoli veloute

This was pleasant enough. The dumplings were light in texture allowing the scallop and prawn mixture to shine through

We shared the Roasted Grouse with wild mushrooms from the four course game menu. Only my second grouse from the too short season. This ate rather well indeed. Perfectly cooked and not too gamey. Served classically with bread sauce, fondant potato and a tasty jus. The leg was served separately on a bed of baby watercress and it was surprisingly tender.

From the carte we chose Grilled Iberico Presa and roasted suckling pork belly (£20) We thought that this sounded devine on the menu, a real porky treat.
We have eaten presa before on a couple of occasions and both times they have been served rare which is ( I am informed) how they serve it in Spain. This version was perhaps to most peoples taste as it was more medium rare than rare. Plenty of quality meat on offer. Good texture from the green beans, and the roasted Jerusalem artichokes were gorgeous.

The other main course, this time from the game menu was Windsor sika venison saddle, shank and sausage roll.

Again perfectly cooked meat, and plenty of it. This was perched on top of some tangy, bitter cavolo nero and to the side was the crumbly sausage roll and a slice of crunchy richly flavoured, buttery, root vegetable rosti.

I have to say that all of the dishes were a decent size. No skimpy portions here. We love that from a kitchen, chefs who don't short change you  on the plate.

Two desserts were a step too far, but the staff were not up selling, perhaps identifying the fact that portions were generous and also that on the game menu the dessert section was listed as Selection of Desserts. Indeed it was.

So we have, Treacle tart with clotted cream. Baked black fig with thyme honey. Chocolate fondant. A mini Pavlova and a scoop of Gooseberry sorbet. All classics of course and a fitting end to the meal.

There is nothing effeminate about this cooking. Its big bold and butch. There is a swagger about it that demands attention. Its clear from his menus that Nadra prefers now to cook meat and game as opposed to fish. His original restaurant, Fish Hook specialised in guess what?
There is nothing wrong with man sized portions either. This may well be North London but the portions are most certainly North Yorkshire. Its all very classical cooking, no fancy dan flourishes for the sake of it.

Michael Nadra can certainly cook and has a very impressive cv dating back years. Think Ramsay. Wareing, Demetre, Bruce Poole at Chez Bruce and he was head chef at Oliver Peyton's hip Atlantic Bar and Grill back in 2003 so he's been around a bit.

Pricing is keen and designed to keep the locals returning as a neighbourhood restaurant rather than a special occasion place. Importantly service was friendly and enthusiastic but not too intrusive. Our bill for the four course tasting menu (£40) one main course, and one starter plus an exceptionally good bottle of bargain priced Malbec and 12.5% service charge just nudged over £100. This,  I was more than happy to pay.

Go seek it out

 Michael Nadra Primrose Hill on Urbanspoon Square Meal