Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tapas & Rioja at Chef's Table, The Montagu, London

Had a wonderful meal at The Montagu (in Hyatt hotel London). We were on the Chef’s Table, right in front of the impressive open kitchen.

First, we had champagne and iberico cured ham (two of my favourite things in the world). Then, superb tapas was followed by half a lobster on saffron rice. After that, we had some outstanding roast iberico pork – vaguely pink, fragrant and extremely juicy – and a platter of five mini desserts.

The photos below don't do the tapas justice. They look very pretty but this is misleading, because they maintained real gritty authenticity, and were full of punchy Spanish flavours.

Between courses we had wine tasting with the lovely Trindad Villegas, Export Manager of Bodegas LAN wines . She talked us through the wines that we had with each course, including a fascinating white rioja - Santiago Ruiz - that smelled exactly like a rich, honeyed dessert wine, but tasted fresh, crisp and clean.

And apart from the food and wine tasting, we also of course had the pleasure of the Head Chef's surprisingly relaxed company - which he managed to fit in, between bouts of catering for us and the rest of the restaurant. Carlos Machado might make thoroughly authentic tapas, but he is actually Portuguese, and chats passionately about the cuisine of his own country. Carlos is the ideal asset for a chef’s table, as he’s completely down-to-earth and personable - despite his obvious talent and rapid professional progress.

Spanish black pudding with poached quails' eggs

Chef's Table



Rioja with Trinidad in the background

Spicy Octopus - another of my favourites. It was served in the most fantastic olive oil

Cured Sardines

Carlos Machado, Head Chef

Themes for the Chef's Table at The Montagu vary, so check you're getting a cuisine you love before you book.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Market Café, Hackney – Top New Eaterie

I was lucky to enjoy a ‘hard-hat’ preview of this brilliant new place before it opened. There was still bare plaster everywhere and it was far from finished, but the almost-done back dining room demonstrated the theme of the décor; 50’s mismatched furniture, slick and cool, friendly and familiar, thoroughly enjoyable.

The food and drink follows a similar model, with “rustic London-Italian food and drink with a modern take on the ‘breakfast and bolognaise’ menu…no airs or graces here. Steak and kidney pudding for two, hand cut tagliatelles with meat sauces, truffled rarebit, jam doughnuts…and homemade Hackney Downs ice-cream”. I had the delicious tagliatelle with meat sauce that tasted so familiar but reminded me of a distant memory I couldn't quite place. It was flavour combination that definitely reminded me of something I’d eaten as a child. Braised beef shin in chianti with polenta was clearly cooked in home-style quantities of wine for e very long time. No corners had been cut and it was wonderful, like the absolute best home cooking. The rice pudding with jam was ambrosial… the creamiest and vanilleriest ever.

For drinks, we had lovely East London Cups, that were cocktails reminiscent of pimms and Market Café’s take on classic London cups (I hadn’t heard of them either). They also do wines, other cocktails and cups, fizz, and craft beers.

East London Cup

Husband and wife team Hugo and Fran Warner, who own the Market Café have taken on some fantastic staff. This really stood out. Their team is made up of genuine individuals who clearly really care, including the ultra-knowledgeable and enthusiastic long-haired and bearded bar manager/deputy manager (Rob? Sorry, I did ask but promptly forgot). The staff fit perfectly with the whole feel of the place; eclectic, down-to-earth, and welcoming. The chef, James Adams has worked at Canteen, Fifteen, St John and River Café and believes there is “no substitute for flavour”.

Hugo sat with us for a bit and his obvious passion for historical reference and good food bubbled over, “…working class cafés once lubricated and nourished a whole post war generation of artists, writers and crimes lords, and galvanised East End and British cultural life. These places were where ordinary people could afford to eat out and also to experience what was in its day exotic food.” He hopes that the “whole local community” will want to eat and drink with them.

Market Café is open all day and evening every day, for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, high tea and supper, as well as freshly ground coffee and evening drinks.