9.29.2014

LE SACRE COEUR

Sometimes eating in a restaurant isn't about trendy food, fine dining and small plates, but about comfort food that makes you happy.
Recently I went to a small restaurant in Angel: le Sacré Coeur where one of my French friends invited me. It was a good occasion to catch up a lot of years in an familiar and simple atmosphere.  
To start the meal we shared a platter of mix marinated olives, cheese with mustard and bread & olive oil, as our waitress told us the main courses were quite big. 
The cheese was good, served at room temperature, two disappointing points about this platter : the quality of the bread wasn't good, such a shame for a French restaurant and where was the saucisson?
Mix marinated olives, cheese with mustard, bread and virgin olive oil 

My friend ordered an Entrecôte grille with peppercorn sauce. I was impressed by the size of her entrecôte and it was served with nicely cooked thin fries. The entrecôte was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. This entrecôte was better and cheaper than the one I tried at Chabrot bistrot des Halles near Smithfield market.
Entrecôte grillée :Chargrilled rib eye steak served with French fries and peppercorn sauce

As a main course I had the classic coq au vin. It was such a pleasure to have a classic dish so well executed, the carrots and mushrooms were slowly cooked in the wine sauce. Carrots melted like butter in the mouth. I remembered when I went to the trendy Brasserie Zedel near Piccadilly the mushrooms and carrots were cooked separately from the sauce, it didn't taste that great as they were too crunchy.
The coq au vin arrived first on the table, I didn't notice it came with a side: sautéed potatoes. I think this dish would have been enough to be shared by two people. 
Coq au vin: Classic French chicken casserole with smoked bacon, mushroom, carrot and shallots. Cooked in thyme, garlic and rich red wine sauce. Served with sautéed potatoes 
Le Sacré Coeur is not the 'coolest place to be' for a foodie in London, but to me this place was far better than some trendy places. It was very good value - one (massive) main course around £12, it came to £20 per head with wine and the platter we shared.
Sometimes the most modest looking places can surprise you. 
Le Sacré Coeur was a simple French restaurant with a great friendly atmosphere and nice French waiters (I know they are usually famous to be rude - according to Chris Pople). 
I will definitely come back to Le Sacré coeur when I am nostalgic or when I want to eat proper French comfort food without loosing one arm when the bills arrive on the table. 

8/10

Le Sacré Coeur
18 Theberton St 
London N1 0QX
Twitter: @lesacre_coeur
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9.28.2014

ANTIDOTE

Antidote Wine & Bar opened earlier this year but I never found time to go there. Finally last week, one day before the new Michelin guide was published I went for lunch with a friend. We heard some rumours that they were probably going to be awarded of a Michelin star...(they didn't in the end).

Hidden in one of the backstreets near Carnaby street, Antidote is divided into two different concepts. Downstairs it is 'nibbles' menu as they called it - small plates and wine, while upstairs they served A La Carte, a set Lunch Menu and a Tasting menu. We went for the 3 courses £23 lunch menu upstairs.
The decoration of the room was very simple and modern - light bulbs, no tablecloths on table, few plants and some frames on the wall. I usually like simplicity but it looked a bit cold. The fact that there were not many customers upstairs probably didn't help to make this place more friendly and warm.

To start we had a cucumber based amuse bouche. It was not  bad but I don't really like to start my meal with an ice cream. While we placed our order, they brought some bread and butter to the table. Their breads are apparently very good, I was a bit disappointed as it tasted like regular bread to me. I had better bread in France or in some other restaurants. 
 Amuse Bouche :buttermilk with pickled cucumber and cucumber sorbet

My friend ordered the Cévennes Onion served with pear, it was refreshing. The combination of pear and Cévennes onion was interesting, apparently it is the signature dish of the chef Mikael Jonsson which I didn't know.
 Cévennes Onion, Pear & Isle of Mull

I went for the slow cooked egg served with curly kale and trompette mushroom. My dish was good. The kale add a slightly salted touch and crunch to the whole dish which was nice. 
 Slow Cooked Egg, Curly Kale & Trompette Mushroom

As a main my friend ordered the pan fried mackerel, which was according to him nice but he didn't "jump for joy" about it.
Pan Fried Mackerel, Roasted Celeriac, Walnut & Baby Artichoke

I had the Cumbrian lamb fillet served with salsify, beetroot and red spinach. The lamb was perfectly cooked - pink. I never had lamb before with beetroot, it was not unpleasant. My favourite part of the dish was the beetroot mousse. I prefer beetroot cold rather than hot. 
 Cumbrian Lamb Fillet, Salsify, Beetroot & Red Spinach

We decided to share both desserts at the end of the meal.
We both agreed that the Livarot cheese was nice but it would have been better if it was served less cold  at room temperature.
Livarot Cheese

Regarding the dessert, our opinion on the peanut sponge cake were different.. My friend didn't like it, he said it thought the dessert tasted like Snickers. I enjoyed the dessert but I think it didn't need Damson plum, the flavour didn't taste great with the peanut sponge and the hay ice cream. I had it all but I left the slice of plum on the side.
Peanut sponge, 70% chocolate, Damson & Toasted Hay Ice Cream


Overall the lunch was nice but nothing amazing. Their bread is just simple, ours tasted a bit like a 2 days old bread. After the meal, I felt like the whole meal was a bit too light! The atmosphere was totally trendy but it felt so cold - not my cup of tea. 
Maybe one day I will come back to Antidote to try their nibbles menu downstairs during a more busy service to see if the atmosphere gets better.

5/10.

Antidote Wine & Bar
12A Newburgh Street
London W1F 7RR
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9.09.2014

DRAGON CASTLE

One of my favourite dishes from Asian cuisine is dim sum. I always thought when I moved to London Chinatown will be probably a kind of paradise for me with dim sum at every corner. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. Most of the restaurants in Chinatown don't know what their dim sum are made of... I went to many places and they couldn't tell me what was in their dim sum as they are not homemade (they are probably all frozen from the supermarket next door).
Having an intolerance to some seafood ingredients, I have a very limited choice in those restaurants.
My favourite dim sum in France have always been pork and prawn xiu mai and prawn hakao.

Recently I heard about a Cantonese/Chinese restaurant that does dim sum in Elephant & Castle.
It was kind of a surprise to discover E&C have 'nice' restaurants. I decided to call the restaurant before booking. I spoke with the manager of the restaurant who was very helpful and told me that most of the dim sum won't be a problem with my seafood intolerance. For the first time in London I was very happy as I could order most of the dim sum from the menu. He also confirmed they were all handmade at the restaurant. I booked a table for two on Sunday.

When we arrived the place has a massive door which puts you straight in a Chinese atmosphere, behind the door there was a little pond with fish and then a massive room with some Chinese decoration.
As soon as we arrived the manager came to the table  and advise on which dim sum I could order. Again he was very nice and helpful.
After we placed our order, my friend and I looked around us and were surprised there was such a diverse range of customers : couples, families, even people dining alone . Next to us there was a massive table of people : Chinese people, I thought it was a good sign, it also looked like they ordered the full menu on their tables. Everything looked very good.
My friend and I ordered pork, turnip and peanut dumplings, supreme xo scallop dumplings, honey barbecued pork bun, spinach and prawn dumplings, pork and prawn dumplings, pork fried dumplings and barbecued pork cheung fun.

Pork, turnip and peanut dumplings were not my favourite but there were nice. I didn't really like the crunchiness of the peanut inside. My friend really like these dim sum.
 Pork, turnip and peanut dumplings


Supreme scallops dumplings were probably one of the most expensive dim sum we ordered, and I was a bit disappointed, there were not the best scallops dim sum I had in my life. The scallop was a bit soggy.
 Supreme xo scallop dumplings


Honey barbecue pork bun were very nice, usually I always find them dry in Chinatown. These were perfect, a bit moist and the pork inside was well seasoned.
 Honey barbecued pork bun
Spinach and prawn dumplings were a revelation. I never thought spinach could be good in dumplings. These dumplings were by far my favourite. I know next time I am going to Dragon Castle I will order probably two of them and I'm not sharing! 
 Spinach and prawn dumplings

Classic prawn and pork xiu mai were nice. You could taste there were homemade and not frozen version from supermarket. I really enjoyed them.
 Pork and prawn dumplings


I usually always go for steamed dumplings if I can as I always think they are probably more healthy. We made an exception on that day and ordered fried pork dumplings. No regret! They were good and not too greasy. After the spinach & prawn dumplings and the xiu mai, there were my favourite.
 Pork fried dumplings

My friend and I never tried cheung fun before and we found the picture on the menu intriguing. We ordered one portion of barbecued pork cheung fun. Texture was very interesting. It was a bit complicated to eat as everything slide off the rice sheet but overall it was tasty. I would have maybe prefer a sour sauce than the soy sauce. 
 Barbecued pork cheung fun
Overall I am very happy with my experience at Dragon Castle. Service was perfect from my phone call to the end of the meal. The team was nice and friendly, it was appreciated as in Chinatown most of the time they don't really care about customers and are a bit cold. 
Dim sum were all good which is what matters the most for me, they were all fresh and homemade. 
All dim sum were very cheap, around £3 each. Such a bargain, £25 lunch for two with drinks and service charge.
Since my last visit I recommend this place to many of my friends who are dim sum lover too and  told them to order their spinach & prawn dumplings.
I have already planned my next visit. My only critic will be that they should make their dim sum menu available in the evening. 
9/10.

100 Walworth Rd
London SE17 1JL

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9.01.2014

L'ENTRECOTE

One of the most famous institutions in Toulouse is L'Entrecôte. L'Entrecôte in Toulouse was the second restaurant opened in 1962 by the family Gineste de Saurs. Since then they have opened others restaurants around France, Europe (London) and USA (New York).
L'Entrecôte for me is the symbol of my childhood. When most of children were happy with a happy meal, I was happy when we went there. It is a tradition to still go to L'Entrecôte with my family or friends when I am in Toulouse. 
Last time I was in Toulouse, it is probably the first thing I did when I arrived in town with my friend.

There are some rules to know before going to L'Entrecôte in Toulouse. If you don't want to wait, you need to arrive 20 minutes before the opening. 
Most of the time, I never plan to go there in advance...so I have the joy of joining the massive queue. Usually when it comes to waiting in a queue, French people are the worst, according to Stephen Clarke in his book 'Talk to the snail' we complained and try to cheat our way to the front. 
When it comes to L'Entrecôte queue, outside on the Boulevard de Strasbourg  it seems everyone knows what they have to do, and how they have to queue everyday. 
At the entrance for years there is always the same women, she gets a bit older each year but she is still styling her hair with a French braid and she knows all the regulars. Only question she will ask you is "How many?", and then you wait until it is your turn to go inside. 
After queuing outside, you are finally taken inside and you get told to go to the bar... I never like when they say that, as it means you have to wait sometimes an extra 10 minutes to get the table. 
I hate queuing in general, L'Entrecôte is probably the only restaurant in the world I won't mind queuing each time as I know the food and service will never be disappointing (in Toulouse).

During my last visit at L'Entrecôte, I noticed something I never spotted before: there is no waiter! I tried to remember all my visits and I couldn't remember when I have been served in this place by a men. There is probably some men hidden in the kitchen but I never saw one in the room. I am wondering since how they managed to escape the discrimination during recruitment process in France. Is there waiter in the UK version? I couldn't remember if I saw some men...maybe it is L'Entrecôte politics to hire just women for service and men for cooking. Not sure it is the perfect system for equality ! 

However, like always my visit was great. Last time I went to L'Entrecôte it was Le Relais de Venise in London (review HERE), so I had high expectations as I told my friend the French version is better.  
Like always one of my walnut jump from my plate on the side. I like the crunchiness of walnuts, which I didn't have in London. Seasoning was perfect like always, nothing to change or complaint about.

And then the best arrived... I know on the picture you hardly see the difference but fries are different in Toulouse. There are so much better. The thing I like about Toulouse is they bring you a silver/inox plate with the rest of your meat. 
You don't need to be assisted to add extra piece of meat in your plate, and waitresses are very good as they always noticed when you are about to finish your fries and ask if you want some more. This is a good service. 
Sauce look more greasy in France but it had more texture and a stronger taste. 
The positive point of having access to the meat plate is that you can add a lot of sauce on your meat.
When I read some reviews about Le Relais de Venise in UK, I am a bit annoyed when people are saying the recipe is a secret...in UK yes but for people living around Toulouse, it is not a secret anymore. Recipe was revealed a long time ago in a local newspaper. The sauce is made with chicken liver, fresh thyme and flower of thyme, whipping cream, white mustard, butter, water, salt, and pepper. I admit I tried to do it and it isn't very easy... I have all step but not the quantities required for each ingredients. 
Knowing the secret never stop me going there as I know it will take me ages to find out perfect quantities so why would I waist my time doing that. 
In many years, I am sure the restaurant will still be there...I am just worry it will become more and more expensive in the future, and it will loose the charm of its concept : cheap unique set menu with unlimited fries. 
I remembered when I was younger I was able to pay with two 'ticket restaurants' for the set menu and dessert (18€). Now the price increase each year of 1€. Currently for the set menu and dessert it is 24.5€. 
L'Entrecôte
15 Boulevard de Strasbourg
 31000 Toulouse, France
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