Fox and Grapes

Ludlow in Shropshire is a gorgeous country market town which at one point boasted of more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world. One of these included Hibiscus before Chef Claude Bosi relocated the restaurant to London (Mayfair) in 2007. A brave move many said, but it seems to have worked out just fine for Hibiscus. Not only did Hibiscus regain its second Michelin star which it lost when it first moved, but it also now holds a place in The San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurant’s Awards.

With Fox and Grapes, Bosi makes another mark on the London dining scene. Brother Cedric manages the day-to-day while Patrick Leano, formerly the sous chef at Hibiscus, runs the kitchen. The site of an old London inn on Wimbledon Common, the gastropub retains many original features and is lovely and quaint.

It was hard to think that Fox and Grapes would be any ordinary gastropub given its affiliation with Claude Bosi. That said, the mains on the menu were fairly uninteresting (sausage and mash, gratin provencal (ratatouille), mutton moussaka, pollock, chicken, and steaks, etc) and not as inspirational as it could have been given the Michelin-starred status of the gastropub’s patron.

We kicked off with some bar snacks including a wild boar scotch egg (£4.50) which gave way to a runny yolk centre. But the boar meat, whilst well cooked and decidedly gamey in flavour, was too peppery.

Wild boar scotch egg

Wild boar scotch egg

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The Warrington

Note: This restaurant has now been acquired by Faucet Inn Pub Group.

When Gordon Ramsay took over the freehold of The Warrington and launched a gastropub there in February 2008, I lamented the lost of Ben’s Thai Restaurant. Ben’s Thai was situated on the first floor, above the pub (which is where the gastropub is now), and although it was far from perfect, it had personality. Its off-the-wall décor fit in with the quirky charm of the pub below – a lavishly decorated outfit with art nouveau stained glass windows, carved wood works and a marble topped mahogany bar. For added character, it was rumoured that the building was once used as a brothel.

But under Gordon Ramsay, the gastropub, aptly named The Warrington, became cool, stark and a little austere. When I first went there for dinner soon after its opening, it was hard to reconcile the sleek, new dining area with the pub below that was bursting with old world charm. Other than this oddity, I remembered the food being pretty decent.

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The Cadogan Arms

Sunday lunch was at The Cadogan Arms, a gastropub which is owned by the ETM Group who also own other well known gastropubs such as The Well, The Gun, The White Swan and The Botanist, etc. The Cadogan Arms closed for extensive refurbishment in December 2008 and reopened for business in April this year. Although I have had some good meals at the various ETM establishments in prior years, my last outing was a far less positive experience. We were at The Botanist last year (pre-blog) when we were served bread that was still frozen. This was probably a one off, but I just got the feeling that on that particular occasion the food was not going to be good and that we would be better served to simply abort our mission and leave before our mains.

Scallops with smoked pork belly & pea puree

Scallops with smoked pork belly & pea puree

We didn’t get good bread at The Cadogan Arms either. Our sourdough bread was dry and tasted a little stale. A starter of seared scallops with smoked pork belly and pea puree (£9.50) was also disappointing for the scallops were rubbery and bland. Unevenly sized to the point where one piece was about double the size of the other two, this bigger piece surprisingly released a noticeable amount of liquid when I sliced into it, as if it might have been cooked from frozen and was still defrosting on my plate. The pea puree was tasty, although the smoked pork belly wasn’t particularly smoky. The presentation of the dish was also poor for some of the balsamic dressing had smudged on the plate. This dish was unappetitising and I was unable to finish it.

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The Oak

Having been away for a couple of months, it was nice to make steps towards settling back into life in London again. My first foray back onto the London dining scene was to the ‘gastropub’ The Oak on Westbourne Park Road in Notting Hill, which turned out to be a far more pleasant experience than another first, one that involved going back to the gym (ouch).

Other than the usual starters, mains and desserts, The Oak also offers a selection of ‘small eats’ and antipastas, but they are probably best known for their wood fired pizzas. We started with paprika deep fried squid with rocket, chorizo, aioli and cherry tomatoes (£8.50), and chargrilled octopus with San Marzano tomatoes and rocket (£9.25). The accompanying salads were lovely and fresh, although the squid was slightly overcooked and chewy, and the octopus was extremely soft and limp – a firmer texture would have been more appetitising.

Paprika deep fried squid

Paprika deep fried squid

Chargrilled octopus

Chargrilled octopus

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Harwood Arms

Wild rabbit starter for two

Wild rabbit starter for two

I suffer from a disposition that I call ‘geographical disorientation’, an affliction which I liken to not ‘knowing’ where something is. It usually strikes when I am trying to remember where I have last parked my car, and most inconveniently when I am in a desperate hurry to go somewhere. I usually can’t remember, a debate ensues, which ultimately results in me having to guess. Living smack bang in the middle of my street, there is roughly a 50/50 chance that I have parked the car either to the left, or to the right of my flat. But it is not unheard of for me to occasionally guess wrong, which means that I invariably have to walk back on myself. Sigh – what to do?

The situation wasn’t particularly different when, over coffee the other day, I was trying to tell a foodie friend of mine, D, that the next restaurant on my agenda was the Harwood Arms in Shepherd’s Bush. ‘Oh no, it’s in Fulham’, she said. ‘No, I’m pretty sure it’s in Shepherd’s Bush’, I insisted, and so it went. But now that I have actually been to the Harwood Arms, the consequence of which was that I had to drive to, umm, Fulham, and not Shepherd’s Bush (and this was after finally locating my car), I now have no option but to swallow my words and admit to D that she was correct. Sigh, what to do?

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The Sportsman

Baked oyster with gooseberry granite

Baked oyster with gooseberry granite

I found it mildly amusing to read what had been written on the ‘location tab’ of The Sportsman’s website, a one Michelin starred gastropub situated in Kent. It goes something like this:

“A common theme in many write-ups and reviews is that The Sportsman is remote, bleak and a bit of a dump. Equally, many regulars find this point of view shocking as they love to arrive early, go for a walk on the beach and then have lunch or dinner.”

I suppose the view of the former group was not easily dispelled for me, seeing as the day of our visit was a rainy, bleak day in June. Who would have believed it was summer?! And the long journey from London (a tube ride to Victoria Station, a 1½ hour train ride to Faversham, and taxi from Faversham to The Sportsman) further confirmed the assertion of remoteness.

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The Pig’s Ear

Roasted partridge with white truffle broth

Roasted partridge with white truffle broth

I once entered into a humorous discussion with an American about English slang. And by that I mean slang used by British people for he really didn’t consider it correct to call such slang ‘English’. He was American after all, and from cowboy country – Texas to be exact, with a cowboy hat to show for it. Newly arrived in London, everything was quite astoundingly strange to him. For those of you who have ever had the experience of being an expatriate, the feelings of perplexity around the unfamiliarity of a new country might resound. But perhaps the most perplexing thing for him was the ‘language’. “Bob’s your uncle?? Now what is that suppose to mean?” he would say.

Hmm, I take his point. I too am an expatriate in London, but I do know what ‘Bob’s your uncle’ means. Jamie Oliver has used it often enough on his cooking shows, but I don’t know why it means what it does. But then, I’m hardly one to ask. Not having grown up in Britain, I’ve not been exposed to certain ‘English’ slang. Take for instance the idiom ‘pig’s ear’. Goodness knows I had no idea what an ear of a pig meant until it was revealed to me at an eating expedition to the gastropub, The Pig’s Ear, as rhyming slang for beer.

The Pig’s Ear had come to my attention on account of a similarly piggy friend of mine murmuring into my little piggy ear something about having recently dined there and thoroughly enjoying it. Browsing through Peter Prescott and Sir Terence Conran’s book, Eat London, I also happened to stumble across the write-up for The Pig’s Ear. They rate it as one of the best gastropubs in London. This meant only good things, which was why my friends, S and T, and I went in search of a little piggy adventure.

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The Restaurant at the 3 Weeds: The story of the girl and the 3 Weeds

Pork belly with caramelised apple and morcilla

Pork belly at The Restaurant at the 3 Weeds

In a few days I am sadly due to leave the glorious sunny and temperate Sydney shores to traverse my way over many seas back to the onset of autumn in London. Like a good movie, a splendid ending was called for. I wracked my brains, wanting a memorable story with a grand dining finale. So like a good location scout, I searched and searched and think I found the spot. It’s called The Restaurant at the 3 Weeds, and here is my story…

The story:

The story begins when, as a little six year old girl, I first registered the existence of the 3 Weeds Pub in my young consciousness. Back then, it was known as the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle, a pub situated roughly somewhere halfway between where I used to live and where I went to school. There would be many occasions when I’d walk past it, realising it was a place where those big grown ups would go to drink and be merry.

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