La Genova

then it hit: the garlic. An assault of still-raw garlic that was harsh, bitter and as brutal as the Battle of Monte Cassino. On and on it went, well into the next day and beyond

For some, the 1970’s is revered as something of a golden age for food, a halcyon interlude of eating and dining out. Certain quarters would have you believe we have recently witnessed a revival of all things seventies-related.

Were it to be true, it would be hard to regard this as anything other than a mawkish exercise in harking back to a time when people were growing up; a nostalgia for a collective, half-remembered and idealised past. The food, really, has nothing to do with it. Nostalgia is in the mind, not on the dinner plate. Take music: it is tempting to think that absolutely everybody was immersing themselves in Dark Side of the Moon on a home stereo system costing more than your house and with quadraphonic sound so luminous it was as if Roger Waters himself was having a breakdown right there in your living room. But then you actually go and watch an old episode of TOTP only to discover that this categorically was not the case.

Pundits as diverse as Alex James and Gregg Wallace are on record as declaring the 1970’s to be a particularly glorious period in our epicurean history. But if we associate just one person with the era then it is obviously Delia Smith. From the minute she appeared as presenter of Family Fare in 1973 Delia, as it is popularly claimed, Taught The Nation How To Cook. Her mannered approach was instructional, her programmes educational as opposed to entertaining. Of eating out in particular, Smith, perhaps somewhat typically, believes that the overall experience was simply “better back then” as chefs served “real food” and were “more in touch with what the public wanted.”

Yet all this fanfare for the common man doesn’t really ring true. “Bring back the buffet table!” is about as appealing a rallying cry as “bring back hanging!” Yet we should not be too quick to discredit Delia Smith. Her influence and authority on all things epicurean is, and continues to be real and genuine: sensible, aspirational, generous. And lest we forget, it was Delia who baked the cake for the album cover of Let It Bleed.

Gregg Wallace on the other hand is the English Defence League of British cooking. He misses the point entirely when bellowing about “the great 1970’s food revival”. Really? Where? A “57% increase in the sale of Chicken Kievs” the Ingredients Expert thunders with no small amount of reactionary pride. He obviously thinks the country has gone to the dogs because nobody is eating spam anymore. And that’s as maybe. Although he neglects to consider that we are floundering in the death throes of a recession deeper than Zaltman’s Metaphor. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies families have spent more on processed convenience food during these straitened times. Mums don’t go to Iceland because they suddenly come over all misty eyed for Showaddywaddy. They do so out of necessity because rocketing prices and falling incomes equate to consumption of the cheapest calories available.

But what were people eating in the 1970’s, and where were they eating it? Well for a start anything that is nowadays cooked in a Balti pan, served Chow Mein or eaten with chips. Add to that pub food: from the unreconstructed, un-tucked shirt and high street aggro of Wetherspoons to the A-road lay-by, beery suicide note that is the Toby Carvery. From Prawn Cocktail and Steak and Chips to Black Forest Gateaux, this is what we eat now. None of it has actually ever gone away. So much for nostalgia and revivalism.

But the biggest innovation of all to come from the 1970’s was the Italian restaurant, or at least its anglicised counterpart. People began holidaying abroad more than ever before initiating a desire for and interest in food from sunnier climes.

Our love of Italian food and the trattoria was born and fast became a staple of many a high street with its check-table clothes, pasta suppers and affordable reds. The Shirley Valentine charm of the trattoria signified something that was at once aspirational and exotic. Really, it is not hard to see why. Practically anything Italian at all, from organised crime to Fascism is capable of sounding alluring; glamorous, even. It is all just clinking glasses on the piazza and endless sunshine. Admittedly this was never going to translate to a high street in Stoke, say, but maybe the food – pizza and pasta, olives and olive oil, and coffee as smooth and as rich as a chauvinist astride a Vespa – could. As writer and blogger Tony Naylor says, “an Italian restaurant was, and is still considered to be the height of sophistication and for many, it feels like a big, glamorous night out.” While more practically, Anglo-Italian is “cheap to make, hard to balls up.”

La Genova on North Audley Street is Mayfair’s oldest Italian restaurant. A local stalwart since 1970 it remains largely unaltered, bright green neon sign out front and all. Owned by Rinaldo Pierini for nigh on 45 years, it was named after his city of birth, the capital of the region of Liguria, that small, bow-shaped province in the north of the country running from the French border down to La Spezia. Aside from a few house specialities that include Minestrone Soup and the regional dish of pasta with pesto, green beans and potatoes, Genovese fare is rather disappointingly not foremost on the menu. Although there is something touchingly naïve and old-fashioned about the way in which their oft-featured pesto is proudly described as ‘home made by the owner himself’.

To start, a steaming bowl of Trofie al Pesto was initially as comforting as only a good pasta dish can be. Like all well-made fresh pasta it was bouncy and velvety with plenty of fresh basil and a good glug of Extra Virgin. Then it hit: the garlic. An assault of still-raw garlic that was harsh, bitter and as brutal as the Battle of Monte Cassino. On and on it went, well into the next day and beyond.

Elsewhere on the menu there was Prawn Cocktail, obviously, and plenty of spaghetti dishes. Various things in breadcrumbs such as scampi, chicken and veal and lots of things cooked in brandy and cream. Salmon Ravioli in a cream sauce was perfectly decent in a non-U, napkins-folded-up-in-wine-glasses sort of way. Of the more Italian-sounding main courses there was Veal Fillet in Marsala. It didn’t taste bad simply because it tasted of very little. But then there was also a nicely comforting veal Osso Bucco which was far better. More of the same, sweet, cloying sauce that seems to accompany all dishes here but the softly caramelised meat fell obligingly from the bone. Every dish also came with the obligatory side plate of mixed veg.

A generous dollop of Tiramisu from the dessert trolley proved to be the high point of the meal. It was a splodge of pure retro dinner party heaven that would have done Delia proud. Superlatively creamy and rich, I clearly envisaged a satiated Michael Winner, all squinty, and gurgling “Marvellous!” “Historic!” And it truly was. Other choices were fresh fruits or ice cream.

I have painted a rather so-so and unexciting picture here but everything about La Genova from the decor to the menu is a genuine, un-ironic, concept-free throwback to a bygone era of dining. It has remained open and well-loved for the best part of half a century and there is no reason to suspect it will not remain so for as long again. There are those who might describe it as Mayfair’s ‘best kept secret’ yet Italian is our de facto restaurant of choice. Figuratively speaking, everyone eats here. The 1970’s may have well shaped, honed and melded our taste buds more than anyone would have imagined, but in this instance at least, nostalgia ain’t quite what it used to be.

Opinion: 5/10

La Genova
32 North Audley Street
London
W1K 6ZG

Tel: 020 7629 5916
Website: http://www.lagenovarestaurant.com

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Lima

a very Peruvian, very Japanese way of serving and eating raw fish where it was sliced thinly but then inundated by a mouth-puckering, punch-to-the-balls marinade

Consider, if you will, the potato: solanum tuberosum. You might think that there really is not a great deal to deliberate upon. The humble tuber, the lowly spud, that most unassuming and downright ordinary of all our habitual dinner table staples. What, really, is there to say?

The very term ‘meat and potatoes’ tells you all you need to know, surely. Even the expression itself is ponderous and clumsy, lolloping heavily off the tongue like Eric Pickles falling down some stairs. It is the answer, always, to the muttered enquiry of “what’s for dinner?” Because let’s face it, unless you are vegan or breatharian, that probably what is for dinner.

The phrase is any scenario or situation that is dull and tedious, but which is in some way necessary or undertaken under grim sufferance. Like putting the bins out, or going for a colonoscopy. The potato perfectly portrays the slow-witted and the ugly in expressions such as Couch Potato or Potato Faced. Socially and politically, the proverbial Hot Potato is something to be avoided at all costs.

The spud could just as easily be thought of as solid, stolid, reliable. Noble and understated, it is the plucky runner-up and never makes a fuss. It is a reassuring presence on any plate: our culinary comfort blanket. We know where we are with the potato. It is there to provide substance and turn that plate of food into dinner. Quite often turning dinner into something exultant. A furrow of indulgently creamy, crunchy-on-the-top mash on a Shepherd’s Pie, perhaps. Or the perfectly hot and fluffy, goose fat-crisped, roast accompaniment to the Sunday joint. Take that however you wish.

Never mind that meaningless, culturally insincere prefix ’The Great British…’, the true origin of the potato is of course South America: Peru to be exact. It is as Peruvian as ponchos and pisco. Studies link the discovery of the potato, or papa, to the area around Ayacucho and the Valley of Chulca in Peru’s High Andes some 10,000 years ago. The word papa is originally Quechua and simply means tuber. That is somehow apt as it certainly is El Papa: The Daddy of Peruvian cooking.

It has always been an important staple foodstuff for Peru. But far more than that, it is an edible almanac of a country’s way of life. ‘Potato Day’ is a national holiday. The ritual of colourfully and flamboyantly celebrating the potato harvest is piously observed among Andean farming communities. It is said that there are 5,000 (known) varieties grown in the country while according to the Smithsonian Institute “the range of potatoes in a single Andean field exceeds the diversity of nine-tenths of the potato crop of the entire United States.”

Which kinds of puts us to shame, really. In the UK you would only ever unearth that level of devotion to root vegetables among close-knit groups of professional hobbyists: bearded, Hobbit-like men in jumpers hidden away in sheds and village pubs, and who feature on regional news programmes with alarming regularity whenever a member of the Rusty Trombone Irregulars from the village of Little Felching wins some or other competition with some King Edwards whose protrusions look hilariously like scrota.

Spuds notwithstanding, Peru’s cuisine is diverse; certainly not just the llama dung and peasant spittle of popular reckoning. There is a symbiosis at play here. Like all of the world’s most enjoyable cuisines, Peru’s has been suffused, melded and without question enhanced by half a millennia of immigration and inbound trade from Europe, Africa and, remarkably, Japan (as evidenced by the countless raw fish and sashimi-type dishes to be found there).

It has been said that good things are currently going on in Lima (the city). Described these days as a progressive and cosmopolitan hub with an ever-flourishing restaurant scene, it has gained much recent international prestige to the extent that Ferran Adrià has described goings-on there as a “gastronomic revolution”. Others report that the city is a Latin American San Sebastian where a plus ultra band of pioneering chefs, a Charge of The Mamelukes, are turning Peruvian cooking on its head.

And now, all this appears to have transmogrified over to London. And to Lima (the restaurant).

Lima, then, is a Peruvian Restauran situated in Fitzrovia a stone’s throw from Tottenham Court Road and is the inspiration of Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. The dining room is smaller than you might think. The March & White interior of vividly coloured paintings, cleverly angled mirrors and sleek yet workman like slates and browns prevent it from feeling either too poky or too exclusive. Those appreciative of a bit of extra elbow room may find their fellow diners are sat a little too close, however.

At first glance the menu is peppered liberally with the weird and the wonderful: virtually every dish seemingly accompanied by something foraged from the Dark Heart of the Amazon – Sacha Inchi Oil, White Kiwicha, Algarrobo Tree Syrup. And what the hell is a Crazy Pea? Sadly, I never found out. There’s not really anything on the menu that will ambush the unwary and unadventurous. Lima is not that sort of place. Choices are really quite orthodox. That’s not to say it’s all just smoke and mirrors, all mouth and pantalones, it means business. Food here is as vivid as a Rivera mural and equally as meticulous. Meticulous in its detail plus bagfuls of bright colour and flavour.

Starters include distinctive tiraditos, ceviches and causas. A Scallop Tiradito, Aji Pepper and Cassava was a very Peruvian, very Japanese way of serving and eating raw fish. It was sliced thinly then inundated with a mouth-puckering, punch-to-the-balls marinade, eschewing any subtlety whatsoever. The point further emphasised by it being flamboyantly yellow in colour. Rather superb, actually.

A Sea Bream Ceviche was first-rate. Served with toasted giant cancha corn it was like being slapped around the face with a fish by a man in a pith helmet as the Nell Gwyn Suite plays in the background. The bream, a perfect fish for ceviche, was sweet and spankingly fresh. In any decent ceviche the fish isn’t actually fully raw. The acid in the lime juice denatures the proteins in the flesh, mimicking the act of cooking with heat. The flesh dries, become taut and opaque while retaining its rawness in both taste and brightness of flavour.

A lobster main course was a luminous patchwork of colour, if somewhat busy-looking, with plenty of the white meat and no shortage of zest. An accompanying bowl of leche de tigre ramped up the zest factor even more. Suckling Pig ‘Andean Style’ was the tenderest and juiciest pork sampled in many a while. It was meltingly, piggishly robust and helped on its way by golden wedges of crackling. Accompanying piquillo and rocoto peppers worked wonders in lending a smoky backdrop.

And puddings, Chocolate Mousse with Cinnamon Cream was made from the coveted Peruvian Cacao Porcelana bean. Characteristically mellow and buttery, it was demolished in short order. Even with an unnerving adornment of Blue Potato Crystals – somewhere between plantain and Walkers crisps – this was a luscious treat. Dulce de Leche Ice Cream, Beetroot Emulsion and Maca Root was not as successful. Beetroot was entirely the wrong flavour here. It would have enjoyed a much more natural flirtationship with chocolate as opposed to the caramel it came with.

As for drinks, well obviously you’ll be on the cocktails. Sharp, foamy pisco sours are unquestionably the house speciality and damn fine they were too. Look out for  the Cuenta del Diablo containing resh red chillies.

Inevitably you have to weigh all this up against the sustainability and ethical dilemmas posed by flying expensive ingredients several thousands of miles from a third world country to dinner tables in a fancy-pants London restaurant. But purely as a gastronomic end point – and showcase for modern Latin American cookery – Lima is brilliant. Refined, imaginative and most importantly fun. Although barely a potato in sight.

Opinion: 8/10

Lima
31 Rathbone Place
London
W1T 1JH

Phone: +44 203 002 2640
Website: http://www.limalondon.com
Email: enquiry@limalondon.com
Twitter: @Lima_London

Spuntino

Spuntino is no soigné continental café. It is a place for quenching the libidinal urge of hunger, most probably accompanied by a skinful of booze

There will always be an upwelling of ‘scenes’ that are fleetingly ‘now’; pockets of ephemeral trendiness that rise without trace and then dissipate just as quickly. Case in point: Camden in the mid 90’s. If you were anybody who was anybody, this was where you were back in 1995. But then Menswear turned up, Tony Blair got out his Fender Strat and then everybody went home. Similarly, Shoreditch and Hoxton were where it’s at until about 2006. Now apparently it’s Bermondsey where it – whatever ‘it’ is – is happening.

Fashionable postcodes don’t start life that way. Cheap areas of town would by and large have attracted poor artists, students and writers who would lodge, eat and socialise in these areas, purely out of necessity more than anything else. Eating houses, cafés, pubs, bars, music halls, galleries, debating societies and bookshops would inevitably flourish. Fledgling vibrancy eventually becomes a Scene. But at some point a Scene becomes a Fashion and will eventually end its life as a tourist trap. From Montmartre to the Mardi Gras this trajectory has pretty much always been consistent. Yet what the scenesters and rubberneckers at the latter stages of this trajectory never quite grasp is that these areas, quite often poor, are where real people, real families and real communities also live. The grubby local boozer is no longer a Grubby Local Boozer but becomes “like, edgy and, like, real.”

Take areas like Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Hackney. You really need to go back to the 1980’s when there was any kind of scene: an art scene in actual fact. Whitechapel Art Gallery became a hub for artists and their exhibitions. Though not before recession became the crystallising factor in affording local artists the opportunities for creating temporary exhibition spaces and galleries in empty office blocks and derelict warehouses. From here, the Young British Artists movement was able to gain a foothold.

Fast forward quarter of a century and there is no longer any aesthetic or cultural reference points. There is no rebellion, no sense of subversion. It is all rather glib and flippant. Your archetypal Shoreditch Scenester “lies somewhere between MGMT, The Inbetweeners and Derek Zoolander” as waspishly articulated by journalist Alex Rayner. When all the cool kids un-ironically hunch around a table in Starbucks and say, actually say, things like “amazeballs” and “totes lolz” you know it’s time to pack up and leave. As Danny The Drug Dealer’s well-worn line goes, “they’re selling Hippy wigs in Woolworths, man”, although in this case, one would probably expect to find those really shit Shutter Shades. An ‘edgy’ East London postcode does not a counter-culture make.

There’s something rather prophetic about all this: the denouement of the actual Broyardian Hipster who Got What He Wanted. And with that in mind it is to Soho where we now return. For it was here, indisputably, that the Hipster subculture of the 1940’s and later the Beat Generation of the 1950’s took root in the UK. From as early as the 1930’s intellectuals, writers and artists were drawn to Soho’s back streets: a marginal and clandestine underworld all of its own. Out of sight of the squares, Soho developed as the capital’s jazz and blues epicentre when Club Eleven, London’s first and arguably most iconic jazz club opened its doors. It was all about the bebop; being hip to the bomb; wigging out in “a present that existed only on the existential wings of sound.”

From Hipsters to Ravers, the skiffle clubs materialised starting with a first floor room above a pub on Wardour Street in 1952. The Beat Poets gathered wherever they were able to. Before long Soho went electric with the opening of music clubs such as Whisky a Go Go, the 100 Club and the Marquee Club, and record shops (nowadays clustered around Berwick Street). What is clear is that over a forty year period there wasn’t a defined series of movements as such, more a seamless, amorphous evolution of a way of thinking. That and the right hang-outs, clubs and cafés.

Soho – its residents and itinerants – would have needed feeding. They may well have done so at Spuntino had they the opportunity. Spuntino is no soigné continental café. It is a place for quenching the libidinal urge of hunger, most probably accompanied by a skinful of booze. Located among the unmarked doorways, sex-shops and dive bars of the grubby end of Soho, Spuntino is itself an unmarked doorway and is as minimalist as it gets. It doesn’t even have a phone number.

It is a New York bar-cum-diner located stylistically and spiritually somewhere between Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. It clearly pays homage to West Village’s iconic Café Ino, though whether by accident or by design it is hard to say. The food melds New York bar food (Sliders) with Southern comfort eating (Steak’n’Eggs, Grits) and intermittent Italian influences (Mussels and Saffron Agretti). It is also mostly carbs-based (Mac’n’Cheese – undoubtedly useful for soaking up the drink), although some will no doubt be reassured to know there is lighter, more herbivorous fare on the menu in stoic defiance of all that swaggering starch (Jerusalem Artichoke and Treviso Salad). There is room for only 26 by way of stools around a central zinc-topped bar. The suitably down-town interior is dimly lit, but don’t let this fool you: a lot of effort has clearly gone into the seemingly effortless cool of glazed tile walls, retro prints and exposed low-wattage bulbs. Patrons are accompanied by a soundtrack of gutsy rhythm’n’blues with the occasional diversion through jazz and the more avant-garde.

Food is mostly ‘taster’-sized portions with a few larger ‘plates’.To start, Eggplant Chips and Fennel Yoghurt: the former in the now rather Hackney-ed military-style tin dish, the latter in a shot glass. This was brilliant, the chips were as precise a facsimile of actual chips as it’s possible to be without being potato. Their coating contained actual fennel seeds and had an extremely gratifying crunch. Evidence, I’m sure, of the triple-cook treatment.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken was served in a similar fashion. Fried chicken was once the time honoured staple of the 2am drunk. All gristle and slimy sinew it was often a good deal less pleasant than uvulating the corpse of a burns victim. Nowadays thanks to the popularity of American homestyle, Japanese and Korean street food vendors you now find that many a venue is trying to make their dude food the best it can be. A basting of buttermilk before cooking tenderises and enriches the meat and ensures the coating is fried to a perfect, golden crisp. Here at Spuntino I was on the fence. Their pieces were a bit small. They do it better across town in Jin Juu.

A focus of the menu is its (mini burger) sliders. Here, a Ground Beef and Bone Marrow Slider was coarse with a welcome seam of minerality from the bone marrow. A further tidal wave of salty savouriness came courtesy of a slathering of melted cheese. Small size but big taste. A ‘Brick Lane’ Salt Beef and Pickles Slider was a great recreation of its east end cousin and as tender as a baby. Others included, interestingly, spiced mackerel.

If Spuntino is renowned for one dish and one dish only then it can only be its unofficial house special of Truffled Egg Toast – a doorstep of white bread, egg yolk dropped into the centre, enveloped in Fontina cheese and truffle oil and then grilled. It is of course a cheese toasty, albeit one as rich as Croesus and twice as immoral. It has already sent countless online devotees sliding blissfully into a coma, and let’s be honest, probably a diabetic one. It remains a menu must-have although a Kohlrabi, Hazelnut and Black Sesame salad, light and snappy, proved the perfect antidote.

Brown Sugar Cheesecake with Drunken Prunes to finish. This is the end to a meal you would be disappointed not to find here. Creamily smooth, just stodgy enough and with a burnt, sour molasses tang. Who knew that bourbon soaked prunes would taste this good?

Drinks? Bourbon neat. And more bourbon. There is a comprehensive choice of the stuff and when perched at the bar like an amphetamine-frazzled beatnik you will want to indulge too. Cocktails tend towards the short and hard and for the more continentally minded Spuntino has a small, Italian-leaning wine list.

Soho, then, has always been ‘in’. It is not the sort of place that drifts in and out of fashion. Its streets have always been the capital’s iconoclastic and bohemian heart. It has certainly got all of West London’s coolest restaurant but then that is no surprise. Spuntino may be new to the neighbourhood – a mere upstart – but it has already become one of those coolest.

Opinion: 7/10

Spuntino
61 Rupert Street
London
W1D 7PW

Website: http://www.spuntino.co.uk
Twitter: @Spuntino

Clos Maggiore

just as Prometheus was said to have smuggled fire to humans inside the hollow wand of a fennel stalk, it was as if a small corner of the Mediterranean was smuggled in to Clos Maggiore with this dish

So what exactly is it that people look for when they go out to eat? What do we want from a restaurant?

What we want is somewhere that, looking in from the outside, comes across as the kind of place you would quite fancy being in. That means peering in through the window and happening upon a well lit room, preferably full – or close to being so, with the patrons appearing as though they’re having a thoroughly pleasant time of it.

If you’re unlucky ‘that place’ might be something like this:

“I’m so dreadfully sorry, we’re full” would come the fawningly disingenuous response from the Maître D: a Humble Heep; an Honest Iago; an altogether loathsome specimen whose ill-concealed smirk and unwavering glare actually convey, “I’m so dreadfully sorry, we shall only be fleecing fraudulently socialist Latin American dictators and Arab princes tonight. This isn’t really your sort of place”. Oh well, never fancied a bottle of that Romanée-Conti 1978 at 15 grand a pop anyway.

So now you are in, you are seated. All is well. Except it isn’t because your table is hidden away down a corridor, past a cleaning cupboard and slap bang outside the lavs in and out of which a parade of boorish Jeremy Clarksons stumble all evening long, shaking themselves dry as they pass your table and return to their seats. The waitress avoids all eye contact; the sommelier’s body odour is more toxic than ricin; you’ve got a wobbly table; there’s a light flickering above you; the menu is either mired in a time when citrus fruits were considered acceptable as an hors d’oeuvre (orange juice or grapefruit halves, anyone?), or else it’s all about needlessly tossy, irritating ‘concepts’ (a fishdog is not an on-trend menu must-have, it’s a goddam fish finger goddam sandwich); the starter is straight out of a tin; the main is straight out of a microwave and you’re supposed to be on a date but thus far the evening has gone so badly that even Pepé le Pew would be reconsidering his chances of being definitely on for some action later.

Hopefully your evening will go a little better. The two questions posed at the outset might more usefully be paraphrased as What Makes A Good Restaurant? In many ways, What Makes A Good Restaurant is Clos Maggiore. What makes it especially ‘good’ is so cunningly, cleverly simple: it is the ‘restaurant’ bit. No gimmicks, fads or trends, it is a place where you go to eat and have a nice time. That is all.

In one sense Clos Maggiore might be considered resolutely unfashionable. It is the kind of place that ‘Nobody’ goes to, ‘Nobody’ tweets about. Yet the place is always full. Full of people who enjoy going out to restaurants, who quite simply derive pleasure from the social niceties, and niceness, of all that entails. Mostly, it is couples enjoying a quiet meal in a place that ticks all the boxes.

Edward VIII favoured the private upstairs rooms at Rules for a quick knee trembler with Wallis Simpson while Nobu was the setting for Boris Becker’s broom-cupboard caperings. Clos Maggiore on the other hand has imperceptibly managed to win over the public as Harden’s “London’s Most Romantic Restaurant” of 2013. Toptable’s voters have gone a considerable step further by bestowing it with “Most Romantic in the UK”. There must be something in the Beaujolais as Wine Spectator recognises it as having one of London’s best wine lists and according to Hugh Johnson, “the wine is worth a week of anybody’s time”. Not bad without there being a single blogger in sight.

“But it is a romantic place” is the widely held aphorism. Yes it is, albeit in a very conventional sense: ideal for that dinner à deux intime under subdued lighting in a well turned-out room. The brief was to recreate the inns and bistros of provençale France. The rear conservatory, with its striking overhanging cherry blossoms is both visually sumptuous and the place to request a seat. While there may not quite be a sultry evening sky perfumed with rosemary and lavender and resonating with chirruping cicadas, it is still one of the better dining rooms in the West End. The “climate hot and dry, the colours vivid, the terrain varied from plains to mountains…brilliance and light and vivid of landscapes, yellow – old gold” of Van Gogh’s Provence is something truly romantic and evocative. Has Clos Maggiore perhaps missed a trick in not trying to recreate this instead?

From the outside it looks a bit like That Posh Bistro On The High Street, and in a sense it is. At its worst it you might glance at its frontage and consider it a bit Market Town Tory with its blue-blooded scarlet frontage and chocolate-box potted shrubberies. At its best it is rather smart: that Friday Evening place you might dress up a bit for. Rather than being pastorally provençal it’s perhaps the sort of place you might come across on Paris’s Rue Saint-Louis en L’Ile.

When it comes to the food, the more quixotic elements of the South are eschewed in favour of a tried-and-tested route through French cooking. Nonetheless head chef Marcellin Marc, formerly of double Michelin Starred Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence, and his team have fashioned a tight, well-balanced and altogether very approachable menu.

A garden herb salad starter was reasonable; the requisite sweetness of the greenery was there despite being given the treatment by a truffle vinaigrette. I’m not really a fan of this. Truffle oil is this decade’s balsamic vinegar – a faux-condiment that now seems to labour as contagiously as a TB epidemic in kitchens up and down the country in an attempt to ‘posh-up’ things that have no need of being poshed-up. I would have preferred the real thing. You can keep your dressings. Nothing lifts a plate of chaste, infant leaves and spring veg like a dissolute mountain of actual, freshly grated black truffle. But then that’s just me.

Plump scallops with seaweed butter was a top notch dish with a delicate, polite intimation of the marine. A confit duck leg with foie gras, pain d’épice and poached rhubarb is a tried-and-tested combination but it is so for a reason. Each part of the dish managed to elevate every other part.

Sea bass came with an aromatic fennel salad – another combination typique where the herb’s lustrous flamboyance worked as a foil to the mildness of the bass. Just as Prometheus was said to have smuggled fire to humans inside the hollow wand of a fennel stalk, it was as if a small corner of the Mediterranean was smuggled into Clos Maggiore with this dish. Breast of guinea fowl with garden vegetables was fine, lovely. Just a fairly nice bit of bird with a few veg.

Dessert was ‘Paris Brest’ with Praline Ice Cream. It is choux pastry with a praline cream filling: kind of like a cross between a Victoria Sponge and a profiterole.

So what about that wine list? With around 2,000 wines in total it was almost like settling down with a good book for the evening. But you’ve got to go du pays really haven’t you? So a Southern Rhône red that sat stylistically between a Châteauneuf and a Gigondas and a fraction of the price. Spicy, rustic, job done.

You will have a great time at Clos Maggiore and you will enjoy good, polite, formal French bistro cooking. You want to go out for a great dinner, right? On a date? Off to the theatre? Fancy a nice, proper restaurant with proper table linen and a proper wine list? Clos Maggiore is the proverbial hidden gem of the West End.

Opinion: 8/10

Clos Maggiore
33 King Street
Covent Garden
WC2E 8JD

Telephone: 020 7379 9696
Website: http://www.closmaggiore.com
Email: enquiries@closmaagiore.com
Twitter: @ClosMaggioreWC2

Café Mauresque

I love cumin. It is easily my favourite spice. In fact, it is so good it is mentioned in the Bible – twice

So Easter has passed by once again, except nobody actually noticed as a result of it still being winter (at the time of writing). Not that it is ever much to get worked up about here in the UK. We do try, though. We endeavour to shove a bit of crass, Christmassy commercialism Easter’s way but it never really enters into the spirit. Try and lend it a bit of festive cheer but Easter just doesn’t want to know. Usually at Easter time you can be energised by the rising sap of spring: lambs, chicks, daffodils, blossom, all that; nature once again becoming green and fecund; the hazy burr of lazy summer days on their way once more. Much, genuinely, to feel good about. But this year it already feels as though nights are drawing in for the winter. It might as well be November. And as Easter slopes away so too does any hope that Persephone might fling any fruitfulness our way.

If you happen to be from Seville then none of this will be of immediately pressing concern. Sevillanos go to town for the duration of La Semana Santa – Holy Week. Seriously go to town. The pasos, (processions) of Seville’s Holy Week are the most pre-eminent event in the country’s religious calendar. Seville is Spain’s Vatican City, its Canterbury.

Religion – Spain’s Roman Catholicism: dark, brooding, muscular, yet always highly extravagant – hangs thick in the air in Seville, and nowhere more so than in Santa Cruz the city’s old medieval centre. The old town, or El Laberinto (‘the labyrinth’) as locals know it is exactly that: a warren of narrow streets and alleyways. It is like a hothouse. Temperatures soar from, well, Easter onwards and so the shade afforded by the many cool patios and plazas is a celestial blessing.

Seemingly every street, every public thoroughfare is named after some Saint. Even routine street furniture is suffused with the deathless whisper of The Resurrection, The Passion, The Virgin: The Phone Box of Christ The Holy Saviour, or The Pissoir of Our Most Blessed Redeemer. Pious wall murals are always demanding your attention.

It all rather makes the Camino del Santiago in the country’s cool, Atlantic north look like a village fête. Whereas back home you might organise a raffle for fixing the roof at the vicarage, here during Semana Santa you’ve got the Hermandades y Cofradías de Penitencia. These are the ‘Brotherhoods’, the masked penitents dressed in the Klu Klux Klan garb of head-to-toe robe and pointy mask processing through the streets. But it is really all a bit sinister, a bit Da Vinci Code. The whole thing has more than a whiff of The Inquisition and murky associations with Franco-era atrocities about it than I am entirely comfortable with. These Brotherhoods are said to undertake ‘Self-Regulated Religious Activities’, which, I would imagine, include manacling heretics to racks and removing their tongues.

But I do love the city and Santa Cruz in particular. It feels charmingly shabby. Its plazas of bright whites and sunlit gold are blithely carefree. It is characteristically unhurried in that way that Southern Europeans have made their own. And the scent of orange trees really does hang in the air. (There’s a great Irish Pub as well, but that’s another story).

Yet far from being a Catholic stronghold, Seville was of course a Muslim city and was part of Moorish Spain for several centuries until the reconquista of Ferndinand III. These influences continue to exist everywhere for all to see. You only have to look at the cathedral’s bell tower La Giralda to know that for all intents and purposes it is a minaret. The city is as much Muslim as it is Christian.

These morisco influences are nowhere more prevalent than in the very catholic – that’s ‘small c’ catholic, the true meaning of the word – cuisine and flavours that were developed after North African, Berber and Arab foodstuffs and cooking methods were brought to Iberia: cumin, saffron, almonds, lemons, dried fruits. Things we think of today as Spanish staples exist only as a result of the trade routes south and east. Paella and olive oil? It was the Moors who introduced rice and the cultivation of olive trees to Spain.

But we are not in Seville we are in Canterbury. Home of the Anglican Church this time and home to Café Mauresuqe, a Moorish themed Andalusian-tapas-Moroccan-tagine-kind-of restaurant and tapas bar. What’s more, it is in the heart of the city’s old medieval centre, with, as it happens, a pretty decent Irish Pub almost next door…

Café Mauresque is immediately a visually arresting and atmospheric place to be. From the morisco style ceramic tiling to the horseshoe arch motifs and even the lighting, it is not a million miles away from a Tangiers souk or a Córdoba back street. Without qualification, Café Mauresque is the loveliest looking restaurant in the city.

You will find a decent selection of Andalusian-Morrocan tapas dishes, cous cous, stews and many more Europeanised main course dishes such as Pork Belly in Fino Sherry and the perhaps unconvincing-sounding Steak with Manchego Butter. Moorish style Spanish tapas is certainly still infrequent enough for it to pique interest, which is in no small part aided and abetted by consistently dexterous cooking.

Fried potatoes with harissa yoghurt were hot and crisp. Hummus came with its characteristic garnishes: a generous slug of fruity olive oil and a spike of paprika. It was creamy, woody and avoided tasting like chewed cardboard, as it so often can. Brochettes of squid and chorizo, then lamb a la plancha were both decent and hearty; the former in particular. Plenty of smoky flavours here as well. 

For me the highlight of the tapas dishes were the Kefta, or Moroccan lamb meatballs. They were both plump and rich with cumin and served with sweet-sharp tomato sauce. I love cumin. It is easily my favourite spice. In fact, it is so good it is mentioned in the Bible – twice. Not only does it remain an integral aspect of the Moroccan kitchen but also the dining table where it is used as a plate-side condiment. It is such a warm, convivial aroma and always just pungent enough. Lamb, tomato, cumin in combination just does it for me.

More lamb: a tagine with dates and ginger and served in its namesake conical pot was excellent. Softly yielding, fatty meat slid with minimal effort from its shank bone tether. It was as filling and as reassuring as only a good pot of stew can be. Of all the meats lamb turns warm, sweet notes to its best advantage.

Dessert was Sticky Date Cake and was sticky, date-y, and erm, cake-y  accompanied with Spanish helado and washed down with sweet mint tea.

Canterbury is a kind of spiritual home for me. It is a place of childhood memories as well as being an adolescent stamping ground. Many halcyon days (and nights) were spent there as a student and then later on working in the city’s best bookshop. And it was during that time that Café Mauresque opened and became an instant hit.

Over a decade later it remains Canterbury’s best and most stylish restaurant. Moorish and moreish in equal measure.

Opinion: 8/10

Café Mauresque
8 Butchery Lane
Canterbury
Kent
CT1 2JR


Tel: (01227) 464300
Website: http://www.cafemauresque.com
Twitter @CafeMauresque

La Trappiste

my personal torment would be being water boarded by a ruddy-faced Bavarian wearing nothing but lederhosen, stockings and his Wehrmacht epaulettes

Just occasionally in life you encounter places that capture the imagination like nowhere else. For good or for ill, there will be these isolated little moments in time that leave an indelible mark on the imagination, an ineradicable footprint on the sands of memory for all time. Oh sure, there will be all those irresistible stirrings brought on by the usual reveries: The Sounds Of Radio Four Coming From The Kitchen Of An Avuncular Great Aunt Living In Devon; That Kiss In The Park By The River On That Summer Afternoon; Vomiting Down Your Shirt In A Packed Bar…

Truth be told, it’s probably not in anyone’s interests to try and turn their lives into a Proust novel. But there are two occasions I can think of in my life where I have tried to retrace my steps somewhere but have simply been unable to do so, second or any subsequent time round.

Both places are restaurants. First was a little trattoria in the side streets up in Paris’s 18ème arrondissement. It was my first time in La Ville-Lumière. 1995, a Sixth Form French trip. It was lunch time, we lost our teachers for the afternoon, found this little place and ordered pizzas and beer and smoked Marlboro Reds. After scraping our money together we hadn’t quite enough to pay but the owner wasn’t the slightest bit concerned. We stayed for hours. And I have never managed to find this place since  – I don’t know if it still exists even. I realise this must say something about me as a seventeen year old, the fact that one of my enduring adolescent memories is enjoying an ad hoc yet rather civilised (surprising, considering the company) extended lunch in Paris.

The second and more recent occasion was a place in the centre of Munich and for the life of me I cannot remember what it was called. All I know is that it was a stone’s throw from the Marienplatz. I’ve tried putting every conceivable combination of words into Google – ‘German restaurants Munich city centre’, ‘local restaurants in Munich’, ‘Bavarian offal fetish dungeon hell hole’ – but all to no avail. The place does not seem to exist on Street View either. And I so desperately wanted to find this place again, really just to see if it actually exists and I haven’t just invented the whole thing.

Since I have no details of the place: name, location, anything at all to point to it actually existing outside of my own mind I can’t therefore review it, as was my intention. It would be like writing a review of The Krusty Krab. So instead I shall adopt a persona – let’s say this character’s name is S Truffle – and write a narrative piece in the first person perspective about the experience of visiting a restaurant in Munich.

***“In the evening I went looking for a restaurant. This is often a problem in Germany”. The words of Bill Bryson in actual fact. And as I was to find out, never truer words spoken. Finding somewhere to go for dinner was such a monumental trial each and every time I began to wonder whether I, S Truffle, was merely a character in somebody else’s mind – a chimera existing solely for somebody else’s amusement. Perhaps their plans for me would be my eternal languishment in a tartarus of Bavarian cuisine right here in Munich. Was being held fast, buried to my neck and slowly drowning in a quicksand of weisswurst and pickled lung stew my nightmare or somebody else’s? Never mind being burnt to death with a lighter or being spoon-fed bits of my own body until there was nothing left, my own personal torment would be being water boarded by a ruddy-faced Bavarian wearing nothing but lederhosen, stockings and his Wehrmacht epaulettes.

Suddenly I was no longer alone. I had a companion. We chose a restaurant. I say ‘chose’, it was more like finding you’ve been entered for Shirley Jackson’s lottery. As we pushed open the door, parted the heavy draught-excluding curtain, I think I actually exclaimed aloud, “Oh Jesus Christ”.

The only free seats were at a large communal table. I thought we had mistakenly stumbled into a private party. Pine-panelled walls, mounted animal heads, various Tyrolean curios and memorabilia all gave the room an ominous mien. Was this in actual fact some clandestine Austro-Bavarian masonic lodge meeting? Everyone in the room was middle-aged, well-to-do and ruddy. They definitely all harboured extreme right-wing views. Maybe they were cannibals? It crossed my mind. The woman seated directly opposite was particularly intent on staring me out. Surreptitious whispering heavy with glottals and menace came from all corners. I’m sure everybody was now licking their lips. We were not welcome here. At all.

A menu nevertheless arrived. As feared it was a veritable biopsy table of internal organs and bits of digestive system. I was able to pick out the schweinehaxe which I somehow knew was a regional speciality of pork knuckle. My companion settled for liver dumplings, whatever the hell they were. If I hadn’t navigated as judiciously as I did the task of rendering what German I have into English I know for a fact that plates of quivering udder and boiled colon would have been placed in front of us. For some irrepressible reason I had the compulsion to order, in English, in a comedic ‘Allo ‘Allo German accent though was begged not to. Our food arrived. Needless to say every mouthful was terrifyingly, nerve-shreddingly horrific. I heard myself scream. I woke with a start. Around me was a sea of leering, ruddy faces. I was held fast in quicksand up to my neck. A faceless man wearing only stockings and Wehrmacht epaulettes advanced upon me with a tray of quivering udders and assorted boiled colons. I began to scream before waking with a start.***

But If I could finds this place to review it would score a perfect ten. Ten for the memories and minus ten for everything else.

chips were of the school dinner variety – pale, flabby, fat and greasy

And so to Canterbury’s titular La Trappiste and the most unwelcoming, uncongenial establishment encountered since S Truffle went on holiday to Munich by mistake. It is a Franco-Belgian themed brasserie and bar in the old city centre, practically under the shadows of the cathedral’s splendid western façade. I still love Canterbury. It manages to be a surprisingly young city thanks to it being home to two universities and countless overseas students.

La Trappiste occupies an impressive and roomy space at the intersection of four streets. It really could not have asked for a better head start in the battle for the hearts and minds of the city’s inhabitants. It can be approached from all angles. If you are going to or from the cathedral you will probably walk past it. An attractive bar provides the centre piece. There is even an on-site bakery whose wares are displayed in the window. It is a damn wonder the space wasn’t made into a Prêt or a Starbucks. It is also a damn shame as well…

On our first visit one summer evening we didn’t even get to try the food. Being shown to an outside table was the last we saw of anybody. After decanting us to our seats and sloping back inside, the waiter then resumed his duties of busily standing by the bar. We didn’t even get menus. I should of course point out that the place was actually empty inside. Plenty of staff though. So industrious was their bar-propping that their elbows must have worn deep furrows into the counter. What the hell was their problem? After a Best-of-British, hand-wringing fifteen minutes of apologetically telling each other “don’t worry they’ll be along in a minute,” I thought about going in to say “look, I’ll cook our meal. Do you mind if I pour myself a Leffe?”

I did go in to ask what was going on. The shift manager’s response was to spit: “right, so are you gonna leave then now, or what?” in the same tone a chap might employ for requesting another chap’s presence outside for fisticuffs.

And that was that.

I just knew I had to go back again. This time for lunch, labouring under the misapprehension that things couldn’t possibly be any worse. Once more I was shown to a table but this time hidden behind a pillar and to get to it I had to squeeze between it and the next table, depositing my scrotum – accidentally, I hasten to add – into their food whenever I passed by. The table was so tiny it would have been more comfortable eating off my lap.

I kept things as simple as possible by ordering Steak Frites and a beer, a Grimbergen Bruin. It was tart, brown and fizzy and pretty damn good, and sadly the only thing to scale the lofty heights of above average. The steak, a sirloin, was requested medium-rare but arrived torched to oblivion and devoid of any kind of discernible characteristic that may have identified it as sirloin steak. All essence and flavour must have been surgically removed before it left the the kitchen, thus leaving it with less taste than the guests at a Jeffrey Archer dinner party.

Chips were of the school dinner variety – pale, flabby, fat and greasy – and bore not the slightest resemblance to any French or indeed Belgian Fries I’ve come across in my lifetime. In fairness though an accompanying Béarnaise sauce was decent.

La Trappiste is utterly half-arsed and breathtakingly arrogant to boot. I cannot decide whether management don’t know how to run a café restaurant or simply don’t care. It cannot be stressed enough just how much this place has everything going for it. Even the affected interior rough-and-readiness really does look like that of a continental café. And by god, Belgium really does know how to produce stuff people love to eat: fries, mussels, chocolate, waffles and seemingly innumerable varieties of really amazing beer. But sadly not here. Canterbury: so close to Belgium yet so far.

Opinion: 2/10

La Trappiste
1-2 Sun Street
Canterbury
Kent
Tel: (01227) 479111
Website: http://www.latrappiste.com

Shoryu Ramen

the stock in trade of Shoryu Ramen is vigorous, noodle-slurping, informal comfort food

Shoryu Ramen!! Said aloud, or even just written down on paper, the name of this Hakata-influenced ramen bar is more like a battle cry from a revolutionary early 90’s combat arcade game that people of a certain age (i.e. mine) will no doubt recognize. Which is why, when I first heard of this place, my first reaction was “a-ha! I know what shoryu means!” (It means ‘rising dragon’ by the way).

First things first though: I know absolutely nothing about Japanese cuisine. To me it is a twilight world shrouded in intrigue and secrecy, a whole other alien universe. A demi-monde everlastingly shut-off from the prying and greedy round eyes of the Gaijin. The concept (for it is undoubtedly a concept) of Japanese ‘high eating’ is built around etiquette and ritual and takes its roots from the country’s ancient tea ceremonies. The manner in which one eats, the aesthetic appreciation of a shared meal, is as much part of the experience as the eating itself, maybe more so. And this is something that does not really square with our own occidental world view of food and what it means to eat.

Only when a peep behind the noren into the ryokan is permitted do we see the sheer breadth of Japanese cuisine. And it is staggering. Sushi and sashimi for instance, both utterly different (though often thought of as one and the same by us westerners), yet each their own distinct universe. How many ways of serving tuna or mackerel can you think of? Well you could probably walk down an – apparently – unmarked alley just off the Shibuya in Tokyo into a bamboo shed with space for only five only to find it is a triple Michelin Starred alter at the temple of sashimi. Here, a single fish might be cut, sliced, prepared and served in about five hundred different ways before your eyes. A haiku in epicurean form where meaning and connotation vary from city to city, region to region.

Society changes. And so do our palettes. And as these both change so again does the world around us, driven as it is by our bellies. Foreign, or gaijin food probably now comprises the majority of what Japan puts into its mouth, and interestingly, this what it now exports back to the rest of the world. Since Imperial Japan kicked off in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration, rapid economic growth and industrialisation coincided with contact and trade with the previously shunned outside world. This of course brought gaijin food to Japan. Fast forward to now and Kobe (Wagyu) beef is Japan’s ubiquitous foodie export to the world. It may be sought after as an exorbitantly overpriced bovine delicacy on high-end menus the world over but steak is western food sold back to westerners. They are even doing it with whisky – what is Japanese whisky, as bloody brilliant as it is, if it isn’t basically just Scotch?

A great deal of Japanese food today is in fact Chinese in origin. It is Chinese noodles and broth that form the beating heart of modern day eating in Japan. See that steaming bowl of ramen and those tempting gyoza? As Chinese as child labour. And that is exactly what is served at Shoryu Ramen on Lower Regent Street, just off Piccadilly.

Dispel at once any notions of delicacy, obscurity or refinement; the averted-gaze-and-shy-giggle-behind-the-hand; the imperial-military-severity of tsukemono or hamachi restaurants. The stock in trade of Shoryu Ramen is vigorous, noodle-slurping, informal comfort food.

As you may or may not have guessed ramen is ‘noodles in broth’. Any Japanese-ness attributed to ramen is of course the fact that there are an utterly bewildering number of iterations of the dish, be they regional or ingredient based. Shoryu Ramen specialises in only one type and that is the tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu, something totally different). Not only that, the tonkotsu ramen served here are of the Hakata variety – specific to the Hakata district of the city of Fukuoka.

Tonkotsu means ‘pork bone’. The resultant broth is made from boiling down pork bones, fat and meat over many hours. Miso this is not. This variety is currently popular back home plus there are already two others in London: Bone Daddies and the eponymously named Tonkotsu, with many more due to open soon. If the craze for ramen restaurants takes off big time in the capital, well, you read it here first.

Immediately upon entry I was assailed by a strangulated shout of “Irasshaimase!” Not knowing what was going on around me my instinctive reaction was to block the anticipated ball of energy about to slam into my midriff. (You can’t duck underneath, remember, and leaping over would leave you open to attack from a well-seasoned World Warrior – eh, kids?). But no, Irasshaimase thankfully turns out to be a greeting yelled to all and sundry who step over the threshold.

Shoryu Ramen is a compact space. Lunch time diners fit elbow to elbow along a single row of tables although there is also an area of communal tables and benches at the front by the window – probably the best place to sit. Walls are of the ubiquitously à la mode bare brick variety save for some decidedly retro swirling motifs. Browns and oranges are the dominant colours. It certainly didn’t put me in mind of something I’d expect to see in downtown Hakata. More like a cafeteria in a Scandinavian airport in the 1970’s. The overall effect was not as suicide-inducing as it sounds. It worked and looked stylish. My visit was also accompanied by a background soundtrack of post-bop jazz that put me in mind of writer Haruki Murakami for some reason. 

I found my first few appetisers to be a waste of time sadly. Pickled cabbage was really just flaccid curls of raw white cabbage soaked in Sarsons. It was as every bit as hair shirted as it sounds. Yamitsuki Asian cucumber was equally as unforgiving. Though dressed in sesame and sea salt it looked (and tasted) like it had been buried in North Korean sand.

Luckily, things kicked up a gear with the arrival of a plate of Gyoza dumplings and Shoryu Ramen immediately got back to what it does best: pork. If badly done, I find that the pork mince in gyoza can have a distinctly nasty, bummy quality. If done well they are one of my favourite things in the whole world. A fine line if ever there was one. These, thankfully, were the real deal: each one maddeningly addictive and superbly succulent. A hirata pork bun, a supple, pillow-soft steamed bun filled with yet more pork – slow cooked belly this time – further drove the point home: I would not be leave here hungry.

There are variations of the Tonkotsu ramen on the menu ranging from the typical (with added chilli, wasabi or char siu barbecue pork), to the more off the wall: piri piri, yuzu and the intriguing ‘dracula’ that adds caramelised black garlic and balsamic vinegar. A recent addition to the menu is the Hokkaido curry ramen which includes crispy fried kara-age chicken and mini fishcakes.

I opted for the basic, or ‘signature’ ramen. It was quite the distillation of everything porcine. The broth was concentrated and cloudy, almost milky in colour. All flesh, bones, collagen and more flesh and bone. But naturally enough it was lighter and cleaner on the palate than expected while still being satisfyingly rich. Toppings were yet more sliced pork (too dry) and kikurage mushrooms. A generous shovelling of noodles, plus bean sprouts, spring onion and nori seaweed provided the body of the dish, while sesame and ginger provided the seasoning. The soul was undoubtedly the pork broth. As for the manners? Well they were distinctly Chinese: slurping is most definitely the order of the day. No self-consciousness here, head down, get on with it. Filling, myriad flavours, wonderfully satisfying. Ramen are hardly a novelty but this did feel like something entirely new.

All this was accompanied by a wonderfully invigorating genmai, or brown rice tea. The drinks menu also offers no less than thirty varieties of sake if you feel like going at it but alas, time, for now, marches on… So I finish up. Funny to witness the chap who was to take my seat flinch in terror at the incoming “Irasshaimase!”.

Shoryu Ramen, while maybe a bit Too Cool For School for some of you squares – they’ve even flown in the chef from Hakata – is welcoming, different enough while still being familiar enough, and is a great introduction to Japanese lunch time culture. Dozo omeshiagari! And indeed, Shoryu ken!

Opinion: 7/10

Shoryu Ramen
9 Regent Street
London
SW1Y 4LR
Website: http://www.shoryuramen.com
Twitter: @shoryuramen