Samphire and Salsify | London food blog with restaurant reviews and news
Samphire and Salsify is the outlet for my love of restaurants. There’ll be regular reviews of London’s latest openings, along with some much loved forgotten gems, interviews with the chefs and restaurateurs who have created them, and plenty more to whet your appetite.
London’s doing well for fancy Indian restaurants right now. There’s Chutney Mary, which has settled well into its new St James’s home, Gymkhana and Trishna from the always-reliable JKS group and recently-refurbished Tamarind in Mayfair. Another one for your posh popadom list is Kutir in Chelsea.
It replaces Vineet Bhatia London, which I liked, with new owner Rohit Ghai keeping a similar dinner-at-someone’s-house vibe. The small dining room at the front (the living room) is deathly quiet but there’s an elegance to it all. It’s dark and cosy.
Quail naan (£12) is an interesting blend of flavours. There’s rich gamey quail, crisp buttery bread, scrambled egg and shaved truffle. It’s unexpected and fun. Masala prawns (£12) come in an impossibly light batter. There’s enough heat to tingle but not burn.
Lamb tandoori chops (£16), a must order in any good Indian restaurant, are glorious. The meat is soft while the fat has crisped up like a good’en. The burned blackened bits provide huge lamby flavour.
Paneer (£12), Dad, that’s a type of Indian cheese, comes topped with sweetcorn and popcorn. Why not, eh? The paneer has been given the same treatment as that lamb so there’s charred crispy bits providing a contrasting texture to the squeaky centre. Lush.
For mains, the lamb shank with roganjosh sauce (£18) is a large chunk of soft, squishy meat. The fat melts away as we eat it while the tomato sauce cuts through the richness. Less successful is the duck Korma (£18). The sauce is great; light and creamy with bags of flavour. But the wild duck is far too gamey and overpowers everything.
A bread basket (£8) shows the kitchens competence. There’s paratha, garlic and plain naan, all light and not in the least bit stodgy. Another Indian staple, aloo saag (£6), sees a heavenly bowl of potatoes and spinach cooked just right.
A chocolate tart spiced with chilli (£9) is a real highlight. The balance of rich Valrhona chocolate and tongue tingling chilli is perfect. Best of all is two little nuggets of deep fried banana with a sweet caramel sauce. Pure sugary indulgence.
Kutir is a cute, romantic spot serving really tasty food. It isn’t flash or showey. Service is equally understated with warmth and friendliness coming from each member of staff. I think you’ll like Kutir.
Ex MasterChef: The Professionals contestant, Adam Handling, has grown quite the restaurant empire. There’s The Frog in Covent Garden, The Frog in Hoxton Square, his zero-waste coffee shop, Bean and Wheat, just next door and most recently Restaurant Adam Handling at Belmond Gadogan Hotel in Chelsea.
This visit is to Covent Garden to try his new menu. But first, we head to the basement for a cocktail in Eve Bar, see what he did there? It’s dark and candlelit with illuminated stained glass windows and tree roots coming down from the ceiling. Fun.
Upstairs is a far brighter affair. Chairs are angled towards the open kitchen – it’s a bit like Ronnie Scott’s but the restaurant version. There’s a quality feel about the place.
We go for the five course tasting menu (£65 per person) which begins with some theatrical snacks; razor clam, raw beef with lovage and cod’s roe with caviar. All so pretty, all so tasty. Anything that sit above cascading dry ice will always win me over.
Warm bread is served with chicken butter topped with chicken skin and chicken jus. It tastes every bit of a Sunday roast chicken which is a glorious thing to have on top of bread.
‘Celeriac, date, apple, fresh truffle’ is our first dish and it’s a strong start. Nothing too punchy, just a blend of tasty flavours with a soft, comforting texture. Mushroom agnolotti (that’s little pasta parcels) keeps the comport-factor going. There’s bone marrow and umami-rich black garlic. It’s a cuddle.
A £20 supplement gets you a lobster claw and tail drenched in wagyu fat. Such simplicity demands precise cooking and huge flavour which is exactly what you get. This works and it’s the best thing I’ve eaten all year.
Gently-cooked cod isn’t overpowered by the nori powder or smoked eel. Brown shrimps add sweetness while kohlrabi goes unnoticed – doesn’t it always?! A lobster bisque sauce is poured around putting the shells from that lobster before to good use.
A chunk of lamb, all soft and squidgy, is brought alive by a sticky lamb sauce, the sort that shines enough for you to see your reflection in, and a lone asparagus spear. This is such accomplished cooking.
For dessert we share ‘apple, yeast, chamomile’ and ‘rhubarb, juniper, crème fraîche’. Both are lookers and contain deconstructed bits and bobs which, when you take a little of each, create perfectly balanced puds.
I last visited The Frog back in 2018. I enjoyed it then but now the new menu is an album of best hits while service finds the pleasant balance of friendly and intrusive. They’re firing on all cylinders. Go and see for yourself.
Apart from a thoroughly decent Easter chocolate range at Waitrose (that chocolate teapot was lush) Heston Blumenthal’s been a bit quiet as of late. He’s had no UK openings for some time. What he has got is a collection of great restaurants that have been consistently-so for a while.
One of those is his Michelin starred pub in Bray, Berkshire, just a few doors down from The Fat Duck. This old coaching inn has been around since the 1400s and was bought by Heston in 2004. It’s all wood panelled walls, exposed beams and stained glass windows.
You must begin with a scotch egg (£6) which is one of the finer ones out there. It has everything you need; salty, crisp exterior, herby sausage meat and a gloriously gooey egg yolk.
Starters are simple with only cold options which is slightly odd. Hash of snails (£12.50) sees chunks of bouncy snail, perfumed with garlic, sitting atop a slice of toast with pickled walnuts. Mushroom parfait (£11.50) comes with a buttermilk loaf so soft and fluffy I’d like to rest my head upon it and have a nap.
Nice. Very tasty. But it’s the mains that get you really excited. Again, very simple but the Hereford Prime grilled ribeye (£43) is an astoundingly good piece of beef. Triple cooked chips have certainly undergone the thrice treatment as they’re crisp as anything. A melty bone marrow sauce finishes it off.
Iberico pork loin (£36) displays more quality produce. The fat on that pork shall stay with me for quite some time. To cut through the richness, a little mound of just-cooked cabbage with choucroute onion, does the job. Sides of bay buttered carrots and curried parsnips with chestnut and bacon (£5.50 each) eat as good as they read.
The Hind’s Head is famous for its Quaking Pudding (£9.50) – their take on a Medieval dessert which is a hybrid between a creme caramel and a panna cotta. Most unusual of all is this wobbly delight is served hot. Quite how they make it I don’t know but with its warming notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, it’s bloody lovely.
Chocolate mousse (£10.50) is a real looker. The hockey puck of chocolate contains a hidden raspberry centre with some crunchy bits for texture. The blend of sweet and tangy is masterful.
The food at The Hind’s Head isn’t rocking the boat in terms of innovation but what it does very well is serve food you want to eat. Quality produce cooked with care and precision served by passionate and friendly staff. Yum.
Tamarind has recently undergone a ravishing, multimillion pound makeover. There are now two dining options when visiting this Mayfair Indian stalwart; upstairs for lunch or downstairs for dinner. Up (where we go) is a rather bright and airy affair with views of the neighbouring rooftops. In the basement it’s more sexy with an open kitchen for added drama.
We’re prepared a mini tasting of highlights from the menu which starts with a wholly delicious Rajasthani churi chaat. Chaat is a savoury street food snack originating from India made moreish here with the addition of sweet chutneys and pomegranate seeds. Mega yum.
A plump scallop, cooked just right, sits in a puddle of gently spiced red lentil and curry leaf sauce. It’s a cuddle of a dish. Next up, fat spears of asparagus are best dunked in the tomato chutney and eaten with your fingers.
Best of a great bunch is the crispy lobster which sees chunks of crisp fried lobster covered in spicy red chilli jam sandwiched between the head and tail for presentation. It’s a looker and it tastes just as fabulous.
Rabbit seekh kebab is another stonker. The meat and its spicing is so delicate while the dried tomato and raisin stuffing is marvellous. Hyderabadi goat chop curry has a sauce you’d want to drink by the pan load.
Hyderabadi lamb biryani has fragrant and fluffy rice with big chunks of soft fatty lamb. The whole thing has masses of flavour. A side of jaipuri aloo, that’s crispy baby potatoes, is just as vibrant with a generous seasoning of cumin and coriander.
Chicken thighs, semi-deboned to make little lollipops have a blistered skin from the heat of the tandoor oven. There’s something about the blend of crisp and soft chicken skin that always makes me weak at the knees.
The food at Tamarind was less rich and heavy than I was expecting. We ate plenty but left feeling comfortably full rather than totally podged-out. The use of spicing is well thought out and the quality of the ingredients is top notch. Very lovely indeed.
Big Mamma Group is a collection of fun, Italian restaurants across Paris and Lilles, which have proved rather popular. Their latest venture is Gloria, a trattoria in Shoreditch, based on 1970s Capri. I like it already.
Inside it’s stunning with something pretty at every turn. We sink into the thousands of cushions in our booth, admiring the specially designed crockery, from the candle holder to the plates. There’s serious attention to detail.
The menu is vast. It all sounds lush. We start with burrata cremosa (£12), an exquisite ball of creamy cheese, and smoked stracciatella (£7) which is just the burrata’s gooey innards served in a an ice cream dish.
A plate of San Daniele ham (£8) is salty enough to cut through the richness of the cheese. They really are sourcing some of Italy’s finest ingredients. A deep fried artichoke (£8), all oily and sticky, comes with a cacio & pepe sauce. HEAVEN.
‘Gloria’s Pasta Al Tartufo’ (£18) is a hearty number served in its cooking pan. It’s mafalda pasta (that’s the strips with the wiggly edge) which the earthy truffle sauce clings to like a dream.
The ‘Regina Instagram’ pizza (£16) is topped with tuscan ham, mozzarella di bufala and thin slices of raw button mushrooms. The blistered crust has ballooned creating light and fluffy waves of dough. It’s pizza perfection.
Cocktails blend silly glasses (a booby jug anyone?) with downright delicious drinks. Our favourite is a Pina Colada with Wray & Nephew (£9) which comes in a giant ceramic head which a passion fruit skin filled with flaming booze. It’s so Gloria.
Generosity is the thing with desserts. Our waiter pours a pan of warm, dark chocolate sauce over the huge profiterole (£8). He tells us to “say when”. I nearly don’t at all. Lemon pie (£6) is a whooper, with a 5.9-inch meringue layer, says the menu. A must order.
The whole Gloria experience is over the top but at it’s core is flavour and comfort and hospitality. The all-Italian staff ensure everyone is having a nice time. Throw in a soundtrack that has you Shazam’ing every other tune and you’re in for a treat.
Pop Brixton has been home to a good few restaurants now. It’s where Kricket rose to fame and Smoke & Salt has gone from strength to strength. A new edition to this shipping container village, just behind Brixton station, is Roe.
Given its location, don’t expect hyper luxury. The long, narrow space is well utilised though with two communal tables and a kitchen at the end. It’s small alright, but fun.
We start with some nibbly bits which all go down a storm; ink and Guinness soda bread (£4), which comes with a punchy seaweed butter, mackerel pate (£4), octopus terrine (£5) and pickled mussels (£4). Until now, I’ve never been a fan of cold mussels (these are gorgeous).
Fried anchovies with malt vinegar emulsion (£6) have such a vinegary twang my mouth is still watering at the thought two weeks later. Cuttlefish and ink arancini with pecorino foam (£6) sounds more poncy than it is. The result is balls of rich, squidgy fish cuddled by cheesy bubbles. Lush stuff.
Squid noodles (£7) is a delicate and dainty little number – the antithesis to that cheesy foam. The squid has a cured rather than cooked texture which is brought alive by a fermented hot sauce.
Spiced cod (£15) is the only dish that doesn’t really do it for me. The fish lacks texture and the flavours don’t excite like with the other dishes. It’s OK, just not amazing.
Skate wing with Jerusalem artichoke and wild mushroom (£15) brings things back to ‘yum’. The fish is perfectly cooked with a lovely, brown buttery crust giving way to bright white strips of fish.
The best thing we eat is as simple as half a burnt hispi cabbage covered in seaweed butter (£5). The slightly bitter centre, the acrid burnt edges, the sweet leaves and the fishy butter make for an explosion of flavour and texture.
Pop Brixton gives budding restauranteurs the chance to open their own place in a city where rents and rates make it neigh on impossible. The shipping containers will be gone by 2020 to make way, no doubt, for flats. So give Roe some love, they don’t half deserve it.
Would we go back? Yes
We dined as guests of the restaurant
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi is one of those small chain restaurants which hasn’t got crap since expanding. I’ve been to all of them now, from Copenhagen to Covent Garden, and for decent sushi, friendly service and a gorgeous room, you can’t beat it.
Their newest opening is in Chelsea. It’s their biggest yet, sprawled over two floors. Below is an open bar and kitchen taking up the centre. Upstairs is dark and sexy and filled with attractive Chelsea-ites.
The menu is HUGE with pictures of the dishes which is a nice touch. We go for the ‘Fireworks’ set menu (£80 for two). Edamame with a smattering of spicy sauce kicks things off.
Tempura shrimp are something of a Sticks ‘n’ Sushi favourite. The batter is dense and crunchy giving way to soft, sweet prawn. Miso aïoli is the perfect dip.
Tuna tartare is big on flavour. There’s avocado, sesame, yuzu-miso and lotus chips, which might explain it. Salmon carpaccio is more delicate until the little balls of trout roe burst in your mouth. A pure taste of the sea.
Next up is sushi: ebi panko and pink Alaska maki and salmon, tuna and seared hiramasa nigiri. The quality of the sushi for the price is pretty incredible. It’s one up from Itsu, one down from Umu.
We finish with sticks. I’m not so keen on the panko duck breast as it’s overcooked, chewy and not very dainty. Veal with miso butter is a glorious thing; fatty, soft, juicy. Chicken teriyaki is sticky and spicy.
We order an extra stick of wagyu beef (£15) which ain’t cheap but you’re going to want to order one. It’s very special indeed.
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi Chelsea is another cracking restaurant adding to the empire. It ticks all the boxes but most importantly, service is what stands out. There’s a fun and happy team who seem to love what they do.
Followers of my Instagram know I’m partial to a burger. Many a time have I visited Burger & Beyond’s Camden Market stall in the pissing rain just to eat their aged beef patties topped with American cheeses and smokey mayo.
Fabu news it was when I heard owners Tom and Craig, a handsome pair, were opening their first restaurant in Shoreditch, just opposite the Ace Hotel. Inside it’s a simple setup; an open bar with some stools, unadorned walls and hip hop playing at an unobtrusive level.
The burgers are spot on, as I knew they would be. The standard double cheeseburger (£12) is just lovely. A messier delight is the ‘Bougie Burg’ (£16.50) topped with cold smoked American cheese, steak sauce, marrownaise and beef fat onions. The whole thing is a wet, sloppy, joyous thing to eat.
But it’s the small plates that elevate B&B to more than just a burger shop. Lamb nuggets with burnt onion dip (£6) taste like all the good bits of a Sunday roast dinner.
Chicken skin and Cajun scratchings (£3 each) are super greasy but in a hangover-clearing kind of way. My fingers still smell of that spicy pork fat. Fine by me.
Mushrooms on toast (£5.50) are made more indulgent by lardo, that’s ribbons of soft, meltaway pig fat, and cured egg yolk. Tastes as good it sounds, FYI.
Best thing we eat is thin slices of rib cap (£6.50), served room temperature, dressed with anchovy butter. It’s an intense blend of aged beef and flavour-of-the-sea but it’s a total winner. It would be a standout dish on any high end restaurant menu.
Dessert is a play on a McDonald’s apple pie (£6.50). Here’s it’s filled with sharp blueberries to balance the pure sugar hit. It makes for the perfect end.
We wash it all down with a bottle of red. There aren’t many burger shops where such a thing is possible but here it feels normal. It’s a grown-up restaurant serving grown-up burgers. I like it very much indeed.
Our visit to Parkers Arms starts with a stunningly beautiful drive from Cumbria to a small village called Newton-In-Bowland in Lancashire. The views are breathtaking. An ordinary looking pub on the outside it may be, but inside, next to the open fire, it’s cosy and quaint. We feel at home.
Service is as warm and the surrounds. Two young chaps, efficient and switched-on, and AJ behind the bar, who is the epitome of a pub landlord, ensure you are well looked after.
It’s a menu where you want to over-order. And at £28 for 3 courses, it’s cracking value. We start with crispy potato skins, the ones that TGI Fridays never quite managed to perfect, and curry spiced pork scratchings (£3.50 each), washed down with a local Ale and a decent Negroni.
Hogget breast ribs are my dream dish. Those ribs are pure fat. They’ve been braised for 42 hours then grilled over charcoal so it’s all crisp, crisp, crisp. The flavour is huge.
Granny Smith cured mackerel is a daintier thing. There’s Newton horeseradish (loads of these ingredients are sourced locally) which provides fire while an apple and fennel salad brings freshness.
Head chef Stosie, who works in that kitchen pretty much alone, is a pastry queen. A Newton game pasty is made using pork fat which results in soft, melt-away pastry. It’s special.
From the mains, a minted hogget pie (in hogget fat pastry) and a Bowland beef and ale pie (in beef fat pastry) is yet more proof of this. The sauces elevate the pies to even greater heights. There’s depth of flavour like nothing else.
16oz Bowland beef chop is a quality piece of beef. Proper pub grub too, with triple cooked chips, watercress and a peppercorn sauce. The smokey charcoal grill is an excellent choice for cooking this kind of meat.
AJ points to the field opposite when serving the roasted herb butter stuffed ballotine of pheasant breast. “Shot in that field over there”. This is the true meaning of ‘locally sourced’. Served with your traditional Sunday roast trimmings, it’s a lovely thing to eat.
Dessert of caraemlised apple tart showcases yet more marvellous pastry. It’s also vegan friendly, FYI. The pastry is chewy and sticky, crumbly and flakey.
A 70% dark Valrhona chocolate pudding has an oozing, liquid centre which floods the plate with its chocolatey innards. HEAVEN. Warm spiced gingerbread pudding with boozy cream is a cuddle on a plate. I could have a nap next to that open fire.
You may have guessed I rather enjoyed Parkers Arms. It would be hard not to. The whole offering is generous, from the service to the cooking. They want you to have a nice time, and that comes across from the minute you step inside.
You’ll get lost finding LINO. We sure did. This new restaurant and bar is hidden round the back of Smithfield Market in an old Lino warehouse in a maze of new developments which aren’t quite finished. It’s worth finding though.
It’s warehouse chic but there’s an authenticity about it. Taking up the centre of this huge, lofty space is a clover leaf-shaped bar. The music is quite loud. Tables are well spaced. The fun vibes are to set to max.
We start by sharing some small plates. Burrata with hazelnut dukkah (£10) blends rich creaminess with sweet nuttiness perfectly. Bitter endive and sweet pear also marry well. The aged beef tartare (£10) is one for Instagram. A big dollop of smoked egg yolk adds indulgence to the soft chunks of raw beef.
From the snacks menu, croquettes filled with sauerkraut and Cheddar cheese (£5) are a tangy delight. Perfectly matched with a barrel aged Negroni. The drinks at Lino are pretty special by the way.
Blackface lamb (£24) has some serious fat. How they cook it so spot on I’ll never know. It’s crisp on the outside all the way through to a soft squishy centre. And then the lamb itself. My God, it’s so flavourful. Simply served with carrots, crispy shallots and rainbow chard, it’s a perfect plate of food.
Less successful is the Cornish pollock (£19). The accompanying poached salsify in seaweed butter is stunning but the fish has been water bathed making it both flavour, and texture,-less. Water bathing fish should be illegal, IMHO.
Chunks of salt baked celeriac (£4) arrive sitting in a ‘chicken sauce’ which tastes like the bottom of a Sunday roast baking tray. Salty and rich and fatty and LUSH.
We skip pud, instead ordering Espresso Martinis which are humungous. It’s that kind of restaurant is LINO. Fun and lively. It makes you want to jump in an Uber and head to Soho for Tequila shots after your meal. Which we may, or may not have, done.