Wednesday, 24 February 2010


56 Old Compton Street
London W1D 4UE

020 7734 5951

Tuktuk describes itself as a Thai/Oriental noodle bar on the menu. There is certainly another one in Queensway but I don't know whether there are others. There is no website I can find. These places are fantastic value/quality. The one I know and went to today after a meeting in Soho for a quick early lunch, is in Old Compton Street. It is very simple inside: brightly lit with a thin banquette along the walls, chrome chairs and table supports. Not a place for romantic dinners. It is straight opposite 'Trashy Lingerie' as you can see in the photo.

The menu serves great and enormous noodle soups at budget prices: Tom Yam Gai £3.90 and Laksa with its distinctive coconut milk stock for £4.90. Today I had crispy aromatic duck for £5.80. As in much smarter places they come and shred a duck quarter (leg and thigh) at your table; it comes with pancakes in a metal container, spring onion, cucumber and plum sauce. It is described as a 'side' but is quite big enough for lunch. At £5.80 (along with other £5.80 dishes including King Prawn Red Curry) it is the the highest price on the menu. I also had green tea. This is not a tea bag in the bottom of a mug, but a whole teapot of tea made with real tea leaves for £1. This sophisticated lunch cost me £6.80 with tip optional. The duck was crispy, the pancakes as good as anywhere, the spring onions and cucumber fresh.

Tuktuk on Urbanspoon

Monday, 22 February 2010


20 James St
London W1U 1EH

020 7491 1178

I wanted to go here because last week I had been to their shop in West Acton. Atari-Ya is a chain of four shops, the sushi take away, and another sushi bar in Hendon. Its one of the few places where you can buy black cod (I believe you can get it in Selfridges sometimes but if anyone knows where else you can get it please leave a comment!). The shop is near a Japanese school, has a ready supply of customers, Japanese staff who really know what they are talking about and very fresh fish. With supply lines like this I thought that their little central London take-away place (it has a few seats but this is principally what it is) would be bound to be good. The black cod was excellent. Its not that difficult to make a marinade with Mirin (rice wine), Sake, sugar and white miso paste to ape the recipe available at Nobu and for that matter Hakkasan where they serve Silver Cod with a different recipe (its the same thing. The Japanese call it Gindara which means silver cod. In fact it is not cod at all but what they call sablefish in the US).

Atari-Ya in James Street proved to be just as good as the freshness of what was available in the West Acton shop heralded. I had fresh salmon roe, and sashimi. You get three slices and it is good value: Tuna £2.00, Sea Bass £2.60, Salmon £1.70 and the highest grade Fatty Tuna £3.90. Everything with a green tea was under £15.

Its a very basic place and crowded at lunch time. You queue, place your order, pay, get given a number which they call out, probably share a small table. They serve it there just as for take away (see photos). Highly recommended though.

Atari-ya on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 February 2010


222 Kensington High Street
W8 7RG

020 7361 1717

[See here for return visit to Byron when the gas was working!]

Four of us went to the Kensington branch of this chain of seven upmarket burger joints in Kensington high street after going to the cinema. We order. I go for the "Byron", rare. The Byron is a burger with"dry cure bacon, mature Cheddar, Byron sauce". They come "in a soft, plain bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle and mayo". There are four categories of red wine: GOOD, BETTER, GREAT, BEST. That's simple then. We ask for GREAT.

Its quite a noisy place. Its around 8pm and there are a lot of kids. Its brightly lit. An attempt at romance is a candle night light in a glass dish. Not a place for a first date though. Fine, its a hamburger place. Its busy. The cooking area is open plan in the middle of the restaurant. The open plan kitchen though needs supplies from to the left of where we are sitting. I watch as large bags of chips are taken through, then a huge stack of tupperware boxes with brightly coloured ingredients, then more larger tupperware boxes, then rubbish from the kitchen going the other way in a black bin liner. If this is meant to be part of the action, bustle, it sure as hell isn't elegant. There are a few chips scattered on the floor by the table in font of me. The walls are a bit scuffed, the paintwork damaged.

After ten minutes or so we get our wine but its not the GREAT we ask for, an Italian merlot, its the BETTER, an Italian cabernet sauvignon £16.50. Ok but surely its not that hard to get this right when there are only four red wines on the list. After fourty five minutes more seriously still no food. Our waiter explains that there is a problem with the gas. What problem I ask? There is no gas ergo no cooking. Ah. We are brought a few rather soft tortilla chips, a bit of guacamole etc. I go to the kitchen area. A waiter is just loading up with some burgers on plates. How come you can serve these if there is no gas I ask? " There is still er some er heat from the grill..." he says.

Ten minutes later we are presented with our burgers but we are told there that the portion of fench fries and skin-on chips can not be cooked. I don't understand how the burgers can magically be cooked when the chips cannot but communication is not quite good enough to pursue this. Bynow we have almost finished our wine.

L.O. pronounces her burger overcooked when she ordered it rare. I must say mine is rare and the meat is really good quality; however the 'mayo' and Byron sauce (maybe its just the Byron sauce) is a pink marie rose colour and not to my taste. The molten cheddar is fine. The dry cure bacon is too limp, not cripsy at all which I prefer. The soft plain bun is, well ,a soft plain bun but hamburger buns have seldom done it for me. And of course its all spoilt a bit by the lack of chips. The burgers are served on a sheet of semi-transparent paper on the plate. I've no doubt this makes clearing for the dishwasher easier but personally I find it aesthetically unappealing.

All in all (despite for me the crucial beef filling being good) not an altogether successful experience! I complain. I say to our waiter we were brought the wrong wine. We waited for nearly an hour for our food. I acknowledge the gas situation may well have been outside their control but the fact is we had this long wait, and we didn't get all we had ordered. I said that although I understood he personally was not responsible for all the problems were we not entitled to some recompense? A future free meal ,whatever? He was about to put my credit card in the wireless machine. I had already received the bill. There was an immediate back down. He handed me back my card. We were given the meal (which came to around £45 for four) for free! well that was very handsome of them and made up for quite a bit of what had gone wrong. Neverlethess something made me a little uneasy. It was clear that management had sanctioned zero charges in the even of complaint. We had seen the manageress briefing the waiters earlier and when I had said to our waiter was he definitely authorised to make us this offer it was clear that he had been. What made me uneasy was I felt that it was only because we had complained that we had been offered our money back. It was gracious, but if the restaurant had made the offer even without us complaining it would have been more gracious. I suspected we were in a very small minority, and that most had paid up without complaint.

Our waiter said that the gas problem was not an isolated incident and had happened several times before. Thy even suspected sabotage and had put closed circuit TV cameras in place. Strange.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 February 2010


4 The Polygon
London SW4 0JG

020 7622 1199

We had something to discuss and Clapham happened to be equidistant so we met at Trinity for an early evening meal. They have a Prix Fixe menu. Pretty good value I thought at £20 for three courses. So it proved to be.

First there was a taramasalata amuse bouche. It was fishy fresh compared with the potted supermarket variety accompanied by lovely crisp bread. I then had tartare of mackerel, beetroot and horseradish with compressed cucumber. It was startlingly fresh, the mackerel enclosed in the crisp cucumber, the beetroot little firms discs on the plate. I can be quite resistant to this sort of picture on a plate Michelin style presentation but it did also look beautiful. Butternut squash soup with Parmesan, my co-diner's starter was pronounced not too creamy rich, just right. I had the sea bream second; it was crisp on the outside, the flesh flaky, perfectly cooked with a little stock and the orange flavoured endive worked well with it. I tried co-diner's slow cooked beef in Guinness. I was jealous. This was even better: soft and yummy with marvellous flavour.

The service throughout was consummately professional. Our waitress had been at the restaurant from the start and really did know about the food and wine. She couldn't have been more helpful without being in any way obtrusive. We left the wine choices to her (neither is on the online wine list). Since one was having fish and one a heavy meat course it was good to be able to order by the carafe and so we had one 500ml carafe each. I had Chateau Revelette, a Provencal wine: oaky, nutty excellent. I tried the red suggestion too: a minerally porty wine from Portugal: Crasto Douro. They were excellent choices.

Afterwards I was guided towards having rhubarb (not on the menu) it was firm, full of flavour in little log piles accompanied by meltingly soft biscuits and cream. Co-diner had the tarte fine, a little strip across the plate, with liquorice ice cream. Again I thought he made the slightly edgier choice. The liquorice ice cream (nothing like liquorice all sorts) was powerful, unusual.

The background is that Adam Brett started the successful Thyme in Clapham, took it across the river to Hospital in Covent Garden where it didn't succeed, retained an interest in Origin the replacement to Thyme at Hospital and came back to start Trinity in November 2006. My main reservation would be I found the atmosphere and decor a bit sterile: simple white table cloths, low lighting, largely youngish professional looking diners. I would definitely go back for the food though. The menu really was outstanding value, though its amazing how things can mount up; but then the two excellent carafes we had came to around £40.

Trinity on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Harwood Arms

Walham Grove
London SW6 1QR

020 7386 1847

This gastro pub has quite a pedigree. Bett Graham chef of the Ledbury and Mike Robinson owner of the Pot Kiln in Berkshire along with the publican Edwin Vaux are behind a venture which opened in 2008 (see here); it has since become the only gastro pub in London to boast a Michelin star. Graham and Robinson don't actually cook at the Harwood Arms but ex Ledbury chef Stephen Williams does.

"You look so English" said the German TV producer to my lunch guest "With your newspaper...(he had a copy of the Daily Telegraph); Would you mind if we filmed you?". "As long as you don't interview me, that's fine" he said. Oh (still) the power of old meedja. He actually looked rather pleased. German television were filming at lunch time in the Harwood Arms. No doubt this is the impact of the recent Michelin star. Our waitress also acknowledged it has had a major impact on bookings. You can get a table for lunch but type in 8pm in the evening into toptable on the HA website and the next available slot is Sunday March 21st!

The Harwood Arms since its 2008 refurbishment has become a very upmarket gastro pub. It is really more of a restaurant. You don't order your food at the bar, pay and sit down. It is all brought to your table; and most choices (only one dish of the day is on a blackboard) are on the printed menu. There are simple pub tables and framed modern black and white 'sporting' photographs. There is though a dog in the pub. You wouldn't get that in a restaurant.

I have smoked ham hock and crispy pig's ear on toast with bread and butter pickles £6.50 to start. This comes on a slab of wood and is very difficult to eat without the accompanying green salad bits going onto the table. The bits of ham hock I find a bit stringy dry and eating them on toast with a knife and fork is a bit of a battle and I certainly wouldn't have been able to identify the crispy bits as 'pig's ears'. Englishman liked his winter root vegetables with grated duck egg. He had ordered an interesting bottle of redcurrant flavoured Spanish red wine, Celler Cal Pla, a Garnacha/Carinena blend which can be bought in the shops for about £11 and was priced at £27. I found my second course alogether much more successful. This was pheasant thigh stewed in red wine with smoked bacon and champ £15.75. It was flaky, moist, soft; not altogether easy to achieve with pheasant which dries out so easily. The accompanying red wine stock and vegetables were excellent. Impressively it also managed somehow to be delicate and not overwhelming as a lunch main course (see photo). The main courses came in strange bowls which reminded me of optrex eye baths only much bigger and not blue but white. Englishman had beef cheeks braised in ale with clotted cream and mashed potatoes, roast carrots and pickled walnuts £15.50. "Delicious", he said. German television were right. He is English and was not about to go all rhapsodic on me. By now we had had enough. We both had double espressos which were rather beautifully presented in little glasses. Altogether pretty good and once again demonstrated to me how great the difference in quality can be in London in what is available for £70-100 for two including a bottle of wine (which is hardly cheap by international standards); you can (as here) eat pretty well at this price level but very often you don't. I don't want to encourage anyone but in a way the differentiation between the very average and the very good is not fully reflected in what you end up paying.

Harwood Arms on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 February 2010


3 Great Titchfield Street

020 7436 0111

The Vietnamese food may be better on Kingsland Road but this small chain (Clerkenwell, this one close to Oxford Circus and the Westfield shopping centre) delivers good value and (for me) more convenient locations. For less than £15 per head you can have a filling meal. There is not too much choice here (often a good sign!) the focus of course being on the pho noodle soups. I had spicy prawn for £8.45, and a fresh carrot apple and ginger fruit juice for £2.95.

The pho soup with good flat rice noodles had a rather less flavour filled than I remember from previous visits, slightly watery, but chili hot stock. There was a generous number of prawns. On the side there are fresh beansprouts, coriander, red chili, mint and lime to add. Adding all the chili it really is quite spicy hot which I like. The fruit juices are zingy tasty fresh. The place was full upstairs by 1pm (there is a basement too) and is clearly doing well. There is quite loud piped music but this is no booking fast food. The service is casual, friendly but efficient.

Pho on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


18 Wellington Street
London WC2E 7DD

020 7240 4222

I haven't been to the restaurant of Christopher's 'the American bar and grill' as it calls itself for a long time. It used to be rather fashionable though never a 'foodie' place. I like the bar. They make good martinis and its a place to meet in crowded Covent garden. It was freezing cold and we'd just been to a film and presentation at the LSE on the other side of the Aldwych. We decided to stop at Christopher's walking from the Aldwych down the Strand. Sad. Its completely lost the plot. Its a lovely building with great views down past the Lyceum theatre and across Waterloo bridge and beautiful staircase leading from the ground floor up to the restaurant. The menu offers lots of seafood, steak, lobster; its an American grill. We just had one course: breast of barberry duck, roast citrus fennel, black olive tapenade £16.75. L.O. quite liked it. I thought the duck sauce was too sweet, gelatinous with little pools of oil and small canned bits of grapefruit. The fennel was overcooked. It was also cold. But I'm not so charitable. To be fair the duck itself was tender and not overcooked. The problem was everything that went with it. We had a sharp not great bottle of Argentine Piropo Malbec for £19.75. The total bill including 'discretionary' service was £64.69. The restaurant was almost empty or at any rate less than a third full mid week in the evening. Two couples had been put next door to each other in a row of tables for two against the back wall presumably to create an impression of greater business than if they had been placed far apart. I won't go back; or only to the bar.

Christopher's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Havelock Tavern

57 Masbro Road
London W14 0LS

020 7603 5374

Just west of the railway tracks that come into Kensington Olympia in rather undiscovered territory but quite close to the fashionable Brook Green is the Havelock Tavern. This in my view is one of the best 'restaurants' (its a gastro pub and you pay up front at the bar before you sit down) in nearly Kensington and much better than Cibo, Kitchen W8 and other restaurants I have reviewed on the other side of the tracks. In my Kensington league only Abingdon and L-Restaurant and Bar can compete on food of the restaurants I have reviewed so far. Both are more expensive and have a more formal restaurant style. Foodie bloggers (there are surprisingly to date no blog reviews on London Urban Spoon) you should check this place out!

I have braised octopus, chorizo, tomato & fennel stew with gremolada £14. It is herby ,spicy, garlicky, the octopus not chewy tough; lovely stock and strong flavours. There is the lemon zest of the gremolada and a strong fishy stock. It is not quite in the same class as the Brompton fish stew at Brompton Bar & Grill nor as copious; it is very different with one fish variety (the octopus). It is very good all the same. I try L.O.'s (this is what I plan to call my partner, see link to Loved One for explanation) slow roast belly of pork with bramley apple sauce, £15. She has already pronounced it succulent delicious, the crackling a shade flabby. I agree; it is excellent if not quite in the same league as that at Fino but we are making olympic comparisons here! You get very good thrown in bread and butter, and real pepper grinders without asking.

The Havelock at Sunday lunch is a very family affair. There are babies and labradors. It is a bit startlingly public school, white apartheid in the Fulham, Battersea mode (gastro pubs in these areas strictly for these immigrants however long they have been there), unlevened by the more cosmo and older mix of Notting Hill and even Kensington & Chelsea. We have a very good one course meal for two with a couple of pints of Cornish bitter (Doom Bar) for £36. A fault is the overhead blower heaters particularly close to the door. The seats nearby are empty when we arrive no doubt for this reason but the whole place is full by the time we leave. No booking so if you do go for Sunday lunch turn up before 1pm to get a choice of tables.

Havelock Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 February 2010


66-70 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TR

020 7292 3518

"Nice of them to provide a cloth to dry the dishes when we can't pay the bill" said my Scottish friend seeing the HIX napkin neatly folded on our place setting (see photo). This restaurant is all very in your face, happening , of the moment. We are sitting "at the bar" on comfortable stools with backs early on Thursday evening. The place is already jumping, more than three quarters full, and it is only 7pm. We are sitting just under a Damien Hirst mobile of mini fish in formaldehyde. Its impossible not to feel very me too in this uber cool environment. You really haven't discovered anything. It is also impossible not to feel shades of deja vue because this place has lots of form. The design team did The Wolseley, the Ivy (the facade has similar leaded windows) etc. Mark Hix of Hix's Oyster and Chop House is ex Le Caprice and Ivy. Kevin Gratton the head chef is ex Le Caprice and Scotts. I find myself wondering who all these people are, the punters in the restaurant, who are organised enough to book this particular slice of chic London. If you go to the website and try to secure a booking you are offered times like 5.30pm or 10.30pm ten days out, all more convenient times scored through in light gray.

Lets start at the beginning. We meet first in Mark's bar in the basement. It too has a long deep zinc bar with rolled edge. There are sofas and rugs and low lighting in hip modern style. There are just two empty places to sit left at the bar and it is only 6pm. The barman is mixing cocktails with showtime panache. The hugely long drinks list offers Mark's Libations using fresh british ingredients. I feel I better have one of these and order a 'Spitfires over Kent'. It is composed of homemade Beefeater sloe gin and fresh lemon juice and maraschino liqueur and creme de violette. It comes in a small glass and looks like the left over dregs of over stewed tea or as my Scottish friend puts it "what's left in the bottle of sherry your grandmother offers you". It actually tastes slightly bitter, strange and delicious.

Mark Hix is renowned for British food, fresh local ingredients, seasonal. The main courses are heavy with hunks of fish and meat: john dory, pollock, deer pie, woodcock, partridge, steak. Potted shrimps, prawn cocktail and smoked salmon feature amongst the starters. Nothing textbook Michelin about this. Solid simple school of Caprice, Ivy etc. but there are stranger combinations. I have wild rabbit offal with jerusalem artichokes and rosemary £7.00 as a starter. The jerusalem artichokes are pureed , the offal sitting above in a thick gravy. It is rich gamey delicious. After I have roast woodcock and celeriac mash with a side order of steamed spinach. It is simple but excellent, the meat juicy tender which is difficult to achieve in a restaurant. It is however not cheap at £24.00; most of the mains are £18 and up. Well you are paying for all this uber chic. Rather inappropriately for such a gamey, fishy place my Scottish friend is vegetarian but impressively Hix provides a separate vegetarian menu. She pronounces her main course dominated by a "buttery lump of potato", but her mixed beet salad has beautifully fresh ingredients. Not the most imaginative vegetarian cooking she thinks, but its really not what you go to Hix for. We have a half litre of Argentine Pulenta Estate Malbec which compliments my gamey meal perfectly. The service has been immaculately friendly and professional throughout or as my Scottish friend put it "amazingly not up your own arse for an expensive place".

You are paying quite a bit here for the theatre and stage set. The dining room has the high ceilings of a traditional Paris brasserie. The artworks by Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas etc lend it modern London edge. The sound pings around a bit but it buzzes with drama, energy. The food is very good in that hearty good fare not too mucked about Caprice, Ivy, Wolseley way. The ingredients are very fresh and good. I don't however think that Hix is so far from his origins in the aforementioned camp to be doing anything radically different, but everything I had is as good and the rabbit offal rather better than anything I've had in those establishments. If you want to take visitors to London somewhere to show off both hip London and that 'British food' really can be quite good you can't do much better than here.

Hix on Urbanspoon

The Only Running Footman

5 Charles St

020 7499 2988

I really like this place, and not just for its funny name. I like it but more for breakfast downstairs in the pub than the 'fine dining ' upstairs in a separate dining room which I didn't find exceptional. Its a pub which is open all day. In my experience you can always get in for breakfast without booking. Its a great place for meetings. Today only one other table was occupied when we arrived at 8.30am. By the time we left at 10.30am we were the only people there. The service is friendly and you can talk undisturbed. Although there is a formal menu (see below) you can ask for exactly what you want. I had a poached egg on brown toast with bacon. Nothing incredible but the poached egg runny, the bacon good quality and crispy and not fatty, flabby. Its mainly just that it works well to have a breakfast meeting in an uncrowded pub rather than in a too noisy pret a manger or a more formal environment; and in Mayfair there are'nt too many alternatives between pret and the very formal and expensive.

Monday to Friday 7.30am-10.30am
Weekends from 9.30am-12noon
Eggs Benedict £7.50
Full Farmhouse Breakfast £8.50
Loch Fyne smoked Salmon & scrambled egg £10.50
Bacon butty or Sausage sarnie with brown sauce £3.45
Croissant & Pain au Chocolat £2.95

Only Running Footman on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Muckrakers and Foodrakers

Somebody asked me why I called this blog Foodraker so I said I would explain here in a blog post! Muckrakers were progressive US journalists of the early twentieth century noted for exposing corruption in business and politics. Hence Foodraker is dedicated among other things to exposing pretentious overpriced restaurants! Theodore Roosevelt used the term first in a speech in 1906. He referred to the use of the term in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and was believed to have been alluding to the titles of William Randolph Hearst's publishing empire (see Wikipedia entry here).

Monday, 1 February 2010


9 Hanover Street,
London W1S 1YF

020 7629 2961

Return visit to Sakura. Miso udon soup with vegetables and chicken for two. £6.50 each. It was enormous with lots of spring onions, vegetables, chicken in delcious stock. Lunch for two with green tea for £13.00. No automatic 'discretionary' tip. Excellent and unbeatable value. See here for full review of Sakura.

Sakura on Urbanspoon