Review: Krishna

30 08 2011

Were you to list the top spots in the UK you might go for an amazing curry, I sincerely doubt that Whitstable would be be a natural contender. But if that is the case, that simply means you haven’t yet discovered Krishna.

A small, unassuming restaurant in a layby near the train station, Krishna is not exactly the kind of place you would expect Indian fine dining. But truly, this restaurant is a gem. So last week it was great to go back there with my brother to celebrate his birthday… albeit his 24th birthday, 11 months overdue. I would happily make it a birthday tradition and return again in a month!

The chefs at Krishna take their cookery seriously, and have created a wide ranging menu of delights. I always feel a slight pang of nerves when I see a menu containing dishes into their dozens: what restaurant can honestly maintain consistent quality across all their dishes when the sheer range is so vast?! Here the feeling conjured up was not one of nervousness, but indecision. Choosing what to eat from such an intriguing menu may just be one of the toughest decisions you have to make for quite some time…

This is not your typical brit-curry menu with brown mush distinguishable only by the level of heat: non-existent to immobilising. These dishes are vibrant, fresh and colourful. You can clearly make out each element and spice, and everything is beautifully presented. The waiting staff know the menu well and are very happy to make recommendations for what dishes go well together to help you get a balanced meal.
Onion Bhajia

I’m normally one for having a single dish and just keeping it to myself. I can’t abide that horrible experience of completely unrelated sauces merging together on the plate in some indistinguishable slime; the cross-section of which ends up tasting like a spicy/sweet slop bucket! But the menu here is just so diverse, and given that I want to try everything on it, I have to just swallow my OCD and be willing to share. With a cunningly constructed basmati wall to stop the sauce bleed, all was ok – though I did cringe a little as I realised how sadly reminiscent it was of Alan Partridge’s critique of Sonya’s fried breakfast cooking skills:

Minor criticism… More distance between the eggs and the beans. I may want to mix them, but I want that to be my decision. Perhaps use the sausage as a breakwater.”

Hmm… I fear there may be a bit of the Partridge in me…

So between us we ordered a range of dishes, and every one of them was a winner. In fact, we have now been there twice and haven’t had a single disappointing dish; with the possible exception of a duck chettinad, which wasn’t at all bad, it’s just that the duck didn’t really shine.

After the amuse bouche, a complimentary shot of warm spiced soup, we started with Onion Bhajia: three beautiful orbs of fried onion with tangy tamarind and mint sauces, and Mogo Masala: soft cassava chips in a beautiful tomatoey sauce. For mains we went with a Chicken Merwad, which was cooked in an interesting combination of spinach, fenugreek, mustard and dill, it was beautiful, and such an unusual flavour, Lamb Dhansak with pumpkin, aubergine and lentils, and a Fish Tikka. We’d had the Tikka last time we visited and repeating the experience was a no-brainer! Huge chunks of perfectly cooked monkfish, delicately spiced so as not to obscure the fish taste; and being in Whitstable you just know it’s fresh and local.

Fish Tikka

Along with this we shared basmati rice and Baingan Bharta, smoked aubergine with corn, with a beautiful sweet smokey flavour. Each dish hit home on every level: flavoursome, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented – no generic-looking slop in tired old dishes.

Sharing dishes gave us more than enough food at a reasonable price. This time we went with three people and ordered the same amount we’d previously had for four; as a result it was slightly less good value – but still around the same you might pay in any old normal indian restaurant, yet infinitely more interesting.

Note, a number of reviews have said that the takeaway is, by comparison, disappointing. I haven’t had takeaway from there, so I don’t know about that, but don’t let this put you off going to the restaurant; There is nothing in the least bit disappointing about that!

Elephant Café

25 07 2011

Brixton Village has fast become one of the coolest areas to hang out in South West London. With an eclectic vibe, a plethora of interesting places to eat, and the brilliant Federation Coffee, there is always something new to do and see in this fast-evolving little arcade. Each time I visit, I come away with a mental list of new places I need to try…

Our latest experience: Pakistani street food at Elephant Café.

This tiny little restaurant is a great find. Tables spill out onto the street, and the kitchen area is so close that it’s positively exhausting watching the chef’s head bob back and forth as he turns out dishes at breakneck speed, inches from his customers. We were very grateful to get a table on Thursday night, being a group of five out for a birthday meal.

The menu is short and succinct – no messing – which meant we got to try virtually everything between us. Samosas and Pakoras were a perfect way to start. Both the lamb and vegetarian options were equally good, packing just a little spice; enough to excite the taste buds, without killing those of a faint disposition. Then the main courses: a choice between curry and thalis. Most of us went for the thalis (and the poor guy who took one for the team, deciding to dissent from the common option, looked a little sad as ours arrived!) Lovely, simple, warmly spiced lamb mince curry, served with a punchy daal, rice, raita, salad and naan. The chicken was equally good, with a little more sauce than the lamb. There was plenty of food, and none of us left hungry.

The restaurant has no license, so we took our own drinks: a couple of bottles of wine helped the food go down nicely. And as if the great food and fun environment wasn’t enough, the price was a real surprise: a meal for five, excluding drinks, came to £42. A bargain!

We ended the evening with a stroll through the village, enjoying the bands playing in various aisles, and the colourful lanterns dangling overhead. The newly opened ice cream parlour beckoned to us, but our full stomachs resisted… An excuse to return in the not too distant future.

The English Pig

26 06 2011

Glancing at a restaurant menu, typically the first thing I do is decide the kind of mood I’m in, and how that manifests in my choice of meat. Imagine the struggle, then, of being faced with an entire menu comprised of only one meat… pork in abundance.

The English Pig is a restaurant in the City, near Barbican, and they specialise (as the name suggests) in pork. Of course, we knew that before we went, and are all fans of the humble pig. During a discussion over dinner the majority of our table said pork was their favourite meat, and I was the sole dissenting voice who dared to suggest a preference for lamb. I did so in hushed tones, for fear I might be ejected from the restaurant.

Everything on the menu includes some aspect of pigginess, except the desserts… but even there was a hint of swine. The menu opens with a warning to vegetarians that they may well be in the wrong place, though I did smell something resembling sea bass from the table next to us, so it would appear that the chefs show a little grace here and there.

The obsession with pig is slightly disconcerting insofar as it also extends to the artwork on the wall; pictures of happy smiling pigs. It reminded me of Leo McGarry’s line in The West Wing: “I take my daughter to a seafood place the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank so I can’t eat ’em.” Thankfully the pictures bore no names.

Pork pate and bacon jam

The menu offered five options for each course, and it was insanely difficult to decide between them. We had gone with a couple of friends, and so were able to order different dishes each and try them all. I went for the crispy pig’s head, which had a beautiful deep flavour, served with a light apple puree. Other options included braised pig’s cheeks and pork scratching salad, both of which were gorgeous. But the highlight for me was the pork pate with bacon jam. It was a fun ‘building site’ of a dish, which tasted fantastic. Each element on its own was great, but together worked brilliantly; the light pate being complemented perfectly by the bacon jam to give a beautiful sweet flavour.

Then onto the mains. One glance at the menu and we were all quickly decided. The signature dish is a 21 hour slow roast belly with mustard mash and savoy cabbage. I considered being the martyr of the group and trying one of the other options just so we could try something different… but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, knowing I would be sick with jealousy seeing everyone else enjoy their pork belly. So four pork bellies it was. (Incidentally, if I had gone for something else, the smoked hock with roasted garlic, broccoli and radish sounded divine.)

21 hour pork belly

The pork belly delivered perfectly: tender and flavoursome, with a beautiful sticky jus, creamy mustard mash and wafer-thin shredded savoy cabbage, topped with a golden strip of crackling. Every element was perfectly balanced and together tasted amazing. I was satisfied that I made the right choice.

Desserts were fun: chocolate fondant with white chocolate sauce served in a bucket, kahlua panna cotta. Helen had ‘strawberries and cream’ which was the most fun and fresh-tasting option. Strawberries with balsamic jelly cubes, cream, a tuile (with, I think, a hint of black pepper in), cream, an earl gray foam and, to bring out the childish side, popping candy. I think you could pretty much put popping candy on any dish and it would bring out a smile… except maybe my pork belly – that would have just annoyed me!

Strawberries and cream

My dessert choice was… well… peculiar! I’m more of a savoury guy than sweet, and would happily do away with dessert in favour of something salty. So I went for the rather odd chocolate and bacon crème brûlée. The waiter said it’s a ‘love it or hate it’ dish, and I think I loved it. It was confusing; a taste combination you don’t expect at all, and the bacon was unmistakable, as was the chocolate. I did enjoy it, especially not having the sweetest of teeth. It’s hard to put it into words really, you’ve got the try it. (Just maybe encourage someone else on the table to order it, and then you can try it without having to commit to that being your major dessert experience!!)

The whole evening was great fun. The restaurant was unpretentious and not at all stuffy. We had gone on a Groupon voucher which we’d bought months ago, and sometimes you can feel a little looked down on when you brandish your printed bit of paper, but not here. The waiters were just as attentive as I imagine they would have been for any other customers. The food was fantastic, we had two bottles of wine; a light pinot grigio and a merlot, and we finished it off with coffee (illy) on the sofas by the window. A great experience.

Strangely enough, they are doing another Groupon offer today. It’s a slightly different deal to the one we got (we got two courses and a bottle of wine per couple, no cocktail) but well worth checking out. I’m sure you won’t regret it! Just don’t watch ‘Babe’ at any point in the preceding week…

Restaurant Review: St Clement’s

30 07 2010

I’ve got the bug. Incensed by poor service at a cafe in Battle the other day, I signed up to trip advisor to post a review. So often I’ve relied on that site, like a shameless leech, never giving anything back… so I’ve repented, and I’m now hooked on reviewing restaurants!

I won’t bother you with all my foodie thoughts, only the ones worth checking out! So here’s a review of a gorgeous little restaurant we visited on the coast this week. And why not, eh? I never promised every post was going to be profound. In fact, I never promised any of them would. But in the vain hope that someone reading this may be a) interested in food, b) perhaps visiting the Sussex coast in the near future and c) in the market for some great fish, you may find this to be a helpful recommendation:

St Clement’s restaurant in St Leonards. The last time I visited was about two years ago, and I remember being slightly puzzled as I wound my way through the odd backstreets only to arrive in a tiny run down road, with double-parked cars and a greasy-looking tyre shop. This time, I strode more confidently; the distant memories of my previous visit (pork terrine and cornichons, followed by huss and the most amazing caponata) stirring my saliva and quickening my pace. And sure enough, there was St Clement’s restaurant; a quiet, unassuming little building in the midst of the chaos.

Fish cakes with caper crème fraiche

Seating, I don’t know, about thirty people max, the restaurant is small, with some unobtrusive modern art on the walls. It is welcoming and thoroughly unpretentious. Service was cheerful and perfectly pleasant. Their lunchtime set menu is great value; £12.50 for two courses or £15.00 for three courses, despite the fact their à la carte dishes are priced on average at £16.50.

Given its proximity to the sea, it would be churlish for St Clement’s not to offer a plethora of fish dishes. They do not disappoint. I always love dining there in the knowledge that the produce is fresh and local. A delivery-man arrived mid-service, wheeling in a cart of supplies for the evening sitting, fresh from the ocean. But the restaurant offers a number of meat dishes and vegetarian alternatives as well. The lady beside me was enjoying slow roast pork belly, which looked and smelled gorgeous. Although inwardly I was judging her for not partaking of the local fish…

Smoked pork salad with pickled mushrooms, crispy onions and tonnato sauce

For starter, Helen had fishcakes, with a caper crème fraiche. Absolutely beautiful fish, perfectly cooked. I am a sucker for anything containing capers. Seriously, you could serve me the most burnt up, ill-conceived concoction, and yet if it contained some good capers I would rave about it. There’s something about them that just destroys any sense of objectivity I might otherwise hold! But anyway… the fishcakes were beautiful.

I went for a salad of smoked pork, with crispy onions and pickled mushrooms. The mushrooms were a surprise – I had expected them to have more bite to them, and made the mistake of starting by eating one on its own. It collapsed in my mouth and the vinegar was like a kick in the back of the throat! But once I ate it with the rest of the ingredients, I found it complimented the smoky meat and the creamy tonnato sauce perfectly. The onions were beautiful; thin, crispy, and yet still with enough crunch underneath the batter to stop them being limp and oily.

Huss with Thai vegetables

Then the main; both of us had huss with rice and Thai vegetables. The fish was so soft and cooked perfectly, and the vegetables were fresh and beautiful – none of that colourless, listless, floppiness that sometimes characterises Thai veg. Everything was fresh and bordering on under-cooked (including, unfortunately, half a dozen of grains of rice, the only downside to the entire dish.) The sauce was a beautifully balanced mixture of sesame oil, thai fish sauce, chilli, lemon grass, and a little additional sweetness of some sort. The warmth was perfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To be honest, neither of us was in the mood for a dessert, which was a good thing really, as none of the dishes on offer particularly gripped us. But given that I would always happily forego a sweet for a decent starter, I was perfectly content.

I would highly recommend St Clement’s for great food and good value, especially at lunch times (the evenings add an extra £5 to the set menu). It hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I will happily keep on returning so long as the fish is fresh, and capers continue to make an appearance!