Wednesday, September 19, 2007

London Calling

The week 10-14 Sept 2007

A week down in London has left the site content a little neglected and, as usual, me well and truly behind with all the writing.

So this is a quick wrap up of my week in London. I was staying in the Marble Arch area: close to Oxford Street and very retail oriented. Once you go a block back from Oxford Street you do come across a few pubs and smaller restaurants but prices remain outlandish.

I only visisted one pub - The Three Tuns. The kitchen closes relatively early (I ordered just on 9pm and was told the kitchen was closed) and the beer, while good, is pricey: £2.92 for a pint of London Pride?! The pub itself was friendly, cosy, with newspapers and plenty of tables - although I'm not sure about the wisdom of placing a table right next to the entrance to the men's loos!

The next food stop was decidedly more upmarket: Brasserie Roux at the Sofitel St James. The 'weekly menu' offers you 3 courses (limited choice), plus 2 glasses of wine for just £24.50. For London, this is good value, but you do have to be careful you don't stray: our glasses of champagne, a gin and tonic and coffees all boosted the price. I started with the beef carpaccio with fennel, rocket and parmesan salad. The beef was wafer thin and the salad was fresh and it all worked well with the glass of champagne I was still drinking! For main course I opted for the salmon with choron sauce, served with broccoli and potatoes. While I do think the salmon was a trifle over cooked, it was still very good and the sauce (a béarnaise with tomato) was lovely. The potatoes were excellent.

Compelled to fit in pudding I chose the lemon tart with raspberry coulis. This was my favourite part of the meal: tart lemon curd, a caramelised top, and sweet coulis - delicious!

Aside from the tardy service on apéritifs and subsequently rapid fire delivery of our food, the experience was great. If you're disciplined enough to stick to the weekly menu only Brasserie Roux proves that you can eat well, and in style, in London at more than reasonable prices.

Next stop was the hotel restaurant: The Carvery at the Marble Arch Thistle. I loathe carvery/buffet style meals (people always seem compelled to make utter pigs of themselves), but The Carvery does also offer an à la carte menu, so I thought I should try it out. I ordered the steak with mushroom, chips and tomato which comes in at a whopping £18. The steak which was on offer at the Three Tuns (or would have been, had I been earlier) cost less than half that! The steak was properly cooked, although I suspect it could have rested for a little longer, as it was not an even temperature throughout. The mushroom was quite nice, but the tomato was a little anaemic. The chips were standard chunky-cut frozen numbers. Hmm, for £18 not worth the money. The staff were very friendly and the hotel restaurant also provided good people watching opportunities, but overall the price was just too high - especially considering the standard of service, food and overall environment at Brasserie Roux. And, as my single glass of wine was £6 at The Carvery, Brasserie Roux represents sensational value for money.

Quick visit to Wimbledon: drinks at Suburban, followed by a meal at a relatively new Thai restaurant, Suk Saran. This is a busy restaurant and, while we were seated quickly without a reservation, that was more to do with luck than planning! The menu contains lots of interesting dishes as well as the old standbys. Between three of us we had a green chicken curry, a mixed seafood dish (complete with whole crab claws) and (for me) a beef stir fry with loads of ginger, kaffir lime leaves and fresh green peppercorns. It was absolutely delicious. I couldn't be so enthusiastic about our starter - we shared some spring rolls as we were told the food might be a while. We received a plate of four tiny and almost tasteless spring rolls. Our main courses took so long to arrive we had finished our bottle of wine. And at the table next to us we were entertained (or worried!) by a very drunk man who randomly railed against British society, immigrants and rang his girlfriend (or perhaps ex girlfriend) to tell her how everything he did was for her. Needless to say, we didn't pay the optional 12.5% service charge! The meal came out at £20 a head, and the food was good enough to ensure that I, for one, would be prepared to give Suk Saran a second chance.

Friday night and, in a week of globe trotting eating, it was time to visit Spain. We headed to Rebato's in Vauxhall. Firstly, our meal was ludicrously cheap (around £45 for 4 people), the service was friendly, and there was as much bread as we needed. The tapas themselves were a little uneven - a fact we'd been warned about in advance. The chorizo was having an 'off' night (we were told the way to tell this is to determine whether its sauce is more yellow than red), but the pollo al ajillo (chicken and garlic) was fantastic! We also enjoyed boquerones (white anchovies - one of my favourite things), tortilla, albondigas and patatas bravas - but as far as we were all concerned, it was the pollo al ajillo which made the meal! Apparently this restaurant can get ferociously busy and you can't book for tapas - you just have to be lucky!

The final stop in London was (of course) a pub. Although we were loitering around King's Cross, it wasn't a trip to the Charles Lamb - we ventured outside our comfort zone in search of plenty of space and wi-fi. Pastures new found us at the Harrison. This pub is just off Gray's Inn Road and seems a world away from King's Cross itself. We didn't eat there but the food does get good write ups. Instead, we whiled away a few hours tucked up on a sofa, surfing the web and reading the papers - as well as drinking beers (Timothy Taylor's Landlord ... mmm). We were entertained by a scruffy pigeon who found his way in but couldn't (or wouldn't) find his way out. The pub wasn't hugely busy, which is a shame although it did get busier as the afternoon went on (perhaps not everyone goes to the pub at 1pm on a Sunday ...).

If you've reached the bottom of this rather long guide to a week in London - well done! And, at this point, I suggest you return later in the week as there may well be something of interest on the site ...

1. The Three Tuns, 1 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6HR, phone: 020 7408 0330
2. Brasserie Roux, Sofitel St James London, 6 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AN, phone: 020 7747 2200
3. Thistle Marble Arch, Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, Central London, W1H 7EH, phone: 0870 333 9116
4. Suk Saran, 29 Wimbledon Hill Road, Wimbledon, SW19 7NE, phone: 020 8947 9199
5. Rebatos, 169 South Lambeth Road, London, SW8 1XW, phone: 0207 735 6388
6. The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Camden, WC1H 8JF, phone: 0207 278 3966

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