Friday, 30 January 2015

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket Beer - Part 1

My friend Ian kindly volunteered to write up this experiment and I for one salute his commitment to taking one for the team and sorting the wheat from the chaff for all hardened supermarket beer buyers amongst us. If you'd like to compliment his hard work (or send him abuse of any kind), he can be found on twitter or untappd and i'm he sure would welcome a chat with you. It's all Ian from this point onwards:

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket beer

There’s no doubt that the last few years have seen unprecedented growth in the UK craft beer scene, going against the general trend of a declining beer market, so of course the beer shelves of our supermarkets now look very different to even 3 or 4 years ago. Aside from the availability of beers from the better known craft breweries such as Brewdog and Thornbridge, the supermarkets are also trying to sell craft beer under their own labels. In a recent discussion with fellow “enthusiasts” we picked this as an area of the market that is likely to grow further in 2015. So this seemed like a good time to sample a selection of what is currently out there…..

I set myself the challenge (I realise not that much of a challenge….) of only drinking supermarket label craft beers for a week, with a minimum of 2 beers per evening. My beers were a pretty even split between Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco. Would they be a decent set of accessible craft beers at a competitive price or just a cynical attempt to latch on to a growing trend?

Day 1 – Friday

Marks and Spencer Sovereign Golden Ale – Elgood and Sons – £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal – 500ml
I have to admit I was more optimistic about the M&S selection as they use a number of different breweries to produce (mainly?) bespoke beers for them. This was a surprisingly distinctive beer, with a very dominant bubblegum flavour on top of a biscuit base. Sounds slightly odd, but it worked well. I would definitely buy this again at this price. Rating 7/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference IPA – Marstons - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After a good start I have to say this was back to earth with a bump. If I hadn't been writing this up it would have gone down the sink. Virtually no aroma, a bland beer with a dreadful metallic taste. This was a clear bottle and I wonder whether it was past its best. Why do breweries still put beer in clear bottles? Rating 3/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Celebration Ale – Black Sheep - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After the previous disaster I wasn’t overly optimistic opening this. This stout seems to be well regarded and it was certainly an improvement, although pretty light in flavour, more like a porter for me. Drinkable but not one to seek out. Rating 6/10

Day 2 - Saturday

Marks and Spencer Greenwich Red Ale – Meantime - £5 – 750ml
This was easily the most expensive beer, so became my Saturday night “treat”. It’s a well made beer, but at 4.0% I think it is too weak and lacks a bit of body. It needs to be better than this to justify the high price tag, so on that basis I wouldn't buy it again, something like Moor RAW is a much better beer in a similar style at a lower price. Rating 6.5/10

Metropolitan Brewing Company Big Bad Wolf – Greene King - £1.25 - 330ml
The second shocker and a truly depressing beer all round. This is the most obviously “craft” of the Tesco own brand beers in terms of labelling and description. Described as having “huge hoppy character”, this actually tastes like a standard UK bitter that has gone a bit stale, no aroma, no hit of hops, no real flavour. Bordering on deceitful, this could put you off craft beer if you were trying it for the first time. Rating 2/10

Day 3 - Monday

The Bee 17 – Backyard Brewery/Carlsberg - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 330ml
The first can, which seems to be another growth market for 2015. Not strictly supermarket own brand but Carslberg’s attempt to cash in on the craft market. It’s not bad, a hoppier version of something similar to their standard lager, but I don’t really understand why anyone would buy this when Brooklyn Lager is so widely available at decent prices. Rating 5/10

Revisionist Rye Pale Ale – Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
This is Tesco’s other craft range and after the Greene King effort I was ready for the worst case scenario. It was actually a pleasant surprise, with all the flavours you would expect from a rye pale ale. It was just a bit watery which makes it difficult to recommend wholeheartedly, but at this price it is a decent introduction to something a bit different. Rating 6/10

Day 4 – Tuesday

Revisionist Hefeweizen Wheat Beer - Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
By this stage I have to say I was beginning to crave the serious flavour hit that I get from the sort of beers I usually drink. This beer didn’t give me that, it was similar to the previous beer in that the profile was right, but it was watery. There are lots of top hefe weizens available for £2 or so, such as the classic Weihenstephaner or Franziskaner, so no need to buy this even with a 50 pence saving. Rating 5/10

Marks and Spencer Southwold Winter IPA – Adnams - £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal
Another beer with a bit of pedigree from a good brewery. This had the most flavour of any beer I sampled, a pretty serious bitter hop hit, not the most subtle drink in the world, but a damn site better than much of what I drank this week. I’d buy this again for £2. Rating 7/10

Final three days to follow

Monday, 26 January 2015

Northern Monk Brewery / Grub and Grog Shop - Leeds

There’s certainly something in the water in Leeds at the moment, resulting in a new wave of original and independent food and drink businesses popping up all over the city. As a city to visit for the weekend it’s up there with my favourites in the UK. It seems like there’s always something food and drink related happening in the city and something I’d say only London can compare with. As of late August, Northern Monk joined the party by opening their new brewery premises just a short distance from the city centre.

Having seen no photos of the premises before I visited it’s no exaggeration to say I was pretty staggered by the whole thing. The building itself (a converted flax mill) looks incredible - the first sight of the branded banners with their impressive artwork hanging from the front of the building framed by a dark bleak Yorkshire sky really is a sight to behold. As a package it's certainly the most impressive restaurant and tap room combo I've visited - in the UK it's pretty much unique (I'm certainly struggling to think of anywhere).

As you enter the building you’re greeted with sneak peaks of the brewery itself through the large glass windows throughout (just my luck I chose to visit on a day that no brewing action was taking place though, unfortunately). The taproom is up on the first floor is made up of a large room with exposed beams, original brickwork, local artwork and filled with a mixture of smaller bar style seating and large 10 person communal seating. As a brewery taproom, it’s pretty much my idea of the perfect place to sit and quaff a few quiet pints. Beer wise we’re looking at 16 keg options and 4 cask options – heavily focused on Northern Monk but with some cracking guests (Bad Seed, Magic Rock, Kirkstall, Red Willow amongst others on this visit) as well as a small but well curated UK focused bottle shop.

The good news is that the booze is more than well complimented by the "Grub and Grog shop" who are also based on site and provide breakfast, lunch and dinner in this ‘refectory’ area. I hadn't heard a lot about them so did a bit of reading in advance and was immediately impressed by their imaginative menus. I loved having a read through their 'Friends and suppliers’ section of a website and which in this case links to a selection of suppliers who were all impressively local.

The menu on the day of the visit was different to that on the website. This is something i'm always keen to see in a place that serves smaller dishes as it typically suggests an imaginative chef making the best of seasonal ingredients and pushing themselves rather than serving up the same old dishes day after day. On this occasion I got stuck into the following:

“Ox tongue hash, celeriac mash, pickles, kale, hop syrup and stout gravy”
This was a good looking plate of food indeed. The tongue with the mash and stout gravy was just fantastic, think rich and with a mountain of deep flavour. The kale was roasted and added a great crunchy texture to proceedings, pickle had been finely sliced and was mild enough that when mixed in with the other ingredients it didn't overwhelm anything. On a day in the height of winter when it and absolutely freezing cold outside, this was a perfect winter warmer of a lunch. 

“Yorkshire fries”
A generous portion of red hot freshly roasted seasonal vegetables served with a dollop of reassuringly stodgy home-made mayonnaise. The veg involved resulted in a mix of textures, some extremely crisped up and others more part baked resulting in an enjoyable mix of consistencies, a great little take on a boring old side of fries. Really enjoyable.

“Stuffed Mutton in Ale, glazed beetroot, sautéed sprouts and puy lentils”
I didn’t actually dig into this one myself but I was being so enthusiastic about my dish that my friend offered me a spoonful of his. The mutton was cooked well and full of flavour - the sprouts and lentils as a base made for another great hearty dish, one that seemed just as impressive as the one I was tucking into.

I don’t have enough good things to say about the Northern Monk Refectory; offering the holy trinity of excellent fresh beer in stunning surroundings and with delicious well-priced original food could not have impressed me more. It’s right at the top of my very favourite places to visit in Leeds and you’ll be sure to see me propping up the bar tucking into beer and food in here at every opportunity I get whenever I'm over the Pennines in the future.

Grub and Grog Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Trove - Manchester

Having recently moved from the City out to South Manchester, I've been taking the time to explore and one of my new favourites is Levenshulme, which reminds me of a fair few of the trendier London suburbs: a thriving, culturally mixed community build around a train station with a Saturday morning food market. For me the jewel in this crown is Trove Café and Bakery. I've mentioned my love for their bread on many occasions; they’re head and shoulders my favourite ‘proper’ bakery in Manchester with a classic white sourdough that could scrap it out with the best of them.

Trove seems to be one of the few places in Manchester that I genuinely haven’t read a single negative word about. I’d built up a strong expectation of the place being entirely twee from the photos of their kids and cat on Instagram, an occasional mention of acoustic folk nights (*shudder*), the impressively curated range of homewares in their store and the photos of the interior. No insult meant by any of those observations, they just fit very well into a specific style of café that you can be sure most boroughs in London (sorry to mention the L word again) have tucked away somewhere but still seems to be a rarity being done ‘properly’ with taste this flawless in the North.

The menu was small but perfectly formed with brunch and sandwich options which covered all of the typical eggy and hot breakfast bases but with the addition of some genuinely interesting tweaks and flavours. Normally, I am fairly decisive when ordering, but this was a situation whereby I just ambled upto the tills and just chose at the last second being pretty confidant from the descriptions that whatever appeared would be tasty. The place smelt so good that my hunger levels had increased tenfold since we wandered in.

The eggs benedict Mrs HJ ordered came with with crispy bacon and capers served on two well buttered giant slices of their signature white sourdough. I can’t get enough of capers at the best of times (we can’t keep them in the house as it’s a matter of time before one of us tucks into the jar with a spoon) and they worked a treat here adding some acidity to the rich hollandaise. Bacon was just as crispy as I’d hoped and eggs were very well cooked, I could've done with a bit more sauce but the yolks ensured things were never dry.

I went for the crispy black pudding, poached egg, ginger and beetroot chutney on brown sourdough (my choice). Presentation was impressive with the pudding layered onto a spring onion and topped with an egg poached just to my taste, not a hint of sloppy white mess but with a yolk that was fit to burst. The chutney was tangy and warming and worked really well with the fried black pudding. 

We also had a flat white and black Americano (not pictured) both excellent and I’d say easily the best coffee we’d have found walking at least 45 minutes in any direction from here and arguably in the entire city.

Despite it being 3pm on a Sunday it was still pretty busy and as everything was just so damn good I can imagine it gets hellish on Saturday mornings or when they have events on. So my only minor quibble would be that due to the location and travel required I’d hate to rock up only for it to be heaving and have to leave disappointed as the alternatives nearby for a similar quality of food and drink are minimal to non-existent. I’ll test the waters again in a few weeks but for that to be the only slight negative I could add (if anything they should receive a massive pat on the back for offering something original down here) is about as petty as it comes and as a result Trove is massively recommended – top 10 in Manchester material for me.

Trove on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Modern Pantry - London

I've admired the Modern Pantry from afar a few times whilst wandering around Clerkenwell, which is becoming an increasingly hip part of London for food and drink types to head for. Just off the top of my head you have Workshop Coffee, Foxlow, Giant Robot, St John, Polpo, Prufrock, Craft Beer Co and Hix amongst I’m sure others that I’ve not discovered yet. All of these establishments are within an easy 5-10 minute walk of each other meaning you could easily start at Farringdon and head in a circle spending a pretty fantastic afternoon stuffing your face. 
The building itself is stunning; it’s only three floors but takes an imposing position at the top of St John’s Square and immediately draws your eye from Clerkenwell Road. The lower floors and seating space outside at the front make up the main eating area and the top floor was being used as meeting room on this visit. This was much to my surprise as the toilets are also on the top and as I made my usual nose around (I can never help myself) I almost blundered into in a pretty serious looking business meeting – closing the door would've helped avoid me making a fool of myself immensely. From what little I saw before I scuttled off, this looked like it would also have made a pretty swish private dining area for small groups.

Whilst I was blundering around upstairs, our coffees, orange and grapefruit juices arrived offering a vibrant multi-coloured start to proceedings. My Americano was fantastic, rich, strong and a real mid-morning head clearer. The grapefruit juice was just as I like only a tiny touch of sweetness mixed in with the tart citrus but it was too smooth to not be from a carton. The glass of orange juice was stuffed with fresh juicy bits and that all so reassuring sugary hit. 

"Modern Pantry Muesli"
A large bowlful of intensely creamy soaked Bircher muesli which came sprinkled with fresh ripe pineapple, a dollop of raspberry compote and crispy toasted seeds. This alone would’ve been more than enough to set me up for the day, for me it was exactly what I want from a breakfast – carby, not too sweet and with the muesli, which can often be very bland in the wrong hands, more than bought to life by the sugary fruit and seeds. Lovely stuff. 

"Raspberry and Ricotta Pancakes"
I’m hard pushed to remember pancakes better than this I’ve had elsewhere in the UK (or further afield in fact). It did mention on the menu that there's a 20 minute wait which almost put me off, especially at breakfast time, but honestly i'd have waited all morning if i'd known they'd be this good. They came served as a stack of 5 thick pancakes, which were almost verging on the consistency of soufflé. They were cooked well – retaining their form as individual pancakes and so as not to just collapse into a giant pile of mushy pancake dough. The portion was so generous that it was a battle getting through (especially given the muesli I’d already tucked away) but they were so more-ish they were just impossible to leave. The extravagant amount of fruit compote and raspberries throughout meant this must've been at least one of my five a day, right? The crème fraiche finish was an ideal partner to the dish, breaking up the intense sweetness of the compote. 

The final course we shared (well my partner in crime started and I finished) was one of the impressively large selection of vegetarian cooked breakfasts which in this case consisted of two poached eggs and toast with pan fried haloumi, spinach and slow-roast vine ripened tomatoes. Initial impressions weren't great as the dish looked so bland compared to the muesli and pancakes but flavour wise it was very well considered. The spinach and slow-roasted tomatoes were juicy and well flavoured, the eggs were poached perfectly - primed with the yolk and ready to explode with the merest exertion of pressure. The bread was lathered in butter and the halloumi had been really well cooked, with only had a hint of that usual rubber-like consistency, which absolutely goes through me like nails down a blackboard. Here it was thick, buttery and actually had genuine flavour to add to the dish rather than just be there as a pointless addition. 

The coffee was strong, the service was fast, food was all very good and we both left absolutely stuffed for just under £40. The addition of fruit or vegetables to each course at least made these feel healthy and as a very late slightly hungover breakfast this absolutely kept me going until dinner time which is all I could ask. If I worked locally it’d be my spot of choice for meetings and breakfast which can often be a meal that’s difficult to inject life into – they really cracked it with the menu seeming both reassuringly familiar but with an injection of their own personality.
Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Monday, 29 December 2014

Junkyard - Nottingham

My first impression of Junkyard was 95% eye-roll, From the name (though I suppose the British equivalent "Rubbish Tip" wouldn't quite appeal on the same level.), through to the wording on their awning (which tries to tempt in "beer geeks, caffeine junkies, grazers, oenophiles, cocktail sippers and soda slurpers" all with no capital letters of course) it's very clear that in setting this place up they've worked through every single square on the 'let's try and appeal to absolutely every current trend possible all at once' bingo card. Let me also file the following as evidence - exposed brickwork, beers only being served in two thirds (PINTS? *Scoffs*), menus printed on brown kraft paper, labelling themselves as a "pour house", food menu headed as "Junkfood", sides being served in camp fire tins....i'm struggling for many more current clichés from the past few years they could have steamed into.

The first time I dropped in it was entirely for beers and on that front they entirely deliver. They have a chalk board with a range of 15 keg beers to choose from. The focus is heavily in favour of American beer, with a real focus on breweries that don't seem to appear very often elsewhere in the UK - Ruhstaller, Uncommon, North Coast and Acme featuring both times I've visited. On this front, they're at least they're offering something new and not an endless list of Brookyln and Anchor options. On this visit there was an increased showing of British breweries over imported beer (which often suffers on a freshness front due to the sheer mileage involved). Price-wise (remember the prices shown below are for 2/3's) there was only one beer cheaper than £5 a pint making them a shade expensive compared to other similar bars across the UK.

As well as the draft board, they they also offer 4 fridges that cover more US beers as well as an interesting range of UK beers (including lots of the bigger hitters: think Kernel, Bad Seed and Pressure Drop). They also offer a short cocktail menu and 20 plus wines as well as a range of coffees and teas so drinks wise we're all pretty well covered. 

The food menu is based on a choice of 10+ small plates and half a dozen larger sandwich options. There is also a daily specials menu that adds a couple of starter options and just one further sandwich. Range wise it's a mix of US comfort food staples such mac and cheese, pastrami sandwiches, various fries, hot wings, short ribs etc. - there was certainly plenty from the short descriptions that sounded like they could be worth trying. I indulged in the following...

Fried Pickles - plump and juicy pickles which had been deep-fried whole. The batter was crispy and each mouthful was just so damn pickley that there must have been vinegar or pickle juice in the batter which made them incredibly enjoyable. I can never resist ordering this delicacy on any menu and the extra vinegar hit elevated them to the same level at MeatLiquor. I could easily have gobbled down a couple of dishes of these without them touching the sides, I liked the mis-shaped pieces - it gave the impression they'd not been shipped in pre-sliced ready for the frying.

Padron Peppers - for the price, this was an appropriate sized portion of grilled padron peppers. They hadn't been grilled over charcoal which often gives them that extra blistered skin and tasty smokiness but they were well seasoned and a good side to pick at around the mains. 

Mac and Cheese balls with Arrabiata Sauce - the sauce was rich with a great kick of heat. The mac and cheese balls were excellent - dense and with a perfect crispy outer, they held together extremely well and didn't just crumble as I dug in,

Pastrami on Rye - This looked worryingly light on meat initially but i'm glad to report there was a good stack of salty slices tucked away beneath the bizarre choice of gem lettuce which didn't crush down due to it's weird stem, making the sandwich a little difficult to handle. The bottom layer was stuffed with pickles which had been sliced thickly so they retained the crunch. Lashings of hot English mustard and sauerkraut brought everything together well - gem lettuce aside this was about all I could ask from a pastrami butty. The small side pot of seasonal slaw had a good mix of salad but the overly sweet dressing left it too soggy for me.

The "BLGT" (one of the specials of the day) consisted of  bacon, more of the unnecessary baby gem lettuce, Gorgonzola cheese and roasted tomatoes - all served up on focaccia. A mini twist (at least not one i'm familiar with) on a BLT whereby they'd melted some Gorgonzola onto the bacon. I'm sure there'll be traditionalists that would argue you shouldn't mess with a  BLT but this was right up my street, adding a nice kick to the flavour. Even the gem lettuce getting in the way and serving it on Foccacia over my preferred white loaf slice couldn't ruin my fun here.Although, the sprinkling of parsnip crisps over the top was a slightly odd addition which added nothing, in fact they tasted slightly soft as if they were fried in batches early in the day before being sprinkled over sandwiches throughout the day. 

This Sloppy Joe was a course that I didn't eat myself so I can't really add comment flavour wise. My friend tucked in (and thoroughly enjoyed it). It consisted of a giant hot dog, thick crunchy onion rings, pulled pork and a giant roasted pepper. Let's take a moment to admire that sprig of Rosemary.

Dessert wise, the only option was a chocolate brownie with fruit compote and vanilla ice cream  aka ultimate chefs cop out. This seemed a shame as i'd have happily tucked into a sundae or something similar to close the meal but given the lack of choice we swerved it altogether.

Drinks wise, we shared a Pressure Drop Pale Fire from the bottle which was as reliable as ever and I wrapped up with an Americano which was black, strong and tasted fresh enough. 
Despite all signals pointing to this being a cash in on as much trendy nonsense as possible, you can definitely consider me pleasantly surprised. It turns out I can forgive a total lack of originality (after all, "there's nothing new under the sun") for well cooked, fairly priced and quickly served food in a bar where I can get a good beer and I had a genuinely enjoyable if not life-changing lunch in Junkyard and whilst not worth a special trip, I would definitely go back.

As a quick aside, I enjoy that when you click the link to their twitter on the website it takes you to "" and then when you re-word it yourself to "junkyardnotts" yourself they only follow 5 people and have an image of the default egg. Then you search some more and figure out it's actually on there under "Junkyard Poho" @jydpoho. It's 2014, come on fellas - this shouldn't have to take detective work.

Junkyard on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Parlour - Chorlton, Manchester

For those that don’t live there, Chorlton seems to really rub people (especially those that are particularly vocal on the internet) up the wrong way for whatever petty reason. Long before I first visited I’d long formed the impression it was some sort of trendy vegan hippy commune albeit a very expensive one to live in when in but it’s actually pretty a really pleasant leafy suburb to while away an afternoon.

I’ve still yet to explore properly but in the brief time I’ve spent down there I’ve been surrounded by pretty normal humans and been really impressed with the range of food and drink options (ie the important stuff) on offer. I’ve been in The Beagle for a banging pint from their impressive range, I’ve been drunk as a lord on cheap cocktails in The Font, I’ve scoffed some stunning street food from The Hungry Gecko van in the garden of the Beech Inn (whilst it was still there), and now I’ve had a fantastic pub lunch in the wonderful Parlour.
I remembered the name of The Parlour from winning the best Sunday lunch in the country in the Observer food awards a few years ago. Friends based in Chorlton had also recommended that the food was definitely worth trying so when I had visitors for the weekend I suggested we escape the city and give the place a try for lunch.

The lunch menu on this particular visit was made up of three types of sandwich, a couple of salads, platters (vegetarian, meat or seafood), a handmade burger and then the special of the day which was beer battered fish and chips.

"Seafood Parlour Platter"
There were a lot of elements to this one – a traditional little glass of prawn cocktail served on a bed of fresh salad leaves, the crab cakes were served slightly warm and were crunchy and with plenty of meat, the trout pate was ideal for spreading over the side of bread that was served alongside the board. A small handful of pickled cockles were sprinkled to one side of the board and I got stuck into these along with the oak smoked salmon. I really enjoyed this as a main; the individual flavours complemented each other without any overpowering of the others. I’m sadly still not over my absolute hatred of food being served on boards like this mind.

"Fish and Chips"
This was text book fish and chips for me – crispy beer batter, not one but two giant pieces of tender fish all dished up on a bed of freshly made tartar sauce (which was deliciously heavy on the capers), a generous portion of chips and a side of mushy peas with a hint of mint.
"Handmade Beef Burger"
It’s commonplace now when a burger is dished up to expect a perfect looking production line patty and bun and whilst this hand formed patty was way off the mark looks wise, the all-important flavours and quality of the meat more than made up for it. It came served with a pile of excellent red-hot chunky chips, a couple of giant beer battered onion rings which had a properly satisfying crunch to them and some token salad leaves (which added little other than some colour to the plate) Extra marks granted for allowing it to be ordered rare and arriving perfectly pink in the centre. As we all know by now adding a slice of pickled gherkin to a burger is a match made in heaven and chopping them with capers here through the mayo sauce worked an absolute treat.
"Coronation Salad"
The salad had some serious work to do to compete with the other food that was rapidly filling the table. It consisted of really well cooked chicken delivered on a bed of salad leaves and then sprinkled with toasted cashews and croutons to add some crunch to proceedings. The fruity coronation sauce had been lightly applied to the greenery to give it a flavour throughout and with plenty of spare served on the side to dig the chicken into.
There was a reasonable wait for food (just over 20 mins) but we were caught up in the lunch rush and for the freshness on display it was obviously being cooked to order, it felt like there was real care and attention involved in this food. The positive about the wait is there is a decent bar which had a range of ales, beers, ciders and plenty of spirits. We were all impressed with our individual courses and I had a massive dose of food envy in that I only got to taste the other three dishes and not enjoy them in full myself so will definitely be heading back next time I'm in Chorlton to enjoy some more of the menu. I really must try that infamous Sunday lunch too.
The Parlour on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Lockhart - London

Fine-dining is all well and good but sometimes you want to go for a meal that you really know about afterwards, where you're so tempted by everything that's on the menu and you're struggling for choice. Well, for once I let the pressure gets to me, gave in and ended up over-ordering and had to be almost rolled away from the restaurant afterwards regretting nothing because i'd eaten such glorious food. After eating at the Lockhart I came away feeling like Henry the Eighth, albeit it having gorged on their take on southern US cuisine rather than just eating giant legs of ham straight from an open fire.

I digress and to be honest that's because I've been struggling writing this for some time now. I certainly have plenty to say about the food and how fantastic it was but trying to get over just how enthusiastic I am about this place without just hammering down a stream of adjectives has proved more difficult than I ever imagined.

The Lockhart is on a quiet street behind Marble Arch (in the opposite direction to Le Gavroche so completely away from tourist hell) and from the outside looks like 500 other restaurants in London, a discrete logo emblazoned on awnings, a couple of token tables sat out front and a plain printed A4 menu hidden away in a holder by the door.

In the end we did take one of the tables out the front as it was a baking hot day but the inside was absolutely gorgeous, it reminded me of a more authentic version of Barnyard (that i'd been to 24 hours earlier) with stunning wood floors and farm house style tables but nothing here felt forced or gimmicky. You could close your eyes and day dream that the bundling through one of the fire exits in the back of the restaurant could open up onto a huge field of corn (rather than the dingy little office that was actually out the back).

I started with a Margarita which was reassuringly proper, with the glass salted on one side and served in a substantial heavy glass tumbler which added a nice classy touch. The booze was generous and the tang perfect.

The food that followed was just fantastic from start to finish.

"Pickled quail eggs"
I've eaten pickled eggs more in the past 6 months than in my entire life previously (it's the effect of the move to the North). These were delightful, tasty little snacks to whet my appetite – rich vinegary white and moist yolk. Could easily have sat and picked at a jar of these throughout dinner.

"Chicken Oysters"
These are a delight hidden away on the back of a chicken near the thigh, they're darker than a lot of the typical meat you'd be recovering from the carcass and supposedly slightly oyster shaped (hence the name). It was a great experience to have a small bowl of them dished up and not have to be fishing about after roasting a chicken in the oven to find them only to be immediately craving more. The meat is slightly firm to the touch but oh so tender and juicy to the bite and they made an absolutely perfect dish for a starter to share. The meat itself was almost overshadowed by the sauce, a delicious rich mustard with a hint of lemony citrus.

Not ashamed to admit this was a totally new one on me, I had done a little research ahead of the visit when I saw it on a menu on the website and had wrongly assumed from photos that it would be similar to a shooters sandwich (essentially a squashed cold sandwich stuffed with meat). It actually consisted of quarter of a giant sandwich which was served warm and deep filled with a variety of cured meats and cheese as well as chopped olive salad. The bun looked like a McDonalds sesame bun but the bread was lovely and dense and had some real weight to it. This was verging on life-changing - it was so to my tastes I feel I've been wasting my valuable eating hours without knowing this existed until now. It came with a side of home made salt and vinegar crisps which were the crispiest crisps you could ever imagine - they looked almost overdone colour wise but were incredibly flavoured with salt and vinegar but without creating a hint of soggy texture. The sort of course where you really know you've been eating and immediately start loosening the top button of your trousers as soon as it arrives in preparation. Fantastic stuff.

"Shrimp and Grits"
Rich cheddar, creamy grits, prominent spring onion, tender mushrooms, little bit of heat, topped off with fat juicy prawns. Just perfect homely comfort food, filling but without even a hint of grease or blandness throughout. A really special bowl of food. 

Sides - "Collard Greens" and "Tomato and Cucumber" salad. Both were solid renditions of what I expected when ordered, not a lot to add.

"Corn bread with honey butter"
This was served up still sizzling in the red hot metal tray it had been cooked in, soaked in a mini oil slick of honey butter. The corn bread was cooked perfectly throughout with no hint of a soggy dough centre and the hint of sweetness in the corn was emphasised by the honey butter but still stayed on the right side of savoury to work perfectly as a side for the mains. This accompanied with the Mufuletta was seriously no joke, bordering on an insurmountable mountain of carbs (yes, I finished everything)

"Lemon ice box"
I was utterly stuffed by this phase due to my over-indulgence so far and was determined not to have a dessert but this was one of those meals where everything that had preceded had been so good I was forced to change my mind when I saw the options and went for the lemon ice box. The burnt crust on the outside of the meringue came away like the outer of a marshmallow roasted on a bonfire as a kid. All served on a base of Graham cracker, lemon curd and with lemon ice cream hidden away inside. This was on a par with the tobacco banana chocolate dish that i'd enjoyed at A Wong for the best dessert i've eaten all year thus far. Coming from a non-dessert person this is very high praise indeed.

From the snippets of conversation I couldn't help but overhear, lots of people in there were clearly regulars, a few even mentioning "see you again tomorrow for lunch" which was exceptionally positive to hear but having enjoyed the food on offer I can completely understand why. This is up there with the best places for comfort food i've eaten at in the UK, in fact I almost feel guilty using that description given the level of cooking on display and such great quality - especially for the reasonable prices. I can't even name a highlight here and find myself day-dreaming about being sat out front in the sun tucking into all this again constantly, it's absolutely at the very top of the list to return to next time I'm in London and I could easily see myself joining their list of regulars if I didn't live at the other end of the country.
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