Archive

Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

15 Westland Place, Shoreditch, London, N1 7LP www.fifteen.net

We do a lot of terrible things for charity us liberals; we buy dusters at ten times the going rate from shell suited, fast talking, wide boys at our door, we pretend to find the Big Issue a Good Read and we eat at Jamie’s 15.

Jamie’s 15 was perhaps the worst restaurant I ate in during 2007; the food was rubbish and overpriced, the tables smeared from wipes with filthy rags and the staff indolent and insolent. Jamieland souvenirs were being sold to gullible Americans and out of towners and the champagne socialists of North London were grimly eating as if it was their last ‘supper’. I didn’t go back and swore I never would, despite the obvious good intentions of the place.

But then a press release arrived saying that all had changed, there had been a design revamp and a bright new chef put in place. Gone was the dodgy Italian menu and in its place a British seasonal one had landed. That, and the fact that the area had changed its demographic since 2007, was enough to lure me back for lunch and a look see.

The City Road hasn’t changed much though, it’s still one of the noisiest, most brain-damaging traffic heavy streets in London, but Old Street tube station has moved on. Purged are the tramps and winos, now young people working in New Media throng through, all dressed the same and sporting self-satisfied expressions that say ‘I am here, I am in the centre of everything hip. I don’t work at a desk, I work in a space.’

Not many of them in Jamie’s 15 though, but then he’s probably old enough to be their dad, instead the 30 something bosses of those New Media companies fill the tables looking sharp in Gap. There’s an open kitchen at one end with a hunky looking pizza oven, although there appear to be no pizzas on the menu, and the feel is far more attractive than before. The tables and glasses are clean for one thing and the bar looks inviting.

The menu from chef, and mate of Jamie, Jon Rotheram is full of stuff I want to eat, but concise enough not to induce a headache of indecision. Jon’s time at St John is evident but this is not a clone, his own ideas are strong and only the focus on seasonal, simplicity and quality is carried through.

The dishes are for sharing, which is a concept I’m never very happy about being an only child, and it’s not always practical. How do you share a broth? With two straws? Not wanting to re-enact The Lady and the Tramp, we passed on that one.

Asparagus and courgette fiercely roasted in that pizza oven and topped with a gloriously glowing egg, was easier to share once the egg had been burst and stirred through. The ‘grass was crisp, the egg exemplary but where was the advertised truffle? No sign nor scent of it.

Pink Fir, Lincolnshire Poacher and wild garlic was fill your face gorgeous; Pink Fir, along with Ratte, are the best potatoes in the world for serving simply boiled or steamed  and the gummy, tangy  puddle of cheese clung to each piece tenaciously with the slight whiff of the wild garlic shooting through. We called for bread to mop up every last sticky bit of it.

And then there was Swiss Chard, the hardy beast of the green party, nothing can take it down not even a British winter and this was the first of the new year crop. At this pak-choi sized stage the leaves and stalks can remain wedded in the pan, as they cook at almost the same speed, and the leaves have not yet developed the super-metallic tang they pick up as the season progresses. A small lake of butter meant we deployed more bread and forgot about the cholesterol count.

The Portugese love pork and clams and so do I, there is a love there that is greater than the love between men. 15 makes it British-ish by adding slow braised pig cheek. The fat was gluey in a very good way; it stuck to the teeth like candy floss and was sweet like honey. This suited the clams very well, served in their shells and smugly plumply briny. White beans added extra protein and sucked up some of the surrounding juices and the laver bread, that peculiar Welsh staple, was an interesting cast member, but here it looked good but only really mumbled its part.

And then there were sweetbreads, an excellent foodstuff to freak out Americans I always find. They need a careful hand in the cooking; the sweetbreads, not Americans, and these were done very well. The texture resistant at first then morphing into the requisite creaminess and served with crisp purple sprouting broccoli and new season garlic. Our French waiter looked on approvingly, his smart service a model of only being at table when needed and not to keep pointlessly topping up the water every few minutes.

We were told there was a standard delay of 15 minutes for the Hazelnut madeleines, which would have seriously inconvenienced Proust, but didn’t bother J who elected to wait despite my increasingly itchy feet. When it arrived it didn’t prompt any buried childhood memories in him and when I asked him later what it had tasted like he couldn’t remember that either.  Ah well, so desserts didn’t quite do it.

The main thing is that this visit to Jamie’s 15 erased the bad memory of my first one. The food felt good and was properly priced, and the staff were as professional as can be. As a place for a democratic meal, something for everyone and as a post workstation drink and a nibble it seems to hit all the right notes.

The only shame is that 15 was allowed to be subpar for so long before Jamie realised that even liberals won’t put up with bad food for a good cause for ever.  The good news is that Jamie’s 15 no longer needs a charitable review.

Advertisements

Carrara at St James

March 18, 2013 1 comment

Bling-tastic

Dinner, a show and the last train home. It’s the perfect evening for many people but one all too often spoilt by panicky clock watching. Theatres don’t hold curtain up just because your dessert’s been delayed or because the waiter, all over you like a cheap suit when you arrived, is now MIA just as you need the bill – and pronto.

Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue around 7pm are packed with pre-theatre diners wandering about in increasing desperation trying to decide where to eat. Many, if not most, are concerned about delays and will opt for a chain serving steaks or burgers. The food may be boring but it’s worth it for the reassurance of speed.

St James, the first purpose-built theatre complex to open in London for 30 years, has a solution; a brasserie downstairs, a restaurant upstairs and shows for all sorts in the theatre space, or the less formal studio, which was where we were headed for some comedy stylings. But first, let’s look at the food.

The restaurant Carrara at St. James is reached by a marble staircase that’s straight out of a rapper or Russian Mafioso’s wet dreams. It’s marble and it is rather magnificent and opens out into a restaurant that’s bright and modern. Open all day it has proper tables with linen napkins and other fancy things that drive young people mad, but that oldies like me rather appreciate. The menu is ‘Modern European’ which is a catch-all and rather meaningless term; what would Old-Fashioned European be? Spit roasted wild boar?

The point is that like a hotel restaurant, Carrara is obliged to offer something for everyone because their customers could be from anywhere. There’s a Pre and Post Theatre Menu – 2 courses for £15.50, 3 courses for £19.50 – which reads pretty, and a full menu with stalwarts such as steak, pasta, spatchcock poussin, calves liver and fish and chips, as well as slightly more exciting stuff like confit duck leg. Well exciting for many out of town arts lovers anyway.

Of the starters we liked the rabbit terrine, a good and chunky slice that went well with the pickled blackberries, a foraged kind of food and something the rabbit himself may well have eaten ( do rabbits eat fruit? Is it part of their 5 a day?). Also noteworthy was the grilled squid which would have been a bit better with clearer seasoning, salt in particular, but the seared scallop with black pudding is a no fail concept and it didn’t here.

For mains P wimped out on by having a steak, the choice of timid diners everywhere, but it was a good steak cooked properly medium rare as asked for and with chips which weren’t ‘triple cooked’ just properly cooked and served in a cutesy mini frying basket. A bit pricey at £22.50 but worth it.

For me there was a confit duck with cannellini bean cassoulet and an orange reduction. The duck had been decently finished so that the skin was crispy and the meat soft. The beans seemed to be dried ones, soaked and cooked, with a good firmness to the bite that you just don’t get with tinned ones – time saving shortcut though they may be.

Rather too many beans on the plate, but you aren’t obliged to eat them all and too much is better than too little I suppose. The orange reduction worked, a duck a l’orange for the modern world. Nothing noteworthy, nothing to get foodies in a froth, but two dishes professionally done and decent value for money. Desserts maintained the middle of the culinary road; a much better than average sticky toffee pudding managed to deliver the expected sugar rush, but didn’t settle on the stomach a like sack of treacle, and the lemon panna cotta was sharp and cleansing.

The ‘studio space’

And so to the show. I know it’s not my remit to be a comedy critic but I liked the studio space and the stage’s intimacy with the audience.  The compere Carl Hutchinson was truly excellent; the stand up, Tommy Rowson  had good material which he tended to fluff by mistiming.  Main act, Jigsaw, was made up of three people flinging out Radio4/Footlights -ish sketches at high speed, some of which worked and many didn’t, but the two men and one woman didn’t seem to care either way. Ned Sherrin would have lapped it up, but I suspect one of the trio will find himself ejected from the act when the other two get down to some pillow talk.

A short walk from Victoria station, well-priced and well-done food pitched at the right level, plus an eclectic range of shows in an ‘off-Broadway’ style, St James should get audiences in abundance.

My name’s Nick Harman, goodnight.

See more of St James upcoming shows

12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

The Shed, Notting Hill

Traction

If you only read restaurant reviews on blogs you might think restaurants (good ones that is) didn’t exist west of Regent Street. The blog world has ignored the Pet Shop Boys’ advice and determinedly gone east, although if all the people that claim to live in Hoxton actually did live in Hoxton, the place would have to be the size of Moscow.

The Shed in Notting Hill might not appeal to your average Nouveau East Ender – many of the men eating here are wearing sunglasses on top of their heads, while the girls have the Tiggerish happiness of people not worried about paying the rent on their local flat  – mainly because Daddy does that for them.

There’s a sense too that, when not on the ski slopes, weekends in the country figure strongly on the clientele’s agenda, not least because the decor of the Shed has a rustic vibe delivered in tractor loads, and in fact there’s a tractor bonnet hanging over the bar.

This is quite understandable as the brothers behind the Shed, Richard, Oliver and Gregory Gladwin, grew up at Nutbourne Vineyards near Pulborough in West Sussex and have mud flowing through their veins. It’s a design look that could infuriate some people I suppose but which I find rather soothing. The Shed also lives up to its name by giving the vague impression that it might fall down any second, a state of affairs all good sheds tend to have in common.

With spring light warmly treacling in at the windows the Shed has flung open its end doors to a small terrace, so allowing us smokers to stay in touch with tables made from reclaimed wood and, frankly my dear, old scrap. The waitresses are sunny, the menu is a list of what I like to eat and lunch looks a good bet.

It’s like being at Petersham Nurseries in the good old Skye Gyngell days when, looking like a disconsolate horse, she could often be seen peering out of the kitchen hatch. It’s ‘small plates’ here, but before you throw up your hands at this fashion faux pas remember how much you like tapas and the pleasure of not being stuck with three courses. Brother Oliver is the chef here and his CV shows Oxo Tower and Launceston Place, as well as at River Cottage HQ where Hugh F-W, the West Country version of Jamie, reigns supreme. So that’s okay, then.

The plates average around £8 each, and two per person are recommended but we hummed and hahed because I wanted to try them all. First out of the kitchen came Beef and Red Wine sausage with Shed mustard, a simple dish that relied solely on the quality of the sausage and the mustard to make it work, which it did. The sausage was juicy and with a crisp, snappy skin, while the mustard was a sweet grain type and much better than the Moutarde De Meaux it was based on.

Shed life

A hake, chorizo white beans and wild garlic dish, was straight outta Spain. The grizzled, piquant and slightly chewy chorizo was a perfect foil to the firm hake, while creamy white beans, teetering on the edge of falling apart were laced with lovely spiky shreds of fresh chilli. It was a plate of pure honest gustatory pleasure and I wished I’d ordered two as I fought my wingman’s fork off. This sharing plate idea is okay as long as one of you is less keen on a dish than the other, if not things can get ugly.

We didn’t fight over confit chicken, lemon, soy onions and cauliflower couscous because neither of us liked it all that much. It was fine as far as it went and the balances were well judged, but chicken just doesn’t confit as well as duck, the meat is too tender to begin with and it emerges out the far side with less character than a Liberal MP.

Ah but sweetbreads make me smile, I never remember which part of the lamb they’re cut from, all I know is that I love them. Here they came with a pan-induced golden tan, a luxurious silky texture and with the offaly good flavour that’s reminiscent of bacon. Also reminiscent of bacon was the bacon that came with them, proper bacon that the Shed sources itself from the home farm. Sweetbreads soak up surrounding influences like first year students, so on  a bed of luminous, bitter, kale, the British answer to cavolo nero, and some Jerusalem artichoke it was a real pleasure to eat these. The casual, relaxed presentation belying the lively talent of its creation.

A Magnum Vienneta Parfait for dessert was a rather rich slice of pudding perfection; not too heavy but a belt loosener without the guilt trip.

With cooking that has the flavours, charm and simplicity of a Brawn or a Terroir, and a style that makes you smile despite yourself, The Shed has plenty to recommend it to locals. Even scenesters should find it’s well worth pedaling the single geared bike over to Notting Hill for.

122 Palace Gardens Terrace  Notting Hill, London W8 4RT theshed-restaurant.com

The Malt House Fulham

Sign of the times

I remember coming with my uncle, a dedicated football fan, to what’s now the Malt House back in 1972. It was a popular pub pre-match and I sat outside (in those days children were not allowed to run riot in pubs) and while fighting off pederasts, sucked on my Pepsi and munched my cheese and onion crisps while uncle downed a few pints of beer inside. Then preceded by a gust of pub air – a heady blend of best bitter, Embassy Regal and urinal cake – he took me to the game.

Back then area was a lot less posh of course; in fact it was almost a London suburb. Soon afterwards men who went in for rugby shirts as casual dress and wives in publishing, took over and while there are still pockets of poverty around, check out the flammable tracksuits and gangrenous hoop earrings down the Broadway, it’s generally gentrified.

What my uncle would make of the Malt House now is hard to imagine. It is still technically a pub, but it’s not one where you’d hang around the bar pre-match unless on your way to a corporate box. Tables and eating are the real deal here and the chef is a proper restaurant chef, not a burger slinger. Every bit of wood in the place has been painted cream and the niff of Farrow & Ball is still slightly in the air.

Claude Bosi, he of Hibiscus fame and some infamy, has done to this pub what he and brother Cedric did to the Fox & Grapes in Wimbledon, which is to rather throw the baby out with the bathwater design-wise. It seems a shame to swiftly paint over a patina built up over centuries. but then they’re French. All they probably saw was a smelly old pub with a sticky carpet, not years of glorious British history and hooliganism.

Headless chefs?

But what of the food? Chef Marcus McGuinness has come over from Bosi’s 2 star Hibiscus and the menu occupies the ground between fine dining and what we used to call gastro-pub. Thus a bowl of plump, sea-fresh mussels semi-submerged in an oil-slicked broth was delicately flavoured with wild garlic and teensy-tiny pieces of smoked bacon. One mussel was refusing to grin, so I stuck it on the subs bench, but the rest were perfect and the broth a good reboot of a bistro classic.

J’s curried root vegetable soup arrived as mirepoix cubes, before the waiter poured over the soup in fine-dining stylee. This might have been labelled a puree as it was almost thick enough to stand the crusty bread up in. J liked the fact that the spicing was only in the vegetables so that the soup was a contrast in texture and taste and sparkled with bursts of lime set against honey

My main of roast Cornish cod with celeriac and lovage came in another broth, making it rather too similar to my starter. This could have been mentioned on the menu as you can only drink so much broth. That caveat aside the fish was gorgeous – sweet chunks, bone-free, generous in quantity and cooked properly so that it languidly slid apart down its fault lines when prodded. Celeriac cubes brought in the unique flavour of the world’s ugliest root vegetable; you could imagine it threatening Doctor Who, while the lovage, also a celery flavour, added tonal value and specks of colour.

Simple but elegant

Through the serving window I’d earlier watched the disembodied mid-parts of tattooed chefs slice pork belly from a larger piece, presumably sous-vided, and take it off to be finished. It now arrived glistening with crackling and with a puddle of roasting juices and apple puree lapping at its sides.

J’s first attempt at cutting through the crackling resulted in a noise like a rifle shot, closely followed by the sound of pork fat ricocheting off a far wall. He turned it upside down and found it a lot easier to deal with. Plenty of flavour -packed meat from a happy pig and we shared al dente seasonal purple broccoli plus some triple cooked chips, decently crispy but slightly oddly-flavoured.

And so to pud. A malted vanilla ice cream the shape and almost the size of a rugby ball, with ever so on trend salted caramel, for J, and an excellent forced rhubarb Eton mess for me. This was the best mess I’d had for ages, the tart/sweet rhubarb really shining through against gooey- crispy meringue.

Times change and pubs are dying. Conversion into the sort of place the Bosis have created seems the only way to avoid demolition or conversion into flats. J’s set lunch cost £19.50 and my a la carte, around £30, both easy to digest prices for above average cooking that could easily make this a regular haunt for locals. All in all quite a result for Fulham and clearly premier league stuff.

17 Vanston Pl, Fulham, London SW6 1AY www.malthousefulham.co.uk

A bit of fizz at lunchtime -tasting Nino Franco Proseccos at Hawksmoor Air

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

His name is on the bottle- class

The thing that makes Prosecco such a strong contender for lunchtime drinking is, oxymoronically, its lack of strength. At an average ABV of 10% it’s perfectly possible to drink the stuff for hours on end and still not need helping out of the restaurant afterwards. This is a rather good thing as the stairs at Hawksmoor Air are the sort ready to trip up anyone whose vision and depth perception have become impaired,  I actually fell up them when arriving..

Not being a fan of steak or burgers, they’re okay but monoglottal (© AA Gill) I had actually come to meet Primo Franco, patriarch of Nino Franco Spumanti, a Prosecco producer founded in 1919 in Valdobbiadene at the foot of the Prealps in the Venetian region, by his ancestor Antonio.

There was also the big lure of seafood on a menu created by Mitch Tonks, who is to the Guardian and Observer what Mark Hix is to the Independent. The fact is that seafood and Prosecco is a cosy symbiotic relationship, and as Primo had brought with him examples of his product, the best thing to do was tuck in while he talked

First out of the trap was his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, served up with Queenie scallops  fried in a light batter and with lashings of tartar sauce, plus scallops on the shell roasted with white port and garlic. The queenies were a trifle over shadowed by the batter, but the scallops on the shell were magnificent. The coral had crisped slightly, which was good, and the main meat was butter soft and drenched in the pungent garlic sauce.

Turning Japanese

Here the Prosecco’s creaminess echoed that of the scallop and notes of apple added a slight astringency to offset the richness.  Primo explained between mouthfuls that since he took over in 1982, he had invested heavily in more modern production techniques and set his sights on a more premium product than the simple country wine it had been. Far greater care was now taken over every aspect of production: from grapes to fermentation and all the way to marketing.

Lobster bites were next and better than I expected, not usually finding lobster all that exciting myself -the shellfish equivalent of fillet steak i.e. pricier than its flavour justifies. A jug of melted butter to pour over was ridiculously luxurious though and it was a very good lobster, even better though was the Brixham crab on toast supported by great gobbets of thick mayonnaise. The only downer here being the occasional tooth-threatening shell fragment that had slipped through the net.The Prosecco up at the oke this time was Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano 2010 a fruit packed heavy hitter that had the structure and long finish to help the crab scuttle down a treat. The fizz, which lasted a long time in the glass, cleansing the palate like a benign pressure washer.

I’d heard a bit about Hawksmoor’s Turbot, cut into thick strips and grilled over charcoal, and what I’d heard was right. This was an excellent bit of fish, ‘bloody’ excellent as female bloggers like to say. The firm meat of turbot can happily take the intense heat of a grill more usually employed in searing steaks, and the resulting smoke really punched in flavour. Served like this turbot takes on the grandness of monkfish, but for a lot less. Janssons Temptation served alongside didn’t do it for me – it had anchovies instead of pickled sprats – and was more a buzz kill than a temptation.

Dead soldiers

The Triple Cooked chips were overcooked; this mania for triple cooking chips has to stop – it’s no substitute for Properly Cooked. The buttered greens though were just as I like them, barely cooked at all. For this last main Primo brought out his big guns; Grave di Stecca Brut and Primo Franco 2013. I loved the former’s steely dryness that soon mellowed to a smooth aftertaste with peachy overtones while the Primo Franco from the high hillside Glera grapes was a tad too sweet for my taste, a result perhaps of 30 grams per litre residual sugar compared to 10g in the Rustico.

Finally, and with a plum and Bramley apple pie of heart-warming simplicity, came Superiore di Cartizze 2012 a wine with pronounced minerality, in fact Primo pulled some sample stones he’d picked up from the steeply sloped, high altitude vineyard  from his pocket and explained that this hard, slatey material makes up large parts of his terroir.

Prosecco really is much more than Poor Man’s Champagne, not least because of the varieties available. Nino Franco may not be widely available here yet, but as I floated back down the staircase I could only think that when it is, it’s going to be a winner.

Links to importers here do not guarantee that the particular vintage mentioned is available. Hawksmoor Air serves Nino Franco Proseccos.

Clockjack, Soho

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

14 Denman Street, Soho, London W1D 7HJ www.clockjackoven.com

It’s a wind up

Walk through any French outdoor market and you’ll find someone selling spit-roasted chickens from what looks like a modified fairground ride. These machines cook chooks twenty or thirty at at a time, rotating in a hypnotic synchronised dance as they slowly acquire a deep, golden crispy tan.

Walk through any English ASDA and you’ll see much the same thing; golden chickens with tasty promise. So if French itinerant traders can do it, and the green fleece of ASDA can do it, why can’t Clockjack?

The first thing that made J and I, both of us bird fanciers, twitch was the sight of the cooked  birds suspended in a glass case rather like museum exhibits and with the deathly pallor of a Streatham crackhead – pasty, ill-looking and worth reporting to the police. From across the room you could see the skin had all the crispiness of a wet flannel. We debated leaving there and then but decided that maybe these weren’t  the chickens we’d be eating. God knows what made us think that, blind optimism probably.

Seated at the clearly expensive wooden bar and perched unsteadily on natty stools, we were treated to the sight of a server plucking one of the fowl exhibits from its mausoleum and taking it to bits with poultry shears just inches from our noses. The smell of chicken fat was overpowering, the spectacle unappetising. If it were my restaurant I’d have the chickens dismantled well away from the punters’ gaze and done with noisy theatrical clean blows from a cleaver, not the squelchy sound of shears.

The room could certainly do with some livening up because at lunchtime it was mostly empty. No sounds, no atmosphere just the sight of the Brittany chickens morosely roosting and no doubt wondering what they had done to deserve such a fate. The rotisserie didn’t even have any chickens in it, just naked gas flames wastefully jetting into nothing and warming us globally.

We ate a whole chicken in ten pieces for £17.95 served with a selection of sauces shamelessly squirted into their bowls from plastic bottles behind the bar. Yes it happens in every restaurant, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but why not do it out of the customers’ sight for heaven’s sake?

The chicken skin was, as we guessed it would be, terrible. Greasy, lank and tasteless. Fit only to be peeled off like a soggy condom and as quickly discarded. The unseasoned meat was moist, verging on wet, and tasted of not much at all, not even chicken. The menu boasts that Clockjack’s marinade is a special secret recipe. The secret may possibly be that it’s just tap water.

We gamely ate it anyway; it was lukewarm but it was at least safely cooked through. The sauces were okay if you like synthetic tasting sauces – the chilli sauce was wussy and the Caesar was definitely not fit for an emperor. The chips were decently crispy but they tasted of fish for some reason, perhaps the oil needed changing, or maybe the bloke in charge of the fryer did.

And off we went, having paid £35 for a bird that didn’t fly, some so-so chips and two bottles of beer. For that money we could have done a lot better almost anywhere else in Soho.

This trendy fowl-up may get some innocents flocking in to spend their money, but it shouldn’t get the real bird spotters in a flap. The next time I fancy roast chicken I’ll wait until Sunday and cook my own, or go to ASDA and get one of theirs. At least I know it’ll be roasted right instead of being totally clocked..

Frying tonight. Madrid tapas tour

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

San Sebastian may have all the headlines when it comes to food, but Madrid can still make the grade. And when you get tired of tapas, there’s the museums and art to graze on. With Gastronomica Madrid 2013 now in full effect, Nick Harman hit the city streets to see what’s on offer.

Oh to be young again

Do you like football? Do you like tapas? Then you’ll love Puerta 57 in Madrid. Pass through the busy Barra Cibeles, redolent of garlic and the after shave of well-dressed Madrilenos, into the Salón Madrid and you’re gazing down at the floodlit ground of the Real Madrid stadium. Way down there epic matches have been fought and the sainted feet of Beckham once regularly twinkled over the hallowed turf. Up here your only struggle is to decide which of the premier league tapas on offer to put in the back of the net next.

Crispy prawns

I ate a Russian salad that would have made Lenin turn capitalist and plump prawns robed in a delicate web of dry, crispy batter. A plate of cutely shirt button sized clams, briefly steamed open, drenched in garlic, butter and oil and whisked over to diners from a stove just ten feet away, were sweet and nutty. I could have stayed all night.

La Dorada (obvs)

But the essence of tapas is to taste and move on and so fuelled by Rioja it was off to La Dorada. A seafood place (a dorada is a sea bream) with an ancient wooden bar running deep into the gloom at the back, it has a more informal vibe. The fact that it couldn’t be further from the sea, Madrid being pretty much in the dead center of Spain, doesn’t stop the fish here being first class.

Anchovies. Or whitebait. I don’t know.

Whitebait, or possibly fresh anchovies, came in light batter and in heavy profusion together with seared cubes of dogfish, or rock salmon as we sometimes call it in the UK.  It’s a relative of the shark (the barman resorted to miming Jaws to explain this) and fried it has pleasingly solid texture, almost like monkfish. A plate of fried eggs slipped on top of matchstick sized battered and fried fish was my favourite here, the egg broken as soon as the plate landed so as to ooze out into the fried fish and make a delicious mess.

Plastic chillies, not so hot

Io restaurant was next, my progress now a little slower owing to the amount of fried food I’d taken on board, not to mention all that Rioja. Deep in the financial zone of Madrid, Io looks the part – smart, shiny, sleek and modern and with a bouncer on the door. ‘No I’m not!’ corrected the hombre, ‘I look after people’s cars as the parking’s a nightmare around here.’

Croquetas

The tapas at Io are advertised as modern; meatballs arrive on dinky white mini-plates along with delicate croquetas of jamon and salt cod with a bath of mayonnaise for them to be plunged into. A little lacking in atmosphere in the evening, Io is probably livelier at lunch when the local businesses pop in.

I’ll have three of those

I swung by the Mercado San Miguel in the old town, built in 1916 this was once one of the city’s main covered market places but today it’s been refurbished to be a more modern home of tapas bars and food shops. The original cast iron pillars soar up to support a roof of wooden planks and its location near to Madrid’s main square makes it popular at all times.

Messy eating

There are over 30 food stallsand a great cookbook shop here by day, but at night the tapas bars spill out to occupy any spare space. It’s crowded all the way up to closing time and like our own Borough Market it’s a bit touristy and pricey, but for at least an hour you can happily wander about, shoving through the good-natured crowds and grabbing a bite here and a booze there.

The chef, not bothered by my gastric reaction to his ‘tortilla’

And finally to Estado Puro. Based in a hotel, this is nowhere as bad as that might suggest. The decor is designery and it’s convenient for a post Prado museum stop. They do a modern tapas menu here, but for me the mussel ‘meatball’ went too far and hit the gag reflex. The chef is ex El Bulli, so that means some creative ideas are on offer. Sliders were overly salty, but then you shouldn’t really go to Madrid to eat that kind of stuff anyway. Much better was ‘21st century tortilla’ which came surprisingly in a glass, the potato foamed on top of a runny yolk with some fried onion. You had to down it one and, tasty though it was, I began to get that familiar Fat Duck/El Bulli sense of queasiness coming on, although I suppose after four hours, lots of fried food and big glasses of red wine, it may not have been entirely the tortilla’s fault.

Olives on sweet pastry. About as unpleasant as it sounds

And so to bed, barely scratching the surface of Madrid’s food offerings, and regretting rather the Spanish people’s seeming suicidal disdain for green vegetables in favour of meat and fried things. But then who doesn’t like fried things, and let’s face it you can always eat salad tomorrow!

Madrid’s Gastronomica festival  ‘for the five senses’ runs from 19 January to 3 February offering tapas routes with a signature tapas and a bottle of local beer for €3, as well as selected restaurants serving special set price menus at € 25 and €40. There are also six selected ‘super’ restaurants at €75, one of them being cheffed by our own Simon Rogan from L’Enclume.

Yay chorizo!

The full Madrid Gastronomica programme can be seen here.

Puerta 57, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Access from Gate 57 in Calle Padre Damián

La Dorada, Orense 64, Madrid, SpainIo, Calle Manuel de Falla 28036 Madrid

Mercado San Miguel, Plaza San Miguel, Madrid, S Open until 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and until 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday

Io, Calle Manuel de Falla 28036 Madrid

Estado Puro, Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, 4, Madrid, (Centro, Cortes / Plaza Santa Ana)

Spanish Tourist OfficePO Box 4009London , W1A 6NB

info.londres@tourspain.eswww.spain.info