Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Almeida Restaurant (Islington), 30 Almeida Street, London, N1 1TD
Excuse me while I dust this blog off ...
I know it's been a while, and if anyone is still reading, thank you very much. Because it's been quite cold, we've not really been trying out many (if any) new restaurants. We also spent a week skiing at Risoul in France and although I thought I'd get a good week's worth of food posts from it, turns out we didn't eat out much after all (it was really expensive eating out). Who knows? Those pictures of Brie on strawberry jam and raclette might be brought out when material runs low (which is about now).
Anyhow, after weeks and weeks of eating pretty much the same stuff, interspaced by some interesting ways of cooking instant Kimchi noodles (I love those noodles), we finally came out of the winter hibernation mode to meet with some friends. As I've pretty much given up on finding new places to try, it was with much pleasure that I accepted my friend's invitation to have lunch at Almeida; a restaurant located off the main Upper St of Islington on Almeida Street.
It's quite an unassuming restaurant from the outside, and if we weren't looking out for it, we could've easily missed it just walking by.
Immediately inside the restaurant is a small reception counter where the coats are taken, pleasantries are exchanged with the dining guests, or in our case, pictures taken of the flowers by the table.
Our friends were delayed by either the tube (the ever punctual Jubilee line) or a tyre puncture, so despite us being 10 minutes late, we were still on time! Sitting around on the sofa, I checked out the property magazines lying around (maybe they're trying to get diners to live in the area ...?) and promptly put them down again when I saw those prices. Maybe it was my incessant picture snapping from the sofa or the bored looks we had, but the waiting staff were constantly there asking if we needed a drink, if we were OK, etc. Good service from the start hey.
When our friends arrived, we were shown to our table right in the middle of the restaurant. Usually, I only dine out at dinner time which explains why from the months of November to March, the pictures on this blog get rather ... orange. Whenever I get the chance to actually have lunch on a weekend, I try and compensate for dodgy photography skills by asking for a table where the light shines brightly. This one didn't disappoint.
OK, before I continue, let's just set the scene and say the only bad thing I have to say about this place. To set the scene - we had 3 girls from the same school who were meeting up socially for the first time in a long time (ie lots of talking).
These 3 girls were there with their 3 partners who were trying to get a word in edgeways (ie not successful). Despite all the talking and not talking, I still noticed how long it took for the food to get to us in between courses. The main course took a good 20 mins to half an hour to get to us, I dare say. I mean, I wasn't timing it or anything (not socially accepted while trying to maintain a conversation) but it was long enough for us to pause in between conversations to go, 'Hmm it's taking a while, isn't it.'
So there, I've spat out the only negative thing I have to say about this place, so now we can continue on with the post - full of sunshine and good vibes.
We were there on the Toptable deal where 3 courses and a bellini cost £27.50. Without the deal, 3 courses on its own costs £26.50 while you could have 2 courses for about £22. And because we HAD to have a good deal, we HAD to order 3 courses. Oh the things I go through for good deals.
Oh, and a quick peek into the kitchen is always interesting.
Crayfish, avocado tian, confit tomato, lemon olive oil
I was torn between having this one and the one I eventually ordered (the beef tartare). I have this stupid thing (dunno if I've mentioned it before) where I go to a restaurant, pick out the thing I really, really want to order, and then order something else. I don't know why I do this - some stupid self-depravation thing maybe, but I then feel almost better about myself because I think, 'Ha! The one I really, really wanted must be really, really bad for me, so if I don't order it, and order something I might not really want instead, it must be better for me.'
Yes, men of the world. That is why ladies are always taking the chips off your plate.
But anyhow, this time, because I was kinda hungry (had funny tum the day before. OK, too much details) I decided to go with the caveman option and order the raw, minced beef (more on that later).
The boyfriend decided on having the charcuterie plate (full of ham and other meats, how yummy) but then when the waiter came to take his order, he ... ordered the wrong thing.
So, this dish is pretty much feeling rejected and unwanted by now, but apparently it tasted quite OK. I had a try though it was only a small bite, and well, what can I say? It tasted like crab with some avocado. Nothing extraordinary but neither was it bad. It just did what it said on the tin.
Is that no longer sufficient in today's demanding, over-achieving world? Yes, it is.
East Anglia fillet beef tartare, Melba toast
So this was what I had when I was feeling quite caveman-like. Say what you like, but to me, beef tartare tastes like BigMac.
(You posh noshers in the back row can pipe down now. Nothing to gasp about. It's fact.)
Why fact? Well, think of it this way. They have the same ingredients - beef mince, gherkins, tomatoey things, and onions. The only difference (OK maybe not the ONLY difference) is that one is cooked while the other is caveman-like roaaaaaaaarrrrrrr (raw, I mean).
And there's a raw egg on it also. But if you just take into account the taste and not the texture, it's almost similar. Because I like BigMacs, I like beef tartare. Simples.
This one was lovely. I couldn't tell the difference between a normal beef tartare and one made from East Anglia fillet of beef, but maybe that was what made it good. Maybe if it had been made with West Anglia rump of beef, it would've been nahhhs-ty. It was almost lean (from what I could tell), and each mouthful tasted of nothing but fresh, good quality beef. I consumed this almost in one.
Papillon Roquefort, chicory, red chicory and watercress salad, toasted walnuts
A friend (who was sitting across the other side of the table from me) had this, so I could not reach out to try some. It looked good though.
Slow roast belly of pork, chantenay carrots, pomme puree, sauteed spinach, sauce aux epices (sauce with spice)
How lovely is that? I briefly considered ordering this and then told myself off for giving in to such luscious temptations. It sounded good, it looked even better, and the friend who was having it said that it tasted like roast pork (which it is), but I mean 'siew yuk' (Chinese roast pork).
Uh huh. I should've ordered it. Slices of tender roasted belly of pork with crispy scratching. Not easily achieved, but they managed it here.
Roast rib of beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables
The fiance decided to go traditional, and being the only English in the group, he went back to basics and ordered the roast beef. I had a taste of it, and rather liked it because from the one mouthful that I had, the beef was tender, meaty-flavoured, and pleasant enough.
The potatoes looked really crispy and fluffy from where I sat, and I looked on longingly as he ate them one by one. When I asked his opinion of the dish, however, he said that while it was good for what it was, again, it just kinda did what it said on the tin.
It didn't have anything of a wow factor about it, but that could also be a good thing because if you're gonna serve roast beef, and then mess about with it, I know some people who'd have real issues about that.
Breast of Barbary duck, pommes dauphinoise, creamed Savoy, sauce au poivre
Said friend who was sitting across the table from me was the one who had the duck. I raised the question during the meal about what exactly was a Barbary duck, and thought he'd know because he's French, and don't the French know everything about food?
Anyhow, no one at the table knew what Barbary duck was, so I consulted Wikipedia but found only references for Muscovy Duck. Strange, I thought. Usually Wikipedia has EVERYTHING about ANYTHING.
A few more searches on Google produced the same baffling returns - Muscovy duck, referred from Muscovy duck, and so on.
Finally, from http://www.tititudorancea.com/z/muscovy_duck.htm - 'In some regions the name Barbary Duck is used for domesticated and "Muscovy Duck" for wild birds; in other places "Barbary Duck" refers specifically to the dressed carcass, while "Muscovy Duck" applies to living C. moschata, regardless of whether they are wild or domesticated. In general, "Barbary Duck" is the usual term for C. moschata in a culinary context.'
Eh ... huh?
Forget I asked the question. It was duck. It was roasted / fried / cooked in some fashion. And I heard it was good.
Baked wild halibut, coco nib and herb crust, sauteed spinach, mushroom veloute
(Note: I've been doing quite a lot of research on Wikipedia for this post. The latest one is on what a 'coco nib' is.)
So, while eating the dish, the only thing that occurred to me was that here was a beautifully fried piece of fish, and I don't know what they did with the herbed crust, but it sure was green and tasted fabulous.
Then, when I was writing this post and had to put the name of the dish down, I started wondering what a 'coco nib' was. A quick search on Google showed that the most common spelling for this was 'cocoa nib' which was described as being the edible part of the cocoa bean. 'Coco nib', on the other hand, didn't come up with many explanations aside from references of how they were used in fish crusts and that.
So, my conclusion is that it's some kind of cocoa bean product which has been mixed in with herbs to form the crust for the fish. There wasn't any particular taste that jumped out from the fish but again, that could be one of those things where if it wasn't in the dish, then it would've tasted less full.
What I really liked about the dish was the mushroom veloute. It tasted (pardon the really unsophisticated references here) like the best version of creamed mushroom soup I've had, and boy oh boy, were those mushrooms juicy!
Each delicate piece of mushroom was delightfully plump and produced this almost squelching burst of mushroom goodness when I bit into it. I could've had more, loads more, and savoured each one with an almost misty-eyed look of chomping satisfaction.
Apple tarte tatin, creme fraiche
The fiance said this was the best part of the meal. I might have had agreed if I ordered this for dessert, but I didn't. I tried a good few mouthfuls of it, and there's no way I can describe it aptly to give it the full credit it deserved. But I'll try.
The pastry was crispy on the outside and very chewy and lovely once you got to the middle. Each mouthful was sticky and chewy and it had the hallmark of a pastry well made. The apple pieces were perfectly baked - so creamy and yet still fruity, and there was not a hint of over / under cooking about it. If I were Goldilocks, this would be the one declared a winner. Oh dear, it's not even lunchtime yet and I'm salivating just thinking about this.
Hot chocolate fondant, honeycomb ice cream
The prettiest dish of the lot. How cute is that! It looked good, and I'm sure it tasted good too as the friend having it seemed to be having a really engrossing good time eating it.
Glazed passion fruit tart, yoghurt sorbet, passion fruit jam
This was what I had. When I ordered it, I dunno what gave me the impression that it would resemble a tart; you know, kinda like an apple tart but with passion fruit pieces on top of it. It might not even BE possible to have passion fruit pieces, I don't know, but when it was served, I almost thought they gave me the wrong dish. Upon closer inspection though, it was a passion fruit tart, with a very thin layer of pastry on the outside, and the most creamy, luxurious passion fruit filling within the tart.
The texture was similar to that of lemon curd, and it had a similar fresh tang about it. It was so luxurious that for one moment, I thought I was having a lemony, passion fruity creme brulee, complete with the slightly burnt crispy sugar topping.
To sum it up, the food here was very enjoyable; with nothing but the freshest of ingredients cooked extremely well. The service was pleasant and prompt, though the time in between courses could've been a little shorter. For what we paid (about £36 each including water and tips - we didn't order any wine) it was a little on the pricey side but considering the location of the restaurant and also the good company we had that day, it was a meal well worth it. You should give it a go if you're there.