Coal Grill & Bar, Exeter

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Compared to London in the best of times and the worst of times, Exeter city is beautiful, but only within a guillotine blade width of the cathedral. And in this tale of two cities, Exeter is almost uninhabited. But like most of provincial England, the restaurant scenery is so familiar and populous it could be Stockport, or Slough,  Scunthorpe or Staines. Desperately avoiding chain store massacres, I chanced upon Coal, which was bucking the trend on a late summer Tuesday evening, in that trade was brisk and I didn’t recognise the name from the FTSE brands directory.

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The Blue Bicycle, York

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

A bizarre encounter with some of York’s finest scummy kids, as we walked from our hotel in leafy Clifton past the glorious Minster, meant that we nearly missed our table at the Blue Bicycle, a place recommended by a friend who used to live here. I had expected a smooth passage (both before and after the meal) but, to be honest, the bottom feeding teenage toe-rags that I almost ended up having to punch away from us, left me wondering whether there is a city in this country that is safe to cross on foot. Where could I have been more surprised to learn this than the twee and ancient Roman city of Eboracum?

By contrast, the interior of the Blue Bicycle is very Bohemian with ultramarine water glasses, Van Gogh sunflower coloured walls, and Lautrec painted mirrors. A little reminiscent of the label of a Hahn Estates Cycles Gladiator wine, and no doubt inspired by the same genre of painting.

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Scalini Fedeli, Tribeca, New York

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Scalini Fedeli is such a high end Italian, it could be the Silvio Berlusconi of restaurants. As I walk in, I imagine Wall St bankers taking their prey to be softened up with an expensive Chianti before mugging them for an eye-watering commission.

I reckon the waiting staff are in on the act.  They look impressively like Spatz Domino’s henchmen. I wouldn’t dare send anything back. Having said that, ruthlessly efficient and courteous. One of the themes of NYC service that has changed since my last visit 18 months ago (and one small part of me regrets this) is the tolerance, politeness, and friendliness you can nowadays expect even in the diners and delis.  Is there an economic down cycle or something?

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St Petersburg, Manchester

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

It’s hard not to feel charmed by Olena Zabornikova.   Walking into her restaurant is like visiting a lovable but slightly dotty aunt.   The entrance draws you in from a quirky and quiet part of university town, and once you work out how to avoid being snared by a Spar supermarket, it is like walking through a time portal.  To be blunt, the decor is old fashioned.   The tables laid in the style of a 1960′s Inter-City train, and the dishes in which the food is served give the impression of having been collected over many years from Portobello Market.   And just as you sit there admiring the old pictures and Russian relics, the volume of the Eastern Europop is racked up and mirror balls reflect the disco lights, discolouring your dining partner’s face and turning the room into a cross between Peristroika and Studio 54.   Apparently there is live music here at weekends, news of which has entered St. Petersburg high up on my list of weekend “must-dos in Manchester”.

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Minetta Tavern, West Village, New York

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Located in the trendy bustle of West Village New York, this place is the very representation of the feel of the area, in that it is trendy and bustling. Or, if you prefer, loud and packed with too many people.

It’s not just people that are crammed. Tables are less than 2 inches apart in the long line twosome area that we occupied, which has two distinct effects: Firstly, going to the loo requires a military operation that would probably challenge a crack team of US Navy SEALs. We saw numerous accidents including one frustrated guy who needed his steak replacing after it benefited from an impromptu and unwelcome red wine sauce.

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Angelus, the restaurant – not the wine

Friday, July 1st, 2011

I’m getting quite used to Opentable.  I don’t always book through the website  (or natty iPhone app) but it isn’t half useful for finding a table at short notice.  Especially in London.  Especially if you want to eat within a caber toss of where you happen to be.  And I happened to be in Lancaster Gate, if you are posh.  Or Bayswater if you are not.

Opentable threw up Angelus on Bathurst St.  Was it to be an homage to a great wine, or a mare?  (“Mayor” – see what I did there? Dicky daughters and all that).

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The Mark Addy, Salford

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Since reviews of the Mark Addy across the web seem to have divided opinion, I thought I would split my own personality and visit twice before drawing any conclusions.

On Mayday I returned to my Manchester flat and found blackbirds nesting on the balcony.  What better way to celebrate this joyous event than go to the only place in the city that is serving hand picked (maybe ‘nest robbed’ is a less elegant but more accurate description) gulls’ eggs.

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River Restaurant at the Lowry Hotel , Manchester

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

In the world of dining out, if there is one place in Manchester where you could pretend you are in London, it is on the banks of the dirty Irwell.  I say dirty in the sense that if you jumped in a canal barge and headed south you would find yourself at Old Trafford, home to a certain team that plays in red.

This is exactly what the majority of residents of the hotel were doing on Sunday 8 May.   Not all by boat.  Some chauffeured by limousine, taxi, helicopter or rickshaw.  Chelsea and United fans altogether, all up for the day from London.

But it is more than the famous and rich patronage of the hotel that is capitalesque.   The restaurant ambience, service and food bring to mind upmarket places in Notting Hill and Knightsbridge, rather than Cheetham Hill and Chorlton-cum Hardy.

The River Restaurant is styled a bit like Boxwood Café (RIP) with the atmosphere of Scott’s of Mayfair, only with more daylight flooding in, and a larger ratio of famous faces to plebs.

My choice of aperitif exposed my desire to join the elite, an aspirational effervescent bubble short of London pricing, Billecart-Salmon at £10.50.

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Spring in Amsterdam (The Restaurant)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Situated in a lovely part of Amsterdam with a village feel that reminds me of certain parts of New York and London (but with more canals and lower rise buildings), Fred had telephoned ahead to strong-arm them into giving us a good table (on account of it being my birthday).  They delivered on that front, with the best table in the house in the corner of the window.  But did the food and wine follow suit?

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The Standard Grill, Meatpacking District, New York

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Under the High Line, one of the seven wonders of New York City, where peace and tranquility mix with rare greenery on a former raised platform railway converted to a unique public park, lies a restaurant of some repute.  A place that, although set amongst meatpacking factories, has thoughtfully empathised with, and even beaten a path for other trendy venues to raise the Standard of this eponymously named district of New York City.  And yet a “Grill” that has remarkably few items on the menu that might ever see a char broiler.   For example, I had oysters followed by shrimp fettuccini.  Although I use the word ‘followed’ in a loose literal sense, or perhaps as its own antonym since the main courses arrived before the starters. This was one of a number of service fiascos we experienced when lunching there on the last day of a New York trip.

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