The Quality Chop House

When you’re packed on a rush hour London tube, your nose guzzled into a armpit, how often is it the armpit of a Londoner? Or even a Brit? It’s the same when you’re walking down any London high-street- you pass Mexican, Spanish, Afghan restaurants and even cross-bred mongrels like Korean-Mexican and Brazilian sushi. But if it’s just some classic British scran you’re after, you’ll struggle to find anywhere other than your local dingy boozer with it’s beige pie and chips and beige sausage and mash. True British classics. The same old flavourless crap that tastes just as dull in any pub in any part of the country. That’s unless you go to one of those artisan gastro-bollocks pubs. But don’t get me started on them.

British food just isn’t very exciting, and so it has been pushed to the margins of our tastes. Not often do we fancy going out for some meat, stodge and veg. Even at it’s most adventurous, British food isn’t hip anymore. The nose-to-tail eating of St. John has been replicated everywhere. All restaurants use the previously unfashionable cheaper cuts, and the innards of animals. Even Tesco has started using horsemeat. So we venture to other corners of the globe to excite our palettes. And then we inevitably adopt these dishes as our own- give them the good old Tikka Masala or Lemon Chicken treatment and extract any colour or excitment from them, so that the once lively Thai green curry is transformed into a tepid pot of beige British piss on every pub menu in the country.

In all of this we have forgotten just how good British food can be. Forgotten that we have some of the best beef and lamb in the world. And with ingredients this good, you don’t need some Escoffier-versed French tosser to knock up some good grub. You just need a chef who understands and respects the ingredients. Heat, season and serve. Little else is needed. This is where The Quality Chop House comes into the equation (perhaps doing its chefs a slight injustice there).

Around the corner from the foodie-haven of Exmouth Market, The Quality Chop House is a warm little dining room inside a listed building from 1869. All very impressive, but it’s the food we really care about. We chose the set menu (great value at £44 for 5 courses)- which thankfully lists ingredients rather than any pointless techniques. First up was a selection of nice, but slightly needless ‘finger food’ nibbles- sweetcorn lathered in marmite butter, goat’s curd with tomato on toast, truffled potato croquette with aioli, and a bite of salmon mousse wrapped in cucumber- which all seemed a bit foreign on the menu and didn’t really represent the style of the cooking to come.

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Things quickly got into more familiar ground- the daily catch was a white fish served with peas and a thin slither of lardo melted on top- simple and perfect. As was the the partridge served with celeriac and Tropea onion- the only thing to let it down was the cold plate and long wait for the dish.

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Hereford beef for main came as both a Denver cut and as brisket with a rich gravy sauce sitting on top of creamy polenta. I’d have eaten a cauldron full of this stuff. The Barnsley chop was perfectly cooked and didn’t much else to make it a great dish. A side of confit potatoes would make it into my last supper, and broccoli with flaked almonds was a needed crunch. To finish things off a light olive oil and pistachio cake with lemon curd and meringue was tangy and refreshing- I’d have wolfed a Sticky Toffee or a crumble, but after a meaty meal, it was probably what my waistline needed.

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It was hard to fault the meal. It made me remember just how good British food can be, and done well, just how much better it can be than most other cuisines. It’s a shame that there aren’t more restaurants like this, because although we might say we can cook this type of food at home, we never do. We’ll never go out and source the good ingredients, or get the quality meat from our butchers. We just Click & Deliver on Tesco and get some steroid fed rubber chicken that dissolves in the pan. Go here and you might get some faith back in British cooking and ingredients. I certainly did. It was one of the most fulfilling dinners I’ve had this year. It delivered on everything I expected, and with a menu that changes daily, it won’t be long before I’m back.

9/10  (£££)

88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
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Morito

Does anybody know how to get a seat in a restaurant that doesn’t take bookings? We turned up at 6.30 on a Friday and already there was an hour-long waiting list. At least they take your number so you can go elsewhere for a drink. I do hate this whole no-reservation bullshit though. What is London’s obsession with it these days?  It’s not Spain where waiting for your table outside with a glass of red is actually pleasurable. It’s East London, pissing with rain at the start of February.

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We were given the best stools up at the bar, overlooking the chef who was slapping everything on the griddle and moving to Fleetwood Mac (with some style).  It’s hard not fall in love with the casual and warm buzz and there’s enough character in the paired back decor so that you don’t think it has been designed by a tobacco rolling, tattooed hipster, like just about every restaurant these days.

To start things off my partner helped herself to the nuts on the counter, mistaking them for a Spanish alternative to a bread basket, instead of being for the chef to garnish the dishes with. She soon realised her mistake when her hand was competing with the chef’s for a walnut.

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The bread basket (£2.50) was needed to mop up all the sauces with, and there was a trio of salt dips and good olive oil at hand to get things going. The little bread sticks were a bit pointless though.

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The tortilla (£4.00) wasn’t the most generous slice I’ve had and I prefer it when it’s served hot when I’m having it for dinner. I’m yet to try a tortilla that can rival the ones they knock up at Barrafina.

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The padrón peppers (£4.50) were great to munch on, especially dipped in those salts. It was a shame I didn’t get any hot ones.

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The spiced lamb, aubergine, yoghurt & pine nuts (£6.50) has a slightly Middle Eastern feel to it, with the pomegranate seeds and mint sprinkled on top. There was a lovely balance to this dish, and plenty of textures.

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No complaints about the patatas bravas (£4.00), which had a dollop of good aioli on top.
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The octopus & saffron potatoes (£7.00) were also good, but there could have been a little more octopus. A good stodgy seafood dish though, laced with olive oil.

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The chicharrones de cadiz – pork belly, cumin & lemon (£6.50) were perfectly cooked little cubes with lashings of salt. This is the stuff heart attacks are made of. That’s what I like about Spanish cuisine, it focuses on the flavour, not the effect on the waistline.

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The crispy aubergine & melaza de caña (£4.50) was the only dish my partner didn’t like, just because of how sweet that molasses syrup was. I hadn’t eaten aubergine this crispy before, and I happily wolfed the lot.
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The grilled tetilla cheese, membrillo & walnuts (£6.00) is one of best small plates I’ve had in London. The membrillo is a quince jelly and it works so well with the cheese, cutting through the saltiness to give a real sweet hit.  Wedged inside some of the bread this made one of the most pleasurable mouthfuls I’ve had in a long time.

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To finish the crema catalana (£5.50) was a small but really indulgent dessert. The sugar coating on top had been glazed into a dark and brittle caramel, and beneath the custard  was smooth with a nice hint of spice and citrus.

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With a bottle of house red (£18) the bill came to £84, which isn’t exactly the cheapest tapas, but then again I’m yet to find cheap Spanish food in London. There’s a lot on the menu here that I didn’t try, so I’d be eager to come back. My only complaint would be the pace at which the food came. We had our whole meal in front of us within ten minutes of ordering, and not being one to hold back, this meant we were done within the hour. The portions were also on the small side, so if you come here hungry you’ll find that you have to order a fair few dishes. Still though, Moroito comfortably holds its own on a street with plenty of great restaurants, and serves up some of the best tapas I’ve had in London.
Food: 8/10

Service: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Value: 7.5/10

Overall: 8/10

32 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE

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Caravan, Exmouth Market

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The only other time I have eaten at Caravan was for a very hungover brunch, and all I can remember is that the Bloody Mary was strong and provided the right dose of hair-of-the-dog and that the ham hock filled the right hole. All as I have heard since then off everybody who has been is how brilliant Caravan is. And since we couldn’t get a table at the new venture in the now-trendy Kings Cross, we settled for Exmouth Market, and after a great meal I get what all the fuss is about.

We turned up at eight without a booking, having been told over the phone that they would do their best to find us a seat despite it being fully booked. This usually means seating you up at the bar for an hour and letting you spend a good whack on cocktails before giving you a pokey little table in the basement. Not at Caravan. As soon as we got to the door a smiley waitress welcomed us, and promised us she would get us seated.

We then ordered the cocktails- a summery fruity one with gin, and something that the guy next to me was drinking that had rum in it. They were both great and got us on a roll. All of the staff were brilliant. Attentive, chatty and knowledgable. They seem happy to be working in this trendy joint and they do their best to make sure you share the fun. The waitress soon came back and offered us a table. There was no ‘we need it back by 9’ that so often seems to be the case these days in restaurants. Instead the service was friendly and relaxed, matching the vibe of the restaurant.

She told us a little bit about the menu, how it’s named after a spice caravan to reflect the owner’s travels, and so it has a little bit of everything. As is the fashion the food is to be shared, with around five dishes between two of you the amount they’d recommend. You’d have to be pretty comfortable with the person you’re eating with to share the soup.

We went for a sharing board that was made up of cheese, ham, an egg deep with a crispy batter, spicy sausage, green beans and a tomato salsa. No picture or description can do this justice. Every ingredient tasted far better than it sounded, and as sharing boards go this was a great one to kick off any meal. Then came the barrage of sharing plates. First the ham croquetas with a fiery mustard sauce, that we could have easily eaten double the amount of- not because the portion was small, but because they were that good. The turnip bhaji split opinion. My girlfriend thought it was burnt and didn’t like it, but I thought the charred finish added to the texture and flavour. The ribs were simply good ribs. Plenty of meat on the bones and a sweet sticky sauce, although not something I’d choose next time.

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The one let down was the quail. It came with cashews and pak choi, but it was all a bit watery and the sauce lacked the spice it promised. Maybe I just like my food to have a real kick, but it seems that too often a dish claims to be spicy and doesn’t deliver on it. The quail skin would have been nicer had it been crispy, and the cashews lacked a crunch.

To finish we shared a banoffee pie, and it came with a shard of dark chocolate and was light and rich. We washed it down with the renowned Caravan coffee that they roast on site in the basement. The flat whites were as good as they get, and the perfect way to end a meal.

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The bill came to just under £100, and at £50 a head it sounds a little expensive. But the service is the best I’ve had for a long time and made the whole experience worthy of the price. I was in Gaucho Piccadilly the following night and paid twice the price for a meal and the waitress was rude and uninterested, and you remember the bad service more than the quality of the meal. We did have three cocktails and a beer each, so if you aren’t drinking as much this could be closer to the £35 a head mark. It’s worth going either way. Perfect for every occasion, even if you’re just nipping in for a coffee and a quick read of the paper.

Food: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8.5/10

Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QD

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