Elliot’s

If ever a restaurant faced stiff competition then Elliot’s located right in the heart of Borough Market is just that. It always looks appealing with people standing outside enjoying a glass of wine, but I’ve never been able to resist the treats on offer in the market so I have always been too full to give it a go. What convinced me today was that I had read that they served one of the best burgers in London, something I could hardly pass the opportunity of trying.

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We turned up without a booking and were told they’d have a table ready for 1.30pm. That time soon came and went, and it was 2pm before we were seated. This didn’t bother me a great deal because we took a seat up the bar, ordered a couple of pints of the Kernel pale ale (£5) and took the place in. There’s a great warm vibe which was helped by it being packed, and it has the feel of a good neighbourhood restaurant.

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When we were seated it was a little frustrating to be made to wait for about ten minutes without a menu. Finally with one in our hands I was gutted that there was no sign of the famed burger! Instead it was made up of small sharing plates and a few mains. Oh well, I’ve had three burgers already this week, can’t hurt to be a little more experimental.

We had to ask for bread and water (that makes it sound a little bit like a soup kitchen) and then had to tell the waiter when we were ready to order. The waiter was chatty and knew his stuff, although when we asked how much food we would need (I always get confused by this small plate system and end up with far too much) he did seem to be pushing us down ordering more than we’d need.

First up was the brown sourdough. Exactly what we needed to soak up last night’s drink and ease our hunger. It was warm, soft and with just-the-right-amount of burnt crust. It’s probably the best sourdough I have eaten, and it helped to ease my pain at missing out on the burger.

The first small plate was game sausage with oxford sauce (£7). I was hoping for big juicy sausages so I was a little disappointed by the three chipolata sized sausages that turned up. They didn’t have a strong enough game flavour, but were still tasty and the oxford sauce (which I admit I didn’t know what it was) had a good kick of mustard. Still though for £7 this is more like an expensive bar snack than a small plate to share.

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Next up was the hare ragu and fazzoletti pasta (£10). Again given the size of the portion I find this to be overpriced. The dish was fine, but didn’t really excite. It needed more seasoning but there was no salt or pepper to be seen- either complete confidence by the chefs that the seasoning is just right or the waiters forgot to put them out. It also could have done with a little more of the meat juices and sauce- it just needed something to bring the dish together.

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Last of the smalls was squid with datterini tomatoes and capers (£10). The squid was perfectly cooked and had a lovely flavour, but the dish was a little unbalanced given how many capers and tomatoes there were, as the sharpness of their flavour took the focus away from the squid.

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For a main we shared the cockerel kiev and cauliflower cheese (£29). Is it simply by putting cockerel instead of chicken that they can push the price of the dish up? It certainly seemed a little expensive for a posh kiev, especially how you only get one side with it. It has to be said though that it was excellent. The crumb crust was perfectly crispy, like that on the best of Scotch eggs, and the chicken was moist and succulent, and there was plenty of strong and buttery garlic sauce. The cauliflower cheese was rich and had a good strong flavour as well.

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With a couple of beers the bill came to just over £75, which for a lunch that was initially intended to be a quick burger seemed expensive. Although it is the best sourdough bread and possibly the best chicken (sorry cockerel) kiev I’ve eaten, it still didn’t justify these prices. I admire that they use seasonal ingredients and keep things simple, it was just that none of the small plates really had a good kick of flavour. We were left thinking just how much we could have had in Borough market for that price…

Food: 7/10

Service: 6.5/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Value: 6.5/10

Overall: 7/10

12 Stoney St, (Borough Market) SE1 9AD

Elliot's Cafe on Urbanspoon 

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L’Absinthe

Right in the heart of Primrose Hill, a few minutes walk from the rest of the shops and restaurants on Regents Park Road, L’Absinthe could easily be a little Parisian bistro. Inside it has that casual bric-a-brac appeal with books and artwork scattered around the dining room, and everybody is greeted by a warm Bonjour from the all-French staff.

The prices are extremely reasonable. All of the starters are around £6, and the mains around £16. But it’s the wine list that really becomes your friend. L’Absinthe doubles up as a wine shop and operates with a £10 corkage policy. So of course choosing something towards the bottom of the list makes more sense. We went for a Sancere at £34 (three bottles of it by the end it was that good) and it would have been easily been closer to the fifty mark in another restaurant.

The food is simple and unpretentious home-cooking. If you really wanted you could probably cook it yourself, and certainly plate it up like they do here, but it why go to all the effort. It’s reasonably enough priced for you to merit nipping here any night of the week for a casual bite to eat. The menu is made up of classic French comfort dishes, the types that don’t hold back on the calories. I went for the fish soup with rouille and croutons and it had a nice depth of flavour and the rouille had a good kick to it.

ImageThe blue cheese, chicory and walnut salad was fine, slightly messy with the presentation, but compensated for by the generous portion.saladFor main I went for steak frites.  It was a juicy cut of meat and came with a finger-licking bernaise sauce.

steakfritesThe sea bass wasn’t anything special. It was cooked well enough, but the ratatouille and and sweet pepper sauce didn’t do much for the flavour of the fish, and it was all a bit one texture.

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For dessert we shared an Absinthe creme brulee that was creamy and rich, although a little more of that absinthe flavour would have been a treat, and a chocolate and coffee mousse that had such a intense dark chocolate flavour that it was gone before I could get a photo.

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What makes L’Absinthe is the staff. They make it a pleasure to eat there, as if they are welcoming you into their own home. It’s not the type of place you would come especially to Primrose Hill for, and it is far from being the best French food in the capital. Instead it is a restaurant that if you are lucky to have on your doorstep that you will always go back to. As the owner says on the website- good food, good wine, good company…what more do you need? L’Absinthe delivers on all three and you will leave full, drunk and happy for under £50 a head.

Food: 6.5/10

Service: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 7/10

40 Chalcot Rd, Primrose Hill, NW1 8LS

L'Absinthe on Urbanspoon

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Ducksoup

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Right in the heart of Soho, Ducksoup offers decent grub for around £20 a head. As with many little joints in Soho it doesn’t take evening bookings, but it’s not the type of place you sit for a couple of hours so the turnaround rate on seats is fairly sharp. The room itself isn’t much more than bare white walls (painted to look scruffy) and a bar area where everybody, apart from the couple of window seats, is perched up on stools. The cooking reflects the no-nonsense decor. It’s simple but stylish.

The menu is European influenced with more of a nod towards Spain, and changes daily, but expect veg to make up a good proportion of the small plates, all around £6 each. The kale came with a lemon and chilli dressing, and was the second best kale dish I’ve had in London behind the one at Barrafina. Just as tasty was a small plate of colourful beetroot that was really lifted by a fresh mint and sour cream dip. There was a potted goose with mini gherkins and sourdough that needed more salt and failed to excite. And quail that was nicely grilled and served with a lovely nutty olive oil and tangy lemon dressing but as tends to be the case with quail you spend more time picking at bones than finding any meat.

What really makes the dishes sing are the ingredients. They’re well sourced and that comes through in the flavour. Ingredients like this are often best done simply, and it takes a good chef to pull it off. Ducksoup isn’t going to change the way you think about food, but it’s affordable and the small plates lets you try a few things. It’s worth chancing that there’s a couple of seats being free next time you find yourself wandering through Soho with too many choice on your hands.

Ducksoup, 41 Dean St

6/10

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