Notable eats during November included:
If Disney built a London-themed attraction at one of their parks, it’d probably look like Shad Thames — a maze of cobbled streets winding their way through strangely pristine Dickensian warehouses, with the river and ‘London Bridge’ in spitting distance (so long as the wind is in your favour). Oh, and also a bunch of mostly soulless, cartoony, but just about okay mini-chain restaurants and cafes.
Something of a surprise, then, to find a cute AND GOOD indy appear. But there Legare is: a considered little spot focussing on Italian food and wine.
Their small room with open kitchen is sparse and functional but also chic, appetising, spot on, and boasts a menu to match: this is simple, seasonal but quality anti pasti and small plate starters; 3 or 4 fresh pasta dishes; and a handful of quick and pleasing sweets. The whole vibe is something that ought to suit locals very well indeed — whether they’re the legal, accounting or mayoral bods from nearby offices looking for lunch or an early dinner, or the warehouse-dwellers of Bermondsey.
So far I’ve ‘only’ tried a palate and mood-lifting early season citrus and pistachio salad, springy pappardelle with sausage and fennel ragu (incidentally the best I’ve ever had, and I reckon my own is pretty damn good), a very fine linguine vongole, and a neat cream-cheesy cannoli. But I will be back for more.
In summary — keeping this write-up suitably brief — Legare is good. To my mind it’s exactly what it surely set out to be: uncomplicated, honest, and somewhere to return to, whether that’s for one bowl of pasta or a longer, drawn out meal. A Tiny Tim among Micky Mouses.
Legare —31 Shad Thames, SE1 2YR
Londoners would be forgiven for thinking that newsworthy restaurants only open east of Hyde Park Corner … as a rule of thumb, this is currently true. Also, that all the truly ‘hot’ and ’on trend’ restaurants only open east of Soho … that’s not so true, though there’s no smoke without fire.
I think, though, that Orasay presents a strong case for the west. Or at least for itself. Which is in the west. (W11 — at the Ladbroke Grove end of Notting Hill.)
Jackson Boxer’s status as feted darling of food and fashion media means he ticked the ‘newsworthy’, ‘hot’ and ‘trend’ boxes when the restaurant opened in spring of this year. But seven or eight months in, the setting and food provides substance too (it might’ve done back then as well, I’ve only just been).
The serene room is smooth, calming and elegant rather than edgy and hip; but that suits the area and, whisper it, is quite a nice thing, actually. And Boxer’s menu reads extraordinarily well, winding as it does through a refrain of familiar and lux ingredients and dishes, each given a knowing flick and twist.
There’s a beef tartare, of course, though that beef is hand-minced (the best way), burnished with fish roe and Hebridean prawns that pop, and dotted with a horseradish cream that somehow burns, soothes, binds and punctuates all at the same time. A chilli oil too? Quite probably. There’s a bream crudo — exquisite in part because of the freshness of the fish, but also the segments of the mouth-puckering sharp, Godly mandarin that is miyagawa. Purslane and pine nuts (it is Notting Hill) temper matters and while a glug of peppery extra virgin olive oil could have been enough, the dish becomes great because of a final umami flourish of a house-fermented crayfish and prosciutto XO. Other dishes that stood out included a snack plate of outstanding, fat and salty-sweet anchovies which had been draped, Rees-Mogg style, over puffed, pillowy (goose down) fried bread, and later on in the meal a thick tranche of brill cloaked in a velvety, rich, smoked lardon sauce and partnered with a sharply dressed green leaf salad.
He’s playing to the crowd with some of the ingredients and the aesthetics (both to the potential locals but also Instagram). As he well should — here we are, it’s nearly 2020 and it has never been truer to say that we eat with our eyes, that social media has pull, and that you need to appeal and respond to a customer base. In any event, during my lunch those looks were backed up in the eating, which across the menu is equal parts interesting, invigorating, familiar and comforting. It’s well pitched.
This restaurant would sit well in across London. However Boxer and Orasay appear at home over here.
Orasay — 31 Kensington Park Road, W11 2EU
The Borough Market Kitchen
There’s a new hot food area at Borough Market now the old wholesale carpark ‘Jubilee Place’ has been set up as ‘The Borough Market Kitchen’; effectively a food hall, complete with an eclectic set of permanent stands and a selection of rolling stalls. Some of the stands have their own counter seats and there are plenty of communal tables in the middle too. Like the rest of the Market it’s technically outdoors but is covered … assuming the rain is not sideways umbrellas can be lowered, though you’ll need to keep your layers on.
I like that, in building it, the Market have created a relatively clear physical delineation between (most) of the convenience food on offer, and the main body of the place, which should indeed be a place to shop for fresh and speciality produce.
In both design and content the area strikes the right balance between professional and characterful — overall I think the emergence of food halls in London is a good thing, but some of them are very shiny and corporate, aren’t they?… This feels more suited to the spirit of ‘street food’.
There’s a decent mix of new names, established names, and names that probably won’t be known at all (which is fine). One of the ‘new’ is Mei Mei, Elisabeth Haigh‘s Singaporean hawker food; quite literally The Cuisine designed for this style of eating. There’s beautifully poached chicken rice; a fried chicken version of the same classic dish; kaya toast and milo for breakfast; and a chicken curry I’m keen to try too. I suspect they’ll do well.
Kubba by Juma Kitchen offers visitors an opportunity to sample Iraqi food. Principally the iconic kubba: little filled patties surrounded by rice flour, which provides a very satisfying crunch once deep fried to order. Again, it feels particularly appropriate for market grazing, though mix and match a few of them and you’ll get yourself a decent fill.
Then there’s Elpiniki — the food trader formerly known as Gourmet Goat. Think pitas, bulgar pilaf or seasonal salad topped with goat kofte, slow roast veal or halloumi, each with appropriate condiments.There are few ‘to go’ vendors in London serving food that’s as wholesome, filling and flavourful. And while they’ve sustainability credentials to back the food up, they’ve been a go to Borough lunch for a while on a taste basis alone. Even with greater variety on offer now, I’m sure Elpiniki will remain one of my mainstays.
Is Basque pintxos right for the London lunch crowd? Particularly through the winter months? TBC. Still, Mimo’s Batera is very accomplished indeed, and if you don’t eat anything else from The Borough Food Kitchen, you should try a portion of their Basque cheesecake. It’s extraordinary.
Plenty more there beyond those mentioned — like I say, I need to do the rounds.
Borough Market — SE1