Eat and be merry! Six new restaurants to get your
CINDER AT THE GROVE in Watford is gorgeously rustic and twinkly inside with lots of friendly staff to explain the menu and the concept – cooking over fire, sharing plates, two to three each.
We nibbled on a plate of chargrilled bread with confit garlic tahini and burnt tomato salsa before ploughing through burnt leeks with pecorino and hazelnuts, the soft smoky leeks contrasting with the sharp cheese and crunchy nuts to create easily my favourite veggie dish this year. Then a squidgy butternut squash with yoghurt, chilli and toasted almonds – a riot of flavours and textures jostling for attention. Salmon cooked on cedar planks is itself a reason to try Jake’s cooking.
Others had the lamb chops sweetened with maple and sage, triple-cooked new potatoes (sounds so much less sinful than chips, but don’t kid yourself) and green beans with confit shallot and crispy onions. The wondrous smokiness of open-fire cooking pervades each dish. An interesting wine list led us to a light, crisp Italian Fiano and a smooth Carignan. The chocolate mousse has crunchy and chewy bits, while the lemon posset is all smooth and creamy with a lush blueberry compote. The bread and butter pudding will have to wait until next time.
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Cinder at Grove
How often do you walk into a restaurant and go ‘Wow!’? Argentinian restaurant Sucre in a former concert hall on Great Marlborough Street is a large, high-ceilinged room that marries faded grandeur with industrial chic and cut-glass decanter chandeliers. Add to this an open kitchen with an open fire grill and a fantastic atmosphere and you have all the ingredients for a great night – and that’s before you even get to the food. Highlights for our group were cheddar, chilli & onion empandas and steak tartare with wafer-thin plantain crisps, meltingly sweet roasted onions with artichoke purée, a tuna ceviche dish with lime and sesame, veal sweetbreads – almost tofu-like in texture with a refined, sweet, ‘poultryish’ flavour – and a glazed cabbage pungently flavoured with orange miso (an acquired taste).
Two of us wanted the bone-in ribeye, but at 800g this was a step too far. There was no question that I was going to have the dulche de leche fondant – all your sweet dreams come true. You expect the wine list to be all big bold Argentinian reds, but Italy, France and Spain are nicely represented. Downstairs is Abajo, a subterranean bar that is modern and atmospheric, with live music and a world-renowned mixologist creating highly unusual cocktails. The central bar has been designed the ‘wrong’ way round so you can see your cocktails being made. I’m definitely going back for the wow factor – and that rib-eye.
The Engine Rooms in East Finchley, on the site of the Hexagon garage, has given north London something it’s been missing – a destination restaurant. Our table started with a pretty-as-a-picture grey mullet ceviche with a sweet tomato dressing and a cured egg yolk in the centre of the bowl, followed by a ‘meaty’ halibut T-bone steak with a lovely buttery emulsion, and a rack of lamb with peas and broad beans. We ordered bbq sweet potato with ricotta and walnut, plus a superb hispi cabbage with wild garlic aioli, crispy shallots and chilli crumb. Desserts were a chocolate mousse with salted peanut butter and caramelised banana, plus an apricot frangipane tart with clotted cream ice-cream – comfort food at its best. In warmer weather, the courtyard is a superb option for lunch or dinner and the menu includes salads and lighter dishes. West-end-worthy and you can park outside the door. The added bonus of going for lunch is that the fantastic deli and wine shop Bottles ‘N’ Jars is open during the day.
The Engine Rooms
Newly-opened Meadow in Ealing has been referred to as an oasis and it is easy to see why. Between the beautiful hanging baskets adorning the restaurant and the birdsong in the toilets, we really did feel as if we had stepped into the Secret Garden. We got the lunchtime party started with a signature cocktail – My Sweet Temptation, which came complete with
a cloche and Heston-eque flavoured smoke. We mutually loved the focaccia, the burrata, the salmon and the broccoli fritti. Sadly there was only one veggie dish available at lunchtime – a malloreddus arrabbiata, which didn’t smell bad as suggested by its name. My friend was disappointed that they didn’t manage to ‘gnocchi up’ the other pasta dish. The evening menu has sea bass, chicken, the Meadow Burger and other grills on offer. Charming staff and a relaxed ambience make it a lovely place to have a West End-style contemporary Italian meal. They also offer a £16 set lunch. After tiramisu and lemon tart plus a glass of red, we were really feeling Ealing.
An evening under the stars at Chameleon feels like a combination of all the Mediterranean holidays we missed out on over the past year. Set in a pretty courtyard with live music and the warm glow of flame patio heaters, who needs Mallorca when you can have Marylebone? We started with lychee and rose Bellinis while soaking up the atmosphere, of which there is plenty. Israeli chef Elior Balbul’s food is exciting and bursting with flavour. Kubana brioche, a veritable pillow of decadence, came with zhug, crème fraîche and crushed tomato. Our group had beetroot cured salmon with pickled beets and quinoa, yellowtail sashimi with ricotta and fennel, aubergine carpaccio with goats’ cheese and crispy onion (favourite dish) and lamb sirloin with stuffed cabbage and garlic purée. We finished with a yuzu and bergamot curd with berries and sumac meringue, a suitably sweet and tangy finale to a phenomenal feast of flavours.
The novelty of cooking Sunday lunch at home fizzled out when we were unable to go to restaurants during the lockdowns. Throughout those arduous months, Sri Lankan chef extraordinaire Kushan Marthelis kept up morale by delivering meals as Cacao Catering. Now he is rescuing weekends at his newly-opened eaterie, the Cacao Bean Restaurant and Café in Borehamwood. Open weekdays for the typical café fare (only better), Kushan shines on Sundays when he serves brunch and then lunch from 12pm to 4pm. However good your roast may be, his beef or chicken with steamed broccoli, carrots, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and rosemary jus is better, and the portion sizes shame the most generous Jewish mother. Smoked beef short ribs and beef Wellington are also on the menu and, if you have room for dessert, Kushan will surprise you with his brownies or an apple Charlotte. So reasonably priced it’s embarrassing, so leave a good tip.