L’Artisan Greenwich Review: “Does what it says on the cover: A Craftsman of food”

A Review of L’Artisan Delicatessen , Greenwich SE10

Imagine piles chocolates and biscuits; meringues and croissants and tarts and different iced cakes.

Ok stop now and listen to what I am saying.

Responding emotionally to plenty is a reaction designed for survival, right? And Tesco’s and Paul Rhode’s Bakery (and a few other venues on the food-selling spectrum) know how to hit that button hard – the shelves replete with diversity and colour. Other restaurants go for plush interiors.

Don’t pretend you’ve never used that ‘nice toilets’ line on a night out.

So I’m going to ask you to put a check on that gut reaction. It would be too easy to dismiss the humble interior of L’Artisan: 3 small red gingham-clothed tables, and some shelves and a fridge. The location is a walk away from tourist Greenwich, hovering uncomfortably east of the (gasp) university and in the section that seems to be competing gambling shops and genuine African or Asian dishes (which I shall be investigating on your behalf).

Dismissing L’Artisan for these reasons would be a mistake.

The view from inside L’Artisan Greenwich

L’Artisan values food. To be specific, it values the food experience. On a very dreary afternoon, we visited, chose something simple, (because we thought this was just a coffee shop) and in response the owner (let’s call him L’Artisan) responded by kicking the door stop out the way to block out the busy road, neatly laying cutlery and a napkin and turning on the classical music. We got the message: Food is an important experience; don’t take a single bite without relishing it even without flash surroundings.

On our second visit, we ordered Quiche with Salad. Perhaps like me, you wonder what the big deal is about quiche. It reminds me of cold weddings in village halls, alongside the winter salad. I have had good quiche lorraines from some of the chain French delis, but while nice they can be little laden with oil. At L’Artisan, the quiche was perfect. Fabulously flavoured with leek and ham and so very light. Served with due care sprinkled with olive oil and black pepper, due attention ascribed to the detail.

The side salads were excellent. My husband raved about the spiced beetroot with herbs. I enjoyed the pickled cabbage.

We finished with a very generously sized lemon drizzle cake. Again, not a heavy cake which lemon drizzles often can be.

They asked, can we get you anything else? They weren’t up-selling. They just thought we might like a glass of tap water to rehydrate after our coffee. Like I said, attentive.

Plat du Jour at L’Artisan

Beautiful pear tarts came out of the kitchen as we went to pay and leave. Are these what you serve in the afternoon, I asked the owner. No, I was told. He proudly runs out of food throughout the day. The batch was arriving now, because everything is cooked on the premises and cannot be supplied to demand. He does fresh soup every day and a different Plat du Jour for takeaway with salad… I quietly wished to myself that I worked next door to L’Artisan.

The deli shelves offer the kind of things you always used to find in a French Hypermarche. The deli shelves offer the kind of things you always used to find in a French Hypermarche – don’t you just love those little spongy biscuits that used to come with a fruit or chocolate filling? And what was with those rich looking bottles of Syrop? They don’t just have Kia Ora on the continent, you know.

There are no pretensions here, behind us was a jar of alphabetti spaghetti (albeit dried and without tomato sauce). And the fridge was largely empty. I honestly don’t know if this was just because they sold out, or if this was all they were able to offer today thank you very much – but it lent to the assurance that whatever was still in the fridge it was made with the highest love.

A shelf of cheese that puts supermarket selections to shame. (Although I came over all English and skipped the unpasteurised offerings.)

And you kind of think – ok, no amuse bouche (would be odd in a deli) but L’Artisan has taken pride in his work down to the last detail, and looked after you as well as in any flash restaurant.

Seriously, these people are doing something special here. Really quite special. If there is any justice in the world I would say they are going far.

If you want to make the most of a visit to L’Artisan, we also visited the quirky Green Parrot Gallery, (opposite the auction house) and it’s not far from the North East corner of Greenwich Park. A few shops closer to central Greenwich is the unbelievably helpful Theatre of Wine.

L’Artisan 93 Trafalgar Road, London, SE10 9TS Phone: 020 8858 0918

Sipping coffee amongst actual live flowers

A review of Hooper and Palmer’s, in Westcombe Park, Greenwich/Blackheath

Now as well as considering some of the most enjoyable things about life: food, coffee, bossing you lot about as to where and how to eat, it’s worth remembering the even finer things in life when caught up in city living, like for example, nature. And to be specific – flowers.

Manufactured scents are all too unavoidable these days, even if like me you are not one for airfresheners. As a general guideline, any smell named after a celebrity and adorned with copious airbrushing should be added to the ‘processed’ list. So, it was a real delight to sit sipping coffee amongst actual live flowers at Hoppers & Palmer some months ago.

So nice was the experience that I decided to return to write up an accurate blog about the place and take some delightful iPhone pictures of the light room full of flowers. So at 4pm on a Sunny afternoon I tripped over there to find this:

Hooper and Palmer

Well, maybe they close at 4pm, I thought to myself, so the other day I went over at a much more civilised hour to find:

Still says Closed, but a bit smaller this time

This time I was with my man who had noted that he has tried to buy me flowers from there (everyone say ‘ah’) on Saturday to find that it was:

Hooper and Palmer

(OK, that photo was recycled)
This is a pity, because they are the icing on the cake of this otherwise rather dull corner of Westcombe Park (not counting pistachios in the park… I am coming back to you) . But haven’t they ever heard of STAFF? You can get them; Supply is said to outstrip demand these days.
Well from memory it was like this, and if you are ever wanting to take the gamble, the place is nice. (although the bit behind the mini wall in the middle of the shop is private, doesn’t say so, but the staff will bark at you if you cross it). We loved (in winter time) the stirrers for turning your hot milk into hot chocolate. Please don’t confuse these with milk chocolate stirrers; they were designed to merge with the milk to create hot chocolate. These were –something else, and not in the nostalgia over lollipops sort of way, but in the comforting oozing best way to enjoy chocolate sort of a way. Spanish stand your spoon in cocoa eat your heart out.

There seemed to be a good selection of teas. I really must write that blog about my general opinion on teas types and brands so that I can introduce jargon that you can all refer back.

Selection of cakes is small, but of quality. Good Flapjack and brownies are of the suitably high standard required of Blackheath.

Hooper and Palmer, 113 Humber Road, Blackheath London, SE3 7LW

Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs in sugar.

A Review of San Miguel restaurant and tapas bar, Greenwich SE10

Question is, would I ever have visited San Miguel if the San Miguel Twitterer had not challenged my lunch choice of cold mussels? A choice by which I still stand, you should know.

I might not have, because San Miguel is based in the heart of the Greenwich where the students and funky shoe shops make it all just so colourful, that the duly colourful Spanish bar doesn’t quite stand out. But their website told me they cooked homemade tapas, and churros… so I was going to find search them out.

San Miguel feels authentic. Partially because it is unashamably Spanish, being full of genuine Spanish articles that seemed such wonderful exotic holiday keepsakes for our parent’s sideboards in the 70’s; and partially because it was full of Spanish speakers – staff and guests. I was impressed, if not to say slightly intimidated. I came to sound off about whether I enjoyed lunch, and now I have to concede that my personal opinions might just not be Spanish enough.

Paella was an option on the menu, but so was Tapas. And tapas is a wonderful thing. It means that you can (1) not make up your mind from the menu and have everything, and (2) (where all tapas dishes are the same price) pick all of the meat rich ones. This is a clever thing to do because restaurateur had priced in the assumption that you would have some vegetable dishes, so you can feel smug that you got good value for money (albeit slightly bloated).

Mmmmm… (one on the bottom right is spinach scramble).

I was floored at San Miguel: (1) The menu was so extensive that had to get our iphones out and make a shortlist in order to knock some of the options off; and (2) Not all tapas dishes at San Miguel were the same price.

But the food, atmosphere and service were so good, I forgave them.

Fabulous and undersold on the menu was the spinach and mushroom scramble “revuelto de Espinacas”. Does that sound appetising to you? We ordered it because we thought we should order some vegetables. The scrambled eggs with spinach and mushroom, however had another depth of flavour altogether – coconut…? This was the dish we saved till last… even after the flaming chorizo.

Hmmm, flaming chorizo. A great Spanish food now with a slightly caramelised coating (thanks to the flaming.) Look real flames (hadn’t expected that from the menu description either.)

Makes a slightly caramelised outside to one of Spain’s best ingrediants

We also chose scallops. Don’t often see those on a tapas menu so even though I am getting slightly irritated by every Michelin-wannabe plonking pan-sear-fried-diver-caught scallops on their over-written menus. Scallops are great, but they are easily described with one word and do not make a chef great. (I’ve cooked scallops; that says it all). However, back to San Miguel: Scallops wrapped in bacon; no pretentions; great.

The staff were actually lovely, all of them, not a single gripe; risking burning so that we could photograph flaming chorizo; piling their arms with more dishes than I was trained for silver service and allowing us to eat churros even in the day time (and why not?)

Oh yes… churros. I hadn’t mentioned them. Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs. Hot Fried Carbs in sugar with hot chocolate on the side. (Why aren’t Churros more famous?) The San Miguel Churros were a particularly thin brand that I would have preferred with a rich black coffee, but maybe that’s just not Spanish.

HOT FRIED CARBS IN SUGAR

HOT FRIED CARBS IN SUGAR

San Miguel Tapas Bar & Restaurant: 18 Greenwich Church Street, London SE10 9BJ

Advice needed: Why is clafoutis, please?

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A review of Paul Rhodes Bakery in Greenwich

Advice needed: why is clafoutis please? (That was a ‘why, not a ‘what’.) And why does it sometimes have an ‘s’ on the end and sometimes not?

I understand that clafouti(s) should theoretically have a place in the patisserie collection. It features berries and custard; both very nice things; and eggs, very clever things; and pastry which features butter and butter is one of the fundamentals to life worth living. Euclid said so, go look it up: Book9. But why is the combination of these things so unbelievably like the unfortunate conclusion to a school diner.

We didn’t choose the clafoutis at Rhodes this time. We had coffee and cake, and a sandwich. That’s the order we thought of them in, not the order we ate them in. (Yes, we are now bankrupt and do welcome contributions – paypal details follow shortly.) This week we ordered a cheese straw too. The cheese straws at Rhode’s bakery are good.

Rhodes used to have their very own rude French man. Genuinely free insults for all visitors. This was a masterpiece on their part. He was a tourist feature. But he started mellowing. Falling in love, maybe? He needed to choose if his love life was threatening his art; you will no longer find him there. Now they have a selection of kids who don’t actually know what they sell:

Me:  “I’ll have the Rhode’s Classic,”

Staff: “Eh?”

Maybe the lad just couldn’t hear me and I was brought up not to say “what”. But my suspicion is that I confused him by calling the sandwich a the Rhode’s Classic, a Rhode’s Classic and not just a cheese toastie. This didn’t bode well.

The Rhodes Classic differentiated itself on the price tag by being made with sour dough. Actually it was just a cheese toastie with larger than normal quantities of tomato. I’ve had dull sandwich experiences more than once here. Believe me, the place for startlingly good sandwiches is Boulangerie Jade. It’s a pity, because Rhodes’ breads (that require more money than you should be carrying loose change in Greenwich) aren’t bad.

Unusually I wasn’t in a cake mood and had a raspberry shortcake.

We like that raspberry shortbread. It was constructed like a large jammie dodger without cream. Don’t stop reading until you’ve heard the rest…

Oh, Rhodes, where do you get a crunch as good as that shortcake had? I’ve never experienced such crunch before. I mean that takes some making: too long off the baking tray and it will soften. Too soon and it will still be warm. Never mind the fact that as a bakery there was no protective wrapping to keep it fresh. And I do like a confectioner who knows to go easy on the sugar and generous on the tart; the raspberry jam that dripped out was spot on, in quantity and in balance of fruit and sugar.

Very Very Well Done Rhodes. I forgive you for forgetting our coffee for long enough period for us to be well jostled by various olympic tourists. (In my husband’s words, Rhodes have their own brand of customer service).

There aren’t a lot of seats in Rhodes, and being in a top tourist location, you’ll be lucky even to set eye on one without buying a pair of binoculars and stalking everything four-legged. But it isn’t far from the Cutty Sark and the Thames and so we ate our purchases next to the swirling river surrounded by police, community officers, olympic staff and pretty much no one else.

Rhodes serve no end of goodies… all options piled up on the tills. The coffee is in the top 3 performers on my list and it comes in genuinely and uniquely environmentally friendly cups. Although I can’t remember why. Go and read one of their posters if you really want to know.

As an aside, I know I am an artist and supposed to be all visual whatever, but does anyone know how I can post pictures with the blog in a slightly more sightly manner…

Paul Rhodes Bakery, 37 King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9HU

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Those Very Round Glasses

A review of Buenos Aires the Restaurant in Blackheath London SE3
(I’ll come back to the coffee shop in Greenwich some other time).

I know you have looked in the large windows of this restaurant and seen those wine glasses. Those are what draw you in are they not..? Those wine glasses. Beautiful and round… so very round. By nature I belong to the very-small-wine-glass school of thought (because the glass runs empty at about the same time the taste has stopped being special); but those wine glasses are so very round I can forgive how large they are.

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Here is my advice if you are visiting Buenos Aires the Restaurant. Do not under any circumstances think that because you are in an Argentinean restaurant, you are compelled to eat only meat at the expense of the side dishes. This would mean that you would miss out on generous portions of French fries, fresh and exciting Panache de Vedura, and that other really good thing. You know THAT OTHER really good THING with a Spanish name (not Que Ota Cosa), made with corn and cheese and ISN’T ON THEIR ONLINE MENU for me to check the name of like a diligent little non-spanish speaking blogger. What can I say? – It was my husband what ordered it – good man. But it was amazing. And mix of all those flavours and colours and textures was what made my last visit to Buenos Aires so worthwhile.

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To accompany the side dishes we had steak served with Chimicurri sauce. This looks pretty inoccuous – but goes excellently with the chargrilledness of the steak. I do not write such a dull sentence lightly. The chilli/tomato (and so much more) sauce with charcoal was a perfect harmony of flavours. I had thought that steak sauces were just a little bit Whetherspoons. What is the point of garlic or peppercorn sauce? Steak is good meat that should not be cluttered with too much irrelevant flavour – right? On this visit, I discovered that all of these steak and sauce combinations are chargrill&chimicurri sauce wannabes.

Now you know.

We finished with the mixed dessert platter. Apparently Argentineans would do nothing so quaint as to do mini editions of the 5 desserts and cheese portions on the platter in a Parisian cafe gourmand sort of a way. Each dessert appeared to be pretty much full size.

There were 2 of us.

Everyone looked at us.

I considered moving serving places to our table to look like we were a five-strong party, but I wouldn’t be able to fit the seats to match. I didn’t order my planned Remy Martin after that. I was too embarrassed.

It is difficult for me to comment on the respective qualities of each dessert given that my feeling was, ‘please, not more food, no more food, please’ and I am not 100% sure that some were not compromised by the proximity of the others, (rhubarb bread pudding sounds like a selection of subtle flavours that does not match up to the punch of a chocolate cake, for example). However I can comment that despite being a bit of a chocolate cake cynic, they actually do a rather good chocolate cake: No gratuitous death by icing, or goo. A good crumbly cake with a strong sugary icing.

By the way , when I ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon, they removed the round, round wine glasses and I got a bog standard straightish glass. (That glass could have been prettier if it was smaller in my opinon).

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Boulangerie Jade

Could someone correct me here? Having dated a French speaker I was introduced to pronouncing this place as Jaaaade, rather than Jayde. But I am starting to think that I am the only person in Blackheath to be doing this.

5 steps to enjoying a lemon tart at Jade – best enjoyed with a friend. (or just get two seats and regularly swap sides).

First: ensure you join the queue with enough space to distinguish the lemon tart from the passion fruit tart. The latter is nice, but lemon tart is special on a different level.

Order with a coffee from the grumpy waitress/cashier, and with any luck manage not to offend her at some point during the transaction. Break the lemon tart in half  and watch the lemon ooziness drip out (but not too much).

Argue over which of you will eat jade chocolate button (if it has one)
Enjoy!

Jade also tops my frequent visit list because the coffee is the best in the village and the Earl Grey is Twinnings (yet to find any other contender for Earl Grey, even in the expensive brands – suggestions welcome). Other ‘top the list’ products here are the croissants. They can be a little unusual looking sometimes, but- just the right amount of buttery  crumbs left on the plate to dip your finger into (so long as an over enthusiastic waitress resists whipping your plate away first); the tart tatin; and the chocolate tart; the florentines and the macaroons… and…

And make sure you check BOTH ends of the counter, with the exception of their very good sandwiches, there are some excellent savory options hiding on the other side of the till where you have had no time to check them out whilst keeping your place in the queue. But avoid the pizza. (very bad; worse than your own homemade version with wholemeal flour,; served cold; with broccoli.)
You may have observed a prejudice on my part for pastry here- the very impressive cream concoctions don’t quite appeal for a quick stop for coffee; but I am sure no one would regret shelling out £22 for a larger cream cake thingy for guests later in the day (please use the comment box below to invite me to dinner)