First Name Terms with A Champagne named Colin

A review of Champagne and Fromage in Greenwich SE10

I’d just like to say, I’m on first name terms with a champagne called Colin. But when we pointed this ‘silly name for a classy drink’ out to the waitress at Champagne&Fromage, with an immature giggle, she pronounced it in a French accent which sounded so much more sophisticated. This led to attempts to think of names which did not translate well into French (and we hadn’t even started drinking yet). Where was Dave, for example? “Daveed” she responded with narrowed eyes. Champagne&Fromage is a dinky little place, where many tourists peer into the windows to see what happens within, so our ignorance was public.

A champagne called Colin

Our waitress compounded her superiority by pouring the champagne swiftly into two vertical glasses with no overspill, releasing the biscuity smell into the air. She cracked a smile then, and said, that’s my new party trick. Colin actually turned out to be the duller (Chardonnay based) champagne than the pinot based (and cheaper) Blanc de Noirs.

The interior of Champagne and Fromage

We were offered the option of choosing our own cheeses, but we deferred to the experts (ie. The Waitress with the French Accent). This resulted in dark cherries poured on top of a soft cheese which was melt in mouth delicious – and I’m not normally keen on ‘sweet’ with cheese. There was also a goat’s cheese rolled in the grassy flavours of thyme (no Boursin here – fortunately.)

They were complemented with shot glasses of condiments: olive tapenade which was too sweet for me, sweet enough to be sandwiched between layers of sponge cake and sold as dessert and just as with every cheese tray, there was a fig jam. (Why? Why?) However the basil preparation contained a healthy dose of garlic and redeemed the condiment with cheese concept for me.

Meat and Cheese at Champagne and Fromage

The large number of meats on the board were nice, but too strongly flavoured against the champagne and spoilt it a bit. I’d recommend sticking with cheese if you are having the champagne. The restaurant has got Champagne&Fromage only in the name after all.

Now this is where your average diner is going to make a terrible mistake. The average diner is going to say, I have just had a delicious treat of luxurious products, and I feel very spoilt and I am going to leave now. Erreur Terrible!

Fortunately I am not your average diner. Instead of the ‘I am going to leave now’ bit, I say ‘right, dessert!’ And my decision here is going to prevent you from making L’erreur terrible. Because the desserts are the best I have had in a long time as sampled with the dessert platter: french macrons (are more floury tasting than British ones); Good cheesecake with chocolate chips, which whilst sounding like a gimmick had a fantastic effect on the consistency and unlike almost every other cheesecake in the world was not childishly saccharine ; and the seasonal caneles, made up of very salted caramel (have you noticed how all caramel is supposedly salted these days? well this one really was), and a spot-on batter.

It’s a long time since I had a dessert as good as this one. Thanks Colin.

A steamed bun is hard to come by

La-Mian & Dim Sum of Greenwich market, you have a fight on your hands, nestled there to close to Jamaican jerk chicken, Mexican food, and churros (oh, those churros). But I have to say a steamed bun is hard to come by, and in my experience, rather hard to re-create at home (Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals offer a valiant attempt!) so I can see that you are holding your own…

I don’t know why steamed buns are not more famous at LMDSGM (I am going for an acronym here, as I can see that Dim Sum is a food, but not speaking Chinese I can’t see how to shorten the name any other way). It is such a great combination, the slight sweetish white dough around chicken things mushroom and spices. On the day I tried it, it would have been a slightly less dry combination had I remembered to pick up some plum sauce.

It is rewarding experience to see the food cooked in front of you in the space of a square yard, although I think I made this man a little shy when I took the photo.

We ate the steamed buns on the steps in front of the Cutty Sark and followed it up with roast duck on a bed of sticky rice. This was great duck and great rice, but over all a bit dry. It had been coated with sauce that failed to slip under the duck to the rice, and there was a delicious chutney in one corner which wasn’t nearly enough for the whole dish. Some more veg than two halves of a pak choi would also helped a bit.watch movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children 2016 now

Service was hard to comment on. We ordered, they cooked straight away, they said “here we are”. The only thing that slowed us down was our impatience to tuck in.

Short for Political Correctness?

Why is Papa Charlie called Papa Charlie anyway? Is it short for Political Correctness (doesn’t sound very military) and does that explain why the food served here is not Spanish, or Turkish, or Italian or Morrocan but Mediterranean? Surely a North or a South in the restaurant’s description would help a little bit? I certainly can’t work out which country was represented by the supposedly gourmet Burgers (that quintessential mediterranean food). Sorry, I wasn’t convinced enough to check.

There were some plus points. My plastic menu offered me the chance to resolve some mysteries of previous blogs… I know that you have been on the edge of your seat to know: The kleftico from Rare, that sounded like it was made out of the previous owners and oxo cubes had a descrption next to it (slow cooked lamb on the bone). Okay, so I did already know this. I googled it.

And the second solved mystery was how imambayildi would taste following the marvellous description offered by Efe’s Meze.
I have been kicking myself for not ordering it and here it was on the menu. I ordered right away and it turned out that the waitress could not pronounce it either. The imambayildi was delicious, subtle but a real grower although I think I would have struggled with it’s pure vegetableness as a main course. The whitebait that we also ordered was pretty chunky, overweight whitebait which for me took the attraction off. (Some things are supposed to be an excuse for batter, not provide food in their own right.)

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I thought that a virgin bellini was just about the best thing that I have ever heard of. Because bellinis are great, sophisticated and delicious and very much something that require moderation. I should have remembered that the plus point of bellinis is the champagne, and that the absence of this left you with cherryade and mint, at a bitingly massive mark up. Gourmet challenge for you: alcohol free champagne. (Oo, I can see my readership figures collapsing as I type.)

Besides the bellini hiccup, the starters were in fact very promising and made me try to see beyond the plastic menus with pre-published ‘specials’ (so not so special for today, huh?) and the fact that the decoration is identical to when I reviewed this location as Helva.

But the main courses really took the meal to renewed depths. The chicken guvec (a chicken stew) was definitely made of turkey. (I should note that the date of our visit was the 1st January. See where I am going here?)

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Although the kebabs were genuinely chicken and okayish, they weren’t the cheapest, and the accompanying bulger wheat lacked pizzaz.

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We decided we would not enjoy stopping around for dessert and got the DLR to Hazev for this experience…I’ll update you about that on another blog.

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The mixed Colours of the Meze Glowed At Us

A review of Efe’s Meze, Trafalgar Road

Heard of imambayildi? Me neither. It sounded really interesting the way that Efe’s Meze’s extremely eager to please new management described it. It seemed to feature wrapping and baking and re-wrapping and oil and stuff like that. I wish I had taken notes, because when I went back to pre-book my order (we were a large group) I was bowled over by the meat and fish options. I figured I’d nick some off my friends plates.

Mirror reflecting restaurant lights

Efe’s in Greenwich mirror interior

As we arrived to eat the 6 cold Meze starters were already laid. The mixed colours of kisir, feta/beetroot, acilia ezme) glowed at us, but there was no bread. And there would be no bread until all of my friends turned up. My friends were very late. The dishes carried on glowing at us. I think that this is cruelty to customers, but when I try to find where to report it, I can’t find anyone who will listen.

Efe's Meze table

Glowing Meze

In the end, hunger won over and we just asked for bread, which arrived warm and spongy. The dishes were delicious and unfortunately filling . Round 2 (hot Meze) was petite but enjoyable -falafel, halloumi and cheese borek.

During this time, I have been asked to observe that the wine was served in professional manner, with pre-taste, and then decanted into a carafe. Profuse apologies were also offered for the lack of non-alcoholic beer. This is unusual to me. Normally I find myself apologising for ordering it.

As I think you can probably tell from the state of my blog photos (you’re supposed to love me for my quirky dippiness. You do get that right?), I don’t really go into these restaurants with a sign on my forehead saying ‘I am a local food blogger’, but you would not nave guessed this from the nervous-dash-eager-to-please reception we received. As at that weekend (mid October) Sayit, the manger was very new management.

The best bits, however were undoubtedly the greasy spicy kofte with a kicking after taste and the crispy, spiced seabass, both accompanied by huge bowls of feta salad. At this point the food reached the rarely achieved level of, so-good -I -forgot-to-take -photos. Which I do appreciate is very unfair on you guys. Sorry. See if you can find yourselves a cruelty to blog readers complain line. (Actually also, post me the number, I want to complain to http://helengraves.co.uk for infrequent posting.) The only moussaka was ordered down at the other end of the table so I never saw it, but I was reliably told it had to be prepared from 7am in the morning.

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The only disappointing thing was the dessert selection. Despite details of their preparation sounding mouthwatering, I did not fancy apple pie or tiramisu after that meal. Maybe deserts aren’t that turkish, but what about Helva and baklava? We asked specifically about baklava and were sent on our way with 2 pieces that we weren’t charged for. Honest, I am sure they didn’t know I was planing to blog about them.

And no one, in a party of twenty had the decency to order imambayildi so that I could taste/oggle it. No gratitude. New friends are on order.

170 Trafalgar Rd, London SE10 9TZ
As at the time of this blog, the online menu is ‘in progress’ following the mangement change.

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Hoping that I remained anonymous, A review of Jamie’s Italian Deli

I admit, I slaughtered Jamie’s Italian in my last review. Even Italian friends told me they thought about going there and changed their minds after my review. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured in last week, hoping that I remained anonymous and was not about to be chased out, Why did I return, you ask? Well, OBVIOUSLY because there were some really good looking cakes in the window and my last review was not about cake. Let’s separate things. Let’s say that this review is about the deli at Jamie’s Italian. My last review was of the restaurant that constitutes Jamie’s Italian. And believe me, I stand by it.

Here are are the good looking cakes:

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By going in the ‘other’ (non restaurant entrance) this is what you are faced by: Actually quite tempting, fell for the whole, 3 cakes between 2 people isn’t that bad thing, even when following focaccia. Focaccia was really great, oily and be speckled with olives.

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But the cakes are kicked by the local competition. The lemon tart was so-so (that’s in the ‘cosi cosi’ way, not the ‘Soooo’ way) lemony- no real sting? And the plum tart was really an almond tart, that wouldn’t want to be disrupted by the sourness of a plum, but without the amazing things that a dedicated almond tart could be.

This, however is a nice environment. You just have to let yourself forget you know it is inauthentic chain decor. And don’t pity the poor homemade pasta for how it is about to be cooked. This isn’t too hard, it is pleasant on the eye.

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Yeah let’s go to Jamie’s Italian for a real treat

A Review of Jamie’s Italian, Greenwich

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Yeah let’s go to Jamie’s Italian for a real treat, because annoying as it is that ol’ Jamie sponsors just about every clunky kitchen gadget going, I do enjoy cooking from his recipe books, so the food can’t go wrong. Right?

The interior of Jamie’s Italian is enormous. And it is about as cliched as Mr Oliver himself, which for me is slightly annoying but mostly ok. You’d have to draw your own conclusions. For instance, the tea towel napkins: I like. They are strangely comforting. But I don’t like the school canteen glasses. They are a cuteness too far. Also at school they always used to come with unidentifiable solidified grime on them. When I was a kid, any unknown grime was the worst grime: SNOT (or possibly poo, but a little less likely given the circumstance.) Let’s move on from this topic, it’s dinner time.

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Well the menu didn’t look so great. The really flummoxing part was that the centre piece focused on burgers, which surely couldn’t be the the best dish of an Italian restaurant. Where was the gem on the menu? I forced myself to look at the pasta.

The meal started with overly-battered squid.

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This was really disappointing. More and more restaurants seem to over-batter their squid. You can only taste batter. A pretty, but not so funky tasting butternut bruschetta came with it and this was ok. I’m sure the mains will make the hype worth it.

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I have to say that the service was perfect. Our waiter was so attentive. He could sense that we were unhappy with the starters and wanted to correct it, slipping extra bread in our takeaway box, and patient and helpful throughout the experience.

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Spaghetti Alla Norma with aubergine, chilli and basil sounded great. Aubergine is quite a flavour after all. In reality, I’ve had more flavoursome dishes from cheaper Italians. It was a bore to consume. Only force of habit made me continue. I genuinely weighed up that I would not be missing out on the food, by leaving it and taking joy from the potential lost weight.

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The sea bream was pleasant enough, but it is kind of hard to mess up such a magnificent ingredient. They did their best to mess it up. The samphire was woody. Something I would not have believe possible of seaweed/parsley type thing, so to give JI its due, this was an educative experience.

We had fabulous desserts at. Jamie’s Barbecoa in New Change, so we stopped around in case the meal could be redeemed. A cold winter night, we chose warm amaretti and granola crumble. Note, not ‘crumbled amaretti…’ But amaretti crumble, in other words, implying to most people baked cakey stuff that crumbles. In fact this was fruit with granola sprinkled on it. This did have nice flavours, but was not the promised comforting crumble implied by the menu. It felt kind of healthy.

What gets me, what really gets me is that even I can knock out a delicious Jamie 15minute meals in a little under half an hour. His stuff should be chef-proof. So we can’t even blame the chef at JI.

And by the way, the Jamie branded garlic press broke into shards the other day. My Ikea version is still going strong (sorry Deptford Dame!)

I have never written so rude a review. However I feel sorry for the flawlessly charming staff who deserve jobs if JI does not survive, hopefully by boosting the business of the following establishments, they will get recruited there.
If you want to eat out in the Greenwich/Blackheath areas eat out here: if you want Italian in Greenwich eat here: Bianco43
If you want a quality burger (because naturally this is the first thing you think of when visiting an Italian) eat here: Chapters
If you want bog standard Italian chain food, maybe featuring kids (at the table, not in the dishes) believe me, Pizza express and Strada do a better job and frequent good money off deals.

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If simplicity yields perfection I’m all good with that

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A Review of The Old Brewery, Greenwich

I didn’t expect to get seated at the meantime brewery. After all it was sunny bank holiday evening, not far from the Thames, and getting seating has definitely been a problem in the past, but I wonder of the novelty’s worn off…. there was the odd available table.

There were other changes. I have to report that the overpriced pub grub menu has been upgraded. Unfortunately we’d already eaten at the market, so this is a non-sampled menu review. (I know- shouldn’t be allowed, but somehow I feel I can still provide enlightenment). Significant improvements seemed to include proper bar snacks along with recommended matching beers: real pub food with matching beers. There was a very small dessert menu, but if simplicity yields perfection I’m all good with that (plus, it makes decisions easier). This is all more pleasant than the days that we would pop in for a drink, struggle for a seat and order rounds of over-priced bread to accompany our meantime lagers until they ran out (of the bread not the lager).

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The strength of meantime is it’s authenticity. It is an own brewery packed into a Greenwich house in the gardens of the old naval hospital, Greenwich university, very near the Thames, with climbing roses (that always make me sneeze) in the redbrick circling walls. Why would you spend a summer evening anywhere else?

That said, it is a genuine pub. You have to battle elbows and assert yourself at the bar. I’m sure I’m too old for this cold stare; I was here first; he’s been waiting for fifteen minutes palava.

The real genius of the upgraded menu was the tasting lager placket. So popular as to be seen on every table. This was effectively 3 one-third pints of meantime beers. Our choice was Pacific pale ale, Yakima red and stout. I am not normally a stout drinker, but this stout was one of the best drinks in the placket- very mellow and chocolatey. It may have been too much for me as a pint, but delicious as a third of a pint. The pacific pale ale started off well somewhat sea like in taste, but seemed the weaker of the set by the end. A beautiful end to summer (yeah, sorry about that- but there’s only so much pretending to be done.)

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Walking and Eating is Bad on Many Many Counts

Thameside food stalls in Greenwich

I would have loved to do my duty by you and checked the food at ALL of the Cutty Sark food stalls (which I believe will reman until the tall ships and their fireworks arrive) but even having cycled to London Bridge on Monday, there was not enough space in my stomach for burgers, Peruvian delights and crepes.

So I settled on the key highlights – selected by smell: fudge (baileys- a decision made easier by the fact that they were packing up and all other good choices were disappearing in front of my eyes), an unnamed tent frying up noodles and garlic prawns, and the lemonade tent.

In genuine street food style, there was no attempt at serving what might constitute a meal (protein carb and veg) so one of us bought garlic prawns and the other the soy noodles. We drank fresh lemonade from the separate lemonade stall for our vegetable whilst sitting on the steps in front of the Cutty Sark. (The attractions of street food aside, walking and eating is bad on many many counts: mess, indigestion, missing our on the actual taste due to doing other stuff, dropping food.) This included ten enormous garlicky prawns that could not be stopped eating and the tastiest savoury noodles ever.

I recommend all three stalls. Get there quick before they close at the end of the week.

The lemonade came stuffed with ice, ginger or mint. Very refreshing- you get flavour in the melted ice. Why did anyone in this country ever use dried mint when the fresh version is so plentiful?

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“We logged high levels of aubergine all over the menu,” A Review of Bianco 43

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There are two Bianco43’s in Greenwich. This has been confusing me since an Italian friend suggested meeting there (before deciding she was actually gluten intolerant) and I was intrigued as to how we could fit in at the takeaway only Bianco 43 that I knew of in Lassel Street. This was actually a bit daft of me, because Bianco 43 the restaurant is kind of hard to miss on Greenwich Church Street near the Cutty Sark (number 43 in keeping with Napoli traditions of restaurant naming).

We sailed in on a Monday evening, expecting dead quiet, and were genuinely impressed to find it pretty full at such an antisocial time. The beachcomber interior of white walls and pale wood was glowing in the sunny evening and we sat upstairs to analyse the menu.

We logged high levels of aubergine all over the menu (the desserts were on a different page) Now it has taken me a long time to appreciate aubergine. I have even goaded Yotam Ottolenghi into taking the subject up with me on twitter. (Oops, is that a name on the floor?) But just lately I have been converted. Smokey deep and comforting aubergine; relatively uncelebrated, lush. So high aubergine readings are a good thing

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I went for fried smoked cheese with sweet and sour aubergine (scamorza alla piastra con caponata siciliana in agrodolce- I did not order it in Italian.) which was delicious, two smokey flavours together.

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But I should have thought ahead. Pizza’s were split by pomodoro (tomato sauce based) and bianche (not tomato sauce based). Pizza is always tomato based, I thought- I will have bianche. Foolish. This meant even more cheese, albeit with small studs of basil embedded in it. Both pizzas came in authentically rough ovals, oozing with giant pizza bubbles. I bet you won’t find bubbles like that in vision express*. I wish there had been more green stuff. More something not cheese. I struggled. I swapped a slice with my husband. His capricciosa was full of deep flavours. It was loaded with convincing mole hills of ham offset with artichoke and olive, real olives with real stones. I tasted my husband’s valpolicella (which went way better with my pizza than his because it cut through the oil, but did he offer to drive? Did he?) but after cheese for starter too… there was no way that so much cheese could be finished in one night.

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A distraught waitress ran over to check if everything was ok, and seemed only too pleased to respond with an offer of boxes to take away. I can’t decide if we started a trend here, or whether it was a sign of belt-tightening times, but many boxes followed ours. (It was great cold the next day, by the way).

The other dish on the table was superior calamari. Only recently have I realised that not all calamari is made equal, which is strange for something apparently so simple. This dish was unusual in not being remotely rubbery and avoided a flaw i have recently begun to notice of calamari being overly deep fried. It came with a side of deep fried courgette. I am less keen on this addition. I can also vouch that it was not rubbery… But it would be kind of strange if courgette were rubbery.

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It was a bit embarrassing to ask for the dessert menu after the box incident, but hey it was dessert, we got over it. The waitress didn’t bat an eyelid. Although we were given two knives and one spoon for the 2 desserts, no doubt to make us feel less embarrassed by our faux pas. The inability to picture some of the desserts held us back. Could chocolate cream cake outweigh my previous chocolate cake disappointments? Was the tiramisu the way I like it? We chose well, readers. Very very well. The owner flashed a smug smile at the choice of cannolo, sweet ricotta in deep fried pastry with a grainy texture and crunch to the pastry, and fruit filled sorbert (sic) – which turned out to be fruit with sorbet in and not a wounded Albert with lots of fruit inside. FFS was lemon sorbet- proper tart, mango sorbet in lime – mmm and spectacular walnut sorbet in a walnut shell. Shipped in from Naples, so the owner told us.

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Coffee? I’m starting to feel the pressure. How many times can I describe really good coffee? It was really good coffee. Smooth, flavoursome.

Bianco 43 covered the cost of this meal. I am sure I saw a skip in my husband’s step as we left.

* yes. I know. It was deliberate.

43 Greenwich Church St, London
020 8858 2668