I had my first eight course dinner this week, and given my complete inexperience with these kinds of luxuries, it is possible that this review will be a bit biased. But it was so much fun! When you eat eight little meals, it feels like you’re eating the Eurovision song contest. Each dish has its own character, and looks nothing like the previous one. Given the tiny size of the dishes, it’s more about tasting than eating – sometimes an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we had very vague ideas about what we were actually eating at times (and had to google some of the ingredients like sorrel and verbena).
But aside from my excitement at the four-hour activity of eating eight little dishes in one evening, La Buvette in itself is a lovely place. It’s placed opposite its sister restaurant, the brilliant Café des Spores, but feels a bit more upmarket. When I asked for a nice red wine at Café des Spores, I was served a glass of their excellent house wine. At La Buvette you can only order by to the bottle, and if you ask for advice, the waiter goes to fetch the sommelier.
La Buvette is a tiny resturant, a little bit like someone’s house – the front still looks like the old butcher’s shop it’s housed in, and the upstairs like someone’s living room. The decor is simple. Getting lost trying to find the toilet, I ended up in someone’s artist studio at the top of the house. While the location far away from the centre, it is obvious that La Buvette doesn’t need a grand location to attract customers. The clientele seemed like local Bruxellois food lovers, not eurocrats.
As soon as we were seated, we were given sourdough bread with candied sunflower kernels and truly delicious porcini butter. We ordered a bottle of red organic Merlot at the recommendation of the sommelier, which was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening – it was a bit too dry, and not very special. The first dish, however, was very exciting: sea trout, seaweed, cucumber and some kind of vinegar-y wasabi-flavoured dressing.
The second dish was delicious, and perhaps the most visually appealing – potted rabbit with celeriac and lemon creme. The crunch of the celeriac against the tender, savoury rabbit was lovely. Fredrik, who opted for the vegetarian menu, was was served beetroot with blue cheese and celeriac, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the composition. However, the rest of the evening, I was impressed by how well they catered for a non meat-eater. The third dish was pretty: a colourful salad of sorrel, carrot, red onion, squash and ricotta cheese. Although we were delighted by the sorrel, which we used to eat in Sweden as kids, I thought the ricotta was too heavy, and there was not enough salty tangyness to the dish. It felt like a dessert-salad.
The fourth dish was one of our favourites: plaice with hay potato in a buckwheat broth. The fish was perfect: crispy brown on the outside, but falling apart into creamy little flakes, and soaking up the flavoursome broth perfectly. This was followed by the second main, which was confit lamb with aubergine cream and red cabbage. This was absolutely delicious, and I savoured every little bit of it. Fredrik’s option was also very tasty: Peeled, fried aubergine in some kind of soy vinaigrette. We were both very pleased with our mains, and I began to feel a little full.
The first dessert was absolutely perfect: white chocolate ice cream, meringue, blackberries and verbena sorbet. I think it was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever tried. The fresh verbena sorbet unlocked a whole forest of flavours, which contrasted beautifully with the blackberry and the crispy meringue. The second dessert was a rice pudding with buckthorn sauce and salted caramelised almonds. This was also nice, but the least special dessert for me. The final dish was incredibly heavy, so it was lucky it was so small: dark chcolate tart with salty hazelnut praline. It was a grand finish of the evening, with very heavy flavours.
We finished off the evening with a small acidic coffee each, which was best combined with some sugar – somehow very apt for the kind of meal we’d had. While the eight course dinner in itself is not entirely unaffordable given the high quality of the food (45 euros), the wine, water and coffee upped the bill quite a lot. But for a very special treat, I would completely recommend La Buvette – great service, beautiful food, and actually quite exciting entertainment for a couple of hours. 8,5 meatballs out of ten.
Indian YMCA is a new meatball and salted cod favourite find. Situated in the slightly unlikely neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, it is super-cheap, friendly and very unpretentious. The atmosphere is nice, especially if you like talkative neighbours. It’s a bit like a school canteen – if only canteen food had ever been delicious and the food ladies were nice old Indian chefs instead of intimidating force feeders.
On the day we went, we had a good meaty mutton curry (long cooking made it taste very rich and full of lamb, but given the price one shouldn’t expect too much from the meat), a tarka dhal which was smoky and delicious, and a tangy and spicy Goan fish masala, which made the Salted Cod recollect Portuguese fish stew (stemming from historical links between Goa and Portugal). To this we had rice, chapatis and popadoms, which were fine, really tangy mango pickle, cooling yoghurt (needed for the fish!), wonderful herby raita, and onion bhajis which were nice but not freshly made (the only thing that suffered for not coming straight from the fry).
We had lots to eat, beside which there is also a chicken curry, vegetable lentils, chickpea curry, mango chutney, mixed salad and mango lassi to choose from.
If you go two of you, pick random curries and condiments and make your own little thali at the table. But if you are on your own you are still in good company: there are lots of lone-eaters here and going on your own would not feel awkward. There is probably higher likelihood someone tries to start conversation with you, though. The chefs behind the food counter are helpful, and you just pick and mix whatever dishes you like (they are already dished up in small bowls, but it’s all newly made and given the lively queue it is doubtful much of it stands for long). Water is free and already placed at the table. We paid 11.50 for both of us, were very satisfied and absolutely stuffed leaving the place. In fact, we couldn’t finish it all.
Given the home-cooked flavours and the friendly atmosphere coupled with the incredibly good-values price, we award it 8 meatballs out of 10. As usual, you can find this place through the Meatball and Salted cod map of London here.
EDIT: Amore no longer exists and has been replaced by what looks like a Mexican restaurant (but as of 21/08/2012 that hasn’t opened either).
Amore is a newly-opened Italian restaurant in Dalston with puzzlingly few customers as they serve delicious and good value rustic Italian dishes. (Although, rumour of their dishes may have spread as I spied it almost full yesterday). As the name implies, and the website clearly states, the theme here is romantic – Eros Ramazotti in the speakers, roses on each table, candles lit, dark place. In fact the romance is so exaggerated it must be a little tongue in cheek.
Some of the rioters who smashed up shops in Hackney last summer were so fond of Ali Baba’s kebabs that owner Cerkan was pre-warned by masked people on bikes before things kicked off on the 10th of August. Rumour has it they demanded free kebabs before heading on (but whether they went for lamb kofti or chicken shish in unknown). The threat was countered by anti riot-page on Facebook, and instead of closing up, the kebab shop workers and store owners of Dalston took to the streets with döner knives and broomsticks to defend the community, and in a bizarre turn became Daily Telegraph heroes. Oh well, that’s how it goes in Dalston.
These kebabs are in my opinion the best post-club grub in Dalston, and they are also incredibly edible during the day. The döner and chicken shish kebabs sold in here are similar to other kebab shops (yet of high standard) but the feat of Ali Baba’s if their lamb kofti. The large lamb kofti at £5 is succulent and herby, and strongly recommended with mixed garlic and home made chili sauce. For its location one would have expected it to be slightly cheaper, however, and they sometimes get orders mixed up. 6.5 meatballs out of 10.
144 Kingsland High Street, E8 2NS
Troy is a quirky Turkish café along the Vietnamese belt on the bottom Kingsland road, notable for its walls covered in photos of muscular and oily wrestlers, as well as an odd but homely collection of art and miniature sculptures. Its atmosphere is friendly and familiar, with the owners greeting regulars with an handshake and (delicious) coffee on the house.
It has a generous salad buffe of hot and warm side-dishes, which you can pick and mix next to your main as much as you want. Highlights on the day we were there included savoury taramasalata (a pink mediterranean creamy sauce made with fish roe), Turkish pickles and boiled potatoes with mashed eggs and coriander. The Dürüm (like a wrap with skewered bits of minced lamb and salad) which I had was surprisingly filling and came down well with the home-made tsatsiki. Mr Meatball had a grilled panini with mozzarella, chicken escalope and grilled vegetables which was very good value. My wrap was perhaps on the pricier side for a student eater at £5,40, but it was herby and savoury enough to justify itself. When you are in the neighbourhood, this is a friendly haven with good street views to stare at the Hoxton crowd: granting it 7,5 meatballs out of 10 (secretly 8.5 for the lovely owners).
Troy, 124 Kingsland road, E2 8DP London