Saturday, 21 April 2012

My great big American breakfast @ Karpo

As out of place you would expect Karpo to feel in King's Cross, neighboring the massive industrialised station, decrepit sex shops, kebabs and take aways, this American diner offers grunge and greasy spoon type cuisine to fit right in - yet impressively, it's all deliberate and pulled together in the most fine dining sort of way.

The interior is impressive, and atmosphere very cool. The graffiti that dominates the facade is subtly reinstated throughout in the menu, font and the eclectic and brightly colored crockery. Karpo is spread over three levels, the ground level is bright, airy with round diner and canteen banquet tables next to an indoor living wall. The lower floor best reflects it's American style decorated with leather booths and a wall displaying a collage of photographs of local people. I have been told there is also a rather impressive organic roof garden... 'nuf said... this place is huge!

Also huge, is the menu! Brunch, lunch, larders, hot, cold, wood fired, puddings, smoothies, the lot. Taking a while to peruse, we finally ordered; salt beef hash with the fried eggs substituted for poached and blueberry pancakes. With a pot of Japanese sencha tea.

The food took a while, and the wait with my depressingly weak pot of tea caused a hunger-grump of a Saturday morning. Two perfectly poached eggs finally arrived sat on top of shredded salt beef and potato hash with grits. It hit the spot, but the salt beef did lack a bit of taste. Unlike the food you get at generic American style breakfast hotspots like, the Breakfast Club and The Diner, this dish didn't feel like it had been sitting on a grill all morning, and was in no way greasy or stodgy. The pancakes were divine, and the highlight of the meal. The we're fluffy and the blueberries were fresh. So fresh they virtually melted, and bust and ran all over the plate. They only needed syrup, which we finally had to request half way through.

I like Karpo. But I'm not sure I love it. Nor am I sure I would go back. I love breakfast, too much, and admit I'm a picky little Australian when it comes to breakfast and brunch. I don't see myself dreaming about Karpo breakfast like I do Lantana's creative concoctions or Bill Granger's scrambled eggs. Above all, King's Cross just isn't a nice place to spend a Saturday morning and in order for somewhere to convince me otherwise it'll need to be warm, homely stylish and trendy. Not street chic and cold. That said, go if you're early for a train and hungover.

Karpo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mari Vanna: Russia in Knightsbridge

From my last post; a lounge room that felt like a restaurant to the new Mari Vanna, a restaurant that felt like a lounge room.

I'd been counting down the days to this much anticipated opening ever since my Russian foodie friend mentioned the Ginza Project were bringing their Russian name to London's Knightsbridge. Craving pelmeni all through spring, we finally nabbed a table at the half-finished home in mid April. When I say home, I mean home. The interior was warm and atmosphere welcoming, and elegantly eclectic. Every detail had been fine tuned from the crystal chandeliers hanging from rosette covered ceilings, to the traditional Khokhloma serving spoons and Gzhel wallpaper in bathrooms. The bells and locks decorating the terraced entrance oozed exclusivity, as in true Mari Vanna style you either need you own key to enter or to ring the door bell to be greeted.

Mari Vanna met all my expectations. It was warm, it was welcoming, it was the comfort food we grew up on. Simple in it's extravagance, heavy and rich with traditions.

I started with the borscht, which was perfectly sweet from the beetroot, accompanied by a light-as-air brioche bun. The authentic rye however on the complimentary bread board also sat perfectly alongside the soup.

The pierogi with chicken and cabbage was soft, doughy and morish. The salted herring that followed my starter was melt-in-your-mouth smooth and everything I wanted it to be. The saurkraut I ordered on the side, mainly because I crave my grandma's saurkraut every time I see it on a menu was almost as good as Oma's, although for it to gain full marks I would have preferred it hot.

Perhaps my only criticism was the meat pelmeni. I am yet to find a pelmeni as good as those at Veselka in New York, yet I never seem to stop searching London. Mari Vanna's were dry and a little too stodgy, and lacked the necessary kick from the soured cream and chives.
After too many courses, we were presented with the dessert menu. Eager to see if the chef could end the meal as strongly as it started we went for the honey cake that came highly recommended by our waiter. It was devilishly good. Too good as after the last mouthful we were riddled by guilt.

The most noteworthy accompaniment to the meal, which I can't sing high enough praise for was the homemade horseradish infused vodka. It burnt, in a good way. Was warming with a bite, yet went down dangerously easily along side the food.

Eastern Europeans know how to cook good hearty traditional food well, and that's what this is. The food was true to it's traditions and roots, and wasn't 'over accessorised' as you may expect from Knightsbridge. I don't think Mari Vanna is for everyone, but for me it satisfied the craving for the home-cooked family meals that I don't often get being so far from home. And I loved it.

Mari Vanna on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Japanese Supper Club at the home of Luiz Hara

Perched on the fringe of the London foodie network I had heard about supper clubs for some time, so when my foodie friend Caviar Girl invited me to come along to a Japanese home cooking supper club at the home of The London Foodie Luiz Hara I wouldn't dare decline.

For my loyal readers; mum, sister, friends and people who land here via bounced google searches I best explain what a supper club actually is. It's simple really, ordinary people who ooze passion for food open their homes to cook for strangers. For me it was a much more enjoyable, trendier, less chavy version of Come Dine With Me, with amazing food next to people you not only want to be surrounded by, but actually find quite inspiring.

Having done a little twitter research on Luiz Hara, I thought I knew what to expect from my host and the evening however I was even more impressed to arrive at his beautiful home in north London, and be greeted by a team of professional volunteer wait staff with a tray of PomPom takoyaki and a g&t. We gathered in the lounge, chatted to our waiter and glanced excited looks at each other before we were led downstairs to the dining room to meet our host. Luiz was welcoming, kind, enthusiastic and above all a wonderful and generous host.

We were seated at the long, stylish canteen style dining table for our first course, pitan dofu. I'm going to be honest, the silken tofu topped with chopped century eggs, ginger, soy and sesame oil freaked me out a little. I'd not tried century eggs before but I'm not one to shy away when it comes to food. I tasted it and it wasn't at all bad.

Next was my favorite dish of the evening, salmon sashimi with wasabi soured cream and fried shallots. It was perfect, The balance of flavours was amazing, fish smooth and frightfully fresh with the unevenly cut pieces reminding you just how incredible this homemade dish was. As the next course came out Cavier Girl and I had to conceal our excitement... It was a Japanese hot pot. We are slightly obsessed with this style of dish, it's our go to comfort, girly catch up food. I've had good hot pot in China Town, Clapham and recently in Holborn but this cod and seafood nabe in a white miso and soy broth was by far the best I've tasted.

The courses that followed were of an equally delicious, innovate and impressive standard. Melt in your mouth pork belly with japanese radish (cooked for over 48 hours in a dashi and soy broth) accompanied by Japanese fried rice and Tamagoyaki (omelet) followed by aubergine dengaku, that we were delighted to hear was Luiz' own take on the dish. He had experimented after trying something similar in a restaurant near his home. After all of this we were gluttonously full, but still polished off desert - home made green tea, red bean and sesame ice cream.

The entire evening was an amazing experience, with outstanding food made with passion you could taste. Luiz is an amazing chef, and I do encourage everyone to try out his supper club. It is also worth a mention, that this man is so passionate about food that he lends him home out for Grazing Asia super clubs. @MalaysianByMay, we'll be at yours next.

Photos by Catriona Mills.