Forts – don’t tell everyone

Like most food bloggers we write posts to tell readers about the places we find because we want to share the experience, especially if the restaurant or cafe is a good one. Sometimes though you find these amazing places in the most unlikely of areas that are just so good that you are conflicted – “If too many people get to know about how good it is, we might not be able to get a table”. However praise where praise is due. Forts is pretty special.  We first passed it on a Winters day when it was closed and looking more shabby than chic. The surrounding area was particularly run down and the streets were full of litter, it looked grim.   Cliftonville needs a very sunny day indeed to look anything close to good. So finally a few months later after a visit to the nearby farmers market we thought we would see what all the fuss was about (lots of people we follow on Twitter etc had spoken very highly of this unassuming cafe).

Even with its Formica tables and the best of British sauces and condiments taking center stage, it’s very much a foodie enclave. I would be very surprised if any of its customers had just wandered in expecting a bog standard Full English All Day Breakfast.  The menu changes regularly and does include the ubiquitous Full English along with several brunch type dishes. We ordered the Mackerel with Bubble and Squeak and the Scrambled Eggs with spicy Brindisa Chorizo. Both were fabulous dishes with the quality of the cooking and the ingredients shining through. We also treated ourselves to some Rhubarb Spritzers which were delicious and very refreshing.  Normally we wouldn’t order desserts for brunch but there is something about the place that encourages you to try more, so we had some of their lovely creamy stem ginger ice cream.

I suspect we could have had anything on the menu and loved it. The next table ordered burgers and when they arrived they looked amazing. Here’s hoping we can still get a table the next time we’re in the area!

UPDATE – September 2016 :  Forts has been sold and will be re-opening under new management.

UPDATE – December 2019 : Forts is now Closed 🙁

 

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Salt – British Tapas in Canterbury

Pleased to have found Salt in Canterbury, it’s nice to go somewhere that manages not only to serve good British food using quality ingredients, but also manages to stand out by being just a little bit different. Salt does this by avoiding a structured menu and instead focuses on Small Plates designed for sharing. It’s basically British Tapas and it works. Although ironically I belatedly worked out that eating the dishes we tried in a more conventional order would have enhanced our experience.  We should have had my favorite dish of the meal first (Scallops with Blood Orange Salsa salad enhanced by adding some really fresh pea shoots) and perhaps even ordered a plate each.  The Scallops were a perfect starter and would not have been out of place in a high end restaurant.  Another dish we ordered and ended up saving for the end of the meal was the Almond and Goats Cheese balls with Rhubarb dip, a cheese course all by itself.

We also ordered and enjoyed the Rolled Lamb Shoulder with Anchovy Tarte-Fine and the Duck Leg Meatballs with Chilli Jam and a side order of crushed Jersey Royals. Only one dish, the Spring Onion and Garlic Potato Cakes with Poached Duck Egg was a little under seasoned for our taste, something that could easily be rectified by having some rock salt and pepper on the table, but that is a minor criticism.

We left already planning to return to try a couple of the other Small Plates next time.  The wine list is also small but the bottle of Riesling we had was nicely chilled and a good accompaniment to our meal. The service was just right, with our waitress clearly explaining the concept of the restaurant and estimating just how many plates we would need (5 plus a side was just right for 2 people).

UPDATE – September 2016 : Salt is now closed.

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Roganic – Pop up

Roganic is a two year pop up restaurant in Marylebone that still has a few more months to go. It’s sister restaurant is the rather more famous L’Enclume located in the medieval village of Cartmel in the Lake District. Roganic is very much a foodies destination, made all the more exciting by its inevitable expiry date.

The restaurant is small and minimalist as you might expect in a pop up restaurant. All the effort has gone into the food and service, which is no bad thing.  The staff are friendly, efficient and enthusiastic. You can choose from a 3, 6 or 10 course tasting menu. I felt a bit like Goldielocks in that 3 courses was not enough, 10 courses was too much and 6 courses was just right.

The ingredients used, vegetables, fruits, edible flowers and herbs all come directly from Simon Rogans farm in Cartmel, and the breads are all made on the premises. This level of control is very much illustrated by the depth of flavour found in every dish.

I can not remember the specifics of the amuse bouche apart from the mention of butternut squash, mint and onion ash, but it was a lovely start and a taste of things to come.

The home made bread was also very good, especially the onion bread, which went well with the blue cheese flavoured butter.

The first course on the menu was described as Leek custard with dill broth, salsify and mustard, very flavoursome. This was followed by our favourite, a really stunning dish of Artichoke dumplings with truffle and ragstone. Next we had Beets and butternut, parsley and hazelnuts, again with strong flavours. The fish course consisted of Halibut, chervil roots, clam and wood blewits. The clam puree gave this dish a real boost. The final savoury course was Guinea hen, parsley root, salt baked turnip and yarrow. Very filling and heavy on the salt. Then it was a dessert of roasted pears, chestnuts and crispy cake. A very light dish with really sweet juicy pears.

After dessert we were presented with a small glass of Douglas Fir Milkshake, an unusual way to finish a meal but a nice change from petit fours.

We also asked the Sommelier to select glasses of matching wines, which gave us the chance to try some more unusual wines such as El Bandito – an orange wine from South Africa.

Roganic is unconventional, but all the better for it in my view and is certainly a good advertisement for L’Enclume.  I really hope that after the lease ends in Marylebone that a new London premises is found. For more information on that, see Square Meal article – Roganic on the hunt for new Marylebone site.

UPDATE : Roganic to close on 20 June 2013 – see Square Meal article – No new site planned for Roganic

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Bar Boulud – a welcome return

Located in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge is Daniel Boulud’s London outpost Bar Boulud. I had lunch there just after it opened – see post Bar Boulud – Busy! Buzzy!Burgers! I enjoyed it on that visit and certainly thought about returning to try more from the Bistro inspired menu.  It’s amazing to think that was over 18 months ago and I am only now returning, this time as part of a larger group.

This visit was for lunch on a Saturday and we experienced a much less frantic environment than I remember.  The ambience was actually very relaxing.

I choose from the excellent value fixed price lunch menu – seriously good value at £23 for 3 courses.  I started with a lovely creamy and tasty pumpkin soup,  followed by a very tender lamb shoulder dish served with baby carrots, eggplant, almonds and apricots and finished with a quite stunning chestnut sable & mousse covered in a lovely shiny chocolate glaze served with some light and refreshing pear sorbet.

My companions were visiting Bar Boulud for the first time and quite rightly ordered the burgers. The Yankee and the Frenchie being the most popular choice. The best burgers in London was the general consensus there – great fries too.

The other dessert pictured is the gâteau noisette et poire – hazelnut mousse with caramelized pears and caramel ice cream. It was a stunner.

I tried very hard to resist the allure of the Mandarin Bar without success. My intentions for having a reasonably priced lunch were dashed by the pricey but delicious cocktails.  The pictured cocktail is a Lychee Martini, the cocktail menu also had some delightfully named cocktails like the Orient Expresso and the Ginny Henricks.

I am sure I will return to Bar Boulud again in the not too distant future. It’s such a good refuge from the hustle and bustle of Knightsbridge.

UPDATE : December 2012, returned for the good value set lunch menu (which unfortunately does not include the famous burgers).  Same high standard of food and service.  The tables are very close together, so you will find it hard to avoid a bit of people watching, we witnessed a couple of incidents where the staff were working hard handling some of the very demanding customers that frequent Bar Boulud.

UPDATE : June 2021 – Closed

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The Little Polka Cafe – a little ray of sunshine on the coast

The Little Polka Cafe in Eastbourne markets itself by saying there is only one “Little Polka” on the South coast. Which is basically my only complaint, I just wish there were more – one in London that I could get to more easily would be great.

I just loved this place. We walked in on a rather bleak bank holiday Saturday for a late lunch, to be warmly welcomed by the owner. The feeling this invoked was rather like the sun coming out. We had stepped into a beautiful Polish parlour. I think we easily spent the first 5 minutes looking round the room and complementing the owner on how lovely it was. With its terracotta walls and eclectic decor like the upright Piano and the dresser filled with Boleslawiec ceramics.

There was only one other customer, an obvious regular, so the level of service was perhaps more attentive than it would have been if the place had been busier. We ordered Pierogi’s for two and the Schabowy (pork cutlets fried in breadcrumbs and egg).

There were 3 types of Pierogi’s – one filled with cheese, potato and onion, another filled with lentils and the third filled with fried mushrooms mixed with pickled cabbage and onions – they were served with beautifully fresh beetroot and a delicious cabbage and carrot salad. They were a meal in themselves (and even now, days later I can still remember how good they were). The Schabowy was also excellent, you could really taste the pork.

Initially I had no room for dessert, so we just sat back and had some more tea. Then after a gap I did order a light piece of lemon zest roll, just to complete the lovely meal.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.9

Service 7.9

Ambience 7

Little Polka Cafe on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION

Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – Sussex, UK

UPDATE: February 2012 – Sadly Little Polka has closed see comment for details.

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The Hungry Monk in Jevington – Birthplace of Banoffee Pie

I do like my desserts, so a visit to The Hungry Monk in Jevington was a no brainer.  Banoffee Pie was invented here way back in 1974 and as far as claims to fame go, inventing Banoffee Pie is a good one in my book.

37 years later the Banoffee Pie is still going strong, as is The Hungry Monk.

Banoffee Pie

The previous evening I deliberately ordered Banoffee Pie in another Restaurant, which will be nameless – mainly because I have no intention of returning there as the food was mediocre to say the least.

Verdict on the Banoffee Pies (pictured) :-

The Hungry Monk – cost £7.50 (less when part of a set menu)  – 7/10 : Homemade, with a pastry base – you could really taste the condensed milk, bananas and toffee, I would have prefered less cream, but otherwise it was a very nice dessert.

The unnamed Restaurant – cost £3.85 – 2/10 : Factory made I suspect – faintly metallic taste, mostly cream and toffee sauce and some soggy banana’s on an overly crumbly biscuit base.

A prime example of how the invention has been corrupted over the years, even at half the price the “factory” made one was not worth it.

The Hungry Monk

The Hungry Monk Restaurant is in a quaint 14th century building in the tiny village of Jevington on the outskirts of Eastbourne.  The building is a bit of a maze – there is a series of small sitting rooms to left of the entrance, where you can have drinks before you are escorted to your table.

The menu on our visit was fairly typical for a Sunday lunch with main courses of Lamb, Roast Beef etc.

To start we had a fairly conventional Scallop dish (Seared Scallops with Crisp Bacon and Minted Pea Dressing) and a smoked salmon dish described as being with New Potato salad (it was actually with potatoes and lettuce), so not exactly as expected, but perfectly acceptable.

The most  interesting dish on the menu was the Rabbit Roasted in Prosciutto and Stuffed with Leek and Bacon, served with a Mild Mustard Sauce. I ordered that and certainly had no cause for complaint. My companion ordered the Roasted Rump of Sussex Lamb with Redcurrant and Rosemary Sauce which was nicely cooked, but pretty much what you would expect to get in most pubs for Sunday lunch, so nothing special there. It would have been good to choose from a small selection of vegetables rather than just the ones provided with the lamb.

For dessert I ordered the Banoffie Pie described earlier and we had a generous selection of English cheeses.

We also had coffee with home made chocolates. Something my companion who runs chocolate making courses was keen to try – they were very disappointing to say the least.  I can actually say here in all honesty, that I make better chocolates and I have only been on one course!

The Wine list was very reasonable, indeed some wines seemed to have hardly any mark up at all!

Jevington and Willingdon

The area has another claim to fame in that Jevington is in the same parish as Willingdon.  Willingdon was the base for the local village of the same name in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. We drove round Willingdon which has now been subsumed by Eastbourne, although there is still a couple of interesting looking pubs and houses and a windmill which looked very out of place on the edge of a housing estate. Jevington is more picturesque with a lovely church and access to country walks.

Marks out of 10

Food 5

Service 4.9

Ambience 5

Hungry Monk on Urbanspoon

Update – September 2012 : After 44 years The Hungry Monk Restaurant has now closed.

LOCATION INFORMATION

Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – Sussex, UK

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