Simpson’s Tavern

38 1/2, Ball Court Alley, Cornhill, Bank, London EC3V 9DR
Food: 4/5
Service: I am still deciding
Price: 35 p.p. drinks included

For the first time since I started to write this blog, I doubt my capacity of describing an experience. I am not too sure I will be able to convey the body of colours, noises and expressions that we encountered in this place. Of course I will try my best.
This is a strange place. And trust me, the habitués of the tavern will think you are weird as well.
If you don’t wear a shirt, if you don’t wear a tie, if you don’t wear polished shoes…brace yourself.
If you are a tourist or generally classifiable as “foreign”…gear yourself up. With an armor.

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Entrance into Ball Court Alley from Cornhill

Is it a restaurant? Not exactly. Is it a pub? No. Is it a private club? Neither. A “chophouse” apparently. Whatever that means in XXI century London, as “steakhouse” or “grill” was not good enough. Chophouse then.

 

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Lamb Shank

Let’s try to approach this with structure. Let’s start with food. Food was very good. Very homey. Intrinsically British. Just try to avoid focusing on the fact that they do not seem to be able to serve any other bread that is not common white sliced bread. We had a good chicken liver pate and some sort of mushroom starter with what looked like chopped vegetables…? I was not too convinced at this point but the mains were a strong response to my skepticism. My dad had a wonderful mixed grill with Chump Chop, Sausage, Egg, Kidney, Bacon & Tomato although he was sadden by the sight of only one kidney in his plate. I had a juicy and tender lamb shank that could have easily fed two. Everything was accompanied by what looked like home made sauces, ready on the table – contained in jars where everyone double dipped their cutlery with no major concern over any possible hygienic threat. The horseradish sauce was absolutely sublime. They also serve a “mysterious cheese”, very much appreciated by the locals, and that it was actually pretty good. To be spread on a slice of white bread. (Feel free to have a debate with your table neighbours as to whether to have the cheese as a starter or as a dessert. I am Italian and therefore I have since long given up the attempt of explaining the rest of the world that cheese is not a dessert and risotto is not a starter). So, all in all very good food. And good drinking. I suggest a good honest craft lager from the tavern.

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Mixed Grill

Now, the atmosphere was quite a thing…We were in a group of four, two men and two women. My dad wearing a fleece, my partner wearing a…hoodie. [photographic pause]. We entered the tavern where in the whole of the clientele there were five women, our group included, and all the rest of the City, business-looking gentlemen were wearing a shirt or a suit. Where possible a tie. But sitting at and sharing narrow wooden tables. [Second photographic pause]. All eyes are on us. Few tried to be discrete, some others couldn’t care less. We had obviously entered the English dragon’s den. At that point a very welcoming attendant led us to the table, asked us if it was okay to share it with someone else and nicely sat down next to us to take our orders…good, it meant we could relax at that point. If you are wondering whether we might have been the only foreigners to ever enter the place, my answer would be “possibly yes”.

We shared a table for six with two gentlemen who did debate about the starter-vs-dessert “mysterious cheese”, more with the waiter then with us. Now, I am not too sure when we won them over. Maybe when they saw the courageous quantity of food we ordered. Maybe when they saw that my parents can well keep up with the Brits when it comes to drinking. Maybe when the whole of the staff gathered around my dad (I so should have asked for a free beer given all the entertainment we offered!) because they had to show him how to reverse the “mysterious cheese” on the bread slice using only fork and knife. What was interesting about that process escapes me completely, but they obviously found it very funny and my dad does never shy away from a joke. I did think they were kind of pulling his leg at a certain point but he must have passed some sort of hidden test, for everything turned out into a big and friendly laugh. The result was that the two sweet gentlemen sitting next to us started engaging in a very nice conversation about whisky, food and lifestyle. From there we moved onto being invited to share a humongous piece of stilton up to an exquisite bottle of “Duke of Clarence” Madeira wine that they did not allow us to reciprocate in any way. What a lunch, what an experience and what a warming embrace at the end. What started as a pretty awkward introduction to the selective “City” ways, turned out to be a funny and memorable moment. (My dad – who understands but does not speak English – has never been so enthusiastic  about an English restaurant and he is already planning his next visit to the place over the summer). I have always adored the funny ways of the British, and once again I was so happy they were able to show themselves for what they truly are: an amazingly welcoming people.
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Jan Restaurant

78 Northcote Road, Clapham, SW11 6QL

Food: 5/5

Service: 4/5

Price: £40 pp

If you have not decided yet how to stimulate your taste buds at the end of this weekend, here is a good suggestion to try something new. When Jan restaurant introduces “Caspian flavours”, this indicates a very interesting and eclectic mix of ingredients from mainly Turkey and Iran. And it is definitely a powerful combination.

“Eclectic” is probably the most appropriate adjective to describe the place. With elegant Persian-looking tiles, portraits of Turkish heroes hanging on the walls, a wine bar and sometimes-questionable Western music, the restaurant is a very pleasant gateway between the East and the West. A little Constantinople in Clapham.

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Our beautiful dinner table with Harissa steak, Lamb on Lamb and roasted aubergine

Food was absolutely delicious. We had a delicate hummus with an addition of courgettes and tahini; a tender and peppery harissa steak, and an exquisite plate of lamb chops and lamb shoulder, glazed with a pomegranate and balsamic molasses (pomegranate being one of the most successful ingredient of Persian cuisine). But what will make you – and half of the population of Clapham – come back to Jan are its chicken wings. “Really?” you would ask. Yes, trust me, chicken wings. But being these “Caspian” chicken wings, they come glazed with pomegranate, sumac and zereshk. What does this all mean? Pomegranate is obviously sweet, but sumac – a Persian dried fruit – is slightly bitter, while zereshk (barberries) go definitely toward the zingy – almost acrid – side. The result is a surprisingly convincing sweet and sour combination that you will not forget. Indulge!

If you want, you can indulge in refined desserts as well. We tried a lemon cake with rosemary pears and pistachios. Yes, it works beautifully. And an inexcusable dessert of doughnut twists to dip in a chocolate sauce infused with cardamom and rose water. Oh. My. God.

Even if you are not entirely up for dinner, sit at the bar, have a robust glass of good red wine and have those chicken wings. Soooo worth it! Behold the indulgence of the Caspian Sea!

Roti King … king of Roti

40 Doric Way, Euston, London NW1 1LH

Food: 3.5/5
Service: n/a
Price: £10 pp drinks excluded

If we were living two hundred  years in the past, this would be one of those places where Mr. Delaney would meet some obscure character to unfold his plans in Taboo (if you haven’t watched the serie yet…do). Not that Roti King is an obscure place itself, but the basement location, the narrow, dirty alley and the fumes of the surrounding station-related commerce, make it a keen representation of the contagious underground energy of bustling London. So here it is, the magic of the City in action, in a grey basement behind Euston station. And I loved it all.

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The basement

I particularly loved the modern twist of the menu: the place promises authentic Malaysian cuisine, and you will find a mix of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian dishes because – truth to be told – Malaysia and Malaysian cuisine are now a cradle of cultures and colours. Hence the whole thing does turn out to be a pretty authentic experience.

Portions are abundant hence be careful how much you order. We chose a bit of everything. I tried Nasi Goreng (£7) – fried rice with seafood – that was good but not particularly generous on the seafood side. I kind of regret not having gone for the Beef Randang that is therefore on the list for my second visit. We also tried Ho Fun noodles with beef (£7) – a Cantonese speciality with flat rice noodles and egg gravy. Pretty interesting. A bit slimy, but interesting. Good flavour and a fun dish.

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Ho Fun noodles

Having said all this, “Roti” is indisputably the king of the palace. So just go for it. Mercilessly. Roti is a flat fresh bread from the Indian continent. When I go visit my Asian friends and they make it fresh for me, I cry of happiness – just to give you an idea of how good it is. And at Roti King it is made on the spot for you. Choose whichever option you want. We had it with dal – Roti Canai (£5) – , and I could have had ten bowls of it. Considering the price probably even twenty. But I was also drooling while looking at the baker preparing it with cheese or chicken filling.

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Roti Canai

What can I say, whether you are a well-travelled Londoner or a first-timer in the City, the place is perfect for an avant garde, quick, filling, inexpensive lunch to discover yet one more hidden corner of this enticing cultural and historical entanglement that is London.