Archive for Elle

New London restaurants: José/Cut (Elle)

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2011 by markcoflaherty

 

JOSÉ

104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UH

An unwillingness to share food has marred many an experience of tapas until recently. So… my new coping strategy? Over-order and hope for the best. Which was easy at José Pizarro’s new sherry bar in Bermondsey, because I wanted everything, in large amounts. Having had it, I want it again soon.

Pizarro co-founded the tapas restaurant offshoot of Borough Market’s Brindisa deli, and this is his first solo venture. Another, larger restaurant, will open nearby shortly. It’ll definitely be larger because it couldn’t be any smaller. At José you perch by a ledge by a window, wall or bar, or stand around a barrel. This isn’t somewhere to linger for hours, it’s for grazing, in authentic Spanish style. You pop in (you can’t book and it’s consistently full), have a glass of sherry and a couple of plates, and move on. It’s also the last place in London that anyone with any consideration would think to wheel a large pram with a screaming baby, but the day I went, someone had clearly taken leave of their senses. Fay Maschler took a seat as we were leaving, and Joe Warwick visited twice in the same day, which is of course far more significant than the actions of an entirely deluded yummy mummy. But still… Anyway: out with anger, in with lovingly prepared tapas.

I know it’s wildly fashionable, and all, but sherry really hasn’t been my thing until now. A soft, wonderfully caramel Valdespino Viejo Palo Cortado, however, was just what the Jamon Ibérico called for. Here was a plate and a glass that were clearly so much more than good friends. José imports his own Jamon Ibérico, and this is the best you’ll taste in London, enhanced by that aforementioned sherry no end. The Ibérico is an intense red, slightly sweet, and comes almost imperceptibly warmed – as it should do – to enhance the streaks of fat. It’s utterly sublime. Even better was a special of Pluma Ibérico, which is the missing link between the flavour of pork belly and cured leg. It’s a rare (in both senses) cut from the armpit of the pig, and it’s one of the most sumptuous things we’ve eaten in years.

Apparently they change the croqueta regularly at José, and on our visit it was a delicate and moreish blue cheese variety. Good though it was, I’d also like to visit when the crab and basil one is back on. A bowl of small, soft and rich chorizo sausages in red wine was exemplary. (Supermarkets take note: ‘chorizo-style’ doesn’t cut it.) Technique aside, Pizarro’s genius is in sourcing the very best produce in Europe. These are simple small plates, with no alchemy or molecular shenanigans. The other plate I fell wildly in love with was a mix of peas and chorizo with a poached egg and little bits of bread fried, seemingly, in chorizo oil; an easy and accessible dish, but powerful and entirely fantastic. The only thing I didn’t enthuse entirely about was a hake dish in aioli. The fish itself was more than fine – big chunky flakes of flavour – but with its slightly spongy coating, it was so slightly airline. Still, it was very posh, turn-left-on-boarding airline; not scratch-card Ryanair.

This stretch of Bermondsey has been a more sophisticated sibling to Shoreditch since long before Hoxton happened, thanks to its early colonisation by the likes of Andrew Logan and Zandra Rhodes. Now, with José Pizarro joining Zucca, the Garrison and Village East, it’s established itself as one of the best quarters for casual but world-class dining in the capital. If you don’t know it, go and discover it at the earliest opportunity.

 

Food: 10

Ambience: 4

Service: 9

Value: 8

 

CUT

45 Park Lane, London W1K 1PN

There’d been every chance that Wolfgang Puck’s first UK restaurant, at the new deco-styled 45 Park Lane hotel, was going to be a critical car crash of Ballardian proportions, particularly as he’d chosen steak as his medium (half-baked, not-quite-pun unintended). It hardly needs to be pointed out that London has some of the world’s most exciting chefs right now, as well as some of the best steakhouses, so to import a celebri-chef best known to UK travellers from an appearance on Frasier and his name on American fast food outlets in airports seemed arrogant in the extreme. “It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for London”, confided one of the UK’s most famous chefs to me while doing the rounds of his tables at his own restaurant a few nights before my visit. “And because it’s a Dorchester production, he’s been given resources and an amount of staff that no start-up restaurant could possibly afford.” So – Cut could have been given a quite unprecedented kicking by the heavyweight critics. Many were lined up, steak knife and fork in hand, to bury, not praise Puck. And yet – it’s all gone rather well.

First impressions confirmed that ruinous fortunes have, indeed, been spent to make Cut happen. There is an army of ladies and gentleman – all in architectural, sharp, noir-tailored outfits by Dorchester Fashion Prize winner Thomas Tait – manouvering their away around a slightly cramped, narrow dining space, to a distinctly un-Mayfair soundtrack of the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. At times it feels like there are more staff than diners. The room itself is handsome enough, lit with a flattering amber glow, but it’s not user friendly for service – a cheese trolley had to be abandoned by one waiter as he tried to wheel it past a table of four. Also, for all that service going on (and most of it fawning and informative, right down to a presentation of the raw meat with a description of its diet and travel history), it’s something of a surprise to sit down at 7.30pm and start eating at 9pm. Things will, no doubt, improve here, but I left at close to midnight. Which is quite late for a school night. And a friend who’d lunched the week before reported similar gaps. I’ve had the most elaborate tasting menu at Sketch faster than that.

I dined with Philip Stephens, the designer behind the Unconditional fashion label.  I don’t eat carbs and yet I take a 54 suit (virtually a plus-size in fashion terms). So a steakhouse is an easy indulgence for me. Philip eats everything and makes Dior Homme models look chunky. Some pre-dinner sliders with cheese were a delight. I could eat a dozen of them (having carefully removed their buns, of course). We ordered three starters – Australian Wagyu steak sashimi, a scallop carpaccio and Dorset Crab and Lobster “Louis”. The last dish was a creamy, moreish, ultra-souped-up prawn cocktail. The scallop plate was good, with a blast of wasabi, and the raw steak was nothing short of fantastic. For a main I had the Wagyu/Black Angust Beef filet mignon and Philip had a Wagyu Chilean rib eye, ordered fearlessly – as only the skinny or morbidly obese can – with chips. The chips were, he announced, a waste of time – limp and overly salted. The steaks, however, were as good as steaks can be. Better than that even. There is major science going on at Cut – each steak is grilled over hard wood and charcoal and finished with a trip to a 650 degree broiler. The result is a moist, juicy cut, with a wonderful, flirty, barbecue crust. I preferred my fist sized, 6oz £85 (yes, we know!) Wagyu/Black Angus, but the Chilean rib eye had a more complex flavour from its fats. For afters, I had some cheese and Philip had a Caramilk Chocolate Bar, which tasted like it was on a “base made with chocolate rice crispies”. Good, but if you’re coming to Cut to have a deluxe evening of protein and greens, then it wasn’t, by all accounts, worth the calories. Apparently. As for Cut itself – is it worth it? Well, it’s expensive. Very. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Duckhorn from Napa is £20. But then that’s a pretty sublime wine, and you’ll pay north of fifty quid a bottle for it on the high street, if you can find it in this country. Likewise, £27-£85 for a steak (most cuts hover over the £40 mark) is a fortune. But you aren’t going to eat here every night, and it doesn’t cost as much as it would if you tried to fit your kitchen out with the technology and trickery required to make it taste as good as it does here. So all credit to the Dorchester for doing it for you.

Food: 9

Ambience: 5

Service: 4

Value: 5

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Capital of cool: Portland, Oregon (Elle)

Posted in Art, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2010 by markcoflaherty

‘You know we have a vegan strip club here!? There’s a sign on the wall that reads “no fur, no cellphones, no leather”, and all the bar snacks are vegan!’ Paige Powell, erstwhile right hand to Andy Warhol, girlfriend of Jean Michel Basquiat and now the most photogenic animal rights activist-cum-art curator in the world, is back home in Portland and talking about a few of the things that make this remote Pacific North West town the hands-down coolest city in the States. It’s her birthday, and the small group around her table at Le’Happy, a boho candle-lit dive bar and creperie, is a cross section of Portland’s hipster monde. There’s the artist Philip Iosca, who helped design the Ace Hotel; filmmaker Gus van Sant; and Thomas Lauderdale, co-owner of Le’Happy, founder of the band Pink Martini, political activist and all-round Oregonian good egg.

Thomas has a theory about why Portland generates such an inordinate proportion of musical talent (local bands include the Gossip, the Dandy Warhols and the Decemberists): ‘Well… It rains a lot so you have to stay indoors and practice!’ Everyone I speak to references rugged frontier spirit and liberal attitudes – oh, and affordability. As Paige says, ‘You can work at a coffee shop, ride your bike to work and do your artwork on the side. People really enjoy what they do here, whether it’s making cookies or growing herbs for essential oils. When I left New York, Wall Street had become such an influence and Tribeca was full of double strollers.’ Gus van Sant, who speaks with the detached, not-quite-here air of Paige’s old friend Warhol, has his own theory as to why Portland is the way it is: ‘It’s a place that’s on its own, so you’re… abandoned together.’

Portland bonds through creative endeavours. Paige has recently curated the art for new five star hotel The Nines, installing work by hot local artist Storm Tharp as well as by her friends van Sant and Iosca. Iosca, in turn, was one of the creative directors on the refurbished Ace Hotel, which featured in van Sant’s early movie Drugstore Cowboy when it was still a flophouse. ‘Visually I still love that area in the Pearl District,’ says Gus.  ‘There are still a bunch of buildings there that are a throwback to the transient hotels.’

The lo-fi chic Ace Hotel is at the very epicentre of the city’s scene, and might just be the funkiest hotel in the world. It’s a paradigm of Portland cool, with in-room turntables and a box-o’-vinyl, and a lobby scene that incorporates a 60s b&w photobooth, the best coffee shop in town (Stumptown Roasters), and the coolest bar in the Pearl (Clyde Common, where the coasters are letter-pressed somewhat macabrely with a sketch of a meat cleaver). Last year the Japanese designer Takahiro Miyashita riffed on the Ace with his autumn/winter Number (N)ine runway show in Paris entitled My Own Private Portland: red grunge Elmer Fudd plaids strode the catwalk while the front row snuggled beneath Ace blankets.

The Ace is one block from the behemoth Powell’s City of Books, the largest used and new bookstore in the world. Open right through to 11pm every night, it’s ground zero for local ‘zine hounds, rare book collectors and really just about every Portlandian who can read.  If anything feels like the spiritual centre of the city, it’s the main branch of Powell’s.

While the Pearl district – which sits adjacent to downtown, Broadway and the city’s celebrated bronze 1917 Benson Bubbler water fountains – feels like Portland’s heart, it’s by no means the whole story. Yes, the Pearl has Andina, the Peruvian restaurant that has everyone going nuts for its mouth-tinglingly spicy Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ‘sexy-woman’) martini and its Alfajore cookies, but just across the river, on the east side, there’s the bare brick-walled Le Pigeon, where you can sit at the bar and watch chef Gabriel Rucker at close quarters as he cooks up a rustic storm. The eponymous bird reappears in tattoo form across Gabriel’s forearm, as well as in one of the restaurant’s most lush supper dishes.

‘This is the best part of Portland!’ insists Tres Shannon, co-owner (with the fantastically named Cat Daddy) of deeply alternative 24/7 patisserie Voodoo Doughnut. With his striped jumper, boot-cut jeans, specs, shoulder length hair and brightly coloured knitted hat, Tres looks like he’s just wandered, dazed, from an overturned Mystery Machine. The man who invented Froot Loop and bacon maple doughnuts, not to mention the Voodoo Doughnut wedding, drives me through the East Side en route to his new store, Voodoo Doughnut Too. We pass Le Pigeon and, next door, the Doug Fir Lounge, a kitschy-mod music venue and bar. ‘People talk about the Pearl,’ says Tres. ‘But this is where it’s happening! When we opened the new store we had a huge parade down here, with everyone on bikes, a marching band and Courtney Taylor-Taylor from the Dandy Warhols.’

Much further east, there’s the slightly beatnik strip of Hawthorne and Belmont, reminiscent of a cooler Haight Ashbury, but with skateboards and the architectural folly of the Bagdad movie theatre. To the north is the up-and-coming Mississippi Avenue area, a haven for architectural salvage stalls, artisanal salts and nice hats.

The prettiest area in town is Nob Hill in the North West, where the tram finishes its loop amidst dense green tree lined avenues and elegant wood beam façade houses with decorous porches. Small boutiques run along NW23rd; the most notable is Seaplane, which has stocked local designers since it first opened in 2000. Two streets away, in an old Victorian house, there’s Paley’s Place, the hautest of cuisine destinations in the city, but still typically Portland – there are no tablecloths, and Vitaly Paley’s muscular use of local organic meats has found a fan in St John’s Fergus Henderson, who has been known to guest in the kitchen while visiting Vitaly and his wife. Paley’s Frisee aux Lardons & Bacon-Crusted Soft Scotch Egg isn’t so much good comfort food, as it is a big warm hug.

For all its star chefs, authors and filmmakers, the arts scene in Portland is far from male-dominated. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Beth Ditto have both been guest teachers at Rock Camp for Girls, an alternative (in both senses) to summer camp. It’s become such a phenomenon that weekend-long camps are now being run for grown up women, raising funds for the girls’ weeks. Despite its success, its organisers repeatedly turn down reality TV offers and are careful to keep the celebrity aspects low-key; as one of the camp’s founding sisters, Lady Connie, explains, ‘The camp is about helping girls realise they can be whatever they want. The camp attracts girls who don’t fit in: they’re outgoing about music and fashion, but aren’t necessarily the popular girls or cheerleaders. It’s self esteem that we’re pushing.’

A similar spirit of indie can-do spirit inspired Laurie Lewis of Hip Chicks Do Wine to start her own winery with her partner in 1999. ‘We both enjoyed drinking wine, so we used our credit cards, got a second mortgage and made 500 cases of wine,’ says Laurie. Now they run a tasting room and make 5,000 cases a year, including a Bad Girl Blanc and an exceptional Muscat with tasting notes they liken to ‘a June’s bridesmaid caught in a rainshower.’ It’s a typical make-it-up-as-you-go-along Portland success story.

The author Chuck Palahniuk, who still lives here, commented in his irreverent travel guide to the city, Fugitives and Refugees, that Portland is populated by ‘misfits among misfits’. That might be, but fitting in has always been a much overrated pursuit.

ADDRESS BOOK

The Ace Hotel, Doubles from $95 (1022 SW Stark St, enq 503 228 2277)

Andina (1214 NW Glisan, enq 503 228 9535)

Doug Fir Lounge (830 E Burnside, enq 503 231 9663)

Le’Happy (1011 NW 16th Ave, enq 503 226 258)

Hip Chicks do Wine (4510 SE 23rd Ave, enq 503 234 3790)

The Nines Hotel (525 SW Morrison, enq 877 229 9995), Doubles from $159

Paley’s Place (1204 NW 21st St, enq 503 243 2403)

Le Pigeon (738 E Burnside St, enq 503 546 8796)

Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside, enq 503 228 4651)

Rock Camp for Girls (8900 ‘A’ NE Vancouver Way, enq 503 445 4991)

Seaplane (827, NW 23rd St, enq 503 234 2409)

Voodoo Doughnut Too (1501 NE Davis, enq 503 235 2666)

HOW TO GET THERE

KLM  (enq 0871 222 7474, http://www.klm.com) fly up to three times daily from 15 UK regional airports to Portland via Amsterdam. Fares from £481 return.