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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Another New York Food Story? Wrong! This is first review of a food establishment in Soupwoman’s new hometown, Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Sam and Dan’s is actually Inhouse Food Critic’s find. He was lured to a side street off Washington Street, Cork, by delicious smell of donuts. There he found this little place where Sam and Dan sell only hotdogs, chips (that is fries to you across the pond) and donuts. He raved about the them, so I had to try them too, and the cinnamon-sugar dusted (3 for €2, fried to order) donuts were, in all their simplicity, truly scrumptious.

But what about the hotdogs? I was curious to find out if they were as good as the donuts, so as I was walking back home after some shopping, I stopped by to get New Yorker Hotdogs (with fried onions, cheese, sauerkraut, ketchup and mustard) to go (€3.95). I knew this was not ideal – hotdogs must be eaten right away – but I took the risk.

By the time I got home, the hotdogs were only lukewarm, and gotten slightly soggy. But still, it tasted very good indeed. Just the right amount of everything. Took me right back to New York!

The Conclusion: Sam and Dan’s fare is exactly what it says on the tin.

The Verdict: The place does not look like much on the outside, and a fussier person might be put off by the no-frills interior. But look past the decor (or the lack of it) and give it a go! Even if the food was not exactly to your liking, you would only lose a few Euros.

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Our base was the lovely Village Guest House, a great value, no-frills  type of accommodation – no front desk, no daily maid service, and no breakfast. But getting the perfect breakfast was no problem whatsoever.

Colleen, the owner/manager of the establishment had prepared a little map of the surrounding area, indicating her recommended restaurants and other amenities. Marked on the map was also Patisserie Claude (or rather “Patisserie Pablo”, as Claude himself has apparently retired and his apprentice has taken over), and as it was the closest option, we decided to have our first breakfast there.

What happened was that for that week, we became regulars. There was absolutely no point going further: scrumptious fresh pastries and decent cappuccino, for a reasonable price – what else would one need?

From the outside, this little bakery doesn’t look like much, and there’s only three tiny tables inside. Therefore, for the rest of the week, one of us simply got us coffee and pastries (plain, chocolate, or almond croissants, all very nice indeed) from Patisserie Claude, and we enjoyed them in the comfort of our little studio apartment.

Later, I googled Patisserie Claude, and it seems that most people enjoy their fare, but there are few bad experiences as well, mainly relating to the service. However, during our week we had nothing to complain about.

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One thing on the Original Soupwoman’s to-do list for this New York trip was to sample authentic New York cheesecake. The problem was, where?

Fortunately, this problem was solved during free Times Square Expose Walking Tour – our guide waxed lyrical about the cheesecake served at Junior’s, a Brooklyn establishment now having a location near Times Square as well (1515 Broadway, at 44th St): “The best cheesecake in town, take it from the fat guy.” And we took his word for it, and later, as we had an hour or so to spare before our allotted entrance to a nearby Tutankhamen exhibition, we thought a slice of cheesecake would make a nice snack.

First, we both wanted to have a slice of the plain original cheesecake, but our waitress advised that the second slice should be something else, and recommended carrot cake cheesecake. That suited the Inhouse Food Critic perfectly, as he loves carrot cake.

Daily calorie requirement and then some in one slice...

When our slices arrived, we were glad we had not ordered any food. They were huge. They were also good – rich, creamy smooth and not sickly sweet. I somehow managed to eat it all, but as Inhouse Food Critic’s slice was practically twice the size, with the added carrot cake, his efforts failed. I pondered for a moment asking for a doggy bag for it, but as we were going to the exhibition I thought it would have been impractical. But if and when I go to New York again, I will definitely get myself a slice of Junior’s cheesecake!

P.S. Apologies for the blurry photo, but it is the only one I got, and you have to see it to believe it!

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On a Saturday in February, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic forayed into the Capital in search of some cultural delights, and found some in form of a matinée performance of Romeo and Juliet (music by Prokofiev, choreography by MacMillan) at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  Our original plan was simply to grab a  burger afterwards in nearby branch of GBK, but as we walked past Belgo Centraal, we were suddenly overcome by a craving for a bowl of juicy mussels. Hence, a change of plans and there we went.

It was just after 5, but a queue was already forming. We were put on a waiting list and told that there would be a 5-10 mins wait, which turned out pretty much correct. And it was also lucky, as the bar area was rather grim, especially as there was no service at the bar yet and we just stood around. Having said that, it was also a chance to take in the industrial design of the place, which is unique.

The restaurant is down in the basement, large halls filled with wooden tables and benches, the servers clad in black monk’s robes buzzing around carrying plates and huge pots of mussels. The atmosphere was lively to say the least, and perhaps too noisy for some – there was a certain feel of a factory canteen.

Our drinks orders were taken quickly, and when Inhouse Soup Critic’s chosen beverage was not available, our server recommended an excellent alternative from the extensive list of Belgian beers. Starters also arrived quickly – crab soup for him, Thai style mussels for me. Both were very tasty, and the mussels big and juicy, but it was a little surprising that no bread was served with the soup – it should have been ordered separately. After we finished, our plates were taken away quickly and as our server spotted I tiny drop of broth on the table she cleaned it promptly.

The mains – Mussels Provençal for him, Herb-crusted lamb with creamed savoy cabbage for her – took a bit longer, but we were in no rush so we used that time for discussing the performance we just saw (we both agreed especially Juliet had been fantastic) and of course for people-watching. Belgo is good place for that, as it attracts all kinds of people, from families with children to couples to groups of young people.

As we left, the queue was already stretching to the main door, which demonstrates how popular this place is, and I can see why, although I would not necessarily be willing to wait longer than 20 mins or so to get in.

The Conclusion: We both enjoyed our food, it was good solid quality: tasty, well prepared and nicely presented. The price came to around 50 pounds for 2 courses and 2 Belgian beers – not exactly cheap and cheerful but OK for London, I suppose. The tip (or service charge) was added to the bill automatically, which normally annoys me, but at Belgo Centraal, the super-efficient staff work their butts off and earn every penny.

The Verdict: Belgo Centraal is an interesting experience, but its hectic atmosphere and industrial feel may not suit everyone. Their Express Lunch (12-5pm, a course from their lunch menu + drink for £7.95 ) and Beat the Clock offer (a special menu, priced according to the time the order is placed) seem to offer good value and are worth checking out.

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Despite all their years living in Southampton, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic have yet to find their favourite restaurant in Southampton. The one that always impresses and never fails to satisfy. The kind of place that when leaving, one does not think “I could have prepared a much more enjoyable meal for fraction of the price myself.”

A friend visiting from Stockholm provided a good excuse to continue the mission to find that place, and so the Soupwoman and the Food Critic, along with four friends, met in White Star Tavern on Oxford Street on a Saturday in early January.

The decor in the pub and dining areas is reassuringly traditional, with panelling and chandeliers as well as the usual wooden tables and leather armchairs here and there. It was late lunchtime, so it was very easy to find a table for our group of 6. A waitress arrived quickly to take our drinks orders, which were served promptly, but she failed to bring more menus so the group had to manage with the two that were on the table. It took a while, therefore, before everyone had decided what they wanted, and even longer before we managed to get a waitress’ attention and order our food: three fish&chips, one bangers&mash, one seasonal risotto and one parsnip gnocchi.

Everybody around the table were making satisfied noises: sausages and mash were declared exceptionally tasty, the mushroom risotto plate was cleaned thoroughly, and the juicy and firm fish was covered with a perfect crispy batter and served with as-good-as-it-gets tartar sauce.

Soupwoman was the only one looking disappointed. Not because her gnocchi were not tasty, because they were very good – slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, cheese shavings and wild mushrooms adding nice depth to the flavours of parsnip. But the portion was absolutely tiny. It was miniscule. I beggars belief why it had been listed as a main course on the lunch menu. It would have been a good starter or “small plate”, but in order to qualify as a main course, the portion should have been at least three times the size it was. If it were not for the generosity of one of her companions, who offered to share some of their fish&chips with her, the Soupwoman would have left the restaurant almost as ravenous as she came.

Eventually everyone finished their meals, and plates were taken away. But then we were completely forgotten, no-one offered us a dessert menu or coffees, although many of us would have wanted to sample their sweets as well.

Therefore we decided to ask for the bill and go back to our place for coffee and chocolates. This proved to be surprisingly challenging, as all the staff were busy chatting behind the bar, and it took a while to get their attention. Then we sat and waited for someone to get our payment (one of us was paying by credit card, so just leaving the money on the table was not an option) – but in vain. In the end we went to the till to make the payment. If it had been up to the Soupwoman, she had docked some of their tip but her friends are much nicer than her.

The Conclusion: While the food was undeniably well prepared, tasty and nicely presented, it just fell short of the full marks, partly because of disappointing portion size of the gnocchi. Also the fish&chips team weren’t convinced by the “chunky chips” (about an inch and a half thick each) served with their fish – it was too much like baked potato in disguise. The service, on the other hand, while not rude or unfriendly, was rather indifferent and uninterested. Due to the staff’s lack of attention we did not to try out their desserts so we were not able to get a full picture. This means the quest for THE restaurant in Southampton continues – eating out is not just about good food, it is about the whole experience.

The Verdict: White Star Tavern has potential to be a truly great place, but it is not quite there yet.

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