Posts Tagged ‘Restaurants’

Eating out | Spring at Somerset House

17 October 2014


I don’t usually rush to a new restaurant the moment it opens. I have only a limited interest in the latest new hotspot. But, coincidentally, a few weeks ago at dinner with friends, we spoke about Skye Gyngell; about her cookbooks, about her previous restaurant, Petersham Nurseries, which I didn’t have the opportunity to visit while she was the chef. As the conversation migrated to her upcoming venture, in Somerset House, opening a few weeks hence, we were all excited to go.

I had not been to Somerset House since we moved to London last year, which means the last time I was there was to visit the Courtauld Gallery during a solo visit to London in my teens. That moment is my favorite memory of the trip, so stepping through the majestic building again rang of the past in a lovely, personal way. It was a good idea to meet before dinner for a glass of wine outside in the courtyard to savor the setting.

I own two of Skye Gyngell’s cookbooks and often leaf through them. I am invariably transported, intrigued and tempted, though I have only made very few of the dishes. Perhaps I am disconcerted by the idiosyncratic ingredients — one foot firmly settled in Italy while the other perambulates confidently through Asia — which make it hard for me to imagine the finished dish, to know where I am going. This should be thrilling; perhaps I play it a little safe in my own cooking. When I eat out, however, being surprised is exactly what I crave.

My first impression was to be disappointed by the familiarity of the menu. I was hoping for the spirited flavor combinations I have so long admired — and shyed away from — in the books. And so?

The starter was one of the best things I have eaten recently. I am still unsure how the combination of ‘Puntarelle and goat’s curd with mint and black olive dressing’ worked so well, but it was fresh, balanced and addictive in the most convincing way. I could happily have had just that all evening. Next, Slow cooked pork shoulder with girolles, daterrini, and polenta was predictable and a little disappointing, with nothing to elevate the flavors, no special zing. We shared desserts and I happily relinquished any claim to either the warm chocolate cake (you know me) or even Buttermilk pannacotta with damsons and wood sorrel, for yet another lunge at the Hazelnut and pear tart with creme fraiche and espresso — heaven.

The winter garden (pictured above), for smaller parties, holds most of the magic of the place. The main dining room is tall, light, feminine, and ultimately a bit bland. It reminded me vaguely of ABC Kitchen in New York, but lacking the lightness and playfulness which give that restaurant its irresistible charm. I don’t love the space.

Which brings me to the ultimate question: all things considered, am I impatient to go back? Unfortunately I must admit, despite some stunning dishes and, that evening, great company and a lovely night, not very. I realize it’s early days and one shouldn’t judge a restaurant on just one meal. But the place is a little too grand, the food not quite surprising enough — they seem out of sync. I imagine this meal in the lovely rickety setting of Petersham and can’t help but wish I hadn’t missed that. Luckily, I have the cookbooks, which I am now emboldened to try!


Somerset House, Lancaster Place
London WC2R 1LA

Tel: +44 (0)20 3011 0115
Online reservations

Eating out | Burgers in the park at the Shake Shack

6 June 2011

Shake Shack, the burger, hotdog, and shakes kiosk in Madison Square Park, has been around for a while and become a New York institution, but every time I go I feel a special tingling of excitement conjured from the days when it had just opened, some seven years ago; when the idea of finding good food in a park in New York was a novelty.

It also coincided with the time I fell in love with New York. After I moved here in 1999 and for a good five years, my heart stayed in Berlin; I longed to move back. Then I fell in love. It occurred as a form of contradiction, because if there ever was a reason to stay in New York, it was work, which involved long hours and insufficient pay – as publishing often will – but was always interesting, stimulating, and surrounded by colleagues who not only became friends but family in an uprooted city.

And yet. I started to love New York after I stopped working, when Leo was born. When I finally had the time to while away mornings on a bench outside our local coffee shop and spend lazy afternoons on Sheep Meadow, trudge to the remaining block of Little Italy for good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar or picnic along the Hudson River at dusk.

Every time I go to Shake Shack I get a whiff of it all. The lines are ridiculously long and I don’t mind. Part of loving New York is loving that people will stand in line for a burger for 50 minutes; it would be disingenuous to be exasperated by that.

I’d like to be able to talk about the hotdogs and the ‘shroom burger, the concretes and sundaes, but I can’t, because I haven’t tried them. I always order the same thing: a shack burger, crinkle fries, perhaps a lemonade, and sometimes a vanilla shake if there’s someone to share it with. It’s still just as good, seven years on, and a perfect park lunch if there ever was one.

Shake Shack

Madison Square Park
Southeast corner nr. Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street

Open daily 11am – 11pm

(Go to the for other locations.)


Related posts

Eating out | Up a cobbled street to Vinegar Hill House

Eating out | Trip to the Balkans at Kafana

Eating out | Brunch at Blaue Gans

Eating out | Fall soba noodles at Sobakoh


Eating out | Up a cobbled street to Vinegar Hill House

19 May 2011

Vinegar Hill House lives on a narrow street that slants up from the East river, an unexpected cobbled block of low brick houses tucked between old factories at one end and uninspired housing towers at the other. It takes its name from the neighborhood, a small anachronistic sliver wedged between Dumbo and the Brooklyn Navy Yards.

From the outside it’s hard to guess which of the houses is a restaurant; inside it’s very much the kind of place you’d hope to walk into. It’s busy but not crowded, friendly without being overbearing, and thoughtful but not overly contrived. The food is simple, seasonal, and mostly very good.

We had no trouble getting a table when we arrived for brunch at 11.30. I ate good scrambled eggs with ramps and a side of completely addictive maple-glazed bacon. Thomas liked the special, a thick corn pancake with pieces of chorizo topped with cream and jalapeno. Balthasar polished off the quiche, though I would have quibbled that it was a bit eggy with too few pieces of asparagus. Leo found the breakfast sandwich with country ham, fried egg, and pepper jelly a bit too sweet, and I was forced to agree (though he did have to finish it). Louise scavenged bits and pieces from everyone.

Then came one large sourdough pancake with pecan bourbon sauce and ricotta, and it would barely have survived a minute under our four-sided fork assault had not the creamy yogurt with homemade preserves accompanied by a granola bar arrived as a propitious diversion. It was a family brunch. It was lovely.

Vinegar Hill House

72 Hudson Avenue (nr. Water Street)
Brooklyn, NY 11201


Open Mon-Thu 6-11pm, Fri-Sat 6pm-11.30, Sun 5.30-11pm
Brunch Sat-Sun 11am-3.30pm


Related posts

Eating out | Brunch at Blaue Gans


Eating out | Trip to the Balkans at Kafana

21 March 2011

I went to Kafana only once but I think it’s worth telling. It was my introduction to Balkan food.

Kafana is a small, brick-walled restaurant in the East Village on Avenue C, barely a block away from where we lived when we first moved to New York (it didn’t exist then). I went with a group of friends with whom I go out regularly, about once every 2 months. We are a fairly international bunch and each time one of us chooses a restaurant from her home country.

Sabina is Bosnian but the good Bosnian restaurant in the city apparently closes too early, so she took us to Kafana. Kafana serves Serbian food, which, as I understand it, is similar to Bosnian food, with pork.

The dishes were served family style. The first plates arrived laden with spinach-and-feta–filled phyllo pies, but the star on the table was the Lepinja sa Kajmakom, an incredibly fluffy yeasted flatbread served, as advertised, “warm with creamy spread.” Then came platters of cured meats and cheese: smoked pork, beef sausage, but also cured lamb, and cow-milk feta that was pleasantly silky and mild.

More meats for the main course – peasant sausage; smoked pork loin; chicken kebabs; prunes stuffed with chicken livers or walnuts and cheese, all wrapped in bacon – were nicely complemented by simple salads. The classic Sopsa (tomato, cucumber, onion, and feta cheese) and Kupus – thinly sliced red cabbage dressed with oil and vinegar.

And, at some point, we ate Prebranac, Serbian baked beans. I can’t remember exactly when they arrived but I know I could think of little else for the rest of the evening, and they’ve been on my mind ever since. Coincidentally, I remember reading about Prebranac on Cooking Books a short while ago, and Sabina sent me her recipe – the lima beans are first cooked with onions and sweet paprika before being baked in the oven. So I now happily have two recipes on hand and no excuse not to make them.

The desserts were sour cherry pie, crepes with jam or chocolate, chocolate and walnut cake, and Zito, a barely sweetened mix of cooked wheat, sugar, and nuts. Slightly unusual at first and quickly quite addictive.

I will go back. To try more dishes, and, yes, eat Prebranac.

Kafana (KAΦAHA)

116 Avenue C (betw. 7th and 8th St.)
New York, NY 10009


Open Mon-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri 5pm-1pm, Sat 12.30pm-1am, Sun 12.30pm-11pm

Cash only

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