Tuscanic Merende

Tuscanic Merende is a newish (it opened in the summer) gem on Old Compton street in Soho. It’s a place that positively oozes Italy (and in particular Tuscany), all the cheerful staff hail from Italy and the walls are lined with imported Tuscan produce. Indeed, I am reliably informed that even the floor is imported from Tuscany!

The place is small and charming, with an open bar/kitchen where the chefs busily create charcuterie and cheese boards, small soups and Italian style taps. Toscano Merende literally translates along the lines of “Tuscan snack” and that is essentially what this place offers – anything from coffee and dolci to wine and cheese of an evening pre or post-theatre perhaps. The food is also ideally aimed at sharing with friends, being of the small-plate variety.

On our visit it was 5pm on a saturday which was definitely vino o’clock. My friends opted for a delicious glass of house red and I went for a coffee which was expertly executed – a strong and rich americano served in a tall glass with the perfect amount of frothy crema on top, with the rather nice addition of 3 giant chocolate buttons to nibble on the side. Having revived myself with a coffee we then shared a charcuterie and cheese board together with some pickled mushrooms and fresh crusty bread. It was simple, honest food, but it hit the spot.

Unfortunately on this occasion we didn’t have the time to try anything else, but I know I’ll be back. What attracts me to this place in addition to its authenticity is the fact that it seems to be (for the moment at least) a hidden gem amongst the bustle of Soho, a perfect hideaway on a busy afternoon’s shopping or pre or post-theatre in the evenings. One of those places that I always hope to find in Soho but usually have to settle for somewhere busier. It’s also great that its offerings span the day from pastries, cakes and coffees, through to lunch plates and wine and more substantial snacks, with produce available to take away too.

A find that I would recommend.

Epicurean Wrap-Up

Address: 72 Old Compton Street, Soho

Getting there – Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Tube

Go for: snacks to break a hectic London day

don’t go for: expecting a pizzeria, this is gourmet Tuscany in london

Value: Reasonable for central London – coffees around the £2 mark with wine at around £4-£6 a glass

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My 2013 Restaurant Wishlist

Do you find yourself realising that there just isn’t enough time to visit all the restaurants you want to go to?   Since I moved to London in September 2009, and more importantly, since I started earning money (to spend on my foodie hobbies), there has been a plethora of amazing new restaurant openings and just not enough time to go to them all!  This year I’m creating a list (no doubt a working list which will continue to be added to and expanded upon), but for now this is my list of places that I’ve been meaning to go to for ages.  Some of them are clearly special occasion trips (i.e. Fat Duck), but others I’m sure could be justified on a week night.  This is in no particular order either, just a stream of consciousness.

1.  The Fat Duck

2. Dabbous

3. Mishkin’s

4. MeatLiquor (maybe I will try out MEATMission, as being in Hoxton, is nearer to home)

5. La Bodega Negra

6. The Ledbury

7.  Brasserie Zedel

8. Spuntino

9.  Hawksmoor

10.  Pig & Butcher

11. Corner Room

12. Upstairs at the Ten Bells

 

 

The Pollen Street Social

Apart from Ottolenghi (which has a dear place in my heart), this is my favourite London Restaurant of 2012. It is Jason Atherton’s first venture since leaving Maze and opened I think coming up for two years ago now. We have been here twice in the past year, both for special occasions. This is the kind of place to come and enjoy yourself and not care about what the bill is at the end of the evening.

One of the things I love most about the restaurant is the sit-up dessert bar, where you can watch the desserts being created, alongside the floor length window which looks into the kitchen. So whatever you do, make sure you save room for dessert!

On our most recent visit we started our meal with the “Full English Breakfast” and the “Roasted quail brunch with cereals, toast and tea” (both £13.50). Starters with names like this almost makes you think you’re reading the brunch and not the dinner menu, but don’t be put off, these really are evening menu starters.

The full english is served up in a bowl – a rich tomato puree topped with crispy streaky bacon, croutons and a soft boiled egg. It’s no lie – this really does serve up all the key ingredients of the breakfast we hold dear, but in miniature. The egg was perfectly runny too and made a delicious yellow trail across the tomato. A great start to the meal.

English Breakfast

The quail brunch was the most novel of the dishes we had on this visit. The waiter presented me with a pot of “tea” (an infusion of quail flavours), “toast” (a circle of plump brioche topped quail pate) and a bowl of roasted quail atop Bulgar wheat (the cereals) in a light gravy. This was a novel combination and a winner in my book, not least because it was so fun to be served up all these separate plates and to see how the chef had interpreted “brunch” in this context. The richness of the flavours and different textures worked really well together and I loved it.

Quail Brunch

Quail Brunch

We then shared the cote de boeuf (£75 for two sharing) with salad and triple cooked chips. The meat was beautiful. Tender, rich and juicy. All the reasons why you eat steak out and don’t attempt to cook it at home. The chips had a delicious crunchiness and the salad a refreshing crispness and bite. The combination was pure indulgence on a plate and so rich that it took us a good hour to work our way through, pacing ourselves and eating slowly. Not to finish food this good though, would be terrible to waste. So if you go for the cote de boeuf, go hungry.

Cote de Boeuf

Cote de Boeuf

After a lengthy pause after our main we prepared ourselves for (in my eyes at least), the main event of the evening – the dessert bar. Dessert has a ritualistic feel at Pollen Street (and indeed you could just pop in for dessert if you wanted). You take your place perched up on a bar stool and watch the dessert chefs busy at work in front of you. This in itself is a fascinating insight into the way a kitchen is run and I almost feel like I should channel a bit of Greg Wallace or John Torode and start interrogating the poor chefs about “what they’re preparing for me tonight”. Indeed, if you do have any burning questions, now is the time to ask, and as we found, they will happily oblige even the most inquisitive diner. I also enjoyed it every time the chef yelled “service!” (but maybe that was just me).

To kick off dessert, you are served with a “pre-dessert” which on this occasion was a finely whipped mousse with raspberry in various forms and topped with pistachio dust. I confess to not remembering exactly what made up the concoction – I did ask – but it was very complicated sounding and I’d had a bit of wine by this stage. So all I can reliably report is that it was delicious. Following the pre-dessert, you are provided with a palette cleanser of fresh fruit sorbet. And then it’s on to the main event and the impossible decision of picking just one dessert from the menu, which is then put together in front of you.

I went for “PBJ” which is a signature dish at Pollen Street. “PBJ” is almost like a deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but without the bread. It is made up of squares of thinly sliced black cherry jelly, a scoop of rich peanut butter ice-cream, a scoop of blackcurrant sorbet, peanut brittle and then magic dry-ice peanut meringue. The effect of the dry ice means your dessert is served in an entrancing swirling misty cloud. I was impressed. Taking a bite, with a little of all the components, you really are taken back to that bite of a peanut butter and jam sandwich as a child (or if you’re me, breakfast most saturdays, on a bagel, as that’s more “grown-up”).

PBJ

PBJ

My husband had the “Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet, aerated yoghurt and freeze dried mango”. This was served with coriander and black pepper, which was interesting. The chef described it as a more “subtle, grown-up” flavour and suited to those who prefer their desserts more savoury than sugary. The flavours did work well together, but I think I prefer my desserts more sugary so it may have been slightly wasted on me. But that aside, this was another impressive-looking dessert which was certainly different.

Asian mango pudding

Asian mango pudding

For chocolate lovers, we saw the chef prepare several tables-worth of the chocolate ganache dessert – clearly another favourite and it looked very rich indeed!

If you are having to loosen your belt after what is effectively your third dessert, go for two holes looser, not just one as there is yet one more sweet treat – a hot-from-the-oven freshly baked Madeleine.

So there you have it, a 3 course dinner, with not one, but FOUR sweet treats. My kind of dinner.

I should also mention, that if you do go to Pollen Street for a special occasion (e.g. a birthday), let the restaurant know, as when we went for my husband’s birthday, they presented him with a gift box containing a mini-birthday cake at the end of the evening, which was both a surprise and a nice touch.

Epicurean wrap-up

We had: 3 courses, bottle of wine – £130 inc service

Go if: you are celebrating

Don’t go: with a budget

Address: 10 Pollen Street, W1S1NQ 020 7290 7600. Nearest Tube : Oxford Circus

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