@HonkyTonkLondon…. *sigh*

honky-tonk [ˈhɒŋkɪˌtɒŋk]n

1. US and Canadian slang

a.  a cheap disreputable nightclub, bar, etc.
b.  (as modifier) a honky-tonk district
2. (Music) a style of ragtime piano-playing, esp on a tinny-sounding piano
3. (Music, other) a type of country music, usually performed by a small band with electric and steel guitars
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Chelsea, London: “Chelsea is an upmarket neighbourhood equivalent to that of New York’s Upper East Side, Los Angeles’ Beveryly Hills or the 16th arrondissement of Paris. This is shown in the average housing price in Chelsea which is above £1.3 million” says Wikipedia…
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A very discombobulated establishment.
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Honky Tonk is divided into two areas; the bar and the restaurant. The lights are dim and the exposed brick walls add to the ambiance. At the entrance, up against the window, there is a small space for live singing. I found it to be awkwardly intimate for that room, but I can see how other people would enjoy it.

The purpose of my visit was for dinner, but unfortunately the first 5 minutes were absolute torture. Both me and my dinner companion found it difficult to endure the unpleasant live singing in the bar area and to make matters worse, the dreaded sound made its way to the speakers in the restaurant area…. above our table. Thankfully we caught the end of the “show” and the real music came on, which was consistently awesome throughout the night.

The food was average, nothing to rave about. Chicken wings were decent, beef ribs were an unsuccessful attempt and the burger was good. The Mushroom Mac ‘n’ Cheese was the best thing we ordered. Our very polite waitress recommended The Gringo from the cocktail menu, which was both light and refreshing, making it the highlight of the meal. 

I have mixed feelings about Honky Tonk. On the one hand, I appreciate the effort put into opening this place up, and I must admit that I loved the music they played all night (NOT THE LIVE SINGING, that was awful). On the other hand, its impossible to overlook the fact that the crowd did not reflect the decor or the general theme at all. When waitresses dressed like Daisy Duke , serve BBQ chicken wings to crowds dressed as if they are going into a business conference….it just looks wrong. The vibe in the room was slightly uptight, and it was evident that this sort of place was not the norm for some. In all honesty, the music and our attentive waitress made the evening a success.

I would probably go back for drinks…but I’m still not sure if Honky Tonk will become a hangout for other types of people aside from the “Sloane Rangers” that frequent the area. Does the interior have a New York feel to it? Sure. Do you feel like you’re in New York when your there? Absolutely not.

Honky Tonk – #6, HOLLYWOOD ROAD, LONDON SW10 9HY

London does #Burgers – Case: @Burger_Breakout

Burger Breakout @ The Old Crown definitely had to be the first review in the “London does #Burgers” series as it’s the one I visited most recently….and what a visit it was.

Date & Time: Wed 17th of October9 pm

Party size: 2

Reservation: NO – but we were misled to think that it was packed. Lot’s of heavy tweeting on the day made it sound like we wouldn’t be able to get through the door.

We arrived at the Old Crown afraid that we would go to sleep hungry, but much to our surprise we ended up finding a seat immediately upon arriving. Table for two, right at the door – a spot I usually detest as the cold gush of wind freezes my face every time the door opens – but we sat anyway. A very eager and polite waitress came over with menus and asked us if we would like drinks. We needed a minute, so she went away with the promise that I would call her over when we were ready to order.

As an initial reaction, I was not impressed by the menu. For some reason, I expected more. However, we were both drawn to the chocolate & quince BBQ sauce, so we kindly asked if it was possible to try some. Several minutes later, a small pot containing the chocolatey concoction arrived and we dipped in. Neither of us said a word at first, and then we simultaneously agreed that “The Bambi Bought it” (Cornish Venison patty, topped with beetroot pickle, Cornish Brie, Quince & Chocolate BBQ Sauce) was to be avoided at all costs, all because of that sauce.

We deliberated for a while, but finally decided on what to get : The O.C. Burger, The Whiskey Beast  & Deep fried pickles in dill batter + Burger Slaw.

As we discussed our order with the waitress, she pointed out that The Whiskey Beast is served Medium Rare and that the chef does not allow changes of any sort on the burgers. I laughed at this, since my MO is to walk away whenever I come across these ridiculous rules, but I played along. She asked me if I was OK with spicy food as the burger contained “whiskey mustard”, and I said it was fine.

The Breakdown :

The Whiskey Beast – At first, this burger looked great….until I touched it. The first mistake that jumped out at me was the staleness of the bun – both on top and at the bottom. Slightly annoyed, I took the first bite and 12 seconds into chewing, the mustard started burning my nose. “Where’s the whiskey?” I thought. Moving on, it became apparent that it was impossible to figure out whether or not the beef was of good quality by eating it this way. So, I decided to dissect  the burger and eat it with a knife and fork, instead of suffering with the taste of that horrible bun and the whiskey-less mustard.. Bun + mustard gone, I was left with a healthy piece of lettuce , two bacon rashers, and TOO MUCH BLUE CHEESE.  I scraped off the excess, leaving an amount that complemented the beef….instead of replacing it.

Severely annoyed, I ate the first mouthful which ended up leaving me with a bitter aftertaste. I took a second…same thing. Extremely curious as to what was going on, I flipped the burger over only to discover that it was charcoal black at the bottom – like soot. Puzzled, I thought about the term “medium rare”, and I wondered if the strict chef-that-allows-no-changes-and-tells-you-how-to-eat-your-burger knew the definition as well as I did. Left with no other choice, I called the waitress over and showed her the mess in front of me. Shocked, she called over another member of staff, who was equally as polite and agreed that this was non-edible but explained that the kitchen staff had left and thus I was not able to get another burger. He apologized repeatedly and before he could take away the food, I paused to take some photos (see below).

With no food in front of me, the only thing available to eat were the sides….

Deep fried pickles in dill batter – flaccid and soggy.

Burger Slaw – ……no slaw here. Mayo soup that tasted like fridge instead.

Chips with horseradish smoked salt – The horseradish salt did not enhance the flavor at all. Each texture-less chip left an unwelcome & irritating aftertaste.

Conclusion: I usually give new restaurants second chances. But in this case, I won’t. It’s extremely disappointing when a meal doesn’t live up to your expectations ESPECIALLY when there has been such a massive build-up & hype from the purveyors of the establishment. I refuse to accept that this was a “one-off bad experience” because I believe that the sign of a good business is consistency – where no bad days are allowed. 

As for the chef, if he is to dictate how and what you will eat, the least he can do is cook it properly. “Quirky” combinations only work if the execution is perfect… otherwise, the menu just becomes nonsense on a page.

Worth mentioning : The staff offered us free drinks and took my burger off the bill. The upstairs floors were empty and the rooms were a mess…not cool. Lastly, we were equally unimpressed by the O.C Burger, but my dinner companion was so hungry he chose to eat it rather than starve. After his final bite he said: ” I don’t think I’ll becoming back for seconds any time soon….”

Rating: 2/10 ( 1 point for the staff & 1 point for….effort)

Burger Breakout @ The Old Crown  – 33 New Oxford St WC1A 1BH

Duck Soup

I want to make this brief and to the point.

Food:

1. Bland

2. Overpriced

3. Some dishes were prepared better than others

4. Not enough options

5. Tiny portions

6. Drinks menu: very basic & overpriced

7. Salt & Pepper nowhere to be seen on the table….but much needed throughout the meal.

Ambience:

1. Dim lighting made the already small space seem smaller (felt like a military bunker at times)

2. The downstairs area where we sat smelled musty and stagnant…which is a good reason to put someone off their meal

3. EXTREMELY small tables and very limited space, often making the whole meal uncomfortable

4. Waitresses were nice, but seemed confused

5. Just not up to par….

Duck Soup, 41 Dean Street, London W1D 4PY

K U A ‘ A I N A

It’s no understatement when I say that I am not a person that is easily impressed…however, I have to admit that Kua’aina “had me at hello…”. It’s always refreshing to be pleasantly surprised when you least expect it, and that’s exactly what happened on the day I came across this place.

My friend’s Carnaby Privilege Card and the promise of a 50% discount was what got the ball rolling that afternoon. We were looking for somewhere to eat downtown so everyone got their mental ‘Rolodex of places to eat’ out. At some point, Kua’aina came up as a suggestion, and at the time a discount and what sounded like Hawaiian food, felt like a good idea. So, we headed over to check it out.

At first glance, we were not impressed. I was impressed the least out of the group…and came very close to leaving. Thank god though we didn’t. One of the guys behind the counter saw the skepticism on our faces and sparked up a conversation. This drew us in and got us looking at the menu of a place that now looked less like anything Hawaiian related and more like a sandwich shop.

The promise of “the best burger in the world” was too enticing not to explore. And by this point, the owners came over and joined in the conversation, so part of our change of heart was due to them. My defining factor for any establishment, aside from the food, is meeting the people behind the place. If they make me feel comfortable and give off good vibes, then I am happily willing to give them my money.

It took a while to order because we really didn’t know what to eat. I flirted with the idea of a Chargrilled Sirloin Steak sandwich or the Avocado Burger, but in the end, I had to go with the burger.

The order:

1/2 lb Avocado Burger with Cheese – served open face with a fan of avocado slices placed on top of a perfect stack of : patty, oozing cheddar cheese, and rings of grilled onion.

2 X 1/2 lb Cheeseburgers – same awesome stack, without avocado.

Homemade Coleslaw – You could tell instantly that this was made in-house : crunchy, sweet and balanced.

Large Crunchy Fries

Side Salad

3 Pints of Asahi Beer (draught) – cold, crisp and straight to the point

Clearly, we ordered way too much food, but our motto at the time was “go strong or go home”. When all the food was brought to us, we knew instantly that it would fulfill all our expectations. What was also pretty amazing was that everyone working there waited impatiently for us to take our first bites. So we did…and then we looked at each other and nodded in agreement…”Amazing”. That first bite took me on a trip back to NY…a trip full of nostalgia and love. Every bite was better than the one before, solidifying the fact that this was my ‘go to place’ from now on.

It took me 3 years to find a good burger place in London, so if you want to save some money and precious time, take a walk down Carnaby Street and walk into Kua’aina. There you will be welcomed by friendly faces and what will be one of the best culinary experiences you will ever have. Enjoy….

Conclusion: Service 10/10 (2 very cool owners), Food 9/10 (almost perfect…one point off coz it got messy :P), Atmosphere 7/10 (all worked but it can get real busy sometimes), Experience 10/10 (I would go back & would definitely recommend it to friends), Professionalism/Training 10/10 (again, good job guys!)

KUA ‘AINA – 26 Foubert’s Place, London W1F 7PPTel: 020 7287 7474

Opera Tavern

The decision to go to dinner had turned into a dilemma. I had a long list of places I wanted to check out in the area and after some thought, I had narrowed it down to two: Opera Tavern and 32 Great Queen Street. After walking in circles through Covent Garden, by sheer randomness we finally ended up at the doorstep of Opera Tavern. And thus began our gastronomic voyage for the evening….

The first order of business was to ask if there were tables available, as it looked quite busy. A polite hostess in her well-mannered approach (an unusual & rare sight at busy London restaurants) informed us that we could have one until 8:30, and seeing that it was only 6:30 at the time – we gladly took up her offer and were seated at our table upstairs.

Upstairs, the decor and color combinations suited the restaurant’s personality but one look at the size of the tables and I got scared. I am not a fan of small tables, especially ones that are in close proximity to the adjacent tables, but I knew I had no choice. We were greeted by our waitress for the evening, Ella, who was all smiles and asked to take our coats. When Ella returned with our menus, I began to realise that this kid would be a star. Let me explain…

I never know what I want to drink, and I love making a conversation out of my indecisiveness. The only thing I knew was that I wanted beer, so I commissioned Ella as my guide for the evening, and we would start at the drinks. The choices weren’t many and as I do not care for blonde beers, my choices were limited. Ella suggested the draft beer and I made a joke about tasting it…..but the joke turned into reality when she left and came back with a sample for me to try. Impressed, I tasted the beer I would never normally order and something weird happened. Instant flashbacks from my childhood came flooding down: the sound of dice, the crunching of nuts and the gold glistening of my granddad’s cold beer which he let me sip whenever I did something good. In honour of this trip down memory lane, I had to order a half pint. Meanwhile, Ella helped my friend with a couple of great wine options. And now it was time for the food.

After much deliberation, we called Ella back to help us narrow down our choices. She was brilliant – you could tell she had tasted every single dish. The order was chiselled down to this:

Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Goats’ Cheese and Drizzled with Honey – A three-part rollercoaster ride of flavors. Frying is my least favorite way of cooking, and usually I avoid it like the plague. This however, I could eat with pleasure. First stop the baby courgette, which was cooked perfect, reminding you that beneath the crispy batter there is a crunchy vegetable. Then came the flower, a delicate texture on the outside, and a soft sharp taste on the inside, balanced with the sweetness of the honey. The final bit to this tasty treat was the crusty top where the flower is twisted to keep the filling in (if you’re lucky to get it), which reminded me of Loukoumades, a very traditional sweet I used to eat as a kid. A splash of lemon was the only component missing from this dish.

Fried young artichokes with poached egg and smoked garlic and shallot vinaigretteI Artichokes…Gooey poached egg + artichoke + vinaigrette = party in my mouth. This officially inspired breakfast/brunch for this weekend.

Grilled Ibérico Presa with Capers, Shallots and LemonOMG. Gone are the days of fearing Trichinosis… I do believe we live in a time where it is finally acceptable to eat pork medium rare. I’m sure my grandma would disagree, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I could have easily had an entire plate of this for myself…. Again…PARTY in my mouth.

Mini Iberico Pork And Foie Gras Burger It fully lived up to my slider expectations and I could have eaten 5 on my own. Pink on the inside, juicy and full of flavor. It was a bit tricky to share, but when there’s a will there’s a way…

Gratin Of Gnocchi, Taleggio, Trompettes and MigasAs Ella warned, it was heavy…but good none-the-less. I don’t think I would eat more than what I ate, but only because my body would hate me for it afterwards.

Crispy Squid And Sea Purslane With Chilli AioliThe squid was ok, and the aioli was very nice, but I think the batter was too heavy for the delicate nature of the squid. A tempura batter, or even just dusted with flour and fried (Greek style) would make it a sure winner.

Steamed Sea Bream with an Anchovy, Caper and Olive Oil DressingI wouldn’t say it was the best fish I’ve had, but it was a decent, tasty little plate with various flavours bouncing back and forth.

Mixed Leaf Saladvibrant and a necessary side-dish

Cheese Gnocchi, Mixed Vegetables with Pine Nuts and Pesto Dressingchock-full of flavor! The perfect and light accompaniment to all the heavier stuff.

Bitter Chocolate Fondant with Salted Pistachio Caramel and Milk Ice CreamAlthough at this point I had had enough, I did try the fondant. It was all right, not the best I’ve had thought. I would change the Ice cream texture from a sorbet to more of a Gelato-type smoothness.

I am fully aware that this was too much food for two people, but it was impossible to stop. If our stomachs were up for the challenge we would have eaten everything on the menu.

Conclusion: Service 10/10 (Ella you were a star), Food 8/10 (with some tweaking here and there it could go to 10), Atmosphere 7/10 (music, colours, décor all worked but it got a bit loud), Experience 9/10 (I would go back, and I would recommend it to friends), Professionalism/Training 10/10 (good job owners/manager)!

Opera Tavern – 23 Catherine St, Covent Garden , London WC2B 5JS (I didn’t add any photos of the food, I think it’s better to go explore for yourself!)

Spuntino

Open only a week or two, and the only reason the place is getting one star out of five is for the staff… They were all really great, polite and fun to talk to. Other than that….

This place is miles and miles and miles away from anything even remotely New York when it comes to the food. After reading Guy Diamond’s review on the place in Time Out, I thought that it was a dining experience I couldn’t/shouldn’t  miss….although now I wish I had.

The concept is just like Barrafina (Frith Street), where people queue up in a hot, loud, stuffy room, waiting and anticipating for the moment to come where they can sit on a bar stool, in that same stuffy and loud room…only this time with the promise of an “unforgettable” culinary experience.

I kept busy with my 12 year-old Elijah Craig (bourbon) while I read the menu that promised so much….oh so much.

To make a long story short, I’ll get to the point. The order :

1. Ground Beef & Bone Marrow Slider. The brioche that held the all-too-simple, warm and uninspiring mini patty was cold and stale. There was nothing about that burger that would remind you of New York…or any burger in the whole of the USA. Verdict – you can’t get a good burger in London.

2. Salt beef & Pickles Slider – The salt beef itself was OK… but then came that horrible stale brioche again, only now it was smothered in a VERY overpowering Colman’s Mustard that burned all the way into your nasal cavity as you chewed, and swallowed.

3. Eggplant Chips – They weren’t chips. Eggplant is an amazing vegetable, that the chef somehow managed to butcher by overcooking it, and giving it the shape of mozzarella sticks that you can find on any Friday’s style “Big Share” Platter

4. Greens – ?!?!?! Vegetables of some sort that could not be told apart because they were smothered in a fishy anchovy vinaigrette….. why?!

5. Chopped salad – Crispy vegetables (Thank God for that…) that were once again coated in an overpowering vinaigrette with more of that overpowering Colman’s mustard. It was impossible to taste any of the vegetables…all I could taste was the mustard.

6. Mac & Cheese – I have to say that this was the only good thing we ate….but how hard is it to make Mac & Cheese? Every mother in the US makes it for her kids. Mac & Cheese even comes in a box at the supermarket where there are aisles dedicated to the cheesy concoction. Should I applaud a restaurant that charges 8 pounds for a portion of pasta + cheese + breadcrumbs that I can make at home?!

We didn’t dare order more. I finished my Makers Mark (bourbon), paid the bill and went on my way, deciding that it really didn’t matter how cool, or hip, or speakeasy-ish the place was, I just wouldn’t ever go back because the food just wasn’t up to par. Nothing to do with the amazing food you can get in New York.

Spuntino – 61 Rupert Street W1D 7PW, London

PJs Bar and Grill

There is nothing more relaxing than a “Lazy” Sunday where your only concern in the world is where to have brunch and if you’re having your eggs scrambled or poached. However, on one particular Sunday, I made a huge mistake…..I call that mistake: PJs Bar and Grill

The place was packed. Upon entering, we thought the chances of getting a table were almost non-existent, but to our luck (or so we thought at the time) we managed to be seated.

Shortly after we were settled at our table, a confused waitress came over to ask if we wanted anything to drink. We got two coffees and perused through the menu to decide on what to eat. When my latte arrived, it was lukewarm, but since it was a “lazy” Sunday, I thought there was not need to make a point of it.

We finally decided on our meals, and called the confused waitress over to the table. “I’ll have thePJ’s Omelette  with mushrooms, ham, and fresh herbs”, I said, while my friend ordered the English Breakfast and requested the eggs scrambled. We were both very pleased with out choices, and excited to eat.

Soon after, another confused waitress passed by with a bread basket and asked us to pick our a roll of our choice. We did, but much to our dismay, the bread was stale, so we left it aside. The food finally came, and before the confused waitress left, we added a fresh orange juice to our order. Story Continues Here…