#18 – Chile – El Vergel, Borough

5 Feb
EatFIFA’s 18th outing saw a group of nine visit El Vergel for a Chilean-flavoured Sunday brunch. Stelle de Garcia and Kiko Sanhueza’s venture is located near the bustling markets of Borough and, despite being on the ground level of a new build, has a very homely feel about it.
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El Vergel’s menu suggested a lighter touch to the meat-and-carb pile-ups that had characterised our previous five South American adventures. To start, everyone opted for a variety of empanadas – meat, seafood and spinach, accompanied by a fresh, tangy salsa. Mango and blackberry smoothies, whatever their Chilean heritage, were welcome refreshment.
Next up was a round of traditional Chilean steak sandwiches – churrasco palta and churrasco queso. Satisfying as they were, they compared surprisingly unfavourably to our more rugged, homemade Uruguayan equivalents. At least we didn’t have to wash up afterwards. Service was as casual and leisurely as a Sunday late morning deserves but El Vergel, on closer inspection, isn’t a particularly cosy venue to spend a couple of hours chewing the fat. There’s a distinctly no-frills feel to a spacious venue that could offer a great deal more but, nevertheless, this is a snack joint that ticks most of the boxes.
On to the scores:
Food – 58
Drink – 60
Service – 60
Atmosphere – 60
Value for money – 64
Overall - 60.4
A disappointing show for Chile, who find themselves down in 17th place, above only the EatFIFA whipping boys of the Netherlands. El Vergel’s food proved daintier than the likes of Brazil or Ecuador, but the venue lacked their atmosphere. Next up for EatFIFA is our first African installment, the Ivory Coast, which allegedly boasts its only London restaurant in far-flung Catford.

¡Chao pescado!

EatFIFA.

#17 – Switzerland – St. Moritz, Soho

30 Nov

A seven-strong EatFIFA delegation, including three debutants, entered the Thursday-night Soho labyrinth to find London’s only Swiss restaurant, St. Moritz.

Nearing its 40th anniversary, the cosy chalet-style Wardour Street stalwart makes an instant impression on arrival – it smells of cheese. Not just a whiff, you understand. Its atmosphere consists of at least 30% Gruyère.

An impressive menu of French, German and Italian-inspired dishes is mere window dressing for the inevitable choice of fondue. The 1970s dinner-party novelty has no fewer than seven variations on the St. Moritz menu, from the standard Neuchateloise to the rather more exotic Chinoise. We plumped for a Moitie-Moitie (a blend of Gruyère and Vacherin cheeses) and the Forestiere (with wild mushrooms) and, in the interests of variety, Emince de Chevreuil – venison in a cranberry cream sauce served with spätzle and red cabbage.

The rich, rich bubbling cheese and unrelenting carbohydrates of bread and new potatoes called for a refreshing beer from St. Moritz’s extensive selection of one.

Fondue is wonderful in theory. In practice, however, it can be an arduous experience. Your whole body radiates Gruyère by the end but, entranced, you find yourself still digging away at the bottom of the pot for la religieuse, the crust of burnt cheese at the bottom of the caquelon. Several rules of fondue etiquette, relating to double-dipping and use of the long forks for anything more than transportation purposes, were summarily broken throughout. The venison dish was notable for its incredible, glossy sauce of port and cranberry, although the spätzle noodles were a tad dry.

With every drop of molten cheese consumed, the concept of figugegl becomes clear: Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luun translates into brilliantly matter-of-fact English as: ‘fondue is good and creates a good mood’.

Some persuasion was required to indulge in dessert, but it didn’t disappoint. Palate-cleansing sorbets, Coupe Danemark and some in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound richness of chocolate truffle cake were all just about polished off before the scores were tallied:

Food – 77.9

Drink – 62.1

Service – 76.1

Atmosphere – 73.4

Value for Money – 57.4

Total – 69.38


A solid demonstration of what EatFIFA is all about. A hitherto-untried cuisine, eaten in the only restaurant that can authentically offer it, resulting in full bellies and a bloody good laugh. You couldn’t eat a fondue every night of the week, but there’s no excuse never to try it once. St. Moritz deserves its status as London’s culinary Swiss embassy. Figugegl indeed.

#16 – United States of America – Red Dog Saloon, Hoxton

31 Oct

This month’s EatFIFA was the turn of the good old US of A. The venue, chosen from hundreds of burger and ribs joints in London, was the Red Dog Saloon. Gourmet fast food seems to be the capital’s food fad of the year so we were really spoilt for choice. In spite of being told at a very late date that the Red Dog Saloon was in fact the brainchild of an East European, it certainly ticked most the boxes required for an authentic American meal.

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Red Dog is probably most famous for its Man vs Food-esque eating challenges, rather than the quality of its food. These include a timed monster burger eating challenge (The Devastator burger + Milkshake in 10 minutes) and the hot wings challenge made with fresh Napa Rigo chillies.

Upon arrival we were shown to our table in what seemed to be the restaurant world’s darkest basement. We had a long table by the bar that was surrounded by American-style booths and single tables which were occupied by what looked like a lot of first dates.

Drinks were ordered and a couple of attendees ordered the very orange looking ‘Old Fashioned’ whisky cocktail which looked like Alexi Lalas had dipped his beard into it, while others opted for beers and rum milkshakes. The milkshake had a fair punch to it, we might add, and helped one EatFIFA co-founder into a light coma at the table.

For starters, some steamed shrimp that looked very appetising indeed and tasted as they should. For those who didn’t order starters, there was a selection of condiments to sample including Carolina and Kansas Sauces. From there the mains were ordered. We had one brave contender for the Devastator burger, however he wasn’t quite brave enough to do it against the clock. The Devastator consists of three patties, six slices of bacon, 200g of pulled pork and six slices of cheese, a monster which has to be held together with skewers. Despite costing a handsome £22.75, the burger doesn’t come with any sides. This left a couple of jaws to be picked up from the floor.

In the Devastator;s shadow, there were also regular-sized burgers and pork and beef ribs ordered. These were all very pleasant, however the sides that accompanied these orders were very small and not to a great standard! This included mashed potato that tasted ‘like Smash’ (the attendee that made this comment had good authority to judge this, given that his diet during student days featured this daily). The coleslaw was creamy and on the whole good, French fries plentiful and generally the right side of crispy. On to the scores:

Food – 70.9

Drink – 63.4

Service – 52.9

Atmosphere – 66.7

Value for Money – 56.2

Total – 62.0

Despite not scoring as highly as expected, (this could be down to EatFIFA’s marking system being as equally unpredictable as FIFA’s very own rankings) Red Dog presented no real surprises. The food on the whole was good and the drinks were lovely. The problem for Red Dog was the cost and the distinctly average service. There will, no doubt, be better American restaurants in London (many can’t accommodate large parties), but there will be a lot worse.

Up next is Switzerland, where the choice narrows somewhat. To one, in fact.

Have a nice day!

EatFIFA.

#15 – Belgium – The Dovetail, Clerkenwell

28 Sep

After four months in the international wilderness, EatFIFA finally made its return with a memorable Belgian excursion.

Tucked away cosily in the heart of Clerkenwell, the Dovetail usually spills its thirsty patrons into Jerusalem Passage of a weekday evening. We slalomed through the suits to our table at the back, passing the impressive (and reassuringly Belgian) display of Tintin cover art on the way, and took our seats on the charming (if slightly uncomfortable) church-style pews. Eyes turned to the encyclopaedic beer menu, and its formidable array of school-night ABV percentages. Steering himself somewhere in between the heavyweight Trappist beers and the wackier fruit beer selection, your correspondent settled on a sour, acidic Gueuze. The tastebuds screamed out amid the pub hubbub for some salt and carbohydrates to go with it, and food was quickly ordered from the small (but perfectly formed) menu.

Out came the rich stew of beef carbonnade, the colourful, seafood smorgasbord of Waterzooi Van Vis and several helpings of the Belgian staple of moules frites (in the classic marinière sauce). We removed the helmet-shaped cloches to reveal the encouragingly plump mussels, and got stuck in. Having managed to serve up perfectly steamed mussels, the small detail of fries should have been a formality. Grumbles of discontent at the thickness of the fries threatened to derail Belgium’s EatFIFA chances, but later research revealed that Belgian fries do not typically share the slimline characteristic of their French cousins after all. Apologies to the Dovetail for our grumbles of discontent.

Beer glasses began to dominate the table, despite the best efforts of the crowd-weaving staff, and attention turned to the famous scorecards. After re-educating some of our contingent about the basics of percentages, the scores were, indeed, on the doors:

Food: 65.9

Drink: 84.7

Service: 74.4

Atmosphere: 75.7

Value For Money: 73

SCORE: 74.7

A touch of confirmation bias for the booze, perhaps, but the well-priced beer selection is excellent and our choices didn’t disappoint. Beer and chatter outshone the food quite comfortably, and the bill was unexpectedly merciful at the end. It all felt like a more upmarket, refined version of EatGermany, and the Dovetail (inside and out) is highly recommended for a box-ticking midweek catch-up.

Belgium slides into fifth place in the EatFIFA rankings, just behind Russia. Official confirmation pending, our next stop is the United States of America – all suggestions very welcome…

 

#14 – Ecuador – El Rincon Quiteño, Holloway Rd

25 May

After several reschedules, the latest FIFA rankings dictated that fourteenth edition of EatFIFA would switch from the Ivory Coast to Ecuador. A simple Google hunt led us to Holloway Road, and the popular El Rincon Quiteño.

Seven hardy EatFIFA souls braved the grey drizzle of N7 in search of our latest South American food fix and, after the Brazilian and Colombian instalments, we wandered into the near-empty café in full anticipation of a meat-and-carb0hydrate feast.

A round of Peruvian beer was the closest we got to authentic libations, as we tucked into the salty goodness of our starters – perfectly charred chorizo, empanadas (a little dry) and maduro con queso (a savoury equivalent of a banana split, perhaps, and very tasty)

All perfect appetisers ahead of the spectacular main event. Our smiling waitress emerged from the kitchen with perilously-piled plates of sizzling grilled meat – chicken, beef, pork and chorizo. As with previous parrilladas, the beef didn’t stand out, but the succulent pork and moist chicken certainly did. As we battled manfully with our generous portions, owner Luis Torres (who opened El Rincon 16 years ago) gradually cranked up the volume on the jaunty merengue on his sound system. As the bill arrived, we found ourselves involuntarily dancing in our seats – perhaps a sign of restlessness, however, after a bellyful of fried animal. The music, and Luis’s charm, added a good 10% to  El Rincon’s atmospheric appeal by the time the scorecards were passed out:

Food: 68

Drink: 63.9

Service: 72.3

Atmosphere: 72

Value For Money: 74

SCORE: 70.04

Ecuador enters the EatFIFA rankings in 7th place, just ahead of England and narrowly behind the Spanish. Argentina remains at the top of the table, with the Ivory Coast, Switzerland and Belgium vying to be June’s challengers.

Chao!

EatFIFA.

#13 – Greece – Vrisaki, Bowes Park

17 Mar

This month’s EatFIFA saw us visit Greece. Whilst we were surprised that Greece are ranked 13th in the world, we didn’t complain as it meant that we got to eat some very tasty food indeed. Our chosen restaurant for Greece – a highly recommended place in Bowes Park going by the name of Vrisaki.

 

Vrisaki has an interesting set up. You aren’t immediately able to tell it is a restaurant from the outside. From the outside, it looks very much like a kebab house. However, it has a Narnia-like entrance at the end of a grill, leading you into a large, cramped seating area. We arrived in good time (well most of us), only for the waiter to ask us to stand by the bar for another twenty minutes while they prepared the table.

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At around 9pm we were seated at a table for 10. Sadly, one of the EatFIFA forefathers couldn’t make the 13th outing. On the plus side we did have 7 new faces at this month’s meal – and apparently, one of the diners’ brothers was conceived in the restaurant! (While I’m not sure how much truth there is in that, I like the possibility that this happened).

We were asked if we wanted a menu, or to just go for the meze. A quick unanimous vote was to go for the meze. From reading online reviews, the general consensus is that you get a lot of food at Vrisaki. A lot is an understatement. The first round of dishes was an array of salads, olives, beetroot, lentils and beans. All of the dishes were bloody brilliant.

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The next course was, of course, the traditional various dips and pita bread typical of Greek cuisine. The humus and taramasalata were exquisite. By this time the table was jammed with small dishes and bottles of lovely Greek beer. After round 2 you could see a couple of faces looking as if they were already stuffed. 5 minutes later and the semi finished dishes were removed from the table, to be replaced with the 1st fish and meat course. Some lovely prawns and mussels were placed in the middle of the table with some fried chicken. These were quickly polished off.

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Round 4 really sorted the men from the boys. 3 whole baked fish were placed on the table with yet more fish side dishes. The pace of consumption rapidly slowed as everyone tried to somehow find just a bit more room to put away yet more food. All the food that had been on the table up to then was delicious. The fish course took a little longer than the others to get through. Some of us were thinking – this must be it. Was it?

No it wasn’t.

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Round 5, the meat round was then bought over. Quails, lamb kebabs and sausages were placed in front of us. Up until this point everything I had put in my mouth was delicious, and the table agreed. However, the sausages were not for me. Couldn’t quite put my finger on what they were supposed to be and there were a few other grimaces from around the table when they tasted them. This is probably the only negative thing I have to say about Vrisaki.

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Now to the cost. 5 courses. 3 beers each. £28. Silly money. The quantity of food must have cost more to buy! The meze is only £19 a head.

 

To the scores:

Food: 77.6

Drink: 64.3

Service: 65.2

Atmosphere: 80.3

Value For Money: 90.9

SCORE: 75.66

So…Vrisaki claims the number 3 spot!

As an overall experience, I would have to agree with the scores of my fellow diners tonight. While Vrisaki doesn’t have the opulence of Russia or the incredible taste of Argentina, as a package and value for money it is very, very good indeed. Highly recommended.

Next month we are visiting the Ivory Coast. A quick google search doesn’t throw up any suggested restaurants, so it will be a twitter job to the Cote d’Ivoire premiership team boys. If and when we fail to garner responses, it could mean EatFIFA’s 2nd home cooked meal. Until next month -

ευχαριστίες

EatFIFA

#12 – Croatia – Riviera, Acton

29 Jan

The first EatFIFA of 2013 took a crowd of twelve to the outer limits of London’s sprawl to find a dedicated Croatian restaurant. An hour on the Piccadilly line (for me, not for Adam, who lives conveniently locally) and we found ourselves at Acton Town, ten minutes’ walk from which is a little restaurant called Riviera. From the outside, it could be mistaken for a greasy spoon, however it is like the Doctor’s Tardis on the inside, and surprisingly spacious and modern.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the charismatic owners Dara and Tomislav, quite possibly the loveliest people in Acton. Never before has EatFIFA been showered with so much attention, although we were admittedly the only customers – and would remain so for the rest of the evening. The night kicked off with a round of drinks, including some distinctly un-Croatian bottles of San Miguel, before Dara came round and took our order for starters. Now, at this point, it must be made clear that Riviera’s menu isn’t entirely Croatian. It is a mix of Mediterranean staples, with four or five traditional Croatian dishes. Dara and Tomislav, however, are proud Croats and that was already enough for us.

To kick off the Croatian feast, a plethora of dishes found their way onto Dara’s scribbled notepad – whitebait, deep fried calamari, meat platter and a “Croatian salad”. This salad, being the only apparently national dish among the first course, looked suspiciously like a Greek salad, but I’m no professional food critic. The general consensus for the starters was positive – the fish dishes were cooked very well, including some well-seasoned whitebait. To accompany the food, Riviera pipes out some Eurovision-worthy Croatian retro-pop into the room – Dara tends to nudge the volume button up a couple of notches for her favourites, too.

On to the mains – a couple of steaks (a la Dalmacija, no less), pašticada, Dara’s very own grilled lamb recipe and a grilled sea bass were ordered. If I had one qualm then it was with the Croatian idea of a medium-rare steak – it was a little on the tough side. That aside, the sauce and side dish of sautéed potatoes were delicious. There was an air of envy when the fleshy sea bass was delivered to the table. That looked bloody good. A wide range of Croatian wine was on offer, including a (no doubt opinion-dividing) white by the name of “Zlatan”.

So, to finish off, we were treated to some of Tomislav’s snenokle, “eggs in snow” in Serbo-Croatian, a kind of meringue plunged into custard. We also had some rožata - Croatia’s answer to crème brûlée. Both were pleasant, but just lacking the wow-factor that other nations’ desserts had provided previously. All the food was helped down with a complimentary shot of pear liqueur Marasaka Kruskovac, which was delicious.

To the scoreboard…

Food: 45.6

Drink: 71.7

Service: 77.3

Atmosphere: 79.1

Value For Money: 62.3

SCORE: 67.20

Dara and Tomislav hail from a country with a cuisine that’s hard to pin down, but they have created some very nice dishes in their small enclave in W3, enough to sneak them ahead of Portugal in our rankings. Pay them a visit!

Next stop – Greece.

Živjeli!

EatFIFA.

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