Monday, 9 March 2015

A restaurant to lead by example

I'm not sure when a service charge became 12.5%. Or when it started being automatically added for tables of less than six. But it seems to me that restaurants are becoming more and more likely not to trust their customers to reward service based on their experience. 

A tip is a sign of gratitude for someone who has provided a good service, and I have definitely experienced some shocking service even in the most unlikely, highly regarded Michelin star restaurants. So it always seems to me a little wrong to automatically add service charge, because restaurants like that become arrogant and assuming, when really someone needs to put them in their place.

So when a restaurant appears to only have a 5% service charge, I question their reasoning.

The restaurant I am referring to is Rex & Mariano, a new Soho seafood restaurant which occupies the once Vodka Revs between Dean and Wardour street. At first it seems obvious as to why service charge would be so much lower, with their ever so convenient iPad ordering system whereby the ordering is entirely down to you, and you do so at your own pace and as many times as you like.

But the service was like no other. They were efficient, friendly and informative. The waiters and waitresses appeared to work in sync with each other, obeying the sound of the bell signalling that a dish is ready for a customer.

Rex & Mariano was newly opened in 2014 serving an array of quality seafood dishes, cooked and uncooked. It got off to a fairly slow start but following recent reviews has suddenly become the must go place of Soho. A recent Friday night was no exception, with the large white-tiled restaurant complete with open plan kitchen, filled with tables brimming with hungry seafood lovers. 

Menu / iPad in hand, we opted for a respectable 6 dishes at first, including bread and olives, and were quickly alerted by our digital companion not to over order as dishes come quick and soon fill up your table.

No sooner had we set our iPad aside did the dishes start arriving. A particular highlight for me was the raw red prawns (you can opt for them cooked too). They were slippery and slimey in texture, offering something I had not experienced before, with a firmness when you took a bite.

A close joint second was the tuna tartare, with the punchy chilli and chive complementing the creamy avocado, and the seabass ceviche with coriander and tigers milk (a Peruvian term for a citrus-based marinade) which gave the dish a refreshing bite.

The beauty of the iPad ordering system is that if you feel you haven't quite reached that optimum amount of dishes, you just order more.

And so we did. And an afterthought it was. The salmon carpaccio was as expected but still, at £7 a pop you can't really complain.

My one piece of advice would be to ensure that you accompany your seafood dishes with a side order of bread. Big, chunky slices of homemade bread ready for you to mop up the remains of your dishes.

Our meal for two including drinks came to a respectable £58 (including that 5% service charge!) well worth it, not only for the experience and the atmosphere that the restaurant offers, but for the great selection of seafood dishes.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Lebanese feast

This may seem like a lot to cook, but much of the preparation can be done in advance, making it ideal for a dinner party and leaving you free to host.

Lamb Fatteh
500g mince lamb
1 aubergine, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of water
A large pinch of each of the following: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pimento, ground coriander
A dash of Worcester sauce
1 tsp tomato purée
Handful of roasted pine nuts
Olive oil for roasting

To make the yoghurt topping...
4 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
A handful of fresh mint, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
2. Roast the aubergine in a roasting tin with plenty of olive oil for around 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, brown the mince in a pan with no oil for around 6-8 minutes.
4. Add the onion and fry for a further 5-6 minutes.
5. Next add the tomatoes, spices, Worcester sauce and water, and simmer for 25 minutes.
6. Whilst the lamb simmers, mix the yoghurt, garlic and mint in a bowl.
7. Once the time is up with the lamb, add the roasted aubergine.
8. Serve with a generous amount of the yoghurt on top with a sprinkling of the roasted pine nuts and a side of warm pittas.

Jewelled tabbouleh 
1 cup of bulgar wheat
2 cups of vegetable stock 
1/2 a fennel bulb, finely sliced
1/2 a red onion, finely diced
A handful of mint, finely chopped
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp of pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp of chopped walnuts
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the bulgar wheat in the vegetable stock on a medium heat with the lid on for 8-10 minutes. Once cooked, drain off any excess liquid if needed.
2. Once cooled add the remaining ingredients including seasoning and mix well.

Cumin roasted courgette and halloumi
1 large courgette, cut into chunks
225g halloumi, cut into chunks 
1 tsp cumin
A small handful of mint, finely chopped
A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil 
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of roasted flaked almonds
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees.
2. Mix the courgette, halloumi and cumin together in a bowl.
3. Roast the courgette and halloumi in the oil within a roasting tin for around 25 minutes until the edges of the halloumi are crisp and brown.
4. Once cooked, remove from the oven and add the lemon juice, mint, parsley, almonds and seasoning, and mix well.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x