|<< back to restaurant reviews
86-88 Clerkenwell Road London EC1 Tel 020 7324 4455
Breakfast and dinner daily, lunch Mon-Fri, brunch Sat-Sun
There is something about the easy synergy between the bar and the restaurant, the sunny, light airy feel of the place, the dark brown bistro chairs, the wooden floors and the hulking great espresso machine on the marble bar at The Zetter that reminds me of the great Melbourne/Italians. There is in fact a Melburnian in residence, in co-owner Michael Benyan, who, along with partner Mark Sainsbury was involved in the highly successful Moro restaurant nearby. Benyan is an admirer of one of my favourite Melbourne restaurants, the Melbourne Wine Room, which goes a long way to explain my sense of deja vu. Throw in a little Cafe Di Stasio, Caffe e Cucina, Termini, Becco, Florentino, Luxe and Lardo, and Iím feeling almost teary.
The Zetter chef Megan Jones, last seen at Moro, has gone readily, steadily Italian in a rustic and seasonal Mediterranean sense rather than in the urban carpaccio/risotto/tiramisu style copied by most London Italians.
So there is fish soup with clams, prawns, mussels and maltagliati pasta, pappardelle with braised rabbit, grilled seabass with cauliflower, currants, pinenuts and anchovy sauce, and a chestnut honey semi-freddo.
Service is friendly, personable, semi-Italian and generally on the ball, while the crowd runs from post-office workers to lively locals. In a typically casual gesture, the bar serves up food during the day for drop-ins and hotel guests (upstairs is a flash designer hotel), and weekends are devoted to brunch. The Zetter is right for its own time and place, peeling away the conventions and complexity of London dining and giving us big flavours, high energy and an easy attitude, while being serious about its food and wine. I should have put them to the coffee test, but forgot - which would make any decent Melburnian say Iíve been in London far too long.
The Real Greek Souvlaki & Bar
140-142 St. John Street, London EC1 Open Mon-Sun 10am-11pm
Theodore Kyriakou's passion for the purity of his produce and quality of wines means that when The Real Greek opens a souvlaki bar, its going to be special.
I love eating like this. No starter, main course, pudding straitjacket; just lots of little dishes of deliciously different things to dive into like village boys lunging for the crucifix on Epiphany Monday. The table is covered with mezedes, each plate a tiny showcase for prime ingredients. Pitta bread, hot and scorchy from the grill, swoops into the salty, tangy, traditionally made (as in not electric pink) taramosalata like a seagull skimming the waves. It supports a slice or two of supple, subtly cured prosciutto-style ham from the mountains of Evritania as if born to the task. It goes with a delicate, salad of horta (wilted greens) with tender cooked beetroot, and a wedge of good fetta flavoured with thyme and olive oil, and its wrapped around render pork in the souvlaki of your dreams. Great food, great prices, great fun. And please don't eat your souvlaki with your knife and fork. It's a hand job.
St. John Bread and Wine
94/96 Commercial Street, London E1 Tel 020 7247 8724
The award-winning St. John restaurant in Clerkenwell already has a well-proven reputation for the bread produced at its on-site bakery. Now that reputation looks like rising further (naturally leavened, of course) with its new bakery, bar and wineshop, due to open this week alongside Spitalfields market. Celebrity baker Dan Lepard is consultant so everything will taste real. Eat-in customers can order sandwiches and plated dishes in the classic simple, honest, rustic St. John manner.
Club Gascon (restaurant), 57 West Smithfield EC1 Tel:7796 0600.
Club Gascon is an expensive but wonderful south-western French foie gras restaurant near Clerkenwell that does amazing things with foie gras in an almost degustation style. The good news is that it also has a wine bar a couple of doors down, on the corner, that does fabulous French bistro snacks with a see-it-to-believe-it wine cellar to choose from by the glass, that is affordable.
The Real Greek
The Real Greek, 15 Hoxton Market N1 Tel:7739 8212.
I really like The Real Greek for modern greek food in a buzzy atmosphere. They have opened a mezes bar next door which is lovely, casual, with wine in tumblers, and lots of little plates of yummy food, all very relaxed. For some reason, it feels quite Australian to me, probably because I spent so many years in Melbourne's Greek streets.
Song Que, 134 Kingsland Road, E2 Tel 020 7613 3222.
At last, I've found a good Vietnamese restaurant, as opposed to a really horrible, cheap, pretend Vietnamese restaurant which is more your average London experience.
Song Que is a lovely family-run, big, clean place,
with fresh carnations on the table, and shared or independent seating. It's so authentic, it even has the really bad 'horses in the surf' painting on the wall.
There are 24 different pho, those dreamy, scented noodle soups. There's only one for me, though, and that's pho ga, or chicken, which costs four quid, with a fragrant stock, real chicken from a real
bird and not just boring poached breast, good herbs and leaves - even sawtooth, a jagged-leaf, coriander-tasting green. Charming, and cheap.
For updates, check out Terry Durack's restaurant column in the Review magazine in the Independent on Sunday every Sunday.