Friday, 5 October 2012

London Restaurant Festival: Graze @ Exmouth Market

As I mentioned in my very first post on this blog, I love Exmouth Market. As well as being a great spot for lunch on weekdays (when it becomes home to a fantastic variety of market stalls, serving everything from salt beef bagels to pad thai), it boasts an astonishing concentration of excellent restaurants. So when I heard that it was going to be the site of one of the London Restaurant Festival's Graze events, I booked my ticket straight away.

The concept of the Graze events - which will be (or have already been) held in a number of 'foodie' streets across London over the course of the two-week festival - is for diners to stop for one small dish (accompanied by a free glass of wine) in each of the participating restaurants.

Exmouth Market in the daytime

The restaurants participating in the Exmouth Market event were Moro, La Porchetta, Medcalf, Bincho, and Caravan - a great combination of places I've been and loved (Moro, Caravan and Bincho are already firm favourites) and places I haven't yet got around to visiting.

My boyfriend and I were fairly late in setting off on the trail: while the event kicked off at 6pm, we didn't make it out until 8.45. This was a shame as it meant we didn't quite manage to complete the 'circuit' (Caravan was closed by the time we finished our fourth dish at Moro), but to be honest, I think we would have struggled to eat another bite in any case!

We started at La Porchetta, where for £6 were were given the choice of two pizzetta from a menu of three: the eponymous Porchetta (topped with Italian sausage, minced pork, and ham), the Napoletana (anchovies, capers and black olives), or the Vegetariana. The pizza was delicious: the base was fantastic - light, but with a lovely doughy texture - and there was plenty of oozey mozzarella atop the fresh tomato sauce. The Porchetta was my favourite, topped with a generous medley of tasty sausage and delicious smoked ham, but the Napoletana was also excellent. Predicting that I might be too full to eat much else after this "small plate", I saved half of each pizzette, and the waitress was kind enough to put them in a doggy bag for me.

I'll be coming back to try the Capricciosa pizza: the combination of ham, artichoke and egg sounds right up my street! They do takeaways too - a cheaper, tastier, and healthier alternative to Dominos for those nights when you can't face cooking.

The next stop on our route was Medcalf, where we chose to share one plate between the two of us. A gorgeous dish of salt marsh lamb cutlet, bean stew, steak bavette and chips - with a glass of red wine on the side - was just £7.

The salt marsh lamb was amazing (I'm not usually a fan of lamb, but it was exceptionally good). The diminuitive cutlet - served atop a pile of delicious bean stew - was meaty, succulent and incredibly flavourful (causing us to severely regret our decision to share!). The bavette - a small-but-perfect hunk of rare steak, topped with a creamy dollop of fiery horseradish sauce - was also excellent, as was the accompanying pile of gravy-drenched chips (having spent my uni years up in the northern reaches of Durham, I am a BIG fan of the chips & gravy combo*)

After vowing to return to Medcalf in the near future - I hear they do a good Sunday roast - we crossed over to Bincho, where we were offered a tasting plate of different chicken skewers alongside two overflowing glasses of sake.

From left to right: fried chicken, chicken meatballs, chicken skin, chicken and spring onion, and chicken thighs

Fried chicken was delicious: the moist breast meat - encased in a beautiful coating of golden breadcrumbs - far exceeded my expectations of this dish( lowered by previous fast food experiences). The next skewer was home to a trio of chicken meatballs: incredibly light, these had a lovely ginger flavour and were coated in a glossy sauce. Next up was the chicken skin - consisting of tiny rolled up portions of deep-fried chicken skin, this was more appealing than the name would suggest. My boyfriend ate his with relish, but I couldn't face more than a taste of mine...a little too much grease for me! Chicken and spring onion is an old favourite (I ate my way through quite a a few of these skewers on our last visit!), and chicken thighs were also good.

The delicious tasting platter - along with the lovely sake (served in wooden boxes, from which we were instructed to drink the overflow; the wooden receptacles supposedly enhancing the flavour) - reminded me of how much I enjoyed my last visit to this restaurant. Bincho is a great place to come in a group, so I'll be returning soon, for drinks and even more skewers (the pancetta and asparagus are my favourite!).
It was already past 10 at this point, and we spent some time deliberating over our final destination. In the end, we chose Moro over Caravan - we've been to Caravan quite a few times for brunch, and the memory of the fantastic tapas at the recent Morito event, and the mouth-wateringly good wood-roasted seabass I had last time I ate at Moro, made us certain that their Graze offering was going to be something really special.

Even at this late hour on a Tuesday evening, every table was full (no wonder it's always so hard to get a reservation!). We were seated at the bar, where we paid £6 each for a glass of wine and a little clay pot filled with a gorgeous mixture of chanterelles, rice and prawns. The dish was fantastic: juicy, garlicky, and deeply savoury; it was replete with nutty chanterelle mushrooms and sweet prawns, and topped with a dollop of mayonnaise (a surprisingly perfect accompaniment to the flavourful rice stew).

As well as being a fun night out, the Graze events are the perfect opportunity to try some new places - I'll definitely do my best to attend one or two more (perhaps Charlotte Street, Brixton Village, or Soho) before the festival ends.

*preferably smothered in melted cheese, drenched in garlic mayo, and eaten from a takeaway box on the walk home...but Mecalf's version was probably a little more dignified!

Medcalf on UrbanspoonMoro on UrbanspoonLa Porchetta on Urbanspoon
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