Riding the Izakaya Wave with Jason Atherton – Sosharu London

Jason Atherton is opening new restaurants at a rate not seen since Gordon Ramsey had his rapid expansion phase. And note, I have always been impressed with the consistently high quality. But after a recent disappointing re-visit to his Singapore restaurant Esquina I was not sure what to expect from his new upscale izakaya in Londons Farringdon. We visited a few weeks ago during our short spring break in London.

Sosharu has jumped on the izakaya trend, and as most of the places in Europe, it has missed the point and idea of an izakaya.  The common missunderstanding seems to be that an izakaya is fine dinign or at least a nice Japanese”bistro”. It is rather the opposite, a shady and smoky bar with some simple food (like yakitori and ramen), that one crawls to after a drunken evening at a bar before heading home. As most new European izakayas, Sosharu is made much fancier than an izakaya usually is in Japan. My initial annoyance has however started to subside, so I can sort of forgive Sosharu for this sin. And I must say, it does seem that Jason at least has some idea of what kind of food an izakaya should have, as beneath the fancy outer layer, there is a simple and delicious menu. If it werent for the price tag and difficulty to get reservations, I could definitely chow down some of that tempura as bar food.

The ambience aims to be an upper mid-range cool bar and restaurant and in that they succeed really well. The space is cool and inciting, and you can see some into the kitchen. They offer a nice selection of cocktails and wines. I love the house champagne, Les Murgiers, which comes from Francis Boulard. The beer selection could however easily be expanded. I am much more fond of having a fresh malty drink with my asian dishes rather than wine. The beers that were on the list however were nicely selected.

The main attraction here is the food. It is a mix of small dishes and some bigger bowls and I strongly recommend sharing. All the food we had was really good but the standout dishes were in general the tempura and the different grilled meats. I was also really happy about the bacon wrapped cherry tomatoes (I think I love everything with bacon). The rice bowls were also really good but required some waiting time, so I would make sure to top up with some starters.

Service was friendly and a despite some waits for drinks I would still say they got the basics right. Would happily visit again.

xx Soile

A Postcard from London

You would expect a proper postcard to have pictures of the city. Big Ben perhaps. My postcards have pictures of food and wine. We arrived in London late Thursday evening and have been eating our way around the city. Yesterday was perhaps the most exciting day of the trip as we had lunch at the two starred restaurant Hibiscus, dinner at the brand new Jason Atherton restaurant Sosharu, and then we visited a shop specializing in natural wines, the Winemakers Club.  Continue reading “A Postcard from London”

Social Wine and Tapas, London

Now it starts again, my raving of the great food and wine scene in London. Someone might say, so just move back already, but I am for now, just happy to be able to visit. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great fan of Jason Atherton’s cooking? I have visited several of his restaurants: Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Berner’s Tavern and Esquina (in Singapore). His style is tradition (French/Italian) meets social eating with a pinch of street-charm. Many of the dishes I love are the more simple ones, like sliders (pimped up with foie grass) and ice cream scones. But I must say that the Spanish breakfast at the Esquina, the English bistro in Singapore is a masterpiece (eggshell filled with yum). And the great thing about Jason’s restaurants is that his quality does not seem to suffer even with the many restaurants opening in his name. The man must be a genius to be able to keep so many chefs up to his standards.

But this review is about Social Wine and Tapas, Jason’s new restaurant in Marylebone, London. We originally didn’t have a reservation and thought about just walking in. Thankfully M did a last minute check and reserved two seats for the same evening, as when we arrived they seemed to already be fully booked. There are some walk-in tables, but we saw a crowd gathering after seven pm to wait for tables, and the lobby really was not that pleasant a place to be standing. We were seated on a bar facing the door, so we could follow the situation developing all evening (we got some evil eyes from the crowd after we had finished eating and were selfishly keeping the table sipping on wine). So the lesson is: Reserve a table before you go.

Chefs hard at work
Chefs hard at work
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne

About the bubblies, wonderful choices. They had four different sparkling wines by the glass: one cava, one English sparkling and two champagnes. The Cava Mas Sardana was a disappointment. M had tried it before (at Social Eating House) and told me that he did not have more than one sip. So a wine warning for that one. We chose to have a glass of the English sparkling, Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut from West Sussex (12£/ glass) and a glass of Les Murgiers Champagne from Francis Boulard (12.5£/ glass). I love the style of Francis Boulard and Les Murguers, one of his cheapest champagnes is a wonderful toasty brut nature, just the way I like my aperitif. The Wiston Estate was a real surprise, bone dry with notes of yeast, brioche and citrus fruit. Even with a price of close to 30£ I hunted for a bottle of this for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, and understandable, it was sold out everywhere. I must try to visit the next time we are in England.

The list of reds and whites was also rather comprehensive with close to 30 wines by the glass. We did not at all have the chance to sample as many as we wanted but M had the Love Red v.3 from the urban winery Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Rather fitting considering we had been to London’s first urban winery earlier the same day. I had the Vin de Table from Jean Michel Stephan from Rhone. The Love Red is a blend of 75% Carignan, 14% Valdigiué, and 11% Syrah. It is very light to be a red and really works well a bit chilled. It is full of berry flavor but the light character avoids the ‘jam’ feel and it has a pleasant hint of summery flowers. Would love to enjoy more of that.

For food we had some wonderful dishes. Traditional tomato bread, croquettes, heirloom tomato salad with burrata and foie grass sliders. We also ordered two Spanish breakfasts expecting them to be like the ones we had in Singapore (see photo), but to our disappointment, the Spanish breakfast at Social Wine and Tapas did not live up to the ones at Esquina. The dish was good, but it is always a matter of expectations vs. experience. Overall, the food was really good, for the exception of there being too little burrata for our liking. I must say that Jason has done it again and reached outstanding quality. Price-wise the restaurant is mid-range. We had four glasses of wine and six-seven different dishes and ended up with a bill of 100£ including service charge. Not too bad, but I cant really say it was cheap. Jose’s in Bermondsey still takes home the trophy (but I am very emotional about that place and biased) as the best tapas in London.

Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Jason's signature sliders with foie grass
Jason’s signature sliders with foie grass
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore

So if in London, give Jason’s restaurants a try. Social Wine and Tapas is a good place to start with a reasonable price tag and a relative easiness of scoring a seat. You can work your way up the ladder via Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and Little Social to the bright star of Jason’s cooking, the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social.

Pork Perfection at Esquina (Singapore)

Looking back at our two weeks in Singapore, which by the way feels like ages ago (reality: less than two weeks), we did some exceptional Spanish inspired dining. You would think we would go for local restaurants, but our yearning for good Cava brought us (back) to Esquina, Jason Atherton’s little restaurant in Chinatown, Singapore. We have also visited several of Jason’s other restaurants, Pollen Street Social, Little Social and Berner’s Tavern in London and our experiences have been great.

To start with, we had no booking. As with many popular restaurants, a table at Esquina needs to be reserved weeks before. However, we arrived nice and early (18:00) and were able to grab a seat on the terrace. It is not the nicest scenery one can have (back street in Chinatown) but it’s not a problem for us Northern Europeans. We are crazy about all terraces and balconies alike. Just the thought about eating outside is somehow exciting for people from countries where summer is way too short. For those who like sitting inside, there are wonderful seats along the bar, where one can see the chefs up close and personal making the food. I like restaurants that have an open kitchen, it keeps them honest.

Looking at the wine-list there are around 10 wines by the glass, two of them bubblies, a Torello Cava and a La Chapitre Champagne. The Cava was nice and fresh with a taste of brioche, minerals and peach; and the Champagne crisp with some acidity and roasted notes. Both of them were well selected as one would expect from the owner of Pollen St Social. I also tried the Pollen St. Social White which was very nice.

For starters we had the mini Spanish breakfast (an eggshell filled with a stew of slow cooked egg, Iberico ham and potato with Bravas sauce); baked chicken skin with foie grass puree, spiced mango, tarragon and curry; and Jamón Croquetas. Especially the Spanish breakfast was heavenly (thank God we ordered two) and everything came well presented. For mains we had the Iberico BBQ & Foie grass burgers and smoked pork loin. Pork perfection! We didn’t really have space for dessert, but we were treated to mini-ice cream cones as a thank you from the kitchen. On top of the great food, we received perhaps the friendliest service we had during our whole time in Singapore.

Esquina is really one of my favorite spots in Singapore. Price-wise, it is mid-range, not really expensive, but compared to local food, light years away. A dinner for two with two glasses of wine (each) cost us around 140 SGD (90 EUR). The price is comparable to what you would pay in Europe, but I at least was happy to swipe my credit card for something this good. Looking forward to testing the quality again whenever we are in Singapore.