Murakami – Japanese in West End, WC2

Creative. Stylish. Comfortable. Downright tasty.

If you want to get straight down to it, these are the words that describe Murakami appropriately.

I arrived early and was immediately excited by the Japanese themed cocktail menu. A Lost in Translation (a tiki of El Dorado rum, Kraken spiced rum, quiquiriqui mezcal, pineapple, elderflower, cardamon for a subtle spicy flavour and fresh lime) @ £9.00 slipped down far too easily. I ended up recommending it to the couple who sat down at the neighbouring table – the restaurant was empty and tables closely spaced (private conversation could be a downside here, if you’re after some privacy).

 

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Black cod – ‘stand out’ dish from the robata grill menu

J ordered a Japanese whisky sour (so good, made of Nikka from the barrel Japanese whiskey, shichimi spices, pineapple syrup, lemon juice and whites) and then we moved on to beer from the main drinks menu, which offers a load of sake, Japanese whisky and wine too.

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Cocktail – Lost in Translation

We chose a selection of food, from the varying menu sections with a little help from our waiter: salted edamame @ £4.00 from the starter menu; volcano roll @ £12.50 from the signature rolls menu; crispy baby squid @ £9.00 from the hot plates; grilled cauliflower @ £4.50 and black cod saikyo @ £25.00 both from the robata Japanese grill menu.

 

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Volcano roll – deep fried in tempura with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, tobiko, avocado and spring onion

 

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Grilled cauliflower – from the robata Japanese grill menu served with peanut and goma dressing (highly recommend this)

 

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Black cod saikyo – marinated black cod on saikyo lemongrass miso with mango salad (the two robata dishes stood out as the highlight of the meal)

 

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Crispy baby squid – large portion of baby squid with chilli, coriander and lime @ £9.00 (definitely for sharing)

 

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new Gyoza Bar next door – next time…

 

The verdict: Creative, interesting and very tasty Japanese food; the robata grilled dishes were the highlight for me. Comfy restaurant despite the tables being so close together. Service was a bit hit and miss. Our total bill for two came to £112.84 including service (and a cocktail and couple of beers each).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Japanese
– Address: 63-66 St Martin’s Lane, London
– Postcode: WC2N 4JS
– Nearest station: Leicester Square, Covent Garden
– Website + menus: Murakami website
– Photos on flickr: Murakami images
– Location: Murakami map

Murakami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cleveland Tontine – country pub in North Yorkshire DL6

Quality dining in North Yorkshire countryside

Situated just off the A19 in the countryside at Staddlebridge, North Yorkshire, the Cleveland Tontine prides itself in being “something of an institution” with “open fires, an eclectic mix of furnishings and fabrics, outstanding service and fantastic food”.

Last weekend, K and I celebrated ‘early Christmas’ with our families as we’ll be away for the festive period this year. Part of the celebrations was a Christmas meal out with both sets of parents on Saturday afternoon. We chose the Cleveland Tontine for its convenient location between them, and because it looked appealing with a varied menu on the website.
Cleveland Tontine food
Food selection at the Cleveland Tontine – beef, venison, fish + chips, fish pie

In the lounge, with a view over the countryside, we began with a relaxing aperitif (there’s a great choice of drinks including a fancy gin cocktail menu on this occasion) and read the various menus. There’s a set menu reasonably priced @ £16.95 for two courses or £20.00 for three, or a la carte:

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A la carte menu – sample menu of 26 Nov 2016

This venue (it’s a hotel with accommodation as well as a pub and restaurant) was built in 1804 and was – for some time – a private residence called Ingleby House. It’s beautifully restored while maintaining some old charm. I was surprised that, at 2pm on a Saturday, the basement dining room with its quaint low ceilings, stone walls and beams was very quiet, although it got busier over the course of the afternoon.

We ordered a bottle of prosecco @ £24.95 to accompany our selection of starters from the a la carte menu:

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Goats cheese cannelloni – textures of cauliflower, candied walnuts + baby watercress (simply gorgeous) @ £7.95

IMG_0269b_pear, blue cheese and pecans starter

Poached pear, Harrogate blue cheese + candied pecans @ £6.95

IMG_0270b_scallops and black pudding starter

King scallops + black pudding with cauliflower puree, apple jelly + pancetta crumb @ £12.95

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Racing penguins – we brought Christmas crackers with us; they contained entertaining (and very cute) clockwork penguins to race

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Quaint old basement dining room

Given this was a Christmas dinner, it was pleasing to see a variety of uniquely crafted dishes and no turkey in sight (sorry traditionalists). The food tasted as good as it looks – I’ll let these main course photos do the talking:

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Fillet + shin of beef with truffle mash, Yorkshire carrots, braising juices @ £21.95

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Loin of venison, celeriac, red cabbage + hen of the woods (gorgeous mushrooms) with chocolate jus @ £26.95 (this was my choice and it was stunning)

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Beer battered fish and chips with crushed peas, tartare sauce @ £13.95

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Tontine fish pie with samphire, seasonal greens + Gruyere glaze @ £14.95

With the main course, we had a couple of bottles of winter-warming malbec bodega @ £34.95 a bottle.

Here’s what we ordered from the dessert menu:

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Tontine sweets and treats plate @ £12.95

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Full cheese board (five cheeses to share) with homemade fig jam, biscuits, walnut + raisin bread @ £10.95, along with a 10 year old tawny port @ £7.50

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The Cleveland Tontine set in North Yorkshire countryside at Staddlebridge, just off the A19

The verdict: Excellent food and really good service. We were a party of six having a family celebration and picked the Cleveland Tontine partly because of its convenient location. We were all really impressed with the gourmet food. There was a wide choice of both food dishes and drinks and not overly priced for such good quality. I’d eat here again – in fact, I’d happily stay here.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: British, pub
– Address: Staddlebridge, Northallerton, North Yorkshire
– Postcode: DL6 3JB
– Website + menus: Cleveland Tontine website
– Photos on flickr: Cleveland Tontine photos
– Location: Cleveland Tontine map

The Cleveland Tontine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simpsons in the Strand – Savoy Hotel London

More Twee Sir? 

First impressions: On entering I was looked up and down. This was done conspicuously by the girl who seated us, who was probably checking I complied with their dress code (jacket and tie are not required but it “is the preferred attire”); entering the dining room felt like entering an old people’s home, although we did have an early dinner reservation for 6.30pm.

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Beef carving trolley

Originally known as The Grand Cigar Divan this venue opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house. The divans (or booths) are the original seats where the chess players sat. Then in 1848, tableside roast meats were introduced and the carvery trolley remains a tradition today. So, if you’re a fan of traditional carveries, this may be the restaurant for you.

While it’s a beautiful old room, it feels in need of some love and attention. Looking around at the clientele, I suspect there are those who’ve been coming for years (many of the foodie review websites indicate as much with the likes of “I’ve been coming here every week for over fifty years…” not that that’s a bad thing, but London is packed with a wide variety of restaurants, and trying them out can bring endless excitement) and wealthy tourists – possibly fans of Downton Abbey wanting to see where some of Downton’s scenes were set.

 

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Chess player booths

S and I chose from the set menu (“fixed price bill of fare“) – two courses @ £26.50 with an £8.75 supplement if choosing the beef carvery, which I did, so £35.25.

For starters, S had balsamic glazed beetroot with baked goats cheese and roast walnuts (normally £14.00) and I had fish cake with wilted spinach, poached egg, chive butter sauce (normally £16.00).

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Starter: Balsamic glazed beetroot with baked goats cheese and roast walnuts 

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Starter: Fish cake with wilted spinach, poached egg, chive butter sauce 

While the salad was nice enough, the fish cake with a perfectly poached runny egg and chive butter sauce was gorgeous.

For main course, S ordered barley and mushroom with roast artichoke and cauliflower (normally £18.50 a la carte) which tasted as appealing as it looks (not very – the ingredients didn’t really go together).

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Main course: Barley and mushroom with roast artichoke and cauliflower

Carvery meats are marketed as being the speciality here (you can even enquire about master carver classes @ £185.00 a class) so I opted for the house speciality. The roast rib of Scottish beef (aged 28 days) was wheeled  over to the table and two slices were carved in front of me – a pleasant experience with a personal touch. I opted for pink cuts which were really tasty (if a little gristly) served with roast potatoes, Savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding (good but not amazing) and horseradish. It was a large portion, and was nice without being at all exciting.

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Carvery trolley wheeled to the table

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Main course: roast rib of Scottish beef with roast potatoes, cabbage + Yorkshire pudding with a glass of Vega Rioja @ £8.50 a glass

Stepping into this restaurant feels like stepping into a bygone era. And the live entertainment contributed to that.

 

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Live pianist in The Grand Cigar Divan

 

I was glad I visited the loos after our meal as the toilets were disgusting. They were old and shabby and falling apart (literally – broken  taps and one of the loos was blocked with water overflowing). They clearly hadn’t been checked for many hours as there were no clean hand towels left to dry hands on (they’d all been used and were in the laundry bin).

The verdict: In general, the atmosphere was twee and stuffy although some of the servers were a bit more relaxed and helpful than others. While I chose the speciality of beef carved off the trolley with Yorkshire puddings (which was nice enough) there was nothing special or exciting about it. I’m glad I’ve been to this historic venue but I won’t go again and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not when there are other historic dining venues that also marry in a bit of excitement, charm or wonder into the dining experience like Kettners or Plum + Spilt Milk in the Great Northern Hotel.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
– Type: British
– Address: 100 Strand, London
– Postcode: WC2R 0EW
– Nearest station: Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Embankment
– Website + menus: Simpsons in the Strand website
– Photos on flickr: Simpsons in the Strand photos
– Location: Simpsons in the Strand map

Simpson's in the Strand - Savoy Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posh nosh at Bronte – Trafalgar Square, WC2N

Posh nosh at large brasserie near Trafalgar Square

What’s this restaurant like? Well, the first clue is in the address – The Grand Building, The Strand. I’m guessing you’re with me so far.

Bronte restaurant_The Strand
Bronte restaurant on The Strand

Our party of eight visited on Tuesday evening, a cold autumnal evening. Entering the brightly lit, brasserie-style rooms at ground level, we were taken down to the equally large and elegant basement restaurant and bar area where our booked table was waiting.

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Get a load of this edamame + kale pancake: aerial, sideview, cut open 

We each selected a main course and dessert from a set menu – three courses at £35 per head while starters and sides were served for the table to share. From the wine list, we chose a Le Paradou Viognier (dry white wine with subtle fruit and floral flavours) @ £27.00 a bottle.

Our shared starters included:

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Roast beetroot + root vegetables

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Octopus + charred pineapple with kalamansi (hybrid citrus fruit), chilli, Thai shallots and mint (Ceviche style with slightly pickled flavours)

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Chilli + honey chicken skewers with baby leek, pickled cucumber, spring onion + sesame – so, so good

For main course, some in our party chose the fillet steak at a supplement of £10 (10 oz grass-fed rare-breed Black Angus with miso slaw and roast garlic) which looked great and was met with approval. But the exciting option had to be the edamame and kale pancake, it’s not something I’ve seen on a menu before. The smoked avocado and aubergine ratatouille had the lovely smoky flavours of baba ghanoush, and the pancake – despite sounding like a relatively healthy option – was spongy and dense, and really filling (which seemed appropriate on a cold, autumnal night).

Edamame + kale pancake with smoked avocado + aubergine ratatouille, sheep’s milk yogurt + harissa:

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Spongy pancake texture – dense and filling, befitting a cold autumnal evening

Our shared sides included:

  • Skinny fries with nori + rosemary salt
  • Tenderstem broccoli
  • Black sesame tahini + truffle
  • Miso slaw
  • Shiso, spring onion, red onion + sweetheart cabbage

Dessert choices included:

  • Limoncello cheesecake with pomelo grapefruit salad + yuzu sorbet
  • Summer berry pavlova – strawberry coulis
  • Sorbet / ice cream – three scoops of your choice

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Limoncello cheesecake + yuzu sorbet

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Three scoops of ice cream including green tea

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Summer berry pavlova – strawberry coulis – slightly sickly but it didn’t go to waste…

The verdict: If you’re not counting the pennies and want something that’s not mainstream, this is reasonably priced given the interesting, unusual menu items and quality food. Nice and spacious, it’s an easy space in which to feel comfortable and relax.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: International
– Address: Grand Buildings, 1-3 The Strand, London
– Postcode: WC2N 5EJ
– Nearest station: Charing Cross
– Website + menus: Bronte website
– Photos on flickr: Bronte photos
– Location: Bronte map

Bronte Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Firezza fire baked pizza – various locations London

Perfect pizza – fire baked and super fast

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in south west London recently. So we’ve been enjoying perfect pizza from Firezza Battersea too.

Firezza sell themselves as delivering pizza that is “fire baked and super fast”. And that is exactly what they do.

 

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Salsiccia –  *new* White pizza with Sicilian sausage meat, friarielli (Italian wild broccoli), fresh cream, garlic, mozzarella, olive oil and red chilli

 

Firezza currently have about 20 branches around London (none in south east London yet… please take the hint @firezza) and are expanding to other UK cities like Milton Keynes and Exeter too.

Last week – making the most of being somewhere that Firezza will deliver to – we ordered:

  • a spicy piccante @ £9.25 – ‘nduja (spicy, soft calabrian sausage), gyulai pepperoni, fresh basil and green chilli with tomato and mozzarella, and
  • a porcini Di bosco @ £9.75 – white pizza with wild porcini mushrooms, fresh field mushrooms, Tartuffata (truffle cream), creamy Taleggio cheese, mozzarella, Gran Moravia (Hard Cheese) shavings, cream and tarragon

Ordering through Just Eat, the estimated delivery time was 45 mins. It arrived within 30 – we were happy customers.

This is seriously good pizza made with fresh ingredients. It’s fire-baked and everything Firezza claim it to be, and some. It’s not the thinnest base Italian pizza but it’s a great freshly baked bread base. It’s simply all-round great.

 

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Piccante pizza – nduja (spicy, soft calabrian sausage), gyulai pepperoni, green chilli with tomato and mozzarella

 

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Porcini di bosco – wild porcini mushrooms, fresh field mushrooms, Tartuffata (truffle cream), creamy Taleggio cheese, mozzarella, Gran Moravia (Hard Cheese) shavings, cream and tarragon

 

This week, we would probably have ordered the same but the menu had changed. That’s either a frequently changing menu – from week to week – which would be exciting and impressive, or an updated menu for the season change from summer to autumn. I suspect the latter. The oh-so summery spicy piccante was no longer listed.

On the plus side, Salsiccia was new to the menu – white pizza with Sicilian sausage meat, friarielli (Italian wild broccoli), fresh cream, garlic, mozzarella, olive oil and red chilli @ £9.95 for a quarter metre. And so we tried it. It seemed that the kitchen made a mistake so we received that too – half a metre instead of a quarter. Hey ho, accidents happen.

 

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Top: Salsiccia @ £9.95 – *new* White pizza with Sicilian sausage meat, friarielli (Italian wild broccoli), fresh cream, garlic, mozzarella, olive oil and red chilli

IMG_9756_porcini di bosco

Porcini di bosco @ £9.75 – porcini mushrooms, field mushrooms, Tartuffata, Taleggio cheese, mozzarella, Gran Moravia shavings, tarragon

 

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Capricciosa @ £9.65 a quarter metre – Prosciutto cotto ham with fresh field mushrooms, Gyulai pepperoni, black olives, fresh basil, tomato and mozzarella – so good!

 

The verdict: Perfect pizza, made with fresh ingredients that arrives ‘super fast’. As far as I can tell, Firezza are achieving what they set out to do (keep opening more branches pleee-ease). So I’ll follow their mantra – demand proper pizza.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Pizza
– Address: 40 Lavender Hill, Battersea, London
– Postcode: SW11 5RL
– Website + menus: Firezza website
– Photos on flickr: Firezza photos
– Location: Firezza Battersea map

Firezza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Chez Léon – Brussels

Excellent meaty moules and cosy American diner style at Chez Léon friture Bruxelloise

I recently read this article in The Telegraph Why I remain a fan of Brussels by Stanley Johnson. He spent over two decades living and working in the Belgian capital so his top five list of ‘favourite things in Brussels’ seemed like a trustworthy source. I was inspired to try out his favourite restaurant – Chez Léon (not realising that a branch had opened in London, called Léon de Bruxelles – and being unsuccessful – promptly closed).

And so I wandered over to the strip of tourist restaurants that is Rue des Bouchers, passing Le Bourgeois (where I enjoyed Flemish stew last month) to Chez Léon.

 

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Inside Chez Léon: casual American diner feel with cute murels 

 

Greeted and seated promptly, service was lively and friendly. It’s a large restaurant with several interior spaces that are sectioned off (to feel cosier), spread over several floors. And while it was busy, staff seemed to be on the ball, whizzing around and exchanging light-hearted comments. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Brightly lit with some neon signage and cute murels of ‘moules frites’ caricatures depicting key scenes of Belgian and Vanlancker family history, Chez Léon has a casual American diner feel – homely and comfortable, which I particularly enjoyed as I was dining alone.

The 12-page menu itself takes some digesting so I ordered a Delirium tremens (gorgeous Belgian beer but very strong) while reading.

 

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Mini Léon salad – fried moules, tomatoes, egg, potato, crème au poivre

I ordered a mini salad as a starter containing deep-fried moules or mussels in breadcrumbs. This was the first time I’d eaten moules this way – it’s really just another form of scampi and these were excellent.

 

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Delirium tremens – a few of these and you’ll be seeing more than pink elephants and parading crocodiles…
For main course, I had Léon spaghetti @ €16.25 – mussels (moules), shrimps, mushrooms and a cream sauce.

 

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Léon spaghetti – mussels (moules), shrimps, mushrooms and a cream sauce, as served

 

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Léon spaghetti absolutely gorgeous moules with shrimps and mushrooms in a cream sauce
I was reminded just how good moules can be when they’re done well. These were excellent – a really meaty texture and naturally tasty without being camouflaged by the flavour of other ingredients or sauce. The cream sauce on the spaghetti wasn’t ‘sickly creamy’ either but perfectly complemented all the flavours in this dish.

 

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Moules frites caricatures – showing milestones in Belgian history and Friture Léon‘s history

 

The verdict: I can see why Stanley Johnson used to eat here time and again. I would do too. You have to try moules in Belgium, right? This is a great place to do just that.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: Belgian (in Belgium)
– Address: Rue des Bouchers 18, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
– Website + menus: Chez Leon website
– Photos on flickr: Chez Leon photos
– Location: Chez Leon map

 

The Wilmington – gastro pub Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell

It’s Monday morning. Still smiling and happy from a good weekend, what better way to extend that weekend feeling than with a pub lunch? 

Go on then.

OpenTable recently published a list of “London’s top 10 gastro pubs” based on diner reviews. One of them – The Wilmington – is just off Exmouth Market in the Farringdon/Clerkenwell area. It’s handy for work so I’d put it straight on LardButty’s “to try” list. And today seems like the day.

On arrival at 13:30 it’s pretty much dead, though it’s clear to see there’s a great range of craft beers on at the bar and that the pub is split into several segmented spaces for drinking or dining. We’re led to our reserved booth in a dining section by someone who seems happy to be at work.  He tells us about the specials with enthusiasm and generally makes us feel welcome and pleased to be here.

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At The Wilmington, off Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell

It’s an interesting, original menu that requires a proper read:

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We order:

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Orecchiette, peas, oyster mushrooms, romanesco and gremolata @ £11.50 

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Rosemary chips on the side @ £3.50

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Field mushrooms with garlic crumbs @ £3.50 – gorgeous

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Fritto misto – mixed seafood including king prawns, calamari, fish – with citrus aioli and crispy fennel @ £7.50

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Homely bar space with lots of craft beers on tap

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Appealing dining spaces  – wooden floors, solid wood furniture

The verdict: Excellent service, great quality gastro pub food (I’m left wanting to try more of the menu) and a variety of craft beers on offer.

More of the menu (re-visited):

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Starter portion of cod scampi with nduja aioli @ £8.00

IMG_0068b_wilmington blue cheese salad

Seasonal salad – pickled pear, chicory, candied pecans, quinoa, blue murder, celery – main course portion @ £12.00

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Duck egg and wild mushrooms on sourdough @ £8.00 + roasted root veg @ £3.50

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Artichoke ravioli @ £7.50 with rosemary chips @ £3.50

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: pub, gastro-pub, British, international
– Address: 69 Rosebery Ave, London
– Postcode: EC1R 4RL
– Nearest station: Farringdon, Angel
– Website + menus: The Wilmington pub website
– Photos on flickr: The Wilmington pub images
– Location: The Wilmington pub map

The Wilmington Arms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato