Okonomiyaki at Abeno Too – Covent Garden WC2

Turn away now if you’re tormented at the idea of having a big fat tasty Japanese pancake cooked right in front of you, ready to eat all steaming hot and covered in tuna flakes, kewpie mayo and Japanese trimmings…

We tried and loved okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) while on holiday in Japan last year. Somehow, I only recently heard about Abeno, okonomiyaki specialists in London, so was keen to visit.

At the original Abeno restaurant in Bloomsbury, you can book a table. Our visit last night was to Abeno Too on Great Newport Street (off Leicester Square) where there are no reservations. It’s a small restaurant and being a Saturday evening, we headed there early after a shopping spree.

Abeno Too in 43 seconds:

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Okonomiyaki menu at Abeno Too

We started with a couple of refreshing drinks: K had a kirin beer @ £4.75 while I had a summery miyako odori with berries @ £8.50.

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Kirin Ichiban , Miyako odori and kyo geiko

For starters we shared kyo geiko @ £8.50 (dried prune? not that exciting) and beef kara-age @ £13.80 – really tender (as in Granny’s-slow-cooked-beef-stew tender).

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Beef kara-age – crispy nuggets of organic fillet beef, with a garlic, ginger + soy seasoning

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Mio sake – light + refreshing at only 5% alcohol but not cheap @ £14.00 for a small bottle

On to the exciting bit. This restaurant specialises in okonomiyakis, so that’s what we ordered.

Okonomi-yakis are Japanese pancakes, and the ingredients vary based on the region of Japan. However they vary, the basic ingredients are cabbage, egg and dough with spring onions, ginger and bits of tempura batter (in Hiroshima for example, they include soba noodles).

K ordered an Osaka mix – pork, kimchi and prawn, and I ordered a Tokyo mix – pork, squid and prawn. And we went for the deluxe (regular) size @ £14.25 rather than the super deluxe (large) @ £16.25.

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Two okonomiyaki pancakes in the making – Tokyo mix left, Osaka mix right

Watch it cook:

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Steaming and a-sizzling – time to add bacon

The pancake is flipped over when it’s done on the first side, and sprinkled with Katsuobushi or bonito tuna flakes (so light, they dance in the steam) and aonori (powdered seaweed).

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Nearly ready…  topped with Kewpie mayonnaise + okonomi sauce before serving

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Inside Abeno Too

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Queueing outside Abeno Too  – a line had formed by the time we left at 7.30pm

The bill for this fairly quick meal for two, which included a couple of drinks each, came to £94.75 before service.

The verdict: Authentic Japanese experience, it’s not cheap but it’s something a bit different in London. And very tasty too. What’s not to enjoy about having a pancake cooked in front of you, containing a load of ingredients of your choice?

Abeno Too restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Okonomiyaki, Japanese
– Address: Abeno Too, 17-18 Great Newport Street, London
– Postcode: WC2H 7JE
– Nearest station: Leicester Square
– Website + menus: Abeno Too website
– Abeno photos: photos on flickr
– Location: Abeno Too map

Abeno Too Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Check out this ‘sakura-yaki’ special at Abeno in Bloomsbury, London:

Petal-shaped pancakes, a cherry blossom season special at Abeno, May 2017 
(a 20 second timelapse)

The five mini-pancakes are: beef, bacon, squid, prawn + mushroom, around a central egg yolk (pistil), with a kewpie-mayo ‘blossom’ outline, dusted in powdered seaweed and sprinkled in tuna flakes @ £20.80 (shared between two).

Bocca di Lupo – classy Italian in Soho W1

From cheesy balls to Grandpa’s balls, Bocca di Lupo specialises in obscure, regional Italian cuisine and the menu changes twice a day. 

The first tip is to book well in advance. For our reservation for two this Friday evening, the only availability (having booked a couple of weeks beforehand) was at 7.15pm, perched on high stools at the counter.

On arrival, I was disappointed to see how little space there is for those dining at the bar overlooking the open-plan kitchen, with high stools close together.

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Sea bream carpaccio starter @ £9.00

J had an amaretto sour cocktail @ £10 and I had a glass of Malvasia Nera ‘falo’ San Marzano @ £6.60 (see the red wine list here) while reading the enticing menu. Some dishes needed an explanation from our waiter, whose descriptions made them all the more exciting. It’s not a traditional Italian menu by any means – there’s definitely no pizza but there are plenty of appealing seafood options (if you like seafood). And the Italian region is given for each dish, to show where it’s a speciality.

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Deep fried mozzarella bocconcino balls

We chose six small plates to share, tapas or cicchetti style:

Sea bream carpaccio with orange + rosemary @ £9.00
Buffalo mozzarella bocconcini deep fried in bread crumbs @ £2.50 each (tip: get two each!)
Ricotta ravioli with wild garlic, served with butter + hazelnuts @ £8.00
Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad @ £9.00
Caponata – aubergines, celery + tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce) @ £7.00
Orechiette di gran arso (burnt grain pasta) with cime di rapa (a variety of sprouting broccoli) + pecorino (hard sheep’s cheese) @ £7.50

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Ricotta + wild garlic ravioli 

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Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad

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Caponata – aubergine, celery, tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce)

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Orechiette di gran arso with cime di rapa + pecorino 

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Tonight’s menu – 24 March 2017

All of these dishes were stunning, and I’d happily have all of them again next time. Being seated at the end of the bar next to the serving station, it was a busy thoroughfare. But on the plus side, it was easy to get service and great for eyeing up other dishes to try in the future (the roast wild turbot with lentils and salsa verde @ £24.00 served whole, got my attention).

From the dessert menu, we shared a bonet – chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding @ £7.00 (I’m not a huge chocolate fan and I don’t like coffee flavouring in food but this was gorgeous – you could really taste the amaretti almond bits in it; it’s perfect for sharing and not as sickly as it looks) and le palle del nonno or Grandpa’s balls – ricotta with chocolate, deep-fried in a light batter and sprinkled with icing sugar @ £7.00 (so good; take a closer look inside here).

We both had a 70 ml glass of Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine @ £3.50 – sweeter than I normally like, but it went really well with these desserts. So well in fact, I had another when J had a coffee…

Check out the dessert wine and grappa menu.

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l: Le palle del nonno ‘grandpa’s balls’ – deep-fried ricotta
r: Bonet
– chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding

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Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine – cosy, perched on the counter by the serving station

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Bar seats at the counter – it’s a small space if you’re sharing a few plates

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Open plan kitchen

The verdict: The quality of the food and drinks compensated for the discomfort of the tiny bar space. While this place isn’t cheap (our bill for two was £126.90 including service) you do get what you pay for – it’s more of a place to go for a treat than every day dining (you need to book well in advance anyway).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Italian
– Address: 12 Archer Street, Soho, London
– Postcode: W1D 7BB
– Nearest station: Piccadilly
– Website + menus: Bocca di Lupo website
– Bocca di Lupo photos: pics of Bocca di Lupo on flickr
– Location: Bocca di Lupo map

Bocca Di Lupo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bird of Smithfield – Farringdon EC1A

Classy food in a Georgian townhouse, this restaurant is spread over several interestingly decorated floors

On our visit this evening we chose from this menu here. For starters, I had baked heritage beetroots @ £8.00 – very reasonably priced and outstandingly tasty. Just look at those beautiful big chunks of fresh celeriac with a good dollop of goat’s curd – a great mix of flavours along with the beetroot and balsamic and sorrel leaves:

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Baked heritage beetroots starter with goat’s curd, balsamic, celeriac, radish, sorrel

Another starter that went down very well was this pan fried foie gras @ £12.50:

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Pan fried foie gras with shaved turnip, kibbled onion, roasted duck consommé

 

Service was very slow and we had a long wait (and apologies from the waitresses) for food.

For main course, I had this wild Cornish turbot (so good, it was worth the wait!), served with fresh pasta, clams and butter:

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Wild Cornish turbot with hand-rolled farfelle, clams, celery, Swiss chard, shellfish butter

 

Creatively presented, this caramelised duck breast with a pie top looks almost too good to eat. Almost.

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Caramelised duck breast with crushed pumpkin, pickled red cabbage, spiced honey and a braised leg pie @ £23.00

 

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Bird of Smithfield restaurant – in a Georgian townhouse opposite Smithfield meat market in Clerkenwell, London

 

The verdict: Stunningly presented food that’s outstandingly good. The homeliness of the townhouse was very appealing, and the interior is really tastefully designed and comfortable. Service wasn’t great but I’ll definitely be back to try more of this menu.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: British, international
– Address: 26 Smithfield St, Clerkenwell, London
– Postcode: EC1A 9L
– Nearest station: Farringdon, Barbican
– Website + menus: Bird of Smithfield website
– Bird of Smithfield photos: Bird of Smithfield photos on flickr
– Location: Bird of Smithfield map

Bird Of Smithfield Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Damascus Chef pop-up at the Good Hope cafe – Hither Green SE13

Souq meze with a personal touch

The Damascus Chef (Abdullah Alawayed) and his partner host Syrian meze dinners at various locations in South London. Find out about their current pop-up events on the Eventbright website where you can reserve places. It’s currently £23.95 for adults or half-price for children and you pay locally, at the end of the meal.

We went to the ‘Souq meze’ pop-up at the Good Hope cafe, Hither Green (an award-winning community cafe run by the ForJimmy charity) on Friday night and joined the 6.30pm sitting (on Friday evenings there are 8.30pm sittings too).

Arriving early, the hostess welcomed us excitedly, and talked enthusiastically about the careful preparation that goes into making the dishes on this menu. Which rubs off on customers and makes for a good atmosphere in this small, cosy space, where candle-lit tables were decorated with pomegranate seeds at each place setting.

 

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Meze with fresh bread to share

Top l-r: Fool mudamas bi humous (fava beans crushed with chickpeas, chopped tomato, parsley, olive oil, lemon + cumin) and humous (crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini, cumin + garlic)
front l-r: Mutabbel (flame-grilled aubergine infused with yoghurt, tahini, garlic + cumin) and lebneh (thick, canvas-strung cows’ yoghurt)

 

We ordered a bottle of Rioja (@ about £16.00 – very reasonably priced and very nice too) and were blown away by the fresh tastiness of the meze starters. The food is familiar as middle-eastern but with a specific Syrian style – for example, humous is made with a ratio of more chickpeas to tahini, and is thicker and creamier for it. The mutabbel (aubergine dip) was absolutely gorgeous and the lebneh (really thick, creamy yoghurt) was a winner too. Shared starters are served with a variety of fresh breads and are limitless (if you dare).

Next came this shurbat adas, a traditional Syrian lentil soup with coriander seeds and cumin:

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Lentil soup

 

For main course, there was a selection of three dishes (we’d had to choose our main course in advance, when reserving):

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Kawaj – Levantine courgette, aubergine and green pepper casseroled in tomato sauce, sauteed onion, garlic and fresh coriander; topped with fresh chives and served with yoghurt and cucumber, pomegranates, walnuts, pine-nuts + fresh tabouleh

 

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Syrian lamb stew – Diced organic leg of lamb stewed with freekeh (smoked green wheat) infused with pine kernels, cashews, pistachios, almonds, green peas + raisins, served with optional yoghurt + cucumber (not pictured) + fresh tabouleh

I had this lamb stew. It tasted as though it had been slow-cooked and was steeped in many flavours. Really good.

 

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Jaj bil muhammara – Chicken thigh braised with lemon, coriander + pomegranate syrup, on a bed of crushed mild chilli muhammara, served with walnuts, yoghurt + cucumber, and tabouleh salad

 

For dessert, the choice was baklawa with ice-cream, or ice-cream with watermelon. I had baklawa:

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Jiljil wa hab ruman – Traditional filo pastry baklawa made with flour, syrup, honey, butter, egg white + pistachio, served with ice cream. Laden with fresh mint, pomegranates + pistachios.

 

For the fifth and final chai course, we had a choice of fresh mint, cardamom or cinnamon + walnut.

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Chai – cinnamon + walnut tea

 

The verdict: Good value for such a freshly prepared, unique and tasty banquet. The hosting couple put their heart and soul into making this dining experience enjoyable and relaxing for customers – the kind of personal touch that you don’t easily find in high-street restaurants. And the choice of venue for this pop-up makes it even more worthwhile. Eat, drink and be very merry – your money goes to good places.

 

Pop-up info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Syrian, middle-eastern
– Location: venues vary – this was at the Good Hope cafe, 216 Hither Green Lane, London, SE13 6RT
– Contact: chef@damascuschef.com
– Website + menus: Damascus Chef website
– Damascus Chef events (reserve places): Eventbright website
– Photos of Damascus Chef: Damascus Chef on flickr

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

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

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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

 

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

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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