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Trip Report: Harwood Arms, Pollen St, Bao, St John's and others

dubchild | Jun 4, 201604:26 PM

Another trip report. I drew recommendation mainly from Eater, Chowhound, and Andy Hayler. Overall very impressed with everything I had. My only warning for other travellers is that London is generally an expensive city.

First night was St John's Smithfield. Dishes I tried were the rarebit, asparagus, calf's liver, and pavlova. Items, I imagine, which will never be found at St John's are micro greens, foams, edible flowers, or even a quenelle. In an attempt at honesty, authenticity, or truth the dishes are stripped of any unnecessary item, I have no problem with minimal plating or dishes but for it to work the ingredients have to absolutely sparkle. The liver tasted no different from what I could easily do at home. The ample pool of sauce it sat in was thin and had no clear definition. On my wife's dish the carrots were the two inches round cellar variety. Overall, for me, St John's feels like a soup kitchen for the rich, and at these prices there are better options.

Pollen Street Social was the standout of the restaurants we tried. If they consistently maintain the quality we had, then my guess is that they will soon be promoted to two stars. Dishes were cleanly and thoughtfully plated, flavours were well defined, bright and based on classic pairings. Even if there is no unique identity to the cooking, the meal made sense and it was a pleasure to eat. Service found the right balance of formal but warm. A splurge dinner but worth it.

Franco Manca has several locations around town. Competent wood oven pizza at friendly prices means it would make my weekly rotation if I lived here.

Hoppers is a popular Indian spot which meant we had to wait a few minutes for a table. The karis (both gourd and chicken), goat roti, and dosas were all excellent. Flavours were rich and deep without being aggressive and everything sat well. Portions were on the small side and I imagine Londoners know of places which offer similar quality at better prices, but for the traveller looking for something centrally located, I would recommend it.

Harwood Arms is a pub that gets a Michelin star. It feels and looks like a pub, service is casual but correct, portions are large and the three course menu is fairly priced for the quality. Dishes consisted of many ingredients which all paired well and were expertly timed. There was even foam on one of my dishes and it didn't feel like it detracted from it's Englishness. A great neighbourhood restaurant worth travelling across town for.

Parlour was another neighbourhood pub. This one was recommended by Andy Hayler. Getting there put my wife on edge. Being foreigners, we couldn't tell if it was a good or bad neighbourhood and it is located on Regent St. There is a main Regent St in the centre of town and then there is this Regent St which even the locals who we asked, because we thought we were lost, looked at us like we were lost. It's a chummy pub which puts care into the food. Apps were quirky, like vegetable goat cheese ravioli, which means thin slices of vegetables sandwiching goat cheese, or a pea mousse. My pork chop main was expertly timed, properly seasoned, and had good flavour. It came with juicy tomatoes, sea asparagus, and edible flowers. The raspberry souffle was excellent both in flavour and execution. My take is that their goal is to be a neighbourhood restaurant which provides good food at fair prices and presents it so that it feels like something one wouldn't or couldn't do at home. I'm not sure I would go across town but the neighbourhood must love them.

Bao is another popular spot which meant waiting a few minutes for a table. The space is small and still manages to fit around 30 seats. Above average baos, delicious thinly battered sweet potato fries and fun soft drinks, all at somewhat reasonable prices make for a recommended, centrally located spot.

Noble Rot started as a wine publication and grew into having a restaurant. Wine is obviously part of the focus. Food was excellent. Andy Hayler rates this 14/20, the same rating as Parlour. I would put this a bit above Parlour. I agree with him that it is not as good as Harwood Arms. Noble Rot relies on fat such as butter or oil for impact while Harwood Arms manages to maximize natural flavours while still keeping it light. I should mention service was excellent and did a good job of pairing the dishes with wines. They also offer many special bottles by the glass, at a price of course. I would recommend it for the cork dork.

I hope this helps others planning a trip and thanks to all London hounds for your contributions.

Hoppers Soho,
The Harwood Arms,
Apps Court,
Bao Soho,
BAO Fitzrovia,
Noble Rot Wine Bar & Restaurant,
Franco Manca
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