Mat Smith

Jul 312012
 
Tosa, Ravenscourt Park - Selection of dishes
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Service is reasonable and pleasant
The Bad: Overpriced sushi. Sometimes not fresh. No mixed sushi / sashimi plates
Number of Visits: 5

Though strictly not in Chiswick, Tosa is a stone’s throw from the border, and I’ve visited quite a few times now.

It is worth mentioning this restaurant is much more popular for lunch than it is for dinner, although it can get busy in the evening at the end of the week too. In my experience the restaurant seems very popular with American Londoners and visitors, but also it’s quite common to see larger Japanese groups coming for lunch.

From the outside the restaurant looks very cosy indeed, although the ambience inside is less than ideal for various reasons. Firstly, if you sit by the front window, you are very near the long grill bar. When it’s being used these seats get very hot, and when it isn’t being used, there is quite an unpleasant extractor fan noise that underpins everything. The mezzanine seating area is less than ideal, as the bar takes up a lot of space and the tables are actually very small for two. The tables in the back are more spacious, but the back room lacks light and air, and isn’t particularly nice. Unfortunately the terrace outside is rarely used, and rather too small for comfortable seating.

Tosa, Ravenscourt Park - Selection of dishes

The food looks lovely in this photo - but do read on

The quality of the food is variable, although the prices are consistent… consistently too high. Too many times I have visited for a quick lunch for two and ended-up with a bill of around £40, when all we had was a sushi platter to share, perhaps a small side salad, a miso soup each, and a drink each. This would be perfectly fine if the sushi was consistently superb, but it really isn’t.

As Tosa does not offer any kind of mixed plates of sushi or sashimi (aka the “sushi set”), you are forced to choose from a list of menu items with few hints as to how many actual pieces you might get. Tonight I ordered four individual items from the sushi menu, and when they appeared, it turned-out that two of the items came out as one piece each, and the other two came out as four pieces each!

So tonight I had:

– 4x individual items from the sushi menu
– 1x plum wine

Total cost: £18.15.

The quality of my food this evening was poor; the maki rolls did not taste fresh at all, the nori was rather soft and soggy, and the spicy tuna maki merely consisted of a tuna maki with some rather dodgy dry spicy seasoning tipped-over the top. It gave that “choking” spice with no real flavour:

Chiswickish Blog Tosa Hammersmith - Spicy Maki

Tuna Maki: dry spicy seasoning gives unpleasant "choking" spice with no real flavour

Sadly, towards the latter part of my meal for one I was also subjected to some nasty bleach and burnt pan smells, as someone decided to take the opportunity to start washing pans at the grill bar adjacent to my table.

I left slightly hungry, as I had no clue how many piece of sushi were coming out!

May 192012
 
Chiswickish Blog - Foodie Reviews - Outsider Tart - Cake Box
Sugar High Upon Leaving
Damage to Wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Breathtaking array of baked goods; knowledgeable staff
The Bad: Despite trying, man cannot live by Hepburn Brownie alone
Number of Visits: 45

If like me you find the latest craze in cupcake shops somewhat vapid, then you should know Outsider Tart is the perfect antidote to this. Although they sell cupcakes, Outsider Tart specialises in the All-American Cake Bake – an altogether different and more substantial sugary experience. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good cupcake. But man can not live by cupcake alone.

Man can, however, live by Alabama Fudge Brownie alone:

Alabama Fudge Bar - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

Alabama Fudge Bar: a gooey chocolate brownie with pecans and toasted marshmallows

The Blondie - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

The Blondie - a rum and raisin slab with pecan, chocolate chips and butterscotch

Chocolate Peanut Butter - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

Chocolate PB Slab: with a layer of peanut butter and chocolate on top


Outsider Tart is run by David Lesniak and David Muniz (aka “David” and “Other David”), a couple of American guys with really interesting stories to tell. They set sail from New York to London in 2005 and settled nearby in Richmond, setting up their first stall in East Sheen in 2007 selling their delightful breed of cakes to locals. Since then, their grand idea is to “bridge the culinary and cultural divide between the two sides of the pond whenever and wherever possible”.

David Lesniak and David Muniz - Outsider Tart

The Two Davids: Lesniak & Muniz

The strength of this beautiful little gem of a cake shop is its community spirit. Some of us Londoners might at first be perturbed by the intimate nature of the cake bar, where you walk in and people chat randomly to you, pet your dog, or ask what you’re eating. But soon enough you realise it fulfils a similar function to that which our local neighbourhood pubs did decades ago. (I’ve no idea, I wasn’t alive then, I just read history books…) Anyway, it’s a lovely place to meet locals but I’m sure it’s possible to give-off “don’t talk to me vibes” if you prefer that too.

Outsider Tart Shop Front - Chiswickish Blog Chiswickish Blog - Foodie Reviews - Outsider Tart - Breakfast Puffs and Sausage Rolls

For a quick idea of what’s on offer, and to get a feel of how wonderful this special gem is, Outsider Tart has a superb website which lists most of their products, and with a link to buy their first book. I have the book, it’s beautifully written and presented, and comes highly recommended.

Perhaps it’s best to label Outsider Tart by what types of bakery it doesn’t do. It doesn’t bake bread. Pretty much everything else is on the menu though: a sizeable range of different types of Brownie, cookie, whoopie pies, and a ridiculous array of cakes from seasonal types like Pumpkin Pie to the amusingly named Blackout, Delta Jelly, and Japanese Fruit cakes.

Although I’ve never ordered myself, Outsider Tart also do a ‘made-to-order’ service.

When you first visit Outsider Tart, be sure to ask for a rundown of what’s on offer that day. Although a somewhat daunting experience to have to decide from the line-up, it’s a real treat to have the whole lot explained to you.

Check-out this selection of mouth-watering photos – this is just one day’s baking output!

The Billionnaire - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

The Billionaire: a dark chocolate brownie with a cookie base and thick layer of caramel

The Anadama - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

The Anadama - molasses, shredded pear, polenta, pecan

Brown Sugar Whiskey Brownie - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

Brown Sugar Whiskey Brownie

Chocolate Orange Brownie with Cointreau - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

Chocolate Orange Brownie with Cointreau

Peach and Raisin Sour Cream Crunch - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

Peach and Raisin Sour Cream Crunch

New York Crumb Cake - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

New York Crumb Cake: sour cream, dense vanilla sponge with a brown sugar cinnamon crumble on top

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Brownie - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

My favourite: the Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Brownie

Breakfast Puffs - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

The delicious Breakfast Puff. Like a muffin but far more extravagant

Caramel Apple Cake - Outsider Tart - Chiswickish Blog - matsmithphotography.com

The Caramel Apple Cake


Although American Cake Bake is the core product, if you drop-in for a snack, you can wash it down with something from the menu of American soft drinks, a choice of different hot chocolates (optional marshmallow fluff, anyone?), coffees (one of the better places to grab a coffee in Chiswick), speciality teas. Then when you leave, you could take-out a selection of nuts, or purchase products from the eye-watering selection of American imports.

Outsider Tart - Stewart's Black Cherry and Whoopies - Chiswickish Blog

Stewart's Black Cherry and Whoopies

Dog Friendly Outsider Tart

Happy customer

For example, numerous different types of peanut butter, cereals that are hard to find on this side of the Atlantic (Fruit Loops, Honey Maid Grahams, Cap’n Crunch), maple syrups, relishes, molasses, Hershey’s, seasonings, tinned pumpkin. Rather than going on here, check out their range of dry goods online.

Outsider Tart - Nuts

Chiswickish Blog - Outsider Tart - Dry Goods

If repeated abuse of the cake products here hasn’t already completely rotted your teeth, you’ll find quite a choice when it comes to fizzy drinks. Five types of root beer? Three types of black cherry? The complete set of Fizzy Lizzy natural sparkling fruit drinks? Yes please.

Chiswickish Blog - Foodie Reviews - Outsider Tart - Heart Cupcake

If you love somebody, set them free. Oh, and you should also buy them one of these.

Chiswickish Blog - Foodie Reviews - Outsider Tart - Root Beer

Stop in for a quick root beer

Thursday night is chili / cookie night. This is where you can turn-up on your own or with a friend any time until 10pm and order a bowl of chili for £5 plus a cookie.

The chili is of course the beautiful home-made variety, and the flavours change each week. It’s usually accompanied by some kind of sweet bread to dip in:

Chiswickish Blog - Foodie Reviews - Outsider Tart - Chili Night

Chili and Cookie Night: a real treat

Though it can get really busy (sometimes you might have to wait for a stool to come free), there’s always a great atmosphere at chili night and you’d be surprised by how friendly the locals can be. My first chili night, someone passed around a bottle of wine and some paper cups to share.

The latest news at Outsider Tart is that they are extending their space into the shop next door which has been empty for almost a year. I can’t wait to see what they do with the space.

Outsider Tart has quickly become a Chiswick institution – at least as far as I’m concerned. I’ve met people who have come from far and wide just to visit, and it’s one of my first stops when a friend is in town.

Apr 292012
 
Chiswickish - Antonio Carluccio visits Chiswick - Copyright Mat Smith Photography

The restaurant entrepreneur Antonio Carluccio this week visited the Chiswick branch of his restaurant for a book signing of his latest book: Two Greedy Italians.

Here’s my portrait of the great man.

His amazing pasta dish the Penne Giardiniera (see my recipe adaptation here) rose to cult status (at least in my eyes!), and Antonio himself told me that this dish was conceived at our very own Chiswick Carluccio’s!

Who knew!

Chiswickish - Antonio Carluccio visits Chiswick - Copyright Mat Smith Photography

Apr 272012
 
Sushi Sashimi Platter at Chisou Chiswick, Copyright Mat Smith Photography
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Superb selection of sakes, chef's specials are amazing
The Bad: Wish the classy upstairs bar stayed open later
Number of Visits: 3

Although it sounds like this restaurant was named with our locality in mind, this is actually their third restaurant to open in London. Chisou opened last year (2011) opposite Chiswick’s much-loved Sam’s Brasserie, on Barley Mow Passage. The outside isn’t much to look at but the interior is pleasant: low-lit, clean, sophisticated.

Chisou Chiswick - interior light - copyright matsmithphotography.comChisou Chiswick - containers - copyright matsmithphotography.comChisou Chiswick - window sill - copyright matsmithphotography.com

If you are looking for high-end Japanese dining, as of April 2012 this is by far the best restaurant in Chiswick. The restaurant was reviewed by AA Gill earlier in 2012; I think we can all agree that his reviews say more about his perpetual bad mood than the restaurant at which he is dining at any given point in time. Also given the fact he slagged-off our beloved Chiswick (he has a habit of slagging off localities – once writing-off the whole of Cambridge in a review), I think we can further agree we should read his articles for entertainment purposes only, then toss them quick-smart into the recycling.

Chiswick does have some great alternatives when it comes to Japanese and Pan-Asian, but the choice of sakes and cocktail menu – not to mention the gorgeous menu – doubtless make this the finest Japanese restaurant in the area.

My only advice is to venture out (i.e. splash out!) on some of the more interesting dishes on the menu, as this is where the restaurant stands-out amongst its local competitors, and try to engage waiting staff in a discussion about the food – where it comes from, how it’s prepared, etc. You are in for some real treats.

Treat 1: Canadian fresh snow crab, wrapped in king crab & avocado slivers & tobiko (fish roe)

Chisou Chiswick - King Crab dish - Copyright Mat Smith Photography and chiswickish

Canadian fresh snow crab, wrapped in king crab & avocado slivers & tobiko (fish roe)

You really don’t get this kind of dish at your average sushi joint.

Treat 2:  The amazing Yellowtail Sashimi in black truffle-infused soy sauce

Chiswickish - Chisou Chiswick, Yellowtail Sashimi in Black Truffle Infused Soy

Yellowtail sashimi in black truffle infused soy sauce. Complex flavours & texture.

Chiswickish - Chisou Chiswick, Yellowtail Sashimi in Black Truffle Infused Soy - Platter

Yellowtail sashimi in black truffle infused soy sauce: platter

As the above dish cost just below £20, perhaps the average punter might not order it. But it’s one of those dishes you go home and think about for a while. Beautiful, delicate flavours – and a great use of truffle.

Treat 3: Sushi and Sashimi Platter

Sushi Sashimi Platter at Chisou Chiswick, Copyright Mat Smith Photography

Here's the standard Sushi Sashimi platter at Chisou. Tuna, salmon, whitefish, prawn, shellfish, salmon row.

Although the above photo is a little grainy, you can see the effort that has gone into presentation, and you can get a good idea about the cut of fish they use. The sushi experience – at least in London – doesn’t get much better than this.

Treat 4: Aubergine in Dark Miso Paste

The weirdest of the evening’s dishes was this one. Although it looks slightly burnt in texture, this is actually a thick layer of miso paste. I’ve always found food smothered in miso paste a bit rich, but this was absolutely delicious. The sesame seeds really offset the flavour of the miso. More to the point, the texture of the aubergine itself was wonderful; a real treat to scoop out the flesh. You know sometimes you eat a well-known food, but somehow it’s almost recognisable as that bit of food? Well this aubergine tasted nothing like I expected. It was utterly melt-in-the-mouth and if I were blindfolded I’d have no idea what I was eating!

Chiswickish - Chisou Chiswick Review - Aubergine in Dark Miso Paste

Aubergine in Dark Miso Paste

A trip to Chisou, Chiswick, is not be complete without sampling at least one of their delicious cocktails or sakes.

Sake tasting, Chisou Chiswick - Chiswick Restaurant Reviews Chisou Sake Menu - Chiswickish Foodie Blog

This lemon sake was surprising, and was more akin to a limoncello than anything else:

Lemon Sake, Chisou Chiswick, Copyright Mat Smith Photography Lemon Sake bottle, Chisou Chiswick, Copyright Mat Smith Photography

And oh, the cocktails. For a full-on cocktail experience, retire to the upstairs cocktail bar, or just drink them alongside your meal. As a general rule, cocktails are priced between £7.95 and £10.50.

Chisou Chiswick - Remnants of Japanese Lady Cocktail

Remnants of the Japanese Lady Cocktail - Grand Marnier, framboise liqueur, gin, a cherry

 

The Chisou Iced Tea - Chiswickish Food Blog

Chisou Iced Tea with Imo Shochu, Melon Liqueur, Coconut Liqueur

Also worth a try is the wonderful Umeshi Plum wine made with rice Shochu.

As with some of Chiswick’s other top restaurants, it’s possible to come in and spend £20 per head, or blow the budget and come away with a bill of £200 for two (though you have to try pretty hard to do that). Either way Chisou is a wonderful addition to Chiswick’s array of Asian restaurants and is perfect for couples, groups, and especially those who love fine dining.

Apr 272012
 
copyright-matsmithphotography.com-franco-manca-chiswick-menu-pizza-tiles
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Quality ingredients, superb value, quaffable organic red wine
The Bad: When busy it can get very hot and very noisy
Number of Visits: 30

The background

Franco Manca was recommended to me by the owner of a lovely little coffee house place in Cambridge called Massaro’s (completely unrelated); they are really serious about the quality of the meats and breads they serve, and they said I would love Franco Manca. In fact they were visiting London a week previously, and detoured all the way to Chiswick just to eat here.

They also told me the story of how it got its name. The original restaurant in Brixton was opened on the site of a little Italian place called Franco’s. One day Franco went missing and nobody knew where he had gone.

After a while, the new owners took over the place, but weren’t sure what to call their restaurant. So after a bit of thought they simply called it Franco Manca, Italian for “Franco’s Missing”.

Franco Manca is a pizza restaurant which serves really well-priced tasty Naples-style pizza, with an emphasis on good quality ingredients.

We visited for the first time of many on a Saturday night, and found the pizza really great. The restaurant was very busy with queues out of the door at around 7.30pm Saturday night, and I can see why. Although there was a queue, the front-of-house chap knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t leave anyone hanging, instead coming coming back to check numbers and tables every few minutes.

The food

 

The pizza menu is reassuringly short; there are six pizzas to choose from, with a range of recipes to suit all tastes. The pizza base is from sourdough, and because it’s cooked in a proper wood-burning brick oven, you get the most amazing toasty flavours in the bread which merge in a lovely way with the ingredients.

Franco Manca is serious about the ingredients they use. On my first visit I asked about the cheese which was an English Pecorino – something I thought was a bit bizarre – and the manager came over to talk to me about it with a plate of samples for me to try. He was clearly passionate about their ingredients and told me about the farm from which it came.

Similarly the ham they use is gorgeous. It’s from a Gloucester Old Spot which is supplied by one of the founders of the Rare Breed Survival Trust (founded 1973).

A creature of habit, all my visits entail a single pizza and a glass of the organic red, the Ottavio Rube Rosso. This is a wonderfully simple, humble, drinkable wine. Served in a tumbler (true Italian style), and cheap – but not the kind of cheap that leaves you dehydrated and with a headache the next morning.

The menu has starters and other interesting bits and bobs, but really the joy here is in the pizza itself.

The floor tiles are gorgeous, similar in style to those of nearby High Road Brasserie. Have a look:

The crowd is quite young and unfortunately a little noisy at this time; maybe I’m getting old but the group next to us was so unbearably loud we had to move. One Glaswegian woman had the most unbelievably shrill voice. What is it with the unruly Brits?!

Franco Manca Chiswick, pizzaiolo at work - Copyright Mat Smith Photography

The restaurant was extremely busy when we first went, and they did mess up our order a little. Luckily we were quite excited about the pizza and overlooked the mistake, especially as an apology was forthcoming immediately.

Since then I’ve visited countless times and recommend this place to my friends. I must admit, the service can be hit-or-miss; never rude, just sometimes a little slow or forgetful. Perhaps it’s because they are so popular and get so busy. When it’s quiet, service can be very fast indeed.

Either way, it never stops me coming back – superb pizza, thin with toasty flavoursome crusts. If you are looking for a quiet Saturday evening then perhaps give it a miss, otherwise if you are no stranger to a youngish loudish crowd and you love good pizza, Franco Manca is a must-visit.