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108 Garage – Restaurant Review

The struggles you face in London are truly real. Sure, there’s the ones everyone knows about (rent rises, Southern Rail, the chaos of the first snowflake landing, the ‘liberal London elite’, etc etc). But those pale in comparison, surely, to the guttural need to be constantly ~ I N – T H E – K N O W~.

I’ve tweeted about FOMO to an audience of eye rollers before, and it did seem a contender for Word of the Year before alternative facts got in the post-truth way (A shame of many facets, to be sure). Whilst in the midst of my tweetstorm (three likes and a scathing reply, shout out to my fans), Giles Coren posted this:

And let me tell you, friends, that when Giles Coren tells you to get to a restaurant, you immediately stop what you’re doing and book a table. Or at least I do, so I did.

108 Garage Wine

Round rolls the fateful Saturday, and after battling through the carnage that is Portobello Road Market, we emerged into the promised culinary haven to settle in for a few hours. Perched at the bar (another great Giles tip), we had a vantage point straight into the tiny kitchen and across the red-brick hues of the restaurant. Copper and industrial steelwork lined the walls. The beautiful staff joke with us and each other. Chef Chris Denney asks if we had allergies and hands us appetizers. I make eye contact with Jonathan- who is typically a fair but harsh judge of my restaurant choices- and he is buzzing.

Chris Denney at 108 Garage London

We order, as you should too, the five course menu. For food this good it is startling value at £35 a head. Between the two of us it meant we got the try every dish on the set menu, so go with someone you’re willing to share the good stuff with.

The chicken parfait was so smooth you wouldn’t be certain you had actually popped it into your mouth if it wasn’t for the blow-away flavour. Cured mackerel is light, happy. The beetroot is sharp, happy. We sit wide eyed, happy.

108 starter five course menu

108 Garage John Dory Dish

Our mains are John Dory and wagyu, respectively. The fish (pictured above, out of focus in excitement) is exquisite alongside an almost Portuguese-style sauce, the samphire and pumpkin seeds genius texture additions. It was a smart dish and a lovely dish. The wagyu comes donning a mustard seed relish, and melts just by looking at it. This dish was a particular flirt- Chris Denney was preparing other guest’s wagyu tantilisingly in front of us, meaning that even as we ate we were driven to distraction by the next batch of beef…

108 Garage - wagyu main

A palate cleanser, served over the bar by one of the chefs, of pink-lady apple sorbet.

Pink Apple Sorbet palate cleanser

I cannot reliably report on the date and IPA cake as I did not get a look in. I can however report that the cheese was fantastic. Black bomber is a little cheesy punch in the tastebuds. It came crumbled onto fresh (and also crumbly) cracker breads and generous pickle. Every morsel was appreciated and licked up.

108 Garage date and ale pudding

Not willing to let go of our experience just yet, we ordered cocktails to prolong the joy. I had a rosemary and tequila concotion, Jonathan had the house signature (£10 each). As we sipped and stared out into the restaurant, Jonathan decided that we would come back. Which, forgive me Giles Coren, is probably the best compliment you can give a restaurant.

108 Garage cocktails

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The gin is in…

Where gin is concerned, I consider myself an eager student.

Once upon a time I was perfectly happy with whatever house gin was included in the student union happy hour, but as I’ve grown up and (at least partially) on my way to becoming a sophisticated woman, I’ve cultivated a taste for fun, more developed gins.

One of the ways this has substantiated itself is through my new love of gin-souvenirs. When in York, I picked up a lovely local sloe gin from my favourite pub House of Trembling Madness. When at Taste of London, I scoured the best options and triumphantly picked out a little keepsake of cocktail gin. So on and so forth, with increasing fascination and an increasingly fuzzier head.

I picked up these little trinket sized treats- from London’s own Edgerton Original Pink Gin. The pomegranate involved in the heady mix of your usual botanicals gives it this cheeky rosy-pink hue. The touch of sweetness takes away gin’s usual bite, so could quite easily be served straight.

A video posted by Farrah Kelly (@farrahkelly) on


You could be forgiven for thinking the colour was a gimmick or novelty- but on further inspection, pink gin is in fact somewhat of a nautical tradition-and what sailors don’t know about spirits isn’t worth knowing…

I think the pink adds a real charm to a classic drink, so I whipped up some fancy looking G&Ts to greet my sister with before we headed off for our festive holiday to Berlin’s Christmas markets. That’s proper Christmas spirit, in every sense of the word. Auf wiedersehen!

Pink Gin

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Tequila, tequila!

Revered and feared, tequila is a spirit that brings most people out in a shudder, recalling bass-thumping clubs and bad decisions. For me, tequila brings back a specific memory: too drunk and/or stupid to understand the process of taking a shot (1. salt, 2. tequila, 3. lime, 4. regret), I panicked, bit the lime, shotted the drink (missing my mouth, for the most part) and stood stunned looking at the salt shaker I had just tipped upside down in the process.

Infinitely more sophisticated now, I found myself at Mestizo in Warren Street, with a row of tequila bottles lined in front of me. It looks like it might be the beginning of a particularly gruelling initiation ceremony, but I am in fact here -as an adult- for a tequila tasting session.

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And what better place to dig out more on this misunderstood spirit- Mestizo has London’s finest collection of tequilas and mezcals- 260 line the bar.  We are introduced to a few of them (I might be young still, but not so young that knocking back 260 shots on a school night seems like a fun idea any more) by Gaby, a tequila specialist.

Tequila is one of the world’s most regulated spirits, that can take anywhere from 6 to 12 years to produce. Once fully grown, with the best of the world’s suppliers not in continual growth (these el jimadors are pretty chilled out, it seems), imported ex-cognac and Armagnac barrels house the tequila as they ‘rest’ for any time from a week to several years. All this waiting around improves the taste- making patience a virtue for tequila fans and meaning these spirits are there to be luxuriated over, not necked back to the tune of Justin Beiber’s latest banger in a strobe lit sweating room.

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Gaby guided us through a Blanco (white, fairly young, a feisty glass), Resposado (rested, a little subtler, smoother) and Anejo (aged, dark in colour and more depth to the flavour- almost sherry like) from the respected Don Fulano producers- a family run specialist. The Anejo was my favourite- the Blanco reminded me too much of those student clubbing days- and the darker, sophisticated flavour of Anejo had less bite that it’s younger companion.

And it wouldn’t be a Mexican celebration without food, and lots of it. Mestizo piled upon us traditional Mexican fare- and though we couldn’t stay for all ten courses I can certainly vouch for their empanadas and tamal. With a series of Mexican Independence Day events and parties lined up to celebrate the 15th September (including a hangover brunch- these guys have it all covered off) Mestizo certainly has the spirit of Mexico in spades, as well as lining the bartender’s shelves.

~

Mestizo, london.mestizomx.com, 103 Hampstead Road

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Dining at the Tabl: Amba Chefs

One cancelled train, five buses (one in the wrong direction, one back again) and a few serious words with the Transport for London Twitter account later, I clattered into the London Cookery Project.

When my evening gets off to a bad start after a long day in the glare of my Mac and fielding calls from clients and PPI salesmen, I want to retreat into myself and be away from screens and other people. Tonight, sulking wasn’t an option- I was walking solo into a supperclub- in need of food, new friends, and a very large glass of wine.

The hosts of Amba chef’s supperclub fluttered over to me the moment I arrived, both flustered and late. Placing a cocktail in my hand- a great start- Monica brushed off my apologies with a warm smile and immediately launched into how excited she was for this evening. Her passion caught me, and with a little help from the peach sangria, I relaxed.

Amba Chef Supperclub

I find my seat, marked with a small printed menu and my name. Next to me is Lily. We immediately begin a conversation that lasts, almost breathless, for three hours straight, despite having never met before. My grump lifted, Lily reminds me why I love Tabl so much- there is immediate connection with strangers when sharing food. We soared through topics happily all night.

The food was wonderful. Each dish a celebration of summer, sharing and Spanish cooking. The courgette flowers with light, fresh crab & courgette salad were summery and light, the monkfish mussel & chorizo stew pleasing, and the lam skewers juicy and bold. Shared between the long tables of dinner guests, every morsel was shared, the clatter of forks cutting away portions and being passed across conversations. Supper clubs make the best dinner parties.

Amba chefs wine

To match the summer feel of dinner, I chose a Spanish rose cava, light, crisp and oh so needed. Feeling full and tiddly, Lily and I made our goodbyes. I ran after the bus giggling, clutching my bottle of cava, beaming at the bus driver as I embarked on my sixth bus journey of the night.