Ostuni (and a kiss for the waiter)

We moved house a month ago, out of North Ken and up to the Queen’s Park/Kilburn border where we are slowly getting the measure of our new landscape.

For fake nails, fake tan, cheap lip enlargement (no joke), great curry, Poundland, second-hand books, and a healthy dose of north London grit, we turn left to Kilburn. For sourdough, flat whites, pilates, posh nosh, playgrounds and picnics, it’s right to Queen’s Park. Where one feels most comfortable is another matter.

A few weeks ago, The Heid brought my father in through the Kilburn side. Bearing in mind that this is a man who has rarely stepped out of Chelsea (except to go to Mayfair) and who once “defended” himself from a “mugger” (my brother wearing a hoody) with a Peter Jones bag, it’s little wonder that he looked a bit sweaty on arrival. We poured him a stiff drink and made a sharp right out the door for dinner, to the wonderful Ostuni, where he soon felt right at home.

Not the best defensive weapon

Ostuni is a Puglian restaurant on the characterful Lonsdale Road that combines authentic food with delicious wine and enough charisma, style and substance to warrant a special visit, even if you live nowhere near Queen’s Park. Beautifully designed with clever little rustic touches such as light fittings made out of grain sieves, walls in Pugliese limestone, and shabby chic –style cabinetry, the atmosphere is convivial, cosy and welcoming.

In summer, its French doors are thrown open onto a shrub-lined patio with heaters, mismatched chairs, and tables around which people laugh and drink and chat until late into the night. The place is always packed, and with piping hot antipasti, platefuls of salami, generous helpings of roasted meat or grilled fresh fish, drizzled lemon and olive oil, studs of garlic, bottles of nectar wine, and espresso martinis, one can’t fail to feel carried away on dizzying Italian hospitality.

Dizzying Italian hospitality

The service is slow. But you certainly don’t come here to hurry, and anyway, the waiting staff (who are mostly Italian) are more than just waiting staff here. They are the key to your present and future happiness. Customers here greet them like long-lost friends: shaking their hands, chatting, and flirting with them, as if by not playing the game, they might be dumped on a rubbish corner table, ignored for hours, or exiled forever from this doorstep paradise.

Doorstep paradise

Not to be outdone, The Heid has taken to flirting with the best of them. At a birthday dinner there on Saturday night, he raised some eyebrows amongst our group by coming out with things like, “Oh, the usual, Eric” to our waiter, and then planting two enthusiastic kisses on the poor man (I don’t think The Heid is his type) as we left. You wouldn’t get that sort of behaviour in Kilburn.

Ostuni
43-45 Lonsdale Rd,
London NW6 6RA
T: 020 7624 8035
W: ostunirestaurant.co.uk

TOP TIP: book well in advance and don’t kiss the waiter.

Somerset Scoff, Part III: Dinner at At The Chapel, Bruton

Leg three of our Somerset scoffathon took place at At The Chapel, a 17th century former Congregational chapel on Bruton High Street, where a large group of us gathered on Saturday night for Dave’s big 30th birthday celebration.

At The Chapel, Bruton

The chapel entrance. Photo ©DaveWatts

A truly incongruous, but utterly spectacular addition to Bruton, it combines bakery, wine shop, café, bar and restaurant in a space that merges central London with sleepy Somerset and somehow gets away with it.

At The Chapel, interior

Photo ©DaveWatts

At The Chapel must be one of the most elegant and unusual restaurant spaces in the country with huge church windows, high ceilings, virgin white walls and contemporary art works that include a female Christ-figure suspended on the wall above the bar and a ‘hanging baubles of Babylon’ chandelier that catches candlelight by night giving a mystical, other-worldly effect.

At The Chapel, Bruton, chandelier

The fibre-optic chandelier looked extraordinary by candlelight. Photo ©DaveWatts

Opened in 2008 by former Café Med owner Catherine Butler, At The Chapel was designed by architects MacKenzie Wheeler and is currently being extended to include a balcony area, garden and south facing patio out back (roll on summer), as well as rooms – part of a new boutique hotel strand to the business.

At The Chapel, Bruton

Photo ©DaveWatts

But it’s not all style and no substance and At The Chapel more than delivers on food, which it takes seriously, sources locally and handles skilfully using a real wood-fire oven for its fabulous selection of bread and pizzas.

At The Chapel, Bruton, artisan bakery

The artisan bakery and wood-fire oven. Photo ©DaveWatts

Our evening started downstairs, in the bar, where we kicked off proceedings with impeccably made cocktails such as Whisky Sours (made properly with egg whites), Moscow Mules and Mohitos. I never go to bars this cool or edgy in London, so it was a real treat with cocktails priced at Somerset rather than London prices, despite their flair.

At The Chapel, Bruton, cocktails

Cocktails all round.

Upstairs, enormous platters of antipasti arrived with a uniformly high quality selection of goodies to pick at: soft, delicate tasting mozzarella, finely sliced parma ham and salami, gherkins, juicy black olives, homemade houmous, artichoke hearts and freshly baked slices of crusty bread to mop it all up with.

At The Chapel, Bruton, bakery

Photo ©DaveWatts

Groaning and full after a long day of eating, we were slightly alarmed to hear that 15 pizzas had been ordered for 14 of us, but the wood fire oven had worked its magic rendering pizzas as wafer thin and perfectly crispy as those found in a real Italian pizzeria. (NB – Had we not been such a large group, the menu also offers dishes such as Laverstoke Park lambs liver, Chargrilled mackerel and Rib-eye steak, which I’d like to come back for another time).

At The Chapel pizza

Authentic pizza. (photo taken from At The Chapel website)

But the pièce de résistance and final shot of gluttony was still to come: pink cupcakes, baked and iced by Dave’s little sister Beans that afternoon. We couldn’t manage them all, but – testament to the lovely staff at At The Chapel (is there anything they haven’t got right?) – those left were packaged up in white paper boxes pinched from the bakery, all ready for us to take home at the end of the evening. It was the perfect end to a perfect day and one which I hope to repeat again very soon.

Birthday cupcakes

Happy birthday Davey!

P.S The snaps I took on Saturday night didn’t come out very well, so Dave went in the next day to take some proper ones by daylight, hence the higher than usual calibre of photos in this post. You can see more of his work here.

At The Chapel, Bruton, exterior

Photo ©DaveWatts

At The Chapel
High Street,
Bruton,
Somerset,
BA10 0AE
T: 01749 814 070
E: mail@atthechapel.co.uk
W: atthechapel.co.uk

Granger & Co (and a grown-up Saturday morning)

Yesterday, The Heid and I woke up in London feeling petal fresh and without so much as a sniff of a hangover, despite it being a Saturday. We must finally be grown up, we thought, and what better way to celebrate this belated arrival into adulthood than with a posh breakfast at the new Bill Granger place on Westbourne Grove?

A cappucino at Granger & Co on Westbourne Grove

My cappucino was creamy and had a pretty pattern on it - always a plus!

Bill Granger is a bit like the Aussie Jamie Oliver with a relaxed style of cooking that has won him plaudits worldwide; the fact that he is best known for his brunches – “an egg master,” says the New York Times – boded well for our breakfast.

Bircher Muesli at Granger & Co on Westbourne Grove

The Heid's unordered bircher muesli was, nevertheless, a hit.

For those not familiar with Westbourne Grove, this is a pocket of London, in the heartland of Notting Hill, for which the word ‘recession’ means very little. It was thus no surprise to find Granger & Co packed at 10 o clock in the morning, with little apparent chance of a table any time soon. An attractive door girl with a deep Christmas tan greeted us pleasantly, however, and suggested we sit at the bar, which we took her up on. Here we sat for ten minutes (too long!) before being given a menu, which featured so many tempting looking things that we spent another ten minutes deciding what to have.

Toasted Coconut Bread at Granger & Co, Westbourne Grove

Unsalted butter would have been better with the sweet cocunut bread.

Our order was eventually taken by a tanned and good-looking waiter (there’s a theme here), who decided, in the tiresome way that waiters often do, to try and impress us with his amazing memory skills by not taking a note of what wanted. “I bet he gets our order wrong,” I said to The Heid and, sure enough, instead of the toasted grain cereal with vanilla poached fruit, yoghurt and honey that we had asked for, we were given bircher muesli with granny smith apple, dates and almonds. We didn’t bother to complain as the bircher muesli looked (and tasted) very good and The Heid was hungry, but it was annoying to be proved right, nonetheless.

Sweetcorn Fritters, Granger & Co

Two sweetcorn fritters, but only one bit of bacon.

The rest of breakfast was so, so. The sweetcorn fritters were okay but there were two fritters, two roasted tomatoes and only one bit of bacon, which – call me greedy – I felt a bit short changed by. Meanwhile, the toasted coconut bread – though crispy and sweet – was ruined by the salted butter that came with it; surely unsalted would have been better here? The Heid’s unordered bircher muesli was excellent with dates and almonds adding nice pockets of sweetness and crunch but the avocado, though ripe and squishy, could have done with a little spice (chilli or paprika perhaps) to jazz it up, he said.

Avocado on Rye Bread at Granger & Co, Westbourne Grove

The avocado was ripe and squishy. A sprinkling of paprika would have been a good addition.

At £40.50 (with a 12.5% service charge added automatically to the bill) breakfast at Granger & Co was expensive and one that didn’t quite live up to expectations. The atmosphere is buzzy, the room is light, airy and comfortable and the menu itself is inspiring, but the food and certainly the service could be brushed up. My only worry is that, being on Westbourne Grove and with an affluent clientele queueing up outside, it won’t be necessary to bother.

Granger & Co
175 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2SB
T: 020 7229 9111
E: info@grangerandco.com
W: www.grangerandco.com