Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frederick's, Islington High Street

To celebrate the completion of six months at my rather new-ish job, John took me out to dinner at Frederick's  on Islington High Street.  I'm still marvelling at the dining options in Angel and the offerings on this particular back street (bustling during the day because of the market but quietly buzzing at night due to trendy hot spots such as The Elk in the Woods) are what I consider to be particular gems of eating out in Islington.

My heart sank a little when we arrived at the restaurant, greeted by loud al-fresco diners and a semi-packed Friday night bar at the front - I had been hoping for something a little quieter.  But I should have known better than to doubt John's judgement when my dismay gave way to unadulterated astonishment at the beautiful, light and spacious restaurant area that unfolded in front of us as we were led to the back of the establishment.  As it was fairly warm last evening, there were quite a few diners at tables outside already, but we had a terrific spot indoors.

"We're having a starter, main course and dessert," John said emphatically as he opened the menu.  "I don't think I can fit that all in," I said, despite feeling hungry.  After all, I had eaten out for every meal every day since Wednesday evening and was feeling a bit ... like a blob.  Oops.  He shot me a look.  "You have to," he ordered.  So I obliged.

To start, I ordered the baked scallops with chorizo and tomato mimosa.  Served on a porcelain shell-shaped dish, the flavors were both complex and perfectly complementary - a true taste sensation.  I also marvelled at John's salt and pepper squid, served in mock news print with a delicious home-made sweet chilli sauce.  The batter was crunchy and responsive, not soggy and doughy, as you usually get from under-par restaurants.  For our mains, I chose the chargrilled tuna, which I'd was warned (to my delight) would be quite raw in the middle - therefore, I was quite disappointed when it arrived nearly cooked through.  I suppose the menu did specify "chargrilled" rather than "seared", which would explain for how well-done it was.  The sweet, almost Indian-spiced lentil salsa and coriander shoots were the perfect accompaniment.  John had the cote-de-boeuf, which was slightly chewy, but the herb butter won me over (yeah, I totally stole bites).  For dessert, I had a slight panic because it was the first time I'd ever seen a banana split offered on a British menu and I knew I had to have it - problem was, I felt more inclined toward the chocolate tart and coconut ice cream.  What to do?  I went for what my heart told me to do and enjoyed every minute of the tart.  John seemed quite happy with his strudel but I didn't have a chance to poke my fork in because at this point, we had become embroiled in some wine-fuelled, deep conversation about something or other.

At Frederick's presentation is nearly everything.  From the decor, which makes you feel as if you're dining in an over-sized marquee within a greenhouse to the beautifully arranged dishes, it's a visual feast and I'm a glutton for beauty when properly eating out.

So if the food and surroundings are so great at Frederick's, then what lets it down?  The service, unfortunately.  Don't get me wrong, our sommelier was stellar: initially pairing my menu choices with Riesling and when I complained that I detested Riesling, he insisted I have a taste anyway.  When I still protested at the sharpness of the wine, he instead charmingly led us to a bottle of Mittnacht Gyotaku - a blend from Alsace which is especially paired with sashimi and/or sushi (I had ordered chargrilled tuna and John wanted a white instead of red anyway).  His knowledge and passion for wine, as well as his extremely personable manner, made the wine selection a delight.  Our head server was the real problem.  Offering us bread to begin, he rattled off the choices so quickly and in the lowest growl possible, I could barely understand him.  When I asked him politely to repeat, he sighed and repeated it back as if I was an insolent child.  "Which would you recommend," asked John when hesitating over his choice of main course. "The lamb cutlets or the cote-de-boeuf?"  The waiter, who had been at this point scanning the restaurant impatiently and tapping his pad with his pen as John displayed a slight indication of indecision, looked at John with a mixture of pity and contempt: "The cote-de-boeuf is a rib-eye steak, the lamb cutlets is lamb."  Silence.  Wow, that was helpful - the assumption that we were ignorant as to the meaning of "cote-de-boeuf" and condescension in his voice was enough to drive anyone away.  "The steak is good," he added hastily, with a sharp jerk of his chin.  "Um, right, I'll go with the steak then," said John.  "Would you like to order wine?" he inquired.  "Yes," I said, flipping the wine menu open to the whites.  "And what would you recommend for a white?" "Well, they're here," he replied, pointing his finger at the selection I'd been considering for the past 15 minutes.  He looked distracted again.  "My colleague will help you, he's more knowledgeable with the wine," he said before turning sharply on his heel and summoning the sommelier.  Yes, he would be - he's the sommelier, my friend.  Sigh.  Fortunately, the lack of people-skills from one server didn't entirely constitute bad service, as we were well looked after by others during our dessert and coffee courses.

If there's one lesson I learned last night, it's that if you're looking for a special meal out, there's no need to venture into the stiff West End stand-bys on Toptable or Tatler recommendations - there are always secret gardens lurking around the corner.  That and the fact that my boyfriend has impeccable taste in choosing restaurants. And I'm spoiled.

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