As general rules go I don’t do restaurant reviews, I don’t take photographs of my meals and I don’t take selfies.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to break one of those rules. I could’ve broken two – hell, I could’ve gone to town and broken all bloody three of them but … baby steps, right?
I was lured in via a tweet from BDGTtT favourite Tony Rodd. Yes, lovely Tony. East end Greek boy Tony with the sharp outfits and the twirly tash. “Looking to speak to London food bloggers who might be interested in a meal in Shoreditch next month.” Sign up me! Okay, I’m probably not the food blogger you are looking for but I blog. About food. Food that appears on my telly. Will that do?
Seemingly it did. Accompanied by the lovely K Gro Mo we hit the hip spot of Shoreditch on a sweltering Thursday evening. I often wonder what previous contestants get up to in the aftermath of a Masterchef series. Hand in their notice at the day job? Contact chefs for work experience? Plan the first cook book? It seems that this year’s contestants Billy and Jack have jumped straight into a private dining/pop up collaboration and it was great news to hear that Tony is venturing down that culinary path also with his company Well Dressed Plates.
The Stongroom Bar and Kitchen is a fantastic venue with courtyard, bar and eating areas; exactly the kind of place you’d expect in east London; full of attractive, tattooed people wanting some good food – and that’s just me! Guided to the upstairs dining area we took our seats and perused the menu. Our server for the evening was a lovely guy who whispered, “Are you, er, bloggers?” and explained that the food was gratis but we pay for drinks. We drank some very tasty wine (we couldn’t see a wine list but another server made a very good suggestion) and proceeded to order from the restaurant menu.
Having wanted to make squash tortellini with sage butter for ages, I had to pick that as a starter – see what kind of technique and flavours I should be aiming for. I was slightly disappointed. The pasta and butternut squash filling was certainly tasty but I was expecting a little more of the sage butter. The crispy sage leaves and walnut gave it a nice crunch and what with the sprinkling of rocket I hoped for a bit more liquid.
It seemed the pasta machine had just broken down so I got the last portion meaning Katie couldn’t have it for her main course. Instead Katie chose the smoked trout with beetroot, fennel and apple and really enjoyed it. “Just the right amount of of dill, a lovely balance of flavours with crunchy fennel. Very fresh.” Yes, after scoffing some myself I can also confirm that the trout was nice and smokey; incredibly tasty.
Right, no messing about. The main course came along quickly and we both chose the sea bass with sweet potato puree, Parma ham and porcini. Absolutely gorgeous. As my old mucker says, “Salty, earthy ham complimenting the fish very nicely and a bunch of super sweet potato mash.” Yes, I love my fish and the sea bass was cooked perfectly and I scraped every last morsel off the plate.
At this point the only negative of the evening will get a mention. Flies. A big old bugger landed on the table, staring right at Katie. Once he was dismissed we proceeded to be harassed by a series of those teeny tiny flies as we were sat in the far corner. Anyway, that didn’t put us off ordering our dessert!
I opted for the strawberry panna cotta with Pimms jelly and cucumber sorbet whilst Katie was intrigued by the chocolate and peanut mousse cake with popcorn ice cream. “The ice cream was a great revelation,” apparently and its accompanying element was, “much richer and heavier than a mousse cake would imply; more like a brownie but very nice flavours.” And she doesn’t usually go for desserts apparently! Last week Masterchef Australia (W channel in the UK at the moment) gave contestants a challenge of cooking with popcorn. Many desserts but a couple of savoury dishes too. Popcorn ice cream is a definite winner.
My panna cotta had a decent wobble (I do know Jay Rayner and MC Australia’s Matt Preston are obsessed with wobbly panna cotta) and was creamy with a strong strawberry taste. The cucumber sorbet was fantastic. Again, a lovely strong flavour which of course married with the berry and Pimms components.
*sigh* I feel I should say that belts were loosened but it’s very rare that I polish off three plates of food in a short space of time and do not feel like I should be rolled home down the street. The portions weren’t scrimped on by any means; it all felt light, healthy almost!
The first thing I noticed when looking at the extensive menu (there are also breakfast/brunch dishes available) is the amount of vegetarian and gluten free options. Loads. And a few vegan plates thrown in as well. We will definitely return with Katie’s gluten free eating husband and who knows, we may even bring the gang over for the Strongroom’s Christmas menu later in the year.
We thanked our hosts on the way out and with our stomachs lined, continued our evening with a mini Shoreditch pub crawl. Cheers, Tony. We’ll be back.
(Not being used to getting something for nothing (well, free food in exchange for a review) I have made a donation to the Trussell Trust, an NGO/charity that co-ordinates the only nationwide network of food banks in the country)