Review: Rodells, Watford

Feast

Feast

They say the best things in life are worth some effort. If you want some excellent food, popping to the food court at the shopping centre ain’t going to make your taste buds’ dreams come true. So when I say that you all better bloody travel to Watford, you better bloody travel to Watford. In fact, I’m probably going to be shouting about this for the rest of the year. Zone 3 just became so much trendier. Watford is the place to go. Watford is the new East London. (Just with fewer moustaches and fixies.)

All of this enthusing is due to one place: Rodells.

Rodells... usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells… usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells

Rodells

Rodells is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution. It’s a food haven, a theatre, a family home, an evening hang-out and a democracy.

Rodells is the kind of place where you can spend five hours enjoying a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

Admittedly, I was a little sceptical when I received an email inviting me to Watford, but as I read on, my interest was piqued. Most restaurants have a speciality, even if it’s broad and regional in scope. ‘Modern European’ or ‘Pan-Asian’ might sound familiar. My most eclectic experience was probably when I visited a restaurant in Brasov that specialised in Mexican, but also served Hungarian and Romanian (and incidentally was fantastic).

Rodells takes eclecticism to a new level. The theme: world tapas. The reason: one man called Mario Tavares.

Cooking is like taking a photograph, Mario tells us. There is that one second where everything aligns and you have a beautiful shot, and a second later, the moment’s gone.

We’re sitting in a cosy upstairs room with Monty Python projected on the back wall. Rodells is a rather characterful property on the corner of some crossroads. Downstairs is a bar and some wooden counter seating, and larger restaurant tables are dotted around the two upstairs rooms.

Silent entertainment

Silent entertainment

Spending his early years in Macau, Mario moved to London just before his teens. However, the capital couldn’t contain him: he travelled the world as musician and film producer, playing for Motorhead, Paul Young and Keith Allen when he was a stand-up. During his adventures, he did what any self-respecting foodie would do and ate his way through a variety of cuisines. Yet Mario took his love of food one step further: he tracked down recipes.

‘I do a Thai green curry that’s not a Thai green curry,’ he tells us, perched at our table. ‘I learned the recipe in Kerala.’ It’s the kind of story that makes you blink twice. Whilst on the beach, he had been approached by a guy who sold three items: coconut oil, green curry and sunglasses. Brave or reckless – take your pick – Mario tried the curry and was blown away to the point where he pestered the man for the recipe.

Mario is clearly as creative as his background and the surrounds suggest. Food for him is ‘performance’; it’s an art form. Before he creates anything, he visualises it clearly in his mind. The theatrics extend to visitors’ dining experiences. Originally, each table had a blackboard built into them, each with a different menu. People had to strategically choose their menu depending on what they wanted to eat. For a past Valentine’s Day event, Mario hired an actress to sit drinking wine alone at a table. Whenever anyone went to the toilet, she would follow them and have an angry conversation on her phone at her good-for-nothing boyfriend who’d stood her up. This idea is so cheeky and hilarious that I grin every time I think of it.

As for the menu, we weren’t quite prepared for the scope of it: Korean, English, Portuguese, Louisianan, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish, Lebanese, Cantonese… the list goes on.

Arriving at Rodells, we had been greeted by a tall, good-looking young man, who thankfully insisted on talking us through the list of world cuisines.

‘I’m very into food,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the right place,’ I thought.

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes?

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes.

Choosing what to order was agony. Today’s menu contained no less than 28 tapas dishes and three larger dishes. As an obsessive foodie, I got out my biro and began marking ‘definites’ and ‘potentials’, whilst grilling our waiter, Louis, on his preferences. The menu changes daily; Mario’s repertoire consists of 130 dishes that he has collected over the years. He has two assistant chefs, Louis informed us, but they can only cook four dishes to the right standard. We all try them and vote whether they’re good enough, he explained. What a lovely gastronomic democracy.

Pretty pretty food

Pretty pretty food

Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

In the end, we ordered one of the ‘mains’ that Louis raved about – flat iron steak (£14.50). This was served beautifully rare with a delicate pepper cream sauce and some of the best frites that we’ve had in a while – frites that actually tastes of potatoes rather than crispy air. The steak was clearly fantastic quality but had been a little over-enthusiastically peppered, which detracted from the flavour of the beef itself. Fortunately, the cream sauce did much to alleviate any mouth-burning and was also delicious in its own right.

Mac 'n cheese sushi style

Mac ‘n cheese sushi style

Next up, we had ‘mac n cheese sushi style’ (£8). Before you wrinkle your nose with revulsion, let me state now that no raw fish was mixed with cheese or pasta! The macaroni cheese is cooked, then rolled in breadcrumbs into a cylindrical shape and sliced like sushi. Each delicate ‘sushi’ piece is then topped with a blob of sweet mustard sauce. Not being the biggest macaroni cheese fan in the world and highly wary of ordering pasta out in this country, we only chose this based on rave reviews from previous bloggers and being assured it was a ‘favourite’.

One mouthful and its popularity suddenly made sense. It was not the rubbery, chewy lump I had expected but was soft with perfect consistency. The cheese, in our opinion, was a little too strong for the dish, but we fully enjoyed the concept: it’s rare that a single dish becomes an experience in itself.

Nonya chicken curry

Nonya chicken curry

Next up, we tucked into another customer favourite – ‘nonya chicken curry’ (£6), described as the ‘sexiest curry in the world’. Nonya – or nyonya – is a Malaysian curry that’s prepared by women for women. Women feeding women? How could that not be sexy?! Seriously, and with all mildly crass jokes aside, this curry had a very sexy flavour. It was mild but rich, with faint hints of lemongrass. The chicken was a little dry, but the sauce was so amazing that I would happily eat this every day. I would drink it for breakfast.

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Along came a jambalaya with prawns and chorizo (£6). The rice was cooked to perfection and pepped well with fresh oregano. Sadly, the chorizo was bland and so there was little smoky, garlicky, paprika flavour to permeate the rice. This was the only disappointment for me.

Portuguese stifado

Portuguese stifado

For the savoury dishes, we finished off with a Portuguese stifado (£6), which Mario sometimes also calls Greek stifado as the dish is also found there. This is a beef stew that’s wonderfully flavoured with cassia bark – like a warmer, less sweet and earthier variation of cinnamon. It’s a dish that is truly comforting and is popular across the ages.

The dessert menu was profoundly traumatic. There was far too many delicious things begging to be sampled. In the end, we ordered three desserts – purely for quality control purposes. Obviously. Ahem.

Marry me.

Marry me.

The brownies (£4.50) were pleasant yet unremarkable, but the lemon and ginger cheesecake (£4.50) was marriage material. The base was crisp and thin and the flavours were so expertly balanced that the lemon and ginger pulled off a perfect duet in my mouth, scoring a 10.

The best carrot cake in the world

The best carrot cake in the world

Concluding the munchathon, we delved into possibly one the tastiest carrot cakes in the world (£4.50). It was again harmonious with warm spice cut by beautiful sweet icing. This is the kind of cake that would audition other cakes to get into cake heaven.

If food is performance, then Mario has mastered his ingredients well – they sing and dance to the taste buds. Occasionally, they might miss the odd beat but the show remains a stunning success.

Rodells 4.5/5 – Brilliant tapas-style dishes from around the world in a homey setting. Bring your friends and dig in!

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 5/5
Atmosphere 5/5

Web: www.itsrodells.com / @itsrodells
Where:
1a St Johns Road, Watford WD17 1PU
When:
Lunch 11 – 3pm; Dinner 5 – 11pm; Breakfast – delivery to some local post codes.

Review: One Blenheim Terrace (much steak love)

IT'S SO BIG

IT’S SO BIG

Oh, what’s this? A review of a Michelin-recommended restaurant? How is Pheebz affording this, then? Well…

1) I had a Groupon voucher that gave me £40 of food for just £20.

2) The food is really not that outrageously priced, especially for the quality and portion sizes.

We were sat in a chic, modern and airy restaurant and presented with a tantalising menu. A very friendly and genuine waiter came to take our order.

As this is an upmarket place, little complimentary items arrived. Not only did we get some fresh bread, but we got miniature… plant pots.

Super kawaii! ^_^

Super kawaii! ^_^

Plant pot

Plant pot – everything is edible save the pot 😉

Yes, once we’d done the obligatory squealing at its cuteness (I have spent too much time in Japan where anything small is automatically cute), we investigated this beautiful presentation. The pot was filled with a mayonnaise-like sauce, and covered in “earth” – soya pieces. Little veggies were then artfully arranged. My co-diner found the dip a little tangy and peculiar, especially as the veggies weren’t enough to eat all of it, but I’m a sauce-fiend so I ploughed through it in seconds.

For starters, we tucked into artichoke soup (~£6?). It had a very mild and slightly earthy flavour, but we really appreciated its subtlety. Plus, the portion size was very generous.

Artichoke soup

Artichoke soup

The main course meant I ended up like this:

OMG STEAK FANGIRL MOMENT

OMG STEAK FANGIRL MOMENT

You may already know that I am OBSESSED with beef. Obsessed. My mother craved it when she was pregnant with me and I therefore blame her for my carnivorous addiction. The smell of roast beef in the oven results in me half-stumbling and drooling towards the kitchen and hanging around vacantly until the beef is served on the table.

Therefore, when I saw Bone-In Rib-Eye Steak and Chips (£27) and I remembered my lovely Groupon offer, my excitement was extreme. Behold this glorious piece of meat and admire its 300g of beauty:

I am in love with this whopper

I am in love with this whopper

The steak was succulent, flavoursome, tender – and perfectly cooked. In short, it was everything I could have wanted from a steak. Not even the rather strange Café de Paris butter could detract from its majesty – although a garlic butter accompaniment might have elevated it even further. It was still, however, the finest steak I’ve eaten in a while.

Top this off with expertly crisp chips and perfect vegetables, and this was heaven. Quite often restaurants let themselves down on the vegetables – poor quality, bland and/or overcooked. Not One Blenheim Terrace – the asparagus and spinach (£4.50 each) really were mouthwatering.

Veggie heaven

Veggie heaven

Veggie heaven

Veggie heaven

For dessert, I took deep-fried Oreos with vanilla ice-cream (£6), which, despite sounding gloriously gluttonous, I actually found a little bit unexciting.

Deep-fried Oreos

Deep-fried Oreos

My co-diner took freshly-made Madeleines – simple little sponge cakes – with a rich, chocolatey hot sauce (£4). This was by far the better choice for the quality chocolate hit and for the price.

Madeleines

Madeleines with hot chocolate hotness

Just when we thought the delights were over, we were presented with complimentary chocolate brownies to take home.

Yay for complimentary brownies!

Yay for complimentary brownies!

All packed up for home

All packed up for home

All this was accompanied by really warm service. One minor gripe – we paid with cash, including tip, and a waiter who hadn’t served us ‘forgot’ to bring us out £4 of change. A little bit of a disappointing ending to what was a fantastic meal.

One Blenheim Terrace 4/5 – Great portions and great quality. Beef-lovers – go and eat their steak. And take me, please.

Food 4.5/5 – Delicious.
Value 4/5 – For the quality and portion-size, I won’t complain.
Atmosphere 4/5 – Laid back.
Service 4/5 – A really lovely team, save for the one waiter at the end of the meal.

Website: http://www.oneblenheimterrace.co.uk/
Where: 
1 Blenheim Terrace, London, NW8 0EH
When: Tues – Sat 9am – 11pm, Sun 10am – 4pm

Review: L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, Covent Garden

Inside

The stage…

I’ve not done Michelin dining before but it was London Restaurant Week so I thought I’d splash out on a three-course for £35 deal at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon. As it turns out, they run the same deal anyway as a pre-theatre menu. But never mind. I was off to eat at an award-winning two Michelin star restaurant in Covent Garden. The website boasts that Joël Robuchon’s restaurants have gathered a total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.

This was serious business; this was the pinnacle of gastronomy.

This was also a trip to the circus.

Why the circus, you ask? Because L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon takes pretension to the level of blatant performance, leaving the entire experience hollow at best and discomfiting at worse.

Let me explain. The inside is dark. Very dark. Green leaves line one wall. There are a few tables and a sleek counter with high, red stools, focused around a central bar and kitchen. This is the stage for the evening’s entertainment – the waiters.

Peeking at part of the stage...

Peeking at part of the stage…

Highly aware of the pretensions and expectations of their wealthy customers, the waiters camp things up to the extreme. Their accents thicken, they glance knowingly at each other before executing some flamboyant gesture, and they call out “OOH LA LA” at every opportunity. Getting louder and louder in some form of competition.

I wanted to shout “BOOBIES” very loudly because I’m pretty sure that was closer to the original version of the game. You know, the game where you start saying something random/rude and get louder and louder to see which one of you will dare to shout it the loudest. Somehow though, I think “BOOBIES” would have been frowned upon in L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, but maybe if I adopted French swear words it would have been acceptable. In fact, I think I might return just to see how loudly I can shout “Casse-toi, con!” and get away with it.

Sustenance

Sustenance

We perched onto the counter seats and awaited some food. They provided us with a basket of bread. This is a necessity in Michelin-star restaurants: it is to ensure that you don’t faint with hunger from the small portions and can at least make it out the door without collapsing.

Parmesan cappuccino

Parmesan cappuccino

We were served an amuse-bouche  – a Parmesan cappuccino with foie gras and a port reduction. The Parmesan flavour was strong but expertly balanced by the sweetness of the port and the richness of the foie gras. It definitely amused my bouche, although my dining partner was less amused. However, our evenings clowns were not going to be forgiving.

“Is something wrong with your amuse-bouche, monsieur?” A waiter inquired, a little too loudly and a little too directly.

My friend hastily ate up. “I got told!” he muttered.

Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli

Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli

For starters, we took “Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli”. The velouté (a creamy sauce) was very mild and delicately flavoured and the goat’s cheese provided a stronger contrast of flavour. Definitely tasty, but three pieces of ravioli somewhat limited the enjoyment. Literally.

Veal

Veal roulade

Veal

Veal roulade

Beef

Beef with red miso

Then the mains. I wish – I wish – I could remember them well enough to describe them properly…but the fact I can’t probably is a good enough review in itself. I ordered beef in red miso, which was unspectacular. My dining partner took some kind of rolled veal,which was a lot tastier than my beef but a little chewy. I really can’t remember because, to be honest, the unfolding self-mocking cultural parody somewhat detracted from the food. At first, I found the scenario highly amusing, but it grew tiring.

Chocolate - hooray!

Chocolate – hooray!

The evening was saved by the fact that L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon was not too posh for straight up chocolate and a big portion of it. It may not have been the richest, most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever consumed, but it seriously elevated my happiness levels.

By the end of the meal, I concluded that maybe Michelin-star dining just isn’t for me. I can cope with that, and so can my wallet.

Petit fours

Petit fours

L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon 2/5 – Yawn. Unmemorable food in a ridiculous environment. 

Food 3/5 – It was pleasant but not tantalising to the taste-buds.
Value 2/5 – It was good quality. That’s what saves it from getting 1/5.
Atmosphere 2/5 – Counter seating and smart-casual dress code means it’s not  super-posh, but the weird performance by the staff awkwardly co-opts diners into the role of part-audience, part-participants. Not the most relaxing.
Service 2/5 – Stop the ooh-la-las. Please. And don’t try to embarrass your customers. That is not a clever strategy.

Website: http://www.joelrobuchon.co.uk/
Where:  13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE
When: Every day 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm