Monday, 12 August 2013

10 Greek Street

10 Greek Street is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it white tile and matt black-fronted restaurant in the road parallel to Frith Street down from Soho Square, an area already blessed with some of the best eateries in town. Opened around 18 months ago and run by Luke Wilson (ex manager of Exmouth Market's The Ambassador and Liberty Wines rep) at front of house and Cameron Emirali (former Head Chef of the Wapping Project) in the kitchen, there is a no-reservations policy for dinner, although you can book lunch or the private dining room.

The no-frills approach continues inside with a stripped down but stylish, relaxing interior: dark-grouted white rectangular wall tiles (which always remind me of those grand Victorian bathrooms, but in a good way), garden flowers in milk bottles, bare walls and blackboards displaying the daily changing menu. The cutlery is in a container at your table, which gave me a sudden post-traumatic stress flashback to eating in Texas until a glance at the menu brought me back to the here and now.

The menu segues between tasting plates, starters and main courses; we had a sharing head on, and our unflappable waitress was happy to oblige. You can have tapas-y nibbles, starters, starter portions of main courses and/or main courses shared between two, and that's before you get to the desserts. Oh, and even though the menu changes daily, they still have specials: while we were perusing the menu, we plumped for the starter special, a Parmesan-crusted duck egg with truffle mayonnaise.

Truffles are like expensive perfume - a little goes an awfully long way, and they can very easily become overpowering and unpleasant. I need not have feared, as this was a spectacular introduction to our evening; the egg was perfectly soft-centred, the coating beautifully golden and crisp and the truffle mayonnaise flavoured with a deft but sparing hand.

We decided to share a combination of starter options and then see how we felt about ordering a main. The first to arrive was the octopus, potatoes and paprika; for me, this was a perfect summer dish that looked beautiful and reminded me of long mellow evenings at a beach-side taverna or trattoria. Generous pieces of unexpectedly tender octopus, peppery olive oil and the spike of paprika balanced perfectly with soft chunks of potatoes to soak up all the flavours - wonderful.

10 Greek Street also has an excellent and very reasonably-priced wine list that gives you the choice of a small 125ml glass, a 375ml carafe, or a bottle for most of the wines available, meaning you can easily and affordably marry up wines and dishes should you choose to. We went for a carafe of the crisp and citrussy Vermentino, which was really good and went well with everything we ordered.

Next to arrive was the spaghettini, girolles, leeks and summer truffle: again this was a really carefully put together dish, the flavours complementing each other beautifully. It was quite a sizeable portion for a starter, especially considering that it is very buttery and quite filling. We then had the clams, chorizo and peas which was again a good size, served with toasted home-made bread. I was beginning to appreciate that the decor (and indeed the website) reflect the whole ethos of the food at 10 Greek Street: nothing fussy, nothing pretentious, nothing unnecessary, concentrating on quality and balanced (although sometimes unexpected) combinations that really work. This was delicious; excellent chorizo, again not allowed to overpower the dish but complementing the clams and the fresh peas beautifully.

It was at this point, just as we had decided that we couldn't fit in a main course and would head straight for desserts, that the table next to us got their dish of rare spring lamb, white beans, preserved lemon, watercress and chilli. I knew I wasn't hungry enough but I couldn't help feeling a pang of envy, it looked so good. I suspect that every diner in the place was mentally planning their next meal there - although of course you can't as the menu changes daily, depending on seasonal influences and Emirali's gifted imagination.

Chatting to owner Luke Wilson, I asked how he would characterise a menu that offered dishes as diverse as monkfish wrapped in vine leaves, spaghettini with girolles and plaice with brown shrimp. Acknowledging a strong Mediterranean influence together with a classic British feel but given a fresh and inspired twist, and given that 'Cam's cuisine' is not yet a recognised term in food writing (though give it time - Cameron Emirali has both vision and talent, and lots of it), 'Modern European' is about the closest fit.

We chose two very different desserts to share - a gooseberry and elderflower crumble with crème anglaise (basically a very light pouring custard) and raspberry sorbet with vodka. Neither disappointed; the crumble was light and beautifully textured, the fruit retaining just enough sharpness, and the sorbet was smooth, fresh and zingy, with the vodka adding a little kick of interest at the end.

If you haven't tried 10 Greek Street yet, or if the pared-down look has put you off, go. Go now. Trust me, you won't be disappointed - this place is a gem. I'm already planning my next trip.

Yours, a new card-carrying Cam Cuisine groupie,

Girl About Town xx

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Monday, 5 August 2013

Visions of the Universe

Visions of the Universe is the latest exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (on now, until 15th September), dedicated to the memory of the wonderful Sir Patrick Moore and showcasing incredible images of the stars, planets and galaxies above us. You don't need to be an astronomy boffin either; photography fans are in for a particularly supermassive treat but anyone who has ventured outside of London's light pollution and just stared up at the night sky will be transported back to that feeling of sheer wonder.

The exhibition includes photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA, The Royal Observatory's Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and über-hip Turner Prizewinner Wolfgang Tillmans. Some images are coloured to show topographical detail (high and low ground) or the gases which make them up; this image of the moon clearly shows the craters, scars caused by billions of years' worth of asteroid bombardment. The largest crater on the moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin, is nearly 1500 miles across - that's roughly from here (London) to Moscow - and over five miles deep. No wonder asteroid collisions are the subject of disaster movies; and this is just one of the many instances of scale in this exhibition that are truly mind-boggling.

There are some beautiful and fascinating photographs of the sun, using ultraviolet images to show the seething surface and soaring arcs of gas flowing around the sunspots, and some awesome shots of nebulae from the Hubble Space Telescope. This one of the Eagle nebula looks like a illustration from a fantasy novel but the reality would be hard to beat; this is a photograph of stars being born.

I hadn't realised the extent of the information coming back from NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, which has been on the surface of the planet for a year now; apparently remnants of ancient stream beds show that, billions of years ago, conditions on Mars would have been favourable to life. There is also a cool 13-metre long panorama of the Martian landscape which gives you an idea of what it might be like to stand on Mars and look out over that barren red desert stretching away before you.

A potentially cautionary note to parents desperate to entertain their little cherubs over the summer holidays; I visited on a Sunday afternoon and the atmosphere was still quite grown-up, all subdued lighting and respectful hushed voices. This may or may not suit: I have an endearingly eccentric 11-year old godson who would absolutely love this exhibition, and he has an equally endearing eight-year old sister who would run riot through it. Having said that, the National Maritime Museum itself is kid heaven (even without the special family activities on over the summer) so you could always let them run themselves ragged first and earn yourself a few moments to just stand and stare.

Yours, in quiet amazement,

Girl About Town xx