As usual, I’ve eaten out too much this last few months (if such a thing were possible, I’m not personally sure it is – rather like there being too much cheese. Can’t get my head around it) which is why, conversely, I haven’t blogged much. Making excuses about being too busy is much easier than sitting down and judging stuff. But now I find myself in, on a Saturday evening, and blogging is more fun than cleaning, so I’m going to bite the bullet and try to post on a few places, all in London, which have made me more or less happy in the last month or so, starting with:

Wapping Food (at the Wapping Project), Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, London E1W 3SG

Just down the road (albeit quite a long road) from my office, I’m only really now beginning to appreciate the WP, which is housed in the main hall of the old Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. This is a spectacular building, with huge windows along one side and mysterious, heavy machinery ranged down the other, covered in tempting dials. I brought my dear old friend JS here because he lives in Leicester and though he lived in London for years, I knew that he wouldn’t have been (why would you, it’s in Wapping) or have seen anything like it. It’s a really brilliant place to bring people who like cool things or whom you want to impress, especially as you can now get there on the Overground. It’s astonishingly pleasantly lit for such a massive room, all sparkly bits, candles and uplighting but then it is also (actually mostly) an art gallery, so the owner, Jules, has a pretty good eye. They’ve done some amazing projects here including Richard Wilson’s Butterfly. Remember to go out of both the doors at the back of the dining hall and have a look at the exhibition space (down) and the roof (up).

We had a really superb dinner – grilled squid and fish stew to start, both very simple but really fantastic; proper taste explosion sort of stuff. We both plumped for venison, which was unctuous and wonderful and elicited ‘wow’s from both of us. I can’t help thinking that it’s a tiny bit overpriced (main course venison was £19.50, which I think is a bit steep, though I’ve looked back on the website since and venison pie, which isn’t quite the same thing, is about 17 quid which somehow I think is more reasonable). The staff are very formal, but very sweet and the presentation of the food is faultless, really pleasing. I suppose in the end that’s the point; fine dining with fine service and really bloody nice glassware, in a spot you wouldn’t expect it.

One word of warning however: it has quite an annoying website. If you want the phone number, DON’T CLICK ANYTHING. It’s at the end of the scrolling text along the bottom of the home page. Or, it’s here: 020 7680 2080. If you want to eat after about 8.30pm you’ll probably need to call and book, because all the people who live in the amazing warehouse flats looking out on to the river come home from their jobs in the City, and it’s more fun eating here than firing up the unused Neff oven which probably still has the instruction manual sitting disconsolately under the grill.

After a hideous week of Frieze art fair, being ill and relaunching the features section of my newspaper, my dear friend L and I escaped the madness on Sunday night and went to Andrew Edmunds. AE is the quintessential Soho establishment – cramped, candlelit, friendly and with a bloody brilliant wine list. The food is very nice, but it’s not really the point – you go for the atmosphere. Having said that, despite the fact that we were too busy bitching to do anything but inhale our dinner, we did pause for a moment to appreciate L’s particularly tasty starter of Gorgonzola and pear risotto, which, having an unexpected night in on Tuesday, I was inspired to recreate. Approximately. It wasn’t completely successful but I think it worked pretty well.

In butter, cook up about half a pear, chopped into modest chunks, on a low heat until softish (about 15-20 mins) then put it aside while you make the rice, which I cooked with a bit of garlic. The garlic might have been unnecessary. Had I had any white wine open I probably would have put a slug in with the stock, which I think would have refined it slightly. When the rice was cooked I stirred in the pear and the cheese – about the same volume as the pear, and a small amount of grated Parmesan. Annoyingly, Waitrose didn’t have any Gorgonzola, darling, so I made do with dolcelatte. It’s not as good, too mild and too soft – Gorgonzola would probably retain its structural integrity a bit more (i.e. not melt) but you get the idea. The key is to then stir in a handful of finely chopped fresh parsley, which lifts all the flavours and stops it from being too cloying. Needless to say I forgot to do this. Still, it gave me very entertaining dreams.

It might sound somewhat off message but bear with me. After sitting in the cinema on my own barely breathing, I had to post something about this new film with Tilda Swinton I Am Love.

SPOILER ALERT. 

It’s the story of a woman, the Russian wife of a stiff Italian industrialist, who embarks on a passionate affair (obviously. Aren’t they always? Isn’t that the point?) with a young chef. Entirely, as far as I can see, because of the way he cooks a prawn. The moment when she tastes the dish he makes for her, slowly sliding her knife (a fish knife, incidentally, the continued use in swanky restaurants of which item of cutlery fills me with red-tinged rage, but that’s another post) through the flesh of the glistening prawn while all the sounds of polite conversation and tinkling china around her fade into the background, is the most evocative expression I have ever seen on film of what happens when you taste something that completely blows your mind. It made me want to go out and find myself a chef, immediately.

On a cultural note, it’s the sort of film that appeals to all the senses. It looks glorious, the sound, especially the music, bypasses your brain and grabs at your heart, and you can practically smell the food, the countryside, the sun-drenched city.  It should be added very close to the top of the woefully short list of great foodie films (another favourite is La Grande Bouffe, though that’s a rather different proposition, I admit). It is understated but heart-stoppingly dramatic at the same time – there’s an operatic quality about it, without the singing or the improbably large women posing as flighty ingenues. Go and see it.

Bocca di Lupo – 12 Archer Street, London W1
 
After failing to get a table anywhere in Soho after an exhibition opening the other week, M and I ended up in BdL again, and wondered why we hadn’t just gone there in the first place. I love this place. There’s something about the earthy, unrepentant flavours that you get here which is just incredibly sexy. Don’t go there if you don’t love food. If you don’t know it, it specialises in regional Italian dishes, nearly all of which you’re guaranteed never to have tried. Pretty much everything is available in two sizes, so you can treat it like tapas if, like me, you’re a gluttonous pig and want to taste all of it. You don’t always fancy every dish on the changing menu (I’m glad I’ve tried the foccaccia with lung and spleen simmered in lard with smoked ricotta, but I won’t be trying it again) but there’s always enough that intrigues and then delights to make you feel like raving about it. I used to feel the same way about St John (in Farringdon – there’s also a smaller one in Spitalfields), but now I only ever go there for roasted bone marrow and anchovy toast in the bar. Serving hare leg and mash without gravy, twice, counts as two strikes in my book.
 
This time at BdL (where, incidentally, they might actually have the nicest staff in London) we were bowled over by a frittata with spaghetti & mullet bottarga (roe), a kind of ultimate picnic dish from Campania comprising both breakfast and lunch. I really enjoyed the porcini and fontina arancini, though they could have done with quite a lot more porcini. Our favourite dishes were two very, very different sausages which actually made us pause in our gossiping and stare at each other – rustic pork and foie gras sausage with farro & porcini from Trentino was coarse and punchy with none of the smooth finesse you’d expect from foie gras, while cotechino with lentils and fig mostarda from Emilia-Romagna was soft and delicate, almost patéish – both completely opposite from what we had expected but both obscenely delicious. Though we didn’t have it on this occasion, I think it’s worth mentioning what I think is the best dessert I’ve tasted in a long time, which is sanguinaccio – a sweet paté of pig’s blood and chocolate from Abruzzo. My friend S and I tried it the first time we ever went to BdL, and we’re both still tiresomely going on about it. It’s like a chocolate pot – sort of a solid mousse, or a cold ganache – but rather than becoming cloying and over-rich halfway down, the blood cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate and gives it a freshness that S first mistook for herbs. I suppose you could imagine a slightly metallic edge to it if you tried hard enough. It is simply one of the most miraculous marriages of flavour I’ve ever experienced. They serve it with sourdough bread (yawn), which I think unnecessary, and for some reason they insist on topping it with uncooked pine nuts, which I think is just perverse, but others disagree. I just pick them off and scrape it all out with a spoon. Divine.
 
The wine list is also very good, but one of the best things about BdL is the staff (did I mention the staff?), all of whom know all about the food, how it’s made, what’s in it, whether particular dishes will fight against each other, and they can always suggest a decent wine (regional, Italian, naturally), which you can buy by the glass, carafe, or bottle.
 
The exhibition, by the way, was The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters at the Royal Academy, which is well worth braving the inevitable seething mass. The first two rooms are a bit brown (being before the painter moved to the south of France and discovered colour) and will be a bit frustrating when it’s full, but from room three onwards it is a glorious revelation. Sunflowers, which hangs in the National Gallery and is appallingly lit, pales beside these vivid, luminous canvases, which reproduce that sort of ear-splitting light that you get in the south of France in a way which no camera will ever match. Alongside the paintings are some of the many hundreds of letters that Van Gogh wrote during his life, often to his brother Theo (who bankrolled him for the whole of his ten year career as a painter), in which he talks poignantly about his state of mind and explains what he has been working on, using exquisite little sketches to show his brother how the work is progressing. It is both beautiful and moving. M, who works in contemporary art and was thoroughly gloomy about being dragged along to see it, was completely blown away. If you can, go.