Flurries of flavour at Foley’s, Fitzrovia

A client once told me in a Paris bar that if you order an Old Fashioned, you’ll always have the respect of the barman. “Sod the barman,” I said, inwardly, because they were a client after all. “If I’m paying a tenner for a drink it’s going to be something I actually like.”

But, to appear obliging, I ordered an Old Fashioned, with Blanton’s Special Reserve, the client’s recommendation. The barman didn’t seem to have any feelings one way or another about my choice of drink, though I made myself available for the promised appreciative look, the knowing nod of one professional drinker to another. Perhaps I missed it. Either way, I hated my Old Fashioned. I downed it as quickly as possible and ordered a Clover Club.

Last week, however, I discovered there is such thing as a nice Old Fashioned, and it can be found at Foley’s, Fitzrovia. It’s got chai in it, which complements the smokiness of the whisky while also diluting the innate whiskiness of the headline act. Mark, the whisky drinker, had two. Mike, the whisky hater, had three. It was fantastic. I’ve never banged on about a drink for three whole paragraphs before.

I first ate at Foley’s almost exactly a year ago when it first opened, lured in by the pedigree of the chef (Mitz Vora, formerly of The Palomar) and a menu of creative small plates that read, to the perennially greedy, like erotica. The service seesawed violently between breezily overfamiliar and curiously indifferent, but the food was impressive. I didn’t blog about it because it was my birthday dinner and nothing sucks the fun from a night out faster than the guest of honour making notes on the menu, but I do have fond memories (and Instagram posts) of tamarind pork belly and charcoal-grilled Korean-style chicken ‘thigh ends’. Say what you like about chicken’s arses, there’s good eating on them.

A year later and the thigh ends are out and tacos are in, though God help you if you don’t order one of these new additions per person. The taco never has, and never will be, a sharing plate, though with so many seductive flavour combinations you’ll have a time of it picking just one. The lamb doner (£7.50) with the usual Middle Eastern suspects – aubergine, tahini, lettuce and a harem of sauces getting everything nice and slippery – is safe but done exceptionally well, the flavours booming but balanced and the lamb meltingly soft. The Goan crab (£10.00) was my personal favourite, served with crispy shallots and a acerbic lime pickle.

Like many small plate restaurants, Foley’s is not in the business of pumping you with carbohydrates, lest you decide you’re too full to order that last dish. This shows in the Kerala Parotta (£4.00), a very, very tiny portion of bread (we asked for a top up) with a selection of homemade sauces, which ended up being slathered over almost everything else. This included a portion of spiced sweet potato fritters (£7.00), which we thought were absolutely smashing, the zing of the curried potato offset nicely by slithers of grilled pineapple.

The rib eye steak (£16) was, predictably, the most expensive thing on the menu, but I didn’t rate it. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that steak doesn’t belong on small plate menus. It doesn’t have the sass and free spirit to be having its wicked way with everyone around the table. Steak is a monogamous creature, and should be served as one great big, luscious hunk ‘o meat for one (or two if you’re doing the chateaubriand thing, which is the culinary equivalent of a very posh threesome). If beef is being invited to put its keys in the bowl then it needs to be in strips of brisket, or a deep-fried ox cheek croquette, or in a pie. Otherwise there isn’t enough to be satisfying, and it invariably gets sliced up which means it goes cold. For £16, I’d rather have two portions of the sticky pork, whose combination of velvety flesh, crispy pig’s ears, toasted cashews and Rice Krispies (!) presented a irresistible smorgasbord of texture.

But even better than the pork was the hake (£10) and the grilled octopus (£11) from the sea section (naturally). I loved the octopus especially, which was served with a rich black sesame-infused mayo that burned with garlic, and clods of spicy pork mince. Oof.

Alas, the pudding menu was a relative disaster. Mark’s brown butter popcorn ice cream (£7) was just Too Much, like being punched – pow! – right in the kisser. There were buttery flavours, salty flavours, caramel flavours and bacon flavours all vying for attention like a car-load of pent-up children, all of whom were recovering crack addicts. It reminded me of the lobster ice cream I once tried, which wasn’t even excusable even at 3am in Las Vegas. PSA to maverick ice cream-makers: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Mike went for the ‘Fatboy Elvis’ (£6.00), a warm chocolate chip banana cake with banana cream, bacon (MORE BLOODY BACON) and jam. Now, there wasn’t enough jam, but my biggest problem was the name. You cannot call something a ‘Fatboy Elvis’ and then present something the size of a jumbo fish finger. It’s false advertising. An Elvis pudding should be enormous, unapologetic and capable of getting 10,000 girls simultaneously frothing at the gusset. That aside though, it was a new and interesting, thoughtfully-made thing. Even the bacon worked. So my advice to Foley’s’ pudding-wrangler is to a) make it bigger and b) make it jammier. Then they might have a real show-stopper on their hands.

Ignoring the desserts, our experience at Foley’s was overwhelmingly positive. Come for the Old Fashioneds, stay for the food (then bugger off home for a Choc Ice).

Foley’s, 23 Foley St, Fitzrovia, London, W1W 6DU

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.