Category Archives: Restaurants

My thoughts, reviews and recommendations of restaurants and eateries

Around the world (a greedy few weeks)

A combination of a gland infection, my stag do (and the subsequent mild alcohol-induced brain damage) coupled with some rather mixed reviews from friends as to the point of my blog have been the prime causes of my recent hiatus.  Fear not dear reader – I am now back in full health and have planned a quiet week in order to actually get some cooking and blogging done.

Despite the various maladies that I have been suffering from of late, I have as usual managed to squeeze in some very good eating and the last few weeks have had a particularly international flavour with Thai, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Brazilian on the menu.  I won’t describe them all but here are the highlights:

As well as restaurants I have enjoyed some utterly fantastic home entertaining.  I adore going to friend’s for supper or having dinner parties at home and they are always fun occasions however a recent Mexican feast particularly stands out.  We were served delicious Sopa de Lima which was absolutely bursting with flavour, followed by the most amazing chicken mole which instantly transported me back to our wonderful holiday and first time we tried this unique sauce in Puebla.  It has all left me desperately hankering to go back to Mexico – I could just eat all day there!

All of these delights were preceded by the most awesome home made guacamole (I used to think I made the best but I have been beaten!) with absolutely perfect balance of creamy avocado and piquant chilli. This was served with a selection of jalapenos and pickles and all washed down with amazing tequila.  Typical Brit that I am, I innocently enquired as to the whereabouts of the lime and salt (the traditional accompaniments I am sure you will agree) when I was presented with a rather large measure!  I didn’t realise Tequila even could be sipped but this stuff was superb (in fact a bit too good – we got through quite a lot!). We also enjoyed pulled pork with pickled onion (not the English type) and red rice.  Such a memorable evening – my only concern about the whole thing is how on earth I am ever going to be able to recreate a feast of such epic proportions when we return the hosting favour!

The Feast!

Other recent treats included a banquet for two at the Royal China on Fulham Road.  This was an extra special treat as the fiancés dislike of Chinese is directly proportional to my passion for it. As I had been ill and he is so wonderful he was desperate to take me for a nice treat to cheer me up even if that meant his least favourite food.  My virus did not seem to have any effect on my appetite (sadly as the belly continues to expand at an alarming rate – and before you ask I am not pregnant – I checked!!) and I ordered so much food that the waitress told us with some alarm that she thought we had chosen enough after!  So much food arrived on the table that the poor non-Chinese food liking fiance’s eyes bulged in horror.  Prawns in garlic and chilli salt, smoked chicken, pork ribs, seaweed and ‘hairy prawns’ followed by Peking duck and pancakes etc, followed by vegetables in garlic sauce, special fried rice, chicken in black bean sauce and Kung Po prawns, Followed by (yes this is just for two people, well one and a half really!!) fruit and a delicious coconut jelly style sweet.

Just the warm up - course one of four

I don’t know why I almost don’t want to admit this as I feel I am somehow following the hype but it has to be said that Royal China really does do the best Chinese around.  Rest assured you that the feast (and doggy bag I took home when we finally ran out of steam) was a great tonic and the next day I was fully recovered from my horrid lurgy.

The following night this stomach stretching excess was repeated all over again, this time at Prezo, a Brazilian style meat restaurant.  The premise is that you are given a little card, red on one side, green on the other.  As long as your card is displaying the green light, a constant stream of roasted meats are served cut from a sort of sword they have been roasting on by the passing ‘Passadores’.  I made the fatal error of arriving hungry and piling my plate so full at the salad bar with rice, fried plantain and all sorts of other treats that I did not leave sufficient room for the meat.  Luckily this is the kind of restaurant you go to for an all night scoffing session rather than a quick bite and I got a second wind a little later on.  The absolute highlight for me was the beef ribs – cooked to perfection with a lovely crisp outside and melt in the mouth meat. 

The meat roaster!

And finally we travel to India (by way of Kentish Town) where we supped upon an absolutely delightful Goan fish curry – the flavours were perfectly balanced- it was spicy without being overpowering despite the fact our hosts admitted that 16 green chillies had gone into the mix. I will ask for the recipe and post it shortly. 

I hope that whistle-stop tour around the world has tickled your taste buds!  Until next time….

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Bacaro bacaro

 

Famed for my love of the mighty Negroni, I was recommended to try out the ‘Campari Bar’ which has opened beneath Polpo restaurant on Beak St. On Tuesday night at just after 6 (you need to get there early for any chance of a seat) we wandered through the main restaurant  and down the stairs into a tiny, very dingy room with red lighting and candles.  The room contains a small bar area as well as about four small tables, upon each of which you find your ‘instructions’.

The bar is decorated with classic Campari campaign posters

These (essential in our disorientation) explain that the bar is based on a traditional Venetian   where the form is to pick a wine or spritz (or cocktail!) and point at a couple of the snack or canapé style foods in a small glass cabinet at the bar.  NB – The snacks are not optional as it forms part of the license that you have some food with your Campari!

We ordered a Negroni and an Americano – they were mixed perfectly but I did feel slightly hard done by as these were served in thimble sized glasses which would hardly have satisfied a Borrower!  In the spirit of ‘when in Venice’, our drinks were accompanied by one of all six ‘snacks’ on offer.   Each served on a cocktail stick, these included a small inch-wide square of filled bread which I can only describe as a rather ordinary tuna sandwich, a similar sandwich with salmon, fennel and anchovy on a stick, ham and cheese with an olive, artichoke heart and finally two king prawns in a garlicky sauce.

In addition to Campari the other ‘hero’ spirit behind the bar was Apperol – the lovely barman informed me that  Apperol is the aperitif of choice for Venetians, usually served as a spritz.  He gave me a small taste and it was delicious – very similar to Campari but slightly sweeter and lighter.  Apparently it is not widely sold in the UK but I will be hunting a bottle down as my drink du choix this summer.

My new tipple

We sipped our miniature cocktails and devoured our miniature bar snacks in about 4 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed them.  In spite of this, I don’t think we will be rushing back to the Campari bar, it is almost uncomfortably dark and our two thimbles of cocktail and microscopic sandwiches came to a whopping £21; nevertheless,  as a one-off experience it was good fun and well worth a visit.

Cheltenham’s champion Champignon

A couple of weeks ago we went on a pilgrimage to the fiancé’s homeland – in other words we drove to Cheltenham.  In addition to practising my technique with my newly acquired driving license, (I missed a few ‘give way’ lines and  was accused of trying to kill his parents!), the purpose of the trip was to take my Aunt for dinner at Cheltenham’s Le Champignon Sauvage as a special thank you. The fiancé has been telling me about this place for years so we decided to go and try it out.  I had been geeking up on the history etc in anticipation of the great feast and found that Le Champignon was very highly regarded (it has two Michelin stars) but did not realise quite what a treat I was in for.  Every mouthful was as scrumptious as you would imagine, however it was the combination of ingredients, flavours and textures which was so fascinating and created a restaurant experience unlike any other.

Heston Blumenthal describes the chef (David Everitt-Matthias) as ‘A gastronomic visionary whose imagination is expressed so beautifully through his cooking’.  With this quote ringing in my ears we headed to a quiet street in the Montpelier area of Cheltenham, where I knew we would not be disappointed.

The chef and his creations (Image from staffcanteen.com)

Despite being the kind of person who is very sure of my opinions (You may have noticed!), I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on, commend, or worse, criticise a gastronomic experience of this calibre, created by the chef patron who has been doing what he does so well for almost as long as I have been alive.  I will therefor simply listwhat we had for your delectation.    I won’t pass comment on each course – you can confidently assume it was all amazing, delicious, mouth-watering etc without me endlessly reeling out descriptive platitudes!

We started with a selection of canapés including a goat’s cheese dip, sweet corn and bacon mini muffins and finally (I know I said I wouldn’t) the most amazing parmesan cream cubes rolled in powdered chorizo. This was followed by an amuse bouche of leek and potato soup with a truffle velouté (You know how I feel about truffles).

On to the starters – I was rather less bold than fiancé who opted for the frankly terrifying sounding combination of braised pig’s cheek served with crispy pig’s ear in a risotto of nettle and garden snails!  My choice of lobster tail in Thai broth with kohlrabi and sea cabbage ravioli came served in a beautiful stone bowl which really added to the appeal. 

The main course was superb (sorry!) the most amazing combination of textures and flavours where every bite was almost sweet – a really unique mix of chump of lamb on incredibly smoky aubergine puree with whole hazelnuts and a lemon cream.  Fiancé opted for venison with roasted golden beetroot and quince.  All this was served in the almost homely dining room – the restaurant is run by a husband and wife team and there is a wonderful cosy atmosphere that I think London restaurants would struggle to recreate.

A palate cleansing oat and mascarpone creation followed, and just as we were planning to go on to pudding,  our heads were turned by an eye popping cheeseboard that happened to be wheeled passed at just the right moment.  Resistance was futile – we tried five different cheeses ranging from Vacherin Mont D’or (the mildest!) to Lincolnshire Bomber and particularly pungent Roquefort, all served with superb rye infused crackers.

All of this indulgence was rounded off with pressed apple on a raisin brioche with salted caramel and almonds and as if that wasn’t enough, coffee and petit fours.  We had to be rolled home, especially as this feast had been accompanied by lots of good wine, but it was well worth it for such a wonderful evening in such a unique and special place.

The good, the bad and the zut alors!

Another week and another rant!  This time the at the mid spectrum restaurants of Covent Garden – I realise that from their point of view they know that they can always fill their covers with gullible tourists, but as someone who often finds myself meeting friends in that area for a simple mid-week dinner, I have just had enough of the mediocrity they serve up charging around £30 a head for the privilege.

I realise that I can’t tar every establishment with the same brush but I am constantly irritated by the lack of care that goes into the food and service in this part of town.  This week’s particular disappointment was Boulevard Brasserie.  I have been a couple of times before and found many of the dishes very acceptable if not truly authentic.  They serve French bistro food and have a good reasonably priced wine list so I recommended it to some friends and we all went on Tuesday.

Boulevard Brasserie - Covent Garden

Perhaps at this point it is important to highlight that to Boulevard Brasserie’s detriment; I had only a few days previously been to another French restaurant called ‘La Buvette’ in Richmond.  Some may consider it to be unfair to compare the two but they are both bistro style restaurants and  surprisingly when you consider the difference in quality, service and ambience, extremely similarly priced.  I think therefore the comparison merely serves to reinforce my point about how sloppy and lacklustre many of what I would describe as ‘mid range’ eateries in Covent Garden have become.

To continue the theme of fair comparison, I completely by chance ordered very similar dishes in each, starting with rustic fish soup. I adore Rouille – I could literally eat it from the tub – that rich garlic and cayenne pepper infused sauce that no fish soup can be without.   At La Buvette I was not disappointed (other than the portion size but I realise that is my foible not theirs) – the flavour, colour and texture were exceptional.  Boulevard’s rouille on the other hand could at best be described as like lumpy Philadelphia with a couple of splashes of yellow food dye – so disappointing and without even a hint of either garlic or mayonaise!  The croutons were good, very crisp but clearly from a packet and the measly gruyere gratings were bland and tasted ‘fridgey’.  Despite the difference in toppings both soups were good – full of flavour and thick without being stodgy although as a rouille fanatic the Boulevard one was ruined for me.

Other than their so called ‘pomme puree’ which was like being transported back to being served a tepid dollop of potato at the school canteen, I will now stop bashing poor Boulevard – my main of sea bass on green beans with pesto and black olives was pleasant but dull and I had lost the will by then to try pudding.

Back to the spirit of positive reviewing – my main course at La Buvette comprised of a really interesting combination of soft sea bream fillet with a crisp salt cod beignet on a haricot blanc purée – the contrasting textures of the fried and the grilled fish all came together in the mouth with the intensely tomatoey harissa which along with the bean puree, bound the elements of the dish together beautifully.  Most importantly the pomme puree did exactly what it said on the tin – creamy buttery potato with the texture of velvet – superb!

La Buvette

The Buvette dinner was preceded with a really interesting Prosecco and Violet combination and was greedily rounded off with punchy, melty Vacherin served in large spoons and sadly there was no room for pudding – oh well it is the perfect excuse to go back for more …

Alsi in wonderland

I remember watching in absolute wonderment when Heston Blumenthal created his feast inspired by the Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. The part that I found the most magical was the triple flavoured drink where each sip has a different flavour – I have longed to try it for myself ever since.

To my utter joy I read recently about the Sanderson hotel putting on a ‘Mad Hatter Tea Party’ – I assumed it was a one off event but closer inspection revealed they are doing sittings to the tea daily until March for £25 per person. I had rarely been so excited – the menus looked and sounded so sensational that I was sold before I had even tasted anything. We started with classic finger sandwiches, where the twist was the rainbow of breads they came in: Ham and mustard in saffron bread, cucumber in bright purple beetroot bread, egg on brown and finally smoked salmon in a spinach tinged green. (Despite the beautiful presentation, my criticism would be that they were all a bit lacking in filling).

This was followed by the presentation of what can only be described as the cake stand of dreams! There was a chocolaty coffee style cream layered cake in the shape of the white rabbit’s stopwatch and a beautiful pink cake inscribed with the words ‘Eat me’ where chilled white chocolate encased a uniquely fresh tasting, tart strawberry mouse. With these delicacies sampled it was time to move onto the Holy Grail – the long anticipated ‘Drink me’. I savoured every second of this puce mini beverage – the background flavour was a sort of butterscotch angel delight throughout however there was a genuine, noticeable difference in each sip. The first sip, billed as apple pie had definite cinnamon notes, followed by a second mouthful with a subtle citrus taste representing the lemon curd and a final taste of classic English toffee. The flavours were not as distinct as I had imagined but I cannot tell you how much excited squealing the whole experience generated!

The stars of the show

Next up were the lollies – one looked like solid milk chocolate but when you bit into it, was filled with ice cream, hazelnuts and popping candy which was delicious and surprising. The second lolly was a smooth blueberry boiled sweet on one side and a granulated sugar on the other side – the two textures gave the sensation of hot and cold when you sucked it – I thought it was quite fun but actually uncomfortable to eat as it sort of grazed your tongue and was too sugary even for me. Finally we came to the scones – after the banquet for both eyes and mouth that had preceded, it was actually a relief that the scones were classic in both colour and flavour. They were incredibly buttery and delicious – as usual they were served with a portion of cream that could have only have satisfied a miniature gnat (why do all purveyors of afternoon tea do that?) – I had to order 3 extra portions and steal all of the fiance’s before I had a suitable helping but once my scones were appropriately laden with clotted cream and strawberry jam I was happy (and by this stage tremendously full!) The whole experience was great fun and extremely memorable. It didn’t come cheap though – by the time champagne and service were added, the bill was around £80 which is pretty steep for what is effectively sandwiches and a lolly even if they are multi-coloured and explode in your mouth!

The cakestand of dreams!

Bitchin’ kitchen

When I started this blog I intended to write about eating out as well as my culinary creations at home. I have been so focused on cooking that I have not had a moment to write about all the amazing things I have been greedily guzzling outside of my own four walls. Going out to eat is my greatest pleasure on earth – you could offer me the choice between the coolest nightclub or one off gig, but a brunch, lunch or supper date (I am not fussy) in even the simplest restaurant will win hands down every time. I always say that my favourite thing about being on holiday is not the sun sea and sand but the ultimate (in my eyes) luxury of eating ‘out’ for breakfast, lunch AND dinner every day – heaven!

I have a very wonderful and kind fiance (I may have mentioned him before?) and generous family who regularly indulge this passion by taking me out for fabulous meals. A recent occasion that particularly stands out was on Tuesday when my aunt took us to Kitchen W8. The restaurant has recently won a Michelin star and I can absolutely see why. The food was superb – so many delicious things in every course of the menu that it was almost impossible to choose.

Having finally made my decision after much deliberation, I started with an artichoke veloute with a truffle mouse and truffle toast – it was rich and delicious but also reasonably light. This was followed by fillet of sea bream with mushroom deuxelle and trompettes de la mort on pumpkin puree. The true star of the dinner for me though was a side dish (which I am still fantasising about daily, nearly a week later) which consisted of mashed butternut squash and chestnuts – it was literally a party in my mouth. (Can you tell I am not very experienced at restaurant reviews? Must try harder!) Pudding was a crème Catalan served with really original presentation in a sealed jar with the most fantastic mini vanilla doughnuts with marmalade. What a treat –  my mouth is watering all over again at the memory. Kitchen w8 is just off Kensington High St and comes with a glowing Cos I’m recommendation.