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Eating New York

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Eating New York

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I write this sitting on the flight to New York in stasis mode, having metamorphosed into a sedentary lump.  The invisible but insidious radiation, and the already- breathed air must be to blame for my lack of concentration:  I’ve started five films, and finished one – a saccharine, brainless comedy. And in this reduced state, my thoughts revolve around my stomach (more than usual). The looming flight attendant and her trolley are causing spikes in adrenaline –so attuned to the possibility of food delivery am I that I’m reacting pavlovianally to the click of the locker doors as the meals are unloaded. By flying west, I’ve gained time.  More time equals more meals. I had breakfast and lunch at home, but the grey boredom of airports requires food for stimulation. The pre-flight, Prêt snack ritual has been observed.  But that has not deterred me from munching through the 5pm dinner (chicken, and sticky-toffee pudding - and not bad actually. Better, in fact, than the recent attempt at a repast at The Palomar – see my review). 

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In-flight entertainment is clearly not being served by the screen in front of me, but instead by the rotating supply of snacks from the “Wonder Wall”. These fill the flight with purpose: I must try every one of these matte- packaged, faux-healthy snacks.  Initially, I feel pride as I conquer them: a nut-free, oat bar so small that I need to have two just to make sure I document the flavour correctly; a tiny packet of popcorn that is apparently “cheese toasty and caramel flavour” (too weird not to try); some vegan sour sweets (only four in a pack - what a tease, two please); olives; hand cut crisps that promise to be artisanal (I’m sold); two-bite bars of Himalayan salted chocolate that barely register due to their shrunken format.

At 11pm UK time, I’m served afternoon tea (a selection of cakes, a scone, and some mayonnaise-suffused sandwiches). I persevere with these.  There’s no stopping me now.

It’s half an hour until landing, and reality is beginning to set in. I’m surrounded by a shameful nest of wrappers: unequivocal evidence of my greed and boredom.

Pride has turned to nausea.  

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After a day of recovery, I launched myself on to the NYC dining scene. I’m mainly vegetarian, so most restaurants set out below are either fully plant-based, or vegetarian/vegan-friendly. This is by no means an exhaustive list but an account of the places that I enjoyed (with one rather off-putting experience).

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The Fat Radish

Vibe: Vegetable-focused Modern European cuisine in an earthy chic paradise.

Highlights:  Though not vegetarian, the vegan and vegetarian options are numerous and innovative (refreshingly not pasta or risotto). Order several of the sweet pea pot pies which are so good I’ve had to replicate them twice since returning to London. The Macro plate and banoffee pies are also must-eats. Booking is essential.

Lowlights: None. 

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/restricted diets

Where: Lower East Side

http://www.thefatradishnyc.com

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Jajaja Plantas Mexicana

Vibe: Vegan innovative Mexican style cuisine in a vibrant, bustling urban cafe

Highlights: No one at my table could get enough of the nachos with vegan chorizo, fermented black beans, turmeric vegan queso fundito, spicy vegetable relish, and vegan sour cream. The crispy chayote ‘fish’ tacos with chipotle almond butter and pickled red onion are also deliciously different.

Lowlights: no booking, and the tightly packed restaurant mean that you should avoid peak meal hours. Service also slows drastically during these times.

Good for: vegans/restricted diets/casual dining/adventurous eaters

Where: Lower East Side (near China Town)

https://www.jajajamexicana.com/

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Root & Bone

Vibe: rustic-modern take on Southern-American comfort food.

Highlights: The buttermilk biscuits are freshly baked, and so light they melt on your tongue. The side of honey butter just helps them slide down even more sweetly. Crispy topped and golden, with unending tangles of molten cheese, the mac and cheese is amongst the best.

Lowlights: The fried chicken. I may have gone with warped expectations – I had primed myself for strips of chicken breast coasted in thick crispy-crunchy breadcrumbs (especially good at London’s Mother Clucker). However, what arrived was a basketful of dismembered chicken body parts. The rebellious wing bone protruding uncomfortably from the thin batter was enough to put me off. However, this may just be a personal dislike.

Good for: comfort food/family gatherings

Where: East Village

http://www.rootnbone.com/

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Talde

Vibe: Casual Asian-American cross-over cuisine in a dark wooden pub from Top Chef contestant, Dale Talde

Highlights: I’m not a big meat eater, and I never eat chicken wings. However, I make a very rare exception for the Kung Pao wings which are ridiculously sticky and succulent – order many. The Pad Thai puts most to shame with its zingy freshness too.

Lowlights: The bibinkga divided opinion with its eggy coconut texture. I came around to it after the third mouthful.

Good for: inventive cooking/vegetarians/brunch/casual dining

Where: Park Slope, Brooklyn

https://www.taldebrooklyn.com

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By Chloe

Vibe: Airy, female-flocking, vegan café (also in London)

Highlights: The salad portions are generous – my favourite is Spicy Thai which, with its kale base, crispy wontons, apricot-glazed tempeh and spicy peanut dressing, is a mouth workout in a bowl - but every mouthful is worth savouring. The tempeh-lentil chia classic burger and kale-artichoke dip are also major hits.

Lowlights: The London branch is not restful as you have to wait for your name to be shouted out to pick up your food. The NYC branch I visited was great.

Good For: vegans/vegetarians/healthy eating/casual meals

Where: West Village

https://eatbychloe.com

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Van Leeuwen

Vibe: artisanal vegan and dairy ice-cream served from wholesome butter-coloured trucks and stores around NYC

Highlights: the vegan honeycomb is a sludgy grey but don’t let that put you off. Made with cashew coconut and cocoa butter it is ambrosial. The non-vegan peanut butter and marshmallow crunch and Sicilian pistachio are also sublime. 

Lowlights: It’s addictive – I began to think they were stalking me as I managed to go past at least one Van Leeuwen truck or shop every day… and failed to resist each time.

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/innovatively flavoured ice creams

Where: multiple locations

http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com/

 

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Black Seed Bagels

Vibe: pared down, fresh out of oven, open bakery

Highlights: multi-everything bagel – get there early in the day to get it piping hot from the oven

Lowlights: Addictiveness – I once ate 4 black seed bagels in a row.

Good for: breakfast on the go, vegans, high-carb gluten-full diets

Where: Nolita, Battery Park City, East Village

http://blackseedbagels.com

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Levain Bakery

Vibe: stripped back, no-frills bakery for some straight-to-the-point indulgence

Highlights: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter chip cookie – thick, crunchy on the outside, fudgy inside loaded with an abundance of peanut butter chips – there is a reason it has been named best cookie in NYC. 

Lowlights: Lines for the bakery can get rather long, so go at a strategic, off-peak time

Good for: over indulgence and sweet-tooth satisfaction

Where: West 74th St, Harlem

https://www.levainbakery.com

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El Luchador (Tacos vs Burritos)

Vibe: Hole-in-the wall, cheap, simple and brilliant Mexican food haunt. London could do with mowing down its innumerable greasy kebab joints and replacing them with this.

Highlights: the pollo asado burrito. Spicy, fresh, busting with flavour and filling 

Lowlights: None

Good for: late night cravings, fresh Mexican food, done well (a rarity in London), vegetarian, vegan

Where: Lower East side

http://elluchador.nyc

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The Palomar

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The Palomar

NB. Photos are all my own as the food was not photogenic

Let’s start with the positives – there are only three, and they’re rather brief at that:

1)    The waiter was charming, easy going and knowledgeable.

2)    So buttery it almost made my tongue translucent, yet so sweet and light I could have eaten five of them, the kubaneh bread was sublime.

3)    I’m mainly a vegetarian and rarely eat lamb, but the fact that the minced beef and lamb dish (shakshukit) was palatable, and even rather moreish, signifies a success.

I wish that I could keep the list going.  From online reviews to food-obsessed friends, all I had heard about Palomar was a stream of praise.  So, I thought I would emerge from the restaurant blasting Palomar’s praises to everyone to whom I spoke.  I wanted to have found a mini-haven in the heart of London where I could gorge on the full-flavoured abundance of the Middle East.  

I did not. 

Stop reading now if you don’t want your opinion tainted.  If you are curious, read on.

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We squeezed our way past the tight and chaotic bar area, to be seated in the farthermost corner. Dark, wooden, and Spartan, it felt like an old-fashioned train carriage.

Aside from the kubaneh and shakshukit, we ordered an array of dishes, starting with baba ganoush, and “spicy experience”, from the menu section titled “Rip and Dip”. “Pinch and Scrape” would be more fitting.  The baba ganoush was delivered: we were presented with a shallow, hamster –sized plate-let (ie a disk) of the meanest little scraping of mashed aubergine. They must be using tweezers in the kitchen, as it was adorned with just three pomegranate seeds, as if they were in fear of our being trapped, like Persephone, in the Underworld.

The so-called spicy experience promised a roller-coaster of excitement and exotic warmth. What arrived was a confusing, tiny saucer of some possibly shop-bought harissa that had been unceremoniously tipped onto the plate, with a few pickled chillies, also suspiciously jar-emanating, and some charred chilli husks.  Why confusing? Because there was no reason behind it: no vehicle to carry the diner off into the realms of a capsaicin extravaganza. If it were meant to be a condiment, surely it should have been signposted as such, not presented as a starter? Needless to say, it was quickly abandoned. 

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We ordered pitta breads.  I expected them to be the large, puffed up, hot pillows that you receive, on the house, at Maroush.  Instead, they were seemingly imported from the film “Downsizing”, with a diameter barely extending to that of my palm, and £1.50 apiece. 

At this point all the scrapings and scraps and stalks had begun to merge into a sludge on our plates. Like an inverse of the Twits we had only been provided with miniature side plates - as if by changing the proportions of the crockery we would be tricked into believing that the food portions were lavish and abundant. When the waiter showed no sign of refreshing our plates we asked for a change.  A new set of the Lilliputian side plates arrived – without the doll’s house-sized cutlery that would have been appropriate. We asked for regular-sized dining plates, only to be told that “since the tables are so small they usually only give side plates”.  

I understand all restaurants are businesses, running tight margins. However, it is no good thing when a restaurant becomes so transparently business-like that you can see the pound signs twinkling in their eyes.  Tables so small that you need to shrink the portions and plate size in order to squeeze in more people, and thereby maximize margins on your dishes, makes for neither a comfortable nor an enjoyable experience.   Added to that, Palomar is meant to be Israeli–influenced. Aside from the fact that the menu seems to have taken us on a rocky ride from England,  to Italy, to the Middle East, they missed several  key characteristics of Middle Eastern cuisine: generosity, colour, robustly-flavoured abundance and freshness. 

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The artichokes arrived: three measly, wan halves sitting on an ill-defined scrape of grey puree. These were followed by a tiny sauce boat containing the mushroom polenta.  Polenta can be made delicious, but this dish was incomplete. It lacked crunch to counteract the slushy baby-food texture, the sloppy mushrooms providing no relief. Nor was there any astringency or freshness to counteract the starchy palidness.

The climax was reached with the sea bass, supposedly josperized with herb salad, candied lemons and pine nuts.  I am lazy and not very caveman like (when dining) and prefer not to have to fight my way through bones and skins to eat my food, especially in an ill-lit environment.  I ordered this on the waiter’s promise of it being “boned”.  It arrived splayed, frowning, Tiresias -eyed. The first few mouthfuls were enjoyable, succulent and tender.  I helped myself to more. The next mouthful came with a sharp gift of bones. I plucked them out, and persevered. However, my next attempt at a mouthful was thwarted permanently – it was raw. 

The waitress was fair and professional, removing the fish and a number of other items from our bill.  However, if you’re looking for a Middle-Eastern influenced feast, I would bypass Palomar and head straight to Ottolenghi, Nopi, or either of the Honey & Co. branches. 

Food: 3/10

Ambience: 4/10

Service: 9/10

Loos: N/A

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Pollen Street Social Review

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Pollen Street Social Review

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& a glimpse inside the kitchen...Pollen Street Social Review

Last week I went to a blind wine-tasting in a stuffy carpeted room on the top floor of a Mayfair pub. On the table, columns of bottles were massed, awaiting palatal analysis and identification.  One of the sweaty, post-work crowd sidled up to me and refused to leave my side the entire evening.  Not for any flattering reason: he had arrived drunk at the alcohol imbibition.  The sole potential benefit of his presence was his vaunted knowledge of wines, gained from downing over fifty years’ worth of ethanol. Wine after wine he sipped, swirled, glugged, holding each up to the window despite the fading light. Glass after glass he swigged and squirted from one side of his mouth to the other, patting his lips, flipping his tongue up to his palette  in order “to catch the aftertaste”, sucking and squelching.  “Taste the vanilla in that”, “feel the syrupy smoothness of this”, he said, nodding sagely.  1/9 of his answers were correct…

Pollen Street Social Review

 

To me, this is all a manifestation of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome which may sometimes be applied to Michelin-starred restaurants. Do I really want to dine on fussy little squiggles of substance that I have to chase with another globule of something or other so that the perfect scientific reaction can effervesce at the back end of my tongue?  However, Jason Atherton’s soon to be double Michelin-starred flagship is not in this category.  An idyll amongst the raucous, tourist-ridden bustle of Regent Street, Pollen Street Social sits opposite its sister restaurant, Little Social (see review here). Its style is unfussy, open, and clean, with attention to detail: even our bags were given individual stools.

Pollen Street Social Review

 

Before we had even turned the page of the menu, a selection of amuse bouches materialised: dainty sweet corn muffins topped with delicate swirls of dill and cucumber cream, beetroot and blackberry filled tuiles that burst with sweet vinegary freshness, and my favourite, a Jerusalem artichoke crème.  These were followed by cups of mushroom consommé topped with delicate parmesan foam, salty and meaty while being vegetarian.

Pollen Street Social Review

To start, I chose the neeps and tatties in a mushroom ragout- a wonderful coil of tender turnip ribbons generously grated with umami Berkswell cheese.  I could have easily devoured my dining companions’ portions as well.

Pollen Street Social Review Pollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewOut of the whirr and buzz there then appeared the sprightly figure of Tiziano, the junior manager, who filled the room with his energy and excitable charm. He whisked me off to view the upstairs kitchen and the pass – a dark, orange- lit forge, tantalisingly situated behind glass.

Pollen Street Social Review

 

Pollen Street Social Review

Pollen Street Social Review

Pollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewIt was sprung with energy but, unlike the amped up drama so often portrayed on TV, it was at the same time controlled and calm. Whilst fixing plates, advising chefs on the pass, and approving the dishes that flowed past us on wooden board, Dale (Head Chef) talked me through the dishes.

Pollen Street Social Review

Our main courses were served as soon as I returned to my seat: the juiciest of chicken breast with a skin so crisp that even I (spurner of skin) couldn’t resist – its earthy savouriness was contrasted with the little pops of peas and broad beans, underpinned once more by the seasonal buttery, almost molten, girolles. The wild garlic flowers added to the dish with their fresh savouriness. My dining companions’ lamb and gnocchi dishes were also successes, although if there were any criticism it would be the mushroom theme that was developing throughout the vegetarian dishes – a non fungi fan would have had difficulty.  In addition, my companion found some of the mushrooms somewhat too heavily salted.

Pollen Street Social Review

 

Pollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewWe decamped to the dessert bar to watch the pastry chefs practising their craft. First, a palate cleanser which was one of the highlights of the meal, straddling the line between savoury and sweet, and without risking losing stomach room for dessert: light yogurt foam with fairy-thin shards of meringue and a verdant and astringent basil sorbet.

Pollen Street Social Review

Pollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewWe watched as cylinders of tempered chocolate were filled with an aerated milk mousse and crumbled sticky and crunchy caramelised puffed rice.  A chocolate disc was delicately placed on top like a lid, and adorned with a gold leaf foil, and then accompanied by a rocher of honey ice cream.  My dining companions' poached berries with lime and cream cheese sorbet with honey sugar tuile were also a hit. These were chased by a velvety chocolate mousse, and an almond and cherry financier, and a passion fruit and blood orange pâté de fruit, as well as a hazelnut crème entremets for the road…just in case.

Pollen Street Social Review

Pollen Street Social ReviewPollen Street Social ReviewDelicious, unfussy, comfortable and exciting – this is one of the finest dining experiences I have had in the last few years.  And I can say that without any fear of an emperor’s new clothes diagnosis.

Food: 9.5/10

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 10/10

Price: ££££

Loos: 9/10

Pollen Street Social Review

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Berner's Tavern

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Berner's Tavern

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Berner's Tavern  

Over volcanic hills, swinging round vomit-inducing hairpin bends in the gravel tracks, we drove.  Across the timeless, verdant countryside we whipped our car, through countryside which had bubbled up thousands of years ago and stayed the same - until we found the ivy-embraced, craggy little farm which was threatening to crumble into the landscape.  Behind the building, little puffs of white sheep scuttled in the distance.  A bucolic idyll.

Then I opened the car door and stepped out.

The air was noisome, salty, and thickly perfumed with urine, stale sheep’s wool and rain-dampened hay.  Milena waddled out of the house.  She came closest to the embodiment of a Horacian hag I’ve ever witnessed.  She beckoned us over to the farmhouse and to cross the threshold protected from the weather with a muddy flaxen rag. Her rugged face remained humourless.  As we moved closer, the intoxicating stench intensified to migraine-inducing levels.

Berner's Tavern

 

Blinded by the darkness and the stink, it took a while to adjust until.  Eventually we could make out shelves upon shelves supporting waxy rounds in various shades of yellow.  Milena waddled closer to us, now bearing a heaving barrel splashing out sheep’s milk.  It was fresh from that morning – she woke up every day at 6 to milk the ewes.  The curds in the barrel were similar in appearance to something a baby might have regurgitated.  She scooped them up and dolloped them into curved wicker moulds, her hands gnarled, stubby and deeply mottled with purple knotted veins.  In their curved, rib-like shape they had adapted to her craft.  She pressed the curds into white, curdled mulch that wobbled in the moulds. After much squeezing and puffing she tipped the substance out of one of the moulds to produce a quivering and uncertain, nude, white, ricotta peak.  The other, a pecorino-to-be – our future round of pecorino - she set aside to coagulate.

We returned a couple of weeks later to pick up our pecorino, for which Milena extorted a princely sum (and only then did a smile play at her lips).  She instructed us to let it ripen for 4-6 months until it had reached its requisite level of maturity.  And so it rested in our kitchen, weeping oil and dispersing its urinous, hay-like scent: a little, coagulating piece of Tuscany.  It eventually reached vintage state, rock solid, and flavour fortified to the max.  (It was tasted and eaten by me with a sense of obligation rather than pleasure.  It turns out I prefer the pasteurised shop-bought version after all.)

Berner's Tavern

Tenuous as it may seem, when I left Berner’s Tavern a couple of weeks ago, I found my opinions to be rather similar in state to the freshly born pecorino cheese – swirling and raw and mildly uncertain.  So instead of writing about it immediately, I let my thoughts settle and ripen over time until I had something more definite and salacious to carve up to be consumed by the reader.   My experience left me pulled in multiple directions.

Since we could only get a very late booking for the restaurant, my dining companions and I had booked a table in the Punch Room bar beforehand, located, like Berner’s Tavern, within The Edition Hotel.  We called to warn the bar that we would be about 20 minutes late, only to be notified, upon arrival, by an unsmiling blonde that our table had been given away.  This was vaguely reasonable, except that they were incapable of providing a concrete time for when we might get a table.  An hour later we were led into a bizarrely half-empty bar.  The timing would not have been an issue had a similar situation not occurred at dinner - this time, their fault.  Hypocrisy was in full swing: we made sure to arrive on the dot for our booking at the restaurant.   Alas, the table was not ready – so, like many restaurants who wish to exploit their customers by sending them to the bar, Berner’s Tavern followed suit.  We ordered drinks expecting the table wait to be brief. Alas, it was not.  We waited 45 minutes – an appalling amount of time.  There was no compensation.  And no apology.  The unrepentant manageress seemed to think that the honour of bestowing a “booth” table upon us would mollify us.  Funnily enough, it didn’t – in stark contrast with the paradigm set by Le Caprice where truffles were brought to our blissfully unaware table at the collapsing of a soufflé in the kitchen.  At Berner’s Tavern, however, customer care does not appear to exist.  The charm and grandeur of the painting lined, high-ceilinged cavern is simply not enough.

Berner's TavernIn terms of food (when we eventually got round to it), Berner’s Tavern lacks the precision and care of Atherton’s other venture, Little Social (read review here).  My beetroot- smoked salmon was good, but lacked thought: pretty, thinly sliced, delicately smoked salmon with the crunch of macadamia and radish.  However, much needed acidity was overlooked, and the promised lemon purée failed to make an appearance.  One dining companion was satisfied with his prawn cocktail and the other’s Moroccan lamb was warm and delicately spiced.

Berner's Tavern

 

Berner’s Tavern prides itself on its grandeur, celebrity restaurant status, and accomplished chef/restaurateur at its helm.  Thus its pedestalled position makes it open to scrutiny.  Call me a pedant, but pluralising the already pluralised Italian pasta, ‘orecchiette’ to ‘orecchiettes’, is poor.

Berner's Tavern

The dish itself wasn‘t bad and the ingredients created a pleasant umami flavour.  However, it needed something extra to tie it together, and it also arrived inexcusably lukewarm.  My friends were satisfied with their dishes, though – the macaroni and cheese with braised ox-cheek and bone marrow and brioche crumble was a particular success.

Berner's Tavern

 

Unfortunately, the tardiness of the meal and poor customer service meant that dessert was not sampled.  The manager did come over at the end to apologise, dealt us his card, and promised it would not happen again.  He offered us an unwanted drink on the house, but it was too little, too late.

Suitable for: business meetings, celebrations, friends, family, smart dates

Price: ££££

Food: 5.5/10

Ambience: 10/10

Customer Service: 2/10

Loos: 9/10

Berner's Tavern

 

 

Square Meal

Berners Tavern - London Edition Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Scott's - Review

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Scott's - Review

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Scott's - Review And then there is the ramasse-miettes:  I love the scrape of the metal across the tablecloth sweeping away evidence of earlier greed, heralding a new course winging its way across from the kitchens, and reassuring one that the meal isn’t over yet.  I love, too, the re-laying of the tablecloth – a delicate procedure, in which the fresh tablecloth, crackling with starch, is laid across the table while the old cloth is simultaneously peeled back without allowing a crude sliver of the denuded table to be seen - comparable in some ways to a very discreet changing of a baby’s nappy.

There is no such pleasure in a flimsy sheet of paper scrunched up after each course to be replaced with another.  Fine if I’m going to Wagamama, or a corrugated iron hipster hotspot.  Not fine if I’m dining at a refined and traditional Mayfair institution - in this case, Scott’s - and paying commensurate prices .

Scott's - Review

 

Scott's - Review

I imagine the oyster bar, the focal point of the room, might be appropriate for a boring date.  The whizzing by of waiters bearing stunned seafood reclining on ice crystal cairns would provide enough distraction to fill any chasms of silence.  The menu, like many of Richard Caring’s establishments, is extensive and  includes a well-trawled ocean’s section, but it is somewhat less inspired than Le Caprice.

Scott's - Review

To start, I ordered the hot-smoked salmon: flushed and delicately flaky pieces were nestled in a tangle of pea shoots and broad beans, tied together with a green goddess dressing - a pretty dish, notwithstanding the potency of the tarragon in the dressing.  My dining companion enjoyed his chargrilled squid with quinoa, spicy sausage and rocket.

Scott's - Review

Seared sea bass with lemon and herb butter followed.  I am still tormented by this mis-decision. Why when there was miso-blackened salmon did I choose the least interesting thing on the menu?  I blame the yuzu cocktail.  The fish was fresh and cooked well, but with the bar set high by the exquisite cod with duck broth at Little Social (see review here), my expectations were not met.

Scott's - Review

The obligatory chips were chunkier relatives of Le Caprice’s, but good nonetheless.

Scott's - Review

 

 

Scott's - ReviewBaked chocolate fondant with cherries and ripple ice cream did not disappoint. Rich and molten, it was the kind of voluptuous confection that invokes an Augustus Gloop-like desire to bathe in it.

Scott's - Review

Three hours into the meal I expected what has now become an almost universal occurrence: the arrival of a bill-pushing waiter, willing one to leave.  Much to my delight, this did not occur - so Scott’s definitely gets bonus points for service.  In terms of gastronomy, Scott’s was unadventurous, good quality, unfussy and well balanced.

Food: 7/10

Service: 8.5/10

Ambience: 7/10 (9.5/10 if there were tablecloths)

Loos: 9/10

Price: ££££

Suitable for: Smart dates, celebrations, business lunches, seafood lovers

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Honey & Co Review

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Honey & Co Review

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There is a particular trend that is permeating the London dining scene like a contagion.

In the flurry of new openings, and novel and exotic twists on traditional gastronomies, a number of restaurateurs have become smitten with Spanish tapas, and have decided to exploit this style of cuisine for all its worth. Tapas are traditionally displayed on a menu in a long list, and served all at once, so diners can delight in dipping in and out of them with a few drinks as they please.  Instead of serving a carefully structured plate of well-balanced complementary elements, the restaurants at fault are breaking the plates down into individual elements.

They call them “small plates”, and I detest them.

 

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You’ll know that you’ve found yourself in this “small plate” trap when the waiter suggests that each person orders three, despite the fact that one is the cost of a normal large plate.  Not only do they expand their profits substantially by doing this, but the effort required by the kitchen is significantly reduced. Chefs don’t need to bother about planning dishes when they can just make whatever the hell they like, call it another small plate and let the diner err when structuring their picky little meal.   Oh, and these small plates seem to have a life of their own: you see, they can arrive according to their own whim and in any combination.  At my most recent visit to a restaurant of this type, all vegetables were deemed unsuitable to be served with fish.

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My rage against small plates had been boiling for several weeks when I decided to return to Honey & Co, where I knew my craving for a large plate could be fulfilled.  Call me demanding, or even greedy, if you like. I’d been before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but sadly forgot to bring my camera.  This time, however, I was armed.  Itamar Srulovich and his wife Sarit Packer rule the roost at this tiny 30 cover Canaan.  He’s ex- Ottolenghi - an almost guarantee of success - and the Ottolenghi influence is strongly evident in the cuisine.  Décor is kept to a minimum, with stark white walls and patterned blue tiled floor forcing your eye greedily towards the focal countertop display of spiced and perfumed cakes.  Despite the minimalism, there is no lack of atmosphere.  Most people are so pleased to have acquired their 1.5 hour table slot that they exude an aura of excitement.

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The menu is divided into starters and mains (hallelujah) – I plumped for spring salad of peas, courgettes, and warm manouri cheese with a lemon and saffron sauce.  Crisp, and light with the nuttiness of the manouri and electric tang of citrus, the dish was very pleasant.

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One dining companion went down the more obvious but inevitably delicious route of falafel served with a tabbouleh and tahini sauce – one of the most popular on the menu (the chefs undoubtedly roll falafel in their sleep).

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The other opted for the braised artichoke with parsley za’atar and yoghurt dipping sauce.

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This was rather a tame option as there only so much you can do to a whole artichoke in terms of flavour(read: very little), and so no matter how delicious the sauce the eating becomes tiresome.  It resides alongside eating fish and quail on the bone in my list of things that I just don’t have time for.  I can’t be bothered to fuss around with scraping a half centimetre of blandish artichoke flesh against the back of my teeth.

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My main course was very good: a plate abounding with plump parcels (aka Menti) of burnt courgette and herb with olive oil braised broad beans and whipped feta, the latter  adding a kick of saltiness to draw out the sweetness from the  dumplings and green vegetables.

Despite the petit nature of the restaurant (even the waitresses are petite, needing to squeeze between the close-set tables), the kitchen at Honey & Co must go through roughly an entire field of mint every day.  It resides proudly on almost every plate, and nor is its presence irrelevant – it lifts the earthier flavours into more summery tones, like for example, the shawarma of slow cooked lamb shoulder burnt pitta and goat’s yoghurt with amba mint and pomegranate.  I’m not the greatest fan of lamb, but this dish convinced me that my prejudice was poorly founded.

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The lamb was succulent, tender and sweet, and lifted to higher planes with the addition of juicy gems of pomegranate and the ubiquitous mint.

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The only disappointment was my dining companion’s chicken makloobah with saffron rice and a lemon yoghurt sauce. Visually, the dish lacked the vibrant flair that every other possessed and was a little bland.

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One dining companion went on to order the pink grapefruit and raspberry granita with yoghurt mousse and honeyed oat crisp.  The flavours bounced nicely off each other but I found the granita a little too perfumed.

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I’m also more inclined to a substantial dessert: I don’t particularly care for palate cleansers.  If I’m going to sin, then I’ll sin properly. And there’s one vital way to do that at Honey & Co: the cheesecake with kadaif pastry and honey.  Perhaps not the most beautiful of desserts, but more than made up for in flavour – the cheesecake is well balanced, creamy and contrasts perfectly with the crunchy, sticky tangled nest of kadaif.

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Bold, well-balanced, vibrant, and generous, the food at Honey & Co is the perfect antidote to the small plate disease.

 

Food: 8.75/10

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Price: ££££

Loos: N/A

Suitable for: buisness lunches, casual dates, family, friends, vegetarians

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Little Social - Review

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Little Social - Review

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Little Social - Restaurant Review I’d like to be able to write how the waiter’s grime-rimmed thumbnail, with which he had just gouged something sinister out of his ear, nudged against the contents of the plate; how a glistening black hair, half submerged in the dish’s paludinal liquid, entangled itself with the semi-solid floating gelatinous elements; how the plate’s arrival was preceded by the fragrance similar to that of water left stagnant in a vase until the stems of the decaying plant have become slimy, and a beige skin has formed on the surface; how I lifted a debris-encrusted spoon of the liquid into my mouth only for my taste buds to be assaulted by the week-long damp cloth- tasting infusion.

But I can’t.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

 

Little Social - Restaurant Review

Because Little Social is impeccable. Nestled in a slither of a side street, it is an Elysium secluded from the tourist-thronged pavements of Regents St.  Jason Atherton’s classic French bistro interior strikes a harmonious balance between refined elegance and comfortableness.  Johannes, soon-to-be manager, glides around the room attentively, infusing it with his charm.  The menu is French inspired Modern European with subtly innovative twists and combinations.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

Little Social - Restaurant Review

Always lured by the umami perfume of truffles, I ordered the Burrata, pear quince, truffled honey and pickled walnuts - a decadent combination that I imagine would have gone down very well at a lavish Roman banquet.  Burrata is the queen of soft cheeses, and I’ve had the misfortune to witness numerous acts of treason committed against it by a number of restaurant kitchens.  This was not the case at Little Social. Rich, latticed, and butter-soft, the cloud of burrata melted on the palate, while the truffle infusion added a kick of savoury to the sweet decadence.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

The pear quince exceeded the expectation provided by the modest menu description: some slices were poached – soft, spiced and near caramelised, some were lightly macerated – sweet with a little more texture, and some were left fresh, adding a crispness to the dish.  This sweetness was cut through by the astringent balsamic reduction and pickled walnuts.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

I had carved out a path of indulgence in the menu but my dining companion opted for a lighter course: salad of baby carrots, avocado, fennel, clementines and coriander.  I’ve ordered this several times before and it tastes and looks like summer: vibrant, fresh, crunchy, creamy and tangy, it is a well-balanced dish.

 

 

 

Little Social - Restaurant Review

For main, I ordered roasted Cornish line-caught cod, Asian spiced cauliflower and aromatic duck broth.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

The cod was so tender it almost anticipated the arrival of my fork. The cauliflower was done in two ways: florets, and a delicately spiced textured puree, both of which complemented the fish.  The broth imbued the other elements with its contrasting smoky savouriness.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

My dining companion’s choice of the risotto of wild mushrooms, parmesan & wild garlic proved that the vegetarian options are in no way neglected.

 

 

Little Social - Restaurant Review

At this point in the review I would love to furnish you with an opportunity for schadenfreude.  Alas I cannot.  I can’t even say that I had the misery of having to wait a long time to return to Little Social as I returned a week later.  On my birthday, I turned down the prime opportunity to sample another of London’s fine dining establishments, and I even eschewed my traditional birthday cake.  Some might think this decision radical and rash, but the reason lay in the heart of Little Social’s pastry kitchen.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

Deep russet brown, glistening, sticky, oozing, sweet, crisp, buttery, crunchy with a caramel darkened to sultry, sweet, savoury and nutty depths, just approaching the perilous realm of burnt: the tarte tatin can only be compared to Hephaestus’ offerings to the gods.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

The crisp meringue with Gariguette strawberries, lime Chantilly, fraises des bois and elderflower sorbet was also delicious.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

A perfectly formed orb of crisp meringue contributed texture and sweetness to the smooth tangy sorbet and berry interior, making it a delightfully elegant and refreshing dessert.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

You may be unsettled by the fact that there were no faults.  I strained to find even the finest of hairline cracks in the restaurant’s performance, reliving the meal in my head, scrutinising the individual elements.  I even went back a second time to check.  And checking yet again, and again,  would be no Sisyphean task.

Little Social - Restaurant Review

 

Food: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Ambience: 9/10

Service 10/10

Loos: 8/10

Suitable for: smart dates, business lunches, birthdays, family, friends, pre-theatre dining, vegetarians

 

 

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Portland Restaurant - Review

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Portland Restaurant - Review

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Little Social - Review Giles Coren recently reviewed Portland, Great Portland Street’s new culinary adornment.  So wonderful was his experience that he claimed it to be “a perfect restaurant”.  I tweeted this on my way to dinner there, only to have him sardonically (and mistakenly) reply that I had misquoted by using the definite article rather than the indefinite.  His keen eye for detail may have been put to better use in his restaurant critique – “perfect”, with or without the definite article, is not a term to be so liberally bandied about.

Portland - Restaurant Review

 

A gust of ice cold breeze swilled around the intimately sized room as the door shut behind us.  We found ourselves in a space of clean lines, bare wooden tables, suspended chrome lights, white walls and a voguish open kitchen with jars of things being pickled bordering its front.  The friendly waitress showed us to our table and bestowed both sparking and still water in glass jars upon the table, on the house – no money leeching here.  The modern European menu consists of lists of fashionable Japanese/foraged ingredients with names fun to roll around in your mouth like ‘ventricina’, ‘enoki’, ‘sriracha, and ‘culaccia’.  Indeed, while we were reading some of them out loud, the waitress standing some distance from our table leapt across the room to explain to us what they were.  She was almost worryingly attentive, but still charming – and nowhere near as intrusive as the service I experienced at Hakkasan a few months ago: I’ve been informed that my voice is like a foghorn, but this does not excuse the fact that the waitress ran across the room’s expanse to answer a question I had discreetly directed to my friend regarding the different sauces.  There must be microphones under the tables - I was on edge for the remainder of the evening.

Portland - Restauran Review

Bread and butter arrived.  The butter, as the waitress gleefully announced, was lightly dusted with grated ox heart.  Intrigued by the gory wood shavings, we showered the sourdough with them.  Either the bread was too strong, or a rather more generous helping was necessary, as the heart provided only the slightest murmur of saltiness – which may, even then, only have been the salt in the butter itself.

Portland - Restauran Review

Always curious to test a restaurant’s aptitude for preparing vegetarian cuisine, and with a pig-like keenness for truffles, I ordered the salsify with 36-month Comté and spring truffle.  The vegetable was soft, with a slightly chewy texture, which reminded me of the traditional South African koeksisters I first enjoyed when I was three.  Combined with the savoury perfume of the truffle and the salty delicate Comté the dish was excellent.  My discerning dining companion gave his delicate foam-coated Roscoff onion and Cornish mussels with cider and brown butter a firm 10 out of 10.

Portland Restaurant - Review

His main, monkfish with ponzu and enoki, failed to live up to the starter despite the sensitive cooking of the fish.  Instead, it was rather texturally challenged, the gelatinous ingredients stacked in slippery formation on the plate.

Portland - Restaurant Review

With my dining companion looking on with food envy, I revelled in the rich tender flesh of the venison I’d ordered and the caramelised sweetness of the accompanying parsnip.  Although they did not detract from the excellence of the dish, the contribution of oats to the dish wasn’t significant, nor was it necessary.

Portland - Restaurant Review

Dessert ensued.  Ever since my stint at Le Caprice I’ve longed for the citrus tang of yuzu.  I salivated (metaphorically) as the elegant triangles of yuzu tart decked with cigarettes of green tea meringue made their way from the open kitchen to my table.  It did not disappoint.  The meringue, though delicate was an interesting and elegant addition, and the frozen yoghurt added a creaminess to the kick from the yuzu tart.

Portland - Restaurant Review

At this point I was beginning to feel myself slipping rather gormlessly into the haze of Giles Coren’s utopia.  I needn’t have worried.  It didn’t last.  Within the ambrosial Elysium he had conjured up in his review, hairline cracks were beginning to show.  They even began to establish themselves in the food.  After the first few spoonfuls of his chocolate bar with peanut butter praline and peanut ice cream, my dining companion began to dig with greater purpose into the dessert.  With tweezer like precision he honed in on the source of his suspicion and plucked out a 3.5 inch strand of something between the thickness of a human hair and an animal whisker.  Unwilling to stir up a fuss he smeared it down on to the rim of his pate and pressed on.

Portland - Restaurant Review

At this point, mid-dessert and  without any prior warning, the waitress rushed over to us and told us that we had to get up that very minute as the next guests for our table had arrived.  I could see them out of the corner of my eye peeling off their coats and inching their way round the restaurant to assert themselves over what was apparently no longer our table.  We were told that we could sit at the bar, a row of five bar stools lined up against the glass window.  We slunk over, but every stool was taken.  Clearly we still had some status in the pecking order as one of the waiters squeezed his way through the tables and removed a couple from their chairs who had yet to eat so that we could sit.

Portland - Restauran Review

The waitress then arrived with my half eaten and melting pool of yoghurt and yuzu.  The illusion was shattered further by the location of our new position right next to the door.  Gusts of bone-chilling wind swept into the room whenever the door opened.  Huddled in our coats next to the exit we no longer felt welcome.  Two truffles arrived with the bill, a nice touch apart from the fact that they were decidedly average: the shell was factory-made, and the caramel filling leaked out of the pre-made hole on to the plate.

Portland - Restaurant Review

Whether Portland is “a perfect restaurant” as asserted by Giles Coren, or “the perfect restaurant” is irrelevant.  Whilst much of the food is excellent, a few too many hairline fractures appeared over the course of the meal for the restaurant even to near an exemplum of restaurant utopia.  The appearance of a hair, too, was somewhat less than perfect, and not all that appealing.

Food: 9/10

Service: 5/10

Ambience: 6/10

Loos: 6/10

Price: ££££

Suitable for: business lunch, friends, family,  casual dates

 

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Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

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Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

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Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2) After donning chef’s whites for the second time, proudly hooking my tea towel into the tie in what I thought was a professional way, I spent Day Two in the cold section i.e. meat and fish.  Valentina took me under her wing, overseeing my making of duck beignet – duck sausage sliced and dipped in flour, then egg yolk, and then in panko crumbs.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

 

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

This was done again for the golden nuggets of molten goat’s cheese for the beetroot salad.  It was at this point that I realised one of the reasons why everything in Le Caprice kitchens run so smoothly: Tupperware. Tubs upon tubs upon tubs, gallons, half gallons and smaller take out ones all stacked ceiling high. Everything goes into Tupperware, and not in any haphazard order, but only after it has been perfectly portioned.  The beignets were laid out flat, no overlapping, tortellini were five to a container, and duck for the crispy duck salad (my favourite) was carefully weighed out to the last gram.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

After wrapping halved lemons in gauze, I went off to 11 o’clock lunch: fluorescent Thai green curry. I chatted more to some of the chefs and waiters, finding out how long they’d been there, whether they’d always loved food, enjoyed cooking etc.  Some dreamed of opening their own restaurant, their own bakeries.  One chef said he prefers the food at KFC…

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I met Valentina upstairs preparing for service in the cold section (to my relief, no fires of Hell that day). Mike came over, took a bowl, filled it with a handful of Mooli (white radish), julienned carrot, beansprouts, and finely chopped spring onion, and drizzled it with a sweet chilli dressing and swirled it all around.  Then he took a punnet of perfectly portioned boiled duck breast, sprinkled it with some sort of starch, and dropped it with nonchalant cool into a pool of sizzling oil.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

A couple of minutes later, he dropped the duck portions into a stainless steel bowl to drain.  Crisped to perfection, they rattled around as he drenched them with the stick soy-honey –hoisin sauce.  This was poured onto the salad, scattered with torn pomelo and chilli cashews and topped with the watercress.   “You’ll be making this today, try it first,” he said.  I began to gorge myself: sticky, sweet, crunchy, acidic, salty, spicy.  So good.  Three quarters of the way through, I noticed that he had handed me two sets of cutlery.  Pretending that I hadn’t seen them, I continued feasting.

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Service began. The crispy duck salad was the most popular dish.  Pressure was on.  Receipts rolled in, along with pressure and excitement.  Every now and then Mike would ask: “How many minutes Sophia?”  I whipped up the dish, pestering Valentina with questions to make sure it was perfect, and then I’d transport it over the pass to be inspected by Mike.  “Good work,” he said.  Though it was probably the simplest dish on the menu, I cannot describe the thrill of the satisfaction.

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Service continued until receipts began to peter out, and Valentina and I chatted the whole time.  She’s from Romania.  None of the meat here tastes like home, she told me, where her family keeps, raises and kills their own animals.  We discussed art, her love of drawing, and how she never had the time when she was working in the kitchen.  She adores baking (chocolate and pistachio are her weaknesses), and yet lamented her lack of time for experimenting.   We discussed our favourite blogs and recipes and desserts, and she described a recipe for a delicious lemon pudding that she promised she would let me have (if you’re reading this, Valentina, please send it to me - I’m desperate to try it!). Although she enjoyed working in the kitchen, it seemed that some of her creativity was held back.   The hours are long – five shifts a week, including one double shift.  Hours are from seven until four, and then some evenings, when the shift ends, later than one a.m., depending on last orders.  The adrenaline from service sometimes prevents her from sleeping for at least two hours – something I can completely understand as I was buzzing from only a couple of days in the kitchens.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I spent the next three days in what can only be described as the Elysian field of the Underworld kitchen: pastry.  Nicky is head pastry chef, and she couldn’t have been lovelier. She told me that I could make anything that I liked from the menu.  This is the kind of thing I fantasize about.  So, I made plum tarte tatin,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

apple and blackberry tartlets,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

 

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

rhubarb crumble pies,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

lime parfait, white chocolate ice cream, mint chocolate chip ice-cream, focaccia, brioche, carta di musica, orange and cinnamon palmiers,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

pistachio macarons,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

and the truffles that I lust over in the time between visits to the Caprice.  For the latter, she handed me the recipes and set me free.  I boiled the sugars and cream together for the ganache, and whisked in the passion fruit puree, before pouring it over the chocolate to melt it – luscious and glossy, it would have been a sin not to steal a spoonful, and another.  I piped this into chocolate shells where it set.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

The same was done for the caramel truffles, but these required hand rolling in dark chocolate – a lengthy process, but well worth it.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

The effort of rolling the several hundred truffles was reduced slightly by a simple reduction in the number of caramel truffles i.e. I, together with my partner- in- crime, Blair (see below), gorged myself sick.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I was then asked to place the Caprice brioche burger buns in plastic bags to freeze them.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Peta (senior pastry chef at The Ivy) took me over to the seal wrap machine.  “Put the edge of the bag here and press the lid down for a couple of seconds.  Don’t let it suck the air out,” she instructed me.  It seemed simple enough.  She left, entrusting the hundreds of fluffy, burnished, seeded buns to me.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

It worked perfectly the first time, and the second.  I became arrogant, and was distracted by the bustling of chefs behind me.  I turned back to the buns - but they were no longer buns.  Six wrinkled and deflated solid misshapen things stared back at me.  Panic stricken, I hid them behind the back of the machine.  Thinking better of this, I pulled them out, but if I threw them away someone would notice.  I considered telling Peta, but shame prevented me.  So I prised the layers of shrink-wrapped plastic apart in an attempt at bun CPR.  I almost convinced myself that they appeared slightly rejuvenated.  Wracked by embarrassment, I even considered rushing to the office, squeezing past Mike and hiding them in my bag.  In the end, I placed them down the side of the freezer hoping to give the impression that they’d been crushed by something else.  Those buns continue to haunt me.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I accompanied Nicky upstairs for service.  Pastry service is much calmer than savoury.  The dessert menu at Le Caprice is also decadently extensive, so it was rather like watching a piece of art work being created as Nicky worked her way through the receipts.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

This beauty, a yuzu and cherry mousse with pistachio macarons, was invented by Nicky herself only a couple of weeks before.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Part of the thrill of being a pastry chef, she said, was the injection of creativity.  Every two weeks, she has to present a new dish to the board of tasters who are apparently very blunt when voicing their opinions.  The dish cannot be similar to anything else on the menu, nor any of the other menus of The Caprice Holdings Group.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

It happened that Judi Dench was in the house that day, and one of her party ordered sugar brioche doughnuts with chocolate sauce and strawberry jam.   I had made the dough, stamped into little rounds and portioned it into Tupperware earlier.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I poured these out into the oil, and under Nicky’s direction, flipped them continuously.  They puffed up gloriously into golden brown globes.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

I drained them and rolled them in white sugar until they glistened.  Nicky arranged them on a plate and I shouted ‘Service!’

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Each of the waiters was friendly, each with a strong personality, one more so than the others.  He waltzed into the kitchen, chest puffed, flicking his slicked and coiffed hair, and as he whisked away my dish to transport it to the realm of the diners, he burst into rather monotonous and very loud song “All of me loves all of you, la la laaa la laa la la laaaaaaa”.

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Le Caprice has no dearth of famous diners, but what I found more interesting were the eccentric ones.  “No shortage of those,” Nicky said.  One man apparently had come the week before for the pre-theatre menu.  He pored over the menu studiously and ordered three courses.  He didn’t touch one of the dishes, and made himself a sandwich from the bread basket instead.  There is also a regular whose reasons for coming to the restaurant are somewhat particular: he comes in once a week, sits down at the table, reaches into his bag, and pulls out his own packed lunch.

Friday came almost too quickly.  I spent the morning slicing brownies (and eating the off cuts, obviously),

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

learning how to segment oranges, painting carta di musica,

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

and trying absolutely everything from chocolate delice to caramel popcorn ice cream.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Nicky had whipped up a batch of popping candy mint ice cream and was handing it out to all the chefs.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

It was also the last day for three of the chefs: Mike was moving on to become head chef of his own restaurant, Lauren, after four years in Le Caprice was moving to its sister restaurant, Daphne’s, and Valentina was taking a break to explore.  Champagne was cracked open, toasts were made.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

The vibe was convivial.  “We’re all like brothers and sisters,” Nicky had said to me, and I saw this for myself.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

Mike kindly invited me to join them for drinks afterwards.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

At 5 o’clock, I untied the bow of the striped blue apron, unpoppered the floppy white shirt, and changed out of the elasticated black trousers.  I ascended the stairs for definitely, hopefully, not the last time – like Persephone, I had had more than my fair share of the pomegranate, and the Underworld had me in its warm, savoury, sweet clutches, or rather tongs.

Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 2)

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Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

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Other side of the door: inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

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On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1) Only a blue tinted portal  - the one way door into the depths of the Underworld - suggests the behind-the-scenes drama of the kitchen, and, if you’re looking at the right time, slivers of stainless steel and the flurry of chefs’ whites.  Once seated, silver bowls of bread materialise quickly.  The waiter is charming, with perhaps a glint in his eye. Food arrives, plates tucked into invisible crevices in his arm.  You’ve ordered the salad to start  - the radicchio is cold and crisp, beetroots bathe in just the right amount of truffle honey dressing, and nestled in the middle is a golden nugget – crunchy on the outside but releasing molten goats’ cheese as soon as it is pierced.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

 

You might acknowledge this or you might not.  The meal continues.  Mains come and go.  You order dessert.  One of your dining companions goes to the loo.  Dessert arrives immediately after his return.   Fresh mint tea, or an espresso, and the meal’s over, and you leave the buzzing Art Deco-style emporium.  Did you stop to think how many people it took to make that one salad?  How many spats arose over that chorizo?  That the waiter had been closely observing your departure to the lavatory and had announced it to the entire kitchen: “Hold dessert - he’s in the loo!” I didn’t, until a couple of weeks ago.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

I swanned in at 9am on Monday, through the revolving door.  The chic black and white décor was the same, but that is where the familiarity ended.  No excited chatter, no heads turning from tables to scrutinise who has entered (anyone famous?), and no one to slip my coat off my shoulders and guide me to the seats with which I possess a lifetime of acquaintance.  Instead: tables denuded of their usual crisp white tablecloths, stacked on top of each other, naked legs in the air, and chairs piled up across the room.  I wove my way through the maze of disarray, and with some trepidation approached the blue portal.

The door swung shut behind me.  One way only.  Then I descended into the Underworld.  Mike, the senior sous greeted me with a pile of freshly folded chef’s whites.  No room for glamour here; only baggy elasticated-waist black trousers, a floppy, short-sleeved, double-poppered shirt and a stripy blue apron.  I scraped my hair back and tied it up: number 1 fear was having a customer send food back after semi-choking on a long brunette hair.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

Mike then gave me a tour of the various stainless steel divisions that comprise the underground empire.  First: “veg”, which featured cauldrons/baby bathing tubs bubbling furiously,

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

as well as vats of overnight-maturing stock.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

Next: “meat”,

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

which included bricks of pork belly cut at perfect right angles,

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

blocks of already cut frozen meat defrosting, their crimson juices dripping into the sink,

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

 

octopuses splayed casually,

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

and blue-gloved hands peeling back pimpled chicken carcases for delicate dissection.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

Last: “pastry”, on the ground floor, tucked away to the side and from which billows of homely sweet pastry  and freshly baked bread filled the room.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

I, however, spent my first day on “sauce”, upstairs, where Lauren was juggling béarnaise sauce for the fish, and caramelised apple for the pork.  Prepping hedgehog mushrooms for the risotto was my job, scraping the mottled brown fuzz from under the mushrooms’ umbrellas. I was standing in front of the stoves from which service takes place: flames flashed through the grill suspended from the ceiling, oil hissed from four vats in the corner, and hot plates were churning the air above into a haze – as close to the fires of Hades as any mortal can get.  After a couple of hours of herb picking and carrot peeling, Lauren mentioned lunch.   “Get there quick,” she said. “The waiters are greedy”.  She never goes, and nor do many other of the chefs.  So chefs are never hungry and waiters are – or so it seemed in the case of Le Caprice.  She spoke the truth: after stumbling down dead ends, I found the staff room where waiters were hunched over plates heaped with minced meat sauce, rice and salad.  Presentation wasn’t quite the same standard as that on the other side of the door.  I had arrived on the scene too late – only a puddle of minced meat was left, and a waiter was scraping the remains of the rice onto his already piled high plate.  He looked down on me pityingly and redistributed a few grains from his plate on to mine.  I wasn’t actually interested in eating rice, but the gesture was there.

After I’d clambered upstairs again, I found Lauren setting up for service. Surfaces were clear and sterilised (almost obsessively), drawers of condiments and herbs were fully stocked and arranged neatly, a bowl of sterilising hand wash was on standby, together with separate boards for fish and meat, sauces in bottles, and plates stacked high under the oven to keep warm.  A sliding fridge contained all the ingredients, perfectly portioned and ready to be cooked.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

At 12.30 service began.  Mike assumed his position in front of the counter.  There was an energy in the air – no stress, just adrenaline.  Unsurprisingly, January is a quiet month.  Most of the regulars are on holiday, Lauren explained – a quiet lunchtime service equals roughly 60 covers, no small feat in my book.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

There was no Hell’s Kitchen vibe, none of the head chef shouting which had entertained me in countless episodes of Masterchef. Receipts began to roll in.  James was also on the pass – he’d only been there a few months as part of his course at chef school.  Duck eggs were fried, pork fillets were fried and roasted, cod was cooked on the hot plate, and chicken escalope, prawns, and shoals of Thai baked sea bass were juggled and whisked onto the pass.  The dishes were placed underneath a heater to keep them warm until service was shouted, and the dishes were collected in a particular order so that the last picked up is the first to be delivered to the women at the table.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

I’d done a mild version of service previously when I did work experience in Villandry’s pastry kitchen – even then, I found slicing cakes for service stressful, so I was rather pleased that my only job was to peel back the palm leaf on the Thai baked sea bass and drizzle it with sweet chilli sauce.  Halfway through service, a third chef was called up to the pass.  Dishes were flying off the counter, and rather disappointingly  (for me) from a drama perspective, everything was in sync: receipt read out, food fired/baked/grilled/roasted, service shouted, garnish scattered, dish scrutinised by Mike, and then whisked off by the waiters into the diners’ realm.  If there were any drips, not enough dressing, or lack of crispness he notified the chefs, but this was a rare occurrence, and the spirit was a jovial one rather than strictly hierarchical.  Every ten minutes or so, as if by clockwork, a man would appear to conquer the ever-mounting pile of dishes.  I had squeezed myself into a corner to take in the action but even then it was difficult not to be in someone’s way.  Every now and then Mike would pass me something to try: sea parsley, a slice of Perigord truffle, an onion bhaji, parsnip and apple soup, hot smoked salmon, celeriac rémoulade, Bouillabaisse sauce… I could almost hear my metabolism weeping. The highlight occurred at around 1.30, mid-frenzy.  James slid a bowl toward me overflowing with the most golden and crisp pommes allumettes.  I stared at him briefly in disbelief and attempted to pace myself while failing utterly to disguise my greediness.

On the other side of the door : inside the kitchens of Le Caprice (Part 1)

Service peaked at around 1.30, and the frenzy began to simmer down.  The third chef on service dropped out, and around 2.30 Lauren began to tidy away.  Enervated and relieved, we descended to the basement kitchen.  I spent the rest of the afternoon crying as the pile of halved onions in front of me grew.  To be continued...

 

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Smoking Goat - Review

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Smoking Goat - Review

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  Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

The growing trend of no-booking restaurants in London makes me panic.  The threat of having to wait 15 minutes – or heaven forbid, longer - in the cold for a table is not something in which anyone delights, especially when the London restaurant scene is burgeoning and there are a hundred other places to try.   When my dining companion and I plotted to target Smoking Goat in Soho on Friday we had to come up with a strategy: if we didn’t get a table at x, we would try y, and if not y, then z, and if we couldn’t get z, then we’d have to fall back on our booked failing-all-else standby.  Crazy, yes, but these means are absolutely required to deal with the current restaurant scene, especially if you are as anxious about the location of your next meal as I am.

Fortunately, Smoking Goat had a table - a wooden barrel surrounded by stools.  My dining companion arrived early, before I did.  Having surveyed the situation, he deemed the standard tables squeezed around the edge of the cramped room too tiny.  The tables are so tightly packed together that it’s hazardous to one’s meal, as exemplified when a couple rose to leave.  There were a few clangs (audible even above the tinnitus-provoking music) and the entire meal of the adjacent table was knocked to the floor.  The couple edged their way out of the restaurant whilst murmuring apologies continuously.  I vicariously experienced their relief upon escaping the restaurant.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

Indeed, the whole thing felt like a farce: the service is haphazard with no recognisable system - our menus, for example, were handed to us only to be whisked away a few minutes later when we were mistaken for having already ordered.  I had read during my research that the author of a well-respected restaurant review website had come up with the cocktail list.  The restaurant itself apparently hadn’t been informed of this: our very friendly waitress said that the Old Fashioned was the only cocktail they were doing that evening.   This piece of information was rather at odds with the spirit-stocked bar area which dominates the room (possibly due to the severe overcrowding, rather than the bar’s actual size).  We decided to push the restaurant to its very limits and order a Whisky Sour.  Were the spirit bottles just a tease?  Apparently so.  We waited 10 minutes and, with no sign, my dining companion asked the waiter who had taken his order for an update on the status of his drink.  “We are currently looking for an egg” was the reply.  We nodded in understanding of this conundrum.   At this point, another waiter forced his way through the crowd to our table and, standing between me and my dining companion, raised his elbows up in a stretching motion to assert his presence, and paused for a moment as if about to say something.  I stopped talking to allow him to speak, but he looked away dreamily, and scuttled off.   He had a benevolent, dazed air, and seemed only just ‘with it’ enough to interpret orders and deliver food.  This was possibly the only state one could be in to work in such a restaurant which, despite my fears over its no-bookings policy, didn’t seem to turn anyone away.  Rather, they adhered rigidly to the same rulebook as the Tokyo railway station passenger arrangement staff i.e. pushers.  Jostled and squeezed past, sorry-d and excuse me-d throughout the meal, I was reminded of this constantly.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

After regaining our stolen menus, we ordered the dish for which the restaurant has become famed: fish wings.  They arrived piled up on a plate encased in a sticky, glinting crust speckled with sesame seeds – the kind you would expect to find as a coating on Chinese banana fritters.  The crust looked golden but the restaurant is so dimly lit that the candles’ glow lent everything the Midas touch.  With cutlery eschewed, we raised the blazing hot crisp sticky wings to our mouths.  Their fame is well-deserved – crunchy, sticky, salty and addictively sweet, with meat sliding form the bone before even touching the lips.   Clearly, the success of the restaurant hinges entirely on the competence of the chef.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

Before our second round of dishes arrived the first waitress came over to inform us that they now had two cocktails: some punch-like thing, and something with pineapple.  This cocktail list was intriguing in its ability to expand and contract at will.  Still intent on that Whisky Sour, my dining companion asked for an egg status update.  Our waitress diligently dived through the throng back off-stage, and another emerged with our main.  Apart from the fact that it wasn’t.  We and the couple seated at the other side of our wooden barrel shouted a few things at each other - enough to glean that the dish that had landed on our side was in fact theirs.  Our own arrived subsequently.  From the meat-orientated and solely savoury menu (i.e. no dessert), we had plumped for the slow roasted duck legs marinated with galangal, lemongrass and kaffir, basted with ketjap manis and white pepper.   Somehow, the chaos spewed forth this plate of tangy, sweet, zesty succulence.  A drizzle of the light vinegary jaew sauce improved it further.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

Mesmerised by the tenderness of the duck legs, I had failed to notice the little plate with two clear plastic bags of rice.  I squeezed the rather solid bolus of glutinous rice on to my plate, and there it remained, untouched and rather redundant amidst the delights of the other dishes.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

The Som Tam which accompanied the duck was another hit: strips of green papaya with peanuts and chilli – refreshing, slightly sweet and punchy, this was a much more understandable accompaniment to the duck.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

The menu is limited to six dishes, further limited to two if you are vegetarian. However, I’m not complaining as its condensed nature seemed to allow for a greater focus on flavour.  It also meant from a simply mathematical point of view that amidst all the chaos there is, in theory, a higher chance of the waiters getting the dish to the right customer – the odds were not in our favour on Friday.  The vegetarian dish I tried was the roast aubergine salad.  It was so smoky I could almost taste the coals.  Once again the chef displayed his virtuosity by balancing this with fresh coriander and a soft boiled egg, just molten and creamy enough to play against the coriander and add a different form of savoury to the dish.  It was simple but very effective.

Smoking Goat - Restaurant Review

The very friendly waitress chose this moment to inform us of her own accord as to the Whisky Sour status.  She raised her hands in a ‘what can I do’ manner, and said she was sorry but that they had run out of eggs.  Would my friend like an Old-Fashioned instead?  I couldn’t be bothered to go to the effort of telling her that she needs to work on the creativity of her lies: there were definitely eggs about, given that two out of the four dishes had contained egg, the latter in its most explicit form.   The barman was clearly either inept or lazy.

With the bill paid, we battled our way through the hoards to escape the slapstick farce that is Smoking Goat.  What did you think? my dining companion asked me, slightly hoarse from shouting the entire evening. Delicious chaos, we agreed.  I turned and saw one of the waitresses smoking a solitary cigarette, evidently her way of dealing with the bedlam inside.  She even chimed in and agreed with our description.  The issue, she claimed, was that people were coming in groups of five and six - the illogic of Smoking Goat summarised perfectly.

 

Food:8.5/10

Ambience: 5/10

Service: 5/10

Loos: 3/10

Price: ££££

Suitable for: drinks, friends, late night food, bar food, carnivores, casual dining

 

 

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Spring at Somerset House - Restaurant Review

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Spring at Somerset House - Restaurant Review

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Spring Restaurant - Review The architecture of Somerset House is majestic and heavy, with its rather hefty air of hard work and gravity still redolent of the government offices it used to accommodate.  But march through the entrance and turn right and along the frowning edifices, and you will find yourself in Spring – and an atmosphere so utterly opposite it might make you gasp.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Airy, high-ceilinged and painted in pastel shades of green and blue, the dining room really is spring-like in feel.

Spring Restaurant - Review

The various light fittings remind one of frog spawn or aubergines or berries, and the origami petals arranged in gently dispersing circular dandelion drifts on the walls imbue the restaurant with a spirit of lightness.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Spring Restaurant - Review

The attire of the staff has provoked much comment: there seems to be a nautical/operating theatre theme.  I liked the waiters’ striped t-shirts, and while I wasn’t convinced by the tents worn by the women at reception, their colours nevertheless worked together.  However, the woman whom I took to be the maître d’ was, on the other hand, wearing a dark forest green skirt and top combination that did not harmonise with the other staff members’ apparel, and looked both sombre and dowdy.

Spring Restaurant - Review

The menu is not long and there were elements that required explanation.  Our waitress, who bore a striking resemblance to Toulouse Lautrec’s La Goulue – appropriately for someone working in a restaurant with its potential for gluttony – and a haughty self-importance to match, made us feel a bit reticent about asking too many questions.  She defrosted a little as the meal progressed.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Spring Restaurant - Review

I’m not usually one to order fruit juice, but the pistachio and apple was too good a combination to pass up.  It was sublime too – freshly puréed apple with the warmth of roasted pistachios and just a hint of aniseed.  One retro rhubarb-striped glassful is simply not enough.

Spring Restaurant - Review

 

Spring Restaurant - Review

To start, I had a salad of fennel, blood orange, hazelnuts and radicchio.  The plating was refined and elegant as you would expect from an establishment so concerned with its aesthetic.  I have a weakness for blood oranges too, so this went down well, and the combination of flavours was refreshing.  This dish, however, was listed rather deceitfully under mains, and unless you’re on a 5:2 diet, it is only substantial enough to pass as a starter.

Spring Restaurant - Review

I followed the salad with sea bass with Jerusalem artichokes and black olive dressing.  All the pressure points of cooking fish well had been thoroughly met, and with flair: the skin was crisp to the point of shattering, and the flesh melted away with minimal cutlery usage.  Tender and perfectly seasoned and combined with the salty crushed olives and tomatoes and crunchy-skinned Jerusalem artichokes, this dish was worth its significant price.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Spring Restaurant - Review

My dining companion ordered the fillet of beef with farro, cavolo nero and shredded radicchio.  The beef was generously portioned and a fine cut, but it was slightly under seasoned.  The farro with pea purée made up for its rather un-photogenic appearance in flavour.

Spring Restaurant - Review

The salad of grilled lamb, chickpeas, radicchio and chilli jam was good without being outstanding, and the vegetarian onion squash with cime di rapa and chilli butter was also flavourful, albeit on the small side - despite our waitress’s assurance that it was a main course. Surprisingly, vegetarians are not abundantly catered for.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Spring Restaurant - Review

The rhubarb element of the winter rhubarb ice cream with meringue and candied ginger dessert looked uncannily like the floor tiles of the women’s loos.  This lavatorial reminder didn’t manage to put me off – it takes a lot more than that.  The ice cream was tangy and tart and contrasted well texturally with the good, but quite ordinarily so, meringue.  The ginger was a wonderful addition titillating the palate whenever a piece found its way on to the spoon.

Spring Restaurant - Review

I enjoy most types of dessert but I am more inclined towards those with substance, which the hazelnut and pear tart with crème fraiche and espresso went some way towards satisfying.  The pastry was lovely and crumbly and suffused with hazelnuts but slightly on the dry side.  The pears were delicious, too.  However, the almost invisible dots of expresso powder were not enough to substantiate the menu’s claim to its existence.

Spring Restaurant - Review

The dark chocolate honeycomb petit fours were a nice touch at the end to accompany our fresh mint teas and coffees.

Spring Restaurant - Review

I’m always sad when a good meal comes to an end, and Spring was indeed a good meal with some especially outstanding dishes.  The service was ok without being exceptional (by the end of the meal the waitress had half-smiled once) while the interior is ethereally beautiful – almost a reason to go in itself.

Spring Restaurant - Review

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 10/10

Service: 6/10

Loos: 9/10

Price: ££££/££££

Suitable for: smart dates, celebrations, family, business lunches, healthy eating

 

Square Meal

Spring at Somerset House on Urbanspoon

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Rabbit Restaurant Review

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Rabbit Restaurant Review

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Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review Are you going on a ‘detox’?

Now that the last of the dregs of turkey/mince pie/stuffing/Christmas pudding/trimmings have finally disappeared, all that is left is a memory solidified in the form of a protuberant belly.  Guilty already, or made to feel guilty about not feeling guilty, the media are swooping in with various juice cleanse, carb-less, gluten-free ‘detoxes’ which guarantee a temporary weight loss by simply starving the body.  The word ‘detox’, however, means absolutely zero.  To quote Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University: “there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t. The respectable one is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated”.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

So, if you’re minded to eat healthily after all the excess, then good quality, wholesome food is a much more sustainable way to go. Eating at Rabbit, the sister restaurant of The Shed, seems to fit in well with this philosophy. That’s not to say that I didn’t succumb to excess whilst there, and nor is it so worthy that eating there becomes an endurance test.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

Rather, the ethos behind the restaurant is creating interesting, innovative and tasty recipes using seasonal and fresh local produce.  The diner is reminded of this by the rustic outdoorsy interior, a bushy fox tail suspended above the open kitchen which brings you closer to nature whether you like it or not.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

Whilst deciding what to order for our degustation my dining companion and I ordered a couple of “mouthfuls”: beetroot crisp, goat’s cheese, with pear jam:

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

And a mushroom marmite éclair.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

As I noted in my most recent recipe, I had been averse to goat’s cheese after I overdosed when I was seven - until Rabbit cured me with the beetroot crisp.  My dining companion was a marmite loather but it was incorporated so beautifully into the rich earthy truffleness of the éclair that he too overcame his dislike.

Still poring over the menu the couple at the adjacent table came to our aid, and very enthusiastically.  So enthusiastic, in fact, that they admitted to having worked their way through every dish and would happily do an encore.  They even donated the remainder of their butter with the instruction to slather it on whatever we could.  One we had paired it with the freshly baked wild yeast bread it we began to understand the couple’s eagerness to share the joy.  Freshly whipped, lightly salted and garlicky with finely chopped shallots:

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

The menu is simply divided into slow cooking and fast cooking.  Although innovative in its layout, it was a little confusing regarding the size of the dishes, how many to order, and what the ideal dish pairings were.  Both of the waitresses were absolutely delightful: friendly, informative and attentive without being intrusive, they guided us through the menu.

Our fast cooking dishes arrived first:

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

Brussels sprout, hazelnut, cheddar, and apple salad.  The cheddar, as a rather unusual ingredient, drew me to the salad.  It tied the ingredients together with its palate tickling savouriness.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

The quail with roasted barley, turnip, shallot, and chickweed was also a success flavour-wise in its succulent sweet stickiness.  I did, however, face an unwelcome surprise when I crunched down hard on a concealed bone…

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

Next to arrive in the flurry of dishes was grilled venison, onion squash, honey, pumpkin seeds, and reindeer moss.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

Once again chef Oliver Gladwin’s creativity and sensitivity to ingredients shone through.  The venison was perfectly pink, tender and complemented both visually and in flavour by the smooth onion squash puree.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

The last of our main courses was the slow cooked black winter truffle, wild mushroom ragu with celeriac and sage oil.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

The deep rich narcotic aroma of truffle preceded the dish’s arrival.  Nor was its perfume illusory. The sage leaves were crisp to the point that they shattered against the other elements.  The wild mushrooms were comfortingly meaty, chewy and luscious, and the puree of celeriac, so often dismissed as an ingredient, was sumptuous and creamy with a subtle tang of lemon. This is a dish that would unite meat lovers and vegetarians in perfect ambrosial harmony, and so good my dining companion and I were left fighting over the last mushroom- definitely one of my top dishes in London.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

For dessert my dining companion ordered the magnum vienetta parfait: velvety ice cream rippled with layers of slated butterscotch and dark chocolate.  It was with great reluctance that he allowed me to try it.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

I was obliged by my maple syrup obsession to have maple syrup pudding, preserved plum, rum, and buttermilk.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

This was intelligently assembled with the sourness of the buttermilk ice cream slicing through the sweetness of the pudding element.  I would have liked a little more maple syrup on the plate, but as I’m an addict of the stuff it could just be me.  The plums were a little under-ripe, too, but I imagine when they’re in season this dessert really comes into its own.

Rabbit - Culina Restaurant Review

All in all, dining at Rabbit was a wonderful experience: great service, a tastefully playful rustic atmosphere, and innovative, fresh, flavourful, high quality cuisine.  Ignore the detox lies, simply eat well – Rabbit is a great place to do just that (unless you find yourself eating the whole menu as the couple adjacent to me did, clearly easily done).

Food: 9/10

Price: ££££

Ambience: 8.5/10

Service: 10/10

Loos: 7/10

Suitable for: casual dates, celebrations, brunch, dinner, family, friends, vegetarians, vegans

 

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Square Meal

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The Ivy Market Grill - Review

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The Ivy Market Grill - Review

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The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review Twelve hours of starvation, a 5.30 wake up and, waiting for me, a pair of over-sized nappy-esque translucent paper knickers.   Having first been warned of the potential risk of losing sensation in my mouth possibly forever, I was then choked by a mask pumping sickly sweet anaesthetic into my lungs, and my jaw was ripped into. Drilled brutally into five pieces and followed by a thorough excavation, there was not even a remote chance of the tooth fairy visiting to collect my wisdom tooth. The drugs they gave me were stomach-writhingly potent – strong enough to crush even my most resilient characteristic: hunger. Still, the thought of lunch the next day at Richard Caring’s freshly opened Ivy Market Grill, sister of London establishment, The Ivy, was enough to keep me going. IMG_8721 The timing couldn’t have been worse: by Sunday morning my face had swollen to such an extent that I had to perfect a combo of Quagmire of Family Guy, and Debbie from The Wild Thornberrys, the Debbie hair curtain deployed to conceal the Quagmire jawline. The menu which I had pored over numerous times in admiration was restricted dramatically – only food that could fit through the 0.5cm letterbox that my mouth had become was a possibility. I was also doubled over in pain from the stomach-eroding drugs the doctor had supplied.IMG_8759 Battling valiantly through all these obstacles, I made my way to Covent Garden.   Following the success of Caring’s all-day restaurant chain, Côte, another all-day brasserie must have appeared to be a logical step. With its grand Parisian brasserie feel, elegant yet comfortable, the verbal and physical resonances of its well-established Soho sister are evident. IMG_8748 To start: pumpkin with black truffle soup (I only just resisted asking for a straw). It was presented with the flourish and drama one would expect at a top end location – a neatly balanced pumpkin ravioli surmounting pumpkin puree scattered with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds was flooded with a sweet and truffle-rich pumpkin soup. IMG_8733 I have yet to visit a restaurant with any pumpkin dish rivalling those of Caecilius, a host featured in the epigrams of Latin poet, Martial, who pushes the gourd creatively to its very limits (see below) . The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review I long to try the thousand variations-on-a-pumpkin degustation that Caecilius prepares, but have so far been let down by London restaurants in this respect. Clearly, I shall have to honour the Roman myself. In the case of the Ivy Market Grill, pumpkin four ways went some of the way both in texture and flavour. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review I tried some of my dining companion’s winter salad (shaved apple, hazelnuts, golden raisins and celery with a stilton dressing) albeit a pathetically small mouthful with obvious constraints applying. It, too, was highly refined, refreshing both to look at and in its sweet salty flavour. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review At this point I realise the review should be dedicated to the dentally challenged with whom I now sympathise. Alongside its impressive vegetarian selection, I also deem the restaurant false–tooth friendly. The risotto was perfectly al dente (or more appropriately alla mancanza di dente), the flavours well balanced – umami with comforting autumnal warmth. The portion was on the generous side too. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The roasted heritage carrots with parsley were delicious: perfectly honeyed and tender. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review One of my companions ordered the zucchini fritti, which I managed to taste. Thin and crisp and ridiculously light, one day I’ll return for more. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The chargrilled Banham half chicken, with maître d’hôtel butter and thick cut chips was also a hit according to my dining companions, as was the baked open ravioli with spinach, peas, broad beans, creamed ricotta and basil. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review Unfortunately, the quinoa, avocado and mixed leaves making up the salad element of the grilled chicken salad were overly salted, but our waitress, Alexandra, was quick to make up for the error.   With the quality of food otherwise good, I can only imagine that this was a first week opening blip. Dessert ensued.   And, naturally, I ordered the melting chocolate bombe. Soft and soupy, it complied with the surgeon’s orders exactly. The thick, hot and rich salted caramel melted the chocolate exterior, drenching the plate with milk foam, vanilla ice cream and honeycomb. The surprise element, popping candy, kept me entertained for a while. The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant reviewThe Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant reviewThe Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant reviewThe Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant reviewThe Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant reviewThe Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review I never usually seek out sorbet at a restaurant but I couldn’t refuse when my dining companion offered me some of his - doctor’s orders of course. The blood orange was sublime, the flavour both acutely sharp and sweet.The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review The Ivy Market Grill - Culina Sophia restaurant review Refined flavours, unfussy food, delightful served, and a warm, comfortable atmosphere, the Ivy Market Grill does not, in my opinion, dilute the brand; rather it strengthens it. It’s an all-day restaurant, and yes, I would happily spend all day dining there.


Martial, Epigrams XI.XXXI. On Caecilius. Caecilius, a very Atreus of gourds, tears and cuts them into a thousand pieces, just as if they were the children of Thyestes. Some of these pieces will be placed before you to begin with as a relish; they will appear again as a second course; then again as a third course. From some he will contrive a dessert; from others the baker will make mawkish patties, cakes of every form, and dates such as are sold at the theatres. By the art of the cook they are metamorphosed into all sorts of mincemeat, so that you would fancy you saw lentils and beans on the table; they are also made to imitate mushrooms and sausages, tails of tunnies and anchovies. This dextrous cook exhausts the powers of art to disguise them in every way, sometimes by means of Capellian rue. Thus he fills his dishes, and side dishes, and polished plates, and tureens, and congratulates himself upon his skill in furnishing so many dishes at the cost of a penny.


Food: 8.5/10 Price: ££££ Ambience: 7/10 Service: 9/10 Loos: 7/10 Suitable for: smart dates, celebrations, brunch, afternoon tea, all-day dining, family, friends, pre-theatre dining, Square Meal Ivy Market Grill on Urbanspoon

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Top 5 Cakes in London: Ottolenghi (1)

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Top 5 Cakes in London: Ottolenghi (1)

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Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London Yotam Ottolenghi has become something of a cult figure.  With his innovative approach both to preparation and display, he has redefined the phrase ‘eat with your eyes’.

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

The windows to his deli restaurants are a visual feast, piled high with indulgent delicacies, the cakes and pastries beckoning one inside: raspberry spattered meringues, as big as your face:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Maple-iced apple and vanilla cake;

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Pecan and vanilla pies:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

White chocolate raspberry compote cheesecake:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Plum soaked almond cake:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Ricotta and hazelnut cake:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Glazed nectarine and blackberry cake:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

 

– I could rhapsodise forever.

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Restaurants in London

 

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Restaurants in London

And if you feel that you need to earn the right to indulge, there are delicious Mediterranean-style salads in abundance:

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Restaurants in London

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Restaurants in London

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Restaurants in London

 

(and savoury tarts)

Ottolenghi - Top 5 Cakes in London

Style of cakes: British with a twist

Price: ££££

Location: Islington, Notting Hill, Belgravia

Suitable for: casual dates, brunch, dinner, afternoon tea, dessert, takeaway

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Portal

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Portal

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Portal Restaurant Review Portal is exactly what it says on the tin – a portal into a hidden space. Its chic matte black and green brick exterior, tardis-like, opens up to a beautiful glassed in courtyard. It's not very well known, but I’m pretty sure there’s a good reason for this: everyone is keeping it a secret, and so should you. You’re not going to want to compete with your friends for a table here.

Portal Restaurant Review With its serene black and white format and the floor-to-ceiling glass panes, Portal does urban chic very well. As we were a group of 12, I booked the private room (which seats 14). Wine-lined, and with a sliding glass door, you can converse audibly with your dining companions.

Portal Restaurant Review

I’ve been known to punch (accidentally) the odd stranger whilst taking my coat off or putting it on. With wine bottles as a substitute the situation was rather more precarious: I narrowly missed bringing down the entire row of 2003 Quinta do Portal ‘Auro’…

Portal Restaurant Review

Very rarely is the bread worth mentioning in a restaurant, but Portal is a cut above many: served freshly baked in engraved wine boxes along with peppery olive oil it would be hard even for the most resolute gluten-free fad enthusiast to resist.

Portal Restaurant Review

Portal Restaurant Review

Please don’t think I’m a bore, but the tap water is also worth noting: sweet, cold and crisp, and flavoured with sliced cucumber and fresh mint. And like the dining scene in Philemon and Baucis, my glass seemed to replenish itself. Attention to detail is what marks the good from the great, and Portal is definitely closer to the latter.

Portal Restaurant Review The amuse bouche was cream of gazpacho with parmesan shavings. Spoons were hard at work to scrape every last scrap of this with its fresh, spicy and bold flavours.

Portal Restaurant Review After some studious analysis of the modern Portuguese menu, I plumped for grilled vegetables with carrot and ginger puree - maybe not the most adventurous starter to choose, but I’m always on the lookout for good vegetarian food. If a meat-orientated restaurant takes its time to conjure up a good vegetarian dish then it is a true sign of its quality, rearing its head above all the meat-crazed restaurants on the scene at the moment.

Portal Restaurant Review

Clean and modern presentation was consistent throughout the meal, and Portal is definitely not shy with its green garnishes. The purée was warming and smooth, but unfortunately the carrots were a little underdone, and unusually for a restaurant, there wasn’t enough salt to draw out the earthy root vegetable sweetness.

Portal Restaurant Review

Portal Restaurant Review

Luckily, I turned carnivore for the next course: the duck breast with apple, chard and summer cup reduction.

Portal Restaurant Review

Sweet, juicy, tender, succulent, cooked to the perfect shade of blush, this was the wagyu of the duck world.

Portal Restaurant Review

The red of the apples added drama to the plate, and they too were cooked to perfection with their creamy combination of sweet and sour. With all elements so beautifully in sync with their bold simplicity, this dish is a reason in itself to visit Portal.

One of my dining companions ordered the sirloin, aubergine puree, shallots and peas. The downside of the private room is that it’s impossible to get to the other side of the table fast enough to assuage severe food envy.

Portal Restaurant Review

Inevitably it was excellent…or so I was told.

Portal Restaurant Review The Dover sole, cauliflower purée, smoked pork belly and lemon foam also went down very well.

Portal Restaurant Review Sadly, however, the vegetarian option of tofu, broad bean and shimeji fell short. My dining companion had to resort to self-seasoning - a drastic action and a real shame.

Portal Restaurant Review

A bottle of white and of red in (both delicious), dessert was definitely necessary.  I ordered the fruit salad, and no, this is not a cop-out. Portal’s fruit salad makes up for its healthiness with visual decadence. It happens also to be delicious as the fine slicing contributes to appreciation of the fruits’ flavour.

Portal Restaurant Review It would have been sacrilegious not to try Portal’s pasteis de nata, accompanied by cinnamon ice cream: fine crisp pastry with a burnished gold custard filling – traditional and very good. And I’m an ardent fan of cinnamon, so the ice cream was highly pleasing too.

Portal Restaurant Review

Portal Restaurant Review

A full stomach hindered my speed in getting to the other desserts (I had to pass the camera round), but they were thoroughly enjoyed.

Coconut and Lime Mousse, Pineapple Coulis, Marshmallow and Miso Sauce:

Portal Restaurant Review

Pudim Abade de Priscos and Strawberries:

Portal Restaurant Review

Portal Restaurant Review

We finished the meal with a round of fresh mint tea, and delicate and zesty lemon curd tartlets.

Portal Restaurant Review If you’re looking for the best duck in London, an urban chic oasis in the heart of the city, and delicious food with a Portuguese slant, go to Portal. Just don’t tell too many people.

Food: 8.5/10

Price: ££££

Ambience: 9.5/10

Service: 9/10

Loos: 9/10

Suitable for: smart dates, celebrations, business lunches, family, friends, private dining, chef's table

 

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Nopi

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Nopi

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Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review Last December, I visited Vietnam, some of whose most renowned dishes – like pho – include seafood and pork.  As I was with a vegetarian this was clearly not ideal, so our guide thoughtfully took us to a “vegetarian” restaurant. Its conception of vegetarianism, however, was a little warped; the fact that vegetarians eschew meat as they don’t want to eat it was lost on them.  This restaurant had dedicated a lot of time and thought into hubristically imitating the textures, flavours and shapes of meat and seafood. Rubbery pieces of unnameable mottled gunge floated limply on a meaty tasting broth, and fleshy pink sponge had been moulded into the semblance of shrimps lined up proudly on the serving plate. It turned out to be one of the most grotesque meals of my life, and would not have been out of place at Trimalchio’s dinner table (along with the fish made out of a sow's belly, a woodpigeon out of bacon, a turtledove out of a ham, and a chicken out of a knuckle of pork…).

Dinner at Ottolenghi... #ottolenghi #luscious #red #raspberry #cake #tart #decadence

A photo posted by Culina (@culinasophia) on

Although not perhaps to the same extent as that Vietnamese restaurant, vegetarian cuisine is all too often perceived as a restricted carnivorous diet: poor, disadvantaged vegetarians cannot enjoy the pinnacle of the carnivore’s diet - a steak/burger - so instead they often have to make do with a lesser equivalent: a sole Portobello mushroom - the vegetable perceived to be closest in taste to meat. The small-mindedness continues with meat being considered the focal point of the carnivore’s diet, so the apparently logical option for vegetarians is to substitute another food group, namely dairy.  An example of this is at the famed Relais de Venise in Marylebone where vegetarians have to make do with a plate of fat-laden casein.  Thank goodness for Yotam Ottolenghi.  Since the first branch of the Ottolenghi  delicatessen in Belgravia was created 12 years ago, he has been making waves on the food scene, and they are becoming tidal. His food is not solely vegetarian but he has revolutionised both carnivores’ and vegetarians’ appreciation of the potential of vegetables.  His recipes create such strikingly brilliant flavour combinations that the vegetarian ones are enough to turn the heads of even the most carnivorous.

As a proud owner of all of his cookbooks, a huge fan of all three of Ottolenghi branches, as well as the restaurants that his protégé chefs have opened, it seemed only reasonable to try Nopi, Yotam’s restaurant in Soho.  I had been told by numerous friends that Nopi was a disappointing experience but I thought I would risk disillusionment and try it out for myself.

The décor is similar to the Ottolenghi branches, with white-washed brick walls, and elegant copper lamps suspended from the ceiling creating a clean, chic environment.  My dining companion and I were led to our table which was noticeably small, especially when the restaurant concept is based around small sharing plates.  We hadn’t seen each other for months and it took a while to get round to deciding our order – a common occurrence, and one that I wouldn’t normally acknowledge in a review, except that our conversation was punctuated by our charmless waiter every two minutes  brusquely demanding our order.

When we did order and our food arrived, the table, as I had predicted, inevitably became rather crowded.  The first dish I tried was burrata, miyagawa, coriander seeds, and white balsamic:

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

The plating was modern and refined, and the burrata itself was as it should be: deliciously creamy with an almost molten centre.  However, though the coriander may have worked flavour wise, it hindered the pleasure of eating the dish as the whole seeds became gritty and rather tiresome after a minute of chewing with the flavour long gone.  The citrus addition worked well as an astringent, but more was needed particularly as the white balsamic proved elusive.

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

I moved on to the roasted aubergine, saffron yoghurt, mixed seeds, and pickled chilli. It was ok, but lacking some of the punch that the same dish in Ottolenghi has.

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

I had also chosen the Tenderstem broccoli, spiced buttermilk, and black fungus.  This was another disappointment as the broccoli was slightly undercooked and the black fungus which had drawn me to the dish in the first place was lacking in flavour altogether.

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

Next were the courgette & feta fritters.  Crisp and hot, with a delicious filling, these were the best dish by far but, regrettably, that’s not saying much…

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

To top off the mediocre food, our brusque waiter kicked us out of the restaurant two hours after we had arrived.  At 9 o’clock there was no one queueing, nor was there a lack of available tables.  This is understandable at a busy restaurant at a busy time, but the utter lack of charm tainted my opinion further.  Take my advice: don’t bother going here, go to Ottolenghi instead.

The loos were rather exciting though…

Nopi - Ottolenghi restaurant review

(I walked into about 3 people)

Food: 5/10

Price: ££££

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 3/10

Loos: 9/10

Suitable for: casual dates, celebrations, business lunches, family, friends

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Hibiscus

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Hibiscus

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Hibiscus restaurant About a year ago, I went on a truffle hunt in Tuscany.  All morning we followed a hound through brambles, along slippery river banks, and across soggy fields, zigzagging and doubling back on our tracks, now fast, now slow, until at long last he dug his nose into some mud and began to shiver with excitement, and out came a truffle the size of a thumbnail.  I am in no hurry to do that again, and luckily for truffle lovers there is Hibiscus, the restaurant in Maddox Street, which offers a Truffle Menu amongst its other menus. Alongside its double Michelin star award,

Hibiscus boasts a Relais & Chateaux plaque, five AA rosettes, and has been ranked at number seven in the Good Food Guide 2014.  However, as I experienced a few months ago at Gordon Ramsay’s supposedly Michelin standard Pétrus, awards can sometimes be misleading. With my guard resolutely up, I entered the smart, clean-lined, blue/grey velvet world of Hibiscus.  The Head Chef is Claude Bosi, and the menus reflect his sensitivity to seasonal and local produce.  Having decided to save the Truffle Menu for a special occasion, I and my companions chose from the Lunch Menu.

This arrived before starters:

Hibiscus restaurant

Very tongue in cheek.

Hibiscus restaurant

Hollowed out egg shells filled with curry spiced aerated coconut milk with a delicate mushroom cream.  Witty, innovative, bold and delicious, it did exactly what  a good amuse bouche should do: titillate the palate whilst providing a hint of what’s to come - in this case paving the way for Claude Bosi’s bold, modern and interesting twist on Modern European cuisine.

Hibiscus restaurant

The starters continued to impress.  I had the pumpkin velouté, blue cheese royale, and buttermilk.

Hibiscus restaurant

Hibiscus restaurant

Hibiscus restaurant

Hibiscus restaurant

The sweet, perfectly smooth pumpkin velouté contrasted with the sharp saltiness of the blue cheese, and the pumpkin seeds and cubes of pumpkin added textural interest to the dish.

Hibiscus restaurant

I also tried the cured Var Salmon with Celery, Blackberry and Wasabi.  It matched the high standard of the velouté.  The salmon was soft and delicately sweet with the additional ingredients working in perfect harmony.

Hibiscus restaurant

My other dining companion’s starter met with joy too: pork belly and lobster Ravioli, paimpol beans, red pepper, and raspberry.  When my companion accidentally spilt his glass of water on to the ravioli as the dish was placed in front of him, it was swept away immediately by the waiter and replaced within five minutes without any sneering or snootiness.

Hibiscus restaurant

For main course I chose the poached cod à la Grenobloise. The fillet was beautifully cut, and just-cooked, so that the flesh was soft and juicy.  The fillet sat on a nutty, browned butter sauce with crisp golden breadcrumbs adding texture, and the subtly vinegary capers worked as an astringent cutting through the creamy richness of the cod.

Hibiscus restaurant

My companions thoroughly enjoyed the confit duck leg with chorizo, sweetcorn and gem lettuce, and the veal cheeks, parsnip and truffle, and sauce Veronique.

Hibiscus restaurant

Hibiscus restaurant

With such refined, innovative and bold savoury courses, dessert unfortunately fell slightly short.  I chose roast figs, whisky ice cream and raspberry.  Visually, the dessert worked very well, and spearing the roast figs with vanilla pods is a wonderful idea – one I shall definitively imitate.  However, there was not enough sweetness in the dish.  The restaurant was possibly relying on the natural sweetness of the figs since they were in season, but combined with the sourness of the raspberry, it missed the mark.  The whisky ice cream was very good though, possessing just the right balance between creaminess and alcoholic tang.

Hibiscus restaurant

My companion’s burrata with parsnip and pear compote also failed to meet the high expectations that the previous two courses had created.  The pear and parsnip pairing appeared interesting on paper, and could have been made to work had the parsnip been roasted to draw out its sweetness.  Sadly, it was bland both in terms of colour and flavour.  A drizzle of honey as well as some sort of astringent was necessary to cut through the richness of the burrata.

Hibiscus restaurant

When we left, we were handed little boxes of miniature freshly baked raspberry and pistachio madeleines which were delicious.

Hibiscus restaurant

Overall, the ambience is good, the service impeccable, and although the desserts were somewhat disappointing, the savoury dishes were excellent- unfussy, innovative and clever.

Food: 8.5/10

Price: ££££

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Loos: 9/10

Suitable for: smart dates, celebrations, business lunches, family, friends

 

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Le Caprice

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Le Caprice

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iced fleur de sel chocolate crunch bar Tucked away behind the Ritz, the more discreet sister restaurant of the Ivy lurks.  I’ve been going to Le Caprice for so long that it’s a home from home.

At the age of 18 months, the waiters would stack up plump cushions for me to sit on, and I would eat contentedly, no crying or screaming.  Twenty years later and the service is still wonderful - once, when the soufflé I had ordered collapsed before it left the kitchen, an array of petit fours were given to me and my dining companions to tide us over for the extra 5 minutes' waiting time.

Once the subtle, blue, lit ” Le Caprice” sign comes into focus, you are greeted by the top- hatted doorman who swings the revolving door.

Le Caprice restaurant

You enter another world – the décor is classically chic with a black and white colour scheme creating a crisp, bright, understated, formal  atmosphere.  If you’re lucky, Jesus Adorno, the face of the restaurant who has been there since the doors opened in 1981, will greet you at reception and within moments sweep you off to your table.  On Sunday I went for brunch, but I’d also recommend also going for dinner, when a jazz pianist heightens the sense of occasion further.   My favourite place to eat is in the alcove lined with the Paolozzi installation.

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's installation, Le Caprice

Sunday brunch began with a cocktail, naturally.  Bloody Mary, extra spicy. The breadbaskets were full of freshly baked bread, and banana crumble muffins which were fresh, delicious and not overly sweet.

Banana crumble muffin, Le Caprice

Quickly gone - Banana crumble muffin, Le Caprice

To start, I ordered the heritage beets, crispy goat’s cheese with a truffle honey dressing.  Nestled amongst the peppery rocket leaves and sweet vinegary Murex coloured (rich Roman dye) beetroot slices was the savoury smooth molten goat’s cheese.  With the truffle dressing to tie the dish together it worked very well.

heritage beets, crispy goat’s cheese with a truffle honey dressing, Le Caprice

heritage beets, crispy goat’s cheese with a truffle honey dressing, Le Caprice

I opted, then, for the Caprice burger.

The Caprice burger, Le Caprice

The Caprice burger, Le Caprice

A burger is usually a good way of testing the standard of a restaurant, and the Caprice burger does not let the restaurant’s reputation down.  It’s juicy, buttery, and flavoursome.  The bun is delicate and fluffy, and combined with the delicious club sauce - a well- balanced tomato salsa, the burger is not far from perfection.  And then there are the pommes allumettes…  Some of London’s best.  They are so good that I’ve known friendships to end over them.

Pommes allumettes, Le Caprice - friendships have ended over these

Once I had got through mine I had to steal a few from my unsuspecting companions.

stealing pommes allumettes, Le Caprice

After a few more Bloody Marys, dessert was looking like an impossibility but Bertrand, our wonderful waiter, convinced me otherwise.  The Caprice iced berries dessert have become so famous that they’ve been frequently imitated – for example, the restaurant chain Côte has now incorporated them into their menu.  They’re good but nothing like the original.  The iced berries are no longer on the menu, but if you’re a seasoned patron you’ll know that it exists off the menu (along with several other secret dishes).

Iced berries, Le Caprice - an off-the-menu secret dessert

Iced berries, Le Caprice - an off-the-menu secret dessert

Iced berries, Le Caprice - an off-the-menu secret dessert

Iced berries, Le Caprice - an off-the-menu secret dessert

This beautiful creation also appeared at the table:

iced fleur de sel chocolate crunch bar

iced fleur de sel chocolate

The iced fleur de sel chocolate crunch bar is most definitely not style over substance.  It is a sumptuous feast of salted tempered chocolate layered over light chocolate mousse with white chocolate ice cream and chocolate coated popping candy.

iced fleur de sel chocolate

We rounded the meal off with fresh mint tea and truffles.

Fresh mint tea, Le Caprice

Definitely order the latter.    The tempered fine chocolate shell gives way to the velvety salted caramel and passion fruit ganache interiors and they are seriously addictive.

salted caramel and passion fruit ganache truffles, Le Caprice

Le Caprice truly does deserve its place as a London institution.  It ticks all the boxes.  The ambience and service are unbeatable, and the food is reliably delicious, unfussy & generously portioned.   I can never return soon enough.

Price – ££££

Ambience – 10/10

Food – 9/10

Service – 10/10

Loos – 8/10

Suitable  for: dates, celebrations, family gatherings, pre-theatre

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Quaglino's - the relaunch

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Quaglino's - the relaunch

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IMG_5805 Glamour is what was promised, and glamour is undoubtedly what we got. My dining companion and I were attending the pre-launch of the just-refurbished 85 year old London institution, Quaglino’s, due to re-open officially on 17th October.

The door to the art deco style entrance was swung open by the doorman decked out in glitzy gold brocade, and the old school Disney theme continued as we descended into the underground palace.  Hostesses sashayed around in their gold and black, clearly enjoying the swish of their gold pleated trains – an OTT style more suited to a Middle Eastern restaurant, according to my companion.

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The bar features undulating black leather seats, creating an intimate space for a large number of people:  an impressive feat, bearing in mind the hugeness of the space.  A show was put on for us, with the warm-spiced, citrus scent of the house-made vermouth drifting seductively from its glass vessel.  Our charming Italian barman readily poured us each a shot to try. Delicious.  A test tube of mossy green dill liqueur was held up for us to smell, and we were presented with crystalline ice globes chiselled from the block of ice displayed prominently on the bar counter.

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The cocktail menu is extensive, divided into past, present, future and prestige, designed to emphasise Quaglino’s solid place in London’s restaurant history.  I asked the barman for something containing lychee, and received this beautiful gin and cucumber creation:

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I liked the fact that it wasn’t too sweet, but all in all, I thought it tasted a bit too healthy.  My dining companion went for a whisky, vermouth, and apricot concoction on the rocks – very strong and very good, a dangerous mix.  The drinks are certainly not cheap (£12-15), but as my friend pointed out, one’s paying in part for the knowledge and skill of the barmen.

N.B. my camera broke at this point so quality is lower hereon.

Unfortunately, we had to remind the bar staff ten minutes after our booking time that we were waiting for a table, but we were swiftly joined by a uniformed hostess.  She led us down the gleaming gold front lit staircase to the dining room.

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I only narrowly avoided tripping on the train of her dress.  The space is sprawling, with thick white columns on each side, and lit up panels overhead. From this point on, service was immaculate, with no eye avoidance, and no pestering.  The sommelier, waitress & waiter were all helpful and willing.  Slippers of bread still warm from the oven arrived immediately.  To start, I had the London smoked salmon.

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The accompanying horseradish cream, capers, and finely chopped onion were served separately by the waitress, which was a nice touch.  The salmon looked good, but it wasn’t extraordinary.  The dish would have been made more refined by cutting the slices more finely.   My companion chose the Lobster ravioli in a marmite bisque – an interesting mix which made sense with the delicate initial sweetness of the lobster cut through by the later saltiness of the marmite infusion.

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I then chose the chicken with girolles, Jerusalem artichoke, and a truffle-infused jus.

The positives:  The chicken breast was elegantly frenched, cooked well, and served in a stylish white bowl.  It was pleasing to find a dish containing Jerusalem artichokes, so often under-used.  Finely sliced, these added an earthy, savoury depth to the dish which was complemented by the girolles and jus.

The negatives:  the waitress told me that the only meat was chicken breast, but hidden underneath the breast, I found a piece of rubbery, goose pimpled chicken skin wrapped round some of the brown meat.  I had to set aside this unpleasant surprise, almost losing some of the girolles, too, which had been camouflaged. In my opinion, if skin is to be kept, it should be crisp, and used to add texture to the dish.  This wasn’t the case here.

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My companion ordered the venison with parsnip purée, braised red cabbage, and sauce Grand Veneur.  The venison was tender and pink, and the other classical pairings were done well.  He thought the portion size a little mean, however.  The side of Gratin Dauphinois was disappointing – the crisp golden crust promised joy, but gave way to slices of potato floating in an overly runny, cream sauce.

Valrhona chocolate fondant was the obvious choice for dessert, and met our high expectations: rich velvety, and molten.  A twist of added ginger, or another exotic ingredient, would have been welcome to cut through the richness, but even without it, the fondant was greatly appreciated.  The Colston Bassett cheese course was also good – the pairing of a mustard-infused quince jelly worked well, and the house-made fruit and nut crackers were very good, although too few.  The waitress, however, willingly brought us a few more.

The experience was slightly Disney and with a few errors, but  enjoyable all the same.

Food: 7/10

Drinks: 9/10

Price: ££££

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Loos: 9/10

Suitable for: dates, celebrations, reunions, family, friends

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