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Berner's Tavern


Berner's Tavern


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


Smoking Goat - Review


Smoking Goat - Review


  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.



Ambience: 5/10

Service: 5/10

Loos: 3/10

Price: ££££

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



Smoking Goat on Urbanspoon

Square Meal


Quaglino's - the relaunch


Quaglino's - the relaunch


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Square Meal

Quaglino's on Urbanspoon



Opium Bar & Bob Bob Ricard


Opium Bar & Bob Bob Ricard


Scroll down to watch the drama play out... “We’re going to a secret place,” I was told.  My friend found me amongst the throngs of Gerrard Street and whizzed me off to Opium.


The only ‘feature’ identifying the bar is a doorman – but don’t be intimidated as he’s lovely, and no way near as surly as the one at Purl in Marylebone.  Once through the shabby black door we clambered up the narrow wooden staircase, with bars located on both the second and third floors.  We stopped fleetingly to meet the manager: my friend is one of the most charming people I know, and has now found a second home in Opium - so much so that he has been known to spend eight hours straight there.  And the vibe at Opium is indeed warm, with its wooden walls and seating, and the abundance of red jars and décor.  The energy of the crowd pleased to have located this exclusive hard-to-find spot is also invigorating, and there’s no two hour turn around, nor waiters nudging bills at you while you’re finishing your first drink.

IMG_5405 - Copy

We sat on stools around a wooden bartender’s table lined with apothecary-style bottles filled with innumerable spirits.


The bar staff are fun, unpretentious, and supremely talented.  When I requested a cocktail, my only stipulation was that it should be savoury and, after some theatrics, this beauty was served to me.


Exactly what I wanted.  I’m not entirely sure what it was, but imagine it was along the lines of the Boulevardier of Sour Dreams: nikka from the barrel, fresh orange juice, antica formula, campari, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup, egg white, orange zest garnish.  Utterly sublime.



Price - ££££

Drinks - 10/10

Ambience – 8/10

Service – 9/10

Suitable for: dates, friends, celebrations, late night drinks, bar food

Opium on Urbanspoon

Square Meal After several cocktails, we stumbled off to Bob Bob Ricard, a Gatsby-esque restaurant dominating the corner of St James’ Street.  The doorman & maître d', decked out in pale pink, were charming.  Opulence is the theme here but with none of the attached snootiness.  I tied in well with the décor, wearing an all-over leopard print dress – my singing teacher, who possesses leopard print everything, would have been proud.


We were guided through the maze of businessmen and couples to our own deliciously intimate booth.  Its gold-lined marble table glittered beneath mirrored gold ceiling tiles, and was encircled by plush velvet curtains to shield us from other diners on three sides.  For the four of us not known to hold back on raucous laughter, this was perfect.


This restaurant is also ahead of the game in terms of marketing: the BBR “press for champagne button” toys with one’s willpower.  Who has ever resisted a button?  Even the fire alarm button became too much for one girl at my school.  She was expelled a week later.  Maybe it was worth it.  My willpower lasted ten minutes (I had to test that it worked, of course).


The waiter arrived seconds later, and we went for a bottle of Ayal Rose Majeur, NV: sweet, pink and crisp.  At a later point in the evening, the waiter missed the flute while pouring. ‘Spillage is lickage’ is definitely not appropriate for BBR, but nor is losing some of your £75 investment… Our waiter had also misled us in saying that the Brut was the same price as the Rosé.  It is not.




We plunged straight into main courses with the 2010 Rioja to keep it company.  As we were being served, a couple was shown to the only table in our sight-line, that is, directly opposite.   Perhaps they were confused by the level of intimacy provided by the booths, but for the rest of the evening we had the questionable luxury of VIP seats for their love fest, rudely interrupted on occasion by the waiter.  After toying with the idea of the lemon sole goujons, I chose the filet mignon rossini: 28 day aged scotch beef with seared foie gras, confit apple, served with truffle gravy.  Gorgeous presentation:



But flavour wise, the dish was mixed.

The positives: tender, nicely cooked pink fillet steak.  It was juicy, very fine quality & had zero fat – a winner in my book. The accompanying truffle sauce was flavourful, and complemented the sweetness of the steak very well, too.


I was caught stealing some of my friend’s chips…


Well-portioned, and served in an elegant pink-lined box, these were delightful – thin, crunchy, and potentially rivalling those of Le Caprice.

The negatives:  the foie gras.  I’m not a PETA supporter etc. , and am happy to try foie gras in full knowledge of the gruesome production process.  The flavour itself is full of umami – deeply savoury.  So savoury, however, that the flavour dominates, and then lingers.  Not even a gulp of the Rioja could clear my palate after the minute piece of foie gras.  The globes of confit apple were intelligently added to cleanse and refresh the palate.  They were tangy and gave a crisp crunch to the softer textures on the plate.  However, they tasted as if they had been prepared a (long) while in advance – like a cloth that has remained damp overnight.  The side portion of sautéed spinach was also on the mean side for an inexpensive ingredient so quick to prepare.


My companions, meanwhile, enjoyed their crispy suckling pork belly (one called it the best he’d ever had), and lobster macaroni and cheese.  I tried the latter, and it was indeed delicious.


Dessert was dramatic: having spent at least an hour menu-stalking that morning I knew I was going to have the BBR signature chocolate glory dish - chocolate jivara mousse, chocolate brownie, meringue, and passion fruit jelly.







The melting chocolate sphere has become a mainstay for several restaurants, with the drama adding a flourish to the end of a meal.  I recently visited Petrus, Gordon Ramsay’s 2012 Michelin Star restaurant.  Sadly, that meal was a compilation of negatives, with the only dish worth remembering being their chocolate sphere.  But why bother going to Petrus – atmosphere- less, poor, and excruciatingly slow service, and food that is below weak (an M&S ready meal is far superior and a fraction of the cost)?  Do, on the other hand, bother with the BBR signature dessert: a shimmering gold globe, lashings of smoothly intense chocolate sauce, and the refreshing tang of passion fruit (plus a great photo opportunity).


All in all, a wonderfully opulent experience - not perfection, but now that the taste of foie gras has faded, I shall be back to try the lemon sole goujons.

Bob Bob Ricard

Price - ££££

Ambience – 10/10

Food – 7/10

Service – 7/10

Loos – 10/10

Suitable  for: Dates, celebrations


Quaglino's on Urbanspoon

Square Meal