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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street for Brunch

Balans Soho Society Old Compton Street for Sunday Brunch

Blue Elephant – Imperial Wharf, London

Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch

Counter Vauxhall Arches – Brunch

Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch

Indigo Restaurant Sunday Brunch at One Aldwych

Kurobuta Marble Arch – Sunday Brunch

La Porte des Indes for Sunday Jazz Brunch

Mestizo Sunday Brunch with UNESCO support

One Canada Square for Saturday Brunch

OXBO for Saturday Brunch

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore - Grand Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

Book review: 500 Breakfasts and Brunches

Book review: Brunch

Book review: Gale Gand’s Brunch

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Food & Drink
- Brunch

On this page:

Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street for Brunch

Balans Soho Society Old Compton Street for Sunday Brunch

Blue Elephant – Imperial Wharf, London

Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch

Counter Vauxhall Arches – Brunch

Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch

Indigo Restaurant Sunday Brunch at One Aldwych

Kurobuta Marble Arch – Sunday Brunch

La Porte des Indes for Sunday Jazz Brunch

Mestizo Sunday Brunch with UNESCO support

One Canada Square for Saturday Brunch

OXBO for Saturday Brunch

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore - Grand Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

Book review: 500 Breakfasts and Brunches

Book review: Brunch

Book review: Gale Gand’s Brunch

Sunday Brunch - Kurobuta Marble Arch

Kurobuta I confess, I had no idea what to expect. Yes, it was going to be Japanese. But a Sunday Brunch Buffet? How was that going to work? In my admittedly somewhat limited experience, Japanese food comes in two varieties: first – casual noodles; second – etiquette-riddled kaiseki cuisine. So how would a Sunday brunch buffet work then, between those two possible options?

Kurobuta the restaurant was a surprise. None of the minimalist and pale lines of so many Japanese restaurants in London. Think beach bar or a nightclub specialising in food, that just happens to have exceptionally good live music on Sundays. It’s urban and completely fitting the location and the local clientele. Think fun and young.

Every Saturday and Sunday, Kurobuta Marble Arch offers a Brunch Menu with Live Buffet. That doesn’t mean the food is still moving, only that it’s freshly cooked and that is, after all, the ethos of Japanese cuisine. The buffet starts at noon and last seating is at 4pm. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for a set price including wine and beer, with options to upgrade to unlimited prosecco. There are also items from the regular menu which one can order as extras, and there are a couple of those which I can recommend.

Kurobuta You will be welcomed with a glass of punch or a cocktail and be shown to your rustic table, and then it’s on to the food! First there is the Build your own Ramen station with small bowls of noodles awaiting their hot broth, and on this day it was either pork or miso with toppings and condiments on the side to personalise each portion. Yes, Japanese really do have soup with almost every meal and a good miso soup can be addictive – with or without noodles.

Kurobuta Fried Chicken is a winner. These crunchy nuggets are spiced to perfection. One can then grab a bowl of hot rice and top that with slivers of beer-grilled steak, with perhaps a garnish of finely chopped spring onions and some green chilli. That’s the charm of this style of dining – one can compose multiple taste and texture combinations.

Kurobuta Salmon Sashimi Pizza with Truffle Ponzu and Wasabi Tobiko is an absolute fusion star! The pizza base is actually thin and delicate fried pastry that holds the beautiful topping which is finished with striking tobiko. That’s flying fish roe, often used in some kinds of sushi. Sometimes tobiko is coloured, as in this case, with wasabi to make it green and spicy.

Tofu Wang-Taki is light bean curd, and the Sushi and Sashimi need no explanation. And then there was a bowl of Onsen Eggs. These are traditional Japanese low-temperature cooked eggs which were originally slow-cooked in the water of onsen or hot springs in Japan. The eggs have a soft texture, being poached inside the shell and they are often served with the shell removed in a small cup with a sauce of broth and soy sauce.

But there are also regular menu dishes. BBQ Pork Belly in Steamed Buns with Spicy Peanut Soy sauce is a signature dish here and it’s no surprise. The buns are first steamed and then torched, which gives a more rustic and hearty appearance. The meat is meltingly tender after hours of marinating and slow cooking. But that peanut sauce is for which to die!

Kurobuta Nasu Dengaku - Sticky Miso Grilled Aubergine with Candied Walnuts - is another dish not to miss. These well-presented chunks of butter-soft aubergines are glazed with a flavoursome sweet and savoury preparation and sprinkled with both black and white sesame seeds and topped with walnuts. I would pay for that recipe!

Mochi Ice Cream is on the regular menu and it’s one of my favourite Japanese desserts. It’s a combination of the chewy rice-cake wrapper filled with tangy Yuzu ice cream. A cool end to a delightful meal!

Kurobuta Marble Arch is unexpected but it works and I can see it’s the way forward as an informal introduction to often-intimidating Japanese food. It’s friendly and inclusive. There are no issues with a complicated sequence of courses. There is not the threat of an inelegant low table nor the pitying glares of waiters as one’s ineptly juggled sushi disintegrates in the soy sauce; and is it rude to eat noodles without slurping? I have had sleepless nights of remembered humiliation over such disasters. No, you are simply in for a good time with good food at Kurobuta.

Kurobuta Marble Arch
17-20 Kendal Street
Marble Arch
London W2 2AW

Monday to Sunday all day bookings from noon to 22.30

Reservations: 020 7920 6440

Visit Kurobuta Marble Arch here
food and travel reviews

Saturday Brunch at OXBO

oxbo This isn’t my first visit to OXBO and it won’t be my last. Yes, dear reader, it’s a restaurant in a hotel but it has very individual and quirky charm, and food to appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. Its weekend Brunches and Roasts are becoming celebrated and visitors to London couldn’t find a better location. Oxbo in the Hilton at Bankside is a comfy venue which works well for groups at weekends. Its tables are configured in such a way as to provide a little privacy. Folks can enjoy a meal and then become tourists in this historic area.

Bankside is part of the London Borough of Southwark and located on the southern bank of the River Thames. The name is recorded in 1554 as the Banke syde. In Elizabethan times it was outside the jurisdiction and therefore the laws of the City of London and so became the area of choice for those looking for such amusements as bear-baiting pits and playhouses, and that included Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre was built in 1599 but burned down in 1613, was rebuilt the next year, and then closed by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished shortly after. A modern replica was constructed in the late 1990s. That’s just around the corner from OXBO!

oxbo After the success of the Bottomless Sunday Roasts, OXBO has now launched its Bottomless Saturday Brunch. This follows the same dining format as that for the Sunday Roast. One grazes the starter counter first. The Salad Table might include dishes of potato salad, ratatouille, barley couscous, as well as lots of other fresh and flavourful preparations. Fish dishes of sliced salmon and swordfish sashimi, tiger prawns, a couple of varieties of gravadlax, and swordfish ceviche are on offer.

Carnivores are catered for with platters of ham, peppered pastrami, smoked chicken, spiced Iberico chorizo, and smoked turkey breast. Vegetarians are offered yuzu marinated tofu, marinated mozzarella, olives and other vegetable salads and cheeses. But don’t fill up on these, as Saturday brunch also offers eggs!

oxbo Brunch is the marriage of breakfast and lunch, so egg dishes are invariably included. Here the open kitchen presents a platform for chefs to showcase ‘Eggs Your Way’: boiled, poached or scrambled. But there are also composed dishes of classic Eggs Benedict and Eggs Royal, Three-Egg Omelette with fillings, and Waffles, too - and they could also constitute a dessert.

But there is another savoury course before those sweet waffles. There will be a selection of ever-changing dishes for the whole table to share. We enjoyed salmon and beef and ravioli, along with glasses of cava which never dipped below the half-way point. The beef, in particular, was melting and flavourful, and the cheese and walnut raviolis were an understated triumph.

But there was still dessert! Yes, the kids might have their eyes firmly fixed on the aforementioned freshly cooked waffles along with syrups and sprinkles, but the rest of the party will appreciate the patisserie here. There are fine miniature tarts with fruits, nuts or chocolate, and there are cookies and pastries too.

I met Executive Chef Paul Bates a number of years ago when he worked at ‘another place’. He has built a solid reputation and OXBO isn’t in any way a retrograde step. Its open kitchen offers a bit of light culinary interaction, but it’s the changing main dishes and the quality of the buffet plates that assure OXBO’s continued success.

oxbo Bottomless Brunch includes three courses and unlimited Prosecco or Cava, the standard Brunch includes three courses and a glass of Prosecco or Cava, and these brunches are available every Saturday.

Booking allocations are between 12 noon and 3pm.

Bottomless Bookings will have an allocation of 2 hours.

OXBO Restaurant
Hilton London Bankside
2-8 Great Suffolk Street
London SE1 0UG

Phone: 020 7593 3900

Visit OXBO here
For more information on the Sunday Roast visit here

food and travel reviews

Brunch Counter – Vauxhall Arches

Counter Vauxhall One could easily miss it! Counter truly is under the arches at Vauxhall station. Its entrance is understated but don’t pass by. This is worth a visit at any time of day. It has great character and is something of a Tardis. Its narrow frontage opens onto London’s longest restaurant, its 175 covers in a 200-foot long arch! Yes, a large restaurant but its architecture contrives to create an intimate ambiance.

Counter is a brasserie, a breakfast venue, a lunch café, a convivial dinner spot and a venue for late night revels. Some days see Counter opening at 7am and closing as late as 1.30am. The atmosphere and clientele change over those hours, although many of those visitors are regulars. The location couldn’t be more convenient but it’s the food and the service that are the cornerstones to success in a city that boasts plenty of choice.

I have visited for dinner and also for a hot winter afternoon snack but this was my first daylight encounter with Counter. Brunch is a casual meal and one to be shared. One sits comfortably, ponders menus, chats with friends, makes plans for the rest of the day and eats …and drinks. Brunch isn’t a meal to hurry.

Counter is vibrant at any time of day or night. Brunch finds tables filled with animated hungry folks who want either classic breakfast offerings or more lunchy temptations. Along with their chosen plates they will likely enjoy a Bottomless Bellini, a glass of prosecco or, my favourite, a Bloody Mary!

Counter Vauxhall Brunch with some sort of fizz is standard these days but this was the first brunch in ages that has offered me a Bloody Mary. It’s more spiced than others I have tried but was absolutely to my taste. If you aren’t interested in a hit of zing then order one without chilli …I think that would be called an alcoholic tomato juice and would be, in my opinion, standing in Mary’s shadow. I hope Counter is never tempted to change that recipe for the sake of the timid.

Counter has familiar egg dishes such as the ubiquitous Eggs Royale with Smoked Salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise, and a muffin, as well as the original Eggs Benedict, but they also offer some departures which are worth trying. Chicken Fried Rabbit was a new one on me. I love rabbit, yes, I admit it – I enjoy eating bunny. It’s a mild-flavoured meat and it should be more popular as it’s sustainable. The ‘chicken-fried’ element refers to the coating which is similar to that used for poultry or, in the US, for chicken fried steak, which is a brunch staple.

Counter Vauxhall The Counter brunch introduced me to Spiced Avocado. This was served with poached eggs, and presented on toasted sourdough from a local baker. I also had a serving of crispy bacon which complemented the creamy avocado. The spicing was delicate and didn’t overpower the green fruit – or is it a vegetable?

My guest, a man with an appetite for all things meaty, ordered the substantial Pastrami Sourdough open sandwich. The slices of cured beef were topped with fried eggs, melted Swiss cheese and hollandaise sauce. This would not have been out of place in any New York diner.

Baked Alaska Bomb was that still-peckish companion’s dessert, who proffered the lame excuse that he hadn’t had that flavourful rabbit starter. This sweet tower consisted of ricotta ice cream, blueberry sponge, blueberry compote with a cap of grilled (I suspect blow-torched) glistening meringue. This was a delightful presentation of a dessert which was full of berry flavour but it was that ricotta ice cream that was outstanding. This is perhaps some of the best ice cream I have had in any casual restaurant anywhere. Don’t miss this one.

Counter Vauxhall I had expected to enjoy Brunch at Counter Vauxhall Arches and I did. It’s a casual spot with polish. The menu offers something for every taste and appetite and the service is friendly. I am now devoted to spiced avocado with a side of Bloody Mary!

Opening times - Bar and Brasserie
Monday to Thursday: 7am – 12.30am
Friday: 7am – 1.30am
Saturday: 9am – 1.30am
Sunday: 9am – 12.30am

Counter Vauxhall Arches
(Vauxhall Station)
50 South Lambeth Place

Phone: 020 3693 9600 


Visit Counter here

food and travel reviews

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

roka Brunch is perhaps my favourite meal of the week. It isn’t a big, indigestible breakfast with the prospect of needing a nap by 10.30 (although I can be tempted by an English fry-up at almost any time). It’s not a dinner, when one might be exhausted from the exertions of the day and much prefer Marmite on toast, a cuppa and an early night. This is Sunday Brunch and it is perfectly timed, and something over which to linger.

Aldwych has the attraction of good restaurants and theatres. Its transport connections are excellent, being within a short distance of Covent Garden as well as Temple and Embankment Underground stations. It’s the ideal spot to start a Sunday of unique shopping opportunities, tourism and food.

ROKA Aldwych is the fourth ROKA to open in London and it marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the flagship of the restaurant group, on Charlotte Street. This restaurant shouts understated class. One is aware on arrival that this is going to be a rather impressive establishment. The swish of the two sets of automatic glass doors hints at exclusivity.

ROKA I have not, as yet, visited the other ROKAs but this one is striking. There is a central open kitchen with its usual counter seating but then there are regular tables with generous spacing between. Although there are no outside windows in the main restaurant, the height of the ceiling and the lighting create an airy and spacious dining room that is welcoming to parties as well as couples.

The grey timber walls offer a neutral and natural backdrop to the activity of this vibrant restaurant. It presents a very subtly Japanese note to this not overly-themed restaurant, but the food is indeed contemporary Japanese, based on tradition. ROKA takes the diner away from the ubiquitous sushi (although that’s on the menu) and into the broader realm of real Japanese food.

The word ROKA is the Japanese name for a meeting place where food and drinks are served to friends (ro) with heat and warmth (ka). The Sunday Brunch for me and my companion included both hot and cold dishes from the regular menu, and main dishes from the robata grill: this method originates from the fishermen of the northern coastal waters off Japan, who would cook the catch on their boats.

ROKA The Brunch menu is divided in two with all of the starters included, and then one has the choice of main courses, so we started our culinary adventure with edamame salad with ginger and soy dressing. These beans are light and just right as part of a starter selection, or even alone with drinks before a meal.

Otsukemono no Moriawase are an array vegetable pickles which are so popular in Japan, with each family having their own favourite recipes …when they don’t buy them from the store, that is.

Horenso no Ingin Salada was an absolute delight and I am stealing this simple idea for myself. It’s baby spinach leaves with a light sesame dressing made with tahini, dashi stock and sesame seeds.

Tempura Moriawase is assorted tempura in some of the best batter you will find in London. The seafood and vegetables were all cooked to perfection in a crunchy coating that was practically greaseless. Just a little spicy sauce was all that was needed by way of condiment.

Jagaimo to Tamago Salada was a real surprise and might fall into the category of Japanese comfort food. It was a mashed potato salad with bacon and egg and was moreish and, strangely, this did work with the more traditional starters that included beautifully presented sashimi, and sushi in the guise of the outstanding crispy prawn and avocado maki, and others. The Gyuniku to Goma no Gyoza are a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings. These were stuffed with beef and ginger and were tangy and fresh.

ROKA Hinadori no Miso Yaki was my guest’s choice of main course. This is grilled baby chicken with lemon, miso, garlic and soy. The chicken was served atop a traditional table-top grill although this wasn’t the cooking implement – the grilling had been done back in the kitchen. It did make a striking presentation for one of the best chicken dishes I have had in ages. It’s a must-try here.

Gyuhireniku no Pirikara Yakiniku is another worthy dish for meat-eaters. This was a considerable serving of tender beef sirloin with a little chilli and spring onions. Granted, it’s not overtly Japanese but it fitted admirably with all the other dishes.

Then there was dessert. It was the ROKA dessert platter. I have had dessert platters before so was just about getting my coat on when it arrived. There has got to be a better name than ROKA dessert platter. Yes, OK, it was dessert and it was served on a platter but this was an extraordinary sweet confection of chocolate, sorbet, ice cream …and some fruit to make the diner feel noble even after some outstanding truffles.

ROKA ticked all my previously pencilled-in boxes and added a few more. It’s a matter of taste, for sure, but ROKA was very much my taste. My taste for hot Japanese food. My taste for thoughtful design. My taste for relaxing afternoon ambiance. I can highly recommend this Brunch. It’s worth waiting six days for.

ROKA Aldwych
71 Aldwych

Phone: +44 (0) 20 7294 7636

Visit ROKA Aldwych here

food and travel reviews

One Canada Square for Saturday Brunch

One Canada square Let’s be honest: most of us love the adrenalin-inducing frantic pace of London life. We are perhaps lucky if we can grab a plastic sandwich for lunch, and dinner can often be something of a rush or a take-away. But there is always the weekend.

Brunch can be a special time. A quiet time partnered with delicious food. An occasion to meet friends who have that same hectic life profile. It’s a few hours when we don’t need to hurry. Yes, Brunch ticks so many boxes of relaxed conviviality.
One Canada Square restaurant is a newly-found gem for this writer. I recently enjoyed lunch so much that I wanted to visit for brunch. It’s a small restaurant but beautifully appointed with Art Deco hints, green Guatemalan marble, dark wood and classic service. Saturday brunch has casually dressed guests rather than the flock of be-suited business diners who populate it on weekdays. The ambiance is relaxed but the attention to detail is still evident.

Brunch offers the best of both breakfast and lunch, and One Canada Square invites you between 9am and 5pm every Saturday. If you arrive around 1pm you will likely be welcomed by a pianist tickling the ivories (it’s not really ivory, my dear ecologically-aware reader) of a white baby-grand piano. This is old-fashioned charm even though the music is a mixture of contemporary and high-brow pieces, and perhaps some snatches from the musicals, too.

One Canada square The menu is extensive and offers two selections. There is the Full Brunch menu or the Bottomless Brunch menu, which is slightly shorter but gives the appealing advantage of an endless supply of fizz or Bloody Marys.

I do think that a good egg dish is important at any self-respecting brunch. It’s the very eggy definition of that multi-faceted meal. Eggs Benedict is ubiquitous and for very good reason. They do a classic Eggs Benni here with a runny yolk that bathes the ham and is seasoned by the Hollandaise Sauce. There is a luxurious version that sounds divine – Soft-shell Crab Benedict with jalapeno hollandaise. There is also, amongst many other items, an ‘OCS Breakfast’ that sounds as if it could be the brekkie of choice for strapping rugby players - fried duck egg, crisp pancetta, chorizo, morcilla (a kind of black pudding), hash browns, and an English muffin. 

There are salads for those with less capacity than hefty sportsmen. The Heritage Tomato Salad with Feta was fresh and flavourful and a riot of colours. Those little fruits (yes, a tom is a fruit) range from the savoury to the sweet, the flesh from meaty to melting. It’s only tomatoes but simple can sometimes be outstanding.

The menu changes often to reflect the best of produce but my Saturday offered Crab Tagliatelle and it was outstanding. There was a decent amount of seafood, a good-sized portion of pasta and plenty of flavour. There are also steaks, burgers and chicken as well as vegetarian options.

One Canada square If space allows, a dessert will be in order. Bitter chocolate delice with salted caramel and burnt orange ice cream is a sweet triumph. The delice was rich and dark and the caramel a delightful garnish (they should serve this by the pot-full). But the star was the ice cream!

Canada Square, the location, that is, sparkles with glass and metal – a striking city landscape. But this cosy restaurant found in the corner of the foyer of One Canada Square, the building, is a stylish step back in time, and a very welcome one.

One Canada Square
Canary Wharf
London E14 5AB

Reservations: 020 7559 5199

Visit One Canada Square Restaurant here

food and travel reviews

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore - Grand Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch

Asian restaurant review Singapore is special in so many ways. It’s many-faceted and presents the food lover with temptations at every turn. Opportunities for vibrant casual eating abound but there are also those restaurants that present the visitor with delicious memories along with unadulterated gastronomic pampering. The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse in The Ritz-Carlton is iconic and unmissable.

asian restaurant review Sunday brunch is now available in every city across the globe. One can expect a brace of egg dishes and a couple of roasts and a fish option. There might be a nod in the direction of vegetarians with roasted vegetables in a sauce, and there is bound to be a dessert or two. But then there is The Ritz Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse and that puts the gilding on brunch, and those other meagre impostors in the shade.

It’s Sunday and we want to relax with friends and family. Perhaps it’s a celebration, although every Sunday brunch here seems festive. Folks arrive in their Sunday best with ladies sporting floral finery, and every shoe and child is polished. The guests bring their own touch of charm to the occasion and they will be rewarded for their trouble from the moment they arrive in the high-ceilinged, light and airy salon. Sunday Brunch at The Ritz must surely rate as one of the finest of its genre. The smart-casual event is famed. It’s not stuffy and muted. The staff are friendly and helpful. There is a buzz of conversation from groups of guests enjoying good company along with that unbeatable food. It offers an excuse to dress up a little and to indulge a lot.

Younger members of the party will be eyeing the ice-cream station by the entrance, while more mature grandparents are drawn to another ice display which offers seafood. There are eight types of oysters and all shucked to order and served with red wine vinaigrette or lemon. It might be a couple of years before the kids appreciate those but they will surely be tempted by some prawns.

asian restaurant review Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne fills the flutes of all those who haven’t chosen an expertly muddled Mojito or shaken exotic cocktail from the bar. The champagne is unlimited and marvellously complements the aforementioned chilled crustacea – every class of shellfish seems to put in an appearance at this brunch. One might consider moving on to a more robust red to pair with a traditional roast with all the trimmings. It is Sunday, after all …but a more exciting one than usual.

Yes, it’s Sunday but this is Asia so the bill of fare here offers a wider tapestry of taste than one might find in a European or North American restaurant. Diners are free to mix Mediterranean tapas with Japanese sushi, cooling leaves with spiced pork ribs. The Ritz-Carlton Sunday Brunch contrives to represent the very best of all that Singapore food has to offer, and that is the best available from every continent. Diners can travel the world by stepping from one counter to the next, from nigiri garnished with delicate green wasabi and shreds of pink ginger (there are trays of various sushis), to slices of traditionally roast meat with glazed orange carrots (there’s always a choice of several roasts).

A cheese board is very much a part of any self-respecting Sunday brunch but I confess I had not expected to find one in Asia and more to the point, I hadn’t expected a restaurant in Singapore to have the best selection of cheese I have ever come across on one table! Yes, it’s true that I have found equally magnificent arrays of artisanal lactic goods in Europe but only in specialist shops. The striking international cheese selection features over 50 different cheeses from Australia, England, France, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland and there is even Port available at the bar. That’s a marriage made in heaven.

asian restaurant review The kids may well have grazed on desserts all through brunch, but those sweets are sophisticated enough for the most discerning palates. The beautiful confections are created by Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang and they range from Kuih - a broad term which includes Chinese cakes, dumplings, puddings and biscuits - to European pastries. There is plenty of choice for those chocoholics as well. If cheesecake or crème brûlée is your passion then you won’t be disappointed. There is also fresh fruit to help you feel noble, and ice cream if the kids haven’t finished it!

The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch is served from 12 noon to 3 pm in a single sitting and is priced at S$168 per adult, S$84 per child (6-12 years) or S$42 per child (3-5 years). It includes unlimited Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne, house red and white wines, selected cocktails, chilled juices and sparkling mineral water. Prices are subject to 10% service charge and prevailing government taxes.
asian restaurant review

For dining reservations
Call Restaurant Reservations on 6434 5288

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039799

Phone: +65 6337-8888
Fax: +65 6338-0001
Visit The Ritz here

food and travel reviews

Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch

Dirty Bones
It’s raining in Kensington and we are hungry for brunch. Yes, that convivial meal twixt brekkie and weekend dinner that allows for a broad menu over which to pore. Kensington is posh and I would venture to say that Dirty Bones has the only entrance in the area that resembles that of an iffy dive or old-fashioned speakeasy. It has a nocturnal persona as a buzzy bar, which accounts for this edgy urban façade.

The red-tiled staircase leads to something of a warren of bar and dining areas. It’s an eclectic mix of rustic tables, wood-clad walls, more tiles and enamel pitchers. It’s quirky but it works. There are banquettes for groups (and I am sure there are many of those during the evening service), as well as romantic tables for two. Low lights even for the weekend lunch crowd, but that did make for a cosy ambiance after the cold and grey of Kensington High Street.

Dirty Bones Dirty Bones cocktails are outstanding, so start your brunch with one. True, I have not sampled the whole mixology bill of fare but I can highly recommend at least a novice’s selection of two. Mezcal Old Fashioned is a drink over which to linger. Granted, there isn’t a roaring open fire down in the basement sanctuary but this smoky libation is right for just such a spot. Del Maguey Mezcal Vida was sweetened with Agave Syrup and lifted by a few shakes of both Angostura and Orange Bitters. At the risk of sounding sexist – this could be one for the boys.

Dirty Gimlet had my name on it. I have been a long-time lover of a gimlet of any hue. They are sweet and sour concoctions with a truly adult taste. The Dirty Bones Gimlet was one of the finest of the genre it has been my pleasure to try. The key is the Chilli-Infused Bombay Sapphire Gin which imparts delicious measured heat which has a counterpoint from the classic Rose’s Lime Juice and Celery Bitters. This is a must-try at any time of the day.

The dishes here are described as American comfort food and there is a lot that falls into that category. A brunch favourite at Dirty’s will likely be The Mac Daddy. A 6oz house burger is topped with pulled beef short rib, and that’s the secret to the success of this dish. That additional meat is tangy with a light BBQ sauce which elevates the patty into something extraordinary.  The Mac element is Mac and Cheese which was mild and creamy.

Dirty Bones Coffee and Donuts for dessert? That sounds improbable but it’s a cuppa Joe with a difference. It’s coffee gelato and served in a coffee glass with a hot donut alongside. I would love the recipe for this ice cream. It’s not over-sweet and with a flavour that reminded me of the Camp Coffee of my childhood. This was a delightful treat and a masterful presentation.

Dirty Bones Kensington is a great location for a weekend brunch. It might be a challenge to find the front door but the effort will be worth it.

Dirty Bones Kensington
20 Kensington Church Street
London W8 4EP

Visit Dirty Bones here

Opening hours
Tues - Thurs: 5pm - midnight
Fri: 5pm - 1am
Sat: noon - 1am
Sun: noon - 9pm

food and travel reviews

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington I am not naturally an early-morning person. I am not naturally a morning person of any time classification, but I do love breakfast – as long as I am not cooking it. If you are going to go to the trouble of sitting down to a meal at that time of the day then it had better be worth waking up for. Brunch at Balans Soho Society is good. Very good.

The motto is ‘Too much of a good thing is a good thing’ and it’s appropriate for an establishment such as Balans Soho Society. The restaurant is a casual and quirky bistro-style dining spot of character. Perhaps that should be Character with a capital C for its individual charm is noteworthy. Yes, it’s a matter of taste, but Balans Soho Society on Kensington High Street has my vote, both gastronomically and aesthetically.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington The bar is well stocked as one would expect and sports a brace of candlesticks of monumental proportions. Tables for breakfast and brunch (I can’t testify to other meals) were laid with crates of condiments. The napkins were of crisp white linen and the silverware heavy and embossed with the Balans Soho Society marks of keys and keyholes. Class in casual fashion writ large here.

A full English breakfast is always tempting: it’s on offer at Balans Soho Society and evidently popular. I noticed that the menu had a couple of less-than-traditional items that sounded intriguing, and, assuring myself that I could have the fry-up on the next visit, I ordered Eggs in Hell! The worst offence a restaurant can commit is to entice the prospective diner with the expectation of vibrant spice and then not deliver. This dish was pleasingly spicy with well-balanced heat from a tomato-based sauce. This bathed sautéed potatoes (Balans potatoes) which made a nest for two poached eggs and parmesan. A breakfast fit for any sluggish riser or lover of heat. Consider adding a slice of crusty bread for mopping.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington The High Society Eggs Benedict was my guest’s brunch of choice. He is a man of refined tastes and appreciative of the better things in life. The regular eggs beni has been a favourite since the dish was first invented in the US in the 1890s. The regular poached eggs, bacon, English muffin and hollandaise sauce has a couple of additions here - creamy avocado and lobster. The preparation was pronounced delicious and worthy as a weekend
treat for the discerning.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street is great value for money. The brunch menu caters for those with hearty appetites, those with more modest cravings and even those unfortunates who are looking for a morning-after-the-night-before reviver, who will likely benefit from those heavenly hellish eggs.Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington

Balans Soho Society
187 Kensington High Street
W8 6SH

Phone: 020 7376 0115

Visit Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street here

food and travel reviews


If we eat our cornflakes late on a Sunday morning we might think we are eating brunch but that, dear reader, is only a late breakfast. Brunch is an event! It’s a great way to feed a crowd in style.

BrunchRachel Lee is a Californian (did they invent brunch?) who lives in Italy and divides her time between Tuscany and Sicily. She has taken another look at the whole concept of brunch and has devised a selection of themed menus. You don’t have to stick slavishly to those; you can mix and match the dishes and even add a few of your own favourite breakfast or lunch recipes.

The chapter headings are evocative and charming. November in Tuscany, A Parisian Valentine’s Day, and Ski Lodge are just a few of the themes. Each chapter has a menu and a selection of dishes appropriate for the occasion and season. The recipes are simple but make quite an impact, so you can cut a culinary dash without all the effort of a full-scale Sunday lunch.

The English Garden Party menu is a good start. Rachel has been kind enough to say “The stereotype that English food is bland and overcooked can be officially put to rest.” There are a few nice twists to the traditional dishes but this would be a fantastic way of feeding a lot of people on a warm (we wish) summer day. There is kedgeree, cucumber sandwiches and summer pudding but also baked Monkfish, Stilton and Chive Scones and the suggestion of a chilled glass of Rosé.

These lovely recipes could work just as well with other meals. Don’t disregard this book just because you don’t think you are a brunch giver. It’s the nature of these dishes that they are quick and easy. No one would host a brunch if they had to get up before dawn to finish the preparations.

The art of brunch has as much to do with people as eating. Friends and family create a convivial atmosphere, and you provide the delicious distraction of fine food to pick at, to linger over and to admire. Brunch is a colourful large-format book that will give you all the tools to entertain in a truly smart but casual fashion.

Author: Rachel Lee
Published by: Apple Press
Price: £12.99
ISBN 978-1-84543-244-7

food and travel reviews

Blue Elephant – Imperial Wharf, London

london restaurant review Imperial Wharf sounds smart and indeed it is. It was for centuries a working-class area with poor housing. My mother’s family lived just a short walk from the new complex and my uncles learnt to swim in the Thames. Things have changed and it’s doubtful that youngsters will be diving off the sides of gleaming yachts into the murky tide. The river bank is now fringed with new and stylish apartment blocks and moorings for those aforementioned boats. There are restaurants, and one of those is The Blue Elephant – tasteful in every regard.

This isn’t a new restaurant but it is a new location for a much-loved establishment. Until recently Blue Elephant called Fulham Broadway home and it was an outpost of Thai refinement there for 25 years or so. But the views from Imperial Wharf are much more interesting and attractive, and now there are tables outside – they will be the ones sought, should we ever have a summer.

Blue Elephant occupies an enviable plot in that new development, but step though those anonymous doors and you are in Thailand; more accurately a traditional house in Thailand. The interior was inspired by the Saran Rom Palace of Bangkok, which was once the seat of Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has the ambiance of a home rather than a restaurant. OK, a home with lots of friends over for dinner.

The new Blue is smaller than the original but its intimate proportions add to the cosy atmosphere. It’s designed to give flexibility of seating as well as space for private dining. The restaurant is a testament to Thai craft and continuity. There are carved statues and friezes and a lower ground floor bar which is a shimmering vision of tooled gold. Teak woodwork and exotic flowers make this an unmistakable satellite of mainland Thailand.

The menu has been created by the founder of the Blue Elephant Group, Chef Nooror Somany Steppé. She is one of the most celebrated chefs in Asia and indeed among the most respected woman chefs in the world.  She is considered the unofficial culinary ambassador of Thailand.

london restaurant review Chef Nooror was born in Chachengsao province and grew up surrounded by a family that was involved in the food industry. Her mum taught her how to pound spices to make the curry pastes to sell at the market. These days Blue Elephant curry pastes can be found all over the world.

When Nooror was a teenager she moved to Brussels where her brother was studying Hotel Management. She met Karl Steppé there and married him, and a few years later they and a few friends opened their first Thai restaurant in Brussels. There is now a veritable herd of Blue Elephants across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It’s still very much a family business though, with Karl taking care of the administration, daughter Sandra looking after the Bangkok complex, and son Kim is in Phuket at the new branch.

Sunday Brunch at Blue Elephant is a must for any lover of Thai food with midday hunger pangs. It’s also the ideal venue for an introduction to Thai food, as one can take just a little of each dish from the buffet, and decide on one’s favourites. One can graze on exquisitely crafted starters. There are fish cakes with dipping sauce and they are a perfect first taste to provide the novice with a hint of aromatic spice typical of this cuisine: a Thai dish should have hot, sour, salty and sweet notes to create a delicious flavour tapestry.

Spring Rolls offer texture and freshness. This is a ubiquitous dish on many Asian restaurant menus but these were generously stuffed and worthy of a try. Rice cakes are offered on porcelain spoons with a chicken sauce alongside. Thai salads are chopped and crushed before your very eyes. Skewers of marinated grilled chicken partnered with satay dip is bound to be popular as it’s a snack familiar to everyone, but a must-try from the starter station is Banana Dim Sum: strange but true – this is a startlingly simple Oriental nibble of crunchy deep-fried wrapper and sweet banana interior. Banana is, in fact, one of those fruits that work perfectly well in both savoury and sweet dishes.

london restaurant review You will want to take the rare opportunity to try some Thai wine. Monsoon Valley Blended Red (vintage Buddhist era 2553) from the Siam Winery was a revelation. In truth Thailand isn’t a country famed for its wine but this was a creditable bottle and would have passed muster even if it had sported a French label. Siam Winery was established in 1986 by Chalerm Yoovidhya and now has a state-of-the-art winery in Samut Sakorn, 30 miles south-west of Bangkok. They cultivate over 300 acres of vineyards and have a wine tourism and education centre. Siam Winery is surely a producer to watch, and a visit is bound to be fascinating for any wine enthusiast.

Blue Elephant offers an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian main dishes, many of which are unique to the restaurant, along with some traditional soups and salads. The seafood curry had plenty of tender fish, squid and shellfish and an aromatic sauce, but the star of the non-vegetarian selection was the venison with chilli. This was rich and warming but without searing, mouth-numbing heat. Thai cuisine does have fiery dishes but it has many more that are complex melanges of ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil. The pineapple curry was outstanding, mild and comforting.

I have one small criticism of Blue Elephant. They don’t supply blindfolds at the door. It’s a great restaurant to go to if you subscribe to the philosophy of eating dessert first: it takes strength of character to stride by that display of cakes and sweets near the entrance. The array of cut fruit might be your salvation and could even persuade the kids that fruit is delicious, although their plates will likely be garnished with a serving of chocolate-fountain-dipped marshmallows.

london restaurant review Blue Elephant introduced me to a new fruit. The salaka looks like a long-faced lychee with a hair-cut but has a taste somewhat between that and a pineapple. The jellies, flavoured with fruit or jasmine, and with a crunchy sugar coating, make an exotic petit four, with a few morsels of moreish Kao Too, rather like a brown-sugar coconut ice which I think this restaurant should sell by the boxful.

This isn’t Indian food with a difference; it’s not Chinese food with a slant. Thai is a classic cuisine in its own right and Blue Elephant is spreading the word. The Sunday Brunch is great value for money and it’s the opportunity to relax and enjoy high-end food with the family. Children are welcomed and will find not only food to enjoy but also face-painting to make their outing even more memorable.

There is an elephant on the Thai flag, and Blue Elephant flies that flag every day to entice us with glimpses of Thai culture and delightful food. Chef Nooror Somany Steppé is an ambassador with some amazing embassies across the globe.

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday: 12 noon – 2:30pm
Sunday: 12 noon – 3:30pm

Monday to Saturday: 06:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday: 06:00pm – 10:30pm

Blue Elephant - London
The Boulevard, Imperial Wharf, Townmead Road,
London SW6 2UB
Phone: +44 20 7751 3111
Fax: +44 20 7751 3112
Visit Blue Elephant here

food and travel reviews

Balans Soho for Sunday Brunch

It’s a chain of restaurants and has branches in both London and Miami. The menu in the UK is slightly different from that found in Florida but the style is the same, as are the majority of dishes.

london restaurant review It’s situated on Old Compton Street, named after Henry Compton who raised funds for a local parish church in 1686, although this area was later to become known for less-godly pursuits. This corner of London is geographically and historically a long way from those sunny neighbourhoods of Florida; it does, however, have one common ingredient in that it became a refuge for immigrants through the ages. The area in general and this street in particular became home for French refugees after Charles II gave protection to that country’s fleeing Protestants in the early 1680s.

The ground floors of those original houses have become shops and restaurants. Balans makes its home in one of these with a small facade which hides a sizable restaurant stretching back in Tardis fashion, offering different and defined dining spaces for its clients, who can enjoy Balans for almost 24 hours a day. There are few places in London, or indeed the UK, where one can enjoy some food and perhaps a cocktail at almost any time.

Balans Soho was warm and welcoming on a cold and wet Sunday morning. It has the casual air of a French bistrot with a high bar at the front and booths with red leather, velvet curtains and that distinctive gold-marbled mirror glass that reflects a rich light. That description of the front section is accurate, but if it makes Balans sound rather French-classic the staff and clients contrive to make this a truly contemporary and animated restaurant.

london restaurant review The daytime menu has those comforting and substantial dishes that Sundays deserve. A full English Breakfast is here and will likely be the plate of choice for those early-morning risers and for those who have not yet made it to bed – this is Soho after all. But this is Balans and it would be a shame to stick to the traditional British fare. Steak and eggs is a hearty start (skirt steak, potatoes, and two free-range eggs) and appealing if you are a truck driver, but another choice for those craving some Americana are pancakes with either fruit or bacon; or cinnamon-sprinkled French toast served with strawberries and banana. It’s a rib-sticking start but the fruit will make you feel noble.

We ordered pots of tea and toasted crumpets (yes, real crumpets with the holes on top to catch melted butter) and scanned the menu for dishes that would set us up for a day of walking. My guest was tempted by corned beef hash with poached eggs and fire-roasted tomatoes. The meat was proper corned beef cut from a cured joint rather than the sort that was ubiquitous a while back – mushy and from a square tin. Lots of onions in this version of hash, and a manly portion.

london restaurant review Ham and eggs was my breakfast and it was a considerable plateful of gammon steak cooked on the grill, Balans roast potatoes garnished with chillies and spring onions, and two free-range eggs fried over-easy. They don’t short-change the morning diner here, it’s quantity and quality.

Balans offers this same bill of fare for every day but Sundays are special. One has time to meet friends and enjoy food together but the occasion is so much more relaxed when it’s not you doing the early morning cooking and the inevitable washing up. Balans is an ideal place to take guests who can choose their brekkie favourites, but Balans could also be your regular haunt if you are looking for a cosy banquette to nestle with the papers and perhaps some luxurious smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

Opening Times:
Monday to Thursday - 7.30am to 5am
Friday to Saturday 7.30am to 6am
Sunday - 7.30am to 2am

Balans Soho
Old Compton Street
London, W1D 4UG
Phone: 020 7439 2183

Visit Balans Soho here

food and travel reviews

La Porte des Indes for Sunday Jazz Brunch

asian restaurant review Sundays are for relaxing, or that was the old-fashioned notion. It is the day, at least in most of the Western world, for gathering with friends and family, and there was usually a traditional Sunday roast involved in the conviviality and perhap Two-way Family Favourites from The BBC Light Programme playing in the background. That is still a meal full of nostalgia and Yorkshire puddings, but we have broader horizons these days and take the easier option of going out and letting others do the cooking – and, more importantly, the washing up.

Lots of Indian restaurants offer a special Sunday menu, but all Indian restaurants are not created equal and it’s easy to be put off from this gastronomic interlude by previous encounters with dubious curry-houses, the sort that proclaim as many as 6 dishes (one of them being a poppadom) and as much as you can eat for £7 a head with service that will continue till the oil congeals on top of last week’s left-over korma. There is a quite different class of Indian restaurant that will charm, tempt and enthral its guests, and La Porte des Indes is counted amongst their number.

asian restaurant review It’s long been a favourite of mine and one visit will convince those weary of dingy curry-houses that this will likely be their weekend venue of choice, their polished gem in a sea of culinary mediocrity (or worse). It is, quite frankly, stunning. Sunday Brunch here will offer the visitor the chance listen to some live jazz and to wander around: the buffet is displayed over two floors so you will get the chance to glide down that sweeping especially-imported-beautiful-bespoke staircase like some transplanted Rajesque Scarlet O’Hara. One can marvel at the murals throughout the unique ex-ballroom and ponder seating arrangements for your next visit.

Some tables are placed for animated chatter between just two diners, while others are big enough to accommodate a family: brunch is a casual meal and a buffet allows everyone to try a little of this and to have an extra portion of that with never a hint of “Finish those sprouts or you don’t get any Arctic Roll.” Everybody can pick their own favourites, tantalise their tastebuds with the best of Indian cuisine; parents can enjoy a stress-free mealtime and kids might discover that they do actually like fish.

asian restaurant review The Sunday Brunch buffet is famed and it’s easy to see why. The lower floor is where you will find the starters. Chefs man hot food stations and will tempt you with such things as mini potato-filled dosa or stuffed puri. There are several kebabs from which to choose and each is presented with their accompanying chutney. It’s a street-food extravaganza and it would be easy just to spend an afternoon grazing on these perfectly-formed little savouries, but there is more food on the floor above.

Copper chafing dishes stand in rows – one section for vegetarian dishes and another for those containing fish and meat. I am not an Indian food expert but I noted that half the diners at La Porte des Indes were Asian. They all seemed to be enjoying the food as much as I did, and many were evidently regulars there. Surely that must be a sign of the quality of the food. These folks know more about Subcontinental cooking than this writer, and they were all going back for seconds, so we followed them.

The selection of dishes on offer is huge; there is something to please every palate. The Lamb Biryani was aromatic and the meat tender. The Chicken Makhani was flavourful and mild. The vegetarian options supplied a spicy star in the guise of small, whole Asian aubergines. This was a rich and warming vegetarian option that just needed some plain boiled rice and some yoghurt on the side. Fresh naan bread was provided at the table.

asian restaurant review It’s a universal truth that one can eat savoury dishes until one can eat no more and one swears that not another morsel will pass one’s lips until at least teatime, and then someone mentions that the desserts are at the foot of the stairs. Somehow we get a second wind: well, perhaps something light might help with digestion; sweet after savoury definitely constitutes a balanced diet. The desserts here are almost too good to eat. Individual portions of each and sized to allow everyone to try almost everything on offer. Kheer (Indian rice pudding), mango yoghurt served in terracotta bowls (my favourite), chocolate truffles, white chocolate and lime mousse, a mithai platter (traditional Indian sweets) with a fig and honey confection for which to die; and then there was the fresh fruit that you will take either because you know it’s good for you and it does look refreshing, or (and this is more likely) because, even though you really want some more mithai, you want the people on the neighbouring table to think that you have amazing self-control.

Sunday Brunch at La Porte des Indes isn’t the occasion for overt displays of restraint. It provides all the fixin’s for a thoroughly civilized smart-casual meal. The restaurant offers the most delicious Indian cuisine in a setting that is unique and a feast for the eyes. One visit will never be enough and the experience can be summed up in one word: Memorable.

La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
Phone: +44 20 7224 0055
Fax: +44 20 7224 1144
Visit La Porte des Indes here

food and travel reviews

500 Breakfasts and Brunches

It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, that’s probably true with regard to nutrition and a balanced diet but it’s also the most eagerly-awaited meal of the day – at least by me.

london restaurant review Even those who insist they have no interest in that first meal will be coaxed into at least semi-conciousness by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee or toasting toast, and not many can remain under the duvet when a bacon sandwich beckons from below.

I have a broad taste in breakfast foods. Idli hot from the steamer and a bowl of spicy sambar is one of my favourites. I have enjoyed American biscuits (like scones) and gravy (creamy sauce made with sausage), and Eggs Benedict is always high on my list. I have been known to eat last night’s takeaway, kippers and Mexican refried beans and chilli before dawn, but I have never gone out of my way for a cornflake.

500 Breakfasts and Brunches offers just what it says: 500 temptations from Europe and America. Each recipe has its associated picture and several versions. There are healthy crunchy bars and sustaining smoothies for all those who want a noble start to the day. Those bars could easily be packed for a breakfast on the run ...or jog.

Britain and the US have a love of cooked breakfast foods. Any trip to a real New York diner will have you scanning the morning menu and finding stacks of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, eggs over-easy, and coffee that might not always be the best you would have tasted. This book gives recipes for some favourites from both sides of the Pond. The British fry-up is included and one of the variants has fried bread, but cooked in vegetable oil. This is a modern attempt at presenting a light option but if one wants the authentic fried bread then one needs lard. Make this meal an annual event but enjoy it when you have it.

Apple and Pecan French Toast is another calorific start to the day. Well, at least it contains some fruit so it’s not an entirely guilty pleasure. Classic Blueberry Pancakes also has its fruit, and the syrup is optional: one could serve thick Greek yoghurt instead with perhaps more fresh berries on the side.

Brunch offers a casual entertaining experience for friends and family, and the chance to present a variety of dishes that would be just too much trouble to prepare when there’s only a couple. Banana Cranberry Loaf is something you can bake the day before. Present slices hot from the toaster. An exotic alternative would be Tropical Pineapple and Coconut Loaf; that would be ideal served with a fresh fruit salad.

My pick of the book is Crabmeat Strata – another brunch special but a savoury one. It has a light and fluffy texture rather like a cross between a bread-and-butter pudding and a souffle; but it’s that seafood that elevates this dish to posh brunch fare. It’s true that it’s not cheap but it’s the one to choose for a celebration weekend. Smoked salmon could be used instead and that would be quite economic, as one could use salmon scraps rather than the more costly slices.

500 Breakfasts and Brunches is another in that celebrated series from Apple Press. These books are good value for money and practical – lots of information in a compact format, and these books will spend more time in the kitchen than on your bookshelves. Well worth setting the alarm a little early.

Cookbook review: 500 Breakfasts and Brunches
Author: Carol Beckerman
Published by: Apple Press
Price: £9.00
ISBN: 978-1-84543-381-9

food and travel reviews

Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch

It might not be any longer the Biblical day of rest but it still tends to be the day we ear-mark for special events, loved ones and unwinding. We might treat ourselves to a bit of a lay-in, enjoy a delicious meal, have a read of the Sunday papers, catch up with family and friends, perhaps a walk in the park... relax with...Errrr, so what was that about lovely food? If we are all soaking up the culture of the weekend periodicals and strolling around then who is doin’ the cookin’? I have, dear reader, the solution to the dilemma. You’ll get your walk in the park (Hyde Park) and you’ll even find some reading matter in the guise of a cookbook or two. Visit the Cookbook Cafe at the InterContinental Park Lane for Sunday Brunch.

restaurant review Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch I can hear it now: a chorus of “Has our favourite reviewer won the lotto?” “Does she think we are made of money?” I have taken leave of neither my senses nor much hard-earned cash. You will be pleased to learn that the aforementioned brunch is amazing value for money (under £50 per head) at an unbeatable location.

The Cookbook Cafe is a contemporary restaurant with huge windows onto one of the best corners of one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities. It’s bright and welcoming although the split-level dining area helps to create a cosy ambiance with tables arranged to be convenient and appealing to both couples and groups.

Hotel brunches so often disappoint. Perspex cylinders containing long-lingering and soggy cereals flanking half-hearted congealing attempts at a full English fry-up represent the breakfast section, whilst a slowly-drying quiche and curly cold cuts might launch the lunch element. The Cookbook Cafe brunch, however, draws a line in the sand and dares pretenders to compete.

The staff were welcoming and attentive. The champagne and Bellinis were in continual supply along with Bloody Marys and fruit juices. There was plenty of advice about the dishes on offer and the food was, quite simply, marvellous. There were salads and vegetable dishes enough to warm the heart of any committed vegetarian, fish aplenty and meats to satisfy the most carnivorous of visitors. The rustic display of starters offered some simple and standard fare, and the buffet was no worse for that, but we were tempted by other less-common platters.

Seared tuna is a pricey item on regular restaurant menus but here it was laying in ranks. It was perfectly cooked and looking like a tray of semi-precious stones. The nuggets of salmon with a hoisin glaze were a vision of glistening mahogany; a sea of smoked salmon was quickly replenished when there was even the slightest risk of the tide going out.

The cheese board was small but enticing. Cashel Blue and a Cornish brie tempted me. They were presented in perfect condition. The smoked turkey actually tasted as if it had really been on nodding terms with smouldering wood, and the pumpkin was sweet and tender enough to have been invited to garnish the dessert display.

After devouring a plate (well, three) of starters, it was on to the cooked selection. Brunch to me means New York, and New York is Eggs Benedict. This was made while I waited and was everything this simple dish should be: creamy, tangy and moreish. My guest chose a traditional roast with all the trimmings. The lamb (a joint of beef was also available) was detached from the bone with tongs! He is a Yorkshire lad who proclaimed the accompanying Yorkshire puddings as being “reet champion” (translation: As good as you’ll find in Barnsley.) The chafing dishes also offered a mixed seafood casserole aromatic with dill, seasonal vegetables, boiled potatoes, exotic aubergines, and duck in cherry sauce which is a must-try.

I have mentioned desserts in passing but I wasn’t and you won’t be, passing, that is. I am not typically a lover of sweet things but the array of tarts, cakes and brulees was too tempting. My companion opted for an individual lemon meringue pie and a raspberry brulee which he described as smooth and delicately crusted. I chose the white chocolate torte which was rich and creamy and a cut above other versions of the same confection I have recently encountered. All the desserts here are made by the Cookbook Cafe chefs.

Cookbook Cafe Sunday Brunch is the best brunch I have had in many a long year. No exclamations of “How much???” when the bill arrives. You’ll know exactly how much before you lift a fork. Great value for money. This is the spot to celebrate your son’s exam results, your auntie's return from Tierra del Fuego or just Sunday.

Opening times:12.30pm till 4pm on Sundays

Restaurant review: Cookbook Cafe at the InterContinental
1 Hamilton Place, Park Lane
tel.: 020 7318 8563

food and travel reviews

Gale Gand’s Brunch

cookbook reviews Gale Gand's Brunch Brunch is a long-established American tradition. It’s easy to understand why it has become so popular. It is an activity that combines social interaction and delicious food... or a way of entertaining friends and family without the fuss and arduous preparation of a full-scale dinner party.

Sunday morning (unless you are a priest or a vicar) is often a time devoted to walking the dog, washing the car or cutting the lawn. Those pleasurable (yeah, right) tasks could be postponed till the afternoon, allowing pleasant morning hours of convivial companionship shared with loved ones... and fabulous food.

Brunch food should be easily prepared, a delight for the eye and present the kinds of dishes that can be consumed in an unhurried fashion. Gale Gand's Brunch offers recipes that tick all the boxes. Not only are all those boxes ticked but it’s done with style and imagination. Brunch isn’t an excuse for an unreasonably early Sunday lunch or a late breakfast. Somehow the English “Full Monty” (that fried breakfast of legendary proportions) doesn’t have the class of Gale’s marvellous spreads.

Gale Gand will be a familiar name to all US Food Network viewers. She was the presenter of Sweet Dreams, the network’s first daily show devoted to baking. Gale is an award winning pastry chef and co-owner of the celebrated Tru restaurant in Chicago so it’s no surprise that the dishes here are delectable. There are around 100 of them so you’ll be hosting many a brunch before you need to cover the same territory again.

This book leads you through basic brunch favourites like Omelettes but continues through a whole plethora of toasts, baked goods, savoury dishes to salads and soups. There is enough variety here to cater for the dietary whims of all the family ...even your nephew who will only eat red food. Start him off with a Bloody Mary and feed him Gazpacho. (It's probably only a phase he’s going through... although he is 46.)

Popovers will be something new for many of my British readers. Think of the lightest imaginable Yorkshire Pudding and add some flavour. Gale has Mini Popovers that are airy with a delicate hint of herbs and irresistible with Lemon Butter. If you have a Yorkshire pudding tin or muffin tin then you’ll be able to make these.

Baked Camembert has become a classic but Gale suggests a Cranberry-Black Pepper Compote to serve alongside. That would add some zing to a dish that is otherwise quite heavy. Caramelized Onion Tarts are also inspired by the French and this is a fine example using zucchini (courgette) and feta cheese. This recipe uses ready-bought puff pastry, as does Peanut Butter and Jelly Turnovers which are bound to be winners with the kids!

My favourite recipe from Gale Gand’s Brunch is that for Torta Rustica. This is the most amazing layered pie of vegetables and ham (I am sure you could make a vegetarian version.) This dish will impress your guests and have them begging you for the recipe. There is more than a full page of instructions but don’t be put off. It’s a simple recipe but one of those that has several elements. A novice cook would gain confidence and compliments.

Gale Gand’s Brunch will have us all inviting friends over for an amazing feast. The cook will be able to enjoy the day as much as his/her guests. I wouldn’t, however, reserve these brunch delights for Sundays at 11am. You’ll find much here that will be equally well received at lunches, picnics and dinners. Brilliant.

Gale Gand’s Brunch
Author: Gale Gand
Published by: Clarkson Potter
Price: $27.50 US
ISBN 978-0-307-40698-9

food and travel reviews

Mestizo Sunday Brunch with UNESCO support

Mexico already has many of its monuments on UNESCO's list of protected sites. Now it has gained international recognition for the country's unique cuisine. London has a restaurant which is recognised by the Mexican Embassy as providing authentic dishes. Mestizo near Euston Station will provide a vibrant introduction to Mexico’s culinary heritage.

restaurant review UNESCO officials have added Mexico's food to the organisation's list of ‘intangible cultural patrimony’. That simply means that the cuisine of Mexico is now recognised as worth protecting and promoting. The trinity of corn, beans and chillis forms the foundation of Mexico's food, with each region of the country adding its own ingredients and spices to create a rich tapestry.

"We face an enormous threat from junk food and other foreign foods that are taking over our culture, which is why UNESCO could help greatly by supporting our traditional cuisine," said Mr. Rojas, the chef at Don Chon, a Mexico City restaurant specialising in pre-Hispanic dishes.

Traditional Mexican cuisine dates back 3,000 years to the Mayans, who had a healthy and delicious diet, but the “Mexican cuisine” that most of us have eaten is largely an adulteration of the authentic original. These dishes often owe their heritage to restaurants north of the border. Taste real Mexican food and you’ll notice a difference. The Sunday brunch at Mestizo is a showcase, and will allow those new to real Mexican food to graze and savour.

Mestizo offers a warm welcome at any time. I have become a frequent visitor and have never been disappointed. I eat out several times each week and still this restaurant is amongst my top three in London. It has a casual ambiance, and many regulars from the Mexican community, who must know a great deal more about this exciting cuisine than I do.

The brunch starts at noon and is available till 4pm. Go early as it’s a popular spot. Settle yourself at a table and check out what your neighbours are eating. There is a good chance that they will be Mexicans or regulars, so ask them what they have chosen. Don’t bother asking what’s good – it’s all good. Pour a glass of Agua de Horchata (rice, cinnamon, milk) or Agua de Jamaica made from hibiscus, and head for the food.

restaurant review Perhaps start with Huevos Rancheros. This is a typical Mexican breakfast dish of fried eggs on fried tortilla with red or green salsa, rice and beans. A substantial plate, so come with an appetite or you will miss out on so many other delicious possibilities, such as Menudo soup, considered as a cure-all. Pozole is a traditional corn soup garnished with lettuce, radish, onion, avocado, chopped chilli and lime. Birria is lamb stew with tomato, onion and chilli ancho.

I wandered along the buffet and selected a little of this and a spoonful of that. This form of dining is ideal for groups as each guest can make their own selection and return as often as they like. There are salsas to spice the aromatic dishes and there are salads to cool the chilli-rich ones. Plenty here for vegetarians and even fish lovers as well as those who crave meat. The kids can amuse themselves by designing their own Taco or Quesadilla and you could celebrate Sunday with a shot or two of tequila.

The Tamales at Mestizo are comfort foods. The steamed corn husks are filled with masa and a variety of fillings. Try these with a drizzle of green salsa. Simple but memorable. The chafing dish to the right contained Pescado Relleno de Champinones, a delicate white fish wrapped in corn husk and steamed in its own juices with mushrooms. This was one of the best fish dishes of any ethnic persuasion I have eaten in ages.

The flavours here are surprisingly subtle. Pollo en Salsa Romero is a creamy chicken dish and ideal served with rice. Mild and with the chicken cooked to succulent perfection. This is another must-try.

I spent a long and contented lunch and enjoyed a sampling of almost all the savoury dishes on offer. I could be condemned to eat the same on my next visit, for next visit there will surely be, and I would be looking forward to the experience anew. But I needed a taste of something sweet and so I cut a slice of Tres Leches cake from the dessert display. This was a moreish preparation of light sponge soaked in a sauce made from, as the name suggests, three milks. If you are not sure of your capacity then I would counsel eating dessert first. Yes, its rich but it’s worth the calories.

Mestizo Restaurant and Tequila Bar
103 Hampstead Road, London NW1 3EL
Phone 020 7387 4064

Mestizo now has an online shop. Visit here

food and travel reviews

Sunday Brunch at Indigo restaurant – One Aldwych

London restaurant review One Aldwych has one of the best locations in London. It stands on a corner plot in the middle of the capital in Covent Garden, that neighbourhood being famed as the backdrop for My Fair Lady. It’s a stone’s throw from the River Thames and all the iconic sights of old London.

The hotel is nestled between the City and the West End where The Aldwych meets the Strand, and opposite Waterloo Bridge. It’s just a short distance from more than a dozen celebrated theatres as well as the world-famous Royal Opera House. It is considered a noteworthy Edwardian building and is now protected by English Heritage. It’s an architectural extravaganza of Continental-inspired splendour, designed by Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, the Anglo-French duo behind the Ritz hotels in London and Paris.

This stylish hotel is the lodging of choice for many a visitor from beyond these shores. It’s prized for being just around the corner from so many places of interest but it also caters for those who are not staying but just passing through. Guests who drop in for a meal and even for some entertainment in the small but well-appointed cinema next to Axis, One Aldwych’s other restaurant.

It was a bright Sunday afternoon and we were in the mood for brunch. Indigo at One Aldwych offers a striking restaurant, a calming ambiance and a thoughtful menu. It’s a small enough restaurant to feel intimate, and casual enough for you to feel comfortable meandering through the Sunday colour supplements.

london restaurant review Our fellow brunchers comprised a few who were evidently hotel guests lingering over the papers and breakfast, but also some regulars from across the Pond. The staff were bombarded with requests for dishes which were almost but not quite on the menu. A ham omelette sans ham – the guest would like that on the side. Some goat cheese - that wasn’t even on the menu but there was a promise that the restaurant would find some. These requests were fielded with courtesy, charm and a willingness to please. I was warming to Indigo and we hadn’t even ordered yet.

Indigo offers soup, salads, on-toast items, mains, desserts, and any two courses of the above with unlimited Prosecco for only £24. That sounded like outstanding value but the food has to be good. The Soup of the Day was watercress and it was the most vibrant and light of its kind that my guest and I had ever seen.  It was delicately garnished with oil and crème fraiche and served with a selection of breads.

Some folks expect a roast on Sundays and Indigo offers that in an interesting fashion. A roast beef salad with watercress, Yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce. It’s a light alternative to the traditional Sunday lunch, but my fancy on this occasion was Wild Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions on Toast. This simple dish was a small culinary triumph of both texture and taste. The fungi were cooked to perfection and still held their original contours. The large field mushrooms added substance and the onions were sweetly moreish. A very good start.

london restaurant review Other items on the Toast menu included Welsh Rarebit and Scotch Woodcock. A word or two by way of explanation: Welsh Rarebit is not a bunny from Wales but is a dish of seasoned melted cheese on toast, sometimes containing a dash of ale and/or Worcester Sauce. Scotch Woodcock isn’t a highland game-bird but a savoury dish consisting of scrambled eggs served on toast that has been spread with something tangy like anchovy paste or Gentleman's Relish. Yes, a British menu can confound the visitor.

Kedgeree has been a breakfast favourite since Queen Victoria and the days of the old Raj. An Anglo-Indian preparation of seasoned rice, hard-boiled eggs and smoked haddock. It’s often dry and uninteresting but the version at Indigo has been tweaked into a moist and flavourful dish which, although still holding to its roots, was somewhat elevated. The rice had a rich yellow hue from spices and had the consistency of an Italian risotto. The eggs were quails’ and the grilled haddock was perched on top rather than finding itself broken into petals and mixed with the rice. A more refined presentation, and a delicious take on a classic British favourite.

london restaurant review Other dishes at Indigo also warrant mentions. The Crab and Chilli Risotto is a flavourful preparation and well worth trying. A creamy texture with a subtle suspicion of chilli. Plenty of seafood and an attractive coral colour. If you are a lover of more substantial fare then consider the Fish Pie which was well received by guests on the adjoining table and was a substantial serving.

Desserts tend to be a treat. Very few of us have the time to prepare a sweet during the week. Sunday brunch at Indigo offers the ideal opportunity to have a leisurely meal with a decadent finale. The brownies here were popular; the Banana Split came highly recommended and it was indeed the sort of pud that would make any diner feel like a kid again. Soft bananas with a crunchy sugar crust, chocolate and vanilla ice cream and fruit. Two spoons and a couple of cups of espresso and we were replete, complete and ready for the week.

Indigo at One Aldwich is an overlooked treasure. Grab a table on the balcony above the Lobby Bar. Enjoy the views from the magnificent dark wood-framed windows. Take a couple of hours to unwind and remember why Sundays were invented. Indigo does it well. Amazing value for money.

One Aldwych
1 Aldwych, London WC2B 4RH
Tel: 020 7300 0400
Fax: 020 7300 0401

Visit One Aldwych here

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