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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

InterContinental for Afternoon Tea and Summer

Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch

Theo Randall at the InterContinental

Theo Randall Cookery Masterclasses

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Hotel Reviews
- InterContinental

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InterContinental for Afternoon Tea and Summer

Cookbook Cafe – Sunday Brunch

Theo Randall at the InterContinental

Theo Randall Cookery Masterclasses

InterContinental for Afternoon Tea and Summer

London is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s been a magnet for tourists for generations. Plenty of celebrated museums, and all free, galleries to admire, and then there is always retail therapy, and that has never gone out of style.

Yes, we have famous buildings by the score and our green spaces are loved by local and visitor alike. Hyde Park, Green Park, Kensington Gardens and Regents Park have great appeal when the sun shines. Tourists enjoying a stroll, mums with energetic toddlers and office workers snatching some rays all take advantage of an hour or so of tranquillity.

But what do we think of when we consider a traditional English summer? Taking a boat trip on the Thames? Some open-air concerts? A picnic? Perhaps all of the above, and if you are fortunate enough to be staying at InterContinental on Park Lane then you can pamper yourself with a bespoke picnic to enjoy at any outside event or even while your riverboat motors under Tower Bridge and past the Houses of Parliament.

Picnics aren’t necessarily just a showcase for curly cheese-and-pickle sarnies. Executive Chef Paul Bates offers some of his favourite foods for the delicious alfresco menu:
Roasted ratatouille, cous cous and chorizo
Chicken salad, shredded and tossed in sherry-hazelnut vinegar dressing
Tuna-salmon sashimi, wasabi and ginger
Lightly poached lobster, mango-basil salsa
Mixed leaf, cos, rocket, mache, sweet cherry tomatoes, bell peppers
Palm heart, artichoke and avocado, light garlic dressing
Demi baguettes
Sharphams rustic (hard cheese)
This season's pear chutney
Sinful chocolate fudge brownie
English bakewell tart
Large still or sparkling water.

london restaurant review But there are those rare days (yeah, right) when the sky is grey from edge to edge and there might even be the threat of rain. Tourists should note that it’s almost guaranteed to rain for Wimbledon Tennis or any international cricket match. Nothing worse than damp grass when one is looking for a spot to consume delicious deli fare and some sweet pastries, so consider the alternative venue of a traditional afternoon tea in the classy shelter of the InterContinental’s Wellington Lounge.

The ground floor of this popular hotel has undergone a complete makeover. It’s now light and bright with soft taupe and powder-sage hues. The picture windows offer vistas that are typical of this remarkable corner of London: red buses, black London taxis, iconic architecture and views across to Wellington Arch and Hyde Park. The decor has been designed to “bring the outside in” and it does that in the most attractive fashion.

Try the hotel's own designer Wellington Blend tea, created by Executive Chef Paul Bates in conjunction with Modern Tea Emporium. The tea selection is a delicious companion to the spread of delicate delights. Even the crockery is new and mimics the geometric design on carpets and soft furnishings. The afternoon is an event, attracting both Intercontinental guests and those who are just passing. It’s a hotel that is famed for its quality cuisine at the Cookbook Café, and now in the Lounge.

There are several ‘Teas’ available in Britain. You will see restaurants and cafés offering different ‘teas’ appropriate to the time of day. Traditionally, the upper classes would take ‘afternoon tea’ around four o'clock. A ‘cream tea’ is a lighter version of this. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial ‘high tea’ a little later in the day, at five or six o'clock, in place of dinner. Working classes had dinner at lunch time and tea nearer dinner time. Sunday lunch was always a full dinner, when high tea might be replaced by supper. Clear?

Afternoon Tea Menu

london restaurant and hotel review Sandwich Selection:
Speyside smoked salmon, cucumber linguini and Sevruga caviar. A traditional topping with a twist.
Rare roasted sirloin of beef, Piccalilli, chives and horseradish. Who could visit Britain and not try some roast beef?
Steamed Devon red chicken, hen egg mayonnaise and baby red-stalk sorrel. Flavourful and light.
West coast Scottish lobster, shrimps, olive oil tomato emulsion. Rich and decadent and a showcase for some of the best seafood in these isles.

Sultana scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve are served after the guest has consumed the lowest tier of the stand, the savouries. Those scones and garnishes make a truly authentic treat alone, and are usually described as a ‘cream tea’.

But Intercontinental provides a full Afternoon Tea, which is rounded off with an overflowing top plate which one would have been gazing at since the arrival of the cake stand. I guess it’s called ‘cake’ stand to draw attention to the goods gracing the summit.

Vanilla and white chocolate cream profiterole.
Mango tranche with blackberry cream has full-on fruity flavour and one can feel noble: it must count as one of your 5 a day.
Dark chocolate torte is slightly bitter and has a sophisticated adult taste.
Preserved infused-fruit Madeira cake is old-fashioned and comforting.

All the above fancies, and some more, might be your reward for a hard day spent touring on an open-top bus, beetling around on a Boris-bike, hiking through designer boutiques and admiring historic sites. Enjoy it. You deserve it.

Selection of teas, cakes, sandwiches and scones.
£25 per person
£35 per person with a glass of Champagne

Monday to Friday from 1pm to 5pm. At weekends two sittings: 1.30pm to 3.30pm and 4pm to 6pm.

Visit the InterContinental Hotel here.
food and travel reviews

Theo Randall Cookery Masterclasses

In his early twenties, following an apprenticeship with Max Magarian of Chez Max, Theo Randall started work at The River Café where Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers made him head chef and a partner in the business. It’s a measure of this man that he is held in such high esteem by his peers.

restaurant review theo randall In November 2006 Theo opened his own restaurant, Theo Randall, at The InterContinental Park Lane. September 2008 saw the restaurant receive its first gong - 'Italian Restaurant of the Year' at the London Restaurant Awards. Well that’s not bad for a non-Italian lad. It’s good to know that passion, dedication and just being good at what you do can lead to success.

Theo’s restaurant boasts one hundred and twenty four covers (plus a twenty-seat bar area). It’s a convivial and contemporary space with a floor plan that provides intimate corners for couples and plenty of elbow-room for groups. But it’s the food that is the draw rather than the fine linen and etched glass.

For those who want to add to their own culinary repertoire, Theo Randall hosts cookery classes on the first Saturday of each month. Each class will focus on a particular subject and February’s was Antipasti, but Theo offered far more than the technique for opening a jar of olives.

His menu changes with the seasons. He searches for the best and freshest ingredients, and the end result of his labours proves the worth of this philosophy. The crab was truly fresh, alive and kicking, well, waving legs anyway. I love crab but have never been sure exactly of the method for dispatching one: it’s simple when one is shown. Here, in essence, is the reason why such a close-up and personal relationship with a man and his crab is far more informative than trying to learn from line drawings in a cookbook. Suffice it to say I now know the secret for humane and quick execution of my lunch.

The aim of the morning was to allow Theo to share some of his knowledge on everything from choosing the best quality seafood to using some less-common vegetables, and where to source the ingredients. He doesn’t assume you are already a skilled cook, and his personable manner ensures that not even a novice will feel intimidated.

Theo is a ‘natural’, and far removed from the ranting egotistic articles that too often ‘grace’ our TV screens. He is charming, funny, calm and engaging. All a good teacher should be when dealing with flames, and crustaceans that could break a finger. He teaches through demonstration, which is comforting for those who would rather not show their own skills or lack thereof in a public arena. One relaxes, takes notes, asks questions and, yes, tastes.

The crab was followed by Beef Carpaccio. This is a stunner of a dish which relies on good ingredients and a little cheffy know-how. Simple to prepare before your guests’ arrival and not as expensive as one might imagine. No, the beef fillet isn’t cheap but Theo showed us how to make that meat stretch to feed a crowd. It’s a treat but accessible.

Squid is my favourite seafood and Theo showed us exactly how to prepare these aesthetically unappealing cephalopods. I realise that I have been doing it wrong for years. Nothing to it really, but you need someone to show you the ropes. The seafood was cooked with chilli and anchovy, and served atop borlotti beans and salad. We witnessed the preparation of five antipasti in all, each one a different character requiring different cooking methods.

Your class will start when you meet the chef. You’ll spend the cooking lesson in the restaurant kitchen which is quite an experience for any cook. Then it’s on to wine tasting. The restaurant sommelier talked us through three wines and he found his pupils to be enthusiastic, fascinated and thirsty. We tasted, we discussed, we received advice on food pairing, and we enjoyed.

Lunch was served in a private dining area and reflected the quality that we had come to expect from the restaurant and its staff. We started with a salad of crab, although not the one we had seen prepared in the kitchen - we had already devoured him ...or her. The braised shoulder of lamb which followed was meltingly tender, with a rich and flavourful sauce. The lemon tart was tangy, and striking to behold. The amazing yellow/orange hue was due to the eggs which our waiter assured us came from hens that had been lovingly reared on carrots. A delicious dessert with vision-enhancing properties. The red wine flowed and the conversation was punctuated with praise for our chef and mentor. A Saturday well spent and thoroughly memorable.

Theo Randall Cookery Class starts at 9.30am but don’t expect to leave till 3.00pm-ish. The cost is £150.00 per head but that does include not only the class but the superb lunch with unlimited wine. You’ll also receive an information pack with the recipes for the dishes you watched being prepared, and a note from Theo inviting you and up to five guests to a guided tour of the restaurant kitchen, a homemade dessert platter and a champagne cocktail when next you book dinner at the hotel. My fellow students were already planning their next visit for either a meal or another cooking class. This would make an ideal gift for a food lover. A whole day of entertainment in one of the most welcoming of London’s smartest restaurants.

Dates for Theo’s next available classes are here - book early to avoid disappointment.
Phone 020 7318 8747 or email to guarantee your place.

Visit Theo Randall at the InterContinental here
or at his own site

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 and hotel 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.: 02073188563

food and travel reviews

Theo Randall at the InterContinental

restaurant and hotel review Theo Randall This London hotel was opened in 1975, and reopened in 2006 after a £76m refurbishment. In the restaurant, natural materials are used to great effect. Wood veneers with metallic finishes complement tan leather upholstery; there is an "English grass" motif in frosted glass as well as coloured-glass vases artfully displayed in a subtly-lit slot. All of which combine to create a contemporary but comfy nook for diners. The overall impression is of understated class.

Although the ground floor restaurant boasts one hundred and twenty four covers (plus a twenty-seat bar area) it contrives both to cater for large parties and to provide quiet and intimate space for couples. But you probably won’t (although you might) be there for a romantic rendezvous. It’s the food that is the draw.

In his early twenties, following an apprenticeship with Max Magarian of Chez Max, Theo Randall found a position at The River Café, although in 1991 he left to spend a year working with the much celebrated Alice Walters in the USA. Theo returned to The River Café where Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers made him head chef and a partner in the business. In November 2006 Theo opened his first restaurant, Theo Randall, at The InterContinental Park Lane. September 2008 saw the restaurant receive its first gong - 'Italian Restaurant of the Year' at the London Restaurant Awards.

Theo’s menu presents the finest of real Italian food. His food is memorable without being intimidating. His dishes don’t pose but rather beckon to you. These are platefuls that encourage you to dive in and enjoy the seasonal ingredients and evident passion of the chef and his talented staff.

I could have eaten every dish from this impressive bill of fare but there is only so much one can consume at a sitting. I chose to skip, reluctantly, the antipasti (pan-fried squid with cannellini beans, chilli, anchovy, parsley and rocket is pencilled in for my next visit) and chose a pasta dish. This is probably the best you will find outside the boot of Italy. My Taglierini con Gamberetti e Carciofi (handmade pasta with brown shrimps, artichoke, chilli and butter) was a vision of harmony. The scale of the delicate pasta was perfectly matched by the small, sweet and delicious shrimps. A simple dish but correct in every regard.

restaurant and hotel review Theo Randall restaurant My guest indulged his passion for anything cured and ordered Anguilla affumicata (smoked eel with beetroots, dandelion and fresh horseradish). He proclaimed the portion to be generous with lots of petal-like slices of fish matched with tangy and vibrant accompaniments.

Secondi saw me on the horns of an epicurean dilemma. Should I order the sea bass or the rack of lamb? So, I chose Coda di Rospo al forno (wood roasted Cornish monkfish with parsley, capers, Roseval potatoes, globe artichokes and prosciutto di Parma). The fish was succulent and the prosciutto added just the right salty counterpoint. The potatoes were meltingly delicious and the courgettes were a marvellously crunchy garnish.

Piccione al forno (I guess the same forno which had also accommodated my monkfish) was a pigeon cooked to pink perfection. These are such underrated birds. I think many people have visions of those nasty specimens one finds “decorating” London monuments. The sort with club feet, a nasty cough and low IQ. The culinary version of these tatty-feathered articles is chubby and juicy without the over-gamey flavour of many sport birds. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Throughout the meal we tasted some excellent wines recommended by the personable and approachable sommelier. She was more than happy to recommend wines by the glass that perfectly complemented our food choices. The wine list was extensive with bottles starting at £20 or so. Not out of the way for such a restaurant.

We couldn’t resist the Piatto di dolci which was a selection of four desserts. I’d even invite people I don’t like for a meal here, just to have an excuse to indulge in this sweet array. The Amalfi Lemon tart was fresh and zesty, Vanilla Ice cream with chilled espresso was a simple presentation in a coffee cup but it was enough to impress with its dark bitter charm. The soft chocolate cake is one to fight over and the pannacotta with prunes and brandy was creamy, rich and decadent, as any good dessert should be.

This was a delightful evening spent in cosy surroundings enjoying amazing food. I cannot fault the restaurant or its attentive staff. The prices are what you would expect of such a hotel restaurant in one of the world’s most engaging capitals but I would venture to say that it’s value for money. The evening could not have been improved upon ...unless we had been able to find space for a slice of pear and almond tart or perhaps a sliver of Ricotta cheesecake. I feel another visit might be in order.

Visit the InterContinental web site at here.
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