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Café Spice Namaste scoops prestigious National Recycling Award
Café Spice Namaste, Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala’s
flagship restaurant, won a coveted National Recycling Award for
Waste Prevention (Commercial Category) at a ceremony held at the London
Hilton Park Lane on 6th July. The awards, sponsored by Materials
Recycling World, are the UK’s largest celebration of recycling and
waste management excellence across British industry, requiring evidence
of innovation and effective strategy implementation.
Café Spice Namaste was the sole restaurant in the
entire UK to be nominated for the awards, and had been shortlisted in
three other categories: the food waste initiative (private sector);
retail/service sector recycler of the year; and the efficiency
By winning the Waste Prevention award, Café Spice
Namaste beat a field of 11, including established technology,
packaging, and laboratory testing companies. The restaurant, which
marks its 21st year in 2016, impressed the judges with its
demonstration of resource management, prevention of food waste
(achieving a 22% reduction) -- which it achieved through its own
efforts and work to promote and support food recycling partners such as
Food Cycle -- as well as energy waste.
Manpreet Ahuja, senior chef and manager of special
projects at Café Spice Namaste, collected the award on behalf of
the restaurant. He said, ‘Winning this award is a proud moment in the
history of our company. We knew it would be a challenge because there
is good work being done out there by larger companies in the recycling
and waste management space.
‘That we were the only restaurant nominated for these
prestigious awards was an honour in itself, but winning a Waste
Prevention National Recycling Award really validates all the effort and
investment made by Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala and team through the years
to help preserve our environment, even going against the tide on
occasion. To be recognised for practising what we preach is amazing.’
Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL, Chef Patron of Café Spice
Namaste, said, ‘Pervin and I would like to congratulate our entire team
at Café Spice Namaste, from our kitchen staff to front of house,
who have painstakingly worked to cut down waste and to maximise our
resources. As a small company, we know that everything we use is
precious. This is a team effort and this National Recycling Award means
we have always been on the right track. But we won’t be complacent
because now the bar is set even higher.’
The National Recycling Award is the latest in a long line
of awards that Café Spice Namaste and Cyrus Todiwala have
received for their commitment to the environment and sustainability.
These include awards from the Footprint Forum and the London Chamber of
Commerce and Industry.
Visit Cafe Spice Namaste here.
Make it Sizzle with Mesquite
It’s barbecue time and here are some items that will
support and enhance your al fresco dining.
Santa Maria have a range of seasonings and sauces that will likely
become family favourites all year round. They add authentic taste to
all your Mexican dishes.
Add the fiery flavour of mesquite (renowned for being one
of the best woods for barbecuing meats, and native to the South Western
United States) with Santa Maria’s BBQ & Grill Mesquite Grinder. The
blend of smoked chipotle chilli, tangy red and green bell peppers and
garlic will make steaks sizzle, with just a shake.
Perfect Pulled Pork or Chicken, Pronto
Pulled pork or chicken slow-roasted in the oven and
finished on the barbecue is a summer staple, but when the weather won’t
play ball, or time is short, the Santa Maria Pulled Pork and Pulled
Chicken Dinner Kits are perfect. Ready in just 90 minutes and with no
need for lengthy overnight marinating or slow-cooking, the kits are
ideal for creating party centrepieces, pronto!
To add Mexican flair to al fresco fiestas, simply season
meat with the Santa Maria Fajita Seasoning Mix, grill and serve in
tortillas rather than buns. A mix of chilli, garlic, coriander and
oregano, blended to perfection by the Santa Maria chefs, the mix will
add Mexican flair to barbecues in a flash.
Easy to prepare, these are perfect for feeding hungry
hordes. Simply fire up the barbecue, and add Santa Maria Fajita
Seasoning Mix to burgers for a Mexican flavour.
For the Fajita Burger:
500g Lean minced beef
1 Sachet Santa Maria
Fajita Seasoning Mix - Mild
4 Santa Maria Plain Flour
4 slices mature cheddar
Half a red onion
4 leaves lettuce
2 tbsp Mayonnaise
Santa Maria Yellow Chillies
1. Mix together the minced beef, egg and Fajita
Seasoning Mix and shape into burgers.
2. Preheat the grill (or fire up the barbecue)
and cook burgers for about 3 minutes each side or until well cooked on
3. Grab the Tortillas, place the burger on top
and add cheese, sliced onion, tomato, lettuce, mayo and Yellow Chillies.
4. Fold and serve with Fajita Wedges (seasoned
Perfect Pulled Pork in just 90 mins, with the Santa Maria
Pulled Pork Dinner Kits. Ideal for feeding the whole family, or
impressing barbecue guests.
1 kg pork steaks
(shoulder, chops or loin)
2 red onions, peeled
8 Santa Maria Mini
1 sachet Santa Maria
Pulled Pork Seasoning Mix
1 sachet Santa Maria Red
Onion Seasoning Mix
1 sachet Santa Maria
Chipotle BBQ Sauce
1. Heat oven to 175°C/gas mark 4. Remove
the cooking bag from the Pulled Pork Seasoning Mix and place the meat
inside. Sprinkle the Seasoning Mix in and add the water. Close the
cooking bag with the tie provided. Supporting the weight of the cooking
bag, shake gently until the meat is evenly coated in the Seasoning Mix.
2. Place the cooking bag in an ovenproof dish,
in the lower part of the oven and cook for 90 minutes. Make sure the
cooking bag isn’t touching any part of the oven, as it'll expand during
3. Whilst the meat is cooking, chop the red
onion into thin slices, add into a bowl and sprinkle the Red Onion
Seasoning Mix, until thoroughly covered. Leave for at least 10minutes
to marinate. But the longer you leave it, the better it'll taste.
4. When the meat is cooked, leave for a few
minutes before opening. Then carefully open the cooking bag. Pour the
meat and juices into the dish and tear the meat apart using 2 forks.
The meat should be tender and soft, and easy to shred.
5. Warm the Mini Tortillas and fill with the
Pulled Pork, red onions and top with the tangy Chipotle BBQ Sauce.
Enjoy this infusion of flavours.
Fuss-free Pulled Chicken ready in a flash – the Santa
Maria Pulled Chicken Dinner Kit means there is no need for overnight
marinating or lengthy slow-cooking.
1 Chicken (approx 1.3kg)
or 4 chicken breasts
2 red onions, peeled
100 ml Water
1 tbsp oil (if using
8 Santa Maria Mini
1 sachet Santa Maria
Pulled Chicken Seasoning Mix
1 sachet Santa Maria Red
Onion Seasoning Mix
1 sachet Santa Maria
Chipotle BBQ Sauce
1.Heat oven to 175°C/gas mark
the cooking bag from the Pulled Chicken Seasoning Mix and place the
meat inside. Sprinkle the Seasoning Mix in and add the water. Add the
oil if using chicken breasts. Close the cooking bag with the tie
provided. Supporting the weight of the cooking bag, shake gently until
the meat is evenly coated in the Seasoning Mix.
2. Place the cooking bag in an ovenproof dish,
in the lower part of the oven and cook for 90 minutes (chicken breasts
50 mins). Make sure the cooking bag isn’t touching any part of the
oven, as it'll expand during cooking.
3. Whilst the meat is cooking, chop the red
onion into thin slices, add into a bowl and sprinkle the Red Onion
Seasoning Mix, until thoroughly covered. Leave for at least 10 minutes
to marinate. But the longer you leave it, the better it'll taste.
4. When the meat is cooked, leave for a few
minutes before opening. Then carefully open the cooking bag. Pour the
meat and juices into the dish. Then tear the meat apart using 2 forks.
Carefully remove the skin and bones. The meat should be tender and
soft, and easy to shred.
5. Warm the Mini Tortillas and fill with the
Pulled Chicken, red onions and top with the tangy chipotle BBQ Sauce.
Enjoy this infusion of flavours.
BBQ & Grill Mesquite Grinder, RRP £3, Morrisons
Pulled Pork and Pulled Chicken Dinner Kits, RRP £3.99, Morrisons,
Santa Maria Fajita Seasoning Mix, (Mild / Medium), RRP £0.90,
Oxford Range – Contemporary and Classic
Picture Oxford University – that truly is a beautiful sight. The legend
of Oxford’s birth says that Oxford University was founded in 872 by
Alfred the Great. There is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096,
making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the
world's second-oldest surviving university. Established in 1683, the
Ashmolean Museum is the oldest museum in the UK and one of the oldest
in the world. It houses the University’s extensive collections of art
and antiquities, going back four thousand years.
Packaging makes such a difference. Whilst the goods within might be
outstanding, it’s true to say that we eat with our eyes. The Oxford
Range is gift-quality in every regard. Many of the products are in
distinctive blue with the University crest, making this very English
collection the ideal gift for discerning food-lovers in the UK, but
also for overseas friends who will appreciate the delicious biscuits,
teas and chocolates as well as the timeless good taste of the Oxford
Range. The Oxford Range draws inspiration from the beauty, culture and
rich heritage of the University town. It includes teas, biscuits and
chocolate, all crafted to ensure the finest quality in both textures
Arjun Mehta, CEO of Oxford Food & Beverage Limited, describes the
Oxford Range as “an enticing fine-foods offering with Britain’s beloved
tradition of tea-drinking at its heart.” Oxford’s selection of teas
caters to a range of tastes, from the traditional British flavours of
English Breakfast Tea and Earl Grey Tea, to the delicate and subtle
notes of Green Tea with Jasmine, and Pure Peppermint Infusion.
Delightful flavours can be found in the scrumptious Lemon and Ginger
Biscuits and the wonderfully moreish All Butter Shortbread Biscuits.
The rich Belgian Chocolate Neapolitans are sure to satisfy with both
Classic and Assorted options, the latter including delicious pairings
such as Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt.
There are further plans to expand the range in the coming year, adding
both table accessories and coffee to complement the existing collection
of products. Commenting on the partnership, Chris Evans, Managing
Director of Oxford Limited, University of Oxford, says: “We are
delighted to be working with such a high quality and capable partner to
create our teas, biscuits and chocolate. The rich heritage of the
University of Oxford has been translated into wonderful products and we
are thrilled with the progress that the range has already made around
The Oxford Range will be made available to purchase in supermarkets and
retailers worldwide, launching in the UK, with short-term plans to
expand across the Middle East as well as the USA, India and Europe.
Oxford Food & Beverage Limited is promoted by The East India
Company which is owned by Mr Sanjiv Mehta (UK), Mahindra Group (India)
and Mr Yusuf Ali (Lulu group, UAE).
Casemade - traditional quality for contemporary
Yes, there are a lot of phone cases out there. One can
find them in shops, malls, markets and stalls across the land. I hear
you can find them for as little as £1 but then there is that
little voice of reason: ‘You get what you pay for’.
Isn’t it strange? We carry an expensive piece of technology with us and
don’t consider it worth protecting, and if we do we perhaps don’t
realise that one’s phone makes a statement about its owner. A pink
plastic case with bunny ears is fine …in some circles.
Casemade have gained a reputation for quality at very affordable
prices. The phone covers and sleeves are crafted from genuine Italian
cowhide leather. There are few cases of such quality: they are cut from
a sheet of actual leather by people who know what they are doing with a
fine natural material. There is no substitute for the real thing.
The cases have a wonderful soft feel. It’s the nature of real leather
to give the impression of timeless good taste. There are plenty of
imposters on the high street that are totally synthetic but they look
like leather. Some even feel a bit like leather, but they don’t endure
like leather. Casemade’s phone cases will wear and look even better
with time. They will last for the life of your phone and they will
always be a credit to you. They look costly but are actually no pricier
than some of those faux examples.
I am the proud owner of the brown iPhone wallet case. The
inside of the case holds my iPhone which clips securely into the
polycarbonate mould. Openings on the sides of the housing allow access
to the controls and headphone jack and there is a cut-out for the
camera lens. The case also acts as a regular wallet with three card
slots and one slip-in pouch for holding credit cards, ID, etc.
Casemade believe in attention to detail and they put their name on
their cases. The logo on the outside and the company name in full on
the inside speak of pride in their products. The stitching is perfect
and the faint smell of authentic leather is appealing. Each case is
individually gift wrapped and swathed in classy black tissue paper
before it is sent out to its new owner, making this an exceptional gift
– if you can bear to give it away!
Learn more about Casemade here.
THUD … and dinner’s here!
It’s true, there are other companies that deliver food for home cooks,
but the clue to this particular concept is in the name: THUD!
It sounds like a great idea - the box of veggies is delivered to your
door. Yes, TO your door. But don’t you have a living to earn? So I
guess you go out to work (and if you didn’t you wouldn’t need someone
to do the shopping). THUD is even more practical. It doesn’t expect you
to be there. The vegetables are posted THROUGH your standard-sized (at
least 4cm by 18cm) letterbox. No, dear sceptical reader, the postman
doesn’t flick those cherry tomatoes through the flap as if playing
table football and nor does he bend the broccoli to land like green
confetti on the door mat along with your bills. He posts in a long and
narrow box all the major fixin’s you will need for dinner for a couple
of people for a couple of days.
Everyone has the basics in the fridge and the store cupboard but we
still wonder what to cook. That decision is made for you and the main
fresh ingredients arrive, along with simple recipes. All you need to do
is add a few staples and you are set. This week it was pesto with
pasta. The fresh herbs, courgettes and asparagus were all in the box so
just the fusilli and some pine nuts and a few little extras to add. The
other recipe was for rice, bean and salsa burritos. Yes, we had to have
the tortillas, beans and rice on hand, but the rest of it was already
in the box … so the box contained enough essential ingredients for two
meals for two people, and for only £10!
All the quantities are sorted so there is no weighing and no waste. No
need to buy a big bunch of herbs for just a few stalks in a recipe. All
the produce in the THUD box is sourced from British growers and it’s
good quality, so nothing limp and iffy lurking in the bottom. You get
an email in advance telling you about some basics you will need for the
coming recipes, but you’ll likely have some of those already - or they
will be in your local grocers wherever you are in the UK. Those things
will only ever be pasta, rice, eggs, bread, oil, vinegar, etc. There
might not be seasoning mentioned on the recipe cards but that will only
be regular salt and pepper to taste.
All the recipes are vegetarian but they also lend themselves to the
addition of some meat or fish. You might want to add a dash of hot
sauce to some dishes, perhaps a sprinkle of chilli to others. This is
your box so you are free to add spices, protein, and your own left-over
veggies as you see fit. You are the chef in your own kitchen!
It’s easy to subscribe to THUD. There’s no obligation to continue
with deliveries beyond the coming week. Sign-up or renew by Sunday
midnight, skip a week or cancel by Saturday midnight. Your box will
usually arrive through the letterbox on Wednesday. They can be
delivered anywhere in the UK by Royal Mail and the price includes
delivery. That’s £10 a week for 2 meals for 2 and £18 a
week for 2 meals for 4.
Visit THUD here.
Mele e Pere for
Vermouth with a Master
Vermouth has been ubiquitous in and on cocktail bars since
mixed drinks became popular more than a century ago, but many of us have no
idea what it actually is, apart from being the bottle that stands at
collecting dust. Now it’s enjoying something of a revival since the days of the
ubiquitous Gin and It in London in the 1950s. The ‘It’ in this case was sweet
The modern versions of vermouths were first produced in the
mid- to late-18th century in Turin, Italy. Vermouth was traditionally used for
medicinal purposes, being flavoured with botanicals more associated with the
apothecary’s cabinet. In the late 19th century it became popular as the indispensable
ingredient in many celebrated cocktails such as the classic Martini (gin and
dry vermouth), the Manhattan (bourbon, rye, or whiskey, with sweet vermouth),
and the Negroni (Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth).
There are two main types of vermouth, sweet and dry, and
then the spin-off styles of extra-dry white, sweet bianco and rosso, and rosé.
Vermouth is produced from a base of a light wine with the addition of infused alcohol
flavoured with aromatic herbs, roots, fruits, barks and spices. The resulting
combination of wine and alcohol is sweetened with either cane sugar or
caramelized sugar, depending on the style. This gives depth and richness to the
A popular ingredient is wormwood, which has long been
believed to sooth stomach disorders. The name "vermouth" is the
French pronunciation of the German word Wermut which we English pronounce as wormwood.
By the mid-17th century the drink was being enjoyed in England, where we
adopted the name "vermouth", and so it remains.
Mele e Pere, one of my favourite restaurants in Soho, has a
bespoke Vermouth bar. Yes, every bar in the capital will have a bottle or two
of this fortified wine but here it’s the main beverage. Vermouthier-in-chief Ed
Scothern, who is also the enthusiastic and animated General Manager, conducts
regular Vermouth masterclasses which are both popular and fun. He discusses the
history and composition of this drink but he also shows how you could make
Vermouth yourself. In fact that’s just what you will be doing at the end of the
Ed takes you through the blending process and a tasting of a
wide variety of styles, and will ply you with your favourite vermouth-based cocktails
or perhaps introduce you to some new ones. You will see how Mele e Pere use
different vermouths in both classic and signature house cocktails. You will be
supplied with an array of small bottles of the aromatised alcohol and glasses
of sweetened white wine and be given the chance to design your own unique and
hopefully delicious Vermouth.
Tickets for each evening cost £25 and include some of Mele e
Pere’s most popular sharing plates such as spicy Ascolana olives (to which I am
addicted), deep fried squid with smoked aioli, and San Daniele ham – and, trust
me, they will tempt you to return to sample the rest of the menu.
Join Mele e Pere for Vermouth Mondays. They offer 2 for 1 on
all Vermouths when you order any share dish, pasta or main course every Monday
You can build your own Negronis and Martinis by choosing
from perhaps London's biggest selection of Vermouths and Mele e Pere’s diverse
range of Gins and Vodkas produced by some of the UK's most individual micro-distilleries.
To book a place at one of their masterclasses e-mail
email@example.com or call 020 7096 2096.
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TF
Read more about Mele e Pere here.
trendy these days, but it wasn’t always such a sought-after address. In
879 Danish invaders had a winter break at Fulham and Hammersmith.
Fulham during the 18th century had a reputation of debauchery,
prostitution and gambling. My grandfather lived in Fulham at the start
of the 20th century and he was a part-time bookie’s runner. Yes, they
were colourful times.
Today, Fulham is one of the most desirable parts of
London and, in this corner at least, has the air of a village.
Cafés, small shops and bars abound and there are even some good
restaurants, and amongst their number is Hanger SW6. That SW6, for
those from beyond these shores, refers to the post code (zip code) for
this neck of the urban woods.
Hanger doesn’t refer to the size of the establishment nor to a holder
for one’s raincoat (yes, it’s summer in England). No, it’s a reference
to the main menu item, which is a steak and a much overlooked variety
too. But let’s consider at the premises.
This ground floor restaurant isn’t huge but it has great character.
It’s new but has a timeless quality. The tables are simple wood, as are
the chairs. There is a raised eating bar with stools for those who
crave elevation, and a hatch through to the kitchen. There is a bar
downstairs which has a cosy ambiance, with soft furnishings ideal for
intimate sippings and group conviviality.
But we were
here for that aforementioned steak. Hanger steak might not sound
familiar to you but it’s likely you would have
already enjoyed one. If you have ordered onglet in a French restaurant
here or in France then you would have eaten a hanger steak. If you have
been tempted by a beef fajita in a Mexican restaurant then you will
have had a hanger. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘butcher’s steak’ or
‘butcher’s choice’ because butchers would keep that cut for themselves.
It’s sometimes called skirt steak in the UK.
Hanger steak isn’t as pricey as the more common cuts that one finds in
fine-dining bespoke steak restaurants. The owners wanted to present a
steak that more people could afford but without sacrificing flavour. A
requires a bit of care. Its fibres are longer than in other steaks and
the cut tends to toughen if it’s cooked to more than medium – so have
it cooked only to rare or medium rare. Cut across the grain it is one
of the best steaks, with plenty of beefiness.
We ordered some wine, and there are plenty of decent options here by
the glass. Try the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon
from South Africa. The menu here isn’t huge but that’s the whole point.
Hanger is dedicated to steak but there are options for fish lovers and
vegetarians, too. My guest ordered Charred piquillo pepper with
crumbled feta cheese, garnished with cherry tomato salsa. These ‘little
beak’ peppers are traditionally grown in Northern Spain and are sweet
when grilled. This would have also made a colourful side dish.
Scallop ceviche with ponzu dressing (mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi
tuna flakes) sounded high-end and indeed it was. One might be in a
‘casual’ restaurant at Hanger but the food is serious. This dish was
delicate and refined; the shellfish wasn’t overwhelmed by the acid.
My main course was never in doubt: Charcoal-grilled hanger steak with a
bouquet of watercress and a side of triple-cooked chips seasoned with
garlic and rosemary salt. This is classic steak and chips with the meat
a rosy red but not oozing. Lots of flavour from the light and speedy
char, but those chips were perhaps some of the best I have had this
year. They were full-on rosemary with a hint of garlic. If pressed for
time I would be happy with a bowl of these and some wine or a cocktail.
A hanger steak sandwich with sticky onions, mustard, watercress and
served in ciabatta was my guest’s main course. This is a dish only for
those with considerable appetites, and anybody less than a rugby player
might be advised to order half a sandwich. You could always ask for the
other half later. This was an outstanding sandwich in both size and
Sundae Mess was our shared dessert, being already comfortably
overwhelmed by succulent meat. It’s a deconstructed Eton Mess of
meringue, berry ripple, vanilla and lemon pie ice cream. The lemon ice
cream stole the show with its refreshing tang.
Hanger has a
promising future. A great location with plenty of public transport will
help, but it’s the food that will assure its success.
Tuesday – Thursday 12:00 – 15:00, 18:00 – 22:00
Friday – Sunday 12:00 – 15:00, 18:00 – 22:00
461 North End Road
London SW6 1NZ
Phone: 020 7386 9739
Visit Hanger SW6 here.
recommendations – Attica’s food, wine and welcome
I love Greece. It’s the warm people, food, and (you might be
surprised to hear) award-winning wines that are still so sadly overlooked. Yes,
this country has lots to offer.
Most travellers to Greece seem to arrive in Athens with a
long journey still ahead. They are looking for small restaurants where the
locals eat, perhaps a secluded beach, no other foreign tourists in sight. Yes,
that must be a small island, and a boat ride away from the mainland.
Well, all those elements are nearer than you think. There is
an area just a few miles from Athens airport that ticks all the aforementioned boxes.
Near the airport but without aircraft noise. A beach with amenities (for a
small charge). It’s a resort for Athenians who only seemto go there in the height
of summer. And there is outstanding food which isn’t dumbed down for tourists.
The municipality of Markopoulo Mesogaias is part of the
Attica peninsula in eastern Greece. It has the port town Porto Rafti and the
town of Markopoulo. The port was a major trading place until the end of the
Roman Empire but now caters for pleasure craft. There is the famous municipal beach
of Avlaki and the nearby archaeological site of Vravrona. Spring and autumn
offer calm and uncrowded streets and restaurants, and the opportunity to enjoy
the real Greece – the one we fell in love with all those years ago.
Christos Fraggos is the owner and chef at the restaurant which
bears his name – Fraggos in Markopoulo. He prides himself on presenting local
specialities in a restaurant with family memories and indeed memorabilia. You
will likely be eating at his grandmother’s dining table, or his cousin’s grandmother’s
dining table. Yes, this truly is a family concern. There is an open kitchen and
ample seating both inside and out. This contemporary restaurant and café is in
the centre of Markopoulo and has long been a casual meeting place, but lately it’s
had a renaissance and now presents a more sophisticated persona.
But it’s not antiques which will assure your return. It’s
the traditional meals, salads and baked goods which are so tempting. Christos
maintains quality and consistency in all his dishes, breads, cookies and sweet
bars. He upholds his proud culinary heritage but he presents that in polished
fashion which appeals to locals and tourists alike. A visit here is a must.
Come for a coffee and a cake or for a full meal, and perhaps buy some gift-wrapped
cookies at Fraggos.
There is a wealth of other Greek foods to buy and try in a local
gastronomic emporium. Kostarelos has been celebrated for its cheese for
generations and makes 14 different varieties, plus three types of iconic feta,
as well as yoghurt, and Greek rice pudding which is a must-try here. They make
their goat’s milk products from free-roaming flocks using their own rennet.
Kostarelos has shops in both Markopoulo and Porto Rafti. They
have a large selection of cheeses from all over Greece in addition to their own,
but they stock other products from small producers around the country. There
are shelves lined with jams and spoon sweets, baskets are overflowing with
dried beans, trays are laden with dried fruits and nuts, and cans and jars tempt
with speciality foods from the mainland and islands. Any self-respecting foodie
will want to spend their holidays here.
A few years ago one might have scoffed at the prospect of a
visit to a Greek winery. But those days are gone and now Greek wineries are
taken seriously in the international arena and they are winning awards against
more familiar wine-producing countries. Vassilis Papagiannakos is a leader in
the reinvention of the Greek wine industry and after decades of hard work he is
now enjoying recognition and international respect. This beautifully presented
winery is outstanding and can compete with wineries anywhere in the world. They
have the best of wine-making facilities, and elegant social space in which to
host group gatherings and receptions in striking fashion. The building has open
vistas over fruit trees, figs, pistachios, herbs and of course vines. This
noteworthy winery has inspired a lot of other winemakers from all over Greece
and other countries. Students studying architecture use the building as a
project because of the bioclimatic and energy-saving design.
But you might not be here to admire the fittings and
fixtures. It’s all about the wine. Ones to try, although they are all worth
trying, are Savatiano Old Vines which is a dry white wine, and PGI Markopoulo -
bright gold and clear in colour, delicate bouquet, and aroma of citrus.
Kalogeri – Cabernet Sauvignon - dry red wine, deep ruby in colour, complex
bouquet of ripe red fruit, spice and vanilla hues. If you want to try a
traditional Retsina then look at the very mild Retsina Papagiannakos – a dry white
wine of traditional appellation Mesogaia. This might surprise you with its
balance and quality, fine aroma of pine and a hint of lemon, blond in colour. A
must-buy wine to keep or as a gift is Melias Sweet White Wine, PGI Attica - golden
colour with an acacia-honey aroma, a smoky wine with a ripe pineapple bouquet.
This is outstanding.
Domaine Papagiannakos, Pousi – Kalogeri, 19 003 Markopoulo, Mesogaia, Attica, Greece
Mele e Pere – a steak
Mele e Pere opened in the heart of Soho in February 2012,
but that neighbourhood dates back centuries. In the
Middle Ages, what is now Soho was known as St Giles Field, land
belonging to the Convent of Abingdon, with its leper hospital. In 1536,
the land was taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of
Whitehall. In fact the name "Soho" first appears in the 17th
century and is thought to come from a former hunting cry. The 1st Duke
of Monmouth used "soho" as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of
Sedgemoor in 1685.
The Earls of Leicester and Portland developed the land but Soho was
never a great address. Immigrants settled in the area, including French
Huguenots, but by the mid-19th century genteel folk had moved away and
Soho took on another persona. When I was growing up in the 1960s Soho
was the place to find iffy pleasures, and they were in full view. Doors
with X in neon above and ladies of the night gracing street corners
were the norm. But there were restaurants, and artists including writer
Dylan Thomas and jazz musician George Melly frequented these streets in
the 50s and 60s. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Henry Jekyll had his other
self, Edward Hyde, living in Soho.
Modern Soho still has a bohemian character but most of the seamy side
has disappeared. Restaurants and bars are popular with locals and
tourists, but with quantity there is the danger of quality taking a
back seat – although there are some gems here.
Mele e Pere is a consistent favourite. Its small dining area on the
ground floor gives no sign of the characterful restaurant and bar
below. The décor is eclectic with bookshelves holding soda
syphons, and industrial wall lights which would look at home in a 1930s
drawing office. The tables are wooden with tastefully mis-matched
chairs. One has a sense that this carefully designed space has
naturally evolved into its casual and quirky self and I trust the
owners won’t think of changing a thing.
Those owners wanted to create an authentic neighbourhood Trattoria and
I believe they have succeeded. One can enjoy a
celebrated home-made vermouth, some small plates, or a full feast. The
space is flexible and it’s open from 11am till late so
an ideal spot for tourists who find themselves craving lunch at 2.30 or
dinner at 4.45. The menu is predominantly Italian with international flourishes but all
dishes done well. There is a fresh and seasonal daily-changing bill of
fare with British produce as well as Italian ingredients. Mele e Pere
seem to make everything in house and the standard is high.
We enjoyed a glass of both red and white vermouth, also made on the
premises. Ascolana olives with spicy nduja is a must-try along
with your drinks. Nduja is a spicy, soft and spreadable pork salami
from Italy. The olives are sizable, flavourful and deep-fried, making
them thoroughly addictive. A light starter is Crudo of tuna, Sicilian
watermelon and almonds. This is cool and colourful and a great foil for
the heat of the olives.
I enjoyed a dish of potato gnocchi with a buttery sauce
and shavings of white truffle. Yes, truffles are decadent and luxurious
but these white truffles are milder and less earthy than the more
pungent black truffle. The flavour lingers as a pleasant memory.
For those looking for a more meaty option then Mele
e Pere have a rib-eye which would do credit even to a dedicated steak
house. This was a 28-day-aged Surrey Farm rib-eye with delicious glaze.
All their meat is sourced from farms across England and is processed in
Surrey, adhering to the highest standards of quality. The side dish of
broccoli and chilli was a colourful garnish along with the traditional
chips. When we travel to France we often order the classic steak
frites, saying that we can’t do it like that here. Italy has the best
reputation for food and we insist that nobody cooks like that in the
UK. Here at Mele e Pere we can find the best of both culinary worlds.
The Italian wine list showcases independent and biodynamic producers.
There are all the classic Italian and international grape varieties and
many available by the glass or carafe; and it would be rude not to have
a good red with that outstanding steak.
Tiramisù with espresso ice cream was the finale. The
Tiramisù was traditional and as good as one finds anywhere but
the ice cream was the star. Mele e Pere make their own
and its flavour is striking. This isn’t coffee ice cream but most
definitely espresso, and with an adult flavour.
I was not surprised that the quality of food, and steak
in particular, was so high. It’s not my first visit, after all. But
that first excellent meal might have been a gastronomic fluke, an
epicurean lucky shot. But no. Mele e Pere is solid, confident and
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
Phone: 020 7096 2096
Visit Mele e Pere here
Brunch 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!
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.
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.
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
50 South Lambeth Place
Phone: 020 3693 9600
Visit Counter here
Romulo Café London
This is a leafy corner of the capital. It’s not a neighbourhood
of steel and glass. This is the preserve of people who actually live here and
those who choose to visit this end of Kensington High Street to seek out a
little charm and calm.
Now there is a new draw along this high-end thoroughfare. Romulo
Café London has arrived and it has a celebrated pedigree. There are other
Romulos, but they are in Manila in the Philippines. The name was already known,
however, before it became associated with culinary excellence.
Carlos P. Romulo served as the President of the Fourth
Session of United Nations General Assembly from 1949–1950, and as chairman of
the United Nations Security Council. He had served with General Douglas
MacArthur in the Pacific, and under eight Philippine presidents, from Manuel L.
Quezon to Ferdinand Marcos, as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.
He was a man able to represent his own country but he was
admired internationally and recognised with awards from other nations such as Grand
Cross of the Order of the Phoenix from the Greek Government and Grand Cross of
the Order of Carlos Manuel do Cespedes from the Republic of Cuba, and he was
the first and to date the only Filipino winner of the Pulitzer Prize! He was a
respected writer, statesman, soldier and historian and even co-founded the Philippines
Boy Scouts. A true man for all seasons.
We have pubs called ‘The Shakespeare Arms’ even though neither
the Bard nor his descendants have ever crossed the threshold. There are other hostelries
named ‘The Queen Victoria’ even though we can guess that royalty never pulled a
pint within. But there truly is a family association at the Romulo Café, and it
couldn’t be stronger. Sandie Romulo, granddaughter of Carlos P. Romulo, and her
husband Enzo Squillantini are at the helm of the Philippines establishment and Sandie’s
sister Rowena Romulo and her fellow manager Chris Joseph now head this new London
venture. The Executive Chef, Lorenzo Maderas, also comes from the Philippines
so one can be guaranteed an authentic experience at this restaurant.
Rowena Romulo, a former senior banker and now restaurateur, persuaded
her family that Romulo Café would be a well-received addition to London’s
vibrant international gastronomic scene. This is, as yet, a little known
culinary tradition. Not many of us know much about Filipino food but in fact it
ticks all the popular epicurean profile boxes. We in the UK love Indian food
with its complex flavours. Filipino cuisine offers those flavours but the
palate is perhaps more subtle. Spanish food in London has long been popular; Filipino
cuisine offers hints of its historic Spanish connections and heritage. We enjoy Chinese and Malaysian food with their
exotic combination of ingredients. Filipino cuisine also has truly unique
ingredients but nothing to excite fear in the diner – one is first curious and
then becomes appreciative of these new dishes.
Romulo Café is found in a converted Georgian town house and
it does retain the charm of a home. Its main ground floor dining room, aptly
called the Diplomat’s Dining Room, can seat up to 40 people and is welcoming
and intimate. The ‘at home’ theme continues with the Romulo family photographs
giving a sense that this is more than just an anonymous business project. The
name Romulo is writ large over everything and that must surely elicit
expectations of excellence and attention to detail.
Bangus Paté - Smoked milkfish spread with orange segments,
orange purée, caviar and crostini - was the first of my starters. This
beautifully presented preparation was delicately flavoured and moreish. A must-try
here. Tuna Kilawin - Tuna ceviche marinated with cane vinegar with red onions,
cucumbers, peppers and radish - is another signature appetiser. This was far
better balanced than some other ceviches I have tasted elsewhere. It’s
difficult to take advantage of the indispensable acid without finishing up with
a dish that is mouth-puckering. Congratulations to Chef Lorenzo for developing
a recipe which offers a less harsh cure.
The first of the main courses was Deboned Crispy Pork Leg
(Binagoongan Boneless Crispy Pata). This is an absolute winner. It can be made
from either fresh pork or, as in this case, a ham. The pepper seasoning added
so much to the roast and the crackling is just about as good as you will find
in any restaurant of any culinary hue. The fat, which for me is the prize
portion, was melting and the meat tender.
Filipino friends have waxed lyrical about oxtail. It’s an
old-fashioned attitude which we all once had, and to which we should all be
returning. We should be using every part of the animals we rear for food. Those
less trendy cuts are actually the most tender when cooked correctly. In the
case of this stew, Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare, the oxtail gives its flavourful meat
and also marrow from its bones. The comforting dish is served with steamed
vegetables and a shrimp paste for which to die!
I had, I admit, never tried taro before. This is called gabi
in the Philippines and is widely available throughout the islands. Sautéed taro
leaves in coconut milk topped with crispy leeks is an outstanding side dish. It’s
creamy and would convert even the most sceptical to the worth of green veggies.
Don’t miss this one.
Sans Rival is truly sans rival. This is described as a modern
Filipino dessert and it does seem contemporary and reflecting of the diversity
of the Philippines. It’s made with dulce de leche, again a nod to Spain, with
buttercream, cashew nuts and meringue, and served with vanilla ice cream. This
is a new one on me but I’ll be ordering it again.
There is a well-priced wine list here with a good selection
of wines by the glass. The cocktails are also very reasonably priced and they
have some unique ones with striking presentations. Smokey and Stormy is served
in a whisky flask in, as the name might suggest, a smoked glass. Woodford
Reserve is one of Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distilleries and provides the
base for this dramatic cocktail, which also includes St. Germain made from
elderflowers, and Grand Marnier.
Romulo Café in London demands more than one visit. I enjoyed
my meal immensely but I also noticed the rest of the menu and that held
temptations for the future; and I assume they will be just as delicious, just
as exciting and just as authentically Filipino. It’s a journey of discovery and
I am taking my first mouth-watering steps.
Romulo Café London
343 Kensington High Street
London W8 6NW
Phone: 020 3141 6390
Visit Romulo Café London here
Stuzzico in London’s village
Talk about London and it’s likely a conversation about
financial hubs (yes, even now after Brexit), the bustle of Oxford
Street, the draw of Theatreland and the Tower of London will ensue.
But London is actually made up of villages which remain far more
charming and welcoming than the thronging thoroughfares more familiar
to tourists and indeed most locals.
Stuzzico is located on Kendal Street
in the heart of Connaught Village which is just around the corner from
the busy Bayswater Road as well as Marble Arch and Hyde Park. This
small neighbourhood is both a commercial and residential area, and is
part of the Hyde Park Estate, owned by the Church Commissioners of
England. It boasts fine houses, numerous designer shops and some rather
I love Italian food but in London at least, those restaurants do vary
in quality. There are plenty of pizza parlours, but far fewer are those
restaurants that actually offer fine Italian food in an adult
environment without even the hint of an offer of ‘All you can eat for
£2.50’. Stuzzico presents a broad menu of quality dishes to tempt
the discerning diner without a shocking bill at the end of the meal.
This is a contemporary restaurant with a view to the historic and
attractive village. It isn’t a themed Italian restaurant but more one
which offers European style in decor but very specifically Italian
food. It’s small but well-staffed. There is no danger that
your waiter looking after table number 26 will ignore the desperate
waving from table 41. Stuzzico is intimate and friendly.
My guest ordered a very Italian
starter: Burrata di bufala - Buffalo Burrata garnished with rocket
leaves and cherry tomatoes with black garlic dressing. Burrata is an
iconic Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. This is a world
away from the waxy mozzarella found in every supermarket, the sort that
makes your teeth squeak and tastes like it has had all flavour freshly
removed. This cheese is rich and moreish. The outer shell is of regular
mozzarella but the inside is stuffed with a mixture of mozzarella and
cream. It has a soft texture with that cream bathing the solid
Insalata tiepida di polpo, cipolla rossa e borlotti - warm octopus
salad garnished with red onions and served on a bed of borlotti beans -
was my first course. Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans
and are popular in southern European cuisines. They have an almost
nutty flavour and a comforting texture when properly cooked, and these
were. But the octopus was the star of the dish. The slender tentacles
took on a delicious char which added so much to the flavour balance of
the beautifully presented dish. This is a plate that transports
one to the shores of the Med on a warm evening.
Rana pescatrice alla mediterranea - Monkfish with black
olives, cherry tomatoes and capers - must surely be a
signature dish here. This is a heap of meaty fish with great interest
from the vegetables – or are they fruits? People are confused
about the difference between capers and caperberries. The two are not
interchangeable although they both come from the same Mediterranean
plant. They both have a distinctive flavour but caperberries are larger
than the more common caper buds. They are much milder in flavour and
are used when a less strident garnish is called for. This monkfish was
a delight and substantial, as are all dishes as Stuzzico.
Cantucci e Vin Santo - glass of sweet Vin Santo wine and almond
biscotti - must surely be the most charming of ends to any Italian
meal. The name means Holy Wine and there are several theories as to how
it arose. In the Middle Ages, a Franciscan friar is said to have used
altar wine to save people from the Black Death. I am not sure that can
be true as if it had worked the plague would not even have reached the
English Channel, but it’s a nice story. This sweet dessert wine
is usually made from Trebbiano and Malvasia varieties of grape, and
indeed Trebbiano is the most widely cultivated grape in Italy. Nectar –
with a cookie on the side.
Stuzzico deserves more than just one visit. It has attracted locals who
bring friends for celebrations, and they pop in for just a simple bowl
of pasta. Plenty of visitors from overseas here on business also
appreciate the menu, which offers something for every taste and
appetite. It has a great location, being just a short walk from
Paddington station and bus routes, but it’s the food that will assure
return visits, and many of them. I’ll be back to try a small bowl of
spaghetti, a steak and perhaps some pistachio mousse.
OPENING HOURS: Closed on Bank Holidays
Monday to Friday
8:00 - 16:00
18:30 - 22:30
9:00 - 16:00
18:30 - 22:30
9:00 - 16:00
24 Kendal Street
London W2 2AW
Phone: 020 7262 9122
Visit Stuzzico here
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
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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
London is moving east. There has been much investment in
an area that already had good transport links. New building for both
housing and commerce has revitalised local economies and indeed
aspirations. H. Forman is best placed to enjoy the benefits of a rising
population that appreciates tastes of the good life.
Forman’s Restaurant and Bar enjoys uninterrupted views of the Olympic
Stadium across a river fringed by narrowboats. According to The Times
the restaurant boasts the best view of the Olympic Stadium at Queen
Elizabeth Olympic Park. It will host both the 2017 IAAF World
Championships in Athletics, and the 2017 IPC Athletics World
Championships. H. Forman's headquarters and restaurant are in the
building closest to the stadium outside of the Olympic Park, being only
100m away across lots of greenery and that little river.
H. Forman’s new location was opened by the former Mayor of London,
Boris Johnson, in 2009. The building was designed by award-winning
architect Phil Hudson, in the shape of a 'darne' of salmon. There are
lots of nods to this noble fish inside the restaurant with artwork,
ceiling reflections, shimmering bar front and banquettes in scale-blue.
Lloyd Hardwick is the Director of Operations at the restaurant. He
worked with the Roux Brothers, going on to become the first Executive
Chef of The Tate Modern. Pretty good credentials, so it’s no surprise
that the food here is so subtly impressive. Simple, traditional with
innovation, and just plain good. It seems to be all about fresh,
seasonal and comforting. It’s both British food and British drink, with
a hint of Eastern Europe along with East London.
London Cure Smoked Salmon is obviously a signature starter
here as it was the founder Harry Forman’s invention way
back in 1905. He came to East London from Odessa as a fish-curer,
but discovered the salmon of Scotland at Billingsgate
fish market. He changed his curing method to take advantage of
this sweet fish which was so different from the brined
imports from Europe. Here that celebrated London Cured Salmon is
served beautifully in traditional fashion with buckwheat blinis (little
pancakes) and a garnish of onion, capers and sour cream. It’s a
striking presentation which showcases that delicate fish which will
likely be nothing like the smoked salmon you were expecting. This
tastes natural and light and it’s totally addictive.
Warm Smoked Eel Fillets was my choice of starter. This made the best of
that flavourful and oily fish which was
once so popular. These were served atop Jersey Royals with capers and
mustard dressing. A simple dish made with familiar
ingredients but equally a dish that showed confident flair. Every
element brought something to the plate in taste and
Forman’s understands that not everyone is a fan of fish,
so for those, and also for the pleasure of the restaurant
regulars, they offer meat dishes too. My guest was tempted by
Pepper-Encrusted Rump of Rhug Organic Salt Marsh Lamb with Bubble and
Squeak and a Port Reduction. The portions here are
substantial and he pronounced his ample plateful to be delicious in
every regard. The meat was cooked to succulent perfection, with
additional flavour from the spice crust. A winner.
Seared Scottish Salmon was my choice of main dish. Once
again it was thoughtfully constructed. The fish was fresh-tasting and
moist with a skin that was crisp and mahogany in hue. Perhaps some
folks don’t eat fish skin but I subscribe to the
Japanese tradition of eating every bit of the salmon, and this was
delicious and with a hint of almost savoury umami. Once again it was
simple but absolutely correct.
But then there was dessert. No, I lie. This was always going to be the
pud from the old school of rib-sticking sweet pleasure. This is Golden
Syrup Sponge Pudding with Crushed Praline Ice-cream and not to be
missed. I know that polite society might sneer at such a
dessert in summer but I hope this one is ‘on’ all year round. To taste
it is to love it and it instantly bought back childhood memories. Yes,
that syrup is undoubtedly sweet but it has a taste all its own. Served
with the plain sponge this is unbeatable. Here it’s cooked and
presented in the iconic green tin.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Forman’s restaurant. I had tasted
their smoked salmon before so I wasn’t surprised at that quality, but
the whole restaurant was a delight. It’s contemporary, bright and with
that view! But it’s the food that assures return visits. At the moment
it’s the culinary oasis of the locals and there will be more of those
residents as the area develops. It’s a company with history and
provenance, and I like their style. I’ll be back for Saturday brunch or
perhaps for some cocktails and a sharing platter. Yes, I’ll return with
Restaurant opening times
Thursday: 7pm to 11pm
Friday: 7pm to 11pm
Saturday: 10am to 3pm brunch. 7pm to 11pm dinner
Sunday lunch - Midday to 5pm
Last table at 9.30pm for Dinner and 3:00pm on Sundays
For parties of 6 or more phone: 0208 5252 365
Visit Forman’s Restaurant here
Donald Russell for BBQ
Well, it’s bound to really be summer soon, so we can plan
and prepare for those days of al fresco dining. Key to the success of the event will be the
meat, so visit Donald Russell as they will deliver your selection to the door -
another worry out of the way.
Donald Russell has long had a reputation for providing the best of meat to some of the most prestigious of restaurants, but you can enjoy
that quality too. Their meat for a barbecue is unbeatable and things like burgers
and ribs are already seasoned or sauced so you are ready to go.
Impress your friends with Spiced Lamb Burgers. These are delicious and versatile, with seasoning that allows the cook to add
garnishes to produce ‘ethnic’ burgers for every taste. How’s about a Greek Burger
with a topping of Feta cheese and Tzatziki. This is fresh and light with great tang from the cheese.
For a recipe for a Chinese Lamb Burger in a steamed bun visit here.
Baby Back Ribs always make a spectacular presentation and
Donald Russell have done all the work for you. These can be cooked in an oven
while the burgers are occupying the outdoor grill. These ribs are moist and meaty
with a sauce with is sticky and memorable. They are already marinated and have
been slow cooked for 4 hours. My husband pronounces these the best he has ever
Luganighetta Sausages can take up some space next to the
burgers on the barbecue. They are a dense and well flavoured sausage made with
both pork and beef, and seasoned with cinnamon and coriander. These are
positively addictive when served on a bed of roast potatoes with peppers, onions
and garlic, and these vegetables can be cooked in the oven which has already
been heated for the aforementioned ribs!
Donald Russell assures success with its high-end products.
There are plenty of pre-prepared BBQ meats on the market but it’s easy to taste
the difference. It’s attention to gastronomic detail that will likely keep you
returning to try other meats from the Donald Russell range.
Visit Donald Russell here
Garrick – Steak with je ne sais quoi
Le Garrick restaurant and wine bar is conveniently located
in the heart of Covent Garden in London’s West End. I am no stranger
here even though this neighbourhood has a wealth of restaurants of
every culinary hue. It’s a timeless treasure and became one of my
favourite restaurants after that very first visit. As I said before - I
am almost loathe to promote it, for fear I won’t get a table next time.
Le Garrick is that rare restaurant which exudes accessible charm,
offering classic food and service with a smile. It’s like
visiting your very favourite
French auntie who might once have been an actress. The best cooking,
Gallic style, and some theatrical sparkle. Granted, that auntie has her
dining room in her basement, but that adds so much cosy intimacy.
Brick walls, earth tones, low lights would make this the perfect
‘first-date’ venue for those with sophistication and élan.
It’s unsurprisingly a traditional French menu, with a host of classics
to tempt Francophiles or anyone with a passion for well executed
dishes; but we were salivating for steak – and there is one in
particular that is celebrated here. But first there was a starter.
Fondue de “Vacherin” pour deux - cheese fondue cooked with white wine
and chives - must be a signature dish here, although it’s truthfully
best described as a signature box, for that’s exactly what it is. One
might have a vision of a fondue pot complete with burner arriving for
some DIY culinary action but here it’s somewhat different. Vacherin is
a soft, rich cheese made from cow's milk and usually in the Jura region
of France. It is sold in round boxes made of spruce and this fondue is
actually cooked and served in its original box. Nothing needed as
garnish apart from baskets of bread for dipping. The title mentions
‘pour deux’ and this truly is a starter for sharing, as there is a
magnificent main dish to follow!
Entrecôte grillée sauce au poivre ou béarnaise is a
feast for any carnivore with a huge appetite, but also makes a great meal for two discerning diners when a couple of side
dishes are added. This is a simply and correctly presented 14oz
chargrilled 28-day hung rib-eye steak on the bone, with fries and
peppercorn or béarnaise sauce. This is the meal that those
returning from a stay in France will crave. It’s not fiddled with. Its
natural flavour isn’t camouflaged with gastronomic ornamentation. This
is just likely to be one of the best Entrecôtes you will ever
have. For those with a hankering for a less hefty steak then there is
Faux Filet, although even that is a substantial slab of succulent meat.
This is a standard dish of steak and chips but it’s hard to beat when
But it’s not only steak on the menu here. I can attest to the quality
of some other items, for example Escargots de Bourgogne - Six Burgundy
snails without shells cooked in garlic and parsley butter, as a
starter. The menu says these are a ’must try!’ and they really are.
Cassolette de calamar à la plancha au piment d’Espelette is a
plate of pan-seared calamari Basque-style with a sprinkle of coriander,
ginger, and the famous Espelette chilli from the Basque region of
Le Garrick offers Cassoulet de Toulouse which is the iconic dish from
south-west France. Lingot beans with duck confit, pork belly and
garlicky Toulouse sausage make a substantial plateful. Perfect for a
tummy-filling treat of savoury comfort.
The wine list here is solid and sensible. A great selection of wines by
the glass, bottle or carafe so it’s easy to make a decent wine pairing
even at lunchtime when a full bottle might not support a productive
afternoon back at the office.
Those with a sweet tooth are not forgotten at Le Garrick. I can
recommend Crème brulée, tangy Tarte au citron - lemon
tart with crème fraiche and raspberry coulis - and the Petit pot
au chocolat - a decadent chocolate mousse. Can’t make up your mind?
Then order Café Gourmand which is a selection of three little
desserts along with coffee or tea.
Le Garrick won my heart a while back and I remain smitten. Yes, it’s a
matter of taste but this bijou establishment is just right for me.
Food, wine, individual style and a warm welcome keep me returning.
Le Garrick Restaurant
10-12 Garrick Street
Phone: 020 7240 7649
Visit Le Garrick here
Russell Spiced Lamb Burgers with Chinese Steamed Buns
At last the summer is here. We don’t have guaranteed good
weather in the UK so when we have warm days we want to make the best of
them. There is nothing better than a barbecue on those weekends when
the weather cooperates. Sure, it’s a casual meal but one with meat as
its focus, so it needs to be good.
Donald Russell has the most succulent ribs, sausages and burgers to
make the most of those alfresco dining opportunities. These Chinese
burgers take advantage of Donald Russell Spiced Lamb Burgers. That
seasoning is well balanced and allows for all manner of extra
condiments and flavours from around the world, and the meat is dense
and hearty. The Asian theme is accentuated by the addition of kimchi
and kimchi mayo, as well as the light and fluffy bun hot from the
steamer. Cut the burgers in half and allow 2 of these Chinese burgers
per serving along with toppings, for something that looks stylish and
4 Donald Russell Spiced Lamb Burgers
For the buns
300 g plain flour
1 tsp instant yeast or normal dry yeast
40 g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
160 ml water (approx)
2 tsp vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing
Kimchi, Mayonnaise, cucumber, spring onions for garnish
In a big bowl mix the yeast with some lukewarm water and let it sit for
a few minutes.
Add the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and the rest of the water
to the bowl. Stir the mixture until it comes together as a wet dough.
Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Pinch a small
portion of dough and pull it between your fingers to see if it is
stretchable. If it breaks up easily, continue to knead until you are
able to stretch it without breaks.
Divide the dough into 8 small portions. Shape each into a ball,
and roll out to produce an oval about the length of your hand. Lightly
brush half the top surface with oil and fold over to produce a ‘D’
Put each bun on a piece of silicone paper and leave it aside to rise
for 40 minutes.
Steam over high heat for 20 minutes.
Eat right away with a stuffing of grilled Donald Russell Spiced Lamb
Burgers, cooked on the barbecue or under the grill, then halved. They
will be done to perfection after 4-5 minutes cooking on each side.
These are substantial burgers with aromatic seasoning, but presenting
them in halves on steamed buns looks delicate and exotic. Be warned –
two of these buns might not be enough for some of your hungry guests!
These are exceptional and go straight from the pack to the barbecue.
Garnish: For kimchi mayo mix some mayonnaise with some juices from the
Top the burgers with a smear of mayo, and pieces of kimchi, spring
onions and cucumber.
Visit Donald Russell here
The name had me curious from the start. There is an
explanation, however. Joe is a ‘regular Joe’ indicating a casual
inclusiveness and he could be from anywhere and going anywhere. That
just about sums up London. The restaurant describes the Talli element
thus: “Talli /T-uh-li/ tipsy (adjective), a happy intoxicated state of
being, often rendering the legs useless.” I would say that there is a
balance here between drink and food. This is far more than a cocktail
dive – although the mixed beverages are noteworthy at Talli Joe.
Shaftesbury Avenue is coming up in the world, with more and more
reputable eateries bordering that bustling thoroughfare. Shaftesbury
Avenue in the city’s famed West End runs for over a mile in a
north-easterly direction from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street.
Named after the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, the street was built late in
the nineteenth century. Although a parliamentary act authorising its
construction was passed in 1877, it took 10 years or so before the
street was finished. Its position at the heart of the West End
means that many of the city’s most celebrated theatres can be found
here. Hermione Granger mentions Shaftesbury Avenue in Harry Potter:
“Shaftesbury Avenue; I used to come to the theatre here with Mum and
Talli Joe is an all-day establishment. They use the term ‘half plates
and full drinks’ to convey their ethos, although that rather puts the
emphasis on the booze instead of the food, and that is somewhat of a
shame as their menu, although small, is interesting and the dishes well
executed. It could more accurately be described as a creditable bar and
an equally creditable casual restaurant associated with it. The concept
allows the diner to enjoy much of that bill of fare at one sitting and
perhaps with a different cocktail for every course – if you can stand
the alcoholic pace.
Kerala Banana Wafers with citrus salt seasoning are great to nibble
while ordering some more substantial offerings. These are rather unique
and architectural and should be sold by the bag-full …big bag full!
Kale Chaat is a starter and a must-try here. The texture is crispy, the
presentation attractive and these little fritters will likely persuade
even the most sceptical to the merits of what is so often a rather iffy
Rasam Shrimp Shot was well-spiced as was the Bohri Chicken and Chicken
21 – said to have taken that number of attempts to perfect this recipe.
The Banana leaf-wrapped Sea Bass was outstanding, with the fish being
some of the most succulent and delicate I have tasted in a while. Messy
Thokku is an egg pickle and that might not sound too appealing, but
trust me it’s good enough to be a signature dish here. It’s tangy and
fresh, and deserving of a place on this menu. Kochi Beef Fry was
flavourful and well balanced, and substantial.
Nihari Nalli might also be a little challenging for the untutored. It’s
a veal bone split to reveal the marrow inside. This is
creamy and rich and after this dish diners will understand why bones
are so prized when cooking roasts and casseroles. This is almost
decadent and thoroughly memorable – a dish for the serious lover of the
good things in life.
Berry Malai is the light dessert you will likely be craving after a
meal of such tempting and flavourful dishes. The yoghurt is thick and
creamy with the fruit adding freshness. Black Gaja Halwa is for those
with a sweet tooth. Gaja Halwa is a traditional dessert and often found
on Indian restaurant menus, but here the carrots are black and that
does add aesthetic drama to this confection.
Yes, dear party-loving reader, I know you want to hear more about the
libations at Talli Joe’s. I tasted several and they were well-matched
with the aromatic and robust plates here. The whimsical Paan Aam
Tequila-based cocktail is well worth ordering. I have never been a fan
of tequila in anything other than a Margarita but this Paan Aam has
made a believer of this doubter.
Madras Gimlet is another cocktail that truly works.
Gimlets are classic cocktails and date from the 1950s in the USA, and
made with gin and lime juice. Joe has that spirit infused with turmeric
for some added sub-continental charm.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Talli Joe but enjoyed the buzzy
ambiance, with many of the diners/drinkers being young well-heeled
Asians, who were evidently smitten with both beverages and plates. The
location couldn’t be better but it’s the food which will encourage me
to return; well, that served with perhaps a Holy Basil cocktail …or
that intriguing Day in Delhi.
152-154 Shaftesbury Avenue
Phone: 020 7836 5400
Visit Talli Joe here
A few years ago one might scoff at the prospect of a visit
to a Greek winery. The memory of old-school Retsina lingers on. That
wine had more in common, to non-Greek taste buds at least, with that in
which one might clean paint brushes. But those days are gone and now
Greek wineries are taken seriously in the international arena and they
are winning awards against more familiar wine-producing countries.
Viticultural snobbery has been, in most circles, swept away and wine
aficionados are now able to appreciate some very fine vintages.
Vassilis Papagiannakos is a leader in the reinvention of the Greek wine
industry and after decades of hard work he is now enjoying recognition
and international respect. He and his wife Antonia started building
this new and technologically advanced winery in 2003 and it was opened
in 2007. It is designed on bio-climatic principles: it saves 25% energy
by using natural light and ventilation to control the temperature
inside, making it cool in summer and warm in winter. It was the first
energy-saving winery in Greece, and the design has received
We spoke to Vassilis in the state-of-the-art winery which ticks every
box for technology, eco-friendliness, and architectural good taste. “It
took me almost 2 years to find the architect. Most were saying that
they wanted to visit wineries in France, Italy, California, Australia,
New Zealand, to take photographs and I would choose what I liked. I did
not like that approach, and when I told a friend of my concerns he
recommended an architect who had worked in the UK on bioclimatic
buildings. At last we had found someone with original ideas. The first
vintage in the new building was in September 2007. Similarly with our
label designer: she is English, married to a Greek and had designed for
many international brands.
“The design of the winery puts everything underground. I wanted to
incorporate the building into the surroundings,
adapted to the environment. But when we dug the foundations over 5
metres down we discovered an ancient river, which we could not block.
So we had to fill the bottom of the excavation with a metre of big
stones, and build the winery on top of that!”
Vassilis explained the history and ethos of his building and
production. “My ancestors were grape-growers, like all the villagers of
this region for thousands of years. But my grandfather emigrated to the
United States at the beginning of 1900. He stayed for ten years, and
worked very hard. When he came back he married my grandmother, who
owned some vineyards, and with the money that he had saved he bought
more vineyards and built the first winery.
“My father worked to improve the technology in the 50s and 60s with
equipment from France. It was always a family business, as it is today,
and we cultivated the main grape of the area, Savatiano. This is
mostly a limestone soil, and we have mild winters, and hot and dry
summers. We have a minimum of 320 days of sunshine, and no rain from
the middle of May until October, and low humidity. We are very lucky as
we are close to the sea: we are surrounded by it, on the east coast of
Attica, and we get the breeze from the Aegean, and there is a strong
wind that blows in the afternoon, until sunset. This cools down the
grapes. The advantage of this grape variety, Savatiano, is that it is
very well adapted to this climate, and 95-97% of our vines are not
irrigated. Because that grape has been grown here for thousands of
years it is well established,and the roots go very deep –
perhaps 20 to 25 metres – and the yield is very low.”
Why did Vassilis step away from traditional Retsina? “I saw that
Savatiano was associated only with Retsina and my father and
grandfather were producing mostly just that, because this was the
market at that time. In the 70s and 80s we started making wine without
resin, but it was simply called ‘aretsina’, without retsina! So I took
the decision to cut back on making Retsina and focus on using Savatiano
to produce a conventional white wine. I don’t advertise our Retsina,
but most of it is exported, our best market being Paris! Our white
wines can compete and be compared with other international grapes and
wines from other countries, but Retsina is unique to Greece. “We have
planted grapes from other regions of Greece, like Malagouzia, and
international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which we
support on wires, and we always irrigate those at least twice during
the summer to avoid hydro-stressing the vines. We only give the vines a
sulphur spray in May, and otherwise we do not need to spray, as we have
no diseases in this area due to the hot, dry climate. We rarely suffer
from mildew – just once in 48 years. We are naturally organic. Although
we are not certified, laboratories here and in Germany and Canada
acknowledge that our wines are organic.
“All our vineyards are maintained by hand. We have about 10 people
regularly working for us in the fields, but that goes up to 50 at
harvest time. That lasts 2 months, from the beginning of August until
the 20th September. Malagouzia that I planted 15 years ago is always
the earliest to ripen. Then Assyrtico, then the reds (Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon and Agiorgitiko), then at the beginning of September,
Savatiano, which is our main production. Mostly we use grapes from our
own properties for our wines, but we do buy grapes from vineyards owned
by members of our extended family and friends. Land prices are very
high in this area, so it is not economic to extend our own vineyards.
Because of the geography of Greece, the terroir, and the break-up of
property by inheritance, production is very artisanal and we have very
high costs. I think that the selling prices are still too low, but we
don’t have the reputation of somewhere like Burgundy. We deserve it,
but we will have to build up the awareness and reputation.
“Because of the many different terroirs, altitudes and climates on the
mainland and on the islands, we have more than 400 varieties of grape
in Greece, although only 15 to 20 are used for wines exported to
international markets. Production is generally 70 to 75% white wine,
due to the climatic conditions. We produce about 200,000 bottles per
year. Our best market at the moment is Germany, (in part because there
are more than 5000 Greek restaurants there!), then the United States,
Canada, and Britain.
“Red production is 15 to 20 % of our total, mainly Merlot and Cabernet
Sauvignon (5000 - 7000 bottles each) and some Agiorgitiko, and we keep
it in the barriques (barrels) for 13 to 19 months, depending on the
year. We always buy new barriques – we have experimented with various
ones, and we have settled on wood from two forests in France, and focus
on two particular suppliers. We also produce a barrel-aged
Savatiano white wine called Vareli (which is the Greek for ‘barrel’) –
we keep that wine in new French oak barrels for 5 to 6 months. In early
2000 I planted Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
They take five years to produce grapes, but to come fully into
production takes 7 to 8 years, as we need two years for
This beautifully presented winery is outstanding and can compete with
wineries anywhere in the world. They have the best of wine-making
facilities, and elegant social space in which to host group gatherings
and receptions in striking fashion. The building has open vistas over
fruit trees, figs, pistachios, herbs and of course vines. This
noteworthy winery has inspired a lot of other winemakers from all over
Greece and other countries. Students studying architecture use the
building as a project because of the bioclimatic and energy-saving
design. “Many want to copy our building,” says Vassilis, “I am very
proud because this is the first one. We used the best materials, and it
was a very big investment for us, and it was a very tiring time, but it
was my dream – I would not settle for second-best.” And he hasn’t.
This man has charisma and charm. He is an international traveller and
has a taste for curry when visiting London. Yes, he is a citizen of the
world but his heart and passion are in Greece. He has struck the right
balance between hard work and family life, with both his daughter and
wife working by his side, and his undoubted success is well-deserved. I
look forward to tasting more of his admirable wines in the future.
Learn more about the Papagiannakos
Tea Cruise from MBNA Thames Clippers
I am a Londoner and I am ashamed to say that I rarely take
advantage of visiting our iconic and internationally-appreciated
historic and cultural sites, unless I just happen to be passing. The Thames is our
ancient thoroughfare, but now work vessels are mostly a thing of distant memory
– that watery road is these days the domain prominently of pleasure craft.
There are commuter services, but for the most part the river
is a playground for visitors. It’s a shame that more of us Londoners don’t take
a look at our city from the vantage point of the river. The Thames is steeped
in history, legends and stories and it’s all spread along the banks of
this famous river.
MBNA Thames Clippers offers services into central London
from 20 piers across the capital. They start from Woolwich in the east and
continue to Putney in leafy west London. They have convenient schedules with departures
every 20 minutes. The MBNA Thames Clippers’ River Roamer ticket is particularly
popular with tourists, who can take advantage of unlimited hop-on/hop-off service
to and from more than a dozen piers.
These new and stylish boats now offer their passengers a
unique service: a daily traditional cream tea. It’s a couple of fresh-baked
scones, a pot of jam and even the indispensable clotted cream. There is a cup
of tea which will be replenished as often as you like, and there is even coffee,
although that wouldn’t be at all traditional. For those in a celebratory mood
one can upgrade with a glass of Champagne. Sit and sip and watch London drift by.
This floating tea is sight-seeing in comfort. One gets to view London from another
perspective and from a warm and cosy sitting position. The trip takes an hour and
travels past the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and The London Eye. There is
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern and the dome of St. Pauls, and you will
cruise under some of London’s most celebrated bridges such as Tower Bridge and
London Bridge. A blue-badge guide will provide a commentary during the sailing whilst
pointing out interesting landmarks. Even locals will likely learn something new
and fascinating about the river and those who have lived, worked and died
along its length.
Any keen photographer will love the opportunity to take
pictures of different aspects of famous buildings without the heads of fellow
travellers getting into shot. You are at the same level as other river traffic
and looking up at buildings and bridges, so one can truly appreciate the architecture.
The Cream Tea Cruise departs from London Bridge Pier at
15:30 and lasts for one hour. Prices start from £16.90 for the cream tea and
sightseeing cruise. Champagne upgrade is extra.
For further information and to book, please visit here
As with any building, and as any estate agent worth his
clip-board will tell you, it’s all about location. Gillray’s
must have one of the best, and it’s also housed in an iconic London
This imposing white Portland stone building looks across the River
Thames to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. The chimes of Big
Ben count the passing hours, which will be spent in classic comfort at
Gillray‘s. The main six-storey building was designed by Ralph Knott in
an Edwardian Baroque style and was opened in 1922 by King George V,
with other construction continuing through the 1930s and not completed
till the 1970s.
For more than 60 years County Hall served as the headquarters of local
government for London. The Margaret Thatcher-led government abolished
the Greater London Council in 1986 and County Hall lost its position as
the HQ of London's administration. Today it is partly occupied by
London Marriott Hotel County Hall and Gillrays’ Steakhouse and Bar.
There is so much here that remains of the original architecture. Wood panelling and general classic opulence reflect the history of County Hall’s past – and then there is the striking presence of Gillray! You can be forgiven if the name doesn’t mean much although most will likely recognise the man’s caricatures. James Gillray was born in 1756 and his work reflects the style of those times. There was political unrest and both writers and artists used their talents to make political statements. Gillray regularly attended debates in the House of Commons and sketched the combatants, later using those works for his satirical cartoons.
One enters Gillray’s restaurant via the contemporary bar, but linger
there for one of their outstanding cocktails. They make their own
infused spirits here so the resulting cocktails are totally unique. The
bar staff have a deft hand with such implements as blow-torches. There
are over 100 gins and a wide selection of beers, wines and spirits, but
those cocktails are memorable. This is a delightful spot with views of
river and Parliament.
Gillray’s has been awarded two coveted AA Rosettes. They
are presented for culinary excellence and it’s no
surprise to find them here. This fine grill restaurant offers classic
charm and elegance, and there is that magnificent view.
But the diner will likely be here for a steak rather than a sight, and
they are famed for them at Gillray’s.
Guests are offered very traditional Yorkshire Pudding
with a cheese filling as a welcoming nibble. I have never thought of
Yorkies as a possible canapé, but when they are this light and
fluffy they make a fitting start to a meal in this very British
Forman's "London Cure" Smoked Salmon was on the menu and it’s a
must-try for any first-time visitor to Gillrays or to
London. Harry Forman arrived in London’s East End from
Russia at the beginning of the last century and he knew about curing
salmon. He imported them in barrels of brine from the Baltic, but then
he discovered the salmon from Scotland, and the rest is history – and a
delicious one too.
I chose Goat’s cheese with watermelon salad. The cheese was
perfectly mature and the watermelon presented as a delicate carpaccio
of impossibly thin slices of pink fruit. Refreshing with a balancing
tang from the goats cheese.
My guest ordered Confit of Salmon with fennel, dill and beetroot as his
starter and he pronounced it to be one of the best salmon dishes he has
had in a long time. The flesh of this fish was moist and melting and
full of flavour.
O’Shea’s Butchers supply the celebrated steaks to Gillray’s. They are
in their eighth generation as butchers and Darragh
O’Shea rears and butchers his own Aberdeen Angus cattle. My guest was
tempted by the fillet and it didn’t disappoint. It’s all about quality
I had a Barnsley Chop as they are uncommon even in a
city where lamb is so popular. A Barnsley chop is a
Northern name for a double chop taken across the loin, giving two
portions of meat. It is sometimes referred to as a saddle chop. This is
a dish which displays all the juicy characteristics of this flavourful
meat. I had mine with just a pat of garlic butter and
some lightly steamed pink fir apple potatoes as a side
Bakewell Tart was our dessert to finish such a fine and very British
meal. It’s a tart which evokes memories of
Sunday teatime in the long-past days before the sweet foams of
molecular gastronomy. This is comfort food. The classic Bakewell Tart
consists of a shortcrust pastry, jam and frangipane and comes from the
town of Bakewell in Derbyshire. This was a contemporary version and
just as comforting as the original.
Gillray’s is well-respected in every regard. The cooking
here is deft and the ingredients first-rate. There is
polished yet unobtrusive service and a calming ambiance. We will return
to sample new menus as seasons change.
Gillray’s new-look à la carte menu includes new
starters such as Pan Fried Scallop with Pork Belly; Pea Purée
and Bacon Crumble; Pan Fried Breast of Wood Pigeon. For mains they now
offer a fabulous Home Cured Pastrami Sandwich on a brioche with pickle,
dipping juices and triple-cooked chips, and half a Roasted Free Range
Oxfordshire Chicken with game chips and Truffle Bread Sauce. Seasonal
sides include a house summer salad and Summer Potage
with braised celery, Jersey Royal potatoes and Heirloom potatoes.
Monday to Friday: 6.30am – 10.30pm
Saturday and Sunday: 7.00am – 10.30pm
The Bar is open until midnight daily
Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar
London Marriott Hotel County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7PB
Phone: 020 7902 8000
Visit Gillray’s here
wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes
Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe. Small it
might be but it has natural beauty, with mountains (Slovenia's highest
mountain, the three-peaked Triglav, is depicted on the national flag),
vine-strewn hills, thick
forests, historic cities and a 46 km long coast on the Adriatic. It is,
in some regards, Europe in microcosm.
Slovenia was the first former Yugoslavian republic to join the European
Union, in May 2004. Slovenia's independence from Yugoslavia was almost
bloodless, unlike Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
At the end of World War I in 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and
Slovenes was formed, and turned into a multinational state named
Yugoslavia in 1929. Slovenia became a republic after the Second World
War in the renewed Yugoslavia, which although communist, was
independent from the Soviet Union. Slovenes succeeded in establishing
their independence in 1991 after only a few days of conflict.
One of the most attractive towns in Slovenia is the old
city centre of Maribor and it’s famed for its oldest living
resident – a more-than-400-year old vine. This elderly but
well-documented plant still grows in front of the Old Vine House, which
once formed part of the ancient city wall. The confirmed age is nearly
500 years and it’s in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vine
in the world still producing fruit. It was planted towards the end of
the Middle Ages and one can see paintings dated around the mid-1600s,
showing the Old Vine leaning up against the same building as it does
today. It has lived through invasions, fires, bombing, and pests
which killed much of Europe’s vines. The Old Vine’s roots were so
deeply embedded within the banks of the nearby river that the
devastations of phylloxera could not take hold, as they had done
throughout most of Europe.
There are more vines and wineries to visit outside Maribor
and one can even get some exercise while touring them.
There is a local company called Kulebike and they might offer a
solution. One can hire bikes for short or extended periods. These bikes
are power-assisted so even those of us who are less than perfectly fit
can enjoy a comfortable ride. Helmets should be worn. The company
provides set routes but they can also arrange tailor-made itineraries
for individuals or groups, and even stays at some of the wineries,
where you will be able to sample some interesting vintages and also
home-made local culinary specialities. Some estates breed their own
animals and make their own meat and cheese products, as well as
traditional baked sweets and savouries. This is country living at its
Slovenian cuisine is, unsurprisingly, greatly influenced by the food
cultures of its neighbours Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary. Pork is
big here and the animal is used in its entirety, producing succulent
stews, flavourful soups and, best of all in my opinion,
"ocvirki" which is cracklings or scratchings. I had them served as a
topping for pizza. Sounds unlikely but that pie
was the best I have ever tasted …and addictive. The most
famous dessert from this region is called Pohorje
Omelette, which is a beautiful light confection topped with cream, jam,
fruit and mint liqueur.
But Slovenia isn’t just about rustic dishes. It has many contemporary
and refined restaurants that offer traditional plates but also ones
that show innovation and flair. The fine-dining establishments still
take pride in local products but they are just as cutting-edge as one
might find elsewhere in Europe, and the final bill will likely be a
Restaurant owner David Vračko has made his mark with Mak
in Maribor. There isn’t usually a menu here as David is driven by
what’s best at the market on the day. His only questions will be “Have
you any food allergies?” and “What’s your favourite kind of food?” Mak
is not only a restaurant but a culinary lab and is an
oasis for those with a passion for food; and the wine list is
excellent, with both local and international bottles.
So you have eaten well and enjoyed some rather good wines. Time to take
a healthy hike. Slovenia covers just over 20,000 square kilometres, and
has almost 10,000 kilometres of signposted paths. They start on the
outskirts of Maribor – or drive a few miles and find another, more
Hotel Habakuk is a celebrated Spa Hotel and Thermal Centre. Visitors
can enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools after long walks in the hills
behind the grounds. Warm whirlpool baths with thermal water
will help ease those aching muscles. The water in the pools ranges from
29 to 35°C and is rich in minerals. A stay here offers a relaxing
environment and fresh air. Winter sports are popular when snow covers
the ground. The Spring tempts with walks through wild flowers, and
Summer has balmy days and a slower pace.
For more information on Restaurant Mak visit here
For more information on Hotel Habakuk visit here
For more information on Slovenia visit the Tourist Board here
For more information on Kulebike here
Benares for dinner
Situated in the heart of Mayfair, Benares serves
Michelin-starred modern Indian cuisine and is famed for doing that.
This is fine dining and gives other such restaurants a run for their
culinary money, and that’s restaurants of any gastronomic persuasion.
Named after India’s holy city, Benares, this restaurant offers only
hints of its ethnicity in its decor. It is firstly a renowned
restaurant that just happens to specialise in Indian food, but the most
refined Indian food you will likely find anywhere. There are
exotic fabric-covered banquettes, murals, water features and, although
buzzing with animated conversation, it’s a place of comfortable calm.
I met Executive Chef Brinder Narula a number of years ago when I was
researching for Capital Spice. This book included Brinder at another
restaurant and also Chef Atul Kochhar, restaurateur and television
personality, who is one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in
Britain and is responsible for the Michelin star awarded to Benares in
2007. It’s good to see that a worthy partnership has been created which
does them both credit.
Brinder Narula come from a family where food was very important,
although when he left school he wanted to be an engineer; but his
brother-in-law suggested he go into the hospitality industry, and he
was accepted at the Institute of Hotel Management at Pusa, Delhi. At
that time he didn’t particularly want to be a chef, and imagined he
would be a hotel manager. He started enjoying the cooking course and
discovered that baking was very methodical and scientific. At the
end of that course Brinder joined the chef training programme and chose
to on go to the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, which is famous for
its kitchen training. This is where all those famous chefs
had started and that included Atul. Brinder trained there for 2 years,
and then became a baker and confectioner. “I was at the Oberoi New
Delhi for 7 or 8 years, and then they asked me to become a chef
trainer, which I did for 3 years. I feel honoured and proud to be able
to say that some of the now-famous chefs were my pupils.”
Quality shines through every aspect of Benares. Brinder brings his
enthusiasm and skill to this worthy platform. He has access to the best
and most ethically-sourced ingredients and he uses them to great
effect. Even the humble mackerel is showcased here in Rava Machli
Rechado - Grilled Cornish Mackerel, Smoked Mackerel and Dill Raita,
with a garnish of Lime Gel. This is a must-try whenever it’s on the
menu. It’s not an overly fussy presentation and it’s all the better for
that, but it’s a first class demonstration of balanced flavours and
textures – showing an understanding of the tastes of Benares diners and
of how to bring out the best in even the simplest ingredients.
Sarson Chooza - Tandoori Honey Mustard Poussin, Tomato Salad and Roast
Garlic Mayonnaise - is another subtle stunner, as is
Tandoori Macchi Aur Kekda - Chargrilled Scottish Salmon, Spiced
Vermicelli, Crab Croquette and Moilee Sauce. That sauce would make a
wellington boot deliciously appealing, it’s that good, and my only
regret is that I didn’t unreasonably demand a bucketful to take home,
and a reservation for tomorrow’s dinner.
Hiran Ke Pasande - New Forest Venison and Biryani, Wild
Garlic and Oyster Mushrooms, with Chocolate Curry - is the one for
red-meat eaters. This game was meltingly tender and marvellously
complemented by that sauce. Yes, it has chocolate but don’t start to
imagine notes of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Here it’s used as a delicate
ingredient to add richness and a slight dark-chocolate edge. This is
innovation and not just for the sake of it. It really works.
Changezi Chaapein - Smoked Tandoori Lamb Cutlets, Spring Greens with
Ginger and Cumin, and Rogan Jus - is
another dish that is well worth a mention. These are perhaps the most
flavourful and succulent chops you will find within Greater London. I
know you’ll find it difficult, but save some space for some sweet
treats from the excellent pastry chef here.
But there is a wine list here which any lover of food will also want to
explore. Jeepson Lopes, Head Sommelier, offers the best
expressions of classic grape varieties. Benares has very good vintages
and diners can buy them by the glass. The Viognier from Clay Station,
Lodi, California was outstanding. This sommelier is
knowledgeable and astute and his selections for our meal enhanced each
It was a memorable evening at Benares. It gave us great pleasure to see
our friend Brinder Narula, a celebrated chef, at home in Atul Kochhar’s
flagship restaurant. It’s a place of excellence, polish and thoroughly
Bar: Open all day
Monday to Friday Lunch:
noon to 14.30 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45
Saturday - Lunch:
noon to 15.00 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45
Sunday - Dinner: 18.00 to 21.45
12a Berkeley Square House
Phone: +44 (0)20 7629 8886
Visit Benares here.
Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass
For those of us who love the delicious complexity of sake,
the vessel from which we drink is often something of an afterthought.
But it shouldn’t be.
A sake set is a generic term for the collection of items used for serving sake. It usually comprises a small flask and cups. Many sake sets are still made of ceramic, but they are increasingly made from
natural wood, lacquered wood, glass or even plastic.
Let me liken a sake cup/glass/box to shoes. We have trainers for every day. On the other hand, we enjoy wearing high heels (if we are women, that is) as we know we move in a more elegant fashion. Perhaps the
sakazuki, a flat saucer-like cup, can be likened to those classic shoes. So let’s consider the popular shapes and materials for sake cups both traditional and contemporary.
The oldest sake cup style, the wide saucer-like sakazuki, is more often seen at formal ceremonial events such as weddings these days.
Shallow and refined, this cup is lifted to the lips with both hands: one to hold the bottom of the cup like a tray and the other to hold it on the rim. Sakazuki are available in a variety of sizes but typically they hold only a few sips. Sakazuki can be ornately decorated and are usually made from porcelain, earthenware or lacquer. These sakazuki are, in my opinion, the high heels of sake drinking accoutrements. Beautiful, elegant but not over-practical for a long night out.
A much more robust alternative is the ubiquitous wooden drinking box called masu. Traditionally these boxes have a volume of 180 ml. A 720 ml bottle of sake equals a serving of sake for 4 people! They were
originally used to measure rations of rice. The masu can be filled to the rim
as a sign of prosperity or a small glass can be put into the masu and
filled to overflowing to symbolise abundance. Masu can be found in lacquerware but I prefer the pale wood of the traditional box. They are hard to break and able to hold a decent amount of sake, so have become the cup of choice for enjoying sake at festivals, cherry-blossom viewing (‘hanami’) and for me, picnics by the river. One can pretend it’s spring in Japan. Today, masu are often used
at those iconic sake barrel-opening ceremonies called ‘kagami biraki’ and at traditional Japanese pubs (‘izakaya’). Some folks argue that the best masu for enjoying certain varieties of sake are those made from Japanese cypress, giving still more aroma and flavour from the natural material.
Anybody who has taken a sake course will have likely used a small, white, ceramic cylindrical vessel called ochoko or choko. These days
ochoko is considered similar to guinomi which is the same shape, although ochoko are usually smaller than guinomi. Sake producers and tasters use a special large ochoko called kikichoko which has a circular blue and white design on the bottom of the inside of the cup. The blue hue and pattern are used in the evaluation of the sake's colour and clarity, and the cup's wide opening allows for the sake's subtleties of aroma to be appreciated.
Sake stemware is also available these days, with a sake cup being mounted on a wide base. Glass is now
commonly used to serve chilled sake, where one can enjoy the dew forming on the outside of the vessel. A white or red wine glass with a wide mouth is suitable for enjoying the fragrant sake styles where aroma is most important. Sake is delicate and subtle so tasting from a wine glass instead of a small sake cup will heighten aromas and flavours. Crystal wine glasses are thinner than ceramic ware and can
change the perception of sake’s body and complexity. Yes, sake can be served over ice and so sipping from a cut-glass whisky tumbler can be a pleasurable experience.
One is spoilt for choice when it comes to sake drinking vessels. If one is tasting professionally then there is a lot to be said for the traditional industry-standard ochoko or a glass with a wide mouth. But
for me, I’ll be sticking to my cheap Daiso-bought sake set. It’s a traditional design which might not allow the character of the sake to burst forth, but I feel I am really immersing myself in sake culture when consuming it in such a way. So try all the options, make your choice, but do drink sake!
Sunday Brunch - 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.
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.
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!
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
London W2 2AW
Monday to Sunday all day bookings from noon to 22.30
Reservations: 020 7920 6440
Visit Kurobuta Marble Arch here
Forty Dean Street
Dean Street is in the heart of Soho, central London.
It runs from Oxford Street south to Shaftesbury
Avenue and has a long and colourful history, as has much of this
neighbourhood. In 1764 the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a
recital at number 21. Admiral Nelson lodged here the day before setting
sail for Trafalgar. He is said to have spent some time at a nearby
undertakers choosing a coffin, which proved to be time well-spent as
history will recall.
Soho, in general, has been famed for Chinese food, but there are great
numbers of decent restaurants of other culinary persuasions these days.
Forty Dean Street is the eponymous restaurant and it is Italian. I mean
the sort of Italian that I remember from my childhood (and I am old
enough to have the free bus pass). It’s the sort of Italian restaurant
which one hopes to find and too often does not. It’s cosy, friendly,
inclusive and positively comforting.
In typical Soho fashion, this restaurant is long and narrow but all of
it buzzing with activity. The waiting staff here have that fluid
movement of professionals - lots of confident multi-plate carrying and
One has a sense that this is an establishment that takes pride in both
food and service.
The imposing walnut wood (I think) bar lends so much to the atmosphere
of a classic Italian restaurant. This isn’t ‘Italian-themed’ but more
accurately a restaurant of a type which one would likely find filled
with locals in, say, Pisa or Sorrento. There is not a plastic gondola
in sight but plenty to remind one that this is a transplanted corner of
Italy. There is an ornate ice bucket on the aforementioned bar which
makes quite a statement, and I hope the owners never consider moving it.
This is a family-run restaurant and it’s been around for 17 years with
a focus on good quality and great value. The set menu offers fresh,
seasonal dishes appealing to the regulars and there seem to be many of
those. The à la carte menu has Italian classics and something
for every taste. We started by nibbling what looked like Carasau bread
which is impossibly thin and crispy, accompanying our glasses of
Chianti and Valpolicella.
Starters were Bruschetta of chopped tomatoes, garlic, and basil with a
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, along with Crunchy Deep-fried Squid
with tomato salsa and sweet chilli and garlic mayo. Both flavourful and
light and perfect for this unseasonably warm spring evening. One could
have been a million miles (or at least six hundred) from Shaftesbury
Avenue, if it had not been for the clue of a restaurant filled with
English speakers and a few Americans.
My guest ordered Spaghetti with King Prawns as his main course after
much debate about the possibilities of trying the pizza,
which looked striking (saving that for next visit). He was delighted
with his pasta, however. It was colourful and full of
prawns. He pronounced the spaghetti to be particularly fine and al
dente. Simple yet authentically delicious to the last bite.
Chicken Saltimbocca was my choice of main dish. This was served with
grilled asparagus which is particularly good just now, garlic mashed
potatoes, a delicate hint of sage and butter sauce. Oh, deep joy! This
was as far from nouvelle cuisine as one would wish to hurry. It was a
well-presented plate of succulent meat on a base of potatoes for which
Coffee macchiato and Profiteroles finished our memorable repast.
The dessert was attractively served with a jug of chocolate sauce on
the side with two spoons as garnish. Another classic in a classic
restaurant and a fitting end to a truly delightful evening in Forty
Dean Street that has deservedly endured for almost a couple of decades.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday noon - 12pm
Forty Dean Street
London W1D 4PX
Restaurant Phone: 020 7734 1853
Office Phone: 020 7734 4492
Visit Forty Dean Street here
Russell for a taste of the Med
I love cooking, I enjoy food, I salivate at the very prospect of a
serving of delicious meat. Yes, I am an unashamed and practising
carnivore - but I have standards.
All butchers are not created equal and I have learnt that to my cost
over many decades of disappointing trial and expensive
error. But then I hear of a company that provides meats and ready meals
to the discerning – the very discerning.
Donald Russell is a Royal Warrant holder and Britain's leading
mail-order meat supplier. That sounded like a recommendation. They are
based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and so have local access to some of
the finest meat and fish from these isles. And they are online! Yes,
meat has stepped into the 21st century.
I am not saying that a company with an online platform is automatically
going to be good but Donald Russell is. I was first impressed by their
site. It’s accessible and comprehensive and surprisingly broad in
coverage. They obviously have meat as their foundation but that’s all
types of meat. Beef, lamb, pork, poultry and game are all listed. There
are steaks, joints and also those oft-overlooked cuts which make such
flavoursome meals. There are fish aplenty, ranging from wild white fish
to smoked fish and everything in between. There are also desserts,
baked goods and even ready-meals, so a one-stop-shop!
Donald Russell isn’t a new kid on the culinary block. It’s been around,
for trade customers at least, since 1974. They
supplied gourmet meats to fine-dining restaurants and hotels worldwide.
Some of those are places of polished repute such as
Simpson's-in-the-Strand and Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Today they
still supply many of their original customers along with
Michelin-starred restaurants. You don’t have to visit a celebrity chef
to try some of these excellent products, though: anyone can order.
I tried three of the new Mediterranean range. These are authentic
Italian dishes, and indeed out of the hand-written family cookbook of
‘Nonna Dina’ who is the mother of Managing Director Tazio. She spent a
couple of weeks working with Donald Russell’s kitchen to create dishes
that taste home-made, at least if your home is in Italy!
Luganighetta Sausages were the first products I tried. These are the
iconic spiral-shaped sausages and said to come originally from Lugano
in Switzerland. Their natural casings are packed with both pork and
beef, and seasoned with delicate cinnamon and coriander. These are
dense and flavourful and can be cooked either on the BBQ or under a
regular grill. They look impressive and they are gluten-free. Delicious
when traditionally served with saffron risotto or with a green salad,
crusty bread and a glass of red.
Pollo Ripieni is dinner-party fare and is a moist, boneless, stuffed
free-range chicken roast. The birds are raised by the Loué
farmers of France. The Northern Italian style stuffing contains lean
turkey mince, creamy goat’s cheese, ceps and capers. That might sound a
strange concoction but it’s outstanding. There is just enough cheese to
season the lean mince and to give a slight tang. Turkey is often bland
but the cheese, mushrooms and capers elevate this preparation. A truly
Those who would prefer a meat-free meal are not forgotten. Aubergine
Parmigiana is a moreish dish of tender aubergine, layered with tomato
sauce and creamy cheese sauce. The whole thing is finished with grated
cheese and needs simply to be baked in the oven. Nobody will feel
short-changed when presented with this rich plateful. This is another
dish that cries out for some good bread for dipping into those generous
sauces. It’s quick to prepare, too, and can be on the table in just
half an hour or so. You can finish up that bottle of red wine with this
Donald Russell has impeccable credentials. Quality and thoughtful
preparation are the cornerstones of this company and I look forward to
tasting more of their gastronomic innovations and fine meats.
Visit Donald Russell here
- Know the makers, infuse
your own, create new cocktails
Well, this is right on trend. Cocktails have become the cornerstone of
every restaurant bar, and we want to try our hands
at barista-ing at home. Most of the fixin’s are available to civilians
and with little equipment some delicious and beautiful cocktails can be
Craft Spirits is a comprehensive glossary of worldwide spirits and
those are the foundations of cocktails. The book is divided into
categories covering everything from Absinthe to Whisky and includes
some beverage newcomers - at least they are new to the West.
Japanese Sake and Shochu, Chinese Baijiu, and Cachaças from
Brazil are included as well.
We all have them, those bottles of spirits we picked up at the airport,
but now we can actually do something with them, and Craft Spirits even
shows us how they are made. We are introduced to Bitters and how to
make a Simple Syrup.
There is glass etiquette associated with cocktail serving so there is a
section devoted to glassware. There are indeed logical reasons why
glasses are a particular shape - ideal for appreciating aromas, for
drinks with lots of ice, etc. You will never present a martini in an
Old-Fashioned glass again!
One can easily make infused spirits. Craft Spirits offers advice on how
to produce these unique flavoured vodkas and gins, and I am considering
an infusion of ginger which would be a winner on cold winter evenings.
Citrus works well and so do berries.
If we are bar professionals we will likely appreciate the detailed
descriptions of each bottle. There are paragraphs on the distillery,
the philosophy, the spirit and the taste. But for us mortals we will be
turning to the pages offering cocktail recipes. Pomegranate Gin Sling
has me riveted. Blackberry Mint Julep will be a welcome cooler after a
few hours’ fruit-picking on the common. I am a Gimlet enthusiast and
the Grapefruit Vodka Gimlet is outstanding, with a decent amount of
alcohol and a good hit of refreshing citrus.
Craft Spirits is a veritable bar handbook. It educates and tempts in
equal measure and it’s great value for money.
Author: Eric Grossman
Publisher: DK Publishing
The Mayfair Chippy
Nothing better than traditional
fish and chips. It’s nostalgic comfort food, at least if you are
British. We all have memories of queueing up in a
white-tiled shop with steamy windows, a high counter with glass jars of
pickled gherkins and eggs, bottles of brown vinegar and salt shakers.
For those who hail from beyond these shores that
emporium of fried delights was called ‘the chippy’.
The smart neighbourhood of Mayfair in central London might seem an
unlikely location for a chippy but The Mayfair Chippy
fits right in. The Mayfair area covers the historical estate of
Grosvenor, along with the estates of Albemarle, Berkeley, Burlington,
and Curzon, all of which give their names to the smart streets. It is
bordered on the west by Park Lane, north by Oxford Street, east by
Regent Street, and the south by Piccadilly. Mayfair is
named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the
site that is now Shepherd Market from the latter part of
the 1600s till the mid-1700s.
Located on the northern edge of this classy neighbourhood, the Mayfair
Chippy is also handy for the shopping
thoroughfare of Oxford Street with its many fashion outlets but few
worthy restaurants. The Mayfair Chippy sports an AA
Rosette and appears in the Michelin Guide 2016, so its culinary
credentials are impeccable - and so is the restaurant.
The local chippy is a well-loved institution so I was curious to see
how both the swep-up location and a demanding diner base
would translate into a traditional restaurant that would be acceptable
to the chippy purist. Well, they have managed it with
flair and little compromise.
The Mayfair Chippy is a small restaurant and cosy. There are high
stools, more intimate banquettes, some marble-topped
tables and white tiles as a nod to its roots. It’s light and
contemporary but with accents from a past era - a beautiful balance
that works perfectly here. There are still bottles of
vinegar and glass cruets to assure the prospective diner that
continuity has not been displaced by the zest for short-lived designer
Fish and chips is unsurprisingly the speciality at the
Mayfair Chippy, but they also offer other traditional classic
British dishes, some of which change with the seasons. They have a
celebrated Shepherd’s Pie made with braised Lamb Shoulder, and a
periodic Steak and Kidney Pudding, as well as Longhorn Rib Steak and
Chips with Roast Garlic, Anchovy and Parsley butter.
There is a beer and wine list at The Mayfair Chippy but somehow a nice
cuppa always fits the bill with fish and chips at
lunchtime. They have an array of tempting starters and not all of them
are piscatorial. Home-made Black Pudding Fritters with a
side of Apple Sauce came highly recommended and they were delicious,
with delicate seasoning and a bit of a crunch. This is a take on an
old-fashioned favourite and well worth a try.
The Crab on Toast is a stunner and should be
another signature dish here. Cornish Crab with avocado, spiced
tomato and fennel cress is moreish, well-flavoured and a must-try. This
with a glass of chilled white to start a dinner would be perfect.
But the main event was always going to be the Mayfair Classic: Fried
cod or haddock, chips, mushy peas, pickle, tartare sauce and chip-shop
curry sauce. All served on a wooden platter with the fish and chips in
a metal frying-basket. The fish was moist, the batter light and not at
all greasy - and then there were those condiments. Mushy peas made with
pulled ham hock is absolutely right. Chip-shop Curry Sauce might sound
strange but will be familiar to chippy-goers. It’s not
like a sauce for an Indian curry but a sweet spicy gravy that has
become popular over the past few decades.
There are other items on the menu which might alarm the
untutored: Scraps (when available, it states) are those frilly crunchy
bits of batter that
float off when the fish is lowered into the oil. I think they are
called scraps as they are worthy of being fought over.
Battered Wally will likely be a mystery to many. We won’t go into the
naming of this exotic garnish but suffice to say it’s a
whole pickle that has been battered and deep-fried. It’s for the
There is a decent selection of desserts here. The Warm Chocolate
Pudding is striking, with a flow of molten chocolate
pooling around Salted Caramel Ice Cream (which could be a dessert in
its own right) with a generous sprinkle of Cinder Toffee – that’s the
golden crunchy honeycomb of childhood memories.
The Mayfair Chippy has managed to present
traditional and casual food with style. The restaurant is a pleasant
place to be, the food is first class in every regard. Word is getting
around so best to book in advance. That’s what I’ll be doing.
Monday - Saturday: 12:00 noon - 10:00pm (last orders
Sunday: 12:00 noon - 9:00pm (last orders 8:45pm)
Take-away hours: 11am - 10:30pm
The Mayfair Chippy
14 North Audley Street
Phone: 020 7741 2233
Visit The Mayfair Chippy here.
Bó Drake –
It’s a part of Soho that has been the haunt of those
seeking dubious nocturnal delights down the
also those associated with the arts and literature. Greek
Street, running from
Shaftesbury Avenue to Soho Square, might
take its name from the Greek Church (later St. Mary’s) built in 1677.
The church was on the site formerly known as Hog Lane and it appears in
Hogarth’s satirical ‘Noon’. No. 47 was the temporary lodgings for famed
Venetian adventurer and philanderer Giacomo Casanova in 1764. No. 1
Greek Street is the House of St Barnabas, built in 1746; in 1811 it
became the offices of the Westminster Commissioner for Works for Sewers
and the offices of Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who is
celebrated for modernising London’s pipework.
True, it has had a colourful history but is now the neighbourhood of
choice for those looking for good food and a rejuvenating cocktail, and
Bó Drake provides both in unique fashion. It has a layout
typical of restaurants in the area: a narrow frontage but sweeping back
to provide more intimate tables away from the bar.
Bó Drake has an urban vibe with high stools at the bar, exposed
brickwork and metal conduit. And it’s
an impressive bar of around 10 metres with an iroko (African teak) wood
counter. The shelves behind the bar give a hint to the cuisine (as if
the restaurant name had not already). Bottles of Sake and Baijiu stand
in exotic ranks. Baijiu is also known as shaojiu and is a Chinese
alcoholic spirit made from grain and generally between 40 and 60% ABV.
Think vodka and you will have the idea.
Cocktails are evidently popular here. Regulars, and there seem many,
were ordering a cocktail or two along with a brace of small dishes. I
ordered a Starman – strawberry or raspberry, soju and vodka with a
garnish of basil. A blush pink confection with well-balanced flavours.
Soju is Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage with an ABV of between
7% and 45%.
My guest has a more masculine taste in cocktails and he chose Rye in
the Tyne – rye whiskey, Antica Formula, Luxardo and
camomile bitters. Antica Formula is a red vermouth made with white
wine; Luxardo is an Italian fruit liqueur. It sounded like a doubtful
preparation but in reality it was a pleasing, manly cocktail.
The menu here changes frequently with seasonality and availability.
Dishes arrived as they came from the kitchen rather than being offered
in Western style, by course. We started our grazing with Crispy Kimbab
of Salmon, Stick Soy and Kewpie Mayo. Kewpie Mayonnaise is the most
popular mayonnaise in Japan and is a yellower and richer mayonnaise
than the majority of European ones, and made with rice vinegar. This
was an outstanding dish and one which I can recommend as a must-try at
Pork Belly Bao is classic, and ubiquitous across Chinese restaurants
around the capital. This version of these Asian steamed buns at
Bó Drake is perhaps the best I have had. It isn’t the cheapest
but the substantial portion of meat makes it well worth the price. The
pork was succulent and full of flavour. Order one serving of 2 buns to
share, along with other small plates, or keep the whole thing to
yourself as a decent lunch. The bun is garnished with pickled cucumber
which cuts the richness of the meat marvellously. A winner, and moreish.
I love eating eel in Japanese restaurants so Unagi Japche - Smoked Eel,
Pesto, Garlic Cream and Noodles - was a definite for me. The
noodles were green with herb, and glistening. The eel had a mahogany
sheen like a savoury lacquer. A fusion showcasing both traditional and
contemporary, and of both Eastern and Western ingredients.
Rice Cakes are typically Korean. These are not cakes of rice like
Japanese onigiri but they are more like a savoury and sturdy motchi and
in this case served with a syrup of honey and chilli. A bowl of these
would be ideal nibbles with a side of chilled beer.
Other dishes on our menu for that evening included a mildly spiced
Kimchee pancake, and a dessert of Yuzu tart which was tangy and light.
The menu changes frequently so some of
the above-mentioned might not be available. I guess that’s an excuse
for a return visit.
Bó Drake is open for lunch and dinner
Monday – Thursday: Noon - 14:30 and 17:30 - 23:00
Friday: Noon - 14:30 and 17:30 - 24:00
Saturday: Noon - 24:00
Sunday: Noon - 21:00
6 Greek Street
London W1D 4DE
Phone: 020 7439 9989
Visit Bó Drake here
from the French Mediterranean
It will soon be summer. We start to muse over al fresco
dining and lighter fare. Ingredients with colour and freshness will
take centre stage and we look toward the Mediterranean for inspiration,
and perhaps to a French chef for some help.
Three-star Michelin Chef Gérald Passedat was born in Marseilles
on the French Mediterranean coast. It’s a region famed for its seafood,
vegetables, fruits and herbs – everything one might need to conjure up
vibrant recipes that just happen to be healthy.
This delightfully photographed book presents eighty tempting and
easy-to-prepare recipes that showcase the culinary abundance of the
south of France. They are not necessarily costly ingredients and all
readily available, taking advantage of summer seasonality and freshness.
I could quite happily graze my way through the whole book, being
enticed either by the ingredients or the pictures. Octopus and Jols
Tempura: I had no idea that a jol is a small fish found near Marseilles
– I am sure one could use whitebait as a substitute. This is a
beautiful dish served in a newspaper – a French newspaper, obviously.
Camargue Black Rice Paella is another dramatic dish using seafood –
cuttlefish in this case. This would make a memorable centrepiece.
Skate-filled Zucchini is another stunner. Skate is a much-underrated
fish, although once popular in traditional fish and chip shops. It has
a unique texture which doesn’t flake like most other fish flesh, but
has strands instead. It’s a well-flavoured fish and pairs deliciously
with the courgettes which grow in such profusion even in the UK’s
Perhaps some of my favourites from this book are the classic and
sumptuous desserts. There are three tarts that are remarkable and
demonstrate the French flair for patisserie: one has a filling of figs
which grow in such quantities in the south of France; a second of
oranges that cover the trees in early autumn and top a tart that
glistens like stained glass; the lemon tart has a tangy filling and is
garnished with candied lemon slices for extra impact. Any of these
would make a classy finish to even the most formal of dinner parties.
This is a recipe book for the accomplished cook but equally for those
who would like to be. The photography is first class and shows the
colourful face of Flavors from the French Mediterranean.
Flavors from the French Mediterranean
Author: Gérald Passedat
Published by: Flammarion
The Balcon, London – classic
This truly memorable restaurant is set on Waterloo Place
on the corner with Pall Mall. This wide
thoroughfare is in fact an extension of Regent Street with all its
smart shops. It’s a small area with a host of statues and monuments
that honour heroes and statesmen of the British Empire and various wars.
Waterloo Place was created at the end of the 1820s as the final section
of the Triumphal Way that connects Regent’s Park with Pall Mall,
started in 1810 to a design by John Nash, the famed Regency-era
architect. The magnificent neoclassical buildings around the square
display ornamental friezes and columns, and still offer an air of
Formerly the banking hall of Cox’s and King’s, this grade II listed
building now houses Sofitel St James and The Balcon restaurant. The
company has contrived to preserve original features but also showcases
contemporary elements. The Balcon can be entered via the hotel foyer or
directly from Pall Mall where the entrance is opposite The Institute of
Directors, which also has imposing architecture. The restaurant has a
double aspect onto both Pall Mall and Waterloo Place. If you ask for
the table in the corner on the raised section then you can comfortably
pivot your gaze between the two iconic views.
The chef, Matt Greenwood, is a new addition to the restaurant, joining
Sofitel London St James in December
2015. He is a New Zealander and has worked in Melbourne, Sydney and
Christchurch, before moving to London 9 years ago. He
demonstrates his love of fusion on his menu but it’s not fusion for
fusion’s sake. His flavour and textural combinations really work.
We started our evening with a glass of English fizz. No, don’t knock
it! We have won prizes for our sparkling wines in international blind
tastings. Balcon is a restaurant in which to linger: the high ceilings,
those magnificent views and the ambiance encourage slower sipping and
unwinding. Lots of time to pore over the menu.
The menu isn’t a mile long and neither is the wine list and that’s
reassuring. It’s presentation of quality and freshness and attention to
detail which elevate Balcon above some other restaurants which offer
‘fine dining’. There is a dish for every taste and a wine to accompany
it, and that wine list presents the finest expressions of the main wine
varieties - many can be sampled by the glass or carafe as well as by
I started with Twice Baked Goat’s Cheese Soufflé with pine nuts,
mint and apple sabayon. A light and flavourful dish with tang from the
cheese and freshness from the fruit. A simple presentation and well
worth ordering. Lots of folks think they don’t like goat’s cheese but
this soufflé would be a wonderful introduction. Not too goaty.
My guest ordered Yuzu-Cured Salmon with Edamame Purée, Wakame
Salad and Tobiko. He is a good eater and enjoys fish so this was bound
to be a winner. Here we had Japanese ingredients presented in
non-challenging fashion. Edamame are green beans often seen in bars as
a snack with drinks. Wakame is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed, with
a sweet flavour and it’s good for you! Tobiko is glistening flying-fish
roe. It’s a common topping for sushi and can be coloured with natural
ingredients and in this case it was wasabi, Japanese horseradish. This
was strikingly beautiful as well delicious, and even the crockery
Lobster and Seafood Bouillabaisse with braised fennel and topped with
rouille was my main course. This was truly a taste of
opulence. Anything containing lobster is luxurious but this is a soup
and really nothing to look at. But taste one spoonful and you will be
smitten. It’s rich and almost meaty. It’s silky and comforting and
thoroughly decadent. Indisputably French and fitting so well at Balcon
with its accents of La Belle France.
My companion chose Rarebreed Beef Burger with Braised
Oxtail, Roasted Garlic Aioli and a pot of fries on the
side. This might seem an unlikely dish for such a classic restaurant so
let’s consider why it works here. Firstly a burger is chopped meat and
the quality of the burger is defined by that. The Balcon example is as
far from fast-chain food as one could hurry. The topping of oxtail adds
a meaty richness and almost creates a sauce. The bread bun was grilled
and first rate, and the fries were exceptional …and French!
Profiterole with banana caramel, vanilla ice cream, hazelnuts and
Frangelico ganache finished our meal. This was the very essence of
banana and that always works with chocolate; well, everything works
with chocolate. A classic recipe given a new lease of life.
Balcon is an attractive space, has classic good service, an outstanding
location, a menu to suit anyone who has the slightest interest in good
food, a wine list over which to drool, and is great value for money. Is
there anything I didn’t like about the dinner? Yes, it ended too soon.
Monday to Friday 6:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Saturday 7:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Sunday 7:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Afternoon Tea: Noon – 6:00 PM
Lunch and dinner:
Monday to Friday 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Saturday 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Sunday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
The Balcon London
8 Pall Mall
London SW1Y 5NG
Phone: 020 7968 2900
Visit The Balcon here.
Relais de Venise
We are spoilt for choice in London, and indeed in many
cities. We can chance a fishy Japanese breakfast, indulge in lavish
Italian lunches, feast at eventide on exotic Indian fare, and feed our
need for iffy kebabs in the wee small hours. Every restaurant,
street cart offers extensive menus showcasing its particular genre.
But ask many a dedicated food lover which dishes they crave, what their
elected last meal might be, and they will almost universally state that
it has to be unfussy and comforting, something like, say, steak and
chips. Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte is a small chain of
that provides that. Yes, just that and only that.
The concept might seem foreign to us but
consider… We wax lyrical about the food in France and the dish most
often remembered is Steak-Frites with a simple salad and a glass of
red. There was that favourite little bistro on the corner of Rue
Somethingorother and Boulevard Nameofafrenchphilosopher. The one with
the dark-wood sideboards, leather banquettes and paper tablecloths. No,
they can’t do that in London.
Well, we do that in London and we do that very well. Or more accurately
Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte does. The Canary Wharf branch (they
three restaurants in London) is convincingly Parisienne, and the chairs
wouldn’t look out of place in a cheeky little establishment in the 5th
Arrondissement, even though the murals of Venice give a nod to the name
of the restaurant rather than the country of origin. But the food is
The menu is, well, short. It’s a green salad with dressing, some bread,
and steak and chips. If you only offer one menu item then expectations
of the quality of that dish will be high. Relais de Venise
did not disappoint in any regard. The plate arrived piping hot and
piled high. The fries were golden and crisp, but the streak was the
star. Cooked to order and sliced, it arrived bathed in the celebrated
‘secret sauce’. We have all been enticed by promises of special sauces
and they often fall far short of the mark. A commercial ketchup with
chilli or pineapple doesn’t do it for me and seldom enhances one’s
platter. But Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte has a sauce that really
have impact. I have a clue as to what might be the key ingredients, but
my lips are sealed. One might deduce that it contains a good amount of
butter and green herbs, but the staff remain silent.
There are over a dozen desserts on offer here and if you are a
perpetually peckish rugby player there might be some chance of making
it through to the sweets. The main course is substantial so forgo the
offered second helpings if you have a yen for a pud. My guest ordered a
confection of light pastry, whipped cream and raspberries. He wasn’t
short-changed with the size of this dessert, either. It was the sort of
finale that one would find in a real French family-run
restaurant. No delicate garnishes, just a big plate of sweet comfort.
Perhaps that’s the ethos here. Keep it simple. It’s old-fashioned good
quality, good value food and memorably mouth-watering. We will return
soon and often.
Open every day including Sundays and bank holidays
Lunch: 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.00
Tuesday – Thursday
Lunch: 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.30
Lunch: 11.45 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.30
Lunch: 12.30 - 15.30
Dinner: 18.30 - 22.00
Lunch: 12.30 - 15.30
Dinner: 18.30 - 21.00
Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte Canary Wharf
18-20 Mackenzie Walk
London E14 4PH
Tube: Canary Wharf Jubilee/DLR
Phone +44 (0)20 3475 3331
Visit Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte here
Arabica Bar and
Kitchen – Borough Market
Borough has been known for its food markets since as far back as the
11th century. First the stallholders were trading
on old London Bridge, but then in the 13th century they were moved to
what became Borough High Street. A market has been here ever since.
Borough Market has grown to over 100 individual stalls. There are the
traditional fruit, vegetables, bread and meat but these days the market
reflects how cosmopolitan London eats. There are wine merchants, stalls
selling olives, cheeses and spices. A jewel box of gastronomic delights.
We visited on Sunday when the market is closed. That was by choice as
it gave the opportunity to really appreciate the Victorian architecture
and even a brass plate set in the ground commemorating an association
between the market, Switzerland and the Olympic games!
Sunday lunch was the next priority. Arabica Bar and Kitchen couldn’t be
nearer to Borough Market. It’s a restaurant tucked away under the
railway arches although I didn’t notice any distracting rumblings. The
ceiling is arched, displaying the exposed brick of the original
functional architecture. The urban theme continues with the use of
school chairs and wooden tables. Harmonious design in
natural materials and not over-themed. A great combination of old
London bricks and accents of the gold of the Middle East.
This restaurant presents the dishes of the Levant but the cocktails
were contemporary - although some giving a nod eastwards. Zarif Zehir
was a delicate pink confection and didn’t taste overpoweringly
alcoholic; this cocktail was served in a tea glass and looked quite
innocent, but was probably dangerous in quantity. Made from vodka,
sloe, lemon and sugar, with a finish of sumac and egg white, this was
visually appealing and rather harked back to the days of Speak-Easys
Sassine Square was somewhat more traditional and with a soft bourbon
flavour. Made with high-rye bourbon, date syrup and bitters, this was a
smooth cocktail with plenty of citrus aroma from the ornate orange-rind
We started our Sunday feast with the ‘Selection of Mezze Classics to
Share’ as it says on the simple menu. That spread included House
Pickles of cucumber, carrots, cauliflower, turnip and chillies; a dish
of traditional Hummus;
Whipped Feta with charred Turkish chilli, toasted sunflower seeds and
mint, which was tangy and light; and Beiruti Falafel
made with broad beans, chickpeas, onions, peppers, green
chilli, herbs, and spices was a winner with my guest, who is now
addicted to these fried morsels. Grilled Halloumi Cheese was a
particular highlight. Tabouleh with plenty of parsley, cucumber,
tomato, spring onion, mint and cracked wheat, and all served in a
lettuce leaf, was fresh and aromatic. An ideal starter selection to
enjoy with a table of friends. It’s the kind of dining that demands a
group for best effect.
Jordanian Style Lamb Mensaf and Spring Vegetable Freeke were our main
courses, although there was also a fish dish on the menu. The lamb was
a 7-hour slow-cooked shoulder, served with spiced rice which was good
enough to be a dish on its own, and all garnished with toasted nuts and
yogurt sauce. This is flavourful rather than being hot with spice.
Spring Vegetable Freeke was a melange of seasonal veggies cooked with
grains and garnished with crispy onions, toasted nuts, herbs and minted
lebneh, a soft natural cheese. I would say share both dishes for a
Jelly and Ice Cream sounds like old-fashioned nursery fare but this
dessert is rather sophisticated: candied orange, rosewater, milk and
honey jelly with mastica ice cream and a scattering of toasted Kadyfi
pastry. The ice cream
was lightly flavoured rather than giving a hit of piney resin. A pretty
Arabica Bar and Kitchen has a casual ambiance giving a real feel of the
local area. The bar is an imposing feature which will doubtless be much
appreciated in the evenings. And it’s liable to be Arabica’s small
dishes that draw the crowds during the week. But Sunday is the day for
relaxing with friends and sharing larger plates. I’ll be back.
Arabica Bar and Kitchen
3 Rochester Walk
London SE1 9AF
Monday - Wednesday 11am -11pm
Thursday 8.30am -11pm
Friday and Saturday 8.30am -11.30 pm
Sunday 11am - 4pm
Visit Arabica Bar and Kitchen here
Lotus – Fine Indian Dining
The Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square Underground Station has
not been famed for quality Indian
restaurants. I confess I had never heard of Lotus but I arrived with
high expectations as I had done my homework.
This is a neat 65-cover contemporary restaurant in sophisticated grey
tones. It’s in the heart of the West End’s Theatreland, with superb
transport links, and it’s an area which is more famed for Chinese food
than Indian fine dining. Lotus is a split-level dining space which
allows for intimate corners. Tables are black with crisp linen runners
and serviettes. Each table sports a lotus-shaped tealight. The
restaurant is, in fact, named after this national flower of India, with
all its associations of purity.
Bhaskar Banerjee, Chef and Manager of Lotus, has a noteworthy culinary
pedigree. He comes from one of the most celebrated hospitality
establishments, ITC Welcomgroup. They are famed in India for such
restaurants as Bukhara, Dumpukth and Dakshin but they have produced
award-winning chefs who now ply their trade around the entire world.
Chef Banerjee has worked with international hotel chains such as the
Intercontinental Hotels Group, Luxury Collection Hotels, Marriott,
Sheraton, Le Meridien and The Taj Group of Hotels.
Lotus offers a melange of traditional and contemporary, with quality
being the keynote here. We began with what could
have been a banal assortment of poppadums with chutneys, but here they
were a little different. Small rice, potato, and finger millet
poppadums rather than the ubiquitous large round efforts made from gram
flour. Finger millet is high in starch and is considered superior to
wheat and a thoughtful addition. The condiments were vibrant and made
There is a good selection of wines by the glass and we enjoyed ours
while waiting for starters. Masala Prawn, Duck Eggs and
Green Lentil Wrap was my choice. In fact the wrap was more like a
folded crepe that one might find in northern France. Mild and delicious
flavours from a truly original dish. Potato Chaat with Chickpea, Sev
and Yoghurt is traditional and a mix of sweet, spicy and tangy, crisp
and creamy. But here it is served with a degree of refinement, on
My guest, a man of discerning palate, ordered a kebab of Red Snapper
flavoured with mustard essence and served with what one might assume to
be a very un-Indian dill and yogurt sauce. This was a triumph of
perfectly prepared and flavourful fish with its cooling and herby
accompaniment. Don’t miss this one.
Muntjac Lal Maas was our main dish and this was very much more refined
than other similar dishes I have tried, usually made with lamb. Yes,
the meat obviously made a difference but it was the sauce that was the
star. It was silky and aromatic with much better balance than others
which have been overpoweringly hot. One could enjoy the flavour of the
deer and the subtle yet evident spices.
There is another dish here that should be highly commended. It’s
Baghare Baigan Bharta, a side dish of roasted aubergine, tomato,
spices, peanuts and herbs. I would have this for a light lunch along
with some bread, and would be content. This is comfort food in every way.
I am impressed. Lotus stands to cultivate a great and long-lasting
reputation. Its location helps but it’s the quality of food that will
ensure a loyal following. The talented chef and his team have made a
creditable start and I wish them luck.
17 Charing Cross Road
Reservations +44 (0) 20 7839 8797
Visit Lotus here
It seems a bit early for pondering Christmas presents but,
trust me, it’s not. If you have a passionate food lover in your near
vicinity you might want to ditch the summer holiday brochures for half
an hour and consider a masterclass.
There is a compelling reason why your Christmas (or birthday /
anniversary / graduation / retirement) gift shopping should start now when
daffs are still fresh in the park: Cinnamon Collection masterclasses are
popular and sell out fast. They offer classes for those interested in
preparing vegetarian specialities; the Barbecues and Roasts days are
bound to draw a crowd; Secrets from the Southern Indian kitchen will
teach you how to make a stunning biryani; and November offers a game
masterclass with Vivek Singh himself. Places are already limited for
All masterclasses are not created equal. The Cinnamon Collection
classes have the guests actually cooking. But the day starts in
European fashion with coffee and croissants, some history of these
outstanding restaurants, Health and Safety instructions, and allocation
of aprons. Almost collectors’ items, these embroidered beauties are
decorated with the company logo, making a fine souvenir of the event
…and there will be more later.
The ratio of students to chefs will likely be just 2 to 3 guests with a
chef or two looking after them. You won’t be expected to have
professional skills and you won’t be rushed. There is no pressure and
it’s fine if you just want to watch. For those who want to get stuck in
then there is plenty of opportunity to chop, mix, fry, braise, crumble
and sprinkle. You will come away with a pack of recipes that really
work and which you will be confident enough to replicate at home.
You have practised your new culinary arts all morning. The dishes are
displayed. You have swelled with pride. So,
now it’s time to relax with a glass of fizz in the kitchen. The
chefs would have prepared sufficient quantities of all the masterclass
dishes and these are presented as a feast to be enjoyed by the whole
group of guests around a table in the restaurant. Wine and conversation
flow and there is nothing more to do, other than choose a complementary
cookbook penned by Vivek who will be delighted to sign it. A final and
lasting souvenir of a fun and memorable day.
The Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses are thoroughly engaging. The
chefs have had plenty of experience of supporting novices. It’s a
thrill to work in a professional kitchen and one becomes a far more
confident cook. One might not feel that a tandoor would be a worthwhile
addition to the remodelled kitchen, but Indian food will probably be on
the menu more often chez vous.
14th May - Vegetarian Wedding Feast with Hari Nagaraj, who is an
excellent chef and has been with the group since its early days. He’s
not new to conducting these events, and has a knack for inspiring and
comforting culinary beginners. The Vegetarian Wedding Feast Masterclass
teaches participants how to use traditional and modern Indian cooking
methods to prepare a range of vegetarian dishes, ideal for
celebrations, festive occasions and sharing with friends and family.
16th July - Barbecues and Roasts with Rakesh Nair, who is a charming
and able chef with the ability to put even
raw beginners at their ease. The Barbecues and Roasts Masterclass is
inspired by the British love of all such dishes, with recipes such as
barbecued poussin with tomato fenugreek sauce, and whole roasted sea
bream with green spices.
10th September - Secrets from the Southern Indian Kitchen with Chef
Ramachandran Raju, who is a pleasure to work with and always has time
to offer individual help. Learn how to make the iconic biryani of
black-leg chicken, and South Indian rice pancakes with spicy sambar, a
traditional lentil broth.
19th November - Game with Vivek Singh, who is a well-known celebrity
chef but takes pleasure in introducing others to his cuisine. India has
centuries-old hunting traditions and this class offers dishes such as
chargrilled partridge with peanuts and dried mango, and green spiced
pheasant with kedgeree.
For more information and to book any of the above classes visit here
Patara – Berners
Oxford Street is one of London’s retail arteries. It’s a ribbon of
fashion outlets from the celebrated and
well-established Selfridges to a flourishing number of stalls selling
trashy T-shirts and even more dubious souvenirs. The world of both good
and bad taste can be your oyster.
So you have perhaps enjoyed splashing the cash on that great colourful
shopping street and you are looking for food. Or you might be a
desk-bound local office worker who has been yearning for the end of the
day and a delicious meal. Where to go? You are spoilt for choice but
many restaurants here are to be avoided. They rely on passing trade and
they know that that trade will likely only be passing once. They don’t
have to try - they know you won’t be back whatever the quality of the
But walk up the side road called Berners Street past the sandwich
emporium and have a very fine dinner from the Thai culinary palette.
This is Patara, and they are trying, and cultivating a loyal following.
It’s part of a small chain of Thai restaurants with branches
internationally and, interestingly, that includes Thailand.
I am no stranger to Patara. It’s my restaurant of choice
when I want Thai food in Knightsbridge, but it was my first time at the
Berners Street branch, and they had a hard act to follow. Granted, the
décor is totally different, but they both have the same intimate
ambiance. Berners Street is cool and contemporary with only a slight
nod to Asia by way of the carved wall treatment. But the food and
presentation is distinctly Thai.
The menu is extensive and they evidently take advantage not only of
traditional Thai spicing but also of local produce. We chose for both
taste and beauty, and it was a feast over which to linger. Starters
were traditional Fishcakes with agreeable heat supplied from the sweet
chilli dipping sauce. These patties are laced with red curry and
perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, crushed roasted peanut, and
coriander. Chor Muang are handcrafted lilac dumplings and are memorable
for their delicacy and colour. They are filled with caramelised chicken
and peanuts and garnished with coconut cream. Would love to see how
these are made.
Chestnut Duck and Prawn - duck breast and king prawn
sautéed with chestnut, cashews, bell pepper, and goji berries -
was my guest’s choice of main dish. It was a vision of vegetables, meat
and seafood, and seasoned to perfection. Almost too beautiful to eat
Lamb Shank Massaman - Coconut milk-braised lamb in a mild homemade
curry of warm spices and garnished with almond and pickled onion - was
my choice. This must surely be one of two signature dishes here, the
first being the aforementioned prawn and duck dish. I can honestly say
that this lamb shank is the best I have had in years. No, not just the
best Thai lamb (I think it’s the first Thai lamb dish I have ever had,
actually) but the best lamb shank of any culinary hue. The meat was
falling off the bone, moist, flavourful and addictive. If you love lamb
then this is the dish for you. Outstanding.
But even the side dishes are worth a mention here. We ordered aubergine
with red chilli and pickled soya and this is interesting enough to have
as a vegetarian main dish. And then there was the coconut shell filled
with roasted Riceberry Rice with sweet coconut water. This is a new
variety of rice that has been produced in Thailand. It’s nutty, hearty
and quite unique.
Patara Berners Street has a great location and it’s well
worth taking those few steps away from the throngs on Oxford Street.
Could they improve anything? Well, yes. I would have a sign outside
that’s is at least twice as big. Be proud, Patara, be very proud.
5 Berners Street
Phone: 020 7580 9923
Monday – Sunday: noon – 15.00
Sunday – Tuesday: 17.30 – 22.30
Wednesday – Saturday: 17.30 – 23.00
Art Place Japan:
Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature by Fram Kitagawa
Every three years hundreds of square miles of countryside in north
western Japan are transformed into a sprawling and many-faceted art
installation. More than 150 of the world’s most-celebrated landscape
artists, sculptors, and architects display their work in a couple of
hundred villages, fields and rice paddies. It’s a liaison
between art, people and nature and has become quite an event over the
past 15 years.
This book presents these new and striking art spaces in Japan. The
works are not, for the most part, displayed indoors, in galleries and
museums. These artworks are punctuating the countryside with
contemporary anachronism and thought-provoking three-dimensional
statements. They are free to view and are attracting half a million
visitors each year, although most of those who come to enjoy the
festival are still Japanese. The book has 300 or so pages with 46
mostly short pieces by Fram Kitagawa, over 230 colour photographs, and
two more essays by contributors Adrian Favell and Lynne Breslin.
This art extravaganza started in 2000 and held its sixth instalment
last year. It was founded by and is still directed by Fram Kitagawa. It
has now become highly valued in Japan. The book is a companion to the
exhibition, introduced in both words and photographs. It teases with
its sometimes whimsical images, while the text is casual and
conversational. One concludes that all these disparate and yet
expressive works actually represent one immense art form, which is the
exhibition in its entirety. It’s a philosophy, a dream, an interactive
challenge which has engaged the local population, artists and viewers.
Art Place Japan: The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to
Reconnect Art and Nature
Author: Fram Kitagawa
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
Sindhu by Atul
Kochhar, with Head Chef Gopal Krishnan
I first met Chef Gopalakrishnan when he was working at a
Michelin-starred restaurant in London; a smart and charismatic
young man who is known by his friends simply as Gopal. He was born in a
small village called Sholingur in Tamil Nadu, 100km from Madras (now
Chennai) into an orthodox Brahmin family who were vegetarian – and
Gopal still is! His early childhood was spent in a town called Athur
where his Dad had his own restaurant. “I think cooking runs in my blood
– my Granddad had a wedding catering business, and my Dad used to run
the restaurant. So we spent a lot of time in the kitchens after school.
I was inspired by my Mum’s cooking – even now I think her cooking is
the best! Whenever I go home I will ask her to cook something,
anything, for me.”
Gopal wanted a career in catering and hotel management, and joined a
1-year course in Food Production at the Institute of Hotel Management
and then moved to the Hotel Taj Connemara, and trained in the Chettinad
speciality restaurant, the Raintree. “My experience at the Connemara
helped me decide to become a chef, to enable me to focus more on the
When the group opened a hotel in Chennai he was part of the pre-opening
team, with the New Zealand chef Willie Wilson at the helm. “It was quite a
learning experience – setting up the kitchen, installing all the
equipment, finding suppliers for meat, fish, vegetables – which you
might learn theoretically, but in practice it’s very different! I owe a
great deal to Chef Willie, who really instilled a lot of interest and
passion into what we did. He always impressed upon us that we must do
our best the first time – consistency is the key to success. He would
always get us to push our boundaries so we would never become
complacent. I have had a very good culinary journey ever since.”
Sindhu by Atul Kochhar is the latest venture by the Michelin-starred
chef of Benares. This is a cool and contemporary restaurant which fits
its location in stylish fashion. It’s by the river. That’s not
estate-agent speak for a restaurant that has distant views of water but
only in winter when the leaves have fallen. No, the river is just
outside the beautiful leaded windows. Low ceilings and a muted colour
palette make this a cosy evening retreat, garnished with outstanding
This restaurant offers an array of menus: Tasting Menu - 5
Courses, Tasting Menu - 7 Courses, Vegetarian Tasting Menu and an A la
Carte menu. There is something here for any
occasion and for lunch or dinner. It’s a restaurant that offers a fine
dining experience in a more accessible atmosphere. There are some
familiar dishes alongside innovation, but all served with flair.
We were expecting good things from Gopal but he, in fact, presented
excellent. Nandu Varuval - Crisp Soft Shell Crab with Squid Rings, was a
contemporary and classy starter. But there is also more familiar fare
here and I ordered Gilafi Seekh Kebab - Skewered Minced Lamb with Basil
and Peppers and finished with a Mint Drizzle. These morsels were
melting, flavourful and succulent. It’s this kind of dish that has
helped make Indian cuisine one of the most popular in the UK.
Traditional, without a doubt.
Kaalan Melagu Peratti - Wild Mushroom with Thellicherry
Pepper in a Filo Wrap with Coconut Moilee Sauce was my guest’s choice.
Tellicherry black peppercorns come from the Malabar Coast of India and
are left on the vine longer so they can develop more complex flavour
than regular black peppercorns. This was a fusion which was pronounced
as outstanding by my guest. I tasted the sauce and I can confirm it is
for which to die.
Murgh Makhan Palak - Tandoor Smoked Chicken in
Creamy Tomato and Fenugreek Sauce is a departure from another familiar
dish that has helped our love affair with Indian food. This was a
comforting preparation that will gladden the heart of any lover of
Mullanti Veppudu - Parsnip and Jerusalem Artichoke Tossed with Coconut
and Spices is an unmissable side dish. I will be demanding the recipe
which I will shamelessly use chez nous and likely pass off as my own.
This is the first time I can recall having Jerusalem artichokes in
anything other than a soup.
Head Chef Gopal Krishnan comes to Sindhu with impeccable credentials.
The restaurant is evidently in safe hands. I don’t doubt Gopal
brings with him diners who will be delighted to follow his continuing
culinary journey. It’s been a long and eventful one, which offers the
promise of future inspiration and innovation.
Sunday: noon till 3:15pm
Monday - Saturday: noon till 2:45pm
Monday - Saturday: 6:00pm till 10:30pm
Sunday: 6:00pm till 10:00pm
The Compleat Angler
Marlow SL7 1RG
Phone: 01628 405 405
Visit Sindhu here
OXBO – Hilton Bankside
The name intrigued me. It was either a reference to the
bend in the River Thames at Bankside or an indication that
this restaurant takes pride in its meat dishes. As it turned out it was
OXBO restaurant at the Hilton on Bankside has style. The foyer exuded
character with contemporary furnishings that I covet. Nothing bland and
chain-familiar here. The restaurant is nothing like any other hotel
restaurant I have ever visited, either. This also had character but
with a capital C and writ large.
There is a wall of hunting trophies, well, at first glance. But then
one realises that they don’t make frogs that size – and then one takes
a closer look at the others: well-executed, mercifully fake and
humorously quirky animalesque heads. The ceiling is low creating a cosy
ambiance. Wood-clad walls introduce rustic tones and judicious use of
screens and floor finishes create more intimate spaces in this
otherwise expansive restaurant.
We were here for Sunday lunch. In fact it was Mother’s Day so the place
was buzzing with families enjoying the occasion. These groups included
impeccably well-behaved children,
which just goes to show that good manners are not a thing of the past.
The Sunday lunch format is a self-service buffet for both starters and
desserts but with the main course being presented at the table. I noted
that even with the restaurant running at full capacity the buffet
stations never had queues of waiting diners. The more formal table
service made the lunch an occasion. Staff here are friendly and
attentive and there were plenty of them.
I first met Chef Paul Bates a number of years ago when he worked at
‘another place’. He has roved the ranges in Mayfair and other smart
neighbourhoods and has impeccable culinary credentials. I had high
expectations – OXBO didn’t disappoint, and it seems a great vehicle for
this man’s talents. The open kitchen might even allow a few moments of
chat with Chef Paul, although on this Sunday he was taking the spring
air on the rugby field.
The menu for Sunday lunch isn’t long. People will be
looking for traditional for this particular meal. The starter table held seafood aplenty and there were hints of Asia with
Sashimi of Tuna, Salmon and Swordfish with associated Japanese
condiments. For carnivores there was a spread of cold meats which
included Smoked Duck Breast and Lychee Salsa. Gin and Lime Marinated
Halibut was light and refreshing – colour and vibrant flavours to
excite the taste buds.
We are famed for Sunday roasts in this country and I can
recommend the beef. Roasted joint of Gloucestershire beef served with a
puffed Yorkshire pudding taking centre stage, duck-fat roasted potatoes
and seasonal vegetables completing this very British Sunday
lunch. There is a Bottomless Sunday Roast on offer, which
includes a three-course meal and unlimited Prosecco, but I chose a
Malbec which, although young, displayed all the classic expressions of
Argentina’s national grape variety.
Fish lovers are taken care of with the best of the catch. It might be
hake, but on this occasion my guest chose a moist cod steak; and there
is chicken, and a vegetarian alternative. Perhaps the younger members
of the party might prefer to graze on the starters and the cheese
platter and then dive into desserts.
Those sweets were perfectly-formed jewels. It seems they change on the
artistic whim of the pastry chef, or on the availability of
ingredients, but on our visit we were tempted with miniature chocolate
and caramel tarts, raspberry mousses, sponges, trifles, cookies,
candies and macarons.
OXBO would seem to have a sound future. It’s only been open a few
months but it’s been praised for its quality of food and reasonable
prices. It’s great value for money and it is, quite frankly, a splendid
place for Sunday lunch. Its location makes it ideal not only for locals
but for those who want lunch and then an afternoon on the river, on the
Eye or shopping.
Hilton London Bankside
2-8 Great Suffolk Street
London SE1 0UG
Visit OXBO here
Phone: 020 7593 3900
Monday – Wednesday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 22:30
Thursday – Saturday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 23:00
Sunday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 22:30
Ichiryu Hakata Udon House is from the same stable
that brings you Japan Centre and the chain of Japanese restaurants,
Shoryu. Ichiryu is a well-placed eatery on New Oxford Street, and even
after just a couple of months it’s enjoying a loyal following of office
workers, shoppers, and I hear it’s been discovered by a chef or two!
This is a light and contemporary restaurant and it pays creditable
attention to detail. It’s the little things that one notices front of
house that indicate how a restaurant is run. Chopsticks are uniformly
parallel to the edge of the table. Serviettes are paper but they sport
the company logo indicating an element of pride. The high bar table has
handbag hooks which are a thoughtful touch; but there are more regular
tables for those of us with no balance skills. Service is friendly and
periodically animated with shouts of welcome and farewell punctuated by
Tak Tokumine, who founded Japan Centre in 1976, has a passion for the
food of his hometown of Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture. In
fact this town is famed for noodles. As the name suggests, Ichiryu
Hakata Udon House specialises in handmade noodles. Those noodles are
indeed handmade as one can watch hands actually making them. Surely
noodles don’t get fresher than that.
The noodles in question are Udon. These are celebrated for their chewy
texture. All Udon are not created equal but of all those I have tasted
recently, these are most to my taste. Well, perhaps the word taste
isn’t quite correct: I really mean that they are to my texture with the
preferred degree of bounce.
Ichiryu sells noodles but they do need to be floating in
something, and in this case it’s a light and well-flavoured
broth. Even this varies from restaurant to restaurant and from company
to company. I have had delicious noodles that are coated
by a much thicker white soup made from simmered bones and that’s
wonderful, but the Ichiryo broth showcases the noodles and the
garnishes rather than filling one with a soup as thick as sauce.
We started our meal with matcha tea to which I have become addicted
over the past few years. Here presented in the largest
tea bowls I have ever seen. This vibrant green liquid is becoming more
popular worldwide as it offers greater health benefits than does
regular leaf tea. One ingests the whole leaf rather than just drinking
the liquor resulting from the traditional tea-brewing process.
My guest ordered Udon noodles with a garnish of Niku Beef.
The marinated shaved meat was deliciously savoury and tender. Courgette
tempura was our choice of side dish. It offered a light crunch from the
batter enrobing the quarters of vegetable that still retained their
form and natural flavour.
I grazed on Gyoza which are pot-sticker dumplings and well worth
trying. There was the usual soy condiment, but this time
with yuzu paste which was outstanding with deep citrus tang
complementing the rich filling of the dumplings.
Hakata buns are here with various fillings. These, I believe,
originated in Taiwan and are an Asian sandwich. The fluffy folded bread
held, in our case, some fresh and flaky cod. One of these would make a
substantial nibble with drinks but three would constitute a full meal.
Chicken Cutlet is a simple dish which was elevated to the memorable by
the associated spicy sauce. The coating was crunchy and the meat moist.
Dessert of mochi filled with ice cream is undoubtedly Japanese but is
becoming popular internationally. It’s that
agreeable combination of chewy ricecake surrounding an ice-cold
filling. At Ichiryu the dessert arrives as a trio of
sesame, matcha and yuzu-flavoured mochi. Kids will love this.
Ichiryu Hakata Udon House doesn’t put a foot wrong. The food is
comforting, the ambiance relaxing, and it offers value for money.
Ichiryu Hakata Udon House
84 New Oxford St
Visit Ichiryu here
Mon - Sat: Noon - 22:30
Sun: Noon - 21:30
Afternoon Tea at
Home - Deliciously indulgent
recipes for sandwiches, savouries, scones, cakes and other fancies
I was expecting a great book from this well-respected chef, Will
Torrent. I wasn’t expecting the volume to have that overwhelming
feel-good factor. That comes from a reminder of traditional sweet
treats in the recipes, bringing comforting memories. And contemporary
innovations bringing the realisation of ‘I can do that’ dusted with a smug ‘won’t the mother-in-law be impressed’.
Will has written a book that will be inspiring for both the
enthusiastic novice and the experienced home baker. Some of the recipes
might seem daunting but read them through and realise that they are not
over-taxing and really just a combination of smaller recipes that can
be executed individually and then constructed into the finished
Afternoon tea is a flexible light meal. It can be a cottagey affair
with old-fashioned baked goods. These days it might be a smart event
for the flowery dress and Ascot hat brigade. And then there are those
fun spreads to celebrate a birthday. Will covers it all with
suggestions for both sweet and savoury items and every type of
occasion: tea menus for blokes, mums and dads, brides and even
breakfast tea are all here.
A classic tea has a formula. There will likely be a 3-tier stand with
savouries on the bottom plate and that’s where one starts. Then the
middle level probably contains scones to be served with fixin’s of jam
and cream. The final selection will have grabbed your attention as soon
as the stand arrived. That’s where the small cakes and fancies rest,
like confectionery gems. Will has recipes to fill each of these plates.
My picks of the book are numerous. Roast Beef Sandwiches are a
must-try. Yes, slices of beef for sure, but a unique onion and garlic
spread elevates this sarnie to a masterpiece. Another stunning savoury
is the Chicken Liver Parfait with Thyme and Onion Confit and fluted
brioche. It’s a metaphoric mouthful but break it down into its
constituent parts and you have a rather versatile set. The parfait
would be a spread for toast, the confit would work as a garnish for
roast meats, and the brioche is a classic sweet bread with many uses.
Scones are usually sweet and Will offers those, but his Triple Cheese
Scones with Whipped Mustard Butter have my name on them. Other tangy
nibbles include Olive and Anchovy Whirls. Will is a realist so he
suggests you use good quality shop-bought puff pastry because he knows
you’d do that anyway, and this recipe could not be simpler.
Eccles Cakes are quintessentially English and show our traditional use
of dried fruit. Will adds the rich and sweet sherry Pedro
Ximénez in which to soak the currants and it makes a delightful
difference. Keeping with the Spanish theme he serves the Eccles Cakes
with Manchego cheese.
If I had to choose just one recipe, just one tempting morsel, only a
single remarkable creation, then it would be Mince Pie Brownies. It’s a
beautiful pile of three layers and each with its own distinct yet
complementary character. This would be on my top tier of the Christmas
tea stand, but I’d have this as a festive dessert and a lighter
alternative to Christmas pudding (which I loathe with a passion known
to few). It’s Mince Pie Brownies for me in future, to finish Christmas
I am an unashamed supporter of the author of Afternoon Tea at Home.
Will Torrent is evidently a talented baker and maker of scrumptious
desserts but he is also a chap with a warm and engaging personality.
This book presents a paper version of Will: it’s charming, reflects
great skill but above all, it’s encouraging. If Afternoon Tea at Home
doesn’t entice you into the kitchen then sell the kitchen!
Afternoon Tea at Home
Author: Will Torrent
Published by: Ryland Peters & Small
Recipes of the Philippines
This rather smart little book looks at the unique
traditional food and cooking of the Philippines. But many of us know
little of these islands and probably even less about its culinary
The Philippines are a cluster of islands with its nearest neighbours
being Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its geographic proximity
to those culinary giants would guarantee some striking dishes, but then
add Spain into the mix and one finds an extraordinary
Classic Recipes of the Philippines offers 25 authentic dishes that
cover some of the most celebrated foods in these islands. There are
very few ingredients that would demand a trip to a specialist
supermarket but a stock of 3 or 4 Filipino condiments will likely set
you up for all of these recipes. There is a vibrant shrimp sauce but
nothing much more challenging than that.
The book starts with a soup, Chicken and Ginger Broth with Papaya
(Tinolang Manok). The Filipino staple ingredients of garlic and ginger
are joined by chilli and green papaya to create a truly delicious and
warming soup. It’s a simple dish to prepare but it’s impressive.
Chorizo is a definite influence from Spain, which governed these
islands for a couple of hundred years. Here it’s found as part of a
beef stew which also includes chickpeas and plantains which are
available in most supermarkets these days. This is a hearty and exotic
bowl with flavours of both East and West.
I have always thought of oxtail as being a thoroughly British cut of
meat and one that seems rather old-fashioned here these days. It’s
surprising to see this much-underrated meat included as a Filipino
classic called Kare Kare and it’s prepared with the less than British
peanuts, rice flour and banana hearts. It’s served with shrimp sauce
and green mango on the side and is far more interesting than my Nan’s
stew. Definitely one to try.
Adobo is the national dish in the Philippines and it comes via Mexico
which was also a Spanish colony. Here it’s a memorable concoction with
both pork and chicken, although it could be made with just one or other
of these. Vinegar is the key ingredient in Adobo Manok, which is even
better the next day.
Filipino cuisine is set to become the next international culinary
trend. It has a flavour profile that is attractive to a broad audience
and it’s interesting to note that there are now high-end Filipino
restaurants opening in major cities to introduce us to the delicious
yet unfamiliar flavours of these stunning islands.
Classic Recipes of the Philippines
Authors: Ghillie Basan and Vilma Laus
Published by: Lorenz Books
Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch
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
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 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
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.
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
Dirty Bones Kensington
20 Kensington Church Street
London W8 4EP
Visit Dirty Bones here
Tues - Thurs: 5pm - midnight
Fri: 5pm - 1am
Sat: noon - 1am
Sun: noon - 9pm
at Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street
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.
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.
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.
Balans Soho Society
187 Kensington High Street
Phone: 020 7376 0115
Visit Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street here
Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea
A few years ago our culinary ethnic horizons extended to a
Friday night curry and perhaps the occasional Chinese dinner of sweet
and sour pork. Often made at home from decent cookbooks, but not often
pushing geographic food boundaries.
These days we are exposed to many more restaurants and those encompass
cuisines from every corner of the globe. There are exotic platters from Ethiopia, vibrant
Caribbean dishes, and Polish dumplings in restaurants that are
flourishing. We love eating out and then reproducing the flavours at
home. We travel and bring back dining memories and cravings.
Japanese and Korean restaurants were almost unheard of a decade or so
ago but now they are popular. Korean meals are often robust and spicy
and just the kind of food appreciated by the British palate these days.
Japanese dishes are refined and there is more to this cuisine than the
ubiquitous sushi which is adored by so many. The Food and Cooking of
Japan and Korea is a substantial collection of 250 recipes that will
enable you to replicate favourite plates and will introduce you to new
I love this style of cookbook. There is a comprehensive glossary of
Korean and Japanese foods and an overview of each cuisine, along with a
shopping guide. It’s likely that you will have to buy a few
store-cupboard ingredients to start with, but once you have that small
battery of condiments and spices you will be able to tackle all of
those 250 dishes.
There are 1500 illustrations and these are supportive when one is new
to a particular ingredient or technique or don’t know what the finished
product should look like. There is lots that might be unfamiliar but
this book presents recipes that can be mastered even by the culinarily
challenged. The recipes are well written with step-by-step instructions.
I have my favourites from both the Japanese and Korean delights offered
here. Sweet Cinnamon Pancakes are a popular snack in Korea and would be
great as part of an exotic afternoon tea spread. They are little
stuffed turnovers with a peanut and cinnamon filling, and they are
Oyako Don is a simple and satisfying dinner that won’t break the bank.
The name means parent and child: ‘parent’ refers to the chicken and
‘child’ to the egg. The egg is poured over the finished dish and cooks
for just a minute or so. The result is a silky coating over the chicken
and the two are served over steaming rice.
The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea is a practical book that will
appeal to those of us who actually use cookbooks. It’s well-presented,
deliciously informative and it’s a real page-turner for any dedicated
food lover. I had forgotten how much I miss some of these dishes and I
am tempted to make them again. There are others that are new to me and
they are equally enticing.
There are two distinct cooking traditions here but so many dishes work
well together. It’s a carnival of well-chosen recipes and under
£12, which is great value for money.
The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea
Authors: Emi Kazuko and Young Jin Song
Published by: Southwater
Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography
I have come to this medium quite late in life. I got a bit
of confidence with my iPhone and some of those images were, although I
say it as shouldn’t, spectacular. But somehow I knew there was more.
This book is a weighty tome at a very reasonable price.
At under £12 one can have a fairly thorough overview of the craft
of photography. It’s a step-by-step guide to the apparatus (your
camera) as well as advice on improving the results of your labours.
There is more to good photography than lots of equipment. It isn’t just
a matter of pointing and clicking, although there are plenty of cameras
that will produce acceptable snaps by doing just that. There is a world
of possibilities to be explored when one realises that those little
buttons and dials dotted around the camera actually do something.
The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography
explains depth of field, focal length, shutter speeds, focus and
exposure, along with many other functions the use of which will enable
you to produce really professional shots. This would be something of a
bible for the beginner who will likely want this book as part of their
photography kit. Its 1700 or so pictures are a great support to the
It’s not only the technical issues which are covered. Photographs are
art and so the book devotes time to explaining how to get that elusive
effect, how to pose a subject, as well as editing images, which is a
crucial part of the craft these days. There are sections on emailing
your images, printing them and even advice on entering photographic
competitions. In fact there is everything a budding photographer might
need to gain a bit of confidence and know-how.
The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography is a
comprehensive introduction to a wonderful pastime that could develop
into a career. It’s a perfect gift for a novice and as affordable as a
pack of photographic paper.
The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography
Authors: Steve Luck and John Freeman
Published by: Southwater
Darbaar by Abdul
Here is a man to follow and a restaurant to watch. This
new venture, Darbaar with Abdul Yaseen at the helm, has pedigree and
polish and it’s no surprise!
Located in the heart of London’s City square mile, Darbaar is rather
conveniently situated. Not far from the travel hub
of Liverpool Street Station and with ample parking just yards away this
restaurant has a huge catchment area. It’s already popular for lunch
with local office workers and with those who want a bite after work,
but I am expecting that trend will have the evening tables filled by
discerning diners who will soon mark Darbaar as a destination Indian
But what of this aforementioned pedigree? Abdul is already an
award-winning chef who moved from Jaipur to London fifteen years ago
and was part of the launch team of celebrated Cinnamon Club, which has
now morphed into a small and well-respected chain. Abdul became Head
Chef at Cinnamon Kitchen and Anise, enhancing the Cinnamon brand.
Abdul Yaseen now has his own establishment and, although very new, it
is already a credit to him. The food at Darbaar is inspired by the
banquets of the Indian Royal Courts. One might therefore expect a
restaurant decorated with sofas, waiters in Rajasthani costume and a
chap in the corner playing a sitar. Nothing like that here. There are
small design vignettes giving a nod to the Sub-continent. There are
only a few carved elephants here and there, and some sabres also appear
on the crockery, but the food is totally Indian and very thoughtfully
Darbaar is an impressive 5,500 square feet in area and offers a
220-cover restaurant, and a cosy bar which also tempts
with small plates for those strapped for time. The whole of Darbaar is
a vision of dark wood and burnished metal with natural earth colours
and mirror accents. Soft furnishings are in muted orange and each table
sports a carved candle holder creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
The restaurant includes a grill-side seating area, open kitchen vista,
tables for couples or groups and some banquettes. There is an
attractive 20-cover private dining room with a striking wall of wine
bottles. There is also a chef’s table for up to 12 people with a view
to the open kitchen, with chefs serving dishes directly from the glass
hatch. Service throughout is friendly, efficient and appropriate.
I could have safely predicted that the food here would be good but it
was in fact superb. We started with King Scallops and Red Cabbage
Porial served with Herb Moilee. Each sweet nugget was perfect with its
associated relish. Royal Bengal-style Wild Madagascar Prawns arrived
looking beautifully curled - a luxurious treat and well worth ordering,
as is the Tandoori Salmon Tikka with Kokum Berries and Chilli, still
glistening with its juices.
A signature starter at Darbaar must surely be the Nanza which is an
Indian pizza made in the wood-fired clay oven for
maximum flavour. This Chilli, Chicken, Caramelised Onion and Cheddar
cheese preparation is so good that I think it’s probably the best pizza
I have ever had. That statement might leave my Italian friends
blanching with shock but I would counsel trying this before you profess
your nationalistic doubts.
Perhaps the star of the evening, beating stiff competition from those
other dishes, was the Baked Leg of Rabbit which was cooked and served
on the bone and with a Rajasthani Chilli and Corn Sauce. It’s a shame
so many people have such reservations about eating bunny. It’s a
delicious and mild meat with good texture and flavour and so versatile.
This corn sauce is so good that I think it could be a dish in its own
right. It had a rich texture and was moreish. Order some extra bread
for dipping as you won’t want to leave any of this.
Whistling Duck Merlot was our wine for the evening and it can even be
had by the glass. It’s at the top of the Red Wine List so won’t break
the bank. It’s an Australian classic with hints of ripe plums and
blackberries. It pairs particularly well with the delicately spiced
foods at Darbaar with neither party competing with the other.
Yes, dear reader, I am impressed by Chef Yaseen, whom I already knew,
and Darbaar, which I didn’t. This is Indian fine dining at its best.
Granted, there are no crisp white tablecloths but here it’s all about
the food and the guests who are sharing it. Bring friends and eat
together. Talk in animated fashion and relax in an ambiance that can be
enjoyed by working folks as well as maharajas. Darbaar is a winner of a
restaurant which I fully expect to achieve culinary decorations in the
1 Snowden Street
Phone: 020 7422 4100
Monday to Friday - Lunch – 12noon to 2:45pm
Monday to Saturday - Dinner - 6pm to 10:45pm
Bar - 11.30am to 12 midnight (serving nibbles and small plates)
Closed on Sunday
The Chalet Cookbook
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
etc. Our thoughts turn to cold-weather
vacations and possibly (although not in my case) to sporty pursuits.
There will be expectations of snowy vistas, the smell of pine and
tables groaning with comforting food.
The Chalet Cookbook by the Abinger Cookery School in association with
Fish and Pips have produced a book that will be a perfect inspiration
for winter foods at home or in that cabin in the mountains, which will
hopefully have a well-stocked supermarket within easy sledging
This book takes a step away from cheese fondue and presents dishes that
work well on self-catering winter holidays, but there is not a hint of
instant packet mixes or corner-cutting. This is a proper adult cookbook
which offers suggestions on appropriate dishes to make every chalet
meal a feast, but without the need for the primary chefs to miss out on
The Chalet Cookbook is a combination of traditional and thoroughly
contemporary creations that have an international flavour, reflecting
how most of us actually eat these days – or would like to. The recipes
are divided by course starting with breakfast and continuing with
afternoon tea and then on to a full dinner spread. There is something
here for every taste and indeed every level of cheffy skill.
The authors have been mindful of different eating habits, so provide
wholesome and healthy items as well as those of a more hearty nature
for people who have spent the day in open-air activities. Some dishes
are fun and others rather avant garde but all will be appealing, not
only to the chalet chef but also to those who are staying home. Some
are for a crowd of 8 – 10 people and others are for 4 – 6 diners,
making this a great cookbook for anyone who enjoys giving sizable
I wouldn’t pass up on eating any of the foods here but I do have
favourites. Lemon Tart with Gin and Tonic Granita serves 8 to 10
people, or more likely four to five people twice, as second helpings
are on the cards with this one. Yes, delicious when both the tart and
granita are served together, but they could just as easily be enjoyed
separately. That sorbet would be a refreshing palate-reviver between
courses of a lavish dinner, and the tart as part of an afternoon tea
spread. A timeless classic.
Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Crispy Polenta is a must-try and falls
into the aforementioned category of comfort food. The lamb is spicy,
rich and flavourful with a crunchy texture from the polenta, although I
think this lamb would also work well with soft polenta or even a
heaping bowl of old-fashioned mash. Talking of polenta, there is a
to-die-for Lemon Polenta Cake which will become a staple chez nous.
This isn’t a hefty tome but it’s full of inspiration. The only slight
criticism is that I would have liked a little background or explanation
for each recipe. It’s a delightful book and will be well-received this
Yuletide by any enthusiastic cook.
To learn to cook like a Chalet pro visit www.abingercookeryschool.com
Langkawi – more than beaches
This tropical gem has a deserved reputation for iconic, palm-fringed
beaches, dazzling white sand and sea warm enough to
call a bath. Langkawi is an island that charms and intrigues, and its
story can be discovered not far from your sun-lounger.
The sea is very much part of life here. It has provided a living for
the islanders from fishing, and now it presents a luxurious diversion
for tourists. Naam Cruises is perhaps the foremost leisure and
watersports company on the island and it prides itself on its excellent
reputation for both service and safety. The company specialises in
nature adventures and high-end excursions including a popular dinner
cruise which rocks the guest into a state of pampered calm while
watching the sun set over tiny islands and slowly-reddening sea.
The staff are attentive and professional and the food offered on these
evening cruises is excellent. There are wines and beers as well as
refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails and soft drinks. The boat is
spacious and luxurious and can be hired for private events. The crew
will be able to tell you tales and legends of local princesses and
warriors, and point out natural features and wildlife. This would be an
ideal away-day for a group of family or friends who can have a trip
especially tailored to their needs. The boat can be hired for overnight
stays as it boasts several sumptuous en-suite cabins.
Visit Naam Cruises here
Dayang Bunting is the second largest island in Langkawi’s archipelago
of 100 or so islands. It has one of the
region’s best-loved attractions and is visited by both locals and
tourists alike. The meaning of the name Dayang Bunting is 'Island of
Pregnant Lady'. But it’s the lake on the island that is the draw. It’s
a large freshwater lake known as Lake Guillemard. It’s a hike to get to
as it is surrounded by hills of dense rain forests.
Like all good islands this one has a legend. A man named Mat Teja fell
in love with the Princess Mambang Sari when he met her by the lake.
They eventually married and the princess gave birth to a son but he
unfortunately died shortly after. They decided to lay their son in the
lake to allow him a peaceful resting place. The grieving princess
blessed all women having difficulty conceiving a child, praying that
they would become fertile once they had immersed themselves in the
magical waters of the lake. If one looks at the profile of the
surrounding hills then one can see, exercising a little imagination,
the silhouette of a reclining pregnant lady.
Visit here if you are reasonably fit and in no hurry. There are many
steps so take your time and take some water. No alcohol is allowed and
don’t take food as the ever-watchful monkeys will grab it along with
your camera. This perhaps isn’t the excursion for the elderly or the
very young as a baby buggy would never make it. But once there the cool
waters will be refreshing. One can take a dip from the pontoon or can
hire a pedalo and go exploring. This is a popular attraction but
uncrowded, as there is plenty of space.
The lake and the surrounding area is part of the Dayang Bunting Marble
Geoforest Park. This is one of the three geoparks of Langkawi with
great limestone formations, marble outcrops and unique geological
features. The park has several caves: in fact the lake itself has
resulted from a large underwater cave, the roof of which collapsed and
eventually filled with fresh water.
Learn more here
There is a tour that I can highly recommend with one particular
company, at least. Dev’s Adventure Tours with Naturalist
Khirien Kamarudin are exceptional. Take the Mangrove boat trip and you
will see another aspect of this tropical paradise. Khirien will conduct
you through ancient caves and will talk about the bats, the snakes,
lizards, fish and those ubiquitous monkeys. He has respect for the
environment, which is sometimes lacking in his counterparts from less
There is so much to see here. The running commentary is fascinating and
the younger members of the party will enjoy bird-spotting. Those birds
will doubtless include the local brown eagle which is thought to have
given Langkawi its name – Island of the Brown Eagle in Malay. There are
wild dogs running between the trees, snakes hanging from branches (out
of reach of the boat) and more monkeys.
Dev’s Adventure Tours with Khirien Kamarudin should not be missed. Take
just a morning away from the sun-kissed sand and take a look at another
face of Langkawi. You will return home with more than a tan – you will
have an understanding of the eco-system of a treasure of an island and
the kids will be talking about it till your next trip – for a next trip
there will surely be.
To learn more about Dev’s Adventure Tours visit here
I can highly recommend The Meritus Pelangi Beach Hotel and The Danna
Hotel, as I have stayed in both. They offer the highest standards with
service to match. Their locations are convenient and there is a host of
trips to enjoy for those seeking a little gentle adventure, if you can
tear yourself away from the pool or the sea.
Learn more about Meritus Pelangi Beach here
Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa
Kedah Darul Aman
Phone: 60-4 952 8888
Fax: 60-4 952 8899
General Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about The Danna here
The Danna Hotel
Telaga Harbour Park
Phone: 604 959 3288
The Langkawi International Airport is one of 7 international airports
in Malaysia and connects the island to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Penang
and also Subang.
Singapore Airlines offers numerous flights and connections to Langkawi.
Learn more here
Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs
Reims is a beautiful and historic city in the Champagne-Ardenne region
of France. It is only 130 km from Paris with easy
access by train. Excursions to nearby Chalons are a must and there will
be not only the delightfully ubiquitous champagne to taste but also the
champagne truffles which are so celebrated here.
The city was founded by the Gauls and became a significant town during
Roman times, but it’s also important to the story of French royalty as
it is the town traditionally associated with the crowning of French
kings. The cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, became a UNESCO World
Heritage Site in 1991 and contains some stunning stained-glass windows
and beautifully grand architecture as befits its status, although
German hostilities during the First World War and a subsequent fire
caused extensive damage to the cathedral.
Much of Reims has been rebuilt but I found it to be a feast for lovers
of building design. One can find houses, shops and public buildings
which show architectural styles from almost every era. There are still
vestiges of the Roman occupation, as well as a palace, an opera house
and the town hall which are all striking, and conveniently in the
centre of the town.
Even the name of the region, Champagne-Ardenne, hints at its high-end
eponymous produce and it can all be found in and around Reims. There
are numerous speciality shops offering cheeses and wines, others offer
tempting baked goods and chocolates; but you might notice a shop
selling a curious pink biscuit. Biscuit Rose de
Reims is a unique confection which is made by Maison Fossier, which was
founded in 1756, although the biscuit is thought to have been invented
Biscuits Rose de Reims are one of my top three gastronomic souvenirs of
this area. They are associated with celebrations and convivial
gatherings where they are dunked into glasses of champagne. Their crisp
and dry texture allows for a dip without the fear of unsightly
flopping. A delicious tradition. There are lots of recipes that
incorporate the famous pink biscuit so it’s a souvenir that travels
One can visit the factory that makes Biscuits Rose de Reims and other
fine regional cookies and cakes. There are guided tours by appointment
and a shop in which to linger.
Magasin Fossier Reims Cathédrale
25 cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet,
Visit the Maison Fossier factory here
That much-mentioned champagne is my next souvenir of Reims. There are
numerous creditable champagne houses here but one of the most accessible is
G.H. Mumm. Its champagnes are available worldwide but it’s a treat to
be able to taste and buy at its place of birth. Mumm has a long
history, being founded in 1827, but is in modern times recognised as
the champagne shaken and showered at the end of Grand Prix racing
events – although I personally consider that wasteful exuberance to be
almost sacrilegious. One can take an informative hour-long Mumm
Champagne cellar tour (by appointment) to learn about the unique
Champagne-making process and to hear the history of the House. The old
and atmospheric cellars hold some 25 million bottles in constantly cool
Choose the ‘Cordon Rouge Experience’ tour with a tasting of the
Champagne house’s signature Cordon Rouge Champagne, or the ‘G.H. Mumm
Experience’ with the cellar tour and tasting of a brace of
cuvées. For a truly outstanding experience there is the ‘En
Noirs and Blancs’ tour where one samples the produce of two very
different grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Visit G.H. Mumm here
Truffles! That’s my third gastronomic souvenir of the region. The most
famous and most eagerly sought are the Champagne truffles. They don’t taste of champagne
but the name refers to the colour which has more of an amber hue than
that of the less interesting white truffles which are also found here.
Auberge des Moissons is an ideal spot to stay and enjoy
this fungus. It’s a comfortable hotel with a truffle centre attached.
One can buy truffles but also learn about them. There is even a chance
to actually go truffle-hunting with Honey the truffle dog and her dad,
the owner of the establishment.
Not only does the truffle centre present the story of truffles but
there is also a cooking school where guests can learn how to prepare
truffles. You will go away with some delicious recipes to make back
home and bragging rights about how you actually witnessed the discovery
of this Black Gold.
So you have hunted, and now it’s time to try truffles in every
imaginable guise and prepared by a professional chef. Auberge des
Moissons has its own restaurant in a converted barn. The menu offers
nibbles, starters, soups, savouries, mains and even desserts that
incorporate the noble truffle. Lots of fine champagnes available to
complete your truffle feast.
Auberge des Moissons
RD3 - 8, Route Nationale
Phone: +33 (0) 3 26 70 99 17
Fax: +33 (0) 3 26 66 56 94
Visit Auberge des Moissons here
Rail fares from London to Reims or Chalons en Champagne start at
£86 standard class return per person.
For bookings and more information, visit here
or call 0844 848 5 848.
For other travel possibilities visit European Waterways here
Learn more about Reims and the region here
The Danna - beachside luxury -
Langkawi, or to give its official title, Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah –
in Malay Langkawi Permata Kedah – Is a
tropical paradise. Its beaches are legendary, its skies mostly blue,
and the sea is mesmerising. Nothing needed apart from a rather smart
hotel. Well, who wants to sleep on a beach, however beautiful?
Langkawi is not just one island but a string of them - an archipelago
of more than 100 islands and all set in the Andaman Sea. The mainland
is just 30 km away but you will not be thinking about that when you are
here. Langkawi, or ‘Island of the reddish-brown eagle’ in Malay, is
Langkawi has several outstanding hotels but perhaps the most iconic is
The Danna with its well-deserved 5 stars. It’s located on Telaga
Harbour and not far away from Burau Bay (or Teluk Burau) on the west
coast of Langkawi Island. The Danna is only 15 minutes (11 km) away
from Langkawi International Airport so there isn’t the prospect of a
nasty, long and hot ride to get there. Your vacation will start almost
as soon as your baggage leaves the carousel.
The Danna stands right next to Telaga Harbour which was built in the
style of a Mediterranean seafront town on gleaming boats
that wouldn’t be out of place in St. Tropez or Nice.
The Danna is sparkling white and with an entrance canopy that would put
the most celebrated London hotels to shame. Its crisply uniformed staff
welcome the guest with cooling drinks and soothing towels, while they
check in seated on sofas in the spacious reception area.
Everything about The Danna is roomy. Public areas have well-spaced easy
chairs in colonial rattan, or cushioned banquettes on which to lounge.
Corridors are wide and open to the warm air of the verdant central
courtyard. There is a fish pond, and trees bring the lush vegetation of
the hotel grounds actually into the building. One might be on the 3rd
floor but there is the perception that one is staying in a bungalow,
albeit a very large white bungalow.
The Danna is polished, pruned, and preened to the highest of standards.
If there was a 6th star then The Danna would have it in its firmament.
The facilities are first class and it boasts the largest pool on the
island, with multiple levels for the enjoyment of both
splashers and lappers. It’s an infinity pool that seems to flow into the
sea just beyond.
The beach here is pristine with white-blond sand. The sea is as warm as
a bath and tempting for a dip on hot afternoons. There are plenty of
loungers and shady pods in which to snuggle with a tall drink and a
good book. One will likely spend the first couple of days just
listening to gentle waves and summoning the energy to turn the page.
The Danna Hotel boasts 125 guest rooms and suites and all of them are
well appointed. They have rich fabrics, dark wood, excellent views of
sea or harbour. There might be a hint of old colonial times but there
is every item of technology that any modern guest might want. If work
isn’t far away then there are three high-tech meeting centres, ideal
for business gatherings of any size.
So you have relaxed in the sun and slept in a sumptuous room and now
you will be ready for food. Planters is the
largest of several restaurants at The Danna and is on the ground floor,
overlooking the swimming pool. It’s open every morning for a legendary
champagne breakfast which will have guests lingering over both Asian and
European items such as Chinese noodle soups and American doughnuts.
The ambiance changes for dinner. Lights are low and the restaurant is
calm with menus being pored over and conversation turning from the
day’s activities, or lack thereof, to the dishes on offer. The
menu presents a wide array of both Malaysian and European specialities
but I can highly recommend the local selection. Try the Malay Platter
that will give a taste of this vibrant cuisine. Everything is fresh and
of the best quality.
Yes, Planters is rather formal on most nights but each week there is a
barbecue buffet with a huge spread of dishes, both Eastern and Western,
on which to graze. Entertainment on those evenings is provided by the
staff. These young men and women dress in national and regional
costumes and perform traditional dances to the delight of enthusiastic
and camera-toting crowds.
Strait’s & Co. is a small casual restaurant located on the ground
floor and is totally different. It’s colonial but in brighter tones
with a floor of, possibly, Portuguese tiles and the ambiance of a
tearoom. That’s perfectly apt as they really do offer
afternoon tea here as well as snacks and light meals. This is the place
to find a reviving cuppa and a cake.
The Verandah is stunning. It’s actually a lounge with elegantly high
ceilings, pillars and a proper bar. This is, without a doubt, the spot
for a pre-dinner cocktail or a pre-beddybys nightcap. There is a list
of house cocktails here that are unmissable and at extremely reasonable
prices. A few of them contain fruit so at least you can feel noble
while enjoying some of the best drinks on the island.
The Spa here is popular and offers a comprehensive menu of treatments
and therapies. The massages include Traditional Malay Urut (soft-tissue
manipulation), Aromatherapy Massage and Traditional Balinese Massage.
There are The Body Scrub Treatments and The Body Wrap Treatments, a
Romantic Bath or Cleopatra’s Milk Bath. There is Spa Care for Hands and
Feet, along with Luxury Facial Treatments. All this isn’t just for the
women of the party: there is also a Gentlemen’s Facial and kid’s spa
The Danna is one of the best hotels in Asia. It lacks nothing but shows
a contemporary take on the best of colonial design, the most refined of
local cuisine and an opportunity to unwind in the most comfortable of
surroundings. Every aspect of The Danna is generous and memorable.
The Langkawi International Airport is one of 7
international airports in Malaysia and connects the
island to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Penang and also Subang.
Learn more about The Danna here
The Danna Hotel
Telaga Harbour Park
Phone: 604 959 3288
Singapore Airlines offers numerous flights and connections to Langkawi.
Learn more here
The Sparkle of
Vilmart & Cie
The Champagne house Vilmart & Cie was founded in 1890
by Désiré Vilmart and is considered by many an authority
to be perhaps the leading producer of quality Champagne in the region
of Northern France which bears the same name as this celebratory
beverage. It’s an area of many fine bottles but some consider Vilmart
to be the best and I am not arguing.
Time has passed since the Champagne house was founded. There has been a
succession of family members who have taken care of this great
Champagne company. The responsibility has passed to sons, and sons of
sons, and to sons-in-law, with each generation adding something to the
story. Laurent Champs is the present owner and Champagne Master. He
received his Viticulture Professional Certificate, Oenology and
Viticulture Technical Certificate, and Superior Certificate of Oenology
and Viticulture at the University of Champagne in Avize. This man has
impeccable pedigree and credentials.
Vilmart owns 11 hectares or so of vineyards in and near the village of
Rilly-la-Montagne. The vineyards are planted with around 60% Chardonnay
and 40% Pinot Noir. They do not call themselves organic but they have a
commendable ethos and don’t use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or
insecticides. All vineyards that Vilmart sources from are of either
Grand Cru or 1er Cru status.
The harvest takes place one hundred days after flowering, around the
middle of September, and every bunch is picked by hand in order to
ensure that only the best quality grapes are used and that damage is
kept to a minimum. Pickers have roughly a three-week period in which to
harvest the fruit as beyond that point the grapes will start to
deteriorate on the vines. Sometimes as much as 40% of the crop is
deemed unsuitable and sold on to other producers, such are the rigorous
standards at Vilmart.
The next step is pressing the precious grapes and Vilmart continues its
duty of care by using a cool and gentle
process in a fairly old machine which extracts the juice in two steps.
During this stage the must (the fresh grape juice) drips
into small tanks. The juice is left to settle for a day to allow the
solids and liquid to separate. The juices are then pumped into large
oak barrels. Most of the barrels are already aged, but in some cases new
barrels are used. The ranks of large and small barrels hint at the
artisanal quality of the wine to come. With casks that look like mellow
furniture the wine is bound to be good. It’s a testament to the
attention paid to winemaking at every step. No corners are cut at
Vilmart and it’s that dedication that has grown their enviable
Second alcoholic fermentation is what gives champagne its fizz. Natural
yeasts transform sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (the bubbles in
the glass) and this happens inside the bottle. Carbon dioxide is
trapped, converting still wine into sparkling wine. After a week of
resting, the sediment from the used yeast settles in the bottles. They
are stacked in the riddling racks and turned twice a day by highly
skilled men with strong wrists. This process slowly moves the sediment
to the bottle neck.
Dégorgement is the dramatic art of getting the sediment out of
the bottle while leaving as much wine as possible inside. The bottle
necks are dunked in freezing brine. Turning the bottle upright and
releasing the cork expels the sediment, and then a mixture of sugar and
wine called "liqueur de dosage" is added to give each wine its "brut"
(dry) or "demi-sec" (semi-dry) style. The bottles are then sealed with
their traditional corks and metal cages. The bottles are then allowed
to mature in the Vilmart cellars which are in themselves a thing of
beauty: racks of bottles at different stages of maturation along with
riddling racks full of wine and sediment still resting. Bottles wait
here from 3 to 4 years for non-vintage wines and from to 5 to 7 years
for vintage wines.
I don’t consider myself an expert in wine and definitely not an
authority on Champagne but it will likely be evident to any visitor to
Vilmart that the Champagnes produced here are of superior quality.
Grapes are treated with respect and the end result speaks for itself.
Champagne Vilmart & Cie
BP4 - 5 rue des Gravières
51500 Rilly la Montagne
Phone: 33 3 26 03 40 01
Fax: 33 3 26 03 46 57
From Monday to Friday, 9am to 12am and 2pm to 5.30pm
Fares from London to Reims or Chalons en Champagne start at £86
standard class return per person.
For bookings and more information, visit here
or call 0844 848 5 848.
For other travel possibilities visit European Waterways here
Learn more about Reims and the region here
Rijsttafel in The Hague
I love The Netherlands and am an unashamed
supporter. It’s an oft-disregarded tourist destination even though it’s
easy to get to from London. Short breaks are more usually taken in
Paris or Berlin. That’s a shame as Dutch cities offer history,
architectural charm and delicious food. Yes, dear reader, that
statement isn’t an affectation of a rampant auto-correction error.
The Hague is a refined and beautiful city with a wealth of high-end
dining options. One can eat relatively cheaply on local specialities but there is
also a style of dining that one is unlikely to find elsewhere. I refer
to the celebrated Rijsttafel which is hardly known outside The
Netherlands, but it has nothing to do with cheese or herrings. This
array of dishes has its birth in faraway Indonesia.
Dutch Indonesian cuisine has its roots in the former
Dutch colonies of the East Indies which became Indonesia.
It was brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials and exiled
Indonesia gained its independence in 1945. The rijsttafel
remained popular with those returning Dutch families. Ironically, when
Indonesia became independent, nationalism increased and Dutch colonial
traditions, including the rijsttafel, were largely swept away and it
has almost entirely disappeared from Indonesia’s own restaurants.
Dutch cuisine, in general, has been much influenced by other cultures
and their foods. Holland headed the lucrative international spice trade
in the 17th century. This wasn’t just one-way traffic as the colonists
also introduced coffee to Indonesia, and in fact Indonesia was the
first country outside Arabia and Ethiopia to grow coffee.
The Dutch feast, the rijsttafel, is a marriage of Indonesian dishes
and, if one believes some explanations, Dutch frugality. I was told by
an Indonesian, although with a twinkle in his eye, that the spread of
multiple dishes, the ‘rice table’, was a way of using up the leftovers
from meals of previous days. I am not entirely convinced by that
explanation as I would think the tropical heat and lack of a good
fridge in those days would make eating lingering meaty plates a little
The Hague has many good Indonesian restaurants and one of those is
Blauw, part of a small chain, which offers smart casual dining on a
full menu of individual Indonesian dishes as well as the iconic
rijsttafel, an extravaganza that is best shared with others, who should
come with a sense of culinary adventure and big appetites. A feast at
Blauw is memorable and spectacular. The dishes are varied, attractive
and delicious giving a gastronomic overview of the food and spices of
The meat and fish selection consists of Chicken Satay which is an
unmissable classic, Goat Satay, Turmeric Beef, Spicy Beef, Sweet Soy
Pork, Meat-Potato Pastry, Spicy Fried Potatoes, Spicy Shrimp, Shrimp
Satay, Fish Curry, Fish in Soy sauce, Steamed Fish, Vegetables with
Peanut Sauce, Roasted Coconut, Sweet-Sour Cucumber, Fried Banana, Tofu
in Soy Sauce, Egg in Sambal Sauce, Vegetables with Coconut Sauce. That
should surely be enough to sate the healthiest of appetites. All the
above are served with White Rice and Fried Rice which should be eaten
with small portions of the spicy dishes. No need to pile your plate but
rather choose a little of this and that, keeping the various curries
and satays separate to enjoy their individual and distinctive flavours.
Non-meat eaters are not forgotten at Blauw as there is also an
equally-sizeable vegetarian option.
Discovering food and drink is such a big part of travel. It’s even more
exciting when those discoveries are so unexpected and exotic. The Hague
is home to embassies and head offices of international companies. The
population of this grand city expect the best and it’s easy to find.
Blauw offers the style of meal over which to linger along with
discerning friends who will appreciate the rich tapestry of flavours
and colours. Order the rijsttafel at Blauw for a meal that you will be
talking about long after you return home.
2585 AB ’s Gravenhage
Visit Blauw here
Learn more about other destinations in The
Bel & The Dragon Godalming
The town of Godalming is situated in the countryside in
southern England but not far from London. Its narrow streets are lined
with many historic buildings. It’s a town with history.
The name means "of the clan of Godhelm", and the Saxon settlement of
Godalming was first recorded in the will of King Alfred the Great of
Wessex, in AD 899. William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086
mentions this as a sizable village with watermills which played an
important part in the prosperity of the town. From medieval times
Godalming became a centre for the manufacture of woollen cloth. The
success of the industry reached its peak during the reign of Elizabeth
Bel & The Dragon, Godalming, is part of a high-end hospitality
chain in this charming and historic county of Surrey. The name of this
restaurant is taken from Bible and mythology, involving Daniel, the
priests of a pagan god, and that dragon that seems to crop up
frequently in European fairy-tales!
The building is a strikingly beautiful former Congregational church
built in the 1800s, and the imposing architecture has been tastefully
restored and woven into the new and thoroughly harmonious design where
appropriate – although the chef won’t be
serving soup from the font. The upper floor has long refectory tables
and the original stained glass windows still remain, creating a unique
ambiance for group dining. The restaurant with its high ceilings and
gallery presents a number of areas for both eating and drinking, and
there is the possibility of barbecues on the terrace during the summer.
Group head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe has created a series of menus for
regular visitors as well as those attending the popular Supper Clubs,
which are held on the aforementioned gallery. It’s British cuisine
here, with a focus on local and fresh produce. The open kitchen allows
diners to watch the theatre of food preparation. It’s better than TV.
Dining is smart/casual but the dishes remain thoughtful, delicious and
often whimsical. The beef here is outstanding and the side dishes are
vibrant using quality, sustainable ingredients.
Bel & The Dragon Godalming is part of a chain but you would never
guess. This restaurant has style, imagination and great individuality.
The food admirably fits the location which works for those looking for
great British cuisine as well as those dropping by for a
drink. The management evidently prize unique buildings and are
sympathetic in their refurbishing. This is a joy.
Restaurant opening hours
Monday – Saturday Lunch: 12 noon - 3pm
Dinner: 6pm - 10pm
Sunday: 10am - 9pm
Bel & The Dragon
Phone: 01483 527 333
Visit Bel & The Dragon Godalming here
Located on Trafalgar Square in the centre of London, The
Strand Dining Rooms offer all-day dining in smart and inviting
fashion. The dining rooms are open for breakfast, morning coffee,
lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre dinner and dinner. They have a focus
on British cuisine with a nod to Europe and even, periodically, the
days of the Raj.
Trafalgar Square has long been a magnet for tourists from home and
abroad. From the 14th to the late 17th century, much of the area was
the courtyard of the Great Mews stabling, which served Whitehall
Palace, but in the early 18th century the mews were demolished. In 1812
the architect John Nash designed an open square in the Kings Mews
opposite Charing Cross. He wanted the square to be a cultural space,
open to the public. In 1830 it was officially named Trafalgar Square
after the victory of Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Work began on the National Gallery in 1832 and a decade or so later
Nelson’s Column, designed by William Railton, was erected. In 1845 the
fountains were built, based on designs thought to be by Sir Charles
Barry. They are the target for New Year revellers who, in the past,
would take a midnight dip. The granite statue of Nelson was sculpted by
E. H. Baily, and stands on a bronze platform made from old guns from
the Woolwich Arsenal Foundry.
The Strand Dining Rooms are timeless and refined and present casual
fine dining in a location that reeks of pomp and
historic continuity. The décor takes its inspiration from the
interior of a traditional Pullman train coach. It gleams with polished
wood and architectural elements that waft one back a century or so, to
a time when the pace of life was slower. This is, for me at least, a
Wild mushrooms, and a generous portion of them, was my guest’s starter.
It’s the season for them and they are a treat for those of us who like
the delicate and savoury flavour. These were simply served on
toast and needed no other garnish.
Cornish fish soup, toast and garlic mayo was my silky and luxurious
start. There is something decadent about a good fish soup. This one was
a melange of mild fish and shellfish and presented in the fashion of a
French bouillabaisse with its accompaniments.
My companion took advantage of the game season and ordered partridge.
He pronounced this to be flavourful and moist but not over-gamey.
Partridges are little birds and so often cooked to a texture of
leather. The Strand Dining Rooms showed respect and culinary skill.
Although the core of the menu is British there is a distinct nod to
mainland Europe. Pork schnitzel served with a fried egg, capers and
anchovies was my main plate of the evening. This might sound, to the
untutored, a right strange mixture but each element is there for a
reason, the total being more than the sum of the component parts, so to
speak. The slice of breaded meat was big enough to overhang the edge of
the plate and there was lemon to squeeze over. The pork was topped with
an egg with still-runny yolk which bathed the meat like a sauce. The
capers gave a briny note but the anchovies added a rich saltiness which
was a foil to the fried fare. This is a must-try at The Strand Dining
Figs garnished with ice cream was my guest’s simple yet seasonal
dessert. These are abundant at this time of year so take advantage of
them and, as at The Strand Dining Rooms, use in a delicious dessert, or
bake with prosciutto.
The Strand Dining Rooms is perfect in its noteworthy location. The food
showcases some of the best British dishes in the capital. Trafalgar
Square might be a Mecca for visitors but the menu here offers authentic
British fare, and there is something for every taste. We once had a
deservedly bad reputation for our cooking but those days have passed
and The Strand Dining Rooms holds its head high amongst London
restaurants of any ethnic hue.
Lunch and Dinner times:
Monday – Saturday 12 noon – 11pm
Sunday 12 noon – 4pm
The Strand Dining Rooms
Grand Buildings - Trafalgar Square
Booking enquiries: 020 7930 8855
Visit The Strand Dining Rooms here
We love to travel, and a stay at a good hotel is always a
treat but it’s hard to find that home-from-home feeling. We long for
the flexibility of our own kitchen and a sense that we have our own
front door. There is a solution for this dilemma, in the UK at least.
You can have your very own apartment which still has the amenity of a
hotel but with choices.
Apple Apartments has six properties across the UK and is
continuing to grow nationally as well as internationally. They have
staff who recognise the needs of their international clients and so
they speak languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German,
Mandarin Chinese, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian. They have
recently been awarded a 5-star rating for Apple Apartments Aberdeen by
the Scottish Tourism Board, the only serviced apartments provider in
the area to receive such an accolade.
One of Apple’s London apartment complexes is on the Strand in the
centre of the city and that neighbourhood has a long history. The name
Strand was first recorded in 1002 as Strondway. It is the Old English
word meaning shore. It referred to the bank of the once much wider
River Thames, before the construction of the Victoria Embankment which
runs parallel to the road.
The Strand was the very centre of Victorian theatreland and nocturnal
entertainment of every kind. But redevelopment of the East Strand and
the construction of the Aldwych and Kingsway roads in the 1890s and
early years of the 20th century finished many theatres.
The Strand was rebuilt and it became a sought-after location, with many
writers and philosophers taking up residence. Charles Dickens and
William Makepeace Thackeray were just two of them. These days the
Strand is peppered with High Commissions and HQs. Australia House,
Coutts – the bankers to nobility, the Royal Courts of
Justice and Zimbabwe House are all here, along with
Simpson’s-in-the-Strand which has been around since 1828 and Twinings’
tea room which goes even further back to 1706.
The Apple apartments are in the famous Marconi House, previously home
to the original BBC radio studios. It’s from here that the BBC made its
first radio broadcast in November 1922, using a transmitter actually
built by Marconi.
The façade of the original building remains but gone are the
dusty offices. The reception area is a vision of dark marble. The
corridors are wide and each door has bespoke illumination. Crisp and
smart design and contemporary.
These apartments offer open-plan living with everything for a short or
long stay. The kitchen is small but is equipped with high-end
appliances and a dishwasher. You might not want to cook your Christmas
dinner here but it’s more than adequate for simple pasta and rice
dishes and there is a dining area to tempt one into staying home for
the evening. There are bookshelves for those who might be here
for a while, inviting the guest to customize the accommodation with
their own possessions.
This apartment is not short on technology for work and play. The living
room has a plasma television of a size appropriate for a small cinema.
There is a touch pad control system with integrated Airplay, mood
lighting and climate control. There is an iPod dock, Nexus Tablet
device with browsing and integrated touch pad control system, and WiFi.
This is perhaps better than a home from home.
The bathroom has an AquaVision shower television for morning stock
market news and there is a 24-hour concierge. Round-the-clock room
service is provided by ME Hotel for those who want to forego the
pleasures of self-catering, and daily apartment servicing is included.
Complimentary apples are a whimsical and healthy addition. The
accommodation that we reviewed was a single-bedroom apartment. The soft
furnishings are neutral and there is ample closet and drawer space and
a washing machine discreetly tucked away. One unpacks with pleasure and
the expectation of immersion in London city life flowing just outside
the front door, with an Apple apartment as a handy bolt-hole.
The Apple apartments at the Strand are bijou and comfortable. The
location is superb, being so near bus routes and Underground stations
and a non-ending stream of black cabs. Nearby attractions include
Covent Garden with its numerous restaurants, The Royal Opera House,
Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The National
Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and the River Thames. This is an
ideal business and tourist nest.
Apple Apartments - The Strand
Learn more about Apple Apartments here
Bird of Smithfield
Sounds like a family butchers which might have been
trading for a brace of centuries. It is, in fact, a newish restaurant
but right next to Smithfield Market, which has a much longer history.
Smithfield Market or, more officially, London Central Markets, is the
largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the largest in
Europe. It’s found within the Square Mile of the City of London and
it’s housed in three imposing listed buildings not far from Barbican
and St Paul’s Cathedral. There has been a livestock market on this site
for over 800 years and it has remained in continuous operation since
Since the late 1990s Smithfield has become more of
a social hub and has developed a reputation with City types who
frequent its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Bird of Smithfield
joined the ranks of those local hospitality establishments a couple of
years ago and is already a destination restaurant of character.
A Georgian-style townhouse has been transformed into Bird of
Smithfield, Alan Bird’s restaurant featuring contemporary British
cuisine. These labyrinthine premises boast two bars, a rooftop terrace,
a private dining room and a restaurant, all this covering five floors.
Bird has eclectic design. There are still original features but the
décor is a melange of tasteful retro with hints of earlier ages.
The first-floor restaurant sports a mirrored ceiling which adds drama.
Plenty of neutral colours on soft furnishings, with vibrancy from
The menu isn’t huge but I don’t think it needs to be. There are
traditional dishes and some with a twist but all just right for this
location. Guests seem to be after-hours city workers, although I dream
of an early morning tour of the historic market followed by breakfast
at Bird’s. Or perhaps a few hours wandering the uplifting environs of
St Paul’s, with lunch at Bird’s.
Smoked Mackerel and Crab Paté garnished with boiled egg with
creamy yolk was my starter, although in reality we had scoffed the
small loaf of freshly baked bread and generous pat of butter as our
pre-starter-starter. The crab was delicate and the associated salad was
fresh and light.
Herb and London Gin-cured Salmon was my guest’s starter and it was a
substantial portion of mild-cured fish. Salmon was once common in the
Thames; gin has long been associated with London and was the downfall
of many a citizen at a time when the water could kill you. This dish is
a culinary archive and delicious too.
Traditional Cod and Chips with tartare sauce and mushy peas was my main
dish. Yes, more fish, and just outside a meat market but it’s
associated with Britain just as much as is roast beef. This plate
defeated me: it was a considerable portion of well-battered fish that
seemed more steamed in its crunchy casing than fried in oil. Golden and
not at all greasy, this is a must-try, especially for tourists. I am a
great supporter of the local fish and chip shop but they are few and
far between these days and they are of variable quality, but Bird’s do
this classic every bit as well as the white-tiled emporiums of yore.
And those peas truly are meant to be that way and they are a comforting
garnish to the perfect chips. Please don’t ask for ketchup - it just
Alan’s Shepherd’s Pie was my guest’s main course and it’s a signature
dish of the aforementioned chef/owner Alan
Bird. This had a well-textured and flavourful lamb meat filling, with a
decorative piped mashed potato topping. There was a small serving of
peas but this hearty eater needed a side, and buttered spinach was a
good choice. The only complaint was that the meat element could have
been more generous. Perhaps that’s just an illustration of the degree
of enjoyment expressed by the diner.
Plum and Sherry Trifle is another very English offering. This was an
individual serving of fruit, jelly, custard and cream. Another hefty
helping so if you are modest eaters you might want to split one. If you
are a dessert aficionado then perhaps forego the loaf of bread on
Bird of Smithfield is unique. It offers authentic British food,
well-presented and no distracting frills. I was impressed with my meal
and also with the quality of the service, which had more in common with
fine, rather than smart/casual, dining. Birds is a must if you work in
the City or are visiting. If they keep an eye on standards then this
could become an institution.
8.00 am – 12 midnight Monday to Friday,
12 noon – 12 midnight Saturday
Closed on Sundays
Bird of Smithfield
26 Smithfield Street
London EC1A 9LB
Phone: 020 7559 5100
Visit Bird of Smithfield here
Tree for Regional Thai Cuisine
The Mango Tree Thai restaurant is a stone’s throw from
Buckingham Palace. A stone’s throw in this case isn’t estate agent
speak for a couple of miles away. The Palace’s garden wall is just
across the road and literally a stone’s throw away, although to do such
a thing might likely result in the cartographic speculator being run in
by the constabulary.
This is smart Belgravia. Most of the area
was originally owned by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquis of Westminster,
who had it developed in the early 1800s. The area takes its name from
one of the Duke of Westminster’s other titles, Viscount Belgrave. The
village of Belgrave, Cheshire, is just a short distance from the
Grosvenor family’s main country seat of Eaton Hall. Belgravia became
one of London’s most expensive residential areas and is now home to
many embassies. Any restaurant here would need to be noteworthy.
This wasn’t my first visit to Mango Tree. I have enjoyed numerous
dinners and also a Sunday lunch or two here. It’s a large but airy
restaurant with a cosy bar at the entrance. Exotic cocktails might
entice the diner to linger but there are equally engaging treats in the
restaurant, which has been designed with consideration of the theory of
But there is a very contemporary accolade for Mango Tree. It’s been
immortalised by J.K. Rowling in her latest crime novel ‘Silkworm’. Two
of the characters are discussing another restaurant and one of them, we
assume with the more refined palate, says ‘It’s not the Mango Tree, but
it’s all right.’
Thai cuisine often demonstrates more subtle spicing than many dishes of
the sub-continent, but its land mass and geography has allowed Thai
regions to develop their own culinary style, and Mango Tree has a new
Regional Menu that allows diners to taste dishes with which they might
be less familiar. It’s an inspired notion and a delicious education.
For the purposes of this special bill of fare, Thailand has been
divided into North, North East, South and Central areas. A starter and
a main dish from each region are available and they are as diverse as
they are tempting. They are recognised as being rich and mild flavours
from the North, spicy foods from the East, mild dishes influenced by
Chinese cuisine from the Central region, and hot and robust plates from
North Region Namprik Ong was the first of our starters.
Minced prawn and chilli with sweet and sour ripened tomato sauce is
served with fresh vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, iceberg lettuce,
French beans, small Thai aubergines and crispy pork crackers. This
classic, spicy dipping sauce confection is from the Chiang Mai area and
is often included as part of the spread for celebrations. This is a
build-your-own starter and ideal for sharing. The chilli is flavoursome
rather than being overpowering.
Central Region Kiew Kai Tod was our second starter – deep-fried quail
eggs wrapped in wonton sheet, served with spicy sweet chilli sauce were
crispy morsels. That sauce is an essential part of the dish. These
little egg kebabs would be a wonderful accompaniment to those
North Region Khao Soi was the first main dish to share - noodles cooked
with coconut milk with legs of chicken, chilli oil, coriander, lime and
red onion. This is a Burmese-influenced dish served widely in northern
Laos and northern Thailand but with many variations. Mango Tree offers
a refined soup with well-balanced flavour and light texture. If you
like the more ubiquitous Massaman curry then you will love this.
North Eastern Region Sea Bass Moke was our other sharing plate - baked
sea bass fillet with traditional North Eastern Thai herbs, lemongrass,
galanga, garlic, lime leaf, fresh dill, sweet basil, and oyster and
fish sauces. This is another luxurious celebratory dish and well worth
ordering. The fish was succulent and beautifully presented, wrapped in
leaves and wafting aromatic steam.
Mango Tree has never failed me. It continues to tick boxes for quality,
freshness and elegance. The location is ideal for both locals and
visitors alike. It’s near a host of tourist attractions but in a calmer
spot. This is a restaurant which can boast regular diners as well as
those who are newly intrigued by its literary celebrity. Those folks
might initially come as it’s an evident favourite of Harry Potter’s
mum, but they will return, as it will have become a favourite of theirs.
The traditional Taste of Thailand menu will run from 15th September
until 15th November. To book email email@example.com
46 Grosvenor Place
Phone: 020 7823 1888
Fax: 020 7838 9275
Visit Mango Tree here
Princess, the Palace and the Painter
OK, so I have lied and we are only into the first paragraph! The
Princess, the Palace and the Painter is an intriguing title with almost
fairy-tale charm. All the characters are real, although the Painter was
actually an Artist, but that didn’t begin with a ‘P’.
The story is set in The Hague in the Netherlands with a queen who was
born in Germany. Emma was a princess of the principality of
Waldeck-Pyrmont. The family was connected, as all European noble
families seem to be, to the British monarchy and others. Her brother,
Friedrich, was the last reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont and her
sister, Helena Frederica, became the wife of Prince Leopold, Duke of
Albany, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Emma’s marriage in 1879 to the elderly William III, King of Holland,
was considered a marriage of convenience as he was 40 or so years her
senior. William’s first wife had died two years before. He had a
bad reputation as "the greatest debauché of the age" and had
already been rejected by Emma’s sister Pauline and by Princess Thyra of
William wished to be succeeded by a son. He had three with his first
wife but they had passed away before their father. However, it was a
daughter who arrived and eventually became Queen Wilhelmina. She was
only ten years old when her father died, leaving Emma as Regent till
Wilhelmina reached her majority.
Queen Emma became extremely popular, in contrast to her late husband.
She is said to have saved the Dutch monarchy and been the cornerstone
of its strength in modern times. She lived in many palaces but bought
Lange Voorhout Palace in 1896 as her winter home.
In 1760, Pieter de Swarte had designed a house on the Lange Voorhout
for the mayor of the Friesian town Sloten. The building was purchased
in 1796 by Archibald Hope who was a financier of the European nobility.
Queen Emma bought the building with the legacy from her brother-in-law
Prince Hendrik. She evidently thought the old house needed updating as
she had it extensively remodelled before, in 1901, taking up residence after the
marriage of her daughter Queen Wilhelmina.
These days the palace can be visited by anyone interested in
architecture as well as art, for it is now also a gallery. We can see
the celebrated staircase up to the first floor with its copper rail
that in the time of Queen Emma had to be polished each week by Royal
command. Only three people could use those ornate stairs: her majesty
and her two most trusted ladies-in-waiting. The servants had to use the
staircase that runs behind the walls and this is still used by visitors
today. Queen Emma converted the garden room into a ballroom, she added
stained glass and a bathroom with hot water.
This building was not only the Winter Palace of Queen Emma, but also
the working palace for the Princesses Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix.
There was a famous and much-photographed tradition of hand-waving by
the Royal Family on the balcony at the front of the building. The
family sold the building to the local authority of The Hague on
condition that it would only be used for cultural activities – and
that’s where the artist comes into view.
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) is one of the world’s most famous
graphic artists. His works are recognised by millions of people across
the globe – one might not know his name but he created so-called
impossible constructions, such as Ascending and Descending, Relativity,
Transformation Prints, the Metamorphosis series, and many more works
that intrigue and provoke thought.
Escher’s other works are less familiar but are, in my opinion, just as
striking and they show a more traditional face of this multi-talented
native of The Netherlands. He produced beautiful and much more
realistic pieces when he lived and travelled in Italy. He made 448
lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and
sketches. He illustrated books, designed tapestries, murals and postage
Escher in Het Paleis (Escher at the Palace) is a permanent exhibition
dedicated to this unique artist. It is the only public building in The
Hague where the original royal ambience of a palace has been preserved,
making this a must-see for any discerning visitor to the town. There
are over 150 prints and a changing selection of graphic art and tessellations. The
centrepiece of the exhibition is the 7-meters long Metamorphosis III.
The exhibits are displayed in rooms decorated in classic fashion with
whimsical glass chandeliers which are in themselves noteworthy.
Maurits Cornelis Escher would, I don’t doubt, approve of this home for
his life’s work. The fabric of the building offers an insight into a
bygone age of elegance and refinement, and Emma’s journey will
fascinate those who follow European Royalty. The palace offers visitors
art and history in a fashion that will be enjoyed by every member of
the family, who will each take away something a little different from
this delightful experience.
Learn more about Queen Emma, Maurits Cornelis Escher and the Palace here
Lange Voorhout 74
2514 EH Den Haag
Phone:+31 70 427 7730
Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond
Oz Clarke is always entertaining in a roguish kind of way.
He has graced our TV screens and our airways for several decades and
his books are a paper representation of his wine adventures.
This is a man who has indeed enjoyed wine and that joie de vivre comes
through in this book. Oz leads us on his personal odyssey through styles of wine, bottles of wine
and memories of wine. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus
to Bordeaux and Beyond is a collection of anecdotes with wine and its
history at the core – and a fascinating story it is.
This is just the kind of book an enthusiastic wine lover would include
on a wish-list for Christmas. It’s a tome with which to snuggle,
perhaps in front of a yule-log fire. That aforementioned sipper will be
charmed by Oz’s conversational style, but this man also educates in a
most palatable fashion.
Wine snobbery has long been with us. It has served to alienate many of
us who would like to know more. Granted, we might remember the name of
a couple of favourite bottles but confront us with a stiff and starchy
sommelier and the resolve to order with confidence evaporates like the
angel’s share in a chilly cellar. This book might not direct you to a
particular bottle, grape, or vintage but it will give reassurance and
encourage a bit of conversation between you and the sommelier, whose
mission should be to serve both you and the wine.
Oz has a broad love of all things viticultural and that includes such
oddities as Retzina and wine boxes – they are mentioned under the date
section 1965 in Oz’s chronological listings, to give historical
context. Mateus is included, and dated 1942, although it was the wine
of (very little) choice in the 1970s, being prized as much for its
bottle shape as its contents.
Everything you ever wanted to know about wine labels, screw caps,
prohibition, synthetic corks, marketing and bottling is all here. The
History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond is
my bedtime companion and will remain so till I reach the last delicious
sip, the last jolly quip and the last grapey musing. It’s a winner.
The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond
Author: Oz Clarke
Published by: Pavilion Books
Grapes & Wines - A
comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours
First published as Oz Clarke’s Encyclopaedia of Grapes, Oz
Clarke’s new Grapes & Wines, with Margaret Rand, is revised and
updated to present
the wine lover with the best information on a comprehensive selection
of grapes and the wines associated with them.
Oz Clarke has become a household name. He oft graces our TV screens and
has written a shelf-load of books on wine. This particular volume might
well act as an indispensable handbook for those of us who don’t know
much about wine and don’t even know enough to ask about what we don’t
Seventeen classic grape varieties are covered in depth, with another
fifteen major grapes also discussed in some detail. Oz touches upon
more than three hundred grape varieties in total, categorized from
Abouriou to Zinfandel.
This is a book that will help to demystify wine. Each section is a
one-stop-shop for information on the specifics of each grape
variety. The chapters on the classic grape varieties are
outstanding, with pages of historical context, terroir, taste profiles,
countries growing particular grapes, and also notes on the most
celebrated producers, as well as how to enjoy each wine at its best.
Grapes & Wines - A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and
Flavours is a book to give confidence to the beginner or
non-professional wine enthusiast. It will be a must-have for anyone
lucky enough to go on a wine tour, and gives the home wine buyer a few
ideas for wines that will fit their personal taste. It’s great value
for money and is bound to become a best-seller. It’s beautifully
presented with illustrations, photographs, maps and diagrams, making
this book truly gift-quality.
Title: Grapes & Wines
Authors: Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand
Published by: Pavilion Books
The Rib Room – for more than ribs
The food scene in London has changed so much over the past couple of
decades. We have moved away from that
shocking reality of poor quality, few interesting options and culinary
apathy. We have some of the world’s best restaurants, the most vibrant
international dishes and a huge panorama of choices.
A few years ago no self-respecting food-lover would ever admit to
eating in a hotel – well, only if it was a smart one and then only for
breakfast. We have moved on from that concept of hotels not trying with
their gastronomic facilities. We all remember those lunches in dining
areas that still had a whiff of a Full English about them. Gone are the
days, mostly, when a dinner in one’s hotel was the last resort of the
The Rib Room is the dining room at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, not too far
from Harrods. Yes, it’s on the ground floor of a newish hotel building
but this is a classy and classic restaurant that shouts quality. It’s a
polished and refined establishment which stops short of intimidating.
The staff are friendly and helpful to a lunch crowd who are mostly
Ladies Wot Lunch, with a scattering of businessmen. It’s a quiet and
comfortable meeting place with the advantage of marvellous food at hand.
The dining room is bathed in dappled light from colonially-shuttered
windows. There are well-spaced chairs and cosy banquettes. The tables are bedecked with crisp white
linen and silverware in elegant fashion but the menu tempts with both
the familiar and the unique. The Rib Room has its beefy signature dish
The menu has seasonal changes which take advantage of abundant fresh
produce. My visit was in August so a corn and crab broth was on the
bill of fare. This was a light and creamy soup with fresh shellfish. A
delightful presentation and appropriate for a day when the sun beamed
through the windows looking over Cadogan Place. It’s the area which
once was the haunt of the likes of Oscar Wilde (he was arrested at the
Cadogan Hotel near here) and Lillie Langtry.
Summer vegetable salad, goat’s curd and summer truffle dressing was my
guest’s starter. This was a sizable portion of baby vegetables at their
best. There was evidence of real truffle along with tangy and fresh
goat’s curd. Even non-vegetarians would be charmed by this simple and
The main courses offer vegetarian options that don’t seem like a chef’s
afterthought. Bread-wrapped wild mushrooms, onion purée, baby
carrots and garlic velouté sounded interesting and it was. The
bread (or was it a pastry?) formed a crust supporting mushrooms which
had the very essence of wild fungi flavour. The velouté was a
delicious base, being flavourful rather than overpowering. A must-try
here for anyone taking a break from meat.
But it’s roast rib of beef that gives its name to this restaurant and
it’s a worthy signature dish. My guest is a son of
Yorkshire and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the eponymous pud; he
considered his lunch to be ‘reet champion’ in every regard. The beef
was a perfectly cooked 160g slice from a joint selected from Donald
Russell, Royal warrant holder since 1984 and trusted supplier to H.M.
The Queen. A very hearty eater could go for a 220g portion but I’d
recommend that only for a rugby player or for dinner, when there is
more time to savour. Do have the crispy and fluffy roast potatoes here
as they are the traditional accompaniment to such a meal, along with
the aforementioned Yorkshire Pudding.
Prices are very reasonable at The Rib Room at lunchtime. There are some
wines by the glass, 2 courses for £28, 3 courses for £34, 3
courses and half a bottle of wine, water and coffee or tea for
£42.00. One doesn’t have to break the bank to enjoy The Rib Room,
and one feels rather pampered in this charming and timeless restaurant.
The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant
Jumeirah Carlton Tower
One Cadogan Place
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7858 7250
Visit The Rib Room here
Warren House – Kingston
We might be in London for a short holiday. We see the sights,
monuments, museums. We shop till we drop and we are
swept along by throngs of others looking for the same delights of
retail therapy. But there is another vision of England. It’s that
‘green and pleasant land’ of manicured gardens, country houses and
calm. There is just such an idyll and it’s only a short distance from
A magnificent Victorian country house provides a step back in time to a
gentler era where the sound of croquet balls being hit might likely be
the only noise to remind one that there are other people about. Warren
House has history, gentility and charm. Its fabric is original but
there are modern amenities to pacify even the addicted iPhoner or
Warren House is set in landscaped gardens, with facilities for both
commerce and leisure. But this area has been documented for hundreds of
years. Since the Middle Ages the neighbourhood has been on the route
from London to Portsmouth. Kingston Hill was well established
even before Charles I enclosed Richmond Park in 1637. Small estates
were established during the late 18th and early 19th Century, and in
1837 His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of
George III, acquired the seat of the late Earl of Liverpool at Coombe.
The improved road to London brought the City within an hour’s carriage
ride, and the area began to attract the wealthy.
The original Warren House was built in 1860 for Hugh Hammersley on 16
acres of land leased from the Duke of Cambridge. Hammersley was a
partner in the successful London firm Cox and Co, bankers to the
British Army and they must have done very good business. The estate
remained his country retreat until his death in 1882, when it was
bequeathed to his wife Dulcibella, an ancestor of Sir Anthony Eden, a
future Prime Minister.
George Grenfell Glynn, the second Baron Wolverton, purchased the house
and land in 1884 and made additions to both. His wife, Lady Georgiana
Wolverton, was great friends with Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck,
mother of the future Queen Mary, who lived at White Lodge in Richmond
Park. Lady Georgiana continued to live at Warren House until her death
American heiress Lady Mary ‘Minnie’ Paget bought the
freehold of the property in 1907 and regularly entertained the rich and
the powerful at Warren House. Many of the noteworthy features of the
House - the Ballroom, the Persian fireplace, the Italian-style Loggia
and the Winter Garden and its Grotto - were added by the Pagets. Warren
House passed to her daughter, Dame Leila Paget. She was the first
British Dame, honoured for her work with the Red Cross in Serbia during
First World War. She continued this charitable work during the Second
World War when she converted Warren House into a military convalescent
The industrial giant ICI used Warren House as a Conference and Training
Centre until 2000. Since 2005 Warren House has been in private family
ownership, and continues as a fine conference and events facility, but
it’s also an intimate hotel and just perfect for a short break. The
hotel has 46 well-appointed bedrooms, a lounge, a bar, four inside
dining spaces, a fully-equipped cardiovascular gym, a sauna and a
heated indoor swimming pool. Outside is a garden chess set as well as
the aforementioned croquet lawn.
The hotel still sports many original features including a
magnificent carved wooden staircase. One still has the sense of staying
in a private stately home. The rooms have classic décor which
works perfectly with the architecture. Bath/shower rooms are modern and
the toiletries are covetable. Warren House is grand but comfortably
accessible and timeless.
After a tough day sitting in the shade of a tree, playing garden games
or reading a book, one will likely be starving and longing for dinner.
The Persian Dining Room is stunningly beautiful with exotic Eastern
mouldings and a striking fireplace that would be considered a
centrepiece were it not for the fact that it’s in a corner.
The menu is interesting, well-balanced and tempting. My starter was a
smoked haddock scotch egg. In fact there were 2 miniature scotch eggs,
each containing a quail’s egg surrounded by delicately flavoured smoked
fish. My guest’s starter was an equally light and innovative bowl of
grilled courgettes, peas, ricotta mousse and Gremolata sauce. Both
these dishes were flavoursome and very different. The chef was already
showing his credentials.
My companion’s main course sounded interesting and hearty. This was a
substantial serving of confit duck leg with duck liver and pomegranate,
served with spiced aubergine. The leg was cooked to perfection but
those livers were
like butter. I am not normally a lover of anything offally but these
were savoury yet not overpowering in any way. This dish is a must-try
for any meat-lover when they visit Warren House.
But vegetarians are not forgotten and I was intrigued by a cauliflower
steak, cauliflower beignet and crispy couscous. This was a unique
vegetable dish that turned the humble cauli into a triumph of design
and flavour. The slice of vegetable had organic architectural elegance
and the grilling gave additional flavour; the battered vegetables were
moreish and airy. Yes, only a plate of veggies but it was satisfying
My guest has ever been a man ready to sacrifice himself on the altar of
dessert, so he ordered the banana mousse and glazed bananas. The
presentation was attractive with short columns of banana topped with
crunchy caramel, flanking the mousse which had concentrated flavour –
once again the chef showing that simple ingredients can be elevated
into something noble.
We spent just one night at the Warren House hotel but that has acted as
an encouragement to return. The grounds are lush and leafy, the
fountains romantic, the rooms are havens for the weary, and the food is
Take a little time away from the capital on your next trip
to London. Kingston has great public transport connections, and if it’s
an hour away by horse-drawn carriage then you can bet it’s quicker by
train (from Waterloo) or car. There is even a river boat for those who
want extra adventure and have the lightest of luggage. Warren House is
a world away from the usual London hotel chains, and won’t disappoint.
Surrey KT2 7HY
Phone: +44 (0)20 8547 1777
Fax: +44 (0)20 8547 1175
Visit Warren House here
Côte – Dinner in
This is a lovely spot on the River Thames and well
patronised by shoppers during the day and socialisers in the evening.
But despite its modern façade, Kingston has history.
It belonged to the king in Saxon times, as its name suggests, and was
the earliest recorded royal borough. It was first mentioned in
documents as far back as 838 and it lay on the boundary between the
independent kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. Kingston’s historic Market
Place has been a centre of the community since around 1170. Over the
past 800 years it’s been used for the punishment of criminals as well
as the sale of food.
We wanted an evening by the river after a hot summer day. This stretch
of water has inspired books, films and TV. It is where the Victorian
novel Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome has its opening scenes.
The area around Kingston Bridge is now a thriving café and
restaurant neighbourhood, and that’s where we were heading.
Côte’s Brasserie is a branch of a chain but let us
not be sniffy about that. If one didn’t know then one
would think that this restaurant, at least, was just a rather nice
independently-run contemporary space selling French food. Its location
would likely ensure
its popularity for much of the year but the quality of the food will
keep it full for most of the day and for all of the year.
Piquant Mixed Olives - spicy marinated olives with rose harissa, caper
berries and cornichons - were our nibbles as we leafed through the wine
list (many by the glass) and food menu. It’s not a huge bill of fare
but it’s comprehensive and offers a real flavour of France – good
traditional dishes that have had many pontificating with such phrases
as ‘Well, nobody does it like the French’, even when we do!
The Charcuterie Board was my starter and proved to be a substantial
spread of jambon de Savoie, smoked duck breast (outstanding), saucisson
sec and duck rillettes with baby gem salad and chargrilled pain de
campagne on the side. This would constitute a small lunch in some
quarters! Beautifully presented meats.
My guest’s starter was Baked Crottin, traditional goat’s cheese from
the Loire Valley, served warm atop a lamb’s lettuce and apple salad,
walnuts, croutons and sultanas. This is a classic combination with the
tang of the soft cheese contrasted with the sweet fruit.
Traditional Breton fish stew was my main course.
Sea bass was arranged on top of a sizable portion of mussels, clams,
prawns and squid with tomato, white wine and chilli. It was served with
a bit of theatre as the domed lid was removed from the
bowl. Under £14? A remarkable price. It was heavy on the fish
element and has enough delicious broth to make some
French bread an essential mopping-up side dish.
Poulet ‘Breton’ is a speciality here. It’s corn-fed chicken reared in
Brittany in the west of France.
Half Chargrilled ‘Breton’ Chicken served with frites and wild mushroom
sauce made with crème fraîche and thyme was my guest’s
main course. Nothing fancy or too cheffy, just chicken and chips done
right, with the quality of ingredients shining through. The sauce was a
masterful touch and full of earthy flavour from real wild mushrooms.
Chocolate and praline crêpe with caramelised bananas and
crème Chantilly was a shared dessert. This was a delicate finish
to the meal. The pancake was light and the bananas were a delightful
combination of crisp and soft. Very French but with a little exotica.
This was worth waiting for, although the apple tart had sounded
Côte Kingston is both contemporary and traditional. Its food can
be enjoyed by the whole family without breaking the bank. It’s great
value for money but quality had not been sacrificed. Service is
professional and the ambiance is vibrant. Well worth a visit.
Unit 6, Riverside Walk
Kingston Upon Thames
Phone: 020 8546 9422
Visit Côte Kingston here
Le Garrick – Covent Garden
Le Garrick restaurant and wine bar is conveniently located in the heart
of Covent Garden in London’s West End. It’s a little gem and after just
one visit has become my preferred restaurant, my dining establishment
of choice and a place I am almost loathe to promote for fear I won’t
get a table next time.
Their beautiful website gives a little history. Brendon, who owned Le
Garrick for 25 years, has moved on and passed
the baton to Dominika and Charles and they seem to be doing a sterling
job. Le Garrick is the sort of restaurant that one hopes will never
change. It’s a bit like a favourite old uncle who is full of character
and is very ‘individual’.
The ground floor restaurant is small but has the advantage of views of
the bustling historic neighbourhood of Covent Garden. This is
Theatreland and one might spot a famous face from one’s vantage point,
and there is always the chance of having a brace of thespians on the
neighbouring table. It’s that kind of restaurant.
But go downstairs to discover the real charm of Le Garrick. This space
was evidently once a cellar and it still retains alcoves and nooks
which create a restaurant which is, just like that favourite old uncle,
pleasantly eccentric. The ambiance is intimate, the staff are naturally
friendly and the food is simple yet for which to die – French food
which is better here than some restaurants I have visited actually in
La Belle France!
It’s unsurprisingly a traditional French menu with a host of classics
to tempt carnivore and vegetarian alike. It’s the sort of bill of fare
that has any Francophile salivating and any xenophobe admitting that
those French do have a way with food. It’s the kind of menu that has
one promising another visit just to try a little plate of this or a bowl
Escargots de Bourgogne was my starter. Six Burgundy snails (thankfully
without shells which are always so fiddly) cooked in garlic and parsley
butter. The menu says these are a ’must try!’ and they really are. Some
snails can be rather earthy but these were sweet and moreish in a
butter-dripping-off-chin kind of way.
Cassolette de calamar à la plancha au piment d’espelette was my
guest’s starter. That’s pan-seared calamari Basque-style with a
sprinkle of coriander, ginger, and the famous Espelette chilli. These
peppers were introduced into the Basque region of France from the New
World during the 16th century. They’ve got plenty of heat but rich
flavour too. More butter with this dish but I was too busy mopping
those juices to worry about weight-gain. This was memorable and just as
much a ‘must try’ as the aforementioned snails.
Faux Filet with sauce au poivre was my main course. This was a fairly
hefty chargrilled rare-breed rib-eye steak served with fries and
peppercorn sauce. I ordered mine medium rare and it was pink and
flavourful. This is a standard dish of steak and chips but it’s hard to
beat when done well. The wine list here is solid and sensible. A
great selection of wines by the glass, bottle or carafe. The
Côtes du Rhône was just right, alongside my overflowing
plate. Did I mention the generosity of servings here? Petit Pois
Grand-Mère - peas with lardons and baby onions - was hardly
necessary in addition, but those vegetables were fresh and light and
made me feel a bit nobler.
Authentique Cassoulet de Toulouse is the celebrated dish from
south-west France. This was my guest’s choice for main course and
appropriate for a cold and wet English evening. Lingot beans with duck
confit, pork belly and garlicky Toulouse sausage made a substantial
plateful which defeated my companion, who was all for asking for a
doggy bag for the leftovers. Another spot-on dish.
Crème Brulée was our shared dessert but with a little
Canelé by way of garnish. These sweets were the perfect end to
an outstanding meal. Le Garrick is right in every regard. The service
was professional yet fun, the décor added to the discreet
ambiance. The evening is still being talked about and a return is
certain in the very near future.
Le Garrick Restaurant
10-12 Garrick Street
Phone: 020 7240 7649
Visit Le Garrick here.
Roka Brunch – Aldwych
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7294 7636
Visit ROKA Aldwych here
Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial event and an activity
that has endured since the 12th century. The mute swans on part of the
River Thames are caught, weighed, inspected, ringed, and then released.
Centuries ago these birds were eaten and this exercise was game
Swans were regular food in the Tudor age, but legally these days mute
swans are only allowed to be eaten by the Royal Family and by fellows
of St John’s College, Cambridge on 25th June. Their quills were also
used for writing although quills from geese were much more commonly
used – but a swan’s quill was said to last as long as 50 goose quills.
Traditionally, the British Monarch is the owner of all unmarked mute
swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches
of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries in Middlesex,
Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. There is a Royal
Charter which Edward IV passed in 1482 preventing the claim of
ownership of swans by common people. In 2012, because of flooding of
the Thames, Swan Upping was cancelled between Sunbury-on-Thames and
Windsor. It’s thought to be the first time in 900 years that the event
couldn’t take place.
The Keeper of the King or Queen’s Swans was an ancient office in the
Royal Household and was previously called the King or Queen’s
Swanmaster, a position which dates from the 13th century. He was
assisted by three
swanherdsmen during Swan Upping. The title of Keeper was replaced by
two new posts in 1993, Warden of the Swans and Marker of
the Swans. The Queen’s Marker of the Swans still organises Swan Upping
and he monitors the health of the local swan population. The Warden of
the Swans works alongside the Marker of the Swans, a post presently
held by David Barber, and together they conduct the event.
Swan Upping is a colourful occasion and is used as a swan census. It
takes place annually during the third week of July when the Queen’s
‘Worshipful Company of Vintners’ and the ‘Worshipful Company of Dyers’
provide Swan Uppers to row up the river in shallow boats called skiffs.
The first documentary reference to the Vintners owning swans comes from
1509, when the Company’s "Under-Swanherd" was paid 4 shillings (20p) at
the time of the 'great frost' for 'upping the Master’s swans'.
This ownership of the swans is shared between the Royal Household, the
Vintners and the Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the
Crown in the fifteenth century. Swans caught by the Queen’s Swan Uppers
under the direction of the Marker of the Swans are not now marked,
except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for
Ornithology. Those caught by the Dyers and Vintners are identified as
theirs by means of an extra ring on the other leg. Today, only swans
with cygnets are caught and ringed. This gives a yearly overview of how
swans are breeding. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans
would have been marked on the bill with identifiable notches.
Swan Upping is conducted over a week with different stretches of the
river being covered each day. As they row
past Windsor Castle, the Swan Uppers salute "Her Majesty the Queen,
Seigneur of the Swans". The crews of the skiffs have
ceremonial uniforms but for the working element of the job they are
clad in blue, red or white polo shirts and white
trousers rolled up over their ankles. Each boat flies the appropriate
flag for its livery company. When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry
of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position
for a quick capture.
At the completion of Swan Upping each year, The Queen’s Marker of the
Swans produces a report which provides information on the number of
swans accounted for, including broods and cygnets. This enables the
most appropriate conservation methods to be used to protect the swans.
This ancient tradition has taken on a new mantle. The Swan Uppers are
caring for swans, not as a source of food but as a beautiful part of
the picturesque River Thames.
Mele e Pere
This is a little cracker of a restaurant and I am almost
reluctant to publicise it any further for fear that the prices will go
up and the chances of me getting a table will go down!
This is an authentic northern Italian, casual dining restaurant smack
in the middle of the very un-Italian Soho. Its ambiance, style, ethos,
whatever you want to call it, works at this location. In fact I think
it would work anywhere.
Mele e Pere is ranged over two floors with the main restaurant in the
basement level. Its bar is impressive with copper cladding and a shelf
of home-made vermouths enough to help launch any voyage of libation
discovery. Vermouth here is a signature beverage and it would be a
shame not to try one. You can try others on your return, for a return
is almost guaranteed.
We sat at that bar for a while and ordered a bowl of olives to go along
with citrus vermouth made in-house and Byrrh which wasn’t. That’s a
classic vermouth in the traditional herby style of a wine-based
apéritif made of red and fortified wines (mistelle), and
quinine. That quinine might not sound appealing but it’s the key
ingredient in tonic water. But back to the food! Our Ascolana olives
were stuffed with spicy meat, breaded and deep fried. They look
innocent but they pack a chilli punch and are addictive.
The menu here is seasonal and ever-changing. There are plenty of
regulars who will appreciate the new items throughout the year. Fresh
is evidently important at Mele e Pere. I hadn’t realised at the time of
my visit that they make bread, pasta, desserts and ice-creams in their
own kitchen. That isn’t always a recommendation in other restaurants.
The bread was outstanding here. Yes, it’s just a simple thing but it
shows attention to detail. I am hoping the owners will open a bakery
We ordered several starters including that amazing bread and focaccia
along with deep-fried squid rings with smoked aioli and parmesan. The
squid was light and the mayo a delicious foil to the delicate flavour
of the breading and the seafood. But the Parma ham and gnocchi fritti
is a must-try here. The gnocchi fritti were in fact light puffs and
perfect when paired with the savoury ham.
Fresh spaghetti with clams, garlic, chilli and courgettes was my
guest’s main course. He ordered just a small portion, which was still
substantial, and he had that delicious bread for mopping juices. This
was a beautiful and light dish of a good amount of shellfish and that
aforementioned home-made pasta. The strands were eggy yellow and rich.
A green salad alongside was all that was needed.
On this evening the menu offered home-made sausage and courgette –
another substantial plateful. The sausage was seasoned, grilled and
glistening and the sort that wins prizes in butchery competitions. Yes,
it was that good. The sausage was coiled and skewered, the courgette
was split, grilled and garnished and the diner was salivating at every
bite. Once again Mele e Pere showing that food need not be fussy to be
impressive. It just has to be right.
Wine at Mele e Pere is reasonably priced and can be ordered by the
glass, carafe or bottle, and after a vermouth or two
a small carafe might be in order. And there was still dessert to come.
A couple of scoops of Amalfi Lemon sorbet was enough for the two of us.
The attentive waiter had the presence of mind to lay two spoons. Tangy,
light and full of citrus flavour. This was a perfect end to a hot night
in Italy. Well, OK, London W1, but it was pretty near. Visit for a
long, lingering lunch, or even try some pastries for breakfast.
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
Phone: 020 7096 2096
Visit Mele e Pere here
living with history
History is everywhere in Rennes but it’s actually
considered by thoroughly modern folks to be one of the most liveable
cities in France. That’s a hard juggling act.
Rennes had been in existence for centuries before the Romans and in 57
BC the local inhabitants joined the Gaulish coalition against Rome.
That didn’t work and there followed Roman occupation. In 275, the
threat of invasion by barbarians led to the erection of a brick wall
around the town. In the 9th century Rennes became fully Breton and was
to remain that way for many hundreds of years.
In 1491 the French army of Charles VIII unsuccessfully attacked Rennes.
Brittany having already surrendered everywhere else, Rennes stood
alone. Duchess Anne of Brittany chose to negotiate with the king, and
the resulting Treaty of Rennes, including her marriage to Charles VIII,
brought Brittany into the French kingdom. Tour Duchesne is an old tower
dating from around that time, and is located near the Mordelaises
gates. The tower is part of the original city walls, which date back to
the 3rd century, although rebuilt in the mid-1400s.
Timber-framed houses were a popular form of construction as there were
forests to supply the raw material. In 1720 a major fire destroyed all
the wooden buildings in the northern part of the city. The inhabitants
took the precaution of rebuilding in stone, on a grid plan with wider
roads. This modernisation has given Rennes two distinctive
architectural faces. There are those sweeping avenues, but the
medieval-looking streets still remain. Carrefour de la
Cathédrale has a maze of winding streets surrounding it and
that’s where one finds most of the city’s remaining half-timbered
houses, dating from the 16th century.
Lift your eyes and find exquisite carved wooden details on medieval
buildings. There are iron-studded doors, ancient shutters, cobbled
streets and granite. This isn’t a city that’s known for its stonework
as there are no local quarries. This problem has been solved by the use
of whatever stone was available, along with brick,
creating in some buildings something of a masonry patchwork.
Rennes Cathedral is solid and unmissable. It has a heavy, granite
façade that lacks the refinement of other French cathedrals that
have been built from softer honey-coloured stone which was more easily
sculpted. This is, externally, a rather sombre church. But step inside
and you will find one of the most impressive religious buildings in
France. There is a remarkable 15th-century Gothic gilded wooden
altarpiece flanked by some imposing candlesticks. The arched ceilings
are richly decorated and low lights pick out gold embellishments. Don’t
miss a few quiet moments here.
Rennes is a beautiful and compact city with a wealth of restaurants,
cafés and bars. It boasts a large and celebrated food market and
thriving gastronomic culture. Place des Lices reminds one of the
jousting lists for
sporting knights once found here, although it’s now alive with shoppers
every Saturday. There are many street names that give a nod to medieval
times. One might notice a clock tower on the Place and even that has
history. It marks the spot where prisoners were executed. There is even
a medieval prison that is now a nightclub and restaurant. Rennes is
home to two universities and more than 50,000 students. It’s not
surprising that the city has a vibrant night life.
It also has open spaces aplenty and these are well-used by locals and
tourists alike. One can find deckchairs from which one can enjoy jazz
or classical music. Parc du Thabor is a public garden which was built
in the 19th century on the site of the orchard of the Saint-Melaine
abbey. It’s the largest park in Rennes and in the centre of the town.
There is a museum of fine art and one covering Breton history, so
something for all the family. If one wants to cover more ground then
hire a bike for the day.
Rennes is just the sort of town which one hopes to find in France. Very
French ambiance, French food, beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets,
a market square and a glass or two of something reviving. Yes, we seek,
but seldom find, a gem that ticks all those boxes. But here it is and
just an easy hop across the Channel from Southend Airport.
Visit Southend Airport here
Learn more about Rennes here
Rennes – second capital of food
(or is it third?)
Rennes Market, in the Place des Lices, is there every Saturday, and is
considered to be the second- or third-largest in France, depending on whom you
are speaking to. It starts in the morning around 7.30 although there is
not the full complement of nearly 300 stalls and vendors till an hour
or so later. It’s usually the time-strapped locals who frequent the
market so early. They are looking for the week’s fruit and veg and
don’t want to be tripping over enthusiastic, iPhone-clicking
This isn’t one of the new breed of Farmers’ Markets that have sprung up
in the UK. This one has been doing it since 1622. The site has always
been an open space since the time of knights and the courtly sport of
jousting. The Place des Lices takes its name from the jousting ‘lists’
which was the arena where the tournaments took place.
The covered markets contain honey, cider, baked goods, charcuterie and
ready-prepared food, while outside there are avenues of fresh fruit and
vegetable stalls. In 1965 the halls were modernised to that which
we see today. There are now two market halls although there were
originally three: the missing one was used for the sale of fish but
that was deemed to be too malodourous and
was demolished. The fresh-fish vendors now occupy the same space, but
in the open air. There is also a small flower market
which is up the hill a few yards. Here you will find posies, exotic
blooms, potted plants and a beautiful perfume.
The market attracts about 10,000 visitors every week. They come for the
produce and to meet friends. This is part of the French lifestyle of
which so many of us dream, and it’s here in Rennes. It’s a pleasure to
browse the stalls, gathering ingredients for dinner. One might buy a
loaf of warm bread and some local butter, perhaps a ready-grilled
chicken and a scoop of potatoes cooked in the aforementioned bird’s
juices. A bottle of cidre might be heading home with the
soon-to-be-diner …and that cheese looks good!
One can build up an appetite long before a regular mealtime, but Breton
galette stuffed with a sausage is on hand to take away those hunger
pangs. This Rennes speciality seems to be eaten by everyone these days.
It’s a savoury buckwheat-flour pancake which once served as bread in
this region. There are several food carts at the market and regulars
will have their favourite. If in doubt, join the longest line.
If you are one of those poor unfortunates who had a mum who told you it
was unacceptable to eat on the street then you have my sympathy and a
suggestion of a proper sit-down restaurant. Crêperie
Saint-Georges will allow you to taste galettes filled with all manner
of savoury ingredients, and there are light crepes for dessert, too.
This is a striking restaurant with unique design and delicious food. I
ordered Georges Bataille (strangely all the menu items are called
George) – a galette filled with black pudding and apple, which was a
sweet and savoury dish with all the flavours of the area.
11 rue du Chapitre
Phone: 02 99 38 87 04
Visit Crêperie Saint-Georges here
Established early in 2013, TEA & TY is a specialist in,
unsurprisingly, tea. It has a convenient central location and is just
the place to sit down and enjoy a light bite and a reviving cuppa.
This is a rather trendy tea room with not a hint of chintz. The walls
are lined with huge tea canisters from which to choose one’s preferred
brew and small gift-quality tea caddies for practical souvenirs. The
tea is served from traditional Japanese iron pots and poured into
contemporary bowls. One can enjoy a pastry or a cookie or a savoury
tart of some sort, but it’s the tea that’s special here.
TEA & TY has a great selection of leaf teas from around the world.
They carry both black and green teas and also the less-often available
rooibos tea from South Africa, which isn’t a tea at all but has been
used as an infusion for generations. I enjoyed a bowl of
Japanese sencha tea and, keeping with the theme, a matcha cookie. No,
not very French, but there is a polished and eclectic side to Rennes
and I was doing just what the locals do, after all.
TEA & TY
16, rue Victor Hugo
Phone: 02 23 20 75 96
Visit TEA & TY here
Located in the heart of the city centre of Rennes, opposite the Place
de Bretagne, l’Amiral restaurant welcomes its guests with a nautical
sweep of its terrace roof. It’s a large, contemporary and tastefully
appointed restaurant which specialises in fish and seafood.
That terrace is the spot to grab on hot and sunny days. A lunch here is
pleasure writ large. The menu offers every genre of seafood from
lobster at the luxury end to the very reasonable Assiette de Fruits de
Mer. The portions are substantial and beautifully presented. I was
tempted by a bargain bowl of mussels which came with fries – a meal
over which to linger with convivial company and a glass of local beer.
But meat-eaters, who will likely be here under protest, have nothing
to fear. They will probably soon be heard to mutter ‘Well, I didn’t
expect that’, ‘Shall we book a table for Wednesday?’ and even ‘I think
that might be the best steak I have ever had’. Not bad for a
1 rue de la Motte Picquet
Phone: 02 99 35 03 91
Visit l’Amiral here
Rennes was made for lovers of good food. One can dine at home on the
best of local produce. There is authentic street food to enjoy.
Healthful and smart tea shops beckon, and the most stylish of
restaurants are all within walking distance of the centre of town.
Rennes is accessible these days with direct flights from Southend
Airport. Do remember to book a piece of luggage for the hold as there
will be plenty of bottles to bring back. The local version of Calvados
is well worth seeking out. One doesn’t need a car for a short break as
it’s a city to enjoy on foot. If the legs get weary then sit and
people-watch for a while. Order a coffee or a traditional cup of cidre
and wonder why you didn’t come here before.
Visit Southend Airport here
Learn more about Rennes here
Gymkhana is an Indian word which originally referred to a
meeting place. These days it tends to be an equestrian day event put on
by posh pony clubs; but not in this case. Gymkhana in London does fit
into the ‘meeting place’ category and it does have the feel of a nicely
appointed casual club, but there won’t be the smell of horse or stable
Gymkhana on Albemarle Street in Mayfair is an Indian restaurant serving
innovative food from the imagination of Group Executive Chef Rohit Ghai
in a venue that has been thoughtfully presented by owner Karam Sethi,
right down to the serving plates. Yes, it does indeed have a relaxed
ambiance but the food is Michelin Star all the way.
This isn’t an overly-themed Indian restaurant. The name Gymkhana gives
a hint to its ethnicity but the ground floor has marble table-tops and
booths along with dark wood which really gives the air of that
old-fashioned, much-sought-after French Bistro which one looks for but
never finds in the back streets of Paris. It flaunts a very buzzy and
The lower level must have originally been the cellar of an old Georgian
house or shop. This has allowed for a couple of private dining spaces
which still retain the curved ceilings that remind one of wine cellars
in France or Italy.
The main basement restaurant again sports dark wood aplenty with old
pictures from the days of the Raj, brass-edged tables and rattan chairs
adding to the old Indian club reincarnation. The ceiling is low, giving
a sense of calming intimacy. It’s much quieter here than above making
this the very spot for romantic encounters, discreet business meetings
or unwinding after a hard day at the coal face.
Gymkhana takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients so there will
likely be something new with every visit. This isn’t your usual Indian
restaurant menu at any time of year so even regulars will find not only
quality but unique dishes.
Gol Guppas with Jaljeera, Potato, and Sprouting Moong arrived as
pre-dinner nibbles. These are classic stuffed puffs but here they are
served on the best of English cottage china, once again introducing a
very Anglo element. But do try the Dosa here. It’s authentically crisp
(I have found many to be flabby and doughy) and light, with a rich
filling of Chettin Duck with traditional coconut chutney. This is a
winner at any time of year.
Rajma fritters are a take on Indian comfort food. These are balls of
kidney beans with a crunchy coating and they are moreish. But meat
eaters are not forgotten: Lamb Nalli Barra served with lightly pickled
onion were outstanding. The meat was glisteningly moist and meltingly
tender. It’s a substantial dish and seasoned to perfection.
Wild Muntjac Biryani with Pomegranate and Mint Raita was the main dish,
and there is innovation here even in the pastry crust which was crowned
with seeds, giving it a wholesome and attractive appearance that was a
shame to destroy. This is a dish over which to salivate while inhaling
delicate aromas of spiced meat and rice. A hearty dish but lightened by
the yoghurt and fruit.
Rose and Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was my guest’s dessert. He pronounced it
to be excellent with flowery notes from the rose and just a touch of
sharpness from the rhubarb. I always think of falooda as something
along the lines of English trifle. It’s a sweet treat full of lots of
different good things.
Queens Club Cocktail was my preferred finish to the meal. I hadn’t had
wine with dinner so I could indulge in a little alcohol now. This hot
after-dinner cocktail had me intrigued: it’s Ketel One Vodka, coriander
seed and lemon zest syrup, clove and hot Darjeeling Earl Grey tea
poured over a clove and apple jelly, and into a proper cup and saucer.
Deliciously theatrical and a cocktail which I want to replicate at home
Gymkhana will definitely appeal to those looking for uncommon food
that’s predictably good, in a restaurant with character in a convenient
location. Karam Sethi once again shows his flair for knowing what works.
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH
Phone: 020 3011 5900
Visit Gymkhana Restaurant here
Memphis in London
The Shaftesbury Theatre is both beautiful and historic,
and a worthy presenter of a show that is beautiful in a very
Memphis is a musical and a memorable and striking one. It is set in an
era of segregation, overt racism, poverty, and dreams. The story line
is perennial and simple but with a sting – boy meets girl, boy loses
girl. The main protagonists are Huey Calhoun and Felicia Farrell,
racism and music. These add up to be more than the sum of their
Huey is a poor, white, ill-educated clown of a chap who has a passion
for music – Black music. That’s not a claim to fame these days but we
are talking 1950s USA, and the South at that! These were troubled times
where even music had to know its place. He was on a mission to
popularise R&B and bring it to a wider audience.
A Beale Street club offers Huey a chance to immerse himself, or almost,
in black musical culture. And there was a young black singer called
Felicia who stole his heart but also showed him the brutality and
injustice of Memphis society. Huey could be musically black whenever he
wanted, but she was black every moment, noted Felicia. There were
realities to be faced.
Memphis is colourful, vibrant and a little shocking, particularly to
younger members of the theatre audience who have never actually heard
the N-word in such a public forum. There was an audible gasp from those
who had not grasped the aforementioned realities of life for non-whites
– a few gritty moments that were completely in context. There is a
hard-hitting story here which supports some cracking good songs.
Beverley Knight captivates from the first moment. In my humble opinion,
and I am no expert, she is the most polished and accomplished soul
singer around. She has the voice, for sure, but she has charm, elegance
and beauty. One warms to her character, Felicia, who has talent, humour
From 6 July 2015 the role of Huey Calhoun is played by Matt
Cardle. He has built himself a solid reputation since his success
with X-Factor. He brings sensitivity and credibility to his role along
with his powerful voice, energy and nifty moves. A great choice for the
part and for the partnership with Ms Knight, that makes Memphis so
There are other heroes in Memphis. The dancers are dazzling and the
musicians are first-rate. Don’t rush off after the stars have taken
their bows: stay until the music is really over and give those
musicians some applause too. Some nice bits of sax playing in the last
few minutes before the curtain falls.
Go to Memphis. I highly recommend this show for its social comment, its
musical score and its originality. It’s a fun show dealing with serious
issues and it’s a balance that it thoughtfully maintains. It’s a moving
story with songs that have all the style of 50s R&B.
Memphis at the Shaftesbury Theatre
210 Shaftesbury Avenue
Visit Shaftesbury Theatre here
For enquiries relating to the performance or general ticket enquiries
For general enquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org
Stage Door: Phone 020 7379 3345
Box Office: Phone 020 7379 5399
Fax: 020 7836 8181
Bombay Brasserie – Cool
Bombay Brasserie and Bar, Gloucester Road, South
Kensington has been an A-lister for the great and the good as well
as the just famous and now it has adopted a new, cool ivory-coloured
persona in place of the Rajesque opulence it once flaunted.
The restaurant has undergone a couple of transformations since it
opened in 1982 as one of London’s first Indian fine-dining
destinations. It has recently been refurbished and is now much lighter
and more contemporary than its previous incarnation. There are still
the famed sepia pictures of Maharajas gracing the walls of the bar and
on a panel next to the piano in the restaurant, but now Bombay
Brasserie is less fussy but just as classy as the old BB.
My guest remarked that Bombay Brasserie has perhaps the most generous
table spacing of any London restaurant of any culinary persuasion. The
restaurant evidently considers the comfort of its guests, and one truly
does feel like a guest rather than a customer. The service, overseen by
Operations Manager Mr. Shailesh Pandya, is, just like the man himself,
professional and friendly yet unobtrusive.
The conservatory has been transformed with the removal of the central
open kitchen. The walls are now covered with white-and-black Indian
folk murals and there is an outside terrace to enjoy on warm summer evenings. But the new private dining area
which seats about 18 is absolutely stunning. It’s a vision of dark
wood, carved-back chairs and Indian good taste. It’s understated
Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde is modest, charming and softly spoken but
heads an energetic and well-polished team. Chef Hegde is the hidden
cornerstone in the kitchen and his skill as a chef has won him awards
and deserved respect from his peers as well as those he feeds. It’s his
food that entices the visitor to return …and often. He doesn’t court
publicity but rather works quietly away to build a solid and creditable
worldwide reputation for Bombay Brasserie.
We visited on a hot and sticky evening. Yes, it’s true, they are rare
in London but when they arrive they are strength-sapping and tiresome.
Alcohol didn’t appeal, even though we were luxuriating in Bombay
Brasserie’s air-conditioning, but we were invited to try a couple of
virgin cocktails and they hit the spot, to the extent that we ordered
another round. Not exactly binge drinking and there was neither guilt
nor hangover. Tamaringer was an addictive concoction of sharp and
thirst-quenching tamarind spiked with chilli served with plenty of ice.
My guest’s libation was the equally moreish Green Refresher which
offers the much-publicised healthful properties of green tea along with
pineapple, mint, ginger and lemon.
This restaurant is far from being a high-street curry house (although
these are fewer in number they have long been well-loved institutions
and it was they, after all, who gave us our appreciation of spice).
Bombay Brasserie is famed for its accessible Indian fine-dining
ambiance and menu. Chef Hegde has a light touch, a deft hand and a
lot of passion for his craft. The menu has classics but also dishes
that are unique to this restaurant.
Non-meat eaters are well catered for here with seafood aplenty as well
as vegetable dishes such as the okra which shouldn’t be missed. The
griddled prawns and scallops are for which to die. I would venture to
say that those scallops are the best I have ever had in London, or
anywhere else for that matter. They are translucent and succulent.
Pan-fried Chilean sea bass on a base of spinach and mushroom is a fine
example of why this fish has become so popular and it’s a flaky
must-try on this menu.
Braised lamb shank should be the dinner of choice for any card-carrying
carnivore. It arrived simply presented with a light gravy on the side.
The meat was, and I know it’s a much-used cliché, ‘falling off
the bone’. That’s a more literarily nifty phrase than ‘sufficiently
tender as to be easily shredded with the blunt edge of a spoon or a
sharp look’ which would be equally true.
Bombay Brasserie and Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde
never disappoint. Its convenient location, its delicious food and
impeccable service have kept this restaurant buzzing. It might have
changed its décor, it hasn’t changed its name to Mumbai
Somethingorother, and the high quality of its dishes and presentation
remain the same. Any lover of good food will have this restaurant on
their gastronomic Bucket List.
Phone +44 (0)20 7370 4040
Visit Bombay Brasserie here
Gaylord in Mortimer Street
This is one restaurant that I have visited and wondered
why I had not done so long before now. Gaylord Restaurant was
established in 1966 so I would have had plenty of time. Its location
couldn’t be more convenient, being between two Underground stations and
near shops and theatres. I guess that it has become an Indian
restaurant institution and doesn’t get the publicity lavished on some
newer kids on the block …or at least new kids on other London blocks.
I liked it. OK, so that phrase doesn’t have great wordy impact but it
speaks volumes. It made a great impression on arrival. It’s cool and
elegant in a very ‘international crisp white linen and ivory’ way but
there were very Indian friezes by Prithvi Soni on the wall to give a
nod to the ethnicity of the culinary offerings. For me, this is just
the right balance of décor laced with exotica. I was comfortable.
The diners were an eclectic mix of American tourists and local Indian
and European regulars. There were couples as well as families enjoying
cooling drinks before their meal on this unusually hot and humid summer
night, in a London that seemed to be emulating the sub-continent.
Gaylord has a beautiful menu. That is to say the actual
menu is beautifully presented with heavy card pages,
muted colours, metallic details and a very practical landscape layout.
It hinted at the quality of food to come, when such attention had been
given before a morsel had even been ordered.
But we did order and started with non-alcoholic cocktails. I can
recommend the Virgin Paan Mohitos made with rose petals, fresh mint,
lime juice and buckets of ice. A thirst-quencher with a delicate
Gaylord remains faithful to its traditions that were started in India
in the 1940s. There are dishes which are familiar and there are others
that cross boundaries. I have never been keen on fusion dishes but the
Tacos here are worth trying. They are an Indian version of the Mexican
street food classic. The menu mentions soft tacos but ours were the
crisp corn tacos with that very particular flavour …and it really
worked with the filling of lamb seek kebab with a pile of garnishes. I
am sure the soft taco shell would have been good but the crisp one has
more flavour and is fun, although messy, to eat.
My guest ordered Mixed Vegetable Pakoras. Yes, a standard dish but that
standard does vary from restaurant to restaurant. These were just for
which I would hope. It’s all about the batter which coats those
veggies, and this gram flour batter gave a light, crisp and oil-free
pakora that was moreish.
Murg Gilafi seekh was my starter. Minced chicken had been lightly
smoked, giving a moist and juicy kebab. Served on a sizzling platter
with sliced onions, this was a winner. Golgappa shots
were delicious and amusing and a must-try if there are a crowd of you.
Tandoori prawns and chicken tikka are also good here, so order a few
starters to share in tapas style.
Gaylord Grill is a substantial platter of Tandoori Lamb Chop, Fish
Tikka and Murg Malai Tikka. The chop was
charred on the bone with meat that was cooked to pink perfection. The
chicken and fish were both melting and well-seasoned.
Vegetable Jalfrezi was my vibrant mix for a main course. A medley of
potatoes, green peas, peppers, button mushrooms, carrots were tossed
with warming spices and fresh coriander. This was a hot dish that was
both light and flavourful on an equally hot summer night. A dish for
any Indian food aficionado. It needed nothing more alongside than some
rice and Yellow Dal Tadka tempered with garlic, red onion, and cumin –
a hearty dal for sharing.
Baingan Hyderabadi should be a signature side dish at Gaylord.
Aubergine chunks, simmered in spicy masala gravy are truly addictive. I
am tempted to pop in for a portion of this and some naan bread whenever
I am passing.
Gajar Ka halwa is a traditional homemade carrot pudding and here it is
served hot with almond slivers and a great
deal of style. It arrived in a silver jewel box which added to the
general majestic ambiance of Gaylord.
This was a delightful meal and my only regret is that I didn’t visit
sooner. I look forward to becoming a regular for lunch, dinner and a
bite before going to the theatre. It will be a long time before I tire
of the beautiful menu.
79-81 Mortimer Street
Phone: 020 7580 3615 or 020 7636 0808
Visit Gaylord here
Bayeux – A stitch in time
It’s inevitable that the first thing people think of when
you mention Bayeux is the tapestry. Though it’s not actually a tapestry but a very fine embroidery. The Bayeux Tapestry is now on permanent display in a bespoke museum in the city of Bayeux in
Normandy, France. It’s unique and huge and merits a home of its own.
The ‘tapestry’ tells the story of the life of William the Conqueror and
the Battle of Hastings, and here comes another factual correction and
we are only at paragraph two! The Battle of Hastings was actually
fought at a place called Battle, although I suspect it was named only
after the Battle. It would have been too much of a coincidence
The tapestry tells of William and his passage from being just the
illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy (with ‘Bastard’ as the only
appendage to his name) to rising to having ‘King’ as his title. One can
see the preparations for invasion; the felling of trees and the
launching of boats, and then the battle. Many men are shown as
conclusively dead and the English King Harold can be seen being the
well-documented recipient of the arrow in the eye.
The bloody event was to have a huge impact on Medieval England and it’s
still exciting interest today. The tapestry is made out of eight narrow widths of linen sewn
together. It’s 270 feet long and about 20 inches wide. The
majority of stitches used are ‘stem’ and ‘laid-and-couched’, which will
only mean anything to devoted embroiderers.
There are eight colours of thread and the five main colours are
blue-green, terracotta, light-green, buff and grey-blue. Nothing too
vivid and all obviously made with natural dyes. There are also areas
where very dark blue, yellow and a dark green are still visible – this
hanging is in amazing condition considering its age.
It is assumed that the man who commissioned the tapestry was Bishop Odo
of Bayeux. He was William’s half-brother. It is probable that the
tapestry was made to celebrate both William’s victory at Hastings and
the completion of Odo’s cathedral in the city.
The tapestry was likely made by women in Canterbury, Kent, where there
was a celebrated embroidery school. They used stitches very
similar to those found on the tapestry. Another indication that this
was sewn on the English side of the Channel is that some of the names on
the tapestry are spelt in the English way and not in the French style.
The tapestry shows 50 different scenes and there are 632 people, 202
horses, 55 dogs, 505 other characters, 37 buildings, around 40 ships
and trees, and lots of Latin. Adults will be charmed by the handiwork
and younger members of the group will be thrilled by the brutality and
But there is more to this beautiful town than the tapestry. The large
Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux was
consecrated in 1077 by the aforementioned Bishop Odo. The lower part of
the building is Romanesque, and is probably original. The upper part is
in Gothic style making this an architect’s dream structure to study.
But look inside to really appreciate the magnificence of the cathedral.
Bayeux is only a short distance from the Normandy Beaches, which have
been attracting more visitors than ever over the last several years.
There are various associated museums and exhibitions in the area, as
well as war cemeteries, commemorating very much more recent battles
than that shown in the Tapestry.
Bayeux has a wealth of restaurants and specialist food shops. Many of
these are housed in historic half-timbered
buildings, so take your eyes off the cheese for a moment and you might
find some characterful wood carving. And along with the cidre and dairy
products there is a little shop that actually sells bits of the Bayeux
Tapestry. Well, newly embroidered authentic replicas of the historic
hanging anyway. You can buy finished cushions, you can buy kits as
souvenirs and you can even have lessons on the stitches used by those
Kentish damsels who made the original.
Bayeux is an accessible and walkable town. Photo opportunities abound,
eating opportunities are ever present and one can just people-watch
with a coffee and an apple pastry. It’s easy to get there from Caen by
train, which itself has fast shuttle links to and from its airport.
There are flights from the gem of an airport at Southend.
Learn more about making your own tapestry here
Visit Southend Airport here
Learn more about Bayeux here
Visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum here
London for Foodies,
Gourmets and Gluttons
This thick, square tome is a veritable guide to all things
delicious in the capital. We are truly spoilt for choice so it’s handy
to have some pointers. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste but authors
David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters have presented a comprehensive
cross-section of suggestions. There are chapters devoted to restaurants
and others to various genres of food purveyors. Its style is chatty and
inclusive and the text doesn’t ramble.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons isn’t a book just for those
with cash to splash. There is a section devoted
to Street Food which offers vibrant options that won’t demand a second
mortgage. Borough Market has become a magnet for food-lovers from
around the world. Plenty to see and taste and those foods are just as
diverse as the people trying them. This market does double duty as a
fresh food market and a Street Food arcade.
For a look at a colourful and thoroughly authentic market then head for
Leather Lane which has held markets for 400 years or so. It’s not
polished but it’s real London, with everything from fresh veg to big
knickers, along with those eclectic plates. This is absolutely Street
If you would actually like to sit while you sip then this book has a
wealth of tea and coffee houses. I am guessing that you are a food
lover and likely passionate about recipe books, and London for Foodies,
Gourmets and Gluttons presents Books for Cooks. It’s a celebrated
bookshop with food books of every kind. There is a café at the
back which doubles as a demonstration area for some of those cookbook
Persepolis is one of my personal favourite food shops in London, and
probably anywhere. The food is exotic and delicious and mostly Persian.
The owner, Sally Butcher, is almost always serving and entertaining
with her own brand of warm and hilarious humour. She is not only Mrs
Shopkeeper but she is the writer of some very engaging cookbooks. This
shop is a must-visit!
As I’ve said, it’s just a matter of taste, but the two authors have
coincidently chosen so many of my favourite haunts. It’s a pleasure to
leaf through the pages while making plans for the next market visit, or
to dine at that restaurant with the unique curry. This is gift quality
and should indeed be a gift for any lover of London and its food. Gone
are the days when we had such a (deservedly) bad reputation for food.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons illustrates how far we have
come - and it’s only scratched the surface.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons
Authors: David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters
Published by: Survival Books
Iconic Kettner’s of Soho
Kettner’s, I used to feel, seemed somewhat out of
place in this corner of the great metropolis. It’s a genteel
establishment and that’s not for which this corner of town had once
been noted. This old Soho had evolved from a bolt-hole for
religious-refugee Huguenots... Read More
That’s the beauty of barge travel - it relaxes the mind and makes space
for civilized exercises such as the pursuit of good food and wine and
culture. The Abbey at Fontenay was just a little way away from the
canal run and the excursion... Read More
Gouda – a cheese for all seasons
We have many cheese choices in specialist shops and even
our local supermarket. Gouda can easily be overlooked. It seems to have
been with us forever and we don’t even notice it anymore. The first
mention of Gouda cheese dates from 1184, making it one of the oldest
recorded cheeses in the world still being made... Read More
Bound by history, carved in stone - Normandy and England
We share so much. Those Norsemen who pillaged the coast of
Britain and settled inland also did the same in France, and indeed in
such numbers that a region took their name – Normandy... Read More
The British Museum in London is famed the world over for
its displays of artefacts and curios. Granted, there are some that feel
many of these objets d’art should be... Read More
Jim De Jong – Say it with
flowers …and cheese
Rotterdam is fast becoming known for food. It’s the Netherlands and it might be a bit of a cliché, but, yes there is cheese. Chef Jim De Jong was challenged to make a menu composed of Holland’s most iconic staple, and his creations were stunning... Read More
La Belle Epoque – 5-star
floating through Burgundy
A barge, even a big one, presents the very real prospect of tight accommodations, iffy facilities... Read More
Gouda is a strikingly beautiful town with easily walked streets. The
Old City Hall at the Markt square was finished in 1450 and is one of
the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands. The Waag (weigh house)
was built... Read More
A Citrus History of
The island is blessed with picturesque villages and small towns,
museums, shops, fresh air and food. There are subtropical areas growing
exotic prickly-pear cactus and there are citrus trees for which Sicily
is so famed. Lemons, oranges, blood oranges and mandarins all grow
within sight of Mount Etna... Read More
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food doesn’t have dozens of
colour images but it’s no worse for that. It’s that style of cookbook
that will likely start on the bedside table before migrating to the
kitchen where it will find a permanent home... Read More
Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club
Executive Chef and CEO Vivek Singh is introducing a new series of
exclusive wine dinners at both Cinnamon Club and its sister restaurant
Cinnamon Kitchen. Diners will be introduced to wines that truly do
address the very particular... Read More
Best Salads Ever
It’s summer and so we eat salad. Yes, we eat it but often without enthusiasm. Carnivores often consider salad as the green stuff left on the plate after the meal is finished, and those of us who eat everything get heartily sick of more lettuce, cucumber and
tomato... Read More
Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge
There are few restaurants in Knightsbridge that don’t
exude some kind of classy charm. It’s that kind of area. High-end
residents and visitors looking for food to match... Read More
Counter Vauxhall Arches
So many of my reviews start with ‘Well, it was worth the
long journey’ and stoically ‘It’s a bit off the beaten track’. This
evening I had no need of such stoicism. Counter Vauxhall Arches is just by Vauxhall Station. That isn’t estate-agent
speak for a bracing march away, not a healthy hike away but really just
there... Read More
Brooklands Hotel for Dinner
Brooklands is rather unique. It straddles contemporary
design and the historic connections that its very name evokes. One
might not be familiar with Brooklands Hotel but almost everybody will
have heard of the Brooklands Racing Circuit... Read More
Brooklands Hotel Surrey
I live in West London but whenever I consider a weekend break I turn right instead of left at the end of the road. That takes me to central London with the thronging crowds, fuss and rush. Lots of excitement, it’s true, but it hardly constitutes relaxation, and perhaps if I turn left... Read More
McQueen at The Kensington Hotel
Well, perhaps not the man himself, but The Kensington Hotel is presenting a delightful afternoon tea that is inspired by the
fashion designer who is the focus of an exhibition in London called Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was born in... Read More
Dishoom – Kings Cross
Dishoom is the latest branch of the now well-established Old Irani
Cafés of Bombay. They were originally opened last century by
Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran to India. In fact they have almost all
disappeared from that city but have found new fame and followers in
London. This new Dishoom at King’s Cross opened... Read More
Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle)
I have wanted to visit for a while. No, this isn’t a
Michelin-starred restaurant. No, one isn’t dazzled by drifts of white
linen tablecloths or the shine of silverware. It’s a café, or at
least a café of the Japanese kind... Read More
Bern – classic and chic
Bern might not be the first place one would think of for a
short city-break. In fact, Switzerland probably isn’t a country one would list first for
a quick holiday. It’s all Alps, chocolate, or chocolate in the shape of
Alps, isn’t it? Well, no! And it’s easier to get there than one might
expect... Read More
Adam Handling – Asian Accents
Adam Handling has been crowned 2014 British Culinary
Federation Chef of the Year. That’s no surprise. He is a young man who
has already chalked up accolades and praise, and now he has his own
name over a restaurant door – Adam Handling at Caxton. St Ermins is a hotel of character just around the corner... Read More
Champagne – a brief encounter
The weather becomes warmer. We dream of those balmy days
and longer evenings with friends. The picture might include floral
frocks, a bowl of salad, a platter of salmon and, of course, a bottle
of champagne. It is, for those gatherings, the dot above the i, the
finishing stroke of a pastel watercolour... Read More
Strawberry Hill House –
Former grandeur restored
Strawberry Hill. Even the name conjures visions of
pastoral idylls, perhaps a water-colour of mature trees with the
promise of a gently-flowing river just over that grassy knoll. Well,
the reality isn’t that far from the pastel dream and there is a House
that is at the very centre of the quintessentially English scene... Read More
The Three Faces of
You couldn’t make it up! A story that, on the face of it, sounds quite improbable. The King in the Car Park … indeed a sovereign
in the Social Services Car Park. Richard III, or at least his mortal
remains, were discovered... Read More
Flat Iron – Beak Street
The second Flat Iron opened last July. This could be the start of something big, or at least lots of little somethings if the size of the Beak Street branch is anything to go by.
Flat Iron fits perfectly into its environment. The area has long been trendy, bohemian and edgy. Carnaby Street is just around the corner and that was... Read More
Tea Emporium at Noodle House
Kyle Whittington is a modern tea merchant. He imports the
finest of teas and he educates and amuses his audience. You could say
he teases with teas. Although the custom of tea drinking dates back
thousands of years in China, it was not until the 17th century that tea
first appeared in England. It has been overshadowed by coffee but it’s
now enjoying a revival... Read More
Le Menar, Fitzrovia
Head Chef Vernon Samuels has high-end international
credentials covering a good number of ethnic cuisines in some
celebrated restaurants around the world. At Le Menar he paints with a
North African culinary palate. He adapts and teases but never offends... Read More
Bunny Chow Soho
The name might not entice the uninitiated across the
threshold, that’s true. One might suspect that it’s only salad on
offer: well, that’s chow for rabbits, isn’t it? But on the other hand
it could be a menu of dishes made out of bunnies... Read More
Mestizo has Mexican owners, chefs and staff. This isn’t an overly
themed eatery: Mestizo has a few nods to its ethnic roots and the most
visible is the bar, which on closer inspection one finds is stocked
with the national beverage, Tequila: 260 different bottles at last count... Read More
Famous Detective Falls
Now I have the attention of my dear, curious reader!
Always eager for some dramatic news. Did our hero trip over a
ski pole? Perhaps a slide on a fondue slick? Who is this unfortunate
sleuth, anyway? In truth, this is old news …over one hundred year-old
news, and the aforementioned detective is none other than... Read More
Ramen Restaurant Ippudo opens in London
The original Ippudo was founded in the Kyushu region of Japan in a
district of the city of Fukuoka. It opened its doors in 1985, but this
latest establishment is designed to be the flagship European restaurant
of the group. Ippudo has over 120 restaurants serving... Read More
Airport to Bern with SkyWork
I have flown from London’s Southend Airport a couple of times and I must admit that I first considered the prospect
to be something of a joke: Where was Southend, to start with? Isn’t it
somewhere near the edge? It sounded a long way off, but then I actually
tried it... Read More
François Geurds –
I have met François Geurds on a few occasions now.
A couple of times at his eponymous FG Restaurant and also at the newer Food Lab. For once,
the Michelin judges have awarded their coveted stars with logic and
insight... Read More
Kensington High Street is smart. There is the usual
complement of restaurants in the area and they range from the
expected Lebanese to the trendy European casual restaurants; but this
is a wealthy neighbourhood so there are eateries here that might demand
a second mortgage. One would expect to pay a premium... Read More
The Taste of Belgium
It’s so near, but almost totally overlooked from the
culinary perspective. Belgium is one of our closest neighbours but is
overshadowed by the gastronomic giant (the French believe their own
publicity) next door... Read More
Rotterdam – beds,
buildings and gastronomic surprises
It’s attracting lots of gastronomic and architectural
attention, and it does indeed offer a wealth of national and
international food outlets. The new Markthal is a traditional market
with piles of fresh vegetables, meat and fish and, yes, cheese as well;
but its attractive and striking environs are also garnished with a good
selection of restaurants... Read More
There are crowds of folks to feed and we don’t, speaking for
myself, have a clue what to do. A nice plate of ham sandwiches will
likely impress and perhaps a plate of cheese sandwiches on brown bread
for vegetarians so they don’t feel short-changed. Catering sorted. But,
in truth it’s not that simple... Read More
We in northern Europe have had a long and delicious
relationship with spice. We tend to think it’s just been this modern
era of the local curry house that has developed our taste for food with
spice and colour. But consider those old recipes that predate the
high-street Taj Mahal... Read More
Chocolate at Home
I am biased, it’s true. This book was destined to have a good review on
two counts. Firstly I adore the author, Will Torrent; and chocolate
comes a close second to Will.
Will Torrent has worked with the best – with such culinary worthies as
Brian Turner CBE and Gary Rhodes... Read More
Southern Oregon – sleep and eat
The average British tourist heading for the US on vacation
will likely have limited horizons. There is the Big Apple, Florida, California...
But the US is a huge country. Surely there must be other locations to
stimulate, charm and fuel the globe-trotting traveller? Well, yes,
indeed. There is Oregon... Read More
The Markthal - Rotterdam
We are thinking about a pre-Christmas break, a
rejuvenating Spring get-away, a Summer city break, and there are the
familiar cries of ‘Let’s go to Rotterdam.’ OK, OK, so I am pulling the
leg of my dear reader. It’s a shame that we don’t have Rotterdam as our
first thought – and I can’t see why... Read More
Oregon – Colourful in every way
The Portland area was originally inhabited by two bands of
Upper Chinook Native Americans. The
Multnomah people settled on and around Sauvie Island,
and the Cascades Indians settled along the Columbia
Gorge. Oregon and its tribes were first ‘discovered’ by the expedition of Lewis and
Clark in 1805-6... Read More
Contemporary and Historic
Groningen isn’t the first destination in The Netherlands
of which one might think. It’s invariably Amsterdam that gets that accolade, and a very
fine city it is. But Groningen, in the north of this, one of my
favourite countries in Europe, is like an accessible snapshot of all
things Dutch... Read More