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London, Restaurants

Made of Dough Pop-Up at Market Yard

Authentic Italian pizza is one of my major weaknesses and I’m always on the lookout for new ones to try. Last week, I got my pizza fix at the launch of the Made of Dough six-week residency at Market Yard Kitchen in Shepherd’s Bush.

It’s not easy standing out when London foodies are firing up some pretty amazing pizzas, but founders Ed and Henry are doing something different – proper Neapolitan pizza with a nod to southern Spain. Growing up on a Mediterranean diet, they found inspiration from their heritage (Campania and Andalusia) and eating their way around Europe.

Made of Dough pizza

The 2015 London Pizza Festivals Champions have a permanent home at Pop Brixton, but they’ve taken their trusty Raffaela oven truck on the road to offer the full sit-down pizzeria experience in west London.

I usually test how good a pizza is with a Margherita, as there aren’t any toppings to distract or hide behind.  Made of Dough’s Margherita has a bubbly, chewy and lightly charred base and is topped simply with crushed San Marzano tomato, silky fior di latte, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan.  The pizza was cooked to perfection with a woody, smoky taste and pure flavours from clearly top notch ingredients.

Made of Dough Nutella Pizza

I also loved the simple and delicious Serrano pizza with cherry tomatoes, mature serrano ham, fior di latte, peppery wild rocket and creamy stracciatella.  Most indulgent of all is the rich Truffle pizza bianca with portobello mushrooms, fior di latte, fragrant white alba truffle oil and velvety burrata.  A nice touch is the selection of gourmet dipping sauces for the dough crusts – Olive and anchovy tapenade, Spicy romesco and Basil aioli.

Wash your pizza down with a sunny Amalfi Negroni, Blood Orange Sangria, Staibano Spritz, Prosecco, Peroni or San Pellegrino.  If you have any room left, end the night in chocolate heaven with a hot and gooey Conchiglia a Nutella.

Made of Dough London

Made of Dough pizzas not only look the part, but they’re super-tasty, very filling and reasonably priced (from £6.50 to £12).  Make a pizza date right away, you don’t want to miss this one!

Made of Dough is at Market Yard Shepherd’s Bush from Wednesday to Sunday, until 1st May 2016.  For more information and booking, visit: www.madeofdough.co.uk

Photos by Made of Dough

Restaurants

A Baking Masterclass at Le Pain Quotidien

I never need an excuse to visit Le Pain Quotidien or Bicester Village, but I do need a little more encouragement to bake my own loaf.  Fresh, home-baked bread is such a pleasure, but I tend to just leave it to the pros.

A few days before I was heading to Brussels, it seemed appropriate to pay a visit to the new Bicester Village outpost of Belgian restaurant and bakery Le Pain Quotidien for a special baking masterclass with Pastry Manager Didier Tayoro.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Le Pain Quotidien founder Alain Coumont welcomed our group straight from the train with Champagne and madeleines and shared the story behind his successful, forward-thinking brand.  A frustration at not being able to find the rustic bread of his childhood inspired Alain to open his first bakery in Brussels in 1990.  Since then, Le Pain Quotidien has brought its superior bread and communal table concept to over 200 locations around the world.

I thought I knew LPQ pretty well, but I didn’t realise that around 90% of the products are baked fresh everyday each store, rather than in an off-site kitchen or factory.  Also, all of the breads and most ingredients are organic and there’s a real focus on vegan, plant-based cooking.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

We gathered at our baking stations, where all of the ingredients were helpfully weighed out and ready for mixing.  With Didier’s instruction, we each made a Five seed grain sourdough boule followed by Spelt quinoa scones, which were then taken away to be baked while we indulged in a three-course lunch – how easy is that?

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

The big communal table was dressed perfectly for spring with bright daffodils and scattered vegetables – so pretty and uplifting.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

We grazed on a selection of signature starters – Avocado toast, Salmon tartine, Smoked chicken cobb salad, Organic lentil and avocado salad and crisp, organic baguette with French butter.  My favourite was the fresh, aromatic avocado toast with a subtle citrus and cumin kick – it seemed to be the most popular choice and was polished off swiftly.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

A family-style feast of nourishing hot dishes and tasty sides followed.  Most indulgent were the typically Belgian Chicken and veal meatballs served in a creamy sauce with super-buttery mashed potato.  Vegetable and quinoa gratin was delicious and healthier than I expected and I couldn’t get enough of the accompaniments of roasted butternut squash mash and glazed carrots and romanesco.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Dessert was the most heavenly, authentic Tarte Tatin, indulgent Carrot cake muffins and a yummy Chia and coconut pudding with raspberry compote.  I was amazed to discover that this light, vegan pudding is simply chia seeds soaked and set in coconut milk – it’s so easy to make and only filled with good stuff.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

After lunch, we were presented with our own baked goods to take away, along with a bag of treats including the excellent Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook, so we could recreate our delicious lunch at home.  I wasn’t sure how much faith to have in my breadmaking skills, but I followed Didier’s instructions to the letter and the bread and scones were just fabulous.  Good enough to share with friends and family and collect plenty of compliments.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

The rest of the afternoon was ours to march around Bicester Village in pursuit of designer bargains.  There’s always a new outlet or eatery open every time I visit Bicester and this time the pretty, wood-panelled store fronts were adorned with giant flowers for spring.

My favourite new discovery, however, is the new railway station at the heart of Bicester Village (no more minibus shuttle from Bicester North) and the very plush guest lounge where shoppers can wait for the train while flicking through Vogue, sipping fruit-infused water and spritzing perfume.  It has a real VIP feel but is open to everyone and there’s even a concierge service to make the shopping experience even more enjoyable.

Le Pain Quotidien at Bicester Village is a fantastic spot for lunch, whether you’re resting weary feet over a hearty Coq au Vin or grabbing a gourmet salad to go.  I also highly recommend taking a baking class at Le Pain Quotidien Borough in London – they’re fun, sociable and will give you the confidence to try baking bread at home.  Now I’m armed with the cookbook full of bread recipes, I’ll definitely be baking up a storm.

Chérie City was a guest of Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

All photos by Chérie City

London, Restaurants

Dalloway Terrace at The Bloomsbury Hotel

Early March may seem like a crazy time for terrace dining, but the newly-launched, toasty warm Dalloway Terrace in Bloomsbury is a delight all year-round.

Located in the chic Bloomsbury Hotel, Dalloway Terrace has the feel of a charming secret garden but with the comforts of powerful outdoor heaters, stylish wool blankets and of course, a retractable roof.  It definitely wins the prize of London’s prettiest new restaurant and I love the reference to Virginia Woolf’s literary heroine Clarissa Dalloway (I can’t count how many times I read Mrs Dalloway at university).

We visited for a sneak peek before its opening and it was already a slick affair with friendly, attentive staff and a warm ambiance.  The all-day, seasonal menu is filled with a good selection of tempting dishes and there are also daily specials and small plates for sharing.

Our meal started with some delicious cocktails – a refreshing jasmine tea and elderflower cocktail for me and a potent, sophisticated Honeycomb Old Fashioned for Steven.

I thoroughly enjoyed my starter of Grilled tiger prawns, harissa aioli and lime (£15/£22).  Four plump, succulent whole tiger prawns were perfectly grilled with a slightly smoky taste and served with a subtle, aromatic harissa aioli that wasn’t overly heavy on the garlic.

Steven’s Longcut organic smoked salmon, Guinness bread and lemon (£9) was ever so tasty and flavoursome. The high quality smoked salmon had an oaky flavour and was well complimented by the springy, sweet Guinness bread and punchy capers.

To follow, I tried the Grilled poussin with lemon and rosemary (£18) with a side of mashed potato (£4.50). The tender, juicy poussin had a golden, well-seasoned skin and I loved the creamy, comforting mashed potato.  The dish could however be improved by adding a light salad or vegetable garnish for a contrasting flavour – it definitely requires ordering a side.

Steven went for a classic with a twist – London Meantime beer battered sea bass and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce (£16).  The seabass was so fresh with a more distinctive flavour than the typical cod or haddock and the batter was crispy and light.  The slim home-cooked chips were so moreish and the dish was finished perfectly with tasty mushy peas and an intense tartare sauce.

I couldn’t resist a final bit of indulgence with the Valrhona dark chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream (£3.75).  The freshly-baked fondant had a yummy cake texture with a decadent oozing centre and was presented nicely with smooth ice cream, biscuit crumble, chocolate sauce and nut brittle.

Steven’s Bloomsbury Bakewell tart and pistachio ice cream (£3.75) was just as delicious, with buttery pastry, fluffy almond frangipane and sweet strawberry jam.  We finished our (well-priced) desserts with pots of Earl Grey tea, which were served elegantly in pretty china cups with a silver tea pot.

Dalloway Terrace is a real hidden gem in historic Bloomsbury and I can’t wait to go back for breakfast or lunch, hopefully while basking in the spring sunshine.  It’s also a prime spot for a quintessentially British afternoon tea with sweets by pastry chef Mariatu Kargbo (formerly at The Dorchester and The Lanesborough) – see you there!

For more information and booking, visit: www.dallowayterrace.com

Chérie City was a guest of Dalloway Terrace

Photos by Chérie City (interior images by Dalloway Terrace)

London, Restaurants

Lunch at Frenchie Covent Garden

It’s rare to find a restaurant that manages to tick off everything on your dream wish list.  Not an easy task, but that was my first impression of Frenchie Covent Garden after visiting for lunch a few days ago.

It’s safe to say that Frenchie has been one of the most anticipated new openings in London this season. Nantes-born chef Gregory Marchand and his wife Marie opened the original Frenchie in Paris’ hip Marais neighbourhood in 2009 and with just 26 seats, it’s still quite a mission to get a reservation.  A mini empire on the Rue du Nil followed with Frenchie Bar à Vins and Frenchie To Go, before bringing their innovative bistronomy concept to London.

Gregory Marchand knows the city well, having made his name at Savoy Grill, Mandarin Oriental, Electric House and Fifteen, where his mentor Jamie Oliver gave him the nickname ‘Frenchie’.  He has also cooked around the world in Hong Kong, Spain and at Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in New York.

Frenchie Covent Garden occupies a prime spot on Henrietta Street, just off the Piazza, and the interiors are unbelievably gorgeous.  Emilie Bonaventure designed the inviting two-floor space with white-wash walls, exposed brickwork, sleek marble bar, brass highlights, parquet flooring and comfortable seating in soft grey and rose pink fabrics.

I visited with a friend at lunchtime and as soon as I stepped through the door, I felt instantly welcome and well looked after.  We were seated at the counter and were brought a bottle of chilled water while deciding which of the three dishes to order from the daily-changing set lunch menu, which is designed for sharing (two courses for £22/three courses for £28).

Carrots & vadouvan, barley and medjool date was a stunning dish, elevating the simple beauty of heritage carrots with modern Indian flavours.  The sweet, slightly firm carrots were roasted in aromatic, gritty vadouvan (a blend of masala spices) and accompanied by a smooth carrot and cumin purée, springy barley doused in a lighter carrot sauce and a punchy date gel.  It was a visual delight with rich colours and exotic flavours, though a little spicier than I’d imagined.

Basque black pudding, bramley apple and stracciatella was a complete contrast to the carrots with cool, zingy flavours.  The velvety, rich black pudding was lightened with creamy stracciatella, tart bramley apple purée and tiny apple cubes.

Lincolnshire chicken, button mushroom, shiitake and Meyer lemon was an absolute joy to eat.  The succulent roast chicken was exemplary with a crispy, golden skin and a farm-fresh, matured taste.  However, it was the accompaniments that really excited – thin slices of button mushroom dusted with Iranian black lemon powder, herb-infused shiitake mushrooms, wilted greens, a buttery mushroom purée, a lusciously uplifting Meyer lemon curd and a garlicky meat jus.

It was quite possibly the most creative chicken dish I’ve ever tasted, with umami-rich surprises at every turn – it was so good I really didn’t want it to end.

Elwy Valley lamb pappardelle, Kalamata olives and espelette was presented in a more low-key, homely style but the flavours were sophisticated.  The fresh egg pappardelle was perfectly al dente and silky, topped with juicy, tender lamb, fragrant black olives and plenty of espelette pepper, which gave it a sumptuous, smoky taste.

The modest portion sizes meant that we could comfortably indulge in the Bitter sweet chocolate tart, Maldon sea salt & bacon ice cream.  Now, I love chocolate but a simple chocolate tart has to be really special to pique my interest and happily, this one was absolutely heavenly.

The thick chocolate ganache was like velvet and went well with the thin, rustic pastry and sticky salted caramel.  The ice cream was delicious, but I could only detect the slightest hint of smoky bacon – it was enjoyable but didn’t make a big impact on the dessert.

New season Yorkshire rhubarb and Brillat-Savarin was so pretty and fresh – I can’t help gravitating towards pink desserts.  Mouth-watering rhubarb sorbet sat atop sweet poached rhubarb and smooth, whipped vanilla-scented Brillat-Savarin (a soft white cheese) and crunchy biscuit crumble.

One of the most remarkable things about Frenchie is the staff.  They’re just so charming, knowledgeable and genuinely interested in their guests, particularly Head Sommelier Bastien Ferreri who took the time to chat with us between each course.

Gregory Marchand was cooking downstairs in the open kitchen while we were there and is present almost every day, living nearby on Neal Street.  This dedicated direction and fine attention to detail has made Frenchie a huge success already, just a few weeks after opening.

Frenchie Covent Garden is certainly more accessible than the Paris restaurant, but following quick word-of-mouth and rave reviews, it’s already becoming difficult to get a table.  So go quickly, as Frenchie is a restaurant you won’t want to miss.

For more information and booking, visit: www.frenchiecoventgarden.com

Food images by Chérie City and interiors by Virginie Garnier

Frenchie  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Le Valentin hamburgé at Big Fernand London

They say the French are the best at romance, so why not leave Valentine’s Day in the capable hands of those Gallic charmers at Big Fernand?

Last night, we spent a pre-Valentine’s evening at Big Fernand in Fitzrovia and the flat-capped chaps managed to lure me away from my favourite hamburgé – Le Bartholomé – to try limited edition Le Valentin.

This decadent burger features a signature Big Fernand patty of freshly minced Charolais beef, topped with wild mushrooms, sweet mayonnaise and heart-shaped cheese Neufchatel, served in a sesame-seed bun and finished with chives and truffle oil.

My burger was cooked perfectly medium with a lovely smoky taste and I loved the addition of the strong, gooey Neufchatel.  This Normandy fromage has the appearance of Camembert but is much more pungent and mature.  It was well complemented by the buttery wild mushrooms, tangy home-made mayonnaise, fresh herbs and a very subtle hint of truffle oil (without overpowering the other flavours).

Steven tried Le Philibert – a delicious burger with succulent seasoned chicken, mild Tomme de Savoie cheese, juicy grilled peppers, fresh tarragon and home-made mayonnaise.  We accompanied our burgers with some delicious French chips sprinkled with home-made Cajun-style seasoning.

I usually pass on dessert at Big Fernand but what a mistake that is…they’re délicieux!  The enormous Financier Pistachio was moist and rich with golden, crispy corners and a delicate pistachio flavour.  Another top choice was the Apple and Cinnamon Tart with fine, buttery pastry and thin slices of sweet, caramelised cinnamon-scented apple.

You can wash it all down with a bottle of wine from France’s Pays d’Oc, a blonde beer or our choice of pink fizz – L’Elixir D’Archibald Fernand Pomegranate, Peppermint and Lemon.

Of course, Le Valentin is too good to enjoy only on Cupid’s day of love, so it’s available until the end of the month.  Allez…allez…treat your amour to an hamburgé!

Chérie City was a guest of Big Fernand

Photos by Chérie City

London, Restaurants

Kanada-Ya Ramen Bar Haymarket, London

Kanada-Ya made a big impact when it launched on St Giles High Street last year and it has remained my preferred London ramen bar since.  It hasn’t always been easy to grab a walk-in seat due to its popularity and petite size, but thankfully, Kanada-Ya has met demand and earlier this month opened a second ramen bar on Panton Street, just off Haymarket.

Kanada Kazuhiro’s new ramen bar is thankfully larger and set across two floors, with two bookable tables for groups of 5-7 as well as the usual walk-in tables and counter.  Designed by Spaced Out Ltd, Kanada-Ya Haymarket has a casual, minimal feel with simple light wood furniture and red accents.  It’s comfortable enough, but is definitely the kind of place for a quick and tasty refuel, rather than lounging over drinks.

The menu has also been modestly expanded to include two more side dishes and Japanese ice cream for dessert.  The focus remains on the ramen, which is quickly served up piping hot in large bowls with a number of extras, so you can customise it to your own taste.

We visited on Monday evening just before Christmas and arrived to find an orderly queue forming outside. It didn’t take long to be seated and we started by ordering iced Oolong tea – a lovely, refreshing drink in a can without any added sugar.  For something stronger, Kanada-Ya serves a good range of bottled cocktails, Japanese craft beer, rare Japanese whiskies and wine selection.

I was excited to try Kanada-Ya’s spin on one of my favourite Japanese bites – Chicken Kara-age.  The tender chicken thigh was well-marinated in ginger, garlic and soy and fried with a little more batter than I’m used to, but still delicious and satisfying.  It was not at all greasy nor in any way spicy but the seasoning certainly packed a punch.  There’s also a side of Paolo’s Spicy Kale to choose from, if you’re after something healthier.

To follow, Steven went for the Original Ramen, which made such an impression on us the first time we visited Kanada-Ya St. Giles.  It was exactly how we remembered, with a rich, creamy 18-hour pork bone broth, plenty of springy, hand-pulled noodles, earthy wood ear fungus, finely-sliced spring onion and a large sheet of flavoursome nori.

Of course, the star of the show was the chashu pork belly with a deep honey barbecue flavour and a silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture.  This house-marinated pork really is rather special and sets Kanada-Ya apart from other from rest.

I wanted to try something new and happily, the Chashu-Men was just as tasty and comforting as I’d hoped.  The ramen base was exactly the same as the original, but the bowl was lined with generous slices of succulent chashu pork collar.  The slices of pork were larger and leaner, with hardly any fat at all, and the portion size was almost double.  The pork collar still had that sweet chashu flavour, but it was much more subtle than the intense pork belly in the Original Ramen.  Both types of pork are absolutely delicious, it just depends on your mood and hunger levels.

It’s essential that you save some room for the dreamy Matcha Soft Serve.  The smooth, not overly sweet whipped ice cream was packed full of matcha green tea, giving it a bold flavour without any bitterness.  It’s the perfect light dessert to cool down after a bowl of hot ramen and leave you with a bit of a matcha high.

There are still so many ramen bars to work my way through in London and beyond, but Kanada-Ya has set a standard that will be hard to beat (although I’m up for the challenge).  If you’re in the mood for a ramen fix, or want to see what all the fuss is about, Kanada-Ya is where you need to be.

For more information, visit: www.kanada-ya.com

Chérie City was a guest of Kanada-Ya Haymarket

Photos by Chérie City and Kanada-Ya Haymarket

Kanada Ya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge

With so many renowned London institutions to strike off the list, it’s likely that a few will slip through the net.  After visiting this weekend, I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t experience the beauty that is Hawksmoor much earlier!

When I first started blogging in 2009, Will Beckett and Huw Gott’s British steakhouse Hawksmoor was on the lips (and keyboards) of London foodies, who raved about its superior steaks and burgers punctuated with small nuggets of bone marrow.  It’s fair to say that this grassroots acclaim has paved the way for Hawksmoor to expand to six locations across London and one in Manchester.  The original restaurant is based in Spitalfields, appropriately named after Nicholas Hawksmoor, the architect of nearby Christ Church.

After a leisurely afternoon of Christmas shopping, we arrived at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge for an early dinner.  Usually Saturday night dining in central London needs to be organised with military precision, but just a few days ahead, I secured our spot easily with Bookatable, dining from the set dinner at 5pm.

Subterranean Hawksmoor Knightsbridge is discreetly tucked away on Yeoman’s Row, just a short walk from Harrods, V&A and Hyde Park.  Designed by Macaulay Sinclair, the restaurant has a retro clubhouse feel with reclaimed walnut panelling, brass lamps, touches of grey marble and stunning amber-hued Art Deco windows.

It’s a slick, polished operation yet the ambiance cultivated is unpretentious with a cool indie soundtrack and friendly staff mostly dressed in plaid shirts and glasses.  There’s also an intimate cocktail bar away from the main dining room where you can graze on burgers, steak sandwiches lobster rolls.

Dining at the pre-theatre time of 5pm may seem early, but since Hawksmoor Knightsbridge is a popular restaurant, it was already buzzing and filled up quickly.  The set lunch or dinner is an excellent way to get a taste of Hawksmoor’s signature dishes at a very reasonable price – two course for £24 or three courses for £27.

I started with a very generous portion of Tamworth belly ribs with vinegar slaw.  The pork was so tender and flaky, with lean meat packed between layers of melt-in-the-mouth fat.  They were nicely charred on the outside and coated in a punchy dry rub with aromatic flavors of cumin, star anise and chipotle chilli.

The paper-thin ribbons of red cabbage doused in a tangy vinegar added freshness and helped offset the unexpected spiciness – my mouth was left tingling after I finished.

Steven tried the Potted smoked mackerel, which was a simple classic done well.  The mackerel had a bold, clean flavour with a layer of clarified butter on top and served with dill cucumbers and crispy toasts.  The other dish on the set menu was Roast beetroot salad with goat’s cheese, which looked colourful, fresh and inviting.

For the main course, I was happy to find two steak options, avoiding any potential squabbles over who would order the meat.  For a £5 supplement I enjoyed the most heavenly, medium-cooked Fillet tail (200g). The presentation was minimal without any leaves, herbs or garnish in sight, but that didn’t really matter, as the steak certainly impressed.

Fillet is my favourite cut of steak and this one was excellent with a pink, succulent centre graduating to smoky, chargrilled edges and with a pure, natural flavour.  I always ask for my steak medium, but with this thick cut, you could easy go down to medium-rare for a little more juiciness.

The set dinner also includes one side and I highly recommend the Baked sweet potato.  The potato flesh is so soft and tender, it simply falls off the buttery skin and is the perfect accompaniment for the steak.  The only thing missing is a choice of sauce, but you can order a side of Béarnaise, peppercorn or Stilton Hollandaise for an additional £3.

Steven’s Rib-eye (250g) was just as tasty and beautifully-cooked with a mature, aged flavour.  The layer of fat and softness of the meat gave it richness – well-suited to those who prefer a more complex taste.  The thick-cut Triple cooked chips were golden, hot and crispy and served with a delicious home-made tomato ketchup that had a sweet hint of cinnamon.  Other options are Hake or Ricotta dumplings with autumn vegetables, but really, it’s all about the meat.

We found the steaks to be just the right size for a filling, satisfying meal, however the steaks on the main menu go up to a whopping 500g!  You’ll need to loosen your purse strings a little more, but then again the quality is undisputed, with steaks from ethically-reared traditional British breeds.

For dessert, I went all out with the indulgent Peanut butter shortbread, which was even better than I expected.  A freshly-baked pastry star was filled with molten dark chocolate sauce and velvety peanut butter, finished with salted caramel ice cream and crushed peanuts.  It was simply heaven on a plate, ending my meal on the sweetest note.

Steven’s Lemon and yoghurt cheesecake was zingy and refreshing, but I found it too creamy.  The whipped cheesecake filling was a bit overwhelming and lacked the tartness that a cheesecake should have, plus the biscuit base was mixed in so there was no crunch.  Go for the Peanut butter shortbread (or perhaps the other option of Passionfruit pavlova) instead.

I can safely say I’ve been initiated into the cult of Hawksmoor and am already planning our next steak jaunt, perhaps to the Spitalfields restaurant closer to home.  The set dinner is excellent value with a great selection of winning dishes and you’re sure to leave feeling happy and well-fed.

For more information and booking, visit: www.bookatable.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of Bookatable

Photos by Chérie City and Hawksmoor Knightsbridge 

London, Restaurants

Weekend Lunch at The Richmond, Hackney

A truly memorable pub lunch isn’t always easy to find, but Hackney is hiding a little gem that you need to know about.  Opened just this year, The Richmond is nestled between Dalston, Haggerston and London Fields – slightly off the beaten path, making it a bit of an insider’s address.

Its previous incarnation was an eccentric Egyptian-themed restaurant, but now co-owners, Australian chef and restaurateur Brett Redman and stylist and fashion consultant Margaret Crow, have turned it into a stylish, cosy hotspot.

Not only is The Richmond a welcoming bar and restaurant with an exciting menu, but it’s also east London’s first raw bar.  It offers fresh, light seafood dishes such as tuna tartare, scallop carpaccio and Portuguese prawns, but its speciality is oysters sourced from across the UK.  There’s even a £1 oyster happy hour from Monday to Saturday, so you can easily sample them all.

Far from a typical boozer, The Richmond has a dining room set-up with an open kitchen and a cool bar for cocktails and bites.  Its period features have been lovingly restored alongside contemporary furnishings by interiors designer and antiques dealer Adam Bray (without a hieroglyphic in sight).  Even on the bitterly cold Saturday afternoon that we visited, it still has a warm atmosphere (and thankfully some heavy velvet curtains to keep out the chill).

We started with a refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail of elderflower, lime and soda, however you can go all out with a detox-retox Kale Mary, Quince Bellini or Irish coffee.

When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a warming soup, so I started with the Crab bisque, samphire and aioli (£7).  The velvety smooth bisque was full-bodied and packed with plenty of juicy crab, punctuated with salty sprigs of samphire.

The creamy, potent aioli on top made it even more luxurious, although I didn’t stir in all of it for fear of overpowering that bold seafood flavour.  Every last drop of bisque was mopped up with slices of springy, crusty sourdough boule from a little bakery in Borough Market – definitely the best I’ve ever tasted in a pub.

Steven went for one of the raw dishes – Smoked salmon with avocado, creme fraiche and pickled onions (£9).  The oaky smoked salmon simply melted in the mouth and was perfectly matched with silky avocado, tangy pink onions and a light emulsion.

I followed with Spit-roast poussin, pumpkin & sage stuffing, marsala gravy (£18). The poussin was ever so succulent and flavoursome, with a crispy, sticky skin.  The pumpkin and sage stuffing was aromatic yet subtle and the rich, meaty marsala gravy brought everything together nicely.

Equally delicious and autumnal was Steven’s Hampshire pork, delica pumpkin, trompettes and port.  The nicely browned pork fillet was complimented by caramelised pumpkin and smooth pumpkin purée, slow-cooked trompettes and slivers of soft shallot with dots of port reduction.  Both main dishes were so delightfully tasty, with portion sizes that satisfied while leaving a little room for dessert.

Desserts stray from the typical pub formula into French territory and our waiter recommended the two hot desserts to keep us toasty warm.  I got my sweet fix with the Apple beignets with caramelised apple and ricotta sorbet (£7).  The warm, golden choux fritters were light as air and filled with a sour apple compote and rolled in powdered sugar.  While beignets are usually paired with a dipping sauce, I liked the sweet and sour apple contrast and the tartness of the ricotta sorbet.

The dessert with the slight edge, however, was the Brown butter financier, cinnamon poached pears and crystallised almonds (£7).  The heavenly financier had a moist, dense texture with an extra treat of whisky sugar syrup poured over the top.  The juicy, fragrant pears were dusted with sweet candied almonds and the dish was finished with a glossy crème anglaise.  The portion sizes may appear on the small side, but these desserts really pack a punch.

The Richmond is a real asset to Hackney’s dining scene, offering exceptional, creative food that is worthy of the high praise it receives.  I’m thrilled to make it my new ‘local’ and can’t wait to see what’s in store at Brett Redman’s new Dalston yakitori restaurant, Jidori.  Hopefully an east London restaurant empire could be on the horizon.

Lunch is served at The Richmond from 1pm-3pm on Saturday and 1pm-4pm on Sunday.  For more information and booking, visit: www.therichmondhackney.com

Chérie City was a guest of The Richmond

Food images by Chérie City and interiors by Ed Reeve

The Richmond Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Paris, Restaurants

A Foodie Trip to Paris

Our recent trip to Paris was a whirlwind of foodie delights and as ever, we made lots of new discoveries.  I usually plan our meals with military precision but decided to loosen things up this time and go wherever our hearts and stomachs took us.

When we arrived in Paris and settled in to our lovely room at Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, a lazy Sunday afternoon was in full swing.  Our Paris trips are almost always mid-week, so it was a rare pleasure to see Parisians and visitors strolling around with their pooches, kissing in the Tuileries and making the most of a sunny weekend.

One of my favourite people-watching spots in Paris is the terrace of Cafe Le Nemours on Place Colette, sandwiched between the Louvre and the Palais Royal.  We managed to score an outside table and ordered two Croque Madames for a tasty refuel.  I’m always on the hunt for these traditional Croques with bubbling, oozing Gruyère, crispy buttered bread and a runny egg yolk (none of that slim slice of pain Poilâne nonsense).

As much as I tend to seek out creative neo-bistros and hip new bars, I also love a bit of Parisian old world charm.  The kind of institutions that have been serving up exemplary steak frites to the hungry masses for decades without a care for the latest trends.

There’s no better place to find these gems than around the Palais Royal with its many traditional arcades nearby.  So later that evening, we headed to Bistrot Vivienne set in the characterful, early 19th century Galerie Vivienne for a relaxed supper.

We both had our hearts set on steak frites and washed them down with a Monaco instead of the usual red wine.  My Scotch beef onglet steak was tender and lean, served perfectly medium with a velvety, mild gorgonzola sauce.  Steven’s Scotch Beef entrecôte with Guérande sea salt had a more mature flavour and a melt-in-the-mouth texture and was served with pot of a tangy, herby Béarnaise sauce.

The accompanying hand-cut fries are possibly the best I’ve ever tasted in Paris – hot, crispy, golden and freshly cooked.  We didn’t find room for dessert but will no doubt be lured back next time for the Brioche pain perdue and the Bourbon vanilla rice pudding with salted caramel.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a luxury Paris trip without a little casual fine dining and what better than a leisurely three-course lunch at Le Lulli, the stunning restaurant at Grand Hotel du Palais Royal?

I loved the restaurant’s relaxed atmosphere and contemporary design with a pretty winter garden referencing nature in the Palais Royal Garden.  It was quiet when we visited but is generally popular among the local business crowd and ladies who lunch, looking for something special and more private than nearby bistrots.

At the helm of Le Lulli is Executive Chef Clément Le Norcy, who honed his skills under the guidance of Michelin starred chefs at Hotel Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Chantilly, L’Abbaye Saint Ambroix and Hotel Le Saint-James and Le Gabriel in Bordeaux.

I started with the most delicious Gambas with roasted sucrine and shellfish vinaigrette.  The plump gambas were perfectly cooked and had an Asian twist with the slightly sweet vinaigrette and tiny mushrooms infused with soy.

Steven’s Salmon marinated with rose berry, cucumbers and spring onions was a delight with plenty of nicely-cured salmon, mini blinis and tempura spring onion.

After the previous evening’s indulgent steak, I went with a light and healthy Cod with mashed mushrooms and pistachio pesto.  It was succulent and crispy on top and the accompanying sauces were full of flavour with a smooth texture.

The winning dish, however, was Steven’s Lamb marinated with thyme and lemon, grilled leeks and spiced yoghurt.  The tender, lightly glazed lamb was ever so satisfying with a rich, meaty jus and delicate, fresh leeks.

Our meal ended on a high note with delicious desserts and a pot of tea.  My Entrement Chocolat, described as melty and crunchy from Tanzania, was simply heavenly.  The exquisite, velvety milk chocolate mousse (obviously made from very high quality chocolate) was filled with sticky sponge and topped with a chocolate sablé biscuit and drops of shimmering fruit gelée.

Steven’s Lemon tart was a refreshing classic with zingy lemon curd softened by lightly-whipped meringue, a buttery pastry base and crunchy lemon sugar tuiles.

We walked off this delicious, memorable meal around the Palais Royal Gardens and the Tuileries before checking out the Perspective Playground by Olympus at our favourite art space, Palais de Tokyo.

That evening, it was back to Le Lulli Bar for an aperitif with a long-time Twitter friend.  We chatted about all things Paris and travel over the most fantastic cocktails – head barman Maxime Rousseau’s cocktails are so tempting it took us a while choose.  My cocktail, Le Louvre, was a potent, fragrant blend of Hendick’s Gin, iced tea, hibiscus syrup and lime.  If you’re in the mood for bubbles, there are over 30 types of Champagne available.

After cocktails, we raced across town to meet our friends Coralie and Sunny at Glou in the Marais.  We have Coralie to thank for suggesting this cosy, loft-style bistrot by ex-food writer Julien Fouin.  It’s all about simple, honest cooking with a focus on organic ingredients from French terroirs and natural, biodynamic wine.

My Perigord chicken with Paris mushrooms and potato purée was the very best of comfort food and Steven was impressed with the Cod fillet with fennel choucroute and black olive oil.

Coralie enjoyed her Grilled plaice with potato purée and while the vegetarian Moussaka had run out, Sunny was brought a platter of rich, creamy vegetable-based dishes.

Desserts were typically French Tarte Tatin and Caramel rice pudding, which were executed well and with few surprises.  Glou is a great spot if you’re in the mood for fresh, home-cooked food in a pleasant atmosphere with friendly service – we would certainly visit again.

Of course, a trip to Paris is only complete with at least one beautiful cake.  I was delighted that our hotel was so close to the Sébastien Gaudard Patisserie Salon de Thé des Tuileries, as I’ve wanted to visit since discovering his first patisserie on the rue des Martyrs last year.

Since we were running late for the Eurostar (time is always too short in Paris), we ordered cakes to take out as a special treat for the train ride home.  A great idea in theory, but the baggage scanners aren’t always patisserie-friendly and they looked a little rough and ready, but still edible.

Steven’s Rum Baba was a classic done exceedingly well, but my Religieuse au Chocolat wasn’t really to my taste.  I rarely meet a cake I don’t like, but the dark chocolate filling was a little too heavy and intense (the selection at Ladurée remains undefeated as my favourite).  I am however undeterred and will continue to work through Sébastien Gaudard’s sweet repertoire on my next trip.

Our trip to Paris was a foodie success and there are still plenty of restaurants on my wish list for next time – Rachel’s, Monsieur Bleu, Lazare, Paris-New York and Le Grand Colbert to name but a few.

Have you tried any of these cafes and restaurants?  Where are your favourite foodie spots in Paris?

Photos by Chérie City (restaurant interior by Le Lulli)

Chérie City was a guest of Le Lulli as part of a two-night stay at Grand Hotel du Palais Royal 

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Tapas Revolution Shoreditch

Tapas is such a joy when it’s done well, especially when grazed on leisurely in the sunny climes of Spain.  London has some fantastic tapas restaurants, but there is certainly a lack of neighbourhood drop-in tapas bars that are such an integral part of Spanish culture.

That’s where Omar Allibhoy comes in, bringing a taste of the Madrid tapas bar scene to London with the excellent Tapas Revolution Shoreditch.  This boutique group of casual, modern tapas bars had humble beginnings in Westfield and Bluewater shopping malls (stay with me here), but the latest outpost is its first standalone tapas bar, occupying a prime spot in between Shoreditch High Street and the top of Brick Lane.

Chef Omar Allibhoy excelled in the world of innovative fine dining at elBulli under Ferran Adrià and at Maze with Jason Atherton before joining Elpirata in Mayfair as executive chef and then opening Tapas Revolution.

I visited on a mid-week evening and immediately liked the warm design and lively yet chilled out atmosphere at Tapas Revolution.  You can park up at the spacious bar or grab a table overlooking the open kitchen and counter.

The friendly, welcoming staff explained the menu to us and made some good recommendations.  We chatted about Spanish gastronomy with our waiter and he told us that everything is made completely from scratch in the kitchen.

The meal got off to a great start as we were presented with the most visually-pleasing Gambas a la plancha (£7.95).  One of my favourite indulgences when in Spain is fresh seafood, so this dish brought back memories of happy days in the sun.  The majestic king prawns had a lovely smoky taste and were doused in a punchy garlic, herb and olive oil sauce.

I can never resist Croquetas de jamón (£5.50) and these ones were very authentic and moreish.  The golden, hand-rolled croquetas were filled with oozing, silky bechamel but only a few tiny flecks of jamón, so that flavour was rather muted.

Patatas bravas (£3.75) are a must-order staple of any tapas meal, in my opinion, and these ones were exemplary.  I’m not a fan of the spicy ketchup breed of patatas bravas, but here, the fried potatoes had a naturally sweet flavour and were drizzled in a bold, piquant tomato sauce and a yummy, intensely garlicky aioli.

Tortilla de patata (£5.25) was served as its own lightly golden cake, rather than a large slice.  It was filled with layers of soft potato and caramelised onion and had a typically runny centre that made it even more of a comfort dish.  It could’ve been seasoned with a little more salt, but the aioli made up for it.

Carne a la parrilla (£6.75) was a tasty dish of succulent, medium-grilled flank of beef with slim slices of crispy potatoes on a bed of juicy roasted red peppers.  The acidic red peppers brought out the rich flavours of the beef and the herby potatoes were a perfect accompaniment.

Albóndigas en salsa (£5.50) was a beautifully-cooked, homely dish with the kind of recipe that you can imagine a Spanish grandma would pass down through generations.  The tender, melt-in-the-mouth beef meatballs were coated in a sweet, slow-roasted tomato sauce studded with soft carrots and peas, topped with fresh chives.  Be sure to order these meatballs for the table and mop up the heavenly sauce with some bread.

Tapas is a crafty kind of cuisine – the concept of small plates can make you feel virtuous but in fact, the dishes tend to be rather rich to make a lasting impression.  Napoleon complex, perhaps?  Of course, I always find a tiny spot of room for dessert and there can be none greater than Torrijas.  This traditional dessert, usually eaten at Easter in Spain, is similar to French Toast.  A thick slice of brioche is soaked in milk and fried, then topped with orange blossom-scented Crema Catalana and a generous dusting of cinnamon.

It’s the most delightful sharing dessert to end the meal, but would also work well as an indulgent afternoon treat.  I’m definitely tempted to try and make it at home, or better still, go on a hunt for the perfect Torrijas in Spain!

Tapas Revolution Shoreditch is a great spot to enjoy authentic Spanish bites over a few glasses of Sangria with friends.  With a nightly happy hour and menu rapido including a drink for just £7.95, there’s no reason not to!

For more information, visit: www.tapasrevolution.com

Chérie City was a guest of Tapas Revolution

Photos by Chérie City and Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Bombay Brasserie, Kensington

Curried Thoughts by Isabel Dexter

 After fish and chips, and possibly roast dinners, Indian food is the most British food you can think of. Although I feel that’s not complimentary enough to India. My favourite restaurant in Weston Super Mare is an Indian. And when I go back to see my parents in Derby I always petition to go to the BYOB Indian where my mum, sister, our astrologer friend Gill and I always went for girls’ nights. Apparently the Pisces-with-Leo-ascendent means worldwide cuisine is top of my list. That and an identity crisis apparently. Personally I never liked fish anyway.

Bombay Brasserie in Kensington is just that little bit fancier. And by a little bit I mean a whole lotta fancier. Blending the diverse cooking styles of Goa, Bengal and Gujerat with imperial Mughal, Raj and Portuguese influences the actual Bombay (now called Mumbai), is considered India’s financial and entertainment capital.

Meanwhile, Bombay Brasserie the restaurant has been an iconic eating destination since 1982 and it has all the swank and plushness of a five star dining experience. We went on a Friday night and it was pleasantly busy but not overwhelmingly so. The clientele was happily varied, with everything from families with well-behaved yet excitable children to business entertaining, groups of well-heeled friends and dates. This would be a great date restaurant actually, it’s impressive looking and the menu is varied and appealing. It probably has a Good Sense of Humour too.

I arrive to find The Blond Mr Bond-ing it up in the luxe bar area. Low lighting, a roaring fire and brightly lit bar with a frankly mesmerising spirit wall were a good distraction from my tardiness. There was a good cocktail selection too and it would be a perfect place for after-work drinks or pre-date cocktails. The Blond was impressed by the beer choices, which is no mean feat. This Man Knows Good Beer. All those cocktail bars and craft beer establishments in Shoreditch could take note. A bar that wants to give Members Club vibes needs to be like decent cashmere. Expensive-looking but also laid back. There’s no need to try hard and Bombay Brasserie’s bar looks like the lovechild of a Rolling Stone and an Upper East Side supermodel. The sort of place that you go for one drink and end up cuddled up in front of the fireplace four martinis later. Four? Who am I kidding? One martini. No shame in being a cheap date.

The Blond salivates at the mere mention of ‘curry’ so despite the cosy ambiance we pretended to saunter (read jog) into the restaurant area – separated by huge wooden doors and much more brightly lit. We agreed that it was a little too bright, although nice to be able to see the food, which was incredibly visually pleasing.

For starters I had Malai baby corn and  broccoli, which was a simple griddled baby corn and stem broccoli topped with a cheese sauce. Nice and al dente but would have worked better as a side dish. There was a certain awkwardness in ploughing through them as a starter but that could be because I’m a die-hard carnivore and generally think vegetables are like the colour-coordinated window displays at Selfridges. Fun to look at and they certainly brighten things up but I don’t actually want to consume them.

The Blond had the Khada Masala scallops, which were (and I quote) ‘delicate’ and ‘clearly expertly done’.

For mains I happily devoured the Tandoori Raan, a braised lamb shank with cinnamon, black cumin and vinegar. The lamb was perfectly cooked and gorgeously succulent. The sauce was delicious and super smooth. The Blond went for the Goa Halibut curry with coconut, red chillies and tamarind, which was rich and complex in flavour although he said he’d have preferred it a little more ‘roughed-up’ in texture. Daniel Craig rather than Sean Connery I presume. The heat level was excellent and the fish was perfectly meaty and thick in texture but still very fresh-tasting.

To finish, we shared (and I mean that euphemistically. He ordered it. I ate it. Gender stereotypes are alive and well in South Kensington) the Trio of desserts. Cue a very indulgent raspberry chocolate, chocolate samosa and chocolate brownie all stabbed with a crackle of orange. I couldn’t fault it. The service was excellent too and the general mood was fun rather than formal, despite the starched white table cloths and five star cutlery. Sometimes the world is enough.

For more information and booking, visit: www.bombayb.co.uk

Isabel Dexter was a guest of Bombay Brasserie

Photos by Isabel Dexter and Bombay Brasserie

Bombay Brasserie - Millennium Gloucester Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Berlin, Cafes, Restaurants

Where to Eat in Berlin

Berlin may be best-known for its signature currywurst, schnitzel, fresh pretzels and Berliner doughnuts, but its thrilling food scene has an international outlook.

With such innovative food, cool design and mostly affordable prices, you will be spoilt for choice on a city break in the German capital.  My list of Berlin dining hotspots is ever-growing, but here are a few top places that you won’t want to miss…

Yumcha Heroes

This petite canteen in hip neighborhood Mitte serves top notch dim sum from 12 to 12 every day.  It’s a contemporary take on the traditional Chinese tea house, offering a wide selection of steamed and fried dumplings, as well as soups, salads, grilled meats and chef’s signature dishes.

Yumcha Heroes is in a family of celebrated, design-led Chinese restaurants in Berlin, including Long March Canteen, Toca Rouge and Soya Cosplay, so you know you’re in good hands.  In fact, it’s such a popular place that we counted ourselves very lucky to score a corner table as a walk-in at around 9pm – I didn’t realised at the time that they do in fact take reservations.

We started with a few dim sum, which are offered either steamed in a bamboo basket or grilled with pak choi.  The generously-filled, hand-minced Black Beef Dumplings were punchy and well-seasoned, while Orange Prawns boasted whole, plump king prawns and a subtle ginger flavour.  My favourite Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai dumplings filled with hot broth) were a real joy to eat and Cho You Bao – an enormous steamed bun filled with sweet pork – was fluffy yet substantial and ever so moreish.

Yumcha Heroes does dim sum in its own unique way, and that’s hearty, high quality and big portions.  Be sure to get a table close to the open kitchen, so you can watch your tasty parcels being hand-wrapped.

NENI

Israeli chef Haya Molcho’s debut restaurant NENI regularly tops ‘Berlin’s best restaurants’ lists and it’s easy to see why.

Located on the 10th floor of the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin, NENI and the adjoining Monkey Bar offer spectacular, panoramic views of the Berlin Zoo.  However, it’s the home-style cooking inspired by Haya’s nomadic travels that draws the crowds.  Her signature cuisine – with a focus on small plates for sharing – is an eclectic blend of Persian, Russian, Arabic and Israeli with a few Spanish, German and Austrian influences.

While daytime at NENI (the initials represent Haya’s four sons), is like dining above the treetops, the evening is a slick, sexy affair with dimmed lighting and a lively atmosphere.  As such, it’s essential to book far ahead – even then our slot was restricted to 9pm.

We started with a litre carafe of home-made iced tea and grazed on the most amazing Classic hummus, served with two large pieces of warm, freshly-baked pitta bread.  Another delicious small plate was NENI-style Kebab – home-made beef and lamb patties with cilantro tahini and oven-baked vegetables.  This dish was just like the Persian food of my childhood, so by this point I could tell that the cuisine was more than just a fashionable melting pot of cultures.

We were both tempted by the Chicken breast strips in a crispy almond coating with sweet potato fries and sweet chili sauce, so we ordered it as a large plate to share.  The chicken was succulent and tender with a flavoursome, crunchy coating and the sweet potato fries were exemplary.

I highly recommend NENI for a stylish, sociable night out in Berlin – it really is a restaurant that you won’t want to miss.

Princess Cheesecake

I found my happy place in Berlin and it’s a small boutique and cafe called Princess Cheesecake.  I’m pretty sure that Berlin’s favourite cake is cheesecake over strudel (from my extensive research on this trip), and here you can find any flavour and style under the sun.  German cheesecake…Austrian cheesecake…New York cheesecake…Russian cheesecake – you name it, they bake it!

Once you’ve deliberated over which mouth-watering, luxurious cheesecake to sample, grab a seat in the Marie-Antoinette style tea salon or take in the sun on the pretty, highly Instagramable terrace.  We shared a slice of Dancing the Meringue cheesecake – a delicate and fruity option with a cool, creamy layer of cheesecake studded with tart redcurrants, lightly-as-air meringue and a spiced, crumbly biscuit base.

We felt rather virtuous as we sipped on our lovely Samova Earl Grey tea, however cake envy soon ensued as the schoolgirl sitting next to us wolfed down a whole wedge of dense, brick-like New York cheesecake all to herself.  A lesson learned – restraint is not a quality to encourage when at the temple of cheesecake!

Michelberger Hotel

Since I discovered Fountain of Youth coconut water last summer, I’ve been dying to check out its creator’s home – the Michelberger Hotel in edgy Friedrichshain.  Unfortunately the restaurant was closed on the evening we visited, and we already had our hearts and bellies set on Yumcha Heroes, so we parked up at the lobby bar for some low-key drinks.

I wanted to get my Fountain of Youth fix, but Steven went for a whisky sour, which was nice and strong and perfectly mixed.  In the summer, the courtyard is the place to be, or if you’re in the mood for a indie sing-along shenanigans, finish the night next door at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke.

Where are your favourite places to eat in Berlin?  Which restaurants are on your foodie wish list?

All photos by Chérie City