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London, Restaurants

Lunch at West Thirty Six, London

When I first moved to London, one of my favourite days out was a spot of vintage shopping on Portobello Road (I found one of my favourite designer cashmere cardigans there for a tenner) and a rummage for new music in Rough Trade, followed by cupcakes at Hummingbird Bakery, back in the day when there were always queues outside.

Visiting the hip new townhouse West Thirty Six for lunch made me a bit nostalgic for my past Notting Hill jaunts, when I was a care-free journalism student with little more to do than explore my new city.

My summer resolution is to make it over to the west more often to watch the world go by at the pavement cafes and marvel at the pastel-coloured houses.

Located just over the bridge on Golborne Road, West Thirty Six is a seriously cool converted townhouse from the team behind Beach Blanket Babylon.  It has the cosy feel of a private members’ club with a enviable mix of contemporary and retro design and maze-like rooms with different ambiances.

We walked through the expansive downstairs brasserie and ate in the more intimate first floor dining room, which also features a separate bar and stunning terrace.  Our corner table was in a prime spot with plush sofas, bookcases and sleek artwork – it almost felt like our own private living room.

The second floor is exclusively for private parties and bottle service and there’s also the ‘secret’ basement yard The Tool Shed with its own fire pit and a cute gardening theme.

At the helm of West Thirty Six is Chef Jon Pollard (formerly of Soho House and Caprice Holdings), whose menu features grill house and brasserie classics with a twist.  There’s a big meat focus with British farm-sourced produce, but still plenty of dishes to pique the interest of vegetarians.

Since it was a hot day and only lunchtime, we skipped starters and went straight to the mains – given the portion size, this turned out to be a wise choice.

I was tempted by the Half Rotisserie Chicken (£12) and it really looked the part when it arrived nicely dressed on a wooden board.  But this was no ordinary rotisserie chicken, it was a spit roasted rare breed Norfolk grey chicken seasoned with rosemary and thyme.

The generously-sized roast chicken was tender, succulent and with the most delicious, properly crispy skin, grilled half lemon, roasted garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme.

Steven went for the Sirloin 39 day house aged Hereford beef, 350g, (£25).  The nicely charred, juicy steak was cooked perfectly medium and had a lovely smoky flavour from the grill.  It was lightly seasoned, simply to enhance the natural meat flavours, but was accompanied with a pot of delicious, herby Béarnaise sauce.

For a lighter alternative to fries, we ordered two of the tempting vegetable dishes to share.  Roasted cauliflower with pomegranate, hazelnut (£8.50) was a nice combination of ingredients, but I found the dish unexpectedly overly sweet, as though it was coated in a sugary glaze.

More successful were Artichokes with broad beans, hazelnuts and saffron (£9) – a dish that you can imagine gracing an Ottolenghi counter.  The tangy marinated artichokes had a summery lemon, saffron and fresh mint flavour and the large broad beans, hazelnuts and pickled pink onions were the ideal additions.

For dessert, the Apple Cinnamon Pie with custard (£9) came highly recommended and happily it was already my number one choice.  Our waitress presented us with a rustic, freshly-baked whole apple pie and cut the most enormous portion with a little jug of custard.

It was one of the best apple pies I’ve ever had with juicy, sweet green apples, plenty of cinnamon and a golden, buttery crust.  It was perfectly complemented by the smooth, vanilla-scented custard – puddings don’t come much better than this.

Steven tried the Chocolate Bar with peanut crunch (£9), which was a more sophisticated dessert but equally delicious.  The dense chocolate sponge base (almost like a brownie) was topped with a layer or smooth salted caramel mousse, milk chocolate mousse and glossy dark chocolate ganache.

As if that wasn’t indulgent enough, it came with gorgeous salted caramel ice cream and a copper pot of warm cherry compote.  Desserts at West Thirty Six really are worth shouting about, so you must leave room to try a few, washed down with a pot of fresh mint tea.

West Thirty Six is a fantastic spot for a laid-back, cosy lunch with friendly staff, excellent food and attractive surroundings.  I imagine it to be buzzing with a fun west London crowd in the evenings and will definitely be visiting again soon to try the Sunday Roast, cocktails and the magnificent Build your own Sundae.

For more information and booking, visit: www.w36.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of West Thirty Six

Photos by Chérie City (some interiors by West Thirty Six)

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London, Restaurants

Taste of London 2015 with EATAPAS

This weekend, I visited Taste of London for the first time and it was just as fun and buzzing as I expected.

Set in the open-air surroundings of beautiful Regent’s Park, Taste of London is a showcase for the best London restaurants, local and national food producers and innovative new companies.

It’s the perfect day out where you can watch live cookery demonstrations and talks with top chefs, nibble your way around the stalls and pick up some gourmet produce to take home.

A highlight of the event is the line-up of London restaurants where you can mix and match small taster dishes that show off the chefs’ creativity yet leave you curious to try more.

I was invited as a guest of EATAPAS, a UK-based start-up that sells authentic Spanish tapas ingredients online.

Launched just seven months ago, EATAPAS offers luxury food products that can only be found at high end stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols – they even persuaded one artisanal brand to export to the UK for the first time through them exclusively.

EATAPAS shares the story of all our their food brands online, making you feel more connected to the producers.  A particularly interesting brand to look out for is Museu de la Confitura – a small Catalonian company set up by Georgina Regàs where the jams are made by a group of 60-year-old grandmas.

I enjoyed a tasting plate of the most delicious, flavoursome Manchego cheese with crunchy Picos Camperos while perusing the products and devising Spanish-style recipes in my head.  EATAPAS very kindly gave me a bag full of exquisite Spanish tapas ingredients and I can’t wait to get cooking with them.

After discovering EATAPAS, I browsed the stalls and procured plenty of samples along the way.  I tasted almost every coconut water in existence (definitely a prominent trend at Taste of London), dipped pieces of sourdough into the sweetest Seggiano balsamic vinegars and grazed on tiny cubes of fudge in every flavour.

Celebrity Cruises recreated its signature Lawn Club with tasting events and live music while the VOSS Water stand brought a holiday vibe with cool sounds by live DJs.

One of the prettiest spots was the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Lounge, which was ever so elegant with pastel furnishings, pink roses and flowing rosé Champagne.

There were some top notch restaurants present and my thinking was to try dishes from restaurants that I haven’t yet visited.  The truffley aromas around The Palomar stall were too good to resist, so I went for the Polenta Jerusalem style with asparagus, mushroom ragout, Parmesan and truffle oil.  It must’ve been a favourite that day, as one of the servers predicted my order as I approached and they weren’t wrong.

The rich, creamy polenta was perfectly complemented by the truffle oil and I loved the addition of the slow-cooked, garlicky mushroom ragout.  I’ve heard great things about The Palomar and this divine dish has definitely made me want to visit for a proper dinner.

To follow, I had my eye on a Kurobuta BBQ pork belly steamed bun or a Chinese special roast duck and hoisin mantu bun by Chai Wu, but sadly it was not meant to be.  While procrastinating and wandering, 4pm struck and I didn’t realise that at this time, almost everything shuts down and we would be ushered out with a quick turnaround before the next four-hour session.

Not even a hopeful smile of flash of the crowns could score me a morsel, so when you go, be sure to pick up your dishes in good time and leave shopping until the end.  Here’s the Kurobuta pork belly sizzling away, so near and yet so far…

However, all was not lost as I managed to spend my remaining crowns on a very indulgent chocolate chip brownie from Olivier’s Bakery and a box of T2 New York Blend to add to my ever-growing T2 collection at home.

Taste of London is a great way to dine around London’s top restaurants and meet new food producers and companies.  It was such a fun event and I’ll definitely be heading back next year.

For more information, visit: london.tastefestivals.com and www.eatapas.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of EATAPAS

All photos by Chérie City

Events, Hotels, London, Restaurants

Mark Hix Carving Master Class at Brown’s Hotel, London

One of my all-time favourite meals is a good roast, so I was thrilled to be invited to an exclusive Carving Master Class with Mark Hix at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.

HIX restaurants are known for their top notch British meat and seafood, so where better to learn how to wield a carving knife than at HIX Mayfair?

The master class was hosted in the elegant Clarendon Room with wall murals painted with verses from Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods and views over Dover Street.

I’d imagined the event would simply be a demonstration and Q&A but it was in fact a private dinner for a small group hosted entirely by Mark Hix for over two hours.  It was a rare treat to spend an evening with a renowned chef in this intimate setting and be able to chat freely.

We started the evening with a welcome drink before sitting down to get carving.  Mark spoke about the quintessentially British art of carving and introduced the cuts of meat that we’d be sampling during the dinner.

He then invited us to each come up and try carving a whole fillet of smoked salmon into thin slices for our sharing starters.  It made for a good ice-breaker and luckily there wasn’t too much pressure to be an instant carving pro.

The Albemarle smoked salmon ‘Hix cure’ was a million miles away from your regular supermarket smoked salmon with deep, oaky flavours and a melt-in-the-mouth texture –  I couldn’t get enough of it.

It was accompanied by some very moreish Whipped broad beans with Herefordshire goat’s curd and grilled flatbreads and a fresh, tangy Isle of Wight tomato and lovage salad with Sarson’s malt vinegar.

Our first main course meat was Roast Swainson House Farm barn-reared Indian Rock chicken served with Charlotte potato and green onion salad.

This is the signature Hix chicken – full of theatre and spectacle impaled on a spike with outstretched claws.  It is of course more natural than the usual trussed up chickens, but I can’t help thinking it has a rather comical Tim Burton-esque appearance.

I was the first in our group to carve the bird and I hesitantly got hold of the claw and sliced downwards to remove the leg, revealing the breast meat.  Once it was carved down to the bones, we all chose our cuts and helped ourselves to the side dishes served family-style.

This was one delicious chicken with flavoursome meat, golden, crispy skin and a tasty stuffing made with fresh sage, fried onions and chicken livers.  The potato salad was a nice summer alternative to the usual trimmings, but we still kept with tradition and enjoyed it with gravy.

I asked Mark the best way to make gravy and he told us that it’s difficult to get really good gravy if you prepare it at the same time as the meat from the roasting juices.  He advised simmering chicken wings and necks with some roasted vegetables in a pressure cooker and making large quantities in advance, storing in the freezer until the next roast.

The meat was paired with Mark Hix’s own wine (in collaboration with fellow restaurateur Mitch Tonks) - 2013 Tonnix White, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Portugal.  Being part of the YBA scene, he asked his mate Tracey Emin to etch a drawing for the label – it’s definitely the coolest bottle of wine I’ve ever seen.

I could have easily wolfed down more of the chicken, but it’s worth pacing yourself as there are still two other meats to indulge is and the portion sizes just seem to increase.

Next up was the Herb-baked leg of Launceston lamb with Minted cucumber, samphire and shallot salad.  The magnificent joint of lamb was cooked in hay to lock in moisture and keep the meat soft.  The lamb was incredibly succulent and juicy with a layer of browned, melted fat.  I’m not a fan of cucumber, but the salad looked colourful and fresh.

To round off the meat feast, we enjoyed Roast Boccadon Farm rib of veal with Broad bean and Wye Valley asparagus salad.  This was my favourite, as the veal was so lean and tender with a very clean taste.  By this point I think we let Chef handle the carving and were treated to chunky, substantial halved ribs each.

The veal was paired with another excellent HIX wine – 2013 Tonnix Red, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Portugal (there’s also a rosé wine in the collection).

Of course there’s always room for dessert and this one was a very boozy Oakchurch Farm strawberry and Tonnix white port trifle.  It was light and fruity with vanilla-scented cream, velvety custard, sponge soaked in copious amounts of white port and jelly studded with fresh strawberries.

Usually a big roast might end with an afternoon snooze, of which lucky Brown’s Hotel guests will have the privilege, but we finished with a round of espresso (Jasmine tea for me) and exquisite Cider brandy truffles.

Before leaving, we had the chance to select a Mark Hix cookbook, which he kindly signed and personalised.  I chose the HIX Oyster and Chop House book and look forward to trying some of the recipes.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were kindly given a goody bag packed with Cornish sea salt, hillfarm rapeseed oil, some insanely decadent Hix Fix morello cherries in Somerset cider brandy, a copy of the first HIX Magazine and a Brown’s Hotel apron.

The Mark Hix Carving Master Class was such a fun, friendly private dining experience and I highly recommend it for carnivorous foodies looking for something a bit special.

Two-hours classes are hosted by Mark Hix every month (priced at £185 per person) and include a feast of sharing starters, all of the featured cuts of meats with wines to match, dessert and a goody bag including a signed cookbook and Brown’s apron.

Forthcoming dates: Wednesday 24th June, 29th July, 30th September, 28th October & 18th November 2015.  For more information and booking, visit: www.roccofortehotels.com

Chérie City was a guest of Browns Hotel

Photos by Chérie City and Browns Hotel

 

Brunch, Hotels, London, Restaurants

Le Brunch at The Balcon, Sofitel London St James

Weekends don’t get much better than when brunch is involved.  Especially when it’s a lazy, late and luxurious brunch, so you can catch a few extra hours of beauty sleep (or recover from the excesses of Saturday night).

If you like your Sunday brunch with an air of sophistication, The Balcon at Sofitel London St. James has just launched its fabulous new Le Brunch menu.  Classic French dishes are given a creative twist and feature alongside brunch favourites, American-inspired dishes and lighter, healthy options.

We visited the elegant Russell Sage-designed restaurant for a long, mid-afternoon brunch and were seated at a lovely corner booth with views over elegant Waterloo Place.  We were warmly greeted by the delightful staff, who explained the menu and chatted to us about our weekend.

The special brunch drinks are just as exciting as the food, including a Kir selection from the Champagne Bar, potent coffee and rum-based cocktails, alcoholic milkshakes and frappé coffees.

I chose a Kir with Pear Liqueur and Bulgare tea (£10), which was sweet, fragrant and refreshing, served chilled in a large wine glass with fresh raspberries.  I really enjoyed the white wine in the Kir, but you could ask for a Kir Royale if you prefer to start the brunch with Champagne.

Steven tried the Black Russian milkshake (£8) made with dark rum, Mozart chocolate liqueur, chocolate ice cream and milk.  It was decadent yet light and milky and just boozy enough.

To start, we were brought two slices of savoury cake – a bold Mediterranean-style black olive tapenade flavour and a richer, more French ham and cheese.  We were fans of both and thought they were an interesting alternative to the usual bread basket, however a mountain of freshly-baked bread rolls with French butter soon followed too!

While we were waiting for our first dishes, we had a long chat with our lovely waitress Neslihan about her native Turkey and she recommended a contemporary Persian singer that she had recently seen live at Barbican.  She kept us entertained until our food arrived and it was so nice to build a rapport with the staff – everyone in the restaurant was treated like regulars.

I couldn’t resist trying the Duck Eggs Benedict with Bayonne ham and green asparagus.  This was one of the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had.  The duck eggs were poached to perfection with runny, vibrant orange yolks and were perched atop fluffy toasted English muffins, steamed chunky asparagus spears and a generous amount of flavoursome, freshly-carved Bayonne ham.

Steven went for the more indulgent Grilled jerk marinated steak and fried egg with cornmeal waffle and home-made barbecue sauce (£4 supplement).  The juicy, succulent medium-cooked steak was well-seasoned and had a delicious flame-grilled taste.  It went well with the crispy, grainy and slightly sweet cornmeal waffles and the fried egg and tangy, smoky barbecue sauce finished it nicely.

To follow, I ordered a quintessentially British dessert with a French flourish – Raspberry macaron Eton Mess.  It was a heavenly, whimsical dessert with lightly whipped, vanilla-scented Chantilly cream, fresh raspberries and soft, chewy raspberry-flavoured macaron pieces.  I couldn’t help thinking of Marie-Antoinette with each mouthful – she certainly would’ve approved of this dessert.

Warm chocolate and ginger tart with milk ice cream was another high point of the meal.  The luxurious chocolate fondant had a soft cake texture and oozed molten dark chocolate infused with aromatic ginger.  As it that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, it was set on a fine, buttery pastry base and topped with cool, light milk ice cream.

We finished our brunch with pots of Earl Grey and Jasmine Pearl tea, which were served in my favourite Sofitel Asian-style cast iron teapots (one day I will have one of my own, as well as a Sofitel SoBed).

Le Brunch at The Balcon is a fabulous way to make the most of your weekend.  The menu is full of tempting dishes and the top notch food leaves you feeling full and satisfied without being too much.  With such chic surroundings, notable service and a relaxed atmosphere, it’s the perfect choice for a memorable brunch.

Le Brunch at The Balcon is priced at £20 per person for two courses and is available from 12pm to 4pm every Sunday.  For more information and booking, visit: www.thebalconlondon.com

Chérie City was invited by The Balcon

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by The Balcon)

Click to add a blog post for The Balcon on Zomato

Hotels, Paris, Restaurants

Dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc, The Peninsula Paris

When the much-anticipated luxury hotel The Peninsula Paris opened last summer, I couldn’t wait to get back to Paris to take a peek inside.

On my recent trip to Paris, I happily had the chance to visit the five star hotel for dinner at its stunning rooftop restaurant, L’Oiseau Blanc.

This first Peninsula Hotel in Europe is housed in a grand 19th century Haussmannian former palace (also once the Hotel Majestic) on the prestigious Avenue Kléber, close to the Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe.

The historic building has been beautifully-restored and is perfectly complemented by contemporary luxury interiors and Far Eastern design details referencing the origins of the exclusive hotel group (its iconic flagship hotel is The Peninsula Hong Kong).

On arrival, we were greeted by two stone lions guarding the entrance to the hotel, which leads on to the opulent white and gold Lobby.

Inside The Peninsula Paris is truly breathtaking with an elegant white marble promenade, sweeping black and gold-trimmed staircase and exquisite artworks.  At the heart of the hotel is the Lobby’s ethereal Dancing Leaves installation, made with over 800 hand-blown glass leaves by Lasvit.

The Peninsula Paris is a delight for foodies with authentic Chinese fine dining at LiLi, the gilded Lobby serving The Peninsula’s famed afternoon tea and The Kléber Terrace offering international dishes including the all-important Club Sandwich and typical Parisian steak.

L’Oiseau Blanc restaurant, bar and terrace on the sixth floor is the jewel in the hotel’s crown with spectacular 360 degree views over the city.

The restaurant has an aviation theme and even boasts a custom-made biplane hovering above the courtyard as though en route towards the Eiffel Tower.  It is in fact a replica of the ill-fated biplane flown by flying aces Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli who attempted to cross the Atlantic in 1927 from Le Bourget.

Peninsula Hotels are known for their love of motor vehicles, such as the fleet of Rolls Royces at The Peninsula Hong Kong, and L’Oiseau Blanc extends its tribute to aviation with flying objects and artefacts in glass cases and biplane motifs on the menu and tableware.

At the helm of L’Oiseau Blanc is acclaimed Alsatian Chef Sidney Redel, who previously worked for Pierre Gagnaire in Paris and Courchevel.

He brings Paris’ hip ‘bistronomy’ concept to L’Oiseau Blanc, celebrating France’s finest produce and seasonal ingredients with a daily-changing set menu.  This offering is a refreshing change from Michelin-style fine dining that you might expect from a restaurant in a five star luxury hotel.

The chic restaurant feels spacious yet intimate with leather banquettes, crisp white table cloths and red roses adorning the tables.  It also has a retractable roof, so you can enjoy dinner in the open air during the warmer months.

We started with a glass of crisp, refreshing Peninsula Paris Champagne and were swiftly treated to the dazzling light show from the Eiffel Tower.  It was a very memorable moment – what could be more romantic than sipping Champagne against the backdrop of one of the world’s most iconic monuments twinkling away?

We ordered from the three-course Sierra Menu (€99 per person), which offers two choices for each course, however the chefs are happy to present other options if there’s something else that takes your fancy.

To start, I ordered Carabineros – tandoori, bitter citrus marmalade.  This was a very satisfying Asian-inspired starter with complex, malty flavours from the mellow tandoori spices and intense citrus bitterness cut through with a flash of freshness from the cucumber.

Carabineros prawns are known for their bright red colour and robust flavours and these ones were tender, plump and utterly moreish.

Steven went for the Duck foie gras – terrine, smoked breast, beetroots and raspberries.  The high quality foie gras had a smooth texture and its rich flavour was lightened with the acidity and sweetness of the raspberries.  It was an interesting, modern way to serve a classic French dish.

I followed this with a typically French Matured beef chuck from Limousin, bone marrow, anchovies and spring onions.  The flavoursome beef was cooked medium as requested with a tender pink centre and was nicely browned on the outside.

It was served atop a smooth potato purée with paper-thin golden potato crisps, small pieces of soft bonemarrow, a wilted whole spring onion and a rich, meaty jus.  I didn’t actually detect the anchovies, but perhaps they were subtly blended with the potato.

Steven tried the John Dory seasoned with Iberian chorizo, carrots and turnips with curcuma.  The succulent, substantial fillet of John Dory had a clean, fresh taste and was complemented by the bold, slightly spicy chorizo.  The beautifully-presented vegetables added some colour and tasted lovely and market fresh.

Desserts at The Peninsula Paris are by Executive Pastry Chef Julien Alvarez – winner of the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in 2011 – and we were excited to see what he had designed for that evening.

Since we were so close to the Charle de Gaulle Étoile and gazing at the little stars adorning the Eiffel Tower, it seemed only right to try the Chocolate star, crunchy praline, macae ice cream.

This gorgeous dessert was everything that I’d hoped for.  The glossy dark chocolate dome was filled with a velvety chocolate mousse and ganache with a crunchy praline biscuit base.  The delicious macae ice cream was served atop a chocolate cookie and the delicate gold-painted star biscuit made it even more special.

Fruity freshness, almond biscuit, mango yuzu cream, strawberry sorbet was bursting with juiciness and exotic fruit flavours.  The soft almond sponge and fine biscuit was topped with fragrant, smooth mango and yuzu cream and fresh raspberries with flecks of gold leaf.

The strawberry sorbet was a real highlight and the mango and lime compote finished the dessert perfectly.

To round off our meal, we were served pots of Earl Grey tea and some decadent white chocolate nut clusters with a slightly iridescent sheen.  The rain started beating against the glass, but it did nothing to dampen our spirits as we couldn’t be more content sipping tea in front of the Eiffel Tower.

L’Oiseau Blanc at The Peninsula Paris is the perfect place to experience the magic of Paris from above with stylish surroundings, exceptional service and a creative yet unpretentious menu.  I’d love to visit again in the summer to make the most of the city views over a cocktail, however dinner in the evening with the Eiffel Tower light show is unmissable.

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

Chérie City was a guest of The Peninsula Paris

Photos by The Peninsula Paris and Chérie City

London, Restaurants

A Sicilian Dinner at IDDU – South Kensington, London

Discovering complex flavours and new fusion dishes can be a joy of living in a city with so many exciting restaurants, however, sometimes simple, rustic cooking can just really hit the spot.

I reaffirmed this last week over a fabulous dinner at IDDU, a new Sicilian cafe-restaurant-winebar in South Kensington. Open all day, IDDU serves healthy breakfast dishes such as Oatmeal with Millefiori honey and mixed nuts, panini and market salads for lunch and authentic pasta, grilled meat and fish dishes for dinner.

The name IDDU is used by Sicilians to describe the active volcano of Stromboli on the Aeolian Islands – a far cry from calm and leafy SW7, but the spirit of Sicily is there.

IDDU has the warm feel of a neighbourhood restaurant with welcoming staff that treat you like a regular from your very first visit.  The cosy restaurant’s interiors are contemporary yet homely and the shelves are filled with gourmet products imported from Sicily.  There’s also a counter filled with tempting cakes and pastries and a stylish terrace to dine al fresco.

Owned by Sicilian hospitality entrepreneur Luca Del Bono, IDDU attracts a smart local crowd and is in fact part of next door’s private members’ club, South Kensington Club. Presiding over the stove is Sicilian chef Francesca D’Amico, who was born in the Sicilian capital Palermo and grew up by the sea close to Taormina.

On the Thursday evening that we visited it was already busy and we were given a lovely, intimate table for two right next to the window.

We perused the menu, which is typically Sicilian with a focus on Mediterranean vegetables, particularly aubergines, and just a few meat and fish dishes.  I’ve experienced Sicilian food made by proper mamas at an idyllic olive farm in the countryside close to Trapani, so my expectations for IDDU were high.

Our friendly, chatty waiter recommended we try a classic Aperol Spritz as an aperitivo, which came served in an enormous wine glass and was expertly mixed.

I usually try not to fill up on bread, but we arrived hungry and the Basket of Bread (£3.50) looked too good to resist.  It was a yummy trio of thin and crispy carta musica bread, rustic sliced sourdough and seasoned bread sticks, served with some very high quality Sicilian olive oil (the kind that slightly tickles the back of your throat) and sweet, tangy balsamic vinegar (£3.50).

I started with the Caponata alla Siciliana (£8), which came highly recommended.  The slow-cooked, slightly warm caponata was a traditional melange of olives, chunky celery, aubergine, tomato and capers.  It had a rich, agrodolce (Italian for sweet and sour) flavour and the vegetables were so tender and juicy.

Steven went for the colourful Mozzarella Salad with Avocados and Tomatoes (£12).  The Mozzarella di Bufala was cool and light with a distinctive flavour and went perfectly with the fresh, sweet tomatoes and ripe, creamy avocados.

We were also quite tempted by the Involtini of Aubergine Parmigiana and Prosciutto Crudo 24 months aged and would try these on another visit.

I followed with Veal Cotoletta alla Palermitana, which was baked as traditionally done in Palermo, rather than fried Milanese style.  The slim veal fillet was succulent and lean, coated in golden, crispy breadcrumbs with plenty of seasoning.

It was accompanied simply with some mixed salad leaves and a wedge of lemon, which is the authentic way of serving it.  It was very tasty, but I think it could be made a little more satisfying with some rustic rosemary potatoes or a more interesting salad.

Of course we had to try the real Sicilian pasta, so Steven ordered the Spaghetti, Aglio Olio e Pepperoncino (£10.50).  The mouthwatering aromas arrived at the table before the pasta and it tasted just as good.  The silky pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and was lightly dressed in olive oil, crushed garlic, tiny pieces of piquant red chilli pepper, squeezed lemon and torn fresh herbs.

For dessert, I was tempted by the Cannoli Siciliani (£5.50).  The crunchy fried dough shell was filled with dense, velvety mascarpone cream and dusted with icing sugar.  I loved the little pots of cocoa nibs, crushed pistachios and hazelnuts to decorate the cannoli by hand.

Another hit was the Almond and Orange Cake (£5.50), made with finely ground almonds and polenta.  The cake was moist and just sweet enough, topped with zesty candied orange slices and a bittersweet marmalade glaze.

To round off our meal, we were brought shots of Frangelico on ice, just as it’s done in Sicily.  As we were leaving at around closing time, more guests were arriving for a nightcap, so there’s no fear of being rushed through dinner, it’s all very relaxed.

IDDU is a real gem and has that friendly neighbourhood feel that makes you want to go back again and again.  Not only is the food delicious and comforting, but it’s full of fresh, sunkissed ingredients and healthy natural oils.  I can’t wait to go back for breakfast and lunch or make the most of the summer people-watching with a Bellini and Sicilian olives on the terrace.

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

Chérie City was invited by IDDU London

Food images by Chérie City (interiors by IDDU London)

Click to add a blog post for Iddu on Zomato

Hotels, Paris, Restaurants

STAY Paris Le Faubourg by Yannick Alléno

On my recent trip to Paris, I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner at STAY Paris Le Faubourg, the new restaurant by three Michelin star chef Yannick Alléno at Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg.

The renowned French chef brings his exciting Simple Table Yannick Alléno concept directly from Asia, where he has already opened STAY restaurants in Dubai, Taipei and Beijing.

In Paris, STAY sits comfortably between Yannick Alléno’s two casual Terroir Parisien restaurants and the ultra-exclusive Alléno Paris at Pavillon Ledoyen.  The menu is inspired by his worldwide travel, offering dishes with Southeast Asian and Japanese influences, as well as exploring French gastronomy.

When I stayed at Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg last year with my mum, we enjoyed breakfast each morning in the bright, airy and ever so chic restaurant that was previously named Les Collections.

The breezy character of the restaurant remains with just a few design tweaks and a new highlight colour of zesty yellow.  There’s also a private dining Communal Table for six to eight people and a chic courtyard terrace where you can dine among the fragrant flowers, palms and fountains.

At the helm of STAY Paris Le Faubourg is Executive Chef William Girard, who started working for Yannick Alléno at Hotel Scribe in Paris and has since overseen top restaurants across Asia, including STAY and Sweet Tea in Taipei.  Not only is he passionate about introducing Paris to the STAY concept, but he’s also a colourful character with a playful sense of humour.

We began our evening in style with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne while navigating the menu.  To start, I ordered the Dublin Bay Prawns à la Polonaise (€32), as I’ve always had good langoustines in Paris.  This dish was an absolute delight with incredibly tender, plump chilled langoustines in a typical Polonaise style with a twist.

They sat atop a tangy, lightly creamy sauce and were topped with separated, finely-shaved egg whites and yolks, tiny breadcrumbs, burst-in-the-mouth vinaigrette pearls and fresh chives.  It’s a deliciously light and flavoursome starter that really invigorates the tastebuds.

Steven went for the beautifully-presented Tuna Tartare with Niçoise-style salad (€22).  The lean, ultra-fresh tuna had a clean and natural taste and was perfectly complemented by blanched asparagus spears, halved quail eggs, red peppers, thinly-sliced radishes and a light herb sauce.

It’s hard to resist a proper Parisian steak and it’s even more tempting when you know that Yannick Alléno sources his meat from one of the best butchers in Paris.

I tried the Beef Fillet ‘fleur de sel’ (€48), which came with a choice of sauces and one side dish.  My steak was ever so lean and succulent, cooked perfectly medium à la plancha with nicely browned edges and a coating of fleur de sel.

The succulent meat just melted in the mouth and was served simply with a baby gem lettuce leaf brushed with the meat juices.  The smooth Béarnaise sauce came in a petite jug on the side and was punctuated with tiny pieces of shallot and torn fresh tarragon.

My side dish of Gratin Dauphinoise Louis Grondard (€10) was just heavenly and so indulgent.  Slow-cooked in its own crock pot, the exemplary gratin was creamy with slightly sweet potatoes, plenty of garlic, butter and herbs and topped with bubbling, golden rustic cheese – French comfort food at its very best.

But where does Louis Grondard come in with this divine potato dish?  The celebrated Michelin star chef was Yannick Alleno’s mentor at Paris institution Drouant and his secret recipe is certainly worthy of this thoughtful tribute.

Steven tried the classic Beef Tenderloin Cafe Faubourg with fine French Fries (€48).  The steak was very tender and full of flavour, served with a creamy, meaty sauce studded with aromatic Asian peppercorns.  The French Fries were just as they should be – crispy, golden and hand-made with high quality potatoes.  This is undoubtedly one of the finest steak frites in Paris and believe me, I’ve tasted many.

A real highlight of dining at STAY is the magnificent Pastry Library, which guests are invited to visit to choose their dessert.  This is a chance to have a dessert ‘consultation’ and a bit of banter with the chefs, who present the desserts while plying you with hand-made chocolates, marshmallows lollipops, nougat, caramels and hazelnut brittle.

You can then watch them assembling your dessert and customising it to your preferences.  It’s a leisurely, unhurried experience that makes you feel just like a kid in a sweet shop (albeit with the city’s best chefs at the counter).  Seeing the desserts through the glass window and the fun inside the restaurant was too much for non-dining guests – they couldn’t stop themselves from popping in to ask for a lollipop or two.

For dessert, I went for Gavottes with hazelnut ice cream garnished with smooth caramel, candied hazelnuts and flecks of gold leaf.  Gavottes are traditional French crispy lace crepes and STAY’s hand-made versions were lovely and crunchy and went nicely with the velvety hazelnut ice cream.

Steven tried a Chocolate Cone filled with a lightly whipped milk chocolate cream.  We loved the artistic presentation with a chocolate disc spiked through with a chocolate stick, finished with gold leaf and tiny chocolate cookies.

As if dessert wasn’t enough, our sugar high reached its climax with a selection of petit fours to accompany our Earl Grey tea, served in a signature Sofitel Asian-style cast iron teapot.  We grazed on bite-size chocolate éclairs topped with a glossy ganache and gold leaf, mini pistachio macarons and some inventive lemon meringue tarts.

STAY Paris Le Faubourg is the perfect spot for a relaxing meal in stylish surroundings, whether you’re in the mood to go all-out French or enjoy an international dish.  Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg is one of my favourite central Paris hotels and I’m always wowed by Yannick Alléno’s cooking, so for me, it’s a match made in foodie heaven.

Chérie City was a guest of YUZU Yannick Alléno

Photos by Chérie City and STAY Paris Le Faubourg

Bars, London, Restaurants

Sakura at Sake No Hana, London

One of my favourite things about the arrival of Spring is the dreamy cherry blossom that makes the city look even prettier.  It may be a fleeting joy, but cherry blossom lasts that little bit longer in Mayfair at Sakura at Sake No Hana.

The ground floor bar area of Hakkasan Group’s Sake No Hana has been transformed into a stunning cherry blossom garden, celebrating the ancient Japanese custom of Hanami.

It’s a unique sensory experience with beautiful flowers by Veevers Carter, heady aromas of Floris Cherry Blossom and a special Spring-inspired set menu.

We began our Sakura Gozen with a delightful Violet Risshun Cocktail, served in two parts on its own wooden tray.  Our attentive waiter poured us two glasses of the first cocktail from the carafe into a violet-scented mini coupe as an aperitif.

It had a refreshing, punchy citrus flavours and was made with a blend of Jinzu Gin, green Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, shiso and Burlesque Bitters.

The dark pink cocktail in a petite jug was then mixed in the carafe, creating a sweeter, more fragrant drink.  It was a gorgeous, easy-to-drink mix of Belsazar rose vermouth, maraschino cherry, cranberry and lemon juice.  I loved the ceremony of the two-part cocktail and that it was created to represent the early beginning of Spring and then the season in full bloom.

We started with a steaming hot bowl of tasty, comforting White Miso Soup with crispy tofu, seaweed, spring onions and a hint of garlic.

This was followed by the most delicious Sesame Spinach, with chilled spinach ribbons doused in a moreish, creamy dressing with plenty of crushed peanuts and topped with paper-thin cassava chips.

The main event was the Sakura crystal bento box filled with colourful, bite-size treats.  My favourite pieces of sushi were the flavoursome maki including spicy tuna with thinly-sliced lemongrass and cucumber, sweet and creamy salmon avocado and an indulgent California roll.

The trio of tuna nigiri - o-toro, chu-toro and akami – ranged from lean to fatty and the difference in taste and texture was noticeable.  A traditional bamboo box was also filled with three pieces of sashimi - kuro-kanpachi, sea bream and salmon.  The sea bream particularly appealed to me, as it had a silky texture and a clean, subtle flavour.

The bento box was finished with pretty decorations such as flower-shaped carrots, wedges of lime and a physalis.  I’m still navigating my way through the sushi world (graduating from tempura crab and tofu to the raw fish kind), but I’m pretty certain that Sake No Hana’s ultra-fresh, melt-in-the-mouth sushi is some of the best you can hope to find in London.

Dessert is an additional extra, but it would be madness not to try the beautifully-presented Cotton Cheesecake.  This bubbly, light-as-air baked cheesecake was simply delightful with fresh cherries, vanilla-scented cream cheese and cherry sorbet.  The texture was a cross between cake and mousse and it reminded me a little of the light chiffon cake I’ve tried a few times in Asia.

A perfect end to the Sakura meal was a plate of Cherry Blossom macarons, whimsically painted with a floral pattern.  The delicate vanilla macarons were filled with a thick layer of velvety chocolate cherry blossom tea ganache and were ever so fresh and rather substantial.  They can be washed down with a pot a Sakura tea, made from the leaves of cherry blossom trees.

Sakura at Sake No Hana is a must if you’re a fan of cherry blossom and all things fragrant and miniature.  It’s the closest thing to having a picnic in a Tokyo cherry blossom park and perfect for a romantic date night.

Sakura Gozen at Sake No Hana is priced at £32 per person and is available until 20th June.  Guests are encouraged to take photographs of blossom and Spring flowers and upload them to Instagram using the hashtag #sakura2015 to be in with a chance of receiving Sakura gifts.  For more information and booking, visit: www.sakenohana.com

Chérie City was a guest of Sake No Hana

All photos by Chérie City

Sake No Hana on Urbanspoon

Hotels, Hotels - Luxury, London, Restaurants

Pret a Diner: The Bohemians

Ultra-cool, nomadic collective Pret a Diner has returned to London, bringing a touch of decadence and culture to the city’s dining scene.

Pret a Diner: The Bohemians, from Royals to Rogues, revives the spirit of artistic London and Cafe Royal Hotel is the perfect location, steeped in its own rebellious history.  Creative greats such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Andy Warhol, The Beatles and Madonna have all graced the glamorous Regent Street hotel.

Last week, we visited for KP Kofler’s unique dining experience that has brought two Michelin starred New York-based chefs to the UK.  Chef Patti Jackson’s Delaware and Hudson is one of Williamsburg’s hottest prix-fixe restaurants while Ryan Tate has received acclaim as head chef of farm to table restaurant Blenheim in the West Village.

They’ve join Andrew Turner, Executive Chef at Cafe Royal Hotel, to create a special four-course set dinner with dishes cooked by each chef.  The menu is modern American with Dutchy Pennsylvanian influence and offers a rare taste of the three restaurants.

Exquisite restaurant The Domino has been transformed into a bohemian den of iniquity with dramatic flowers, crystal-encrusted animal skulls and objets d’art at play with the room’s gilded opulence.  We were seated at a table for two and the cool, unpretentious staff took us on a culinary journey, explaining each dish thoroughly.

On arrival, we were presented a delightfully fragrant Bohemian Punch, made with gin and jasmine tea punch.  Served in a vintage-style cut glass coupe with a sprig of jasmine clipped to the side, the cocktail was refreshing, elegant and lightly perfumed – my ideal kind of drink.

The drinks menu has been devised by Cafe Royal Bars Manager Tiziano Tasso and Dominic Jacobs of The Running Horse Mayfair and The Whip.  DJs Maxology provide a hip soundtrack alongside guest DJs and The Unit London has curated the intriguing artwork.

We started with a sharing plate of snacks with bites from all of the chefs.  Pea and Sorrel by Ryan Tate was a delicate orb filled with a lovely chilled pea soup.  It melts quickly, so should be scooped up with a spoon and devoured instantly.  Baltimore Crab with Pickled Ramps by Patti Jackson was a nice blend of sweet and tart.

My favourite snack was Andrew Turner’s Cheese and Truffle – velvety, cool, truffle-infused cheese packed inside a miniature plant pot, topped with enoki mushrooms, black sesame crumbs and a pesto crisp bread.  The snacks were accompanied by some rather lovely molecular olives that burst in the mouth, crispy cheese straws for dipping and Patti Jackson’s tasty Dutchy Pretzels with Cafe Royal butter.

We started with a beautifully-presented Tuna Carpaccio with Gentleman’s Relish by Andrew Turner.  The chilled, silky tuna carpaccio was  dotted with soy and ginger sauce and complemented by a quail’s egg with caviar, thin slices of mooli, radishes, chunky cucumber and burnt-edge shallots wrapped around smooth gentleman’s relish (sorry to ruin the mystery but it’s a kind of anchovy paste).

I’m not a fan of cucumber, so some parts of this starter weren’t so well suited to my palate, but it’s certainly a fresh and interesting dish.

The main courses however were right up my street and happily there was a choice of two so we could have a taste of both.  I went for Patti Jackson’s indulgent Duck with Celery Pecan Gratin and Rhubarb.  This was high end American comfort food at its very best and an absolute joy to eat.

The tender, juicy duck was cooked perfectly medium and was elevated by duck confit coated in golden breadcrumbs with strong meat and herb flavours.  The celery pecan gratin was lightly creamy with a mature cheese flavour and the roasted rhubarb added a welcome touch of sharpness.  It was served with simple whole asparagus and finished with a rich duck jus.

Steven went for the lighter Seabass with Piquillo Pepper, Fennel and Dill by Andrew Turner.  The beautifully cooked fish was succulent and flaky with a lovely crispy skin.  It went very well with the dill-infused piquillo pepper puree and was punctuated with black olive crumble and olive pearls.

For dessert, we both enjoyed Ryan Tate’s Strawberries, Maple Vacherin and Buttermilk. It was a pleasure to crack open the delicious maple-infused meringue to reveal the fresh sliced strawberries, airy vanilla cream and the slightly tart buttermilk sorbet.  I can’t think of a more satisfying, sweet and refreshing dessert to finish the meal with – it was simply divine.

As if that sugar high wasn’t enough, we were treated to a pot of fresh mint tea served with petit fours.  We grazed on a box full of bubblegum white chocolate truffles, cola pâtes de fruit, dark chocolate orange sticks and salted caramel popcorn in a miniature plant pot.

To walk off the splendid dinner, we took a stroll around to view the carefully-chosen artworks by Jake Wood-Evans and Ryan Hewett.  Look out for the striking John Lennon piece in the bar.

Not only is Pret a Diner a memorable sensory dining experience in a beautiful location, but it offers the chance to try signature dishes straight out of New York.  I recommend dining a little later than usual when the atmosphere becomes more lively and taking your time to really take in the experience.

Pret a Diner: The Bohemians runs until 23rd May at The Club at Cafe Royal Hotel. Priced at £75 per person, including a four-course menu, snack sharing plate from three different chefs, petit fours and coffee.  For more information, visit: www.pretadiner.com

Chérie City was a guest of Pret a Diner

Photos by Pret a Diner

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Holborn Dining Room, Rosewood London

There’s something quite fabulous about going out to a central London restaurant on a Saturday night when everywhere is buzzing and full of the weekend spirit.

A few Saturdays ago, Steven and I dined at Holborn Dining Room, which has been on my foodie wish list for quite some time.  It’s one of three exciting restaurants at five star hotel Rosewood London and is overseen by esteemed restauranteur and chef Des McDonald.

Holborn Dining Room is a chic grand brasserie serving seasonal, locally-sourced British classics with a twist.  It feels both sprawling yet cosy with plenty of intimate nooks, separate sections a bar and a charcuterie counter.  There’s also an adjoining deli and a terrace in the beautiful courtyard, so you can enjoy al fresco dining in the warmer months.

Designed by Martin Brudnizki, the restaurant has attractive features such as plush red leather banquettes, reclaimed oak tables, antique mirrors and tweed detail – even the staff look dapper, sporting braces and waistcoats.

We were shown to a lovely corner table in a central section that soon filled up but didn’t feel overcrowded.  The atmosphere is stylish yet informal, helped by a really good indie-rock soundtrack and friendly staff.  It’s small touches like these that create an ambiance and make you want to stay longer in restaurants.

We kicked off the evening with some delicious cocktails while deciding what to order.  My Sicilian Negroni (£10) was a sunny, uplifting mix of Campari, Limoncello and blood orange juice.  It was pleasantly sweet but with that signature bite from the Campari and was an ideal aperitif.

Steven tried a much stronger British Columbia (£10), made with Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Fernet Branca, maple syrup and blood orange juice.  It had lots of character and depth of flavour – a real treat for fans of Whiskey cocktails.

To start, I was tempted by the Griddled Prawns with lemon garlic butter (£15).  The large, partly shelled king prawns looked so perfect and natural and were a joy to eat.  The plump, fresh prawns were cooked just right and doused in a moreish, zesty and slightly sweet garlic butter.  It was a light yet substantial and satisfying starter that I have since daydreamed about on more than one occasion.

While my starter was all about quality produce cooked exceptionally well, Steven’s Maldon Smoked Salmon with crab and spiced avocado (£15.50) was a stunning marriage of flavours.

The smoked salmon had a deep smoky flavour and was artfully puncuated with flaky, chilled white crabmeat and velvety avocado puree with a touch of piquant chilli.  Both dishes were out of this world and I highly recommend ordering both and sharing.

My typical dinner pattern is seafood followed by meat to get the best of both worlds, but the Grilled John Dory (£26.50) with butternut squash and shrimp butter sounded too good to pass up.  The two fillets of John Dory were succulent and ever so tasty with crispy, golden edges and nicely scorched skin.

The brown shrimp butter gave a rich seafood flavour and I loved the butternut squash cooked two ways – roasted and pureed.  The finishing touch was crispy sage, which ideally complemented the dish.  The high quality fish was elevated by the well-chosen accompaniments and the butter sauce made it more indulgent – every mouthful was an absolute pleasure.

Steven couldn’t resist a Saturday night steak and went for the Roast Rib Eye ‘Club Cut’ with pepper sauce and crispy onions (£26.50).  The excellent cut of beef had a lovely smokiness from the grill to match its mature flavours and was cooked perfectly medium and tender.

The rich meat juices ran into the subtle pepper sauce and the crispy beer battered onion rings were a tasty extra.  My main course didn’t really need anything else, but we still shared a side of Roseval Potatoes (£4.50).  The sweet and slightly nutty red-skin potatoes were sauteed with caramelised Lyonnaise onions and were a delicious alternative to fries.

Desserts are as British and retro as they come – think bread and butter pudding, apple crumble, gypsy tart and steamed marmalade sponge.

I was in the mood for a chocolate fix, so I ordered the Warm Chocolate with poached pears and vanilla ice cream (£6.50).  The dark chocolate fondant was quaintly served in a tea cup and had a cake-like texture, with the sliced pears baked inside adding moistness and a fragrant flavour.  The dessert was dreamy and not at all heavy, so it won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Steven’s Poached Yorkshire Rhubarb with sorbet and set ginger cream (£6.50) was another delightful dish.  Served in a Kilner Jar, the dense, silky ginger-infused cream was topped with a refreshing sorbet, crunchy crumble topping and sweet, delicate poached Yorkshire Rhubarb.  The long biscuit stick tasted like Speculoos and was perfect for scooping up the cream.

At the end of our glorious meal, we enjoyed pots of lovely, warming Jasmine Tea (£3.25) and Earl Grey Tea (£3.25), which was served with a cute mini bottle of milk on the side.  We were left to relax and leisurely sip our tea while chatting and soaking up the atmosphere – what more could you ask for on a Saturday night out?

Our meal at Holborn Dining Room was just so memorable and I can see it becoming one of my favourite spots in central London.  I’m sure I’ll be lured back for lunch or breakfast soon and am keen to check out the Weekly Slow Food & Living Market in the courtyard every Sunday.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Holborn Dining Room

Photos by Holborn Dining Room and Chérie City

Holborn Dining Room on Urbanspoon

London, Restaurants

Hamburgé Party at Big Fernand London

After trying Big Fernand in Paris last year, I was counting down the days until it arrived in London.  It’s now open in Fitzrovia and set to convert us to its signature ‘hamburgés’.

London can be a tough burger market to crack, since we have so many fantastic home-grown options (there was plenty of initial resistance to Shake Shack and Five Guys despite the queue).

So, what makes Big Fernand stand out from the burger-flipping crowd?  Le fromage, bien-sûr!  Raclette, Tomme de Savoie and Fourme d’Ambert are sourced directly from France and are a cut above most regular burger cheese.

Then there’s the quality of the meat (supplied by HG Walter), the sesame buns baked in London from Monsieur Fernand’s secret recipe and sauces made daily in-house.

Queuing at a burger counter is rarely a hoot, but Big Fernand’s troop of charming Frenchies wearing checked shirts and flat caps are sure to keep you entertained while you wait.  Just like the Paris restaurants, they make it feel like a fun place to be.

I visited last week for a burger tasting with a group of London food and lifestyle bloggers.  We started the evening pairing Big Fernand’s delicious Raclette and Tomme de Savoie cheeses with red, white and rosé wines from their drinks menu.

We then moved on to the counter to choose our burgers and watch them being cooked to order.  If you can brave the winding spiral staircase (hold on to your tray like your life depends on it), you will be rewarded with a more private, chilled out place to hoover down your burger.

It has the feel of a vintage-style apartment with floral print walls, an old school radio, mismatched furniture, wonky lampshades and a super-comfy day bed, in the event of slipping into a burger coma.

Although I’d already tried Le Bartholomé (£9) before in Paris, I couldn’t resist ordering it again.  It was just as decadent and delicious as I’d remembered but definitely bigger.

My succulent medium-cooked beef patty had a flavoursome, mature taste and was packed inside a big, tasty sesame seed bun.  The thick-cut, country-style bacon was nicely smoked and went perfectly with the gooey, slightly nutty Raclette cheese (bacon and Raclette always remind me of après-ski indulgence in the mountains).

The caramelised onions, plentiful fresh chives and tangy, rich Bébé Fernand (barbecue sauce) are what really elevate the burger to legendary status.  I mean, how often do you ever get fresh herbs scattered inside a burger bun?

It’s also worth noting that Big Fernand doesn’t waste any time with burger fillers like lettuce, pickles and raw onion – I’m completely onboard with this.  Medium is my cooking comfort zone, but I would probably try medium rare next time – you can even order it blue rare.

Fernandines (£3) are made from fresh, hand-chipped potatoes and the portion size is generous.  I personally find the cajun seasoning a little overpowering when sprinkled so liberally, but they are definitely some quality fries.  They are however taken to a whole new level when dunked in the home-made house sauces – the smoky, creamy barbecue sauce was really addictive.

I washed it down with a bottle of Elixir d’Archibald Fernand (£2.80), which looks like it should contain something much more lethal than its lovely grapefruit lemonade.  After all that delicious meat and cheese, the daybed was looking very tempting!

Big Fernand London flies the Tricolore well for the French hamburger atelier and after ironing out a few kinks since its opening, it has found its rightful place in the city.

For more information, visit: www.bigfernand.co.uk

Chérie City was invited by Big Fernand

Photos by Big Fernand and Chérie City

Bars, Paris, Restaurants

Dinner at Les Niçois, Paris

On the first night of our recent trip to Paris, we caught up with our Parisian friends Coralie and Sunny for a bite to eat.

Since we were staying just a short walk from their apartment at Hotel du Petit Moulin, we decided to go local for the evening so we could walk to dinner and back.

For something light and a bit different, I suggested we try Les Niçois, a casual tapas bar inspired by the French Riviera.  Located on the edge of a quiet, leafy square, the bar is far from the busy part of the Marais and feels like a cool neighbourhood find.

Owners Vincent Traoré and Luc Sananes bring a taste of the Med to Paris with Les Niçois.  It’s low-key and atmospheric with simple wooden seating and emblems of the south of France such as a retro Ricard dispenser, vintage-style publicity posters and old maps.

There’s even a Pétanque sand pitch downstairs if you really want to get into the spirit of the Côte d’Azur.  As if that’s not enough to lure you in, it gets the Colette seal of approval – you can buy Les Niçois home-made tapenades, pesto, olive oil and Rosé de Pétanque at the hip lifestyle store.

The menu at Les Niçois features a selection of dishes typical to Nice as well as a daily chalkboard of specials.  I also thought the drinks menu was rather fun with what Coralie calls ‘holiday drinks’ like Monaco, Panaché and all kinds of aniseed aperitifs such as Pastis and Ricard.

Steven and I both couldn’t resist a Monaco (€3.60) while Coralie and Sunny had a glass of really good white wine from the south of France (I forget the name but it had lovely notes of juicy apricot).

We both ordered the Assiette Nissarde (€12) to share and it was the perfect size for two people.  The Pizza Nissarde was petite yet rich with sunkissed tomato confit atop and a sliver of anchovy atop a fluffy, moist base.  The Pissaladière was also delicious with sweet, slightly tangy slow-roasted onions and fresh herbs.

We all loved the crispy, pillowy Panisses – chunky chickpea fries that were surprisingly light and not at all greasy.  They were the ideal accompaniment for dipping into the home-made Tapenade Vert, Tapenade Noire and Anchoïade.

The olive tapenades are full of punchy flavours and are so very moreish – luckily we were also offered a basket of top notch rustic bread to make them go even further.  The Anchoïade is more of an acquired taste and it split opinion on our table.

Steven and I shared a plate of Chipolata Croquettes (€6), which were plump and substantial with a rich, creamy filling and a crispy, golden breadcrumb coating.  Coralie and Sunny also tried a few vegetable dishes that went down well.

Of course we didn’t pass on dessert and these ones are particularly tempting.  The Speculoos Creme (€6)was velvety and decadent with a crumbled biscuit topping, while the Brownie du Chef (€6) was rather special.  Far from a regular brownie, this one was filled with white chocolate chips, hazelnut praline and a touch of salted caramel.

As usual we were one of the last tables to leave, but we were never once rushed by the friendly, charming staff.  It’s definitely the kind of place you can come to with friends and chat the night away over drinks and regional French bites.

Not only does it have a great atmosphere but it’s also refreshingly affordable, so you can eat well for a little or really indulge and sample an array of dishes.

Les Niçois has made it onto my list of favourite spots in Paris and I can’t wait to go back and try the lunchtime formule or the weekend brunch for a bargainous €25 per person.

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

Photos by Les Niçois and Chérie City