Monday, 5 August 2013

Burger & Lobster - Revisited

Since I first wrote about Burger & Lobster over a year ago, the huge demand for their surf and turf combo lead them to open three new restaurants around London. A little while ago, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Soho and (unsurprisingly) hungry, so thought we'd check out the queue over at one of the newer Burger & Lobster's.

We couldn't believe our luck when, at prime dinner time, we were walked straight to a table without so much as a glimpse at a waiting list. Were we in the right place?! Then again, the Soho branch is about three times the size of the original Mayfair squeeze. Also, as there are now four Burger & Lobsters the days of hour long minimum waits are reserved for the weekend bustle. 

Our order was taken pretty sharpish... with only three items on offer it doesn't require much deliberation. By comparison, the cocktail list is an encyclopedia! The 'Dean St. Breeze' (Beefeater, mango, cucumber, lemon, soda) was nice and refreshing but slightly tame. For me, it could have done with a little more vavavoom, but the aptly named 'Winter In The City' (Absolut Citron, pomegranate, elderflower, redcurrants, rose) was really delicious and I would happily have slurped down several more!

The best thing about ordering as a pair is that you can have your cake and it eat it... burger AND lobster? yes please!
As I tied on my plastic bib I knew we'd made the right choice. Why have one thing when you can split both?! No food envy, just two (dare I say it) equally, yummy meals... Or at least thats how I remembered it. 
After my first two visits to their original Mayfair branch I wrote that "the burger was unmistakably better than any that I have ever eaten before or since", so it's fair to say that this time around my expectations were high... but it just wasn't the same!

The burger lacked that punch of flavour that was so impressive on previous visits. The lobster, wasn't as juicy, it was bordering on over-cooked. The presentation was sloppy (I know it's a 'burger joint' but theres no need to have chips sprawled all over the place), and while were at it, I felt that the new restaurant lacked atmosphere. Obviously there are benefits to having a larger restaurant - ie. not waiting on the street corner for over an hour - but the bigger interior really felt like a 'chain' restaurant. It was like sitting in Pizza Express but with better decor. For me, the whole experience had just lost it's charm.

It may have just been a case of third time un-lucky, but I would rather take my chances on queuing in Mayfair than having a fairly standard meal in Soho.

Burger & Lobster
Now open in Mayfair, Soho, Farringdon and City

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


I can't pretend to call this a review, because in all honesty it's closer to outright lobbying! Zuma is easily one of my favourite restaurants in London. Once the stream of plates begin to arrive at the table I often find myself overwhelmed by the deluge of beautiful dishes. My focus turns to making sure I get my fair share of the food (before my family devour it all!), leaving me little time to seriously contemplate the array of flavours, let alone having enough time to stop and photograph them!

Consequently, this 'review' has very little to say about individual dishes, but what I can say is that I have been lucky enough to eat at the fabulous Zuma several times now, and never once have I come away feeling anything short of euphoric! I realise that's a big statement to make, but if you read some of my other reviews you will see that I am not always so easily pleased - however, I would put my budding reputation on the line to back Zuma.
This is not to say that Zuma is without faults. I find the bar area seriously unappealing in as much as it is always choc-a-bloc with city types schmoozing on glammed-up women. In itself this is not a problem, but in order to reach the bathrooms you have to elbow you're way through the crowd and back.  Furthermore, the food is expensive by anyone's standards.

Nevertheless, given the opportunity,  I have chosen to go back to Zuma time and time again because food has been consistently good, if not exceptional. Whilst I admit that I'm a massive sucker for (good) Japanese food, it must be acknowledged that: a) the decor is also very appealing - the right balance between trendy and sophisticated. b) The restaurant is always busy, filling it with a fun, buzzy atmosphere. c) the service is good.
Speaking of which, on entering the restaurant not so long ago, the new manager recognised my dad, having recognised him as a regular and valued customer at another restaurant a few years before. He made a point of coming over to our table, to say hello and welcome us, and a few minutes later a a huge 'boat' of Zuma's finest sushi arrived on our table, "compliments of the management". Now that's how to run a restaurant in style!

What to order: 
As a general rule, I wouldn't bother ordering sushi at a restaurant like Zuma (although it was superb),  because I'm of the opinion that you can eat sushi in lots of places, why not try some of the more exciting and unique dishes on offer? Trust me, they're worth it!

The only dish that I've tried that I wouldn't order again is the tori no tebasaki (sake grilled chicken wings with sea salt and lime), which, whilst tasty, just can't compete with some of the other items on the menu. I also used to think that the deserts were a slight anti-climax at the end of such a fantastic meal, but the last time I was there they had changed the desert menu, and now I'd say they more than hold their own. Beautifully presented and an exciting fusion of modern western tastes with traditional Japanese styles and ingredients.

My Personal Favourite: 
gyuhire sumibiyaki karami sauce zuke
spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy

5 Raphael Street
London SW7 1DL

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Just In Time For Tea... (at The Wolseley)

The Wolseley gives the impression of being a long-established landmark of London's culinary scene. However, despite the building's unusual history, The Wolseley has only been open as a (self-proclaimed) "cafĂ©-restaurant in the grand European tradition"  since 2003. What that really means is: because of its opulent decor, prime location (next to The Ritz on Piccadilly), and accomplished classic cuisine, The Wolseley has initiated itself as one of the places for London's high-society to dine.
Recently, I was able to see it for myself when I went for 'Afternoon Tea'.

I must confess, when the tiered cake stand arrived - beautiful as it was - my first thought was: "well that's not going to fill me up"! Looking at the elegant sandwiches and dainty pastries, I was already planning which wrap I was going to buy from Pret across the road once we'd finished! Whilst I fully admit that I'm greedy, I like to think that on this occasion my anxiety was justified as having not eaten since breakfast, I didn't think a few cucumber sandwiches would suffice! 
However, I soon ate my words (literally!) as, a few scones, sandwiches and lemon meringue pies later, I suddenly realised that finishing the lot was going to be a challenge rather than a landslide. Naturally, I 'forced' them all down in the end... in the name of research, of course!

I think the scones were the biggest surprise for me. A far cry from the heavy lumps served to us at school, these were warm, soft, light and packed with flavour. Smothered in really fresh clotted cream and intense strawberry jam, they were truly delicious. The sandwiches also exceeded my expectations and were surprisingly tasty. My only complaint was that their fillings were (rather tediously) conventional. Similarly, I couldn't fault the petits fours, which were all perfectly executed and enjoyable to eat... and yet I still felt a little underwhelmed. There was nothing exciting about what was presented, nothing distinctive (with the potential exception of the pistachio and raspberry cake).

I appreciate that The Wolseley is intentionally traditional, but for me, the food erred on the side of (dare I say it) boring. Saying that, my experience may be no reflection on the formal lunch/dinner menu, which for all I know could well be sensational (as it is reputed to be).

Nevertheless, I would still recommend 'Tea at The Wolseley' to those who are looking for an enjoyable and quintisentially British experience without splashing too much cash - which it was. What it lacked in originality, it made up for in good old-fashioned class, in a way that makes you, and the experience, feel special. 

However, for me, some of the beauties on this list look as though they have a lot more to offer, both in terms of food and atmosphere. Here's hoping I get to review some of these sometime soon!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Benares, Mayfair

One of my favourite things about my birthday is having the excuse to go out for a really nice meal with my family... not that needing an excuse has ever really stopped us... but still, birthdays are an excuse to go even bigger! This year we decided to break the mould and, instead of going for Japanese (a firm family favourite), we decided to try somewhere completely new. After much um-ing and ah-ing we settled on Benares. This decision was followed by both excitement and apprehension on my part - because whilst we eat out quite frequently, we never go out for Indian food. While travelling around the north of India last summer, I began to understand that I had been overlooking it's potential - which is an amazingly diverse cuisine, full of an exciting depth of flavours. However, I was unsure as to how the rustic authenticity of India would translate into a Michelin starred restaurant.

Benares serves 'modern Indian cuisine with a contemporary British twist', and is lead by Atul Kochhar - the first Indian chef to have earned a Michelin star. And deservedly so. Benares successfully creates an opulent atmosphere from the moment you arrive, thanks to the palatial doorway and the elegant floating candles. We were all a little baffled by the cocktail list as every drink contained at least one ingredient that I couldn't even pronounce, but nevertheless the eenie-meenie-miney-mo tactic paid off as both the cocktails that I tried were the perfect balance of sharp and sweet. Even the salted almonds in the cocktail lounge were irritatingly moreish. But zingy cocktails and tasty nuts are not enough to win over my family when they're hungry! 

Despite all of these positive signs, when we sat down I was still harbouring a few nerves about how the meal would turn out. This was until we received the amuse-bouche. At this point all my fears subsided and I relaxed in the knowledge that this was going to be a delectable meal. It being a few months ago I couldn't even tell you what it was - all I know was it was a mouthful of joy.

The Karara Kekda Aur Salad (Crispy Soft Shell Handpicked Crab, with Corn Spring Roll, Peanut and Apple Salad) was delicious, if not slightly unnerving due to the crab having been kept so perfectly whole! The Jal Tarang (Tandoori Roasted Hand Dived Scottish Scallop, with Textures of Cauliflower) was even better in my opinion. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was probably the best scallop I've eaten - certainly the biggest anyway! The only thing in the whole meal that I found disappointing was the Jal Murgi Aur Chana Chaat (Home Smoked Gressingham Duck Breast, with Pear and Spring Onions). I love duck, but this particular starter was just... well, pleasant. And when you compare pleasant to the genuinely divine scallop, it seems rather bland. It did at least look very appealing, but unfortunately the lighting in the restaurant was not conducive to good food photography and so the few pictures I have included really don't do the dishes justice.

For the main course I'm ashamed to admit that I went for the safe option and ordered the Chicken Korma. But I can tell you, this was no ordinary Chicken Korma. It was an inspired modern take on the Indian classic. The chicken was cooked to perfection; unbelievably succulent and with an intensely deep, smokey flavour that is only achieved from cooking in the Tandoor. The sauce, which atypically came in a jug on the side, bore no resemblance to any curry I've eaten before, even in India. It was exquisite, and the accompanying biryani was so delicious that I could have eaten a plate of it on it's own. I can only hope that I get the chance to go back to try the Tandoori Macchi (Tandoor Baked Minted John Dory, Crispy Pak Choi, Smoked Tomato Chutney) - which no doubt will be equally arousing.

The real surprise for me was the desert, which, personally, I have always thought to be the black sheep of Indian cuisine. Being a peanut butter addict, of course I ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Tube, and of course it was yummy. But actually, what set it apart from all the other chocolate-y peanut butter-y deserts that I've ordered were the details; the Jaggery Cake, Cumin Marshmallow and Sugar Cane Ice-Cream. They were distinctly Indian flavour combinations that you just wouldn't find anywhere else, which consequently makes them brave flavour combinations. The use of spices like cumin into something sweet was very unusual, and probably not to everyones taste, and even though I don't think I would cook with it at home, it worked, and it was refreshing to enjoy something completely new.
The other desert, which we ordered in the recommendation of the waiter was, again, a new experience. It was sort of like an Indian take on a fruit compote with a creamy yoghurt and a sweet crunchy pistachio shard. Apart from being beautifully presented, there was a good balance between the creamy, sweetness and tart fresh fruity-ness, whilst remaining subtle and with the right amount of texture from the Burfi.

Overall, the service was very good, and heightened by the little touches such as the pre-desert 'magic trick', and the birthday surprise that they brought me with a variety of delicate Indian sweets. The atmosphere in the main dining room was a bit underwhelming, but the food was very good and made me want to go back to try more dishes. In my opinion, it has set the bar high for Indian cuisine - for all modern fusion restaurants for that matter, by demonstrating that taking a clever, innovative approach to flavours can create something really exciting and special.

Rose and Raspberry Bhapa Doi, Pistachio Burfi
Chocolate Peanut Butter Tube, Jaggery Cake, Cumin Marshmallow and Sugar Cane Ice-Cream

12a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 6BS

Friday, 29 March 2013

Cooking at The Bertinet Kitchen

Again, this is something that I should have written up ages ago whilst it was still fresh in my mind, but hey ho, better late than never.

I was very generously given (as an early Christmas present) a days cooking class at the  The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath. This charming little school has been made famous by Richard BertinetBBC Food Champion of the Year 2010 and author of cook-books 'Dough', 'Crust', and 'Cook'. He seems to be the man-of-the-moment when it comes to making bread, and so unsurprisingly it is near impossible to book onto one of his bread-making courses. I had guessed this might be the case and, regardless, I was more than happy to book onto day three of Yolande Stanley's Patisserie Masterclass - Petits Fours.  

However, I was quite disappointed when the class first started because half the reason I had chosen Petits Fours (aside from my chronic sweet-tooth and my love for all things miniature) was that I wanted to perfect my macaroons - but apparently, this was no dice as they offer a separate course specifically for macaroons... should have done my homework.

Second off, as it was late November, we did Christmas-y inspired petits fours, which, whilst they were pretty, tasty and topical, they were not the classic petits fours that I had in mind. It was more cinnamon-y biscuits than the mini cakes and eclairs that I was hoping for. They definitely made sweet little edible gifts that would be perfect for giving to friends - but that wasn't really what I wanted, and when you're spending £195 I couldn't help but feel slightly resentful!
Having said all that,  I'm still inclined to think that any dissatisfaction I felt was mainly due to an unlucky choice on my part, rather than a true reflection of The Bertinet Kitchen - about which I actually only have good things to say. The Kitchen is tasteful and modern, the staff are very friendly (Yolande was particularly engaging), and I would like to give it another try doing a different course/class.

Despite not being particularly enthused by the selected recipes, I absolutely love learning new techniques, and I often find that when you do a cookery class it's not so much about which recipes you learn, but about the small tips that you pick up throughout the day that make the biggest difference to your cooking. So for that reason alone I think cookery classes are always worthwhile, as there will inevitably be some little gem of advice that will stick with you.
Also, if nothing else, you certainly get your monies worth in food throughout the day! There was scrummy breakfast on arrival, plus at least two coffee breaks accompanied with delicious cakes and treats from the in-house bakery/shop, and then a late (5 o'clock!) lunch at the end of the day, where everyone sits down together and enjoys a delicious two courses (mixed salads and charcuterie, followed by salmon linguine) and a well deserved glass of wine - I'd go back just for that!
We made:
 Linzer Biscuits 
Raspberry Pistachio Financiers (definitely my favourite, they look so pretty and are probably the only thing I would really make again)
Orange and Sesame Tuiles
Chocolate Caramelized Nuts
Cinnamon Stars

Thursday, 28 March 2013

THE SHED - Notting Hill

I am ashamed of myself for not having written anything for such a long time. My excuse is that I have been busy with work, but I've realised that in the world of blogging, that line just doesn't cut the mustard. So where to begin? One place that I really wanted to have my say on (although I am sure by now it will have been reviewed by most London bloggers) is The Shed.

My mum - being far trendier than me - went there with some friends within the first few weeks of it opening, and, despite feeling noticeably above the average age, thoroughly enjoyed her meal. Having described it as 'haphazardly decorated', but also eulogising about the 'lamb chips', I was intrigued, and so decided to try it for myself during the pre-Christmas festivities.

On arrival I was unsure whether I found it refreshingly unpretentious and quirky, or actually rather twee... in fact I am still not convinced about which side of the line it falls on. It is, as my mother described, haphazardly furnished with an eclectic range of furniture and knickknacks, giving the impression of literally being inside someones converted shed. Consistently, it's pretty limited on table space, and due to high-demand we got shifted onto the chef's table so as to create more leeway. This actually might have made the evening for me, not only because it meant we didn't have to squish onto bar stools next to two other people, but because it meant virtually spending the evening with head-chef Oliver Gladwin.

Sitting on our little garden-table-and-chairs right beside Oliver as he plated up all of the small, tapas-style sharing dishes, we got to talkin' about how the restaurant came to be. The Gladwin brother duo, made up of head-chef Oliver, and manager/maitre d', Richard, have grown up on a farm in West Sussex and have brought their wholesome rural attitude right to the heart of London. All of the produce comes from their own farm, which means that the menu changes daily depending on what's available. Furthermore, they advocate a sustainable approach to cooking by ensuring that they use "the whole animal (nose to tail cooking) so that nothing is wasted". For me, this deserves real brownie points, as I think that this modern, responsible attitude towards produce and cooking is the way of the future... or should be anyway! Above all, what stood out for me was their genuine passion for good food, which  manifested not only in his good-natured and earnest manner, but also translated into really delicious food.
Maldon Rock Oyster, Shallot Vinegar

Chorizo, labneh cheese, kale, crisp bread

The menu is split into 'slow-cooking' and 'fast-cooking,' and everything sounded tasty... but I had to restrain myself, and so we resolved to ordering one oyster 'mouthful' each, plus four sharing plates (two slow, two fast), and two puddings, which was actually plenty of food. I could go into detail about each dish but instead let me save time by saying, they were all delicious. They were all uniquely scrumptious in their own right, and nothing that we ordered was disappointing. If I had to recommend one thing it would have to be the lamb chips, (which were exceptionally divine), but I would feel confident in ordering anything on the menu and knowing it would be good.
Lamb chips, lemon, parsley, harrissa
Venison haunch, mustard mash, rosehip sauce
Veal shin, thyme tagliatelle
Veal steak, lentils, herb sauce
Despite my blatant envy for these young brothers who appear to be making their dream come true with this venture, I think it is fair to say that they deserve their success. Whatever you might think about the questionable decor and the potentially over-stated 'home-grown British-ness' of it all (even the wine we drank came from their vineyard) - there's no denying it's good food. That, combined with the homely, hearty atmosphere make it somewhere I would happily go back to time and time again. It's not cheap or 'fine-dining', but it's pretty good value, and I would put money on this being the beginning of a beautiful story for the brothers at The Shed.

FUN FACT: Oliver used to work for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall... which explains a lot about his outlook and cooking style!

The Shed



Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dining In The Dark...

It’s one thing not to judge a book by it’s cover, but what do you do when you can’t actually see the food that’s in front of you?
Duck Breast with Szechuan Pepper and Plum Chutney
Last week I was invited to The Living Room at Bristol Harbourside for an unusual dining experience. In honour of the launch of their new menu, myself and seven other Bristol ‘foodies’ were given the challenge of identifying the ingredients used in several of their new dishes, the only catch… we were blindfolded. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.
Presentation is such an integral part of the dining experience; it’s not just a bi-product of pretentious chefs, our enjoyment of food is determined by the culmination of all of the senses. If something looks appetizing you are more likely to enjoy it. Furthermore, our brains have been primed to expect certain flavours from particular ingredients, and this affects the way we taste them. So when one of your senses is entirely removed, foods you think you know can taste completely different.

Butternut Squash, Dolcelatté, Walnut & Honey Tart
Pork & Chorizo Burger
Dans Le Noir is a restaurant in London dedicated to this concept. On entering the dining room you are plunged into pitch darkness, and with the help of the blind waiters you are forced to relinquish the dominant sense of sight. Their aim is to “completely re-evaluate the notions of taste and smell through a gastronomic and pedagogical process”, whilst "opening your mind to an intriguing new world of mystery and sensation".
To prove my point it’s worth mentioning that The Living Room have been hosting these blind taste-tests up and down the country, and so far the national record, which was set that evening (but sadly not by me) is 24 ½ out of 40. The majority are scoring around 10 points, with the lowest score at a humble 4. Interestingly, on the whole it seems to be the food bloggers that are doing better than the professionals, and it was the rather self-assured Londoners that, on average, did some of the worst. (I'm a Londoner myself so don't take offence, but I'm also feeling pretty smug on behalf of the bloggers!)
Personally, most of the time I was concentrating so hard on attempting to discern the subtle infusion of flavours (such as the smoked paprika used in the Moroccan Spiced Lamb with giant cous cous, or the broccoli scented with orange that accompanied the Pan Fried Sea Bass) that I almost couldn’t appreciate the food - almost. One thing that I realised was that, when the success of a dish relies solely on your taste buds and sense of smell, it’s going to be make or break. The Basil Grande (which is The Living Room’s speciality dessert) was absolutely divine; even though it is not something I would have ordered for myself on any other occasion had I already known the ingredients. Whereas, the Green Tea Daiquiri with spiced rum, to me, sounds delicious and exciting, but in fact was not at all to my taste. Even after discovering that the key flavour was supposed to be 'green tea' I still couldn't taste it, and the Vanilla and Cherry Manhattan was even worse.
Moroccan Spiced Lamb
Passion Fruit & Coconut Creme Brulee
Arrogantly, I went in feeling quietly confident about the blind taste-test. I like to think I have a pretty good palette, but twelve courses and three cocktails later I had no choice but to come to terms with the fact that I have been fooling myself. How I got parmesan from what was a garlic and parsley infused butter is beyond me. Nevertheless, I came out with a solid 17.. could be worse!
Me, trying - and failing - to look professional!

Whilst dining blindfolded is not something I would make a habit of, mainly just to avoid losing half my meal down the front of my clothes, I would still be very keen to take it to the next level by dining at Dans Le Noir. Overall, it really was an eye-opening experience...  (Excuse the pun - I couldn't resist)