An unsuccessful lunch at Roast in Borough Market saw us exit the restaurant with no interest in dessert (there), but on the way back to the car, we passed Patisserie Lila and we were both struck with the idea of a cake for home. Sticking our heads into the shop come cafe, the desserts are plentiful, colourful and visually appealing. While we note on Urbanspoon a number of complaints, especially about the service, in our brief time there, the lady behind the counter could not have been more pleasant.
But the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating, so we thought we'd reserve full judgment till we were home, spoon in hand. We had opted for a chocolate cake that looked so supremely dense and chocolately that expectations were running high that our home pud would see us sink into a sofa based chocolate induced coma before we were even half way through. It did not disappoint. Dense and sticky, the chocolate cake delivered and on reaching the end of a decent sized portion, and despite knowing more would be sheer gluttony, we both shamefully wanted more. The picture of the cake we opted for is the fourth one below.
So would we return to Patisserie Leila for their cakes? Of course, tomorrow if we could. Our experience of the patisserie was as good as could be hoped for, the service good, the cake even better. Now if you'll just let me return to my coma...
Regular readers of our blog will know that we have, of late, generally failed to find a good Sunday lunch in London. Struggling to think where we should visit next, we hit upon with the rather good idea of returning to John Salt, Islington, where we know three things that stand strongly in its favour for a good roast. First, we know Neil Rankin, head chef there, is cooking great food because we've tried his weekday menu previously. Second, we know he sources his meat products from Warren's Butchers so the starting point of ingredients is a good one. Third, as former head chef at Pitt Cue, we know Neil understands cooking big chunks of meat. It seems like a winner on paper then.
Of course, we can't not have starters, and dining with a friend, we get to see a fair few plates of food over the meal, all shown below. When the starters arrive, we're reminded once again just how original, and tasty, the food at John Salt is. Burnt onions with razor clams and monks beard sounds like something you might find on the menu at L'enclume, What's more, it tastes like it too. Then there's the cod cheeks, clams and romesco, that sees me mopping up the sauce with the excess toast from the smoked aubergine and tomato and though I know I shouldn't, I do have a big roast dinner coming after all, but it's just so moreish.
And to the mains. Something of a USP for John Salt's roasts, you get two cuts of the main protein on your plate, not just one. Accordingly, order the beef, and you get sirloin and short rib, order pork, it's belly and shoulder. Order the chicken, and well, you just get a whole chicken. This was all done exceptionally well, the quality of the ingredients clear, as were the plates after. The meat is good, the gravy good and the roast potatoes, the bete noir of many a restaurant's Sunday plate, not a problem at John Salt. Accordingly, we struggle to remember a better Sunday roast served up in a restaurant since starting the blog.
Puddings were a treat, and we got to sample all four that were on offer. There's the ultimate crowd pleaser: Oreo, peanut butter and chocolate tart. There's the surprising find: an Earl Grey panna cotta with marmalade and toast (breakfast has now moved from a starter to pudding it seems), and there's fresh intensity: grapefruit, honeycomb and yogurt sorbet, with an exceptionally sourced grapefruit from Florida that burst refreshment in the mouth without excessive bitterness, which was universally enjoyed despite everyone protesting that they were not grapefruit fans (normally). To round off, there's comfort in a tapioca rice pudding.
John Salt has been so strongly identified on the food map as a place to go for an interesting meal, you might not think to go there for a Sunday roast, but then you'd be missing out. But as well as the main event, the top and tail of original and quite frankly fabulous starters and desserts bumps it up a further notch in our books. This is our third time at John Salt, each time thus far has been an absolute treat.
Cod cheeks, clams and romesco
burnt onions, razor clams and monks beard
smoked aubergine, tomatoes and toast
ham & egg
beef (sirloin, short rib)
Pork (belly, shoulder)
tapioca rice pudding
Oreo, peanut butter, chocolate tart
Earl Grey panna cotta, marmalade, toast
grapefruit, honeycomb, yogurt sorbet
The Savoy doesn't do things in half measures. After the 2010 grand reopening, the River Restaurant proudly opened boasting Escoffier inspired menus, but as a fine dining restaurant it wasn't, the evidence would suggest, bringing enough non resident guests through the doors. While we enjoyed the food there (see our River Restaurant
blog post), and we described it at the time as 'classy', it was undeniably a little on the old fashioned side. Rather than trying to force a fine dining square peg through a more casual dining round hole, they have decided instead to start from scratch and the result is Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill.
From our memories, no trace of the River Restaurant is now evident and the space has enjoyed what we can only assume is a (multi?) million pound makeover to create something that is entirely new. With no expense spared, the quality of the finish is outstanding and brings to bear the full class of The Savoy experience, yet Kaspar's is pitched as an all day dining restaurant where there is no dress code. With a decor that sparkles and a menu that pleases all tastes (see below), it is a very nice place indeed to take a lunch or dinner, or something in between if you prefer.
Returning to the menu, the seafood bar, centrally placed in the room, offers a offers a variety of smoked and cured fish in a small(ish) plates format (choice of two £14, or four £22) and these include on the smoked option: various salmons, eel and sable fish; on the cured side: halibut, sea bass and monk fish. There's also a fruit de mer (£34) that makes an excellent shared starter providing oysters (2x rock, 2x native), poached prawns, scallop and Cornish crab. Not included, and to be honest, not missed, was the often space filling item of winkles and whelks that too often are more effort than they're worth. The quality of the seafood served was first class.
If seafood is not your thing, other starters include snails, beef tartare, chicken liver parfait and oxtail consomme as well as a variety of salads. Even in listing all these, we have not covered all of the available choices. Dedicated mains similarly offer over 20 options where more than half are not in fact seafood.But seafood was our choice and we opted for a grilled Cornish lobster (£36) and a Dover sole (£34) that was so expertly filleted and plated, you could be tempted to believe sole is a boneless fish. On a second visit, we also tried the Hereford rib-eye steak (10oz, £28). The verdict on each of these was the same, the ingredients are excellent, well cooked, and served honestly, without unnecessary fuss on the plate.
For dessert, there's Savoy classics like Peach Melba, as well as a chocolate sphere, a version of which I had so thoroughly enjoyed at the River Restaurant we named it as a dessert highlight of the year back in 2011. In keeping with the move away from fine dining, it too has changed with again less fuss on the plate (though it still sees a hot sauce pour melting the sphere tableside). While the previous version offered white chocolate and marshmallow inside, this has now been replaced by 'passion fruit sensations' providing crisp acidity rather than unending sweetness.
While the old River Restaurant was enjoyable, it was not a venue we might consider regularly, except perhaps for entertaining our parents. Kaspar's however is a restaurant that we envisage using a great deal. It is a high class environment but not gaudy or pretentious, the menu much more than seafood (for those who don't want to be shackled) and the service always smart (this is The Savoy after all) but still friendly. While we were lucky enough to be guests at the pre-opening, we enjoyed it sufficiently to return just two days later for lunch and we already have a further return visit booked. A small part of us is sad to see the River Restaurant go, but in Kaspar's, they have created a fabulous, and no doubt significantly more popular, successor.
the dining room
a little taste of caviar
fruit de mer
the fruit de mer even comes with its own little bottle of Tabasco
Cornish lobster (the claw laid out in the top part of the shell)
apple tart tartin
chocolate lolly petit fours
Celebrations are always a lovely thing, even more so when they are done in style, so when we heard that Russell and Elena of Sienna in Dorset were celebrating the restaurant's 10 year anniversary with a specially created menu (10 courses, naturally), we jumped at the opportunity to go. If by any chance you don't know who Russell Brown is (@siennadorset
on twitter), he is Dorset's only Michelin starred chef. His restaurant, Sienna, is located in the centre of Dorchester (sorry for using a picture of Weymouth above, but it is just down the road) and seating only 14 people, it is a small intimate affair but still quite buzzy, and where his wife, Elena, runs the front of house with an engaging friendliness.
We've been a big fan of Russell since we first visited Sienna back in 2011 describing his food then as 'clean, elegant and delivering full value on the promise'. And so it was with the 10th anniversary meal, where for example, the proximity to great locally caught fish is allowed to shine in a plate of brill with spring onion mash, saffron and red pepper. This, as with all his plates, are never unnecessarily elaborate, rather, good ingredients cooked well to gently coax from them all they have to offer.
While there are clearly influences of French and Italian cuisine running through his menus, this is in many ways the very definition of British cooking where Russell strongly supports local producers and the menu reads always like a list of things you know and want to eat. And when it arrives, the plate is uncluttered, the food classy. Sienna is the kind of restaurant we get great joy from eating at and instills in you more than a little pride that Britain does now offer quality restaurants across the country, many like Sienna tucked unassumingly far away from the predictabilities of Mayfair.
So if this summer you're heading down to the south coast for a holiday, and want to add a touch of elegance to your food itinerary, we whole heartedly recommend stopping by Sienna and checking out Russell's food. This monster 10 course celebration menu has now of course ended but no matter, for there is always something wonderful cooking in Russell's kitchen, for that's how you survive 10 years in the business and that's how you win a Michelin star to boot. Congratulations again to Russell and Elena, here's to the next 10.
prawns with avocado and saffron
new potato soup, wild garlic pesto
ham hock terrine with watercress and Pommery mustard
Wild mushroom salad, slow cooked Blackacre Farm egg yolk, truffle dressing
Parmesan and ricotta tortelloni with English asparagus
Roast fillet of brill with spring onion mash, saffron and red pepper
loin of lamb, shepherds pie, carrot and peas
Keen's cheddar rarebit with spiced cider apple jelly
Apricot and almond tart with clotted cream ice cream
It is somewhat easy to forget MEATmarket with all the fuss around both MEATliquor and MEATmission, but while both of those are still destination restaurants with, as we recently discovered at the mission, evolving menus, the market offers burgers for those on the go, and sometimes that is just what you need. With less than half an hour ahead of an appointment in Covent Garden, we had insufficient time for a proper sit down meal and we remembered MEATmarket was nearby and it became an obvious choice, the real advantage being the turnaround time. Choose what you want from the board, order and pay, and while there's a few minutes wait for the food to be cooked, there's no fussing and as soon as you finish, it's waste in the bin and off you go. The turnaround time offers a valuable string to the bow then, and late on a mid week lunch time, we found not only no queue, but a relatively empty restaurant also.
Foodwise, most readers of this blog will know what to expect from the group. A Chili-Dog was exceptional, the quality of the chili surprisingly good, certainly many steps above what you'd normally find at this price point and in a fast turnaround restaurant, but this of course is the secret to the group's success, the food is born of love and care. The Dead Hippie too was MEATgroup on top form with bun, patty and toppings deliciously meting into a well judged singularity. But what I think I love most about MEATmarket is the milkshakes. Today it was a 'Hard Beige', which against what I assume is a vanilla base, they add maple syrup and Woodford Reserve Bourbon which leads to something magical, just a shame they don't supersize it.
MEATmission is our closest, for MEATliquer there's always a soft spot, but for MEATmarket, a venue within walking distance of so many places you might reasonably find yourself, the ability to be well fed, quickly, for not much money is rare and wonderful thing. In that sense, and within London, MEATmarket brings something important and uncommon to the table. We loved it all over again.
And then there were four. Burger & Lobster's winning formula for serving up something fab for just £20 continues with their latest branch in Bread Street, yards away from Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen and pitched squarely at the more budget conscious end of the City (for better lined wallets, sister restaurant Goodman City is less than 5 mins walk away).
But while the original Clarges Street B&L opened to a frenzy and queues of over two hours (apparently queues in the Soho branch on a Saturday night can still reach 2 hours), in Bread Street, you'll have an easier time of things. What's more, you're also unlikely to meet a food blogger as the restaurant has on Urbanspoon just two blog posts against its name. Two points in its favour then.
The queues may be different but the format remains the same: a menu familiar to all, cocktails beer and wine and, I am pleased to say, service as friendly as ever. And on this later point, nor is it because we are bloggers, we wandered in as we just happened to be in the area, unknown to the mid afternoon service staff, but it was still smiles and friendliness all round. Indeed, we have yet to visit B&L without encountering that, the group's ethos toward service is admirable, as much part of the DNA as lobster for £20.
We wont dive into food descriptions, for surely there can't be anyone who doesn't know what the offering is or what it tastes like by now. So we'll simply conclude by saying that if you like Burger & Lobster, you'll feel right at home in the City branch: we do, and we did.
What could be better than eating the food of Bruno Loubet? Eating the food of Bruno Loubet with paired champagnes! It was a special night last week at BBL when Australia's leading expert on champagne, Bernadette O'Shea, steered a small group of enthusiasts through an evening of fine food and fine champagne. Readers of our blog will know that we have been long time fans of Bistrot Bruno Loubet since we first ate there in early 2011 (read the blog post here
), and since then, we've been back many times.
Tonight's menu was a little different to the normal menu at BBL where flavours are usually found to be bold and hearty, but seeking to bring the food and champagne together in a balanced way, a little more restaraint than normal was necessary in the food. Accordingly, a starter of Cornish crab, oyster leaves, apple salad and elderflower dressing showed a lighter side to Bruno's cooking, something we'll perhaps see at Bruno Loubet's new restaurant in Kings Cross, Grain Store, which opens its doors in June. Fresh and crisp with a touch of acidity, it's a dish that easily pairs with champagne, here a NV Jacquesson Cuvee 376.
Grilled quail, butternut squash and ricotta ravioli offers a perfectly delicious quail while on the main course, they pull off something which I didn't think was possible, pairing a champagne with beef. An Aberdeen Angus beef pot au feu with truffle was paired with a NV Fleury Blanc de Noirs Brut, a champagne made with the red grapes that has more body and oomph to it. I was most pleasantly surprised (though I doubt I'll be swapping up my usual Sunday 'Bordeaux with beef' any time soon).
We finish the menu with poached rhubarb and strawberry jam, and some final words from Bernadette and Bruno to round out a wonderful evening. One of the reasons that we enjoy the Bistrot so much is that as well as the great food (of course), there's always such a good atmosphere there, informal but professional, friendly, and always plenty of smiles, from staff and customers alike. Eating out should be about enjoyment, and at BBL, every meal seems like a celebration, with or without champagne.
Cornish crab, oyster leaves, apple salad and elderflower dressing
Grilled quail, butternut squash and ricotta ravioli
Aberdeen Angus pot au feu with truffle
Poached rhubarb and strawberry jam
Disclosure: we were guests of Bistrot Bruno Loubet
On a Saturday, The Connaught Hotel's lead restaurant, double starred Helene Darroze, serves up a brunch menu that is quite a change from the usual fare and we were intrigued to find out how it would translate. Being our first brunch at Helene Darroze at The Connaught, we were unsure what to do, but the form is this: there's a main course selection offering up on our visit four choices: chicken, oysters, The Connaught hot dog, or the 'burger'. While you are waiting for that, there's starters from the buffet that includes charcuterie, terrines, salads and the brunch classic, smoked fish and scrambled eggs, as well as a help yourself bread basket. After the mains, there's cheese available and then dessert.
Buffets have never, from memory, yet appeared on this blog, and we are appropriately suspicious of most of them; we hardly need give the reasons. At one of London's leading hotels however, the buffet is, as you would expect, a cut above, and all the food served is unquestionably excellent. A pain au chocolat seems to contain the best part of a bar of chocolate and the pastry work in the bread basket is exemplary. If that weren't enough, you can help yourself to as much as you would like. The smoked fish on offer today is salmon, halibut and eel, and all are sliced on demand and can be enjoyed with accompaniments of choice, but is clearly most popular with the scrambled eggs which are a sumptuous, creamy delight.
On the mains, we chose the oysters, which come with grated apple and two pork meatballs on the side, and the braised ox cheek burger which comes with a generous topping of duck foie gras on top - this is, after all, Helene Darroze. It is the 'burger' dish that was a little puzzling however as the burger arrives sitting in a puddle of jus so clearly not designed to be picked up, but rather a knife and fork job, while inside the bun there's no real patty, rather a bed of shredded ox cheek. Now, don't get me wrong, it was delicious and rich and heart attack inducing with that slab of foie on top, but it seemed like a round peg in a square hole to force it into a burger style serving when other presentations seemed better suited, even if only putting the jus in a serving jug, not plopping the burger in the middle of it. And if you've already enjoyed the bread basket earlier in the brunch, eating another big bun also becomes less appealing.
Help yourself after to both cheese and desserts, with desserts featuring easy-going brunch style sweets like brownies, cup cakes, cookies and cheesecake rather than fancy pulled sugar or the like. Again though, you are not restricted to a single choice but are at liberty to load your plate with one of everything, or more, if you so desire.
It does feel oddly 'posh' to have a brunch at Helene Darroze, and the dining room in our view does not lend itself readily toward too many guests all moving around it at the same time. Furthermore, the 'to the floor' table cloths meant that each time you arise from your ever so comfortable seating, which of course you do a few times with a buffet, you naturally fear that you might catch the cloth causing the contents of the table to crash to the floor (in the end, no one did however), but overall, it's a nice time with very good food.
You will be lighter in the wallet however, with the cost being £55 per person, but in the end, for what you get, it's really not that bad. There's as much fruit juice and tea and coffee as you can drink, and if you had three glasses of orange juice and a coffee alone at The Coburg Bar next door, you surely wouldn't see much change from £30. But while the main course is fixed in size, for everything else, have as much as you want as often as you want. In the end then, you determine how much value you get for your £55, so best go hungry. The quality of the food is excellent, and given how much choice you have, we were a long way short of getting to try everything. The service too, as you would expect and hope from The Connaught, is without fault. Accordingly, while it's not something most could entertain doing every Saturday, as an occasional treat, it's a rather pleasant way to spend a few hours over Saturday lunch time (brunch is served between 11am and 2:30pm).
smoked salmon, halibut and scrambled eggs
pain au chocolat
oysters & apple, pork meatballs(front right)
braised ox cheek burger
and a second dessert selection
Roganic recently announced that they are closing on Thursday 20th June (2013). Accordingly, if you are yet to try Simon Rogan's London outpost, you have little over two months to do so before they shut shop and The French in Manchester becomes the nearest Rogan venue for foodies in the south of England.
In our view, this will be a big loss for the London dining scene for as brasserie after brasserie opens in 2013, Roganic steers its own unique path and continues to offer quality, consistency and innovation throughout the menu. Today, it was raw mackerel that got the coal oil treatment adding a smokey dimension to the fish that is served with yoghurt and rye. On the 'main', lamb is passed over for mutton which in Rogan's restaurants always seems to pay off (the hogget too is exceptional when on the menu), while there are the 'usual suspect' ingredients such as heritage potatoes, onion ash and lovage, or on the vegetarian menu, salt bake celeriac, cabbage, mugwort and Jack by the hedge that typically define his food style.
The food at Roganic is always exciting and no matter how many times you return, there always seems something new to enjoy on the menu. Furthermore. sourcing many of the ingredients from his own farm in Cumbria, there's genuine seasonality that's determined not strictly by the calendar, but rather, what on the farm is ready to harvest. With just nine weeks left till it closes, demand for tables is likely to be brisk; Marylebone simply wont be the same without it.
smoked eel croquette
burnt mushroom cake, parsley & garlic
tender stem broccoli, buttermilk, barley and fennel
salsify, fermented apple and sunflower shoots
raw mackerel in coal oil, yoghurt and rye
Sharpes Express potatoes, onion ash and lovage
Isle of Skye prawn, sea herbs and oyster
slow cooked egg yolk, beetroot
Lemon sole, cauliflower and perilla
Lindale mutton, cabbage, salt baked celeric and yarrow
Sweet cheese, pear, pine and malt
Parsnip, hazelnut and wild chervil
If one measure of achievement for a restaurant is great food, close behind that must be the achievement of consistency. With the Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs now open around six months, we've been lucky enough to dine there a few times now and each and every time the meal has been remarkable, while delivering consistency within the meal (every one of 12 plates on the money) and across meals (with every meal comparable to every other). If anything, our most recent visit hinted at an increased confidence now present in the kitchen with individual dishes growing a little in complexity compared with the early services, but now as then, the meal continues to uniquely represent the personal vision of Chef James Knappett and changes daily to reflect 'what's good and what's in'.
We've pointed out in our recent post of The Ledbury that we have a chef friend from out of town staying with us and wanted to show her the best of the London restaurant scene. Bubbledogs Kitchen Table was an obvious and easy choice in what could only be a very short list, and it totally delivered.