Friday, 9 June 2017

La Dame de Pic London

Make or break?


Edible lime leafs


Another high profile oversea chef setting up a shop in London, this time in the name of Anne-Sophie Pic at the Four season Hotel at 10 Trinity Square. Anne is a true celebrity chef back in France, with her flagship restaurant "Anne-Sophie Pic" reaching 3 Michelin stars status. The problem is, London hasn't really been a happy place for high profile oversea chefs in the last few years, Celeste (by French heavy weight Eric Frechon, holder of 3 Michelin stars at Epicure in Paris) failed to get a handful of bookings in the evenings despite the high quality of the cooking and Ametsa (by the same team behind the 3 Michelin starred Arzak in Spain) had to run constant promotion to attract customers. Here, will La Dame de Pic suffer similar fate? The menu at La Dame de Pic is your typical fine dining restaurant format, tasting menu, a la carte and a reasonable priced lunch menu, taking some of the dishes from the a la carte menu.

Fire Dog

Not your usual Turkish restaurant



Charred octopus

Located on the former site of Piquet on Newman Street, just a stone throw away from the ever busy Oxford street, Fire Dog is a brand new restaurant serving Turkish inspired mezes and grills. Labelled itself as a "Meze dining club", Fire Dog is not your usual Turkish restaurant. It spreads across two floors, with neon signs, graffiti artworks and a strong focus in cocktails, it feels more like a night club. The all-day dining restaurant provides sharing dishes. Diners are encouraged to order a selection of cold and hot mezes, before moving on to the open flame charcoal grilled dishes, ranging from classic lamb cutlets to stuffed aubergine. 

The Test Kitchen

Test lab


Raspberry, Wasabi, Buttermilk

I am a fan of Adam Simmonds, his performance at the Great British Menu from a few years back was such a joy to watch. Having experienced his cooking at Kensington Pavilion, when he was head chef there, I can just see how talented and creative he is as a chef. So I was delight to see he is making a comeback in London. Located on the former site of the ever popular Barrafina, The Test Kitchen looked pretty much the same just like before, it offered counter sitting only in front of an open kitchen, ideal for people who enjoy watching how chefs prepare your dishes. The Testing Kitchen is all about Adam dishing out experimental cooking and gaining feedback, before opening a permanent venue in the near future. 

Blacklock City

Meat is good


All in!

Blacklock, a meat specialist had just expanded recently. After gaining rave reviews from the media and packing out almost every night, it had launch a second Blacklock in The City, offering a similar menu. Unlike the first Blacklock in Soho, you can book! Which is such a relief, as getting a table is not easy in the area. The other difference between the two is that Blacklock City had a few of its unique food offering, with starters and some big cuts that specially designed for a single diner.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Sir Charles Napier

Sweet lunch on the go


Pumpkin, ewes curd, king oyster, roscoff onions

This is my second visit to Sir Charles Napier, a Michelin starred gastro pub in Oxfordshire with a stunning garden, packed with interesting sculptures. I had eaten at Sir Charles Napier for the first time six months ago, and I was generally very impressed with the cooking quality and flavours execution, which meant it was totally worth a detour when I was on my way to Cotswold from London. This time I opted for the set lunch menu, at £19.50 for two course, not something that is possible in London!

5 North Street

Small restaurant, big flavours


Quail, asparagus, ceps


Whenever I visit Cotswolds, one the most exciting thing for me is to dine at top quality local restaurants. It is very interesting to compare to London restaurants, from ingredients to the atmosphere. I discovered 5 North Street in Winchcombe from the Michelin Guide, but what really won me over for a visit, was the endorsement from other heavyweight chefs, such as David Everitt-Matthias and Michel Roux Snr. At dinner time, the restaurant offers a la carte (£54 for 3 courses) and a tasting menu (£74), the tasting menu is mostly dishes taken from the a la carte menu. The restaurant has a much more affordable lunch menu at day time, at £32 for 3 courses.

Lords of the Manor

Dine like a lord



Salmon, lemon and artichoke

Located in Upper Slaughter, Lords of the Manor is a luxury countryside hotel with a restaurant with the same name. It gained Michelin star status for 8 years in a row with some very positive reviews from the press. As a fine dining lover, Lords of the Manor was too good to give it a miss when I was travelling to Cotswold. The decor and surrounding of the venue was seriously impressive, it has a stunning garden with an elegant dining room to match, it is almost like a mansion. The restaurant offers a la carte and tasting menu for dinner at a rather premium cost, but it does have a much more affordable set menu for weekend lunches and that is what I went for.

The Chef's Dozen

Chipping Campden's finest


lamb – celeriac, walnut, sloe gin

I first tried to get a table at The Chef's Dozen the year before and I should have known better. Without booking and turning up for a walk-in, luck wasn't on my side and I failed to get a table. It appears this little restaurant in Chipping Campden is the real deal, rated the best restaurant in Chipping Campden by Trip Advisor and adored by the locals, I took no chance in my second attempt and booked a table online well in advance. Unlike your standard restaurant format, Chef's Dozen offers a 4 course menu with 12 courses to pick from in total plus a tasting menu, with a range of canapes served before your first course.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Martín Berasategui

Simply perfect


Charcoal-roasted young pigeon with red endive and olive bites

Out of the three 3 Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian, Martín Berasategui was the one I was looking forward to the most. I dined at his restaurant in Barcelona called Lasarte a few years ago, and that wonderful memory still remained strong in my head. My dinner experience at Lasarte was one of the very best meals ever in my life, exceptional cooking, stunning presentation, world class service. The resturant had everything, so it was well deserved to see it has been promoted to the 3 Michelin stars club in the latest edition. If Martin Berasategui's outpost can be such a beast, surely his flagship restaurant can only be even better?

Akelare

Seaside fine dining, luxury Basque country style


Roasted pigeon with mile and cocoa

Akelare might have a lower profile compare to the other two triple starred Michelin restaurants in San Sebastian, but it certainly has by far the best views. It is located on a hill and offering stunning sea views that few restaurants can match. Beside the Michelin status, it is also a member of Relais and Chateaux, which can only mean 1 thing: a top quality, luxurious restaurant with services that is fit for royalty. Unlike most fine dining restaurants, it has 3 tasting menus that allow diners from the same table to mix and match any of the 3 menu, a rarity as usually these types of restaurants would need the whole table to take on the same menu.

Arzak

Why the hype?


Oysters mondrian

The name Arzak really needs no introduction if you are a serious foodie, located in the gastronomy capital San Sebastian, it is a 3 Michelin starred restaurant with serious reputation. It has constantly been voted as one of the finest restaurants in the world from the World 50's best guide and it's head chef: Elena Arzak has been named the best female chef in 2012. I have eaten at Arzak's outpost in London: Ametsa, back in 2013 when it was first launched and it wasn't anything special at all. But given the fact that so many high profile foreign chefs failed in London, I was pretty sure Arzak would be a different story and could deliver an extraordinary meal, but sadly, that wasn't the case.

Restaurante Kokotxa

Affordable top notch fine dinning experience



“Carabinero” (large red prawn) rice, beets and seaweed

Most people are aware that San Sebastian is the food capital of Europe, thanks to its triple 3 Michelin starred restaurants and countless of value for money pintxos bars. However, there are also plenty of great restaurants too and Kokotxa is one of the finest in the Old Town area of the city. The restaurant is renowned for its contemporary cooking style, using high quality ingredients with international influences. Just like most high end restaurants in the Basque region, it offers the standard a la carte as well as two tasting menus. The decor is fairly standard, with white paint and tablecloth across the whole dining room.

Bar Zeruko

Modern pintxo bar


Bar Zeruko


There are so many pintxo bars in San Sebastain, but without a shadow of a doubt, Bar Zeruko is one of the finest the city has to offer. Located right in the heart of the Old Town area, the bar offers a range of traditional pintxo, as well as some very creative and modern pintxo that wouldn't look "out of place" in a high end restaurant. Some of the "stood out" dishes: The grilled scallop, well seasoned and blessed with smoky aroma and freshness, a total steal for only five euro. The suckling pig dish could easily serve in a fine dinning restaurant, beautifully cooked, moist and crispy on the edge with the mustard adding a touch of sharpness to offset the richness. The Ox fillet with foie gras was full of delightful intense and bold flavours, the fillet was tender and the foie gras had a melting sensation, amazing value considering it costed only 5.5 euro. Having eaten at a few pintxo bars, Bar Zeruko is a personal favourite of mine, and one I would return for sure if I ever visit the city again.

Txepetxa & La Vina

Txepetxa



Anchovies heaven

Similar to red prawns and Iberico ham. Anchovies is a big deal in San Sebastian, a good plate of anchovies could command serious money and locals treat it as a luxury. Located in Old Town, Txepetxa is all about top quality anchovies pintxos and is one of the most popular pintxos bars in the city. It is amazing to see how well anchovies can work with other ingredients. The "stood out" one for me was the one with foie gras and apple, it was rich, bold with a hint refreshing sweetness at the same time, it was such a flavour harmony. Another fun one was a pairing with blackberries, never could have imagine fruit and fish can work together but somehow Txepetxa got it spot on.  

Launceston Place

New beginning 


Monkfish, banana , onion

I was very hesitant to visit Launceston Place, it was my personal favourite restaurant when Tim Allen was head chef (He has moved to Wild Rabbit in 2015).  The restaurant has given me many exquisite meal and happy memories, but now all the familiar faces are no longer there, it was hard to find a reason to head back. Launceston Place appeared to have a shaky period in 2016 since Tim moved on. Their new head chef that didn't last long before he was replaced with another new chef, in the name of Ben Murphy. His menu seemed ambitious and highly creative, with some good early press reviews, I figured it would be a good reason for me to return to see how things have changed.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Galvin La Chapelle

Jazzy Sunday lunch


Slow cooked duck egg, broad beans and smoked duck


Out of all the Galvin restaurants in London, Galvin La Chapelle is my personal favourite of mine. Beside its Michelin star status, I really enjoy the beautiful decor, built within a former chapel, its interior has such a classic glamour feel to it without being dated. Plus the cooking here are generally pretty strong no matter if you go for the tasting menu or the set menuOn Sunday, the restaurant offer a set menu with relaxing jazz music playing in the background, not a bad way to kick off a lazy Sunday. The menu itself is more or less the same as the weekday lunch menu, with a few more choices to add.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Smokstak

Finest BBQ 



thick-cut pork ribs

It appears starting life as a street food vendor before setting up a proper restaurant is the way to go these days. Smokestak is one of the latest restaurants that has successfully transferred from a hipster street food joint into a popular restaurant in Shoreditch. I had great memories with Smokestak from its street food days, it's pork ribs were really something special and that is one of the few street food items that stood out for me. Smokestak's new home is edgy and bold in design, very dark and it has limited branding, almost like an abandoned torture house from a horror movie.

BAO Fitzrovia

Bao expansion 


Classic pork bao


The Bao story was a touching story, it all started off life as a street food store before spotted and fallen in love by a restaurateur. With the financial backing, it opened a restaurant in Soho and gained phenomenal success in no time. The second Bao in Fitzrovia was a touch bigger than its Soho site, span across two floors with more small plates on offer beside the classic Bao dishes. And what made this new site awesome, was you could book in advance which was music to my ears. As both Bao sites right now are still some of the hottest restaurants in London, it is normal wait over an hour before you can get a table.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Pho & Bun

Massive improvement


Bò Chín - Tender Beef


I am a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine, its freshness and aromatic flavours are truly special, and as an ex colonial of France, the cooking can also be quite bold and rich. Simply put, it is hard not to love Vietnamese food! When Pho & Bun was newly launched in late 2015, I was one of the first people rushing to try, but it was not quite right for me, the service was very weak, and some of the dishes were very questionable. 2 years later, you would think the restaurant has ironed out all the launch issues and refined the menu, so off I go again.

Shackfuyu

Brunch on a Monday night


chicken tsukune - ponzu - quail egg


I really admire the Bone Daddies brand, from its namesake ramen joints, to its Flesh & Bun and Shackfuyu restaurants, each one managed to gain mainstream success and really put Japanese cuisine on the map for Londoners. Shackfuyu was an interesting concept, it offered a range of small and big Asian plates, mostly loaded with rich and bold flavours which I really enjoyed on a few occasions. It has launched a new brunch menu for Monday, with unlimited bubbles or sake for £35. The dishes are taken out from its normal menu so it doesn't feel like it was a downgrade, which can be the case in some restaurants when you opted a set menu over a la carte. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Bokan

European sky dining 


Line-Caught Poached Cod, Brown Shrimp, Spinach


Fine dining with a sky high view is a rarity in London, but what is even more rare is a good quality fine dining restaurant with a spectacular view. I almost class it as a con when an average restaurant charging outrageous prices, just because it is sitting on the 30th floor inside a five stars hotel. Is Bokan one of those places? Newly launched inside the Novotel hotel in Canary Wharf on the 37th floor, Bokan is a modern European restaurant headed up by an ex L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon chef. The menu is your standard a la carte style and it doesn't offer tasting menu, ingredients are mostly sourced from the the UK.

El Pastor

Hipster taco joint in London Bridge



Confit pork taco 


Mexican cuisine appear to be the next big thing in the ever changing London dining trend, with the high number of Mexican restaurant launches in recent years. From the same people behind the successful Spanish tapas bar Barrafina, El Pastor is a casual Mexican restaurant in London Bridge, serving tacos and mezcal, alongside with all the usual popular Mexican street food items, such as guacamole and quesadillas. Just like Barrafina, it is a no booking restaurant, so my best advice is turn up early to avoid the waiting.

Smoking Goat

Thai BBQ heaven


Whole grilled mackerel


Along with Som Saa in East London, Smoking Goat is one the few popular Thai restaurants that gained plenty of media love recently, its renown authentic Thai cooking is adored by Londoners and the place is always packed almost every night. The people behind Smoking Goat has since launched another Thai restaurant in Soho called Kiln, which also gained high popularity and became one of the hottest restaurants in London to now. While under the same management and serving the same cuisine, these two restaurants are not quite the same, with Smoking Goat focusing on oak smoked Thai BBQ, using high quality fresh ingredients sourced within the UK or imported from Thailand.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Spirit of Sharing

Irish style




With St Patrick's Day just around the corner, it is time to take a look at all the wonderful Irish beverages. The Irish food board, Bord Bia hosted a special evening at the Irish Embassy in London called the "Spirit of Sharing", putting together some very special Irish products that were beautifully crafted and exceptional in taste. Irish beverages is much more than just Guinness and Magners, and here are some of the stand-out products you should definitely try!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

James Cochran EC3

East London gem


Pan fried scallops, cauliflower, peanut brittle


In less than 2 weeks, I have returned to James Cochran EC3 for a special occasion, and the reason was simple: From my first visit, I was very impressed with the quality of the cooking and the value was outstanding. High level cooking and reasonable cost were the perfect combo for me. And James Cochran EC3 was far from being just another modern high end restaurant, James dared to do something difference with an injection of his native Scottish and Caribbean element to create something interesting, modern, fun and most importantly, it delivered remarkable taste. 

The Other Naughty Piglet

My kind of Naughtiness


BBQ pork belly, sesame, Korean spices

I have read many great things about Naughty Piglet, a popular casual restaurant and wine bar in Brixton, the cooking was French in principle but injected with influences from around the world. The place had became one of the "hippest" restaurant with its forward thinking but well executed cooking and a solid list of interesting wine. The reason that stopped me to visit is the location, but that had all changed with the launch of The Other Naughty Piglet: A new restaurant in Victoria from the same team, which sit above The Other Place musical theatre, the menu is short but loaded with plenty of exciting and unusual elements, all the dishes are designed mostly for sharing.

Blandford Comptoir

Modern Wine bar in Marylebone


Octopus, pickled fennel, lemon confit

When it comes to drinking wine at restaurants, I can be one of the most cost engineering minded person, due to the fact that on trade cost are so much higher than picking up a bottle in retail. Of course, there is the question of the freshness of wine by the glass or ordering a whole bottle but turned out you are not keen with the taste... but haven't got the guts to tell that to the sommelier. Having said that, it could be very rewarding when you are able to pick a good wine to match the food you are having and Blandford Comptoir appear to be a restaurant that is very capable of that, famous for its outstanding wine list and modern Mediterranean cuisine, operated by Xavier Rousset, a renown wine professional and one of the best sommelier in the UK.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Sunday roast


Roast rump of Galloway beef, aged 40 days, Yorkshire pudding


Galvin Bistrot de Luxe is the less moral restaurant from the Galvin brother's empire. A French Bistro offering mostly classic French cuisine, along with some unique creations from the brothers. At Sunday lunch time, the restaurant switch it up with a British roast menu, offering roasted pork, chicken and beef. Galvin Bistrot de Luxe is known for its excellent value for money cooking and the Sunday roast is no different because it costs less than £20 for 1 course. It has been a long time since I last had a good quality Sunday roast and given the good quality meals I have had from other Galvin restaurants, a visit for its Sunday roast has been high on my agenda. 

Galvin at The Athenaeum

Hotel dining with the "G" factor?


Chicken liver parfait


Galvin at The Athenaeum is the latest creation by the Galvin brothers, it is only normal for foodies and fine dining lovers to take notice with this new opening. Galvin has already got several successful and highly popular restaurants in London, including the Michelin starred Galvin at the Window and Galvin la Chapelle. The Athenaeum is located inside a 5 Stars hotel with the same name on the floor, and judging from the menu, the food is very similar to Galvin's Bistrot de Luxe on Bakery Street, with a mixture of classic British and French dishes, along with some more "casual offering", such as pasta and soup.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sea Containers

Farm to table dining


Grilled Octopus Salad


When Sea Containers opened back in 2014, all the press were interested in the name of the restaurant and the hotel that "contained" the restaurant. I am a much more simpler guy, I am only interested in the quality of the cooking, the cost and the service level in a restaurant, everything else are secondary. Sea Containers is head up by Gus Crosby (Ex Launceston Place and Gordon Ramsay), and the restaurant champion local ingredients to provide modern British cuisine in a luxury setting, overlooking the river Thames. The menu is pretty straight forward, from salads, burger to grills, but don't just think this is another fancy bar and grill restaurant. 

James Cochran EC3

London restaurant of the year contender


Treacle cured salmon


For me, The Ledbury is the best restaurant in London and chef owner Brett Graham is a living legend in the fine dining world. So it was only natural for me to take notice when an ex Ledbury chef set up his own restaurant. James Cochran's restaurant in East London was launched in late 2016 and since then it had gathered some very positive reviews from the press. Just from reading the sample menu online got me excited, it had some very well thought out ingredients combination and the price seemed to be very reasonable. Not to mention that his restaurant had a hidden bar downstairs: BYOC, which was one of my favourite cocktail bars in London.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Kiln

Regional Thai cooking


Langoustines, Kaffir Lime & Sweet Mint


I am not a fan of restaurants that doesn't take booking, but every once a while, I am happy to bite the bullet, given if the restaurant sounds like too good to miss and Kiln fit into that category. From the same people behind the successful Thai restaurant Smoking Goat, Kiln is a tiny Thai restaurant on Brewer Street that does regional Thai food. The menu is short and diners are encouraged to order about 3 dishes each, similar to a tapas bar. The restaurant only offers counter seating behind an open kitchen, so it is not the best place for a large group. 

Aquavit London

Nordic fine dining



Arctic Bird's Nest

London seem to be the "go to" place for oversea top chefs to expand these days, and the latest came from a Nordic restaurant called Aquavit, already with two Michelin restaurants in Japan and New York. It is another new opening at the recently developed St James' Market, the same place that gave us Japanese restaurant Anzu and Italian restaurant Veneta. Unlike the usual menu format, Aquavit also offers a selection of hot and cold smorgasbord (tapas sizes dishes which are ideal for sharing) where diners can order as an alternative of a starter.

Social Wine and Tapas

Spanish style brunch


Piquillo pepper croquette and cured salmon & miso

For regular readers of my blogs, you would know I have got nothing but love for Spanish cuisine. However, I don't think I have ever eaten a Spanish brunch before, so when I noticed Jason Atherton's Social Wine and Tapas launched a new brunch menu, I arranged a visit. I am a big fan of Jason's work in the restaurant business. His flagship restaurant: Pollen Street Socialwas one of my favourite restaurant. Since then, he has launched many new places across the world, and Social Wine and Tapas is one of his more unique restaurant in London, offering creative Spanish small plates instead of his more common French/British bistro cooking.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Tono Daikiya

Japanese buffet heaven


Sashimi selection


Usually I shy away from buffet restaurants, the reason is simple, there is a high chance the quality of the cooking, as well as the ingredients, are no where near as good as cook to order dishes, and most buffet dishes would be pre-done so the freshness can be very questionable. However, a close friend of mine strongly suggested Tono Diakiya, a Japanese restaurant that offer premium buffet experience in Hong Kong, all you can eat, as well as drink (beer, house wine and sake) for £30 is something I am more happy to give it a go. The selection of food is massive, ranging from sushi to plenty of hot dishes, such as pan fried beef and baked scallops.

The Chairman

Refined Cantonese cuisine 


Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine,
Fragrant Chicken Oil & Flat Rice Noodles


Listed in the 50 best Asian restaurants for 3 years running, The Chairman is one of the few Hong Kong restaurants specializing in Cantonese cuisine featured in the list. It has not been a must visit list for me, as funny enough, I have yet to find a very solid high end Cantonese restaurants. I couldn't agree anymore with the motto of The Chairman regarding "as long as the ingredients are fresh, the sauces are outstanding, simple cooking will rule". Cantonese cooking doesn't need to be complex or fancy plating to make it exquisite and special. In the usual fine dining fashion, the restaurant offer a numbers of tasting menu, as well as a standard a la carte.

Zhejiang Heen

Huaiyang cuisine


Braised pork legs


Located in Wan Chai, Zhejiang Heen is a Chinese restaurant that specializing in Huaiyang cuisine with a Michelin star for 3 years running. Some interesting dishes which are hard to find in many restaurants, such as the "braised duck stuffed with 8 treasures" and "black glutinous rice with pumpkin and 8 delights" would require advance order. Zhejiang Heen also does a 4 course set lunch menu which is pretty great value for money for a Michelin starred "proper" restaurant where you can sit down, take your time, without worrying to be getting kicked out by waiters when you are done with your meal.

M&C Duck

Peaking duck, modern style


Spicy beef, Sichuan style


For most people in the Western world, peaking duck is mistaken as fried duck from Chinese takeaway. Peaking Duck is in fact a classic luxury dish from Northern China, roasted and served with only skin. There are plenty of modern innovation, such as the choice of dressing and garnishes etc. The Hong Kong restaurant group, Maxims, has launched M&C Duck in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, to offer value for money Peaking duck, along with some popular regional classic dishes such as the spicy beef from Sichuan but at a much reduced spices level, which has more appeal to a wider demographic. 

Sister Wah

Beef brisket legend


Signature dishes at Sister Wah


Besides the usual restaurants, if you really want to dine like a local, one of the must do things while you are in Hong Kong is to try out the traditional fast food shops. You will be offered table service, but expect to share your table with strangers, and leave the place and pay the bill as soon as you have finished your food. Sister Wah is a fast food shop in Tin Hau and serves beef brisket in soup as its signature dish, it is a very popular venue for the locals and it is common to see long queues at lunch hours thanks to its famous beef brisket, which landed Sister Wah a Michelin Bid Gourmand.

Jardin de Jade

Shanghai fine dining


Tea smoked duck

While far from perfect, the general quality of Cantonese cuisine in London has made great improvement in the last few years, especially the dim sum. So when I pay a visit to Hong Kong, I often try to experience other Chinese regional cooking, which are either rare or none exists in London. Jardin de Jade ticks all the right boxes for me, a Michelin starred Shanghai restaurant in Hong Kong, it has a fairly extended menu, focusing on classic cooking using top ingredients.