Tag Archives: London

Dinner round at Heston’s

For a birthday treat we took a trip to London to experience Dinner by Heston in the Mandarin Hotel. We’re in London fairly infrequently, despite having lived here previously. This has been on my to do list for a while as the historical recipes do intrigue me, plus after we had booked it was swiftly announced as the 7th best restaurant in the world!

Based in Knightsbridge, it’s in a fairly high end part of town. The Mandarin Hotel itself is ornate, grand and full of glamour without being tacky. It was a classic muggy evening in London and we just wanted to be somewhere cool and light, of which there are not a lot of these kinds of corners in the hotel!

View of the kitchen from our table - no sign of Heston though!

View of the kitchen from our table – no sign of Heston though!

On arrival it was obvious that this was a seamless and slick operation. We started with cocktails in the bar. Seats were found for us in seconds, as were menus. The cocktails themselves were swiftly made and brought over before we had time to take breath. Had this been a cocktail bar in Leeds I daresay we would have fought for a seat for a while before deciding whether to stay or not, and the bar would take hours to get to you and make your drink! This was certainly not the case here. At £16 a cocktail these were not cheap but the list was fairly intriguing. I went for a bon vivant, which was a very grown up cocktail. Smoked vermouth and aged amontillado sherry gave the tobacco and leathery tones that I love in a drink. It came with a little skewer of stilton cheese dunked in it, which sounds odd but was a wonderful savoury pairing. Susie had a pretty little green concoction made with Japanese tea infused gin and matcha tea. Set in a bamboo steamer it had all the pomp and ceremony injected into it with the obligatory dry ice display! Plus the drink was tasty too! To accompany drinks we nibbled on nuts, seeds and berries anointed with truffle oil, moreish to say the least!

Bon Vivant

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As soon as we had finished our drinks we were whisked away to the dining room. The main dining room is quite dark, however there is a corridor bit which lies next to the kitchen and which looks out on to Hyde Park. Luckily this was where we were sat, I may have found the dark area far too claustrophobic. We’d already dissected the menu on the train down and were fairly confident of our choices. The menu was a pretty little concertina with dishes on one side and stories of their historical origin on the other. For starters most of us went for the house dish of meat fruit. This was an amazingly realistic mandarin orange set atop a board with grilled sourdough bread. The orange was in fact a sphere of light and fluffy chicken liver parfait set inside a gel of mandarin orange. This was a taste sensation, light yet rich and nicely offset by the tangy gel. It was, however, a massive portion for one, but we wolfed it down. Our dining partner went for the salagamundy which had wonderful spicy aromas and woody bitter flavours from the salsify, marrowbone and horseradish – she was very happy! We noted that to supply the chicken oysters for this one dish alone would have required 2-3 chickens, so we’re not sure where the rest of the chicken goes!

Meat Fruit

Mains wise I hope we weren’t too boring but most of us went for the ribeye beef to share. This was a huge piece of Hereford beef, cooked medium and served with fries and mushroom ketchup. If I’m honest, the beef was nice but I’ve had better. The fries were well seasoned but nothing spectacular. The mushroom ketchup was the star of the dish, sweet and umami at the same time. A side of cabbage was stingy but again well-seasoned. Susie went for the Iberico pork chop. This was the thickest pork chop we’ve ever seen! She had a side of filthy mash with it, full of butter. It was creamy and comforting and I could have eaten just a bowl of that! She looked broken by the end due to there being so much food. As an aside, it’s worth noting that despite the prices and the Michelin stars, the portions are huge – you will not go hungry!

Ribeye

Only half of us went for dessert. The others looked crestfallen at having to turn it down, but they simply had no room after our meat fest! I went for the brown bread ice cream. This was a beautiful little quenelle of sour tasting ice cream. It came atop a massive wedge of salted butter caramel. Eaten all together, as advised by the waiter, this was stunning, if a little rich. I had to leave a lot of caramel once the ice cream had gone, plus I was reaching breaking point too! The best dessert I think was the marmalade pudding. This was a pretty little set cream made in a fun vintage jelly mould. It came spiked with bitter and sour elements from Campari and orange pieces. It was extremely tasty and refreshing and is what I would pick next time I’m dining there.

Brown bread ice cream

Marmalade pudding

Wines are particularly eye watering. Ranging from £35 to £4550! Majority are priced at the top end but we managed to select a very good Muscadet at £35 and a Beaujolais at £45 and this was more than enough to keep us watered throughout. The waiting staff were not snooty about us preferring tap water and they kept our glasses well filled.

Just as we thought we were fit to burst a secret course was brought out in honour of my birthday. I thought some of us were going to break down in tears at the thought of eating another morsel!! However this was a dainty little pot of earl grey infused chocolate ganache with a fine shortbread biscuit. This was beautifully floral and surprisingly refreshing but definitely the last thing I was going to eat that night!

Birthday ganache

The bill came in at about £110 a head, which given the high profile of the restaurant and its namesake I was pleasantly surprised. We paid a similar amount at Man Behind the Curtain (which was a completely different experience) and left a bit hungry! It did get me thinking though about what I want from a meal. And I think thesedays I’m more about trying lots of different flavours, textures and experiences in food, rather than just going to be filled up. There were some fantastic flavours in this meal, but perhaps not enough to get me really excited – that’s probably my fault for going for the beef! Having said that, if I can get a table, I would definitely return, but I would pick some different things from the menu.

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A weekend (or two) in London

It’s nearly a decade since I left London and moved back to Leeds, scary really as it feels like yesterday. I was there for less than two years but this was time well spent as it now means when I go back I can travel the tube like a local, I know lots of the hidden neighbourhood gems and I always have somebody to stay with! It feels like I’ve been up and down the East Coast mainline too many times of late – this is what comes of having free time now we’ve scaled back the supperclub! Anyway I thought I’d share with you some of my weekend tips for fun foodie things to do:

Dinner in Peru

Latin American food has really taken off in the UK, the latest additions to the scene being Martin Morales’ Peruvian beauties Andina and Ceviche. Ceviche is a cosy bar/ restaurant in Soho whilst Andina is a slightly roomier, more modern branch in Shoreditch. Food is served tapas style – my favourites being the amazing Ceviche Andina – full of sea bass, physallis and swimming in restorative tiger’s milk; the chocolo corn cake with uchatta sauce – soft, comforting and so moreish; and the salty, spicy pisco beef skewers. Be sure not to miss out on the house classic pisco sour for the true Peruvian experience.

Supperclubs with a twist

Supperclub on a tube train

Supperclub on a tube train

Ever keen to try supperclubs up and down the breadth of the country our latest visit was to Basement Galley. Previously run in his basement in Brixton, Alex has recently moved his foodie venture to a disused 1967 Victoria line tube train in Walthamstow. Lost in the back and beyond of suburban London this was truly a secret and bizarre experience! Sadly our meal was their last night aboard the train, but Alex has promised to be bringing the Galley back to a new and exciting venue soon, so keep your eyes peeled! We loved the bonkers palate cleanser of ‘gin’ jelly and ‘tonic’ sherbet that fizzed and excited the mouth, as well as the cheesy and comforting risotto balls. Bearing in mind that this was food prepared in a museum and a car park it was pretty top notch. What’s more drinks were supplied by pop up bar peeps Shot Tails providing decent wines and cocktails at non London prices! It was fun to drink wine aboard a tube now that Boris has banned it, but less fun clambering over everybody to get to the toilet!

Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market

Nothing can prepare you for the wonder of Maltby Street Market, although the lovely sunny day probably helped secure its brilliance. Hidden up a Bermondsey back street it’s a foodie paradise full of stalls of streetfood and trendy cocktail and tapas bars. Go hungry so that you can fill up on the treats. It’s all laid out along a line of railway arches – industrial units by day, foodie heaven at the weekend! Everything is reasonably priced and not too big, meaning you can try lots. My favourites included the authentic Mexican tacos at £6 for three (chorizo and potato, beef, pork); the cheese shed grilled cheese sandwiches at £6; and Little Bird gin bloody mary’s at £5. The ultimate must do are the lush burgers from African Volcano. The patties are marinated and then grilled with their trademark peri peri sauces and then served up in a brioche bun that has been soaking in a gorgeous gravy/ sauce type thing and comes with all the trimmings such as cheese, salad, fried onions and pickles. This is the best burger I’ve ever tasted – moist, cheesy, spicy and FIT. At £8 they are at the top end of Maltby eats. They also do a pulled pork bun complete with crackling, and a burger/ pulled pork dirty combo. We shared ours so we could have as many things as possible. Next time I’m having one all for me. Maltby is open Saturdays and Sundays until about 4pm. The street is lined with lots of vintage tables and chairs so you can while away a lovely afternoon and scoff yourself silly.

Kew Gardens

Kew Gin

I used to live near Kew but never went to the famous gardens. At the moment it’s 241 entry in Gardeners World Magazine or with your national rail tickets to London. It’s worth getting the deal as it’s about £16.50 in otherwise. The gardens are a treat in themselves – lots of tranquil spots for picnics and attractions such as the tree top walk where you get to walk on a see-through, wobbly platform amidst the tops of the trees. Breath-taking views and stomach churning heights! At present the Plantasia festival is on, the best bit of which is a gin greenhouse serving lots of refreshing botanicals. Run by London No. 3 gin (made with juniper, orange, grapefruit, coriander, cardamom and angelica – 3 fruits and 3 spices!) I went for the classic G+T with geranium – subtly aromatic. Do have a bit of a wander around Kew when you’re there. It’s a very clean and neat village in London – almost like a theme park it’s so pristine! At the station there’s a fab little baker’s stall selling all sorts of fresh breads, pastries and other sweet and savoury baked treats. We had a load of the mini Portuguese custard tarts – lovely! The train station pub is also worth a look in – light and airy with lots of decent ales on.

British Tapas

Barnyard British Tapas

Barnyard British Tapas

The latest restaurant on Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street is Barnyard – a rustic, rurally themed eatery slap bang in the middle of the city. It got a less than glowing review in the Observer but we were still intrigued, give us a posh sausage roll and we’ll be there! The décor is a bit contrived – think rusty corrugated iron walls, splintering rough wood furniture and plaid shirts. It follows the trend of ordering as many small plates as you want. For me the pricing was a bit odd but the food was consistent. A highlight for me was a beautifully moist and smoky short rib. At £14 this was a tad steep, especially as it literally came as a sole slap of meat and no adornments. It was super fine eating though. The ‘Beyonce’ sausage roll was meaty, crispy and glazed to perfection. Our side of broccoli was smoked within an inch of its life, but all in all it was a meal we were satisfied with. A hit and miss experience but satisfying all the same, do try for something a bit different.

Sherry

Sherry - fresh from the barrel

Sherry – fresh from the barrel

We stumbled upon Drakes sherry bar when we were exploring Charlotte street. It’s just round the corner from the Sam Smiths pub. The bar is stacked full of gigantic sherry barrels of all shapes and forms. We enjoyed a 20 year old nutty Amontillado, straight from the barrel. It was just what we needed for a sunny Saturday afternoon to help us pretend we were in San Sebastien!

‘Vintage’ pubs

A drunk picture of Catford Constitutional Hall

A drunk picture of Catford Constitutional Hall

The latest trend in public houses appears to be cooperatively owned ‘vintage’ style pubs, restored to look like time capsules from the 1940s! Full of shabby chic furniture, authentic parquet, tatty bunting and half plastered walls. They are a lovely, quaint venue to enjoy a pint in as an antidote to the traditional spit and sawdust London boozer. You have to head a bit out of town to track one down. Essentially they are pop up pubs in historic buildings that have fallen out of love. Places of note are the Catford Constitutional Club and the Ivy House in Nunhead. In Nunhead why not check out the gothic cemetery too… although not with a massive suitcase and banging hangover as I did. Do give these pubs a look in, not only do you get a much needed drink in a cool environment – you’re also helping out the independents and protecting local heritage. Enjoy!

Nopi

A recent trip to London got me and Susie thinking about which fun restaurants to try out. After much thought it occurred to us that we had never been to any of Ottolenghi’s ventures despite being big fans of his cuisine. And so that is how we found ourselves at Nopi one Sunday afternoon.

Based on the outskirts of Soho, Nopi is unassuming from the outside and full of clean white and luxurious burnished gold on the inside. As we entered and were shown to our table our noses were filled with tons of aromatic and inviting smells.

The menu was fairly straight forward with a range of small dishes (to share as tapas or have as a starter) and about 5 main courses. The small dishes sounded amazing to me so we opted to pick a few to share so that we could try as many things as possible. In terms of drinks, we were still slightly jaded from the night before and so opted for a mocktail (don’t tell anyone!). I had a lush passionfruit juice with kumquat syrup. It came full of bright sunshine colour and tangy, refreshing flavours, I loved it! Susie had a cranberry, apple and cucumber cooler, sour and tangy, with the cucumber adding a note of freshness.

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Banged Up Banquet!

Some readers will know that I’ve recently started working in Leeds’ prisons, which are truly fascinating and bizarre places to be based in. So what better way of marrying my employment with my love of food than a trip to the Clink, which is a training restaurant based in High Down prison in Surrey. It’s had a fairly high profile presence in the media over the past few years only slightly overshadowed by a copycat approach by Gordon Ramsey in Brixton prison. It’s been a huge success with reoffending rates dramatically reduced as a result of the scheme. Continue reading

A splurge meal at Launceston Place

I found myself in London the other week with a very rare thing indeed – a whole weekend in the capital with no obligation to be absolutely anywhere, what a luxury! What’s more it was the hottest weekend of the year so far – so cue shorts, sandals and shades…

After a very relaxing day messing about on the river, complete with some prosecco and obligatory Wahaca snackage, we decided to head for a slap up meal at Launceston Place in Kensington. I’d heard of this through Tristan Welch’s appearances on the Great British Menu, Masterchef and suchlike. Tristan is no longer head chef at this British establishment, he’s moved on to spend more time with his family but is still in post as a consultant. It was obvious from the menu though that new head chef Tim Allen wants to put his mark on the place.

Launceston Place – tucked away on a quiet residential street in Kensington

Now I love a good tasting menu, especially when it comes with wine! It’s a great excuse to pig out, have a splurge and try loads of things you wouldn’t normally. So this is what we went for. We had a chance to cool down over a gin and tonic and canapes of choux buns filled with a warm and cheesy bechamel sauce. They don’t sound very glam but they filled my mouth with an amazing, comforting burst of oozy cheesiness. I was in a foul mood at this point as our journey to the restaurant had taken about 70 minutes, more than double of what TFL had helpfully predicted. However, with a cheesy ball in my gob I was returned to zen like peace immediately.

Our amouse bouche was a rather brown and drab mushroom voulette. However appearances, as we know, can be deceptive as the foamy soup had a vibrant and silky earthiness that made me gobble it up in seconds. It came studded with shards of fresh chestnuts, which gave it great texture.

As we moved on to our starter we were introduced to our sommelier – a rather jolly Frenchman who was most amused in pinching the bottoms of the waiting staff! His first offering was a grassy pinot blanc from Alsace which he paired to the rich oiliness of the slow cooked pheasant egg present in our starter. The egg was served atop young asparagus and ham. It was a delicate dish but a bit sloppy for me. Undercooked egg is a huge fear of mine and the slow cooked nature of the egg meant that it had an ultra soft texture. I think I forgot to drink the wine at the same time as the food but I’m sure the pairing was perfect!

Slow cooked pheasant egg with asparagus

Our next wine was an intriguing white Rioja. It was a very bold wine with smoky vanilla flavours that you would expect in a red. It’s not a wine you could glug down in vast quantities but as a different taste sensation it was great. This was paired with our fish course of seared scallop, glazed pork belly, apple match sticks and celeriac puree. The scallop was perfectly cooked – it was nicely caramelised and not jellified at all, as they often can be. The glazed pork belly was a welcome surprise element to the dish and was suitably meaty and moist. I could have lived without the apple which came in julienne and jelly forms. The julienne had little flavour and the jelly is a big no no for me. I love jelly, just not in savoury food where it leaves me feeling a little bilious.

Scallop and pork belly with apple and celeriac puree

Our poor sommelier had a bit of a struggle finding a wine to go with our main course of lots of different cuts of lamb. In the end he opted for a luxurious 2004 chateauneuf de pape, simply because it’s such a good wine, it could stand up to our complex meat course. This wine was thick and smoky and very warming indeed – it was probably my favourite of the night. Our ‘celebration’ of lamb came as seared rump, pressed neck, sweetbread and tongue. The rump was particularly enjoyable and the offal surprisingly good. The cuts came with a puree of curried cauliflower and peas and broad beans. The puree was stunning and complemented the rich lamb very well indeed. I don’t think it was a great pairing for the wine though, which is often the case with spicy foods.

A celebration of lamb

The tasting menus are good because you get lots of small courses to eat and you always have room for everything. I love to have cheese with a meal but never manage it so I was pleased that cheese featured on this menu. Our cheeses included a comte and a tongue tingling blue. Even blue cheese hating Richard ate and enjoyed the blue! The wine pairing for this was a Post Scriptum Douro. The sommelier described it as a cross between a port and a red wine as he’s a bit snobby about serving port. It was deep and fruity but without the sickly sweetness of port.

Before dessert we were treated to what was possible my favourite course – a pre dessert of lemon pannacotta and rosemary granita. The granita was so clever – the aromatic freshness is one that I will try and emulate at home. The panacotta was so clean and cool it really refreshed the palate and calmed my mouth down after all of the wine and cheese!

Pre-dessert of lemon pannacotta with rosemary granita

Dessert was a show stopping raspberry souffle, that I had already seen being handed out in the dining room and was excited about! It came baked with a white chocolate cream inside. This was potentially an exciting addition, however mine seemed to have split slightly inside the souffle and wasn’t that pleasant, which was a great shame. However, what was a stroke of genius was that the inside of the ramekin had been coated with luxurious dark and bitter chocolate. As the souffle baked this melted and then acted as an amazing bitter partner to the fruity pud. I was impressed with the decent and even rise the chef had achieved. It came served with fresh raspberries, crunchy freezedried raspberries and a vibrant raspberry sorbet. The final wine pair was a Castrano Dulce – a syrupy red dessert wine. Richard described it as tasting like Ribena – we’ll make a food blogger out of him yet! But yes indeed it did taste of alcoholic ribena.

Raspberry and chocolate souffle with raspberry sorbet and freezedried sorbet

Overall a good (but expensive) meal indeed! I didn’t feel leaving so full that I might explode but I felt very content with the food and wine I had been treated to. The place itself had a relaxed atmosphere, despite being fairly formal. I think what impressed me the most was how everything worked like clockwork. The minute we ordered something another staff member whooshed in with new cutlery or wine glasses and we were never left waiting for anything – that will always win me round! If you find yourself in a posh residential street in Kensington then why not try it out? But do take your credit card!

Mexican food made… for Dinner at the Manor!

My dining adventures continue. You can rely on the Christmas period to bring lots of greedy opportunities into life and I’m never one to turn one down! This weekend saw me within a one mile radius of Thomasina Miers’ chain Wahaca, and seeing as they have foolishly failed to bring this Mexican eatery to the North, tsk, I had to grace them with my presence and fill myself with their nosh. Plus we’re featuring Thomasina’s Mexican Food Made Simple at our January supperclub so I thought I’d go and get some presentation tips. Continue reading