Fera at Claridge’s, Brook Street
Fera has legions of staff ready to replace a fork, spoon or hairpiece in the blink of an eye. Service is impeccable and charming, if extremely ‘fayn dayning’. Conversation tends to be somewhat staccato when constantly interrupted for yet another long-winded introduction to a new dish. This problem is not unique to Fera. But please, let us pour our own wine.
‘Dear God, spare me from another tasting menu’, I was thinking. ‘What’s wrong with choosing three courses rather than wasting four hours of one’s life being lectured about the ingredients, provenance and technique?’ On this occasion, however, Simon Rogan restored my faith. He’s an astonishingly talented cook, more concerned with flavour than just making the plate (or slate) look like some form of edible still life (although he does that, too). A starter of slow-cooked rabbit clad in a crisp onion batter was magnificent. A small mouthful, sure, but a wonderful one.
Then a British aligot: soft cheese whipped into buttery mashed potato and topped with small chunks of slow-cooked duck’s heart. Everything is soft and seductive, the very essence of edible aplomb. The brill was beautifully cooked and came surrounded by blewit mushrooms, tiny potatoes and stuff picked on the beach: a taste of late spring that dances around the mouth. This is real food, the kind you never forget – like the prawns so fresh I swear I saw them winking, draped in rich lardo. Exquisite ingredients, exquisitely cooked…
Click here for the full review of Fera at Claridge’s
The Dorchester Grill, Park Lane
This has Alain Ducasse’s touch, so expect the usual slick, well-groomed staff. Our waiter was charming, and once we had done away with the irksome ‘menu recommendations and explanations’, the well-oiled machine got to work. Glasses were never empty, tables endlessly brushed, and there’s real heart to the front of house.
Again, with a Ducasse restaurant you can be certain that the food will be technically astute. The signature blue lobster chowder is more Provençal bisque than New England chunky soup – it’s refined, elegant and possesses a serious piscine punch. A coddled egg, crayfish and herb fricasse arrives in a Kilner jar – so 2011 – but has an astonishing clarity of flavour. Tangles of spinach wallow in an ethereal eggy broth. It looks dull but tastes divine.
Less successful are the razor clams – the gratinated crust overwhelming the subtle tang. A vast veal chop whispers rather than moos, just as it should. A hint of bovine heft, mixed with soft succulence and skilled grilling, makes this a thing of beauty…
Click here for the full review of The Dorchester Grill
Newman Arms, Rathbone Street
This was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, which was as much down to the service as the excellent food. Nothing was too much trouble – not even carrying a buggy and baby up and down a spiral staircase. (It helped, perhaps, that we visited on their very first lunch service and were one of only two tables.)
Kitchen residencies are a great idea for pubs and chefs alike – the pub (hopefully) gets exceptional food from their existing kitchen and the chefs get to do their own thing without all the costs associated with a brand new venue. When it’s The Cornwall Project behind a residency, it’s an even better idea.
The menu is compact – just two or three starters and three or four mains, plus one pudding, with a vegetarian option each course – but bristles with delicious things to try. We ordered and loved both starters: sweet baby carrots and sour pickled shiitake mushrooms, served with Old Ford cheese and crunchy buckwheat; and fine slivers of baby beetroot arranged around tender duck hearts, scattered with edible marigold leaves.
Crispy pork belly was an indecently good main course – meltingly tender with a tooth-shattering layer of crackled fat on top, offset by smoked spelt grains and a sharp sauerkraut purée. Crisp fillets of mackerel with shaved ribbons of yellow courgette and broad beans were declared, ‘fresher than a spring day’ by my guest. We shared a rustic, slice of beetroot and blackcurrant cake, with a dollop of moussey vanilla ice cream…
Click here for the full review of Newman Arms
8 Mount Street, Mount Street
It was hot gossip when Le Chabanais, the eagerly-anticipated French restaurant from chef Inaki Aizpitarte and his partners at Le Chateaubriand, closed on September 1 after only four months of business. It was perhaps a spate of poor reviews that did the damage, and soon after a split between Aizpitarte and restaurant owner Valrun Talreja was announced.
But as a fresh season dawns, so does a fresh restaurant. 8 Mount Street keeps the same luxurious interiors as its predecessor – marbled bronze tiles that shine like mother of pearl; leather banquettes opposite Scandi-style wooden chairs; and a solid marble bar that runs the length of the room.
The similarities stop at interiors, though. Le Chabanais’ menu was French bistro-style (think veal sweetbreads), but here it’s broadly European brasserie with a Mediterranean slant. It’s also longer – 13 starters, 14 mains and nine desserts overwhelm and make for stressful decision making.
Everything on chef Adrian Mellor’s menu (which he had one week to create) is appealing; eventually we decided on pecorino crème brûlée, a comforting bowl of molten pecorino cream, with a dreamy whipped texture and caramelised sugar topping. We fell out over who got the second spoonful, a tiff that nearly ended in a spilt glass of peachy Alsace pinto gris from an extensive, and mainly French, wine list…
Click here for the full review of 8 Mount Street
Fenchurch restaurant at Sky Garden, Fenchurch Street
If you’re on the right side of the room, there’s no view finer than that from Fenchurch. It’s the highest – and most expensive – restaurant at Sky Garden, the three-storey high oasis at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (better known as the walkie-talkie building).
Only problem is, the other side of Fenchurch looks out onto a roof terrace. No sparkling Thames, no illuminated St Paul’s Cathedral – just concrete. So make sure you ask for a table ‘on the view side’, and ideally one that’s away from the private dining room, rammed as it sometimes is with rowdy business-types.
Wherever you’re sat, a meal here is a luxurious experience. Staff are experts; our crumpled napkins were twice replaced with ninja-like stealth, and at night the room transforms into a glamorous, flatteringly-lit space designed to make everyone feel like a million dollars. We were here for the tasting menu, and began in style with a well-made old fashioned and a signature gin and St Germain cocktail. The latter was a little too sweet, but the giant spherical ice cube it came with was transfixing…
Click here for the full review of Fenchurch at Sky Garden
The Ivy, West Street
Impeccably drilled, highly trained and ready for any eventuality, The Ivy front of house team is the Special Forces of the restaurant world. Glasses are constantly filled, waiters by your side the moment you contemplate ordering, and even the most obstreperous of clients are dealt with with well-polished grace. In fact, the staff seem to anticipate one’s every demand, and they do all this with charm and warmth. A class act.
The Ivy was never all about the food, even in its pomp. But it did the comfort classics very well. For the past few years, though, it seemed like the Norma Desmond of Caprice Holdings, a great star fallen on hard times. Food moved rarely above the average. Now, with this sexy new facelift, standards are high once more. Asparagus is verdantly fresh, and comes with an oozing poached egg; Bang Bang chicken sits in a slick of nutty sauce; crispy duck salad juggles salt, sweet and savoury with luscious aplomb.
Dover sole, grilled on the bone, is every bit as pert and noble as you’d expect. Beautifully cooked too. The shepherd’s pie is back to its glory days, the most intense, slow-cooked lamb, crowned with a burnished mass of buttery potato, and surrounded by a small lake of rich, deep and delightful gravy…
Click here for the full review of The Ivy
Champagne + Fromage, Brixton Village
Champagne + Fromage does exactly what it says on the tin. It brings an authentic taste of the best that France has to offer to three shops/restaurants in London.
This is a marriage of two companies. Frenchbubbles specialises in carefully sourced, limited production grower champagnes (those where the wine is produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards) with personality and heritage. The cheese is looked after by Une Normande à Londres, a family-owned company dedicated to bringing the best artisan cheeses, cured meats and preserves from France to London.
The menu is made up of cheese and charcuterie boards, baked cheeses, salads, tartines, and a small selection of desserts. Everything is designed for sharing. This isn’t a typical sit-down meal; it’s more a place to go if you want to linger over a few glasses of champagne and lighter bites while you catch up with friends.
There are over 50 different cheeses on offer, which could be daunting. But the staff are knowledgeable and friendly, and forthcoming in their suggestions. Plus you’re encouraged to go to the counter to taste and build your board. The charcuterie was all high quality so you can’t go wrong – the blueberry saucisson (although it sounds strange) was particularly good…
Click here to read the full review of Champagne + Fromage
Vanilla Black, Took’s Court
First opened in 2004, Vanilla Black is a contemporary fine-dining vegetarian restaurant that turns the challenge of a meat-free kitchen into an opportunity for innovation. The result is beautiful, inspired and, at times, completely unexpected food that has the power to convert even the most committed carnivore into a vegophile.
Our most recent (and best) visit came after its New Year makeover, which has made the space feel much warmer. Big, chocolate-coloured light shades hang from the ceiling, dark wooden lamps illuminate corner tables, the walls are an apt shade of vanilla and antique treasures chosen by owners Andrew Dargue and Donna Conroy are dotted around the room.
The duo do everything themselves, from interior design to choosing menus and commanding front of house; together they create a personal and welcoming feel to Vanilla Black (Donna even remembered where we sat on our first visit six years ago).
Dinner starts well with a lip-smacking blood orange and ginger foam amuse bouche, so sharp and warm, the flavours concentrated and intense. Warm fennel and sultana bread goes beautifully with sweet, caramelised lemon butter and a starter of yellow pea soup with Marmite dumplings is so smoky that the aroma alone brings tears to our eyes. Those choux pastry dumplings, filled with smooth Marmite fondant and topped with sweet onion purée, are impossible not to love (unless you’re a Marmite-hater, of course!).
Click here for the full review of Vanilla Black
The Goring, Beeston Place
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but when it comes to this London institution there has clearly been some sort of Pavlov conditioning, if The Goring’s new Michelin star is anything to go by.
It’s the kind of place that sparkles street side: you know something special lies within. Where commuting trainers have to be swapped for brogues or heels, tights suitably hitched, ties stiffened and shirts tucked in. It’s a place that demands a certain sense of decorum. It’s also, though, incredibly relaxed.
Far from the hushed whisper of many a luxury hotel, fine-dining offering, this restaurant has an audible buzz. And on our Monday night visit there’s everyone from couples, to young families (complete with well-dressed child), and big groups parked up, ready and armed with their eating irons.
The decor is classic but in a contemporary way – all the shades of grey, murals Wallpaper* magazine would be proud of, and tall, grand ceilings. The service, too, follows suit. Well dressed, pristinely polished staff but with a cheeky charm…
Click here for the full review of The Goring
Gauthier, Romilly Street
More Regency townhouse than restaurant, Gauthier’s swish exterior – shiny black door, sash windows and gold signage – doesn’t intend to intimidate; brave the doorbell and you’ll be greeted by a small team of polite, affable waiters who help make this dining experience one of the most relaxed in Soho.
It’s been open since 2010 and, perhaps surprisingly for a French restaurant, has always offered a ‘vegetable tasting’ menu that reads just as well as its carnivorous counterpart: saffron egg with fondant beetroot, rolled cep mushroom cannelloni, and butternut squash cream with sage tempura are just three of eight courses on the autumnal menu, for £65 per head.
The dining room, complete with elaborate fireplace, has half-a-dozen or so tables and as such the atmosphere is hushed (more romantic dinner for two than party of five). It’s a white-linen tablecloth kind of place, but with quirky additions including graffiti squash decorations on the tables and a Moulin Rouge-style bathroom upstairs – you have to strain to see beyond all that reddish light.
Start your meal with wine – the list here is extensive and our white Priorat Close Martina was light and aromatic, with powerful pear-drop and rose notes. Wine pairing is available for the tasting menu, as is ‘tea-pairing’ – a different brew for every other dish. Gauthier’s sommeliers don’t pretend to know as much about tea as they do wine, but each blend is prettily presented in its own oriental teapot and, though it was a bit odd to drink something so hot with food, the flavours were a good match…
Click here for the full review of Gauthier
Keeper’s House, Burlington House
The staff were admirably polite about us being 15 minutes late and our waiter was very chirpy as he zipped around offering aperitifs and pouring water. We couldn’t decide on wine so he offered us a taste, but didn’t tell us the price until after we’d agreed we liked it. At £40 it was pretty steep for
a weeknight. I don’t think I was recognised*, but later we were given two enormous free glasses of wine (although the waiter said it was to make up for the lack of choice earlier).
Being ushered underground, beneath the grand old buildings of the Royal Academy and into a small, baize-lined dining room, made it feel like we were eating in
a rather lovely members’ club (which at lunchtime is exactly what it is). The menu is all about British ingredients, treated simply but cleverly, which manages to appeal to people who love trendy, slightly Scandinavian-feeling food (me), like clay-baked potatoes with truffle and artichoke and the patrician types on the next table, who looked very happy with their roast hare and pink fir potatoes.
Great British Menu judge Oliver Peyton, has brought former head chef at the Wallace Collection, Ivan Simeoli, along with him to Keeper’s House. My cured mackerel starter, came on top of a gorgeous tangle of seaweeds and tiny cubes of raw green tomato. My boyfriend’s scallops were served with nutty celeriac purée and an unlikely sounding garnish: burnt Amalfi lemons, incinerated until they looked like something you’d scrape off the bottom of the oven, but delicious…
Click here for the full review of Keeper’s House
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Neal’s Yard
Sommelier Julia Oudill used to work in three-Michelin-star French restaurants where the service made guests squirm. Opening, decanting and pouring wine was a hushed ceremony, during which, she says: ‘nobody breathed.’
The vibe at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a chic Neal’s Yard bolt-hole where Julia is now general manager, couldn’t be more different. ‘Whether the bottle is £30 or £3,000, I want to sit with the guests, open it and talk about the wine. We serve wines alongside great food, with hip hop on the sound system.’ Compagnie des Vins is determined to make wine appreciation fun and affordable. ‘Great wine,’ insists Julia, ‘doesn’t have to cost a month’s rent.’
Wine may be the primary focus here, but chef Ilaria Zamperlin’s food is a big draw, too. Platters of high-quality cheeses and charcuterie are augmented by small plates such as veal tartare and the legendary posh madame (a truffled ham and quail egg croque, try it with a glass of 2013 Albert Mann riesling). More substantial dishes include a rib-eye steak and the sharing lamb rack.
Each month, Julia’s all-female team focusses on different French wine regions (June is Provence and Corsica), hosting producers and tastings. It’s northeast Spain and Montsant, though, which she is currently most excited about. ‘I recently tasted some garnatxa (Catalan grenache) wines that made me think: if I had two hours left to live, that is what I’d want to drink…’
Click here for the full review of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
Pidgin, Wilton Way
The four course menu changes weekly, and uses seasonal, carefully-sourced produce. Potato sourdough and butter is followed by two small dishes – pork fat and peas, and octopus and apple with peppery nasturtiums and a creamy almond milk dressing. The pork fat, a tiny piece of sourdough topped with whipped lardo, fresh-tasting English peas, and a punchy chilli vinaigrette, was delicious, although it could have been twice the size.
Beef picanha (the most prized cut in Latin America) from grass-reared, dry-aged Yorkshire Longhorn cattle was beautifully soft, and accompanied by rich and earthy flavours of coal-roast beetroot, sweet carrots and an intense jus. The light, sweet twist on panzanella for dessert was excellent – fresh strawberries and melt-in-the-mouth pieces of fennel brioche, with Thai basil and refreshing olive oil ice cream to lift the dish.
The great-value drinks. Pidgin G&Ts are made with homemade tonic and served with a large slice of pink grapefruit and a dash of black pepper for a punchy finish. The London Fields cocktail was like a vodka-spiked green juice. The sorrel and lime blossom syrup, celery bitters and rosemary worked well together to create a refreshing start to the meal…
Click here for the full review of Pidgin
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