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18 April 2014

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Blog Reviews from Cooksister

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Food, photos & faraway places


  1. Published : Sunday, 19th January 2014

    Namaasté Kitchen | Namaaste Kitchen review

    What I really yearn for is an Indian restaurant that offers something a little different rather than the same dozen familiar dishes over and over again ad nauseam. Enter Namaaste Kitchen, brainchild of chef-patron Sabbir Karim, the only award-winning chef I have ever heard of who also works as a purser on British Airways flights! Having previously worked at Red Fort and Chutney Mary, Chef Sabbir opened his first restaurant, Salaam Namaaste, in Bloomsbury in 2005. Karim’s fresh approach to Indian cooking led to the restaurant being described as a “journey into a world where the tired clichés of the curry house have no place” – and that can equally be applied to his second restaurant, Namaaste Kitchen, which he opened in 2010 in Camden. Having been informed by clippings at the restaurant entrance that Karim had won Chef of the Year in the Asian Curry Awards 2012 & Asian & oriental Innovative Chef Of The Year 2013, we could not help but expect great things. The long, thin room is lined with cream banquettes and dark wood tables, with warm colours introduced by way of various funky light fittings and red banquettes towards the back of the restaurant. Other than poppadoms and chutneys, the menu is devoid of the dishes you might normally expect in a London Indian restaurant and faced with a fairly unfamiliar selection of dishes, we asked the kitchen to send us their choice of dishes that would best showcase the restaurant’s menu...

  2. If you had mentioned the name Hawksmoor to me five years ago, the only association I would have made was with London architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, protegé of Sir Christopher Wren and architect of at least six beautiful London Churches. Anybody who has walked around Spitalfields market or traveled on the DLR from the City to the Docklands has certainly seen one of them, serene and beautiful. But these days when the name Hawksmoor is mentioned, the association that people most often make is with one of the city’s most popular steak restaurants, one of the first to break the Gaucho’s Argentine-themed stranglehold on the premium steak market. Today you can get your Hawksmoor carnivore fix in one of their four London locations, and it was to the branch in Basinghall Street near the Guildhall that I made my way last year for a dinner matching their food with Italian wines...

  3. Published : Friday, 6th December 2013

    L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon | L'Atelier

    One of the things I love best about London is the abundance of choice. I might go and see a musical; you might prefer classical ballet; or even an experimental dance company from Montenegro. I might choose to go and see Billy Bragg playing his singular brand of political folk music while friend might prefer to listen to Adele warble on about rolling in the deep; and yet another friend might prefer to go and hear a DJ pumping out hard house tracks at a funky club. Or (purely hypothetically, of course!) I might choose to dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant while hubby will only visit steakhouses, and another friend might prefer the many and varied pleasures of KFC. But the problem with so much choice is that it often paralyses you with indecision and instead of constantly trying out new places, you end up going over and over to the same places. That’s the only reason I can think of why I have left it seven years to venture back to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon after my initial visit back in 2006. It’s been too long – it really has. Joel Robuchon is the French chef wunderkind who famously retired at the pinnacle of his career, in possession of six Michelin stars. He launched his less formal L’atelier Joel Robuchon concept in 2003 and his London restaurant is part of this venture. Just as I remembered, you are not allowed to wander off to find your table alone but are escorted every step of the way (even in the lift) – but that is probably because the layout is so confusing, with two separate dining areas on different floors plus a basement bar...

  4. Published : Wednesday, 20th November 2013

    Brigade | Brigade Bar & Bistro review

    Turn right on Tooley Street out of London Bridge station and right by More London and Hays Galleria you will come across Brigade Bar and Bistro. Simon’s brainchild occupies the site of an old fire station built in 1879 to save lives and protect property after the devastating fire at Cottons Wharf on Tooley Street on 22 June 1861. Just 30 minutes passed from the discovery of smoke at a warehouse to the fire burning out of control and the flames soon stretched from London Bridge to Customs House. Engines arrived from all over the country to help the the local fire engines, but it still took two weeks to put the fire out and it was regarded as the worst since The Great Fire of London. The fire led to the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1865, of which The Fire Station in Tooley Street would be a part. Since March 2012, Simon Boyle has used the same values of business sense and social responsibility to run Brigade as a social enterprise...

  5. Published : Friday, 1st November 2013

    Buddha Bar | Buddha-Bar, London

    When I was invited to dine there, I have to admit that I had my reservations. Anything described as a celebrity favourite is usually the kind of place I avoid like the plague. Surely it’s a byword for style over substance? But nevertheless, I suspended by disbelief and arrived for dinner with an open mind and an empty stomach. There is something appealingly retro about the studied loucheness of the interior – low lighting, lots of blue and red lights and lots of shiny glass, brass and lacquered fittings. Upstairs at street level is the bar area (with a large print of Ewan McGregor taken from Trainspotting) and bar dining area where we ate. In the basement restaurant area there is seating for 240 guests and the pan-Asian decor continues with the obligatory giant wireframe Buddah statue and the interesting shadows it casts forming a focal point. Even more impressively, on the stairs between the two floors there is a suspended 3D blue dragon made entirely from crystal beads suspended on wires – ambitious and mesmerising! The menu remains pan-Asian and the music (compiled by the group’s in-house DJ) is an eclectic mix of electro-ethnic and chill-out...

  6. Published : Tuesday, 29th October 2013

    The Botanist | The Botanist review

    The Botanist opened in 2008 and occupies a prime corner site with floor to ceiling windows overlooking leafy Sloane Square. On the one side is an airy high-ceilinged bar an on the other, a gorgeous restaurant in pale wood with cream leather banquettes and a fabulous back-lit picture wall of panels featuring sketches of exotic plants from the journals of botanist Sir Hans Sloane. On both sides, there are masses of attractive, expensive-looking Sloanes, and the people watching opportunities are limitless. The menu is along the same lines as their other restaurants – carefully sourced ingredients served as classic dishes, with nothing that will scare the horses too much. Service was excellent from the moment we arrived – smiley, accommodating and knowledgeable. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco while debating what to order, and nibbled on some outstanding warm mini loaves of bread...

  7. Published : Friday, 13th September 2013

    The Meat Co | The Meat Co., Westfield

    The restaurant is located in the strip of restaurants and shops located outdoors on the fringe of the Westfield mall itself and occupies spacious premises over two floors. We started with cocktails and drinks al fresco on the terrace leading off the ground-floor assegai-shaped Puza bar – there is a good cocktail (and mocktail) menu and most are priced under £8 which makes a change from Central London. After drinks and introductions we headed up the rather grand staircase to the dining area. The dining room is decorated in Africa-inspired earth tones and flame orange with a rather mesmerising bead “curtain” running along the staircase and hundreds of bottles of wine in glass display cases forming an unusual backdrop...

  8. The venue we chose was the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, a stones’ throw away from the venue of the workshop, in the heart of the City of London. After hearing our group size and requirements, the events manager allocated us a private room in the Montcalm Hotel within whose premises both the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms and its sister restaurant the Jugged Hare are situated (although we were still ordering off the Chiswell Street menu)...

  9. From the Soho Hotel it was a short walk to Jason Atherton’s newest baby, the Social Eating House, billed as a more affordable way to enjoy Atherton’s celebrated cooking. I have dined at the Pollen Street Social Club and loved it so I was keen to see what the new venture (which was still in soft opening when we went) would be like. Once through the heavy curtain around the entrance, there is the bar with obligatory bare brickwork and low pendant lights over the bar, and the restaurant beyond that...

  10. Situated in the Westminster Intercontinental Hotel and named after the Blue Boar’s Head, an inn that served the workers of Westminster for more than 600 years, the Blue Boar interior is all dark wood, leather banquettes and Anglo-American-style butchness. The bar boasts the odd clubby tartan tub chair and a secluded seating area full of Chesterfield sofas; while dramatic lighting, lamps with what appear to be vintage telescope tripod legs and a line of stylised metal boar’s heads along one wall complete the picture in the dining room. According to the blurb, the restaurant uses techniques perfected by American pit masters (charcoal ovens, slow cooking, smoking, rubs and marinades) and applies them to the best of British produce...

  11. Published : Friday, 26th April 2013

    Rosita & The Sherry Bar | Rosita & The Sherry Bar review

    Speak to any Spaniard and they will assure you that there is a sherry for everyone. If you don’t know any Spaniards, your next best bet is to head down to Rosita, a new sherry bar and restaurant near Clapham Junction, which runs regular sherry tastings. I recently attended a tasting evening there hosted by sherry merchant Gonzalez Byass, and the evening starter off with a short potted history of sherry...

  12. Published : Friday, 19th April 2013

    Ceviche | Review of Ceviche restaurant

    Martin Morales was born in Peru, has lived in Mexico City and Barcelona and now lives in London with his wife and children - and has had a life-long love affair with Peruvian food. When he realised that food was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he quit his job and started small with a Peruvian supperclub at his home, followed by a few pop-up restaurants, and then finally in February 2012, Ceviche, a Peruvian restaurant and London’s first pisco bar, opened its doors in Soho. Peruvian cuisine has a rich history – as Martin puts it: “500 years of fusion food”. The roots obviously lie in indigenous ingredients (like quinoa) and the food of the Incas, but layered over that you find the influences of all the subsequent arrivals: the Spaniards, Africans, Italians, Chinese and Japanese, all of whom contributed to make Peruvian cuisine what it is today...

  13. Published : Tuesday, 26th February 2013

    Mari Vanna | A Russian Winter warmer menu at Mari Vanna, London

    But despite it now being over two decades since the USSR disintegrated, and despite the growing numbers of eastern Europeans now living in London, I had still not dined in a Russian restaurant. But that was easily rectified when I was invited to a Winter Warmer dinner at Mari Vanna. Following the success of sister restaurants in St Petersburg, Moscow and New York, Mari Vanna opened in Kinghstbridge, London in December 2011, a stone’s throw from Harrods. Walking into the candlelit interior is like stepping into the parlour of your eccentric Russian maiden aunt, who has a hoarding problem. Every inch of wall and every nook and cranny is overflowing with framed photographs, mismatched furniture, ornate crockery, French lace, crystal chandeliers from St Petersburg, lamps draped with fringed shawls, wooden stacking dolls, bookshelves filled with Russian literature, and crystal bowls of Sushki (a traditional Russian tea bread). The eccentricity also extends to the bathrooms where you conduct your business to the sound of Russian folk songs and the loos have old-fashioned pull-chain mechanisms. It’s the kind of place that makes minimalists break out in a cold sweat – but charming for all that, and a refreshing break from the blond wood Generic Gastropub school of decor...

  14. I was on my way to visit the newest branch of The Real Greek, a small chain of Greek restaurants in London that was founded in 1999 by Theodore Kyriakou and now comprises seven branches. Just the five minutes spent scrumming through the crowds from the station to the restaurant left me feeling fraught, frazzled and disproportionately thrilled at the offer of a glass of mulled wine upon arrival – and little did I know that this was just the start of the hospitality! The restaurant was buzzing and although more polished than you average Greek island taverna, nevertheless was decorated with beautiful Greek ceramics. Once I had located my dining companions Michelle, Sarah and Solange and was comfortably seated, I was introduced to the chain’s head of operations, Christos Karatzenis, a proud “real Greek” and former head chef at As Greek As it Gets. Christos practically grew up in his father’s restaurant back in Greece and hospitality is clearly in his bones – he was charming, knowledgeable and evidently keen for us to try as many dishes as possible from the rather extensive menu...

  15. When I was growing up in Port Elizabeth in the 1970s and 1980s, although it was a wonderful place to live, let’s just say it was not exactly a culinary hotspot. Hot restaurants du jour included the Hungry I (steaks and seafood), El Cid (steaks and seafood), The Coachman (more steaks and seafood), and La Fontaine (a 70′s extravaganza of a menu including grapefruit cocktail, smoked salmon with Melba toast, Wiener schnitzel and, of course, steak with a green peppercorn sauce). Ethnic food was not huge and mostly reflected the demographic – and because we had a large Chinese population, we did at least have Chinese restaurants. But when I moved to London I discovered that much of what I knew as Chinese was a bastardised version – my beloved Shanghai steak in particular (fried strips of beef steak in a soy sauce gravy with, ummm, green peas) is evidently unique to South Africa. So imagine my delight when I arrived in London to discover the many and varied pleasures of crispy duck!...

  16. Published : Thursday, 13th December 2012

    The Cube by Electrolux | Simon Rogan @ The Cube by Electrolux

    I had been wanting to visit the Cube by Electrolux since it opened earlier this year but one way or another, travel and other commitments conspired against me. And when I did finally get a chance to go, it was in the same week as the “Bosigate” drama broke. For those of you not intimately acquainted with the London food blogging scene (gasp – can there be any such persons left? ;o)), this was the unedifying spectacle of a bunch of professional chefs turning very publicly on a relatively unknown food blogger who dared to write a mediocre review of one of their restaurants. Liberal use was made on Twitter of the c-word – and one of the chefs at the centre of the storm was cooking my lunch at The Cube on the day of my visit. Nothing like the potential threat of physical violence to sharpen your appetite – and reviewing skills!...

  17. The Milestone Hotel is one of the Red Carnation group of hotels, a collection of fourteen award-winning luxury family owned and run boutique hotels, located in the UK, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA. The group was founded by South African-born Bea Tollman and her husband and has since the mid 1970s established a reputation for timeless décor, exceptional locations, highly personal and genuine guest care, and celebrated cuisine. The Milestone Hotel, located on a prime patch of real estate across the road from Kensington Palace gardens, is a beautifully ornate 19th century red brick building which is consistently rated as London’s most outstanding five star luxury boutique hotel, as well as a string of other awards. Stepping into Chenestons restaurant in the heart of the hotel is like taking a step back into another century. The room is warmly inviting with candlelight twinkling on silverware, dark ornate mahogany furniture, and a huge stone fireplace at one end of the room. The kitchen is in the capable hands of Kim Sjobakk, a Norwegian chef who has been with the hotel since 2011 and previously worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and the Dorchester. There’s a fine choice of wine too, with an extensive wine cellar of more than 400 vintages, and we were lucky to have German head sommelier, Lia Poveda, on hand to select a wine to match each of our courses. Although our menu was a bespoke tasting menu, most of the dishes are also available on the a la carte menu, and those are the prices I have listed...

  18. Published : Tuesday, 20th November 2012

    Cigalon | Cigalon

    In London, even in the leafy suburbs, the night always seems uncomfortably silent and sterile. So imagine my surprise when I recently went to dinner at Cigalon on Chancery lane and dined to the sound of… cicadas. And that’s not the only surprise when you arrive at Cigalon, sister restaurant to the very lovely Club Gascon and its little cousin Comptoir Gascon. The restaurant (named after a character in the eponymous 1935 Marcel Pagnol film) is situated in a former auction house on Chancery Lane: Andrew and I stepped off the grey London street through a narrow door and emerge totally unexpectedly in a double-volume dining room with a greenhouse-style glass ceiling, reed fence walls and the piped sound of singing cicadas. I could not have been more surprised had a giant cicada in a 3-piece suit greeted me at the door! Within moments of leaving Chancery Lane, you are all set for dinner on a friend’s terrace on a warm night in Cannes, complete with spindly, graceful light-fittings that hover above you like some glamorous starlet’s sun hat...

  19. Published : Tuesday, 13th November 2012

    Trinity | Trinity Restaurant

    After living in London for over ten years, I am still no closer to meeting this level-headed and reasonable individual on the Clapham bus, but I have discovered a far better reason to visit Clapham: Trinity restaurant. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Adam Byatt and opened in November 2006. Adam started his career with an apprentice chef placement at Claridges, followed by part-time studies at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Bournemouth while continuing to work at Claridges. After also working at The Square and Worx, he opened his first restaurant, the much-acclaimed Thyme, in Clapham in 2002. After closing Thyme in 2005, he opened Trinity in late 2006. The restaurant’s philosophy is to provide well-sourced, seasonal and reasonably priced fine dining, both by way of two tasting menus and an a la carte selection. I had heard only good things about the place and was thrilled when super talented Ailbhe recently invited me to be her dinner guest while she sketched the new tasting menu for the Trinity newsletter. The first thing that struck me was how lovely and light the room was, with its floor to ceiling windows onto the street; and the second was how friendly and knowledgeable all the staff members were – a truly customer-focused experience...

  20. Published : Tuesday, 23rd October 2012

    Mamounia Lounge - Knightsbridge | Mamounia Lounge

    The Mamounia Lounge takes its name from fabulous 200 year old gardens of the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech, which cover 20 acres and were laid out in the 18th century as a wedding gift to Prince Moulay Mamoun from his father. The restaurant may not be 200 years old or of royal bloodline, but it certainly is very lovely to look at with its sultry Moroccan-inspired bar, its banquettes scattered with comfy cushions, and its pretty perforated light fittings that trace pattens on the ceiling and walls. Mamounia bill themselves as a restaurant serving modern Arabic fusion food – predominantly a mixture of Lebanese and Moroccan food. There is also a pavement terrace for shisha, and an upstairs function room which I did not visit. Soon I was reclining on my banquette, all thoughts of annoying pedestrians forgotten, perusing the cocktail menu. You certainly are spoilt for choice – there is a range of unusual long and short drinks to tempt you, from the Marrakech Express to the Raspberrita via the Gold Digger (!) and the watermelon martini. I chose the Chamberry (fresh raspberries shaken with Belvedere Black Raspberry Vodka and Chambord, topped with Champagne – £11) while my companions opted for the Passion Champagne (passion fruit, Passoa and Cassis topped with champagne – £12). Although my Chamberry was delicious and pretty, I sincerely doubt that any fresh raspberries were shaken in its making. It seemed to be simply the Vodka and Chambord in the bottom of the glass, topped with champagne – it was garnished with a raspberry, but that’s hardly the same thing...

  21. In my ongoing attempt to clear my drafts folder of half-completed posts, here is another account of a truly enjoyable wine dinner in great company that I attended at the end of last year. One of the great things about living abroad is that it opens up a while new world of wine enjoyment. Living in a wine-producing country such as South Africa, I drank almost exclusively South African wine. And why not: it’s generally of a very high standard, and drinking the imported stuff is hilariously expensive – so it’s a no-brainer. After a few months in the UK, I decided to get to the bottom of what all the fuss was about with Chablis, Rioja and Bordeaux and so I started exploring the wines of other countries. It has been an interesting learning curve and a very pleasurable way to develop a taste yardstick by which to measure and place your own country’s wines in the larger family tree of world wine. But what I find most interesting of all is that even after 10 years of drinking wines from regions all over the Old World, my palate still shows a distinct preference for the fruit and accessibility of New World wines...

  22. Published : Sunday, 10th June 2012

    Great Taste at The Cadogan | Great Taste @ The Cadogan

    This year, the Cadogan restaurant at the Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge have collaborated with the Great Taste Awards to create a series of showcase menus highlighting the current Great Taste Award winners, changing every 6 to 8 weeks and are put together by various guest curators. The menu Michelle and I were invited to try was created by Masterchef winner and Wahaca owner Thomasina Miers and The Sunday Times’ Lucas Hollweg, together with Cadogan head chef Oliver Lesnik. Some of the Great Taste Award-winning foods on our menu included Sally Clarkes bread; Mackintosh of Glendaveny extra-virgin rapeseed oil; Hurstwood Farm Kentish cobnut oil; Pipers Farm beef; Alternative Meats Ltd Welsh wagyu beef fat; Pendaridge goat’s cheese from the Somerset Cheese Company; and Lynher Dairies Cheese Company Cornish Yarg. The menu is available as a one course (£18), two-course (£23) or three-course (£28) meal...

  23. Published : Friday, 11th May 2012

    Corrigan's Mayfair | Corrigan’s Mayfair

    I was fortunate enough to be invited to a food and wine matching dinner with natural wines at Corrigan’s restaurant in Mayfair. The dinner took place in a private dining room downstairs which was very dark (so apologies about the photos!) but did have a picture window into the kitchen, where you could watch the staff do the delicate dance of people who have worked together for a considerable time in a small space. Canapés were served as we all stood around chatting and included a gurnard maki roll (why do we not see more lovely sustainable gurnard used in sushi??); a blue cheese fritter sprinkled with Parmesan; and a teensy slice of delicious rabbit pie. These were all paired with a Paul Déthune organic Ambonnay Grand Cru Champagne which was toasty with a clean lemony finish and a lovely delicate mousse...

  24. Published : Friday, 9th March 2012

    The Balcon | The Balcon with Donald Russell

    Donald Russell takes its name from its co-founders Scottish farmer William Donald and master butcher John Stone’s company Russell Meats. Donald Russell opened its business supplying gourmet meats to trade customers and high-end restaurants and hotels in 1974. Owing to the crisis into which BSE plunged the beef industry, and a rapidly changing market, the company launched Donald Russell Direct and the company has established itslef as the first name for delivering premium meats by mail order. They received their Royal Warrant to supply meat and poultry to HM the Queen 25 years ago and still proudly hold this status. The company sources its grass-fed beef only in the UK and only the best producers qualify to supply Donald Russell. The welfare of the animals is paramount and this yields the most tender and flavoursome meat. Once selected by the company’s experienced buyers and butchered, the meat is then hung on the bone at their premises in Inverurie to allow the rich flavours to develop and for tenderness to develop. Other than premium beef, they also supply lamb, veal, poultry and a small range of prepared meals and desserts via their website, as well as handy guides on how best to prepare their meats. I was lucky enough to sit next to the lovely Liz Webb (the company’s marketing executive) and she told me that the company supplies a number of London restaurants, although often a restaurant will only take one particular cut – for example, they supply Relais de Venise with all their steaks. And the reason we were invited to The Balcon was because Donald Russell supply them with their rib of beef!...

  25. Published : Friday, 10th February 2012

    The Angel & Crown | The Angel & Crown

    They say that practice makes perfect. If that is indeed the case, then Ed and Tom Martinmust by now be approaching the perfect pub. Having previously opened a string of successful gastropubs including The Botanist, The Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, The White Swan, the Cadogan Arms and The Gun, they recently opened their first West End pub: The Angel & Crown on St Martin’s Lane. I had loved the White Swan and The Gun, so I certainly wasn’t going to decline their kind invitation recently to join some other food bloggers for an evening sampling the Angel & Crown’s food and drink. The Angel & Crown is one of those rare places that both my husband and I would approve of: it serves 9 kinds of draught beer on tap for him, and cocktails for me! Downstairs, the pub area is suitable olde-worlde with dark wood and gleaming brass fittings, but as you ascend the stairs, things become paler and lighter (although still masculine and pubby – this ain’t no poncey wine bar!). We were in a private room that seemed to be halfway between the downstairs pub and upstairs dining rooms – a lovely size for a part of up to about 12, but you do have constant traffic walking through between floors...

  26. Although the gargantuan Westfield Stratford City is only 20 minutes by DLR from my front door, I had not visited until two Saturdays ago and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Granted, it’s full – but then Christmas is upon us and everywhere is full. It’s light and feels airy and all the major chains are there – no need for me to drag myself out west any more. Hurrah! There is also a cluster of restaurants (including Busaba Eathai, Comptoir Libanais, Las Iguanas and The Real Greek) which is where we headed to check out Cabana, billed as a Brazilian barbecue restaurant. CabanaCollage The restaurant is part of a small chain of two branches, founded by friends Jamie Barber and David Ponté after they fell in love with the sights, sounds and flavours of Brazil. The space is quite airy with exposed pipes and ducts, acres of blonde wood, and the kitchen screened off by distressed wooden plantation blinds. The decor is young and funky, put together to resemble a jumble of authentic Brazilian artefacts with lots of Portuguese posters, fab banquettes made of recycled denim jeans and lights strung up like at a street party – you do feel a little as if you have been transported from grey London into another world...

  27. Published : Friday, 11th November 2011

    The Depot | The Depot, Barnes – 25 years and counting

    The Depot is situated on the banks of the River Thames, not far from Barnes Bridge, in a pretty restored Victorian courtyard. Constructed in 1901, the buildings which currently house The Depot restaurant were originally the stables and coach houses for the Barnes Council refuse depot. During World War 2 the corner occupied by The Depot served as a barracks for air raid wardens and their tin helmets were still hanging there in 1983! By 1981 the Council had no further use for any of the buildings and proposed to demolish the whole site and leave it as an open space. Local residents protested and competition for local architects/developers was held, with a brief to keep the best of the existing buildings, to include some new housing and to provide space for small new businesses to start and flourish. The competition winner, chosen by the local residents, was Gillian Harwood and her architect partner Philip Lancashire, who still own the building and the restaurant. We were lucky enough to have Gillian and Philip join our table when we recently visited and a more interesting, engaging and charming pair you could hardly hope to meet...

  28. Published : Friday, 21st October 2011

    Giraffe Bar and Grill Soho | Giraffe Bar & Grill, Soho

    When I mention the restaurant chain Giraffe to you, do you think of a sleek, funky space full of trendy young folk sipping gocktails and eating tapas? Or do you think of the Seventh Circle of Hell, full of shrieking children and yummy-mummies wielding their ankle-bashing pushchairs with the deftness of Darth Vader wielding a lightsaber? That's a rhetorical question, of course. As every Londoner knows, the childless stray into branches of Giraffe at their peril. This chain has made its name as being child-friendly and yet still serving proper grown-up food with a fun, golbal twist. And given the general dearth of child-friendly restaurants in London, it also means that Giraffe is approached with extreme caution by the childless. But wait – what's this? A branch of Giraffe tucked deep into the heart of Soho that was to all intents and purposes child-free when Michelle, Louis and I visited on a Saturday afternoon? Astonishing!...

  29. Published : Friday, 9th September 2011

    Malmaison London | The Malmaison Brasserie

    If somebody invited you to dinner at “the bad house”, would you: a) assume that the description referred to the food and make sure you eat at home before you go; b) assume that it was some sort of dance club and pack your earplugs; or c) assume you were going to a strip club (as in down, bad boy, down!)? Luckily for me, none of the above turned out to be the case when Michelle invited me to join her for dinner at the Malmaison brasserie recently. Malmaison is a small chain of 12 exclusive hotels throughout the UK and although the name literally does mean bad or sick house in French, don’t worry – no lapdancing will spoil your dinner! ;) The name is taken from Chateau Malmaison, a chateau in the suburbs of Paris famously purchased by Napoleon’s wife Josephine in 1799 which (together with the Tuileries) became the French government’s headquarters from 1800 to 1802. (And no, nobody knows why it was called that in the first place!). The Malmaison group of hotels opened for business in 1994 and London’s outpost is situated in a former nurse’s home on Charterhouse Square, one of those unexpected oases of cobbled calm in the middle of the City, a stone’s throw away from Smithfield meat market...

  30. Published : Friday, 19th August 2011

    Club Gascon | Club Gascon

    When people hear that I have a food website, they jump to all sorts of conclusions. For a start, they panic that when I come to their house for a meal I will photograph their food and then write a scathing critique of their cooking skills on my blog. (OK, they are probably right about the photographing part!). They assume that I cook as if I have guests every night, and never come home late from work and bung oven chips and frozen breaded fish fillets in the oven. (Oops, have I said too much?) Or colleagues will pass by my desk at lunch and rubberneck at what I am eating, thinking it must surely be artisanal sourdough topped with foie gras and a side order of caviar. Hah. Not so much. They are far more likely to find me munching on a cheddar and coleslaw, or a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich. And yes, sometimes these are from Tesco. Mea culpa. So when I DO leave my desk and go out to lunch, I am usually looking for something diametrically opposed to my usual boring sandwich. And I am pleased to say that last week I found lunch Nirvana practically on my office doorstep. Club Gascon was opened in 1998 near Smithfield Market in Clerkenwell by Vincent Labeyrie and chef patron Pascal Aussignac and is one of London’s best-loved French restaurants. As the name suggests, the restaurant specialises in fine cuisine from South-West France, and it was not long before they were awarded a Michelin star. I liked the place as soon as we walked in; small but full of beautiful things, like the pistachio-coloured banquettes, the distressed silver ceiling, the gigantic flower arrangement on the bar, and the very beautiful curved wooden screens. And we won’t even start on the tableware – I don’t think I have ever seen more covetable ceramics in a restaurant...

  31. The lobby is surprisingly airy and light, and staff get bonus points for being super-smiley and friendly. Off to one side is a large glass enclosure which is apparently the intended home of a bunch of exotic butterflies (to reference Syon House's Victorian butterfly house). Poor butterflies! From the lobby, we were led to the semicircular Peacock Alley bar where we gathered for cocktails. The charming and very knowledgeable barman talked us through the cocktail menu and its inspiration (the long cocktail heritage of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and the fresh produce grown on the premises). We kicked off a selection of their new and yet-to-be-listed-on-the-menu signature cocktails with the green Peacock, a blend of Midori melon liqueur and cucumber. This tasted as fresh and bright as it looks – a perfect pick-me-up after a long journey...

  32. Published : Friday, 15th July 2011

    Ora | Ora – a taste of Thailand

    Thai food: I have to admit, it's not something I grew up with. My hometown was not big on ethnic cuisine (other than Italian and Chinese restaurants) until well into the 1990s. Sure we had a couple of curry houses, but these were Indian curry - definitaly not Thai. It was only in the late 1990s that the first Thai restaurant in port Elizabeth (Natti's Thai Kitchen) crossed my radar, and within a couple of years I had departed for London. So to me, Thai food (like dim sum) is something that I associate largely with London. Not really surprising as there are loads of Thai restaurants in London, from the cheap and cheerful to the really quite pricey. Ora restaurant lies somewhere in the middle...

  33. I never quite understand why some people do not like eating out. Me? I'd eat out every day and twice on Sundays if money and time (and husband!) permitted. I love the sense of occasion; I love walking into beautiful rooms full of twinkly lights and tinkling glasses; and I love eating food that I do not have the energy/inclination to make in my own kitchen. And I love not having to wach up a single dish afterwards! Catch restaurant and Champagne bar at the Andaz Hotel ticks all these boxes and more, so when Michelle invited me to join her for a review meal there, I leapt at the chance...