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20 April 2014

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Graze Anatomy - The Best Places For Small Plates

(menu)

With the trend for grazing showing no sign of slowing, Tania Daniels checks out the best places for small plates


Pan Asian Creations - Haiku Grazing is all the rage. Londoners are becoming increasingly accustomed to the concept of sharing several smaller dishes rather than ordering a traditional three-course meal, and packed-out restaurants are clear testament to the popularity of this style of eating. And it’s not just the likes of Chinese dim sum and Spanish tapas places that encourage grazing.
A new wave of restaurants is inviting diners to share miniature plates of classic French,
modern European and Japanese cuisine. Whether you’re after a light bite, or intent on working your way through the whole menu, follow Square Meal’s guide to the top spots for good grazing.

Barrafina

54 Frith Street, W1. Tel: 020 7813 8016

This more casual sibling of the celebrated Fino has quickly won the affections of the Soho crowds. With only 23 stools at the tapas counter, diners can expect to queue at busy times. But the food is worth waiting for, including the likes of crisp ham croquettes filled with creamy béchamel sauce, garlicky prawns, and squeaky-fresh squid grilled on the plancha. Quality is high, and the short, snappy all-Spanish wine list commendably offers all wines by the glass.

Le Cercle

1 Wilbraham Place, SW1 Tel: 020 7901 9999

Club Gascon’s younger sibling serves up innovative French cuisine in miniature portions. Highlights include silky scrambled eggs and shaved truffle with fried-bread soldiers, perfectly timed haddock with smoked carrot emulsion, and fresh pasta tubes filled with tender braised veal – all enhanced by intelligent by-the-glass wine recommendations from clued-up staff. The dining room combines double-height ceilings with cool modern decor and a great little bar.

Dinings

22 Harcourt Street, W1. Tel: 020 7723 0666

Both the modern Japanese cuisine and sweetly obliging staff at this recently opened restaurant have come in for praise, even if the brutal concrete decor of the basement dining room is not to everyone’s taste. Beef tataki is enlivened by miso and jalapeño salsa, firm-fleshed prawns come encased in crisp tempura, and the silky fatty-tuna nigiri can’t be beaten.

Haiku

15 New Burlington Place, W1 Tel: 020 7494 4777

Although the dimly lit rooms of this expensively decorated restaurant can lack buzz, the pan-Asian food is very well prepared. There are some 150 dishes designed for sharing, from sushi and sashimi to Thai soups, Chinese dim sum, Indian curries, wok-fried dishes, or meats and fish from the robata grill. Don’t miss the soft-shell crab tempura coated in the lightest of batters and the stunning sea bass cheung fun.

Itsu

103 Wardour Street, W1 Tel: 020 7479 4790

There is consistent praise for this quality sushi chain. The fish is supremely fresh, the maki rolls are generously filled, and specials such as grilled eel sushi or prawn and wakame salad are tasty. If you have time to spare, veer away from the conveyer belt and order fresh from the menu – the prawn tempura handroll is excellent. There are great-value boxes for takeaway, too.

Maze

10-13 Grosvenor Square, W1 Tel: 020 7107 0000

Diners can’t get enough of head chef Jason Atherton’s cutting-edge mini dishes. From wood-roasted pumpkin risotto with aged parmesan and wild mushrooms to beef with foie gras, parsley and snail, every mouthful is divine. Compliments also pour in for the slick, streamlined decor, wine list and chef’s table, and well-selected wine flights add an innovative and enjoyable dimension.

Nobu

Metropolitan Hotel, 19 Old Park Lane, W1 Tel: 020 7447 4747

London’s original Nobu is still going strong – most diners are brimming with compliments for the sensational house cocktails and outstanding food. Nobu may be credited with making black cod with miso a legendary dish but it’s also worth trying the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, rock shrimp tempura with creamy, spicy sauce and the chocolate bento box with green tea ice-cream. If you feel overwhelmed by the choice, put yourself in the hands of the well-trained staff or opt for a tasting menu.

One-O-One

101 Knightsbridge, SW1 Tel: 020 7290 7101

Thanks to extensive refurbishment, this previously anonymous hotel dining room now genuinely feels like a stand-alone restaurant, with elegant interiors and staff who are as charming as ever. Talented head chef Pascal Proyart has redesigned the menu, retaining trademark ingredients but working them into ‘petits plats’. Highlights include tender king crab legs with sweet chilli sauce, pan-roasted halibut on cocoa bean and truffle cassoulet, and delectable salty caramel with chocolate mousse to finish.

Rhodes W1 Restaurant

Great Cumberland Place, W1 Tel: 020 7479 3737

Sophisticated, intimate interiors are matched to accomplished modern French cuisine at Gary Rhodes’s latest fine-dining operation. There’s the option of a traditional three-course meal, but our advice is to opt for the small plate menu. Try salad of sweetbreads with crayfish and quails’ eggs, or expertly executed salt-roast pigeon with lemon cumin gravy. Charming service is a further plus.

Roka

37 Charlotte Street, W1. Tel: 020 7580 6464

The centrepiece of Zuma’s buzzy sibling is a robata grill, from which chefs produce quality modern Japanese food. Standouts include grilled pork and scallop dumplings, rock shrimp tempura with wasabi pea seasoning, soft-shell crab rolls with a chilli kick, and spectacular desserts best ordered as a sampler platter. Two-hour time limits on tables cause grumbles, but there are no complaints about the great food and contemporary surroundings.

Salt Yard

54 Goodge Street, W1. Tel: 020 7637 0657

This modern tapas restaurant offers dishes made from top-notch ingredients, inspired by both Italian and Spanish cuisine. Classics are given a fresh spin, seeing sautéed chicken livers teamed with pickled figs and a sherry sauce. Don’t leave without trying the signature dish of rich courgette flowers stuffed with Monte Enebro cheese and drizzled with honey.

Sitaaray

167 Drury Lane, WC2. Tel: 020 7269 6422

This glitzy restaurant pays homage to Bollywood, and has an unusual food offering to match its novel decor. Rather than ordering from an à la carte menu, diners are brought a stream of small plates from a set menu. Kebabs are the house speciality and include tandoor-grilled chicken or juicy chunks of lamb. Of the curries, the creamy dhal makhani comes in for praise. At lunch, try one of the terrific dosas (savoury-filled Indian crêpes).

Tamarai

167 Drury Lane, WC2. Tel: 020 7831 9399

This basement restaurant below Sitaraay, with its inky-hued surrounds punctuated by neon lotus flowers, serves pan-Asian food for sharing. Dishes are generally well prepared, although they sometimes rely on the sweet hit of sugar for their appeal. Standouts include sensational caramel pepper prawns with golden garlic, a fantastically fresh salad of mud crab and pomelo, and spicily succulent curried lamb chops.

Yauatcha

15 Broadwick Street, W1 Tel: 0870 780 8265

Despite the odd complaint of unfriendly staff, fans still rave about some of the finest dim sum in the capital. Roast venison puffs are sweet and peppery, har gau come stuffed full of juicy prawns, and the plump sea bass dumplings are gloriously crowned with salted egg. Such is Yauatcha’s popularity that meals are now not only served in the basement dining room, but also in the street-level tearoom.


PERFECT MATCH

Square Meal challenges four leading wine experts to match dishes from their grazing menus with wines from Constellation Europe’s fine wine portfolio.

Mondavi Fume Blanc 2004 Eddie Hart

Proprietor, Barrafina

The wine: Robert Mondavi Private Selection Fumé Blanc 2004

The dish: Raw queen scallops with olive oil and lemon juice

The match: This is a delicious Sauvignon. It has wonderful pear, orange and jasmine notes on the nose and melon on the palate, plus a mineral backbone and crisp, clean acidity. The queen scallops are served raw in the shell with a little extra virgin olive oil, lemon and Tabasco. The Fumé Blanc works very well with the delicate and slightly sweet scallops – it cuts through their buttery texture and its mineral backbone leaves a clean taste in the mouth.

The wine: Houghton Pemberton Chardonnay 2002

The dish: Grilled langoustine with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic

The match: This wine has a pale straw colour and citrus, fig and tropical fruit notes. On the palate these fruit notes are complemented by toast, brioche and buttery tones. It’s well balanced and a great example of a Chardonnay. The langoustines are grilled with a little olive oil, lemon juice and garlic and finished with freshly chopped tomato and basil. Both the Chardonnay and the langoustine are smoky and rich, making them the perfect combination.


Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2004 Laure Patry

Sommelier, Maze

The wine: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2004

The dish: Pear tarte tatin with a fig carpaccio

The match: This superb sweet wine displays flavours of fresh tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple and papaya infused with Muscat and wrapped in a blanket of gingerbread and honey sweetness. The balance is achieved by the acidity, which gives a clean finish. The pear tatin is served warm on a carpaccio of figs, which, combined with this delicious Icewine, fills the mouth with dense luscious texture and complex flavour. It’s a combination that absolutely dances on the palate.


Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2004Stephanie Doering

Sommelier, Maze

The wine: Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2004

The dish: Roast rack of lamb with braised shoulder and four onions

The match: A vibrant red, with lovely depth of colour and aromas of sweet, macerated berries, ripe raspberries and perfumed leather. On the palate it is elegant, medium-bodied and balanced, with spicy tannins providing structure. Fresh acidity and good fruit flavours are the key, plus surprising elegance and white pepper notes. The lamb shoulder is braised with thyme, garlic and rosemary, and garnished with shallot tempura, confit baby leeks, onion purée and baby onion. The berry aromas of the Zinfandel lift the herbal, spicy flavours of the lamb and the acidity in the wine gives the onions a really nice touch.


Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2004 Natalie Zagrebina

Sommelier, Le Cercle

The wine: Tintara Reserve Shiraz 2001

The dish: Ox cheek braised with olives

The match: A dark and rich wine from the McLaren Vale, with notes of milk chocolate and soft sun-heated prunes followed by ripe black fruit, spiced with crushed black pepper and vanilla. Its velvety texture is underlined by soft acidity and the alcohol is balanced by concentrated fruit and a very long chocolate finish. The ox cheek is served in a casserole with tomatoes and olives, and is beautifully matched to the wine in terms of richness, aromatics, spice and smokiness. The fruit in the wine lifts the sweetness of the sauce, while spicy notes of chocolate prevail on a long-lasting finish.

The wine: Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2004

The dish: Mixed citrus fruits

The match: The bright gold colour and fine creamy mousse set the scene for a pronounced nose of marmalade, caramelised lemon peel, floral honey, almonds, honeysuckle and dried apricots. Critically, the wine’s lush sweetness and rich body is balanced by crisp acidity and a refreshingly clean finish. The dessert is also refreshing: layers of grapefruit, jelly and Rice Krispie tuille, topped by verbena and lemon sorbet. The match gives a thrilling sensation of cool freshness and a full-throttle citrus hit (capped with blossom and vanilla). The sparkles in the wine intensify the flavours.


Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Autumn 2007