Restaurant Reviews

Not only do I love cooking at home, but I also enjoy eating out. Here are some reviews of restaurants I have enjoyed; I only review those that I would recommend as life is too short to write about bad food!!…

*I’d love to hear about any restaurants you would recommend – contact me here!…

The Ledbury, Notting Hill, W11

June 2022

Before Covid hit our shores, The Ledbury was my absolute favourite restaurant; having two Michelin stars it was rated among the top 50 restaurants in the world and was considered one of London’s very best. It was the restaurant where Nick and I would celebrate special occasions, it was our ‘go-to place’ for a treat. So, when just after the start of lockdown chef and owner of The Ledbury, Brett Graham, announced that he would be closing the restaurant, I was genuinely gutted; walking past the abandoned premises in Notting Hill just a year ago, I felt almost bereaved to see the neglected state of the once beautiful restaurant. However, joy of joys, at the beginning of the year there were rumours of a return, and by March the doors of The Ledbury were re-opened. Unsurprisingly it was nigh on possible to get a reservation, like us there were lots of guests who were dying to return (despite the cost!), but finally, we managed to get a table for last Saturday night…

Naturally, the hiatus has allowed Graham to rethink, and The Ledbury has been relaunched with a new interior which reflects a more modern approach. I will be the first to admit that I’m not good with change… I saw nothing wrong with the ‘old’ Ledbury’s interior, it was on the right side of formal, warm and intimate. So arriving on Saturday night to the new ‘sexier’ interior was a little disconcerting, admittedly it was very stylish, a bit more glam, but interestingly, the new furnishings had changed the acoustics of the room – it was noisier, which slightly niggled me. Previously, The Ledbury had been renowned for its front-of-house; the service was always incredibly polished, yet fantastically friendly – you were valued and spoilt. We were thus apprehensive as we knew that the restaurant manager had left and feared that this service wouldn’t be as we remembered it. Fortunately, there were a couple of familiar faces and the service was as good as ever; once we were settled at our table enjoying drinks and canapés, everything felt, almost, as good as ever.

Having ticked the boxes for the ambience, I was ready for the tasting menu. They only serve an eight-course tasting menu these days, but they are very flexible with dietary requirements – they had duly noted that I was gluten-free and one of the canapés had already been fantastically substituted. Our first course was ‘Cornish Crab, Cultured Cream & Frozen Citrus’, this was stunning, the crystals of citrus fruit beautifully lifted the crab, it was a delicate dish with subtle explosions of flavour. Equally impressive was ‘Hand Dived Scallop, Radish, Seaweed and Dashi’, it was a winning combination of the flavours – the sweetness of the scallops was matched by the salty dashi, I literally could have lifted the plate to my lips and drunk the delicious broth! The next dish, ‘Warm Hen’s Egg, Brassicas, Pigs Trotter & Truffle’, was a ‘blast from the past’, it was a signature dish that I remember from the ‘old’ Ledbury, yet slightly different. There were still the wonderful flavours of truffle, with the incredibly fresh egg yolk and the saltiness of pigs trotter but there was the addition of brassicas (a kale-type leaf) and perhaps less ‘ham’, I think I preferred the original version, but either way, it was still delicious. The following ‘Grilled Turbot, White Asparagus, Cods Roe Hollandaise & Sorrel’, was a perfectly cooked piece of fish, with a rich yet light sauce which had fresh lemony overtones with bursts of saltiness from the cods roe. Our fifth course was ‘Mushrooms from the Cabinet’, and yes there really is a mushroom cabinet which guests can peruse if they visit the bathrooms! Cultivated in the restaurant, they must be the freshest mushrooms you can taste – and yes this dish was very tasty, I particularly enjoyed the meaty ‘hen of the woods’ mushroom. Next up was ‘Suffolk Lamb, Caramelised Cream, Wild Garlic & Morel’, it was simply a beautifully cooked dish, with a wild garlic sauce and a crispy ‘potato cone’; both the flavours and textures were perfectly matched. The ‘Verjus Meringue, Kaffir Lime & Olive Oil’ which followed was one of my favourite dishes. After the richness of the preceding plates, this citrusy pre-dessert was fresh and stunning to the taste buds – wonderful! Finally, ‘Sweet Woodruff Tart, English Strawberry & Toasted Vanilla’ was a dessert which I didn’t have due to its gluten content – but Nick ate it very quickly which convinced me that it was one of the best desserts he’d had for some time! My dessert was equally thrilling, ‘Chocolate & Mint’, was a rich and fresh, balanced dessert.

So, the verdict –  the ‘new’ Ledbury vs the ‘old’… Well, there is no denying that the food we had last Saturday night was luxurious and dazzling. There were stand-out dishes such as the crab and the scallops, together the dishes promise to regain The Ledbury those Michelin stars and take it back to the top of its game. I need to get over my sentimentality for the ‘old’ Ledbury and of course, the only way to do that is to return for another ‘special occasion’ by the end of the year…I’m already looking forward to it!… (I’ll let you know how it goes!)

The Elderflower, Lymington, The New Forest

June 2022

Whilst visiting The New Forest over the recent bank holiday we dined at The Elderflower restaurant in Lymington. We tried to book this restaurant last year, but due to the influx of reservations it received after being featured on BBC’s ‘Remarkable Places to Eat’, it was impossible to get a reservation. Things have calmed down a little since then, and we finally bagged a table for dinner. Chef Andrew Du Bourg has a good track record, having worked at London’s Square and Club Gascon, so I had high hopes for a delicious experience...

The restaurant is quaintly set on the cobbled street that meanders up to the high street from the small harbour. The low beamed dining room is simply but tastefully decorated. We dined with friends and to start the long bank holiday weekend in style we all enjoyed a cocktail – I chose the Lychee Martini which was excellent! We also ordered the wine pairing to complement our five-course tasting menu; yes, it was going to be an expensive evening!The meal was kicked off by a ‘Mussel & Watercress Veloute’, it was a promising start, the salty flavours were nicely balanced and fresh. Next was ‘Cured Solent Bass’, this carpaccio of fish was delicious with wonderfully sweet tomato and crab emulsions, it was an explosion of flavours, so much so that the delicate Bass was almost overpowered, but the dish definitely excited the taste buds. This was followed by another fish dish, ‘Solent Skate Wing’, I must admit that I’m not overly keen on Skate, but this little morsel was beautifully cooked off the bone with an apple chowder, it was a very good, elegantly balanced dish. Our main dish, ‘Roast Suckling Pig’, was no less thrilling, the crackling encased pork was perfectly cooked. Finally, dessert was ‘Strawberry Celebration’, there was a lot going on in this dish, lavender parfait, black olive & liquorice and a basil ice cream, yet somehow the chef managed to pull it off; it was punchy and flavoursome.

The Elderflower is without doubt a restaurant that puts The New Forest on the UK’s culinary map. I very much enjoyed my meal; if I were to be critical, I would say that at times the flavours within each dish were overly complicated, and there was a little too much theatre. The service was very good, Marjolaine, the partner of the chef, was very entertaining as front of house, a real personality, although at times we did find her a little intrusive! The Elderflower is not necessarily fine dining by London standards, but I would imagine that the chef is on course for a Michelin star and if you’re in the vicinity, and can get a table, it’s definitely worth a detour

Lutéce, Georgetown, Washington DC

May 2022

I was back in Washington DC last weekend. Since 2015 I have visited this city at least six times for medical reasons. It’s a long story, but in 2014 I was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease (*see note below). After several, desperate months of searching, without luck, for a ‘Lyme literate’ doctor in the UK, we decided to go to America, where the understanding of Lyme is far more advanced. My doctor in Washington DC is incredible, it is through his understanding of Lyme and his antibiotic protocols that my immune system has learnt to control the bacteria and I can live a full and healthy life. Consequently, I know Washington DC quite well, although I must admit in the earlier days, restaurants were the last thing on my mind! Our recent visit was purely a means to touch base with my doctor, who I hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic; I’m happy to say it was a very positive trip, particularly as I discovered a new restaurant to pass on to you!

The neighbourhood of Georgetown is DC’s oldest, and a favourite of mine. I love to ogle at the houses off of the main high street, in fact, renowned American cookbook writer, Julia Child once lived in one of the beautiful wooden framed houses here. Child was recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public, so it seems fitting that just around the corner is Lutéce, a French-inspired restaurant.

I often find the atmosphere of restaurants in DC a little soulless, as they tend to be large and over air-conditioned; although the food may be good they lack atmosphere. Lutéce, breaks this mode, it’s very small and intimate, the atmosphere is relaxed – it’s the perfect backdrop for its modern French cuisine. On entering the restaurant on Sunday evening, glimpsing at the food on the neighbouring tables, I had a good feeling about Lutéce, particularly when I saw the waitress behind the tiny bar making up their signature cocktails. It was a good start!

We began with the ‘Steak Tartare, Fermented Chilli, Capers, Potato Chips’ – this was fantastic, seasoned to perfection, the best I’ve had in a long time, whilst ‘Broccolini, Burrata, Red Miso, Preserved Lemon’, was pieces of Burrata mixed with the broccolini and dressed with a hollandaise sauce, which was light and citrusy – it was deliciously fresh. Our main courses were no less thrilling, there was ‘Duck, Cauliflower, Fennel, Cherry’; the subtle sweetness of the cherry perfectly matched the breast of duck which was served with a rich, flavoursome confit. ‘Berkshire Pork, Spring Onions, Sauce Charcutiére’, was a tender pork chop which was well matched by the slightly tart sauce, I reminded myself that I must make this gherkin and mustard sauce at home! Often I find the size of the portions in America ridiculously big, and so I struggle to finish a meal but fortunately, at Lutéce the servings were generous but not overly – we were comfortably full and could still enjoy dessert…a delicious ‘Chocolate Ganache’, its rich sweetness was cut by a dash of salt, and equally good was ‘Cheese Tart, Rhubarb & Lemon Balm’.

As a tourist in a big city, Lutéce is the type of restaurant that makes you feel like a local, and I must admit that I felt rather smug about finding it! The food, atmosphere and service are exactly what you need after a long day trawling the countless museums and monuments of DC…but remember to book well in advance!

*To find out more about Lyme Disease visit Lyme Disease UK  or feel free to contact me here.

Osip, Bruton, Somerset

May 2022

Don’t you just love it when you discover a great place by pure luck?!… Well, just recently when we visited the Newt (review below), this happened to us. The week before our visit, I was ‘googling’ the area and by chance discovered that in the village of Bruton, five minutes down the road from the Newt, there happened to be ‘Osip’, a Michelin starred restaurant!…

Osip is the type of restaurant where you instantly feel at home. Its small interior is simply but stylishly designed; white tiled walls contrast with open brickwork, whilst a duck-egg-blue banquette adds a shot of subtle colour. The atmosphere is relaxed and whilst the staff are very friendly they are also incredibly professional. It’s the attention to detail that creates the perfect ambience at Osip – even the crockery deserves a mention, yes, that’s right, the plates!… I was enamoured with the rough china on which the food was presented, its textures and shapes completed the dining experience perfectly.

Osip prides itself on being a farm-to-table restaurant, using ingredients that have been grown by themselves or their neighbours, thus ensuring that the food is incredibly fresh and in season. What arrives on its doorstep each morning is what it serves for lunch and dinner that same day. The set menu is served as a surprise, and what a wonderful surprise it was…

Before our first course we were presented with a selection of amuse bouche – ‘Farm Radishes with Whipped Sesame’, ‘Trout & Turnip Roll with Japanese Artichoke’, ‘Black Garlic and Togarashi’ – all very fresh and flavoursome. These were followed by the kick of a ‘Roasted Vegetable Tea with Burnt Garlic Oil’, this was a sweet and salty, beautifully balanced broth. Our next course, ‘Tokyo Turnip, Almond Praline and Ricotta’, was presented as a flower and was almost too stunning to eat; the flavours didn’t disappoint! ‘White Onion Royale, Broad Beans and Wild Garlic’, was a wonderful light foam and, although just a small interlude before our main course, it was packed with flavour; the white onion and wild garlic were beautifully balanced by the broad beans. Our meal had so far been outstanding, in terms of both flavour and presentation, so the main course had a lot to live up to… all I can say is ‘wow’, ‘Roast Chicken, Hen of the Woods, Bearnaise Chicken Sausage, Cider Mustard’, was a sublime dish, the ‘chicken sausage’ was something that I could happily eat for breakfast (lunch and dinner!). Finally, dessert, ‘Pump Street Chocolate Tart’; with its crisp pastry shell and rich chocolate mousse filling it was exactly how any good tart should be!

We left Osip dreaming of our return! It’s possible to stay at the neighbouring guest house, No.1 Bruton, so we are already planning another getaway. Failing that, a day trip from London by train is just about doable, allowing for a lunchtime visit…

The Newt, Somerset

A Hotel & Restaurant Review

May 2022

Last year, when we were in the midst of our second lockdown, Nick and I decided that we needed a ‘treat’ to look forward to. We had read positive reviews about the The Newt in Somerset, and hoping that in a year’s time the ‘covid situation’ would be better, we booked a stay for the May bank holiday. We had been looking forward to this treat for nigh on a year, so when we finally visited The Newt last weekend it definitely needed to impress us…

As we drove down the long, winding driveway, catching glimpses of Hadspen House, where we would be staying, we were duly impressed! Then, on entering our ‘Garden Room’ which overlooked the magnificent gardens, our breaths were literally taken away. Our room with its huge bay windows and terrace was full of light and beautifully appointed, it was I might add, probably the best room in the hotel and as I looked out on the view I really did feel like the ‘Lady of the Manor’!

What I hadn’t appreciated when we had booked The Newt, was the size of this enterprise, not only is it a country house hotel but also a working farm with huge public gardens. Rooms of the hotel are situated either at Hadspen House and in its stables or a half a mile down the road at the ‘Farmyard’. The Farmyard offers a very different hotel experience from Hadspen House, it is more relaxed and rustic, great for families and groups of friends who prefer a less formal country house escape. Rustic isn’t really my thing, so I was rather relieved that we had opted for a room at the main house, where I would be very content to be ‘Lady of the Manor’ for a couple of days! Hadspen House is a very attractive Georgian house which has been tastefully updated, the interiors have a contemporary edge, forget country house chintz, think elegant modern furnishings in muted colours – I loved the sage green and greys of our room.

Having settled in we decided to take a walk around ‘our’ estate. From the small private garden of the house, there is a gate that takes you into the extensive public gardens which are awe-inspiring. Hotel guests can take tours of the garden or, as we did, have a cyder tasting – The Newt makes its own cyder. It really is worth visiting the gardens simply as a day guest, the landscaping is phenomenal, however, despite the beauty of these gardens, I did feel relieved to return through the gate to the tranquillity of the hotel, it’s a little disconcerting to find the ‘general public’ around you when you’ve actually paid for a weekend getaway!.. Considering the cost of staying at The Newt, I had assumed that one is paying for exclusivity, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Fortunately, the spa is far from the public eye, so we escaped to the privacy of its beautiful heated indoor-outdoor pool and spa rooms!

Then of course it was time to eat, I must say that during our 3-night stay our days seemed to revolve around food – which is just as well as it is one of my favourite pastimes. The Newt prides itself on serving the freshest vegetables grown on its estate and certainly, the best of the dishes that we had during our stay were those based around these ingredients. Breakfast was served in the Botanical rooms, it was a memorable start to the day. The homemade granola, yoghurt and rhubarb compote were utterly delicious – I don’t think I’ve tasted yoghurt quite as creamy, whilst the rhubarb compote was perfectly tart and sweet at the same time. Then of course there were the various options for cooked breakfasts, all delicious – yes, we tried them all over our stay! Lunch and Dinner are offered at three restaurants over the estate, there is the aforementioned Botanical Rooms at Hadspen House, and also The Farmyard and the Garden Café…

The Farmyard Restaurant

We ate at the Farmyard Restaurant on our first evening. Guests at Hadspen House can drive themselves over in a buggy or staff can drive you – we opted for the latter, as I wasn’t sure we could be trusted to navigate our way home through the fields of sheep after a couple of cocktails and wine! The dining experience is more relaxed with a sharing menu. ‘Broccoli & Anchovy’, was wonderfully fresh with a touch of lemon and an addictive, salty anchovy aioli. The ‘Mullet with Spring Onion & Gremolata’, had well-matched flavours with the sweetness of the chargrilled onions and tart gremolata. Moving on to our main dishes there was the star of the evening ‘Whole Place, Brassicas and Burnt Lemon’, cooked to perfection, it was divine. The ‘Pork Chop, White Bean, Roast Onion & Thyme’ couldn’t match the deliciousness of the Plaice, and although the chop was quite tasty we found the white bean purée a little bland. As an extra dish, we ordered the ‘Jersey Royals, Hang Op & Wild Garlic’, I could have eaten the whole dish alone, the combination of salty potato and wild garlic was moreish! Finally, desserts; an ‘Apple Crumble & Custard’ and ‘Chocolate Mousse & Salted Caramel’ – both were the perfect end to a very good meal. It was a great start to our stay and we hoped that the food at the other two restaurants would follow suit…

The Botanical Rooms

The Botanical Rooms is a beautiful wood-panelled, formal dining room overlooking the grounds, there is also seating in the airier, more modern conservatory. We preferred to have dinner in the formal dining room (although at breakfast we enjoyed the light-filled conservatory). After our positive experience at the Farmyard, we had high hopes for our dinner at The Botanical Rooms. We started with ‘Chilled Broad Beans, Apple & Lovage Juice with Whipped Goats Curd’, a light dish with delicate flavours, and ‘Chalk Stream Trout with Chevril & Walnut Vinaigrette’, which was well cooked, but the flavours were overpowered by the vinaigrette. Main courses were, ‘Nettle Marinated Lamb with Asparagus, Anchovy, Garlic & Parsley’, the asparagus dressing lifted this dish beautifully, and ‘Pork, Turnip, Mustard & Pickled Greens’ which was very good but the pickled vegetables were too intense for the dish. Finally, for dessert there was a ‘Sweet Cicely & Strawberry Cheesecake’, which was deliciously delicate, and ‘Forced Rhubarb & Lemon Verbena Sorbet’, a fresh tasty dessert but the rhubarb was unable to shine through the strong lemon flavouring. The meal was enjoyable, both the setting and service were impeccable, but we were a little disappointed as the food lacked the balance of flavours it promised – it lacked that ‘something special’.

The Garden Café

The atmosphere that a restaurant or hotel creates can be one of its most important attributes. Before our visit, we booked the Garden Café for Sunday Lunch, I probably would not have done so if I had been aware that it was in the ‘public gardens’. The Garden Café has, without doubt, an amazing view of the landscaped gardens and if I were visiting as a day guest I would have been more than happy to dine there. However, as a hotel guest, I feel that the atmosphere of this restaurant was not conducive to the hotel’s style, and I felt that it rather broke ‘my lady of the manor’ dream! For me, visiting a hotel such as The Newt is a form of escapism, you buy into the exclusivity of a country house. The Garden Café was a step too far into reality for me! The food was enjoyable, although doesn’t merit an in depth review; it was a tasty lunch in a restaurant with wonderful views and well priced at £25 for two courses.

In conclusion

Our stay at The Newt was, without doubt, a beautiful experience, the room, with its views, was absolutely breathtaking. There is no denying the beauty of the grounds and the stylish interiors. I loved the atmosphere in the hotel, from breakfast in the Botanical Rooms to cocktails in the bar – I should mention that they not only do their own signature cocktails but are happy to make any you suggest, a real bonus for a ‘cocktail lover’ like myself! The service was impeccable and the staff were relaxed, friendly and genuine. However, The Newt has a fine balance to maintain; it sells itself as an exclusive country hotel escape and demands the high prices which go hand in hand with this, but at the same time, to fund its incredible grounds it has to open to the general public – two rather conflicting positions. I do feel that given the expense of a stay at The Newt (believe me, it’s a lot – a decision we made in the madness of lockdown!), I don’t think that it offers the exclusivity that some hotel guests, like myself, yearn. So, would I visit The Newt again?… Yes, but with so many other hotels to try I may be tempted to go elsewhere… or, of course, I could return to my number one hotel experience, Foxhill Manor (see my review here!).

Paris

April 2022

Last week I enjoyed a 24-hour, whistle-stop tour of Paris. Living in London, with Eurostar on my doorstep, this quick trip is very doable. Not only did I enjoy the sights and the spectacular spring sunshine (we really lucked out on the weather!), but savoured three fantastic restaurants which I am keen to recommend…

Straight from the train, having left our bags at our hotel, my sister, Michelle, and I kicked off our trip with lunch at Benoit…

Benoit, 4th Arrondissement

Benoit is a favourite restaurant of mine, I have eaten here several times and it has never let me down. Walking into this restaurant there is no denying that you are in Paris – it’s an old school bistro with a quintessentially French interior; brass rails, red velvet banquettes and wood-panelled walls, and of course, beautifully pressed white linen table cloths. Benoit first opened in 1912 and it remained in the same family until 2005 when renowned chef and restauranteur, Alain Ducasse, became its new proprietor. Respecting its history, Ducasse has ensured that Benoit remains a traditional bistrot, albeit now with a Michelin star. The three-course set menu is a steal at 42 euros, otherwise, you can choose à la carte. Dishes range from classics such as Duck Ballotine, Escargots, Lamb Navarin, Cassoulet and Black Pudding.

Our lunch started with a glass of champagne (always a good decision when you’ve just arrived off an early morning Eurostar run!), we were then presented with the complimentary gougéres (cheese puffs), it’s worth visiting the restaurant just for these, plus bread and butter – the type you can only get in France! Moving on we enjoyed a ‘Pea Velouté’, followed by ‘Duck Parmentier with Braised Baby Gem Lettuce’ – this was superb; the rich, duck confit filling was topped by the creamiest purée of potato. Finally, there were desserts, a rich, creamy ‘Chocolate Mousse’ – my photo doesn’t do this justice, it was incredibly good! And an ‘Armagnac Savarin’, which is not to be missed – Armagnac is generously poured over slices of sponge and served with the lightest whipped cream! To end this wonderful lunch we were served freshly baked madeleines and petit fours, all included in the set price – it’s these little extras which take the whole experience at Benoit to a higher level. What a fantastic start this meal was to our trip both the service and food were impeccable, it would be difficult to beat…

After ambling around the Marais, and a quick freshen-up at our hotel, it was time for a cocktail overlooking the Place de Vosges (at Café Hugo) before dinner at nearby ‘Robert & Louise’…

Robert & Louise, 3rd Arrondissement

After our rich and luxurious lunch, I wanted a restaurant which was a little more low-key, and when I entered Robert & Louise, I knew I’d made the right choice. The interior has a cosy atmosphere with a ‘home-style’ vibe and super friendly staff. Opened in 1958 by Robert and Louise it is now run by their daughter, Pascale and her partner. The menu offers traditional, simple French cuisine which is mostly cooked over an open fireplace at the back of the restaurant. As we were shown our table, we walked past the aforementioned fireplace and I happened to notice steaks being grilled and escargots being cooked. I didn’t need to see the menu – I was ready to order!… The small, almost sweet escargots which I had for my first course were drowned in herby garlic butter, they were delicious. For my main course, I opted for the entrecôte steak, it was cooked to perfection and served with sautéed potatoes and a salad, with a pot of Dijon mustard on the side –  it was a simple dish, faultlessly executed. Finally, dessert, a traditional ‘Crème Brulée’, again simplicity was the key to its success – the balance of cream and vanilla flavouring was a perfect end to a delightful meal.

Walking back to our hotel, on this balmy Spring evening we couldn’t resist a digestif, so found ourselves back again at Café Hugo, watching Paris wind down for the night. When here for just 24 hours you really do have to fill every minute, but as our beds were calling us we only managed one drink! The following day we were up early, taking a walk along the Seine, we took a quick look at the incredible architecture of the Louvre, before crossing over to the 6th arrondissement, for a light breakfast at La Palette before swooning over the Impressionist collection at the Musée d’Orsay. Then of course it was time for lunch… Not far from the Musée d’Orsay is Au Petit Tonneau…

Au Petit Tonneau, 5th Arrondissement

Au Petit Tonneau is a small neighbourhood restaurant not too far from the Eiffel Tower. Its simple, modern interior reflects the classic, clean flavours of its traditional menu. There is a set lunch menu at 27/35 euros or an à la carte menu. Unsurprisingly, we were feeling quite full having overindulged since arriving in Paris, so we opted for ‘Guinea Fowl & Pea Purée’, it was simply presented, but beautifully cooked – both succulent and flavoursome. Of course, there should always be space for dessert, and how could I resist their homemade ‘Nougat Ice cream’, it was incredibly good, flavoured with dried fruit, a touch of ginger and a fresh red fruit sauce. I can honestly say that it was the perfect end to our 24-hour jaunt in Paris. Now we just needed a final ‘Parisian’ stroll to lighten our stomachs before getting Eurostar home to London!…

Kolamba, Soho, W1

April 2022

Some years ago we enjoyed a fantastic holiday in Sri Lanka. Apart from the beauty of this country and its incredible culture, I was struck by the wonderful food we tasted. Although Sri Lankan food is reminiscent of South Indian food it has its own distinctive taste and the flavours have some added ‘island personality’, which isn’t surprising since Sri Lanka is known as the ‘Island of Spice’. When we returned from our holiday I found it hard to find a restaurant that was truly Sri Lankan, however, I am pleased to say that things are changing. Recently in London, there has been a mini-explosion of fashionable Sri Lankan restaurants, a handful of them in Soho, one of these is Kolamba.

Not far from the hustle and bustle of Oxford St you can find Kolamba’s little Sri Lankan oasis. Its modern interior – think concrete floors, open brickwork and muted colours – is the perfect backdrop for its colourful curries. The menu is well priced and everything sounds delicious – unsurprisingly Nick and I over ordered! We started with their ‘Bites’ which are rather like street snacks. ‘Aunty Mo’s Chatti Roast’ was dry roasted beef with chilli and tomato on a bed of string hoppers (soft rice flour noodles), this dish certainly packed a punch, its flavours were accentuated by a turmeric and coconut gravy. We also shared the ‘Paniyaram’ which were crispy bites of fermented rice flour served with fresh chutneys – these were particularly moreish and gave a nice relief from the heat of the ‘Chatti Roast’. After these ‘bites’ we found that our little table was overrun with our main dishes!… ‘Vaira’s Jaggery Beef’ was another punchy dish, this time beef was slow-cooked in spices, whilst ‘Ceylon Chicken Curry’ was chicken cooked on the bone in a light, creamy coconut milk sauce with aromatic flavours perfectly balanced by tangy tamarind – this was one of those ‘comfort’ dishes; easy on the taste buds but at the same time giving them a warm hug. We also tried the ‘Beetroot Curry’, I was excited to try this as whilst in Sri Lanka I had been enamoured with this unusual curry, at Kolamba it was good but not necessarily memorable, it was my least favourite dish of the evening. Finally, there was ‘Parripu’, a thick dhal made with coconut milk and turmeric, this was very good; it was topped with roasted spices and very moreish. Naturally, we ordered ‘Hoppers’ on the side, these bowl-shaped rice flour pancakes are a Sri Lankan staple; they were a favourite of mine when I visited Sir Lanka, and at Kolamba they do them justice – they were light with just the right amount of crisp.

It would be safe to say that Nick and I had ‘eyes bigger than our stomachs’… by the end of these dishes we were feeling rather stuffed, which was a shame as I had wanted to try dessert! But I decided that, on this occasion, dessert would have to wait for a return visit; I will definitely be returning. Kolamba, is a great casual dining option for the centre of town, whether it’s for a lunchtime break from a shopping trip or an evening out with friends. Not only is it well priced, but very tasty!

Kudu Collective – Kudu & Kudu Grill, Peckham, SE15

February 2021

Since opening its first restaurant in Peckham in 2018, the ‘Kudu Collective’ has been making itself very much at home in this small corner of south London. Having expanded in 2021 it now has two restaurants, a bar and a private art gallery/dining space. Head of the kitchen is Patrick Williams, he injects his South African roots into a Modern European style menu, creating dishes that sing with flavour, whilst his wife, Amy Corbin, concentrates on the front of house. Corbin is the daughter of Chris Corbin of Corbin and King, the partnership responsible for a number of iconic London restaurants including The Wolseley (review here!), and she has obviously has been taught a thing or two about the restaurant business – Kudu Collective has the air of being professionally managed yet retains a relaxed, casual vibe. The interiors of the establishments are seriously stylish; with their signature low-lighting, dark tones, marble tables and velvet banquettes they have a wonderfully seductive atmosphere.

In the last month, I have dined at both the original ‘signature’ Kudu restaurant and at Kudu Grill. The former is in the heart of Peckham and has the advantage of being a ‘stone’s throw’ from their cocktail bar, ‘Smokey Kudu’. Unfortunately, on the evening that we were dining at Kudu, the cocktail bar was closed for a private party, so we didn’t get the chance to try their full cocktail list!…But, fortunately, each restaurant has a small bar serving a few signature cocktails, so we did try their ‘Smokey Kudu’ and ‘Cape Old Fashioned’, which were both beautifully balanced with smoky overtones.

Menus at both Kudu and Kudu Grill consist of snacks, small plates and medium plates, which can be shared or chosen as individual starters/mains. On our visit to Kudu, we chose the sharing option, and to be honest, I wish we’d ordered individually as I think some of the dishes are not suited to sharing – or perhaps I’m just greedy?! Bread is where most meals start, and at Kudu, you definitely shouldn’t miss it, it’s a spiced brioche loaf baked in a pot, served with either melted butter with bacon lardons or shrimps – fantastic. Other stand out dishes were the ‘Scallop Potjie’ – stewed scallops on a light stew of celeriac and sea rosemary, ‘Pan Fried Duck Breast, Golden Beets, Parsnip Puree, Pomegranate Molasses’ – the duck was beautifully tender and well balanced with the subtle sweetness of the vegetables, and ‘Onglet, Hispi Cabbage, Enoki Mushrooms & Truffled Potato Mousse’ – the onglet was served perfectly rare and was very tasty, I wasn’t as keen on the hispi cabbage as the chargrill flavour overpowered it, but the truffle puree was divine!

A few weeks later, after our very enjoyable meal at Kudu, Nick and I decided to check out their newer restaurant, Kudu Grill. I must admit that this restaurant was my favourite of the two. The larger interior has a particularly elegant air and the menu has more robust flavours, featuring ‘braai’ dishes. A braai is the South African equivalent to a BBQ, so the dishes tend to have smoky, charred tastes, which are in turn lifted by subtle sweet and spicy seasonings. First of all, we enjoyed a couple of snacks – ‘Grilled Potato Flatbread, Lardo & Wild Garlic’, a refined take on ‘garlic bread’ and ‘Pork Belly, Squid, Pineapple Blatjang’, a delicious skewer bursting with sweet and salty flavour. Afterwards, we enjoyed starters of ‘Cape Malay Curried Crab, Avocado, Paaper Bites’, which was wonderfully fresh and ‘Grilled Prawns, Peri-Peri Butter’, was a must-try! For my main course I chose ‘Poussin, Honey Mustard Glaze, Green Goddess’, the skin was sweet and crispy whilst the meat was succulent. Nick chose the ‘Pork Chop, Monkey Gland Sauce’, no monkey was involved it was just a very good BBQ sauce! We shared the ‘Smoked Pomme Purée’, which I could have happily eaten all night, it was a dish of deliciousness – smooth, slightly salty and smoked, whilst ‘Grilled Carrots, Cumin & Coriander’ were sweet, chargrilled and subtly spiced – who knew carrots could taste so good! Finally, desserts did not disappoint;  there were only two choices but both were very good – a chocolate mousse with malted ice cream was like a deconstructed Malteser and the choux bun with jasmine ice cream was a surprisingly light dessert with the faintest hint of jasmine.

The Kudu Collective, particularly Kudu Grill, is everything a good neighbourhood restaurant should be and more. I loved the stylish interiors and the food with its different yet delicious flavours. If you don’t live nearby, I would suggest that Kudu Grill is definitely worth a detour….

Humble Chicken, Soho, W1

February 2022

Having heard great things about Soho’s ‘Humble Chicken’, I had been wanting to try it for some time. So, last week whilst in the area with a girlfriend, we popped in for lunch. Yakitori is the Japanese name for skewered chicken and at Humble Chicken, they skewer every part of the chicken, ‘neck to tail’… and believe me it’s delicious! Having worked under respected chefs such as Clare Smyth and being head-chef at ‘Restaurant Story’, Japanese born, Anglo Sato, knows a thing or two about flavour and there is no denying he knows a lot about the art of Yakatori.

I knew I would love Humble Chicken when on entering I discovered that seating was at the counter surrounding an open kitchen – I adore watching chefs at work and this seating allows one to feel fully immersed in the cooking process. As a stranger to Yakatori, the menu at first glance is a little disconcerting with the likes of ‘Inner Thigh’ and ‘Soft Knee & Cartillage’ – what a choice, where should one start? Fortunately, there is the ‘Omakase’ option, it literally means chef’s selection in Japanese, and is five assorted skewers (at £19 it’s a steal). We ordered this with a side of rice. ‘Cabbage & Ponsu’ (citrus soy sauce) is also served on the side as a fresh and moreish palate cleanser between skewers. Our first skewer was ‘Breast, Ponsu Oroshi & Chives’ which was wonderfully tender with the citrusy zing of the ponsu garnish. Next was ‘Achilles, Charcoal Fat & Citrus Kosho’, I was so excited to taste this unusual cut that I forgot to take a photo for you, but believe me it merited my excitement. On the outside, it was chargrilled and slightly crisp and on the inside, you were greeted with the succulent fatty flavour of chicken – the one we all love! Our third skewer was ‘Tail, Ponsu Lemon & Shichimi’, this was apparently our server’s favourite, and it was easier to see why. The lemon and shichimi perfectly cut the flavour of the gloriously juicy chicken. This was followed by ‘Inner Thigh, Spicy Miso & Goma’, which was mildly spiced and succulent. Finally, ‘Japanese Meatball with Tare & Egg Yolk’, was mildly spiced, ground chicken on a skewer, served with a dipping sauce of Tare (sweet soy sauce) and egg yolk, it was ultra-moist and unctuous, and delicious dipped in the eggy sauce. Whilst eating our skewers we spied the chefs preparing concertinaed folds of chicken skin, we were intrigued and, feeling piggish (or should I say ‘peckish’!), we also ordered one of these skewers. Apparently, these aren’t always on the menu as they are only served when they have the time and skins to prepare them; weren’t we lucky – they were chargrilled and slightly crunchy – really good!

Feeling quite stuffed at this point, we decided not to indulge in desserts but we will be back!… I have made a date to return with Nick for dinner; I hope to not only enjoy the Omakase skewers but to make a few other ‘skewer’ choices myself, plus have dessert – I’m going to visit on an empty stomach! Do I need to tell you that Humble Chicken is a place you should visit?!…

Leroy, Shoreditch, EC2

February, 2022

‘Leroy’ is the type of place that instantly makes you feel cool, even if you’re fifty-something like me! Last Friday night, I was instantly enchanted by its gentle vibe; behind the bar, there was a shelf of vinyl that provided unobtrusive sounds to create an effortless atmosphere, whilst the simple interior was unassuming but definitely stylish. As the evening progressed the music was turned up a notch and the atmosphere followed suit. Seated at our table, I realised that this was the type of restaurant where I could easily, simply sit and enjoy the atmosphere with a glass of wine or one of their cocktails and forget about eating… indeed, I was already on my second martini by the time our food arrived!

The menu is simple but well-executed. Plates are designed for sharing, which we did, but with hindsight, I wish we had ordered solo – I noticed a neighbouring table do this and I think ‘I missed a trick’. We started with ‘Mackerel, Oyster Mayonnaise, Horseradish’, it had subtle pickled and perfectly balanced flavours. This was followed by ‘Chicory, Walnut, Ossau-Iraty’, which was a little disappointing as the salty ‘Ossau-Iraty’ cheese overwhelmed the dish. Next up was ‘Pollock, Cauliflower, Chorizo, Mussels’, this was a great dish, the pollock was beautifully cooked with a creamy sauce that was brought to life by the salty mussels and the punch of crispy chorizo. Our final ‘main course’ was ‘Duck, Roast Cabbage, Pear, Foie Gras’, this was very tasty, the richness of the duck and foie gras was balanced by the pear and cabbage. Both of our desserts were ‘stand out’ dishes. ‘Rhubarb & Custard’, was simply stunning – really good! And ‘Chocolate, Coffee Caramel, Hazelnut’, was very moreish, the salted caramel deliciously cut the chocolate.

Next time I visit Leroy, I’ll be ordering my own plates (perhaps the Mackerel followed by the Pollack….and two desserts!). However, in all honesty, Leroy isn’t necessarily a restaurant that you visit just for its food, it’s the buzzing yet relaxed atmosphere that is key to its success. Although the food had great flavours and was well executed, I’m not sure it merits the restaurant’s Michelin star, but as a part of the ‘Leroy’ package, with its friendly staff, relaxed vibe, great wine list, you really can’t go wrong!

Noble Rot, WC1

November, 2021

My favourite pastime is eating out, so as you can imagine, my list of ‘to try’ restaurants is never-ending! For quite some time, ‘Noble Rot’ has been on that list. Since it opened in 2015, it has had consistently good reviews and been heralded by other restauranteurs – which is always a good sign. So when friends suggested that we meet there for dinner last Saturday night, I was more than keen to see them…and the restaurant!

Noble Rot is first and foremost a wine bar with a restaurant; it is possible to pass by just for a glass of wine (they also serve snacks at the bar), or you can have a full meal in their restaurant. The concept has been so popular that in 2020 they opened a second establishment in Soho. On Saturday night we dined at the original restaurant on Lambs Conduit St. Entering Noble Rot on a chilly November evening was extremely comforting, the interior has a slightly Dickensian feel with its uneven wooden floors, sombre colours and low lighting. The menu, with its robust flavours, was equally pleasing, plus of course, there was the wine list; it was easy to lose ourselves in the comprehensive list but fortunately, our waitress was very knowledgeable. I must say that the four of us got rather carried away with the menu, we were tempted to try almost everything, and so ordered a selection of small bites as well as starters, these included ‘Old Winchester Beignets with Pickled Walnut Ketchup’  – rich, cheesy morsels which were very tasty, and also ‘Lamb Arancini’ which were meaty and moreish. For my starter I chose the ‘Burrata, Delica Pumpkin & Hazelnut’, the burrata was wonderfully soft and gooey and was complemented by the sweet pumpkin (it reminded me that I must cook some Delica pumpkin at home whilst it’s in season, as it really is the best!). Another starter was ‘Boudin Noir, Radicchio & Pickled Elderberry’, the combination of flavours in this dish were perfectly balanced; the rich, crumbly boudin noir was creatively cut by the bitter radicchio and pickled elderberry. The meal was definitely off to a fantastic start!… And to follow, the flavours of our main courses did not disappoint, although we were slightly dismayed to find that our dishes were not piping hot (it seemed that this was due to the waiting staff being overstretched). However, we were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as fortunately, this mishap did not distract from the hearty flavours. I enjoyed ‘Mallard, Pommes Anna & Crab Apple’, the tart crab apple and buttery potatoes beautifully matched the subtle gamey flavour of the mallard duck – which was cooked to perfection. Another winning dish was ‘Monkfish Braised in Oxidised Chablis Grand Cru’, which for good reason is their signature dish, the meaty monkfish was served on a bed of leeks, it was delicious with the luxurious, creamy sauce – what a wonderful use of wine! Finally, desserts were a classic offering – a ‘Rice Pudding, Prunes & Almond’ and ‘Chocolate Mousse, Hazelnut & Crème Fraiche’. They were both very good and were a perfect finish to the flavour-some food we had enjoyed, perhaps not quite as creative as our starters and main courses, but they definitely hit the spot.

I think Noble Rot has become my new ‘old friend’; it has a classic, ‘proper’ menu which pleases most people yet its dishes hold an element of surprise and its dining room has a comforting, relaxed atmosphere whilst managing to make you feel that you’re somewhere special. These are the attributes we all need in an old friend!… I will be trying their Soho branch very soon…

Sessions Arts Club, EC1

November 2021

One of the downsides of living in a city like London is that as soon as a new restaurant opens to rave reviews, everyone seems to know about it and it’s nigh on impossible to get a reservation. So, when my girlfriend and I managed to nab a table for lunch at ‘Sessions Arts Club’, the new ‘darling’ of the London restaurant scene, I was very excited – it was quite a feat considering the rave reviews and that they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. I was a little sceptical that the experience could live up to my expectations, but on entering the dining room I was sold – and I hadn’t even tasted the food!…

Sessions Arts Club is housed in an old 18th Century Courthouse in Clerkenwell, from the outside there is little to indicate the restaurant inside – just a smart, almost hidden red door with a bell. This, of course, gives it the feel of a private club making the experience all the more special. Walking through the door you are engulfed by the intoxicating smell of scented candles, and from the cosy lobby, you take a lift up to the dining room. Entering the room, I literally felt myself swoon, it’s like walking onto a crumbling Regency-style set, with shabby chic interiors and faded plaster walls, it is both theatrical and romantic. The ceiling is incredibly high and with the arch windows, the space is light-filled and airy. There are also two outdoor terraces, which although on this particular November day it was a little too cold to enjoy, I couldn’t resist taking a peek! This is the kind of space which I could very easily live in!..

Then of course there is the food…Florence Knight is well regarded within the restaurant world having trained under Raymond Blanc, and now, as the chef at Sessions Arts Club, she is working her magic, introducing deliciously delicate, seasonal flavours to a wonderful menu of sharing plates. We started with the ‘Panisse, Lemon Thyme & Sea Salt’, I have always enjoyed these chickpea fritters, but I must say that these were particularly light and crisp – a must-try on the menu! There was also ‘Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Cannellini Bean & Lemon’, the broccoli was tastily chargrilled with a creamy cannellini purée lifted by the acidity of lemon, whilst ‘Sea Bream, Fig Leaf & Sorrel’ was a completely different dish with a slightly Japanese style, the ceviche of sea bream was curiously but beautifully flavoured. Moving on to the more substantial dishes, we chose ‘Hake, Watercress & Ratte Potato’, this was one of the simpler dishes yet well-executed, the salted hake was cooked to perfection and wonderfully cut by the buttery potatoes. The show-stopping dish was ‘Rabbit, Borlotti & Nocellara Olive’(unfortunately I was so enthralled by it that I forgot to take a photo!), it was one of the best rabbit dishes I have had for a very long time, the rabbit was cooked confit style and was incredibly moist, flavoured with lemon and herbs, I must admit that I couldn’t distinguish the olives, but it was no matter – the dish was sublime! Finally, desserts were a ‘Chocolate Tart’, its crisp, dark chocolate biscuit base was filled with an equally chocolatey mousse filling, it was divine! Then there was ‘Panna Cotta & Black Figs’, panna cotta is one of those desserts which restaurants can very often get wrong, with just a touch too much of gelatine it becomes heavy and overset, but fortunately, this panna cotta was flawless – creamy and light, perfectly matched by the sweet figs in a syrupy red wine sauce.

By the end of the meal, I had already promised myself a return visit – both for the food and atmosphere. Sessions Arts Club is equally good for groups as it is for a romantic date for two, or even alone – sitting up on their mezzanine level, I could easily have whiled away my time watching the dining ‘scene’ below. It is a place to see and be seen at – yet it is unpretentious; the staff are welcoming and the service is friendly. So, do try and get a table there soon, you won’t be disappointed!…

Danclair’s, Brixton, SW9

October 2021

Last weekend we fancied a casual ‘quick eat’ so we popped along to Brixton Village Market to check out its newest opening, Danclairs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Brixton Market is set out over three covered arcades, it offers an eclectic mix of independent stalls, shops and places to eat and drink. Since the 1950s Brixton and its market have been known as the vibrant hub of the Caribbean community. These days although its become a little more gentrified and, for better or worst, is on the tourist map, it still manages to retain these West Indian roots, and this is what makes it so special. It is a totally original space, a little rough around the edges but with a big heart. Since 2012 it has been the home to Brian Danclair’s ‘Fish, Wings and Tings’, which despite only having seating outside in the unheated arcade, has become a local institution serving West Indian favourites such as curried mutton and rice & peas. His new venture, Danclairs, is a slightly more elegant affair, it brings Caribbean ‘fusion food’ to Brixton with tapas-style dishes inspired by not only the Caribbean but Europe and the Americas. It also has seating inside, which is a huge plus for me as I’m always feeling the cold!…

On entering the small space you can’t escape the giant and very bright mural of Danclair’s grandmother which covers one wall (apparently she was Danclair’s inspiration for becoming a restauranteur). The menu is short, but everything shouts flavour, there are also a few cocktails – how could I resist an ‘Eldorado Rum Old Fashioned’, particularly as my Dad is from Guyana which is the home of this fantastic rum, it was a good start!… We then shared ‘BBQ Wings with Guava Glaze’ – these certainly packed a spicy punch, Nick loved them as did I, although my eyes were watering! I particularly enjoyed the ‘Chicken Empanadas with Chimichurri’, whilst the ‘Pepper Prawns’ were wonderfully sweet and fresh and, with the sauce on the side, rather fiery in a very tasty way! There was also Sea Bass, grilled and served with Tomato Concassé, a sauce of fresh, diced tomatoes with slightly piquant olives, and finally, a sirloin steak with chimichurri. All of the dishes were flavoursome with good, honest, home-comfort flavours, the only disappointment was that they don’t do desserts!

Danclairs is just the type of place you want to nip into for a quick bite, not only is the food super tasty, but the prices are reasonable and the service is really friendly!…

The Begging Bowl, Peckham, SE15

October 2021

Since opening in 2012, The Begging Bowl has become a Peckham landmark, attracting diners from all over London to try its authentic Thai menu. Pre-covid, more often than not, there was a queue outside, the fact that this now isn’t the case is by no means a bad thing – they have finally introduced a booking system and done away with their ‘first come first served’ policy…I hate queueing, so this has made The Begging Bowl even better! We returned just the other week for a fantastic meal in their relaxed, light-filled conservatory-style space. We have always eaten wonderful food here and our recent meal was no exception…

The menu consists of small sharing plates served with unlimited sticky and jasmine rice. As always we overordered, but somehow managed to eat everything! First, there was ‘Chive Cakes with Chilli & Soy Dip’, which were wonderfully sweet and salty and extremely moreish, and ‘Charcoal Grilled Sweetcorn, Toasted Coconut & Roasted Chilli Oil’ – these chargrilled sweetcorn bites were a step above the norm; the coconut dressing spiced with chilli was an inspired addition. These were followed by ‘Ginger, Peanut, Shallot, Coconut, Gagangal & Palm Sugar on Betel Leaves’, these were tiny explosions of punchy, sublime flavours – they were seriously good (we should have ordered more!). Next up, ‘Minced Mutton Salad, Tamarind Leaf, Celery, Green Tomato & Crispy Pork’, this was a type of spiced ‘bolognese’ lifted by the light, fresh flavour of green tomato and celery whilst ‘Stir Fry Pork, Ginger, Cloudy Ear Mushroom & Kajorn Flower’, was an eruption of flavours – including a touch of lemongrass perhaps?… the flavours were complex and very good! Our final savoury dish was the ‘Jungle Curry, Grilled Beef Rump, Grachai, Apple & Pea Aubergines’, I must admit I’m a little ‘shy’ of very spicy food, and this was quite spicy for me, but Nick absolutely loved it! Moving on to desserts, we shared the ‘Som Chom – Green Mango, Flat Peach, Lychee, Pandan Syrup, Crispy Shallot &Ice’, this was a beautifully light fruit salad-style dessert with a fresh sorbet base and ‘Banana Sesame Coconut Fritter, Palm Sugar Ice-Cream & Peanut Brittle’ – was, well – I think you can imagine how delicious the combination was – totally satisfying for any sweet tooth!

The Begging Bowl is by no means your ‘bog standard’ Thai restaurant, you won’t necessarily find a green chicken curry featured on its menu, but you will, without doubt, savour vibrant and complex tastes with hot, sour, sweet and salty Thai flavours… plus they do great cocktails!…

Smiths of Wapping, E1

September 2021

One of the things that I love about living in London is the endless array of restaurants it offers. Not only are there the constant flow of new openings with their exciting and fashionable flavours, but there are the older restaurants that escape our radars and are still to be discovered. Smiths of Wapping is one of those restaurants; having opened 10 years ago, despite its wonderful reputation for its fish, I only discovered it recently thanks to friends who have moved nearby.

On our recent visit, I enjoyed its informal, buzzy atmosphere and its rather ‘old school’ style; it’s the type of place where you could take your grandparents for Sunday lunch or on the other hand have a romantic meal for two. It’s reliable, like an old friend, you know exactly what to expect – a classic menu with the freshest fish cooked simply and superbly, plus it has the most wonderful view over Tower Bridge. On entering the restaurant there is no indication of the magnificent view it offers until you turn the corner from its rather nondescript reception; the dining room has floor to ceiling windows that overlook the Thames, there is honestly not a bad table in the house – the view is inescapable.

If you don’t like fish this is probably not the restaurant for you as Smiths is essentially a fish restaurant, they are very proud of their reputation for serving the freshest sustainable seafood – there are meat options, but ‘why would you?’…. On our recent visit, we enjoyed starters of ‘Tian of Avocado, Cornish White Crab & Peeled Prawns’ which was beautifully presented with exceptional, well-balanced flavours. The ‘Sweet Cured Arctic Herring Fillets, Chive Potato Salad & English Watercress’ were also seriously good – the sweet pickled herrings were perfectly cut by the creamy chive potato salad. Moving on, the extensive list of main courses included fish cooked in just about every way. Nick opted for the ‘Brixham Dover Sole’ meuniere style whilst I chose the ‘Fillet of Wild Cornish Turbot’, plainly grilled; both were incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection, in fact, the fillet of turbot was one of the best I have had. Finally, the dessert menu offered no surprises with its traditional fare, Nick chose a favourite, ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’ which was ‘fantastic(!)’ and I ordered the ‘Crème Brulee’, which was well done, rich and creamy.

So, if fish is your thing, Smiths of Wapping would definitely be on my list of restaurant recommendations, you won’t be disappointed with its classic menu and in addition, there is the view!…

(*Smiths of Wapping is the sister restaurant of Smiths of Ongar (in Essex),  it opened in 1958!!)

Behind, London E8

September 2021

I don’t usually start my reviews by saying “eat at this restaurant”….so pay attention when I say, “you must try ‘Behind’!”…We ate at ‘Behind’ on Saturday night and I felt the need to share our fantastic experience with you straight away…

Andy Beyon opened ‘Behind’ in October 2020, which was, considering covid, a bold decision yet just twenty days later he received his first Michelin star – quite a feat! From its relaxed Scandinavian-style interior, ‘Behind’ offers a wonderful fine dining concept; guests are served its 8-course ‘fish focussed’ tasting menu at the same time, seated around a large, spacious semicircular table that faces an open kitchen. By having such a great view of the kitchen, each guest can see ‘behind the scenes’ – hence the restaurant’s name.

On Saturday evening, we were shown to our seats by one of the chefs; there are no waitresses at Behind, instead, Beyon and his three sous-chefs take it in turns to serve their delicious dishes. Having the food ‘hand delivered’ by the chefs is another wonderful concept that makes the whole dining experience fully immersive and intimate – it’s very special, like being at a friends for dinner, only the cooking is far better! In addition, there is no written menu, we were told that it would be a ‘surprise’ and that the courses would be personally introduced when they arrived at the table. It was all rather exciting and, what a show it turned out to be!.. Each course featured a fantastic, complex array of flavours, I’m afraid I haven’t the vocabulary to describe each one in the fashion it deserves plus it would need far too many words, all I can say is that every course was incredible. Highlights were the ‘Scottish Crab Spiced Victoria Plum’, white crab meat was served on a delicate jelly and custard, made from the brown crab meat; the beautifully concentrated seafood flavour was perfectly matched by the sweetness of the Victoria plum whilst on the side, there was a tasty crab bisque – it was heavenly. ‘Roasted Hake, Palorde Clams & Sherry’, was equally divine, the Hake was cooked to perfection with a creamy broth and foam which literally made the dish sing with flavour. The fish croquette that was served on the side was a revelation, the ‘bread crumbs’ weren’t made from bread but fish scales – who would have known that they could be so tasty! ‘Guinea Fowl, Pumpkin & Seed’, was the single meat course, it was unbelievably well done; the guinea fowl had been rolled and cooked sous-vide, which resulted in the most tender and succulent guinea fowl I have tasted, it was served with a sublime sauce which was lifted by the sweetness of chargrilled pumpkin. The desserts were as delicious, they included an intense herb sorbet which on serving we were challenged to guess the three herbs it contained – the flavours were fabulous and intense; I won’t spoil the challenge by telling you its three components, you will have to try it yourself!…

‘Behind’ is the most immersive dining experience I have had, for someone like me who loves cooking it was naturally a dream to watch Beyon and his sous chefs prepare the dishes, but even if you’re not a keen cook you will appreciate the showmanship. It is mesmerising to watch the four chefs seamlessly move from the heat of the kitchen to professional table service and still manage to entertain their guests with a little chatter. Softly spoken and down to earth, Beyon is relaxed and open – the perfect host, at one point we asked about his background, it turns out that he has learnt his art on the job with stints at fine dining restaurants both in the UK (including Claude Bosi – see review here!) and abroad (Chicago). Judging by the fantastic menu we enjoyed on Saturday night, it would seem that he has taken the very best from this work experience.

You would think that a fine dining experience like this would be an extortionate price, but at £74 a head (£42 for the 6-course lunch!) it’s a steal, and what can I say, you would be silly not to try it… You’ve been told!…

Maremma, Brixton

September 2021

After eating at Maremma on quite a few occasions since it opened a few years ago, I have decided that everyone needs a neighbourhood Tuscan restaurant like this on their doorstep…excuse me for sounding smug when I tell you that Maremma is just ten minutes from mine! I like to think that I know a thing or two about Italian food, particularly that from the Tuscan region – we have been visiting this area regularly, having bought a small bolthole in the slightly unfashionable (cheaper) corner of Tuscany, ‘Lunigiana’, 18 years ago. During that time we have not only experienced the food on the well-trodden tourist track but also discovered some hidden gems known only to the locals and have eaten at the homes of our Italian neighbours (the best experience of all!). Italians are incredibly proud of their cuisine and each region is fiercely competitive with the next, each claiming theirs is the best the country can offer. Perhaps I am biased after spending so much time around the Tuscan people, but I think that it’s difficult to beat the specialities that evolve from Tuscany. The region is bordered by the sea on one side and the mountains on the other – enabling it to serve up the freshest seafood ‘al mare’ and also the rich, rustic food inspired by the produce inland and around the mountains, ‘alla terra’.

Sorry, I’m digressing(!)…the point is, is that neighbourhood restaurant, Maremma, brings these regional specialities to the outskirts of Brixton. Serving up authentic Tuscan food, they focus on a simple menu with quality ingredients; salumi, cheese and olive oil are sourced from the heart of the Tuscan region, fresh pasta is made on the premises daily and often meat and fish are cooked on a charcoal grill.

We recently enjoyed another delicious dinner in Maremma’s small, light, slightly rustic dining room. The short menu offers few surprises but is well executed. To start with we enjoyed their platter of salumi which was very fresh and flavoursome. We then enjoyed a rich and creamy ‘Pea and Broad Bean Risotto’ and a plate of ‘Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu’, that was fantastically meaty and slow-cooked to perfection. For our main courses, Nick chose the ‘Tagliata of Beef, Maremman Salt, Rocket and Pecorino’, this is a dish that we often eat in Tuscany, so it needed to be extremely good to please us, fortunately, it passed the test – the meat was ‘like butter’, beautifully tender! I chose the lighter option of ‘Guinea Fowl & Endive with Tarragon Aioli’, the guinea fowl had a wonderfully crisp skin and the meat was tender and moist; the tarragon aioli was the perfect complement whilst the bitter endive balanced its richness. We also ordered a side of ‘Crispy Potatoes’. Finally, we shared a chocolate lovers dream – ‘Chocolate and Plum Tart’ and ‘Yogurt Gelato & Stewed Figs’, which managed to be fresh and light despite the sweetness of the figs… both desserts were superb!

Maremma brings a small corner of Tuscany to South London, if you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s definitely worth a visit;  I would, without doubt, recommend that you try out its simple, authentic menu at the soonest opportunity!…

Naughty Piglets, Brixton

September 2021

I was back eating out in London last week and decided to return to our local neighbourhood restaurant, Naughty Piglets. I hadn’t eaten there since before the pandemic and was looking forward to returning as I had always enjoyed their well-priced, small tasty plates. Fortunately, little has changed.

Naughty Piglets describes itself as having ‘an English heart with a French accent’, which reflects the husband and wife team behind this small, buzzy bistrot; Joe, who is British, is the chef whilst his French wife, Margaux, is the friendly front-of-house face. Likewise, the modern British food has a French accent, indeed one can imagine this tiny, casual bistrot along a back street of a Paris suburb, fortunately for us, it’s just down the road in Brixton.

With just 29 covers the restaurant is very snug, on our recent visit we sat at one of their high bar tables, there is also a compact dining room with tables at the back; the space has a wonderfully casual vibe, just what you want when popping out locally. The menu is designed to share, so I was rather pleased that my son, Felix, had decided to join Nick and I as that meant we could share more plates and really do the menu justice!…We started with their ‘Ham Croquettes’, which for good reason are a regular feature on their menu – they are deliciously crisp on the outside and gooey in the middle. Next up was ‘Burrata Puttanesca’, the burrata was as it should be, wonderfully soft and creamy in the middle whilst the flavours of a deconstructed puttanesca sauce – capers and a rich tomato salsa – complemented it perfectly. ‘Isle of Mull Scallops with Garlic Butter & Parsley Oil’ were sweet, fresh and absolutely delicious with the garlicky butter which we quickly mopped up with bread! These were followed by ‘Raw Beef, Coffee Mayo & Focaccia’, the beef tartare was good and the coffee mayonnaise although a little different, strangely lifted the meaty flavours, but we couldn’t quite understand the need for the chargrilled focaccia on the side. Next, there was our favourite dish of the evening, ‘Roast Cod, Scottish Girolles & Beurre Blanc’, the cod was beautifully cooked with a crisp skin and the blanc beurre sauce was rich yet delicate and perfectly matched the tasty girolles. Finally we enjoyed ‘BBQ Pork Belly with Korean Spices’, the pork melted in our mouths whilst the spices made it sing. Desserts were a fantastic ‘Chocolate Delice with Hazelnut’ – the rich chocolate mousse was lifted by the slightly salted crumb base and whilst there were no surprises with the ‘Crème Caramel’, it was well done, sublime and creamy.

So, it goes without saying that if you are in the vicinity of Brixton do visit Naughty Piglets, but make sure you book first as I noticed a couple of customers without bookings being turned away!

The Pipe & Glass, South Dalton, East Yorkshire

August 2021

Just the other week we had another ‘staycation’ in Yorkshire, on this occasion we decided to visit the east of the county which we had never seen before. If I’m honest, this corner of Yorkshire has less to offer than its counterparts, but we were attracted to the area for the reputation of one restaurant in particular…The Pipe & Glass, a Michelin stared gastropub. Indeed just after I had booked our visit, I was pleased to see its appearance in an article in ‘The Times’ which featured the 25 best UK pubs for a staycation – admittedly we weren’t staying there (with hindsight we wished we had!), but the point was that the article was celebrating the food the Pipe & Glass offered…

The Pipe & Glass, a former 17th-century lodging house, can be found in the pretty village of South Dalton, near to the larger market town of Beverley. Husband and wife team, James and Kate, bought the pub in 2006 and by 2010 had acquired a Michelin star. These days it is recognized as one of Yorkshire’s premier gastro pubs; it prides itself on being first and foremost a proper pub, it’s possible to turn up just for a pint, however, the food really should not be missed!… The menu, which you can eat in both the bar or restaurant area, features traditional comfort food with subtle, inspired touches; there is nothing too complex, it’s just great, good British food. We ate at the pub twice on our recent visit, once for a light, impromptu lunch and the following evening for a proper full-blown meal. On our lunchtime visit we managed to nab a table outside and enjoyed a brief spell of sun, I chose the fish pie which had a lovely, crunchy cheddar crust and on the side a pickled fennel salad with brown shrimps – it was this little touch that took the traditional fish pie to a higher level. Nick chose the Roast Pork Loin, again it was the small additions that made this dish sing – the black pudding sausage roll and sage and cider gravy. When we returned for our evening reservation, we made sure we were hungry so we were able to enjoy three full courses!…This time we dined inside, the restaurant has a homely, unpretentious atmosphere. We both started with the ‘Proper’ Prawn Cocktail’, it was certainly a great prawn cocktail, generous in both size and flavour. Nick also had a couple of ‘Lindisfarne Oysters’, which were deliciously fresh and flavoursome. Moving on to our main courses I enjoyed ‘Roast Chicken Breast with Braised Peas & Lettuce, Champ Potato, Pickled Baby Mushrooms, Smoked Bacon Veloute & Summer Truffle’, it was well executed; what really made this dish was the pickled mushrooms and shavings of summer truffle – it was definitely not your average ‘pub grub’! Nick chose ‘Rump of Lamb with Beer, Barley and Broad Bean Risotto, Summer Vegetables, Mutton Belly Fritter, Nettle & Mint Sauce’, again everything was cooked perfectly, but it was the little extras – the fritter, the risotto and the nettle & mint sauce that lifted the dish to a higher level. Finally desserts, well naturally being a ‘pub’ there was sticky toffee pudding, which Nick couldn’t resist, but this of course was a step ahead of the traditional fare with a stout ice-cream and a little glass of stout(!) plus some walnut brittle – it was all extremely good. I chose the ‘Cinder Toffee Ice cream with Dark Chocolate Honeycomb Bites’, this was a deliciously creamy, slightly salted caramel ice cream with their gourmet version of the ‘Crunchie bar’ on the side – it was fantastic!

We very much enjoyed the traditional menu with its sophisticated twists, the portions are generous whilst the flavours are honest – this is the type of food every gastropub should be serving!…Next time we visit The Pipe & Glass, Nick and I have promised ourselves an overnight stay…perhaps it can be the starting point for a gastro tour around Yorkshire…

The River Café, W6

August 2021

Normally we spend our summer holidays in Italy, but as visitors from the UK are still required to quarantine for five days, we have been unable to visit. We have been particularly missing the wonderful Italian cuisine, and so we decided that if we couldn’t go to Italy we would have to settle for the next best thing…a meal at the River Café! The River Café is the mother of good Italian restaurants, it opened in 1987 originally as a canteen for Ruth Roger’s husband’s architectural practice and went on to win a global following, and publish a few cookbooks. If I’m totally honest, we haven’t dined at the River Café for some years, as due to our regular trips to Italy I have become a bit of an ‘Italian food snob’ and it irks me to pay the high prices which the River Café demands for food which I can get cooked just as well on our Italian travels. However, needs must and due to the current aforementioned circumstances, we decided that it was time to revisit. Getting a reservation at the River Café is no easy feat (another thing that irks me!); we booked our recent table for Sunday lunch back in May. When we booked, I had imagined that in August it would be at least sunny and we would be able to eat al fresco on their wonderful terrace on the banks of the Thames…but I was forgetting that this is England, not Italy, and indeed on our Sunday visit it was not just raining but pouring!… This wasn’t a bad thing though, as I had forgotten how much I liked the dining room – it seems to have changed little since its opening, it has a very early 90’s feel with an open plan, canteen-style that still manages to be elegant; its retro style brought back good memories.

The menu took us straight to the heart of Italy; there were antipasti including calamari, prosciutto with white peaches, pizzette and mozzarella di bufala whilst main courses included chargrilled leg of lamb with wood-roasted tomatoes and a veal chop roasted with capers & lemon. I did my best to ignore the prices and forget the comparable Italian cost, and instead enjoyed the moment, ordering the ‘Crab with Sorrento Tomato & Basil Aioli’ for my first course, whilst Nick ordered the ‘Ravioli with Mushrooms, Ricotta & Thyme’. Upon the first taste of these dishes we were smiling, yes, what a great decision it was to return to the River Café, how could we have left it so long?! The beautifully fresh crab was complemented by the incredibly sweet tomatoes that were undeniably Italian – it was simple chemistry on a plate, Italian style. Nick’s pasta lived up to his high expectations, it’s melt in your mouth texture was wonderful with the mushroom and ricotta, and a hint of thyme. The second courses were just as incredible, I chose the ‘Turbot Wood-Roasted with Clams, Basil, Zucchini Flowers and Spinach’,  it was a generous portion, cooked to perfection and complemented with baby courgettes with its flowers, spinach, and wonderfully plump clams. Nicks ‘Wood-Roasted Boned and Rolled Rabbit with Pancetta, Fresh Cannellini and Summer Truffle’ was equally flavoursome, the rolled, stuffed rabbit was incredibly moist and perfectly matched with fresh cannellini and summer truffle. Finally desserts, well naturally I had to have their famed ‘Chocolate Nemesis’, only recently I shared this recipe on MenuMistress (find the recipe here!), it was exactly how I had remembered, wonderfully rich and chocolatey – pure chocolate heaven. We also shared the ‘Pannacotta with Vanilla, Grappa Nardini and Roasted Peach’, it was a perfect pannacotta, just set and very creamy, served with white peaches – their delicate sweetness really made this dessert.

Our meal was fantastic, yes it was expensive for what appeared to be a simple Italian feast, but there could be no denying the quality of the carefully picked ingredients which truly sang on our plates, all perfectly seasoned and cooked. In fact, it was so good, that on returning home we went online to get a table for another Sunday lunch…it looks like November, if we’re lucky!…

Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, W1

July 2021

We were celebrating my birthday last weekend. Admittedly my birthday was back in April, but then, as we were under lockdown we couldn’t celebrate it in style at a restaurant. Therefore, on Saturday night, for my fine dining treat, we ate at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. Although I had never eaten at her restaurant, I had tasted her food through a fine dining takeaway that the restaurant offered during lockdown. Nick ordered it as a surprise Valentines meal, so it was his responsibility to cook it; it was delivered in beautiful boxes, and unfortunately, he confused the box with one of the main courses (a pigeon pie) for the starter, so I almost ended up eating this raw! Fortunately, he worked it out in the end and got the meal back on track, it was delicious even if the service wasn’t! Despite being a lovely treat, I don’t think that fine dining ‘takeaways’ work incredibly well as you really can’t replicate the atmosphere that a proper restaurant offers, and in turn, it’s difficult to justify the cost. So I was looking forward to the opportunity of having the complete Hélène Darroze experience!…

Having trained under Alain Ducasse, one can safely say that Hélène Darroze knows a thing or two about haute cuisine, indeed she now has three Michelin stars at The Connaught, which reflects her exceptional cooking. In addition, judging from the dining room which was refurbished just before Covid hit our shores, she has a good eye for interior style. The Dining Room is the epitome of elegance with pale wood panelling and coral coloured upholstery. I won’t lie I was a little disappointed to see that there were no white tablecloths, a thing that I love in a restaurant of this calibre, but I must admit the exposed wooden table tops did not take away from the warmth of the room and complemented its contemporary style. I particularly loved the two specially commissioned Damien Hirst ‘Butterfly’ collages that adorn the walls, they really are a stunning addition. It’s true to say that I would have been happy to transport this room back home!

On the evening of our visit, once seated, it seemed appropriate to enjoy a glass of champagne as we settled into our luxurious surroundings and perused the menu. We opted for the seven-course Summer menu. Before being served a selection of amuse bouche, we were given a light cucumber and verbena infusion to cleanse our palates, it was a nice idea, but a rather disappointing start to a meal that on paper sounded sensational; I was expecting the bright flavours of the cucumber and verbena, but instead it was rather medicinal. The amuse bouche that followed were far more thrilling, the ‘Melon with Sardine’ was refreshing and tangy whilst the ‘Crab Macaron’ was crisp and light but with the wonderful taste of crab. Our first course ‘Crab from Cornwall’ was even more impressive both in looks and taste, the combination of brown and spider crab was lifted by the zing of pomelo – it was rich yet light, very delcious. This was followed by ‘Sea Trout from Wales’ served ceviche style in a light ham consommé flavoured unusually with scots pine and served with ‘celtuce’ which is an Asian lettuce root, this dish promised to deliver a punch of flavour, but unfortunately, we found it lacking. In comparison, ‘Hélène’s Surprise’ (Fois Gras with Peach) which followed, was sensational, it was rich and sublime and the white peach was an elegant, subtly sweet addition. Equally thrilling was our next course ‘Lobster from Cornwall’, with tandoori spices, carrot, citrus and coriander, it was imaginative with its Asian flavours, which were exotic but did not overwhelm the sweetness of the lobster. Next up was ‘John Dory from Cornwall’ it was served with a ‘bagna cauda’ sauce. Bagna cauda is a dish that originates from Piemonte that is made from anchovies and garlic; I feared it would overwhelm the delicate fish, but this sauce was very subtly seasoned and deliciously creamy. There was a hint of kaffir lime which introduced, again, the Asian influence that Darroze seems to favour and which lifted this dish to a higher level, whilst the violet artichokes were a fantastic addition. The following course was ‘Lamb from North Wales’, with summer herbs, trompette courgette, haggis and girolles, if I’m honest this was a little disappointing, it was beautifully cooked, but its flavours were rather underwhelming. Our ‘pre-dessert’ was ‘Apricot from Provence’, this was the star of the menu, a whole delicately poached apricot, its sweetness offset by an olive oil panna cotta and the subtlety of sorrel – really fantastic. Finally, to end the meal, we shared two desserts – ‘Chocolate from Vietnam’, was a rich chocolate ganache served with warm coffee and cardamom sauce – it was a chocolate lovers dream! The ‘Signature Baba’ promised to be the star of the show; a little sponge cake was brought to the table and you were asked to choose one of three of ‘Darroze’s Armagnacs’, the waiter then generously poured this over the sponge and topped it with Chantilly cream and raspberries. It was great showmanship, but did not deliver the complex flavours that one would expect from a three-star Michelin chef – it wasn’t the end to our meal that we had hoped for.

Without doubt the quality of the food and the service at Hélène Darroze are exceptional. We couldn’t fault the presentation and remarkable standard of the cooking, however we did feel that some of the flavours were not as rounded and full as we would have expected. Having said that, the complete ‘Darroze’ experience is worth splashing out on for a treat and yes, I would be very happy to return, although with prices as high as Darroze’s it probably won’t be in the near future!…

The Leaping Hare, Bury St Edmunds

July 2021

The Leaping Hare is one of the jewels of Suffolk’s crown. Owned by Wyken Vineyards, who produce award-winning wines, it has a wonderful setting on a 1200-acre farm surrounded by quintessential Suffolk countryside; country lanes, hedgerows, patchwork fields and woodlands. Our lunch coincided with the most beautiful day of the year, summer had finally arrived in the UK and the Suffolk countryside was looking particularly spectacular – just driving out to the restaurant was a joy! The restaurant is housed in a converted 400 year old barn, its high beamed ceilings and airy space are quite striking; it was the perfect place to enjoy a long lunch with friends on a sweltering afternoon…

The menu is a blend of modern and traditional European dishes, the emphasis is on seasonal, thus flavoursome, food, they often use locally sourced ingredients (these are noted on the menu). We started with a refreshing glass of Wyken Elderflower & Lemon Aperitif, which was pretty much the perfect summer spritz. Then, of course, we had to order some of the Wyken wine (we opted for the ‘Madeline Angevine’ which was light and smooth – easy drinking on a summers day). With our drinks ordered we moved onto our starters which included, ‘Green Vegetable Minestrone with Wyken Garlic’, it was deliciously light, yet full of the flavour of summer vegetables, with the faint hint of fresh garlic, whilst ‘Cromer Crab, Mozzarella, Suffolk Tomato Consommé’, was equally light and delicious, with just the right amount of creamy mozzarella and tomato so that the tasty crab was not overwhelmed. For my main course, I chose ‘Roast Cod, Clams, Charred Courgette & Broad Beans’, the fish was perfectly cooked, but the stand out ingredients in this dish were the courgettes and broad beans – they were extremely fresh as if just picked. Nick chose ‘Suffolk Pork Loin, Peas, Broad Beans, Jersey Royals, Mustard & Caper Sauce’, it was a plate that literally sung with colour and flavour – once again garden-fresh. Finally, desserts… well how could I not chose the ‘Chocolate Ganache, Sour Cherry Sorbet, Kirsch Cherries & Hazelnut’?….it did not disappoint, the cherries with the rich chocolate were a superb combination. I also shared the ‘Iced Pavlova, Wyken Gooseberries & Elderflower’, a wonderful, seasonal dessert; not surprisingly, it was the sharp yet sweet gooseberries which particularly performed here – although the meringue was of course fantastic!

Our lunch was not only delicious but the atmosphere in the restaurant was friendly and relaxed – the service was excellent, we were given time to digest our courses at our own pace yet the staff were always on hand when we needed them. Afterwards, I had planned to discover the Wyken’s gardens and woodland walk, but it was rather too hot on this particular day (especially after a glass or two of their wine!), so I will have to return when it is cooler to experience them, and of course another long lunch!

If you’re in Suffolk, The Leaping Hare is a restaurant worth a detour. I was particularly impressed with how, in every dish, it was possible to taste each individual ingredient and how incredibly fresh and flavoursome they were. They do not overcomplicate their dishes they simply interpret the ingredients and cook them well, what more could you ask for?…

Butley Orford Oysterage

July 2021

The Butley Orford Oysterage has been run by the Pinney family since the 1960s, indeed, with its formica tables and green and white paintwork, it is rather like stepping back in time. There is nothing fancy about the interior but don’t be fooled by this lack of refinement, this is its charm and the important thing is that they know exactly how to serve the local fish and shellfish…

On our recent visit with friends, we began by sharing a few starters… ‘Griddled Squid,’ was a joy – fresh and not at all ‘rubbery’, exactly how squid should be and very often isn’t. ‘Garlic & Chilli Prawns’, were very moreish and delicious with bread to dip into the garlicky oil, and ‘Taramasalata’, was fresh and creamy. We also had a plate of smoked fish, which was a great way to try their locally fished and smoked produce, plus a couple of their famed oysters – it was all fantastic. For main courses we had their ‘Wing of Skate’ and  ‘Grilled Dover Sole’, these were extremely good and served exactly how the freshest of fish should be – simply, there was just a little caper butter for the skate and a wedge of lemon with the Dover sole (new potatoes were served on the side – they don’t do chips!). Desserts were a ‘Strawberry Meringue’ and a warm, very moist ‘Chocolate Almond Cake’, they were simple in a home-cooked way and very tasty.

It goes without saying that I would recommend the Butley Orford Oysterage, not only was the quality of the fish excellent, but I also loved the ‘no frills’, relaxed atmosphere and the friendly, professional service; we sat in the front room (I would request a table here as the back room looked a little dingy).

Afterwards, we took a late summer evening stroll around the picturesque village of Orford down to its quay. Orford is now one of my favourite Suffolk villages, not only does it have a castle and pretty cottages, but it is also home to the Butely Orford Oysterage plus the ‘Pump Street’ Bakery and Chocolate Shop – what more could any village wish for?…fish, bread and chocolate!!…

Sole Bay Fish Co, Southwold

July 2021

Set on the working harbour at Southwold, overlooking the River Blyth towards Walberswick, ‘The Sole Bay Fish Co’ serves up their daily catch fresh from the sea. The restaurant isn’t much to look at, it’s literally a few ramshackle fisherman’s shacks, which include a stall that sells wet fish and shellfish. You can eat outside, however, you can only order from a limited takeaway menu, so for the ‘real deal’ it’s best to eat inside where you can enjoy the full restaurant menu which includes their incredible lobster and crab platters.

The Southwold to Walberswick foot ferry is just beside the restaurant, so before our lunchtime visit, we took the 2-minute boat ride over to Walberswick for a quick stroll before returning, totally charmed by the surrounding area, for a well-earnt lunch!… We started with a selection of oysters, these were not only served traditionally with red wine vinaigrette but were also beer-battered and pan-fried with garlic – they were superb. We also shared ‘Chargrilled Crevettes’ in a lemon and garlic butter served with lemon mayonnaise, I could have eaten these all day, they were that good! For our main course we had ‘Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillet’ and ‘Half Chargrilled Lobster with Garlic Butter Sauce’; the lobster was the winning dish, it was sweet and the flesh was tender, really delicious. Both dishes were served with chips which were the ‘proper homemade’ type, it’s worth coming here just for these! Unfortunately, they don’t serve desserts, actually, I admire them for sticking to what they know best – fish. So, on this particularly sunny afternoon, we decided to saunter down into Southwold for an ice-cream. It was only as we were leaving the restaurant that I noticed their fresh rollmop herrings on a neighbouring table, I have a soft spot for these – how could I have missed them on the menu?! Naturally, I will now have to return to try them… What a great excuse to revisit… See you there!

The Station Hotel, Framlingham

July 2021

From the outside the Station Hotel looks rather unconvincing as a gastropub, it has a rather dilapidated exterior and hasn’t got the best location. However, the owners of our Airbnb recommended it, and so last Saturday we decided to pop in for an impromptu lunch – it was so good that we decided to return for supper the following evening!…

Inside, the pub has retained its traditional charm with simple rustic wooden tables whilst outside there is a small, rather higgledy-piggledy courtyard garden. On our first lunchtime visit, we sat outside – making the most of the long-awaited sunshine – and ordered two main course dishes. I enjoyed, ‘Mackerel, Gooseberry, Samphire & New Potatoes’, the skin of the mackerel was beautifully chargrilled and the combination of the sharp gooseberries, fresh cucumber and salty samphire worked well. Nick chose ‘Chicken Milanese with Mash & Spinach’ (apparently Ed Sheeran is a local here and according to the waitress, this is one of his favourites!). I was a little sceptical that this dish would pass Nicks critique as this is one of his home-cooked favourites and he likes it ‘just so’…but this dish passed with flying colours, even the mashed potatoes, which he was unsure would work alongside the dish, was applauded!… So after the success of this quick lunch, we returned the following evening for supper, this time we had a ‘Panzanella Salad’ (fresh and well balanced with just a touch of saltiness from the anchovies) and ‘Confit of Duck with Baby Gem & Peas and Sauté Potatoes’ (the duck was crisp, moist and well balanced by the sweet peas). This time we tried desserts, two classic choices: a ‘Lemon Posset’ and ‘Strawberry Eton Mess’, both well done.

The Station Hotel is a great example of how a good gastropub should be, the menu was inspiring and the quality of the food was outstanding whilst the pub itself has a relaxed, ‘no frills’, friendly atmosphere. If I lived nearby, this would be my go-to eatery. So, if you’re in the vicinity I would definitely recommend a visit to The Station Hotel which is the star of Framlingham’s restaurant scene! …

Watson & Walpole, Framlingham

July 2021

We were very happy to discover that Watson & Walpole, was just down the road from our Airbnb. One of Watson & Walpole’s co-owners is Ruth Watson, who has been in the restaurant business for around forty years and is well known for being the presenter of TV’s ‘The Hotel Inspector’. Consequently, she knows a thing or two about the successful running of a restaurant, even so, opening a restaurant in 2020 at the height of Covid is an admirable feat. Despite its rather English name, Watson & Walpole is an Italian restaurant, since its opening, its authentic menu has attracted a loyal local following…

We dined there on the first evening of our holiday and it was a great start to our week. The interior of Watson and Walpole is simple and modern, suited for a neighbourhood Italian, although I did find it a little sterile. The menu was uncomplicated; a choice of seven starters and seven mains, including pasta, meat and fish; my one gripe was that they didn’t offer the option of gluten free pasta. We started by sharing ‘Frittura of Brown Shrimps and Lemon Slices’, I have tasted quite a few ‘Frito Misto’ in Italy and I have to say that this was every bit as good – the wafer-thin fried lemon slices, were a revelation, really delicious! Afterwards, we enjoyed our starters, ‘Chargrilled Octopus, Celery, Potato, Caper & Parsley Salad’ which was very fresh, the ingredients beautifully complemented each other, and ‘Coppa with Young Broad Bean Pods & Pecorino Saracena’, was a simple dish, but with quality ingredients – the Coppa was excellent and the broad beans, cooked in their pods were sweet and meaty. For our main courses we chose, ‘Wood Roasted Lamb with Fresh Borlotti Beans & Salsa Rossa’, the slow-cooked lamb was particularly flavoursome, whilst the ‘Vitello Tonnato Caldo’ was an interesting take on the traditional ‘Vitello Tonnato’ (wafer-thin slices of veal served cold) here the wood-roasted veal was served warm, in thicker medallions with a tuna salsa – I really enjoyed this subtly salty dish. Finally, desserts; Nick went for a classic end to his meal with ‘Tiramasu’ (can that ever be a bad decision?!) and I chose ‘Ricciarelli with Gooseberry Compote & Mascarpone’, the almond biscuit was perfect with the gooseberry compote.