Eating Out

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.

It was a great meal, unpretentious with quality ingredients, and the service was professional yet friendly – it is exactly what you would expect from a restaurant co-owned by Watson and exactly what any town needs as its neighbourhood eating spot!

Also worth a try…

The Easton White Horse, Easton

July 2021

This recently refurbished gastro pub is housed in a rustic 16th century hostelry which has a picturesque setting in the quaint village of Easton. We enjoyed a good meal here, the menu of classic British pub classics focuses on local, seasonal produce, it is well thought out and executed. I was particularly impressed at how accommodating they were – there were no gluten free desserts on the menu but the chef managed to rustle me up some chargrilled peaches, meringue and cream with a passionfruit coulis, it was delicious!…

Claude Bosi at Bibendum, South Kensington

July 2021

Last week we were celebrating Nick’s birthday, so we had the perfect excuse for a fine dining experience! On Saturday evening we headed up to South Kensington to dine at Claude Bosi’s two-starred Michelin restaurant which is housed in the iconic Bibendum building (Michelin House). Before we talk about Claude Bosi and his food, first of all, I must give you the low down on the actual premises of the restaurant, because when you eat here you are not only experiencing fine food but also the beauty of the art deco premises. Bibendum was built in 1911 for the Michelin Tyre Company, the front was originally a tyre-fitting bay for passing motorists. The architecture of the building was designed around Bibendum (or Michelin Man) who was the company’s mascot – he features on the mosaic floor tiles, the ceramics on the walls and most impressively on the stained glass windows. It is these same impressive stained glass windows that these days look down on diners at Claude Bosi, making the dining room one of the most attractive that there is. Indeed, when I entered the room I felt myself swoon, not only were the windows striking but also the high ceilings created an elegant, airy room and the well-spaced tables were clothed wonderfully in white – it was all very old-school, something that I particularly like when I’m eating this calibre of food (and paying the price!).

We were seated at one of their window seats which gave us a magnificent view of the aforementioned room and also the central kitchen which was housed behind a glass wall – like a machine encased in a glass box – so it was possible to see the mesmerising mechanics of the restaurant. As we relaxed into the stylish vibe we enjoyed a cocktail, I chose a ‘New Old Fashioned’ which was a modern take on the traditional Old Fashioned substituting orange for yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), it was extremely good. We then got down to business and ordered our food; we chose the tasting menu, which with six courses plus a selection of amuse bouche, promised to be a show-stopping meal.

The ‘show’ started with a selection of amuse bouche which were miniature tastes of Bosi’s favourite creations including the ‘Bibendum Egg’, they were all fantastic, in fact, I took one mouthful of the foie gras ice-cream and uttered the words ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven’ – it was that good!… If this was only the beginning, how on earth would they top this incredible start?… Well, top it they did, with our first course, ‘Tomato Caprese’. Naturally, this was not reminiscent of the Caprese salad we are accustomed to, it was a gorgeous looking dish with stunning flavours, the cheese was recreated into a light mousse whilst the tomatoes were totally transformed into intense, sweet balls. Next up was ‘Orkney Scallops’, I think this has got to be one of the best scallop dishes I have had; ceviche of scallop was finely chopped with a light, fragrant elderflower and lemon jelly, their sweetness was delicately complemented by the subtle saltiness of the purée of roe on which they sat. This was followed by another heavenly course, ‘Turbot with English Peas & White Miso’. It was a skilfully balanced dish; a light risotto which was unusually flavoured with horseradish was served alongside, its sharpness complemented the freshness of the turbot and the sweet peas without overpowering them. By this point Nick and I were on ‘cloud nine’ – all the courses which we had so far tasted were faultless. Having had the fortune to eat at a few three-starred Michelin restaurants we were rather incredulous that Bosi only had two stars, how could that be with food of this calibre?… Our next course was ‘Veal Sweetbread with Black Olive, Anchovy & Feta Cheese’, this brought us slightly back down to earth… I must admit that having tried sweetbreads (the glands of a calf) many years ago at another top restaurant I avoid them; they are an acquired taste and although I eat most things I have never managed to acquire the taste for these! I probably should have asked if it was possible to substitute this course when I ordered the menu, but I felt that it was a shame to upset the flow of a chef’s tasting menu and I’m always willing to try things (again). Despite this dish being visually beautiful, I found the offal overpowering, but perhaps, for someone who has acquired the taste for sweetbreads, these could well have been the best they had ever tasted. However, I do feel that sweetbreads are a rather self-indulgent dish for a chef to put on his tasting menu – I noticed a few unfinished plates on neighbouring tables, so I was obviously not the only one who found the dish difficult to stomach. Our next course was more to my liking, ‘Galacian Beef’, the meat was perfectly tender and the flavours were interesting. However, we did feel that Bosi was trying too hard to impress as it was over contrived and thus the ingredients, including a pickled walnut which we were advised to eat in small pieces(!), overpowered each other. Our next course, a pre-dessert, put the meal back on track, ‘Almonds with Yuzu and Linden Honey’, was a delicious almond-milk sorbet shaved into flakes, it was incredibly light yet with complex flavours – it was very refreshing. Nick and I then shared two choices for dessert. ‘English strawberries, Toasted Marshmallows, Green Shiso & Plum Sake’, was a rich, very ‘mallowy’ dessert in which wild strawberries were complemented by caramelised marshmallow. Then there was the utterly unusual, ‘English Peas, Camomile & Coconut’, you had to admire the skill of this dessert – not only for its beauty but for its subtlety, it was refreshing yet luxurious. Finally, to end our meal a waiter appeared with a trolley of petit fours inviting us to choose a few – we opted for ‘Banana’, ‘Coffee & Caramel’, ‘Raspberry Jelly’ and ‘Passionfruit’, they were the perfect finale to an incredible meal.

Eating at Claude Bosi is a wonderful dining experience, from the moment you enter the elegant dining room you know it’s going to be special; it is fine dining at its best. Not only are the plates mesmerising but they have intense flavours which are awe inspiring, plus there is the fantastic service, which is unfailingly attentive yet never intrusive, but most importantly friendly and not at all stuffy. Yes, there were one or two disappointments (the sweetbreads and the beef), which probably explains why Bosi has not yet acquired his third Michelin star, but the quality and skill of the cooking cannot be denied. Despite the eye-watering bill – yes the prices are punishing – I would recommend Claude Bosi for a special occasion meal or just a very indulgent treat!…

Bocca di Lupo, Soho

July 2021

If you’re familiar with London restaurants you will have no doubt heard of Bocca di Lupo. Since opening in 2008, has firmly established itself as the institution for foodies who demand the best Italian cuisine outside of Italy. Its menu is a celebration of the country’s regional food; their classically inspired dishes often have a slight twist but the flavours are always authentic. Last week I returned to Bocca di Lupo in the heart of Soho and enjoyed a magnificent meal…

Entering the restaurant is a little like coming home – it’s lively, relaxed and welcoming. I really like the space; at the front, there is an open kitchen with bar side seats (perfect for casual diners), and at the back, there’s the dining room which is smart yet buzzy – very ‘Soho’! The menu serves most dishes as small or large plates, so it’s possible to try lots of small plates which are great for sharing or you can simply choose a large one, or if you’re greedy, like us, you can order a combination of the two!

On our recent visit we started with small plates to share: ‘Sea bream carpaccio, Rosemary & Orange’, ‘Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil’, ‘Olive Stuffed with Minced Pork & Veal’ and ‘Rigatoni with Sheep Ricotta, Broad Beans & Basil’. These were all incredibly good; the wonderfully fresh seabream was complemented with the delicate flavour of orange which gave the dish the right level of ‘tang’. The mozzarella salad, although simple, had flavours that took me straight back to Italy, the distinctive taste of the basil was quite stunning whilst the tomatoes were those flavoursome, meaty ones that you can only really find in Italy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t share the rigatoni as I am gluten free, the same went for the minced pork ball which was fried in breadcrumbs – Nick rather smugly informed me that they were both delicious (he can eat for England!). Moving on, we chose the ‘Honey Marinated Pork Chop & Rosemary’ – the pork was cooked perfectly with a hint of pink, whilst the subtly sweet gravy was delicious. On the side, we ordered Courgette Trifolate, which was simply courgettes sautéed with chilli & parsley, but the freshness of the ingredients made this a stand out dish. Also simple yet stunning was our order of salad  – traditional Escarole lettuce with a lemon dressing. We then got rather carried away ordering desserts – the idea of sharing plates encouraged us to order rather more than we could comfortably eat however, somehow we managed! We chose: ‘Chocolate & Marzipan Ball with Rum & Raisins’ (a must for marzipan lovers!), ‘Wild Strawberries with Rice Gelato’ (a lovely milky ‘rice pudding’ ice-cream complementing the sweet, tiny wild strawberries), and ‘Hazelnut Gelato Profiterole & Chocolate Sauce’ (beautifully balanced flavours). We didn’t stop there, we also ordered a couple of their dessert-like sweetened coffees, ‘Caffè allo Zabaione’ (espresso topped with creamy beaten egg yolks) and ‘Bicerin’ (hot chocolate & espresso topped with cream); what a finale they were to a magnificent meal!!… We were well and truly stuffed but in that most pleasing way.

So, I am sure that you can recognise that I would, without a doubt, recommend a visit to Bucco di Lupo! It’s the type of restaurant where I would like to spend my entire day; eating through their menu from morning until late into the evening. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be possible, as due to their popularity there is naturally a demand for reservations, and the friendly restaurant staff have an art for encouraging the turnover of tables!…

*TIP: Bucco di Lupo also owns Gelupo, a wonderful authentic gelateria. It can be found across the road from the restaurant – it is well worth a visit. In addition to the classics such as chocolate and pistachio they have more unusual flavours, including my personal favourite ‘Ricotta Sour Cherry’!

Kitty Fishers, Mayfair

June 2021

Having had a few weekends away, we were back eating out in London on Saturday night and we enjoyed a meal at ‘Kitty Fishers’ with friends.

When Kitty Fishers opened its doors in December 2014 it attracted rave reviews and it was nigh on impossible to get a reservation. At the time, when I did manage to get a table, although I enjoyed the food,  I did think it was overhyped – a little too trendy for its own good. In recent years, the buzz around Kitty Fishers has calmed, and I must admit, when I visited last weekend, I preferred the calmer not so smug atmosphere. The dimmed interior has a warm boudoir style to reflect its namesake, Kitty Fisher, who was a famed 18th-century courtesan who lived nearby. The space is rather snug – I have only ever eaten in the upstairs, small dining room beside the bar, I like this rooms cosy yet lively vibe. They also have a slightly larger basement dining room lined with red banquette seating; both rooms have quirky character. The advantage of being seated upstairs beside the bar is that you can see all the wonderful signature cocktails being made, the disadvantage is that they’re difficult to resist!

On the evening of our visit, I was feeling particularly hungry and was comforted by the traditionally themed modern British menu. For my starter I chose the ‘Pickled Cornish Mackerel, Crème Fraiche & Dill’, I adore mackerel pickled this way, and this dish definitely delivered on the flavour front. Our friends were more adventurous and chose the ‘Globe Artichoke and Herb Vinaigrette’, it looked magnificent, although I must admit I personally don’t have the patience to eat this dish, but my friends assured me that it was well worth the effort and that this particular artichoke was perfectly cooked. Moving on to our main course we all chose to share a couple of the ‘Belted Galloway Wing Rib, Tarragon & Green Peppercorn Butter’, it was a beautiful T-bone steak, a quality piece of meat cooked on the rare side – exactly how we like it! It was served with a watercress salad and delicious crispy potatoes which were unbelievably good – better than the traditional chip! It was a simple dish, cooked extremely well. Finally, dessert, Nick and I both chose the ‘Summer Berry Mess’, which was of course a take on the classic Eton Mess; it hit the right spot. Our friends chose the ‘Tutti-Frutti Ice-cream’ which was also well done.

So the verdict?… Kitty Fishers serves modern British food that cannot fail to please, it doesn’t necessarily offer any great surprises but it delivers quality dishes with honest flavours, although these are pricey. It’s a good place to dine with friends as it’s intimate yet has a lively atmosphere and the cocktail list is sure to be enjoyed!

The Saltern, Lymington

June 2021

Last week, I was visiting family and friends in and around the New Forest. Having grown up in the area and visited regularly over the years, the lack of good restaurants in this region has always puzzled me. Being generally an affluent area (Sandbanks, the home of celebrities and multi-millionaires is just down the road) you would think that the market was ripe for restauranteurs, but up until now, this hasn’t been the case. Fortunately, things appear to be looking up. The Pig (review here) which was in fact founded some years ago, has perhaps been the catalyst for this change. Whilst just recently The Elderflower, a fine dining restaurant in Lymington, received the recognition it deserved and was featured on an episode of the BBC’s ‘Remarkable Places to Eat’; although, the downside of this review is that it is now impossible to get a reservation – I have managed to get one for next year! This of course proves that there is a demand for good restaurants yet not enough supply. So on my recent visit, I was excited to be trying a couple of new gastropubs which have created a buzz on the local grapevine. The review for the first place I tried was hindered by my aforementioned excitement which was exacerbated by the fact that I was meeting up with friends who I hadn’t seen in a very long time, and so I forgot to take any photos, which rather hinders a good review! Therefore, although my experience at the Gun Inn, Lymington was very positive and a place I would recommend, my review will have to wait until I can revisit with my camera. I learnt from this mistake, and the following day when I had lunch at The Saltern, I was armed and ready for photos…

The Saltern’s owners, Joe and Henry, met at school in Lymington. Their passion for food and the hospitality industry took them away for some years, but after experiencing both sides of the industry – Joe is the chef and Henry is front of house – they decided to return home and open The Saltern. It is still early days, and on entering the restaurant I found the interior rather ‘fresh’ and still a little ‘empty’. Indeed they will be the first to admit that it is a ‘work in progress’; they have ambitious plans for The Saltern which include a landscaped garden with a live-fire kitchen and an edible garden for growing produce. But of course, right now it’s the food that is the most important thing and this was the main reason for my visit…

The menu of sharing plates is seasonally inspired, and on the day we visited it was difficult not to over order as everything seemed delicious on the refreshingly simple menu. In the end, we decided to start with ‘Bloody Mary Oysters’, which although we couldn’t taste the ‘Bloody Mary’ element, were wonderfully fresh – a real treat. We then enjoyed the ‘Wild Bass Crudo & Cherry’, which, again, was beautifully fresh; the seasonal cherries were the perfect complement. For our shared ‘main event’ we chose ‘Salmon & Gooseberry’ and ‘Porchetta & Gravy’, these were both delicious. The Salmon was cooked perfectly whilst the bittersweet gooseberry purée was a recipe that I’d like at home. The porchetta was also a dream; melt in your mouth good with just the right amount of crackling. On the side we ordered the ‘Ratte Potatoes & Smoked Butter’, I would have been happy to eat the whole plate of these by myself! We also chose ‘Mangteout & Mint’, I must admit that we almost didn’t order these as I think that mangetout is a rather overrated vegetable, but these were possibly the best mangetout I have tasted, they were slightly chargrilled, which gave a smoky flavour that was great with the mint. Finally, desserts, ‘Raspberry Frangipani & Cream’, a great tart which was eaten very quickly! We also shared scoops of ‘Lemon Verbena Ice- cream’ – creamy and fresh – and ‘Cherry Sorbet’, plus ‘Chocolate Ganache & Strawberry’ – very moreish!

The Saltern is, without doubt, the new restaurant that Lymington (and the surrounding area) has been crying out for. I must admit that living in London I am rather spoilt by the choice of good restaurants, however, I felt a little envious that The Saltern was a ‘stone’s throw’ from my friend’s house!

The Rattle Owl, York

June 2021

The Rattle Owl is the type of place every town needs – an independent, casual dining restaurant offering quality and value. Set within the historic walls of York, housed in a restored 17th century building, The Rattle Owl has a lovely relaxed interior that is at once welcoming. Their seasonal menu has firmly established itself in the hearts of both the locals and tourists, and it is particularly renowned for its Sunday lunches. So on our recent visit to York, before heading home to London, Nick and I decided that we had to sample their Sunday lunch!…

On the Sunday we visited, the menu offered Roast Beef Sirloin or Roast Mutton, both were served with roast potatoes and vegetables, and of course with Yorkshire Puddings. There was also a fish and a vegetarian choice. Before our chosen main courses we ordered starters – we both opted for the ‘Cured Trout, Wild Horseradish, Dark Rye, Fennel & Gin’. It was an elegant starter, wonderfully light, but beautifully flavoured with a horseradish ice-cream and gin jelly.  Moving on to the ‘main event’, Nick followed the traditional route choosing the Beef Sirloin; the beef was cooked to perfection, the roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings had just the right amount of crisp without being heavy with fat, and the vegetables were lightly dressed in butter with a touch of garlic. We were both impressed with the clean flavours of this roast. Having eaten out on the previous two evenings, and having rather overindulged (reviews below!), I felt the need for a lighter main course, so ordered the ‘Cod, Mussel and Thornbourough Cider Sauce, Wilted Spinach, Shetland Mussels & Asparagus’. This dish particularly confirmed the ability of The Rattle Owl’s kitchen – the cod was cooked beautifully, and the mussels gave a subtle, salty flavour which was cut by the delicate cider sauce. Finally desserts, following the tradition of Sunday roast menus, there was a wonderful Sticky Toffee Pudding, which Nick chose, whilst I opted for the ‘slightly’ lighter option of ‘85% Ecuador Single Origin Chocolate Delice with a Coco Nib Tuile & Rapeseed Ice Cream’! As its name would suggest, the chocolate in this dessert was incredibly flavoured, rich and intense, however it was beautifully cut by the creamy rapeseed ice-cream.

The Rattle Owl gave us a wonderful end to our weekend in York. Their Sunday Roast is one of the best I have had at a restaurant. It demonstrated the flare of their chef, Tom Heyward, and I will definitely be returning on another day to try their à la carte menu!…

Arras, York

June 2021

Last weekend I was back in one of my favourite cities, York. This time not only did I get the chance to eat at Meltons, which was once again fabulous (see my review from December here) but also at Arras. I had been wanting to eat at Arras for some time, having heard good things about it, plus I was intrigued by their story. Owned by Lovaine and Adam Humphrey, Arras was originally opened in Australia – yes, you read that correctly – Australia!…But, the British couple, eventually felt the pull to return home, and they chose to bring Arras to York! The experience of cooking in two continents can’t be a bad thing, indeed Arras strives to deliver ‘thought provoking and interesting food inspired by their travels’…I was hoping I was in for a treat!…

On the evening we dined at Arras it was a warm, sunny evening, but unfortunately, it was a little too chilly to eat outside on their small, pretty terrace however, it would have made the perfect spot for lunch. Inside, the restaurant’s dining room is a modern, light filled space, which I felt could have benefited from lower level lighting to make the room a little more intimate, although it did enable us to see very clearly the beautiful courses we were eating!…Our meal began with some delicious canapes, including a selection of gluten free ones for me plus homemade gluten free bread! It isn’t very often that I get the treat of gluten free bread as good as this; they also own ‘Little Arras’, a French inspired bakery in the centre of York! Throughout our meal, I was not only impressed by their attention to my dietary requirements but also by their obvious enthusiasm for the food that they served.

After a delicious amuse bouche (a light potato & garlic soup served with asparagus) we enjoyed our first courses. I chose the ‘Quail, Beetroot, Game Ragu & Spiced Sauce’, the sweetness of the quail was perfectly complemented by the earthy flavour of the beetroot and subtle spice – it was a great dish. Nick’s ‘Cured Haddock Cocktail, Lettuce, Cucumber & Pink Grapefruit’, was also good, however, we felt that the sharp flavour of the grapefruit rather overwhelmed the dish. Moving on to our main courses, we chose the ‘Cod, Young Vegetables, Mussels, Saffron & Chickpea Veloute’, this was superb, the cod was enhanced by the beautiful fresh flavours of the root vegetables whilst the mussels were unusually pickled – they really gave the dish a subtle punch. We also chose the ‘Sirloin, Beef Olive, Celeriac, Sauce Bercy & Marrow’, this was cooked well, but we did find that there was a lot ‘going on’ in the dish, almost too much…the flavours were competing rather than complementing each other. However, saying that, it was a tasty dish, just a little overwhelming. Finally desserts, a fantastic ‘Lemon & Liquorice’, which was a mousse and ice-cream combo, here, both the two flavours and the textures beautifully complemented each other! We also shared the ‘Rhubarb & Burnt Butter’, you can’t really go wrong with rhubarb in my opinion, and this dessert was a great success!

Arras, delivered its aim to present ‘thought provoking and interesting food’. On the whole, the meal was a success, I did feel that a couple of the dishes were a little contrived, however, this showed that they were willing to take risks and present their guests with a meal which would be tasty, memorable and different – which it was. And for that reason, I will definitely be returning to Arras in the future…

Coast, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

May 2021

On our recent long weekend to Pembrokeshire, we enjoyed dinner at the fantastic ‘Coast’ restaurant; there are not many restaurants in this corner of Wales that offer the high standard of cooking that they deliver. Coast, as its name would suggest, is located on Coppet Hall beach and has magnificent coastal views. On the evening we visited, we were particularly fortunate that the terrible, wet May weather gave us some respite, and the sun was (almost) out, allowing us to enjoy the wonderful panorama. When we managed to tear our eyes from the wonderful view we were greeted by beautifully presented dishes, which would not out be out of place at any top London restaurant.

In addition to our chosen dishes, there were complimentary appetisers which really added to the fine dining experience that Coast strives (and achieves) to deliver; ‘Today’s & Yesterday’s Bread’ was an inspired way to serve bread – a fresh slice of today’s bread with an incredibly tasty slice of yesterday’s, soaked in a beef broth! Our starters were as impressive, the ‘Salmon, Oyster & Cucumber’ was beautifully fresh; salmon was subtly salted with an oyster, whilst cucumber, lightly pickled, rounded off the dish. Meanwhile ‘Chicken, Morels & Broad Bean’ was a deliciously light ballotine of chicken, complemented by meaty morels and tender broad beans. For our main courses, we both opted for the ‘Brill, Sea Vegetables & Shrimp’, once again wonderfully fresh, the Brill was cooked to perfection and generously flavoured by tiny shrimps and delicate pillows of gnocchi. Finally dessert, ‘Chocolate, Rose & Thyme’, seriously, this was one of the best chocolate desserts I have had for a long time, yes, even better than the chocolate dessert I had enjoyed the night before at The Fernery! The chocolate mousse was light whilst the flavours of thyme and rose beautifully cut the richness of the dark chocolate – it was a totally moreish dessert! In comparison Nick’s dessert, ‘Strawberry, Clotted Cream  & Elderflower’, seemed rather simple, however, it was delectable, with intense flavours from a combination of both fresh and roasted strawberries.

Coast is owned by The Grove Hotel (see the review here), and it gives their in-house restaurant, The Fernery, which is also exceptionally good, a run for its money. It goes without saying that Coast definitely merits a visit!…

The Grove, Narberth, Pembrokeshire

May 2021

Last week we enjoyed our first UK escapade since the recent, seemingly never-ending lockdown!…The unseasonal May weather showed no sign of abating as we drove down the M4 in the relentless rain. Fortunately, we were on our way to The Grove Hotel in Pembrokeshire, which describes itself as a ‘boutique country escape with a warm Welsh heart’ – perfect! On arrival, it ticked all the boxes, the interior of the hotel, which received a makeover last year during the first lockdown, is beautifully designed with period features blended with local crafts and neutral tones. We were staying in the Blue Room, which was a relaxed yet elegant room, (and beautifully warm, once they got the radiators working – this was a slight blip but they resolved it quickly!). Naturally, as Nick and I are always looking forward to our next meal, we had chosen The Grove not only for its reputation for its accommodation but also for the food it serves. They have two restaurants, the Fernery and The Artisan Rooms; we were staying four nights so this allowed us to try these and to venture out on two nights to eat locally. In addition, we were soon to discover, that breakfasts at The Grove were definitely worth getting out of bed for. I must admit to overindulging (their porridge with banana and maple pecan nuts with a splash of cream was a particular favourite), but I assure you, that we needed a big breakfast to fuel our day walking along the magnificent Pembrokeshire Coast! We enjoyed a couple of walks, despite the wind and rain and in fact, on Saturday the sun surprised us, so we were able to fully appreciate the spectacular views of the Stackpole coastal path. I must admit I was blown away, almost literally(!), by the scenery – the coast was spectacular, but I also enjoyed seeing the beautiful hedgerows along the narrow lanes which were full of spring flowers – bluebells, cowslip, the striking pink of red campion and the occasional yellow of primroses. The grounds of The Grove are also wonderful, they are beautifully kept, and include a walled kitchen garden and a lovely terrace under blossom trees. On our one bright day, we enjoyed a post-walk glass of champagne on their terrace, which allowed us a glimpse of the hotel in the sunshine and made us promise to return next year – surely the English weather would treat us better next time….

The Fernery

We ate at the Fernery, the more formal of The Grove’s two restaurants, on our first night, and what a great start it was to our stay. The restaurant is in the more traditional wing of the hotel, with its white-clothed tables and classic interior it has that quietly comforting atmosphere that only the best country hotels can offer. Before dinner we enjoyed cocktails in the lounge – the classic Old Fashioned for me and a Negroni for Nick, both were perfectly made. Nick’s Negroni was particularly good and on asking about the vermouth they used we discovered that it was an artisan brand, Carpano Antica Formula – we will be ordering a bottle for home!!…In fact, over the next few days, we were to try a few more of their signature cocktails(!) and discovered that they strived to introduce the subtle flavours of other artisan brands – their Martini was made with the addition of Eccentric Limbeck Gin and lavender bitters – wonderful!

Following our cocktails, our dinner at The Fernery was as impressive, chef Douglas Balish, often uses the produce from The Grove’s kitchen garden and our 5-course tasting menu had wonderfully fresh flavours. Our first course was ‘Smoked Early Pembrokeshire Potatoes,’ this wasn’t by any means a simple potato dish, instead, this dish of pureed potatoes with egg yolk, dashi, pea and bottarga had complex flavours; smoky, salty and creamy. Our second course was a ‘Pembrokeshire Oyster’ slightly pickled with cucumber, jalapeno and sour cream, it was a wonderfully fresh dish to follow the creamy potato first course. The third course was ‘Chicken with Langoustine, Morels and Asparagus’, this was an unusual combination – I have never had chicken with shellfish in this way before and it worked beautifully – a contemporary take on a ‘surf ‘n’ turf’, I imagine that the chicken was cooked ‘sous vide’ as it was incredibly tender. Moving onto our fourth course, we enjoyed ‘Cardigan Hogget,’ a piece of lamb fillet flavoured with goats cheese, caper jam and garlic, again this was cooked to perfection. Finally, dessert, ‘Tulakalum Chocolate’, although the chocolate was, naturally, very rich, this dessert managed to be refreshing with the addition of ginger, lemon and coriander – it was the perfect end to our meal.

We were impressed with both the food and the service at The Fernery; whether you’re staying at the hotel or you happen to be local, it merits a visit, it comes at a price but is a wonderful treat and I predict that Balish will soon receive the coveted Michelin star…

The Artisan Rooms

This second restaurant at The Grove, The Artisan Rooms, is a high-end casual dining restaurant offering guests a more informal alternative to The Fernery. The dining room with its relaxed interior overlooks a garden terrace, which weather permitting, can offer al fresco dining.

The menu is inspired by Welsh ingredients, simply prepared. On the evening we dined at The Artisan Rooms, we were pleased to see that wild garlic featured on the menu; on our walks along the Pembrokeshire coast, we had spied (and smelt!) a lot of this wild plant, if I lived locally I would definitely be foraging, to cook it at home! So to start with I chose the ‘Wild Garlic Soup’, which was beautiful, both fantastically green and flavoursome, with a dash of soft goats cheese. I was so eager to taste this beautifully vibrant soup that I forgot to photograph it for you and, as I was enjoying it so much, I also failed to photograph Nick’s ‘Game Terrine En-Croute’, which was also very ‘tasty’! For our main courses, we had ‘Lamb Rump with Wild Garlic and Leeks’, it was the creamed potato flavoured with the garlic and leeks that carried this dish, the lamb, I must admit, lacked a little on the flavour front, however, the ‘Cod with Coconut and Seaweed’, was a definite winning dish, it was delicately flavoured and cooked beautifully. Finally desserts, Sticky Toffee Pudding, always a crowd-pleaser, this was undoubtedly good; I particularly liked the little nibs of toffee that were dotted through the sponge! We also shared the Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake, it was delicious, the rhubarb was wonderful although we couldn’t taste much ginger. It was a great meal and a lighter alternative to the richer meal we had enjoyed at The Fernery.

Whilst I would not necessarily say that The Artisan Rooms was a ‘destination restaurant’, it is a very good complement to their fine dining restaurant, The Fernery, and one which the hotel’s guests will totally appreciate.

Wild by Tart, SW1

May 2021

How exciting…my first restaurant review since our recent, seemingly never-ending, lockdown!…

It was wonderful to be eating out again last week, although unfortunately it was definitely ‘eating out’, as tables inside were still out of bounds due to government Covid restrictions. This outside dining could have been a disaster, as the May weather was proving un-seasonally cold, but fortunately ‘Wild by Tart’, is the perfect ‘outside’ venue as its courtyard has three proper brick walls and a roof – just one side is open to the elements and thus it is quite protected, in addition, there are outside heaters, so for someone like me, who feels the slightest chill, it is perfect!

Wild by Tart was founded by Jemima Jones and Lucy Carr-Ellison, the duo behind the catering company Tart London, who have also published a cookbook, ‘A Love of Eating’. The restaurant is housed in a former power station, just behind Victoria Coach Station, so has a great central location. It’s a lovely large space, with high ceilings and although unfortunately, I couldn’t sit inside the restaurant when I visited, it looked great from outside(!), it has been beautifully renovated with a stylish interior, with lots of greenery and warm lighting.

They offer a relaxed menu of sharing plates, with modern European flavours which are inspired by the seasons and often cooked over charcoal grills or in wood-burning ovens.

When I visited last week they were offering a reduced menu because they were only catering for outside eating, but it was all very appealing. My lunch was a long-awaited reunion with girlfriends, so we all felt that we deserved to start our lunch with a cocktail – something which Wild by Tart’s menu had a great selection of! I chose a ‘Brazil’ which was a refreshing blend of Cachaca, lemon, basil & yellow chartreuse – it was the perfect lift on a rather drizzly day!

We then chose a combination of sharing plates – Asparagus, Tarragon Tomatoes, Artichoke & Roast Garlic which had robust yet fresh flavours, whilst Burrata with Pea & Mint Pesto and Pea Shoots was equally delicious; the burrata was wonderfully soft and gooey, just how I like it, and was beautifully complemented by the flavours of the pea and mint. We also enjoyed Fowey Mussels, White Wine & Habanero Chilli – wonderfully fresh  – and Bream with Braised Cannellini Beans & Aioli; the beans with their unctuous garlicky sauce were the winner in this beautiful dish. We also shared freshly baked focaccia – bread is something that Wild by Tart does very well; apparently, their flatbread pizzettes made in their wood-burning oven are something that we should have tried, but on this occasion, we were rather full from our sharing plates – eating out to lunch is obviously still a novelty!…in fact we didn’t even have room for a dessert, although I must admit, later that evening I did regret not ordering the Cardamom Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb!…So, I have made the decision to return soon to enjoy the full menu when the restaurant reopens fully after May 17th…See you there!

Meltons, York

December 2020

York is perhaps one of the UK’s most perfect cities, with its beautiful Minster, ancient city walls and medieval ‘Shambles’, it manages to combine a vibrant history with contemporary attractions such as independent shops and restaurants. Since my son, Felix, has been studying at the University of York, I have been fortunate to have the excuse to visit on a few occasions, and can definitely vouch for its wonderful selection of restaurants. Recently, at the end of our trip to the Yorkshire Dales, we spent our final night there and revisited one of my favourite ‘York’ restaurants, Meltons.

Chef Michael Hjort and his wife Lucy opened Meltons in 1990 and have since continued to serve high quality modern British food to much acclaim. On our first visit a year or so ago, we were extremely impressed by the standard of the food and presentation of the seasonal dishes, in fact, we expressed our surprise to Lucy, who runs the front of house, that they didn’t have a Michelin star. She rather refreshingly admitted that they had decided some time ago that they would not concentrate of this accolade as they were fortunate to have a successful business and did not need it to encourage more custom, indeed it would only have put more unneeded pressure on the chef and staff (a complaint often cited against the Michelin star system). Perhaps it is this decision that gives Melton’s that extra edge, the dining room is relaxed and informal, whilst the fact that Lucy is still very much front of house reflects the personal investment they have in the business and ensures the high standard of service.

On our recent visit we were once again impressed by the food and service, admittedly the position of our table, upstairs, was not ideal (I would recommend trying to book a table downstairs in the main restaurant), but we managed to make our own atmosphere. It was a wonderful dinner out, in fact, it was our last for some time, as on our return, London moved into tier four…and now, of course, we have national lockdown.

Our meal started with some delicious canapes before we enjoyed our starters, ‘Hand Dived Scallop with Salsify, Chicken Wings and Maple Vinegar’ and ‘Pigeon with Panisse, Blackberry, Chive Emulsion, Hazelnut and Pickled Shimeji’, both had subtle sweet and savoury flavours and were perfectly cooked. Moving on to our main courses we enjoyed ‘Longhorn Beef, Sirloin, Shin Croquette, Kohlrabi, Maitake, Onion, Persillade Emulsion’ and ‘Pork Fillet, Shoulder and Belly with Cauliflower, Jowl Bon Bon, Burnt Apple and Watercress’ these dishes were generously flavoured with interesting elements and a combination of textures – all really delicious. Finally, desserts ‘Dark Chocolate Delice’ and a ‘Caramelised Pear and Brown Butter Tart’ – both exquisite.

Our dinner was the perfect ‘last supper’ before returning to London and discovering we were to be confined to tier four and thus a restaurant hiatus!…Hopefully, with new vaccinations on the horizon and the chance that life will return to a new normal in the not too distance future, you too will soon be able to enjoy a meal at Meltons. If you are a Londoner like me, remember that it is possible to visit York for the day, by train it takes just an hour and fifty minutes(!), so Meltons would make a great lunch excursion!…

The Blue Lion, East Whitton, Yorkshire Dales

December 2020

If you have read my blog recently you will know that in early December, just after the second lockdown, we managed to take a short break in the Yorkshire Dales. Before going away I researched restaurants in the area, this is something that I love to do; I trawl through various websites, comparing reviews before finally compiling a shortlist. I get great satisfaction trying these restaurants, especially when I know I have chosen a winner!

The Blue Lion, made my shortlist, but I was a little sceptical about it as I had read some negative reviews on TripAdvisor, at the same time I am always rather sceptical about reviews on TripAdvisor, as I often find them irrational! Fortunately, I went with my gut instinct; having read reviews from other websites, I made the decision to visit The Blue Lion.

Originally an 18th century coaching inn, The Blue Lion still retains a lot of character with a  roaring fire, flagstone floor and sturdy oak tables, it is a proper English pub but one which serves restaurant quality food. We visited The Blue Lion for lunch, having enjoyed a lovely, somewhat cold walk on the nearby Dales, it was wonderful to enter this cosy pub, with its roaring fire and comforting smell of wood smoke. Apart from four other customers it was just us, and we were fortunate to have the table beside the aforementioned fire. The chalkboard menu had some great, seasonal dishes, many inspired by local Yorkshire produce. We decided to share a starter – ‘Blue Wensleydale, Cos and Walnut Salad with Croutons and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing’, it was a nice, light yet tasty start to our lunch. The main courses definitely confirmed that we had been right to choose to visit The Blue Lion… I had ‘Rack of Yorkshire Dales Lamb, Rosemary Fondant Potato, Yellisons Goat Curd, Piccolo Tomato Confit in Aged Balsamic & Rosemary’, it was a generous plate of food, the lamb was cooked perfectly pink and was super tasty, and surprisingly light – the tomato confit gave it a lovely fresh flavour. Nick opted for the ‘Roast Crown of Yorkshire Partridge, Confit Leg Bon Bon, Liquor of Blackberries & Sweet Potatoes’, a wonderful, seasonal, meaty dish, particularly flavoursome with the blackberries. We chose traditional desserts – Nick couldn’t go wrong with the delicious Sticky Toffee Pudding, whilst I enjoyed the ‘slightly’ lighter Crème Brûlée – wonderful!!

We could have stayed in the snug bar of The Blue Lion all afternoon, in fact I did have a sneaky, relaxing Irish Coffee at the end of my meal! It was a really perfect lunch. Whilst we relaxed over our coffees we wondered about the negative reviews it had received, they mainly complained about the service (unfriendly and slow) and that the food was overpriced. Whilst it is true that the food is expensive by ‘village pub’ standards (more ‘London loaded’), the quality of the food and the portions, in my opinion, justified the prices – the food is restaurant standard thus priced accordingly. When we visited, the pub was very quiet so it is difficult for me to say how the speed of service would be under busier circumstances, but our service was good, not too slow or fast, whilst our waitress was friendly, although admittedly not particularly animated.

So, if you are in the region of Wensleydale, I would definitely recommend a visit to The Blue Lion – if you have anything like our experience you will not be disappointed!

The Angel at Hetton, Yorkshire Dales

December 2020

My recent ‘foodie’ travels in the Yorkshire Dales, took me to the wonderful Angel Inn at Hetton. Any self-confessed lover of fine food could never visit the Dales and not visit this renowned Michelin starred gastro pub, so unsurprisingly it was on my restaurant list! The Angel is widely regarded as the UK’s original gastropub – it has origins which date back to the 15th Century! In recent years, it has been regarded as a destination establishment for fine food whilst the arrival of patron chef Michael Wignall in 2018 has taken it to a legendary status. Wignall and his wife have not only taken the food to an outstanding level but they have also redesigned the interior of this old pub; they have sympathetically brought modern to the old, introducing a stylish, contemporary, clean oak interior whilst keeping the original oak beams and some of the fireplaces – it totally suits the beautifully plated food that they serve.

Having just finished a rather bracing walk (and having changed out of our muddy boots!) entering this pub was like being hugged – the warmth of the fires was inviting whilst the modern interior was very comforting after getting lost once or twice on the damp Dales! Seated in front of one of the wood stove fires, we decided that we deserved a glass of champagne – I have since decided that all walks should end like this! We then had the joy of reading the menu, everything seemed delicious…

In the end we opted for starters of ‘Scallop with Oscietra Caviar, Dill, Apple & Frozen Buttermilk’ – this was in my opinion flavoured to perfection, a real joy, and ‘Sweetbread with Artichoke, Sunflower Seed Purée, Winter Truffle & Vin Jaune’, was similarly executed wonderfully. For our main courses there was ‘Loin of Venison, Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, Teryaki Shitake, Pak Choi, Cocoa & Brioche’  and ‘Steamed Turbot with Salsify, Sea Leek & Smoked Pike Roe Butter Scented with Kombu Vinegar’, both of these dishes were exquisitely presented and all the flavours were combined masterfully. Finally, dessert –  ‘Bergomot Set Cream and Curd, Olive Oil Cake, Candied Pistachio, Yogurt & Pomelo’ and ‘Caramelised Pineapple, Bitter Chocolate, Indonesian Coconut & Marigold’,  both were faultlessly flavoured. The whole meal was a carnival of flavours all cleverly complementing each other.

It was without doubt a wonderful lunch, however at the end of this exquisite meal we were left just a little ‘unfulfilled’. The courses at the Angel are beautifully presented (picture perfect) and without doubt absolutely delicious….but they are very small. Admittedly this goes hand in hand with this type of rich food, however, normally, a restaurant of this calibre, and one which serves this type of cuisine would serve amuse bouches and palate cleansers between courses, and this is what our meal at The Angel missed – that small gift from the chef which brings the meal together and the dining experience to a higher level. Even with our coffees, we didn’t receive the normal small plate of petit fours – instead just one, tiny, jelly each.

I am perhaps being harsh as despite this slight disappointment, I would still recommend The Angel at Hetton; food and chefs of this excellence don’t appear everywhere, especially in the Yorkshire Dales – there is no denying Michael Wignall’s talent. So, yes, I would certainly return, and perhaps I would enjoy this restaurant more second time around, knowing not to expect ‘ those extra gifts’!…

Yorebridge House, Bainbridge, Wensleydale

December 2020

If you have read my blog recently you will know that last week we managed to escape to the Yorkshire Dales for a short break. It was so refreshing to get away from ‘reality’ for a few days, even if we were masked up and still in tier two! Before going, the weather forecast was rather miserable, but in actual fact we managed to have some beautiful walks, and we didn’t get too damp. It was wonderful to be in the middle of the fields surrounded by sheep and the odd hare – Covid seemed out of sight for at least an hour or so. The highlight of our break was the food, although, as you know, I love cooking, it is always a treat to be cooked for, especially when the quality of the food is high. We had chosen our hotel not just for its location but also for its reputation for food…and it did not disappoint!…

Conveniently situated in the heart of Wensleydale, Yorebridge House is a former schoolhouse that’s now home to 11 individually designed rooms. Our room, Carabeo, was beautifully appointed and overlooked the river Ure and the ‘sheepy’ Dales. For me the beauty of Yorebridge House was that after a refreshing walk around the Dales we were able to return to its warm, relaxing interior, and in the evening enjoy its cosy bar where we could have a cocktail before a great gourmet meal – I felt totally spoilt. The service for our entire stay was fantastic, friendly and relaxed yet totally professional.

The food was in fact better than I had expected(!), not only was it was elegantly presented but adventurous and full of flavour. One of the problems with staying for four nights in one place is that often the menu doesn’t change, and so you are stuck with the same choices. Although this was the case at Yorebridge House, it was not a problem as all the choices appealed to me, and each evening I looked forward to trying each and every one of them(!), in fact, the one evening that we did venture to eat out was a disappointment. Before our dinners, each evening we were presented with a different velouté (a mushroom, a goats cheese and a sweetcorn), all were perfectly light and creamy, the perfect amuse bouche before our meal. Starters included a’ 62’ duck egg with Butternut Squash & Chorizo Jam’ – slowly poached to perfection, ‘Cured Scottish Salmon with Mooli & Exmoor Caviar’, a particularly memorable dish, subtly sweet with just the right amount of saltiness from the ‘caviar’, whilst ‘Beef Carpaccio with Kohlrabi & Pickled Shimiji’, was unusual and pickled to perfection!…For our main courses we enjoyed ‘Gigha Halibut with Cauliflower & Hazelnut’, this was cooked beautifully, with a crunchy nut crust whilst the cauliflower was lightly spiced, ‘Gressingham Duck with Red Cabbage & Puy Lentil’ was cooked ‘sous vide’ and was incredibly tender, finally ‘Pork Belly with Pigs Cheek & Peas Pudding’ – was ‘delicious’ with perfect crackling! To end our meal, after a refreshing pre-dessert (a Lemon Posset with Fennel and Blackberry), we enjoyed a ‘Christmas Pudding with Meejool Dates & Courvoisier Sauce’ which was more of a light sponge, so delicious that Nick decided to have it two evenings on the trot! There was also ‘72% Chocolate with Honeycomb & Manadarin’, which was a lovely, rich chocolate dessert cut by the subtle, bitter ‘marmalade’ flavours from the manadarin, and finally a ‘Passionfruit Cheesecake with Mango & Ginger’ which was fabulously creamy yet light and refreshing.

I would definitely like to revisit Yorebridge House in the spring/summer to enjoy a different seasons menu and to experience the beauty of the surrounding dales in the warm, fine weather. Although I would recommend a stay at this beautiful boutique hotel, you don’t have to stay at Yorebridge House to enjoy its food… so if you are visiting the Yorkshire Dales you must book a dinner at its wonderful restaurant!

Yummy Cow, Herne Hill, SE24

November 2020

Last Wednesday, on the eve of the new lockdown, we enjoyed our ‘last supper out’ for what will probably be some weeks. My neighbour had recommended a local restaurant, Yummy Cow, which had opened recently (despite the covid conditions!), and we wanted to show it some support, before this second lockdown! I find that ‘word of mouth restaurant recommendations’ are usually the best recommendations and our visit to this restaurant did not disappoint. The interior of Yummy Cow is rather rough and ready, and very pink (!), but completely suits this casual dining restaurant, and anyway who cares about the interior when the menu is so good?!…The three founders of Yummy Cow share Sri Lankan and South American roots, and the flavours of their dishes reflect this, with seasonal British ingredients injected with international flare and subtle spices.

To start with, the menu offers a couple of house cocktails, which in my opinion is always a good sign – I tried the Chilli Margarita, which was the perfect start to my pre-lockdown meal! Then we moved on to the main event – the food. The menu offers a lot of sharing plates, which you could choose to share as a main course or have one as a starter and then move on to their listed main courses. We chose to do the latter, as I’m not very good at sharing my food! It was difficult to choose only two plates from the sharing menu as they all looked delicious, with really interesting flavour combinations, but in the end we chose ‘Roast Pumpkin, Ricotta, Miso and Cavolo Nero’, it was spectacular with sweet and salty flavours, whilst the ‘Rice n’ Cod Fritters with Sweet Chilli’, were instantly gratifying with their subtle Caribbean spices and were very moreish! Moving on to our mains, I enjoyed a particularly well cooked piece of ‘Plaice with Red Dhal Mash, Leek and Parsnip Crisps’, it was a beautiful dish, really well executed. Nick chose the ‘Rump Steak, Carrot Puree, Broad Beans, Sweetcorn, Rosti Potato and Red Wine Jus’, the steak was cooked to perfection and very tasty, however we weren’t so sure on the accompaniment of the broad bean and sweetcorn, but the rosti potato was a great salty addition. Finally, on this occasion we didn’t have a dessert as such – although we were very tempted by the ‘Doughnuts, Caramel, Chocolate Mousse’, instead I wanted, or perhaps needed, something a little stronger to end my meal before yet another lockdown!…so opted for the Latte Martini, which was on their dessert menu, it was a little like a Brandy Alexander, creamy, so like a dessert, however with the addition of  brandy it was definitely a cocktail!

What a shame we are going to have to wait at least four weeks until we can return to the Yummy Cow, I am honestly thrilled to have this well priced restaurant on my doorstep; our bill was around £75, so was great value. If you are in this corner of London, you must try it!

Franklins, East Dulwich, SE22

October 2020

We returned to our local restaurant, Franklins, on Saturday night. Our ‘home from home’ – a local institution which rarely fails us. How lucky are we to have this restaurant serving quality, traditional British food on our doorstep.  The menu is a meaty affair with earthy and robust flavours, often featuring game and offal, although it does offer fish and vegetarian plates. We have been eating at Franklins since it first opened, around 20 years ago, so it must be doing something right! Admittedly, it can occasionally disappoint, but more often than not the quality of the food is consistent. Situated in an old pub, the restaurant offers a casual dining experience, retaining its ‘pub’ atmosphere; it is a quintessential local, neighbourhood haunt.

On Saturday night, on entering, we were greeted by Boris Johnson, on the front of house TV, in the bar area (the dining area is at the back). He was announcing another national lockdown, this would probably be our last meal out for at least four weeks, so we were determined to enjoy ourselves!

We started our meal with a couple of cocktails – as Espresso Martini for me and of course a Negroni for Nick. For starters we had a ‘Pea & Mint Soup’, a bowl of warmth on what was a dreary, rainy day, and ‘Smoked Haddock Brandade & Piquillo Peppers’, the combination of the smoky fish and the sweet pepper was great, whilst the salad on which it sat was well dressed. Moving on to our main courses, Nick choose, ‘Ham Hock Hash & Fried Egg’, whilst I opted for the ‘Red leg Partridge, ‘Spiced Red Cabbage & Crab Apple Jelly’; earlier that day we had ventured out to Kent for a very wet walk, and having got lost a few times(!) we were pretty exhausted, so these main courses were definitely well deserved – perfect comfort food! Finally, desserts, I can never resist Franklin’s traditional desserts, on this occasion I opted for the ‘Chocolate Rice Pudding & Raspberries’ – a little ‘hug on a plate’, whilst Nick choose the ‘Bread & Butter Pudding’, which was “fantastic”.

So our ‘last supper out’ for a few of weeks did not disappoint! Franklins is an excellent neighbourhood restaurant that everyone needs and should have on their doorstep…

The Five Fields, Chelsea, SW3

October 2020

We had a wonderful fine dining experience at the weekend, we returned to The Five Fields restaurant in Chelsea, and I must say that this Michelin starred restaurant, once again, did not disappoint.  The Five Fields focuses on seasonal, British produce serving menus inspired by the seasons, in fact, a lot of the vegetables and herbs that they use are grown in their own kitchen garden in Sussex, something they are rightly proud of. Our waiters were particularly animated when describing our dishes, especially when the provenance of a certain ingredient, such as the celeriac we were eating, was from their own garden – it definitely made our dining experience more personal and it was encouraging to see the staff so engaged with the food that they were serving. The dining room is elegant and sophisticated, and most importantly small enough to retain a special, intimate atmosphere, which food of the calibre that they are serving, deserves.

Chef Taylor Bonnyman and his team are known for their beautiful, creative menus, and on the evening that we visited we could find no fault. The set tasting menu was perfectly executed (with gluten free options for me) – it was cooking at its best, creative yet not overly fussy, with superb flavour combinations. (Unfortunately my photos really do not do the food justice – I’m afraid I was more interested in enjoying the food rather than getting the right camera angle!!)

Our meal began with an array of canapes (salmon, leek, foie gras and oyster), they were the perfect amuse bouche before we moved onto the ‘Celeriac with Black Truffle & Pastrami’, it is difficult for me to describe the incredible flavour that this celeriac dish managed to deliver, it was sweet and meaty yet retained the lightness of the vegetable – I will never see celeriac in quite the same way! Our next course was ‘Turnip, Seaweed & Scallop’, an inspired combination, the turnip totally complemented the sweetness of the scallops, and the hint of saltiness from the seaweed was a fabulous finishing touch. Next up was ‘Brill with Velvet Crab and Monk’s Beard’ which was absolutely beautiful, the broth was exquisite. This was followed by ‘Fallow Deer with Jerusalem Artichoke & Pear’, I must say that the venison was one of the best I have tasted – it was extremely tender, cooked to perfection, and with the Jerusalem artichoke which was both puréed and lightly fried, it was a luxurious dish. To prepare us for our dessert we were served ‘Honey, Milk and Marzipan’, a milk ice cream with delicate marzipan ‘flowers’, drizzled with their own rich and floral Sussex honey. Our main dessert, ‘Plum, Elderberry & Sake Lees’, was essentially a plum tart but one which would be difficult to match, the slightly sticky plum ‘flower’ was presented in a crisp tart with a delicious custard which was salted to perfection. Finally, with our coffee we were presented with petits fours – what a perfect end!

Throughout our meal the service was impeccable yet friendly and unpretentious, the staff seemed genuinely proud and invested in the food that they were serving. Our sommelier particularly deserves  a mention, we had wine by the glass, he presented us with wine choices which complemented the courses wonderfully, yet were not ridiculously priced.

So what else can I add but ‘Wow’ …and that I think that this restaurant deserves more than one Michelin star!!…

I would recommend that you treat yourselves – a visit to The Five Fields would make a wonderful Christmas present!

Chez Bruce, SW17

October 2020

If you live in South London, you will probably know or would have heard of the restaurant, Chez Bruce. Chez Bruce is a gem in South London’s restaurant scene, situated on Wandsworth Common it first opened its doors in 1995 with the intention of ‘serving the best food and drink but within a relaxed, informal yet professional environment’, it has certainly achieved its goal and 25 years later is still as successful as ever.  I must admit, that as a South Londoner myself, I have been a customer for most of those 25 years, and have never been disappointed with the food – now that is an achievement!

A couple of weeks ago Nick and I enjoyed our first Sunday lunch there since before lockdown and I was so happy to see that little had changed. In fact we were planning to return at the weekend for dinner with friends, but unfortunately due to London entering tier two of Covid restrictions we had to cancel our reservation. However, I am happy to be able to share our fantastic Sunday lunch visit with you.

Chez Bruce serves a modern menu of food based loosely on classical and regional French/ Mediterranean cuisine. The price is fixed for 3 courses, depending on whether you are having lunch or dinner and on which day – the Sunday lunch option at £50 is a particularly good choice. The restaurant itself maintains a lovely neighbourhood feel, its simple dining room has a relaxed interior, with service which is on a par with any top Michelin starred restaurant in town.

On arrival for our Sunday lunch we were pleased to see that everything seemed to be as great as ever; it’s the little extras that Chez Bruce exceeds in, for instance, on receiving the menu you are also presented with their light, crisp parmesan biscuits (and for those who are gluten free, like me, toasted spiced nuts – very moreish!). After these and a cheeky lunchtime glass of champagne, we were more than ready to tuck into our starters, for me, ‘Loch Duart Salmon Rillettes with Horseradish, Smoked Salmon, Potato, Beetroot and Dill’, it was a winning combination of classic flavours and beautiful textures. Nick chose one of the restaurants classics, ‘Foie Gras and Chicken Parfait with Toasted Brioche’ – creamy and fantastic, as always! Moving on to our mains, I wanted something autumnal to suit the outside, blustery Sunday afternoon, so it had to be the ‘Venison Loin with Glazed Game Burger, Cabbage à l’ancienne and Celeriac Purèe’, it was exactly what I wanted, ‘a proper plate of food’! Nick couldn’t resist the ‘Roast Beef with Dripping Roasties, Crushed Squash, Stuffed Mushroom and Yorkshire Pudding’, with its refined flavours it was an elegant take on the traditional English roast. Finally, desserts, Nick opted for Chez Bruce’s classic ‘Hot Chocolate Pudding with Praline Parfait’, as always a winner, whilst I had the ‘Baked Cheesecake with Rum & Raisin Ice Cream and Candied Peel’ – honestly, I think that this was the real winner!

Eating at Chez Bruce is a win-win event and, is thus, money well spent, plus the complimentary chocolate truffles at the end of the meal are more than worth the visit!

Brawn, E2

October 2020

This weekend, Nick and I went over to Columbia Road in Hackney, for a stroll and to browse around some of the independent, very ‘on trend ‘ shops. One of these shops included the pop up boutique, Studio Wylder, which belongs to my old friend, Tasha, in which she sells her own designs, including gorgeous one off sheep skin jackets, hand sewn bags and jewellery. It was really refreshing to be around this energetic area of London and, of course, it gave us the perfect excuse to revisit ‘Brawn’, Columbia Road’s neighbourhood restaurant. Situated on a corner plot in a converted warehouse, Brawn’s dining room, a light filled space with a casual interior, was perfect for our lunchtime jaunt. As on our previous, pre-lockdown visits, we found that the atmosphere was ‘buzzy’ and friendly, and most importantly, that the food was delicious.

The menu is seasonal, with lots of interesting flavours such as the starter of ‘Raw Scallop, Almond, Apple, Sorrel & Horseradish’, which was delicious with beautifully balanced flavours. We also shared a platter of Coppa which was really fresh and flavoursome, and ‘Gnocco Fritto, Schiena’, little pieces of lightly fried dough also wrapped in Coppa, these were very light and moreish. For my main course I chose the ‘Partridge, Rainbow Chard, Quince, Lentils & Pancetta’, it was good, the quince really held this dish together with its slight sweetness which complemented the saltiness of the lentils, however, I must admit to having ‘plate envy’ for Nick’s chosen course, ‘Onglet, Fried Violet Artichokes, Shallots, Anchovy & Chicory’, the flavours of this were divine; the deep fried artichokes particularly stood out. Finally desserts, an amazing ‘Chocolate Tart’ – the fondant was smooth whilst the pastry base was crisp and light, and a ‘Vanilla Rice Pudding, Figs, Walnuts & Boozy Prunes’ – need I say more?…it was a perfect autumn afternoon hug!

Although Brawn isn’t necessarily cheap, it is the type of place where you could pop in for just one course with a glass of wine to simply enjoy the casual, friendly dining room (they have an interesting wine list of mostly biodynamic wines). It definitely isn’t a bad place to while away an afternoon or an evening!

Daffodil Mulligan, EC1

September 2020

Following the recommendation posted on the Instagram page of one of my favourite cookbook writers, Diana Henry, we tried a new restaurant last week, Daffodil Mulligan.

By its own admission Daffodil Mulligan ‘embodies the heart, soul and mischief of the Irish, but with international food influences’, I was intrigued to see what this meant exactly!…I must admit on entering the restaurant I was a little sceptical, as it was rather like a modern American bar with tables, not my preferred choice of interior, whilst the ambience was quite lively and rather noisy. When seated at our table we were hit by how cold it was, and looking around we noticed that most people were wearing their layers – the woman seated near to me was wearing her partner’s jacket! When I asked the waiter if it was possible to turn down the air conditioning he apologised, saying that it wasn’t possible and that it was something to do with Covid(?) – I must admit I didn’t actually catch the full explanation as it was muffled by his mask!…Anyway I ended up wearing my leather jacket throughout the evening.

So all in all not the best start to our night out! But, of course we were there for the food and that didn’t disappoint …

We started our meal with a couple of ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktails – they were really well made, properly with bourbon rather than whiskey (my pet hate), so this definitely warmed us up – a bit!

The menu has lots of small tasting plates as starters, in this way the restaurant is more suited to groups of friends rather than couples, as you really do want to share as many as possible – they all sounded delicious. Nick and I shared the Salt Chilli Chicken with Cucumber Pickles and Beef Tartare with Oyster Cream, they were generous portions; both were really unusual, delicious and moreish. For our main courses , I choose the ‘Hannan’s Sugar Spit Pork, Swiss Chard, Gochujang & Smoked Tomato’, the pork was seriously good, literally falling of the bone, it had a beautiful sweet, smoked flavour subtly spiced with the gochujang (the only regret I have is that my waiter didn’t advise me to order a side dish, which it needed, as it was literally just a piece of meat with a few leaves of rainbow chard). Nick chose the ‘Prawn Goan Curry with Ginger & Mango Salsa’, an unusual choice for him, one which the waiter had recommended as they had run out of the sirloin that he had wanted(!), it was good but not groundbreaking, probably not the best choice. Desserts were superb, I had ‘Wood Fire Fig, Brown Sugar Meringue, Mascarpone & Autumn Spice Ice Cream’ – the figs  were unusually spiced and beautifully complemented by the brown sugar meringue, Nick had the fantastic ‘Caramel Crème with Tipsy Prunes & Sable’ – the prunes soaked in Armagnac were the winner here!.

So, would I recommend Daffodil Mulligan?…from a food  perspective definitely – I’m pleased to say that, unsurprisingly, Diana Henry was right on this level! However, if you do visit I would recommend you do so with friends, it’s not really suited to couples both from the noise level and from the point of view that being in a group would allow you to share more of the delicious starters! Finally, make sure you wear a couple of layers as the air conditioning is a killer!…

Clarke’s, W8

September 2020

A word of advice to anyone starting a new relationship – make note of the smallest of anniversaries as they will give you the excuse to celebrate in the future! Hence last week, Nick and I had the perfect excuse to treat ourselves to dinner at Clarke’s; we celebrated our ‘first meeting’ anniversary (28yrs!). Sally Clarke’s restaurant, Clarke’s, first opened its doors in 1984 and it has been a highly regarded resident of North Kensington since, winning much critical acclaim. Indeed, I remember that when I was a student living in Notting Hill, my bus route used to pass the restaurant and I always dreamed of eating there, but in those days it was way beyond the realms of my student budget. Fortunately I can now afford to treat myself! Clarke’s menu prides itself on using the best, seasonal ingredients and our meal last week was as fresh as ever; even though the plates seem simple, the flavours are very sophisticated, and I should point out that the photos I have taken do not do the food justice!

Entering the restaurant, you almost instantly feel like your worries are left at the door; the warm, classically designed room creates a welcoming ambience whilst the staff are very attentive, without being oppressive. The icing on the cake for me is the white tablecloths – as I’ve mentioned before, I do love a white clothed table – it gives that sense of occasion that I yearn for when eating out in a restaurant of a certain calibre.