Restaurant Reviews

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

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

Bouchon Racine, EC1

March 2023

Let’s face it, Paris is a little too far to go for the evening, but I have discovered the next best thing. Dinner at Bouchon Racine. This little pocket of France has recently opened just up the road from Farringdon Station. It’s easy to miss the entrance which is beside a pub, then there’s a steep staircase to the first floor where the doors open into the restaurant and voila, who needs Eurostar!… Chef Henry Harris is no stranger to cooking French classics, having owned the restaurant ‘Racine’ in Knightsbridge which closed in 2015. Now the premises for the new ‘Bouchon Racine’ are in a slightly scruffier part of town but in my opinion, in a location more suited to the ‘bistro’ style – I ate at the former Racine and although the food was great I found the atmosphere on Brompton Rd slightly lacking (although I loved the velvet curtained entrance – very French!).

It was a cold and wet evening when we visited Bouchon Racine last week, the type when you’re in two minds about leaving the house but on the other hand, you need to eat. It’s fair to say we weren’t in the best mood, however entering the dining room at Bouchon Racine made our venture very much worth it. The atmosphere was truly welcoming, in fact, just about everyone seemed to be smiling, diners as well as the staff, which was a good sign. With its wooden floorboards, white tablecloths and candle-lit tables, the room had a warm French bistro style. As we perused the chalkboard menu, it was like being wrapped in a big hug; I adore the French classic dishes and this menu was ‘old school’ French, with the likes of escargot, fillet au poivre, boudin noir and steak tartare – needless to say this is not a good restaurant choice if you don’t love meat! Nick and I dived into the menu, ordering ‘Escargots alla Bourguinonne’, which were a dream with a wonderful earthy flavour cut by the garlicky sauce. ‘Herring, Pomme Al’Huile’ was a smoky-flavoured dish of cured herrings with crisp pickled carrots in fruity olive oil, it was very tasty although I thought the pickle could have been slightly more ‘pickled’ to balance the smoky flavour of the fish. The main courses left us very much smiling, ‘Pork Chop, Lentils, Parsley & Mustard Sauce’ was an incredibly tasty chop but it was the lentils in a creamy sauce that left me drooling – it was the type of dish that was perfect on a cold and rainy evening!  ‘Rabbit, Mustard Sauce, Smoked Bacon’ was a sensational dish – my favourite. The Rabbit literally fell off the bone, it was tender and sweet, exactly how rabbit should taste but often doesn’t, whilst the mustard sauce was simply beautiful! Naturally, we ordered some chips on the side, these weren’t French-style frites but proper potato chips – they were fantastic, great for mopping up the sauces! Finally, dessert… ‘Crème Caramel’ – this could well be the best crème caramel I’ve ever had and with the Armagnac prune on the side it was even better! Whilst ‘Tarte Vaudoise’ was a cream tart which was a little like a custard tart but crispier and creamier – it was very good.

Bouchon Racine is the type of place that welcomes you with a smile, lots of character and huggable food. The ‘catch’ is that some of the dishes are rather pricey but you’ll still want to return again and again, I know I do… next time I’ve my heart set on trying the ‘Steak Tartare’ and ‘Fillet au Poivre’…

Lyle’s Shoreditch, E1

February 2023

If you drive regularly in London you’ll know that it’s becoming increasingly ‘testing’, with a 20mph limit and unpopular LTN’s (grrr!) getting from A to B has never been more difficult. So before I had even eaten at ‘Lyle’s’ it was already in my good books as it’s right opposite Shoreditch station which is more or less a direct train journey from my doorstep! Of course, not driving meant that Nick and I could both indulge in a couple of drinks, so we were thrilled to find that Lyle’s is also a stones-throw from the ‘Seed Library’, a laid-back cocktail bar which is the perfect venue for pre-dinner cocktails.  Our dinner at Lyle’s was off to I good start and I hadn’t even tasted the food(!), but thankfully the main event did not disappoint…

I’ll admit that although I like the buzz of this increasingly popular corner of London, Shoreditch is a little gritty. But fear not, Lyle’s is an oasis of calm. The interior is rather stark and industrial but it manages to pull off a warm, welcoming ambience. This stripped-back style perfectly complements the pared-back-fine-dining that chef, James Lowe, has become renowned for – Lyle’s has a Michelin star. Dinner is a seven-course tasting menu (al a carte is served at lunch), and on the evening that we visited the meal kicked off with ‘Oyster & Blood Orange’, which, with its citrus overtones was a wonderfully fresh and unusual pairing. There was also ‘Ox Heart & Black Garlic Toast’ – yes I know that on paper that doesn’t sound appetising, but believe me it was a deliciously sweet, savoury offering. Meanwhile ‘Chicory, Pear & Spenwood’ had classic flavours, the Spenwood cheese was creamy yet with the right balance of piquancy to make this dish a ‘cut above’. It was the following two courses that particularly thrilled us and demonstrated that Lowe’s cooking merited his accolades; ‘Celeriac, Alexandra & Lovage’ was a dream of dazzling fresh flavours – the herbs in the creamy sauce literally sung – I was almost tempted to lick the plate! ‘Scallop, Tema Artichokes & Preserved Lemon’ was my favourite dish of the evening, the sweetness of the scallops was subtly balanced by the lemony sauce. Next up was the main event, ‘Hereford Forerib, Pumpkin & Radicchio’, a beautifully tender piece of beef alongside the caramel flavours of pumpkin and bitterness of radicchio served in a salty broth, again it was a tasty, well-balanced dish. Finally dessert, ‘Rhubarb Parfait, Jelly & Oat Crumble’, creamy and tangy – doing justice to the season’s first crop of rhubarb. Our meal was utterly delicious, the intricate flavour combinations that worked effortlessly together proved that Lowe has undeniable talent. If I had to change one thing it would be the addition of a small pre-dessert, perhaps a sorbet, as it seemed that after the five course build-up to the main event, the beef, the meal finished rather abruptly with the dessert.  This is a suggestion rather than a criticism. With food as good as this and service which was slick and unpretentious Nick and I will definitely return to Lyle’s, perhaps for lunch to try their al carte menu; I will be checking the train timetable soon!…

Artusi, Peckham, SE15

January 2023

We had a real treat last weekend, we were taken out to dinner by our son, Felix. I was a bit apprehensive when Felix mentioned he’d booked Artusi, an Italian restaurant in nearby Peckham, as I had eaten there some years ago and had been rather disappointed. I’m not very forgiving of bad restaurant experiences, perhaps I should be more open to giving them a second chance, but when you live in London there are just too many other restaurants waiting to be tried. However, since that single experience over 7 years ago, I’ve continued to hear wonderful things about Artusi. So, it was on my list to return to, I had just never gotten around to it; it’s not the type of place you can pop along to at the last minute as it seems others have heard how good it is and you need a reservation!

Artusi can be found in Bellenden Road, a gentrified corner of Peckham, in fact, it’s neighbours with my favourite Thai restaurant, ‘The Begging Bowl’ (review here!). It has a simple interior with white walls, school-style chairs and a menu scrawled on a blackboard, it is nevertheless welcoming and it was particularly appreciated by us last week on a freezing January evening. On entering we were greeted by a friendly waitress who enthusiastically explained the short Italian-inspired menu and the enticing list of Italian aperitivi. I couldn’t resist starting with an espresso martini and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had in a longtime. What a great start, I was hopeful that I may have a review on my hands!… Artusi is well-regarded for its homemade pasta, so both Nick and Felix chose pasta dishes as their starters. ‘Casarecce, Braised Cuttlefish, Harissa & Parsley’ borrowed spicy flavours from Sicily to produce a rich, unctuous sauce, whilst ‘Spinach and Potato Gnocchi, Brown Butter & Sage’, was gloriously light – both dishes got the thumbs up. Meanwhile, I opted for the ‘Chestnut Pancake, Taleggio, Carrots & Kale’, I have had these pancakes in Italy, they are particularly popular in the Lunigiana region. I love the sweetness of the chestnut flour and these were some of the finest I’ve tasted – lighter than I’ve had before but wonderfully matched by the creamy, melted taleggio. The main courses were ‘Haddock, Niccola Potatoes, Monk’s Beard & Winter Tomato’; the haddock was cooked to perfection with a crispy skin, whilst the simply quartered sweet tomatoes dressed in a vinaigrette with the bitter monk’s beard were a perfect balance. ‘Braised Rabbit Leg, Swede & Cavolo Nero’, came falling off the bone in a delicious white wine sauce; with the sweet swede it was almost overly rich, but the bitterness of the cavolo nero saved the day! Finally, desserts, ‘Carrot Cake & Walnuts’ which Nick and Felix shared and exclaimed at its moist lightness – unfortunately, being gluten-free, I couldn’t try this! The other option was ice cream which, as it was so cold outside, I couldn’t bring myself to order, so instead I had another of those delicious espresso martinis, not a bad choice(!), but I have since discovered that their homemade ice cream is revered – so I will definitely have to return on a warmer day!

Our meal at Artusi left me kicking myself – why on earth hadn’t I returned sooner?! It was a delicious, rounded meal, a real January treat. Although Artusi is essentially a neighbourhood restaurant it’s worth a trip even if you don’t live in the vicinity of Peckham. I urge you to make the detour, but do make sure you book!…

Wood and Water, Brixton, SW9

January 2023

Just recently Nick and I have tried a couple of new restaurants which I was hoping to share, but I’ve struggled to find one that ticked all the important boxes; not only is a restaurant’s food important but there’s also the ambience and service to think about. For example, one restaurant we visited stood out for its food, but the dining room was so cold that a lot of the diners, including us, were complaining – the interior designers had not thought through the consequences of the magnificently high ceilings. Admittedly we were dining on one of the coldest weekends that London had experienced in years but even the waitress agreed, in her elegant French accent, “it’s so cold that my nose hasn’t stopped running all day!”, they were words which I never imagined I’d hear a waitress utter! The same waitress suggested we return in the springtime when the weather was warmer, and yes, I may consider revisiting ‘Maison François’ in Mayfair as the food was good if somewhat pricey, however for the time being it doesn’t merit a review as I couldn’t recommend such an uncomfortably cold restaurant.

Fortunately, as luck would have it, just when I needed a ‘January kickstart’, last week I found a restaurant that ticked all my boxes and which was on my doorstep. ‘Wood and Water’ can be found in the heart of Brixton. Anyone who’s been over to Brixton lately will know that these days it’s very ‘on-trend’ with a lively vibe. So, whether or not you’re in the younger age bracket or, like Nick and I, over fifty-plus and in need of a youthful hit, it’s definitely a good area for a fun evening. The interior of ‘Wood and Water’ is soothingly low-lit, and has a moody, cool ambience with marble tables and velvet upholstery – it was just the type of cosy refuge that Nick and I needed last Saturday night when London was experiencing ‘monsoon-like’ rainstorms! There was a cool, R&B soundtrack playing, the type that you want to ‘Shazam’ (and yes, we did, the ‘Frankie Knuckles’ track will be turning up on one of my playlists!) – the atmosphere box was most definitely ticked! But it was the menu that was intriguing, ‘Wood and Water’ calls itself a ‘British restaurant with a Jamaican soul’. Its fusion cooking at its best– modern British meets West Indian. Being partial to West Indian food, I already had a good feeling about the menu and was to discover that the combination was one which really works. But before we started ordering the food we were easily navigated by our waiter to the cocktail menu (service was very good – another box ticked!). Cocktails are a big part of the menu, it’s actually possible to just pop in for a cocktail and nibbles at the small bar (duly noted!). With cocktails in hand and some very good ‘Plantain Chips’ on the side – these were super fresh and still warm – we moved on to our choices from the menu of small sharing plates…. There were ‘King Prawns, Scotch Bonnet & Cassava’, a wonderfully balanced dish – the prawns were meaty and fresh tasting with a zing from the chilli. ‘Ackee & Saltfish Pie’, was one of the best fish pies I’ve had in a long time, there was just the right level of chilli combined with the tasty salt fish – Nick exclaimed that he could eat it “all night long”, which was a great compliment! Alongside we had ‘Plantain, Butter Bean & Beetroot’, it’s subtle sweet flavour cut the spice and salt of the fish pie beautifully. ‘Duck Breast, Parsnip & Plum’ was a perfectly cooked dish, if I were being picky I would suggest it was a little on the sweet side – perhaps it would have been better with another vegetable instead of parsnip – but would I eat it again?… Yes! Finally, dessert was the ‘pièce de résistance’, a take on Baked Alaska; ‘Sweet Potato, Meringue, Rum and Ginger Ice Cream’ was simply delicious!

Not only is the food wonderful at ‘Wood and Water’, but its smart yet casual atmosphere with its trendy soundtrack, irresistible cocktails and friendly service makes it an attractive venue for all – a date night for two, a rendezvous with friends or a dinner for an older couple like Nick and I who simply need to feel rejuvenated!…

Mambow, Peckham, SE15

October 2022

It’s not often that you find a piece of food heaven at the back of a clothes shop, but last Saturday I discovered Mambow! In the heart of Peckham, just opposite Peckham Rye station, Mambow can be found in ‘Market’, a shared workspace for independent professionals and the home to a few fashion and food outlets. Behind these fashion outlets Mambow serves up authentic Malaysian dishes. It’s a casual affair with just a handful of tables and counter-seating facing a tiny open kitchen, but the small menu delivers a powerful punch of perfectly-balanced flavours. Last weekend, seated at the aforementioned counter, I had the chance to see the food both being made and plated up, it was entertainment at its best; it’s quite astonishing how, from the compact galley kitchen, chef Abbey Lee manages to serve up food of such high quality.

The great thing about the menu is that it’s short enough to order, more or less, every dish to share between two – or rather Nick and I did, being greedy as always! To start with there was ‘Lor Bak’, a fabulous five-spice pork and prawn roll wrapped in crisp-fried layers of bean curd skin, rather like a sausage roll but much better. ‘Achar Awak’ were pickled vegetables, they were sweet and sour with a splendid spicy punch. There was also the evening’s special, ‘Crispy Cornflour Fried Chicken with Sambal Mayo’ – a fantastic show-stopping dish. Moving on we had the ‘Ikan Assam Padas’, a fish curry with tamarind and laska leaf, this was the hottest dish of the evening, but nevertheless delicious, the heat was bearable and rather moreish! My favourite dish was the ‘Black Pepper Curry Chicken’ made with Sarawak Black Peppercorns and red onion; the melt-in-your-mouth chicken literally fell off the bone whilst the peppery sauce managed to be subtle yet pleasingly complex. Finally, dessert was ‘Cendol’, with its green jelly noodles, sticky red aduki beans and shavings of coconut ice it was a wonderfully unusual dessert, sweet and cooling; a perfect end to an extremely good meal.

Mambow is one of those places that leaves you feeling quietly smug; it’s a real find and offers good value for money. So, if you know what’s good for you, get down to Peckham now and whilst you’re there pop upstairs to ‘Forza Wine Bar’ for a cocktail – they have a breathtaking roof terrace with incredible views over the city of London!…

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen, Soho, W1

September 2022

Reading about Imad’s Syrian Kitchen, the food sounded amazing, but it was the story behind the restaurant that really made me want to visit… Owner and chef, Imad Alarnab, came to London from Syria as a refugee in 2015. He had been a successful restauranteur in Damascus, but the Syrian war destroyed his enterprise and he was forced to leave to find a better life for his family. It was a perilous journey; after being smuggled in lorries he finally reached Calais and eventually the UK where he was given asylum. At first, he worked washing and selling cars, but he was a chef at heart and so started running supper clubs and pop-ups, and at the same time raised money for the charity ‘Choose Love’ that supports refugees. Later he crowdfunded a further £50,000 for his own permanent restaurant, Imad’s Syrian Kitchen. What a story of perseverance!… I needed to eat in this restaurant to at least acknowledge my respect for his incredible journey and determination. So when meeting a friend for lunch last week, it seemed the obvious choice…

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is situated in Soho, just off Carnaby St in Kingley Court. For those of you who haven’t visited, Kingley Court is a three-story dining destination with 25 restaurants spread out over its floors, it offers food flavours from every corner of the globe. To be honest, with its hustle and bustle it’s not really my scene, so I was relieved to find Imad’s Syrian Kitchen in a quieter corner on the third floor. Imad’s has a bright, casual interior and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. The menu is easy to navigate, short and sweet. There are a few of the well-known Middle Eastern staples such as Hummus and Baba Ganoj (smoked aubergine), but I was there for something new… We started with ‘Mtuma’ (crushed new potatoes, garlic, chermoula and tahini yoghurt) which was extremely moreish – the type of thing you could happily eat alone for supper, it was wonderful. There was also ‘Daqet Bandura’ (heritage tomatoes, goats cheese and roasted fennel with dukka), I loved the freshness of the tomatoes, although they weren’t as sweet as I had hoped for (fault no doubt of the English weather!), they were saved by the goat’s cheese and the subtle spices – it’s easy to understand why dukka is the new darling of the spice world! The stand-out dish was the ‘Shaquaf’ (Grilled lamb skewers, marinated in sumac, olive and orange with sweet potato and roasted vegetable mash and sautéed greens). I’m salivating as I write this as this dish was absolutely delicious, subtly spiced to perfection – the lamb was superbly tender. To finish we shared the ‘Syrian Pistachio Ice Cream with ‘Candy Floss’, this was a Middle Eastern style ice cream instead of a creamy Italian style gelato, it was slightly glutinous and milky flavoured rather than having a strong pistachio taste however, the sweet ‘candyfloss’ topping was an inspired addition!

I had been a little concerned that Imad’s wouldn’t live up to my expectations, I wanted to love it before visiting simply for the incredible story behind the restaurant. I needn’t have worried as in fact the food was beyond my expectations, so much so that only a few days later I popped in again for lunch with Nick, who I knew would love its food. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed for a private function, I was gutted, but we will be returning! Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is definitely a testament to the values of immigration – let us not forget!…

Andrew Edmunds, Soho, W1

September 2022

If like me, you have lived in London for the past thirty years you’ll be familiar with the restaurant ‘Andrew Edmunds’. Having first opened in 1985 it’s a stalwart of Soho, serving a seasonal, modern British menu. With its cosy, candlelit interior it’s been voted London’s most romantic restaurant more times than not. But it’s not just for courting couples and with this in mind when we were deciding on where to go for a casual birthday celebration Andrew Edmunds seemed like the perfect choice (Felix was turning twenty-two; it only seems like yesterday when we were celebrating his 21st in style at ‘Five Fields’ – review here!).

Entering the 18th-century townhouse is always a joy, it’s a bit like stepping back in time. Yes it’s a bit cramped and rough around the edges, but that’s the point – it’s bistro style at its best. Then of course there’s the food; the hand-scrawled menu can’t help but please. On the evening of our visit, starters included ‘Burrata, Honeymoon Melon, Rocket & Tomato’, a delicious dish, its simplicity allowed the quality ingredients to shine. There was also ‘Confit of Duck, Chicory & House Vinaigrette’ which was the birthday treat that Felix had been hoping for – he loves duck and this confit had pleasing bittersweet flavours. Main courses were uncomplicated but nonetheless tasty; ‘Roast Pork Chop, Braised Swiss Chard & Anchovy’ was a well-balanced flavoursome dish, as was ‘Roast Leg of Lamb, Grezzina Courgette Scapece & Mint’ – the minty courgettes were particularly moreish. Meanwhile, Felix raved about the ‘Cod, Little Gem Lettuce, Roast Tomatoes & Aioli’ (I was more than happy at this point with our choice of restaurant for his celebration!). Desserts were a ‘Baked Cheesecake & Blackberry Compote’ – again Felix picked the winning dish, although we couldn’t complain about the ‘Buttermilk Pudding & Figs’, except that it was a little too much for one person to eat!

On leaving the restaurant Nick and I, as always, promised to come back sooner than later – thirty years or so after we first discovered Andrew Edmunds it still didn’t disappoint. The quality of its unpretentious food is as consistent as ever. So, if you haven’t already tried it, I suggest you add ‘Andrew Edmunds’ to your London restaurant list – it’s great for any occasion!…

Skosh, York

July 2022

If you read my blogs, you will know that over the past few years my son, Felix, has been studying at York University. Of course, this has given Nick and me the perfect excuse to discover the many restaurants in York! It has an impressive restaurant scene and ‘Skosh’ is one of the more contemporary additions. Its name originates from the Japanese ‘sukoshi’, meaning ‘a small amount’, reflecting not only the small plates it serves but also the Japanese flavours that inspire its food. Skosh is a small restaurant and tables for dinner, particularly at the weekends, are prized, so you need to plan ahead. I finally got my act together and having booked well in advance managed to get a table. I was looking forward to seeing for myself why Skosh was putting York on the ‘foodie’ map….

On the evening we ate at Skosh we were particularly tired, having been out the evening before celebrating Felix’s graduation at Meltons (review here!) and having drunk more than our fair share of wine, not to mention the cocktails. Fortunately, Skosh’s contemporary dining room with its open kitchen had an energetic, buzzy atmosphere to keep us awake, plus they have a couple of house cocktails which worked as a good pick-me-up! On entering you’ll find that there is nothing fancy about Skosh, but as soon as the food starts to arrive at the table it becomes quite stunning! They recommend 5-6 plates to share; our first plate, ‘BBQ Spring Lamb Tartare’ was a fantastic start, the pea and mint were creatively lifted with a kick of wasabi – it was an outstanding dish. Equally good yet completely different was the delicate, fresh flavoured ‘Sashimi of Cornish Wild Brill with Fennel, Caviar, Yuzu Kosho’. Our tired, slightly hungover bodies were craving ‘carbs’ so the ‘Roast Jersey Royals – “chip shop curry”’ was a must on the menu and it didn’t disappoint, the “curry” sauce was an elegant, very tasty take on a dahl. ‘Grilled Duck Breast – Gooseberry, Elderflower & Fresh Green Peppercorns’, was a winning dish, my favourite of the evening, the tangy gooseberry complemented the duck beautifully, it was one of those dishes which you’d rather not share! Our other meat course was ‘Crispy Pork Belly with Watermelon, Peanut & Nam Pla’, which although tasty, didn’t quite deliver the punchy flavours I was expecting. Finally, dessert, just the one between us, as we were ready for our beds at this point, ‘Spice Bread Parfait with Cherry, Pistachio, Smoked Tea & Shiso’, was an unusual, but very delicious dessert!

Skosh undoubtedly merits its reputation for being York’s new hot spot; it’s casual dining at its finest. Felix has now graduated and returned home to London, but Nick and I are already planning to return soon to York – it’s easy to do a day trip from London; Skosh will be one of the restaurants we’ll be returning to enjoy – of course, I will be reserving a table in advance!…

Outlaw’s, Port Isaac, Cornwall

July 2022

Earlier this year there was news on the grapevine that Nathan Outlaw, chef and fish aficionado,  was opening a guesthouse in Port Isaac. The small fishing village in Cornwall was already home to two of Outlaw’s Michelin-starred restaurants. The new guesthouse would offer a two-night ‘foodie retreat’ package; on one night visitors could eat at ‘Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen’ and on the other at ‘Outlaw’s New Road’. How could I resist?… I promptly booked the package for Nick’s birthday – any excuse! In my excitement at getting a reservation, I had forgotten just how long the car journey is from London to Cornwall, and I must admit that as the date of our visit approached I began to dread the 5-6 hour journey down to Port Isaac – could eating at these two restaurants really be worth that trip just for a weekend?!…

On arrival at the quaint, picturesque village of Port Isaac, any regrets very quickly disappeared, it felt like a world away from the city and straightaway we both felt relaxed by the change of scenery. It was a bonus that the UK was experiencing a heatwave, the skies were blue and the view out to sea was crystal clear. Outlaw’s Guest House is perched above Port Isaac, looking out along the coast towards Tintagel Castle, we were impressed by its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and home-from-home attitude. There’s an honesty bar for when they’re not around to make drinks and there are complimentary afternoon teas, which included specially made gluten-free scones and cakes for me; it really does feel that they go that ‘extra mile’ to make your stay enjoyable!

Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen

Having settled into our simple, but very comfortable room we strolled down to the port for the first instalment of our ‘foodie package’. Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen can be found in a tiny 15th-century fisherman’s cottage in the heart of Port Isaac. It’s the more casual of the two Outlaw restaurants, serving a fixed menu of small, original seafood plates. The menu noted ‘You shall have a fishy on a dishy…When the boat comes in…’ and indeed it’s the sea, fisherman and local growers that dictate their daily menu, everything is incredibly fresh. Before the dishes started to arrive we were treated to a couple of canapes, ‘Cods Roe on Brioche’ and ‘Crab on Rye’, they were the perfect complement to our house cocktails. These were followed by our first course of ‘Cured Bass Tostada, Tomato, Avocado & Chilli’, which was wonderfully fresh and light with just the right balance of chilli and tang from the pickled onions. Next up was ‘Spiced Ling, Fennel & Gherkin’, the ling which was wrapped in subtle curry spices, was delicious with the yoghurt dip and lightly pickled fennel and gherkin salad. ‘Lobster Dumpling & Sesame Toast’ was a clean, light dish to follow the spice of the Ling; it was clear to see that the menu was all about balancing the flavours to excite the taste buds. Indeed the ‘Monkfish Satay, Peanut & Lime’ was pure excitement, it had comforting flavours that thrilled. Equally, ‘Turbot On The Bone, Mint & Coriander Butter’, was exactly the right combination of fresh flavours that our taste buds needed after the sublime sweetness of the satay. Finally, the dessert was a zingy ‘Strawberry & Limoncello Parfait with Meringue’, it was an inspired choice to finish a fantastic meal.

The next morning we awoke ready for the next course of our ‘foodie retreat’… Breakfasts at Outlaws did not disappoint in addition to the homemade croissants, granola and fruit compotes (gooseberry was my favourite!), there was a choice of ‘Full English’ or ‘Kedgeree’. Having refuelled we drove to nearby Rock and hopped on the little ferry to Padstow to check out Rick Stein’s neck-of-the woods however, we were far too full to contemplate a lunch at one of his three establishments! Taking the ferry back from Padstow, we smugly agreed that we preferred the more tranquil ambience of ‘Port Isaac’. Next on our agenda was Tintagel with its ancient castle ruins, legends of King Arthur and infamous footbridge that visitors take to its little island. The views from Tintagel are phenomenal, breath taking and refreshing. So refreshing that we were now feeling peckish, so we made our way back to the comfort of Outlaw’s Guest House for the complimentary afternoon cream tea – leaving room for our dinner at ‘Outlaw’s New Road’…

Outlaw’s New Road

Outlaw’s New Road is literally a ‘stones-throw’ across the road from Outlaw’s Guest House. Before crossing the road we enjoyed an aperitif on the guest house’s terrace with its incredible vista of the coast, we could just make out the Tintagel footbridge we had crossed earlier! Our second tasting dinner was a slightly more grown-up affair, the fish menu features classic, elegant flavours. To kick off the ‘fish show’ there was sweetly smoked trout with rye bread and a light crab salad. This was followed by ‘Raw Bass’, served with a beautifully light pea jus and a ‘Lobster Salad’, with chunks of lobster which were lightly dressed allowing them to sing with their full, fresh flavour. Next up was ‘Lobster Bisque’, which was incredibly flavoursome with the added surprise of a delicious piece of hake nestling under its surface. Equally good was ‘Mackerel’, served with the delicate, sweet crunch of kohlrabi. Finally, ‘Bass’ was served with a wonderful creamy wine sauce with gnocchi, broad beans and spinach; it goes without saying that it was a perfectly cooked piece of fish (the chefs at Outlaw’s definitely know a thing or two about fish!), its delicate flavour was perfectly matched by its accompaniments. Dessert was ‘80% Chocolate’, a fondant pudding with crème fraiche ice cream and a brandy snap. It was a rich, wonderfully executed dessert – a sublime end to a sensational meal.

Our stay at Outlaw’s Guest House and our meals at their restaurants exceeded our expectations. Both restaurants serve fish faultlessly, it was inspiring to see how the flavours evolved around each fish without overpowering its delicate taste. Of course, you don’t have to stay at Outlaw’s Guest House to eat at either restaurant, but if you want to be spoilt for a couple of nights it really is a great package. The staff at the guest house were particularly warm and friendly – they seemed genuinely invested in the business. On leaving I was presented with a ‘doggy bag’ of the gluten-free treats that I hadn’t managed to eat the day before – a ‘little something’ for the road trip; it’s these little extras that make all the difference and leave you wanting to return again and again!…

Manteca, EC2

June 2022

Since it opened in Shoreditch just before Christmas, I’ve been meaning to the visit Italian restaurant, Manteca. I finally used the excuse of a lunch date with a friend to check it out a few weeks ago. I was duly impressed but felt that we hadn’t done the menu justice, so I decided to return promptly with Nick, who, with his healthy appetite, is the perfect partner for trying restaurants as it gives me the opportunity to order lots of dishes!…

Manteca can be found in a gritty, trendy corner of Shoreditch, an area which exudes energy – it’s the perfect location for this restaurant with its buzzing atmosphere. The open kitchen pulses at the heart of the restaurant and the dining room soaks up its chaotic spirit; they do have additional seating downstairs but I much preferred being seated upstairs with the action! Manteca concentrates on ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking, they even have their own in-house salumeria. It’s all about the quality of the produce. The simple sharing menu allows the food to sing, there are small plates and larger ‘main event’ dishes. To begin with Nick and I enjoyed a few of the smaller plates. ‘Sun Sweet Melon & Culatello’, was probably some of the best melon I’ve tasted in a long time, both here and in Italy, whilst the Culatello ham was wonderfully flavoursome – they were both undoubtedly quality ingredients! ‘Pig Skin Ragu’ was served with a puffed, crispy crackling, which could be dipped into the incredibly tasty ragu. The ragu is reason enough to visit the restaurant – it’s Italian home cooking at its very best. ‘Sea Bass Crudo’ was served with fermented cucumber, lemon and fennel and a beautifully rich olive oil, the flavours were fresh, clean and delicious. Manteca is particularly renowned for its hand-rolled pasta, this was another reason why it was important for me to have my side-kick, Nick, with me because being gluten-free I couldn’t try it. Nick assured me that the ‘Brown Crab Cacio e Pepe’ was incredibly good; the tonnarelli pasta was ‘al dente’ and the silky sauce perfectly complemented it. I must admit to having a sneaky spoonful of the sauce, it was divine, rather than a seafood flavour, the crab added an earthy, buttery robustness to the pasta. Moving on to the ‘main event’ dish, we chose the ‘Saddleback Pork Chop’ and ‘Grilled Greens with Salsa Rossa’. The pork was, without doubt, one of the best pork chops I’ve had, it was succulent with a wonderful wood-fired flavour, the grilled greens with the smoky slightly piquant salsa were particularly good on the side. Finally, desserts were a perfect end to a fabulous meal –  a creamy ‘Zabaglione with Summer Fruits’ and a crumbly, moist ‘Cherry & Almond Cake’.

Manteca is one of those restaurants which feeds the soul and leaves you thinking of your return visit. I would recommend that you check it out at the soonest opportunity, just make sure you visit on an empty stomach as you will want to devour as many dishes on the menu as possible!…

The Ledbury, Notting Hill, W11

June 2022

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

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

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

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

The Elderflower, Lymington, The New Forest

June 2022

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

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

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

Lutéce, Georgetown, Washington DC

May 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Osip, Bruton, Somerset

May 2022

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

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

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

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

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

The Newt, Somerset

A Hotel & Restaurant Review

May 2022

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

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

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

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

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

The Farmyard Restaurant

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

The Botanical Rooms

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

The Garden Café

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

In conclusion

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


April 2022

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

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

Benoit, 4th Arrondissement

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

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

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

Robert & Louise, 3rd Arrondissement

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

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

Au Petit Tonneau, 5th Arrondissement

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

Kolamba, Soho, W1

April 2022

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

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

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

Kudu Collective – Kudu & Kudu Grill, Peckham, SE15

February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Humble Chicken, Soho, W1

February 2022

(Since this review Humble Chicken has changed its concept and is now only serving a 12 course tasting menu)

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

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

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

Leroy, Shoreditch, EC2

February, 2022

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

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

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

Noble Rot, WC1

November, 2021

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

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

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

Sessions Arts Club, EC1

November 2021

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

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

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

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

Danclair’s, Brixton, SW9

October 2021

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

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

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

The Begging Bowl, Peckham, SE15

October 2021

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

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

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

Smiths of Wapping, E1

September 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Behind, London E8

September 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Maremma, Brixton

September 2021

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

Sorry, I’m digressing(!)…t