Monday, 21 July 2014

REVIEW: Launceston Place, Launceston Place, Kensington

Launceston Place has been at the back of my mind for absolutely ages now. Everyone keeps talking about it, photos are popping up all over Twitter and the food looks stunning. The head chef here that's worked his magic is, Tim Allen. Tim's started working here in 2012, and was previously housed at none less than the two Michelin starred restaurant, Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds. He gained his first Michelin star here at Launceston Place, in the same year he started - what a fantastic achievement. 

A glass of something fizzy and some heart attack worthy pre canapes really helped settle us in, and give us a taste of what magical things we still had yet to come. I must admit i was a bit clueless to what these decadent canapes were as i was too busy downing my rose. Crisp, thick truffled sandwich was one - unbelievably rich and smelt like a dream. Another were pastry bowls filled with a minty, jelly pickle mixture. I really have no idea, but it was just as intense and dreamy.

When i started to tuck into my starter i realised I'd suddenly stumbled upon a gem. Slow cooked duck egg, pea fricassee, bacon and a pea cappuccino - finished with fried bread for yolk dipping. I was wondering when i was going to wake up from this surreal taste sensation. The egg was perfectly good. The bacon gave this lovely meaty and smoky element to the dish and of course the pea. I can't remember the last time I've wanted to head plunge my face in to something which shouldn't be anything more than simple. Chef Tim managed to take such a contracted flavour from the pea, whisk it up and not lose any of that gorgeous colour and seemed to only conjure up more flavour - he must of been using some sort of magical variety of pea.

Tartare of smoked haddock with granny smith apple, mooli, pickled cucumber, buttermilk and horseradish - it was as if someone just hit me with a stick and told me it was summer. Undeniably one of the freshest dishes I've had this year. There was bags of acidity which left you dribbling. The intensely flavoured smoked haddock had that rare balance whereby you could still actually taste the fish and the cold pickled cucumber and similarly chilly buttermilk made for a lovely, vibrant dish.

Picking a favourite dish here, naturally would be a hard thing to do. But actually this plate of sole, brown shrimp, piquillo, squid, fennel, padron pepper and brandade ticked every box for me - even if it wasn't perfect. I'll start by saying the sole could have been slightly less cooked, and the fennel slightly less overpowering (perhaps a hit of balsamic vinegar or slow cooking). Otherwise the sole had a lovely buttery flavour with that padron juice seeping in to it. And the padron pepper with its filling was quite literally a thing of beauty. The dab of piquillo just gave this dish that extra little Spanish opmh it so gloriously deserved. For a few minutes you were left feeling as if you'd been stranded somewhere in the Mediterranean.

I used to be obsessed with ordering a main course which always had meat. The idea of missing out on it for fish, or vegetable always left me feeling a little cheated. Slowly after i started eating out religiously i realised that more often than not - that choice can go very wrong and far more often than it needed too. Chewy meat became a regular occurrence, and a request of medium-rare meant they thought i wanted it well-done. Thankfully Launceston Place don't get involved with any of that laziness - but instead cook salt marsh lamb as if it they'd be trained by some higher being. Courgette and basil were singing in freshness, a lamb sauce was infused with a delicate hint of rosemary. And the most satisfying thing i ate was a little pastry parcel filled with polenta and flavoured with the best thing in the world - sage. A stunning dish.

The cheese trolley sat literally opposite our table, with a clear cabinet. Through our whole meal, and right from the start we said no cheese. Of course they put it straight in the centre of the dining room to tempt you. Serving them very well I'm sure because we couldn't resist any longer. Our lovely waiter, whose name i missed, helped make that hard choice for us - picking out his favourite examples. A blue with a powerful spicy finish, an earthy and pure goats cheese - were just a couple of our favourites. My only complaint was not the crackers but maybe those dried fruits were instead a compote or similar. A little wetness wouldn't have gone a miss.

I'm customary to a dessert - I've got an insatiable sweet tooth which I'm sure will leave me gummy by the time I'm in my mid 40's. Either way that hasn't stopped me and I'm so glad because this white chocolate mousse with the most succulent poached peaches was a rare find. At this point i was drooling, and that only got worse when i took a spoonful of the soft and concentrated raspberry sorbet, fresh ripe raspberries and some milky chocolate covered nuts. This dessert quite simply and plainly - incredible.

Petit fours were understated and quite simple - but perfect against the backdrop of such an incredible meal we just had to the opportunity to divulge in. In fact this was one of my favourite meals I've had in London this year. Every dish was so well balanced, had a concise, concentrated array of flavours - and nothing was over complicated or trying too hard. Tim Allen is certainly a very talented chef, and so is the team behind him. For lunch, this level of cooking will set you back a mere £30 for three courses including all the bits in between, which quite frankly - seems like a little bit of a bargain to me. Launceston Place may have already gone places, but I'm sure this hidden gem off the back streets in Kensington - still has plenty more to offer.


Square MealLaunceston Place on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 July 2014

London in the Sky - Michelin star chefs cooking 100ft from the ground

Five of London's top Michelin starred chefs are set to recreate their signature menus and dining experiences 100ft from the ground this summer

If like me you love any excuse to drink a little champagne, eat in a Michelin star restaurant, visit stunning destinations and travelling to unique experiences - then you're in luck. This year London is set to host, London in the Sky. Held 100ft up and seating 22 guests, this open-air platform will play floating kitchen for five Michelin star chefs for 10 days. Each chef will host lunch and dinner flights throughout, recreating their signature menus with the backdrop of some astonishing views of Canary Wharf. 

If that wasn't enough to tempt you, then surely arriving 45 minutes prior to 'take-off' to sip on some delicious Taittinger Champagne may help. Once suitably merry, you're taken to the table, strapped in to your seats before slowly descending into the sky. These unique sky dining events have been held around the world and it's not everyday you'll get to experience something quite like this. Brussels in the Sky was one hell of an amazing lunch, and quite frankly (sorry Belgium) views here in London are world class.

Dale Agar of Events in the Sky had this to say about the event “Having enjoyed a successful run on the continent we are very excited to offer Londoners the opportunity to enjoy their fantastic restaurant scene up amongst some of the most iconic skyscrapers. This event is going to be extraordinary”.

The chefs, when you can experience their cooking, and how much it's going to cost you

Anna Hansen’s The Modern Pantry brunches will be served every day throughout the festival which runs from the 12th to 21st September.

Xavier Boyer from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon lunch, afternoon flights and dinner on the 12th and 13th September

Tony Fleming from Angler lunch, afternoon flights and dinner on the 14th and 15th September

Atul Kochhar, Benares Restaurant and Bar lunch, afternoon flights and dinner on the 16th and 17th September

Pascal Aussignac from Club Gascon lunch, afternoon flights and dinner on the 18th and 19th September

Alyn Williams from Alyn Williams at the Westbury lunch, afternoon flights and dinner on the 20th and 21st September

08h30 – 09h00 & 09h30 – 10h00          Breakfast in the Sky - £50 per head
12h00 – 12h45 & 13h15 – 14h00          Lunch in the Sky - £200 per head
15h30 – 16h00 & 16h30 – 17h00          Taittinger in the Sky - £75 per head
18h30 – 19h30 & 20h00 – 21h00          Dinner in the Sky - £250 per head
21h30 – 22h00                                     Taittinger in the Sky - £75 per head

To Book tickets:

Friday, 18 July 2014

REVIEW: Mamounia Lounge, Curzon Street, Mayfair

I've eaten in so many restaurants now, I've had to stop counting. The most scary part of it all is - just not wanting to know how many. How many calories I've put away, how much money I've spent and how many bottles of wine I've consumed. We're living in strange times and one which we've all become over indulging vultures. Food surrounds us these days and we're all cooking less often, and eating out more. Lebanese food is one of though cuisines i really do forget when thinking of my next dining choice, but never again. Honest prices, huge portions and packing bags of foreign flavours - it's immensely satisfying.

Moutabel, is perhaps one of those immensely satisfying things to eat. It's such a rich, fresh dish that oozes flavour and for every piece of grilled and butter laden flat bread that goes into it, you just can't stop coming back for more. Smoky aubergine, smooth tahini, garlic and a good helping of olive oil and pomegranate  - what's not to like about this middle eastern classic.

Grilled halloumi is one of those dishes that can leave a scarring weight upon the hips in all its grilled, buttery simplicity  - but depending on how it's cooked, it can be easily overdone to the point of comparing it to a cross between playdough and an elastic band. Mamounia Lounge thankfully know how to cook it to pure perfection. It was salty, buttery, slightly charred and coated in a good lashing of herby olive oil. By halloumi standards, it doesn't get much better than this.

I've done this dish absolutely no justice in the slightest. It's really dark downstairs in the restaurant and we all know the flash on a mobile phone can make even the most delicious of dishes look hideous and boring. And that's exactly what my camera did here, but it couldn't be further from the truth. A extremely large plate of what was called sojuk sadah. Homemade Syrian lamb sausages made with cumin, sumac, garlic, peppers and paprika. They were gorgeous and very well cooked - and there was so much of it. For £7.00 this really was a bit of a bargain and shouldn't be sniffed at.

Prawns were cooked over a charcoal grill and came splurging out of their sliced open shells - and let me tell you, they were lovely. Juicy, very meaty and not at all overcooked. An overcooked prawn is an absolute tragedy and so when these beautifully paprika seasoned examples arrived, i couldn't have been happier. Portion sizes were still on the ridiculously big side. At this point in the meal we were seriously struggling - and i have an insatiable appetite compared to most.

A side of deep fried cauliflower sounded like a good idea, but in fact it was a tragedy. Limp, soft, soggy and barely crisp. This needed to be cooked with either a coating of delicious batter, or the oil needed to be a zillion degrees hotter, the cauliflower drained and barely pre-cooked before going into the oil. A nice idea, but one which quickly needed to be rectified, or taken off the menu. Talking of menus, it's absolutely huge. I don't know how they cope, or even how much food wastage must be going on in the kitchen but a smaller, more concise menu would be much more attractive and with its mammoth array - could easily put people off. Too much choice can sometimes make a restaurant seem a a little cheap.

The main course, which my flash again did it no justice. Was a delicious plate of grilled goodness. Moist skewers of succulent herb infused chicken, medium-rare cooked morsels of gorgeous lamb and some very well seasoned kafta. This was an excellent mixed grill, which for all this meat at only £18 - it really was a bit of a bargain. You could easily order this and need nothing else, there really was that much of it. A little heavy on the paprika, but otherwise a fantastic dish.

Chocolate fondant for dessert was a nice ending. Extremely chocolatey, cooked fresh to order and getting anywhere near it with a fork seemed to set this thing to explosion mode with lusciously thick, oozing chocolate sauce coming out of it, it was very good. In fact most things here at Mamounia Lounge were surprisingly good. I don't know why, but i came here with doubts. It could have been the lavish decor, Lamborghini cars parked outside or the men dressed in shiny suits - either way i was proved wrong. The food here isn't going to break boundaries, hell it may even confuse you but if you settle in, enjoy a little belly dancing and love a good cocktail - you'll have a great night, and leave full from delicious food, and hopefully a little drunk.


Mamounia Lounge on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

REVIEW: The Strand Dining Rooms, Strand, Trafalgar Square

Every weekend i have this grand plan for all these things I'm going to do. The restaurants i want to pre-book and if it's sunny, the roof terraces i must take my friends too. None of this really actually happens. Instead i end up changing my restaurant booking because I'm not quite happy with the choice i made and decide that the roof terrace cocktails are far too expensive. The other weekend i got on Twitter, desperate for a recommendation and by just a stroke of luck, The Strand Dining Rooms replied to say they'd just opened that day into soft launch. I couldn't resist heading down.

After a visit to the opera at the ENO to see a version of Bizet's, The Pearl Fishers (which i wasn't blown away with) we made that short stroll down to The Strand Dining Rooms, which literally sits just off Trafalgar Square and next to Charing Cross Station. It's been revamped immaculately. The room was been designed by none other than, Russell Sage. If you've got the cash to splash, Russell is the go-to designer for new restaurants opening in grand spaces. Polished dark wood, huge grand chandeliers - it's gorgeous. Cocktails were suitably glamorous and just as gorgeous.

The restaurant, launched by Mark Harris is essentially a brasserie, in both its casualness, its food and accessible prices for all. A very summer starter of beautifully cooked Cornish mackerel and a tomato salsa was exactly the sort of dish pre-theatre goers, and myself would want to eat. Its fresh, zesty, well executed and very accessible a £8.50. Its not going to change your life, or even be unlike something you've eaten before. But this honest cooking will leave you very satisfied.

A simple clean looking plate with a brawn terrine, pigs head croquette and piccalilli was dangerously addictive. The pigs head croquet was excellent, full flavoured and very well seasoned. While terrine was a little on the intense side with an incredibly meaty flavour which could perhaps put some people off. The texture, its dense pressing and again seasoning couldn't be faulted. Piccalilli was fantastic. It was sweet, sour, very tart and went beautifully with that delicious croquette.

I suspect this to be one of their signature dishes, as the menu reads 'The Strand Seafood Crumble'. To look at this dish, i expected nothing more than a warming well-made fish pie. Instead i was faced with something much more exciting than that. It was in fact the best fish pie I've eaten. One mouthful and its rich, buttery, creaminess transcended me to another planet. Then in my classy and decadent manner i managed to lose half of it all over the fresh new leather booth we were sitting in - we'll call it a christening. The crumble was of the dark breaded brown type and had just about every fish and shellfish underneath it. Juicy prawns, squid, mussels and chunks of fleshy white fish. This was one luxurious fish pie which i can't wait to come back and try again.

The 8oz sirloin of Dedham Vale beef was served with jenga stacked chips, roasted cherry tomatoes and a light bearnaise sauce. It was a well cooked, solid dish that I'd happily order again. The steak is no Ginger Pig from Hawksmoor kind, but at these prices (£25) it was a lovely slab of meat. The chips were pretty good too. Bearnaise sauce on the other handed was a little weak for my taste and didn't have enough tarragon or seasoning.

Blancmange with homemade doughnuts was for me, not at all exciting. Yet i couldn't fault its execution. The doughnuts were good but really needed a deep jam filling, and i didn't really get the combination between them and the blancmange. Looking at the menu desserts were actually not very exciting and i only chose this because it sounded like the most indulgent option. Perhaps this is where The Strand Dining Rooms let themselves down? I'll leave that for you to decide.

Apart from the less than satisfying dessert, The Strand Dining Rooms actually does exactly what it says on the tin (press release). In the Trafalgar Square area it's surprising how many bad, fast food restaurants there are here without having to venture in to Covent Garden - and even then it can be a bit hit or miss. The restaurant is so huge that walk-ins will always be a possibility and for a pre/post theatre meal, a good catch up with friends or even a date with the love of your evening you just met on Tinder - it's a great option. This no frills, honest cooking is a great new addition to the London dining scene and producing food like this on its first day - surely things can only get even better.


Strand Dining Rooms on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Sunday, 13 July 2014

REVIEW: Osteria 164, Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham

Another Italian restaurant review you say, well there's never such thing as too much Italian food. On top of Indian and Chinese, Italian cuisine must make up for at least half of what we choose to eat here in Britain when dining out. Most of the time when us British want hearty, well priced food and a good bottle of vino, it's at the top of our list - well at least mine anyway. When i heard that a new authentic Tuscan restaurant had just opened up in Fulham, i couldn't resist yet another excuse to eat out, and without letting standards slip - drink far too much wine.

I know very little about Osteria 164other than the fact that they try to source most of their produce from Tuscany to bring us Londoners a true taste of what this beautiful region has to offer. That said, our antipasti for two didn't quite have the impact we were expecting. Maybe I'm greedy but for two people, it really wasn't substantial enough. Parma ham was of a good quality but didn't have any age and/or flavour. Salami and porchetta were nice example but again, not the best we've had in London. Olives though and the garlic laden bruschette were excellent. I'd strongly advise exploring the other choices of starters, or at least ordering two of these platters.

When we moved on to the main courses, things changed for the unexpected. Without over exaggerating, or getting too excited - i was all of a sudden eating one of the best pasta dishes I've had in a very long time. If there were one creation that really got my taste buds excited, it was any dish with butter and sage. Here we had well cooked tortellini filled with a rich and herby wild boar stuffing, and a sage, butter and Parmesan sauce. It was so well cooked, with the balance of sage and butter so perfect there wasn't any doubt that the chef here knows exactly what he is doing. There was a lot of Parmesan too which is exactly how i like it - and even the quality of that was excellent.

The pizza here at Osteria 164 reminded me so much of the kind i had at this lovely little restaurant back in Bologna i fell in love with. Excellent pizza dough, with a lovely charred base, full of flavour and all important crunch. The pepperoni was also of good quality and the tomato base sauce had obviously been slowly simmering away as there was barely a trace of tart sourness or thinness to it. A lovely pizza which at £8.40, left me feeling as if i robbed the place. My kitchen barely squeezes in a conventional oven, so my dreams for an Italian wood fired one are going to have to wait, along with that Canadian hot tub in front of the TV.

Tiramisu was a fine example, certainly not the best I've have, but definitely one to satisfy even the most disconcerting of Italian foodophiles. This one here was really enough for two people but is meant to feed one. Thick cream, a nice well soaked sponge and just the right amount of coffee. Cocoa powder was very enthusiastic, with enough to really hit the back of your throat and leave you coughing and breathing it over dining companions. Bare this in mind if you're sitting in the strangely furnished courtyard because on a windy day, you'll leave everyone dining here - blind.

Near blindness aside, Osteria 164 is a great addition to the bleak, Wandsworth Bridge Road, which quite frankly has a reputation of bad restaurants, upcycling furniture shops and some truly awful bars. Perhaps give the antipasti a miss, and only venture in to the courtyard if you don't mind sitting next to the a children's play den because for as lacking in atmosphere this restaurant may be (at the moment), the pasta and pizza are so delicious that once you start eating, it doesn't really matter.


Osteria 164 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

REVIEW: Augustine Kitchen, Battersea Bridge Road, Battersea REVISITED

So i had that rare opportunity recently of going back to a restaurant which i dined at last year, and said i wouldn't be returning too. Everything i ate last year looked clumsy on the plate, attention to detail was minimal and things just didn't leave me longing for them again. But something unprecedented has happened. Just take your time, visually to look at my review of Augustine Kitchen last year and you can noticeably see the improvements. The head chef and owner , Franck Raymond has certainly taken customer feedback to the max, because he's managed to turn what was just another French bistro restaurant in Battersea, to THE best French bistro in Battersea.

From the moment i walked in to Augustine Kitchen again, something felt noticeably different. I'm not sure what, maybe it was the torrential rain outside which left us warm and cosy besides a bottle of Provence rose on our table. Maybe is was our waitress who was attentive yet unobtrusive. Or maybe i was yet again swooned over by the outstanding prices for this part of London. Who knows. Once we managed to gulp down some of that delicious cold rose, our first, of many starters arrived. A sublime duck terrine with a prune and ginger marmalade, a rich meatiness and great texture. There was so much flavour to it, with that marmalade adding a lovely coating of sweetness. We actually scraped the pot of marmalade dry - it was that good.

It was my first time ever sampling fera. I've heard about this fish, but not nearly enough compared to Simon Rogan's new restaurant Fera in Mayfair. Yet this humble delicacy deserves a honorary mention. I'm amazed chefs across the UK haven't been abusing it like they do everything else. It's full flavoured, strong, intense, yet once it's smoked that flavour turns to a lingering mellowness which worked perfectly with some dollops of what i think was an apple puree (although don't quote me on that) and some creme fraiche. What a gorgeous plate of food this was. It looked just as good too.

You'll forgive me for saying that I've never been a big fan of egg mimosa. It's the sort of dish your mother would give to you as a child when she had guests over getting sozzled on Liebfraumilch. Maybe she just wasn't very good at putting it together because Augustine Kitchen managed to completely change my perception of the dish. Light and creamy with a hint of curry vinaigrette and curly watercress. What more could you want. It was such a comforting dish, which while simple ticked all the boxes for a great starter.

A classic French onion soup served in a ramekin was exactly the dish we wanted to be eating while it was hailing down outside, it may be British summer time but that doesn't stop our weather changing rapidly. When i last ate this dish it looked so sad, it was too sweet and the cheese covered croutons were drowning in the middle of the bowl. Now, the Beaufort cheese is very generous, grilled perfectly, lots of croutons hiding underneath to soak it up and more importantly, not too sweet and seasoned perfectly. It's almost unrecognisable to when i was here last summer.

If we thought things couldn't improve or get any better than they already had over this lunch, then we were wrong. Dishes just kept giving. Absolutely the best thing i ate here at Augustine Kitchen was this incredible dish of roasted cod, quinoa (i can't stand the pronunciation for this word) and an orange and rosemary sauce. Just thinking back to this dish now makes me long for it. The cod was absolutely stunning. Cooked perfectly, skin off, and with one side so crunchy and a little salty- it left the mouth salivating. Dollops of smooth buttery potato, and a heavenly orange butter sauce. Every mouth was such a delight to eat. If you make it over to Augustine Kitchen this dish should be high up on your to taste list.

Cheese, well it was an outstanding array of some finest French examples. A rich and nutty Comte, sour and ethereal Tamie - and a blue cheese to die. Slicing into these huge chunks was definitely a test - all i wanted to do was pick up that half wheel and bite in to it. Some of that prune jelly we started with would have gone perfectly with the cheese course too - that and a couple of side plates for the crunchy bread and all that lovely cheese we tried our best not to devour it all.

Not only has technology improved so much that all of my photos looks a zillion times better than my last post, but it just shows you how delectable the dishes really look. This coconut floating island, if i recall correctly needed a custard with a little oomph. Now it's turned into a gorgeously light, chewy and fluffy meringue surrounded by a delicate, but quite milky custard and topped with those all important gratings of lime zest. The lime zest simply lifts this dish and turns it into the sort of dessert which you could never leave untouched if constantly put down in front of you.

A gorgeous warm raspberry and almond tart was dare i say it again, excellent. I'm never normally a huge fan of tarts (take that how you will). But here head chef Franck managed to create something so moist and full of flavour the idea of never eating a tart again seemed impossible. Especially once covered in that little pot of cream. The dark chocolate mousse was i think mixed with a little caramel, and if it wasn't - then it was even more magical. Topped with chocolate soil, and a sprig of basil - it was a lovely end to our meal.

Without any reluctance whatsoever i can wholeheartedly say that compared to my last visit to Augustine Kitchen, this meal was like eating in a completely different restaurant. Everything was presented beautifully, portion sizes were excellent, and still - so were the prices. It's shocking to think that within a five minute walk from my house, such a restaurant has changed so much under my nose, without me ever realising. Despite me loving the idea of removing my old review, that's not going to happen but instead just take a look at it, read it, compare it - you'll be on the other end of the phone by the end of it, booking a table at Augustine Kitchen. And i can tell you, you're in for a real treat.


You can read my review of Augustine Kitchen from November 2013 HERE

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