Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Hanging Out With Hix

Just got back from a gloriously satisfying and marvellously impromptu visit to Mark Hix's new Soho restaurant.

"We'll never get a table," I said to my spontaneous dining partner, "but let’s just walk past and check it out on the off-chance anyway".

We peered past a heavy metal door into the reception and lo and behold there was a table for two with our name on it.

The upstairs dining room looks very much like an old-skool Conran restaurant although a cooler version with a scattering of art deco details and one-off art pieces from London's art fash pack including the likes of Emin and Hirst.

Wooden tables are dotted about, a little too close for intimate chats, and the room is backed by a large bar running the length of the restaurant featuring a back-lit crusteca section complete with seashells. Over on the right, there's a row of booth seating and a semi-private dining room.

Onto the menu: Hix's thing is British dining with a big hearty focus on red meat. This was perfectly evident by the fact that nearly every table of suited and booted guys (and there were a few) had a great hunk of hanger steak hanging off of it.

Being a lady however, the starter of cod's tongue and girolles caught my eye.

"Does cod actually have tongue?" I sheepishly asked the waitress.
"Yes it does."
"They must be rather small then?"
"Well the dish actually contains some cheek glands as well as the actual tongue." Mmm, that's sold it for me. No really, I ordered it.

The cod's tongue was served grilled and breaded mixed with some perfectly chestnut-coloured mushrooms and slices of spring onion. It was a bit too salty for my high blood pressured liking and if I'm honest I couldn't taste any difference in cod tongue to any other parts of cod flesh, but it was tasty all the same.

But the starring starter was my partner's De Beauvoir smoked salmon 'Hix cure'. A generous portion of six slices of the thickest and most tantalizingly-smoky smoked salmon I have ever tasted.

For my main course I had a seasonal salad of roasted squash with pickled walnut and goat's cheese (actually a starter on the menu) and my dining buddy opted for steak, which appeared to go down very well.

After our meal, we popped down to the basement bar for a nightcap. True to the rumours of being London's most sociable restaurateur, Hix was propped up by the bar entertaining friends including Peter Blake whilst sipping on a pink cocktail.

The bar is a funky den of purposely mis-matched furniture, distressed mirrored walls, an embossed tin ceiling and soft, sexy lighting. Shelves of homemade jars of of an alcoholic nature sit happily on the back of the bar, fermenting into tempting liqueurs, mixers and aperitifs.

The cocktail menu is a drinks history novel and thirst quencher all rolled into one, brimming with British berry-infused concoctions and fruit punches. Not surprisingly, the man behind the drinks is Nick Strangeway the fabulous mixologist from Hawksmoor.


Hix on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Porridge Party on the Southbank

On Saturday 28th November, wrap up warm and head down to the Southbank for free porridge outside Giraffe restaurant at the Royal Festival Hall.

Rude Health (makers of very tasty museli, porridge and cereal-type products) are hosting a big porridge cook-off and roller-skaters will be handing samples of their tasty treats too.

London Porridge Cook Off
If you think you’re a bit of an expert at whipping up the Scots' favourite breckie, you can enter your best recipe for a chance to take part in the freestyle porridge cook-off.

Twelve finalists will have five minutes to transform a bowl of Rude Health porridge into their finest breakfast, using their choice of secret ingredients, as they try to impress the judges to win the title of London Porridge Prince or Princess 2009.
E.mail Rude Health for further details at:

Junior Porridge Cook Off
Mini cooks will get a chance to create their best porridge too.

With no experience or ingredients necessary, budding alchemists are invited to transform a bowl of plain porridge into their own tantalising breakfast treat using their choice of Rude Health's toppings.
For an application form to the Junior cook off: E.mail:

Finally the World Porridge Champion Anna Louise Batchelor will be cooking her winning Spotted Dick Porridge Pudding.

Don’t forget to bring your spoon!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Champagne Oh How I Missed You

On Thursday night I went to the launch of Galvin La Chapelle & Café de Luxe.

This is the third restaurant from the Galvin brothers – they already have a French bistro Galvin Bistro de Luxe at Baker Street, as well as the highly acclaimed Galvin at Windows, which overlooks Hyde Park from its 28th floor location. Ie. cracking views of London.

Despite this latest project launching a year behind schedule, they're clearly hoping to cash in on the city boys, as the site is seconds from Liverpool Street Station on Spital Square.

The building is pretty spectacular. Architects have added to the 19th Century Grade II listed building St Botolph's Hall, once home to Central Foundation Girls School.

The restaurant is divided into two sections – a fine dining room housed in the original building with a newly added mezzanine that fills half the space where showy dinners can eat looking out over the paupers below. A glass atrium joins the original space to a newly added bistro side of the restaurant.

Mirrors, worked metal, black furniture and large silver candelabras all take part to create a decadent look.

I consumed:

·Six oysters
·Two steak tartare on crisp bread
·One foie gras on artichoke
·One shredded duck on toast
·4,000 wasabi peanuts
·Too many glasses of champagne.

I'd forgotten how much I love champagne. It’s been a while. Paid for it on Friday though!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Great British Nosh at The Wharf – Canteen

After years of being a relative dining void (with the exception of course of the marvellous, magical Plateau Restaurant), Canary Wharf is swiftly becoming London's hottest new dining spot.

Jamie's Italian opened this summer to rave reviews. I still haven’t managed to try it as the wait has been over an hour for a table every time I've tried and they run an annoying no bookings policy.

At the other side of 'The Wharf', The Lower East Liquor Bar and Inn has opened next to Goucho serving up American food and cocktails at the riverside.

Now diners are flocking to the Park Pavillion where a medley of restaurants have sprung up on the new spot which overlooks Canada Square.

You can take your pick from the vast bar The Parlour, a new Roka, (those that know and love Roka, Charlotte Street will be salivating at the very thought), Mexican street food café Wahaca is to open imminently and last but not least a new Canteen.

We visited for dinner last Sunday.

Canteen does classic British comfort food well, served in unimposing identikit surroundings (other Canteens can be found at Spitalfields, Baker Street and The Royal Festival Hall).

Canary Wharf's Canteen had a bit of an American feel to it when we visited on Sunday evening. We sat down in a cosy green-carpeted booth in the serene and airy restaurant with glass floor-to-ceiling windows throughout and some chilled out jazz playing in the background.

All the roast dinners had sold out. A good sign!

We ate:

Devilled kidneys on toast
Spiced parsnip soup

Chicken tarragon and walnut salad
Prune, chicken and ale pie with mash and greens.

This was all washed down with a nice bottle of Primitivo Sangiovese and a banoffee pie to finish.Perfect Sunday night comfort eating.

Our only complaint was the banoffee pie had way too much crust (which you practically needed an electric saw to permeate) and not enough banoffee filling. In true American style we piped up and made our banoffee pie feelings known.

Look out for a Canary Wharf Wahaca blog post coming soon.

Canteen Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Don’t Ask for Dessert at Bocca Di Lupo

I never made it to Bocca di Lupo when it opened in Soho late last year. It's still one of London's most talked about restaurants, most searched for restaurant entries on websites like Time Out, and seems to have been unanimously hailed as the best thing since Italian sliced foccacia by London's food critics.

Needless to say, I have been excited about last night's visit ever since I booked a fortnight ago.

The restaurant was much smaller than I was expecting, with no more than 15 tables in a bright, square dining room topped by a stunning glass panelled circular chandelier and surrounded by peach wall paint. The front section of the restaurant is devoted to a long bar area and downstairs there's a private dining room.

The Good (a mini ramble about watermelon):

The cocktails! I chose a basil and watermelon martini and despite the misleading title (the drink was actually vodka based) this was one of the smoothest tasting wonderfully concocted fruity delights ever to meet my lips. The basil and watermelon were a powerful flavour combination, so perfectly blended that I envisaged a fine figure of a barman poring timelessly over my drink as he measured out the perfect quantities of each ingredient to the exact millimetre, before crushing the watermelon by hand and then sieving the liquid through ice to get it to the optimum temperature.

The Menu: a headache for the indecisive and a treat for any foodie. There are eight sections and every dish is offered as a starter or main. By the side of each option you can read which region of Italy it comes from, or if it's a creation of Bocca di Lupo's chef Jacob Kennedy it is awarded a 'BDL'.

After an hour of discussing our dishes and bugging the waitresses for translations of cotechino (a type of sausage cured on site), orecchiette (pig's ear shaped pasta) and guinciale (bacon made from pig's cheek), we were ready to go in for the kill.

I started with a BDL invention – shaved radish, celeriac and pecorino salad with pomegranates and truffle oil. It was fresh, zingy and bursting with truffle aromas.

Then I settled for a partridge seeing as it's game season and I've been reading and writing about the damn little birds for over a month now. The meat was juicy and rich and tasted great with side portions of wet polenta with Parmesan; borlotti beans with tomato and basil; caponata (summer vegetables in agrodolce with anchovies); and Romanesco broccoli served with parsley and Parmesan. Ahem, not all just for me of course.

Bocca di Lupo is special. The food has that homely, rustic, good-for-the-soul quality to it as well as the notion that time, love, thought and skill has been invested into each dish.

The Bad:
We didn’t order our food until an hour into our 2 hour and 15 minute slot and so sadly when the waitress put the dessert menus on our table she followed by saying we had come to the end of our time slot and didn't actually have time to order.

So, humph, we left without dessert and moved on to Soho's best-kept drinking secret 23 Romilly Street.

Oh well, next time I'll have to book for dolci and drinks only and finish off what I started.

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 October 2009

Italian Tapas At Polpo

Last night I took one of my oldest gal pals out to dinner to hear about a crazy trip to Ibiza over a lovely bottle of Montepulciano and cicheti (sharing plates of Italian tapas) at Polpo.

Polpo has just opened on Beak Street, and is the brainchild of Russell Norman, who used to work as operations director for Caprice Holdings, looking after top London restaurants like The Ivy, J Sheekey and Scott's.

Head chef Tom Oldroyd worked at Bocca di Lupo previously, another acclaimed Italian restaurant in Piccadilly, which opened last year.

The mid-18th century townhouse restaurant was heaving when we arrived with people seated at every table, eating at the zinc-topped bar and standing around at the entrance. This all helped to conjure up the rustic Venetian tavern style dining these guys are hoping to create.

We were seated at a row of tables for two running down the left hand side of the restaurant. Trying to get out to nip to the loo if you were on the inside banquette was no easy task and it was all a little too close to your neighbours for my liking.

On the plus side though, it was busy, bustling, and the food was reasonably priced. Our best starters included a delicious Gorgonzola and walnut wrapped in Mortadella (£1.90) and fig, prosciutto and mint served on grilled bread (£1.80) – sweet fruit, with meat and some fresh herb – one of my all time favourite flavour combinations.

Moving on to meats, we chose a dish of tender pork belly which came with a generous amount of crackling alongside radicchio and hazelnuts (£5.50); roast pumpkin, prosciutto and ricotta (£6) was interesting although I would have preferred a little more spice and flavour in the pumpkin; and Bigoli (buckwheat pasta) with anchovies although not to my liking (cold fishy noodles, eugh) was authentically Venetian and the pasta was homemade on site.

Polpo is no fine dining restaurant but nor is it trying to be. It's perfect for a lively dinner with a bunch of mates after interesting tasting and honestly priced food and wine and an easygoing dining experience.

I'm looking forward to returning to sample the other half of the menu!

We skipped dessert and instead jumped into a black cab to get to the official launch of Eight Club in Moorgate. Four floors up in a glass elevator, this private members bar and restaurant has floor to ceiling glass walls all over and 360 degree views of the city from the large outside terrace. The pomegranate cocktails were good but it ain't a patch on the nearby Shoreditch House.

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 28 September 2009

Loving The Luxe for Sunday Brunch in Spitalfields

Greetings foodie followers.

Newsflash, The Luxe in Spitalfields is finally open.

Those that knew its predecessor, The Spitz bar and restaurant, will welcome it with open arms as trying to get served even a bowl of chips at The Spitz was a painful experience, particularly on a hangover.

On the contrary, our cheery waitress wouldn't leave us alone despite the fact that it took my friend and I over twenty five minutes to order: a fish finger sandwich & coarse tartar (£5) and blueberry pancakes & maple syrup (£4.50).

Well I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my sandwich. The fish fingers were piping hot and nice and crunchy on the outside and featuring 'real' tasting fish on the inside. The tartar was chunky and fresh and accompanied with fresh white bread and some ketchup, it was not far off the best fish finger sarnie ever. Although now that I come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I had a fish finger sandwich so perhaps I didn’t realise how much I missed the childhood snack.

I tasted the pancakes and they were of good consistency, with decent maple syrup and lots of tangy blueberries inside.

The boys' fried breakfasts seemed to go down a treat too.

For those that don’t know, The Luxe is the latest venture from John Torode, the restaurateur that you may have seen on TV, presenting and judging MasterChef (not the bald one, the other one).

John Torode also owns Smiths of Smithfield, the Farringdon eatery that offers some of London's best breakfasts on the ground floor and a fine dining restaurant at the top.

Similarly, The Luxe upstairs restaurant will open on 1st October. Watch this space for more news...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Central Perk Coffee Shop Pops Up in Soho

Calling all pop-up bar fans, coffee addicts and lovers of the cult TV series Friends…

A pop-up bar modelled on the Central Perk coffee shop from the hit TV series Friends has appeared on Carnaby Street.

Head down to pick up your FREE coffee and soak up the re-created Greenwich Village coffee scene.

I popped along to check it out and although I did have to queue for a while, it was worth the wait as Gunther was there in the flesh having pictures taken on the 'Friends sofa'!

The coffee's not bad either. Latte, Cappuccino, Americano, take your pick. Just don't ask for a skinny OK? That's taking the pop-up coffee concept a little too far, as I learnt when the server smirked at my request.

You'll have to be quick. It will all be over on 5th October.

Download your free coffee voucher and directions here:

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Friday Night in Soho - Yalla Yalla and Jrink

When I close the office door behind me on a Friday evening and burst out on to the streets of central London, the feeling of relief of not having to return to work for a whole 72 hours is always a liberating one.

London is great in late September. The sun is still shining, the air is still warm and the evenings are still light.

I stopped off at Office in Covent Garden and bought a lovely pair of black boots (oops, naughty) before meeting some friends for drinks.

When I asked around the office for a good cocktail bar in Soho someone said try Jrink. It’s at the top of Frith Street near Arbutus. Just £4 for cocktails at happy hour between 5pm and 8pm and it wasn't ridiculously busy like most bars on a Friday night. We knocked back some rasberry Mojiots in quick succession.

The night's mission was all about visiting the new Beirut street cafe Yalla Yalla. Since receiving a glowing write up in the Metro and and similar praise from Charmaine Mok in Time Out, it's been hard to get a table.

Down an alley of sex shops, Yalla Yalla makes for a wholesome contrast. We didn’t realise it was quite so cosy.

There's just a handful of seating, dotted around, in front of a counter laden with baklava, pickled chilli and Lebanese pastries.

If you're after a boozy Friday night, this probably isn’t the place for you, but for a homely lunch or afternoon catch up with a friend or two it's perfect.

Yalla Yalla is snug and inviting and serves up simple but tasty Middle Eastern treats. We had babah ghannouj, hummus and fattoush salad followed by a mixed meat grill and moussaka with rice, and flat bread that lived up to its name wonderfully, eg. very flat!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Apsleys - A Heinz Beck Restaurant Opens in London

Last night, I tested out the newly re-opened Apsley's restaurant at the London's 5 star Lanesborough Hotel.

Past the lobby's ornate flower arrangements, statues and plush carpets, we entered the dining room to find a scene reminiscent of London in the 1920s.

Three glistening chandeliers hung from the glass-roofed ceiling of the two-tiered Art Deco dining space (tip: if you like people gazing, request a table on the top level).

Charming waiters floated around us effortlessly bringing us foccacia, homemade bread sticks and olive bread, which we dipped into a choice of two olive oils along with some coarse and incredibly strong tasting salt that we were advised by the waiter was originally used by the Romans.

Triple Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck has devised the new "light Mediterranean menu", and while he's not around executive chef Massimiliano Blasone will head up the team.

Best dishes included perfectly al dente rabbit ravioli with asparagus and pistachio and potato gnocchi in shellfish broth.

A sommelier chose all of mine and my pal's wines, pairing us something different with each dish and each one was spot on.

Fergus O'Sullivan gave it a pretty crap write up in today's London Paper which I thought was a bit harsh!

London Paper verdict:
Food - 4 stars
Vibe - 3 stars
Service - 1 star
Veggie choice - 2 star

He said "staff scurry around with crumb catchers and constantly ask if you're enjoying the meal".

I found the staff to be a complete pleasure and despite the huge size of the dining room, everything worked like clockwork and every waiter was busy at all times looking after customers needs. In my opinion attentivness is part of what you're paying for in a fine dining restaurant, no?

And yes, it was on the expensive side Fergus, but for a one-off special occasion and to sample Heinz Beck's fabulous food I would say worth it.

Ps. Image is of our very lovely amuse bouche.

Apsleys - A Heinz Beck Restaurant on