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Restaurants & Bars

Roman Gonitel, Ben Shelton, Ivan Dixon

Roman Gonitel, Ben Shelton, Ivan Dixon

Getting “Snugg” in Brixton

“I want to be a foul-mouthed chef like Gordon Ramsay” Toby jokes wryly when I ask him who is his idol. I’m instantly attracted by his charm and coy demeanour and cannot imagine anyone as far from the hot-tempered Gordon. We have just arrived at Snugg in the heart of Brixton Village and Binky, the owner welcomes us with a kind and friendly smile. The idea for tonight is to match new Portuguese gins with small dishes created by Toby, the chef who is currently taking his residency here. His menu is short but sweet and what could only be described as modern London. “I’m terrible at tastings” whispers Toby while sipping gin number one, uniquely distilled with algae. Yet again something tells me that this guy has the talent to match flavours and textures, just as Amy Winehouse had to express her lyrics and music. His dishes are simple, eclectic, creative, edgy, Michelin star quality without the fuss and the price tag. Tucked behind the tiniest kitchen/bar, Toby starts to create his mini masterpieces.

Lamb croquette, ras el hanout, red pepper and cumin jam

“That’s a North African spice mix, quite aromatic” explains Toby when I

Portuguese Story gins

Portuguese Story gins

query what ras el hanout is. Internet research into this new delicacy reveals that the top mixtures can contain up to 100 different spices from cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, fennel to rose buds and lavender. The lamb is lean and tender, and the jam’s stickiness and its sweet scented spices bring comfort and tickle childhood memories.

New potatoes, Lyonnais onions, bitter leaves and Parmesan

Cooked for several hours, the onions have been transformed to an intense caramelised reduction. Simply accompanied with softly roasted small potatoes, this is so good I wish there were seconds. And yet “I would have never probably ordered this from a menu” I say aloud without realising. “I like to surprise people and change their perceptions” smiles Toby.

Raw beef dish

Raw beef dish

Raw beef, truffle vinaigrette and raw mushrooms

This is the prettiest dish of them all. It looks like something that I would expect from Pied a Terre or The Ledbury. To do raw beef well takes some confidence and experience. Toby seems to have both. It tastes as good as it looks. I cannot help myself and give Toby my thumbs up through the window. He gets briefly self-conscious but is pleased with the compliment.

Roast salmon, guacamole, nori, cucumber and wild fennel

“I foraged the wild fennel this morning” proudly admits Toby. This is not just a one off. Toby likes to forage in his urban surroundings, looking for wild and seasonal treasures. This is a light and fresh dish, its simplicity being its best asset, letting the salmon play its leading role. The usual order is fish

Roasted salmon

Roasted salmon

first followed by meat but this is not a place to follow the usual. I like that. And I like that light feeling at the end of the meal.

Chocolate mousse, peppermint infusion and lime crème fraiche

During summer you can so often be presented with fruity jelly-like desserts that are refreshing but fail to satisfy. This dish shows no compromise with moreish creamy chocolate mousse and a peppy minty boost.

“Did you enjoy it” Toby asked as if our consistently empty plates don’t speak volumes. It’s getting late and our bellies are satisfied but no one is in the mood to rush home. It is like a happy dream that no one wants to wake up from.

Dirty Martini

Dirty Martini

Snugg, 74 Brixton Village, 5th Avenue, Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8PS

Toby Cartwright

Verde

Portuguese Story

 


 

Fancy drinking & eating like a God in Lisbon?

IMG_6027Clube de Journalistas

Rua das Trina 129

If you only have one night in Lisbon, come and dine here. And if the weather is good, ask to sit outside in the cosy garden oasis nicely tucked away from the hustle of Lisbon. This place ticks all the boxes – the food (fusion of Portuguese and Brazilian) is delicious and creative, the wine list is brief but well selected, the service is top notch and the atmosphere is conducive to a little flirtation. If it were not for the slightly uncomfortable wooden chairs, we would still be there now.

IMG_6051Duplex

Rua Nova do Carvalho 58

This restaurant is too trendy for its own good. Being located in one of the most popular areas of Lisbon – in the Cais Do Sodré, it should have been busy with diners in the middle of summer. However, when we arrived just after 8pm we found ourselves in a totally empty room and were only joined by one other couple with a tiny baby during our whole meal. Having a restaurant and a chef practically to yourselves, however, had its obvious advantages. Our food was great so definitely don’t miss out on this place even if you just have a cocktail in the bar downstairs. Needless to say you probably do not need to worry about reservation.

IMG_6018Restaurante Ibo

Cais Sodré

This place offers some unique Mozambican style seafood and curry dishes (including traditional kid curry) while overlooking the Tagus River. So what could possibly go wrong? This would have been my top recommendation, were it not for the arrogant waiter who tried to rip us off at the end of our dinner, over charging us for our ice cream. I must admit that our food was exceptional, Ben’s crab curry and my juicy king prawns were to die for. The starters and desserts were equally scrumptious so make sure you come suitably hungry so that you can savour it all. Just please double check your bill for any discrepancies before you pay!

IMG_6059Cantinho Do Avillez

Rua Duques de Bragança

Portuguese modern cooking at its best. There is nothing pretentious about any of the creative dishes made here despite the talented chef, Jose Avillez being in charge. This place offers a great atmosphere and is a must for any foodies day or night.

 

IMG_6026Tasca da Esquina

Rua Domingos Sequeira, Campo de Ourique 41

This is a cosy modern Portuguese bistro that we dropped in for a cheeky lunch on our first day in Lisbon and it was a winner straight away. Order three small sharing dishes per couple and you will still have a space for dessert. Carpaccio of codfish with tincy wincy chips and a soft egg is a somewhat unusual but very creative alternative to fish and chips. Black pudding and sweet apple slices will melt on your tongue. Prawns are sweet, crunchy and grilled to perfection.

Taberna Moderna

Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 18

Go for a great selection of gins…

IMG_6033Copenhagen Coffee Lab

Rua Nova da Piedade 10

Go for a great coffee…

 

 

IMG_6047Choupana Café

Avenida da Republica 25

Go for a great selection of fresh bagels…

 

 

 


 

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 08.17.43Small indulgences in Venice and Bordeaux

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf

VENICE – ITALY

Osteria alle Testiere (excellent seafood and pasta dishes & well-stocked wine list but you must book in advance as there are only 12 tables)

Ristorante Riviera (delicious modern Italian dishes offering vertical cheese tasting and sushi platters plus excellent & reasonably-priced wine list, also must book in advance)

Alle Corone at Hotel Ai Reali (despite its relatively simple decor this place offers superb Italian dishes and surprisingly bountiful wine list)

La Colombina (great place for an indulging lunch with tasty seafood risotto, only a couple of minutes from Rialto bridge)

BORDEAUX – FRANCE

Au Bonheur de Palais in Bordeaux city (with a focus on Szechuan and Cantonese dishes this is some of the best Chinese food I have eaten and very well-selected wine list including some of the best wine producers from France)

Le Saint-Julien (seasonal generous French dishes at their best, langoustines followed by pigeon and prune pie was mouthwatering, beautiful classical French restaurant with white table cloths yet friendly and relaxing feel)

l’Auberge des Vignes in Sauternes (cozy spot perfect for long lunch full of local producers and suppliers, beef is a must-try here, rabbits, veal and foie gras – ideal for meat-eaters)

La Gare Gourmande in Labarde (tiny place with an open kitchen and talented chef creating uncomplicated yet delicious French dishes & offering local wines)

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Dishoom at Covent Graden (April 2014)

12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9 FB

3 out of 5 ★★★

Bombay Cafe with fantastic food, decent cocktails, great service yet somewhat lacking atmosphere

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The River Cafe (April 2014)

5 out of 5 ★★★★★

Antipasti 

Calamari ai ferri – chargrilled squid with fresh red chilli and rocket

Bagna Cauda d’Asparagi – new season’s English asparagus with a warm Aldo Vajra Nebbiolo and anchovy sauce

Seppia Nero – cuttlefish cooked with its ink & Pieropan Soave classico with chargrilled white polenta

Carne Cruda – finely chopped beef fillet veal with braised baby artichokes

Wine match: Bollinger La Grande Année 2000 + Miomi Friulano Toscany 2011

Primi

Tagliatelle with ragu of pork, lemon and dried porcini

Rigatoni Caccio e Pepe with Scottish langoustines, black pepper & pecorino

Wine match: Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo 1967

Secondi

Aragosta al forno – split Dorset Blue lobster wood-roasted with cilli & oregano with broad beans & mint sott’olio and rocket

Wine match: Gaja Sori San Lorenzo 2005

Dolci

Chocolate Nemesis (see the empty plate – it was gone before I managed to take a pic!)

 

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Soft opening of The House of Ho (January 2014)

Don’t be fooled by the name, this is a respectable modern diner offering delicious Vietnamese small dishes ideal for sharing. The House of Ho, brainchild of Bobby Chin the New Zealand-born and well-traveled chef, is opening on Monday 6th of January. It is located in the heart of Soho, furnished in modern and minimalistic style, creating a rather informal atmosphere.

Food: Some dishes are better than others. My favourite was Lemongrass Monkfish with a Fish Caramel Sauce and Grilled Chicken Wings with Chilli and Oyster Sauce Glaze. The Shaking Beef was cooked to perfection and a must-try. Each dish is round £7 – £12 and you will probably need to order one starter + two main dishes + one side which will set you back £35-40 per head. Desserts are fusion of modern Western favourites such as chocolate fondant or creme brûlée.

Drinks: The wine list is minimal and still very much a work in progress but the cocktails are smashing. It is rare to stumble on a decent cocktail for under a tenner in Soho, making this place great value for money, when it comes to drinks at least. The Horny Devil made of lemongrass vodka, Vietnamese chilli and fresh coconut is unbeatable.

Service: Still a little rough round the edges as the staff get used to the new place (at one point we ordered a bottle of Riesling but received Tempranillo instead) but all in all, the waiting staff are friendly and cheerful.

55-59 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1

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BlanchetteNewly opened Blanchette Soho (December 2013)

Located just off Berwick Street, this new chic French bistro is a perfect fit for Soho. Opened just two weeks ago, the beauty of this place is its simplicity. A cosy hide-way with bare walls and eclectic wooden furniture giving this bistro a rustic, unpretentious yet comfortable feel. On offer – simple tasty dishes designed for sharing, inspired daily specials and a very reasonably priced wine selection – all homemade and quintessentially French. One of the three brothers that own the place, Malik, has cunningly put together some inspired music that creates a friendly atmosphere. The staff are young and somewhat inexperienced but that does not take away from their enthusiasm. An honest and relaxed bistro in the heart of Soho, more places like this please.

9 D’Arblay Street, London W1F 8DR

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PieThe reasonably long lunch at Rochelle Canteen (December 2013)

Tucked away behind Shoreditch High Street, this is a rather unusual concept, converted from an old bike shed apparently. Catering only for lunches and with just four large tables overlooking an open kitchen, many call this a hidden gem. Trying to find this place seemed like a treasure hunt. The secret is to look for a tiny door and a small buzzer on the wall. The food is simple and seasonal. Our game pie (the biggest I have ever seen) with potato mash and sprouts was hearty and rustic – a real British classic. But it was the quince and apple crumble with soft vanilla ice cream which charmed me most with its home-made aromas and taste. There is no wine list so you need to bring your own bottle or two, or twelve as we did.

1. Jean-Paul Morel Brut Champagne 2000

2. Domaine Chanzy Bourgogne 2009

3. Maison Champy Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2003

4. Michael Gindl Sol Gruner Vetliner 2009 Austria

5. Querciabella Batar 2006 Toscana

6. Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chevalier de Sterimberg 2005

6. Marc Colin Chassagne Montrachet Les Vide Bourse Premier Cru 2002

7. Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 1999 Clare Valley

8. Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba 2012

9. Domaine D’Erfeuil Bourgueil 2011

10. Domaine Du Touron Monbazillac 1975

11. Mullineux Straw Wine 2012 Swartland

12. Domaine des Soulanes Maury 2012 Languedoc-Roussillon

Rochelle School Arnold Circus, London E2 7ES

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St James's Villandry

St James’s Villandry

 Burger with a glass of Sassicaia at St James’s Villandry (December 2013)

This isn’t one of the great restaurants in London but it is perfect for an informal lunch or dinner. Located in the heart of Piccadilly this is where you can rest your blistered feet after a long day at work or after a day’s worth of shopping. Despite the sophisticated and amazing baroque architecture there is a rather traditional feel to the place – leathered seats, white cloth, large mirrors – you get the gist. The food is good and you get your money’s worth. Both burger (£14) and beef fillet (£20) were cooked to perfection. Monique Ziervogel, the head sommelier, has done a great job on the wine list – 50% French with an obvious fondness of South African wines including talented producers such as Duncan Savage, Adi Badenhorst, Peter Allan and Andrew Finlayson. There is also an option of corkage £25 per bottle for that special occasion.

12 Waterloo Place, London SW1Y 4AU

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Tasting menu at Lauceston Place (December 2013)

Tim Allen, head chef of the Michelin-starred dining experience at Lauceston Place, has excelled himself yet again. The seven-course tasting menu provided a 5 hr long culinary extravaganza. Accompanied by 13 amazing wines, this was one birthday celebration I won’t easily forget.

Amuse Bouche + Pierre Gimonnet st Fils Cuvee Fleuron Millesime Premier Cru Brut 2005 (magnum)

1. Mallard with hazelnut, crumbled frozen foie gras, Iberico lardo and quince + Littoray Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2005 & St. Joseph Cave Saint Desirat 2010

2. West Coast scallops, carrot and star anise, romanesco cauliflower, sesame and five spice + Calvarino Pieropan 2011 (magnum)

3. Cornish cod 54 degree in beurre noisette, onion and bonito, ham hock, grain mustard and pickled cucumber + Leflaive Rully 1er Cru 2010 & Chassagne Montrachet Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils 1er Cru Grandes Ruchottes 2008

4. Veal rump, mushroom purée, truffle mash and Madeira jus + Mascarello Barolo Villero Giuseppe E Figlio 2007 & Querciabella Palafreno Toscana 2006

5. Selection of English and French Cheeses + D’Olivieras Sercial 1971

6. Orange and Cranberry + Grace Koshu Kayagatake 2011 Japan

7. Caramel Chocolate Sphere, Williams pear and caramelised walnuts + Dr Loosen Riesling 1992 & Chateau Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1989

Au revoir drink – Champagne Deutz Brut 2006

Leflaive

  PalafrenoDani christmas

1a Lauceston Place, London W8 5RL

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Michael Nadra

Michael Nadra

 Dinner at Michael Nadra Primrose Hill (December 2013)

Best food in Primrose Hill? I think so. Whether you are looking for a great place to eat after a shopping trip in Camden or watching sunset over London from the top of the hill, this place is worth a visit. The starters are around £10, mains £20-25 and desserts £7.

Dishes have a modern European and Asian twist and there is plenty to choose from. Our tempura of soft shell crab with ginger and chilli followed by fillet steak with braised cheeks were to die for. Unusually the wine list is organised in alphabetical order by grape variety but the manager assures me that this works well for them and more importantly their customers are knowledgeable enough to navigate through it comfortably. I am still doubtful. But watch out as there are some treats from Bordeaux and Burgundy shortly to be introduced to the list!

The highlight for me was meeting Michael Nadra – the owner and head chef. A friendly, modest and extremely generous man whose culinary history has to be admired (Petrus, Gordon Ramsay, Chez Bruce, The Square, The Glasshouse, La Trompette and many more). Michael came to our table to share a bottle of old Sauternes with us, interested to hear what we think of his establishment. As if this wasn’t enough, the manager kept bringing us glasses of wines to find out what we thought. How could I not like this place? But seriously, this place is a rare find. My local favourite without a doubt. Oh and yes there is an option of corkage for £18 per bottle.

42 Gloucester Avenue, London NW1 8JD

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A very late lunch at Sushisamba (November 2013)

In pictures…

Yellowtail jalapeno and lemongrass

Yellowtail jalapeno and lemongrass

Crispy deep fried slowly cooked pork meat balls Wagyu gyoza kabocha purée, sesame and su-shoyu dipping sauce

Crispy pork meat balls
Wagyu gyoza kabocha purée, sesame dipping sauce

Sweet & sour pork belly squares with grapefruit bits

Sweet & sour pork belly squares with grapefruit bits

Spicy tuna Tataki and crab and avocado sushimi

Spicy tuna Tataki and crab and avocado sushimi

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Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate London, EC2N 4AY

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8 Courses Tasting Menu at Pollen Street Social (October 2013)

In pictures…

Hidden snacks in a bible - pork scratchings with apple purée and parmesan biscuits with sun-dried tomato purée

Hidden snacks in a bible – pork scratchings with apple purée and parmesan biscuits with sun-dried tomato purée

English breakfast matched with glass of Larmandier-Bernier 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut

English breakfast matched with glass of Larmandier-Bernier 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut

Orkney sea scallop carpaccio, kohlrabi, frozen pink grapefruit, lemon skin purée, black olive & samphire with a glass of  Dönnhoff Dry Riesling

Orkney sea scallop carpaccio, kohlrabi, frozen pink grapefruit, lemon skin purée, black olive & samphire with a glass of Dönnhoff Dry Riesling from Nahe

Roasted Cornish turbot, bulgur wheat, turnip, pear & cardamon purée with a glas of Friulano Contatti Toros Franco

Roasted Cornish turbot, bulgur wheat, turnip, pear & cardamon purée with a glas of Friulano Contatti Toros Franco from Collio,Friuli

Roasted Dorset monkfish, cauliflower, dehydrated grapes, apple & curry, spiced caramel with a glass of Vaquer Macabeo Vin de Pays Catalan

Roasted Dorset monkfish, cauliflower, dehydrated grapes, apple & curry, spiced caramel with a glass of Vaquer Macabeo Vin de Pays Catalan

Creedy Carver Devon duck, honey &spiced turnip, beetroot, pickled pear with a glass of Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Nero d'Avola from Sicily

Creedy Carver Devon duck, honey &spiced turnip, beetroot, pickled pear with a glass of Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Nero d’Avola from Sicily

Lake District rack of lamb, fregola in basil, olive powder, artichoke & smoked tomato chutney with a glass of 4 Kilos from Mallorca

Lake District rack of lamb, fregola in basil, olive powder, artichoke & smoked tomato chutney with a glass of 4 Kilos from Mallorca

Caramel popcorn & sweet corn cream with a glass of Barbeito Terrantez 1977

Caramel popcorn & sweet corn cream with a glass of Barbeito Terrantez 1977

Preparation of desserts - Peanut parfait, cherry yuzu sorbet, nitro peanut

Preparation of desserts – Peanut parfait, cherry yuzu sorbet, nitro peanut

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Screen Shot 2013-10-12 at 15.09.29 Friday night treat at The Little Thai (October 2013)

We all know the feeling. It’s Friday evening, you are done for the week (no point finishing those last minute chores as there is always Monday) and you are looking forward to your relaxing weekend. Suddenly hunger and thirst sets in and the fridge contents just won’t do. It is definitely time to head to your local exotic take-away. Chinese? Indian? Thai? Well I have a super duper Thai place to recommend. Only recently opened, located close to Hampstead Heath, there lies a small eat-in & take-away Thai restaurant. I understand that not many people would venture out for such places unless you are a local but this one is worth it. Trust me. The traditional starters are £5 to £6 and the Thai calamari is so succulent and soft that it could be mistaken for a Hakkasan dish. The authentic curries (main dishes are £8 to £9) were cooked to perfection – fresh and aromatic with a decent splash of spice to get your heart rate going. In fact, every main dish is cooked to your specification on a spicy scale from 1 to 10. Our 6/7 was pretty racy I tell you. Drinks. I always prefer good lager (Sinha ideally) but if you prefer there are some suitable wine choices (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, German Gewurztraminer or Picpoul de Pinet). 7/10

85b Fleet Road, Hampstead NW3 2QY

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TahbilkTahbilk vertical tasting and lunch at 28-50 Maddox Street (October 2013)

Maddox Street is the newest addition to the 28-50 family with other restaurants at Marylebone and Fetter Lane A brain-child of visionary Xavier Rousset and top chef Agnar Sverrisson who have created a relaxing place to enjoy fine yet affordable food and wine. The main room has a bright and airy interior with a chic wine bar displaying tempting seafood and an aficiado cigar humidor. The side-wall made of classic French wooden boxes is a neat way of storing bottles of wine while giving you the impression that this place means business. There is also a cosy underground space with polished wooden tables and a view of the kitchen, creating a perfect hide-away for those long boozy lunches.

Talking about lunch – ours was fair, but nowhere near as good as the last couple of times I dined at 28-50 at Fetter Lane. The starter (ranging £7 – £9) of baby beetroots, goat’s cheese curd and salad leaves was simple but delicious. Our main (around £15) chicken spatchcock was average, lacking taste and a bit dry unfortunately.

While this was bit of a let down on the day, a rare opportunity to try older vintages of Tahbilk, one of the oldest and most beautiful Australian wineries, more than made up for it. There are two things that you should know about this unique producer.

Their famous 100-acre (40 ha) Marsanne vineyard is the largest single holding of the variety in the world with 16 acres (6 ha) of vines dating back to 1927. The current release of 2011 (Armit £78 per 6) is delicate, pure and floral with lemony vibrancy and green apple freshness. By the time you start sipping the 1995, the wine is unrecognisable. Dark in colour reminiscent of an aged Sauternes, this is an aromatic infusion of orange peel, honey and dried fruits with a spicy, resiny finish and still with mouth-watering acidity. The 2004 vintage was a great balance between the two wines, perfect drinking now and my personal favourite.

The second fact you should know is that Tahbilk’s 1860 Vine Shiraz is one of the great 25 vineyards in the world and amongst the oldest Shiraz vines in the world with less than one hectare left. Many of these 153 years old vines did not survive the difficult 2006 frost and it is predicted that the remaining vines have only about 20 years left in them. So now is your chance to try these still affordable and available wines before they become a mere memory. Only 80 dozen were produced of the current release 2006 vintage but luckily Armit still has some in stock (£600 per 6). At the moment the 2006 vintage tastes like a young Hermitage but give it another 8-10 years (if you can) and nervy intensity with bright black pepper and sweet oaky notes will mellow to a rich, deep and complex delight. The 1999s were my favourite showing that these wines definitely shine with moderate ageing.

Let’s hope that Xavier will add some of these treasures to the wine list so that everyone gets the chance to try them. They should be a great addition to what is already a pretty interesting offer with many rarely seen wines. The fact that the majority are served by the glass, in a carafe or a bottle, is a great way to give people confidence to try and discover something new.

17-19 Maddox Street, Mayfair W1S 2QH

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photo-381 Long Sunday lunch in Zucca (September 2013)

Zucca is much more than just your traditional Italian restaurant. It’s a Mecca for London foodies. Meals here are truly made of dreams. From deliciously cooked antipasti, tender pasta specials to the signature veal chop (see picture). The dining room is sleek yet comfortable with floor to ceiling windows providing a fresh and modern experience. The service is friendly and efficient, even at busy times. In fact, I find it quite difficult to find anything I could fault during our lunch there last Sunday. Oh the wine list, admittingly more designed for experts then casual drinkers, is solely focussed on Italy. If you want more variety there is the option of BYO with corkage. 9/10
A new opening is planned for 2014 for a sister restaurant Farina located just opposite. It will offer more informal experience with freshly baked pizzas and homemade ice-creams.

184 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ

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PollenBell Hill wines and Pollen Street Social food (September 2013)

I am yet to hear anything negative spoken about Pollen Street Social. Today’s lunch was excellent. The food was tantalising, the service attentive but not intrusive and we got to feel very special. Ok, so I need to own up to the fact that I was invited to an exclusive lunch while tasting the latest release and a range of older vintages of Bell Hill wines from North Cantenbury in New Zealand. Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs were an easy match with slow cooked egg with mushroom and chicken skin crumb for a starter and Wiltshire pork belly (yummy!!!) with spiced cheek, fondant potato, roast apple, black pudding and apricot puree for a main, all perfectly prepared by Jason Atherton’s team. Looking at the tasting menu and I am salivating. The lunch menu is affordable and looks very tempting as well. I will definitely be back. The wine list is truly universal which pretty much ticks all the boxes for a great restaurant. 8/10

8/10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ

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Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 14.20.17  50% of wines on Fridays* at Don’s Restaurant  (August 2013)

Based between Bank and Monument, The Don is set up to cater primarily for business lunches & meetings and boasts a charming atmosphere, unimposing service & one of the best wine list in the town. However, on Fridays when the majority of business folks migrate back to their suburban dwellings, both restaurant and bistro resemble end-of-season resort diners with occasional bargain-hunters like us or an old fox with his gold-digging mistress. The atmosphere is airy but if you dine with your friends you can always make your own entertainment. The service is almost faultless despite the sommelier trying to persuade me that the bottle of Languedoc white we ordered is only a little bit faulty and that Roussanne is supposed to smell of musty old cardboard. Interesting that this guy actual tried the wine before serving it to us and deemed it ok. Moving on, the wine list is what I would call sufficient, covering all the major classic regions but a bit predictable & lacking the odd ball for more adventurous winelovers. But you can easily forgive all this because the food is absolutely fantastic! We have dined here twice both in restaurant and bistro and all the dishes were 100% satisfaction. The modern cuisine focuses on seasonal produce and also offers classics such as English Asparagus or Foie Gras with plenty of choices for meat eaters or vegetarians (less so for vegans).

Dining here on Friday saved us £100 off our wine but do be careful in checking your bill as we had to remind the waitress to actually take the 50% off the total wine bill. Cheeky of them I thought! 7/10

* Every bottle of still wine, over £50, is half price on Friday (On Monday evenings you can bring your own wine and will only be charged £5 corkage per bottle when you have a 2 course menu pp)

20 St. Swithins Lane, London EC4N 8AD

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Koya_TwitterA tasty little Japanese find in Soho – Koya (August 2013)

Koya is a beautiful little hideaway for any Japanese Udon lovers. Fresh and delicious ingredients (such as prawn tempura, smoked mackerel, mixed seaweed) are complemented by simple and delicate flavours of udon noodles or a bowl of rice and miso broth. The menu is brief but offers plenty of choice and the food is just great. As you cannot reserve a table here, it is advised to arrive early as the queues can get quite long – even on Monday/Tuesday. 8/10

49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG

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CotidieNot so Italian experience at Cotidie (Aug 2013)

In the heart of the Marylebone Village lies a chic stylish Italian restaurant called Cotidie. On our quest to find authentic Italian food in London we dined here on one sleepy summer Saturday evening. If I were to rate this place solely based on the service, I would have to give it full marks except the occasional over-powering whiff of aftershave that Italian waiters like to bask in. However, it is the food and wine that it is really all about. The tasting menus (Mediterranean £75pp or ‘Meaty’ £55pp) include 6 wholesome courses and can be paired with wine for an extra £40-£50pp.

I so wish I could say I loved the food but that would be a lie. Our bill came to £230 for 2 tasting menus and 2 glasses of champagne & cocktails (wine not included) which should have left us feeling satisfied and wanting to come back – to say the least. But it did not. The dishes were overcomplicated with too many flavours clashing and overpowering the beautifully cooked seafood. A real contradiction to what we experienced in Piedmont and Tuscany. Bizarrely, on the paper the dishes looked great but the execution just did not work. Even the pasta dishes did not excel. And that to me is a fundamental core to any great Italian cooking. The only way to describe it is that it tasted like Italian food made in London if that makes any sense to you. It lacked the true authentic simple-ingredient-driven style and tipped towards modern fanciful overthought haute cuisine.
Nevertheless, if you do decide to dine here then the restaurant is offering a free corkage deal (in August) providing that you made your wine purchase at ViniItaliani – an Italian wine specialist based on Old Brompton Road. 1/10

50 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 5HN

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Nuno Mendes in action

Nuno Mendes in action

Unmissable dining at Michelin starred Viajante (April 2013)

Viajante is a must-dine experience. One of the best there is in London now. A unique combo of Nuno Mendes’ culinary magic, the grand location (part of the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green) and an innovative sensibly-priced wine list full of off-piste choices. The food is based round tasting menus with choice of 6, 9 or 12 courses and I would particularly recommend the innovative pairings with wine. The portions are small but each is a piece of art and I must confess that I lost track of numerous amuses bouches we had throughout our marathon meal.

Here is the delicious stuff:

Scallop with parsnip and watercress

Razor clam with caviar and wild rice

Monkfish with asparagus and millet (my favourite)

Celeriac with roast potato and morels

Iberica pluma with cabbage

Cucumber with reduced milk and lemon milk (my favourite)

The theme is minimalistic with precise preparation of each individual dish – loads of tweezers and miniature pans etc. Everything is thought through to the last detail. Even such something as simple as bread and butter comes with a twist. You get a great chance to try unusual ingredients and combinations and can also watch Nuno Mendes’ work from the comfort of your chair as the final stage of each dish is prepared right in front of you in the small and pristine kitchen within the dining room. It is easy to let yourself be entertained and spoiled here. Allow yourself the luxury of 3 hours to enjoy it all. 9/10

If you fancy a quicker and more affordable way to dine then try the Corner Room which is a sister restaurant also based in Town Hall Hotel.

Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF

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Hakkasan in Hanway Palce

Hakkasan in Hanway Palce

Not so casual meal at Hakkasan (April 2013)

Hakkasan has two restaurants in London now – in Mayfair and Hanway Place. We had a dinner at the latter and it was heaving with the Chelsea crowd. Mid week or Friday this place is packed so I suggest that you book. The slick dark wood paneled décor has not changed a bit since the last time I was there (it has been just over 5 years). I remember being truly excited coming the first time but this experience just did not turn out the same, I am sad to say. I know this is not a place to look for value for money but despite a well-prepared fully-enjoyed signature menu, the bill at the end of the day leaves both your wallet and tummy deprived. Luckily, good company and wine (BYO on this occasion – standard corkage is £25 per bottle) made up for it. But don’t be put off by this lukewarm review as I still believe Hakkasan is of the best Asian-fusion restaurants in London. 7/10

8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD

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Grilled Mackerel with Celeriac Strips

Grilled Mackerel with Celeriac Strips

Festive tasting menu at The Ledbury (December 2012)

All the praise for this 2 star Michelin restaurant is deserved. The best place I have eaten this year! The 8 course tasting menu is exciting and delicious but does not come cheap at 90 pounds pp (155 with wines). The matching wines complemented the individual dishes but I only found one that I would actually want to drink more then a single glass – Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, Mirum, La Monacesca from Marche in Italy – surprisingly rich yet elegant with fresh and aromatic notes of mandarin and marzipan. 9/10

So here is what we were tucking into last night:
Amuse Bouche
Ceviche of Scallop with Kohlrabi, Seaweed Oil and Frozen Horseradish
Flame Grilled Mackerel with Pickled Vegetables, Celtic Mustard and Shiso
Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectarine, Truffle Toast and a Broth of Grilled Onions
Roast Sea Bass with Broccoli Stem, Natural Yoghurt and Indian Spices Cooked in Brown Butter
Pork Jowl with Spice Cream, Carrots and Dried Chicory
Boudin of Pheasant and Wood Pigeon with Chestnut Soup and a Veloute of Wiltshire Truffles
Pave of Chocolate with Milk Puree and Stem Ginger Ice Cream

127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2AQ ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Quality Chop HouseMeatlovers feast at the Quality Chop House (December 2012)

Booking a table for a normal dinner over the Christmas period is more challenging than it should be, really! While desperately trying to avoid pre-set Christmas menus, two-hour kick-out slots, deposit-required dinners with over-priced wine list, I stumbled upon the newly opened Quality Chop House in Farringdon. You book directly with Will Lander, the owner, without hassle or a pre-booking fee.
The place is old-fashioned Victorian with a well-preserved wine bar and dining room (plus a private room for 10 upstairs). Despite the original narrow church-like-benches having been extended., some may find the seating somewhat “challenging”. OK then – uncomfortable.
On the bright side, this was the only low point throughout the whole evening.
The service was fantastic. Not surprising really as we were being looked after by the co-owner, Josie Stead.
The food is quintessentially British and simple based on daily changing set menu of 4 courses for £35 with either fish or game. Two of my friends do not eat seafood or any carbs but the chef managed to create delicious instant dishes. The main course of a seasonal meat feast could have fed twice as many people so we got a doggie-bag to take home. Josie admitted that they are still working on portion sizes.
The wine list is innovative with plenty of tempting choices from round the world and the best part is that you only pay £10 per bottle on top of the normal retail price so you can enjoy a glass of nice wine and do not feel ripped off.
I can highly recommend this informal comfortable diner with great ambience. 7/10

94 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA

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Brindisa Tramontana

Brindisa Tramontana

Tapas lovers hangout in Shoreditch – Tramontana Brindisa (Oct 2012)

Due to its success there are now four Brindisa Tapas Kitchens in the heart of London (London Bridge, Soho, South Kensington and Shoreditch) offering informal settings where you can share a glass of Manzanilla, traditional charcuterie and farmhouse cheeses with your friends. David Sanchez, the front of house manager bends over backwards to make sure that you have a relaxing and satisfying evening. You may well bump into the talented Alberto Torres, head chef, who likes to come into the dining room to share his enthusiasm for food. His Bomba rice dishes are a must-try. 6/10

152 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AT

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The Old White BearGreat Gastropub in NW3 – The Old White Bear (July 2012)

Gastropub word is sometimes used in a pretentious way but The Old White Bear has earned the title. With its adventurous, well-executed and focussed menu, a fantastically priced wine list together with the eclectic décor and friendly and attentive service, there is no wonder that this is a popular place. I would recommend booking on Fridays and Saturdays. On the wine list you will find great bargains such as a bottle of Billecart Salmon Rose NV for £65 where you would expect to pay round £60 retail. You will also be spoiled by off-beat wine choices such as Furmint, Godello, aged Cabernet Franc or Frappato and can also treat yourself to some ‘natural’ wines from Mas de Daumas Gassac. The food menu is a mixture of Italian and Spanish inspired starters with more traditional yet seasonal main courses and scrumptious desserts. 5 minutes walk from Hampstead tube – this is a must visit. 6/10

Well Road, Hampstead NW3 1LJ

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Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

Birthday celebration at Magdalen (April 2012)

You will find mouth-watering, well-presented and honest cooking at Magdalen. The food is traditionally British with a modern twist and the execution of flavours and textures is just spot on. I have been coming here over the years (my dear friend loves this place and has celebrated many birthdays here) and I admit that some of my favourite dishes are no longer available but there is always something yummy to try. I splashed out on this occasion on crab mayonnaise for starter and delicious wild sea bass with sea kale and butter sauce and I am glad I did. And of course plenty of wine – Cremant d’Alsace, Picpoul de Pinet, Minervois Blanc and Jurancon Sec; the latter being a great match for the sea bass! The service is dry but adequate and the wine list is adventurous enough to stretch your imagination as long as you like French. Bring your credit card as all this does not come cheap, allow at least £60 per person. 6/10

152 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU

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L'Absinthe

L’Absinthe

Great dinner at L’Absinthe Restaurant (April 2012)

Based in the heart of Primrose Hill, yet tucked away from the main traffic, L’Absinthe is a cute little shop/café/restaurant run by a couple of Frenchies. Serving the classics such as French toast and Croque Monsieur for breakfast, escargots, steak frites & Toulouse sausage stew for dinner and plenty of crepes during the weekend. We had a dinner on Friday and it was pretty heaving so I would definitely recommend booking if you are coming here on the weekend. The food was great – there is a selection of 6 home-made French traditional mains and seasonal starters such as English asparagus. The service is even better – genuinely friendly and attentive. What it gives that extra trump card is that you can order any wine from the shop list for just an extra £10 corkage. This makes the whole dining experience much more affordable and you get to enjoy wines that you may not necessarily choose otherwise. We had Beef Bourguignon with extra creamy mash and red cabbage matched beautifully with Chassagne Montrachet J M Pillot 2008, followed by chocolate mousse and a bottle of Tokaji Disznoko Azsu 5 Puttonyons 2005 – all for £105 (inc. service). Will be back to try that Absinthe crème brûlée! 5/10

40 Chalcot Road, London Primrose Hill NW1 8LS

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logo_LPDJ_thmbFine dining at Westfield at PJDJ (April 2012)

If you fancy a spot of fine dining after you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped at Westfield London, then I recommend French cuisine at PJDJ – located on the Southern Terrace. Their set lunch is a bargain at £12.50 for 2 courses and you get to choose from some 70’s classics such as prawn cocktail or smoked salmon, and French flavoured dishes such as onion soup or Boeuf Stroganoff. Of course if you feel more flash you can always opt for Lobster Thermidor at £20 or Pacific Rock Oysters with a glass of champagne. The décor is very classic – white clothed tables with a wood furnished bar in the middle and fresh flowers everywhere. The service is attentive and the wine list is basic yet appropriate. Great for lunch. 5/10

Westfield London, Ariel Way, Shepherds Bush W12 7GE

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The Suckling Pig at Trattoria da Luigi

The Suckling Pig at Trattoria da Luigi

Easter lunch at Trattoria da Luigi (April 2012)

Trattoria da Luigi is a tiny family run Sardinian restaurant in the heart of Stoky. The atmosphere is relaxing and friendly making you feel very homely but it was the food that really stood out here. Our antipasto plate full of cured hams, chorizo, grilled artichoke and sun-blushed tomatoes sprinkled with olives went down well with a light and refreshing Sardinian white wine made from an ancient Nuragus cultivar. If you come as a group you must order the famous suckling pig, served with grilled sliced Mediterranean vegetables and fried mini-potatoes. One of the most delicious meals I have had for a while but I have to warn you the portions are so huge you won’t need dessert afterwards. If you are in Stoke Newington don’t forget to pop in. 7/10

98 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0OA

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The Wine Cellar at High Timber

The Wine Cellar at High Timber

Mid-week dinner at High Timber (April 2012)

High Timber has a unique London location just a couple of steps from the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral, with views over the Thames. It is owned by Gary and Kathy Jordan from Jordan Wine Estate and that is a part of the reason for the South African theme here. From a well-stocked wine cellar, successfully managed by Neleen Strauss, to some of the menu favourites such as Biltong Butter or Rooibos Smoked Salmon. Our experience was a mixed bag I must admit. Friendly staff together with great advice on wine choice by straight-talking and ambitious Neleen was set back by a somewhat over-priced and disappointing meal. A glass of Klein Constantia MCC 2009 Brut was a great match with tasty roasted scallops, chickpea puree and chicory & orange salad and fresh wild garlic soup but I have to question the price of my 2 small scallops, 1 tiny chicory leaf and 2 teeny-tiny orange squares at £15. To match my sirloin steak, Nellen recommended Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2008 from Elgin which was melting in your mouth, silky and heavenly with just a touch of earthy notes. Shame about the steak though which was not the best and a rather tough cut of meat for £20. With an extra charge of £5 for the sauce and mediocre chips, this was far away from all the good reviews this establishment receives. Ben seemed to make a better choice with home cured salt beef with honey pickled carrot, beetroot and horseradish dumpling. As we are all looking for value-for-money during these times our total bill at £170 for 2 (no desserts) was questionable to say the least. 5/10

8 High Timber Street, London EC4V 3PA

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La Trompette

3-course dinner at La Trompette (Dec 2011)

Our 1hr journey to Chiswick was definitely worth it. I have been meaning to go to La Trompette for a while, as have only heard praise for this French/Modern European influenced culinary joint. We were calculating that the place will be empty on the 28th December (don’t Chiswick folk flee to their country retreats at Xmas?) but the restaurant was fully packed by the time we had our main course – we did start untraditionally early at 7pm. I am sure that we could have chosen any dish from the 3-course menu and would have been satisfied but the Cornish dressed crab, saffron risotto croquettes with curried mayonnaise and mango & Ben’s roast partridge with parsnip puree, pearl barley, foie gras ballotine and madeira were exceptional. The starters were the highlights of the evening but overall I felt that this was Michelin star dining at value price for £39.50 per person. The wine list was extensive, French focussed and full of interesting bottles (even Japanesse wine) but it was the sommelier that I will remember the most. As I work in the trade I am always expected to make the wine choice so I welcomed being looked after by someone so knowledgeable. Matthieu Longuere was just excellent. He listened to us and managed our expectations very well. We selected the MacForbes Pinot Noir Gruyere from Yarra Valley 2008 with our main and he gently checked to make sure we wanted something light. His choice of Vinsanto Assyrtiko from Santorini matched beautifully with Ben’s rum and raisin ice cream with brandy snap. When leaving we felt comfortably satisfied, our taste buds tingling and a bit tipsy and giggly – the kind of feeling I like dining out for. 9/10

5-7 Devonshire Road, Chiswick W4 2EU

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The Providores

Drinks and nibbles at Providores and Tapa Room (December 2011)

No introduction is needed for this award winning New Zealand inspired and stylish Marylebone based bar/restaurant. Whether you decide to dine more formally upstairs or just pop in for a drink and tapas style nibbles served downstairs, you are going to receive amazing and imaginative dishes always served by bubbly and smiley staff. We tried Fried panko crusted ham hock with gribiche salad and a soft boiled quail’s egg, deep-fried Cornish squid with sumac and smoked garlic aioli and to finish the evening off with very scrumptious Virunga and Amedei chocolate brownie with macadamia nuts, blueberries, rata honey yoghurt and pomegranate oranges – all washed down with Huia Blanc de Blanc 2004 from Marlborough. I cannot wait to try the breakfast menu.9/10

109 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4RX

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Truffle season at Alba

Mid-week Dinner at Restaurant Alba (Dec 2011)

Ben and I have been going to this restaurant for many years now and could possibly be classed as ‘regulars’, popping in for dinner once every 3 to 4 months. It goes without saying that we like it here. It is tucked away behind Moorgate and Barbican – one of those places that rely on word of mouth. The food, a mixture of Italian seasonal classics and modern Northern Italian style dishes, is consistently delicious. The wine list offers a well-thought selection of great Italian wines, reasonably priced, and I usually find a good new wine each visit. The service is friendly and genuine with that family-run restaurant feel. We have never had to book a table as even during the busy pre-Christmas period a table for two is always found for us. But what I like the most about this place and why we keep coming back is the warm welcome we always get from the super friendly owner. 7/10

107 Whitecross Street, London EC1Y 8JH

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DuckSoup Bar

First time at Duck Soup (November 2011)

We only wanted to pop in for a quick snack and a refreshing glass but liked the place so much we stayed the whole evening. This is a relatively new addition to Dean Street with a similar ‘naturalle’ theme to Terroir or Bar Battu but with much more basic surroundings (bare lightbulbs etc). There are no fancy menus, only a list of daily specials scribbled on a piece of paper and a small selection of vino – all (I believe) naturally made. Food is flavoursome and well-priced – a selection of bar snacks at £3.50, “from kitchen” at £7 or large plates for £14. We shared 2 kitchen (chopped hanger steak with toast and braised cuttlefish with black chorizo) & 1 bar (spinach with sweet beetroot and goat’s cheese curd) dishes and that seemed plenty with a cheese platter for afters. True the place was very busy and the tables rather too cramped for comfort but it is certainly cosy enough for a relaxing and unpretentious evening out with live music at background. 5/10

41 Dean Street, London W1D 4 PY

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28-50 Wine Workshop

Six for dinner @ 28 – 50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen (November 2011)

In case you are wondering where the unusual name comes from then it represents latitude span of the major worldwide wine regions, clever eh? The restaurant is downstairs with wine bar décor, wooden tables and plenty of dusty iconic bottles to get you in the mood. Thanks to it location the place is a main destination for businessmen, which made it a bit stuffy, but luckily the atmosphere got more lively towards the end of the evening. Expect decanters filled with Bordeaux and lots of aftershave. There are around 40 different wines offered per glass or bottle with a strong focus on France and Italy. This provides a great opportunity to taste before you buy. We opted for Portuguese white blend and Alsatian Sylvaner that offered good value for £26 a bottle followed by rich and silky soft Cotes du Roussillon. The food was stunning! Starters round £7, mains round £16 and desserts for £6 – surprisingly great value for money. Only open Monday to Friday! 8/10

140 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BT

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Bar Battu

Mid-week dinner at Bar Battu (November 2011)

Whenever I go to Bar Battu I have a fantastic time. It is no accident that I celebrated my birthday here and I keep coming back. It is located in the heart of the city but manages to attract a variety of people; ‘the suits’ just tend to circulate round the bar. The team have done great job in creating an unpretentious, friendly and chic atmosphere matched with an honest yet innovative menu and above all an intriguing wine selection – strongly influenced by natural wines sourced through Le Caves. On a cold evening we opted for rich and juicy venison steak slices with pearl barley (Ben) and beef bourguignon with parsnip mash (me). The wine was the star of this evening – St Chinian Domaine Thierry Navarre 2008 (£47.50), a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Syrah from Upper Languedoc. Thierry Navarre has created heaven on earth – intense aromas of Mon Cheri cherry liqueur chocolates, dried sweet violets, marzipan with a light breath of Fisherman’s Friend cherry menthol and eucalyptus lozenges. Lingering flavours full of dark forest berries, ripe black cherries, dark bitter chocolate with underlying notes of tar, marmite and earthy notes of fresh forest floor. Slurp, slurp …I am enjoying a glass right now (soon to be listed by Swig)! 7/10

48 Gresham Street, City of London EC2V 7AY Closed from 2012

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The Guildford ArmsBirthday celebration at The Guildford Arms in Greenwich (October 2011)

The Guilford Arms may look like your nice local gastro pub from outside but the first floor is under the spell of an extraordinary chef, Guy Awford who produces simple British traditional dishes with a real creative twist. You can get 2 courses for £24 or 3 courses for £27 – at a quality you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in London for the price. To start with, I ordered a weightless Roquefort soufflé with slices of sweet poached nectarine with petit salad, roast hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette – a dish that ignites all your taste buds and keeps you salivating for more. The main was equally delicious – roast lamp with mousaka tier, garlic potatoes and braised green cabbage. The wine was rather less impressive. I can only presume that is a work-in-progress and someone will give it a serious makeover in due course. Cannot wait to come again though!

55 Guildford Grove, Greenwich SE10 8JY

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Dinner at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms near Moorgate (October 2011)

The Chiswell restaurant and bar, next to the old City Whitbread brewery, opened just 5 months ago. We hadn’t planned to eat here; we just walked past and felt like trying something new. The traditional big windows with stylish pistachio leather chairs, subtle wall colours and white tablecloth create a friendly yet classic British ambience. The wine list is well executed, well-priced and covers all the classics. We managed to find an unusual treat: Le Madri Arneis by Michele Chiarlo from Roero 2010 (£36.50) which went well with my wild mushroom taglietelle, black truffle & parmesan (£16) and Ben’s Atlantic king prawn & crayfish risotto (£18.50). The food menu is mainly British cuisine and they offer everything from breakfast to a post theatre meal. Our portions were on the large side – I would have wished for less pasta and more flavour – but the service was smiley and friendly. We will be back.

56 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SA

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Bryn Williams – Chef at Odette

Dinner at Odette’s Restaurant in Primrose Hill(October 2011)

Great for: two good tasting menus (vegetarian @ £45/£75 with wine and for meat lovers @£50/£80 with wine) and seasonal a la carte, chef’s attention to detail and texture, and of course attentive and genuinely friendly service

Low points: initial stuffy atmosphere which could have been easily prevented by adding decent chilled music, focussed wine list including the classics yet lacking the imagination of off-the-beaten-track wines

There is more to Odette then just the tiny yet perfectly formed dining room on the ground floor. If you explore a bit more there is a cosy below ground bar just perfect for cocktail parties or smoochie romantic evenings. This evening we were celebrating the start of a new journey, a journey that will hopefully make me Master of Wine one day. We plumped for the vegetarian tasting menu of 6 small dishes skilfully prepared (I was assured) by Bryn Williams, Welsh Chef who has plenty of restaurant experience working at Galvin, The Orrery and La Gavroche. We started with a warming and creamy roast butternut soup with small chunks of chestnut and butternut finished with freshly roasted sage leaves, melting cheese flakes and onion and herb brioche. The second dish of crispy duck egg, celeriac and winter truffle salad was my favourite for its simplicity but great execution. Then we were served al dente tagliatelle of wild mushrooms and parmesan with that posh foamy stuff that I must get a recipe for. The fourth dish was artichoke en croute, aubergine & tomato and shaved fennel salad which was a bit stodgy and could have done with crispier edge. And lastly, truffled perl wen cheese plated on warm potato slices with herb salad which brought back childhood memories of my granny’s dish of lightly boiled freshly picked small potatoes with a dollop of salted butter and cottage cheese. Of course, all of this with washed down with matching wines. Morgon 2010 by Marcel Lapierre (£52) had extraordinary aromas of dried violet blossoms, cranberry fruit, chestnut like nuttiness, aniseed and earthy mushrooms. As this was a celebration we then treated ourselves to a bottle of Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Cru ‘Santenots’ 2006 (£98). For the dessert we had dark chocolate arctic roll with cardamom cream and tangerine sorbet. What a feast! And that is saying something from a meat-eater like me.

130 Regents Park Road, London NW1 8XL

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Gaucho Grill Celebratory dinner at Gaucho Grill in Hampstead(September 2011)

Great for: Reliable juicy steaks imported directly from Argentina, also a decent seafood offer, the widest Argentinean wine range in London, good service and fashionably furnished surroundings (that is if you like chandeliers, leather and cow skins)

Low points: highly over-priced wine list, not great for vegetarians!

We both ordered fillet steak for its lean and tender flavour and it did not disappoint us. The knife cut through it like butter and it was well suited to the peppercorn sauce, potato puree, purple stem broccoli, spinach with garlic and lemon, and roasted garlic head – our favourite and perfect for sharing. Our wine choice was similarly successful – Colome Estate 09 Malbec blend from Salta where the highest vineyards in the world (2650 – 3000m) produce a rich and sumptuous red that perfectly matched the grilled steaks. There is never space for dessert after such a feast but to satisfy our sweet tooth we tried two stickies – El Porvenir De Los Andes ‘Laborum’ Torrontes 09 from Cafayate in Salta and Familia Schroeder ‘Deseado’ Sparkling Sweet Torrontes 08 from Neuquen in Patagonia; unfortunately both were distinctly average.

64 Heath Street, London NW3 1DN

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La CocotteDinner at La Cocotte in Hampstead (September 2011)

Great for: French cuisine, cosy & friendly atmosphere, reasonably priced, lunch deal

Low points: small wine choice of only French wines

Finally we have found a decent local restaurant that cooks delicious honest French dishes. As we celebrated, our choice of wine – a bottle of Santenay ‘’en Bievau’’ Domaine Bart 2008 – wasn’t cheap at £47.50 but was well worth it. Beautifully silky and flavourful Pinot Noir complimented my starter – creamy mixed wild mushrooms sautéed with cognac & herbs and served in puff pastry – but possibly was not the best of the matches for Ben’s choice of marinated herring in olive oil with garlic, fresh bay leaves, thyme, red peppercorn, served on warm new potato salad. The mains were equally delicious – medium-rare bavette with garlic butter and chunky frites for me and roast Barbary duck breast with honey and lime sauce served with orange confit and pommes Anna which looked to me like gratin dauphinois. After this feast we had no space for dessert unfortunately but at least managed to share a rather generous glass of Jurancon.

85b Fleet Road, London NW3 2QY (Closed from 2013)

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Bill at Bistro du VinA quick bite to eat with Bill Downie at Bistro du Vin in Clerkenwell (September 2011)

Great for: Steaks cooked at the Josper Grill, wine list, choice of wine by glass, service, and comfortable seats

Low points: Big portions??

My choice of medium-rare Onglet steak frites with peppercorn sauce and sweet glazed carrots was spot on. The meat was juicy inside yet beautifully char-grilled on the outside. To drink, we decided to try Pyramid Valley Kerner Estate Pinot Blanc 2008 (£55) – full of unusual flavours and well-worth the money.

40 St John Street, London EC1M 4DL (Closed from 2013)

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Eyre BrothersTapas in Eyre Brothers near Shoreditch (September 2011)

Great for: Spanish/Portuguese Tapas (some are amazing but there are average ones too), good service and chilled-out atmosphere

Low points: overpriced menu where each tapa will set you back £7 to £9

We only came here for a quick drink but liked the relaxed atmosphere so much so we ended up staying till late. Enjoying the last summer day we opted for more informal seating near the bar making our way through the tapas menu as taste buds demanded from Gambas al Ajillo, Chorizos Parrilladas, Pimientos, Jamon Serrano to Prego beef sandwich (my favourite!). A couple of Superbocks to quench the thirst and then we moved to the wine list. Both Pegoes Branco 2008 Selected Harvest Fontanario De Pegoes, Portugal (£22) and Pegoes Tinto 2006 Fontanario De Pegoes, Palmela, Portugal £21) were brilliant food matches and showing what a great value Portuguese wines are.

70 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QX

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Dinner at Terroirs near Strand (August 2011)

Great for: Natural wines, amazing food and busy London atmosphere

Low points: possibly too noisy and a bit crammed, small tables
For an aperitif we chose a natural sparkle from Loire – 2010 Pet Nat Bulles Rose, Domaine du Moulin for £32.50. No starters needed – we headed straight for mains and Christian Parra Boudin Noir (black pudding for you and me) with Racines Vegetables for £14.50 was absolutely delicious and well matched with Chateau Cambon Beaujolais 2010 (£26) and Domaine Damien Coquelet Chiroubles 2009 (£31.50) both ‘natural’ wines. We will be definitely coming back.

5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW

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Roast

Roast

Dinner at Roast in London Bridge (August 2011)

Great for: Roast meats, delicious desserts, people watching in Borough Market (ask for a table next to a window) and service

Low points: no bargains to be had, over-priced wine list

As an appetizer we ordered Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2008 from West Sussex which was superb – with light pink salmon hue and aromas and flavours of orange, mandarin, peach complemented by biscuity notes with hints of sweet spice For our starter we had smoked trout (B) and crayfish & avocado salad with sieved eggs (D) followed by roast beef (B) and slow roast wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce (D) matched well with highly aromatic and smooth Gran Sasso Pecorino 2010, IGT Terre di Chieti, Abruzzi. As we opted for 3-course meal which set us you back £32 per head, we finished off with Apple and Blackberry crumble (B) and Eton Mess (D) which was to die for.

The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL

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