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Salut, Islington

February 19, 2017
Salut!, Islington

I spent quite some time narrowing down the options of which restaurant to go to for my 30th birthday dinner, with my twin sister Jo and my father.  Finally I made a list of three restaurants I wanted to try: Lyle’s, Medlar and Salut! (with exclamation mark).  The choice was for my father, since it was his treat.  He chose Salut!.

Salut! isn’t on everyone’s radar, and I hadn’t even heard of it until recently, when I came across it on Time Out’s top London restaurant recommendations.  I liked the sound of it, a small neighbourhood bistro, with excellent food and moderate pricing. Plus I love Islington and would move there in a heartbeat if I wasn’t so happy in Fulham.

Salut! is tiny, so I can understand why it books up so early.  It’s very bustling and lively, with an open kitchen – so if you’re looking for something quiet and peaceful, then Salut! is not for you.  It’s the perfect place for a celebration dinner, or a dinner with friends.  A great place to start the weekend.

I arrived with a stinking cold and wishing I was in bed.  But some rich glasses of red Primitivo wine sorted me out nicely.  And then the food came and it cured me for a few hours.  For starters I really enjoyed a truffle cauliflower veloute, which was warming and delicious.  I loved the ‘Preparations of beetroot’ dish too.

Salut!, IslingtonSalut!, Islington

The main courses were all excellent.  I never go for pork but wanted to try something new, so went for the pork belly which was incredible.  I especially liked the romesco, crushed cassava & braised hispi (I have a serious adoration of hispi cabbage) which accompanied the pork.  Jo had the mallard which was cooked to perfection, with parsley root and confit swede which again was really good.  My father had the red deer with smoked celeriac.   The food is beautifully presented and I think we all especially loved their vegetables, purées, and sauces.

Salut!, IslingtonSalut!, IslingtonSalut!, Islington

To finish we enjoyed a beautiful (and delicious) espresso.

Salut!, Islington

By the end of dinner I felt a lot better.  While Salut! is a little out of the way, if you’re looking for sophisticated food in a laid back, unpretentious and cosy environment, then you’ll love it.

Salut!

412 Essex Rd

London N1 3PJ

Blog, Date Spot, Do, Drink, Eat, London

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond Park

January 3, 2017
Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Going for a walk in Richmond Park is something I don’t do enough.  And every time I go I remind myself how beautiful it is, how tame the deer are and how it actually feels like you’re in the countryside [for a little while].  And now I have another excuse to keep returning: Petersham Nurseries.

Richmond ParkRichmond Park

It’s one of those places where I wondered why on earth I hadn’t come sooner.  First and foremost it’s a garden centre, which doesn’t sound hugely appealing in itself.  But then you get there and you understand what all the fuss is about.  Even in early November, when it gets dark early and Richmond Park is soggy and your hands are freezing, Petersham Nurseries is like a flowery fairytale.  Everything is ridiculously pretty, without being kitsch.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond park

But flowers aside, there’s a lot more to Petersham Nurseries.  Namely the restaurant and cafe, both in glasshouses.  In fact, it reminds me a little of a British version of South Africa’s Babylonstoren.  Arguably without the sun, the winelands, and the Cape Dutch architecture, but Babylonstoren does also have a cafe and an excellent restaurant (Babel) in glasshouses.  There’s something about eating in a glasshouse that clearly appeals, I for one love it.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond park

We came here for tea, having walked our on-loan dog Amiga through an autumnal Richmond Park.  Dogs are allowed too (in the cafe).  Even in the winter this place gets busy, and the restaurant is always fully booked (so book ahead).   The cafe is teaming with life; from dogs barking, children laughing and friends gossiping.  The cakes are so good you could sit here for hours and work your way through the (considerable) selection.  They – of course – also have a large range of teas, from mint to English Breakfast, and also serve more casual, hearty lunch options like quiches and roasts.   It’s cosy and warm and the best place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Petersham Nurseries’ more formal restaurant made a name for itself when chef Skye Gyngell (who since left to set up Spring) became Head Chef, and it was awarded a Michelin star.   I’m yet to eat here, but I’ve only heard good things.

But quite honestly, Petersham Nurseries was one of my 2016 highlights.  And I look forward to returning many more times in 2017.

Petersham Nurseries

Church Lane, Petersham Road,

Richmond TW10 7AB

Photo credit: my own and Stephanie Wolff’s photos

Andalucia, Blog, Bologna, Croatia, London, Mexico, Mexico City, Prague, Rome, Sicily, Spain, Tulum

BEST OF 2016: MY FAVOURITES

January 1, 2017
City Turtle 2016

2016 was another busy year of travel.  I enjoyed a record number of European city breaks (Rome, Prague, Bologna, Istanbul, Marbella, Paris, Amsterdam) and a few brilliant longer trips to Miami, New York, Hvar, Andalucia and Mexico.  Hopefully all my blogs have been useful for those travelling to these destinations.

Here are my favourites of 2016:

Most Spectacular Hotel: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

I promise I’ll stop banging on about this hotel, but this boutique design hotel stands out for me as one of the best places I have ever stayed.  Its stretch of beach is so peaceful, the sand so white and the sea gloriously turquoise. The rooms are white washed, minimalist and super comfortable.  Morning yoga is the best way to start the day there, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast.  It’s no wonder Conde Nast voted it as one of 2016’s best hotels.

Esencia, Mexico

Runner up: Finca Cortesin (and I shockingly still have not written a blog about this place).  Hands down one of Europe’s most beautiful properties, high in the hills 30 minutes from Marbella, with sea and mountain views.  The interiors are so elegant, the swimming pools vast and the spa to die for.

Finca Cortesin, Spain

Favourite new discovery: South East Sicily

A week of exploring all the Baroque-rich towns and cities of South Eastern Sicily is such a treat.  Each of the towns, from Ragusa to Modica to Note are all so individual, with good restaurants, a few fun bars, and lots of pretty streets to explore.  Our seafood lunch at Taverna Cialoma in Marzamemi was one of the big highlights of our trip.  And we learnt that the very underestimated city Catania is also worth a stop.

Ragusa, Sicily

Favourite new London restaurant: Foley’s

With so many restaurant openings in London this year, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  But everything from the divine alfresco bar (with the best Espresso Martinis), to a menu where you literally want to eat every dish (and we did), to the friendly, helpful staff, meant that Foley’s wins the 2016 prize.  A place I know I’ll return to, again and again.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Runner up: The Ninth and Clipstone.  Both of these relatively new openings in London have a lot in common: excellent food, reasonable pricing and great atmosphere.  The Pain Perdu at the Ninth is the best pudding I’ve had this year.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

Favourite Bar – International: The Living Room, at the Faena, Miami

Wow, the new(ish) Faena hotel in Miami is a true showstopper, rich in colour and gold and opulence.  And walking into its main bar, The Living Room, is like stepping into Gatsby’s 1920s.  I loved every moment of being in this crazy, vibrant, colourful place, where you don’t know where to look or which cocktail to pick from their indulgent menu.  The Faena’s restaurant Pao was also a highlight of my visit.

Photo credit: https://luxuriavacations.com/destinations/usa/faena-hotel-miami-beach

Runner up:  The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel, New York. This hotel is so fantastically blingy, as of course you’d expect considering the owners.  It’s a stunning hotel (the rooms are far more toned down than the public areas), but the bar really stood out.  It’s always packed with very glamorous people, the cocktails are fantastic and the interiors are fabulous.

Photo credit Baccarat Hotels

Favourite English Countryside retreat: Foxhill Manor, the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is one of my favourite areas of England; the countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful here and the villages are all so picturesque, with so many pretty Cotswold stone cottages, lovely cafes and restaurants and fantastic country walks.  So staying at the exclusive five star Foxhill Manor (Dormy House’s sister property) was one of the highlights of 2016, the ultimate country house hotel.  The food was amazing here, our suite the size of my house in London, and the views of the Cotswolds out of this world.

Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Favourite Restaurant – International: Quintonil, Mexico City

Chosen not because it’s voted as the 12th best restaurant in the world, but purely because it was a magical experience, and I’ve never had Mexican food like it.  It’s incredible value for money, and the amuse bouches we had here were some of the best I’ve had.  That said, its Mexico City competitor Pujol deserves a mention too, also for its creative food and noteworthy tasting menu.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Runners up:  This is such a tough one, as I have eaten at some seriously wonderful restaurants this year.  Still, if I had to choose, I loved Marzapane in Rome because it is was so different, so modern and so un-Roman.  At the same time, Sansho’s tasting menu in Prague was exceptional, and fantastic value.  And last but not least, Dalmatino in Hvar, Croatia was unexpected and their squid ink truffle gnocchi mind-blowing.

Marzapane, Rome

Favourite beach: Tulum, Mexico

Who knew Mexico’s Riviera Maya had such incredible beaches?  The beach at Tulum is possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been on.  Lined with palm trees and eco hotels (no building is higher than the tallest palm tree), white powdery sand and warm welcoming turquoise waves, it really is a paradise beach.  Plus, it stretches on and on, and makes for the best walk at sunset, Margarita in hand.  Especially the beach at Nomade (photo below) was phenomenal.

Tulum, Mexico

Runners up: Dubovica Beach on Hvar, Croatia and South Beach, Miami.  These two beaches couldn’t be more different, but each has it’s own bit of wow.  Dubovica beach is small, pebbled and one of the prettiest European beaches I’ve seen.  It has a lovely beach bar too and it’s generally not too full of tourists.  South Beach Miami is of course heaving with people, but that doesn’t stop it from being ‘wow’ in its own way.  It’s one of the most fun beaches I’ve been to, great for people watching, with so much going on.

Dubovica Beach, HvarMiami Beach

Favourite Afternoon tea: Petersham Nurseries

I don’t know how I only managed to visit this heavenly place until so recently, but I fell head over heals for Petersham Nurseries.  Even on a cold (but beautiful) winter afternoon the Cafe was so warm and cosy, the cakes so delicious and the selection of teas ideal.  I can’t wait to return in the spring and the summer.

Photo Credit: http://friendlynettle.com/day-petersham-nurseries-%E2%99%A5/

Favourite city break: Prague

People warned me that yes, the city is beautiful, but it’s touristy and the food isn’t good.  Well, yes, I’d agree that’s it’s busy, but it’s hard to avoid tourists these days.  And, after all, I’m one too.  But I’d disagree that you can’t eat well.  One of my favourite restaurants of the year, Sansho, was here.  Plus Field was excellent too, as was CottoCrudo at the Four Seasons.  There’s lots to do and see, and it’s incredibly affordable too.  Win win.

a-prague-top-ten-sights

Runner up was Bologna, with so much charm and beauty, and excellent Italian food and wine.  Our experience at Drogheria della Rosa was absolutely one of the most memorable of 2016.

Drogheria della Rossa, Bologna

And what has 2017 got in store for me?  Definitely more European city breaks, with Rome and Stockholm already booked, a trip back to Andalucia and Italy this summer for sure, and Mallorca in September.  I’d also really like to return to Vienna, explore Porto and maybe go to some of the Greek islands…  Let’s see where 2017 takes me!

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, London

Thomas’ Cafe at Burberry, Mayfair

December 31, 2016
Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

When fashion designers try and do restaurants or bars or hotels they can get it wrong (par example the Versace Hotel in Miami), but trust Burberry to get it so right with their first Café opening: ‘Thomas’’ (names after the founder, Thomas Burberry).

It is beautiful, undeniably so.  With dark walls, dim lighting and a welcoming fireplace, it feels like you’ve walked into someone’s very sophisticated but cosy country home.  And while it’s clear that the interiors are well thought through and stylish, it’s done in an understated, unpretentious way.  Nothing flashy, or too polished.  A bit like the brand itself.

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

Finding somewhere to go for coffee is difficult around Regent Street, unless you’re happy to settle with Pret or Café Nero and a bunch of tourists.  So Thomas’s is welcome for more than one reason.  Also, you can book, which means no unnecessary and tedious queuing for brunch.  And lastly, while you’d think it would have the same eye-watering prices as Burberry itself, you’re wrong.  It’s not cheap, of course.  But it’s reasonable.  And everything, from the beautiful presentation of the eggs with soldiers, to the tea with its own hour glass timer which tells you when the tea leaves have brewed to their optimum, is delightful.

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, MayfairThomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

I could happily sit there for hours, sipping my cappuccino, watching people come and go, until it’s cocktail hour and then gently move on to one of their G&Ts.  There is no rush to leave your table (or if there was, we never felt it).

You are so well looked after here, by young, good looking, could-be Burberry models. Who are exceptionally polite and accommodating. But my favourite thing about the place is the soundtrack, which I recognised from their impossibly glamorous Christmas advert casually starring Siena Miller and Lily James (and which I still wish was a trailer to a 2 hour long movie).

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

And so, with January around the corner, this is a place that will make you embrace winter.  And be the perfect refuge for your post sale shop.

Thomas’ Cafe

Burberry

5 Vigo Street / 121 Regent Street

 

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Boca di Lupo, Soho

November 8, 2016
Boca di Lupo, Soho

Considering that Italian food is my favourite cuisine and I spend most of my time eating in Soho, it’s a bit of a miracle that I had never been to Boca di Lupo until last week.

London has some wonderful Italian restaurants; from ‘swanky’ Zafferano, to South Ken favourite La Famiglia, to the more relaxed but no less excellent Trullo and Padella.  But Buco di Lupo is a name I hear regularly, constantly, and it’s always being praised.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

Book to sit at the kitchen bar, where all the action is.  The food is excellent.  Simple, no messing about, wonderful Italian food.  My favourite was the potato gnocchi with sausage.  While gnocchi is usually a stodgy, heavy dish, this was light, delicate and full of flavour. The pumpkin risotto was good too, but didn’t stand out as much for me.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

We ordered the Tagliata to share for the main course.  I’m glad we shared because it is truly massive (and beautifully cooked).  The rocket and parmesan are the perfect accompaniment, and we ordered a tomato salad which worked very well too.

We also enjoyed their wine.  Quite a lot of wine, as a matter of fact, from different regions in Italy (they have an excellent, if expensive, Italian wine list).  My favourite was the Barbera, but, at £17 per glass, it’s not automatically your go-to wine.  The Sangiovese was good too, and I can’t remember what else we drank because things got a bit blurry…

Boca di Lupo, Soho

In Soho, where you are spoilt for choice of restaurants, Buco di Lupo stands out.  The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, the food superb, the setting beautiful, warm and cosy.  Next time my father’s in town, I’m taking him there.  And that’s got to be a good sign.

Buco di Lupo

12 Archer St, Soho,

London W1D 7BB

 

Blog, Drink, Eat, Healthy, London

Brompton Food Market, South Kensington

October 29, 2016
Brompton Food Market, South Kensington

I love it when you come across places which you never knew existed, but have walked past a million times.  South Ken is tricky for brunch.  It’s either super touristy (Muriel’s Kitchen) or a bit chainy (Comptoir Libanais, Aubaine, Pain Quotidien).   And then you get this cute, unassuming Deli/Cafe with a secret garden which is perfect for a summer lunch or an autumn brunch.   We were actually en route to Aubaine, but then passed the Brompton Food Market with it’s inviting ‘secret garden’ sign and thought we ought to have a look.  Let’s just say Aubaine never happened after that.

The Brompton Food Market is actually also a butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer as well.  I.e really the place do all your shopping.  And the experience is ten times nicer than shopping at Tesco’s, I can promise you that.  It’s a beautiful shop with excellent produce.  You could spend hours looking at all the different jams and oils and cheese.

Brompton Food Market, South Kensington

Shopping aside, they have a great selection of wonderful salads and juices for those healthy-inclined, or a mouthwatering brunch menu with dishes like American pancakes with berries, eggs whichever way you want, the list is endless.  My cappuccino was the size of my head.  We sat outside, kept warm with sheepskin rugs and overhead heaters.

Brompton Food Market, South KensingtonBrompton Food Market, South KensingtonBrompton Food Market, South Kensington

This is the perfect place for a cosy, laid back and affordable coffee or brunch, in the heart of touristy London.  It’s ideal if you’re looking for somewhere quiet and local, and away from the tourist hordes.

The Brompton Food Market

33 Thurloe Place

SW7 2HQ

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Clipstone, Fitzrovia

October 29, 2016
Clipstone, Fitzrovia

Before going to restaurants I always love checking out the menu (mainly to prepare myself for the bill).  Clipstone’s menu reads like it was ‘written by Chaucer’, as my friend Harry so aptly put it.  We didn’t understand half of it.  What’s ‘ventricina’ and ‘hispi’ cabbage, why put ‘mallard’ instead of just plain ‘duck’ (apparently because mallard is a wild duck), what’s a ‘torched gurnard’ and a ‘Paris-Brest’?  I’m clearly not really ‘with it’ anymore.  But it didn’t put me off at all.  It actually made me more curious.

While it’s high on my list of go to places, I am yet to try the much-praised restaurant Portland which opened in January last year.  Then its sister restaurant Clipstone opened this summer and the reviews were as good, if not better.  And for some reason I was even more drawn to it than Portland.  So I went last night.  And it was excellent.

It started very well with their homemade warm sour dough bread.  Thick and soft and filling and just what you need when starving and downing your first cocktail of the weekend.  The Halloween appropriate pumpkin with apricot, crispy herbs and creme fraiche was incredible.  The hispi cabbage (a diamond shaped sweet cabbage, apparently) was perhaps one of my favourite dishes, as were the leaks with gibriche sauce (effectively leak tempura – so so good).  The ravioli of celeriac & ricotta was unbelievably moorish and I could easily have had another plate of it.  Our meat options, the pork with quince (the sweet quince made this dish) and the pheasant (beautifully cooked) were good too, but it’s the vegetable dishes that receive the standing ovation.  There’s a clear love here for fermenting, smoking and pickling food and it allows for the perfect autumnal dinner.  It’s very hard to fault this place.

Clipstone, FitzroviaClipstone, Fitzrovia

The service was excellent and friendly and they put up with us asking what every other word on the menu was.

Pudding was a hard choice between the Paris Brest and the Buttermilk pudding, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect from either.  But I’m so glad we went for the Paris-Brest (effectively a lot of cream and choux pastry).  It was to die for and apparently very much the pudding du jour in London at the moment.

Clipstone, Fitzrovia

But one word of warning.  If you want a post-dinner aperitif, don’t, whatever happens, order the pear liqueur.  If you opt for it you can expect poison in a glass and a consequential blurry evening.  But everything else on the menu: order, order, order away.  You won’t be disappointed.

Clipstone

5 Clipstone Street

Fitzrovia

 

Blog, Eat, Healthy, London

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

September 26, 2016
Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

Word of advice.  When a restaurant says it’s fully booked when trying to book a table online, don’t let this put you off going.  I’ve been wanting to go to the much praised Fitzrovian restaurant Honey & Co for ages now, but every time I try and book, it says ‘nothing available’ or offers me the 9:30pm slot.  So last week, having read that they do allow some walk ins, I decided I was just going to risk it.

I arrived at 6:30pm and it was full.  This was to be expected, and I was not put off.  Things looked positive when I spoke to a very friendly waitress, who said she’d take my name and number, and call me when a table was available.  Seemed reasonable.  My friend Emily and I grabbed a glass of wine at the pub next door and eyed up Honey & Co’s small outside terrace.  It was a beautiful, warm September evening, but we could sense that people were leaning towards eating inside.  After about 30 minutes I got a call, ‘We’ve got a table free, but it’s outside I’m afraid.  When can you be here?’   Bingo.  We were there in seconds.

There is one disappointing thing to mention first, then we’ll focus on the positives.  Emily is a vegetarian and, despite the Middle East being so good at vegetarian food, she was disappointed to have only one choice of main course.  Which was, incidentally, a very delicious baked aubergine dish.  But still, I had five other options to choose from.  Funny also that all the starters were vegetarian.  It just doesn’t quite make sense.  Perhaps they should offer the starters also in larger portions as mains?

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

However, moving on swiftly.  The starters were delicious – we shared a basket of fresh bread (how do they make pitta quite so good?) and a labaneh and a spicy pumpkin and pepper dish.  The ideal first course, filling but not overly so.  I could have licked the plate.  As Emily devoured her aubergine, I opted for the roasted lamb salad with plums, tarragon, greengages and fennel seeds as my main course.  While lamb is my big go to, the rest of the accompaniments were not very ‘me’ (I don’t really like fruit in my food, unless it’s pudding).  But the combination worked beautifully and it felt both healthy and delicious.

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

The place has a very local, neighbourhood feel to it.  Everyone is friendly, the staff lovely, and there is a pleasant buzz about the place.  It’s one of those places which makes you want to return.  It’s as far from a chain restaurant as you can get.

Too full for pudding, I decided I would return here for brunch, as this seems to be most legendary here.  Since drinking wine at the pub at 11am at the pub next door may not be quite so appropriate, I might have to surrender and actually book that (well) in advance.

Honey & Co

25 Warren St

London W1T 5LZ

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar and Terrace, Covent Garden

September 25, 2016

A fairly sweltering September means that my hunt for the best alfresco bars (or bars with decent terraces) for post work drinks has continued.  Bronte (my regular), is a big favourite of mine in Central London.  It has a large terrace, a decent bar menu and there’s always a table free.  But apart from that it’s always quite tricky to find a relaxed terrace in Covent Garden or Soho. Further North I have more luck; in Fitzrovia Foley’s has a cool alfresco bar (but with very limited seats), Percy & Founders has a large outside seating area, and Charlotte street offers many restaurants with small terraces ideal for drinks in the sun (the big favourite being the Charlotte Street hotel).  So when Grace Dent wrote a rave review about J Sheekey launching their new Atlantic Bar & Terrace (a revamp from their old Oyster Bar), located in the West End, I thought I’d check it out.

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar & Terrace, West End

London’s West End is known to be very busy and very touristy, and the immediate area around Leicester Square is not necessarily a place I spend much time.  J Sheekey is right in the thick of theatre-land, tucked away down a little alley way.  It looks pretty old school.  I mean, J Sheeky has been around for decades.  But you can tell that it’s terrace has had a bit of make over; with bright colours and comfy red chairs it looks fresh and welcoming.  And it’s prime people watching territory too (not long after we spotted Ian McKellan smoking a cigarette around the corner).  I also loved its new menu with artwork by my favourite Quentin Blake.

Quentin Blake

You can’t just drink here, you need to order some food.  But with a mouth-watering fish-heavy menu, that’s not exactly a problem.  We ordered the sea bass ceviche and the tuna and avocado tartare, both excellent.  The wine list is decent, though it’s easy to leave here with a fairly large bill (a glass of wine and one dish each set us back close to £25 each).

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar & Terrace, West End

In short, if you’re looking for a pre-theatre or cinema place for an alfresco drink and a quick bite, this is the place for you.  Alternatively, you can of course just stay here for a proper fishy dinner – there’s a reason why this place has been around for so long, the food is great and the service is too.

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar & Terrace

33-35 St Martin’s Court,

London WC2N 4AL

Blog, Eat, London

Flat Iron, Covent Garden & Soho

September 25, 2016
Flat Iron, Covent Garden

Flat Iron is not exactly new to the London dining scene, and its original Beak Street restaurant is a bit of a Soho institution. Known for excellent steak and excellent value, Flat Iron has been popular from the outset.  I had heard about the long queues of patient fans, who, because of the typical Soho no-booking policy, were more than happy to wait in line for a juicy steak for a tenner.

I don’t have the patience for long queues, and so, when the newest (and by far the largest) Flat Iron opened on Henrietta Street (December 2015), around the corner from where I work, my interest was renewed.  Taking colleagues out to lunch posed as the perfect opportunity to try this place, and we were all very impressed.

The menu is short & simple, and their signature Flat Iron steak for £10 is what you should order.  Yes, they had specials (a burger in our case), but I’d seen the beautifully pink sliced steaks come by and knew what I wanted.  It comes with a side salad, though you can of course order triple cooked chips, or other vegetables with it.  They also offer sauces (£1) – from an excellent Bearnaise to the creamy horseradish I went for.  The steaks came quickly, were perfectly cooked, and tasted divine.  Lunch was all over in under 45 minutes.

To top it off they offer a complimentary salted caramel ice cream upon departure.  The ice cream was almost (almost) better than the steak.

With friendly staff, attractive interiors and incredible value, I can completely understand the appeal.  The bonus of the Henrietta Street restaurant is that it is large enough to head there for lunch without queues.  I shall definitely be returning for dinner…

Flat Iron

17/18 Henrietta Street

Covent Garden

With other restaurants in Soho on 17 Beak Street and 9 Denmark Street

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

September 5, 2016
The Ninth, Fitzrovia

It might seem like a bit of a cheat writing a blog about a restaurant where I’ve only had pudding*.  But this pudding is so good it deserves its own blog.  Even though I had it 3 weeks ago I cannot stop thinking about it.  I’m plotting when to return.

Let’s rewind.  Having had a delicious dinner at Bao Fitzrovia, which fully lived up to expectations, I decided I wanted proper dessert and a proper (large) glass of wine.  Being right by Charlotte street we were in no better area to find both items, and so we strolled along until we got to the Ninth.  I’d read good things about this place, no less regarding its attractive Japanese celeb chef Jun Tanaka, but mainly about the food.  It also, like most Charlotte Street restaurants (another reason why I love it so) has a little terrace outside, with, in our case, empty tables.

The staff were ever so charming and more than happy for us to enjoy dessert and wine outside.  The dessert menu had some very appealing options and I was almost tempted to go for the Tarte Tatin.   But the (lovely) waiter insisted I try their famous ‘Pain Perdu’, which sounded like my sort of thing.  Best decision ever.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

It’s really rather pleasant sitting on their terrace with the heaters on, watching Charlotte Street go by, sipping a good glass of French (obvi) wine.  But life got just that little bit better when a loaf of beautifully caramelised French toast was placed in front of me.  With wonderful vanilla ice cream.  The loaf was soft and warm on the inside, but with a slight caramel crunch on the outside.  It’s quite a lot of pudding, but scary how quickly and easily that vanished (my Instagram photo below).  Don’t get one to share, it’s too good for that.  And while a portion that size might leave you feeling sick, it wasn’t overly sweet so I felt just fine afterwards (if slightly on a sugar high).

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

The great thing is that since I didn’t actually have dinner there, I have an excuse to go back (the menu looks good, and prices reasonable).  Inside was also appealing, dimly lit, buzzing without being noisy, the ideal date place perhaps.

If the rest of the menu is anything like the Pain Perdu, then it will certainly be a dinner to remember.

**Since writing this blog I actually went back for lunch in the sun with my father.  We enjoyed two of their delicious salads/ceviche and their oxtail croquettes which were delicious.  To finish, we had the Pain Perdu, of course!  Couldn’t recommend this place highly enough.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

The Ninth

22 Charlotte Street

Fitzrovia

Photo credit: The Ninth

Blog, Drink, Eat, London

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

August 31, 2016
Samarkand, Fitzrovia

An Uzbek restaurant might not be your first choice on Charlotte Street, where you have a vast array of excellent international – and British – restaurants to choose from.  But I was curious, no less because of the promise of craft vodka and a dish called Jizbiz (I know…).

I rarely write bad reviews, mainly because I don’t want to waste my time writing about places I would simply not recommend.  The only negative one I wrote was about Restaurant Ours, because there was a hype for no reason, the prices were inflated and the service was appalling.  The problem with Samarkand is that I genuinely quite liked the restaurant (and bar), I thought the interiors were appealing and – most importantly – the service was really good.  So I feel for them a little, writing this review.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

But there is one big problem with Samarkand, and that is, very unfortunately, the food.  Arguably we enjoyed the 50% soft launch offer, which made for a very affordable and fun dinner.  However, the prices of the food cannot be justified without it.

To start with we ordered the beef and lamb ‘Manti’, Uzbek dumplings.  I’m always a bit of a fan of dumplings, but not of these.  Soggy, falling apart and bland, even the sauce which accompanied it resembled a Dolmio tomato sauce.  Maybe that’s the Uzbek way, but if it is, I wouldn’t put it on the menu.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

Next came the Shashlik (grilled skewered meat).  We ordered the Wagyu Beef with Truffle and a Buttermilk Lamb one.  Bearing in mind that the beef shashlik (one skewer – albeit 100g) costs £24, you’d expect some seriously good meat.  But it just didn’t do it for us (though the lamb was better than the beef).  The biggest mystery of all was the truffle clearly resembled truffle shavings but tasted of, well, nothing.  Nor did it smell of truffle.  It just looked like it.  When questioned if it was perhaps Uzbek truffle (if that exists) our very charming waiter said he’d check with the kitchen, and returned adamant it was Tuscan.

For the main course we decided to order the JizBiz, since a dish with a name like that surely can’t be ignored.  This was a rack of lamb with a potato cake.  It was fine, but not more than this – and just could have been so much better if they had properly grilled the lamb so the fat was crispy rather than soft.

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

We moved to the bar area (which I really liked) after dinner to try some of their vodka.  They recommended two kinds: a sugar beet and a malt vodka – both completely new to us.  We couldn’t dine at an Uzbek restaurant and not have a vodka.  But then to our complete surprise we were served British vodka, two types of craft vodka made in London in fact.  I just couldn’t understand why a restaurant from an area famed for its vodka would serve British vodka.  Totally bizarre (I did like the Uzbek tea cups the vodka was served in).

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

Samarkand’s not all bad, as I said above.  I really liked the staff, who were attentive, enthusiastic and clearly proud to be working at there.  The head barman could talk for hours about the vodka we were drinking.  Some of the cocktails we had afterwards were good too (though the Whisky Sour could do with more whiskey).

This is not a place for a summer’s day (it’s underground), and should be better in the winter, where the British vodka can warm you, though the truffle with still mystify.  So in conclusion, I’d grab a pre or post-dinner cocktail here, but choose one of the plethora of other excellent restaurants on Charlotte Street (Roka, the Ninth, Barn Yard) or Bao around the corner for actual dinner.  If Uzbek cuisine wants to make its mark in London, it’s going to have to improve dramatically at Samarkand.

Samarkand

33 Charlotte St,

London W1T 1RR

Photo credit: Samarkand

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