Posts Tagged ‘London’
From a 3 week trip to Vietnam, I remember tiny cafés, tables thrown together on the side of the road, superb food made on the spot. I did not care for restaurants. I wanted to be in the streets. Most often, I followed a superb scent until I found the chef, ordered from a well used wok, the best ones, was given some chopsticks and happily ate sitting on a few bricks on the pavement.
But House of Ho recently opened in Soho and I was quite curious to see what the very skilled Bobby Chinn – who already has a restaurant in Hanoi and another in Saigon – would bring to the menu. Vietnamese food of a different level.
The experience starts with a smile. We’re in London, there has to be cocktails! And so the first page opens on the 10 stages of drunkenness… Invisibility was tempting but we settled on the more civilised Witty and Charming. For a very fruity drink, try the Rum Yum Dragon, a waltz of pomelo, red berries and the tanginess of passionfruit all wrapped in heart warming rum. Impressive presentation, piled up high in a mini ice cup. If you are feeling adventurous, go for the Ho’rny Devil. The very pure coconut water was heightened by Vietnamese chilli, refined by lemongrass vodka… just enough to make your cheeks a pinker shade. No worries, though, the sugary coconut on the side of the glass makes it a real treat, very snowflake like, fire beneath frost…
The dishes are also rather spectacular. Have a look at the first one, Bobby’s Duck’s ‘a la banana’ blossom salad, served in a real banana blossom! A deconstructed piece of heart, beautifully balanced. Shredded confit duck (with some crispy bites too), gizzard pieces, noodles, spices, carrots. Each forkful brings the crunchiness of shallots, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts and the lemony touch of shiso leaves. So many ingredients coming together perfectly.
We also quite loved the Crab Pomelo Salad. Same principle but more refreshing. Thin ribbons of vegetables, cabbage and carrots, peanuts and shallots but with the tender flesh of crab, mint, just a drizzle of olive oil and juicy pomelo. Zestier. With the added crunch of the traditional prawn crackers.
The Lemongrass monkfish with a fish caramel sauce intrigued and proved a must-have. One of those dishes you guess before they arrive, their divine perfume precedes them. The caramel mixed with the fish juices and lemongrass has an addictive sweet-savoury quality, yet is quite fluid, wrapping each morsel perfectly. I know the instinctive choice is to get some rice but do try the Heavenly Flowers, tiny blooms, lovely spring flavour, a slight natural bitterness that complements the stir fried pak choi and really works well with that sauce. Let alone it comes with crispy shallots and, like fries – you can never have enough of these.
Another signature of the House of Ho menu is – and you will find it again and again on online reviews – the Apple Smoked Pork Belly, Braised Cabbage and Egg. Was it worth it? You bet. The meat is so tender it comes apart just with the tip of the chopsticks. Gorgeous. Smoked and salty, crunchy on top, a layer of fat, a very tasty broth linking the cabbage, the egg yolk, peppery. If the cocotte dish had not been so hot, I would have drunk it, that says it all. It reminds me of the French potée in a way, chimney fire quality, comfort food for a rainy day. Delicious Asian version.
Desserts are more classical but well mastered. Like the sugar crunchiness on the crème brûlée (it has to be just the right depth, make the right noise, it’s an art!). This one is lemon scented, as creamy as lemon curd, a very long note on the palate. Chocaholics can get their fix with the superb chocolate cake with its melted heart. The superb ganache is a mix of Belgian and Marou, a Vietnamese brand (yes, Vietnam does grow cacao) using the very refined Trinitario beans. To make it more exotic, add a scoop of intense lemongrass ice cream, really enhancing the nuttiness of the dessert. The best of both worlds.
Verdict? Vietnamese cuisine en finesse et en beauté. It could do with a more daring bite on ginger and chilli, which I expect has been toned down for a European palate. But this is definitely one of my favourite places in Soho. There are quite a few friends I can’t wait to take there!
House of Ho
57-59 Old Compton St
London W1D 6HP
You don’t expect it there. The Barbican. A maze of grey concrete. You have heard of it, glimpsed it from the outside but it was always closed. Vibrant green in a surprising conservatory, exotic flowers, Japanese carp, palmtrees, ferns. Discreet stairs lead you to the upper floor, offer an even better view. You almost expect colourful birds to fly by. It’s like a little holiday from the city…
The conservatory is open to the public every Sunday, free entry.
Barbican Art Gallery
Silk Street, London
Leaving Green Park tube station, we thread our way through the streets of Mayfair, smiling, an air of anticipation. Brick buildings. Busy folk. Stop. From the outside nothing is apparent to predict the journey ahead. A simple sign, discreet UMU, touch to enter. As inferred, a palm is placed on the white square. The door slides automatically. Futuristic, but now we move to traditional. Japanese haute cuisine, highlighting in particular that of Kyoto, making it one of the best addresses in the city, as emphasized by the Michelin star.
Umu means, literally, born of nature. The menu embraces this inspiration, closely following the seasons, using the best British products and exceptional quality, lively, vibrant flavors… Behind this extreme refinement, you will find Chef Yoshinori Ishii. 20 years experience, including 9 in Kyoto Kitchen (the famous Michelin 3-star restaurant in Japan) and as chef at the Japanese Embassy in Geneva. A culinary artist, but that’s not all! This outstanding cook also studied, among others… Ikebana (flower arrangement – it was he who formed the bouquet places), Moku Hanga (woodblock printing – more to come on that), pottery and fishing.
Gaze at the menu while sipping a cocktail. I recommend the Saketini – an alliance of sake and martini, vodka and cucumber. Refreshing, reinvigorating. Or the Shiso Cooler, bringing together a shochu infused plum, plum wine, ginger ale and Grey Goose. Mellow, a hint of sweetness on the lips, calming notes of shiso and suddenly fresh ginger tonic. Also to be noted/noticed/loved/envied, the chic champagne trolley…
We choose the Kaiseki menu, a gourmand’s poem with 8 flavourful stanzas, smaller portions cleverly staged… Two versions are available, a classic, shall we say, the other with a modern sushi bent. The theme of the moment is of course Spring, with green notes but also soft pink like Sakura, the cherry blossom. Limited knowledge of Japanese cuisine? Rest assured, your server will explain with passion – and pride – ingredients, techniques, sprinkling anecdotes along the way.
Doing some research on this word, I found the characteristic Japanese love for balance, art and beauty at every turn. As the first course of a kaiseki menu, this special dish generally features delicate raw fish, bringing a contrast to colour, yet sympathetic texture. As for its shape – the best examples offer a depression in the center to allow the sauce to pool under the fish rather than soak in completely.
In this glass boat we are served tender pieces of mackerel, each striped with the knife to infuse flavours, slightly smoky. White asparagus just blanched, barely al dente and accompanied by a nori seaweed jelly, melting, scents of the sea, raised to a sharp edge by the wasabi. The whole rests on a bed of Tosazu made of soy sauce, vinegar and dashi. Umami in all its wondrous glory…
Nimono, meaning slowly cooked in a little broth, wanmori mackerel, stacked – as you can indeed appreciate below. Bowls used for this dish are chosen for their beauty and often feature black or red lacquer inside, highlighting the colours of the ingredients.
The contrasting palette of intense black and white is simply fascinating, pearl, cream, opalescent. Normandy Clam, placed on a slice of turnip seemingly floating on the stock, creamy cake, scallops with a base of sweetish purée, topped with grated daikon for a hint of spice. See the tiny leaves on top? This is kinome, leaves of Szechuan pepper, with a touch of lemon. The soup, meanwhile is light but salty, miso and sake, aroma reminiscent of sea-spray…
The Tsukuri is generally sashimi. Take a look below – these are very fine thin strips of winter flounder (lemon sole). Almost transparent, yet retaining a gratifying consistency in the mouth, full of flavour. On the side of the slate, are two other selections of the day: generous pieces of dark red tuna (that would be the belly – the top of the fish is a clearer shade) but also the grey sole. The latter is often known as the Witch Sole, because of its ugliness. Yet I assure you, the flesh is succulent, deliciousness revealed!
Probably the best sashimi we have ever tasted, honestly. The chef insists upon one Cornish supplier using the traditional Ikejime technique. Understand, the fish’s brain is immediately destroyed upon landing, leaving life in the body. Why? Apart from being the most humane way: no stress, less acidity and therefore a better quality at your plate…
A lovely surprise, underneath this carpaccio of sole rests a message from the chef, printed from his own woodblock carving… In Japanese on one side, English on the other, a touching reminder.
If you chose the Sushi Kaiseki, a set of three modern sushi is presented instead. Plump, tender grains of rice, a sublime white fish for the first one whose name unfortunately escapes me. Then a luxurious morsel of lobster, finely framed by a spritz of ginger and lemony kinome. The latter highlights the fresh crab meat, wrapped in a sliver of cucumber. Oh, this creates such a beautiful contrast of texture on the palate with that nutty pine kernels…
These dishes were paired with a very fresh chardonnay – white Burgundy, 2011 by Francis Carillon. You’ll find a beautiful minerality behind the fruity notes. Pear, lemon – a true classic of the Bourgogne region, contrasting perfectly with the crab.
In Japanese culture, the term Mushimono refers to gently steamed dishes. And this one really is an ode to spring. Beans – haricot and broad, cucumber ribbons, broccoli flowers, authentic bamboo shoots straight from Japan bring delicate flavours, balancing a slight bitterness and sweetness. Again, a very nice set of textures – crunchy vegetable, a base of transparent noodles, miso umami, and so-called Tamago-tofu. The latter actually has nothing to do with soy, the only common point being the appearance. It is in fact a kind of egg cream, often served in summer as very refreshing. This lovely velvet touch wraps the vegetables to perfection.
Hasiyasume is sometimes called “Chopstick rest”, as in rest one’s chopsticks, offering contrast to the rest of the meal in texture and presentation. Presented here are baby eels, elvers. The season is extremely short, a highly regulated fishery. Depending on the abundance, one can clearly compare to a freshwater caviar… I discovered this dish years ago in Spain, served as a simple salad… This version is far more refined! These hail from the River Severn and are steamed with sake before being being tosasu infused (a mixture of rice wine, and dashi sweet sake), the hojiso (the shiso bloom) and ginger notes making it wonderfully smooth. Presented in a spoon, it is both an indescribable and breathtaking finesse worth savouring as one would a gram of Beluga…
To ensure an unforgettable experience, the elvers were accompanied by a glass of Azure sake, a ginjo (meaning superior, this particular kind representing 9% of the amount of sakes on the market). Why is it special? Because it uses sea water in its manufacture, offering not a salty spray but a discreet note blending nicely with pear. Subtle. Icing on the cake.
***** Sixth course: Yakimono *****
Yakimono refers to grilled dishes. Thus arrives a delightful dish of guinea fowl, to be enjoyed in two phases. First, the thigh, tender yet substantial. The meat was marinated with miso and sake koji. Under the melting skin is the natural fat of the animal, yellow, leading you from crisp to smooth. It simply forces you to slow down, take time to enjoy each bite fully… Succulent morels are placed theatrically, offering the luxurious flavors of the underbrush. Now, let your chopsticks slide into the delicate bowl and be mesmerized by the perfect colour palette. The flavors are fresher, symbolically guiding from autumn to spring. Mild guinea fowl breast was steamed, just pink, then heightened by sakura jelly (those beautiful cherry blossoms). Slightly tart, delicate, you almost imagine the petals flying in the breeze.
This dish is matched with a Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian white from the Wagram region and created by Josef Ehmoser. You first get the lemon zest which gently slides to spices, ending on a note of pepper. This lifts the crispness of the meat to perfection. It also allows a rather nice transition to the next dish…
Gohan, meanwhile, is again based on rice, highlighting seasonal ingredients. The presentation in that bowl reminds me of a little nest. Ginger rice is mixed with egg Kinshi Tomago, also known as golden string, a very thin omelette cut finely. The Cornish mullet with its comforting, pure white flesh crowns it all. Pickled condiments reiterate the finesse, a warming miso soup radiates amber hues.
Gohan is also replaced if you chose the sushi option. Raw Scottish scallops, almost sweet, melting splendidly on the tongue…Then toro (tuna belly), so thin, topped with grated daikon and shiso flower, offering a beautifully dynamic progression on the palate … And ending on yellowtail imported from Japan. While it may be the seventh course, they hardly survive an instant (well 3)…
I waited for dessert, I must confess, with great curiosity. Spring poetry in gastronomic splendor! Here the chef has recreated a miniature Mayfair garden… Under edible earth (actually a very thin chocolate crumble) lies a fresh berry foam. But take the watering can and pour… This contains a sparkling sake, infused with cherry blossoms. The contrast in a single spoonful is fascinating. Flowers and micro-shoots are also edible. What a celebration, what a symphony, goosebumps included!
This menu is £115 per person – cocktails and wine not included. What an amazing journey, new flavors, such wonderful finesse… You will emerge eyes shining with interest, a desire to know more, look up techniques, ingredients. Feel free to take a look over the counter to watch the team at work and ask them your questions. The tuna tartare, incidentally, seems very worth falling for. It mixes several parts of the fish with sesame seeds for a subtle palette. And of course… come back each season to rediscover the Kaiseki menu…
14-16 Bruton Place
Mayfair W1J 6LX
Stepping out of the London Coffee Festival, I could not resist wandering through colourful Shoreditch. It has always been the core of the street art world, even more so now. To the point that I sometimes wondered whether the pieces were indeed camouflaged in the urban jungle or whether the buildings were starting to be the ones hiding behind all these murals! A few pictures of this safari:
The door sums it all up. The sign says “Adventure bar”. Yep. It’s tiny but wow, switching from Covent Garden to here is… how can I explain? Like taking a plane on a winter’s day, arriving in a tropical country and opening the door, that first blast of heat, of the vibrant surroundings. By the time you have reached the bar - it takes what, 20 steps? You will have: 1. already taken your coat off 2. stripped down to a t-shirt 3. started dancing to the reggae. Seriously. You actually feel like asking the way to the beach.
Welcome to Dub Jam. Rum Shack. Jerk BBQ restaurant. Quintessence of happiness.
It’s jam-packed on this Thursday evening. As soon as someone leaves, the place is taken. Quite a formidable mix of styles too. Impeccable suits (although I notice the ties get undone pretty fast). Trendy cool. Fashionistas with glossy hair, perfect nail art. A biker. Super flashy / eclectic. Jean-Tshirt-trainers-cap. Tweed.
The ceiling fan is painted to the colours of Jamaica. It’s rather hypnotising – I think I lost a few minutes of conversation just staring at it. The decoration is all about upcycling: graphic corrugated iron, graffiti, surfboards turned into tables, oil drums into stools, tins into spots or cocktail glasses. It’s funky, it’s colourful, it’s fun, it’s heart warming. Isn’t it cheersing time by the way? We’ll find something to celebrate. Now – you cannot not miss the special Reggae Rum Punch. The liquid is litterally pumped, cycling via the sound system to get, yes, reggae infused. It tastes… like that special drink in Mary Poppins. Pineapple tarte tartin with rum and a straw. The pina colada is a favourite too, a slush puppy for adults, coconut candy like…
Let’s talk about the menu. Go for the jerk rebel skewers - meat and fish marinated for 48 hours, slow cooked 8 hours then BBQ’d. Yes, I know, you can almost taste it, can’t you? Have a look below. We tried the so-tender jerk chicken with that final peppery note and the Kool Ruler with delicious King prawns and coconut. Each is served with mild or spicy salsa to heighten them even further and the best coleslaw in town. Oh yes, it is made with coconut milk, which gives it a sweet, thicker texture.
How about beach burgers? I devoured the Dub Shack, sweet and savoury, tasty patty, juicy pineapple and lots of melted cheese. I do have a preference for the Sound System, generous in avocado, bacon cured with coffee and molasses (wow). More, please? yes, you can order to take away. It’s a long journey back home after-all and you might get stuck on the train. They also serve bottled Red Stripe lager and Sarsaparilla. Caribbean style!
Given the success of Dub Jam, we first sat at the bar, waiting for a table. But really, this is where you want to be. The kitchen staff are brilliant. Fab anecdotes, lots of laughs, a few rather cool dance moves. You could spend hours there, listening and chatting. The ideal anti-blues solution. Food and atmosphere. Don’t worry, be happy, is definitely the motto here!
20 Bedford street
I met Paul A Young at a time when I was despairing for good chocolate in London. It is still clear in my mind – a workshop at Taste of London. Preparing chocolate brownies with goat’s cheese for that special creaminess. His boutique in Soho is a routine stop for me. I feel like a child with pocket money in there, choosing one treat after another, all different ones.
This master chocolatier has a new surprise for us – a cacao themed afternoon tea, served at the Grosvenor House. Be warned – mouthwatering pictures.
Forget Assam and Earl Grey for a minute. Yes, they are on the menu but try this, Madagascan Cocoa Nib Tea. No loose leaf, just an amazing infusion of cacao nibs. A nutty, buttery taste, a long, comforting, naturally sweet note. Silky. And calories wise – as satisfying as chocolate but guilt free! You can also upgrade to a glass of champagne. Being French I can be a bit blasé, but this Roederer Carte Blanche is a great brut, retaining a honeyish note, a sharp green apple touch too. Go for it. Life is worth celebrating, definitely with this one.
Sandwiches first stayed on a classic lines, with first class ingredients:
* Loch Fyne smoked Scottish salmon with cream cheese and dill *
* Chopped ham with Somerset cheddar, mustard mayonnaise *
* Clarence Court free range eggs with mayonnaise and cress *
* Coldwater prawns with Marie Rose sauce *
* Roast Scottish beef with creamed horseradish *
* Smoked chicken with tarragon *
…and suddenly, wow. It hits you. Butter, thin slices of cucumber and melt-in-the-mouth cacao nibs. Glorious. Refined, Refreshing. I would have traded all of the earlier ones for a mountain of these, seriously.
The pastries were quite a talking point. The chocolate shortcake with its luxurious Madagascan chocolate ganache, enchanting rose water and fresh raspberries reminded me of, what is it, oh, of course! Genius! This is an ode to Pierre Hermé, a chocolate Ispahan! Spoons were clinking happily in the glass filled with a wonderful Orange, English honey and (wait for it, very unusual) geranium ganache. It’s like summer in a spoonful of chocolate. What else? An intense Earl Grey chocolate tart decorated with a fun salted lemon truffle and crispy cacao nibs. A moist, delicious Battenberg. A pistachio and raspberry slice with a superb lemon curd. A tender chocolate cake topped with a light, cloud-like raspberry mousse. A sugary feast!
But do keep some space for the finale. Scones, for course. Just the way I like them, biscuity, crispy on the outside. With Devonshire clotted cream. No jam. Paul A Young’s signature – salted caramel spread. And that reinvents it completely. 5 star combination. It can’t even been described. It’s creamy and salty and sweet all at the same time. It’s happiness in a bite.
Book now! These will be served from April 14, 2014
£39.50 / person, £49.50 with a glass of champagne
Paul A Young Chocolate afternoon tea
Park Room at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel
London, W1K 7TN
Don’t forget it’s Mother’s day this Sunday (and that the clocks change, by the way)! Start with Liberty on Friday - the cards will be handpainted for you, a rather unique but not bank-breaking gift. Rabot 1745, Hotel Chocolat’s restaurant entirely focused on cacao, is also doing a very special afternoon tea that should make your mouth water (and get you a “Best child in the world” award). The Museum of Brands lets mums get in for free too. You’ll find 10 more super ideas to enjoy London this week-end below.
1. Don’t forget the V&A’s late evening this Friday. Tottenham takes over and presents some of its best artists and workshops: photo and video project, choir, graffiti… You can also crown yourself North London royalty for the evening. Free!
2. How about seeing Hampton Court differently? For Florimania, the rooms have been decorated with extraordinary flower displays.
4. THE doughnuts you must go and try in London. Even savoury ones!
6. Twin Peaks fan? Try the all nighter at the Riverside Studios this Saturday.
7. The Royal Opera House has a special family day this Sunday.
8. How about learning to dance flamenco this Sunday? It’s free.
10. Love your Sunday roast? Try the one at the super trendy pop-up Holy Roast on Sunday.
♪♫♪♫ Click on the map to locate the events ♪♫♪♫
1997. Studying English at uni. Dickens, Blake, Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene… Discovering London, fashion swirling, mixing, everywhere. Where else could you see a balance of vintage rock’n'roll and modern punk, all on the same person and yet retaining style and beauty? I can still picture my very first afternoon tea, at Fortnum & Mason, silver teapot, sumptuous scones, elegant finger sandwiches, the cutest cakes, the waiter explaining each treat with a certain pride. Oh, to go from literature, imagined scenes to reality, marvelling at each bite, finally understanding! I remember spending a long time choosing a few tins to bring back, a luxurious pleasure for a tiny-budget student but each sip was to be fully savoured.
Fortnum therefore stayed in my mind as THE reference for gorgeous classic teas: Queen Anne, smoky Earl Grey, Fortmason… They also do an interesting green tea with elderflower, on which I get hooked time after time. A moment of happiness in a rather brutal world.
Now, the very famous BAFTA 195 Piccadilly is only a minute walk away and guess what? They now serve F&M teas. Quite a consecration. I love to picture the stars, trying to keep their zen, waiting, hoping for their award, a cup of Royal Blend in hand! We were invited to the official celebration evening and had the opportunity to try a selection of the Chinese ones. The names may not mean much to you but it’s like switching from a nice little picnic wine to a grand cru with aromas unrolling like the words in a poem.
The head chef of BAFTA 195 Piccadilly, Anton Manganaro, had prepared a few sweet bites to match this tea tasting: strawberry macaron, vibrant, hazelnut sablé, moist ginger and pear cake, perfect harmony with the drinks. Phil Mumby then stepped in to make us dream of another continent, tea having been considered medicinal originally, explaining the oxidation process from green to black leaves. His business card? Rare Tea Hunter. We start with one of his trophies, the Silver Peony King, a pale yet slightly ember white tea, orchid, quince, almond notes…
There are more suprises: Imperial West Lake Long Jing (velvety, chestnut, white petals)… Dancing Honey Orchid Oolong (long notes, slightly roasted, honey, ylang ylang, guava), Menghai Dayi Royal Puerh (no other tea comes closer to coffee than this one. The leaves have gone through a secondary fermentation process, giving it a darker hue, reminiscent in fragrance of the earth after a thunderstorm). My favourite, though, is the Junde Fujian Finest Lapsang - just picture the leaves, neatly placed in a bamboo basket and smoked over a pine needle fire…
The evening finished with a screening at BAFTA 195 Piccadilly. And a tea cocktail, of course, created by Graham Lloyd-Bennett: a negroni infused with Fortnum and Mason’s Countess Grey (try it at home, just put a tea bag in your bottle of gin for 24 hours), orange and bergamot enhanced by the botanical flavours of the spirit. A few melt-in-the-mouth dim-sums and Saving Mr Banks started. Look at that room! Famous people have sponsored the chairs – where will you go? Spielberg’s? Catherine Zeta-Jones’?
BAFTA 195 Piccadilly is usually not open to the public but do check their website. There are conferences, Q&A with actors and film directors, family heritage screenings… you can join. A rather privileged moment!
At first, the burger trend was thought to be just a phase. That was, what, two years ago? Londoners can’t seem to tire of it, have fallen in love with it. You could say burgers have been upgraded to a gastronomy level. They remain one of our favourite comfort foods but with a completely changed ingredients list, aimed towards quality. From cheap, on the go, eaten in two bites without thinking, they became gourmet. Everything counts: the bun, sauce, meat. If the perfect combination is found, ah, it embeds in your mind, driving you mad until you make a special detour to get one. The Burger fix syndrome!
A new address has appeared on the burger hunt map, in Notting Hill. Welcome to Boom Burger, Jamaican twist on the classic. You’ll find it down Portobello Road, right under the bridge. It looks simple, approachable. A few banquettes, black stools lined with with red, green and yellow, tables outside, reggae music in the background. Fits in so well with the neighbourhood. Cheerful. Fun. Makes you wanna dance. It’s 1pm, Thursday, the street is rather quiet. By the time we sat down and had a good look at the menu… there was a queue. 20 people or so, patiently waiting to place their order before heading back to work, packed lunch grasped preciously. A few questions later – lots of locals are hooked. Apparently the Innocent Drinks team, with offices nearby, are fans too.
Our expectation is raised ever higher. Will it be that good? Soon arrive two plastic baskets on the table, pure diner style. First bite.. Superb brioche bun, super-tasty beef patty, lots of melted cheese. But the signature is in the bacon jam - sweet and savoury, such a lovely fondante texture, linking all the ingredients in a nice explosion of taste. Yet, the coup de théâtre is the Boom Jerk Burger. Let me be very French for a second: Oh la la la la la la, les amis… The Jerk chicken is so tender, so juicy, so, so va-va-voom. A nice spicy kick, yet nowhere near burning. Then comes the fried plantain, bringing more body, the peppery roquette, the how-do-they-do-it mango and paw-paw sauce. I might sell my soul for that one.
I could feel my cheeks getting pink with happiness, remembering flavours from my years in French Polynesia, the plantain chips are lovely, well seasoned. I tried them with all the available sauces but really they are just perfect on their own. Indulge in a pina-colada, homemade, or a ginger beer to stay on the spicy side.
If you’re ever looking for sunshine in London, you’ll always find some here.
272 Portobello Road
Notting Hill, W10 5TY
Quaglino’s is one of London’s most iconic addresses. It simply has this wow factor – electric blue atmosphere, never emptying bar (quite amazing really, even on a week day), elegance down to each forkful (it takes just a couple of canapés to want to book a table straight away. These people do understand how to cook steak perfectly). Most amazingly, today they celebrate 21 years. How do you inspire a couple of generations and yet remain so trendy? Just imagine – 190,000 bottles of champagne have been enjoyed here… The parties this place must have seen!
And yes, this calls for more celebration: rediscovering the Bellini, mythical Venetian cocktail invented by Harry’s Bar. Named after the Renaissance painter and his love of beautiful pigments, it pairs prosecco and white peach in the most irresistible pink hue, almost celestial. At the time, this was a special summer treat - the season was short and the fruit too delicate to travel far. We now know how to preserve it as a purée and can enjoy it all year round and across the world.
Quaglino’s just launched a new bar menu with no less than 21 versions. Classical, lip-licking varieties: strawberry, pear, black cherry, raspberry… Others simply make your eyes sparkle intensely: elderflower, fig, marmelade, mandarin-basil, rhubarb, even cucumber! Each brings this delicate balance, prosecco suspended above the fruit, only mixing at the first sip. Sharp bubbles, vanilla hint followed by a lovely sweetness, ravishing the senses. Glasses are passed around between friends, ‘mmmh’s of appreciation exchanged, compromises conceded over who gets the next flavour – if you take the watermelon, I’ll take the lychee and we do half-half, ok? You’d almost need a bingo card to tick the ones you have tried already, if only to remember for the following time.
The bonus touch? Match the cocktail with a mini-meringue. The Meringue Girls are already renowned for their sugary jewels, aptly named meringue kisses (we filmed the recipe, have a look!). Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Jamie Oliver adore them. Crunchy with a gooey, mallowy center, their recipe is simply perfect. A real rainbow of choice, from coconut to lavender. I have a preference for the subtle Gin & Tonic and exotic Pistachio and Rosewater. Two additional flavours have been created just for Quaglino’s: Peach & Champagne Bellini and Espresso Martini. It takes exactely 3 bites to eat one elegantly. I’ve practised. There is an art to not losing a single crumb.
But for me, the perfect decadence is to enjoy a beetroot Bellini with a chocolate meringue kiss. Oh, how stylish this sounds! At Quaglino’s, Bellini rhymes with paradise.
Meringue kiss – £1.20 each, 3 for £3, 5 for £5