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Friday, 12 April 2019

Mei Ume - The Cherry Blossom Menu 2019 Reviewed

Where: Four Seasons Hotel, 10 Trinity Square, London, EC3N 4AJ

Cost: The 2019 Cherry Blossom menu is available for lunch and dinner until the 22nd April (although many of the dishes are also on the permanent a la carte menu). The menu is not set and items are priced individually, and includes a special seasonal Cherry Blossom cocktail at £12.50, starters from £16 to £21, main courses from £14.50 to £34, and desserts at £9. 

About: The Four Seasons Hotel at Trinity Square opened in 2017, in the beautifully restored former headquarters of the Port of London. A grade II listed historic building, it has a magnificent view overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and beyond.  We loved the Chinese-Japanese restaurant Mei Ume on our first visit (read the review here), and were keen to return to try their latest Sakura menu.

The restaurant is gorgeously decorated - a large screen at the entrance made with enamel paint on glass depicts the plum blossoms which give the restaurant its name (Mei and Ume being the Chinese and Japanese words for plum blossom respectively).  There is a long and glamorous bar, while the main dining room is dominated by two stunning red lacquer frames holding a guilded triptych of Chinese life as focal points. The ceiling is amazingly high, with gorgeously uplit Corinthian columns supporting it. Dimly lit, it is a soothingly chic place to spend a few hours. 

What We Ate: From the starters menu, we chose the seared tuna with spinach salad in a sesame-rich Japanese wapo dressing (£18). This was beautifully presented, and tasted fresh and light.

Yellowtail carpaccio with ponzu sauce and micro-coriander was refreshingly citric, with wafer thin slices of fish, lifted by a touch of luxury in the form of black truffle (£19).

Next up were some deliciously meaty king prawns served tempura-style with a creamy spicy mayo (£24).

The Mei Ume dragon roll, topped with gold leaf, was light and well-made, with its combination of unagi (eel), Alaskan crab and avocado (£21). We loved the golden bling.

From the main course menu, we chose slow-braised Dongpo pork belly (£24) with Chinese herbs and broccoli. This classic of Chinese cooking from the Hangzhou region, which we could not resist from the regular menu, had perfectly tender pork belly formed into an elegant pyramid with a glossy reduction of Shaoxing wine, ginger, sugar and soy sauce and an intense aroma of star anise.

The grilled miso Chilean seabass served on a tea grill, was buttery and sweet (£34) though a tad dry.

To accompany, a portion of prawn and scallop fried rice with XO sauce (£16) was one of the highlights of our dinner.

For dessert, from the Cherry Blossom menu we had the snowflake matcha cake with vanilla ice cream (£9) - sadly the matcha cakes were disappointing, with little or no discernible flavour or texture.

Marginally better was the chocolate crunch cake, with a black sesame mousse and Valrhona chocolate sorbet (£9). Similar to an opera cake, this was oddly lacking in sweetness and interest.

What We Drank: There is an extensive range of sakes, and wines by the glass or carafe.  For bottles, the entry level white is a Picpoul de Pinet (£38), while the red is a Corbieres (£35).

The special seasonal Cherry Blossom cocktail (£12.50) was a delicious blend of Japanese Roku gin, with its unique blend of six botanicals including yuzu peel, alongside yuzu juice, ginger, cactus, chilli syrup and refreshing Italian Rinomato aperitif, finished with a splash of sparkling sake. This was aromatic and off-dry, with the sweetness balanced by chilli heat and bitterness with a good hit of alcohol. It was fantastic.

With the main courses, we shared a bottle of Tourraine Chenonceux, La Voute 2017, from Domain Joel Delaunay (£50).  A Sauvignon Blanc, this was about as different from a New Zealand Sauvignon as it is possible to imagine, with rich, luscious aromas of white flowers, peach and tropical fruit.

With dessert, we had a refreshing glass of sparkling Mio sake (£29 for 300 ml). 

Likes: Friendly, helpful service. The fried rice with XO sauce plus the Dongpo pork belly were both lovely, and the wines and cocktails were well chosen and interesting. 

Dislikes: Desserts were a real let-down. 

Verdict: Mei Ume is a unique restaurant serving both fine-dining Chinese and Japanese cooking under one roof. We love the gorgeous setting within the Four Season Ten Trinity Square, the food and friendly service. Recommended.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Hakkasan's CNY Year of the Pig Menu - Reviewed

Name: Hakkasan Hanway

Where:  Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD, https://hakkasan.com/locations/hakkasan-hanway-place/

Cost: The Year of the Pig Chinese New Year menu is priced at £88 per person. 

About: To celebrate the Year of the Pig, Hakkasan Hanway Place is offering a Chinese New Year set banquet, available only until Sunday 24th February. 

What We Ate: The menu kicked off with a salad of Peking duck with crispy bean curd and mango - this had perfectly crisp duck skin, candied orange peel, mixed greens, shredded chilli strands and dragon fruit.  Fresh, with great acidity, and wonderfully sweet and fatty duck morsels, this was a great start to the meal.

A dim sum duo followed - a bravura display of culinary skill, with seafood jian dui coated in white sesame seeds, and a fab shacha chicken puff - an ingenious, feather-light pastry case which opens up in segments like a savoury chocolate orange, to reveal a core of chicken with a savoury Fujian shacha sauce made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chillies, brill and dried shrimp.

The superior soup with Chilean seabass, goji berries and rings of bamboo pith had a well flavoured broth perfumed with chrysanthemum petals and ginko nut, and dainty cubes of seabass and yam.

Wok-fried lobster with spinach, lily bulb and lotus seeds was fresh, succulent and generous.

The Rhug Estate lamb had tender nuggets of fillet, served with shiitake mushrooms and rice cakes, in a spicy sauce fragrant with ginger, spring onion and chilli peppers.

Crispy suckling pig, with skin as crisp as caramel, was served atop sticky glutinous brown rice with a delectable pomegranate foam.

The side dish of stir-fried pak choi with meaty eryngii (king mushroom) and the rare but revered pioppini (aka the highly prized matsutake mushroom) was nothing short of outstanding.

Dessert was a "wealth pot", signifying favourable financial auguries for the New Year.  The pot was of dark chocolate, filled with mandarin granita and a crunchy hazelnut and chocolate ice cream.

The patisserie at Hakkasan is justly renowned, and the Fortune Macaron did not disappoint - with a crisp crust and a light, slightly chewy interior and a floral cream centre, this was an understated gem to bring the meal to a fitting end.

What We Drank: We started with a Liao Liao cocktail - a refreshing blend of Ketel One vodka, with rosella, oloroso sherry, lemon, kumquat and plum bitters.

With our meal, we shared a bottle of Albariño Abadia De San Campio, Terras Gauda, 2017 (£47). From Rias Baixas, this has pineapple and tropical fruit flavours, refreshing citrus acidity and a long finish, expertly recommended by Deputy Head Sommelier, Asturian-born Noelia Calleja.

Likes: Highlights for me were the ingenious shacha chicken puff, the lobster, the Rhug Estate lamb fillet, and the magnificent matsutake and eryngii mushroom dish. 

Dislikes: None
Verdict: If you have not yet celebrated the 2019 Chinese New Year of the Pig, hurry along to Hakkasan Hanway Place for this CNY banquet, which ends on 24th February 2019.  For me, its their best CNY menu yet. Very highly recommended!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The 2019 Year of the Pig CNY Menu at Yautcha City

Name: Yauatcha City

Where: 1 Broadgate Circus, London EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: The CNY menu is priced at £60 per person. 

About: Michelin-starred Yauatcha is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in London, with the first branch in Soho, and this glamorous spot in the City opened in 2015. Building on the Chinese dim sum teahouse concept, Yauatcha City has two bars, two outside terraces and a large main dining area, and on the weekday evening we were there was as usual packed with an after-work crowd.

The Chinese kitchen is led by Chef Tong Chee Hwee, and offers authentic Cantonese dishes with a modern influence, while the drinks menu has a staggering 38 types of tea plus cocktails inspired by Chinese ingredients and a large wine and Champagne list.

I am a regular visitor to Yauatcha City, and was keen to try their Year of the Pig CNY menu, available only until 23rd February 2019. 

What We Ate: The Dim Sum course had steamed, fried and baked items, including my all-time favourite buttery venison puffs. Highlights though were the steamed selection, including the spicy scallop, wild mushroom dumplings, and the prawn and chicken siu mai - delicately made, with paper thin skins and bursting with freshness and flavour.

Fried dim sum items included crispy monkfish cheeks with enoki mushroom and salsify (delectably meaty morsels), with a sweet and spicy sauce, and homemade prawn tofu with seaweed and water chestnut.

The main event was a medley of dishes - steamed freshwater prawn with chilli, ginger and garlic was punchy and flavoursome.

Equally delicious was the Peking-style sliced pork belly, served with golden mantou bread.

Best of all was the Szechuan three style mushroom - enoki, shimeji and wood ear fungus with green beans and mouth-numbing Szechuanese peppercorns.

The sticky brown rice with Chinese sausage was a good foil for the main course dishes - substantial and gutsy, the rice tasted as though it had been fried in lard, but the flavour came primarily from the Chinese sausages it had been flavoured with.

For dessert, the Mandarin and matcha Choux with sesame, mandarin compote, orange Chantilly segments and white chocolate discs was light and well presented.

What We Drank: we started with the suggested cocktail for the CNY menu - Nagami Fortune (£13), made with gin, kumquat, raspberry and lime, this was strong, intensely flavoured with the blend of citrus and berry fruits, and very refreshing.

We shared a bottle of Pinot Blanc, Granite de la Vallée, from Cave de Turckheim, Alsace (£37). This was light and delicate, with subtle apricot flavours and refreshing acidity.

Likes: surprisingly for hardcore meat eaters like ourselves, we thoroughly enjoyed the vegetable dish of beans and mushrooms as well as the steamed pescatarian dim sum selection.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: a magnificent CNY menu at Yauatcha City for the Year of the Pig, but hurry because the menu ends on Saturday 23 February 2019.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Autumn Leaves Menu at Sake no Hana

Name: Sake no Hana

Where: 23 St James, London SW1A 1HA, http://sakenohana.com/

Cost: The Autumn Leaves menu is priced at £40 per person, with the option of a cocktail flight at £23 to share between two.  

About: Sake no Hana is the leading Japanese restaurant of the Hakkasan group which includes the eponymous Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, as well as the fabulous Yauatcha, where you can find some of the best dim sum and patisserie in London, at any of their two branches in Soho and the City.  The London Foodie is a huge fan of the group, and I am always on the lookout for new menus. So I was intrigued to hear Sake no Hana was serving a seasonal menu, namely the Autumn Leaves.

We arrived on a Monday evening at 9pm to find the restaurant packed.  I had a great meal here (The Cherry Blossom Menu) not so long ago, you can read the review here.  The building is Grade II listed, dating back to the 1960s.

The entrance to the restaurant is odd, with a narrow entrance leading to even narrower up and down escalators.  But the restaurant, reached after passing through a sushi counter with a gaggle of chefs, is on the first floor and is spacious, elegant with a zen Japanese decor of cyprus wall and roof panels designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The Autumn Leaves menu is available until the end of November, when the restaurant is adorned with autumn maple leaves, with a menu from Executive Chef Hideki Hiwatashi and a cocktail flight created in partnership with Belvedere vodka and Ruinart Champagne.

What We Ate: The meal started with an exemplary, heart-warming cup of miso soup.

A mixed platter of four starters followed, with an excellent combination of textures and flavours.  This included Maguro sashimi (tuna sashimi with black pepper ponzu); crispy truffle rice balls (fried truffle rice with seasonal mushrooms); shiitake tofu (shiitake mushrooms filled with homemade tofu and wasabi sauce) and Autumnal crisps (sweet potato and beetroot crisps with soba noodles).

From four main-course options, we chose the salmon and chicken dishes. Salmon kurumi miso yaki – pan-fried Loch Duart salmon with Kyoto Saikyo miso was delicious, with crisp, aromatic skin, and the combination with walnuts was a revelation.

The tori sumiyaki - char-grilled miso chicken with sesame chilli miso and padron pepper - was tender and succulent.

The other two options on the menu, which we did not get to try, were the Kisetsu tempura moriawase (prawn and seasonal vegetable tempura) and the Tofu Shanshu Sukiyaki (three kinds of tofu with seasonal mushrooms and a soy mirin broth)

Best of all, by far though, was the sushi course that followed the main.  The Gunma seared wagyu A5 beef maki, with asparagus, caramelised onion and kizami wasabi, was immensely concentrated, with the kind of complex flavours that I would expect from a slow-cooked oxtail dish.

The spicy chirashi maki was also excellent – this combined tuna and white fish with avocado and cucumber.

I'm a big fan of inari sushi - deep-fried tofu pockets filled with sushi rice. But Sake-no-hana's version, served with pickled mooli, shiso and kanpyo (dried gourd), and a  home-made soy sauce, was nothing short of superb.

For dessert, we had the Autumn leaf - hazelnut feuilletine, hazelnut chocolate parfait with chocolate and maple syrup soup, mascarpone mousse and fresh yuzu. This showed off the skill of the pastry chef, and was both rich and light, a difficult combination to bring off.

What We Drank: We shared a bottle of Albarino Marinero, Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas, Spain 2017 (£45). This was a crisp and well-made wine, with fresh citrus acidity and greengage fruit on the finish.  

Likes: The sushi and the dessert were the excellent. 

Dislikes: I could have done with some rice, vegetables or some other starch or carbs to be served with the mains, I was still a tad hungry after eating this meal.

Verdict: For good quality Japanese cooking, fantastic sushi and French-Japanese patisserie desserts, the £40 for the Autumnal Leaves menu at Sake-no-Hana represents great value for money and quality.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Words and Photography by Su-Lin Ong

A heady night of feasting in a boudoir-like salon; then that moment you half expect Adam Ant to leap up and stride down the long table to shake up the conventional.  Such was the mood when Berry Bros. & Rudd released its latest limited-edition label for its perennially popular Good Ordinary Claret.

It was natural genius to show off its fine and dandy label by artist Kate Boxer, matched up with her son Jackson Boxer’s modern cooking at the flamboyant Brunswick House – the Georgian mansion crammed with antiques and salvage to covet and buy.

This night of hospitality with gusto and intensely rich flavours cast all meekness aside.  Befitting a first full-blown feast of Autumn, it was a textured setting of draped swags and the patina of old satin polished wood, with a tumble of flora from the mantlepieces.

The Kate Boxer label is the third limited-edition design by BBR, and follows its commissioned Paul Smith label for its 2013 GOC and the 2014 GOC by design wonder Luke Edward Hall. The depicted dandy and his dog - modelled by Kate’s dog Figgy - is a chap on a mission.  He’s firing his pistol to proclaim, ‘Let the feasting begin’.

The wine is a bright and modern Bordeaux red, with notes of deep cherry and bramble.  You sense swathes of country mists and goblets filled and re-filled to the brim. It’s a wine to be generous with; an everyday indulgence.  When a designer designs, the inspiration usually comes from relishing the product and its aura.  As Kate describes her creation, you figure how much she enjoys this kind of feasting on a regular basis; she is very much part of the Boxer lineage of gourmets and chefs.

To reflect the flavours of the claret, Jackson styled a menu of jewelled beets with gutsy charcuterie, followed by succulent slices of rare, full fat roast beef – all plattered up for guests to convivially serve each other.  Even the dessert of richest, darkest chocolate and brandy infused prune loved this wine.

And yes, the dandy himself lent his full-size presence to the feast.  Kate Boxer’s original dry point etching with carborundum seemed so completely at home in the deep shadows and candlelight.

The new Kate Boxer-labelled Berry Bros. & Rudd Ordinary Claret is available from 25 October 2018.  £9.95 for a bottle.  And when the 7,000 bottles are gone, they’re gone.  www.bbr.com

The dinner:
Prosciutto, bresaola, fennel salami, mortadella, olive, cornichon and caperberry
Heritage beetroot, goat curd, pistachio dukkah and puntarella
Rare roast sirloin of beef with horseradish, Cornish potatoes, roast carrots and pound farm leaves
Chocolate pot with boozy prune, cultured cream and almond
* * *
Champagne Berry Bros. & Rudd Grand Cru by Mailly
Negroni cocktails
White Burgundy 2017 Berry Bros. & Rudd by Collovray & Terrier
Red Bordeaux 2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret by Dourthe

Su-Lin Ong attended as a guest of Berry Bros. & Rudd.
Twitter: @sloLondon

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Santo Remedio's Delicious Mexican Sunday Brunch

Name: Santo Remedio

Where: Santo Remedio, 152 Tooley Street, London , SE1 2TU, https://www.santoremedio.co.uk/

Cost: Starters are £4.50-£6.50, mains £11-£15, with sweet pancakes or filled doughnuts  at £4-£8.50.  Brunch cocktails are £8.50-£11.50. 

About: Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes set up Santo Remedio in Shoreditch in 2016, opening their second branch in London Bridge's Tooley Street in 2017, serving up a menu of modern Mexican food.

The menu focuses on dishes from Mexico City, Oaxaca and the Yucatan peninsula.

Santo Remedio uses a blend of imported Mexican ingredients and fresh local produce (for example, their Mexican-style Cotija cheese is made by Gringa Diary in nearby Peckham), to create fresh, vibrant Mexican flavours, and the dishes I have tried before were among the best in London. All the salsas are made on the premises.

From October 2018, they are serving a Mexican Sunday Brunch menu, and I made my way over to give it a try.

What We Ate: A classic guacamole, with smashed avocado, onion, tomato and tortilla chips (£6), with grasshoppers (£1.50) was fresh, vibrant and delicious.

Tetela - was a delectable corn masa parcel filled with black beans served over a glossy mole negro, finished with Cotija cheese and crema (£5.50).

Equally good were the Motuleños - corn tostadas with black beans, topped with 2 free range fried eggs, salsa roja with morita and ancho chillies, Cotija cheese, grilled bacon and plantains (£14). This is a regional dish from the Yucatan peninsula, and was Edson's favourite brekkie while he lived in that part of the country.

But the dish that really made me want to visit Santa Remedio was their Torta Ahogada, which I had tried a couple of weeks earlier at a one-off collaboration they ran with Bubbledogs (reviewed here).

This is a sourdough baguette filled with crispy fried pork belly, dunked (ahogada translates as drowned) in a magnificent salsa roja made from a blend of chillies including morita, which gives a fantastic smokiness, grilled tomatoes and other seasonings, dotted with pink pickled onions (£12.5). The sandwich was punchy, vibrant and so delicious.

For dessert, we had the tres leches pancakes with banana (£7.50), made with three types of 'milk' including dolce de leche, served with a Mexican chocolate de agua (£3.50), a traditional water-based drink with cinnamon and sugar. The pancakes were surprisingly light, flavoured with cinnamon and a side serving of fresh raspberry puree cut through the sweetness of the pancake and syrup.

What We Drank: We had a couple of 180 Tequila Bloody Maria's (£8.50) - made with blue agave tequila, tomato juice, Santo Remedio chilli blend and celery.

Likes: The Torta Ahogada was sublime, the Motuleños were excellent. The food tasted fresh, vibrant and full of flavour. 

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: The Mexican dishes I tried at Santo Remedio are some of the best I have had in the UK, and indeed took me back to some of the best restaurants I experienced in Mexico City and Oaxaca. Santo Remedio is my go-to place for Mexican food in London. Highly recommended.

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