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Friday, 14 June 2019

Yauatcha City's New Weekend Yum Cha & Champagne Menu Reviewed

Name: Yauatcha City Weekend Yum Cha Menu

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

Cost: As of June 2019, from 12 to 4pm, Yauatcha City is opening on Sundays and offering a Weekend (Sat and Sun) Yum Cha brunch menu.  The menu includes a selection of steamed dim sum, Peking duck three ways, two bao buns, a main course and dessert. The menu is priced at £47 per person with oolong or Taiwanese teas, £49 with a half bottle of wine, or £58 with a half bottle of Henriot Champagne per person or a full-bottle for two people (priced at £82 if ordered a la carte). All options come with an introductory cocktail included in the price. There are vegetarian and vegan menus.

About: Yauatcha City is one of my favourite dim sum restaurants in town, we were there a couple of years ago when they launched their Saturday Supreme menu (reviewed here and now sadly no longer available), so when I heard about their new Weekend Yum Cha menu, I hurried along to try it. Much of the City is quiet at the weekend, but this special menu aims to lure in the increasing weekend brunch clientele, and it seems to be working as the place was buzzing when we got there at 3pm last Sunday afternoon. 

What We Ate: After a refreshing cold brewed tea palate cleanser, we had a selection of steamed dim sum - scallop shiu mai, king crab dumpling, seafood black truffle dumpling (our favourite) and wild mushroom dumpling. These were exquisite - freshly made, with fine pastry casing and delectable fillings.

Peking duck was served three ways - the first was in the more familiar form of a pancake, with admirably crispy skin over plum sauce, cucumber and spring onion. Next had a topping of black caviar - though equally delicious, I would suggest eating the caviar first then the rest of the dish, as I could not taste much of the caviar given all the other ingredients.  Between these two, Peking duck was served as a crunchy, refreshing wrap on a lettuce leaf, with tender cubes of pumpkin and pine nuts. 

Bao buns came two ways.  The steamed chicken bun with mushroom, water chestnut and salted egg was light and delicate, and who can resist a chicken-and-egg dish?  It was outgunned though by a magnificent bun of Berkshire pork belly, succulent and unctuous in the extreme, balanced by crunchy pickled cucumber and mini cubes of fresh almond.

For main course, there was a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options, though some of these sounded a tad pedestrian (sweet and sour pork?). The kung pao chicken, a favourite Sichuanese dish with peanuts, dried peppers, was served here over crispy rice noodles.  I enjoyed this almost every day during my recent trip to Chengdu in Sichuan, but sadly Yauatcha's version bore little resemblance. Sweet and gloopy, with very little chilli heat, it was more like the takeaway staple of chicken and cashew nuts than kung pao chicken.

Better was the stir-fry rib eye beef in black bean sauce, with very tender beef, sautéed with sliced peppers in a delectable, umami-rich black bean sauce. It was also a very generous portion

Stir-fried baby pak choi and steamed jasmine rice were served with the main course.

For dessert, there is a choice of petit gateau, yuzu chocolate bun, or Belvedere espresso with macaron.

We opted for the petit gateau (on this occasion a praline and pecan nut concoction), and a well-made single citron macaron with espresso-martini.

What We Drank: From the cocktail menu, we chose the Chun Tian - a blend of Cinzano Bianco vermouth, with Hennessy Fine de Cognac, limoncello, cinnamon, passionfruit, ginger bitters and peppermint bitters. This had delicious tropical fruit flavours and alcohol in perfect balance. 

The Sencha Negroni had Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, sencha green tea infusion, Antica Formula vermouth, Mondino Amaro and chamomile bitters. I'm a huge fan of Negronis, and this version was an Oriental, delectably aromatic variation on a much-loved theme.  

With our meal we shared a bottle of Henriot Champagne. Henriot is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne, and its NV product, served as part of the Weekend Yum Cha menu, is light golden in colour, with fine persistent bubbles and a citrus aroma. 

Likes: The dim sum is always outstanding at Yauatcha. The Berkshire pork bun was a superb, and I also enjoyed the variations on the theme of Peking duck. 

Dislikes: For me, the main course options are the weakest link on the menu, the kung pao chicken was very sweet and lacking in heat, the dessert options are limited (only 3 desserts available).

Verdict: We loved the new Yum Cha Weekend Menu at Yauatcha City. Available every Saturday and Sunday from midday to 4pm, it is a perfect combination of outstanding dim sum, bubbles and cocktails. Can't think of a better way to spend my Sunday afternoons.... Recommended.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Tamarind Restaurant - Gorgeous Revamp and Michelin-Starred Indian Tasting Menu

Name: Tamarind Restaurant (Former Tamarind of Mayfair)

Where: 20 Queen Street, London W1J 5PR, https://www.tamarindrestaurant.com/.

Cost: The tasting menu is priced at £69 with an optional wine pairing of £45. The restaurant also offers great value 2 and 3-course lunch and pre-theatre set menus at £25 and £30 respectively  from 12pm to 14:30 and from 17:30 to 18:30 everyday of the week (Monday to Sunday).

About: Tamarind (formerly Tamarind of Mayfair), the first Indian restaurant in the UK to be awarded a Michelin Star, re-opened in December 2018 after an eight-month long re-build.

Designed by David D’ Almada, Tamarind is set over two floors. The lower ground floor restaurant revolves around a striking open-plan kitchen and tandoor ovens, while the first floor dining room has doubled the restaurant’s capacity to a total of 152 covers. 

Following this multi-million pound refit, the interior is stunning, with a subtle colour scheme of distressed gold, pale grey, pink and cream. The soft off-white leather seating, and marble and wood flooring all make for a very elegant setting.

Executive Group Head Chef, Karunesh Khanna and Tamarind Mayfair Head Chef, Manav Tuli lead the kitchen, and their menu is a contemporary take on authentic Indian cooking with dishes, many of which are prepared on a charcoal grill or in the tandoor. 

With its sister restaurants Tamarind Kitchen in Soho’s Wardour Street, and Zaika in High Street Kensington, Tamarind Mayfair is the flagship of the Tamarind Group. 

What We Ate: There is a well thought-out à la carte menu, and two tasting menus. We opted for the signature tasting menu (£69 per person), although there is also a vegetarian tasting menu (£59 per person). 

The curly kale salad was as delicious as it looked, combining a number of ingredients including kale, mangetout, yellow cherry tomatoes, dates, almonds, cabbage and broad beans, the whole tasting far greater than the sum of its parts thanks to the delectable dressing made with kokum - a southern Indian sour fruit.

Equally good were the griddled Scottish scallops, served with a delicately spiced red lentil, coconut, curry leaf and fennel sauce, topped with a refreshing green apple salsa.

The yoghurt and corn kebab, encrusted in panko and almond, had a deliciously creamy mouth-feel and nutty flavour.

The Konkan prawns were wonderful – huge, succulent wild prawns, tender, deftly spiced and aromatic from the tandoor.

Chicken Tikka Hasnu came perfectly grilled and flavoured with complex spice mix including a whack of cardamom.

The char-grilled lamb chops were outstanding, served French-trimmed, pink and tender, with a pistachio crust and spicy marinade, accompanied by baby peppers with lentil and herb cheese stuffing.

Chettinad chicken biryani came flavoured with curry leaf, and a refreshing beetroot raita.

Marwari bhindi (okra) was served with onion and tomato, topped with black and white sesame. 

The Hyderabad goat chop curry (£24) was not on the tasting menu, but it sounded so good I had to give it a try.  Slow-cooked goat chops with whole garam masala and coconut were beautifully presented in a tin-lined copper pan. Naturally more intense and fibrous than the lamb, this really packed a flavour punch, served with a steaming naan, freshly baked in the tandoor oven.

Again venturing off the tasting menu, for dessert we were tempted by the coconut rice (£10), baked with cinnamon and lime, black rice, candy cashew, roast coconut, coconut rolls and guava sorbet.  The combination of creamy cardamom rice pudding with fresh coconut rolls was irresistible, and the guava sorbet was silky smooth.

The Gajar Halwa  (carrot and cardamom) soufflé (£12) was served with a fresh carrot jam centre, with bayleaf ice cream.  This was absurdly good, with a marmalade quality to the carrot jam, and the soufflé had an unexpected lightness of texture and finesse.

What We Drank: We kicked off with a couple of cocktails. The Zaffran Gin Fizz (£15) combined saffron, pistachio orgeat syrup, cardamom, orange flower, lassi and lemon soda.

The Himalayan Sour (£15) had a base of Amrut Indian peated whisky blended with Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, coriander seed, vetiver (an Indian fragrant grass), lemon, egg white and Ayurveda bitters.

These were truly well-made, original and interesting cocktails.  Carole Brown, previously Bar Manager for eight years at Hakkasan and four at Park Chinois, is responsible for the extensive list of innovative cocktails, many featuring Indian ingredients and flavours to complement the cooking, garnished with petals, blossoms and bursts of coloured powders. 

The wine list has some great wines from France, Italy and Spain, as well as the best regions of the USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. There are relatively few options below £50 per bottle. 

We moved on from cocktails to the wine pairing option of the tasting menu, priced at £45 per person, starting with a glass of Northern Rhone Saint Joseph, from Domaine Culleron Les Pieres Seches (£16 per glass, £89 per bottle).  This had soft red berry fruit, gentle tannins, and was surprisingly long on the finish.

Next up was the Pago de los Capellanes Crianza 2016 (£14 per glass, £80 per bottle), from Ribeiro del Duero, Spain, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, matured for one year in oak.  Well structured, with black berry fruit, leather and tannin, this was more than a match for the spicy food. A glass of Sierra Cantabria Rioja Reserva 2012 (£72  per bottle) was softer, with luscious cherry and damson fruit , mint and eucalyptus, with gentle tannins reflecting its long oak ageing.   

Likes: There wasn’t a bad dish on the menu, but the prawns and lamb chops were outstanding.  The desserts were truly exceptional, and if you don’t leave room for them, you will be missing out. The wine pairing option at £45pp was excellent value for money.

Dislikes: None

Verdict: We loved the revamped Tamarind Restaurant for its exquisite Indian cooking, the gorgeous new décor and great service. The tasting menu and wine pairing are also excellent value for money. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Vila Vita Parc's Fine Wines & Food Fair - A Most Fabulous Weekend in Sunny Algarve

Vila Vita Parc

Vila Vita Parc is a luxury 5 star hotel in Algarve, Portugal, reputedly one of the top hotels in the country, it is set on a cliff top with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, just a 40 minute drive from Faro airport.

Set over 54 acres of subtropical gardens, with a golf course, numerous swimming pools, a tennis court and spa, and no fewer than 8 restaurants, Vila Vita Parc is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Its top restaurant, Ocean, has 2 Michelin stars. 

We were there to sample a couple of days from the biennial Vila Vita Parc's Fine Wines and Food Fair.  Now in its 8th year, this year’s event took place over 9 days from 5th to 13th May 2019. 

There is a tempting programme of gastronomic experiences, including dinners from Hans Neuner, Head Chef of the 2 Michelin starred Ocean restaurant, as well as an impressive line up of international chefs from Europe and the USA.

There were also wine tastings and masterclasses with some of the Europe’s top winemakers and gourmet food producers.

Our visit took place during the closing days of the event, including the highlight of the festival, the Saturday night Kitchen Party featuring 40 food stations where chefs were paired with gourmet food and wine producers and a live jazz band and a disco at the end – more on that later.

Accommodation at Vila Vita Parc ranges from exclusive Ocean View private villas to Junior Suites, and many gradations in between.

Our room was spacious and beautifully furnished, evoking the blue and white azulejos of traditional Portuguese houses in a completely modern way.

The room had beautiful local pottery and vases, and sliding doors to a private balcony with views of the sea, and also a Nespresso machine for that coffee fix whenever you fancy it.

It is wonderful to visit a hotel with such a strong culture around gastronomy – besides the dishes on offer in the fair itself, we also had excellent food from the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffets, a great lunch at the Mediterranean restaurant, Bela Vita, and dinner at the traditional Portuguese restaurant Aldega.

The breakfast buffet was exceptional, with various stations featuring cut tropical fruit, a mouthwatering range of local cheeses, hams and charcuterie, and some top quality patisserie including a daily change of traditional Portuguese cakes and pastries.

Fine Portuguese cakes and pastries are baked on the premises daily and available at the hotel’s café.  Vila Vita Parc’s Pastel de Nata was probably the best I have ever eaten – perfectly textured pastry, filled to the brim with rich and creamy egg custard.

Dinner at the Portuguese Aldega Restaurant was also noteworthy.  We had a mouthwatering monkfish stew with prawns and clams in a rich tomato, pepper and paprika sauce, served in a Portuguese cataplana pot.

Equally delicious was the oven-roasted suckling pig - this was meltingly tender and with great crackling, served with crunchy potatoes and a spicy sauce.

At Bela Vita restaurant, we had another great meal, including a sirloin steak with an intense flavour and the creamiest layer of fat, from cattle raised in the Herdade dos Grous region. It came with a rich, buttery truffled potato mash.

We also loved the surf and turf combination of monkfish and mussels stew with white beans and chorizo – heartwarming and delicious.  

A simple side of spinach sautéed with pine nuts and raisins might seem an odd thing to mention, but it was so delicious and as I write this, I am making a mental note to cook this combination at home.

Inside Kopke Wine Masterclass

One of the fair’s events was a wine masterclass given by Carlos Alves, the Head Winemaker of Kopke, the oldest Port wine house in Porto. Kopke was established in 1638 by German businessman Nicolau Kopke, although it did not have its own vineyard until the 1780s.

Unusually for a Port tasting, Alves decided to devote the entire event to white Port.  Representing just 10% of Port wine production, white Port is popular in Portugal as a simple fresh fortified wine to be drunk either on its own, chilled, or with ice and tonic water. We started with one of these, a Dry White Porto was fresh, dry and with tropical fruit flavours. The sweeter Kopke Lágrima White was golden brown in colour, with rich complex orange peel, honey and vanilla flavours.

We had a selection of Colheita (single vintage year) white Ports including the 2003 and 2008, before moving to the most venerable blended Ports – aged for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years in oak barrels before bottling for selling. Producing Ports of this age is an expensive business, not just because of the need for a lot of storage space (by law, in any year, Port houses have to keep two thirds of their stock and sell only up to a third), but also because up to 5% of the volume is lost each year through evaporation.

This was a real eye-opener of a tasting, experiencing the range and complexity of white Ports available in Portugal, and is something I would love to explore more, as I learnt that these Ports make a great accompaniment to sashimi as well as cheese.

The Kitchen Party 

We were thrilled to take part in The Kitchen Party at Vila Vita Parc to celebrate the 2019 Fine Wines and Food Fair. The event kicked off with an open-air Pommery Champagne reception on the hotel grounds, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

This was followed by the party itself, a casual mingling event, where all 18 participating chefs cooked their signature dishes for us to try, plus numerous stands of wine makers and food producers. There was a live jazz band too, free flowing bubbles and fine wines.

Chef Dieter Koschina from 2 Michelin star restaurant Vila Joya made a wonderful dish of layers of tuna tartare and tomato salsa topped with a bright green Jalapeño chilli foam, light as air and delicate, which for me was the finest dish of the event.

Flying the British flag, Nigel Haworth from one Michelin starred Northcote Hotel & Restaurant in Lancashire cooked a fantastic “British taco” - a thin crumpet topped with king crab, trout caviar and various types of seaweed and herbs.

Iran born, Reza Korouji from Berlin, brought his luxurious Imperial Caviar to the event, served with a shot of chilled seafood bisque.

Vila Vita Parc’s own 2 Michelin starred Restaurante Ocean headed by Chef Hans Neuner served another highlight - massive red Mediterranean prawns barbecued and served with a delectable mango salsa.

There were numerous Portuguese wine makers showing their finest fare - noteworthy was Celso de Lemo’s Quinta de Lemos winery from Dão region, that served us the some of the best red wines we tried during the entire festival.

How lucky of me to bump into mixologist Pedro Paulo - Portuguese born, but a Londoner at heart, Pedro is One Aldwych Hotel’s top bar man - his cocktail of London dry gin, St Germain liquor and Champagne, topped with edible gold leaves had everyone queuing up for it!

The Fine Wines & Food Fair at Vila Vita Parc has got to be one of the most significant, delectable and fun gastronomic events in Europe that I have attended in my 10 years of food writing. Look out for their 2021 dates, but if that is too long to wait, why not come to the Algarve and visit Vila Vita Parc in the meantime.

Travel Essentials

Vila Vita Parc
Rua AnneliesePohl
8400-450 Porches
Rooms cost from €355 per night including breakfast. 

Fine Wines and Food Fair


The London Foodie attended as a guest of Vila Vita Parc.  However, complete editorial control remained with Luiz Hara.

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