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Reviews of London's Restaurants, Supper Clubs and Hotels, Wine Tastings, Travel Writing, and Home to the Japanese and French Supper Clubs in Islington

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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Angelina - Exquisite Italian-Japanese Cooking in East London

Name: Angelina

Where: 56 Dalston Lane, London E8 3AH, http://www.angelina.london/

Cost: £39 for 5-course tasting menu with an optional £35 Italian wine pairing, or £9 for the dish of the day with an optional £3 for a beer or glass of wine.

About: Few London restaurants have excited me as much as Italian-Japanese @Angelina.dalston - and glad to report that our experience there was nothing short of outstanding.

Owner and General Manager Joshua Owens-Baigler @joshuabaigler, a Japanophile at heart who lived in Umbria, trained at the River Café and cut his teeth with the Bistroteque Group,  Hix, and Bocca di Lupo. And this is where he met Roman Head Chef, Daniele Ceforo (former Café Murano and Enoteca Turi), now heading the kitchen at Angelina.

Joshua’s knowledge of Italian and Japanese ingredients is encyclopaedic, but better still is how he brings these two cuisines so beautifully together, nothing is forced or out of place, and every ingredient, be it moromi miso, extra virgin olive oil or fatty tuna, matters and complements his harmonious Italian-Japanese creations.

Angelina, a bright 40-cover restaurant, was designed by Jason's mother, an award winning interior designer and founder of Anna Owens Designs. Angelina is heavily inspired by Japanese minimalism and monochromatic aesthetic combined with high-quality Italian materials including a gorgeous Italian marble bar overlooking the open kitchen. 

We also loved the use of gorgeous green foliage scattered around the restaurant which brought freshness and warmth to the elegant decor.

What We Ate: We went for their 5-course tasting menu, a real steal at £39pp, opting for an additional cheese and miso course (£10 supplement).

The meal kicked off with a selection of 7 primi (small dishes), a mix of ‘Fritto Misto’ and ‘Crudo’ raw fish to share:

1. Deep-fried, Panko coated Taleggio cheese with pancetta and pickled cucumber served with tonkatsu sauce (made in-house):

2. Red snapper Carpaccio with truffle soy and furikaki seasoning:

3. Japanese Shishito peppers (akin to Padron Peppers) served ‘kushiage’ style (though no skewers), coated in Panko and deep fried - an Izakaya staple:

4. Vitelo Tonnato - a classic from Piedmont - thin slices of cooked veal in a rich tuna mayo - though at @angelina.dalston a katsuoboshi mayo (air dried bonito flakes used to make dashi stock) was used instead with great results:

5. Light as feather Cime di Rapa tempura:

6. Exquisite fatty toro (tuna belly sashimi) with moromi miso & extra virgin olive oil and crispy pancetta:

7. Sliced sourdough bread - top image in What We Ate section.

And then onto the pasta course - raviolo filled with soy marinated egg yolk, and served with oyster mushroom, baby yucca, nasturtium leaves and shavings of Perigord truffle in a light dashi of kombu and dried porcini - exquisite!

Secondo (main) was a delectable dish of red mullet and burnt soy butter served with Tema artichoke.

Cheese and miso platter included wakame (Japanese seaweed), aged tofu in moromi miso, and robiola piemonte cheese, Gorgonzola naturale, tastuno al Barolo, served with Sardinian Carasau bread (paper thin and crispy), and a glass of sweet Passito wine (Sagrentino Montefalco).

Dolci (dessert) of black sesame Castella cake, chocolate langues de chat, and an ultra-refreshing blood orange sorbet ended our meal in a high note.

If you don’t fancy a full-blown 5-course meal, the restaurant offers a daily changing plate (katsu curry on the day we were there) for £9, with the option of adding a glass of wine or beer for £3.

What We Drank: A fantastic Italian wine pairing for the 5-course tasting menu is available for £35. Though as we were there at lunchtime, we decided to play safe and had a glass of Zabibbo, Curatolo Arini 2018 from Sicily, a luscious, muscat-like wine with tropical fruit.

Likes: the toro with moromi miso and extra virgin olive oil was sensational, as was the red snapper carpaccio with truffle soy and furikake, and the deep fried taleggio! We loved the selection of Piemontese cheeses and aged tofu, I would recommend it for the £10 supplement. The optional £35 wine pairing is excellent value and features some unusual, niche Italian wines. We loved the Sicilian Zabbido wine (and grape), it was our first time trying it (similar to a Moscatel).

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: One of my favourite restaurants in London right now - there is so much to love about Angelina - harmonious, creative Italian-Japanese cooking with great quality ingredients, in a very beautiful setting and at £39, their 5-course tasting menu is also a real steal. I cannot wait to return! Very highly recommended.

Friday, 4 October 2019

The London Foodie Goes to Northern Ireland - The Fabulous Shola Coach House Boutique B&B in Portrush

A very good morning from the fabulous Shola Coach House Boutique B&B in Portrush, our lovely "home" during our Northern Ireland travels.

And no better way to get the day started than with Sharon's Full Ulster Fry with all the trimmings including traditional local family Ethersons Butchers' reared bacon and sausages, my favourite Clonakilty Black Pudding, soda farls and potato bread. We also had freshly cut fruit salad, yoghurts, and more homemade breads, what a feast!

Sharon and David set up Shola B&B in 2013 and since then they have been garnering a number of awards - in 2015 they were voted the 2nd B&B in the World by the Travellers' Choice Awards.

Sharon and David run their B&B single-handedly - they deal with all booking enquiries, and with no hired help they make the beds, do the cleaning, fry our breakfasts, make guests' restaurant reservations, and with their incredible wealth of local knowledge, advise us on the best places to visit and places to eat.

We were lucky to share breakfast with a number of different people during our stay - surprisingly most of them were from Northern Ireland, they were regular guests who stay at Shola's several times a year!

Shola Coach House Boutique B&B is in Portrush, one of the most popular seaside towns of Northern Ireland - there is so much to explore in the area including the incredible Giants Causeway, Portstewart (great golfing), Bushmills town and distillery (great Irish whisky), and miles after miles of the most stunning seaside scenery - think rugged landscape, high cliffs overlooking the blue Irish sea and plenty of greenery, a fantastic place for long-distance walking.

Best of all though was finding a number of great restaurants in the area too including Harry's Shack in Portstewart, The Mermaid, one of the four Ramore Restaurants in Portrush and Billy Andys pub in Larne. I will post about these fabulous places on a separate entry.

This was no press trip, and this is no #ad, we were on our own dollar on this trip and we loved Shola Coach House Boutique B&B. This gem of a place is our top recommendation in Northern Ireland. But make sure to book well in advance, with only 4 bedrooms, Shola is always in high demand, and we can see why this is!

Friday, 27 September 2019

Returning to Berners Tavern & a Fabulous Wine Masterclass with Matteo Montone - 6 Years On and Still Amazing!

Name: Berners Tavern

Where: The London Edition Hotel, 10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP, 020 7908 7979, 

Cost: a 3-course meal will cost around £50 per person on average (not including drinks or service)

About: The London restaurant scene moves SO fast, so it is rare for me to visit the same place twice -  Berners Tavern is however one of the few restaurants I’ve been returning to over the years.

Another good reason for my recent return visit was to attend a fabulous Wine Masterclass with Matteo Montone, Berners Tavern’s Director of Wine, and possibly the best dressed sommelier I ever met!

But besides his uncanny resemblance to Jude Law, Matteo is not an actor - he is in fact about to become one of a very select group of fewer than 300 Masters of Wine worldwide as he finalises his Master Sommelier Diploma this year. In 2019, he was named GQ Best Sommelier and the Young Sommelier of the Year by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. So we can say, the man knows a thing or two about wine!

Held in one of the most glamorous London restaurants, at @bernerstavern’s private dining room, these intimate sessions held during September are a great opportunity to learn about the art of wine tasting and discover some of the 800 wines from the restaurant’s wine list.

Priced at £45 per person, the classes will have 12 spaces available per session, and there will be 2 sessions per month. Guests who choose to dine at Berners Tavern following the class will also receive 15% off the total bill.

Charming and knowledgeable, Matteo is leading a number of fantastic wine tastings in the coming months - what a great opportunity to meet the man himself, try some amazing vino and dine at one of the most glam restaurants in London!

Berners Tavern is still one of the most glam restaurants in London, I wrote about it in The London Foodie 6 years ago when it first opened (see review here). Berners Tavern is where you take your hottest date, your mum, or your family when they are in town, it is a place where you take folk you want to impress!

And 6 years on, on the Tuesday evening we attended, the place was jam packed - so what is the secret? The menu features some comfort British classics, exquisite British produce which is immaculately delivered, and a fabulous list of 800 wines. 

What We Ate: *OUTSTANDING DISHES* were the HUGE Buccleuch Estate Côte de Boeuf served with Berners Tavern’s BLT, a bacon, tomato & lettuce wedge drizzled with a delectable buttermilk dressing (£90 for 2). 

Sides of Berners Tavern’s signature MAC N’CHEESE with pulled beef blade (£10) and TRIPLED COOKED CHIPS were nothing short of PERFECTION, I was told the mac n’cheese can also be ordered as a main dish, another reason to return!

Hand-chopped, aged Buccleuch Estate BEEF TARTARE, English mustard mayo and sourdough crouton (£15) and chargrilled octopus, smoked cod’s roe, treviso and chicory salad (£17) made for magnificent starters.

Dessert came in a trio – Peach Triffle with Nyetimber jelly, peach sorbet and deep-fried jam donut was light and refreshing (£9) as was the Gin & Tonic flaming Alaska (£18 for 2) with cucumber, hibiscus and juniper. But best of all was Peanut & Chocolate Ganache with toasted peanut mousse and salted caramel ice cream – rich and so comforting.

What We Drank: With 800 wines to choose from, we were lucky to have Matteo Montone, Berners Tavern’s Director of Wine guide us – his choice of super Tuscan’s Il Fauno, an IGG blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was a perfect match to the Côte de Boeuf.

Likes: *THAT* Mac n' Cheese with pulled beef blade! Possibly the best wine menu in London. Fabulous decor.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: To date, this was one of our best meals of 2019 – if you haven’t tried Berners Tavern’s outstanding British fare yet, you are missing out. If anything, *THAT* Mac n’ Cheese is to die for and worth a visit in its own right.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Believe the Hype - Xier London’s 10-Course Fine Dining Menu is FANTASTIC!

Where: 13-14 Thayer Street, London, S1U 3JR, http://www.xierlondon.com/

Cost: In the upstairs Xier London, the 10-Course Fine Dining menu (a Vegetarian Menu is also available) is £90 per person, or £175 with a wine and cocktail pairing. For more casual dining, with shared dishes, XR on the ground floor is the thing, with an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner, and a set lunch at £25 for 2 courses, or £30 for 3. There is also a Royal XR Brunch menu offering a selection of starters plus cocktail, a choice of main course plus a glass of wine and a dessert for £30pp.

About: Xier is a new London restaurant in Marylebone, opened in December 2018, and led by Chef Carlo Scotto (formerly of Angela Hartnett, Murano, Galvin La Chapelle and Babbo). Xier offers modern European cuisine with influences from the Scotto's travels in Scandinavia and Asia and particularly from Japan.  Open for lunch and dinner, the menu at XR changes every two weeks according to seasonal produce availability. 

The ground floor bar serves a selection of small to more substantial dishes to go with a range of wines and Champagnes by the glass of bottle and cocktails, including lamb sliders with gruyere, foie gras mayo and truffle fries (£15), an Iberico ham board (£10) or enoki mushroom truffle arancini (£4).

What We Ate: We opted for the 10-course fine dining menu which kicked off with a canapé of stracciatella cheese with wild strawberry, kalamansi and organic honey deftly blending acidity and astringency with richness and sweetness.  This was a fabulous start.

Lemongrass tart with borlotti bean cream came in a ultra-delicate pastry case, beautifully presented, this was another expert blend of Asian and European flavours.

I don’t normally write about bread baskets when I review but Xier’s is definitely worth the mention - freshly baked rosemary and potato sourdough, it was made on the premises and served with churned coffee and oak-smoked butter with Espelette pepper. It was outstandingly good and replenished whenever necessary.

Red prawn crudo (raw) with red caviar and yuzu (Japanese citrus) was cleverly presented - paper-thin sheets of raw red Sicilian prawn, topped with trout caviar, shavings of lime zest (not yuzu though), and specks of fresh raspberry that gave a refreshing lift of acidity and fruitiness to the dish.

Best of all starters for me though was the rosewater and beetroot-cured salmon, served alongside a quenelle of foie gras coated in beetroot powder.  The salmon was topped with macerated Gariguette strawberries, fine discs of Bramley apple and micro-herbs. With firm salmon, a rich buttery textured foie gras and a delicately refreshing acidity from the raw green apple, this was a stunning melange of flavours and textures that really made the dish sing.

"Europe meets Asia" was a warming dish of pan-fried beurre noisette and tarragon gnocchi, topped with enoki mushrooms and chives, served in a hot kombu dashi (Japanese vegetarian stock), speckled with finely diced fresh ginger.

As a palate-cleanser, a gin and tonic granita, with apple basil sorbet was as every bit as refreshing as it looked.

The tasting menu has a choice of two fish and two meat options.  As there were two of us, happily we were able to try all four.  Red mullet served over a carrot escabeche, burnt aubergine puree with squid ink, and a complex leche de tigre of pineapple, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and bright green chlorophyll, topped with plankton powder, was nothing short of stunning.

Better still was the second fish option of grilled black cod in caramel miso, topped with shredded cured duck, served with asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, cauliflower puree, and perilla-infused oil.  I loved the combination of buttery black cod with salted duck, while the duck was as gamey and flavourful as jerked beef - a revelation.

The two meat courses followed.  The beef cheek, with bone marrow, wild hops, apple and nettle puree, was as soft and unctuous as butter, richly aromatic and served with a side of pulled beef with dates, Parmesan and chives.

The pigeon was also wonderfully tender, served with beetroot puree, foie gras, purple potato, hazelnut crumble with a pigeon jus. It came with a rich, sweet side dish, served in a beef marrow bone, of pulled pigeon legs with dates, Parmesan and chives.

Swedish cows milk cheese - Wrangeback - was deliciously dense, a bit like a Comte, served with sweet red wine jelly and surprisingly fizzy red grapes made by "marinating" them in dry ice.

The dessert course, described as "sweet tooth" was a medley of the restaurant signature sweets for sharing. Given the choice, I nearly always go for savoury dishes, but the dessert course at Xier was one of the highlights of our meal.

Rhubarb 3 Ways had almond biscuit, nougat parfait, pistachio and rhubarb coulis.

Salted caramel and peanut tart with banana biscuit and coffee ice cream was bursting with intense coffee flavour while being light and creamy.

Chocolate Piemonte was the last dessert - chocolate mousse, chocolate sable and chocolate sponge cake with a glossy coating as smooth and shiny as a mirror, combined with chocolate ice cream, chocolate crisps and Espelette creme Anglais. Again, the use of texture contrasts was daring but successful, the skill of the pastry chef was manifest, and the hint of chilli in the creme Anglais was divine.

Some very fine petit fours followed - chilled chocolate truffles, and dainty hazelnut financiers were just what we needed with our coffees.

What We Drank: The wine list is extensive, with a focus on Europe but with options from the New World too.  The entry level wines, both at £39, are an Argentinian Torrontes from Bodega Norton, while the red is a Domaine de Peras from Languedoc. Pine and lemon water, blended by the Chef, was a refreshing non-alcoholic palate cleanser served to all guests.

From the cocktail menu, and included in the wine flight, we started with Xier Spritz (£14) - a blend of Beluga Nobel vodka, with kumquats, physalis, mixed with Canard-Duchene Champagne and elderflower.

The Botanical Julep (£14) blended Chivas Extra with Antico Formula Vermouth, fresh ginger, basil leaves, lemon grass and shiso syrup. Commendably, cocktails are served with a reusable 'straw' made of stainless steel.

With the fish courses, we had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, "Aromatic", from Pays d'Oc. Refreshing and grassy like a New Zealand SB, this had good acidity.

With the red mullet, the meat courses and cheese, a Pinot Noir - "Cruel Mistress" 2017 from South-Western Australia, had smooth tannins, strawberry fruit and a touch of spice.

The wines were perfectly acceptable, but two wines for a 10 course meal is not what I would describe as a 'wine pairing', and at £85 per person for a cocktail and two glass of wine each, I would far rather choose my own wine and save a lot of cash.

Likes: Chef Carlo Scotto’s cooking is of an exceptional standard, and I am sure he will bag one or even two Michelin stars in no time. The dessert course was outstandingly good. The staff know the menu inside out and are both knowledgeable and friendly without being overbearing.  The dining room is a harmonious and elegant spot decorated in white, cream and grey. 

Dislikes: The wine pairing is not up to the exceptional quality of the food. I would rather choose my own wines from the extensive list.  With a cocktail and only two average wines for the whole tasting menu, this was a missed opportunity.

Verdict: Xier London’s 10-course menu is, without a doubt, one the best meals I have had in 2019. It is rare that I like everything on a menu, yet I could not fault a single dish, it just got better and better with every course. I loved Chef Carlo Scotto’s impeccable understanding of Japanese and Western flavours bringing both together perfectly into his tasting menu dishes. Very highly recommended.

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