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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, 25 October 2016

1920s Glamour, Fine-Dining and Champagne - All Aboard the Belmond British Pullman

On a steamy Saturday afternoon in August, I found myself dressed in a dinner jacket I can still just about squeeze into, on a crowded Victoria station platform sipping a glass of chilled Laurent Perrier Brut NV Champagne.

For this is the dress code for the British Pullman service run by Belmond, owner of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.  I was there to sample of one of their "Celebrity Chef Dinners", on this occasion featuring the 2 Michelin starred British Chef Tom Kerridge.

I need not have worried, because once aboard the train, I found all the other diners (limited to a lucky 100) were dressed in their finery too and I soon became absorbed in the romance of this historic train and the tempting dinner we were about to enjoy.

Taking an 84 mile circular route that includes Egham, Shalford, Redhill, and Croydon before passing the stunning Battersea Power Station on its way back to Victoria, the journey includes a combination of urban landscapes and rural England, all in a journey lasting around 3.5 hours.

The carriages are each unique and original, dating back to the early 20th century, with sumptuous interiors - think veneered panels with exquisite art deco marquetry, art nouveau lamps, polished brass, bevelled glass, mahogany wood and velvet armchairs.  Purchased in the 1970s by James Sherwood, whose idea was to revive the legendary Orient Express, the 35 historic carriages were restored in Carnforth, Lancashire, before the train was launched in England in 1981.

But back to our dinner. We were served a spectacular 5-course dinner cooked by no-one other than celebrity chef Tom Kerridge with coffee and petit-fours, all on starched white linen, bespoke china and sparkling cut glassware.

We kicked off with a refreshing chilled parsley soup with smoked salmon, confit lemon and borrage. This had a veloute-like texture I really enjoyed.

The ham hock and pistachio terrine with apple caramel was a richly flavoured version of an English classic, served with a glass of 2012 Balthasar Ress Hattenheimer Engelsberg Riesling Trocken, from Rheingau, Germany.

The main event was a slow roast brisket with ratatouille and black olive cracker - with rich, tender beef, I particularly enjoyed the concentrated Mediterranean flavours of the ratatouille. With it came a glass of excellent, intensely fruit-driven Pinot Noir 2013 from Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, California.

The British Isles cheese included the wonderfully named Stinking Bishop as well as Cornish Blue and Lord of the Hundreds, served with a fine glass of Ferreira Quinta de Oporto 10 year old Tawny Port.

The dessert was one of Tom Kerridge's signature dishes, the whisky and rye pudding. Described in full in his book "Tom's Table", this sophisticated pudding was a cross between a rum baba and a baked doughnut, served with creme Chantilly. We enjoyed it with a fabulous glass of Tokaji, a 2003 Sauska Aszu 5 Puttonyos, with the sweet and bitter qualities of a fine marmalade.

Before the dinner and at the end, Chef Tom Kerridge came through the carriages, stopping for a chat with every table on the train. This was a rare opportunity to quiz the 22-Michelin starred chef on the menu, and he was warm and friendly.

Arriving back in Victoria at the end of the evening, I left the luxury train with dozens of happy, excited fellow diners, and stepped from the glamour of a bygone era back to the reality of late-night revellers trying to catch the last trains to their Kent, Surrey or Sussex homes.

There is a range of Belmond British Pullman experiences on offer, including the Christmas Lunch option I have previously reviewed (read here).  Fine Dining journeys, marketed as "The Dinner", are available throughout 2017.

As a glamorous way to celebrate a big birthday, anniversary or similar special occasion, I can think of few more memorable options than The Dinner on the British Pullman.

Travel Essentials

The Dinner is a series of special five-course pop-up dinners on the Belmond British Pullman heritage train, featuring modern British Cuisine. 

Trains depart from Victoria at 18.50 and return at 23.15. Tickets are priced at £510 per person. 

For more details, and to book, visit:
www.belmond.com or http://www.belmond.com/british-pullman-train/fine-dining-london

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Stellenbosch Wines and Nikkei Cuisine - A Marriage Made in Heaven

Words and Photography by Greg Klerkx and Marcel Baumhauer da Silva

South African wine is not exactly a new phenomenon here on our sceptred isle; if anything, that country’s heady, fruit-rich whites and mighty, muscly reds have become part of the vinocultural furniture, to such an extent that it’s easy to think that if you’ve had one KIND, you’ve had them all.

It’s partly with that kind of overfamiliarity in mind that the fine folks of Stellenbosch – a venerable region that’s been producing first-class wine for centuries – set out on a mission: to show the subtlety, versatility and sheer class of wines from the land of the Springbok.

Stellenbosch is a town and a region, located at the most southwestern reach of South Africa. The land is hilly, and the vineyards that roll across the idyllic landscape are sheltered in pocket valleys that dip and roll across the region. The nearby ocean tempers the often-ferocious heat; add to this copious, almost Mediterranean sunshine and exceptionally well-draining soil, and Stellenbosch earns glowing comparisons to California’s Napa Valley.

But therein lay a point of frustration: they were making beautiful wine in Stellenbosch when the Napa Valley was still the land of the Wappo Indians, with nary a European (let alone a winemaking one) in sight. Stellenbosch is the country’s second-oldest wine growing region, with the first recorded planting in 1679. The region accounts for a full 14% of the country’s wine production. Yet while Stellenbosch wines are deservedly legendary in South Africa, the man on the UK high street remains largely in the proverbial dark.

And so it was that six of Stellenbosch’s finest winemakers brought their finest wares to the London Foodie Supper Club. We began with L’Avenir MCC Blanc de Blanc 2011, a clean and true version of this classic bubbler made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. Slightly paler than one might expect even from a blanc de blanc, the L’Avenir was hardly pale on the palate, with distinctive nut and citrus notes and a light, mildly acidic finish that paired beautifully with Pan-fried Leek & Tofu Gyoza with Home-made Garlic Teriyaki Sauce and the London Foodie’s signature Wasabi & Butter Flavoured Popcorn.

Next up was a brace of Chenin Blancs from Kleine Zalze. We began with the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2015 (£7.33, matthewclark.co.uk), 2015 being a particularly outstanding vintage in South Africa. Selected from old bush vines (25-40 years old), one enjoys the concentrated, deep notes of ripe summer fruit – guava and melon particularly – and revels in the subtle oaky finish. A great if not obvious choice with Salmon, Sicilian Prawn & Fennel Nikkei Ceviche in a Passion Fruit & Aji Amarillo Tiger’s Milk.

The second Chenin Blanc – Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2015 (£18.45, winedirect.co.uk) had a lot to live up to, and it mostly did. A strong seller in the UK, one can see why: just that much more subtle than its sibling, slightly less oaked (though whether that’s a bonus depends on taste), yet with a kaleidoscopic nose of pear, white peach, and a wafting hints of honeysuckle…a real summer wine, or a wine to have in winter to bring summer right back (yet firm enough to stand up to the rich wonderfulness of “Deconstructing Sushi”: Grilled Scallops on Rice, Tobiko Caviar, Nori Seaweed and a Spicy Creamy Sauce).

After such heights, we moved on to my favourite white of the evening, the marvellous Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2014 (£25.99, sawinesonline.co.uk). The Jordans, Gary and Kathy (both on hand for our event), are legends not only on the South African wine scene but here in London, too, where they own the well-regarded High Timber restaurant, not far from the Millennium Bridge. It’s worth a visit just for their wines: Nine Yards was a stunner, the sort of creamy, oaky (but not too oaky), deep-as-the-sea Chardonnay the Napa Valley used to be regularly praised for.

Sparkling with citrus and chewy with notes of toffee and butterscotch, it was delicious accompaniment to "Chilled Green Tea Soba Noodles with Fried Aubergines in a Cold Dashi Broth”, where the wine managed to shine while giving enough space to the dish’s delicate flavours. Well worth hunting down for your own cellar.

Our main dish – Iberico Pork Cheeks, Daikon Fondant & Foie Gras, with accompaniments – was accompanied by an intriguing trio of wines from three different Stellenbosch winemakers. Spier Creative Block 5 2012 (£18, sawinesonline.co.uk) was a hearty Bordeaux-style blend (mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc) that had powerful blackcurrant overtones yet was surprisingly light with a nice peppery kick.

Waterford Estate The Jem 2010 was, for me, the least exciting wine of the night, though this is probably a function of timing. A blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, one felt certain that with some cellar time, The Jem’s currently restrained chocolate and dark berry notes would explode into life, making for a rich and very satisfying tipple. The Jem worked now, but it’ll work better in a year or two.

On the other hand, there’s no doubting that Stellenbosch Vineyards The Flagship Cabernet Franc 2010 is ready to quaff right now. Pure Cab Franc in all the ways that count – spicy, punchy, deep with dark berry fruit – The Flagship is almost Port-dark, with strong chocolate and cardamom notes that hug the palate like a warm winter blanket. Delicious stuff, well worth seeking out, and my top red of the night.

We finished the evening with another Jordan wine, the Mellifera Noble Late Harvest 2013, a lightly alcoholic (11%) sweet wine made from 100% Riesling. Lovely notes of apricot and elderflower made it a great match with Tarte Tatin with Star Anise, Rosemary, Almonds & Sarawakan Cinnamon, Served with Vanilla Crème Fraiche.

If the mission of Stellenbosch winemakers was to make a lasting impression on the London Foodie crowd, then job done. I’ll be adding more than a few of these to my must-have list…perhaps displacing a few Napa favourites in the process!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Galvin at Windows - A Korean Tasting Menu by Head-Chef Joo Won

Name: Galvin at Windows

Where: 28th Floor, London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE, http://www.galvinatwindows.com/

Cost: The 6-course Korean tasting menu costs £115 (or with wine pairings at £169, or including wine pairings and a welcome cocktail at £189)

About: Entry to Galvin at Windows could hardly be more dramatic. Situated on the 28th floor of the famous Hilton Hotel on swanky Park Lane, the lift whisked us from the hotel's lobby in a matter of seconds, to be greeted by a spectacular view over Hyde Park to Knightsbridge, Kensington and Bayswater.

Opened in 2006, Galvin at Windows, at the top of Park Lane's Hilton Hotel, was awarded a Michelin star in 2010. Korean Head Chef Joo Won has been at the restaurant since the start, and has made his way through the ranks from Commis to Head Chef, which he achieved in 2013.

Now for the month of October 2016, Chef Joo Won is presenting a special Korean menu featuring some classic dishes from his home country. We were there to try his Korean inspired 6-course tasting menu.

What We Ate and Drank: We opted for the Menu Degustation Deluxe, which included a Korean Soju Sour cocktail. With apple juice, cucumber, a drop of bitters and egg white, this was strong and refreshing, with crisp acidity from the green apple.

With the cocktail we enjoyed a couple of amuse bouche – they were chilli spiced chicken and some light and delicately flavoured kimchi arancini. To follow we also had a clear, flavoursome fish soup with clam, tofu, spring onion, chilli and radish.

The first starter was raw Orkney scallops served with soy bean puree, confit ginger, crushed peanuts, chilli and nori powder. Cleverly conceived, this had great texture and heat from the crunchy peanut and chillies against the delicate raw scallop.

It was served with a glass of Bekseju, Kooksoondan, Korea. This blend of aged rice wine, ginseng and herbs was aromatic, with a herbaceous and vegetal nose, with oxidised overtones which reminded me of a Sercial dry madeira. I thoroughly enjoyed it by itself, but its flavour profile was transformed by the pairing with the scallop, taking on rich and complex caramel-like notes.

The salad of raw crispy vegetable was next - we loved the the combination of raw and tempura vegetables with sweet, chilli and herbaceous sauces (chilli dressing, sweet soy and seaweed emulsion) and with an excellent balance of texture and flavour. The salad had a mix of different ingredients including baby carrot, onion, cucumber, radish, Padron pepper, mushroom, tempura-style spring onion and glazed fig.

With it, we were served a glass of Vouvray, Domain Champalou, Loire Valley, France 2015. Made from the Chenin Blanc grape, this was a well-made, off dry wine, with quince and pear on the palate.

The seared foie gras, served on toasted brioche, with mushroom fricassee, red wine jus, elderberries and blackberries had kimchi as the Korean touch. Delicious as it was, I did not feel the creamy foie gras was a great match to the spicy kimchi.

To partner the foie gras, the menu matched a glass of Soju- Hwayo 25% and home-fermented plum juice. This had quite an alcoholic burn, but was rich and semi-sweet. I enjoyed it as drink, but with the foie gras, the combination was noticeably greater than the sum of the parts.

The main course was marinated Iberico pork bulgogi, with barbecued chilli squid and cucumber salad, served with flaxseed rice, soy and spring onion. The pork (pluma cut) was soft and rich with great marbling (though a tad overcooked, the best way of eating Iberico pluma is medium rare in my opinion), the squid was however tender and spicy.

The pork was paired with a deliciously silky glass of Pinot Noir Jubilee, from Hugel, Alsace, France 2009.

Pre-dessert was a Greek yoghurt sorbet with pine nut, blackberry and shiso granita. The sorbet was refreshingly light, and the shizo granita delicate and herbaceous.

We finished with a magnificent Korean dessert of white chocolate and deonjang cremeaux (made from soy), with Castella sponge (ultra-light Portuguese sponge cake, much loved in Asia), caramelised red bean, pomegranate and pumpkin ice cream. I am not a dessert person but for me this was the highlight of our meal – light, creamy, and not overly sweet, it had a great combination of unexpected flavours and wonderful textures.

To accompany it we had a glass of Korean Myungjak Bokbunja, Kooksoondang. Made from fermented raspberry and wild strawberry, this was 13 per cent alcohol. To my palate, it was a naive drink - fresh and very fruity, but devoid of acidity, complexity or interest. 

Likes: Our favourite dishes were the crispy vegetable salad, the Orkney scallop and the magnificent Korean dessert. Service was excellent.

Dislikes: None. 

Verdict: We thoroughly enjoyed chef Joo Won’s cooking and his refined Korean-French tasting menu, dishes were well conceived and faultlessly executed. If you would like to try his Korean tasting menu at Galvin at Windows, you will need to hurry, as it is only available during October 2016. Recommended.

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