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Saturday, 6 October 2018

La Mia Mamma – Italian Regional Cuisines Cooked by a Local Mamma!

Name: La Mia Mamma

Where: 257 Kings Road, London, SW3 5EL, https://www.lamiamamma.co.uk/

Cost: The Mama's Menu, for a minimum of 2 people, is available in three possible combinations: antipasti to share and pasta for £28 per person; antipasti to share and a main for £33; while for those with gargantuan appetites, the antipasti to share, pasta and main course costs £38 per person.  All three menus include an Aperol Spritz, a dessert and an espresso coffee.

About: Opened as recently as June 2018, La Mia Mamma on buzzing Kings Road presents an unusual concept of food cooked by an Italian Mamma (mother) from one of 20 regions of the country.  At the time we were there, this was the Sicilian Maria Concetta. The aim is to offer genuine home cooking as you might eat in the Mamma's house. Each Mamma is flown in for a residency of three months, and other regions planned in the near future include Puglia, Campania and Calabria.  Pasta is freshly made on the premises every day.

For those who do not want to try the regional Mamma's menu, the a la carte menu has a selection of national dishes to choose from, though the menu is reassuringly short.

What We Ate: We opted for the antipasti and pasta menu at £28 per person, including an Aperol Spritz, dessert and espresso coffee. The meal started with a generous selection of antipasti, chosen by Maria.  I was expecting a few slices of Parma ham, cheese and olives, but what arrived was much more interesting and varied.

There was a board with 3 types of vegetable antipasti: Sicilian caponata (grilled aubergine) with stracciatella (the cheese from the heart of the burrata); peperonata (simmered peppers) with onions and olives and fried courgette escabeche, with mint, garlic, vinegar and oil; ricotta cheese with crumbled pistachio and balsamic glaze.

The panzerotti, like small fried calzone, were filled with ricotta cheese, ham and tomato sauce. They were clearly freshly made, authentic and delectable. 

A round platter with four other antipasti included the gateau di patate (a little potato cake) with mozzarella and cooked ham; aubergine frittata; a large arancini rice ball filled with spinach and cheese. Best of all was the meatloaf with chunky shreds of meat covered in melting mozzarella cheese. They were all well seasoned and rich.

We also had a couple of fried pizzette topped with ricotta cheese, tomato and basil.

The antipasti were a meal in themselves I thought, although to my palate they were a tad too substantial and carb heavy (and I eat a lot). I enjoyed them, and what they lacked in sophistication they more than made up in flavour and generosity.

For our pasta dishes, we had the Pasta Nasciata del Detective Montalbano - oven-baked rigatoni with beef Bolognese sauce, cooked ham, boiled eggs, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  This was the fictional detective Inspector Montalbano's favourite pasta dish, and was rich and delicious, rather like a good home-made lasagna.

The other pasta was Pesto di Pistacchi and Ricotta. A quintessential Sicilian dish with home-made pistachio pesto, and Busiate pasta (a long twisted macaroni-shaped pasta from Sicily), this was creamy but to my palate lacked seasoning.

For dessert, we had the Tiramisu al Pistacchio. This was absurdly good, with the magnificently flavoursome caramelised Pistacchio Verde di Bronte DOP from Sicily, a layer of pistachio cream over a base of whipped sweet mascarpone, topped with caramelised pistachios.

The Cannolo Scomposto is the restaurant's deconstructed take on the popular Sicilian dessert, and in this version, rather than being in tubular form, there were layers of crisp pastry dough, covered in a sweet creamy ricotta and crumbled pistachios. This was light, crunchy and delectable.

What We Drank: There are 6 cocktails all priced at £9.50, with a selection of wines by the glass (125ml), ranging from £5.95 to £11.

The Aperol Spritz was well made and refreshing.  With my meal, I had a glass of Primitivo (£6.75) - robust, full bodied and with smooth tannins. The espresso was strong, rich and authentically Italian.

Likes: The baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce was wonderful, but the stars of the meal were the two desserts. These can be ordered separately at £5.50 each. Excellent value set menus, friendly and well-informed waiting staff. 

Dislikes: I loved the antipasti but was full after eating them. The portion was commendably generous but carb-heavy (perhaps less pastry?). 

Verdict: For an authentic experience of Italian regional home cooking, La Mia Mamma is the real deal. I look forward to learning more about other regions of Italy over the coming months there. Recommended.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Mei Ume - Finest Japanese and Chinese Cooking All Under One Fabulous Roof!

Name: Mei Ume 

Where: Four Seasons Hotel, 10 Trinity Square, London, EC3N 4AJ, http://meiume.com/

Cost: There is a tasting menu available at £75 per person, with the option of matching wine flight for £39 or £75 for classic French wines. 

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. 

The hotel has two restaurants on the ground floor, the Michelin-starred French restaurant La Dame de Pic, and next to it, Mei Ume which is the first restaurant I have come across in London aiming to offer a blend of Chinese and Japanese fine dining - think Hakkasan and Sake no Hana all in one.  In fact Mei Ume's Sushi Chef Mun Seok Choi, South Korean born, trained at Zuma and Sake no Hana itself.

Mei Ume's Head Chef Tony Truong learned to cook Cantonese food in China's Guangzhou province, and has been in the UK for 30 years. His last job before moving to Mei Ume was as Head Chef at Royal China, where he worked for 17 years.

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: Rather than the tasting menu, we opted to go a la carte. Rock shrimp tempura (£14) was succulent, served with a spicy mayo that packed a punch. The batter was crisp and well seasoned, although I prefer my tempura batter to be a tad lighter.

Salt and pepper squid with lemon leaves and shallots (£13) was also crispy and delectable.

Next came a Sushi Moriawase (Chef's selection) - nine pieces (£34) of expertly made and dainty nigiri sushi, including mackerel, eel, squid, octopus, scallop, yellowtail, salmon and tuna.  The rice was perfectly seasoned, the fish tasted super fresh and was meltingly tender - the nigiri showed real skills of the sushi chef.

The uramaki (inside out) roll of Alaskan and Californian crab (£14) was very good, and I  could only admire the very fine layer of perfectly cooked sushi rice on the exterior, which I know from bitter experience is mighty tricky to achieve.

But the best was still to come. The wasabi king prawns (£28) were outstanding, creamy but spicy, and encrusted with orange tobiko (flying fish roe). A real winner.

The lamb shank (£28) braised in a Sichuan spicy broth was magnificent, with chillies, Sichuanese peppercorn, cinnamon and five spice, the meat fell off the bone, was succulent and extremely tender.

Equally good was the San Pei Chicken with Thai basil and chilli, served in a seasoned toban (£24).

To accompany, we had some crunchy choi sum, wok-fried with garlic (£10), and stir-fried glass noodles with duck meat (£12.50) that had a fantastic wok-breath. They were both excellent.

And just when we thought we were too full for anything else, along came the dessert menu which was too tempting to resist. The chocolate moelleux was filled with runny dark chocolate, and paired particularly well with a slightly bitter matcha ice cream (£9).

Better still was the yuzu creme brûlée with lychee granita (£9). The yuzu creme was layered over a base of raspberry jelly, and the combination (aromatic yuzu and raspberries) was surprisingly effective.

What We Drank: Cocktails are priced at £16. There is an extensive range of sakes, and wines by the glass or carafe.  For bottles, the entry level white is a German Auxerrois (£39), while the red is a French Corbieres (£35). For those wanting to splurge, there are first growth Bordeaux such as the Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru £3200.

We started with glass of Delamotte Brut NV (£16), which was crisp and refreshing.

With the meal, we had a glass of Chablis Premiere Cru Cote de Lechet, Domaine Bernard Defaix 2016 (£16) - wonderfully aromatic with elderflower and greengage, and a long, complex finish, complimenting the wasabi prawns.

A glass of Langhe, Azienda Agricola 499 2015 from Piemonte (£12) was medium bodied with cherry and vanilla notes that were a good match with the lamb.  

Likes: Stunning setting, great Sichuanese lamb shank, wasabi prawns and yuzu creme brûlée.  The sushi was also expertly made. Friendly, well informed service though a tad erratic, see below. 

Dislikes: Our hot stone rice bibimbap of sea urchin and scallops did not show up despite being ordered. I am still craving that dish!

Verdict: Fine-dining Chinese and Japanese food in the heart of the ancient City of London. In stunning surroundings, Mei Ume is a real treat for the eye and palate. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Osh Restaurant – Outstanding Uzbekistani Cooking & One of The Best London Meals of 2018!

Name: Osh Restaurant

Where: 14-15 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, SW3 1NQ, https://oshrestaurant.com/

Cost: A 3-course meal at Osh costs on average £35 per person not including beverages or service. Small eats cost £6-14, main courses are £11 to £29, and desserts are £4.50 to £7. 

About: Opened in March 2018 in Knightsbridge's plush Beauchamp Place, on the site of the former Japanese Nozumi restaurant, Osh Restaurant serves Uzbekistani and Central Asian food.

Aiming to offer authentic Uzbekistani dining, the management has hired and brought to the UK a number of Uzbekistani chefs. Osh imports its vegetables and fruit from Uzbekistan twice a week, a selection of which, is on proud display at the entrance, along with dates, nuts and seeds.

Osh Restaurant and Bar is spread over three floors of a Knightsbridge townhouse, with the ground floor restaurant being set under a glass roof with a view of the verdant trees above. 

This part of the restaurant is decorated in neutral creams and browns and overlooks the blue and cream tiled, open plan kitchen and tandoor ovens, while the upper floor is decked out in gold and red stripes with beautiful artwork.

The restaurant's concept is of sharing dishes, with platters placed in the middle of the table.  Oddly, there is a selection of Asian and Japanese inspired dishes on the menu (run-of-the-mill items like black cod in miso and sashimi in ponzu dressing etc), but we chose to focus, with the guidance of our very knowledgeable waiter Nikolai, on the Uzbek dishes.

Osh takes its name from Uzbekistan’s national dish. Osh or Plov, is the restaurant’s signature dish and cost as little as £16 for 2 people to share. Nikolai tells us that 99% of diners will order this plus a couple or few other small dishes. Osh is an intricate rice dish of slow braised mutton, in rice, garlic, chickpeas, grated carrots and sultanas. Osh is one of the most wonderful things I have eaten this year.

Uzbekistan is also known for its fine caviar, and guests with deep enough pockets can choose from a range of beluga, oscietra and platinum caviars, starting at £60 for 30g.

What We Ate: Uzbek tomato carpaccio with goats cheese and a scattering of pomegranate seeds (£8) tasted as good as it looked, with ultra-fine slices of ripe tomato. The cheese was creamy and rich with a lovely gamey quality to it.

The warm aubergine salad with goat's cheese and coriander dressing was beautifully presented with a topping of deep-fried leeks (£8). The aubergine chunks had been lightly battered and deep-fried, and combined deliciously with the goats cheese. Nikolai says this is the most popular of all starters and I can certainly see why!

The aubergine salad came served with some wonderfully aromatic, freshly-baked Uzbek bread seasoned with caraway seeds, and tarragon butter (£3.50).

Butternut squash Manti were sweet and delicious dumplings, flavoured with coriander and cumin (£5), served with a little pot of refreshing sour cream.

Uzbek Chebureki were deep-fried dough parcels of minced lamb with Uzbek spices (£6) – they were light, oil-free and delicious with the fresh tomato herb relish.

Surmi cabbage rolls (£12) were filled with minced rabbit, rice and topped with truffle shavings. They were exceptionally good - perfectly tender, aromatic and creamy. The accompanying sauce of butter, white wine and fennel was bursting with flavour.

Shashlik are grilled skewers of meat or fish marinated for 12 hours - are served at Osh Restaurant with spicy cucumber salad, adjika sauce of tomatoes, chillies, onions and red pepper, and flat bread.

The chicken spatchcock shashlik (£11) with ginger, chilli, garlic and tomato was succulent and aromatic.

The beef fillet shashlik (£14) came with soy sauce, honey, garlic and onion. It was tender, served medium rare but with a delicious caramelisation, and well seasoned. I cannot understand who Osh can serve such generous and good quality meat skewers for £14.

Uzbek Osh is a variant of the plov lamb dishes popular in central Asia - a warming mixture of lamb or mutton, onions, grated carrots and spices.  Osh's version had slow cooked lamb served with orange and yellow carrots, peppers, chickpeas, lamb lard, sultanas, pilau rice and Uzbek spices.

Served with Achichuk (Uzbek tomato) salad and Uzbek radish salad (£16 for 2). This was also remarkably good, with aromas of cumin and coriander.

For dessert, we shared a pistachio éclair with fresh blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries, with micro mint (£7). This was magnificent, the éclair richly almond flavoured, the crème patisserie aromatic with vanilla and heady pistachio.

What We Drank: Osh has a comprehensive cocktail list. We started with a Desert Tea cocktail (£14), with Courvoisier VSOP cognac, mint, rose essence, red sandalwood and red amaranth. This was strong, intensely perfumed, and delicious.  The Silk Spritz (£14) was a refreshing blend of Elix vodka, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, Thai basil, kumquat, Martini Prosecco Brut.

The entry level white is a Musar Jeune from Chateau Musar, Lebanon at £55, while the red is a Piedmontese Barbera at £35. There is a good selection of wine by the glass, including a Cretan white at £9, and the Barbera is also served by the glass at £6.75.

Likes: I enjoyed absolutely every item we chose from the menu, and this was one of those very rare meals without any weak dishes (I would like to thank Nikolai for his help ghiding us to choose the best Uzbek dishes). Despite the plush location and restaurant decor, the food menu is outstandingly good value for money. A perfect meal for me at Osh includes – Warm Aubergine Salad + Surmi Cabbage Rolls + Beef Fillet Shashlik Skewer + Osh Lamb Rice!

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For Uzbekistani cooking that is authentic, delicious and generous in plush Knightsbridge and at surprisingly reasonable prices, there can surely be nowhere better in London. I had one of the best meals of 2018 at Osh Restaurant. Very highly recommended.

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