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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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Friday, 22 May 2015

A Very Special Night Supper Club with Martell Cognac VS

Words & Photography by Greg Klerk and Joe Plimmer

L’art de vivre – the art of living – is a wonderfully French concept: the notion that a life well lived should be a thing of beauty and elegance. For 300 years Martell Cognac has placed l’art de vivre at the heart of its eponymous spirit, adhering as closely as possible to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that its founder, Jean Martell, established in 1715.

Throughout 2015, Martell is celebrating three centuries of l’art de vivre through its Very Special Nights – festive happenings that combine fabulous food, great company and Martell Cognac. The London Foodie was thrilled to host a Martell Very Special Night Supper Club, which demonstrated just how beautifully the elegance, balance and complexity of Martell Cognac goes hand in hand with the art of gastronomy.

Cognac is made from white wine; to earn the title of ‘cognac’ it must be made from at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard grapes that are grown in one of the six crus surrounding the town of Cognac. The wine used to make cognac is twice distilled in copper stills to create eaux de vie, then aged for at least two years and finally blended to make cognac.

Beautiful served on its own, cognac is also tailor-made for cocktails and a Martell expert gave us a literal taste of the possibilities throughout our evening. We began with a Classic Champagne Cocktail: a perfect home for Martell VS Cognac. With dashes of Angostura bitters, a sugar cube and a top-up of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne, it was an irresistible start to the evening.  Dating back to the mid-1800’s, the Classic Champagne Cocktail is one of the oldest cocktails, with its first written mention found in 1855 in New York. The cocktail even pre-dates the first cocktail book published in 1862.


Appropriate to the celebration of an iconic French brand like Martell Cognac, The London Foodie prepared a six-course French menu. The Classic Champagne Cocktail was served with a pissaladiere, and this was followed by Curried Mussel Veloute, Wakame Seaweed and Croutons, with which we enjoyed a Vin de Savoie Chignin-Bergeron, Domaine Jean Vullien et Fils. This lovely, dryish wine with strong pear and peach notes also worked nicely with our Premiere Entrée of Baked Camembert with Honey, Garlic and Rosemary, Brown-Sugar Roasted Ham, New Potatoes and Cornichons. All wines on the evening were expertly paired by wine merchant Laurent Faure of Le Vieux Comptoir.

A Second Entrée – Tartare of Sea Bream, Apples, Fresh Herbs and Sake – was followed by an opportunity for Martell VS Cognac to show off solo. Pale gold in colour, top notes of apple and pear layered over subtler notes of spice and almonds, with a rich, almost creamy mouth-feel. A lovely glass.

Our Plat principal & Accompaniment was Parmentierde Confit de Canard aux Cepes Duxelles et Foie Gras With Green Leaf and Herb Salad in Vinaigrette Dressing. With this we enjoyed another wine  selection, Guillaume de Pratavone Ajaccio, a spicy, medium-bodied Corsican red made from a Grenache-Sangiovese blend not uncommon in Corsica’s Ajaccio region, which is otherwise famed as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.

A cheeseboard selection by Androuet Maitre Fromager of Spitafields was the perfect match for a glass of Martell Cordon Bleu, created in 1912 by Edourd Martell and long since renowned as a classic cognac. Dark and coppery, Martell Cordon Bleu has a complex nose of orchard fruits – plum, apricot, apple – interwoven with coffee and spices, most particularly cinnamon. Mellow and rich, it has a gloriously long finish.

We ended the evening with Tarte Tatin with Rosemary, Flaked Almonds and Crème Fraiche, which was served with an unusual Martell Cognac cocktail twist: a Martell & Coffee Martini, made with espresso, Martell VS Cognac and Irish cream liqueur and served in a martini glass and topped with two coffee beans.

It was a Very Special Night indeed, and one we’re sure that Jean Martell would have loved.

For recipes, cocktail ideas and further information on Martell Cognac’s 300th year anniversary, please visit www.martell.com or find them on twitter @MartellCognacUK

Monday, 18 May 2015

The New Tasting Menu at Tamarind of Mayfair

Words and Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Tamarind of Mayfair

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

Cost: We visited Tamarind of Mayfair to try their new ‘Taste of Tamarind’ menu, available every day until 9:30pm. It’s a six-course set menu, priced at £65 per person, or £115 with a pairing that includes some exceptional wines. 

The restaurant has several other menus. The lunch set-menu is £21.50 for two courses, and £24.50 for three. Sunday Lunch is £32 per person, and a pre- or post- theatre 3-course menu is £35. The à la carte menu is pricier but not excessively so, though there are decadent options, such as a Lobster Masala (£39.50) and Tiger Prawn Kebabs (£34.50) available. 

About: This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Tamarind of Mayfair’s opening on Queen Street. It was the first fine-dining Indian restaurant anywhere in the world to win a Michelin star, and it’s now the flagship for an international group with venues from Kensington to California.

Situated on a quiet Mayfair street, there’s no doubt that this restaurant is still the jewel in the group’s crown. The gold-pillared underground dining room feels as though it’s in a great ocean liner.  It is an elegant restaurant overlooking a busy open plan kitchen offering impeccable service and great food.

What We Ate: Our meal began with a delicious Channa Chaat - spiced potato and chickpeas - served in a patty that had the shape and depth of colour of steak tartare, and just as indulgent. This was delicious - the chickpeas were soft, served with crispy fried gram flour for bite and a thick tamarind and sweetened yoghurt sauce for acidity and freshness. 

To follow we had the grilled scallop served with smoked peppers and spiced tomato chutney, which was not as successful (although any dish following that marvellous Channa Chaat would be at a disadvantage). The scallop flesh was soft, and the chutney well-spiced, but the tomato flavour was overwhelming in our opinion - the dish lacked the complexity and freshness of the Channa Chaat.

Tandoor-grilled baby chicken breast was better, with charcoal-smoked crispy skin and butter-soft flesh, served with fenugreek leaves wrapped in vermicelli and a spiced tomato purêe.

Up to this point the portions had been small, and a rich but tiny tamarind and date sorbet did little to assuage our hunger. The fourth course was however more substantial, and very well made - lamb chops served with spiced spinach, a creamy makhni daal, pulao rice and naan bread. The daal was dark and creamy, the spinach rich but light and the lamb chop was an excellent choice of meat.

For dessert, we had carrot fudge served with white raisins and melon seeds. This was soft and buttery, and served with a rich, nutty pistachio kulfi.

Tamarind clearly pays as much attention to its desserts as it does its savouries, and even the petit fours - salted caramel truffles and mint leaves coated in white chocolate, could have been a dessert in their own right. They were delicious.

What We Drank: With the sublime Channa Chaat was paired with an equally vibrant wine - a Riesling Trimbach 2007, from Cuvée Frederic Emile in Alsace, with apricot flavours and plenty of minerality, this was more than a match for the rich tamarind sauce.

With the scallop came a delicious Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys 2013, with fine citrus fruit and melon notes.

With the tandoori chicken came a chardonnay from Italy, the Cevaro della Sala 2012, with exotic tropical fruit flavours to match the weight of the dish.

To accompany the lamb, we had a glass of Dom Chante Cigale 2011 from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Another respected vineyard on a flight of strong European wines, this complex wine made of several varietals had soft tannins, berry fruit flavours and great length.

Our dessert wine was an Andrew Quady Orange Blossom Muscat from California – sweet enough not to be overwhelmed by the dessert but with enough acidity to give it some grip. 

Likes: The tasting menu is well balanced and varied in character. The Channa Chaat warrants a visit to Tamarind of Mayfair on its own right. It can be hard to partner Indian food with wine, but Tamarind’s sommelier has chosen some excellent wines that are also a reason to visit in themselves.

Dislikes: The scallop dish was the weakest link in our opinion, and besides I could have done with a little more carb in the first three smaller starters.

Verdict:  With vibrant and well-balanced flavours, Tamarind’s tasting menu is an excellent option for those wanting to experience Michelin-starred Indian cooking in the heart of London's Mayfair. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Return Visit to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Where: 13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE, United Kingdom,

Cost: We sampled dishes from several of the restaurant’s menus. A La Carte starters range from £17 to £49. Main courses are more consistent, and vary from £34-49, while desserts are all £11. The restaurant also offers 5- and 8-course tasting menus, priced at £95 and £129, and each can be extended to include either a “Sommelier’s Choice” or a “French” wine pairing. As well as set lunch and pre-theatre menus (2 courses for £31, 4 for £41) there’s an additional menu of small tasting dishes (from £16-29) that features some of the restaurant’s most innovative items.

The wine list is extensive, and though the top bottles are stratospheric, there is a good choice of bottles under £40. There is an extensive spirits selection, and a strong cocktail list (£11-15) that is also available in the restaurant’s biggest secret, its cosy penthouse bar.

About: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is the London outpost of a superstar chef with restaurants all over the world, from Bangkok to Bordeaux and Las Vegas to Tokyo. Robuchon was named ‘Chef of the Century’ in 1989 and his ingredient-led cuisine shows great attention to detail. The London restaurant is led by Head Chef Xavier Boyer who has worked with Robuchon for 13 years, and shares his determination to reinvent classic French cooking.

Open plan kitchen by Chef's Table at L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

This restaurant opened in 2006, in a striking black townhouse on Covent Garden’s West Street. Inside, the emphasis is on glamour. The downstairs dining room offers bar seating around a sleek open kitchen.  As if this didn’t provide enough drama, there’s also a vertical garden on the back wall and irresistibly good lighting throughout. The second floor dining room is larger and has a more conventional arrangement of tables, but the drama returns in the third floor bar which features a roof terrace, a modernist fireplace and deep red leather armchairs.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is one of my favourite ‘splurge’ restaurants in London, I wrote about it in The London Foodie previously, see earlier review here.

What We Ate: We began with an amuse bouche of foie gras, port wine and parmesan foam that was rich and well-executed and set the tone for the dishes that followed, all of which used indulgent ingredients with impressive finesse.

For our first course, we had a well-presented dish of fresh crabmeat, served in crisp ravioli of pressed turnip with a sweet and sour sauce.

It was followed by poached egg with Comte cheese cream, from the tasting ‘Découverte’ menu. Served on a rich black truffle coulis, the egg was poached to creamy perfection.

Next, we had poached turbot in a Champagne sauce, from the Gout de France menu, served with cockles, clams and shiitake mushrooms and a superb spiced Champagne foam.

For the main course, we had wagyu beef. The quality of the marbled wagyu was excellent - crispy on the outside and rare but firm inside.

We enjoyed it with soy spinach and Robuchon's famously buttery pomme purée (see earlier review here).

Dessert was a cylinder of crystalised sugar that contained layers of milk chocolate mousse, lemon cream and ginger ice cream. The sugar cylinder offered much more than presentation - along with the caramelized hazelnuts it gave a contrasting crunch to the soft layers inside.

What We Drank: Veuve Clicquot is the restaurant’s house champagne, always a good sign, and our meal began with those familiar, fizzy brioche notes.

Our first pairing was a 2013 Godeval Godello Valdeorras from Spain. High in acidity, its crisp lemon notes were a great accompaniment to the crabmeat and pressed radish.

The next glass, like the truffle dish it accompanied, was more powerful. A 2012 Riesling from the famous Schloss Johannisberg,  was light in body but with high enough minerality to stand up to the unctuous truffle.

Our third white was a 2011 Terlan Pinot Bianco ‘Vorberg’. Aged in oak casks, it had a delicious weight of apricot fruit flavours and great length.

The red wine was a 2009 Bodegas Resalte from Ribera del Duero. With  blackberry and spice notes, it was an excellent partner for the wagyu beef. 

With dessert we had a 2011 Luigi Bosca ‘Granos Nobles’ Gewürztraminer, a rich, sweet wine from Argentina, with a plenty of acidity to keep it from being cloying.

We ended the evening with two cocktails in the third floor bar and lounge. The first, a Smoked Brooklyn, a variation on a Manhattan, was a more aromatic version of that classic drink. The second, featuring my favourite Japanese citrus fruit, was the Yuzu Pisco - fresh, pretty and delicious.

Likes: the crabmeat ravioli were excellent but Robuchon's buttery pomme purée is what got me to return!

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon offers a truly unique experience – their Japanese inspired French cooking is light yet elegant and full of flavour. Their wine selection is second to none, and the ambience is glamorous, dark and soothing. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Nipa Thai - A Taste of Siam in London's Hyde Park

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Nipa Thai

Where: Nipa Thai, Lancaster Hotel, Lancaster Terrace, London, W2 2TY,

Cost: From the a la carte menu, starters and soups are around £11-12, with salads and curries at £16-19. There are a number of special fish dishes - from scallops in a red chilli and coconut broth to crisp fried sea bass - though none costs more than £24. All desserts are £9. Nipa Thai also offers a number of set menus, from £35 per person for six shared dishes to £40 for eight, with a choice of Thai wine pairings at £20 per person.

About: Nipa Thai is one of a small number of Thai restaurants to have received the prestigious Thai Select award from the Thai government for the quality of its cooking. It also has 2 AA Rosettes, and is situated within the Thai-owned Lancaster Hotel with views over Hyde Park, making it popular with visiting Thai dignitaries. Head-chef Sanguan Parr brought her experience from the partner restaurant, Nipa, in Bangkok’s Landmark Hotel. 

What We Ate: To begin, we ordered the Ruam Mitr - a sharing selection comprising several starters, the highlight of which was the chicken satay in a sweet and velvety homemade sauce, complemented by Thai fish cakes which were fresh and zingy with lime and coriander.

The Kao Krieb Pak Moh was also good - steamed rice parcels containing chicken, shallot and plenty of peanut, glistening like multi-coloured oysters on the plate, and eaten inside a crunchy lettuce leaf.

Next came a soup course, of Tom Kha Kai and Kaeng Jued Tao Hoo, both well made. I particularly enjoyed the Tom Khai Kai, containing tender chicken in a succulent coconut broth, made refreshing by lime and lemongrass. It is easy to miss out a soup course when ordering Thai food, but these dishes are a reminder that this is a mistake.

They were followed by an array of main course dishes. Pla Rad Prig featured fried seabass with crispy skin and succulent white flesh, with coriander, onion and chilli.

The Yua Ma Muang Poo Nim, a salad of soft-shell crab and mango, was also hot, but not as successful. The crab had crunch, but was over-battered and lacked flavour, and the mango salad wasn’t substantial enough to sooth the heat.

The curry - Phad Kiew Warn Ta Law - was better. Mixed seafood (including some large fat scallops) was served in a green curry with Thai aubergine and basil.

These dishes were served with Sanguan’s Phad Thai, named after new head chef Sanguan Parr. Sweeter than usual and with plenty of lime, this was as good as anything I have eaten in Bangkok. I also enjoyed the aromatic Kao Kati - steamed rice with coconut milk and pandan leaves.

Desserts are rarely the most interesting aspect of Southeast Asian menus, and true to form, the desserts at Nipa Thai were in my opinion a bit of a let down. The banana pudding was bland, and served with the tiniest dash of caramel sauce.

The Piña Colada panacotta, whilst innovative, had the consistency of a mousse and lacked the richness of the “cooked cream” that gives panacotta its name.

What We Drank: The drinks menu features classic cocktails (£9), champagne cocktails (£12) and a range of European and Asian beers (all around £5.50 a pint). Most of the wines are below £40 a bottle, with a good number under £30. There’s also a selection of Thai wines - most of which are World Wine Award winners - for £29 a bottle, and available in 175ml or 250ml glasses. 

We opted for a bottle of the Thai Monsoon Valley Colombard, a World Wine Bronze Award-winning white. Although this grape originated in Southwest France, the wine shares the medium body and acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. It had notes of apple and grapefruit, making it a good partner to the spicy aromatic food. 

For dessert, we had a glass of another Thai Monsoon Valley wine, this time a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, which was well made.

Likes: The restaurant’s setting is impressive, and there can be few better London dining rooms in which to eat Thai food. The Kao Krieb Pak Moh (chicken-filled rice dumplings) and Phad Kiew Warn Ta Law (seafood green curry) were exceptional. 

Dislikes: The desserts were unexciting, although the course was rescued by a very enjoyable Thai Chenin Blanc.

Verdict: Thai Cuisine is more diverse and complex than many restaurants do justice to. Nipa Thai’s soups and seafood dishes are well made, and the interior is eye-catching. With a number of good-value set menus, anyone looking to experience authentic Thai food should head to Nipa Thai. Recommended.

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