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Friday, 25 July 2014

The Real McCoy of Teppanyaki Experiences at Matsuri

Name: Matsuri

Where: 15 Bury Street, London, SW1Y 6 AL

Cost: There are three set menus, priced at £65, £100 and £145 per person. From the à la carte menu, starters cost from £5 to £10, with sashimi platters from £14 to £68, sushi platters at £29.50 or £39.50, and teppanyaki from £23 to £68 for a whole lobster.

About: Matsuri is a long-established Japanese restaurant in London's plush St James district, home to many venerable gentlemen's clubs, as well as St James' Palace and Chatham House. It is also a stone's throw from royal grocer Fortnum and Mason's, Paxton and Whitfield's cheese shop, and the bespoke shirt makers of Jermyn Street.

Matsuri offers Japanese style teppanyaki dishes. Teppanyaki (teppan meaning iron plate and yaki grill or fried) refers to dishes that include meats, fish and vegetables cooked on a very hot iron plate, which imparts a lovely char-grilled flavour to these ingredients.

There is always an element of theatre when eating at teppanyaki restaurants - guests sit around a station while a chef rustles up their dishes. Matsuri is among the most upmarket teppanyaki restaurant in the UK, with dishes, standards of cooking and prices similar to those in Japan.

Owned jointly by the Japanese food giant Kikkoman and JR (Japan Railways), the restaurant is adorned with photographs models of the Shinkansen (Bullet) train and other tasteful artifacts.

What We Ate: We started with a platter of white fish sushi and sashimi (£27).  This included seared yellow tail maki rolls, with nigiri of seabass with yuzu kosho, turbot with yuzu plum and sea bream with spring onion. The platter finished with a sashimi of scallop, yellowtail and king prawn. The centre piece was the head of the king prawn served tempura style in a magnificent blue crystal bowl.

The tempura course included jumbo shrimp, jumbo shrimp head wrapped in shiso leaves, and squid wrapped in shiso leaves. I found the batter a little thick, but the quality of the seafood was excellent, the squid was meltingly tender (not an easy texture to achieve when deep-frying squid) and I enjoyed the addition of shiso in this tempura.

The teppanyaki course was wagyu beef with white and green asparagus (£75), and black cod marinated in ginger, soy sauce and miso (£26).

I enjoyed the black cod being cooked this way (miso is the usual marinade but it does not quite work with teppanyaki).  The ginger gave it a deliciously spicy, savoury quality to the dense fish, and the skin became crispy and crunchy from cooking on the hot plate.

The wagyu beef was wonderfully rich, tender and flavoursome, and was served with some magnificent garlic fried rice, one of the very occasions when garlic rice is served in Japan i.e. with grilled steak. To accompany the beef, two sauces were offered – the wasabi cream, which was hot and creamy, and the special 'wagyu sauce' made with red wine, mirin, chilli and soy sauce. This was rich and spicy, a little like a Korean bulgogi sauce. Personally I thought the latter rather overpowered the wagyu beef.

Alongside the Teppanyaki, we had a red miso soup (£3.50), with nameko mushrooms, wakame seaweed, tofu and spring onions. I loved this  – red miso makes for a rich, beefy-tasting broth rather like a posh Bovril, while the nameko mushrooms with their slimy texture (not a great way to describe this mushroom but I cannot think of a more befitting word), were a great addition, I haven’t had them since my last trip to Japan.

For dessert, we opted for the restaurant's signature Fire Ball Ice Cream with mango (£6.50). There is a nice sense of theatre about this dish as the mango slices and ice cream are quickly flambéed over the hot iron plate before being served.

We also had some delightful wakamomo (baby stoneless peaches), with lychee sorbet and Mio sparkling sake (£8), served in a Champagne flute. I love wakamomo, so this was a great treat - refreshing and palate cleansing.

What We Drank: While the teppanyaki meal we had at Matsuri was very good indeed, the highlight for us was the restaurant’s fantastic wine cellar.

We entrusted our wine pairing to the Head Sommelier Tommaso Riccardo Guzzardo, and he did not disappoint, choosing a selection of rare and unusual Italian and French wines that tickled the curiosity and palate while still maintaining value for money.

The cocktail of the month when we visited was London Sky (£12) - Nigori Ginjo sake with fruits and elderflower. Served with a sprig of mint, this had a touch of sweetness and a savoury notes from the sake. We also sampled the Miss Kubota cocktail from the Signature list - sake, lemon juice and lychee liqueur, decorated with physalis (£12). This was very refreshing from the citrus fruit, and aromatic from the lychee liqueur.  There was a comprehensive list of cocktails priced from £9 for a Negroni to £13 for a Champagne-based Nashi Royal with Asian Pear.

With the sushi and sashimi, we had a glass of Tiefenbrunner, Kirchleiten Sauvignon 2012, from Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy (£58 per bottle). This comes from volcanic soil giving a delicious minerality, and was rich, elegant and with crisp acidity and a long finish.

With the tempura, we had a glass of Pouilly Fumé 2012, Domaine Alexandre Bain, from Pierre Precieuse (£53 per bottle). This was a biodynamic wine, unfiltered, with just a hint of oxidation. Golden in colour, and slightly opalescent, it had lovely green apple on the palate.

With the teppanyaki, we had a Sicilian red, I Vigneri (£89 per bottle), from 100 year old pre-phylloxera vines.  Made from rare Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese grapes, the vines were grown in goblet formation on volcanic, lava soil. Foot pressed, and matured in oak casks, this was a very elegant wine with red berry fruit.

With dessert, we had a glass of sweet Umeshu plum wine, served unfiltered and with a heavy sediment. Having been left on the stalk until the fruit was botrytised, this had a rich sweet almond nose, and sweet plum flavours on the palate.

As a digestive, we opted for the 21 year old Hibiki Suntory Whisky, in a very beautiful bottle that looked more like a decanter.  This was a top quality Japanese whisky.  

The restaurant offers a wide selection of wines and sparkling wines by the glass, from £9 to £23. In bottles, white wines start at £37 (for an Italian Blanc de Morgex et De La Salle), and reds at £39 (for a biodynamic Faugeres from Languedoc-Roussillon), and escalate rapidly from there.

There is an extensive sake menu, as well as a “Sake Course Menu” for £40, offering 5 glasses of sake.  There are two wine flights, priced at £44 and £60, each offering 5 glasses including a Champagne, white, red and sweet wines. 

Likes: The white fish sushi and sashimi platter was superb, and reasonably priced at £27. The Wagyu steak was excellent. The wine selection, chosen by sommelier Tommaso Riccardo Guzzardo, was original and interesting. I would strongly recommend one of the wine flights.

Dislikes: Prices are steep but these reflect the quality of the ingredients and the location. It would be nice if a more affordable teppanyaki menu option were available, not necessarily including wagyu beef or black cod.

Verdict: Matsuri offers the real McCoy of teppanyaki experiences in the heart of London’s Mayfair. A fantastic wine cellar and an expert sommelier made for a very special evening. Recommended.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Meeting the Michelin Olly Rouse at Selfridges

Words & Photography by Florentyna Leow and Luiz Hara

Week 2 of Meet the Michelins – a Selfridges project featuring culinary stars from the Home Counties – saw Olly Rouse take the stage at The Corner Restaurant on Monday evening to whip up a dazzling 7-course menu. All of the Meet the Michelins experiences feature a tasting menu with optional wine flight, prices for each evening varying slightly. This week’s 7-course menu was priced at £75 with matching wines by Selfridges' head sommelier Dawn Davies for an additional £45 – decent value, especially considering the top-notch drinks accompanying the food.

Rouse is the head chef at The Avenue at Lainston House in Winchester. Describing himself as ‘extremely hands-on', he would emerge from the kitchen between courses to introduce each dish, chatting with the diners, all the while sending out tasty and meticulously plated dishes.

His eye for detail was evident in little flourishes such as the feather used in presenting the menu, the beautiful cast-iron teacups used for serving the house-fermented kombucha (yeast enzyme tea), and even the dry ice in the teapots of kombucha, which lent a lovely theatrical touch during service.

The onion cracker was a stellar example of his attention to detail – his take on pork crackling contained not a whiff of pork, but was instead made of dehydrated and deep-fried tapioca sheets infused with onion stock and liberally salted. Crunchy and utterly moreish, it went down a treat with the Selfridges' own Prosecco label, and was a highly promising start to the evening.

Selfridges sommelier Dawn Davies worked her magic again this evening – her choices were often bold and unusual, but generally spot on and occasionally even sublime. Her expertise particularly shone through with her choice of the Gaia Estate ‘Thalassitis’ Wild Ferment Assyrtiko for the first starter. Tasted alone, it was brash and almost too assertive for my taste, but acquired a beautiful roundness and minerality when sampled with the crab.

Our first starter and one of the highlights of the evening, the soft shell crab, was a gorgeous medley of textures and flavours. The crab was juicy and succulent within and satisfyingly crunchy without; with the mildly bitter grapefruit, tender artichoke and radish, rocket, tomato and pea salad, it came together as a dish greater than the sum of its parts. It was a tremendously enjoyable starter.

Herring, the second starter, was served alongside pickled purple carrots, roasted shallots and mooli, and blobs of apple-vanilla and parsley purée. The young German Kabinett Riesling (Oberhauser Leistenberg) chosen to accompany this starter, undercut the oily richness of the fish with much-needed freshness and acidity.

Our third and final starter featured a surf n’ turf combination of Pig & Prawn. The confit pork belly was a little dry and not fatty enough for my liking; the raw Sicilian prawns and smoky aubergine purée were, however, phenomenal. Together with the light, juicy chilled Portuguese red (Pardusco Vinho Verde Tinto), the prawn half of the equation shone.

Onwards to the two mains: Rouse’s take on roast chicken and lamb. The roast chicken was served with a medley of accompaniments including pine nut crumbs, smoked corn stuffing, a horseradish and lemon cream and red-wine pickled mooli; individually, they were novel and interesting but when tasted together, rather confusing. The Pinot Noir (Massale, Kooyong) accompanying the chicken, however, was deliciously fresh and juicy, with cherry notes – a testament to the talented Australian producers of the wine.

Similarly, the accompaniments for the lamb tasted nice individually, but puzzling altogether. The marinated tomatoes accompanying the lamb, for instance, were flavourful, but would have been much  better chilled. The gently robust Le Soula Rouge, however, was a good pair with the lamb.

Thankfully, Rouse’s menu ended on a splendid note with the puddings. ‘Lemon’ consisted of moist, dense and intensely lemony squares of cake with basil-infused white chocolate, honey jelly and lemon sorbet.

It went down a treat with a Japanese yuzu sake (Ume No Yado Yuzu Sake), an intensely citric liqueur which stood up perfectly to the vibrant lemon dessert.

‘Raw Jersey Dairy’ showcased locally made raw cream in an indulgent crème brulée, with strawberry tarragon consommé, sabayon biscuits, meringue and strawberry salad – art on a plate, and a masterpiece on the palate.

Overall, dinner was a delightful experience. While Rouse’s approach to meats was to my taste rather conservative, he is clearly a talented chef who is willing to experiment, and who can work wonders with seafood and produce from the garden. The Avenue in Winchester should be well worth the trek out of London!

Come and Meet the Michelins at Selfridges - Olly Rouse

With two more Meet the Michelins evenings – all Mondays – left on the 28 July and 18 August (although the 18 August event, with Chef Michael Wignall, is currently sold out), don’t miss this opportunity to try some of the best cooking in England at Selfridges. For more information or to book, visit their website here.

Monday, 14 July 2014

A Bastille Day Celebration - Parisian Flare in the Heart of Pall Mall

Name: Boulestin

Where: 5 St James Street, London SW1A 1EF

Cost: Bastille Day Menu for 3 courses is offered at £37.50. The Prix Fixe Theatre menus are also available at £19.50 and £24.50 for 2 and 3 courses respectively, and also for Saturday lunch. From the à la carte menu, hors d'oeuvres range from £9 to £17.50, fish dishes are from £19.50 to £27.50, and meat dishes range from £23.50 to £29.50. Desserts cost from £7.50 to £9.50, with French cheeses including a selection of 4 for £16.75.  

About: Marcel Boulestin (1878-1943) was a French chef and restaurateur, who opened his eponymous restaurant in 1927 in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. He was also the world's first TV chef, appearing in 1937 on the BBC. After his death, the restaurant continued under various managements until it closed in 1994.

In September 2013, restaurateur Joel Kissin (co-founder and managing director of Conran Restaurants, now known as D&D London) opened Boulestin in St James as a 60-seat restaurant with a private dining room, an outside courtyard and the bistro Café Marcel. It specialises in the sort of classic French cuisine Marcel Boulestin popularised in the UK, led by Head Chef Andrew Woodford (ex The Wolseley, Colbert and Rules).

The restaurant is at the southern end of St James Street, next door to Berry Bros & Rudd's Wine & Spirits Shop. With a black and white tiled floor, starched white linen tablecloths and green leather chairs, set in a dining room flooded with natural light from the skylight, it's an elegant spot for lunch or dinner. It is only a stone's throw from Fortnum & Mason, Burlington Arcade and the luxury shopping area of Bond Street.

What We Ate: We started with the Jambon Persille, a terrine of ham hock and parsley, this is a specialty of Dijon in Burgundy of which Boulestin’s was a fine example.

We also had a magnificent Octopus Salad which included samphire, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, capers and lemon, this was a delicious dish reflecting the Mediterranean coastline of France, with a generous serving of tender octopus and fragrant olive oil.

For mains, we had one of the restaurant’s signature dishes - Tete de Veau - calves head, tongue and brains, with carrots, potatoes and celery. The Tete de Veau took me straight back to my Cordon Bleu days – classic French cooking at its best. A highly complex dish to assemble and cook (best left to the professionals), Boulestin's appeared effortlessly put together with tender calves’ head meat accompanied by a delicate but intensely flavored broth.

Dr G opted for the Roast Rabbit, served with mustard sauce. The rabbit was attractively presented with Girolle mushrooms, the saddle cooked in a balotine in a water-bath, perfumed with tarragon then wrapped in carrot slivers, and served with a fine mustard sauce, gherkins, capers and parsley. It was tremendous, and a reminder of just how fine a meat rabbit can be when expertly cooked.

Before dessert, we opted for the platter of 4 French cheeses, all from nearby Paxton & Whitfield (£16.75). This included Brillat Savarin, Beaufort, Foure D' Ambert and Mothais-Sur-Feuille. The cheeses were of excellent quality, and perfectly ripe.

For dessert, we had the cinnamon doughnuts and a fruit tart. This was a French tart of crème pâtissière, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry, with a perfectly crisp and crumbly short crust pastry base.

The doughnuts were light and airy, with a delicious coating of cinnamon and sugar.

What We Drank: Impressively, the house Champagne is the "R" de Ruinart Brut, available for £14.75 by the glass, or £70 per bottle.  Wines have a strong French influence, but there are also options from the rest of Europe, Australia, South Africa and the Americas. They are priced from £19.50 for whites, £20 for reds (both from Pieno Sud, Sicily, a Trebbiano and Sangiovese respectively).

Our choices on the evening were guided by the friendly and knowledgeable sommelier Alessandro Talento, we couldn’t have been in better hands. We kicked off with an Americano (£12), a cocktail made from sweet vermouth, Campari and a splash of soda.

The vermouth was a Cocchi from Torin, a magnificent sweet, boutique vermouth made from the moscato grape, unlike the big brand vermouths usually made from Trebbiano.  The Americano was a superbly refreshing, and appetite stimulating start to the evening.

With the starters, we had an Albariño 2012 from L&L, Rias Baixas (£42).  With vibrant peach and tropical fruit characteristics and balancing acidity, this was a very good partner to both the ham and the octopus.

To enjoy with the veal and rabbit, we had a glass of Saint Aubin 1er Cru Derriere la Tour 2011, from Domain Jean Claude Bachelet (£59.50).  This was a classic example of pinot noir, with elegant redcurrant and raspberry fruit, light tannins, and great complexity and length.

With the cheese, although we were considering the selection of fine Ports on offer, Alessandro recommended a glass of fine aged Colombian rum - La Hechicera. Aged in sherry casks, it had none of the sweetness or caramel flavours that we usually associate with rum, but instead had nutty and dried fruit flavours, rather like an Armagnac. This was an unusual suggestion to partner our cheese platter, but it worked really well, balancing out the rich (let's be honest, fat) French cheese with a clean but complex spirit.

With the doughnuts, we had a couple of “After Dinner” cocktails. These included a glass of La Pommier, with fresh apple, vodka and eau de vie. With the fruit tart, we had a Sauternes de Luxe cocktail, made from fresh orange, home-made vanilla syrup, bourbon whiskey and Sauternes. Both expertly made and excellent pairing to our puddings.

To finish, we had a small tasting of two Italian artisan amaretto spirits and a fine drink created by Alessandro himself to demonstrate some of the flavours of his loved Italy – with Amaretto, Frangelico, sugar, ginger and cloves. A very fine end to our meal.

Likes: Great cooking, friendly service and a fantastic bar headed by Alessandro Talento.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: Boulestin serves classic French cooking in an elegant setting in Pall Mall, and from the 14th July 2014 for one week, the Bastille Day menu priced at £37.50 will feature a selection of great dishes from the restaurant's repertoire. Highly recommended.

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