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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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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.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Blakes Restaurant - Lobster Paccheri to Die For in Kensington & Chelsea!

Name: Blakes Restaurant @ Blakes Hotel

Where: Blakes Hotel, 33 Roland Gardens, London SW7 3PF,  https://www.blakeshotels.com/eating-drinking/restaurant

Cost: A 3-course meal cost on average £50 per person, not including drinks or service. Starters range from £9 to £26, mains from £18 to £39, and desserts from £6 to £14 (for the cheese platter). 

About: Blakes is a small luxury hotel in Kensington & Chelsea conceived by the celebrated interior designer Anouska Hempel. Opened in 1978 on a quiet residential street in London, Blakes Hotel is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year and still is one of the most fashionable addresses in the area today.

Blakes Restaurant is set on the ground floor of Blakes Hotel, it is a stylish affair with walls and furnishings in black and gold and wood floors stained in a gorgeous checkerboard pattern.

The restaurant offers a range of Mediterranean and seafood dishes with a Japanese influence. On the mid week evening we were there, it was surprisingly heaving with a well-healed clientele, a mixture of hotel residents and locals.

From September 2018, the restaurant will see the seasonal return of seafood platters, courtesy of Italian and Brazilian Head Chefs, the Mariano Russo and Peter del Campo.

Breakfast and lunch can also be taken at The Courtyard, a lovely green open space within the hotel. The Blakes Below Bar, opened from 7pm to 1am, has live DJ and is a great spot for after dinner cocktails or just to meet up with friends for some beer or wine. Non-residents are welcome.

What We Ate: As an amuse bouche, we were served an artichoke with truffle mayonnaise and a very aromatic Spanish olive oil - simple but delicious.

The razor clam ceviche with chilli, coriander, toasted breadcrumbs spiked with lime zest had great texture contrasts and zingy flavours. We enjoyed this thoroughly.

Next up was a platter of 6 Maldon rock oysters served over crushed ice, with cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette and lemon (£21) – the oysters were plump, super fresh and utterly delicious.

The swordfish carpaccio (£14) was the weakest link of our meal - with fruity Espelette pepper, frisée and lambs lettuce and a lemon dressing (supposedly), it arrived completely unseasoned and with no dressing.  However, it did come with a half lemon, a bottle of good olive oil, salt and pepper, so we were able to season it to taste ourselves.

The native lobster Paccheri pasta with cherry tomatoes and garlic (£28) was nothing short of sublime. The tubular pasta from Naples was a great conduit for the intensely flavoured lobster bisque, and the nuggets of whole lobster that were meaty and tender. A heavenly dish.

Surrey Farm grass-fed rib-eye steak (300g - £28) had a good depth of flavour and a wonderfully black charring from the grill.

We enjoyed our mains with sides of creamy mashed potato (£5) and courgette fries (£6), which were very well made.

To finish off our glasses of red wine we shared a beautifully presented cheese platter with four different types of cheese, figs, sliced apple and grapes, jam and honey (£14).

The Vegan Tiramisu (£9) which I would normally have run a mile from, came highly recommended. It was made from soft tofu, cashew nuts, coffee and mint. Served with edible flowers, coffee mousse, it was outstandingly good. The substitution of tofu for the traditional mascarpone was a revelation, making for a much lighter, fresher mouthfeel.

What We Drank: We kicked off with a refreshing glass of Laurent Perrier Brut (£16.50). The restaurant has an extensive range of wines, Champagnes and sakes available by the glass. The entry level wines are both Italian - the white is a Verdicchio di Matelica (£38), while the red is Sangiovese from Emilia Romagna at £38.  With our starters, at the suggestion of sommelier Sarah Boukhelifa, we had a glass of minerally Picpoul de Pinet (£13). 

To partner the main courses of lobster and rib eye, we had a glass of Givry, Pinot Noir, from Domain de la Ferte, Burgundy (£16). With fresh raspberry and redcurrant aromas and soft tannins, this was a deliciously light wine with subtle complexity.

Warming to the wine list, we decided to finish our mains and cheese with a Bordeaux Saint Emilion - a Chateau Orisse du Casse Grand Cru 2012 (£105 per bottle). This was a mature, powerfully complex wine, with notes of leather, cedar and blackberry, and a long, savoury finish.

With dessert, we had a glass of Moscato Passito Terre Siciliane (£12). Rich and concentrated, with aromas of ripe grapes, raisins, honey, pear and herbs, this was a delicious dessert wine.

After dinner, we repaired to the basement cocktail lounge for a couple of espresso martinis. Open Wednesday to Sunday evening from 7pm to 1am, this is a glamorous spot with a live DJ, open to the public (you just need to sign in at the ground floor reception).

Likes: There is so much to love about Blakes Restaurant - the lobster paccheri pasta was outstanding and the star of the dinner, the rib eye, the cheese platter and the tofu tiramisu were also very good. Service was very friendly and efficient, the sommelier's suggestions were interesting and of high quality.  

Dislikes: The unseasoned swordfish carpaccio was the only snag of our dinner.

Verdict: The good burghers of Roland Garden are very lucky to have a neighbourhood restaurant at this quality level. For the rest of us, Blakes Restaurant is a hidden Kensington gem, with excellent ingredients expertly cooked and presented. We loved our meal and experience at Blakes Restaurant and highly recommend it.

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