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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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Sunday, 31 October 2010

London Supper Club Review – “Hidden Dining” @ Shacklewell Nights

Introducing a new concept in the London underground food scene, Shacklewell Nights is not exactly a supper club nor is it a pop up restaurant. “Hidden Dining” is the new word on the street and I cannot think of a better place for such a novel idea than Shacklewell Nights.

Unlike a "one-off" pop-up restaurant or a more regular supper club, Shacklewell Nights hosts dinners for two nights every two months at an East End venue which is not the hosts’ home. This is a new collaboration between friends Claire Roberson and Jonathan Woolway.

The Location

Based in a former clothing factory in the heart of Dalston, E8, the venue is still owned by a popular and rather upmarket fashion label, and is used mainly for photo shoots and other fashion events.

The location is stunning, full of natural light and with a laid-back, informal feel about it. The premises are quite spacious allowing Claire and Jonathan to seat up to 65 people at a time.

The Food

Food at Shacklewell Nights is quintessentially British and seasonal. Ingredients are sourced locally and are presented in a skilled, unfussy way.

To kick off proceedings we were served a delicious salad of "Brown Shrimp, Potato and Samphire". The tiny brown shrimps worked well with the tart capers, the soft waxy potatoes and the salty samphire which tasted of the sea. The combination of flavours and textures was well thought out, and the presentation was beautiful.

The second course was "Braised Duck Leg with White Beans and Tarragon Aioli" - the meat was perfectly cooked, served on a bed of white beans and bacon, braised in fino sherry, with sage and watercress. I loved the understated sophistication of this dish and the delicious combination of tarragon and duck.

As a palate cleanser, we had a refreshing "Raspberry Sorbet" served with a vodka shot from Sacred Micro Distillery in Highgate.

For dessert, we were served a surprisingly creamy but light "Blackberry Fool". This was accompanied by their own home made shortbread which was buttery and deliciously crumbly.

The People

Claire Roberson and Jonathan Woolway have both had many years experience working in restaurants across the UK. After university, Claire cooked at a number of restaurants and bars for seven years before coming to London and starting a career in Architecture and Design.

Claire's passion for cooking and sharing good food with friends motivated her to start her own supper club in 2009 "Green Onions" in her former flat in Hackney. Green Onions Supper Club was a great success until Claire's cooking partner decided to move abroad and prompt a new partnership and the opening of Shacklewell Nights.

Jonathan is from Swansea and has also worked in various restaurants in Wales and London. He currently works at one of the top restaurants in the country specialising in British cuisine, also listed as one of S. Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants in the World in 2010.

(Picture Courtesy of Debbie of Vintage Macaroon)
Shacklewell Nights attracts a mostly young, professional crowd. There was a very lively, party atmosphere, with diners mingling and talking to one another. On the evening I visited, I was accompanied by Dr G and Debbie of Vintage Macaroon, and also had the pleasure of meeting and sharing the table with celebrity chef Gizzie Erskine (gorgeous and incredibly friendly), her husband Martin, and Donald, a former sommelier who kindly shared his wines with us.

The Drinks

Shacklewell Nights is BYO and no corkage is levied. On the evening I visited, Casa Leal supplied the aperitif (expertly chosen by The Wine Sleuth), a deliciously fresh and light 09 Vinho Verde from Arca Nova.

Other Stuff

To find out more and to book, visit their website here. The new Hidden Dining dates at Shacklewell Nights are 19th and 20th November 2010.

Cost: minimum donation of £35 per person.

Likes: fantastic seasonal British food to rival many top restaurants in town, excellent value, and stunning location.

Dislikes: none.

Verdict: one of the best nights out I have had in a long time, with the most delicious, seasonal British food cooked with much skill and elegance. I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

Many thanks to the professional photographer Betty Bhandari who kindly allowed me to use her images in this post. For more information about Betty's photography, visit her website here

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill & Arbutus Review by Competition Winner John T

London Restaurant Festival and American Express 10-10-10

The London Restaurant Festival, which took place in October 2010, was a celebration of eating out, and designed to demonstrate the highly diverse range of restaurants in the capital, from high-profile Michelin-starred restaurants to neighbourhood bistros.

American Express 10-10-10 was a culinary event created by the partnership between the London Restaurant Festival and American Express, which took place on 10 October 2010. Ten celebrated chefs from outside London joined forces with ten of their equally renowned London peers to offer a unique collaborative menu for Sunday lunch.

Dr G and I were fortunate enough to visit Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill in Piccadilly for American Express 10-10-10. Here, chefs Richard Corrigan (Dublin born, Michelin starred since 98) and Sat Bains (who runs Sat Bains Restaurant with Rooms the only Michelin starred restaurant in Nottingham) collaborated to produce a diverse 7 course Sunday lunch menu with matching wines.

We started with a "selection of canapes" served with a glass of chilled Philipponnat Champagne Royale Reserve. These were simple but refined and the champagne a welcome aperitif.

The "Oyster Soup" served with potato mayonnaise was a vividly attractive pea green colour with a delicate foam and a fresh oyster flavour. The accompanying 09 Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc was outstandingly good with crisp acidity and minerality.

Our next course was "Scottish Langoustines" served on a bed of lightly curried chick peas and topped with crispy chicken skin. The combination of unusual flavours and textures worked well with the 09 Gruner Veltliner Satzen it was served with. This was our favourite wine, with an intensely aromatic nose, concentrated green fruit and spice on the palate, making it the perfect match to the curried dish.

After this we had "Cured salmon" served with mussel broth, parsley, dill and sea vegetables. This was visually the most striking dish but the broth lacked concentration and was overshadowed by the stronger flavours of the previous dish. A classic 09 Chablis Billaud-Simon accompanied.

The main course was "Poached wild turbot with oxtail jus" served with sautéed ceps and a raviolo filled with oxtail meat. We enjoyed this upmarket surf and turf, and felt that the delicate fish counterbalanced the rich oxtail meat, and the 08 Pinot Noir Delta Vineyards it was matched with.

For dessert we had "Chocolate mousse" with cumin caramel and coriander yoghurt. This was a surprisingly good dessert with the spices bringing out the rich chocolate flavours of the mousse. It was served with a deliciously concentrated, rich, sweet 09 Passito di Pantelleria from Sicily. This wine is made from grapes that have been sun dried to concentrate the juice in an ancient process also used to create Tuscan Vin Santo.

To finish off our glass of Passito, we were served "Banyuls soaked crozier blue" and Bentley's oatcakes.

Cost: £125 per person including 7 courses and matching wines.

Likes: excellent wine choices by the sommelier Johannsen, fine cooking particularly demonstrated by the starters, elegant restaurant, attentive service.

Dislikes: at this price level I would have expected the earth to move! It didn't.

Verdict: nice food, great wines, stellar prices. One of the best food and wine pairing meals I can recall. Recommended for special occasions, business lunches and discounted offers.

The London Foodie was a guest of American Express

On the same day, John T (the lucky winner of the competition in this blog) enjoyed a sumptuous meal at Arbutus with a friend. John has kindly written to me about it, you can read his own review of this meal below.

From: john t [mailto:xxxxxxx@hotmail.com]
Sent: Monday, October 11, 2010 12:37 PM
To: Hara, Luiz
Subject: Arbutus

Hi there,

As promised, here is a quick summary of our meal.

THE MEAL WAS FABULOUS! the menu looked a lot more scary that is was - I had Pigs head as my first starter, Clare had razor clams and prawn cake. Both were amazing - very very intense flavours but well balanced and delicious.

We then went onto foies gras parfait - almost as soft as a Mr Whippy ice cream, served with fig jam and a slice of toasted Brioche served in its own wooden stand. the alternative was moules in beer which neither of us fancied.

Mains - I had braised ox cheek with dauphinoise and braised veg, (one carrot, one piece of celery!) and Clare had plaice with broad beans and lemon (too much lemon?)

We then had one of the best (and not just because it was the biggest) creme Brulees I have ever had - served with a shot of Innes and McGunn beer - I liked it, the burn hops worked with the burnt sugar, but quite a sharp contrast. Clare played safe with a sauternes!

All the wine on the list (25 white, 25 red, all very interesting) were available in 250ml carafes so great choice and great idea - we had a Gruner Vetliner and then a Santeny - first one was oxidised but sommelier was excellent and changed it immediately.

Two great double espressos, and we were done!

Service was impeccable - friendly and efficient, restaurant was nice, absolutely packed, but did not feel crowded or rushed.

The only possible downside was that it was all too rich - came out longing for a green salad - in about a weeks time!!

So how was Bentleys? Did Mr Corrigan come and speak to you?

Thanks again for such a great prize!


Thursday, 21 October 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Nahm


In anticipation of our London Cooking Club, “Thai by David Thompson” on 23rd October 2010, I thought I would try and up my game by visiting Nahm, David’s own Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Belgravia.

Opened in 2001 and housed at the discreet boutique hotel “The Halkin”, Nahm is a rather intimate restaurant – the small dining area is decorated predominantly in wood, and in lighter shades of bronze and gold. This is also the kitchen where Andy Oliver (2009 Masterchef Finalist) earns his crust, and writes candidly about it in his blog "The Cook's Broth" which I have followed for some time.

Having taken a week's full-time course at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School last year, and more recently volunteered at the kitchen of Charuwan, one of my favourite Thai restaurants in North London, I feel quite enthusiastic about this cuisine.

A Thai meal, unlike a Western one comprising of starter, main course and dessert, will ideally consist of several dishes including a relish (nahm prik), a salad, a soup, a curry and a stir-fry, grilled or deep-fried item. The balance of flavours and textures is as important in the make-up of an individual dish as it is when designing an entire meal.

Nahm's a carte la menu is divided into these five categories - dishes can be ordered individually or as part of a "Nahm Arharn", a traditional Thai meal - a set meal where a dish from each category can be chosen and shared with another diner for £60 per person. Unless you request otherwise, all five dishes will be brought to your table at once. I requested to start with the salad and soup, and have these followed by the curry, relish and grilled seafood.

In retrospect, I think this was a mistake as the cooling salad would have been the perfect accompaniment to the hot green curry. In addition, Thai dishes are not normally served piping hot; with many eaten at room temperature.

The first hors d'oeuvres on the evening we visited were “Ma Hor” - small pieces of pineapple and segments of mandarin topped with a delicious mixture of minced pork, chicken and prawn paste. They had a lovely balance of sweet (palm sugar), nutty (roast peanuts) and salty (fish sauce) against the slightly sour fruit and were the perfect match to the cocktails Dr G and I ordered.

The cocktail list is comprehensive but we settled on a “Jasmine Martini” @ £12 (Jasmin-infused Brannvin vodka, shaken with Cointreau and Acacia honey) and a “Bramble” @ £12 (Millers Gin with crème de mures and lemon juice served with crushed ice).

The second hors d'oeuvres were the most delectable and fine “Coconut cupcakes with red curry of crab” @ £14.50, the pastry was very delicate while the crab in red curry whet the appetite.

The “Scottish scallop salad with coconut, asian citron and lemongrass” @ £24 was also very good - it tasted refreshing with a combination of meaty scallops, lemongrass and other herbs. It had been dressed in a coconut and citric sauce and topped with fine shreds of kaffir lime leaves and bitter orange.

The star of the evening was in my opinion the “Double steamed oxtail soup with mooli and asian celery" @ £10. The soup base was light but highly concentrated and bursting with flavour. Despite being a savoury soup, it had a sweet quality to it probably from the double steamed oxtail meat. The mooli (white radish) was perfectly tender and had taken on the gorgeous flavours of the broth and meat. It was a perfect bowl of soup.

Our relish of choice (nahm prik) was “Prawns and shrimp paste simmered in coconut cream, with braised mackerel and white turmeric” @ £18. This was an interesting dish and one I had not tried before despite seeing it everywhere in Thailand in many different forms. “Nahm prik” is a spicy chilli paste served with rice and a medley of vegetables or green leaves, and prepared mainly with fish paste, garlic, fresh chillies, fish sauce and lime juice. Nahm’s version had a wonderful combination of different flavours and textures and introduced a style of Thai dish I would like to learn more about.

The “Razor clams chargrilled with a southern style curry” @ £23 had some interesting flavours but were unfortunately slightly overcooked and therefore tough. The southern provinces of Thailand are predominantly Muslim and the cooking reflects this. In general, dishes tend to be heavier, rich, very hot and spicy. This dish was surprisingly light, but despite the interesting flavours, it was in my opinion our weakest choice.

A Thai meal would not be complete without a curry – the “Green curry of crispy sea bass with white turmeric and thai basil” @ £25.50 was richly flavoured, with hints of aniseed, coconut and the potent heat of the green curry. Having the crisp fish rather than the more common chicken was a nice touch and I felt it combined well with the other ingredients in the dish.

Asia is hardly a hot-spot for sophisticated desserts as we know them in the West, but having eaten silly amounts of black sticky rice pudding in Chiang Mai, I was keen to try this restaurant’s take on my favourite Thai dessert. Nahm’s “Black sticky rice with coconut cream and corn served with banana fritter” @ £12.50 was however disappointing. The black rice and the coconut base were bland and the accompanying crispy batter was also tasteless and at odds with the dish.

The “Steamed pumpkin filled with coconut custard” @ £12.50 was fortunately a much better choice. I enjoyed the combination of soft pumpkin and coconut custard and felt it worked very well together. This is one of the recipes that we will be cooking at our London Cooking Club on 23rd October 2010, and I cannot wait to try it again.

Twelve diners, mostly readers of this blog, will be cooking recipes from David Thompson's Thai Food and Thai Street Food cookery books at my home in Islington as part of our monthly cooking club. For more information, please see the London Cooking Club page.

Cost: £60 per person not including drinks or service. I believe this to be good value - the set menu priced at £60 per person includes two hors d'oeuvres (ma hor + coconut cupcakes with crab) + 5 other savoury courses (salad + soup + relish + curry + stir-fry + rice) + a dessert of choice. The London Foodie was a guest of Nahm.

Likes: the double steamed oxtail soup was outstanding, and I also highly recommend the scallops with lemongrass salad. The cocktails list is well thought out.

Dislikes: expensive wine list with few items below the £30 mark.

Verdict: undoubtedly one of the finest Thai meals I have ever eaten. The oxtail soup alone warrants my return. Intimate restaurant with efficient, friendly service. Very highly recommended.

Nahm on Urbanspoon

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