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Monday 21 November 2011

London Restaurant Festival 2011 - My Round-Up of this Year's Highlights

The London Restaurant Festival ran from 3rd to 17th October this year. The third year it has run, in my opinion, it was also the best Festival we had to date. It has grown from previous years and is now a real celebration of what British restaurants have to offer.

Along with the 'main menu' events involving well-known and established restaurants, the 'side dishes'  were an opportunity for new and less well-known restaurants to introduce themselves to a wider audience.  In the latter category, there were some great finds and bargains to be had.  In addition to this, it was an excellent opportunity to experience the cooking of top Michelin-starred chefs from different parts of the UK in London at affordable prices, including Sat Bains and Nathan Outlaw to name just a couple who cooked at Fortnum & Mason's.

If you missed the Festival this year, I urge you to keep your eyes peeled for the 2012 event.  Below is a round-up of some of my favourite events this year. 

Eat Film at The Covent Garden Hotel

Sponsored by San Pellegrino, this was an intimate screening of the film 'Waitress' at the Covent Garden Hotel (part of the The FirmdaleGroup of Hotels also including Soho Hotel and Charlotte Street Hotel). The film was chosen by special guest and industry insider Laura Santtini, who introduced the film.  The evening, priced at £55 per person, started with a Laurent Perrier Champagne reception, the film viewing itself, followed by a delicious three-course meal in the hotel’s restaurant, Brasserie Max.

The film was entertaining, cute, mainly centred around food, and the trials and tribulations of three waitresses working in a pie cafe in the USA. The food that followed in Brasserie Max, was delicious, and the full menu which was inspired by the film, is shown below.

Shaved fennel, endive, pink grapefruit and apple salad, mint

Cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar rubbed “chauvinistic” pig slow roasted with sweet potato gratin and watercress

Wishing on a chocolate moon pie

I thoroughly enjoyed this night out, and discovered then that Covent Garden Hotel hosts a regular weekly Saturday night film club, to which I will return. This includes either afternoon tea or a two course dinner with a glass of premium wine and the movie for £35 per person, with films starting at 8pm.  Movies vary from classics to latest releases.  Forthcoming films include Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' on 26th November, 'It's a Wonderful Life' on 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th December, 'The Help' on 14th January, to name just a few.  For a full listing and booking details, click here.

Brasserie Max (Covent Garden Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Andaz Catch - Seafood Workshop

Led by Martin Scholz, Head Chef of Andaz Hotel's renowned seafood restaurant Catch (which I have previously reviewed here), this was a daytime event starting at 7am in the hotel's lobby.  From there, we were taken by coach to Billingsgate Fish Market for a guided tour, where Martin introduced us to seafood suppliers and taught us how to select seafood.  

After the tour, we were taken back to the hotel, where together with Martin and his sous-chef, we cooked a three-course lunch.  This was a hands-on cookery class, in a state of the art cookery demonstration and events suite which the hotel has recently built, and which looks stunning.

The menu was delicious, and recipes were also provided.  Below, you can see what we cooked on the day.


Risotto with Chorizo, pan-fried Cod and baby squid filled with tapenade with Moroccan black olives

Crème Brulée
Andaz Hotel's Sommelier served a magnificent array of wines to match our meal, starting with Champagne, and moving on to a selection of white wines such as a '10 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Rapel Valley, an '09 Riesling from Mosel, and an '80 Bual Madeira Wine.  We also had an '08 St Aubin, an '05 Chateau Haura Graves with the fish.  To accompany dessert, we enjoyed an '83 Chateau Climens 1er Cru Sauternes-Barsac and a Chateau Yquem '98 Sauternes (legendary wine, reputedly the most expensive in the world).  We finished a magnificent lunch with coffee and Cognac.

The workshop ran from 7.45am to 2.00pm and cost in my opinion a bargain price of £70 per person. Judging by my experience, should Andaz Hotel run this workshop again, I could not recommend it highly enough.  

For more information about Andaz Hotel's latest events, visit their website here.

Catch & Champagne Bar on Urbanspoon

Brit-Dish at The Corner Room

In association with American Express, the official sponsors of London Restaurant Festival, Brit-Dish was one of the festival's main events, at which renowned chefs reinterpreted some of the most-loved British national dishes.

I am a great supporter of Nuno Mendes' cooking, which I have reviewed at The Loft Project in 2009 (here) and at Viajante in 2010 (here).  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in the Brit-Dish event with my friend Carly of Greedy Diva, at Nuno's new venture, The Corner Room.

Nuno's cooking divides opinions - you may love or hate it, but you will never be indifferent to it.  Luckily in my case, I can't get enough of it.  His food is inspiring in its creativity, and thought-provoking.  His use of ingredients and flavour combinations is highly sophisticated, as his re-interpretation of humble British dishes in the menu below demonstrated.

Prawn Cocktail

Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding

Apple Crumble
A man who can make prawn cocktail, roast beef and apple crumble taste and look as exquisite as this clearly deserves to be taken notice of.  His new restaurant, The Corner Room, is housed in a luxury hotel occupying the former Bethnal Green Town Hall, where Viajante is also situated. It is a single room furnished simply but stylishly with high white-tiled walls, stripped wood flooring and panelling, vintage lighting and plain wooden tables.  The menu changes daily, and prices are very reasonable.  No bookings are taken. Very highly recommended.

Corner Room on Urbanspoon

Modern Market Menu at One Aldwych

Tony Fleming put together a special menu for London Restaurant Festival, called the Modern Market Menu. This involved dining around the hotel, each course served in a different location within One Aldwych Hotel, the independent, award-winning luxury 5-star hotel in the heart of London's Covent Garden.

Starting at the Lobby Bar, the evening kicked off with a glass of Ridgeview's Bloomsbury Cuvée Merret and a tasting of oysters prepared in four different ways - natural with shallot vinegar and tabasco, jellied with watercress, deep fried with tartar sauce and chips, and angels on horseback. I enjoyed the buzzing atmosphere at the bar, with guests and non-guests mingling over cocktails and delectable bar-snacks.

We then moved down to the hotel's main Axis Restaurant for roast haunch of venison and caramelised root vegetable purée with chestnut jus. This was impeccable, and moreover was served with a magnificent individual shepherd's pie. The restaurant was very elegant, and the food and service excellent.  I would definitely like to return.

For dessert, we headed up to the mezzanine Indigo Restaurant for a blackberry, elderberry and sloe gin jelly, clotted cream ice cream and blackberry mousse. This was outstandingly good - not only were the flavours of the mousse, jelly and ice cream delicious, but there was an excellent contrast of textures imparted by a crisp caramel coating for the blackberries, and a peanut brittle between the jelly and mousse.

The Festival was a great eye-opener for me, showing me that not only are there some great restaurants at One Aldwych, but also that the hotel offers a range of interesting foodie experiences.  The Tasting Club includes a variety of activities, such as cookery classes, Axis Seasonal Dishes - a 12-month calendar of seasonal dishes by head chef Tony Fleming's 'Food Hero' suppliers, and "Moet Movies"  each weekend, with a glass of champagne, a movie, popcorn and a three course dinner all for £42.50 per head. There is also a regular 'Ten after Ten' option of a late night or post-theatre sweet fix at Indigo, after 10pm, for a choice of dessert with a glass of dessert wine for £10 per person.

I thoroughly enjoyed the food in all the restaurants in One Aldwych, and thought the lobby bar was a great place for a cocktail or glass of wine before or after dinner.  The Moet Movies beckon.  I cannot wait to return.

For more information on Tony Fleming's seasonal dishes, click here .

For a full listing of Moet Movies, click here.

Axis on Urbanspoon

Indigo on Urbanspoon

Nathan Outlaw at Fortnum and Mason

As part of the festival celebrations, Fortnum & Mason hosted a Culinary Carnival where guests had the opportunity to sample dishes by some of the UK’s best loved chefs, some Michelin-starred, in The Gallery Restaurant. Menus were created by the guest chefs reflecting their signature style, featuring the pick of the season’s crop and regional produce from the British Isles.

On the evening of my visit, Nathan Outlaw was the guest chef.  Head-chef of The St Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, Outlaw was awarded 2 Michelin Stars in 2011, and his eponymous restaurant has also been named this year as the Best Seafood Restaurant in the UK by The Good Food Guide.

At this event at Fortnum & Mason, the two-course lunch was priced at £27.00, or £33.00 for 3 courses, with a three course dinner at £53.00.  The tasting menu at his restaurant, in contrast, is priced at £75 per person, so this represented, on the face of it, good value without a many hours' slog down to Cornwall.

The dishes we sampled on our visit are shown below.

Crispy Porthilly Oyster, Oyster Mayonnaise, Pickled Cucumber Salad

Beetroot Cured Salmon, Horseradish Cream and Treacle Bread

Roast Scallop, Herb Emulsion, Bacon and Onion Bread

Brill, English Mustard Dressing, Char grilled Leeks and Brown Shrimps

Gurnard, Squid, Fennel Salami and Orange Salad

Lemon Meringue Trifle

Espresso Custard Tart, Pistachio Ice Cream

Selection of Cornish Cheeses with Pickled Celery, Fig and Apple Chutney, Sesame and Poppy Seed Crackers
The food was exceptionally good, particularly the scallops, gurnard and lemon meringue.  I believe this represented exceptionally good value, considering the quality of fish and seafood, in a four-course dinner cooked by a multi award-winning chef.

Friday 18 November 2011

London Restaurant Reviews - Century Club Brasserie (Members Club Dining)

Many is the time I have strolled past the
Century Club's front door on Shaftesbury Avenue without realising it was there, surrounded as it is by Chinese restaurants, currency exchanges and phone unlocking merchants. I was intrigued to have the opportunity to visit and review its brasserie a little while ago, and was surprised by its cool elegance amidst the hectic surrounds of that area between Soho and Chinatown. Increasing numbers of clubs are opening their restaurants to non-members, especially those in areas like Soho and the City where there are many other dining options for members. Since clubs need to provide restaurants for their members, they can easily become a financial drain if they are not being used, and it is this that drives the trend.

I don't know what your thoughts are about members clubs, but personally I can't imagine ever signing up to one. I have several friends who have though, including at Century, and I can see some advantages in doing so. If you can afford the membership fees and have members as friends who can recommend you, clubs like Century offer you a guaranteed seat at a plush Central London watering hole (a rarity these days) without the risk of some drunken 16-year old vomiting all over your shoes, or at least so I would hope! In addition, members in certain businesses might find them good places to entertain clients.

This is not however a review of the Century Club, but of its brasserie. The Century Club currently has a full member's list, and indeed a long waiting list for new members. Members are mostly people working in media, film and theatre. It has the most discrete entrance imaginable, and is spread over  several floors, the top being a very attractive open air terrace bar. I was asked not to take any pictures of any of the club rooms or members, and indeed was only allowed to photograph the food. The two images of the restaurant in this post have kindly been provided by Century Club.

The manager, Sophie, welcomed us on the terrace and gave us a quick tour of the club's many rooms. We were soon seated at the brasserie, a spacious and casual room with wooden flooring and shutters, fresh cut flowers and discrete lighting.

Image Courtesy of Century Club Brasserie

Glancing through the menu, I was surprised to see how affordable many of the dishes were considering the venue, with starters between £7.50 and £13.50, and mains from £11.50 to £19.95. All the desserts were priced at £6.25. This works out at £30-£35 for a three course meal from the a la carte menu, which is not bad for the West End. Better still are the fixed priced options @ £15.50 and £19.50 for two or three courses, and the pre-theatre supper (chef's choice) @ £13.50 and £15.50 served between 5:00 and 6:30pm.

Image Courtesy of Century Club Brasserie

Dr G and I shared our starters and main courses. We started with the Steak Tartare @ £9.50 (which can also be served as a main course with French fries @ £18), and the Pan-Fried Foie Gras, Grapes and Balsamic @ £10.95. We enjoyed the generous portion of perfectly cooked foie gras, but we both agreed that the steak tartare was among the best we could recall eating in London. The meat was ultra-fresh, hand chopped and beautifully seasoned.

For our main course, we shared a Cote de Boeuf with Triple Cooked Chips @ £35 (for two people). One of my favourite cuts of beef, the meat was succulent and tender, deliciously charred on the outside yet bloody inside, and had the intensity of flavour expected of well-hung beef cooked on the bone. A real winner.

To accompany our beef, we had a lovely bottle of 2008 Massaya Classic, a Lebanese wine from Bekka Valley at £28. This tasted a little young, but had generous red berry fruit flavours and structure to stand up to the meat. House wines start at £18 with many options around the £25 mark.

To round off dinner, Dr G went for the Varlhona Chocolate Mousse and Honeycomb Ice Cream @ £6.25, while I opted for the Pear Tart Tatin with Creme Fraiche @ £6.25. We agreed that the presentation of both showed great finesse, and were a fitting conclusion to our meal.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal on that occasion. The Century Club Brasserie is on my radar whenever I crave a fine steak tartare or cote de boeuf in the West End.

Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Century Club Brasserie. I estimate that a three course meal would cost around £30 to £35 (excl. drinks). In my opinion this is good value considering the location, venue and quality of food.

Likes: The steak tartare is one of the best I have eaten. The cote de boeuf was magnificent. Impeccable service. Plush surroundings and excellent location. Reasonably priced a la carte menu with good value pre-theatre and fixed price menus.

Dislikes: I cannot fault the food and service that we experienced that evening, and while members would probably disagree with me I feel that non-member diners should be allowed access to the roof top bar at the end of their meal. Currently, non-member diners are only allowed to use the brasserie.

Verdict: Top quality French brasserie nosh in ultra-central location at reasonable prices. Impeccable service, good wine list, plush surroundings, and possibly the best steak tartare in London. Highly recommended.

Century Club Brasserie on Urbanspoon
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