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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, 30 January 2011

Britain’s Greatest Gourmet

Britain’s Greatest Gourmet

Britain’s Greatest Gourmet is a new competition which sets out to find the country’s top foodie.

Could this be you?

Do you know when certain foods are in season?

Or where bouillabaisse originates from?

Can you identify a shucking knife from other knives?

The BBC is looking for enthusiastic contestants for various dates up to and including 16th February to take part in run-throughs at BBC Television Centre in London. These would not be broadcast, but if they are a success we are hoping to make a series for BBC 2. The BBC would pay you £50 for the day and need you for a maximum of four hours.

For more information and an application form contact:

Sarah Collins on sarah.collins2@bbc.co.uk or 0208 576 774

Friday, 14 January 2011

London Restaurant Reviews - Quilon

Fine Dining Indian Restaurant in Central London

Why is good, authentic Indian food so difficult to find in the UK? A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Goa and had the most fantastic food there. It was fresh, beautifully spiced and flavoursome. It gave a glimpse of what Indian cuisine could deliver but also made me realise what a pale imitation is so much of the food we get in Indian restaurants across London. 
Since that trip to Goa, I have never found a restaurant back home that has lived up to the memory of those wonderful meals. It is not for the want of trying, and I have been looking ever since...

Quilon, on Buckingham Gate, serves South West Coastal Indian dishes made by head chef Sriram Vishwanathan Aylur. Sriram describes his food as progressive, and having looked at my lunch menu, I could see what he meant judging by the unorthodox ingredients in his cooking (black cod comes to mind!). He gained the restaurant its first Michelin Star in 2008, which he has retained to this day.

The restaurant's decor appears somewhat at odds with its elevated culinary status. Something of an '80s throw-back, the combination of salmon coloured furniture, with cobalt blue plant pots sticking out from the mirrors, and rattan chairs, made it look sadly like a Travelodge breakfast room.

With gaze averted, we started on the intriguing menu with gusto. Mini poppadoms were brought to our table with chutneys of tomato and coconut. Lightly spiced, these were sweet and appetising, making me rather hungry.

Next, Dr G and I shared a medley of starters including a "vegetarian fried cake" of lotus stem and soya bean served with a mango and plum sauce, and "slow roasted lamb shank" which was particularly good, and flavoured with fennel and mint. There were also "crab cakes" with curry leaves, ginger, and green chillies and a "grilled scallop" with small pieces of mango and chilli. I enjoyed all of these appetizers, and was pleased with the vibrant, fresh flavours of each dish.

As a palate cleanser, we were then served a hot, slightly spiced "tomato consommé". It was full of flavour, but I found it incongruous - neither refreshing nor cleansing.

For my main dish I had to go for the "Baked Black Cod" @ £12. As a South Pacific fish, this could hardly be described as indigenous. Black cod is more commonly associated with Japan, where it is hugely popular baked with white miso. Sriram's version had a similar texture - milky and creamy, but tasted deliciously different with the various Indian spices. I really enjoyed this dish.

Another excellent main was the "Prawns Byadgi". This was a massive, succulent prawn, beautifully grilled, and flavoured with the intriguing sweetness of the byadgi chilli.

We also ordered a Mangalorean chicken curry "Kori Gassi" @ £15. This was a sensational curry, and one I don't remember having tried before. Made with a coconut milk base, the curry contained a myriad of spices including coriander, fenugreek and cumin, and also a slight tamarind sourness which balanced the richness of the coconut.

One of the best dishes was the "Crispy Okra" @ £8. The okra had been thinly sliced, battered and deep-fried. It was delicious and a great accompaniment to the fish and chicken dishes.

The "Curry Leaf and Lentil Rice" @ £3 tasted fresh and had hints of coriander and coconut.

The wine menu is a cut above any other Indian restaurant I have visited, and it is no surprise that it received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2009. Prices reflect this with the least expensive bottles starting from £21. On our visit Dr G and I went for a 2009 Sula Chenin Blanc from Nashik @ £30. An Indian wine, it had delicious floral aromas and plenty of fruit and acidity to stand up to the dishes we ate. Many of the wines are sold in half-bottles at no extra cost (£30 for a full bottle, £15 for a half bottle), encouraging diners to try different wines with each course. This is commendable.

Quilon offers a 3-course set lunch menu for £24 (available all week except Saturday), and impressive 5 or 8-course beer and food matching menus for £65 and £85 respectively. Looking at the 8-course menu, I was struck by the quality and range of beers including some of my favourites like the Belgian Chimay Red (paired with the black cod), the Alsatian Kasteel Cru Rose and the Greenwich Meantime Pale Ale (no Cobra anywhere to be seen!).

For pudding, Dr G and I had a selection of their desserts including a Goan speciality of Portuguese origins called "Bibinca and Dodhol". Bibinca was a layered-crepe style cake made of coconut milk, nutmeg and flour served with Dodhol (a sweet made from palm jaggery and cashew nuts) and vanilla ice cream.

Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Quilon. I estimate that a 3-course meal would cost around £35-£40 per person excluding drinks which I believe to be good value for food of this quality. The lunch menu is also good value at £24.

Likes: delicious, fresh, exciting Indian food with an outstanding list of wines and beers. Black cod, 5 and 8-course beer and food matching menus, central location, excellent and friendly service.

Dislikes: the decor leaves something to be desired in a restaurant of this calibre. A refurb is long overdue.

Verdict: Quilon is outstandingly good. Few Indian restaurants have impressed me as highly and I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

Quilon on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 January 2011

Mission: Find the Best Burger in London - Davy's of Regents Place (**Win a Two-for-One" Voucher**)


Isn't it nice to find good quality food where you least expect it? Euston is not exactly the epicentre of London restaurant dining, but there are some interesting surprises there. Around Drummond Street, the many South Indian vegetarian restaurants and sweet shops (Gupta's) were some of my favourite haunts when I lived in Chalk Farm in the '90s.

More recently, I visited Davy's Restaurant and Wine Bar in Regents Place at the bottom of the Euston Tower to try their burgers. Davy's is better known for its traditional wine merchants and wine bars, but has over 30 venues across London including many that serve food.

This branch of Davy's is unfavourably tucked away in a somewhat anonymous area at the foot of a huge office block. Closed at the weekends, it caters mainly to workers from the many surrounding offices, although it is not far from Tottenham Court Road.

The food menu is reassuringly short, with main courses such as charcoal-grilled rib-eye steak, fish cakes, vegetarian linguini and Cesar salad. It is the burgers though that are the mainstay of this restaurant's menu, with varied choices including wasabi tuna, venison, Thai chicken and Moroccan lamb as well as classic beef options. Beef burgers come in two sizes - 200g and 300g.

I opted for the 200g "Cheese and Bacon Burger" (Denhay cheddar and Suffolk back bacon) @9.95, while Dr G went for an "Alpine Burger" @£9.95 with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss Gruyere cheese.

The meat was flavoursome and tender, the patties were perfectly cooked medium rare as we requested, and were served in toasted ciabatta buns. Although I don't favour ciabatta for burgers finding it too hard or chewy, Davy's was just right with a yielding texture. The burgers were served with four of Amy's excellent homemade relishes.

To accompany our burgers we also had a portion of "Hand Cut Chips" @£2.95, and another of "Mac 'n' Cheese" @ £2.95. These were deliciously crisp and cheesy, and I wished I had ordered a third portion.

As would be expected from the offshoot of a wine merchant, the wine list is a cut above the usual burger chain fare. It is very reasonably priced with many options below £20. We drank a bottle of "L'Enclos du Chateau Lezongars 2002" @£25.50, a Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux - a full bodied and easy drinking wine. I was also impressed by the other items on the drinks menu, real ales, lagers and ciders, and in particular the nearly full range of Greenwich Meantime beers.

For dessert, we had a combination of tasting glasses of crème brulée and banoffee with cream which were delicious and ended the meal nicely.

**Win one of 10 Two-for-One Vouchers for Davy's Regents Place - leave a comment below with your name and e-mail address (mrblogsathotmaildotcom) by Friday, 14th January 2011, names will be randomly selected by random.org at midday.**

Thanks for entering the competition. All comments containing e-mail addresses will be contacted by Davys for their Two-for-One vouchers.

Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Davy's at a cost of around £13 per person for a burger and accompaniment (chips or macaroni cheese) but excluding drinks. Davy's is a member of Taste Card offering 50% off the food bill to members.

Likes: only Davy's branch specialising in a range of good quality burgers, delicious homemade relishes and a very well priced, comprehensive drinks list.

Dislikes: despite the central location, it is slightly difficult to find and a little out of the way.

Verdict: another excellent option for anyone finding themselves in or around north Tottenham Court Road and craving good quality burgers, chips and Greenwich Meantime beers. I will definitely return. Highly recommended.

Davy's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Preview of Wikio's January 2011 Gastronomy Blog Ranking

Wikio.co.uk - January Gastronomy Ranking

As you may know, Wikio publishes Top Blog Rankings every month on various categories including Gastronomy, Politics, Sports, to name just a few. These rankings are compiled by taking into account the number and weight of incoming links from other blogs or articles. In other words, the ranking position will depend on how well "linked" up a particular blog is within a certain category.

Lovely to see Sarah of Maison Cupcake topping the ranking for the first month of 2011, followed by Helen of Fuss Free Flavours and Hollow Leg's Lizzie.

A full listing will be published on Wikio this coming Friday.

1Maison Cupcake
2Fuss Free Flavours
3Hollow Legs
4Cheese and Biscuits
5The English Can Cook
6meemalee's kitchen
7eat like a girl
8London Eater
10Cook Sister!
12Food Stories
13The Pink Whisk
14Chocolate Log Blog
15A Slice of Cherry Pie
16Kavey Eats
17Essex Eating
18The Good Mood Food Blog
19a rather unusual chinaman
20Tinned Tomatoes

Ranking made by Wikio.co.uk

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

2010 Bloggers Christmas Lunch at The Ship Wandsworth

Just a few days before Christmas, London was completely snowed under, but 49 food bloggers and their friends braved the weather and horrific travel disruption to descend upon The Ship in Wandsworth for #bloggersxmaslunch 2010.

It was great fun organising this event with Gail of One Million Goldstars and Oisin Rogers, The Ship's manager. The Ship is on the bank of the Thames next to Wandsworth Bridge, and only a few minutes walk from either Wandsworth Town Rail or Clapham Junction stations.

A year-round location, The Ship has a large area of outdoor seating besides the Thames which must be fantastic in the summer months. During winter, the spacious conservatory is a warm and welcoming dining area, ideal for lazy Sunday lunches such as this.

The excellent menu was specially put together for us by Oisin, and its variety and quality appeared to win over the 49 diners. In addition to the delicious food, Bloody Marys were served on arrival as well as pints of beer.

Some of the lovely dishes served on the day included:

"Mini Crab Cake with Quail Eggs and Hollandaise Sauce" as an amuse bouche.

"Treacle Cured Organic Salmon, Pickled Beetroot, Butternut Squash Purée and Avruga"

"Foie Gras Terrine with Pistachio, Pear and Apple Chutney, Celery Salt and Toasted Brioche"

"Poached Ham Hock Pressed with Roast Shallots, Bury Black Pudding, Celeriac Remoulade and Spiced Kumquats"

"Roast Butternut Squash Soup, Goat’s Cheese Tortellini, White Truffle Oil" and "Roast Haunch of Venison, Herb Crust, Red Wine Risotto, Shallot Puree, Thyme Sauce"

"Honey Glazed Duck Breast, Pasty of Confit Leg, Creamed Spinach, Root Vegetable Fondants, Port Jus"

"Sautéed Turbot Supreme with Celeriac and Turnip Boulangère, Truffled Sabayon, Red Wine Reduction" and "Roast Rump of Beef with Roast Potatoes, Yorkshire Pudding, Cauliflower Cheese and Swede Mash"

"Homemade Christmas Pudding, Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream" and "Sticky Toffee Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream"

"Apple and Prune Crumble, Liquorice Ice Cream"

Wines were matched to each course and included an 09 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc by Mission Estate Winery, an 09 Beaujolais-Villages by Chateau du Chatelard and a fantastic 04 Rioja Reserva by Coto de Imaz.

It was a great event for meeting the many people behind the food blogs I read or whom I follow on Twitter. I would like to thank everyone for coming along despite the blizzard, and Oisin and Emma from The Ship. From my first contact many weeks ago to our fond farewell on the day, they worked incredibly hard to give us the best time and make the event a spectacular success.

You can read other reviews of this event at From Chopsticks 2 Steaknives, Miss Immy's London, Cooksister, One Million Goldstars,  and Fernandez and Leluu .

The Ship on Urbanspoon
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