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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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Monday, 30 May 2011

The London Foodie Goes to France - Crillon le Brave

If you close your eyes and imagine Provence, you might well think of a landscape of rolling hills, sleepy villages with ancient stone houses, long sunny days and lavender fields. In fact, a place very much like Crillon le Brave.

The village's Hotel, set in a tiny hill-top village at the foot of Mont Ventoux, is fashioned from a sequence of 7 houses purchased and restored in exemplary taste. With a heated outdoor pool, fine restaurant and stunning views over olive groves and vineyards, it is a rather special place to spend a few days.

Co-owned by a Canadian (Peter Chittick) and his British business partner (Craig Miller), the hotel started out as a single house (Maison Roche) which was converted in 1989. Over the last 22 years, the pair have purchased and renovated a further six houses, each almost touching the next, to create an exclusive hotel complex.

I have been to the south of France a couple of times, but could never understand what the fuss was about from my trips in Nice and Cannes. The stunning scenery and landscapes of Provence are, of course, not to be found in the cities, but the rural areas around the Ventoux have some of the best, as I discovered on this trip. This being the start of a fairly lengthy wine tasting and purchasing trip, Dr G and I made our way from London by car, arriving in a respectable 11 hours door to door.

Our suite was huge, and tastefully decorated in Provençal style. With a Bose radio in each room, as well as flat screen TV and a power shower, the facilities were excellent. These paled almost into insignificance however, compared with the stunning views from the windows - I don't recall ever switching the TV on!

The village is tiny, and you can walk around the whole place in 20 minutes. However, it is surrounded by some of the great wine regions of the south, including Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Dr G and I had plans to visit some of these during our stay, as well as markets and some cycling in the region, but in the end, the heated swimming pool was a bigger draw, and that is where we spent most of the next two days, with an endless supply of chilled Provençal rosé. We also had a delicious burger with goats cheese at the poolside.

The hotel has a brasserie, and also a more formal restaurant where we dined on our first night. Headed by Irish chef John Ellis, it uses local seasonal ingredients cooked simply to produce food which is unfussy but deliciously flavoursome.

On our visit, Dr G and I kicked off with John's duck liver foie gras, dried apricot jam and walnut bread @ €24 and regional cured ham with pine kernels @ €17. The foie gras was sweet and creamy, and stuffed with apricot. Despite my fondness for the fruit, I thought that serving this with apricot jam overpowered the delicate flavour of the foie gras.

The Camargue bull fillet served with fondant potato, onion confit and a deliciously concentrated red wine jus @ €35 was rich and tender. The meat was perfectly cooked, and went very nicely with the 2005 Vacqueyras from Seigneur de Lauris recommended by the head sommelier Cedric.

The outstanding main course however was the roasted monkfish tail with red peppers @ €28. This was an exemplary Provençal dish, with firm flesh soaking up the delicious flavours of local olive oil and red peppers. The flavours and texture were reminiscent of delicate baccalá, perfectly accompanied by a floral 2009 Viognier, with refreshing acidity, from Domaine du Tix, Vaucluse.

For dessert, we had wafer thin apple tart and caramel sauce @ €13, and passion fruit parfait with strawberry and champagne consommé @ €13. These were light, beautifully presented and well worth the calories!

Breakfast at Hotel Crillon le Brave is also quite an event. A very generous buffet of crusty breads, local cheeses, hams and fruit is available with freshly squeezed juices, fine coffee and a huge stock of British and international newspapers each day.

Breakfast is served, except during winter, on the terrace overlooking stunning views of the swimming pool and Mont Ventoux. The views were so exquisite that when I twitted an image of it, I was messaged then unfollowed by a disgruntled reader!

The hotel runs a number of special events throughout the year. For 2011, these include "Vendages" (29th September to 2nd October) - a three-night trip including the grape harvest and wine tasting at nearby renowned vineyard Chateau Pesquié. At €1,300 for 2 people full-board, this is very good value for a hotel of this standard.

If Bacchanalian pleasures are not your thing, other tempting options include the "truffle and wine weekends" (3 nights, starting on 10th or 24th November @ €1,130 full board for two people) and the week-long "cooking in Provence" trips (6 nights, starting on 9th or 23rd October @ €2,900 per person). You can read more about these special events here, or see Gourmet Chick or Greedy Diva's accounts of their stay and truffle hunting experiences here and here.

The hotel is a popular venue for weddings, with a picturesque village church just a few metres away. Wedding parties are required to book the entire hotel for the occasion (with a capacity of around 70 people, @€50,000 for accommodation and food from Friday to Sunday). It would be hard to think of a more stunning place to tie the knot.

After two lovely days at the Hotel Crillon le Brave, we were sorry to leave, but looked forward to joining the Dulwich Wine Society for their wine trip 100 miles further north at Tain L'Hermitage in the Northern Rhone. En-route, we stopped off in Vacqueyras to visit a wine producer (we chose L'Oustau des Lecques) and buy a few bottles of wine. We arrived unannounced, and although the owner's wife didn't speak much English, she was very welcoming and opened a few bottles for us to try.

Bedrooms at Hotel Crillon le Brave range in price from €250 to €510 per room per night (depending on the size, view and time of year) and suites go from €360 to €780 per room per night. These are clearly not budget prices, but having stayed there, I think they represent good value for money for such an exceptional experience. I cannot wait to return!

The London Foodie was a guest of Crillon le Brave

Thursday, 26 May 2011

London Cooking Club - The Best of British with Guest Chef David Gillott

This month we had a very special London Cooking Club event to celebrate the Best of British food and wine. We had the pleasure of welcoming chef David Gillott, who devised a fantastic British menu for the occasion, and assisted us throughout the evening with the preparation of the dishes as well as giving us a cookery demonstration.

David trained at Bournemouth College, completing the Specialised Chef Course, graduating with distinction. He worked at various London locations including The Greenhouse and One Lombard Street, both of which have Michelin-Stars.

After years running his own catering company in London (David Gillott Private Chef), David is now moving to Surrey and expanding his business by opening Four Gables Fine Dining.

His new company specialises in fine dining, weddings and other events. Having had first-hand experience of David's cooking and professionalism throughout the months we took to organise the event, Four Gables Fine Dining is top of my list should I need to hire caterers.

London Cooking Club
14th May 2011
The Best of British
With Chef David Gillott



Mini Yorkshire Puddings with Roast Beef - Gina W.

Rillette of Salmon with Melba toast - Hugh and Liz

Traditional Potted Shrimps - May C.


Dressed Crab - Rosemary

Watercress Soup - Hugh and Liz


Kedgeree - Libbie

Jerusalem Artichoke Pithivier - Hana I.

Dr G's Fillet of Beef Wellington - Dr G and Luiz


English Garden Salad - Su-Lin

Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce - Hugh and Liz


Baked Egg and Vanilla Custard - Jo

Rhubarb Fool with Lemongrass and White Chocolate - David Gillott

 To find out more about this event, read Jo's beautiful and very eloquent review at the Afternoon Tease website here.

All the recipes for this event were David's with the exception of the Beef Wellington which is Dr G's all time "signature dish". As usual, we had a fantastic group of people, a mix of new and regular faces, and we had a great time cooking, drinking and talking.

If you would like to join us at one of our events, visit the London Cooking Club page on this site for more information. There are no fees to participate in any of our London Cooking Club events. Altenatively, you can subscribe to The London Foodie for updates via e-mail or RSS and be the first to learn when new dates are released.

Many thanks to David Gillott for making this such a special evening and to all members for their contribution and great company.

Dr G's Fillet of Beef Wellington
(Serves 8)

This is Dr G's signature dish, and one that we love making for special occasions. This recipe is not nearly as hard as it seems and can be prepared well in advance, making it perfect for dinners with friends or family. Don't be put off by the addition of pancakes in this recipe, these will ensure that the pastry will not get soggy as the dish is baked, and I really recommend using them even if you purchase them ready-made as we do. We like serving it with a creamy mushroom sauce poured over the meat as it is cut.



25g butter
1.6kg piece fillet of beef (see note 1)

Mushroom Mixture:

15g dried porcini mushrooms
25g butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
350g large flat mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper


375g ready-made "All Butter" puff pastry
A few fine, large pancakes - optional (see note 2)
1 large egg beaten
Thyme sprigs to garnish
Served with Creamy Mushroom and Wine Sauce (see note 4)


1. Heat the butter in a frying pan. Once foaming, add the beef and brown all over. Place on a grid over a roasting tin and roast at 220°C for 20 minutes; leave to cool.

2. Soak the dried porcini in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. Keep the soaking liquid (ensure there is no grit in it, if there is, pass it through a fine muslin).

3. Melt the butter in a pan, add the shallots and fry for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Stir in all the mushrooms, and add a 1/3 of the soaking liquid. Cook for 5 min until dry. Add the thyme, season, and let cool.

4. Roll out a quarter of the pastry to a rectangle 2.5cm larger than the beef, this will be used as a base for the meat. Prick with a fork and bake at 220°C for 10-12 min until crisp and golden. Allow to cool, then trim to the size of the beef and place on a baking sheet.

5. Roll out the remaining pastry to a rectangle about 30 x 40 cm. Cut a small square off each corner; keep trimmings for decorating the beef later on.

6. This is the messy bit - season the beef and spread the mushroom mixture all over it. Wrap up in the pancakes (if using, I really recommend you do!), and brush with egg. Place the meat on the cooked pastry rectangle (point 4). Wrap the uncooked pastry around the beef, tucking it under the pastry base. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

7. Make a slit in the top and brush the pastry with beaten egg. Decorate with shapes cut from the pastry trimmings; brush with egg. Bake at 220°C for 35 min for medium rare, 40-45 min for medium (see note 3). Leave to stand for 10 min before serving. Garnish with thyme and serve accompanied by the creamy mushroom sauce (see note 4).


1. Use an even-sized piece from the centre of the fillet. You may need to tie the beef at stage 1 to keep it in shape during roasting.

2. We bought Waitrose ready-made pancakes, and they worked perfectly well for this recipe.

3. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the beef; the timing in the recipe is for a piece about 10 cm (4 inches) across.

4. Recipe for Creamy Mushroom Sauce

30ml olive oil, 2 shallots or 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped, 175g button mushrooms, thickly sliced, 150g mixed wild mushrooms, thickly sliced, 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed, 150ml white wine, 200ml creme fraiche, 100ml of water ( porcini mushroom soaking liquid from Beef Wellington), Salt and pepper.

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the shallots and cook gently for 10 min. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook over a high heat for 4-5 min until tender and all the moisture has been driven off. 2. Pour on the wine, bring to the boil and bubble until reduced by half. 3. Add the creme fraiche, soaking liquid and seasoning. Bring to the boil and bubble for 5 min or until the liquid is slightly thickened and syrupy. Add the thyme, adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

London Restaurant Reviews - Raízes Brazilian Restaurant

("roots" in Portuguese) is a Brazilian restaurant and petiscos (tapas) bar in London's East End. Situated at the less trendy end of Hackney Road but a stone's throw from Viajante in Bethnal Green, this lively Brazilian venue attracts a loyal crowd of ex-pats for its honest, homemade-style Brazilian dishes and well priced caipirinhas.

The place is nearly always packed at the weekends when Brazilian music is played live, and service is invariably friendly if somewhat haphazard at busy times. Dr G and I have eaten at Raízes a number of times, normally opting for a selection of tapas and beer. On this occasion, we were meeting a group of Brazilian and British friends and so we decided to try some of the main courses on the menu in addition to the usual pestiscos.

To get started, we ordered a portion of Torresmo @ £6. This is one of my favourite Brazilian snacks – chunky pieces of pork belly fried slowly until very crisp. It is time consuming and messy to prepare but if well made it tastes delicious. Raízes' version however was disappointing, as the pieces of pork belly were too finely cut, probably to speed up cooking time, leaving them more akin to fried lardons than Brazilian torresmos.

Deep-fried Mandioca @ £5.30 is another favourite. Cooked as fat chips, Raízes' was freshly cooked and fried (the frozen variety is dry and not nearly as good), and tasted very good. I make this at home often, and it is also time-consuming to prepare but tastes infinitely more interesting than potato chips.

Despite its name Calabresa @ £5.40 is a type of Brazilian sausage with a strong smokey flavour and firm texture. It is often barbecued or cut into thin slices and fried with plenty of onions as in Raízes' version. It is also delicious served with toasted cassava flour (a staple in Brazilian cuisine normally eaten as part of a Feijoada meal) and is ubiquitous in the many botecos (bars) of São Paulo and Rio.

We also ordered a portion of Polenta Frita @ £4.50. Polenta is very popular in Brazil, but unlike in Italy where it is normally served soft as an accompaniment to meats, in Brazil we usually eat it hard and deep-fried like potato chips. Polenta chips go so well with other foods or on their own with cold beer and are a cinch to prepare. 

To make polenta chips, prepare the polenta according to packet instructions but use less water so that it cooks to a harder consistency. I normally add cheddar and parmesan cheese to jazz it up a bit, and herbs, chillies and other flavourings can also be added. Place the wet mixture in a shallow baking tray, let it cool to a solid block, cut it up, and deep fry it for a few minutes until golden.

Other popular Brazilian petiscos and street food that are featured on the menu but which we were not able try on this occasion included Coxinha @ £2.30 (deep-fried potato pastry filled with shredded chicken), Pão de Queijo @ £3 (portion of 6 cheese bread rolls) and Coração de Galinha @ £5.40 (fried chicken hearts).

Main dishes on Raízes’ menu are the kind of dishes that Brazilians eat every day at home, but are also readily available at bars, cafés or botecos  throughout Brazil. I ordered a Contra Filé á Cavalo (220g) @ £10.70 - grilled Brazilian sirloin steak served with rice, beans and fried egg. I enjoyed this dish, with its tender, flavoursome meat. The beans were also well cooked and seasoned, just as I remember having in São Paulo.

The Feijoada @ £9 was also excellent. This is Brazil's national dish and is a pork and black bean stew served with rice, toasted cassava flour, sautéed greens and orange slices. The beans had been slowly stewed with plenty of cured pork taking on a rich, intense flavour. At £9, this is also an excellent value choice.

Espeto Misto @ £10.80 was a simple but well-executed barbecued skewer of chicken breast, sausage and rump steak served with rice, chips and toasted cassava flour. An improvement to this dish would be to have it served with freshly-made (rather than frozen) chips.

Less successful dishes in my opinion were the Vaca Atolada @ £9.30 - slow-cooked beef ribs cooked with cassava, and served with rice and a potato salad  which was slightly bland, and Filé á Parmegiana @ £9.90 - oven baked Brazilian rump steak in breadcrumbs topped with tomato sauce and cheese, served with rice, salad and chips. The steak was thinly cut, rather dry, and was not particularly flavoursome. It was also coated in too thick a layer of breadcrumbs, and topped with an unexciting, bog-standard tomato sauce.

To accompany our petiscos we ordered a few pints of Stella on draught @ £3 per pint as well as some Caipirinhas @ £5.30. The caipirinhas were well made (neither too sharp nor too sweet) but slightly on the weak side. With the main courses, we ordered a bottle of 2009 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon @ £17.60 from Vale dos Vinhedos in Brazil. This is an entry level Miolo wine, and was fruity, easy drinking and uncomplicated.

Cost: £188 for 6 people or just over £30 per head including drinks.

Likes: well priced food and drinks menu, home-cooking style dishes, good selection of petiscos, lively ambiance, good feijoada, fried mandioca/cassava, friendly staff, live Brazilian music at weekends.

Dislikes: main courses were a hit-and-miss affair, quality of some of the meats needs to be considered, presentation of dishes, particularly mains, can be improved.

Verdict: Home-cooking style Brazilian food at good prices, friendly service, and a good East London venue for honest, well made petiscos (Brazilian tapas) and caipirinhas. Recommended.

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