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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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Tuesday 27 March 2012

Last Tuesdays at RIBA - Dining at The Royal Institute of British Architects

The RIBA headquarters on 66 Portland Place is unsurprisingly one of the most iconic buildings in London. Home to the Royal Institute of British Architects, it was conceived by the architect George Grey Wornum (1888 - 1957) whose design was judged the best of 3600 entries in a competition for the new RIBA headquarters. Completed in 1934, it is one of the most elegant expressions of Art Deco architecture in the City.

Unknown to many, the RIBA houses a stunning restaurant, bar and cafe which can be accessed by members and non-members alike. There are also architectural events, talks, and exhibitions as well as an extensive bookshop and library open to the public.

I was recently invited to take part in a guided tour of RIBA's latest exhibition "A Place to Call Home" which is running until the 28th April. This fascinating exhibition charts the story of the design of everyday homes in the UK. It explores the British obsession with homes and the experiments that have shaped how and where we live.

The invite coincided with "Last Tuesday" at RIBA when the Institute opens its doors after hours for everyone to enjoy. There is a wide range of special activities and events on the last Tuesday of each month at RIBA, including free guided tours, exhibitions, talks and film screenings. It is also a great opportunity for those interested in visiting RIBA's stunning Art Deco building, or simply meeting friends for a drink in the bar, or enjoying a bite to eat in the restaurant. Admission is free (some special events are charged). Visit architecture.com/programmes for full information.

After the exhibition we headed to the bar for a glass of wine and to check the available menus. There is a special menu designed for "RIBA Last Tuesday" with a selection of small plates (tapas style) which in my opinion is well priced at £3.50 per dish or 3 plates for £10. A large glass of wine (250ml) is priced at £7 and if two are purchased, the remaining bottle is given free. This works out at £14 for a bottle of wine! The restaurant also has a more substantial a la carte menu with a choice of four starters (from £5.50 to £6.50), four mains at around £18 each and four desserts priced at £5.

From the RIBA Last Tuesday menu we ordered 3 small plates including "Rillette of duck, spiced plums, and toasted croutes", "Smoked haddock and chive omelette with Wookey Hole cheddar" and "Beer battered Cornish squid with tartare sauce". These were beautifully accompanied by a couple of glasses of South African Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch (War Horse).

The a la carte menu looked too tempting to be left untouched so we made our way to RIBA's beautiful Art Deco restaurant. The restaurant is imposing, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a gorgeous open air terrace. We started with "Seared scallops" @ £6.50 served with leeks, candied hazelnuts and black olive powder. The scallops were deliciously tender, and I enjoyed the unusual addition of candied hazelnut and olives.

The "Middle white pork belly" @ £5.75 served with black pudding and quince was also very good and had perfect crackling.

For mains, we went for "Pan-roasted Cornish pollack fillet" @ £17.95 which was accompanied by a crayfish and tarragon lasagne, salsify crisps and crayfish reduction.

The "Braised Yorkshire venison" @ £18.95 was however the better of the two mains. It was served with sauteed girolles, truffled mash and redcurrants. This was a fabulous dish.

We also had a selection of three British cheeses @ £7.50 which included Wookey Hole cheddar, Oxford Blue and Sussex camembert. They were beautifully presented and served with grapes, dried apricots, walnuts, biscuits and jam.

To finish off we shared a dessert of "Warm orange and polenta cake, passion fruit sorbet and candied orange" @ £5.50 which was also delicious.

I was surprised to find such appealing food at affordable prices in one of the most stunning locations in London. I will make sure to return and make the most of RIBA's open air terrace this coming spring and summer, to further sample their affordable wine list and food offerings. A hidden gem, recommended!

Please note - the restaurant is opened at lunch time throughout the week and on Tuesday evenings only.

Monday 19 March 2012

The London Foodie Supper Club - Japanese Home Cooking - Reviewed by The Evening Standard

or Japanese Cooking is one of my greatest passions in life. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a Japanese home in the South American city of Sao Paulo, and have, since moving to London 20 years ago, pursued my interest to learn more about this cuisine.

Cod & Seafood Nabe with Soya Milk and White Miso Broth - Image by Catriona Mills

Since leaving investment banking in 2011, I moved to Tokyo for a couple of months to do Japanese food research and recipe writing. I also took private Japanese cookery classes during the day and worked at a Japanese Izakaya (casual Japanese restaurant) at night (more about these experiences here). I returned to London in early 2012 to start the Grand Diplome at Le Cordon Bleu and the Japanese Home Cooking Supper Club which I now run from my home in Islington.

Image by Catriona Mills

The supper club has recently been reviewed by The Evening Standard, you can read the full review here.

If you are interested in learning more about Japanese cuisine, beyond sushi and sashimi, and would like to attend one of the Japanese Home Cooking Supper Club events I run, take a look at The London Foodie Supper Club page for forthcoming dates or contact me on luizharaAThotmailDOTcom using the subject line JAPANESE SUPPER CLUB.

Image by Catriona Mills

Thursday 8 March 2012

Sushi Making Masterclass at Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar

Located at the swish Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel, Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar is an elegant and contemporary Japanese eatery headed by sushi chef Sadayuki Okamoto. Trained in Tokyo, Okamoto-san has had an impressive career over the last thirty years cooking the food of his homeland at some of London's top restaurants including The Four Seasons, The Ivy and The Savoy.

Okamoto-san has now decided to share some of his experiences with other Japanese food enthusiasts by hosting a series of Sushi and Sashimi Master Classes on the first Saturday of each month. Priced from a very reasonable £30 per person, the classes will run from midday to 2pm and will have a maximum of 10 participants.

I was fortunate to be invited to Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar recently to meet Okamoto-san, attend one of his classes and try some new dishes from his menu. The event was also hosted by the delightful Tom Harrow, the Wine Chap, who presented us with an in-depth tasting of different Japanese sakes matched to each individual dish.

We started by rolling 3 sushi rolls - Kappamaki, a kind of Hosomaki (thin cylindrical sushi) filled with cucumber. This is a simple but rather important sushi on any Japanese meal as it is traditionally consumed to clear the palate between eating raw fish and other kinds of food.

The Kappamaki was followed by Temakizushi - hand rolled sushi (conical sushi). One of the most popular types of sushi, and great to be served at intimate sushi parties with friends as each person can choose and rolls their own temaki. We rolled ours with raw salmon, avocado and spring onions. 

We also rolled Dragon Sushi - an inside-out sushi topped with a layer of thin slices of salmon (avocado can also be used), pressed down over the roll to resemble the skin of a snake or dragon and filled with asparagus. This is a beautiful sushi made it extra special by Okamoto-san's blowtorching of the top layer of salmon.

As a welcoming drink and to accompany our sushi, we had a glass of sparkling Junmai Nigori "Sawa Sawa".  A deliciously lively, sparkling cloudy sake which undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle just like Champagne.

We were then seated for dinner and served a platter from the Chef's Specials - Seared Tuna Jalapeno @ £7 - this was a refreshing and beautifully presented dish of seared slices of fatty tuna over a zingy jalapeno chilli dressing served with mizuna (crunchy Japanese green salad leaves) with a yuzu and mango vinaigrette.

A platter of sashimi followed - thick slices of salmon, tuna and yellow tail. The fish were very tender and fresh and beautifully presented. All fish served at Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar are purchased from Atariya, the most reputable (and also most expensive) Japanese fishmongers in London.

The nigiri sushi were next - 5 pieces containing ikura (salmon roe), salmon, tuna yellow tail and prawn. The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned and tasted delicious. Okamoto-san uses the highly prized Koshihikari rice from Japan, the rolls royce of all Japanese rice grown primarily for the home market. In my opinion the taste and quality of the rice makes his sushi outstandingly good.

The California sushi platter (or inside out sushi) containing 6 pieces of spicy tuna or crab were also delicious. A similar "Ichi Combination" can be purchased from the a la carte menu at £40 and contains 6 pieces of sashimi, 5 pieces of nigiri and 6 pieces of California roll.

We also got to try a couple of rolls from the Chef's Special Menu - Soft Shell Crab (5 pieces) @ £10 and Prawn Tempura (6 pieces) @ £9, and a piece of grilled Black Cod which were all magnificent. 

Ichi Sashimi & Sushi Bar also has a respectable list of sakes some of which we got to try on a tutored tasting by Tom Harrow, the Wine Chap. Some of my favourites were the Uragasanryu Koka Honjozo (125ml @ £12.50), a very elegant honjozo with pear on the nose and ripe, fruity pear on the palate and the Choryo Futaho, Tokubetsu Junmai (125ml @ £12.50), an aged sake with a full bodied flavour and notes of sour cherry and wood on the palate and hints of caramel and honey on the nose. 

All Sushi Masterclasses at £30 will include a welcoming glass of Choryo Sawasawa sparkling sake, a 1/2 bottle of water and an additional glass of sake with the meal. An additional flight of sakes can also be purchased to accompany all dishes in the masterclass for an extra £20.

Chef Okamoto-san will demonstrate a selection of sushi dishes and guests will create Avocado & cucumber roll, Blow-touched salmon dragon roll and Tuna belly roll. Participants will then sit down to eat the rolls they have made and share a platter of sashimi salmon, tuna and yellow tail. The meal will end with a light dessert taken from the Ichi Menu. At £30, I believe this to be very good value.

Readers of The London Foodie have been offered a 10% discount on the first two classes in April 7th and May 5th. To book, please visit: www.ichisushi.co.uk or call 0207 620 7373 or email Jose Zhang direct : jzhang@pphe.com, and if you do get to attend, please let me know how you get on.

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