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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, 27 January 2013

Top Female Chefs Taking Centre Stage

We have all grown up on the cooking of our mothers and grandmothers, aunties, wives and all those other important women in our lives, but when it comes to fine-dining, Michelin starred cuisine, I have always wondered why so few female chefs have taken centre stage...

If you would like to continue reading this piece which I wrote for the Como Hotels, please visit their website here.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

London Restaurant Review - Hedone

Hedonism – Not with a bang but a whisper

Words and Photography by Simeen Kadi

Mikael Jonsson is obsessed with sourcing. He has travelled all over the UK looking for the best ingredients, from shellfish to salt. And what he can't find on these shores, and he has sourced a surprising amount of superb ingredients from right under our noses, he finds in neighbouring lands.

For Jonsson, what he puts on the plate before his grateful diners must be the most perfect ingredients, collected and curated with minimal intervention to deliver the most pleasurable eating experience. Hence the name Hedone, Greek for enjoyment and delight and the root of hedonism. But don't expect to come here for a raucous evening of sensual abandon – this is definitely eating with your top button done up – purity and restraint exude from the kitchen and into the spartan dining room where, other than the rather odd ceiling murals, Scandi chic is the order of the day.

Chiswick is hardly the centre of the London gastro-scene and it has taken me over a year to build up the stamina for a schlep out West. And, of course, it was worth the effort, Hedone has not received shrieking praise from proper restaurant critics for nothing. On a dismal, wet December afternoon the 7 course tasting menu is certainly something to look forward to.

Service is friendly, knowledgeable and crisp, worthy of the Michelin star that Hedone has recently received, after only a year in operation. Everything seems to have been carefully considered, from the slits in the tabletops to accommodate the crisp linen napery to the butter and salt stone with a beautifully designed nick in it to hold the knife in place. This is the sort of attention to detail I have seen in Japanese artisans and Jonsson is definitely a kindred spirit.

Our first starter was an Oyster, poached in its shell but still tasting raw and mineral-rich as if just pulled from the sea. The poaching altered the texture so it was softer and less chewy. The surprise element was the granny smith jelly which surrounded it – not sweet, just perfectly apple-y and a cunning foil to the oyster.

Much has already been said about the Cevennes Onion with Williams Pear. Are the onions of Cevennes so good they warrant AOP status (appellation d'origine protégé)? Perhaps it was all lost on my crude palate. The onion tasted like, well, onion. With shavings of pear over it. The onion and butter sauce, on the other hand, was divine, somehow taking the two ingredients and conjuring up some magic. If this is what Mikael Jonsson's cooking is about, that onion sauce made me see the light.

As did the Slow Cooked Duck egg 'Florentine'. This was a banging dish – a duck egg-yolk cooked slowly in a water bath to retain its runny unctiousness and then layered with spinach veloute, leaves, truffle shavings and parmesan crisp. A spoonful, taking in all the layers, was an overdose in rich umami flavours, a real swoon-worthy dish.

On the face of it the Wild Dorset Turbot, Potato Skin Emulsion and Beef Juice was pale and uninteresting, but again, beneath the cool, Scandinavian-style exterior was a robust kick of gutsy beef stock giving a hefty punch to the shiny, freshness of the turbot. And the potato skin emulsion was another of those 'wow' moments, never had the lowly potato skin tasted this good.

Jonsson delights in textures and unusual flavour combinations, enhancing the natural flavours of his impeccable ingredients by presenting them in new ways, rather than by masking them with cheffy cooking. So, beef stock and potato skin bring out the flavour of the already divine turbot. And, in our next course, cuttlefish takes on the role of both pasta and sauce. Ribbons of cuttlefish were cooked to perfectly emulate  al dente linguine. However, the cuttlefish broth was a little wan, earthy but not intense enough to really sing on the palate. I have eaten a similar dish at Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian which is denser and rounder in flavour.

But the next dish is easily one of the best beef dishes I have eaten in a long while. Slow Cooked Black Angus Beef Short Rib with Oven Roasted Carrot and Truffled Butter was a bar of aged and marbled beef with a dense, meaty flavour and a yielding texture with just enough chewiness to satisfy. The carrots were crisply cooked and the truffled butter - what can I say that is not already conjured up when the two words 'truffle' and 'butter' cosy up next to each other? All I can say is, hang the expense. And the stupidly long trudge to Chiswick and go now to enjoy this superb dish (just check it's on the menu first).

And then came our last savoury dish, the Roasted Breast and Leg of Squab, Salsify, Watercress and Jerusalem Artichoke Foam. Another triumph from the kitchen, the squab had been butchered in an interesting way where the half-bird was boned, leaving only the leg bone intact – clever stuff. Rich and incredibly soft, the meat was rare and came with an earthy, livery sauce. The Jerusalem artichoke foam was woody and balanced very well with the bright, watercress veloute. Finger bowls were provided to encourage picking off the delicious meat from the bone.

I should mention the wine, as we did not skimp on the red stuff (it being a life-suckingly dreary December day and all). There was one in particular, a natural wine made with 100% Syrah, Dard & Ribo St Joseph from Northern Rhône, which stood out for its savoury, olive-like hit which was a real surprise after the sweet, raspberry jam nose.  Natural wines are notoriously difficult to get right consistently, but this is definitely one to look out for.

And so to pudding, and there were two, before the petits fours jamboree, of course. Citrus Variation was a low-key title for a zingy upside down lemon meringue pie with a tangy sorbet - much nicer than the picture suggests, honest.

But the Chocolate Bar stole the pudding show.The chocolate bar had a crisp, crushed almond base with a very indulgent chocolate mousse above it, studded with kirsch-soaked cherry. A tongue tingling passionfruit sorbet sat alongside. Not sure that the two went all that well together, but individually, they were a delight.

Mikael Jonsson's dedication to quality and flavour may not deliver the most photogenic of dishes, with their lack of garnish and fuss, but the clean flavours shine through and, when they work well together, some of his unique flavour combinations are a hedonistic revelation, quietly delivered.

Cost: The 7 course tasting menu is £55 and there are cheaper lunch options to be had from a 2-course express lunch at only £19. The full throttle evening tasting menu is £70. We enjoyed wines by the glass, advised by the very helpful sommelier from a winelist featuring 200 bottles. Wines average at about £9 a glass. Or you can go for the wine pairing at £59 for the 7 course menu.

Likes: The obsessive focus on ingredients and the minimum of intervention means the food is the star

Dislikes: Can I moan about the travel to Chiswick one more time?

Verdict: Hedone has received its first Michelin star after just a year in business and my guess is Jonsson won't be stopping there. For this kind of attention to detail and considered innovation Hedone is a must-visit.

Hedone on Urbanspoon

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Cookery Master Class Series with Russell Bateman at The Grove

Colette's is the fine dining restaurant of the fabulous Grove Hotel and Spa in Hertfordshire, and this is where I headed recently for a game master class with head chef Russell Bateman.

A mere 30 minutes journey from Central London by train, The Grove is surrounded by acres of woodland and beautifully tended gardens, the picture-perfect English countryside. The Grove has a fascinating history though, it was owned for generations by the Earls of Clarendon throughout the 1700s and 1800s when the artist George Stubbs and Queen Victoria were both regular visitors. In the 1920s & 30s The Grove was used as a Gardening School, Health Centre, Riding School and a Girl's Boarding School as well as a secret wartime HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in the 1940s. In a ruinous state by 1996, The Grove was rescued by Ralph Trustees Limited, who restored it as the luxury country house estate hotel and spa I visited a few weeks ago.

Having arrived about 45 minutes early for the game cookery class (the journey time is indeed 30 minutes, believe me!), I had some time to snoop around the hotel's communal rooms and take in some of that history as well as some pictures. I liked the intimate feel of the hotel with semi-private rooms interconnected through various corridors. All rooms were tastefully decorated with antiques, the most striking mirrors and furniture. Unfortunately I did not get to see any of the bedrooms or explore the hotel's grounds or the spa which I hear are phenomenal, so I will save those for another visit.

At Colette's, Russell Bateman and his sous-chef were busy laying out on trays what we would be cooking that morning, a fantastic array of game including pheasant, pigeon, partridge and venison. We also had David Hammerson from Everleigh Farm Shop joining us for the occasion who kindly talked us through some interesting facts about the game animals we were to cook.

Having just spent a year at Cordon Bleu's kitchens, I must admit I expected the morning's cookery class to be slightly gimmicky. Russell Bateman proved me wrong though as he introduced us to some interesting chefy tips and techniques like the use of cartouche (a paper lid that is used to slow down the reduction of moisture in cooking) or cooking birds' breasts in the oven starting with the skin side down so that the juices run down keeping them moist. Two invaluable tips as after all game can taste so dry if not properly cooked.

Indeed, no compromises were made for an audience of non-chefs as Russell Bateman butchered a whole haunch of dry-aged venison for the Venison Bourguignon we were about to cook. He also showed us how to confit game birds' legs, traditionally immersed in their own fat at a low temperature for a long period of time - a method used in the old days for preserving meat, particularly duck.

It was also fun to learn how to make pigeon pastilla (after confit-ing the legs) and rolling in Feuille de Bric, a product I had not come across before but that is more malleable and easier to use than filo pastry.

The cooking demo was detailed and very comprehensive with printed out recipes for all dishes. It started at 9:30am ending at about 1pm followed by a magnificent game lunch cooked by Russell Bateman himself at Colette's.

After a delicious amuse bouche of pigeon breast in cherry sauce, we kicked off with a tartare of venison served with slices of pickled pears and shavings of 100% cocoa. It was the first time I tried raw venison, it did not taste gamey but had a richer, more intense flavour than beef and went well with the bitterness of the chocolate - a very good start to the meal.

For the main course, we had a ballotine of stuffed pheasant with smoked bacon, chervil tuber and cavalo nero in a gin and rosemary jus. This was one of the most tender and succulent pieces of game I have had, and judging by the presentation, I believe it may well have been sous-vided which would also explain how it retained so much of its moisture. The gin and rosemary jus was also a highlight with hints of juniper berries, rosemary and orange peel which complemented well the light gameness of the pheasant.

For dessert we had a medley of different English apples including Cox, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Russet which were cooked and served in different ways and accompanied by a thin layer of caramel. It was a light and refreshing dessert which I thoroughly enjoyed.

To finish off, we had a selection of petit-fours and chocolate truffles served with coffee and tea.

It was a leisurely and enjoyable lunch and also a good opportunity to chat with the other attendees, a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds but who like me shared a love of good food and took their time at the table to do so. It was nearly 4pm when I made my way back to London, thrilled by my experience and hoping to return one day. I cannot recommend Russell Bateman's classes at Colette's highly enough - at £100 for the morning's class, including a 3-course lunch and wine matching for each course, I think this was a fantastic and great value experience.

The recipe below which I (cheekily) reproduced from Russell Bateman's recipe folder, is not the same dish we had for our main, but it contains the instructions on how to prepare his gin and rosemary jus, so do try it at home if you can.

Pheasant, Gin and Rosemary Sauce
(Recipe by Russell Bateman)

Ingredients (serves 10):

12 pheasant legs
4 shallots, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
150ml gin
375ml white wine
1/2 tbsp juniper berries
1/4 rosemary bunch
1/4 peel of an orange
1 litre beef stock
1 litre chicken stock
1 cap of gin to finish once reduced


1. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
2. In a heavy-bottom ovenproof pan, heat up some oil and colour the pheasant legs evenly all over.
3. Remove the pheasant from the pan, add your chopped shallots and carrots and colour lightly.
4. Return the pheasant to the pan with the rosemary, juniper berries and orange peel.
5. Deglaze the pan with 150ml gin (be careful as it may flame).
6. Add the white wine and reduce to a syrup.
7. Add the stocks and cook in the oven covered with a cartouche for 1 hour.
8. Remove once the legs are completely cooked.
9. Strain off the sauce through as fine sieve and reduce to desired consistency.
10. Finish with a dash of fresh gin and some chopped rosemary.

The next master classes will take place on the 18th January 2013 (British Root Vegetables) and on the 8th March 2013 (Beef, Lamb & Pork). For more information about these classes, visit the website here .

Monday, 7 January 2013

London Restaurant Review - Salvation Jane

Words and Photography by Felicity Spector

The coffee is superlative, the brunch is excellent and the cakes are legendary. But Salvation Jane, a cool, urban space just moments from Old Street, is now offering a more extensive dinner menu in the evenings.

It is the second venture from Shelagh Ryan, one of the first Australian coffee shop pioneers to set up business in London, with her successful Lantana café in Fitzrovia. Salvation Jane, named after a flowering plant which flourishes in the harshest of desert conditions, is a much bigger concern, with 65 covers inside an airy, serene dining room, a world away from the concrete monstrosity that is the Old Street roundabout. Service is warm and friendly, and the place is casual enough for you to come on your own, welcoming enough to bring a group of friends.

Photo: Salvation Jane

There’s an open kitchen and a bar area, which you go past to get into the dining room: this is Hoxton, and alongside the banquettes there are some Ercol chairs, and wooden tables made by local craftsmen. The back wall features a black and white mural by a Melbourne artist: another bit of Australia in central London.

But onto dinner - and the cocktail menu offered a wide range of innovative drinks, including their own version of a Negroni with Aperol: my friend went for a Mango Mimosa, which was light and fragrant, and just the thing to cheer up a wet December evening.

Salvation Jane, which has served food in the evenings since it opened earlier this year, started out by offering a simpler mix of sharing plates, but found that customers were asking for main course dishes as well, so the new menu was born. There are still a few of those smaller dishes, which you can order as a starter or for sharing: we could have chosen from the likes of grilled haloumi with a citrus relish, or spicy, sticky pork ribs. However, in the interests of saving room for pudding, we went straight for the main courses.

My risotto with marinated cherry tomatoes and baked ricotta crumbled on top was excellent: the rice achieved just the right creamy texture without being at all soupy, and the chef had managed to pack an astonishing amount of flavour into the tomatoes and the ricotta, with its slightly toasted herb mixture sprinkled on top. It’s not easy to find a decent risotto, and I’d definitely order that one again.

My friend, who had dithered over the possibility of spiced, baked lamb in filo pastry with a cauliflower Kisir - a kind of couscous - eventually chose the confit duck leg on puy lentils with some caramelised ginger pumpkin. It was delicious: expertly cooked, the flavours perfectly balanced.

I had high hopes for the desserts, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. My friend decided on the banana cake, which arrived warm and slightly toasted: two generous slices, topped with a large scoop of marscapone, heady with cinnamon and nutmeg. A drizzle of passion fruit cut through the richness nicely. I had to stop myself from stealing most of it.

My brownie, however, was the triumph of the night: truly a thing of beauty. There was a pot of berry compote and some coconut foam on the side, but I only had eyes for the brownie: incredibly rich, dark, melting. I had asked for a middle piece, not an edge, to maximise the gooey potential: “Oh, no-one gets edges round here”, they told me cheerfully. This is clearly a place that knows its brownies.

I’ve heard great things about the lemon cheesecake too, but I’ll have to save that for another visit.

Prices are reasonable, the space is cool without being achingly Hoxton hip, and the cooking is right on the money. And unlike many restaurants in the area, you won’t be disappointed by the coffee at the end of your meal.

Salvation Jane
0207 253 5273
Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard 
55 City Rd

Salvation Jane on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 January 2013

London Supper Club Review - Parkholme Supper Club

The supper club that keeps on giving

Words and Photography by Simeen Kadi

Alicia Weston has been running her supper club for the last 2 years. In that time she has prepared and served feasts from Georgian cold platters to Syrian banquets at her lovely home in Hackney. Each time, fourteen guests sit around her dining table to enjoy a few hours of good company and great food while Alicia produces dish after dish from her kitchen, helped by up to three committed volunteers.


Anyone who has been to a few supper clubs will know that this fairly new and personal dining style is run by people who do it for their love of cooking and entertaining. Alicia has this is spades, but she goes one step further. Since she began her supper club, she has collected more than £25,000 for Medecins sans Frontiers, the Nobel Peace Prize winning charity which delivers humanitarian and medical aid around the world. Having pioneered the concept, the Parkholme Supper Club is still the only supper club in London (please shout if I have got this wrong) which is built around charity donation. Of the £40 the guests pay to attend one of Alicia's supper clubs, £35 goes directly to Medecins Sans Frontiers, meaning that Alicia makes the remaining £5 go a very long way.


Parkholme Supper Clubs are pretty lavish affairs with multiple courses and quality ingredients. Perhaps her background in finance has proved helpful in eking out the most from £5 per head. In any case, Alicia has served up some great food at her supper clubs and continues to surprise and delight with her wide culinary range and her commitment to testing every dish until she has really nailed it. Thus, I found myself eating an elaborate dish from the Imperial court of the Qing dynasty. Titled 'Ah, sweet as honey' it is an unctuous dish of meltingly soft lamb and thirteen (secret?) ingredients, all cooked twice and with two different sauces that come together when served to deliver tangy and honey-sweet flavours which are intense, rich and very moreish. Alicia acquired the recipe from one of Beijing's renowned chefs and then practised until she had perfected it.


Half Malay and half English, Alicia grew up as a true world-citizen, having lived in eight different countries as her parents' work took them from one international posting to the next. Her own career has also meant that she has been able to immerse herself in the culture and cuisine of diverse regions of the world from Korea to the Middle East. This is what makes the Parkholme Supper Clubs really interesting as they feature home-style food, cooked from scratch from a different part of the world each time. Every recipe will have been taught first hand or handed down to Alicia by a native cook and will have been faithfully recreated until it is just as it is meant to be. Alicia and her team of volunteers make everything fresh, from the soft, pliable dough for noodle dishes to the mayonnaise for sauces - while Alicia may be working to a tight budget she can draw on committed volunteers and a local market which provides most of her fresh ingredients.

Making dumplings

Everything else she mostly drags back in her suitcase from trips to all corners of the world. Such as the Blue Rice for Nasi Ayam Kerabu which features rice dyed with the bright blue sweetpeas.

Blue sweetpea
Nasi Ayyam Kerabu

The plan is to raise £40,000 for Medecins Sans Frontiers, after which Alicia will zero the clock and start collecting for another deserving charity. The food at the Parkholme Supper Club does not need the helping hand of worthiness, it is well worth the £40 charge on its own. But, knowing that you are giving generously to charity while still enjoying exceptional food and great company does make your heart feel good.


Supper clubs are held in Hackney every two weeks. To join the mailing list, email  info@parkholmesupperclub.co.uk 

Prices are £40 per head (of which £35 goes to MSF)

Medecins Sans Frontiers www.msf.org.uk

Thursday, 3 January 2013

London Restaurant Reviews - The Square

Phillip Howard opened his restaurant The Square (just off Berkeley Square) 21 years ago. I can think of few restaurants that have traded for so long, particularly in such a volatile industry (and times), and can think of even fewer that have held 2 Michelin stars for 15 consecutive years. He is also the co-owner of the hugely popular Notting Hill restaurant The Ledbury, Kitchen W8 in Kensington, and Sonny's Kitchen in Barnes.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Phillip Howard concentrated his energies on retaining the quality standards in his restaurants rather than becoming a celebrity chef or serial book writer, which is very good news for us diners. His cooking style marries seasonal produce with modern French techniques to create his award winning cuisine.

He started his cooking career with the Roux family followed by some time with Marco Pierre White at Harvey's (now the site of Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, one of my favourite London restaurants) before opening The Square.

The year 2012 was a great one for Phillip Howard - not only did he publish his first book, The Square - The Cookbook, Volume One: Savoury, he was also named the Chef's Chef of Year at The National Restaurant Awards 2012.

His cookbook, published by Absolute Press, is a 528 page homage to his 21 years at The Square. As the name suggests, it concentrates on savoury dishes only (Volume Two: Sweet is due out in June 2013). This is a fine-dining cookbook which requires skill, attention to detail and careful planning before any of its recipes are attempted. Having spent a year at Le Cordon Bleu, I find his recipes call on all the skills I learnt during my course and a few more beyond. This is certainly not a cookbook to be dipped into mid-week when looking for inspiration for the left-overs in your fridge, but rather a book to inspire you to excel in the kitchen. This is a book for those who are interested in haute cuisine and are not put off by unusual ingredients like soya lecithin (foam stabilizer) or Sosa gelespessa (thickening agent). A supplier's list of these hard to track down ingredients is given on page 516.

Each recipe starts with a photograph of the completed dish and is spread over 3 pages broken down into sections headed "overview", "focus on", "key components", "timing", "ingredients" and "method". I am impressed by the level of detail in each recipe, enough for anyone to attempt them with a reasonable likelihood of success. The book is priced at £40 and is one of the most sophisticated cookbooks I have come across. Finally, a fine-dining cookbook whose recipes are genuinely achievable.

His recipe for "Roulade of Octopus with a Citrus Vinaigrette, Mussel and Salt Cod Beignets and Whitebait" on page 121 sounds absolutely fantastic and is the one I will be attempting. Phillip gives two different cooking methods for the octopus, one being sous-viding it at 82C for 10 hours, which I am keen to try since acquiring my Sous Vide Supreme (reviewed here). 

While I get my act together to attempt my first Phillip Howard recipe, I was lucky enough to visit his restaurant for a spot of lunch. Given The Square is a two-Michelin starred restaurant, the lunch menu is excellent value at £30 or £35 for two or three courses respectively. Commendably, the lunch menu read just as excitingly as the current a la carte or tasting options. I am often disappointed by restaurants which offer inferior options for their "good value" set lunch menus.

Dr G and I went for the 3 course option, and since there were 2 choices for each course, we ordered the entire menu:

Squid Ink Linguini with Langoustine Claws, Spring Onion, Lemon and Chilli

Veloute of Celeriac and Pear with a Game Terrine and Sherry

Fillet of Stone Bass with Pumpkin Gnocchi, Jerusalem Artichokes, Salsify, Cockles and Parmesan

Glazed Shin and Roast Rump of White Park Beef with Smoked Creamed Potato and Red Wine

Roasted Pear with Date Cake and Sherry and Raisin Ice Cream

Cardamom and Vanilla Yoghurt with Passion Fruit Jelly, Mango and Mint

There was also an option for an additional cheese course for £15 or £10 supplement as a dessert choice, but by that time, we were so full, we decided to skip cheese sadly. The a la carte menu is priced at £65 and £80 for two or three courses respectively and the 9-course tasting menu costs a reasonable £105 per person (or £175 including wine).

It is not often that I come out of a restaurant having enjoyed every single dish and wine matching, but The Square is definitely one of these rare finds - all the dishes were beautifully made and presented. Surprisingly, my favourite was the one I thought was the least appealing on the menu - the passion fruit jelly, mango and mint dessert - I loved the zingy and refreshing combination of flavours of this dessert and having now tried it, cannot wait to get hold of his second book "Sweet" to be published in June 2013.

The sommelier Mohammed was spot on with all his wine matching, below are some of the amazing wines that he served us through the meal, ending with a 12-year old Calvados to accompany the selection of petit-fours and coffee.

I had the opportunity to interview Phillip Howard but unfortunately due to my Cordon Bleu commitments at the time, I was unable to do so. Very kindly, he recorded the answers to the questions I submitted regarding filleting fish which you can see in the video here.

Or if you would like to learn how to make Phillip Howard's squid ink pasta dough (as in the starter we tried at The Square), you can watch the video below.

Cost: £35 for a 3-course lunch menu (excl. wines)

Likes: best lunch menu in London for both value and quality of food, the passion fruit jelly, mango and mint dessert was a winner, fantastic wine matching by sommelier Mohammed, friendly service 

Dislikes: none

Verdict: my new favourite set-lunch menu spot in London, at £35 for a 3-course lunch this is great value for the outstanding food on offer, an elegant restaurant with impeccable service in a very central London location. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Square on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The London Foodie Goes to Malaysia - Cameron Highlands

The biggest and most famous of Malaysia's hill stations, Cameron Highlands is situated 200km north of KL, at 1500m above sea level on a high plateau, with a British-style climate.  First recorded by British surveyor William Cameron on a mapping expedition in 1885, in colonial times it was a welcome retreat for merchants and administrators from the sultry tropical heat.  They were followed by tea planters and vegetable farmers, and before long the forested hillsides were cleared to make way for tea bushes, vegetable crops, English-style cottages and a golf course.

Cameron Highlands' most famous visitor was the US-born Thai silk merchant, art collector and military secret agent Jim Thompson, who went for a walk in the jungle in 1967, and was never seen again.  His fate remains a mystery until today.   Happily this seems to have been a one-off event, and for today's visitor, there are a number of attractive forest walks in the area, and sturdy boots are an advantage.

Cameron Highlands represents a different aspect of Malaysia to the popular sea-side towns and islands, and is a great destination for the traveller looking to experience the variety that makes up today's Malaysia.  Cooler, it is a good place for walking, the remaining jungle is thick and lush, and it's an ideal spot to relax and take stock.

The villages are small, and visitors tend to do outdoor activities during the day, and relax in the spas, and eat in their hotels in the evening.

Where to Stay

Cameron Highlands Resort

The YTL Group's five-star Cameron Highlands Resort is one of the most elegant hotels in the region, and it was here that I spent a couple of nights.  A 56 room boutique hotel, it was rebuilt in 1976 in the style of an English colonial home, and recreates life when the empire was at the height of its pomp. Named among the "Five Best Tea Plantation Hotels in the World" by The Independent (UK) in 2007, it has dark wood panelling, plain white walls, green-coloured lighting, and impressive log fireplaces along with a games room, cocktail bar and afternoon tearooms. It is situated in front of a massive golf course which is open to residents, and has two restaurants and a spa village.

I enjoyed the restrained elegance and refinement of my room.  It was decorated in white, cream and dark brown tones, with a wood latticed ceiling, a rotating ceiling fan, and furnished with a king-size four poster bed. It was a tastefully simple evocation of a bygone age and place, and for me as interesting an experience as some of the most luxurious hotels I have visited.

The main foyer, where the tea room was also located, had a grand piano, oriental rugs on polished wood floors, rattan chairs, pot plants and antiques like a wind-up gramophone befitting the hotel's colonial style.

This is a fitting place to soak up the hotel's atmosphere, and for the afternoon tea we enjoyed after a long jungle walk, or the wagyu beef burger I had with chunky fries on my last day there (see where to eat below).

The library has free Wifi for guests, extensive dark wood panelling and crackling log fires as the evening chill sets in.

Breakfast is served in The Dining Room, the hotel's main restaurant, and was in my opinion one of the best meals we had at the resort. On our first day, I went for a large portion of fried noodles, while Dr G opted for the house waffles - filled with banana butterscotch, topped with strawberry compote and cream and a cinnamon battered, deep-fried mango, it was delicious.

It is hard to think of a more European setting in Malaysia than this, and judging by the number of Malaysian visitors, it is clear that it has become a favourite place for those seeking a refuge from the heat and humidity of the rest of the country.

Where to Eat

Since there is little else to do when the sun goes down in Cameron Highlands, eating is the order of the day and most restaurants come to life at night with visitors and locals. Most restaurants are located on Tanah Rata and Brinchang, there are however some good options on Tringkap and Kampung Raja where the locals usually dine.

There is no food which is unique to Cameron Highlands however steam boat seems to be what many restaurants offer, and  given the cool climate I can see why this is such a popular choice.

The Dining Room

The Cameron Highlands Resort's main restaurant, Jim Thompson's Tea Room, serves primarily French dishes with one or two Malaysian options. There is also a Japanese style and steamboat restaurant on the first floor - Gonbei.

Unsurprisingly in such a European corner of south east Asia, the French restaurant was by far the more popular option and this was where I had dinner as I arrived late in the evening at the hotel on my first night.

The décor of the restaurant followed the elegant style of the rest of the hotel, with waiters decked out in crisp white Nehru-style jackets, the tables with white linen, fine crockery and crystal glasses giving a real sense of occasion. 

I never thought I would be eating seafood pithivier in Malaysia, but was pleasantly surprised to tuck into a perfectly baked puff pastry pie filled with tiger prawns, scallops and sea bass in a fine crayfish butter bisque. The pastry was crisp, the fish well cooked, but in my opinion it was the intense seafood bisque which was the winning element of the dish (£10).

Our second starter, braised beef cheeks, was slow-cooked, soft and flavoursome, and served on risotto scented with truffles and a chanterelle mushroom ragout (£10).

Dr G was so taken by my beef cheek starter that he opted for the wagyu beef cheeks and lamb rump for his main course. It was served on braised Savoy cabbage, roasted red onions and a rich red wine sauce (£24). Although I enjoyed sampling this dish, I must admit I could not tell the difference between wagyu and any other good beef cheek.

Talking of repetition, it was now my turn to order the second pastry-encased dish of the meal, and I was glad I did. The lamb loin en croute was baked in a pastry crust with a mushroom stuffing rather like a beef Wellington, and served with braised lentils and a piquant mustard sauce. The meat was nicely medium rare, tender and well flavoured (£27).

We were rather full of pastry and beef cheek by this stage, and so opted to share a rice pudding brûlée for dessert. This was thankfully small, creamy and refreshing, and served with raspberries and vanilla cream (£7).

The wine list was limited and not very good value for money with basic supermarket level wines from £40 upwards - we had water. Despite having a good meal at the restaurant, I thought the prices were a tad steep even by London standards, and it would have been good to have more than one Malaysian option on the menu.

At Gonbei Restaurant, the hotel's more casual restaurant option, we tried the local steamboat - an impressive selection of different greens, vegetables and meats including fish and seafood, noodles and fish cakes were laid out for diners to take their pick. These were cooked at the table in a well flavoured chicken broth.

Jim Thompson Tea Room 

Another legacy of the British in Cameron Highlands is the tradition of afternoon tea. I can think of few more appropriate spots for this in Malaysia, given the enormous tea plantations in the area.

Following a visit to Boh's tea plantation (see 'What to Do' section below), we headed back to the resort for our 5pm afternoon tea, which included a selection of yummy finger sandwiches and delicate cakes, with local teas.

Having trekked high and low in the nearby forest, we were looking forward to lunch. Cameron Highlands Resorts' cocktail bar serves a selection of European bar snacks, including some British favourites like fish and chips, and club sandwiches.

Wagyu beef was too much of a temptation so I ordered a classic American burger with a 250g patty of wagyu beef in a double decker stack served with cheesy fries, homemade coleslaw, pineapple fritters and highland chutney (£12), which I enjoyed.

What to Do

Jungle trails

There are many jungle trails around Cameron Highlands. You can hire a guide, join a group tour or get a map from the tourist office or the hotel and do it yourself. We did the "Jim Thompson Mystery Trail" (organised by Cameron Highlands Resort and headed by Madi, the resident naturalist) which took about 2 hours, and was a fascinating hike through the forest seeing waterfalls, various exotic birds, and lush tropical vegetation.

Returning to the town, we could see that in some areas, deforestation has had an unfortunate effect on the visual appearance of the Highlands particularly where the forest has been cleared to make way for strawberry and rose plantations which require extensive plastic sheeting to protect them from the rain.

Visit the Boh Tea Plantation

Visiting the local tea plantations is one of the most interesting activities when in Cameron Highlands. In 1929, John A. Russell, the son of a British administrative officer, started the BOH Tea Plantation and it is still run by members of his family today. The estate is beautifully manicured and visitors are welcome to view the factory, learn about the production processes and enjoy some tea at the shop, part of a new visitors' centre which provides spectacular views of the plantation.

Cafe at Boh Tea Plantation

Tea-Pickers Village
Spa Village

The Cameron Highlands Resort's Spa Village offers a range of different treatments which make use of a variety of local products, primarily tea, but also including flowers and herbs. There are indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, tea bath rooms and a fully-equipped gymnasium.

Spa Village at Cameron Highlands Resort

I had the three hour Jungle Secrets experience, which started with a soak in a warm tea bath with lemon grass and lemon, followed by a relaxing Malay massage, and a tea-based exfoliating scrub. It was an utterly relaxing experience, and a great thing to do after a day of jungle trekking.

Night Market

'Pasar Malam' or the Night Market takes place in Brinchang and Tanah Rata every Friday and Saturday. Vendors gather at 4.00 p.m. to set up their stalls and sell a variety of souvenirs, vegetables and fruits, plants, cactus, indigenous people's handicrafts and weapons, food and bric-a-brac.

Play Golf

In front of Cameron Highlands Resort, there is an 18-hole golf course located between Tanah Rata and Brinchang. The course is opened to the general public, more details in Travel Essentials below.

Travel Essentials

Direct flights from London to Kuala Lumpur are available with British Airways and Malaysian Airlines.  Middle Eastern airlines provide indirect flights at lower cost, with a 60-120 minute stopover.  For example Etihad (changing at Abu Dhabi), or Qatar Airlines (changing at Doha).

Cameron Highlands can be reached from Kuala Lumpur by taking an express bus from KL's Puduraya Terminal (takes 5 hours). We came by bus from Penang, the journey took around 6 hours.

Cameron Highlands Resort
By the Golf Course Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Pahang Darul Makmur , 39000
Reservations: +60 3 2783 1000

Cameron Highland Resort's rates start from around £110 per night.

Sultan Ahmad Shah Golf Course (SAS)
Jalan Tanah Rata - Brinchang
39000 Tanah Rata,
Cameron Highlands

BOH Tea Garden
39200 Ringlet
Cameron Highlands
Tel: +605 493 1324

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