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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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Wednesday 31 July 2013

Top 10 UK Food Blogs of 2013 by Cision

I was thrilled to learn that The London Foodie was listed among the Top 10 UK Food Blogs of 2013 by Cision. The full list can be seen here.

I was also interviewed by Cision for their Speedy Spotlight column where I talked about positive writing, working with contributors, and some very large egos. If you would like to find out more, click here.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

London's Best Pizza - Saponara


Where: 23 Prebend Street, N1 8PF, tel 020 7226 2771

Cost: Pizze are priced around £10, other food options are also available on the menu.

About: Located in Islington and founded by brothers Marco and Vincenzo, Saponara Italian Deli has been has been serving a local loyal clientele for many years.

The last time I was there, I stocked up on some delectable Italian goodies including homemade venison and truffle ravioli, scamorza affumicata cheese, artisan chocolates and a bottle or two of Aperol. Their selection of 25 authentic stone baked pizze are outstanding including some lesser known Italian ingredients like the Calabrian Nduja for ‘Piccante’ or Praga ham for ‘Prosciutto e Funghi’.

Saponara was listed among the 50 Best Delicatessens in the UK by The Independent.

What We Ate: Luckily, Saponara is about a 5-minute walk from my home in Islington, and so I have eaten there on a number of occasions. My favourite pizza, and the one I always order, is "Piccante" (hot), a wonderful concoction of tomato and mozzarella topped with Nduja sausage, salami piccante, olives and salsiccia piccante (more hot sausage!).

Dr G's choice is "Saponara", equally delicious but easier on the piccante, this has tomato and mozzarella, scamorza affumicata (smoked cheese from Puglia, Southern Italy), sausages and mushrooms.

What We Drank: A comprehensive Italian wine selection from the deli is available to accompany your pizze for a £7.50 corkage fee. 

In our last visit we shared a fantastic 2008 bottle of Salice Salentino by winemaker Francesco Candido, sold at £13.95 at the deli (plus £7.50 to be consumed on the premises). From Puglia, the heel of Italy, this is the home to some of the best value wines in the country. Salice Salentino is made from Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera grapes, this was a robust wine with dried fruit flavours accompanied by a bitter-chocolate character, with moderate acidity, smoky oak and superb length.

Likes: Great selection of Italian ingredients including cheeses, salami and freshly made pasta, excellent and well price wine choices, the best pizze in London. Very friendly service.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: Saponara is by far my favourite pizzeria in London, very highly recommended.

Saponara on Urbanspoon

Friday 26 July 2013

The London Foodie Goes To Bali - The South Coast, Seminyak

From Lovina Beach on the north coast (see review here) it was a dramatic 3 hour drive south, crossing the entire island, to reach Seminyak - notable both for the beauty of the route, passing through immense vistas of terraced paddy fields, lakes, streams and volcanoes, and also the most dramatic thunderstorms and torrential rain typical of the Balinese monsoon season. A highlight though was stopping at various roadside Warungs (Balinese cafes) for a fix of succulent Babi Guling (roast suckling pig), the local delicacy eaten all over the island.

Tropical Thunderstorms en Route to Seminyak

A few kilometres from the capital Denpasar, the south coast of Bali has a cluster of villages which are home to a large expat community as well as the starting or ending point for the bulk of tourists who visit the island. From Kuta, the most southerly near the airport, through Legian, to Seminyak and Petitenget, the atmosphere becomes progressively more upmarket.

Many Boutiques on Seminyak's High Streets

Kuta is a surfers' hangout, tattoo parlour and Aussie bar town, and a place popular with backpackers and gap-year students. Legian is a little more sedate, and popular with families looking for affordable accommodation near the beach.

The next town north of Legian, Seminyak is  more elegant (and expensive) with mostly luxury accommodation and fashionable , relatively costly restaurants and bars. The atmosphere is more sophisticated and laid-back, and the beach in particular is quieter during the day. Seminyak is also the shopping capital of Bali with many well known labels on the high street including Camper shoes and Paul Smith among local shops.

Petitenget is at the poshest end of this stretch of coastal villages, and hosts some of the best restaurants, art dealers, cafes as well as being the greenest and most residential area with fine villas and apartments.

There is certainly a downside to this development and the whole district has become very congested. However, for its range of luxury hotels and excellent restaurants, tasteful galleries, antique shops and spas, there is nothing to rival Seminyak and Petitenget in Bali.

Where to Stay 

Amana Villas 

With no signs indicating their presence, either on the main roads in the town, or indeed outside their reception, Amana Villas are clearly for those in the know. From the centre of Seminyak's main road, it is via a tiny narrow street that one approaches its almost hidden, unassuming entrance. But passing through the lobby, one finds a collection of fifteen stunning villas nestling among bamboo topiary. A brand new hotel, the design is minimalist, ultra-modern and chic.

Each villa is completely self- contained, with its own private entrance, swimming pool and garden. Our villa was a duplex, with an upstairs living and kitchen area (where breakfast was served), downstairs bedroom and bathroom, and private infinity plunge pool whose water cascaded down a waterfall sculpture at the foot of the double bed. It was a  very impressive setting and design, all dark wood and natural stone, with plenty of natural light and space.

The hotel offers a highly individual butler service, for instance as beds were turned down each evening, lighted tea-candles might be placed in the bathroom with guests names printed inside the glass, or personalised cakes, chocolate coated fruit, or roses left on the bed - each evening's surprise was something different.

I was very impressed by the level of service, with some staff going well beyond the call of duty to help us - the manager Arie Santoso spent many hours one evening helping us purchase last minute flights to Lombok. The hotel also offers complimentary access to Bali's premier member's only country club, Canggu Club.

Each morning, breakfast is served in the villa by the butler at a pre-arranged time. There was a good choice of Indonesian and western cooked dishes, as well as freshly cut fruit, tea, coffee, cereals, yoghurt and pastries. It was a hearty meal enjoyed to the sound of our own private waterfall.

Amana Villas is well located at the junction of Jalan Kaya Ayu ( also known as Jalan Oberoi or Jalan Laksmana ), which has most of the town's restaurants, and  Jalan Seminyak, where the antique, art and furniture shops are. Yet, on the 100 metre walk to Jalan Kaya Ayu, there are rice paddies, and the villas themselves are remarkably tranquil, reflecting this distance from the high street. The sky at night is pitch black - great for star gazing during a late night plunge in the pool.

There are very few hotels which I feel have got it so right - beautiful, sophisticated and private. When in Seminyak, I can't think of anywhere else I would rather stay. Very highly recommended.

Where to Eat

Mamasan Restaurant

A ten minute walk from Amana Villas is Mamasan, a fashionable Australian-owned restaurant with cool decor and purportedly some of the best food in Bali. Converted from a large old warehouse, Mamasan occupies two floors - a large restaurant on the ground floor and a busy cocktail bar and lounge on the first. A beautiful and stylish restaurant, it has high ceilings, some impressive British colonial-style furniture and other vintage pieces and paintings.

Mamasan is the "trendy" option in Seminyak with European prices to match. We enjoyed the food at this restaurant but found the nightclub style music and feel of the place a bit discouraging. There is a dress code and diners are expected to dress smartly. Photography is not permitted inside the restaurant, and after pleading with our waitress, the manager, and then the owner, we were allowed a couple of sneaky pics. 

The menu features dishes from most South-East Asian countries, particularly  Thailand and Vietnam, but also has some Chinese and Indonesian options. We started with a refreshing Thai salad of crispy salmon skin and green mango served with sweet fish sauce at £7.50. This was a delicious, zingy and well made salad.

The Sichuanese fried cumin lamb at £7 was also good although not as "cuminy" as I tasted in other Chinese restaurants, and the portion was a tad ungenerous.

The crispy confit pork hock on the bone served with a Nam Pla Prik sauce at £9 was a triumph. Crispy on the outside but succulent and very soft inside, I just wished I had a bigger stomach to order another portion there and then. Apologies for the dodgy image quality, the pictures were taken quickly and in poor light.

The wine list is one the most expensive we saw in Bali with entry, basic level wines at around £40, so we opted for jasmine tea at £2.50 per person (Michelin-starred Hakkasan prices). Annoyingly, our tea was served in two separate Western tea pots and cups which took up nearly our entire table, and unsurprisingly, they were not refilled.

Chandi Restaurant 

Again just a ten minute walk from the Amana Villas, Chandi is another lovely restaurant on Seminyak's main street. An interesting blend of culinary cultures and local know how reflects the influences of the two head chefs, husband and wife Agung Nugroho and Kirsten Weymar,  who opened the restaurant in 2008. This is a very elegant and relatively expensive restaurant with both indoor and outdoor dining areas, white table linen, candles and very fine service.

We kicked off with a sizzling platter of various fish and shellfish sate skewers at £14 which included butterfish (highly fatty and deliciously rich white fish), black sea bass, scallops, lobster, whole soft shell crab, squid, long beans and lotus root. The fish, including the squid (surprisingly), were perfectly cooked and soft, well seasoned and with a delicious char-grilled flavour imparted by the hot grill.

One of the restaurant's specialties is their "Duck Betutu Tasting" at £14 per person which we ordered. The tasting menu included the Balinese 16-spiced marinated crispy duck, sate lilit on sugar cane (blend of duck meat and spices), salty duck egg, long bean, soy sprout and grated coconut salad and 3 types of Sambal sauces.

The best dish of the evening however was the roasted pork belly at £9 served with Chinese broccoli, pink grapefruit and chives. The Balinese have a great fondness for pork with Babi Guling (roasted suckling pig) being one of their most famous dishes. Chandi's pork belly was extraordinary, the crackling was fine and very crisp, the meat meltingly tender and flavoursome. This is a dish not to be missed at Chandi.

Sarong Restaurant 

One of the most elegant restaurants in Petitenget, Sarong was highly recommended to us by many throughout Bali. Open since 2008, founding chef Will Meyrick's menu presents dishes he sought out from street-food vendors around Asia. The restaurant has gained a number of international awards, and it was packed on the evening we were there.

We started with a perfectly cooked, crispy and well seasoned plate of salt and pepper squid at £5 followed by an exquisite crispy pork belly with baby mandarin and ginger with a black vinegar caramel at £7.50. The pork belly was out of this world (probably double or triple cooked) and the portion was also rather generous, this was by far the best dish of the evening.

The Eastern Balinese duck salad with young fern tip, lemongrass and kaffir lime at £5 was the vegetable accompaniment for our curry main. It was flavoursome and with a lovely texture but unfortunately a tad salty.

Sarong's Penang curry with wagyu beef at £10 was good but again slightly too salty. The curry sauce had been over-reduced and the flavours were too intense and overpowering. The  stir-fried rice with egg, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and sweetcorn at £3.50 was however delicious and well made.

For pudding, Dr G and I shared an Asian dessert of young coconut jelly, crushed ice tapioca, and black agar agar at £3. Beautifully presented and very refreshing, I was very impressed by the combination of flavours and textures in this dessert.

What to Do 


Seminyak is the shopping capital of Bali. Suria and Folk Art Gallery on Jalan Oberoi have fine collections of Balinese and Indonesian crafts on sale, and are well worth a browse. We bought a few pieces for our living room there.


There are many spas in this area, with varying degrees of comfort and professionalism. After some research, we thought Melasti Spa offered a good balance of skill, privacy and cost. We had the Balinese massage (a mixture of acupressure and oil massage) for 60 minutes, at a cost of £10 per person, and left feeling refreshed and relaxed.


Dean’s Bali Cooking School is run by renowned chef Dean James, and offers a number of courses that can help visitors learn more about Balinese cuisine. As well as instruction on how to cook, the participants can get the opportunity to visit a local market and learn about ingredients.

Swimming or Surfing 

The beaches that run along the south side of Seminyak/Legian/Kuta are sandy, and very well known for their surfing. They are also good for a swim if you don't mind being clobbered by metre-high waves every so often.

And it is Selamat Tinggal (Goodbye) Bali!

Seminyak was the last place we visited in Bali before flying out to Lombok and then Singarpore and London. I fell in love with this Indonesian island, its people, their way of life and above all their food! The video below which I found on YouTube captures how I see Bali, it is definitely worth a watch!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read my other write-ups on Bali.

The London Foodie Goes to Bali - Ubud (Part I)
The London Foodie Goes to Bali - Ubud (Part II)
The London Foodie Goes to Bali - Amed
The London Foodie Goes to Bali - Lovina

Travel Essentials

Amana Villas
Jalan Wirasaba No.5
Off Jalan Kayu Aya [ also known as Jalan Oberoi or Jalan Laksmana ]
80361 Bali
E-mail: info@amanavillas.com

Room internet rates for the 'waterfall villa' featured are from £236 per night inclusive of breakfast. 

Mamasan Restaurant 
Jalan Raya Kerobokan 135, Kerobokan, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Tel: 0361730436

Chandi Restaurant
Jalan Laksmana 72
Seminyak, Bali 80361
E-mail:  info@chandibali.com 

Sarong Restaurant 
Jalan Raya Petitenget No, 19 x
Kerobokan, Bali 80361
E-mail: info@sarongbali.com

Melasti @ Spa
Jalan Padma Utara 
E-mail: desakayu@legianmelastispa.com

Dean’s Bali Cooking School
Warung Ares, Seminyak Square
Booking Center: +62 (0)812 4655 2549
E-mail dean@deanfisherbali.com

Wednesday 24 July 2013

London Life July: Food & Drink by Luiz Hara

Belly burgers at KERB Granary Square, Bruno Loubet's imaginative Grain Store, the lofty Duck & Waffle's brunch, Chez Bruce's affordable Michelin-starred menu and the most fantastic French cheeses at Androuet of Spitalfields Market are my latest foodie recommendations for Heathrow Express readers. To find out more, visit the Heathrow Express site here.

Monday 22 July 2013

London Restaurant Review - Roast

Words & Photography by Felicity Spector

Name: Roast

Where: The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, Borough Market London SE1 - www.roast-restaurant.com

Cost: expensive. Our starter was £16.25, John’s steak was £35 although most mains hover around the £25 mark, while sides are generously portioned. Desserts are a reasonable £7.75.

AboutOn the hottest day of the year, the idea of dining at a restaurant called Roast seemed like a bad joke. But as I arrived, less than fresh from a bus that had seemed intent on resembling the inside of a convection oven, I climbed the stairs above the market into a blissful oasis of air-conditioned cool. 

Roast was opened 8 years ago by Iqbal Wahhab, of Cinnamon Club fame: the building itself was once in Covent Garden, but was carefully relocated to its current perch high above the bustling Borough Market. The head chef, Marcus Verbene, has a flawless pedigree: he was previously executive chef at Brown's Hotel in Mayfair, after stints at Le Caprice, The Ivy and J Sheekey. The room is airy, and flooded with light from the huge arched windows: on one side, you can see St Paul’s, on the other, trains rattle past while you gaze down on the crowds outside the pubs and restaurants on the market’s fringes.

What we ate: Briefly tempted by the idea of a chilled pea soup or a retro prawn cocktail, we ended up choosing the scallops, mainly because they came with whipped broad beans and smoked black pudding, which sounded too good to miss. They were rather extravagantly priced at £16.25, so I asked our waiter if they would be suitable as a main. He adopted a rather stern face: “There are three scallops”. They arrived, in the half-shell, on top of a small but delicious spoonful of the broad bean purée, and a tiny disc of crisply fried black pudding. The scallops were plump and perfectly cooked, if slightly awkward to eat direct from the rather wobbly shells.

Onto the mains, and John, who had come straight off a flight from China and was struggling to keep awake, opted for the rib-eye steak with chips and béarnaise sauce. The steak, which I was told was from a Cumbrian herd, was absolutely delicious: at £35, you would expect good quality meat, and it was. The chips, too, were excellent - crisp, fluffy, the business.

I asked for the poached salmon with marinated fennel and foraged herbs, and the waiter came over all stern-face again. “It is served at room temperature”, he intoned. “I say this, because some customers have complained that the salmon is cold. But it is a very good choice”. Suitably informed, I threw caution to the winds and ordered the salmon anyway. It was just right, moist and succulent - and the sprouting broccoli I ordered as a side was a perfect accompaniment, along with most of John’s béarnaise sauce which he didn’t notice I had pinched.

Onto dessert, for I had sent John a one-line text before we met up, insisting that he was not allowed to fall asleep before dessert, jet lag or no jet lag. I’m not the kind of girl to let a heat wave stand between me and my favourite pudding, so sticky date pud it was, with my usual rider - extra toffee sauce. John went for the more summery Eton mess, which came in a pretty shade of pastel pink with a floral hit from this season’s most modish ingredient, elderflower. My sticky date pudding could perhaps have been served hotter, but it struck the right balance of moistness and lightness with plenty of toffee-like flavour from the dates; the sauce was rich and sweet, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Likes: A great location, fabulous space with a buzzy atmopshere, excellent quality British produce, along with a real commitment to good ethical suppliers and producers, and an admirable track record in charity work, there is a lot to like.

Dislikes: the prices are on the steep side, especially that scallop starter.

Verdict: Excellent British cooking, mixing classic dishes with some interesting twists. On such a hot day, I had been worried that the food might be too heavy, too traditional - but it was very well judged, and there were plenty of seasonal choices. If you want to try out Roast without splashing out on the pricey dinner menu, the breakfast looks like an excellent alternative.
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