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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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Friday 27 September 2013

London Restaurant Reviews - Morito

Name: Morito

Where: 32 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE, 020 7278 7007, info@morito.co.uk

Cost: It was a nice surprise to see how well priced the menu is at Morito. The average cost for a tapa dish from the current menu is £5 to £6 whilst the Seafood Festival Menu options range from £3.50 to £8.50. Commendably, the house wine is priced at only £17 with a few other excellent options below the £30 mark.

About: Morito is a tapas & mezze bar next door to sister restaurant Moro on Exmouth Market. Founded by Sam & Sam Clark in 2011, Morito is small but perfectly formed, vibrant and funky sort of place serving some of the best tapas I have tried outside of Spain.

I use Sam & Sam’s cookbooks often and have eaten at Moro on a number of occasions. Despite it being around for what seems a very long time in restaurant terms, food at Moro has never failed to impress me - it is innovative, fresh and bursting with flavour.

Morito is no exception. I visited it this week to try their 2013 Seafood Festival menu, available from 24 September – 6 October 2013. Morito is offering, alongside their current menu, a specially created seafood tasting menu with matching sherries, inspired by Sam & Sam’s latest trip to Galicia.

What we ate: We had nearly every dish on the Seafood Festival menu, they were all excellent, very expertly cooked with some beautifully fresh ingredients, what a joy!

Salt cod croquetas & aioli (£4) - lovely, and just like the Portuguese “bolinhos de bacalhau” which I adore.

Vieiras - scallops with albariño (£8.50) - this was one of the highlights, the scallops were sweet and so fresh they were melting in the mouth, sashimi quality in my opinion.

Ceviche - sea bass, seaweed, sesame & cucumber (£6) - slightly Japanese(y) in concept, it tasted similar to a popular Japanese salad I eat sometimes with wakame, pickled cucumber and prawns.

Puntillitas - deep fried baby squid (£8.50) - these were terribly moreish, crispy yet so soft and delicious.

Arroz negro - black rice with cuttlefish and preserved lemon (£6.50) - another highlight, we both loved this dish. It was incredibly creamy, with delicious heady citrus undertones from the preserved lemon, a magnificent dish.

Palamos prawns & mojo verde (£7) - this was in our opinion the weakest link. The prawns were grilled but served on the shell which gave out a lovely aroma but were a bummer to eat as they were so tiny. Delicious but just a little fiddly to eat.

Pulpo, fava bean and potato puree (£7) - grilled and very tender octopus pieces flavoured with paprika and olive oil, simple but so amazingly good.

Crab and oloroso montadito (£8.50) - another favourite, the crab meat was fresh and seasoned with oloroso sherry, olive oil and fresh parsley and served on thin sourdough bread toasts.

For dessert, we had a fantastically light, creme catalana (£5.50) which had been infused with a number of spices including cinnamon and also their Malaga raisin ice cream (£4.50). The ice cream was equally good - top quality vanilla ice cream with plump raisins soaked in Pedro Ximenez sherry (the sweetest in the sherry spectrum), all doused in more luscious PX for good measure.

What we drank: We had all three Gonzalez Byass sherries recommended on the seafood menu. They were all different in style, but I cannot think of better matches to the dishes we had that night. The sherries included Solear Manzanilla (£4.75 for a 100ml glass), Tio Pepe Fino (£4.50) and a fabulous Amontillado (£5.50). With dessert, we also had a glass of Oloroso Dulce (£6) a beautifully balanced sweet sherry with plenty of acidity and great length which went down very well indeed.

Likes: We enjoyed every single dish we had, but highlights were the black rice with cuttlefish and preserve lemon and also the seared scallops with albariño. Service was very friendly and knowledgeable, the staff seemed to know pretty much everything on all the dishes we asked them about.

Dislikes: Having a no-booking policy for dinner is a tad annoying.

Verdict: Morito is my latest foodie discovery in London. The food is beautifully made, bursting with flavour with some super fresh, top quality ingredients that really shine through. Very well priced, it is also not going to break the bank. This is a gem of a place, and I cannot wait to return. Very highly recommended.

Monday 23 September 2013

A classroom lock-in of beer and chocolate

Words & Photography by Su-Lin Ong

Beer in one hand and chocolate in the other?  Never!  That’s always been my unshakable view.  So Rupert Ponsonby, the ultimate beer persuader, had a challenge on his hands.

With the front door of the Rococo shop firmly locked up for the night, we go downstairs and the class begins.  Greed is encouraged from the outset.  Things could get messy.  There is ample beer lined-up, and there is exquisite chocolate in whimsical packages stacked up high.  The long table is covered in Rococo’s signature print cloth - it would make a cheery duvet cover.  Immediately, you’re in a cocoon of comfort. 

Rupert has chosen six beers to match six types of chocolate.   These big-boy beers are not session pints and deserve contemplation in their own right.

Duvel Belgian golden ale 8.5% abv – with a bold head, hints of clove; light bodied and zesty.

Hogs Back traditional English ale 4.2% abv – malty and sweet toffee flavours.

Innis & Gunn Original 6.6% abv – this Scottish oak aged beer has deeper tones of malt, with pronounced vanilla and oak.

Innis & Gunn bourbon stout 7.4% abv – more bitter; dark and intense.

Mr Trotter’s Great British chestnut ale 4% abv – made with chestnuts and sweet Maris Otter barley, giving a nutty creaminess.

Liefmans cuvee brut 6% abv – refreshing sour cherry, with a stoney marzipan finish.

Rupert  prescribes a match with an array of chocolate; all so different in texture, intensity and flavour.

Cardamon white chocolate
Milk chocolate with salted caramelised almonds and rose
Anglesey sea salted caramel ganache
Grenadian and Islay single malt ganache
Grenada Chocolate Company dark chocolate 
Grenada Chocolate Company Salty-Licious 

There are potentially 36 beer and chocolate combinations in this feast, but that would make it too much like hard work.  

A good match has to excite the palate.  Other than that, the intensity of the beer should equal the intensity of the chocolate, but flavours mustn’t be so similar so as to go head-to-head.  Every sip of beer should merge completely with the chocolate as it melts in your mouth.  As in wine tasting, aeration in the mouth helps you sense every nuance of taste – if such a treat as a gourmet Aero bar existed, then we want to test it.  The process tonight deserves slow enjoyment and random re-tastes of beers and chocs.

The time comes to name favourites.  I vote for the Innis & Gunn Original with the sea salted caramel ganache.  For me, this is all about silky textures, punchy flavours, and the familiarity of savouriness.  

Perhaps I was really hankering after a more conventional marriage of ale & a packet of crisps?  But rather, I prefer to think I’ve now learned a thing or two about the quirky joys of matching beer & choc.

Rococo in Marylebone is at 3 Moxon St, London W1U 4EW

Su-Lin Ong (@sloLondon) drank beer at chocolate school on behalf of The London Foodie as a guest of Rupert Ponsonby, Rococo, R&R.

Friday 20 September 2013

London Restaurant Review - Lima

Words & Photography by Marina Benjamin

Name: Lima

Where: 31 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JH (http://www.limalondon.com)

Cost: Set Lunch and Pre-Theatre £17.50 for 2 courses, or £20.50 for 3 courses.  À la carte: Starters £8-12, Mains £18-26, Deserts £6-8

About: Lima is a joint venture between Virgilio Martinez, chef patron of the super-successful Central Restaurante in Peru’s bustling capital, and Gabriel Gonzalez, a young Venezuelan entrepreneur with a passion for good food. Open for a little over a year, Lima is already wowing food fans with cooking by head chef Roberto Ortiz that is as vibrantly coloured and textured as it is flavoured – and as beautifully presented as a fashion shoot. 

Space at Lima is in short supply however and you can expect to sit elbow to elbow with diners at adjacent tables. But the clever use of skylights, mirrors, up-lighting prevent the room feeling like a white-walled cube. Peruvian aesthetics appear only as accents – a bold mural in earthy colours along on the back wall, cushions bearing tribal designs, and overall the feel is slick; from the moment you sit down and cast your eye over the well-balanced menu you know you’re in capable hands.

The evening I visited, food photographer David Griffen delivered a masterclass on mobile food photography, the fruits of which – I hope – are self-evident. But since the food at Lima is so gorgeously photogenic, I’m not sure how much credit I can take for the pictures: the real star of the show was on the plates. 

David offered us bloggers plenty of helpful hints as we worked our way through a five-course sampling of Lima’s signature dishes. He recommended using window light over both direct and artificial light; gave us shiny reflectors to play with; and as the sun began setting, he handed out sheets of white card that helped us to bottle up the last straggling rays of sultry summer sunlight and infuse them into each shot. 

What We Ate: Lima’s food is light, its imprint on the plate delicate to the point of appearing to float. There was a bright, slightly too citrusy sea bream ceviche that woke up your tastebuds with a smack of yellow aji, and a tasty dish of marinated scallops that was nicely off-set by the deep heat of a pepper sauce. Lima calls the chilli sauces, which come in shades of white, yellow and red, ‘Tiger’s milk’: the chilies in them are slow cooked for flavour and then strained into an oil-based emulsion for extra smoothness.

Not everyone appreciates small-eats, but I was delighted by the modest amounts of food on my plate, which meant I could look forward to each course, knowing I’d leave the table with a spring in my step instead of a carb-fuelled heave-ho.

Next there was a handful of braised octopus pieces, artfully arranged on a scattering of quinoa, and decorated with tiny stalks of red shiso. The meat was tender and rich against the soft grain, and enhanced by lilac-coloured dots of Botija olive mayonnaise, shaped like macarons.

My favourite dish was a char-grilled beef Pachamana, each succulent mouthful exploding with Huacatay herbs, a hint of chilli and a lot of smoke. This was accompanied by a sublime piped mash, whipped into fluffy puffs and topped with airy white cheese mousse and a sprinkle of black quinoa. Yet another graceful floral garnish gave this dish an almost weightless feel.

To finish we enjoyed a huge quenelle of Peruvian chocolate mousse, dark, intense and richly creamy. It sat over cinnamon syrup, amid a light biscuit rubble, and was stickle-backed with some thin discs of blue potato chips. I got the hedgehog idea, but the chips were bothersome. I plucked them out one by one before diving into the mousse-y heart of the beast.

Verdict: Lima is an utterly wonderful dining treat. The flawless food is stunning to look at, and even better to eat, plus it’s fairly easy on the wallet. I left the place feeling, well, happy and determined to spread the word, like an apostle of old. The waiting staff were uniformly knowledgeable and polite, and they did not hover. And the internationally-sourced and rather confident wine list – next time I am determined to try the Estival, a blend of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Moscato Biano, from Uruguay – offered plenty of tempting choices to match Roberto Ortiz’s plucky and scrumptious food. Don’t leave without trying the soft breads served with a very more-ish dip made of sweet Algarrobina syrup and hot annatto oil.

Monday 16 September 2013

Le Vrai Sud de France

Words by Simeen Kadi

Mention the South of France and our minds turn to mega-yachts, the Cannes Festival and the excesses of the holidaying super-rich. Or to the endless lavender fields of Provence where many of us have spent a week making idle plans of packing up our dreary UK lives and moving to a dilapidated Provencal farmhouse to make wine and lavender-based skincare products.

But there is another South of France that relatively few of us Brits venture to. Curving from Perpignan near the Spanish coast to Montpellier, the region's capital, is an awe-inspiring stretch of history, diverse landscapes and culture that is well loved by French holidaymakers. Languedoc-Roussillon gets 300 days of sunshine a year and has a sweeping coastline of sheltered coves and bays. It is France's largest wine region with the country's oldest vines and some of its best produce.

Why am I waxing lyrical about the region? Well, last Saturday the Sud de France tourism board hosted a festival on London's South Bank to bring us Brits closer to the region. Purveyors of fine wine, cheese, delicate little cakes that only the French can make and other delights lined the southern bank of the Thames while Gallic DJ Gilles Peterson spun tunes and the sun shone in a convincingly Mediterranean fashion.

There were wine masterclasses from Robersons Wines of Kensington where we learnt how the innovative Languedoc-Rousillon region is leading the way in producing biodynamic and natural wines. They tasted good, too.

Sud de France is a well known French wine growing region. In fact it is the world's largest. But these days things have moved further towards quality, rather than quantity, as many producers have upped their game to achieve AOC status. The region still produces more wine than either Australia or South Africa. Some of the wines us Brits love most come from Languedoc-Rousillon, whose 25 appellations stretch from the Rhone to the Pyrenees. Minervois, Corbieres and Fitou produce some great reds while Costieres de Nimes has vineyards dating back to Roman times. Banyuls is another well-known area, producing deep and rich dessert wines on the slopes of the Catalan Pyrenees.

The region is rich in other produce too. There is rice from the Camargue, black truffles from the Gard region and charcuterie from acorn and chestnut fed pigs in the Herault area. At the festival we enjoyed a taste of the local produce. I loved the pulled duck confit from The Frenchie and Cassoulet by Market Quarter of Borough Market.

And with some great looking hotels and gites in the region, I found myself checking flights on Ryanair on the bus home. When this endless summer does come to an end, as it must, I am going to need the promise of some sun and fun to get through those cold, drizzly and short Autumn days.

For more information about the Sud de France region visit http://www.sud-de-france.com

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Blackout Banquet at the Thames Festival (6th and 15th September 2013)

Words & Photography by Felicity Spector

Name: The Blackout Banquet (Thames Festival - 6th and 15th September 2013)

Where: Shad Thames - along the riverside terrace outside Le Pont de La Tour, Cantina del Ponte, Blueprint Café and Butler’s Wharf

Cost: £35 per head for three courses, including a drink to start, and coffee after the meal.

About: The Blackout Banquet is a huge, 140 seat dining table stretching more than 100 feet along the riverside terrace outside Le Pont de La Tour, Cantina del Ponte, Blueprint Café and Butler’s Wharf, which will be serving a rotating menu from the four restaurants every night during the Thames Festival between 6th and 15th September 2013. It offers a special fixed price menu, at £35 per head for three courses, including a drink to start, and coffee after the meal.

The event has been designed to highlight the experience of darkness beside the river, replacing artificial light pollution with the subtlety of candles. It echoes the festival’s aim of celebrating the history and beauty of the Thames, whose surrounding landscape has been transformed by some of London’s most challenging modern architecture.

The long banqueting table was beautifully decorated with all sorts of different candles which cast a flickering light over the food, while the gently lapping water sparkled darkly outside. It was almost like being at someone’s wedding - really rather special indeed.

What we ate: I wasn’t able to get away from work in time for the mushroom consomme starter but my friend very kindly saved me the Amuse, which hailed from the Blueprint Cafe - a delicious bowl of black lentils with a tamarind-spiked sour cream which along with some beautifully soft, dark bread, was my favourite dish of the meal.

The main menu had offered a Le Pont de la Tour terrine of skate wing to start, with purple potato and dots of squid ink dressing, which looked very dramatic on the plate.

My vegetarian main, from Butler’s Wharf Chop House, was a wild mushroom scotch egg, which came with a delicious mix of fried wild mushrooms and cubes of Jerusalem artichoke, topped by a couple of slices of English black truffle. Meat eaters were offered roast wood pigeon sourced from the Thames Valley, with some gently spiced braised beetroot and turnips spiked with cubes of soft, gutsy black pudding.

Dessert was a very creamy, just-set panna cotta with a tart compote of berries on the side, made by Cantina del Ponte.

What we liked: The setting was absolutely beautiful: a lot of care had been taken to create this dramatic, long table, and it was a rare opportunity to dine by candlelight in such a gorgeous location, which must offer some of the best views in the city. The service for such a large group was run like clockwork, and we applaud the way the food was sourced locally to showcase some of London’s best seasonal produce.

What we didn’t like: I wasn’t sorry I had missed the vegetarian starter - it had identical ingredients to the main course, which lacked some imagination.

Verdict: We really enjoyed our culinary, candle-lit taste of the Thames Festival: London is at its best when celebrating its natural assets, and it was a real privilege to be part of such a one off experience. If you can’t get a seat at the special banquet table, the restaurants involved are all offering their own set menus throughout the festival, with other events to tie-in, from blindfold cocktail tastings to something riskily described as a fire menu.

Meals at the ‘Blackout Banquet’ banqueting table run every evening throughout the Thames Festival and lunchtimes at weekends. Reservations can be made via 0207 940 1833 or visit http://thamesfestival.org/events/info/butlers-wharf-blackout-and-blackout-banquet for more information.
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