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Thursday 30 October 2014

Smack Lobster Roll Deli - The Fast-Fine Dining Concept Arrives in London!

Name: Smack Lobster Roll Deli

Address: 26-28 Binney Street, London, W1K 5BN (the website is still under construction - you can follow them on Twitter or Instagram at @smacklobster)

Cost: Lobster rolls from £7 to £9, sides from £3 to £4.80, beers and wines at £4 and lemonade at £2.50.

About: Yesterday saw the press launch of Smack Lobster Roll Deli, the new fast-fine dining concept from the Goodman Restaurant Group, creators of Burger & Lobster.

Smack will be open to the public on the 3rd November 2014 serving a range of signature lobster rolls, ready prepared whole chick lobsters and sides including courgette fries and lobster chowder.

Diners can either take their options away, or eat in the premises. There is a large basement area to dine in. This has been elegantly designed in plain concrete with eye-catching visual projections, wooden stools and bar tables.

I enjoyed a sneak peek of some of Smack’s offerings last night and if this launch event is anything to go by, I heartily recommend a visit.

What We Ate: The lobster rolls were made with a rich, hot brioche, buttered and toasted, they were filled to the brim with large chunks of lobsters in different flavours. All rolls will be priced between £7 and £9 each. The flavours on offer yesterday were:

Chick Lobster Chunks with Garlicky Mayo

Californian – lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado and avocado mayo with lime.

Happy Ending – Japanese mayo, fish sauce, coriander, shredded napa cabbage.

Seven Samurai – tempura lobster, Japanese mayo and cabbage, cucumber, pickled ginger, spring onions and togarashi spice.

Spicy Mexican – spicy mayo, gherkins, lettuce.

The rolls I tried were delicious – the buttered brioche really made a difference here – neither too soft nor too hard, it was a perfect casing for the lobster meat. I also loved the very different flavours of each roll, the menu choices are set to be changed periodically.

The star of the show however in my opinion was their sides – the courgette fries (small £3/large £3.60) were outstandingly good, possibly the best I have ever tried – coated in Japanese panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried, they were crispy and utterly scrumptious. The courgette fries warrant a visit to Smack on their own right!

The Lobster Chowder (small £3.60/large £4.80) was also excellent – the bisque was creamy and bejeweled with large chuncks of lobster. I can’t think of a better winter warmer!

What We Drank: Alcoholic drinks are all on tap and priced at £4.  We started with a 125ml glass of SanMartino Vino Frizzante Bianco (white sparkling wine), which in my opinion was nothing to write home about. Better were the beers options, all served on 2/3 pint glasses - an American “Soundwave West Coast IPA” (5.6%) had wonderful refreshing hoppy flavours, but my favourite was the English “Undercurrent Pale Ale” (4.5%) which went magnificently well with all the rolls we tried. Two other wine options are also available (white - Trebbiano or red - Sangiovese) as well as lemonade (£2.50).

Likes: the lobster rolls were to die for, the buttery brioche was incredible, but it was the courgette fries that really did it for me, they were amazing. Very good value food and drinks menus.

Dislikes: the menu estates that alcoholic drinks are only to be consumed outside the premises. This was not the case at yesterday’s press launch, but if true, I would hope they will sort out their alcohol license pretty soon.

Verdict: Lobster rolls like you have never tried before + the best courgette fries in town, make Smack Lobster Roll Deli a must to any respectable London foodie. Go, go, go before prices are hiked up. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Two-Michelin Starred Chef Michael Wignall Ends the #MeetTheMichelins Series at Selfridges

Words & Photography by Florentyna Leow and Luiz Hara

Chef Michael Wignall from the 2-Michelin starred restaurant The Latymer at the Penny Hill Park Hotel, took center stage in the final installment of the #MeetTheMichelins dinner series at Selfridges’ The Corner Restaurant. The #MeetTheMichelin series was designed to promote some of the UK’s finest British chefs operating outside of London. Chef Wignall describes his cooking as “complex and carefully crafted,” and this meal was no exception -  his multi-course extravaganza (priced at £95, with an additional £45 for the wine flight) certainly ended the #MeetTheMichelin series on a high note.

The hors d'oeuvres were delicious and displayed a strong sense of creativity and technical skill. These left us wondering and wanting more: a small tube of seaweed-like paste on a toothpick, innocuous but full of umami; and a crisp cigar-like wafer tube filled with a buttery cream that tasted of the ocean, with bitter, chocolaty cocoa nibs to bring it into focus.

Our meal opened with Cornish mackerel, the humble fish tricked out with all manner of fanciful accents - an oily, salty burst of Belgian Oscietra caviar, cool and crunchy compressed cucumber, sweet shredded crab meat, subtle edamame and wasabi cream, mysterious light green smoky bouncy spheres, little dots of intensely lemony confit. The flavours generally worked well together, particularly with the crisp, lemony K5 Argiñano Txakolina from the Basque region, and the presentation was stunning.

Tender salt-baked celeriac followed the fish. Garnishes of compressed and nitro’d apple strips had the texture of black fungus (often used in Chinese cooking), and the combination of chilled pea juice, peas and homemade ricotta and feta brought summer to life on a plate. This was good, accompanied by a crisp, fresh New Hall Bacchus Reserve.

Wignall’s poached loin of Loire valley rabbit is much feted at his restaurant, but I found it a little too soft for my liking, and the whole concoction of milky polenta, braised Scotch oats and soft meat cried out in my opinion for a crisp or crunchy contrasting texture. The mushrooms however were quite divine - fragrant and earthy, utterly delicious with a glass of berry-laden 2011 Barda Patagonian Pinot Noir (Bodegas Chacra).

Olive oil-poached hake - one of my favourites of the night - felt like a more substantial course, with an accompanying cassoulet of summer beans, charcoal and scallop emulsion. Atop the grilled scallop were strips of Iberico lard, which melted underneath the heat of the grill, infusing the scallop with an extra salty-creamy dimension. Davies served up a Cellers Anima Negra from Majorca, which complemented the smokiness of the charcoal emulsion beautifully.

The ‘piglet’ course was another favourite, with some great flavour combinations - for instance luscious sweet and sour sweetbreads, or a ‘hen of the woods’ in a spicy BBQ sauce evoking summer time outdoor grilling. The only fly in the amber in my opinion was the cep-scented pork fillet - which I found underwhelming and under seasoned. The Portuguese Pan Vinha however was delicious.

A ‘savoury’ is not a course you see often these days, but Wignall reinterpreted the traditional British cheese course with modern flourishes such as pickle spheres - think liquidised Branston pickle bubbles - and atomised vinegar, which accounted for the bracingly sour scent wafting around our plates. The cheeses were uniformly well chosen, and Davies threw us yet another curve ball by pairing them with the Atlantic Pale Ale from Brixton Brewery. This IPA-style drink worked well with cheese.

Drinks before dessert came in the form of Pimms, ‘Our Way’ - a layered concoction involving foamed cubes of fruit, shaved iced cucumber, strawberries and sweet cream. This was a clever take on the quintessential British summer cocktail, and one all of us thoroughly enjoyed.

Our desserts featured ‘Cherry’ and ‘Raspberry’ respectively. 'Cherry' saw vanilla dough (essentially a large holed doughnut) and a gorgeously dense and smooth rectangular tile of Tahitian vanilla custard, with a few syrup-poached cherries, as well as almonds and crumble-crunch for texture. That alone sent me into a mild swooning fit, but the divinely golden sweet and floral Helmut Lang Gelber Muskateller Eiswein elevated this course to heavenly heights. The choice of dessert wine here was faultless.

Unfortunately, ‘Raspberry’ felt a little lacking in comparison - I have lukewarm feelings at best about berries and chocolate in the same dish, and this did little to change my mind. The individual components of raspberry namelaka/jelly, micro cocoa sponge and aero chocolate were delicious, but I felt that together they were less than the sum of their parts. Luckily, the accompanying wine - Alta Alella Mataro Dolce, a sweet and rich but not too heavy Spanish vin doux naturelle - helped end the meal on a good note.

As with the previous dinners, we were well taken care of by the superb waiting staff at The Corner Restaurant, particularly the knowledgeable and lovely Mino, who attended us week after week. Service was, as usual, impeccable and unobtrusive. Selfridges’ sommelier Dawn Davies also worked her magic again, mixing and matching wines to each course with an inventive flair.

I was impressed that Chef Michael Wignall does not seem to belong to the breed of chefs who are more interested in PR than cooking; it certainly felt like he was giving his food the attention it deserved. This was a multi-course, carefully crafted extravaganza, and I really hope to have the opportunity to visit The Latymer before too long.

Friday 24 October 2014

India Pale Ale - The Belgian Connection?

Words & Photography by Greg Klerkx and Luiz Hara

Beer is seemingly everywhere on London’s fine dining scene these days. It’s no longer odd for a Michelin-starred sommelier to recommend a fruit-infused brew instead of, say, a Muscat to finish, or even to hear the more heretical suggestion of a witbier to start. Craft brewpubs abound, growlers are the new must-have foodie toy, and everyone and their beer-making mother is trying to hop (no pun intended) onto the beery bandwagon.

Uber-hip Belgian brand Vedett has been a fixture on the discerning beer drinker’s scene for longer than most, though many Londoners may only have encountered Vedett’s squat, cheerily-coloured bottles with their moules et frites at the local Belgo. Until now, Vedett, a self-described ‘cult’ brand in the larger Duvel group, has made only two beers and made them very nicely indeed: a hop-tastic, aromatic and eminently drinkable Extra Blond and a lightly fizzy, almost candied Extra White. So far, so Belgian.

This month, the laid-back label is taking a much bigger leap into the fray with the launch of Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA. IPA beers aren’t unknown in Belgium, though they are a fairly recent development and tend to be bolder, darker and punchier in flavour and alcohol content – Vedett’s is a hefty 5.5% – than English IPAs. They most closely resemble American IPAs and often use American hop varieties, as does Vedett’s.

Vedett offered a chance to sample its new IPA and other beers at Cinnamon Kitchen, the suit-and-tie branch of Vivek Singh’s very successful Indian restaurant empire. The intent was to show off great beer and great food, but also to demonstrate the versatility of beer as a stand-alone food beverage – suitable not just as a novelty against one course, but fully capable of carrying a sophisticated four-course menu.

The Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA featured twice during our meal, initially with a some rather delicious canapés that showed Cinnamon Kitchen to very good advantage. Particularly delicious was baked tilapia with Bengali mustard and sweet pepper coulis, which managed the difficult feat of packing a huge flavour punch whilst not steamrolling the delicate tilapia. Potato and green pea cakes with tomato chutney were also lovely: robust and zingy, moist and crispy in the right proportion.

As for the IPA, it was absolutely delicious: not as overwhelmingly hoppy as some IPAs, yet still firm and treacly, dark gold in colour and eminently drinkable. Though the Vedett representatives on hand were somewhat modest about their entry into the crowded IPA field, they should feel very confident. This one deserves to be a hit.

The evening’s other beer-food pairings also worked a treat. Vedett’s workhorse Extra White provided a gently fruity, slightly lemony complement to Tandoori salmon with dill & mustard, served with a wasabi-infused green pea relish.

The smoother, somewhat more elegant Vedett Extra Blond held up nicely against a Chargrilled chicken with yoghurt & coriander, and also went well with a rich, kicky black lentil daal served with naan bread between courses.

Cinnamon Kitchen’s shining moment of the evening came with its main course, an absolutely gorgeous Chargrilled lamb fillet with mint & onion sauce that was succulent and perfectly spiced, the lamb falling apart on the fork (and very quickly disappearing from the plate.) If the intention of the lamb course was again to show the Extra Ordinary IPA to good effect, it worked: the IPA was just as compelling here as it was at the beginning of the evening.

We finished with Shrikhand cheesecake, ginger & fennel seed crumble and glasses of iced Liefmans Fruitesse, a refreshing cherry-and-berry-infused beer that is a favourite at The LondonFoodie Supper Club. By that point in the evening, the point had been proved: the beer revolution in fine dining is here to stay, and justly so.

Monday 20 October 2014

The London Foodie Goes to Peru - The Sacred Valley Aboard the Hiram Bingham Train

For the Incas, the Urubamba was known as the Rio Sagrado or Sacred River, and reflecting this belief, many temples, ancient dwellings and agricultural sites were built in the surrounding valley.

The Sacred Valley is only 30 miles away from the Inca capital, Cuzco (reviewed here), and links that city with Machu Picchu, along the banks of the mighty Urubamba River.

As most archeological remains of interest beyond those in Cuzco and Machu Picchu lie in the Sacred Valley, for this part of our trip, we spent a couple of nights there to visit these sites. This is also where we planned to board the magnificent Belmond Hiram Bingham Train (former Orient Express) to Machu Picchu, more of which later.

Where to Stay

Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

The Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado is situated in the heart of the Sacred Valley, on the banks of the Urubamba River, in a wonderfully peaceful spot that offers a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Cuzco.

Part of the Belmond Collection, Hotel Rio Sagrado is set among green fields and snow-capped mountains. It has extensive, well tended gardens alongside the river, with baby alpacas and llamas roaming freely around the site.

There is also an outdoor heated swimming pool with stunning views of the valley, and it is a great place to cool off after a day’s trekking, horse riding or sightseeing.

Our Garden Junior Suite was elegantly designed with neutral cream and white tones contrasting with vibrant traditional Peruvian colours and décor in the soft furnishings. It had a huge, floor to ceiling glass window and door accessing a private terrace, which overlooked the hotel’s fields and the Urubamba River.

To maintain a sense of tranquil relaxation befitting its location, the hotel has a policy of no TV in its rooms. But the suite was by no means Spartan; it featured heated wooden floors in the bathroom, an iPod docking station, and a well-stocked minibar.

Breakfast was taken in the El Jardin restaurant, and included a generous array of breads, juices, yoghurts and made-to-order eggs and pancakes, as well as excellent coffee.

The flower-beds outside the restaurant's windows attracted a lot of humming birds, and it was a great treat to be able to observe them so closely over a morning coffee.

The Belmond Rio Sagrado Hotel is an idyllic spot in which to recharge the batteries before or after a trip to Cuzco or Machu Picchu and I highly recommend it to any travellers in the region.

Where to Eat

Dinner at El Huerto Restaurant, Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

Dinner is served in the warm glow of candlelight at this restaurant in the gardens of the hotel or outdoors, despite the chill of high altitude, thanks to the large wood fire that is lit each evening.

The menu featured a number or traditional Peruvian dishes with a contemporary interpretation including Aji de Galina and Cui (roasted guinea pig) both ordered. Starters were all priced at £10 while mains ranged from £15 to £20.

We started with Panquitas – these are traditional Peruvian pancakes made from creamy corn and Parea cheese. The Panquitas were delicious, seared and served with a fragrant Huancaina sauce (made from fresh white cheese, aji amarillo, evaporated milk and salt, this tastes better than it sounds!).

Our second starter was a delicious Aji de Galina, one of my favourite Peruvian dishes – this is a creamy yellow chilli (aji amarillo) chicken stew made among other things with Parmesan cheese, eggs, potatoes and olives.

For main course, we had a delectable alpaca tenderloin (£15) served with quinoto (a risotto made from quinoa and cream), this was flavoursome and perfectly cooked - pink and tender. To accompany our meal, we shared a bottle of Tahuam 2011 Malbec, from Mendoza Argentina (£48), with stalky berry fruit flavours and plenty of tannin, it partnered particularly well with the alpaca tenderloin.

We finished our meal with a refreshing and aromatic dessert made from baked strawberries with rosemary, thyme, white wine and eucalyptus, served with vanilla ice cream (£7).

Lunch at Sol y Luna Hotel, Sacred Valley

Just a half a mile's walk or a short taxi ride away from the Hotel Rio Sagrado is the Sol y Luna Hotel. French owned since 1996, and a Relais & Chateaux property, this hotel started as a private house, and has grown over the last twenty years into the luxury hotel it is today.

The hotel has two restaurants headed by Peruvian Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. There is a fine dining option at the Killa Wasi Restaurant, or a more casual choice at the hotel’s open air restaurant and wood oven cooking, and it was here that we headed to.

This restaurant is also a great place to enjoy the display of dressage by four horses and their poncho-wearing riders, with musical accompaniment, which the hotel offers during lunch hours.

The set lunch is priced at US$60 (around £40) per person, and started with freshly baked bread and local empanadas which were delicious, as well as a tomato and avocado salad.

To follow, we had a platter of antecuchos de corazon (skewers of marinated beef heart) tamales and fresh corn. We had a variety of aji sauces, of which I particularly enjoyed Chalacita, made from aromatic rocoto chillies, salt and pepper, onion and coriander.

Next came the selection of meats and fish, including suckling pig and chicken, along with rainbow trout, all grilled over hot coals and served with a variety of local native potatoes baked in the wood oven.

The lunch finished with a platter of fruit, mousse of physalis and whole physalis coated in chocolate, and freshly baked biscuits.

With coffee, we had some hot picarones – ring-shaped Peruvian doughnuts made of pumpkin, deep-fried and served with a generous coating of sugar molasses. Picarones were among the best sweet treats I found in Peru.

If you are there at the weekend, or at any time if you are in a group of at least 10, it is possible to enjoy the fabled Pachamanca - a traditional Peruvian feast in which an oven-like cavity is dug in the ground and filled with an array of beef, chicken, alpaca, many types of potato, cheese, sweet potato and corn.  These are then buried to cook under scalding hot stones. Sadly this is to be tried on our next trip to Peru.

Pachamanca oven built underground

What to Do

Visiting the many sites in the Sacred Valley

To visit most of the archeological sites and museums in and around Cuzco, a Boleto Turistico del Cuzco (Cuzco Tourist Voucher) is useful. At a cost of around £30 per person, it is valid for 10 days and allows entry to 16 sites in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. A half ticket is also available for 1 day only, which gives entry to up to 6 sites at a cost of £17. These are available from the Tourism Office near the Plaza de Armas.

We covered some of the sites in Cuzco Part 1 (see review here). During our time in the Sacred Valley, we made good use of our Tourist Voucher to explore the many fascinating sites in the region. Although it is possible to use the luxury vehicles and guides from the hotel, it is actually very easy and extremely cheap to flag down the collectivo vehicles which ply up and down the road behind the hotel, linking the main sites of the valley.


The magnificent ruins at Pisaq are well worth a visit. Its massive agricultural terraces are still in use today, and there are Inca religious buildings, and a fortress much of which was destroyed by Pissaro's men during the Spanish conquest.

In the new town of Pisaq, the alongside and behind the “Mercado de Abastos de Pisaq” is a market with hundreds of stalls selling local artifacts and food.

There is also a bakery selling wood-oven baked breads, cakes and guinea pigs.


The massive fortress of Ollantaytambo was built in the mid-15th century, by the Inca emperor Pachacuti, who undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley.

It fell to the Spanish in 1540, and today, it is still a beautiful site to visit for its terraced fortifications and commanding views of the surrounding valleys.


Also in the Sacred Valley is the important religious centre of Tambomachay, in honour of the water goddess.

The remains are a fine example of Inca architecture made up of platforms, niches and fountains which still function today, as water flows down through them from a spring higher up in the hills.


An insight into Inca agricultural methods is to be found at the impressive and mysterious circular terraces at Moray, which has a sophisticated irrigation system.

Because of the design and orientation of the terraces, there is a temperature difference of 15 °C between the top and the bottom. Some believe therefore that the terraces were used by the Incas to study the effect of different climatic conditions on crops.

For foodies, it's worth noting that very close to Moray is the otherwise unremarkable town of Maras, from where derive the lovely soft crystals of Maras salt beloved of the top chefs in Lima.

Take an Excursion from the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

The hotel offers a wide range of activities for those who want to do things beyond acclimatizing and soaking up the atmosphere in this beautiful and peaceful part of Peru.  These include horse riding along the river or to the Maras salt mines, or to the archaeological site at Pumawanka. White water rafting is also offered, and off-road driving with a quad-bike. There are guided walks in the valley, cycling tours to the Inca site of Moray, as well as guided visits to the many Inca sites of the valley.

Leaving the Sacred Valley Aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train (formerly Orient Express)

For our journey to Machu Picchu from the Sacred Valley, we took the spectacular Belmond Hiram Bingham Train. Deciding that it was unlikely I would be returning to Machu Picchu, I thought that there would be no other way to make this trip truly unforgettable than to arrive by this train.

Taking in the sights aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train
The train is named after the American academic and explorer who first brought Machu Picchu to global attention in 1911 using the guidance of indigenous farmers who took him there.

Originally a collection of 1920s wooden train carriages from South Africa, the Belmond Hiram Bingham train was transported to Peru and restored to its former glory, with polished wood and brass, and large comfortable armchairs.  Today, the train has two dining cars, an observation/bar car and a kitchen car, and can carry up to 84 passengers.

Passengers are seated in the dining cars, at tables set with gleaming crystal and polished cutlery. The maître d' then offers a gastronomic dinner, with cocktails and wines included in the ticket price of £250.

We were served an impressive four-course dinner that included a wonderful leek and potato soup made from dried and rehydrated morada potatoes cultivated at an altitude of 3000 metres, as well as a magnificent tenderloin of alpaca with all the trimmings.

Guests are invited to the bar car, to enjoy cocktails and live music. This was a lot of fun, with many passengers getting up to dance and play percussion.

The only other experience I have had which is anything like this was the Orient Express Train in London (reviewed here), and it really is an unforgettable journey that will add the finishing touch to any trip to Machu Picchu.

Putting your dancing shoes on aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train

Travel Essentials

Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado
Carretera Urubamba-Ollantaytambo
Valle Sagrado

Our Garden Junior Suite is currently being advertised at a rate of £190 per night.

Hotel Sol y Luna
Fundo Huincho lote A-5

Tickets for the Belmond Hiram Bingham trains are available from purchase online direct from Peru Rail at: www.perurail.com. If yo would like to learn more about the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train, visit their website at http://www.belmond.com/hiram-bingham-train/

Prices vary somewhat depending on the time and day of travel, and the Hiram Bingham train costs in the region of £250 per person including dinner and alcoholic drinks. 

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