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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 18 December 2015

Duck & Champagne Menu at Michelin-Starred HKK - The Rolls Royce of Peking Duck Experiences at Unbeatable Value

Name: HKK - Duck & Champagne Saturday Lunch Menu

Where: 88 Worship Street, London EC2A 2BE, http://hkklondon.com/#home

Cost: The Duck & Champagne menu is available for Saturday lunchtimes only, at a cost of £49 per person. The menu is for two to share and includes a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne (which alone costs £79 on the a la carte menu) as well as a 4-course meal including a whole cherry wood roasted Peking duck (valued at £88 on the a la carte menu).

The Duck & Champagne menu cost £98 plus service for 2; if the Peking duck and bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne were to be ordered together from the a la carte menu, they would cost £167.

About: Tucked away in the City, a 5 minute walk from Liverpool Station, the 1-Michelin starred HKK is part of the renowned Hakkasan Group of restaurants. I was intrigued to learn of HKK’s new Duck & Champagne menu, launched in October 2015, and so hurried along to give it a try.

The menu features a whole HKK’s signature cherry wood roasted Peking duck, which takes 48 hours to create, using myriad cooking techniques - each 1.8kg, 65-day old duck from Southern Ireland is marinated in a glaze of Chinese five spice, lemon grass, sugar, and garlic, then showered with boiling water, vinegar and lemon juice. It is then hung to dry for a minimum of twenty-four hours at 3°C a procedure that ensures that the flesh separates from its skin so that it can be made so divinely crisp during cooking. After this drying process, the duck is placed in a custom-made glass-windowed firestone oven for one and a half hours over a cherry wood fire until the meat is succulent and the skin glossy and crisp.

What We Ate: We went of the Duck & Champagne menu which includes a Blue Crab salad, a whole cherry wood roasted Peking duck served three ways, egg-fried rice in a duck & abalone supreme stock and dessert. 

The Blue crab salad, dramatically served on dry ice, featured a pani puri shell filled with dragon fruit, pineapple and melon. On top sat a chicory leaf, and a piece of meaty blue crab, served with a dressing of vinegar, coconut, chilli and peanut. Pop the whole thing in the mouth for an explosion of crunchy texture, tropical fruit and sweet crab - sublime.

The main event was the cherry wood roasted Peking duck. The chef brought the whole duck to our table on a trolley (I loved this element of theatre when dining at HKK), and cut three choice delicacies for us to start with.

Crispy skin from the duck’s shoulder which we ate with organic brown sugar; breast served with a cress salad in sesame and vinegar & a streak of oyster sauce; and finally a manto bun filled with duck leg, leek, cucumber and hoisin sauce, with imperial caviar from Osetra.

While enjoying these delicacies, the rest of the duck was taken back to the kitchen to be carved. It returned expertly sliced and boned, served with slivers of cucumber and spring onion, plum sauce and freshly made sesame pancakes.

HKK’s Peking duck is in a league of its own – the crispy duck skin cracked in my mouth like thin caramel, the meat so utterly succulent, flavoursome and sweet. I've eaten Peking duck with pancakes hundreds of times, but never had anything approaching this level of sophistication and flavour.

To accompany, we were each served a little sphere of egg-fried rice stuffed with Palma ham, topped with dried XO scallop, and a deliciously rich duck and abalone supreme stock.

The dessert was a Nashi pear and Champagne mousse - a base of white chocolate mousse with pear puree, topped with a Champagne sorbet, and finished with cocktail candy and 24 carat gold leaf, bathed in a Chinese honey and Champagne consommé. This was a stunningly beautiful, refreshing dessert, served in a solid stone bowl - a reminder (as if it were needed) that these guys can cook.

What We Drank: We started with a couple of cocktails, both priced at £12.50. The pomegranate margarita blended tequila and plum sake with pomegranate and grapefruit juice, agave syrup and Absinthe. This had rich plum and pomegranate aromas, and a crust of Himalayan salt and grapefruit gave it a stimulating grip.

The Boulevardier was a reinterpretation of the Negroni, blending bourbon, cocchi di torino and Campari. I rarely drink a whisky-based Negroni, and this was an interesting and appetite-stimulating variation on a much-loved (by me, at any rate) theme.  

With the lunch menu, we shared a lovely bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne - elegance in a glass.

Likes: The Peking duck is sensational - a truly extraordinary elision of taste and texture, and probably the finest duck dish I have ever eaten. For a very reasonable price, the menu also includes imperial caviar, XO scallop, blue crab and a fine bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne. Elegant dining room, excellent service. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For the Rolls Royce, crème de la crème of Peking duck experiences, I can't think of anywhere else but HKK. For melt-in-the-mouth duck skin that crackles like caramel, meat that is sweet and tender as ambrosia, and a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne thrown in at under £100 per couple, HKK’s Duck & Champagne menu is the place to be. It is excellent value for money too. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Sutton and Sons - Great British Fish & Chips (and Much More) Now in Islington

Name: Sutton and Sons Fish & Chips (Islington Branch)

Where: 356 Essex Road, London N1 3PD, http://www.suttonandsons.co.uk/

Cost: Sutton & Sons’ eat-in menu offers traditional British fish and chips fare as well as a selection of interesting small bites and a number of daily specials. The Fish & Chip section includes battered scampi at £7.95, cod, haddock and other fish at £9.95, or monkfish at £12.95, with hand-cut chips at £2.75. 

Small Bites features king prawns in tempura batter £4.50, Cromer crab on toast £5.95, ½ dozen Maldon oysters £8.50, and Moules Mariniere £4.50 among other offerings. If you fancy something other than battered fish, the daily specials may include whole sea bass with herb butter £12.50, lobster sub & chips £12.90 or grilled tuna or swordfish £9.50. Set price menus for lunch are also available at £6.50, as well as smaller servings for the kids menu at £5.75 for cod and chips. The take away menu is cheaper.

About: A North London institution, Sutton and Sons Fishmongers was founded by husband & wife duo, Danny and Hana Sutton in Stoke Newington 17 years ago. In 2010 they opened their first Fish & Chips restaurant just across the street from their shop with a second, smaller branch, largely for home and office deliveries, opened at Boxpark Shoreditch a few years later.

More recently, a new Islington restaurant opened on Essex Road. Decked out in smart black and white tiles, with Tolix style chairs and wooden tables, subdued lighting and discrete jazz/rock on the sound system, it's an enjoyable spot to eat in, or wait for your takeaway to be prepared. All their food, whether eaten on the premises or for takeaway, is freshly cooked to order.

The fish is responsibly sourced, and is supplied to all 3 restaurants from their own fishmongers in Stoke Newington, so it couldn’t be fresher. Hana – aka Mrs Sutton – makes a range of home-made pickles and desserts exclusively for the restaurants which are rapidly gaining a deserved North London following!

What We Ate: We started with a couple of the small bites selection - Cromer crab on toast (£5.95) was beautifully presented and delicious, with a generous portion of shredded fresh crab meat seasoned with finely chopped red chilli, red onion and parsley.

The restaurant's own-made smoked haddock and cod fish cakes (£4.95) were also very good - the fish and potato filling was deliciously creamy (more akin to a Japanese Korokke) seasoned with mustard seeds, in a crispy batter, and served with an excellent, fresh tartare sauce (made on the premises).

And of course battered fish had to be ordered – I opted though for the monkfish and chips (£12.95) as opposed to cod on this occasion.

With a super fine, crisp batter and meaty flesh, the monkish was outstandingly good, served alongside proper chips, thick cut and perfectly fried - crispy on the outside but soft and meltingly tender on the inside.

The lobster sub and fries (£12.90) served in a buttered brioche bun was filled to the brim with large pieces of meaty lobster and seasoned with a delicious Mary Rose sauce spiked with paprika – heaven!

We had a side serving of Mrs Sutton's homemade pickles too - quail eggs, balsamic shallots and red onion rings (£2.25). If you get to try these babies when you visit Sutton and Sons, you will never go back to the jarred, ready-made variety, I assure you! They were sweet, sour and beautifully delicate, with a great hit of clove and cinnamon in the onion rings. They worked a treat as a palate cleanser between courses and at the end of the meal.

What We Drank: The restaurant serves red, white and rose wines by the glass or bottle, including a Picpoul de Pinet for £19.50, and an Argentinian Malbec for £18.50.  The Renard Barnier Champagne is priced at a very reasonable £34.50. Beers come from Hackney Brewery, as well as Fullers others. On our visit, we opted for the Fullers London Pride (£4.25 for 500ml), and the Hackney Brewery American Pale Ale (£4.50 for 500ml).

Likes: Top quality, super fresh fish and seafood, perfectly cooked proper chips, a good selection of wines and craft beers at sensible prices. We loved the Cromer crab toasties, the lobster sub, the fantastic chips, the super delicate and crispy fish batter, the sweet pickles…. the list goes go….

Dislikes: What's not to like?

Verdict: In a sea of chain and other lamentable restaurant options on Upper Street, Sutton and Sons is a very welcome addition to the dining scene in Islington. From cod & chips to whole grilled seabass or lobster subs, they do it all, and they do it well. And it is great value for money too. Very highly recommended.   

Thursday 10 December 2015

Sunday Brunching at The Richmond

Name: The Richmond

Where: 316 Queensbridge Road, London E8 3NH, http://www.therichmondhackney.com/

About: This was our second visit to The Richmond in Hackney, but this time we came to try their Sunday Brunch menu - you can see our earlier review here.

The Sunday Brunch menu offers the extensive selection of British oysters for which The Richmond has become known for (also available at other times), as well as a selection of meat and fish dishes that reflect an Antipodean, rather than a traditional British version of Sunday lunch. This is not surprising since the restaurant is owned by Australian executive chef Brett Redman (formerly of The Pavilion Café in Victoria Park).

The Richmond looks even more elegant in the daylight – the dining rooms and bar are tastefully designed in a striking, dominant red colour, with bare dark wooden tables and subdued lighting.

What We Ate: From the starter menu, we chose the English crab muffin (£7) - tender fresh crab over a toasted muffin, the whole thing dusted with lovely Espelette pepper – perfection.

The Grilled dived scallops and preserved lemon butter (£7) was also delicious - plump and meaty, and still adherent to its shell, although definitely singular rather than plural as described on the menu.

For main course, we had the lamb shoulder (£17) - slow cooked for 12 hours, then roasted, this combined crispy skin with the tenderest of meat, and was served with confit tomatoes, anchovies, samphire and aubergine – the blending of land and sea ingredients here worked well, the saltiness/umaminess of the samphire and anchovies (two of my favourite ingredients) with the lamb meat was so damn clever.

I hardly order chicken in a restaurant, unless it is of outstanding quality and The Richmond’s did not disappoint. Their spit roast poussin with pumpkin and sage stuffing (£18) was served with a rich, concentrated and velvety Marsala gravy that saw me scraping my plate! The poussin meat was sweet and succulent, and of excellent quality. The restaurant uses a wood fire to cook all its meats.

To accompany our mains, we shared a side dish of cauliflower cheese (£4) – the cauliflower was cut up into tiny pieces, mixed with cream and cheese and finished off under the grill for a crusty top – I congratulate the chef for making such an uninspiring vegetable taste so utterly delicious!

Deep-fried desserts are just the best things on any menu as far as I am concerned and so the apple beignets (£7) had to be ordered. Served with a fromage frais sorbet, the beignets were airily light, filled with apple puree, and dusted in cinnamon. I loved these babies.

We also had the brown butter financier (£7) - served with poached pears in cinnamon (I can never enough cinnamon in my life!) and crystalised almonds, this was also very good.

What We Drank: The Richmond is renowned for their cocktails and I urge you to order them when you visit. Sunday brunching can only mean Bloody Mary and that is what I had – lightly spicy, and strong, it got our brunch off to a very good start. Dr G opted for The French 75 which blended gin, sparkling wine and lemon, and had a refreshing intensity of lemon.

The wine list is extensive, and focuses almost exclusively on Europe. There is a good selection of wines by the glass or 500ml carafe. The entry level white is a Cotes du Rhone at £29, while for the reds, it is a Tempranillo from Castilla, Spain at £27. There are also some well-chosen British craft beers, as well as a couple of Belgian and USA options.

From it, the sommelier suggested a Loire red to accompany our challenging combination of lamb and poussin main courses. The Domaine de Veilloux 2013, Cheverny  a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc (£34) was light, but with a good weight of red cherry fruit and little tannin. This was a good choice that stood up to the lamb without overpowering the poussin.

Likes: There is some excellent cooking skill on display at The Richmond, and it's great to see a neighbourhood restaurant where complete confidence in the skill of the chef is justified. Service was faultless.

Dislikes: None. 

Verdict: Fantastic cocktails, highly skilled cooking and a gorgeous restaurant, what is there to dislike about The Richmond? There are very few places in London I can think of where I would rather be for Sunday Brunch. Highly recommended.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Nikkei Cookbook Giveaway + Nikkei Recipe for Prawn Moqueca

This week I am sharing my Nikkei recipe for Prawn Moqueca & Coriander Rice Donburi. This is a super easy and quick recipe to put together, and ideal for any special occasions or as a weekend treat. 

Jacqui Small Publishers are offering 1 copy of my cookbook Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way to 2 readers of The London Foodie, so 2 copies in total. The prize includes free delivery within the UK. See further details of #NikkeiCookbookCompetition below.

Good luck!

Prawn Moqueca 
& Coriander Rice Donburi

Moqueca is a quintessentially Brazilian dish, with nearly every seaside town having its own variation on the theme. In Bahia, they add an African element to the dish in the form of dendê oil. Derived from the palm tree, this bright orange oil has a very special flavour for which there is no substitute. Moqueca is very easy to prepare, and you can substitute prawns with small fillets of fish or other types of seafood. I love serving this moqueca over Japanese rice flavoured with coriander and lemon rice, as in this donburi recipe.


Serves 6 

750g large fresh prawns, peeled and deveined (reserve 2 whole prawns for presentation)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lemon, juice

400g tinned Italian tomatoes including juice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
400ml coconut milk
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil – available from Brazilian or African food shops)
2 tbsp coriander cress
Maldon sea salt

For the coriander rice:
450g short-grain white rice
600ml water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt
8 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
½ lemon, juice and zest
2 garlic cloves, crushed


First, prepare the Japanese steamed rice. Wash the rice in a bowl with plenty of fresh water using a circular motion with your hand. Drain the water and repeat three or four times until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a sieve and let it drain for 15 minutes. Next, transfer the rice to a bowl and soak it in the water for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours (the longer the soaking, the wetter and stickier the rice will be).

Rice cooker method: when the soaking time is up, add the rice and soaking water to the rice cooker bowl, close the lid and turn it on. It should take approximately 15–20 minutes to cook. Once the rice cooker’s alarm beeps, let the rice rest in the unopened rice cooker for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Pan and stove method: choose a pan with a tightly fitting lid (preferably of glass) and with a small ventilation hole for some of the steam to escape. When the soaking time is up, add the rice and soaking water to the pan, place the lid on and bring to the boil (a glass lid will allow to see when the water comes to a boil). As soon as it boils, turn the heat to its lowest setting and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid at any stage during cooking or resting. Take off the heat and let the rice rest for a further 15 minutes before serving.

Once the rice is cooked and before fluffing it, make a green coriander salsa by mixing in a bowl the extra virgin olive oil, salt, juice and fine zest of a lemon, crushed garlic cloves and finely chopped coriander. Fold the coriander salsa well into the cooked rice.

In a bowl, add the prawns, the light soy sauce, the lemon juice and garlic, mix well, cover and marinade for 15 minutes.

Blend the tinned tomatoes with their juices in a food processor, pass through a sieve discarding any seeds or skin.

In a medium-sized cast iron pan, fry the chopped onion on a low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika, 2 teaspoons of Maldon sea salt and the tomato purée and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the reserved whole prawns in a little olive oil until pink, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the prawns warm.

Now stir in the coconut milk and finely chopped red chilli to the thickened tomato sauce, bring to the boil, then add the prepared prawns and its marinade, and cook until the prawns have gone lightly pink, about 1 minute. Stir in the dendê oil, turn off the heat and check for seasoning.

A classic Japanese donburi is a bowl of steamed rice with a topping of meat, fish or vegetables. For this dish, however, I like serving the moqueca de camarão placed around the rice rather than over it. Lightly grease a rice bowl with a little oil, fill it with rice and press it down so that the rice is lightly compressed. Turn the rice bowl onto the middle of a serving plate and remove the bowl. Spoon the moqueca de camarão around the mound of coriander rice adding plenty of sauce, place the whole prawns on the plate finishing with a scattering of coriander cress. Serve immediately.


You can enter the giveaway in three different ways and to increase your chances of winning:

Method 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment in this blog post.

Method 2 – Twitter
If you do not follow @thelondonfoodie on Twitter, you must do so before entering this competition. Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below:

I’d love to win a copy of Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way from @TheLondonFoodie - #NikkeiCookbookCompetition

Method 3 - Instagram
If you do not follow @thelondonfoodie on Instagram, you must do so before entering this competition. Then post a picture of a Nikkei dish attempted by yourself at home using the hashtag #NikkeiCookbookCompetition. 

You can attempt the Prawn Moqueca recipe in this blog post, or perhaps the Salmon Tiradito with Passion Fruit Leche de Tigre, or if you prefer cooking something else, just google 'Luiz Hara Nikkei Recipes', there are a few other options available by other online publications. 


The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Saturday 12th December 2015.

The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random.org.

Each (of two) prizes is a copy of Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way published by Jacqui Small. The prize includes delivery within in the UK. We cannot guarantee a pre-Christmas delivery date.

The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.

The prize is offered and provided by Jacqui Small.

One blog, Twitter and Instagram entry per person only i.e. a maximum of 3 entries per person. You can triple your chances of winning if you enter on all 3 platforms.

For Twitter and Instagram entries, winners must be following @thelondonfoodie at the time of notification. 

Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contact.

The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 3 days of notification, a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, The London Foodie accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.


Thanks everyone for entering the competition!

Monday 30 November 2015

The White Truffle Menu at Brunello Restaurant

Name: Brunello Restaurant (White Truffle Menu)

Where: The Baglioni Hotel, 60 Hyde Park Gate, SW7 5BB,

Cost: The Truffle Menu consists of three courses, and costs £49.50, or with a glass of Moet & Chandon Rose and a glass of Dom Perignon, costs £119.50. The wine list is quite comprehensive, with entry level wines starting from £29.50, and wines by the glass starting at £6.50.

About: With a shelf-life as short and sweet as the eponymous fungus season itself, Brunello Restaurant at The Baglioni Hotel is serving its special Truffle Menu only until 6th December 2015. I enjoyed my stay at The Regina Baglioni Hotel in Rome last year (reviewed here), and so was interested to check out their sister hotel in London. Having had a great time during my visit to the truffle auction in Alba recently (read more about that here), I was intrigued to see a white truffle menu on offer in London.

Baglioni is one of the leading hotel collections in Italy, with properties throughout the country, as well as London, Marrakech, and it is about to open new hotels in south Asia. Part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection, The Baglioni London is situated a stone’s throw from the Royal Albert Hall, opposite Hyde Park. The interior is plush to the point of opulence, personally I found it a tad OTT, but there were plenty of people there who seemed to be having a great time and enjoying it.  

What We Ate: I don’t normally describe amuse bouche, but the one offered at Brunello’s was one of the best dishes on the menu.  Truffled mashed potato was served with a poached quail egg - a lovely little dish heady with truffle aromas, and a sprinkle of fruity Espelette pepper.

The menu proper started with freshly made tagliatelle with parsley, 36 months aged Parmesan cheese, melted butter and shavings of white truffle. I loved the simplicity of this dish, which accentuated the heady aromas of white truffle. The pasta was served al dente, the sauce well seasoned.

To follow, we had Italian-style sliced beef entrecôte with roast potatoes and white truffle cream.  Cooked medium-rare as requested, the beef was of excellent quality, very tender and flavoursome, so much so that I felt it masked the delicate flavour of the white truffle cream. I enjoyed the beef very much and the course as a whole, but could hardly taste any trace of white truffle.

Dessert was two crunchy cannoli filled with chestnut cream, served with a classic vanilla and white truffle sauce. This was probably the best course of the dinner, the combination of vanilla and truffle in the sauce reminding me of eating a ripe durian fruit - sweet, perfumed, savoury and earthy all at the same time.

What We Drank: We started with a glass of Alma Bellavista Cuvee Brut Franciacorta (£12.50 per glass, £58 per bottle). Franciacorta is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and is Italy’s answer to Champagne, with many showing the toasty, brioche characteristics of the best Champagnes. Alma Bellavista was a rich, slightly creamy Franciacorta, made by the traditional method, and was an excellent match for the tagliatelle, butter and truffle dish.

With the beef, we had a glass of Anna Maria Abbona, Dogliani Dolcetto Superiore, Maioli 2012, which like the truffles comes from Piemonte (£12.50 per glass, £49.50 per bottle). Youthful, fruit-driven and with gentle tannins, the mid-range option on the menu, this was more than a match for the flavoursome beef, but again we felt overpowered the truffle sauce. There were only 3 choices of red wines by the glass on the menu - the entry level was priced at £6.50 while the one above the one we ordered, a Brunello di Montalcino cost £25, which perhaps would have been a better choice for the truffle sauce. With the dessert, we had a glass of Sicilian Solidea, Passito di Pantelleria 2009 (£16 per glass). Served very chilled, this was a rich sweet, raisiny wine, and delivered a wonderful end to our meal.

Likes: It's always a pleasure to drink Franciacorta, and there is a good selection at the restaurant. I loved the vanilla and truffle sauce in the dessert. Fantastic service. 

Dislikes: The opulent Italian decor may not be to everyone's taste. The beef, though excellent, was in my opinion not the best choice as a main course on a truffle menu - perhaps some simple polenta, gnocchi or risotto would have been a better accompaniment to the truffle.

Verdict: An opportunity to try the fresh white truffles of Alba in a central London location, and at one of Italy's best hotel collections. At £49.50 for a three course truffle menu, it will not break the bank!

Thursday 26 November 2015

A Foodie Road Trip in Sunny California (Part 1 – Northern California)

#TasteUSA is a campaign created by Discover America, the country’s national tourism board, to celebrate the USA’s varied and delicious culinary landscape. As part of this wider campaign, five UK food and travel bloggers were invited to the US, and each one sent to a different corner of this vast country. I was lucky to have been one of these bloggers and even luckier to be assigned California as my host state.

The streets of San Francisco...

Readers of this blog and followers of my Instagram account @thelondonfoodie, will have seen the #TasteUSA hashtag as I discovered and reported the local foods and bustling neighbourhoods in my trip to California. Here, in The London Foodie, I write in a little more detail some of my foodie and travel adventures there.

I travelled solo, hiring a car for a foodie road-trip that took me from north to south, the entire length of this American state. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, both exciting and frightening in equal measures - I would be lying if I said I was not apprehensive to be driving on my own, spending nearly 10 days talking to myself! These worries were unfounded though as I soon discovered how hospitable the American people are. The road and motorway infrastructure in the US is second to none and with cruise control, sat nav and low petrol cost, it made for a very pleasant drive!

There is a huge contrast between Northern and Southern California, and they are almost like different countries in terms of food, landscape and climate. Landing in the northern part of the state in San Francisco, where I spent a couple of nights, I drove further north to the wine country of Napa, then down to the gorgeous seaside town of Monterey. From there I hit the road again via the super scenic Highway 1 that runs through the entire coast of California to the southern part of the state, Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego. Using Highway 1 will add a few hours to your journey time, but the trip is an amazing experience in itself.

The breathtaking views along Highway 1, California's coastline

In part 1 of this travelog, I recount some of my foodie and travel experiences in northern California – San Francisco, Napa and Monterey.  Southern California - Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego will be covered in part 2.

San Francisco

One of the nicest things about visiting San Francisco is that, although the city is big in terms of cultural attractions and dining, it is geographically rather small – only 49 square miles (London is 607 square miles). It is also one of America’s most pedestrian-friendly cities making it easy enough to see and do a great number of things in a short period of time.

This #TasteUSA feature is not an exhaustive list of things to do in San Francisco, but between one meal and another, there are some unmissable things I would recommend including a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, to Alcatraz, and taking a cable car ride along the hilly streets of the city. Fisherman’s Wharf is a must for great seafood, and the Ferry Building at Embarcadero has become since its renovation the home to a large number of gourmet shops, restaurants and wine bars.

One of my favourite places in San Francisco is Grant Avenue, the oldest street in SF, which runs through the heart of Chinatown with its many exotic food shops, temples and restaurants, and is a great place for a stroll. Next to Chinatown is North Beach, the city’s Italian quarter –a charming neighbourhood of pavement cafés, Italian pizzerias and quirky little shops in and around Washington Square and along Columbus and Grant Avenues. This is where we had a fantastic pizza lunch at Il Casaro, but more of that later.

I stayed at the renowned Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, at the very top of Nob Hill. One of the grandest hotels in the USA, the Fairmont Hotel is a member of the prestigious Historical Hotels of America collection.

The Fairmont Hotel is huge with 597 rooms and suites, 3 restaurants, numerous rooms and corridors and all the other amenities expected of a top 5 star hotel. My room was comfortable and elegantly furnished with many original art deco features, and I had an enjoyable one-night stay there.

The Fairmont Hotel is conveniently located a few blocks from Market Street, one of the busiest shopping streets of San Francisco in the heart of downtown. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Fairmont Hotel, and recommend it to anyone visiting the city.

Some of the fantastic restaurants in the city I got to try included State Bird Provisions, Il Casaro, Tosca Café and Hakkasan and I have written a separate blog post on “Where to Eat in San Francisco” which I will share in the next couple of days.


A couple of hours drive north from San Francisco is the town of Napa. Together with Sonoma, these are the two best-known wine producing regions in Northern California. You might have seen the hilarious wine-themed film Sideways, and Napa is where it was shot. Napa town is small and charming, and merits at a few days’ exploration.

Unsurprisingly, the major industry in town is the making and selling of wine, so it’s a great place to spend some time if you are a wine-lover. There are hundreds of wine shops in town, which is surrounded by more than 400 wineries, many of which offer tours and tastings and are worth a visit.

The largest, most well known wineries such as Mondavi and Beaulieu are open daily with large hosting facilities and professionally guided tours. The many smaller wineries may offer tastings only by appointment. Most vineyards charge a small fee of around $10 per person for the tastings, especially at the more popular vineyards. For more information on where to experience wine tours, and to find a list of wineries and wine shops in Napa, visit the Napa Visitors Centre.

Back Room Wine Shop on Main St in Napa downtown has a great selection of local wines, as well as an extensive range from all over the world. I had a brief tasting here, sampling a few local wines, with the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic owner.

My experience the world over has been that where good wine is produced, good food is sure to be found nearby, and Napa Valley is no exception. The valley is home to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the town of St. Helena, which reinforces the tradition of excellence in the cuisine of the region and beyond.

There are many excellent chefs in this area and many great restaurants. One place to be mentioned is the 3-Michelin starred French Laundry in Yountville. Reservations open two months in advance and sell out fast. Try if you must (sadly I didn’t), but there are many other delicious options.

One of these options is Celadon where executive chef Marcos Uribe offers an eclectic selection of dishes from California and around the world referred to as ‘global cuisine’.

I had a very good meal here starting with a delectable platter of deep-fried calamari in a light coating, served with a spicy chipotle chili, orange honey glaze, and Japanese pickled ginger.

The pasta of the day was fresh fettuccine with a super slow-braised and melting-in-the-mouth beef short rib in a rich sauce with tomatoes, mushrooms and rocket.

Next was Akaushi flat iron steak, grilled yukon gold potatoes, cucumber, blue cheese and salsa verde (a vibrant sauce made with green tomatoes, coriander and green jalapeno). This was also very good – great local ingredients expertly cooked.

Just around the corner from the Napa River Inn, Grace’s Table is a bistro serving excellent American breakfast. On my visit, their house buttermilk pancakes with mixed berries and organic Vermont maple syrup were light and fluffy in a very generous portion.

Noteworthy also was the Grace’s Table cornbread served with deliciously aromatic lavender honey butter.

Oxbow Public Market, located in the Oxbow District of Napa, is a buzzing marketplace for artisan food and wine in Napa Valley, with a number of food vendors, cafes and an organic produce outlet for local farms.

This is where many residents come to buy provisions, and meet friends for some wine, food and a chat. It’s a lively, vibrant place, and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours there.

Next to Oxbow Public Market is Gott’s Roadside, a popular burger joint in Napa and San Francisco, where they have another branch in the Ferry Building.

I had a delicious green chili cheeseburger ($10), spicy sweet potato fries ($4) and a reviving pint of Sierra Nevada ($6).

A member of the Historical Hotels of America collection, the Napa River Inn is a charming hotel built on the premises of a 19th century mill. Situated in the bustling downtown Napa's Riverfront District, with beautiful views of the Napa River, the hotel is convenient for visits to the neighbourhood’s specialty shops, restaurants and wine merchants.

My room had an olde worlde feel to it, with wood paneling, elegant furniture and a large, very comfortable bed. I had a great stay at the Napa River Inn, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the valley.


There are several routes to reach Monterey from San Francisco, most of which are along soulless and endless freeways. I took the lovely Highway 1 route, which added an extra couple of hours to the journey time, but afforded spectacular views of the Pacific coastline as it heads south to the town and beyond. Driving on Highway 1 was one of the highlights of my Californian adventure, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A small town with a population of just 28,000, Monterey makes for a great weekend trip for those staying in San Francisco. It was originally the state capital of California, and has many historic buildings in its town centre as a result.

Today it is best known for its beautiful coastline, world-class aquarium and Monterey Jack cheese.

The town has a busy farmer’s market, located at the Old Monterey Marketplace on Alvarado Street between Del Monte and Pearl. Here I spent some time sampling some local produce, chatting to farmers and food vendors.

The ‘Roli Roti’ rotisserie chicken was by far the busiest food truck in the market, drawing a crowd to a seemingly never-ending queue.

I could quite understand why, because whether sold whole or half, the chicken was succulent and flavoursome, and the roast potatoes served alongside had been cooked in the rich cooking juices that fell to the bottom of the rotisserie, to give crisp, crunchy and delicious roasties. And they were very good value at only $14.50 for a whole chicken, $7.50 for a half, and $3 for a small portion of potatoes.

From the market, I paid a quick visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier, then walked along the scenic costal pathway that led me to the busy and historic Cannery Row with its many shops and restaurants, and finally to Jeninni’s Kitchen and Wine Bar for my dinner.

I had some of the best food of my Californian trip at Jeninni’s. Head chef Trevor Mathiaq’s cooking was punchy, vibrant and full of flavour. I loved his use of local ingredients partnered with a medley of Persian and Middle Eastern spices, and his re-interpretation of classic Mediterranean dishes Californian-style.  

Clams à la sidra came with lardons of Benton’s bacon (Alan Benton is reputedly the best bacon producer in the U.S.), as well as kale and chunky grilled sourdough bread ($16), and was a revelation.

Better still was his crispy octopus, served with Calabrian chili and a delectable lemon marmalade that saw me scraping my plate ($16).

I loved the aubergine fries, spiked with urfa pepper and honey aioli ($8). This was the first time I had tried aubergine fries (I love the courgette variety), and they were delicious.

Equally good were the shawarma pork buns, served with pickled chili and pomegranate molasses ($11). I was glad to see this Taiwanese classic make its way to the coast of California and get a makeover. To finish, I sampled the local albacore tuna, grilled and served with radish slices on a bed of lentils, heirloom carrots and chermoula ($29). A hearty dish, the albacore was meaty, succulent and richly flavoured from the chermoula, and the accompaniments were wholesome and delicious.

Jennini’s Kitchen and Wine Bar is a long way from the touristic restaurants of Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, and it is in a different culinary league. The restaurant was full but I think I was the only traveller there on the evening of my visit. I would very much recommend it to anyone visiting Monterey.

Travel Essentials

For more information on the #TasteUSA campaign and Discover America, visit their website here.

For a great Highway 1 driving-route from San Diego to San Francisco suggested by Visit California, visit their website here.

San Francisco

If you have a little more time in San Francisco and are interested in getting to know this city inside out, I recommend a book called ‘Stairway Walks in San Francisco’ by Adah Bakalinsky, it is currently on its 8th edition (published in September 2014), and can be bought on Amazon here. When I first visited the city in 1995, I bought this book and spent two weeks discovering some of the hundreds of meandering stairways running along San Francisco’s 42 hills, many of which are unfamiliar to tourists and locals.  Walking with this book was like having my own personal guide taking me to the greatest views of the city, sharing anecdotes about the city’s neighbourhoods, their architecture, history and culture as well as their restaurants and cafes along the way. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Fairmont Hotel
950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108

A standard double-room cost from around £300, room rates vary according to room type and seasonality. Valet parking at the hotel costs a whopping $66 per night; so if you are driving to San Francisco and decide to stay at this hotel, do budget for this.


500 Main Street, Suite G, Napa, CA 94559

Grace’s Table
1400 Second St, Napa, CA 94559

Gott’s Roadside
644 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

Oxbow Public Market
610 & 644 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

Back Room Wine Shop
1000 Main St Suite 120, Napa, CA 94559, United States

Napa River Inn
500 Main St, Napa, CA 94559, United States


Roli Roti
Gourmet Rotisserie

Jennini’s Kitchen and Wine Bar
542 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, California, USA

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