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Tuesday 20 December 2016

Martell Cognac's 4th Course Food Pairings & My Super Fast Christmas Pudding Ice Cream

As a non-commercial website, there are very few brands The London Foodie has partnered over the last few years. I was honoured however to have been asked to collaborate with Martell Cognac – and can certainly say that as a chef, food and travel writer this has been an incredible journey.

Image Courtesy of Martell

Three years ago I visited the distillery and their fabulous Château in Cognac, France for one of their Very Special Night event with singer Jamie Cullum and food by none other than Raymond Blanc. This was an unforgettable experience which I wrote about here

Jamie Cullum singing his heart out at Martell Cognac Very Special Night
In 2015, in celebration of Martell Cognac’s 300th anniversary, I hosted two Very Special Night Supper Clubs at my home in Islington, devising two seasonal 6-course French menus to be paired with a number of Martell cognac labels and cocktails on each occasion. More on these Very Special Night Supper Clubs here.

And more recently, Martell Cognac and I collaborated again as I was asked to devise a number of food pairings for their new campaign - the Martell Cognac VS 4th Course. L’art de vivre or the art of living is a wonderfully French concept - the notion that a life well lived should be a thing of beauty, substance and conviviality. For over 300 years Martell Cognac has placed l’art de vivre at the heart of its eponymous spirit, and their 4th Course campaign is another expression of this. 

As I have come to appreciate over the last few years, Martell is all about getting people together, creating a convivial environment with fantastic food and company in which to appreciate a glass or two of Martell Cognac. 

After serving a three-course dinner, you may want to share a bottle of Martell Cognac with your closest friends and family, and with it you may also like to offer a morsel of something delicious and uncomplicated. And this is what the Martell Cognac 4th Course is – delectable, easy and accessible food pairings I devised that can be prepared in a few minutes with ingredients that are readily available in any major supermarket (just like your bottle of Martell Cognac)!

These simple pairings are easily put together in a matter of moments, leaving you free to indulge in the special moment of the evening when the conversation and Martell Cognac are flowing freely after dinner, and of course you wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?!

One of these pairings was my Christmas Pudding Ice Cream. If, like me, you love Christmas pudding but find yourself too full to enjoy it after a long Christmas meal, this recipe is for you.

Martell Cognac VS 4th Course Food Pairing - Christmas Pudding Ice Cream - Image Courtesy of Martell

Love or hate it, you will undoubtedly have your fair share of this quintessential English pudding this season. It is also likely that one or possibly several of these babies will be left in your cupboard come the end of the Christmas festivities. If all that gloriously rich food has finally got to you by then, there is no better way to use up your Christmas pudding leftovers than in this easy to make and deliciously refreshing Christmas Pudding Ice Cream.

Now, if you don’t have an ice cream maker, or have no intention of buying one, I have also created a Super Fast Christmas Pudding Ice Cream recipe which will deliver another fantastic 4th Course Martell VS food pairing with none of the hassle. I copy both recipes below.

Martell VS 4th Course Food Pairing - Romeo & Juliet - 30-month Aged Parmesan Slices with Quince Paste
In addition to my Christmas Pudding Ice Cream, I devised other pairings which I hope you may also like to try at home – these include Iberico charcuterie & Martell Cognac soaked prunes; pears, Roquefort cheese & toasted almonds with Martell soaked raisins; and also one of my favourites, a pairing I call Romeo & Juliet – slices of 30-month aged Parmesan cheese topped with cubes of quince paste (known as membrillo, although other conserves can also be used like guava jam).

Martell VS 4th Course Food Pairing - Iberico Charcuterie and Martell Cognac Soaked Prunes - Image Courtesy of Martell

Whether you are looking for a contemporary twist on a classic Christmas dessert, or simply to enjoy a 4th Course as part of your meal, all pairings were designed to enhance the blend of fresh citrus and pear flavours, wood and spice notes, and velvety texture of Martell VS.

Image Courtesy of Martell
For more information on Martell VS and the 4th Course food pairings, visit the Martell website hereLet me know how you get on with the 4th course pairings, I would be very keen to hear your feedback. I hope you enjoy them!

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream

A seasonal pairing with myriad spices including cinnamon, vanilla, star anise and cloves that should complement the wood and spice notes of Martell VS. A lighter version of a Christmas favourite, this should be a great 4th course pairing at the end of a long Christmas meal or at any time of the year.

Image Courtesy of Martell
As with most ice-cream, the base mixture is made from Crème Anglaise or a light custard. The beauty of it is that this mixture can be infused with a huge variety of different ingredients, which means that most flavoured ice-cream can be made from this "starter" mixture. The humble vanilla ice cream is made from infusing crème anglaise with vanilla seeds, green tea ice cream with matcha powder, chocolate ice cream with high-quality melted chocolate, so the variations are endless. For this Christmas Pudding Ice Cream recipe I am using a number of spices which are found in the pudding itself including cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and vanilla to flavour the custard base.

For top quality ice cream, the most important elements are a good crème anglaise which is well flavoured and lump-free, excellent quality ingredients and a good ice-cream maker which will churn the ice cream, breaking the ice crystals as it freezes. Domestic ice cream makers can be purchased from as little as £20, and are in my opinion a worthwhile investment for what they deliver.


For the Crème Anglaise - Custard Base:
600ml whole milk
600ml fresh double cream
200g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
10 medium egg yolks

For the Flavouring:
3 cloves
3x cinnamon sticks (roughly 2-inch in length each)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cardamom pods lightly crushed
450g Christmas pudding, chopped into small pieces

For the Topping:
75ml Martell Cognac
100g dark dried raisins


1. Soak the dried raisins in Martell cognac for a few hours or overnight until they are plump, very soft and have soaked up enough cognac.

2. Using a small knife, split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape off the vanilla seeds from the pod.

3. In a medium sized pan, add the milk, cream, vanilla pod (reserving the seeds for later), half the sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and cardamom pods. Warm this mixture through until nearly boiling point, then remove it from the heat, cover and let steep for a couple of hours.

4.  Using a sieve, strain the infused mixture into a clean medium sized pan, add the vanilla seeds and warm this mixture through. 

5. While the infused mixture is being re-heated, using a whisk, quickly blanch the egg yolks by whisking them vigorously with the remaining half sugar until it is dissolved and the mixture is whitened (blanched). 

6. Turn the heat to low, and add the egg and sugar mix (1/3 at a time) into the infused milk. Using a rubber spatula, mix this constantly ensuring that the egg is not cooked or burnt at the bottom of the pan. Reheat the mixture until it starts steaming, if you feel the mixture is overheating, move the pan on and off the heat while mixing. The desired consistency is "coating consistency" or in other words, when a line remains clear as it is drawn on the back of the spatula, and the custard is thickened. Do not overheat the custard - egg yolks will curdle if the temperature goes much higher than that.

7. Pour the custard into a clean bowl. Cover the surface with cling film to avoid creating a crust and let it cool down for a couple of hours. If you are in a hurry, place the bowl over an ice bath and stir until the flavoured crème anglaise has cooled down. 

8. Pour the cooled mixture into your ice cream machine and churn and freeze this according to the manufacturer's instructions. It will take approximately 45-60 minutes.

9. Just before stopping the churning of the ice cream machine, stir in the chopped up Christmas pudding, and churn for a couple of minutes until well combined. Place the ice cream in the freezer until required.

10. To serve, take the ice cream out of the freezer and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Then scoop the ice cream into a small bowl and top it with Martell soaked raisins and the luscious soaking liqueur.

Cook’s Note: If you do not have an ice cream churner, place the mixture in the freezer, take it out every hour and blitz it in a food processor to break up the ice crystals, return the mixture to the freezer and repeat this 3 or 4 times on the hour.

My Super Fast Christmas Pudding Ice Cream 

The super fast version – nearly all the benefits with none of the hassle. A 5-minute 4th course pairing which will work a treat with a glass of Martell VS. Check the video below to learn how to make this food pairing:


600ml good quality vanilla ice cream
250g Christmas pudding, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground mixed spices (a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves)
For the Topping:
75ml Martell Cognac
100g dark dried raisins


1. Soak the dried raisins in Martell cognac for a few hours or overnight until they are plump, very soft and have soaked up enough cognac.

2. Place the ice cream, the ground mixed spices and the Martell VS in a food processor and whizz for about 10 seconds until thoroughly mixed. Turn off the food processor.

3. Add the chopped Christmas pudding to the bowl, using a spatula gently mix it into the ice cream mixture. Do not over mix as you want to keep some Christmas pudding texture.

4.  Quickly pour this mixture into a sealable container and return to the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.
5. To serve, take the ice cream out of the freezer and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Then scoop the ice cream into a small bowl and top it with Martell soaked raisins and the luscious soaking liqueur.

Friday 16 December 2016

Jersey – Discovering the Channel Islands' Gastronomic Gem

It is the same old story – we travel to the most remote places on earth without much thought but somehow disregard what is right here on our doorstep – so a recent invitation by the Jersey Tourism Board saw me packing my bags and jetting off to the Channel Islands!

For an island of 45 square miles, Jersey really packs a punch – I came to explore a place with a fascinating history, incredible natural beauty, and some of the UK's finest food, with a high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants and top class produce – think Jersey royals, Jersey cows’ milk, Jersey oysters and lobsters, and more!
Jersey oysters - the tastiest you will ever try!

But I am getting ahead of myself here – I will be writing about some of Jersey’s fantastic local produce in a separate post. Today, I wanted to share with you some of the great meals I had during my visit. So as you plan your trip to Jersey, bookmark this page and return to it to find details and to book into any of the restaurants listed.
The Jersey War Tunnels Museum - a must visit!

Eat Jersey Food Festival

My visit to Jersey coincided with the Eat Jersey Food Festival, which returned for its second year in November 2016. The Eat Jersey Food Festival is a great initiative by The Atlantic Hotel and other local businesses to promote the gourmet produce and fine-dining scene available in Jersey.
Jersey's breathtaking views

This year, a series of dinners and cookery events took place over the 4 days of the festival, fronted by the Atlantic Hotel’s Executive Head Chef Mark Jordan. He was joined by a prestigious line-up of renowned chefs from the Channel Islands and Britain including Andrew Fairlie, of the 2-Michelin star Andrew Fairlie Restaurant at Gleneagles, as well as Tom Brown from 1-Michelin star Outlaw’s at The Capital in London to name just a couple.

Where to Eat in Jersey

The Ocean at The Atlantic Hotel

It was at The Ocean at The Atlantic Hotel that I had my first taste of Jersey’s fine dining – a collaboration between chefs Tom Brown (Outlaw’s at The Capital) and Mark Jordan (Ocean at The Atlantic Hotel) for a superb 8-course dinner that blew me away.

The dinner was a real display of Jersey’s local produce and the chefs’ impeccable skill and palate. There were so many favourites – I loved Mark Jordan’s tasting of miniatures of duck – a clever dish of foie gras, scallop, duck breast terrine, duck liver parfait, nuts and brioche.

Equally stunning was his risotto of Jersey squid and cauliflower – the squid had been finely diced to resemble grains of rice, then topped with thin layers of raw cauliflower and scallops, and served in a deliciously unctuous anchovy cream.

Tom Brown’s pan-fried hake, clotted cream and cider sauce, with mussels and cabbage was also a highlight. I had not tried Brown’s cooking before but he is definitely on my radar now.
Jersey's fantastic fish and seafood by Tom Brown

If this Eat Jersey Food Festival dinner at The Atlantic Hotel is anything to go by, I would thoroughly recommend The Ocean restaurant to anyone visiting Jersey to try their à la carte menu.

Ormer by Shaun Rankin and Bohemia Bar & Restaurant

The Ocean is one of 3 restaurants on the island that has been awarded a Michelin star. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to visit the other two (something I must put right on my next visit), but in case you are planning a trip, the other restaurants are Ormer by Shaun Rankin and Bohemia Bar & Restaurant. Please see the Travel Essentials section below for more details on all these restaurants.

Mark Jordan at the Beach

Mark Jordan at the Beach, situated on the shoreline with breathtaking coastal views, was where I had a fabulous lunch and where got to try the island’s famous Jersey lobster.

A more casual setting than its sister restaurant The Ocean at The Atlantic Hotel, Mark Jordan at the Beach’s menu is uncomplicated and accessible, and I loved the food here – the poached Jersey oysters in a delectable cucumber beurre blanc were to die for, as were the free range Scotch egg with Manor Farm pork, and homemade Piccalilli.

For my main course I had the grilled Jersey lobster, which was really good – meaty and beautifully cooked, but I had serious food envy as I looked at my companions’ Jersey beef burger with hand-cut chips! It looked so delicious, so I made a mental note to order this on my next visit.

Café Zephyr at The Royal Yacht Hotel

At the Café Zephyr, situated at The Royal Yacht Hotel, I had another great meal. For me, Jersey is all about the fantastic seafood - their oysters are the tastiest I have tried anywhere, so when I saw them on the menu I hurriedly ordered them.

I was told that 80% of all the island’s seafood is sold to France, so if you are lucky enough to see Jersey oysters on a British menu, I urge you to order them. They are a tad smaller than most oysters, but are so much tastier and saltier, a real delicacy.

Just as good was Café Zephyr’s pan-roasted seabass, served with a rich lobster bisque, beurre blanc, baby vegetables, Jersey royals and tiger prawns – this had different layers of flavours and textures and the freshest fish and seafood, it was heaven on a plate!

The Salty Dog

Later that day, at the charming St Aubin’s Village, I made my way to The Salty Dog for their signature ‘Really Posh Fish & Chips’. The Salty Dog is a casual and accessible eatery with a loyal clientele; the restaurant was packed on the Sunday night I visited.
Charming St Aubin's Bay

Their 'really posh fish and chips' (described on the menu as tempura haddock, sole and king prawn) unfortunately had no tempura batter, but was nonetheless delicious and very crisp, served with hand-cut chunky chips and a salsa verde. I really enjoyed the variety of fish offered and the zingy, refreshing salsa. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised at the great value of The Salty Dog's food and drink offerings.

Really posh fish and chips by The Salty Dog
El Tico Beach Cantina

I have mixed feelings about El Tico Beach Cantina but I thought I should also include them here. The menu is simple and well thought out with some crowd pleasers and bistro-like dishes at reasonable prices.

El Tico's stunning beach location
My choice of crab linguine was adequate though not what I had expected. I love crab linguine, but El Tico’s was rather soupy, and lacking in seasoning – I expected something drier and fresher (and better seasoned) if the description on their menu was anything to go by. Service was also not great – not as friendly as elsewhere and somewhat uninformed. As I was on my own, I didn’t get to try anything else, so I left the restaurant a tad disappointed.
Crab Linguine by El Tico

El Tico is situated in a gorgeous setting with great sea views, so if you happen to visit, you will probably be able to take some fantastic pictures of Jersey. Subsequently, locals told me that El Tico is rather good (the lobster club sandwich is apparently a must), so I decided to include it here.

Here in the UK, we moan how we do not do fish and seafood as well as in France, and how these are so much better over in the continent. Well, this is not the case in Jersey – the quality of the fish and seafood I saw in the island is second to none, and the standards of cooking on all restaurants I visited were overall excellent. I was truly inspired by this, and cannot wait to return to Jersey this coming Summer for more Jersey oysters, lobsters and fish!

My Jersey #theislandbreak visit was sponsored by the Jersey Tourism Board, for more information about the island, please visit their website here. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site as always. 

Travel Essentials

Ocean Restaurant
Atlantic Hotel
Le Mont de la Pulente, St Brelade JE3 8HE, Jersey
T: +44 (0) 1534 744101

Mark Jordan at the Beach
La Plage, La Route de la Haule, A1, St Peter JE3 7YD
T: +44 (0) 1534 780180

Ormer Restaurant by Shaun Rankin
7-11 Don Street
St Helier

Bohemia Bar & Restaurant
Green Street, St. Helier
Channel Islands

Café Zephyr
The Royal Yacht Hotel
St Helier
Channel Islands
T: +44 (0) 1534 720511

The Salty Dog
Le Boulevard, St. Aubin's Village JE3 8AB
T: +44 (0) 1534 742760

El Tico Beach Canteen
La Grande Route des Mielles, St Ouens
Jersey JE3 7FN

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Do You Know Your Wagyu From Your USDA? Wagyu Beef Demystified

A question I am often asked at my Japanese and Nikkei supper club is about Wagyu beef. There is such a mystique about it, with stories of pampered cattle receiving daily massages and drafts of beer to enhance their flavour and texture. But is it all true, I am asked? So I thought I would pen a few words about it here.

A recent visit to the BBC Good Food Show to see my friend Chef Daniele Codini at the Japanese Wagyu beef stand made me think a little deeper about Wagyu. 

After 300 years of isolation from the outside world, Japan was a rural nation that relied heavily on oxen for agricultural purposes. Coupled with a Buddhist reluctance to take animal life, a nationwide ban on meat-based diets was imposed. It was not until the end of the Meiji Restoration in 1872, prompted by an announcement by the Japanese Emperor that he was consuming beef, that the Japanese started experimenting with it. 

And for a country that has only eaten beef since the late 19th century, Japan has perfected the raising of top quality beef to an exquisite level by a relentless focus on quality control, animal husbandry and cross-breeding. 

What is Wagyu beef?

Wagyu in its most literal form simply means Japanese beef – ‘Wa’ being a prefix referring to Japan, and ‘gyu’ meaning cow. So Wagyu refers to any Japanese cattle. 

There are four different native Japanese breeds of cattle, with the most prized being those providing the highest degree of fat marbling. The Japanese black breed makes up 90% of all Wagyu beef cattle, with the brown, polled and short-horned breeds making up the other 10%.

Daniele Codini's Wagyu Sunday Roast
In several areas of Japan, Wagyu beef is shipped carrying area names, for example Kobe beef – contrary to what many think, there is no Kobe breed, but the meat is so called because it comes from Kobe and its surrounding areas. Kobe beef became popular in the 20th century as the first Westerners arrived to trade at the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo. They saw the name Kobe beef on restaurant menus, and the name caught on outside Japan.

Wagyu beef from Miyazaki with the Wagyu Universal Mark
Are the cows really massaged and do they drink beer?

No, this is an urban myth. In addition to genetics, Wagyu beef is so special because of the great deal of care that goes into raising the cattle by the Japanese farmers. Every calf is given a name, not just a number, and a birth certificate with the names of not only its parents, but also its grand parents and great grand parents. This ensures that the pedigree is impeccable. 

The calves are weaned soon after birth, then milk-fed by hand, and even provided with hand-made jackets in the colder months. This is all followed by a stringent process of fattening them up for slaughter. 

Why is the meat so delicious?

There are two main reasons – firstly, the genetic make-up of the indigenous Japanese cattle, and secondly, the high degree of expertise and care of the farmers in raising them. 

Consequently, the meat has a high degree of fat marbling (known in Japan as meat snow), which gives it a melt in the mouth tenderness and a wonderful creaminess, with a strong flavour described as having peach and coconut tones.

A2 Sirloin from Miyazaki Prefecture
In addition, Wagyu beef has a high content of oleic acid (a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid found mostly in olive oil) which is believed to enhance the flavour of the meat.

After the animals are slaughtered, there is a strict grading of the meat to ensure that purchasers know exactly what they are paying for. Wagyu beef is graded on a matrix for its quality and marbling (from 5 to 1) and yield (from A to C), with the highest being A5.  

Differences between Japanese and Welsh, Australian or USA Wagyu

You might have heard of Wagyu beef from countries other than Japan, but these are not 100% Wagyu beef since Japan has only ever exported male Wagyu cattle abroad.

The so-called Wagyu beef from Wales, Australia or the USA therefore come from crosses of male Wagyu with breeds native to these other countries, and are thus only 50% Wagyu.  

If you want to make sure that you are purchasing 100% Wagyu beef, check that the Universal Wagyu Mark is on the packaging. This proves that the meat comes from cattle that is 100% Wagyu and its lineage can be traced back three generations.

Wagyu Beef in the UK - BBC Good Food Show

It was great seeing Wagyu beef being promoted by the Japan Livestock Products Export Promotion Council, and presented at venues like the BBC Good Food Show. 

Chef Daniele Codini, head chef at Percy & Founders but formerly at the Japanese restaurant Yashin Ocean House, was at the BBC Good Food Show demonstrating how Wagyu beef can be cooked and enjoyed in a British home.

I loved his Wagyu sirloin (A2 quality from Miyazaki prefecture), simply pan-fried on a very hot pan, seared on the outside but rare in the middle, akin to a Japanese ‘tataki’ style dish.

Wagyu Tataki
It was served with a delicious mayonnaise made from charcoal smoked oil, and topped with ponzu gelatin flavoured with truffle oil, and pickled carrots. The meat was outstandingly good, creamy and so flavoursome, and paired with Daniele’s gorgeous presentation and clever balancing of flavours, this was a dish to remember!

For a more traditional British recipe, Daniele’s second dish was a posh Sunday Roast using wagyu top rump beef. Sous-vide for an hour, the rump was then seared in a very hot pan, and served with a delectable cream of fresh grated horseradish mixed with creme fraiche, chives and salt. The vegetable accompaniment was steamed potato (lightly coloured in the pan with Wagyu fat), and girolle mushrooms seasoned with thyme, garlic and bayleaf.

Why not try Japanese Wagyu at home?

Daniele’s recipes were utterly delicious and I enjoyed the freshness that he brought into them by adding citrus and vinegared flavours to balance the fat and creaminess of the beef.

During my time living in Japan, I purchased wagyu on a number of occasions – I must admit, I did very little to them though, preferring to simply pan-frying the meat (seasoned with a little olive oil and salt) and serving them with chips, HEAVEN!

With a 13-year ban on Wagyu beef lifted in the UK in 2014, and the availability of 100% Wagyu beef now becoming more widespread, you do not need to travel to Japan to try this delicacy.

We can all cook Wagyu at home...

Wagyu beef is not cheap, but good quality ingredients never are – prices vary substantially depending on quality, but as a treat on special occasions, I can think of very few things that can beat a seared Wagyu steak, served with some home-made chips and a big glass of Barolo red wine!

Wagyu Essentials

For more information on Wagyu Japanese Beef, please visit the Japan Livestock Products Export Promotion Council website – http://wagyu.lin.gr.jp

Where to Buy 100% Wagyu in the UK

The Hampstead Butcher & Providore (Hampstead)
56 Rosslyn Hill

The Hampstead Butcher & Providore (West Hampstead)
244 West End Lane
West Hampstead
Nw6 1LG

87-135 Brompton Road

Fortnum and Mason
181 Piccadilly

Japan Centre
19 Shaftesbury Avenue

Atari-Ya (Finchley)
595 High Road
North Finchley
N12 0DY

Atari-Ya (West Acton)
7 Station Parade
West Acton
W3 0DS

Atari-Ya (Golders Green)
15-16 Monkville Parade
Finchley Road
NW11 0AL

Atari-Ya (Kingston)
44 Coombe Road
Kingston Upon Thames

Where to Eat 100% Wagyu in the UK

Benihana (Piccadilly)
37 Sackville Street

Benihana (Chelsea)
77 King’s Road

23 Conduit Street

87-135 Brompton Road

Tokyo Sukiyaki-Tei
85 Sloane Avenue
South Kensington

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Rediscovering London's St James - Food, History and Mustard Macarons!

‘Mustard macarons anyone?’ - I hesitate as Mustard Sommelier Harry Lalousis hands me a plate, but not for long.  

Intrigued, I savour the caramel-coloured shells as my palate picks up honey and a hint of sweet Sauternes, two of the many gourmet mustard flavours available I am told – my curiosity is piqued at the myriad possibilities of bringing mustard into my cooking.

For I am at the gorgeous La Maison Maille in Piccadilly Arcade, at a tasting session that will teach me a thing or two about mustard. But more on this eye-opening event later, as the boutique is just the first of many stops on a day spent Christmas shopping and eating my way around the district of St James in Westminster. 

I enjoy the brisk autumnal air as I walk down Jermyn Street, one of my favourite in St James.  Whenever I am here, I feel a sense of occasion, walking along one of the most quintessentially British streets, an address with over 300 years of history. 

The street derives its name from Henry Jermyn, the Earl of St Albans, who in 1661 was granted this plot of Crown land by Charles II to develop a residential neighbourhood in the area then known as St James’ Field. It has been a sought-after address ever since, with some illustrious former residents including Gladstone, Thackeray and Sir Isaac Newton. 

Today, the street is famous for its gentlemen’s tailoring, with shops like Alfred Dunhill, Daks, Hackett and Hawes & Curtis to name just a few. But it is also home to some fantastic specialist food outlets like Fortnum & Mason, Franco’s and Paxton & Whitfield

And it is here, at cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield, that I make another of my stops. This St James institution originated in 1797, gaining its first Royal Warrant to Queen Victoria in 1850, and a few others since then including Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II.

I reckon that what’s good enough for Her Maj is good enough for me, and my visit to the shop did not prove me wrong. I spend a heavenly hour sampling a selection of artisan cheeses made on a small scale at local farms and with minimal mechanization, and for which Paxton & Whitfield is known.

The cheese counter has a mind-boggling array of hard and soft, blue and washed-rind cheeses from the UK and abroad. With over 200 years in the business, the staff have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their produce, and will go out of their way to help find the right cheese for you.

And what a great opportunity to come to a shop like Paxton & Whitfield to discover some unique British cheeses you are not likely to find anywhere else in the country, unless you are a local.

One such cheese is The Goddess from Somerset, made from Guernsey cows milk, the rind washed in Somerset cider. This is utterly delectable, creamy and one of those very special items you may be lucky enough to have on your cheese platter this Christmas.

With my cheese platter now sorted, I head over to Berry Brothers & Rudd on nearby St James Street to find the perfect wine to accompany it.

Founded in 1698, the head office is still in the original building at no.3 St James, which has changed little in over 300 years. Today Berry Brothers & Rudd is a thoroughly modern business with a strong on-line presence.

The store is deceptively large, with a number of floors and private rooms behind the narrow street front. It hosts a huge variety of events, including masterclasses, courses run by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, as well as private and corporate entertainment, lunches, dinners and wine tastings.

I must admit, after 25 years living in London, and having walked past the shop many occasions, this is the first time I have set foot in it. This is because the name Berry Brothers & Rudd always made me think of a stuffy, old-fashioned and expensive wine merchants’ store.

But despite their long heritage supplying wine to the aristocracy, the rich and the famous, they welcome everyone even if they just want to buy one bottle starting from as little as £5. So I am pleased to find friendly and approachable staff who show me around, pointing out some great buys.

One of these is Berry Bros & Rudd’s entry-level Bordeaux, their Good Ordinary Claret (GOC) priced at £9 per bottle, or £19 for a magnum. And if you buy on-line in cases of 12, there are discounts, so that for example GOC retails at £8.10 per bottle, with free delivery on orders over £100.

Another delicious tipple unique to the merchants is the The King’s Ginger, specifically formulated by Berry Bros & Rudd in 1903 for King Edward VII, to revive him after long morning rides on his new-fangled Daimler horseless carriage.

King's Ginger Liqueur at Berry Brothers & Rudd
It is a rich and zesty liqueur, with a blend of spicy dried and raw root ginger, lemon peel, with aromas of sherbet and golden syrup, and a warming, long finish. It also makes a great base for a cocktail, as in The King’s Fizz, with one part of The King’s Ginger to four parts of Champagne or sparkling wine, or The King’s Tonic – one part King’s Ginger to two parts tonic water, lemon and a dash of Angostura Bitters.   

But one of the most fascinating discoveries for me at St James this year is at La Maison Maille in Piccadilly Arcade. How excited can you be over mustard, you may ask. And I’m telling you – a lot! 

Maille is about much more than just mustard, as Harry Lalousis, the Head Mustard Sommelier explains to me – “we propose a new concept of flavoured mustard combinations, and the art of cooking with mustard to further enhance the flavours of base ingredients”.

Well if that mustard macaron is anything to go by, I am totally sold.   

Originally from Dijon, La Maison Maille still makes its base vinegars in Burgundy, and flavours its mustards with a dazzling array of luxury products that make it the mustard of choice for top chefs such as the 2 Michelin-starred Helene Darroze and Bruno Loubet.  

But you don’t need to be a Michelin-starred chef to use Maille mustards. There are many mouthwatering recipe cards available in the shop or on the website, and there is even a Maille cookbook for anyone to try. Who knew that you could use mustard to make salmon sashimi with herb salad and Parmesan using honey and balsamic vinegar Maille mustard, or pan-fried cod steaks with lemon and garlic mustard glaze, or even chocolate fondant for which Maille mustard with honey and whipped cream makes a stunning filling?  

There are currently 38 out of a total of 84 flavours available in the shop in St James, including some lovely combinations like saffron and Isigny crème fraiche, or hazelnut and black chanterelle mushrooms, or coconut and Colombo spices, costing as little as £5.50 per jar. 

Several of their mustards are available fresh from the pump, including Sauternes or Chardonnay mustards, and of these I get to taste and take home the lovely Black Truffle and Chablis mustard.

This combines Provençal winter black truffles with Chablis, which can transform anything from mashed potato or risotto to new heights of deliciousness. I am enjoying it these days over scrambled eggs, or as a posh dipping sauce for my triple-cooked home-made chips.

For foodies the world over, I can’t imagine a better present than one of La Maison Mailles’ mustard gift sets this Christmas, starting from £10. I have my eye on the Discovery Selection Gourmet set of four bottles of luxury mustard for £22.80 (hint hint).   

All this shopping gets me thirsty, so I stroll across to the Swan Bar at the fabulous Maison Assouline on Piccadilly. A luxury French publishing house opened in 1994 by Prosper and Martine Assouline, Maison Assouline today has boutiques all over the world, including this one in London opened in 2014.

Maison Assouline publishes glossy coffee table books on fashion, art, architecture, design and travel, hosts art exhibitions, and houses a number of high-end antiques, artworks and furniture, which are all for sale.

All these beautiful artifacts make a stunning setting for the Swan Bar at Maison Assouline Piccadilly. Here, I recharge my batteries with a couple of cocktails and a platter of delectable canapés.

I love their Rat Pack cocktail, which combines Bourbon, Grand Marnier and Vermouth with a dash of Angostura bitters – it is strong with hints of orange and just a touch of sweetness. All cocktails are priced at £14.50, and are served with a 50ml standard measure of spirit.

The food menu at Maison Assouline offers a small but well thought-out list of dishes, including a very reasonable three-course set lunch menu for £25. I have a platter of bocconcini mozzarella with basil and cherry tomatoes, as well as slices of crispy baguette topped with Tolstoy smoked salmon, foie gras and cranberry, and Iberico ham with fresh figs.  

The Swan Bar at Maison Assouline
As well as the impressive setting on the ground floor where the Swan Bar is situated, there is a more intimate room on the top floor of the building filled with the most stunning sofas, artwork and antiques, which is open to the public to relax and enjoy a few glasses of wine or cocktails in relative privacy.

The top room at Maison Assouline is a hidden gem, and I know of nowhere better in St James for a quiet drink and a catch-up with friends, in the lap of luxury. 

Maison Assouline is one of the many new businesses opening up in St James recently. It is well known that the district is home to businesses that have been in the area for hundreds of years, but in the last couple of years, St James has seen a number of new restaurants, shops and other establishments arriving.

One such place is St James Market. This is a new West End destination created to reinvigorate the area, with seven new restaurants, five retail stores and a specially commissioned public art programme.

Among these are Japanese brasserie Anzu (by Emma Reynolds of Tonkotsu fame), Nordic Aquavit, Danish bakers Ole & Steen Lagkagehuset and Veneta by the Salt Yard Group. And a second branch of Duck & Waffle is rumoured to have taken up one of the last remaining units.

Piccadilly, London
St James Market provides more diverse options to suit varying tastes and budgets, and goes to show that there is much more to the area than what it is primarily known for - royal palaces, members-only gentlemen’s clubs and bespoke tailoring.

Nearby on St James St, Café Murano is another of these new kids on the block. Opened in 2014, this is Angela Hartnett’s offshoot of her Michelin-starred Murano, intended as a more affordable, informal and approachable eatery.

Lunch times are super busy at Café Murano, and it is not surprising – Hartnett’s Northern Italian cooking is reputedly some of the best in the country, and with an excellent value set lunch menu available between 12-3pm for £19 or £23 for 2 and 3 courses respectively, you will be lucky to get one of the coveted tables without a prior reservation. The same menu is also available for dinner as a pre- or post- theatre menu at 5:30-7pm or 10-11pm.

I have a marvelous lunch here kicking off with their signature ‘truffle arancini’ (£4.50) from the cichetti section of the menu – small balls of joy made of risotto rice and truffles, covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, they are wonderful.

Truffle Arancini at Cafe Murano
My antipasto is another favourite – ‘vitello tonnato, rocket and Parmesan’ (£12). An interesting Italian dish of thin slices of veal with fresh tuna mayo, this is a combination that may raise eyebrows in the UK, but once you try it, you will be hooked. Hartnett’s version is fresh and beautifully seasoned and as good as some of the best vitello tonnato I had in Italy.

Equally good is the primo of ‘papardelle with venison ragu’ (£11.5) – rich, and with an incredible depth of flavour that only properly made, time-consuming ragu sauces achieve. I make a mental note to order this again on a future visit.

The secondo, or main course, is the ‘halibut, Autumn vegetables and coco beans’ (£25) accompanied by a generous portion of ‘courgette fritti’ (£3.75). It is always such a joy to see halibut on a menu, I love the dense and firm white flesh, and there is no better way to appreciate it than simply pan-fried. This is deceptively simple but marvelous main that really hits the spot.

Satisfied though I am, I cannot resist ordering a slice of Hartnett’s ‘olive oil cake with Pistacchio di Bronte ice cream’ (£7). Pistacchio di Bronte is the Rolls Royce of the pistacchio world – intensely flavoured, fragant and with a vibrant green colour. Pistacchio di Bronte only comes from Sicily and has recently obtained its DOP (2009). This is the first time I have seen it on a UK menu, so if you would like to try it (along with the rest of the excellent menu), I strongly recommend a visit to Café Murano.

Pistacchio di Bronte Ice Cream at Cafe Murano
In addition to the amazing specialist food retailers, restaurants, cafés and bars I managed to fit in to this great day in St James, there is a huge variety of other things to see and do in the area. 

I love soaking up the gorgeous artwork and culture at The Royal Academy of Arts or the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), being pampered at the ultra-lux spa at the Sofitel, not to mention spending time in the verdant parks of St James or Green Park. I have lived in London for many years but still discover old and new places to visit whenever I am in St James.

As you plan your day out at St James in the run-up to Christmas, I strongly recommend a visit to St James’ informative website for a full list of the retailers, art galleries, restaurants and bars in the area - http://stjameslondon.co.uk/occupiers
Travel Essentials

La Maison Maille
2 Piccadilly Arcade

Paxton & Whitfield
93 Jermyn Street

Berry Bros & Rudd
3 St James’ Street

Maison Assouline
196A Piccadilly 

Café Murano
33 St James’ Street

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