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Tuesday 5 December 2017

Iceland Christmas Foods - Gilded Turkeys, Melting Chocolate Snowflakes, Macarons and Much More!

A unique supermarket group in the UK, Iceland specialises in a huge range of frozen foods but it also offers fresh produce, groceries and drinks. Despite accounting for just 2% of supermarket food sales in the UK, Iceland is renowned for its specialty dessert selection, and in fact is the leading supermarket in the country for desserts.

So I was intrigued to visit Iceland’s head office and product development kitchens in Deeside near Chester to meet their Director of Product Development, Neil Nugent.

The event was an opportunity to flag up some of Iceland’s Christmas range products, and we got off to a very good start with their warming, sweet mulled white wine (first time I tried a white wine version) and some very good Iceland Luxury Mince Pies (£1.89 for 6) on arrival.

Then it was into the testing kitchen for a cookery demonstration of a variety of Iceland’s Christmas offerings.  We started with Iceland’s lobster range. Iceland sells an incredible half a million lobsters each year, and no fewer than half of those are sold in December. They are sold whole, split in half, or as shell-on tails, and Iceland have even perfected a way of removing shells from raw lobsters for easier cooking. 

Smoking lobster tails in burning hay!

In whatever form Iceland’s lobsters are bought, Chef Nugent recommends never boiling them, but rather grilling or frying to preserve the flavour and texture of the meat.  Grilled then smoked in burning hay and served in a taco, the lobster flesh was indeed succulent and delicious.  I loved the clever use of hay to smoke the lobster tails. As part of the 2017 Xmas festivities, Iceland offers Luxury Rock Lobster Thermidor, with a tangy cheese and mushroom sauce (£14 for 2).

Griddled and Hay-Smoked Lobster Tails with Burnt Pineapple, Picked Onions, Guacamole and Soured Cream over Tacos

For Christmas day itself, Iceland, recognising the age-old problem of dry turkey breast, has revived the Victorian custom of roasting the turkey with butter-encrusted muslin draped over the breast.  The Luxury Gilded Turkey with a Mustard & Honey Glaze (£15 for a 3.5Kg bird) is baked at home, then the provided honey and mustard dressing is added for the last 5 minutes for a deep ‘gilded’ finish.

Iceland's Gilded Turkey with Mustard and Honey Glaze

Chef Nugent is also experimenting with roasting salt-encrusted joints, and I was impressed at the sight of him encasing a seasoned, butter-encrusted turkey in a mixture of rock salt and egg white before wrapping the whole lot tightly in muslin.

Salt-Encrusted Turkey!

The salt forms a second “oven” inside your kitchen oven, sealing in all the flavour and moisture of the bird.  I really enjoyed the tender and succulent flesh that emerged once the salt crust had been broken and brushed away.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas-inspired cocktails on the day - to note were the Christmas Mince Pie Martini made from vodka infused in Iceland's mincemeat and also the Christmas Bloody Mary using bacon-infused vodka! Both were really delicious and refreshing and easy to replicate at home!

The day finished with a medley of Iceland’s famous desserts. After weeks of development, Chef Nugent and his team are particularly proud of their new Luxury Melting Middle Chocolate Snowflake (£8, serves 8). A chocolate brownie base is topped with a Belgian chocolate bronze snowflake-shaped shell. You simply pour over the provided hot chocolate sauce to reveal the hidden Belgian chocolate mousse and enjoy!

Iceland also has some gorgeous looking macarons, (12 for £3), while its Luxury Raspberry & Pistachio Layered Pavlova (£6, serves 8), is an Olive Magazine supermarkets award winner. With gooey meringue, lemon cream and raspberry sauce topped with whole raspberries and pistachios, this is a dessert that looks and tastes the business. 

And of course, there is also a Luxury 12 Month Matured Christmas Pudding with Brandy, Sherry and Cognac (£6, serves 6), or for a novel variation, the Luxury Christmas Pudding with a Brandy Sauce Centre (£6, serves 8), which was highly commended by Olive Magazine.

Iceland is already gearing up for Xmas 2018, but for this year they have a huge range of treats for the whole season, with everything from party food to main courses, drinks, spirits and liqueurs.

You can see more at http://groceries.iceland.co.uk/event/christmas or pop into your local branch – if you shop in store until 24 December, they offer Christmas food delivery for free! 

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by Iceland Foods. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

Friday 1 December 2017

The St James’s Market Advent Calender Starts Today – Your Chance to Win a Fabulous Xmas Prezzie Every Day to 24th December 2017!

I don't know about you, but I get childishly excited about Advent Calendars - and St James’s is most likely the ultimate of its kind this festive season, with a fabulous gift giveaway each day in the run-up to Christmas! Forget milky chocolates, we are talking men's fashion, wine tastings and other super-luxe prezzies!

To welcome in the festive season, the St James’s Market Pavilion has been turned into a giant advent calendar. When each new advent window is opened, one lucky person will win and the surprise revealed each day via @StJamesLondon Instagram Stories.

St James's is widely recognised as the original home of menswear in London and the stomping ground of the well-dressed, so it was a natural choice to ask London Fashion Week Men to curate a selection of the twenty-four gifts.

Each beautiful present has been gifted by a different one of St James’s unique and exceptional retailers, restaurants, art galleries or hotels. For a full list of participating St James's retailers and a flavour of gifts on offer, take a peek below.


For a chance to win one or more of these fabulous gifts, visit the St James's site at https://stjamesslondon.typeform.com/to/rD5749 and enter your details in the entry form.

From today, the 1st December, each daily gift will be revealed on @StJamesLondon Instagram stories. Follow @StJamesLondon to stay up to date and take part. Participants can enter daily for a chance to win each prize. 

From Champagne afternoon tea for two, to a fitted Barbour jacket, will you be lucky enough to win one of the bespoke gifts from St James's esteemed retailers? Brands include: 

Lou Dalton
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Fortnum & Mason 
Aspinal of London
D R Harris
Emma Willis 
Barbour Int
The Ritz 
Harvie and Hudson
Tiger of Sweden
Mint Leaf
New & Lingwood
Sims Reed
Lock & Co
John Smedley 
Haymarket Hotel

For more information about St James, the Advent Calendar and what is going on in this exciting neighbourhood of the West End of London, visit their website here - http://www.stjameslondon.co.uk/.

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by St James Crown Estate. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Bottomless Brunch on the Southbank at Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar

Where: London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, http://gillrays.com/

Cost: The Gillray’s Bottomless Brunch is available every Saturday and Sunday, from 12-3pm, for £40 a head. Diners can choose two courses from the extensive menu, which is organised into four sections: Cereals, Eggs, Meats and Treats. This will be accompanied by an unlimited number of glasses of Cordoniu Brut, a light and refreshing cava that is perfect for an early afternoon sitting. Side-dishes are available for £5 extra, and include a Bloody Mary, triple-cooked chips, and cauliflower and truffle bake.

About: I last reviewed Gillray’s in 2013, when I came for a sumptuous steak dinner, complete with oysters and cocktails. I recall that meal well and looked forward to my return visit for their new weekend brunch. You can read about it here.

The restaurant is named after the 18th Century political caricaturist James Gillray, and this impressive spot in the South Wing of the Marriott Hotel County Hall boasts great views across the Thames to Westminster.

The beautiful wood-paneled, large-windowed dining room is a welcome respite from the tourist rush outside, but it’s also the perfect place to enjoy a brunch before seeing a matinee at the National Theatre or Old Vic, or a film at the BFI.

The Bottomless Brunch offers some signature dishes from the evening menu (sirloin steak and a thick bacon chop) alongside brunch favourites such as eggs royale, pancakes and chia-seed pudding. It is good value and a lot of fun. 

When I came here last, I mentioned that it would have been good to see more affordable options on the wine list, and I'm happy to say that the brunch menu now gives you the opportunity to enjoy a Gillray’s meal with a good-quality free-flowing cava, Cordoniu Brut.

What We Ate: We started with a complimentary hors d’oeuvre from the kitchen, miniature Yorkshire puddings, filled with melted cheddar, and accompanied by a horseradish and creme fraiche dipping sauce. This innovative take on a Sunday Roast classic was such an improvement on the original! The cheese adds texture and flavour, and the fresh dipping sauce went perfectly with the light pudding batter. They were so good, we asked for more!

One of the first courses was the quinoa porridge, made with almond milk and topped with raspberries, pomegranate seeds and honey. Beautifully presented, it was a healthy way to start, with the almond milk ensuring that the dish wasn’t too rich.

Next was the Eggs Royale - an English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and a rich Hollandaise sauce. It’s a brunch classic, and the Gillray’s version was so generous that they even folded an extra slice of smoked salmon between the halves of the muffin. The grilled lemon halves were yet more proof of Gillray’s attention to detail, this dish made for a decadent start to the meal.

The second course was a 200g sirloin, topped with a fried egg. It was accompanied by a side dish of flat cap mushrooms with rosemary. Unusually for a restaurant in an international hotel, Gillray’s prides itself on its local suppliers. The Aberdeen Angus steaks come from Darragh O’Shea’s farm in Scotland, and this shows in their depth of flavour.

The second main course was the Gillray’s Steak Burger. This enormous stack, containing a 280g patty, cheedar cheese, onion rings and gherkin may have taken their generosity to a fault! It was hard to tuck in to, and even harder to finish! Sadly, the thick patty could only be ordered well done, it was flavoursome if a tad dry. The onion rings were crispy on the outside, and the hash brown nuggets were a brilliant and addictive invention, served alongside a delicious red onion and bacon chutney.

What We Drank: Our meal started the way every good brunch should, with a Bloody Mary. In the Gillray’s version, the spiciness of the Tobasco is softened by slices of fresh cucumber and lemon, and the addition of celery salt.

After that, we started on the unlimited bubbles. Cordoniu Brut is the perfect choice of cava for the Gillray's brunch. It's dry and light, and the prominent apple notes give it a sweetness that works perfectly with the dishes.

Likes: The incredible cheesy Yorkshire puddings that came as a complimentary hors d'oeuvre, and the generosity that continued throughout the meal. 

Dislikes: We would have liked to see some more imaginative sweet dishes on the menu, other than the usual staples such as pancakes and waffles. 

Verdict: The Gillray's Bottomless Brunch is the a great weekend treat, especially for meat lovers who want to have the Gillray's experience, with a view of the Thames and unlimited bubbles at a great price.

Friday 24 November 2017

The Fabulous Game Tasting Menu at The Lanesborough

Name: Céleste Restaurant at The Lanesborough

Where: The Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA

Cost: The 4-course game tasting menu costs £110 per person, or with paired wines at £190 per person. 

About: Céleste is a restaurant set in the gorgeous Lanesborough Hotel, an Oetker Collection Masterpiece Hotel.  The hotel itself is spectacular, a grand mansion overlooking Hyde Park Corner just a short walk from Knightsbridge’s Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and within a few minutes walk of Park Lane and Mayfair.

The restaurant’s setting could hardly be more sumptuous, with a domed glass roof, huge crystal chandeliers, powder blue walls and a Spode-like frieze of white figurines below the high ceiling.

Florian Favario is Executive Head Chef at Céleste, which is celebrating the award of its first Michelin star in October 2016, which was renewed in October 2017.  Having spent five years working at the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant at Le Bristol Paris, Chef Favario’s restaurant offers a three course menu for £42 per person, or £72 with matching wines, a 5-course tasting menu at £110, or a full à la carte service.  I was there to try their autumnal game menu, a celebration of British heritage and provenance, which is available for a very limited period: from 20 - 30 November 2017.

What We Ate and Drank: We opted for the 4-course game tasting menu (which in fact turned out to be a 7-course dinner), priced at £190 per person with matching wines. The amuse bouche were exquisite: a crispy quail egg stuffed with juniper mayonnaise, a smoked haddock tartlet with squid ink spherified "caviar", and in another example of spherification, a pumpkin and mandarin sphere. Deliciously crusty bread was served with smoked, salted whipped butter.

A second amuse-bouche of game brioche, cleverly rolled in doughnut dough and deep-fried to resemble an egg, was served with a delicate juniper sauce on a nest-like bed of pine twigs.

The first starter was hen pheasant, served with foie gras, black truffle and Jerusalem artichoke terrine, hazelnut oil and Tartuffon white truffle cream. Served with toasted country bread, this was a celebration of the rich, savoury flavours of autumn.

It was paired with a Chinon Philippe Alliet 2015.  A 100% Cabernet Franc from the Loire, this had a stalky nose, and gamey notes with blackberry fruit and fine tannins – a delicate wine but with more than enough structure to compliment the pheasant.

Next came wild duck pie, served in very light and buttery puff pastry with black truffle and giblets,  a wonderfully intense roasting jus and a fresh herb salad. Served daringly pink, the duck was tender and deliciously gamey.

It was served with a glass of Assisi Sportoletti 2012, from Umbria - a "Super Tuscan"-style blend of Sangiovesi with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine had a rich nose redolent of ripe red cherries, with violets and vanilla on the finish and soft tannins.

Hare à la royale with foie gras was intensely meaty, velvety and rich, served with a glossy, concentrated jus, and with celeriac and chestnut ravioli glazed in horseradish.

A dish like this needs a powerful wine, and happily the Cheval des Andes, from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley was no shrinking violet. A collaboration between the fabled Chateau Cheval Blanc from Bordeaux and the Argentinian winery Terrazas de las Andes, this was a Bordeaux blend with plenty of black fruit and supple tannins. Massively concentrated and powerful, this was an excellent choice for the hare.

A pre-dessert of cucumber and elderflower granite with a green apple cream, topped with a purple shiso leaf was just what we needed to cleanse and refresh our palates after a rich medley of gamey dishes.

To end a meal celebrating all that is wonderful about autumn, what better than a dish of glazed Aubenas chestnuts, fondant chestnut cream topped with gold leaf, crushed pear and blackberry?

The dessert wine was an Austrian Burgenland, Beerenauslese, Kracher 2013. A late-harvest, botrytised Reisling wine, this had luscious sweetness balanced by high acidity, with nutty caramel and apricot aromas, making for a complex, satisfying wine.

Likes: Every dish and matching wine was worth savouring, for the high level of skill and the excellence of the ingredients. The setting is elegant, perfect for a celebratory meal.  

Dislikes: None.  

Verdict: The game tasting menu at the Michelin-starred Céleste Restaurant in the Lanesborough Hotel is available for a few more days, until 30 November. It is a celebration of all that is rich and plentiful in autumn, and in the hands of the Chef Favario, is an exquisite variation on a flavourful theme. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

The Duck and Rice Dining Menu Reviewed - A Mixed Bag

Name: The Duck and Rice

Where: 90 Berwick Street, London W1F 0QB, http://www.theduckandrice.com/

Cost: A meal at this restaurant costs on average £50 per person, not including beverages or service. Starters range from £6.50 to £16.50, main from £6.50 to £45. There is a small, largely ice-cream-based dessert menu, priced from £4.80 to £6.50. 

About: A former Soho pub converted with no expenses spared by Alan Yau's team (who is no longer affiliated with this restaurant), The Duck and Rice still has an all-singing, all-dancing pub on the ground floor, featuring massive copper coloured beer tanks, filled with fresh and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell imported from the Czech Republic. There is also a long list of ales, stouts and porters, and even a beer cocktail list.

Upstairs, the dining room is decked out in gorgeous bespoke stained-glass windows, discreet wood panelling and lighting and huge, hand-painted blue and white ceramic tiles, more like wall panels, which were commissioned specially for the restaurant.

The look is modern, elegant but unstuffy, and the atmosphere buzzy and lively at pretty much any time of the day. The Duck and Rice is one of my favourite dim sum eateries in London, and I visit it often. This visit however was to experience their evening, dining menu. The menu has a mixed-Asian feel, with plenty of Cantonese dishes, but also featuring a few dishes from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam.

What We Ate: We started with wasabi prawns (£10.50) – this featured deliciously fat sweet prawns deep-fried in batter, served with a delicate wasabi mayonnaise coating, topped with salted almond flakes. This was delicious.

Next up was the salt and pepper squid (£10.50) - well seasoned and crispy, despite the dull presentation, it was served deep-fried with spring onions, caramelised garlic and red chillies. We enjoyed this, though the portion was not terribly generous, I expected more at this price point.

The signature Duck & Rice (£15.50) is my favourite dish of the house, and one I order on every visit. A quarter Cantonese roast duck, with the finest, crispiest skin, this was sensational and served simply over steamed jasmine rice and slices of cucumber. Heavenly.

Jasmine smoked pork ribs (£16) looked sensational, with a tempting glaze. The meat was tender, with aromatic, smoky flavours, but for me the ribs were excessively sweet and sticky which sadly detracted from the overall dish.

Things looked up with the crispy duck fried rice (£9.50) - this was richly flavoured with the poultry and edamame beans.

The Kung Po chicken (£12) was a stir-fry of chicken, cashew and peanuts, spring onion, Sichuanese peppercorns, and dried red chillies. Kung Pao or Po is one of my favourite Sichuanese stir-fries, I love it spicy and gutsy, though The Duck and Rice’s version was again intensely sweet and with none of the heat I was so much expecting.

Our vegetable choice was slow-braised Japanese aubergine, tofu and shiitake mushroom served in claypot (£12.50). This was an exquisite dish, with silky textures and surprisingly intense flavours from the black bean sauce, Shaoxing wine and sugar.

For dessert, we shared a black coconut ice cream, made from coconut and coconut ash for a startlingly black finish. Served with toasted coconut shavings, this was creamy, intensely tropical and refreshing.

What We Drank: We started with a Hayman London Dry Gin, with Fever-Tree elderflower tonic, blueberry and raspberry (£10.50) - refreshingly aromatic with luscious red berry aromas. Equally good, the Negroni (£11) was classic, powerful and well made.

With our meal, we shared an excellent bottle of Franciacorta Corteaura (£42). Franciacorta is a fantastic sparkling wine from Italy (rivalling some of the best Champagnes in France), and this was a great example at a reasonable price for a restaurant, with elegant citrus fruit notes.

Likes: Standout dishes for me were the signature Duck & Rice, the claypot dish of aubergine, tofu and shiitake mushroom and the wasabi prawns. The wine list is small but well thought out and surprisingly reasonable value for money.  

Dislikes: Whether by accident or by our poor choices, the dishes we selected were almost all intensely sweet, which did not make for a balanced meal.  The jasmine smoked pork ribs promised so much but under-delivered in my opinion, as did the Kung Po chicken and the salt and pepper squid. 

Verdict: The Duck and Rice is one of my go-to eateries in London whenever I crave good quality dim sum. Though their evening dining menu was a mixed bag – some dishes were exquisite while others excessively sweet and gloopy. Still I would love to return and order some different choices. Recommended.

This restaurant feature is a collaboration with This Is Soho (http://www.thisissoho.co.uk/) which aims to highlight this exciting West End district as well as some of its best eateries. Soho is one of our favourite areas of London, although in writing this feature, The London Foodie retained full editorial control over its content as always.

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