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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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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Eneko at One Aldwych - Modern Basque Cooking at Excellent VFM!

Name: Eneko at One Aldwych

Where: One Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BZ, http://www.eneko.london/

Cost: Average cost for a three-course meal is £35 per person (not including drinks or service). From the a la carte menu, starters cost from £9 to £14, main courses from £14 to £18. The desserts are all priced at £7.

About: The Basque Country is one of my favourite foodie destinations having visited it on a number of occasions for their incredible Pintxos and 3-Michelin star fine dining which I featured here and here. I had one of the best meals of my life in San Sebastian at Martin Berasategui’s which I reviewed here

Thus I was excited to hear that the Basque, 3-Michelin starred Chef Eneko Atxa from Arzumendi Restaurant, just outside Bilbao, was opening a sister restaurant in London, namely Eneko at One Aldwych, just like other Basque chefs before him, Julio and Elena Arzak of Ametsa with Arzak Instruction at the Halkin, featured here

Located in Covent Garden at the lovely One Aldwych Hotel, the restaurant comprises of a mezzanine bar with a grand copper staircase descending into a vast underground dining area adorned in pale stone, wood and steel girders. 

Elegant, high red leather banquettes enclose triangular, cherrywood tables. A lot of thought and money has gone into the design by architects Casson Mann, a firm specialist in museums and gallery installations. The final product is a beautiful and grand restaurant with plenty of open space.

What We Ate: We started with ‘Memories of the Bay of Biscay’ (£15) – served with a dramatic hot water and seaweed infusion mixed with dry ice to give dramatic presentation and a real scent of the sea, this contained three different items. 

The highlight, the oyster with green plankton emulsion and apple blossom leaves was salty and tart tasting right out of the sea, the crab tartare with armoricaine sauce (made from onions, tomato, white wine, brandy, and cayenne pepper), and a gorgeous wild prawn tartare with spring onion and black olives herring eggs.

The second starter was the ‘Txerri Boda Pork Festival’ (£13) – this was again an assemble of three different items - chorizo on steamed and soft milk bun, glazed sweetbread and suckling pig brioche, basil and mushroom emulsions. Served in a wooden box with a pig's snout for a handle, this was as delicious to look at as it was to eat.

The ‘Traditional Talo’ (£10) was next. This was a stunningly presented crispy corn talo (a traditional Basque equivalent to the Mexican tortilla) topped with heritage tomatoes, fresh herbs, tomato emulsion, olive oil pearls, and black olive powder. We enjoyed the many different elements in this dish and the layers of texture provided by the tortilla and raw ingredients, this was a highlight of our dinner.

Cod Bizkaina (£14) was an interesting stew of cod tripe in traditional spicy bizkaina (Basque sauce aka vizcaina) sauce, with deep-fried cod bites (also cod tripe). With a seductively gelatinous texture, this was well-flavoured and seasoned dish. The bizkaina sauce had tomatoes, onions and peppers which were reduced for 4 days before any chilli being added. 

The main course of oxtail (£15), served on a large unglazed, bone-shaped ceramic serving dish, featured slow-cooked oxtail meat (off the bone), in a highly reduced, rich brown chickpea sauce, with a heady mushroom emulsion.

To accompany, the Piperrak (£7), was a lovely dish of green Gernika peppers, which look very much like Padron peppers. Mash potato (£4), served with a scattering of chopped chives, was good and creamy but a touch too salty.

The dessert menu is small but includes the lovely torrija (which we could not resist), made from Basque vanilla sponge, with a delectably crunchy caramelised topping, served with orange zest, cinnamon and caramel crumble ice cream.

We also shared the strawberry sorbet and rose marshmallow, with fresh strawberry, strawberry foam, rose petal julienne, and crystalised rose petal. This had fresh, floral flavours and was rich without being cloying. 

What We Drank: The wine list is all Spanish, including four wines made from Basque grape varietals in the chef's family winery - Gorka Izagirre which has been making wine since 2005. The entry level white is a Herencia Altes Garnatxa (Garnacha) Bianca 2015 from Terra Alta, Spain (£28).  The entry level red is a Borsao Seleccion Tinto, from Campo de Borja from Aragon, Spain (£28).

From the chef's vineyard, we had the white 42 by Eneko Atxa 2014 (£55), made from Bizkaiko Txakolina grapes. Fresh, apple, pear and citrus, good acidity and mineral. 

The red wine was a Parada de Atauta 2014 (£55) from Ribera del Duero, Castile and Leon. A youthful wine with a tinge of purple, it had a powerful aroma and flavour of black cherry, cedar and had plenty of tannin.

Likes: Excellent value for money. Fresh and original cooking. The staff were friendly, highly knowledgeable and willing to find out more.

Dislikes: None. 

Verdict: The modern Basque food at Eneko at One Aldwych is innovative and varied, and the cooking well accomplished as well as being excellent value for money. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sakagura - A Taste of Japanese Washoku Cooking in London

Name: Sakagura London

Where: 8 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BS, https://www.sakaguralondon.com/

Cost: The menu is divided into 10 sections including appetisers, sushi, sashimi, robatayaki (grill), kushiyaki (skewers), agemono (deep-fried), rice and soup, kamameshi (flavoured rice), soba noodles and dessert. Prices vary from £3 for a miso soup to £39 for a sashimi moriawase, with an average spend of around £75 per person for 3-4 dishes each to share (drinks and service not included). 

About: Sakagura is the first joint venture among various businesses including the Japan Centre Group (the largest Japanese food retailer in the UK), Gekkeikan Sake Brewers (one of the oldest sake brewers in Japan and holders of a Japanese Royal Warrant for sake), and the Japanese plum wine brand Choya.

With such impressive backing and a Washoku (Japanese cooking) menu created by Shoryu Ramen Executive Chef Kanji Furukawa, Sakagura is one of the most exciting new restaurant openings in London recently.

Set in swanky Heddon Street behind Regent Street, no expenses were spared to create a gorgeous restaurant over two floors with an impressive long bar, Sakagura aims to serve authentic Japanese cooking known as Washoku, recently listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. 

The Washoku cooking philosophy aims to provide a balanced meal, not only in terms of nutritional value but also considering other aspects such as flavour, cooking methods, colour and presentation. 

One outcome of this method is that the sheer variety helps achieve satiety without excess while stimulating all the senses. There is an emphasis on seasonality using the freshest ingredients and a minimalist but beautiful presentation. 

Sakagura aims to work with some of the best premium and exclusive sake producers in Japan. There are over 200 sake labels available, many only offered in the UK at Sakagura. The tasting menu and sake flights we tried at Sakagura gave us the opportunity to taste a whole range of dishes from the main menu, along with a comprehensive sake pairing. There is no better way to find out what Sakagura is all about!

What We Ate: From the appetiser menu, we chose the sashimi moraiwase (£39) - a chef's selection of assorted sashimi fish with freshly grated wasabi. This included slices of yellowtail, sea bass, sea bream, raw scallop on its shell, salmon and tuna, served on a bed of ice with micro herbs, edible flowers, and a willow 'fence' supporting the construction of the platter. Gorgeously presented, the fish was of good quality and as fresh as one could get, with the addition of fresh wasabi giving a touch of luxe to the platter.

The aburi shime saba bo sushi (£15) is one of Sakagura’s signature dishes from its sushi menu – a sushi roll topped with marinated mackerel fillets seared under flame (aburi). The presentation was again stunning, with silvery, chargrilled mackerel fillets wrapped around aromatic shiso leaf over sushi rice.  The mackerel had been marinated in rice vinegar and salt, adding a firmer texture and a layer of welcome acidity to the fatty fish.

From the robata grill, we chose the lobster (£32), blackened and served with ‘Moshio’ brown sea salt and lime. The lobster was perfectly cooked, the flesh light and fragrant and with a delicate charred flavour.

Moshio salt (shio means salt in Japanese) is an artisan Japanese sea salt, made from a mixture of sea salt and seaweed ash. It has a unique beige/brown colour with round and rich flavour due to the presence of minerals and other ingredients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iodine and umami. Moshio salt is highly regarded in Japan and is the salt of choice for many top restaurants for dishes like tempura, sushi, sashimi or grilled seafood and meat.

The wagyu beef aburi steak (£35), from Kyushu, was served with Welsh arajio sun-dried sea salt (arajio is the Japanese word for coarse sea salt) and fresh wasabi. Very lightly grilled, the wagyu meat was unctuous, richly marbled and wonderful in both creamy mouth-feel and flavour. 

From the kamameshi section of the menu (flavoured rices), the hot rice dishes followed, served in traditional stainless steel individual cooking pots: the red seabream and salmon roe rice (£15), and the Goosnargh chicken and fragrant burdock (£14). 

I grew up eating gobo, or the Japanese burdock, in a variety of dishes in our Japanese-Nikkei home in Brazil. Gobo is one of my favourite ingredients and I have always loved its taste, it saddens me though that gobo has fallen out of fashion in the West. I loved the combination of earthy burdock and chicken in this rice dish.

Better still though was the seabream and salmon roe rice - salty, savoury, with iodine and mineral aromas, it was a winner of a dish.

For dessert, we had the raindrop cake - a delicate clear agar umeshu (plum) jelly with cherry blossom and gold flake.  Light and gorgeously presented, it brought me a smile to my face to be reminded of the Japanese affection for jelly desserts (the style of puddings I grew up eating in the 1970s and 80s).

We also shared a matcha fondant gateau (£8), served warm with cream.

What We Drank: Owned by one of the oldest Japanese sake brewers, it is not surprising to see a wide range of sakes on offer, including aged and late-harvest options. 

There are several sake flights available, priced from £9 to £17 per person, including some unusual options like unpasteurized cloudy sake, sparkling sake and yuzu sake.  

For aperitifs, we selected a John sparkling sake (£17.10 per glass), a Prosecco-style dry sake with citrus fruit and melon notes. It won the International Wine Challenge sparkling sake category in 2016.

The Tenzan sparkling, Nigori (£9.40 per glass) was an opalescent unpasteurised sake, subject to secondary fermentation in bottle like Champagne. It won the International Wine Challenge for sparkling sake in 2014, and had a creamy texture with green apple and pineapple notes. 

With the appetisers, we had a carafe of Gekkeikan Tarusake (£5.60 per glass or £16 for a 300ml carafe), from Kyoto prefecture. Matured in Japanese cedar casks, it had hints of seaweed, spice and wood.

With the lobster, we had a warm sake - Taga 'akinouta', Junmai from Taga, Shiga. This is made using akinouta rice, and served warm had a mellow sweetness and notes of roasted chestnuts.

With the rice dishes, we had a glass of 10 year old sake - the Koshoku Souzen (£13 per glass).

The matcha fondant was served with a glass of Choya Extra Years (£8.60 per glass) plum wine. With notes of marzipan and sour plum, this balanced luscious sweet fruit with bracing acidity. 

The raindrop cake with plum wine was served with a glass of Nakata Yuzu Umeshu wine (£7.20) on the rocks.  With zippy acidity from the yuzu, this made a stunning combination with the umeshu (sour plum) jelly. 

Likes: I loved the flavoured rices, the sashimi platter and wagyu beef. The mackerel sushi was also outstanding. Friendly and well informed service.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: The Washoku cooking at Sakagura London is second to none - beautifully presented, it uses some of the best ingredients available and it is surprisingly well priced. There are some great sake flights on offer. Highly recommended.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Cinnamon Bazaar – The New Indian ‘Small-Eats’ Restaurant by Vivek Singh

Name: Cinnamon Bazaar

Where: 28 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7JS, http://cinnamon-bazaar.com/

Cost: Small eats cost from £4.50 to £16 with sides of greens, dal or naans from £2.80 to £4. Dishes are designed to be shared, and the average cost is around £30 to £40 per person (not including drinks).

There are set menus including lunch at £14 for two courses, or £16 for three. The pre- and post-theatre dinner menu is served from 5.30pm to 6.30pm and from 9.30pm onwards, and offers a two-course menu at £18 and three courses for £20. 

About: Cinnamon Bazaar is the latest addition to the Cinnamon Collection, a group of Indian restaurants run by Vivek Singh, restauranteur and a celebrity chef regular on a number of television cookery shows such as BBC’s Saturday Kitchen. 

Vivek first made his name with his flagship restaurant Cinnamon Club by championing a brand of modern, innovative Indian cooking. His contemporary approach has further translated into his other restaurants: Cinnamon Soho, Cinnamon Star and now, Cinnamon Bazaar

As the name suggests Cinnamon Bazaar plays on the idea of a “bazaar”, a central marketplace where for centuries ideas and ingredients were exchanged, and cultures converged to come together to create one big melting pot. The fusion concept translates well at Cinnamon Bazaar with the restaurant’s menu drawing inspiration from countries dotted along the trading routes of old. 

The design of the restaurant also plays on the theme of a bazaar, offering a laid back environment where diners can relax and share a varied selection of dishes and drinks. Laid over two floors, Cinnamon Bazaar is richly decorated in vibrant colours such as deep blues and fresh greens. 

The restaurant has made use of organic, natural materials which reflect the history of India. Finally, Illuminated lanterns and hanging ceiling drapes complete the eclectic bazaar ambience.

What We Ate: There are three main sections to the menu - snacks, chaat and bazaar plates made for sharing. There is a small dessert menu too. From the snack menu, we had the Crab bonda (£5.90) - this deep fried Calcutta snack blended spiced crab with scarlet coloured beetroot in chickpea batter, and served with salad and a chilli and coriander relish. 

The tapioca or cassava chips (£4.50) came with a deliciously zingy green chilli mayonnaise.

Moving on to the Chaat menu, we had the aloo tikki chaat (£4.50) – this was a spiced potato cake with curried chickpeas. I enjoyed this tangy dish with just enough spice, and a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds. 

From the small eats section of the menu, we had 4 different dishes to share. The double cooked pork belly 'Koorg' style, with curried yoghurt (£7) was undoubtedly the best dish the meal - made with black vinegar known as Kachampuli or Coorgi vinegar, the pork was tender and unctuous, served with a cooling spiced yoghurt, and a chilli and coriander sauce.

Also excellent was the vindaloo of ox cheek, masala potato mash and pickled radish (£14.50) with just the right spicy levels for me and with meat you could cut with a spoon!

The Luknow-style chicken biryani with burhani raita (£14.50) was fragrant with cardamom, cumin, clove and saffron. This was a deliciously light, fresh dish with different layers of flavour and aroma.

Equally good was the Rajasthani lamb and corn curry with stir-fried greens (£12) – a mild curry, with tender sweet lamb and myriad spices.

For dessert, we chose the cardamom kheer creme brûlée (£4.50), a creamy, fragrant rice pudding dish, served with a soft shortbread biscuit.

The carrot halwa roll (£5), one of Vivek’s signature dishes, was served warm, with an intensely clove-flavoured iced double cream.

What We Drank: The wine list is compact (15 reds and 15 whites), but offers a range of interesting options, starting with a white Pinot Bianco / Garganega blend at £19, and the entry-level red is a Merlot-Corvina blend (£21), both from the Veneto, Italy. There are some interesting options like a native Armenian Areni Noir, and a Slovenian Malvasia. 

The cocktail list is the result of of a collaboration between chef Vivek Singh and mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana. Cocktails range from £8.50 to £11. 

We started with a Bazaar Old Fashioned (£10.50) made from coconut-washed Indian Scotch, coconut sugar and burnt cinnamon. We also tried the Gin Julep (£10), served in a polished copper mug, blended Star of Bombay gin, mint, amchoor green mango and black cardamom.

We chose a bottle of Rioja Reserva, Isadi, 2012 (£45) to accompany our meal. Made from Tempranillo from the Alavesa area of Rioja, this was a straightforward wine with a good balance of red berry fruit and spice.

Likes: that double cooked Koorg pork curry was nothing short of sensational and warrants a return visit in its own right! It was great to see Vivek actually in the kitchen of his new restaurant Cinnamon Bazaar.

Dislikes: due to the location (Covent Garden) the restaurant does not make for a quiet night out.

Verdict: For well made, beautifully balanced Indian cooking at reasonable prices, very few places can beat the new Cinnamon Bazaar. Recommended. 

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