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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 7 April 2017

Les 110 de Taillevent - Fine French Cooking with 110 Wines by the Glass

Name: Les 110 de Taillevent

Where: 16 Cavendish Square, London W1G 9DD, http://www.les-110-taillevent-london.com/

Cost: Average cost for a 3-course meal is around £40 per person (not including drinks or service). There is a set menu of 2 courses for £20 or 3 courses for £25, available both at lunch and at dinner. Each dish on the menu is colour-coded to match with suggested wines available by the glass at price points from £8, £14, £20 or above £20. From the à la carte menu, starters cost from £8 to £14, main courses from £8 to £35, and desserts from £7 to £11. 

About: Les 110 de Taillevent London is a classic French brasserie which brings the cooking championed by other restaurants in the group, the most well-known of which is the two-Michelin starred Le Taillevent, along with Les Caves de Taillevent and the similarly named Les 110 de Taillevent in Paris.

But what makes Les 110 de Taillevent unique is its wine offering - no fewer than 110 wines by the glass or half glass. The menu has been designed to facilitate ease of choice, with four different wine suggestions in four different price categories listed for each dish.

Les 110 de Taillevent, situated in a listed building on Cavendish Square, is a beautifully designed restaurant, with an elegant colour palate of sage green, cream leather and polished wood. It is an stylish place to enjoy some fine French cooking and wines after a day’s shopping on Oxford Street (it faces the back of John Lewis). 

What We Ate and Drank: Our dinner started with a deceptively simple dish of truffled scrambled eggs. Heady with the aroma of fresh truffle, the dish had complex vegetal farmyard notes and was, I think, the finest scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. We got off to a very good start.

We were helped to make our choices by the logically presented food and wine pairings, and by the guidance of Head Sommelier Christophe Lecoufle. We kicked off with a welcome glass of Champagne Laurent Perrier Brut NV.

With the scrambled egg, we had a Chardonnay, from IGP Cotes du Lot, 'Montaigne' 2014, Domaine Belmont (£14 per 125ml glass), which had a lovely fresh, smoky, elegant quality, with green apple and mineral on the finish. 

Next came John Dory mousseline, glazed in lobster bisque under a salamander, served with romaine salad and Espelette pepper. This was nothing short of sublime.

The Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2014, from Felton Road, New Zealand, came with the John Dory. Partnering white fish with red wine is perhaps unusual, but the red was delicate enough not to overwhelm the fish and its delectable lobster bisque. An Alsatian Reisling or Pinot Gris might have been a more traditional dish choice, but I really enjoyed the Pinot Noir.

The truffled veal rump (£35) was for me the highlight of the evening. Stuffed with truffle and with extra slices of fresh truffle on top, it was served with a classic béchamel sauce, artichoke puree, and stuffed, deep-fried baby artichoke, this was a delectable dish of great refinement. 

With the veal, we had a glass of Pomerol 2009, Fugue de Nenin (£19). The second wine of Chateau Nenin, this Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend had intense blackberry fruit, a nose of blackcurrant, cherries, cedar and vanilla, with complex fruit flavours, plenty of tannins and a long, complex finish. 

For dessert, we had the calamansi lemon, with passion fruit, meringue, shortbread, tequila and lime sorbet, sprinkled with passionfruit flowers. Beautifully presented  and intensely tart and refreshing, this featured the lovely Filipino calamansi fruit - one of my favourites, and thought to be a hybrid of the mandarin orange and kumquat. This was a delicious, complex dessert, and a tribute to the skill of the patissiere.

The chocolate dome was also excellent - truffled chocolate mascarpone cream made with Valrona chocolate was paired with a sorbet of chocolate, salted caramel sauce and fresh truffle. It was stunning to the eye, while on the palate the sorbet was intensely rich and concentrated, with a contrast in texture from a chocolate tuille brittle. 

To accompany our desserts, we had a Loire Valley Coteaux de L'Aubance, Les Trois Schistes, 2014, from Domain de Montgilet (£6 for 70ml). With acidity, minerality and sweetness in equal measure, this was a deliciously complex dessert wine.

Likes: The truffled scrambled egg, the truffled veal rump and the desserts were spectacularly good. The menu partnering each dish with matched wines by the glass to suit a range of budgets is both innovative and well considered.

Dislikes: the name, I can't pronounce it!

Verdict: With fine French cooking and a vast selection of wines by the glass at 4 different price points, Les 110 de Taillevent is my top restaurant recommendation this month! Highly recommended.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Darbaar in The City - The Thrill of the Grill Menu Reviewed

Name: Darbaar 

Where: 1 Snowden Street, Broadgate West, London, EC2A 2DQ, http://www.darbaarrestaurants.com/

Cost: Average cost for a 3 course meal is around £35 per person (not including drinks or service). Light bites cost from £5 to £8.50, main courses range from £8 to £28. There are set menus at £40, £55 and £65.  

About: Opened in November 2015, and run by Chef Abdul Yaseen from Jaipur, formerly Head Chef of the Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen, the restaurant is set in a modern commercial building behind Liverpool Street station. Darbaar aims to offer a menu inspired by the banquets of the Indian Royal Court, with signature dishes like hunter-style guineafowl, and spiced kid goat biriyani. 

The restaurant has a sleek design with grey slate flooring, bare wood tables and chairs, a large open-plan kitchen along the length of the dining room, and eye-catching golden lamps. 

But despite the lavish decor and the chef's pedigree, Darbaar's tricky location does not make it a restaurant diners would simply stumble upon. On the mid-week evening we dined there, the place was less than half full apart from two large and rowdy tables of City folk having an office night out. 

What We Ate: We opted for the "Thrill of the Grill' set menu, with 6 courses at £65 per person. The appetiser was a famous street snack from northern India - Tawa Hari Tikki Chat - a deep-fried green pea and apricot cake (£7), served on a chickpea curry bed with tamarind and yoghurt, pomegranate seeds and micro-coriander. It was crunchy and had a lovely zingyness from the tamarind and yoghurt. 

The first starter was a large royal Madagascar prawn with griddled king scallop and a fried wild mushroom, coconut cream, tomato salsa.  With a delicious charred flavour from the tandoori grill, and top quality seafood - this was a great dish. 

Next was Murgh Malai - a kebab of chicken in a yoghurt marinade, served with Punjabi lamb chops and coriander curry, served in a dinky copper and steel serving dish. The chicken was excellent - succulent and well flavoured, and the lamb was tender, richly flavoured and gently spiced. 

The middle course was Tawa Macchli -  sea bream in banana leaf, served with a tomato and coconut chutney, yoghurt and rice. I wanted to love this dish, but for me, the fish was overcooked, and the marinade (coriander root, coconut and curry leaves) under seasoned. The yoghurt rice was at room temperature and had a very odd texture in my opinion. 

Better though was the main course - Raan-e-Mussalam, a double-roasted leg of lamb, with potatoes. Slow braised, then roasted for a crispy skin, the lamb was served on the bone. The meat was superbly soft and well flavoured with tomato and Indian spices - coriander seeds, cumin, curry leaf as well as onions and malt vinegar. This was the highlight of our dinner.

The accompanying side dishes were a naan bread basket, a creamy daal of black lentils in tomato sauce, and cumin saag (potatoes in spinach purée, chickpea flower, garlic and whole mustard grains).

Dessert was Shahi Kulfi (Indian ice cream) with pistacchio and saffron, served with an array of lightly crushed fruits of the forest. Flavoured with cardamon, the kulfi was well made, and prettily presented with ripe fruit and a scattering of pistacchio.  

What We Drank: We shared a bottle of Alsatian Riesling from Arthur Metz 2015 (£40). With aromas of orange, mandarin and mineral, this was good but seemed a little steeply priced given its quality level. 

Likes: The Murgh Malai (chicken and lamb kebab) and the Raan-e-Mussalam double-roasted leg of lamb were superb. 

Dislikes: The Tawa Macchli sea bream in banana leaf needed a bit more development from my perspective. Tucked away behind Liverpool Street Station, Darbaar is a little tricky to find. It is a large restaurant, and when it is not full there is a knock-on effect on the atmosphere.  

Verdict: If you work in the City of London, and fancy some good quality Indian cooking, Darbaar ticks most boxes. Recommended.

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