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Tuesday 30 May 2017

The New Tea and Dim Sum Menu at Hakkasan Mayfair

Name: Hakkasan Mayfair - Tea and Dim Sum Menu

Where: 17 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QB, http://hakkasan.com/locations/hakkasan-mayfair/

Cost: Hakkasan Mayfair Tea and Dim Sum Lunch Menu is priced at £38 per person for 7 classic dim sum dishes plus a platter containing 3 types of dessert, or £42 for all the above plus a choice of two teas and one fruit blend per person. Available from 12 midday to 6.15pm for parties of two to seven.

About: Hakkasan Mayfair opened in 2011, and within a year was awarded a Michelin star, which it has maintained ever since. It updates it menus regularly, and is now offering a new tea and dim sum menu, available daily from 12 noon to 6.15 pm. 

Hakkasan Mayfair spans over two floors for up to 220 guests - the lower ground floor has the familiar and intimate Hakkasan setting as in the original Hanway Place, made up of a number of rooms partitioned by intricate wooden screens, whilst the ground floor features a relaxed dining space with high chairs and tables and a bar area.

Executive Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee oversees the kitchen, where dishes unique to Hakkasan Mayfair have been created, such as steamed New Zealand mini lobster, Black truffle roast duck, and Sliced blue abalone in Hakka sauce.

I visited Hakkasan Mayfair earlier this year for a taste of their Year of the Rooster Chinese New Year Menu, for more information, read the review here.

What We Ate: The new Tea and Dim Sum menu was served in rapid succession. Char sui buns were well made, with light and fluffy rice pastry and a richly aromatic, sweet barbecue pork filling. 

The har gau were filled with little cubes of bamboo shoot as well as prawn, giving another layer of flavour and contrasting crunchy texture. 

Topped with goji berries, the XO scallop and prawn dumplings were served each on its own little queenie scallop shell. The casing pastry was delicate and very fresh, while the XO sauce, made from chopped dried seafood and chilli pepper, imparted an exhilarating whack of heat and shellfish flavour.

Black truffle and chicken roll came gorgeously presented, in a crisp deep-fried rice paper case, with a single pomegranate seed, in a richly flavoured chicken stock and truffle reduction. This was the highlight of our dim sum lunch!

The baked venison puff had rich, sweet and tender meat in a light, crumbly pastry. 

Equally good were the crispy bean curd cheung fun – this had a layer of super-fine cheung fun (rice noodle) wrapped around crispy beancurd, filled with aromatic vegetables - mushroom, baby corn, and gai lan (Chinese broccoli).  With an unusual crunchy texture and complex flavours, this was another highlight of our meal.   

I was pleased to see a platter of greens among the dim sum offerings - the stir-fried asparagus was flavoursome, vibrant green and retaining some crunch. 

For dessert, there is a platter of three dishes. The matcha apple custard bun had a crisp choux pastry case, filled with cubes of fresh green apple, and in the centre a crisp dark chocolate truffle filled with green tea. It came decorated with gold leaf, little cubes of fresh apple, and an apple sorbet. The dessert was beautifully presented but in my opinion, it didn't quite come together as a whole.

The seasonal fruit platter included a selection of tropical fruit, including melon, dragon fruit, lychee, watermelon and physalis. The Macarons were violet and rose petal on the day we visited and were superb as usual.

What We Drank: For our mock cocktails, we chose the Kumquat Pomme Fizz, a mixture of kumquat, apple, lime and ginger ale. The Coco Passion was a blend of coconut, passion fruit, almond and coconut water.  Both were very sweet for my palate and I wished I had saved them to drink with my dessert.

The menu also comes with a choice of dragons well green tea or white peony tea, and we had the latter delicately scented white tea with our dim sum lunch. 

Likes: the highlights for us were the black truffle and chicken rolls, the crispy beancurd cheung fun, and the gorgeous macarons!

Dislikes: the mock cocktails were very sweet (perhaps they should be offered with dessert). I could have done with some more starch in the meal, perhaps a small bowl of rice, I must admit being still a tad hungry as I left the restaurant. I loved the food and the experience as usual at Hakkasan Mayfair, but I do not feel this menu compares favourably to others offered by the same group, for example – the Dim Sum Sundays menu at Hakkasan Hanway is priced at £58 per person but includes 2 alcoholic cocktails plus ½ a bottle of Champagne per person plus starters, dim sum, main course and dessert.

Verdict: For top quality, modern Cantonese dim sum in one of the most glamorous parts of London, few places can beat Hakkasan Mayfair. Their dim sum dumplings are superb, utterly fresh and I highly recommend them.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Galvin at The Athenaeum - British Ingredients & Cooking at Their Absolute Best!

Name: Galvin at The Athenaeum

Where: The Athenaeum Hotel & Residencies, 116 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7BL, https://www.athenaeumhotel.com/restaurant-bar/galvin-at-the-athenaeum/

Cost: Average cost per person for a three course meal is £35 (not including drinks or service). From the à la carte menu, starters cost from £7.50 to £15.50, main courses from £16 to £28, and desserts from £5 to £8.50, with a platter of English cheeses for £12.50. There is a great value Prix Fixe menu at £23.50 for 3 courses, served at lunchtime and from 17.30 to 19.00.

About: Located on Piccadilly right opposite Green Park, the latest venture by the Galvin Brothers occupies much of the ground floor of the 5-star Athenaeum Hotel & Residencies.

Re-opened in July 2016, following a multi-million pound refurbishment, the family-run and independent The Athenaeum is the first hotel in London to have its entire food and beverage offering under the guidance of Chris and Jeff Galvin, and Executive Chef William Lloyd-Baker, who was Head Chef at Galvin La Chapelle for 4 years. 

In a first for the Galvin brothers, rather than focus on French classic cooking, the menu has a strong emphasis on fresh seasonal British produce (think Dorset crab lasagne, Dedham Vale beef steak tartare, Orkney scallops, Dingley Dell pork faggots and roast breast of Goosnargh chicken).

Despite its swanky Mayfair location, the Galvin at The Athenaeum is elegant though straightforward in design, reminiscent of Scandinavian 1970s chic, with light wood parquet floors, dark oak tables, wood and leather chairs, chrome and brown glass chandeliers.

I'm a big fan of the Galvin brothers’ cooking, and have been following their careers over the years - you can see some of my reviews from as early as 2010 for the gorgeous Galvin La Chapelle here, and more recently for Spitalfield's Galvin HOP here and Galvin at Windows (The Hilton Park Lane) here.

But how does their newest venture Galvin at The Athenaeum stack up? Read on to find out more!

What We Ate: We started with their signature dish of Dorset crab lasagne with Nantais butter sauce (£15.50). Fine looking though it was, the true beauty of the dish became apparent on cutting it open. With layers of the softest fresh pasta interleaved with pure white crab meat and scallop mousse, it was served with a tarragon-infused beurre blanc and cayenne pepper. Refined, elegant and delicious, I couldn’t have wished for a better start to our meal.

Next up was the risotto of parsley, Herefordshire snails and smoked eel (£12.50) - with English sensibility and ingredients and Burgundian inspiration, this had crispy fish crowns for contrasting crunch and tiny cubes of Granny Smith apple for freshness, paired with a rich smokiness from the eel. This was a complex, beautifully flavoured and textured dish and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

It is rare that I do not know what to order at a restaurant, but with so many enticing options available on the new Galvin menu, we struggled to make our choices.

So when in doubt, order the lot, and we went for a cheeky intercourse - the short rib of beef (£18.50). Served with fluffy potato gnocchi, Portobello mushrooms and purple sprouting broccoli, the beef was unctuously tender and yielding, served with a thick, glossy beef and red wine reduction and slivers of English Berkswell cheese from the West Midlands. I was completely blown away by the flavours and textures in this dish, and so glad we had it!

Then on to the main courses. The Denham Estate venison (£24.50) was tender and medium rare, served with scattered jewel-like pomegranate seeds, smoked potato mash, red cabbage and mace, and a delectable chocolate sauce.  This was another magnificent dish.

The Rose county beef rib eye (£28) was soft and deliciously pink, served with a handful of mini-capers and a flavoursome green peppercorn butter. The accompanying chips were chunky, hand-cut and expertly cooked, with a side order of fine green beans (£4.50).

How I love restaurants with a proper cheese trolley, and Galvin at The Athenaeum’s was just impossible to resist. The cheese course is priced at £12.50 and I highly recommend it for a great selection of English cheeses. 

Served with celery, chutney and pickled walnuts, we chose a mixture of sheep, goat and cows cheeses including creamy Tunworth, some Lancashire bomb, the Innes (goats cheese) as well as the Beenleigh Blue (sheeps cheese). 

To finish off on a sweet note, we had the rum baba (£8) – this came with golden raisins and a dainty side-serving of Chantilly cream. Served warm and ridiculously soft and airy, this was a spectacular end to a very impressive meal. 

What We Drank: The wine list is comprehensive. The entry-level white wine is a Costieres de Nimes from Chateau Saint-Cyrgues at £28.50, while the red is a Carignan from Languedoc at £27. There is a good selection of sweet wines and Ports by the glass or bottle, and the house Champagne is an Ayala Brut Majeur NV at £14.75 per glass, which was a great choice for our aperitif. 

With our main course and cheese course, we had a bottle of Galvin Rasteau, Domaine Andre Romero, Rhone 2015 (£41.50). A Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, this had a youthful tinge of purple, powerful berry fruit, soft tannins and a long finish.   

With cheese, we had a glass of Vinho Madeira Barbeito (£9.50). A medium-sweet wine, this had fresh tangy aromas of marmalade as well as nuts, raisins and spice.  

To accompany the rum baba, we tried a glass of Domain des Chenes from Ambre Rivesaltes, Roussilon 2006 (£7.75). This was fresher, with peach, apricot and vanilla flavours. 

Likes: The Dorset crab lasagna was to die-for and warrants a return to Galvin at The Athenaeum on its own right. There were so many other highlights too, including the short rib of beef, the parsley risotto with snails and smoked eel, the marvelous rib-eye steak and chunky, properly made chips. The rum baba was also spectacular. Great wine list.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: With top-quality, seasonal British ingredients in the capable hands of brothers Jeff and Chris Galvin, our dinner at Galvin at The Athenaeum was one of the most memorable meals I have enjoyed so far this year. For me, this is British cooking at its absolute best. Very highly recommended.

Friday 19 May 2017

Sexy Fish & the 12-Dish Sekushi Menu Reviewed

Name: Sexy Fish

Where: Berkeley Square London England W1J, https://www.sexyfish.com/

Cost: Average spend is around £50 per person (not including drinks or service). From the a la carte menu, cold starters cost from £12 to £38, with main meat, fish and seafood dishes costing from £17 to £89. The Sekushi menu, a tasting selection of 12 dishes chosen by the Head Chef is priced at £82 per person. 

About: Set on one of the swankiest of Mayfair squares, Sexy Fish offers an Asian-inspired fish and seafood menu developed by Chef Director Bjoern Weissgerber. 

With luxuriously painted ceilings dotted with abstract scarlet motifs by Michael Roberts, rich onyx floors, original Damian Hurst artwork on the walls, and huge, floor-to-ceiling tanks with the most beautiful coral and exotic fish, I dread to think what Sexy Fish would have cost, but I hear it was around the £20m mark! It is an impressively looking restaurant no doubt, but a tad OTT.

I must admit that facing such opulence, I had my reservations about Sexy Fish (style over substance?), but my experience proved me wrong – the food on the Sekushi Menu (£82pp) was actually pretty good though I could have done with a little more carbs.

The man behind Sexy Fish’s menu, German-born Bjoern Weissgerber, trained at some of the most prestigious kitchens in the world including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California and El Bulli in Spain. 

Sexy Fish's Open Plan Kitchen

He earned his first Michelin star at the age of 27 when he was running Ca’s Puers in Mallorca, and has been setting up new restaurants all over the world for the Zuma Group for the past 11 years.

Damien Hirst Artwork Commissioned for Sexy Fish

I have read some criticism of the restaurant’s greeting desk and front of house staff, but in my experience we were warmly welcomed and quickly shown to my table, and service continued in that vein throughout our dinner.

The most glitzy toilet in London?

Sexy Fish is not a place for a quiet meal out - the soundtrack is loud and raunchy, so come prepared for a buzzy atmosphere. The clientele ranges from young, 20-something couples celebrating birthdays or other special occasions to a mixture of expense accounts and well-heeled folks dressed to impress.

What We Ate: We opted for the Sekushi menu, a tasting selection of 12 dishes chosen by the Head Chef, most of which were brought to our table together or in quick succession.

Watermelon and crispy duck salad was delicious with good contrasting textures and depth of flavour. It had mitzuna leaves, mint and tarragon, seasoned in a refreshing dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and lime.

Equally good was the salt and pepper squid (£11.50), dusted with katakuri Ko (Japanese potato starch), pepper and spring onion. Well seasoned, the squid was crunchy and tasted fresh, I just wished the portion were a tad more generous! 

We enjoyed the smoked cured salmon rolls filled with fresh pear and crispy curly kale, served with a delectable and creamy dressing of lemon, mustard and olive oil. 

The paper thin slices of yellowtail were transformed by a stunning and zingy green mandarin ponzu dressing, topped with a light filling of myoga mixed with avocado, purple shiso and a slice of green chilli, the fish slices were folded over these and quickly devoured! I was scraping my plate for more.

A trio of prawn, squid and dried tofu gyoza dumplings was served in a light but well-made dashi broth with hints of ginger. 

Next up was the sashimi platter – this contained a slice each of salmon, tuna and yellowtail – the fish was of excellent quality and freshness, although again we felt the portion rather ungenerous.

The sashimi platter was followed by a sushi roll filled with soft shell crab, coriander and tobiko fish eggs. It was wrapped in nori seaweed as well as a paper-thin layer of daikon skin for added texture and flavour. Served with a bracingly spicy sauce of gochuchan, rice vinegar and mirin, we thoroughly enjoyed this.

We were offered two main courses to share - the first was a fish main of Thai-spiced stone bass, marinated in coriander and cooked in pandan leaf. Served with a zingy green curry sauce, and garnishes of green papaya and ginger, the fish was fresh and bursting with flavour. To accompany it, we were also served Japanese white miso soup, tofu, wakame and spring onions, spiked with fragrant sancho salt (from Sancho peppercorns).

The second main course was beef tenderloin with black pepper and smoked onions – it came with a side serving of sauce made from soy sauce, mirin (sweetened sake) and sugar. The beef was bloody, tender and delicious, but for my palate the sauce was a little too sweet. 

I loved the presentation of the dessert platter – this included an unctuous warm chocolate fondant, slices of fresh fruit like pineapple, star fruit, physalis and lychee as well as coconut cake and rose sorbet. 

What We Drank: We started with a Big Four (£18), combining the national spirits of the big four fashion capitals of the world - from London (Beefeater Crown Jewel Gin), Milan (Campari), Paris (Dubonnet), and New York (Hudson Manhattan Rye). This was a strong, well made and highly alcoholic cocktail akin to a Negroni, and I loved it. 

The Sexy Fish Champagne Cocktail included the classic Martell Cordon Bleu cognac, with Gyejacquot Champagne, Merlet peach liqueur, rosemary bitters, a sugar cube and Angostura bitters.

With the meal, we shared a bottle of Albariño Leira Reyero, Pascual 2015 (£50). With fresh citrus fruit, good minerality and a crisp finish, this was a good partner for most fish dishes. 

Likes: The yellowtail tiradito with green mandarin ponzu was exceptional; we also liked the crispy salt & pepper squid and the watermelon and crispy duck salad. Strong, well made cocktails and informative and friendly waiting staff.

Dislikes: I must admit I was still a tad hungry as I left Sexy Fish, and this was after 12 dishes! I wish we had been served some carbs like bread or perhaps two big bowls of Japanese white rice with our mains and to line our stomachs before the end of our meal. In my opinion each guest should have had one of the 12 dishes rather than sharing each dish between 2 people.

Verdict: Love or hate it, you will not be left indifferent to Sexy Fish. We had some great food, cocktails and service here and for a bit of Mayfair glam and people watching, few London places can beat it! Recommended.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Gaylord's Golden Anniversary - Fifty Years On and Still One of the Top Indian Restaurants in London

Name: Gaylord Restaurant

Where: 79 Mortimer Street, London, W1W 7SJ, http://www.gaylordlondon.com/

Cost: Average cost is £40 per person, not including drinks or service. From the à la carte menu, starters are priced from £7.50 to £12, tandoori dishes from £12 to £16.50, and mains from £15 to £20. Biryanis of king prawn, lamb or chicken are priced at £18.50 to £21.  There are two, three-course set menus: the Maharaja Feast (£30) and the vegetarian Maharani Feast  (£27).

About: The Gaylord Restaurant in London opened in 1966, and in 2016 celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Said to have the first tandoor (charcoal clay oven) in London, it still serves the same fragrant fresh breads and kebabs, Indian and Punjabi fare it did at the height of the Swinging Sixties. Photographs of George Harrison and Peter Sellers posing with restaurant staff in 1966 are on proud display in the restaurant’s entrance. 

The 1966 menu is still available for diners to see, and it was a shock to see that portions of chicken tikka masala were priced at 30p, and lamb rogan josh at 40p!

The Gaylord Restaurant is an elegant establishment in the heart of Central London, serving both traditional and modern Indian cooking to a varied clientele of locals, shoppers, families and tourists. The mid-week evening we were there, the restaurant was nearly completely full.

What We Ate: We started with a few delicious golgappa shots (£6.50) – fresh and spicy little pani puri, these are round, hollow puri fried crispy pastry shells, filled with a mixture of flavoured water and fillings like tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. At Gaylord, they are served over shot glasses of chilled herbal infusion.

The murg gilafi seekh (£8.50), fragrant portions of minced smoked chicken topped with bell-peppers and chargrilled on skewers, were delectable. 

Tandoori tiger prawns (£10) were jumbo-sized and succulent, having been marinated with saffron and Indian spices, then grilled in a clay oven. 

In a departure from the original 1966 menu, Gaylord now offers Mexican tacos with an Indian twist. We had the spicy rajma (kidney bean) taco (£7.50) – jauntily served (recalling the colours of the Indian flag) on a gold, green and red toy wire car. 

Still on the starter menu, we were tempted by the pao bhaji (£10) - soft buttered buns with mashed potato, vegetable curry, chopped onion and coriander, capsicum. Served in a fondue pot, these were delectable.  

Crab cake dakshini (£11) came with a generous amount of meat, deliciously flavoured with curry leaves, aromatic Indian spices and mustard cress. 

The lamb chops Anardana (£11), served on a sizzling plate, had been marinated in spices and pomegranate juice, then charcoal grilled to give an irresistible smoky flavour and aroma. 

The Makhani Paneer (£11.50), dating right back to 1966, combined cubes of fresh cheese made on the premises, simmered in a creamy tomato sauce.  I could see why this had lasted the duration – simple, good quality ingredients, delicately cooked and well presented.

Equally good was the soft shell baby crab (£7), in light batter with spicy Goan masala. This came with slices of toasted coconut (a combination I thoroughly enjoyed) beautifully served in a large seashell.

Gaylord’s butter chicken (£16) was a lip-smacking classic - a deboned tandoori chicken, cooked in a tomato-based sauce enriched with butter and double cream, flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices, including one of my favourites, fenugreek. 

Lamb shank (£19), came meltingly tender, delicately spiced and served with a subtle onion and tomato curry.

The fish tak-a-tak (at seasonal price) was a whole grilled fish, filleted (tilapia on the day we were there) and spiced with mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chilli and caraway seeds, served in a tin-lined copper pan. 

To accompany, we had a paratha (£4), a piazi kulcha (leavened bread stuffed with onion and coriander, £4.25), and basmati rice (£6), cooked with lemon, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Best of all though was the house speciality of dal bukhara (£9.70). This had black lentils slow-cooked for 8 hours over charcoal, and was deliciously rich and creamy. 

For dessert, the carrot pudding - gajar ka halwa (£5.50) blended a hot, sweet carrot pudding with pistachio slivers. The gulab jamun (£9) had fresh cheese spheres, deep-fried and served with a delectable sugar syrup laced with spiced dark rum, flambéed. 

What We Drank: Cocktails are priced at £9 to £12. The entry level wines, both white and red, are Beaujolais from George Duboeuf, Le Bouquet de George, priced at £19.90. Indian Kingfisher and Cobra beers are also available. 

We were keen to explore the range of Indian wines which Gaylord has just launched under their own label, all from Akluj in Maharashtra.  The house sparkling white wine, a Fratelli Grand Cuvée Brut NV, Chenin Blanc (£35) was very well made - bone dry, with refreshing citrus acidity and minerality. 

The Gaylord Sangiovesi Bianci (£36.50) was palatable and off-dry, but for my palate lacked complexity. 

Better was the Gaylord Fratelli Sangiovesi red wine (£36.50) - fruity and well made, when enjoyed with the restaurant’s spicy food, the cherry fruit and sweetness were accentuated. 

Likes: There were so many highlights in this meal – the tandoori lamb and prawns, the paneer, the whole tilapia, the meltingly tender lamb shank and the carrot dessert were all excellent. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: With a 50-year history, there are few restaurants in London that have stood the test of time as well as Gaylords. But this is no surprise - the classic Indian dishes are hard to fault, while service is friendly and well informed. I would love to return to Gaylord soon. Highly recommended. 

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