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Wednesday 21 November 2018

The Autumn Leaves Menu at Sake no Hana

Name: Sake no Hana

Where: 23 St James, London SW1A 1HA, http://sakenohana.com/

Cost: The Autumn Leaves menu is priced at £40 per person, with the option of a cocktail flight at £23 to share between two.  

About: Sake no Hana is the leading Japanese restaurant of the Hakkasan group which includes the eponymous Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, as well as the fabulous Yauatcha, where you can find some of the best dim sum and patisserie in London, at any of their two branches in Soho and the City.  The London Foodie is a huge fan of the group, and I am always on the lookout for new menus. So I was intrigued to hear Sake no Hana was serving a seasonal menu, namely the Autumn Leaves.

We arrived on a Monday evening at 9pm to find the restaurant packed.  I had a great meal here (The Cherry Blossom Menu) not so long ago, you can read the review here.  The building is Grade II listed, dating back to the 1960s.

The entrance to the restaurant is odd, with a narrow entrance leading to even narrower up and down escalators.  But the restaurant, reached after passing through a sushi counter with a gaggle of chefs, is on the first floor and is spacious, elegant with a zen Japanese decor of cyprus wall and roof panels designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The Autumn Leaves menu is available until the end of November, when the restaurant is adorned with autumn maple leaves, with a menu from Executive Chef Hideki Hiwatashi and a cocktail flight created in partnership with Belvedere vodka and Ruinart Champagne.

What We Ate: The meal started with an exemplary, heart-warming cup of miso soup.

A mixed platter of four starters followed, with an excellent combination of textures and flavours.  This included Maguro sashimi (tuna sashimi with black pepper ponzu); crispy truffle rice balls (fried truffle rice with seasonal mushrooms); shiitake tofu (shiitake mushrooms filled with homemade tofu and wasabi sauce) and Autumnal crisps (sweet potato and beetroot crisps with soba noodles).

From four main-course options, we chose the salmon and chicken dishes. Salmon kurumi miso yaki – pan-fried Loch Duart salmon with Kyoto Saikyo miso was delicious, with crisp, aromatic skin, and the combination with walnuts was a revelation.

The tori sumiyaki - char-grilled miso chicken with sesame chilli miso and padron pepper - was tender and succulent.

The other two options on the menu, which we did not get to try, were the Kisetsu tempura moriawase (prawn and seasonal vegetable tempura) and the Tofu Shanshu Sukiyaki (three kinds of tofu with seasonal mushrooms and a soy mirin broth)

Best of all, by far though, was the sushi course that followed the main.  The Gunma seared wagyu A5 beef maki, with asparagus, caramelised onion and kizami wasabi, was immensely concentrated, with the kind of complex flavours that I would expect from a slow-cooked oxtail dish.

The spicy chirashi maki was also excellent – this combined tuna and white fish with avocado and cucumber.

I'm a big fan of inari sushi - deep-fried tofu pockets filled with sushi rice. But Sake-no-hana's version, served with pickled mooli, shiso and kanpyo (dried gourd), and a  home-made soy sauce, was nothing short of superb.

For dessert, we had the Autumn leaf - hazelnut feuilletine, hazelnut chocolate parfait with chocolate and maple syrup soup, mascarpone mousse and fresh yuzu. This showed off the skill of the pastry chef, and was both rich and light, a difficult combination to bring off.

What We Drank: We shared a bottle of Albarino Marinero, Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas, Spain 2017 (£45). This was a crisp and well-made wine, with fresh citrus acidity and greengage fruit on the finish.  

Likes: The sushi and the dessert were the excellent. 

Dislikes: I could have done with some rice, vegetables or some other starch or carbs to be served with the mains, I was still a tad hungry after eating this meal.

Verdict: For good quality Japanese cooking, fantastic sushi and French-Japanese patisserie desserts, the £40 for the Autumnal Leaves menu at Sake-no-Hana represents great value for money and quality.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Words and Photography by Su-Lin Ong

A heady night of feasting in a boudoir-like salon; then that moment you half expect Adam Ant to leap up and stride down the long table to shake up the conventional.  Such was the mood when Berry Bros. & Rudd released its latest limited-edition label for its perennially popular Good Ordinary Claret.

It was natural genius to show off its fine and dandy label by artist Kate Boxer, matched up with her son Jackson Boxer’s modern cooking at the flamboyant Brunswick House – the Georgian mansion crammed with antiques and salvage to covet and buy.

This night of hospitality with gusto and intensely rich flavours cast all meekness aside.  Befitting a first full-blown feast of Autumn, it was a textured setting of draped swags and the patina of old satin polished wood, with a tumble of flora from the mantlepieces.

The Kate Boxer label is the third limited-edition design by BBR, and follows its commissioned Paul Smith label for its 2013 GOC and the 2014 GOC by design wonder Luke Edward Hall. The depicted dandy and his dog - modelled by Kate’s dog Figgy - is a chap on a mission.  He’s firing his pistol to proclaim, ‘Let the feasting begin’.

The wine is a bright and modern Bordeaux red, with notes of deep cherry and bramble.  You sense swathes of country mists and goblets filled and re-filled to the brim. It’s a wine to be generous with; an everyday indulgence.  When a designer designs, the inspiration usually comes from relishing the product and its aura.  As Kate describes her creation, you figure how much she enjoys this kind of feasting on a regular basis; she is very much part of the Boxer lineage of gourmets and chefs.

To reflect the flavours of the claret, Jackson styled a menu of jewelled beets with gutsy charcuterie, followed by succulent slices of rare, full fat roast beef – all plattered up for guests to convivially serve each other.  Even the dessert of richest, darkest chocolate and brandy infused prune loved this wine.

And yes, the dandy himself lent his full-size presence to the feast.  Kate Boxer’s original dry point etching with carborundum seemed so completely at home in the deep shadows and candlelight.

The new Kate Boxer-labelled Berry Bros. & Rudd Ordinary Claret is available from 25 October 2018.  £9.95 for a bottle.  And when the 7,000 bottles are gone, they’re gone.  www.bbr.com

The dinner:
Prosciutto, bresaola, fennel salami, mortadella, olive, cornichon and caperberry
Heritage beetroot, goat curd, pistachio dukkah and puntarella
Rare roast sirloin of beef with horseradish, Cornish potatoes, roast carrots and pound farm leaves
Chocolate pot with boozy prune, cultured cream and almond
* * *
Champagne Berry Bros. & Rudd Grand Cru by Mailly
Negroni cocktails
White Burgundy 2017 Berry Bros. & Rudd by Collovray & Terrier
Red Bordeaux 2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret by Dourthe

Su-Lin Ong attended as a guest of Berry Bros. & Rudd.
Twitter: @sloLondon

Saturday 3 November 2018

Santo Remedio's Delicious Mexican Sunday Brunch

Name: Santo Remedio

Where: Santo Remedio, 152 Tooley Street, London , SE1 2TU, https://www.santoremedio.co.uk/

Cost: Starters are £4.50-£6.50, mains £11-£15, with sweet pancakes or filled doughnuts  at £4-£8.50.  Brunch cocktails are £8.50-£11.50. 

About: Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes set up Santo Remedio in Shoreditch in 2016, opening their second branch in London Bridge's Tooley Street in 2017, serving up a menu of modern Mexican food.

The menu focuses on dishes from Mexico City, Oaxaca and the Yucatan peninsula.

Santo Remedio uses a blend of imported Mexican ingredients and fresh local produce (for example, their Mexican-style Cotija cheese is made by Gringa Diary in nearby Peckham), to create fresh, vibrant Mexican flavours, and the dishes I have tried before were among the best in London. All the salsas are made on the premises.

From October 2018, they are serving a Mexican Sunday Brunch menu, and I made my way over to give it a try.

What We Ate: A classic guacamole, with smashed avocado, onion, tomato and tortilla chips (£6), with grasshoppers (£1.50) was fresh, vibrant and delicious.

Tetela - was a delectable corn masa parcel filled with black beans served over a glossy mole negro, finished with Cotija cheese and crema (£5.50).

Equally good were the Motuleños - corn tostadas with black beans, topped with 2 free range fried eggs, salsa roja with morita and ancho chillies, Cotija cheese, grilled bacon and plantains (£14). This is a regional dish from the Yucatan peninsula, and was Edson's favourite brekkie while he lived in that part of the country.

But the dish that really made me want to visit Santa Remedio was their Torta Ahogada, which I had tried a couple of weeks earlier at a one-off collaboration they ran with Bubbledogs (reviewed here).

This is a sourdough baguette filled with crispy fried pork belly, dunked (ahogada translates as drowned) in a magnificent salsa roja made from a blend of chillies including morita, which gives a fantastic smokiness, grilled tomatoes and other seasonings, dotted with pink pickled onions (£12.5). The sandwich was punchy, vibrant and so delicious.

For dessert, we had the tres leches pancakes with banana (£7.50), made with three types of 'milk' including dolce de leche, served with a Mexican chocolate de agua (£3.50), a traditional water-based drink with cinnamon and sugar. The pancakes were surprisingly light, flavoured with cinnamon and a side serving of fresh raspberry puree cut through the sweetness of the pancake and syrup.

What We Drank: We had a couple of 180 Tequila Bloody Maria's (£8.50) - made with blue agave tequila, tomato juice, Santo Remedio chilli blend and celery.

Likes: The Torta Ahogada was sublime, the Motuleños were excellent. The food tasted fresh, vibrant and full of flavour. 

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: The Mexican dishes I tried at Santo Remedio are some of the best I have had in the UK, and indeed took me back to some of the best restaurants I experienced in Mexico City and Oaxaca. Santo Remedio is my go-to place for Mexican food in London. Highly recommended.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Bubbledogs 6th Birthday Collaboration with Santo Remedio

Name: Bubbledogs and Santo Remedio

Where: Bubbledogs at 70 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QG (https://www.bubbledogs.co.uk/) and Santo Remedio at 152 Tooley St, London SE1 2TU (https://www.santoremedio.co.uk/)

Cost: A 3-course meal at Bubbledogs cost on average £25 per person, not including drinks or service.

About: Bubbledogs have been serving up their celebrated combination of hot dogs and Champagne from their Charlotte Street restaurant since 2012, when husband and wife team Sandia Chang and James Knappett (who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant Kitchen Table at the back of Bubbledogs) founded the restaurant.

To celebrate their 6th birthday, Chang and Knappett teamed up with Mexican food specialists Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes of Santo Remedio in London Bridge.

The special birthday menu had some of the most popular dishes of both restaurants, and an offer of cocktails or flights of Champagne or Mezcal.

What We Ate: From the Bubbledogs menu, we ordered a selection of their classics.  The signature Jose beef hot dog (£7.50), with a zingy tomato salsa, sour cream, jalapenos and guacamole was as good as I remembered.

Equally good was the Sloppy Joe hot dog, served with melted cheese and beef chilli (£8), was rich and very well flavoured.

To accompany our hot dogs, we ordered chipotle tots (£4) - potato croquettes and nachos with the works (£7) - beef chilli, guacamole and cheese.

Best of all though was the black bream aguachile 2 pieces (£8). A Mexican-style ceviche, here served as a deconstructed taco - with thin slices of raw black bream, salsa, guacamole, radish, all brought together with a vinegar-based dressing, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

From the Santo Remedio menu, the pork belly torta ahogada (£10), literally translated as a drowned cake or submarine sandwich, came served in a baguette, with a delectable morita salsa. This was for me the star dish of the evening - chunky pieces of fried pork belly filled the baguette, with sliced pickled onions over a spicy smoked jalapeno chilli sauce.

Also outstanding was the braised ox tongue taco (2 pieces, £10), served with with pipian rojo. This classic Mexican sauce is made from various types of chilli, pumpkin, sesame seeds, cinnamon, onions and garlic, among other ingredients. The ox tongue was soft, and combined really well with the accompanying diced raw onion, lime and micro-coriander.

To finish, we had a dessert that resulted from the collaboration between Bubbledogs and Santo Remedio  - rice pudding with green tomatillo jam and grated dark chocolate (£5).  This was luxuriously creamy, but with a lovely tartness from the green tomatillo jam.

What We Drank: We opted for the Champagne flight, sadly available for one night only. But on the menu there is a range of Champagnes and wines available by the glass or bottle. For example, the Solessence Champagne (see below) is available for £8 per glass or £45 per bottle, while the Collin-Guillaume Rose costs £10.50 by the glass or £60 for the bottle. 

We opted for the special birthday Champagne flight (£20). Jean-Marc Seleque, Solessence was a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, and had lemony fruit and a touch of toast.

The Christophe Mignon was made from 100% Pinot Meunier, and had a rich palate of pears, brioche, with good minerality while being bone-dry. 

The rose Champagne offering was Collin-Guillaume, made from all three Champagne varietals, this had lovely strawberry notes, and a touch of vanilla.

Likes: The black bream aguachile, the pork belly torta ahogada and the ox tongue taco were the outstanding highlights. I loved both Bubbledogs, and the incredibly well priced, top quality Champagne.  The staff are well informed and enthusiastic. 

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: Bubbledogs is celebrating its sixth anniversary, serving up its signature combination of hot dogs and Champagne. They still feel as innovative, fresh and vibrant as on day one. Recommended.

Monday 29 October 2018

Chino Latino's Great Value Day of the Dead Tasting Menu

Where:  Park Plaza Riverbank, 18 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TJ

Cost: The special Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) menu for Friday 2nd November 2018 is a four course tasting menu with a Mexican theme, and is priced at £45 per person, for a minimum of 2 people. 

About: Describing itself as a modern pan-Asian cuisine and Latin bar, Chino Latino London is set on the first floor of the Park Plaza Hotel on the South Bank at Waterloo, with a gorgeous view of the Houses of Parliament across the river.

With live jazz from 8pm, a cocktail bar with a strong Latin theme, this is not your typical Asian restaurant. The menu has a range of Japanese-Nikkei dishes from Peru and Brazil, as well as Chinese, Thai and Malaysian specials.

I have been here a couple of times before, you can read my reviews here and here. This latest trip, however, was to try the one-off Mexican-themed dinner for the Day of the Dead.

What We Ate: The Dia De Los Muertos menu kicks off with Jalapeno Maki Rolls. Topped with a "Mexican hat" made from sliced tomato, green Jalapeno chilli and an orange creamy spicy sauce, the maki was filled with avocado, carrot and truffle aioli, and the rice mixed with quinoa. The chilli was not overpowering, but gave a gentle heat to the maki.

The  Lobster Taquitos with aji amarillo, avocado and lime were creamy, crunchy and lightly spicy.

The Ceviche Mixto, with ultra-tender calamari, shrimps, seabass and avocado was creamy and generous, with red onion, radish and cancha corn, but for me lacked acidity and zinginess from much needed chilli and lime. I mentioned this in my last review, it is a pity that their ceviche is rather toned down.

Next came empanadas of red snapper, with mango, Gruyere cheese, and a refreshing tomato and onion salsa. These were very good, especially with the accompanying salsa, although I could not detect the Gruyere.

The bacon-wrapped dates with linguica (Portuguese for sausage) and mustard mayonnaise were one of the highlights of the meal - rich, very soft, with sweet and savoury nicely balanced.

The main course was another highlight - an exceptional Latin BBQ - Churrasco Grande, with beef skewers, chorizo, spicy chicken and sirloin steak. Served on a bed of smoulderingly hot rocks, the meats were nicely chargrilled but tender, the beef medium rare, and the accompanying sauces were well judged.

To accompany the meat, we were served a tamale. This was creamy, intensely flavoured with sweetcorn and artichoke, and topped with a delicious Huancaina sauce, a classic Peruvian sauce made from evaporated milk, fresh white cheese, aji amarillo and powdered cheese crackers.

The dessert was Passionfruit Flavoured Relic - a creamy mousse "skull" set over crumble and edible flowers. This was a beautifully presented dessert - light, and with a refreshing acidity from the passionfruit.

What We Drank: Served as part of the Dia De Los Muertos menu, a "Waking the Dead" shot of Mezcal infused with lime, coriander and chilli was refreshing and left the palate tingling with refreshing citrus, spice and heat - an excellent palate cleanser and teaser for the dishes that followed. 

Likes: Highlights for me were the bacon-wrapped dates, the tamales and the churrasco main course. The live music was well judged - not intrusive but definitely adding to the experience. 

Dislikes: I could have done with a 2nd tamale to accompany the main course as there were two of us. 

Verdict: For one night only (2nd November 2018), the Dia De Los Muertos menu at Chino Latino is a delicious blend of Japanese, Mexican and Peruvian flavours, which at £45 per person is excellent value. Highly recommended.   

Saturday 6 October 2018

La Mia Mamma – Italian Regional Cuisines Cooked by a Local Mamma!

Name: La Mia Mamma

Where: 257 Kings Road, London, SW3 5EL, https://www.lamiamamma.co.uk/

Cost: The Mama's Menu, for a minimum of 2 people, is available in three possible combinations: antipasti to share and pasta for £28 per person; antipasti to share and a main for £33; while for those with gargantuan appetites, the antipasti to share, pasta and main course costs £38 per person.  All three menus include an Aperol Spritz, a dessert and an espresso coffee.

About: Opened as recently as June 2018, La Mia Mamma on buzzing Kings Road presents an unusual concept of food cooked by an Italian Mamma (mother) from one of 20 regions of the country.  At the time we were there, this was the Sicilian Maria Concetta. The aim is to offer genuine home cooking as you might eat in the Mamma's house. Each Mamma is flown in for a residency of three months, and other regions planned in the near future include Puglia, Campania and Calabria.  Pasta is freshly made on the premises every day.

For those who do not want to try the regional Mamma's menu, the a la carte menu has a selection of national dishes to choose from, though the menu is reassuringly short.

What We Ate: We opted for the antipasti and pasta menu at £28 per person, including an Aperol Spritz, dessert and espresso coffee. The meal started with a generous selection of antipasti, chosen by Maria.  I was expecting a few slices of Parma ham, cheese and olives, but what arrived was much more interesting and varied.

There was a board with 3 types of vegetable antipasti: Sicilian caponata (grilled aubergine) with stracciatella (the cheese from the heart of the burrata); peperonata (simmered peppers) with onions and olives and fried courgette escabeche, with mint, garlic, vinegar and oil; ricotta cheese with crumbled pistachio and balsamic glaze.

The panzerotti, like small fried calzone, were filled with ricotta cheese, ham and tomato sauce. They were clearly freshly made, authentic and delectable. 

A round platter with four other antipasti included the gateau di patate (a little potato cake) with mozzarella and cooked ham; aubergine frittata; a large arancini rice ball filled with spinach and cheese. Best of all was the meatloaf with chunky shreds of meat covered in melting mozzarella cheese. They were all well seasoned and rich.

We also had a couple of fried pizzette topped with ricotta cheese, tomato and basil.

The antipasti were a meal in themselves I thought, although to my palate they were a tad too substantial and carb heavy (and I eat a lot). I enjoyed them, and what they lacked in sophistication they more than made up in flavour and generosity.

For our pasta dishes, we had the Pasta Nasciata del Detective Montalbano - oven-baked rigatoni with beef Bolognese sauce, cooked ham, boiled eggs, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  This was the fictional detective Inspector Montalbano's favourite pasta dish, and was rich and delicious, rather like a good home-made lasagna.

The other pasta was Pesto di Pistacchi and Ricotta. A quintessential Sicilian dish with home-made pistachio pesto, and Busiate pasta (a long twisted macaroni-shaped pasta from Sicily), this was creamy but to my palate lacked seasoning.

For dessert, we had the Tiramisu al Pistacchio. This was absurdly good, with the magnificently flavoursome caramelised Pistacchio Verde di Bronte DOP from Sicily, a layer of pistachio cream over a base of whipped sweet mascarpone, topped with caramelised pistachios.

The Cannolo Scomposto is the restaurant's deconstructed take on the popular Sicilian dessert, and in this version, rather than being in tubular form, there were layers of crisp pastry dough, covered in a sweet creamy ricotta and crumbled pistachios. This was light, crunchy and delectable.

What We Drank: There are 6 cocktails all priced at £9.50, with a selection of wines by the glass (125ml), ranging from £5.95 to £11.

The Aperol Spritz was well made and refreshing.  With my meal, I had a glass of Primitivo (£6.75) - robust, full bodied and with smooth tannins. The espresso was strong, rich and authentically Italian.

Likes: The baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce was wonderful, but the stars of the meal were the two desserts. These can be ordered separately at £5.50 each. Excellent value set menus, friendly and well-informed waiting staff. 

Dislikes: I loved the antipasti but was full after eating them. The portion was commendably generous but carb-heavy (perhaps less pastry?). 

Verdict: For an authentic experience of Italian regional home cooking, La Mia Mamma is the real deal. I look forward to learning more about other regions of Italy over the coming months there. Recommended.

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