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Tuesday 28 August 2018

Osh Restaurant – Outstanding Uzbekistani Cooking & One of The Best London Meals of 2018!

Name: Osh Restaurant

Where: 14-15 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, SW3 1NQ, https://oshrestaurant.com/

Cost: A 3-course meal at Osh costs on average £35 per person not including beverages or service. Small eats cost £6-14, main courses are £11 to £29, and desserts are £4.50 to £7. 

About: Opened in March 2018 in Knightsbridge's plush Beauchamp Place, on the site of the former Japanese Nozumi restaurant, Osh Restaurant serves Uzbekistani and Central Asian food.

Aiming to offer authentic Uzbekistani dining, the management has hired and brought to the UK a number of Uzbekistani chefs. Osh imports its vegetables and fruit from Uzbekistan twice a week, a selection of which, is on proud display at the entrance, along with dates, nuts and seeds.

Osh Restaurant and Bar is spread over three floors of a Knightsbridge townhouse, with the ground floor restaurant being set under a glass roof with a view of the verdant trees above. 

This part of the restaurant is decorated in neutral creams and browns and overlooks the blue and cream tiled, open plan kitchen and tandoor ovens, while the upper floor is decked out in gold and red stripes with beautiful artwork.

The restaurant's concept is of sharing dishes, with platters placed in the middle of the table.  Oddly, there is a selection of Asian and Japanese inspired dishes on the menu (run-of-the-mill items like black cod in miso and sashimi in ponzu dressing etc), but we chose to focus, with the guidance of our very knowledgeable waiter Nikolai, on the Uzbek dishes.

Osh takes its name from Uzbekistan’s national dish. Osh or Plov, is the restaurant’s signature dish and cost as little as £16 for 2 people to share. Nikolai tells us that 99% of diners will order this plus a couple or few other small dishes. Osh is an intricate rice dish of slow braised mutton, in rice, garlic, chickpeas, grated carrots and sultanas. Osh is one of the most wonderful things I have eaten this year.

Uzbekistan is also known for its fine caviar, and guests with deep enough pockets can choose from a range of beluga, oscietra and platinum caviars, starting at £60 for 30g.

What We Ate: Uzbek tomato carpaccio with goats cheese and a scattering of pomegranate seeds (£8) tasted as good as it looked, with ultra-fine slices of ripe tomato. The cheese was creamy and rich with a lovely gamey quality to it.

The warm aubergine salad with goat's cheese and coriander dressing was beautifully presented with a topping of deep-fried leeks (£8). The aubergine chunks had been lightly battered and deep-fried, and combined deliciously with the goats cheese. Nikolai says this is the most popular of all starters and I can certainly see why!

The aubergine salad came served with some wonderfully aromatic, freshly-baked Uzbek bread seasoned with caraway seeds, and tarragon butter (£3.50).

Butternut squash Manti were sweet and delicious dumplings, flavoured with coriander and cumin (£5), served with a little pot of refreshing sour cream.

Uzbek Chebureki were deep-fried dough parcels of minced lamb with Uzbek spices (£6) – they were light, oil-free and delicious with the fresh tomato herb relish.

Surmi cabbage rolls (£12) were filled with minced rabbit, rice and topped with truffle shavings. They were exceptionally good - perfectly tender, aromatic and creamy. The accompanying sauce of butter, white wine and fennel was bursting with flavour.

Shashlik are grilled skewers of meat or fish marinated for 12 hours - are served at Osh Restaurant with spicy cucumber salad, adjika sauce of tomatoes, chillies, onions and red pepper, and flat bread.

The chicken spatchcock shashlik (£11) with ginger, chilli, garlic and tomato was succulent and aromatic.

The beef fillet shashlik (£14) came with soy sauce, honey, garlic and onion. It was tender, served medium rare but with a delicious caramelisation, and well seasoned. I cannot understand who Osh can serve such generous and good quality meat skewers for £14.

Uzbek Osh is a variant of the plov lamb dishes popular in central Asia - a warming mixture of lamb or mutton, onions, grated carrots and spices.  Osh's version had slow cooked lamb served with orange and yellow carrots, peppers, chickpeas, lamb lard, sultanas, pilau rice and Uzbek spices.

Served with Achichuk (Uzbek tomato) salad and Uzbek radish salad (£16 for 2). This was also remarkably good, with aromas of cumin and coriander.

For dessert, we shared a pistachio éclair with fresh blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries, with micro mint (£7). This was magnificent, the éclair richly almond flavoured, the crème patisserie aromatic with vanilla and heady pistachio.

What We Drank: Osh has a comprehensive cocktail list. We started with a Desert Tea cocktail (£14), with Courvoisier VSOP cognac, mint, rose essence, red sandalwood and red amaranth. This was strong, intensely perfumed, and delicious.  The Silk Spritz (£14) was a refreshing blend of Elix vodka, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, Thai basil, kumquat, Martini Prosecco Brut.

The entry level white is a Musar Jeune from Chateau Musar, Lebanon at £55, while the red is a Piedmontese Barbera at £35. There is a good selection of wine by the glass, including a Cretan white at £9, and the Barbera is also served by the glass at £6.75.

Likes: I enjoyed absolutely every item we chose from the menu, and this was one of those very rare meals without any weak dishes (I would like to thank Nikolai for his help ghiding us to choose the best Uzbek dishes). Despite the plush location and restaurant decor, the food menu is outstandingly good value for money. A perfect meal for me at Osh includes – Warm Aubergine Salad + Surmi Cabbage Rolls + Beef Fillet Shashlik Skewer + Osh Lamb Rice!

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For Uzbekistani cooking that is authentic, delicious and generous in plush Knightsbridge and at surprisingly reasonable prices, there can surely be nowhere better in London. I had one of the best meals of 2018 at Osh Restaurant. Very highly recommended.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Blakes Restaurant - Lobster Paccheri to Die For in Kensington & Chelsea!

Name: Blakes Restaurant @ Blakes Hotel

Where: Blakes Hotel, 33 Roland Gardens, London SW7 3PF,  https://www.blakeshotels.com/eating-drinking/restaurant

Cost: A 3-course meal cost on average £50 per person, not including drinks or service. Starters range from £9 to £26, mains from £18 to £39, and desserts from £6 to £14 (for the cheese platter). 

About: Blakes is a small luxury hotel in Kensington & Chelsea conceived by the celebrated interior designer Anouska Hempel. Opened in 1978 on a quiet residential street in London, Blakes Hotel is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year and still is one of the most fashionable addresses in the area today.

Blakes Restaurant is set on the ground floor of Blakes Hotel, it is a stylish affair with walls and furnishings in black and gold and wood floors stained in a gorgeous checkerboard pattern.

The restaurant offers a range of Mediterranean and seafood dishes with a Japanese influence. On the mid week evening we were there, it was surprisingly heaving with a well-healed clientele, a mixture of hotel residents and locals.

From September 2018, the restaurant will see the seasonal return of seafood platters, courtesy of Italian and Brazilian Head Chefs, the Mariano Russo and Peter del Campo.

Breakfast and lunch can also be taken at The Courtyard, a lovely green open space within the hotel. The Blakes Below Bar, opened from 7pm to 1am, has live DJ and is a great spot for after dinner cocktails or just to meet up with friends for some beer or wine. Non-residents are welcome.

What We Ate: As an amuse bouche, we were served an artichoke with truffle mayonnaise and a very aromatic Spanish olive oil - simple but delicious.

The razor clam ceviche with chilli, coriander, toasted breadcrumbs spiked with lime zest had great texture contrasts and zingy flavours. We enjoyed this thoroughly.

Next up was a platter of 6 Maldon rock oysters served over crushed ice, with cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette and lemon (£21) – the oysters were plump, super fresh and utterly delicious.

The swordfish carpaccio (£14) was the weakest link of our meal - with fruity Espelette pepper, frisée and lambs lettuce and a lemon dressing (supposedly), it arrived completely unseasoned and with no dressing.  However, it did come with a half lemon, a bottle of good olive oil, salt and pepper, so we were able to season it to taste ourselves.

The native lobster Paccheri pasta with cherry tomatoes and garlic (£28) was nothing short of sublime. The tubular pasta from Naples was a great conduit for the intensely flavoured lobster bisque, and the nuggets of whole lobster that were meaty and tender. A heavenly dish.

Surrey Farm grass-fed rib-eye steak (300g - £28) had a good depth of flavour and a wonderfully black charring from the grill.

We enjoyed our mains with sides of creamy mashed potato (£5) and courgette fries (£6), which were very well made.

To finish off our glasses of red wine we shared a beautifully presented cheese platter with four different types of cheese, figs, sliced apple and grapes, jam and honey (£14).

The Vegan Tiramisu (£9) which I would normally have run a mile from, came highly recommended. It was made from soft tofu, cashew nuts, coffee and mint. Served with edible flowers, coffee mousse, it was outstandingly good. The substitution of tofu for the traditional mascarpone was a revelation, making for a much lighter, fresher mouthfeel.

What We Drank: We kicked off with a refreshing glass of Laurent Perrier Brut (£16.50). The restaurant has an extensive range of wines, Champagnes and sakes available by the glass. The entry level wines are both Italian - the white is a Verdicchio di Matelica (£38), while the red is Sangiovese from Emilia Romagna at £38.  With our starters, at the suggestion of sommelier Sarah Boukhelifa, we had a glass of minerally Picpoul de Pinet (£13). 

To partner the main courses of lobster and rib eye, we had a glass of Givry, Pinot Noir, from Domain de la Ferte, Burgundy (£16). With fresh raspberry and redcurrant aromas and soft tannins, this was a deliciously light wine with subtle complexity.

Warming to the wine list, we decided to finish our mains and cheese with a Bordeaux Saint Emilion - a Chateau Orisse du Casse Grand Cru 2012 (£105 per bottle). This was a mature, powerfully complex wine, with notes of leather, cedar and blackberry, and a long, savoury finish.

With dessert, we had a glass of Moscato Passito Terre Siciliane (£12). Rich and concentrated, with aromas of ripe grapes, raisins, honey, pear and herbs, this was a delicious dessert wine.

After dinner, we repaired to the basement cocktail lounge for a couple of espresso martinis. Open Wednesday to Sunday evening from 7pm to 1am, this is a glamorous spot with a live DJ, open to the public (you just need to sign in at the ground floor reception).

Likes: There is so much to love about Blakes Restaurant - the lobster paccheri pasta was outstanding and the star of the dinner, the rib eye, the cheese platter and the tofu tiramisu were also very good. Service was very friendly and efficient, the sommelier's suggestions were interesting and of high quality.  

Dislikes: The unseasoned swordfish carpaccio was the only snag of our dinner.

Verdict: The good burghers of Roland Garden are very lucky to have a neighbourhood restaurant at this quality level. For the rest of us, Blakes Restaurant is a hidden Kensington gem, with excellent ingredients expertly cooked and presented. We loved our meal and experience at Blakes Restaurant and highly recommend it.

Friday 17 August 2018

Casa do Frango – Exceptional Quality and Value Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken, Vinho Verde and Pastel de Nata!

Name: Casa do Frango

Where: 32 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TU, https://www.casadofrango.co.uk/

Cost: A 3-course meal plus a side cost on average £25-£30 per person (not including drinks or service). The menu is short but well thought out. Frango (half chicken) is the star and the signature dish of the menu (£9 per portion). Starters cost from £4 to £10 such as chilled Algarvian gaspacho (£5), Bacalhau and chickpea salad (£7), Grilled prawns (£8), or Octopus rice (£10). Sides include African rice (£5), Lettuce salad (£3) and Batatas fritas, (fries, £4).

About: Casa do Frango is a beautiful and airy restaurant on the busy Southwark Street, just around the corner from Borough Market. It is on the 1st floor of a rather dull, corner building though with its vaulted ceiling, a huge glass skylight, and an inspired interior design that fills the space with plants and gorgeous furniture, Casa do Frango is a lovely dining spot.

Casa de Frango’s fresh and modern look really sets it apart from other Portuguese or pseudo-Portuguese eateries like the more traditional, cheap & cheerful piri piri chicken joints in Stockwell (I visited these a lot during my spell in Dulwich and highly recommend them) or the Nando’s chain, which is in fact is South African owned.

Casa do Frango is the result of travels and food expeditions in the South of Portugal by three friends - Marco Mendes (himself Algarvian-English), Jake Kasumov and Reza Merchant. Their mission is to bring to London the real flavour of Algarvian piri piri chicken to folks in London.

To this end, they brought in a specialist “pitmaster” from the Algarve to ensure that the dishes, particularly the frango, which is roasted on an impressive wood charcoal grill at the heart of the open plan kitchen, deliver the promised regional authenticity.

What We Ate: The Algarvian Gaspacho (£5) was cooling and flavoursome, the small pieces of sourdough bread, cucumber, tomatoes and pickled garlic added a lovely texture. I could have done with more seasoning but my companion felt it was just right.

With its thick but crispy batter the Super Bock Beer Battered Whitebait (£6) was lifted by its delectable, smoked paprika aioli.

Grilled Prawns (£8) with piri piri, white wine and parsley, a serving of four well-sized prawns, had a lovely charred flavour from the grill, but the much anticipated heat from the piri piri sauce wasn’t really noticeable.

The Octopus Rice (£10) was a shade too far on the side of pale. The octopus was tender but the rice was overcooked and thus unpleasantly gummy and soft. It also lacked seasoning, which was rather disappointing.

Much better though was the Bacalhau and Chickpea Salad (£7) with slivers of salted cod, chickpeas, black olives, and a generous serving of creamy mayonnaise and soft-boiled egg. We loved this salad.

We didn’t think we could eat any more but we soldiered on to the mains.

The Frango (1/2 chicken – one breast, thigh and leg on the bone) comes with three flavour choices: piri piri, oregano, and lemon and garlic. We ordered their star dish, the Frango Piri Piri (£9) - the chicken meat was very succulent, oozing with flavour and had the perfect amount of heat. The skin was crisp and delectable. Casa de Frango’s Piri Piri Chicken is probably the most flavoursome grilled chicken I have had in London for a very long time.

The other Frango we ordered was laced with oregano and garlic. Grilled as perfectly as its piri piri sister, it had distinctive herbal, garlic and salt flavours, which were a delight to tuck into, particularly for the wonderful crispy skin and the moist thigh and leg meat.

To accompany our Frangos, we ordered a number of sides - the African Rice (£5), a nod to the cultural influence of former colonies, had an infinitely better texture than the earlier Octopus version and was truly delicious.

It came with chorizo, plantain, garden peas, peppers, parsley topped with crispy chicken skin. It was a great accompaniment with a perfect balance of flavours and texture. It was so good I am featuring it again below!

The other two accompaniments were a very well-dressed lettuce salad (£3) and Batatas Fritas or chips (£4) which were sadly a tad under-cooked and so not crisp.

We could (or should) have stopped here, but we couldn’t resist ordering the traditional Pastel de Nata (£5) for dessert. The quintessentially Portuguese custard tart, it was deliciously creamy and sweet served with a small glass of refreshing coffee ice-cream.

What We Drank: The drinks menu offers cocktails and a good selection of Portuguese wines (prices ranging from £20 to £44 per bottle). We kicked off with the classic Portuguese Port & Tonic (£8), made with Churchill’s 10-year-old white port, tonic, mint and orange peel, which was perfect. The Portuguese version of Gin & Tonic (£8) made with Portuguese Gold grail gin, tonic, lime peel, rosemary, juniper berries and cardamom, was equally refreshing.

With our meal, we shared a bottle of Vinho Verde Muralhas de Monção (£26) made from Alvarinho grapes (albariño). It had a fresh and citrusy flavour, with a great structure, acidity and body- it conjured up summer by the beach.

Likes: Both Frangos piri piri and oregano ticked all the boxes – they were exceptional and I cannot recommend them highly enough. We also loved the grilled prawns (though more piri piri heat was needed) and the Bacalhau and chickpea salad. The African rice was also great. Very attentive, efficient and friendly staff. 

Dislikes: The starter section of the menu desperately needs to be looked at, especially the Octopus Rice (by far the weakest link) -  they lacked seasoning and texture and did not compare well with the wonderful frango that followed. Bacalhau is the trademark of Portuguese cuisine so it would be great to have a bacalhau main course on the menu (also as a pescatarian option) and perhaps Bolinhos de Bacalhau as a side or starter.

Verdict: Casa do Frango has the most flavoursome and perfectly grilled Piri Piri chicken in London right now - it was exceptional. The perfect meal here is Frango Piri Piri, Bacalhau and Chickpea Salad, and the wonderful African Rice (and chips too of course) followed by Pastel de Nata with coffee ice cream. It is excellent value too and I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

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