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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Believe the Hype - Xier London’s 10-Course Fine Dining Menu is FANTASTIC!



Where: 13-14 Thayer Street, London, S1U 3JR, http://www.xierlondon.com/

Cost: In the upstairs Xier London, the 10-Course Fine Dining menu (a Vegetarian Menu is also available) is £90 per person, or £175 with a wine and cocktail pairing. For more casual dining, with shared dishes, XR on the ground floor is the thing, with an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner, and a set lunch at £25 for 2 courses, or £30 for 3. There is also a Royal XR Brunch menu offering a selection of starters plus cocktail, a choice of main course plus a glass of wine and a dessert for £30pp.

About: Xier is a new London restaurant in Marylebone, opened in December 2018, and led by Chef Carlo Scotto (formerly of Angela Hartnett, Murano, Galvin La Chapelle and Babbo). Xier offers modern European cuisine with influences from the Scotto's travels in Scandinavia and Asia and particularly from Japan.  Open for lunch and dinner, the menu at XR changes every two weeks according to seasonal produce availability. 

The ground floor bar serves a selection of small to more substantial dishes to go with a range of wines and Champagnes by the glass of bottle and cocktails, including lamb sliders with gruyere, foie gras mayo and truffle fries (£15), an Iberico ham board (£10) or enoki mushroom truffle arancini (£4).

What We Ate: We opted for the 10-course fine dining menu which kicked off with a canapé of stracciatella cheese with wild strawberry, kalamansi and organic honey deftly blending acidity and astringency with richness and sweetness.  This was a fabulous start.


Lemongrass tart with borlotti bean cream came in a ultra-delicate pastry case, beautifully presented, this was another expert blend of Asian and European flavours.


I don’t normally write about bread baskets when I review but Xier’s is definitely worth the mention - freshly baked rosemary and potato sourdough, it was made on the premises and served with churned coffee and oak-smoked butter with Espelette pepper. It was outstandingly good and replenished whenever necessary.


Red prawn crudo (raw) with red caviar and yuzu (Japanese citrus) was cleverly presented - paper-thin sheets of raw red Sicilian prawn, topped with trout caviar, shavings of lime zest (not yuzu though), and specks of fresh raspberry that gave a refreshing lift of acidity and fruitiness to the dish.


Best of all starters for me though was the rosewater and beetroot-cured salmon, served alongside a quenelle of foie gras coated in beetroot powder.  The salmon was topped with macerated Gariguette strawberries, fine discs of Bramley apple and micro-herbs. With firm salmon, a rich buttery textured foie gras and a delicately refreshing acidity from the raw green apple, this was a stunning melange of flavours and textures that really made the dish sing.


"Europe meets Asia" was a warming dish of pan-fried beurre noisette and tarragon gnocchi, topped with enoki mushrooms and chives, served in a hot kombu dashi (Japanese vegetarian stock), speckled with finely diced fresh ginger.


As a palate-cleanser, a gin and tonic granita, with apple basil sorbet was as every bit as refreshing as it looked.


The tasting menu has a choice of two fish and two meat options.  As there were two of us, happily we were able to try all four.  Red mullet served over a carrot escabeche, burnt aubergine puree with squid ink, and a complex leche de tigre of pineapple, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and bright green chlorophyll, topped with plankton powder, was nothing short of stunning.


Better still was the second fish option of grilled black cod in caramel miso, topped with shredded cured duck, served with asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, cauliflower puree, and perilla-infused oil.  I loved the combination of buttery black cod with salted duck, while the duck was as gamey and flavourful as jerked beef - a revelation.


The two meat courses followed.  The beef cheek, with bone marrow, wild hops, apple and nettle puree, was as soft and unctuous as butter, richly aromatic and served with a side of pulled beef with dates, Parmesan and chives.


The pigeon was also wonderfully tender, served with beetroot puree, foie gras, purple potato, hazelnut crumble with a pigeon jus. It came with a rich, sweet side dish, served in a beef marrow bone, of pulled pigeon legs with dates, Parmesan and chives.


Swedish cows milk cheese - Wrangeback - was deliciously dense, a bit like a Comte, served with sweet red wine jelly and surprisingly fizzy red grapes made by "marinating" them in dry ice.


The dessert course, described as "sweet tooth" was a medley of the restaurant signature sweets for sharing. Given the choice, I nearly always go for savoury dishes, but the dessert course at Xier was one of the highlights of our meal.


Rhubarb 3 Ways had almond biscuit, nougat parfait, pistachio and rhubarb coulis.


Salted caramel and peanut tart with banana biscuit and coffee ice cream was bursting with intense coffee flavour while being light and creamy.


Chocolate Piemonte was the last dessert - chocolate mousse, chocolate sable and chocolate sponge cake with a glossy coating as smooth and shiny as a mirror, combined with chocolate ice cream, chocolate crisps and Espelette creme Anglais. Again, the use of texture contrasts was daring but successful, the skill of the pastry chef was manifest, and the hint of chilli in the creme Anglais was divine.


Some very fine petit fours followed - chilled chocolate truffles, and dainty hazelnut financiers were just what we needed with our coffees.


What We Drank: The wine list is extensive, with a focus on Europe but with options from the New World too.  The entry level wines, both at £39, are an Argentinian Torrontes from Bodega Norton, while the red is a Domaine de Peras from Languedoc. Pine and lemon water, blended by the Chef, was a refreshing non-alcoholic palate cleanser served to all guests.

From the cocktail menu, and included in the wine flight, we started with Xier Spritz (£14) - a blend of Beluga Nobel vodka, with kumquats, physalis, mixed with Canard-Duchene Champagne and elderflower.


The Botanical Julep (£14) blended Chivas Extra with Antico Formula Vermouth, fresh ginger, basil leaves, lemon grass and shiso syrup. Commendably, cocktails are served with a reusable 'straw' made of stainless steel.

With the fish courses, we had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, "Aromatic", from Pays d'Oc. Refreshing and grassy like a New Zealand SB, this had good acidity.


With the red mullet, the meat courses and cheese, a Pinot Noir - "Cruel Mistress" 2017 from South-Western Australia, had smooth tannins, strawberry fruit and a touch of spice.


The wines were perfectly acceptable, but two wines for a 10 course meal is not what I would describe as a 'wine pairing', and at £85 per person for a cocktail and two glass of wine each, I would far rather choose my own wine and save a lot of cash.

Likes: Chef Carlo Scotto’s cooking is of an exceptional standard, and I am sure he will bag one or even two Michelin stars in no time. The dessert course was outstandingly good. The staff know the menu inside out and are both knowledgeable and friendly without being overbearing.  The dining room is a harmonious and elegant spot decorated in white, cream and grey. 

Dislikes: The wine pairing is not up to the exceptional quality of the food. I would rather choose my own wines from the extensive list.  With a cocktail and only two average wines for the whole tasting menu, this was a missed opportunity.

Verdict: Xier London’s 10-course menu is, without a doubt, one the best meals I have had in 2019. It is rare that I like everything on a menu, yet I could not fault a single dish, it just got better and better with every course. I loved Chef Carlo Scotto’s impeccable understanding of Japanese and Western flavours bringing both together perfectly into his tasting menu dishes. Very highly recommended.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Yauatcha City's New Weekend Yum Cha & Champagne Menu Reviewed


Name: Yauatcha City Weekend Yum Cha Menu

Where: 1 Broadgate Circus, London EC2M 2QS, https://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: As of June 2019, from 12 to 4pm, Yauatcha City is opening on Sundays and offering a Weekend (Sat and Sun) Yum Cha brunch menu.  The menu includes a selection of steamed dim sum, Peking duck three ways, two bao buns, a main course and dessert. The menu is priced at £47 per person with oolong or Taiwanese teas, £49 with a half bottle of wine, or £58 with a half bottle of Henriot Champagne per person or a full-bottle for two people (priced at £82 if ordered a la carte). All options come with an introductory cocktail included in the price. There are vegetarian and vegan menus.

About: Yauatcha City is one of my favourite dim sum restaurants in town, we were there a couple of years ago when they launched their Saturday Supreme menu (reviewed here and now sadly no longer available), so when I heard about their new Weekend Yum Cha menu, I hurried along to try it. Much of the City is quiet at the weekend, but this special menu aims to lure in the increasing weekend brunch clientele, and it seems to be working as the place was buzzing when we got there at 3pm last Sunday afternoon. 


What We Ate: After a refreshing cold brewed tea palate cleanser, we had a selection of steamed dim sum - scallop shiu mai, king crab dumpling, seafood black truffle dumpling (our favourite) and wild mushroom dumpling. These were exquisite - freshly made, with fine pastry casing and delectable fillings.


Peking duck was served three ways - the first was in the more familiar form of a pancake, with admirably crispy skin over plum sauce, cucumber and spring onion. Next had a topping of black caviar - though equally delicious, I would suggest eating the caviar first then the rest of the dish, as I could not taste much of the caviar given all the other ingredients.  Between these two, Peking duck was served as a crunchy, refreshing wrap on a lettuce leaf, with tender cubes of pumpkin and pine nuts. 


Bao buns came two ways.  The steamed chicken bun with mushroom, water chestnut and salted egg was light and delicate, and who can resist a chicken-and-egg dish?  It was outgunned though by a magnificent bun of Berkshire pork belly, succulent and unctuous in the extreme, balanced by crunchy pickled cucumber and mini cubes of fresh almond.


For main course, there was a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options, though some of these sounded a tad pedestrian (sweet and sour pork?). The kung pao chicken, a favourite Sichuanese dish with peanuts, dried peppers, was served here over crispy rice noodles.  I enjoyed this almost every day during my recent trip to Chengdu in Sichuan, but sadly Yauatcha's version bore little resemblance. Sweet and gloopy, with very little chilli heat, it was more like the takeaway staple of chicken and cashew nuts than kung pao chicken.


Better was the stir-fry rib eye beef in black bean sauce, with very tender beef, sautéed with sliced peppers in a delectable, umami-rich black bean sauce. It was also a very generous portion


Stir-fried baby pak choi and steamed jasmine rice were served with the main course.


For dessert, there is a choice of petit gateau, yuzu chocolate bun, or Belvedere espresso with macaron.


We opted for the petit gateau (on this occasion a praline and pecan nut concoction), and a well-made single citron macaron with espresso-martini.


What We Drank: From the cocktail menu, we chose the Chun Tian - a blend of Cinzano Bianco vermouth, with Hennessy Fine de Cognac, limoncello, cinnamon, passionfruit, ginger bitters and peppermint bitters. This had delicious tropical fruit flavours and alcohol in perfect balance. 


The Sencha Negroni had Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, sencha green tea infusion, Antica Formula vermouth, Mondino Amaro and chamomile bitters. I'm a huge fan of Negronis, and this version was an Oriental, delectably aromatic variation on a much-loved theme.  

With our meal we shared a bottle of Henriot Champagne. Henriot is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne, and its NV product, served as part of the Weekend Yum Cha menu, is light golden in colour, with fine persistent bubbles and a citrus aroma. 


Likes: The dim sum is always outstanding at Yauatcha. The Berkshire pork bun was a superb, and I also enjoyed the variations on the theme of Peking duck. 

Dislikes: For me, the main course options are the weakest link on the menu, the kung pao chicken was very sweet and lacking in heat, the dessert options are limited (only 3 desserts available).

Verdict: We loved the new Yum Cha Weekend Menu at Yauatcha City. Available every Saturday and Sunday from midday to 4pm, it is a perfect combination of outstanding dim sum, bubbles and cocktails. Can't think of a better way to spend my Sunday afternoons.... Recommended.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Tamarind Restaurant - Gorgeous Revamp and Michelin-Starred Indian Tasting Menu


Name: Tamarind Restaurant (Former Tamarind of Mayfair)

Where: 20 Queen Street, London W1J 5PR, https://www.tamarindrestaurant.com/.

Cost: The tasting menu is priced at £69 with an optional wine pairing of £45. The restaurant also offers great value 2 and 3-course lunch and pre-theatre set menus at £25 and £30 respectively  from 12pm to 14:30 and from 17:30 to 18:30 everyday of the week (Monday to Sunday).

About: Tamarind (formerly Tamarind of Mayfair), the first Indian restaurant in the UK to be awarded a Michelin Star, re-opened in December 2018 after an eight-month long re-build.


Designed by David D’ Almada, Tamarind is set over two floors. The lower ground floor restaurant revolves around a striking open-plan kitchen and tandoor ovens, while the first floor dining room has doubled the restaurant’s capacity to a total of 152 covers. 

Following this multi-million pound refit, the interior is stunning, with a subtle colour scheme of distressed gold, pale grey, pink and cream. The soft off-white leather seating, and marble and wood flooring all make for a very elegant setting.


Executive Group Head Chef, Karunesh Khanna and Tamarind Mayfair Head Chef, Manav Tuli lead the kitchen, and their menu is a contemporary take on authentic Indian cooking with dishes, many of which are prepared on a charcoal grill or in the tandoor. 

With its sister restaurants Tamarind Kitchen in Soho’s Wardour Street, and Zaika in High Street Kensington, Tamarind Mayfair is the flagship of the Tamarind Group. 

What We Ate: There is a well thought-out à la carte menu, and two tasting menus. We opted for the signature tasting menu (£69 per person), although there is also a vegetarian tasting menu (£59 per person). 

The curly kale salad was as delicious as it looked, combining a number of ingredients including kale, mangetout, yellow cherry tomatoes, dates, almonds, cabbage and broad beans, the whole tasting far greater than the sum of its parts thanks to the delectable dressing made with kokum - a southern Indian sour fruit.


Equally good were the griddled Scottish scallops, served with a delicately spiced red lentil, coconut, curry leaf and fennel sauce, topped with a refreshing green apple salsa.


The yoghurt and corn kebab, encrusted in panko and almond, had a deliciously creamy mouth-feel and nutty flavour.


The Konkan prawns were wonderful – huge, succulent wild prawns, tender, deftly spiced and aromatic from the tandoor.


Chicken Tikka Hasnu came perfectly grilled and flavoured with complex spice mix including a whack of cardamom.


The char-grilled lamb chops were outstanding, served French-trimmed, pink and tender, with a pistachio crust and spicy marinade, accompanied by baby peppers with lentil and herb cheese stuffing.


Chettinad chicken biryani came flavoured with curry leaf, and a refreshing beetroot raita.



Marwari bhindi (okra) was served with onion and tomato, topped with black and white sesame. 


The Hyderabad goat chop curry (£24) was not on the tasting menu, but it sounded so good I had to give it a try.  Slow-cooked goat chops with whole garam masala and coconut were beautifully presented in a tin-lined copper pan. Naturally more intense and fibrous than the lamb, this really packed a flavour punch, served with a steaming naan, freshly baked in the tandoor oven.


Again venturing off the tasting menu, for dessert we were tempted by the coconut rice (£10), baked with cinnamon and lime, black rice, candy cashew, roast coconut, coconut rolls and guava sorbet.  The combination of creamy cardamom rice pudding with fresh coconut rolls was irresistible, and the guava sorbet was silky smooth.


The Gajar Halwa  (carrot and cardamom) soufflé (£12) was served with a fresh carrot jam centre, with bayleaf ice cream.  This was absurdly good, with a marmalade quality to the carrot jam, and the soufflé had an unexpected lightness of texture and finesse.


What We Drank: We kicked off with a couple of cocktails. The Zaffran Gin Fizz (£15) combined saffron, pistachio orgeat syrup, cardamom, orange flower, lassi and lemon soda.

The Himalayan Sour (£15) had a base of Amrut Indian peated whisky blended with Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, coriander seed, vetiver (an Indian fragrant grass), lemon, egg white and Ayurveda bitters.
  

These were truly well-made, original and interesting cocktails.  Carole Brown, previously Bar Manager for eight years at Hakkasan and four at Park Chinois, is responsible for the extensive list of innovative cocktails, many featuring Indian ingredients and flavours to complement the cooking, garnished with petals, blossoms and bursts of coloured powders. 

The wine list has some great wines from France, Italy and Spain, as well as the best regions of the USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. There are relatively few options below £50 per bottle. 

We moved on from cocktails to the wine pairing option of the tasting menu, priced at £45 per person, starting with a glass of Northern Rhone Saint Joseph, from Domaine Culleron Les Pieres Seches (£16 per glass, £89 per bottle).  This had soft red berry fruit, gentle tannins, and was surprisingly long on the finish.


Next up was the Pago de los Capellanes Crianza 2016 (£14 per glass, £80 per bottle), from Ribeiro del Duero, Spain, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, matured for one year in oak.  Well structured, with black berry fruit, leather and tannin, this was more than a match for the spicy food. A glass of Sierra Cantabria Rioja Reserva 2012 (£72  per bottle) was softer, with luscious cherry and damson fruit , mint and eucalyptus, with gentle tannins reflecting its long oak ageing.   

Likes: There wasn’t a bad dish on the menu, but the prawns and lamb chops were outstanding.  The desserts were truly exceptional, and if you don’t leave room for them, you will be missing out. The wine pairing option at £45pp was excellent value for money.

Dislikes: None

Verdict: We loved the revamped Tamarind Restaurant for its exquisite Indian cooking, the gorgeous new décor and great service. The tasting menu and wine pairing are also excellent value for money. Highly recommended.

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