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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 4 October 2019

The London Foodie Goes to Northern Ireland - The Fabulous Shola Coach House Boutique B&B in Portrush

A very good morning from the fabulous Shola Coach House Boutique B&B in Portrush, our lovely "home" during our Northern Ireland travels.

And no better way to get the day started than with Sharon's Full Ulster Fry with all the trimmings including traditional local family Ethersons Butchers' reared bacon and sausages, my favourite Clonakilty Black Pudding, soda farls and potato bread. We also had freshly cut fruit salad, yoghurts, and more homemade breads, what a feast!

Sharon and David set up Shola B&B in 2013 and since then they have been garnering a number of awards - in 2015 they were voted the 2nd B&B in the World by the Travellers' Choice Awards.

Sharon and David run their B&B single-handedly - they deal with all booking enquiries, and with no hired help they make the beds, do the cleaning, fry our breakfasts, make guests' restaurant reservations, and with their incredible wealth of local knowledge, advise us on the best places to visit and places to eat.

We were lucky to share breakfast with a number of different people during our stay - surprisingly most of them were from Northern Ireland, they were regular guests who stay at Shola's several times a year!

Shola Coach House Boutique B&B is in Portrush, one of the most popular seaside towns of Northern Ireland - there is so much to explore in the area including the incredible Giants Causeway, Portstewart (great golfing), Bushmills town and distillery (great Irish whisky), and miles after miles of the most stunning seaside scenery - think rugged landscape, high cliffs overlooking the blue Irish sea and plenty of greenery, a fantastic place for long-distance walking.

Best of all though was finding a number of great restaurants in the area too including Harry's Shack in Portstewart, The Mermaid, one of the four Ramore Restaurants in Portrush and Billy Andys pub in Larne. I will post about these fabulous places on a separate entry.

This was no press trip, and this is no #ad, we were on our own dollar on this trip and we loved Shola Coach House Boutique B&B. This gem of a place is our top recommendation in Northern Ireland. But make sure to book well in advance, with only 4 bedrooms, Shola is always in high demand, and we can see why this is!

Friday 27 September 2019

Returning to Berners Tavern & a Fabulous Wine Masterclass with Matteo Montone - 6 Years On and Still Amazing!

Name: Berners Tavern

Where: The London Edition Hotel, 10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP, 020 7908 7979, 

Cost: a 3-course meal will cost around £50 per person on average (not including drinks or service)

About: The London restaurant scene moves SO fast, so it is rare for me to visit the same place twice -  Berners Tavern is however one of the few restaurants I’ve been returning to over the years.

Another good reason for my recent return visit was to attend a fabulous Wine Masterclass with Matteo Montone, Berners Tavern’s Director of Wine, and possibly the best dressed sommelier I ever met!

But besides his uncanny resemblance to Jude Law, Matteo is not an actor - he is in fact about to become one of a very select group of fewer than 300 Masters of Wine worldwide as he finalises his Master Sommelier Diploma this year. In 2019, he was named GQ Best Sommelier and the Young Sommelier of the Year by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. So we can say, the man knows a thing or two about wine!

Held in one of the most glamorous London restaurants, at @bernerstavern’s private dining room, these intimate sessions held during September are a great opportunity to learn about the art of wine tasting and discover some of the 800 wines from the restaurant’s wine list.

Priced at £45 per person, the classes will have 12 spaces available per session, and there will be 2 sessions per month. Guests who choose to dine at Berners Tavern following the class will also receive 15% off the total bill.

Charming and knowledgeable, Matteo is leading a number of fantastic wine tastings in the coming months - what a great opportunity to meet the man himself, try some amazing vino and dine at one of the most glam restaurants in London!

Berners Tavern is still one of the most glam restaurants in London, I wrote about it in The London Foodie 6 years ago when it first opened (see review here). Berners Tavern is where you take your hottest date, your mum, or your family when they are in town, it is a place where you take folk you want to impress!

And 6 years on, on the Tuesday evening we attended, the place was jam packed - so what is the secret? The menu features some comfort British classics, exquisite British produce which is immaculately delivered, and a fabulous list of 800 wines. 

What We Ate: *OUTSTANDING DISHES* were the HUGE Buccleuch Estate Côte de Boeuf served with Berners Tavern’s BLT, a bacon, tomato & lettuce wedge drizzled with a delectable buttermilk dressing (£90 for 2). 

Sides of Berners Tavern’s signature MAC N’CHEESE with pulled beef blade (£10) and TRIPLED COOKED CHIPS were nothing short of PERFECTION, I was told the mac n’cheese can also be ordered as a main dish, another reason to return!

Hand-chopped, aged Buccleuch Estate BEEF TARTARE, English mustard mayo and sourdough crouton (£15) and chargrilled octopus, smoked cod’s roe, treviso and chicory salad (£17) made for magnificent starters.

Dessert came in a trio – Peach Triffle with Nyetimber jelly, peach sorbet and deep-fried jam donut was light and refreshing (£9) as was the Gin & Tonic flaming Alaska (£18 for 2) with cucumber, hibiscus and juniper. But best of all was Peanut & Chocolate Ganache with toasted peanut mousse and salted caramel ice cream – rich and so comforting.

What We Drank: With 800 wines to choose from, we were lucky to have Matteo Montone, Berners Tavern’s Director of Wine guide us – his choice of super Tuscan’s Il Fauno, an IGG blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was a perfect match to the Côte de Boeuf.

Likes: *THAT* Mac n' Cheese with pulled beef blade! Possibly the best wine menu in London. Fabulous decor.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: To date, this was one of our best meals of 2019 – if you haven’t tried Berners Tavern’s outstanding British fare yet, you are missing out. If anything, *THAT* Mac n’ Cheese is to die for and worth a visit in its own right.

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.

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