Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hawksmoor, Air Street

Having subsisted the past few days predominantly on rice krispies during a trip to northern Uganda and South Sudan, I have harped back to a lunch at the new Hawksmoor on Air Street which I had the day before I departed for East Africa.

Many people are aware of the Hawksmoor phenomenon. To aficionados, they do the best steak in London. I happen to share this sentiment. The fan base is extensive, evidence provided when the 50% soft opening launch booked out within 8 minutes of the email being circulated to those signed up to the Hawksmoor mailing list. Considering that this was an extensive soft opening and that the Air Street venue can host 300 patrons, it’s no small feat. I sent my confirmation within 10 minutes of receipt of the email for the soft opening but was too late.

Hawksmoor being the kings of good service did however send a further option for lunch at 50% off on four alternative dates. So, on a Tuesday lunchtime, it was off to Piccadilly with a friend to check out Air Street. I was further excited by the fact that my friend with whom I was dining, was having steak for the first time, having recently converted from pescatarianism to the deity of carnivorism. In beef we worship.

The venue is big, replete with low ceilings, green leather upholstered seating and lots of very helpful staff. It’s got a nice art deco texture to it. I ordered (a very large) chatauebriand and the former pescatarian the fillet. For sides we selected the baked sweet potato (always a must at Hawksmoor), the triple cooked chips and the creamed spinach. I would have liked to have seen some sort of tomato salad on the menu as I had an excellent one previously at Spitalfields but none were on offer. We also ordered a pepper and béarnaise sauce though really, the quality of the steak means that there is no need to do so.
I ordered my chatueabriand rare. It was full or enormous flavour with the juices eeking from the fibres as I cut into it. It really was an excellent piece of meat. The fillet also was delicious and an excellent introduction to beef for my friend.
There are many things to like about Hawksmoor. For me the foremost is the attention to details. Little things, like upon our arrival and being guided upstairs, the staff knew our name. I assume the online system indicated that we had checked in downstairs so they were expecting us. Either that or the fact that we were 2 of the few females in the establishment made it easy to determine who we were. Whichever, I liked it.

Secondly, the drinks menu…we weren’t drinking alcohol with lunch and Hawksmoor possesses a non-alcoholic drinks menu with a great selection of soft cocktail alternatives. This just shows that, for those who do not drink alcohol, the non-alcoholic options are not just an afterthought at Hawksmoor. The ginger ‘n’ juice for me excelled…all that was missing was a shot of Jameson (ahem). The spiced tomato juice tempted me also (it would be great with a drop of vodka) and the cornflake milkshake had an allure to it, so teetotallers will not feel like an oft-forgot entity (presupposing that teetotallers are an entity).

Third, following my last review of Hawksmoor Seven Dials, I tweeted Will at Hawksmoor my review. I noticed on his twitter page, his response to customers’ comments on his twitter feed. Now, I don’t know if it’s him directly tweeting or whether staff undertake this task on his behalf, but regardless, this is a nice customer service touch.

The focus on customer service, emphasis on delivering a high quality product in fabulous surroundings means that the Hawksmoor brand continues to go from strength to strength. Long may it continue.

Oh, and before I forget, I should emphasise that Hawksmoor Air Street is different to its other offerings in that it has fish on the menu in addition to steak. Truth be told, I didn’t even read the fish options, so I suggest taking a look online if you’re interested.

Though full after the steak, we of course had to order the salted caramel rolos which are quickly assuming cult status at the new Hawksmoor. They’re like the rolos we grew up eating, only an adult version. They hit the nail on the head.
The bill all in (and bearing in mind this was 50% off) came to £80. Granted it’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Hawksmoor  on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 29 October 2012

The Delaunay, Aldwych

With folk visiting London from out of town, I was asked to recommend a suitable location for a Sunday brunch. Straight away I decided upon The Delaunay, a relatively new venture from the brains behind The Wolseley (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Located at Aldwych, The Delaunay styles itself as a grand European café restaurant, and it lives up to this self-styling.
Indeed, upon entrance, the first thing that I was struck by was how similar it was to The Wolseley in its internal appearance. Tables are seated in neat and stylish arrangement. A bustling atmosphere permeates the environment as staff meander the environs to ensure patrons are accommodated and served.
First things first; the staff. I was very impressed. They were friendly and professional from the doorman to the cloakroom staff to the waiting staff. I tend to make a note of this as staff can make or break a joint. I’m sure most people have faced the event where good food has been ruined by a sterile and unfriendly staff and atmosphere. It’s simply not good enough when you’re parting with your hard earned cash, and staff act as though you’re privileged to be there, or even worse are completely disinterested. The good thing about The Delaunay was that this certainly was not the case. 
We selected a variety of pastries – the mixed basket, the pain au chocolat and the almond croissant. The pasties were very good. The almond croissant for me was the best of the selection. There were multiple layers of buttery goodness to be found in the pastry. My assumption is that the pastries are made in-house but as I didn’t ask, I can’t confirm this.
The poppy seed danish was another highlight with delightful icing. The blueberry and almond muffin didn’t quite rock my world but it certainly wasn’t offensive. It probably suffered from competing against pastries where the constituent ingredient is butter. That’s hard to beat when the competition is butter based pastries. And I know there’s butter in muffins, it’s just how they put together those ingredients.

The girls had coffee with their pastries which they enjoyed. I first had the Delaunay Blend of tea which I enjoyed but it was by no means the best cup of tea I have had. Second time out I tried the Earl Grey which I thought was delicious. However, as one of the girls in the group said, she didn’t notice any difference between the tea at The Delaunay and the tea she had at the train station earlier that morning. Yes, I know, heathens.
So, all in all; good staff, nice pastries, lovely surroundings. But, and here’s the (big) but. As I looked around and took on board my surroundings, my overwhelming feeling was that this is the same as The Wolseley. Only The Wolseley is better. It’s the original and it’s the best. I don’t see what The Delaunay is trying to do different. As the place was full on a Sunday at the end of October for brunch, maybe it’s just that the decision was taken that there’s a gap in the market for another Wolseley. But I did expect some type of original twist, yet none was to be found. Possibly the philosophy is just to do what they do already and to do it well, and if so that’s quite ok. For me, I’d just go back to The Wolseley.
The bill for 4 came to £50ish. All very nice, but no Wolseley.
The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Kiku, Mayfair

It was time once again to meet up with the cousin and head for Japanese food. It’s a nice idea to make our way around recommended Japanese establishments and attempt their food. It was on this occasion to Kiku in Mayfair we headed for sushi.
It being Mayfair, the prices matched the name. We were seated at the counter to watch the chefs at their work. As I looked around the restaurant there were many Japanese customers which I took to be a good thing.
I didn’t really know what to order so we just got a selection of sushi. It was by far and away the best sushi I’ve eaten in London and indeed the best sushi I’ve had anywhere in my relatively limited experience of Japanese food.
The fish was incredibly fresh and just personified excellent quality. I'll let the pictures do the talking. It made me want to jump on a plane and head to Tokyo where I assume such quality is par for the course.

Kiku on Urbanspoon
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Lima, Rathbone Place

The environs of Charlotte Street is a nice little area for decent eateries with the likes of Dabbous, Bubbledogs and Lima in close proximity. It was to Lima I ventured on a night out mid-week with a  couple of friends having heard some positive mutterings about this Peruvian establishment. I had booked a table for 8.30pm and the place was busy upon on our arrival. The host welcomed us, made space for my fold-up bike, and in a sign of chivalry carried it for me. It’s always nice to meet a gentleman. The first floor was packed and we were ushered downstairs to the bar to the bar for a drink while we waited for our table.
I am unfamiliar with Peruvian beverages a Pisco Sour and later a Chilcano. The Pisco Sour comprised of pisco, lime, sugar, egg whites and bitters…for those of you well aware of the contents of a Pisco Sour I apologise for my ignorance. As mine had a passion fruit twist, it became a Maracuya. It was very nice. As there was no sign of our table emerging I decided to try a Chilcano, a refreshing tall drink again with pisco as the base ingredient, and lemon, syrup, bitters and ginger ale. Again, it was quite tasty. We were seated at all table some 45 minutes after arriving and eagerly browsed the menu. As we waited and chatted, we did note the noise in the restaurant….possibly it’s the acoustics that are downstairs, but the sound travels and it was quite noisy. The noise was amplified by the 6 hyenas seated next to us who were incredibly loud to the point of being very rude. 
We ordered the pig, lamb and merluza for our mains and waited at least 45 minutes for the first food to arrive. This wasn’t an issue as our waiter had recommended an excellent bottle of Chilean red wine but when I consider that we waited 45 minutes to be seated initially, it was an hour and a half before we received any food. This intimated to me that the restaurant may have been understaffed. Furthermore, when the food arrived it was a little cold. It was however very tasty.
I had the confit of suckling pig which was served with roasted cashews (Amazonian cashews I’ll have you know…that can’t be great for the old carbon footprint) with lentils and pear. In presentation it was very beautiful indeed. The beauty was matched only with the taste of the pig – the crispy crackling breaking through to some succulent pork. The braised lamb shoulder was also a winner, combining well with the coriander and pisco jus, black quinoa and white grape. Finally, the merluza was probably the most artistic in its presentation, half served on a bed of kohlrabi (cabbage) with capers, the other half on a piquillo and maca root compote. This food was very enjoyable; it does however suffer from the curse of my visit to Dabbous…any restaurant I have visited since has to measure up to perfection, and this quite frankly is challenging.
For dessert, we had one of the coffee ice-cream with honey, olive oil and coconut powder; one cacoa porcelano with mango granite and blue potato crystal; and one dulce de leche ice cream with beetroot emulsion and honey. Each hit the spot. The caco porcelano (chocolate) was rich and decadent and in presentation was probably most visually appealing. It was also very tasty. The winner (for the 3 of us) was the dulce de leche which was just scrumptious. Although not initially enarmoured with the coffee ice-cream, I did eventually find myself scraping the bowl to get every last flake of coconut. I think it was a slow burner.

The bill for 3 including tip totalled £170 – that was for 2 courses for 3 people, sparkling water, 1 bottle of red wine and tea. My recommendation is to be seated upstairs, go with the wine recommendation from the waiter, and save room for dessert.   
Lima on Urbanspoon

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Bubbledogs, Fitzrovia

I’m not going to lie to you, I was dismissive. The concept of hotdogs and champagne together just didn’t work for me. Even worse, I thought it was a fad initiated by the hipsters in London. And then, I saw the hotdogs described as ‘gourmet’ hotdogs. I just don’t understand the need for superlatives. So when my friend suggested we go there, I resisted for well over 3 weeks. However, eventually I relented, convinced that following a visit, I would be able to exhibit a level of smugness only exerted by George Osborne after his latest round of cuts.
So off we headed on our Boris Bikes with a St. John’s custard doughnut in the tummy to ward off any hunger pangs. Upon arrival at Charlotte Street, there was a queue at the door waiting to be served. Ha, said I. Fools, nincompoops. We were told there would be an hour wait, so down our name went on the list and off we headed to the bar at Dabbous for a cocktail created by the wonderful Oskar. I was not so secretly hoping that we would not be called back so I could continue imbibing cocktails, however Bubbledogs made good on their word and back we trotted to sample their delights.
We were offered a choice of a table at the bar or in the restaurant by the very friendly maître d. We (of course) choose the bar and were presented a detailed champagne menu where a substantial offering by the glass or by the bottle. We opted for 2 glasses – one predominantly pinot grigio, the other a chardonnay. Both were delicious, the chardonnay was both of our preferences and it was the cheapest on the menu.
For the food, I ordered a red rocket pork dog. This was a hot dog with red cabbage and spicy mustard served in a bun. My friend ordered the horny dog. She was a bit traumatised having to ask for a horny dog but it was just a corn dog with corny bits served on a stick. We ordered a side of sweet potato fries and coleslaw. Well, what can I say about the food. Quite simply, yum, yum, yum and yum. Simple, yet with great flavours, very well-seasoned, and just lovely. And what’s even more, it went really well with the champagne. I just loved it. So there you have it, I shall have to be more open minded in the future. Well maybe.
At this stage, I haven’t even spoken about the staff. Sitting at the bar, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the bar tender so we got the lowdown on Bubbledogs since it’s opened. It’s pretty popular. And I can categorically state, that this is for good reason. And, if it’s good enough for Thomas Keller of Per Se, well then, it’s good enough for me. I bet he was as impressed as I was with the toilets. Be sure to check them out.
We were quite devastated when we went to order a second drink but the bar had closed as lunch had ended and they had to prepare for the evening sitting. I really wanted to sample the Bill Murray cocktail on the menu. To be fair, any menu that offers a Bill Murray cocktail is a winner in my book. The story does not end there however.
A week later I was back with another friend for lunch. This was preparation for the Bristol half marathon. I’m not sure carb loading should consist of eating hot dogs and drinking champagne the day prior, but off we trotted. Again, the place was busy so the name went down the list and back to Oskar’s for cocktails before trotting back to Dabbous. Just like Groundhog Day we were seated at the bar again this time. This time I opted for the beef hotdog. This was a mistake. I can conclude now that hotdogs should be pork in my humble opinion. I did on this occasion get to sample the Bill Murray cocktail and it was good.    
The kitchen table has now opened at Bubbledogs where a tasting menu is on offer as you watch the dinner being prepared by the chefs. Apparently also, it is no longer possible to put your name down the list…you have to queue. Queuing is not for me. I find it uncivilised. I’m happy to put my name down and go elsewhere for a drink but waiting just doesn’t make sense….especially as the cold is upon us. So my advice is to get there for the first sitting before any queuing is required and enjoy a pork hotdog with a couple of side…oh yeah some champagne, and a Bill Murray.
Lunch for 2 and 2 glasses of champagne totalled £33 plus tip.
Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tokyo Diner, Leicester Square

I was failing in my familial duties and had not met up with one of the cousins for far too long. I have a multitude of relatives in or around the London area so it was time to spend some quality time. She enjoys Japanese food, as do I, but I must say my knowledge of Japanese food in the London area is limited at best. The only thing I know for the moment is that Sushi Tetsu has opened on Jerusalem Passage and that I plan to check it out. She suggested Tokyo Diner on Newport Place just off Leicester Square to meet before we headed to the opera for the evening as it had been recommended to her by a colleague who used to live in Japan, and he claimed it to be a very authentic Japanese experience in London. So, I was sold on that.
I arrived first and was seated downstairs in this quite simple restaurant. I received a very informative menu explaining the options for those lacking an insight into Japanese food. At the same time I received some complementary tea and snacks to keep the hunger at bay. When the cousin arrived we decided to share a Nigiri set and then have a main of chicken katsu don and a curry udon garnished with chicken. The Nigiri contained an assortment of sushi presented with ginger and wasabi. The salmon nigiri and the hoso maki were the best of this very good dish.
The chicken katsu don saw pieces of chicken served dipped in beaten egg, coated in breadcrumbs and fried, served in a large donburi bowl of rice with soft cooked egg, onion, spring onion and Dashi (Japanese stock). The curry udon comprised of udon noodles, chicken and curry sauce – simple yet did the trick. We were both busy eating our mains that I failed to take pictures. I was probably too busy trying not to slobber the udon all over the place. Both mains were good solid and hearty nourishment.
The portions at the diner are large and although I had passed on lunch I could not finish all in front of me despite my best intentions.  
The diner has a no tipping policy which apparently is in line with Japanese traditions. Our dinner for two including a beer each, came to £35, really a bargain. It's simple, it's tasty, it's cheap, and it's a very good option for central London.

Tokyo Diner on Urbanspoon

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Hawksmoor, Seven Dials

Having finished exams on a part-time MSc programme, I suggested to my fellow class mates that we celebrate by heading to Hawksmoor at Seven Dials to enjoy their lunch offer of two courses for £25. Bargain I thought. They even offer a three course option for £27 and I was sure, I would go for this. I felt the need to try the lunch offer given the last time I visited Hawksmoor Seven Dials with 3 friends (at my suggestion), the bill totalled £77 each and I felt guilty having being the person who suggested this midweek for a ‘regular’ dinner. Granted the steak fillet that evening was excellent, as were the sides, but I’m still not sure how the bill came to £77 a head...possibly the alcohol, where the very mediocre whiskey sour (not a patch on Pitt Cue Co) totalled £9 a pop. The starter options for lunch included a ceasar salad and, bone marrow and a confit of mackerel pate. I selected the mackerel safe in the knowledge that my friend to my right had selected the bone marrow...within striking distance of my fork to taste.
I was pleased with my mackerel. It was rich, served with baguette and cucumber and bloody good. The bone marrow too was good, but rich doesn’t seem to quite cut it when describing it. As my friend after eating one particularly fatty bit stated, that’s never coming off the arms no matter how much exercise is done. But it was good.
For my main I selected the t-bone. It’s not my favourite piece of steak. I had it cooked medium to allow the marbling of fat to cook through the centre and add to the taste. It was quite nice, though it did not compare in the slightest to the fillet I have had on previous occasions at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields and also at Seven Dials. But that was simply a matter of personal preference in terms of favourite cuts of beef.
I had a side of sweet potato which seems to have been left standing for quite a while as it was warm (at best) and had that coating on it that food has when left out too long before being served. This was disappointing as the best sweet potato I have ever had was one evening at Hawksmoor Spitalfields where the potato was served piping hot with rock salt sprinkled on top. It was divine.
I also enjoyed some of the chips my friend ordered and these were tasty. By the time it came round to ordering dessert, I shocked and disappointed myself by being too full to order anything. The glasses of prosecco to celebrate the end of exams however sufficed as dessert.
I’m a big Hawksmoor fan. Thus far, I have had the best food at the Spitalfields location (sit at the bar, the bar tenders are great), I love the decor of the Seven Dials venue, and I am determined to have the breakfast at Guildhall. They are soon to open in Air Street and I look forward to offering my patronage. In conclusion, Hawksmoor offer the best steak I have been lucky enough to eat in London. It’s a winner. Cows should be proud to die for such a good cause.
Hawksmoor (Seven Dials) on Urbanspoon
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Meat Liquor, Welbeck St.

Having just gotten off a long-haul flight from Dhaka with the horrible Emirates airways, I was craving a burger for lunch. I decided it would be a good opportunity to check out the highly regarded Meat Liquour on Welbeck St. near Bond St station. I arrived just in time for the Friday lunchtime rush hour and groups of workers piled into the large and dark restaurant. As I was a solo diner I easily managed a seat by the bar. First impressions were positive. The bar tender was attentive and polite as he brought me my fresh orange juice in a jam jar.
I ordered the double bubble from the menu which comprised of two beef patties, served in a bun which included pickles, minced white onions, ketchup and mustard. It normally also comes with cheeses but I opted out of this. As I write about the contents of the burger now I am beginning to salivate. The truth is that while it was indeed a very good burger, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me and I’m still now sure why. In fact I thought that because I had been away for a while that my taste buds would have enjoyed the burger more than normal. When I say it didn’t quite hit the spot, this was still a very good burger. It’s just that given London has some wonderful burger locations, and here in particular Lucky Chip is the torch bearer, it didn’t quite meet those dizzying heights.

I ordered a side of onion rings and slaw with the burger. The onion rings were described as light and fluffy and they were indeed this, and also nice and salty. They were excellent, truly very good. The slaw was served southern style and also was excellent. The bad news (for me) is that my imagination was too big for my appetite. It would have been ideal to have a number of people at lunch, or two at the very least to share the sides. I suppose I could have also just ordered less, but I was being greedy. Never a good thing.
In essence, at Meat Liquor, you will get some decent burgers, and some very good sides, served to you by friendly staff with some good music playing in the background. It’s very good, it’s just not great. 

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon
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