Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, EC1A 9DS, Phone: 020 7796 0600. Tube: St Pauls/Barbican
Club Gascon is the Michelin-starred top tier of a small group of Gascon venues that includes a bar and bistro within the same vicinity near Smithfield market and the Barbican. The space is cosy, intimate and smartly minimal, with a bar at one end and plenty of wood, stone and natural textures. A seasonal tasting menu is offered for the whole table, but we ate a la carte from a small selection inspired by southwestern France. But this is not the place to come for rustic cassoulets and steaming bowls of boulliabaise (and nor is it the place for vegetarians). Rather, Club Gascon offers very precise, sophisticated haute cuisine. A small procession of canapés and amuses arrived before the main event, and from a menu that features eight variations on a theme of foie gras, I started with a grilled version, deliciously topped with caramlised grapes and sitting on a mound of sweet onion compote. My main course was a slightly odd dish. King scallops were the main ingredient, and delicious they were too, sweet and just crusting on the outside, an accompanying oyster was meaty and delicious, but then a pungent, herby little soup was difficult to eat with a fork and flat ‘pusher’ spoon. Pudding was less of a challenge, and very delicious, little constructions of white chocolate served with a boozy, aromatic cherry sauce. Coffee and petits-fours rounded off a really interesting and generally delicious meal, and washing it all down with a bottle of Charles Hours Jurançon brought the bill to less than £90 per head, including service and bottled water, which seems OK for food of this quality and invention. Two people: £200. Monday-Friday lunch and dinner, Saturday dinner only. Closed Sunday.
Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane, W1K 1BE. Phone: 020 7208 4021. Tube: Hyde Park Corner
On the 28th floor of the Hilton, with absolutely stunning 360 degree vistas over London from full-height windows, I have the occasional lunch here for the views as well as the food. But it is a slick operation with friendly and professional staff, beautifully cooked food and lunch-time deals. The space is cool and contemporary, with lots of polished wood, soft, shimmering gold and cream colours, and a raised central platform so that everyone enjoys the views, not just those lucky enough to be by a window. From a short set menu, I chose a terrine of foie gras, chicken and bayonne ham that came in beautifully dense yet light layers, and was served with a caramelised hazelnut dressing. I followed with slow-cooked breast of lamb, rolled and served on a bed of spinach and a rich jus. A pungent little quenelle of tomato and aubergine relish and a melt-in-the-mouth miniature bubble and squeak cake. For dessert, a very dark, bittersweet chocolate fondant was well cooked, and served with vanilla ice cream on honeycomb, and a little mound of PX-soaked raisins. Delicious coffee may be £6 per cup, but is served with petit-fours and marshmallows. Along with a glass of Cahors and Sancerre, a £170 bill for two that includes service charge is good value. The wine list is good, with a decent slection of glasses and half bottles. (Lunch every day, dinner closed Sunday)
Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street. Phone: 020 7835 0874. Tube: Bond Street
This was dinner, and probably the eleventh or twelfth time I’ve eaten in this wonderful restaurant, which more or less defined modern gastronomic London. Many of my previous visits were to partake of their superb value lunch menu. The Roux brothers opened their clubby basement restaurant just off Grosvenor Square 30 years ago, immediately setting the standard by which all that followed would be judged. For the past decade or so, Michel Roux junior has been at the helm, and he worked the tables on my recent visit as always, helping set the scene on a very personal, relaxed dining ambiance. We chose the eight-course tasting menu at £175, that started with a wondefully pungent and zingy tartare of tuna, doused with a ginger, sesame oil and pimento dressing that really got the gastric juices in tune. A classic Gavroche dish of Petit Soufflé Suissesse followed, an impossible balancing act of feather light and decadently rich cream and cheese. Other highlights in a hugely long and enjoyable evening where an escalope of seared foie gras served with a crispy duck pancake, and noisettes of venison, with wild mushrooms in a vivid pepper and cranberry sauce. One of two desserts was memorable layers of pear and puff pastry, laced with a salted butter caramel and pistachio sauce. The wine list is enrormous of course, but is not difficult to find wines to suit most budgets, including some fine by the glass selections, like the Mas Amiel Maury we enjoyed with the “other” chocolate dessert. Le Gavroche is classic but modern French cooking at its absolute best, enlivened by unexpected twists, and presented with consumate charm by the front of house team. Superb. Two people: £200 for lunch for two, £500 for dinner. Closed weekends.
Launceston Place, 1a Launceston Place, W8 5RL. Phone 020 7937 6912. Tube: Gloucester Rd
Launceston Place has had a fairly chequered recent history. Once Princess Diana’s favourite neighbourhood restaurant (it is a few minutes from Kensington Palace) it was taken over by the D&D group who run dozens of restaurants in the capital around 2008/9, its series of connecting dining rooms had a stylish makeover, and it promptly gained a Michelin star. That star was removed in 2015, but the restaurant continues a similar dining style and pricing, with dinner at £65 for three courses (as of 2019). I had eaten there very regularly over the past 15 years or so, but not for a while, so as we settled in to peruse the menus and fairly comprehensive wine list I had high expectations. I have to say I was rather disappointed. That was down to not only the food – which was generally very good without being exceptional – but also rather mean portion control for the high prices, and a slightly drab atmosphere in a half full dining room on a Wednesday evening. A starter of scallop and chorizo was exactly that: one smallish scallop and one crispy disc of chorizo on a little butternut purée. Halibut was a decent portion, with a leek velouté and, thankfully, a nice slice of pommes boulangère in a side dish. Overall, portions continued on the small side (like two small petit-fours with £6 a cup coffee), and the bill for £295 for two with £100 of wine did not feel like particularly good value. Lunch Tuesday-Sunday, Dinner open seven days.
The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road W11 2AQ. Phone 0207 792 9090. Tube: Westbourne Park.
The Ledbury opened in summer 2005 and earned plaudits and respect from critics and diners alike, going on after my most recent visit to gain a second Michelin star and cement its place as one of London’s elite restaurants. The Ledbury has a cosmopolitain feel, with plenty of light and space, a monochrome colour-scheme and expensive fixtures and fittings. There is a also a broad pavement terrace under a canopy for summer lunches. The Lebury’s food is hugely impressive: very fine, French-inspired cuisine, where prime ingredients are layered with subtle textures and flavours. On my most recent visit we chose the tasting menu (£150 per person as of 2019) starting with a beautifully summery salad of pea shoots, beans and asparagus, served with a softly-poached pheasant’s egg draped in slices of truffle. The very rich egg transformed into a luxurious emulsion with the fresh, crunchy salad. Another highlight was a tranche of foie gras entier, seared and topped with a crunchy breadcrumb streusel, sitting on a bed of stewed apple purée, and served with a Banyuls reduction. Main course of roe-deer (shot by the chef three days previously, according to our waiter) was served with sweet potato, the meat being softly delicious and just gamy enough. Best of two desserts was a really beautiful passion fruit soufflé, one of the lightest yet creamily rich examaples I’ve had for some time, especialy once a generous quenelle of Sauternes ice cream had been spooned inside. We drank a half bottle of 1er Cru Chablis La Foret from Dauvissat and a half of Morey Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Ruchots from Frederic Magnien from a fine list. Expect to pay around £500 for dinner for two, a little less at lunch. Open Wednesday-Sunday for Lunch, open seven days for dinner.
Nathan Outlaw at The Capital, 22-24 Basil St SW3 1AT. Phone 0207 589 5171. Tube: Knightsbridge.
I’ve always considered the set menu with wine at Le Gavroche as arguably London’s best lunch-time deal. But Cornish 2* Chef Nathan Outlaw has thrown down a serious challenge with his Thursday deal – especially for the wine-loving foodie. On Thursday’s patrons are invited to bring along their own wine to the 1* Outlaw at The Capital with no corkage charge – lunch or dinner. As the delightful lunch is only £39 for three courses, that’s one hell of a bargain – two can eat sublimely well for less than £100 all-in. I always loved this dining room, a favourite haunt under former chef Eric Chavot. It is bijou, just like the charming Capital hotel itself, but so handily tucked away behind Harrods and so far from the madding shopping crowd. We settled in with some delightful fishy bob-bons and fine homemade breads, our bottle of wine having been taken and chilled by the head waiter. My first course of crisp hen’s egg, smoked mayonnaise and new season’s asparagus was just perfect on an early summer day, the deep gold, soft-yolked egg deep-fried in a light and crisp breadcrumb, the asparagus packed with a slightly char-grilled flavour and the smoky mayo delighfully double-creamy but sharp. My main course of Ling wrapped in pancetta with braised chicory and spinach and Outlaw’s signature sardine ketchup was lovely, especailly the bitter bite of the chicory against the sweet ketchup. For pudding, a double chocolate cheesecake with passionfruit syrup was lightly and cleverly done, the crunch of passion fruit seeds in the thin layer of biscuit base giving texture and flecks of flavour. Coffee came with petit fours, and service came with a smile. A terrific lunch and a stonking bargain for Knightsbridge. Dinner is £69 for three courses as of 2019. Closed Sundays.
Pollen Street Social, 8-13 Pollen St W1S 1NQ. Phone 020 7290 7600. Tube: Oxford Circus
Having dined at Pollen Street Social a few times in the last year, we decided it was time to try out the 8 course ‘British Nature’ Tasting Menu. A lively atmosphere was very much in evidence on a Saturday evening, and the staff worked well to make the experience an enjoyable one for everyone there. As we sat down to a glass of Champagne, Jason Atherton’s amuse-bouche of pork crackling with apple sauce, teased our palates. We started with Sea (Colchester oyster ice cream) and Farm (Romney Marsh lamb with a gribiche sauce). Both dishes set our mouths salivating for the remaining courses. The presentation of the next dish entitled ‘English Breakfast’ was amazing, an egg shell filled with a tiny portion of scrambled egg, smoked bacon and beans. This treat with stunning flavours and textures was just like the real thing. Cornish Crab salad, avocado, beetroot sorbet and crab toastie soon followed. What a delicate mouthwatering experience. The menu remained focused on fish, Orkney sea scallop sashimi entitled ‘Trip to Japan 2012’ certainly made us move Japan further up on our gastronomic places to visit list. The final fish course, line caught Cornish turbot, squid and langoustine ‘ministrone’, coco bean, and baby courgettes, was pure elegance in a bowl. For my main course I chose the roasted Creedy Carver duck, spiced pear gel, braised duck leg, turnip and English Ale-Gar reduction. Sensational. Two desserts completed the tasting menu: Scottish raspberry and yuzu sorbet, aerated Devon cream cheese, matcha green tea, followed by Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet, yoghurt, freeze dried mango. What struck me most about this well balanced menu was the lightness and freshness of all the ingredients: a truly delicious and extravagant experience. £350.00 for two with wines, water, coffee and service. Closed Sundays.
Gordon Ramsay, 68 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea. Phone: 020 7352 4441. Tube: Sloan Square.
Gordon Ramsay’s original Chelsea restaurant is, without a doubt, the complete dining experience. The food may not be the most innovative, the wine list may not be the most comprehensive, but we left here feeling like we had been hit by a gastronomic juggernaut. From the first sip of Champagne to the last sublime liquorice-caramel petit four, your ears strain to hear the wheels of this perfectly-oiled food machine working. Our first course of many was a perfect example. Fois Gras Terrine with wonderful marbled layers of smoked and confit goose, surrounded by delicate morel mushrooms. Not the craziest mixture of flavours, but my God it was well done, and looked stunning too. Six more courses followed, with plenty of ‘intermission’ bits and bobs too. None really disappointed, and even when I didn’t take a great shine to Bream in a Cos lettuce sauce, I had to argue that it was still a good recipe well-cooked. Canon and leg of lamb was painfully good meat cooking, with its wide spectrum of textures, and the strawberry soufflé is simply the best I have ever tasted. The cheese board groaned under around fifty cheeses, all displayed in complex matrices of strength, texture and origin. The wine list starts at £25 a bottle, which is not bad for one of the most highly-rated restaurant on the world. Obviously, you can move well into five figures, but we found plenty of interesting choice in the £75-100 bracket. Gordon Ramsay Chelsea is like your rich uncle. He’s bigger, cleverer and more stylish than you will ever be, but he welcomes you with open arms. Closed weekends.
Theo Randall at The Intercontinental, Park Lane. Phone: 020 7318 8747. Tube: Hyde Park Corner
Theo Randall is by now a familiar face thanks to television appearances, cookbooks and acres of coverage for his authentic Italian cuisine. Ex-head chef at the River Café, his eponymous restaurant has attracted a steady stream of awards and plaudits since opening in 2008. Randall is one ‘celebrity chef’ who can still be found, night after night, behind the stoves in his open kitchen, ensuring that the food goes out to his exacting standards. A life-long Italiophile, Randall’s food philosophy is all about impeccable ingredients, classical techniques and, ultimately, simplicity. The dining room is large and comfortable, and although housed within a 5* hotel, has a relaxed, smart, but very informal atmosphere. Settling in, a bowl of delicious, hot-from-the-fryer zucchini fritti were brought to nibble on whilst we perused the menu. In the lightest batter, beauitfully seasoned and sensationally moreish, these set the tone for a terrific meal. We opted for the tasting menu at a very reasonable £70, which commenced with two of the highlights of this star-studded trip through Italian cooking: seared scallops on a bed of agretti (monk’s beard), followed by heavenly tagliatelle (the kitchen has a pasta-making team on duty eight hours per day). The latter was served with fresh peas and prosciutto, Speaking to Theo Randall afterwards, he said the peas he uses are imported directed from Italy and are in season for only around one month each year. It is those, with their incredibly vibrant and memory-provoking freshness of childhood summers, that inspired the dishg. Fillet of longhorn beef was a superb steak, fabulously tasty served with spinach, a sweet celeriac mash and some piquant salsa verde. After some good and beautifully conditioned Italian cheeses, one of his signature desserts: an Amalfi lemon tart that was sharp and sweet, with the finest of crumbly, short crusts. It really was a beautifully balanced meal, packed with intense and fresh flavours from start to finish. And a word for the wine choices from the eager young sommelier team: the choices were all spot-on in terms of food matching, but also managed to spring a few surprises including a sparkling Nebbiolo from Piemonte and a sour cherry-infused Cabernet Sauvignon from the Marche. This is undoubtedly one of the UK’s best Italian restaurants. Open seven days.
The Square, 6-10 Bruton St, Mayfair. W1J 6PU. Phone: 020 7495 7100. Tube: Green Park
I was a huge fan of The Square under the direction of chef Phil Howard, so it was something of disappointment in 2016 to hear that the business had been sold, albeit to the MARC group, a small wine-focused chain that already boasts the 2* Michelin The Greenhouse. We were warmly welcomed into the familiar surroundings of The Square, its airy, light-filled dining room containing the usual mix of business lunchers, regulars and foodie tourists enjoy the grown-up and calm, but never sombre atmosphere. Nothing much seems to have been done to fix what wasn’t broken. Although one of its two Michelin stars has been lost, it was a terrific meal. I started with roast foie gras with poached apricot, camomile, tarragon and fresh almonds. An essentially simple dish, but marvellous flavours with caramelised half apricots, the creamy texture of the almonds and little pools of sweet sauce. My main course, aged fillet and glazed shortrib of Cumbrian beef, was magnificent too. I guess the fillet had been cooked sous vide such was the perfect, moist evenness of the cooking all the way through, but then it had been seriously seared to add crunch to the outside. The rib melted in the mouth and the soulful accompaniments were some piattoni beans, bone marrow and a fine red wine reduction. This was shaping up to be a terrific lunch, and a Goldrush apple soufflé to finish ensured we went home so very happy to see the Square in capable hands. We chose to dine à la carte rather than take the £37 lunchtime set menu, and with Champagne, water, coffees and a half bottle Bandol from Domaine Tempier, the total bill just north of £300 was very good value.
Marcus, The Berkley Hotel, Wilton St. Phone 020 7235 1200. Tube: Hyde Park Corner
Once part of the Gordon Ramsey empire, Waering famously struck out on his own, launching as Pétrus but now simply restaurant ‘Marcus’. The young staff were welcoming and efficient, and worked the room well. The wine list is dominated by French wines, but I chose the single Austrian on the list, a Grüner Veltliner from Schloss Goblesburg. A little complimentary cup of Jerusalem artichoke velouté was outstanding, before my first course choice of pan-fried red mullet, served with a bouillabaisse. This was quite brilliant: crisp-skinned, just-cooked fish and an earthy yet delicate soup. I stuck with fish, moving on to a wonderful seabream served on a bed of langoustine, saffron potatoes and a tongue-tingling escabèche dressing with sliced black truffle. Dessert was an absolute highlight: a mind-bogglingly precise block of Seville orange parfait with dark chocolate and caramelised kumquats; one of the most dramatically bittersweet desserts I’ve ever eaten. Coffee is served with chocolates and petits-fours. I would have liked to linger an extra half-hour rather than having to take coffee in the bar, but Marcus does offer a brilliant food experience. Expect a bill of £300 for two at lunch, dinner will be more. Closed Sundays.
Alyn Williams at The Westbury Hotel, Bond St. Phone 020 7078 9579. Tube: Bond Street
Artisan restaurant at The Westbury was always a real bargain, but at the tail end of 2011 the space was taken over by chef Alyn Williams and given a stylish and chic makeover too. Williams spent five years as head chef for Marcus Wareing, flying the two-Michelin star flag with superbly refined cooking. Now out on his own (and with one star) the feel of the dining room is comsmopolitan and chic, with a towering wall of wine fridges concealing a private dining room. A shimmering, silver-threaded carpet adds a bit of glamour. Four of us chose the tasting menu – well priced for this level of dining at £90 – but decided to select our own wine rather than add another £60 per person for matching wines. We chose a bottle of Fixin white Burgundy and a bottle of Pinot Noir from Cristom in Oregon forwhilst we nibbled on feather-light gougères. First course proper was Crab/pot au feu/milk/smoked bacon bun. This was a martini glass containing a delicate mousse of crab, with the little bacon-stuffed brioche bun served on the side. Orkney scallop/pumpkin/cuttlefish/ wild marjoram came next, for me a slightly underwhelming dish, the small scallop nicely cooked but the flavours on the wan side. Foie gras semi fredo/heritage beets/liquorice/pumpernickel was an interesting concept: two thin cigars of semi-frozen paté de foie-gras. Mackerel/marsh samphire/ cockles/toasted cauliflower was another fine if subtle dish: not the fish, a fat tranche of which could perhaps have been slightly crisper-skinned for me, but the rest of the ingredients with a soft, fresh and sea-breezy character. Glazed Goosnargh duck/confit leg/cavolo nero/cashew nuts was entirely successful, the meaty breast of duck firm-textured, juicy and full-flavoured without being gamy. Dessert was a curate’s egg – a delicious crème fraïche sorbet, very slightly under-poached pear and a mousse described as ‘chestnut’ but jarring with the other flavours on the plate. As I thought back on the food over coffee and delicious chocolates I thought it was extremely precise, quite inventive, and whilst not flawless, showed a real attention to detail. I’d happily try this restaurant again. Expect to pay at least £250 for dinner for two. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, Saturday dinner only.
L’Anima, 1 Snowden Street, Broadgate West, London EC2A 2DQ. Tel 0207 422 7000Tube: Broadgate or Liverpool Street
L’Anima is lively and bright. Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei together with his head chef Luca Terraneo, manager Patrick Oberto and Sommelier Gal Zahor, all left St Alban in St James, to open in this quiet city area. The dÃ©cor is startling, 3 walls of glass and one of French limestone, cream marble floor and crisp white linen and crockery, with matching white leather and chrome upholstery both in the extensive bar area and in the large well spaced dining room. The lighting is modern, elegant and discreet. The menu is versatile, with an eclectic choice of modern Italian cuisine, 6 starters, a range of 7 soups, pastas and risottos, 8 elaborate main courses, 6 grill options, side dishes and salads, 8 desserts and 4 Italian cheese offerings. Portions are very generous! The wine list is compact but well focused on Italian wines listed by region, with a few wines from other European countries and a token listing of wines from the New World. There are a dozen wines by the glass ranging from £5 to £15, including a new RosÃ© Prosecco from Bisol. There is a small but selective list of Fine Wines including ‘Super Tuscans’ and French ‘First Growths’. We started with a Wood Roast Aubergine and Burrata (mozzarella filled with fresh cream and mozzarella strips) deliciously light and creamy, and a Black Angus Beef Carpaccio with pickled vegetables and slivers of Parmigiano, a very delicate and spicy dish. We followed with a grilled swordfish and a grilled veal T-bone paired with side dishes of sauted potatoes and peppers and a tropeo onions and tomato salad. We really enjoyed the simplicity and freshness of our salad and the grilled dishes. Dessert was a sampler of sorbets (lemon, peach and strawberry), a poached peach with passion fruit, amaretto and lavender, and a rhubarb tarte with a rhubarb sorbet. All were scrumptious. With sommelier Gal Zohar’s help we chose a fruity and aromatic Chardonnay Vigne FrissonniÃ¨re from Les CrÃªtes in Valle D’Aosta (£39.00). This was an excellent match for our disparate dishes.Despite only being open for 5 weeks, the restaurant is buzzing and alive, with a good atmosphere and great food and service. We must try breakfast or lunch soon! Two people: £170.00. Open for breakfast 7.00 am to 11.00 am, lunch 12.00 noon to 3.00 pm and dinner 5.30 pm to 12.00 midnight, Monday to Friday. Set lunch from £20.50
Arbutus, 63 Frith Street, W1D 3JW. Tel: 020 7734 4545. Tube: Leicester Square.
Over the few months before I visited, Arbutus was the name quoted to me by several people when the subject of the hottest new places to eat in London came up in conversation. Indeed, the word of mouth seemed to be confirmed in January 2007 with the news that Arbutus had gained its first Michelin star. First impressions on my visit where favourable: the dining room is bright, contemporary and bustling, with un-napped tables setting a casual tone, and the chatter of happy diners filling the room. The menu has around half a dozen choices at each course, and the wine list covers two sides of an A4 sheet, but almost everything is available as a 250cl carafe, which is a very nice touch. Despite the Michelin star there were no little freebie amuses guelle, so it was straight into my first course, a delicious platter of wafer-thin slices of belly of pork, marinated in a piquant, tart apple sauce and served warm on the plate. The belly of pork was streaked with plenty of fat, but the meat was delicious and the slices so thin that the whole effect was melting and sweet in the mouth. For my main course I chose rabbit cooked two ways, with a loin of rabbit rolled with some gamy liver, and sliced on the plate over a meaty jus. A little iron pot was served alongside, with a wonderful potato-topped rabbit stew, rich with chunks of white and darker meat and root vegetables. This was a complex and entirely successful dish. We finished with cheeses to share, which at £2.95 per portion were slightly disappointing, a Lingot goat’s cheese about the pick of the bunch, though the walnut and fruit bread served with them was excellent. Again, I was mildly disappointed to find that the very good espresso and mint tea ordered by my party arrived without trace of a truffle or petit-four, so the £2.75 per cup seemed expensive. In all I enjoyed Arbutus enormously. The total bill of £120 for two including coffees and a bottle of Shadowfax Pinot Noir was very reasonable, but perhaps just a few more of the Michelin-style refinements – for all that they are a bit old-fashioned – might heighten the sense of occasion.
Bistro One Ninety, 190 Queens Gate, SW7 5EX. Phone: 020 7584 6601. Tube: South Kensignton.
The really good neighbourhood restaurant remains analmost mythical beast. In Paris every single Quartieroverflows with casual places offering excellent food atmoderate prices, but why are they so difficult to findin major British cities?The lucky denizens of South Kensington havejust such a place on their doorsteps. Bistro OneNinety is the ground floor dining room of TheGore, one of Londonâ€™s most idiosyncratic butdelightful hotels. The clubby bar next door wasthronging on my visit, and whilst still alive withhappy chatter, the Bistro is a more traditionalsetting with Victorian plasterwork and tall windowsgiving a sense of occasion.This is â€˜comfortâ€™ food donewith panache and a modern twist. A starter of hamhock terrine consisted of a meaty slice of coarselyshredded ham that retained plenty of texture, withpiccalilli and a pungent mustard sauce. My partnerâ€™sCaesar salad was a â€˜properâ€™ one, with plenty ofcroutons, garlic and Parmesan.My main course of roasted duck breast was cookedas well as any Mallard of my acquaintance: just pinkand tender, with a crisp, moreish skin. Theaccompanying shredded red cabbage was superblysweet and spicy, and – holy of holies – a perfectlycooked fondant potato. Braised in stock and butter,fondant is one of my favourite ways with a spud, butrestaurants donâ€™t always get it right.Sticky toffee pudding to finish was heroic: heavywith dates and spices, it was served with home-madeice cream topped by a textural spoonful of streusel – the sort of small touch the shows a chef who is reallythinking through his dishes.A bottle of Six Vineyards Pinot Noir fromOregon at £40 was my choice from an excellentwine list with moderate mark-ups. All in all, a huge thumbs-up for very finefood served in a friendly setting. Two people: £120.
Le Cafe Anglais, Whiteley’s, 8 Porchester Gardens. Tel: 020 7221 1415. Nearest tube: Bayswater
(NH) Apart from the high ceilings and Art Deco windows, there’s nothing too exciting or glamorous about the dÃ©cor of the CafÃ© Anglais. But maybe chef Rowley Leigh prefers a neutral backdrop to enhance the brilliance of his cuisine. Chef Rowley Leigh is a follower Escoffier’s dictum: ‘Faites simple’. His menu could have been written by Elizabeth David, with its assortment of classic hors d’oeuvres, simple starters and pared-down main courses. Not for Leigh the contemporary elaborations of froths, foams and fusion cuisine. Instead, you can kick off your meal (as we did) with a small pot of Parmesan custard and anchovy toast, a sublime combination of salty umami flavours with creamy and crunchy textures. Less successful were the salsify fritters, which had a touch too much batter to allow them to be as crisp as they should have been, although their shortfalls were redeemed by a meltingly sweet, fatty rabbit rillettes, which was put into focus by a side of pickled endive. We gave the starters a miss – a shame, because the risotto with pancetta and artichokes sounded wonderful, as did the sea kale with poached egg and truffles – but we wanted to leave room for our mains. This proved to be a good decision as the plateful of sea bass with salsa verde was generous, as was the serving of red mullet with purple sprouting broccoli and anchovy butter. Both dishes were sublimely cooked, allowing the sweet fresh flavours of the fish to really stand out. A side of roast aubergine with new-season garlic and cherry tomatoes provided just enough vegetal vim and vigour to complement the fish. The wine list reads like a tour through some of the best appellations of France, Italy and Germany, but rigorously excludes other countries. Still, you hardly notice the lack of Spain and Australia when faced with the option of selecting Jasmin’s CÃ´te RÃ´tie 2002 at £50 or a carafe of Bonneau de Martray’s Corton Charlemagne 1998 (£35). Service was of a piece with the CafÃ©’s ethos: elegantly restrained, engaged and informed. Our waiter brought us coffees, but seemed disappointed we didn’t want a dessert. The truth is, we did: the dessert list looked great. But we decided to leave wanting more. In fact, as we left, my fellow luncher stopped by the reception desk to book a birthday dinner for his partner the following week. And, as far as I’m concerned, any restaurant that makes you want to book your next meal as you’re finishing off the crumbs of your first, has to have something pretty special going for it.
Camino, 28 Westferry Circus, Docklands. Tel: 020 7841 73315. Nearest DLR: Westferry
Camino had already established an excellent reputation for the authenticity of its tapas at their original Kings Cross location before they opened this sister branch in the little restaurant row of Westferry Circus, part of the Docklands development. Inside there’s a funky vibe going on, with the large space divided equally into a lively bar and more relaxed restaurant by a full-height chain-link fence. There’s a fairly industrial feel with lots of exposed brick and reclaimed timber, though the seating is comfortable and there’s good space between tables. The menu is divided into ‘De la Parilla’ (fish and meat from the charcoal grill), ‘De la Tierra’ (other meats and sausages) and ‘del Mar’ (fish and seafood), as well as cheeses, vegetarian dishes and desserts. Everything is for sharing and the concept of first, second and third courses is abandoned. We ordered up some sautéed tiger prawns with chilli, garlic and white wine, some Iberico black pig served with an almond and garlic sauce and I couldn’t resist Mathers Black Gold rib-eye steak from Scotland, matured for 28 days and served sliced for sharing. Everything was delicious I have to say, the bustling open kitchen turning out each dish cooked to perfection, with the prawns succulent and just firm, the sauce giving plenty of bite, the pig beautifully moist and tender with its dry, but lightly creamy sauce and the beef packed with flavour and cooked to lightly-pink perfection. The ingredients here seemed of absolute quality and our Spanish-speaking waiter explained and advised well, as we added some cheese fritters with spicy tomato jam and rocket salad. The wine list is good, and all Spanish, with a fine range of Cavas, Sherries as well as table wines, many of which are available by the glass. There’s also the ‘Canones Grandes’ (Big Guns) with some terrific and hard-to-find wines topping out with Vega Sicilia and the like, but we happily quaffed a bottle of Guelbenzu’s ‘Evo’ from Navarra at £31.00 that hit the spot perfectly. Camino is a brilliantly executed concept, the food and wine presented with authentic passion and flair. For a noisy, lively night out this is a brilliant choice with its somewhat unreal riverside location, sparklingly new with views that could be New York, Sydney or Vancouver. Two people: around £110. Open daily, Sunday brunch only
Cheneston’s, the Milestone Hotel, 1 Kensington Court, W8 5DL. Phone: 020 7917 1000. Tube: High Street Kensington
The Milestone is a wonderful five-star hotel tucked discretely inside a beautiful 1880’s building immediately opposite Kensington Palace. The hotel is the antithises of the soulless corporate five-star, with picture-perfect, cosseting rooms and very personalised service. Fine dining is provided by the small Cheneston’s restaurant, in an ornate Victorian dining room that is cosy with seating for only around 30 people, yet has plenty of elbow room between tables. I ate at one of their regular wine-matching dinners, where merchant The Vineyard Cellars where presenting the wines of Terre Rouge in California alongside a set menu of five courses. A little seared scallop wrapped in apple-smoked ham was a delicious appetiser, followed by an open ravioli of Maine lobster and crab, in a fragrant lobster broth scented with ginger and coriander. This was a delightful dish, served with a weighty Roussanne. Prime fillet of beef with hash browns and creamed corn was simple and straightforward – just as it should be – arriving sizzling on the plate, the beef seared but pink in the centre. A twice-baked Monterey Jack soufflé continued the thoughtful and very nicely realised American theme, the soufflé flavoured with a chive and celery sauce. It had the correct, nutty flavour profile to match with the fruity Easton Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, a baked American cheesecake was good, if not quite as densely-textured as the best New York examples. With a superb 300-bin list covering France, and a world of carefully chosen wines, Cheneston’s may not serve the absolute peak of 3-star cuisine, but it offers a delightful package of food, wine, ambiance and service. Open every day. Two people: dinner around £140
The Don, 20 St. Swithins Lane, EC4N 8AD. Phone: 020 7626 2606. Tube: Bank
In a lane close to Bank Station The Don occupies the atmospheric old Sandeman Port cellars, where sherries, madeiras and ports were bottled for 200 years. Upstairs is a bright, bustling dining room with large picture windows to the lane, but there is also the option of dining downstairs in the barrel-vaulted cellar. Food is Gallic-focused comfort food with dishes like Soupe de Poisson, Saddle of Rabbit and Roast Suckling Pig. I was guest at a private wine dinner, with a menu that included some flavoursome smoked salmon, nicely marinated and rich in lemony, herby flavour and roast rack of lamb, served juicy and pink, with slow-cooked lamb breast with a roasted aubergine mousse. The quality of ingredients and cooking was very good. Prices are moderate with starters at around £10, mains at around £20 and puddings at £7.00. A handy place to know in the City. Two people: £120 for dinner
Le Duxième, 65a Long Acre. Phone: 020 7379 0003. Tube: Covent Garden
It’s very handy to have a really good, moderately priced and “proper” restaurant in this touristy area of central London. Le DuxiÃ¨me is perfect for pre- or post-theatre dining (special menu available), though equally suitable as the destination for a leisurely meal. The decor is simple but stylish, with well-napped tables and chic feel to the small dining room. The menu is very reasonably priced. I started with a tempura of freshwater shrimp, which was excellent with real crispness to the batter, good-sized shrimps and a piquant Thai dressing that hit a lovely sweet/sour balance. My main course halibut was plump, sweet and cooked just nicely. Friendly staff, good bread and coffee, and a moderately marked-up wine list complete the picture of an honest, good-quality dining experience carried off with some style, just round the corner from Covent Garden. Two people: £110 for dinner, open 7 days for lunch and dinner.
Fifth Floor, Harvey Nichols, 109 – 125 Knightsbridge. Phone: 020 7235 5000. Tube: Knightsbridge
In some ways the Fifth Floor restaurant is a bit of a hidden gem. Even on a madly crowded Saturday lunchtime, whilst the fifth floor’s food market is choc-a-bloc, and the large and open plan café-bar queued back to the lifts, surprising few venture beyond the café and through a discreet doorway into the restaurant proper. Whilst busy, we were able to walk up on a recent Saturday lunchtime and secure a table immediately. Chef Jonas Karlsson’s menu makes a big play of seasonality, and indeed that was evident in this pre-Christmas set lunch at a very reasonable £29.50 for three courses. The space is glamorous, a large oval room with Art Deco-style glass ceiling and chic, comfortable leather chairs, it really does cocoon you against the shopping madness of Knightsbridge, transporting you into an altogether calmer world. We started with a little amuse of cream of celery and apple soup that was deliciously nutty and tangy, then I chose a salad of beetroot, bitter mixed leaves and toasted pine nuts. It was fresh, beautifully dressed with a light, very slightly sweet component and substantial. My main course choice of sage and pecorino risotto was in truth rather disappointing: too salty, and though served with shavings of pecorino and torn basil, rather bland. My partner’s roasted atlantic halibut was the much better choice. To finish, a millefuille of caramelised apple with layers of cream and flaky pastry raised the bar again, and with a couple of glasses of very good Viré-Clesse white Burgundy at £7.50 and coffees, a bill well under £100 including service made this a fine escape into refined, relative tranquility. One to remember if you’ve reached the point when your feet (or your credit card) just can’t take any more. Two people: £100 for lunch. Open daily for lunch, Mon – Sat for dinner
Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial St, E1 6BJ. Phone: 020 7247 7392. Tube: Liverpool Street
Hawksmoor (which now has a second branch in Seven Dials) has established a huge reputation as one of the capital’s best steak houses in rapid time. A bustling room with exposed brick walls, lovely wooden floors and simple tables crammed reasonably cosily together, it is a carnivores delight with the day’s special cuts – Chateaubriands and the rest – chalked up with price and weight on a blackboard, and ticked off as they are sold out. But worry not, the main menu has steaks aplenty for hungry carnivores. I started with Dorest crab on toast, which was simple and delicious: a mound of snowy-white and succulent meat layered on rustic bread, and served with a pot of creamy, garlicky and lemony sauce. My partner chose hand-dived king scallop and was slightly disappointed when it was literally that: a single, and not terribly big seared scallop atop a bed of mash for £12, though it was declared tasty and well cooked. Then onto the main event: I chose a 300gm fillet steak, to be cooked medium-rare and to be served along with buttered greens, triple cooked chips and some Stilton hollandaise sauce on the side (all charged separately). The steak, chips, buttery cabbage and deliciously piquant and creamy sauce were all fabulous, the steak (yes, even fillet) full of flavour and with a bit of bite to the texture. We drank some fine Pulenta estate Malbec from a pretty serious wine list, and noted that Mondays are BYO nights with corkage at just £5 per bottle. Feeling somewhat replete, I had a single scoop of salted caramel ice cream to finish off a truly excellent dinner. Hawksmoor is not cheap, it was buzzy and noisy on a bust Friday night and our particular waiter was a bit distant (others were not). But the experience here is a fabulous one for foodies and the total bill of £160 including service seemed reasonable when we had eaten and drunk so well. Two people: £160 for dinner
Pizza Express, Coptic Street, Bloomsbury. Phone: 020 7636 3232. Tube: Holborn.
Is Pizza Express not what it once was? Arguably the answer is ‘yes’, and yet it still delivers a better experience than the other chain Pizza places. There are branches all over Britain, but Coptic Street – one of the originals – is still by far and away my favourite. A huge corner site with white-tiled walls and high ceilings, the restaurant is busy and bustling. Staff are cheerful and competent and the food is exemplary of its type. My favourite is the pizza Fiorentina, with mozzarella, parmesan, spinach and a free range egg cooked in the middle. The house wine – a Montepulciano from Zonin – is fruity, gutsy and perfect at £13 a bottle. Coffees are really good – even the espresso decaff. I never book, but just turn up and join the short, good-humoured queue if necessary. A great antidote to too much high-class eating. Two people: £60 lunch or dinner, open 7 days.
Brasserie Roux, 8 Pall Mall. Phone 020 7968 2900. Tube: Piccadilly Circus.
This 100-seat restaurant, opened two years ago in a tall, spacious room that was once a bank. It is part of the Sofitel St James hotel, close to theatreland and serves pre- and post-theatre meals at great value. A Sunday jazz brunch is also popular. The inspiration for this eatery came from Michelin starred chef Albert Roux who envisioned classic French cuisine in an elegant, but environment. The menu is relatively simple and offers a choice of traditional brasserie dishes: eight cold starters and eight hot starters (£6.00 to £8.00), 16 main courses (£8.00 to £22.00) and eight desserts (£5.00 to £8.00), plus daily specials. We chose pike quenelles lyonnaise and boudin noir with apple and sage sauce to start. Both were well presented dishes with good flavours and textures. We followed with sea bass fillets served with sautÃ©ed potatoes, bacon lardons and red wine jus, and croustade of veal kidneys with mushrooms, French beans and Madeira sauce. Another excellent choice, it encapsulated the French brasserie style, especially when we finished with a selection of cheeses from Maitre Vernier, all beautifully ripe. The wine list “Les Grands Vins du Monde”, an eclectic assortment of both French and worldwide wines. The enthusiastic sommelier knew his list, and helped us choose Leon Beyer’s 2002 Pinot Blanc at £19.50. Three courses plus coffee and service came to £85. Open daily. Theatre menus 5.30pm to 7.00pm and 10.45pm to 11.30pm
St John, 26 St John Street EC1M 4AY. Tel: 020 7251 0848. Tube: Barbican
St John is a London institution and pioneer in the revival of British gastronomy and the championing of British ingredients. A thronging bar and lively dining area, where white-aproned waiting staff bearing groaning platters of superb food squeeze between tightly-packed tables, it is not the venue for a quiet tete-a-tete, but St John has a terrific atmosphere to match the quality of the food and wines. On my most recent visited I started with an old favourite: roast bone marrow served with toast and parsley salad. A tray of bones is brought from the oven, and a long, skewer-like fork used to scrape and cajole the comforting, creamy marrow onto the toast, to be topped with a pinch of sea-salt, handful of piquant salad, and devoured. I followed with pheasant and pig’s trotter pie: a beautiful pie, with buttery but short pastry, filled with chunks of meat in a delicious gravy. All meat is off the bone of course, and the flavour is robust yet delicate, earthy yet clear. To finish, a plate of wonderfully tangy and dry Lancashire cheese was served with Eccles cakes – flaky, sugary pastry cases crammed with spicy dried fruits. Wonderful food, that evokes the best of traditional British cuisine, accompanied by an interesting, good value and exclusively French wine list (many imported direct by St John), makes for a unique dining experience. Highly recommended. Two people: £140 for dinner. Lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, dinner only Saturdays.
Tate Britain, Millbank SW1P 4RG. Tel: 020 7887 8825. Tube: Pimlico
The restaurant at Tate Britain has a much more grown-up feel than the Tate Modern (below) and a renowned wine list, thanks to a fine wine buying policy started by sommelier Hamish Anderson. The dining room is one large, busy space, reminiscent of a great Parisien brasserie, the mood set by the bucolic Rex Whistler murals around the walls. To be honest, I was rather disappointed by the food one recent Sunday lunchtime, where a tranche of foie-gras terrine was excellent, but the layers of black truffle through it overpowered the flavour the presentation was rather artless with two chunks of cold brioche piled on the plate. Main course roast beef was flavoursome, but probably 60% fat, and my dessert of a spiced tarte tatin was good, though a little stodgy from being reheated in a microwave Iâ€™d guess. But that wine list… It is a formidable and beautifully balanced list offered at rock-bottom prices (for London) and withan excellent selection of half bottles. We drank a half of Chateau Suiduraut from the excellent 1990 vintage for £38 with the foie-gras and dessert, and a half of Dujacâ€™s 1999 Morey St Denis in the middle for £22. With many mature bottles, it really is a mouthwatering wine list. Summing up? The food is ok, the surroundings quite striking, the staff friendly and the wine list just brilliant. Given that you can also take in the permanent and temporary exhibitions of the Tate too it is still a great way to make a full day out – especially for the dedicated oenophile. Two people: £140 for lunch with wine. Open Every day for lunch only.
Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1 9TG. Tel: 020 7887 8888. Tube: Southwark/Blackfiars
I often enjoy a lunch in the restaurant on the top floor of Tate Modern, with its quality comfort food and glorious views over the city. A large, quite noisy and bustling space, the tables to hold out for are by the plate glass windows facing a stunning skyline panorama. The menu is short and punchy, featuring smaller plates and a succinct a la carte selection. Most recently, I started with some Mezze, with warm flat bread served with a selection of dips and salads. For my main course, traditional fish and chips with mushy peas was excellent. The haddock was very crisply fried in a puffy batter and the chips were cut thick and delicious. Both tartare sauce and guacamole-like mushy peas are home made and very tasty. The wine and beer list is put together by Hamish Anderson and is very good and well priced. We drank a bottle of Raats unwooded Chenin Blanc from South Africa, for just £18.50. A lovely way to spend a lazy Sunday lunchtime. Two people: £80 for lunch with wine. Open Every day for lunch, dinner Friday & Saturday only.
Villandry, 170 Great Portland Street, Phone: 020 76313131. Tube: Great Portland Street
I’ve eaten in Villandry several times and first reviewed it in 2002. Much more than a restaurant, Villandry also comprises a buzzing bar, flower shop and one of London’s most interesting food halls, featuring the best of domestic and imported luxury foods. Villandry is also a Traiteur, selling up-market ready-made meals in the tradition of France’s top gastronomic temples. The restaurant is through at the back of the shop, simply furnished with wooden table tops and chairs, and large picture windows. Recent reports had suggested that a change of ownership had seen the restaurant go markedly downhill. I popped in for a simple two course lunch in the bar in January 2007, and found the atmosphere had changed a bit – it was rather less “foodie” and more touristy I felt, though my lunch of risotto and a pear and frangipane tart was pretty good. The jury is possibly out on this one until I have the chance to visit the restaurant again. Two people: £90 for dinner, open 7 days, until late Monday-Saturday.
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB. Phone 020 7499 6996. Tube: Green Park
Built in 1921 as a car showroom for Wolseley cars, the building had a chequered past until its recent transformation into a very grand European Café-style Emporium. The tall arched ceilings in the main dining room are stunning, with a vibrant buzz as it copes with 700 covers a day. We chose to eat dinner in the non-smoking lounge, a pretty, elegant art deco room, on the right as you enter the restaurant. The menu is like a throwback to the 1970s, an eclectic mix of French Brasserie dishes such as Escargots à la Bourguignonne, Boudin Blanc with Caramelised Apple, and Duck Confit with Ratte Potatoes. British favourites include Severn and Wye Smoked Salmon, Eggs Benedict, and Roast Rump of Lamb with crushed Jersey Royals. European specials are listed, like Wiener schnitzel for a main course followed by Kaiserschmarren for dessert. I went for the Croustade of Quails Eggs and Hollandaise, my partner chose Caramelised Onion and Goat’s Cheese tart. Both were good choices. I elected to try the Fegato alla Veneziana with a side order of creamed mash, delicious! My partner tried the Grilled Fish of the Day: Sea bass served on a bed of garden vegetables, with fabulous frites. Desserts were shared, followed by an Espresso Coupe (espresso and chocolate ice cream with hot chocolate sauce) yummy! The wine list is short but well chosen, with about 30 wines by the glass (from £6-£15) and a 50-bin European selection (with 10 wines under £25). Three courses plus coffee and service came to £135. Open seven days. Restaurant serves from 7.00am for breakfast, through lunch and afternoon tea, to dinner from 5:50pm. The café serves from 11.30 am, and both close at midnight.