Medlar, London

Crab ravioli with samphire, brown shrimps, fondue of leeks and bisque sauce

Medlar on King’s Road is barely three months old but already steady whispers have been emanating about the quality of the food being turned out by its kitchen, helmed by Joe Mercer Naire, formerly of 1 Star Chez Bruce.

Sea trout tartare with pickled cucumber, tomato consommé and tobikko

I started with Sea trout tartare with pickled cucumber, tomato consommé and tobikko which was reasonable – light, fairly appetising, and well presented. In hindsight however, I should probably have opted for the Duck egg tart with red wine sauce, turnip purée, lardons, young sorrel and sautéed duck heart, which was recommended by our waiter, as it would have featured a greater input from the kitchen, and did look sensational on the other tables. I did also try a bit of the Crab ravioli with samphire, brown shrimps, fondue of leeks and bisque sauce, however, and that was very good.

Under blade fillet with persillade snails, salad, triple cooked chips and béarnaiseHalibut with petits pois a la Francaise, lardo, radish, baby gem and jersey royals

My main course of Under blade fillet with persillade snails, salad, triple cooked chips and béarnaise, advised as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, was competently cooked and enjoyable, and I had no complaints about any of the components of the dish. It didn’t, however, jump off the plate and grab me. Much better was Halibut with petits pois a la Francaise, lardo, radish, baby gem and jersey royals which I had a taste of – the fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce filled with lovely, subtle flavours. I didn’t try the Lamb rack and confit shoulder with balsamic peppers, sweetbreads and niçoise jus, but it was apparently also very good.

Lamb rack and confit shoulder with balsamic peppers, sweetbreads and niçoise jus

For dessert, I went with the Chocolate and almond torte with honeycomb ice cream and caramel sauce. It was delicious, the torte had a fine, delicate texture, and was complemented well by the honeycomb ice cream and caramel sauce.

Chocolate and almond torte with honeycomb ice cream and caramel sauceButtermilk pannacotta with English strawberries, pistachios and financier

The wait between starters and main course was rather long, but that aside, service was good, dialing down the formality and striking an appropriate, relaxed vibe.

In a nutshell...
Medlar states on its website that it “hopes to become a good neighbourhood restaurant in Chelsea”. It is certainly well on its way to achieving that aspiration, and with a calibre of cooking that suggests even bigger and better things might lie in its future.

7.5/10

Medlar
438 King’s Road, Chelsea, London, SW10 0LJ
+44 (0)2073491900
Average Price: £45

Medlar on Urbanspoon

City Càphê, London

City Càphê

Housed in a charming little shop on Ironmonger Lane right in the heart of the Square Mile, City Càphê has been steadily garnering a loyal lunchtime following since it opened up 10 months ago. It's not difficult to see why - this place is the real deal.

Classic Pork Bánh Mi used an appropriate baguette, with a thin, crusty layer on the outside and a soft interior. There was a tad too much veg however, making it a bit difficult to taste the meat and pate. Better balanced was the Chargrilled Pork Bánh Mi, thanks to the stronger flavour of the meat. The tasty chargrilled pork, complete with requisite smoky flavour, can also be had with Bún - Vermicelli salad or Com - Jasmine Rice, both of which I preferred to the sandwich.

Classic Pork Bánh Mi

Beef Pho was authentic, using the right kind of thin noodles, with thinly sliced and tender steak and brisket in a delicious broth. It was slightly weaker in flavour than the best versions out there but was nevertheless a very good and appetising rendition.

Beef Pho

Other items on offer, all of which I will no doubt be sampling over the coming weeks and months, include spring and summer rolls, bun hue – spicy lemongrass noodle soups, lemongrass beef, again available with rice, vermicelli, or in a baguette, and of course, Vietnamese coffee.

Unsurprising given its location, City Càphê’s primary business is the takeaway trade, but there is (limited) seating on location too.

In a nutshell…
This is, by a country mile, my favourite weekday lunch spot. But City Càphê is not just a good option for lunch by the reduced standards we invariably apply to venues near our place of work, the quality of City Càphê’s food would hold its own even on Kingsland Road. It is everything the appalling, unfathomably popular chain Pho isn’t.

7.5/10

City Càphê
17 Ironmonger Lane, London, EC2V 8EY
Average Price: £5-£10

City Càphê on Urbanspoon

Tom Aikens, London

Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens has had some pretty bad press over the years, from the infamous branding of a trainee with a hot palette knife that cost him his job as head chef of two Michelin Star Pied á Terre in 1999, to the accusing of a guest of stealing an £11 steel spatula in 2004, to the controversial way he was able to save his business from financial ruin in 2008 whilst simultaneously leaving a large number of his suppliers unpaid and out of pocket – an act that caused many to question his integrity and morality. What has never been in doubt, however, is his talent in the kitchen. His eponymous restaurant in South Kensington was awarded a Michelin Star shortly after its opening in 2003, and in 2005 placed 8th on the World’s Top 50 Restaurants list. At the height of its popularity, Tom Aikens restaurant was one of the hottest tickets in town, favoured by the likes of Kate Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge as we must now refer to her, and Hugh Grant, and requiring a booking weeks in advance to secure a table. It was perhaps a telling indication of how things have changed then that we were able to get a table for a Friday night just the day before.

Only two tables in the rather staid black and white dining room were filled when we arrived just before 7pm, and the near silence in the restaurant, coupled with the overly formal service, made us feel compelled to speak in uncomfortably hushed tones to begin with. Thankfully the service did lighten up, as did the ambience in the room as more patrons arrived.

Roast Scallops, asparagus, flowers, shoots

Upon being seated, a trio of amuse bouche greeted us, the best of which was a delightfully light cep mushroom and truffle zabaglione. The soft and flaky bacon brioche from the bread selection also warrants a mention. Our tasting menu then commenced with Roast Scallops, asparagus, flowers, shoots. The scallop (that’s singular, despite the menu clearly saying scallops) was perfectly cooked, but simply served, without a great deal of thought, in what can only be described as a bed of grass. It was a light dish, but none too inspiring.

Cured Foie Gras, pickled mushrooms, foie gras mousse, cep dressing

Next, the foie gras course - Cured Foie Gras, pickled mushrooms, foie gras mousse, cep dressing. The mousse was better than the cured foie gras, and rather nice in fact, but again the combination with the mushrooms wasn’t an overly successful one, neither element really complementing the other.

Fillet of John Dory, mint oil, poached grapes, cauliflower purée

The fish course was a Fillet of John Dory, mint oil, poached grapes, cauliflower purée that did nothing for me - it was one of those dishes you forget almost before you’re even done eating it. Loin of Romney Marsh Lamb, Tarragon purée, Berkswell sheep cheese, black olive crumb was easy on the eye, but continued the theme of inharmonious combinations producing unmemorable dishes.

Loin of Romney Marsh Lamb, Tarragon purée, Berkswell sheep cheese, black olive crumb

The arrival of the first dessert course, Honeycomb, Greek Yoghurt, poppy seed ice cream, confit lemon, fennel, Ginestière cheese, didn’t exactly herald much of an improvement either – the poppy seed ice cream was lovely, the confit lemon the best thing on the plate and a pleasant surprise, but the honeycomb was too overpowering, the cheese totally out of place, and the less said about the fennel the better. The second dessert course, Chocolate Dacquoise, chocolate mousse, peanuts, chocolate pops, milk ice cream, on the other hand, turned out to be the best of the entire night. Better late than never, here finally was a dish where everything on the plate belonged, and was in the right balance. It came far too late to save the day, but at least ensured that the meal ended on a positive note. The madeleines served as petit fours were also excellent.

Honeycomb, Greek Yoghurt, poppy seed ice cream, confit lemon, fennel, Ginestière cheeseChocolate Dacquoise, chocolate mousse, peanuts, chocolate pops, milk ice cream

In a nutshell…
Far too many of the dishes involved unconvincing combinations that simply didn’t come together. The prices, some of the highest at any 1 Michelin Star restaurant in London, added further to the feeling of dissatisfaction.

4/10

Tom Aikens
43 Elyston Street, London, SW3 3NT
+44 (0)2075842003
Average Price: £80
1 Michelin Star

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

Seafresh, London

Since I was first introduced to Seafresh in Victoria a couple of years ago, I have considered it to be the best fish & chips in London. It had been a while since I last went, however, so the visit of friends from abroad afforded the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the place, and to draw fresh comparisons with recent fish & chip meals at fish! and Masters Superfish.

Deep Fried Whitebait

We shared starters of Deep Fried Whitebait and Deep Fried Calamari. The whitebait was excellent, with a thin coating of beautifully light batter. The calamari was decent too (even if it didn’t look like much) but of the two, the whitebait was definitely the better.

Deep Fried Calamari

For my main, I had a Medium Cod & Chips, and we shared some mushy peas. The dish was, pleasingly, largely greaseless -  much better than at Masters, if not quite up to the level of fish!. The cod was also pretty fresh, again superior to Masters but inferior to fish!. The extra-crunchy batter at Masters is the best I have come across in London, and even from memory, I didn’t think Seafresh quite matched-up, an opinion that was confirmed today. To my surprise, however, I found myself favouring the batter at fish! over Seafresh too. Chips weren’t great at any of the three places, but were probably best, once again, at fish!. The peas at Seafresh were reasonably well done, far better than the overly mushy version at Masters, but not quite as good as the near-perfect rendition at fish!.

Medium Cod & Chips

It would seem, from these comparisons then, that I have done fish! at Borough Market a bit of a disservice with my recent review. As it turns out, the fish & chips at fish! in fact surpassed the offerings not only at Masters Superfish, but also at Seafresh, on just about every count. Even my gripe about the pricing at fish! holds rather less weight now given that a disappointingly small serving of Medium Cod & Chips at Seafresh was £10.75, with mushy peas having to be ordered separately.

In a nutshell…
Still a good, reliable, fish & chip meal but Seafresh has been knocked off its perch as my best fish & chips in London – that is now fish! at Borough Market.

6.5/10

Seafresh
80-81 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DL
+44 (0)2078280747
Average Price: £15-£20
Worth noting: Closed Sundays

Seafresh on Urbanspoon

Princess Garden of Mayfair, London

Princess Garden of Mayfair

Princess Garden of Mayfair, just off Oxford Street, has been around since 1983 and over the years I have been a number of times without it really making any sort of impression on me, good or bad. Following a recent recommendation from a friend, and noticing that it has a 5-star rating from Timeout, I figured it was time to give it another try especially given its convenient location close to the hotel of visiting friends who had expressed a preference for Chinese food.

The dining room at Princess Garden is certainly an upgrade on the eating spaces at restaurants in the two Chinese food hotspots in London – Queensway and Chinatown. As is the service. This is most definitely an upscale Chinese eatery.

Aromatic Crispy DuckPan Fried Minced Pork with Salted Fish

We started with Aromatic Crispy Duck that was wrapped in pancakes for us. Each pancake was stuffed with far too much meat, the proportions of duck, cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce completely wrong – inexcusable really.

Lobster Noodles with Ginger & Spring Onions

The rest of the dishes then arrived altogether. Lobster Noodles with Ginger & Spring Onions was a below average rendition. Pan Fried Minced Pork with Salted Fish was nothing special. The vegetable dish of Garlic Pea Sprouts lacked flavour. The only dish of note was the Beancurd (Tofu) with Enoki & Conpoy/Dried Scallops – excellent, silky smooth, deep fried Japanese (egg) tofu in a tasty sauce. I should add that most of the items we ordered were recommended by our waiter so no question of our experience being tempered by a poor choice of dishes.

Beancurd (Tofu) with Enoki & ConpoyDried Scallops

Dessert of Oriental Pancakes was again very ordinary – the pastry not very good, the balance between crust and red-bean filling, not quite right.

Oriental Pancakes

In a nutshell…
A useful location, and décor and ambience streets ahead of most of the establishments in Queensway (save possibly for Royal China) and Chinatown makes it, perhaps, a more respectable venue for entertaining guests. The quality of the food, however, leaves much to be desired.

4/10

Princess Garden of Mayfair
8-10 North Audley Street, London, W1K 6ZD
+44 (0)2076293130
Average Price: £30-£40

Princess Garden on Urbanspoon

Kensington Square Kitchen, London

Kensington Square Kitchen

Kensington Square, just behind the Whole Foods Market store on Kensington High Street, is apparently London’s oldest garden square, having been founded in 1685. And there, hidden in a quiet corner, is Kensington Square Kitchen, a little café with a distinctly neighbourhood feel to it, but with sufficient culinary might that it was named by the Evening Standard as one of the top 5 places for breakfast in London last year.

I went on a sunny Friday late-afternoon, when the restaurant was fairly empty – there were a couple of elderly ladies having a chat over some tea and cakes, another lady reading the paper with a cup of coffee, and a group of three friends finishing off their lunch basking in the sunshine at one of the two tables outside. While I was there, a couple of regulars popped in for a takeaway coffee. It was a really pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.

“Bacon and Egg Burger” with Avocado and Tomato Salsa

I had a “Bacon and Egg Burger” with Avocado and Tomato Salsa from the brunch menu (KSK has a regular breakfast and brunch menu, and a daily lunch menu). The bun was a bit too hard and crusty for my liking but the bacon, egg, avocado, and tomato and onion salsa filling was great. Coffee, sourced from the Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden, was, unsurprisingly, very good too.

In a nutshell…
A charming, comfy neighbourhood café serving some very decent food, infinitely better than the dross you get at nearby Whole Foods Market. I look forward to returning to sample the acclaimed breakfasts, and the cakes which are said to be another highlight.

6.5/10

Kensington Square Kitchen
9 Kensington Square, London, W8 5EP
+44 (0)2079382598
Average Price: £10-£15

Kensington Square Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pétrus, London

Petrus

The much publicised feud between Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing is old news now – the mentor and the protégé had a falling out and went their separate ways in 2008; the protégé kept the restaurant they once shared at the Berkeley Hotel, which was rebranded Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley; the mentor retained the name of the restaurant, Pétrus, which was re-used last year in a new establishment just around the corner on Kinnerton Street that is already half the way to matching the original’s 2 Michelin Stars. Despite the award of a Michelin Star in January, less than a year into operation, reviews of Pétrus have been mixed – some hailing it as a return to relevance for Gordon Ramsay after recent travails, others citing it as an embodiment of why the Ramsay empire has had such troubles of late. Time then to decide for myself.

Roasted langoustine tails with confit chicken leg, baby artichokes and buttered leeks

I started with Roasted langoustine tails with confit chicken leg, baby artichokes and buttered leeks. This was a well constructed, competently prepared dish - the plump langoustine tails going well with the tender confit chicken leg - complete with suitably crispy skin, artichokes, leeks, and black truffle, finished with a light lobster bisque. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to a similar dish I had at The Square, however, a Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle that remains one of my favourite starters of all-time - a stunning, perfectly balanced combination of textures and flavours. The Square’s dish was superb, Pétrus’ was reasonable.

Crispy Suffolk pork belly with sage Lyonnaise, braised apple and Madeira jus

For my main, I had a Crispy Suffolk pork belly with sage Lyonnaise, braised apple and Madeira jus that was, once again, well cooked, and good, but fell some way short of greatness. And that, perhaps, is the problem with the offerings at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants at the moment – apart from a slightly heavy hand with the salt on the gratin dauphinois that accompanied the mains, the cooking was technically faultless, but lacked any fireworks. Formulaic is a word that has been bandied about quite a lot in relation to the Ramsay group of late, and if Pétrus is anything to go by, I am very inclined to agree. There was certainly no real creativity or ingenuity in evidence this evening.

Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycombChocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb

I finished with Pétrus’ signature dessert, Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb; the closest we came, by virtue of the presentation, to a wow factor dish on the evening, albeit one that has been done before. It was enjoyable.

In a nutshell…
A solid, technically sound, but wholly unspectacular meal that failed to genuinely excite.

6/10

Pétrus
1 Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 8EA
+44 (0)2075921609
Average Price: £60
1 Michelin Star

Petrus on Urbanspoon

Yee Kwan

Yee Kwan

I have long lamented the fact that, unlike in the States, Asian-themed ice creams are not readily available in supermarkets in the UK. I was delighted, then, to discover Yee Kwan’s range of “Far-eastern inspired” ice creams at the food hall at Harvey Nichols, and immediately bought two tubs (£5.95 for 500ml) going with the Green Tea and Lychee flavours. Other options included Black Sesame Seed, Guava, Lime & Lemongrass and Mango & Passionfruit Ripple. The Lychee flavour, complete with lychee bits, was very refreshing and enjoyable. The Green Tea flavour, however, was rather less successful – the ice cream too milky, the green tea taste much too weak. So a mixed bag, but I am nonetheless encouraged by the first entrant into the Asian ice cream market, and hopefully others will follow.

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