Bar Boulud, London

Bar Boulud

Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental is the London outpost of French-born, New York City superchef Daniel Boulud. It is a spacious, relaxed dining area tastefully decorated with lots of oak panelling, and burgundy red leather upholstery. We visited for lunch on a Saturday, and were able to walk straight in without a reservation. The place did fill up quickly though and not long after there wasn’t a spare seat in the house.

Cervelas Lyonnais En Brioche – Lyon Specialty Pork Sausage, Pistachio and Truffle in Brioche

From the Little Bites section, we had Rillons Croustillants - Crispy and Tender Pork Belly, Cracked Pepper, Dijon Mustard and Cervelas Lyonnais En Brioche – Lyon Specialty Pork Sausage, Pistachio and Truffle in Brioche. The latter was very nice; quality sausage with a subtle hint of truffle encased in a lovely, light brioche. The former, however, was rather less successful; the pork belly pieces reasonably tender but not crispy, and with a bit too much fat. Still, not too bad.

Rillons Croustillants - Crispy and Tender Pork Belly, Cracked Pepper, Dijon Mustard

For my main, Yankee Burger: Grilled Beef Patty with Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato and Sweet Onion, Sesame Bun, Pickle, Cheddar Cheese was juicy, succulent and cooked perfectly medium as requested, but best of all was the awesome bun it came in – light, feathery soft yet crisp, it’s undoubtedly one of the best burger buns around. But whilst the burger was certainly good, and unquestionably one of the best in town (with the proviso that I have still to try the highly-rated offerings at Hawksmoor and Goodman), I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was something missing – a relish, a special sauce, or even just a bit of mayo would have enhanced it further. A side of Pommes Frites was also good, but not quite up to the level of those at Byron. Croque Monsieur: Warm Housemade Ham, Gruyère Cheese, Béchamel was fine too.

Yankee Burger - Grilled Beef Patty with Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato and Sweet Onion, Sesame Bun, Pickle, Cheddar Cheese

In a nutshell...
Bar Boulud is a slick operation, with a friendly, accommodating and capable front of house, and a kitchen that churned out plates swiftly and efficiently – just what you want at lunchtime. The food was not great, in the sense that none of the dishes I tried (admittedly a small sample size) were the best example of its kind, but they were all refined, and of a consistently high quality. Couple that with the casual, welcoming atmosphere of the joint, and the accessible menu of many classical favourites, and I can definitely see Bar Boulud becoming a regular hangout for me. A Prix Fixe menu available at just £16 for two, and £20 for three courses makes the proposition an even more attractive one.

7/10

Bar Boulud
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
+44 (0)2072013899
Average Price: £20-30

Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon

Geales, London

Geales

Established in 1938, this old-fashioned chippie in Notting Hill (a second restaurant has also recently been opened in Chelsea Green) underwent a significant revamp in 2007, going upmarket following some hard times and a change of ownership. Most recent reviews have branded it as good rather than great, so I didn’t approach this meal with a huge amount of expectation, especially after having been (relatively) disappointed by so many of the more highly regarded fish & chip places in town.

Deep Fried Whitebait

We shared two starters: Deep Fried Whitebait and Deep Fried Fresh Squid with Sour Cream and Sweet Chilli Sauce, the latter a special for the day. Both were done very well, especially the whitebait, using the right kind of (different) batter for each ingredient that allowed the quality and freshness of the fish and squid to shine through. They were so moreish we finished them almost as quickly as they arrived, despite the rather sizeable portions.

Deep Fried Fresh Squid with Sour Cream and Sweet Chilli Sauce

Battered Cod, at £11.75, came by itself with chips and mushy peas having to be ordered separately (£2.95 each) - definitely upmarket pricing. But when the fish is this good, you don't mind so much. This was hands down the best batter I've had in London. Crisp, light and airy, with the perfect coefficient of batter to cod and without a single drop of grease, here finally, after so many false dawns, was some properly good deep fried fish in the capital, something I had just about given up on ever finding. The only minor complaint I had was the unnecessary sprinkling of rock salt resulting in certain parts of the surface of the fish being a tad too salty, but it was only a tiny gripe.

Battered Cod

Another main of Scampi (again sans chips) was also a success - the scampi juicy and succulent, the breadcrumb batter just a touch on the heavy side, but still good. There were also a number of non deep-fried items on the menu, such as Geales Classic Fish Pie and Lobster Spaghetti, Tomato & Basil, both of which looked good on the other tables, but if you’re going to have just one thing here it really has to be the fish & chips.

Scampi

In a nutshell...
My new favourite fish & chips in London, easily surpassing fish! at Borough Market. This rating would have been even higher had it not been for chips that were just average, mushy peas and tartare sauce that were below average, and service that was haphazard, because when it came to the most important thing, the beer-battered fish, Geales wasn't just the best that I have come across in London (that is, after all, a product of the competition), it was really good by any standards.

7.5/10

Geales (Notting Hill)
2 Farmer Street, Notting Hill, London, W8 7SN
+44 (0)2077277528
Average Price: £25

Geales Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yauatcha, London

Yauatcha

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Yauatcha revolutionised the way dim sum was thought of in this country when it first opened in 2004, taking it out of its long-time domain in functional Chinatown restaurants into an ultra-cool Christian Liagre-designed space on Broadwick Street, and turning it into an all-day affair. Where Yauatcha led, others soon followed, with the debut a year later of another all-day dim sum venue - the horrible, deplorable, yet now global, Ping Pong chain which loathe it, as I patently do, must still be credited with making this genre of food more accessible to the masses. The difference between the two, however, is that whilst Ping Pong served substandard, barely recognisable dim sum, Yauatcha's offerings were some of the best in the capital (and a personal favourite), doing traditional items well and supplementing these with a number of new, more creative dumplings that were no less successful. It was rewarded with a Michelin Star in 2005, which it still holds, and an entry at number 43 on the World's Top 50 Restaurants list in the same year.

Alan Yau, the man behind Yauatcha (not to mention Hakkasan, Sake no Hana, Princi, Cha Cha Moon and the Wagamama and Busaba Eathai chains) sold a majority stake in the restaurant, and Hakkasan, in January 2008 for a cool $60 million to Tasameem, a property arm of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and noises have since been emanating of a drop in standards, despite the retention of its Michelin Star. But on my last visit some 18 months ago, the food was still of a reasonably high quality, and with London suffering from a dearth of truly outstanding dim sum places, a return was long overdue.

Modelled after a Taiwanese tea house, Yauatcha is set over two floors – the basement is a, dark, mysterious, hip space very similar to the setting at Hakkasan; the street level room an altogether brighter proposition illuminated by swathes of daylight. I always opt for a table at street level – I’ve never been to Yauatcha in the evening (call me old-fashioned but I don’t think I will ever come round to the idea of a dim sum meal for dinner), and sunlight is always preferable to broody mood lighting at lunchtime.

Venison puffChicken and prawn taro croquette

On this occasion, Yauatcha did not get off to the best of starts, and sad to say, only went downhill from there. Arriving promptly at 12 noon, the time of our booking, I was rather unimpressed that, despite having made our reservation for 7 people two weeks in advance, we still had to wait around for a good 5 minutes as they set a table up for us. Things did not improve when the food started to arrive either.

Char sui bun; Har gau; Pork and prawn shui mai

Venison puff, a twist on the regular char sui puff, and a Yauatcha staple was overly peppery with a pastry that was a bit too buttery. Har gau had a fresh, juicy prawn, but a wrapper that was too thick, an issue as well with the King crab Shanghai siew long bun, which also suffered from insufficient soup in the dumplings, and a lack of flavour in whatever little soup there was. Prawn cheung fun had a rubbery texture. Char sui bun and Chicken feet in chilli black bean sauce were okay, but not great; Pork and prawn shui mai was below even that standard. The only properly decent dish was the Chicken and prawn taro croquette. The two experimental dishes we tried didn’t work either - Rice paper prawn and mango roll was not crisp enough, and didn’t have sufficient taste of mango; Roasted duck pumpkin puff was a cute presentation, but never took off as a combination.

Roasted duck pumpkin puffPrawn cheung fun

Service has never been Yauatcha’s strongest point, but it has deteriorated to the point where it is now abrupt, and even rude in parts. And seriously, would it kill them to smile once in a while?!

Yauatcha2

We skipped dessert but I should mention that Yauatcha serves a selection of Franco-Asian patisseries (also available to take-away) that looked great.

Yauatcha3

In a nutshell…
If the full house on this day and the continued possession of that Michelin Star is anything to go by Yauatcha remains as popular as ever, but there has definitely been a decline in the quality of the overall experience here, both in terms of food, and service. It will be quite a while before I return, if I ever do.

4/10

Yauatcha
15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DL
+44 (0)2074948888
Average Price: £30
1 Michelin Star

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

Dans le Noir?, London

Dans le Noir? is a dining experience like no other. Based on a concept initially devised and introduced in Paris, the basic premise is simple - you eat in a room that is totally pitch black.

The evening started at the (fully-lit) foyer area where we choose our meal from four set options - 2 or 3 courses from the Red (for meat eaters), Blue (for fish and seafood lovers), Green (for vegetarians) or White (chef’s surprise) menus. All light-emitting devices were then confiscated, and stored in one of the lockers out front.

Our group of nine, assembled to bid a fond farewell to a dear friend who was leaving the country for good, were then told to form a line, before being led by our partially-sighted waiter, single-file, hand on the shoulder of the person in front, into the darkness.

I’m not going to describe every minute detail of our evening, as a large part of the experience is the element of discovery and unknown, and I don't want to spoil that for you, but suffice to say that there was some spilling of water onto my jeans when trying to fill my glass (although some would, quite correctly, point out that I do that anyway even when the room is fully lit), some wildly off-target guesses at what was on my plate, a lot of biting at air having failed to pick anything up with my fork, and all-in-all, a very interesting, surreal and memorable experience.

We were told what we had to eat after, and I believe they change their menu fairly infrequently, so I won’t go through all the dishes here as I ordinarily would. But one thing I will say is that if you have an aversion to "exotic" meats, steer clear of the White menu!

In a nutshell...
The food, whilst not amazing, was certainly of a very reasonable standard. But let's face it, people don't come here for the food, they come for the Dans le Noir? (literally meaning “in the dark”) experience, and it was certainly an intriguing one. I have decided against giving my usual rating out of 10 because this is a truly unique, one-of-a-kind place for which there is no comparison. It does, however, come with my recommendation as a very worthwhile experience.

Dans le Noir?
30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DU
+44 (0)2078233515
Average Price: £45

Dans Le Noir on Urbanspoon

Chabrot Bistrot D’Amis, London

Chabrot Bistrot D'Amis

Chabrot Bistrot D’Amis was, on paper at least, a very promising proposition – a quaint new French bistro in Knightsbridge with a kitchen run by a Michelin starred chef, a front of house led by a gentleman with experience at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Nobu and Nahm, and a wine list put together by a well-respected sommelier. Couple that with a number of positive reviews and it ranked as a must try.

Pâté de foie de canard tiède, gougères au Comté - Duck liver warm pâté, Comté cheese popovers

We shared 3 starters: 6 escargots au beurre persillé – Snails in parsley butter, Chipirons frits et piment d’Espelette – Crispy baby squid and piment d’Espelette and Pâté de foie de canard tiède, gougères au Comté - Duck liver warm pâté, Comté cheese popovers. The snails were decent - slightly better than the last escargot dish I had, at Brasserie Roux, but still not great. The crispy squid was also alright, but could have done with a dipping sauce of some sort to counterbalance the dryness of the dish. The pâté, with small chunks of liver, was easily the best dish of the night – it had a lovely texture and a good, earthy flavour. I also liked the use of the gougère as a vessel for the pâté but it could have been have been a bit lighter and more airy; the Comté cheese was completely undetectable.

6 escargots au beurre persillé – Snails in parsley butterChipirons frits et piment d’Espelette – Crispy baby squid and piment d’Espelette

My main course, Bar sauvage en croute de sel, fenouil – Wild seabass in salt crust, fennel salad was reasonable, but nothing all that special and hardly worth the £29.50 it was priced at. Another main course, Entrecôte d’O Sheas, Beurre Maitre d’Hôtel – Sirloin from our local butcher O’Sheas, Beurre Maitre d’hôtel (45 days dry aged) was requested medium rare but was so overcooked it arrived verging on the well done – absolutely inexcusable. A side order of Fries was excellent.

Bar sauvage en croute de sel, fenouil – Wild seabass in salt crust, fennel salad

Service, which started out fine (when the room was empty), got progressively worse throughout the night (by the end of which the room was still only half full). We were seated in the upstairs area which was serviced by just one waitress but it wasn’t so much a case of her being overworked as just plain slow. Watching her amble around while we sat waiting, at some length, for our plates to be cleared after the main course, and then again for the dessert menu to be brought was irritating in the extreme. By the time she finally got round to taking our dessert orders, we had decided it was time to cut our losses and just write the place off.

It’s almost incredible how badly wrong an ensemble of highly qualified individuals such as the team behind Chabrot Bistrot D’Amis could get something. I don’t drink so I can’t comment on the wine list, but Le Gavroche and Le Louis XV-trained Thierry Laborde’s kitchen couldn’t even cook a piece of steak correctly to order, and the member of Yann Chevris’ wait team who served us was dreadfully inefficient.

Entrecôte d’O Sheas, Beurre Maitre d’Hôtel – Sirloin from our local butcher O’Sheas, Beurre Maitre d’hôtel (45 days dry aged)

The décor and ambience at the restaurant failed to impress either. The first floor room where we sat was bland and dull. The main dining room downstairs was, admittedly, more atmospheric, but the setting still reminded me more of Café Rouge than the South of France. At almost £50 per head (no desserts and just 2 beers), prices could hardly be described as bargainous either. I should point out that Chabrot Bistrot D’Amis does have a set lunch menu, known as the “Formule Bistro”, consisting of a meal, a glass of wine and a coffee gourmand (classic French coffee accompanied by a mini dessert) for £17.50, which sounds like quite good value but that, of course, didn’t apply to us.

In a nutshell...
To be fair, most of the dishes were passable - nothing that would ever draw you back, but nothing that would make you swear off the place either. But what will leave a lasting memory was the woefully inept attempt at cooking a steak, and the poor service.

3.5/10

Chabrot Bistrot D’Amis
9 Knightsbridge Green, London, SW1X 7QL
+44 (0)2072252238
Average Price: £40

Chabrot Bistrot d'Amis on Urbanspoon

Bangkok Restaurant, London

Bangkok Restaurant

Bangkok Restaurant in South Kensington is London’s oldest Thai eatery, having first opened in 1967. Oldest does not necessarily mean best, however, and given that I’d never even heard of this place until I happened to walk pass it one day, that was very likely to be the case here. Nevertheless, I‘m always willing to give a new find a try, especially one with a ‘history’.

Thai Fish CakesSavoury Beef Omelette

An appetiser of Thai Fish Cakes were very good – where so many versions are overly chewy, these were crisp on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside – they couldn’t be faulted. The other starter, Savoury Beef Omelette, on the other hand, was so bad I think even I might have done better (and that’s really saying something!) – the beef filling was too peppery, and tasted suspiciously line canned bolognese sauce.

Chicken PanangThai ‘Green’ Beef Curry

All three mains: Chicken Panang, Thai ‘Green’ Beef Curry and Tamarind Prawns were rather small servings, especially the latter two, but had decent flavour, and decent heat too (requested medium spicy).

Tamarind Prawns

In a nutshell...
The menu is limited (they don’t even do Pad Thai, much to the disbelief of a diner at the next table) but overall, the food wasn’t too bad at all. It’s not the best Thai restaurant in London, not by a long way, but it is (a bit) above average, and certainly better than Thai Square, which has a (undeservedly well-patronised) branch just around the corner.

5.5/10

Bangkok Restaurant
9 Bute Street, South Kensington, London, SW7 3EY
+44 (0)2075848529
Average Price: £20-£30

Bangkok on Urbanspoon

Kua ‘Aina, London

Kua 'Aina

Kua ‘Aina, the famous Hawaii burger and sandwich chain favoured by President Barack Obama, and the Japanese (15 locations in Tokyo, 2 in Osaka), has now landed in London, recently opening up its first European store just off Carnaby Street.

I had the Avocado Burger, supposedly one of Kua ‘Aina’s specialities, and an order of Crunchy Fries. The burger was quite the disappointment – the meat was a bit on the dry side, and the bun, such a crucial element, was rather hard. The avocado, tomato, lettuce and grilled onion that made up the rest of the burger were fine, and the avocado was indeed the best part, but on the whole it was just a very average burger. For me, the gold standard for burgers in London is Byron (not including ‘upmarket’ burgers at the likes of Hawksmoor, Goodman and Bar Boulud), and Kua ‘Aina was simply not good enough in comparison. The fries were okay, but again inferior to Byron, and Burger King for that matter. And I certainly couldn’t see anything particularly crunchy about them.

Avocado Burger

In a nutshell...
Pales in comparison to the better burgers out there (Byron, GBK to name but two). I can see it perhaps as an alternative option when one fancies more exotic accompaniments such as pineapple, avocado or ortega chili in their burgers for a change, or for Kua ‘Aina’s uncommon sandwich fillings such as mahi mahi or ahi tuna, but that’s about it.

5.5/10

Kua ‘Aina
26 Foubert’s Place, London, W1F 7PP
+44 (0)2072877474
Average Price: £10

Kua 'Aina on Urbanspoon

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