Les Deux Salons, London

Les Deux Salons

Will Smith and Anthony Demetre, the duo behind Michelin starred Arbutus and Wild Honey are back at it again, with Les Deux Salons, a Parisian-style brasserie near Covent Garden. Similarities in terms of décor with Bistrot Galvin de Luxe are instantly obvious, but whilst Galvin feels luxurious and welcoming, LDS is more dull, dour and tired, belying the restaurant’s relative youth (less than a year in operation). Yeah, I wasn’t particularly fond of the setting. Thankfully, the food did not follow the same theme.

Warm salt cod brandade, sauté of young squid, parsley cromesqui

My starter of Warm salt cod brandade, sauté of young squid, parsley cromesqui was reasonable, the salt cod tasty and, crucially, not overpowering, but even better was a simple but high-quality Hand-chopped Scottish beef tartare. Best of all the entrées we ordered, however, was the Herefordshire snail & bacon pie which had a lovely pastry dome and a robust, flavourful filling.

Herefordshire snail & bacon pie

My main, Crisp duck, lacquered with honey, sweet spice, spring vegetables & herbs, was competently cooked, with the clear sauce ensuring it didn’t feel too heavy. Young chicken with lemon & garlic from the Spanish-made “Josper” Charcoal Grill was good too, with a nice chargrilled taste to it, and an appetising, sweet and sour sauce. Slow cooked belly of pork ‘Petit Salé’, was well-cooked and just as you would expect - a homey, hearty dish with meltingly tender meat. Sides were mixed - Gratin Dauphinois was fine, French fries were generally too crunchy, with some even bordering on hard.

Young chicken with lemon & garlicSlow cooked belly of pork ‘Petit Salé’

For dessert, Crème Brûlée was an above average rendition with a pleasingly smooth custard base. Iced peanut butter parfait, roast banana was also very enjoyable, but could have done with a stronger peanut butter flavour. The star of the entire show, not just the desserts, was an absolutely beautiful Glazed lemon tart, crème Chantilly, with a titillating tangy favour and an exquisite gooey texture.

Glazed lemon tart, crème Chantilly

In a nutshell…
The temptation is to compare Les Deux Salons to Bistrot Galvin de Luxe but the manner of cooking at the two places is actually markedly different – LDS’s is traditional, old-style, rustic French fare, whereas Galvin’s is a more refined mode, a little bit closer to haute cuisine. For its type of food, Les Deux Salons is certainly one of the best in London.

7/10

Les Deux Salons
40-42 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DD
+44 (0)2074202050
Average Price: £40

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Me Me, Fulham

Gỏi Cuốn– prawns summer rolls

My aversion to Pho the chain has been well-documented, and I have now sworn it off forever, even if the branch at Westfield in Shepherds Bush is just about the only place for one to get a bowl of Vietnam’s national dish in the western half of London. I was delighted, then, to read about a restaurant, just two tube stops away from me in Fulham, serving up some apparently good quality pho.

Pho with beef

I gave Me Me a try one sunny midsummer’s evening when, save for a big group celebrating a birthday, the restaurant was practically empty. Most reviews had praised the Pho here, but panned the other offerings. Nonetheless, I felt obliged to try a couple of other dishes, avoiding the menu’s many Chinese entries and opting for two traditional Vietnamese starters: Gi Cun– prawns summer rolls and Bánh xèo – golden pancake stuffed with bean sprouts, prawns and pork. The summer rolls had literally the thinnest slices of prawns possible, with cheaper crabstick used to make up the volume – I was not impressed. The pancake was crisp, but drenched in oil. Needless to say, neither was particularly successful. Never mind, as long as Me Me could dish up a decent bowl of Pho with beef, it would have me won over. It couldn’t. The beef was tender and of a reasonable quality, and the noodles the right kind (Pho take note!), but the broth was insipid and did not even remotely exhibit the depth of flavour it should. It was still better than Pho the chain, mind, but that’s saying nothing.

Bánh xèo – golden pancake stuffed with bean sprouts, prawns and pork

Fried coconut wrapped ice cream for dessert was absolutely horrid – ghastly, still rock hard vanilla ice cream, coated in a weird coconut flake batter and deep fried – ugh.

Fried coconut wrapped ice cream

In a nutshell...
If you are in west London and must have a bowl of pho, go to Me Me – it is better than Pho the chain, and just about passable. But after trying this Fulham establishment, my advice remains the same – suppress any craving, until you get out east. And if you do end up at Me Me, don’t order anything else on the menu besides the pho – you will almost certainly regret it.

3.5/10

Me Me
565 Fulham Road, London, SW6 1ES
+44 (0)2073811100
Average Price: £10-£20

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Kensington Crêperie, London

Ham and Cheese with pepper

Kensington Crêperie has been trading since 2001, starting off life as a branch of the famous La Crêperie de Hampstead. All links to the Hampstead original have since be severed, but the Kensington establishment, which I have frequented many times over the years, continues to serve up some top drawer crêpes. It has recently undergone a refurbishment and expansion into a colourful, bright and airy space in the shop next door, whilst also broadening its menu to include salads, and sundaes. The crêpes are still very much the chief attraction here, though.

Banane et Chocolat – Banana with Belgium Chocolate

On this occasion, we shared three sweet crêpes, Banane et Chocolat – Banana with Belgium Chocolate, Hazelnut Chocolate Cream – Hazelnut, butter & cream with Belgium Chocolate and Strawberry Cream – Fresh strawberries, cream, white Belgium Chocolate, chantilly-whipped cream. All were excellent, with my favourite remaining the Banana with Belgium Chocolate.

Strawberry Cream – Fresh strawberries, cream, white Belgium Chocolate, chantilly-whipped cream

A simple savoury Ham and Cheese with pepper on a previous visit was also very good.

In a nutshell...
The quality of the crêpes here have always been good, but I think they might have even gone up a notch on my latest visit. A very popular place, as evidenced by the many photos of celebrity patrons on the walls, and the queues at peak times, and deservedly so.

8/10

Kensington Crêperie
2-6 Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2HF
+44 (0)2075898947
Average Price: £10

Cafe Creperie on Urbanspoon

Tinello, London

Crostini con il “fuagra” toscano – Traditional Tuscan chicken liver “crostini”; Prosciutto toscano – Tuscan prosciutto ham; Burrate e pane al pomodoro –  “Burrata” cheese and tomato bread

Tinello on Pimlico Road is a joint venture between brothers Federico and Massimiliano Sali, formerly head chef and sommelier at Locanda Locatelli, the place many regard to be the best Italian eatery in London. Unlike so many of the other ‘break-ups’ in the restaurant industry that end up becoming mud-slinging matches (mostly involving Gordon Ramsay it seems) this split was a friendly one, with their former employers also taking a share in this new venture.

The exposed brick walls at Tinello instantly reminded me of Jamie’s Italian Kitchen at Westfield London; not, perhaps, the best memory to invoke, though it wasn’t the décor that was the problem at the celebrity chef’s establishment. The restaurant was relatively busy on a mid-week evening, but by no means full, yet our party of three were seated at a tiny rectangular table clearly meant for two, with an extra chair added on the side. We had made our booking some weeks in advance so it wasn’t like they didn’t have ample notice that there would be three of us, yet having to perch on the side of the table made me feel like an unwelcome last-minute addition. I was distinctly unimpressed.

Zucchine fritte – Fried courgettes

To start, we shared 4 plates from the Small Eats section:

Crostini con il “fuagra” toscano – Traditional Tuscan chicken liver “crostini”
Prosciutto toscano – Tuscan prosciutto ham
Burrate e pane al pomodoro – “Burrata” cheese and tomato bread
Zucchine fritte – Fried courgettes

They were decent, but not outstanding – I’ve had better versions of all. They also suffered from a heavy hand with the salt.

Linguine al gamberi di Mazara del Vallo – Linguine, prawns, chilli and garlic

If the starters were over-seasoned, the main courses were all severely under-seasoned. Linguine al gamberi di Mazara del Vallo – Linguine, prawns, chilli and garlic was dire - it was completely tasteless. I tell a lie, it had a distinctly fishy taste from the far-from-fresh prawns; tasteless would have been an improvement. Saltimbocca di vitello funghi prugnoli e patate – Veal “Saltimbocca” meadow mushroom and potatoes was bland and instantly forgettable; my selection, Bistecca di maiale, bietoline all’ olio – Pan fried pork chop and baby chard was probably the best of the lot, but still below average and very pedestrian – it didn’t even come close to matching the mouth-watering pork chop at Cambio de Tercio.

Bistecca di maiale, bietoline all’ olio – Pan fried pork chop and baby chard

For dessert, Semifreddo all’ amaretto, gelato al cioccolato fondente – Amaretto liquer “semifreddo”, dark chocolate ice cream had an almond flavour that was far too strong and overpowering. The only dish of the entire evening that could be classed as good was the Tiramisu, but it would have had to have been the greatest tiramisu in the world to rescue the meal after what had come before it – needless to say, it wasn’t.

TiramisuSemifreddo all’ amaretto, gelato al cioccolato fondente – Amaretto liquer “semifreddo”, dark chocolate ice cream

The wait staff, who were polite, efficient and well-trained, were probably the best aspect of the entire place.

In a nutshell...
Tinello was quite the disappointment, especially given the pedigree of the team behind it. Prices were fine but the cooking was mediocre at best, with the linguine falling well below even that unexacting standard. The kind of meal you could get (probably better) anywhere.

3/10

Tinello
87 Pimlico Road, London, SW1W 8PH
+44 (0)2077303663
Average Price: £30

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Gelato Mio, London

Hazelnut; Pistachio; Bacio

Given the increasing number of quality options now available in London, it’s easy to forget that it wasn't so long ago that the choice of ice cream parlours in London was very limited indeed. It was during that time, back in 2008, that Carlo del Mistro, an Italian investment banker working at Lehman Brothers decided, along with his wife Simone Yossano, to risk it all, quitting his well-paying job, and opening up Gelato Mio in Holland Park. With the chain now seven branches strong, and the 3rd anniversary of his former employers' demise having just passed, it's probably fair to assume that del Mistro is not regretting his decision one bit. We visited the branch in Notting Hill, which is actually the biggest of the seven, boasting a seating capacity of 80.

I went with my go-to flavours of Hazelnut and Pistachio, along with Bacio, which appears to be slowly becoming my third flavour of choice. The Pistachio was excellent. A poster on the wall proclaimed: "In our gelato you will find all the flavour, aroma and colour of 100% Sicilian pistachios". They weren't lying. The taste of pistachios that came through was absolutely awesome, superior to Oddono's award-winning version, and better even than many of the renditions I sampled in Rome. The Hazelnut and Bacio were good too, but in terms of intensity of flavour, these two were easily surpassed by the Pistachio, and were probably done better at Oddono's too. The texture of Gelato Mio's ice cream was in between the smooth type at Oddono's and the more chewy variety at the likes of Gelupo. I tend to favour smooth over chewy, but Gelato Mio's version struck a happy medium that was more than satisfactory.

Gelato Mio

In a nutshell...
All things considered, Gelato Mio was just about as good as Oddono's, which is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the best in town.

7.5/10

Gelato Mio
37 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 3HG
+44 (0)2077277994
Average Price: £4

Gelato Mio on Urbanspoon

Roti Chai, London

Roti Chai

Roti Chai, just off the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, is a brand new all-day Indian street food venue opened by Rohit Chugh, formerly the manager at Cinnamon Club. The menu was fairly limited (not necessarily a bad thing), and split largely between “Street” and “Road & Rail”; the former starter/small sharing plates, the latter more traditional main course offerings.

Bun Kebab - spiced lamb chapli kebab

We went for mostly “Street” options on this occasion, following our server’s recommendations and getting the Papri Chaat - crunchy wheat crisps, potato, chickpeas, yoghurt and hot & sweet chutney; Samosas - spicy pea & potato and Chicken Lollipops - moreish Keralan spiced chicken wings, along with a Bun Kebab - spiced lamb chapli kebab.

Papri Chaat - crunchy wheat crisps, potato, chickpeas, yoghurt and hot & sweet chutney; Samosas spicy pea & potatoSamosas - spicy pea & potato

First to arrive was the Bun Kebab, a mini burger with a tender, succulent, spiced lamb patty in a pillowy, buttered bun – it was lovely. The Papri Chaat was creamy and tasty, with a nice crunch from the wheat crisps; again very enjoyable. The samosa had a satisfactory, crumbly pastry, and good flavour and heat to the filling. The Chicken Lollipops were also decent – not quite as moreish as a similar dish I had at Veeraswamy recently, but still not bad.

Chicken Lollipops - moreish Keralan spiced chicken wings

For dessert, a Mango Kulfi on a stick was sweet, but not excessively so, with a good mango flavour.

Mango Kulfi

In a nutshell...
Roti Chai was a success on just about every count. Service was fast, friendly and knowledgeable; the food was flavourful; and prices were reasonable. In an area not exactly rife with decent dining options, it is a very welcome addition - one that will no doubt serve a very useful purpose as a quick pit-stop whilst shopping on Oxford Street, but is also versatile, and good enough, to be a place for people to enjoy a more leisurely meal where the quality of the food, rather than the speed of its delivery, takes centre stage.

7/10

Roti Chai
3 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6HS
+44 (0)2074080101
Average Price: £10-£15

Roti Chai on Urbanspoon

Kerbisher & Malt, London

Kerbisher & Malt

After many years and countless false dawns, my prolonged search for properly good fish & chips in London finally reached a satisfactory conclusion recently at Geales. It was highly unlikely, then, that my very next fish & chip meal at Kerbisher & Malt on Shepherd's Bush Road would come anywhere close to matching, never mind exceeding, the Notting Hill stalwart. Nonetheless, K & M had been on my list even before my visit to Geales, so it was only fair I afforded it the opportunity to wrestle the crown for best fish & chips in the capital from my newly anointed champion.

Battered Cod; Chips; Mushy Peas

I had Battered Cod with sides of Chips and Mushy Peas. The batter on the fish was really lovely - thin, crisp and beautifully golden, it just melted in the mouth. It was so good I didn't even feel the need to make much use of the Tartare Sauce (which was probably a good thing because the sauce, which had to be purchased separately for 50p, was overly tart and quite the letdown). The twice-cooked chips fell ever so slightly short of optimum crispness, but were, nevertheless, also very good. Both fish and chips were, commendably, utterly devoid of grease. Mushy Peas were just okay.

WhitebaitCrispy Calamari

Amongst the other dishes, the Fish Finger Butty was decent but nothing special; Whitebait had a 'barely there' dusting of batter that was a little too ‘barely there’ for my liking (even allowing for the fact that whitebait is best showcased by a thin, rather than thick, coating of batter); Crispy Calamari was again lightly battered and moreish, but also not all that crispy, and recommended with a (separate purchase) Sweet Chilli Sauce that tasted very odd – rather like diluted maple syrup, with hardly any hint of chilli. My advice - stay clear of the peripheral dishes and stick with the excellent battered fish & chips.

Fish Finger Butty

In a nutshell...
Kerbisher & Malt makes all the right noises – sustainable fish, environmentally friendly packaging, no preservatives, no dirty oil – co-owners Nick Crossley & Saul Reuben making their “favourite dish the way they wanted”. Well their way is absolutely fine by me because it also happens to be some of the best fish & chips in town. Who would have thought it – two great fish & chip restaurant discoveries in succession. Now the all important question – which is better – Geales or K & M? Based on the battered fish alone, I give it to Geales, by the tiniest of margins. But taking everything else into the equation - K & M was better value (sauces sold separately notwithstanding), while other considerations balanced out fairly evenly – Geales had better whitebait and calamari, K & M had much better chips - I’m going to sit on the fence and declare it a tie.

7.5/10

Kerbisher & Malt
164 Shepherd’s Bush Road, Hammersmith, London, W6 7PB
+44 (0)2035560228
Average Price: £10
Worth noting: Closed Mondays

Kerbisher & Malt on Urbanspoon

Haché, London

Haché

I've been on a bit of a burger binge of late, in a quest to find London's best; and no tour of the capital's top-rated burger places would be complete without a trip to Haché, originally of Camden, now also with a branch in Chelsea. When it comes to the variety of toppings, Haché wins hands down - the number of options are mind-boggling. So, whilst I am usually partial to a simple cheeseburger, I felt compelled to try one of Haché's 'speciality' burgers instead; they are, after all, what it's famous for. I went with the Steak Catalan: Chorizo Sausage, fresh Chilli and Tomato Jam, which is apparently one of their most popular, alongside a serving of Haché Frittes and Onion Rings.

Steak Catalan - Chorizo Sausage, fresh Chilli and Tomato Jam; Haché Frittes ; Onion Rings

The burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare, exactly as requested, but sad to say, that was just about the only thing good about it. Haché is (in)famous for using ciabatta buns for its burgers, which didn't strike me as a particularly clever idea in theory, but nevertheless, I took my first bite with an open mind. And one bite was all it took to decide that my first instincts were right - ciabattas make a good burger bun not. And it wasn't even crusty as ciabattas should be (which can be appealing to some), it was just chewy (which I can't imagine being appealing to many at all). The chilli and tomato jam was lovely, but the chorizo (which wasn't exactly of the highest quality), didn't go particularly well with the beef. GBK does a chorizo burger with sweet potato, and sans beef patty - so much better.

The onion rings were done reasonably well - crisp and not greasy - very similar to Byron in style and execution. The Haché Frittes were alright, but inferior to Byron.
At this point, I was all ready to write off Haché as another over-hyped burger joint, despite the quality of service, which was outstanding - all the waiters and waitresses were clearly very well-trained, quick, efficient, extremely friendly and always smiling. But the waiter I chatted to as we waited for the card machine to process my payment spoke so enthusiastically about his favourite burger, Steak Louisiana: Topped with American Crunchy Peanut Butter and Mature Cheddar Cheese, that I was persuaded to return to give it a try. Being quite the peanut butter fan myself, I had, after all, spotted the Louisiana on the menu and seriously considered it, but eventually decided otherwise for fear that it might be a bit too weird.

Steak Louisiana - Topped with American Crunchy Peanut Butter and Mature Cheddar Cheese

And so I was back a few days later to sample the Steak Louisiana, this time asking for it in a brioche bun, an option recently introduced by Haché presumably because sufficient numbers had expressed their displeasure at the ciabatta (I wonder why). Well, the brioche bun was undoubtedly better than the ciabatta (it couldn't really be worse), but still fell way below the standard of the burger buns at the likes of Goodman, Bar Boulud, Byron and even GBK. As for the unusual filling...there were no fireworks, but the combination of peanut butter with beef patty was...semi-successful. The crunchiness of the PB was a nice element; the gooey mess that was melting cheddar on top of a mass of peanut butter was not the most pleasant thing to look at, or the easiest thing to eat, but didn't taste too bad. Having said that, it certainly wasn't the "best burger ever", as it was sold to me, and I doubt I'll be ordering peanut butter with my burger again anytime soon! The meat on this occasion was also a tad too rare.


A side, on this second visit, of Potato Wedges (with Garlic Mayo and Salsa) was exactly how you would expect it.

Potato Wedges (with Garlic Mayo and Salsa)

In a nutshell…
Some may argue that I should have tried a regular cheeseburger at Haché so I could make a like-for-like comparison with the other burger places. I counter that I tried two of their specialities, which is supposed to be the best a restaurant has to offer, and its best simply wasn't good enough. Not terrible, but not the best; not even close.

6/10

Haché (Chelsea)
329-331 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London, SW10 9QL
+44 (0)2078233515
Average Price: £10-£15

Hache Burgers on Urbanspoon

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