The Ivy, West Street, WC2H

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Ah The Ivy… Even saying it out loud makes us giddy with excitement. We decided to end 2015 on a high, and what better way than to pay a visit to London’s most talked about restaurant. Having closed its doors way back in January to give it a face-lift, we were eager to go along and see what had been done. We knew that many of the fixtures and fittings had been auctioned off for charity so what was to be waiting for us beyond those famous double doors?

You are greeted by the giant triangular shaped bar which takes up the centre of the dining room and although large, the room still felt airy and open. The seating, mixing both leather and velvet mohair, is comfortable and nicely spaced, with more booths and corner tables, while the traditional crisp linen, silvery cutlery and attentive service remain. As is expected.

The menu, still with its favourites of Shepherds Pie and Sausages & Mash, it has also swayed to the new ‘grazing’ way of eating that seems to be a trend that is here to stay. Asian small plates and ‘sea and shells’ are new inserts to appeal to slightly younger aged patrons. We opted to stick to the classics as we know this is where our hearts lie with The Ivy.

To begin: Pork and Veal Meatballs, Cornish Crab Bisque, Caramelized Tropea Onion Tart and Seabass Ceviche were ordered. Each dish perfect in size and perfect in taste. The meatballs was soft, tender and held their own. The Onion tart is by far one of the best we have ever tried. The lightest pastry with a delicious filling. The bisque was outstanding. The aroma it let off is second to none and the depth in flavour is one we so greatly crave still.

For mains the Shepherds Pie (of course!), Crab Macaroni, Cep Risotto and Crackling Roast pork with sides of Cheesy Mash and creamed spinach. Every signature dish was beautiful. Firstly the pie. with meat swimming in a thick gravy topped with buttery potato was divine. The pork was equally stunning and was rich in flavour. The risotto from the special vegetarian menu was generous and the rice was cooked just right.

The highlight for us though has to be the desserts. The Baked Alaska cooked at the table was a fantastic way to end the meal. Hot fruit and meringue encased the ice cream wonderfully. The de-constructed cheesecake was terrificly light with a delicate flavour, which made us want to lick the plate clean.

Bravo to the Ivy is all week can say. Bravo.

The Ivy
1-5 West Street, London, WC2H 9NQ

London’s Dinest turns into New York’s Dinest for a week


Our annual pilgrimage to New York occurred towards the end of last year and we documented our food travel after a fair bit of research and just good old general knowledge. New York is often regarded as one of the finest cities in the world for restaurants, take out and all-round cuisine. More often than not, New York is held in higher regard than our own fair city of London. After a trip last year, it is only fair that London’s food scene is compared in the right way.

The first stop on our food tour started down in Williamsburg (Brooklyn). It’s called Fette Sau and the last time we went to New York it was one of our favourite meals! Fette Sau specialises in BBQ’d meat and this is some of the best we have ever eaten. There are usually some specials on the menu as their meat deliveries change often so this time we went for the softest pork belly, a pork chop, brisket, beef ribs, burnt ends baked beans and potato salad. This is all charged by the weight and placed on one massive tray with bread rolls. You can then feast with your hands, make sandwiches or use cutlery if you’re feeling fancy. There’s plenty of sauces at the table and a very much needed roll of kitchen towel. New York is famed for its craft beer scene and there are a lot on show here, as well as an array of bourbon – make sure you visit this place!


Next up was Egg, again in Williamsburg. This is an all day breakfast place that can get very busy so we got here early to ensure no queuing (in the rain!). There’s also a lunch menu here but it’s called Egg for a reason. That means there’s a great brunch menu as well so be sure to see what it’s like on a weekend. The choices here were the Eggs Rothko – Easy-cooked egg in a slice of Amy’s brioche & topped with Grafton cheddar. Served with broiled tomatoes & a side of meat or seasonal vegetables. Along with this we had the Duck Hash – Braised duck leg seared with potatoes and green onions and served with 2 sunny side up eggs. The Eggs Rothko was something else! Quite a heavy breakfast but very tasty. The softest brioche with a well cooked egg and many sides: a meat was a sausage patty, some kale and bacon as well! The duck hash was very good. Something we’ve not had before and it’s something we would definitely try to make with leftovers. Succulent pieces of duck in a a large hashbrown with 2 expertly cooked eggs (over-easy). Drinks for the table were Earl Grey tea and a French press coffee.


Our next adventure took us to Manhattan and the lovely Nomo Hotel. Formerly The Mondrian, this hotel is based in Noho and is one of the best looking restaurants in the city. (See below). Here we had the Nomo Burger, Tempura Tacos and Tuna Tatare. All coupled with an excellent Chablis. The Nomo Burger was cooked medium, and came served with blue cheese, a slice of apple and lettuce. Not a combination we’re used to but it was cooked perfectly and tasted excellent. The Tacos were some of the best tacos we’ve had in a long time (we’re looking at you Nobu) and the Tuna Tatare was special. The attention to detail in the food here is exemplary and come nightfall, this space is full of dates and people coming for drinks. Definitely worth a stop off on your trip to Manhattan.


It was time to sample some pizza and keeping away from the cliché’d Little Italy, we ended up going to a place called Motorino on Broadway (The Brooklyn One). This pizza is the Naples variety so think of Pizza Pilgrims or Franco Manca and you’re nearly there. It is very similar but has bolder flavours such as meatballs, brussel sprouts and layers of parma ham. The meatballs weren’t as flavoursome as hoped but the pizzas themselves were just right. Don’t bother with the starters, order a pizza each and one to share!


The next stop on our journey was for some brunch and where else but one of the best in the city: Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery. This is an opulent space and reminded us of Balthazar but with red replaced with green. The service can be worked on but that can be said about the whole city of New York however the food masked over that somewhat. We started with the boulangerie basket and this had a selection of pastries and breads which are all baked on site. The almond croissant here is one of the best we’ve eaten! To follow we had the Smoked Salmon Benedict on brioche with sauce Choron and Omelette, brie, roasted cauliflower & onion fondue. The salmon benedict was not like you’d imagine it to look like (see below) and the Choron sauce was essentially a hollandaise. This was a very good attempt at Eggs Royale with spinach, something that we tend to order most of the time anyway. However the brioche bread helped take away the stodginess of the muffin traditionally used. Coffee was drunk again but this time a green juice called Jardin Vert was had to finish the meal.


These were the best things we ate in New York that were unique to the city. We did visit Nobu and Balthazar and we have to say the former has better food than the Piccadilly one but Balthazar in London is miles ahead. Again I think the service lets down these places and it’s shame when they’re demanding 18-22%.

Special mentions go out to Indikitch. A fast food Indian place that serves up some tasty lunchtime food for workers in manhattan. You choose your meat and if you want it with rice and naan, in a biriyani or with dosa (an indian taco in this place). Get a mango lassi and you’re $10 well spent.


Also to mention Olea for the Mediterranean breakfast we sampled. The Turkish eggs and Moroccan eggs with haloumi were great and if you want to sample some great food, we have to say make that 10 minute journey over to Brooklyn, it’s a must!

Zuma, Raphael Street, SW7

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Japanese Izakaya style restaurants are quickly becoming one of our favourites. They offer a different and modern way to eat great Japanese food in a stylish establishment. Currently Dinings in Marylebone is the best we’ve tasted however Zuma is the more affluent older brother looking to make it’s mark and it definitely leaves you wanting more.

We will add this in now that Zuma is high end, so expect a large bill but food and drinks that fit the price. Upon entering the restaurant you’re greeted by friendly doormen which leads you to the front of house. The ladies here were excellent and quickly took our coats/bags and led us to our pre-booked table. We were housed in the bar area rather than the restaurant but the atmosphere is just as good here. Zuma has a modern decor and great music playing in the background. The best way to describe it is chilled out house music but just loud enough so that you don’t need to shout. There’s a large bar where many members of the public hang out at before they eat or just to have a drink. Next to the bar is a large kitchen counter where you can sit (not on stools for once) and watch the meticulous chefs at work. We ordered some house cocktails and perused the menu, which is one of the best around might we add. Izakaya and Tapas food make us eat differently with ordering dishes as and when rather than the usual starter-main course-dessert affair. We have to say it’s one of the best ways to eat!

We started our order with thinly sliced seabass with yuzu, truffle oil & salmon roe, stir fried soybeans with chilli, garlic & ginger, fried soft shell crab with wasabi mayonnaise and steamed spinach with sesame sauce. The seabass was fantastically thin and the truffle oil made it outstanding. The edamame were al dente, just spicy enough and wonderfully moreish. The soft shell crab could be one of the best we’ve had and it’s probably down to that Wasabi mayonnaise! Finally the steamed spinach (which comes cold) is something we always order here as it just works. The wilted spinach leaves with sesame are a great marriage of flavours.

Next up we ordered Chicken Wings with Sake, Sea Salt & Lime, Beef Skewers with Soy, Garlic, Ginger & Ancho Chilli, Black Cod wrapped in a Hoba Leaf, and Duck Breast spiced with Ginger, Chilli & Sake. We shall start with the star of the show: The Black Cod served at Zuma is probably the best in London. It’s difficult to choose between here and Nozomi down the road but I think this one just takes it. It’s cooked to perfection and the hoba leaf adds a depth of flavour we haven’t had elsewhere. The chicken wings were lovely and the sake adds a hint of something you don’t normally taste. The beef skewers arrive cooked pink and were deliciously succulent. Finally the duck breast which also had an element of sake and we really enjoyed it; the ginger-chilli kick added a great dimension.

To finish there’s one thing to have at Zuma and that’s the off menu Chocloate Fondant with Vanilla, Praline & Caramel ice cream. It arrives with the words ‘Zuma’ plastered on the top of it and you can tell this is opulent. Opening up the fondant and chocolate oozes everywhere. Couple it with the ice cream and it’s one of the best desserts around. We’re glad it’s off the menu so that technically they should never run out!

Zuma is Japanese Izakaya done well. With mainstays such as Nobu holding their own in this small pond, it’s good to see another restaurant being successful. The music is good, the people are beautiful and the food is excellent. Zuma is a place you’d always go to if you could as the food is fresh and mostly healthy, just clear your credit cards first!

Zuma
5 Raphael Street, Knightsbridge, SW7 1DL

Gymkhana, Albermarle Street, W1S

Kheema Naan

When it comes to Indian food we are often quite sceptical. Coming from an Asian background, we know what is good, what is bad, and what is down right awful whwn it comes to Indian cookery. Now let’s be honest, there are more bad than good places in this city and that’s a shame.

However we had very high expectations from Mayfair’s Gymkhana. A trip to Trishna (their sister restaurant) in Marylebone last year left us very happy so we couldn’t have been more excited for an Indian restaurant. Having been awarded a Michelin Star and consistently being in the top best restaurants in London; we knew it was going to be something special. We had waited a long time to visit this restaurant, and we have to say, we were not disappointed.

Reservations are very, very hard to come by and we had to book the full 2 months in advance for our table. However we have also actually been lucky enough to walk in but had to wait about 2 hours for a seat. That’s not a lot of time given that there are plenty of places nearby to have a drink or go shopping. Trust us, it’s worth it.

As the name suggests, the restaurant evokes a feel of the gymkhanas of old sports and leisure clubs in India tracing their heritage back to colonial times.  You will find booths with dark leather, rattan chairs and brass-edged marble tables. Fans whir lazily overhead, hanging from a dark-lacquered ceiling, while cut glass lamps and hunting trophies finish off the decor to a T.

The menu is extensive, covering all levels of hunger. Ranging from Bar Snacks/Nashta (another word for snack)/Game and Chops/Tikka and then Bread and Sabzi (vegetarian curry dishes).

We decided to pick a few from each section and enjoy them to their full potential. From the Bar Snacks and Nashta came the Kheema Naan and the Potato Chaat with Chickpeas and Tamarind. Staple dishes you find on most Indian menus, we knew that Gymkhana would take these classics to the next level. The Naan was soft, with the kheema being more paste–like so was lovely to scoop up the Chaat with. Perfectly cooked potatoes tossed in spices married with yoghurt and tamarind, a brilliant chaat. Slightly larger than we had thought but we finished it nonetheless. Along with this we opted for the Channa Bhatura. Essentially this is a chickpea curry with a fluffy, deep fried leavened bread (one of our favourite traditional breads too! This tasted just like it would if you were walking the streets of India and we couldn’t fault it at all. Excellent curry and the bhatura was fantastic (and the size of a large dinner plate).

On to the game and tikka: We went with the Paneer with Corn Chaat, Lasooni Wild Tiger Prawns & Red Pepper Chutney, Lucknowi Scallops & Kadai Courgette, Achari Stonebass (we love Indian fish), Lamb Nalli Barra with Pickled Onion, Turmeric & Ginger, and finally the Quail Sheekh Kebab & Pickled Green Chilli Chutney. Quite a lot we know but there’s good reason – more on that later. The spices in the Stonebass work so well with the light meat and the marriage of paneer and corn is one not to be messed with. The Tiger Prawns were some of the best we’ve had this year, excellent seasoning. The Scallops could probably be missed entirely here. Scallops are delicate and throwing Indian spices at them ruin what should be the taste of the sea. The Quail kebabs were good but not great unfortunately. Maybe that’s the selfish choice here as red meat kebabs are always more flavoursome. Finally the Lamb Nalli Barra – this is a lamb chop executed perfectly. The best chop we’ve ever eaten and that’s a massive accolade. We tend to judge an Indian restaurant on how well they do their chops; this is perfect.

By this time we were getting rather full, but that didn’t stop us from ordering the house speciality, the Wild Muntjac Biryani. It arrives with a domed pastry lid, which we can only assume preserves the moisture in the dish. Off it comes and the delightful aromas engulf you like nothing before. To accompany it we had to order the Daal Maharani. If a place can make daal well, we will love it forever. It was rich, deep in flavour and the lentils were still whole and had not disintegrated. A ‘side’ of Chicken Butter Masala and Bombay Potatoes rounded off the meal prior to desserts. A great butter chicken and a lovely dish of correctly spiced potatoes, we’re now officially in love with this place!

To end our meal we opted to try the chocolate samosa. It wasn’t what we had hoped unfortunately. A great concept but the executuion could have been better. The filling did not taste of chocolate at all and was rather dense. We expected oozing fondant like chocolate to come out of the hard pastry shell.

If you want a good curry, Gymkhana can’t be beaten. If you want an Indian experience, again it can’t be beaten. There’s a lot to like about this restaurant and very little to grumble about. The wait to get a reservation being a slight one but when a restaurant is this good, we can’t complain. Now serving brunch, we’ve just found a restaurant that ticks every box and then a couple more. Go hungry, and you will leave very happy.

Gymkhana
42 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4JH

Chiltern Firehouse, Chiltern Street, W1U

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We made it. We finally made it. After opening 18 months ago, Chiltern Firehouse quickly earned the title of ‘Hardest place to get a reservation’. We were finally able to secure a brunch booking last weekend, and it was actually rather easy. We only rang a couple of days in advance (quite rare for such establishments!).

We were rather excited to walk through the dark gates and see what was awaiting us on the other side. After seeing so many photos of food, decor, the toilets (yes even the toilets are exclusive), we just could not wait to see what Chiltern Firehouse had in store for us.

We arrived promptly for our reservation and were met by two doorman, or ‘gate’-men rather, who guided us through the terrace and into the main restaurant. We were greeted by the lovely hostess who gave us the option of a table or the Chef’s Counter. To the Counter we ran. We always choose this option if it is ever presented to us. To see the inside workings of a kitchen is nothing more than spectacular.

Once seated we decided upon Champagne spritzers. Strawberry & Basil and Berries & mint. Both were extremely refreshing. One slight gripe would be that they were served in tumblers and not flutes. If serving champagne, flutes are always preferred!  Our extremely friendly waiter went through the lunch/brunch menu with us and gave us his tips and favourite choices and the chef’s specials too. We of course ordered the Crab Donuts and Bacon Cornbread, followed by the Watermelon and Ricotta Salad and Eggs Florentine and Royale.

The Cornbread arrived first. A small wooden plank holding two freshly baked sticks served with the most amazing maple butter topped with a chipotle sprinkle. The cornbread was delicious. Light and fluffy with a kick in flavour. The bacon was a fragrant addition rather than pieces, which didn’t bother us, but may cause some concern to other expecting larger chunks.

This was followed the Crab Donuts and Watermelon Salad. First the donuts. Now we have read mixed reviews of these little morsels so we tried to reserve judgement until we had tried them for ourselves. What you get are chewy, fluffy pastry balls sliced open and filled with mildly zingy crab meat. With the pastry being slightly on the sweet side, it did prove slightly odd but we have to admit we are definitely Pro Donut. Our waiter informed us the Bradley Cooper has them for breakfast with his morning latte! The Salad was exquisite. Light ricotta with fresh tomatoes and juicy watermelon. A gorgeous summer time salad if there ever was one. We saw the chef preparing this and you can see the love and detail going into each dish. We would go back for that alone.

Next up came our eggs. The Florentine consisted of a cheesy muffin, topped with tomato, spinach and two perfectly formed poached eggs and hollandaise. The muffin was delicious. It wasn’t doughy and was able to hold the weight of the mammoth toppings. Now the poached egg test is of course whether or not they have a runny centre, and these definitely did. The royale versions come with Brioche and Salmon. Again the brioche was excellent. It is obvious that the baked breads are given as much love and attention as any other part of the menu. We like this a lot.

To end, our waiter convinced us to try the Key Lime Pie, his favourite dessert and, his words, would make us want to come back again the next day.

He wasn’t wrong. Undoubtedly we have a very sweet tooth at London’s Dinest and when the Pie came we were in awe. A rye biscuit flaky base (the THINNEST we have ever seen) filled with a gorgeous Lime curd and Mascaporne cream and then topped with Meringue shards. Every mouthful was a little party on the tongue. We are so glad our waiter twisted our arm.

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Yes Chiltern Firehouse is difficult to get into. Yes it is frequented by the likes of Bradley Cooper and Liv Tyler. But it still has time for us civilians. Not once did we feel out of place or looked down upon. Everyone did all they could to make sure you enjoyed your time there. No wonder the reservation books are constantly full, not only because of the food, but with staff like theirs, you will never want to leave.

Chiltern Firehouse

1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 7PA

Bao, Lexington Street, W1F

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When we read about Bao coming to Soho many months back, we were ecstatic! Sometimes, just sometimes, a restaurant lives up to expectations. We knew that Bao would be one such place. This tiny, no-frills Taiwanese steamed-bun and small-plate venture is just genius.

As many new openings these days, it operates a no reservations policy, which does make sense as it has a fast food feel to it and the turn around is rather quick. We only had to wait a mere 20 minutes for a spot, this did not bother us one bit. It may prove difficult to find a 20 minute wait nowadays seeing as the hype has increased! However do try and go at non-peak times to save waiting too long.

The space is small and has one main U-shaped bar with high stools as well as smaller tables towards the back. We sat at the bar and where we are able to enjoy conversing with the staff.

The menu is presented in a tick-list form, great concept in our mind, especially for street food like this. Although we wanted to try EVERYTHING we controlled ourselves and stuck to a couple of the small plates and saved room for the bao.

We settled on the Aubergine with Wonton crisps and the Fried chicken with a fiery sauce. The Aubergine is more like a spread or dip for the crisps, similar to that of baba ganoush but with larger diced aubergine. It was spicy, boy it was spicy. But with the crisps was a great combination. Onto the Chicken. We were amazed at how the coating was both crisp and crumbly and the chicken was truly some of the moistest we have had.

We already knew which bao we were going to have. The classic, confit pork and vegetarian daikon. Each was excellent. The confit pork was a new one for us and we have to say it was our favourite. Sweet and Sour pork belly with crispy shallots nestled in the bao bun, it just oozed with flavour. Our mouths are still salivating. Nothing beats the classic; 4 hour braised pork belly topped with preserved vegetables and peanut shavings, what more can you ask for? The veg bao was also tasty, but lacked depth of flavour and was rather dry, due to no sauce.

Desserts aren’t key here but that didn’t stop us from trying the the Horlicks ice-cream. It comes with a deep-fried bun and was slightly fiddly to share. We ended up taking the buns off and spreading the ice cream on it instead. Didn’t bother us though!

We would easily queue for bao again and are happy that they now have a permanent address!

Bao
53 Lexington Street, Soho, W1F 9AS

Tredwell’s, Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2

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Marcus Wareing’s latest offering has been described as his more ‘accessible’ and ‘affordable’ eating establishment. We believe this translates as, giving people a chance to sample Wareing inspired food without breaking the bank at the likes of Marcus at The Berkeley or The Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Unfortunately for us, Mr Wareing isn’t actually the one behind the Pass at this venture but this didn’t stop us from visiting!

We arrived and were immediately warmly greeted by the Maître D who escorted us downstairs where we were met with a large sharing table that could happily seat 16 people. We were sat to one end of it close enough to the kitchen to see the delights that were making their way out to the restaurant.

The menu has since changed from the time that we went so the little snacks that we started with are no longer on the menu (poor decision in our opinion as we loved them). We had the most delicious Courgette Fritters we have ever tasted (please bring them back onto the menu!), Pork Sliders and Chorizo Jam with Charred bread. To follow we had the Harissa glazed aubergine with peanuts, coriander & chilli and Chicken Liver Mousse with Bacon Jam and Toast, both of which were delicious. The aubergine was crisp and worked impressively well with the peanuts. The chilli kick added another dimension as the aubergine was mild in flavour. The mousse took away the dense feel of a pâté and was so light and delicious that we wished there was more bread!

For mains we had the Gnocchi with cauliflower, sprouts, hazelnuts & Berkswell cheese. Again these aren’t ingredients that you would normally pair together but we were very happy with the result! As well as this we ordered the Slow Cooked Beef Short Rib which was accompanied by some seasonal vegetables on the side. This was melt in your mouth stuff and if we weren’t saving room for dessert, this would have been ordered again!

We made sure there was room for dessert as there were a few of the puddings that were calling out to us. One in particular being The virtuous chocolate brownie with coconut yoghurt made with no wheat, dairy, eggs or refined sugar. It was incredible! It was a dense cake with a dark bitter chocolate taste but we couldn’t believe that it was so ‘healthy’.

We loved our meal here and have to say the staff made it even better. We sat with them whilst they were clearing up and they even presented us with small Petit fours as a thank you for being great patrons! We will definitely be back, even just to say hi to the waiters!

Tredwell’s

4a Upper St Martin’s Ln, London WC2H 9NY