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

Cafe Murano, Tavistock Street, WC2


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The latest outpost of Angela Hartnett’s growing empire is the new Café Murano on Tavistock Street in Covent Garden. This little sister of her flagship Murano restaurant in Mayfair and sibling of Café Murano on St James’s Street.

Upon entering the dimly lit restaurant we were greeted warmly by the Maître D who led us to our table, a lovely leather booth to the rear of the dining room. Decor here is simple and elegant. Dark oak and soft lighting make it feel extremely special and is the sort of place that you can spend hours with good company over lovely food and wine.

The service, albeit a little slow at times, was excellent. The staff are friendly, sharing stories and giving their recommendations making you feel that that they really want you to enjoy your evening.

We settled on a bottle of Cabernet and also sampled their special cocktail of the day; a twist on the Aperol Spritz, it was mixed with apricots to give it a slightly sweeter taste.

To begin, we ordered a couple of Cicheti; Broad bean & Rosemary Arancini, Courgettes with hazelnuts, & mint lemon and Antipasti of Portland Crab with scorched Onions & apple and Agnolotti filled with guinea fowl & apricots. The arancini are some of the best we have sampled. Small in size but filled with flavour. The courgette salad was simple but again the flavour combination was on point, especially for summer evenings. The Agnolotti was excellent too, the meat wasn’t too over-powering and was wrapped in a light pasta that made you want to have piece after piece after piece.

To follow we had Farfelle with peas & girolles, Gnocchi in a robiolo, rosemary & black olive sauce, Roasted stone bass with tomato & fennel stew and Roasted pigeon with Castle Franco, mustard & yoghurt. We loved both the pasta dishes. The gnocchi and olive combination is something new to us, but it works. The earthy flavour of the olives complimented the light cheese sauce and the pillow-y potato gnocchi was fresh and soft to bite. The farfelle was again something that we would have over and over again and is ideal for the summer months. A light butter sauce brought the pasta and vegetables together and showcased the dishes key ingredients.

We very rarely see Stone bass on a menu but when we do we jump to the chance to order it. It was exactly how we like it; flaky with a crispy skin the melted on the tongue. The accompanying stew was also deep in flavour which worked with the lightness of the fish. The pigeon was cooked nicely, still pink and slightly bloody with a charred skin. We have read that others didn’t like the yoghurt but we thought it was a great addition to the plate. With the charred taste of the bird, it actually was a light refreshing taste.

For dessert, we had to order the famous Muscovado Tart. The thinnest pastry bottom we have seen in a while with a sweet, wobbly, top. The perfect dessert to finish off a wonderful evening. We cannot wait to visit the other siblings in the Murano family after now experiencing the delectable dishes at this branch.

Cafe Murano

36 Tavistock Street, London, WC2 7PB

José Pizzaro, Broadgate Circle, EC2M

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It isn’t often that we get this excited about a new restaurant opening, but from the moment we read of José’s new venture many weeks ago, we could not wait to be among the many who would sample his dishes from the moment the doors opened.

This is Pizarro’s third offering and the first of his to be in a part of the city that we wouldn’t have expected. Nestled amongst other great names like Franco Manca and Yautacha, the restaurant takes pride of place in the newly renovated Broadgate Circle, just behind Liverpool St Station.

One great thing about this place is that you can reserve a table, something that is a rareity and with being in the city, we feel, a necessity. We arrived early and our table was ready. The dining room is small with the focal point being the long bar with stools so you can see the chefs at work. But when there is more than 4 of you, a table is a must. We were kindly told we had the table for 2 hours and were then given time to look over the menu.

We had already done ample research on what to order so we right ahead and picked a portion of the Prawn Fritters with Saffron Aoili, the Croquetas ‘Caseras’ (House croquettes, which change daily – We had White Crab) and Pan con Tomate. Unfortunately they did not have any Padron Peppers which we were disappointed about.

The Prawn Fritters, WOW. Hand-minced coarsely, these were succulent, on point with flavour and just sublime. Next the White Crab Croquetas. Again how Croquetas should be, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. We loved every bite. The fresh bread with tomatoes. garlic and olive oil was refreshing and light compared to the deep flavours of the the previous two dishes.

We moved onto choose a few small plates: Sautéed heritage root vegetables with Monte Enebro cheese and black olive dressing, Ibérico pork meatballs in tomato & orange sauce, Asparagus grilled on the plancha with fried duck egg & Romanesco sauce and a side salad. All three dishes were equally delicious for different reasons, the Asparagus was tender with the sauce adding a hint of heat, the meatballs crumbled in the delicious rich sauce and the Roasted root vegetables were firm, with their sweetness cleverly balanced by the acidic cheese and black olive dressing.

We knew we had to save room for dessert has we had seen several pictures of a certain one in particular that we just had to try. Chocolate with olive oil & salt, with toast. This took us back to when were were kids and we would eat Nutella sandwiches in the park. A clever adult version with dark bitter chocolate cut with the sea salt was just amazing. To accompany it we sampled the Almond cake, pistachio ice cream, which was a refreshing counter part to the chocolate.

We are so glad that we were able to visit this Spanish haven before the city masses begin to flood it. We cannot wait to go again, to sample more dishes, or just to sit and watch the kitchen at work whilst sampling some wine, ham and cheese, the true Spanish way.

José Pizzaro 

36 Broadgate Circle, London, EC2M 1QS

Polpetto, Berwick Street, W1F


Polpetto, another branch out from Russel Norman; one of the best restauranteurs in London. You may know him from his three branches of Polpo (Beak Street, Covent Garden, Smithfield), Spuntino and the Ape & Bird. When Polpetto closed its doors in 2012 it felt like it might be a sad time but it was never to be for good. The aim was to find a larger premises and move away from being above the French House pub on Dean Street.

There’s always a restaurant you’ve been meaning to go to but it just gets missed during the important part of your search. Polpetto was ours and we’re just finally glad we made the trip!

You enter Polpetto through a thick red velvet curtain which is a nice touch you normally see from fine dining establishments. It shields the customers from the outside and it means you’ll have to actually take a step inside to see the restaurant if you’re browsing. The restaurant is long with a a bar on the left hand side. The furnishings are wooden and the dimly lit space looks fantastic. There are seats at the bar and just behind it where we waited whilst our table became free. We did find out at this point that there’s a chefs table downstairs which is available to book.

Once seated at our table a small menu was handed to us. These are the best kinds of menus, with not too much choice but just enough to make you wonder. The menu is seasonal so take a look at the menu online for an example of what might be in store. Being a Venetian small plates venue, the wine list is aptly Italian so it wasn’t long before we were glugging down a lovely bottle of Chianti Reserva. To accompany this fine wine we ordered: Cavolo nero, with anchovy & burnt butter bread, Burrata with agretti & chilli, Pork belly with Jerusalem artichoke & parsley and Clams with sea purslane & linguine. The stand outs for us where the Cavolo nero and the clams. Both executed to perfection and kept us very happy as the cavolo nero hit home first. Being kale fans this was always going to go down well with us! The anchovy in this dish helped take it to the next level and we can’t recommend it enough. It’s easy to just keep on ordering here so we thought why not get the Beef shin with strozzapreti, braised chick peas and some wet polenta. It was becoming quickly apparent that head chef Florence Knight (great name!) is on to a winner and has been for quite some time.

To finish we had the Fried pecorino with honey and the Chocolate flan with creme fraiche. Both very good desserts for different reasons. Firstly because you’ll never have had fried pecorino cheese with honey and secondly because the chocolate flan is famous in soho (our bias!).

Keep ordering the excellent wine and try your best not to order everything on the menu. Don’t worry, we nearly did it! This quickly has shot up our list to one of our favourite meals in Soho and it’s not far off being one of our most enjoyable yet.

Polpetto
11 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F 0PL

Barrafina, Adelaide Street, WC2N


Small plates restaurants are probably some of the best in the city. However the name Barrafina is now becoming associated with it when people think of tapas. Barrafina got their first Michelin star for their Soho branch last year and has made the place very popular. It is the newer Adelaide Street branch that we visited and there’s reasons we think it’s even better.

We expected a queue which is often the case at Frith Street but at 9pm on a Friday we were happy to see no queue present. There was, however, a 30 minute wait to be seated at the bar. Barrafina is renowned for its sit on bar stools in front of the kitchen and Adelaide Street presents this in a brighter fashion. The lights in Barrafina aren’t the dimly lit, romantic type. It’s more a case of bright lights to see the exquisite small plates presented to you; all of which are not allowed to be served until the head chef has taken a look. Whilst waiting there is a bar menu to pick a few delights from the full menu and it would be rude not to have their famous Crab Croquetas. Quite easily the best croquettes we’ve had to date! They don’t have the gooey cheesy-ness you expect and are in fact packed filled with amazingly seasoned crab meat. To accompany our wait we had a selection of their cured meats (which included Jamon de Bellota – some of the best jamon you can get) and a carafe of Vilosell 2011.

Our stools didn’t take long to be free and it wasn’t long before we had the real menu in front of us and it dawned on us that we wanted to order everything on the menu! As much as this sounds like a good idea, it probably wasn’t at closer to 10pm. Rather than order starters or anything of that ilk, we just ordered a selection of dishes. One of which was their special that day and that was Turbot. It’s not something that we have often but after this dish, it’ll always be ordered. The array of dishes that were chosen were as followed: Chipirones, Artichokes & Alioli, Stuffed Courgette Flower, Queen Scallop Ceviche, Turbot, Chicken Wings with Mojo Picón, Iberian Pork Ribs, Milk Fed Lamb’s Kidneys, Quail Escabeche.

The dishes came out in the order that they would be cooked and it may seem quite a lot but believe me when I say you could have a few more just for how delicious they were. Every dish was perfect in its execution and it’s difficult to find any faults with this branch of Barrafina. We quickly became good friends with the chef that was preparing dishes in front of us and it’s good to have that kind of access to a kitchen. Personal standouts for me have to be the Courgette flower, the lovely piece of turbot, the scallops and the kidneys. Not being the biggest kidney fan, and after a recommendation, I’m definitely sold. 

Desserts were a must and we went for the Doughnuts with Chocolate Sauce and a couple of scoops of their ice cream. Both excellent and the ricotta ice cream was special.

Three carafes of wine later and a meal we will always remember; the best tapas restaurant in London just got better.

 

Barrafina

10 Adelaide Street, Covent Garden, WC2N 4HZ