Balthazar, Russell Street, WC2B

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A few years back whilst on a trip in New York City we got talking to some locals on a tour bus. You read that right, locals on a tour bus! We found out that they use it to get around the city as it’s a cheaper way to do it and that’s just ingenious! They told us about the brunch scene in Manhattan and that we have to go to Balthazar without fail. Given that it was Sunday the next day, we went and boy was it good!

Thankfully Balthazar opened in London last year and it’s a carbon copy of the on in New York, from the entrance to the bar and to the staff uniform. Such a massive space with high ceilings, you can tell that Keith McNally had spent a good deal of money getting the decor perfect. His New York import came with a huge reputation and it didn’t disappoint. The bar with high stools and seafood bar are a sight to behold themselves.

After having a few drinks in Covent Garden we made our way over to see if we could get a walk-in. The Maitre’D was welcoming and unpretentious and within 10 minutes we were sat down (at 9pm on a Friday night!). This isn’t to say it’s easy to get a table at Balthazar, on the contrary it’s best to book and we were quite lucky! Balthazar is an all day brasserie that’s open 7 days a week, which is another plus point as you can go any time of day and get some great food. We ordered some white wine and moved on to the menu.

To start we had French Onion Soup and Salad Nicoise. The Soup was fantastic and you could tell that it had been slow cooked for a long time. French onion soup, when done well, is a great way to start a meal and at Balthazar they’ve created one that is definitely worth going back for. The nicoise salad was perfect. It was fresh, not too filling and the ingredients used were high end. The poached duck egg with the pieces of tuna worked excellently. Along with the various salad leaves and a dressing we’d love to know the recipe for, this dish was fantastic. To follow this their steak frites was ordered. On our trip in New York this was an excellent dish so it made sense to try it here also and again it was on point. The Sirloin steak was a great cut and cooked perfectly (medium rare) and the Maire’D butter was just lovely. Frites can be hit and miss and thankfully they were a hit! To finish we had petits fours (pictured) and ice cream followed by an espresso. The petits fours were a great dessert in the sense that each had their own individual flavour and it wasn’t heavy. The ice cream, a little on the expensive side (£7!) was top notch but that doesn’t excuse the price unfortunately. The espresso was made from excellent coffee beans and finished off the dinner very well!

Balthazar is perfect for any occasion and they have a menu to suit all. This makes it great for dates, brunch meetings, breakfasts or a family dinner. We love a place that can tick all boxes!

Balthazar
4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ

Earlham Street Clubhouse, Earlham Street, WC2H

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Looking for great drinks and pizzas like you would if you were at an American student frat party? Then this is certainly the place for you. The decor of this underground bar consists of the walls being covered in vintage American beer adverts and road signs, and there’s a classic Wurlitzer jukebox in one corner to choose songs for the night.

We reserved a booth (Always a good idea if you plan on sharing the mammoth pizzas) and have to say the customer service was excellent. The witty email replies made us feel like one of the gang and gave us an insight to how our night was going to be.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a friendly waiter who pointed us in the direction of our booth. Sunken seats with dim lighting with no chance of being disturbed by the other patrons. ESC have made great layout choices with the venue; we like!

Onto the drinks. With names such as ‘Rolling with the Homies’ and ‘Cruel Intentions’ its clear they love American movies (so do we!). This theme ran through the pizza menu too with names such as ‘American Beauty’ and ‘The Ross and Rachel’. We loved this concept and it’s great to see that everything is thought about, not just the decor.

The cocktails were great. We sampled quite a few and its clear the bartenders know what flavours work. They even made up a few for us which weren’t on the menu. An added bonus!

For pizza you can go for an individual 10inch or a sharing 20inch. We also threw in a 20inch Calzone into the mix. Toppings included Plain Jane (Mozzarella, basil and tomato), American Beauty (Red onion, grilled courgette, peppers and mozzarella) and Vincent Vega (Spicy sausage, tomato and mozzarella). And they’re tasty; not Napoli-authentic like we have sampled at Franco Manca, but crisp, generously proportioned and loaded, just the thing to go with the good-time drinks.

What struck us about ESC is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s laid back, fun vibe made us want to sit there for hours sampling their drinks and sharing jokes with their staff. It’s refreshing to see a more fun side of American culture in London. Well done guys. Top night overall!

Earlham Street Clubhouse
35 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LD

Paesan, Exmouth Market, EC1R

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After a long wait we finally made it to Paesan to sample some Italian small plate delights! This ‘tapas’ variant of eating is our favourite way to have dinner of late and Paesan got a lot of things right.

We went in a larger group than normal and had a reservation for 7:30pm that didn’t seem to be on their system, the only negative we could find if we are honest. Everyone was arriving at different points in the evening so we made use of the Bitters & Rye cocktail bar located downstairs. This is a late night bar (3am on Friday/Saturday) and have a selection of £5 cocktails until 8pm. After an Aperol Spritz or three, we made our way upstairs. We were greeted by friendly staff and sat down on a large table that held 10.

Chianti Colli Senesi Docg, Toscana 2012 was the wine of choice (an excellent choice might we add) while we made our way through the one page menu (if only everywhere did this!). Some freshly baked focaccia with oilve oil & aged balsamic arrived while we perused the menu and we found that there are quite a few antipasti options. Due to this we went with the mixed platter that had a little of everything. This included: wild boar mortadella, prosciutto di parma, pecorino toscano, sicilian olives and chargrilled artichokes. The two meats were excellent and I think we would lean to the wild boar just for the succulent nature of it, and it’s rarely seen on a menu. The pecorino was fantastically smokey, the artichokes cooked perfectly and the olives were very fresh. So fresh they were quite sharp but ultimately moreish.

Our small plate options were varied and included: arancini – lemon & courgette, bruschetta – pancetta, zucchini, mint & stracchino, polpo – octopus, new potatoes & spring onions, panzanella – heirloom tomato, red onion & bread salad and burrata with chargrilled aubergines & pane carasau. The arancini were cooked perfectly and maybe required a little more seasoning (personal taste), however the flavour combination was on point. The panzanella was a great summer dish. Different coloured tomatoes with red onions and bread all put together on a plate with an amazing dressing. This was light, fresh and finished far too quickly. The stars, however, were the bruschetta (pictured) and the burrata. It’s not often you see a combination of pancetta, zucchini, mint and stracchino (a soft cheese for those who don’t know) with bruschetta. They worked perfectly and if only there was more! The burrata was soft and totally indulgent. Coupled with the chargrilled aubergines and sweet pomegranate and Paesan are onto a clear winner.

Mains for the night were: orecchiette – nduja, pancetta & cime di rapa, hand cut pappardelle – braised rabbit & chanterelle, risotto – prawn & zucchini flower, tortelloni – spinach, ricotta with burnt butter & sage and roast pork belly – lentils, sofritto & salsa verde. Starting with the orecchiette, this was a great dish as we love us some nduja. It may have been on the creamy side but it didn’t stop us from eating the entire bowl clean. The rabbit pappardelle may have been slightly better than the orecchiette. Perfectly cooked rabbit with chanterelle mushrooms was delight on a plate. The prawn & zucchini risotto was the top main dish in our eyes. We don’t often go for risotto but the waitress spoke highly of it and we love us some zucchini flowers. The seasoning was perfect and the dish was balanced just right. Spinach & riccota tortelloni can be a boring affair however when it is coupled with burnt butter and sage, this dish was great. The hand-made tortelloni was very tasty too. On to the pork belly, again cooked perfectly and was teamed with lentils and an amazing salsa verde. Everyone was very happy!

To finish we opted for the tiramisu, some panna cotta and a few espressos. All of the desserts are made in-house and the tiramisu was the clear winner. Light and effortless, this was gone within a minute or so. Teamed with some fantastic coffee, we would happily come here for those two alone. The panna cotta was a tad runny but the flavours were awesome, no complaints at all! Once all was done and paid, we were offered some limoncello on the house. When we were in the cocktail bar we did see the bartender making the limoncello while he wasn’t serving anyone and it was lovely. All palette cleansers should be just like this.

There were next to no complaints with Paesan. Come with a group or come on a date, it caters for both perfectly. The staff are fantastic, the food brilliant and it’s not too hard on the wallet either.

Paesan
2 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4PX

Copita, D’Arblay St, W1F

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Do you know what we love about London? That after making an impromptu decision to go for dinner, you can always find somewhere delicious to go to.

We stumbled upon Copita, a tapas bar, by chance whilst walking through Soho and we are glad we made the decision to go in.

The small but inviting dining room consists of tall benches and stools rather than tables, dim lighting and a bustling atmosphere. We were offered the sought after street-facing window seats, which we happily accepted. After glancing at the drinks menu we opted for a carafe of a Tempranillo (our go to red wine to pair with Spanish food).

Food here is of the small plate tapas style variety, a concept that we very much welcome. Our friendly waiter explained that 4 or 5 dishes is plenty for 2 people, especially if we are hoping to save room for dessert (which we of course were).

No tapas meal is complete without croquettes. Two options on the menu: Mushroom and Ham. We went for both. The fillings in both were hot, gooey and intense. The outer coating was crisp to bite and strong enough to encapsulate the warm interior. Herb loved the mushrooms ones, so much so another had to be ordered.

This was followed by plates of Courgettes with Potato Mayonnaise and Boiled egg, Caramelized Onion, Duck egg and Paprika chips and Deep Fried Cauliflower with Piquillo. We did not know what to expect from any of the dishes and we were certainly pleasantly surprised by all of them! When a place knows what to do with vegetables, they are always stars in our books. Our favourite was the courgette and potato mayonnaise. A first for such a combination but one that worked ever so well. The paprika chips were in fact crisps, which was a slight disappointment as we had half expected some sort of Patatas Bravas variety but it was still tasty nonetheless. The duck yolk held its own and when cracked, did not dribble all over the crisps that it sat on.

Dessert consisted of warm, soft churros with a heavenly dark bitter chocolate dip. Boy were these good! The chocolate comes in a little shot glass which you can tip back once you have finished dipping away.

We loved the service here at Copita too, with all the staff friendly and approachable. Something that definitely adds to the overall recipe of Copita.

Thanks for some truly inventive food, we shall be back to sample more dishes off of their ever changing menu.

Copita
26 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8EL

Dehesa, Ganton Street, W1F

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During the warmer months (how optimistic!) we at London’s Dinest love to dine al fresco, sharing a few dishes over some lovely wine. Last night we were able to do all three at Dehesa in Carnaby Street.

Having visited Dehesa’s Sister restaurant, Salt Yard, we were expecting great things. One key point to mention about all the restaurants in this group (Opera Tavern is another) is that we can actually reserve a table. A rareity these days in London.

Upon arrival we were given a table inside the small restaurant, but after asking if we could sit outside instead, they quickly cleared a table for us with no issues.

The menu is divided into 6 sections. Bar Snack, Charcuterie, Cheese boards, Meats, Fish and Vegetables. We settled on ordering a couple of dishes from each section to get a wide variety of flavours.

To start with we opted for the Guindilla Peppers, Chargrilled Bread with Alioli and a Spanish cheese board. Yes we are aware that normally a cheese board would be towards the end of the meal, but we decided to mix things up!

All three came within moments of each other and we have to say that the cheese board really was excellent. Three Spanish cheeses accompanied by pickles and crisp bread had just the right balance of flavours. The flatbread was warm and fresh and it worked well with the cheese and peppers!

To follow we selected the Black Ink Risotto with Chili Scallops and Smoked Cod Roe, Grilled Chorizo with Fresh Pea Purée and Crispy Red Onions, Grilled Beef Bavette with Cherry Tomato & Green Bean Salad, Sautéed Girolles with Fried Free Range Egg, Grilled Flat bread & Herb Infused Olive Oil and finally the Gnochetti Sardi with Datterini Tomato, Courgette, Grilled Artichoke & Mascarpone.

One thing we love about tapas dining is that dishes come as and when they are ready, giving you enough time in between to enjoy little morsels at a time. First came the Ink Risotto. It was cooked well and the scallops that accompanied it were the right consistency, not too chewy but also not over done and tough! The Girolles with Duck egg and Flatbread was really well cooked and the herb oil had a brilliant aroma about it. The dish would even work well as a breakfast option! The stars of the evening were the Chorizo and the Beef. Both were cooked well and the pea puree with the Chorizo was excellent. It cooled down the spice of the sausage without overpowering us. The beef was really tender, melted in our mouths. We will be back for this dish alone!

Dehesa ticked all the boxes last night. Good food, good wine and above all great for sitting outside on a warmer summer evening!

Dehesa
25 Ganton Street, W1F 9BP

Jackson & Rye, Wardour Street, W1D

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Another weekend and another brunch ticked off the list! On what must have been the hottest weekend of the year so far we decided to start it right, and what better way to do this than by having a delicious brunch!

We decided upon Jackson & Rye and called up to reserve a table. The cheery person at the other end took our booking no questions asked and off we went. We know they’re busy so it was great to get a booking. They do leave a few tables free for walk-ins so you’re welcome to try your luck.

Upon arrival we were quickly greeted by the friendly Maitre’D who showed us to our table. The menus were already waiting for us which helps quite a lot!

When we think of brunch we automatically think of bellinis. J & R have a couple on the menu and we settled for the white peach option. These were really tasty and set off our day on the right track. You can’t go wrong with champagne and fruit!

For food, we started by sharing their Buttermilk pancakes with banana cream & maple syrup and Jalapeno corn bread with sour cream & laced with spring onions. Both were delicious. The pancakes were as they should be – light, fluffy and springy to the touch. The accompanying banana cream was moreish and worked really well. It was the first time any of us had tried it and we have to say its definitely something we are going to look out for on brunch menus again. The corn bread was hot, spicy and melted in your mouth. It was a nice counterpart to the pancakes and again is something you rarely see on menus but always want more of.

These were followed by eggs for everyone. Miss Herbie went for the Gardener’s (Fried eggs, spinach, country style potatoes, grilled toast) but swapped the fried for poached and asked for hollandaise on the side which they happily accommodated.(Always a winner with us for sure!) Other options included the Farmer’s (Fried eggs, slab bacon, fried potatoes, herbed sausage patty, grilled toast) and Angler’s (Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, country style potatoes, grilled toast). Everything was great! Eggs were cooked to perfection, the accompanying potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and a great alternative to hash browns. The sausage patty was a star on the plate. Succulent and rich with flavour and it had us longing for more.

Overall a great brunch with brilliant service. If its for a quick bite or a long boozy get together with friends, this place is definitely worth checking out if you are out and about in Soho.

Jackson & Rye
56 Wardour Street, W1D 4JG

House of Ho, Old Compton Street, W1D

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Vietnamese food is one of our favourites at London’s Dinest but it’s rare that we get a chance to have it. This meant our trip to House of Ho came with added excitement. After having a few drinks after work on a Friday (a staple of any Londoner), we made our way down to Old Compton Street to sample Bobby Chinn’s newest venture. Being a TV celebrity second to being an excellent chef; this is third restaurant and the first outside of Vietnam.

Upon entering, the place has a vibrant feel and it was buzzing inside. This the kind of place we like to eat and while a table was prepared for us we chose some cocktails. The Saigon Sour and the Flying Shiso Martini were chosen along with a couple of the only beer in the place, the Saigon. Both cocktails were potent yet excellent and we loved the Vietnamese twist they’d put on the drinks.

Once we were sat and looking at the menu you can see that House of Ho isn’t strictly Vietnamese but more of a fusion with very heavy Vietnamese influences. Our first choice of dish shows this perfectly: Seafood Ceviche. We decided on picking a variety of dishes rather than going for starters etc and this is welcomed in such a place. Along with the ceviche we had Smokey Chili Glazed Chicken Wings, Squab Breast in a Herbal Medicinal Broth (mainly because we hadn’t sampled squab before), Apple Smoked Pork Belly, Braised Cabbage & Poached Egg (pictured) and Lemongrass Chicken in Caramel Sauce.

The seafood ceviche was fantastic, it wasn’t too dissimilar from what we had at Chotto Matte recently and that’s a good thing! Fresh and tangy and something we could eat over and over. It’s tough to share such a great dish between four people so bear that in mind. The wings were very tasty, not the best wings we’ve ever had but that’s not the point here as there are BBQ places for that! Extremely tender and a chilli kick that works and if only there were more on the plate. The squab was interesting and anyone who doesn’t like game-y flavours should steer clear. It’s a heavy meat that was cooked very well and tasted great with the broth; the flavour pairings are top notch! The pork belly was one of the favourite dishes and was soft with a crispy shell. The cabbage was excellent and the poach egg topped off a great dish. Lemongrass chicken is another dish we hadn’t sampled before and on paper it would seem strange. However the caramel sauce with the chicken that had strong hints of lemongrass was fantastic. Lick your plate clean fantastic!

We didn’t get a chance to try the desserts, much to the disappointment of our waiter however this was due to the excessive consumption of the excellent cocktails. House of Ho is a great place to eat for dinner or something pre-theatre. Prices aren’t excessive and Bobby Chinn is on to a winner here. We’ll be back soon!

House of Ho
57-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HP