Cafe Monico, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D

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It has been a while since we have posted anything, but we promise to come back with more delicious places that we have discovered.

Recently we decided to try the newest offering from Soho House Group, Cafe Monico. We were very surprised at how easy it was to get a reservation. Saying that, we did go on a Wednesday for a late lunch, so perhaps it might have been a busier service earlier in the day.

The restaurant is situated on Shaftesbury Ave, close to Theatreland making it a viable choice for a pre-theatre meal. We arrived with a few minutes to spare but the friendly hostess was able to seat us straight away. The restaurant is set over two floors, with the lower for more casual dining. We opted to sit upstairs by the window so we had a view of the street and also a view of the whole restaurant.

Service is swift, friendly and staff are on hand to give their recommendations. We started with the Burrata and Tomato salad, followed by Ricotta Ravioli and ending with one of their ‘coupes’ (A sundae). The burrata was delicious; so fresh and ever so light. The only negative we had was that the pesto was slightly salty. The Ricotta Ravioli was also beautiful with the pasta itself not too heavy and the filling perfectly seasoned. We weren’t sure if the cherry tomatoes were a great match though as we’d hoped for one stand out flavour, however none came through. Individual components were great, but as a complete dish, it could do with some fine tuning. 

The coupe was the highlight. We opted for the coffee and chocolate one (the only chocolate-related dessert on the menu we might add). Small brownie pieces with coffee ice-cream, chocolate ice-cream and Chantilly cream. Heaven. We loved every mouthful.

Overall a great new addition to theatre-land and with their various menu offerings (including breakfast and brunch), we think it will do very well indeed. 

Cafe Monico

39-45 Shaftesbury Ave, London, W1D 6LA

Som Saa, Commercial Street, E1


Certain restaurants in town create ripples within a small area and it gets people talking. However there are, now and again, very special restaurants that make waves – Som Saa is the latter.

After a successful pop-up at one of the Climpsons Arches in Hackney which had the food bloggers in town going crazy for their food, it was time for Som Saa to have a permanent address.

Commercial Street is the next road to be ‘gentrified’ with good food. After the successful launches of Hotbox and Gunpowder, Som Saa was next and it can stand toe-to-toe with any restaurant if it continues to produce food this good. We arrived as a walk in on a Friday night, shock horror we know! However we were met by the friendly front of house who let us know it would be about a 30 minute wait. Now having had a look at the bar area, that’s not a long time to wait! This is because the bar space is large and there are a lot of drinks on offer. We opted for the oddly sized Camden Tank Beer and were pleasantly surprised. We were seated in about 25 minutes and proceeded to order most of the menu. Given the nature of it, it’s best to just list what we ate and provide some highlights after.

From the Grill:

  • Gai Yaang – thai style grilled chicken leg with tamarind dipping sauce
  • Mu Yaang – grilled pork neck with a ‘nahm jim’ dressing

Wok:

  • Pad Dtok Guichai – stir fried chicken with chrysanthemum leaves, flowering garlic chives and yellow beans
  • Pad Pak (v) – stir fried english and asian vegetables
  • Pad Prik King – dry red curry of crispy pork with kaffir lime leaf and snake beans
  • Nahm Dtok Pla Thort – whole deep fried seabass with roasted rice and isaan herbs

Curry:

  • Gaeng Hung Lay – burmese style curry of pork belly and shoulder with pickled garlic and fresh ginger
  • Gaeng Baa Pla – jungle curry with daily fish, thai aubergines, holy basil and wild ginger
  • Gaeng Panang Neua Kem – ‘panang’ curry of braised salted beef cheeks and thai basil

And a lot of sticky/jasmine rice (yes we had both).

Everything we ate here was top notch especially given that we’ve just come back from Thailand. The food is street food style, just like you get over there and things come out as and when so don’t expect posh Thai green curry in fancy crockery. This is the kind of food to get your hands dirty and we loved the pork neck (Grill), all three curries (each fantastic in their own way) and the whole deep fried seabass. This may have been the most instagrammed dish of 2015 and we’re including that Kinako French Toast from Shackfuyu. The fish is fantastic, the dish fragrant and everything melt in the mouth. Come just for this dish alone!

Great restaurant space, very good staff, reasonably priced and some of the best food in town. Why haven’t you gone there already?

Som Saa

43a Commercial Street, E1 6BD

Gunpowder, Whites Row, E1

  
 
New restaurants open daily however when the rumours started about Gunpowder; it piqued our interest. Reason being, this restaurant hasn’t been opened by a chef who’s been around the block, or by a chef turned restauranteur. This restaurant was opened by a young and ambitious person and is proof that anyone can do it if you get the menu right. Gunpowder is owned by Harneet Baweja (also a pleasure to meet) who is a restauranteur from Kolkata and that echoes in the food served here. Speaking of the food, it is being cooked by Nirmal Save who is an ex-Tamarind chef. Anyone who’s been to Tamarind has the knowledge that Harneet has made an excellent choice.

We’ll start off with the slight low point and that would be the reservation system. We can put this down to the restaurant being fairly new however at one point, an hour after putting our name down for a table, we were told (at 10pm) that we’d have to eat elsewhere. After having a discussion with the staff, this was swiftly rectified and we were sitting in no time, ordering most of the menu!

Now to the high point and that’s nearly everything that we ate. The first thing to arrive was the Rasam Ke Bomb and think of this like golgappa or pani puri. Essentially it’s a crisp hollow pastry ball filled with spiced potato and sits atop a shot glass full of fragrantly spiced water. Eat this however you like but it’s a great start. Next up was the Chutney Cheese Sandwich and we’re yet to find anyone who doesn’t like a cheese toastie. Add the indian flavour of a chutney and you have yourself a winner. Up next were the Nagaland House Crispy Pork Ribs with Tamarind Kachumber and these were succulent plus lip-smackingly good. If the ribs were good then you’ll be taken aback by the lamb chops. These are aptly named Maa’s Kashmiri Lamb Chops and you’ll be sad you didn’t order two each; take that as some first-hand advice. Perfectly cooked, spiced to perfection and could easily take the crown from Gymkhana as the best chops in town. If we were to use price as a factor then the chops at Gunpowder certainly are at number 1. Following these came the Chettinad Pulled Duck served with Homemade Oothappam. An oothappam is made from the same batter as a dosa and is like a savoury pancake. This ‘pancake’ is filled with the pulled duck and had a zingy salad on the side. A lovely little dish but down in the pecking order after those chops. To accompany these dishes we ordered the Saag with Tandoori Paneer and the Aromatic Rice in Banana Leaf. The Saag (spinach curry) with Tandoori Paneer was excellent and some of the best we’ve had. Coupled with the Aromatic Rice and our main dishes were rounded off perfectly.

Dessert involved ordering all of them and they were each great in their own way. Old Monk Rum Pudding was the alcohol filled bread and butter pudding you’ve always wanted. The Molten Spice Chocolate Cake with Masala Chai Custard was a joy. Chocolate cake and custard is an asset on any menu but couple it with a spicy undertone and you’ll be very happy. Finally the Passion Fruit and Mint Granita was the palette cleanser we needed. Fresh and tangy yet sweet, the perfect end to a great meal.

Gunpowder has got a lot of things right and if you’re after Indian food but don’t want the bloated feeling afterwards, this place is hard to beat. It reminds us of a an Indian tapas restaurant (Kricket in Brick Lane is another new kid on the block eschewing the same theme) and we love tapas and we love Indian food. The service is excellent, the food is fantastic, the service is great and we weren’t hit by an unreasonably large bill. Dishoom should be looking over its shoulder worryingly.

Gunpowder
11 White’s Row, London E1 7NF

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