Mar 21

Restaurant Review: Opera Tavern

This was picked for an evening of chat with a friend from work, the thought being that a mix of shared tapas would be a great thing to have with a glass or two of wine.

Opera Tavern

The first thing to notice on approaching the Opera Tavern were the protesters outside the door. They were objecting the presence of fois gras on the menu, something I failed to notice at all but on later review they serve do serve pork and fois gras burger as part of their bar menu. In this case, we were eating in the main dining room upstairs and not sure it was on our menu.

I failed to notice something else as well, walking in and managing to knock the booking computer off its little shelf. Luckily it survived, enabling us to be easily checked in and led to table.

We started off with a plate of padron peppers and another of mixed charcuterie. The peppers where well grilled with just the right amount of salt; the meat had a good mix of sausages and ham. We were also served with great bread and brilliant peppery olive oil.

I’m not very good at taking photos when dining with someone, so that is the only one from the evening. But we ate more, lots more! We had the confit of pork belly with rosemary and canelloni beans. The pork was very moreish, especially the thin crispy slice of crackling and the beans made a pleasant contrast with the hint of heb coming through. The lamb was good, so were the cod croquettes. My favourite was the grilled prawns, served with garlic, something that is so hard to get just right and these were served just right – nearly as good as the ones I had in Spain a few weeks ago.

We had a great night, with good wine and the food cooked well. It still suffered from one of the downfalls of tapas places, which is how t easily share the dishes when you have to chop all the bits up evening. I always think they should serve single bites of things, making it easier to share.

The prices are good but like all tapas, can add up. But i think if you were popped in downstairs to the bar, for the Spanish tradition of a glass and a small nibble, both the portions and prices work well.

Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mar 06

Zomato and Urbanspoon changes

A few weeks ago, I had an email from one of the community managers for Zomato, who had recently bought Urbanspoon. They were looking to have a quick catch up to talk to me about the take over and discuss what it could mean to me, as a blogger. I wouldn’t call myself a food blogger as I’m don’t have a full time food blog, but I do have my Michelin list ambition this year! I’d been using Urbanspoon as a link to my blogs for the reviews, as if I’m going to write them, let’s at least link to a review site.

On looking at Zomato – a review and restaurant start-up that has come out of India – my initial concern was that they want to keep all the content to themselves and you could not just post a review on your own site and have the review site pull an extract. My other concern was over their T&Cs for content ownership, which were not as clear. Urbanspoons start with

You own all content you submit to the Services, including but not limited to profile information, reviews, images, messages, and any other materials

Which is a lot more friendly than Zomato’s first line

By submitting Your Content you hereby irrevocably grant us a perpetual, world-wide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licensable and transferable license and right to use Your Content

Now, the licence terms are pretty much the same when you read them, it was just the tone was more friendly on Urbanspoon. But Zomato do have a far more community feel and opush to have events and boards around the food community. So, what was their community manager like? Very nice, enthusiastic about here role and very keen to listen to concerns and also suggestions for improvements.

We talked about blog linking and it seems that that will still be allowed in the future combined site (that should be coming along pretty soon). We also talked about some of the things I’d like to see or suggestions I had

  • The ability to look for bookings across a curated list. I have my Michelin list, I’d like to be able to plug that in and then when I have a slot available, the app to show me which of these restaurants have a table on the right day and time. Great for when I’m looking for where to go next.
  • Legend status. Urbanspoon has review ranking lists but often the people on there have only posted a couple and it was quite a while ago, or even they used to be a prolific reviewer but have now stopped. We discussed how you could maintain the listing of that person but not include them in the current list, where you may be looking for reviews from people that are active now. So could you have a ‘legends’ list, recognising past contributions but also allowing more recent reviewers to show on the lists?

A good chat, a good initiative by Zomato, I just wait now for the changes to happen and see what they bring.

Mar 06

Restaurant Review: Antidote

I went for a Saturday lunch at Antidote, a restaurant that has some great reviews but appears to be little known! Tucked away off Newburgh St in Soho, it is supported by the team at Hedone, one of my favourite Chiswick restaurants.

I went with the lunchtime tasting menu, which brought 4 courses plus a couple of in-between snacks. First of all was curd and celery, where you had a salty unami taste balanced with the crispiness of the vegetable and some toasted grains for extra punch. I like the curd, but was disappointed with the celery. I’d read that this was often served with cucumber which would have been a better contrast I think, for me the celery taste just did not go.

Antidote

Pan fired mackerel, fennel and monks beard. The monks beard added nothing to the dish for me but the fennel, finely sliced, served cold with a lemon dressing was a gorgeous contrast to the extremely well cooked mackerel. The fish was the right texture and somehow the skin was extra crispy and added a crunch. The 3 elements, the fish flesh, the crispy skin and the sharper fennel flavour worked wonderfully.

Antidote

Next was cod, artichoke, cavelli nero and smoked anchovy. Another wonder fish dish and this time all the ingredients worked well together. The greens surprised me – they’d been dried baked and served crispy (there’s definitely a crispy theme running through this meal). The anchovy added a subtle salty flavour to the sauce; the artichoke bought a little more solidness that was a good contrast.

Antidote

The meat course was Scottish Venison, salt baked turnip and mead. It was served with a green sauce that the waitress did not know what was in it (and never got back to me about it) but it reminded me of a nettle sauce I’ve had before. It brought a freshness to the dish to complement the venison and rosemary dressing. The turnip spagetti was amaxing. tasted like they’d been baked in butter, a guilty way to eat them, but the presentation worked well.

Antidote

A quick surprise course next, almond ice-cream and a yoghurt foam, with a strong lemon kick worked well as a palette cleanser.

Antidote

Finally, 3 way chocolate – solid slices, chocolate sauce, a ganache, marscapone ice-cream, peanut butter sponge (not enough peanut taste) and coffee meringue slices which were, surprisingly given that amount of chocolate, the best part of the dish.

Antidote

Really enjoyed the lunch and recommend popping along.

Antidote Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Feb 15

Restaurant Review: Hakkasan Mayfair

A last minute decision to see what was available led me to an early dinner at Hakkasan Mayfair on Friday night. I’ve previously eaten at the Hanway Place venue a few years ago, had a great time with friends with brilliant food and so was looking forward to this. I hadn’t quite realised just how many versions there are of this ‘modern Cantonese’ chain, there are 12 other restaurants around the world but it appears only the 2 London ones have Michelin stars. As an aside, I’d love to be able to add a list onto Opentable so that i could just search to see what had space at the time I was after, would make the booking so much easier!

The early time meant I could take advantage of the ‘Taste of Hakkasan’ menu, which is served at lunch and 6-7 at evenings. At £35 it’s pretty good value for 3 courses, whereas the going fully al a carte could soon add up – for example going for Peking duck with Hakkasan special reserve ‘Qiandao’ caviar will cost you £215! It does like that’s shareable for 2, so who’s up for that? 🙂

Mixed dimsum

The set menu started with dim sum – a choice of vegetarian or not. A spicy salad – the spice was in the dressing – provided the first chop stick challenge (you need to ask for other cutlery if you want it, it’s not offered). Picking up microgreens takes focus and concentration and if you’re not careful, they go everywhere! A variety of steamed dimsum next (I looked up the names…). The green crab and chive dumpling, a prawn har gau and a scallop and prawn shumai. This chopstick challenge was about the large size, picking up the whole and eating without dropping. the final element was a venison puff, my favourite, rich, gooey venison in puff pastry type coating. Gorgeous. overall a good starter.

Peking style duck with chilli, leek, onion

I chose the stir-fry Peking style duck with dried chilli, baby leeks and onions. All the mains came with pak choi and Jasmine rice. Of course, i’m wondering what the difference is between Peking duck and Peking style duck. I’m also still wondering if I should have eaten the strange next of dried noodles this dish was served on. I left them, although some of the sauce-soaked ones made their way into eating bowl. A very nice dish, with a good balance of sauce, meat and alliums. The rice was just about the right serving size, not leaving me with the guilt of having to leave some as I’ve had in some places, where you just get a huge bowl.

Tarte tatin

The final dish was Apple Tarte tatin, with blackberry, almond crumble and vanilla icecream. A huge pile of rich apple on a sliver of puff pastry was gorgeous. Loved it. Was my favourite part of the meal, along with the venison puff.

And that last sentiment is an indication of what I felt about this meal and the risk of going for set, fixed price menus (that aren’t the tasting menus). You may not get their best, most innovative cooking. As I said, I’ve been to the Hanway Place version and loved it, the dishes we had were excellent. There was nothing at all wrong with any of the dishes I was served today, the ingredients appeared to be class, the taste was excellent but it didn’t give me anything different. That’s why I’m wanting to work my way through the Michelin starred restaurants, to get great food that leaves me surprised and delighted. This I felt I could have got in any good regular Chinese restaurant. My expectations were too high I think.

I would recommend the place but I suggest you go for the more al a carte dishes instead of the regular set menu. I’m going to visit Hanway Place again and will be doing that, trying one of the tasting menus. Also, although the place was full of couples, it’s definitely not an intimate date place, the lighting is dark and the music was loud. The service too was fairly efficient, with all staff doing their job quickly, with no chat at all, unlike at last week’s Texture.

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Feb 08

Restaurant Review: Texture

I’m not sure I’m very good foodblogger. I feel I should have a little notebook and quizzing the waiter about exactly what is on the plate and making detailed tasting notes, instead, I often have to read other reviews to work out exactly what all the bits are. I always know the main part, but all the subtleties I can miss. My description range can be lacking too, I tend to grade food as don’t like, OK, like. And I very rarely find things I don’t like and will always finish a dish! The other thing I notice on reading reviews is that I seem to have missed the agreed style, which is saying something about the chef, the restaurant, the decor and scoring things. Unlikely to do that though, you’ll get photos and impressions.

On that bombshell, onto my latest restaurant – Texture. I had time between 2 appointments on Saturday for lunch and decided to see if one of the one’s on my list was a) in the right area and b) had room! So sorry Robert, you’re not early on my exploration through London Michelin restaurants because I have gone through and graded them all in advance, but because you were the right one at the right time! Robert was the very nice gentleman who greeted me and was curious as to why, this English, London woman, was dining alone on a Saturday lunchtime. I didn’t quite match the other dining parties which appeared to be a mixture of women friends out for a great gossipy lunch or tourists? It’s all to do with working my way through my list 🙂

Texture

The dining experience was excellent. Starting with the basket of thins – breads and fish skin and other stuff, served with a lovely yoghurty creamy dip. Then bread proper, which I found out was from Hedone, my other favourite Chiswick restaurant. (the room looks quiet, that’s because it was just past noon. By the time I’d finished, it was full)

Texture - Celery, hazelnuts

First up, a little soup, cream of celery with hazelnuts. not too much, just enough to wet the appetite. The picture has nothing to scale it.. but it was tiny teacup size. The nuts were an interesting addition, adding to the eating experience

Texture - winter vegetables, celeriac, parsnip

The Winter vegetables.. I was surprised that the vegetables were cold but that definitely brought out the flavours. I think there was celeriac and parsnip and one other (see told you I needed to take more notes), combined with a very interesting broth that felt both creamy and fresh at the same time. Could definitely eat a lot more of this!

Texture - salmon, cucumber snow, pickled cucumber and apple

Salmon, cucumber snow, pickled cucumber and apple, creamy sauce, a bit of salmon eggs. Not sure the salmon eggs added much to this dish, but was a tasty bite. The salmon was just on the edge of cooked, which I loved, the edges more solid, the middle softer and just warm. Cucumber and apple complementing with the sharper flavours. And cucumber snow. Lovely! it may be on trend, but I’d love to know how to make it, how it concentrates the essence of cucumber. I could eat a whole bowl of this 🙂 A touch of dill added flavour, as it did in the previous dish. At this point in the meal I did wonder if it would a consistent theme.

Texture - cod, barley, grapefruit, capers

Cod, prawn on a bed of barley, grapefruit and capers. I loved the cod. Unlike the salmon, this was cooked fully throughout with one side really crispy, which provided the texture contrast. Whilst I loved the base, in hindsight, I think it was just about one large spoonful too much (yes, I always eat everything). The capers and grapefruit added punch, but the barley is always more about texture than taste and I could done with a little less I think. The care taken with cooking the two bits of fish in these two courses was obvious, getting two different results and mouth feel.

Texture - Anjou pigeon, corn,bacon popcorn

I am slightly confused with this dish. It appears to be listed as Anjou quail in online menus and reviews but I’m sure my menu said pigeon. And it looked and tasted like pigeon! So maybe they had a change and swapped pigeon for quail at this time of year – there are definitely recipes for Anjou pigeon around too. Having seen some of the pictures, I was quite happy that they were serving it without the claw attached to the legs! So breast of pigeon and legs that were formed into sausage type things on a stick. Plus corn 3 ways – cream, sweetcorn kernels and bacon popcorn! I nearly had to embarrass myself when eating this dish as with my little finger in pain, it was a little difficult cutting the meat and I thought I’d have to ask for help! but I managed it in the end. The neat was very tender – cooked sous vide? – but i think the skin could have been a little more crispy adding that flavour too. The dish was finished off with a shallot and red wine sauce.

Texture - skyr and orange granita

Texture -  dessert

A quick palette cleanser of blood orange ice and sabayon. Then the main dessert (and my notes failed me). There’s shaved fennel, a crumble mix, an icecream, some fruit. Yes, forgot what was in it. So OK, tasted great but not memorable for me. Except for the fennel, that was unusual and balanced everything out well.

Texture - sweets

Finally, sweeties! I love little sweeties like this. I’m not sure, but it tasted like the puff in the middle was flavoured with menthol? Or would that be pine with the northern influence? I’ve read somewhere it was mint.

Lovely dining experience overall, some great mini-chats with the team. A couple of the dishes were not quite for me, but I could still recognise the excellence in putting them together. So recommended! I went for the Lunchtime tasting menu, but the smaller lunch set menu appeared very popular and great value too.

Texture on Urbanspoon

Feb 08

Restaurant Review: La Trompette

La Trompette is one of my regulars; I booked last minute for a Saturday lunch, which is a great bargain at £29.50 for 3 courses, (£24.50 for 2).

La Trompette - Artichoke soup with chestnut

The meal started off with a couple of little extras. First of all were little pastry puffs filled with gruyere cheese. I never tend to go for these types of nibbles if given a choice – although I’ll always go for cheese – so never really sure what would be good or not with them. But they were OK, light with just enough of cheese hit for me. Second was Artichoke Soup with chestnut which I loved. It had deep rich creamy taste with the chestnut providing the right level of nuttiness. There was a choice of bread and I chose the warm walnut and raisin, sweet and nutty and lovely.

La Trompette - Mackerel, squid, pickled cucumber

My first course proper was Mackerel, squid, pickled cucumber, which greens. The cucumber cut through the oiliness of rthe fish perfectly, and the grilled squid had just the right amount of char to add the grilled flavour. It was served with bonito cream, which i think was flakes of fish emulsified with rapeseed oil. A pleasant surprise instead of a more normal sauce.

La Trompette - pork belly, parsnips and chestnut spaetzle

My main was the Pork Belly, pasnips and chestnut spaetzle. More chestnuts but treated differently here to form the carb base for the pork belly piece. Nothing wrong at all with this and I left the perfectly cooked crackling until the very end to enjoy.

I’ve never had a bad meal at La Trompette and the service has always been excellent. Combine he great food with the reasonable prices (for this standard of cooking), then will always recommend it if you’re out Chiswick way.

La Trompette on Urbanspoon

Oct 24

Restaurant Review: Great Queen Street

Restaurant: Great Queen St, 32 Great Queen St, Holborn

I decided to pop into here one wet Monday evening on the way back from work. I thought it’d be quiet. I was wrong! They managed to squeeze me into a small table, right by the bar and I watched as the rest of the restaurant quickly filled up. It may not be that buys every Monday, as there was a large party taking up half the restaurant, but I did get the feeling that it is never quiet. It’s not quite a gastropub, more like a restaurant with a very large bar.

Partridge at Great Queen St

I just decided to have the one course, partridge, with new season cannelloni beans and a bit of water cress garnish. I’d paired this with the side dish of ‘greens’, although I was disappointed that this was white cabbage. Very nicely done white cabbage, but I was in the mood for something a bit more dark green to go with the richness of the bird. Maybe some chard.

There was a small wait for the partridge, which they had warned me about. The bird had to be roasted! The main dish was tasty, cooked well, lying on top of the beans and tomato sauce. It was also a fun dish to eat – the finger bowl provided giving permission to pick up the bits to get the last remnants of the meat off the bones.

The menu appears to change regularly, with a definite season vibe to it. The wine list is all Old World, mainly French, although quite small – or should that be select and exclusive? What that means is that the wines by the glass/carafe are also limited in choice, but I did enjoy the Poivre d’Ane Syrah/Grenache blend.

Overall, a lovely place to have a meal and I get the feeling it would be easy to spend a fun evening with friends here.

Great Queen Street on Urbanspoon