Reviews of London's best value, good quality restaurants, articles on featured ingredients, recipes and my thoughts on London's food scene. My aim is to bring a cosmopolitan view of eating out & cooking in London, and as a guide to anyone looking for new ideas in our capital.
Vila Vita Parc is a luxury 5 star hotel in Algarve, Portugal, reputedly one of the top hotels in the country, it is set on a cliff top with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, just a 40 minute drive from Faro airport.
Set over 54 acres of subtropical gardens, with a golf course, numerous swimming pools, a tennis court and spa, and no fewer than 8 restaurants, Vila Vita Parc is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Its top restaurant, Ocean, has 2 Michelin stars.
We were there to sample a couple of days from the biennial Vila Vita Parc's Fine Wines and Food Fair. Now in its 8th year, this year’s event took place over 9 days from 5th to 13th May 2019.
There is a tempting programme of gastronomic experiences, including dinners from Hans Neuner, Head Chef of the 2 Michelin starred Ocean restaurant, as well as an impressive line up of international chefs from Europe and the USA.
There were also wine tastings and masterclasses with some of the Europe’s top winemakers and gourmet food producers.
Our visit took place during the closing days of the event, including the highlight of the festival, the Saturday night Kitchen Party featuring 40 food stations where chefs were paired with gourmet food and wine producers and a live jazz band and a disco at the end – more on that later.
Accommodation at Vila Vita Parc ranges from exclusive Ocean View private villas to Junior Suites, and many gradations in between.
Our room was spacious and beautifully furnished, evoking the blue and white azulejos of traditional Portuguese houses in a completely modern way.
The room had beautiful local pottery and vases, and sliding doors to a private balcony with views of the sea, and also a Nespresso machine for that coffee fix whenever you fancy it.
It is wonderful to visit a hotel with such a strong culture around gastronomy – besides the dishes on offer in the fair itself, we also had excellent food from the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffets, a great lunch at the Mediterranean restaurant, Bela Vita, and dinner at the traditional Portuguese restaurant Aldega.
The breakfast buffet was exceptional, with various stations featuring cut tropical fruit, a mouthwatering range of local cheeses, hams and charcuterie, and some top quality patisserie including a daily change of traditional Portuguese cakes and pastries.
Fine Portuguese cakes and pastries are baked on the premises daily and available at the hotel’s café. Vila Vita Parc’s Pastel de Nata was probably the best I have ever eaten – perfectly textured pastry, filled to the brim with rich and creamy egg custard.
Dinner at the Portuguese Aldega Restaurant was also noteworthy. We had a mouthwatering monkfish stew with prawns and clams in a rich tomato, pepper and paprika sauce, served in a Portuguese cataplana pot.
Equally delicious was the oven-roasted suckling pig - this was meltingly tender and with great crackling, served with crunchy potatoes and a spicy sauce.
At Bela Vita restaurant, we had another great meal, including a sirloin steak with an intense flavour and the creamiest layer of fat, from cattle raised in the Herdade dos Grous region. It came with a rich, buttery truffled potato mash.
We also loved the surf and turf combination of monkfish and mussels stew with white beans and chorizo – heartwarming and delicious.
A simple side of spinach sautéed with pine nuts and raisins might seem an odd thing to mention, but it was so delicious and as I write this, I am making a mental note to cook this combination at home.
Inside Kopke Wine Masterclass
One of the fair’s events was a wine masterclass given by Carlos Alves, the Head Winemaker of Kopke, the oldest Port wine house in Porto. Kopke was established in 1638 by German businessman Nicolau Kopke, although it did not have its own vineyard until the 1780s.
Unusually for a Port tasting, Alves decided to devote the entire event to white Port. Representing just 10% of Port wine production, white Port is popular in Portugal as a simple fresh fortified wine to be drunk either on its own, chilled, or with ice and tonic water. We started with one of these, a Dry White Porto was fresh, dry and with tropical fruit flavours. The sweeter Kopke Lágrima White was golden brown in colour, with rich complex orange peel, honey and vanilla flavours.
We had a selection of Colheita (single vintage year) white Ports including the 2003 and 2008, before moving to the most venerable blended Ports – aged for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years in oak barrels before bottling for selling. Producing Ports of this age is an expensive business, not just because of the need for a lot of storage space (by law, in any year, Port houses have to keep two thirds of their stock and sell only up to a third), but also because up to 5% of the volume is lost each year through evaporation.
This was a real eye-opener of a tasting, experiencing the range and complexity of white Ports available in Portugal, and is something I would love to explore more, as I learnt that these Ports make a great accompaniment to sashimi as well as cheese.
The Kitchen Party
We were thrilled to take part in The Kitchen Party at Vila Vita Parc to celebrate the 2019 Fine Wines and Food Fair. The event kicked off with an open-air Pommery Champagne reception on the hotel grounds, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
This was followed by the party itself, a casual mingling event, where all 18 participating chefs cooked their signature dishes for us to try, plus numerous stands of wine makers and food producers. There was a live jazz band too, free flowing bubbles and fine wines.
Chef Dieter Koschina from 2 Michelin star restaurant Vila Joya made a wonderful dish of layers of tuna tartare and tomato salsa topped with a bright green Jalapeño chilli foam, light as air and delicate, which for me was the finest dish of the event.
Flying the British flag, Nigel Haworth from one Michelin starred Northcote Hotel & Restaurant in Lancashire cooked a fantastic “British taco” - a thin crumpet topped with king crab, trout caviar and various types of seaweed and herbs.
Iran born, Reza Korouji from Berlin, brought his luxurious Imperial Caviar to the event, served with a shot of chilled seafood bisque.
Vila Vita Parc’s own 2 Michelin starred Restaurante Ocean headed by Chef Hans Neuner served another highlight - massive red Mediterranean prawns barbecued and served with a delectable mango salsa.
There were numerous Portuguese wine makers showing their finest fare - noteworthy was Celso de Lemo’s Quinta de Lemos winery from Dão region, that served us the some of the best red wines we tried during the entire festival.
How lucky of me to bump into mixologist Pedro Paulo - Portuguese born, but a Londoner at heart, Pedro is One Aldwych Hotel’s top bar man - his cocktail of London dry gin, St Germain liquor and Champagne, topped with edible gold leaves had everyone queuing up for it!
Cost: The Koinobori menu, available until 11 Mary 2019, costs £52 per person.
About:Sake no Hana is celebrating Japan's Golden Week, with its Koinobori (carp streamers) menu. This reflects the carp-shaped flags flown at the end of Golden Week to celebrate Children's Day. Carp are considered the most spirited fish, so full of energy and power they they can fight their way up streams and waterfalls, which is considered a fitting metaphor for a child's journey through life. The menu will be served only until 11 May 2019, so if you want to try it, do hurry along.
What We Ate: We kicked off with a Sansai Shiriu -a delicate white miso soup with three types of vegetables.
From the Urokozushi, temari and maki sushi menu, chirashi gunkan had salmon, seabass and ikura (salmon roe), crab and avocado, spicy tuna, inari sushi (served in tofu skins), and hamachi. These were delicately made, the rice was well cooked and seasoned, they were excellent.
For main course, there is a choice of one of three options per person, and we were sampled all of them.
The Haru Yasai salmon had been marinated in miso, making it firm, buttery and flavoursome, served with asparagus, wild garlic sauce and yuzu. For my palate, it desperately needed some accompanying rice (which is not on the menu but happily we had ordered a portion).
The kisetsu yasai tempura (seasonal tempura), with the Chef's choice of vegetables, was beautifully done. Light, crisp and without a hint of greasiness, this was deceptively simple and delicious, reflecting the skills of the chef behind these tempting morcels of shiso leaf, pumpkin, broccoli and inoki mushroom, aubergine and asparagus.
The yakitori of corn fed chicken were barbecued skewers, and featured grilled miso-marinated chicken, served with a sticky shishito peppers (the Japanese equivalent of Padron peppers) and yuzu chilli sauce. These succulent pieces of juicy, caramelised chicken thigh were a delight.
For dessert, a selection of classic Wagashi (Japanese confectionary) included dorayaki (a pancake of red bean jam), a raspberry and strawberry mochi topped with a pickled cherry blossom, mitarashi dango (glutinous rice balls glazed with lychee) and matcha roll cake (green tea cake roulade with vanilla Chantilly cream). Each of these was delectable, but the highlight was the berry mochi with topped with a pickled cherry blossom.
What We Drank: The suggested cocktail pairing for this menu is a Koinobori Martini (£15), with Belvedere vodka, sakura tea cordial, lime and dinky "koi carp" made from painted rice paper.
We shared a bottle of an entry-level white wine, a Pinot Blanc, Granit de La Vallee, from Cave de Turkheim, Alsace, France (£38). This was aromatic, and though lacking in complexity, had attractive peachy flavours, fresh acidity and minerality.
Likes: Highlights for me were the sushi selection, the tempura and the desserts.
Dislikes: The menu needs more carbs, steamed rice should be offered with the mains.
Verdict: We love Sake no Hana, and their seasonal Koinobori menu is no exception. Available until 11th May 2019 (although many of the dishes are also on the a la carte menu) we highly recommend it.
Where: Four Seasons Hotel, 10 Trinity Square, London, EC3N 4AJ
Cost: The 2019 Cherry Blossom menu is available for lunch and dinner until the 22nd April (although many of the dishes are also on the permanent a la carte menu). The menu is not set and items are priced individually, and includes a special seasonal Cherry Blossom cocktail at £12.50, starters from £16 to £21, main courses from £14.50 to £34, and desserts at £9.
About: The Four Seasons Hotel at Trinity Square opened in 2017, in the beautifully restored former headquarters of the Port of London. A grade II listed historic building, it has a magnificent view overlooking the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and beyond. We loved the Chinese-Japanese restaurant Mei Ume on our first visit (read the review here), and were keen to return to try their latest Sakura menu.
The restaurant is gorgeously decorated - a large screen at the entrance made with enamel paint on glass depicts the plum blossoms which give the restaurant its name (Mei and Ume being the Chinese and Japanese words for plum blossom respectively). There is a long and glamorous bar, while the main dining room is dominated by two stunning red lacquer frames holding a guilded triptych of Chinese life as focal points. The ceiling is amazingly high, with gorgeously uplit Corinthian columns supporting it. Dimly lit, it is a soothingly chic place to spend a few hours.
What We Ate: From the starters menu, we chose the seared tuna with spinach salad in a sesame-rich Japanese wapo dressing (£18). This was beautifully presented, and tasted fresh and light.
Yellowtail carpaccio with ponzu sauce and micro-coriander was refreshingly citric, with wafer thin slices of fish, lifted by a touch of luxury in the form of black truffle (£19).
Next up were some deliciously meaty king prawns served tempura-style with a creamy spicy mayo (£24).
The Mei Ume dragon roll, topped with gold leaf, was light and well-made, with its combination of unagi (eel), Alaskan crab and avocado (£21). We loved the golden bling.
From the main course menu, we chose slow-braised Dongpo pork belly (£24) with Chinese herbs and broccoli. This classic of Chinese cooking from the Hangzhou region, which we could not resist from the regular menu, had perfectly tender pork belly formed into an elegant pyramid with a glossy reduction of Shaoxing wine, ginger, sugar and soy sauce and an intense aroma of star anise.
The grilled miso Chilean seabass served on a tea grill, was buttery and sweet (£34) though a tad dry.
To accompany, a portion of prawn and scallop fried rice with XO sauce (£16) was one of the highlights of our dinner.
For dessert, from the Cherry Blossom menu we had the snowflake matcha cake with vanilla ice cream (£9) - sadly the matcha cakes were disappointing, with little or no discernible flavour or texture.
Marginally better was the chocolate crunch cake, with a black sesame mousse and Valrhona chocolate sorbet (£9). Similar to an opera cake, this was oddly lacking in sweetness and interest.
What We Drank: There is an extensive range of sakes, and wines by the glass or carafe. For bottles, the entry level white is a Picpoul de Pinet (£38), while the red is a Corbieres (£35).
The special seasonal Cherry Blossom cocktail (£12.50) was a delicious blend of Japanese Roku gin, with its unique blend of six botanicals including yuzu peel, alongside yuzu juice, ginger, cactus, chilli syrup and refreshing Italian Rinomato aperitif, finished with a splash of sparkling sake. This was aromatic and off-dry, with the sweetness balanced by chilli heat and bitterness with a good hit of alcohol. It was fantastic.
With the main courses, we shared a bottle of Tourraine Chenonceux, La Voute 2017, from Domain Joel Delaunay (£50). A Sauvignon Blanc, this was about as different from a New Zealand Sauvignon as it is possible to imagine, with rich, luscious aromas of white flowers, peach and tropical fruit.
With dessert, we had a refreshing glass of sparkling Mio sake (£29 for 300 ml).
Likes: Friendly, helpful service. The fried rice with XO sauce plus the Dongpo pork belly were both lovely, and the wines and cocktails were well chosen and interesting.
Dislikes: Desserts were a real let-down.
Verdict: Mei Ume is a unique restaurant serving both fine-dining Chinese and Japanese cooking under one roof. We love the gorgeous setting within the Four Season Ten Trinity Square, the food and friendly service. Recommended.
Cost: The Year of the Pig Chinese New Year menu is priced at £88 per person.
About: To celebrate the Year of the Pig, Hakkasan Hanway Place is offering a Chinese New Year set banquet, available only until Sunday 24th February.
What We Ate: The menu kicked off with a salad of Peking duck with crispy bean curd and mango - this had perfectly crisp duck skin, candied orange peel, mixed greens, shredded chilli strands and dragon fruit. Fresh, with great acidity, and wonderfully sweet and fatty duck morsels, this was a great start to the meal.
A dim sum duo followed - a bravura display of culinary skill, with seafood jian dui coated in white sesame seeds, and a fab shacha chicken puff - an ingenious, feather-light pastry case which opens up in segments like a savoury chocolate orange, to reveal a core of chicken with a savoury Fujian shacha sauce made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chillies, brill and dried shrimp.
The superior soup with Chilean seabass, goji berries and rings of bamboo pith had a well flavoured broth perfumed with chrysanthemum petals and ginko nut, and dainty cubes of seabass and yam.
Wok-fried lobster with spinach, lily bulb and lotus seeds was fresh, succulent and generous.
The Rhug Estate lamb had tender nuggets of fillet, served with shiitake mushrooms and rice cakes, in a spicy sauce fragrant with ginger, spring onion and chilli peppers.
Crispy suckling pig, with skin as crisp as caramel, was served atop sticky glutinous brown rice with a delectable pomegranate foam.
The side dish of stir-fried pak choi with meaty eryngii (king mushroom) and the rare but revered pioppini (aka the highly prized matsutake mushroom) was nothing short of outstanding.
Dessert was a "wealth pot", signifying favourable financial auguries for the New Year. The pot was of dark chocolate, filled with mandarin granita and a crunchy hazelnut and chocolate ice cream.
The patisserie at Hakkasan is justly renowned, and the Fortune Macaron did not disappoint - with a crisp crust and a light, slightly chewy interior and a floral cream centre, this was an understated gem to bring the meal to a fitting end.
What We Drank: We started with a Liao Liao cocktail - a refreshing blend of Ketel One vodka, with rosella, oloroso sherry, lemon, kumquat and plum bitters.
With our meal, we shared a bottle of Albariño Abadia De San Campio, Terras Gauda, 2017 (£47). From Rias Baixas, this has pineapple and tropical fruit flavours, refreshing citrus acidity and a long finish, expertly recommended by Deputy Head Sommelier, Asturian-born Noelia Calleja.
Likes: Highlights for me were the ingenious shacha chicken puff, the lobster, the Rhug Estate lamb fillet, and the magnificent matsutake and eryngii mushroom dish.
Verdict: If you have not yet celebrated the 2019 Chinese New Year of the Pig, hurry along to Hakkasan Hanway Place for this CNY banquet, which ends on 24th February 2019. For me, its their best CNY menu yet. Very highly recommended!
About: Michelin-starred Yauatcha is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in London, with the first branch in Soho, and this glamorous spot in the City opened in 2015. Building on the Chinese dim sum teahouse concept, Yauatcha City has two bars, two outside terraces and a large main dining area, and on the weekday evening we were there was as usual packed with an after-work crowd.
The Chinese kitchen is led by Chef Tong Chee Hwee, and offers authentic Cantonese dishes with a modern influence, while the drinks menu has a staggering 38 types of tea plus cocktails inspired by Chinese ingredients and a large wine and Champagne list.
I am a regular visitor to Yauatcha City, and was keen to try their Year of the Pig CNY menu, available only until 23rd February 2019.
What We Ate: The Dim Sum course had steamed, fried and baked items, including my all-time favourite buttery venison puffs. Highlights though were the steamed selection, including the spicy scallop, wild mushroom dumplings, and the prawn and chicken siu mai - delicately made, with paper thin skins and bursting with freshness and flavour.
Fried dim sum items included crispy monkfish cheeks with enoki mushroom and salsify (delectably meaty morsels), with a sweet and spicy sauce, and homemade prawn tofu with seaweed and water chestnut.
The main event was a medley of dishes - steamed freshwater prawn with chilli, ginger and garlic was punchy and flavoursome.
Equally delicious was the Peking-style sliced pork belly, served with golden mantou bread.
Best of all was the Szechuan three style mushroom - enoki, shimeji and wood ear fungus with green beans and mouth-numbing Szechuanese peppercorns.
The sticky brown rice with Chinese sausage was a good foil for the main course dishes - substantial and gutsy, the rice tasted as though it had been fried in lard, but the flavour came primarily from the Chinese sausages it had been flavoured with.
For dessert, the Mandarin and matcha Choux with sesame, mandarin compote, orange Chantilly segments and white chocolate discs was light and well presented.
What We Drank: we started with the suggested cocktail for the CNY menu - Nagami Fortune (£13), made with gin, kumquat, raspberry and lime, this was strong, intensely flavoured with the blend of citrus and berry fruits, and very refreshing.
We shared a bottle of Pinot Blanc, Granite de la Vallée, from Cave de Turckheim, Alsace (£37). This was light and delicate, with subtle apricot flavours and refreshing acidity.
Likes: surprisingly for hardcore meat eaters like ourselves, we thoroughly enjoyed the vegetable dish of beans and mushrooms as well as the steamed pescatarian dim sum selection.
Verdict: a magnificent CNY menu at Yauatcha City for the Year of the Pig, but hurry because the menu ends on Saturday 23 February 2019.
Cost: The Autumn Leaves menu is priced at £40 per person, with the option of a cocktail flight at £23 to share between two.
About:Sake no Hana is the leading Japanese restaurant of the Hakkasan group which includes the eponymous Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, as well as the fabulous Yauatcha, where you can find some of the best dim sum and patisserie in London, at any of their two branches in Soho and the City. The London Foodie is a huge fan of the group, and I am always on the lookout for new menus. So I was intrigued to hear Sake no Hana was serving a seasonal menu, namely the Autumn Leaves.
We arrived on a Monday evening at 9pm to find the restaurant packed. I had a great meal here (The Cherry Blossom Menu) not so long ago, you can read the review here. The building is Grade II listed, dating back to the 1960s.
The entrance to the restaurant is odd, with a narrow entrance leading to even narrower up and down escalators. But the restaurant, reached after passing through a sushi counter with a gaggle of chefs, is on the first floor and is spacious, elegant with a zen Japanese decor of cyprus wall and roof panels designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The Autumn Leaves menu is available until the end of November, when the restaurant is adorned with autumn maple leaves, with a menu from Executive Chef Hideki Hiwatashi and a cocktail flight created in partnership with Belvedere vodka and Ruinart Champagne.
What We Ate: The meal started with an exemplary, heart-warming cup of miso soup.
A mixed platter of four starters followed, with an excellent combination of textures and flavours. This included Maguro sashimi (tuna sashimi with black pepper ponzu); crispy truffle rice balls (fried truffle rice with seasonal mushrooms); shiitake tofu (shiitake mushrooms filled with homemade tofu and wasabi sauce) and Autumnal crisps (sweet potato and beetroot crisps with soba noodles).
From four main-course options, we chose the salmon and chicken dishes. Salmon kurumi miso yaki – pan-fried Loch Duart salmon with Kyoto Saikyo miso was delicious, with crisp, aromatic skin, and the combination with walnuts was a revelation.
The tori sumiyaki - char-grilled miso chicken with sesame chilli miso and padron pepper - was tender and succulent.
The other two options on the menu, which we did not get to try, were the Kisetsu tempura moriawase (prawn and seasonal vegetable tempura) and the Tofu Shanshu Sukiyaki (three kinds of tofu with seasonal mushrooms and a soy mirin broth)
Best of all, by far though, was the sushi course that followed the main. The Gunma seared wagyu A5 beef maki, with asparagus, caramelised onion and kizami wasabi, was immensely concentrated, with the kind of complex flavours that I would expect from a slow-cooked oxtail dish.
The spicy chirashi maki was also excellent – this combined tuna and white fish with avocado and cucumber.
I'm a big fan of inari sushi - deep-fried tofu pockets filled with sushi rice. But Sake-no-hana's version, served with pickled mooli, shiso and kanpyo (dried gourd), and a home-made soy sauce, was nothing short of superb.
For dessert, we had the Autumn leaf - hazelnut feuilletine, hazelnut chocolate parfait with chocolate and maple syrup soup, mascarpone mousse and fresh yuzu. This showed off the skill of the pastry chef, and was both rich and light, a difficult combination to bring off.
What We Drank: We shared a bottle of Albarino Marinero, Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas, Spain 2017 (£45). This was a crisp and well-made wine, with fresh citrus acidity and greengage fruit on the finish.
Likes: The sushi and the dessert were the excellent.
Dislikes: I could have done with some rice, vegetables or some other starch or carbs to be served with the mains, I was still a tad hungry after eating this meal.
Verdict: For good quality Japanese cooking, fantastic sushi and French-Japanese patisserie desserts, the £40 for the Autumnal Leaves menu at Sake-no-Hana represents great value for money and quality.
A heady night of feasting in a boudoir-like salon; then that moment you half expect Adam Ant to leap up and stride down the long table to shake up the conventional. Such was the mood when Berry Bros. & Rudd released its latest limited-edition label for its perennially popular Good Ordinary Claret.
It was natural genius to show off its fine and dandy label by artist Kate Boxer, matched up with her son Jackson Boxer’s modern cooking at the flamboyant Brunswick House – the Georgian mansion crammed with antiques and salvage to covet and buy.
This night of hospitality with gusto and intensely rich flavours cast all meekness aside. Befitting a first full-blown feast of Autumn, it was a textured setting of draped swags and the patina of old satin polished wood, with a tumble of flora from the mantlepieces.
The Kate Boxer label is the third limited-edition design by BBR, and follows its commissioned Paul Smith label for its 2013 GOC and the 2014 GOC by design wonder Luke Edward Hall. The depicted dandy and his dog - modelled by Kate’s dog Figgy - is a chap on a mission. He’s firing his pistol to proclaim, ‘Let the feasting begin’.
The wine is a bright and modern Bordeaux red, with notes of deep cherry and bramble. You sense swathes of country mists and goblets filled and re-filled to the brim. It’s a wine to be generous with; an everyday indulgence. When a designer designs, the inspiration usually comes from relishing the product and its aura. As Kate describes her creation, you figure how much she enjoys this kind of feasting on a regular basis; she is very much part of the Boxer lineage of gourmets and chefs.
To reflect the flavours of the claret, Jackson styled a menu of jewelled beets with gutsy charcuterie, followed by succulent slices of rare, full fat roast beef – all plattered up for guests to convivially serve each other. Even the dessert of richest, darkest chocolate and brandy infused prune loved this wine.
And yes, the dandy himself lent his full-size presence to the feast. Kate Boxer’s original dry point etching with carborundum seemed so completely at home in the deep shadows and candlelight.
The new Kate Boxer-labelled Berry Bros. & Rudd Ordinary Claret is available from 25 October 2018. £9.95 for a bottle. And when the 7,000 bottles are gone, they’re gone. www.bbr.com
The dinner: Prosciutto, bresaola, fennel salami, mortadella, olive, cornichon and caperberry Heritage beetroot, goat curd, pistachio dukkah and puntarella Rare roast sirloin of beef with horseradish, Cornish potatoes, roast carrots and pound farm leaves Chocolate pot with boozy prune, cultured cream and almond * * * Champagne Berry Bros. & Rudd Grand Cru by Mailly Negroni cocktails White Burgundy 2017 Berry Bros. & Rudd by Collovray & Terrier Red Bordeaux 2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret by Dourthe
Su-Lin Ong attended as a guest of Berry Bros. & Rudd. Twitter: @sloLondon
Cost: Starters are £4.50-£6.50, mains £11-£15, with sweet pancakes or filled doughnuts at £4-£8.50. Brunch cocktails are £8.50-£11.50.
About: Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes set up Santo Remedio in Shoreditch in 2016, opening their second branch in London Bridge's Tooley Street in 2017, serving up a menu of modern Mexican food.
The menu focuses on dishes from Mexico City, Oaxaca and the Yucatan peninsula.
Santo Remedio uses a blend of imported Mexican ingredients and fresh local produce (for example, their Mexican-style Cotija cheese is made by Gringa Diary in nearby Peckham), to create fresh, vibrant Mexican flavours, and the dishes I have tried before were among the best in London. All the salsas are made on the premises.
From October 2018, they are serving a Mexican Sunday Brunch menu, and I made my way over to give it a try.
What We Ate: A classic guacamole, with smashed avocado, onion, tomato and tortilla chips (£6), with grasshoppers (£1.50) was fresh, vibrant and delicious.
Tetela - was a delectable corn masa parcel filled with black beans served over a glossy mole negro, finished with Cotija cheese and crema (£5.50).
Equally good were the Motuleños - corn tostadas with black beans, topped with 2 free range fried eggs, salsa roja with morita and ancho chillies, Cotija cheese, grilled bacon and plantains (£14). This is a regional dish from the Yucatan peninsula, and was Edson's favourite brekkie while he lived in that part of the country.
But the dish that really made me want to visit Santa Remedio was their Torta Ahogada, which I had tried a couple of weeks earlier at a one-off collaboration they ran with Bubbledogs (reviewed here).
This is a sourdough baguette filled with crispy fried pork belly, dunked (ahogada translates as drowned) in a magnificent salsa roja made from a blend of chillies including morita, which gives a fantastic smokiness, grilled tomatoes and other seasonings, dotted with pink pickled onions (£12.5). The sandwich was punchy, vibrant and so delicious.
For dessert, we had the tres leches pancakes with banana (£7.50), made with three types of 'milk' including dolce de leche, served with a Mexican chocolate de agua (£3.50), a traditional water-based drink with cinnamon and sugar. The pancakes were surprisingly light, flavoured with cinnamon and a side serving of fresh raspberry puree cut through the sweetness of the pancake and syrup.
What We Drank: We had a couple of 180 Tequila Bloody Maria's (£8.50) - made with blue agave tequila, tomato juice, Santo Remedio chilli blend and celery.
Likes: The Torta Ahogada was sublime, the Motuleños were excellent. The food tasted fresh, vibrant and full of flavour.
Verdict: The Mexican dishes I tried at Santo Remedioare some of the best I have had in the UK, and indeed took me back to some of the best restaurants I experienced in Mexico City and Oaxaca. Santo Remedio is my go-to place for Mexican food in London. Highly recommended.
Cost: A 3-course meal at Bubbledogs cost on average £25 per person, not including drinks or service.
About:Bubbledogs have been serving up their celebrated combination of hot dogs and Champagne from their Charlotte Street restaurant since 2012, when husband and wife team Sandia Chang and James Knappett (who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant Kitchen Table at the back of Bubbledogs) founded the restaurant.
To celebrate their 6th birthday, Chang and Knappett teamed up with Mexican food specialists Edson and Natalie Diaz-Fuentes of Santo Remedio in London Bridge.
The special birthday menu had some of the most popular dishes of both restaurants, and an offer of cocktails or flights of Champagne or Mezcal.
What We Ate: From the Bubbledogs menu, we ordered a selection of their classics. The signature Jose beef hot dog (£7.50), with a zingy tomato salsa, sour cream, jalapenos and guacamole was as good as I remembered.
Equally good was the Sloppy Joe hot dog, served with melted cheese and beef chilli (£8), was rich and very well flavoured.
To accompany our hot dogs, we ordered chipotle tots (£4) - potato croquettes and nachos with the works (£7) - beef chilli, guacamole and cheese.
Best of all though was the black bream aguachile 2 pieces (£8). A Mexican-style ceviche, here served as a deconstructed taco - with thin slices of raw black bream, salsa, guacamole, radish, all brought together with a vinegar-based dressing, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
From the Santo Remedio menu, the pork belly torta ahogada (£10), literally translated as a drowned cake or submarine sandwich, came served in a baguette, with a delectable morita salsa. This was for me the star dish of the evening - chunky pieces of fried pork belly filled the baguette, with sliced pickled onions over a spicy smoked jalapeno chilli sauce.
Also outstanding was the braised ox tongue taco (2 pieces, £10), served with with pipian rojo. This classic Mexican sauce is made from various types of chilli, pumpkin, sesame seeds, cinnamon, onions and garlic, among other ingredients. The ox tongue was soft, and combined really well with the accompanying diced raw onion, lime and micro-coriander.
To finish, we had a dessert that resulted from the collaboration between Bubbledogs and Santo Remedio - rice pudding with green tomatillo jam and grated dark chocolate (£5). This was luxuriously creamy, but with a lovely tartness from the green tomatillo jam.
What We Drank: We opted for the Champagne flight, sadly available for one night only. But on the menu there is a range of Champagnes and wines available by the glass or bottle. For example, the Solessence Champagne (see below) is available for £8 per glass or £45 per bottle, while the Collin-Guillaume Rose costs £10.50 by the glass or £60 for the bottle.
We opted for the special birthday Champagne flight (£20). Jean-Marc Seleque, Solessence was a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, and had lemony fruit and a touch of toast.
The Christophe Mignon was made from 100% Pinot Meunier, and had a rich palate of pears, brioche, with good minerality while being bone-dry.
The rose Champagne offering was Collin-Guillaume, made from all three Champagne varietals, this had lovely strawberry notes, and a touch of vanilla.
Likes: The black bream aguachile, the pork belly torta ahogada and the ox tongue taco were the outstanding highlights. I loved both Bubbledogs, and the incredibly well priced, top quality Champagne. The staff are well informed and enthusiastic.
Dislikes: None Verdict: Bubbledogs is celebrating its sixth anniversary, serving up its signature combination of hot dogs and Champagne. They still feel as innovative, fresh and vibrant as on day one. Recommended.
Where: Park Plaza Riverbank, 18 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TJ
Cost: The special Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) menu for Friday 2nd November 2018 is a four course tasting menu with a Mexican theme, and is priced at £45 per person, for a minimum of 2 people.
About: Describing itself as a modern pan-Asian cuisine and Latin bar, Chino Latino London is set on the first floor of the Park Plaza Hotel on the South Bank at Waterloo, with a gorgeous view of the Houses of Parliament across the river.
With live jazz from 8pm, a cocktail bar with a strong Latin theme, this is not your typical Asian restaurant. The menu has a range of Japanese-Nikkei dishes from Peru and Brazil, as well as Chinese, Thai and Malaysian specials.
I have been here a couple of times before, you can read my reviews here and here. This latest trip, however, was to try the one-off Mexican-themed dinner for the Day of the Dead.
What We Ate: The Dia De Los Muertos menu kicks off with Jalapeno Maki Rolls. Topped with a "Mexican hat" made from sliced tomato, green Jalapeno chilli and an orange creamy spicy sauce, the maki was filled with avocado, carrot and truffle aioli, and the rice mixed with quinoa. The chilli was not overpowering, but gave a gentle heat to the maki.
The Lobster Taquitos with aji amarillo, avocado and lime were creamy, crunchy and lightly spicy.
The Ceviche Mixto, with ultra-tender calamari, shrimps, seabass and avocado was creamy and generous, with red onion, radish and cancha corn, but for me lacked acidity and zinginess from much needed chilli and lime. I mentioned this in my last review, it is a pity that their ceviche is rather toned down.
Next came empanadas of red snapper, with mango, Gruyere cheese, and a refreshing tomato and onion salsa. These were very good, especially with the accompanying salsa, although I could not detect the Gruyere.
The bacon-wrapped dates with linguica (Portuguese for sausage) and mustard mayonnaise were one of the highlights of the meal - rich, very soft, with sweet and savoury nicely balanced.
The main course was another highlight - an exceptional Latin BBQ - Churrasco Grande, with beef skewers, chorizo, spicy chicken and sirloin steak. Served on a bed of smoulderingly hot rocks, the meats were nicely chargrilled but tender, the beef medium rare, and the accompanying sauces were well judged.
To accompany the meat, we were served a tamale. This was creamy, intensely flavoured with sweetcorn and artichoke, and topped with a delicious Huancaina sauce, a classic Peruvian sauce made from evaporated milk, fresh white cheese, aji amarillo and powdered cheese crackers.
The dessert was Passionfruit Flavoured Relic - a creamy mousse "skull" set over crumble and edible flowers. This was a beautifully presented dessert - light, and with a refreshing acidity from the passionfruit.
What We Drank: Served as part of the Dia De Los Muertos menu, a "Waking the Dead" shot of Mezcal infused with lime, coriander and chilli was refreshing and left the palate tingling with refreshing citrus, spice and heat - an excellent palate cleanser and teaser for the dishes that followed.
Likes: Highlights for me were the bacon-wrapped dates, the tamales and the churrasco main course. The live music was well judged - not intrusive but definitely adding to the experience.
Dislikes: I could have done with a 2nd tamale to accompany the main course as there were two of us.
Verdict: For one night only (2nd November 2018), the Dia De Los Muertos menu at Chino Latino is a delicious blend of Japanese, Mexican and Peruvian flavours, which at £45 per person is excellent value. Highly recommended.