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Readers of this site will know that I will travel the earth for good food, but few places have been as exciting as the National Theatre stage!

Network is a play based on the iconic, four-time Oscar-winning Paddy Chayefsky film, adapted for the stage for the first time by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and directed by Ivo Van Hove. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) lead the cast.

The play follows the ups and downs of Beale (played by Cranston), who announces that he will kill himself during a live broadcast because his show is getting poor ratings. He instantly becomes a folk hero and leads the nation’s viewers in a rallying cry: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this any more.”

The stage for Network recreates a TV studio, with a kitchen, restaurant and diners as an integral part of the set. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the precious seats at the Network restaurant, set on the stage of the Lyttleton, and so surreally found myself sitting with a couple of dozen other diners with Cranston facing the bright lights on the stage.  The play was a scream, but I won’t give any plot-spoilers for those who might be going to see it.

Sadly Network the play is now sold out, but you can still get tickets through Day Seats and Friday Rush

Better still, the menu served on stage is available at the National Theatre’s House restaurant until the end of the run on 24 March 2018. Crafted in a unique first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Network creative team and the NT’s in-house catering department, the meal aims to transport the diner to the 1970s and serves a contemporary take on classic dishes from the era.  This post-show menu includes five courses including a cocktail and a glass of wine, at a cost of £38 per person.

The dinner started with a glass of Nyetimber sparkling wine or a “Mad as Hell” cocktail, and we opted for the sparkly, which was elegance in a glass. 

The starter was a simple but flavourful combination of butternut squash purée with crispy shallots and kale. 

Next was a very 70s-looking glass of Portland crab cocktail – old fashioned in appearance but with freshest dressed crab, shredded lettue and marie rose sauce. The vegetarian alternative was a taleggio, cavolo nero and salsify tart. 

The main course was a delectable short rib and ox cheek bourguignon, with tender meat falling off the bone in a richly concentrated jus. For vegetarians, the main was grilled vegetables with romesco sauce and fried polenta. 

After a refreshing gin and tonic sorbet, the dessert course offered a choice of that 70s classic black forest gateau or a cheese platter.  We chose the cheese, including Westcomb cheddar, Cropwell Bishop and beetroot chutney. 

The £38 menu includes a glass of either Galassia Garganega – Pinot Grigio or a Rocco Sangiovese, both from Italy. 

I enjoyed the play and the dinner at Network Studios at the National Theatre.  Not long ago I also got to see the revival of Amadeus at the Olivier Theatre, which was superb.  The National Theatre is certainly coming more onto my radar these days, and I will be looking out for more plays and dining experiences at this iconic London landmark. You can see more about what is upcoming here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/whats-on
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Name: Yauatcha City

Where: 1 Broadgate Circus, London EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: The special CNY menu is served a la carte, and includes special dim sum at £8-9, mains priced at £17-30, and desserts at £2-9. 

About: Michelin-starred Yauatcha is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in town, 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. The restaurant also has an Executive Pastry Chef (Graham Hornigold), who is responsible for the sumptuous array of macarons, petits gateaux and chocolates you will pass at the entrance to the dining room. 

I am a regular visitor to Yauatcha City, and was keen to try their Year of the Dog CNY menu, available only until 4 March 2018. 

What We Ate: The CNY menu is à la carte, with a choice of two dim sum, five main courses, one special CNY dessert or macarons.  They all looked incredibly tempted, so we opted to try the whole menu. 

The Chilean seabass rolls (£9) came with wood ear fungus and Chinese green vegetable, all wrapped up in rice pastry and delicately tied with a single Chinese chive. The combination of ingredients was well judged, and the fish was rich and creamy.

The serving of three salted egg yolk custard sesame balls (£8) was graceful, on a fine disc of raw carrot over a jade serving bowl in the shape of a lotus leaf. It was as much a feast for the palate as for the eyes, and the molten salted custard was transcendent.

From the CNY main course menu, first came the Golden fortune prawn in lime sauce (£17). Five huge, fresh and surprisingly tender prawns were served with salted egg yolk, crispy fried lotus root and a topping of tobiko eggs. I really enjoyed this, although the prawns were a tad sweet for my palate.

The steamed scallops (£30) were big, juicy, unctuous and richly flavoured, served in black bean sauce with glass noodles. They worked out at £5 a piece, which I thought was a touch on the high side. 

The braised pork shank with lotus seed, water chestnut, star anise and shiitake mushroom (£23) came in a clay pot, served with goji berries, water chestnuts and a sauce rich in star anise and five spice. The transformation of this humble cut of pork into a rich and unctuous delicacy reminded me of Pierre Koffman's fabled pigs trotter and morels.

Stir-fried duck breast with hazelnut in mala sauce (£21) came with shimeji mushrooms, sugar snaps, red peppers. The duck was again surprisingly soft, indeed almost spongy in texture. The mala sauce, a mouth-numbing spicy condiment made from Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cardamom, salt and sugar mixed with vegetable and sesame oil was a heady blend, and tasted like it had a generous slug of belachan. I thoroughly enjoyed it with the duck.

The seafood braised rice in lotus leaf (£22) had a generous serving of fresh prawns and a lovely “wok breath”, but was for me the weakest link in an otherwise solid CNY menu.

From the regular menu, we ordered a dish of spicy aubergine with sato bean, okra and French beans with peanut (£13). This is one of my favourite dishes at Yauatcha, and I order it every time I return. In my experience, it never disappoints. 

Returning to the CNY menu for dessert, the special Haoyun lantern (£9) combined soy caramel mousse with mandarin confit, topped with gold leaf, served over a sesame sable base. Served with sesame brittle and a mandarin sorbet, this was a complex and thought-provoking dessert, beautifully presented.

The selection of macarons including kumquat cashew and raspberry Szechuan pepper, priced at £2 each, were as soft and delicious as I could wish for.  

What We Drank: We started with cocktails, priced at £12.50.  The Hakka combines Belvedere vodka with Akashi-tai sake, lychee, lime, coconut and passion fruit, and was headily aromatic, strong and delicious.  The Kumquatcha had Germana cachaca, Campari, mandarin, lime and Prosecco, and I really enjoyed the astringency and complex fruit flavours of this long, refreshing drink.

With our main courses, we shared a bottle of Hatzidakis PDO, from the volcanic soil of Santorini 2016 (£44). The winery was founded in 1997 by pioneering Greek vintner Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly died in 2017 at the age of only 50. The first maker in Santorini to use indigenous yeasts, he also promoted indigenous grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Aidani and Mavrotragano.  This wine was made from 100% Assyrtiko, and was a wonderfully crisp yet powerful, with peach and apricot flavours and flinty minerality, making it a fitting swansong for poor Mr Hatzidakis.  

Likes: For me, the outstanding dishes were the Chilean seabass rolls, the wonderful braised pork shank and the “Haoyun lantern” dessert. The cocktails and wine list include some of the most interesting drinks to be found anywhere in town, and there is an outstanding selection of top quality teas. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For high quality Cantonese cooking, beautifully presented in a glamorous setting, there are few places to rival Yauatcha City. Their CNY menu is always worth looking out for, and the 2018 Year of the Dog menu is available only until 4 March 2018 so there is no time to waste!

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Where: 8 Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HD

Cost: The Chinese New Year (CNY) menu costs £88 per person. The suggested Happy Daisy cocktail is £13.50. 

About: 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, and Michelin-starred Hakkasan is offering a special CNYs menu for a lucky £88 per head at its flagship and Mayfair branches. This special celebration meal is available for a limited period, between 29 January and 4 March, and as in previous years I was keen to give it a try. 

Hakksan Hanway Place is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in London to hold a Michelin star, and it always seems to be heaving, as indeed it was on the Saturday lunchtime when I sampled the CNY menu. In my experience it offers good customer service and almost flawless cooking, so it is perhaps no surprise that it is perennially popular.  

What We Ate: The 2018 CNY menu starts with a selection of small eats. The Szechuan oyster with lotus root with crispy rice in mantau bread had a magnificent flavour of the sea, complimented by a scattering of pine nuts and Chinese chives.

Wonderfully tender braised beef tongue rolls came next with crunchy caramelized walnuts, served on a bed of fine baby asparagus, with mustard and mint.

The final “small eat” was scallops, served with sweet plum sauce and mango in a "golden cup" of crisp rice pastry, on a bed of green pea shoots, goji berries and Chinese chives. The pastry shell gave a lovely crunch to the dish, contrasting with the unctuous scallops.

The main courses followed, served simultaneously. Wok-fried native lobster came gorgeously presented in light stock with edamame beans, red and black caviar and edible flowers. This was a sumptuous dish, as good to eat as it looked, and the lobster pieces were succulent, ultra fresh and tender.

For me, the weakest link in the meal was the Rhug estate organic lamb in seaweed soy with celery and enoki mushroom. The lamb was medium rare, tender and delicious, but it did not in my opinion live up to the quality of the other dishes in this part of the meal.

Best of all though was the baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze. I have prepared and eaten a great deal of Chilean sea bass in my time. But Hakkasan’s version was sensational, with magnificently tender, creamy flesh in a well-judged, zingy kumquat reduction.

To accompany the main course, there was a generous serving of abalone fried rice in a fine bean curd wrap with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and choi sum. I enjoyed the unusual presentation of the rice, concealed within a fine layer of tofu, and the rice was richly flavoured and more than a match for the meat, fish and seafood main courses.

Dessert was described as ‘Golden Fortune”. Hakkasan is famous for its desserts, and this more than lived up to the billing. Made with ginger caramel, roasted macadamia and wafer-thin chocolate, this was exquisite patisserie, a feast for the eyes and palate, skilfully partnered with an intensely flavoured lemongrass ice cream.

What We Drank: We started with the Happy Daisy cocktail (£13.50), which is suggested to kick off the CNY menu. With Tanqueray No.10 gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon, spiced mandarin jam, egg white and soda water, with a lemon thyme garnish. This had a good depth of flavour and bittersweet herbal astringency.

There is an extensive list of 'dry' alcohol-free drinks, including cold brewed teas, sparkling juices like quince and apple, or an alcohol-free Australian Shiraz. 

We opted to take a pot of high-mountain Taiwanese tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed (£8 per person). 

Likes: The lobster, Chilean seabass and ‘Golden Fortune’ dessert were, for me, the highlights of an excellent CNY meal.  

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: Hakkasan is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in London. If you are looking for a great food, cocktails, service and atmosphere to see in the CNY, then I cannot think of a venue I would recommend more highly. But hurry as this celebration meal is only available until 4 March 2018!
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With over 7000 tropical islands, there is just so much to discover about the Philippines. The archipelago and its people are brimming with variety and character, and the food scene has been making huge strides in recent times. So how lucky was I to visit it twice in the last 12 months, with the last of these trips coinciding with the annual gastronomic conference - Madrid Fusion Manila.

Lechon (roast sukling pig) for breakfast, no better way to start the day!

Madrid Fusion is a well-established food symposium held every year in Spain’s capital aiming to highlight new developments in gastronomy, with chefs old and new demonstrating their culinary know-how.

The grand opening for Madrid Fusion Manila gastronomic conference

An offshoot of this and now in its third year, the Madrid Fusion Manila takes place in the Filipino capital every April. The conference is an important date in the gastronomic calendar of the country and has helped to drive innovation and quality improvement in the food of the Philippines.

Madrid Fusion Manila 2017

Manila is an exciting place to be these days if you are a chef or foodie, with so much happening on the culinary scene and new restaurant openings, there is also a renewed focus on the unique local produce and on creative ways of using it. The result is that Manila has a number of rising restaurant stars who dig deep into the culinary traditions of the Philippines, but more on that later.

Unique Filipino Ingredients at Madrid Fusion Manila

International participation in this year’s Madrid Fusion Manila was seriously impressive, with chefs from Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, USA and Singapore joining their European counterparts. With the theme of the conference being sustainability, there was a strong emphasis on foraging and fermentation with a number of restaurants growing their own food, including the UK’s Simon Rogan of L’Enclume, one of the conference’s international chefs.

Chefs from all corners of the world attending Madrid Fusion Manila

Without wanting to sound partisan, Rogan’s presentation at Madrid Fusion Manila was for me outstanding. Taking the conference theme of sustainability to heart, he did not bring a single ingredient with him from home but went to the local farmers’ market on arrival in Manila for inspiration. There he purchased all the produce for the dishes he was still to create and demonstrate at the conference. Such self-confidence is perhaps not surprising - I have tried Simon Rogan’s cooking in the UK on a number of occasions, and consider him one of the top chefs in the country.

The UK was represented by Simon Rogan of L'Enclume

But for me the real stars of the show were the local Filipino chefs.  

I met and interviewed Josh Boutwood, son of a Filipino father and a British mother who trained as a chef in Europe. Though born in the UK, Boutwood considers the Philippines home, having spent his early years on the tropical island of Boracay. In 2010, after stints in Scandinavia and the UK, and wishing to build on Filipino traditional flavours, he returned to the island of Boracay to open his restaurant, Alchemy.

Chef Josh Boutwood - Image Courtesy of Tatler Philippines

In January 2017, at the age of 30, he opened his own private-dining restaurant, The Test Kitchen, in Manila. Seating only 22 and with an ever-changing menu of 6 to 8 courses, his is one of the hottest tables in Manila right now. 

Boutwood spoke to me with candour about the Filipinos’ quest to find their own culinary identity, in a country with so many influences – Chinese, Spanish, American, Malay as well as a strong indigenous culture. It is encouraging to see someone relatively young but with such experience and talent flying the flag for the country’s cuisine. 

Another local chef to look out for in Manila is Jordy Navarra, who has been making a name for himself at his Toyo Eatery after working at the Fat Duck and Hibiscus in London.

Navarra is also a real advocate for the country’s local produce, sharing the stage with a fisherman he brought all the way from his village in the north to demonstrate how he fillets dorado. Because they can only fish for two months of the year, their catch is dried in the sun, then salted and smoked. Navarra uses this for Kinilaw, a Filipino version of ceviche, made with vinegar, pickled ginger, onion, lime zest and coriander flowers.

Two other Filipino celebrity chefs I got to meet at Madrid Fusion Manila, although they were not speaking this year, were Claude Tayag and Margarita Forés whose knowledge and enthusiasm for Filipino cooking were inspiring. 

Forés is the founder of the Cibo Group of Italian restaurants, which are scattered around the more upmarket neighbourhoods of Manila. She was awarded Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016 by San Pellegrino, and is one of the most famous names in the capital’s food scene.

The delightful Chef Margarita Fores of Cibo Restaurants

As well as hosting us at a local Farmer’s Market in Manila, where Margarita showed us around and introduced us to local vendors and produce, she also served up a cracking plate of corn piadina, sautéed river prawn, with crab head cream sauce and candied calamansi lime at the conference. This was one of the best dishes I had during the three days there.

Visit to the Famers Market in Manila

It was at the Farmer’s Market that Margarita Forés introduced me to sea grapes, a local delicacy known in the Philippines as lato, but also native to Okinawa in Japan (known as umi-budō) and the East Malaysian state of Sabah (where it is called latok).

Filipino Sea Grapes known as Lato

Noteworthy also was the huge variety of exotic tropical fruit and vegetables, and the freshness and great quality of the fish and seafood on sale.

Fresh seafood at Farmers Market in Manila

Claude Tayag, a Filipino polymath who writes and paints as well as being an award-winning self-taught chef was also at the conference. He is an authority on the cuisine of Pampanga (a province in central Luzon), which he serves at Bale Dutung (Wooden House), his home turned into a by-reservation-only restaurant. Bale Dutung reached stardom when Anthony Bourdain made it the location of the Philippine episode of his TV show, “No Reservations” in 2008.

Chef Claude Tayag

Claude Tayag presented a delectable Filipino dessert ‘Maja Lila’. Normally a ‘blanca’ or white pudding made with coconut and corn, his version was lilac because of the native purple ube, served with a lip-smacking salted quail egg yolk – certainly one of the highlights of the conference.

Maja Lila by Chef Claude Tayag

Though not Filipino, Chele Gonzalez is the Chef Patron at Gallery Vask in Manila, heralded as the best restaurant in the Philippines by San Pellegrino, as well as being listed 35th among the top 50 restaurants in Asia in 2017.

As part of the many activities around the conference, participants have the opportunity to sign up to various dinners hosted by the chefs, and if you plan a visit to Madrid Fusion Manila in 2018 or later, I highly recommend signing up to one of these events.  

I attended the one such dinner at Gallery Vask, where chefs from Locavore, Nerua in Bilbao and Odette in Singapore, collaborated with Gonzalez to prepare an outstanding tasting menu.

Every day of the conference there is a long themed lunch break with restaurants of different regions of the country showing their best fares. It is a great opportunity to sample a tremendous spread of Filipino specialities under one roof.

In 2017 the themes were Luzon and Rice, Vizayas and Nose to Tail, and Mindanao and Corn.

The most interesting of these for me was the “Nose to Tail” event, where all the unmentionable bits of animals were served up. I tried Dinakdakan, chopped beef tongue, braised oxtail and pig’s brain mousse, then Betamax, grilled chicken blood with Davoa dark chocolate and crispy chicken craw, all surprisingly tasty.

For the ultimate Filipino surprise, try Balut – a hard-boiled fertilised duck egg, which contains a developing embryo complete with beak and feathers. Don’t forget to add the dressing of chilli, onion and vinegar for that extra kick!

The 2018 Madrid Fusion Manila theme will be “Innovating Tradition”, the conference will take place between 19th to the 22nd April 2018. For more information visit their website at http://www.madridfusionmanila.com/.

Travel Essentials

Fly direct from London to Manila with Philippine Airlines.

For more information about the Phillipines, what to do and where to go, visit the national tourism board site - It's More Fun in the Phillipines

Madrid Fusion Manila

Test Kitchen by Josh Boutwood
9780 Kamagong St. 
San Antonio Village, Makati City
Metro Manila

Toyo Eatery by Jordy Navarra
2316 Chino Roces Ave, 
Makati, 1231 
Metro Manila

Cibo by Margarita Forés
With 12 locations in the Philippines

Bale Dutung by Claude Tayag
Villa Gloria Subdivision, 
Angeles City, Pampanga

Gallery Vask by Chele Gonzalez
5th Floor, Clipp Center 11th Avenue corner 39th Street Bonifacio Global City 1634 Taguig

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A unique supermarket group in the UK, Iceland specialises in a huge range of frozen foods but it also offers fresh produce, groceries and drinks. Despite accounting for just 2% of supermarket food sales in the UK, Iceland is renowned for its specialty dessert selection, and in fact is the leading supermarket in the country for desserts.

So I was intrigued to visit Iceland’s head office and product development kitchens in Deeside near Chester to meet their Director of Product Development, Neil Nugent.

The event was an opportunity to flag up some of Iceland’s Christmas range products, and we got off to a very good start with their warming, sweet mulled white wine (first time I tried a white wine version) and some very good Iceland Luxury Mince Pies (£1.89 for 6) on arrival.

Then it was into the testing kitchen for a cookery demonstration of a variety of Iceland’s Christmas offerings.  We started with Iceland’s lobster range. Iceland sells an incredible half a million lobsters each year, and no fewer than half of those are sold in December. They are sold whole, split in half, or as shell-on tails, and Iceland have even perfected a way of removing shells from raw lobsters for easier cooking. 

Smoking lobster tails in burning hay!

In whatever form Iceland’s lobsters are bought, Chef Nugent recommends never boiling them, but rather grilling or frying to preserve the flavour and texture of the meat.  Grilled then smoked in burning hay and served in a taco, the lobster flesh was indeed succulent and delicious.  I loved the clever use of hay to smoke the lobster tails. As part of the 2017 Xmas festivities, Iceland offers Luxury Rock Lobster Thermidor, with a tangy cheese and mushroom sauce (£14 for 2).

Griddled and Hay-Smoked Lobster Tails with Burnt Pineapple, Picked Onions, Guacamole and Soured Cream over Tacos

For Christmas day itself, Iceland, recognising the age-old problem of dry turkey breast, has revived the Victorian custom of roasting the turkey with butter-encrusted muslin draped over the breast.  The Luxury Gilded Turkey with a Mustard & Honey Glaze (£15 for a 3.5Kg bird) is baked at home, then the provided honey and mustard dressing is added for the last 5 minutes for a deep ‘gilded’ finish.

Iceland's Gilded Turkey with Mustard and Honey Glaze

Chef Nugent is also experimenting with roasting salt-encrusted joints, and I was impressed at the sight of him encasing a seasoned, butter-encrusted turkey in a mixture of rock salt and egg white before wrapping the whole lot tightly in muslin.

Salt-Encrusted Turkey!

The salt forms a second “oven” inside your kitchen oven, sealing in all the flavour and moisture of the bird.  I really enjoyed the tender and succulent flesh that emerged once the salt crust had been broken and brushed away.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas-inspired cocktails on the day - to note were the Christmas Mince Pie Martini made from vodka infused in Iceland's mincemeat and also the Christmas Bloody Mary using bacon-infused vodka! Both were really delicious and refreshing and easy to replicate at home!

The day finished with a medley of Iceland’s famous desserts. After weeks of development, Chef Nugent and his team are particularly proud of their new Luxury Melting Middle Chocolate Snowflake (£8, serves 8). A chocolate brownie base is topped with a Belgian chocolate bronze snowflake-shaped shell. You simply pour over the provided hot chocolate sauce to reveal the hidden Belgian chocolate mousse and enjoy!

Iceland also has some gorgeous looking macarons, (12 for £3), while its Luxury Raspberry & Pistachio Layered Pavlova (£6, serves 8), is an Olive Magazine supermarkets award winner. With gooey meringue, lemon cream and raspberry sauce topped with whole raspberries and pistachios, this is a dessert that looks and tastes the business. 

And of course, there is also a Luxury 12 Month Matured Christmas Pudding with Brandy, Sherry and Cognac (£6, serves 6), or for a novel variation, the Luxury Christmas Pudding with a Brandy Sauce Centre (£6, serves 8), which was highly commended by Olive Magazine.

Iceland is already gearing up for Xmas 2018, but for this year they have a huge range of treats for the whole season, with everything from party food to main courses, drinks, spirits and liqueurs.

You can see more at http://groceries.iceland.co.uk/event/christmas or pop into your local branch – if you shop in store until 24 December, they offer Christmas food delivery for free! 

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by Iceland Foods. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.
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I don't know about you, but I get childishly excited about Advent Calendars - and St James’s is most likely the ultimate of its kind this festive season, with a fabulous gift giveaway each day in the run-up to Christmas! Forget milky chocolates, we are talking men's fashion, wine tastings and other super-luxe prezzies!

To welcome in the festive season, the St James’s Market Pavilion has been turned into a giant advent calendar. When each new advent window is opened, one lucky person will win and the surprise revealed each day via @StJamesLondon Instagram Stories.

St James's is widely recognised as the original home of menswear in London and the stomping ground of the well-dressed, so it was a natural choice to ask London Fashion Week Men to curate a selection of the twenty-four gifts.

Each beautiful present has been gifted by a different one of St James’s unique and exceptional retailers, restaurants, art galleries or hotels. For a full list of participating St James's retailers and a flavour of gifts on offer, take a peek below.


For a chance to win one or more of these fabulous gifts, visit the St James's site at https://stjamesslondon.typeform.com/to/rD5749 and enter your details in the entry form.

From today, the 1st December, each daily gift will be revealed on @StJamesLondon Instagram stories. Follow @StJamesLondon to stay up to date and take part. Participants can enter daily for a chance to win each prize. 

From Champagne afternoon tea for two, to a fitted Barbour jacket, will you be lucky enough to win one of the bespoke gifts from St James's esteemed retailers? Brands include: 

Lou Dalton
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Fortnum & Mason 
Aspinal of London
D R Harris
Emma Willis 
Barbour Int
The Ritz 
Harvie and Hudson
Tiger of Sweden
Mint Leaf
New & Lingwood
Sims Reed
Lock & Co
John Smedley 
Haymarket Hotel

For more information about St James, the Advent Calendar and what is going on in this exciting neighbourhood of the West End of London, visit their website here - http://www.stjameslondon.co.uk/.

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by St James Crown Estate. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.
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Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar

Where: London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, http://gillrays.com/

Cost: The Gillray’s Bottomless Brunch is available every Saturday and Sunday, from 12-3pm, for £40 a head. Diners can choose two courses from the extensive menu, which is organised into four sections: Cereals, Eggs, Meats and Treats. This will be accompanied by an unlimited number of glasses of Cordoniu Brut, a light and refreshing cava that is perfect for an early afternoon sitting. Side-dishes are available for £5 extra, and include a Bloody Mary, triple-cooked chips, and cauliflower and truffle bake.

About: I last reviewed Gillray’s in 2013, when I came for a sumptuous steak dinner, complete with oysters and cocktails. I recall that meal well and looked forward to my return visit for their new weekend brunch. You can read about it here.

The restaurant is named after the 18th Century political caricaturist James Gillray, and this impressive spot in the South Wing of the Marriott Hotel County Hall boasts great views across the Thames to Westminster.

The beautiful wood-paneled, large-windowed dining room is a welcome respite from the tourist rush outside, but it’s also the perfect place to enjoy a brunch before seeing a matinee at the National Theatre or Old Vic, or a film at the BFI.

The Bottomless Brunch offers some signature dishes from the evening menu (sirloin steak and a thick bacon chop) alongside brunch favourites such as eggs royale, pancakes and chia-seed pudding. It is good value and a lot of fun. 

When I came here last, I mentioned that it would have been good to see more affordable options on the wine list, and I'm happy to say that the brunch menu now gives you the opportunity to enjoy a Gillray’s meal with a good-quality free-flowing cava, Cordoniu Brut.

What We Ate: We started with a complimentary hors d’oeuvre from the kitchen, miniature Yorkshire puddings, filled with melted cheddar, and accompanied by a horseradish and creme fraiche dipping sauce. This innovative take on a Sunday Roast classic was such an improvement on the original! The cheese adds texture and flavour, and the fresh dipping sauce went perfectly with the light pudding batter. They were so good, we asked for more!

One of the first courses was the quinoa porridge, made with almond milk and topped with raspberries, pomegranate seeds and honey. Beautifully presented, it was a healthy way to start, with the almond milk ensuring that the dish wasn’t too rich.

Next was the Eggs Royale - an English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and a rich Hollandaise sauce. It’s a brunch classic, and the Gillray’s version was so generous that they even folded an extra slice of smoked salmon between the halves of the muffin. The grilled lemon halves were yet more proof of Gillray’s attention to detail, this dish made for a decadent start to the meal.

The second course was a 200g sirloin, topped with a fried egg. It was accompanied by a side dish of flat cap mushrooms with rosemary. Unusually for a restaurant in an international hotel, Gillray’s prides itself on its local suppliers. The Aberdeen Angus steaks come from Darragh O’Shea’s farm in Scotland, and this shows in their depth of flavour.

The second main course was the Gillray’s Steak Burger. This enormous stack, containing a 280g patty, cheedar cheese, onion rings and gherkin may have taken their generosity to a fault! It was hard to tuck in to, and even harder to finish! Sadly, the thick patty could only be ordered well done, it was flavoursome if a tad dry. The onion rings were crispy on the outside, and the hash brown nuggets were a brilliant and addictive invention, served alongside a delicious red onion and bacon chutney.

What We Drank: Our meal started the way every good brunch should, with a Bloody Mary. In the Gillray’s version, the spiciness of the Tobasco is softened by slices of fresh cucumber and lemon, and the addition of celery salt.

After that, we started on the unlimited bubbles. Cordoniu Brut is the perfect choice of cava for the Gillray's brunch. It's dry and light, and the prominent apple notes give it a sweetness that works perfectly with the dishes.

Likes: The incredible cheesy Yorkshire puddings that came as a complimentary hors d'oeuvre, and the generosity that continued throughout the meal. 

Dislikes: We would have liked to see some more imaginative sweet dishes on the menu, other than the usual staples such as pancakes and waffles. 

Verdict: The Gillray's Bottomless Brunch is the a great weekend treat, especially for meat lovers who want to have the Gillray's experience, with a view of the Thames and unlimited bubbles at a great price.

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Name: Céleste Restaurant at The Lanesborough

Where: The Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA

Cost: The 4-course game tasting menu costs £110 per person, or with paired wines at £190 per person. 

About: Céleste is a restaurant set in the gorgeous Lanesborough Hotel, an Oetker Collection Masterpiece Hotel.  The hotel itself is spectacular, a grand mansion overlooking Hyde Park Corner just a short walk from Knightsbridge’s Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and within a few minutes walk of Park Lane and Mayfair.

The restaurant’s setting could hardly be more sumptuous, with a domed glass roof, huge crystal chandeliers, powder blue walls and a Spode-like frieze of white figurines below the high ceiling.

Florian Favario is Executive Head Chef at Céleste, which is celebrating the award of its first Michelin star in October 2016, which was renewed in October 2017.  Having spent five years working at the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant at Le Bristol Paris, Chef Favario’s restaurant offers a three course menu for £42 per person, or £72 with matching wines, a 5-course tasting menu at £110, or a full à la carte service.  I was there to try their autumnal game menu, a celebration of British heritage and provenance, which is available for a very limited period: from 20 - 30 November 2017.

What We Ate and Drank: We opted for the 4-course game tasting menu (which in fact turned out to be a 7-course dinner), priced at £190 per person with matching wines. The amuse bouche were exquisite: a crispy quail egg stuffed with juniper mayonnaise, a smoked haddock tartlet with squid ink spherified "caviar", and in another example of spherification, a pumpkin and mandarin sphere. Deliciously crusty bread was served with smoked, salted whipped butter.

A second amuse-bouche of game brioche, cleverly rolled in doughnut dough and deep-fried to resemble an egg, was served with a delicate juniper sauce on a nest-like bed of pine twigs.

The first starter was hen pheasant, served with foie gras, black truffle and Jerusalem artichoke terrine, hazelnut oil and Tartuffon white truffle cream. Served with toasted country bread, this was a celebration of the rich, savoury flavours of autumn.

It was paired with a Chinon Philippe Alliet 2015.  A 100% Cabernet Franc from the Loire, this had a stalky nose, and gamey notes with blackberry fruit and fine tannins – a delicate wine but with more than enough structure to compliment the pheasant.

Next came wild duck pie, served in very light and buttery puff pastry with black truffle and giblets,  a wonderfully intense roasting jus and a fresh herb salad. Served daringly pink, the duck was tender and deliciously gamey.

It was served with a glass of Assisi Sportoletti 2012, from Umbria - a "Super Tuscan"-style blend of Sangiovesi with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine had a rich nose redolent of ripe red cherries, with violets and vanilla on the finish and soft tannins.

Hare à la royale with foie gras was intensely meaty, velvety and rich, served with a glossy, concentrated jus, and with celeriac and chestnut ravioli glazed in horseradish.

A dish like this needs a powerful wine, and happily the Cheval des Andes, from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley was no shrinking violet. A collaboration between the fabled Chateau Cheval Blanc from Bordeaux and the Argentinian winery Terrazas de las Andes, this was a Bordeaux blend with plenty of black fruit and supple tannins. Massively concentrated and powerful, this was an excellent choice for the hare.

A pre-dessert of cucumber and elderflower granite with a green apple cream, topped with a purple shiso leaf was just what we needed to cleanse and refresh our palates after a rich medley of gamey dishes.

To end a meal celebrating all that is wonderful about autumn, what better than a dish of glazed Aubenas chestnuts, fondant chestnut cream topped with gold leaf, crushed pear and blackberry?

The dessert wine was an Austrian Burgenland, Beerenauslese, Kracher 2013. A late-harvest, botrytised Reisling wine, this had luscious sweetness balanced by high acidity, with nutty caramel and apricot aromas, making for a complex, satisfying wine.

Likes: Every dish and matching wine was worth savouring, for the high level of skill and the excellence of the ingredients. The setting is elegant, perfect for a celebratory meal.  

Dislikes: None.  

Verdict: The game tasting menu at the Michelin-starred Céleste Restaurant in the Lanesborough Hotel is available for a few more days, until 30 November. It is a celebration of all that is rich and plentiful in autumn, and in the hands of the Chef Favario, is an exquisite variation on a flavourful theme. Very highly recommended.
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Name: The Duck and Rice

Where: 90 Berwick Street, London W1F 0QB, http://www.theduckandrice.com/

Cost: A meal at this restaurant costs on average £50 per person, not including beverages or service. Starters range from £6.50 to £16.50, main from £6.50 to £45. There is a small, largely ice-cream-based dessert menu, priced from £4.80 to £6.50. 

About: A former Soho pub converted with no expenses spared by Alan Yau's team (who is no longer affiliated with this restaurant), The Duck and Rice still has an all-singing, all-dancing pub on the ground floor, featuring massive copper coloured beer tanks, filled with fresh and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell imported from the Czech Republic. There is also a long list of ales, stouts and porters, and even a beer cocktail list.

Upstairs, the dining room is decked out in gorgeous bespoke stained-glass windows, discreet wood panelling and lighting and huge, hand-painted blue and white ceramic tiles, more like wall panels, which were commissioned specially for the restaurant.

The look is modern, elegant but unstuffy, and the atmosphere buzzy and lively at pretty much any time of the day. The Duck and Rice is one of my favourite dim sum eateries in London, and I visit it often. This visit however was to experience their evening, dining menu. The menu has a mixed-Asian feel, with plenty of Cantonese dishes, but also featuring a few dishes from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam.

What We Ate: We started with wasabi prawns (£10.50) – this featured deliciously fat sweet prawns deep-fried in batter, served with a delicate wasabi mayonnaise coating, topped with salted almond flakes. This was delicious.

Next up was the salt and pepper squid (£10.50) - well seasoned and crispy, despite the dull presentation, it was served deep-fried with spring onions, caramelised garlic and red chillies. We enjoyed this, though the portion was not terribly generous, I expected more at this price point.

The signature Duck & Rice (£15.50) is my favourite dish of the house, and one I order on every visit. A quarter Cantonese roast duck, with the finest, crispiest skin, this was sensational and served simply over steamed jasmine rice and slices of cucumber. Heavenly.

Jasmine smoked pork ribs (£16) looked sensational, with a tempting glaze. The meat was tender, with aromatic, smoky flavours, but for me the ribs were excessively sweet and sticky which sadly detracted from the overall dish.

Things looked up with the crispy duck fried rice (£9.50) - this was richly flavoured with the poultry and edamame beans.

The Kung Po chicken (£12) was a stir-fry of chicken, cashew and peanuts, spring onion, Sichuanese peppercorns, and dried red chillies. Kung Pao or Po is one of my favourite Sichuanese stir-fries, I love it spicy and gutsy, though The Duck and Rice’s version was again intensely sweet and with none of the heat I was so much expecting.

Our vegetable choice was slow-braised Japanese aubergine, tofu and shiitake mushroom served in claypot (£12.50). This was an exquisite dish, with silky textures and surprisingly intense flavours from the black bean sauce, Shaoxing wine and sugar.

For dessert, we shared a black coconut ice cream, made from coconut and coconut ash for a startlingly black finish. Served with toasted coconut shavings, this was creamy, intensely tropical and refreshing.

What We Drank: We started with a Hayman London Dry Gin, with Fever-Tree elderflower tonic, blueberry and raspberry (£10.50) - refreshingly aromatic with luscious red berry aromas. Equally good, the Negroni (£11) was classic, powerful and well made.

With our meal, we shared an excellent bottle of Franciacorta Corteaura (£42). Franciacorta is a fantastic sparkling wine from Italy (rivalling some of the best Champagnes in France), and this was a great example at a reasonable price for a restaurant, with elegant citrus fruit notes.

Likes: Standout dishes for me were the signature Duck & Rice, the claypot dish of aubergine, tofu and shiitake mushroom and the wasabi prawns. The wine list is small but well thought out and surprisingly reasonable value for money.  

Dislikes: Whether by accident or by our poor choices, the dishes we selected were almost all intensely sweet, which did not make for a balanced meal.  The jasmine smoked pork ribs promised so much but under-delivered in my opinion, as did the Kung Po chicken and the salt and pepper squid. 

Verdict: The Duck and Rice is one of my go-to eateries in London whenever I crave good quality dim sum. Though their evening dining menu was a mixed bag – some dishes were exquisite while others excessively sweet and gloopy. Still I would love to return and order some different choices. Recommended.

This restaurant feature is a collaboration with This Is Soho (http://www.thisissoho.co.uk/) which aims to highlight this exciting West End district as well as some of its best eateries. Soho is one of our favourite areas of London, although in writing this feature, The London Foodie retained full editorial control over its content as always.

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For the Shokunin in Japan, craftsmen who specialize to an extraordinary degree to be masters of their profession, the search for excellence and even for perfection is a never-ending journey. 

Ninety-one year old Jiro Ono is Japan’s highest expression of Shokunin; he has worked tirelessly from the age of 7 to become the greatest sushi craftsman alive today. Ono is still to be found at his sushi counter at Ginza station, serving up perfect morsels of vinegared rice, yet his drive for perfection is far from finished.

Reading about Hestan’s founder Stanley K Cheng in Napa Valley USA, I found a lot of resonance with the work of Jiro Ono and hundreds of other Shokunin I have encountered in Japan and across the world.

Cheng’s lifelong quest has been to innovate and excel in the cookware industry. Since the 1970s, he has been at the cutting edge of his field, including the introduction of non-stick surfaces to hard anodized aluminium, the breakthrough which led to non-stick cookware. Today, his company (Hestan and Meyer Corporation) is the largest cookware distributor in the USA and the second largest in the world. 

Cheng has created a culture of excellence around the Hestan name that goes far beyond its cookware. There is the Hestan Vineyards in Napa Valley, as well as Hestan Commercial and Hestan Outdoor cooking appliances. Hestan Commercial reinvented the restaurant kitchen with a lineup of well-designed commercial cooking equipment, one of their most notable advocates is Head Chef and Shokunin Thomas Keller of the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry.

Most intriguing for me though is the Hestan Barn, a culinary “think tank” and laboratory that brings together a team of outstanding chefs, engineers, designers and winemakers to revolutionise cookware and think of different ways to cook.  It was here in the Hestan Barn that the USA team trained for the most prestigious international cookery competition, the Bocuse d’Or, winning the gold medal in 2017. 

Culinary Innovation Born in the Napa Valley - YouTube

It was also here at The Barn that Stanley Cheng and his team developed a new cookware range with Hestan’s NanoBond™ technology.

With 14 global patents, NanoBond technology uses a triple-bonded construction: thousands of titanium-based nano layers bonded directly to stainless steel, itself wrapped around a central core of pure aluminium.

The resulting super-dense cooking surface is said to be stain and scratch-resistant, and the titanium coating to last a lifetime. It does not use any chemicals or coatings that might wear off over time like what happens with standard non-stick pans.

Pans with NanoBond™ technology are also said to have 35% better heat conductivity and to be 400% (four times) harder than stainless steel pans. They certainly have a gorgeous design, with elegant ergonomic handles and flush rivets.

Besides this, Hestan states that their NanoBond™ technology results in pans that:
- are ‘stick resistant’ rather than non-stick 
- maintain their titanium lustre and beauty for a lifetime
- have no limit to the heat they can withstand
- do not affect or react with foods
- are easy to clean
- are highly resistant to oxidation at high heat
- have five times the lifespan of a normal stainless steel or aluminium-clad cookware. 

Launched in the USA in January 2017, the NanoBond™ range is sold exclusively there by Sonoma-Williams, and in the UK, you will only find it at Harrods, where it was launched in September 2017. 

I was approached by Hestan to put some of their claims to the test with four of the range of pans, and have been doing just that over the last five months. The Hestan pans I used for this review included:

28cm frying pan - £269 - https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/hestan/frying-pan-28cm-p000000000005730165?bcid=1504779447433

20cm saucepan with lid - £299 - https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/hestan/covered-soup-pot-20cm-p000000000005730181?bcid=1504779447433

26cm stockpot with lid - £449 - https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/hestan/stockpot-and-lid-26cm-p000000000005730180?bcid=1504779447433

36cm wok - £499 - https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/hestan/frying-pan-28cm-p000000000005730165?bcid=1504779447433

First Impressions Count

The pans feel really sturdy and solid, substantial without being too heavy. On closer inspection, the design is beautiful with a pewter-grey tinge to the surface. The surfaces are silky smooth, and even the rivets binding the handles to the pan are recessed to avoid food getting stuck and making them very easy to clean.

The handles are ergonomically designed from case stainless steel, being wide and flat to enable a good grip without risking them over-turning. 

The Hestan logo is beautiful, written in full at the base of the handle, and with an embossed H at the tip.  Frying pans and saucepans have an oval slot in case you want to suspend them from a hook, or alternatively they stack efficiently.

Performance under Pressure

During my time at Le Cordon Bleu, I got to use and was impressed by top quality cookware from the American firm All Clad, and by de Buyer from France. Top professional kitchens around the world will be familiar with these, as they have been considered to be the best of their type and to deliver consistent cooking results.  Hestan's is, however, aiming to raise the bar by introducing its NanoBond™ technology to their pots and pans.

Today at my supper club events and cookery classes, my Hestan pans get heavy use and are bashed around a lot. Even though I do not have Le Cordon Bleu’s budget, I have always looked out for cookware that is well made, and of as good quality as I can afford.

Beautiful as new after 5 months use!

The Hestan pans I have used over the last five months still look nearly as perfect as they did when I first came out of their boxes. Though they have not been scratched or dented, I noted some colour tarnish at the bottom of the pans.

Light colour tarnish

Stick Resistance

From my years of cooking experience, I know that fried food does not stick if the pan has either a non-stick coating or if it has been proofed with a built up layer of oil and salt over time.

Although not completely non-stick, I found that Hestan’s 28 cm frying pan’s surface was indeed ‘stick resistant’, and this did not wear off over time, as non-stick coatings do sooner or later in my experience.

The Dreaded Non-Stick Egg Frying Test

Though there were some desirable signs of food caramelization visible on the surface of the pan, food did not stick. There was rapid heat conduction on either my Aga hot plate or a conventional gas flame, and even fried eggs cooked uniformly and came away smoothly from the pan.

Image courtesy of Hestan

Heat Conductivity and Evenness 

But for me, the major advantage of the Hestan pans was the evenness of heat distribution and the rapid conductivity of heat. Don’t you hate it when you are cooking something and parts get burned while other areas are still not cooked?

Image courtesy of Hestan

This was definitely not the case with Hestan’s 36cm wok – with no limit to high heat and improved conductivity compared with other standard pans, Hestan’s wok quickly achieved searingly high heat, just ideal for imparting that desirable ‘wok-breath’ (a wonderful charred flavour) into my stir-fried food.

Versatility – From Hob to Oven and Table

Hestan’s range of pans are all metal, with no plastic, rubber or other materials, making them ideal for use in the oven as well as on stove. In many professional kitchens, steaks and other meats are usually caramelized in the pan over a high flame (pan-fried), and then finished in the oven to complete their cooking under an even heat.  Hestan’s range are well designed for this purpose, while looking great on the table too.

Image courtesy of Hestan

The Verdict

Over the five months I have used Hestan’s pots and pans at home and at my supper club events, I have been reassured that the company’s claims really do stack up. With great heat conductivity and evenness, the pans are also durable and will probably last many years. They are sturdy, well-designed and gorgeous too.

A decent, well-designed pan can make or break your meal. Choosing the correct vessel (for both its quality and size) to cook a dish is an important decision that will help you make the most of your cooking. With busy working lives and less time now spent in the kitchen, pans like Hestan’s will make this time count giving you consistently good cooking results.

Image courtesy of Hestan

Hestan pans are not cheap, but good quality equipment never is. If you want the best pans you can afford in your home and business that will last a lifetime and take up that up that precious kitchen cabinet space, consider buying Hestan’s.

Image courtesy of Hestan

You do not need to be a Shokunin or 3-star Michelin chef to cook a great meal at home. But in your pursuit for kitchen excellence, Hestan is here to help along the way.

To discover more about Hestan and their range of cookware, visit their website here - https://hestan.uk.com/

To purchase Hestan cookware, visit the Harrods store or website here - https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/designers/hestan.


To celebrate the launch of the luxury cookware brand in the UK, Hestan is running a competition for a chance to win a gastronomic weekend in Paris!

The prize includes flights for two from any UK airport, a 2-night stay at the prestigious hotel in the centre of Paris, La Maison Champs Élysées and a gourmet culinary experience at Le Jules Verne, Michelin star restaurant owned by the most renowned chef of his generation, Alain Ducasse.

For more details and to enter the competition, visit their website here - https://hestan.uk.com/2017/10/16/weekendinparis/

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by Hestan. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

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