Luiz Hara offers advice on food, wine, and travel. The London Foodie features regular reviews of London’s restaurants, supper clubs, hotels, and wine tastings. Luiz is Brazilian-born with Japanese and Italian parents but was brought up and educated in the UK where he has been fully trained as a Cordon Bleu Chef and is a food, wine, and travel writer.
Cost: In the upstairs Xier London, the 10-Course Fine Dining menu (a Vegetarian Menu is also available) is £90 per person, or £175 with a wine and cocktail pairing. For more casual dining, with shared dishes, XR on the ground floor is the thing, with an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner, and a set lunch at £25 for 2 courses, or £30 for 3. There is also a Royal XR Brunch menu offering a selection of starters plus cocktail, a choice of main course plus a glass of wine and a dessert for £30pp.
About: Xier is a new London restaurant in Marylebone, opened in December 2018, and led by Chef Carlo Scotto (formerly of Angela Hartnett, Murano, Galvin La Chapelle and Babbo). Xier offers modern European cuisine with influences from the Scotto's travels in Scandinavia and Asia and particularly from Japan. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu at XR changes every two weeks according to seasonal produce availability.
The ground floor bar serves a selection of small to more substantial dishes to go with a range of wines and Champagnes by the glass of bottle and cocktails, including lamb sliders with gruyere, foie gras mayo and truffle fries (£15), an Iberico ham board (£10) or enoki mushroom truffle arancini (£4).
What We Ate: We opted for the 10-course fine dining menu which kicked off with a canapé of stracciatella cheese with wild strawberry, kalamansi and organic honey deftly blending acidity and astringency with richness and sweetness. This was a fabulous start.
Lemongrass tart with borlotti bean cream came in a ultra-delicate pastry case, beautifully presented, this was another expert blend of Asian and European flavours.
I don’t normally write about bread baskets when I review but Xier’s is definitely worth the mention - freshly baked rosemary and potato sourdough, it was made on the premises and served with churned coffee and oak-smoked butter with Espelette pepper. It was outstandingly good and replenished whenever necessary.
Red prawn crudo (raw) with red caviar and yuzu (Japanese citrus) was cleverly presented - paper-thin sheets of raw red Sicilian prawn, topped with trout caviar, shavings of lime zest (not yuzu though), and specks of fresh raspberry that gave a refreshing lift of acidity and fruitiness to the dish.
Best of all starters for me though was the rosewater and beetroot-cured salmon, served alongside a quenelle of foie gras coated in beetroot powder. The salmon was topped with macerated Gariguette strawberries, fine discs of Bramley apple and micro-herbs. With firm salmon, a rich buttery textured foie gras and a delicately refreshing acidity from the raw green apple, this was a stunning melange of flavours and textures that really made the dish sing.
"Europe meets Asia" was a warming dish of pan-fried beurre noisette and tarragon gnocchi, topped with enoki mushrooms and chives, served in a hot kombu dashi (Japanese vegetarian stock), speckled with finely diced fresh ginger.
As a palate-cleanser, a gin and tonic granita, with apple basil sorbet was as every bit as refreshing as it looked.
The tasting menu has a choice of two fish and two meat options. As there were two of us, happily we were able to try all four. Red mullet served over a carrot escabeche, burnt aubergine puree with squid ink, and a complex leche de tigre of pineapple, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and bright green chlorophyll, topped with plankton powder, was nothing short of stunning.
Better still was the second fish option of grilled black cod in caramel miso, topped with shredded cured duck, served with asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, cauliflower puree, and perilla-infused oil. I loved the combination of buttery black cod with salted duck, while the duck was as gamey and flavourful as jerked beef - a revelation.
The two meat courses followed. The beef cheek, with bone marrow, wild hops, apple and nettle puree, was as soft and unctuous as butter, richly aromatic and served with a side of pulled beef with dates, Parmesan and chives.
The pigeon was also wonderfully tender, served with beetroot puree, foie gras, purple potato, hazelnut crumble with a pigeon jus. It came with a rich, sweet side dish, served in a beef marrow bone, of pulled pigeon legs with dates, Parmesan and chives.
Swedish cows milk cheese - Wrangeback - was deliciously dense, a bit like a Comte, served with sweet red wine jelly and surprisingly fizzy red grapes made by "marinating" them in dry ice.
The dessert course, described as "sweet tooth" was a medley of the restaurant signature sweets for sharing. Given the choice, I nearly always go for savoury dishes, but the dessert course at Xier was one of the highlights of our meal.
Rhubarb 3 Ways had almond biscuit, nougat parfait, pistachio and rhubarb coulis.
Salted caramel and peanut tart with banana biscuit and coffee ice cream was bursting with intense coffee flavour while being light and creamy.
Chocolate Piemonte was the last dessert - chocolate mousse, chocolate sable and chocolate sponge cake with a glossy coating as smooth and shiny as a mirror, combined with chocolate ice cream, chocolate crisps and Espelette creme Anglais. Again, the use of texture contrasts was daring but successful, the skill of the pastry chef was manifest, and the hint of chilli in the creme Anglais was divine.
Some very fine petit fours followed - chilled chocolate truffles, and dainty hazelnut financiers were just what we needed with our coffees.
What We Drank: The wine list is extensive, with a focus on Europe but with options from the New World too. The entry level wines, both at £39, are an Argentinian Torrontes from Bodega Norton, while the red is a Domaine de Peras from Languedoc. Pine and lemon water, blended by the Chef, was a refreshing non-alcoholic palate cleanser served to all guests.
From the cocktail menu, and included in the wine flight, we started with Xier Spritz (£14) - a blend of Beluga Nobel vodka, with kumquats, physalis, mixed with Canard-Duchene Champagne and elderflower.
The Botanical Julep (£14) blended Chivas Extra with Antico Formula Vermouth, fresh ginger, basil leaves, lemon grass and shiso syrup. Commendably, cocktails are served with a reusable 'straw' made of stainless steel.
With the fish courses, we had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, "Aromatic", from Pays d'Oc. Refreshing and grassy like a New Zealand SB, this had good acidity.
With the red mullet, the meat courses and cheese, a Pinot Noir - "Cruel Mistress" 2017 from South-Western Australia, had smooth tannins, strawberry fruit and a touch of spice.
The wines were perfectly acceptable, but two wines for a 10 course meal is not what I would describe as a 'wine pairing', and at £85 per person for a cocktail and two glass of wine each, I would far rather choose my own wine and save a lot of cash.
Likes: Chef Carlo Scotto’s cooking is of an exceptional standard, and I am sure he will bag one or even two Michelin stars in no time. The dessert course was outstandingly good. The staff know the menu inside out and are both knowledgeable and friendly without being overbearing. The dining room is a harmonious and elegant spot decorated in white, cream and grey.
Dislikes: The wine pairing is not up to the exceptional quality of the food. I would rather choose my own wines from the extensive list. With a cocktail and only two average wines for the whole tasting menu, this was a missed opportunity.
Verdict: Xier London’s 10-course menu is, without a doubt, one the best meals I have had in 2019. It is rare that I like everything on a menu, yet I could not fault a single dish, it just got better and better with every course. I loved Chef Carlo Scotto’s impeccable understanding of Japanese and Western flavours bringing both together perfectly into his tasting menu dishes. Very highly recommended.
Cost: As of June 2019, from 12 to 4pm, Yauatcha City is opening on Sundays and offering a Weekend (Sat and Sun) Yum Cha brunch menu. The menu includes a selection of steamed dim sum, Peking duck three ways, two bao buns, a main course and dessert. The menu is priced at £47 per person with oolong or Taiwanese teas, £49 with a half bottle of wine, or £58 with a half bottle of Henriot Champagne per person or a full-bottle for two people (priced at £82 if ordered a la carte). All options come with an introductory cocktail included in the price. There are vegetarian and vegan menus.
About: Yauatcha City is one of my favourite dim sum restaurants in town, we were there a couple of years ago when they launched their Saturday Supreme menu (reviewed here and now sadly no longer available), so when I heard about their new Weekend Yum Cha menu, I hurried along to try it. Much of the City is quiet at the weekend, but this special menu aims to lure in the increasing weekend brunch clientele, and it seems to be working as the place was buzzing when we got there at 3pm last Sunday afternoon.
What We Ate: After a refreshing cold brewed tea palate cleanser, we had a selection of steamed dim sum - scallop shiu mai, king crab dumpling, seafood black truffle dumpling (our favourite) and wild mushroom dumpling. These were exquisite - freshly made, with fine pastry casing and delectable fillings.
Peking duck was served three ways - the first was in the more familiar form of a pancake, with admirably crispy skin over plum sauce, cucumber and spring onion. Next had a topping of black caviar - though equally delicious, I would suggest eating the caviar first then the rest of the dish, as I could not taste much of the caviar given all the other ingredients. Between these two, Peking duck was served as a crunchy, refreshing wrap on a lettuce leaf, with tender cubes of pumpkin and pine nuts.
Bao buns came two ways. The steamed chicken bun with mushroom, water chestnut and salted egg was light and delicate, and who can resist a chicken-and-egg dish? It was outgunned though by a magnificent bun of Berkshire pork belly, succulent and unctuous in the extreme, balanced by crunchy pickled cucumber and mini cubes of fresh almond.
For main course, there was a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options, though some of these sounded a tad pedestrian (sweet and sour pork?). The kung pao chicken, a favourite Sichuanese dish with peanuts, dried peppers, was served here over crispy rice noodles. I enjoyed this almost every day during my recent trip to Chengdu in Sichuan, but sadly Yauatcha's version bore little resemblance. Sweet and gloopy, with very little chilli heat, it was more like the takeaway staple of chicken and cashew nuts than kung pao chicken.
Better was the stir-fry rib eye beef in black bean sauce, with very tender beef, sautéed with sliced peppers in a delectable, umami-rich black bean sauce. It was also a very generous portion
Stir-fried baby pak choi and steamed jasmine rice were served with the main course.
For dessert, there is a choice of petit gateau, yuzu chocolate bun, or Belvedere espresso with macaron.
We opted for the petit gateau (on this occasion a praline and pecan nut concoction), and a well-made single citron macaron with espresso-martini.
What We Drank: From the cocktail menu, we chose the Chun Tian - a blend of Cinzano Bianco vermouth, with Hennessy Fine de Cognac, limoncello, cinnamon, passionfruit, ginger bitters and peppermint bitters. This had delicious tropical fruit flavours and alcohol in perfect balance.
The Sencha Negroni had Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, sencha green tea infusion, Antica Formula vermouth, Mondino Amaro and chamomile bitters. I'm a huge fan of Negronis, and this version was an Oriental, delectably aromatic variation on a much-loved theme.
With our meal we shared a bottle of Henriot Champagne. Henriot is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne, and its NV product, served as part of the Weekend Yum Cha menu, is light golden in colour, with fine persistent bubbles and a citrus aroma.
Likes: The dim sum is always outstanding at Yauatcha. The Berkshire pork bun was a superb, and I also enjoyed the variations on the theme of Peking duck.
Dislikes: For me, the main course options are the weakest link on the menu, the kung pao chicken was very sweet and lacking in heat, the dessert options are limited (only 3 desserts available).
Verdict: We loved the new Yum Cha Weekend Menu at Yauatcha City. Available every Saturday and Sunday from midday to 4pm, it is a perfect combination of outstanding dim sum, bubbles and cocktails. Can't think of a better way to spend my Sunday afternoons.... Recommended.
Cost: The tasting menu is priced at £69 with an optional wine pairing of £45. The restaurant also offers great value 2 and 3-course lunch and pre-theatre set menus at £25 and £30 respectively from 12pm to 14:30 and from 17:30 to 18:30 everyday of the week (Monday to Sunday).
About: Tamarind (formerly Tamarind of Mayfair), the first Indian restaurant in the UK to be awarded a Michelin Star, re-opened in December 2018 after an eight-month long re-build.
Designed by David D’ Almada, Tamarind is set over two floors. The lower ground floor restaurant revolves around a striking open-plan kitchen and tandoor ovens, while the first floor dining room has doubled the restaurant’s capacity to a total of 152 covers.
Following this multi-million pound refit, the interior is stunning, with a subtle colour scheme of distressed gold, pale grey, pink and cream. The soft off-white leather seating, and marble and wood flooring all make for a very elegant setting.
Executive Group Head Chef, Karunesh Khanna and Tamarind Mayfair Head Chef, Manav Tuli lead the kitchen, and their menu is a contemporary take on authentic Indian cooking with dishes, many of which are prepared on a charcoal grill or in the tandoor.
With its sister restaurants Tamarind Kitchen in Soho’s Wardour Street, and Zaika in High Street Kensington, Tamarind Mayfair is the flagship of the Tamarind Group. What We Ate: There is a well thought-out à la carte menu, and two tasting menus. We opted for the signature tasting menu (£69 per person), although there is also a vegetarian tasting menu (£59 per person).
The curly kale salad was as delicious as it looked, combining a number of ingredients including kale, mangetout, yellow cherry tomatoes, dates, almonds, cabbage and broad beans, the whole tasting far greater than the sum of its parts thanks to the delectable dressing made with kokum - a southern Indian sour fruit.
Equally good were the griddled Scottish scallops, served with a delicately spiced red lentil, coconut, curry leaf and fennel sauce, topped with a refreshing green apple salsa.
The yoghurt and corn kebab, encrusted in panko and almond, had a deliciously creamy mouth-feel and nutty flavour.
The Konkan prawns were wonderful – huge, succulent wild prawns, tender, deftly spiced and aromatic from the tandoor.
Chicken Tikka Hasnu came perfectly grilled and flavoured with complex spice mix including a whack of cardamom.
The char-grilled lamb chops were outstanding, served French-trimmed, pink and tender, with a pistachio crust and spicy marinade, accompanied by baby peppers with lentil and herb cheese stuffing.
Chettinad chicken biryani came flavoured with curry leaf, and a refreshing beetroot raita.
Marwari bhindi (okra) was served with onion and tomato, topped with black and white sesame.
The Hyderabad goat chop curry (£24) was not on the tasting menu, but it sounded so good I had to give it a try. Slow-cooked goat chops with whole garam masala and coconut were beautifully presented in a tin-lined copper pan. Naturally more intense and fibrous than the lamb, this really packed a flavour punch, served with a steaming naan, freshly baked in the tandoor oven.
Again venturing off the tasting menu, for dessert we were tempted by the coconut rice (£10), baked with cinnamon and lime, black rice, candy cashew, roast coconut, coconut rolls and guava sorbet. The combination of creamy cardamom rice pudding with fresh coconut rolls was irresistible, and the guava sorbet was silky smooth.
The Gajar Halwa (carrot and cardamom) soufflé (£12) was served with a fresh carrot jam centre, with bayleaf ice cream. This was absurdly good, with a marmalade quality to the carrot jam, and the soufflé had an unexpected lightness of texture and finesse.
What We Drank: We kicked off with a couple of cocktails. The Zaffran Gin Fizz (£15) combined saffron, pistachio orgeat syrup, cardamom, orange flower, lassi and lemon soda.
The Himalayan Sour (£15) had a base of Amrut Indian peated whisky blended with Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, coriander seed, vetiver (an Indian fragrant grass), lemon, egg white and Ayurveda bitters.
These were truly well-made, original and interesting cocktails. Carole Brown, previously Bar Manager for eight years at Hakkasan and four at Park Chinois, is responsible for the extensive list of innovative cocktails, many featuring Indian ingredients and flavours to complement the cooking, garnished with petals, blossoms and bursts of coloured powders.
The wine list has some great wines from France, Italy and Spain, as well as the best regions of the USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. There are relatively few options below £50 per bottle.
We moved on from cocktails to the wine pairing option of the tasting menu, priced at £45 per person, starting with a glass of Northern Rhone Saint Joseph, from Domaine Culleron Les Pieres Seches (£16 per glass, £89 per bottle). This had soft red berry fruit, gentle tannins, and was surprisingly long on the finish.
Next up was the Pago de los Capellanes Crianza 2016 (£14 per glass, £80 per bottle), from Ribeiro del Duero, Spain, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, matured for one year in oak. Well structured, with black berry fruit, leather and tannin, this was more than a match for the spicy food. A glass of Sierra Cantabria Rioja Reserva 2012 (£72 per bottle) was softer, with luscious cherry and damson fruit , mint and eucalyptus, with gentle tannins reflecting its long oak ageing.
Likes: There wasn’t a bad dish on the menu, but the prawns and lamb chops were outstanding. The desserts were truly exceptional, and if you don’t leave room for them, you will be missing out. The wine pairing option at £45pp was excellent value for money.
Verdict: We loved the revamped Tamarind Restaurant for its exquisite Indian cooking, the gorgeous new décor and great service. The tasting menu and wine pairing are also excellent value for money. Highly recommended.
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