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laissezfare

Member since 11 Sep 2009
Marcus
London | English Restaurants
4
Petrusalvation
[Non-photo Review]

As the new Trusted Places only allows a certain number of characters per review, please see the following link for the full article: http://wp.me/pwXBH-19r

Summary:
I was pleasantly surprised by the generally wonderful food I ate during a recent lunch at Marcus Wareing’s plush premises, which still retain the refrain of red Bordeaux from their previous proprietor’s rein. Nearly every dish was unabashedly redolent with robust & clearly delineated flavors that sang on the palate, while service was professional & well-meaning. Sure, the backdrop may be a bit dated & smack of economic excesses; and yes, the clientele seems to fit a particular stereotype, but the food certainly makes the attractively priced prix-fixe lunch tempting. And once you’ve had that, you might be tempted to explore further should your purse strings be flexible enough to cope. It’s not the most exciting or trendy restaurant in London right now, but the cooking certainly sets the bar high.

Curing my curiosity

I had been in London for a week, mostly for what turned out to be an exceedingly stressful and long week of work. However, after visiting Mrs. LF’s family in France on our second weekend in Europe, and returning to London with two days off before heading back to the US, I was looking forward to some relaxation, and hopefully a good meal…or two.

The day after our arrival the weekend prior, we had the good fortune to dine at the chef’s table of Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, and his first in London. I hope to post about that meal next, as we had a great time – Baby LF included – and generally enjoyed the food. My only other fancy meal for the trip was originally supposed to be at Pied à Terre, the dual Michelin star stalwart on Charlotte Street, at which I enjoyed a meal with my parents a number of years ago. However, with news that its head chef Shane Osbourne was to be departing rather soon, my dining colleague and I decided it might be more fun to try somewhere else.

In fact, in planning my London trip, I had originally thought about trying the seemingly good value prix-fixe lunch menu at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, despite the fact that I have never been a great fan of the current name adorning the restaurant’s masthead. Having never met the man in person or tasted his food, ‘who am I to judge anyway’ is a fair enough question. I guess I have just never liked the way he comes off on camera, or in press comments/interviews, or through accounts of him from people I know. However, I was informed by my partner in crime that the kitchen’s current sous-chef was definitely a talent (formerly holding the same position at Noma in Copenhagen) and, as I had always wanted to see what all the fuss was about anyway, it seemed like a grand idea – or at least a grand setting.

If you enter the hotel from Wilton Place, just off Knightsbridge, you head straight to your right, through an open and pleasant informal dining space. Once through this area, two doors stand before you, they are opened (of course you would not open them yourself at a 5-star hotel), and you enter a fairly intimate rectangular dining room.

As I was the first one to arrive, I was seated on a cushioned bench at one of the three squat tables that serve as the waiting area, and I must admit I felt rather awkward on my own seated next to two smartly dressed older couples who were enjoying aperitifs and some nibbles before taking their proper seats. After fiddling with my phone for a bit, I was about to order some Champagne as this seemed to be what one should do (and I never say no to some good Champagne), but my partner in crime arrived just in time to prevent a minor fleecing of funds from my wallet.

As you would expect, the dining room tables were traditionally
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4
You Can Go Your Own Way
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-XC

YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY

Summary:
I really enjoyed my first meal at Morgan M. The complexity and quality of the cooking was on par with many better-known London restaurants, but was much more affordable and a wholly more personal dining experience. It’s worth making the short trek up Liverpool Road to sample Chef Meunier’s food. Based on my meal, if the front-of-house experience can be smoothed out a bit, and if the kitchen can consistently turn out dishes as good as what we sampled, they certainly deserve consideration from the ever-elusive Michelin man.

On the outskirts of Paradise

Opening to critical acclaim in 2003, French chef Morgan Meunier has been going strong at his small haute cuisine restaurant in the somewhat unlikely location at the top of Liverpool Road in North(ish) London.

Meunier was formerly head chef at the Admiralty, and prior to that cooked at the Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He has been going strong since 2003 with mostly positive reviews, yet without much publicity, so I was definitely interested to see what this Frenchman had up his sleeve.

We cabbed it to the restaurant from (real) North London and arrived on time for our table.

If I had not seen a picture of the restaurant’s facade beforehand, I could have easily confused its corner location for a pleasant local pub, which it in fact used to be prior to its conversion to the present fine dining restaurant.

However, once you step inside, everything changes. Meunier has succeeded in producing a lovely setting within the somewhat awkward space. The colors are warm, soft and comforting; the tables well spaced; the mood refined yet not too stuffy. Apparently the artwork which adorns the walls (and is on the cover of the menu) is painted by the chef himself.

The restaurant was about half-full and we were given one of the larger tables for two near the back of the restaurant along the wood-panelled wall.

A pretty decorative place setting was there to greet us as we sat down, and I slowly began to notice the attention to detail throughout our environs. The green pattern on the plate matched the scarves of the waitresses, and similar green accents were present throughout…on the wall, on the chairs’ upholstery, on the menu, and so on. Although teetering on the edge of obsessiveness, it was all tastefully done.

Our menus were soon presented and we concerned ourselves with the not so easy task of deciding what to eat. ‘Not so easy’ because, firstly, the dishes all had very complicated descriptions – not a bad thing in itself as it all sounded delicious and there were certainly some interesting combinations – and secondly, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to eat.

Therefore, we hand the quandary of à la carte or choosing one of the two set menus (seasonal and vegetarian). In the end, we decided we weren’t hungry enough to take on either of the tasting menus which sounded a bit too ambitious given the rest of the day’s plans.

Meritorious Mastication

As we sat chatting, eagerly awaiting our first dishes, we decided we really liked it in here – it had a nice air about it.

After our orders had been placed, we were greeted with an inviting tray of homemade bread.

My choice of baguette was perfectly nice, with crisp and flakey crust and was even better with the high-quality salted butter, which came on its own silver pedestal. A quick note about the bread: strangely enough, this was the only time we were offered bread throughout the entire meal, even though we ate our single pieces of doughy goodness very quickly after receiving them. This certainly wasn’t a bad thing for our waistlines, but I found
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2
A Handy Scandi I'd Like To Fancy
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Vd

Summary:

A small, cute, clean modern Scandinavian restaurant in South Kensington that I really wanted to love, but can’t quite find reason to. Well, the herring was pretty good and they serve a mean brunch platter. But a couple of lacklustre open sandwiches and four dry meatballs with no redeeming qualities don’t exactly have me chomping at the bit to return. In any case, it’s a pleasant place to hang out and, if you order well, you might just end up with some decent Nordic grub.

A quick smushi, not a sushi, for lunch for once

I had wanted to visit Madsen, a still relatively new Scandinavian restaurant in London, since it opened around the beginning of 2009. Being a long-time fan of food from the region, I was eager to get a taste of the food without having to travel there – although I do like visiting the Nordics, Sweden especially. Somehow I never made it during the opening hoopla, but I did follow them on twitter from very early on (so it felt like I had been there, at least) and mentally noted the mostly positive reviews from the blogger- and twitter-ati, as well as the traditional press.

Anyhoot, it just so happened that we were out to get Baby LF’s French passport in South Kensington (where else would the French embassy in London be located?) before embarking on our transatlantic transplantation. It was nearing the end of what is generally considered ‘lunchtime’ and I remembered that Madsen was in the area, so we walked around the corner and espied a nearly vacant dining room, with one couple eating on the small terrace and the inside totally empty. Perfect, we had plenty of room for our little princess, and could relax and stretch out.

The lunch menu made good for reading, and pretty soon we had whittled down the choices and made our selections.

The dining room is typically Nordic, employing clean lines, lots of white and wood, and dramatic utilization of splashes of primary colors. It is a simple dining room that is inviting in the daytime and (I imagine) sufficiently atmospheric in the evening.

Onion Marinated Herring with Curry Salad & Rye Bread:
The herring was excellent, as good as I’ve had in Sweden and Denmark, and I enjoyed this element the best out of all the components in the dish. The curried salad was also pleasant and not too cloyingly sweet. The rye bread was average at best and definitely not up to the standard that I’m used to in Nordic countries. The salad was fresh enough, but it was all about the herring.

Smushi Lunch Platter:
Mrs. LF opted to go for the Smushi Lunch Platter, a trendy type of small open face sandwich gracing Denmark’s eateries as of late. It was certainly prettily presented.

Smushi Lunch Platter - Smoked Salmon with Cucumber on Sourdough Bread:
This was Mrs. LF’s favorite of the three. It was good: not a knockout, but a satisfying classic nonetheless. That said, how hard is it to prepare a simple but tasty smoked salmon sandwich?

Smushi Lunch Platter - Tomato and New Potato with Mayo & Crispy Onion on Rye Bread:
The other two smushis (can you say that?) were “take it or leave it” for both of us and not particularly rousing – a let-down for sure as they did look very appetizing. The veggie sandwich was probably our second favorite, saved in part by the crispy onions (these are nearly always good additions to plainer sandwiches, and hot dogs too, in my book).

Smushi Lunch Platter- Smoked Pork Loin Topped with Mayo & Tomato on Rye Bread:
When I saw the words “smoked pork loin” I somehow didn’t envisage some thinly sliced cold-cut-ish looking meat. Also, the menu description wasn’t particularly accurate in this instance as those were definitely potatoes, a
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IL Baretto Ltd
London | Italian Restaurants
3
The Little Bar That Could
[Non-photo review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-UF

Summary:
Il Baretto aims to project a sleek and modern image, which it pulls off just fine in terms of aesthetics, but the food underlying its somewhat perplexing menu groupings is generally classic Italian fare. Overall, the dishes we had were fresh, well prepared and some were bursting with flavor (it’s all about the burrata), although none of it – save for a rather unusual dessert – was particularly adventurous. It is a nice place to go if you fancy a fancy Italian meal and don’t want any surprises, and the staff is generally very welcoming and professional – plus you may find it interesting for people watching. I liked it and appreciated the skill in the kitchen, but wasn’t bowled over.

The phantom floor

So that’s it, we’re officially residents of New York.

Given America’s love affair with all things Italian – especially the food – I thought I’d start off my Stateside blogging with a little review (‘little’ by my standards, I suppose) of a restaurant run by Italians and managed by a London-based restaurant mafia boss.

That would be Il Baretto on Blandford Street, just off Marylebone High Street and seconds away from a trio of restaurants beginning with ‘L’ (L’Autre Pied, La Fromagerie, Le Relais de Venise) and other interesting places such as Trishna and The Providores.

The location has, so far as I am aware, been an Italian restaurant for a number of years (I think it was called Giusto in its last incarnation). Arjun Waney is the man behind Il Baretto, who decided to add the restaurant to his growing portfolio of higher-end eateries in 2009 – he is also behind the likes of Zuma, Roka and La Petit Maison.

Il Baretto apparently means “the little bar” in Italian – at least according to Google Translator – and not a type of gun, as I had first envisaged, which screwed up my original choice of title for this post (I can hear your sighs of disappointment). And a little bar it is, on the face of it at least. The defiantly dainty but certainly swanky small ground floor room does have a little bar at the back, as well as a few close-to-the-floor tables and a row of stools along a small counter that face the window looking out to the street. Perfect for a glass of prosecco and a snack – maybe a pizza or some cicchetti – but not much more than that.

You will almost definitely be met by Italians when you check in at the little reception desk immediately past the door – so far as I could tell, there were only Italians in the front of house. And the ones at reception will probably be very tall and glamorous looking women.

While I had sampled some of their pizzas on a previous occasion in the upstairs room – it was my good friend the Phantom Medic’s birthday, and he really likes it there, you see – I had never been to the underground lair that lay below. As one of the aforementioned Italian models led us down the narrow staircase, I was surprised to find a rather large and pretty slick formal dining room in the subterranean space, replete with a semi-open kitchen. I was told by the Phantom that it tends to be quite a scene down there at night. And I can confirm that during our meal an A-list Hollywood star was indeed sitting in the corner near our table – so the good doctor doesn’t tell a fib.

As it happens, I had been invited to dine that evening by said doctor as a sort of send-off before moving to the US. It is one of his favorite haunts and he had wanted me to try it out for some time.

Confusing menu, simple food

After being greeted by a slew of Italian waiters – each one welcomed Dr. J as if he was their long-lost best friend and asked after him, his family, his cat – all par for the course when dining out with this guy
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4
The Right Place at the Right Time
[Non-photo review]

For full article, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Pk

Summary:
I didn’t know what to expect from Daniel Boulud’s first UK outpost. Reviews upon its opening came in thick and fast. Most of the sentiment was positive, though some commented that its interior was devoid of personality. For my part, seated in the bar area on a weekday evening, the place seemed quite lively (this was probably enhanced by the animated and captivating sommelier, who was our unofficial host for the evening) and had a nice buzz to it. The food was generally very good (though desserts were somewhat of a disappointment), the charcuterie was nothing short of spectacular, and the restaurant is not as expensive as you might think. It’s a good addition to the neighbourhood and is a clever move from the prolific and successful Franco-American restaurateur...especially given that Heston will be serving ‘Dinner’ very soon in the same building.

BAR FOOD AT BAR BOULUD

Food blogging is a peculiar pursuit. You often get invited to events, you sometimes go, and once in a while they are really great. This was one such occasion. I met Heather Cowper at a rather random event hosted by lastminute.com a few months back. This was interesting because she is not a food blogger, but a travel blogger – another obscure species – and I had never met one before (I had seen them in cages, though). We had a nice chat and, somehow, I must have not come off as a complete bore and/or tosser.

How do I know this? Because when she organized a meal at Bar Boulud (BB) at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (MO) for a table of bloggers (Krista and Gourmet Chick were also in attendance), she for some inexplicable reason decided to invite yours truly. Laissez fare enough. Pardon the appalling pun-itive damage (gag), but I am stuck in an airport and my plane is more than three hours delayed and ain’t leaving until midnight at the earliest. So there.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. The big DB and his BB (there are, as of yet, no plans for a BB’s Little Brother). From my experiences of his establishments in New York over the years, I like the guy, his food and the way he has his restaurants run. His flagship restaurant has always served excellent food, if a bit safe, and his less formal offshoots are generally very solid as well (check out a great review from Ulterior Epicure of a recent meal at Café Boulud).

For New Yorkers in particular, and to some degree throughout the US, DB has a big profile – á la GR (apt acronym?) in the UK. Along with Danny Meyer, Keith McNally and a few others, he’s definitely one of the big players on the Manhattan restaurant scene. So it’s interesting that he’s decided to give London a shot, especially when so many NY transplants have bombed so quickly.

BB has its own entrance on the left side of the MO, if you’re facing the building. It’s fairly nondescript, so if you didn’t know about it and weren’t a hotel guest, you’d probably just keep walking, despite the doorman decked out in a black suit.

I managed to find it easily enough and, as usual, arrived a bit early, so took a stroll through Harvey Nichol’s fifth floor of food and drink (well, I just hung out in the wine department and contemplated their exceedingly good range of Champagne). I just barely managed to get out of there without purchasing anything.

Upon entering BB, I wasn’t exactly sure who else I’d be dining with, but was lead to a rectangular raised table in the bar area, which afforded me a good view of the front dining room. There were two other bloggers already there who I didn’t know (Anthony, who runs the very cool Mr & Mrs Smith travel blog and Eva), making me fashionably not first one to arrive.

Before moving on, I would like to clear up one inaccuracy that I
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The Sportsman
Whitstable | Pubs
5
The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Oh

From two to four, to the red door

It was winter 2009. We had lived, and ate, it up in France over the Christmas period. My wife was pregnant and didn’t feel like going out to rich dinners (in both senses of the word). My ever-present culinary adventurousness was restless. I wanted something special, something not London, but travelling abroad was out of the question. The resounding answer to my (granted, not earth-shattering) predicament came in two words, an article and a noun: The Sportsman.

Having read and heard about many tales of exceedingly special meals at what, on the face of it, is a simple pub on the rugged seaside near Canterbury from the food bloggers I regularly follow, I decided to book a meal there in April. It would be a special occasion for the two of us. However, it became even more special when we decided it would be more fun to experience this little journey with some good friends of a similar disposition – so we invited @mathildecuisine and @dewilded, who gladly accepted despite the fact that it seemed cause a significant family rift as they had to cancel a long-standing date with their parents. At least they have their priorities straight.

I will not regale you with a detailed history of The Sportsman as somehow it has done the unthinkable in a very short period of time: it is well-known to most UK foodies and a surprising number of international ones, a good deal of whom have made the Seasalter sojourn to experience it for themselves.

The potted history is that English brothers Stephen and Phil Harris took over The Sportsman, a local pub in Seasalter, in 1999. Since then, they have transformed it, not only in looks (scroll down for a few pictures of the lovely country pub interior) but also in terms of the food and drink being served. This was enough for them to gain a coveted Michelin star for their establishment, which they still hold. Many people I have spoken to think it is the best culinary day out one can have in the UK – high praise indeed, and expectations to match.

As my wife was not up for the rather long drive to the coast, we decided to all take the train, which worked out brilliantly – it also meant I could drink as I pleased – and we ended up arriving bang on schedule.

The Sportsman occupies a rather interesting stretch of UK coastline – some might call it desolate and lonely, others may call it inspiring. I think it’s fair to say that you might be disappointed if you came from afar for picturesque sandy beaches, because it ain’t a stereotypically beautiful beach. The restaurant is the only large structure in the area, and behind it lies a small garden plot, in which they grow some of their own fruit and vegetables when they are in season (it was fairly empty on our visit), beyond which there are a number of caravans parked in a random mish-mash of colors and sizes.

As we had arrived a little early, we decided to refresh ourselves with a walk along the seaside before sitting down for our lunch.

We had a great table in the corner of the front dining room, which afforded us a nice view of the whole dining space and also the bar. As you can see, there is a lovely wood-panelled floor, which is original, and the rest of the pub exudes warmth and light (though the especially sunny day we were blessed with probably did help). The tables are very large and well spaced out, and the chairs are comfortable. You can tell that they really care about giving their customers a good overall experience as they could surely pack in many more tables, which would likely sacrifice the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the place that we found to be perfect.

Any place serving Pol Roger Brut Réserve by the glass is a good spot in my book,
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L'Absinthe
London | Bistros
4
That's the Spirit
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Nz

L’Absinthe – That’s the Spirit

Summary:
L’Absinthe is a pleasant little bistrot on a lovely street in Primrose Hill. The simple food is executed well and is very reasonably priced. Their wine, which they also sell on a retail basis, is only marked up £10 when you order it during your meal, and they have a short but interesting selection to choose from. But the main thing about L’Absinthe is that their passion and joie de vivre shine through, and they have made it into the type of neighborhood restaurant you wished you had just around the corner from your home. I will certainly be returning.

Paris in Primrose

I am not sure why I’ve suddenly decided to review a pair of places in Primrose Hill – but alliteration aside, they are both worth it. My last review of Lanka, the cafe serving French pâtisserie with a Japanese twist, is about a five minute walk away from L’Absinthe, which is just off Regents Park Road (which functions as the High Street of the neighborhood).

Located on an attractive, wide intersection on Chalcot Road, L’Absinthe is a French bistrot-style restaurant and retail wine shop. It was set up in November 2007 by a group of Frenchmen, all with impressive backgrounds.

The proprietor is Chef Jean-Christophe Slowik, and he worked in the front-of-house under Marco Pierre White for roughly 20 years at many of his well-known ventures. When Slowik decided to go solo, he enlisted help in the form of well-respected chef Christophe Favre, who has worked with Michel Rostang in France and also at the Bleeding Hart in London. At the Bleeding Hart, Christophe met Jean-Marc Charre, who was recruited to L’Absinthe’s front-of-house, along with Jena-Marc’s colleague Laurent Valentino. Laurent was running the floor on our visit, and he is one of the most pleasant hosts I’ve come across in London.

The restaurant has both upstairs and downstairs dining rooms. Upstairs is light and airy, with a motif of green – presumably a reference to its namesake. There are a total of 30 covers, with one long rectangular communal table as you enter, a few shelves of wine, and then a number of simple wood tables on a slightly raised level, with a little window to the kitchen at the back. There is also terrace seating available outside – I believe about five tables – when the weather is nice enough to warrant it.

The downstairs room was not open when we were there for our Saturday lunch, but seemed perfectly pleasant and houses another 34 covers. The bar also resides below, and there is direct access from the kitchen as well.

Making a meal of it

We had walked past the place earlier in the week, when it was unfortunately closed, and I recalled some foodie friends of mine going here about a year ago and saying it was good, so I made a mental note to keep it in mind next time we were in the area. That just happened to be a few days later, so we took another look at the menu posted outside and decided that the bistrot fare looked appetizing and reasonably priced, plus it looked like everyone there was having a good time.

Upon being seated, some bread was brought to our table to keep us occupied. It was of the basic sliced variety (which seemed store-bought, but I didn’t ask) and was freshly toasted for each table, a nice touch. The butter was particularly good, and it is homemade on the premises according to one of the waitresses.

As I perused the wine list, I noticed that they seem to have a strong relationship with (or affinity for) the champagne house Thiénot, as the brand features on the cover of their wine list and also on the awning of the restaurant. Alain Thiénot is quite a well-regarded figure in the Champagne region, and also runs a nu
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Gauthier Soho
London | French Restaurants
4
Alexis Goes to Town
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, please go to: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Kf

Summary:
Alexis Gauthier, the 1 Michelin star French chef, has moved from Roussillon in Pimlico to a townhouse in the heart of Soho. From a preview meal I had during the restaurant's soft opening, it appears that he may have found a winning formula. The menu format is clever and good value, the environs are cosy and inviting. And the food continues to be precisely cooked with subtle and delicate flavors, while at the same time carrying the chef’s particular flair. Gauthier Soho looks set to become a welcome addition to the growing cadre of enjoyable restaurants that have graced Soho over the last couple of years.

Trading places

There was a rumor circulating earlier this year that French chef Alexis Gauthier, then chef and proprietor of Roussillon, a 1 Michelin star restaurant in London’s Pimlico, was looking to do something different. Having broken ground by creating one of the capital’s first purely vegetarian tasting menus – that actually held interest and tasted great throughout – and then keeping standards consistently high for a number of years, possibly he felt it was time for a new challenge, to take the road less travelled. Having had the pleasure of dining at Roussillon on a few occasions, I was generally impressed – everything from the service, to the subtly prepared food, through to the elegant little dining room demonstrated that Gauthier wanted his customers to come away having had a wonderful overall experience. And I think most people did.

It turns out the rumors were true, and although Gauthier still retains a small shareholding in Roussillon, he has now taken over the townhouse at 21 Romilly Street in Soho, which was home to Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House before he moved on himself to open Corrigan’s Mayfair. I was lucky enough to dine at the new restaurant, which is matter-of-factly called Gauthier Soho, this week during the ‘soft opening’, and it opens for business on Monday the 17th of May. As such, the meal was complimentary and diners were asked to leave any token amount of money they felt like leaving as well as filling out detailed comment cards.

Making a house a home

I was dining with a foodie friend, and we both arrived promptly for our early dinner. The ebony and ivory facade looked subtle and classy, and we were glad to see that the design of the interior rooms had also been well thought out, especially given the constraints that an old townhouse could potentially create for a restaurant attempting to inhabit it.

The four-story townhouse that the restaurant occupies is made up of a ground floor dining room with about 18 covers, a first floor dining room with approximately 24 covers, a third floor with two private rooms (one caters for up to 16, the other for up to six), and a fourth floor which houses the administrative offices. The kitchen resides in the basement and there is a temperature-controlled open wine cellar just behind the ground floor dining room (more on that later).

The downstairs dining room is pleasantly formal and has a calming effect. In fact, you’d barely know you were in bustling Soho as inside the cool colors and soft lighting put you at ease straight away. There are lovely original features such as the fireplace and also beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers. We felt as if we were sitting in someone’s very posh residential dining room, so although it was formal, it was not at all too stiff.

The tables themselves are well spaced, allowing for private conversation, and nearly all of the two-person tables were arranged in the 10 o’clock / 2 o’clock format (which I much prefer), with only two tables having chairs positioned directly facing each other. The other thing I liked about the
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POLPO Soho
London | Italian Restaurants
4
Polpo – Sohopeful, So Good
[Non-photo review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-Jo

Polpo – Sohopeful, So Good

Summary:
A Venetian bacaro meets Lower East Side Manhattan bar, Polpo has a lovely buzzy atmosphere and relaxed but professional service in the middle of London’s Soho. The food is simple, with most dishes employing five ingredients or less, and is executed very well on the whole, with some real standouts. It’s also not overly expensive if you can reign yourself in from the tempting offerings. I really wanted to like Polpo, and after two long lunches there, am pleased to say that it is a place I really enjoy being at, and intend to frequent in the future.

Getting ready for cicchetti

Having just written about another Soho restaurant that offers good value for money, I am happy to be scribbling about another one which I recently discovered. Somewhat to my surprise, I was not the last London food blogger to visit the rather new and ever-popular Polpo. Indeed, it appeared that a twitter ‘friend’ I had communicated with virtually for some time had also not been (I know, the travesty), and it seemed like an apt time and place for a lunch with @KaveyF, the woman behind Kavey Eats.

I had a lot of preconceived notions and high expectations about this place. Firstly, the response from bloggers that I generally tend to agree with had been decidedly mixed. Secondly, having been to Venice a number of times and understanding the bacari that Polpo presumably purports itself to be modelled after, I was cynical about how well they would be able to carry out this concept in central London, without the ethereal magic of the Venetian canals and architecture. (As a side note, it is quite a neat coincidence that Polpo does happen to sit right beneath the plaque marking the spot where Canaletto, the Venetian painter, lived in London).

There are very few places in London that offer proper cicchetti (pronounced ‘chi-ket-ee’), and I went to one just after starting this blog, which was a posher incarnation of the concept but wasn’t half bad (just a bit pricey). At their heart, cicchetti are very small plates of simple food that Venetians typically have from anytime in the very late morning through to mid-to-late afternoon at local bars (bacari), and they are normally accompanied by a small glass of wine. From my own experience, they are typically eaten at the bar standing up, or possibly on a stool or outside the bacaro if it is a warm day, maybe overlooking the canal. In fact, the icon that I use for my online avatar is the shop-front of a very nice little bacaro that I happened upon while staying in the relatively quiet and peaceful Accademia neighborhood on my last visit to Venice. It’s mostly frequented by locals and is quite traditional. They sell wine on a retail basis, offer some by the glass and a range of snacks to eat with the small glasses of wine they serve. I love the whole concept and ethos of snacking in Venice, so was hoping that Polpo wouldn’t screw around with the simple and successful formula too much.

Polpo’s proprietor, Russell Norman, was formerly Operations Director at Caprice Holdings (Richard Caring’s dining empire, which continues to expand rapidly…and internationally as of late) and, as such, has a lot of experiencing opening new restaurants and making them successful. He says that his two main inspirations for the restaurant were the bacari of Venice and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Tribeca and Soho, where he saw a particular type of place to eat and socialize that didn’t exist in London.

The place certainly opened with a bang, and much was made of Russell’s proactive use of twitter right through the time leading up to the opening, and then during the eventual launch of the restaurant. Despite the reservations of some bloggers and
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Arbutus Restaurant
London | Modern Cuisine Restaurants
4
Arbutus – All Set for Lunch
[Non-photo Review]

For full review, please see: http://wp.me/pwXBH-IN

Summary: Arbutus does what so many ‘British’ restaurants based in London should do, but don’t. It provides simple, satisfying, seasonal, well-cooked and flavorful food at a very fair price. The service is informal yet professional and there are roughly 60 wines available by the carafe. To me, it’s the perfect place to go for lunch in central London – you will enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.

Lunch with the Detective, Part Deux

It had been a while since I first met up with Craig of The London Food Detective at Great Queen Street for a very good lunch, and we both decided it had been too long. We eventually decided on a date and settled on Arbutus in Soho as our second target, namely because it is known for having a bargain of a set-lunch menu.

I have walked by Arbutus countless times during my years of Soho meanderings, and was glad that I would finally be looking from the inside out. Chef Anthony Demetre was formerly of Putney Bridge Restaurant, where he earned his first Michelin star. Since opening Arbutus in May of 2006 with his business partner Will Smith (who doesn’t star in OTT American action movies), Demetre has built up a reputation for serving relatively simple yet well-executed ‘British gatropub meets French bistrot’ fare in a front-of-house ambience that is often described as informal and relaxed. Many critics and bloggers have also sung the praises of the 1 Michelin star establishment on the basis that the food represents very good value for money compared to many other restaurants carrying the same distinction.

I was thus very excited to try the food and to catch up with my lunch buddy, Craig. I hadn’t noticed from outside that the left side of the building is mostly taken up by a long bar (at which you can dine comfortably) and that the back of the room wraps around to the right side, which houses the formal dining room, forming a long u-shape. The restaurant makes good use of the space, without things being too cramped.

(As a side note, the layout is remarkably similar to that of Trishna, an Indian restaurant just off Marylebone High Street I visited recently which I enjoyed and hope to write about in the near future).

Clear vision, clean cooking

Craig had already arrived, and was waiting at a table in the middle of the main dining room. We perused the menus for a while and chatted about the big news in our lives – for him, a move outside of London, and for me, the impending arrival of ‘Baby LF’. ;-)

Some relatively soft brown bread was served, with a nice block of butter. Both were good and the bread certainly seemed to be homemade, though I forgot to ask. 6/10.

We both opted to go for the set-lunch menu, as you can’t really argue against £16.95 for 3 courses at a Michelin starred restaurant, unless there is a specific dish you must have off the à la carte. It was a compact set menu – two starters, two mains and either a dessert or cheese – but the choices were generally appealing and, after chatting with our waiter, it seemed like we might be able to substitute something here or there for little or no additional cost (please note that we didn’t actually try this, so please ask before assuming you can!).

Starter 1: Crisp Pork Cheek & Celeriac Remoulade

Craig ordered the Crisp Pork Cheek & Celeriac Remoulade and said: “It was attractively presented with the pork cheek sitting on a colourful bed of leaves, with the celeriac remoulade on the side. The pork had a lovely crisp topping that contrasted with the warm, fatty, gelatinous cheek underneath. The pork melted in the mouth and the accompanying remoulade offered a mustardy, slightly bitter contrast to the richness of the fat. Together with the s
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