Nine dishes from around the world you cannot miss in London (and where I found them)

I keep thinking about what George Bernard Shaw said about food. “There is no love sincerer than the love of food”, said he. It’s a universally acknowledged love that certainly brings people together. Then there is this exceptional city we find ourselves living in; a multi-cultural hot pot that is renowned the world over. With that comes culinary influences from around the world shaping and re-shaping the landscape continuously. So, it’s fair then that many acclaimed chefs would showcase their cuisine here. I’m fortunate that I get to experience much of it in my line of work. So I want to share with you ten dishes from around the world that you cannot miss in London. Oh, and also where I found them.

Light Bites

IMG_4751

Vietnamese prawn rice paper rolls

Gôi cuôn is a traditional Vietnamese spring roll filled with pork, vegetables, prawns and noodles wrapped in rice paper. In Vietnam they are always made fresh and served at room temperature. Head down to Bar 31 in St. Thomas Street in London Bridge to get a taste of these beautifully translucent snacks. The bar’s proximity to Borough Market means all of their produce is delivered fresh daily. Yes please!

Bar31 is located at: 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9QU

Mains

Japanese beef toban-yaki

Experience the traditional Japanese cooking method of toban-yaki which means to roast on ceramic plates. The dish consists of thinly sliced beef served with shiitake mushrooms in saké seasoned with citrus fruit or plums. Ukai in Notting Hill is a great place to experience this dish in all its glory. It arrives still sizzling in its ceramic dish.

Ukai is located at: 240 Portobello Rd, London W11 1LL

IMG_7451

Basque Country rack of lamb

It’s raining Michelin stars in the Basque region; 19 restaurants share 28 stars. The region’s cuisine is based around rich local produce. Grilled lamb, cured meats and fresh fish take centre stage and you can go high or low without missing the spot. Where can you can get a taste of the region in London? Try the rustic rack of lamb served at Basque chef Eneko Axta’s London restaurant Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar. It’s served with a perfect sauce and there’s a great choice of side dishes to choose from.

Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is located at: London WC2B 4BZ

Cornish Lobster

There was a time that we associated good sea food with tropical climes and far away places. Proof that good food needn’t travel far is at Ting at Shangri-La at the Shard. Taste the best of British sea food expertly cooked at Ting. Their direct links with Borough Market means everything on the menu is locally sourced and fresh.

Ting is located at: Level 35 of Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, London.

IMG_7103

Spanish paella

Socarrat  from the Spanish verb socarrar means to singe. As paella is traditionally cooked in a large shallow pan the singed rice crust is an essential part of paella-making and eating. Experience the best of socarrat paella made under the instruction of three Michelin starred, mohawk-sporting chef David Muñoz at Street XO London in Mayfair. Best of all, it’s on their £25 express lunch menu and served with roasted chicken wings and Japanese white sesame dressing for good measure.

StreetXO London is located at: 15 Old Burlington Street Mayfair London W1S 2JR

American mac ‘n cheese

Want to taste the great all-American classic Mac ‘n Cheese? Avenue on St. Jame’s has a great version on its A La Carte menu. Made with truffles, wild mushrooms and Westcombe Farmhouse Cheddar cheese it’s an absolute dream.

Avenue is located at: 7-9 St. James’ Street, London SW1A 1EE

Desserts

Indian rabdi falooda

No list of London restaurants can be complete without an Indian dish in it. Get your authentic fix with the Indian favourite dessert rabdi falooda. Fitzrovia newcomer Lokhandwala has the most incredible version with goji berries and toffee sauce. What else? It’s served with chillie chocolate. Yikes!

Lokhandwala is located at: 93, Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 4PY

IMG_5964 2.jpg

British walnut whip

The great British childhood favourite, the walnut whip, gets a Michelin star makeover at Alyn Williams at The Westbury. If you enjoyed this whirly chocolate marshmallow confectionary as a child then you will definitely want to try this upgrade. Michelin-starred Alyn Williams has transformed this humble saccharin-loaded sweet in to a sophisticated signature dish; it’s a light as air dessert topped with edible gold leaf.

Alyn Williams is located at: 37 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2YF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ukai, Notting Hill Review

What do you cherish the most about living in London? My thing is that you can eat anything you want, from anywhere in the world, at any time. It’s all within an area of 607 square miles connected by underground tunnels. You never need get on a plane if you fancy a New York bagel, Japanese sparkling saké or Ethiopian coffee at 3am. This is something I cherish like a pearl carried around in my pocket wrapped in a hanky; I take it out every now and again, admire it, polish it and put it back until next time. The other thing about this city is that it always manages to impress you, no matter how long you’ve lived here. For example, the best chefs in the world have their restaurants in London. We have so much choice that our greatest barrier, to overcome before dining, is wondering where to eat. As long as you’re willing to criss-cross the city you can pretty much eat whatever you desire.

Ukai, Notting Hill

So it’s on one such occasion that I braved our public transport system, during the now historic Heat Wave 2018, to leave the comfort of East London for the bohemian utopia of West London. I was reviewing Ukai in Notting Hill. The restaurant celebrates three years in Notting Hill this year.

IMG_6778

The Space

Ukai serves Japanese food. You’ll get that vibe as soon as you walk in to the restaurant behind the bar. If I may digress for a moment, I like a good space. Where I eat is just as important as what I eat. When a restaurant, no matter if it’s high or low end, considers the whole experience of its patrons, for me at least, it translates to courtesy. I like a space that transports me elsewhere to make me forget everything that happened before I walked through its doors. So to return to West London – it’s the Japanese of your dreams. Beautiful Kimonos and paintings adorn walls and ceiling. Dark wood tables and low lighting conveys a dramatic, theatrical mood. My food was being prepared behind a glass and I could see it all happening. For a small space it was very clever and I loved it. All of the boxes above, ticked.

IMG_6791

The Menu

I rarely choose for myself when I write reviews (it’s becoming a concern and I’ve made a mental note to stop). Instead, I allow the chef or the kitchen to serenade me with food. I started with plum wine (one of my favourite things to drink) and we were off. White tuna tataki (£11.50) arrived first. It’s seared fish, yuzu and truffle. What I loved the most about this was that if the fish indeed was seared it had been done so delicately I couldn’t taste it. It was almost raw making it light and utterly magnificent. More plum wine. Out came a mixed seafood ceviche (£12). *How do I love thee? Let me count the ways; Tuna, butterfish, avocado and dragon fruit. Avocado and dragon fruit! Served on a banana leaf, no less. How did my life come to be without ever having tasted this flavour combination on a banana leaf? It was a triumph. It’s time to abandon the avocado on toast brigade and enjoy the fruit as it might be eaten where it grows.

IMG_6821

Next to arrive was Lobster tail tempura which, at first, may sound like a waste of good lobster. However, this was light as a feather and full of flavour seafood. I say that as one who’s not a fan of fried food. Nothing of the lobster had been lost in the deep frying. I enjoyed it with a glass of Prosecco and savoured it until the next dish arrived.

Next up was the sizzling hot beef tenderloin toban yaki (£23). I watched the chef heat up the ceramic dish and lid on the open fire before placing the beef in it. Everything inside was still cooking while it travelled to my table. When it arrived the beef was rare, the shiitake mushrooms tender and the seasoned saké just heavenly. Such perfect timing. For me, this was the standout plate on Ukai’s menu. It was warm, delicate and wild all at the same time commanding my undivided attention.

The finale of the evening was the towering yuzu cheesecake (£7) served with raspberries and star fruit. It was a cheesecake like no other in both size and taste. Just as everything I had tasted that evening it was a fine balance of flavour, culinary skill and artistry with none of it over powering the other.

As you read this review you’d be forgiven for thinking this is just very good gastro-pub food. I beg to differ. This is serious gastronomy worth criss-crossing the city for.

 

 

 

*Browning, Elizabeth. Sonnet 43.

Ukai is located at: 240 Portobello Road Notting Hill, W11 1LL. For more information visit: www.Ukai.co.uk

Three Michelin-starred chef Eneko Axta’s Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar Review

How does one get a Michelin star? I confess that I only had a vague idea. Culinary’s highest accolade is handed out by the French tyre company in its annual Red Guide, which was first complied in 1900, not for the sake of gastronomy but as a means to sell tyres. The  aim of the Guide Rouge was to get French drivers in their cars driving between towns. The sound theory being that they would ultimately need to buy new tyres.

Today, it’s the world’s last word in dining. Michelin, whilst operating on the infamous French culinary code of silence, highlights only extraordinary restaurants. It’s criteria for selection is possibly the world’s best kept secret. Inspectors turn up anonymously as regular diners, eat, pay and leave. It appears that consistency is key as establishments could lose a star as much as earn one. What we do know is that stars are awarded entirely on the quality of food; decor, atmosphere nor service at the establishment are considered.

One, two and three stars

One star is awarded to places worth visiting if you’re already in the area. It is believed that they are inspected every two years. Two star restaurants are deemed worthy of drifting away from your planned route. They have been rated on the quality and uniqueness of ingredients thus offering diners an experience they couldn’t have elsewhere. Two star restaurants are thought to be inspected monthly. Three stars are awarded to restaurants worthy of going out of your way for. This is an elite, prestigious rating requiring the approval of several inspectors. Chefs must display exquisite mastery of their craft and be paving the way for new food trends and unique experiences to be considered for the elusive third star.

Chef Eneko Atxa

Chef Eneko Atxa belongs to the elite group of chefs who’ve been deemed worthy of the third star by Michelin. Walk in to Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar within the sublime One Aldwych Hotel, Covent Garden and it’s unlikely that anyone would disagree.

It’s inspired by the rustic Basque region and the dignity of fine dining. The two things have been woven into a sphere of informal sophistication that you never wish to leave. To understand the food and the space is to understand the man. Chef Eneko Axta’s Azurmendi restaurant, which earned the three stars, has been named the world’s most sustainable restaurant by World’s 50 Best Restaurants. So you already know what’s to be expected in London; seasonal food, responsibly sourced fish, fairly treated staff, little food waste and well-fed patrons.

Stairs

The Space

I simply floated down the beautiful brass staircase to an atrium of rustic finesse. It’s warm, welcoming and unimposing. Later in the evening I was informed that Chef Eneko jogs in the woods in his native Basque country. That was was my penny-drop moment. Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar feels as intimate and comforting as woods in autumn where tables and chairs have been tenderly laid out to make us fall in love. Cushioned red seating surrounds hand-carved cherrywood tables and artisan wood panels on the walls have been hand-hammered. From the corner of my eye I noticed flecks of brass flicker in the light in the same way sun rays seep between trees in the woods. It’s little wonder then that the restaurant was awarded Best Restaurant or Bar Design 2017 at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards.

Traditional Talo detail

The Menu

The all-Spanish wine list includes four wines produced in Bilbao especially for the restaurant; a theme which runs through the menu. I had the light and elegant Baigorri Crianza Rioja Alavesa. It was my initiation into Basque wine and I doubt I’ll look back.

As with all reviews I redeemed myself from the task of choosing dishes. This time especially so as I had prior notice that Chef Eneko was in London for a few hours and would be in the kitchen during my visit. One sumptuous plate after another drifted from the kitchen towards my table.

La Tabla del Charcutero arrived first with home-made pickles, crystal bread and three cured meats; coppa, chorizo and salchichón. The animals are especially bred for the restaurant which made this an absolute delight. Each slice melted in the mouth. The accompanying crystal bread was so utterly divine I unashamedly asked for more. This was followed by a visually stunning traditional Talo; a signature dish of the Basque region. It’s a vegetarian dish of crispy corn Talo topped with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and what I day-dreamed was foraged cress with basil emulsion. The dish is for sharing and celebrated in its home on Saint Thomas’ Day on 21st December. It was all that it promised to be; fresh, crispy and delightfully sweet. This was a celebration in itself and undoubtedly sanctified indeed.

A rack of lamb and a side of stir-fried courgette with pine nuts and chive oil arrived next. This was the only compromise that had been made on the menu for British tastes; there are no-side dishes in Spanish cuisine. It’s always a joy when a dish turns out exactly as it’s meant to. The rack of lamb was just that; an unpretentious, thrilling dish which delivered satisfaction of primeval proportions. It’s a thing that can only happen in the hands of one who honours the abundance of the earth instead of wasting it.

My final temptation was the victorious combination of tangy raspberry tartlet with cascading dark chocolate. Given that I’m a zealous fan of the latter it was an exercise in good judgement from the kitchen. As I write this I’m tempted to use the words, decadent or indulgent to describe the dessert. However, in hindsight, I remember that none of it was. At no point of this sumptuous celebration of food, served in the middle of the largest city in Europe, did any of it feel indulgent or flamboyant. Everything I saw, smelt, touched and tasted seemed that it had been cooked with purpose. Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is one pleasure on our doorstep that I humbly recommend we all enjoy. What an utterly remarkable feat to achieve.

 

 

 

 

Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is located at: London WC2B 4BZ. For more information visit: www.eneko.london

 

 

Ten reasons to visit the English Garden, Munich

Munich’s famous Englischer Garten or English Garden dwarfs both Central Park and Hyde Park, London in size. Not many places can boast an urban space twice the size of Central Park, New York. English Garden occupies an area of 1.4 square miles from mid-town to city limits.

The garden is a park which gets its name from the informal landscape style that was popular in Britain around the mid 18th – 19th century. It’s easy to see why on a summer’s day over 100 000 people flock to the park; woodland and meadows, a network of wide paths, plenty of places to picnic and an ice cold stream running through it makes it an easy choice for city-dwellers to relax and unwind. I spent a day here taking in the scenery, getting lost and generally being an tourist. Here are ten reasons why you must never leave Munich without visiting the English Garden.

IMG_5408

1. You can ride an artificial wave

There’s an artificial wave where surfers line up along the bank and wait their turn. You need to be an expert or skilled surfer as the current can be strong and there are metal poles under the stream.

2. Go with the tide on the Eisbach

The Eisbach or ice brook is a man-made river which flows through the park. Although swimming in the brook is not allowed it’s not a rule that’s enforced strictly. On any day swimmers brave the chilly water and let the natural tide carry them along the brook. It’s a fun thing to do and you will see hordes of teenagers gliding along the brook.

IMG_5305

3. Almost everyone rides a bike and there are plenty of spaces to park one

One of the most noticeable things in Munich is that almost everyone rides a bike. So there are bike stops everywhere. If you’re peckish and want to stop for lunch you can park your bike next to your table and relax. No bike police here.

IMG_5309

4. There’s a rose garden

English Garden has a rose garden and it’s as beautiful as it sounds. As well as perfectly manicured flower beds there is an arched pavilion with seats, right in the middle, where you can sit surrounded by roses.

IMG_5332

5. Goldene Bar serves up a mean grapefruit lemonade

The Goldene Bar is a cafe and restaurant which sits behind Haus der Kunst. It has a terrace overlooking the park. They serve a mean cold grapefruit lemonade and a fabulous cup of coffee with cake.

6. You can drink tea in a Japanese tea house

The Japanese tea house inside the park was built in 1972 to celebrate the Olympics in Munich that year. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony takes place here regularly. However, you will need to check opening hours outside summer months as it was closed when I was there.

IMG_5393

7. Eat local at Seehaus Restaurant

Seehaus restaurant inside the park is set in the most idyllic setting with views across the lake. It’s cosy and gorgeous and has outdoor seating as well as more formal dining inside. The menu is pretty incredible and suited for celebrating a special occasion. I had the charred Bavarian salmon in elderflower oil. Delicious!

IMG_5375

8. A five-storey Chinese Tower serves up beer

The Chinesischer Turm, or Chinese Tower, inspired by the Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London was first constructed in 1789 to 1790 . It has five storeys and a beer garden with 7000 seats. It’s still only the second largest beer garden in Munich. Come here during summer and it’s Oktoberfest in the sun.

IMG_5361

9. Buy ice cream from a converted toilet

Fraulein Grüneis is, wait for it…a public toilet converted into a quaint ice cream shop. It’s become one of the most popular meeting places in the park and all of Munich. You can buy anything from pretzels to penny sweets here.

IMG_4451

10. Visit a Greek style temple built on a mount

Monopteros or Apollo Temple is a 16 meter high Greek style temple built in 1832 on a small hill within the park. It was designed by Leo von Klenze and is complete with polychrome stone paintings. As much as its historic value the elevated position offers a stunning view of the sunset over Munich. Rumour has it that it’s a favourite with lovers.

English Garden: 

%d bloggers like this: