StreetXO London Restaurant Review

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What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of fine dining at a Mayfair restaurant? Plush surroundings, formal dining and stiff upper-lipped staff? Well, not so at StreetXO London. Think street food in shady parts of Bangkok, night markets in Hong Kong or China Town Food Street in Singapore and you’d be closer to the StreetXO experience. Rules of fine dining do not apply and anything goes; chopsticks, cutlery or fingers. It’s street life for sure. You’d be forgiven for thinking that all this style comes at the price of substance. You’d be wrong. This is the London home of chef David Muñoz; he who cut his teeth at Hakkasan, Nahm and Nobu. The chef with the only restaurant in Madrid to be awarded three Michelin stars for DiverXO. Welcome to the world of David Muñoz!

The Space

I walked down a golden staircase to the dark heart of StreetXO. It was lunch time but already evening in the world of XO. Neon lights flash above the open kitchen and the fluidity of the kitchen counter appeared to carry me away on a wave and I walked past my reserved table only to walk back.

Just as if you were on a busy side street in Bangkok, of an evening, there’s much to see. Stimulation is everywhere; mirrors on the wall, blood red formica tables, leather, noise. Giant glass baubles act as lampshades and I can see what looks suspiciously like a colourful ice cream vending machine at the end of the kitchen. It reminds me of something from an animé movie. I can’t quite figure out what. All in all it works for me. I hadn’t realised what I’d signed up for but I was now knee-deep in it and I liked it. Five minutes in and I’d already forgotten the world outside.

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The Menu

I begin with a colossal cocktail. Liquid Madrizzzzz DiverXO is made of
violet shrub, lime, ginger and jasmine perfume served in a cocktail glass three times the size of a regular one. I stirred it and the aroma of jasmine was intoxicating in an ethereal sense. Pink and purple petals floated on the lavender hued drink as if it was magic. Lime and ginger was in perfect balance with the herbal violet shrub and I understood why it arrived in a large glass; you’d be willing to drink a great deal of it.

SteamedXO club sandwich was the first to arrive. Suckling pig, ricotta, runny fried quail egg and chilli mayonnaise on a soft bao; it was wondrous. Galician octopus who spoke Indian was octopus served on roasted tomatoes, butter masala and squid ink crackers. It was an intensely colourful, aromatic dish. Three perfectly steamed soft buns arrived just in time for me to soak up the last of the butter masala with. A green asparagus salad of green olive emulsion, oranges and spicy chlorophyll acidulated oil was nothing short of spectacular; a raw, tangy tower of green delight. The standout dish however, was the Spanish socarrat paella with roasted chicken wings and Japanese white sesame dressing. Socarrat (derived from the word socarrar meaning to singe) is an essential part of paella making. Served with StreetXO’s chicken wings and sesame dressing it was a gastronomic bulls eye.

As luck was on my side I was able to try not one but two desserts on the menu. Guava cheesecake, caramelised popcorn, lemon gel and sablé butter cookies arrived in a box as any true gift should. Spicy strawberry with cream, white chocolate and strawberry sponge was also presented in a box complete with a lid. Both dishes were staggeringly beautiful and caused anarchy on the palate. Rebellious deserts that left their mark on my heart; they were exceptional in taste and texture whilst also rather generous in quantity.

All of these tasting dishes are on StreetXO’s express lunch menu which is just £25 per person and available Tuesday to Friday. That’s not a typo. It really does say £25 per person. Drinks and desserts are extra of course. We have to pinch ourselves to remember that this is Mayfair fine dining. Given the creativity of the dishes, the dining experience and the heritage of the chef this is an incredible menu and one that London truly deserves.

 

 

 

StreetXO is located at: 5 Old Burlington Street, W1S 3AJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

How London restaurant Ikoyi conquered the final frontier

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Taste of London does many things for London and of course, for food in the capital. I discovered two things here this year. One of the things is the wonderful Ikoyi and its introduction of West African fine dining to London. The restaurant was founded by childhood friends Jeremy Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukal. Since their opening last year the dynamic duo have gained a loyal following of food connoisseurs. I was pleased to catch up with one half of Ikoyi’s innovative team, chef Jeremy Chan, at Taste of London. We talked about how Ikoyi conquered the final frontier:

GTW: What do you find most exciting about African ingredients and how do you use them in your dishes?

JC: I love West African ingredients for their pungency, umami, bold heat and intensity. We use hundreds of different ingredients from around the globe and not only from West Africa. I strip the ingredient of it context and culture then use it in its original setting. I look at it objectively. We think of this as an academic exercise. I’m always asking new questions about old ingredients. Something that’s not been done before. For instance, we use a fermented bush mango seed in a dessert; Ogbono. It’s traditionally eaten with a meat stew in Nigeria. At Ikoyi we use it to create a sour and salty caramel akin to a whey caramel. The results are a combination of the new and the familiar.

GTW: What unusual flavour pairings have you included in your menu and how do you go about sourcing ingredients you need?

JC: That has to be coffee and octopus. The sauce is bitter, sweet, smokey and pairs well with the tender but textured Octopus. With the sourcing side, firstly I read a lot on cooking, cuisine, medicine and history of West Africa. Then I make a list of products to test based on their chemical properties as well as flavour. I then look online and speak to any contact I have in the region to put me in touch with a supplier. Often I get bags of spices brought over in suitcases!

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GTW: So, the focus is on bold heat and umami. What would you say are the best examples of this on your menu for those who might need a little help choosing a dish?

JC: All of our dishes are based on concentration of umami and not always in heat. This shines through mostly with the chicken oyster dish which is glazed with fermented locust bean and smoked eel jus.

GTW: Have you been surprised by the positive reaction to Ikoyi and to West African cuisine in general? 

JC: There has been a surge in interest of African cuisine largely because sophisticated diners are always on the lookout for what is new. I think Africa has remained one of the last frontiers in food. However, it seems that the interest in African food comes with expectations and pre-judgments which makes it challenging for new expressions. Yes, of course there is interest but it seems ephemeral. In many cases it doesn’t scratch beneath the surface.

GTW: How do people who have never experienced West African food react to it?

JC: It depends on the guest. I think people who have a global mindset whose taste receptors have experience with a broad range of flavours will find our food delicious. People who have grown up in a singular culture less exposed to spice & intense umami may find our food overpowering.

GTW: What do those acquainted with West African cuisine make of it?

JC: For those acquainted with West African food, it depends if they come to the restaurant expecting West African food or not. Ultimately if you come to Ikoyi without an open mind you’re probably going to be disappointed. Our intention is to demonstrate our passion for cooking and making people feel good.

GTW: What are you most looking forward to showcasing at Taste of London and why was it important for you to be a part of it? 

JC: We wanted to be a part of Taste of London to access a broader range of guests who may have heard of Ikoyi but have yet to walk through our doors. We also liked the idea of interacting with people and talking through our concept to convey the message of Ikoyi outside of the restaurant. We also thought it would be fun for our chefs to cook in a different setting.

 

 

Ikoyi is located at: 1 Saint James’s Market, SW1Y 4AH. For more information visit: www.ikoyilondon.com

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Puglia: Michelin-starred dining with Chef Felice Sgarra

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London was graced with a magnificent event at Sauterelle at Royal Exchange last month to mark the beginning of summer. It’s event A Taste of Puglia brought to an unforgettable evening of fine dining from chef Felice Sgarra. Chef Felice is the Chef Patron of the Umami of Andria, Puglia, a Michelin-starred restaurant. I was invited review this wonderfully special dinner showcasing the sublime quality of artisan produce of Puglia.

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A langoustine tartare with red lentils, lemon and wild chicory consommé was a fitting introduction to the evening. The combination of citrus flavour and the texture of lentils on the dish prepared the palette for what was an exceptional menu. The main dish of stone bass and black chickpeas from Murgia were as expected a wonderful display of taste and texture. Sautéed cardoncelli mushrooms with courgette flower and orange gel were a firm reminder of Chef Felice’s ability to create palatial dishes from simple ingredients. The subtle hint of citrus on a beautifully balanced dish of flavours was an incredible feat.

IMG_4876If all this was not enough, the dish that won me over, was extra virgin olive oil ice cream served with fresh ricotta, almonds and dark chocolate shavings. Olive oil wouldn’t be my first choice of flavour for ice cream. However, once I tasted it I wondered why it hadn’t been. It was not only utterly sumptuous but felt rich and indulgent; exactly what we must expect from a fine dessert.

The evening was a resounding success in establishing exactly why Puglia has set the bar for Southern Italian cookery. With such delightful produce created from its soil is it any wonder that the region is home to renowned restaurant Umami. We owe much gratitude to Sauterelle’s Executive Head Chef Stefano Leone for this collaboration. I only hope that Sauterelle will treat London to another fine evening with Chef Felice in Autumn.

 

Sauterelle at Royal Exchange is located at: The Royal Exchange, Bank, London, EC3V 3LR. For more information visit: Sauterelle at Royal Exchange