Friday, October 28, 2011

Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte




I’ve been countless times to Le Relais de Venise in Marylebone. I think I’ll always have a fondness for it since it was the first restaurant I visited after moving to London. My amazing cousin M. from New York, a man of many talents, took me there when he came down to visit.

The restaurant is also known by the steak it serves: Entrecôte. Given that’s the only thing it serves, it’s natural you will meet people who either absolutely love it or people who don’t get what the fuss is about. I’ve noticed if you’re not a fan of mustard, you’re probably not going to be too thrilled with food or if you’re vegetarian. Actually, don’t go if you’re vegetarian. 

There is something refreshing about not have the option to choose your main course from the menu. You sit down and you know what you’re going to get. All you have to say is one word: Rare or medium. I would not recommend saying ‘well done’. You will get a disdainful glance from your waitress, sometimes even an outright glare of disapproval.



A glass of the house wine and you’re ready to start on the salad served with walnuts and a mustard dressing. And then your Entrecôte steak comes – thinly sliced and drowned in their secret sauce with a heap of thinly cut, crispy pommes frites. The greatness of the meal doesn’t really lie in the steak. Sure it’s good but I think you could get better quality steaks elsewhere. What makes you feel like queuing for ages for your meal is the sauce. Which is why some people are not fans of Relaise de Venise – if they don’t like the sauce, that’s pretty much the last time they visit. Fans of butter will be pleased. It’s definitely made with lots of butter, maybe some mustard and I can't figure the herbs in it....thyme?

Once you finish the steak and the mountain of fries served, you feel content and satisfied but you think to yourself, “That was good, but I could have done with a little more”.......and guess what, just that minute, a second serving of steak and fries appear. This is my favourite bit and I never tell people I bring here just so that I can see that look of surprise on their face.




 Le Vacherin 


The desserts are lovely and perfect for sharing because you do feel a bit stuffed by the end of the meal. My favourite is a tie between the Profiteroles and Le Vacherin (a decadant tower of meringue, chocolate, whipped cream and icecream). The bill usually comes to around 25£ - 30£

A word of warning though – the queues are ridiculous since they are very popular and don’t take reservations. You could end up waiting for 20 to 30 mins on a Saturday night for dinner. It is much better to go for lunch or on a week night. Strangely, the rush always dies down at around 10pm – so you could try your luck then.

Le Relais de Venise
120 Marylebone Lane London W1U 2QG
Tel: 020 7486 0787
Tube: Baker Street/Bond Street


Le Relais de Venise on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tapas Brindisa



So my friend and I decided to meet up for an early dinner on Sunday. We landed up in Tapas Brindisa after discovering Polpo was closed on Sundays.

Tapas Brindisa is part of the Brindisa group, supplier of Spanish produce in the UK. You might have seen them in Borough Market or tried their chorizo and peppers sandwich which covets envious looks from other shoppers when you wander around the market blissfully chomping away.

For some reason, Tapas Brindisa is bit under the radar compared to Jose and Barrafina, the other ‘casual’ tapas bars in London. I’m happy to say it’s not because of their food which is on par with its competitors.

We started with a glass of red wine – Vega De Yuso which I really liked. It left this pleasant aftertaste and some Mahor cheese – mild and slightly nutty and the red jam complement it well.



And then of course was my standard order at a tapas bar – ham croquetas and pan con tomato. A. and I very seriously reviewed these in comparison to Barrafina and Jose. Jose won with its light croquetas and very tomato-ey yet still crispy bread. Barrafina and Brindisa tied at second place. That’s not to say I wasn’t tempted into ordering another round.  Second place is still a very, very good place to be. So you definitely won’t go wrong ordering these. I especially like the bread which is a Catalan flatbread. Dripping with olive oil and lightly smeared tomatoes – simple yet perfect.

Ham Croquetas

Pan con tomato


We then ordered the Pulpo a la gallega – Octopus with potatoes which was lovely. I think I prefer Barafinas version with capers and no potatoes – which is more delicate and cooked very well. And then because I was still feeling hungry, we had a place of iberica ham – which was my least favourite of all the dishes. This is quite strange given they are known as a supplier of jamon.

Pulpo a la gallega


All in all, it was a nice, satisfying meal. The ambiance lacks the buzz of Barrafina and the live action of seeing your food being cooked in front of you. I preferred my dining experience at Barrafina which is a few streets away in Soho. Every dish at Barrafina is cooked so well to bring out the flavour of even the simplest ingredient. Then again, some days you’re not looking to eat at a buzzing, lively tapas bar which you have to wait almost an hour for to get a seat. So on those days, do try out Tapas Brindisa – you won’t be disappointed J

Oh and it’s one those very convienent places that’s open all day all the time. And the bill was about 25£ each.

Tapas Brindisa Soho
46 Broadwick Street W1F 7AF
Tel 020 7534 1690
Tube: Oxford Circus/ Picadilly Circus


Tapas Brindisa on Urbanspoon



The Providores Tapa Room

Turkish Eggs


My favourite place to have brunch in London is at The Providores Tapa Room. I absolutely adore their brunch menu.

Fishcakes with poached  eggs


I’ve tried their version of Eggs Benedict – poached eggs with spinach, smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce.
On days when I want something warm and comforting, I have the Turkish eggs – a soothing bowl of poached eggs, yoghurt and chilli oil.

And when I’m feeling especially hungry, I get the typical English Fry-Up breakfast– fried eggs, smoked bacon, perfectly roasted tomatoes and mushrooms and a side of their black pudding which is incredibly tasty.

Black Pudding

You get your usual offering of coffee and healthy smoothies and some lovely desserts if you’re in the mood. I have very pleasant memories of a salted chocolate caramel pie.

There is a queue usually on weekends. But the line moves quickly and the longest I’ve had to wait is 15 minutes. My share of the bill usually comes up to 15£ or less.



Eggs Benedict


I have been once for dinner and sadly, I don’t such glowing reviews on their dinner menu. The food is a fusion of different cuisines and the descriptions on the menu sound enticing but the actual food was not really that great. I ordered a number of dishes and was quite disappointed at the end. Their wine menu that showcases New Zealand wines is extensive and very expensive. So I ended up paying 45£ for a meal that definitely was not worth it. Granted I went just once, but I still think brunch at Providores is a much better option.

The Providores and Tapa Room
109 Marylebone High Street London W1U 4RX
Tel: 020 7935 6175
Tube: Baker Street/Bond Street


Providores on Urbanspoon

Tomoe


So one day I had a craving for sushi so I dragged A. out in search of a good sushi place in Marylebone. It was a Friday night and the only other place I could think of in the area was Dinings, one of my favourite restaurants, which was unfortunately out of our price range for now.

I had heard about Tomoe and I determinedly focused on finding it despite A.’s protests that he was hungry and would settle for fish and chips. Puh-leez….that didn’t stop me.

And I did find it – with a little help from Google maps and A’s grudging acceptance to follow me on this quest. Its right down a windy path called Marylebone lane. Past E’ntricote, past The Coachmaker and just before you lose hope and hit the madness of Oxford Street.

It’s quite unassuming and you could be forgiven for walking right past it. I’ll be honest, the interiors are not great at all. But it’s authentic and the food is good and you can get Black Miso Cod for 15£ instead of the typical 30£ so I’m not complaining.

It’s very re-assuring to walk into a sushi place and have it filled with Japanese people. We were sent down to the basement which was really sparse in terms of décor. I’m being nice when I use the term ‘sparse’. Be prepared. Despite all this, I was thrilled at finding it and given the good reviews, keen to try the food.

Everything we ordered was good. We had the mixed tempura, prawn dumplings, spider roll (fried soft shell crab with avocado), black cod with miso and pork kimchee. It’s always a good sign when the rice of the sushi roll is slighty warm.The bill was 48£ for both of us. If we hadn’t ordered the cod, it would have been much less.

I think I just found my new takeaway sushi place. J 

Tomoe
62 Marylebone Lane London W1U 2PB
Tel: 020 7486 2004
Tube: Bond Street/Baker Street


Tomoe on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Café Luc


The downside of most good restaurants in London is that everyone knows they’re good. They become so popular that to get a table you either have to plan two weeks in advance to get a reservation or there is a ‘no reservation’ policy so you have to be prepared to wait in a queue for at atleast an hour.

These are two extremes but lately, I’ve gotten used to meticulously planning the best way to get a table, that I get flummoxed when I can walk in and automatically be seated with minimum fuss. Of course, that leads me to doubt the quality of the food. If it’s not popular, than how could it possibly be good? Hmmm.

I CAN NOT believe I’ve been conditioned to think this way. I’ve also been brainwashed into thinking that a ‘2 hour only seating’ policy is normal, nevermind the fact that I’m spending quite a bit on an expensive meal. Somewhere, along the way I jumped on this crazed merry-go-around of rules dictated by restaurants and forgotten how lovely it is to go to place that can seat you with minimum fuss and then lets you enjoy your meal without rushing you to order the next course.

I almost got a taste of this at Café Luc in Marylebone when we walked in on a Friday night and got seated in less than 2 minutes without a reservation.  I say almost because they did keep interrupting to remind us that the kitchen closed at 10:30 and they close at 11:30pm. Nonetheless, the meal was quite nice though on the expensive side. We each paid 35 pounds which I thought for 2 mains and a cocktail is a bit much.

The menu was traditional French though no Duck Confit which I had a craving for. We had the Veal Paillarde which was grilled veal with rocket salad and Beef Bourguignon – beef cooked in red wine with little bits of bacon, onion and mushrooms and a side of potatoes and ended it with a selection of petits fours. The veal and beef were cooked very well – the beef felt like it was melting in my mouth.

I’m not sure if I would go again – I just didn’t find their menu interesting enough but if you’re keen to try French food with no fuss, then I guess it’s not a bad choice.

Café Luc
50 Marylebone High Street W1U 5HN
Tel: 02072589878
Tube: Baker Street

Sunday, October 2, 2011

José




José was brilliant. Totally lived up to the hype J



The ham croquettes were divine and my friend and I ordered them twice because we couldn’t get enough of them. They were perfect. The perfect combination of creamy and crispy with divine little bits of Iberica ham.

We also had the razor clams that came little pieces of chorizo and subtle mint sauce. Some almonds and olives to nibble on and pan con tomato to start with. The tomato bread was awesome. And I have to say I much prefer the croquettes and pan con tomato at Jose than those at Barrafina (sacrilege, I know)

I tried a glass of Manzanilla sherry. This was my first brush with drinking sherry and I quite liked it.  The staff were pleasant and helpful and I’m definitely going to go back. With 2 more glasses of wine – we paid around 25£ each.

So YES – you must try out Jose if you’re on Bermondsey Street and you love Spanish food.

Ideal for 2 people or even if you’re just going by yourself. Definitely not for more than groups of 3 (very small space). It's the perfect place to catch up with a friend, spending ages talking and eating - which is exactly what I did J

Minneapolis Restaurant Review


My trip to Minneapolis was relaxing and I think the highlight was the food!...oh and of course, the time spent with my family! My brother is a kindered spirit and shares my foodie soul. And yes, we have a tendency to over-order. Our eyes are much bigger than our stomachs and when we are together, we pretty much order the whole menu and there’s nothing that anyone else can do to stop us. So we chartered out a plan to try out a lot of new restaurants and squeeze in some old favourites as well.

Bar La Grassa

An Italian restaurant with amazing food and lovely service. My mother is extremely allergic to eggs and they went out of their way to make sure she had a good experience. We started with 2 orders of the bruschetta. I’m not sure if I would order those again – they were nice but quite filling and you definitely need space for your main course. We then ordered 2 small portions of pasta for each person – which looking back now, I realize was way too much. I think 3 half portion for 2 people would be a better bet. We were intrigued by the silk hankerchief pasta – which was silky smooth ribbons of pasta in a pesto sauce. All the pasta we had was lovely.The only dish I was not happy about was the raw tuna – that was just plain weird.



*Update* - My brother informs me that the head chef for the Bar La Grassa was named one of the best chefs in the country. Well-deserved :)
Isaac Becker, chef/co-owner of 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa, named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation.



Bar La Grassa on Urbanspoon

Brasa 

Go there for lunch. They have amazing lunch deal where you can get a half sandwich (which is pretty big) and a side order. My favourites are the chicken sandwich, the pulled pork sandwich and the creamed spinach. DELISH!
Oh try the pickles with the sandwich and the guac with chips. This is what I love about America – you’ll find this gem of a place that serves amazing food at really cheap prices.


Brasa Rotisserie on Urbanspoon

Travail

I felt like I had a very strange meal and I did not appreciate the wait. We waited 2 HOURS! I expected the meal to be like manna from heaven but it was ok. I got the whole ‘we-are-just-a-group-of-guys-who-started-their-own-restaurant-with-our-own-cool-rules-and-are-having-fun’ vibe and I appreciate what they are doing - they seem a talent bunch of chefs but I did not like the way they dealt with my mum’s egg allergy.

We specifically called them before and asked them if my mum would be able to eat anything at the restaurant given that she has a severe egg allergy. The guy on the phone said ‘sure, don’t worry we will take care of you’. We go there and they acted like they did even know what an egg allergy was. Sure they were nice but to be honest, they seemed like they had just smoked up and I didn’t appreciate how casual they were about the allergy. They could have just been honest and said we’re not sure but they just gave out conflicting information about which dishes she could have. Very unprofessional.

That aside, the food was good and quite interesting.  The menu is up on a board and we were initially excited to try out practically everything. There are no descriptions so it does feel kind of exciting to see what you're going to end up getting on your plate. The sweetbreads and tater tots were my favourite but that’s probably because they were fried and had to taste good. The deserts were strange – someone in the kitchen was obviously trigger happy with the liquid nitrogen – everything was just frozen this or frozen that. The novelty soon wore off.

However, the restaurant does have good reviews and the diners did seem to be enjoying themselves and they are very popular judging by the queue and waittime. There are no reservations so I would recommend going on a weekday to beat the queue or trying for either 6pm or after 9:30pm.

For me, it just wasn’t worth it and I don’t feel like returning after this experience.




Sea Salt 


We spent the most lovely day at Minnehaha Falls and then went over to Sea Salt Eatery which serves a whole bunch of seafood. We tried the fried fish, the fried catfish, the fried calamari and surprise, surprise, the fried prawns. Everything tasted really good and the servings were huge! But my favourite was the fried fish tacos. Light and lemony, the fish was perfectly balanced with the salsa. I dream of fish tacos now.


If you visit the falls, you must eat at Sea Salt.


Sea Salt Eatery on Urbanspoon

Ishtar


So after work one day, A. and I decided to walk down Baker street in search of dinner. We couldn’t make up our mind and had vague notions of having Thai food when we saw this Turkish restaurant called Ishtar on Crawford Street. It looked nice but I found their ‘modern Turkish foood’ menu quite exhaustive. But we decided to give it a go and I’m glad we did.


I was fascinated by the pickled fruit and veg in the jars – so pretty! A. ordered a mixed grill dish – basically a plate of every meat possible (lamb, chicken, minced lamb and lamb chops) with rice and I had the hummus with lamb bits on top and Borek (filo pastry with feta and spinach). They also gave us a little free starter of hummus and bread which is always a nice touch. I really liked how they presented the food.

The food was good and when the bill came, we each ended up paying 15£ which was a good deal. Was it a brilliant meal that I would recommend you have to have? – No but if you're in the area and fancy a nice Turkish meal, then yes for sure.


Ishtar
10-12 Crawford St W1U 6AZ
Tel: 020 7224 2446
Tube: Baker Street


Ishtar on Urbanspoon

St. John Hotel


This weekend, A surprised me with a dinner at St. John Hotel  in Chinatown. I had heard of St. John but somehow it had never been on my radar to visit despite the great reviews – I suppose I wasn’t too excited by the concept of eating traditional British cuisine.



How wrong I was! – I absolutely loved the experience. The restaurant is located in the most unlikely of locations – right bang in the middle ofChinatown next to the W hotel. It is a compact dining space with a clean, unfussy feel and an open kitchen at one end. And the menu was quite varied and is certainly geared towards offal offerings.

The service was lovely – the waiters were attentive and knew their stuff. Our waiter was so good at describing the food that I just kept nodding my head and saying ‘yes’ – which is how we ended up ordering 3 appetizers and 2 main courses and 1 dessert.

We started with the devilled pork skin – pigs skin removed of all the fat, puffed up and spiced with paprika served with nice little dill sauce. I had the Aviator cocktail which was gin and maraschino and lime and quite nice.

The appetizers were amazing! We had the Bacon & Snails and the Squid, Potato & Artichokes. The herbs and seasonings were perfect and these were my favourite dishes of the night. We mopped up every last bit with bread.

Feeling adventurous, we ordered Grouse and Lamb’s Tongue. Unfortunately, my adventurous spirit did not last long and I couldn’t stomach the food after the first few bites. I like to try new things however, game is not one of my preferred choices and the texture of the lambs tongue felt very strange.

That’s not to say the food wasn’t good. My dinner partner A loved it and polished off the grouse. Seriously, the bird was gone – every last bit of it – same with the lambs tongue.

The dessert was Figs & Meringue. Overall the meal was faultless and definitely warmed me up to British cuisine. Though I don't know if snails are traditionally English!
We each paid around 45£ and I really want to go back and try other things on the menu.

So YES – you have to go if you are
1)       An adventurous foodie
2)       A lover of game and tongue and other strange animal body parts – i.e a true carnivore
3)       In the mood for elegant, minimalistic British food.

St John Hotel
1 Leicester St WC2H 7BL
Tel: 0203 301 8069
Tube: Leicester Square


St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon