Launceston Place

Once a favourite of Princess Diana, who apparently stated she admired the collection of small rooms that occupy the Georgian townhouse in which Launceston Place is situated, the restaurant entertains playfully, whilst delivering tradition and flavour.

Head Chef Ben Murphy has added, to taste, a sprinkle of modernity and fun to this traditional restaurant in the typically stuffy end of town near Gloucester Road tube. The tables are adorned in clean white linen, something your grandmother would love, yet the amuse-bouches are served with a small plastic spade to dig out the smoked haddock mousse. The up-tight amongst us may feel it is a little gimmicky, but they’ll die miserable so let them be.

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Bread is treated as a course in itself. The chorizo pancetta and lardo bread with yoghurt and red pepper butter was inevitably delicious – the yoghurty-tang and peppery-sweetness of the butter cutting through the meat fat.

To follow came burrata and cucumber which cleansed the palate well and prepared us for the foie gras course and a short rib plate. The latter was served with smoked eel and drizzled in a smooth, clean and thick plum sauce. The smoky fish, sweet plum and rich meat were an orchestra of flavours that performed a beautiful cacophony of noise in my mouth. 10/10 would bang.

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Between courses our waiter cleared the table and removed crumbs with a tiny, hand-held Henry Hoover. Another nod to the fun yet serious tone.

In keeping with the ‘new vs tradition’ theme, the tiramisu arrived looking unlike anything that resembled the epitome of Italian dessert. Nonetheless, alike everything else I had put in my mouth that afternoon, it was splendid.

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The set lunch menu was affordable, tasty and a great reflection of Murphy’s vision for the place. Perhaps it is because I am young and in possession of an old soul, however the contrast between tradition and playfulness very much pleased me. I wasn’t even thinking about it by the end of my experience, it just felt right.

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Food – 8/10
Service – 9/10
Experience – 9/10

You can book your own experience here and visit the restaurant’s Instagram here.

Krakow

If you tell acquaintances who have been to Krakow in the winter, or Poland for that matter, they will gleefully tell you tales about how they scoffed sausage and dumplings to warm their insides in escape of the bitter climate. Although I wouldn’t disagree with them – I ate a delicious sausage served on a bed of Sauerkraut before I boarded my BA flight back to London – there is a little more to this stylish, welcoming little city.

I travelled to the Polish second city with three friends for a trip filled with eclectic activities, ranging from a full-day, sobering tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau to excessive drinking in the company of stag-do louts. We ate an equally eclectic range of foods and partook in some excellent drinking at an array of different venues, some of which I have recommended below.

Harris Jazz Bar

Even if Jazz is not your thing, this laid-back cavernous space is a great spot to grab a drink and listen to Polish jazz musicians croon through the night. The bar staff were incredibly friendly and had a solid skillset when it came to making cocktails. It is located just off the main square so is very easily accessible and is also open late for all you night crawlers out there.

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Copernicus

We hit up the Michelin guide for this one, a gothic hotel restaurant that sits nestled on Krakow’s oldest street – a former home of Polish king’s (according to their website). It sounded appropriate, so we booked a table the evening we arrived back from our tour of Auschwitz.

The setting and mood were lovely, the food was good but not extraordinary and the service was attentive and professional.

We ate five courses from their extensive tasting menu, the highlights for me were the deer with walnuts and red bean croquette on earl grey tea and apple mousse and the cheese cake with passion fruit on orange honey and pine nuts ice cream.

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Deer
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Cheesecake

It must be said, however, that we had all been fortunate enough to eat in some of London, and the world’s, best restaurants before our trip to Krakow. Despite the food being good and some of it very innovative, it just doesn’t weigh up to some of the restaurants that make the Michelin guide in other European countries. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed Copernicus and would recommend.

Hamsa

We were actually recommended Hamsa by a girl my mate was trying to chat up at a bar in London. I don’t think his attempt was successful, however this Israeli restaurant was a success!

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Tagine

Simple, well-cooked fare that satisfied on a completely different level compared to the other rich, meat-centric cuisine we had been scoffing. Really tasty mezze platters, warm and doughy flatbreads and warming tagines was just what we desired after a weekend of heavy boozing and piss taking.

Evelyn’s Table

From the genius team that bought us The Palomar and The Barbary, comes their elegant new project – Evelyn’s Table. Situated in the cramped basement of the 250-year-old pub The Blue Posts, Evelyn’s Table is listed as an eleven-seat kitchen bar serving seasonal Italian cuisine and locally sourced fish.

I was cordially invited to try the experience by my dear pal Samphire and Salsify, who I met outside the venue with an excited grin on his face – anticipating good things from our evening.

Having tottered down the rickety staircase, we took a seat at the end of the bar with a clear view of the petite kitchen. The daily fresh fish specials were thrust upon us by a chef who was proud of his catch. We were immediately drawn to the hake cheeks and the lemon sole so listened to our instincts and ordered them immediately. We also ordered the mackerel from the fresh fish selection.

IMG_3152First arrived cured monkfish, Sicilian tomatoes, avocado and coriander oil – a clean, fresh start to the experience. To follow from the antipasti selection, a delicious plate of Vitello Tonnato, rocket mayonnaise and kohlrabi.

As is tradition, our pasta (or primi) course arrived next – we shared Tagliatelle, girolles, chilli and parmesan. The fresh pasta absorbed the chili-infused olive oil with the mushrooms balancing the whole dish with a rich earthiness.

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The pick of the fish dishes was the Hake cheeks. The tender morsels of flesh were well cooked and served simply with a salsa Verde and salmon caviar. I wish the Lemon Sole had been prepared with such simplicity. Billed as Lemon Sole, sweetcorn, Lyonnaise onion, girolle – the accompanying elements detracted from the elegance of the fish. This is, however, my only criticism. The mackerel that landed moments later was allowed to sing a song of its own. Grilled and served with samphire, the pairing of the oily fish with the salty coastal vegetable was a marriage of flavours.

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I would highly recommend you visit Evelyn’s Table. You can reserve a seat, so no queuing, the food is really rather good, and the intimacy makes it feel quite special. Providing you’re not claustrophobic, get booking.

Bordeaux

La Tupina

Bringing French peasant food to the city centre, it is no surprise locals and tourists alike flock here for the rustic, country fare. Think old French farmhouse and expect befitting grub – we tackled a 1kg rib of beef cooked over the famous, roaring open fire where various hunks of flesh rotate gently on a spit. The potatoes cooked in duck fat are devilishly good and their wine list compliments the rich, protein heavy menu (of course!) To really whet the appetite, watch Rick Stein’s Long Weekend in the city, in which he visits the restaurant. Stein eulogises whilst quaffing porky terrines and crunchy radishes – it really gets you in the mood. If you are in Bordeaux, you have to visit. Simple.

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Le Petit Commerce

For seafood in the heart of the city’s romantic narrow streets look no further than Le Petit Commerce. The large, busy restaurant attracts French diners and tourists – always a positive sign. We opted for razor clams simply grilled with garlic and parsley, a velvety and rich fish soup, grilled lemon sole served with tangy ratatouille and a delightfully crisp bottle of Chablis. As is the case with good seafood, the folks at Le Petit Commerce keep things very simple. Their fresh produce needs very little done to it – they let the fish sing its own song. Service is a little surly but if you grin like a neurotic psychopath and make eye contact people are forced to soften a little – I’m sure I saw our waiter crack a smile.

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Le Brasserie Bordelaise

For a real taste of the South West head to this light, airy restaurant in the very centre of the city. Each wall of the restaurant houses wine racks that reach from floor to ceiling – in said racks live an enormous collection of some of the best wines in the region. We shared a superbly fresh tuna tartare to start before each having a juicy, tender onglet steak. To wash down this decadent lunch, an incredible bottle of St Emilion – Lussac from 2012. When we had finished our meal, we took a brief tour of the cellar where not only is there more wine but also space to age all their beef. A really impressive eatery given the cost.

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La Cagette

This small, relaxed French canteen is the perfect spot for a simple supper from a menu that really champions local ingredients. We began our meal with in-season white asparagus served with orange mousseline before moving onto delicious veal a la Provence, a sumptuous stew typical in the area and a tasty shrimp and white truffle pasta dish. The large double doors open out onto Place de Palais, one of many picturesque squares. A truly delightful spot on a warm evening.

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Glasgow

Gone are the days when Glasgow, for some, was a no-go-zone. Over recent years the city has undergone somewhat of a rebrand. It is now a place where cafes sell croissants, literature is discussed in bars and the Versace store was once hinted at being the busiest in Europe.

I flew to Glasgow for a work trip but stayed to visit a friend who is studying architecture at the art school in the city. It was great having a companion to show me around, and I can safely say any preconceptions I may have had about the northern Scottish city were dismantled during my stay. The food, the people and the nightlife really make Glasgow a shining jewel in the crown of British cities.

(Below are some highlights and my favourite images from the trip)

The Ubiquitous Chip

A laid-back dining establishment with some seriously good grub. Modern European flavours and concepts meet locally sourced ingredients for some truly excellent dishes.

We started our meal with a gin & tonic (naturally) before moving on to a very well-cooked confit octopus tentacle, served with roasted cauliflower, pickled raisins, brown butter and crushed almonds. The flavours all paired very well but did not mask the main element of the dish, the octopus.

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Next came ‘The Ship’s own venison haggis, neeps ‘n’ tatties. Three equally sized oval shaped spheres of meaty haggis, creamy mash and sweet puréed turnips were tastefully presented on the plate. Each component was married by a deliciously thick whiskey sauce.

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For the main event, I ate delectably tender pan roasted chicken breast, truffle mash and greens. Eugenio (my Italian pal) ate a flaky piece of west coast hake in a mussel and leek fricassee.

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I finished the meal with a slice of extremely tangy lemon tart. The homemade pastry was light and buttery, utterly delicious.

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We accompanied the occasion with a good bottle of Morena Bianca Lugana, to honour the Italian in my presence.

Paesano Pizza

The 19th century Italian diaspora did not all go to America, many came to Great Britain and in particular the industrial areas of West Scotland. This means that many Glaswegians have Italian heritage – a great thing for the city’s pizza scene!

Directed by my Italian amico, I met Eugenio for lunch at Paesano Pizza in the hip West End of the city. He assured me that this was the real deal, with all ingredients imported from Napoli and the surrounding areas.

I opted for the Sicilian sausage to top my Neapolitan pizza. The dough was stretchy, soft and chewy at the same time whilst the toppings all made their mark in equal measure – a truly delicious pizza. Just a’like mamma makes it (I assume). 

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For a wee dram of whiskey, you must head to one of Glasgow’s better known bars for the stuff – Pot Still. With over 700 whiskeys, it boasts one of the city’s largest collections. They have a rotating malt-of-the-month, which brings lesser known whiskeys (for novices such as myself) to the fore. After a pint and a half of Tennents and two drams I was quite merry.

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Bokan – Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf is an odd place, no? Glitzy, polished and somewhat dead behind the eyes. Well, not on the 37th floor of the Novotel Canary Wharf, where a loud restaurant and bar – split across two floors – offers some character to the otherwise soulless concrete mass. Predominantly French waiting staff, dressed in Levi’s and braces, energetically welcome guests, engage them in conversation and smile. What a treat. According to many of them, however, it has taken some time for the sleek operation to develop its charm. I noticed that the post-work finance crowd don’t want to be engaged, they wave their HSBC black card and expect a drink to be plonked in-front of them with emotionless efficiency. Bokan offers only a Galic shrug to the droids and operates with admirable energy.

I was treated to the tasting menu and wine pairing by my father, who was in town and required a dining partner. We were seated by the window with a fantastic view of the metropolis we choose to inhabit – the Shard looked like a sewing needle from our vantage point.

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The tasting menu is a fine way to sample what Bokan has to offer. We started with a refreshing and zesty Amuse Bouche before heading straight into marinated sea bass, orange ponzu and burned blood orange. The sea bass was firm yet tender and the ponzu did not overpower the delicate flavour of the fish. The seafood kept coming. We dived into king scallop dressed in almond jus, coriander and artichoke puree – small pieces of razor clam littered the scallop shell that served as a plate. All in all, the fish was a very pleasant start. Hungry as ever, we decided to tackle the next course as soon as the plates were lifted from the table. Handmade orecchiette pasta, morels, green asparagus, Sherry and Warwickshire berkswell was well made, a great combination of seasonal flavours but just a little over seasoned.

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After a short break, having digested some food and the view, British rose veal, surrounded by a moat of Climpson & Sons’ coffee foam, served with chicory and indulgent mash potato landed before us. The veal was delicate, tender and everything it should have been. I was not convinced, at first, by the coffee flavoured accompaniment but grew to accept it was a pleasant combination. To finish, chocolate tuile, milk & dark chocolate cream, walnut praline with vanilla ice cream. Tasted great, for the South Park fans – it looked like Mr Hankey.

The food was lovely, the setting stunning but the star of the evening was Nelson, the Portuguese sommelier. He was attentive and knowledgeable, showing us some great wines. From French rose, English sparkling, Italian red and some of his native Portuguese tipples – each pairing was a good match. Ten out of ten Nelson.

We left Bokan full and a bit pissed. Let’s just say it’s a good job we didn’t have to take the stairs.

Check out their Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/bokanlondon/

Check out their website here: http://bokanlondon.co.uk/

Aquavit – St James’s Market

Footfall is a restaurant’s number one objective – get people in, serve them food you are confident is delicious, let them recommend to friends, watch the seats fill. Simple, no? Not in London, where the restaurant industry is extremely competitive. 2017 saw a ‘13% increase in insolvencies since 2016,’[1] meaning restaurants need to think a little more creatively to encourage customers through the front door.

Well, Aquavit have done exactly that. Not in the heart of theatre town but still close enough to offer theatre-goers a very well-priced set menu before and after shows – this renowned Nordic eatery are nailing it.

Aquavit Menu

I can confirm that the Blood pudding was marvellous. I am a long-time fan of black pudding with my fry up, which was somewhat imitated in this dish with the bacon and lardo crumb flavour combination. Star of the Smörgåsbord was the herring. A scandi staple, the dill infused sour cream and rich egg yolk were a marriage with the fish. I couldn’t resist the Swedish meatballs which were flavoursome and tender (I struggle with a dry meatball). Accompanied by seriously creamy mash and tart lingonberries, I was left entirely satiated and satisfied by my meal. The exquisite, sleek-scandi dining room is a real treat, too.

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Of course, I loved my evening at Aquavit, they have defined and refined their offering with no-nonsense Nordic style and efficiency. I really hope the pre/post theatre menu catches on and everyone can enjoy some Michelin starred dining without the price tag.

Check out their Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/aquavitlondon/?hl=en

Check out their website here: http://www.aquavitrestaurants.com/

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global/2017/nov/26/who-killed-londons-restaurant-scene

Matsya – Mayfair

I have always been a little stumped by Indian food. Never have I been to India (much to my dissatisfaction) but I am sure the food looks and tastes far different to the luminous curry house slop we Brits are so used to, so when I heard that Matsya in Mayfair were offering a truer taste of the Eastern nation I was thrilled to be invited along.

The restaurant sits on a quiet street a stone’s throw from Green Park station – an area of town I do not visit too frequently – the change of scenery was somewhat pleasant (I still prefer my East London hub.)

I had arranged my visit via Instagram – the power of the internet hey – after the restaurant contacted me asking if I would like to sample their menu. I received a thoroughly warm welcome when I arrived, the Colombian in tow. After our greeting, we immediately concentrated on the food, an afternoon traipsing around the V&A museum had left us ravenous.

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Popadums arrived with a trio of dips, my favourite of which was a bright green number that only the chef knew the true recipe. We swiftly polished the obligatory Indian snacks and ordered a few of the recommended dishes. The Tandoori Lamb chops were a little overcooked, I like my baby sheep pink and juicy – but the spices were a triumph. The Colombian wasn’t too sure about the stuffed squid, I didn’t find it particularly unpleasant but I suppose that isn’t a glowing review – I’m not sure the unusual spiced seafood stuffing will become an Indian staple. To follow came a far simpler seafood dish that delivered on all levels. Cod cooked in a banana leaf, steamed with mustard seeds was punchy, moist and an all-round delight. Their Keralan harissa lamb is everything I imagine India to be; hot, delicious and a little bit dirty (the fatty cut of meat provided the indulgent flavour I associate with slow cooked lamb.) To accompany our feast, we had two types of rice, one simply drizzled in ghee, the other mixed with a selection of nuts and berries – both pretty tasty.

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Now for the bombshell – the bill. I won’t disclose the full price of the meal because you might let out a little bit of wee but let’s just say it was pretty pricey. I would wince at paying £25 for a main course in the best of establishments but for curry it was beyond eye-watering. The cost was a shame because I hate leaving feeling the food was not worthy of the price. I enjoyed most of the grub but felt the price did not reflect the standard.

On a more positive note, I must say the service was excellent. We were completely over-serviced and the team were really accommodating. Nevertheless, the waiting staff may have been smiling, but my bank account was not!

Check out their Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/matsyadining/?hl=en

Visit their website here: http://www.matsyadining.com/

VANILLA PANNACOTA, BRAMLEY APPLE, HONEY, SAFFRON & HAZELNUTS

You will needs 6 individual aluminium moulds 

Serves: 6

Cooking time: 30 minBramley Panacotta

Ingredients 

For the pannacotta

  • 1 vanilla pod (split and scraped to release the seeds)
  • 400 mls double cream
  • 375 mls milk
  • 4 leaves gelatine
  • Handful toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

For the saffron and honey Bramley apples mixture

  • 150g honey
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 150 mls white wine
  • 300g Bramley apples, peeled and cut into 2cm dice

Method 

It’s best to make the pannacotta the day before you want to eat them!

To make the pannacotta

  1. Place the vanilla pod, seeds, milk and cream in a pan and gently heat until the mixture begins to froth – watch the pot carefully as it only takes a second to boil over. Leave to cool for a few minutes
  2. Soak the gelatine in cold water and, when softened, remove and squeeze out any excess water. Whisk into the milk, cream and vanilla mixture
  3. Place the mixture into a bowl, then place the bowl in another slightly larger bowl of iced water
  4. Stir the mixture until it begins to thicken – make sure the vanilla seeds are evenly distributed and suspended throughout the mixture
  5. Pour into six moulds and refrigerate until fully set

To make the saffron and honey Bramley apples

  1. Place the honey, saffron and white wine in a pan and gently bring to the boil
  2. Reduce the heat, add the diced apples and cook gently until tender – be careful not to overcook, as the apples will collapse and you’ll end up with a compote
  3. Remove the apples with a slotted spoon and leave to cool
  4. Reduce the remaining liquid until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Return the apples to the mixture and leave to cool

To serve, place the mould in hot water for a few seconds, then turn the pannacotta onto a cold plate, spoon over the apples and honey and sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts.

I found this recipe super simple to follow and really enjoyed the process. I had only tried to make pannacotta once before so was by no means an expert but the result was fab!

Wright Brothers – Soho

One of the greatest aspects of growing up and strapping on the cloak of adulthood is the new relationship you build with your parents – we no longer require their round-the-clock support, albeit most are still happy to provide it, and they become close pals. For me, a great marker in this process is taking your parents out for supper, a simple yet effective way of demonstrating your independence and your appreciation of their efforts.

When I heard mother was working in Soho for the day, I took the opportunity to book a table at Wright Brothers in Kingly Court and treat her to a plethora of fishy delights. Billed as a Pan-Asian seafood restaurant, Wright Brothers have become well known on the London seafood circuit with restaurants in five locations, this was my first visit to the any of them.

Myself, my mother and the Colombian were sat in the dimly lit basement, away from the busy cocktail bar – which on this occasion was favourable. I liked our slightly more secluded spot due to the clear view of the kitchen – I could see what was leaving the pass and not only did it tease my appetite, it provided me with inspiration for my own order. Providing the chefs don’t pick their nose in open view, I’m not adverse to the open kitchen.

Collectively, we decided to start with a platter of oysters, which were fresh and cleansing and particularly delicious simply dressed with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of tabasco. Next arrived the main events. The Colombian had ordered soy poached salmon with Asian greens – the mouthful I ate was tasty, the salmon was well cooked and the soy did not overpower the delicate fish, nevertheless nothing to write home about. Mother had ordered a more extravagant dish – East Sussex crab, black pepper, basil leaves, almonds & yoghurt. The crab was delicious, rich and tender it was easily removed from the shell. The unanimous decision, after we all attempted to finish the monstrous portion, was that the dish was a little too rich – not one for the faint hearted. My own main was delightful, pan seared whole lemon sole with salsify and clam sauce, a special on that day. The fish was expertly cooked and the bold flavoured sauce complimented the flaky white fish well.

For dessert, the Colombian and I shared half a chocolate fondant and half a cheese board each. The fondant was a little overcooked as the lava centre failed to erupt to its full potential – rich and chocolatey nonetheless. The selection of Neal’s Yard cheeses stole the show in the final act – class is permanent I suppose.

Wright Brothers was a good venue from which to demonstrate my new-found adult independence – everyone enjoyed the evening and the food, but there was nothing particularly mind-blowing that landed on our table. No doubt I will return, especially for the oyster happy hour on Sundays, but next time I wine and dine a parent, I’ll be trying somewhere new.