Jumat, 08 Juli 2016

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Excellent Value & Much Scrumptiousness: The Saturday Supreme Menu at Yauatcha City

Name: Saturday Supreme Menu at Yauatcha City

Where: Yauatcha City, Broad Gate, London, EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/supreme-saturdays/

Cost: On Saturdays, Yauatcha City offers this great value set-price menu at £49 per person, inclusive of a pre-lunch and a post-lunch cocktail, half a bottle of wine per person, and a four-course meal between 12pm and 6:30pm.  There are two house wines to choose from in the Supreme Saturday menu, an Italian red and an Alsatian white.  

About: Regular readers will know that I regard Yauatcha, both Soho and City branches, as the best dim sum venues in London.

Yauatcha City is packed during the week with a mainly work crowd, but I was surprised to find, arriving on a Saturday lunchtime, that this Liverpool Street eatery was packed with Londoners even when the City types are away for the weekend.

The Supreme Saturdays menu at Yauatcha City is available from 12pm until 6:30pm on Saturdays, for a minimum of 2 guests. There are four courses on this menu – two courses of dim sum (fried and steamed), followed by the main course (a choice of three dishes with each person choosing one), ending with the dessert course.

Yauatcha’s open-air terraces are now open to the public, with great views over Broadgate Circle, they are ideal spots for dim sum and after work drinks.

What We Ate: The menu starts with a platter of 4 fried or baked dim sum items. The venison puff, with unctuously tender venison in a richly flavoured sauce encased by a buttery and super light pastry, was definitely a treat.

Equally good was the mushroom spring roll which had a delicate truffle aroma, while the lobster roll came in a snow-white crisp rice-flour casing around a rich, velvety lobster filling - quite a technical feat.  

The sesame prawn toast was an accomplished version of a dish which has been a British favourite since the 1970s, with the tail of a whole king prawn beautifully presented, emerging from the top of the dumpling.

Moving on to the platter of 6 steamed dim sum dumplings – the pork and prawn shui mai and the har gau prawn dumplings were both excellent – light, flavoursome and so fresh.

There were two steamed dim sum in striking jade green casing (the colour coming from Chinese chive extract) - the black pepper and Wagyu beef dumplings were scrumptious, while the vegetable wrap had great textures (crunchy but also soft) was deliciously scented with a slice of fresh truffle.

The mushroom dumpling was filled with a rich variety of aromatic wild earthy fungi while the crystal dumpling wrap with pumpkin and pine nut had a vibrant orange casing (coloured with carrot juice). 

The main course offers a choice of three dishes, we opted for the lobster vermicelli and the pork belly. The lobster was segmented, wok-fried with vermicelli, the meat was sweet and so tender, making for a deliciously luxurious main course.

But my favourite main course was the truffle pork belly served on the rib, and beautifully presented with a topping of Shimeji mushrooms, aromatic diced truffles, and with a side serving of baby asparagus and an edible nasturtium flower. The meat was very tender, coming off the bone, it was sweet and totally scrumptious.

The main courses came with a portion of jasmine steamed rice and stir-fried pak choi with garlic.

Included in the Saturday Supreme menu is a selection of desserts from Yauatcha's famous range of patisserie.  One of our choices was the delectable apricot yoghurt, with honey cream, freshly baked orange madeleine, and almond.

The other choice was the jasmine honey dessert – a milk chocolate dome filled with jasmine cream and caramelised honey, served with a quenelle of honey ice cream. Stunningly presented as might be expected, both desserts showed off the skills of the patisserie team at Yauatcha. We were also impressed by the size of the desserts – they were surprisingly generous.

What We Drank: The Saturday Supreme menu includes both a pre- and a post-lunch cocktail, and while making our food selection on the open-air terrace, I had a well made, strong Negroni that really hit the spot! Dr G chose the Thea martini - a refreshing an appetite-stimulating concoction of Zubrowka vodka, ginger juice, vanilla and chilli sugar, apple juice and lime.

With our meal, we chose the house red - a Cabaletta, Rosso delle Venezie 2014 from Veneto. This oak-aged blend of Corvina, Rondinella and  Sauvignon was medium bodied, with prune and cherry fruit flavours and very soft tannins. Enjoyable in its own right, it worked surprisingly well with many dishes on the menu.

We also got to try and a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc on tap which is available at the open-air terrace at Yauatcha (this is not part of the Saturday Supreme menu). This was a fresh, herbaceous and young Sauvignon Blanc, easy drinking and ideal for the English summer.
For our post lunch cocktail, we opted for the Manhattan and Espresso Martini. Combining sweetness with astringency, these were the perfect accompaniment to our desserts.

Likes: great value set menu, fantastic cocktails. Stand out dishes for me were the truffled pork belly and the patisserie desserts. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: The Saturday Supreme menu at Yauatcha City is one of the best value menus in London right now – four courses of exquisite food, boozy cocktails and wine all thrown in. I have already been twice, and cannot wait to return! Very highly recommended.

Selasa, 05 Juli 2016

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Steaks Galore, Parmesan Chips and Ice Cream at Boyds Grill & Wine Bar

Name: Boyds Grill & Wine Bar

Where: 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY, http://www.boydsgrillandwinebar.co.uk/

Cost: Hot and cold small eats are all priced at £5. Charcuterie and cheese platters for sharing between two cost £19.95. Grilled meat or fish main courses range from £14 to £50, with most being around the £15 to £20 mark. Side dishes are £4.

The wine list is comprehensive, with a focus on classic French regions, but with a good representation of wines from England, the rest of Europe and the New World. There is a good selection of wines by the glass. By the bottle, the entry-level white is a Solano Blanco 2014 from Galicia, Spain at £21.50. The red, at the same price point, is a Tarabilla Tinto 2014 also from Galicia. Prices ascend as far as the Cos d'Estournel 'Les Pagodes de Cos' 2009 at £192.50. 

About: Situated on the ground floor of the The Grand Hotel, Trafalgar Square, Boyds Grill & Wine Bar is set in a sumptuous room, dating back to the origins of the hotel, with black and white marble walls and floors, and a glamorous copper-topped bar in the centre of the dining area.

The menu, designed by Executive British chef Nate Brewster, features an extensive range of grilled meats, all cooked on a high heat, eco-friendly Synergy Grill, which claims to retain the natural juices of the meat and give it an authentic barbecue charred flavour.

Signature dishes include a Tomahawk rib steak, served with two sides and two sauces (1.2kg, £70 to share), and braised short rib sandwich with caramelised onion, rocket and jus (£10.95).

There is a range of British meats to choose for the grill, including British Wagyu beef, Scottish Black Gold beef, Welsh lamb, Suffolk pork and Norfolk black chicken.  For those with fish and seafood in mind, there is a selection of small plates and fish dishes.

If you get to visit Boyds Grill & Wine Bar, the Dessert Bar experience is not be missed – for £11.95 per person, the pastry chef will prepare (and demonstrate) up to 11 different types of ice cream and sorbet using liquid nitrogen, but more on that later.

What We Had: We started with a selection of small eats (£5 each) and a glass of fine Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 (£10 per glass). The salmon tartare with avocado, mango and chilli was zingy, well seasoned and beautifully presented.

Equally good were the Mac n Cheese croquettes (with Wookey Hole cheddar), served with Boyds own bbq sauce. Crunchy on the outside but cheesy and delicious inside, I love Mac n’ Cheese in any shape or form, and these were no exception.

The duck liver parfait with crispy brioche, fig and mandarin meringue was also good – I particularly liked the citrusy, sweet meringue combined with the creamy liver parfait, a revelation.

I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek fish and shellfish goujons deep-fried in beer batter and served with a curried hollandaise much like a posh chippy's curry sauce.

We were very impressed by the eclectic and surprisingly well priced wine list, we went a bit overboard on our choices. Accompanying our starters, we ordered 3 different whites: the Austrian Gruner Veltliner, Lossterrassen Weingut 2014 (£8.25 per glass) was a good example of its kind, with apricot and gooseberry flavours. The Croatian Primus Reisling, Bolfan 2012 (£7 per glass) was rich and off-dry, with green apple and mineral aromas. Best of all was the Puilly Fuisse 'Vieilles Vignes' 2014, from Domain Patriarche, Burgundy (£10.25 per glass) - made from 100% chardonnay, this was rich and concentrated with subtle tropical fruit aromas. 

The starters were followed by a scrumptious meat platter (all Boyds meat comes from British farms), including pork chop (£17), Black Gold rib eye, lamb hogget (£18), and Wagyu minute steak. Lamb is a sheep aged up to 1 year, while the hogget is aged between 1 and 2 years (over 2 years it becomes mutton). The hogget had a great depth of flavour while still retaining the tenderness of lamb.

Boyds gets its Wagyu from Sussex, where native cows have been crossed with Red Wagyu from Australia and the USA. The final product is a 28 day dry-aged, beautifully marbled and tender cut of beef.

Sides (£4 each) were assorted seasonal vegetables, Parmesan fries and triple cooked sweet potato wedges, served with lemon, thyme and Port jus, and a Béarnaise sauce (£1.95 each). The Parmesan fries were among the finest chips I have ever had the pleasure of eating - light, fluffy, crisp and cheesy all at the same time.

With the meats, we had an outstanding glass of Gevrey Chambertin 'Vieilles Vignes' 2011 from Domain Gerard Seguin (£67 per bottle). Refined and elegant, this had delicate redcurrant fruit and a surprisingly long finish.   

The Chateauneuf du Pape 'Le Calice de St-Pierre' 2014 (£47 per bottle) was altogether more robust as would be expected from this hot climate area, and more than a match for the richer meats, with black berry fruit and a good grip of tannin. 
One of my favourite red wines is Chateau Musar 2007, from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (£61 per bottle). This was an excellent vintage, with brambles, plums, leather, tobacco and just a hint of mushroom. 

After dinner, there is an option for diners to have the Dessert Bar Experience (£11.95 per person), where some amazing ice creams are rustled up to order.

The Dessert Bar experience includes up to 11 different ice creams and sorbets, from a mind-boggling array of fruit creams and purées, where guests are invited to select their favourite flavours. They are then mixed with liquid nitrogen at -190 degrees centigrade, to create an amazingly light and airy ice cream. The Dessert Bar Experience can also be enjoyed on its own, without any requirement to eat dinner at the restaurant.

We started with “Dragon's Breath” – a selection of flavoured, superchilled meringues that literally froze the breath, followed by the ice creams.

Some highlights were intensely flavoured and creamy blackberry and raspberry ice creams. The Jack Daniels ice cream came on a classic vanilla base, while the lemon sorbet made with Limoncello was mouthwateringly refreshing.

We went on to have some increasingly unusual flavours - why go for vanilla when you can have smoked strawberry, smoky bacon, English breakfast tea, canned pork and picallilli, dill and cream cheese, and even smoked salmon and wasabi!

With dessert, we had a chilled and creamy cocktail of Baileys, Sambuca and Espresso that went down a treat. 

Likes: Trafalgar Square location, elegant dining room, fantastic chips, a great selection of grilled beef, Wagyu and other meats. The small eats are well made and very reasonably priced. Loved the Dessert Bar Experience!

Dislikes: None

Verdict: A perfect meal for me at Boyds Grill and Wine Bar starts with their Black Gold rib eye accompanied by the scrumptious Parmesan chips and a large glass of 2007 Chateau Musar. The Dessert Bar is an experience not to be missed, and is worth a trip to the restaurant in its own right. I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

Rabu, 29 Juni 2016

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The ‘BB’ Burger at Bar Boulud Knightsbridge

Words & Photography by Marina Benjamin and Luiz Hara

Name: Bar Boulud

Where: Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, 56 Knightsbridge, London DW1X 7LA, http://www.barboulud.com/london

Cost: Starters range from fish soups to salads and are priced from £9-19 while sharing boards of charcuterie start at £30. Mains are a selection of bistro dishes (£9-£34) and desserts (£6-12) are modern inflections of French classics. The Menu Buchon (working lunch) is good value, with 2 and 3 courses for £18 and £21 respectively.

About: Bar Boulud occupies a swish street facing location on the ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. At lunchtimes, a crowd of tourists and shoppers, business folk and families, pours through the giant front doors, making for a bustling brasserie atmosphere within. 

The wait staff is completely professional yet an informal mood prevails, which is all the better to eat with. You won’t find the haughty pretentious of haute cuisine here - instead the restaurant gets on with feeding people delicious and hearty food that hails from provincial France; the steaks might come with chimichurri; the burgers with green chilli mayo; and the fries arrive, thin, crisp and moreish, in paper cones that sit in metal tins.

There is a sense of fun about Bar Boulud, where playful snacky additions top and tail the menu, from cheesy puffs made of gruyère-infused choux pastry at one end, to truffles textured with puffed rice at the other. And the drinking can verge on frivolity: there is a Gin menu that stands on its own and boasts not only gins flavoured with saffron, but tonics tinged with elderflower, cardamom, watermelon or lemongrass. Every now and then, depending on who’s visiting, or indeed, on a whim, the sommelier might decide to open a 6 litre Imperiale of wine and treat lucky diners to extraordinary vintages from Bordeaux or the Rhone Valley at a fraction of what they’d normally cost.

What We Had: We came with one goal in mind: The London Foodie’s ongoing appreciation of the top-notch burger. Yet having travelled through London on an unseasonably warm day, cross-town from meetings elsewhere, we were hungry enough to be tempted by the aforementioned gougères (£5), and a zingy starter of gravlax (£12) – delectable slices of salmon cured in gin but curiously missing the usual dill borders.

I love a restaurant that takes pride in its bread, and Bar Boulud gets extra points on this count, because it serves pointy sheaves of well-textured baguette with exquisite pats of creamy butter, salted just right.  If you’re not careful you could fill up on bread alone. Or even better, bread washed down with a glass of the Francois Monay house Champagne, sold at a very reasonable £12.95 a glass.

The burgers, when they came, brought a whiff of Americana with them. Sitting in regal solitude on their rectangular white plates the char-grilled patties looked fit to bust out of their buns, in explosions of generous demi-rare redness, juicy and properly textured in a visibly granular way. 

Bar Boulud offers just three kinds of burger: The Yankee (£17), which consists of 8oz of prime British ground beef, minimally accompanied by staples from the vegetable crisper drawer – lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Cheese is optional. I opted to have it, but was a little disappointed that it had congealed on the way to our table and wasn’t the hot and molten sludge I’d been anticipating. The meat, however, was faultless; soft enough to adhere, but grainy enough to fall apart at the merest contact with tooth. And packed with flavour too.

Other options include The Piggie (£19), topped with barbecued pork, jalapeno mayo and cabbage, and served in a cheddar bun; and the ‘BB’, priced at a royal £24. This stunning confection of patty, foie gras and short ribs stuffed into a black onion seed bun with a slick of horseradish mayo, could challenge the healthiest of appetites. My dining buddy claimed his ‘BB’ was sublime and symphonious, and neither of us left a crumb on our plates.

It just so happened that the day before we visited, the sommelier had opened an Imperiale of Chateaux Clos Marsalette Bordeaux (2013). It was smooth as you like, and dreamy with warm red fruit tastes and aromas. This was available at £16 a glass, but you can also enjoy a 125ml glass of Barons de Rothschild Legende de Lafite at Bar Boulud for just £5.90.

Likes: Scrumptious burgers that set a bar for others to follow, and the best bread and butter in town. The Chateaux Clos Marsalette Bordeaux wine was exceptional.

Dislikes: I’d like to see a range of condiments offered with the burgers, mustards and relishes that you can add on and play with. This, it seems to me, would be in the spirit of friendly build-your-own dining that Bar Boulud cultivates so well.

Verdict: Bar Boulud is a great lunch spot in the heart of Knightsbridge – writing this, I can’t think of much else I’d rather have right now than their BB Burger & frites with a glass of Chateaux Clos Marsalette, perfection! Recommended.

Rabu, 22 Juni 2016

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Learning All About Activated Charcoal Flour

Words & Photography by Caroline Ghera and Luiz Hara

Name: Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzicotto 

Where: 267, Kensington High Street, W8 6NA, www.pizzicotto.co.uk

Cost: Flour Power Masterclass costs £50 per person, and will run from 28th June 2016 from 18:30 for 1½ hours.

About: The Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzocotto is a fun introduction to the more unusual types of flour including activated charcoal, chestnut and buckwheat flour, used to prepare a range of dishes and pizze, which participants will cook and eat at the end of the class. This feature describes a Flour Power Masterclass I attended recently and the dishes we prepared.

Pizzicotto is the second restaurant by the Chiavarini family who have run the popular Il Portico only a few doors away for 50 years on Kensington High Street. Like its sister restaurant, Pizzicotto is a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant drawing on the family heritage of Emilia Romagna and a small network of regional Slow Food and artisanal producers who supply the restaurant exclusively.

For the first half of our class we were introduced to the basics of pizza making by Pizzicotto's head pizzaiolo, Andrea. We learned that the wood-burning oven’s domed shape helped to evenly distribute the heat (425C), while the mixture of beech and larger burning logs adds a touch of moisture into the oven preventing the pizza from becoming too dry.

We were shown how to stretch the soft dough (made with a mix of semolina, rice and corn flours) into pizze, topping them with tomato and mozzarella for a Margherita pizza. The white dough had been proved for a staggering 72 hours (it is usually 24 hours in a good pizza restaurant). The result was an extremely light base, with a blistered crust and an airy texture when cut.

Using the same white dough, we later also savoured the Spacca Napoli Pizza, topped with anchovies, mozzarella, olives and capers, which was deliciously salty and with a hint of chilli and garlic.

A variation on a theme was the introduction of creamed asparagus to the plain white dough, to create a green, slightly softer textured pizza base. Topped with tomatoes, rocket and mozzarella, this was my favourite pizza dough, the delicate but distinctive flavour of asparagus adding a delicious touch to the faintly green crust.

Our last dough used activated charcoal flour, a striking black powder which had been added to the blended white dough and left to prove for 48 hours. Pizzicotto is championing the use of vegetable charcoal, an extremely porous ingredient which has the ability to draw toxins from the body in a process named adsorption. Being insoluble, activated charcoal is then eliminated from the body, flushing those toxins away. Activated charcoal is supposed to aid digestion, lower cholesterol, improve skin and has even been claimed to be a cure for hangover, though that has not as yet been scientifically proven. Its main medicinal use is to prevent the absorption of medicines taken in accidental overdoses, from the stomach and intestines into the blood stream.

Our charcoal pizzas were topped with mozzarella, spicy sausage, rocket and tomatoes. Despite their dark coloured bases, the addition of charcoal was not noticeable in taste. Having been proved for 48 hours, the dough had a finer texture but was extremely light, definitely worth trying for its potential health benefits without any compromise on taste. 

The second half of our Flour Masterclass was taught by Pizzicotto's head chef, Marianna Giglio, and focused on pasta. Starting off with 00 flour, an Italian stone ground flour where the bran and germ are extracted after milling to produce a finer, whiter flour, which is also richer in nutrients than its English counterpart.

The dough was rolled into a thin sheet and cut into irregular shaped ribbons (known in Italian as maltagliati). The handmade pasta was later served with a delicious beef ragu, a simple but wonderful dish due to the sheer high quality of ingredients and the freshness of the handmade pasta. This was my favourite dish of the evening.

We moved on to use chestnut flour, an expensive autumnal speciality from Piedmont. We kneaded the chestnut flour with a touch of 00 flour, Parmesan and ricotta to make gnocchi.

The gnocchi were served with butternut squash, mushrooms, Parmesan and a reduced red wine jus. This was a hearty autumnal dish, and while I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the chestnut flour gnocci, I felt they were rather overwhelmed by the squash and mushrooms, and would be better appreciated on their own with a little butter and Parmesan.

The practical side of the masterclass ended with the use of gluten-free buckwheat flour to produce a dough that was again rolled into a thin sheet and cut into triangles. The pasta had a distinctive texture and was served with a delectable mixture of spring vegetables. This was a good option on the menu for gluten-free diners.

After the masterclass, we finally sat down to enjoy our creations. Our evening came to an end with a dessert pizza with a Nutella-stuffed crust, topped with custard cream, more Nutella, thin ribbons of green apple, grapes and raspberries.

Likes: I enjoyed learning how to cook with new flours at Pizzicotto, particularly the striking activated charcoal flour, the mixture of flours used in their white dough, and the 72 hour proofing.

Dislikes: While I thoroughly enjoyed the class, I wish the black charcoal flour pizza as well as the other dishes we learned were available on the restaurant menu. Unfortunately these are only available for participants in the flour masterclass.

Verdict: This is a great opportunity to learn about different Italian flours, and to increase the repertoire of ingredients in your Italian cooking. Recommended.