FEAST -UK . CO M
Every now and again you visit a restaurant that’s so on top of its game, you wonder
why the Michelin panel haven’t been throwing stars at it. Harden’s have been tipping
Mju for a while, Zagat’s ditto, and the AA have lavished rosettes on it. But, as yet, no
nod from Michelin. Still, it can’t be far off…
Under the guidance of chef Tom Thomsen, dinner at Mju hovers somewhere around
the five course mark or more if you opt for his individually-tailored tasting menu.
That might suggest “gourmand” rather than “gourmet” but the Asian influences
extend to the size of the portions, providing a remarkable series of tastes that
gradually satiates without necessitating a loosening of the belt.
Dishes such as glazed foie gras, apple salad and Granny Smith sorbet , blue fin tuna
with wasabi ice cream, langoustine dumpling in a black truffle broth and lobster
linguini show a chef at the peak of his powers. Thomsen’s way with the simpler fare
– the green miso soup is dizzyingly good – is also a good indication of his talents. In
fact, there was only one duff note: an otherwise exemplary chocolate fondant comes
with parsnip ice cream, a not entirely suitable earthy hint that just feels like an idea
too far. The rest though is wildly enjoyable.
Millennium Knightsbridge Hotel, 17 Sloane Street, London SW1
Tel: 020 7201 6330
Cheyne Walk Brasserie
With its emphasis on French cuisine, and Chelsea location, you’d be forgiven for
expecting Cheyne Walk Brasserie to be austere and cooler-than-thou, one of those
places populated exclusively by the rich and/or thin and/or beautiful.
And it’s all the above. But it also manages to be friendly and relaxed. Though that
could have been the Elderflower Martini that kicked off a memorable evening.
Interestingly, the main selling point isn’t a reliance on heavy French sauces or
strange bits of meat. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the wood-fired grill where
Frank Lebiez, the highly adept chef, cooks well-sourced steaks, fish, lamb, etc. The
latter is certainly recommended, both the excellent Rack of Lamb and, particularly,
the Leg for two to share. The presence of the grill means that the smell of cooking
permeates the atmosphere: it’s impossible to have no appetite when the first thing
you inhale is a warm, rosemary-scented waft of air. Happily, portions are generous
and sides are very well executed: as you’d expect, the Dauphinois is particularly
good. Classic French starters – Onion Soup, some first rate Foie Gras – are also
With jazz in the upstairs bar on a Wednesday evening and an appealing brunch /
daytime menu available until 7pm, Cheyne Walk Brasserie is just adding cherries to
an already appealing cake.
50 Cheyne Walk, London SW3
Tel: 020 7376 8787
It’s several years since we first raved about Mela. Time has moved on, we’re looking
older… and Mela’s still delivering the goods.
Admittedly, Mela’s also looking older, those colourful walls, funky paintings and
bleached wood keeping them firmly in the “90s”. But the service, while sometimes
haphazard, is still friendly, the “glass-partitioned interactive kitchen” is as entertaining
as ever and the food is still pretty damn great, and as far from your common-or-
garden kormas and your lads’ night jalfrezis as the mainstream gets.
Mutter Adrak Ki Aloo was a delicious shallow-fried patty of crushed green peas,
ginger and mash. Calamari Pakhtooni, Squid with Goan piri-piri soured sauce, was
breathtaking for all the right reasons. The Tawe ki Bathak - a ludicrously moist duck
breast covered in a thick sauce of coconut, coriander and mint – is still one of the
best Indian dishes in the West End. Great breads and excellent sides like Jeera
Pulao – basmati rice flavoured with cumin - demonstrated an appreciation and
understanding of the importance of simple flavours and quality ingredients.
Probably still the best Indian in London at this level.
152-156 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2
(020 7836 8635)
For all its shortcomings, Cheers has never pretended to be anything more than a
cheap and cheerful refuelling point. It might not be a place where everybody knows
your name but it’s always been a place where everybody knew you could get cheap,
unfussy food of the burgers and wings variety.
Since it first opened though, steady improvements have been made, particularly in
terms of presentation and the cooking. And all for surprisingly little: I rolled in with
two companions – both male, both hungry – and then rolled out a couple of hours
later, satisfied, pleasantly buzzy and £60 lighter. Let me say that again. £60. For
three. Including beers. And a steak.
The meal was pure comfort eating, from Deep Fried Potato Skins (£5.95) which
oozed cheese, bacon, sour cream, spring onions, calories, jalapenos, etc., Garlic &
Herb Bread (£2.95) oozed butter and flavour in roughly equal measure.
So far, so dependable. “I’m having a steak,” announced one of the party. “If they
can’t get a steak right, then they have no right to be in the restaurant business.”
Happily, the tender and tasty Grilled Scotch Rib Eye allayed any doubts as to
Cheers’ right to exist. Herb Grilled Chicken and Bangers and Mash were of similar
solid quality, vast but surprisingly well presented – think nouvelle design with
So, hardly the stuff of Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons but as unpretentious, cheap and
cheerful goes, you could do much, much worse.
72 Regent Street W1
(020 7494 3322)
Masala Zone’s aim is to provide the real flavours of India at very, very affordable
prices. A good plan. And great execution.
It’s owned by the same people who run the rather more upmarket Chutney Mary and
Veeraswamy. While those places are opulent and relaxed, Masala Zone is basic and
efficient, with a simple but varied menu placing the traditional Indian emphasis on
balanced meals, fresh vegetables and healthy eating. Vegetarians will also be
delighted to know that the chefs from Gujarat and North India means they now
operate out of their own separate vegetable kitchen.
Food covers “one stop options” – great Thalis and Noodle / Rice Bowls – and
assorted snacks. Particularly good are the “small plates of street food” as the menu
calls them. Bhel, a traditional crunchy salad with chutneys and peanuts is simple and
flavoursome, Sev Puri are wholewheat biscuits piled with spiced mash and three
fresh chutneys. They’re extremely tasty, with a satisfying mix of textures.
The Thali platters are excellent value, with a choice of main curry (Konkan Chicken
incidentally packs an impressive punch), an Indian canape, two vegetable dishes
(depending on what’s good at the market that morning), a dal, raita, Indian salad,
papadums and chutney, whole-wheat chapati and rice. For less than a tenner.
9 Marshall Street, W1
Tel: 020 7287 9966
Homage, the restaurant at the Waldorf, is exactly that. They wanted to recreate the
“grand café” European dining experience in London, with a bar, a patisserie and
“grand salon”. Whether they’ve achieved that is debatable, but there are plenty of
plus points here.
Good service, a fine room – it’s certainly grand in both the English and the French
definitions – sensible prices and decent volume music. In fact the only real
disappointment was the food.
A starter of Scottish langoustine salad, baby artichokes and asparagus was
satisfactory and huge, but French Onion soup with shin of beef, gruyere crouton was
just a huge disappointment. The use of shin promises a slow cooked depth of
flavour, which was lacking. The crouton rapidly became a huge soggy lump of
molten cheese that stuck to the spoon. And the bowl. And my chin. All without
actually tasting of anything.
Dover Sole was again satisfactory, but lacked excitement – although that’s probably
true of any Dover sole. Better was Fillet of beef with a green peppercorn sauce.
Served rare as requested – charred outside, deep purple within – it proved, again,
that those boys at the Buccleuch estate know how to hang their beef.
Dessert – a good orange and Valrhona chocolate combination – and coffee took the
bill to around £90. That’s not bad but if the Waldorf name is going to be remembered
in food circles for more that that salad, Homage needs to get some tweaking done
The Waldorf Hotel, 22 Aldwych, London
Tel: 020 7759 4080
Green & Red
Oh happy day. A Mexican in London that’s: a) fantastic; and b) fantastic value.
Set in a Flat Iron-esque building near the Brick Lane end of BG Road, Green & Red
has used the odd-shaped space well, resulting in a relaxed, funky feel. Tables are
well spaced, music – the expected modern Latin soundtrack but with classic soul and
reggae to break it up – is at an agreeable volume, and the staff are knowledgeable
There are more stylish places in London. But you can only get so far on style
anyway. At some point you have to back it up with drinks and food, and that’s where
Green & Red delivers; the place won an Evening Standard Award for Best Bar, a
prize they don’t give to just anyone.
Cocktails are expertly constructed, with Pomegranate Margeritas and the Old
Fashioned – the usual bourbon replaced by aged Tequila – scoring very highly. Food
is robust, well-cooked and very good value indeed: mains come with refried beans,
homemade tortillas, vegetables, etc and weigh in around the £13 mark. Pork Belly
with ribs – generous, tender, very good indeed – and Lamb Shank - equally tender
and well flavoured – are certainly recommended. And when a large group of
Mexicans wander in and order the same dishes, you know that you must be on to
something. Long may Green&Red reign.
51 Bethnal Green Road, E1
Telephone: 020 7749 9670
Menier Chocolate Factory
The Menier Chocolate Factory is a former chocolate factory, once owned by a bloke
called Menier, funnily enough. It’s a strange hybrid of a place, that’s part bar, part
theatre and part restaurant. And, while I can’t comment on the theatre, the bar and
restaurant sections work extremely well.
Apart from fellow diners – a lot of braying media wannabes - there’s no pretension
here, just a straightforward list of brasserie classics with the odd twist. Pan fried
langoustine, with garlic butter and celeriac remoulade were a little on the small side
but fresh. Oriental duck rillettes – a logical combination given the French and
Oriental relationship with the bird – was a coarse, gamey rillette with a big hit of
coriander. Basic but better than much fusion cooking.
Burgers and expensive bangers and mash are in evidence alongside more
interesting dishes – a generous and tasty risotto of smoked chicken and baby leeks
– and brasserie classics, like chargrilled rib eye: a good few ounces of unstressed
cow suitably matched with a potato, horseradish and rocket gratin.
Desserts, unsurprisingly, feature a fair bit of chocolate, such as the zippy chocolate
espresso tart with crème fraiche. All in all, just about as good as you’ll find in this
53 Southwark Street, London SE1
020 7378 1712
Golborne House is an oasis of calm in an unpromising area. Set in the shadow –
virtually – of the massive Trellick Tower, Golborne House is generally regarded as
one of London’s finest gastropubs. And, for 60+ percent of our visit, we’d agree.
It certainly balances the gastro bit of the name with the pub element. The mix is
actually quite literal as one corner of the bar makes up the kitchen, so drinkers can
watch the two industrious chefs do their industrious thing.
Over some olives, sparkling water and a glass of excellent De Gras Sauvignon Blanc
(£3.50) – “smell the peaches in that!” ordered my companion and, indeed, I did – we
perused the simple menu of old favourites with the odd innovative twist. Grilled
asparagus with rocket and parmesan got a flavour and colour boost from roast
cherry tomatoes and quails eggs. Salt cod – a good sized fritter with watercress
salad, got a hefty kick from a paprika aioli.
Mains faltered though. Smoked haddock and leek omelette was more tortilla than
omelette and dry tortilla at that. Chanterelle mushroom and mascarpone risotto
scored highly on taste but lost marks for being undercooked rather than al dente.
Still, a happy ending – butter and cinnamon roasted plums with honey and ginger ice
cream, a simple classic in the making – and a sensible, sub-£50 bill. Starters and
puddings would seem to be the best way to go though.
36 Golborne Road W10
Tel: 020 8960 6260
There’s a slightly faded grandeur to the façade of Christopher’s that belies the
efficiency that goes on behind the door. However, that run down charm, the eclectic
menu and slightly informal atmosphere makes this place very easy to like.
The restaurant strikes a sensible balance between old-fashioned and relaxed, from
the efficient but smiling service to the layout, and the menu is a mix of sophisticated
modern-European with American-eseque comfort eating. Our meal ranged from
Pheasant ravioli, roasted game jus, truffle oil to caramelised slow-cooked pork belly,
via a “Spago's” goats cheese mousseline with pecans – a great, surprising
combination – and, inevitably, a steak.
Christopher’s steaks come from the Buccleuch Estate in Scotland and are aged 28
days. The meat is thus exceptional, though the mushroom croquette which came
with the fillet was a pointless, bland and soggy addition. Sides of cheddary mash,
creamed corn, etc., were hearty and, at around £3.50 apiece, good value though.
Damn fine “grown up” puds too, such as Peach melba with amaretto poached
peaches, raspberries and raspberry ripple ice cream.
18 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, WC2
Tel: 020 7240 4222
All chains should be this good. Fact.
Having supplied red meat and red wine to red faced business types for some years,
Gaucho Grill is undergoing a reinvention.
It’s now just Gaucho and, as far as this funky branch goes, it’s lighter on the wood
and leather gents club atmosphere of its predecessors and a lighter, brighter affair
altogether. What wood there is houses the Argentinean wine list of which Gaucho is
justifiably proud and the leather has been interspersed with glass and metal
trimmings, There’s also a big open kitchen. It seems to work. While there were
groups of noisy boys ostentatiously finishing smoking cigars, there were also more
romantic couples than business diners. But how would the steak-heavy Gaucho
cope with a non- meat eater?
Er… really well, basically. As well as an excellent soup of the day – plum tomato,
served chilled and finished with butter – and a great Peruvian Ceviche of merluza,
tiger prawn and octopus, tossed in tomato and citrus juices, etc., there’s a
surprisingly good range of seafood. Admittedly pure vegetarians are stuffed –
vegetable side orders and mushroom pasta is about their only option but fish eaters
are superbly catered for. Grilled seabass was also a knockout. Churrasco – the cut
fillet steak – was as good as ever, and Cavas de Weinert “Gran Vino” – a Cabernet
Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot blend – helped it all along.
Yep. All chains should be this good.
5 Finsbury Avenue, London EC2
Tel: 020 7256 6877
Named after the raised platform where Indian families traditionally eat, Chowki is
Kuldeep “Mela” Singh’s answer to the cheap, fast, volume formula of Wagamama et
If only Kuldeep had got in first: as reliable as Wagamama, the food isn’t a patch on
Chowki, which satisfies in terms of speed but also adds quality to the mix. The value
is amazing too: a typical starter will set you back £3, a main around £7 – and that
includes a curry, a dal, rice and a bread. That means you can eat heartily, with a
drink, for about £13. Which is cheaper than my distinctly average local. And every
other distinctly average – or just plain bad – local I’ve ever been to.
Food varies monthly, with a changing menu that offers a gastronomic “tour” of India.
Every month, the menu features a selection from three different Indian regions,
profiling the various areas’ different ingredients, herbs, spices and methods of
cooking. There’s a vegetarian option for each region, the fresh cooked aspect of the
dishes means they can take allergies into consideration and, if a region’s traditions
demand a certain sense of heat, the spicing isn’t shy. Chowki may be a crowd
pleaser but it sticks to its culinary guns with admirable tenacity.
Service is crisp and efficient, the ingredients are good and the extras – the dals, nan
breads, etc – are excellent, and not the “filler” the deal might suggest. A big thumbs
2-3 Denman Street, London W1
020 7439 1330
New “home”, new image. Back in its Charlotte Street days, Giardinetto was your
common-or-garden trattoria: decent, reliable but a little old-fashioned.
Now they’ve moved to Mayfair… and undergone the sort of reinvention that would
have even even Laurence Llewelyn Bowen sucking his teeth and saying “steady on,
I think we’ve gone too far.”
There’s reinvention and there’s quantum leap. This is the latter. The chintz has been
replaced by glass, steel and copper that dazzles the eye. Seats are very stylised but,
happily, far more comfortable than they look. In short, it’s an impressive, ambitious
space that reflects the impressive, ambitious menu.
And the impressive, ambitious talent in the kitchen. Some of the dishes are rather
eccentric to say the least – Taglioni with chlorophyll and lobster sauce, anyone? –
but when things work, boy do they work. Minestrone mantecato al pesto – a green,
Ligurian take on the dish – was robust and superbly flavoured. The more bizarre
option of Zuppetta di frutta - fruit and vegetable passion fruit soup with olive oil
sorbet – was unbelievable. Sharp, sweet, refreshing and as summery as you can
Zuppetta di Pesce was as good as any I’ve had in Europe, the Roasted Rabbit
heartily rustic and there’s great cheese. Less impressive was the Carpaccio of
Octopus – fresh enough but lacking a certain spark – and a nondescript St Honore
cake but when things are good, they’re absolutely remarkable. Not cheap but a
39/40 Albemarle Street, W1
Telephone: 020 7493 7091
The Café Lazeez “chain” (Soho, this South Ken branch and, surprisingly,
Birmingham) offers a breezy twist on Indian dining.
The menu, despite the odd Jalfrezi, is surprisingly light on the traditional Indian fare
featuring instead more innovative dishes such as Paneer Mint Tikka (£4.90). A
tandoor dish of cottage cheese filled with a mint coriander mix, marinated with
turmeric and yoghurt, it burst with flavour and colour and impressed the vegetarian
companion. Char Grilled Salmon (£5.95), was a moist and tasty affair, the yoghurt,
red chilli, carom and dill giving the good quality fish a delicious hit of spice.
Main courses – Spinach and Fennel Dumplings (£10.75) and Nalli Gosht (£8.95) –
were slightly heavier going. The dumplings, filled with sweet and sour mushrooms,
packed no little taste but were hugely filling. The Gosht – billed as a lamb shank
delicacy cooked with an exotic melange of spices – was flavoursome but slightly
chewier than anticipated. Good sauce though and the extras – saffron rice (£2.75),
Peshwari Naan (£2), plus Aubergines (£4.60) and Spinach and Mushrooms (£4.25) –
were nigh on immaculate. The Naan was exceptional and highly flavoured with
mango, while the Aubergines were rich and provided a strong peppery kick.
It’s no Mela – six, seven years on and STILL the pick of London’s mid-range Indian
restaurants – but for a bottle of something drinkable, a couple of starters and change
from around £30, Lazeez is a decent alternative.
93-95 Old Brompton Road, SW7
Tel: 020 7581 9993
The Big Easy
As the name suggests, The Big Easy is an American-style restaurant. The setting’s a
little unlikely – the former heart of Swinging London – but what the hell. We’re
international these days…
However, while the menu is pure US – lots of manly meat, rah – and the room is set
out like a crabshack, there is one surprise that lifts Big Easy head and shoulders
above its rivals: a wine list of quite exceptional quality.
On the downside, there’s a tendency to underestimate wait times, one of those little
“go spend at the bar” tricks that annoy me intensely. Another grumble would have to
be the quality of the crab claws. The setting – which is a little naff, if we’re being
honest – suggests crab is going to be a knockout. Instead, it was tasteless and cold.
But that’s it for grumbles. Once seated, and past the crab, everything else was good
to excellent with fiery, meaty chicken wings, good hearty jumbo shrimp, and top
quality steaks. Staff know their food and their wine, making two suggestions that
greatly improved my experience. As for desserts… well, they look great, but two
courses in and the belt was already on the last notch.
Healthniks need not apply and it IS a little at the pricey end – a decent Pinot Noir
was £31, you’re touching £20 per steak – but for basic meat and red wine packages,
Big Easy is a very good bet indeed.
332-334 Kings Road, London SW3
Telephone: 020 7352 4071
In terms of location, Marco Pierre White's The Belvedere has the edge on just about
all of London’s eateries. Set in a corner of Holland Park and with its bright, spacious
interior, it’s very “country house”. It’s just it’s a country house about ten minutes from
It is, in short, very classy, as is the food. The set lunch is particularly good value at
but a la carte is not the wallet-clutching experience you might expect either.
Things are a little meat-heavy as you might expect given the MPW connection. The
companion’s Confit of lamb burst with intense lamby flavours while the Roast
venison, cabbage, sauce grand veneur was great: Marco doesn’t cook these days
but he does shoot. Good wine list too – although it’s admittedly pitched around the
£25 minimum level.
Desserts were a contrast of the relatively simple – Strawberries and cream – and the
more technical – Raspberry Soufflé. Both were nigh faultless although, as the waiter
put it: “strawberries are good but soufflé is soufflé…” Very fine dining indeed.
Holland House, Abbotsbury Road W8
020 7602 1238
Bam-Bou is an atmospheric French-Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of the
Charlotte Street café strip where Indo-Chinese wall hangings, the predominantly
dark wood interior and minimalist, ambient music create an evocative environment.
Their attention to detail is also reflected in the oriental cut of the staff’s uniforms and
in the design of the crockery and utensils, ensuring you’re immersed in the
atmosphere in advance of the French / Vietnamese food which, happily, is pretty
Starters average around £6, for substantial and refreshing combinations, such as
crunchy asparagus and shitake salad served in a sweet peanut dressing or a
deliciously smoky pumpkin and shaved coconut soup. Mains – generously sized and
keenly priced around £14 - include a number of inventive crossover dishes such as
grilled chicken brochette with lemongrass and peanuts, and honey-roasted duck with
pak-choi and water chestnuts. More orthodox Vietnamese cuisine is also on offer
with a range of aromatic green and yellow curries - all served with fluffy coconut rice
- and an array of dishes infused with flavours such as lemongrass, sesame, soy,
coconut and coriander.
Desserts – approximately £5 - are better than you might expect too, from the
unusual, cigar-shaped chocolate spring rolls with kumquat to an exquisite passion
fruit crème brulee.
An atmospheric, good value gastronomic experience.
1 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DB
Tel: 020 7323 9130
Awana – it means “in the clouds” in Malaysian, apparently - is elegantly situated off
Sloane Avenue. The heavenly name is apt for the delightful cuisine: it's Malaysian
food given a quixotic twist.
The space is varied. You can pop in for a drink at the funky bar, try a tempting
skewer at the satay bar or opt for a more formal meal in the spacious, silk-patterned
We began with wonton isi sayuran (crispy Asian parcels) and cendawan campur
goreng (crispy fried mushrooms). Both were delicious but the mushrooms were in a
league of their own, bursting with flavour.
To follow I chose sayur goreng (sauteed organic tofu with fresh mushrooms and pak
choy) with nasi putih (fragrant rice). My companion, clearly in need of sustenance,
tried both kari sayur bermusim (mixed seasonal vegetables simmered with curry and
tamarind sauce) plus the signature dish ikan panggang (banana leaf wrapped
butterfish with lemongrass, coriander and chilli served with shallot & cucumber
salad.) A rapt silence followed, the butterfish pronounced perfect, its melt-in-the-
mouth texture and delicate flavour a clear winner.
Desserts of kopi cheescake (coffee and kahlua flavoured) plus sago kastard (baked
egg custard with coconut and caramel) were pleasant rather than memorable, but
this in no way detracted from a really superb meal. Attentive, very courteous service
from all only served to enhance the experience.
85 Sloane Avenue, London, SW3
Tel: 020 7584 8880
Islington, according to my companion – a resident who, in AA Gill fashion, has
gamely offered to be known as The Blonde – has been lacking a good restaurant.
Courtesy of Almeida, Sir Terence Conran’s amalgam of French cuisine and North
London cool, it’s now got one.
The Blonde dived in to one of the Almeida’s most welcome innovations, the Trolley
of Charcuterie, and a superb Duck with Pistachio terrine. My Soupe a l’oignon – with
it’s marrow-topped croutons - was a meaty rival to the best of Paris.
The Blonde followed with Lemon Sole Meuniere, an inevitably bony but beautifully
cooked piece of fish. I went for Coq au vin, a dish long overdue a revival. Almeida’s
interpretation is good but a little light on the “vin” aspect. That had to be provided by
the Borgueil Cuvee des Galichets.
Desserts were of the similar quality. The Blonde’s Marquise au chocolat elicited
murmurs of delight as did the Trolley of tarts, a wonderful idea where you either
choose from a selection of freshly made tarts – aux pommes, citron, chocolat, etc -
or do as I do and tuck into a smackerel of every one - purely in the name of
research, of course – in order to name the prune d’Agen the pick of the bunch.
A highly satisfying experience.
30 Almeida Street
020 7354 4777
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
The Gourmet Burger Kitchen started something of a wave and it’s hard to find a
street now that doesn’t contain a high-end burger place.
GBK though is the original and still the best.
They certainly don’t run a risk of upsetting the Trades Descriptions people. There’s a
kitchen. In that kitchen, save for fries, a mixed salad and a couple of decent veggie
options, they grind Aberdeen Angus Scottish beef into gourmet burgers of gourmand
proportions. In short, GBK worships the burger. I, in turn, worship GBK.
A wall of blackboards lists the options ranging from the simple Classic – burger,
salad, relish – to funkier alternatives such as the Kiwiburger – the classic with messy
additions of beetroot, egg, pineapple and cheese (shouldn’t work, but really does).
Everything comes perched on an excellent sour dough sesame bun salad and relish.
Of course, with burgers you need chips – and GBK’s are piping hot and crunchy,
chunky golden chips that are crisp outside and as fluffy as new socks in.
No puddings are on offer but you’d never manage one. You’ll be reeling, full of good
food and stunned that something so simple can be so good and only cost in the low
£20s for two people
The blackboards outside GBK show that Time Out and The Independent have
declared them “the best burgers in London”. They can add our name to that list too.
44 Northcote Road, SW11 – and various locations.
020 7228 3309
1 Blossom Street
Unsurprisingly located in Blossom Street – the bit of the City specialising in bulb
investment and Chrsyanth futures perhaps? – Roberto Paddo’s restaurant has
achieved its mission to bring good, simple Italian fare to the Square Mile.
Despite the obvious bias towards business lunches – it’s suit city at lunchtimes- it’s a
simple, relaxed setting with a menu that manages to be unfussy, and bring an
occasional twist to the standard Italian ingredients: the usual flavours are present
and correct, but the assembly is slightly unexpected, such as the Poached Egg in a
Parmesan basket with Crispy Bacon and Sauteed Potatoes. The cheese, bacon and
expertly sauteed potatoes scream Italy but the poached egg gives a sense of
novelty. Over-analysis aside, it’s just a great dish, that straddles the line between
comfort eating and sensible.
Mains are appealingly straightforward, with an encouraging reliance on simple
combinations such as Roasted Pork Chop with Rosemary Potatoes and Sauteed
Spinach and Seabass and Cherry Tomato Risotto with Roquette. Neither dish
packed a surprise, but you can’t argue with good quality ingredients this well
Desserts – completely unnecessary but too tempting – were also well executed.
Tiramisu with fresh berries gave a slightly healthy, surprisingly pleasant twist to this
classic, while Fresh Fruit and Sorbet was a simple pleasure of big flavours.
Unpretentious hearty food at sensible prices. London could do with more such
1 Blossom Street, E1
Tel: 020 7247 6530
As a restaurant, Roadhouse makes a very good bar. That probably sounds like a
complaint but it’s not meant to; Roadhouse just plays to its strengths. Strengths such
as an apparently eternal Happy Hour, surprisingly good bar snacks, liquid
refreshment and loud, live music. The bar is huge, the beer is cold and the cocktails
The restaurant side of things is less impressive but stupidly good value: you do
indeed pay your money and take your choice. However, they’re a very good bet for
chicken wings. Ignore the dip – very average – and savour the tender meat and bold
spice. They’re what cold beer were made for.
Burgers are... okay. It’s clearly decent meat but first time out, my choice was charred
and the chips were cold, so it all went back. It was all rectified quickly enough but it's
a mistake that basic shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
Work within their limitations, enjoy one of approximately 47 cocktails and hoover up
the wings, and you’ll be more than fine.
Jubilee Hall, 35 The Piazza, Covent Garden WC2
020 7240 6001
Do not expect river views at River Spice. Do, however, expect excellent food at an
The food is described as “pan-Asian” but pan-Asia is a very big pan: it’s actually
predominantly Indian sub-continent with Thai influences.
We started with Cod Khela – cod steamed with mustard and green chilies and
served wrapped in banana leaves, and Chingra Tava – spiced prawns with ginger
and garlic. The cod was excellent, succulent and tasty but not overpowered by the
other ingredients. The spiced king prawns were a masterpiece of culinary
engineering but, unfortunately, the taste had lost out to the aesthetics.
Elsewhere, the food lives up to the visual promise. Murgh Dhall, chicken cooked with
lentils in a sweet and sour sauce, is a Persian dish given a Bangladeshi makeover.
At first taste it was deceptively mild but had a slow-burning and deeply satisfying hot
kick. Gausht Saag was melt-in-the-mouth lamb cooked with spinach, chilies and
garlic in which, despite the medium hot sauce, you could actually taste the freshness
of the spinach and the spices.
Veggies are well looked after too. Shobzi Mix – seasonal vegetables with fenugreek
and chilli – and Noya Aloo – new potatoes cooked to crunchy perfection with
mustard seeds, green chilli and turmeric – were outstanding, light, fresh, flavorsome
and seemingly stir-fried rather than slow cooked.
One false note, many good points. Who needs a river view anyway?
83-85 Wapping Lane, London E1
020 7488 4050
With so much noise made about Michelin stars, there’s a strong argument for a more
“accessible” award system, rewarding reliability, value, style and atmosphere in the
If there was, Cactus Blue would be a likely champion. The name may suggest
standard Tex-Mex place, but there’s a lot more to the place than that, with a menu
that comes from all over the Americas and flirts with the Pacific Rim.
The bar is huge and ably manned. The cocktail menu covers the classic and the
innovative (e.g., the addictive Kiwi Mojito). The wine list is well thought out and
sensibly priced, with several good bottles under £20. Music – well, until 9ish - is
mellow and played at sensible volume. And the tequila collection is to die for. Simply
put, while it’s not going to get the Michelin panel salivating, Cactus Blue is the sort of
hang-out you’d want in your neighbourhood.
Bar snacks are creative – lobster and papaya nachos anyone? – while mains range
from novel to deadly predictable. However, if you want to know why burgers and
fajitas are so popular they’re boring, then the well-above-average versions here
should answer your question.
Cutting edge Cactus Blue ain’t. But hugely reliable – five visits, three years, all a
success – and good value – bills c. £80 including wine and cocktails it most certainly
86 Fulham Road, SW3
Tel: 020 7823 7858
Standing out against many of London’s bar/restaurant hybrids, Boom fairs
The surroundings are stylish, with cool blue lighting radiating from large glass blocks
and exposed stonework in a sophisticated minimalist style. Various booths for
privacy and comfy leather sofas soften the mood creating an atmosphere cries out
for cocktails and gossip.
Although more bar than restaurant, there’s a lack of pretension – and decent prices –
which makes it easy to forgive the routinely populist nature of the menu. Salad of
baby spinach, blue cheese and crispy bacon was pretty good and Plum tomatoes,
avocado, mozzarella and fresh basil was fresh and flavoursome.
Somewhat predictably, pizzas are a large percentage of the menu. Stop yawning at
the back though; these are crisp-based and decent, with toppings that happily
deviate from the usual margherita with olives.The Vegetarian Pizza - roasted
Mediterranean vegetables, with tomatoes, goats cheese and fresh basil – was
surprisingly good. Boom also gets another thumbs up for its solid, sensibly-priced
sub-£20 wine list.
While not what you’d call a destination venue, as a kick-off for a night out, Boom
does what it does with efficiency and value.
165-167 St. Johns Hill, Clapham SW11
0845 345 1723
Tucked away behind Bank station is the stylish Threadneedles Hotel. Unsurprisingly,
City types have already set up home in the bar but, at the time of our visit, few had
moved on to the elegant restaurant. If they had, they’d have found sophisticated food
– small portions at high prices as cynics call it - presented by attentive staff. And a
bill to make you gasp.
Crab and caviar remoulade was a small portion at a high price, but delicious, ditto
butter poached lobster tortelloni. Good wines by the glass - St Clair Riesling 2001 to
show off the crab, a Chablis Domaine Billaud 2001 for the lobster – eased the pain a
Mains continued the quality theme and improved the cost:size ratio. Baked fillets of
Dover Sole, lemongrass and ginger broth, was okay fish given a considerable boost
by the broth. No gripes re Assiette of Pork, pickled white cabbage, apple and
rosemary though; good pork in assorted forms – crispy, a loosely-packed meatball,
a roast slice – that pleased solo and with the listed trimmings.
Puddings, as befits the City, were artery-threatening, such as poached rhubarb,
white chocolate cheesecake. The cheesecake was spot on – and not cloyingly sweet
as white chocolate can often be.
Threadneedles Hotel, 5 Threadneedle Street London EC2
Tel: 020 7657 8090
When it opened in May 2002, Zuma was the place to be seen, an in-spot for the in-
crowd. That’s not that surprising given its Knightsbridge location, stylish interior and
superb cocktails. What is surprising is that six years on, the normally fickle in-crowd
are still hanging around, which suggests Zuma must be doing something very right
They are. The food is of exceptional quality. The fish is of quite astonishing
freshness. And there are so many good things to eat.
Seaweed came not in the standard crispy form but as an excellent salad of five
different “leaves”, all of which are delicious. Seared tuna came from a fish that could
well have been swimming that morning, judging by the flavour. Other dishes saw
journalistic integrity go out the window; notes were overlooked in favour of hovering
up some excellent food. The star of the plate was memorable though, pen or no pen:
Dynamite Spider Roll. It may look like something from the dinner party scene in
Beetlejuice but it’s, well, dynamite.
Satiation point was rapidly approaching but a neighbouring couple ordered Tempura
which looked too good to miss. It was. Light batter, first rate ingredients, and nigh on
Great desserts – in both classic Western and intriguingly Oriental flavours – finished
us off in style. A genuinely great find and, not as expensive as you might fear.
5 Raphael Street, London SW7 1DL
020 7584 1010
Zinc Bar Grill
Type of cuisine: Modern European
Stylish, good value and the closest thing to a chain that Conran has, Zinc is slowly
taking over the UK. Sort of. London’s covered, the Midlands are sorted and there’s
now a couple of these good quality grills for the upwardly mobile of Scotland.
Zinc is a modern, trendy space full of modern, trendy types having a modern trendy
time – albeit by spending relatively little money and, as it’s Scotland, enjoying better
meat than you get in the London branch.
The space is big – as in BIG – but diners were seated close enough to generate
atmosphere and far enough away to maintain privacy. There’s also a great view over
former Royal yacht Britannia from the balcony which must be lovely on one of
Edinburgh’s what, two, balmy evenings each year?
Anyway, most importantly, food is simple and well executed. Bread was warm and
dense, and served with a warming, peppery oil. Roast parsnip soup with cumin
cream was robust, though the figs in the Roasted figs, mozzarella, port and shallot
dressing lacked flavour. Fillet steak, served with roast shallots and garlic mash and
marinated chicken, sweet potato mash were simplicity itself, and the lack of
tampering allowed the quality of ingredients to shine. Puddings looked good but
were an impossibility: Zinc likes quantity as well as quality.
Hardly innovative but who cares? Dependability and good value will always have
Ocean Terminal, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 7DZ
Tel: 0131 553 8070
The gastropub movement was, initially, brilliant. Then too many places decided that
by switching the malt vinegar for balsamic and filling a room with stripped pine
furniture means they can now charge £12 for very average bangers and mash.
Thank the foodie heavens then for The Ebury. While the conversion hasn’t left much
of the pub – the drinking area is far too stylish to be dismissed in that way – it’s done
wonders with the gastro.
A nigh faultless Carpaccio of Scottish Beef, Salsa Verde, Rocket and Parmesan and
Terrine of Duck Liver immediately showed the kitchen in good light. The Terrine, in
particular, was exceptional and rich, with a powerful orange and mustard chutney to
cut through any excesses.
Roasted cod with a Cassoulet of White Bean, Toulouse Sausage and Ventreche
Bacon fell apart in deeply flavoured, comforting, pearlescent chunks while the Steak
Sandwich showed just what can be achieved when you start with good ingredients.
Sides of rocket and parmesan salad and, inevitably, chips also impressed.
Puddings raised the stakes again, particularly the Passion Fruit Soufflé which surely
ranks amongst the best desserts in the capital. The potential for cloying sweetness
was neatly removed by the addition of coconut sorbet.
With charming service and such good, honest fare, it’s not hard to see The Ebury’s
appeal. Booking – particularly if you want Sunday lunch – is definitely advisable.
11 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8NA
Tel: 020 7730 6784
Sotheby’s is not the obvious spot for a bite to eat but should be. Although the
location suggests you’ll be bidding for starters and discussing antique food with the
resident experts, it’s just a simple, well-run brasserie that would slot neatly into many
a Parisian Rue.
It’s no-nonsense modern European cuisine, accompanied by a 17 bottle wine list of
which an impressive 13 are available by the glass. The result is classy but relaxed
Lunchtime menu-choices are limited - three choices of each course and sides, a
couple of specials – but the chef’s abilities certainly aren’t. Winter vegetable & ginger
soup with croutons was rich, thick and warming. Marinated Lamb with Tabouleh and
Greek Yoghurt was the star of the day though: a fan of beautifully cooked, cold slices
of moist, pink lamb that melted in the mouth, bolstered by the sharp tang of yoghurt.
Grilled Fillet of Plaice, Crushed New Potatoes with Watercress, Lemon and Capers,
Wilted Kale was light but packed with flavour. Succulent fillets of plaice flopped
attractively across the veggies, and the capers and lemon provided much needed –
but understated - oomph. Chocolate Cake with Baked Banana Chocolate Sauce and
Banana Ice Cream was every bit as good as it sounds – which doesn’t happen often.
Very good, although prices are a little steep.
34-35 New Bond Street
Tel: 020 7293 5000
Aside from the blind devotion of a puppy, an England sporting team messing up at
the crucial moment or your nan buying you really weird Christmas presents, there
isn’t much in life we can depend on.
However, you can probably add Kuldeep Singh’s restaurants to that list. Having kept
the quality and value going for five years or more now at Mela and then
revolutionising the semi-fast food market with Chowki, Kuldeep’s also rejuvenated
W1 stalwart Soho Spice.
The angle this time is the daily changing kebab menu – available in snack form or as
a meal with dal makhani, rice and naan. And it’s good. Very good. Raan - lamb
shanks stewed in their own juices and chargrilled – were deeply flavoured and
succulent. The “Succulent Spring Chicken” lived up to its name in every way, with
the potentially odd flavours of smoked cheese and fresh coriander stems surprisingly
happy bed partners. Vegetarian options of Indian cottage cheese – stuffed with
pickle and mint – and a potato kebab were both original and well flavoured.
Mains come with rice, the very-fine-indeed dal and a good naan and cost around £10
all in, which rivals local curry houses in terms of value and blows them out of the
water in terms of quality. How does he do it? Beats me. But I hope he keeps doing it
for several years to come.
124-126 Wardour Street, W1
Telephone: 020 7434 0808
When Sofra first opened - around 1991, if memory serves – I rapidly became hooked
on their launch deal of a decent meze selection and a hot main course for around a
fiver. Flash forward 15 years and, while the prices have increased so has the quality.
Service is also notable, not least as owner Huseyin Ozer prints his mobile number in
the menu, alongside a pledge that anything not to your taste will be replaced
immediately and a promise that drinks will be served within two minutes and starters
in five. It might be empty words – we didn’t attempt to call – but drinks and starters
arrived within the allocated times so it seems to work where it counts.
Portions are enormous, so enormous in fact that my companion and I drafted in a
third friend mid-meal to help us. Admittedly, we’d been the architects of our own
downfall by wolfing down the (great) olives and (fine) humus that arrived pre-
ordering, not to mention two-and-a-half bowls of the addictive bread.
Other dishes were also mostly good. The mixed meze starter is a selection of eight
hot and cold dishes. These were great except for those featuring disappointing bland
stewed / pureed aubergine. A Patlican Kiazartma – fried aubergine, pepper, sauce –
boosted the egg plant’s rep briefly but the listless stuff reappeared in Hunkar
Begendi – chicken stew. Special Mixed Grill featured lumps of healthy, happy beasts
chopped up and grilled, and a worthy sacrifice there were too.
As reliable as ever.
36 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London WC2
Tel: 020 7240 3773/3972
It’s always a challenge to recreate the experience of real Italian dining in the UK but
at Quadrato, chef Marco Bax has done a fine job of importing his native, northern
Italian (and beyond) cooking to the unpromising setting of the Four Seasons Hotel in
The restaurant is quiet and intimate and typical patrons are, inevitably, the bankers,
lawyers and corporate entertainers of London's new financial centre. Roasted tiger
prawns and squid with celery salad, lime hummus, and yoghurt dressing was
succulent and flavoursome. Oven-baked rump of lamb, which was simply presented
with horseradish, garden vegetables and rosemary. Risotto mantecato with radicchio
and Dolcelatte was also first rate. “Mantecato” means creamy, and this perfectly
cooked risotto, perfumed by the blue cheese, certainly was.
I find Italian desserts to so often be triumphs of style over taste, big flouncy things
that promise so much and deliver so little. And nothing disappoints like bad Tiramisu.
However, Quadrato’s version, more creamy than alcoholic, was excellent and
beautifully presented with a mini pool of chocolate sauce.
Four Seasons Hotel, Canary Wharf, Westferry Circus, London E14.
Tel: 020 7510 1857
Preem Restaurant and Balti House
Lookswise, Preem is functional rather than ostentatious. To be blunt, there’s not a lot
to make it stick out from its crowd of Brick Lane rivals but that’s not meant as a
criticism. Give me talent in the kitchen over design flair any day of the week. And
there Preem delivers in balti loads.
It’s owned and run by Hussein Aslan, who’s hit London by way of Scandinavia. The
recipes are Indian but the Scandinavian influence means the best possible
ingredients and healthier preparation. Ghee – the artery-threatening clarified butter
at the centre of most Indian cookery – is banned. Meat is cooked in its own juices /
fat while vegetables are fried in a splash of oil. This is no empty boast – anyone can
witness the fact by attending one of Hussein’s weekly curry cooking courses.
Onion Bhajee , Aloo Puri and Vegetable Pakura were light, crisp and surprisingly
delicate. Lemon Chana Chicken was exceptional meat – with the yellow hint of the
cornfed that you could cut with a fork – with fresh lemon, herbs and chick peas. King
Prawn Tapa, chopped prawn in a sauce of sweet and sour flavours, was excellent.
Sag Bhajee and light, fluffy Nan were exceptional.
Preem is not a rival to “high end” Indian cuisine. However, on this evidence, it is a
rival for anywhere else on Brick Lane.
120 Brick Lane, London E1 6RL
Tel: 020 7247 0397
Ozer is the sister restaurant to budget Turkish fave Sofra. Indeed, aside from the
slightly more opulent decoration – deep red always looks good on a restaurant – it
could be the identical twin sister restaurant.
Happily, while it’s possibly aimed at a smarter set – the locals around Langham
Place, presumably – the food, service and prices at Ozer are identical to the Sofra
formula, i.e., good, friendly and sensible respectively. That says a lot of the group
and owner Huseyin Ozer.
The Mixed Meze starter was typically fine, as was the bread and humus – I tried to
resist like a good Atkins convert but it just tasted too good. Mains – a superbly
marinated and cooked Chicken Shish and the lamb version of the same – showed
what you can do with this style of cuisine when your typical customer isn’t lagered up
and coming in after 11pm. Wine – house red, Turkish, surprisingly quaffable –
washed it down in decent style. As for the service, this was as smiling and efficient
as you get, even when circumstances – a clumsy passer-by, a menu and a candle –
conspired to ignite our table. Flames, such as they were, were extinguished with
speed and aplomb and glasses of champagne appeared to apologise for any
Authentic? Probably not. Tasty and keenly priced? Without a shadow of a doubt.
5 Langham Place, London W1
Tel: 020 7323 0505
The best foodie trend of recent years HAS to be the vogue for “world tapas”. Variety
is indeed the spice of life, and happily, many restaurateurs agree. OQO, a recent
addition to this scene, brings some decent Chinese-influenced “tapas” to Islington
It’s a canteen style place, a pleasant mix of form and function that, even on a
weekday lunchtime, generates enough atmosphere to make you think that another
plate of octopus, a second bottle of wine and an early start tomorrow is preferable to
heading back to the office.
The dishes that’ll keep you coming back for more include Baby Octopus in Szechuan
Pepper and Salt – good density and great flavour - and Monkfish in a Coat of Yellow
Curry, where the meat of the fish holds up surprisingly well under the attack of the
Desserts – never usually a strong point in Chinese restaurants – are a pleasant
surprise and very good value, particularly Caramelised Strawberry Fritters - although
“fritters” is a bit of a misnomer. They’re actually deep red strawberries in a perfect
caramelized shell. As you bite, the coating cracks, the strawberry yields between
your teeth and the tongue gets the sweetness of the fruit and the bitter edge of the
caramel in one eye-rolling hit. The fritters are reason enough for a visit. A bill just
south of £60 for two, including wine, is another.
4-6 Islington Green, London N1
Tel: 020 7704 2332
Notting Hill Brasserie
As the name suggests, Notting Hill Brasserie is a neighbourhood restaurant. It’s just
a very good restaurant for a very good neighbourhood.
It has the kind of relaxed atmosphere that can only be achieved in two ways. It’s
either genuinely laid back with everything left to chance or, for all its professionalism,
it’s like a swan: the visible bit is elegant and graceful but behind the scenes those
little legs are going like the clappers. NHB is, obviously, the latter.
It’s mostly great. Faults, such as they are, revolve around prices – which are high but
clearly quite achievable in the area. I mean, there was a minor royal sitting behind
us. That doesn’t happen round our way. Also, the taupe surroundings aren’t the most
exciting setting. But that’s as negative as it gets.
From the little pre-starters – an exquisite artichoke cappuccino and a perfect single
mouthful of seared tuna – onwards, it was the sort of simple, exquisitely executed
menu that proves the sense in starting with good ingredients… and then not
buggering about with them.
Scallops - sautéed with herb gnocchi and shallots – and Rabbit – a rabbit and
roasted pepper ballotine with prawn tortellini – delivered unusual combinations to
satisfying effect. Duck – roasted magret, onion puree, a warm salad of duck confit –
was rich comfort food. Beef is actually chateaubriand roasted in a salt crust, with
hand made chips, spinach and béarnaise sauce. It’s impeccable.
Classy but unfussy. And worth marrying a royal just so you can eat here every week.
92 Kensington Park Road, London W11
Tel: 020 7229 4481
Restaurant / bars come and go and are prone to the foibles of the fickle fashionable
crowd: a new place opens, they make it their new favourite watering hole… and then
they bugger off as soon as the next new “in” spot opens.
Navajo Joe could have gone the same way. It’s got the location, the atmosphere –
seductive lighting, funky décor and trendy pounding music – and, with those shelves
stacked with 100+ different tequilas, the vital Unique Selling Point. The beautiful
people lapped it up… and, x years later, an awful lot of them are still hanging around.
Which suggests Navajo Joe has got the formula pretty much right.
Food is nothing out of the ordinary – we’re talking fajitas, basic grilled fish, etc – but
ingredients are fresh and things carry sensible price tags. Some of the billed spicy
dishes – a char grilled Peri Peri chicken, for example – were disappointingly polite,
particularly given the South American “theme” but then that’s probably a crowd
pleasing action and it’s slightly churlish to congratulate them for keeping the masses
happy and then hoist them on the same petard.
Great drinks, okay food, decent atmosphere, good value. It''s easy to see the appeal.
34 King Street, WC2
Tel: 020 7240 4008
Utsav has horrible décor. It’s the sort of stark white, brightly lit, blue neon place that
suggests late night chicken shawarmas on Edgware Road, rather than high end,
excellent Indian restaurant. But high end, excellent Indian is what you get.
Machlike Tinkey, sliced squid with garlic, sauteed with chilli and spring onions, was
good. Tirangi Chicken Tikka, saffron, cheese and green herb flavoured chicken tikka
(the colours represent the Indian flag), was better. And Gol Goppa was the best of
all. A traditional beach snack in India, these are puffed wheat parcels filled with chick
peas and potatoes. They come with a bowl of cumin-flavoured water. You spoon the
water into the top of the parcel until it’s full then pop the whole thing in your mouth
where it explodes in a satisfying burst of flavours. Delicious, unusual and a lot of fun
Mains were more mixed. Chicken Varutha Curry packed flavour and subtle heat in
each succulent mouthful. Halibut Allepy Curry was less successful, the subtle fish
overpowered by the sauce. Tomato Dal was rich and delicious though, and the
naans are breathtaking. At the manager’s recommendation we tried Khurmi Naan,
topped with tomato and cheese. “Pizza naan?” we thought, slightly bemused, “that’s
not going to work.” But it does. And how. Not only was it the best naan I’ve ever had,
it was probably the best Neopolitan pizza too.
Décor aside, it’s definitely worth a shot.
17 Kensington High Street W8
020 7368 0022