Chiltern Firehouse

Chiltern Firehouse is THE hottest restaurant in London at the moment. It’s so much of a sensation that it has become a regular on the celebrity circuit. Barely a day goes by where there isn’t a press mention of an A-lister passing through its doors.

Chiltern Firehouse is owned by property magnate André Balazs who is known for his luxury hotel portfolio which includes Chateau Marmont in LA and The Mercer in New York. Balazs has similarly converted the Chiltern Firehouse property, a Grade II-listed building that was once home to the Chiltern Street fire station, into a luxury hotel. The restaurant is run by Chef Nuno Mendes who needs no introduction to those who know the London dining scene well. He trained at El Bulli and his last residence at Restaurant Viajante went on to receive great critical acclaim as well as a Michelin star. Working along side Mendes is Dale Osborne who previously cooked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

The entrance to the Chiltern Firehouse is closely guarded with admission being impossible without a reservation. Once past the security, there is a lovely courtyard seating area with a fireplace where you may sip an aperitif before dinner. Inside, the restaurant is a statement in understated luxury and comfort. The bar area is tiny however, and the tables are tightly packed together. There is an elevated open kitchen where one may watch the chefs at work.

The food deviates from that previously found at Viajante where innovation and originality was the key. Instead, the food at Chiltern Firehouse is more modern American, drawing on the time Mendes spent with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Wolfgang Puck in the US with items such as fried chicken and cornbread fingers to be found.

Chiltern Firehouse - Cornbread fingers

Cornbread fingers

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Royal Ascot 2014 – Restaurant & Catering Preview

Royal Ascot 2014 will span the dates of 17 and 21 June, and as with every year, Royal Ascot 2014 promises to be something special. Last weekend I had the good fortune of being invited to a press event at Ascot Racecourse to experience a spectacular tasting menu designed to provide an insight into the cuisine that will be served throughout these five magical days.

Ascot Racecourse offers a number of fine dining options and this year two Michelin starred chefs will be cooking at Royal Ascot to present their Michelin starred food. Atul Kochhar from the one-Michelin starred Benares will be on hand to serve his modern take on Indian cooking at the Panoramic Restaurant, which as the name suggests offers unrivalled ‘panoramic’ views of the racecourse. Also cooking is the two-Michelin starred Tom Kerridge from The Hand and Flowers who will treat guests to his smart British classics in the soon to be opened On Five Restaurant overlooking the final furlong. But the premier dining venue at Royal Ascot is without doubt The Parade Ring Restaurant. Located adjacent to the Royal Box, it is here that Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal party comes to dine. Guests who savour the food at The Parade Ring Restaurant are presented with canapés on arrival followed by a five course à la carte menu and a full afternoon tea from Ascot’s Executive Chef Steve Golding.

Royal Ascot 2014 - Salmon

Salmon

Our day at The Panoramic Restaurant started with some gorgeous canapés from Rhubarb, the caterers which will oversee the private box hospitality packages during the five days of Royal Ascot. Here we were treated to salmon mi cuit – beautifully fatty salmon with a yuzu dressing, some rich and decadent foie gras rocher – foie gras parfait coated with hazelnuts, and some fresh and sunny Cornish crab. Also delicious were the garden pea panncotta with its beautifully creamy texture and a superbly tasty duck with mooli. To wash down these delicious treats was a glass (or two or three) of Bollinger champagne.

Royal Ascot 2014 - Foie gras rocher

Foie gras rocher

Royal Ascot 2014 - Pea pannacotta

Pea pannacotta

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Ronda Locatelli by Giorgio Locatelli, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

The Atlantis Resort on the famous man-made Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai evokes all of the sense of fantasy and adventure that has ever been written about the mystical island. The resort is truly extraordinary to look, and I must confess to being one of the ogling tourists who kept snapping away at it as I approached the hotel on the monorail. But security is tight and it’s difficult to wander around the resort. Therefore other than the exterior structure and the restaurant area there is little for non-hotel guests to see.

There are a number of dining options in Atlantis The Palm, one of which is Ronda Locatelli, the Dubai outpost of the famous London-based Michelin-starred Italian chef, Giorgio Locatelli. Unlike Locanda Locatelli, Ronda Locatelli steers away from the high-end fine-dining side of things to focus on something more casual. The centrepiece of the restaurant is a large round wood-fired brick pizza oven. It’s an arresting focal point for the restaurant that ensures a relaxed and uncontrived atmosphere, perfect for the many families which no doubt stay at the hotel. The Italian menu is traditional and rustic, with a strong emphasis on pizzas and pastas. But there’s also a good selection of starters, salads and mains with monthly promotional offers thrown in.

Ronda Locatelli

Ronda Locatelli

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Rhodes Twenty10 by Gary Rhodes, Dubai

Update on 12 November 2013: Chef Lee Adams has now left Rhodes Twenty10 to work with Gary Rhodes on his Grosvenor House venture.

With the closing of Rhodes 24 on 27 September 2013, the last of Gary Rhodes’s restaurants in London, the Michelin starred chef has officially said goodbye to London. It’s weird to think that after decades of him cooking in London that he no longer has a restaurant in the capital. But the chef continues to maintain a presence in the UK with his restaurant Rhodes at The Dome in Plymouth.

Rhodes’s sights are now set on the UAE with several outlets including the recently opened Rhodes 44 at the St Regis Hotel Abu Dhabi, Rhodes Twenty10 at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa Hotel and Rhodes in Residence at the Grosvenor House Hotel, both of which are in Dubai. And his recently closed Rhodes Mezzanine, also at the Grosvenor House Hotel Dubai, is due to reopen again in December 2013 after a full refurbishment.

Rhodes Twenty10 scores a ten out of ten for glamour and chic. It’s intimate and seductively dark, but also soft from the hints of lilac that run throughout the décor. Gosh the restaurant was gorgeous, and it’s a perfect fit for the equally glamorous looking Le Royal Meridien Hotel.

A steak and grillroom, Rhodes Twenty10 offers an extensive range of prime-cuts of meat and seafood. There’s also a smaller range of mains that include some tried and true British classics such as steak and kidney pie and fish and chips. But the more inventive part of the menu revolves around the starters, which were designed as sharing plates for the table (typically with four portions per order).

All the sharing plates we tried proved to be excellent, but our favourite was the mouthwatering sesame seared tuna (AED55 – about £9.30) served with honey mustard green beans, red onions and radish. Beautifully seared, the tuna was delicious, and the acidity running through the dish was light and well judged.

Seared tuna

Seared tuna

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Opal by Gordon Ramsay, St Regis Hotel, Doha, Qatar (Day One – Doha)

Grand Foyer

Grand Foyer

Doha, Qatar is not the choice of destination when most people head to the Middle East. Typically, people think Dubai first. To be sure, Doha is not in the same league as Dubai as far as entertainment options goes, but it looks to be seeking more recognition on the global stage. Doha is due to host the 2022 World Cup, and construction is going up left, right and centre. Currently the city is in the process of building one of the largest airports in the world, which is due to open later this year. The new Doha Hamad International Airport will be able to handle some 50m passengers per year, with some estimates putting it at up to 93million. Once opened it will only come second only to Dubai in terms of traffic passing through the Middle East.

And then there is the weather, which is always guaranteed to be warm to hot throughout the year. To be sure it is a little too hot during the summer days, but it helps that everywhere you go there is air conditioned.

Doha also has a string of nice hotels and restaurants, and for the first of my two nights in Doha I stayed at the St Regis Hotel, which was the epitome of 5-Star elegance. The hotel exudes a sense of Middle Eastern mystique and glamour, and as you walk into the hotel, the lobby, which is almost 4 storeys high, will stun you with its breathtaking beauty. As far as 5-star hotels go, this was in a league of its own and must truly rate as one of the most beautiful that I had ever seen.

St Regis Hotel lobby

St Regis Hotel lobby

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Momofuku Daisho – Toronto, Canada

View of the Shangri-La

View of the Shangri-La

Momofuku is a household name. The first of the Momofuku restaurants opened in New York in 2004 and within a year it had captured the public’s imagination with its innovative approach to Japanese noodles. Chef and owner David Chang had spent some time cooking at a soba bar in Tokyo, which was the source of his inspiration for Momofuku, a term that translates as lucky peach. A second restaurant soon followed in 2006. Known as Momofuku Ssäm Bar and serving burrito-style Asian food, it again tantalised the public with its originality. More successful than the first, Momofuku Ssäm Bar headed into the San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2009. It held onto a top 50 position until 2013 when it dropped to 86th.

But Chang’s third restaurant, Momofuku Ko, was to become his pièce de résistance‎. Opening in New York in 2008 as a tiny 12 seater that only accepted reservations six days in advance on an ‘online first-come-first-serve’ basis – a policy that infuriated many – it went on to win two Michelin stars, cementing Momofuku’s worldwide fame.

When a restaurant becomes that famous, the only way to go is to think like Nobu and franchise. Consequently restaurants have sprung up in Sydney and Toronto with four Momofuku branches in Toronto alone: the Noodle Bar, Daisho, Nikai (the bar) and Shoto. The latter was recently revered as the best restaurant in Toronto and offers a 10-course tasting menu that changes daily. It is the more food-centric of the Toronto Momofukus and while it sounded good, it also has a painful ‘you must go online to book at 10am on the day policy’. So we decided on Momofuku Daisho, the more casual dining restaurant where the reservations policy is far less stringent.

Momofuku in Toronto stands adjacent to the glamorous Toronto Shangri-La Hotel and spans over three funky floors. Daisho sits on the top floor and its glass ceiling not only gives the space a great sense of light, it also offers a bird’s eye view of the architectural success of the hotel. The menu is group friendly and offers a selection of big format dishes such as bo ssäm, a whole slow cooked pork butt with a dozen oysters, white rice, bibb lettuce and a Korean ‘ssäm’ BBQ sauce (serves 6 to 10, $240 – about £150). But the most delectable sounding of the big format dishes was the prime beef rib-eye which is dry-aged for 65 days and roasted for about 2-3 hour (serves 6 to 8, $600 – about £387). Reading about the big format dishes made my mouth water, but as we were only two we settled on the smaller plates on the menu.

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Little Social

An Italian Restaurant aptly named 5 Pollen Street previously occupied the address of 5 Pollen Street. The cooking was good, but the portions were miserable and the prices were exorbitant. I remember my meal there as being one of the worst value-for-money that I had ever had in my life and I left the restaurant feeling wracked with guilt that my friends had to fork out so much money for so little. It is therefore unsurprising that the restaurant closed down last year. On a Saturday night not long after I had eaten at 5 Pollen Street, I walked past it to discover that it was bordering on empty. Clearly, the restaurant had gotten its pricing formula wrong. But it has now been taken over by Jason Atherton and converted it into a charming French bistro endearingly named Little Social.

Little Social sits across the road from Pollen Street Social, Atherton’s flagship restaurant that he established after leaving Maze and the Gordon Ramsay fold. Pollen Street Social registers on the upper end of the scale. It’s fine dining through and through with a one-Michelin star to boot.

A pork head and foie gras terrine starter (£11.50) packed a meaty, rustic flavour, but was also strangely a little tangy. The piece of foie gras holding centrepiece in the middle of the terrine was delicious, but meanly portioned as it was quite small. In fact, the slice wasn’t particularly generous. The tea and prune purée was a good match for the pork, and the sourdough was springy and tasty if a little burnt. As our second starter, half a dozen oysters (£15) from Cornwall were fresh and delicious.

Pork head & foie gras terrine

Pork head & foie gras terrine

Oysters

Oysters

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London’s Week of Food – Slow Food UK and Taste of London

Slow Food UK

Slow Food UK is a non-for-profit organisation that focuses on sustainability and locality to source delicious food. Its focus is to reconnect people with where their food comes from and to help them develop a better understanding about provenance.

This week marks The Slow Food UK Week (18 to 24 June), and to champion its cause the organisation is running a number of foodie events in conjunction with its 53 Slow Food UK Chef Alliance members who are committed to the Slow Food cause. The events are listed on its website and are open to the public. I attended an event on Monday evening hosted and cooked by Francesco Mazzei (L’Amina), Giorgio Locatelli (Locanda Locatelli) and Angela Hartnett (Murano) at L’Amina called ‘Eating the Italian Way’.

L to R: Francesco, Cat Gazzoli (CEO, Slow Food UK), Angela and Giorgio

L to R: Francesco, Cat Gazzoli (CEO, Slow Food UK), Angela and Giorgio

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