Hotel Valencia Riverwalk – San Antonio, Texas

Hotel Valencia Riverwalk - The patio

Hotel Valencia Riverwalk – The patio overlooking the Riverwalk

From Houston I headed to San Antonio, a city famous for its basketball team the Spurs, the site of the Battle of the Alamo, and the beautiful San Antonio Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a gorgeous network of walkways that run for about five miles along the banks of the San Antonio River and is a showcase in first class architectural design. It is lined with bars, shops and restaurants and connects a number of the city’s tourist attractions and forms an important part of the city’s urban fabric. San Antonio is a city filled with a quirky irresistible charm and an effervescence that is surprisingly delightful.

Perched right in the centre of the city with views overlooking the Riverwalk is the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, a boutique hotel listed on Condé Nast Traveler Gold List of World’s Best Places to Stay. The hotel is a beautifully proportioned hotel, romantic in its essence and unique in its design. The rooms are stylish and spacious, and comfortably appointed with luxurious furnishings which allowed me to perch my head for a wonderful night’s sleep.

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&Samhoud Places – Two Star Michelin Restaurant, Amsterdam

My recent weekend visit to Amsterdam saw me enjoying two days of glorious sunshine, a really pleasant stay at the Art’Otel Amsterdam and visits to a couple of Michelin Restaurants, one of which was &Samhoud Places, a two Michelin starred restaurant in Amsterdam headed by Israeli-born Executive Chef Moshik Roth. Roth’s career started from humble beginnings, as that of a pizzeria manager. But his career took a turn when he embarked on apprenticeships at De Librije and Zwethheul, both of which now hold three and two Michelin stars respectively. Today, Chef Roth is considered to be one of the leading molecular chefs in The Netherlands.

&Samhoud Places is a collaboration between Roth and entrepreneur Salem Samhoud, hence the name. The restaurant is located in Oosterdokseiland, the Eastern Dock Island which is located east of Amsterdam Central Railway Station. &Samhoud Places spans two floors, the first floor being where the Michelin restaurant is situated. The ground floor is a more casual eatery offering street food.

We decided to go on Roth’s full Michelin gastronomic journey, electing to take the nine-course degustation menu (€195.50). Being situated on the Eastern Docks, the restaurant offers views of the waterways. But should you get a bar seat surrounding the open plan kitchen like we did, then you will get a chance to watch the chefs beavering away at work.

&Samhoud Places - Chefs at work

&Samhoud Places – Chefs at work

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Berners Tavern

2013 saw Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton open three restaurants, the third of which was Berners Tavern at the Edition Hotel. All three restaurants – the other two were Little Social and Social Eating House – were well received, but it has been Berners Tavern that has made the boldest and most stunning of statements with its fabulously opulent décor. Designed by Ian Schrager who is famous for his makeovers of luxury boutique hotels, Berners Tavern comes with improbably high ceilings, grandiose chandeliers and lavish paintings that run from wall to wall. Berners Tavern is nothing short of palatial, and it simply takes your breath away as you enter it’s grand dining room. Simply put, the use of the word ‘tavern’ does not do the restaurant justice.

The restaurant is an all day affair serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, sandwiches, tea, dinner as well as late supper. At the helm is Head Chef Phil Carmichael, Jason Atherton’s sidekick who worked with him at Maze in London and also at the now defunct Maze in Prague. The menu offers a collection of contemporary British dishes as well as seafood and meat platters for sharing and grass fed British steaks from the grill.

Our waiter recommended the aged beef tartare (£13) and it was indeed delicious with a wild garlic salsa verde, chopped duck egg and thin pieces of crispy thin croutons. The beef was supremely tender and flavoursome, but it had been unevenly and quite coarsely cut. A finer chop would have provided a more refined and enjoyable texture.

Berners Tavern - Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

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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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The Botanist

The Botanist has long been a sloaney favourite, ever since it opened in 2008, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s located right on the heart of Sloane Square, and its prime location combined with a stylishly contemporary décor means its perfectly suited for a well-heeled glamorous clientele. The Botanist is hip and exciting and radiates a highly charged energy. It’s a great venue for people watching and more often than not there is nary a standing room at the bar.

This past Saturday evening was a bank holiday weekend so the size of the crowd was more temperate than usual which provided us with a more relaxed space to savour our pre-dinner drink. Space in the restaurant is a little tight, but the setting is elegant and chic with its beautiful chandeliers and an exotic back wall mural featuring some beautifully drawn pictures of flora and fauna.

Food is served all day with breakfast starting at 8am during weekdays and 9am on weekends. Breakfast transforms into lunch from 12 noon and dinner is available until 11pm. On top of the all day dining there is also a bar menu and a pre and post theatre menu for the Royal Theatre crowd.

Being May, Gull’s eggs are in season, and as part of the specials soft-boiled Hampshire black headed gull’s eggs were available with celery salt and a herb mayonnaise (£6.50 per egg). The egg was perfectly cooked with a runny centre and a lovely texture, and the celery salt gave the egg a tasty seasoning.

The Botanist - Gull's egg

Gull’s egg

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Lanes of London – Afternoon Tea

Lanes of London pays tribute to the great multiculturalism that is the hallmark of the English capital by drawing from its many and varied culinary pockets for inspiration. Head Chef Anshu Anghotra trained at Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc’s culinary school at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and cooks an all day menu designed for sharing with four key sections, each of which have been named after a well known London Lane. There’s ‘Brick Lane’ for some fiery, spicy flavours; ‘Edgware Road’ for some Middle Eastern exoticism; ‘Kingsland Road’ for the fragrant aromas of Asia and ‘Portobello Road’ for a touch of eclectic comfort dining. Its an interesting menu and extends to British classics including fish and chips. What’s more, there’s also afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and pastries (£23 or £29 with a glass of champagne).

Lanes of London is a really engaging restaurant with a classically smart décor, which is sophisticated yet comfortable. Located in the Marriot Hotel on Park Lane, it’s like a little oasis that makes for a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street. We had gone to Lanes of London for afternoon tea, but tempted by the rather engaging all day menu we decided to try some fried chicken with a honey and sesame sauce (£12) from the Portobello Road section of the menu and the Cornish lamb cutlets (£10.50) first.

Lanes of London - Fried chicken

Fried chicken

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Michael Nadra Chiswick

Chef Michael Nadra has an impressive list of restaurants under his belt including time as Sous chef at Chez Bruce and La Trompette and stages at The Square in Mayfair and The Glasshouse in Kew. His first solo venture was a restaurant called Fish Hook in Chiswick which he opened in 2005. Many readers may not recall Fish Hook, but I remember it to be a quaint little restaurant serving accomplished and wonderfully tasty seafood at reasonable prices.

With Restaurant Michael Nadra, Chef Nadra continues to delivery really good quality contemporary cooking at reasonable prices in a relaxed and comfortable setting. For dinner, two courses from a prix fix menu are only priced at £30, and three courses are £36. There are two branches of Restaurant Michael Nadra, one in Chiswick, and the other in Primrose Hill.

We found ourselves in the Chiswick branch, a comfortable looking restaurant with dark furnishings and waiting staff dressed in black. We started with a sautéed foie gras (+£3) which was beautifully cooked and oozed with a lovely fattiness. But the foie gras lacked for a touch of seasoning which contrasted sharply with the blood orange salad which was very over seasoned. An accompanying caramelised red onion tart was impressive for the perfect caramelisation of the onion and the lusciously flaky and buttery puff pastry that surrounded the onion. An accomplished madeira jus worked well with the foie gras. Seasoning aside, this was an extremely well executed dish.

Michael Nadra - Sautéed foie gras

Sautéed foie gras

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Caxton Grill by Adam Handling

The Head Chef of Caxton Grill at the St Ermin’s Hotel, St James Park, is none other than Adam Handling. Remember him? If like me you were a big fan of Professional Masterchef, you would have probably been devastated when Adam failed to win the 2013 series. The ambitious and highly inspirational Scottish chef was probably the most deserved of the title, but unfortunately he failed to pull through on the day of the final. But onwards and upwards as not winning Masterchef hasn’t held Adam back. Not only is Adam the head chef of Caxton Grill, he was listed as one of the ‘30 under 30’ to watch in The Caterer & Hotelkeeper’s 2013 Acorn Awards and recently crowned as the British Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year, 2014.

Adam started his cooking career at the age of 16 at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. This was followed by positions at Rhodes 24, The Malmaison Hotel in Newcastle and the role of Head Chef at Fairmont St Andrews where he won two AA rosettes. At Caxton Grill, Adam cooks one part creative menu that is designed to excite, and another that is devoted to simple cooking of quality meats and fish from the Josper oven for more conventional palates. But in my view, if you are going to go to Caxton Grill, then a taste the creative inspiration that drives the ‘almost’ Masterchef winner is a must.

Our first interesting flavour experience was a breadbasket containing rye and bagel, and accompanied by a chicken butter with seaweed and mushroom. The rye was tasty, but the bagel was a dream with a centre that was lusciously soft, fluffy and wonderfully seasoned. The chicken butter consisted of 75% butter and 25% chicken fat and was supremely tasty with the seaweed providing the seasoning and the mushroom giving it an earthiness.

Caxton Grill - Bread

Bread

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