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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The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse in Islington is the latest venture by the king of BBQ, Chef Neil Rankin, previously of the critically acclaimed John Salt and Pitt & Cue. My last visit to John Salt proved to be a dazzling affair with the meal showcasing dishes that were not only delicious, but which demonstrated great skill and originality. Also particularly inspiring were the Korean influences incorporated into some of his creations.

The Smokehouse opened in August 2013 and has similarly been well received. The Smokehouse is backed by the same group that runs The Pig and Butcher, Princess of Shoreditch and The Lady Ottoline, and so it should come as no surprise that it has a lovely gastropub feel to it. The lighting is intimate, the tables are cozily positioned and the ambience is warm and relaxed. There’s also a generous area devoted to outdoor seating, which would come in handy on those days when the sun shines bright.

We started with the foie gras, apple pie and duck egg (£10) which was really gorgeous. The two pieces of rich, beautiful foie gras had been expertly cooked and oozed decadently with lots of lovely fattiness. The ‘apple pie’ contained soft diced apple caked in breadcrumbs and was really nicely done. The sweetness of the apple cut through the richness of the foie gras and the crumbing gave the dish a lovely texture. The duck egg yolk perched on top of the apple pie was golden throughout and perfect.

Smokehouse - Foie gras

Foie gras

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Vox Restaurant – Grand Hyatt Berlin

Vox Restaurant in The Grand Hyatt Berlin is unusual in that it offers a sushi and sashimi selection as well as a contemporary European menu. The restaurant, located on the ground floor of the hotel, is buzzy and modern, and oozes a hip-n-happening vibe helped in no small part by its dark décor and sleek lines. The open plan kitchen is divided into two sections each catering to the two different elements of the menu. A bar graces the entrance to the restaurant which was busy partying away on the night of our Saturday visit.

We decided to try the Japanese side of things first and elected for the nigiri, maki and sashimi collection (€29) as well as an ebi (prawn) roll (€18) with unagi (eel) sauce. In a city not famed for its sushi, our offering proved to be acceptable. The fish was fresh and palatable, although we longed for salmon and tuna which were a little fatter and richer in taste. Also a touch of something sweeter, perhaps some Japanese mayo, would have really helped to lift the prawn roll. A miso soup (€6) was delicious, but we found a seaweed salad (€12) to be disappointing. The seaweed was a little chewy and bland, and the dressing a little too acidic.

Vox - Sushi, sashimi & prawn roll

Sushi, sashimi & prawn roll

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Attica Restaurant – San Pellegrino No. 21 Best Restaurant in the World, 2013

In an age where foraging for ingredients is the vogue, Attica Restaurant in Melbourne has won out as the Australian restaurant which does this best. Chef Ben Shewry often wakes before dawn to forage for ingredients by the seashore. He also grows his own herbs and vegetables in his two gardens, one of which is situated behind the restaurant, the other in Ripponlea Estate in Melbourne. Foraging and cultivating such beautiful produce for use in his inspired cooking has earned him and Attica many awards including Chef of the Year 2014 and Restaurant of the Year 2014 from The Age (an Australian newspaper). In 2013 Attica also came in at No. 21 in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

The décor at Attica Restaurant is understated yet comfortable. There’s an air of expectation as you walk into the dining room. You can sense a purposeful energy in the way the waiting staff go about their business, as if the staff know that they onto a good product and that they truly believe in it.

While we perused the menu – an 8 course-tasting menu for $190 (about £102) – we were treated to some gorgeous homemade rye bread topped with wattle seeds, a rich Jersey home churned butter, and an incredibly delicious macadamia purée topped with a smoked macadamia oil and quandong (a natrive Australian fruit) powder. The combination of the two made for a thrilling taste sensation.

Attica Restaurant - The bread

Attica Restaurant – The bread

Next were the amuse bouches, the first of which was an unusual mushroom leaf to be dipped in a fermented corn juice with forest anise. The leaf is a native of Papua New Guinea and apparently only 25% of people can taste its mushroom flavour. We weren’t one of those people, but the leaf was fresh and inherently interesting when eaten with the intense, almost hollandaise like nature of the fermented corn juice. Alongside the leaves were some pickled chantenay carrots which were crunchy and sharply acidic.

Attica Restaurant - Mushroom leaves, corn puree and carrots

Mushroom leaves, corn puree and carrots

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No. 8 by John Lawson at Crown Melbourne

No. 8 by John Lawson is an upmarket restaurant offering modern Australian cooking using prime local ingredients in an urban setting. The restaurant is located in the Crown Melbourne, a multi-entertainment complex with a hotel, a casino, bars and a plethora of dining options including Nobu and Rockpool Bar & Grill by Neil Perry.

As the name suggests, the Executive Chef of No. 8 is John Lawson. Essex born, Chef Lawson has worked in some notable restaurants including the two Michelin starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, Aurora in London’s five star Great Eastern Hotel and Daniel Boulud’s three Michelin starred fine dining restaurant, Daniel. Chef Lawson was also part of the opening team for Gordon Ramsay’s New York venture at The London and was the Executive Chef at Maze Melbourne before it closed.

Our first starter was a foie gras and chicken liver parfait with sweet mulberries and toasted sourdough ($24 – about £12.90). It was beautifully creamy and flavoursome with the mulberries working well with the parfait. The bread was good, but some buttery brioche might have worked better than the sourdough.

No. 8 by John Lawson - Foie Gras

Foie Gras

Two generous pieces of Portland black and blue tuna (£22 – about £11.80) had been gently seared and were thick, meaty and tasty. Accompanying the tuna was some black garlic, yuzu jam and aged soy which were pleasant. There were also slices of daikon (radish) for a touch of tang and some almond mushrooms, so called as they tasted like mushrooms soaked in amaretto. These added an interesting touch to the dish.

No. 8 by John Lawson - Tuna

Tuna

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The Dining Room Restaurant, Park Hyatt Hotel Sydney

The Dining Room Restaurant in The Park Hyatt Hotel occupies one of the most prime positions on Sydney Harbour. It sits under the Harbour Bridge and is located directly across from the Opera House, thus offering an incredible bird’s eye view of this timeless Australian institution. The Dining Room is the Park Hyatt Hotel’s signature restaurant, one of the most luxurious 5-star hotels in Sydney. The restaurant’s decor is every bit as sumptuous as the hotel (helped in no small part by the beautiful views) and comes with a revamped menu following the recent appointment of its new Head Chef Franck Detrait who joined in October 2013. Chef Detrait has cooked in many notable restaurants in France including the one-star Michelin restaurant Vendôme in Paris where he worked closely with the highly acclaimed Jean-Francois Rouquette.

The Opera House at Dusk, from The Dining Room Restaurant

The Opera House at Dusk, from The Dining Room Restaurant

The tasting menu was great value at $95 (about £51) and was hard to pass up. But first we celebrated the beauty of Sydney Harbour with some Sydney rock oysters ($5 each – about £2.70) which were fabulously fresh. The delicious shallot vinegar dressing was also well judged for both sweetness and acidity and complemented the oysters nicely.

The Dining Room - Sydney rock oysters

Sydney rock oysters

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Altitude Restaurant Shangri-La Hotel Sydney

As the name suggests, Altitude Restaurant is perched high up in the sky, in this case the 36th Floor of the glamorous 5-star Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks Area of Sydney. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, Altitude offers some of the most amazing panoramic views of Sydney Harbour imaginable.

Night views from Altitude Restaurant

Night views from Altitude Restaurant

But it’s more than just the views that make Altitude Restaurant a knockout destination. The restaurant has won numerous accolades including the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) 2013 restaurant of the year award. Before heading up the kitchen at Altitude, Chef Matthew McCool ran the kitchen at the renowned Aria Restaurant at The China World Hotel in Beijing. And prior to his Beijing stint, Chef McCool spent a number of years fine tuning his craft at some famous London restaurants including Bank, Chez Bruce, Tom Aikens and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze.

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