Cafe Murano

Cafe Murano is the latest venture by Michelin starred chef Angela Hartnett. Located on 33 St James Street, it occupies a site that has played host to a number of restaurants including the original Pétrus by Marcus Wareing, Fleur, Fiore, and most recently Brasserie St Jacques. Far from being a café, Cafe Murano is a contemporary and stylish restaurant serving modern accomplished Italian food.

Cafe Murano’s menu by Head Chef Sam Williams starts with cicheti (tapas) and then moves onto antipastas, primi plates of pastas and secondi mains. The restaurant seats about 80 and includes a long bar area where guests can also tap into a small bar menu. As Cafe Murano is located right on the fringe of the West End, there’s also a set lunch and theatre menu of 2 courses for £18 and 3 courses for £22.

It’s an elegantly decorated restaurant, and given that it’s located on a prime piece of real estate, Cafe Murano has done a great job of balancing smartness with a sense of relaxed refinement. There isn’t an ounce of stuffiness in the restaurant. Take our waiter – he might have been wearing a smart shirt, but he also donned a pair of jeans.

We started with a generous portion of king prawns with garlic and parsley (£15), six pieces of tasty prawns that were really nicely cooked. Sautéed in butter and olive oil with a well-judged amount of garlic and parsley, this proved to be a lovely dish.

Cafe Murano - King prawns

King prawns

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , ,



The Only Running Footman

The Only Running Footman is a wonderfully quaint pub/gastropub whose name pays homage to the footmen who were in service to the households of Mayfair in Georgian times. The role of the footman included such tasks as carrying lights after dusk, paying toll-keepers and generally paving the way for safe passage for his aristocratic master’s carriage. It was here at The Only Running Footman, known as The Running Horse during those times, where the footmen congregated for drinks after their duties.

The pub’s full name is actually ‘I Am The Only Running Footman’ and has been the venue for many a pub crawl, mystery tour, etc. Most notably it served as the inspiration for a novel of the same name by detective fiction writer Martha Grimes.

The ground floor acts as the pub proper with the first floor holding the dining room. It’s a small space, but it is nevertheless plush and cozy with its inviting leather banquettes. The look of The Only Running Footman is smart, and the food is equally smart and more refined than might be found at the average gastropub.

We started with a tian of fresh Cromer crab with avocado and melba toast (£11.50). There was a decent amount of crab meat which was deliciously sweet and fresh. The avocado purée worked as a nice accompaniment to the crab. It was beautifully smooth but we wanted for a slightly richer, deeper avocado flavour.

The Only Running Footman - Tian of crab

Tian of crab

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Umu Japanese Pop Up – Frieze Masters

Umu Japanese Restaurant is a one Michelin starred venue located in the heart of Mayfair. It’s a favourite of those who work at the Japanese Consulate, and understandably so as the food is divine. Chef Yoshinori Ishii previously spent nine years at Japan’s three Michelin-starred Kyoto Kitcho, and his haute cuisine approach to Japanese cooking means his food at Umu is graced with a touch that is both elegant and precise.

I dined at Umu last year (for more on that meal click here), but I also had the opportunity to try Umu’s four-day pop-up restaurant at Frieze Masters recently, a fine-arts exhibition in Regents Park. The pop-up restaurant only offered a limited selection of starters, sushi, sashimi, and mains from the original Umu menu, but it was still a great showcase of what the standard Umu menu had to offer. Umu Head Chef Yoshinori Ishii remained in charge of the pop-up and worked the sushi bar as we ate. Also in attendance was a legion of full time staff from Umu in Mayfair.

Umu’s Chef Yoshinori Ishii hard at work

Umu’s Chef Yoshinori Ishii hard at work

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , ,



Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant

Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant opened in 1993. It was awarded its first Michelin star in 2009, a star that the restaurant has maintained to this date. It has also won a string of other accolades including Best Chinese Restaurant in the Zagat Survey, the Highest Ranked Chinese Restaurant in The Sunday Times Food List 2012 and a placing as a finalist in Restaurant Magazine’s UK Best Dishes Awards. Celebrity chef Ken Hom also recommends Kai as his ‘go-to’ restaurant in London for dinner.

Kai is beautifully and tastefully decorated. There are the usual traditional touches of the Orient such as a fish tank and the giant Buddha heads, and to round off the glamorous finish modern glass pillars, soft, sexy lighting and expensive red tiling have been used. Head chef is Malaysian born Alex Chow who began cooking at the prodigious age of 14. He fine-tuned his skills at the famous Fullerton Hotel in Singapore before moving to London and to Kai in 2004.

Kai’s menu offers up a complex blend of modern interpretations of Chinese food as well as the more traditional Chinese dishes. It is unique and represents a compilation of special recipes that are original to the restaurant, some of which draw on ingredients not commonly used in Chinese cooking. That said the essence of the food stays true to its Chinese roots. The results are therefore a mixture of the familiar tinged with touches of the West.

The menu makes for a scintillating read and there were many dishes we wanted to try, and try we did. We started with a divine Tan-Jia’s broth (£18), a duck and carrot soup with lobster oil, a medallion of lobster, blanched baby spinach and shitake mushrooms. There was a beautiful flavour coming through from the thick, rich soup, and it made for a heavenly combination with the sweetness of the lobster. This was nothing less than classy, and it reminded me of the kind of soups served at Chinese wedding banquets in the best hotels in Hong Kong. We also opted for some matching wines with our meal, and for the soup the sommelier paired it with a 2011 Chenin Blanc, Saumur L’Insolite, Thierry Germain, Loire Valley, France (£13) that had a nice balance between acidity and sweetness.

Tan-Jia’s broth

Tan-Jia’s broth

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , ,



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

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



Scott’s Mayfair

Scott’s Mayfair prides itself on seafood, but it also has a certain reputation as a ‘go-to’ restaurant for the celebs, with sightings of the likes of Madonna, Shakira, Cheryl Cole and Stella McCartney often being reported. And then there’s Nigella. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi having dinner at Scott’s the night before in the tabloids.

It’s perhaps for this reason that it is virtually impossible to get a reservation at Scott’s. I know because I’ve tried a number of times. But what I discovered recently was this – it is not difficult to get a reservation at the bar. Having first asked for a table and being told it was full, I decided to try to see if I could book a space at the bar. Success ensued and we rock up at 8pm on a Friday night to discover that low and behold, there was a table free for us. In fact there were a few free tables, not many, but a few. I am not clear whether Scott’s maintains a policy of not taking reservations to keep them free for celebs in case they just turn up, or whether the restaurant does it to maintain an air of exclusivity. Either way, I didn’t find it particularly Kosher. But now you know a way in should you decide to go.

I’ve been to Scott’s before, about six years ago, and I absolutely loved that meal. The food was fabulous and the experience proved pretty faultless. My recollections were of a restaurant that epitomised old-school glamour with a gentile top-hatted doorman who welcomed us into the oak paneled dining room. I’ve had an itch to go back ever since to recapture that experience. The doorman remains, and the décor didn’t look to have changed much, but somehow the restaurant felt a little tired compared to how I remembered it from before.

The menu offers a decent range of options, including a variety of oysters, caviar, shellfish, and smoked fish as part of the starters. For mains, there’s also a variety of cooked fish and meats for the choosing.
We went for the mixed oysters with wild boar sausages. Normally this is priced at £19.50 for six and includes a mixture of the cheaper oysters. We asked for a different selection of oysters, two of each of the West Mersea Natives No 2, Gillardeau specials and Fines de Claire that came in at a higher cost of £24.50 (including the sausage). They were pleasant enough, but their flavour wasn’t punchy enough to justify their price tag. The oysters at Wright Brothers are better and cheaper. The accompanying wild boar sausages were very tasty though.

Mixed oysters

Mixed oysters

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Novikov

Jay Rayner slated Novikov Mayfair. His review was so harsh it hurt. Ouch! So I had reservations about going to Novikov. But curiosity got the better of me because like Rayner says in his review, Novikov is always full. So surely something about this place makes it a magnet for the crowds? Anyway, there was only one way to find out.

The restaurant is owned by Arkady Novikov, a Russian millionaire restaurateur with more than 50 restaurants throughout Russia. Novikov is his flagship London restaurant, in fact his first outside Russia. It is located on Berkeley Street in Mayfair, across the road from that pretentious celebrity haunt, Nobu Berkeley. Novikov is split between two restaurants, one serving pan-Asian food, and the other serving Italian food. There is also a lounge area in the basement for those just wanting drinks, plus a smallish bar area that graces the entrance to the venue.

We elected to have Italian and the space dedicated to it is double in size to that of the pan-Asian area. Clearly Italian was deemed to be the more popular choice. The pan-Asian restaurant is what you see through the windows from the street and it is rather slick looking. In contrast, the décor of the Italian restaurant, which is tucked away in back away from public view, was a little cheesy. That said, as the space filled up and the atmosphere got busier, we seemed to notice the cheesiness less. This just goes to show that ambience has a lot to do with the feel of a place.

We had the Cornish crab salad with “San Marzano” tomatoes (£19.50) that proved fresh and tasty but which contained a little too much residual shell. This meant you had to spend more time picking bits out of your mouth than you really ought to have had to.

Crab salad

Crab salad

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , ,



The Greenhouse

My previous visit to the one Michelin starred The Greenhouse restaurant was in November 2011 for the glorious Laurent Perrier champagne tasting menu cooked by Chef Antonin Bonnet. Bonnet has since left The Greenhouse to pursue other ventures and was replaced by French born Arnaud Bignon as Executive Chef in March last year. Bignon comes from a wealth of Michelin experience. Prior to his arrival at The Greenhouse he headed up the kitchen at Spondi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Athens, and previous to that, he was Eric Frechon’s sous chef at the three Michelin starred The Bristol in Paris.

Before dinner we sat in the bar area for drinks (the lychee martini was blindingly good) and canapés which included a deconstructed chicken Caesar salad, a soft mushroom meringue and minced prawns with spices and peanuts. The Caesar salad was a spherified drop of lettuce jelly containing a liquid centre and topped with Parmesan, a squid ink crisp bread and an anchovy. This was reminiscent of the spherified Greek salad canapé that Bignon served at Spondi, a dining experience that I am able to share with you in this blog post. Cleverly done, it exploded in your mouth with the flavours of a chicken Caesar salad to create an electrifying effect. The soft mushroom meringue was fabulous for it teased with a gentle earthy mushroom flavour and was also light and airy in texture. The prawns were pleasant from the spicing and the nuttiness of the peanuts.

Canapés

Canapés

(Continue reading her story…)


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,