The Stag and Huntsman

The Stag and Huntsman

The Stag and Huntsman is a 300-year-old pub which has been converted into a fine restaurant and a country inn in what is apparently Britain’s most photographed and filmed village, Hambleden. It is a beautiful, beautiful village, located between Marlow and Henley, and is littered with quaint country cottages and surrounded by rolling fields and lush green hills. The Stag and Huntsman offers rooms, but as Hambleden is just under an hour’s drive away from London, it can also easily make for a day’s getaway, away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Smoke.

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog

The Stag and Huntsman, Hambleden

The Stag and Huntsman is an impeccably run venue and offers an almost picture perfect balance between quaint and modern, refined and relaxed, helped in no small part by a most welcoming and friendly host, Marius, the manager. The Stag and Huntsman is decidedly a smart place, yet the kind that doesn’t make you uncomfortable should you pop over in casual clothes. The furniture and the colour scheme of the interiors is the right amount of cleverly calculated with a relieving touch of haphazard. The building is a historic pub, extended and refurbished such that there is almost a warren-like layout. This was rather entertaining – a sort of life size puzzle set up to test your intellectual capacity to find exits and entrances. As we wandered around the establishment, we would occasionally catch glimpses of the cooks busily poring over what would be our meal for the night.

The food that we tried was delicious, the kind of country pub dining that sets out to satisfy – hearty and comforting, precisely executed and cooked with confidence. The duck liver parfait (£8) was rich and strong, and a far cry from the effete fluffy concoctions that are sometimes peddled to diners in London with too much cream and not enough flavour. The seared scallops (£12) were daringly matched with black pudding and apple and further enhanced with some squash puree.

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - Duck liver parfait

The Stag and Huntsman – Duck liver parfait

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - Scallops

The Stag and Huntsman – Scallops

The pigeon breast (£7) was seared to perfection with a welcoming blush of pink on the inside and perched daintily on top of an artichoke. A dab of creamed beetroot and some creamed Jerusalem artichoke introduced a timely wintry touch.

The combinations of ingredients were well thought through. Moving onto the mains, the crispy seared bream fillet (£18) with creamy grilled peppers, lush romesco sauce, and fragrant roasted almond flakes proved to be a veritable fandango of flavours. However the fish itself seemed to lack that luscious vibrant quality usually offered by very fresh fish. It was a little lacklustre but the accompaniments were fabulous.

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - Sea bream

The Stag and Huntsman – Sea bream

The 10oz ribeye steak (£22) was cooked medium-rare and oozed with the flavour of well reared meat, and was generously studded with grilled organic plum tomatoes. The red wine jus (£3) was well reduced yet still allowing the original wine’s nose to be discernible, no mean feat by any means. The seasonal vegetables (£4) had been just ever so gently steamed, with a delightful crunch and their bright colours still on show. The side of hand cut chips (£4) were chunky and rustic.

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - Rib eye

The Stag and Huntsman -
Rib eye

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - Sides

The Stag and Huntsman – Sides

The bread was the common wholemeal variety, so little disappointing considering the strength of the rest of the food. We thought a strong, good sourdough would have worked really well here.

A dessert of raspberry panna cotta (£8) was a joy to eat, with wonderfully prepared laywer of raspberry tea jelly, pistachio crumb and granite. Yum!

We stayed the night and our room was upstairs – a bridal suite with a spacious bathroom containing his and hers and an old-fashioned bathtub and quaint antique furniture. The room was impeccably clean and smelt wonderfully fresh. The heating was so powerful, you would not need to wear pyjamas to walk around in the middle of winter. It didn’t contain the softest of bedding, but the room still offered a charming overnight experience.

The Stag and Huntsmans - London Food Blog - The bathroom

The Stag and Huntsmans The bathroom

In the morning, we spent over an hour savouring our full English breakfast. We requested a change from the usual boring baked beans with avocado, and the standard fried or scrambled eggs with eggs benedict. And the staff duly obliged! The homemade hollandaise was a delight and truly delicious. Overall the breakfast was wonderful. What a treat!

The Stag and Huntsman - London Food Blog - A modified English breakfast

The Stag and Huntsman – A modified English breakfast

We had arrived on a Saturday late afternoon so there hadn’t been enough light for us to peruse the outdoor garden.
In the morning our eyes were treated to the sight of a very pleasant garden at the back of the pub with English white cast-iron garden furniture. There was also a crab apple tree with bright scarlet fruit ringed by yellow leaves serving as a backdrop in the high blue sky. This garden would no doubt make for a wonderful spot for afternoon beers in the middle of the summer.

The service The Stag and Huntsman was excellent: genuinely friendly, tactfully watchful, yet not obtrusive at all. The staff genuinely looked as if they loved what they were doing and as a result they offered up the perfect balance between efficiency, watchfulness, friendliness and reserve.

We really had a nice stay at The Stag and Huntsman. The overall experience of dinner, bed and breakfast was truly enjoyable and charming.

Note: Co-written with Artour (Instagram: @Niftynoshing)

Likes:

1) The entire venue was a delight.
2) The food was delicious and well executed
3) Hambleden itself is worth a visit.


Dislikes:

1) The fish dish was the weakest link.


Food rating:
3.75/5
Service rating: 4/5

Price: About £30 to £40 a head for food, excludes drinks and service. For room rates, check with the venue directly.

Website: http://www.thestagandhuntsman.co.uk/


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Rudie’s Dalston

Rudie’s Dalston

Winter is here and there’s nothing better than a bit of spice on your plate to warm you up. So Elika (Instagram: @Sunny_Elika) and I headed to Rudie’s in Dalson after work one evening, starving, but filled with excitement for the Jamaican feast that laid ahead of us. Jerk chicken is one of our go-to dishes at food markets, and so we were more than ready to give Rudie’s a try. It was a chilly night, and as we entered Rudie’s we were greeted by some Jamaican tunes and kindly staff that warmed us up on the spot. We got in early enough to get a window table so that as we drank our Mai Tai (£7.50) and Jamaican Mule (£7.50) we were able to watch the world of Dalston go by. If you are a fan of rum, then the Jamaican Mule will not disappoint, and the Mai Tai will make you feel like the sun is blowing you kisses by the beach.

Rudie’s takes Jamaican food to another level, offering a more refined and contemporary approach to the more traditional Jamaican experience of jerk and spicy BBQ. We kicked off with the Peppered Shrimp (£8.50) for starters which was not for the faint of heart. We had been appropriately warned that these were hot, and this dish lived up to its reputation. The sauce was spicy and bold and served the plump juicy prawns very well. And although fiery, the intense, rich flavour of the dish was entirely worth the risk of the burn on your tongue. Topped with some avocado, this helped to balance out the heat of the dish.

Rudie’s Jamaican Patties (beef £6) proved to be love at first smell, offering up a comforting and delicious aroma of homemade food that we found difficult to resist. The pastry on the patties was flaky, and the moist beef filling contained a hint of Jamaican curry which was wonderfully delicious. For those feeling less adventurous and looking for a more familiar option, we would recommend the Crispy Calamari (£7.50) which had been battered and deep fried in polenta. These were tender and crispy and had been sprinkled with a delicious jerk seasoning.

Rudie's Dalston - London Food Blog - Starters

Rudie’s Dalston – Starters

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Arthur Hooper’s

Arthur Hooper’s

Arthur Hooper’s is a relatively new addition to London Bridge and a stone’s throw away from the already vibrant food scene at Borough Market. Given that it is in an already competitive dining area full of crowd pleasers, Arthur Hooper’s does well to make its mark. In days gone by, it was once owned by a greengrocer, Arthur Hooper, hence its name.

Arthur Hooper's - London Food Blog

Arthur Hooper’s

Historically significant, the interior, designed by local London Bridge design studio Buster+Punch, features a rough jewel box concept, drawing on inspiration from the historic markets and cobbled nearby streets. Finishing touches include crafted steel caged light fittings, a custom hexagonal concrete floor and artworks by acclaimed artists Matt Small and Dan Hillier. There is a mixture of high tables and stools, “wrap around column” tables as well as quieter tables along an imposing steel-caged, back-lit bottle shelved wall. In all, the ambience is relaxed and casual.

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Eneko

ENEKO

Eneko at One Aldwych is named after its famous owner, Eneko Atxa, the chef of Azurmendi Restaurant, a 3 Michelin star restaurant in the Basque region of Spain and currently No. 38 on The World’s Best 50 Restaurants List. Azurmendi is an exemplary example of modern Basque fine dining, and at Eneko, Chef Atxa seeks to introduce to Londoners the joys of his approach to Basque cooking, something that we were excited to go and see for ourselves. Enoko is the flagship restaurant at the luxury boutique five-star hotel One Aldwych London in Convent Garden, and is prominently located at the junction where Aldwych intersects with the Strand.

We began our evening experience at Eneko in ground floor bar which was curved in its layout and cosy and comfortable in its design. Following recommendations from the extremely friendly and attentive staff, we went for the suggested Gorki Izagirre Bizkaiko Txakolina (£10 for 175 ml). The Basque white, apparently made at Mr. Atxa’s uncle’s winery, was well-balanced in terms of acidity. However, it wasn’t particularly memorable as a wine to enjoy on its own, but would be ok to have as an accompaniment to wash down food with.

As for the restaurant itself, this was on the lower ground floor and was spacious and well-appointed. Carefully designed, it was both intimate and social, with the acoustics being properly monitored to minimise any amplified chatter and clanking that often fills other establishments. This space in every way epitomised what a modern fine-dining restaurant could aspire to look like.

Our first course was a delightfully tasty dish with a burst of summery colours, the Traditional Talo (£12). This was a basil-rich salad of heritage tomatoes served on a bed of talo (Basque tortilla chips) and it proved to be an epitome of basil freshness and deep rich flavours of well ripened tomatoes. The edible flowers helped to create a multi-sensory, visually arresting, seasonal experience. This was the best dish of the evening.

Eneko - London Food Blog - Traditional Talo

Eneko – Traditional Talo

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Machiya

MACHIYA

Machiya is the little sister restaurant of Kanada-Ya, the ramen bar famed for its tonkotsu ramen. There are two branches of Kanada-Ya – the original on St Giles High Street, the other virtually next door to Machiya itself on Panton Street. The concept at Machiya is something like a gastro izakaya – a Japanese pub with homemade tapas-sized plates of food for sharing. That said, Machiya looks nothing like the typical izakaya joints found in Japan which are typically quaint, dimly lit, and worn around the edges. Here, with its clean cut and brightly lit natural wood and metal interior, Machiya has much more of a clinical modern feel to it. Downstairs is a bar which offers a list of cocktail delights.

Machiya’s menu is a mix of some izakaya classics and Japanese cafe staples like tonkatsu, kare-raisu, and zaru-soba. At Machiya, the chicken yakitori (£4.50) proved to be two skewers of deliciously moist and slightly crisped flesh. The chicken was well seasoned and did not need any gimmicky sauces, sometimes deployed in restaurants to hide a poor quality base ingredient.

Machiya - London Food Blog - Chicken yakitori

Machiya – Chicken yakitori

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The Laughing Heart

THE LAUGHING HEART

Probably one of the best meals I’ve had this year, The Laughing Heart in Hackney is a wonderfully smart venue that operates as a late night wine bar, dining room and wine shop. The space is intimate and cozy with a warm and comforting open kitchen and brickwork walls. The tables – all custom built – each hold individual cutlery drawers for every diner. We were really taken aback with this thoughtful, ingenious and quite simply, adorable touch, and it really set the tone for the wonderful meal that was to come.

The food, sharing plates of modern-European with Asian influences, were all inspired, starting with the Dungarvan oyster with shiso and apple (£2.50 each) which was incredibly fresh and refreshing. The oyster was meaty and rich, and both the sweetness and sharpness of the apple, and the aroma of the shiso served as a lovely contrast to the oyster.

The Laughing Heart - London Food Blog - Oyster w. shiso & apple

The Laughing Heart – Oyster w. shiso & apple

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Sakagura

SAKAGURA

Sakagura is an upscale Japanese restaurant snugly hidden behind Burberry’s flagship store right off Piccadilly. The street-side entrance does in no way betray its interior: a glitzy post-modern izakaya with strategically positioned lighting and judiciously chosen Japanese memorabilia. The management team are from Kyoto, the original Japanese seat of the imperial court, where a high culture of luxury and sophistication has matured over one thousand years. Those influences of high culture were apparent throughout our dinner at Sakagura.

We started with maguro tartare with yuzu dip (£16) which was served on a tiny wooden tray lying on a bed of ice and decorated with multi-coloured edible flowers. There was also a layer of black capelin roe which added an exquisite visual touch as it created a contrast with the tuna’s pink. The tuna was delicious, as was the yuzu dip. The array of accompanying Japanese condiments that came along with it – wasabi, pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds – also worked really well with the tuna.

Sakagura - London Food Blog - Tuna tartare

Sakagura – Tuna tartare

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Firedoor – Sydney

FIREDOOR

I recently had a fabulous meal at Firedoor, a slick and modern outfit located in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, close to the heart of the Sydney Central Business District. Firedoor is a very unique restaurant in that it serves an entirely fire-powered menu. The first of its kind in Australia, each dish is cooked to order and powered entirely by wood fire. The kitchen draws upon a collection of different woods every day, purposefully used to create a certain effect from the coals that best enhance the natural characteristics of the ingredients on show.

The head chef is Lennox Hastie who spent the early part of his career working at various Michelin Star restaurants across the UK, France and Spain. The pinnacle was the five years that he spent at one of the best grill restaurants in the world, the much-touted Asador Etxebarri located in the Basque country. A one Michelin star holder and a regular on the 50 Best Restaurants in the World’s List, Asador Etxebarri readily makes use of wood-fired grilling. Here, Lennox spent five years working with Victor Arguinzoniz, honing his skills on working with an open flame.

Lennox opened Firedoor in April 2015. Focusing primarily on seafood and vegetables, he has transported his unique understanding of wood fire cooking to Firedoor, His talent was recognised when the restaurant was nominated for the Best New Restaurant in the 2016 Australian Gourmet Traveller Awards. Firedoor currently holds a chef’s hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and sits at number 17 on the Australian Gourmet Traveller Top 100 Restaurants.

We shared a selection of dishes and all were fabulous, starting with the albacore tuna with radish (A$27) which was sensational. Wild caught Mooloolaba albacore had been grilled (seared) over apple wood and was meaty and ripe with flavour. Texturally the albacore was heaven and a joy to each. The fish was served with shaved fennel and breakfast radishes that were fresh and lively, and a well-judged grilled lemon dressing which provided the right hit of acidity. Everything on the dish came together superbly.

Firedoor - London Food Blog - Albacore tuna

Firedoor – Albacore tuna

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