Bar Boulud – Visit number 2

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

I know I’ve only just been to Bar Boulud. And it’s not often that I go back to a restaurant so soon, but I couldn’t help myself. I was dying for a taste of that fabulous charcuterie again, and it really was remiss of me not to have tried the Boulud hamburgers that New Yorkers rave about last time. And beside, I thought I’d give dinner a go. My repeat visit was also rewarded with the presence of Boulud himself who was working that huge dining room and hobnobbing with the Knightsbridge set.

I couldn’t get a table booking for dinner, but you can turn up without a reservation to see if you can secure a seat at the charcuterie bar, the drinks bar or the lounge. At night, the restaurant feels more up market and less ‘Holiday Inn’ – the dimmer lights help – so I liked the décor more during dinner. I went for the charcuterie bar which places you in full view of the kitchen. Sitting here turned out to be an interesting experience as I hadn’t expected to see what I got to see. It seems that one of the chefs has a habit of licking the spoon he uses to plate food with. This would be alright if he washed the spoon after each use, but he didn’t, so some of the dishes had an added ingredient known as chef’s saliva. I watched him with great interest for at least 30 minutes, and in that time frame that same spoon made it into his mouth countless times but only got washed once. Ick! Hopefully this practice will be eliminated for we quietly mentioned this to management…

Thankfully the above mentioned chef had no hand (or saliva) in the food that we ordered. The charcuterie platter (£14 for small) was again excellent. We had some repeats from my last visit, but also some newbies, including tagine d’agneau (terrine of slow cooked spiced leg of lamb, aubergine and sweet potato) (extreme left), which was meltingly tender, and pâté grand-mère (fine country pâté of chicken liver, pork and cognac) (bottom centre), which was good, but not as flavoursome as the pâté grand-père. We also sampled the lomo Ibérico (Spanish cured pork loin) which sizzled with flavour and melted on your tongue.

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Bar Boulud

New York based Lyonnaise Chef Daniel Boulud is probably most famous for his namesake fine dining restaurant, Daniel, on the Upper East Side. But his restaurant empire isn’t limited to this three star Michelin restaurant. He has a string of bistro-y type places in The Big Apple including DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne, and also in other cities such as Las Vegas, Vancouver and Beijing. Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is his first venture in London.

Try as I might, I couldn’t warm to the decor at Bar Boulud. Where Bistro Moderne, which I have been to, has the feel of understated chic, Bar Boulud only looks slightly more glamorous than a high end Holiday Inn. Given that the designer is Adam Tihany (think Sketch and Apsleys), and that the restaurant is part of the 5-star Mandarin Oriental, I found this rather surprising. I know money must have been spent on this set-up – anything with Tihany’s name behind it is expensive. But try as I might, I couldn’t see where the ‘French bistro inspiration’ mentioned on the restaurant’s website comes from. Don’t get me wrong, the place is pleasant and comfortable. But when you think Tihany and Mandarin Oriental, you don’t really expect high end motel. This is a place I would have no problems coming to for lunch, but I would be less sure about for dinner.

So lunch it was. I am surprised at how reasonably priced the menu is. The most expensive main is £23 and there are a number of sausage and hamburger choices which will only set you back £11-13. But in the end we decided to go for a 3 course prix fixe lunch menu for £20. I am not always sold on set menus such as these, but as some of the options in the prix fixe can also be found on the à la carte menu, I thought the prix fixe a good bet. We also decided to supplement the prix fixe menu with a small charcuterie degustation board (£14).

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

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Quilon Restaurant

I have mixed feelings about set lunch specials at Michelin restaurants. They can be very good value, but as they often offer a limited selection, they are not necessarily a complete representation of what a restaurant has to offer. However, browsing through Quilon’s lunchtime menu online, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the number of choices available.

Quilon is a one Michelin-starred restaurant which specialises in South Indian Coastal cuisine. It opened in 1999, earning its first Michelin star in 2008. The lunchtime menu listed about 6 starters, 4 seafood dishes, 3-4 game and meat dishes, not to mention various accompaniments and vegetable dishes. Three courses and a side such as rice or bread costs a very reasonable £22 per head. A combination of price and choice lured me into a visit to Quilon.

For our initial little tasters, we were presented with tiny bite sized pieces of crispy, light poppadoms with coconut and tomato chutneys, both of which were nicely spiced.

Poppadoms with tomato and coconut chutneys

Poppadoms with tomato and coconut chutneys

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Apsleys – a Heinz Beck Restaurant

Note: Chefs Massimiliano Blasone and Marco Calenzo have now left the restaurant. Consequently this blog post may not reflect the current state of affairs at Apsleys.

Heinz Beck has the distinction of being the only chef in Rome to hold three Michelin stars with his restaurant La Pergola at the Rome Cavalieri Hilton. And Apsleys, at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner, is the London offshoot of this internationally acclaimed, German-born, Italian-based chef. Apsleys opened about two years ago, and this year, it received Michelin acclaim when it earned its first star in January.

As befits a restaurant that is housed in a St Regis hotel, the Apsleys dining room is a statement in jaw-dropping art deco elegance. It exudes luxury, with three massive chandeliers holding centre stage as they dazzle in front of your eyes. The interior designer was none other than Adam Tihany, the internationally renowned restaurant and hotel designer. Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch counts as one of his designs, and notable upcoming projects include the redesign of the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park which will feature the new Heston Blumenthal restaurant which will open this autumn.

Being an Italian restaurant, there are the usual antipasti, zuppe e primi and secondi courses on the menu. There is also a five course (£59; with matching wines – £89) and a seven course (£79; with matching wines – £119) tasting menu. The five course tasting is based on the seven course menu, but with no lobster starter and a choice between the sea bream and the venison courses rather than both.

We selected the five course menu which kicked off with a ‘Chef’s Surprise’ amuse bouche of an arancini (a rice ball coated with breadcrumbs which originates from Sicily), and a sweet pepper and courgette terrine. The arancini, which tasted like a deep fried risotto, was pleasant but unspectactular. The terrine was filled with natural sweetness and had a lovely soft texture.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

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Bumbles Restaurant

Omelette Arnold Bennett

Omelette Arnold Bennett

I first went to Bumbles about three years ago and remembered it for having really good food at very reasonable prices. In fact the food was so good for what I paid that I was pleasantly surprised. I discovered the restaurant purely by chance, through a friend who worked in Victoria where it’s located. It seems to the sort of place that hovers low on the publicity radar, but is well liked by locals and those in the know. Case in point – it was absolutely packed on the night of our visit.

So how did visit number two fare? Overall it was resoundingly excellent. The restaurant offers an `a la carte menu from which you can also choose three courses for £20. This works out cheaper than ordering those dishes individually, although certain items incur a supplement. There is also a cheaper limited option 3 course menu on offer for £10. We chose 3 courses from both the `a la carte and the £10 set menu so I will cover the dishes that we had from the `a la carte menu first, listing the `a la carte price of each of those dishes as I go along.

To start, an omelette Arnold Bennett with smoked haddock (£5.95) was superb. Made with a combination of gruyere, parmesan and cheddar cheese, the omelette was creamy, luscious and rich. There was a beautiful balance between the cheeses and the haddock was firm and tasty. This dish was plate-licking good although more care could have been taken in cleaning the rim of the plate before presenting it.

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Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental

This restaurant has now closed, and will be replaced by Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant Dinner.

Pork belly with macaroni cheese, spiced pumpkin & black pudding

Pork belly with macaroni cheese, spiced pumpkin & black pudding

Having been to French based Foliage on two previous occasions which I thoroughly enjoyed, I came to consider this restaurant as a worthwhile destination. My first visit was for dinner on the à la carte menu, and my second, some nine months ago, was on the set lunch menu at £29, which to my surprise I found to be as good as the à la carte. The portion sizes over the four courses were also very generous, and considering the price tag, was incredible value. That and the fact that you are assured views of Hyde Park during the day made me question why anyone would consider dining at Foliage for dinner when lunch is such a fantastic option. Therefore, when fellow blogger Loving Annie suggested that we lunch at Foliage a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to revisit what I had always considered to be a little gem.

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