Bistro 51 – St James Court Hotel


St James’ Court Hotel on Buckingham Gate offers a number of dining options, one of which is Bistro 51. Contemporary in design but somewhat subdued in taste, Bistro 51 serves a contemporary European menu. The hotel is part of the Indian owned Taj Hotel Group, one of the largest hotel chains in the world. As such, the menu also includes a number of Indian-inspired dishes.

We dined from the Chef’s special menu which is priced at a reasonable £30. We started with a boccocini and cherry tomato tian with pickled portobello and pesto which was pleasant and tasty. The mellow flavour of the bocconini with the sweetness of the tomatoes was a lovely pairing, with the pesto providing freshness to the dish.

Bistro 51 at The St James Court Hotel – London Food Blog - Boccocini and cherry tomato tian

Bistro 51 at The St James Court Hotel – Boccocini and cherry tomato tian

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Arbutus is a one Michelin starred restaurant which offers a modern European bistro menu. Located in the heart of Soho on Frith Street, Arbutus is the brainchild of Anthony Demetre and Will Smith. The pair met while working together at Putney Bridge when Demetre was Head Chef and Smith was the restaurant manager. Demetre previously trained under the guidance of Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffman and within a year of becoming head chef at Putney Bridge in 1999 he had earned the restaurant a Michelin star. The pair decided to venture solo and thus Arbutus was born in 2006. In 2007 Arbutus went on to win a Michelin star and Four AA Rosettes. Two other restaurants from the pair followed with Wild Honey in Mayfair which also holds a Michelin star, and Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden which offers an all day bar and grill menu.

I first visited Arbutus soon after it first won its star and was thrilled with the energy of the food as it was vibrant, fresh and accomplished, yet not too pretentious. The menu was also well priced and ever changing based on what was seasonal. I also liked the intimacy of the dining room which was simply furnished yet inviting.

Little has changed in terms of the look of the restaurant and it continues to be intimate and inviting. The menu still offers up some interesting choices although prices are of course higher than way back when. During our visit to Arbutus a couple of weeks ago we started with some Scottish scallops (£16) which were plump and beautifully cooked. There was some piquillo pepper which offered a lovely sweet contrast to the scallops. Some nicely toasted hazelnuts added a very enjoyable nuttiness and crunchiness, and pickled sea herbs provided a sense of freshness.

Arbutus - Scottish scallops

Scottish scallops

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Hudson’s – Cedar Court Grand Hotel, York

Note: Words and pictures by Foodpornnation and myself.

Cedar Court Grand - Hudson's


Located within the Cedar Court Hotel & Spa, Hudson’s offers up a no-nonsense approach to bistro dining, a dining experience that is relaxed and cosy but with a touch of elegance. The Hudson’s menu serves up a contrast of interesting tit bits versus the more traditional bistro favourites. You can take the unconventional vegetarian fish & chips (£15.95), the beetroot Carpaccio (£15.95) or perhaps a more comforting grilled steak.

To get to Hudson’s you first walk through the plush warm interiors of the Cedar Court Hotel & Spa before being welcomed into the warmth of the luscious Hudson’s dining room. It was elegant and plush and oozed a relaxed ambience. Hudson’s might be bistro dining – but smartly done with a fine dining feel.

The Chef’s special spare ribs (£7.50) came with it’s own warning sign. We were warned before ordering, not once, but twice by our waiter, that these were extremely hot. And even though they were hot, a brush of the accompanying maple syrup provided some sweet relief. These got our pick because they were a delectable, fall off the bone, lick the bone clean in one fell swoop type of eating.

Hudson's Cedar Court Grand - Spicy ribs

Spicy ribs

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Balthazar Restaurant opened in Soho in New York in 1997, and within two years of its opening it became one of the hottest restaurants in NYC. It attracted celebrities far and wide, much in the same way that Chiltern Firehouse, London’s restaurant of the moment is doing. Long recognised as an institution in New York, celebrity restaurateur Keith McNally opened a branch on British shores in 2013 to much hype and fanfare.

Balthazar London looks the business and replicates Balthazar New York’s French brasserie design, from the high ceilings to the antique mirrored walls, through to the red leather banquettes down to the mosaic floors. Similar to its big sister, Balthazar London offers all-day menu with breakfast as well afternoon tea, and on the weekends there is a separate brunch menu. The food is French-inspired and includes seafood from the raw bar as well as a wide selection of classical French brasserie and bistro dishes. Next door to the restaurant is the Balthazar Boulangerie that serves an array of delicious looking artisan breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches.

The atmosphere was a little flat and lacklustre when we visited Balthazar London. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday night, but there wasn’t the fired-up energy that was reminiscent of my past visits to Balthazar New York. With all the hype that surrounded Balthazar’s opening, this proved to be a little disappointing.

As for the food, it didn’t quite fire on all cylinders with starters of garlic prawns (£10) and steak tartare (£9.75) being acceptable if a little lacklustre. The prawns were firm in texture and came in a buttery sauce filled with garlic and piment d’Espelette chillies. But the sauce wanted for a little more flavour. On the side was a warm portion of fougasse provencale bread that soaked up the sauce nicely. But the bread was rather oily and the crust was not crunchy. As for the steak tartare, the meat was tender and flavoursome, but it needed more Worcestershire sauce and seasoning to give it a greater punch.

Balthazar - Garlic prawns

Garlic prawns

Balthazar - Steak tartare

Steak tartare

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5&33 Restaurant – Art-Otel Amsterdam

To round off our recent Amsterdam visit, we had a really pleasant meal at the quirkily named 5&33, in-house restaurant of the Art-Otel, the hotel where we chose to call home for two nights while in Amsterdam.

The Art’Otel is located in the heart of Amsterdam and only minutes away from Amsterdam Central Station. Given its great location, Art-Otel was well placed for the many attractions of Amsterdam such as the Royal Palace, the canals, the Jordaan district, Dam square and many other popular attractions. But it wasn’t just the location that was great, but also the hotel’s innovative art house design. The Art’Otel offers a slick, contemporary experience, and it’s funky décor saw the Art’Otel win the Best Hotel Design 2013 Award by VENUEZ magazine, one of Netherlands’ leading hospitality magazines.

Art'Otel - Our bedroom

Art’Otel – Our arty bedroom

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Private Cabanas at The St Regis Doha

After my last visit to the St Regis Doha, the nice folk at the hotel kindly invited me back to try out one of private cabanas at St Regis Doha should I ever come through Doha again. I had a magical stay at The St Regis Doha when I was last in Doha earlier this year. The hotel’s sumptuous décor and fantastic service made for an incredible experience, not to mention our wonderful Friday brunch at the restaurant, Opal by Gordon Ramsay.

Well the opportunity for me to try the private cabana presented itself a few weeks ago when I popped through Doha again. There are ten cabanas at the hotel, each of which cater up to eight guests and are available for daily hire.

We were placed in cabana No.7 which has pride of place right on the beachfront. Note that not all the cabanas have beach views so be sure to ask for one if booking. The views from cabana No.7 were glorious. What a great spot for a bit of sunbaking!

St Regis Doha - Views of the beach from cabana 7

Views of the beach from cabana 7

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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



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The Grazing Goat

The same people behind The Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia have produced another charming rendition of a public house with The Grazing Goat. Situated on New Quebec Street just off Portman Square, The Grazing Goat is more than just a pub serving an interesting array of beers, wines and cocktails. The first floor also plays home to the restaurant, and on the floors above there is a hotel with eight guest rooms. It was to the restaurant that we went – a delectable dining room furnished in the vein of a posh gastropub with blond oak panelling and soft muted lighting. The overall effect was a charming ambience that made you feel right at home.

A starter of seared Scottish scallops (£11) was tasty and nicely cooked, with accompaniments including a salt cod and herb potato purée and some citrus lentils. The purée was smooth and pleasant, but you couldn’t really taste the herbs, and the lentils were very acidic. The result was that the saltiness of the cod purée and the acidity of the lentils overpowered the gentle flavour of the scallops. This dish lacked for balance and needed something more delicate to make it work.

Seared Scottish scallops

Seared Scottish scallops

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