Verru

I came to hear of Verru through K, an Estonian-born Russian friend of mine. The restaurant only opened a few months ago and boasts of an Estonian chef, hence the name Verru which is a play on the word Võru, the name of a town and county in Southern Estonia. Chef Andrei Lesment’s French training is evident. The restaurant’s website talks of Baltic flavours, but Verru’s menu reads more French with hints of Baltic influences thrown in.

Situated on Marylebone Lane, right near Le Cordon Bleu, the restaurant is small with an awkward layout. Nevertheless, it still manages to dish up an intimate and cosy charm. K tells me the look is very Estonian. There are leather seats, brickwork and distressed wood walls.

A very good starter of roasted quail (£7.50) was nicely cooked and moist. It came with a flavoursome slice of boudin noir, almonds and some deliciously exotic mandarin syrup. With the richness of the boudin noir, slightly more acidity was called for.

Roasted quail

Roasted quail

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Koffmann’s at The Berkeley

Pierre Koffmann made his permanent return to the London dining scene with his restaurant Koffmann’s at The Berkeley. When Pierre Koffmann appeared during London Restaurant Week 2009 with his pop-up restaurant at Selfridges, Restaurant on the Roof, he became the toast of the town. The ex-three star Michelin chef went into retirement after closing Le Tante Claire in 2004, so his pop-up stint was always going to create some excitement. Restaurant on the Roof was pricey, but it was well worth a visit. The food was very good, and the ambiance was great. And of course there was the opportunity to try his famous pig’s trotter dish.

Koffmann’s at The Berkeley received a fair bit of press during the last couple of weeks as a consequence of Kate Middleton dining there with The Duchess of Cornwall. The restaurant opened last summer, and occupies the space that was previously Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café. The dining room is elegantly furnished and sits on the lower ground floor. As nice as it was, I am not a big fan of this basement eating with no windows. The placement of the toilets is also awkward – you have to up the stairs, go past the reception, and then go down another set of stairs to get to them. Why there is no connecting door between the dining room and the bathrooms is a mystery to me.

A pre-starter of caramelised onions with anchovies and olives on puff pastry was a little salty. The puff pastry wasn’t particularly light.

Caramelised onions with anchovies and olives

Caramelised onions with anchovies and olives

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Roux at The Landau

The Roux family are the closest thing we have to cooking royalty here in the UK. So the opening of Roux at The Landau, a collaborative effort between father and son Albert and Michel Jnr, was always going to be newsworthy. Housed in the Langham Hotel on Regent Street, the dining room has been elegantly and stylishly refurbished by interior designer David Collins. His client list includes such notable restaurants as J Sheeky, Locanda Locatelli, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Bob Bob Ricard (ok I didn’t like the food at Bob Bob Ricard, but I did like the clever décor). The most memorable aspect about the design was the vaulted passageway that guides you through the restaurant’s treasured wine collection before leading you into the dining room.

Chef de Cuisine is Chris King, Michel’s young protégée who spent five years at Le Gavroche before working at Per Se in New York and then at Roux at Parliament Square as the sous chef.

I dined as a guest of Roux at The Landau. Amuse bouches included a creamy remoulade topped with a soft quail’s egg, spicy chorizo spring rolls and a fragrant beef tartare finished with truffle. These were very tasty.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

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The Glasshouse

Whenever a restaurant bears the name of Nigel Platts-Martin, you know you will be assured of quality and consistency. With a string of well-known critically acclaimed restaurants, Nigel, a former lawyer turned restaurateur, seems to have that foodie magic that guarantees success. His restaurants include The Square, The Ledbury, Chez Bruce, La Trompette and The Glasshouse, the latter three which he owns with Bruce Poole, chef of Chez Bruce. What is also notable about these three sister restaurants is how reasonably priced they are. Even though all three establishments bear a Michelin star, prices have been kept at are around the £40-£45 mark for three courses.

A recent visit to The Glasshouse (£34.50 for two courses, £39.50 for three courses) saw me start with the grilled mackerel and miso, oyster dressing, shiso leaf and crispy squid. An inspired sounding dish, it did little to live up to expectations. The mackerel was well cooked, but the skin tasted slightly burnt. The miso sauce, a combination of miso, uzu, sake and mirin, had a nice flavour, but was extremely rich, as was the oyster dressing made with oyster sauce, iceberg lettuce, oysters and mayonnaise. The combination of these two heavy tastes overwhelmed the fish, drowning out its natural sweetness. I love shiso, but rather than being used as a garnish, it was buried under the oyster dressing which left this beautiful herb soggy and bereft of the exotic aroma that it usually exudes. Japanese food is about the clarity of flavour and the cleanliness of the palate. Here I found a heavy and muddled dish that didn’t quite live up to its Japanese inspirations. There was good technique here if you analysed each of the components individually, but the dish as a whole was flawed.

But as a saving grace, the wonderful accompanying crispy squid – a mixture of squid, prawns and mushrooms wrapped in nori and a wonderfully crispy, pastry – was divine. I would have happily had ten of these and forgotten the rest.

Grilled mackerel

Grilled mackerel

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Gauthier Soho

Selection of breads

Selection of breads

21 Romilly Street was previously the home of Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House, a restaurant that I enjoyed immensely and preferred much more than his current venture, Corrigan’s. But whilst I liked the food, I was never enamoured with the building itself. A 4-storey Soho townhouse, it is narrow and tiny. Lindsay House closed last May, and the site was taken over by Alexis Gauthier, who recently left his post as head chef at one Michelin starred Roussillon. I believe the reasons for the move are complex, but from what I could gather from our waiter, Alexis now becomes proprietor as well as chef. This is a serious move as he took his sommelier from Roussillon to Gauthier Soho as well.

The dining room is sparsely finished, and with the all-white walls, the space feels formal and stiff. I also found the acoustics ill-judged. Early on in the evening, with only 3 seated tables, the room was deadly quiet. This meant that S and I ended up whispering. Girlie gossip is not something that you necessarily want to share with strangers. Later on, when the restaurant became busier and noisier, we struggled to be heard.

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The Ledbury – Sunday Lunch

There are some pretty exciting Australian chefs on the London scene right now, eg, Shane Osborn (Pied a Terre), David Thompson (Nahm), Skye Gyngell (Petersham Nurseries). Another is Brett Graham, who after opening The Ledbury at the age of 26, became the youngest Australian to ever win a Michelin star. This January saw Brett earn his second star, an achievement further capped when his sideline venture, The Harwood Arms, also won its first star. But then, Brett has always been on a steady climb. After arriving in London in 2000, he became a winner of the Young Chef of the Year award just two years later. Before The Ledbury, his time in London was spent working his way up to senior sous chef at The Square under Philip Howard.

For a two star restaurant, The Ledbury has one of the best value Sunday lunch menus around. Three courses from the a la carte menu costs only £40, with a similar menu in the evening being priced at £65. However, the only drawback of dining on Sundays (and Saturdays) is that Brett typically doesn’t cook during the weekends. Although, not having the head chef in action should, in principle, not make a difference.

Amuse bouche was a pomegranate macaroon with foie gras parfait and ginger crumbs. The parfait was creamy with the richness of the foie gras, and it married beautifully with the lightness of the macaroon. The touch of ginger added a nice zing to the combination.

Pomegranate macaroon with foie gras

Pomegranate macaroon with foie gras

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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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Bistrot Bruno Loubet

The excitement of getting to dine at Bruno Loubet’s latest London reincarnation – Bistrot Bruno Loubet at The Zetter Hotel – was surpassed, for me anyway, by the fact that we got to sit next to Sir Michael Caine during dinner. To be precise, he was actually sitting at the table next to us with his beautiful wife Shakira (you would never believe she’s 63), but he was so close to me I could have easily tapped him on his shoulder. He sounds just like he does on the big screen, all nasally in that charming, endearing kind of way. I pretended to be all cool, like I hadn’t noticed him, but I must admit to secretly gaping at him out of the corner of my eye.

Well it was no surprise that he would get fawned over – he is a huge celebrity after all. But what was surprising was just how useless our assigned waiter was. He took his time to come and take our order. And when he did come, he didn’t have a pen, so he walked off to get one, and then for some reason forgot to come back. What kind of waiter doesn’t have a pen? He also took his time delivering our bread. But that said, some of the other waiters who also served us during the evening were lovely and attentive, so I don’t think it would be fair to say that all of the service was bad.

Bruno Loubet earnt a notable reputation as a chef under the likes of Pierre Koffman and Raymond Blanc in the 1990s, before going on to successfully head up restaurants Bistro Bruno and L’Odeon. He spent much of the Noughties in Australia, but a decade later, and he’s back in London. With his background, it’s unsurprising that Bistrot Bruno Loubet is classically French.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc (£7) was exquisitely light with a mousse-like texture, but it was a touch heavy on the seasoning. The accompanying creamy leek fondue and chervil sauce married beautifully with the gentle guinea fowl flavour. Having once watched a boudin blanc demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu, this is a fairly complex dish to make. This was a wonderful rendition of the Lyonnaise classic.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc

Guinea fowl boudin blanc

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