Thursday, 17 April 2014

REVIEW: Medlar, King's Road, Chelsea - REVISITED

Now if there was one thing, i rarely do, it's make repeat visits to restaurants. Of course i fall in love with some, but the problem is i always feel like i'm missing out on the latest new opening, or one which the critics are going mad about. A late treat to my mother for Mothering Sunday (as i was abroad) is the only reason for my return. I remembered the last meal i had at Medlar was excellent and the added perk of it being only a few minutes from my flat sold it to me - especially for those of us who enjoy a drink, or two. Our love for wine definitely runs in the blood - and courses through mine.

Anyway back to Medlar. Its pretty inconspicuous, and it's on the 'bad' part of the King's Road. It has a Michelin star (rightly so), offers polished, proper service and above everything else it's even better than i last remembered it last time. Bread was offered around the table to start and it was good - not outstanding but solid and well made. And then things started to get serious.

I already ate this starter on my previous lunch here - but this time round it seemed even more delightful than the first. A dish of crab ravioli with samphire, brown shrimp, fondue of leeks and a bisque sauce was stunning - even more stunning than my previous visit, i can't stress it enough. Everything was just so harmonized and cooked to such perfection it felt luxurious. Hell, even i felt luxurious after eating it. The bisque was by far the star of it all but the ravioli and sweet crab meat were just as perfect.

Under blade fillet of beef with cafe de paris snails, salad, triple cooked chips and bearnaise was a homage to the classic dish it represents. I've never quite been convinced on the marriage of snails and steak - or snails for that matter but here i was swept away into a fairy tale and not the nightmare for me it always was. The bearnaise was light and delicate with a lovely smooth texture which made it irresistible to not ask for another pot - my mother confused it for a salad dressing so instead her leaves got all the look in. The chips were triple cooked to perfection.

Duck breast and confit leg with puy lentils, sweet juicy beetroot, mustard fruits and a paysanne salad was a wonderful medley of foods, although an incredibly generous plate of it all, perhaps too generous. The duck was cooked perfectly, the confit was juicy and full of flavour but what i really fell in love with was Medlar's beetroot - they were the best i've ever had - i need to know their supplier and cooking technique.

Not just with Medlar, but i seem to be experience some absolutely stunning desserts recently. When i first started writing about food i always used to look forward to dessert the most, but the excitement would normally end abruptly and leave me moving on to the nearest Tesco for a Wispa Gold. But at Medlar it's just give, give, give. Mango mille-feuille did just that, it gave everything one could expect in such a dish. The pastry was astonishingly good, incredibly light, flaky, buttery and the mango and creme patisserie filling was the filling of dreams. Yet with all that lovely, calorific creme patisserie, it never felt heavy - especially when washed down with some beautifully made mango sorbet.

Even simple desserts such as blood orange sorbet would have put any Italian’s variation i've eaten to shame. It was so well made, had loads of fresh zingy orange flavour, it was as if i were eating the real thing - just a little icier. If you reach a point at Medlar where you really feel you have no room for any more food - then at least order this. It will at least leave you refreshed and ready for some of those after dinner truffles.

I absolutely love chocolate but when it comes to chocolate based desserts - its never really been my thing. I was literally blown away with the skill and expertise that must have gone into making this chocoholic delight here at Medlar. A gorgeous looking slice of chocolate tart with salted caramel and a praline parfait was quite literally a little slice of heaven. Every Mouthful made the roof of my mouth salivate, uncontrollably. This was by far the best chocolate tart, i have ever eaten. Although my photography may be a little shoddy, this photo still manages to say everything you need to know.

The truffles were just as fantastic as everything else, though perhaps its cocoa dusting was a little overzealous as it was incredibly bitter at first. I can't believe i've left it so long to dine at Medlar again - i mean it's literally a stones throw (Olympian trained one) from my door and i walk past it nearly every day. I had a feeling previously it would get a Michelin star and i'm so glad it actually did get one. On my last visit i had some hiccups with desserts but this time round they were in fact some of the best i've ever eaten in London. This is rich, hearty precision cooking with a French flare and modern tendencies. And its bloody fabulous.


Square MealMedlar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

REVIEW: Suksan, Park Walk, Chelsea

If you haven't heard of Park Walk before then you need to take note, and write it down. A lovely little street in Chelsea just off the King's Road which is set to house the site in which Gordon Ramsay will be opening his new restaurant sometime later in the year (hopefully). I think it's fantastic news because there are some great restaurants on this street, and Suksan is one of those. It's just there isn't quite that 'destination' restaurant here yet. Suksan on the other hand is a hidden little gem that almost everyone i know, has never heard of it.

Suksan is not a chain, but does have two sister restaurants, one called Sukho in Fulham, and another named Suk Saran in Wimbledon - whether they have any resemblance in similar cooking, i have no clue. But the menus definitely don't suggest so. We arrived a little dishevelled from another of my extremely long walks around south-west London debating on where to eat - i really do get carried away and can walk for miles to find the right place. From the moment we walked through the doors of this charming little restaurant the staff were incredibly friendly, and once we sat down, knew we were in very capable hands.

An easy choice off of our ridiculously low priced set menu of two courses for (if my memory serves well) £13.95. It's a real steal. Three good sized skewers of grilled, moist chicken which was very well seasoned and served with a light, but very complex coconut and peanut satay sauce - i was almost tempted to drink the stuff. Everything about it was light and fresh - how Thai food should be.

A mini taste of their home made dumplings came as a selection of three different types, prawn and chicken, Thai chive and flower dumpling with peanuts.  It was all very well executed and the texture was perfect, but to be really amazing they all needed much more flavour - a little bit more oomph would have been more than welcome to these pretty little dumplings.

A quick move on to the first of our mains was a beautiful gang kari gae. A dish of succulent tender lamb cooked with potatoes, and shallots all simmering away in a beautiful coconut based yellow curry sauce with a multitude of spices. If not done right, this dish can actually be quite a heavy but here it felt effervescent and so light and fresh you could easily put away far more of it than you'd need to. The rice was lovely and fluffy as well - a dish which was hard to fault.

A slightly unusual mix of food, but delicious one was a dish called mee puu nim. A combination of egg noodles with chili, soy dressing, grilled peppers and crisp and meaty deep fried soft shell crab. This was Thai comfort food at its best. The batter on the crab could have done with some more seasoning but the rest of the dish was so beautifully balanced, you easily forget about that. When it arrived in front of me i thought all that juicy sauce would ruin the crispy crab, but it only enhanced it.

Our dessert with the slightly awkward name of 'Bangkok banana' was far more delicious than it sounded. A warm banana battered (god this is hard to keep serious) in a coconut shell was doused in some warm syrup and served with a heavenly coconut dusted, and infused ice cream - it was a lot of coconut, but actually not too much. All very delicate and light, it was definitely a contender for one of my favourite fritters - but it isn't quite at the standard of the one i had at Le Chinois on Sloane Street.

I've walked past Suksan so many times yet always dismissed, but i won't be doing that again. It offers excellent value for money, OK wines, immaculate service and some of the best Thai food that Chelsea has to offer. If you happen to find yourself in the area then stop by. They have a few seats outside as well, so with summer (hopefully) inbound, I'll be making much more use of this place.


Suksan on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

REVIEW: Chutney's, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, in Belgium is best known for two things, its chocolate and for being at the centre of the European Union. When i visited i was astounded by the amount of chocolate shops, both good, and bad. I just couldn't keep away from them. But i think what i was most shocked about was actually how poor and dirty it looked as a city. A few hours wandering around and you can quickly get your bearings to work out the city's different quarters for both food, and culturally. In what's probably known as the 'Greek' area, we stumbled upon a smart, newly opened restaurant called Chutneys, specialising in French cuisine or how our waiter put it 'food from the Alps'.

The menu was rather substantial and all sounded very nice, and classic but we opted for a platter of cured meats and sausage instead. Every single item was incredibly cold and had little to no flavour. Bresaola which i didn't expect to see was in a strange rectangle shape and i vaguely remember having more enjoyment from that reformed ham in the supermarkets for 50p - it really was that bad. Especially for these prices.

I'm a complete novice when it comes to fondue. I've only ever eaten it once at a restaurant in Chelsea back home in London called L'Art du Fromage - and it was magnificent. Here Chutney's make it with the classic gruyere and vacherin mix doused in lots of kirsch. It was awful. So much alcohol was added and the cheese was of such poor quality it was watery, never thickened up and not an ounce of garlic rubbing round the pot made an appearance. We even tried to blow out our gas burner to let it cool and thicken, but our waiter was very against it and kept relighting. In the end we just gave up and left it.

My sweet tooth unfortunately has a mind of its own, so no matter how hard i try, full up or bad my meal is - i can never resist the temptation. Here we opted for what i believe was a shop bought slice of luke warm apple strudel with vanilla ice cream. It was fine, it had a nice flavour, the ice cream (not homemade) but satisfied my hunger. It wasn't exciting, but compared to the rest of my meal - it tasted amazing.

I try not to be over critical or rude in my reviews but sometimes it's hard, especially with what arrived next - the worst dessert i've ever eaten in a restaurant. Croute au toblerone was an anemic, hard pastry/biscuit base which had absolutely no flavour at all - it was honestly neutral, i've not experienced anything quite like it before. The chocolate decoration was nutella and the filling a combination of toblerone chocolate and dark chocolate sauce. I honestly couldn't taste a single piece of toblerone, or anything resembling it.

I felt completely ripped off by Chutney's. And i should of known from the empty tables - but i like to give places the benefit of the doubt. I can't see Chutney's being around for long, or at least i hope its not, unless they seriously up their game. It's attached to a hotel which in part may help it a little in terms of drinks, but with food like this, steer clear because this - is daylight robbery.


Monday, 14 April 2014

REVIEW: Barnyard, Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia

If someone asked me, and which they do - "what is the hardest restaurant to get into in London right now", my answer is always the same - Dabbous. With its cutting edge avant garde cuisine, and stunning flavours, stripped back to basics - it's no wonder the wait is so long. But while i enjoyed my experience at Dabbous, i felt it was a one time visit, and i wouldn't want to go back again. With Ollie Dabbous new venture, Barnyard, sporting a no booking policy - i decided to wait it out and queue. To get in their before it gets even busier, than it already is.

Arriving a little after half seven, there were unfortunately no tables for the three of us. The friendly guy at the door told us we'd receive a call back in a lengthy two hour window. We hedged our bets and stuck around in the area sipping - or in my case gulping white wine. Ten o'clock approached and no call back so we scuttled our way back, it was empty - had they forgotten about us? I think so. Still we sat down (in an empty restaurant) and quickly ordered. First out was a small plate of bubble and squeak with black pudding, apple chutney and a fried egg. It was just that, no frills, no spectacular wow upon arrival and while it was very well cooked and seasoned - so far i'm not quite sure what the fuss is all about.

If you haven't already guessed, Barnyard is casual dining, sharing plates at affordable prices. Nothing at all like Dabbous. A humble corn on a cob with salted and meadowsweet (wild herb flower) was actually spectacular - i didn't even share a bite. Sweet and juicy, little pockets of burnt, grilled goodness and incredibly well seasoned with that lovely meadowsweet - which is far too underrated and is abundantly available.

Crispy chicken wings with smoked paprika, garlic and lemon were probably the best wings i've had in a while - but lacking in actual meaty chicken. Golden, crispy and not too oily - why oh why can't the local chicken cottages pump out stuff this good, i'd never leave if that was the case.

My least favourite dish was Barnyards take on mince and dumpling, which frankly wasn't too unusual than the one my mother used cook, and it's not the sort of dish i want to be reminded of. The dumpling was actually the best part, it was firm, had a good textured bite but the mince and parsley dominated sauce left a lingering taste in my mouth - which i couldn't quite shake off.

Sausage roll was almost, or even as good as the filthy one from the Ginger Pig. A mammoth mouthful if you're yet to indulge. Here Barnyard have the pastry spot on, glazed to perfection, flaky, buttery and its perfectness helps lighten up the herby full flavoured sausage meat. It's a mini heart attack on a plate, but a much welcomed one - and so was that homemade piccalilli.

Cauliflower cheese, at the bargain price of £3 is a tentatively morrish dish of well cooked cauliflower, smoky, charred cheesy sauce that is all perfectly seasoned. This dish will become an affair, and not one that can easily be parted with. It's all about the little dishes here so to make your meal, you'll need to order a lot of food - especially if you plan to share. Sharing is something which if you know me, i'm really against. Still for what Barnyard is, and hopes to be they have their prices absolutely spot on.

The star dish, which isn't at all as dry as it looks, but instead secluded by a mesmerizingly crunchy crackling was a meat lover's dream. Juicy flavoursome pork was falling apart before it even reached my mouth and the salty crunchy crackling, which i spoon fed with a little bit of that half eaten (sorry) celeriac slaw was a dish thats right up my street - and i loved it.

Did i love it? No, but i certainly liked it alot. The cooking here at Barnyard is high and the kitchen know exactly what they're doing. The main problem i have with it is the queuing. For a wait, little over two hours for a seat in a restaurant which cost me more money on the wine needed to keep me occupied elsewhere before hand - Barnyard needs to be amazing, and the food for me is not surprising, or inventive enough to warrant that. I definitely recommend Barnyard, to get it out of your system and ticked off your list. The future of Barnyard will no doubt be a long one, especially when it has Ollie Dabbous name behind it.


Square MealBarnyard on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 10 April 2014

REVIEW: Sixtyone Restaurant, Upper Berkeley Street, Marylebone

Who knew that only a short few minutes walk from the grotty site around Marble Arch Station, adjacent to Oxford Street - a charming hotel and restaurant exist. A tranquil haven away from the swarms of shoppers and also just as convenient for a spot of pre-shopping.

Although it’s not immediately apparent, Sixtyone restaurant is located in the ground floor of the Montcalm Hotel. In conjunction with luxury company Searcys, everyone involved has done a great job decorating, with mid-tones of greys and striking copper - it all feels very ‘in’ right now, and so does the food. Deconstructed dining, as the website describes the food and with head chef Arnaud Stevens cooking in the kitchen, him and his team have devised a menu which is sleek, oozing in flavours and looks fantastic on the plate.

Toiling over our menu i was astounded that in this pricey part of London, bordering Marylebone how competitive prices really were. Three courses at lunchtime will set you back around a mere £22. A la carte prices were still very reasonable for the quality of the food. To get our taste bud flowing our waiter brought out a cafetiere filled with a mushroom tea like powder, which is then met with a dashi broth creating a lovely earth, salty drink.

A rich and thick mushroom mouse was also served alongside with some pieces of crispy toast and dried mushrooms. The toast i wouldn't give you too many thanks for but the mouse was lovely and transforms it completely. Sixtyone were a little different with the pre-meal offerings so it made a nice change to what can sometimes be a little predictable in other fine dining establishments.

Even things like the simple offering of their breads were expertly crafted and were accompanied by a gorgeous whipped butter with a texture so light you could almost mistake it for marshmallow. Still, it felt like it would leave a scarring mark on the hips - of which mine seem to be growing exponentially.

Our starter of octopus carpaccio , red pepper confit , sorrel and sesame was a magnificent plate bursting with colour and flavour. The octopus was fresh and vibrant, while pieces of red pepper were juicy and retained all their sweet flavour. Dollops of sesame, sorrel, salad leaves and crunchy corn left for a mouthwatering affair which i didn't want to part with.

If there were ever a low point to our meal at Sixtyone restaurant it was our second starter of crispy organic egg with artichoke. Compared to everything else we were to be eating it was just not exciting enough and the egg needed a few seconds more cooking. The artichoke and puree on the other hand were delightful - but i do feel this one dish, is letting the restaurant down a little.

One of my favourite dishes (excluding desserts) was the unbelievably juicy Cumbrian chicken with smokey Alsace bacon, braised leek and unquestionably the best tarragon and bread sauce you'll ever eat - if you came across another that is. Every single element to this dish was a delight to eat and complemented one mouthful after the other. If you come here and this dish is on the menu, order it - you won't be disappointed. It's a medley of what is, some of this restaurants best cooking.

A slab of 32 day dry-aged Cumbrian beef rib with slivers of shallots, a lovely deep flavoured gravy, crispy duck fat roast potatoes, and a dangerously addictive bulb of soft roasted garlic - perfect for spreading over that meat. There was a Yorkshire pudding served in a pan on the side but it was extremely dry and actually wasn't needed with this dish, although it resembled a roast - it didn't feel exactly like one, and nor did i want it to.

Desserts at Sixtyone is where things make an even bigger impression - they were all outstanding, and will leave you long for much more than could possibly fit on the plate. Rhubarb was served in a multitude of ways - sorbet, sauce, mouse filled dome, and every bit was as delightful as the next. Discs of white chocolate, white chocolate jelly squares and dollops of ginger sauce made this one of my favourite desserts in a while. It also looked stunning on the plate.

The talent of the kitchen really shined through with an unbelievably moist chocolate and praline fondant cake with a spoon of richly infused vanilla ice cream, shards of cocoa dusted chocolate, crunchy and sticky honeycomb and toffee covered popcorn. It's not something you'll want to share and i struggled to get barely a spoon of it from my fellow dinner. If you ever had the craving for even just a dessert - this is where you need to be.

A plate of well sourced cheeses with an abundance of age, flavour and freshness were perfectly matched with a stunning rosemary jam - which if you have not tried before, should be added to your bucket list - and if you don't have one, then start it now. For the price, this plate of cheese which is meant for one, was a very generous helping.

Petit fours were some the best I've experienced in London for a while now. It's not that they were surprising or particularly unusual but they were all made with such absolute precision and skill. Gorgeous chewy macaroons and Belgian chocolates to die for. I love restaurant Sixtyone and i only hope it starts receiving some of those worthy awards *cough cough* that they deserve. Something tells me that this restaurant, in time, is only going to get better, and better.


Square MealSixty One on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

REVIEW: Zeus Greek Restaurant, Xemxija, Malta

Our hotel in Malta, which is advertised as being centrally located in St Pauls Bay happened to actually be up a very steep hill, and instead overlooking the bay from Xemxija - a little more out of the way than we'd expected. After an incredibly long, hot and hilly walk in to the pretty town of Mellieha we settled on a Greek restaurant just round the corner from where we were staying. Conveniently located -  on another hill.

An even hotter restaurant inside meant a good glugging of local Maltese white wine and a litre of water needed to help settle us in. Prices were very reasonable for both food and wine but service was amicable. It was probably the only restaurant on our trip where we really felt, and were treated like foreigners - simply put, there was a lack of it.

Our starters arrived and first out was an incredibly thick pita bread, very well made and carried a nice meaty smokiness from the grill. Its accompanying aubergine dip was so heavily doused with garlic it made the hairs on my arms stand up. The flavour, if you can get through the garlic was OK but it was much too dry and cloying -  perhaps some olive oil could have lightened it up.

Deep fried calamari was perfectly seasoned - it even left that sort that lingering peppery flavour and saltiness on the tongue you long for.  The downside to it all though was the actual squid being extremely overcooked and very chewy, which was a real shame because the batter was very nice with bags of flavour and had a lovely crunch.

Main courses didn't fare particularly better. There is a website in Malta called 'The Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants in Malta', and it effectively aims to be the islands very own Michelin Guide. According to its website they rigorously review restaurants on a similar scoring basis to the Michelin guide. Being a foreigner on the island i utilised this guide to my advantage and unfortunately, never agreed with them a single time. My disagreement became alll but apparent when the main dish of lamb souvlaki, tzatziki, tomatoes and rice arrived. It was all very simple and basic. The guide praises Zeus for having some of the best lamb on the island but in all honestly, i have never experienced pieces of lamb as tough as this - it was so overcooked it was completely unenjoyable, and inedible.

I had to introduce this side of roast potatoes as well, purely because of the shockingness of how bad they really were. A dark rim round the bowl as if they'd been either prepared and refrigerated too long or left covered with another bowl near a lot of heat. The potatoes managed to arrived anaemic in colour, undercooked and only a few corners had any crunch. We actually had to leave this bowl of potatoes because mainly because they had no taste, but also because they were not cooked.

For being apparently the best Greek restaurant on the island of Malta, i was apppaled. It's on a rare occasion i dismiss a dessert menu - but when dining at Zeus i couldn't bare the thought. The restaurant was absolutely packed when we arrived and is obviously doing very well - especially with the locals. How it is doing so well, i'm not so sure, but i think it has something to do with its very low prices - which, can be very attractive sometimes.