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Archive for May, 2011

bacon-onion roll at the Ledbury (aka my beloved)

Considering how often I recommend the Ledbury to friends (and how often they report back that they’ve had a marvelous time there), I don’t know how I let over *two years* go by since I last ate there.  It’s sad, really.

Two weeks ago, Jon and I met four close friends for Sunday lunch there.  We were joking about how far we’d all traveled to get to Notting Hill (coming from Islington, Hoxton and Shad Thames).  But you know, the Ledbury is well worth the schlepp.

I’d never been to the Ledbury’s Sunday lunch before, which is a shame because at £40 a person for three courses and several amuses, it’s great value.

The downside for food lovers when ordering a la carte, though, is that a lot of bargaining and bickering breaks out over who orders what.  This is where the Ledbury’s stellar service made its first appearance of the day:  our server noticed several of us wanted to try the Saint-Nectaire truffled toast with buffalo milk curd and onion broth, so with grace and style, she stepped into our conversation and offered that course as an amuse for the table.  This gesture freed us up to try out the other starters.  We both laughed at ourselves for having drawn her attention and loved that she solved our “dilemma” of who would order which starter.

my Sunday lunch starter: courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan

The weather being warm and sunny, and having eaten about five of the Ledbury’s outrageously-delicious bacon-and-onion rolls, I ordered the courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan starter.  The dish was, indeed, super refreshing, though the frozen parmesan wasn’t as interesting a texture or flavor as I’d thought it’d be.  My bad for ordering what amounted to the “chicken option” on the menu.

my friend's Sunday lunch starter: turbot roe, fried turbot and stunningly-good radish

My friend J’s starter of turbot in multiple forms and served with assorted root veg deserves mention for being both visually attractive and surprisingly delicious.  Who would’ve thought radish could steal the show?

a starter the Ledbury threw in as an amuse: Saint-Nectaire (cheese) and truffled toast

Fresh curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with wild mushrooms, and a broth of grilled onions

The major highlight among the starters, though (perhaps of the entire meal) was the truffled, cheesy (Saint-Nectaire) toast served as an amused to our table.  You dip the truffled toast (wonderfully nutty, floral and earthy on its own) into the curd and it’s like the ultimate comfort experience, bringing to mind egg-and-soldiers.  What an outstanding dish.  Next time you eat at the Ledbury, make sure to have this course.

crisp pressed suckling pig with white carrot, Pedro Ximénez and toasted grains

My main course of suckling pig was lovely, though as I get older, I have to say I become less excited about main courses.  It always has to be a sizable portion of protein, so is it just me, or do you feel like the creativity of most kitchens shines in the starter courses?

Jon opts for the (generous) cheese course (£7 supplement)

Dessert time.  Jon goes for the groaning, tempting cheese cart.  He’s a greedy one, but the Ledbury doesn’t hesitate to plate his sizable selection.

wild and Gariguette strawberries, meringue, ewe's milk yoghurt and beignets

Me?  I’m stuffed by the time we get to dessert, but I’m thinking beignets are calling my name.  (Donuts fresh out of the fryer!)  Turns out the beignets of my strawberry, meringue and yoghurt dessert are the least interesting.  I thought I was in for a competent tarting up of Eton mess, but actually, my dessert was mind-blowingly intense and refreshing.  The tangy, creamy ewe’s milk yoghurt was a great foil for the sweet, fragrant strawberries.  Crunchy meringue bits for texture.

Rave reviews around the table for desserts, especially the Ledbury’s creative pairings of creme brulee flavors and ice creams.

caramelised banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut oil parfait

Our server noticed that we failed to try one of the desserts on the menu, so once again brought it out as an amuse for our table.  It’s the banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut parfait.  A great mix of textures and flavors, but most of all, we love the gesture.  Although we were here for a 3-course Sunday lunch menu, we feel like we’ve gotten a tasting menu.

Our spirits high and our tummies full, we all rolled out of the Ledbury four hours later wondering why we hadn’t been back sooner.  With all the trimmings (aperitifs, wines and coffees), our meal came to £75 a person.  If you’ve eaten out reasonably often in London, you know that there are too many places charging a lot more money for a much lesser experience, so on that basis, I’d call the Sunday lunch at the Ledbury a great value.  Go!

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £40 Sunday lunch menu.  Best deal in town.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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Bea's of Bloomsbury at One New Change near St. Paul's Cathedral

Last weekend, my lovely friends and family in London threw me a baby shower.  Baby showers aren’t big here, but from the name, you’ve probably guessed that the occasion revolves around “showering” the mom-to-be with gifts.  Essentially, this means the shower was tons of fun for me and required tons of goodwill and patience on the part of friends and family who attended.

My friends couldn’t have chosen a better venue for the shower:  afternoon tea at the newish Bea’s of Bloomsbury location at One New Change.  Unlike neighboring restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, which is large and loud and mediocre, Bea’s is quiet, relaxing and maintains the same high standards that you’ll find at the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury location.

meringues, 'mallows, brownies, blondies, scones . . . oh my!

The decor at Bea’s at New Change is sleek and chic, and what I most appreciated was how everything tasted as good as it looked.  The cheeky serving tiers at our tea held buttery, crumbly scones, rich brownies and chewy meringues.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the blondies, which tasted unpleasantly under-baked, but happily that was the only clunker at our tea.

cupcakes and savouries

Most cupcakes in London bakeries rely on frosting to cover up the fact that the underlying cake is dried out.  Happily, this isn’t the case at Bea’s, whose cupcakes were moist and came in interesting, delicious flavors like passion fruit and Bailey’s.  Savoury baguette sandwiches were also fresh and delicious.  We shared platters piled high with vegetarian and meat-lover’s sandwiches and washed it all down with individual pots of Jing tea.

the end of the affair (fantabulous wellies and flowers courtesy of friends)

It was a great afternoon tea, and when you compare the generous spread at Bea’s with that of London hotels charging 2-3 times the price, you’ll see why I was so impressed with Bea’s version.  Considering how tourist-friendly Bea’s location is, they could probably get away with serving mediocre food, but I’m glad they don’t.

Afternoon tea at Bea’s is £15 per person and £22.50 with a glass of Moet.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury One New Change, 83 Watling Street (aka the side of the One New Change mall that’s closest to the Thames/Millennium Bridge), EC4M 9BX; 0207 242 8330; closest Tube station:  St. Paul’s
Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

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Zucca restaurant

Zucca opened on Bermondsey Street back in March 2010, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve unsuccessfully tried once every month or two to get a table there.  If you think Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner is a hot ticket these days, Zucca is still going strong 14 months later. Last week, I finally gave up on snagging a weekend table and took a Tuesday evening spot.

So what’s Zucca’s appeal?  Oh, I don’t know.  Chic decor; good service; simple, fresh Italian cooking and low prices?  A dime a dozen in London, right?  Sure.

zucca fritti (£3.95)

There were plenty of tempting-sounding starters on the menu.  Jon and I ordered three to share, and while all of them were good, if I had to prioritize, I’d put the zucca fritti (fried pumpkin) at the bottom of the list.  Sure, they’re a house specialty, but diminishing returns kicked in after just one or two of these.  Perhaps better to order them if you’re with a bigger group.

grilled asparagus, egg, parmesan (£4.75)

Grilled asparagus, egg and parmesan was as described on the tin.  Each component was fresh and well-prepared (the egg and asparagus, that is), but the flavors never came together.  Maybe it needed a sauce?

mozzarella lentils garlic shoots (£4.25)

Loved the creamy fresh mozzarella complemented by the earthy, meaty lentils.  The garlic shoots lacked bite, but I’m biased towards scare-away-your-date strong garlic flavors, I must confess.  The mozzarella and lentils could have easily taken on stronger garlic taste, though.

casarecce with bolognese (£7)

Highlights of our dinner were definitely the pastas and the main we shared.  Rustic casarecce pasta retained a chewy al dente texture, and the pork ragu was stunningly good with a great balance of acidity, sweetness, salt and meatiness.

taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs (£7)

The taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs was lifted from ordinariness by a slight citrus flavor.  If I had to complain, I’d ask that the kitchen go a little lighter on the olive oil next time.

grilled veal chop (£14.75)

And the veal chop is as good as everyone says it is.  Tender, juicy, charred.  Unbelievably good value for £14.75.  I contrast Zucca’s version with the similarly-excellent one I ate at Paris’s L’Agrume a couple of months ago, which cost 32 euros.

affogato (£4.25)

I couldn’t resist ending dinner with affogato, which was a generous serving but how sad that there were bits of ice/freezer burn in the scoops of vanilla.

The room is large and comfortable, and while the furniture isn’t quite as luxurious as that of L’Anima, the all-white contemporary look of the two restaurants is similar.  And Zucca is about 1/3 the price of L’Anima.  With a couple of glasses of prosecco and wine, our total for two came to £65.

If you can afford to be choosy about tables (i.e., you’re not like me and just incredibly grateful to have finally landed a reservation), avoid the one or two right in front of the kitchen pass.  The servers hover there waiting to ferry dishes to customers, and you’ll end up feeling like there are four pairs of eyes watching your every move (which I assume you agree is a minus, but if you consider it a plus, then by all means request it).

Zucca, 184 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 31Q; 0207 378 6809; closest Tube station:  London Bridge (it’s still a 15-minute walk from the Tube station, though).
Zucca on Urbanspoon

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Over the last three weeks, I’ve been eating out at a lot of cheap Asian places, and while none of them have been so stellar that I felt like blogging about them, there have been a couple of stand-out dishes worth mentioning.  So with the caveat that the following restaurants don’t constitute destinations on the basis of all their menu offerings, if you happen to be craving a good example of a particular dish, they are worth a visit.

pad thai with prawns (£6.95)

First up:    Charuwan Thai in Tufnell Park/Archway, which benefits from a rave review in TimeOut.  It’s hard to find good Thai food in London.  I’m not sure why.  Usually, I end up at Busaba Eathai or Rosa’s, which aren’t perfect, but are cheap, serve a spicy-sweet green curry and are conveniently located near my home and office.

Charuwan Thai is a bit of a schlepp to reach, but it’s a nice-looking place with super friendly and attentive service.  While the two curries we ordered (a green curry and chu chee pla — crispy fried fish topped with red curry in coconut milk) were overly-sweet and not very spicy, Jon and I really enjoyed Charuwan Thai’s pad thai.  The rice sticks had great texture (not oily or clumpy the way it too often is served in restaurants), and the sweet, sour and salty flavors of the sauce were perfectly balanced.  Prices were cheap with most mains costing less than £9.

Charuwan Thai, 110 Junction Road, N19 5LB; 0207 263 1410; cloest tube stations:  Archway or Tufnell Park (Northern Line)
Charuwan on Urbanspoon

Assa is one of the several Korean restaurants lined up around Centre Point.  The atmosphere is cheap and cheerful.  Highlights were the starters (banchan), particularly the pickled radish and sesame spinach (skip the flavorless bean sprouts).  Although Assa’s beef dolsot bibimbap was bland and the pajeon was greasy, limp and filled with flavorless seafood, the kimchi hotpot was excellent.  Spicy, filling and warming the way great hot pots should be.  (Koba, by the way, remains my fave place in London to eat crispy pajeon).

Assa, 53 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LH ; 020 7240 8256; closest tube station:  Tottenham Court Road
Assa on Urbanspoon

Peking Duck at Zen China (£26 for a half and £42 for a whole)

Zen China, near the London Eye and Aquarium, is the last place I’d try out, except that once again blogger Mr. Noodles shared a valuable tip that the restaurant serves excellent Peking Duck.  The restaurant is spacious and comfortable and has great views of Big Ben.  Fellow diners were a mix of camera-toting tourists and groups of Chinese.  And in case there was any doubt Mr. Noodles would lead you astray:  the Peking Duck really is outstanding.  Crispy skin, succulent meat, freshly-made pancakes and carefully-julienned cukes and scallions.  Each element is excellent and together make a sum greater than the whole.  The duck is served tableside, so when you order it, don’t let the waiter disappear with 1/3 of the duck left on the bone.  Our waiter claimed he’d be using the rest of the duck to create another dish for us, but the additional dish was a meagre portion of diced duck meat in lettuce wraps.  Bland and skimpy.  The Peking duck was the priciest item on the menu, but worth every penny.

Zen China, County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, 0207 261 1196; closest tube station:  Westminster
Zen China on Urbanspoon

Garlic chili fish

Last but not least, there’s Golden Day Hunan restaurant in Chinatown.  Jay Rayner gave it a glowing review in this April 2010 review and in the same month, TimeOut’s Guy Dimond also had flattering things to say.  Our group of four ordered several of the dishes highly recommend in both reviews, like the dry pot chicken, and we were underwhelmed by its lack of spice and flavor.  What was wonderful, though, was one of the chef’s specials, a garlic-and-chili fish.  The fish’s flesh was tender and silken, and the garlic-and-chili topping was the sort of thing you’d gladly eat with plain white rice.

Golden Day, 118-120 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EP; 0207 484 2381; closest tube station:  Leicester Square

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