Posts Tagged ‘Marylebone’

hotel entrance to Locanda Locatelli

It’s Friday, and we’re talking to our friends about where to meet for dinner on Saturday.  They feel like having Italian food.  “Good luck with that,” I think.  I can count on one hand the reliably-good Italian restaurants in London, and they’re always fully booked on Saturday night.

Well, the last laugh’s on me, because our friends worked some magic:   Saturday night dinner reservations at Locanda Locatelli at 9:30 pm.  I’ve never been to Locanda, but I know it’s expensive, and the food is supposed to be good.   So off we go.

First impressions are good.  The room is large, but the layout allows for lots of inviting nooks and crannies.  Our table has a nice, curved banquette.  I love banquettes.

beef carpaccio (£15)

Pork sausage, Savoy cabbage and saffron risotto starter (£13.50)

Generally, the menu offerings sound pedestrian, but most of them are well executed.  Take, for example, the beef carpaccio and platter of cured meats.  There’s a generous serving of both and the ingredients are fresh and delicious.  Still, they seem more a reflection of top-notch sourcing than of top-notch cooking.

Sadly, the one starter we ordered that was served in an unexpected way (i.e., the pork sausage and risotto) wasn’t especially tasty.  I wasn’t expecting the risotto to be a fritter, and while I am normally a lover of all things fried, having a crispy wedge of fried risotto to accompany a massive ball of sausage, all drizzled in a rich sauce, was just unrelentingly heavy.

And an artichoke salad with rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano was a total disappointment, especially for £15.  There was no interesting blending of flavors or textures.  It was as if it were a plate with three separate ingredients on it, which just reinforced my impression that it’s tough to get a decent salad in London.

We did much better with mains, which I’d say were the highlight of our dinner:

lobster linguine (£24.50)

Thanks to ingenious use of lobster stock, the lobster linguine was packed with lobster flavor despite a very stingy portion of lobster meat.  I greatly enjoyed this one, though the presentation was a little scary.  What’s with the random lobster leg jutting out like that?

Potato and mushroom gnocchi with black truffle (£19.50)

Potato-and-mushroom gnocchi with black truffle was my second-fave pasta course of the evening.  Pillowy-soft gnocchi perfumed with truffle.  Perfect.  Presentation is what you’d call rustic if you were being generous, though.

orecchiete with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies (£18)

Orecchiete was the low point of our pastas.  It was a giant plate of mush, really.  The pasta tasted as if it’d been sitting around a while, and again, the flavors didn’t blend at all.  Jon and I make a much better version of this dish at home.

braised lamb neck with polenta (£27.50)

The braised lamb neck with buttery polenta ticked all the boxes for a good braise:  fork tender, lots of rich fatty bits and a strong sauce for you to mop up.  A little more polenta to accompany the enormous portion of meat would’ve been ideal.

Contorni were a very mixed bag.  The fried artichoke (£6) was masterful, with each artichoke leaf perfectly battered and crisped, but the rest of the contorni were skippable.  Fried potatoes (£4.50) were just crispy cubes of potatoes – dressed up chips, really.  Regular ol’ broccoli and chili was £4.75 and lacking both kick and flavor.  Sauteed spinach (£4.75) was satisfying, but it’s garlic and spinach, yes?

terribly un-tasty tiramisu (£6.50)

Worst menu moment was the tiramisu.  A total crime.  Stale ladyfingers doused in a runny mascarpone and drowned in amoretto.  Despite sharing one portion among four people, we didn’t come close to finishing it, and I was mildly disappointed none of our servers bothered to ask why a little martini glass of tiramisu went only half-eaten.

With extras like a £77 bottle of a very tasty Sicilian red wine and a couple glasses of digestifs, our total for four came to £300 (£75 a person).  It was a fun evening out with friends, but given the generally-pedestrian and unven food, I wouldn’t recommend a visit.  And I definitely can’t help comparing our dinner at Locanda with my repeat dinner at Trullo just this past Monday night.

At Trullo, I paid £26 a person for a starter, an excellent pasta, a shared main of braised lamb neck, and a shared dessert (i.e., the tastiest caramel pannacotta, ever).  Service at Trullo was friendly and helpful, so the only thing that was superior about Locanda was its comfortable seating and dining room, and that’s not worth the price premium, I reckon.

Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Place, W1H 7JZ; 0207 935 9088; closest Tube station:  Marble Arch

If you’re looking for Italian restaurants in London, you might also be interested in:

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salad at Relais de Venise

I’d heard from two different steak-loving friends that Le Relais de Venise was worth a visit, but with so many places to eat in London, and the fact that Le Relais is a bit of a chain (starting in Paris, it now has two locations in London and one in New York), I never got around to eating there.   Last Saturday, though, I was meeting a friend who craved steak, and as Hawksmoor was closed for refurbishment and Goodman was disappointing when I ate there, I figured it was time to try out Le Relais.  The New York Times‘s Sam Sifton, after all, had taken the time to give the New York location a full review, so the place had to be more than an imported tourist trap.

steak frites, the star attraction at Relais de Venise

Having not read up on Le Relais’s Marylebone location before getting there, I failed to realize that (1) the queues are enormous (thanks to the restaurant’s no-booking policy); and (2) the place operates much like a fast-food joint.  Don’t be fooled by the vaguely-Gallic interior and think you’re there to linger over your meal.  So we queued outside in the cold for about an hour, and once inside, the only choice we made was from the eight-bottle wine list.

The minute we sat down, salads arrived which were tangy and spicy from a classic mustard-and-lemon-juice vinaigrette.  Pretty good but would’ve been better if a few walnuts hadn’t tasted stale.

Then the raison d’etre arrived:  steaks served ultra-thin and served French style (i.e., table side).  The meat wasn’t bad, but honestly, it was hard to tell because of “the sauce.”  Apparently much has been written about this sauce, which is unbelievably rich and as meaty as the steak itself.  The sauce’s green-going-on-gray colour is entirely unappetizing, and it’s clearly comprised of at least 50% butter (the other half is probably offal of some sort), so your doctor’s not going to be pleased.  But it’s pretty delish.

You get two servings of steak and as many servings of frites as you like.  The portions of steak are rather paltry, but I suppose I’m a big eater.  If you’re a frites lover, this is the place for you.  Le Relais should re-market itself as a frites-and-super-sauce restaurant.

profiteroles that looked better than they tasted

profiteroles that looked better than they tasted

£19 included the salad and steak frites.  For a little extra, you could order desserts and cheese.  The cheeses were pretty wimpy, which was disappointing for a French resto.  And the profiteroles looked a lot better than they tasted.  The pastry was flavorless and stale, but luckily chocolate sauce and ice cream saved the day (as ever).

With two bottles of wine, a cheese course and dessert, our tab came to £41 a person.  We were in and out in under an hour, and as we left at around 9:30, we saw that the queue outside was as long as ever.

Overall, the steak frites are pretty good, but don’t go to Le Relais if you’re looking for a giant slab of meat or if you want to linger at a table.   In fact, the place seemed perfectly designed for families.

Relais de Venise, 120 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2QG; 0207 486 0878; closest tube stations: Bond Street or Baker Street

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Iberica Food & Culture, 195 Great Portland Street

For my first meal back in London, I wanted something warm and lively.  Something the opposite of Boston’s cold Puritannical image.   Tapas sounded ideal, but the prospect of queuing in the cold to eat at my beloved Barrafina was highly unappealing. So Jon and I decided to try Iberica Food & Culture, which opened in October 2008 but seems to have gotten a lot of generally-positive blogger coverage over the last few months (see these posts by Londoneater, Tehbus, and Londonelicious for example).

The food fell into two buckets, really.  “Pretty Good” and “Kind of Disappointing.”  There was nothing spectacular and nothing horrible.

Here’s the “Pretty Good”:

sweet pigs trotters with Mahon cheese and Iberico ham (£7.00)

Sweet pigs trotters with a sharp Mahon cheese and Iberico ham, all served on a crisp pastry.  I enjoyed all the textures and flavors (salty, citrusy, meaty) but what held the dish back was the somewhat gluey texture of the trotter.  I’d hoped for something more melt-in-your-mouth.  But overall a tasty dish.

black rice with cuttlefish, prawns and alioli (£9.85)

Black rice with cuttlefish prawns is one of my fave dishes to order in Spanish restaurants.  First, there’s the color – squid ink makes everything seem special.  Then there’s the intense seafood flavor soaked into the risotto rice.  Iberica’s version had a texture that struck the right balance between al dente and creamy, but what would’ve made a great dish would have been more cuttlefish and fewer prawns.  An entirely arbitrary preference, I know.

Fried artichokes with pear alioli (£6.85)

Fried artichokes with pear alioli (£6.85)

Fried artichokes with pear alioli have been much written about at Iberico.  And yes, they’re good (unlike my blurry photo).  Crisp with a hint of sourness that artichoke lovers crave.  For me, the appeal was mostly in the accompanying slightly-sweet, garlicky alioli.

And rounding out the “Pretty Good” list was our trio of cheeses (Mahon, Manchego, Ibores) for £4.95.  It was a generous portion and well priced for the quality.  Maybe we could have a little more quince paste next time, though.

The “Kind of Disappointing” dishes:

Marinated tuna loin with mustard, apples and chives (£9.00)

Marinated tuna loin with mustard, apples and chives tasted mealy.  Why serve raw fish if it’s not going to be fresh and refreshing?

Iberica's Version: Broken egg with Iberico ham and fried potatoes (£7.50)

And “broken egg with Iberico ham and fried potatoes” sounded so promising!  Breakfast at dinner.  Who doesn’t love that?  Admittedly, part of our high expectations stemmed from our memory of the wondrous “carpaccio huevos fritos” that we’d had at Barcelona’s Bar Mut last May. Setting aside the camera/lighting issues I had at Iberica, just compare the above photograph of Iberica’s dish with the photo of Bar Mut’s version below. Iberica offered us limp fries with a smattering of yolk. Bar Mut, in contrast, gave us crispy shoestring potatoes in an ocean of egg yolk. You understand my disappointment in Iberica’s version, then.

Bar Mut's version: carpaccio huevos fritos

Iberica’s list of Spanish wines was long, but I was again a little disappointed that there were only two choices from the Ribera del Duero.  Too much Rioja on the list.

The service was efficient, but not especially friendly or helpful (e.g., we had to guess what cheeses we were eating and it was difficult flagging down a server for sherry to go with our cheese).

Without hesitation, though, I’d recommend Iberica for the atmosphere, which was warm and lively.   It was exactly what I was looking for on a Saturday night.  I had a lot of fun, and the food was good enough.  The kitchen’s no threat to Barrafina’s, but then again, it’s nice to be able to make a reservation in advance and sit at a table.

Dinner for two with wine and sherry came to £115.
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dining room at Galvin Bistro de Luxe

dining room at Galvin Bistro de Luxe

Normalement, I make up my own mind and hate being a follower. But when Thomas Keller says he likes a place, I’m not ashamed to follow in his footsteps. Plus, I’m a francophile. Throw in the title of French Restaurant of the Year, and really, why did it take me so long to visit Galvin Bistro de Luxe?

Jon and I met friends at Galvin Bistro de Luxe last weekend, and when we arrived, the place was packed. And not with just anyone. No, packed with French speakers! While not a must-have for a bistro in London, it was a nice sign.

crab "lasagna" at Galvin Bistro de Luxe

crab "lasagna" at Galvin Bistro de Luxe

Starters included some not-obviously French items like crab “lasagna.” It didn’t look the way you’d expect, but sure enough, there was firm, al dente pasta in there layered with a rich, seafood crab meat. Tasty.

entrecote with pommes anna

entrecote with pommes anna

Honestly, I was shocked by how big the portion sizes are. The plat du jour, an entrecote (aka rib eye) served medium rare (at £18.50, one of the pricier menu items), included a generous slice of buttery pommes anna, buttery string beans, buttery bearnaise, and some totally token watercress. Butter really does make it better, no?

cheese tray at Galvin Bistro

cheese tray at Galvin Bistro

Well, no self-respecting French Restaurant of the Year could fail to have a cheese tray full of interesting and delish cheeses, served with a dollop of generosity. I hogged a few slices of cheese from my friend’s cheese platter, and then moved onto my dessert: a blackberry souffle.

blackberry souffle at Galvin Bistro

blackberry souffle at Galvin Bistro

I’d seen a couple of these souffles flying around the room, and it looked too good to resist. When it arrived, it was hot and airy, but after digging inside, I found the souffle so undercooked as to still constitute batter. And it was a bit too sugary. How disappointing. I wanted so much to love thee, blackberry souffle.

pear tarte tatin at Galvin Bistro

pear tarte tatin at Galvin Bistro

Cue the beautifully-crisped, buttery-crusted, caramelized pear tarte tatin. It was the crowning glory to a butter-filled wonder of a meal.

Galvin Bistro de Luxe is where you go for a long, convivial dinner. The restaurant really was a slice of Paris on an otherwise-charmless Baker Street.

For starters, mains, desserts and wine for all, our tab was £60 a person, including service. Not cheap, but good value for attentive service, a buzzy room, and large portions of tasty bistro classics. (And a steal compared to a trip on the Eurostar).

Galvin Bistro de Luxe, 66 Baker Street, W1U 7DJ, 0207 933 4007; closest tube station: Baker Street
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L'Atelier des Chefs, Marylebon

L'Atelier des Chefs, Marylebone

As usual, I’m late. Those of you who read other London food blogs have probably by now read about the Trusted Places-organized macaron-baking adventures last weekend. Trusted Places, World Foodie Guide and Eggbeater (newly transplanted from the Bay Area to London) have already done a fab job describing our class at L’Atelier des Chefs, but here are my jumbled thoughts anyway:

  1. I really enjoyed meeting a few of my fellow food bloggers in person, including Krista, Helen and Su-Lin, whose blogs I’ve followed for months now. For a blogger, I’m a bit of a luddite, so making the jump from Internet to real life was weird at first. After all, you read someone’s blog and you think you “know” them, and then you’re face-to-face and realize you have to introduce yourself.
  2. Our hosts at L’Atelier were so organized and welcoming that even though Saturday was a freebie for us, I’d be glad to return as a paying customer. The mix of demo and hands-on work was good, and L’Atelier’s facilities are gorgeous and comfortable. Although there are inexpensive, 30-minute classes available, £72 seems to be the going rate for an involved, 3-hour class like our macaron-making one. The price tag’s steep, but I’d love to go back to do a class with friends. I figure an afternoon at L’Atelier is a lot cheaper and more productive than shoe shopping at Selfridge’s around the corner.
  3. Even though I lack a sweet tooth, I love macarons (and not just because I’m a francophile). So when Eat Like a Girl invited me to this ‘do, I was thrilled. Based solely on taste and visuals of Pierre Herme’s macarons, I’ve always been glad to pay 1.40+ euros per crispy-chewy macaron, but now that I’ve learned how much labor goes into making those pretties, I appreciate them even more.
ingredients for rose-raspberry macarons

ingredients for rose-raspberry macarons

Working with Shuna, Mia, Niamh and Niamh’s friend Heather, I helped whip up a few dozen rose-raspberry macarons (just throw in the lychee and it’d be ispahan, no?).

The first thing I noticed was how much slow sifting went into making the almond flour fine enough for the macaron biscuits.

batter for raspberry macaron biscuits

batter for rose-raspberry macaron biscuits

And look how seriously pink the biscuit batter was. Lurid, no?

macaron biscuit batter ready for the oven

dollops of macaron biscuit batter ready for the oven

Using a pastry bag, we tried our best to make the biscuits perfectly round. The key is to keep the bag tip stationary on the cookie tray to let the batter blob out. The other insights of the day wrt the biscuits were (1) once you’ve filled a tray with biscuit batter, you drop the tray onto your counter (with a loud thwap) to get the air bubbles out before baking; and (2) you don’t put these puppies in the oven until they’ve dried out a bit (and feel that way to the touch).

Click here, here, and here to see a few action photos of the day. (Can you tell we were all food bloggers?) 

It was a fun, informative class and I stuffed myself silly with macarons. An ideal afternoon.

L’Atelier des Chefs, 19 Wigmore Street, W1 1PH, 0207 499 6580; closest tube stations: Oxford Circus or Bond Street

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exterior of Tomoe sushi restaurant in London

Almost a year ago, I read Krista’s rave review of Tomoe sushi and thought “hmm, it’s cheap, fresh, handy when near Oxford Street *and* it’s named Tomoe [just like my fave sushi place in NY].” There was *no question* I was going to rush over.

So. I’ve been to Tomoe five or six times over the past few months, and the thing I liked every time was that it was, in fact, cheap, fresh, and handy when near Oxford Street. No fireworks from the food. But good, honest value: no matter how much I order at Tomoe, my tab always seems to come out around £15.

Well, this evening when I dropped by, Tomoe’s sushi just knocked my socks off. The fish’s freshness was off the charts. I was so impressed! All those other visits I’ve paid were good, but today was great. When I mentioned how especially good the sushi was today, our server looked at me like I was on crack. Maybe they just got a super-good fish delivery today? Maybe the packed house (thanks to a very large party of Japanese men) meant the sushi was made especially a la minute? I wish I could figure out why today was suddenly shoulders-above all my previous visits, because I really couldn’t get enough of the fish.

I started with miso soup, as always, and drinking it down created a spot of warm comfort in these cold, dark nights. It’s good, but the food that followed was without question the highlight.

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

My friend ordered the chirashi sushi (aka bowl of assorted sushi toppings on rice), and look at the care that went into putting it together. It was so pretty! And £8 for this large bowl of goodness.

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

Salmon nigiri (£1.70 a piece) was melt-in-your mouth rich. Fresh and light tasting. Beautifully sliced and bedded on still-slightly-warm sushi rice, with an excellent balance of sweet, sour and spicy (from the wasabi). I started with just two pieces and just had to have more and more.

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

Maki was good as always, but played second fiddle to the raw fish. That said, I’m partial to the shrimp tempura roll (when am I not, honestly?) as well as to the unagi-avocado roll. Most rolls are £5 an order, and three orders is very filling, even if you’re a big eater comme moi.

The bill never arrives itemized, but I always end up with an average tab of £15 for seemingly-endless amounts of sushi and green tea. Service is unfailingly polite and sincere seeming. For example, today, our server apologized in advance when we sat down, because she worried that the crowds of diners this evening would mean the sushi chef would be slower than normal fulfilling our order.

The decor is drab, but endearingly un-slick. Go. Bring friends. And tell me what made today so much better than all my earlier visits.

Tomoe Sushi, 62 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PB; 0207 486 2004; closest tube stations: Bond Street or Oxford Circus
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