L’Escargot, Soho 

L'Escargot business card

I remember first visiting L’Escargot back in the Marco Pierre White days and it was stuffy, fussy and a little bit shit. It was then taken over by a lovely chap called Brian Clivaz (who’s also soon to open a new swanky members club in Devonshire Square) and a club prive was added above the ground floor restaurant.

Outside

I was surprised to see the place rather empty on my Thursday lunch visit. As I got comfy in my armchair it did however make me feel like I was in the drawing room of my very own stately home – which is always a nice thing at lunch.

Inside

 

To start, a frisée Caesar salad with lardons (£9) was a light and refreshing choice for a sunny afternoon. The lardons were huge; plump and salty and served alongside oily croutons which were lush.

frisée Caesar salad with lardons

Salt beef ‘pot au feu’ (£18) saw the most beautiful slab of fatty salt beef in a light beefy broth with some vegetables strewn over the top. It was such a flavourful, hearty broth that it instantly seemed to cure my hangover; like only a good old Jewish chicken soup can do.

Salt beef 'pot au feu'

Tart au citron (£8) was outstanding. The pastry was crisp (not a soggy bottom in sight) and the filling was so intensely citrusy it blew my head off – in a good way. A few basil leaves seemed an odd addition but they really worked alongside the dollop of thick clotted cream.

Tart au citron

Critic for the Guardian Weekend magazine Marina O’Loughlin long ago coined the term “use ’em or lose ’em” referring to the grand old dames of the London restaurant scene. L’Escargot is certainly one of those dames. Yes, there are things that aren’t quite right; the menu being photocopied onto A3 sheets of paper being one of them, but the food is brilliant. Next time you’re in Soho looking for a burger or a bowl of ramen, give L’Escargot a whirl. Vous ne le regretterez pas.

4/5

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Masala Grill, Chelsea

Masala Grill business card

This is the first Masala Grill in London, and it comes from the group who own Amaya, Veeraswamy and Masala Zone. It replaces the ever popular Chutney Mary, which has now moved to a swanky new spot in St James’s.

Outside

It’s not the easiest of restaurants to get to; slap bang in the middle between Sloane Square and Fulham Broadway. It has a beautiful and charming dining room though; we sat in the conservatory complete with huge tree and bunting – it felt like we were at an Indian village fete.

Inside

To start, crispy fried squid (£8) and the lamb seekh kebab (£9.50) both hit the spot but it was the dahi puri (£6), which were little crispy puffs served with a green sauce you had to pour in yourselves, which was the star of the show.

Squid

Kebab

Dahi puri

Lamb chops (£22), which are my favourite things in the world (Blacklock is the place to go if you’re the same), were spot on; moist flesh, crisp fat and proper chunky cuts. King size prawns (£23) certainly lived up to their name; they were a right old mouthful. The spicing was bold and anything but boring.

Chops

Prawns

Buttered chicken (£13.50) was rich and creamy with thick chunks of perfectly cooked chicken. Dunking the naan breads (we opted for plain and peshwari) in the sauce was seriously satisfying.

Buttered chicken

Breads

Puddings weren’t quite as special; the bebinca (£7.50), which is a Goan layered cakey thing and a salted caramel ice cream (£4) were well made but the strawberries with srikhand (£6.50), a type of strained yoghurt, had the oddest texture; a bit claggy for me.

Puddings

I don’t doubt that Masala Grill will follow in Chutney Mary’s successful footsteps. For the locals, it’s a charming restaurant serving really delicious Indian food. The staff are so sweet too; welcoming you in from the polluted main road like you’ve walked into their home.

4/5

I dined as a guest of the restaurant.

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Granger & Co., Notting Hill

Granger & Co. business card

Serial restaurateur Bill Granger must be doing something right; he’s got restaurants all over the world in Sydney, Seoul, Honolulu and Tokyo, and he’s just about to open another Granger & Co. in Kings Cross.

Outside

We popped down for brunch at the Notting Hill outpost one Sunday and were greeted with a rather large queue; clearly a popular choice. It’s a charming spot with a really lovely energy about the place; relaxed and jolly.

Inside

Parmesan crumbed chicken schnitzel (£13.50) tasted every bit as good as it sounds. The juicy chick was covered in a cheesy, crunchy breadcrumb coating and the fennel slaw cut through the richness of it all. An accompanying dollop of glossy mayonnaise was exquisite.

Chicken

Courgette fritters, deep fried egg, haloumi, tahini yoghurt and parsley salad (£11) was such a wonderful blend of flavours and textures; it was clearly put together by someone who loves eating delicious food – something which often doesn’t seem to be the case these days.

Courgette fritters

Pappardelle, veal and pork ragu and gremolata (£13.80) also hit wondrous heights; a simple bowl of pasta yes, but it was just so bloomin’ tasty. A side of French fries (£3.80) were exactly how you’d want ’em; salty, fresh from the fryer and super crispy.

Pasta

French fries

It’s fair to say our brunch at Granger & Co. was absolutely brilliant – and most definitely worth queuing for. Not only was the food spot on but the service was so charming and friendly too. The whole vibe of the place made us feel like we were on holiday, which is never a bad thing.

5/5

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Hawksmoor, Guildhall

Hawksmoor business card

Hawksmoor is arguably one of London’s leading steakhouses (of course not forgetting Goodman) and since opening in Manchester, only with Gaucho as real competition, I don’t doubt they’re the best up North too.

Outside

As steakhouses often are, it was all very manly; the fact we were in their Guildhall outpost added to the suity feel. The long basement dining room reminded me of a public school’s lunch hall with its wooden panelled walls. It’s a pretty spot though.

Inside

To start, potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires (£8.50) is one of those dishes that everyone should try once in their life. The Yorkshire puds are perfectly made, a task which many a restaurant often fails to do, and the addition of some warm onion gravy is a genius one.

Potted beef and bacon

Fried oysters with jalapeño tartare (£13.50) suffered from a lack of imaginative presentation though. The flavour and their cooking was spot on, but dumped on a napkin on a huge plate didn’t really do it for me visually.

Fried oysters

For mains, we couldn’t resist ordering a rather whopping bone-in prime rib (£8 per 100g) – you can’t beat meat on the bone for flavour. The charred exterior with its crisp fat and soft meat was nothing short of wonderful. A side of Lincolnshire Caesar (£4) was a refreshing accompaniment to cut through the richness of it all.

Prime rib

Lincolnshire Caesar

It’s not all meat on the menu; we tried the monkfish (£24), served on the bone, which was grilled over charcoal to give it a really lovely smokiness. Beef dripping fries (£4) were thin and super crispy.

Monkfish

Dripping fries

For dessert, we shared the peanut butter shortbread (£7.50), which, if it wasn’t special enough, came with an incredible salted caramel ice cream. The best pudding in London? Quite bloody possibly.

Peanut shortbread

What was interesting about our dinner at Hawksmoor Guildhall, was that although the meat was pretty amazing, it was the other stuff that really shone. The starters, the monkfish main and ✨THAT✨ dessert (as @Clerkenwell_Boy would say) – all signs that Hawksmoor isn’t just a great steakhouse, it’s a great restaurant.

5/5

I dined as a guest of the restaurant.

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Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Park Lane 

Alain Ducasse business card

Alain Ducasse (the legendary French chef who also owns Rivea and The Grill at The Dorchester), has held three Michelin stars at his eponymous restaurant inside Park Lane’s Dorchester hotel for over eight years.

The Dorchester Hotel

Technically I should be boycotting the hotel, seeing as the owner, the Sultan of Brunei, hates us gays, but I really wanted to give it a try. The room is large and understatedly beautiful; a mini, circular private dining room surrounded by shimmering beads in the centre of the room certainly makes for a centre piece.

The lunch hour menu, priced at £60 for three courses, two glasses of wine, water and coffee seemed best value. To start, some light and fluffy gougeres and a generous selection of bread was a winning start. It was however unfortunate we found a rogue hair in the bread!

Gougeres

Bread

The starters weren’t quite as thrilling. Frog’s legs with a lily pad ‘our way’ was just a bowl-full of a very overpowering, green sauce which wasn’t too dissimilar to what I make in my Nutribullet every morning. The soft boiled egg, aubergine and pine nuts was perfectly fine. The cookpot of snails, soft and bouncy, came in a dish splattered with sauce. Now I hate to sound like a pernickety old man, but for a three star restaurant that’s the last thing you’d expect to see.

Frog's legs

Soft boiled egg

Snails

The mains were far more impressive. Chicken breast studded with black olives was simple but just the sort of thing you enjoy eating; the same being said for the chunky fillet of cod with broad beans and St Georges mushrooms. Venere rice with a shellfish ‘à la marinière’ had a generous amount of perfectly cooked shellfish which gave it all a real flavour of the sea.

Chicken

Cod

Rice

We were then brought our petit four before the pudding which was a bit weird. The mini macaroons were a real highlight but I would have rather had them at the very end as I know no restraint from sweet things!

Petit four

We shared all three desserts; apple and vanilla ‘composition’, dark chocolate bar and contemporary vacherin. They were all very tasty but not particularly noteworthy. The real star was a baba au rhum, which was a gift from the kitchen to make up for the hairy faux pas. It was served in a beautiful metal dish and we got to choose from six rums to douse it in; proper lovely stuff.

Apple

Chocolate

Vacherin

Baba au rhum

A special mention has to go to the herbal teas, where a trolley filled with plants is wheeled table side and they snip your chosen blend fresh – definitely worth doing.

Tea trolley

The whole Alain Ducasse experience is undoubtedly a very special one, I just think there’s room to make it even more special. The little things, like hearing one of the chef’s uncontrollable screams permeating through the dining room (which is never pretty), or splatters up the snail dish, are things you don’t really expect from a restaurant of that level.

3/5

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Taste of London 2015, Regent’s Park

Taste of London menu card

Labelled by some as a corporate sell out, Taste of London is an event I’ve always enjoyed going to. If you’re even a smidgen of a restaurant geek, then turning up to a park full of some of London’s best restaurants, (with most of the chefs somewhere to be seen), offering small tasters of their dishes, is really exciting.

You can buy tickets on the door (you’re looking at between £20-£29) and once you’re in you have to buy dishes using crowns (1 crown = £1).

One of the standout dishes was from the much-loved Islington pub Drapers Arms; duck hearts, radishes, peas and duck fat croutons (5 crowns) – duck fat anything will always go down well with me! They even won Best Dressed Stall by making it look exactly like the pub with a few cleverly placed photos; not bad considering it’s their first time at Taste.

Duck hearts

The Clove Club’s grilled lamb cutlet with gochuchang, black sesame and mint (9 crowns) was out of this world. The chop itself was humongous and the thick layer of fat was full of flavour. If you don’t trust me trust the judging panel (made up of Tracy MacLeod and Gizzi Erskine amongst others); they awarded it the Best in Taste dish.

Clove club winning the award

Lamb cutlet

House of Ho did a rather gorgeous looking giant tiger prawn (12 crowns) with a Vietnamese coriander and chilli dipping sauce. The Modern Pantry’s mince and tatties (6 crowns) was pimped up peasant food and the addition of curry spices and ardana puffed wild rice added an intriguing twist.

House of Ho prawn

Mince and tatties

Sushisamba’s Kobe beef burger with foie gras, truffle and Peruvian potato (9 crowns) came in a cute little box which was quite fun. They even brought along their iconic orange tree to go above the cocktail bar. I couldn’t resist going for neighbouring Duck and Waffle’s duck and waffle (12 crowns); here the confit duck leg had been taken off the bone making it much easier to eat. And it was ruddy, bloody lovely.

Kobe beef burger

Duck and waffle

You’d be hard pushed to get around every stall, and some of the queues got the better of us, but spots like MEATliquor, José Pizarro, The Palomar and Roux at Parliament Square are also ones to look out for.

There’s loads of other stuff to do too; Balvenie whisky masterclasses, Laurent Perrier masterclasses, AEG Let’s Taste Live Cooking experience, even a barbecue put on by Asda if that sort of thing tickles your pickle. Basically, there’s plenty to do.

If you’re thinking of going to Taste of London this year, I’d thoroughly recommend it. You end up spending the price of a meal in a good restaurant but for the variety on offer and the sheer fun of it all, it’s bloomin’ worth it.

I visited Taste of London as their guest.

Take a look at the Taste of London website for more information.

Glyndebourne, East Sussex 

Glyndebourne

I’ve been a fan of opera ever since I performed on stage at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Oh, I didn’t mention that before? You can watch my rather…interesting performance here. There’s something about the sheer talent involved in putting together an opera that makes it really special to watch. I was excited then to be invited to Glyndebourne, a country house in the middle of East Sussex, complete with its own opera house.

Glyndebourne

You can get the train to Lewes where they provide a shuttle bus to the opera (one way only), but we drove as it was much easier (about a two hour drive from London). It’s a posh affair; tuxedos and dinner jackets were the norm and it all felt vey glamorous to say the least. The charming and unique aspect about Glyndebourne is you take a picnic and you can pitch up anywhere on the grounds – and people go all out.

Opera House

The lake

It’s not all old fashioned fuddy duddy opera either; there’s even a White Cube pop-up art gallery in the grounds (they also have a gallery on Bermondsey Street) displaying work by Georg Baselitz. What’s more, in 2011 they introduced a wind turbine which produces 90% of the opera house’s electricity.

White Cube

Georg Baselitz

Sadly on our visit it was a damp and drizzly afternoon so we nabbed a table inside which wasn’t quite as ‘special’ but still a lot of fun. You can bring your own stuff but we opted for the sharing picnic platter (£52.25 per person) which came in its own charming hamper. Chargrilled asparagus, smoked salmon and mackerel salad and a particularly good potato salad all the hit the spot. It was the dark chocolate and cherry dome with pistachio custard for pud that really got me going.

Picnic

The opera was David McVicar’s production of Carmen; the tragic tale of a fiery gypsy woman and a naive army corporal so besotted with her that he ends up killing her in a jealous rage. It’s a big, bold production with sets and costumes aplenty and a couple of recognisable tunes thrown in. It really was an impressive performance all round.

The Opera House

Tickets don’t come cheap, you’re looking at around £200 a pop, but then seats at the opera never do. If you’re after a really unique experience though, it’s undoubtedly worth the money. Walking around the grounds, taking in the grandeur and history of the place is the perfect way to spend an afternoon/evening. It’s something everyone should do (at least) once in their life.

I visited Glyndebourne as their guest.

Take a look at the Glyndebourne website for more information.

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