The Royal Opera House: Afternoon Tea

Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden has started serving afternoon tea in the Paul Hamlyn Hall, which is that magnificently grand part of the building with the glass arched roof. As I love a bit of tea slurping and cake guzzling, I was kindly invited down to try it out – sorry Jay!

It’s such a beautiful space; if like me you have a soft spot for the Opera House then you can’t help but love every second of being there. It’s a humungous room yet it didn’t feel drafty or like we were sitting in an aircraft hanger – it all felt very civilised.

Outside

Inside

It’s priced at £37.50 for the standard afternoon tea or £47.50 which includes a glass of Ruinart champagne. The sandwiches were dainty little buggars which were gladly replenished as often as required. Cucumber and cream cheese, free-range egg and cress, salt beef with cornichon and Severn & Wye smoked salmon blini were all delicious flavour combinations with the latter being a real highlight as the salmon was of such high quality. The blini could have done with a tad longer in the oven though.

Sarnies

The scones (both plain and fruit) were charmingly misshapen; there’s something about a perfectly formed scone which just looks factory made to me. Warm scone, insanely thick clotted cream and strawberry jam – you’d have to be a right misery not to sit there with a giant grin on your chops.

Scones

Jam and cream

The mini desserts were very pretty indeed, especially the Opéra Gâteau which was topped with music paper chocolate. The banoffee macaron was a little too sickly for me but the pistachio éclair with praline grains and mandarin and kumquat amandine were perfectly balanced sweet treats. Again, all were replaced whenever you wished.

Desserts

I’m not sure why I was surprised by the service, it was the Royal Opera House after all, but each member of staff was utterly brilliant; friendly and chatty yet so on the ball. That matched with the glorious surroundings, delicious food and a lovely pot of Second Flush Darjeeling, made for a truly enjoyable afternoon.

9/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Ape and Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue

The Ape and Bird business card

Russell Norman’s latest restaurant/pub Ape and Bird recently underwent a “de-furbishment” and I’m not entirely sure why – I thought it was perfectly pleasant before.

It’s now filled with loads of shared tables making it feel awfully cramped and they’ve plonked a huge pizza oven in the corner which looks like it’s been rented-in temporarily. We were seated at the bar which was topped with coloured plastic cups – it was like being at a picnic. And they’ve stopped serving pints! I thought it was a pub? For me, it all felt very confused.

Ape and Bird

The two pizzas we had were perfectly fine; the buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil (£8) was cheesy and gooey and the pork shoulder with pickled pepper (£9) although being much spicier than expected, had good flavour thanks to the pork. But neither were outstanding – and right now in London there’s plenty of choice if you’re after some brilliant pizza.

Pizza

Pizza

Sliced bavette, rocket and Parmesan (£10) was too salty for me as the cheese and the overly seasoned meat became overkill. The beef was of good quality at least and perfectly cooked.

Beef

We left Ape and Bird, wandering off into the tourist carnage of Cambridge Circus, feeling totally indifferent about the place; it was just so uninspiring and unexciting. Service was a bit bland too with very little interaction. I’m not sure who it’s appealing to now – but it certainly ain’t me.

4/10

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

Beast, 3 Chapel Place

Beast business card

Beast is the latest venture from those clever chaps who created Goodman steakhouses and Burger & Lobster. The premise is simple; there’s only one menu with no choice and it’s £75 a head, which sounds like a lot of dollar but that gets you more food than you’re physically able to shove in your gob – trust me.

The outside

The basement dining room felt raucous in a fun kind of way – it was filled with the sort of people who could have been extras in Wolf of Wall Street. You sit side by side at banquet style tables topped with huge candelabras – it was all very Tudor-esque and I loved it. As I sat there with my bib tied around my neck (material darling not plastic) I felt like Henry VIII.

Inside

To start, a giant wheel of Parmesan was served with pickled onions, artichokes, olives and a seven year aged balsamic. I wasn’t totally convinced nibbling on bits of Parmesan would be that enjoyable but bloody Nora it was delicious. A mouthful of cheese, tangy onion and that balsamic (which was so thick and gooey) and I was in heaven.

Parmesan

Next was the main event; a giant king crab and two different cuts of steak – USDA sirloin and bone-in rib. I can honestly say that was some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten; the salty crust on the outside of the meat along with the soft, succulent centre was just exquisite.

Weapons

Crab and steak

But it was the Norwegian king crab that was the star of the show – and that’s saying something. I was a little apprehensive of how to go about it but it was surprisingly easy. The soft crab flesh was sweet yet meaty at the same time – you really must try it.

A side of smoked tomatoes was most unusual but not totally necessary along with the bowl of veg as well. The rich truffle sauce was a brilliant accompaniment with both the meat and crab but it was the lemon butter that did it for me – it was absolutely addictive.

Two desserts were then brought out; a lemon posset which was insanely tangy (which I love) and a strawberry and blueberry cheesecake. Both were right up my street as they were sweet yet not at all sickly – they were light as anything which is just what you need after so much food.

Dessert

Dinner at Beast is never going to be an entirely cheap affair but it’s easily the best fun I’ve had in a restaurant – ever, so I felt it was well worth the money. I left with bits of crab shell in my hair and steak juice splattered across my paunch – which to me, is a sign of a bloody good evening.

10/10

Beast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

8 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch

8 Hoxton Square business card

From the chaps behind the wonderful 10 Greek Street, 8 Hoxton Square is their second restaurant and we’ve been meaning to try it for a while but have never been able to get a table.

On a Friday night at dinner time we arrived to see the place rather empty. We were seated on tiny stalls at a sharing table next to the open doors meaning it was awfully drafty; not the most comfortable place to sit let’s put it like that.Outside

Inside

We started with some small plates which weren’t particularly impressive. The fried baby squid (£6) was pleasant enough; well seasoned with plenty of crunch from the batter but the squid was a touch on the chewy side. The ‘zeppole’ (£4), which were dry stodgy balls of dough filled with an embarrassingly tiny amount of nduja, were awful. How anyone could serve something so inedible is beyond me.

Squid

The garlic prawns (£8) weren’t memorable in the slightest. The accompanying courgettes, peppers and olive tapenade (which were served cold) did very little to help liven these dry and stringy crustaceans.

Prawns

For main, we shared the Welsh Black Beef, garlic fried potatoes, chicory and mustard (£42) which was so disappointing. To be fair, the potatoes were divine; crispy, slightly chewy and seriously garlicky. But the beef, my God the beef. Tough, chewy, stringy – and so unevenly cooked; some bits were rare and others well done. It went stone cold really quickly too, which was probably due to the breeze.

Beef

Service was as depressing as the food; our empty plates were left on our table for ages yet our waitress kept walking past looking at them which was really annoying. She also barely spoke to us throughout our entire visit – just plonked down the food and wandered off. Considering it wasn’t busy the restaurant felt understaffed and disorganised. And that food simply wasn’t good enough.

3/10

8 Hoxton Square on Urbanspoon

Restaurant 500, Archway

Restaurant 500 business card

Restaurant 500? Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either, but it’s an Italian restaurant in Archway (I know right) that always seems busy and as it’s in the ‘Bib Gourmand Recommends’ section of the Michelin guide we thought we’d give it a go.

Outside

On our Sunday night visit the place certainly wasn’t busy however. It was an odd space; it had a touch of the IKEA cafe about it and the windows were tinted meaning everything felt awfully dark even though it was daylight outside.

Inside

We kicked things off with some deep fried ravioli filled with Pecorino and mint (£2.80) but I’ll have to take their word for it on the filling as they were totally void of flavour. The pasta parcels were actually quite unpleasant as they were so soggy. Next up, some bread arrived with a dozy fly crawling over it, which was ever so off putting.

deep fried ravioli

Bread

We both started with a pasta. I went for the Special of the Day; ‘tagliatelle con ragu’ di salsiccia’ (£9.10) – that’s sausage pasta to you and me. It was pleasant enough, not amazing though and it could have done with lots more sausage. My gentleman companion was bored of his trofie pasta with pesto (£9.10) after just one mouthful. It was incredibly bland and the overriding flavour of pesto and nothing else didn’t inspire.

Pasta

Pasta

For main, the chargrilled loin of lamb (£17.50) came atop a giant mound of spinach which was sitting in a puddle of water – nice! The ‘coniglio all’ischitana, servito con patate saltate’ (£15.80) which was a rabbit stew, tasted and looked exactly like a microwave meal. The rabbit was stringy and every other mouthful was a splinter of bone or gristle. Both dishes came with sauté potatoes which were soggy, limp and lifeless – which is how I was starting to feel.

Lamb

Rabbit

Even though the place was dead, our waiter (there was only one) seemed to spend more time chatting with his friend than clearing our empty plates or my empty Coke can which remained on the table for our entire visit. And a can of Coke? It was like being in a cafe. Restaurant 500 taught me one thing – you can’t always trust the Michelin guide.

3/10

500 on Urbanspoon

SUSHISAMBA, Heron Tower

SUSHISAMBA business card

Getting the lift up to SUSHISAMBA is pretty impressive; as you hurtle up to the 38th floor in an elevator that’s placed on the outside of the Heron Tower, the views are nothing short of magnificent.

The excitement doesn’t end there, or at least it didn’t for us, as before you get to the restaurant there’s an outside bar – which is amazing considering how high up you are. Cos’ it was a bit nippy, we popped upstairs to Duck and Waffle for a quick pre-dinner cocktail and some pigs ears – another restaurant worth a look in if you haven’t already.

Outside

The dining room was a really lovely space with a relaxed atmosphere and we luckily had a table right by the window – again the view was stunning. It had a lively atmosphere and the chairs were seriously comfy meaning we never really wanted to leave. If you time it right you get to watch the sun go down then the restaurant seems to get ever prettier.

Inside

View

Things kicked off with a lovely amuse bouche of tuna tartare in a tiny lettuce leaf. Not only was it delicious but it looked beautiful too – something we found with all the dishes.

Tuna

Wagyu gyozas (£12) were as rich and fatty as you could wish for with that perfect amount of greasiness from being fried on one side.

Wagyu

The sushi was great too; we started with some salmon, tuna, prawn and scallop nigiri (between £6-£8 each) then ordered a plate of samba rolls as well (£16) which featured things like crab, more wagyu, scallop and ‘tempura crunch’ – bloody hell they were good. The accompanying wasabi mayo was the perfect dunker for it all.

Sushi

Sushi

The pork ribs (£14) were utterly divine; the meat fell off the bone yet it still retained its texture and wasn’t at all mushy. The sharp pickled yuzu apple was a great contrast. Staying on the piggy front, the kuromitsu glazed pork belly (£12) served in lettuce wraps were heavenly pieces of soft, fatty pork. They were messy to eat; I ended up with pork glaze all over my face, but it was worth it.

Pork ribs

Pork belly

The yellowtail sashimi tiradito (£12) (that’s a Peruvian dish of raw fish in a spicy sauce FYI) was the only thing we didn’t like but that’s mainly because I’m not a huge fan of anything too acidic – I find it always overpowers the main ingredient.

Sashimi

The miso black cod (£17) which was served on two small skewers was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in a long time. The cod practically melted in my mouth – it was pure bliss!

Miso black cod

For dessert we shared the passion fruit cake (£10) and ‘With Love From Rio’ (£12) which was a Valrhona macaé dark chocolate ganache, coffee mousse, tonka bean ice cream and caramelized macadamia. That last one was bloody lovely – if you like chocolate then you’ll be a happy chappy.

Dessert

Dessert

It was difficult not to fall in love with SUSHISAMBA; the food was delicious and it looked incredible, the staff were relaxed and friendly yet really efficient too and those views were beguiling to say the least. If you haven’t been then I really think you should.

9/10

Sushisamba on Urbanspoon

The Fat Duck, Bray

Fat Duck business card

Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck is one of only four three Michelin starred restaurants in the UK and it resides in the Berkshire village of Bray, which is also home to The Waterside Inn (another three starred restaurant which I loved).
Outside

The dining room is very much not what I expected; it has an old fashioned charm about it (it’s a listed building don’t you know), so there’s low ceilings with wooden beams and it’s actually quite small. The white tablecloths and hundreds of immaculately dressed staff remind you however that you’re not in your Granny’s living room.

Inside

To kick things off, a tiny beetroot meringue sandwiching a horsesradish cream was served on the biggest plate I’ve ever seen. It was a simple mouthful but one which was impressively delicious.

Beetroot

Next up, a trolley was wheeled over to our table and a rather dashing waiter served some ‘nitro poached aperitifs’. There were three flavours to choose from; ‘vodka and lime sour’, ‘tequila and grapefruit’ and ‘gin and tonic’ – I opted for the latter. An egg white mixture was dropped into a bowl of dry ice, creating a freezing cold meringue and although the flavour wasn’t particularly distinctive, it certainly had the fun factor.

Gin and Tonic

Red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream sounded like a bit of an odd one but the blend of textures, flavours and temperatures worked together perfectly.

Red cabbage

‘Jelly of quail, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast’ had a very theatrical presentation. It started with a box filled with moss being placed on the table and we were told to put a little sheet of edible plastic on our tongue which ‘tasted of the forest’. Some water was then poured over the moss which sent dry ice cascading over the table which was a great touch. The quail and crayfish was utterly divine and the little piece of truffle toast was moreish to say the least.

Quail

Bread was next, which was surprisingly simple; a choice of white or brown sourdough with some really salty butter – hoorah, salty butter! Don’t get me wrong, the bread was really good, but I was kind of hoping for a bit of choice – a bit of three Michelin star variety.

Bread

‘Snail Porridge’, which has become something of a signature dish, was a vibrantly green, herby soup filled with actual porridge oats and sliced snails. I’ve never had snails cooked so perfectly before; so often they’re like rubbery bits of leather but here they were as soft as anything.

Snail

The roast foie gras was a real highlight and it easily wins the award for the best foie I’ve ever tasted. The crab biscuit that was sticking out the top of it had both a sweet and seafood flavour which was great and the perfectly formed dollop of barberry (not had that before) was a brilliantly sharp accompaniment for the richness of it all.

Foie

The ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ brought a touch of theatre back to the table. We were presented with a box of gold covered pocket watches which were then dropped into a teapot filled with hot water. As it melted to create a beefy stock (which honestly tasted like Bovril) we then had to pour it over an eggy creme caramel concoction which had tiny mushrooms sticking out of it – the attention to a detail was ever so impressive. The highlight of all of that work however was a simple ‘burnt toast sandwich’ which was absolutely delicious.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Tea Party

Next was another signature dish of theirs, ‘Sound of the Sea’, which was served with a giant shell that had an iPod hidden inside. The idea is you can taste something that looks like a wave crashing onto the beach whilst listening to exactly that – it was most bizarre. The dish wasn’t for the faint hearted though as the seafood aroma and taste was epicly strong – it was too overbearing for my lady friend but I really loved it. The only thing that let it down was a piece of chewy, rubbery octopus – which was a shocking oversight for a three star kitchen.

Sound of the Sea

‘Salmon poached in a liquorice gel’ was such a clever balancing act of flavours. The tiny balls of Golden Trout roe provided an intense seafood explosion, whilst the vanilla mayonnaise was sweet yet didn’t make it feel like a pudding and the tiny pieces of grapefruit brought a refreshing touch to it all. A beautiful plate of food too.

Salmon

‘Lamb with cucumber’ was a more straighforward dish – the lamb was cooked well and the cucumber was a refreshing companion for it. There was even a little strip of crispy lamb fat sticking out the top – crispy lamb fat makes me very happy. The side dish filled with the heart and liver was a nice touch and a cold jellied consommé, which gave my taste buds an intense meaty wallop, was very pleasant indeed.

Lamb

‘Hot and iced tea’ was ever so clever; it was a small glass of tea – one side hot and the other side cold. You could even feel both temperatures go down your throat which was insane.

Tea

Both puddings were really enjoyable ‘Macerated strawberries’ was a pretty little thing but it was ‘Botrytis Cinerea’ (which is a kind of mould?!) that was the stand out pud. Each little ball represented a flavour present in Sauternes, so when you took a mouthful of everything at once it was actually like you were drinking the stuff.

Strawberries

Wine

‘Whisk(e)y Wine Gums’ were little whiskey jellies that were stuck on a framed map which made for slightly bizarre presentation. The final sweet thing in this epic luncheon was ‘Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop’ – the edible chocolate playing card and toffee in an edible plastic wrapper were real highlights.

Whiskey wine gums

Like a Kid in a Sweetshop

Without doubt I really enjoyed our lunch; it’s definitely an experience worth experiencing – the only slight problem for me is the cost. The tasting menu is £195 a head (plus booze), but after they return from a sixth month Fat Duck residency in Sydney that price is going up to £220. Don’t get me wrong now, it’s a brilliant restaurant with clever food and lovely staff, but is it really worth that kind of dollar? I’ll have to think about that one….

9/10

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon

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