Scarfes Bar, The Rosewood 

Scarfes Bar business card

Based in Holborn, sorry Midtown, The Rosewood is easily one of London’s finest hotels. From the minute you walk into the courtyard, past the fire pit and into the copper-clad corridor (that’s over a million pounds-worth of copper FYI) you can’t fail to be impressed.

Outside

It is also home to one of London’s finest bars; Scarfes Bar named after the artist, Gerald Scarfe, who’s paintings are dotted around the room. The food offering is a wholly Indian affair which is most unusual for a hotel bar.

Inside

From the kebabs section of the menu, the memne chaanp (£16), or lamb chops with ginger and mint, were cooked beautifully. The meat was so soft I couldn’t resist nibbling every last scrap from the bone. There’s something about Indian spiced lamb chops that really gets me going.

Lamb chops

The panneer (£16), which is a type of Indian cheese similar to feta and halloumi, was filled with basil and an almond paste which provided some most welcome texture. Both were served with dainty little naan breads which were both crispy, soft and totally ruddy moreish.

Paneer

For curries, we played it safe with the butter chicken (£15) which is always a firm favourite, and we weren’t disappointed in the slightest, and Bhapa Bagda (£24) which featured gigantic tiger prawns in a light, coconut sauce. The spicing in both was exquisite; intricate and layered which made every mouthful a really exciting one.

Butter chicken

Bhapa Bagda

My only gripe was the pilau rice, which came on such a giant plate which dwarfed our tiny table and it was buried beneath a giant sheet of bamboo which was just a bit odd. Good rice though.

Rice

The food at Scarfes Bar was absolutely divine. I also liked that there wasn’t a club sandwich in sight; it’s a brave and bold move to have an entirely Indian menu for a hotel bar – and it really works. Next time I fancy a curry, I’ll pop in for a Bhapa Bagda and then nip next door to the Holborn Dining Room Delicatessen for a slice treacle tart. #winning

4/5

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Scarfes Bar on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Ceviche, Old Street 

Ceviche Old Street business card

I went to the first Ceviche in Soho around about when it first opened and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed. They’ve since opened Andina in Shoreditch and now this, their second Ceviche right next to Moorfields Eye Hospital by Old Street roundabout.

It’s a really beautiful spot, in a former squat, not that you’d be able to tell. There’s a long bar in the centre of the huge space and the walls are covered in vibrant art.

Outside

Inside

We started with the more intriguing sounding dishes; panca-marinated beef heart skewers (£8), chicken liver and heart skewers (£7) and lamb’s brain fritters (£5.50). Brave choices to put on a menu I thought and they were really great; all cooked perfectly with bags of flavour.

Beef heart

Chicken liver and heart

Lamb brain

Peter Hannan’s sugar-pit cured pork belly (£10) (he gets about – I’ve tried his meatballs at Hixter Bankside before) came sitting on a bed of silky smooth chocklo corn cream. It was a wet and sloppy delight; the meat was so soft and sticky it was pure comfort food.

Pork belly

The rotisserie chicken (£7), which you can see turning behind the counter, was succulent and flavoursome. The same could be said for the lomo soltado (£13.50), or flame cooked beef fillet with red onions and tomatoes. The ‘proper chips’ served with both had a touch of the McCain frozen variety about them – they should have been far crispier and less floury.

Chicken

Beef fillet

For dessert, the pumpkin donuts (£6) were so very good that I regretted having to share them. Soft and fluffy in the centre with a crisp, grease free exterior then squirted with chancaca honey. It’s worth going just for these, it really is.

Pumpkin donuts

We’d have been hard pushed to not enjoy our evening at Ceviche. The atmosphere was fun and lively and the staff were so very caring and passionate, which for a recently opened restaurant, is something quite unusual. And anywhere that serves brain fritters gets my vote. 👍

4/5

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

Ceviche Old Street on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

St John, Farringdon 

St John business card

I remember my first dinner at St John, a Michelin-starred institution by Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson, a good few years back. I tried tongue for the first time, both lamb and ox, and my gentleman companion struggled to finish a grouse so rare it was practically squawking. It was brilliant.

Outside

We recently returned on a Thursday evening (after Lizzie Mabbot‘s Chinatown Kitchen book launch at the Drapers Arms – do have a look at it on Amazon) with no reservation and they managed to squeeze us in – only just. The dining room was packed with an intriguing mix of suited, high-fiving men and trendy chaps with beards. Service was quick-paced but super friendly.

Inside

We decided to share the brown shrimp with white cabbage (£7.80) and the roast bone marrow with parsley salad (£8.20). The latter was utterly divine; you had to scoop the marrow out of the giant bones, spread it on the toast, sprinkle with smoked salt and top with salad. It was proper heart attack grub but my God, it was absolutely heavenly. A definite bucket list dish.

Prawns and cabbage

Bone marrow

For main, the lamb sweetbreads, carrots and wild garlic (£18.20) was basically a plate of hearty stew. The sweetbreads, and there was bloomin’ loads of ’em, were cooked to perfection. The brill with aioli (£23.80) was also cooked spot-on but the red wine leeks were a little overwhelming as there was such a huge pile of them. A side of greens (£3.70) was just what we needed to accompany the rich food.

Lamb sweetbreads

Brill

Greens

For pudding we opted for the profiteroles (£8.20) which had been stuffed with vanilla ice cream. The jug of hot chocolate sauce (click here to see my Vine) added to the decadence. We couldn’t resist getting half a dozen freshly baked Madeleines (£4.50) which really were so very tasty that we polished the lot, even though we were at the point of combustion. I challenge you to find a finer baked good than one of those Madeleines.

Profiteroles

Madeleines

Years have passed since our first visit but St John is still a ruddy good restaurant. It’s as unpretentious as it gets; simple food cooked simply and served in simple surroundings (the dining room is a bit like that episode of Mr Bean where he puts a firework in the pot of white paint). If you haven’t been before, then go, and if you haven’t been for ages, then go again, you won’t regret it.

4/5

St John on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Umu, Mayfair 

Um business card

Umu is a Michelin starred Japanese restaurant that has been around for over ten years now. It’s owned by the same group who run The Greenhouse and Morton’s members club.

Outside

It was a slightly stern welcome from a chap who could have easily been a headmaster as opposed to a maitre d'; certainly not rude but not forthcoming with the lovin’ either. The room was a nice enough space with a counter overlooking the chefs preparing the sushi. As it ain’t cheap, not in the slightest, I would have preferred not to have had disposable chopsticks though.

Inside

A simple salad generously drenched in a red onion dressing was a really lovely start. As was the cup of rich, hearty red miso soup. As the sushi we ordered was taking a while to prepare, we were treated to an extra little dish of goma-ae, which was a delicious mound of sesame flavoured spinach.

Salad

Red miso

Spinach

We decided to avoid the set lunch bento box (£35) and instead opted for the chef’s special sushi selection (£38). It looked pretty but there were a few greasy fingerprints on the plate, which you’d hope not to be the case at that level of restaurant. The scallop and eel nigiri were my favourite.

Sushi

We also opted for some of their signature style nigiris; toro with shishito pepper (£9.50), lobster (£7.50), langoustine (£9.50) and seared scallop (£5.50). Certainly not cheap but worthy of their price due to the superb quality of each piece of fish.

Signature sushi

Welsh wild eel kabayaki (£32), which refers to the preparation and cooking of the eel in a sweet soy sauce, was a proper corker. The skin was insanely crispy and the soft, oily flesh had soaked up the sugary soy, resulting in an indulgent mouthful to say the least.

Eel

At the more gimmicky end of the spectrum, the Japanese fish and chips (£28) were pleasant pieces of tempura stone bass and prawns, but the chips were little artichoke crisps which brought nothing to the party. They should have just served some really lovely pieces of tempura fish on their own.

Fish and chips

A small dessert of fresh fruit with white asparagus ice cream was included with the sushi selection. Some things are destined to remain a vegetable and I think I can now safely say that white asparagus is one of them.

Fresh fruit

Umu was eye wateringly expensive, but then again, you are in a mews in Mayfair eating top notch sushi. But even so, there’s other places I can think of where I’d rather go and do just that. I didn’t leave feeling besotted with the place (which I was kind of hoping I would) but it was a very pleasant lunch.

3/5

Umu on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Cereal Killer Café, Brick Lane

Cereal Killer Cafe

So this is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea; a café in Shoreditch from twins Alan and Gary Keary offering over 100 different types of cereals along with 20 various milks. They even sell Poptarts. But I have to say, it was rather fun.

Outside

It’s a cramped little spot where you order at the counter then frantically find somewhere to perch. With so much choice on offer, everyone (including us) takes forever to order hence the usual huge queues. We sat in the small dining room downstairs which was full of teenage girls which was just a bit weird; it felt like we were at some kind of sleepover.

Cereal

Inside

I opted for a bowl of Lucky Charms with almond milk and my gentleman companion, like a man possessed, went for a mix of Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme and Kellogg’s Fruit Loops with bubblegum milk (bright blue of course). I won’t patronise you by describing what a bowl of cereal tastes like (the refreshing milk contrasted the crunchy cereal etc) but all I will say however, it was sweet. And totally ruddy delicious.

Cereal

The idea sounds ridiculous but Cereal Killer Café was actually a lot of fun, and for under eight quid it was actually very good value for money. When they opened, a Channel 4 news presenter successfully got the reaction he wanted when he raised the fact they were selling £4 bowls of cereal in one of London’s poorest areas (watch the clip here), which seems like such a silly point. If we all took that stance then we’d never ever buy another skinny soya extra wet cappuccino from Starbucks again, just because it was in Deptford.

If you’re after a quick and cheap snack that’ll send your blood sugar levels into meltdown, then get in that queue and join the sleepover.

8/10

Cereal Killer Cafe on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Bao, Soho

Boa business card

It looks like Soho has got itself another new cracking restaurant and it comes in the form of Bao from brother/sister trio Erchen Chang, Shing Tat and Wai Ting Chung. Their Taiwanese buns (Bao is Taiwanese for bun) have been selling like hot cakes from their stall on Netil Market so as expected, their first restaurant is a bit of a hit.

Outside

At 12:09 during our lunchtime visit on only their third day of opening, the queue was humongous. We were eventually seated on a teeny stall facing a giant wooden wall with my coat dangling in my face; it was claustrophobic to say the least.

Inside

The menu was on a small piece of paper and you had to mark down what you wanted; it’s all so reasonably priced you could easily order everything. We tried all the baos. The panko crumbed daikon (£3.50) was probably my least favourite as I found it a touch boring. The classic (£3.75), which featured braised pork topped with peanut powder, and the confit pork (£4.50) were my favourites. Both offered pork with such intense flavour it was pure comfort food.

Daikon

Classic

Confit pork

The lamb shoulder with garlic mayo (£5) was very British in flavour which made for a nice change; it had a touch of a 3am kebab about it. The fried chicken bao (£5) came in a sesame bun which gave it a strange-looking grey colour, but it tasted absolutely delicious; like a fancy Zinger burger.

Lamb shoulder

Fried chicken bao

The Taiwanese fried chicken (£5) could have done with far more of the hot sauce which had been squirted over it. We asked for some garlic mayo which was gladly provided but perhaps it should have come with some anyway. The crisp exterior combined with the soft fatty chicken was absolutely heavenly though.

Taiwanese fried chicken

Pig blood cake (£3.50) came with the ooziest yolk you’re likely to find (if you like oozy yolks, click here to see my Vine) which really added to the richness of it all. Talking of richness, the trotter nuggets (£4) were about as rich as it gets. Fatty trotter meat encased in crisp breadcrumbs; pure indulgent bliss.

Pig blood cake

Trotter nuggets

My favourite dish was a simple plate of thinly sliced 40 day rump cap (£6) which was so dainty looking yet it packed an almighty meaty punch in terms of flavour. A must order.

40 day rump cap

Bao is a really exciting little spot. Fair do’s it’s not the sort of place you’ll spend a leisurely afternoon (unless you enjoy staring at a wooden wall) but with delicious food priced staggeringly generously, I left wanting to immediately return for dinner. I just hope the gigantic queues won’t be a permanent instalment.

9/10

Square Meal

Naughty Piglets, Brixton

Naughty Piglets business card

It’s a random name for a restaurant I’ll give you that, but this new and cute little spot in Brixton (we drove, don’t worry) from husband and wife team Joe Sharratt (chef) and Margaux Aubry (front of house) is really rather good.

Outside

There’s a small dining room out the back, which is incredibly dark (too dark?) or the bar with stool seats at the front which is where we opted to sit. The kitchen is tiny and there’s just two chefs so it was fascinating to watch it all. Everyone was so lovely too, there was a wonderful energy about the place.

Inside

We started with some ham croquettes (£4) which had a really lovely crunch to their exterior which gave way to a soft and gooey centre.

Ham croquettes

‘Burrata, courgettes, mint, basil’ (£6) was exactly that and if it wasn’t the best bleedin’ burrata I’ve ever eaten then I don’t know what is. Its sloppy innards practically exploded when prized open with my fork, creating an avalanche of creamy goodness. The mint and basil providing an unusual alliance to match the raw courgettes; utterly brilliant.

Burrata

A long, thick strip of pork belly (£9) came with an intriguing Korean chilli paste and some undressed baby gem. It was a bold statement “here’s three components which work brilliantly together and that’s all you’re getting” – and they got it so very right.

Pork belly

An XXL diver scallop (£11) was draped in lardo (pig fat) which is surely the only way you can better a scallop. The brown butter sauce it came generously drenched in only added to the richness of this sensational dish.

XXL diver scallop

BBQ lamb leg (£15) came with mini roasted Jersey royals, spinach and an almost spicy salsa verde which was divine. Meat, potato and veg; this was simple cooking elevated to somewhere a lot of chefs don’t seem to quite manage these days.

Lamb rump

It was only after reading Fay Maschler’s review in the Evening Standard that we got to hear about Naughty Piglets, so I owe having my best meal of the year so far, to her. The stools might be a bit high, the dining room might be a bit dark, and the toilets might be a bit old fashioned (I think they ran out of money), but my God, that food is amazing.

9/10

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 659 other followers