Barrafina, Soho

Barrafina business card

Barrafina, a small tapas bar on Frith Street in Soho has proved so popular that they’ve opened another in Covent Garden. As I’ve been to neither, I thought I’d pop my cherry with a visit to the original, which recently received a Michelin star.

I was pre-warned about the lengthy queues (they don’t take reservations) so we arrived at 5:45 and nabbed the last remaining stools. The open kitchen gave the place a lively atmosphere and our tatt-covered waitress was very charming indeed.

Outside

We started with the cold meat platter (£13) which featured cecina de León, lomo Ibérico de bellota, salchichón de Vic and chorizo Ibérico de bellota. All were absolutely delicious with the perfect amount of oiliness and they went perfectly with the pan con tomate (£2.80 a slice).

Cold meat platter

Pan con tomate

The ham croquetas (£4.50) were beautifully gooey with a crisp breadcrumbed coating; they were divine. The chicken thighs with romesco sauce (£7.50) had been deboned and were so perfectly cooked (succulent flesh with crunchy skin) that I felt like standing on my stool and doing a dance.

Croquetas

Chicken thighs

The rest of the dishes weren’t quite so successful though. Chorizo, potato and watercress (£7.50) had a pleasant flavour but the spicy sausage was rather tough to cut through. Milk fed lamb (£12.80) was a pleasant couple of mouthfuls but the slices were so thin it didn’t seem good value for money.

Chorizo

Lamb

The gambas allijo (£8) (that’s prawns) were a bit too mushy for me; they fell apart and disintegrated as I shelled them which didn’t feel right. Again, the prawns in the prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla (£7) were mushy and a bit flavourless too.

Prawns

Tortilla

The chips with brava sauce (£4) were really bloomin’ tasty but I would have rather had the more traditional patatas bravas. The worst dish was the pluma Ibericá with confit potatoes (£12.50) which had thin slices of Lancashire Hot Pot style potatoes that were inedibly salty and a piece of pork that was totally devoid of flavour. I thought Ibericá pluma was supposed to be the very best – but that wasn’t evident here.

Chips and pluma

Our meal at Barrafina certainly wasn’t a disaster, in fact it was good. But at those prices I was hoping for a bit better than good, I wanted it to be spectacular. There was nothing I couldn’t get at Josē on Bermondsey Street for half the price – a restaurant which in my opinion is far superior.

6/10

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

The Escoffier Room, Westminster Kingsway College

Escoffier Room business card

Not many people have heard of the The Escoffier Room, a small fine dining restaurant situated inside Westminster Kingsway College which gives the catering students the opportunity to cook and serve paying customers.

It’s a small, lovely dining room (if not a little old-fashioned) which could have done with a bit of background musak to liven up the atmosphere. You’re also served by the catering students meaning although service is a little nervous, it’s charmingly so.

Outside

Inside

Only a tasting menu was available priced at £27.50 per person. Our meal wasn’t without its faults; the focaccia in the bread basket was as dry as Jay Rayner’s sense of humour and the pudding came with some leopard print chocolate work which looked like something Kat Slater might wear.

Bread

Pudding

But the rest of it was really rather good – VERY good in fact. Scallops that had been pan fried in chorizo oil, sat atop the most beautiful cheesy cauliflower sauce (sorry, cauliflower béchamel) and to top it off they were sprinkled with spiced breadcrumbs and diced apple which added texture in the most pleasant of ways.

Scallops

The fillet of sole stuffed with a bouncy salmon and coriander mousse was cooked exquisitely and the overiding flavour of curry from the couscous was delicious. The fillet of beef atop the crispest rosti you’re ever likely to find was exceptional; the flavour was the sort you want to keep on eating forever. And this was all cooked by students.

Sole

Beef

A trip to The Escoffier Room is definitely worthwhile as there’s nowhere quite like it in London. They also have a more relaxed and cheaper brasserie which is worth a look too. Fair enough you won’t have a perfect meal but you can’t help leaving with a big smile on your face – well we did anyway.

7/10

Escoffier Room on Urbanspoon

Sketch: Afternoon Tea

Sketch business card

Sketch in Mayfair is home to a whole host of different dining rooms and bars – not to mention the oddest toilets you’ll ever see in your life (I’ll talk more about them later) and the two Michelin starred Lecture Room & Library on the second floor.

Outside

Afternoon tea has more recently become available in the Gallery and as it’s just completed a rather dashing makeover, we thought we’d pop along to check it out.

‘Dashing’ certainly is the right word; the vast space is a pretty shade of pink and there are witty, framed drawings circulating the room. It’s such a shame then, that the three of us were plonked on a breezy table barely big enough for two, right by the open door to the toilets. My view was of the hundreds of visitors getting selfies with the bogs – it was a ghastly place to sit. And the toilets weren’t even that good – I remember them being fascinating a few years back but now they just feel like worn-down portalaoos that need replacing.

The room

The toilets

The Sketch Afternoon Tea (£39 per person) wasn’t bad; all the sweet things were certainly very pleasant. A ‘green tea macaroon’ (which tasted only of pistachio) was a perfect macaroon – simply exquisite. The lemon eclair, poppy chantilly choux, exotic cheese cake, opera cake and a Bordaloue pear and nougatine tart (featuring the best pastry EVER) were all proof that the pastry section knew what they were doing.

Afternoon tea

The scones (you could choose plain or raisin) were less impressive however; mine was cold, which was really disappointing and it was far too stodgy, which was perhaps due to its humungous size. The strawberry and fig jam, as well as the clotted cream were OK.

Scones

The sandwiches were the most disappointing part though. The cucumber and ricotta looked pretty and was a pleasant flavour combination, but the bread was far too doughy – it was gooey. The vegetarian Croque Monsieur (which isn’t then a Croque Monsieur) was basically a finger of fried bread with a strangely spongey centre; fair enough I ate four of the things but they were far too greasy. The smoked salmon and the egg & mayo tasted of absolutely nothing.

Towards the end of our visit a manager brought over the bill and reminded us we only had the table for two hours – which wasn’t the most pleasant of ways to end things. I always thought the whole point of an afternoon tea is to lounge around in relaxing surroundings – something which isn’t at all possible at Sketch. A totally joyless experience.

4/10

Sketch - Afternoon Tea on Urbanspoon

Cliveden House

Cliveden House business card

Cliveden House is a stately home in Taplow, not too far from Bray, and after a rather illustrious past (it’s where much of the Profumo affair took place) it’s now owned by the National Trust and leased as a five star hotel.

It’s still very much a work in progress; some of the grounds were in the middle of being renovated and the hotel entrance and library room (not to mention the first floor terrace) could do with a bit of a makeover but even still, it’s an utterly beautiful place.

Cliveden House

The dining room (which really is the star of the show) was stunning; elegant and grand without feeling awkwardly stuffy. We had a table right by the open window with views of the rolling countryside – you could see for miles.

Dining room

The view

On Sunday lunch they offer three courses for £50 from a menu that all sounded rather enticing. Seared Orkney scallops drenched in a rich lovage velouté sprinkled with fresh peas saw some of the finest scallops I’ve tasted in a long while; seasoned beautifully with a crisp exterior.

Scallops

My lime cured South Coast mackerel would only have been better if the accompanying compressed peaches had been more ripe; they were a little sharp and tough to cut through. The flavour of the mackerel was lovely though.

Mackerel

The ballotine of confit duck leg was beautifully rich which was partly due to the exquisite foie gras centre. The crunchy French bean salad helped cut through all that richness perfectly.

Ballotine

We were kindly treated to an extra dish as a gift from the kitchen; roasted Loch Duart salmon which was easily the best thing we ate. The salmon was so soft and flakey with the crispest skin possible and the sauce, filled with soft cockles and clams, was addictively good.

Salmon

For main, the roast chateaubriand of beef was a cracking Sunday roast. Great big yorkies, crispy and well seasoned potatoes, plenty of gravy (sorry ‘Madeira jus’) and thick slices of soft, tender beef. There was plenty of it too.

Beef

I went for the Yorkshire Red grouse which came generously drenched in Cliveden Estate elderberry jus which had the perfect balance between sharp and sweet; a great companion for the gamey meat. The little slice of toast smothered in the livers (and quite possibly the rest of the bird’s innards) wasn’t for the faint hearted but I loved every mouthful.

Grouse

For desserts, the almond panna cotta topped with Gariguette strawberries was a bit too sweet for me. The pavé of Araguani chocolate with aerated milk chocolate and a brilliant thyme ice cream was a fantastic blend of flavours. The highlight however had to be the caramelised banana soufflé which came topped with the most delicious peanut butter ice cream – it was the tastiest soufflé I’ve eaten in a long time.

Panna cotta

Chocolate

Souffle

Cliveden House was the perfect choice for a spot of Sunday lunch with my parents; a beautiful lunch followed by a long stroll round the grounds made for such a pleasant day out. The staff were so friendly too which made us feel relaxed as soon as we arrived – it really is worth a visit.

8/10

André Garrett at Cliveden on Urbanspoon

Tredwell’s, Covent Garden

Tredwell's business card

Tredwell’s is something a wee bit different from Marcus Wareing, who also owns the two Michelin starred eponymous restaurant inside The Berkeley Hotel.

It’s a casual, affordable, “accessible” restaurant on a site just round the corner from Seven Dials which always seems to have struggled; many a restaurant has failed to make it a success. What a transformation though; it’s three floors of pure beauty. We were seated in a booth on the ground floor opposite the bar which was very pleasant indeed.

Outside

Inside

The menu was vast; take your pick from snack, pots&jars, breads&buns, bowls – it goes on. Charred bread with chorizo jam (£4) wasn’t charred in the slightest – the bread should have been far more crunchy. Either way, the chorizo jam was a pleasant enough spread (it had the texture of chilli con carne) with a nice, subtle heat.

Chorizo jam

Crispy prawns, fennel and kimchi mayo (£8) were OK – although the prawns tasted fresh and were cooked perfectly, the batter encasing them along with the sliced fennel was a tad too grease laden.

Crispy prawn

Smoked chicken croquettes (£5) weren’t the gooey breadcrumbed delights I was hoping for, instead these had a dry filling that tasted more like ham than chicken.

Sticky smoked Goosnargh chicken thighs (£10) delivered their promised stickiness but they were overcooked which seemed such a shame – chicken thighs are usually so wonderfully moist.

Curried lamb sweetbreads with lentils and carrot (£8) would have been better if the sweetbreads had been caramelised giving them a crispy coating. Along with the lentils and the carrot purée it all felt terribly ploppy.

The Onglet steak (£8) was cooked perfectly and the accompanying mushroom ketchup (which on its own was far too tangy) worked really well with the strong beefy flavour.

The food

For dessert we opted for the avocado and white chocolate, chia and chocolate Cornflakes, mainly out of intrigue. Avocado and white chocolate? Made into a mousse? It was quite honestly disgusting, it had the texture of cake mixture with an oddly savoury and healthy aftertaste. And chia is a superfood – what the hell is a superfood doing in a pudding?! The one saving Grace could have been the chocolate covered Cornflakes but they just tasted of Branflakes. Bizarre.

Avocado and chocolate

Tredwell’s is a pretty restaurant and the staff are super kind and friendly. The food on the other hand didn’t fill me with excitement – most dishes were just a mouthful or so of averageness. A very forgettable meal.

5/10

Tredwell's on Urbanspoon

Verandah, Copenhagen

Verandah business card

Verandah is an Indian restaurant based in Copenhagen which is co-owned by the Sethi family (of Trishna and Gymkhana fame) and a chap called Claus Meyer who’s the co-founder of Noma. To be honest, I was slightly relieved when I received an invitation to dine there during our holiday, as berries and leaves were starting to grow a little tiresome.

Outside

The restaurant is based in The Standard, which is home to three restaurants in total (one of those has a Michelin star) and it’s right by the water’s edge – meaning it has lovely views both from the terrace and inside. The dining room was a bright and airy affair with lots of green foliage and the slowly spinning fans overhead gave the feeling of being somewhere exotic.

Inside

The lunch menu consisted of individual dishes priced at 150 DKK each (around £15). The Verandah spiced fish and chips were a delicious blend of crispy breadcrumbed pollock and thin strips of deep fried shredded potato which were incredibly moreish. I could have done without the quenelle of crushed peas though.

Fish and chips

The lobster naan roll was a jam packed tandoori bread studded with chunks of garlic and filled with Goan spiced lobster – the blend of spices were magnificent. The accompanying dollop of mint chutney and the little pile of refreshing kachumber were great with it.

Lobster naan roll

The tandoor lemon chicken with South Indian pressed rice, chicken leg chaat and peanut chutney also featured well balanced spicing. The leg meat mixed with the rice was a a particular highlight.

Chicken

We opted for both the Tandoori and Meat tasting platter which was probably enough food to feed half the population of Copenhagen but as it was so tasty we couldn’t help but eat it all. Duck seekh kebab, achari prawn, chicken tikka , paneer tikka, quail pepper fry, South India lamb, duck keema naan; all were perfectly cooked and tasted ruddy lovely.

Meat

By this point I was looking more than a little rotund so we skipped pud yet were presented with a mini chai latte and a gooey, chewy ball of sesame seeds which was heavenly and the perfect end to a mammoth lunch.

Chai latte

There’s not very many Indian restaurants in Copenhagen, and the very few we did see looked like naff tourist traps. Verandah seems the perfect antidote to this – it serves really tasty and exquisitely spiced food in a beautiful location right by the river. If the foraged twenty course tasting menus start getting you down – pop along here for a bit of flavour.

8/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant

 

Rivea, Knightsbridge

Rivea business card

Rivea (pronounced like Nivea FYI), is the second UK restaurant from Alain Ducasse – after his three Michelin starred eponymous restaurant in the Dorchester. This one also has a swanky location, in the Bvlgari Hotel in Knightsbridge down in the basement. A hotel restaurant in the basement is never an easy thing to pull off.

Outside

We shouldn’t have been so pessimistic however – as we walked down the giant rolling staircase we were taken aback by the beauty of the place; it’s a stunning dining room and anything but the dark and dingy dungeon we were expecting.

Inside

A good choice of bread with some crostini and an aubergine dip got things off to a strong start – the black olive focaccia was particularly good and the olive oil that accompanied it was divine.

Bread

The menu consists of small plates for sharing that come out as and when they’re ready – very on trend! At lunch they offer a good value set menu priced at £35 per person including water and coffee which is what we went for.

Starters were all beautiful to look at and the flavours were bang on. Red mullet with confit tomatoes and olives saw exquisitely cooked fish with a beautiful blend of sweet tomato and salty capers. The warm octopus and potato salad was also cooked to perfection.

Mullet

Octopus

Rivea salad wrapped in a socca, which is a crispy corn fritta, was most unusual but a sure fire way to make a salad far more enticing. The highlight for me was the buffalo mozzarella with courgette and basil – the blend of flavours and textures was exquisite and it was served in an ever so pretty glass dish.

Salad

Cheese

We decided to share an extra pasta dish as one wasn’t included in the set lunch. The pappardelle with girolles, tomato and basil (£10) was very enjoyable; not the most exciting plate of pasta we’ve ever eaten but tasty never the less.

Pasta

Both meat dishes; roasted duck with tender turnips and the rib & saddle of lamb were utterly delicious. The quality of the meat and their cooking was perfect and they looked so enticing – it made you want to get stuck in.

Duck

Lamb

Desserts were simply presented and the flavour combinations were simple too. A raspberry and chocolate ‘palet’ was rich and decadent yet not too sickly and the lemon shortbread with a sharp Limoncello sorbet was a great palate cleanser.

Desserts

I really loved the food at Rivea; each dish was vibrantly presented and the ingredients/flavour combinations made me feel like I was on holiday. The dining room was a corker too and the staff (all kitted out in matching Converse trainers) were totally sweet and charming. I found the hotel itself a bit naff, Rivea on the other hand was anything but.

8/10

Rivea on Urbanspoon

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