Category Archives: Friends

Gilgamesh // Camden // London

There’s nothing quite like Gilgamesh in London. Perched up above Camden market, the cavernous restaurant is meticulously decorated with Sumerian inspired art. Enormous carved wooden panels, intricate table settings and ornate columns, team-up with the Budha Bar style music to create the perfect spot for an entertaining night out with friends. Recent refurbishments have also seen the addition of a Belle Époque Champagne bar and a chef’s table for special occasions.

Food wise, the menu has a bewildering selection of pan-Asian dishes. Though after nearly ten years of serving both tourists and locals, some dishes have emerged as notable crowd pleasers.

Starters are for sharing at Gilgamesh. Dim sum, sashimi, meaty bites etc. The prawn spring rolls are a must. But forget the idea of spring rolls padded-out with cabbage and noodles. These are stuffed with pure prawn flesh, flecked with coriander and sprinkled with sesame seeds. With the crunch of the pastry, these rolls are a decadent treat. The yellow tail tuna sashimi deserves a special mention too, with its accompaniment of cubed fresh wasabi root (something new?!). A red pepper sauce works will with the soya-mirin dressing to coat the melting slices of fish. This dish is next to perfect.

For mains, the dramatically named Royal Chilean sea bass, takes the concept of black cod to the next level. Sea bass has a much richer taste and a firmer texture than cod. The fish is marinated in tamarind and miso, to give it a deep, sweet and sour flavour with that familiar fermented taste of the miso. Baked and served, the fish is perfectly glazed and the flakes stay firm with a buttery texture. Though, for the price, it should be this good. The Thai green chicken curry is less impressive, with its thin sauce. It’s okay, not great. The surprise of the lychees in the mix might make you happier, depending how you feel about them.

Though one area where you won’t be disappointed is with the desserts. Proper patisserie standard dishes replace the often sad offerings at some Asian restaurants. The chocolate “cake” is excellent. A white chocolate ganache is lightly laced with chilli and coated with a dark chocolate glaze. It’s quite special. The coconut pistachio mousse cake is light fragrant, with a hint of green tea in the background. A refined dessert.

Gilgamesh is definitely a place to go to have a fun night out. Kick things off with a cocktail in the Champagne bar, pick your food well and you’re bound to have a memorable night.

 

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Azou // Hammersmith // London

Ask a North African where he or she thinks the best place to eat a tagine is, and the answer will invariably be, “at home”. For those Londoners who don’t possess a cherished family recipe or aren’t interested in cooking, there is a cunning, dishes-free alternative; Azou in Hammersmith.

Ideal for a night-out with friends or family, Azou’s menu showcases flavours from across the whole Maghreb. That means you’ll not only get to feast on the Moroccan dishes you know and love, but you’ll get to sample some Tunisian and Algerian cuisine too.

Starters are for sharing at Azou so the more the merrier. Order the omelette-cum-pancake brik, filled with egg, potato and tuna if you want something tasty and new. The baba ganoush is smoky and deep while the briouat triangles of filo pastry, filled with melting brie and goat’s cheese are very naughty (and gratifying). All of the starters offer contrasting textures and flavours to get you warmed-up for the main event.

While you soak in the atmosphere of dining under a richly coloured tent, prepare yourself for your tagine, cous-cous or grilled dish. The fish tagine is an unusual option, which won’t disappointed you. The sauce, slightly made sour with preserved lemons is the perfect delicate flavour to show-off a mix of white fish chucks and king prawns. The more traditional lamb shank tagine is served in a deep, fragrant sauce which stands-up to the flavour of the tender meat. Prunes and apricots provide some balancing sweet notes with almonds giving some crunch.

While simple tagines and other North African dishes may be easy to whip up at home, Azou adds so much more value by adding nuanced Mediterranean flourishes, which the home chef would struggle to replicate. And why bother when Azou does it so well for such a good price?


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Chotto Matte // Soho // London

When you walk through the hustle and bustle of Soho’s streets, it would be hard to miss the suave sophistication of the three-level complex which is Chotto Matte. You could easily think that you were stepping into a swanky New York club, which is no surprise as its creator is Kurt Zdesar, the same man who made Nobu a household name in London. The decor is artistically tasteful and offers elements of candid surprise, indicative of Chotto Matte’s Peruvian / Japanese fusion.

The menu is divided into sections based on preparation method – hot, cold, sautéed, barbecue etc.

Try the scallop tiradito, with its sweet, soft slices of raw shellfish that melt in your mouth. They’re perked-up by some chilli and salty, sour undertones, which dance around in your mouth. The seabass ceviche with sweet potato and Peruvian corn is another favourite. The freshness of the fish is highlighted by its opaque sheen and it’s brought to life with a refreshing tarty citrus sauce. Another dish that will impress is the octopus with yuzu and Peruvian purple potato. The octopus is perfectly charred with a smoky grill flavour and is served with a slight crust and a perfectly tender centre.

Onto desserts, and the one to try is the pineapple toban “yaki” (a Peruvian twist on the conventional British crumble), consisting of pineapple cooked in a small clay pot with a “chicha morada” crumble, accentuated by spices such as cinnamon and cloves. The crunchiness of the crumble is perfectly balanced by the creamy dollop of vanilla ice-cream. Not quite as good though is the peanut parfait with frangelico, which isn’t as tantalising as it sounds. The presence of the peanut butter is rather faint and the body of the parfait itself could do with more textural layers. 

Overall, dishes deliver on flavour and definitely satisfy the “you eat with your eyes” requirement, as each one is impeccably presented with vibrant colours and delicate arrangements. Ambience is funky, edgy and cool – perfect for a date night or for a catch-up with friends. With such a convenient location, it’s ideal for a Central London meal with an exotic twist.


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Duck & Waffle // Spitalfields // London

Perched high above Liverpool St, financial and fashionable types come together to eat in one of London’s most hyped new restaurants: Duck & Waffle. Though while you might think this will be a passing gimmick, the quality of the food (and service) says that it might be around longer than some expected. The cooking at Duck & Waffle is very strong, with a bistro-style menu that has been innovatively elevated by a talented team. They show how a concept restaurant can really deliver the goods.

Even though some may find the dishes a bit on the rich side, this is a bistro, and bistro isn’t meant to serve light food. But if that’s what you want, you’ve got Sushi Samba two floors down. That said, there are some lighter options on the menu too, such as the delicate yellow fin tuna, presented on a block of Himalayan salt with watermelon. D&W’s mainstay is its traditional, creamy cuisine, which is a pleasure for the eyes and the nose.

The smoked chilli braised pigs’ cheeks are a perfect example of this, served in a luscious cheesy polenta. It may look simple, but it’s incredibly full of flavour and the cheeks couldn’t be cooked better.

The pollock meat balls with a lobster sauce are absolutely sublime as well. A clever play on a French classical – quenelle de brochet Nantua – with bread crumbs giving it some extra texture. The fish is lifted by a deep lobster velouté and completed with an exotic twist of rose peppercorns. It’s so good that you might even be tempted to order a second serving.

And of course there is the signature dish, the famous confit duck, waffle and fried duck egg. While the quality of the plump Rhug Estate meat is unquestionable, the vegetarian version, served with pearl barley, trompette mushrooms and goats’ curd is every bit as good.

For dessert, don’t miss this impressive take on a crêpe Suzette, in the form of a sponge pudding. This is so good it should never be taken off the menu. The combination of the Grand Marnier custard and the moist orange flecked pudding is just wonderful.

And oh, the other thing is… the views are quite good too! But what makes them even better is the fact that you can take them in while eating some creative food made with real passion.


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Paesan // Islington // London

Exmouth Market continues on its culinary evolution with the arrival of Paesan, a restaurant (and subterranean cocktail bar) that’s part of a growing number of Italian sharing-style restaurants in London. It’s ‘cucina povera’ solidly focuses on using excellence produce, in gutsy, vibrant combinations to a satisfying effect.

Half of the menu is dedicated to cured meat, cheese and vegetable antipasti, ‘piccolo’ sharing plates (which aren’t that piccolo) and lusciously adorned four-slice pizzas. These offerings alone can create a varied and tasty dinner for you and friends. The other half of the menu is completed with full-sized meat, fish and pasta dishes, for a more conventional meal if that’s what you’re after.

The burrata with the aubergine caponata is a great ‘piccolo’ dish. The perfect balance of a soft creamy, mozzarella texture and taste with the acidity of the melting, velvety aubergine – all zinged-up with some capers and fresh salad leaves.  The mini butternut squash pizza, also delicious, has a light and fluffy base, with simple additions of rosemary and goats cheese that come together to form another well balanced plate. The bistecca tagliata (sliced steak) is the dish to go for if you’re looking for something serious and hearty. Great pink chucks of flesh with some Parmesan shavings and a hint of lemon really make the meat’s flavour stand-out.

Standing-out amongst the desserts is the crostada limone (lemon tart) which has an intense citrus kick, balanced-out by the fior di latte gelato – yes, that’s a gelato made from milk. But, not just any milk, a milk that has a real countryside grassy depth to it – a ‘must have’ if it’s on the menu when you visit.

And this is what sets Paesan apart from others restaurants that cook in the same style; the ingredients really speak for themselves. Teamed-up with tried and tested flavour combinations, you’ll find that everything you order is treated with care to deliver a simple, delicious experience. When you add that  the friendly service and the lively (but not noisy) atmosphere, Paesan is the perfect spot to catch-up with your friends.

Paesan restaurant can be booked directly via Quandoo_UK by going there. Easy and simple.


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Beagle // Hoxton // London

When you think of a bistro, you think of a simple place, with simple food that’s served with love…..and that’s exactly what Beagle is all about. Even though Beagle might look like just another trendy East End hang-out, it has taken the philosophy of the bistro and created its own modern British version.

You can tell from the cooking that Chef James Ferguson has worked and learned from some top talents; amongst them Angela Harnett. Ferguson has followed in their footsteps by using top quality products to create his dishes, with his own genuine style.

Beagle delivers perfection and simplicity in its food. No fuss, no foam, no overly complicated techniques, no deconstructed elements where a poor animal is shredded into seven pieces and served on a brick (if you see what we mean).

Beagle’s terrine of rabbit (certainly the best we have seen in London) is amazing in its quality. There are hulking great chucks of leg meat and rich slithers of liver, giving it an authentic flavour. The tarty, crunchy piccalilli is simple, but fresh and of course homemade; superb.

The onglet steak is amazing quality too, certainly coming from a select farmer or a savvy butcher. The cooking is spot-on and the horseradish cream is really punchy. Similarly, the pork belly is a delight and will make you forgot all the Sunday roasts that you’ve had before it; Beagle will be your new benchmark. The meat (and crackling) is simply exceptional.

Desserts impress too. The homemade (and very seasonal) cherry sorbet is lovely. Served in a martini glass, floating in a sea of prosecco, the sorbet is so rich in fruit flavour that your mouth will be shocked.  If this was served with a top Champagne, you could imagine it being on the menu at Paul Bocuse in Lyon, which is pretty good.

While not pretending to be anything too gastronomic, Beagle has succeeded in creating a bistro in the true tradition, but within an edgy East End environment. It’s commitment to quality products and cooking is evident for which Ferguson deserves a very large pat on the back. Wouldn’t it be great if more London chefs would cook with this level of integrity? Hopefully Beagle will push others to move in this wonderful direction.


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Randall & Aubin // Soho // London

If you’re looking for seafood in London, then a restaurant worth heading to is Randall & Aubin. This place has been running since 1911 (as their menu says so) and is very well known in the Soho area. After dark, the dining room sparkles with the reflected light of a disco ball and hums to the sound of lively music. Though if that isn’t for you, lunchtimes, particularly Sunday, are a tranquil affair. This is the flagship restaurant of television chef Ed Baines.

On offer is a selection of well-priced, “fruits de mer” seafood platters, covered with great range of shellfish, including lobster and crab. Though while the oysters aren’t cheap, there is a decent variety to choose from.

But where Randall & Aubin really stands-out for us is with its exceptionally good value, really well “cooked” dishes. The a la carte menu is a real pleaser.

We recommend the grilled line-caught tuna with roast Mediterranean vegetables, feta cheese, olive oil and oregano tapenade. The tuna is wonderful quality and is seared to perfection. The grilled flavour gives a light smoky taste to the almost fully raw fish and works well with the delightful salad. Even if you don’t like your tuna cooked in any way, you will like this.

On the “menu du jour”, Randall & Aubin do a version of the “Omelette Arnold Bennett”, a classic also served at The Delaunay. This dish is prepared with freshly poached haddock, filling an omelette which almost becomes a rich, crispy sabayon; pure heaven.

The crab and lemon risotto with pan fried Cornish red mullet and spring onions is also sublime and bursting with freshness. The acidity level is balanced and the rice is well cooked.

And while this is a seafood restaurant, don’t neglect the desserts; they are just as good as the main courses.

Overall, Randall & Aubin is a strong London establishment and will continue to be so if it keeps delivering this same level of cooking. Chef Ed Baines shows that he knows what it takes to please his dinners. We look forward to eating at Randall & Aubin again.


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Lima ★ // Fitzrovia // London

Lima is a restaurant that has given London something completely new. With its Peruvian flavours and ingredients, it’s playful bright plating, its enthused and charming service – it all comes together to create an exceptional dining experience that you won’t have been expecting.

While you kick-off with a passion fruit pisco sour, you’ll need some time to digest the inventive flavour combinations on the menu. Each plate is a flamboyant piece of art, with staples of corn, quinoa and peppers taking leading roles. Though this might not sound appetising, these ingredients will come in forms and be used in ways that you’ve never seen before – and you’ll love it.

The braised octopus is a great example. Meltingly soft morsels are given a last-minute crisp coating in a pan before being placed on an architectural plinth of quinoa. The octopus is surprisingly deep in flavour and delivers a punch with the lemony freshness of the quinoa below. Saltiness comes from a briny olive purée, which is dobbed about the plate in pretty mauve polka dots. Exotic micro herbs that decorate the dish add a freshness that pulls these satisfying components together wonderfully.

The super soft artichokes are another fresh, vibrant surprise – coated in a magnificent yellow, citrus sauce, and a shocking pink decoration (made from Peruvian molle pepper). This flourish adds a warm glow to the dish, while radish slices give some piquant crunch. All together it is both beautiful and clean in flavour.

Mains wise, the off-menu slow-roasted goat is an absolute, mouth-watering triumph. Served with a crispy exterior, coated with a lightly spiced sauce, this meat is so tender that it’s hard to imagine how it got onto the plate without falling apart. The accompanying sweet potato purée cakes are topped with tangy melted goat’s cheese to complete the dish’s balance, while slithers of red onion and herbs once again give some zing and zip.

Lima’s concept is an exotic, yet earthy in its pleasure. How wonderful that these ingredients and flavours have finally come to London to liven our palates. Given the relaxed warmth of the service and the fiesta style of the food, Lima is great for both friends to enjoy and for romantic surprises. Thank you Peru.


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The Jugged Hare // The City // London

Open for about two years now, The Jugged Hare is a sister pub/restaurant of The Gun in Canary Wharf. Tucked in behind the Barbican complex, it has a bar in the front, restaurant in the back and private dining downstairs. The atmosphere is Victorian bistro, in the same style of  Dean Street Townhouse. It delivers hearty food based around an offer of high quality meat, including some lesser seen options like its tasty namesake; the hare. Recipes are traditional with a French brasserie finish.

Though don’t been fooled by thinking that this is just a pub with a dining room. The Jugged Hare has quickly built its reputation and has become a favourite with City locals and workers. Try to stroll in and ask for a table and you’ll most probably be disappointed. The restaurant is guarded by a formidable hostess that controls who gets in, and that will only be those on her list.

Why not try their authentic, traditional blood pudding, which when cut open is velvety and soft, almost more in a Spanish morcilla style. It is very good quality and perfectly cooked. The pig’s trotter is also another tasty option, tender and rich in a luxurious sauce.

For mains, The Jugged Hare is bistro chic. The lemon sole is perfectly cooked in season Grenobloise style, with capers, beurre noisette, lemon and parsley. Also well done is house specialty; the jugged hare. Tender, shredded meat has been cooked slowly for hours with fragrant juniper berries and in the hare’s own blood. Served in, (what else?) a jug, this dish is a great conversation piece and is also mouth wateringly good. If you’re not feeling so adventurous, they also offer a range of rare breed meats to cook on their rather smart char-grill.

The Jugged Hare is perfect for a casual meal during the week and a Sunday catch-up with friends. But just be warned, you need to book to get past the iron lady.


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