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Ciao Baby Cucina @ Shepherd’s Bush

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 19 Jun 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Another restaurant in Westfield shopping centre, Ciao Baby Cucina is a great place to have big, hearty helpings of italian food. No elaborate and delicate combinations of unusual ingredients here - the dishes are familiar and favourite dishes, and the portion sizes are as exaggerated as the amount and richness of some of the ingredients. The pasta section gives the option of pasta and sauces separately, so you can make you own combination, although there are suggestions as to which goes best with which.

A starter of fried mushrooms with polenta, was packed with flavour and would be called a main in most other italian restuarants I’ve been to, while a plate of antipasti and a caprese salad were both sizeable and tasty. We already felt full after some bread with olive oil and the starters, but we had the mains to wrestle with: linguine with bolognese sauce was flavoursome and came with parmesan shavings on top, the chicken lasagna was massive and packed with cheesy tomato flavour (but the chicken was mostly lost) and the grilled chicken was also a big tasty helping. There was little room for desert after that, but we managed a refreshing affogato.

The flavours and dishes in this place are as full on as they get, and the dishes are drenched to the brim with some ingredient or other (cheese, tomato sauce, olive oil, etc.). Although I happen to like that kind of food (any restaurant that leaves a pot of parmesan on the table, instead of sprinkling a single spoonfull and taking it away has got to be a favourite for me), it wasn’t to everyone’s liking, and it was described as over-the-top in some aspects. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would gladly go back. If you’re in those parts and you’re looking to indulge a bit on italian food, it’s a great one to visit - just make sure you’re really hungry!

L’Autre Pied @ Marylebone

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 28 May 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

L’Autre Pied is a slightly more casual version of it’s older sister restaurant, Pied a Terre. It’s more casual only in the surroundings and atmosphere, the menu is equally elaborate and the service equally attentive.

The food doesn’t fail to impress. A creamed asparagus and chervil velouté with smoked goats milk and pea shoots was a soupy dish with a solid middle, a tasty and light starter, whereas the seared foie gras with pickled baby artichoke, pineapple sorbet and black pepper crisps was powerful with bold combinations of flavours. The main of rabbit saddle was an impressive dish in terms of design and number of ingredients on the plate and the flavour was faultless, while the pan fried sea bream was fresh and well balanced. The “Tiramisu” coffee and dark chocolate for two was too tempting to miss, and it turned out to be a deliciously rich tiramisu and chocolate flavour mousse that rounded of the meal nicely. There was a pre-starter and coffee came with petit-fours, adding to the feel of fine dining.

L’Autre Pied was overall a very good restaurant experience, with a price tag to match - Pied a Terre is both more elaborate and more expensive, but both are certainly worth a visit.

The Meat and Wine Co @ Shepherd’s Bush

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 10 May 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Located in Westfield shopping centre, the Meat and Wine Co is a massive restaurant, with the walls decorated with racks and racks of wine, an open kitchen and a cosy fire, while it also has a few tables outside and another few on the balcony for days with adequate weather.

As the name implies, they take their meat and wine seriously, but they also pay sufficient attention to all areas of the meal. There are several starters and salads, plenty of different kinds of meats and grills, some vegetarian options and a kid’s menu. Our steaks clearly came from fine quality meat and were tender and cooked perfectly - the peppercorn sauce was a good accompaniment. The chips were a bit unusual, looking particularly fluffy, and tasted fine, but not exceptional. Our Chilean wine (chosen from a long list, organised by country and with many wines available by the glass) was a perfect partner for our meat. Desserts didn’t disappoint either, with the chef’s desert platter containing a selection of most of the desserts on the list most of them fantastic (apart from one bland rice-pudding-type dessert), the chocolate fondant was particularly rich and flavoursome.

The restaurant has polite and efficient service and plenty of room with big tables with generous spacing between them. There is no shortage of good steak restaurants in London, but this is definitely a worthy addition.

The Forge @ Covent Garden

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 10 May 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Forge is a rather small but elegant restaurant just off Garrick Street. It advertises itself as Modern European, but the British influence is apparent.

Our waiter was friendly and willing, albeit slightly nervous. The menu is impressively long, there are about 20 starters and at least 15 mains, with another few dishes available as either a starter or a main for good measure. The crab with lemon and mayonnaise starter was very fresh, light and tasty, while the spinach salad with mustard dressing was good apart from an extra unidentifiable kind of leaf with a funny taste. The mains were satisfying, with a swordfish on a bed of butter beans delivering an innovative taste combination and a mutton shank with couscous that was strong, very Moroccan in character and exciting. The deserts won the night though, with a treacle tart a bit nontraditional, but every bit of moreish treacle mouthfuls as one would expect and the 3 little chocolate pieces turning out to be 3 reasonably-sized portions of chocolate sin/heaven.

The restaurant is quiet (it only seats 20 people on the ground floor), the tables are reasonably spaced and it is a very good option for a romantic or quiet evening out. Thumbs up!

Brasserie Gerard

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 27 Feb 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

We didn’t have high expectations going into Brasserie Gerard, we were basically looking for a quick, down to earth, dinner. Brasserie Gerard however managed to disappoint us.

We both ordered a medium steak (a rump and a rib-eye) and what arrived was well-done by any standard, let alone by French ones - inexcusable even as an oversight considering there were only 3 tables occupied. Apart from overcooked, it was also a bit rubbery - on the plus side the peppercorn sauce was respectable, and the pepper seasoning on the steak was a good touch (unless you don’t like pepper). The fries were neither great nor awful and the wine (we ordered a large and a small glass and were served in identical glasses, the “large” one full to the brim) was blunt. The service was curteous, but markedly unenthusiastic.

Even more so, the price tag is unjustifiable - we were looking for a French restaurant equivalent of a Pizza Express or Strada, and got a disappointing and pricey version of it: The steaks were £12-£14, and although I appreciate a good steak and I am perfectly happy to pay that price for a really good one, that was most definitely not it. The set menu seemed to be better value at least.

It is perhaps harsh to judge the entire chain based on this experience - the result in each restaurant undoubtedly varies depending on the individual cook, service staff and manager of each restaurant. It seems though that Brasserie Gerard is trying to hit a balance between a cheap eatery and a fancy restaurant and is spectacularly failing, by getting the food wrong and overcharging for the privilege. No wonder it was almost empty on a Friday evening. We won’t be going back in a hurry.

Fire and Stone @ Covent Garden

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 23 Feb 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Fire and Stone is a stylish pizza restaurant that opened fairly recently in Covent Garden, with a second branch in Westfield shopping centre. It feels like it’s the kind of restaurant that will be opening more branches soon and will be becoming one of the big chains that has a presence just about everywhere - but for the time being there’s just two of them, and they seem to be paying attention to their food and service (as the customer survey card on each table might suggest).

The food is certainly interesting - it’s mostly pizzas here, but the available recipes succeed in being original. Spit in categories matching the world’s continents, there’s something for everyone. The Bavaria pizza (German sausage, bacon, cabbage, mozzarella, tomato sauce, sour cream and mustard) was as tasty and full-on as you’d expect from the description, and definitely delivered. The Cairo (roasted red and yellow peppers, aubergines, courgettes, goats cheese, tomato sauce and pine nuts) was very flavoursome and succeeded in showing off the different ingredients.

On the flip side, the bill was somewhat heftier that you might expect. This restaurant is attempting to be a more upmarket pizza restaurant than, say, Pizza Express; this is mirrored in a small separated bar area and corresponding cocktail menu for example. And although the average pizza is not more expensive than its counterpart in Pizza Express, Zizzi or Strada, the bill gets sightly more inflated by all the extras around the pizza.

Still, this is a pleasant restaurant, well suited to the Covent Garden spirit, the food is tasty and original (not an easy task in pizza-land) and the service polite and efficient - so it’s certainly worth a visit. I shall definitely be returning to try the Capetown and the Paris Deluxe pizzas!

The Botanist @ Sloane Square

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 13 Feb 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

We popped in to the Botanist for a quick meal on a weekday. We were not disappointed by the food - we had a Cote de Boeuf for two that was cooked just right and was delicious, accompanied by two thick and mouthwatering sauces. The service perhaps left something to be desired - the waiter was appalled by the fact that we only wanted the main course, especially after his stark warning that it could take at least half an hour depending on how well done we wanted it, and it was generally a bit challenging to get someone’s attention. This could however be attributed to the fact that this place is much more suited for a leisurely visit, long dinner and a drink or two at the busy bar up front, and we were going much too fast for them through our dinner.

It definitely has potential, and I would gladly go back for second try.

Cambio de Tercio @ South Kensington

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 21 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Cambio de Tercio strikes a difficult balance between having a laid back, hospitable atmosphere of the kind you’d expect from a local Spanish eatery, with modern and elaborate cooking and efficient service you’d expect from a good restaurant.

You can go for starters and mains or just order tapas and we went for the latter, planning to share all tapas amongst the 4 of us. As the menu suggested to order 3-4 dishes per person, we ended up ordering about 15 different tapas (which was most of the menu). This turned out to be a mistake. The food was excellent (I won’t attempt to remember and mention all the dishes, suffice to say that none of them was a disappointment), but mixing several fish dishes with several meat ones, all very tasty but with strong flavours, was overwhelming. We would have been better off with each sticking to a few tapas or just ordering a la carte - and we’ll probably go back and do that as the cooking was indeed very good.

The staff were friendly and seemed to cope with the restaurant being full to the brim, and we got offered (more than one) digestive on the house at the end of the meal from our friendly waiter.

We’ll definitely be visiting this restaurant again, or possibly Tendido Cero across the road, owned by the same people but more of a tapas bar than a restaurant.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon @ Mayfair

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 21 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The name, website and staff of Joel Robuchon imply a definite Frenchness about this restaurant, however it’s classified as ‘Modern European’ by Timeout. The decor and style of the restaurant and the dishes justify the description, so does the sitting arrangement (you sit at the bar facing the kitchen, or at tables and stools of the same height around the restaurant, resembling a tapas bar). The style of the menu is also a bit more original - you can order from a traditional menu with starters and mains, but you also get the option to pick a few smaller dishes and eat tapas-style. There is also a 7-course £110 tasting menu, if you’re really hungry.

The food is very good, as you’d expect from such a restaurant. The Iberian ham with toasted tomato bread was delicious, the langoustine fritter was just about the best shellfish I’ve ever tried (and I don’t even like shellfish), hot foie-gras with potatoes was nicely balanced, the veal fillet was excellent and the beef and foie-gras burgers where a bold and successful combination. To finish off, a Calvados warm soufflé was flavoursome but perhaps slightly too eggy for desert, and the chocolate cube was a proper hit of chocolate. Although both the Sicilian red wine we had with our food and the desert wine were fantastic, the actual wine list was on the expensive side, even for a restaurant of this type - in the numerous pages of the wine menu you could only find a handful below £50. Service was efficient and discreet.

Overall, this restaurant has the cooking and the service to justify the price-tag of haute-cuisine, but has a twist of originality that makes it an interesting night out. Definitely recommended.

Theo Randall @ Mayfair

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 14 Dec 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Although Theo Randall at the Intercontinental is what you’d call a fancy restaurant in many ways (the excellent service and the price tag for example), it still remains an Italian restaurant at heart, taking it away from some of the typical characteristics you’d expect. For example, the portions are not tiny fancy-restaurant sized, but rather reasonable quantities; which leads to a very filling meal.

The menu boasts fresh ingredients only (which also means they may run out of some items as they did on our visit), but the freshness shows in the dishes. The buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad was very flavoursome, as were the tagliatelle with mushroom sauce. The seafood risotto was full of tasty prawns, squid and shellfish, while the pigeon with lentils and red cabbage was fantastic. We decided we could just about squeeze desert in, and we were not disappointed by the extremely chocolaty soft chocolate cake and the unusually mealy but delicious cheesecake. There is an extensive list of wines with (unsurprisingly) a focus on Italian ones split by region, and both our choice of white for the meal and the desert wine were excellent.

All in all, this is definitely worth a visit, and although it is special-occasion territory, it still remains close enough to familiar Italian cuisine to give it a bit more of a special character.

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