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Posted by Yannis Lionis on 29 Nov 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Gaucho can be summed up in two words: Excellent meat. The waiter comes round the table before you place your order with a big wooden tray holding examples of all their meats: rump, ribeye, sirloin and fillet steaks, churrasco (a thinner and marinated for 48 hours steak) plus some lamb chops. The beef steaks come in 225gr, 300gr or 400gr portions and are simply perfect: tasty, juicy and tender. They’re so good they hardly require any sauces to go with them (the peppercorn sauce being the only tiny let down in this restaurant).

The rest of the food doesn’t disappoint either. On arrival you get bread with butter and a delicious warm cheese-bread bite. Starters are great too, but I usually opt to go straight to a sizable steak, along with some side-orders (these are necessary as the meat doesn’t come with any salad or vegetables). The chips are worth particular mention, as does the dulce de leche cheesecake, if you can find the room for it. Vegetarians are also accounted for, as their menu has expanded lately to include more mains including a couple of veg ones. Still, this remains very much a steakhouse.

The list of wines is extensive and you won’t have any trouble finding a great red wine to match your meal. The restaurant atmosphere and service is also well looked after (most of them have room set aside as a bar), so the place doesn’t lack in ambiance either. 

This restaurant really scores high marks in every department, the steaks are truly outstanding and the place is worth every penny.

Maze @ Mayfair

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 27 Nov 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Maze, one of Gordon Ramsay’s ventures, ticks all the boxes of a fancy restaurant: well cooked elaborate dishes, excellent wine, efficient and unintrusive service, lovely atmosphere. As it has a bar attached to the restaurant with nothing to separate them, there is music played perhaps louder than most restaurants but at reasonable levels for having a conversation over your meal.

The menu however is organised a bit more differently than you’d expect. There is a list of dishes, split into smaller and slightly larger ones, and you are free to order as many as you want, but advised that two smaller and two larger ones is probably the right amount. Something like a gourmet tapas menu. There is also the option to go for the chef’s menu, which consists of 7 dishes (the last 2 of which are deserts) with only a couple of choices in the list to vary your selection. Even though the portions are predictably small, this is a lot of food, but it’s a good chance to sample many dishes. On our visit, the pumpkin soup with pieces of duck was very tasty, a dish of pickled beetroot with cream cheese was deliciously sharp and full of flavour, a quail with warm foie gras was quite pleasing, a dish of hake wrapped in parma ham was marvellous and the lamp accompanied by shepherd’s pie was fantastic (I told you it was a lot of food). The ice cream with fig jam and the floating island were light and sweet, a perfect finish to the meal. The wine list is extensive and they also offer “flights” - three glasses of three different wines to match your meal. The flight suggested by the Sommelier for our meal was excellent and original.

Overall, it’s very much worth a visit for a special occasion dinner.

Bumpkin @ Notting Hill

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 23 Nov 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Bumpkin has a brasserie on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first floor, but the whole place feels more like a gastropub than anything else. So did the menu on our Sunday lunch visit. There was only bread with liver pate and onion marmelade for starter, an extensive list of different Sunday roasts (beef, pork, lamb, chicken and a fish and a vegeterian option) for a main and a choice of cheese, strawberry tart or chocolate cake for pudding. It’s a very short menu (it would be interesting to see their regular one) but the food tastes very good (so did the brilliant 2005 Rioja).  Especially on a wintery afternoon, it was ideal and left us perfectly satisfied.

Carpenter’s Arms @ Ravenscourt Park

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 09 Nov 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Capenter’s Arms received some very positive reviews from Timeout and we decided to pay it a visit after the Bonfire night fireworks at nearby Ravenscourt Park.

This establishment is classed as a Gastropub, and it was indeed a small and cosy pub converted into a comfortable dining area. There are limited tables, but the outdoor area would add to that in better weather.

However, the similarities and relevance to a traditional pub end there. The service, the menu and the presentation are those of a classy restaurant and bear no resemblance to a pub. You won’t find traditional pub-food dishes on offer, like fish and chips or sausages and mash, or even approximations of them. The daily changing menu on our visit included a starter of hot foie gras with barley which was delightful, and a satisfyingly creamy but light goat’s cheese salad. The list of mains was unusual and adventurous. No beef, no lamb, the only pork dish also contained snails, and there was a dish with haddock and rabbit. Our venison steak with chips and salad was excellent, as was the accompanying Rioja. We rounded off with a rich and tasty pear and pecan tart.

The imaginative dishes are very well cooked, this seems to be one of those places where the cooking skills of the chef are undeniable, no matter how plain or bold your choice of food is. This is as restaurant-like as a Gastropub gets, but it hits all the right notes. With so many summery options in that area, this is definitely a worthwhile one for the colder nights of the year.

Barrafina @ Soho

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 20 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Once again on Friday night we ended up at Barrafina. This is a Spanish tapas bar, and it’s literally that: there is an L-shaped bar that sits around 24 people on bar stools and that’s all the seating in the place. Given the small size of it, it’s remarkable they can prepare food and seat that many people anyway. There is also a counter with just enough room running along the side of the bar for the queue of people waiting as much as 40 minutes to be seated to be able to order drinks and a couple of tapas to appease their hunger.

And the long wait is perfectly justified. Barrafina specialises at preparing simple tapas very very well. There are a lot of things grilled or cooked with olive oil, garlic and lemon, thus bringing out all the flavour of the fresh ingredients without any extra fanfare and pretence.

Food is prepared in front of the customers, just behind the bar. You can observe the cooks grilling fish, shellfish or meat, slicing Iberian ham off the huge leg resting just behind the counter, frying croquettes and tortillas and the simple recipe is quite obvious: cook, season simply (salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, lemon - two or three of these), serve. There is also always a large selection of specials, most of which are fish and shellfish resting on ice at arms length and grilled on the spot (someone’s lobster was killed right in front of us).

On yesterday’s visit we enjoyed patatas bravas, pimientos de padron (green grilled peppers), bread spread with garlic and tomato and grilled lamb chops, which are amongst our regular choices and excellent as usual. We opted for a ham and spinach tortilla omelette which was perfectly cooked, some (fairly rare) grilled octopus seasoned with paprika and very tasty, and finished with a grilled piece of rib-eye topped with red peppers and melted cheese, which was amazing. There was just enough room to share a (thankfully) light crema catalana at the end. Oh, and the cava never misses.

Apart from the amazing food, it’s the experience that makes the place very worthwhile. Observing the food being prepared and ordering whatever looks good, a couple of dishes at a time, having the seafood in front of you to choose from, and the friendly and informal service, combine to give an authentic and pleasurable atmosphere.

Be warned, the place doesn’t take bookings, so expect a big queue (unless you go very early or very late). Also they do not accept groups of more than 4, as the place is so tiny, and even that would be a stretch as you’d be sitting side by side. It’s rather an ideal place for two looking for a fun and informal dinner out.

All in all, this is by far my favourite Spanish restaurant in London and as authentic as it could possibly be (as much as that’s worth coming from a non-Spaniard). As long as you’re prepared for the queue and the slightly cramped conditions of eating at the bar, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Launceston Place @ Kensington

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 05 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Launceston Place is a newly refurbished British restaurant with very good reviews, so we decided to pay them a visit. We weren’t disappointed.The food was well cooked and immaculately presented. The foie gras starter with elderflower milk soup had delicately balanced flavours, while the very fresh scallops came served in actual sea shells. The main of lamb with smoked aubergine was tasty and accentuated the taste of the meat and the duck was excellent. A desert of strawberries with clotted cream and champagne was a good finish to the meal, while the brown bread parfait with spiced Mayan chocolate was original but a bit confusing. Espresso was spot on. There was also an amuse-bouche and a pre-desert (which was served inside eggshells) that added to the experience.The restaurant is cosy and has a discreet kind of elegance, while the small touches (like the flambe starter prepared in the middle of the dining room) help to form a pleasant experience and atmosphere. The service is unobtrusively friendly and particularly efficient - even for a restaurant of this stature (and price tag).Overall, this is a posh restaurant that’s worth it. Best suited for a quiet but special evening out, it definitely deserves a visit.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 04 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

I’ve been to a number of the GBK restaurants, and they have never failed to deliver what they do best: really good burgers. The meat is tasty, the chips are great, the burger combinations imaginative - talk about comfort food! And if you think you can handle it, the milkshakes are huge, but oh so good!

I think the best asset of GBK is that they’ve selected one thing and really doing it well. Their burgers are truly and consistently the best I’ve had in London. And it is a perfect place to grab a quick and informal but delicious and fulfilling bite. GBK definitely gets the thumbs up, and I’m sure I’ll continue to return there to enjoy their food.

Babylon @ High Street Kensington

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 03 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Babylon sits on the 7th floor of a building in the middle of High Street Kensington, with the Roof Gardens (a club by the same owners) sitting on the 6th floor below.

Babylon is more about the experience than about just having dinner. Not that the food isn’t good - with the exception of a main of lamb which came across slightly bland and dry, the smoked eel with horseradish starter successfully joined some bold flavours, the goat cheese starter was delightful, the beef fillet and langoustine main was an unusual but delicious dish, and the desert selection was imaginative and fulfilling. Aside from that though, a lot of effort is put in to the friendly and efficient service, the dish design (the deserts are particularly elaborate) and the whole experience of having a drink on the terrace before dinner and the visiting the night club downstairs after.

A big selling point of the place is of course the garden and the view. The 6th floor has a large area around the club with a garden you wouldn’t believe is on top of a building: there are fully grown trees as well as streams with ducks swimming in them and small bridges to cross. This also provides an eerie feeling when sitting on the terrace of the restaurant of the 7th floor, as the view of Royal Albert Hall, the London Eye, and as far as Canary Wharf is visible just a few inches over the tree tops.

The price tag of course reflects all this. For example, there were no mains under £20, the cocktails (in the club at least) were a bit over £10 and having had dinner at the restaurant only gets you out of queueing for the club but not out of paying the £10 entrance fee.

Still, Babylon is overall a good choice for a special occasion, particularly in good weather, so long as you’re prepared for the price tag. Book a late table, have a drink in the terrace taking in the view, have a design dinner and then descend to the club for a night-cap. It’s bound to be a great Saturday night out.

Retsina @ Belsize Park

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 01 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

After reading some good reviews on Retsina, we decided to give it a go, and we were not disappointed.

The food was very satisfying. Our mixed meze starter included a variety of dips with warm pitta and a very tasty grilled halloumi that set us off well. A main of beef stifado (beef and onion stew) was excellent, and the chicken and lamb mixed grilled and huge salmon steak pleased as well, although the pork kebab came out a bit dry. These were accompanied by a brilliant Hatzimihalis Cabernet Sauvignon. Although we didn’t have room for deserts, a plate of fresh summer fruit rounded off the meal nicely, as did the Greek coffee and loukoumia offered at the end.

However, the biggest selling point is possibly the service rather than the food. It was friendly and efficient, but it seems almost an insult to leave it at that: it was hospitable, we felt like guests rather than customers. This was amplified by the fact that the majority of the clientele seemed to know the (Greek-Cypriot) owners quite well, creating a more homey atmosphere. The complementary digestif after we had paid the bill went down well too. And with the service not included in the bill, you are free to add the amount you see fit, and we were more than happy to offer the customary 12.5%.

I am always a bit apprehensive about recommending Greek restaurants, as I know that it carries more weight than suggesting any other type of restaurant. I can safely say however that Retsina is as authentic a Greek restaurant as one can possibly find in London, and I would definitely recommend it. I will no doubt be going back.

The Devonshire @ Chiswick

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 31 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

After a long walk by the river in the beautiful weather, dinner al fresco at a pub outdoor area seemed just the thing to do. And as we chanced by Gordon Ramsay’s stab at a gastropub (which we were meaning to visit), that seemed like a good place for it.

It’s the first visit to one of Gordon Ramsay’s establishments, and food did not disappoint. Both starters (salmon and beetroot salad with ricotta) were well balanced without being too much. The sausage and mash main was very satisfying, definitely one of the best I’ve had, while the sole fillet with vegetables was tasty and light. The terrace was lovely and quiet, and the indoor dining area (more like a restaurant than a pub) looked very cosy for colder evenings. The only thing that left something to be desired was the service, as we had to ask for our food menus and for our bill twice.

But overall it was definitely an enjoyable visit with very good food, and at a very reasonable price. Worth a visit.

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