Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte @ Marylebone

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 17 May 2010 | Tagged as: Restaurants

At the Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, you will only be asked one question: Rare, medium rare, or well done? This is French steakhouse at its best. The décor strives to give a Paris atmosphere and does a good job according to the French colleague along for the meal - the fact that the first of them was opened in Paris is definitely a good sign. The restaurant does not take bookings, but had a queue out the door during Friday lunchtime, a testament to its popularity.

On to the food. We were first brought a green leaf salad with walnuts, drenched in strong mustardy vinaigrette - as good tasting as green leaf salad gets. Then followed a plate of perfectly cooked entrecôte steak, sliced and so tender that a steak knife would have been unnecessary. It was accompanied by a mustard sauce and a mountain of fantastic thin fries. And when you’re through with that, the staff tops up the plate for you with a second helping - no need to ask, that’s the standard portion size (i.e. huge). We did not have the capacity for desert on our visit, but must definitely try them next time. The wine list is not big and our wine was unexciting, although we definitely share some of the blame for that for choosing an ‘02 £22 Bordeaux.

This restaurant does only French steak and chips, but gets it absolutely perfectly. And for £20 for the meal described here, with desert and drinks being extra, it’s a bargain. A must-go.

Locanda Locatelli @ Marble Arch

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 13 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Restaurants

What an outstanding restaurant. Locanda Locatelli is a very successful combination of wholesome Italian food and a fine dining experience. The first good sign were the two middle-aged Italian men waiting at the (small) bar area for their table - it’s always a good sign when people from the country the cuisine originates from frequent the restaurant.

The meal started with a basket of various types of bread (about 5 different ones) and olive oil, along with some bread sticks. The starters and mains were fantastic. A risotto with Castelmagno cheese and Barolo sauce was absolutely spot on - bursting with flavour, the cheesiness prominent but not overpowering, just about perfect - while the starter of scallops and celeriac puree really brought out the freshness and sea-flavours. A main of lamb with polenta and sweet peppers achieved a perfect balance of the savouriness of the melt-in-the-mouth meat and the sweetness of the peppers, and the beef special of the day came with a tender and flavoursome medium fillet. The only let-down was in the deserts - although the chocolate tasting dish was all you’d expect it to be and delivered a powerful kick of cocoa, the tiramisu was disappointing. Delivered in a cocktail glass, the light texture didn’t make up for the lack of taste and flavour. Some petit-four with the coffee rounded of the meal.

The drinks and wines lists are also extensive. The wine list resembles an encyclopaedia, the somellier was helpful and informative and our Barbaresco was truly marvellous - while the after dinner drinks catalogue was also extensive and included a full page with grappa, two pages with whiskey, another one for rum, and so on.

This is a really fantastic Italian restaurant - the food is fantastic, the choice of wine and drinks is massive and the service is efficient and attentive without intruding. Of course the price tag reflects all that, which makes it more ideal for special occasions. Definitely recommended.

Who’s got the users?

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 02 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Internet, Software

Loads of websites and web startups are all about the users, and how many of them they can get. Especially the ones that do some sort of matchmaking between a consumer and provider (landlords and tenants, sellers and buyers, employers and employees) always try to get to a point where they can boast a large number of participants of either side, so that they can lure more of them in. And how do you get there? Well, a great website that’s got something new and unique is a good start. Marketing helps too.

But there’s a new twist to this. Twitter’s success means there’s now a new way to go about it. Tweetalondoncab have come up with a smart way of harnessing Twitter to help match taxis with the people who need them. As they explain on their blog, you send a DM (direct message) to their Twitter account, which gets seen by all the participating taxi drivers. If there’s one available for the specified time and route, they give you a call, introduce themselves, arrange where exactly to pick you up, and give you their licence-plate number so that you know it’s them when they arrive.

That costs nothing to the users, and virtually nothing to the taxi drivers (apart from a bit of Twitter admin and working out the system). But, had they tried to come up with their own service for this from scratch, even after all the development effort, they would have had a hard time getting people on it. How do you find out about them? How do you contact them when you need them? Twitter on the other hand, gives them an existing messaging channel already used and recognised by all its members, and allows them to tap into the massive pool of Twitter users. And via the very nature of Twitter, word of mouth is quick and effective.

In short, the tables are reversed. Instead of coming up with a new website that tries to draw users to it and thus increase its people-centric value, one can tap into an existing community of users. It must be done with caution though, any sign of abuse, or lack of respect for Twitter’s main function in people’s daily communication, will send the brand’s karma plummeting.

Note: I used tweetalondoncab here merely as an example, but I must say that I have used them and they do provide a very good service. Worth a try!

IE6 anti-whinge

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 14 Aug 2009 | Tagged as: Internet, Software

Microsoft have announced that they will be supporting IE6 until 2014 as opposed to 2010 which was the original plan. This has caused a bit of a stir, especially amongst web developers who are sick and tired of spending a disproportional amount of their time debugging and making customisations for IE6. An example of these opinions, is the folks over at

So why is it still around? Phil Hawksworth makes a good point that it’s all about the enterprise. Large enterprises need to have their users locked in one browser, and they have a whole suite of applications that are developed, tested and supported for that browser only. I work in one: on-line training, performance management, supplies ordering, travel bookings, expenses system, time sheets, promotions, the list goes on and on: they’re all browser based, they’re all mandatory and they’re all supported for IE6 only. And guess what: a lot of them do actually break on other browsers (although IE7 is close enough, and Firefox isn’t far behind). Throw in dodgy ways of getting old and new systems to talk to each other and dodgy software built by vendors interested in delivering in the least amount of time possible, and you get a hell of a software soup. Moving to a different supported browser would have a massive cost, not including the cost of any of these not working well for any amount of time.

So am I surprised that companies in that situation aren’t supporting other browsers? No, even though that means they can’t upgrade up from Windows XP either (and for a while, the only thing to upgrade to was Vista anyway). I think they should be planning for it of course - there are systems slowly being upgraded and changed all the time, and if in this day and age the person responsible is not making damn sure that their product works in the latest versions of all popular browsers (as well as the still necessary IE6), then they’re doing a crap job and their company a disservice.

But I have to admit that people whinging at Microsoft for extending their support seems unnecessary and childish. Changes like this can only come from the people. And by that, I don’t only mean the users changing browsers, but also websites and online tools ceasing their support of IE6.

So, are you building a website or online tool and you’re sick of spending so much time customising for IE? Don’t. Put a note saying “we support IE7, IE8, FF 3.x, Safari, Opera, … We DON’T support IE6″. Or detect the browser being IE6 and give them a more basic version of the website, or even an HTTP 400 code and a message “Here’s what your missing - get a decent browser”. Do something. Make a stand. Microsoft are not producing dangerous drugs or guns, they’re not accountable in that way for IE6 still being around. It’s just a browser and as long as it’s being used and it makes sense for them to support it they will; and they should. If you want a change, make it happen.

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!

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