Category: Bar and restaurant review

South for Soif, a review

27 Battersea Rise, London SW11 1HG

Soif, Clapham

In South West London, we enjoy a slower sort of life. Not quite on Caribbean time but certainly noticeably less hurried than anywhere else in London. This translates to our restaurants too – more laid back, less formal. And that’s perhaps why it’s the perfect location for a delightful wine-centric restaurant by the name of Soif.

I chose a funny sort of day to visit Soif; inadvertently, I had booked in for lunch when I already had a long-standing reservation for dinner at The Waterside Inn. In the back of my mind, I was thinking how they were a world apart; where one had maintained 25 years of three Michelin stars, the other was still in its relative infancy. Having visited its sister restaurant in Covent Garden, Terroirs, I was expecting some very good things though.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Their handful of dishes were loosely split into starters, mains and desserts. Not quite tapas but certainly great for sharing over a glass of wine, or indeed several bottles if the mood takes you. And that’s really what Soif is all about, their wines.

The list, extending to six pages plus sweet/fortified and digestifs, offers some very affordable and, more importantly, interesting natural wine options. Indeed, when I later showed the list to a grape geneticist friend, he was very tempted by the varietals on show and even more intrigued by the mock offer of an ’82 Petrus at £1m.

But back to the food.

Duck rillette with toast and buffalo mozzarella, broad beans and savoury made contrasting starters where one said comforting winter and the other colourful summer. A sparkling something seemed apt and glasses of Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Rosato Frizzante and Benoit Courault Le P’tit Chemin Pet Nat were sunk. Needing some contrast in texture too, half a dozen well-shucked Maldon rocks followed as a palate cleanser.

Slightly more heavy set mains of turbot with samphire and Jersey Royals and loin of pork with roasted potatoes buttered cabbage and apple sauce arrived accompanied by Adegas Sameiras Blanco 2010 and AA Denavolvo Dinavolino Bianco 2010. There is a sense of Sunday brunch about the lunch. Perhaps much of it is down to the fact that the lunch rush seem to start from about 2pm with families and groups of friends.

A rather seasonal strawberries and cream was on the menu though I took on the bitter chocolate mousse and hazelnut sablé instead, keen to sample their pastry offering. Its intensity on the palate begged something even sweeter to tame. Happily, the staff recommended something mysterious that did the trick.

Satisfyingly filled with wine and food, I leave reflective. How interesting was the assault on my palate from the wine where, for once, the food took more of a back seat. How well adapted this little gem was to South West London living without being in any way inefficient. And how perfect a place it would be for long discussions late into the night. There aren’t many places that will tempt North Londoners south of the river. Soif is surely one.

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

Galvin at Windows bar, Hilton Park Lane Hotel, Review

The bar at Galvin at Windows reopened on the 22nd of May with a new vintage – 1930’s theme.

Following a £500,000 refurbishment, the bar, on the 28th floor of the Mayfair Hilton Park Lane, is more chic than ever and boasts stunning views of the London landscape.

View at Galvin at Windows bar, Hilton Park Lane

 

 

With Fred Serieix at the helm watching over every little detail, the service is exemplary and ultra smooth. For a bar that’s so popular, that attention to detail is definitely needed.

Fruit based cocktails dominate so if you have a sweet tooth it could work out quite well. If you like something a little more bitter, though, you might have to order something off menu.

A few choice snacks from the restaurant next door, plenty of creative cocktails and the setting sun, it really feels like the world is your oyster. And if you ask really nicely, they might even let you out onto the balcony for one of the most spectacular views of London.

Be prepared for a sizeable bill though. Just a few cocktails can set you back more than £100.

Here are a couple of snaps:

Degò: Wine by trade, Italian by nature

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

An exploration of wine led me to Degò; an Italian restaurant and wine bar that’s so far removed from its Oxford Circus surroundings it leaves you disorientated.

How do you explain its concept? “Devil’s in the detail” perhaps, which is what might be invoked when your eyes set upon its red and black theme. So potent and masculine is the colour, and all hard wood and sleek granite. Yet, there’s also a hint of femininity – the curvature of the bar upstairs, and elsewhere, all moulded around the glass of Franciacorta. Incidentally this is the sparkling wine, produced via the same method as Champagne, you really ought to indulge in. Degò has chose to stock only Franciacorta by Villa and it stocks it exclusively.

The music in the wine bar, played on a bespoke sound system, always falls in the background facilitating ample conversation. The wine selection, mostly Italian, some French and a generous few exclusive to Degò, paired with the cheese and charcuterie is equally adept. In a rather unusual fashion, the board of cold cuts is served with a sauce of sweet chilli which works surprisingly well with the La Tur.

Steak tartare ingredients at Dego, London

Stairs, black marble inlaid with red, leads down to the restaurant itself where the theme continues in a more prominent fashion. Breathtaking is probably not the right word for it. Over a thousand panels of red hued leather adorn the walls, creating a womb of shimmery rouge. The low and boothy seats encourage the Casanova position – that is, a sideways seductive recline against the supple leather, one hand supporting the head and the other nursing the wine.

And wine is as big an aspect downstairs in the restaurant as it is upstairs in the bar. A fact which was obvious from the wine coolers built into all the tables; a considered design. The food, leaning towards Venetian, is no less important and Degò has been furnished with two AA Rossettes and a place in the Good Food Guide.

The bread platter is plenty and full of choice, but don’t fill up on these. Start with the steak tartare for something a little different. Made to order at the table rather than in the kitchen, the meat is coarsely ground (it’s an Italian thing I’m told) with a perfectly balanced proportion of ingredients. And while good, it doesn’t take your breath away in quite the same manner as the scallops with hazelnut cream and Amarone apples, which looks like a sandy rockpool artfully spilled across the plate. Drink Soave La Broia D.O.C. 2009 Roccolo Grassi for its crisp, balanced lightness.

Scallops with hazelnut cream and amarone apples at Dego, London

The veal chop serving as a main, though inspired by its Milanese counterpart, is much more generous in its portioning but no less tender. A side of frangipane potatoes, a dusting of lightly spiced crust, is a surprising addition but pairs beautifully with medium rare duck breasts and French beans. Opt this time for a dark and smokey I.G.T. Jeudi 15 2009 Vino di Anna, made by Anna Martens, the wife of Caves de Pyrène’s founder Eric Narioo.

If you can, make room for the Bigoli with duck ragu too. A buckwheat pasta with a rich, gamey sauce will surely leave you feeling wholesome and satisfied. Or indulge in their selection of desserts instead, it will give you the same pleasure.

The chocolate caramel meringue has the ginger sauce to give it a kick, though you might kick yourself for not ordering the rose parfait when romancing – it comes with a single red rose. Therein lies the detail of the whole operation. Call it cheesy if you like but really, it’s just flamboyant Italian.

(First seen on The Prodigal Guide)

Cocktails at Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental, London

If there’s one cocktail to have at Bar Boulud in London’s Mandarin Oriental, it’s a white cosmopolitan. Or two.

That is, after all, the cocktail that it’s reputed for. And if you’ve ever had one, you’d understand why. As well as the balance in flavours, there’s also great attention to detail. Like the petal frozen into the ball of ice.

But there are also plenty of other martini-glass options worth sampling, served with a little extra jug on the side.

The cocktails are serious and full of character but if all that alcohol’s getting to you, there’s always their world class burgers to fall back on.

Here are a selection of photos from the night:

Cocktails at the Amaranto Bar, Four Seasons Hotel

A deviously good time can be had at the Amaranto Bar of the Four Seasons, Park Lane. The Italian inspired bar was surprisingly masculine, offering a long list of martinis and negronis. Thankfully, there are rich desserts to sweeten the deal as well as a fine selection of Italian wines to fall back on. There were some soon to be on the menu cocktails, a tour of the kitchen with the Head Chef Davide Degiovanni and the sampling of a rosé Franciacorta with one of their sommeliers Rafael Peil. Quite an adventure.

Here are a selection of photos from the night:

The Cuckoo Club – Members Club Review

Swallow Street, London W1B 4EZ

The Cuckoo Club - Members Club

The Cuckoo Club has been recently redesigned by the 60s fashion designer and BIBA founder Barbara Hulanicki. But what goes on in its purple boudoir?

Décor and Ambience

The purple theme of The Cuckoo Club spells out debauchery and decadence everywhere but that’s precisely how they wanted it designed – with rock n’ roll in mind.

In the restaurant-come-club upstairs, the mirrored bar back with its towering shelf of liquors imparts a sense of something naughty. While the mixologist expertly concocts your cocktail, you can enjoy dinner on its plush banquettes or, with a reservation, in its VIP area. After the dining hour, that same room is transformed into a club with neon, strobes and cracking DJs.

Stairs, lit with a giant glittering disco ball, will lead you down to the basement club where you can also enjoy cocktails on their booths while you wait for that transformation. Or equally stay because it’s ready with music, drinks, a dance floor and comfy seating.

Atmosphere and Clientèle

The first thing you’ll be told when asking about The Cuckoo Club is that it never gets busy before 11pm.

Well, the club part that is. Members and non-members alike can book tables in The Cuckoo Club’s restaurant and it does get quite busy there. The perk for non-members is that they’ll also gain access to the club after dinner.

Because it’s a members’ club, The Cuckoo Club’s guests are rather well dressed, though that is not to say that they are in any way snobby. Indeed after a drink or two, everyone’s more than happy to mingle on the dance floor while the staff takes care of all your refreshment needs. It’s probably one of the few places in London where well-heeled students and successful young professionals blend in equal measures.

Food and Drink

The food at The Cuckoo Club doesn’t conform to cuisine. Instead you will find quite a selection of luxurious fish and meat dishes such as grilled langoustine and wagyu beef burgers.

Economical/drinkonomical is not a word considered here. With starters upwards of £10 and mains upwards of £15, you may have to curb your enthusiasm over their small selection of £8 desserts. Still, you will be rewarded well if you order the Valrhona ganache with sea salt crumble.

Drinks wise, cocktails are the thing to go for. Blends of champagne and absinthe will definitely get the party started but you can equally go for a tame G&T. Either way, the bar men know their way around an ice cube.

Music

Given its aspirations, The Cuckoo Club probably inclines more towards the rock n’ roll side but really you’re just as likely to hear dance and RnB classics. With different nights running throughout the week and on each of their dance floors, there’s certainly room for choice.

In Summary

The Cuckoo Club is not a night out for the faint-hearted or small budgeted but prepare for the large bill and you are guaranteed fun in copious supply.

(First seen on Design My Night)

Réunion Bar at The Grosvenor Hotel, Review

101 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria, SW1W 0SJ

Réunion Bar at The Grosvenor Hotel

Réunion bar at The Grosvenor Hotel, not the French island in the Indian Ocean as you might think but a champagne and cocktail bar in The Grosvenor Hotel. So just where does it get its French name from?

Décor and Ambience

Enclosed in The Grosvenor Hotel, the site of Réunion was at one time a VIP Lounge for First Class passengers travelling from Victoria station. As it happens, Victoria was also the connection to Continental Europe via the luxurious Orient Express. So it seems that a Réunion was born to celebrate the amalgamated history of the two.

Very much staying true to its history, Réunion is decorated with the splendours of steam trains of years gone by but with a modern twist. Paintings of Brighton Belle, the other famous luxury train which departed from Victoria, hangs on either end of the bar. Pockets of seating are artfully cordoned off by curtains, creating intimate social spaces for meeting friends. A mirror reflects over the granite bar, centrally placed and illuminated by glass-ware lighting from above.

When you make your entrance, you will certainly feel like you’ve arrived.

Atmosphere and Clientèle

Despite not being overtly sign posted from the station, the bar is almost packed by 6.30pm. There’s plenty of space to stand but if you want to grab a seat, get there early. Luckily, the bar is well staffed so you won’t have to wait long to quench your thirst.

While Réunion is not a space for a quiet drink, it’s definitely not a rowdy venue either. The well-heeled guests appear to be mostly professionals enjoying a couple of drinks after work. In the corner booths you’re likely to find groups of suited men, clearly still engaged in an overrun business meeting. Sitting at the bar are the occasional lone traveller, soaking in the exotic martinis.

Food and Drink

Though Réunion offers up bar snacks in the shape of charcuterie, sushi and miniature bites, it’s really the drinks that matter. After all, it is a champagne and cocktail bar.

Most people in the bar seem to indulge in the cocktails. But with few champagnes by the glass and vintages costing up to some £650, you can sort of understand why the golden liquid isn’t flowing during the week. The cocktails on the other hand, start from just £7.50 and there are some carefully crafted ones like the Victorian martini. Of course you could always blend the two and go for a champagne cocktail. The toffee champagne is particularly good.

Réunion also creates limited edition themed cocktails alongside its usual offering, with a collectible menu. What a novel idea.

In Summary

If you find yourself with time to kill at Victoria station, consider popping into Réunion. Considering the jostle of the station, Réunion makes a much more relaxed waiting environment. And even if you don’t bump into an old friend, you’ll still be treated to some very good cocktails.

(First seen on Design My Night)

Russian Standard Bar at SamarQand Review

18 Thayer Street, London W1U 3JY

Russian Standard bar, SamarQand

The Russian Standard bar at SamarQand, Marylebone, opened recently on the 1st anniversary of the restaurant to a flurry of crystal Louboutins, oligarchs and some 90 litres of vodka. But what’s it like the rest of the time?

Décor and Ambience

Situated at the back of the Central Asian restaurant SamarQand, the Russian Standard Bar blends in remarkably well. The owners, from Tajikistan, have decked out the venue with all things Central Asian so while it’s Russian Standard, it’s also got an Eastern European mix.

The giant horse which divides the restaurant from the bar and the riding art work on its walls all links back to Tajikistan as a riding country. The careful silver patterns illuminated by bright, but somehow not garish, backlights are created in the traditional Central Asian style. Even the private rooms of the bar, with their hand painted wall paper, are all named after capitals of the countries in the former USSR.

The air conditioned bar area, a slightly segregated room with banquettes and a series of private rooms, makes cocktails and conversation easy. One can imagine though, after a few shots of Russian Standard, it would also make quite a room for dancing.

Atmosphere and Clientèle

During the week there’s more diners than bar hoppers. Those that do lounge in the comfy bar area all seem to take their place two by two – it must provide something interesting to talk about on first dates. At the weekend the venue gets a lot more lively with young professionals and very well-heeled students taking their place at the bar. Given its Russian theme and Marylebone location, a few oligarchs here and there wouldn’t go amiss either. And while the evenings can only get livelier with vodka at the top of the drinks list, the burly bouncer who politely opens your door will make sure that nothing gets too wild.

Food and Drinks

The name of the bar gives away its top drink – Russian Standard vodka, by the shot glass or by the bottle. But it’s not exclusively Russian Standard as there are other vodkas on the menu too. The next best thing seem to be the cocktails at £9 for the standard Russian/Central Asian inspired numbers or £15 for the “Oligarchs”. Every cocktail on the menu is inspired by something Russian or Central Asian, even if you have to be in the know to guess the link. You may be surprised too, to find a large selection of wines, including Georgian wines – a rare find in the UK but very popular in Russia before the ban. If you need to quench your thirst with something non-alcoholic then Voss water comes highly recommended.

Don’t worry about drinking on an empty stomach either – the bar and the restaurant share the same menu so you can definitely eat to your heart’s content. The food has been adapted for the European palate but with custom made ovens, imported spices and recipes passed down through generations, there’s definitely authenticity in their selection of manty, shashlik and plov. The smaller dishes are around £8 and bigger ones are around £15, all designed to be portions for sharing. It’s not cheap but you wouldn’t expect anything less in Marylebone.

Music

The Russian Standard Bar stays true to its roots and most of the music is Russian or Central Asian during the week. Whether foreign or familiar to the ears, though, the music is mellow enough to be non-intrusive. At the weekend, like the crowd, the music picks up pace and becomes a heady mix of Eastern European and mainstream dance tunes. The aural experience is certainly a unique one.

In Summary

Those with Russian or Central Asian heritage will definitely find something homely about this eclectic mix of cultures. Those that aren’t can certainly seek out something new and interesting, if they’re not afraid to dive right in and get involved. Be careful though, with vodka on the table and Russian melody in the background, you might find yourself partying like you’re in Eastern Europe. Wild.

(First seen on Design My Night)

Azulito Bar, Wahaca

80 Wardour Street, Soho London, W1F 0TF

Azulito Bar, Wahaca

Wahaca is all Mexican street food but underneath the Soho venue lies the new Azulito Bar, the purveyor of a fine selection of tequilas. Descend the staircase from this popular Wahaca into a Mexican bar of fun.

Décor and Ambience

Like Wahaca upstairs, Azulito’s colourful décor projects fun – it’s all about the bold red, flashy blue and lime green. While the vibrant colours thrown together aren’t exactly harmonious, they somehow work for this pocket of Mexicano. The furniture, similarly, are an eclectic mix. You have your wicker swing chairs, your low wired stools, your strong wooden benches, your cushioned recliners – in short you have quite a selection of comfortable seating options to choose from. And in case there wasn’t enough of a crazy mix, there is also table football to the side so you can indulge in something a bit more than just good food and tequila. Olé!

Atmosphere and Clientèle

Azulito’s Soho location means that it’s filled with a mixed crowd. There’s no dress code and the venue is relaxed so the crowd rather reflects the décor – colourful. Lots of people will have filtered down from Wahaca above as they wait for their tables or after they’ve eaten, but of course there is no reason why you can’t just pop in for a drink or two (or three..or four…)

The capacity of the venue means that while there’s a buzzy atmosphere, it never feels over-crowded which for Soho is a god send. Most people seem to go there to catch up with friends over a love of tequila as despite the music, it’s not a place to throw your shapes and embarass yourself on a dancefloor

Food and Drinks

There is only one drink you should have at Azulito – tequila. The bar is stocked with an impressive 80 different tequilas, all made with 100% agave. In case you’re wondering, it takes at least 51% blue agave (Azulito means “little blue” in case you were wondering) for a spirit to be classed as tequila so 100% is as good as it gets. Prices start from a little over £3 for a 25ml shot to £45 for that same measure depending on quality and rarity. Of course when they measured it out in shot glasses, they really wanted you to sip and savour as each listing in the tequila menu is accompanied by a short tasting note…a very impressive touch.

The other drinks on offer are also very affordable. Cocktails, all tequila based, barely tip £7 and wines peak at £20 a bottle though you can buy it by the glass or in carafes too. But if you wanted food, it’s best to head upstairs and indulge in something spicy and filled with black beans, because downstairs is all about la tequila.

Music

The music in Azulito is unmistakably Latino – it’s probably not something that you’ll recognise, unless your bag is Mexican of course. But it is all about the Spanish guitars strumming away in a speedy pattern that will get your hips moving and feet tapping. You might even hear the occasional brass to really drum up the fanfare. The music is loud enough so that, should the mood take you, you can do a little salsa, but not loud enough to drown out the hubbub of chatter.

In Summary

Azulito is central, it’s fun and it’s inexpensive – that’s a pretty good combination for a great night out in London. Suited and booted isn’t quite its style though so make sure you leave the office at the door. But invite some friends, grab some change and find the tequila that tickles your taste buds.

(First seen on Design My Night)

Terroirs Wine Bar, Covent Garden, Review

5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW www.terroirswinebar.com

Terroirs menu

Terroirs is the sort of place that you’re warned away from if someone you know despises natural wines. That’s the only sort of wine it serves you see. The determined deterrence is not necessarily because the wine is bad but rather, it’s out of principle and perhaps ignorance. The truth of it is that wine, whether natural or not, can be good or bad. Terroirs, equally, offered a sizeable selection of wines, some of which shone brilliantly whilst others were much less impressive.

Having recently returned from a wine trip to Georgia, the cradle of wine, and in particular, natural wines, I’ve found myself gaining an affinity for this contentious product. Listening to the likes of Alice Feiring and Isabelle Legeron talk about their love of natural wines, how of the hundreds of thousands of wines they have tasted during their careers, the natural ones were the most vibrant and limitless, I couldn’t help but be impressed by their enthusiasm.

While it’s true that a natural wine will never stand the test of ageing because of the ultra-low levels of preservatives present, it is also true that the minimal chemical intervention helps the characteristics of the grape, the terroir, the weather and numerous other contributing factors in the wine making process to develop in the final wine. There’s a market for fine vintages with complex characteristics but there’s also a market for wines for drinking right now, which equally deserves to be something other than bland and homogeneous. And that is what the appreciation for natural wines is largely about, and perhaps Terroirs too.

Back to the restaurant – it’s more of a wine establishment than a restaurant really but a fellow journalist with a love of natural wines suggested it for dinner. Partly owned by Les Caves de Pyrène, the biggest importer of natural wines to the UK, Terroirs always gave me the impression that it was just a wine bar. While there is a bar in the restaurant to lean to with your drink and bar snack, they also have space on three levels for diners who are looking for something a bit more substantial.

A bit more is probably the operative phrase here though – the food is more or less a side serving to the wine with majority of the menu made up of cheeses, charcuterie and small plates. The food was good though. Really good. And seasonal too.

Dining with a reasonable appetite, we opted for a serving of pumpkin, chestnut and parmesan soup each plus duck rillette and pigs trotters with celeriac remoulade to share. The pumpkin soup was lusciously smooth, richly creamy and well contrasted with the nutty, sweet crumble of the chestnut. Pigs trotters, perhaps a little too rich as the last thing to arrive, made for sumptuous comfort eating. The thing that really excited, though, was the duck rillette. Intensely flavoured and well textured, it wholly satisfied the game rillette craving which I’ve been harbouring for some two weeks.

The wines we sipped as we supped was a selection of white and sparkling, all available by the glass. The 2009 Thierry Germain Bulles de Roches Saumur Brut was a particular favourite while the 2010 Cascna degli Ulivi Bellotti Bianco didn’t fare so well. The other two wines, 2010 Domaine du Moulin Pet Nat Bulles Rosé and 2010 Bodegas Ameztoi Txacoli de Guetaria, lied somewhere in the middle of the two, towards the positive. There it was, the good and not so good of natural wines.

With talk of wines, food and juxtapositions of the two, we could have happily stayed and indulged in our romantically framed window seats for a few more glasses. But with a running tab of some £60 and adventures with a travelling bar planned, it was time to pay up. Besides, the elegant service allowed a young night of interesting landscapes to navigate for a pair of girls in the most fabulous of heels.

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