Venturing into The City is not something I would frequently do, however it recently provided an unexpected sanctuary from tourists and travails. To the Liverpool Street located Andaz hotel we tramped, having had our fill of scintillating design at the Barbican’s Bauhaus exhibition, to sample the delights of Afternoon Tea – now a veritable extra meal such is its popularity in London. The offering at 1901, the property’s stylish British restaurant and wine bar, has recently been spruced up to celebrate Her Britannic Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and takes as its theme teas fit for a Queen. Beginning in February of this year, monthly changing menus drew from the reigns of five female monarchs; Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria and rounding off with Queen Elizabeth II. By our visit the series had reached Queen Victoria and the tea was inspired by her other title ‘Empress of India’. I was escorted by the Greek (see previous Cigalon review), representing Prince Philip’s team, given her particular enthusiasm for scones it only seemed fair to treat her to tea.
1901 surprised me. What on the outside appears to be a sultry, moody, dark-toned building revealed a grand, hushed, light-swathed space that forms the main hotel restaurant. A comprehensive bar sits under the central glass cupola with light decoration and comfortable furnishings surrounding us. Such a haven of calm is a rarity in the hustle and bustle of our great metropolis. I felt immediately at home and at ease. Being slight traditionalists we chose the Champagne afternoon tea which was kicked off with glasses of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, a heady, biscuity fizz that we were gasping for having skipped lunch. Liquid aside, the tea also comprised the time-honoured sandwich trio of egg & cress, smoked salmon and cucumber. Each one light and delicately flavoured, we inhaled them. At this point in time our bubbles also had to be replenished. As a result we learned that each month 1901 chooses a prestige selection on their list and offers it at a reduced price; Lanson Noble Cuvee being the current option. Flutes refilled we ploughed on with the sweeter selection of cakes, fancies and scones. Teas arrived too, chosen from a selection of ten different blends featuring Chinese white tea, Indian Assam and South African Rooibos.
As a special treat we were also allowed to indulge (or rather desperately find room for) dishes from the Indian inspired Afternoon Tea with Queen Victoria; sandwiches with chicken tikka massala, curried salmon and curried vegetables came accompanied by a sweeter array of pastries including coconut and milk chocolate and sweet samosas with spiced mango – a personal favourite. Not only did this series of afternoon teas show the attention and inventiveness of the team at Andaz, they were delicious. To be clichéd, variety is the spice of life. If that means having to return to 1901 each month for a differing afternoon tea then so be it. Plus, if you visit before the end of June you will be able to enter a competition to win a pair of diamond earings. Afternoon tea could win you diamonds; do you need any excuse to be making a reservation? I thought not.
Photography courtesy of Andaz Liverpool Street
1901 at Andaz Liverpool Street
40 Liverpool Street
London EC2m 7QN
Perhaps we are cursed, or perhaps Mother Nature intentionally wreaks havoc with the weather so as to make us further appreciate our refuge in a 5* Hotel. Whichever it is, Lady C and I once more battled the elements to the St. Martin’s Lane hotel (see previous review of Asia de Cuba) to see what bibulous delights The Light Bar had to offer. Since opening in 1999, St. Martins Lane has attracted a constant stream of fashionistas, foodies and the generally fabulous to its restaurant, bar and, most recently, the hedonistic hangout Bungalow 8. The concept behind the Light Bar is, appropriately, all based around lighting. Designed with cosy seating areas bathed in emotive shades of pink, orange, violet and green light, guests are observed by giant black and white portraits on the walls by photographer Jean Baptiste Mondino. As the artist Dan Flavin is well aware, coloured light can influence a person’s mood infinitely, and the result is a space that feels comfortable, sultry and intimate at the same time. A lively, animated crowd of patrons ensured the bar had sufficient ‘buzz’ on a Tuesday evening, and on Friday and Saturdays it is essential to have a reservation.
Now, on to the most important aspect of our evening; the beverages. The cocktail menu mixes traditional and modern touches with exotic ingredients and flavour combinations. We kicked things off with an Old Havana – Havana 7 Rum, muddled grapes, fresh mint, elderflower and Champagne – and a Lychee and Ginger Champagne. Anything with ginger immediately gets my vote and the spicier taste mixed delightfully with the Champagne to create a light drink with a pleasant little kick. Accompanied by the usual discussion of imminent world domination and salacious rumours, we moved swiftly to our next choices; a pineapple and basil martini – pineapple and basil muddled with gin and vanilla liqueur – and the enticing fuego caipirinha – thai red chilli infused cachaca, lemongrass, lime and crème de peche. Both showcased the bar staff’s skill of delicately blending bold flavours with great success. Warning; the chilli cachaca is highly addictive. As are their want to do the cocktails made us peckish. Bar snacks include a selection of dishes from Asia de Cuba next door and the calamari with sweet chilli we chose was the largest portion I have ever seen! Light, flavoursome and moreish it proved the perfect accompaniment to our drinks. To round off the evening we chose Planters Punch – a potent combo of rum, orange and pineapple juices and more rum – and an off menu special; lychee and chilli martini – a tad too much lychee that needed more kick.
Accompanied by the lilting tones of Lana Del Rey remixes and chilled out house tracks, the Light Bar is the perfect spot to while away an evening with glamorous friends whilst dressed to impress and drinking exquisitely presented cocktails served by competent, affable staff. Gird your wallet and check in for the long haul. You will most certainly enjoy it.
St. Martin’s Lane Hotel
45 St. Martin’s Lane
London, WC2N 4HX
A hectic Thursday finished, I practically hurtled into the downstairs bar with pétanque and pastis (perhaps best saved for later) rather than my actual destination Cigalon, the Provencal restaurant named after a Marcel Pagnol film. Many will find the translation cicada, whose song is reminiscent of tropical climates and holidays, instantly more evocative. The friendly door staff led me to the table and waiting co-diner, a tornado of Cypriot emissions trader vigour, who appeared almost comatose with comfort. “It is just so calming” she cried. I had to agree; the warm cream hues, plush banquettes and gentle floaty piano jazz created the perfect cocoon of escape from the bustle of Chancery Lane. We could almost feel the Mistral grace our cheeks as we perused the drinks menu. A glass of Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Champagne was chosen for its rich, bold flavour to fully stand up against the oh-so moreish olive tapenade and crostini provided on the table. Keen to try the Corsican delights on offer, I chose the Provencal & Corsican charcuterie platter, which included figatellu, coppa, saussicon sec, and pork and veal terrine that was simply delicious. Slathered on crusty bread it was a delight to taste. My companion’s Nicoise salad, a simple dish easily ruined without attention to detail, featured perfectly poached eggs, sweet, tangy roasted tomatoes and an expert balance of flavours.
Moving leisurely on, for there was no need to hurry whilst safely ensconced in our Mediterranean idyll, our charming waiter suggested his favourites of salt cod in vegetable broth or grilled rack of lamb with basil puree and caponata. I was very easily sold on the lamb but the salmon special with samphire and cuttlefish swayed my dining partner. Beautifully pink and juicy, the lamb delighted. All flavours were fresh and delicate so no taste got lost or dwarfed by others. The salmon was superbly presented, moist and flavoursome with the intriguing flavour of samphire delighting the palate. Fittingly, a Corsican wine was chosen with our mains; a Terra Vecchia 2010 Ile de Beauté, fresh, smooth and infinitely drinkable. After spirited talk of relationships, tasting menus and the carbon market, something I entirely bluff my way through conversations on, we were entering a sated, happy lull. Discussion of dessert was brief, we simply had to have them, had to make space in our rapidly filling stomachs. A chestnut and farigoule (thyme) cake with praline ice cream and honeycomb was sweet, rich, interesting and joyous. Needless to say, I was not allowed to raid my friend’s plate of much of it. The lemon tart was zingy, citrusy, light and not overly sweet, the pastry base required a good crunch but that did not spoil a thing. To accompany, from the menu designed to celebrate the Menton lemon festival, a ‘Menton Garden’ cocktail which my companion found too tart, but I relished the fresh mix of tequila, lemon liquor, cucumber and a home-made provencal syrup of lemon, thyme and rosemary. Steeling ourselves before pouring out into the hustle and bustle of London, we were genuinely sad to not find ourselves on the streets of Aix-en-Provence or Ajaccio. Cigalon provides a heavenly escape from busy city life, serving delicious, comforting and reasonably priced food, with charming staff and cocoon-like surroundings. If I cant live in Provence, I might just move in here.
115 Chancery Lane
London, WC2A 1PP
I while away many a joyous hour in bars. For business and pleasure, these venues are invariably quality establishments, for I am a crushing snob. To me ‘Wetherspoons’ is a misspelt amalgam of our national obsession and cutlery. So, here are 4 current favourites to which my credit card will very unwillingly travel. Two Londoners, two Parisians, this will require racking up some Eurostar miles.
Bar 45 at 45 Park Lane, London
How do you like your eggs in the morning? Well, frankly I don’t care because these are lunchtime eggs, and no ordinary lunchtime eggs. In response to The Big Egg Hunt which launched around London on Shrove Tuesday, The Dorchester executive chef Henry Brosi has created Eggs Fabergé; a decadent dish of quail’s egg with smoked duck and black truffle consommé. What starts out as an egg, beautifully presented and flecked with gold, as you would expect for anything associated with Fabergé, dissolves before your eyes into a rich, hearty broth packed full of flavour. The only real way to appreciate this is to see it (or try it…) so, here we go;
The flaming thing melts in front of you! That is just wonderful! A dish that takes shape as you are watching smacks somewhat of deconstructed cuisine, or applying science to food, but this is done with pure elegance, refinement and – can i use this word with food? – whimsy! I urge you to go forth and sample this unique dish whilst you have the chance, it is available in The Promenade and The Grill at The Dorchester until April 9th. Half the proceeds from this dish are going to support The Big Egg Hunt charities so your conscience will be laid to rest whilst enjoying such decadence. Whilst at The Dorchester, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Dorchester Collection sponsored egg designed by Sir Peter Blake situated under the famous Plane Tree on Park Lane; an endearing take on a boiled egg in an egg cup.
Eggs Fabergé, £19.50 @ The Dorchester until 9th April 2012
Dom Perignon, the prestige cuvée Champagne from the Moët Hennessy portfolio, is oft lumbered with a reputation as drink of choice for those who prefer their beverages adorned with sparklers and paraded across nightclubs. This is most unfortunate as it is a wine that deserves to be appreciated, not wasted. In order to do such, I recently tasted the somewhat controversial 2003 release at a slick and impressive event in London held at avantgarde auctioneers Phillips de Pury. The entire venue was religiously monochromatic with staff in black, walls starkly white and floors of natural pine. This allowed all focus to be on the wine and Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy. Seated in a U shape around a solitary side table and chair, an influential melange of trade and press figures first were allowed to try the wine at leisure while Geoffroy spoke and images of the Dom Perignon vineyards past and present were projected on all surrounding walls.
Infinitely pleasing place settings
Why should this 2003 vintage launch be more intriguing that others though? As the courier delivered my invitation on the morning of the event I was surprised to see a hashtag as part of the details; #DP2003. Social engagement was clearly the aim of the day. As M. Geoffroy introduced his “challenge to creation” we heard how a year widely hailed as un cauchemar for the Champenois, with spring frosts destroying Chardonnay crops followed by a summer heatwave, had (fortunately) created a wine where “intensity is the signature”. Very few houses declared a vintage in 2003, and with this wine Dom Perignon was showing they truly have des couilles. The wine itself I found incredibly smooth. It glides onto the palate gracing it with minerality and richness and finishes with no drying. I don’t like to ascribe flavours to wine when I taste as everyone has unique flavour references, but this reminded me pleasantly of sherbet! Yes, I’m weird.
Seared foie gras with mole sauce
Moving to the ‘Dark Revelation’ part of the event, in which the wine was paired with various exotic and intricate foods, our sommeliers led us to tasting bars with huge projected images accompanying each dish. The idea behind the ‘Dark Revelation’ to showcase the textures of the wine, and its versatility. Four dishes were presented one after the other to us; a lightly boiled egg with quatre epices and organic maple syrup with provided hot, cold, light and dark aspects. A saffron risotto milanese with 7yr aged arboro rice and 4yr aged parmesan gave flavour and richness against which the wine stood up admirably and supported the flavours, the lower dosage (4-5 g/L) lifting the wine making it lighter, fresher. Third was a red hibiscus jelly topped with caviar and salt from the Aquitaine. These evocative colours and contrasting flavours enhanced the saline nature of the caviar, not always pleasant, but the hibiscus brought out the dexterity of the wine, introducing me to a new taste combination. Finally, la piece de la resistance (for me anyway), seared duck foie gras with a mole sauce from Oaxaca with over 40 different herbs and spices. Foie gras and mole? Bonkers. But inspired. This combination challenged the vitality of the wine. It had to fight for attention, rounding out the top notes and bringing to the fore a hint of sweetness. Not to mention moreishness.
Bravo M. Geoffroy, a triumph in the face of adversity, and what a flash do!
I was late. I hate being late. To compound this fact, I was late for my mother. She detests lateness. I blustered in to the Blue Bar at The Berkeley, David Collins’ decadent drinking den, to find her swathed in Cavalli and sipping Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne. Apologies accepted and glasses drained we moved into the main dining room, also designed by David Collins in deep luxurious hues of brown and maroon, eager to experience the cuisine that has earned Chef Wareing his two Michelin stars.
Head Sommelier Michael wheeled over the Champagne trolley and, needless to say, it did not take much arm-twisting to make us have another glass each. Ruinart Blanc De Blancs and Jacques Picard Art de Vignes 2003, which claimed the auspicious honour of being a Champagne I had yet to try, were our choices while the menu was presented. Michael gave us the option of the ‘A La Carte’, ‘Taste’ or ‘Chef’s Special’ menus. We were informed that Chef Wareing (in the kitchen on this occasion – he held the door open for my mother on arrival so she had imperiously informed me) had created a menu just for us, how could we refuse?
Amuses Bouches, which arrived whilst awaiting our first course, included sesame toasts with taramasalata and pork liver terrine with plum sauce and honey and potato bread, both delicious accompaniments to the last sips of our Champagne. To pair with each course we chose the sommeliers selection of wine, ready to experience some intriguing matches that we would not have chosen left to our own devices. The first delights to arrive, for it turned out we had separate menus, were celeriac soup with apple foam and hazelnut crunch and Scottish scallops with lime mayonnaise, chestnut and nettle salsa and fresh pear. The soup was delicious, rich, and of heavy texture but without being lumpy that paired excellently with Michael’s choice of a 2009 Francois Villard Viognier from the Loire Valley at which mother smacked her lips in approval. I followed suit. The scallops were light, delicately flavoured, the nettle bringing interesting tang to the combination. Barely having paused for breath, our next courses arrived; soft foie gras and mini toasts with soft pear and cinnamon syrup, and veal sweetbreads with soft polenta, shitake mushrooms and tuscan truffles. I am a traditionalist with foie gras and found this too soft and slightly too sweet paired with a 2003 Vouvray from La Reveillerie. Sweetbreads may seem daunting to some stomachs but these were meaty, flavoursome and delightful; the truffle and polenta accompaniments a particular highlight. Washed down with a 2005 Piper’s Brook Pinot Noir from Tasmania, I could have happily finished on this crowning glory of a dish, yet on we ploughed…
At this point we were given our first break of the evening with a tour of the kitchens. After having been shown all the various preparation areas and having been surprised by the relative calm (the furore of live television cooking appears to be confined to that medium), we returned to the table eager to continue with our epicurean delights. On to the fish course and it was halibut with Clementine, fennel and butter sauce for mother, Scottish lobster with shellfish reduction and a variety of broccoli for me. A 2009 Pyramid Valley Chardonnay from New Zealand accompanied the halibut and a 2008 Chassagne-Montrachet accompanied the lobster. Of all the dishes so far these were the standout favourites; superb cooking with delicate, interesting flavours that delighted our palates. With pressure increasing on our trouser waistline, yet more food was placed in front of us. A portion of beef with horseradish potatoes and Dorset snails was inhaled by mother. I snatched a tiny morsel (except for the snails, which I frequently see with beef at the moment, not an addition I am fond of) and contended with my pigeon served with hazelnuts and celeriac puree. By now we were paying less attention than we should to the wine choices (pours were not small) yet I do distinctly remember a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma with the pigeon and a 2008 Barolo/Nebbiolo with the beef. Further inspired choices from Michael, adeptly demonstrating his skill at choosing wines for very separate tastes and dishes.
By this point in the evening, the originally hushed dining room had filled considerably. It gave off the impression of a restaurant that people came to in order to appreciate the quality and diversity of the cooking, rather than to flaunt they were able to get a table and pay the bill with ease. We were not left to ponder the ambiance for more than a moment before a splendid plate of cheeses from soft, to blue, to one coated in caraway seeds arrived before us with provenances far and wide; France, Austria, Northern Spain. The array of crackers delighted too. Perhaps the most enchanting part of this course was the 2000 La Petite Eglise Pomerol which accompanied it; sumptuous, full-bodied and incredibly drinkable. It was the entire fault of the next course that I was dining with my mother; Marcus Wareing’s custard tart. Having seen it on Masterchef years ago, it had been mother’s sole obsession to taste this dish as her grandmother (apparently) made one of the finest custard tarts Britain had seen. A comparison had to be made. As I gorged myself on a white & milk chocolate, redcurrant and hazelnut concoction (I was focused far too intently on mother’s pudding reaction), washed down with an Umathum late harvest Chardonnay from Austria, there were nods and noises of approval from across the table. We were duly ushered into the kitchen to meet Chef Wareing once finished and apparently grandmother’s tart just pipped his at the post. I don’t think he need worry too much though…
Over coffee and a final glass of Chateau Marsyas red from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, which Michael kindly supplied (try it, I implore you), we decided this may well have been the dining highlight of the past year. Service, food, setting; all were impeccable. It took distinctly more effort to leave the restaurant than it did to enter, but was worth every single ounce of energy it required.
I visited Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley on behalf of The Bespoke Blog
London SW1X 7RL