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Cuisine: Contemporary seasonal Spanish tapas.

Visit: March 2013

Price: Medium (very reasonable for central London as both the quality of food and the portions you get are well above average).

Refreshing Spanish salad at Fino

Refreshing Spanish salad

Food: Contemporary twist on traditional Spanish dishes. If you select from the classics such as the Jamón de bellota senorio (Bellota ham), ham and  piquillo croquetas (deep-fried and battered potato balls with ham or not spicy sweet red peppers) Pimientos de padron (small green peppers fried and served sprinkled with crunchy salt) and sliced Manchego cheese (hard sheep cheese from Spain), you cannot  go wrong. All these tapas are indeed very good and authentic.

Choosing something perhaps less common for a Spanish tapas bar table might be interesting for those of you preferring innovative and less oily dishes in the style of the popular London-based chef José Pizarro. One such treat are the Crisp fried artichokes, that look like a lovely flower decoration, but taste like real artichokes. Fried just enough, with no oil dripping from the crisp vegetables and the mayonnaise-based dip is rich yet spicy with some hot paprika powder sprinkled over it.

Crisp fried artichokes

Crisp fried artichokes

Another, more refreshing contemporary tapas is the Fennel, radish & pomegranate salad. It is so crisp and zesty that it reminds me of spring and sitting on the beach by breezy see. Lovely salad that can freshen up your palate between the fatty meaty, fried and cheese dominated spanish dishes.

With wine the bruschetta-style toasted bread goes very well. The Pan con tomate is great with young red wines or refreshing white Verdejos. It is rather a big slice of bread and not a tiny piece of baguette, so be ready for a proper sized plate. The juicy tomatoes spread over the crunchy bread balance the dryness of the toasting process.

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate

From the seafood the grilled Octopus & capers served on a wooden tray is very good, although a larger portion than is common for a tapa. The multiple pieces of baby octopus were tender, not chewy and spiced just right.

Fino sandwich

Fino sandwich

The deep-fried Fino sandwich is as its name suggests the signature dish of Fino so we had to try it. The name of the sandwich is also a bit deceiving, but you have to try it. I will not tell you what it is all about, but picture below can give you a hint. Just come to Fino and try it for yourself, it is quite interesting and if you like something crunchy and are not a vegetarian you will probably like it a lot.

Drinks: The mostly Spanish wine list is very good. Depending on how deep into your pocket you have, select one of the the top ranked Ribera del Dueros (such as the Vega Sicilia Unico), the middle-of-the-road Priorats or one of the more affordable Riojas. Red wine is in general a better choice because of the richness of the food, nevertheless a crisp Verdejo or deep Godello for an aperitif is a great start and both will surely go well with the seafood dishes. We went for one of the newer wines of the Alvarez family, of the Vega Sicilia fame. Their Alión Cosecha 2006 is deep and structured Tempranillo expressing in its concentration the dry climate of the  Duero area. Complex wine with very long finish that calls for intense dishes to match.

Ribera del Duero with jamon

Ribera del Duero with jamón

Atmosphere: Modern, fresh, fun and vibrant. There are many people coming straight after work, so you will see some ties there, but overall you can wear something casual. Comfort lovers will love the cosy booths, bar fans appreciate a corner bar area with views of the restaurant, curious minds will surely often peak into the open kitchen and exciting interiors seeking crowd will be amused with interesting decorative finishes. It is a great place to go with friends, business partners not relishing overtly pretentious gastronomic restaurants or bringing there a first date since it does not feel too intimate.

Cosy interior of Fino

Cosy interior of Fino

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12:00–2:15 pm, 6:00–10:15 pm, Sat:6:00pm-10:15pm , Sunday: Closed.

Address: 33 Charlotte St  London W1T 1RR, United Kingdom

Contact: Tel: +(44) 20 7813 8010

"Pour de France" graphic by David Ryan

“Pour de France” graphic by David Ryan

I was recently sent this interesting infographic from its author David Ryan of the Headwater holiday adventures (including interesting wine and food themed trips). It is packed with some interesting facts, so I have decided to share it here with my readers at winebeing.com.

Radka

Cuisine: French gastronomic.

Visit: March 2013

Price: Very expensive.

Helen Daroz at Connaught hotel

Hélène Darroze at Connaught hotel

Chef:  Hélène Darroze is among the rare breed of female Michelin star chefs. Being awarded two of these coveted Michelin stars at her Connaught hotel restaurant, she established herself as one of the top chefs in London. Hélène Darroze displays her French roots in her native Landes region (south-west France) through her cuisine. Provenance is very dear to her and the menu shows it. Each of the featuring dishes informs the diners about the origin of the meat, seafood or vegetable. She seems to be proud of knowing her sources well, which in today’s scandalous world (the horse meat scandal, etc.) has become one of the priorities for many foodies.

chef Helene Darroze

chef Helene Darroze

Food: Origin, freshness and innovative assemblage of ingredients. Starting with the signature Raviole of “Institut de Beauvais” potato with Pecorino from Tuscany, confit bacalao from Bilbao, Basque pork chorizo, watercress and roasting poultry jus, I knew that I am not going to be having a simple meal. The potato dough based ravioli à la Italy, filled with Basque fish and spicy sausage and accompanied by Tuscan cheese screamed almost as a “fusion” cuisine to me and thus I would think of her cooking rather in these terms than just purely French defined.

One of the signature dishes of Helene Daroze

One of the signature dishes of Helene Daroze

Sampling another starter from my partner – the L’araignée de mer de Norvège  Spider crab from Norway seasoned with coral mousseline, fresh coriander and Meyer lemon, palm heart tartare flavoured with Bourbon vanilla olive oil, “yam kung” jelly, shellfish tuile and consommé) was refreshing, yet not mind-blowing delicious. Nice with a glass of champagne, but I would not have it again.

For my main course I have ordered another one of the chef’s signature dishes – the La Saint-Jacques XXL de plongée (Hand-harvested XXL scallop cooked with Tandoori spices, confit carrot and citrus mousseline, spring onion reduction with Lampong pepper and fresh coriander. The vegetables on the side were pleasant, yet the texture of the scallop was too meaty for me, not tender as I love with high quality scallops, but rather robust and thick.

Seared scallops

Seared scallops

Dishes like Le porc basque “Kintao”Black pork from Pays Basque and some other main courses must be ordered for two people, so you will need your “tastemate” and order it together.

Drinks: The wine-by-the-glass selection is tempting and we were easily seduced by it. Many of the wines are served from a magnum size bottle, which makes them mature a bit slower. Starting with a glass of white Chablis Le Clos Monopole, Château de Béru, which was served by Magnum, I managed to pair the minerality of this Chardonnay  with my potato ravioli and the bacalao fish. I felt like continuing with a red and the only one grape varietal that rarely disappoints me with seafood and white meats is Pinot Noir,so I went for one from Eaton Family in New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It was fresh, lightly strawberry scented and managed easily not to overpower the scallops since they were more intense than usually.

The Connaught hotel has tremendous cellar so if your pocket allows it and you want something special, rush and get one of these rarities:

  • Château d’Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur vintages 1900 or 1891 
  • Château Margaux, 1er Grand Cru Classé 1945
  • Champagne, Henriot 1928
  • Marsala Superiore “1860”, Marco De Bartoli 50cl  

Atmosphere: Serious, old school, classic interior with heavy wooden features. Dress smart, men are preferred to wear a jacket. The chairs are comfortable and service quite friendly, despite your complaints about the food (I just cannot pretend at a 2 Michelin star restaurant that I am delighted by the food when I am not).

Opening hours: Closed on Monday and Sunday. Tues – Fri: Lunch: 12:00pm – 2:30pm, Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm. Sat: Brunch: 11:00am – 2:30pm, Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm

The restaurant will be closed between Tuesday 6th August until dinner on Tuesday 20th August 2013

Address: Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL, United Kingdom

Contact: Tel:  +44 (0)20 7107 8880, Email: dining@the-connaught.co.uk 

Cuisine: Greek modern tapas style.

Visit: March 2013

Price: Medium for London.

Relaxed dining room at Mazi

Relaxed dining room at Mazi

Atmosphere: Cosy, fresh, friendly and vibrant. This small dining spot in the heart of Notting hill is casual and unpretentious. As you enter you will see a selection of Greek specialities available for purchase so if you want to prepare some dish at home, you get the ingredients right here. There is a tiny dining area just at the entrance, and a bigger one after you pass an arched door with a sign “Life is beautiful” suggesting that Mazi’s owners enjoy what they are doing. Wear jeans or shorts and you will feel fine, there are no rules here in terms of clothing.

Lobster with Orzo Pasta, lemon and dill

Lobster with Orzo Pasta

Food: Traditional Greek dishes reinterpreted to modern world with aesthetically appealing presentation. Owing to its name, Mazi means “together” in Greek, the food is designed to be shared on one table with your friends, family, partner or anyone you feel comfortable with. Mazi has received lots of attention from the press so far and its innovative approach is celebrated by many distinguished palates, nevertheless my experience was not as overwhelmingly exciting. The food was nice and interesting, but I cannot say I would put into my Top 20 restaurants to dine at in London.

To start with, one should go for one of the “Jars”. We tried the Kolokithopita, broken filo pastry, feta and mint and Beetroot, goat cheese and grape reduction, both original but not appealing to my palate. The ingredients are mixed together and presented to you in a glass jar from which you can serve the dish on a plate.

I much preferred the warm dishes such as the small Tiger Prawns “Saganaki”, Ouzo and smoked Metsovone. The prawns were grilled in the Greek speciality spirit called Ouzo and were intensely fragrant and tender. Another tasty nibble to share was the Feta Tempura with lemon marmalade and caper meringue. The fried cheese slightly creamy, but rather on the drier side, enveloped in a fried batter and served with sweet and sour condiments, perfect to flush with a glass of crisp and aromatic white wine such as the Greek Semillon we had.

My favourite dish was the Lobster with Orzo Pasta, lemon and dill (picture above), which is the most expensive dish on the menu, yet really seemed to be the most balanced and tasty. The orzo pasta in the shape of a large rice grain had a delicately chewy texture combined with the tender lobster and aromatic lemon foam were superb.

Spinach Mousaka with Basil and Courgette purée

Spinach Mousaka with Basil and Courgette purée

From the vegetarian selection I would highly recommend the Spinach Mousaka with Basil and Courgette purée. It was all about the melting cheese and the refreshing power of the basil and courgette purées, when all mixed together tasting like a roller coaster of vegetal flavours. It has some oil in it, but not as much as in traditional moussaka.

Drinks: Mazi has a great purely Greek wine list (with an exception of sparkling wines) with very reasonably priced wines. It is an excellent opportunity for the adventurous wine drinkers to explore the fruits of this ancient wine-producing country. It was in Greece where the philosophers once pondered over breakthrough ideas while sipping on a glass or a jar of wine. We went for the fresh, yet quite deep (short barrel ageing) and easy to drink Biblia Chora Ovilos Barrel, Semillon, 2011. Although on the more pricy side of the list, for £58 per bottle it was much less than at most fancy restaurants in London. Otherwise the wines start at £23. The Semillon was rather different from the oily character and burn-toast Semillons from Bordeaux (blended with Sauvignon Blanc in Pessac Leognan and used for the famous sweet wines from Sauternes) as its Greek version has somehow kept more freshness despite its generally low acidity.

Biblia Chora Ovilos barrel aged

Biblia Chora Ovilos Semillon barrel aged

Not in mood for alcohol? Then perhaps the Wild rose, Fresh mint or Greek Mountain pot of  tea will warm up your spirit. The Wild Rose in particular looking very appealing and exotic. On the other hand the Greek Mountain tea known also as Shepherd’s tea is very popular in Greece to alleviate colds, respiratory problems, improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and also it is a great source of anti-oxidants. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory to reduce fever and pain.

Opening hours: Monday – Thursday Lunch: CLOSED | Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm

Friday – Sunday Lunch: 12pm – 3pm | Dinner: 6:30pm – 11pm

Address: 12-14 HILLGATE STREET, LONDON W8 7SR, UK

Contact: Tel: +(44)0 20 7229 3794

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