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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

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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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Cuisine: New French

Visit: April 2013 (Since Sketch opened in 2002 I have dined there on a number of occasions, yet it is the forefront Parlour where I found my inner gourmet soul. The gastronomic restaurant still remains an interesting place to have a dinner and the Gallery is a fun room with great food while listening to the newest tunes of world music).

Price: High to very expensive at the gastronomic restaurant.

Eclectic design at Sketch

Eclectic design at Sketch

Chef : The head chef Pierre Gagnaire, who is behind the menus across Sketch, is a twice awarded three Michelin star French gastronomic hero. He has spread his influence worldwide from his restaurants in Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul and Dubai. At Sketch he influenced the executive chefs creating the food in all restaurants across Sketch. It is though at the Lecture Room & Library, Sketch’s two Michelin starred fine dining restaurant, that his influence comes to life most vividly.

Atmosphere: The Parlour can transform from a breakfast venue, through comfort lunch and original afternoon tea until the last drink before heading to bed at home. After 6pm it turns into a cool bar scene here, while the afternoons are popular for the tea-to-tellers enjoying a cup of a warm beverage with a cake or sandwich. It is quirky, eclectic and warmly decorated. One can enjoy the same treats (except for breakfast), yet in a very different environment at The Glade (pictured below). The rather ‘foresty’ design of the room attracts the “natural” crowd with tendency to prefer organic produce and cotton t-shirts rather than leather jackets and fur coats. Rattan furniture, plant-based design and vibrant natural colours were created by the duo of artists Carolyn Quartermaine and Didier Mahieu.

Imagination meets taste at Sketch

Imagination meets taste at Sketch

Another and the largest room is the Gallery designed by Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed and merging all shapes, colours and materials you can possibly imagine. The gallery os more of a gastro brasserie also headed by Pierre Gagnaire. The crème de la crème is the fine dining Lecture Room & Library upstairs that is a bit more serious affair, while still keeping its wonderful design in focus. Oh, and do not miss the opportunity to visit the legendary toilettes at Sketch, you will be surprised what you see and hear …

Sketch: Gallery gastro brasserie

Sketch: Gallery gastro brasserie

Food: With the exception of the gastronomic restaurant upstairs, the menus tend to intertwine so you will find some of the brasserie features at the Parlour and Gallery as well as at the Glade. One of these tasty dishes is the Artichoke salad.  This starter of chopped baby artichokes, fennel with blue Stilton cheese, capped with fresh herb bouquet and baby salad leafs is refreshing a great with fresh green tea or a glass of white wine such as Sancerre.

Artichoke salad

Artichoke salad

Another common feature is Pierre’s salad of beefsteak tomatoes, salad, chicken breast, anchovies, crunchy croûtons, Parmesan cheese and refreshing creamy horseradish dressing. For the Caesar salad style lovers this is the right choice.

A healthful cup of Green soup blended from watercress, spinach, cucumber, green apple and a dollop of cream will please vegetarians and nutrition conscious diners.

On the other hand the more hearty Beef tartare served with potato “fondant” is perfectly tender (hopefully no horse meat in it, but I doubt it as it would not taste so smooth like this) and presented lovely with a shell of tiny quail egg with slightly running yolk in a mollet style.

Sandwiches, Mac and cheese, burgers and afternoon tea specialties such as daily made macaroons, scones, signature cakes with apt names such as “London to Paris”, King of Sketch” or a very French “Gâteau Chocolat” (the later being a chocolate sponge cake with mousse and passion fruit ganache) as well as finger sandwiches are great options too.

Pu Erh Chinese tea at Parlour

Pu Erh Chinese tea at Parlour

Drinks: From rare coffee, herbal infusions to Jing tea selection of real teas from green to black pu-erh, one can get plenty of energy and youthful antioxidants for an entire day or an afternoon caffeine kick. On a quite chilly cold early spring day I felt  like soothing my bouncy mood with a pot of earthy and balanced pu-erh from China. Its is a speciality from Yunan province that is usually kept and sold in the form of cakes (the tea leaves are rigidly dry and stick together in the form of this cake or a bird’s nest that is actually baked to keep its longevity). Presented in a transparent pot and cup it was pretty, yet I did not have the opportunity to separate the steeped leaves from the water thus the tea got bitter over time. As I do not like to sip my tea too fast , I ended up with a bitter aftertaste after my last sips.

The wine list is done with a wit. I love the drawings above each wine with ties, scarves bows and other possible tops of shirts that a man can have, that probably had stirred the author’s imagination while he was sipping on each wine and drawing each representative of its taste above. The selection is good, yet the gastronomic restaurant above has much wider list that has got the Award of Excellence from WS.

Wine list at Parlour

Wine list at Parlour

Opening hours:

The Parlour: Mon-Fri: 8am – 2am, Sat: 10am – 2am & Sun: 10am – 12am.

The Glade: Mon-Thurs: 1pm-2am, Fri&Sat: 12pm-2am, Sun: 12pm-12am.

The Gallery: Mon-Sat: 6.30pm – 2am, Sun: 6pm – 12am.

Lecture Room & Library: Tues-Sat: Lunch: 12pm-2:30pm, Dinner: 7pm-11pm.

Address: 9 Conduit street, London W1S 2XG, UK.

Contact: Tel: +44 (0) 20 7659 4500

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Cuisine: Indian gastronomic.

Visit: March 2013

Price: High (but the quality of ingredients and complexity of the dishes compensates the price, an intimate atmosphere makes a dinner or lunch here a special occasion).

Chef: Vineet Bhatia is the first Indian chef-restaurateur ever to receive a Michelin star at an Indian restaurant (London’s Zaika restaurant in 2001) for his “Indian gourmand experience“, and later another one in his own establishment Rasoi (meaning “kitchen“) in 2006. Thus he is the first Indian chef in the world to have two Michelin stars.

Achari Pheasant

Achari Pheasant

His childhood dream of becoming a pilot was not fulfilled, but his fascination with food and cooking together with an ” ambition and determination to prove myself” as he wrote in the foreword of his cookbook called simply “Rasoi: new indian kitchen“, made him one of the stars of Indian cuisine not only in his home country but worldwide (with restaurants in Geneva, Dubai, Doha, Mauritius, Moscow, Mumbai, …). After an amazing meal at Rasoi I had to purchase the chef’s book and cannot wait to follow his guidance to assemble some of the complex ingredients-rich yet balanced and light dishes I had.

Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen by Vineet Bhatia

Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen by Vineet Bhatia

Food: Classical Indian dishes in a much lighter gourmet coat, which the chef calls “evolved Indian food“. As the chef reinvents and refines the Indian dishes so wonderfully that his cooking seduces the palates of even those so far deterred by the heavy, oily and rich curries, fill pastries (samosas) and creamy sauces. I have eaten all across India and I have never tasted anything more sublime than Bhatia’s cooking. He is a true master of spices and elegance as he blends the flavours in a perfect harmony. It is rare to have a tasting menu or try more than eight dishes at one restaurant and like every single of them! And, that is what happened at Rasoi.

The naan and crispy roti breads as well as the trio of crunchy various vegetables filled samosas (fillo pastry in triangle shape) were freshly prepared, the dips generous yet not too rich or spicy and all the dishes intrigued our palates. I must elevate the Spiced Home-Smoked Salmon, red Onion, Cucumber and Dill Raita which charmed the palates of all four of us dining at the table. The salmon was so tender that one did not need to chew on it, jut let it melt with all the wonderfully integrated spices from the marinade. Smoking the fish added depth while adding yoghurt into the marinade calmed the smoky flavours just to perfection. The recipe is in the chef’s cookbook, so if you dare you can try it at home.

Spice crusted sea bass

Spice crusted sea bass

The Stir-fried Chilli Paneer, Spinach with Potatoes and Pickle-flavoured Tomato Sauce was another superb creation. The paneer cheese is perhaps the most important dairy product used in Indian cuisine. Vegetarians come across the dishes peppered with paneer very often. In Bhatia’s take it got a more gastronomic dimension and an eye-catching presentation as with most of his creations. The paneer was soft and spiced with mustard seeds, ginger, chilli, curry and fresh coriander and sever atop of the tasty spiced Spinach with potatoes and thick savoury Tomato Sauce.

The trio of Chicken Tikkas was like a tasting contest in which each of us had a personal favourite. They were delicious all, tender and almost did not taste like chicken how well-integrated the marinades and sauces were.

The Lamb ‘Shikampuri’ Skewers in a kebab-like fashion did not stand behind and we were so impressed by all the food that although we were all full we still managed to nibble on the pre-desserts brought together with the warming cups of sweet Chai tea served traditionally with milk.

Dessert at Rasoi: Blueberry and black cardamom kulfi

Dessert at Rasoi: Blueberry and black cardamom kulfi

Atmosphere: Rasoi is located in a small townhouse in Chelsea just off the Sloan Square. If you did not have the address and were not going to the restaurant you would probably passed it without noticing it. There is a bell on the door, so you ring the bell, a suited person opens and invites you in. Turning right you pass a tiny bar area and walk through to the cosy restaurant room. With 13 tables spread across two small dining rooms and two private rooms upstairs it really feels like in someone’s house rather than at a restaurant inside. There is no music, no distractions, only authentic decoration in the truly Indian spirit that Rashima, the wife of the chef, created herself.

Drinks: The wine list is impressive as it should be at a Michelin stared restaurant. The list of Bordeaux and Burgundy is particularly food-friendly that we went for the same bottle of red Burgundy twice. I would never have thought of drinking Burgundy with the spicy Indian food, yet Bhatia’s cuisine is more elegant and balanced than most of the super spicy and creamy Indian dishes you might know so it matches the elegant Burgundies. I was disappointed not see a wider tea selection considering India being one of the world’s biggest tea producers, yet the spicy-warm Chai Masala tea after the dinner soothed my tea cravings enough.

Opening hours: Mon-Fri: Lunch: 12:00–2:30 pm; Dinner: 6:00–10:30 pm; Sat: Dinner: 6:00–10:30 pm; Sun: Closed.

Address: 10 Lincoln Street, Chelsea, London SW3 2TS, UK.

Contact: Tel: +(44) 020 7225 1881; email: info@resoirestaurant.co.uk

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