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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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Zagat’s readers voted Le Bernardin as “The Most Popular Restaurant in New York in 2012” and the restaurant received 19 out of 20 points triumphing others and making Le Bernardin to become the only such highly prized restaurant in New York since 1996. The Michelin Guide honored the Chef Eric Ripert and Le Bernardin with its highest rating of three stars in 2005 and each year thereafter. Le Bernardin seems to keep its standard high. Moreover, the restaurant ranks 19 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which is quite an achievement in the global culinary scene. Knowing about all these flattering achievements one enters the restaurant full of extraordinary expectations, making it even harder for the restaurant to meet them. Well, I thought that my first encounter (and my wallet saving option) would be wiser to spend at the restaurant’s bar so I can figure out whether it is worth the waiting for the reservation and the food. My impressions follow.

Bar at Le Bernardin

Bar at Le Bernardin

Cuisine: Gastronomic French seafood.

Visit: February 2012

Price: Very expensive (Prix-Fixe $127 – 4 courses at the restaurant; at the bar the selection is limited, yet you get great food with some options; the City Harvest weekly changing 3 course-menu offered exclusively at lunch in the Lounge for set price $45 is a great deal if you have time for a two-hour lunch – $5 go for the City Harvest, the world’s oldest food rescue organization founded in 1981).

Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert

Chef: Eric Ripert has an unparalleled experience at Paris’ best dining establishments including the first purely seafood restaurant ever to achieve three Michelin stars – Le Bernardin. There he worked closely with its founder and chef Gilbert Le Coze and after the later’s death he continued to uphold the highest standards of Le Bernardin. Ripert is the success behind the Le Bernardin’s expansion to the US, where the restaurant quickly became a star of the gastronomic stage. He knows fish and seafood very well owing to his early experience in Antibes, South of France, that laid foundations to his culinary expertise.

Bar scene at Le Bernardin

Bar scene at Le Bernardin

Atmosphere: This is another review from my bar tour through the top New York restaurants. The atmosphere and approach in each of them though is different. Foodwise my personal winner was only by a pinch of salt Per Se, yet some would disagree and put Le Bernardin ahead. The bar at Le Bernardin was more lively and felt more cool, yet the more discreet Per Se can be preferred by these seeking privacy and romance. You ned to dress up smart and elegant, no jeans, t-shirts and hats. There are two types of seating, one at the high chairs at the bar, and another, more comfortable for most of us, at small tables sprinkled around the bar area.

Food:  The seafood is prepared using French cooking techniques. The chef captured its spirit saying:

 Everything we do in the kitchen—using subtle textures and flavors, seeking out the freshest ingredients—has the same goal: to enhance and elevate the fish. 

Of course you can go for oysters or caviar as these are very popular luxurious bar snacks available at Le Bernardin. These come with a very high price tag though and do not test the chef’s skills.

Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche

Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche

With a glass of champagne we started with the Peruvian Style Scallop Ceviche. Peruvian food preparation style has been in the fashion focus of recent years and Ripert could not escape being enchanted by the savory whims of this Latin-American culinary style. The scallops were utmost tender, melting softly like a bubble of silk, refreshed gently with the lime and spice sauce, just to add a gentle accent to the dish. Unlike in Peru, where the sauce pops out and twists your tongue in an anxious move from the acid attack it bestows upon you, in New York you get it soft from the chef Ripert (an unlikely turn in America where generally the palates seek excitement).

Moving to a glass of white wine (German Riesling) we dove to the Kanpachi Tartare covered by a layer of wasabi tobiko ginger and embalmed  in a coriander emulsion. The fish was fresh, tender and light. Wasabi colored and spiced up fish eggs (tobiko) added crunchy texture to the slightly chewy chopped kanpachi, zest and warmth from the spicy ingredients, and the coriander cast more depth to the dish on the spoon. Delicious!

Kanpachi Tartare

Kanpachi Tartare

The waiter was praising the Yellowfin Tuna from the restaurant menu so we got it after a couple of minutes of persuasion. Normally, the restaurant dishes are not served at the bar, but if you show interest in food you can get some starters. The Tuna is chef’s specialty and indeed, he prepares it well. The paper-thin slices of sublime tuna are layered on thin beetroot shavings (which you cannot see unless you lift the fish) and covered with chopped capers and chives in olive oil. This delicate fish has enough oil on it and has enough fat so it likes wines with high acidity that cut through the fat. My choice would be either a fresh and complex white wine (such as Burgundy – ideally mineral Chablis or Puligni Montrachet) or a light red with good acidity (Pinot Noir or the balanced Greek one I had – look below).

YELLOWFIN TUNA

YELLOWFIN TUNA

From the warm snacks we went for the Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche” since it sounded divine even on the paper. It was tasty and richer than our previous dishes. The fluffy Brioche was filled with warm tender lobster and black truffle shavings. Aromatic, intense yet still retaining its own harmony. The Brioche called for a heavier oaky Chardonnay or an intense white wine blend.

Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche”

Warm Lobster and Truffle “en Brioche”

In the afternoon you can come to the bar and savor the french style with the “Café Gourmand”. You will get a tasting of a trio of mini desserts with coffee (it is a sort of take on the british afternoon tea – the French and the British always have to find something that would compete with the other’s inventions).

Drinks: Intriguing wines by the glass. I was pleasantly surprised by the Greek wine from the Domaine Economou located on the island of Crete. The wine undergoes 7 years of ageing in the barrels (100% French oak), tanks and in the bottles so it is ready to drink when it is released to the market. The local red grape varietals Liatiko (80%) is blended with 20% of Mandilaria. On the nose you get some fruity blackberry aromas and spices. The palate is mature Bordeaux-like with plum, spices, blackberries, jam, raisin and prune flavors. It is complex with supple tannins and long-lasting aftertaste. By-the-glass – you must try it!

Greek wine by the glass

Greek wine by the glass

Opening Hours: Lunch: Mon– Fri: 12 pm – 2:30 pm
Dinner: Mon – Thurs: 5:15 pm – 10:30 pm; Fri– Sat: 5:15 pm – 11 pm

Address: Le Bernardin | 155 West 51st Street, New York 10019, USA

Contact: Tel: +1 (212) 554 1515

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Wine has been popular for centuries. On paintings depicting Ancient Greek festivities you will see wine and grape motives again and again, even though some try to proove that for example Aristotle did mean by his legendary quote “it is WINE in name, but not in effect…” that what they were drinking there wasn’t actually the alcoholic beverage as we know it these days!

Whatever it was that Greeks were drinking, it must have had some particular effect different from typical non-alcoholic drinks, otherwise there wouldn’t be any god of wine often also connected to ecstatic experience as Dionysus (also called Bacchus) was. The wine jugs you can see in museums all over the world suggest that Greeks were not just making a juice from grapes. Besides, the acclaimed intellectual gatherings called “symposia” where drinking wine was accompanied by philosophical discussions suggests that wine was almost a sacred drink and it had not much in common with fruit juices like Innocent smoothies nowadays.

What more, there are over 300 indigenous grape varieties in Greece!

I have tried Assyrtiko from one of the Aegean islands Santorini.

Thalassitis wine, Santorini

 

Thalassitis is one of the signature wines of Gaia winery, producing wines since 1994. It has light citrus aroma with earthy sub-tones. Its acidity you feel at the finish is quite unique for the wine’s rather high alcohol content.

Have you tried any Greek wines? If yes, which one and how did you like it?

You can get Greek wine made from Assyrtiko grapes at wine-searcher or in many shops and supermarkets in the UK (Waitrose has some).

More about history of wine.

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