All posts filed under “Bar

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Leandro @ One Leicester Street

The start of something (utterly) exciting..

Where do I begin? The word “supper club” has been a distant memory, and being subjected to a communal table in the middle of an unpopulated dining room daunted me. The glimmering kitchen was my hope. So was the name Leandro Carreira, a chef who held senior positions at two of the world’s most inspiring kitchens Mugaritz and Viajante.

Leandro or Leo is at One Leicester Street for 3 months (until mid-June, I guess), doing what seems an understatement, a “supper club”. This is an 8-course menu with beverage pairings (by Talented Mr Fox) at £88. Chefs are keen to exchange thoughts and diners are encouraged to nose around in the kitchen. The cuisine is innovative – an epiphany both of taste and of thought process.

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Antidote

Four clues..

There were rumours that a certain Michelin star chef has quietly moved in at an existing restaurant address around Carnaby Street. He shunned the aids of PR. I was also further teased, “you had his food before and you liked it”. That’s about it. My two clues: the “Carnaby” location and that the chef is a “he”.

My brain labour started, no doubt. Social media network didn’t help much. The “no PR” works most effectively to obscure, when a lot of restaurants these days (especially in Central London) rely on PR bombs. Luckily, I was able to single out a couple of possible sites that had recently been refurbished. My foot work followed. I looked through the menus of my narrowed-down restaurant list.

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The Lockhart

Blogging again

The Lockhart isn’t a new restaurant but one that nobody talked about. It wasn’t until its recent acquisition of chef Bradford McDonald that The Lockhart got my attention. The fare here is Southern American with backflippingly cool and refined twists.

Before that. Bradford. He is American and Southern. He grew up in a farm and mobilised across the world’s best kitchens (including Per Se and Noma). His former restaurant Governor in Brooklyn, NY was lauded by chefs, critics and food enthusiasts. Sadly, it was swept away by Sandy. A year or so after, I feel privileged to have Brad cooking in London.

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Gymkhana: The Tasty (Colonial) Memories in Mayfair

Social and colonial stuff

For those with limited cultural and Commonwealth knowledge (like me), Gymkhana may be summed up as a posh colonial-style sport club where members come dine and drink. And walking in, the ambiance and the design – a well-lacquered floor, framed pre- and post-colonial equestrian memorabilia, hunting taxidermy, and so forth – did live up to the brief. Social, nearly informal. There was also an unmistaken vibe of masculine gentility as I was seated at the table by a pristinely uniformed staff (in a Nehru jacket?) who explained away, with great but simplified detail, the culinary crux of Indian cuisine that I am never familiar with. (Yes, by now, I hope you have spotted that the cuisine of South Asian origins is not my forte).

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The Quality Chop House: Great British Quality in Central Location

The one..

This might be offensive and untrue. But, as a foreigner living in the haunt of tourists (AKA Central London) and often asked for restaurant recommendations, I have found properly good and properly English food a myth. First there are pubs serving consistently inedible food to a consistent number of tourists. Then there are chip shops where fish swim in oil. You also have so-so food with a grand British space or with a great British view. And, you have an ok place and ok food but a not-as-OK price >__<”” The very nice restaurants are either closing down (sadly) or come often with a slow service. That’s where the newly revamped Quality Chop House comes in. A historical 19th-century “eating house” setup. A simple offering of traditional British fare. A young FOH team with sparkles of enthusiasm. Some cool booths (ideal for those with small behinds). And an awesome wine bar.

 

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The quality of Britain

The ever-changing menus at The Quality Chop House are sensibly priced but a little confusingly segmented. At lunch the rather brief a la carte is available in the Dining Room (£5.5-7.5 for starters; £11.5-14.5 for mains; £6-6.5 for desserts), while the lengthier bar menu (£3.75-15.5) is available at the Wine Bar. The latter may be made available in the dining room, if the kitchen isn’t too busy. At dinner the Dining Room only runs a 4-course set menu (£35). The bar menu stands as it is, in the Wine Bar. Make sure you are in the room with the menu that you most desire. The wine list is very alluring.

My own menu confusion aside. The food at The Quality Chop House is a true British gem and comfort. Game Terrine with Mustard (£6.5) was an exquisite infusion of pheasant, pigeon, mallard, pork and prune. I loved the livery firmness contrasted by the more tender bite of the attractively pink mallard breast. The zingy wholegrain mustard on the side brought these game-y birds to life. Middlewhite with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Apple (originally tagged at £14.5 as a main but here requested as a starter at £7.5) did justice to the Great British tradition. The pork was skilfully roasted and left quite an impression of flavour; the crackling satisfactorily crackled; the apple sauce had good acidity and freshness that made me salivate for more. Game birds were big on the menu during my visit and Woodcock with trimmings (£30) was divinity. The pungent aroma from the perfectly roasted fowl (with its head intact) was mediated by the milky note from the bread sauce. The jus was potent; the lightly dressed watercress fresh and peppery; the crisps were crispy. This was food that delivered and found no better description than what it actually was. Humble. And gorgeous. And there I was.. ordering a second “main” of Longhorn Faggot and Beer Onions (£8) from the bar menu!! The perfume, as I was slicing the faggot open, of porky liver and heart was bold but inviting. Taste-wise, this faggot was very buff. Not so much fat. Not so much excess. Just pure quality meat treat. The beer onions lent quite a robust aroma, too. The caramelized sweetness from the onions had quite a length of taste to nicely foil. Blood Orange Jelly (£6.5) arrived with a little “Mess” (of fresh orange segments, whipped cream and broken biscuit). Intense, though I might prefer my jelly to wobble more.

Verdict? GO!

 

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RATING: 4/5

THE QUALITY CHOP HOUSE

92-94 Farringdon Road
London
EC1R 3EA

Tel. 020 7278 1452

www.thequalitychophouse.com

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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HKK by Hakkasan: The Morsels of Modern Chinese Banquet in City

City, culture(s) and HKK

Despite my being harsh – you will see – I actually like HKK very much. I am talking a new concept modern Chinese restaurant in the City by Hakkasan Group that, contrary to Hakkasan, runs only a tasting menu. There is also no swanky bar featuring demure lighting. There is a

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bar, still, and with cascading medical-looking curtains to section the restaurant, the dining room seems temporary. There *is* also the crowd, during my two meals at the restaurant, the *City* crowd (or just some of .. ) that doesn’t seem to care much about exquisitely thought out food – let alone the fact that it is Chinese. On my second visit, in particular, they cared very much about their expensive wines/champagnes, a sentiment they were so keen to convey to the neighbouring diners. Last and definitely not least, as somebody brought up with a half-Chinese background, the tasting menu format at HKK is excruciatingly culturally frustrating. The Chinese that I know like to eat in abundance, or at least, they like seeing there is food in abundance that they may or may not choose to eat. One piece of roast duck, one piece of crispy skin and one roll cannot be explained away as keeping you wanting more to my parents at least. It is just wrong.

Rant over..

And despite all this – you will see – I love my two meals at HKK and will return for more.

Tasting the banquet

Chef Tong Chee Hwee isn’t the name most often mentioned but he has been instrumental in the success of Hakkasan since its inauguration. The 15-course tasting menu (£95), which marries the premium produce of the West with the jewels of the East, is not only a great testament to chef Tong’s talents but also that, after 10 years of Hakkasan, he still has a lot of tricks up his sleeves. HKK also offers a shorter 8-course menu (£48) at lunch. Also, the juice pairing (£25) is the most innovative and successful I’ve ever come across in the UK.

Let’s start. Four Treasure Iberico Ham Wrap was a bite-sized wrap of pickled mooli, cucumber, nameko mushroom, tofu and Jamon Iberico. The fillings were crunchy and refined in taste; the goji berry sauce carried acidity to complement; my only criticism was that the texture construction in this case made me think the Jamon, tasting mighty fine, became slightly chewy. Drunken Chicken, served cold, was far more superior. Here Poulet de Bresse replaced your ordinary chicken and boast a length and depth of taste. The gu-yue-long-shan rice wine lent an elegant perfume that transported me away from the quite dire surrounding. Peking Duck, carved by chef Tong at the island in the middle of the dining room, was insanely delicious. The meaty duck was roasted with lychee wood and oozed a sweet and fruity aroma. There was no lingering oily touch left in the skin and the meat. The skin, particularly, shattered, exploded on my tongue. Putting this in the context of London, HKK’s Peking Duck is superior to my Peking Duck haunt Min Jiang. (The latter can be inconsistent at times). That said, the pancake wrap, suffering from the transportation time from the island to my table, was dry. This was followed by a clear soup of Poulet de Bresse, with dried scallops, jelly fish, goji berries and chrysanthemum petals. A refined comfort.

Trio of Dim Sum was both thoughtful and successful. I was instructed to start with the wonderful steamed har-gau with black truffle. The casing was especially thin and erupted a bold infusion of truffle and prawns. Szechuan dumpling – prawns, chicken and mushroom – was steamed and pan-fried. Spicy. Mind-blowing. I finished off the selection with a very delicate mooli puff. The puff itself was unreal and powdered away in my mouth. The filling was appetizingly pickle-y. It also cleansed my palate in an instant. Stir Fried Gai Lan in XO Sauce sustained this momentum. The use of house-made XO sauce was minimal but precise, leaving a trace of musty spicy-ness to counter the crispy and sweet lilly bulbs and earthy shimeji mushrooms. The gai lan itself was fresh and had a gentle chlorophyll note. Wok Fried Lobster with Yellow Bean Sauce was indulgent. The lobster itself was distinctly fresh and well treated to emulate a depth of flavour. That said, the plate on which the dish was served make it really hard to hollow out the meat from the claw. Then came a Da-Hong-Pao tea break (a rare variation of oolong from Fujian), with osmanthus jelly (tangy and aromatic) and deep-fried water chestnut cake (sweet, delicate, biteful, greaseless – the best I’ve ever had!).

Fried Monkfish was served nestled in a fragrant concoction of Louis Roederer and rice wine sauce. I loved the contrasting acidity from the loose, mildly fermented rice with intense sun-dried (Italian?) tomatoes. There was also a successful departure of perfume from the disc of lotus leaf, on which the fish was served. Toban of Home-made Pumpkin Tofu was rich and also very good. The pumpkin tofu was skilfully made and in a perfect state between being silky and wobbly. The sauce – rice-wine infusion with chicken and root vegetables – was potent. Braised Australian Wagyu melted in my mouth. The sauce verged on being quite sweet and lacking the dimensions of preceding dishes. The water chestnut mediated this with its cleansing juicy-ness. The sweet potato crisp looked spectacular but was, in fact, soggy (on both visits). The last of the savoury was a rice course steamed with mui-choi and shitake. ‘Twas okay. Good fragrance. Not one of those rice dishes that, in my opinion, would make rice-eating nations proud. The steamed razor clam with vermicelli, garlic and chilli was nicely executed but somehow lacked vitality.

The desserts were weak. Lychee Tapioca with Passion Fruit Chiboust and Passion Fruit Jam lacked balance (on both visits). The former suffered from being too passion-fruit-y; the latter too lychee-fied. There was not enough clarity from the coconut milk. Pineapple Fritter fared better but still was nowhere near the success of the savoury dishes. Here it was served with salted lime jelly, morsels of fresh lime, vanilla ice cream and the alcohol in which the pineapple was poached. I found the citric sharpness to be too domineering. Interestingly enough, and contrary to the desserts, the petir fours – 5-spiced financier, Szechuan peppercorn truffle, pumpkin and ginger macaroon, and durian mochi ice cream – were brilliant. My favourite went straight to durian mochi, which was instructed to be eaten last (so the ice cream inside melted). Quite special. The taste of milk did not kill the deliciously rotten smell of durian but perfectly mellow it out. It also enjoyed the contrast of the liquid-y, milky essence and the gummy exterior.

And yes, despite all my criticisms, HKK is pristine, delicious and very exciting (and perhaps the second-best Asian opening of 2012 after you-know-where).

 

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RATING 4.5/5

HKK BY HAKKASAN

Broadgate West
88 Worship Street
EC2A 2BE

Tel. 020 3535 1888

www.hkklondon.com

Hkk on Urbanspoon