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Confectionery Pushkin, Moscow

Two so-so meals at Cafe Pushkin could already have shattered my expectation of the Pushkin’s and we could have given Confectionery Pushkin (just next door to the restaurant a miss). NOPE. This did not happen. I had Pushkin cakes half a year back in Paris, at a small Cafe Pouchkine – very annoyingly Francocentric spelling I know – at Printemps and everything was bloody damned tasty. Better than Pierre Herme for me, really.

And why?

Because of this guy.. Emmanuel Ryon.. the head patisserie chef at Confectionery Pushkin, the man behind all the eccentric, Mozartian cake creations. He is undoubtedly French. And he also undoubtedly won the World Confectionery Championship in 1999 enabling him to claim the title of world’s best pastry chef. He is also among very few Frenchies to win the most prestigious Best Professional of France. Patriotic winning which I don’t quite get. … ahem .. surely he’s great. Period.

Confectionery Pushkin is, like Cafe Pushkin, located in one of those false historical buildings on Tverskoy Boulevard. Verseille-looking decor. Opened from 11am till midnight. Laduree-like menu of sandwiches, salad and a prominent array of chocolate, macarons and bizarre-looking cakes. There were some Champagnes too.. we opted out.

We settled with two softies. The green one was tagged as “Exotic Celery” and the other was an apricot milkshake. The milkshake was a smooth delight. Gentle note of apricot. The “Celery” was very “exotic” for it hardly contained the stereotypically conceived foulness of celery at all. Instead, ’twas an ingenious mix of apple and cucumber. Refreshing and it slipped down my throat as quickly as my money slipped away from my wallet. I went back for this drink the day after – that’s the extent of how seriously good it was.

Cakes?

A rose-shaped, white chocolate cake with yogurt mousse and pistachio cream. Sweet, almost gummy white chocolate petals. Nice layers of things creating this gulf of appetising yogurty-ness. Very memorable but I think the rather spectacular look misled me to assume the flavour would be as complex as the look. The rum baba was a far more superior treat. Arrived in a filo pastry cup dusted with icing sugar. Cut to reveal a layer of fluffy arearated chantilly cream. Fragrance of spices. A joyful touch of rum. Actually this was one of the lightest and nicest babas I’ve ever tried – the other bib only gave me half spoon – and can be a contender to Ducasse’s traditional awesomeness.

We loved it.

I do think Emmanuel Ryon is talented – not innovatively so but inventively talented – and Confectionery Pushkin is for us the destination in Moscow. I wouldn’t particularly say it’s world’s best, though.

But if you couldn’t be arsed to fly there for cakes, just go to the one in Paris. More expensive but will surely cost less than a return flight to Russia X

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

CONFECTIONERY PUSHKIN

Tverskoy Boulevard, 26A/ Тверской бульвар, д. 26А
Moscow
Russia

Tel. +7495 604 4280

www.sweetpushkin.ru

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Connaught Afternoon Tea: Shall We Eat Flowers?

Yes, again!!!

 

A week ago, thanks to Miles Irving, I coerced me into putting a bunch of elderflower in my mouth..

.. last weekend Helene Darroze stuffed me with many pretty flowers.

 

I did not go to HD’s 2-starred restaurant but her cosy offshoot Espelette at the Connaught Hotel for a late afternoon tea. Not my first time (and it wouldn’t be my last despite the flowers). I love its relaxed, minimalist setting. Very conservatory-like. Bright and airy. Beautiful chandelier of fresh flowers. Lots of interesting Mayfair characters dodging on Mount Street and on their way to Scott’s.

 

A little bit about tea at the Connaught. I don’t know whether it was because of the French chef manhandling the kitchen or what. The exuberant tea feast there seems to have slipped from The UK’s Tea Guild Award, of which the winner of this year is Claridge’s. For me and my other bib, the Connaught tea is always a stunner. The tea menu features a lot of infusion – Paris blend, Pomegranate, and our most favourite the “spooky” Lapsang Souchong. Distinctly smoky and to brew as dark as an XO beef stock. I am caffeine intolerant but I’d rather die than not have a sip.

The nibbles, like the tea list, are not all the way English but with many delightful French twists. Say, imported preserve by Christine Ferber, the Queen of Jam in France!! As you may expect, tea at Espelette does not come cheap. You can only go for a set with or without Champagne of your choice. Sans alcohol, it is £35 per head. Unlimited refill but I never venture as far as asking for takeaway. The trick to make this worth the money is that you fast all day, go for the tea and eat to include your supper.

And of all the weekends I had to stumble into Helene Darroze’s special weeks of Chelsea Flower Show-inspired afternoon tea… (and if I may add, it is always the British annual event I couldn’t give a d**m about!)

First plate..

Many sandwiches of flowery inspirations. Club Sandwich with Salted Cod, Brandade, Chorizo, Wild Garlic Flower; Smoked Salmon, Lemon Cream, Fennel Flower; Brioche of Duck Foie Gras with Rhubarb Chutney, Elderflower; Foccaccia of Babaganoush, Spring Veg, Borage Flower. All marvellous. The bread was top-notch. The flower not only add scent but also flavours. My heart drummed when I bit into the babaganoush with the rather cleansing borage. The foie gras was the table’s favourite.

 

The cakes (also keeping closely with the flower theme) by the French lady were to die for…

Loved the triangle sponge sandwich of pistachio with peach and jasmine ganache. A burst of o-so-light cream from the blackcurrant and violet choux pastry. All great (but too filling). Service could have been more attentive as I had to wave for the table to be cleared.

And to make myself one step closer to diabetes there came the scones – baked to order – plain and apricotted. Light and flaky. Not necessarily better than scones from Claridge’s or Brown’s Hotel. It was the jam by Ferber that set the Connaught apart. There was not just one kind, two, three, four, but a jam menu featuring 10+ kinds to choose from. We went for Pineapple Vanilla, Raspberry and Quince. Paper thin ribbons of pineapple in vanilla light syrup – it was the best thing that happened to my life recently. Period.

More horrific plates of calories followed – Rose and Raspberry Cake + Chocolate Cake. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them, let alone taking a picture.

Threw my napkin.. gave up all manners.. shouted for a takeaway box..

They actually gave me two! Plastic ones. As glamourous as one would get from a Chinatown eatery. Surely the staff was not often asked for takeaway boxes. I didn’t mind and to restore our decency I got two jars of Christine Ferber to go as well. £10 each.. worth my pennies. They are.

Should you or should you not pay £35 for this? Go for it if you either have the stomach of an elephant or the sweet teeth of 10 million ants…or both. This is, after all, the agreed price range of 5* hotel afternoon tea. Darroze soars above the others in her experimentation with flavours. After the Chelsea Flower theme, the sandwiches will be deflowered but still deliciously unconventional. Smoked salmon with wasabi cream, so to speak. The pastries are always too good to be true. A sort of French magic (as you know I suffer from Francophilia). BUT if you take a personal dislike of all things French, I’d recommend Claridge’s or Brown’s. They champion the English tradition and you’ll get your slice of Vicky Sponge and Dundee Cake.

Enough sugary torture for me..

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

 

ESPELETTE

The Connaught Hotel
Carlos Place
Mayfair
London
W1K 2AL

Tel. 020 3147 7100

www.the-connaught.co.uk/espelette.aspx

Espelette at The Connaught  on Urbanspoon

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Laduree Au Covent Garden

Has the Covent Garden Market just gone well too posh?

First, there is the largest Apple Store in the world. Following suit is the Burberry Brit and now Laduree!!

(There are still Natwest, Llyod’s and HSBC around the corner if you are in need of an overdraft)

Looking tiny from the outside but Laduree at Covent Garden Market dominates the whole wing. This is a little doll house like cafe that does food. Stripped back decor from its flagship at Harrods and hard(er) to beat location.

I wouldn’t mind lounging there everyday.

Downstairs they do the usual affair – the patisserie.

Macarons.

Chocolates.

Cakes.

Strictly no photography..

Well, I managed. And if I am going to pay lots, I make sure I leave with a decent set of photos. Bad attitude, I know.

The menu is French and the price can cost Louis XVI his Verseilles. Dishes are not much different from the Harrods site, but here there is not long queue.

Bread – seedy. Served warm and enjoyable.

The Duck Foie Gras with Minted Strawberry Macaroon with its Kouglof starter to share nearly lived up to its price tag (£22.50 fuck!!). Supreme quality. The acidic macaroon and menthol flavour complimented it. Gorgeous and heavenly toasted Kouglof – a kind of brioche with juicy raisins. It’s just the price tag that would boggle anybody looking after a quick meal.

But, wait, isn’t there Paul’s just around the corner? Ca y est!

I ordered scallops but it turned a roast chicken with mash potatoes shaped to resemble madeleines (£19). I said I took the dish as we did not have time to wait for another one. Not the most inspiring but very succulent and tender. It sufficed. I could eat it again. Comfort food at not so comforting price, I must add. Looking back at my perfect roast chicken at Brawn, Laduree is unacceptably pricy. But, guess we do not pay for the food but for the branding here.

My other bib asked for Le Club Crab (£19) and it was it that arrived at the table. I hated to say it’s actually worth the money (£19). Ethereal brioche bun. Zingy guacamole. Puffy white crab meat. Gently sweet and acidity from the roasted tomatoes. Crunchy shredded lettuce cleansed the palate. But, again, the £19 also helped cleansed my wallet. Chunky chips – very nice – but the salad was not dressed.

Could I add 50p for vinaigrette?

The service was lovely. The scallop-turned-chicken was just a little second day mess-up I found forgivable..

The bill was staggering (£70+) sans alcohol, as if including the hot seats for Covent Garden street performance. I shouldn’t rant too much because deep down I really like the place and can seriously see myself returning very soon. Easy food – good for those willing to pay.

We grabbed a box of Laduree macaroons on the way out.

The regular soft boxes were hidden under the counter… .. how jolly!

Verdict? I think Laduree is a Marmite cafe. Love it for the pompous tag and the averagely good quality stuff. Or, just loathe it for the pompous tag and the averagely good quality stuff. Your choice!!

Pour moi?

I am happy.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

LADUREE COVENT GARDEN

Unit 1 Covent Garden Market
London
WC2E 8RF

Tel. 020 7240 0706

www.laduree.fr

Laduree Covent Garden on Urbanspoon

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BBR: Soho’s BFF

Not sure how many days it was that I had sunk my head in books. I got to lift it up and sniff my way to a restaurant at last.

My choice? The Soho’s Best Friend Forever, formally known as Bob Bob Ricard.

It had never been love at first bite with me at BBR. I found the offerings too similar to The Wolseley and its Eggs Benedict less exuberant. That says it all about my taste bud – cream, egg, butter, egg, cream and one happy diner. Seriously, I could eat eggs – and in my ideal world the Japanese sweet omelette – for the rest of my life.

But, BBR was my choice today because I had a visitor. The place was presentable – classy but not intimidatingly so – marbled floors, gold chromes, waiters in waistcoats as colourful as Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), scented toilets…

Oh, and there was the Champagne Button. You pinged it; they’d pop it.

I did not ping it.

The bankers next to us did. “Bankers” are, indeed, the only breed that has a cause to toast in this economic clime… and Tories, too?

Never mind. I was sure I could turn their eyes green with my choice of dishes.

Scallops, Black Puddings and Apple to start.

If you could get over the fact that the dish was a swamp of oil, the flavour combination was not bad. The medallions of scallops and black puddings were nicely cooked. A hint of sweet and sour apples and peppery watercress would have cut through a lot nicer if it weren’t for the oil leakage.

For main it was this Wien Holstein, Truffled Mash.

When I said I could eat eggs for the rest of my life, I pictured them to be bigger than this. Classic takes with a scatter of anchovies, capers, shoots, roasted cherry tomatoes and courgettes. The presentation was very retro-Eastern European. Decent texture contrast. Feisty smell from the truffled mash. Crispy crumbs and tender veal. Substantial food. All good.

I actually preferred this Holstein to the one at The Wolseley.

My dining partner went for the Prix Fixe set. Very good value (£19 for a 2-course) and from the size of the cheeseburger it was generous. Really bite-heaven bacons, nicely charred medium rare patty (which could have benefitted with a bit more moisture inside and a more exciting bun). Not Goodman or Hawksmoor but fuck it!

Actually it was “fuck it” for my friend too. She happened to be an elderly lady who was no longer intrigued by a big piece of meat. So, I ate half. I’d rate it around Byron. More meaty but not as tender.

Desserts!! They were stellar. The trio of Creme Brulee – passion fruit, pistachio and raspberry – was the best I’d had in London. I’d rephrase it to the pistachio (top one) was the best I’d had in London. To my taste bud, a more superior version could be found at The Waterside Inn. But you will have to add £££££. The other two were very good but nowhere as close. The seeds of passionfruit were spooned to one side, which made the other half taste bizarrely bland.

Also very good was Strawberry and Cream Souffle. All puffy, ethereal. Good acidity and intense flavour from the coolie toned down by the delectable cream.

That was BBR. It still is not my BFF but I can see why everybody – or almost – loves it. The ambiance at night is usually better, I must add. Dimmed lights totally add a lot of glitz to the place. Surely it sets the mood for those still sober even after they ping for their bubbly.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

BOB BOB RICARD

1 Upper St James Street
Soho
London
W1F 9DF

Tel. 020 3145 1000

www.bobbobricard.com

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon

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Buns & Buttocks

St John – no.41 as of the 2011 World’s 50 Best Restaurants – is good at many things – the madeleines, the custard doughnuts, the gleaming soft-boiled eggs in salad, the not-awful offal, the capers that go into many things. Is their next best thing the afternoon “buttock” bun? I made an exception to eat carb today. The o’clock leapt to 15 and I entered St John Hotel.

Buns were upstairs.. the location of these “buttocks” was made clear at the Front of Hotel Menu. They were St John’s take on the lavish afternoon tea – scones and jam and sugary trimmings. Minimalising the tradition with something arguably nicer?

Seated at the bar. Buns requested; tea poured; re-checked the wallet that I had enough money as these were three buns for £8.50.

I had goose bumps.

Not because of the price. Just the ridiculously freezing air con.

The menu at the front and on the site read “surprise” fillings. The girl told me from top to bottom they were anchovies, prune and bitter chocolate. Not much surprise there; I was keen to bite and find that out myself -__-!!

I was not blaming her. Of course not. She was friendly and knowledgeable.

She even gave me honey (to go with my fresh mint tea) that came from Regent’s Park! This was not a joke, check the label.

The premier bun: anchovies with paprika dust on top(?). Velvety mousse. Not salty, not unpleasant. Soft, delectably spongy and chewable texture from the bread. I could tell how good it was as I ripped these warm, little buttocks apart.

The middle bun was of prune filling. Very one-note sweet. Would be nicer if spiced.

The last bitter chocolate bun was the star. Lava of bittersweet chocolate inside and dark choc dust on top. I was intrigued how the choc was still leaking as it took me a while to get to this last bun. Never mind. Don’t forget to lick your lips clean; I found mine rather dusty when visiting the loo.

That was it.

Delicious. Classy. A bit pricy considering they were still buns. But, delicious and you’d want to eat them all up, unlike many other stodgy scones in and around the West End.

So. Bunssss. Doneee.

Oh not. I forgot to mention the hot cross buns. Heavier and very cinnamon-y, them buns glistened thanks to the sugar coating. Plump raisins. Crispy “cross”. My other bib, surely, could live on this pile during Easter.

These are only available from St John Restaurant and Bread and Wine, though.

Have a good Easter, y’ all!!!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

ST JOHN HOTEL

1-2 Leicester Street
London
WC2H 7BL

Tel. 020 3301 8096

www.stjohnhotellondon.com

St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Cocomaya: A Brief Encounter

I was standing next to Colbeh but my eyes strayed from its fiery clay oven to this little shop of sugary curiosity just opposite, Cocomaya. To cross the street or not was totally not a question. My legs did their job before my brain could even rationalise or my eyes checked there were no cars coming (highly not recommended).

Inside there was a big bird, a communal table and an exquisite array of chocolate made at the premise. I thought I was teleported back to Bruges Ambiance was, in my words, a Sketch Parlour after being tidied. Eclectic, classy and with a lot of decorative teapots, the sort of decor my dad wouldn’t mind basking in for an hour or so and the sort of chocolate he would indulge in and dream away his diabetes. There were loose chocolate truffles to be boxed and the packaged ones that would make lovely novelty gifts. the flavours utilising many familiar British flavours were not too daring but sounded tempting enough. I picked up a few including star anise, cinnamon, green tea, Bramley apple and a couple more.

Hopping into the other room of Cocomaya, I came across, well, a lot more. The “next door” was a deli with decent selections of cakes. I picked up some mini madeleines – better than Princi but nowhere near St John Bread & Wine or Ble Sucre – and mini financiers – tastier than the madeleines but pricy.

The salad offerings looked fresh but quite traditional. There were some quiche too which I was keen to go back for. And while waiting for my bill, my eyes sparkled at the rows of Alain Millait’s juice and nectar. This could be my second choice for juice shopping: the selection at Gauthier Wine Shop – inside Gauthier Soho – was more intriguing. Yellow tomato juice and strawberry nectar…

And this was my desserts for the evening. Taste-wise, it was half way to
Bruges

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

COCOMAYA

12 Connaught Street
London
W2 2AF

Tel. 020 7706 2770