Gaucho Piccadilly

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gaucho
I will keep this post brief as the majority of you will have been to Gaucho, and those of you who have not should go, just to say you’ve been. Gaucho is an Argentinian steak restaurant chain.  You could do a lot worse than going there for good quality steak, service and convenient locations – less easy on the wallet though.

 They offer a good selection of South American starters including ceviche, empanadas and cured meats. We went for the tuna ceviche and beetroot salad on this occasion. Main course we opted for the fillet and the ‘special cut’ with a marinade and peppercorn sauce. Sides of fries, field mushrooms and spinach to share.  All cooked to perfection. It was delicious. To finish off we ordered a selection of cheeses and a pisco sour. Needless to say a long run was in order the next day.  

 My only nit – actually there are three things – with Gaucho is the way they stride over with a wooden platter of raw steaks, asking if ‘you’ve been here before’ before explaining the types of steak cuts on the menu and what they look like, regardless. This annoys me on a number of levels, first of all it’s a waste of good meat as they can’t serve that after being showcased around. Secondly, do they seriously assume that all of their clientele doesn’t know the difference between the cuts? Three, even if you are not au fait with type of cuts, we can read! the menu explains (with the Spanish name annoyingly written first in bold…) what the types of cuts are and what to expect. You just have to prepare yourself for this charade and sit there and nod politely.  

The other issue I have with Gaucho is the décor, leatherette and cow hide seats with black wall paper and far too much reflective metallics. For those of you who have not frequented at Gaucho, it’s as if they’ve asked Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen to ‘go wild’ with the Argentinian theme and make it relevant for youngsters with money to spend. The outcome is like something out of a 90’s pop band music video.

 Saying that the food and service (except the explanation on the cuts of meat) are great so you could do a lot worse. But it’s not cheap and the Hawksmoor or even Paternoster Chop House do as good – if not better – steak without all of the fuss.

   Food                                                  Service                  Atmosphere              5 Stars 4 Stars3 Stars

 

 

Beast

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Don’t be put off by the fact that Beast is from the same people at Burger and Lobster. Don’t get me wrong I like Burger and Lobster for what it is – a fast food chain that does a wallet loving lobster but this place is in a different league all together.

 Based in the heart of Mayfair this place is trendy, it has a Scandic feel as you walk through reception downstairs and welcomed by gigantic (and I mean gigantic) live crabs. The restaurant looks like the set from the Hogwarts dining room with impressively long benches – making for a great social buzz – with gothic chandeliers hanging above.

 The waiter was helpful; suggesting the weight and type of the steak based on our preferences and offering suggestions.

 We ordered 700g porterhouse steak with honey roast carrots, oyster mushrooms and truffle chips. The menu is deliciously simple offering steak, lobster or Norwegian crab only– this is not a place for vegetarians. The blackboard has a range of steak cuts and weights which are scratched off when they are ordered – Hawksmoor style.

 When our food was served in front of us on sharing dishes we dug straight in. The steak melted in the mouth like butter, the chips were unbelievably moorish and the vegetables were well cooked. The only slight niggle was that the carrots were overly sweet –  too much for my palate.

 I cannot recommend this place enough, it’s not too showy but still aims to impress. It is pricey, and when I say pricey, let me put it in perspective. For a 125ml glass of wine you are looking at £15-20. But saying that the wine is all of the finest quality, there is no plonk here. A young couple opposite received their bill and cried, literally. I joke not. So make sure you have enough in the bank.

                         Food                                              Service                                        Atmosphere

5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

Selfridges ‘Forest on the Roof’ Restaurant

We decided to give the roof top restaurant at Selfridges a go; which changes theme over the seasons. This winter the theme was ‘Forest on the Roof’ boasting hearty food and seasonal cocktails ‘beneath a starry sky’. Diners get the lift to the fifth floor past the perfume department – it would be a really nice place to take an out of towner –  you arrive upon a magnificent entrance – like something out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – it is very twinkly.

 They had lost our booking but fortunately they found us a table, this table however was squeezed between the kitchen in a narrow corridor to the outside terrace which was very busy and noisy . We did have window seats however and when and if the weather picks up it will be a delight to look over the City.

 The receptionist was very friendly and sat us down quickly. Our waiter seemed rushed but took our order of lamb stew with root vegetables and a fillet steak with onions promptly. We also ordered a side portion of chips and kale. We felt a little like we were on a conveyor belt – it is a busy place so quick turnaround times are essential. The food was tasty. My lamb melted in the mouth yet looked a little underwhelming – plonked in a pot with a hunk of white bread on the side, no butter, no garnish. Presentation was not its strong point but having eyed up the desserts, they made up for what the main courses lacked. After being rushed through ordering we now waited a long time for our water glasses to be filled up and to get the bill.

 I feel our awkward seating didn’t give us the best start and so I might be being a little tough when I say that the décor was not at its strongest in the dining area , rather at the entrance or leading into the bar. It sort of waned off by the kitchen and back end of restaurant. I felt a little let down I’ll admit. Service was most definitely rushed but what can you expect at a dining spot in one of London’s most famous establishments? My recommendation would be to go for a drink in the bar – if you can find a space – and give the food a miss – although tasty and good value the atmosphere is rather a let down and more TLC needs to go into the savory dishes.

As a result Sex Drugs and Bacon Rolls gives this place:

                Food                                                    Service                                     Atmosphere

3 Stars2 Stars3 Stars

Karpo

karpo

Kings Cross has become an unexpected haven for trendy restaurants large and small with the likes of The Grain Store, Voc Bar and Plum and Spilt Milk, and we included Karpo on our growing to do list.  Located conveniently next to the Kings Cross tube entrance, it is small and unassuming enough to be frequented mainly by locals.  We were tempted by the set weekday lunch option which offers a three course selection of European dishes. We decided to try the butternut squash soup, followed by the chicken breast & potato fondant main course and the ‘Karpo burger’.

 The restaurant is a relaxed, independent restaurant; small enough to be cozy. It has a family run vibe with quirky little notes to customers and fun décor such as the grass wall and signage. The kitchen is at the end of the restaurant open for all to see which I personally love.

 The soup took a while to come out – which was fine as we were not in a rush – but one bowl came out luke warm (the other was fine). It had a crème fraise drizzle which added richness to the slightly watery soup with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds to add depth. I ordered a diet coke and this never arrived – again not a problem as I should cut down but not really the point.

 The chicken – when it did arrive – was tender served with the creamy potato and al dente kale. Yet the burger was a real disappointment. I don’t think it was freshly prepared; it didn’t look or taste quite right. It was medium/rare in the centre – which I usually like – but the taste was not right. Definitely not fresh.

 One of the waiters – I think the manager – was really good and came over to check we were happy but our waitress made ad hoc appearances which probably led to the majority of the delays.

 I really liked the atmosphere, menu options but the slow service and mixed food quality really let it down.

As a results Sex Drugs and Bacon Rolls gives this place:

                Food                                         Service                               Atmosphere

2 Stars2 Stars3 Stars

The Big Easy

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The Big Easy classes itself as a BBQ and lobster shack located in the Kings Road and Covent Garden. Having been to the Kings Road location, way back when, we decided to try the much newer Covent Garden restaurant.  They do great deals that change depending on the day of the week which is great for students and end of the month places to eat.

As you walk in, the noise level rises by a few decibels. There is a sense of organised chaos which suits the place; friendly, buzzing and full of life. This is not the place where you would go for a quiet catch up.  We were early and seated at the bar which is full of the most amazing liquor. We sat on one of the 1920’s brass bar chairs and ordered a couple of nigroni’s. The bar was one of the highlights for me.

We were seated by some very enthusiastic waiters, so enthusiastic that I felt a little tired after they had run through the drinks, special offers and al a carte options. Phew. The menu is extensive showing off a lot of great BBQ shellfish and steaks. We hoped it could live up to the menu!

We ordered a sharing platter which included half lobster, giant shrimps, crab claws and dipping sauces. This was served in a huge iced bowl that was elevated on metal stands. It did look impressive and tasted great – although a little messy. For main course we ordered the sirloin steak and the lobster roll. Although the place is ram packed there was not an excessive wait and the service was so friendly we couldn’t help but smile in admiration of their energy. My steak was over cooked and had a lot of fat on it which meant that I left a lot of the meal. It was served with creamed spinach and fries. The lobster roll looked good, the meat was well cooked and was apparently very tasty.

We ordered the bill pretty sharpish as the noise level is only so much you can bear for so long. The food was good but the food did not live up to my hopes and was expensive for what we ordered – however I am sure that if you do order the daily specials then it is much more wallet friendly. The service is very enthusiastic, which is sweet but again can be a little too much; asking us ‘how we are getting on’ at least three times throughout the meal. Atmosphere has a fun buzz and there is often live music which is always a plus. As a result Sex Drugs and Bacon Rolls gives this place:

             Food                              Service                  Atmosphere

3 Stars4 Stars3 Stars

Chinese Cricket Club

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We’ve heard good things about this place but having never been a fan of Chinese cuisine we’ve given a miss, well until now obviously.

I have to say since the visit I have a better opinion of the cuisine but again I’d argue this is one of the best places to chow down – excuse the pun.

Chinese Cricket Club is part of the Crown Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars, which is swanky and centrally situated. Usually restaurants in hotels have a bad rep but this goes against the stereotype.

The restaurant itself is uber modern with green leather seats, bamboo entrance and subtle nods to the cricket theme. Well played.

They have a selection of menus including the express lunch – which is handy for a business lunch- but we went for the al a carte option.

We ordered the steak fillet in black bean sauce and the crispy soft shell crab along with egg fried rice to share.  The fillet was beautiful, it melted in the mouth and the sauce was spicy and salty. Just perfect. The rice was a far cry from the egg fried rice you find at you’re local take away, light, fluffy and subtly flavoured. The soft shell crab on the other hand was very dry, to the point where it honestly felt that there was no meat left. The batter was all that seemed to remain. It was a shame as on the whole we were very satisfied.

In terms of atmosphere, people seem to dine later in the afternoon and, unsurprisingly based on location and price, it’s more often than not filled with loud city types. It’s not cheap here but quality reflects this (despite the crab dish). Apparently the thing to order here is a whole crispy duck. We might try next time.

This place is definitely impressive and worth giving a go if you like Chinese cuisine that’s more upmarket than China Town however this comes at a price and the occasional oversight from the kitchen lets it down.

Food                            Service                        Atmosphere

4 Stars4 Stars3 Stars

Aqua at the Shard

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We went for a business lunch at Aqua which is situated in the Shard. We had been to Oblix at the Shard a year before and were a little disappointed by the service. I expected the same as you do pay for the views, less so for service and cuisine.

Saying that the menu looked well thought out with a mix of Asian/fusion dishes. At lunch you can order a set menu which is at a wallet pleasing price or the al a carte option which is substantially more – yet arguable no more superior.

There was a little confusion in the main entrance as we were told the wrong floor and when we arrived at the Oblix reception. We were seated at one of the larger booth seating areas that was set back from the windows but still had sweeping views over the city. A tip from me; if you want a really great window seat you are much better to dine with just two people as the majority of window seats are for a cosy duo only.

We had a very cheery waiter seat us and was very attentive so I began to think my worries of poor service were unfounded. For starter, we ordered the foie gras and chocolate, the burrata and tomatoes and the market salad. We were feeling quite smug with ourselves as we had ordered ahead of a large group so hoped that we had missed the wait – we all had only an hour and a half for lunch – but there was a good twenty minute wait. To be fair when the food arrived we were impressed, the food looked like a painting; striking, creative and colourful. It tasted damn good too!

My foie gras was cooked to perfection; jelly like, it was just set and melted in the mouth. It was served with what looked like a chocolate pudding that once sliced oozed out into a rich creamy chocolate sauce. It was so rich and not one for those watching their waistline but my god it was good. The burrata was colourful; the creamy cheese worked with the slightly bitter fruit and oily olives. The salad, despite being by far the dullest option on paper, looked like something from a fairytale garden. It was incredibly colourful, with flowers, nuts & seeds and unusual leaves.

It took a long while to clear away our plates – we assumed that this was because there was a busy service, but  really our main course took a ridiculous amount of time to arrive. It was made worse as we knew we had to leave. Twenty five minutes after finishing our starters the main courses was served. We got a swift apology from the waiter who originally was very enthusiastic – as I assume he saw that we were not best pleased.

The main courses were lovely but the wait really did put a dampener on things. We ordered the black cod, steak tartare and lamb. The cod was a little overcooked but it did have a tasty sticky sauce. It was served in a spicy herbed salsa. The tartare was nice, with fine meat strips served with a rich egg yolk, although the meat could have been slightly spicier for our taste. The lamb was the star dish, served medium rare it was served with root vegetables that had been beautifully sculpted and a rich sauce, delicious!

Our dishes were cleared and we promptly asked for the bill. The food was fantastic, we thought out, beautiful and tasty. The skyline views speak for itself but the service was incredibly slow, confused and a little OTT at the start. As a result Sex Drugs and Bacon Rolls gives this place:

Food                       Service                      Atmosphere

4 Stars3 Stars4 Stars

The best kept secret

I was recently asked to be a guest food blogger for Big Fish English blog, who provide language learning skills for those looking to improve their English. Check out my first blog post that hopes to bust the myth that British cuisine is lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of gastronomy:

http://www.bigfishenglish.com/2015/07/23/the-best-kept-secret-by-terri-bloore/

Fazenda UK

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Fazenda is a little cafe run by an Italian husband and wife team based on Leydon Street by Petticoat Lane. Located off the main drag and rather unassuming from the outside, regulars  come here for good coffee, home made food and service so friendly it feels like a family.

The cafe is small based in a tall slim townhouse and easy to walk by.  As we walked in we were immediately welcomed by the son (I assume) and sat down on a small table in the corner of the cafe. We were immediately given water and bread before being asked to come up to the counter to make our selection. We were asked to choose from the ten or so dishes that are home made in the kitchen below. We had an option of a pasta bolognaise type dish, braised cabbage, roasted peppers, roasted aubergine, pasta salad, apple and feta salad and beef in a creamy sauce. It is a rather nice concept as we were encouraged to try a wide selection of the dishes on offer. The baked aubergine was stuffed with cheese that was soft and creamy against the rich smokey aubergine, the pasta bolognaise was not in a thick sauce but more with chuncks of rich meat that stuck possessively to the pasta, the roasted peppers were served in really good quality olive oil and had a distinct smokey flavour and finally the apple and feta salad included sweetcorn and raw peppers – delicious.

I do need to mention the coffee and cake too before I wrap up. There are coffee sacks placed on the stripped back wooden floor, which are bought in from Rome. You can see the owner grinding the coffee throughout the day so that it is fresh for all the customers no matter what time they crave a caffeine kick. My Americano was delicious. They serve a good variety of cakes – again homemade – the huge Victoria sponge with strawberries caught my eye.

The owners are passionate, funny and treat you like family. The food is all made to traditional Italian recipes and always home made on the day. The prices are pleasing too. Since the first time I was introduced here I have recommended to colleagues and friends and all have fallen in love like I have. But please don’t tell everyone, this place is a delicious secret. I can’t recommend this place enough!

Sex Drugs and Bacon Rolls gives this place:

Food                                Atmosphere             Service

5 Stars4 Stars5 Stars

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

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I really do try to avoid chains, not only because I find that the food and service lacks much creativity but also because I like to support the smaller, local restaurants in whatever area of London I am in at the time. However when my friend invited me to lunch in Spitalfields Market and proposed Gourmet Kitchen Burger – mainly as there didn’t look to be a queue – I agreed.

I like burgers but will only usually eat them if I make them myself so I was a little hesitant. On the menu, there were a good thirty burgers to choose from. You are asked to go to the counter and order and help yourself to free peanuts. This seems a little unnecessary to me but its seems quite popular looking over at other diners gnawing on them in anticipation of their meal. It’s a bit like a posh McDonalds in format.  I ordered a naked burger which is served without the bun with salad and sweet potatoes fries. My friend ordered the burger with cheese and bacon.

The food was served quickly and the burgers were very thick and tasty – so I know realize why this place caught on. The sweet potatoes fried were lovely but the regular fried were like matchsticks which we prefer a little thicker. Again just preference. It’s never going to be a local for me but I would not be adverse to trying again. I think if there was a waiter service throughout, they called the burgers for what they really are, rather than ‘hip’ names like ‘The Don’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ and scrapped the complimentary peanuts – just seems a little try hard to me- I would rate even higher. But hey the food was quick, tasty and good value so I can’t complain.

           Food                              Service                           Atmosphere

4 Stars2 Stars3 Stars

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