Chez Bruce – as good as ever

If there is a secret formula for what makes a good restaurant then Chez Bruce mastered it years ago.  We have eaten lunch here numerious times, it’s surprisingly good value (currently £35 for 3 courses). Definitely one of London’s best Michelin Restaurant deals.

On this visit I started with some stunning fish cakes with just a hint of saffron and my companion had a Spanish chilled Tomato soup called Salmorejo, this was so beautifully spiced he felt that it had spoilt him for other soups. For main course I chose the Confit Rabbit with coco beans, pepper relish, cherry tomatoes and Provençal sauce, a nice rustic dish of comfort food and he went for the Wild Brill with Roast Scallops, both dishes were of the usual high standard.  Then we had an extra cheese course prior to our dessert – The Chez Bruce Cheese boards are not to be missed. The dessert, which we hardly had room for after this feast, was an Apricot and Almond Tart and a Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble.  I would also recommend asking the friendly Sommelier to select glasses of wine to match your dishes as they have a good range by the glass (most for less than £10.00). Another nice touch here is the lovely home made shortbread that comes with the surprisingly reasonable bill. We are already looking forward to our next visit 😉

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A Wong – Seriously Cool

Dim Sum has always seemed to me to be more suited to cold wintery weather, lots of stodgy dumplings etc. My experience with it has been limited to really conventional venues like the New World in Chinatown – not that there is anything really wrong with the New World, which has its own old world charm.  I also was very much of the view that you just don’t bother ordering dessert in a Chinese Restaurant unless you’re a fan of lychees.  A Wong however blew my misconceptions out of the water.

I had read most of the reviews, the glowing and the not so glowing, so I knew to expect something a bit different. Ken Hom raves about this place in his tweets, so I also had pretty high expectations on the food front.

I did a walk-in on a sunny lunch time (it’s best to book though, just in case you’re not as lucky as I was).  The service was spot on, my menu arrived just after I had settled into my seat.  I ordered a nice glass of Rosé, some tap water and four Dim Sum dishes.   Dim Sum is just a small part of the menu, which also includes a tasting menu that will have to wait for another visit.

One of the things that really hit me about Andrew Wong’s restaurant was just how “Cool” it was in every sense of the word – the ambiance, the service, the clientele, and the beautifully presented food.  I am sure the weather helped – it was nice to see that some diners had also chosen to eat outside in the small cordoned off section of the pavement that I had passed by many times and never seen used.

The dishes I ordered seemed just right for a summers day. I started with a quail egg croquette puff, it was hard to eat with chop sticks, but I managed – nice runny egg, crispy seaweed and a refreshing ginger dip.  Then shortly after I finished that my beautifully presented Chinese chive pot sticker dumpling arrived, it was light and surprisingly refreshing. The next two dishes were more substantial. Crab, Seafood and Beancurd Cannelloni with Pickled Cockles – the Pickled Cockles adding just the right amount of kick to the Cannelloni and the Sesame buttered Smoked Chicken, a dish that is perhaps not to everyone taste, consisting of strips of smokey chicken and cucumber.

The dessert menu was so inviting I seriously struggled to choose from 3 of the 4 dessert options on offer:-

  • Snowball Meringue, lychee granite, mango puree and lime sorbet
  • Tobacco soaked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel
  • Coconut ice cream, glutinous dumpling, apple, pandan jelly and peanut cream

I eventually choose the Coconut Ice cream dish – which was nothing like I expected based on its description. It arrived in a martini glass topped with candy floss.   It was lovely, I had to use my fingers to eat the candy floss, and all the ingredients just worked beautifully together.  The people at the next table had ordered the other two desserts listed, so I also had the chance to see how spectacular they were as well.  Amazing, much to my surprise I had finished my meal with a superb dessert – in a Chinese Restaurant!

The best thing I think any diner can say about a Restaurant is that they will be back, and I will be back.

UPDATE : August 2013 –  popped in for the excellent value Set Lunch, had the Dim Sum basket and Scotch Beef Rump fried noddles with a glass of wine for £12.95, then I just had to go for a dessert. This time I ordered the Snow ball meringue, lychee granite, mango puree and lime sorbet, it was very light and really refreshing.  I have added some more pictures from this visit.

UPDATE: September 2013 – A Wong have been awarded a Bib Gourmand – “Michelin Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value”.

UPDATE: October 2017 – A Wong have been awarded a Michelin Star.

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Scooter Caffè AKA Scooterworks Bar and Cafe

The phrase “hidden gem” tends to be overused and misused, but I really believe it applies to the Scooter Caffè. Tucked away in Lower Marsh Street, behind Waterloo station, this is a great find. From the outside especially it still looks like the Vesper Repair shop it used to be.  I just loved the quirky eclectic decor, old mismatched chairs, sewing machine tables, Vesper scooter permanently parked by the bar and the laid back bohemian atmosphere. There seemed to be only one member of staff on my visit and she was able to cope admirably with the steady flow of customers, as almost everyone happily returned their empty glasses and plates to the bar prior to leaving.  The background music (1920’s salon music?) also added to the ambiance.

The clientele on my visit were a mixed bunch, trendy hipster types and the odd local worker in the know. It’s a great venue to relax and people watch. This place definitely has its regulars too, like the girl in the vintage dress struggling to control her two lovely little dogs as she ordered, the older women poet, expounding her philosophy to her camera man companion, and the Apple Mac users making the most of the free wi-fi (FYI the password is stuck on the bar).

There is also a larger yet still cosy bar in the basement, which is probably used more in the evenings, a small Patio at the back next to the railway arches, and a bench and table outside on Lower Marsh Street itself.  This place reminded me of the kind of venue you used to be able to find in Greenwich Village, NYC in the days before it got too touristy.

The coffee served from the classic red Gaggia coffee machine is excellent, indeed the aroma of freshly ground coffee is the first thing that hits you as you walk in. There is also a small selection of cakes available, I had a lovely piece of Lemon Drizzle cake and if you want something more substantial you can even bring your own food to eat on the premises.

While doing a bit of research I also discovered the cafe featured in the third Bourne film (must have blinked and missed that bit), that Johnny Depp has dropped in for a drink and that Ethan Hawke is a regular when he’s in the area.

They also have a new sister cafe in Oval (Cable Cafe) which I will need to investigate, especially since it’s so near to Oval Farmers Market – I rather like the idea of buying some bread and cheese or Galeta cookies at the market and chilling out in the cafe with a cup of coffee or something a bit more alcholic.

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Launceston Place – a star in Kensington

In our last review of Launceston Place a few years ago we raised the question – Why did this restaurant not have a Michelin Star?  That is not a question we need to ask now, as Launceston Place got its well deserved Michelin Star in last years awards.

We booked for Sunday Lunch, which is a pretty good deal at £29.50 for 3 courses along with those little extras that are typical of Michelin Star venues (the amuse-bouche and the appetizer).

The amuse-bouche of béchamel cheese in choux pastry was a good start, I certainly could have eaten lots of these rather moreish cheese profiteroles, and the caramelized onion and mushroom soup appetizer that followed was rich and tasty.

For starters we ordered Hot smoked mackerel with beetroot, apple, watercress and horseradish ice cream, and Poached Hens Egg with white asparagus, followed by Cornish cod fricassee of peas and broad beans, heritage tomatoes and new season Jersey Royals, and Iberico pigs cheeks, with caramelized apples, sage mash and barbequed Leeks.

Then for dessert we had the 70% Cru Virunga chocolate mousse, caramelized bananas, glazed raisins and chocolate sorbet and the Baked English custard tart with cox apple cooked in caramel and glazed puff pastry filled with Calvados cream, which was effectively a rather lovely deconstructed Apple Tart. The only negative on the food front was the bread, which consisted of a rather ordinary selection of brown bread and sour dough.

Launceston Place is a very civilized and relaxing venue and the staff were just as efficient, professional and friendly on this visit as they were on our earlier visits. I rather like that the Michelin star has not changed Launceston Place too much – it still has the same understated elegance and charm it always had.

LOCATION INFORMATION

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La Gelatiera, Artisan Ice Cream Parlour – what’s not to like?

This is a first for No Expert – a post on an Ice Cream Parlour!

I have actually been to lots of Ice Cream Parlours all over the world, including some memorable ones in Italy, Spain, North and South America, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark – my favorite Ice Cream surprisingly was Goats Milk Ice Cream sold by a street vendor in Kiev of all places, but that’s another story. So why visit La Gelatiera? which is tucked away in a side street close to Covent Garden. Main reason, it’s serious Ice Cream – seriously good. It’s also kind of nice to know that their Ice Cream is rich in vitamins and protein but low in fat (on average 6% – 8% for gelato and 0% for sorbet).

I tried two flavours today:-

Basil and Chilli Gelato – I first had Basil Ice Cream at the rather good Waterside Restaurant in Eastbourne, so the bench mark for me on this was set pretty high. La Gelatiera breached it – WOW – that little kick of chilli is amazing.

Banana Sorbet – so creamy, so much banana flavour, more conventional but no less of a winner than the Basil and Chilli.

I will most definitely be back to try some more flavours.

The Parlour has a modern trendy feel to it, it is quite small and has a glass floor in one corner that enables you to peak into the “laboratory” where the Ice Cream is made. There is seating for about 8 – 10 people inside and a few seats outside. It also specializes in Coffee from Artisan Roasters and has a nice looking selection of Cakes and Pastries.  You can even have Ice Cream with your Cake, so what’s not to like?

Made a return visit on a Saturday evening to try some more flavours.

Mint and Chocolate Gelato – Very refreshing, could really taste the fresh mint, plus lots of shards of dark chocolate.

Popcorn, Caramel and Chilli Gelato – Another winner, creamy with soft caramelized popcorn and a touch of chilli

Hazelnut Gelato – a more conventional flavour, but still very nice.

I would also recommend the Matcha Tea Gelato – very refreshing.

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Roganic – Pop up

Roganic is a two year pop up restaurant in Marylebone that still has a few more months to go. It’s sister restaurant is the rather more famous L’Enclume located in the medieval village of Cartmel in the Lake District. Roganic is very much a foodies destination, made all the more exciting by its inevitable expiry date.

The restaurant is small and minimalist as you might expect in a pop up restaurant. All the effort has gone into the food and service, which is no bad thing.  The staff are friendly, efficient and enthusiastic. You can choose from a 3, 6 or 10 course tasting menu. I felt a bit like Goldielocks in that 3 courses was not enough, 10 courses was too much and 6 courses was just right.

The ingredients used, vegetables, fruits, edible flowers and herbs all come directly from Simon Rogans farm in Cartmel, and the breads are all made on the premises. This level of control is very much illustrated by the depth of flavour found in every dish.

I can not remember the specifics of the amuse bouche apart from the mention of butternut squash, mint and onion ash, but it was a lovely start and a taste of things to come.

The home made bread was also very good, especially the onion bread, which went well with the blue cheese flavoured butter.

The first course on the menu was described as Leek custard with dill broth, salsify and mustard, very flavoursome. This was followed by our favourite, a really stunning dish of Artichoke dumplings with truffle and ragstone. Next we had Beets and butternut, parsley and hazelnuts, again with strong flavours. The fish course consisted of Halibut, chervil roots, clam and wood blewits. The clam puree gave this dish a real boost. The final savoury course was Guinea hen, parsley root, salt baked turnip and yarrow. Very filling and heavy on the salt. Then it was a dessert of roasted pears, chestnuts and crispy cake. A very light dish with really sweet juicy pears.

After dessert we were presented with a small glass of Douglas Fir Milkshake, an unusual way to finish a meal but a nice change from petit fours.

We also asked the Sommelier to select glasses of matching wines, which gave us the chance to try some more unusual wines such as El Bandito – an orange wine from South Africa.

Roganic is unconventional, but all the better for it in my view and is certainly a good advertisement for L’Enclume.  I really hope that after the lease ends in Marylebone that a new London premises is found. For more information on that, see Square Meal article – Roganic on the hunt for new Marylebone site.

UPDATE : Roganic to close on 20 June 2013 – see Square Meal article – No new site planned for Roganic

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