Posts Tagged ‘toptable’

Tsunami in Charlotte Street

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

For ages one of my foodie friends has been trying to persuade me to join her for lunch at one of her favorite local lunch spots – Tsunami in Charlotte Street. Charlotte Street has always been a good spot for dining, with an interesting mix of restaurants ranging from Michelin starred Pied a Terre to more humble dining establishments like Thai Metro. I had booked our table the day before and it did rather look as though I had got the last one, indeed by 1.00 the place was full and buzzing with conversation. The room is very stylish and beautifully lit, I especially like the etched glass window/door area. The downside though is the room layout, it is a long narrow L shaped room and several of the tables are a bit cramped. If you are sitting near the door there is no way to avoid the draft when customers arrive/leave the restaurant. So this is possibly not the best venue when the weather gets wintry.

We shared a selection of starters and main courses, that included mixed Sashimi, Dragon Roll Sushi (Shrimp tempura wrapped in eel, avocado, cucumber and scallion) which was delicious. Nasu Goma (grilled aubergine with sesame paste). Some refreshing and beautifully presented Tuna Tartare (served in a glass of ice – pictured).  Crab Tempura, Sea Bream and Rib-Eye served with exotic mushrooms and fresh truffle sauce. We also managed to find room for desserts, they included a coconut pana cota, a rather spectacular dish titled Chocolate Ball Melts – which did just that when the waitress poured the sauce over it and an Ice Cream Tempura. They also had a fairly decent list of cocktails, which we didn’t indulge in on this visit – perhaps another time. Tsunami is not cheap so it is worth looking out for Top Table deals. They also do a £15.00 set lunch that looked pretty good too.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.9

Service 5.9

Ambience 6.2

Tsunami on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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The Athenaeum – not your average Christmas Dinner

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

When I see the inevitable Christmas meals being advertised, I cringe. They conjure up images of restaurants stuffed with “party” groups, eating standard Christmas fare, turkey, brussels sprouts, christmas pudding etc at inflated prices.  I had spotted a toptable deal for a Christmas dinner at £24.50 for two courses or £29.50 for three with a glass of champagne at The Athenaeum, and  I had my doubts. Then I thought why not, if I am going to have a conventional Christmas meal then I may as well go somewhere that should do it well.

So on the last Saturday before Christmas we trudged through the snow to the hotel in Piccadilly. We had a couple of good, if expensive cocktails in the bar and wandered into a near empty dining room, where we were offered our pick of the tables. The room is nicely laid out to offer a fair amount of privacy. Tables for two in the middle of the room include a small banquette arrangement, that almost forms a booth. Strangely it reminded me a bit of some of the first class seating/sleeping arrangements on long haul flights.

The service levels are exactly as you would expect in a first class hotel, which The Atheneaum certainly is. It is just smaller and more intimate than most, almost boutique like.

So what can I say about the menu. Was it limited? No, it most definitely was not. What a treat. Yes, it did have turkey in the Best of British part of the menu, but it also had a good balanced selection of starters and main courses, and several appetizing dessert options.

We began with an amuse bouche of watercress mousse and parma ham. Then for my starter I ordered the Pigeon with Girolle mushrooms wrapped in short crust pastry and my companion ordered the slow cooked ducks egg with ham hock. Both dishes were main course size portions, beautifully cooked and presented.

For main course we had Pheasant with braised red cabbage, and a perfect dish for a winter evening consisting of braised oxtail, that just fell off the bone, herb dumplings and winter vegetables. It was a large portion and I was just too full to finish it. I definitely did not have any room for dessert. However as coffee and mince pies were also part of the set menu, they finished of the meal nicely instead.

Normally the down side of this sort of deal is that the “free” champagne tends to be fairly mediocre fizz. Not the case at The Atheneaum. It was from a champagne house I know well from tastings at the Hide Bar.  Specifically Ayala a small champagne house, owned by Bollinger.  It was rather fitting – an almost boutique champagne for an almost boutique hotel. Quite stunning.  We also had a reasonably priced bottle of El Grano, Carmenere 2009. A well balanced light red wine that had a smooth almost milky texture.

Perhaps it is my Scottish upbringing that draws me to “real” bargains like The Athenaeum, and it seems I am not alone in this, as on exiting the restaurant we spotted fellow Scot, Billy Connolly – the Big Yin himself.

I would be happy to have more Christmas dinners like this one. The Athenaeum is firmly on my list of return locations.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.8

Service 6.8

Ambience 5.9

First at the Athenaeum on Urbanspoon

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Tom Aikens – Where has the magic gone?

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Could not resist the toptable deal of £49 for a 5 course lunch with champagne and petit fours at Tom Aikens.

They are also doing a free corkage deal this month too, but as they only allow one promotion at a time,  it did not apply to our lunch option. The normal corkage fee of £30 a bottle would be charged. So we decided to leave our bottles at home on this occasion.  Ironically the corkage deal would have been the better one, as the normal lunch tasting menu is £49. So the deal was really just a free glass of champagne.

The sparkle does now seem to be missing from Tom Aikens, there were no stand out dishes at all.  The salmon and grapefruit dish worked but the fois gras was just lost in an overdose of blackcurrent.  The main course of lamb was too simple and a tiny portion (when I compare this to the lamb cuts I had on my first visit to Tom Aikens a few years ago, then there is no comparison).  There was a good cheese course and the chocolate dessert although complex was not very exciting. We finished with some basic petit fours -  the spectacular ones are saved for the evenings these days.

On the plus side the bread basket is still one of the best around – offering at least 6 different bread selections.

On the wine front, we ordered a rather disappointing bottle of Mt Beautiful Pinor Noir 2007 at £29.

In conclusion, I am sorry to say that in my view Tom Aikens has lost its magic, as reflected in the marks below.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.9

Service 6.5

Ambience 6

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

UPDATE : March 2012 – The Restaurant has had a major revamp – see Matthew Forts post for details

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Albannach – style on the square

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The Albannach is pretty established now.  I went there a few times just after it opened, eating in the restaurant and in the bar. I was impressed by the quality and style of the place, especially when you consider its location in Trafalgar Square. So now several years later we decided to make a return visit.  The decor and layout had changed a bit, but the Alabannach still has its own distinctive style.  The interior design incorporates some stunning customized lighting, using a Stag and Antlers theme.

My reservation was based on ordering from the set menu (part of a deal I used to cash in on some of my toptable points). This turned out to be a bit of a false economy, as we found this menu to be a little too basic for our taste.  On past experience I think going a la carte might be a better option here.

The 3 fish terrine we had for starters was good, but the main courses were disappointing,  in that I had to order an extra dish to go with my sea bass and the alternative main course option of lamb stew would not have been out of place in a soup kitchen.  The watery stew was definitely not sophisticated enough for this type of venue.  Fortunately we ordered a very nice (if expensive) bottle of Gewürztraminer to drown the rather disappointing food.

Marks out of 10

Food 4.5

Service  5

Ambience 6

Albannach on Urbanspoon

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Athenaeum – Evergreen

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Had Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum – they’re celebrating the first anniversary of the hotel’s living wall – a vertical garden. At £27.50 for Afternoon Tea and a glass of Kir Royal (if booked via toptable), this is a lot cheaper than the fabulous Pret a Portea at The Berkeley my favorite afternoon tea venue. To be honest though I have to say that the Athenaeums Afternoon Tea it is not in the same league as the Pret a Portea.  However it is still a better than average venue to experience a typical English Afternoon Tea.

Included in the Afternoon Tea is your choice of teas, 2 rounds of sandwiches, 2 small scones, 3 items from the cake trolley and just when you think it is all over, Crumpets or Tea cakes.  Rather strangely we had lots of jam for the Crumpets and Tea cakes, when we did not need it, and not enough for the scones. You may also find  if you like stronger tea, that you need to ask for it, as the tea can be quite weak.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.8

Service 5.5

Ambience 6

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Tamarai – gets it right again

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

This was our second visit to Tamarai.  It’s always interesting to make return visits to the places where you have had an especially good culinary experience, to see if they are consistent.  For our first review see:-

We had the same toptable deal of 50% off the tasting menu, the contents of which  had not changed since our last visit. This was not a problem as we had really enjoyed that menu.  It’s a well thought out selection of beautifully balanced dishes, with the little extras you typically get in high end restaurants, i.e., the amuse bouche and the palette cleanser.

We found on this visit, that the food and the service were just as good as the last time.  So it’s full marks for consistency, and for having regular top table deals. This place is now firmly on our list of venues to return too.

Marks out of 10

Food 7

Service 6.8

Ambience 7

Tamarai on Urbanspoon

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Harveys Fish Market, Oyster Bar & Restaurant – still not the plaice to go!

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Harveys of Ramsgate now has an AA Rosette and a change of chef (or so we were told).  We thought we would give it a second chance, and see if our opinion of it differs now from our last rather damming post.

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Harveys Fish Market, Oyster Bar & Restaurant

We ordered the fixed price ‘grazing menu’, (which had a very limited fish selection)  2 courses for £12 (this certainly sounded like a bargain),  and a couple of glasses of pretty good wine. We also ordered a portion of their own baked bread which was okay. The starters arrived. Things were looking up as the presentation appeared to be not too bad. My salmon and beetroot with micro greens actually had flavour. Unbalanced but flavour none the less. My companion went for the butternut squash risotto. It also looked good but turned out to be completely lacking in flavour, basically just stodge ….oh dear as we were ready to amend our opinion and eat humble pie.

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My main course arrived. Apparently this was a ‘belly of pork’. Well it was like no cut of meat I had ever seen. It looked more like a cross section of spinal column (more cartilage than belly!). Only one word came to mind during this course and that I’m afraid was ‘Repulsive’.

Belly of Pork!

Belly of Pork!

My companions Plaice looked like it had been bitten by a Shark!. It was also over cooked.

Plaice and Potato salad

Plaice and Potato salad

When asked if we wanted dessert or coffee we decided to pass and left the restaurant as hungry as we went in.

Instead we had pancakes at Miles Cafe Culture – a genuinely buzzy and quality establishment.

Pancakes at Miles

Pancakes at Miles Cafe Culture

Our visit to Harveys was on a Saturday at lunchtime, only two other tables were occupied, so for ambience we had some background music and a baby crying in the corner. We were also a bit surprised that the fish slab was not  in use, to let us see what fresh fish was on offer.

We passed by again in the evening, on the way to Age & Sons, and noticed that the restaurant was barely half full. Which was interesting when compared to the completely full Age & Sons, which attracts exactly the type of clientel that Harveys are trying to target.

How the AA could award Harveys with “The only AA Rosette in Thanet” is beyond me. There are more deserving restaurants in Thanet, such as Age & Sons. It was also disconcerting to read the description of Harveys in toptable, it used words like “steller seafood” and intimated that Celebrity Chef John Burton Race was involved in the cooking. I am pretty sure he is not.

After two visits now, our conclusion was that Harveys would be an ideal candidate for another Celebrity Chefs TV show – Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

It’s great that so much money has been invested in Ramsgate, which does really need a good fish restaurant. We just don’t feel the investment has  been made in the kitchen where it really counts. It’s also good to know we are not alone in our views, as I have spotted a couple of reviews now that use words like “Dire” to describe the food in Harveys. So unless there are some major changes here, Harveys can relax as we won’t be reviewing them again.

UPDATE – November 2009 : Just read Jay Rayners recent review for the Observer, spot on. He was also brave enough to try the Oysters!

UPDATE – July 2010 : See picture below, this is amazing. It looks like they are actually using the negative review in The Observer to market the restaurant.

UPDATE – October 2010 : About time!  Harveys is finally closed – RIP please! For more information see post from Isle One.

Marks out of 10

Food 2

Service 3

Ambience 2

Harvey's Fish Market & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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Mint Leaf – deal or no deal?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

I really like the Mint Leaf, but it can be expensive for what it is (a mid range Modern Indian restaurant).  Fortunately Top table regularly offer 50% discounts on the food, covering a subset of the menu.  I did notice however on this visit that the size of the menu had shrunk for the toptable deal, which is a shame.

The food is first rate, we were especially impressed by the delicious Chicken Tikka, the sauce was amazing.

The dessert selection is also good, I especially like the way they recommend matching wines or liqueurs.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.5

Service 6.7

Ambience 6

Mint Leaf Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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Michelin Stars v AA Rosettes – Ding Ding!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

No Expert has just hit the 100th post mark, so for that milestone rather than single out a restaurant, this post focuses on an issue that impacted on a number of our restaurant choices and that is can we trust Michelin Star and AA Rosette ratings alone.

I know there is a lot of debate over how accurate the Michelin star rating system is. I believe we have been to enough Michelin starred restaurants to give an opinion on the subject. Basically the  problems seem to be inconsistency and big name restaurants hanging on to stars they no longer merit. The Michelin star rating seems to be about as reliable as the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, i.e., not reliable at all.

The rating system definition for Michelin stars is:-

  • 1 star – A very good restaurant in its category
  • 2 stars – Excellent cooking, worth a detour
  • 3 stars – Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

For more information see Michelin Guide

We have been to some 3 star and 2 star Michelin restaurants that are not in the same class as 1 star restaurants.  Compare Tom Aikens to The Waterside Inn for example.

The 5 AA Rosettes award however does seem to match our tastes. The ones on the list in England for example are among our all time favorite restaurants.

The rating system definition for 5 AA Rosettes :-

  • The supreme accolade awarded only when the cooking is at the pinnacle of achievement. Flavours, combinations and textures show a faultless sense of balance, giving each dish an extra dimension.

The rating system definition for 4 AA Rosettes :-

  • At this level, not only should all technical skills be exemplary, but there should also be daring ideas, and they must work. There is no room for disappointment. Flavours should be accurate and vibrant.

Then just when I thought I could maybe rely on the AA Rosettes I find out that one of our worst of the worst restaurants Harveys of Ramsgate has just been awarded one AA Rosette, and that another of our least favorite places Abode in Canterbury has 2.

The rating system definition for 1 AA Rosette :-

  • Chefs should display a mastery of basic techniques and be able to produce dishes of sound quality and clarity of flavours, using good, fresh ingredients.

The rating system definition for 2 AA Rosettes :-

  • Innovation, greater technical skill and more consistency and judgement in combining and balancing ingredients are all needed at this level

Our experience of Harveys of Ramsgate and Abode indicated that they were sadly lacking in several of the areas associated with the definitions.

For more information see:-

The conclusion is that research is essential before you  commit to the really expensive dinning experiences in the high end restaurants.

  • Check out the food blogs.
  • Check out Hardens and Zagat.
  • Look for real customer reviews via Google Maps.
  • Be really wary of the hype.
  • Be wary of Celebrity Chef endorsements.

Click here to access our prefered Food Blog/Site list.

  • It is also worth trying one of the restaurants deals first, e.g., a pre-theatre or set lunch deal.  It is surprising just how many of the top restaurants do offer less expensive options. The toptable web site is a good place to start to find these deals.

Mint Leaf – pose on the cat walk!

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

You will find the Mint Leaf just off Haymarket in Piccadilly, it’s an ideal pre-theatre location.

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The entrance is a bit off putting, but once you get in, there is a smart bar and very “Modern Indian” Restaurant. The food is off a high standard and designed for sharing. I would recommend you order maybe 6 or 7 of the smaller dishes to share between 2. This being subject to appetite and wallet!. This approach can get expensive, so I would look out for one of the toptable deals that offer  a 50% discount, they come up quite often for the Mint Leaf.  Some nice wines too – no discount on them unfortunately.

There is also what I can only describe as a Cat Walk in the main dinning room, so I guess you could “pose” here too.  The restaurant has 1 AA Rosette, which it certainly merits.

Marks out 10

Food 6.5

Service 6.5

Ambience 5

Mint Leaf Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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El Raco d’en Freixa – playing with your food!

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

On our last trip to Barcelona, we had planned to spend the Saturday evening at Moo, but could not get a table, so at short notice via toptable I made a reservation at El Raco d’en Freixa instead.

When we arrived we were taken through the attractive front room, past the Kitchen into the rather dull small backroom, yes it looked like we had got the worst table in the Restaurant.

As we often do when we first try a restaurant we went for the tasting menu. The food here is “fun” as the chef likes to play with your preconceptions.  The meat course looks like a dessert, and the desert looks like meat etc. The highlight was “the burger!”.

The biggest surprise was not the food however, it was the guest at the next table who got up and came over to speak to us. Talk about a small world, it was Markus Lindner, the restaurant Manager of the Foliage in London. He was also there as a second choice, when he could not get  into Comerc 24 on the Saturday evening, so definitely a touch of serendipity there.

Update : February 2009 – El Raco d’en Freixa has now been replaced by FREIXA Tradicio.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.5

Service 6

Ambience 6  the front room, 2 in the back room

LOCATION INFORMATION
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