Tsunami in Charlotte Street

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

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The Athenaeum – not your average Christmas Dinner

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

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Tom Aikens – Where has the magic gone?

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

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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

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.

UPDATE : CLOSED

 

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Athenaeum – Evergreen

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.

 

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Tamarai – gets it right again

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

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