Tag Archives: Octopus

Cafe Murano, St James’s

Cafe Murano appeared in almost every 2014 ‘best restaurant’ list. Everything from the olive oil to the cocktails were praised, along with the light and breezy price tag. Angela Hartnett had done it again and I wasn’t going to waste another Saturday night without experiencing it for myself.

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What struck me on arrival was the smart, sophisticated dining room. The prices might be easier on the eye than nearby Murano, but that certainly wasn’t reflected in the decor. This is the place to impress a date, whilst secretly high-fiving yourself for not breaking the bank.

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Over a glass of Champagne (dry January eat your heart out), we nibbled on my favourite Sicilian olives (£3) and a couple of light, aromatic truffle arancini (£4). A perfectly simple way to start.

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We both choose starters from the Antipasti menu, not that the Primi options weren’t crying out for attention. I went with an Octopus salad with potato, preserved lemon and parsley (£9). The flavour was lovely, but it confirmed something to me. Cold octopus is not nice, it’s slimy.

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Up next was cod with romanesco and an Italian cured meat called Guanciale (£17.50). I loved the simplicity of this dish. Tender white flakes of cod were boosted by the meat and nutty romanesco. It also went well with our sides of buttery polenta and wild rocket (both £3.75 each).

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I had a cheese plate for dessert (£12) served with yummy London honey and biscuits. As for L, the Amalfi Lemon Tart (£6) proved too tempting and disappeared in an instant.

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It’s rare to find a central restaurant serving near perfect food at a reasonable price in a gorgeous setting, but that’s what you get at Cafe Murano. I will go back and I will recommend. This really is a ‘best restaurant’.

Cafe Murano, 33 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HD

Food 4/5 – Price 5/5 – Staff 4/5 – Atmosphere – 5/5

Cafe Murano on Urbanspoon

Blanchette, Soho

Blanchette was a dream come true. The waiters were my friends, the food comforting, and the drinks? Well, they just kept on coming. And let’s not forget the company – Crump Eats, The Edible Woman and handsome Steve Jones (sitting on the table next to us).

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I loved it from the start. The pretty dining room was filled with quirky French ornaments, colourful tiling, brushed wood and exposed brickwork. The memory will inspire when I decorate my dream home.

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Everyone had that Thursday feeling, so we started with a round of cocktails, olives and baked St Marcelin with bruchetta and large caper berries. An indulgent start that couldn’t have been more tasty.

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The menu had a ‘French Tapas’ theme as everyone in our city loves to share. We ordered as we ate, starting with succulent Braised Octopus with radish, tomato and a Verjus dressing (£7.50), along with a Roast Quail, Jamon Sec & Herb Croquette (£7.50). The dishes were totally different, but both were matched in impeccable presentation and taste.

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Steamed Mussels were juicy and enormous (£6) and Roasted Beetroot Salad with girolles, Fleur de Marquis and a tarragon dressing (£5.75) was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

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Frites and Béarnaise was a must at £3.75. We all remarked on the flavour of the chips and how well each golden wonder went with the sauce. Could Ketchup and Mayo be a thing of the past?

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At dessert, we were so impressed with Chocolate Marquise, salted caramel puffed rice and pistachio ice cream (£5.95) that we ordered a second pudding – Lemon Pot with Strawberry, Gin & Parsley Sorbet (£5.25). It was a modern take on a traditional French Strawberry Tart, brimming with beautiful creme patisserie and served with thin, crisp shortbread.

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Our last surprise came with the bill. We were stuffed and had drunk more than our fair share, yet only faced a charge of £46 each with tip. There is no doubt in my mind – I will experience this dream again and, for now, leave Blanchette with a LLE Rating of 9/10.

Blanchette, 9 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8DR

Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

Grain Store, King’s Cross

When I walked into Grain Store I saw pine, painted tables dressed with root vegetables, a bustling open kitchen and a well stocked bar. All juxtaposed with an industrial ceiling of metal pipes.

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Then, I noticed Bruno Loubet, meticulously checking food before service. This made me happy. I’ve never seen a ‘celebrity’ chef actually in the kitchen, so appreciated Bruno being there, even if it’s just for one night.

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We were a large group of 12, so had the four course tasting menu at £35 a head. The dishes weren’t on the main menu, so we waited with bated breath (and mouthfuls of bread and wine) until course no.1 arrived.

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Portions of Yoghurt Flatbread with Carrot Spread, and Coco Beans, Roast Pepper & Octopus Salad, were placed in front of us. The Carrot Spread was my favourite – sweet and aromatic, it was unlike anything I’d tried before.

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The Octopus Salad wasn’t as fishy as I’d have liked, but around the table I could hear ‘mmms’ of joy, so knew it was going down well.

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Next we had Wood Fired Scorched Leeks with Sautéed Chestnut Mushrooms, Girolles & Roquefort Dressing. Vegetables are King at Grain Store, so it was nice to see the simple leek given so much attention.

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The Moussaka’s flavour was a tad disappointing, but I liked the novelty of having  minced lamb, mash and other ingredients stuffed inside an aubergine.

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The main course of Savoy Cabbage, Ash Baked Celeriac, Roast Greengage Plum, Roasted Partridge and Tarragon Jus would make a great, if not slightly pretentious, Sunday lunch. This time on individual plates, it was cooked perfectly and I loved the greengage, but probably wouldn’t have ordered it given the choice.

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By contrast, the pudding was exactly what I’d have chosen. Chocolate & Red Bean Cake was served with Ginger Ice Cream, Black Sesame Sauce & Confit Mango. A masterful combination of flavours that forced me to polish off The Boyfriend’s leftovers.

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Grain Store gets a LLE Rating of 7/10The food wasn’t always what I wanted, but each course was interesting and appealed to different people round the table. What’s more, the atmosphere was second to none, they made an excellent White Lady cocktail (always a deal breaker for more) and the staff were lovely – I even managed a chat with Sous Chef Neil Campbell at the end.

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Grain Store, Granary Square, 1-3 Stable Street, King’s Cross, London N1C 4AB

Grain Store on Urbanspoon

LIMA London

Best New Latin American Restaurant (Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards 2012),  One to Watch (National Restaurant Awards 2012) and Restaurant of the Week (London Evening Standard, 18th July 2012). Wow, Lima must be EXCELLENT.

It also crossed my mind that Lima must live up to the hype, as I made my booking for The Boyfriend’s birthday. But they’d have felt no pressure from us. That was saved for Giles Coren, sitting on the table opposite.

Two Pisco Sours kicked off the celebrations, accompanied by fresh bread, oil and red salt. “Red salt?” I asked Juan, our knowledgable waiter. “It’s from the Amazon” he replied. At that moment I knew our meal would be special. If, albeit, a little pretentious.

Pisco Sours became wine as red salt became starters – Sea Bream Ceviche for me and Braised Octopus al Olivo for The Boyfriend. The ceviche was made with white tiger’s milk. White tiger’s milk?! This was all getting too much, but it turns out Head Chef Virgilio Martinez doesn’t have a white ‘milking’ tiger in the garden. Instead, it comes from fish and is one of the essential ingredients that made my bream tangy, tender and ultimately, delicious.

Half way through the ceviche, The Boyfriend’s octopus caught my eye, so I went in for a bite. The succulent, lightly charred tentacles (shudder) made my stomach crave another forkful, much to The Boyfriend’s dismay.

For main, we went with Juan’s recommendation of Halibut with Andean Herbs and Confit of Suckling Pig. Polar opposites in taste and presentation, they were both wonderful. But, it was the halibut that won the main course trophy, mainly because of the Cancha Corn Parfait that lay alongside. It was like a delicate corn bread. Sweet and savoury, spongy and crisp, it was the perfect accompaniment to the fish, yet could have done the job on its own.

Our Peruvian adventure ended with Cacao Porcelana 75% with Mango & Hierbabuena Granita, topped with…wait for it…Blue Potato Crystal. I was impressed that without asking, Juan had arranged for Happy Birthday to be spelt out in granita on our plate. I was also impressed that Juan hadn’t sung happy birthday as the pretty chocolate dessert made its way to our table. No offence Juan.

I loved this restaurant and, if it wasn’t for the slightly scary prices (our meal with drinks came to just under £120 with tip), I’d go back in a heartbeat. Lima, you can now add one more accolade to add to the list – a LLE Rating of 8.5 / 10. You never know, that might actually mean something one day.

Lima, 31 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1JH

Tapas Touring in Seville

Seville is home to some of Spain’s best tapas bars, the world’s largest gothic cathedral, fantastic food markets and lots of beautiful orange trees. So, I’ll never understand why it’s such a pain in the bull’s backside to get to.

Thankfully, after taking one of the few scheduled flights to the Andalusian city, I made it. And, in just three days, managed to eat at five different tapas bars, some more than once. To my friends, it may have felt like a military tapas tour, but I’m fairly confident they thank me…deep, deep down.

Each place was either recommended by journalists, bloggers or locals. On the list was El Burladero (Gran Melia Colon), Casa Morales (García de Vinuesa 11), Boudequita Casablanca (Adolfo Rodriquez Jurado No. 12), Las Teresas (Calle Santa Teresa 2) and La Azotea (Calle Jesús del Gran Poder), each bringing something different to the table (mind the pun).

At expensive El Burladero, we dined on Salmorjo a tomato cream similar to Gazpacho, sprinkled with Iberian cured ham and a quail’s egg – oozing ‘Grandma’s Homemade Croquettes’, succulent skewered beef, roasted octopus on garlicky potato puree and Burladerdo (bull’s tail). It was a delicious feast all round and perfect if you fancy treating yourself to something special.

Casa Morales, Boudequita Casablanca and Las Teresas can easily fit into the same  evening, if you’re feeling energetic. Morales dates back to 1850, so takes tradition and authenticity to the next level, both in the food and decor.

The tapas we went for were aromatic Garbanzos Con Espinacas (chickpeas and spinach), pork Albondigas (meatballs), Habas Con Jamon (broad beans and serrano ham) and Ortiz Ventresca (tuna belly), all happily washed down with a large glass of Verdejo Blanco.

Casablanca was all about pijotas – crispy, fried baby hake, eaten like corn on the cob, from head to tail. That, coupled with a fantastic view of the cathedral when standing outside, makes for a very happy fish loving tourist. Just like me.

At Las Teresas, the chosen tapas was what us Brits would call ‘traditional’. Calamari, Anchovies and Chorizo were devoured as we sat on a cobbled street, wondering why we don’t take ‘City Breaks’ more often.

Across town at La Azotea, we settled in for the night. The queue that ran out the door made us pleased we’d arrived as the restaurant opened. As we were sitting at a table, tapas was unavailable, so we picked four half plates and two portions of dessert.

Everything from the croquettes and prawn stuffed filo triangles, to the beef carpaccio, clams with artichoke and chocolate pudding was lovely. And, the 25 Euros per head with wine was even lovelier.

So, if you’re prepared to be flexible with your flights and travel with Ryan Air or Easyjet (double yuk), I couldn’t recommend spending a few days in Seville enough…and that’s not just because of the food.