Tag Archives: truffle

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

Stelle di Stelle, Harrods

I rarely take selfies, so I’m glad one of the few was Annie Feolde – the first female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars in Italy. Turns out it was Annie’s first selfie, so I can safely say it was a special moment for all of us.
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Special, but not the highlight of the night. That was saved for the London debut of Annie’s exceptional food. Oh yes, her exquisite Tuscan restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri had landed in Harrods and I was there for the launch.
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The three course meal started wonderfully with a pretty plate of poached egg, Alba white truffle and Grana Padano cheese fondue – three of my favourite things. We were also treated to fantastic Italian wines, washed down with S. Pellegrino’s sister Acqua Panna, which had recently released a restyled bottle to reflect its Tuscan roots.
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Next up was Fusilli al Ferretto with artichokes, scampi and liquorice powder. The simple, yet distinctive flavours wrapped themselves around the homemade pasta in a way that made me want it to last forever. So far, so very very good.
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We finished with a gorgeous dessert inspired by a traditional Italian pudding given to children. Chocolate soaked bread was juxtaposed with oil and salt to create a sweet dish with a savoury nudge.
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I plan to go to Tuscany in 2015 and have told Annie I’ll be paying her a visit. Her food was too good to only have once in my life and she was too sweet not to meet again.
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What we had was just a sample, so if you want to enjoy the whole hog at Enoteca Pinchiorri in London, get to Harrods before the 31st December for a six course tasting menu priced £115, or £140 with matching wine.
Stelle di Stelle, 87-135 Brompton Road, London SW1X 7XL

STK, Westminster

I rarely crave meat, but when I do, only the best will suffice. I was having a ‘carnivore moment’ just as an invite to dinner at American steakhouse STK arrived in my inbox. My foodie fairy godmother was working her magic once again.

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The dinner had a name and that name was RED on RED. Three courses of red meat paired beautifully with glass after glass of glorious Penfolds – one of the best things to come out of Australia, along with Macadamia nuts, Tim Tams and Liam Hemsworth (I’m a bit of a Hunger Games fan).

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We sat in the private dining room, entertained by Head Chef Barry Vera, who enthusiastically introduced us to each dish as they arrived. For him, it was a real treat to experiment ‘off menu’. We also heard from the charming Penfolds Ambassador, who explained why the wine tasted so darn good, especially when savoured with a spoonfuls of the yummy food in front of us.

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The three meat courses were outstandingly good. Steak tartare was topped with a  pretty poached quails egg and caviar. It was drunk with a 2009 Pinot Noir that had notes of dried fruit, adding an extra layer to the delicate meat.

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Next was a gorgeous Japanese Wagyu Ceviche with poached pear puree and large slices of truffle. This was followed by the most substantial of our dishes – USDA sirloin with smoked bone marrow, crispy parsley and caramelised garlic.

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STK is the only place in London to use this cut of prime beef. Take it from me, this steak didn’t need chips, mac ‘n’ cheese or any other steakhouse side to beef it up. It was fantastic on its own.

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Before dessert, a plate of creamy Cornish Yarg, salt bread and cherries were served. It was Vera’s take on a Black Forest Gateaux and one I enjoyed very much (even if my stomach screamed ‘please Sarah, no more!’).

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But I didn’t listen to my stomach and instead ate Head Pastry Chef Sarah Barber’s fabulous Chocolates BFG and ‘Sweet Treats’, whilst sipping sweet Penfolds Grandfather Fortified wine. I was in heaven and nothing was going to take that away from me.

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Now I realise I was getting special treatment that night, so I’ll briefly tell you what STK is like outside the realms of our private room. It’s boisterous, fun and – from what I’ve heard – allows dancing on the tables if the mood takes you there.

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As for the food? Well Vera’s daily menu doesn’t disappoint. Even if you don’t feel like a heavy steak, you can take it from me that the fish dishes are delicious. Scallops were delicately cooked to perfection and Coconut Fried Halibut melted in the mouth.

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The Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese is also worth a try, as are the Wild Mushrooms with Truffle. But I will leave you with this – don’t take anyone hard of hearing. The music is LOUD, which is brilliant for a night out with friends, but inappropriate for dinner with the grandparents.

STK London Steakhouse, ME London, 336-337 The Strand London, WC2R 1HA 

STK London on Urbanspoon

Cicchetti, Covent Garden

The Cheers theme tune sang in my head as I entered Cicchetti last Friday. Everyone was smiling and everybody knew our naaames. We were family. It was the Italian way.

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There were plenty more treats in store when it came to the food. Just like a good steakhouse parades its cuts of meat, our waiter / brother / friend showcased Cicchetti’s beautifully bulbus truffles.

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We smelt them long before they arrived at our booth, located to one side of the bright, marbled dining room. Two black funghi and one, rarer, White Alba truffle that would be used to make my dish of the night.

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Plates of antipasti, primi, carne and pesce appeared in front of us over the course of two and a half hours. I was struck by how fresh the ingredients were – tomatoes that sat like jewels on top of crisp Bruchetta (£4.85) could have been flown in from Italy that morning, and as for the creamy Burrata (£9.95), well I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a buffalo downstairs in the kitchen.

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Most impressive was the White Alba pasta, which came from the daily list of ‘specials’. Homemade ribbons, golden butter and large shavings of truffle were all this dish needed. It melted in my mouth, transporting me to my ‘happy place’.

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That’s not to say the Lobster Risotto (£12.95) and Squid Ink Ravioli stuffed with crab (£8.95) wasn’t divine, but when you taste nectar, you never go back…

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I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of crisp, sweet, Zucchini Fritti (£4.90) and a couple of Queen Scallops (£10.95). Sitting pretty in their shells, they were lightly fried in olive oil with just a few, simple accompaniments – garlic, lemon and breadcrumbs.

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We weren’t all that impressed by dessert – probably our fault as we greedily ordered a mixed plate of puddings, which were far to heavy for our already overwhelmed stomachs.

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So, to finish on a high, I’ll leave you with the Funghi Crostini, also knowns as my second favourite dish of the night. The dark, meaty mushrooms glistened with butter, perfumed by fresh parsley. It was begging to be demolished, which is exactly what happened.

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If you want good, Italian food that you can afford on pay day, but not by the end of the month, Cicchetti is for you. It’s not as cool as Polpetto, or as pretentious as Bocca di Lupo, but it does serve lovely Italian food with a bright, friendly smile.

Cicchetti Covent Garden, 30 Wellington St London WC2E 7BD

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

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Bubbledogs, Charlotte Street

I felt pretty smug when walking past the long queue of people and straight into Bubbledogs on Tuesday night. I could feel their eyes burning holes in my back, but I didn’t care – I was in, warm and about to enjoy a glass of Champagne.

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You may wonder how I did this. Well, the answer is simple – I booked. Oh yes, if you’re with a group of six or more, you can reserve a table at this hyped Champagne and hotdog bar. There is still some waiting involved (I booked over two months ago), but feeling like a celebrity going into an overcrowded club makes it all worthwhile.

Inside, Bubbledogs is rustically stylish, with bare brick walls, wooden tables, pictures of cartoon dogs and clever finishing touches, such as the empty Champagne boxes used as vessels for cutlery and sauces. A bar occupies one wall of the narrow room and downstairs there are unisex loos wallpapered with restaurant menus.

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We were seated quickly and handed our menus by our cheery waiter. A £32 bottle of Prosecco came soon after, followed by a friendly warning that we’d need to be off our table by 8.30pm – just an hour and a half after we’d arrived. Feeling slightly disgruntled, but appreciating this was ‘fast food’, we placed our hot dog order.

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I was in the company of Bistro Becs, who was equally keen to try as much as possible. So, we shared all three sides – tots, sweet potato fries and coleslaw – along with a Sloppy Joe and The Viking Dog (Tuesday’s special).

It was hard to pick from fourteen different hotdogs, but the choice of whether to have a pork, beef or veggie sausage was easy – pork all round. The Sloppy Joe topping was Bubbledogs chilli, cheese and onion, whereas The Viking came covered in cucumber relish, Swedish mustard, ketchup and onion.

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It’s a shame The Viking has to leave as his crisp onions and sweet combination of sauces made him the victor in my eyes. As for the dogs, I’m afraid they weren’t that hot. In fact, they reminded me of jarred frankfurters – soft, spongy and lacking in any real flavour.

The perfectly cooked, non-greasy sweet potato fries stood out for me, especially when teamed with truffle mayo – delicious. The tots added nothing more than an extra pound around my waist and the coleslaw just tasted like…coleslaw.

Price-wise, the only thing driving up our bill was the Prosecco. The dogs were no more than £7.50 each and all three sides added up to just £9.50.

I love the concept, but I fear Bubbledogs may be more style than substance. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t go back if the queues disappeared, but if I did, I would focus on the experience, rather than the food itself. For that, I give Bubbledogs a LLE Rating of 6/10.

Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte St  London W1T 4QG

* Hot dog pics courtesy of Paul Winch-Furness Photography, interior pics courtesy of moi

The Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland

As I took in the breathtaking scenery en route to Gleneagles last week, and imagined what lay in store for me over the next 24 hours, I had one of those ‘I love my job’ moments. During my very short stay in this gigantic 5 star hotel (I arrived at 4pm on Thursday and left at 8am on Friday), I was lucky enough to enjoy a dram of whisky in the snow, eat my body weight in mouth watering food, sleep in a room fit for a king and go swimming in a luxurious spa.

After checking into my room, I headed to the newly opened Blue Bar for a pre-dinner whisky tasting  – a bar with a difference as it has enough indoor qualities to stop you feeling cold (heated leather sofas, a roaring fire, a small roof and blankets), whilst being outdoors enough that you can legally smoke a Cuban cigar if it took your fancy.

On this occasion, I stuck to the creme de la creme of blended whisky, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which slipped down my throat like syrup, warming my body as the snow fell around us. So we didn’t get too hungry (or, I presume, too drunk), we were also offered delicious canapés, such as Comrie shitake and squash ‘spring rolls’ and Assam smoked queen scallops & fennel pollen spoons. The canapés were tasty, but in my opinion couldn’t rival the moreish truffle popcorn, which popped into my mouth far too easily.

Next stop was Deseo, a Mediterranean food market restaurant that, in translation, means ‘desire’. Before sitting down at our table, we had a quick look at the ‘market’, which had the feel of a mini Selfridges Food Hall with its delicatessen, meat and dessert counters.

Our meal started with tapas that ranged from undeniably good ‘Mountain Cured’ Jamon Serrano, and melt in the mouth Esparagos y Verde flavoured with truffle oil…

…to juicy Gambas al Pil Pil with chilli oil and a squeeze of lime (they were eaten pretty quickly, hence the lone prawn in my picture)…

…homemade meat balls with Olorosso sherry, tomato and toasted almonds…

and the only slight let down, tuna filled Empanadas, which could have done with a sauce to avoid dryness.

After eating my fair share of canapés at the whisky tasting, plus numerous portions of tapas, you might have thought I’d slow down when it came to the ‘main’ course. Sadly, that’s just not in my nature, so when the smell of Pollo Riojana wafted towards me, I greedily tucked in.

The dish brought back memories of my mum’s chicken casserole, which often graced my plate as a child. Served with rice seasoned with rucola, roquette and pecorino, the overall effect was hearty and satisfying, with tender chicken and juicy peppers covered in a simple white wine sauce.

Despite feeling stuffed, I couldn’t turn down dessert when in front of me sat everything from cheese and crackers, Flan de Naranja and Panna Cotta, to what was quite possibly the tastiest Tiramisu I’ve ever eaten.

I slept well/passed out in my bed that night, but had to get up early to catch the train back to London. Feeling a little guilty about how much food I’d eaten, I managed to squeeze in a quick pre-breakfast swim, before heading to the best buffet in the world – yes, they actually had poached eggs, hand carved smoked salmon and proper mushrooms that hadn’t turned insipid, despite sitting in a heated tray.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Perthshire, and have more than a few pounds to spare, I would highly recommend a visit to Gleneagles. I wish I’d been able to stay longer, but as I seem to suffer from ‘eyes too big for my stomach’ syndrome, it’s probably best I left when I did.

The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF Scotland