21-22 Warwick Street London W1B 5NE - 020 7494 9584

I first encountered the food of Yotam Ottolenghi on a balmy summers lunchtime a number of years ago, back when I was interning at Temperley. Round the corner from the idyllic cobbled mews was the equally idyllic west London "local cafe." Between the towers and turrets of sweet treats I glimpsed ladies lunching on perfectly pink seared meats, and milling around the towering mounds of assorted rainbow vegetables tousled in nuts and herbs. It was a beautiful sight. Real live food porn, compelling you to buy buy buy! And I did and have been doing ever since, because the food always tastes as good as it looks. So when the winning formula is spun on its head and dishes are sold on the traditional restaurant confines of written words on a menu, will the offer still be as attractive?

Prior to my visit to this spot just north of the bustling Piccadilly, I had most commonly heard of it being recommended as an excellent destination to brunch at, which now I am guessing is because your pretty penny will be a bit more stretched here. Perhaps it's the gold trimming and marbled floor we are paying a extra for, however any grumbles are laid to rest as the food is equally as excellent as any other Ottolenghi outpost, each dish is a gloriously vibrant medley of flavours, spanning influences from across the Middle East and Asia. I particularly like the ode to the beginnings with a small shrine of salads at the front, teasing each customer in further to smell, wanting to touch and order.

The menu is aimed to attract a crowd who could be after a nibble or a full on chow down at any time of day, so there are a handful of hearty mains but there is a heavy sharing dish bias. Where re orders and additions can easily be made, we followed suit quite happily. Starting with the unleavened crackers, lavosh which were covered in a trio of seeds and served with charred aubergine and sweet red pepper. The prawns tasted as if they had a dose of teriyaki treatment, sticky and sweet but hinting at smokiness from the bacon sauerkraut. A similar savoury sweetness appeared on the cod dish, but only in a dash through the velvety creamed corn and juicy cod but then reappeared in the chunkier form of the corn kernels and cured sausage pieces.

Ottolenghi is known to make even the most dedicated of carnivores stray and eat, dare I say a wholly vegetable based meal! This runs true at Nopi, the ricotta stuffed courgette flower drizzled with molasses was a joy as too was the asparagus, samphire and nigella seeds. Even the side salad deserves a mention; true, it was just a collection of herbaceous leaves but it was remarkably fresh and full of punch, with sweet bitterness from the intact stalks. 

 I almost forgot about the turrets of perfectly swirled meringues as pudding came, a spiced apple tart with mint invigorated pineapple and vanilla ice cream, another mini trip to an exotic land in a matter of mouthfuls. With the last gulp I was still unable to answer my own question of what has this fancier outpost offered that is positively different to what is already known and loved. The setting is more lavish but not in an over imposing way with the staff all smiles, there is the absence of picking up a cheeky piece of macadamia cheesecake. Though the food is just as exciting, having the ability to transport you to markets and lands you wish you had already known. I admit defeat, the food holds its own and that is good enough for me!

NOPI on Urbanspoon


Brasserie Zedel

20 Sherwood Street, London W1N - 020 7734 4888

Turning off from the brash bright lights of Piccadilly and into the more warm and forgivingly lit room of Cafe Zedel you are transported immediately to the otherside of the channel. A top hatted doorman assists you with the door then your eyes are led like Alice through the looking glass with curiousity from mirrored turn to the next, spiralling down a warren of art deco to an elaborate underground cove of grandeur. As if preserved for over half a century the marbled columns edged with gold and caramel inlaid wood floors look exotic in comparison to all the white tiled and bare bulb interiors that seem to decorate all new openings of late. As for the menu it read almost wholly in French, whilst I adequately dceiphered the confit de canard from the boudin noir we struggled with the likes of Cuisses de Grenouille and Carrelet Meunière. After asking the waiter for assistance and then requesting an English menu I was slightly embarrassed and felt like an ignorant tourist in my own city, making the experience that bit more authentic to that of ordering in France. All forgiven though as soon as the sliced baguettes and creamy butter arrived.

The choice was vast, each course offered atleast fifteen variations and this is without the inclusion of the plats du jour or fixed price menu. We opted to share an onion galette to start, which was a delightful simple golden flaky pastry topped with sweet slow cooked onions studded with salty anchovies and black olives. From the starter and salad section we ordered dressed carrot to accompany our mains, on reflection if we doubled up on starters and had the carrot dish that trio would have made very handsome meals on their own. The promise of dressed sauerkraut with a selection of meats from the annexed part of the menu of Choucroute tempted me over any of the other French classics. A frankfurter, thick cut smoked pork belly and slices of garlic sausage adorned a mound of delicately pickled cabbage and perfectly turned potato boulders. You got creaminess from the starchy potatoes, smokiness from the meats all cut through by a pleasant pang of acid from the cabbage, a perfect winter meal, if I missed out the starter I would have been able to squeeze in the superior version that included the ham hock and Moreau sausage for a humble £15.

Expectant crowd pleasers like steak and fries sat alongside more regional favourites such as the above Alsace platters and normandy fish stew. The meat offer was equally balanced with various fish options ranging from grilled and doused in a herb butter infusion or pan fried and dressed in an escabeche.

Although we were defeated by our savoury courses the indulgent chocolate mousse for sharing or perhaps the lighter option of sorbet and champagne was still tempting us. All of the dozen deserts were pulling at our sweet tooth and all coming in at under five pounds, caution was ever so nearly being thrown to the wind. But alas, although we pretty much felt as if were in Paris, we were in London and not on holiday, and indulgent overeating couldn't be justified.

Brasserie Zedel is old school in its approach, deflecting little from all classic aspects of a brasserie; a plethora of affordable food and drinks, served by waiters in well pressed monochrome and open for all main meals and anything in between. When you would be lucky to get change from a tenner when you stop for a sandwich and flat white at your favourite trendy Aussie coffee shop, feasting on two courses then finishing off with a coffee in lavish surroundings for the same price is a steal. Zedel's offering is a handsome and affordable one, the odd high nosed disgruntled waiter is the only sour point, but even this makes for a more realistic experience, like a true mini break but in your own city.

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon


Shacking Up!

The Classic Cheeseburger
I have just been catching up on food news and new arrivals and almost fell off my seat at the confirmation of Shake Shack setting up shop in London! I am a self proclaimed Shack mega fan, despite only sampling the blessed burgers a handful of times, each has made me more of a devout fan. A couple of times from the original at Madison Square Park and more recently at the Mall of Emirates in Dubai. Everything on the menu has become somewhat legendary; quality burgers, crinkle fries (crinkled supposedly to maximise the surface area and increasing crunchiness), concretes from flavour heaven - it is fast food but made to perfection. Under Danny Meyer's watchful eyes he is now bringing his slick burger operation to Covent Garden early next year, opposite MeatMarket no less. With the ridiculous influx of burger joints around the capital, this has to be the hotly tipped one yet!
Just couldn't decide. so ordered the whole menu!
What dreams are made of.


Number 8


Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 27320015 San Sebastian - DonostiaSpain   Telephone:
+34 943278465

This is the third year in which we have embarked on our eating pilgrimage by the way of the San Pelligrino top 50 list, with so many great restaurants in the world and not enough time or disposable cash to do them all in one go we are restraining ourselves and working up the list ticking off one each year. Previously on both trips we found ourselves continually full; in New York we succumbed to the all American classics, delicious things inbetween buns and fried goods and in Paris we clocked up many a cheese and wine pitstop. The thing with San Sebastian was unlike Paris or New York where not one aspect defines their being, this part of Spain is renowned the world over for its food and inability to provide a below mediocre meal. Food is the towns focus; excellent produce, ingenuity in it's use and deeply rooted in upholding this claim, evident from it's streets littered with pinxtos bars to Michelin restaurants nestled around the towns scenic outskirts. It is the only place in the world that is able to claim the most Michelin stars per square foot, of which this year featured in the top ten, making it a mecca for food lovers. 

At the side of a busy dual carriageway lies an inconspicuous pastel coloured house with a swinging sign like an old style coach house. Upon closer inspection the sign reads Arzak. The name of a family who have in occupied and cooked here for generations. Over time the decor has evolved from cosy country to now a minimalist grey scale with divisions of sliding glass, whilst the food echoes the modernity of its surroundings in pioneering techniques and presentation the flavours are very much Basque rooted to the bone. It is Juan Mari who turned the building into something more of a landmark, it has been a base for his investigatory and evolutionary food and where he was the first chef to earn three Michelin stars in Spain. Now standing shoulder to shoulder with his daughter they collaborate creatively in the kitchen and work the dining room,Juan sticking to native speakers and Elena to the many others who travel far and wide. Swapping summers off for kitchen work in her teens Elena has grown up at her fathers heels, she knows the restaurants workings intimately. She is evidently taking the steps towards taking on the baton fully in her stride and is already a force to be reckoned with in her own right especially with being named the worlds best female chef this year.

"Chorizo and Tonic"
"Kabraroka pudding with kataifi"
"Gooseberry with coconut"

"Corn, figs and black pudding"
"Marinated sardines and strawberries"

As we snaked around the ground floor dining room set in slate and white our eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the colourful plates, marigold nuggets surfacing from smoke and dishes that looked like perfectly manicured miniature gardens. We were thankful for almost immediately being handed the a la carte menu but decided on the tasting menu to maximise the amount of different dishes we could try. The options of which were talked over with Elena herself, who appeared almost instantaneously, sharing with us her personal favourites and provided a welcoming prelude to the taste sensations that would follow. Promptly, again, the amuse bouches soon filled up the table, speared with a cocktail stick or dangling from more elaborate contraptions. Such as the scorpion fish twirled in fine kataifi pastry, with its creamy whipped middle and crisp outer coils. The use of unusual savoury and sweet combinations was a central theme throughout the meal, the most glorious I thought was the mini samosa shaped parcel which was marinated in tonic and filled with chorizo, there was a muted heat and intense savoury taste pitched perfectly against gentle sweetness from the wafered watermelon casing and miniature prismed strawberries. The seemingly curious combination of  sardine and sweet strawberry, ended up being faultlessly balanced with a sweet acidity of a treacle like vinegar. A modest cup sweet corn soup was also a joy, creamy and studded with dehydrated kernels, salty black pudding, fig cubes and topped with ribbons of pink rose petals.
" Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea"
"Dusted egg and Mussel"
Through the flurry of ordering through Elena we had forgotten what was coming up next, it was the cromlech with onion, coffee and tea. After a quick google search I discovered that a cromlech is in fact a large stone used in prehistoric architecture, luckily it tasted nothing like its description, the marbled puff was light and hollow tasting slightly cheesy, inside were rich pieces of half molten pieces of creamy foie gras and slithers of caremlised green pepper. Truly indulgent and moreish. Less so was the mussel dish, which was less defined with similar textures throughout the dish, juicy mussel, soft egg and mussel gel merged into one. Visually the dish was more punctuated with varying dusts and irregular shaped garnishes, it was a pity that the flavours of them did not withstand one another and became a little lost.
"Hemp's mustard and lobster served with a side salad of tapioca and citrus"
Food at it's best can bring joy to all senses, a great dish can conjure up pleasure before you even see it let alone eat it, the smell alone stirs up nostalgia and transport you to times gone by. The lobster dish was a definite highlight of the meal, you could smell the sweet smokiness before the dish came to the table and when it did the plate was like summer on a plate. Brilliant vermillion was dotted around tender pieces of lobster, whilst a trio of narsanitum lily pads concealed mayonnaise like mounds of sweet mustard. Lemon hinted through from the narsantium and dressed leaves, cutting pleasantly through the bountiful flavour from the pegs which was extracted from the head then intensified. Altogether it was a playful composition of fresh flavours as well a visual treat. Both of our fish courses had a common sweet versus savoury aspect to them; the sole was paired with red wine croutons which worked texturally and provided a subtle sweetness, whilst my monkfish held its own against the tartness of gooseberry and physalis.

"Sole with curd and wine bread and vegetables"
"Gooseberry, spelt, monkfish, pork fat and physalis"

Gruff yet friendly, was something I had read prior to our meal about the service, which I would completely agree with but would also add prompt. At times a bit too much so,with such landmark meals there should always be an opportunity to linger or feel comfortable in doing so. We had now reached the halfway point and to accompany the meat dishes requested the recommendation of a suitable glass of red at the beginning of the meal, to which the sommelier noted with a grunt and nothing more was said throughout the duration of the first courses. We thought he was maybe going to surprise us at the last minute with a wine that complemented the flavours for both the lamb and pigeon. Instead he failed to notice his cue and after much awkward arm flailing from me, I failed in catching anyone else's attention but thought we better tuck in anyway. Midway a glass of Rielo 2004 unapologetically appeared beside us, altogether disappointing as it did nothing to elevate the richness of our meat dishes if anything its subtlety took away. My lamb dish was accompanied by a colourful troop of cylindrical towers fashioned out of potato and various melons, shredded berry jelly and was shouting out for something to round off its delicate sweet flavours. The pigeon was served with little else but dots of hibiscus purée and a now trade mark side salad, but when cooked expertly sometimes a sauce is all you need, perhaps this too was the thinking behind the sommeliers actions. Atleast with the promptness of the servers you could put it down to over efficiency, but lack of attention to detail is just a shame.
"Lamb with corks"
"Pigeon with anthocyanin, with side pigeon leg and hibiscus and citrus leaf salad"

With a double dose of sweet courses and the obligatory additional side dish, which was an ice cream for each dish, it felt, dare I say excessive. We were on that side of treat which was more like being spoilt, like a child sneaking in sweeties before birthday cake. Positively there were more opportunities to witness the playful use of textures, flavours and presentation. Unfortunately in an anomaly of a dish, style overcame substance, the printed floral plate topped with another glass layer adorned with edible treats managed to turn my frown to a wide agape smile but lacked in flavour direction. The gold printed wafer was just a crunch and ladybird filled with yoghurt was a non descript granular cream. More successful was the Roots, fruits and seeds dish, made up of different guises of complimentary red and green. Despite its bright colouring it remained unassuming, like an oddly coloured version of the kiddie favourite jelly and ice cream. This, however was its grown up seductively wobbly sister; freckled with puffed rice and mint dust, sandwiching the white chocolate coloured with parsley were thin jelly cushions encasing a Campari and maraschino cherry flavoured liquid, which was in fact white port, when popped flooded the plate with a moreish booziness . From the unseen and unexperienced to the familiar winning combination of chocolate and fruit, but spun on its head with the incorporation of fine pineapple custard, kiwi pieces and a green tea like cream which kept the dish balanced and not overcome by chocolate which can often the case. Across the table a mound caramel crusted pistachios sat upon cardamom hinted honeycomb, in a pool of fantastic crimson, they acted harmoniously with the beetroot sauce providing the little encouragement the other elements needed to melt in your mouth.

"The golden footprint and ladybird"
"Roots, fruits and seeds"
"Pistachio and beetroot stone"
"The cocoa forest"

To finish we were presented with an open tool box filled with metallic dusted nuts and bolts with "Workshop Arzak " scrawled on the top. As I took the last intriguing mouthfuls I looked out onto the other tables eyeing up their food presented on light boxes, eagerly awaiting the big reveal under puffs of smoke all with their mega lense cameras zoomed in at the ready, and I wasn't quite taken in by the theatrics. The food was undoubtedly steeped in incredible technical ability, daring use of flavours but I am edging to use the word gimmicky. It was only weeks after, back in London reviewing the photos that I yearned to be surprised again, to be Alice in a strange world and to be filled with wonder. A meal at Arzak's is like delving into the relatively unknown, partly because the names of the dishes are semi lost in translation but also because what is put in front of you isn't quite as it seems, so just go in with the willingness to be taken in by the culinary magic.
"Workshop Arzak - petit fours"


I spy with my little eye...

the H&M Margiela window, see y'all in the morning queue!

a map of delectable destinations in the city from the wonderful cheese and biscuits blog.


The Basque Country in Pictues

It's taken me this long to get these photos on of my trip to San Sebastian (the home of this year's Number 8 best restaurant, write up up next) and neighbouring Bilbao and Biarritz. Days of lounging on beaches strewn with surfers, bars brimming with pintxos and pata negra and guzzling of the local Txakoli are well and truly gone, sob. I can safely say that I ate my way through as many flavour combinations I could apart from what was being rustled up behind the stained glass in the traditional txocos. From familiar churros to Arzak's hemp's mustard and lobster here's my trip plate by plate...