The chicken disguised as a mandarin

Isn’t it good to almost always have an excuse to go for a special dinner? This one now we had out planned for more than two months because it is just that hard to get a reservation… The second restaurant in Heston Blumenthal’s collection has only one Michelin star to boast compared to the well-known Fat Duck but is listed number 7 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal welcomed us in the Mandarin Oriental on Monday night. The airy and bright simple interior was the perfect setting on such a hot day (especially after my office’s A/C gave up and died halfway into the day leaving us to bake in the heat). We were off to a good start.

I must say the menu wasn’t simple but those things rarely are in Michelin starred restaurants. But wrapped around it were individual small drops of knowledge related to food. That’s the sort of thing I like.

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I chose the Meat Fruit as a starter.

Meat Fruit (c.1500)Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait, grilled bread
£16.00

Ingenious indeed, the chicken liver mousse appeared disguised in the shape of a mandarin orange next to a piece of toast. “Everything is edible, apart from the green leaf,” the waiter added. As I found out later, one of the signature dishes and most talked about plates from this restaurant, it wasn’t only visually entertaining but absolutely delicious as well.

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2013-07-22 19.12.48That was followed by the cod in cider.

Cod in Cider (c.1940)Chard & fired mussels
£27.00

Again, absolutely nothing to say against a magnificent dish. I was suspicious about having mussels around my fish but every single one of them with quite strong flavour was a delight. The fish had a very mild but juicy taste to it.

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Now comes the dessert… Or, the dessertS? We just couldn’t resist the tempting offer of the liquid nitrogen ice cream.

First things first though: my dessert was a chocolate cake.

Bohemian Cake (c.1890)Chocolate, citrus & London summertime honey ice cream
£10.50

2013-07-22 19.55.59While the fruits within the chocolate weren’t really my thing, the honey ice cream melted perfectly on my tongue leaving a refreshing taste.

Now to the highlight of the evening: the liquid nitrogen ice cream made right there at a table like a mini magic show.

2013-07-22 20.08.32While this won’t have the same effect the second time around, it’s definitely something to enjoy and get entertained by the first time. We surely were!

After all this positive talk, would I make this my favourite restaurant in London then? The answer is sadly a clear no. Why comes probably mostly down to the service. The food didn’t necessarily change my world view but it did a pretty decent job which was disappointingly not reflected by the service. Firm and good, but lacking that extra edge I’d expect from a place light that. Like possibly more description into the food or better answers to our question.

An example maybe? My friend was interested in the brown bread ice cream but as it came with malted yeast syrup and we were unsure what that was (both non-native English speakers), we enquired. The conversation went as follows:

Us: “What’s the malted yeast syrup like?”

Waitress: “It’s a syrup. On the dessert.”

Us: “Ok, but what is it like? What does it taste like?”

Waitress: “Like… malted yeast.”

Us: “Is that like marmite?”

Waitress: “No.”

Us: “So… What is it like then? Is it bitter?”

Waitress: “No, it’s sweet.”

You can think I’m picky but at this price, I just expect a bit more than being regurgitated the words on the menu.

In any case, if you do decide to go, try the Meat Fruit and spend that extra few £ to marvel at the ice cream magic!

Price: £££££

Food: *****

Service: ***

Decor: ****

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City summer runner

I live in London, work in finance in the city and run… And so it was about time that I took part in the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge under the flag of my bank. The two-day event in Battersea Park has around 13,000 runners each day for their 5.6km run.

Last year, right around this time, I remember a poor bunch from my office who had to go into poring rain. Waiting before the start of course was a pain but was followed by the muddy trail and no relief later on, as unlike some of our competitors it wasn’t like we had a tent or anything. After that experience, many chose not to participate this year. Who can blame them.

Not marked by that fowl experience, I was more than happy to give it a go and was rewarded by wonderful weather. It’s a bit of a pain to get there, being a slight walk from Sloan Square station where me and my colleagues chose to go from the City. Yet, who’s really to complain when the aim is actually to do something healthy and run 5.6km? Our group passed the massive tents in the two villages representing major participants with their large running groups to join our little team which had organized picnic mats and a few flags next to the goal. Thank god it wasn’t raining…

I joined the slowest group and waited for the staggered start to take place. Surprisingly this was done rather efficiently and we didn’t have to wait all too long before we were on our way. Like all such bigger events where the biggest couch potatoes take up the challenge (which is of course great!), it was like an obstacle course not to run into anyone who’d decided to walk after a few meters. I got to admire many corporate t-shirts, actual technical running shirts with company logo unlike ours that were heavy cotton with the charity we sponsor. At the end of the day though, with all these costs, I suppose I should be thankful enough I could run this.

All in all, a beautiful run. Not the sort of place to mark a PB, at least for me, but a nice way to finish off a work day with colleagues. The JP Morgan Corporate Challenge t-shirt is another nice addition to the runner’s collection.

JP Morgan Corporate Challenge

In the same week, actually the following day, that I’ve completed the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, I also ran the Standard Chartered Great City Race for the first time.

Despite being a 5km run through the City, this seems to be the run that’s less driven by financial companies with all kinds of company logos surrounding me on the day (I ran not for my own but a friend’s workplace).

The start seemed a bit less clear than at the JP Morgan run and a complete standstill around Barbican with a human traffic jam building under the tunnel was annoying.

Running past my own office was enjoyable for a split moment but running through the City gets old quickly (at least for me) and I realized I preferred the river and the park to those concrete buildings all around. The good thing about 5km runs is that they are over rather quickly whether you liked the race or not. Positive surprise towards the end was an unexpected cheering from my colleague waiting in front of Mortgage station.

I’m also weak when it comes to goody bags and so took the (for a 5km quite impressive) medal with all the foods and samples quite happily after the run.

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Checking out the results later, the top man and woman on both races were the same… The City’s fastest couple, Phil and Emily Wicks!

If you’d ask me which one I’d do again… It would probably have to be the JP Morgan one even though at the risk of rain, I’d rather abstain from both…  By the way, even if I keep on forgetting, all these runs are for a good cause!

sketch – dinner with a loose purse string

I’m not much of a gourmet and definitely not a Michelin star hunter but sometimes the occasion calls for it. And so I recently indulged in a dinner at Pierre Gagnaire’s sketch Lecture Room and Library, a short walk off Oxford Circus station. Honestly, the website didn’t tell me much apart from giving me the feeling it might be an overly pretentious place… I was in for a very positive surprise.

Walking in, the girl at the entrance entertained us talking us through the art in the reception area, especially her favorite piece: a light art that spelt out LOVE if you moved your head quickly. Clearly this has nothing to do with the food and some may find this just too distracting. I personally enjoyed the entire experience that started right there in the funky entrance.

Once up the stairs, we entered our venue for the day, the Lecture Room and Library. The decor, very different from downstairs, was in colorful red and orange shades with comfortable armchairs in the image of a hip lecture room. The restaurant was very spacious, giving off an air of calm and peace.

Looking at the menu, I was too lazy to read all the details of the dishes (way too much sophistication for me) and chose what came to me naturally:

Lobster (there were other dishes with less straightforward names… Perfume of the Earth (£37), wth?? looked beautiful on my friend’s plate)

Native Blue Lobster / Jellified Sardine Infusion / Green Pepper with Horseradish / Red Orach Lobster Mousse / Traditional Bisque

Lobster Claws / Jersey Potato Salad

£46

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John Dory and Red Mullet

Pan-fried John Dory Fillet with Fresh Bay Leaves / Bouillabaisse with Baby Squid Red Mullet “Bellino” / Broccoli

£46

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That all accompanied by a fruity and lively white Australian wine recommended by our very pleasant waiter from same origin.

And… Last but not least…

Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert

Spiced Meringue / Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream / Apricot and Basil Compote
Green Pepper Ice Cream / Raspberry and Tagete Marmalade / Coconut Shavings
White Peach and Lemon Verbena Bavaroise / Poached Peach / Rose Water Marshmallows Green Chartreuse Granité / Candied Kumquats / Rhubarb and Angelica Compote Strawberry Sorbet / Crispy Parmesan Cream / Balsamic Vinegar Tartlet
Pistachio Chocolate Frozen Parfait / Caramelised Almonds / Baileys Fudge
Six Desserts £30 (there’s also an option of three for £18)

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As if this wasn’t enough, the attentive waiter did ask what occasion led us there that night and surprised us with a beautiful (and delicious) piece of chocolate cake.

2013-06-26 22.40.33All dishes were highly sophisticated, tastes with a finesse I have rarely experienced elsewhere (even with specific clockwise eating order of the starter plates). If you’re looking for a quick dinner, this is NOT the place to go (at the end of the night we were there for over three hours without even realizing). But equally, you won’t have to worry about being fed with miniature dishes that are only artistic to look at, because this will fill you up for sure. The waiters matched the food equality, not only being polite as required but genuinely friendly and warm.

Upside for me of course was that I didn’t have to see the bill at the end of the day. But even the one who did (a generally very critical man) said it was an experience that was worth the price tag.

The only regret? Not having had the time to wander around and have a look at the other bar.

So, if you have a special occasion (where someone else may foot the bill), give it a go!

Price: £££££

Food: *****

Service: *****

Decor: ****

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