The Providores and Tapa Room – Total Fusion Delight

Clearly I’m late to the show with my discovery of The Providores & Tapa Room, as once I shared my Friday night experience with my colleagues, several recognized one of their favorite restaurants. But better late than never! As I had an appointment near Baker Street, my friend spontaneously booked a table in the upstairs restaurant. Not knowing what to expect, I was taken aback at first, entering the busy Tapa Room, a bit too loud for my taste. But I was quickly directed upstairs to a much quieter and simple but elegant environment.

From the name, expecting something Spanish, the fusion menu – and we’re talking REAL FUSION – took me by surprise. What is left of Spanish is probably only the tapas style dishes, where it’s recommended to order two to five courses from the menu. We opted for 3 courses plus a dessert. Adding to that, from their wide selection of New Zealand wines, I had a glass of Gewürztraminer, sweet round and fresh, as I like it.

My first dish: “Coconut and black cardamom laksa, a chicken hijiki dumpling, soba noodles, soy truffled shimeji mushrooms, a soft boiled quail’s egg, crispy shallots, coriander.”

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Laksa with… dumbling and soba noodles?? AND a quail’s egg?? It all seemed too weird to be any good. Appropriately delivered with chopsticks, the coconut taste in the laksa was delicious going well with the dumplings. What was still weird were the soba noodles. Not so weird as to be bad but… Still made you wonder if fusion had to go that far.

My second dish: “Salad of freekeh, goats’ curd, endive, hazelnuts, grilled aubergine and spring onions, pickled raisin purée, roast tomato miso dressing.”

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This was way easier to understand and to digest. I’m a big freekeh fan already and welcome the cereal in my dishes. A very well-balanced dish with the creamy texture of goat’s curd and a fresh dressing made this one a dish I’d like to recomment

 

My third dish: “Seared yellowfin tuna, papaya, carrot, cucumber and coriander salad, Thai lime dressing, peanuts, sesame.”

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The thick pieces of yellowfin tuna were so juicy they could have rivalled a steak. If I had any nag, it was that the experience was over too quickly. Perhaps one more piece of tuna?

To finish off the evening, I went for the rather tame “toasted coconut Frozen hazelnut nougat, cafe latte ice cream, cherry ponzu sauce, hazelnut snow.”

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While I’m more than happy to experiment during the course of a meal, I’d like the certainty of a delicious dessert at the end. This one definitely succeeded. Although slightly worried by the cherry ponzu sauce, even this tasted well with the nougat, adding a bitter-sweet refreshing taste.

Two courses £33
Three courses £47
Four courses £57
Five courses £63

Plus a discretionary 12.5% service charge added to the bill.

The Providores has a warm and welcoming atmosphere to it. Although not easy on the wallet, the fusion cuisine is surely worth the experience. I’d recommend it for a small group of friends to celebrate together a night off.

Price: ££££

Food: ****

Service: *****

Decor: ***

 

Square Meal

 

 

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@venue – lured by the Amex offer…

Lured by an Amex offer of £20 discount on over £100 spent at D&D restaurants, I made my way to @venue, a short walk from either Piccadilly Circus or Green Park station. Having read overall quite good reviews (though mostly about business lunches), I must conclude that I was disappointed. Even with a £20, this dinner wasn’t worth it (£154.21 after discount for 3 people, 2 dishes each and two glasses of wine).

Of all the choices, my game meat selections were definitely not to recommend…

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Venison carpaccio, celeriac remoulade and cranberries

While the venison carpaccio meat was acceptable, it did not amaze, neither in taste nor appearance. The meagre celeriac remoulade blobbed in the middle, tasted like a cheap KFC coleslaw (don’t get me wrong, I love KFC coleslaw, but only when I’m at KFC) spiced up with some celery. The cranberries added very little value with just a few big ones placed at random on the plate. Not sure what to do with them, I ate them anyway.

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Whole roasted Yorkshire grouse, braised red cabbage, chestnuts, bread sauce & parsnip crisps £30.00

Perhaps it’s my lack of experience in grouse but here again, I had little joy in this very caoutchouc –like piece of meat, which was extremely difficult to cut and more work than pleasure. The slightly dark room was not favorable for the food either, making the red cabbage appear like a sea of cut black tape under the bird (not much taste to convince you otherwise). The additional order of side spinach was worse than any microwaved frozen spinach experience I had at home, pretty much just boiled and tasteless, not even worth a picture.

My two friends did not seem to have much more luck with their dishes. It’s rare to find scallops that do not impress and yet @venue achieved just that.

The foie gras parfait and steak, ordered by my friend who joined a bit later, were acceptable though probably more so because our level of expectations had tumbled after tasting the first dishes.

Having taken the food apart and turning to the interior, I can understand that this sort of minimalist and contemporary design does appeal to some people. Personally, I found the space too big and barren with the few existing pieces of furniture, especially the chairs, just appearing cheap. Despite it being a Thursday night, just a few tables were filled, adding to the emptiness.

Focusing on the plus sides then… The food was fast and service overall was very efficient and polite. A different place, a different time? With better food, this waiting staff may have impressed.

If there is any scenario for which I should have to recommend this restaurant, it would be for a quick business lunch. No fuss, nothing to impress, but fast delivery through polite staff.

Price: £££

Food: **

Service: ****

Decor: **

Square Meal

City U short courses – a £230 door to a new world?

What was the trigger really? I’m not sure. Was it the poster up the stairs out of Barbican station that beckoned me? At least that’s how I found out about the short courses at City University. Browsing through all the course listings I found myself narrowing down to “Creative Writing.” Some distant dream from childhood bubbled up: I imagined myself being a writer. As an adult, I had scraped that dream just a tad by becoming a financial reporter and had sort of ticked it off as done. But what if I gave it another shot? After all, my clients seemed to truly enjoy my tiny morning anecdotes that I posted every day.

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And so it came that in January of this year, I enrolled for the 10 weeks class “An Approach to Creative Writing”  taught by Caroline Natzler.

This being my first creative writing class, I did not have any grounds to compare it to nor expectations. My initial impression of the class was that it was extremely diverse (with neither positive nor negative connotation, just diverse). The lack of any requirements when joining apart from being proficient in written and spoken English made it an accessible class for almost anyone willing to spare some time and money during the week after work. There was a veteran English journalist wanting to write something creative at one end of the spectrum and a totally novice black young writer whose ambition was to publish a children’s book by the end of the year on the other (I know to not judge a book by its cover but the latter even though I sincerely applaud the courage seemed rather unrealistic).

In retrospect, I believe the class was good as an entry point because of its low requirements. It was like a kindergarten class, not necessarily driven towards anything, just providing the caring parental guidance while letting us sniff at how creative workshops work, similar to kids seeing numbers and letters, singing songs for the first time.

Without this class, I would have probably never made the next step to keep on writing and sign up to “Novel Writing and Longer Works”  the following term. It may be too early to make such a bold statement but I already believe this course has changed my life.

This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and my naive reasons for signing up for it then were 1. I wanted to continue the creative writing path and 2. it ran at the same time as the first course I’ve taken, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues.

This course though once it started, was very different from the first one I had taken. It wasn’t a Kindergarten anymore, but closer to an A-level class. Just as much as Katy Darby taught us, we were also expected to perform. Goals were clearly set. Goals which were much higher than I had expected at first. A 500 word synopsis of our novel idea was the first hurdle that hit me. Following that, we then had the first half of the course to finish up the first chapter or up to 5000 words of our novel. The same deadline for all of us, works to be printed out and sent to everyone. After the first half of the course tackling specific topics on writing, the second half was then almost fully dedicated to workshopping our chapters à la UEA style (something Katy adapted from her UEA MA experience). Katy is very encouraging, pushes you to believe in yourself but also expects you to perform at your best. Katy is clearly an A* at what she does.

But as important as the teacher is in this setting, so are your peers who are going to review your work and whose work you will learn from. And so I consider myself truly lucky to have met all of those on my course, reflecting an incredible diversity (in the most positive sense!) in life (ranging from a young Indian primary school teacher to an English librarian in her sixties) as well as in writing topics and styles (from Brazilian prostitutes in London to dystopian futuristic science fiction novels). Those that were not 100% into this dropped out rather quickly, leaving a very dedicated crowd. It wasn’t only their writing that was great. They were the sort of people that in trust exercises, you’d be happy to let yourself fall backwards knowing that they would catch your fall. Creative writing is an extremely personal experience and having people there you can trust, to whom you can open up is really what you need.

I went in with the goal to just keep on writing and came out with a synopsis, a written and revised first chapter and the sudden belief that I could possibly write an entire novel. Backed by all the encouragement, I have now sent in my work the UEA-Guardian Masterclass “How to complete the first draft of a novel”  and was accepted. No matter what comes from here, City University’s short courses were the first step.

So did it have to be creative writing? For me I think the answer is yes. But part of the course experience was to meet people I may not have met otherwise who still had one passion in common with me. This is probably true of any subject. I won’t vouch for the quality of any other City University short courses but for £230 (£23 for each week?) it was well worth it for me.