5 Reasons why you should go to Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Coffee Mornings

Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Coffee Mornings in the Elgar Room, a Sunday music event I’ve been following for a while now, began the year 2017 on a fabulous high note with a performance by Pierre Frapier and Jennifer Hughes from the Royal College of Music.

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I always enjoy this series and come out of it invigorated but this last experience was so good, I had to write up this piece and spread the word about it. So here goes… 5 Reasons why you should go to Classical Coffee Mornings:

  1. Classical can be casual

Yes, it’s great to go to fancy piano recitals at Wigmore Hall and dress up every now and then. And the musicians there of course deserve that respect of not showing up in torn up jeans. But classical music can also be leisurely enjoyed in sneakers with a cup of coffee and a pastry. Personally, I also occasionally feel like aside from the actual music, there’s some “see and be seen” going on at larger concerts, which takes away the focus from the music. That’s definitely not the case at Classical Coffee Mornings, where you just grab the best table available and sometimes share one with others who are all there to enjoy an hour of music on a Sunday morning.

  1. Get a glimpse of the future of classical music

We all know who the living greats are. Even if we may not necessarily be able to pick them out ourselves, the fact that they are at the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall or other great venues with critics and a lifetime of success that confirms their greatness, we know what we’re getting. Some of them can be very young too and some performers at this series have also played in those halls. But at this concert series, you’re always presented with young musicians from the Royal College of Music. No beginners of their craft with impressive resumes for sure but certainly still at the beginning of what is hopefully a very long career. You can become one of their earliest fans and look forward to follow their growth. Isn’t that fantastic?

  1. It’s just an hour (and £12.50)!

Going to an evening concert always makes it the foimg_0813cal point of the day. You don’t just pop by, this is what you’re going for. While I do enjoy a full concert that goes on until half past nine, it does also require from the audience a whole lot of energy and focus. After twelve hour days at work that start at 7am, I’m not always in the mood for that and can’t handle it too often. An hour on a Sunday morning though? Easy enough. Also, if you have a loved one or friend who might not be too familiar with or finds classical music too boring or stiff (I’m not one of them! But let’s be honest, enough people feel that way), they might be put off by the idea of a concert. Why not gently introduce them to this beautiful world with a shorter performance? You can even tell them about Elton John’s Big Red and lure them in with that pop connection!

  1. Challenge and inspire yourself with diverse repertoire

I must confess that I’m not the most educated classical musician, so one of my New Year’s resolutions was that I wanted to expose myself to more diverse music and push myself to listen to more and new music I don’t know. At the Classical Coffee Morning series, there’s so much diveimg_0749rsity. One day I heard Natsumi Ikenaga perform well-known pieces such as Bach’s Partita No. 2 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. But on my favourite Sunday so far, I had the pleasure to experience an American themed piano and violin performance with compositions by Dvorak, Ravel, Provost and Frolov. If I had to summarise this repertoire, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. So much beauty I didn’t know! So, whether you’re a musician yourself or not, go and find fresh creative inspiration here and take home some of that youthful energy from these wonderful performers.

  1. Make it a day out in South Kensington

The Classical Coffee Morning could be your energising creative start to a day out in South Kensington. My last one was followed by a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” (until Feb 26) which was fittingly an exhibition driven by music. There are so many other choices within walking distance such as the Science Museum’s new mathematics wing, the Winton Gallery or the Natural History Museum’s “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” (which I check out every year), there’s bound to be something for you. I completed my day with a lunch at Bumpkin. There are plenty of other delicious options to pick from to complement your day, where you can sit down, discuss and digest your morning experience alongside good food. And while in the winter months, this might not be recommendable, you can always walk it all off with a stroll through Hyde Park. There you go! Your full Sunday planned!

So, here are my 5 reasons to check out this music series! Three more events scheduled until April. I hope to see you there and perhaps even share a table with you soon!

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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: ***

 

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Sushisamba – Converting the Fusion sceptic in me

My first restaurant review in 2014 aptly connects to last year having had to book well more than a month in advance to pick a date that worked for us. After reading quite a few critical reviews on Sushisamba, I feel hesitant to say it, anxious to come across as too simple and naïve in taste but… I must admit I absolutely loved my experience there celebrating a friend’s birthday, easily catapulting it into my Top 5 special occasions restaurants in London.

“Fusion cuisine” is a word that usually makes me queazy and I’m especially skeptical of the results when it involves my delicate native Japanese cuisine abused and brutalised for the sake of a modern food experiment. And so I came with more than a healthy amount of bias towards this Peruvian Brazilian Japanese fusion food from across the pond.

On the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, getting to Sushisamba I must say was a bit of a wanna-be fussy show walking through the door next to the neon orange restaurant sign on the ground floor past the receptionist walking through a short small corridor to the glass elevator. Not for people suffering acrophobia, the fast elevator provides a clear view of the city. Finally on the 38th, there was yet another small corridor to cross to finally reach the restaurant’s cloak room. Perhaps it was because we arrived at the same time as another party but guidance was lost somewhere and we ended up standing in the bar area not really knowing which way to go. After apprehending one of the many waiters rushing by, we were guided to the receptionist. After some waiting, our voyage finally came to an end, seated at a window table with a perfect view over London and the Thames which helped appease my earlier irritation. From then on, the entire experience was almost impeccable.

The interior was modern stylish. I had seen the terrace with the illuminated tree already online but the real view was even more stunning. We also came with the perfect weather to enjoy it. The lighting was very unique, not too obnoxious to steal the attention away from the food or service and yet very detailed. If you ever run into a conversational standstill, you can definitely bridge the gap discussing the various lightbulbs in the room.

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Our friendly waiter explained the menu perfectly well (his Spanish accent took a while getting used to but he made up for it in his charming manner), also highlighting his personal preferences without any hesitance. Whether or not I follow recommendations, I do like waiters who have an own opinion and give me a feeling of knowing and caring about the place they work at.

And so following our waiter’s suggestion to pick 2 to 3 dishes (not from the large plates which are for bigger groups) per person and choosing a few of his recommendations, we ended up with the following mix:

From the small plates

2014-01-19 19.32.10CRISPY TAQUITOS (2 per order) £12.00

Yellowtail avocado and roasted corn miso

WAGYU GYOZA  £12.00

Kabocha puree, sesame and su-shoyu dipping sauce

From the raw section

SASHIMI SEVICHE ‘MIXTO’ £11.00

Octopus, prawn, south coast white fish, sweet potato, aji limo leche de tigre

From the Robata

2014-01-19 20.05.11SALMON £14.00

Orange miso, peruvian dark chocolate

And finally from the Samba Rolls

SAMBA LONDON £16.00

Crab, tuna, salmon, white fish, prawn, scallop, wagyu, avocado, tempura crunch, wasabi mayo, aji panca, housemade soy reduction

STRAWBERRY MAKI £14.00

Soy paper roll, goma wakame, strawberry, yuzu crab mayo, tobiko caviar, avocado, sweet potato, wasabi mayo

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Strawberries in rice?? Dark chocolate on salmon??? We had our doubts. But almost as a dare, took up the challenge, only to find ourselves truly impressed by the level of sophistication and thought put into the dishes, not only in terms of taste but artistic display. It was truly fusion cuisine with influences of all three cuisines collaborating in our dishes. Daring, challenging and delicious.

After this more than filling meal, we took a peek at the dessert menu. ASSORTED MOCHI? We were a bit worried we might end up with the Japanese supermarket frozen food variant just a bit touched up, but were pleasantly surprised by a colourful dessert with so many diverse ice fillings. I myself went for the YUZU TART CHEESECAKE our waiter couldn’t stop marvelling about. The presentation was nothing like I expected: glazed scoop of ice cream, once you cracked the surface, a cheesecake with a magical freshness awaited.

2014-01-19 21.16.502014-01-19 21.16.41ASSORTED MOCHI £8.00

soft japanese rice cake filled with ice cream

YUZU TART CHEESECAKE £13.00

sugar sphere, crispy yuzu, strawberry gelée, yuzu-basil granité, orange zest

At the end of our dinner, like so many of the popular busy places, the next group was waiting to get our table, but without any rushing, our waiters at Sushisamba, more than polite, kindly suggested we could move on to the bar to enjoy the view some more. On this occasion we didn’t, but we’ll sure do next time.

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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: **

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The Duke of Cambridge – A bit of conscience in Islington

Recently checking out one of my favourite London pubs online, I was surprised to see a whole lot of negative reviews on Tripadvisor. Given that it’s one of my neighbourhood pubs, I won’t deny there is some stronger degree of bias but I still feel compelled to come with a rebuttal…

In Islington, slightly off Angel station in a quieter residential corner, the Duke of Cambridge is “Britain’s first and only certified organic pub.”

Organic, so what? You might say… Yes, organic alone won’t help if the food isn’t truly good. But it goes a long way towards a more conscious way of eating. This gastropub prides itself in the environmentally friendly and sustainable sourcing of its ingredients: fruits and vegetables come from regional certified organic farmers; animals are bought whole, meaning everything gets used; there’s an explicit policy on fish as well, again emphasising sustainability and environmentally friendly procedures.

On the back of this policy, menus change daily depending on what’s available. Isn’t it a proof of true freshness, when the blackboard menu changes right in front of your eyes while you’re sitting there? I myself have missed out on a meal a few times as it disappeared, quickly wiped off by the eccentric but efficient bold-shaved waitress before I could order it. Yes, it’s a shame in that very moment, but hey, if that’s what it takes to have an environmentally conscious and guilt-free(er) meal, I’ll go with that.

The food is well presented and there’s always a diversity of dishes, meat, wild game or fish, with a good nutritious balance. The constant change in menu means you’ll never get bored.

Duke of Cambridge starter

Duke of Cambridge main

Attention to detail of course comes with a price and if you are really just going to a pub for quick & cheap, this is not the place for you. Starters may be on average somewhere around £8 and mains between £15 and £20.

Organic and sustainability is not everything, but if you do sometimes pick that Fairtrade banana, why not make a difference closer to home as well?

One advice, should you decide to go: book a table in advance in the restaurant area rather than the pub area. A very popular destinations, the pub area can be crowded by neighbourhood families, many with small children, which can cause quite a bit of “liveliness.” A few meters apart can make a big difference to the overall experience though.

 

Price: £££

Food: ****

Service: ***

Decor: ***

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Gilbert Scott – Déjà vu disappointments

While I love the very central life of living around King’s Cross, I must say that the culinary choices just around (although growing) are limited and I mostly have to stroll to the Angel area to get something decent. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise when a friend suggested the Gilbert Scott, just next to King’s Cross/St Pancras.

Walking in up the stairs from Euston road, through the bar area into the restaurant the atmosphere of the brasserie with high ceilings and elegant interior seemed promising. The piano player sitting almost right next to us was a bit too close for my taste in terms of background music, but still pleasant, better than some music over speakers. Looking around though and now facing the fading ink on my menu, where I couldn’t read a few dishes, I felt a déjà vu… I have been here before. Clearly, it didn’t leave any positive mark on me to remember. But, as I was sitting there, I thought to myself, I might just as well enjoy the experience.

Dorset crab £10.50

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Pickled cucumber, radish, nectarine

The only plate I’d rate as decent here, it was visually appealing and matched in taste. Nothing that would cause a taste orgasm but still decent enough.

Homemade beef burger £17.00

Braised oxtail, fries and salad

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This was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps that’s partially because it is hard to make a burger that seems worth the £17 price tag. Either way, the meat was nice but did not seem to be really a burger. It was more of a semi-steak in a bun. It doesn’t mean that the meat was any bad, but if I had wanted a steak, I would have ordered a steak.

Choc ice £6.50

Kendal mint cake

Peanut butter

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It’s sad when the most disappointing piece comes last and even more so when I shockingly managed to make the same mistake twice. As the dessert was placed in front of me, I realized that I ordered the same one, albeit Kendal mint cake last time, peanut butter this time. On both occasions I was equally disappointed at seeing a piece of ice cream cake I would expect out of a supermarket box, just cut to size. The chocolate glazing had this sweet cheap taste of mass-produced. Though, maybe not bad for an easy dessert at home, I certainly didn’t expect this in a restaurant. My friend was similarly disappointed by her English strawberries (£7.00), which were literally strawberries just put into a bowl. It was just what the name promised I suppose, but somehow we were hoping for some sort of decoration.

The overwhelming verdict for this place was that the only thing it has going for itself is its location. So, if you find yourself in need of some standard level food near King’s Cross in a nice decor, you could possibly go here. There’s no need however to actually make your way to King’s Cross just for this ever…

Price: £££

Food: **

Service: **

Decor: ***

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La Chapelle – up for any special occasion

Ever since my first visit to Galvin La Chapelle three years ago, I have been a regular here. What is most amazing about this multiple award winning Michelin star restaurant in the 19th century grade II listed St. Botolph’s Hall, is its consistency, never failing from the standard which impressed me the first time around. And so, it isn’t very surprising that it was chosen as the venue for my roommate’s boyfriend to propose to her (among the short-listed competitors were Clos Maggiore and Oblix).

So this particular review is not only about Galvin La Chapelle in general but marks a very special occasion.

Having agreed on the location, the groom-to-be and I (his accomplice), went together about a month ago to check out the premises. Having been told that he was looking to propose, Galvin’s staff was incredibly forthcoming. Rebecca showed us around, suggested three locations within the restaurant, where he could expect some more privacy. One of the three was the first floor little stage-like area overlooking the rest of the restaurant accommodating about five tables. While it can be booked for larger parties, Rebecca suggested he could get a table there if no one should book it for that day. Luck was on our side and being a Wednesday and midweek, the space remained free from private party bookings.

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On the day, the semi-elaborate ruse played out well. The bride-to-be thought he was only taking her out for a nice dinner to reward her for a tough week at work. We had asked for the table to be set for two instead of 3 (me being the surprise guest to walk in to bring him the ring… Don’t ask, it’s just how close the three of us are!) and to our surprise, not only had we gotten that special table on the first floor, but the entire rest was kept free as well for us to be fully private. The only teeny tiny mistake that was done was that despite instructions for flowers sent to the restaurant to be handed over to me, they were placed at the table. She, however, did not get suspicious at all, just assuming he was being a nice boyfriend (given his good track record, it seemed plausible).

In I came as a surprise guest, standing in the door, not sure whether they could see me from upstairs at this angle, the staff reassured me and guided me through to them. Despite the momentary confusion, it slowly dawned on her what was just about to happen, especially given the giant gingerbread heart (my special touch in this proposal) with “Will you marry me?” written on it, being brought in behind me by the waitress (another thank you to the Galvin staff for playing along!). My roommate was in tears of joys, he was getting so nervous he couldn’t get the ring out and it all ended in the lovely words “Yes, of course!”

So now that the hard and emotional part is done (I filmed it all for future teary memories), let’s talk about the food.

In the past, I often had the Lasagne of Dorset crab, frisee & cornichon salad (£10.50) followed by their signature dish, the Tagine of Bresse pigeon, cous cous, confit lemon & harissa sauce (£29.50), finishing off with the Valrhona chocolate ganache, honeycomb & coconut sorbet (£11.50). Yet, this time around, I went for an all new line-up.

Landes foie gras, Provence nectarine, pistachio, lavender jelly & brioche £16.50

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Having recently experienced Club Gascon, supposedly the best foie gras house in London, I had some good grounds for comparison. Unlike Club Gascon, Galvin’s foie gras was much more straight forward: foie gras that could be recognized as foie gras by all senses. Melting in my mouth, it went perfectly with the piece of soft brioche, the lavender jelly adding the finishing fine touches to the taste.

Assiette of Herdwick lamb, ratatouille, San Marzano tomatoes & fennel £31.50

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The lamb was made out of several pieces from different body parts, providing a new taste with each. The diversity was a delight.

Banana soufflé, peanut praline & passion fruit sorbet £10.50

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This was apparently my roommate’s favourite dessert and I can understand why. Beautifully presented, the waiter then cuts a cross into it and fills it up with the berry sauce. It’s a deliciously sweet and light combination with the refreshing sorbet on the side.

At the very end we were served a last treat on the house for the celebration and the restaurant manager came to check all is well. Indeed, all was well. My roommate always liked Galvin but now it will carry a lifetime memory. After all is done, I can happily say this restaurant deserved being the chosen location for this special occasion.

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My recommendation: if it’s your first time, have the pigeon tagine!

Price: ££££

Food: *****

Service: *****

Decor: *****

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Club Gascon – Cheese is not the answer to everything

It all started with my friend’s sudden desire for foie gras and her research on where to have the best in London. Only after having agreed to it, did I find out that I passed by this very restaurant almost every day on my way to work: Club Gascon, a Michelin star French restaurant next to Smithfield market and Barbican.

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With a movie scheduled for later the same night, we started rather early at 6.30pm. Only two other couples were there before us, both middle-aged Japanese, from the looks of it, tourists. Extra thin and long cheese straws were provided in a little pot on the table to fill our mouths while we looked through the menu.

The menu was… not self-explanatory… Five categories were there to choose from: La Route du Sel, Le Potager, Les Foies Gras, L’Oceane and Les Paturages… It was easy enough for my friend to find an area to focus on: ‘Les Foies Gras’! The waiter then explained that he’d recommend to choose two to three dishes depending on our appetite. We went for three, both picking a foie gras as a middle dish.

My final choice was as follows:

From ‘La Route Due Sel’: Braised snails ‘Diabolo’ & wild fennel infusion £15.00

From ‘Les Foies Gras’: Pressed duck & crabs, king crab & hot tomato £15.50

From ‘Les Paturages’: New season lamb, olive pearls, pop and corn sauce £25.00

Before we worked our way through these, we enjoyed the lovely fresh range of bread with two types of butter, followed a refreshing amuse bouche.

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My starter with the snails was beautifully presented, almost artistic with the pieces of snail strategically placed around the green to evoke nature’s image. Clearly a good start to the evening.

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The foie gras however did not necessarily strike me. Sitting on black crackers, it sort of reminded me of the crabs sitting on dark rocks in the Galapagos. Beautiful, I though at first. Yet, the taste did not impress. The pressed meat tasted a bit dry while the pieces were rather small. The crackers were similar to the things you get at a Chinese dinner instead of bread.

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Moving on to the lamb then… Delicious! If… there wasn’t the popcorn (yes, the “pop and corn sauce” has actual popcorn in it!)… Exotic can be good, but sometimes, keeping it simple is even better. I for one, prefer my popcorn in the cinema. But of course you can bash me for being such a simple narrow mind.

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The highlight in so many ways, was the dessert… I had somehow drifted past the fact that it included cheese. In my defense, the description was too fancy to recognize it really, not as clear as the one my friend chose, where it stated foie gras (yes, again!). And so I bit into my piece of dark chocolate… To have my mouth filled by the taste of cheese. I love cheese, believe me! But, cheese is just not the answer to everything and when I order a chocolate dessert, I hope for chocolate. But again, maybe that’s just me. And of course you can blame me for not having asked for a clearer explanation on the components of the dessert (not that I was offered one…).

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So, that’s all I have to say about the food. In retrospect, I might have been convinced to go again, if it wasn’t for the disappointing service.

The sommelier experience was one such shocker. As I asked for a full bodied red wine recommendation, she mentioned a name to me. The conversation thereafter:

Me: “What sort of taste is it?”

Sommelier: “It’s fruity.”

Me: “What sort of fruit?”

Sommelier: “What sort of fruit? (With slight disdain) It taste’s… like a fruit.”

Me: “Yes but what sort of fruit?”

Sommelier: (after some silence) “Like a berry.”

Me: (with slight resignation) “Ok, we’ll take that one.”

Then, also being offered bread twice after our first slice (yes, I admit I was carb loading way too much), the selection became smaller and smaller, leaving by the third serving only two pieces of choice on the rather large bread plate. Economical? Avoiding waste? That could well be…

Overall, what’s left in my mind after a couple of weeks, are more of the visuals (stylish interior, artistic plates, beautifully decorated dishes) rather than the food or the people. And on my list of criteria, that’s just not enough. So, I’ll just have to eat my foie gras/animal cruelty dish elsewhere.

Price: ££££

Food: ***

Service: **

Decor: ****

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Liar’s League – Creativity on the 2nd Tuesday

Expanding on my recently developed passion for creative writing, I had a new London experience yesterday going to Liar’s League, an event partially run by my last creative writing tutor, Katy Darby. No, Liar’s League is not some criminal association, but a themed monthly fiction night where selected short stories are read out by professional actors.

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Their motto is “Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.” And despite not being much of a performing arts lover myself (usually rather feeling like I just wasted a few hrs of my life knowing I’ll never get them back), I must admit I quite enjoyed this experience (apart from the food served…).

The themes are advertised in advance and writers who are interested send in their unpublished work between 800-2000 words related to the topic at hand by the given deadline to then be judged and chosen by the committee (care to give it a shot?).

There’s an unpublished longlist and shortlist, whereby writers receive some feedback on their work. Finally around 5-7 stories get picked for the night in question.

The event takes place at The Phoenix@37 Cavendish Square, conveniently located just 5 minutes from Oxford Circus. Doors open at 7pm and entry is £5, where you get stamped on your wrist. The evening starts more or less at 7.30pm.

The theme for my night was “Life & Limb” and contained 6 works in total spread over about two hours with a 15 minutes interval in between (with a book quiz and a chance to win one of three books! This time, three short story collections including a Granta edition on travel).

Surprisingly many stories involved falling. Maybe this is the typical risk situation people imagine? But the diversity in which the theme was treated was impressive, starting off with a rather comical punchy story, followed by two emotionally deeper stories of which the second was a very literally artistic piece. In the second half again we had a mix, finishing off with an extremely energetic story funnily treating the theme of sex.

Maybe it’s just my ignorance? But I was utterly surprised at the range of emotions and moods the actors displayed, giving the stories real life just by reading them out. I was initially disappointed, since I somehow thought it would involve actual acting out but really in the end the readings were nothing short of totally engrossing. It was just as much about the writing as the acting.

Anyone would have at least found one story to their liking and would have still found utmost respect for the creativity put on display here in all works by writers and actors alike.

So, unless you’ve got other plans, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of the month and give it at least once a try!

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.