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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Magdalen – Beautifully unpretentious fine food

So this is my second review in 2014 and for the second time, I’ll be raving about the place, making me worry whether I lost my “edge,” but I do believe I just happen to have a lucky food start to the year.

Recommended by a friend’s colleague, five of us Japanese finance girls in London ventured to the Magdalen last week for our girls night out, the location of London Bridge often chosen as a good compromise for the City vs Canary Wharf crowd that needs to be accommodated. Part of the modern day phenomenon, relying dangerously too much on Google maps, I wasted a few minutes walking up and down the corner of Tooley and Shand Street before activating my brain the tiniest bit and actually checking the address which indicated that Google maps was in fact lying to me, the restaurant being just one block down on Tooley Street itself.

Having booked for 18:30, it was a rather early dinner and despite it being Thursday evening, I was the first one in (first one from my table as well). The initial quietness was temporary though, as soon enough the place was buzzing with guests. The very tastefully decorated wooden interior had an elegant understatement about it, which was to be reflected in the food as well.

The seasonal menu (I LOVE seasonal menus!) was easily structured on a one page double print with today’s date. There was a selection of about eight starters and main courses each with starters ranging from £8 to £12 and mains around £18 (though mine was over that at £23.50). A challenge for a group of non-native speakers like us (despite decent English skills) was to understand what was on offer. Braised Dexter featherblade? (We wrongly deduced it must be some kind of bird) Roast Calves sweetbreads? (We were pretty sure it had nothing to do with bread) Gurnard and Kid? (We could hardly tell whether this was about some animal or not) After a few google searches and asking our friendly waiter however, we narrowed down our selection.

20140123_194447For the starters, we were split between the Devon crab salad and Italian ham and baked ricotta toast (3 to 2). My starter of Devon crab salad was nicely presented with the few pieces of blood orange giving a refreshing zest to the more than satisfying amount of crab meat. But I must say the Italian ham on the other side of the table looked more than delicious, again with plentiful of that salty ham, the flavour filling up the air, with the baked toast.

20140123_204336On the mains, we went all our ways and I chose the calves sweetbreads (after having researched what it is). Now I know sweetbread isn’t to everyone’s taste and although I’m a sweetbread lover and could go for almost any form, I believe these were very nicely prepared to even please the amateur or first timer out there. While still having that strong juiciness, the meat wasn’t all too chewy or fatty and was also very mild in taste to enjoy.

20140123_212150Nothing really jumped at me on the dessert menu but I still went for the chocolate tart. Although the tart was fully meeting my expectations, the fruit pieces in the Armagnac ice weren’t necessarily to my taste. Still, with my camomile tea, the tart with just the right amount of moisture went down well.

If I were to come up with any shortcomings…(And that would definitely qualify as nit-picking) It’s that we got four pieces of bread even though we were five!

My menu for the night:

Devon crab salad, blood orange and salsify £11.00

Roast calves sweetbreads, braised lettuce, white beans and chicken juices £23.50

Chocolate tart and prune & Armagnac ice cream £6.50

Our girls night out averaged £52 with three courses and a bottle of white wine. The Magdalen is a very classy restaurant of understatement with caring hosts where food definitely plays the central role. I’d recommend it for either a date (not necessarily that anniversary celebration but definitely more than your average weekly dinner out) or a small group, quiet enough to enjoy food as well as conversation.

 

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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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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