The Rooftop Cafe at The Exchange

Published on Bon Vivant on 6th March 2013:

Underneath the towering shadow of The Shard is an unlikely restaurant – the Rooftop Café at The Exchange. Part of an office building, the Rooftop Café is not easy to find but that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a great hideaway.

Open since January this year and despite being right next to The Shard, the Rooftop Café at The Exchange has somehow managed to maintain its views. Inside, the open kitchen is the first thing to greet you as you enter. The stripped-back dining room is spread over three little pockets of space, divided by banquettes and chairs. Comfortable, but not too cosy.

The food is simple but the menu changes daily with four options per course. For a menu so small, it also offers a surprising number of dishes suitable for vegetarians.

The starters were charmingly simple. We had pancetta with poacher (cheese), pear and walnut and goats curd with green beans, shallot and capers. Warm, light and a very ingredient led introduction to the food at the Rooftop Café at The Exchange.

For mains, there was the truffled mushroom ravioli with parmesan and the special – a chorizo stew. The pungent truffled filling of the ravioli was cased in delicate fresh pasta that broke all too easily.

The chorizo stew, laden with chick peas and lightly spiced, was topped with dressed salad and bread. Both dishes were well-portioned and balanced. Other dishes available included the scallops with black pudding and seared apple.

The wine list, mostly European, is also compact, varied and interesting. Their focus is on sustainability and small producers and it really shows. The wine we had, a red made from a blend of three grape varieties indigenous to Italy, was sealed with a beer cap top and a basic label. Impressive is the fact that only 200 bottles of it were produced and while difficult to get into, it proved a good match for the food.

A banana cake with salted caramel ice cream and orange cake with crème fraiche were ordered for dessert. The soft citrus of the orange cake worked well with the zest blended into the crème fraiche while the banana cake with the ice cream was another classic flavour combination.

The food at the Rooftop Café at the Exchange is simple but delicious and the service is helpful and attentive. It’s a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere to catch up with friends or go on a date where there’s no pressure of challenging food or the cold silence of fine dining.

Like the food, it’s the perfect antidote to the wintry weather but it also bears delightful possibilities for the summer with the rooftop terrace.

Geneva Travel Guide: A City of the World

Published on Bon Vivant on 11th December 2012:

It’s hard to pin down the kind of place Geneva is. A city of luxury? Certainly, some of the world’s most luxurious brands have a presence on its streets. A city of watches? Oh yes, it’s nothing less than the international home of haute horology. A city of science? Definitely – the most serious of nuclear research can be found at CERN. Then of course there are the countless NGOs (the UN, WHO, WTO just to name a few) with their headquarters in Geneva.

For a city so small, it’s certainly a city of the world. Let’s not forget, though, that it’s also a city full of life.

Mont Blanc, Geneva

Situated at the base of the Salève, Geneva is surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountains, offering boundless sporting opportunities all year round. Mountain sports aside, there are also plenty of water sports to be enjoyed on Lake Geneva including lake swimming and kitesurfing.

If shopping is as active as you want to get then there are plenty of choices in that department. Most of Geneva’s offerings are centred around Rue du Rhône and Rue du Marché where you will find the likes of Victorinox, Davidoff and, of course, Genevese watches. Café du Centre is an ideal stop for a post-shopping seafood lunch.

Culture, too, has its place in the city. The Grand Théâtre de Genève hosts operas, ballets and theatre while its huge exhibition space, Palexpo, is the ultimate concert venue. The philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was born in the city while one of his most prominent contemporaries, Voltaire, also found home here.

Lord Byron had a lake-view house that lay adjacent to Mary Shelley’s home – the one where she wrote Frankenstein in fact.

Jet d'Eau, Geneva

It’s easy to see why these intellectuals were so inspired by Geneva when you stay at one of the waterfront hotels like Le Richmond and Hotel de la Paix, where you’ll be privy to the city’s postcard-perfect views. Of course, it’s even better to be out on the lake for a gourmet cruise where you can get up close with the jet d’eau (pictured above).

Don’t forget to wander around the old town, where you’ll find traces of Geneva’s rich history, from the Reformation to American Civil War Treaties. Or the city’s art district, where you will discover warehouse galleries and the Patek Philippe museum. And do take the tram to Carouge to embrace its bohemian refuge from the commercial Geneva with food markets, restaurants, bars and artisan shops.

With so many things to discover, it’s best to engage a guide; it’s surprisingly easy to miss the world’s longest bench and all of the city’s other hidden gems.

Longest bench, Geneva

Additional photos are available at Culture Explorer

Duval-Leroy at The Greenhouse Mayfair

Published on Bon Vivant on 14th November 2012:

When we think of champagne, we inevitably think of canapés; indeed, this is the most frequent mode of delivery. At a stretch, perhaps, we think of demi-sec or sec with desserts. But outside of champagne enthusiasts, how many of us sit down to champagne matched to every course?

Well, as I discovered over a Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, the French serve nothing but champagne at weddings, making it the ultimate celebratory drink. That’s a rather apt discovery since Duval-Leroy is one champagne house that’s very focused on their food. Take their Lady Rose, which was originally created for Pierre Hermé macaroons. But more on that later.

First, let’s sit down to a selection of their champagnes matched by head chef Arnaud Bignon’s specially created menu.

Duval-Leroy has 15 cuvées in its portfolio. We started with Fleur de Champagne 1er Cru NV as an aperitif, a champagne which celebrated its centenary last year and is Duval-Leroy’s best sellers in the restaurant trade. It’s not hard to see why it’s so popular – a delicate floral nose with a solid structure, ready to stand up against any likely canapé pairings.

Wild salmon, coconut, wasabi, curry, salad, Champagne Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, Mayfair

Next up was the Rosé Prestige 1er Cru NV. This salmon-pink champagne is said to boast a bouquet of cherries, figs and even a hint of ginger – a difficult match but the chef’s wild salmon dish, with hints of curry and wasabi, worked beautifully.

The third champagne, La Femme de Champagne 2000 Grand Cru, was the favourite amongst the wine writers around the table. The powerful vintage, only produced in certain years and from selected Grand Cru plots, had great structure and finished to a soft mousse on the palate. Cornish crab highlighted with mint jelly, Granny Smith apple and curry made another challenging match but one that La Femme easily overcame with finesse.

The only blanc de blancs we had, the Clos des Bouveries 2005 cuvée oenoclimatique, was Duval-Leroy’s special experiment. The champagne, produced solely from Chardonnay grapes harvested from a century-old Duval-Leroy owned vineyard near Vertus, is vintaged every year so the effect of the weather on each vintage is fully explored and exposed.

The dish matched was an equally experimental looking chicken with truffle, chestnut and squash. Champagne with meat is perhaps the most difficult match and in this case there was a little too much experimentation on the palate.

The final champagne was the champagne for food lovers, and in particular, desserts – the aforementioned Lady Rose NV. Duval-Leroy still celebrate this champagne with their annual Dessert of the Year competition. At 25g/l dosage, the champagne falls firmly into the super sweet sec category.

Originally produced as a half bottle, it has proved so popular in Asia, matching well with Asian cuisine, that a full sized bottle is now produced too. With berries on the nose and slight acidity on the palate, the Lady Rose NV married well with the raspberry, lychee and rose dessert.

Raspberry, lychee, rose, Champagne Duval-Leroy lunch at The Greenhouse, Mayfair

It seems that there’s certainly room for champagne with every course, though matching is not always so simple. Duval-Leroys champagnes did well with the fish and of course dessert but further explorations are certainly needed for meats. And that’s not something to complain about!

It was also interesting to learn about the champagne house’s dedication to the sustainable development of their vineyards and winemaking. This includes continued commitment to reducing water usage, use of solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint and a move towards organic vinification with some of their cuvées.

Now that is something worth raising a glass of champagne to.